“Alright paladins, dismissed.”
A collective groan of relief echoes throughout the control room. With the meeting done and over with, Lance stands from his piloting station and stretches, ready to call it a day just like everyone else.
Ah, he can’t wait to hit the hay with his beauty mask on.
“Good night Keith.” Hunk says to the red paladin as he walks past him, the greeting more of an unshakeable habit than an actual time-teller. But he barely gets a glance in return—just a curt nod of the raven’s head.
Lance raises his eyebrows as the doors shut behind Keith.
“Hey, don’t you think Keith seems a bit off today?” he approaches Hunk and Pidge, who look at him skeptically.
“I don’t know, he seemed pretty normal to me.” Pidge says. Hunk nods in agreement.
“What about you, Coran?” Lance turns around to face the gorgeous man. “Do you think Keith’s acting weird today?”
“Number four? I can’t confidently say I do, Lance. Why? Did you notice something peculiar?”
“Well, it’s just…” Lance starts wildly gesturing with his hands. “He seemed way too quiet during the meeting just now, and… I don’t know, more tense I guess?” Here Lance crosses his arms and makes a frowny face, as if imitating the Keith that he noticed. “Like more uptight and brooding and junk. Shouldn’t we be worried?”
“I’m sure he’s fine, Lance.” Allura cuts in, still at the castle’s main control panel, flipping through some holograms here and there. “It’s possible he’s been distracted by his thoughts. A lot has happened, after all.”
“Yeah, what with Shiro being gone, and him having to pilot the Black Lion till he comes back… that is, if he comes back.” Hunk says, a solemn note to his voice. “Not to mention he’s probably still thinking about having Galra DNA in him and finding his family and junk.”
“Okay, point.” Lance agrees. “But shouldn’t we check on him? See he’s doing okay?”
“Your kindness is admirable, Lance.” Coran says. “But perhaps for now we should let him on his own for a while. Maybe he’ll perk back up like usual once he gets some sleep. Speaking of sleep, you should really get some, Princess.”
“I’m fine Coran, I just need to…” Allura starts, but with one wave of the gorgeous man’s hand, the computer shuts down all holograms.
“I’m sorry princess, but I have to insist this time.” Coran says as he escorts the obviously tired yet stubborn Allura out the door. “That goes for all you paladins too. Have a good sleep everyone.”
“You too Coran.” Lance calls out as the door closes. Bidding goodnight to Pidge and Hunk as well, the blue paladin makes his way towards his room.
The halls are dimmed to give that nighttime effect, but after the Alfor AI incident, Lance wishes they’d leave the lights bright all the time. The path to his room suddenly feels doubly long and spookier; the goosebumps are crawling up his skin.
For a split second he considers running back and bunking in with Hunk or at least get Hunk to accompany him to his room, when he notices the back of a figure in a darker part of the hallway.
The alarms rise in Lance’s head as he considers the possibility of an intruder—but he diminishes the thought almost instantly when he realizes, Oh, it’s Keith.
“Hey, Keith buddy, you okay?”
Keith doesn’t respond. He seems frozen in place, his shoulders hunched and against the wall. Lance takes a step closer, his brows furrowing. It’s not like Keith didn’t hear him, right?
“Keith?” Just as Lance says his name again, the raven falls to his knees.
“Keith!” Lance is by his side almost immediately. He holds onto Keith’s shoulder and realizes that the red paladin is gasping for breath hurriedly, almost as if he just got out of drowning, as if his lungs are failing him. His eyes are wide and unfocused, and he’s hugging himself and digging his nails into his arms hard enough to leave marks on his jacket.
Lance’s own eyes widen as he realizes what’s going on.
The first of many tears falls from Keith’s wide eyes, and the Castle of Lions shakes.
“What the—!” another tremor, harder than the one before, almost topples Lance off his feet despite him crouching. A lion’s roar echoes throughout the ship.
“Oh quiznak!” Lance dodges a fallen ceiling piece, and he shields Keith from some smaller debris with his body.
Keith himself is against the wall of the castle, his sobs louder now and his fingers pulling hard at his hair.
Allura’s voice booms through the castle. “Paladins?! Where’s Keith?! Why is the Red Lion attacking us?! Oof!”
Another hit seems to throw Allura off balance as she grunts.
Lance looks at the quivering body under him. He sets his jaw as determination fills his eyes.
Allura is understandably distressed.
She was almost to her room when the attacks started, and ran back to the control room as fast as she could, her fear of the Galran Empire finding them or another enemy attacking their castle energizing her.
Finding out it was the Red Lion attacking her own hangar was not what she was expecting.
“W-What’s going on?!” Hunk shouts as he runs in with Pidge, the both of them suited up in full paladin armour.
“The Red Lion? What do you mean it’s the Red Lion? Where’s Keith?” Pidge asks in rapid succession as she jumps into her station.
“While we’re on the matter, where’s Lance? Has anyone seen Lance?” Hunk adds, going to his own place and seeing what he can do.
“That’s what I hoped you two would know, but I suppose not.” Allura says, gripping onto the controls as the castle shakes once again, even harder this time. The roars of the Red Lion almost feels deafening.
Coran comes running into the control room, ash and soot covering him. “Her hangar’s completely on fire, Princess! She wouldn’t let me in!”
“This is crazy! Again, where are Keith and Lance?!” Pidge shouts, her fingers flying over her computer. “If the Red Lion keeps this up, she’ll melt off her part of the hangar!”
Almost as soon as she said that, the tremors stop, and everything is quiet. No more roars are heard, and no more attacks are felt.
The control room and everyone in it is silent as they find themselves pondering, what just happened?
Static echoes through the speakers. “ — rincess? Guys?”
“Wait, wait, what’s that? Is that Lance?” Hunk taps something on his computer and a screen pops out on the main display, showcasing Lance’s face.
The brunet instantly looks relieved. “Oh thank God. Is everyone okay?”
“Lance!” Pidge exclaims, noting the slight ash on his face. “Dude, you look like you just walked through a fire pit.”
“Lance, we’re fine, but where are you?” Allura cuts in.
“I’m… kinda in the Red Lion?”
“Look, I can’t explain right now because I have to take care of him as soon as possible, but I’m going to take Red back to Blue’s hangar. This place is a hazard and needs some serious cleanup. Oh, and Keith’s with me at the back, so don’t worry. I got him.”
“Lance, what do you mean?” Allura sounds understandably more confused than before. “Did somebody attack him?”
Lance, in his white-blue shirt and with his jacket missing, shifts some controls and gets the Red Lion out the castle and back. “No, no, Princess. We’re fine. Nobody attacked Keith. Hunk will explain it to you.”
“What? Me? I literally don’t know anything about what’s going on here right now—”
“Hunk. It’s pineapples.”
Hunk immediately stops talking, a look of realization crossing his face. Allura, Coran, and Pidge have never looked so confused in their lives.
“Dude… like, in a cake?”
“Yeah, in a cake.”
“Gotcha. You go take care of him Lance. If you need anything from me, I’ll be here.”
Lance grins. “Thanks bud.” And he signs out as soon as he lands Red in Blue’s hangar.
“What the quiznak is a pineapple in a cake?” Pidge exclaims, once the hologram screen disappears.
Hunk looks at the other three people in the room and takes a deep breath. “Okay, so, back in The Garrison, Lance and I, we… kinda have a system.”
“What kind of system?” Allura prods gently when it seems that Hunk is hesitating.
“Well… we kind of take care of each other’s mental health, y’know? And Lance… he gets panic attacks a lot.”
A small gasp comes from Pidge. Hunk continues on when nobody else says anything.
“And because he can’t address it when it’s about to happen and he doesn’t want anyone to see him having one, we set up a system where he can hold my arm really tight, and I ask him, ‘pineapples in a cake?’ and if he nods, I take him back to his room and just… be there for him.”
“Wait, wait, so you’re saying Keith’s having a panic attack right now?” Pidge says and when Hunk nods, she slumps in her seat. “That might explain why Red suddenly started attacking us…”
“I’m sorry paladins but… what is a panic attack?” Allura asks, with Coran beside her looking just as curious.
Hunk and Pidge look at each other, and then begin to tell the Alteans what it all means.
Lance sits in his seat for a while once Red landed, feeling her hum in worry for her paladin. He places a hand on one of her controls and pats. “It’s okay, girl. I’ve got him. Just don’t go attacking the castle again, got it?”
When the brunet feels like he’s got an agreeing hum from the overprotective lion, he turns around in his seat to face Keith.
It was no easy feat getting him to the Red Lion’s hangar, Lance’ll admit that. He almost burned himself thanks to Red’s flames. But seeing Keith slumped against the wall of the cockpit, Lance’s jacket wrapped around him as he rides out the attack, his eyes shut tight, and the occasional sob echoing in the small space, Lance thinks he’d probably be willing to do it all over again.
Lance sits down by Keith, and gently pulls the other down so he’s lying in his lap. He pats Keith’s hair, running his fingers down the length of the mullet and back. After another moment’s silence, Lance begins to sing softly.
He doesn’t know what’ll help calm Keith down, but he hopes at least this is enough.
He racks his memory for any and all the gentle songs he knows, from the typical lullaby in English or Spanish, to the ridiculous self-written songs of his childhood. Once in awhile, a soft love song he remembers from the radio would come into play as well.
He loses track of time with his whisper-singing, unsure of how long he’s been here with Keith occasionally letting out a sob before finally stilling with slow breaths.
Ah, he’s asleep…
Lance’s own eyes close, resting his head against the wall of the cockpit.
Maybe he’ll sleep for a bit too.
When Lance wakes, it’s from being jostled around by a waking Keith.
Lance opens his eyes, realizing he’s still in the exact same position when he fell asleep, and sees Keith trying to push himself off his lap.
In a hushed tone, he asks, “Hey Keith… you okay?”
Keith visibly flinches. His hair hangs and covers most of his face from this angle, so Lance can’t read his expression.
“I…” Keith starts. Lance sees his hands are trembling. “What… happened?”
“You had a panic attack. You don’t remember it?”
Keith shakes his head. Lance’s jacket is still secure around the raven’s shoulders.
“Is this your first time?” Lance asks, just to make sure.
For a moment Keith is silent. But then he shakes his head, almost hesitantly.
“I don’t know… But I think I went through something like this… back in the Garrison… when they told me that he… that Shiro…” Keith doesn’t even get to finish his sentence before another tear hits the ground.
Lance pulls the other into a hug gently, letting Keith cry in between his neck and shoulder. “It’s okay,” he says as he starts humming. “It’s okay.”
Things aren’t really okay, and he’s aware of that. But for now, for just one tick, he needs things to feel okay. At least for a little while.
Keith isn’t actively sobbing this time, his tears silently trailing down his cheeks. Lance plays with the other’s hair again, partly for something to do other than sing, partly for the hope it can help ease Keith’s worries.
It takes a bit for Keith to stop crying and for him to pull away, wiping his face with his shirt.
The raven slides around to sit beside Lance, their shoulders, hips, and legs touching. His mouth opens and closes, as if trying to figure out the words to say to Lance.
“I’m… sorry you had to see me like this.”
Lance places a reassuring hand on the other’s knee. “Don’t be. It’s okay to fall apart sometimes,” with a little smirk to ease the tension in the atmosphere, he adds, “Even for little mullet paladins like you.”
The raven snorts, but Lance spies a small smile, so he takes that as a victory.
Keith raises a weak hand, as if to gesture at everything. “Thanks… You know, for…” he trails off and his hand falls.
“No problem.” Lance says. And he means it. Gently, he bumps the other’s shoulder with his own. “I’ve got your back man.”
Keith smiles at him. His eyes are red and puffy, and there are still tear stains on his cheeks. Without another word the raven leans his head against Lance’s and closes his eyes, curling in on himself.
Lance raises his hand to play with his hair again.
I’ll always have your back.