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Some Say the World Will End in Fire

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Lance knew that allying with Lotor would only cause trouble for them in the long run. Let it be known that Lance was right, Lotor was not to be trusted, and if the listened to him in the first place, he wouldn’t even be in this situation.

On second thought, he wished he was wrong about Lotor because now that he was right, he would never be able to tell the team about Lotor’s betrayal, and he wouldn’t be about to die a horrible death.

“Lance focus. You can bitch and moan about how you are right after you find a way off of this ticking time bomb,” he muttered to himself.

Lance looked at the map of the Galran facility he was now stranded in, trying to decipher where the escape pods were. It would be a lot easier if it wasn’t all in Galran, the room wasn’t bathed in red, and if the stupid computer’s stupid voice would just stop counting down the ticks until this place blows.

“Five dobashes until self-destruction,” the computer reminded him oh so helpfully.

Focus Lance. He closed his eyes and took a deep breathe, trying to calm his racing heart. Channel your inner Pidge.

Okay this map doesn’t show any room that would resemble escape pods, and if he were Lotor he would have disabled all pods anyways. Plus, the pods are probably less durable, and not fast enough to escape the blast zone. So escaping is a big no go.

The next logical step would be to… to-

“Four dobashes and thirty ticks,” the computer said.

“Go to the room that would be strongest,” Lance muttered to himself. If any room would survive the explosion, it would be that room.

Quintessence. This, according to Lotor, was an abandoned Quintessence processing plant. Of course Lotor could be lying about that like he probably lied about everything that no good asshole.

“Focus, Lance,” he muttered to himself as he turned to walk back across the room. When did he start pacing? Doesn’t matter, get back to the topic.

The Galra definitely wouldn’t want to leave their most precious resource completely unprotected, and Lance remembered seeing the storage room on his way here, the control room. God if he were as smart as Pidge he would be able to just hack into the controls and disable the self destruct no problemo.

But he wasn’t Pidge and he needed to fucking focus because the computer just called out three dobashes so whatever he was going to do he needed to do it fast.

The quintessence room. It’s his best bet, but it could also be the worst place to hide from the explosion. If he were Galra, or Haggar or whoever it was that kept track of the quintessence experiments he wouldn’t want the enemy to get their hands on it. He would probably make sure that all of it was destroyed.

So it’s a risk, but Lance was out of ideas and out of time, and going there was better than staying here and doing nothing. The computer informed him that he had two and a half dobashes left.

Fuck it, Lance wasn’t going down without at least trying to survive. He grabbed his bayard and put on his cracked helmet- fuck you too Lotor- then booked it out of the control room.

It was a right, then straight for five turn offs then two lefts. That would take him to the elev-shit would the elevator even be functioning?

Lance ran to the elevator door and- and he couldn’t open it because he wasn’t Galra. Great.

Think Lance think. If Keith was here he would have easily been able to operate the elevator. But Lance isn’t Keith, so he has to find another way. Two dobashes left.

Keith… Mullet would just destroy whatever was in his way. Lance activated his bayard, aimed, and shot the control panel. He held his breath for a moment as the door didn’t move, but then it cracked open, and Lance sprang back into action.

He pushed the door the rest of the way open to see an empty elevator shaft with a thick metal wire in the middle. He would have to jump to it. Lance looked down and saw the elevator stopped one floor, about thirty feet down.

He took a couple of steps back before running and jumping across the small chasm. He grabbed the wire, and his breath hitched as he slid a couple of feet down before he was able to slow himself down to a speed that wouldn’t break his legs when he landed. Thank god for his gloves and armor or his hand and leg skin would be destroyed.

Now he needs to get into the elevator.

Shiro would have just been able to use his arm. Lance didn’t have a glara arm, but he did remember one movie that showed an elevator with an escape hatch on it’s roof. It wasn’t impossible for the galra to have the same basic design.

He dropped to his knees to find the edge of the possible escape hatch. There was no light in the elevator shaft, not even the dim red lights that have been slowly blinking all over the rest of the ship. It was smooth, smooth, smooth- there! A small dip, just enough to fit his fingers into and pull. The hatch barely budged enough to stick something thin under it.

Hunk would have easily been able to open the hatch. He has muscle to spare. Lance could never open this on his own.

“One dobash,” the computer’s voice echoed down the shaft. Lance could feel his heart threatening to burst out of his chest and destroy his chestplate in the process.

That’s it! A piece of his armor could fit under the small space, and he can use that to leverage it enough to get a better grip and throw it open. He unstrapped his right leg’s shin guard, positioned it right next to the hatch with his knee positioned to push it in, then lifted the slab of metal and pushed the armor under it and dropped the sheet. Pushing his weight down on the armor, he grabbed the raised hatch and pushed it open the rest of the way.

He hopped into the elevator and found the door to the rest of the floor was wide open. Someone must have been pitying him up there. Thirty ticks left.

The quintessence room was at the end of the hall. Lance sprinted to it. Earlier Lotor had opened the door and it seemed that he never closed it. Again, small mercies.

Lance ran into the room and slammed the door pad behind it. Amazingly, the door listened and closed as he ran between the stacks of specialized quintessence. This was the stuff Keith was researching with the blade. The storage room wasn’t super big, in fact it just barely fit him. If the rest of the team were there, they’d be screwed.

Ten. Oh god the team. He was probably going to die here, and his team would never know the truth.

Nine. He would never get to tell Hunk that he was the greatest mechanic to ever live, his hugs were to die for, and he was the bestest friend a guy like Lance could ever hope for.

Eight. Pidge just found her brother, but she’ll never know that Lance thinks of her as family. He could never tell her how glad he was that she was put onto his team back at the garrison, or that she should never let her spirit die out because she can do anything that she set her mind to, including finding her dad.

Seven. He would never get to properly thank Shiro. He was Lance’s hero, and he inspired Lance to be better and never give up on his dreams.

Six. He would never get to apologize to Allura, or thank her for taking such good care of Blue. He never wanted to make her uncomfortable with his flirting. Sure he may have been serious at first, but now he respects her too much as a friend and a leader to be serious about his advances.

Five. Speaking of Blue, he wouldn’t get to tell her he forgave her. She hurt him by shutting him out, but he understood why she would do such a thing. Plus she’s his beautiful lady, he could never stay mad at her for long. Plus he wanted to thank her for the adventures they had together.

Four. Coran would probably need to delegate a new person to help him with the Castle chores now. Lance wouldn’t be able to tell him how much it meant that Coran was there as a willing ear or as someone to fill the space when he was unable to.

Three. Keith probably wouldn’t be too phased with Lance’s death. He had to admit that when Keith left Lance was beyond hurt. He thought Keith and him had bonded, that they became really close when Shiro disappeared. Now Keith would have to return to Voltron to pilot Red again. He can’t say that he’s sorry about that but he was sorry that he never told Keith how important he was to Lance. He urged Lance to work harder, to be better, and he put up with Lance’s shit about being rivals, or the bull about not remembering the first bonding moment.

Two. He never got to say goodbye to his family back on earth, and now he can’t say goodbye to his space family or tell them that he loves them.

One. If he focused he could feel the bond connecting all of the paladins together. The intelligence of Pidge. The raw passion of Keith. The leadership and strength of Shiro. The compassion of Hunk. The heart of Allura.

He wrapped himself in the strings that connected him to the others, curling closer to his knees, tears leaking out of his eyes despite them being shut so tight he could see stars. He was shaking, his lip trembling despite how hard he pressed them together.

He didn’t want to die. He was just a kid. He didn’t want to die. He imagined his team hugging him instead of him being surrounded by tubes of quintessence. He didn’t want to die. He felt the shockwave of the explosion rip through the room, the canisters of quintessence shaking. He didn’t want to-

The secret galran base went up in flames, glowing brighter than a supernova, with a lone paladin trapped inside.

Chapter Text

Lance woke up with a gasp. His eyes shot open, trying to figure out where the hell he was. What happened? He- he was on a mission with Matt and Lotor. Lotor… Lotor betrayed him. He betrayed the team. Lance remembered running, trying to find a way to survive. He remembered hiding with the quintessence, and the light and heat of the explosion- then nothing.

Am… Am I dead?

Lance tried to roll over to get a better idea of where he was, but his ribs screamed out in protest. His hands flew to the injury, and he came to two conclusions.

One was that he either somehow survived, or God was a dick that thought pain after death was hilarious. Lance, however, was a bit of an optimist, so somehow, by whatever miracle, he survived.

His clothes on the other hand did not. That was realization number two: Lance was stark naked. Fan-quiznacking-tastic.

The general alarm of being completely vulnerable aside, Lance took stock of his current state. Other than his ribs, Lance only had a few scrapes, bruises, and a general soreness. There was no current life threatening wounds (at least not yet), so that was a plus.

As much as he wanted to lay there forever, Lance knew that he had to get up and move, or at the very least survey his surroundings.

“Okay Lance, get up on three,” Lance muttered to himself. “One. Two. Three.”

He grit his teeth as his ribs flared up, but this time he braced himself for the pain and was able to fight through it. Once Lance was up and standing, his right arm wrapped around his injured side he surveyed his surroundings. It was pretty barren around him, sort of like how it was at Keith’s shack in the desert.

But, unlike the shack, the ground was tinted purple, and although it seemed pretty warm the light around him was dim. Lance looked up, and saw that the sun was out, and shining in the lavender sky.

What Lance didn’t see while looking around was civilization. As he slowly turned in a circle, all he saw was deserts, and in the distance what looked to be mountains and the start of a forest. The forest would be his best bet at surviving. Lance had no idea what this place was like at night, and if it dropped temperatures as drastically as it did in the desert back at the garrison, Lance would be screwed. Especially with his current state.

So Lance did the only thing he could do in a situation like the one he was in. He began to walk. Every step sent a stab of pain through his side, and despite knowing that he had to get to the forest line as soon as possible he had to stop and rest often.

Soon Lance was drenched in sweat, and his breathing became labored. The dry heat of this planet did him absolutely no favors here. Lance looked to his destination and saw that the mountains had grown into giants, and he could clearly make out the line of trees in the distance. He just had to make it to the treeline and he’ll be safe.

When he reached the trees the sun was finally setting. Lance was exhausted; his legs ached and his side burned in agony. Hi mouth was dry, and the sweat had cooled with the drop of temperature that signified the beginning of night until the salt left over stuck like a new layer of skin, but he had finally made it.

Now Lance faced another dilemma. He was tired, but it was getting dark and Lance had no idea what kinds of nasties this planet was home to, and he had a feeling he didn’t want to find out.

The best option would be if Lance could climb one of the trees. They looked to be easily scalable, with low branches that Lance would be able to climb easily, but with his ribs in the state they were that would be impossible.

He didn’t like it, but Lance would have to continue moving until he found somewhere he could hide in and be relatively safe on the ground.

The forest was thick. In fact it was so thick Lance couldn’t see more than ten feet ahead of him, but that might be because it was steadily getting darker. Lance paused, looking back once, before pushing off of the tree he was leaning against and heading deeper into the trees.

By the time Lance found somewhere relatively safe to rest he could barely stand on his feel. It was perfect, or at least good enough that Lance let himself rest there. One of the trees had broken and fallen down, the middle being supported by some things that looked like boulders. Lance carefully crawled between two branches blocking the entrance, wincing as a twig hit his injured side.

Lance cured up on the ground, hi back against one of the rocks and facing the entrance in case any quiznacking alien wolves decided he would make a good snack. He settled into a semi comfortable position and finally allowed himself to close his eyes. Then he was out like a light.

~~~

When Lance awoke it was even darker than when he fell asleep. He felt slightly better, but his head was pounding, he was still freezing, his side still hurt something terrible, and his mouth was still dryer than the Sahara desert. So in reality he wasn’t feeling better at all.

Lance squinted his eyes against the darkness, holding up his hand to see if he could at least make out an outline. After a moment and some uncomfortable soreness from straining his eyes, Lance’s vision began to adjust. His hand came into view, and so did his dark little hovel. He relaxed his eyes as the ache faded.

Lance shifted and shivered as the cool ground touched his bare skin. Right, he was still naked as the day he was born.

Lance’s stomach rumbled to remind him that he hadn’t eaten in what felt like two days. He should find some food and water, but it was still too dark for him to reliably find his way out, and Lance really didn’t want to meet whatever creatures lay beyond his makeshift shelter.

Keith would know what to do if he was here. He survived by himself in the desert for an entire year after all. Shiro would be fine too with his survival skills and arm. So would Hunk or Pidge with their brains. Obviously Matt would be fine in his situation. So would Allura. Hell, Allura would probably be thriving out here because she’s Allura. Any of his teammates would be fine if they were here, but Lance is just- just Lance and he didn’t have the brains or the knowledge or the skills to survive out here.

He was going to die here wasn’t he? He was just ‘Loverboy Lance”, just average, just a seventh wheel. He would die here and never get to see his family again. He wouldn’t be able to hug his Mama or tell her he loved her one last time. He wouldn’t be able to thank his Hermana for helping him achieve his dreams of becoming a pilot. He wouldn’t hear his niece and nephew call him Tio and ask him to play with them.

Distantly he could feel his eyes start to burn with tears as his breathing increased, irritating his side injury, but those things were happening in another dimension. This Lance’s world was growing smaller and smaller as he realized that he would quite probably- no certainly- die out here and no one would find him. He’ll die alone, cold and afraid like the weakling he was.

He wouldn’t be able to say goodbye to anybody- not even his space family. He never got to thank Coran for his stories about Altea, or tell Pidge that they were like Lance’s little sibling he never had but always wanted. He would never get to thank Shiro for inspiring him to be the best he could be. He would never be able to apologize for not being better. He wouldn’t be able to talk to Hunk or receive one of his famous hugs. He could never apologize to Allura for the flirting- he was only ever half serious about it. He just wanted to lighten the mood.

And Keith. Quiznacking Keith. The last time Lance had a real full conversation with him was months ago when Lotor first asked to talk to Voltron, and Keith tried to sacrifice himself as if they could go on without him. As if he wasn’t important. When Lance saw him after he heard he was just so scared; he just wanted to make sure that Keith never tried something so stupid again. Their fight was terrible. Sure they bickered all the time, but they had never reached that point before. They had never crossed the line into fully physical.

He wished he could take that first punch back. He wished that the others didn’t find them before they finished. Before they came to their quiznacking senses and apologized and quiznacking talked. He wished he had the guts to talk to Keith before he left, or to call him and make things right. The last thing Lance said to Keith was that he didn’t care if Keith- if Keith wanted to kill himself. Dios he wanted to take that back most of all. And now he never can.

Will they even miss him? He was just the outcast loner, the extra after all. He was the round peg trying to fit in square holes. Would they mourn him, give him a funeral without a body? Or would they move on without him? They would be better, faster now that Lance wasn’t there to drag them down.

He hugged his kneed tighter to his chest, ignoring the protest in his ribs. Lance bit his lip to try to control his breathing and stop the tears streaming down his face. He desperately tried to stop his thoughts, to calm himself down, but nothing was working. He needed his family, the one in space or the one back on earth. He wanted- needed- arms hugging him that were not his own. He wanted someone to tell him that he was safe and it was going to be okay. He wanted Hunk or Pidge or Shiro or Allura or Coran or Keith. He needed his family, but they weren’t there. He was alone.

Lance fell back asleep curled against the boulders cold, hurt, and hopelessly alone.

~~~

The next time Lance woke up it was light out. He still felt like utter crap, and the heaviness in his heart didn’t go away, but Lance couldn’t stay in his makeshift shelter forever.

With a grimace as Lance moved his aching limbs and burning side, he crawled out of his makeshift shelter. His dehydration go exponentially worse after what happened last night. That was a stupid move, but what’s done is done. He was going to have to find water soon anyways.

If Lance listened closely he could hear something that sounded similar to moving water, and because he didn’t have any better clues to follow, he decided that would be his best bet. Before Lance left he looked around for something to help him find this place again. He looked to his left and spotted a bright yellow bush in the otherwise purple foliage.

With the yellow leaves Lance set off towards the sound of the water. It took him about ten minutes (and all of the markers he brought with him) before he reached the sound’s origin.

Lance looked up in awe. In the center of a clearing, tinted a soft lavender and beginning from a cliff towering twenty feet above stood a glorious waterfall. As the water fell it created a slightly cool mist to the air. It took him all of two seconds before Lance remembered his great thirst, and he slid to the edge of the pool.

Lance gulped in mouthfuls and mouthfuls of beautiful divine water. He had forgone using his hands as a cup, and just submerged his entire face in the pool. Lance drank and drank and drank. Once he had his fill he sat up and looked at the pool. It was just as beautiful as the fall feeding into it. Unlike the fall the pool was crystal clear. Lance could see straight to the bottom, but he couldn’t tell if it was a foot deep or ten. He couldn’t even see his own reflection gazing back at him.

Lance was gazing into the pool when a twig snapped in the silence. There wasn’t silence before. Even here, on a mysterious planet who knows where he woke up to the sounds of small animals skittering about. But now there was nothing and it was deafening.

Lance slowly got up and turned in a circle, scanning the edge of the clearing for any creatures that would be able to scare off all other creatures. There was no one there, but that didn’t make Lance feel any easier. In fact, his heart began to pound harder and he grew tenser as he felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand up. Someone was watching him.

Maybe the thing could blend with its surroundings, or maybe it left. Or maybe he was looking in the wrong places. Lance felt his eyes slowly raise into the canopy of trees, and he locked eyes with a humanoid being. They were pale, their hair cut short to reveal their long pointed ears, and the markings under their eyes seeming to shine a bright green. They were Altean.

He and the altean stared at each other for what felt like a small eternity before but in reality could only have been a heartbeat. Then he heard ping and felt something sharp stick into his neck. He grabbed at the object, pulling it out of his skin. It looked like a dart, but why would an Altean dart him?

Then his world went black.

Chapter Text

“... sor?... an’t be…”

“Who…ontact… quarters”

Lance struggled to open his eyes at the sound of voices above him. He was so tired and his head hurt.

“Don’t… igure… visor”

Who was talking? He fought against the boulders in his mind that were trying to pull him back under.

“Not go… ance… do”

Lance cracked open his eyes. Everything was just a blur of colors and bright light. He tried to blink away the blurriness.

“... idiot!... me… der.”

One of the blobs shifted, and darkness enveloped him once more.

~~~

The next time Lance came back to semi consciousness, he was in a room somewhere. His mind still felt foggy and slow, and just focusing on anything seemed almost impossible.

The longer Lance sat there, for he was sitting, the more his brain slowly cleared away the fog.

It was easier for him to breathe, and when he shifted to see if he could look behind him he felt the rustle of clothes. Lance looked down and noticed that someone had clothed him in what looked like a dark blue tracksuit.

He tried to move his hand to pick at the clothes, but it wouldn’t budge. He looked over to see that his wrists seemed to be shackled to the chair. After trying to kick out he found his legs were similarly bound.

It’s probably at that point when adrenaline should have kicked in. He knew logically that he should be panicking right now, but he felt nothing but an empty calm. It was as if he were detached from the situation, like it wasn’t happening to him. It was a strange feeling to say the least.

The fog was mostly gone, but he still wasn’t fully there, so when the door in front of him opened and Lance walked in all he could do was stare.

The imposter Lance didn’t even acknowledge the real Lance at first. He moved around him to the back of the room to where Lance couldn’t see him even if he tried to crane his neck. Clinks of metal and glass sounded behind Lance, and the real Lance was going to try to ask what was going on when the Not-Lance spoke.

“You know I was quite intrigued when I got the call that a couple of Altean scouts found me naked, hurt, and lost on Daibazaal. Especially because none of those things were true,” he spoke as if they were having a friendly conversation and Lance was not trapped in a chair against his will. “I decided that I must see exactly who would be stupid enough to try to imitate the one and only Lance.”

Not-Lance came back into view fiddling with some type of pen. Now that Lance could have a real look at his double, he noticed a major differences in the Lance before him and himself. One was that unlike the plain tracksuit Lance wore, Not-Lance was wearing what looked to be Altean clothes. He had a dark blue half-cape that fell to the backs of his knees that met with his boots, and his hair, white as snow, was slicked back to show off the earring dangling from his pointed ear. He had the same blue eyes as Lance did, but they were accented by a bright blue marks swooping under his eyes. That was the second difference. Not-Lance was altean.

“I’m going to make this quick because I have things to do,” Not-Lance said as he looked up.

He took the pen and pressed it against the crook of the real Lance’s elbow. He pressed a button and a sharp prick of pain shot down Lance’s arm. Lance slowly looked down at his arm where a slight bulge appeared under the blood that seeped out of the new wound. He looked back up at Not-Lance with an unspoken question on his tongue.

“I just injected a tracker into your skin,” Not-Lance must have seen the question on his face. “It was made by Olkari geniuses and only an Olkarian would be able to safely remove it.”

He leaned in so close Lance could see the different colors in his eyes. It was mesmerizing. “That is very important Lance. I’m assuming you’re also called Lance. This can only be removed by an Olkarian person.”

He straightened back up and began to walk over to the door, “Now as I have said I have other things that I must do. I look forward to our next meeting, Lance.”

Not-Lance opened the door and spoke in low murmurs to the guards. The feeling of numbness began to leave his body, and Lance could feel his heart begin to pound.

The guards came in and unlocked his arms only to rechain them behind him. He had to do something. They unlocked his legs. Lance kicked out at one of the guards, catching them in the shin, and he tried to stand up and run. Whatever this place was it wasn’t friendly and he had to get out of there before something really bad happened to him. He thought of those mind control devices that one alternate universe had and his heartbeat skyrocketed.

Lance only got a couple of steps before seizing up in pain as electricity flowed through his body. It was like Pidge’s bayard, and Lance was helpless when he collapsed and was picked up by the arms on each side. The guards began fo drag him out of the room and down the halls.

This couldn’t be happening. This couldn’t be happening. Lance tried to get his feet back under him, and he ignored the protest of his aching muscles. The guards were walking too fast and he was too low to the ground to get a solid footing. Everytime his feet hit the ground they slipped back under him.

The other’s wouldn’t give up so he couldn’t either. He pulled against the guards’ hold and threw his weight from one side to the other. The grip on his arms only tightened.

“You think you’ll get away with this,” Lance growled. “I’ll get out of here and kick your robotic asses and then I’ll kick that clone of me as well. You’ll see! I can totally take you all on! I’m a paladin of Voltron and you can’t break me! I dare you to try. Where are you taking me?!”

The guards only stopped in front of a door. Lance took the opportunity to get onto his feet, but even with his legs back under him he couldn’t break their grip. The door to the cell slid open, and Lance was thrown into the cell.

The handcuffs released him and he sprang forward, but the cell door was already locked. It was useless. He was useless.

Lance turned his back to the door and slid down to his knees as tears pricked at his eyes. It was only when he heard shuffling of fabric did he realize he wasn’t alone in the white cell.

The man was dressed in the same clothing as Lance. The jumpsuit accentuated his muscles and the man’s black hair was interrupted by his white bangs. Lance would recognize his leader anywhere.

“Shiro?”

Chapter Text

The second that Keith stepped onto the Castleship he knew something was wrong. He had a suspicion ever since Kolivan gave Keith the orders to report back to Voltron but refused to tell him why. He just couldn’t confirm it until he left his stolen galra aircraft and saw that no one was waiting for him. That’s when he knew for sure.

Something had happened.

Keith palmed his knife and began to walk to the bridge. This greeting was… odd to say the least. The last time he had talked to Shiro, Pidge, and Hunk they all seemed happy and fine, and he couldn’t think of a reason they wouldn’t come to welcome him back (he ignored the thoughts of the last time he spoke to Lance months ago).

When he was just outside of the bridge he heard two voices. They sounded like Hunk and Shiro, and they were loud. Keith only hesitated for a second before he put his ear to the door and listened. Something was wrong and this may help him figure out what.

“... only a week Shiro! You can’t expect us to just move on!” Hunk sounded frustrated, but the way his voice cracked in the middle betrayed something else.

“We’re fighting a war Hunk. We have no other choice but to keep fighting,” Shiro on the other hand sounded calm but stern. This must not have been the first fight they’ve had.

“This isn’t something we can just get over in a week! If you cared about him at all-“

“Enough!” Shiro sounded unnaturally angry. He’s never snapped at Hunk like that before. Hell he’s rarely snapped at anyone like that before. “This is not up for debate. I am the leader of Voltron and this is my choice.”

For a couple of beats there was only silence. Then footsteps approached from the otherside of the door and Keith barely had time to jump back before the door opened and Hunk appeared. Keith felt his stomach drop at the tears that watered in Hunks eyes, and Hunk barely looked at him before he brushed past and walked away.

Hunk not saying hello? Something was very wrong.

Keith hesitantly walked into the bridge. Shiro had his back to the door, but at the sound of Keith’s footsteps he turned and smiled.

“Keith it’s great to see you buddy,” Shiro walked over hand gave Keith a hug. “I’m glad you’re back.”

Usually Shiro’s presence would help calm Keith down, but not this time. If anything the ball of anxiety only increased.

“Shiro what’s going on?” Keith cut to the chase. As happy as he was to see Shiro he had to find out why he was here or he wouldn’t be able to relax. “Why am I here? Kolivan wouldn’t tell me anything.”

Shiro’s smile fell at the question, and he suddenly looked years older. He sighed and grimaced.

“That was because I asked him not to,” Shiro paused and he wouldn’t meet Keith’s questioning gaze. “You’re here because we need you to fly the red lion so we can form Voltron.”

Keith’s brow furrowed, “But Lance flies Red now.”

The dots began to connect in his mind and Keith stiffened. It couldn’t be.

“Shiro where is Lance?” He’s fine. He’s fine. He had to be fine.

“Come on. We should go sit down,” Shiro reached for his arm but Keith jerked back.

“No you just need to tell me what’s going on. What happened to Lance?” Keith’s voice was stronger than he felt. It was fine, Lance was fine.

“Lance... was on a mission to a Galran base to gather information. There was unexpected security measures-“ No. “He tripped the self destruct protocol-“ No no no. “We only found the remains of his suit.”

Keith’s eyes burned with unshed tears. This couldn’t be happening. Lance couldn’t- he couldn’t be dead. He couldn’t. Keith hadn’t talked to him in months. He should have called Lance. He should have talked it out with him. Now now he lost another family member.

Keith faintly recognized that he was shaking. He everything seemed blurred and murky. Shiro was still talking, but Keith couldn’t really hear him over the blood roaring in his ears.

“Lotor said he could only save one of them, and Matt was injured and unconscious,” Keith snapped back to attention at the sound of the Prince’s name.

Lotor was there. Lotor, who gained all of the paladins’ trust but Lance. Lotor who was cunning and manipulative. Lotor killed Lance. Keith’s shaking went from horror to anger in an instant.

At that moment the door opened and who would walk in but Allura and Lotor himself. Keith saw red.

Before anyone realized what happened Keith had launched himself at Lotor, knocking them both to the floor. Keith straddled Lotor and he reveled in the sting as his knuckles met Lotor’s face. He didn’t pause in his attacks as he struck Lotor again and again and again. All he could think of was Lance- his boisterous gloating, his references Keith didn’t understand, his encouraging words. This bastard took all that away from Keith.

Keith felt arms encircle him and he fought against the grip but the arms were too strong as they lifted him up and away from Lotor. He pushed with all of his might to get to the blurry image of purple in front of him. Shiro was holding him tight against his chest and speaking to him, but Keith was in such a rage he couldn’t make out the words.

“Let me go!” Keith yelled trying to kick out at Shiro. “He killed Lance! That bastard killed Lance!”

He watched helpless as Allura helped Lotor back to his feet.

“He killed Lance. Lance is… Lance is dead,” just like that all of Keith’s fight burnt out. He stopped fighting, and if Shiro wasn’t still holding him he would have fallen to the ground. He felt the tears in his eyes overflow and drip down his cheeks.

Lance was dead. He was gone and not coming back. Keith lost another member of his family, and once again he couldn’t do anything about it.

He sucked in harsh breaths. He couldn’t break down. It won’t help anyone to witness Keith being weak and crying like a kid. He swore that he wouldn’t cry if he lost someone else. Crying never brings them back. Through sheer willpower alone Keith forced the water to stop flowing from his eyes.

When Keith felt like he could stand on his own he broke out of Shiro’s hold. Keith swiped his eyes and headed for the door with what little composure he had left.

“Keith-“ Shiro started, but Keith cut him off.

“I ju-“ Keith’s voice broke and he cleared his throat before trying again. “I just need to be alone right now,”

“Okay. I’m here if you need me,” Shiro replied softly.

Keith jerked his head in acknowledgement before he left the bridge. Now that the anger is gone Keith was exhausted. He felt as if someone took a cheese grater to his emotions.

He headed to his old room, but as he opened his door he paused. Lance sleeps- slept in the room right next to him. He looked over at Lance’s door, and he almost expected Lance to emerge with his space goo face mask and lion slippers at any moment.

He could picture it now. Lance’s door would open and Lance would lean against the frame. His face would be bright green and he would barely move his jaw so that the mask didn’t crack. Lance would call him mullet and gripe about how Keith shouldn’t stay so long on the training deck because he woke Lance up when he finally decided to retire. Despite how annoyed Lance would pretend to be Keith knew he was just worried about him.

But the door didn’t slide open, and Lance would never appear in his blue robes again.

Keith didn’t know what compelled him to enter Lance’s room, but that was exactly what he did. Lance’s room was… cleaner than what Keith expected. The bed was made, with an eye mask and headphones laying neatly on top of the pillow. His blue robe was hanging on the coat rack above his lion slippers. One side of the room was covered in little knick knacks and souvenirs from various planets Voltron visited. The only thing out of place was Lance’s jacket, which lay at the end of his bed instead of hanging up.

Keith walked over and picked the jacket up. He could a bit of wear on the elbows, and he imagined Lance wearing it. It looked like it was a hand-me-down, and if that was the case no wonder Lance loves- loved- no wonder Lance loved it. He felt a second round of tears well up in his eyes, and he hugged the jacket to himself. It still smelled like Lance- a bit like teenage boy, a bit like the altean shampoo on the castle, and a bit like the oceans back on earth.

Keith pulled the jacket tighter against him, and he felt something jab into his sides. He sniffed away the tears and searched the pockets to find what he had felt. In Lance’s left pocket was a rectangle, and when Keith brought it away from its previous home he saw that it was Lance’s phone.

He turned it on, and prayed that Lance didn’t have a password. The phone lit up, and with a swipe it opened to his home screen. There was no service, obviously, but Keith knew that Lance loved taking pictures. He only hesitated briefly before he opened up Lances albums and was met with Lance grinning at him.

He looked so happy in that picture. It was a selfie with a bunch of aliens that came to see the Voltron show a while back. He swiped to the previous picture, and that one was similar but these aliens were bulbous and red not slim and green. Keith lost track of time looking at the different pictures on Lance’s phone. At some point he had set the jacket down and sat on the bed looking at all of the different shots of Lance and various other people. Eventually the phone brought up a picture Keith didn’t even remember taking.

It was of him and Lance back at the beginning of this adventure. Keith had his arms crossed and looked like he was angry about something (he really didn’t like his picture being taken), and Lance. Lance looked so much lighter, so much happier, so much younger. He was giving Keith bunny ears, and Keith swore he could hear Lance’s bubbly laughter.

Keith stared at that picture for a long time before locking the phone. He set it on Lance’s jacket and got up to go back to his room, but as he reached the door he paused. He bolted back to the bed and grabbed the phone, looking around to make sure no one saw him even though it was pretty improbable. He slipped it into his own pocket before leaving Lance’s room.

Lance’s stuff was still Lance’s stuff. Keith wouldn’t take anything else, but he couldn’t bare to leave those pictures behind. The others could have the rest of Lance’s stuff but Keith would keep the phone. It was his reminder of another family member he lost.

Keith set the phone next to his knife under his pillow before he went to sleep that night.

Chapter Text

Lance couldn’t believe it. Shiro was there sitting right in front of him, but when Shiro’s eyes met Lance’s he knew that this wasn’t his Shiro. Mainly because his Shiro isn’t Altean.

“Lance,” Shiro’s voice was bitter, something Lance wasn’t used to. “Did they finally betray you? Like you betrayed us?”

Betrayed? What was Shiro talking about? Lance’s eyes widened as remembered the hauntingly familiar face of just a few minutes ago.

“Wha- nonono. Shiro I’m not that- I’m not that Lance.” With the way Shiro’s eyes narrowed into a glare, Lance could tell he didn’t believe him. “I’m a Lance from another dimension.”

Shiro raised one eyebrow, “You seriously expect me to believe that?”

“Well yeah-“

“You really think I’m that stupid,” Shiro interrupted. Lance flinched.

Lance studied this Shiro in silence for a few seconds. His face was so familiar, yet different enough for it to be unsettling. Dark purple marks adorned his cheeks and his hair was back to his old style. His eyes, however, were guarded, and he was tense. What did this Lance do to him?

“Please Shiro, you have to believe me,” Lance pleaded, reaching out to grab Shiro’s shoulder. Shiro jerked back sharply and turned his head so he was no longer looking at Lance.

“I’m not even Altean!” Lance grasped at the first difference between the two Lances to reason with this Shiro. They would have to work together if they wanted to get out of this cell. Plus, how could Shiro miss the key Altean features Lance doesn’t have?

Shiro turned to face him again one eyebrow raised and a ‘what are you talking about’ look on his face. Hope began to swell in Lance’s chest.

“You look pretty Altean to me,” Shiro replied.

“I’m not! Look-“ Lance brushed his short hair away from his ear so Shiro could get a better look, but his wrist brushed against his ear and something was very off.

Lance grabbed the sharp point of his ear in disbelief, eyes widening as he yanked at the tip and a burst of pain shot through it. That’s not possible. Lance felt his chest tighten as he yanked his ear forward, oblivious to the pain and desperate to look at his ear. It can’t be possible. He’s human. He has to be human.

Lance stopped tugging at his ear in favor of feeling his cheeks for marks. Maybe he’s hallucinating. He can’t be altean after all- it’s just not possible. He touched the skin under his eyes and felt something akin to snake skin. He felt for the edge where the scales met his human (is it really human?) skin. He traced the shape on his cheek, and thought about how it felt almost like paint on his skin. He could take it off if he just picked at it. Lance started digging his nails into the top edge of one marking and dragged his nail down again and again. It had to come off. This was a prank- some sick joke the team concocted, but he found their weakness. He just had to pick off the paint they put on his skin.

He didn’t notice how he was shaking until two large hands grabbed his wrists and forced them away from his face. He tried to break free, but the hands were too strong. He felt his body being shaken, and slowly he came back into reality.

“Lance. Lance, look at me. Come on Lance, you have to snap out of it,” Shiro was right in front of him, and the hurt on his face was replaced with concern. All Lance could do was stare. “Look at me Lance. That’s it. It’s going to be okay; you’re going to be okay. Lance I need you to calm down. Follow my breaths.”

Shiro placed one of Lance’s hands on his chest, keeping eye contact with Lance all the while. Lance felt the slow deep breaths of Shiro and he faintly realized how different it was from his quick rough breaths. Oh. Lance was hyperventilating. Lance did his best to block out his panic and focus on Shiro.

Other sensations slowly filtered back into Lance’s awareness as his panic subsided. His eyes felt puffy from tears, and his chest ached from overuse, but Lance ignored that in favor of waiting for this Shiro to jerk back. He could freak out about the… new additions later. Right now he had to find another way to convince Shiro who he was.

Lance braced himself and cleared his throat, “I-I’m not lying I swear. I know- I know it doesn’t look good, but I’m not lying. I swear Shiro, I’m not lying.”

Shiro looked him in the eyes for what felt like an eternity. Lance could feel tension coming back to his muscles and was about to say something, anything, to try to convince Shiro when Shiro softly nodded and leaned back.

“I believe you,” Shiro said.

Lance released a breath he didn’t know he was holding. Thank god. He had no idea what he would have done if Shiro refused to believe him.

Shiro scooted back to lean against the wall and Lance followed his lead. So much happened Lance was just ready to pass out. Maybe if he fell asleep he’ll wake up and find out this was all a bad dream.

They sat in silence until Lance slipped into the comfort of his dreams.

~~~

Lance woke up to arms grabbing abd cuffing him. He blinked the grogginess out of his eyes and saw four guards had entered their cell when Lance was asleep.

Two of the guards were pointing blasters at Shiro who was standing, hands up against the back wall. The other two were on either side of Lance, and Lance stiffened when he felt the nozzle of a gun on the small of his back.

“Advisor Lance wishes to see you. Don’t make this trip any worse for yourself by resisting. Now move,” the guard growled, pushing the gun into his back for emphasis.

Lance made eye contact with Shiro, and even though this was not the Shiro Lance had a magical bond with, he could still clearly see the message in Shiro’s eyes. Don’t Resist.

Lance looked forward into the hallway.

“Lead the way.”

 

The door to the cell closed behind the last guard. All four guards then moved to flank Lance on each side and began walking down the hallways. Four guards for a single prisoner? Lance must be important to someone here to have that much security.

Lance attempted to survey his surroundings, but everything looked so similar that Lance soon lost his sense of direction, and if he went any slower than the brisk pace the guards set he received a jab from the rear guard’s gun.

When they finally stopped at a door Lance was thoroughly lost. Maybe that was the point. The front guard opened the door with a swipe of his hand and Lance was led into the room.

They led him to the center of what looked to Lance like a lab of sorts. There was a metal exam table that they brought Lance to.

“Lay down,” on of the guards barked. Lance hesitated for a split second before the another guard pushed him down onto the table.

Lance held still while they uncuffed him only to strap him into the table. There were two leg straps, two arms straps, and from what he felt his head lay against, a strap for his head. He had a feeling that this was not going to be much fun.

Soon after the guards strapped him down Lance heard the door whoosh open and someone walk in.

“That is all,” said the other-Lance. “You are dismissed.”

Lance watched the guards begin to file out of the door from the corner of his eye, but soon blue clothing obstructed most of his view. He looked up and saw his own face (that was still very off putting) stare down at him as if he were a puzzle waiting to be solved. Lance felt a burning anger as he remembered Shiro’s reaction when they met yesterday. This was the man that betrayed a version of his friend.

After a moment Other-Lance asked, “Who are you?”

Lance smirked. If this was going to be an interrogation, Lance planned on being the biggest pain in this man’s ass.

“I’m you but better,” he replied. Other-Lance just rose an eyebrow and waited.

When Lance made it clear that he wasn’t going to give a serious response Other-Lance sighed and stepped away to fiddle with a machine that sat next to Lance’s table. Lance gulped; here comes the torture.

“If you won’t talk then I’ll just have to find out what you are myself,” Other-Lance told him as he fiddled with some tools just out of Lance’s range of vision.

He walked back into Lance’s sight after about a minute and held up a small stack of white plates connected to something via wires.

“These,” Other-Lance explained, “Will tell me everything I need to know about you. If you’re a clone, these can tell. If you’re a shapeshifter, these can tell. You can’t hide anything from me.”

Lance couldn’t stop the slight flinch when his doppelganger went to press the plates against his skin. The other paused, rolled his eyes, and pressed the first plate to the inside of his left elbow. Lance expected pain, but he felt nothing except the coolness of metal and slight adhesive press against his skin. Other-Lance placed five more plates to different places on his body: one in the crook of Lance’s right elbow, two on his temples, one at the base of his throat, and one right over his heart (which was beating fast and hard because whatever was about to happen wasn’t good).

“And now to turn it on,” Other-Lance announced. He walked over and reached out of Lance’s sight. He heard a machine hum and Lance tensed, preparing for agony.

All there was was a gentle buzzing across Lance’s skin. In fact it almost tickled.

Lance smiled, “Is this supposed to hurt? I could hurt someone worse in my sleep!”

Other-Lance, who had wandered past the foot of Lance’s exam table and was fiddling with a pad on the wall, looked over at Lance. He almost looked offended.

“It’s not supposed to hurt,” Other-Lance exclaimed. “What do you think I am, a barbarian?” Other-Lance’s eyes softened suddenly and he turned away. “You know what, don’t answer that.”

Other-Lance shook his head and finished fiddling with the pad. Other-Lance stepped to the side as multiple hologram screens appeared. The language was written in what looked similar to the Altean on the castle ship. It didn’t matter- Lance couldn’t read Altean anyways.

Other than the paragraphs of altean words, there also was graphs and charts and visuals. Lance saw one that looked akin to the heartbeat machine people use in hospitals and such.

Other-Lance walked up to the screen in the middle. It was the biggest and showed a graph. For the most part the line through the graph was touching the bottom edge, but at different intervals the lines spiked sharply to different heights.

Lance looked over at Other-Lance to see he was frozen, mouth slightly agape, as if he couldn’t believe what he was seeing.

“...That’s impossible,” Other-Lance breathed. “That’s literally impossible.”

“Wait what’s impossible?” Lance asked. His stomach twisted im nervousness.

Other-Lance looked over at Lance. He looked like he still couldn't believe that Lance was real.

A few beats of tense silence passed before Other-Lance whispered, “You’re impossible. How are you alive?”

Panic bubbled in Lance’s gut. How was he alive? What was that supposed to mean?!

A knock sounded on the door, breaking the moment and making both Lance and his double jump. Other-Lance quickly swiped his hand across the screens to make them disappear.

He then yelled, “One second!”

Other-Lance rushed to Lance’s side and shut off the machine. He then ripped all of the sensors off and stuffed them back into where they came from. A second knock sounded, louder this time.

Other-Lance made to go over to the door, but then he paused. He looked at Lance, eyes intense with determination and frantic desperation, and he said, “Tell no one about what you saw, or you’ll end up on a dissecting table instead.”

He then schooled his features and walked over to open the door. Lance heard low murmurs and then a louder order for the guards to take Lance back to the cell.

As the guards walked him back to his prison cell, Lance was preoccupied with what had happened. Why was Other-Lance so desperate to hide what the charts said? What did he mean by dissecting him? Was it a threat? Or a warning?

But, as he was once again shoved into the cell, one question screamed louder than the rest.

What was wrong with him?

Chapter Text

“You’re different,” Shiro’s voice came out of nowhere and made Lance jump. They were doing what they usually did when they were in the cell together- nothing. After three weeks of sharing a prison cell together, Shiro had finally seemed to finally relax at his presence, but it was always Lance that initiated the conversations. So Lance was startled when Shiro spoke without being prompted, sue him.

“What?” Lance asked. He looked over to find Shiro staring at him as if he was a riddle Shiro was desperate to solve.

“You’re personality. It’s different. You used to be super talkative and expressive, but now you aren’t as outgoing. Are you alright?” Shiro actually looked concerned as he explained. Lance felt a twinge of worry as he recalled Other-Lance’s surprise.

He had been feeling a bit different, but he thought it was only due to stress. He was imprisoned and have been tested for reasons unknown every other day for three weeks. If he had changed so much that Shiro not only felt that he noticed it, but that he was worried because of it then maybe it was something more. Something worse.

Lance felt a hand brush his shoulder and he looked at Shiro as he struggled to say, “I… I don’t know. Your Lance said something and I tried to ignore it as a scare tactic, but I think it’s more than that.”

“What did he-” Shiro cut himself off mid-sentence as the cell doors opened. The guards herded Lance out as usual, but as he glanced back at Shiro, he could see the concern written in his face.

The conversation, however short, had caused a tension to build inside of Lance. He couldn’t focus as the other-him walked around the room fiddling with devices and checking on the holographic graph the displayed whatever was wrong with him. The tension and the panic accompanying it grew and grew until Lance was too desperate to remain quiet anymore.

He felt the tears he was fighting back for an hour almost broke through his thing facade as he said, “What’s wrong with me?”

The other Lance paused in his work and looked at him. It was still incredibly disconcerting to interact with a practical clone of himself, but the strangeness was overshadowed with the need to know what was wrong with him.

Lance gulped as his double continued to stare, “You said… when you first brought me out you tested me and said that I was impossible and now I’ve started to act and feel different and I don’t know why and It’s scaring the crap out of me and I just need to know what the hell is wrong with me, man, because knowing I’m going to die or whatever is better than not knowing anything and and-”

Lance cut himself off as tears silently escaped his face. He may not be able to stop crying but he would die before he let his captor hear him sob. The other Lance continued to study him. Lance felt exposed and vulnerable- he basically just broke himself open and exposed his soul and now he just ached and feared and waited.

“Please,” Lance looked at his lap as he begged. There was no dignity left for him to try to save face. “Please. I need to know.”

There was a pause, and then other Lance asked, “What do you know about Quintessence?”

Lance sniffed and looked up. The other Lance had looked back to his graphs, but Lance knew he was waiting for an answer.

“Quintessence is energy or something right?” Lance’s voice cracked as he spoke but neither of them acknowledged it.

“Close. Quintessence is, in basic terms, everything. It is the strings that hold together the fabric of the universe,” the other Lance touched the holoscreen and the graph disappeared. He swiped his hand and two scribbles came into being. “There are two main types of quintessence. The first one is raw quintessence.”

He paused and pressed the circle on the right. The hologram expanded into a holographic image of a world that was emitting a yellow light.

“Raw quintessence makes up reality. It created time and space. It’s what made gravity and physics and all of the sciences you could study. It’s the raw fuel that runs the universe,” as the other Lance explained the hologram morphed into different items. Rocks, stars, a snapshot of an event, a black hole- all of these appeared in front of Lance as his twin spoke.

The other Lance dismissed the images with a flick of his wrist and brought back the two circles, “The other type is colored quintessence. This type is more refined. Whereas raw quintessence is the power of the universe, colored quintessence is the power of life.” He clicked the other circle, and five different colored spheres popped up.

“There are five main subcategories of colored quintessence. Black quintessence is the most sought after. The beings that have black quintessence are leaders. They are courageous, ambitious, and caring. The best example of black quintessence is the Galran emperor Zarkon,” Other Lance pushed the black sphere and it transformed into a miniature Galran man. He had armor on and brandished what looked like a chain. His face, however, was open and proud. He didn’t look like the malicious dictator that Lance’s was.

“Then there is red quintessence. King Alfor was a great example of those with red quintessence. He was impulsive in his actions and relied on instinct, and he was full of passion for what he cared about,” Other Lance pressed the red sphere and an Altean man appeared. He had tan skin that contrasted with his stark white hair and turquoise markings. In one hand he held a sword, and his presence was so much like Allura that Lance knew this was unmistakably her father.

“Those with green quintessence are known for their curiosity and their drive. They know what they want and they will go to the ends of the universe to get it. Trigel, high priestess of the Dalterion Belt,” other Lance pressed the green orb and it transformed into a tall, lithe woman.

“Yellow quintessence breeds compassionate characters. They are those that one can always rely on to keep steady, such as Gyrgan of Ryngirath,” the yellow orb morphed into a big alien with small ears and markings under his eyes. Despite the tusks peeking out from his top lips, he had a kind smile, one that made Lance think of Hunk and his amazing hugs.

“The last quintessence color is blue,” other Lance paused before continuing. “Those with blue quintessence are loving and passionate, and they can adapt to almost every situation. They are typically more playful and lighthearted but can be serious when they need to be. I- Blaytz is an excellent example of these traits,” other Lance didn’t press the blue sphere. Instead, he wiped the hologram away again.

“This is cool and all, but what does this have to do with what’s wrong with me?” Lance asked. He had calmed a bit, but now he was just confused. Why did he need to know about the way quintessence worked?

“Don’t worry I’m getting to that,” other Lance turned to look at him after he shut off the hologram. “Those all were examples of people with pure quintessence types. Those people are powerful, but they are incredibly rare. The majority of people have mixed quintessence colors. Yellow with a splash of red, black blended with blue, a trifecta of green, red, and blue. The different combinations create the many different personalities you see across the universe. That is why you’re impossible.”

“Because I’m a mix?” Lance was really confused now.

“No, because you aren’t a mix!” The other Lance was getting excited now. “Those with mixes have them blended in, as one would blend paint colors together. Each color, unless naturally blended together, cannot be in one organism. If one was to try to artificially merge blue and red together the creature would just die. They aren’t compatible like that.”

Other Lance leaned in close. Excitement danced in his eyes as he pointed at Lance, “You are impossible because you’re a pure blue base like me. You have pure blue, but you also have pure versions of the other colors. You should be dead, but here you are alive and- and alive. But it’s more than that,” other Lance’s previously excited mood drained out of him and he cleared his throat. “The other colors are growing somehow. They are feeding off of your natural quintessence.”

There was a knock on the door.

“Just a minute,” other Lance called. “Those would be the guards here to collect you.” He began to walk away from Lance.

Lance felt a surge and out of impulse and asked, “What’s going to happen when the other quintessence finishes mine?”

Other Lance paused at the door and looked back at Lance.

“That’s when the miracle ends. You’ll die.”

Chapter Text

Lance decided not to tell Shiro about the whole dying thing. They had to get out of there, and Lance had a plan, but if Shiro knew that he would die if his “base quintessence” ran out he would never allow Lance to put the plan in action.

He can worry about dying after they break free. And as Lance said, he had a plan. If quintessence was basically the coding of the soul, like Lance assumed it was, then all Lance had to do was act more like Pidge for a while and he’ll become like Pidge (he hoped). All Lance had to do was practice math and problem solving and try to learn about Altean wiring from Shiro and his quintessence will change from blue to green, and they can get out of there. Maybe. He hoped. It was the best Lance could come up with and if there was even a chance he could get Shiro out of there he would take it. The other Lance trapped this Shiro so it was Lance who had to free him.

“Alright so this altean ship should be no different from the others,” Shiro explained to him. “The majority of the guards are androids on strict schedules, so if we can figure out a way to time them we should be able to get to the escape pod bays fairly easily. If you can really break us out of this cell like you claim we should be able to find them with little worry.”

“Then comes the difficult part,” Lance interrupted. “We’ve gone over this plan a million times, I know it by heart now.”

The really difficult part will be opening the hangar doors. Apparently Alteans wrote security measures within their security measures. If he tripped the traps in there it could set off an alarm throughout the entire ship, and while Shiro admitted that he could hotwire the podship and disable trackers he needed at least five dobashes to do so. Plenty of time for the soldiers to man their stations.

Even if they got out before the soldiers came, they would still be screwed. The escape pods weren’t meant to withstand the shots from a warship such as the one they were in, and apparently they weren’t quick enough to dodge out of the way either. Which meant stealth was their only option.

Shiro was apparently unimpressed by Lance’s comment, “We have one shot at this Lance. You have to understand that if we fail at any point we will either die or we will be locked up so tight we’ll never see the outside again. We have to be absolutely confident that we’re both on the same page.”

“I know that, but I’m ready. We’re ready,” Lance lied. He hated lying to Shiro, this man was his leader and his friend, but he could feel his time running out. His mind felt all wrong- his thoughts were scattered and jittery and sometimes he couldn’t focus while other times he couldn’t stop focusing. He was so much smarter from the problem solving and learning he did as his training, but now his mind just wouldn’t stop. If this was what is was like in Pidge’s head all the time, Lance could understand why she rarely sleeps.

Shiro searched Lances eyes for a moment and Lance was sure he could see his doubt, but Shiro just sighed and nodded.

“If you think we’re ready then we’ll do it tomorrow. There’s no good in stalling. That being said we should probably go to sleep now so that we’re not starting at a disadvantage,” Shiro layed down and closed his eyes.

“You’re right Shiro. Good night,” Lance said. He moved to the opposite side of the cell but didn’t lay down until he knew Shiro was asleep.

He then curled up on his side and tried to ignore how uncomfortable the cell floor was.God he missed his bed.

It took Lance 10,823 ticks for Lance to slip into unconsciousness. He knew because he counted.

~~~

Lance woke before Shiro feeling more off than he ever had before. His mind was racing as usual, but now his body felt off. Different. Wrong. Lance knew- somewhere in his gut just knew- that his time was running thin and it took a moment to push away the panic and lock it away. It would do no good to get caught up in emotions now.

The guards came to collect him as they always did, and Lance didn’t resist. He needed them to continue to let down their guard in order to be able to snag the keycard that grants access to the locks.

The day progressed as usual. He was brought to the lab to be tested by his dopple. Usually he would at least try to make small talk with the man, but he couldn’t get up the will when he saw just how little amount of blue quintessence he had left in his system.

The guards picked him back up from the lab when he was done, and Lance (whose hands were cuffed in front of him) tried to act the same as the lead guard took out the card and swiped it. The pad lit up, and Lance walked forward before faking tripping. He landed on the guard with the key, who was just about to put it in back into his pocket, and they both went down to the floor. In the midst of the chaos, Lance was able to grab the keycard and slipped it into the neck of his bodysuit.

One of the guards grabbed his arm and yanked him upright. He smiled sheepishly and hoped that they didn't notice his sleight of hand. Luckily they just glowered at him, took off the cuffs, and shoved him into the cell.

Lance held his breath and didn’t move until the door was closed and he could not longer hear footsteps down the hall. Then he looked up to Shiro’s intense gaze.

“Well?,” Shiro prompted. Lance grabbed the keycard out of his suit and smirked.

“Step one- a success,” Lance was already moving to the bars of the cell. He scanned the hallway to make sure it was clear before he reached through the bars and swiped the card. He saw the glow of light and as he pressed his palm against the panel he could feel his heart pound. For a moment nothing happened. Then the screen flashed, and Lance retracted his hand before the door slid open silently.

Lance looked back to Shiro and gestured out the hallway, Shiro took the lead, and Lance took a deep breath before following.

~~~

Lance was gazing at the holomap he installed in his room when he heard a ding from his wrist. He brought his bracelet up and read the notification that cell A42 was opened by one Advisor Lance McClain of Altea.

He was wondering how long it would take them to escape. His other-world self was running quite low on quintessence, and for a minute there Lance thought he wouldn’t make it out after all. But no his double did exactly what he had hoped, and with any luck Shiro was with him.

Lance turned off the Holodeck and made his way to the hangar doors.

~~~

Lance and Shiro got to the Hangar doors almost too easily. The couple of guards that passed their hiding places didn’t even pause or glance their way, and before Lance knew it they were standing in the hangar. Lance had easily accessed the doors opening the hangar, but the airlock needed a password apparently- one he didn’t have.

Shiro made his way over to one of the escape pods and climbed inside to do his part of the plan while Lance stood in front of the airlock control pad with his heart trying its best to break out of his chest. This was it- if he messed this up they were both dead.

Lance took a breath and placed his hand on the panel. The screen lit up with a keypad and what Lance assumed was Altean for password. Lance’s fingers hovered over the keypad and for a second, he felt the world shift around him and his mind slipped out of focus. It felt like his head was being slowly roasted from the inside.

Lance gripped the panel below the keyboards and blinked his eyes hard until the sensation passed. This was the home stretch; he couldn’t die now. He glared at his hands until he forced himself to let go of the panel and place them back onto the keyboard. He could do this. He would do this.

Lance slipped back into focus and it was as if a switch had flipped. He brought up pages of code and began sifting through it and changing it like he saw Pidge do countless times. He skirted different traps in the code almost too easily and hacked into the airlock like it was what he was born for.

The screen lit up green and opened and Lance let out a small cheer and fistpumped the air before calling out to Shiro.

“I’m setting the airlocks to open in 60 ticks so I hope you’re ready to jump in and go,” Lance called. In response the ship Shiro was working on lit up and Shiro revved the engine.

Lance grinned, pressed the button to start the countdown, and ran to the escape pod. He was so jubilant, ecstatic about their success that he didn’t notice the high pitched ringing in his head. They did it, and now all that’s left is to leave this place.

Shiro opened the pod door for Lance and shut it just as the countdown finished and the airlock slid open. Shiro turned to Lance with a big grin (the happiest look Lance had ever seen on Shiro in either dimension) before hitting the thrusters and shooting out of the altean ship they were trapped in for so long.

~~~

Lance watched the small Altean pod from his personal viewing deck as it got farther and farther away. He remained completely still as the pod became a dot in the distance before disappearing completely. Only then did he bring the communicator up to his mouth and tell those waiting on the other end the news.

The dominoes were all set up. Now it was time for them to fall.

~~~

Lance couldn’t relax just yet (not like he could with the adrenaline coursing through his veins) because apparently Altean ships had natural trackers he had to disable before Shiro would broadcast the distress signal.

He stared at the code he brought up for a minute as he tried to shut off the tracker. It wasn’t like he didn’t know how- this was laughably easy compared to what he just accomplished. It was just that he didn’t have the… energy to move his hands to input the commands.

He must have blanked out for a minute because next thing he knew Shiro had put his hand on Lance’s shoulder and was looking at him in concern.

“Lance are you alright,” Shiro asked.

“I’m fine,” Lance fought through the sludge in his head and pressed the few buttons he needed to shut the tracker down. “There it’s… it’s done. We did it,” he trailed off at the end as his focus slipped again.

Something was… wrong. Before he had… he had so many thoughts running around. But. Now his mind was… slow. Someone was calling his name, but he was too focused on… something else? It was like… lights were being… turned off in his head. He felt something touch him but… He didn’t feel… He didn’t… He…

Lance McClain’s eyes closed as he fell to the floor and darkness overcame his vision.

Chapter Text

It’s been three weeks since Keith was brought back to Voltron and the castle still didn’t feel right. It was too cold, too empty. Before, the Castle was so lively, it was felt like a home despite its size. Everyone contributed something to their little family before, some type of soul that brought this place to life. Now it was like this place was an abandoned building. Everyone was different, well almost everyone.

Hunk had the most obvious change. It seemed he had transitioned from anger to a bone-deep depression. Before he would laugh, smile, be the big happy guy that everyone loved. Now, barely anyone saw him outside of his room unless it was dinner or training. He was usually silent throughout both activities. It was understandable. Lance was Hunk’s best friend; Of course he would be hit the hardest.

Allura and Coran were also hit very hard with the loss. They had both found companionship and family with Lance after losing everyone they knew, and now he was gone as well. Allura was worse than Coran though she didn’t show it. Lance- all of the paladins- they were her responsibility, and she believed that she was the reason he was gone. She did a great job at hiding her feeling though. Keith wouldn’t even know if he didn’t overhear her confessing it to Coran one night.

Pidge was subtler, and angrier, in her grief. She locked herself away as well, but now she was even more prone to snapping at anyone who dare approach. The only person relatively safe from her wrath was Matt. She blew up at Shiro the most. Which was, yeah, it was understandable.

Shiro seemed so callous about the situation which was strange to say the least. He insisted they continue with the training, but more than that he was the only one who was against waiting to move forward until after they had the funeral. It was like he didn’t even care about Lance at all, and Keith was stunned by his behavior. Shiro was more moved by the death of Ulaz who he barely knew for an hour than he was for a teammate he worked and lived with for over a year. It would have pissed Keith off if he wasn’t so numb.

It hasn’t really sunk in for Keith quite yet. He never had to experience this kind of loss. He never knew his mother, barely knew his father, and when Shiro went missing Keith believed that he was still alive somewhere. Lance… Lance couldn’t survive the complete destruction of a spaceship. Yet it didn’t feel real. Something was off, or maybe Keith was still in denial like Shiro believed, but Lance just couldn’t be dead. He felt like somehow he had to have survived against all logic. He brought it up once and accidentally upset Hunk so bad he didn’t leave his room for the entire next day. Shiro chewed him out for that, but he didn’t care.

Maybe it will feel real after the funeral tomorrow. The first Paladin funeral and all the large leaders of various planets and people will be in attendance for it. There wasn’t a tradition for a paladin’s death yet so that meant they had to decide how it would go. Keith and Hunk wanted his funeral to be on Earth, but as Earth a) was currently a relatively safe and b) they were blissfully unaware of what was happening the idea was vetoed by both Shiro and Allura.

Instead the memorial would take place on on Arus. It was where Lance was officially named as a Paladin of Voltron and it was the first planet to join the revolution. The Balmerans had volunteered to create a crystal memorial statue in his honor that would be revealed during the ceremony.

Three knocks sounded on the door and pulled Keith away from his thoughts. He debated opening it, but Keith didn’t have the energy to have a conversation with anyone right then. A couple of moments passed before he heard Hunk’s voice call out, “Hey man you missed dinner so I’m leaving some food here. I guess I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Keith waited a solid five minutes to make sure Hunk left before he opened the door to grab the food. It was simple green goo, but food was food and Keith had certainly eaten worse things before. Still he could only stomach a few bites to sooth the hunger before the sight of food made him vaguely ill.

He set the mostly full bowl of food goo on the floor before rolling over and closing his eyes. It took a lot of tossing and turning before he was able to slip into an uneasy slumber.

 

He opened his eyes to be greeted with the glaringly white walls of the cell he was stuck in. He never hated how bright the color white could make a place until he had experience it himself.

Keith looked over to Shiro to see him sitting against the back wall and studying the hallway. Before Keith could say anything Shiro said, “You were out for about five vargas so you won’t be collected for another three.”

Damnit. Keith’s long ears drooped in annoyance. Alteans needed fewer hours of sleep than humans did, and while he could now understand Allura’s ungodly training hours in this situation, it only meant he had more time to do absolutely nothing. Keith couldn’t stand boredom. Forcing him to work would be better than the dull drudgery of nothing.

Shiro’s ear flicked and it was almost like he could hear Keith’s complaining because he said, “If you’re so bored why don’t you workout or something.

“And what? Get all sweaty and tired? I’m not a masochist like you and Keith. Besides we can’t break out of here with brute strength,” something about what Keith said set a warning bell off in his head and for a single moment he knew it wasn’t him speaking at all, but then that moment passed and Keith was shoved back into the conversation.

Shiro looked over at Keith surprised, “You have a Keith in your universe too? What’s he like?”

“Yeah. He’s pretty intense to be honest. I didn’t like him at first- he was a standoffish jerk, but then we were forced to work and train together to form Voltron and I broke through some of his walls. We weren’t friends -not close ones at least- until our Shiro disappeared for a time. We all had to mature pretty fast then cause the Black lion (he’s the leader) chose Keith to lead in your absence. Then I had to move to Red (Keith’s old lion) to fill in the spot as second. We became pretty close after that. At least I thought we were close,” Keith frowned when he finished.

Did Keith consider them as good of friends as he thought or was he just a stand in for Shiro? If they were good friends, then why did Keith leave for the blade? Hurt, not the new emotional pain, but the ache from an old wound that never healed, coursed through his body at the thoughts. He physically shook himself out of the spiral and looked at Shiro (who had a glimmer of interest sparkling in his eyes).

“What?” Keith asked defensively.

“Nothing, it’s just you don’t talk about your universe much. It sounds really interesting and I would love for you to tell me more.”

So Keith did. He described finding Blue, going to Arus, and forming Voltron for the first time. He lost track of the time as he recounted all of the adventures with his team as best he could remember them. He told Shiro about Allura and Coran (apparently here there was no Voltron and thus Queen Allura and the first Advisor Coran lived long successful lives that all Alteans learned about as children). Eventually Keith began the story about how he was sent with Lotor to gain intel from an abandoned base, and that he didn’t trust Lotor and thought something was off. He admitted the only reason he didn’t argue over going was that he didn’t want the other Paladins to possibly get hurt.

It was hard for Keith to describe what happened when his fear came true. His throat clogged at the memory of fear and desperation in those final moments. How he was convinced he would die there and the team would never find out the truth. How he would never see his family again. He had to clear his throat before he could tell Shiro about how he ended up in this universe, confused and hurt but alive.

At the end of Keith’s story Shiro’s eyes shined with unshed tears. There was a tension in the air Keith didn’t notice until he trailed off into silence. He laughed and rubbed his neck as he said, “Sorry ‘bout that. I tend to ramble a lot.”

More silence. God, Keith hated silence. Shiro was just looking at him with such emotion that he had to focus on holding back his own tears.

Keith wanted to look away, to break Shiro’s gaze, but then Shiro laid a hand on his shoulder and squeezed.

“It’s gonna be okay Lance,” he said.

As soon as Keith heard Lance’s name he was shoved out of the body and whatever place he was in. There was a roar and Keith was no longer looking at at an Altean version of Shiro. Red filled his vision instead, and Keith had an acute thought that whatever just happened was because of her.

“Red what- what the hell was that?” Keith asked. Red didn’t move from her usual proud sitting position. Instead her roar boomed inside of Keith’s head. He grabbed his skull as fire and heat and pain erupted before he felt a series of impressions.

After a moment, Keith realized Red was attempting to communicate with him. He pushed through the heat and tried to focus on the emotions that were coming through the bond. He felt longing and determination and love and something so distinctly unique it was impossible to not think of Lance.

“Lance…? What about Lance, girl? Is he- was I seeing through his eyes?” Keith asked but couldn’t dare to hope that Lance was- was… When Red’s rusty purr sounded through his head with the impression of ‘yes’ a choked sob broke out of Keith’s chest.

“Does that mean he’s…” Keith couldn’t finish the sentence, but he didn’t have to because Red knew what he was asking anyways and she purred and Keith’s legs gave out from under him at the sheer relief he felt.

It took him a minute to gather his thoughts and reign back in his feelings, but when he did he looked up and into Red’s eyes and asked, “Where?”

He got a series of impressions, but each one was replaced too quick for him to decipher. He was about to tell red to slow the hell down when a loud bang sounded through the space they were in and Red fell silent.

“No no nonono. Red you need to tell me where he is so I can find-“ another bang interrupted Keith and everything went black.

 

Keith gasped as he woke up. A dream- it was all a dream. But it seemed too real to be just that. Red must have connected him to Lance through his dreams somehow.

“Keith? You missed breakfast, which is fine, but you need to get up or you’re going to be late for the funeral,” Shiro’s voice called through the door.

Keith cleared his voice before he called to Shiro, “I’ll be out soon.”

As Keith got dressed in the formal gear Allura had given them for the occasion he thought more about his dream. It felt so real, and he felt a tug of gut instinct (one he hadn’t felt since blue first called to him on Earth). The lions were trying to tell him something, and Keith was pretty sure he knew what.

Keith was a man of instinct, and currently his instinct was screaming that Lance was alive. He had to tell the team.

He had that single thought in mind as he left for the bridge. Voltron would make an appearance as a team. They are also the ones that will carry an empty casket (at Hunk’s insistence) to the grave sight made in front of the statue.

When he arrived everyone else was already there. Good. Keith stepped forward and said, “Guys Lance isn’t dead. He’s trapped in an alternate dimension, but he’s alive!”

The bridge, which was already pretty quiet before, became deadly silent. Hunk looked like he was going to have a heart attack and Coran had the most overly dramatic surprised look Keith had ever seen, but Keith wasn’t too concerned about them. No, he was much more concerned about the other three.

Shiro looked a mixture of angry and disappointed, but it’s what he said that broke Keith’s heart.

“That’s enough,” Shiro practically growled the words.

“But Shiro I swear he’s-“ Keith couldn’t even finish defending himself before Shiro cut him off.

“I said that is enough,” Shiro’s voice boomed and Keith flinched back. Shiro never raised his voice, not at Keith. He got angry, sure, but he never yelled before. Frankly it was terrifying. “You can’t just spout your desperate theories around. Not today.”

“But-“

“Hunk has already been through enough without you planting false hope in his head,” Shiro continued over protests. His face softened slightly. “I know it’s hard, but you have to accept that Lance is dead and he’s not coming back.”

Keith looked to Allura and Pidge for support, but he found none. Allura was trying to calm down a hysterical Coran and only shot a couple of pitying glances his way. Pidge was doing the same for Hunk who was frozen in a mix of shock and horror. Keith’s heart fell and he felt stupid for saying anything. He knew that he was right, but without any proof, or any way to retrieve Lance (not yet anyways) he was just hurting his family. Stupid.

Keith looked down at the floor and forced the frustrated tears out of his eyes as he muttered a strained, “Sorry. I won’t bring it up again.”

Keith walked past the team to wait by Shiro, keeping his eyes trained on his feet the entire time. He didn’t think he could handle looking any of his teammates in the eyes right then. Keith was so caught up in his mix of guilt and frustration he completely missed Pidge’s calculating gaze trained on him.

The rest of the team was able to calm down Coran and Hunk so they made their way out of the castle. Awaiting them on the hoverpad that would take them to the ground was an empty casket. It was made of a beautiful deep blue and purple wood, much like the color of fading sunsets back on Earth. The casket had carved words in the languages of every planet Lance helped and saved. The messages included final words of gratitude as well as last goodbyes to one of the beloved heroes of the universe. All in all, the casket would have been beautiful if it did not hold such tragic reasonings behind its makings.

They surrounded the casket and began their descent to the planet’s surface. As the pad exited the castle Keith finally steeled himself for the coming hours and looked up at the endless sea of people come to witness “Lance’s memory be put to rest” as Allura described it. And the sea was endless. Tens of thousands of aliens were gathered to honor Lance in person, and even more were back home watching this on the video streams being sent to broadcast over many planets. Behind the rows of people was the hill the Castle of Lions was originally found by the paladins. On top of it was the statue the Balmera created, now shrouded using an Olkarian cloaking device.

It seemed as if the entire universe was holding its breath as the hoverpad touched down. Team Voltron picked up the surprisingly light casket as one and hoisted it into the air. Shiro and Allura led either side, Hunk and Keith following in the middle, while Pidge and Coran took up the rear. The silence remained as the team made their way slowly to the hole dug at the base of the hill that held the Castle.

The silence was so complete all Keith could hear was the stones shifting under their shoes as they walked. He could feel thousands of eyes following them as they neared the final resting place, and an eternity seemed to pass under their gaze before they finished their march and set the casket into the ground.

Another pregnant pause reigned after the paladins stood at the head of the grave. Then the leaders of each planet came up to put a gift into the grave with Lance. Arus’ chief set down a primitive but beautiful bow. The Balmeran elders set down a small crystal to guide his way. One by one the leaders came up and bestowed their gifts. Even Kolivan was there, and he said nothing to Keith as he set down Marmorite blade on top of the growing pile of gifts.

When each leader had given their gift and said their goodbyes the paladins took up the shovels layed out for them and filled in the grave one shovel at a time.

When Lance’s grave was finally filled in Allura stepped in front of it and began her speech. She stood tall, but Keith could see the tightness of her shoulders as she forced her emotions in line.

“We have all gathered here today to honor a fallen warrior,” she began. “Lance McClain was a brave soul and a beloved hero. He left a mark on everyone he met, and he was always ready to help in any way he could. We are not here today to mourn his death but to celebrate his life. He made the most of everything he was given, and I held a belief that he was a light for many in the darkness of the Galra’s reign.”

Keith glanced over at Hunk. He was sniffing loudly, tears streaming down his face as he desperately tried to hold them back. A glance to his other side showed that Pidge was also sobbing, but hers were quiet and he could only tell she was crying by the shaking of her shoulders and the shine on her cheeks. Keith himself refused to cry, and as Allura continued on with her speech about how they must not let Lance’s death be in vain and as they revealed the sculpted crystal of Lance in Paladin armor with his bayard out and clear determination in his face, Keith made a promise. He would bring Lance back to them.

He would bring Lance home.

~~~

A couple of weeks passed and Keith had no idea how to bring Lance home. He had no support, no leads, and no help. The team had begun to go on missions again, and it looked like they were finally beginning to heal. Keith refused to reopen wounds that were not fully closed, but that meant he was completely utterly on his own.

It wasn’t like back on Earth in his shack. He had a lead then, a feeling and a direction and Blue telling him where to go. He had none of that now, just the knowledge that Lance was alive. He hasn’t had any more dreams since that night, and now he was completely lost. He knew in his gut he couldn’t do this alone, but he had no other choice. Not unless he wanted to hurt his family even more.

That was until Pidge knocked on his door in the dead of the night.

Keith was pacing his room, studying the makeshift facts board he created on one wall with paper and magnets he found in one of the rooms. This has almost become a nightly routine, and so when three sharp knocks interrupted he froze.

Three more knocks and a call from outside saying it was Pidge pushed him into action. He grabbed the papers and yanked them down, hiding them under his bed hastily before shoving his hand onto the keypad. Pidge stood there, fist poised to knock a third time, her face set in grim determination.

Before Keith could even say hello Pidge blurted, “Why were you so convinced Lance was alive?”

That took Keith by surprise, and his eyebrows shot up. “I-I had a gut feeling, kind of like when I was looking for Shiro and found Blue and everything?” It came out more as a question then an answer.

Pidge narrowed her eyes, and Keith could practically hear the gears turning in her head. She pushed forward into his room, and her intensity stopped Keith from doing anything about it.

“Are you sure that was all?” she pressed.

Keith swallowed the feeling that he was being interrogated and answered, “No…? I also had a dream.” That got Pidge’s attention really quick as her gaze snapped to his face. “It was like I was Lance, and he was talking to Shiro, but this Shiro-”

“Shiro was Altean right?” Pidge interrupted. Keith furrowed his brow in confusion.

“Yeah they were-”

“In an Altean base of some kind, trying to escape?” Pidge pressed, “And it felt so real that when you woke up you knew that it wasn’t just a dream? That you were somehow viewing Lance’s memories?”

Keith’s eyes widened as he finally realized what was happening, “You- you’ve had a dream like that haven’t you?”

Pidge nodded, the fire that was missing since Lance’s death returning full force, “If you’ve had the exact same type of dream, that could only mean one thing. Somehow Lance defied all logic and survived, and we are going to get him back. We’ll get our family back. You with me?”

Pidge held out her hand while keeping her gaze locked with Keith’s. After letting the fact that Keith was no longer alone in this sink in, he felt hope bubble up in his stomach. Together they could do this. They could save Lance. Keith grabbed Pidge’s hand and shook it once.

He smiled, a bit wild, a bit feral, and a lot like he was about to do something crazy, and Pidge matched it with her own determined grin.

“We’ll get him back. No matter what.”

Chapter Text

Lance groaned as he came to consciousness. He really needed to stop passing out because it sucks. He sat up and took in his surroundings. He was lying in a bed in a room not unlike the rooms back in the Castle.

There was a table next to the bed that held what looked like a water packet and a bowl of food goo. Good to know that there’s still food good in this universe, Lance thought as he grimaced at the green substance and reached out for the water pouch before sucking in a gasp at the unexpected pain in his left shoulder.

His right hand shot up to his left shoulder to alleviate the pain seemingly originating from right under his collarbone. There was a bump under the loose fitting shirt he was wearing for some reason. He lifted up the shirt and found that there was a metal device, about the size of his palm, embedded into his skin.

It took a couple of seconds of staring at the foreign object for it to sink in that, yes, it was embedded into his skin and, no, he wasn’t hallucinating it. As soon as his brain rebooted, he leaned over the bed and dry heaved.

Where the quiznack was he?! What the fuck was going on?! Was he dead? Was he back on that fucking ship? Was he in a coma trapped in a perpetual nightmare?!

Lance could feel himself beginning to collapse back into a panic attack, when a door opened and two figures entered. One stopped at the door while the other rushed over to his bedside.

As the second figure approached and crouched down, Lance recognized him as Shiro. Shiro laid his hand on Lance’s shoulder and looked into Lances eyes.

“Lance? Lance it’s okay, you're okay. Just breathe,” Shiro’s voice was steady, and Lance latched onto it as hard as he could. “Breathe with me, alright? In for five. One, two, three, four, five. Good, you’re doing great. Now out for five. One, two, three, four, five.”

Lance followed Shiro’s gentle counting to the best of his ability as he guided Lance away from the brink of panic. He didn’t speak until his throat stopped constricting and his heart calmed down to a reasonable pace.

Then he whispered so only Shiro could hear, “What’s happening? Where are we? What’s this thing in my chest? I-I don’t- I don’t understand.”

“We’re with friends,” Shiro answered, still searching Lance’s face for signs of panic. “You collapsed after we got away from the warship. We were incredibly lucky that the rebel base was nearby, or you might not have survived.”

“You technically didn’t survive,” the person from the doorway piped up, as they pushed off the doorway. Lance recognized the voice, but he couldn’t place it. She was a shorter Olkari with lighter brown coloring surrounding her light green face. Her amber eyes were full of calculations, and suddenly Lance realized who he was talking to. “Shiro had to jumpstart you with quintessence.”

“Pidge?” Lance interrupted. He supposed it made sense. If anyone of their team was gonna be Olkari, it would have been Pidge. She was a genius after all. Still, it was hard to wrap his mind around. “You’re Olkari?”

Pidge blinked at him before speaking to Shiro, “He really is from another universe, isn’t he? Our Lance is definitely not that good of an actor.”

Shiro finally looked away from Lance to nod at Pidge, “I told you it was strange.”

“More fascinating really,” Pidge shrugged. She turned back to Lance. “I have a lot of questions for you, but first I have to explain your quintessence regulator so you don’t die again.”

Lance looked at her, completely lost with the shift of conversation, “My quintessence… what?”

Pidge reached forward and tapped the machine, making Lance wince from the jolt of pain. It was really sensitive.

“Sorry,” Pidge’s voice betrayed how unsorry she actually was. “This is your quintessence regulator. Hunk and I made it as soon as we realized you had different colors of quintessence eating away at your base. The covering protects the two Balmera crystals we implanted in you. The first crystal will spread synthesized base blue quintessence through your body. The second crystal is designed to absorb the extra unwanted quintessences so you don’t overdose on quintessence.

“It’s actually really fascinating, the way we designed the regulator. I programmed the outer shell (which is actually petrified plant material hardened to be as hard as a metal- it won’t break anytime soon.) to localize which quintessence color goes where, and to stabilize the crystal that will store the unwanted quintessence until it can be disposed of.”

It was strange, but for once in his life he was glad half of what Pidge was saying was going over his head. It was a nice feeling, not having his thoughts shoot around his brain at a hundred miles an hour. Still, now that Lance felt more like himself, he needed Pidge to slow down and explain what she was trying to say, because wow that was a lot of words.

“Pidge,” Lance cut Pidge off before she could delve any deeper into her strange science talk, “I have no idea what you just said, and I’m very confused, so stop with your nerd talk and let me process everything that is happening at my own pace.” He winced slightly as the words came out a bit harsher than he meant them to, but he was too focused on trying to figure out what the hell was going on to care.

Lance took a deep breathe and tried to focus on what he was seeing and hearing before him, “So you’re an alien too in this universe. That’s cool. And I have, like, jacked up quintessence? At least according to my clone, it was supposed to kill me. But you stopped it right? We’re all good now?”

Pidge looked pained for a second, and despite her being an alien version of his Pidge Lance still knew that look. That was the “I Have Bad News and Don’t Wanna Say It” look. It never meant anything good.

“Well,” Pidge started while looking anywhere but at his face. “Kinda? We can’t fully separate the intruding quintessence from your base, so it’s gonna eat away at the new blue quintessence we give you? And continuing to sap your natural quintessence and adding foreign synthesized stuff isn’t exactly amazing on your body.”

The unease that settled in his gut increased tenfold, and Lance tried to catch Pidge’s eyes in vain. The girl is really good at avoiding eye contact when she wanted to.

“So…?” Lance prompted as the feeling grew unbearable. “What does ‘not exactly amazing’ mean?! I’m not gonna explode right? Right?! I don’t wanna explode!”

“Relax Lance you aren’t gonna explode,” Pidge finally looked him in the eyes with exasperation. Her features softened into guilt as she continued. “But long term will cause some… side effects.”

“Like?”

“Like your senses may change, you could get strange dreams, and you'll… age?... quicker?” Pidge listed off as she fiddled with her shirtsleeves. “But the good news is that you’ll only notice the aging if you use this method long term (which won’t happen because we’re already working on a more permanent solution).”

“Well that’s… holy crow I need a quiznacking nap,” Lance groaned into his hands. It was a lot to take in, especially the age bit. How long does he have before it becomes noticeable? Lance just woke up and he already wanted to go back to sleep. At least then he wouldn’t be aware of the nightmare he was trapped in.

After a moment of tense silence Shiro finally said something, “Now that you’re awake, you should probably meet the team.”

Lance looked up at Shiro. Was he serious? They talked about how Shiro was a part of a rebellion, and they were betrayed by their Lance causing them to lose an entire base of people and supplies as well as Shiro himself. The last thing he needed was the stress of having everyone glare at him for something his other did.

Shiro must have seen his hesitation because his small smile disappeared and he sighed, “You at least have to eat something at least. It’s been too long since your body had actual food in it.”

Lance opened his mouth to say he was fine, but he was interrupted by his stomach letting out a loud rumble. Lance knew better than to think he would be able to escape Shiro now, so he just nodded and moved to get out of his bed.

He was like a newborn calf, and his legs gave when he tried to put weight on them. He would have fallen if Shiro wasn’t there to grab him under his arms and stop his fall. Lance smiled at Shiro in thanks, then took a couple of shaky steps forward.

It was a slow journey, but Lance was able to get to the kitchen with the help of Shiro both being his crutch and guide. Shiro offered to just bring him something to eat, but now that Lance was up he didn’t want to be so useless he couldn’t even get to the dining room.

He regretted that choice now. They were at the kitchen doors, and Lance could hear someone moving around in there. He took a step back, but Shiro took his arm and opened the kitchen door. Inside stood a Balmeran using a really sharp looking knife to cut up some space vegetables. The Balmeran must have heard the door open because he looked up, and his smile lit up the entire room.

Lance’s legs suddenly felt weak for a different reason. He may have been even taller, with yellow eyes and green skin, but Lance would recognize Hunk anywhere. They were best friends after all. Seeing Hunk sent such relief through his body that he didn’t even realize he ran up and hugged him until Hunk started hugging back.

He took comfort in the warmth and compassion that came from Hunk’s hug. Everyone knew Hunk was an amazing hugger, his strong arms encompassing Lance’s thin frame tightly. Somehow Hunks hugs always reassured Lance that he would be okay despite everything.

“Uh Lance?” Hunk said in a voice that sounded just like Hunk, but it was off enough to snap Lance out of his relief. It was too formal, with just the wrong amount of formalness. Lance stumbled out of Hunks arms as quick as he ran into them. This wasn’t his Hunk- who knew if this Hunk even liked Lance.

“Sorry,” Lance said as he forced himself to look at this alien Hunk, fully expecting him to have anger and hate in his eyes. But Hunk didn’t look angry. Actually he looked really, really relieved and happy. Lance could even see tears gathering at the corner of Hunk’s eyes. Lance didn’t even know Balmerans could cry.

Hunk smiled at Lance in reassurance, “I am glad you are back on your feet Lance. You really gave us quite all quite a scare. I made you something for when you woke up.”

Hunk grabbed a bowl of something from behind him and offered it to Lance. Lance accepted the bowl and looked inside to find a bluish soup with green and orange chunks of unidentified alien things, but it was food and Lance was starving so he grabbed the spoon Hunk held out for him and brought a full spoonful into his mouth.

Lance shouldn’t have been surprised that it tasted amazing. The chunks of whatever had a strange spongy texture, but Lance barely noticed as he abandoned the spoon in favor of drinking the broth straight from the bowl. It was surprisingly close to chicken noodle soup if someone decided to dump a lot of different spices and salt into it. Lance probably wouldn’t have thought it was good if his stomach wasn’t so happy with having substance back in it.

Lance let out a satisfied sigh after he swallowed the last of the broth and set down his bowl on the counter. He opened his mouth to tell Hunk thanks when he heard the door whoosh open. Lance turned around to see a Galra standing in the doorway staring right at him with open hostility.

The Galra stood about a foot taller than Lance. He lacked fur, but his skin was lilac with two darker purple stripes slicing up his neck to right under his eyes. His eyes glowed with yellow light, but Lance could clearly see the catlike pupils. The fact a giant Galra looked like he was about two seconds from tearing out his throat wasn’t what had him flinching back (well that contributed to it). No, it was the fact that this Galra had a mullet, one that Lance would recognize anywhere, and Lance never wanted to be on the other end of Keith’s murderous gaze because it was the definition of terrifying.

Before Keith could make a move towards Lance, Shiro stepped between them. He put his hands out in front of him in a gesture of peace and said, “Keith, stop. We talked about this. This isn’t the Lance that betrayed us. I know he looks like him, but he didn’t do anything wrong. In fact, he helped me escape.”

“It’s still Lance. If our Lance, who we’ve known for years, years Shiro, betrayed us, why won’t this Lance?” Keith hissed. “He’ll probably betray us too as soon as Queen Frea offers him a better deal. He’s probably leading them here as we speak.”

That struck a chord in Lance as he realized a terrible, horrible fact. He felt the blood drain from his face, and his stomach tie in knots as he remembered something his doppleganger told him. He grabbed his arm in hopes that they knew and they removed it, but he could still feel the tiny bump that meant he was leading the other Lance right to their location.

He still had the tracking chip in his arm.

“This man risked his life to get us out of there Keith,” Shiro scolded. “I trust him with my life.”

Keith looked ready to argue, but Lance quickly interjected, “Uh guys? I just remembered something, and we may need to leave like really really soon.”

Everyone in the room turned their attention back on Lance, and he felt the panic trying to take a hold of him. Hunk looked very concerned, Shiro looked confused and surprised, and Keith still looked livid. Keith might just kill him for this, but Lance couldn’t just not say anything. He forced his emotions down and cleared his voice before holding up his arm.

“The other Lance… kinda put a chip in my arm?” Lance internally winced as his voice raised an octave. “And according to him it was a tracking device.”

A beat of silence. Then Keith snarled, “I knew it. I knew you would fucking betray us!”

He made to lunge at Lance, but Shiro jumped into action and tackled Keith to the ground. They wrestled on the ground, but Shiro had successfully pinned Keith for the moment. Keith tried to buck Shiro off, but Shiro held firm.

“Hunk get Lance to Pidge and get the tracker out now,” he ordered.

Lance’s eyes were glued to the scene in front of him, but Hunk grabbed a hold of his arm and dragged him out of the room. As they passed Keith and Shiro, Keith tried to escape again, but Shiro forced him back on the ground and ordered him to calm down.

As soon as they left the kitchen both Hunk and Lance began sprinting towards Pidge’s lab. Lance couldn’t believe he was stupid enough to forget about the quiznacking tracker the other Lance told him about. How much of a screw up can he be?

Hunk led them to Pidge’s lab, and as soon as they came upon the door he slammed his hand down on the handpad and yelled for Pidge. She appeared quickly, and before she could even ask what was going on Hunk was explaining the situation.

The next minutes were a blur as Pidge dragged him to her workbench, forced him to sit down, and used a concentrated laser to safely cut a slit into his skin and remove the tracker. It was small, oval in shape, and surprisingly clean for being inside his arm for as long as it was.

He was snapped out of his trance when Pidge held the tracker up and said, “Huh. That’s strange.”

“What is it?” Hunk asked, sticking his face closer to the device in order to get a better look. “That doesn’t look like any tracker I’ve ever seen.”

Pidge picked up a device and waved it in front of the tracker. They all waited for a second before the scanner beeped twice and flashed red. They turned a dial and scanned the tracker again, waited, and received the same result.

“Try Ceurlean Wave emissions,” Hunk said as he looked at the screen of the scanner over Pidge’s shoulder. “Maybe his team figured out a way to cloak radio and ultra/infa signals.” Pidge turned the dial and scanned again. Same result.

Hunk scratched his head while Pidge brought the Altean tracker (which Lance has a weird feeling is not a tracker) close to her face as if she could figure out it’s secrets if she brought it closer to her eyes.

Lance, who at this point had been fidgeting in his chair with the need to know what the hell was going on, finally piped up, “What’s going on guys? Why don’t you just destroy the thing and everything is solved.”

“It’s not that easy, Lance,” Hunk replied as Pidge was too busy squinting at the object as if she were willing it to tell her its secrets. “Some trackers use certain tech that allows it to continue tracking even after it’s destruction because it infects those nearby with certain harmless energy signatures. We need to know what it is before we can deactivate it safely.”

“Problem is this tracker isn’t using any tracking method I know of,” Pidge cut in. “It’s almost like-”

Pidge froze as her eyes lit up with the beginnings of understanding. Lance could practically see the gears spinning behind her eyes as she connected different threads of ideas.

“What?” Hunk asked, sensing the edge of her breakthrough. “What is it?”

“Lance,” Pidge turned to him, and Lance swore he rarely saw her so serious, or so excited, before in his life. “How did you know this was a tracker?”

Lance’s eyes flickered to the tiny device now laying abandoned on the worktable before meeting Pidge’s and Hunk’s eyes, “Well, the other Lance told me it was. Bragging about it or something.”

“Not even Lance is stupid enough to tell someone that he’s tracking them,” Pidge said as she ignored Lance’s indignant protest at calling him stupid (even if it wasn’t him she was insulting). “He wanted you to know about the tracker. But why?”

Pidge’s eyes widened and she shot across the table, launching her entire body across its surface and displacing everything else that was already haphazardly strewn about. She rummaged around on the other side for a minute, before yelling in victory as she held up the device she was apparently searching for.

It was circular and relatively flat, and it had glowing blue lines that connected towards the center. Pidge scooted back off of the desk and looked around for the not-tracker that was displaced in her frantic searching.

“Quiznack!” She cursed as she began moving things in search of the small chip. “God- mother- quiznacking quiznack where did it go?!”

“Language,” Hunk scolded her, but he began helping her look through the piles of junk. “You know this is why I keep trying to make you clean up this place. It may have been lost forever now.”

Lance, already knowing the scolding he could get for messing with Pidge’s stuff, looked at the ground instead. There, faintly gleaming next to Pidge’s foot, was the tiny device. He bent down, picked it up, and cleared his throat to get Pidge’s attention.

She looked over, and as soon as she saw the device she snatched it out of Lance’s hand with a quick thanks.

“Now as I said- it makes no sense for him to tell you about the tracker if he wanted to hunt the rest of us down. Which means he wanted us to find this thing, and if my gut is right,” Pidge trailed off as she turned the circular device on and inserted the not-tracker into a slot near the top. The darker blue lines turned bright as power surged through them, and when the power hit the cell holding the smaller contraption a small holoscreen popped up.

“Woah,” Hunk breathed as a button with some Altean word began blinking. “I’ll go get the others.”

As Hunk hurried off, Lance turned to Pidge for answers, “If it’s not a tracker then what is it?”

Pidge tore her eyes away from the holoscreen and locked gazes with Lance. The pure excitement and adrenaline showing through her face made his gut instinct want to take a couple of steps back. If this was his Pidge, she would have fiddled with her glasses in the way that made her look more mischievous than she already was.

As it was, this Pidge just rubbed her hands together and smiled at him.

“It’s a message.”

Chapter Text

“Okay let’s go over what we know again,” Pidge was hunched over with the lighting of her laptop gleaming off her glasses.

Keith marched over and pressed a button on the wall. It lit up with a hologram, and when he tapped an icon on the screen it filled with different notes, pictures, and readings all connected with little lines of light. It was, and Pidge pointed this out to him with a small smirk, just like his board back in his shack that he used to find Shiro and the Blue Lion.

“To start, Lance, Matt, and Lotor went on a mission to an abandoned base. They were supposed to find info about whatever Lotor was claiming Haggar was researching, when apparently something went wrong,” Keith recapped. “Lotor claims a trap was set off, Matt was hurt, and Lotor was forced to choose to save either Matt or Lance. He chose Matt, and watched the base explode.”

Pidge flicked her wrist from her screen to the holo-screen and the image of the base exploded, as chunks of metal debris appeared.

“We know that the base was destroyed, as well as all the data that was ‘apparently’ there. Upon searching the wreckage, we found Lance’s armor, which was pretty much damning evidence for his death. But we know he’s not dead. We don’t know where he is or how he survived, but he’s alive,” Pidge set her laptop down, as Keith stood up and began to pace.

“There’s something we’re missing,” Keith said. He ignored Pidge’s obviously and continued, “Somehow, Lance got to the alternate universe alive, which Allura said was impossible. I don’t know much about physics nor the ability to hop through realities, but I’m pretty sure an explosion alone would not have been able to pull off such a feat.”

Pidge hummed in affirmation. “I don’t get it though. The only material that can safely travel through realities is the stuff Voltron is made out of, and I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t have used such a material on some random base-”

“Why was Lance at that base in the first place? Why was he at a random base, without Red or Blue or the rest of the team to back him up?” Keith interrupted. He felt his anger begin to creep up again. “I mean, I know you said he was sent with Matt and Lotor as backup, but I still don’t understand why only Lance was brought.”

“I told you, the rest of us were busy,” Keith could hear Pidge’s own rising frustration in her voice. “Hunk and I were trying to update the other lions with cloaking tech, and Allura and Shiro were at a diplomatic meeting with the leaders in the Voltron Coalition.”

“Then you should have waited!” Keith shot back. “Now look at what’s happened! Lance is stuck who-knows-where and we have no leads or ways to even begin to find him to bring him home. If you had set aside your damn upgrades and-”

“Well maybe he wouldn’t be lost in the first place if you hadn’t abandoned us!” Pidge regretted the words as soon as they came out of her mouth, but by the time she could force herself to calm down and apologize for saying such a horrible thing, Keith was long gone.

For a second, Pidge debated on following Keith and stopping him so she could apologize, but she knew that that would probably just make the situation worse right now. Keith had a pretty volatile personality to begin with, but when he got as angry as he was during their fight, it would be better if she let him take out his anger on the training deck. Still, she hated the fact that she hurt a part of her family like that.

Pidge let out a scream of frustration as she picked up and chucked the holoscreen across her bedroom. It hit the wall with a solid thud and the hologram flickered out. Normally, Pidge would be furious at the blatant abuse of technology, but right then she couldn’t find it in herself to care.

She sat down on her bed and drew her knees up to her chest. This felt like losing Matt and Dad all over again, but somehow it was worse than that. With Kerberos, she knew that the Garrison was covering something up; there was a clear bad guy she could blame. But this… Keith was right. He wasn’t to blame. She was.

She bit her lip as she remembered the last time she saw Lance. She could have done something, anything, to change the outcome of that goddamned mission.

After a moment hesitation, Pidge grabbed her laptop and pulled up the video feed of that day’s debriefing as the memories of what happened wouldn’t leave her alone.

Pidge was in the middle of trying to debug the code she had created to help the cloaking tech she developed to last at least a dobosh longer than it already lasts (a minute could save a life after all, and Pidge welcomed any distraction from the desolate search for her father) when Allura had called everyone to the bridge for an important update.

Upon entering the bridge, she found Allura and Lotor deep in conversation. She could see how attached Allura had become to Lotor after he finally earned their trust however long ago. A couple of months ago, Pidge would have never left Lotor alone, but he had won her over with news about her father being enslaved by Zarkon and held at a facility to make new tech for the Galran Empire. Unfortunately, when Matt and her raided the base all that they found of her dad was his glasses.

She almost felt bad about interrupting what looked like a private conversation, but that didn’t stop her from saying, “So what’s this ‘important update’ that you called us here for?”

Pidge didn’t even think that she could catch one of them off guard, let alone both at the same time, but here she was watching as they both jumped at least a foot in the air and whipped around, giving Pidge matching ‘caught with the hand in the cookie jar’ looks. Pidge just raised an eyebrow and waited.

“Oh, Pidge! I didn’t hear you come in,” Allura cleared her throat, and said. “I’ll brief you once everyone has arrived.”

It took about two more dobashes for everyone else to get to the bridge. Shiro and Matt arrived about thirty ticks after Pidge, and then Hunk walked in with five steaming cups of something Lance loved to refer to as “space coffee”. Pidge grabbed one and was sipping it as Lance strolled in a good dobash later.

“So, what’s up Allura? Why the late night meeting?” Lance asked as he grabbed the mug Hunk offered him. He hummed in pleasure as he took a sip, and Pidge couldn’t agree more. Hunk really outdid himself.

“Well as you know, Shiro and I are leaving early tomorrow for the meeting on Valnear,” Allura started. “We can’t delay this meeting with the coalition leaders, but we have gained information about a newly abandoned Druidic base that could have info that has the potential to help us a great deal. We don’t know how long it will be until the Empire destroys all information or the base itself so this mission cannot wait.”

“There is a slight problem however,” Lotor stepped up next to Allura as he spoke. “Due to the nature of the Druids, there is a high chance of sensors that will activate the defense mechanisms for any ships that don’t have a Galran signature, so we can’t take any of the Lions. Instead, we shall take my ship.”

“Why not just take the Green Lion?” Lance asked.

“It’ll still be down for another day while I finish uploading the new tech,” Pidge adjusted her glasses.

“Then why don’t we send the Blade? They’re good at stealth missions. Sneaking around unnoticed is kinda their whole thing ya know?”

“By the time the Blades deem it safe and create a plan, it may already be too late,” Lotor argued. “We need to strike now before the witch realizes her mistake.”

“Lotor is right,” Allura cut in before Lance could argue. “We cannot afford to wait. Lance, you and Matt will accompany Lotor to the base. You will all be ready to depart at 0800 vargas tomorrow morning. End of discussion.”

“Wait wait wait. Not end of discussion. Why am I going?” Lance argued. He jabbed a finger towards Hunk and Pidge. “Aren’t one of them better suited for this?”

“They are both busy working on the Lions. You are not, so you are going to go and you are going to listen to what Lotor tells you to do when he tells you to do it so you don’t accidentally set of any alarms,” Allura glared at him. “Do I make myself clear?”

Lance opened his mouth, but then he seemed to just give up and shrink in on himself and nodded with a small, “Yes, Princess.”

Lance then turned and left the room. Hunk began to speak-

Pidge clicked the tablet off and tossed it aside as someone knocked on her door. She quickly swiped at the tears that had escaped her eyes at seeing Lance (even if it was just a video). A moment later the door opened and Matt entered.

“Hey Pidge. Keith looked pretty upset when I ran into him, and I know that you guys were hanging- woah, hey, what’s wrong,” Matt’s easy conversational tone shifted quickly to concern when he saw Pidge in her current state of distress. He expertly maneuvered around the junk in her room so he could sit on her bed.

Matt reached out a hand, but Pidge just curled her arms around her legs tighter. She could feel her throat close up even more at seeing her brother worried about her. She hid her head as she tried to force the tears away.

She flinched when she felt a warm hand on her knee as her brother tried to coax her out of hiding.

“Katie, it’s gonna be okay. You just have to tell me what’s wrong,” Pidge was reminded of all the times Matt did this for her before Kerberos happened and she was having trouble with the bullies at her school. She wanted to jump into his arms like she used to and let out all of her emotions but a part of her wouldn’t allow it. It’s the same part that wouldn’t allow her to break down into tears right then and there, because she had a problem to solve. Lance was relying on her and she couldn’t fail.

She knew this wasn’t a healthy way of coping, but she just didn’t particularly care at the moment. Once she got a lead, Keith and her needed she would be fine.

Matt must have read her mind because he said, “This is about Lance isn’t it?”

Pidge didn’t want to talk about her feelings right then, but Matt was at the base with Lance. He could know something that would help their cause. And this was Matt, it’s stupid to think she couldn’t trust him with this.

“What exactly happened in the base Matt?” Pidge looked up into Matt’s eyes as determination took over and temporarily stabilized her emotional state.

Matt looked taken aback by the question and didn’t answer immediately. Instead, he sighed and leaned his back against the wall. Pidge followed suit when he paused.

“My memories are a… blur in some places,” he started. “Like around the time I tripped the alarm and was injured as well as almost everything after that. I remember going to the base and how Lance was really uneasy. I remember that it felt almost too easy. Nothing happened until Lance went to scout ahead. I tripped a heat sensor apparently and was drugged. Then I was on Lotor’s ship and there was a light. I’m sorry Pidge. I know you cared for Lance a bunch and if it weren’t for me he-“

Matt choked on the words he was trying to say, and Pidge’s heart broke for him. If there was any doubt left in her mind, the distraught look on her brother’s face snuffed it out. He could be trusted and despite Keith’s insistence that they can do this alone Matt needed to know.

Pidge rested her arm on Matt’s shoulder and she could feel him shaking, “Matt, Lance isn’t dead.”

Matt looked over at her, concern etched clearly on his face, “Pidge, the base exploded. I remember the flash as it was destroyed. There’s no way anyone could survive that.”

“I know it sounds crazy, but I know Lance is alive like I knew you and Dad were alive. And Keith knows it too. Magical robot lions shouldn’t exist, but somehow I pilot one! Is it really that much more crazy to think that Lance could have been teleported into another universe instead of dying?” Pidge pleaded.

Matt’s gaze turned calculating. Pidge could recognizd the gears that began to turn in his head, and she knew that that meant he believed her. Whether it was what she said or how she said it, he was actually considering what Keith and her already knew to be true, and that meant she had one more person’s brain to pick.

“You were as convinced as everyone else that Lance was dead. What made you change your mind like this?” Matt asked.

“I had a dream,” Pidge knew it would be useless to lie to her brother. “I was Lance, and I was trapped somewhere with Shiro but Shiro was an Altean, and Keith had a dream just like it. Ever since I’ve felt a kind of… pulling towards somewhere, and I think it’s Lance, and Keith and I have been trying to figure out how he survived because if we know how he survived, then we can figure out a way to get him back, and we’ve compiled a list of what we know, but there is something missing. I just can’t figure out what and it’s been quiznacking weeks and-”

The door slid open and Keith launched himself in. He barely looked at Pidge (who had froze at the intrusion) before his crazed eyes snapped over to Matt. He leapt over the debris on Pidge’s floor and grabbed Matt by the shoulders as his chest heave, as if he sprinted over here from the other side of the castle.

“Matt this is- extremely important. On the mission with- Lance… Was there any room- with containers of weird white quintessence…?” Keith managed to gasp out, as he tried to calm his breathing.

Matt paused then nodded slowly, “Yeah, there was one room. Lance thought it was weird that an abandoned base would still have quintessence on board, but Lotor just brushed it off.”

Suddenly, it clicked for Pidge. It’s possible… if she knew more about quintessence she would be able to confirm it, but from what little she does know, it would be possible for enough quintessence to create a rift between worlds. That’s how Voltron does it after all. This is what she needed, this is something she can work with.

She shared knowing looks between Keith and Matt. The former was filled with triumph and fiery determination that matched his original lion, and the latter… if her brother had any trace of doubt left that she was crazy, it was gone now and replaced with conviction and silent acknowledgement. Pidge would be stupid to think she could stop her brother from helping at this point if she wanted to. So that settled that.

Now there was a clear path they had to take, one she knew Keith wouldn’t like, but surprisingly Keith beat her to saying it outloud.

“We have to talk to Allura.”

Chapter Text

Once everyone had arrived and was briefed on what happened, they were ready to start the message. Lance could feel the tension in the room as everyone's nervous energies clashed, combined,and swelled. He was always good at reading a room, and this one was ready to explode at any moment.

“Alright there is no point in delaying. Let’s see what he has to say,” Pidge muttered as she reached over and pressed a finger against the hologram.

There was a flicker as the message registered the command to begin, and it was as if the room was collectively holding its breath as Lance’s face materialized. It was only about half the actual size of Lance’s head, and it remained two dimensional, but everything else seemed to be extremely clear.

“Hey guys,” Holo-Lance started, and he winced a second after saying that as if he knew that the casual tone was not the best choice. “I know how this all looks, and I know I have a lot of explaining to do, but the first thing I want to say is I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to drag you all into this, and I didn’t mean to hurt you like I did, and I understand it if you hate me after this. But after I explain everything, there is a favor I must ask of you all.”

Holo-Lance looked down for a moment, and Lance knew that was what it looked like when he was trying to gather the strength to get through something difficult. He didn’t like his double (and who could blame him really?), but he couldn’t help the stab of sympathy that went through him because at that moment, the other Lance looked generations older than he was. That was the look Lance saw in the mirror sometimes before he painted a smile on his face because that was his job. It was the look of a man that had the weight of the world on his shoulders.

Holo-Lance looked up, and his face was wiped of all emotion. It was pretty creepy to watch, and Lance could tell he wasn’t the only person who was unnerved by this, as even Keith shifted a bit.

“Where to start? Shiro knows this, but as a Captain of the Guard, he was sworn to secrecy on who exactly I am. Pidge, you have probably figured out what station I hold by now, and I’m sorry I didn’t tell any of you sooner. It was incredibly important that I kept this secret from everyone. I hold the title of Royal Advisor to the Kingdom of Altea. I’m sorry I had to lie to you, but I hope with this knowledge you can trust what I am telling is the truth. I was finishing my final test when Kalla took the life of my Empress Romelle and slaughtered my mentor Malla, and not a quiznacking day goes by that I wish I was there to stop what had happened.

“I devised a plan after I heard about everything that happened. I knew that with the lords having sworn their oaths to her, it would not be as easy to stop whatever else she had planned. My only hope at stopping her was to get into her court, but she isn’t one to trust easily, and I as Advisor I had access to all the previous Advisor’s memories. I know her betrayal, and she would be wary of that power. I had to find a way to trick her into seeing my loyalty before I even tried to swear it.

“I found Shiro in the attempt to find sanctuary as I planned what I was going to do next, and then I met all of you guys and I didn’t mean to bond with everyone like I did, but can you blame me? Before I knew it two decapheobes went by, and entire war had broken out with Altea at the head and only our rebellion to stop their advance.

“I was still lost on what to do when I went on a cargo supply mission and ran into Lord Calmen of Altea. He informed me that while a majority of the of the Court swore fealty to Malla, they did not want her to hold the throne. Most do not accept her as a true ruler, but with no other alternatives, they had to give her their oaths,” Holo-Lance swiped at something with his finger and a group of files popped up next to his head.

“These are all of our communications from that day forward. They are encrypted should they fall in the wrong hands, but it’s nothing you can’t handle Pidge. Now with an inside man, I was actually able to make forward progress on creating a plan to stop the madness once and for all.”

At that Lance’s face turned grave, and back was the man tired beyond his years, “What many know is that an Advisor is as powerful, if not more so, than the royal family. What they don’t know, because it has never before in ten thousand decapheobes been needed, is that part of that power comes from the ability to dethrone a crowned ruler and appoint a new family line. It’s called the Rite of Oriande, and to do such a feat I need over half of the lords to back the person I will appoint as well as a considerable force to make sure there is no bloodshed during the transition.

“I have lived through my Trials, and I have been granted worthy to call upon this Rite by our ancestors, and I know exactly who is best suited to take the crown and start the new bloodline. Takashi Shirogane, you have been the Captain of the Guard for as long as I have been in training. You showed me your strength when you defeated challengers without fault; you showed me your honor when you gave up the position you worked so hard for when it meant serving a queen who does not deserve the title; you showed me your kindness when you sheltered me without question. There is no one else I would trust with this position, and I hope that you will take up this mantel.

“I had to gain the trust of the current queen, and yes, the fastest way to such a thing would be handing her one of the biggest thorns in her side, but I also had to prove to the lords that you were still alive and unbroken. I’m sorry for the pain I caused with my actions, but it was the necessary step.”

Lance looked over to Shiro. He was stiffer than before, and his eyes were glued to the hologram. Lance could see the stress in the lines of his face, but there was no conflict there. Lance knew at that moment that Shiro would always do what was best for his people, and that he knew that assuming rule was currently the best course of action. The other Lance must have known it as well.

“Unfortunately although we have amassed most of the game pieces, there is still not enough power to stop the sizable army that Malla amassed against the rebellion. We could take Altea back by force, but the death toll would be extreme on both sides. However, I have an idea to combat that. If we had a sign that the Gods themselves had blessed us, not even Malla would dare fight back. I have sworn on my soul and my place in Oriande with our ancestors that I would not divulge this secret unless it was absolutely necessary. I think it’s definitely gotten to that point.

“There is an Altean legend that the great King Alfor had found a material unlike any other substance in the universe, and he used this material to create a machine, a being, that could do the impossible. A machine that gained semi-sentience and was labeled the Protector of the Universe. Before anyone could find out about his creation, he hid it away in Oriande to be forgotten. I’ve seen this creation with my own eyes, and now I must ask you the impossible. I need you to go to Oriande using a map I have also hidden in the code of this device and collect Voltron from its resting place.

“I don’t think I need to stress just how important it is that no one else gets their hands on the coordinates of Oriande, but I will anyway. It is very important that no one else know the location of Oriande. I have done all I can, and now I can only hope that you guys know what the right thing to do is.”

And with that the holograph blinked out of existence, and the chip that was apparently a space-USB disconnected itself. No one moved for a good moment, barely able to take everything in. Then Keith turned to Lance. “Get out.”

Shrio seemed to reboot, “Keith-”

“We have to discuss whatever the quicknack that was, and I don’t want some- some stranger listening in!”

Lance had to admit that that stung a bit, but he pushed the feeling down. He was a stranger to this Keith after all, and if the roles were reversed, wouldn’t Lance do the same? He ignored the part of himself that knew he would fight for Keith to stay, alternate universe or not. So he painted on his easygoing smile. “It’s okay Shiro, I don’t mind waiting in the kitchen until you guys are done discussing what we- you are going to do.”

He shot them all finger guns as he walked backwards out of Pidge’s workshop. As soon as the door closed, he could hear murmurs start up and he took that as his cue to leave. He considered actually going to the kitchen, but he couldn’t stomach even the thought of food right then. Instead, he just picked a random hallway and began to wander.

So they did have a Voltron in this universe. Shiro didn’t seem to recognize the name in itself, but maybe that’s because in whatever legend other Lance was referring to called it the Protector of the Universe instead. And what did this mean for him? Would Red recognize him as her pilot? Would Blue? Is it like Voltron back home or is it completely different? Lance’s hand subconsciously came up to rub at the machine embedded in his chest. He had other colors of quintessence in him now. Does that make him unable to be a paladin anymore? An ache began to form in his chest, one much deeper than the device reached.

He thought of other Lance and the look on his face. Did he look like that now? Look like he had the weight of the world was slowly breaking him? He sure felt like it sometimes. He wondered what would happen to him after whatever this was was over. Where would he go? He had nothing here.

Lance turned a random corner and continued to wander down the new path. This was the first time he was really alone with his thoughts and he wished he fought to stay in that room. At least there the noise could provide a welcome distraction from his current situation. This version of his team, of his family, didn’t need him, and Lance could tell that this Keith at least didn’t even want him around. Although again Lance doesn’t blame him. He is a perfect copy of the guy that had caused a lot of issues recently.

He didn’t know where his feet were leading him, until he hit a random door button and it opened up into a larger room with the opposite wall just a giant glass panel. Apparently they were in space still because he was looking at billions upon billions of stars. There were so many stars he didn’t have to turn on a light to see the entirety of the room. There was what looked to be a pile of cushions that lay in a divot right in front of the observation wall, and Lance found himself laying back in the pillows and gazing at the stars.

He searched for his constellations even though he knew that he wouldn’t find them. His eyes still scanned for Leo, for Ursa Major, for Centaurus, and for Gemini. He felt the ache in his chest grow larger; he didn’t see his home in the stars. He missed his stars, the stars he would point out to Marco at any and every chance he got. He missed stars that were light years away from the Milky Way, but were still his because he would spend late nights with Hunk or Pidge creating new constellations everywhere they went.

Everything was finally hitting him all at once, and Lance could barely stay afloat as the tidal wave of realization crashed into him at once. He was stuck in another universe with no way home, and a disorder with his quintessence that could easily kill him. He couldn’t believe he missed it, but he did. He missed his home; a spaceship castle with an alien princess, her advisor, a tech genius that could hack into anything given enough time, a best friend who would bake the closest thing to garlic knots in forever, a man who was the perfect combination of dad jokes and nihilism. He missed home. He just wanted to go home. Even if it was just for a moment.

His space family must think he died. It would only be logical to assume that he was dead after that explosion. To them, he was dead and Lotor, oh God Lotor, was a traitor (he knew it. He knew that bastard couldn’t be trusted) and they had no way of knowing. Lotor won because Lance was gone and that meant Lotor was free to do whatever the fuck he wanted to do. Quiznack.

They could be dead right now. They could have died in a battle with the Galra, and Lance would never know. He would never see them again. Lance believed in an afterlife, he believed there truly was somewhere you go after you die, but now… He was in another universe all together. If he died here, would he go to wherever people here go? Would he be stuck in limbo? He knew no one other than the team.

Lance lost track of time as he delved further and further into the longing in his heart that had been left unacknowledged since he arrived in this crazy place. He wasn’t pulled back into the real world, until a hand was laid on his shoulder. Lance jumped and threw himself back a good five feet as he looked at the blur of the person now in front of him.

“Are you okay?” the figure, who he could tell was Shiro by his voice, said. Lance scrubbed away the tears that had been clouding his vision and smiled at Shiro before he noticed the rest of the team was also in the room.

“I’m fine,” Lance said, and if his voice cracked, he refused to acknowledge it, “So I’m gonna assume you guys are done with your little chat, so what’s the decision?”

Keith moved to stand next to Shiro, his arms crossed and jaw twitching, and Lance saw a flicker of emotion, other than barely contained rage, pass through his eyes. It almost looked like- but that’s impossible because this Keith hated Lance as much as his own Keith (rightfully) did.

Pidge cleared her throat, “We’re going to Oriande as soon as I decode our Lance’s message. It shouldn’t take me longer than a day.”

“Coolio. Can’t wait,” Lance was only paying half attention as he was still focused on Keith. He studied the Galra version of his friend for a few moments more, hoping to catch another bit of the emotion he saw earlier, but it was just an impenetrable wall of anger. He must have imagined things after all. “Well I’m still recovering so I’m exhausted. I’m gonna hit the hay. Laters.”

Lance raised a hand as he left the observation deck and exhaustion settled into his bones. Sleep sounded perfect just then. Lance found his room by some miracle, and as soon as his head hit the pillow, he was out like a light.

(He dreamt of his Pidge and his Keith. In his dream, they knew he was alive and trapped in another universe, and they were working tirelessly to get him back because he was loved and he was needed and they wouldn’t stop until he was safe in their arms. Lance felt something warm in his soul, because dream him knew that they would be able to do it. They would save him. They always do.)

Chapter Text

Unsurprisingly, it only took Pidge about four varga to hack into the code of the chip and find the coordinates for this “Oriande”. She was a certified genius after all. The bad news was that this ship, being a smaller Altean battleship, didn’t have any teleduvs, so that meant they were going to have to travel there the long way. Which, by Pidge’s estimation, will take a minimum of three phoebs.

The first week, Lance spent mainly in his room sleeping, or talking to Hunk in the kitchen. It was both comforting and disconcerting to know that this Hunk had the same personality as his best bud. On one hand, that meant he had someone to laugh with. But on the other, it reminded him so much of what he was missing, so that he could only stand to be with Hunk for a few varga before Lance made some flimsy excuse and left to mope in his room.

After that, however, Lance was starting to grow very, very bored. This ship was maybe a quarter of the size of the castle (which meant it was still a pretty good sized ship), but Lance was wary about going to explore in case he ran into Keith, who only aggressively brushed past him every time they did run into each other. Pidge was busy with some project or another, and there was no Allura to make them train as a team. So Lance had the option of watching Hunk tinker, risk running into Keith by going to the training deck, or seeking out Shiro.

Naturally out of the three options, he went with Shiro.

Lance found Shiro in what would constitute for a common room. He was reading something on a datapad, but when he heard Lance walk into the room he looked up and smiled. Out of everyone on this ship, it was clear that Shiro was the most comfortable with Lance’s presence, and it showed as he spotted Lance and gave him a wide grin.

“Hey Lance, what’s up?”

Lance swallowed down the ball of anxiety that had been slowly building in his chest, and sat down next to Shiro, “Well there have been some things I’ve been curious since my double had mentioned them in his message.” It was just for a moment, and if Lance hadn’t spent so long with only him as company in that cell he would have missed it, but Shiro had tensed up at the mere mention of the other Lance and the message.

He guessed that is warranted. No matter the other Lance’s claim to being on their side, he still kidnapped Shiro, and that betrayal wasn’t going to just go away. Shiro probably didn’t even really want to see Lance because he reminds him of the times in that cell.

No, Shiro wouldn’t project the feelings of betrayal from Lance’s double onto Lance. If Lance knew one thing from spending time with him in that cell, it was that Shiro wouldn’t do that. Lance was just paranoid.

“He mentioned a place called ‘Oriande’, and now we’re heading there so it must be somewhere important. So, I guess I was wondering what exactly is Oriande?” Lance internally winced at the clunkiness of his words, but if Shiro noticed, he didn’t comment on it.

Instead, he just set down his tablet and said, “For Alteans, Oriande is, essentially, a holy place. In essence, it’s where Alchemy was born. It’s also a bridge between the life and death of Alteans, and the ones that came before us. It holds the secrets of all the great alchemists, including those of the great King Alfor.”

Lance nodded slowly, “Alfor created Voltron right?”

Shiro nodded, “According to the legends, yeah. He found a piece of unknown material that held a strange quintessence signature. Apparently it held great power, and he went to Oriande to figure out how to harness such power. He wanted-”

“He wanted to create a weapon that could make peace in the galaxy,” Lance interrupted. That was what Allura’s father had wanted to do, if Coran’s story was correct. Shiro looked at him surprised. Lance guessed he had to explain how he knew that. “Voltron exists in my universe too. Except it’s more than just a myth. It’s definitely real.”

He definitely caught Shiro’s curiosity now, and he was beginning to regret bringing this up. He didn’t want to think about home, not when he was so far from it. But he could see the interest in Shiro’s eyes, and he knew that he would have to talk about it eventually.

“Have you seen it then?” Shiro asked. He had a strange boyish wonder on his face, and Lance was painfully reminded of how his Shiro looked on his posters back on Earth, full of happiness, and he can’t deny this Shiro that joy. “There are supposed to be people who would pilot Voltron together. They were five individuals, chosen by the lions themselves, and they had such a close bond; they acted as one.”

“I- yeah, I’ve met the Paladins of Voltron,” Lance said. It technically wasn’t a lie, he had met them. “I’m not sure of the stories you were told, but they’re just as amazing as any story could suggest. W- They’ve liberated planets, saved lives, and brought peace to many people. They’re… amazing.”

“That’s good to hear. I don’t know what happened in your universe, but in ours, the stories say that after Alfor made the lions, he saw great potential in them. They could cause great peace, and they did at first, but he realized that that much power in the wrong hands could be catastrophic, so he locked them away. He kept the secret of their location a secret, and only told his Advisor where they were while he was on his deathbed. Since then, the only people to know if Voltron still existed were the Advisors. For Lance to break his vow and tell us not only the location of Oriande, but also the location of Voltron… it’s a big deal. He’s putting a lot of trust us to be accepted as pilots.”

“Don’t worry Shiro, you guys can do it,” Lance saw the stress in Shiro’s face, and he knew that Shiro didn’t think that they could really succeed, but Lance knew he could. This Shiro wasn't that different from his Shiro, and there wasn’t much difference in the others either. Well, there was a huge difference, but at the same time there wasn't. If that made any sense.

“I’m grateful for your vote of confidence Lance, but you don’t know that,” Shiro smiled at him, and Lance felt the need to prove that Shiro was all that people thought him to be and more.

“But I do know,” Lance insisted. “I know that you don’t think that you deserve the praise you receive, and that you sometimes doubt that you’re a great leader even though your every action proves that there is no one better. I know that your belief and your determination is infectious, and I know that when you care for someone you’ll never give up on them, and I know that you will be able to pilot the Black Lion. I know because I know you. I know because you are my leader, and my hero, and my family. I know you’ll be a great Paladin because you already are. You’re an amazing paladin in my universe, and you’ll be an amazing paladin in this one too.”

Lance immediately realized he may have gotten a bit carried away during that whole speech. He could feel his cheeks begin to redden as he realized what he said. He must have sounded like he had the biggest hero-worship complex out of everyone in the galaxy. But Shiro didn’t look freaked out. Actually, he looked a lot more relaxed, and he didn’t have that weird smile on his face anymore. Instead, he looked attentive.

“So I’m a paladin in your universe?”

It was Lance’s turn to stiffen. He forgot that he hadn’t really talked about Voltron with Shiro before. They agreed to not talk about anything like that in case they were being watched, and he hadn’t really planned on talking about them anytime soon.

Shiro must have sensed Lance’s tension, because the lighter mood dimmed again, and Shiro used his ‘This is a sensitive topic’ voice as he said, “What’s wrong Lance?”

Lance broke eye contact to look down at his hands, wringing them together. It really shouldn’t be a big deal. He had no real reason to hide his team. And of course, he could trust Shiro. He was just being stupid.

“It’s nothing. It’s just that… back home, we’re close. Really close, and I guess I just- I miss my team. And everyone here just reminds me of them.”

A beat of silence. Then, “You were a paladin, weren’t you?”

Lance squeezed his eyes shut. He hated this. He was supposed to be helping Shiro with his fears, not make Shiro comfort him. He bet his double wasn’t so pathetic.

“Lance it’s okay. You don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want to,” Shiro said.

“No,” Lance forced himself to speak. He could do this. It’s just talking. Lance was good at that. “It’s fine. Uhm, yeah, I was a paladin. We all were. We accidentally found the blue lion, and she took us to the Castle of Lions, where we found Princess Allura and Coran. It’s a long story, but basically the Galra are these bad guys, and we fight them and save people. A lot of stuff happened, and then I was stupid and was tricked, and now I’m trapped here and my entire team could be dead, and I don’t know, and I hate it so goddamn much. I hate being so fucking powerless. I know I was the weakest, but at least I could try to do something, but now-”

Lance cut himself off as he felt his voice crack. He bit his lip to hold back the tears again, and every second that went by felt like an hour as he wrapped his arms around his chest. He couldn’t even talk about them without breaking down. How pathetic.

Strong arms wrapped around him, and his breath caught as Shiro hugged him. He only paused for a fraction of a second before he threw his arms around Shiro and cried. He knew he was mumbling something, but he wasn’t aware enough to know or care about what he was saying. He just missed them so much, and if he thought his breakdown a week ago was bad, this was somehow both better and worse. Speaking his fears aloud made them real, and now that they were real, there was no denying his situation. But he wasn’t alone, he was being held in arms that were so familiar, he may have wept harder. They were arms that held him when he was hurt, arms that he missed since his Shiro disappeared. He had his eyes closed, and as he sobbed into Shiro’s shoulder, he pretended, even just a moment, that he was actually home.

~~~

Lance fell asleep after about a varga of crying. Shiro stayed still for another ten quintents to make sure he was really asleep before he dared to pick him up and deliver him back to his room. Shiro’s heart broke when Lance began sobbing into his shoulder, muttering about how he missed them over and over again.

Shiro knew Lance was struggling with some things, but he didn’t know it was that, and he definitely didn’t know it was that bad. Honestly, after what Lance told Shiro he’s been through, Shiro is surprised that Lance didn’t break down sooner. Especially since he clearly didn’t see how strong he is to be able to deal with all of that.

He’s still a kid too. From what Lance told Shiro, he was barely old enough to be on his own before he was thrown into a huge war with odds that Shiro couldn’t fully comprehend. He still didn’t know everything Lance had been through either.

Shiro paused at the training room. There was the normal sound of clashing metal and snarls that signalled Keith was in the middle of training. He pressed the panel, and the door slid open just as Keith was blasted back by the training bot. Instead of stopping the fight, Shiro leaned against the frame and waited. Keith would notice him when he was done.

Keith flipped back up, narrowly dodging a slash of the Gladiator’s spear and spinning out of range. When Keith fought, it was with his entire being. Much like all those with Galra blood, he fought with his very soul. He took his sword and blocked a jab the Gladiator aimed at his stomach. He slashed at its neck, but it was too quick and the bot was able to force Keith’s weapon out of his hand. It landed a good ten feet away, and the gladiator was between Keith and his sword. Keith charged the bot with a yell, pulling his fist back as the Gladiator aimed to split his stomach open. At the last moment, Keith feinted by sliding onto his knees. The bot’s blade missed his neck by a hair, but that was enough as Keith grabbed the sword and picked it up. He chucked it at the Gladiator’s neck before it could turn, and just like that, the battle was over.

Shiro knocked on the doorframe to signal his presence before Keith could start a new sequence. Keith looked over and nodded to him in greeting before going over to the bench to grab a cloth. Shiro approached him as he wiped the sweat off his forehead.

Keith was Galra. Shiro never blinked at that fact before, and he wasn’t about to start to look at him differently, but it must have been hard for Lance to see a teammate looking like the species he fought against. Keith’s violent outburst and hostile actions since their meeting definitely couldn’t have helped Lance’s vision of him either.

“Wanna spar?” Keith asked, reaching for the sword he set down.

Shiro put a hand up, “Actually, I was wondering if you would walk with me. I have something I want to talk to you about.”

Keith was naturally on guard, but Shiro expected that. Whenever it was something serious they needed to talk about, Shiro would always suggest a walk. It was both a way to keep the tension as low as possible, and a way to subtly inform Keith that this probably wouldn’t be a conversation he would enjoy.

“Actually I still-” Keith began, but Shiro cut him off before he could finish.

“Please?” Shiro gave Keith his best begging eyes, and after a moment, Keith sighed and sheathed his sword.

He brushed past Shiro without a word, and Shiro wasn’t about to fight his stroke of luck. Once the door slid shut behind Shiro, he fell in step with Keith. They began to walk towards the kitchen.

Shiro waited for a couple of breaths before he ripped the metaphorical medical tape off with a simple, “You really should be kinder to Lance.”

Keith instantly stopped walking, and Shiro could feel his hackles rising. It wasn’t the first time Keith had this reaction, luckily, so Shiro did what he used to do and kept walking. Keith was forced to either awkwardly stand in the hall alone (Shiro would just approach him later) or continue walking. Keith seemed to realize this, and caught up to Shiro with a frustrated growl that Shiro chose to ignore.

“He hasn’t done anything to you, and he even helped save me. He doesn’t deserve your wrath, he deserves your thanks,” Shiro turned a corner, and casually made sure that the hallway was empty.

“How can I? Our Lance betrayed us, despite his reasons for doing so. How do we know this one won’t do the same the second he gets the chance?” Keith argued. To anyone else, it would seem just like irrational reasoning of someone who is too stubborn to change their mind, but Shiro knew better. Keith really trusted Lance, and he doesn’t trust a lot people.

“I know what happened with our Lance must have really hurt you, but you can’t take that out on this Lance. He was just caught up in the crossfire. And our Lance didn’t really betray us. I’m here, safe, and now we have a plan to actually take down the corrupt queen and stop this before it grows uncontrollable,” Shiro thought about the universe where the Lance sleeping in this ship came from. He saw what it was like to have such a war grow out of control, and Shiro could see the wear it had on him. He glanced over at Keith to see him clenching and unclenching his fist, his claws digging into his lavender skin. “... That’s not what’s really bothering you, is it?”

Keith let out another aggravated breath of air and raked his claws through his hair, “It’s just… after all that time, he refused to trust us with this. He didn’t trust us enough to tell us his plan. He didn’t trust us enough to tell us his issues. He didn’t even trust us enough to tell us who he really was! I trusted him with everything, but he didn’t even quiznacking think I could help him handle this- this- whatever the quiznack this is! He didn’t think I was quiznacking able, even though I thought we were family. I thought we were family.”

All of the fight left Keith as he leaned against a wall. Shiro leaned next to him and casually studied the door across from them. It was one of the entrances to the dining area. Shiro patiently let Keith calm down for a few seconds before he offered his thoughts on their situation.

“Maybe it wasn’t that he didn’t think he could trust you. Maybe he was trying to protect you- protect us,” Shiro sensed Keith looking at him, but he just continued to study the door.

Keith scoffed, “How would he be protecting us from the Altean Kingdom by doing all this behind our backs?”

“He wasn’t protecting us from the Kingdom. He was protecting us from ourselves.”

“... What do you mean?”

“Well, this plan is extremely risky as it is,” Shiro explained. “Think about how you would have felt if he told you, he told any of us, and it failed. Imagine what would have happened if he told us all about everything, we created a plan, and it goes wrong. If he was found out, if he is found out, he would be killed immediately. Imagine what it would do to you if you let him go out there, and he died. Don’t lie to me- it would destroy you.”

Shiro watched Keith shift his gaze to glare at the ground. He scuffed his foot on the floor and muttered, “That doesn’t explain why he didn’t tell us, tell me, about who he was. It wasn’t like I was about to judge him.”

It was Shiro’s turn to be silent as he gathered his next thoughts. He had to tread carefully here. If he said the right thing, it could go a long way in helping bridge the gap between Keith and the new Lance, but if he said the wrong thing, it could possibly do irreparable damage. He waited a moment more, chewing his words, before he looked over to Keith.

“You know, I talked to Lance earlier,” he started. Keith glanced over at him. “The new Lance I mean. Apparently in his world, he was fighting a war against a different enemy. I don’t know the specifics, but this time, the Galra were the bad guys.”

Keith stared at him, and Shiro read the conflict in his eyes. He knew what Keith was probably thinking. Lance had fought against the Galra, so why didn’t he act hostile towards Keith?

Shiro pushed off the wall, and pressed his hand against the panel to unlock the dining room door.

“I don’t know what you’re going through, but I would talk to this Lance before you condemn him. Maybe you could learn a thing or two,” Shiro called over his shoulder, as the door began to slide shut behind him.

Chapter Text

“We have to talk to Allura.” As soon as the words left Keith’s mouth, he knew that was the wrong thing to do. They couldn’t talk to Allura because they couldn’t trust Allura.

Keith may be a bit dense at times, but even he could see how close she had grown to Lotor, and she would want to talk about it to him. He didn’t have definitive proof, but his gut was telling him this was all Lotor’s fault. And when his gut tell him something, he listens.

“We need to talk to someone who knows a lot about Quintessence,” he corrected. “But we can’t talk to Allura about it.”

“Why not? If anyone could give us the answers, we need it would be Allura,” Pidge argued.

Keith glanced at Matt, who nodded. Keith assumed Matt could understand his worries as well. Matt turned to his sister and said, “We can’t trust Allura, because we can’t trust Lotor.” Pidge looked skeptical still, but Matt tacked on, “Think about it Katie. The whole situation surrounding that mission is weird. There are too many coincidences for it not be planned, and I wouldn’t put it past Lotor to try to get rid of Lance. He was the only one present that still didn’t trust him. Get him out of the way, and who knows what he can do.”

“Wait, wait, hold on,” Pidge held up one hand and adjusted her glasses with the other. “You think Lotor planned on going on a time sensitive mission to a base that could have vital information at a time when Lance would be forced to go with him without Lion or Paladin backup so that he could trap Lance in a base as it self destructed while ‘saving’ my brother so he would be seen as a hero so that he could exploit Voltron to his heart’s desire without internal interference? And because of that you don’t wanna tell Allura because she is already under his thumb and could accidentally warn him that Lance is still alive, meaning he could possibly destroy any hope of bringing Lance back?” Keith looked at Matt, shrugged, and nodded because, yeah, that was basically it. “That actually makes sense, and I can’t believe Keith thought of it before me. Well, if we can’t tell Allura who do we-”

At that moment, the sirens blared, and Pidge cursed as she jumped. The lights aren’t blinking red so that must mean it’s time for group training. Keith must have gotten too caught up in everything if he lost track of time like that.

He looked at Pidge and Matt. “We’ll talk more later. Meet back here after dinner tonight.”

~~~

Training with the team was slowly beginning to feel normal again, and Keith hated that. He hated it because there was still someone missing, and he shouldn’t be getting accustomed to his absence. He hated that he was learning to expect Allura’s whip instead of Lance’s rifle shots as cover, and he hated that despite everything he and Allura’s fighting styles were beginning to mesh together so well.

Keith ducked under the Gladiator’s blade, and when he turned, he was able to trust a blue whip had held the robot still enough to cut off it’s arm. He should have swiftly moved to stab the Gladiator in the side, but he tucked and rolled instead as Allura cried out “Keith!” in warning.

Keith stood from his roll and turned to see the Gladiator had turned to Allura. It aimed to strike Allura with a blade in his remaining arm, but she blocked it by grabbing her bayard. Keith readied his blade as Allura twisted the whip around the blade and forced the Gladiator to turn around in one clean movement.

Keith was ready for the opening, and as soon as the Gladiator’s unprotected chest was revealed to him, he sunk his blade in, and the robot dropped to the ground, defeated.

Keith panted as the rest of the team began to clap and cheer. He nodded at Allura as she came to stand beside him. Shiro stood from where he was watching, and handed both of them a water pouch and a towel.

“Great teamwork Number 4, Princess,” Coran clapped his hands together in approval. “You both work well as a team, and the other’s could definitely learn a thing or two from you.” He glanced at Hunk and Pidge, both of which were nursing bruised limbs from their attempt.

Lotor, who had been standing at the back of the group, pushed from the wall and shook his head, “Keith, you’re still broadcasting your moves before you do them. That’s how the Gladiator was almost able to land a hit on you, and he would have if not for Allura’s warning. Be smoother in your movements. Don’t allow yourself to shift so obviously until the last moment. If you’re facing off a real opponent, one at the skill level of generals, they’ll always know your next move. I thought the Blade would have taught you better.”

Keith bit his tongue to stop himself from firing off a retort. Keith would ask himself if Lotor was always this pretentious, but from the time he has now had to spend with the ex-prince he knew the answer was yes. No wonder Lance hated him. Asshole.

“Lotor is right, Keith,” Shiro said. Keith winced slightly at Shiro siding with Lotor. He was trying his best, and he knew that was something he needed to work on. The Blades told him that often enough to know that, and he thought Shiro would realize that he was working on it as hard as he could. He didn’t need his reprimand. “Alright, that’s enough simulated fights for now. Let’s get to our Lions to do some battle simulations.”

Shiro turned to head to Black, and Keith couldn’t help but study him as he followed him to the hangars. Shiro had been acting off since he’s returned. Which is expected, if Keith was being honest. Shiro was in Galran hands before he escaped again for who knows how long. Shiro still wouldn’t tell him about before he escaped. He claims that he can’t remember, like he couldn’t remember most of the first time he was captured. Keith wanted to believe him, but something was niggling at his gut that Shiro was keeping something from him.

As he approached Red’s hangar, he could feel her burning presence welcome him. She really did miss him, but he knew she was also missing Lance more. It was expected- Lance was her pilot and she had grown pretty close to him. He gave her a pat as he entered the cockpit, and smiled as he could feel her hum to life under his hand.

You ready to stretch your legs girl? Their form of communication was still strange to him, after all this time. He would send thoughts her direction, or Black’s direction when he was piloting her instead, and would receive impressions of answers instead of words.

For example, Red responded to Keith’s question with the feelings of anticipation and excitement, which he interpreted as an enthusiastic Hell yeah.

Red leapt out of the hangar as soon as he pressed her controls forward, and he did a quick lap around the castle to stoke her flames a bit. He had to admit it was hard to adjust to her sensitive controls after piloting Black. Red was a flaming inferno ready to consume, move, and burn through space, while Black was closer to the feeling of space itself. Infinite, calm, and powerful in a way that defied definition.

Red nudged his consciousness to bring him out of his thoughts and back into the present. He directed her to fly on the right side of Black, and he could feel the others fall in line after him. He watched as his screen lit up with the simulation, and he let himself fall into the focused headspace of training.

It was the basic flight training. Dodge asteroids, fight fake Galra battleships, and save the fake people on the simulation planet. He knew even Lotor couldn’t critique his flying skills. He had almost replaced Shiro’s record in the Garrison simulations, and that was before he was thrown into a war and forced to pilot magical lions.

~~~

Dinner was good. Hunk had started cooking again a couple of weeks ago, and he was back to making delicious looking meals. This particular dish seemed to be a type of stew with something that could be substituted for bread and butter. The vegetables were either a bit spongy or slightly stringy, but the taste was good. Hunk refused to tell anyone what the mysterious chunks of meat were (Keith wasn’t sure he wanted to know. The food was good, and that was what mattered).

Conversation around the dinner table had begun to resume as well. Currently, the princess was talking to Shiro and Lotor, Pidge was arguing with Hunk about some type of tech junk. Coran and Matt were talking conversing about something about space-pirates, and Keith was content to just sit and eat his food. He couldn’t help it if his eyes strayed to the seat next to him every once in a while. Lance would have loved this food.

He wondered what Lance was currently eating in that alternate universe. His dreams had ebbed a bit ever since Pidge came to him about her dream. He was worried about that, but if he really focused, he could still feel a small, barely there, tug towards everywhere and nowhere that he now recognized as his bond to Lance. Or Red’s bond. He wasn’t really sure.

He was about ready to excuse himself from the table when Lotor cleared his throat for everyone’s attention. He was seated at Allura’s right, so he could look at pretty much everyone at once. He looked over to Allura, who gave him a bright smile that Lotor returned, before setting down his spoon and pushing away his bowl.

“I have some great news for everyone,” he started, and Keith stiffened. Lotor looked happy, and that couldn’t mean anything good. “I was finally able to decode the information we gained from the Druid ship from that tragic mission.”

Keith could barely stop the growl that tried to leap from his throat at the tone. Screw him for acting like he cared in the least about that mission. The mission that "cost" Lance’s life. Keith didn’t even know they retrieved any information from that mission, and after glancing around at the confused and surprised faces of everyone except for Allura and Shiro, apparently the others hadn’t didn’t either.

“Wait, we actually successfully got the info from that?” Pidge asked. “Why weren’t we informed of this earlier?”

“I asked him to keep this a secret until he was able to decode the files,” Shiro explained. Keith’s eyes shot to him, and he could hardly believe what he was hearing. Shiro kept this from them? From him? “I thought it best to let you work through your grief before we tell you what Lance’s sacrifice won us.”

“We deserve to know the truth, Shiro,” Keith was surprised he had the voice to speak. “You can’t make these decisions for us.”

“I can, and I will,” the look Shiro gave Keith seemed colder than Shiro would be capable of giving. “You aren’t the leader anymore, Keith.”

Keith felt a stab of hurt through his heart, and this time he visibly winced. Shiro was right- he wasn’t the leader anymore. He had to remember that for awhile, he wasn’t even a part of the team anymore. It was a surprise they accepted him back as easily as they had, he had to remember they had a different dynamic now. It didn’t matter that he once piloted the Black Lion, those days were over, and Shiro was back to making the tough decisions.

“Anyway let me inform you of the type of information, instead of arguing over the Black Paladin’s decisions,” Lotor interjected. Everyone looked back to the exiled prince, who continued, “The information was about a certain Altean artifact that is currently in the Galra Empire’s grasp. I have seen it once before, and I know that if we can get it, we can finally get a leg up in this war.”

“Spit it out Lotor,” Pidge rolled her eyes.

Lotor shot Pidge a strange look, but he didn’t comment on her tone as he continued, “It’s difficult to explain, but there is a place that is rumored to be the birthplace of Alchemy. It’s where King Alfor went to create Voltron, and if we can find it, we can unlock all of Voltron’s secrets, and who knows how many secrets of Alchemy itself. It could turn the tide of this war, and we now know where it resides.”

“It’s being transported to Zarkon’s main fleet along with a collection of other weapons and supplies. They have to land to refuel and drop off half of their load at an occupied planet named Hur’ril.”

Allura picked up when Lotor stopped for breath, “The thing about Hur’ril is that its environment is extremely volatile. Every three deca-phoebs it’s plates will violently shift. It was reported that the Galra had built their base on a fault line by accident, and the recent split destroyed the landing platforms to the base. The next closest suitable place to land such large ships are a good varga away. They’ll be forced to transport the items the base needs by foot, which shall give us enough time to sneak in, grab the artifact, and destroy the ships before they return.”

“We’ll talk more tomorrow,” Shiro said. “For now, relax and prepare. It’s time to really rejoin the fight.”