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Thoughts Are Louder in Silence

Chapter Text

Lance gasped as the spell hit his body, pain filling every nerve.

"Lance!" Keith shouted his name, sprawled out on the floor where Lance had pushed him.

He fell to one knee, feeling weak. God, the pain was unbearable. He coughed, his throat dry and his head pounding. He tried to cry out, but sound refused to leave his throat.

"You're stronger that I thought, Paladin." Haggar stood in front of him, staring down at him. "That spell was meant to kill the red paladin, but you managed to interfere in time. However, it seems you've lost something just as important as a life." She raised her hands, about to deliver the killing blow.

She looked over and teleported just as Shiro's hand sliced through the aid, where she'd been seconds earlier. She snarled as she reappeared a few feet away, just to have to dodge Keith as well.

Lands silently groaned, curling into a ball from the pain. His vision was fading in and out, and his ears were ringing.

"Lance! Can you hear me?!" Shiro propped him up, trying to get a response. Lance just stared at him blankly before squeezing his eyes shut in pain. "Crap... Pidge, it's time to go!" He yelled at her through the comns.

"What?! But I'm only about half way finished!" Pidge protested, frowning as she continued typing.

"We have to! Lance is down! Haggar got to him!" Keith slashed at a drone, watching Haggar as she grinned before suddenly teleporting again. She wasn't seen again.

"Lance is hurt? How badly?" Hunk's worried voice came through as he shot at a few drones that were trying to get to Pidge.

"I'm not sure. Haggar hit him with something though, so he's probably not doing too good."

Lance weakly grabbed at Shiro's hand in response, as if hearing their conversation. He gripped it tightly before his head fell backwards, unconscious.

"Quiznak! Is he alright?!" Keith looked over his shoulder at the two, narrowly avoiding a hit to his leg.

"He just fell unconscious. Pidge, we have to go! Now!" Shiro's leader voice kicked in, commanding.

"Ugh... Fine." Pidge reluctantly unhooked her suit from the Galran console she'd hacked, grumbling in annoyance. She fried it to delete any trace she may have left behind before sprinting past Hunk, taking out a Galra as she left. "Come on!"

Hunk ran after her, changing his Bayard back to its neutral form so he could run easier. "Wait up!"

Keith slashed at several more Galra that had entered the hangar, grunting as he got hit. "Thank God we only brought one lion!"

"Yeah. Speaking of which, I'm gonna move Lance into Pidge's lion." Shiro held Lance bridle style, dodging blows and successfully making it inside. "Katie, Hunk! How close are you?!"

"We're right outside! Keith, can you help clear a path?!" Pidge readied her Bayard, taking a deep breath.

"Working on it!" Keith began slashing a pathway from the door to the Green lion, seeing Pidge and Hunk come in and help take out the stragglers.

"Pidge, did you get most of the information you needed?" Keith led the way back into the Green Lion, Shiro positioning Lance in a way that would hopefully make him the most comfortable.

"Not even close." Pidge huffed, sparing a glance at Lance and feeling a little less annoyed when she how bad he looked. He was extremely pale for his skin tone, and was panting as he twisted in a feverish sleep. "But I think I might have enough to have gotten at least a little bit of something useful out of it."

"That's good." Shiro winced as Green shook from all the fire she was taking. "Katie, you better get us out of here."

"On it, Shiro." Pidge plopped herself down into the pilot's seat, activating Green and managing to fly out of the hangar, activating her cloaking.

"Allura, Coran, we're ready to go!" Shiro held Lance in place, concerned for her state. "We're gonna need a healing pod! Lance is injured!"

"Copy that, number one." Coran responded, a wormhole opening.

Pidge piloted the Green Lion through, grunting as they took one last hit from the Galra.

-----

Lance swayed on his feet, trying to stay upright as he fell out of the healing pod, steadying himself. His teammates' all too familiar backs greeted him, all gathered around Pidge as she told them about something she probably discovered.

He opened his mouth and tried to speak, but nothing came out. Frowning, he tried again, a small squeak escaping as no other sound came out. He broke out into a small coughing fit, having strained his throat a bit too much in his attempts to speak.

Everyone turned to him, his coughing having caught their attention. Their eyes widened with relief.

"Lance!" Hunk charged him and crushed him in a bear hug, hearing him wheeze at the pressure on his chest.

Shiro clapped a hand on his shoulder, allowing a small smile to find its way onto his face. "Good to have you back."

Lance opened his mouth to reply, to say it was good to be back. He just succeeded in wheezing again before silence came from his mouth once again.

"Lance?" Pidge poked his arm, raising an eyebrow.

More silence, a panicked look on Lance's face as he opened and closed his mouth in desperate attempts to speak. He managed to squirm out of Hunk's arm in his small frenzy.

"Lance, calm down. You're okay, buddy. Well figure this out." Hunk spoke soothing words to him, pulling him back into an embrace, a comforting one.

"Well, shit." Pidge swore, watching the exchange.

"Pidge, language." Shiro turned to face Coran. "Do you know what's wrong with him?"

"I'm not completely sure yet, but it probably has something to do with him getting hit by that Druid's magic. Number three, step over here for a tick."

Lance obeyed and scuttled over, allowing Coran to stick some things on him to check his vitals, followed by him scanning.

"There's a large amount of magic in him, which means that the Druid cast a spell on him instead of just hurting him."

"In other words, Haggar made him mute." Keith frowned, looking at how crestfallen Lance was.

"I'd say so." Coran typed on the scanner, frowning as he twirled the ends of his moustache. "Hmm..."

"What's 'hmm'? That doesn't sound good." Hunk stared at Coran expectantly, worried.

"The magic in him is unlike any we've ever had to deal with. In other words, we don't know what we're dealing with, nor how to treat or remove it."

"So you're saying he's stuck like this either until it wears off, we find out how to fix it, or Haggar decides to remove the spell?"

"Unfortunately, that seems to be the case."

Lance felt like he was on the verge of tears, but he put on a brave face and grinned. He could just think of this as a game of charades.

A very long, lonely, and painful game of charades, that is.

Chapter Text

Lance stared at his reflection, frowning. He'd just gotten done with his skin care and was examining himself, touching his throat where his vocal chords lay. He opened his mouth and made a feeble attempt to speak, giving up after a few minutes. He'd been doing this everyday for the past week since he'd been muted.

Disheartened, he pulled his jacket on and slinked out of his room to the dining hall. He stomped his feet upon entering, wanting the others to know he was there. Otherwise, he was so quiet that no one noticed him until he was right next to them.

Pidge rolled her eyes at his noisy entrance. "Even without your voice you still manage to be loud. It must be a talent."

Lance just grinned and shrugged, taking his place between Keith and Pidge, helping himself to the bowl of food goo that Hunk had laid out for him. He wished he could thank the yellow paladin with more than just a nod, and instead settled for glaring at Keith.

Speaking of Hunk, he entered at that time, holding a large bowl of food goo, already shoveling large spoonfuls into his mouth. Lance waved at him in greeting.

"Morning, Lance. Any luck?"

Lance shook his head, shoulders visibly slouching as he sighed, resting his head on his hand and shoveling more goo into his mouth.

"Ah... One of these times you'll get it." Hunk sat next to Pidge, continuing to eat. He didn't further acknowledge Lance.

Lance finished eating and pushed his bowl aside, listening to the chatter of his friends and doing his best to ignore Keith's existence. Pidge was going over what data she'd gotten from the Galra on their mission, finally having decrypted it.

The doors opened and Allura and Shiro entered, late. Lance waggled his eyebrows at Shiro, seeing him roll his eyes and blush a little.

"About time you two came down. I've been waiting." Pidge didn't look up from her laptop, typing away furiously, her brow furrowed on concentration.

"Sorry. We were just discussing today's training plans." Shiro shrugged and sat down, beside Keith. He shot a small glare at Lance, daring him to point it out. Lance just grinned back evilly.

"Speaking of which, what are we doing today?" Hunk spoke up, ignoring Pidge's annoyed scowl at being spoken over.

"Excellent question, number two. Today is going to be a fun-filled day of... Team combat training!" Coran answered in Shiro's stead, grinning despite the groans from the others, excluding Lance and Shiro.

Lance allowed his head to drop down onto the table, lightly hitting it several times. He managed to earn himself a snicker from Pidge.

"Same, Lance, same." Pidge had torn her gaze away from her computer, watching Lance in amusement. Lance sent a thumbs up in reply, lifting his head to grin at her.

Shiro shook his head, hiding a smile. "I know you guys hate team combat training, but if we get better at that, Allura says it could help us form Voltron."

"Could? It would. Especially if Keith and Lance can learn to fight and work together." Allura looked at the two culprits pointedly.

"Hey, Lance is the one who starts it." Keith glowered, glaring at Lance expecting a reply. He grew impatient without a response. "Aren't you gonna say something?"

Lance stared for a few seconds before visibly deflating, shoulders drooping and his eyes downcast. It took Keith a few seconds to realize why.

"Wait..." Realization filled his eyes. "Crap. Sorry, Lance. I-"

Lance cut him off with a wave of his hand, shaking his head and smirking. In other words, he was saying don't worry about it.

In reality, he wanted nothing more than to lay down and cry as a wave of sadness engulfed him.

-----

"Fucking hell!" Pidge swore loudly as she narrowly dodged a beam from a gladiator.

"Pidge, language!" Shiro cut a gladiator in half, dodging a swipe from another.

"Fucking heck!" She held back a .grin as she dodged another hit. "Keith, to your right!"

Keith turned to the right, about to slash at the gladiator. The gladiator flew backwards before disappearing into the ground, having been shot through the head.

Lance held back a smug smirk, lifting his rifle up and instead settling for a happy smile instead.

Keith didn't even thank him. Just rolled his eyes and moved on, moving away from Lance and continuing to take out gladiator after gladiator with cover fire from Hunk and support from Shiro and Pidge.

Lance sighed before getting back to work, carefully lining up his shots and picking off gladiators one by one, frowning and hissing in frustration when he missed. As he grew more and more frustrated, the more his shots missed until he was on the verge of throwing his Bayard down and quitting. He hadn't gotten much sleep, so his patience was worn much thinner than what it usually was.

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw a gladiator sneak up behind Pidge. He opened his mouth to call out a warning, getting ready to take aim and shoot it. He was too slow, and no words left his mouth, just a small huff of air.

Pidge yelped as the gladiator hit her, falling into the ground. The training session went downhill from there, Hunk going down followed by Lance, then Keith and lastly Shiro.

"Congratulations, paladins. You defeated your old high score!" Coran handed out water packs, noticing the way Lance was furrowing his brow, but decided now was not the time to mention it.

"What was our old high score?" Pidge thirstily drank the water, wiping her forehead and setting her helmet down.

"Last time, you only made it through two waves. This time, you made it through ten! Which is quite the improvement!"

"But it's not enough." Allura cut in, criticizing eyes pausing on Lance long enough for him to take notice before they swept over the rest of the paladins. "You should be able to get to at least wave twenty."

"We would've gotten further if Lance had actually shot the gladiator behind Pidge." Keith glared at him accusingly.

Lance opened his mouth to protest out of habit before snapping it shut, his jaw making a clicking sound as it closed. He grit his teeth and looked away, crossing his arms.

"Keith, it's not just Lance's fault. We all could've done better at watching each others' backs." Shiro lightly scolded him, his voice stern.

Lance solemnly thought how Shiro had said it wasn't 'just' his fault. In other words, it was his fault, but the others had helped contribute in some way. It was probably the majority of his fault, considering the way Allura had looked at him.

Drowning out the sounds of the others talking, Lance downed the rest of his water pouch. A determined light shone in his eyes as he came to a decision, refusing to let himself become sad or to let his friends down again.

He would train harder, and more often, until his aim and reaction time was flawless. Until he was caught up to the others in some way, no matter how little it may be.

Chapter Text

Lance dodged a blow from one of the three gladiators, gritting his teeth as another hit him from behind, sending him flying across the room. He refused to give up, and heaved himself to his feet. He took aim and took several deep breaths, closing one eye as he aimed at the gladiators rushing at him.

He pulled the trigger, hitting the middle one in the head before quickly switching targets to the one to his left, hitting its neck area. The last made it to him and picked him up by his neck, aiming its sword. Lance struggled, unable to speak to end the training session.

Thankfully, he didn't have to.

"End training sequence!" Hunk watched as the gladiator fell still and released Lance, allowing him to the drop to the ground before disappearing. "Lance, what the heck are you doing?"

Lance looked over before picking himself up, sitting up straight and panting heavily. He obviously didn't answer, looking down at his lap to avoid eye contact.

Hunk sighed, walking over and shaking his head. "Look, I don't care if you train. But, now that you can't talk, I want you to tell me before you do. You could've gotten seriously hurt just now. Understand?"

Lance nodded his head, forcing himself to look up at Hunk. He noticed he was holding something behind his back, and pointed.

"What's behind my back? First of all, water." He handed him a water pouch, which Lance accepted gratefully. "Second of all... Look what Coran helped me get!" He held up the items.

Lance's jaw dropped open and he could feel himself tear up a little. God, he missed paper. Despite the Alteans being so advanced, they had absolutely no paper to be seen that they could find. He took the notepad and pencil from Hunk, quickly scribbling a sentence onto it.

For me to talk?

"Sure is." Hunk smiled kindly, not even moving when Lance barreled into him, hugging him tightly in gratitude. He hugged back, knowing how hard these past two weeks had been for the blue paladin.

Lance pulled out of the hug, wiping away a few tears and writing again, his handwriting actually very neat.

Thank you so much, Hunk.

"You're welcome, Lance. It's good to see you happy again." He smiled again, relieved that Lance liked the gift. "As celebration, you can pick what I try to imitate for dinner."

Lance beamed and scribbled out his answer in cursive, since it was faster.

Enchiladas.

"Ooo... A challenge, eh?" Hunk grinned. "Accepted. For now, got eat breakfast. You'll need the energy after training."

Sure thing, Hunk.

Lance removed his helmet and wiped his forehead, his hair slicked to it with sweat. He placed his Bayard on his hip for the time being and trudged to the hangar where they stored his armor, changing out of it and pulling his normal clothes on. He set his Bayard neatly in its place before slipping the notebook and pencil into his oversized pockets and leaving the room.

He subconsciously fidgeted with the pencil as he walked to the dining room, well aware that he reeked of sweat and B.O. He decided he'd shower after he ate, and maybe take a nap afterwards. He was starting to regret getting up so early, even earlier than Keith would to train.

He stomped into the dining room, announcing his presence as per usual. Keith rolled his eyes, Pidge ignored him, and Shiro seemed to be too deep in thought to acknowledge him. Coran was the only one to greet him.

"Good morning, number three! Did you sleep well?" Coran handed him a bowl of food goo, having anticipated his arrival.

Lance was about to no before thinking better of it. He reached into his pocket and pulled out his notebook and pencil.

I did. Thanks for asking.

"No problem, lad." Coran smiled, seeing Lance use the notebook and pencil he helped obtain for him.

Thanks for the notebook.

Lance held out the notebook for Coran to see again.

"You're welcome, number three." Coran hummed and walked away, out of the room to likely go help Allura with something.

He sat down and started his bowl of food, starving after his training session. He noticed Pidge wrinkle her nose from beside her.

"Jesus, Lance. You reek." She exaggeratedly pinched her nose close.

Probably.

Lance shrugged, continuing to eat as Pidge quicklyread the word.

"Wait, a minute... You chose paper and a pencil over something like a tablet? What is wrong with you?" Pidge stared at him in betrayal, as she had offered to rig up a tablet for him to speak with, but he had declined her offer.

I like paper better.

Lance didn't elaborate, chewing as he thought about home. He missed his family, despite all the financial and personal problems they had.

"Honestly... How could you like paper better?" Pidge grumbled to herself under her breath, typing on her computer, the glow from the screen reflecting off her glasses.

Keith picked up the notebook and turned to the front, raising an eyebrow at its pink and purple floral patterned cover. "Nice."

Lance glared at him and snatched the notebook back, turning back to the page he'd been writing on.

Is there something wrong with pink and purple? Or flowers, for that matter?

"What? I'm not saying there is. It's just that flowers aren't very masculine."

Lance frowned, tapping his pencil against the table before writing at lightning speed and still managing to keep flawless handwriting.

And is there something wrong with not being masculine?

"First of all, fuck you and your quick and flawless handwriting. Second of all, that's not what I'm saying either." Keith was getting annoyed that Lance didn't understand what he was getting at.

"That's enough, you two. It's too early to be fighting." Shiro intervened, having looked over and seeing Lance writing out, in the most neat handwriting he could, 'fuck you'. He scribbled it out at Shiro's words.

He started it. He made fun of my notebook.

Lance held the notebook up for Shiro to see.

"Keith, don't make fun of his notebook. It's his only way of talking. Lance, stop provoking Keith."

Keith and Lance both glared at each other and crossed their arms in response, huffing and looking away.

"I wasn't making fun of his notebook." Keith muttered, looking back at Shiro.

Shiro sighed, running a hand through his hair. "Whatever you said, just don't say it again."

"Whatever. I'm gonna go train." Keith stomped away, irritated.

Lance stared after him and calmly went back to eating, ignoring the slightly criticizing look from Shiro, well aware of his bias.

Just another thing he'd have to face other than communicating with his friends and Keith.

He felt a pang deep within his heart and did his best to ignore it, clutching a hand tightly against it and opening his mouth to let out a small sigh, wanting oh so badly to speak his mind, to tell the others how he felt. Alas, he would simply have to hold it all in, not wanting the others to worry about him.

Not that they would, anyways.

Chapter Text

Lance panted heavily, accepting a water pouch from Hunk.

"You've gotten a lot better since you've started." Hunk complimented him, honestly awed at Lance's improvement.

He nodded in appreciation before gulping down the water, parched. He handed his trash back to Hunk and was about to go in for another round, but the door slid open and Shiro entered, followed by Keith and Pidge.

"Huh? You've been in here the entire time?" Pidge groaned and threw her hands up into the air. "Dammit Lance, Hunk. Shiro made us search nearly the entire castle to find you guys since Allura was busy and you weren't wearing your armor!"

"Language. And it's actually good you guys are in here. Get suited up. We're doing a team training exercise."

Lance sighed, throwing his head back exaggeratedly. He reluctantly followed Hunk out of the room to pull his amor back on, stalking back in about ten minutes later to an impatient group that included Hunk, since he had finished changing in under five minutes.

"Took long you long enough." Keith glared, crossing his arms.

Lance flipped him off and activated his Bayard, returning the glare.

"Enough you two. Lance, you need to be quicker next time, but I'll let it slide for now. Understand?"

Lance nodded, sincerely, and reluctantly turned away from Keith, still itching for a fight. He'd just take it out during training.

The training was going smoothly enough, until Lance missed a shot and accidentally hit Keith, who had gotten in the way. He immediately disappeared into the ground.

Lance grit his teeth and tried to keep a level head, not wanting to get down over one mistake. He took a deep breath as he gazed at all his targets. Their main line of defense gone, the others were struggling to keep up with the mass amount of gladiators that had spawned. There were a total of fifteen at the moment.

Time seemed to slow down as Lance took his shots, hitting his marks in rapid succession. One after another, the gladiators fell until there were none left. All fifteen of them.

There was a shock-induced silence over the training room as everyone processed what had happened. Shiro was the first to recover, and immediately walked over to Lance, clapping a hand on his shoulder.

"Lance, that was... That was amazing."

Lance beamed at the sincere praise, happy to have earned it. Especially if it was Shiro giving it to him. He nodded in acknowledgement, extremely proud of himself.

Allura and Coran came down from the training, Keith following behind them from where he'd spawned back after Lance accidentally hit him.

"Lance! That was magnificent!" Allura joined in on the praise, proud that one of the paladins had improved so much.

"Looks like your training is finally paying off." Keith rolled his eyes, clearly making a jab at him.

Lance glared but turned his head away, knowing it wouldn't be smart to fight with Keith when he couldn't talk back. He huffed and crossed his arms, upset that Keith wouldn't acknowledge his success.

"Come on, Keith. Don't start with him." Pidge interjected, seeing Keith getting ready to speak again. Seeing she had succeeded in silencing him, she turned back to Lance. "Anyways... That was pretty amazing."

"Yeah. You've definitely improved." Hunk grinned at him with a knowing look in his eyes.

Lance returned the grin, sending him a thumbs up. Pidge quickly caught on that they knew something she didn't. She hated that.

"Hey, what're you two hiding?" Pidge looked at them suspiciously.

"Oh, nothing. It's not important. Just...an inside joke." Hunk quickly covered them, knowing Lance didn't want anyone to know. Lance nodded in confirmation.

"Hmm... If you say so." Pidge didn't believe them, but didn't push it.

"What is an 'inside joke'?" Coran looked at them curiously.

Lance tuned them out as his gaze wondered around, rolling his shoulder and wincing. When he'd been training before the others came in, he had missed a shot and a gladiator had gotten a blow on his shoulder. He could've sworn he felt it crack, and it hurt like a son of a bitch, so he figured he'd fractured it. He didn't want to worry everyone though and had been keeping silent. It's what he got for not wearing armor.

"Lance. Lance. Lance." Pidge irritably called his name, watching as he snapped back to attention.

Lance turned his gaze back to her, fidgeting. He wasn't very good at staying still, never had been. He cocked his head to show he was listening.

"Jeez... Did you hear anything we just said?"

Lance shrugged and shook his head, feeling a little embarrassed, the slight red on his cheeks giving him away.

Shiro shook his head, sighing. "We're taking a break, then we're going to practice forming Voltron." He turned to address the others again, leaving Lance to try not to show his embarrassment. "Go rest and rehydrate. Meet me outside in half an hour."

Everyone nodded in understanding, save for Keith, who waited until Shiro left the room.

"I'm gonna stay back and train more. You guys go ahead." Keith turned away, activating his Bayard.

"You should really rest, but alright.." Pidge shrugged and led the way out of the training room.

"I made snacks in advance, guys. You want some?" Hunk pulled two plates out of the fridge and set them on the counter. Sandwiches were stacked up, looking perfectly normal. Except for their blue bread, that is.

"What kind are they?" Pidge picked one up curiously, examining it.

"Peanut butter and jelly. Or what I could find that resembled it, any way."

Pidge's face lit up immediately. "Peanut butter? Oh Hell yeah." She bit into the sandwich, chewing thoughtfully. "It tastes just like it!"

Hunk smiled. "That's good." He turned to Lance, pointing at the smaller plate. "I made some special ones without any nut-like stuff in it, so they're safe for you to eat too."

Lance smiled at Hunk, pulling his notebook out of an unknown place.

Thank you.

Pidge looked between the two, confused. "Lance, where the Hell did you pull that out of? You're in your amor, which, as far as I know, doesn't have any pockets. Second, why can't you eat nuts? Are you allergic or something?"

To answer your first question, I work in mysterious ways. In other words, it's a secret. As for your second question, I am severely allergic to nuts. If I eat them, I will literally die. My throat swells up and I can't breathe, and I get a really gross rash. It's... not very pleasant.

Pidge was surprised at this new discovery. "I never knew you were allergic to nuts. Did you have an EpiPen?" She set her sandwich back down on the plate, her curiosity getting the best of her.

Yeah. I've only had to use them two times though. I have one up here with me, since I always carried one around.

"So in other words... You could've died on two occasions?"

Yeah, I guess.

Lance shrugged, feeling a bit uncomfortable talking about it. He remembered all too clearly the terror he felt in those moments, the sheer fear when he couldn't breathe, when he thought he was going to die. He shuddered at the memories, tightly gripping his pencil in his hand.

Hunk noticed how tense he was, and quickly changed the subject. "Hey, Pidge. Are you gonna eat or what?"

"Huh? Oh, right. I completely forgot about that." She picked her sandwich back up and dug in, her face one of pure happiness as she devoured it.

Lance stowed his notebook back in his secret spot when no one was looking, knowing it would drive Pidge crazy when she couldn't figure out where he was putting it. He picked up his sandwich and took a bite, relishing in the flavour. It tasted like honey and bananas, his favourite combination. He gave Hunk a thumbs up to let him it was delicious.

"Hunk, these are amazing." Pidge had finished off her first sandwich, and was reaching for another. "Hey, since Keith isn't gonna eat his, can I?"

Hunk took a bite of his own sandwich, shrugging. "I guess. I made enough for Shiro, Allura, and Coran too, but they're obviously not here. So I guess you could have theirs too, if you want."

Pidge's eyes glowed, sparkles practically able to be seen floating around her. "I call dibs. These are gonna be all that I eat for the next day or two."

Lance made as if to chuckle, his body moving with the action, but no sound of course. He didn't mind this time though, amused with Pidge and glad that she would actually be eating something instead of skipping meals like she usually did.

They spent the rest of the time eating and messing around, the atmosphere joyous and light. The half hour passed in no time.

"Guys, we should get going. If we leave now, it'll give us about five minutes to get ready." Hunk looked at the clock mounted on the wall, one Pidge had helped him construct and install.

"Gimme a sec." Pidge grabbed the plate of sandwiches and hid them amongst the ingredients in the fridge, rubbing her hands together afterwards.

Lance snorted, shaking his head and hiding a small smile. He gestured at them and lead the way out of the room. Despite leading the way out, he fell behind them after a few steps, listening to them chat about something he didn't understand.

Sadly, he tried to tune them out, hating not being able to join in, even if he didn't understand what they were talking about. He eventually faded behind them, falling behind on purpose. He rolled his shoulder, wincing at the pain. It hurt like a son of a bitch.

He looked up and frowned, realizing he'd completely lost sight of Hunk and Pidge. Apparently, the two hadn't even noticed he'd fallen behind.

Dejected, Lance sighed, hanging his head and looking at his feet as he walked, not paying attention to where he was going. He was starting to feel depressed again, like he did back on Earth. Except here, in space, it felt so much more cold and lonely.

On Earth, he had his family to help him, to lift his spirits and keep him from sinking into his pit of sadness... But now... He had no one who he felt he could share his feelings with.

He was pulled from his thoughts upon running into someone, silently yelping. He fell backwards, surprised, and landed on the floor. He looked up at who he'd run into, scowling upon seeing a familiar mullet.

"Lance, what the Hell are you doing?" Keith looked down at him, his expression appearing unamused.

Lance just glared, not even bothering to get his notebook. He didn't feel like talking to Keith, or anyone for that matter. He completely ignored his outstretched hand and stood up on his own, sulking and walking away. He made sure to bump shoulders with Keith.

Keith frowned and turned to follow, struggling to keep up. "Hey, what's up with you?"

Lance didn't acknowledge him, instead quickening his pace to try and escape being questioned. Keith stopped following, standing still as he watched Lance scurry away, confused. He didn't understand why he was running away, and knew he needed to get to Red before he was late, so decided against chasing him for the mean time.

Lance rounded a corner and ducked into an empty storage room, listening for any footsteps and hearing none. He relaxed, and rubbed at his eyes, yawning tiredly. Ever since he'd lost his voice, he hadn't been sleeping well, and had been covering his eye bags with some Altean concealer he'd found.

He leaned against the wall and slid down, sighing and burrowing his face into his knees. His shoulder was hurting again, and he wasn't feeling up to training anymore, feeling a bit blue after being forgotten by Pidge and Hunk due to his forced silence.

Against his better judgment, he decided to skip training to rest instead. He just... suddenly felt exhausted, like he couldn't move even if he tried. He pulled his helmet off, setting it next to him, and closed his eyes, deciding he needed a nap. If he could even fall asleep, that is.

Turns out, he was more tired than he thought. He fell asleep nearly immediately, his head tilting sideways on his knees as he started to drool. His quiet snored filled the silence of the room.

-----

Keith looked up at Red, hands on his hips and a playful smirk gracing his lips.

"You ready?"

Red growled in response, opening up and allowing Keith to enter. He sat in the pilot's chair, placing his hands on to the controls and piloting Red out of her hangar, outside the castle to where he others were waiting.

He couldn't help but notice the absence of a certain someone.

"Lance isn't with you, Keith?" Shiro frowned, opening up a video chat with everyone.

"No. I thought he was with Pidge and Hunk." Keith frowned,

"Now that you mention it, he was... I don't know where he went though." Hunk felt a little bit guilty, trying to think back to when Lance had disappeared from their group. He hadn't been paying enough attention to him to know.

"He literally ran into me in the hallway, and he was by himself. I'm assuming that it was after he broke off from you two?"

"I don't know. Probably. Hunk and I got really engrossed in a conversation, so I kinda stopped paying attention to him." Pidge shrugged, avoiding eye contact.

"Shiro, what's going on? Why hasn't Lance joined you yet?"" Allura joined their video chat, looking annoyed.

"We're not sure, princess."

"Agh... Coran, can you skim through the hallway security feed to try and find him?"

"On it, Princess! Just a tick!" Coran got to work, scanning through the video feed from the past half hour.

Allura quickly grew impatient. "Well, Coran? Did you find him?"

"I think so. It looks like he ran into one of the storage rooms near the training room. I don't have a clue what he's doing in there, though." Coran frowned, watching the video.

"And why not?"

"All the cameras in the storage rooms aren't operational anymore. I haven't had a chance to fix them yet."

Allura took a deep breath and mumbled something under her breath before addressing everyone. "Shiro, just go ahead with the training while Coran goes and finds Lance. I'll activate the castle's defences and treat this as evasion training until Lance joins you."

"Copy that, princess." Shiro spoke to the others. "You heard the princess, guys. Get ready."

"Let's bet on what he's doing. Whoever gets it right has the right to request one thing, no matter what it is, from the parties that lost." Pidge grinned, already having a guess. "I bet that he's taking a nap."

"I bet that he's skipping and slacking off somewhere." Keith immediately answered, deadpanning.

"Uh... Then I guess I bet that he forgot to do a part of his skin care routine." Hunk shrugged, feeling a bit guilty for placing a bet on his friend.

"Knock it off, guys. Stop placing bets and focus. I think the Princess is about to start." There was obvious disapproval in Shiro's voice, before humour found its way into it. "Although, if we are placing bets, I bet that he didn't eat enough breakfast and is eating a snack."

His words earned a snicker from Pidge and Keith, while Hunk let out a small chuckle before suddenly yelping. He'd been hit with a laser, Allura having started the training session while they'd all been distracted.

"You all need to maintain focus. The Galra aren't going to wait to attack while you all sit around joking." Allura's voice was stern as she watched the four paladins desperately attempt to evade the lasers from the castle.

All she received in return were several groans and sighs, with one 'Yes, princess' from Shiro.

-----

Lance took a deep breath, aiming carefully as his target came into sight. He was perched on a catwalk that went all around the massive room he was in, hiding in the shadows.

His target was a a bit taller than your average Galra, the way he carried himself making it obvious he was of high rank.

"You got this, Lance. Don't screw it up this time. Remember what you're supposed to do." Pidge's voice came through the comns, serious. She had been watching the hallways, having hacked the security systems. The room Lance was stationed in had no cameras, so she was unable to see what would unfold.

"For real though. If you fuck this up, it's all over." Keith's voice was strained, the sound of battle able to be heard through the comns.

"You need to make sure that you kill the prince. Otherwise, this will all be for naught. Got it?" Shiro apparently deemed it necessary to remind him of what he was supposed to do.

Lance heeded his teammates words, refocusing and adjusting his grip on his rifle. He took another deep breath, taking aim and evening his breathing.

In...

Out...

In...

Out...

Three...

Two...

One...

He pulled the trigger, time slowing down. He hit the Galra with ease, watching as he fell to the ground, becoming motionless.

Lance stood, smirking as his Bayard changed back to its dormant state. Despite his victory, he couldn't help be feel it'd been too easy...

He shrugged off his uneasiness and went around the catwalk, climbing down the ladder and jogging over to the command unit in the center of the room. He stepped over the dead Galra, refusing to look at him as he pulled a key off of his corpse. He didn't want to think of what he'd just done, of how he just killed him.

He placed the key in its slot on the console, watching as information popped up. He couldn't read any of it, but he knew what symbols he was supposed to select and what code he was supposed to enter, Allura and Shiro having forced him to memorize them. He typed on the keyboard, knowing the basic Galran alphabet, and sifted through the information, his brow furrowed in concentration.

Lance grit his teeth, unable to find the files he needed. He closed his eyes and took several deep breaths to calm himself, thinking of the weight his teammates had thrusted onto his shoulders. He had to find the files, or he may as well jump off the catwalk and kill himself, they'd be so screwed.

He tried again, his eyes moving back and forth in search of the symbols. His line of vision flew back to the line he'd just read, a triumphant smile gracing his lips. He'd nearly passed over it, but he'd found it.

He eagerly selected the file, biting his lip as he entered the code, his body tensed with anticipation. Minutes passed without any sound or reaction, his heart filling with dread.

He'd gone and screwed up, hadn't he? He'd ruined the whole mission somehow. He just knew it. Or, even worse, something had happened to the others.

Sound suddenly started to filter back through his ears, his body going limp with relief.

"Oh my... You actually did it Lance! Thank God!" Pidge obviously hadn't had too much faith in him, her face popping up on the holoscreens in front of him.

"And you killed him? The prince?" Shiro appeared next to her, the sight of his head tilted back showing that he was looking up at a security camera.

Lance nodded, looking over his shoulder where the prince's corpse lay. He narrowed his eyes, swearing he saw it move a little. He silently prayed that he wouldn't have to deal with a zombie Galra.

"That's... Amazing news." Shiro looked around, his gaze landing on something. "Head back to your lion. If you pass by the prison cells on your way back, free the any and all prisoners. I have to go." He moved out of the line of sight of the camera, the sounds of battle able to be heard soon after.

"I'll see you back at the Lions. Stay safe, Lance." Pidge almost seemed a bit reluctant to leave, the feed of her face disappearing.

Lance sighed and turned around, hopping over the dead prince without a second thought as he turned to leave the room. The second his back was turned, he heard movement.

Too late, he tried to turn around to see the source, stiffening as he felt something pierce through his armor, and then his torso. His eyes widened with shock. Slowly, he looked down at his chest, breath shuddering.

There, protruding from his chest, was the blade of a sword. It was stained crimson with his blood, glistening ominously in the purple glow produced by the dim lights. Weakly, he reached up and grabbed onto it, feeling it cut into his palms, blood dripping out of his hand and merging with that from his torso.

As what had happened registered, he opened his mouth to scream, but sound refused to come out, as it had been for the past four months. He struggled, helpless, as the pain suddenly surged through his body, filling every nerve.

He fell to his knees as the sword was pulled from his body, staring blankly at the other side of the enormous room. He tried, he tried with all his might to make a sound, to scream, to even let out a whisper. He found he couldn't even move his mouth, as if his lips were glued together.

The Galra who had stabbed him moved from behind him, crouching down in front of him. His eyes were blurred out completely, as if Lance wasn't meant to see his face. Long, white hair flowed down his back and over his shoulders, flawless and straight with pointed ears poking out. His scorched helmet was in the hand not holding his sword. He threw it to the ground, causing a loud clatter to echo throughout the otherwise silent room.

Lance gulped, freezing with fear as the Galra removed his helmet and caressed his face, a malicious smile revealing human-looking teeth. Despite not being able to see his eyes, he could sense them looking into his own, able to feel how cold and cruel they were.

"My... What have we here?" The Galra's voice was like honey, smooth and sweet, but with an obvious layer of maliciousness underneath. He moved closer, his breath brushing against his nose. "You thought you could kill me? Hilarious. I was able to sense you the moment I entered the room. It was rather easy to move just enough so the shot merely grazed me."

Lance averted his eyes, not liking the aura being given off by the mystery Galra. He flinched, feeling nails dig into his cheek, piercing the flesh and drawing blood.

"Could it be..." Amusement found its way into his voice. "You're the one my mother hit with the spell?"

Lance's eyes shot back to look at the Galra, fear and panic causing his body to begin to shake uncontrollably. He tried to move, to get away, but stopped when he felt more blood pour from his wound, staining the white of his armor crimson.

"Poor thing... To think that even here, you can't speak..." The Galra laughed, brushing Lance's hair back. "If mother hit you with one of her spells, that means you and I are going to have quite the time together..." He paused, looking away and scanning the room, as if looking for something. "It appears we are running out of time, so allow me to introduce myself."

He stood and tilted Lance's head up, so he was looking at him again. "My name is Lotor, Prince Lotor. It was quite nice meeting you, Lance. I look forward to speaking with you again." He looked away again, his lips forming into a displeased frown.

"It appears that I must leave now... Take care, Paladin Lance. It'd be a shame if you died before I got my hands on you." Lotor withdrew his hand from Lance's face and turned, strutting out of the room, not sparing another Lance another glance.

Lance blinked his eyes, confused as everything started to fade away into black, the purple glow slowly dissipating. The realization of what was happening struck him.

He was dying.

He didn't want to die.

Tears filled his eyes as he allowed himself to fall sideways, more pain surging through his body at the impact.

His didn't want to die. He wanted to live, to see his family again, to go back to Earth and live the rest of his life in peace, to fall in love, to start his own family, to watch his children grow and start their own families, for himself to grow old and become a grandparent, maybe even a great grandparent.

All of his life that could've been, was no longer a possibility. He was dying here, alone, with no one even knowing he was dying. Hell, the others were all celebrating still, apparently uncaring of what had happened to him.

Silent sobs wracked his body as his senses faded away, causing more pain from his wound, until he felt, saw, and heard, nothing...

-----

"Nu-er -ree. Ca- you -ear me? -ake up."

Broken sentences filled his mind, followed by his entire body being shaken. He wondered what the Hell was happening, just wanting to be at peace after dying.

...

Wait.

The voice became one he recognized, that of Coran's. He tried to open his eyes, but couldn't find the will power to do so. He felt too exhausted after his dream... 

Lance's eyes flew open, wide and scared as he jumped to his feet, pressing his back against the wall opposite that of who had woken him. His body was tense, ready to fight any potential enemy.

"Number three, it's me. Coran. Are you alright?" Coran didn't react to Lance's odd behavior, remaining calm and keeping his voice low.

Lance slowly relaxed and nodded wearily, moving away from the wall and closer to Coran. He rubbed his eyes, feeling more exhausted than before he'd started to nap. Something about his nightmare wasn't sitting right with him. It'd felt too real, and he was thoroughly confused about who this 'Lotor' character was. He pulled his notepad and pencil out of the hidden pocket in his armor.

I... I think I'm alright. It was just a nightmare, nothing serious.

"A nightmare?"

Yeah... Like a scary dream.

"I see. We called those Tantibuses on Altea. I've had quite a few of them myself, and they're none too pleasant. I heard that it helps if you write down what they made you feel and what happened."

Thanks, Coran... On another topic, how long have I been asleep?

"I'm not sure, but I'd guess about 30 of your Earth minutes?"

Lance processed his words before a panicked look spread across his face.

Quiznak! It was just supposed to be like, five minutes! Agh... Have the started training?

"I'm afraid they have. Although, I don't think you should join them."

What? Why? Keith and Allura will have my head if I don't get my ass out there!

"You don't look too well, Number Three. You should rest more, and I'll talk to the Princess. If you were feeling well, I know you would've attended the training session on time."

But... I really need to. I'll never hear the end of it if I don't.

Coran sighed. "If you really want to, I won't stop you. But you'll be resting afterwards, whether you like it or not."

Lance smiled in amusement.

Sure thing, Coran.

"Then, very well. Go to Blue and I'll simmer down the princess in the meantime. I'll say you were back in the training room and lost track of time."

Lance nodded, stuffing the notebook and pencil back into his hidden pocket. God, was he grateful for Coran. He reminded him of his dad, in a way, so everything felt a little less lonely up here.

He lead the way out of the storage room, before falling into step next to Coran. A comfortable silence enveloped them. Lance was grateful that he wasn't asking questions about his nightmare, unsure of what had happened and not wanting to talk about it.

They came to the hallway that branched off to Blue's hangar. Lance gave a small wave to Coran and quickly walked off, feeling Blue smother him with waves of comfort. He smiled, sending back thoughts of gratefulness.

He made haste to her hangar, not wanting to miss anymore of the training. While he felt exhausted, more so than before his nap, he was more motivated and a little less depressed feeling. He stifled a yawn, gazing up at Blue as he entered her hangar.

She immediately opened up, allowing him entrance. He mentally thanked her, as he usually did, and received a purr in return. He settled down into the pilot's chair, resting his hands on the controls and allowing his and Blue's mind to meld a little more as he flew her out of the hangar, through the particle barrier to join the others.

"Lance, how nice of you to join us." Allura's voice was annoyed and sarcastic as the team's video feed popped up in Blue. Lance shivered at the thought of what would've happened if Coran hadn't simmered her down. "Care to tell the team where you were?"

Lance deadpanned and stared at her through the video feed, unamused. He wondered if she said that on purpose, furrowing his brow as he fell into thought. No one jumped to his defense, save for Coran.

"He was in the training room and lost track of time. Nothing that you all should get too upset about." Coran managed to make himself sound believable.

"Hmph... I doubt it." Keith was glaring, dodging blasts from the castle's defenses as he spoke.

"Damnit. Does that mean none of us win the bet?" Pidge groaned.

"Guys, focus!" Shiro lightly scolded them, grunting as he dodged a shot.

Lance managed to dodge a blast just in time, his reflexes being jump-started by Shiro's words and a gentle nudge from Blue. By doing so, whoever had been behind him got hit, having not been paying attention.

"Damnit, Lance!" Keith lashed out at him as he recovered, seething.

Lance made a 'what the hell' face, baffled. He had done what he was supposed to, and now Keith was yelling at him. Even though, it'd been his fault for getting distracted and not paying attention. In response, he flipped Keith off through the video feed, scowling.

"Lance, knock it off. Focus." Shiro hadn't been paying attention to what had been happening around him, only looking over in time to see Lance flip Keith off. He hadn't seen why Keith had swore at him, so had assumed Lance had done something to piss him off.

Lance sulked, annoyed at how he'd been reprimanded despite it being Keith's fault.

"Paladins, I'm disabling the castle's defenses. Practice on forming Voltron now." Allura sighed, getting tired of watching them fight.

"Roger that, princess." Shiro moved in position, extending his mind as the others followed his lead.

Lance flew into position, and reached out, but only a little. He was still sulking, and, not to mention, was still feeling the aftereffects of his nightmare, not wanting the others to feel the remaining shreds of terror clinging to him.

"Lance, what are you doing? I can barely feel you." Pidge frowned as she concentrated, able to feel everyone but Lance, even though he usually had the strongest connection.

Lance just clicked his tongue and reached out a little more, just enough. The others couldn't help but notice that his connection was still weak, but decided to not think too much about it, too focused on the training exercise.

Without too many other hitches, the team managed to form Voltron, despite Lance still being distant from the others. They disconnected shortly after.

"Good job today, team. Get some rest." Shiro praised them, the last to fly his Lion into his hangar.

Lance walked out of Blue, yawning tiredly and stretching. He intended to keep his promise to Coran, and made to walk to his room to rest, rubbing his eyes again. He was positive he had rather large bags under them, able to feel how sunken in his eyes were.

He managed to avoid everyone, sneaking back to his room and pulling his armor off and throwing it on the floor. He was too tired to deal with it, wiping sweat off his neck and face before peeling off his under suit and boxers, tossing them next to his armor.

He shivered as the air made contact with his sweaty skin, deciding he needed a shower. He rubbed his arms and walked into his bathroom, ignoring his reflection as he turned on the water to his favorite temperature: steaming hot. Or, as how his siblings used to describe it, the temperature in which it felt like what Satan's tears probably felt like.

He jumped in, flinching away temporarily at the slight burn from the water before melting into it, relishing the feeling as his skin took on a very faint red hue. He scrubbed at his body with soap to remove his sweat and whatever other grime had built up, closing his eyes as water cascaded over his body, cleansing him.

He quickly washed and conditioned his hair, just wanting to sleep and actually get some rest. He didn't mind missing dinner, feeling a bit queasy still.

Lance turned the shower off and wrapped a towel around his waist after drying off, using another to dry his hair simultaneously. He gazed at his reflection and examined his face, frowning. He had major eye bags, just as he'd predicted.

He allowed his eyes to wonder down further and examine his torso, his eyes raking over every part, satisfied with how fit he'd become. He'd always been pretty fit, being a major swimmer and all, but his muscles were even more defined now. He flexed and grinned, feeling good about himself.

That is, until his eyes landed on a specific spot on his chest. He frowned, gently running his index finger over it, squirming a little at how sensitive it felt.

It was a vertical bruise, perfectly straight going up and down the center of his chest. He turned around and found a matching one on his back, lined up with the front one. Dread filled him at their placement and shape.

The bruises were in the exact spot where he'd been stabbed in his dream.

Chapter Text

The dream kept coming back. Everytime Lance tried to sleep, Prince Lotor visited him again, killed him again. The sheer terror he felt was keeping him from sleeping, too scared to even close his eyes for too long. He knew his lack of sleep was probably beginning to show, especially since he'd been awake for two days straight now. He hadn't slept well for little over a month now, and no one had seemed to notice how tired he was all the time. Except maybe Hunk and Coran, but neither of them pushed it after he continually evaded the topic of his eye bags, not wanting to pressure him.

Sluggishly, Lance rolled out of his bed, onto the floor. He laid there, staring blankly up at the ceiling for a few minutes before pointing his gaze at the clock, seeing it was time to get up. The hardest part of getting out of bed, was getting out of bed. He didn't understand how people could get up as early as five and still function properly, much less without two day's of sleep, like he was currently suffering from.

He managed to force himself to his feet and stood there for a few minutes, staring at the wall as his mind wandered. He found himself thinking about the time he ate a worm for five bucks back on Earth before shaking his head, snapping himself out of his trance and staggering into his bathroom.

He looked at his reflection and bit his lip at how terrible he looked. His eye bags were horrible, much worse then they'd ever been in his entire life. He winced, seeing a bit of acne beginning to appear around the edge of his face. He hadn't been doing his daily skin routine, feeling too stressed and down in the dumps lately. He decided to do it that night, before trying to stay up again.

Groggily, Lance splashed water on his face and dried it off, not bothering to do anything else. He didn't even change clothes before pulling on a dirty pair of socks and his shoes, tugging his jacket on as he left his room.

He staggered into the dining hall and to his seat, plopping down and letting his head slam down on to the table. He was the first one there, so stared blankly at the wall as he rested his head. He was an hour early, so wasn't expecting to see anyone for a while longer.

He closed his eyes, trying to not fall asleep as Lotor's figure appeared behind his eyelids, imprinted into his mind by now. The thought alone of the Galra Prince was enough to keep him awake despite his exhaustion.

"Lance?"

He jumped when a voice suddenly called out to him, head shooting up as he twisted his torso around to see who it was. He stiffened a little upon seeing who it was, and gave a weak wave.

"Why are you up?" Shiro walked further into the room and sat beside him, looking at him curiously.

Lance shrugged in response, tapping his fingers against the table. He sighed and reached for his notebook and pencil, pulling it out of one of his inner coat pockets and tossing it onto the table. He didn't make any further moves to interact with it, laying his head back down on his arms. He yawned, ignoring Shiro's gaze.

"Are you alright?" Shiro took note of how groggy Lance seemed.

Lance decided now would be a good time to write in his notebook.

I'm fine. Just had a bit of trouble sleeping last night.

"Ah... I know the feeling." Shiro nodded in understanding, not pushing the subject. "Did you eat yet?"

I did.

Lance didn't meet Shiro's eyes, not wanting him to know he was lying. He had completely lost his appetite ever since the dreams had started, and felt nauseous if he even so much as smelled food. He had been vomiting everyday for the past week or so after dinner, eating only to get Hunk off his case.

"Mmm... That's good." Shiro stood up, stretching. "I'm gonna get something to eat myself. And we're having a team training exercise later after everyone else eats." He waited for Lance to nod in confirmation before strolling out of the room.

Lance waited until he was out of sight before letting out a long sigh, wanting nothing more than to just sleep without having a nightmare. Especially a nightmare where he physically got hurt in real life. It terrified him.

He wasn't sure how much more time had passed before Shiro came back in, chatting to Keith and Hunk, each carrying their own bowl of food goo, save for Hunk who had two. Hunk was surprised to see Lance up so early, as was Keith.

"Lance, what angel came from heaven and convinced you to get out of bed so early?" Hunk sat down beside him, raising an eyebrow.

More like what demon came from Hell and dragged me out of bed so early.

Lance sighed, resting his head on his hands and grinning at Hunk's reaction.

"You know what... It probably was a demon. Must've been an attractive one if you didn't go back to bed afterwards." Hunk began to eat his goo, rolling his eyes.

Lance snorted in response, his grin widening. He enjoyed the temporary distraction from his exhaustion, and listened to everyone chatter contently. He heard the slight patter of someone else entering, head snapping around to see who it.

Pidge jumped in response to the sudden motion, holding a hand to her heart. "Jesus, Lance. Don't do that. How did you even know I was here?" She'd been trying to sneak up on Hunk, and instead had been startled by Lance.

Lance just grinned, pretending to pull a zipper across his lips. In other words, he wouldn't tell. A secret known only to him.

Pidge pouted a little, grumbling as she sat next to Hunk. She gratefully accepted the bowl of goo he had brought with him for her, digging in.

"Pidge, did you sleep well?" Shiro paused his eating, looking over at her.

"Mostly. I made a giant breakthrough on my project, so lost track of time. But I'm feeling fine."

"I don't mind if you work on your projects or whatever, but make sure you get enough sleep. We don't need you passing out on us." Shiro lightly scolded her, out of care.

"Alright, Shiro. I try." Pidge proceeded to shove her mouth full of food goo.

"As long as you try..." Shiro sighed, clearing his throat, signaling that he was going to make an announcement, earning groans from Pidge and Hunk. "We're doing more team training today."

"In our lions, or our own combat skills?" Keith spoke up, gazing at Shiro intently.

"Our own combat skills."

Lance sighed, looking up for the first time during everyone's exchanges. He wasn't looking forward to this in the lest bit. He was dead tired, and was having trouble keeping his eyes open. Looks like he'd have to suck it up.

-----

Lance rubbed his eyes before pulling his helmet on, yawning. He gazed blankly down at his Bayard, unchanged in his hand. He snapped out of it when Hunk placed a hand on his shoulder.

"You alright?" Hunk's voice held obvious concern.

Lance nodded, using a small smile to trick Hunk into think he really was okay. In all honesty, his eyes kept closing on their own, weighted down by exhaustion.

Skeptically, Hunk stared at Lance for a few seconds before sighing. "If you say so... You ready to go?"

Nodding again, he followed Hunk to the training room, everyone else already there.

He gazed around, frowning at the lack of lighting in the observation area. He turned to Shiro, raising an eyebrow in question. He went unnoticed, Shiro discussing something with Keith and turned away from him.

"Hey, Shiro. Are Coran and Allura not here?" Pidge asked Lance's question for him, having seen his face fall when he realized Shiro wasn't paying attention to him.

"Ah... No. Coran said the Princess needed to sort something out and he was going to help."

"Must've been pretty urgent if they're not here." Hunk frowned a little, wondering what it could be.

"I guess. Coran seemed a bit on edge, so..." Shiro shrugged, not too worried. He trusted that whatever it was, Allura and Coran would be able to handle it.

"Let's just hope whatever it is it's not bad. I could really go for a break. Fighting the Galra, it's really tiring me out.." Pidge sighed, closing her eyes and taking a deep breath. "When the Galra are gone, at least it'll be easier to look for my family. Then when I find them... We can all go home together."

Everyone fell into a silence, thinking. Now that they all thought about it, the war was almost over. After they finished cleaning up the rest of the Galra, they could safely search for Pidge's family, and then, finally, they could all go home.

Lance's heart thumped at the thought, of going home and seeing his family again. His parents, grandparents, cousins, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, his countless number of nieces and nephews that he loved to take care of. He missed them all dearly, and wanted nothing more than to see them again.

But fear laced underneath the excitement. Fear of what his family would say to him for being gone for so long without a trace, of how much may have changed while he was gone, of how he would even communicate with them now.

He took a deep breath, holding a hand against his chest to calm his racing heart. He needed to focus if he wanted to show off how much he'd improved.
He rubbed his hands together in anticipation as Shiro began the training session, eager. This was his moment.

He took his place next to Hunk, behind Shiro, Keith, and Pidge. He watched as five gladiators spawned, the first wave. Looked like they were doing endurance training.

Great.

Mentally groaning, Lance prepared himself, activating his Bayard. Hunk nudged him, nodding at the gladiators he would aim for. Acknowledging him, Lance took aim at his chosen target, ignoring the look Hunk gave him as he yawned again.

"You sure you're alright? You seem tired." Hunk whispered to him, maintaining his focus as he laid down cover fire as Shiro and the others swiftly dispatched the gladiators.

They soared through the levels, everything going smoothly. It was the best they'd done, beating their previous record of wave ten.

They got to wave twenty-four when things went wrong. For Lance, at least.

Lance's eyes widened as Keith dashed away from him to bring down one of the Gladiators, leaving him wide open for attack. He grit his teeth as he fired at the one focused on him, unable to aim as well as he usually did, his vision blurry from how exhausted he was.

His body wouldn't listen to him as he tried to dodge, his feet feeling like lead. His mouth opened as the Gladiator hit him on the side of the head, an attempt for a cry of pain. He stumbled backwards, losing his balance and falling, unable to catch himself. The back of his head hit the floor before it swallowed him, transporting him to the viewing room.

He panted for breath before trying to stand, immediately regretting it. He staggered to the nearest wall and leaned back against it, sliding back to the floor. Tears of pain filled his eyes as a pounding pain pulsed through his head.

Lance held his head in his hands, trying to hold in the tears threatening to spill out of his eyes. He was unsuccessful, sniffling as something trickled down the side of his head, warm. He wiped his eyes, blinking repeatedly as black began creeping into the edges of his vision.

He slumped backwards against the wall, giving up as black filled his vision.

-----

"That was a pretty good session, guys." Shiro complimented the team, proud of how well it'd gone despite Keith's mistake in leaving Lance to fend for himself.

"Save for Lance being knocked out, but yeah." Pidge shrugged.

"Hey, that was Keith's fault. He totally ditched Lance when he knows he's not good at up close combat." Hunk jumped to his friend's defense.

"Maybe Lance should get better then," Keith grumbled, not wanting to admit he messed up.

"If you hadn't noticed, he has gotten a lot better." Hunk frowned, having been able to see the obvious improvement in Lance's shooting for the most part.

"Speaking of Lance, where is he?" Shiro looked around, raising an eyebrow at the absence of the Blue Paladin.

"Um.. Maybe he's still in the viewing room?" Hunk shrugged. "I'll go check."

"Let's all go then. We can check how well we did while we're at it." Pidge made the suggestion, leading the way as she left the training room.

"He's probably resting. It looked like he took a really bad hit to the head." Hunk twiddled his thumbs, feeling worried now.

"Did he?" Keith's frown grew deeper.

"It looked like it, but I'm not sure." Hunk lightly pushed past Pidge as they arrived in front of the viewing room, opening the door and looking around. It was dark, a sign that no one had been in there recently, as the lights were motion activated. Or, no one was in there moving around recently, that is.

Still, Hunk turned on the lights, looking around as he shuffled inside the room. His eyes landed on a limp figure near one of the corners, a gasp escaping him as he rushed over, plopping down and cradling Lance's limp body in his lap.

"Hunk? What is it?" Shiro followed behind, confused. His eyes widened upon spotting Lance. "Shit." He broke his own 'no swearing' rule, he was so surprised. He crowded around, Keith following his lead.

Keith didn't know what to say, so stayed silent. He blinked, hoping that Lance wasn't in as bad condition as he seemed to be.

"What? What is it? I can't see with you guys in the way." Pidge tried to look around Shiro and Keith, unable to see what, or rather who, Hunk was holding. Getting annoyed, she managed to shove past Keith, holding in a gasp.

Lance's breathing was uneven, his face flushed and his body tense. Blood trickled down the side of his head, crimson marking his sickly looking tan skin and matting his hair.

"Man, he does not look good." Hunk worriedly felt his forehead, able to feel the abnormal amount of heat radiating off of him even through his glove. "I think he has a fever. A really bad one."

Shiro took a deep breath, thinking.

"Alright... Hunk, help me carry him to the pods. Keith, Pidge, go alert Coran that a pod needs to be readied."

"Alright." Pidge lead the way out, Keith following behind her. He looked over at his shoulder at Lance's limp figure as he was hoisted up between Hunk and Shiro, shaking his head before stalking off.

"Hey, Shiro... I've been meaning to ask you, but now that something's happened to him... Do you think that Lance has been... Off lately?" Hunk seemed a bit uncomfortable.

"Off?" Shiro thought about it a for tick. "No, not really. Why?"

"He's been acting kinda weird lately. He's..." Hunk paused, groaning. "I'm not sure how to describe it. Distant, maybe?"

"Hmm.." Shiro frowned, thinking about it more. He realized that other than training or missions, and occasionally meals, he didn't really interact with Lance. A small pang of guilt struck him at his realization.

With the two of their strength combined, Shiro and Hunk carried Lance to the med bay in no time. He muttered something in his sleep, head rolling to the side and resting against Shiro's shoulder.

Coran was typing onto a monitor, preparing the healing pod. Pidge was sitting down, hunched over her laptop, while Keith was leaning against the wall with his arms crossed.

"Number Four, could you change Number Three while I finish preparing the pod? I'll be done in a tick." He turned to look, frowning at the sight of Lance. "I've already laid out a cryo suit." He pointed to it, turning his attention back to the monitor.

"On it, Coran." Hunk set Lance down on the table, pulling his armor off.

He frowned as he peeled off Lance's under armor, noticing a rather odd blotch of color in the center of his chest. Curiously, he gently brushed a finger against it, immediately pulling his hand away when he saw Lance flinch under his touch.

"Hey, Pidge. Check out this weird bruise." Hunk gestured at her, wanting to know what she thought of it.

"Hunk, it's just a bruise. What could possibly be interesting about it?" Pidge didn't even look up from her laptop.

"It's really weird though. Like, it's perfectly vertical. And kinda big to be so symmetrical."

"Once again, just a bruise."

"Pidge, come on. Just look at it and you'll think it's weird too." Hunk persisted, poking her shoulder.

"Oh my... Fine." Pidge set her laptop aside and stood, looking at Lance's chest and raising an eyebrow upon seeing the bruise. "Well... That is a weird bruise." She frowned.

"Told you. I don't think it's even possible for a bruise to be like that. I'm pretty sure they're supposed to be more.. blotchy?"

"Hunk, I have no clue. Ask Coran maybe. For now, just get him in the suit so he can recover." Pidge sat back down, sighing before beginning to work again. She tried to ignore Keith, sensing the dark aura radiating off of him.

"Right..." Hunk shook his head and finished undressing Lance, changing him into the cryo suit. "Coran, he's changed.

"Alright. Bring him over here." Coran helped Hunk carry Lance to a pod, placing him inside and activating it.

"Well?" Shiro came up behind him, trying to keep an expressionless face. He didn't want the others to worry more by seeing that their leader was worried as well.

"Just a tick. The pod's scanning him." Coran gazed down at the screen intently, waiting.

"Hmm..." He frowned as he read over Lance's stats.

"What's wrong? Is it bad?" Hunk worriedly looked over Coran's shoulder, unable to read the graphs and characters on the screen.

"I wouldn't say it's bad, but..." Coran gazed over at Lance's figure in the pod. "It appears he collapsed from pure exhaustion. The concussion he received from the gladiator was enough for him to finally fall unconscious."

"Exhaustion? He sleeps in until the last second possible and goes to sleep the earliest out of all of us. How could it be from exhaustion?" Keith scowled, unconvinced.

"Well..." Coran thought about it, and came to a conclusion, but decided it wasn't his place to tell. "Who knows? You'll have to ask him yourself."

"Fine." Keith looked away, sulking a little. He could tell Coran knew something, but didn't push it, knowing he would deny it.

"Ah, there is something else. This says he's lost a bit of weight."

"Lost weight? But he's been eating. I've seen him." Hunk's frown deepened. "At dinner, at least."

"What about breakfast? Or lunch?" Shiro cut in, frowning.

"Um... Lately he's been getting up before me, and everytime I ask if he's eaten yet, he says yeah. And then at lunch he always says he's not hungry, and promises he'll eat extra at dinner, which he does." Hunk sighed, trying to think of any times when Lance could be not eating.

"So then I'd say it's safe to assume he's not eating breakfast." Pidge spoke for the first time since Lance had gone into the pod, looking up from her computer screen.

"It's likely. Hunk, you said he's been waking up before you?" Shiro looked thoughtful as he tapped his foot.

"Yeah. He was this morning too."

"He was up before me even..." Shiro's frown grew deeper. "But why?"

"As I said, you'll have to ask him yourselves after he wakes up." Coran spoke up again.

"I guess.." Shiro looked around the room, only now realizing the absence of a certain Altean. "Where's the Princess?"

"Ah.. She is sorting through information and distress signals on the bridge. She informed me that she wished to be here, but is unable to be."

"Isn't the health of a paladin more important than sorting through information?" Keith scowled, practically spitting the words out.

"In normal circumstances, it would be. But in this case..." Coran sighed, trying not to appear distressed. "Allura will inform you of the current situation later. For now, take this as an opportunity to rest a bit."

"If you say so, Coran. I'll take your word for it." Shiro looked around at everyone, evaluating how nervous they were. "How much longer until Lance comes out, again? I didn't catch it the first time."

"About two of your Earth hours. His body's basically taking a nap."

"I see... Then everyone, take a break. Feel free to do what you want until Lance comes out. Just make sure you don't exhaust yourself." He pointedly looked at Keith and Pidge, pretending not to notice them roll their eyes.

"Alright, Shiro." Hunk answered for the three of them, sitting down and looking intently at Lance.

"I'll go see how Allura's doing then." Shiro excused himself and left the room, worrying for Lance the entire way to the bridge.

-----

Lance blinked slowly, squinting against the bright light that dared to assault his eyes upon opening them. He groggily turned his head, confused about where he was.

He was greeted by rocky sand and a grey, crazed ocean further down. He immediately sat up, hissing in pain as he felt something trickle down his forehead and into his eyes. He wiped at it, eyes widening as he looked at his hands. He didn't expect to see blood covering them.

Gritting his teeth, he staggered to his feet, feeling the cold sand beneath his feet. It felt good after not being able to feel it for so long. He wiped more blood out of his eyes, trying to remember what he might've done to get the gash near the top of his forehead. He couldn't seem to remember.

Lance looked around more, recognizing the beach he was on. It was the one from where his family was currently living, on the coast of Oregon. A spark of excitement filled him as he took a few tentative steps in the direction of the town. It was followed by confusion as he pondered how he even got here.

He turned and took one last look at the ocean, taking in the sea stacks and the variety of seabirds flying around, the waves crashing against the shore. The grey color gave away that it was winter, and it looked like a thick fog was crawling across the waves to impose itself on the town.

He turned back and began a brisk walk, shivering at the cold. The wind was strong, carrying with it the scent of salt and something else that he couldn't quite place, but was oddly familiar. He looked down at his attire and cursed at himself for wearing shorts and a tank top. He couldn't remember where he left his shoes either.

He knew he was gonna get scolded when he got home. His mum didn't like him being out when the weather was bad, especially at the beach. He rubbed his arms again and took a deep breath, calming his nerves. He felt uneasy for some reason, other than the fog.

He did his best to keep calm and kept walking in a straight line, moving left towards the hillish wall that acted as a barrier between the ocean and land. He couldn't stop shivering, the fog dampening his clothes and chilling him to the core.
He began to panic when he couldn't find the barrier, knowing that he should've reached it by now, or the driftwood that piled against it at the least. As fear began to settle in, he swore out loud (mentally, that is,) as he stubbed his toe against a log that suddenly appeared out of the dense fog. Relief flooded though him, releasing a breath that he didn't realize he'd been holding.

He slowly climbed over the log, able to make out a few more logs and branches through the fog. He gingerly set his foot down, cautious. He knew all too well the dangers of drift wood.

A few years ago, some parent had let their kid play on the wood. Before they could do anything, a giant sneak wave came in and moved the piece the kid was playing on. The kid fell off into the water and got battered around for a minute or two before getting carried off to sea. The body was unable to be found.

Lance didn't let his younger siblings go anywhere near the ocean when it was time for high tide after that, much less the driftwood.

He carefully climbed over everything, testing the stability of each piece before climbing on to it. He managed to safely get past the driftwood, releasing a sigh of relief as he climbed up the sandy hill, running down the other side to the parking lot.

He still couldn't see through the fog, but knew he just had to follow the road back. Easy. He'd memorized the way back within their first week of moving here.

He traversed the road through the fog, being careful not to step on any rocks or glass from broken beer bottles that often littered the side of the roads, left behind evidence of drunken teenagers and adults carelessly going to the beach in their wasted states despite the strict rules not to. He passed under the trees that covered a section of the road, only able to know by the bark and dead leaves strewn about the road that he stamped over as he walked, beads of water mixing with the sweat slowly gathering on his face.

Slowly, so as to not hurt himself in a rush, he made it back to town. Not surprisingly, the town was devoid of life. Anyone would have to be completely shit-faced or crazy to even get in a car when the fog was this thick, this smothering. Hell, even going out on foot was risky, in case someone was crazy or shit-faced enough to drive. It didn't help that the town was just a little bit full of druggies..

...

Crap.

Lance prayed that he wouldn't get run over as he stuck to the sidewalk, not needing to see where he was going to know his way home.

Following the signs towards the hospital, Lance quickly found his way home, cutting across the front yard to the door. He took notice of all the cars parked in front, wondering if there was a family gathering of sorts today that he'd forgotten about.

He reached for the doorknob, staring at it before his hand fell limply back to his side. He felt queasy, extremely nervous as to what his family's reaction would be at him returning so late in the day. Normally, he'd accept his punishment without excuses or arguing, but the uneasiness he'd felt since the beach had grown stronger.

Shakily, he reached for the doorknob again, able to hear the sounds of laughter and conversation from inside. He gripped the doorknob, slowly turning it and pushing the door open, allowing cold air to enter the house. Shoes were lined up neatly along the walls, too many pairs to count.

Definitely a family gathering.

Then... Christmas maybe? Or Christmas Eve?

But there weren't any decorations outside that he could see, or any inside either. Him and his family always decorated at least a little for Christmas, so he had no clue as to what the gathering could be.

Strange that he couldn't even remember what day it was though. And he never forgot dates for family gatherings.  Maybe he'd hurt himself more than he thought from whatever he did to get the gash on his head, which had stopped bleeding without him noticing.

He made sure there wasn't any sand left on his feet before stepping off the matt in front of the door. The hardwood floor was cool, a sigh escaping his lips at the feeling. It felt nice after walking on concrete and such.

He slowly scuffled into the living room, sticking to the edges of the room. He spotted his father and snuck over to him, avoiding his other family members. He wanted to get his punishment from his father instead of his mother, who was sure to tell at him in front of everyone.

"Dad. Hey, Dad." Lance called out to him, trying to get his attention. He wondered why he looked so sad, so tired and solemn. It was unlike him.

Sighing, Lance moved to gently grab ahold of his shoulder. He froze when his hand passed through him, grabbing ahold of nothing.

He tried again, staring at his hand in disbelief as it once again fazed through his father's shoulder. He realized that he was rather... transparent in comparison to the rest of his family. Timidly, he reached out for one of his aunts, his hand passing through her as well.

Frantically, he weaved through his family members, attempting to make contact with them. It was no use, as no one could see him, no one could hear him. He couldn't touch them, and they couldn't touch him.

Backing away from the his older brother, Julian, he stifled a sob, flinching when he accidentally went through someone. He stumbled and ran into the coffee table, sending it ajar and giving everyone in the room a heart attack at the sudden noise.

"Ah... Sorry, I must've bumped into it." Julian apologized as everyone went back to their business. His face was tinged red with embarrassment, even though he was sure he hadn't been anywhere near the table.

Sniffling, Lance stumbled into the kitchen. Tears filled his eyes as he spotted his mother, humming as she pulled ingredients out of the fridge. One of his nieces, Jessica, watched, eager to help with something.

"Mom..." Lance reached out for her, despite knowing what was going to happen.

His mother shivered, feeling a sudden chill. She rubbed her arms, looking around. Strange, seeing that the heater was cranked up pretty high. She dismissed it and went back to work, smiling as Jessica handed her what she needed when asked.

Lance silently bawled his eyes out as he went unseen, save for Jessica, who was now staring at him, eyes wide. She didn't say a word, but looked as if she wanted to. She turned to Lance's mother, or her grandmother, and stared at her for a moment before looking back at Lance.

Apparently coming to a decision, she walked over to him, looking up at him before smiling shyly and poking him. Or trying to poke him, that is.

Her finger went straight through his arm, her face turning to one of surprise.

"Oh."

That was all she said before staring up at Lance's face, frowning, before her eyes suddenly widened in full-blown fear. She let out a small shriek, backing away and running and hiding behind Lance's mother, quivering.

Lance didn't understand, didn't move a muscle, frozen in shock. What was wrong? What did he do to scare Jessica like that? She looked like she was about to cry, staring at Lance as his mother tried to comfort her, concerned as to why she wasn't getting a reaction out of her.

Lance got his answer when he felt a pain above the top right corner of his mouth, drawing a gasp from him. Something trickled down his chin, warm and sticky. Blood.

Freaking out, one of Lance's hands shot up to his face, feeling something slowly, agonizingly painful, moving diagonally across his mouth. He stumbled out of the kitchen and down the hallway, to the small bathroom nestled at the very end to the left.

He gazed in horror at his reflection, watching as stitch after stitch slowly appeared, a thin wire sewing his mouth closed on its own accord. He grabbed ahold of the wire to try and stop it, letting go as it burned him.

Lance couldn't do a thing as his mouth was sewed shut. Tears of terror sprung up in his eyes as the wire made the final stitch, finishing its job.

"Poor thing."

Hearing a voice suddenly speak, Lance spun around, tensed. His eyes widened, and he held his head in his hands as everything came rushing back to him at the sight of the Galran Prince.

This was all just another dream.

"Aw... Why do you appear so displeased to see me?" Lotor faked hurt, holding a hand over his heart before chuckling.

Lance just kept glaring, licking his lips and clenching his hands into fists. He was sinking into a seething rage, seeing the Galran prince in his home. He flipped him off, unable to do anything else to express his rage.

Lotor simply raised an eyebrow, having no clue as to what it meant to be given the bird.

"I'm assuming that whatever you just did was rude, but I'll pay no mind to it. I'm running on a rather tight schedule right now and don't have time for unplanned setbacks." His expression hardened. "So, either you cooperate, or I'll take you by force. The choice is yours."

Lance crossed his arms and stepped back, gritting his teeth. His nails dug into his skin as he scraped them against his arm, eyeing the small window in front of the toilet. It was open to allow fresh air into the room.

"I think not, my little Sprite." Lotor lunged forward at the same time Lance did, catching him by the wrist and throwing him to the floor. He grabbed ahold of Lance's hair, claw-like nails digging into his scalp.

Lance whimpered, trying to fight back as Lotor dragged him by the hair. He couldn't even scream as he kicked and struggled, tears blurring his vision. He went limp, realizing his attempts were futile, instead trying to brainstorm ways to escape Lotor's iron grasp.

Tears streamed down his face as his legs scraped against the paved road, blood beginning to trickle from his mouth. He whimpered again when Lotor suddenly hoisted him up, slinging him over how shoulder.

Lotor grunted as he quickly made his way through the town, effortlessly navigating through the fog. Lance didn't put up a fight, distracted by his mouth. That is, not until he realized where Lotor was going: the jetty.

"Mmph! Ngh!" Lance hit his fists repeatedly against Lotor's back, as hard as he possibly could. It seemed he was doing more harm to himself than Lotor though, as he was wearing armor, and his skin soon broke from repeatedly hitting the thick layer of metal.

"Now, now. You're going to hurt yourself even more if you don't stop, my little sprite." Lotor gently cooed to him. Lance shuddered as Lotor's hand caressed his thigh.

Unable to help himself, a fresh wave of tears poured from Lance's eyes. He tried to gather himself, not wanting to seem weak in front of Lotor. His breathing eventually evened out, won't the tears from his eyes.

"There. Much better now, right?" Lotor continued caressing his thigh, oddly gentle. He suddenly stopped walking. "Found it."

Lance craned his head to try and look over Lotor's should, catching a brief glimpse of the jetty. He gulped, only now noticing the fog had grown a bit less thick. He was able to see how far out the waves were, signaling that it was low tide.

Lotor threw Lance off his shoulder, watching as he landed on rocks and driftwood. He whimpered as his elbow hit a rock dead on, feeling blood dripping from the wound already. Driftwood dug into his back, tearing through his thin shirt and scraping against his skin.

"Go to the end and dangle your legs off the end." Lotor commanded him, looking down without a hint of emotion.

Lance cradled his elbow against his torso as he stood, glaring before complying, crimson staining the light grey of his tank top. He slowly scuttled forward, glancing over at the exposed sand to his right. He wondered if could make a run for it down the beach, or to the tiny lighthouse to their left and lock himself inside. He ended up deciding against it, Lotor being much faster than him.

He stepped around and over driftwood, feeling rocks and likely glass dig into and cut the bottom of his feet. Blood from his elbow evaded being soaked up by his shirt, fat drops splattering onto the uneven concrete and mixing with small pools of saltwater. It was almost pretty, watching the blood spiral around and eventually disappear. He stopped to watch, not caring if Lotor wanted him to hurry.

Eventually, he made it to the end of the jetty, and gently sat himself down, dangling his legs over the edge and resting his feet on the rocks surrounding the length of it. He shivered as ice cold water splashed against his feet, fearful of the water that was slowly coming further up onto the beach.

He jumped when Lotor suddenly sat beside him, startled. He didn't even hear the Galran Prince follow him. He avoided eye contact, body rigid as he prepared for Lotor to try something. He wasn't expecting the Prince's next words.

"Your planet... It's oddly beautiful." Lotor spoke softly, eyes gazing off at the horizon. "Is all of it like this?"

Lance's head snapped sideways to stare at him, a scowl spreading across his face. Of course he would ask a question when he couldn't answer.

Lotor turned to look at him expectantly, his lips down turned in a displeased frown. "Of course, you can't answer me... Allow me to fix that."

Lance flinched away as Lotor suddenly pulled his head forward. He struggled as Lotor's face got closer, and stiffened when he felt something warm and moist sweep across his lips.

...

Lotor had just fucking licked him.

Pissed, Lance shoved away the Galran Prince, lips drawn back in a snarl. He wiped furiously at his mouth, disgusted. His eyes widened as his mouth fell open in shock.

His lips were no longer sewn shut, and it no longer hurt. He stared at Lotor, mouth opening and closing repeatedly before it fell shut. He looked away again, avoiding eye contact.

Lotor cocked his head to the side, curious. "You do realize you can speak now, yes?"

Lance stared at Lotor suspiciously before turning away with a huff, crossing his arms. "Really...?" His voice was raspy from lack of use. He stiffened at the sound of it, not having heard it for months now.

"To think... I've never heard your voice before. It's rather pleasant. Surprisingly so." Lotor smiled, his eyes cold.

Lance gulped, licking his lips before blurting out what was on his mind. "Are you real? Or am I'm just making you up?"

Lotor snorted, holding in a small laugh. "If I wasn't real, would you wake up with a fresh bruise eveytime I kill you?"

"I guess not.." Lance looked at the side of Lotor's face, only now truly realizing how fucked he was if the Galran Prince was appearing in his dreams. He started shaking a bit again. "Why... Why are you here?"

"Who knows?" Lotor grinned, turning to look Lance in the eyes. "Did I come here of my own accord? Did mother send me here? Are you subconsciously calling me here? Or, perhaps, I really am just someone you've mentally created, to act as the antagonist to take the blame as you slowly tear yourself apart?"

Lance stared at him, trying to process everything Lotor just said. He turned his gaze to his lap, picking at a stray string on his shorts as he considered the possibility of the last suggestion Lotor had given.

"Mind games aside, you still haven't answered my question. Is the rest of Earth like this?"

"No... Beaches are only on the edges of land touching the ocean."

"How strange... What's the rest like?"

"Well... There's plains, forests, tundras, deserts... Um.. Rivers, lakes, and ponds. And... Mountains.. There's probably more, but that's what I can think of off the top of my head."

"What a diverse planet. It's surprising." Lotor grinned, ill intent sparking withing the depths of his eyes. "Maybe I'll come see it myself someday. Introduce myself to your family."

"No." Lance's reply was immediate. "Stay the Hell away from here."

"But why? It's such a beautiful place. I'm sure I'd enjoy it." He leaned towards Lance. "Besides, you're not even sure if I'm real, so what does it matter?"

Lance glared, gritting his teeth. "Listen here, Prince Loser. I don't care if you're real or not. If you aren't, then ignore me. If you are, then stay Hell away from my planet, and stay the Hell away from my family."

"You're quite feisty, aren't you?" Lotor grabbed ahold of Lance's face, leaning forward. "I like it.." He whispered in Lance's ear, hints of seduction lacing his voice. Lance shivered, feeling disgusted.

"Get away from me." Lance shoved Lotor away from him, his eyes cold.

Lotor scoffed in response. "To think you'd have the audacity to deny a Prince's advances. It's charming, but infuriating."

"You've been haunting my dreams for nearly two months now. Like hell I'll accept your advances. Either way, I'm positive I'm making you up."

"So you'd rather think yourself insane than admit I may be real?"

Lance thought about it, frowning. "With how much of a douchebag you are, I'd rather you be just my problem than all of our problems. So, I guess I am." He shivered as water rose up to cover his feet, stinging the scrapes further up his legs.

Lotor finally looked away from Lance, gazing out at the ocean, wispy remains of the fog scattered about the surface of the grey water. The edges of his lips turned upward.

"You'll soon be returning to your friends, so I'll have a bit of fun for the meantime."

"You're telling me all the crap you've already done to me hasn't been fun? Sewing my mouth shut, dragging me by the hair, watching me cry my eyes out. None of that was fun for you, you sadistic ass?"

"Oh, believe me. It was. It's the most I've had in a while." Lotor stood, towering over Lance as he looked down at him. "I wish to have more, however."

"Great..." Lance knew he couldn't do anything about it, so settled for keeping his gaze on the horizon, watching the sun sink lower as night approached.

"I assume you're familiar with drowning?"

Lance froze, his fear breaking through for a moment. It was one of his worst fears. "I am..."

"That makes things easier for me then. I don't have to explain anything to you now." Lotor leaned down to pick Lance up, digging his nails into his arm.

"Let go of me..." Lance's voice was quiet, panic causing it to get louder. "Now!"

"You're the Blue Paladin, Guardian of Water! Surely you know how to swim?" Lotor's voice was mocking as he lifted Lance, holding him bridal style.

"Let go!" Lance struggled, his voice becoming muffled as Lotor covered his mouth and nose, constricting his air supply. His struggling lessened as he became lightheaded.

"Now... Enjoy your swim, yes?" Lotor heaved Lance forward, watching him land in the waves, immediately swallowed up. He smiled before turning and walking back along the jetty, not staying to watch the show. He'd had his satisfaction just by seeing Lance's face, full of fear.

Lance was immediately battered around by the water, the waves merciless as they threw him against the jagged rocks surrounding the jetty. Salt burned his eyes and wounds, what remained of his breath being forced from his lungs as he slammed against a rocks.

Weakly, he struggled to swim to the surface. He didn't have enough room or energy to fight the deadly whirlpool he'd been caught in. He couldn't but recall throwing sticks and other objects into this exact same spot with his siblings, watching as they were sucked beneath the water each time the waves came inland, never to return.

Bubbles leaked out of his mouth and nose, immediately disappearing; the last of his breath. Lance slammed against the rocks again, his head cracking against a rock.

Nearly instantly, his vision went black and his senses faded as blood leaked from his cracked skull, mixing with the water as it churned, refusing to allow his body to surface.

-----

Shiro stood in front of the others, watching Lance's figure as he moved around in the pod, as if in pain. Apparently, he'd done the same thing when he'd been in the pod, so he guessed he was having a nightmare. A rather bad one, at that.

"Coran... How are his vitals?" Shiro turned to look at the Altean, worried for the Blue Paladin. He'd returned from discussing things with Allura, his heart heavy from the information he'd received.

"Well... His heart rate is sped up, and his breathing is a bit shallow. It appears his brain waves are going crazy as well. I've never seen someone have so much brain activity at once before!" Coran read over the charts, intrigued while simultaneously concerned.

"Uh... Is that a good thing...?" Hunk frowned, looking at Lance's pained expression.

"It doesn't look good, even if it is." Pidge looked up from where she was typing on her laptop, working on a project unknown to the others.

"I'm afraid it's not good. Although it's not exactly bad either, I suppose." Coran looked thoughtful for a moment. "It means he's having a dream, or 'nightmare', as he called it. A very realistic one, if we can gather anything from how much he's moving around."

"A nightmare, huh...?" Shiro sighed and turned back to face Lance, feeling bad for the teen. He was able to guess what he was likely dreaming about, figuring it had something to do with being mute.

"I hope he's alright..." Hunk looked down at his feet and took a deep breath, calming his nerves.

As if on cue, the pod door swished open. Lance fell forward and staggered on his feet, falling forward. Keith, who had been standing the closest to the pod, lunged forward and caught him.

"Lance!" Hunk raced forward and snatched him from Keith's arms, not seeing his scowl as he embraced Lance in a bone-crushing hug.

Lance wheezed as air was forced from his body, weakly smiling at Hunk and returning the hug. He gripped tightly onto his friend, trying to hide his shakes as images from his nightmare flashed through his mind.

"You gave us all heart attacks. You just suddenly collapsed after getting hit in the head really hard..." Hunk frowned, tightening his grip.

"Speaking of collapsing..." Shiro came up from behind Hunk, his voice serious. "Lance, when was the last time you got a full night's rest?"

Lance stiffened and tapped Hunk's back twice to let him know to let go, wobbling a little one he was back on his feet. He regained his balance and looked around.

"Here.." Keith held out Lance's notebook and pencil to him, not meeting his eyes. He drew his hand back as Lance snatched it from him, suspiciously eyeing him.

Don't touch my stuff.

Lance scribbled out an answer, glaring at Keith before turning to Shiro.

Two days now?

Shiro frowned, looking into Lance's eyes. "You sure?"

Lance nodded, trying not to rub his fingers together, a sign that he was nervous. Hunk would notice and call him out on it.

"What about eating?"

Breakfast.

Shiro frowned, not sure if that was a lie or not. "Lance. You swear you're not lying?"

I swear, Shiro. I'm fine.

"If you were fine you wouldn't have collapsed from exhaustion." Keith glared at him, having peeked around Shiro and reading his answer.

Lance returned the glare, flipping him off.

Buzz off. I said I'm fine.

"Lance, you collapsed from exhaustion, and you've lost weight. You're not fine."

Lance bristled, gritting his teeth and huffing as he looked away, tightly gripping his pencil. He released his grip as Hunk put a comforting hand on his shoulder, taking a deep breath and calming himself.

I'd say it makes sense that I've lost weight. We train everyday, and missions take a lot out of me too. As for sleeping, I'm sure I'm not the only one who can't sleep sometimes. So, don't tell me what I am and am not. I am fine.

Keith glowered, sulking. "Whatever. Exhaust yourself until the point of death, see if we care."

An awkward silence fell, no one knowing what to say. It lasted for a bit, until Coran broke it.

"Lance, if you're feeling fine, then you should get changed so we can go see what the Princess has to say." Coran shuffled, obviously a bit uneasy. "It's rather important."

Shiro winced, already knowing what Allura was going to say. It wasn't good news.

Lance nodded, accepting his clothes from Hunk. He made shooing motions with his hands, telling everyone to turn around while he changed as he handed his notebook to Hunk. They complied, not wanting to see Lance nude. Keith was the last to turn, staring at Lance for a few seconds before moving.

Lance peeled the cryo suit off his body and tossed it aside on a nearby table. He pulled his boxers on and struggled to tug his jeans on, his legs feeling stiff. He wrestled his shirt on and finished by tugging his jacket on, wincing at how sore his torso and arms were. His head hurt a little, a headache pulsing through his skull.

He walked past the others, letting them know he was finished changing, and lead the way out of the room. Footsteps behind him signaled the others were following. He jumped as someone fell into stride beside him, tugging on his sleeve and forcing him to fall behind the others. He scowled at the culprit, not wanting to talk, or even be near, him.

"Lance... Look. I meant what I said.. You're obviously not fine, and I don't understand why you're trying to hide it. I'll leave you alone for the meantime about it, but.... If you collapse again, or you look like you've lost more weight, I'll be interfering. I don't give a crap if Shiro and the others believe you, 'cause I sure as Hell don't." Keith gazed at Lance intensely, nothing but concern in his eyes.

Lance scoffed, crossing his arms. He flipped Keith off again, quickening his pace to catch up with the others, fuming. He didn't want Keith, of all people, to be the one seeing through his ruse. Hell, if he confided in him he'd probably think he was crazy.

Sighing, he ran a hand through his hair, his exhaustion kicking in again. He did feel better than before he went into the pod, but only by a little bit. He rubbed his eyes, feeling Keith's gaze on his back the entire way to the bridge.

The six of them shuffled into the bridge, crowding around the bottom of Allura's area while Coran went to stand by her side. They anxiously waited, unsure of what to expect, other than Shiro, who nervously stood to the side, calming himself.

Allura took a deep breath, collecting herself before turning around to face the paladins. Her face was grim, her hands folded neatly in front of her.

"Paladins... I have some grim news." She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, body stiff with tension. "As you know, you defeated Zarkon, and we have been cleaning up the rest of the Galra while continuing our search for Pidge's family. Everything has been going well, but there has been a recent development...." She nodded at Shiro, watching him take a step forward and turning to face everyone, standing beside Allura.

"Apparently, Zarkon has a son. An heir to the throne, if you will. He's recently been making a comeback for the Empire. He's been attacking planets we've liberated and recapturing them."

"So... In other words, the war.."

"Isn't over." Shiro grimly finished Hunk's sentence.

Silence washed over the room as the paladins processed the information, each having a hard time coming to terms with it, Lance in particular. He'd been so excited, despite his fears, to see his family again, and now he had to wait even longer because of a stupid heir to the throne. Angrily, he managed to keep his eyes clear of frustrated tears.

"The heir... What's his name?" Keith asked the question Lance wanted to.

"Lotor. I knew him as a child, but I've been under the impression he'd been killed." Allura answered, visibly shuddering at the mention of the Galran Prince's name.

Lance froze, eyes widening. He paled, beginning to shake a little as Allura pulled up a picture of him.

For the first time in seeing him for over a month, Lance saw all of Lotor's face. His lips were drawn back in a snarling grin and his eyes wild, blood spattered across his face. He was clearly in position to attack, his duel swords covered in blood as he prepared to spin around in a deadly whirlwind of sharp edges.

And his eyes... His eyes were what really sent fear down Lance's spine.

Violet irises lay within a yellow background, seeming to follow Lance no matter where he moved. He flinched when someone put a hand on his shoulder.

"Dude, are you alright..?" Hunk whispered to him, leaning down so the others couldn't hear.

Lance shakily nodded his head, taking a deep breath to try and calm his nerves. He held up his hand and saw how much it was shaking, trying to hide it from Hunk, but to no avail.

Hunk silently moved his grip from Lance's shoulder to his hand, holding it and giving it a reassuring squeeze. He moved closer, allowing his comforting aura to wash over Lance, who slowly relaxed.

Almost reluctantly, Lance allowed himself to be comforted. His breathing returning to normal as he returned the squeeze, his eyes closing as he let out a large yawn. He could practically hear the sound of Allura's eyes snapping over to him.

"Lance, if you're still feeling ill, you may rest." She seemed to think better about something, her brows furrowing. "Actually, I think it'd be best to call it a night. We can discuss this in the morning when everyone's rested. I feel Lance is not the only one who could use it."

"What? But-" Keith began to protest.

"Alright, Princess." Shiro interrupted, looking at Keith out of the corner of his eye pointedly.

Keith huffed, looking away. "Fine.."

"Then you're all dismissed to do what you like. Hopefully nothing too strenuous." Allura's gaze noticeably lingered on Keith and Pidge, her message clear to those two in particular. Both looked away sheepishly, Pidge rubbing the back of her head.

Lance gently tugged on Hunk's hand, asking him to follow as the others filtered out of the room. Hunk obliged, trailing after him. He shuddered at the feeling of someone watching them, his head turning just in time to see Keith look away and stalk off, obviously sulking. What about, Hunk didn't have a clue.

"Hey, Lance. You sure you're alright?" Hunk's voice was quiet, gentle.

Lance looked back at him, pausing. His grip on Hunk's hand tightened as he shrugged, turning away and looking down at his feet. He honestly didn't know at this point.

Hell, considering how he'd gone through the pain of fracturing one of his shoulder blades and hadn't said a word about it, he'd say he was doing pretty well now by all things considered. All though, if he moved his shoulder a certain way, it hurt like a son of a bitch... But that was the besides the point.

"Well... Just know that I'm here for you. Always have been." Hunk offered a small smile, following Lance as he started walking again, hiding a small blush of happiness. Damn, Hunk knew how to make him feel better.

He lead the way into his room, feeling the questioning aura radiating off of Hunk. He made grabby hands at him, watching Hunk roll his eyes as he pulled his notebook and pencil out of his pocket, Lance not having taken it back after he got out of the healing pod.

Can you... Can you stay with me until I fall asleep? I wanna take a nap, but...

"You've been having trouble sleeping?"

Lance nodded, rubbing the back of his neck and tugging his jacket off as he started to change into his sleepwear.

"I mean, yeah. I guessed as much based on how you've been acting lately." Hunk made himself comfortable on the floor next to Lance's bed, leaning against the wall.

Lance cocked his head, tugging on his pajama pants.

"You've been... Kinda distant lately." Hunk sighed, looking up at the ceiling. "We're all worried about you, ya know."

Lance didn't respond as he climbed into his bed, crawling under the covers. He avoided eye contact as he held out his hand, Hunk grabbing ahold of it as he got comfortable. He used his free hand to pull his sleeping mask down, his fear of another nightmare dampened by Hunk's presence.

"Well... Sleep well then, Lance. You need it." Hunk closed his eyes, relaxing as he waited for Lance to fall asleep. He hoped that Lance would feel better after having a nice, long rest, despite whatever was plaguing his mind and making him so... on edge and anxious.

The atmosphere was too calm and quiet for him to not fall asleep too. His breathing evened out as he fell asleep, but not before making sure that Lance had.

They didn't let go of each other's hands the entire night, keeping each comforted until morning.

Chapter Text

Lance watched Hunk cook breakfast, something other than food goo. He tapped his finger against the counter, wanting to help.

As if reading his mind, Hunk spoke. "Lance, can you get the biscuits out of the over? I'm busy with the eggs."

Lance perked up, nodding. He stood up straight, now with a mission, a purpose instead of just hovering because he was bored couldn't sleep.

He frowned, unable to find the oven mitts within 5 seconds of looking and giving up. He grabbed two dish towels instead, opening the oven and carefully getting ahold of the front half of the pan. He miscalculated how far to reach, wrist making contact with the oven rack.

He hissed as he burned himself, grip faltering as pain spread across his wrist. The pan began to slip from his one handed grasp, and, in his attempt to save it, caused him to press his elbow against the oven door, which wasn't open far enough.

He flinched and held on with one hand again, opening the over door further with his free one. The dish towel was beginning to slip out of place, the pan hot even through the thin material.

Following his instincts, Lance let go. The pan clattered onto the oven door, the biscuits falling off and scattering over the floor.

Hunk turned at the sudden commotion, seeing what had happened. His eyes widened as he quickly put the scrambled eggs into a bowl, rushing to Lance's aid.

"Dude, are you alright?!"

Lance nodded, discreetly stuffing his hand into his pocket to hide his wrist. His elbow was hidden by his jacket, although the material was a bit scorched, blackened.

"You sure?" Hunk hovered over him like a worried parent.

Lance nodded again, crouching down to pick up the ruined biscuits. He allowed himself to wince in pain, his wrist and elbow throbbing.

Hunk crouched down to help him, still worried. He knew Lance had been getting a little bit better sleep-wise, but mentally? He suspected he'd been declining again, and it frustrated him to no end that Lance wouldn't just tell him what was haunting him every waking moment.

They finished picking up the biscuits and threw them away, Hunk grabbing the pan out of the oven with his oven mitts, setting it aside so it could cool while Lance closed the oven door.

Lance went and leaned against the counter, gritting his teeth from pain. He walked back over to Hunk and tapped his shoulder, pointing at the door once he had his attention.

"You leaving? Where to?"

Lance crossed his legs in response, wobbling a little.

"The bathroom... Coming back here or going to the dining room?"

Lance motioned as if he were taking a bite of food, fixing his legs before doing so.

"Hmm... Alright. I'll be there shortly." Hunk went back to cooking, bacon now. Purple bacon, but bacon nonetheless.

Lance took his leave, walking briskly to the bathroom near the training room, to avoid Hunk finding him. The second he walked in, he beelined for the sinks, turning the water on cold and holding his wrist under the stream of soothing coolness.

Lance looked at his reflection, biting his lip and wincing as his jacket rubbed against the burn on his elbow. Not bothering to dry off his hand, he tugged off his jacket, breath hitching at the damage done to the material.

Unable to help it anymore, tears sprung up in his eyes. He sniffled, allowing his tears of frustration to drip down his face, wiping feebly at his nose as it began to run.

Leaning against the wall, he slide to the ground, hugging his knees to his chest with his jacket sandwiched between his chest and legs. He held onto it tightly for comfort, crying uncontrollably.

He wasn't sure how long had passed before he heard the door open, freezing as he looked up at the door with puffy, red eyes.

Standing there, sweaty from his morning training session, was Shiro. His eyes widened in surprise.

"Lance? What's wrong?" He carefully approached him, concerned.

Lance shrugged, swallowing and wiping furiously at his eyes. He hated when people saw him cry. He fell stupid, no matter how justified the reason may be for him to bawl his eyes out.

"Do.. Do you wanna talk about it?" Shiro went to Lance's side, sitting beside him. He didn't move to touch him, not sure if Lance wanted physical contact at the moment.

Lance burrowed his face into his jacket, shaking his head.

"Do you...want a hug?" Shiro felt awkward even saying the words, as if it wasn't his place to offer that sort of comfort to Lance.

Lance froze for a second, peeking out from his jacket. Hesitating, he slowly nodded, feeling a little unsure.

A bit surprised, Shiro awkwardly scooted closer, gently pulling Lance into a hug, resting the younger man's head on his shoulder. He tensed a bit when Lance wrapped his arms around his torso, squeezing tightly as his tears started falling at a rapid rate again.

He silently sobbed into Shiro's chest, feeling stupid for getting this upset over a jacket. Although, he supposed it wasn't just the jacket he was crying about. He softly gasped as Shiro began to rub circles on his back.

"Lance, look... I'm not sure what made you cry like this, since you always seem to be strong, but... Whatever it is, you can tell me." Shiro spoke softly, hesitating. Once again, it felt like it wasn't his place to offer Lance this kind of comfort. He was aware he didn't spend enough time with him to.

Sniffling, Lance looked up at Shiro, eyes red and puffy, his bottom lip quivering as he tried to calm himself. His grip around Shiro tightened again as he adjusted himself, his wrist having been pressed against Shiro's shirt and rubbing painfully against it.

He managed to stop the worst of his crying and pulled out of the hug, sniffling as he grabbed his jacket, hugging it close to himself and avoiding eye contact with Shiro.

"Lance..." Shiro had never seen the teen look so sad, so mentally drained. It was...unnerving, to say the least.

Lance waved Shiro off, wiping his eyes afterwards. He stood, his legs a bit shaky, as he went back to the sinks to wash the snot and tears off his hands. He could feel Shiro's eyes burning holes in his back, able to tell he wanted to ask more questions.

He turned, drying his hands on his jeans as he moved to leave the room, tensing when Shiro gently grabbed his wrist, the uninjured one thankfully. He forced himself to meet Shiro's eyes, a small, fake smile on his lips.

"Lance, listen... If you don't want to tell me anything, please tell Hunk at least.. It's not good to keep everything bottled up." Shiro's tone was solemn, but his eyes kind and understanding.

Lance lowered his eyes again and nodded timidly, pulling his wrist from Shiro's grasp and quickly exiting the bathroom. He released his jacket from his death grip, pulling it back on to hide his burns better.

Slouching dejectedly, he walked into the dining room, spotting everyone else already seated. Hunk was keeping everyone from eating, eyes keeping a careful watch on everyone.

"Lance, there you are! I didn't see you in the bathroom when I went to look for you." Hunk stood upon spotting Lance, frowning when seeing how red his eyes were, but not saying anything.

Lance shrugged, sitting beside Keith as he usually did, feeling uncomfortable from all the stares from everyone else.

"Hey, Lance.. You look like shit." Keith raised an eyebrow, staring at Lance.

Lance glared, face sour at how Keith just up and pointed it out.

"I think he knows, Keith." Pidge rolled her eyes, but her face screamed concerned.

"Lance, are you alright?" Hunk tried to keep his expression neutral, but he was obviously worried.

Lance nodded, giving a reassuring grin at him. He propped his head on one of his hands as Shiro walked in, making eye contact before looking to the side. His cheeks turned red, burning with shame at having been found crying.

Shiro held his gaze on Lance for a second longer than necessary in the others eyes, leaving them to guess what might have happened between the two.

"Morning, Shiro." Hunk greeted him, giving a thumbs up to everyone else to allow them to dig in.

"Morning, Hunk. What'd you make?" Shiro sat, at the end of the line beside Pidge.

"Scrambled eggs and bacon. Or the alien equivalent, I guess."

"I was gonna say.. Eggs aren't green, and bacon isn't purple.." Pidge made a skeptical expression as she looked at her plate. "Then again, you made it Hunk, so it couldn't be that bad." She began eating, eyes closing at the flavor.

"Is it good?" Hunk watched as everyone ate, eating his own food.

"Hunk, I don't know how you did it, but these are some of the best tasting eggs and bacon I've ever tasted." Pidge swallowed her mouthful of food, just to shovel more into her mouth.

Lance, on the other hand, was picking at his food. He wasn't hungry, and still felt bad for ruining the biscuits with his clumsiness. He set his fork down, settling for peeking at Keith out of the corner of his eye.

He had bacon grease around the edges of his mouth, a couple of tiny pieces of scrambled eggs sticking to it. If Lance didn't know any better, he'd say it was cute how much of a messy eater Keith was.

Hunk watched with a knowing look as Lance watched Keith, a dreamy look in his eyes and a miniscule smile on his lips.

"Hey, Lance. You need to eat." Shiro called to him from his seat, looking past Pidge and Hunk.

Lance winced a little, sighing and picking his fork up again. Feeling everyone's eyes on him, he reluctantly stuffed a mouthful of eggs into his mouth, pouting. No matter how much his stomach churned with nausea from the presence of food, Lance couldn't deny that it tasted amazing.

Apparently satisfied with him taking even one bite, Shiro stood, having already cleaned his plate. He grabbed it and made to leave the room, pausing as he passed behind everyone.

"After you finish eating, the Princess wants us in the main bridge. It's... important." He left the room without waiting for their responses.

"It probably has to do with this Prince Lotor character." Hunk spoke frustratedly, taking a bite of food.

"It's likely, but we'll just have to wait and see." Pidge sighed, looking down dejectedly at her empty plate.

Lance stood, abandoning his half-eaten plate of food and walking to Pidge's side. He placed a hand on her shoulder, giving her a small, reassuring smile.

She jumped a little at the contact, but leaned into Lance's touch, returning his smile with her own determined one. "Thanks, Lance.."

Lance nodded, stifling a yawn as he removed his hand, stretching. His back gave a satisfying cracking sound as he grinned at the horrified look on Keith's face.

"That... That did not sound normal." Keith frowned, clearing his throat as he stared at Lance, wide-eyed with horror.

Lance tilted his head to the side and cracked his neck in response, earning a grimace from the others.

"Lance, please. That sounds... Ugh." Hunk shuddered.

Lance grinned, enjoying their reactions. He 'laughed', air able to be heard coming out in wheezy breaths. He broke out into a sudden, violent coughing fit, air catching in his throat as he exaggeratedly held his hand at the bottom of his throat.

Hunk burst into laughter with Pidge, not even trying to contain it. Even Keith snickered at Lance's suffering.

Lance regained his composure, laughing more with everyone. It felt good, like he hadn't done it in a while. And, come to think of it, he probably hadn't. Not real laughter anyway.

Keith was the first to recover, hiding a small smile by abruptly standing and turning away.

"Guys, we should get going. See what Allura has to say." Pidge spoke up, letting out one last snort of laughter as she gathered her wits again.

"Yeah.. One sec..." Hunk wheezed, trying to catch his breath.

Lance clapped a hand onto Hunk's shoulder, grinning before leading the way. The remaining dishes could be cleaned up later, after the meeting.
He flinched a little when he felt someone lightly touch his arm, snapping his head around to see Keith, doing his best to look inconspicuous. He rolled his eyes, sticking his tongue out at the shorter male, who in turn looked just the slightest bit offended.

"Hey, Lance." Hunk whispered to him, leaning down. "Stop flirting and focus."

Lance gasped, looking at Hunk with a surprised look on his face. He shook his head furiously, a faint blush able to be seen brushing his cheeks.

Hunk didn't say anything, just chuckled at his friend's reaction. Lance looked indignant, puffing his cheeks out in a pout and sulking.

Keith looked at the pair in confusion, Pidge shaking her head in amusement. She hadn't heard what Hunk said to Lance, but she could guess based off of his reaction.

They eventually arrived at the bridge, any signs of ease and cheerfulness ceasing at the grim atmosphere. They gathered around Allura and Shiro, bracing themselves for the worst. Coran was no where to be seen.

Shiro felt a pang of sadness at how the teens' became so devoid of emotion the second they entered the room. Although, he felt relieved that Lance had been laughing and smiling before coming in, a sign that he must be feeling a bit more like himself, especially after earlier.

"Paladins.." Allura greeted them solemnly, eyes tired and her voice strained. She took a deep breath, closing her eyes for a tick before opening them again, determination set in.

"We have received a distress signal from a nearby planet, Eress. The inhabitants, Samins, are relatively peaceful. They require our assistance in liberating their planet." As she spoke, Allura brought up an image of the planet and several of the Samins.

"We'll be arriving sometime in the next quintent, but there's a catch." Shiro took over, addressing the paladins with a bit more energetic voice. "Eress has been under Galra control for over a 1,000 years, so we're unsure how much has changed in the meantime. It's likely that the maps the Alteans had stored are outdated and unreliable. Not to mention, the atmosphere is too dense for communications to get through. Allura and Coran won't be able to help us."

"So, basically, we're going in blind?" Hunk raised an eyebrow skeptically.

Shiro nodded, eyes moving to look at the yellow paladin. "That's part of it, yes. But the other thing is that it may be a trap. The Samins are a clever species with strong, reliable instincts that believe in survival of the fittest. They'll go with whatever side their instincts tell them is going to win."

"And in this case, I'd assume it's likely that their instincts are going to tell them that the Galra are going to be the winning side." Pidge tilted her head, sighing.

"Precisely, Pidge." Allura spoke again, smiling faintly at the youngest paladin. "It's going to be risky, but-"

"I don't think we should go." Someone abruptly cut her off.

"And why is that, Keith?" Allura turned her gaze towards him, critical.

"It sounds too dangerous. Someone's gonna hurt, or worse."

"Keith, we-"

"No, Shiro. I don't agree with this. It's obviously a trap. It makes no sense to go when-"

"Keith!" Allura cut him off, voice raised. "I'm well aware this could be a trap, but we must go. If there's a chance, no matter how small, for us to free these people, we will." Allura held her ground, firmly stating her opinion.

Keith huffed, backing down and averting his gaze. "I know. I just don't trust this."

Lance rolled his eyes, scoffing. He felt Keith glare at him, but didn't acknowledge him.

"I know, Keith. But it's as the Princess said. If there's a chance we can free them, we will." Shiro stood tall, expression stern.

"I said I know.." Keith looked away, crossing his arms. "I just... I don't want anything bad to happen." His voice was soft, fragile almost, taking everyone by surprise.

Shiro's expression softened as he approached the red paladin, placing a comforting hand on his shoulder. "Everything will be fine, Keith. It usually is. And if it's not, we make it."

Sighing, Keith nodded, relaxing. "Alright.."

Removing his hand, Shiro turned to face the others again. He wasted no time, going straight into the plan.

"Lance, you'll be positioned up on one of the cliffs to keep an eye out for anything suspicious, here." Shiro pointed out a spot on the map. "If you see something, alert us. If we're about to be attacked, shoot. Pidge will be stationed nearby on a cliff horizontal to you, right here." His finger moved, pointing to the spot.

Lance nodded his understanding, suddenly feeling nervous. He didn't know if he'd be able to shoot from that far, no matter how much the team was relying on him.

"Pidge, your job is to hack into the nearby Galra base while we discuss plans with the Samins. Get as much information as you can. Whatever you choose to start with is up to you."

"Got it, Shiro." Pidge brightened a little at her job, knowing exactly what she was going to start with.

"Hunk, Keith, you two will be with me. We'll be discussing plans to free them. If they do jump us, it'll be important to have a skilled close range fighter, or in this case two, and someone to lay down cover fire. Lance of course will also be helping with that."

"Wait.. So you guys are basically going to be diplomats? Shouldn't Allura go with you then?" Pidge tilted her head, trying to figure it out.

"Normally, she would. But the air on Eress is extremely toxic to Alteans. We can't risk her suit being cut through or her helmet being removed." A seventh voice answered her.

"Coran! I was wondering where you went." Pidge turned to face the older Altean, eyes widening at his dirty appearance. "What happened to you?"

"The Jadert was being rather difficult today. Refused to let me trim her." Coran shrugged as if it were nothing, taking his position by Shiro. "I was already running late for this and didn't want to waste more time."

"Uh... What the heck is a Jadert?" Hunk questioned him, a bit curious.

"It's one of the species we use to make food goo."

"I really hope that it's a plant.." Pidge mumbled, a bit concerned about the contents of their food now.

"Of course it's not a plant. A Jadert is a rare species of amphibian. In order to remain healthy, they have glands near the end of their digestive track that produce a mucus-like substance that they consume. It's packed full of nutrients and acts as a binding agent. Perfect for the goo." Coran looked proud as he explained it, twirling a finger around the edge of his moustache.

Horrified looks spread across the paladins' faces as they came to the realization what was in their food.

"Then there is literally alien bu-"

"Paladins!" Allura cut Hunk off, looking a bit irritated. "This is a serious matter at hand."

"We know, Allura." Keith returned her glare and shot one at the other paladins as well, gaze lingering on Lance. He wasn't used to Lance not being the reason they got scolded, even if it had been months since he'd gone mute.

Lance sulked a little, hating getting scolded when he hadn't done anything. He met Keith's eyes, catching him staring and returning the glare with a small pout.

Caught off guard by Lance's sudden pout, Keith abruptly turned his head. He bit his cheek, forcing himself to focus on Allura again.

"Keith, Lance, are you listening?" Allura's eyes felt like they were burning holes through them.

"Yes, Allura." Keith narrowed his eyes, trying to not get irritated

Her gaze suddenly softened before she chuckled softly, amused. "Evidently not, since I just excused you all, and you two haven't moved a muscle. Everyone else already left."

Lance's mouth shaped into an 'o'. He blushed faintly before spinning on his heel, quickly walking out of the room. He hugged his jacket close to him, sulking as he passed the others in the hallway in his rush to get to his room.

"Lance! Hold on a second! I need to talk to you!" Shiro called out, chasing after the teen and breaking off from their group.

Sighing, Lance stopped and turned around to face their leader. He looked up at him, forcing himself to make eye contact.

"Lance, look.. About this morning-"

Lance shook his head, pointing to where Hunk and Pidge were standing, both watching the exchange curiously.

He gestured to Shiro and started to walk again, leading the way to somewhere unknown to Shiro. He glanced back over his shoulder to see Hunk and Pidge whispering to each other and shooting glances at the blue and black paladins.

They walked for some time, Lance not letting Shiro say a word. Everytime he would open his mouth to talk, Lance would cut him off by shushing loudly, not evening turning his head.

Finally, Lance led the way into a room that Shiro had never seen before.

It looked like a Japanese style garden, tranquil and calming. Cherry blossom trees, or what looked like their space equivalent, were scattered about along with other vegetation. A white gravel pathway led the way to a large crystal clear pond, filled with white and bluish-silver fish that acted as koi would on Earth. An island resided within the center of it, one gigantic cherry blossom tree dominating the land. A small bridge allowed one to cross over to said tree and relax on a bench placed beneath it.

"Lance, this place..." Shiro stared at the area, awestruck.

Found it one night when I couldn't sleep. It..relaxes me.

Lance sighed, tapping his pencil against the paper. He began walking along the pathway, gravel crunching underneath his feet. He heard the sound of Shiro following, a second pair of footsteps besides his own.

He crossed the bridge, the fish in the water following alongside his shadow. He had taken over the job of feeding them, having talked to Coran about the room.

He sat on the bench, far to the right, while Shiro day far to the left. The atmosphere was awkward, tense.

"Lance... About this morning.."

I was just frustrated. Almost like getting so angry you cry?

"Well... I guess..." Shiro sighed, allowing his gaze to wander over the scenery. "Why were you frustrated?"

Just had an incident in the kitchen. I spilled the biscuits everywhere.

"Okay... Anything else?"

No. Why?

"Most people don't have a complete mental breakdown over something like spilling biscuits. There only about two reasons I could think of that they would. Reason one is that they're sensitive. Reason two is that other things had building that person's emotions up until something small just makes the dam break."

I'm fine, Shiro.

"Then why did you lead me all the way here just to tell me you were frustrated? Lance, something's obviously bothering you. And I'm not the only one who's noticed. We're all worried about you, Lance."

Lance looked down at his lap, a conflicted expression on his face. He bit his lip, looking like he wanted to say something, but apparently deciding against it.

It's just... It's hard to explain.

"Well... You should try. It'll probably make you feel better."

I already tried, but... I just can't.

Shiro sighed, closing his eyes and rubbing his temples. "I... Alright, Lance. But if you ever figure out how to explain it to someone, please, tell Hunk, or anyone else."

Alright, Shiro...

Lance leaned back into the bench, closing his eyes and relaxing to the best of his ability. He heard Shiro stand.

"You guys have a free day today. The calm before the storm, if you will."

Lance nodded in response, not opening his eyes. He heard the crunching of Shiro's footsteps as he walked away.

He sat there for who knows how long before standing and walking to the pond, peering down into the water and ignoring the fish, feeling uneasy. He crouched down and trailed his hand into the water, shuddering and snapping his hand back. With a heavy heart, he realized something.

He felt fearful towards the water.

Chapter Text

Lance lay on his bed, blankly staring up at the ceiling. Today was a free day, and he didn't have anything to do. Just lay around stuck with his own thoughts; one of the worst things possible for him. 

He turned to his side, staring at the wall now. He felt lifeless, heavy bags layiing under his eyes, his face a bit sunken in. He had lost yet more weight, much to his teammates' dismay. Still, no matter how much they urged or prodded, he refused to tell them what was wrong. 

He just didn't know how to tell them. How in the world were you supposed to up and say you were practically dying from depression and paranoia because enemy prince was tormenting you in your sleep? Yeah, you didn't. 

Huffing, Lance sat up, rubbing his eyes and swinging his legs over the edge of the bed. He stood, swaying a bit as he went to his bathroom. Only putting a little effort into it, he splashed water on his face, staring at his reflection. 

He told himself that nothing had changed, that he was still himself in every way. No matter how much he wanted to tell himself that at least, he couldn't convince himself. His sunken face, eye bags, tired eyes, pale skin, and very thin frame said otherwise. And that was just his physical appearance. 

His mental health was worse than his physical health as far as he could tell. Jumping at every sound, insomnia, being afraid of the dark, almost breaking down every time he heard or saw deep water. 

He hated himself for it.

He hated that he couldn't just fight back, or not be bothered by it. He hated that he was afraid, afraid of something he couldn't touch, couldn't see, couldn't hear outside his mind. He hated that he was so affected by it when, as far as he knew, the Lotor inside his mind wasn't the same as the Lotor of the Galran Empire. 

He sighed, tearing his gaze away from the mirror and tugging his jacket closer around himself. Shuffling his feet, he left his room, out into the hallway. It was quiet, seemingly more-so than usual to him. The grey walls seemed even more dull, unchanging as they continued to support the castle, as strong as ever; unlike Lance, save for the dull part.

Glumly, he trudged through the halls, having no particular destination in mind; he was just wandering, not really caring where he went. He walked past the dining room, the training room, the bridge, the lounge, and far beyond the parts of the castle in regular use.

Eventually, he found himself in the lower levels, where no one had been in centuries. A dust of sorts covered the floors and walls, giving everything a strange blue glow. He hoped that whatever it consisted of wasn't poisonous to humans.

Curious, he dragged a finger through it, frowning at how thick it was. Disgustingly, it felt sticky to the touch, and he quickly wiped his hand on his jeans, cringing. He figured that whatever it was, it wasn't healthy and shouldn't be there, making a mental note to tell Coran.

A room off to the side caught his attention, the only door on the floor that was active. He took slow, long steps as he approached it, trying not to get the space dust on him. Covering his hand with his sleeve, he activated it, wondering why it needed to be touched to open unlike the other doors.

Tilting his head, he walked inside, blinking at how bright it was. It took a few moments for his eyes to adjust after the darkness of the hallways, rubbing at them; probably not a good idea after getting the space dust on his hand, he realized.

That aside, his mouth fell open at the contents of the room, causing him to immediately break out into a coughing fit as he inhaled a bunch of the space dust. Glowing, jagged crystals were sprouting from the walls, the metal warped and sharp where they'd pierced through.

Obviously, they weren't supposed to be there. The thought that he'd just stumbled across someone's stash of crystal space meth flickered in his mind as he approached it, the glow seeming to intensify as he got closer.

He felt a bit woozy, likely from all the space dust he'd inhaled upon entering. He was really starting to hope that it wasn't space meth; if it was, he was getting high as shit right now.

Shaking the thought off, against his better judgement, he reached out and touched one. It felt surprisingly cold, like he was touching ice; it was soothing, in a way. He pressed both his hands against the base, closing his eyes and releasing a relaxed breath.

He felt rejuvenated, energetic and upbeat; a rather nice change from the groggy and depressed state he'd been these past few months. Smiling to himself, he took his hands off, shoving them into his pockets as he looked around more.

He spotted more crystals resting on a counter opposite of the ones jutting out of the wall, smaller ones. He picked one up, resting it in his palm and humming thoughtfully. It was about the size of a half-dollar coin, more translucent than the larger ones and almost perfectly round, smooth to the touch.

Almost feeling like he was doing something wrong, Lance looked over his shoulder before pocketing the crystal. It felt surprisingly heavy, a weight nearly impossible to ignore. Humming again, he left the room, feeling satisfied and happy now.

Almost eagerly, he traced his footsteps back to the upper levels of the castle, going back to his room and flopping down onto his bed. While he did feel relaxed and happy, it didn't change the fact that he was still drained.

Clutching the crystal in his hand tightly, finding comfort in it, he closed his eyes. It didn't take long before his breathing slowed, signalling that he had fallen asleep.

-----

Lance squinted against the bright sunlight shining in his eyes, covering his eyes with his arm. His skin felt warm, comfortably so as he rolled onto his side, relaxed and unconcerned with the world around him. He heard ocean waves in the distance, gentle and comforting, beginning to lull him back to sleep. 

"Lance! Get up, or Mom's gonna throw your corpse into the ocean!" An older voice called out to him, a rather familiar one.

"Mmm... No..." He groaned as hands shook him, swatting at them and glaring at the being who dared disturb him. "Go away..."

"No, get up. Before I drag you." His older brother, Julian, rolled his eyes at Lance's behavior.

"Better start dragging then." Lance grinned up at him deviously, resting his hands on the back of his head as he turned onto his back.

Julian just shook his head, putting his foot on Lance's stomach and pressing down. "Get up or else."

Lance wheezed, smacking the side of Julian's ankle. "Okay, okay! Just don't kill me!" He dusted his legs off as he stood, sending a glare towards Julian.

"Hey, don't look at me that way. You should know by now that I'll do it." Julian shrugged, gesturing for Lance to follow. "Anyways, I've been looking for you for hours. Mom's gonna be pissed."

"She's been looking for me? Why?" He tilted his head, looking down at his feet and realizing he was barefoot, frowning. He never left the house without shoes, not seeing any near him. 

"We talked about it this morning... We were all going to the beach together, remember?" He ruffled Lance's hair as he led the way, following the sound of the waves. "You've been getting more and more forgetful lately. You alright?"

"Yeah?" Lance frowned, walking on clumps of plants and patches of dirt to avoid the hot pavement, not wanting to burn his feet on it. He had absolutely no recollection of anything about going to the beach, much less of anything that had happened before he'd woken up on the ground.

He looked over his shoulder at where he'd been laying, thinking that it was a rather weird place to be sleeping at; on the side of the road with only a few scraggly bushes around, and pebbles covering nearly the entire area; nowhere near comfortable enough by his standards to sleep on. Had he fainted or something?

"That didn't sound like very sure of an answer." Julian shook his head, letting out a deep sigh. "Although, I suppose I can't exactly prode you right now, seeing as we have somewhere we need to be." 

"Look... If something was bothering me, you know I would tell you, right? I've always have, haven't I?" He tilted his head as he spoke, avoiding eye contact; he did feel like something wasn't right, but he couldn't place it to tell him, much less understand it himself.

"I guess... Although, you have been more distant lately. Nothing abnormal for a teenager, but..." He trailed off, shrugging. "Just... Like I said, this is a talk for another day. Come on, everyone's waiting for us." Without any warning, he broke into a jog for the rest of the way.

Lance followed wordlessly at that, brow furrowed as he tried to think if he'd been hiding anything from Julian, or anyone in his family for that matter. As far as he could recall, he wasn't; but then again, he found he couldn't remember much other than the basics, like his own name and those of his family members. 

He let out a small sigh, slowing to a stop as he felt his feet hit sand, withdrawing from the confines of his mind to pay attention to his surroundings again. He didn't recognize the area of the beach they were at, raising an eyebrow skeptically. "Um... Have we been here before?" Now that he thought about it, he didn't even recognize the way they'd used to come here. 

"Well... Of course. We came here, uh...a few years ago." Julian tilted his head, his eyes holding something Lance didn't recognize, but made him feel tense nonetheless.

"Are you sure? I think I'd recognize it then. Even if everything's a bit fuzzy, I know when something feels familiar, safe." Lance stared at him, taking a step back as he saw Julian's eyes turn cold. "You're not really my brother, are you?"

Julian smiled, a laugh escaping his lips as he suddenly lunged forward, grabbing ahold of Lance's arms, digging his nails into his flesh. "Looks like I underestimated your instincts. I think I did a pretty good job though, no?"

Lance felt his vision blur, blinking rapidly as the one grabbing him changed from his beloved brother to one of the people he'd come to detest the most as everything came rushing back; Lotor. His expression changed to a snarl as he tore his arms from Lotor's grasp, feeling his nails leave claw marks behind, blood dripping freely.

"And I was almost having a good time." Lance sighed, feeling drained just looking at him. "You're a giant moodkiller."

"That so?" Lotor let out a small laugh, examining Lance's blood on his fingertips, his expression almost looking regretful. "I'm hurt."

"If only." Lance made sure he could still see Lotor as he turned to look out at the water, shoulders slumping. "You going to kill me again? I'd like to get a decent amount of sleep every now and then, ya know."

"Not today, my sprite." Lotor smiled at him, watching Lance tense as he moved to stand beside him, gaze going out to the waves. "Today I'm simply observing. Mother noticed a change in your quintessence levels and aura. She sent me to investigate."

"A change...?" Lance turned to look at him, eyes narrowing in distrust. "Why would there be a change? Actually, why would you even bother telling me? That sounds like something you wouldn't want me to know."

"In normal circumstances, it would be, but today I felt like doing something different." Lotor shrugged, eyes shifting to Lance. "So know that I'm not going to be hurting you right now." He turned and grabbed ahold of Lance's arms, large fingers gently wiping at the blood from the wounds he'd caused.

Lance tensed up, instinctively trying to pull back. "I've learned not to trust you by now. You'll start with a nice little conversation, get me to let my guard down, and then you'll attack first chance you get."

"Most times that is the case, but not today." His voice was soft, almost tender, as he carefully examined Lance's arms and hands, pausing when he got to Lance's right palm. "Blue, like your eyes. Beautiful."

"Uh... What?" Lance pulled his hand back as Lotor released, looking at his palm. Just as Lotor had said, there was a splash of blue against his palm, fading as it branched out. "What the...?! What is this?!" He glared at Lotor, demanding an answer.

"No need to look at me that way, sprite. I had nothing to do with that." He let out a laugh, shaking his head in amusement. "No, that's all you. Although, I suppose a human like you has no knowledge of what a Quartex Crystal is."

"Yeah, a what?" And why is it changing my skin color?" Lance rubbed furiously at the spot, hoping that maybe, just maybe, it would rub away.

Lotor rolled his eyes, snorting at Lance's cluelessness. "Even if you are human, you're still a paladin... This is a bit disappointing. I was hoping you'd have a bit more knowledge." He waved his hand dismissively at Lance's indignant expression. "A Quartex Crystal takes on the color of the quintessence of whatever is around it. If multiple beings are in the presence of them, they can take on the most enticing colors."

"Okay... That doesn't explain to me why the heck my hand is turning blue." Lance waved his hand around as he spoke, praying that his hand wouldn't be like this in real life too.

"If you'd let me finish, I'll tell you." Lotor pushed his finger against Lance's mouth to prevent him from speaking, shushing him. "While pleasant to look at, Quartex Crystals are potentially dangerous and quite rare. If a being comes into direct contact with one, the crystal latches onto them, becomes one with them. It feeds off of their host's quintessence, and absorbs it from their surroundings, always craving more. It only latches onto those facing personal demons."

He tapped at Lance's palm as he spoke, trailing his finger to his chest and tapping where his heart was. "The heart and the brain share the most concentration of quintessence in those with blue. If the crystal goes to the heart, it means that their host let their emotions get the best of them, becoming a beast of pure instinct. Your physical appearance changes, so there's no remainder of your past self, physically or mentally." From his heart, he trailed to Lance's head, tapping at his forehead. "However, if it goes to the brain, it can bring great strength and newfound abilities. It means that the host was able to overcome their demons, have a clear head and be at peace with themselves. They become stronger physically and mentally, and may even be able to control quintessence to some degree." He paused, taking a deep breath before continuing. "Now, the question is; will you overcome your demons and become an irreplaceable asset to your team, or will you lose yourself and become yet another challenge they have to overcome?"

Lance had a blank expression on his face as he processed Lotor's words. "Wait... Then does that mean it's going to my heart?" He held up his hand as he spoke, gazing at his palm with dismay in his eyes. "If I'm already changing, then that means I'm losing, doesn't it...?"

"It would appear so, wouldn't it?" Lotor shrugged nonchalantly, pulling away from Lance and facing towards the ocean again. "I'm afraid our time together is drawing to a close. That explanation took quite a bit longer than I would've liked." He sighed, his hair being whipped around as the wind picked up.

"Can't say that I feel the same about you having to leave." Lance rolled his eyes, letting out a small growl as he put more distance between them.

Lotor let out an amused chuckle, smiling at him again. "Soon enough, you will. That is, if I have my way." He brushed his hair out if his face as he turned away. "Till next time then, my sprite."

The wind picked up more as Lance's vision faded away to black, the last thing he saw that of Lotor's figure as he walked away.

-----

Lance awoke in a cold sweat, gasping as he shot upright. Immediately, he raised his hand, staring at it with wide eyes; sure enough, his palm was stained blue, just like in his dream.

Frantically, he dug through his blankets, shoulders drooping when he couldn't find the crystal. Lotor had been telling the truth after all, much to Lance's dismay.

He swung his legs over the edge of the bed, running a hand through his hair as he got to his feet. Despite being stressed the fuck out, he felt great; that was the best sleep he'd had in a long time.

Smiling thinly to himself, he went to the small closet in his room, digging through all the extra clothing items he'd ended up keep from their trips to different planets for 'just in case'. Holding back an amused laugh, or his wheezy equivalent to one now, he held up what he'd being searching for.

A pair of fingerless gloves.

Grinning to himself, he tugged them on, letting out another small laugh. They hid his palm perfectly, and he could still easily touch and interact with things. No wonder Keith wore them.

Feeling in a much better mood despite his situation, Lance left his room and went to the kitchen, actually feeling hungry for once. He tapped against his thigh as walked in, freezing when he saw Keith leaning against the counter, sipping at one if those juice box things Coran gave them after they trained.

Lance hesitated before quietly going to the food goo machine, watching as Keith jumped at the sudden movement. He waved at him a bit before serving himself, digging in and scarfing it down.

Keith watched him with wide eyes, surprised at Lance's sudden appetite. Knowing if he said anything Lance would probably push him away, he kept his mouth shut, eyes wondering to his hands.

"Are... Are those what I think they are...?" Keith raised an eyebrow, feeling a bit of amusement at the sight of Lance in fingerless gloves.

Lance didn't pause in his eating, flipping him off as he swallowed the rest of his goo, shoving his dishes into the dishwasher.

'I don't know, are they?'

Keith rolled his eyes at Lance's sentence, shaking his head to hide his smile. "Must be... Can't say I thought I'd ever see the day you'd wear fingerle-"

"Paladins! Report to the bridge immediately!"

He was cut off as the castle's alarms went off, immediately chucking his juice box into the counter and taking off, Lance not far behind. They were quick to tug their armor on, Lance actually arriving at the bridge before Pidge and Hunk, just behind Keith.

Once they were all gathered, Allura faced them with a solemn expression, her gaze going straight to Lance, eyes cold. He felt himself grow tense, getting a bad feeling.

She kept quiet, watching at everyone became more alert. "Shiro and I had decided to withhold the information, but as of late, the Galra have been managing to follow us close behind, only a few galaxies away each time we wormhole."

Her voice became accusing  as she continued. "We just finished a transmission with Prince Lotor. And he had quite a few intriguing things to say." Her eyes didn't leave Lance the entire time she spoke, causing him to grow more nervous. The others were starting to notice, exchanging glances in confusion.

"He made an interesting proposal as well... Something you may want to hear, Lance."

As everyone's gazes snapped towards him, Lance felt his chest grow heavy with dread. He was fucked, wasn't he?

"'If you give the blue paladin to me, I will be docile for a period of 30 quintents. You may do whatever you wish during this time period, and I will not respond unless it is a direct attack on me. I'm sure my little sprite will be more than willing to agree after all our late night talks we've had.'"

Lance unconsciously took a step back,  wanting to put a bit of distance between himself and everyone's questioning gazes. With slightly trembling hands, he pulled his notebook from his armor.

'I can explain.'