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Dancing on the stars and singing with the waves

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I suppose he should be grateful for all that monster's done. I guess it would be right or something. Without his charity, he would be out on the streets or worse. But Keith just couldn’t bring himself to think of Zarkon as anything less than a demon from the deepest pits of hell. Sure the man had given him a home, wonderful schooling, and countless opportunities after his father died and mother disappeared but still, on a bad day, the Meer thought of him brings bile to his mouth. He was just glad being his ward didn’t mean he had to see him very often, only at dinner parties and talent scouts. Zarkon was a very successful businessman with his hands in everything from weapons of war to flowers and even education. 10 years ago he had bought the Voltron Academy for The Gifted from Alfor Altea. I say bought, I mean stole. From the perspective of the law, everything was legal, his signature, two lawyers present, proper papers and everything. What the law missed was the guns in the lawyers pants and Zarkon’s money in their pockets. It was just unfortunate that there was a power surge in the hospital that evening that shut down all the equipment, including the ones that were keeping Alfor alive. He died. It was a coincidence, a tragedy. Of course, they all glossed over the fact it was Zarkon power station. As a courtesy, Zarkon was gracious enough to let the now orphaned Allura continue to study at the school. She had been 7 and Zarkon murdered the last connection to family she had. It made Keith’s blood boil. He suspected something along the same lines happened to his family. His mother, Zarkon adoptive sister, hated him and openly protested against all he did, fighting him all the way. Tension only rose when she married a man the family did not approve of. They were living on borrowed time. When Keith was 4, their time ran out. His father had been on his way to an interview about how the money Zarkon was using was coming from a small business he was decimating and absorbing for resources when another car, mysteriously found without a driver, crashed right into him. He died on the spot. 2 years later his mother disappeared without a trace when she was out to buy groceries. Zarkon took him on after that, giving him everything he gave his son, Lotor, albeit not the same quality. Keith was sure it was just to keep a good face. Not for the first time Keith wished he had been born in the past, back when magic still held a firm grip in life, when you could see centaurs and fairies walking down the street. When mermaids would complain on the docks about fishermen getting too close to their waters or whisper about the lost sirens, eyeing any human that got too close. Those were the days when he would have loved to live, to breath in the magic, the quintessence. But greed had ruined it. Man found a way to harvest the substance, extracting it from its source and turn it into power, money, life. Once the word got out, creatures began to disappear, stolen for their quintessence. Hundreds of races were hunted into extinction within a year. Zarkon had his hands in it the deepest, searching for a way to live forever, not caring what he left decimated in his wake. There were only 2 things that Zarkon hadn’t ruined yet. Dancing, the sound of sneakers twisting to the beat, it vibrating through his muscles and controlling his breath, and walks. Being out, away from the world, away from his influence. And right now, with the blood boiling after getting lost in his thoughts, the temperature rising, he needed some fresh air. So Keith grabbed his jacket, mumbled an “I’ll be back’ to the butler, and dashed out the front door, not sure where he was going or when exactly he would be back.

~

“Lance! Can you come here!” Lance sat up, dislodging two of his younger cousins from their position on his chest. They giggled and pulled on his ears, trying to get him to lay back down. Lance gently brushed away their hands and called back.

“Ya, mama, I’ll be right there.” He stood, brushing off the girls' hands as they tried to pull him back down to continue playing. He grinned and flashed them a smile before making his way to the kitchen, dodging other family members as they rushed by. They lived in a small house, full of old, comfy furniture that had been in the family for what seemed centuries. However, if you combined the value of everything they owned it would come to about …. 5$. They were dirt poor but to them, it didn’t matter. They were happy. Though for the moment they were cramped and happy as the whole extended family came to live with them. Sometimes it seemed you couldn’t take a step without stepping on someone or bumping into them.

He slipped into the kitchen and leaned casually against the counter before realizing it was actually a hot stove and jumping away with a yelp. His mother laughed and came over with ice to help with the burn. His mother was a thin woman with chocolate brown hair like his own. The only differences were hers was longer and was mixed with a healthy amount of gray. Her brown eyes always felt otherworldly, and always seemed to glow for some reason or another, be it a warm laugh or the fires of rage. Right now they were looking at him with soft humor and a goofy grin.

“You nino divertido,” she sighed, laughing slightly. He just pouted playfully. She raised her eyebrow. “Do you think you can still do something for me? Or is your arm too badly burned.” Lance gawked at her.

“Mama.” He whined, pulling his arm away and puffing out his chest. “I can do anything you request, oh hermosa Reina.” He boasted. She laughed. It was a laugh that could have stopped wars, enchanting any who listened.

“Well, my handsome boy, I need you to go get some more ground beef from the store.” She asked, reaching around him to grab some money from her purse. It didn’t escape his notice that when she was finished there were only a few ones left. He took the money and slipped it into his pocket while answering.

“Ya, mama, I can do that. I’ll stop by the stop by the store after dance.” She gasped and smacked her forehead.

“Oh that’s right, you have dance today,” she paused, thinking through her options. It was a moment before she continued again. “That’s fine, just be home by 6.”

“Alright mama, I will be.” She slipped a hand up and rested it on his cheek. He pressed into the touch, letting his eyes slip shut.

“I love you mi Hijo. And I am so very proud of you.” She whispered before growing more serious. “An remember-“. He opened his eyes and grinned at her.

“I know, mama, I know. No singing, no zoning out.” He whispered back before kissing her on the cheek. She just nodded solemnly, worry for her boy present on her mind. He grabbed his bag and slipped out the door. It was 3:36 on Saturday afternoon. He loved Saturday’s, mainly because of his dance class at 4. He loved dancing, the bond between your body and the music, how it thrummed deep in your soul. The tension and sincerity, the emotion that fuels each motion, the challenge. He loved it, though not as much as he loved to sing. However, he couldn’t sing in front of anyone so he danced. He just danced and danced and danced away from his troubles. But it cost him. He worked 3 jobs just to pay for it and still help with the family. He knew, the moment they got worse with their financial Problems he would have to quite and donate all his earnings there. But for right now they were surviving so he could be just a little bit selfish. Just a smidge. At birthdays, his father would present him with a small stack of bills to help pay for his shoes or new dance clothes.

With a glance at his watch, he decided to run to the school. It was small, not many students, not much income, but it worked. Plus it was one of the only places he could see his best friends. They lived on the other side of town. Hunk, the man who helped him brave kindergarten before his parents came into a huge amount of money and they moved. Now he lived in this huge house and cooked to his hearts' delight. And boy was he fabulous. Sometimes Lance’s Papa asked him to invite hunk over if only so he’ll cook for them. Pidge was a tech genius whose skill and intelligence knew no bounds. Lance believed that if she wanted to she could hack into the pentagon. Only if she wanted to, of course, since no one could make her do anything she didn’t want to. They both bonded over the mechanical side of life, always coming up with new destructive ideas then building them. They both attended Voltron Academy. Lance desperately wished he could join them there but the tuition was a very pretty penny. That was shined every day. With 6 hand men. And an application fee. Anyway, if lance didn’t run faster, he was going to be late.

With 5 minutes to change, he exploded through the front door, dashed into the locker room, and threw off his jacket before slowing down slightly. He slid out of his pants and folded them carefully, subtly making sure the money was still there before pulling on his tights and slipping on his shoes. They were old and practically falling off his feet. Thankfully his next birthday was soon so he’d buy himself another pair.

When he stepped onto the dance floor, everything just seemed to get better. He scanned the heads of people quietly talking and stretching at the barre for either a puff of fluffy red hair or a yellow headband. He saw them a moment later, heads bent together, discussing something rather passionately. For a moment, he felt a pang of regret that he couldn’t share the deepest part of himself with them. But it passed and Lance hoped over to them then leaned in close.

“What we talking about?” He asked and was greeted with a shrill cry from Pidge who gracelessly jumped into hunks arms before a scowl spread on her face and she hoped down. Both hunk and lance were in tears cause they were laughing so hard.

“ oh Pidge,” Lance choked out, “that was beautiful.” He doubled over, gasping for breath. He straightened, placing a hand over his heart and giggled. Hunk poked her in the side, right where she was ticklish. She yelped and smacked his hand away before letting a small smile out at the two boys.

Just then, their teacher, Mrs. Livermore began the class, causing all the conversations to cease. Lance tuned her out, moving through the warm-up by memory. Lance was not a judgy person by any means but he had to admit, neither of his friends was any good. Still, they did it for him and boy did they have a ton of fun together doing it.

By the end of class, both Pidge and hunk were panting and soaked in sweat. Lance in comparison was just breathing hard with only a light sheen of sweat that looked more like a killer highlight than his body expelling toxins and a way to get cool. Pidge, of course, had to comment on it.

“How the fuck do you look so dam good after that?” She gasped, still clutching her sides in pain. Lance just grinned.

“I’m just that fabulous.” He boasted, striking a fierce pose to drive in the point. Hunk laughed before excusing himself to go get changed so he could catch the bus. The other two followed soon after, Pidge remembering she also had to take the bus today. Lance just didn’t want to be left out of the conversation. So they got changed. Neither lance nor hunk cared what Pidge has under her clothes but they politely obeyed when she asked them to turn around. I say ask, I mean command. They finished up quickly then left the building out into the nice, cool wind. Hunk stood, arms outstretched, head back, basking in how it caressed his body, whipping away any trace of exertion. Lance and Pidge soon joined him and all three stood there till hunk broke the silence.

“Hey, lance?”

“Yes, hunk?” Lance replied, not turning away from the wind, almost imagining it was icy water flowing past, calling out with bubbles and tides.

“We still on for the sleepover next week?”

“Yep,” Pidge turned, feigning hurt over this new development.

“You are having a sleepover without me?!” She gasped, hand held over her heart in mock surprise.

“We wish you could come, but the house is way to full as it is and the only reason Hunk is getting in is cause he’s cooking,” Lance replied, still not opening his eyes. “You got anything to offer the family?” Pidge huffed.

“I could re-wire the House.” She suggested hopefully. Hunk started laughing again, tho this time it wasn’t as hard as before. Lance finally cracked an eyelid open to peer at her thoughtfully.

“Don’t quite need that at the moment. Perhaps we can have another when the house is less full.” He suggested before dropping his arms and staring at them like they were nimrods, “or we could have one at your guys' houses, am I right.” He stared at them for a moment. Pidge backed out first.

“Can’t be at mine, my parents won’t want two boys over for an all-nighter. Hunk?”

“We could do it at mine, probably. Maybe. I’d have to ask my parents.” He stammered, truly thinking it over. Lance grinned.

“Great, my parents will be glad for the break.” He exclaimed, throwing his arms up and twisting into a sloppy pirouette. His two friends groaned. Pidge was about to say something when the bus pulled up. She huffed then pointed an accusatory finger in his face.

“I’m going to text you later. Answer it.” She growled, but both of them knew it was playful. They bid their goodbyes to each other as the two climbed in and found their seats. Lance waved as it drove away, laughing as Pidge and hunk smashed their faces against the glass and making faces till he couldn’t see them anymore. He turned away with a content smile and began his 20-minute trek to the store. He liked walking. It gave him a chance to clear his head and take in the world. Sometimes he forgot it was bigger than his home, school, and class. But being outside just brought everything back into focus. Plus, at 5:16 in the afternoon it was almost completely safe. Only an idiot would risk mugging someone in broad daylight, right? Lance knew that it couldn’t be completely safe all the time but you couldn’t hide from danger. Still, he didn’t think there was much, to begin with. About 5 minutes later he realized he was the only person in sight along the road. He glanced around, feeling a slight chill go up through his spine, then he decided to pick up his pace just a little. Just in case. A moment later he chided himself for cowardice and slowed down to a walk. I’m going to tell you right now that was a mistake.

A large hand shot out of the shadows between two buildings and latched on to his hoodie before yanking him off the street. Lance didn’t even have time to yelp when the hand slid up from his hoodie to his mouth, shoving him back against the wall with a thud as the other arm yanked his bag off his shoulder. The man was tall and rather large. Lance’s mouth grew dry when he realized most of the size was muscle. Pure, sculpted muscle. The arm holding lance’s bag was a metal prosthetic, one that looked like it cost a lot of money. The other hand was large enough that it covered his entire mouth and some of his nose as well. His attacker's eyes burned. Actually, it was one eye that burned, the other eye had been replaced with a metal implant thingy that looked like it would hurt. He was grinning. Lance got that much more worried.

“Well, well, well, look what I found. Are you looking for your mother little boy?” The man rumbled deep in his chest, talking to lance as if he were a child. He decided not to grace that with an answer, not that he could have with the hand firmly placed on his mouth. The man's breath reeked, smelling like old fish and rotten eggs had a child that was babysat by the sewers. It took everything he had not to gag. The man, who was covered in so much hair it looked like he had fur, didn’t seem to notice. His eyes dragged up and down lances body, looking at him like a rabid dog would a steak. Shit. His smile grew and he leaned in closer, gleefully surrounding lance with his stench.

“I’m going to trust you know how to keep your mouth shut, boy or things will get very..painful..for you. Not to mention hard to clean up for me.” The man whispered, sounding like he had been smoking for 50 years straight. Lance’s eyes widened in fear before nodding slowly. The man pulled back and pat lance’s cheek. “Good.” his hand moved down to press on his collarbone, still holding him firmly against the wall. The smile hadn’t left yet.

“Now, let’s see what we have in here, shall we?” He asked, shaking the bag gently before tipping it over and dumping all its contents on the ground. He frowned and pushed the clothing around with his toe before turning his attention back to the boy trying not to hyperventilate in his grasp. Lance felt like a caged animal. He looked like it too with his wild eyes and clenched fists. He was trying desperately not to snarl and show off his teeth.

“This just won't do,” the man said with a shake of his head, one that mothers used to scold their children with. His hand slipped into his pocket and pulled out a switchblade. It opened with practiced ease. Lance shrunk away ever so slightly. “You see,” he continued, moving closer to trap the boy against the wall with his body. It was close enough for Lance to count the blood vessels in his one good eye, “I require a minimum payment of 100$ if you want to be left,” he flicked the dagger open and shut a few times, “unharmed.” Lance shook his head, eyes glued to the knife.

“I don’t have a hundred dollars, I don’t even have ten. Please,” he gulped and glanced at the exit, “please just let me go.” he pleaded. For a moment lance considered screaming but the risk was just too much and he didn’t want everyone within a 3-mile radius that a… it just wasn’t a good idea. The man laughed. It was a hollow laugh that didn’t have any humor in it at all, just bone-chilling, predatory rumbles.

“Are you sure you don’t have it? Cause-“ The man leaned closer, much too close in lance’s opinion, “you’d be surprised. I can take it from anywhere.” He could practically taste the mans breath, the monstrous mouth moving inches from his own, stench filling his nose and his heart beating like a freight train in his throat.

Lance broke.

“Get away from me!” He shrieked, ducking under his arm, trying to make a mad dash for the exit. Unfortunately, the man had some killer reflexes and his arm shot down and threw lance back against the wall, his head colliding with a loud crack. A hand wrapped around his neck while he was dazed, not cutting off air supply but definitely bruising. Lance cried out but the knife hand clamped over his mouth, effectively muting the shout. The blade glinted an inch above his eye. All he could do was stare at it in mute terror.

“Don’t you dare try that again.” The man growled into lance’s ear. The knife twisted, “or I might get a little clumsy.” He pushed in closer. “Do you understand?” He whispered, spitting out the words. Lance nodded just barely, watching the blade as it drew closer to his pupil. The man smiled and removed his hand from his mouth but leaving the other wrapped snugly around his neck.

“Please,” lance begged, feeling the tears burn behind his eyes. He snarled, anger pooling in his one good eye and slammed lance’s head against the wall again. This time he saw black spots and he thought he felt something warm trickling down his back.

“Don’t speak, boy.” The hand squeezed, cutting off his air. He gagged and tried to push the hand away, gasping for even the smallest breath of air. Right before he passed out the pressure let up and lance gasped desperately. The hand was still wrapped around his neck but it wasn’t choking him so lance didn’t pay it any mind. Not while he was trying to recover from being suffocated.

“Oh god, you are beautiful.” He whispered, tracing a finger down lance’s side, causing the young one to shiver. His entire voice changed into that of a lover, someone looking at a priceless jewel or gold plated marble floors. Even through the haze in his brain, Lance knew it was lust, lust for Lance. He shivered, wondering how many time his mother had felt this lingering gaze and if it was why she gave up that part of her life.

“I would love to see you.” He ripped open his shirt with a sharpened nail, talon, revealing his rather toned core and smooth skin. There was a small gasp and the man placed his hand on lance’s stomach, feeling the muscles contract and release with each panicked breath. Lance squirmed and the man cracked his head against the wall for the third time. He cried out in pain, tears welling up in his eyes. To lance’s horror, he felt something, probably a knee, hopefully, a knee, wedge itself between lance’s legs, pulling them apart just as the man viciously pressed his mouth against his own. It was a painful kiss that lance rejected with all his might, scraping his lip against the too sharp canines. He tried to force him away but the choking began again, and he realized he had been crying, though the sobs stopped with the air supply. Then suddenly it was gone. All of it. The stench, the pain, the knee, the hand forcing the life out of him. He sucked in the air, sweet, cool, glorious air, coughing as it scrapped down the back of his throat. He sunk to the ground, feeling like he was going to hack up a lung. Blood dripped from his head and the fresh tears on his neck with something dragged across them. Nails, more like talons. Something moved to his left but everything was coming at him like he was halfway submerged in water. Darkness began to creep up in his vision. The last thing lance registered before completely blacking out was a red jacket and boots covered in blood.

For the first time in a long time, Keith was glad he hated Zarkon so much. If he hadn’t wanted to rip out the man's spine and beat him to death with it, Keith would probably not have been out walking when he was, and subsequently, he would have not been there to save the boy with the honey chocolate skin. He had been walking for about an hour before he felt himself begin to calm down. He knew Ulaz, the butler, would begin to get worried if he stayed out much longer. Ulaz was probably one of the only people in his messed up family that cared for him anymore and he wouldn’t do anything to harm the old man. He had just been about to head back when he heard a cry of pain. Keith was not one to back down, neither was he one to let people continue to be in pain or distressed if he could help it so when he took off towards the sound it wasn’t much of a surprise. He rounded the corner to a small alley to see a man against the wall. Underneath him was a boy, no more than 17, trapped with his neck in the man's hand. Blood slicked his curly hair in places, his shirt was torn and he was crying. Rape was not something Keith liked, he thought rapists, child abusers, and Zarkon should all burn in hell for the rest of eternity after dying long and painful deaths without even the chance in court to plead innocent and walk. This was the reason he took Defense classes at the Blade of Marmora.

He sprinted forward and ripped the man away, throwing him into a different wall before kicking him right in the nuts. As he doubled over in pain, Keith brought his knee up to connect with the guy's ugly face then socked him three times in the gut and once to the back of the head. He went down like a sack of potatoes. Keith grunted and kicked the man once more in the face for good measure, getting some blood on his boot from a broken nose. He was almost disappointed it ended so soon, he had truly wanted to whale on someone today. But there was a cry of pain behind him, reminding him why he had stepped in a beat-up the bastard.

The kid was laying on the ground, face down, arms spread like he had been trying to push himself up. His hair stuck to his forehead with both sweat and blood, little droplets inching down his nose. Keith, not exactly sure what to do, turned him over gently. Beating people up he could do very well, he had been doing it for as long as he could remember. Fighting, sparing with his mother, in classes, with bullies. But helping someone….that was something he hadn’t learned how to do. That and deal with emotions well. So when the kid hissed in pain, his face scrunching up as the back of his head rolled onto the pavement, Keith recoiled like he had been bitten. The sound was…different. Like it came from two voices, not one. Keith supposed that was just because of damage to the throat. Even now he could see the beginnings of a bruise forming. The kid's face had relaxed some, appearing more serene, as if he were asleep. Keith had to admit, the sloping nose, long lashes, hard jaw all made him beautiful, especially in the cool light of a setting sun. He leaned forward again and attempted to scoop the boy up in a bridal hold. But when his hands touched his thigh the boy flinched away, inhaling sharply. Keith hesitated for a moment before continuing, knowing the kid was going to need medical attention, at least for the gash on his head and terrible bruising.

With a grunt Keith hoisted the boy into his arms, feeling strangely good when his head rested against his chest. One arm was tucked into his side while the other hung freely, swaying just slightly. If he had an idea extra hand he would have gathered the stuff littered across the ally first but he didn’t. Keith scolded himself for not thinking ahead but with a glance at the still weight in his arms, there was no way he was putting the kid down until he was home. Not a chance. he would send someone back to gather it all. For now, he needed to get the kid home, patch him up, and learn his name. To be honest, it never even occurred to him to call the police.

Chapter Text

The first thing that occurred to lance was that everything hurt, even his toes hurt. The second thing, however, drowned out the first cause damn, this was the most comfortable thing he had ever been in in his life. No doubt. It was like sleeping on the love child of a cloud, feathers, and a ray of sunshine. It was a cocoon of warmth that just cradled his body in its warm embrace like the oce-
 
Wait.
 
This was a comfortable bed.
 
It was not his bed.
 
Why was he not in his bed.
 
Whose bed was this?
 
Crap.
 
He sat up, instantly regretting it as he remembered the first thing he noticed. Ugh pain, such a drag. Any away, after he stopped wincing and grimacing against the rivers of fire shooting through his head, he looked around at the most depressing room he had ever seen. There was literally nothing in it. It was almost as big as his house and he could practically hear the echo of his labored breaths. Well, not really, but it sure felt like it. I mean, there was a bed, obviously, and a dresser with nothing on it, a closet that looked like it just came from the store, a sofa-chair thingy that actually looked like someone loved it, and a bookcase that covered one entire wall with 6 books and a picture frame on it. See. Nothing. Empty. Lance felt sorry for whoever had to live in here. At least the bed was comfortable and had a little personality to it with its red duvet and black pillows. Everything else was white. Why white. White gets dirty. It was just…. Seriously why. He collapsed back into the pillows with a groan, knowing he had to get up and get out of here. This is a strange house Lance, move your lazy butt but he really didn’t want to leave the nest of pillows he was currently burrowing into. They had a slight odor that he couldn’t put his finger on, something earthy and like it ran free in the wild. He liked it, whatever it was.
 
He did sit up when he heard the door creak open. It was a new door, a light brown on his side to match the worn floors and surprisingly deep purple on the other. Who painted their doors purple? Well, instead of seeing a person as he expected, it was a huge, black dog that trotted into the room. They made eye contact. The dog, he looked like a cosmos, so cosmos sniffed the air, looked over his shoulder, showing lance his lovely blue collar, then trotted over to his side of the bed. With a small butt wiggle he, (she?), lept up and padded his way over to lance. Once again they made eye contact as the dog stared at him for a moment then settled down across his thighs. Cosmos was too big to fit completely on his thighs, in fact, he took up half the bed, but the dog happily lay his front half over him and even more happily let out a small rumble and lay his head down. Dog. Dog was what he smelled on the pillows. He smiled and ran his fingers through cosmo’s fur, long and thick. He was mildly surprised there was no fur on the bed. Well, he was until a cough took his attention away from that small enigma.
 
Standing in the doorway was a tallish kid who was probably 18 or something. His lighter skin glistened with sweat, some of it soaked into the towel draped around his neck. The most absurd thing, even more so than his dazed and surprised expression, was the fact that he had a mullet. A full-blown mullet. I mean really? Why. Suddenly the white everything made more sense if he was making terrible choices like that in his life. Still, he had to admit, it almost worked on him. More than almost. It actually looked good. For a mullet. Yeah.
 
Anyway, mullet boy was just staring at him, looking like a doofus, in his exercise clothes. Lance considered saying something but, really, what are you going to say to someone when you wake up in a strange room, a huge dog sleeping in your lap, and an even stranger dude just staring at you after being almost rapped. It had also occurred to him that this guy might not be friendly. Yes, silence was the better option.
 
It seemed like an eternity that they just stared at each other. Cosmos had readjusted himself on lance so that his stomach was facing the sky, waiting for a belly rub. Lance slowly obliged because, no matter what the situation was, the dog was never at fault. Almost never. Details. Mullet broke the silence first.
 
“How’s your, uh, head?” He asked, gesturing at lance weakly. This was not Keith’s strong suit. What we’re going to say to someone who had just woken up in a strange place after being assaulted? “ hi, I’m Keith and I saved your ass. Do you want some pancakes?” Not happening. The kid looked quizzically at him for a second, tilting his head in the most adorable way before nodding slowly.
 
“It’s fine,” Lance answered, not sure what else to say. He reached up subconsciously to touch it, only to find it had been bandaged. He also realized the blood had been washed from his hair as well. “Uh, thanks for the bandage.” He internally cringed. That was the most stupid response ever. He could take it to the Guinness book of world records and they’d put it under the most stupid response in all of history. Mullet didn’t seem to notice.
 
“Good, I’m glad you're okay. And uh, your welcome.” Ok, so they would have to battle for that position in Guinness’s records. Keith stood there for a beat, fidgeting slightly. The silence hung there, amplified by the empty room. Keith couldn’t stand it. “I’m Keith.” He blurted out. The other kid looked startled for a moment before turning his attention to the dog who had started licking his hand. “In case you wanted to know.” Keith finished, feeling very much like an idiot.
 
“My name’s Lance,” Lance replied after another agonizing stretch of silence. He was still petting cosmos who got upset if he turned his attention away from him for any period of time. Keith's eyebrows shot up for two reasons. First of all, that was the most beautiful voice he had ever heard, and second, the way his words lilted almost sounded Hispanic or something in that area. He was surprised he missed it before. That explained the honey chocolate skin. He was so enthralled with playing those three words over and over again in his mind Keith almost missed the next set. “ Thanks. For, you know. Helping.”
 
“ Yeah, well…” Keith was at a loss of what to say so he just didn’t, instead, he opted to smile in what he hoped was reassuring.
 
 Lance glanced up at him and just started giggling. Cosmos moved and snuck in a kiss on lances chin before flopping back down into the covers. Lance swatted the dog's side lightly while wiping off his saliva with a huge grin. Keith just watched, feeling like this was a dream. Lance looked back up at him.
 
“So, what’s his name?”
 
“What?” Keith gawked, not catching the question.
 
“Your dog. What’s his name? He looks like a Cosmos to me but, it would be better to call him his actual name so he knows that it’s him who's a good boy.” The last bit was said more to the dog than to Keith, and the belly scratches increased just slightly.
 
“Oh, I don’t really know. He just kinda lives with me. I’m waiting for him to tell me his name, ya know. Don’t want to be calling him something that’s not his name.” Keith replied, walking closer so he could let the dog as well. Lance eyed him skeptically.
 
“He has a collar.”
 
“Yeah.”
 
“Did you give him the collar?”
 
“Yeah”
 
“And you haven’t named him?”
 
“No, I’m waiting for him to tell me his name. I already explained this.” Keith did not understand, was he missing something. Lance just held his head in his hands. The dog, now officially dubbed Cosmos by Lance, licked his hands, upset that the petting stopped. Lance muttered something in what Keith thought was Spanish but he could be wrong. After a moment Lance’s head shot up, panicked.
 
“What time is it?!” He asked while trying to detangle himself from the covers and the dog. Keith, a little surprised by the sudden change, glanced down at his watch.
 
“It’s 7:49. Why?” He looked back up at lance who had just realized he was shirtless. Keith, knowing some things about social interactions grabbed one of his shirts and threw it at the Cuban. Lance hastily pulled it on.
 
“Shit, I’m late. Ah, my mama is going to kill me.” Lance exclaimed, talking to himself while searching for something, wincing when he moved his neck wrong. Keith didn’t get it since no one cares when he got back if he did at all but he supposed real parents would care.
 
“Oh, uh, what are you looking for?” He asked, going over to the bookshelf to grab his car keys.
 
“ my shoes and - ow - my bag.” Lance straightened and eyed Keith hesitantly.
“I am going to be allowed to leave right.” He asked, “I mean, you’re not some sicko that’s going to keep me here for the rest of my life, right.” He continued, tensing to bolt through the open door just in case. Mullet looked like he would be fast. Keith held up the keys.
 
“ I was actually just about to ask if you needed a ride,” Keith stated, humored slightly over where Lance's brain went. And just a little worried, what kind of thing had to happen in his life for him to think that. Lance visibly relaxed.
 
“Oh good.” He sighed before returning to his search, “Now where are my bag and shoes.” He was peering under the bed now, the worn red and grey shirt riding upon his back. Keith gulped then coughed to get his attention. Lance shifted to look at him over the duvet and dog. It was adorable. Kinda. No, it wasn’t, what was he thinking. Stop it.
 
“They are both, uh, downstairs. In the foyer.” Lance’s eyebrows furrowed not adorably. Not at all.
 
“Foyer? What’s a foyer?”
 
“It’s a, well, it’s…” Keith stumbled over how to explain it. “It’s a waiting room, I guess. A fancy…waiting room. Yeah.” Keith finished. Dropping his hands to his sides. Lance stood.
 
“Alright, let's go.” Neither moved. Cosmos didn’t like that. He stood on the bed the jumped down behind lance and goosed him up his bum. Lance, of course, yelped and whirled around to stare at the dog, eyes asking the reason for this colossal betrayal. The dog simply stared back, blinked, then snorted. Lance glanced back at Keith who shrugged his shoulders.
 
“I told you, he does what he wants.” Keith shrugged again and lance nodded and raised his eyebrows before turning back to the dog. Cosmos was still staring at him, then at the door. He almost looked disappointed when lance frowned at him. We’re all humans this dumb? Apparently since when he turned his black eyes to Keith there was absolutely no response, just another small shrug. Seriously, did he have to do this himself? Cosmos nudged Lance then trotted out the door, stopping to make sure they were following. The two boys looked at each other, then followed the dog, who I’m sure if he could, would have sighed very deeply by now. Several times. Not being able to communicate with idiots was extremely tiresome.
 
The house was huge and, for someone rich enough to have this much space, you would expect it to look…presentable. Alright, I’m not going to sugar coat it, the House was hideous, all-metal and purple with weird purple lights and strange steel sculptures. Lance glanced at Keith who was staring at the wool, purple carpet that was just about to drop off into one of those modern, metal, spiral staircases. He was glad to see mullet looked just as disgusted with it as he did. The gentle clip-clap of nails on metal led them down those spiral stairs. Keith glanced at Lance and almost laughed at his face. He wore the judgiest judgmental expression Keith had ever seen and it was directed at the huge, hanging chandelier that doubled as a swinging platform he was defiantly not allowed to be on. In fact, the entire west wing of the house was devoted to Zarkon, the lower east wing and basement were for Haggar and her… hobbies. But the chandelier was the most ridiculous thing you have ever seen in your life, especially when it was turned on and Zarkon was standing on it, ‘thinking’ while gazing dramatically out the huge stained glass window. I’ll give you one guess as to what the main color was. That’s right, yellow. Just kidding, it was purple. It wasn't even a different shade of purple either. There was no variation at all.
 
“Zarkon never did have a good decorative sense.” Keith joked, earning an unseen eye roll from Cosmos. Lance stopped and stared at him, eyes larger than dinner plates.
 
“You live with Zarkon? As in Galra? Zarkon Galra?” He gasped. Now it was Keith’s turn to eye him strangely.
 
“Yeah, he’s my adoptive uncle. Why?” His eyes narrowed, “You don’t idolize him do you?” He growled, leaning forward. Lance gagged.
 
“Oh no, god no. I hate him. With all that he did to those creatures, he literally wiped out several different cultures and civilizations almost singlehandedly.” He shuddered. All the pain and torment he brought to his people. “Not to mention the rampant racism that is keeping my family in a constant state of starvation. So yeah, I definitely hate him.” Lance babbled, wringing his hands slightly. Keith nodded then started walking again.
 
“Good, I hate him too. For mainly the same reasons actually.” That and he murdered his family. That last part wasn’t something you told strangers, no matter how cute, er, friendly they are.
 
“I really hate him but…” lance continued much quieter than before and matched his pace with Keith’s. Mullet eyed him but waited for him to finish. “ but he owns the school I desperately want to attend, VA.” Lance sighed as they stopped in the doorway the foyer, though neither actually noticed. “ going there would be such a great opportunity for me. It would open so many doors but the only way I could get in would be with a full scholarship. To get that I’d have to pretend to be full-blown American and I’d have to sweet talk the guy.” monster. Lance looked up and made eye contact with Keith. “ and I don’t think I can do that.” There was a beat of silence.
 
“That sucks. I’m sorry for you.” Keith finally commented. Lance just nodded.
 
“Yeah, but it’s nowhere near as bad as having to live with him.” He pointed out, pushing himself away from the wall he had been leaning against. To distract himself from staring at the Cuban, Keith bent down to look for the bag and shoes they had come for in the first place. Lance was just about to say something else when the grandfather clock struck 8.
 
“I guess it doesn’t matter now since I won’t live to see the dawn. My mama is going to kill me then resurrect me just so she can kill me again.” Keith chuckled and they both renewed their efforts to find the lost objects. There wasn’t much talk after that, both too tired to try and force a conversation. Lance continued to mutter things to himself in Spanish. After maybe 5 minutes they got both things and headed out to the car. It was a modern jeep with red and white racing stripes. The only conversation that happened in the car was Lance telling Keith where to go and more slight Spanish mutters under his breath when the car swerved or jumped. Keith was a fabulous driver and a fabulous pilot. He just liked to take risks and go faster. And usually, once his passengers got used to his driving they enjoyed themselves. This was not the case for Lance. Keith assumed the guy just didn’t like to go fast or something. In reality, each Spanish muttering was a curse of pain from where either his throat or head throbbed in protest to the swift movements and quick direction changes. He did admit, even with the pain, Keith was a great driver. But he thought he would have been better.
 
Lance lived on the complete other side of town. The houses changed from large, ornate buildings to little more than hovels with spotty electricity. There no children on the streets, and sometimes Keith would drive through long passages of darkness until he came upon the next section of working lamps. He glanced at lance occasionally, imagining him sleeping on the side of the road like all these other people he’s seen. He thought back to when he walked into his room, seen the boy for the first time awake, slowly petting his dog. He saw his ribs, even now he could see the slight hollow in his cheeks from the lack of food. He gripped the steering wheel harder, Causing his knuckles to turn white. He was so focused on driving that he almost missed it when lance told him to stop. The car came to a screeching halt.
 
“What?” Keith growled.
 
“You passed my street,” Lance replied with wide eyes. Keith looked at him then back at the road.
 
“Oh, right, okay.” He put the car in reverse. Lance eyed him carefully.
 
“Are you alright?” He finally asked. Keith jumped.
 
“What! Oh, yeah, I’m fine.” He stuttered, keeping his eyes on the road. The moon was bright, a relief since all the street lights were out.
 
“Are you sure, cause you seem a little jumpy,” Lance asked again, raising an eyebrow. Keith sighed.
 
“Yeah, I'm fine, just thinking about all the people’s lives Zarkon has ruined.”
 
“Oh. My house is just ahead.” They pulled up and Keith parked the car. It was a small, square house with warm lights spilling out of the small windows. The garden was well kept, different flowers swirling together underneath the windows and lining the pathway. It may have been a small house, Keith realized, but it probably had more life and beauty in it than anything in his house.
 
“ home sweet home,” Lance muttered. Keith just nodded and slid out of the car. Lance did the same and walked around to stand next to him, both looking at the house. “Thanks for driving me, if I had walked I would have gotten here as the sun rose.”
 
“ No problem.” They both waited a moment, Keith waiting for Lance to go inside and lance staling the inevitable worry fest waiting for him. As it turned out, it was just as happy to come to him. The door burst open and half his family poured out, lead by his mother.
 
“Lance!” She cried, not sure whether to be angry about the time, glad that he was home, or concerned that there was a bandage around his head! He pushed his self away from the car towards her.
 
“Hey, mama.” He called sheepishly before she grabbed him in a hug.
 
“Where were you?! What took so long? Are you okay? Of course your not okay, you have a bandage around your head. Why do you have a bandage? Lance, you had me so worried!” She asked the questions rapid-fire, fretting over him.
 
“Mama,” lance soothed, pulling her attention to her. “I’m fine mama.” He smiled and she just grabbed him in a hug again.
 
“You scared me, mi Nino. What happened?”
 
“ How bout I tell you later, alright. I’m really tired.” Her brow furrowed but she nodded.
 
“Alright.” Her gaze turned over to Keith who was watching from the car. “who is this?” She asked, stepping closer to him.
 
“Oh, this is Keith. He helped me.” Lance answered and Keith waved, not sure what else to do. Carmen smiled.
 
“Thank you.” She said, warmth just flowing from her eyes. Keith stalled for a moment, lost in the flood, before nodding.
 
“Yeah, uh, no problem.” He smiled then turned slightly towards the car. “You know, I should probably head home.” He stated. Carmen looked like she was going to say something else but she just nodded.
 
“Alright, um, drive safely. Any time you want, you are welcome in our home. Thank you again.” She pressed the words into him gently, and as he looked at her, he got the same feeling that he got from Lance. The idea that perhaps there was more. He turned and made eye contact with Lance, who smiled gently at him. Keith nodded back then climbed into the car. Both watched as he drove away, and Keith looked at them through the rearview mirror for as long as possible. He watched as the rest of the family flocked around Lance, as they pulled him inside, leaving the mother alone outside, watching him as he left. Her blue eyes burning a hole in his head. Later that night, when he was alone, staring at the blank ceiling in his silent home, he would regret leaving. Regret not waiting for the offer for him to join them. Regret not staying and getting swept up in the hugs and thanks of that huge family. He would regret it, but he would also make a promise to himself. A promise to help them if he could, and it just so happened the stars were in his favor.

Chapter Text

His family didn’t leave them alone for a long time, each one needing to find out what happened and scold him for his tardiness and freak out over his head and neck. It took a lot of convincing that he was fine, and a lot of poking and prodding and questions before he was finally left alone. His mother might have had something to do with it as well. That woman could get a rabid dog to sit nicely at a tea party with expensive china. All to often Lance wondered if he would ever develop that ability. Obviously, he hadn't yet, just look at today. His head throbbed in agreement and he swore under his breath.

"What does that word mean?" Asked a little girl who suddenly appeared by his side. Lance screamed.

"Anita, where did you come from?!" he asked, voice cracking on the where. She stared at him, giving off strong horror movie twin vibes. Then she laughed, showing off her missing front tooth, and skipped away. Lance watched her go, leaning on the door handle to his room. He pitied Aunt Maria and Uncle Juan in their struggle to raise that adorable demon spawn.

"Lance." he looked up to see his mother across the room. "I need to talk to you," she added while raising her eyebrow. He nodded, having expected it back in the car, then opened the door to his room. He knew she was on her way over so it wasn’t a surprise when he felt her breath on his shoulder. It was a small room he usually had to himself. All the furniture was either hand made, like his bed and desk, or passed down to him, like everything else in the room. Nothing matched and it was so cluttered with stuff it took you a moment to find the bed. Somehow, in his mind, each imperfection proved how much the piece had been loved and that gave it personality. At the moment he was sharing the room with three of his younger cousins. One up in his bed with him and the other two on a blow-up mattress on the floor. When the door swung open he was greeted with a war zone. Toys and clothes and books lay like shrapnel on the floor. His six-year-old cousin Miguel lay half on the mattress, red scarves in an imitation of blood spilling from his chest. Luca, the 7-year-old, was weeping over the body. Beautiful, moving, fake tears streamed down his face. A war cry pierced the air and Lance barely had time to look before his youngest roommate Alex leaped off his bed at the weeping soldier. They crashed into each other with a cry of pain and surprise. They tumbled to the ground, kicking and biting like rabid feathers. There was a giggle from the dead body and both fighters stopped to violently shush it. Him. Lance and his mother watched with growing interest the story continued. Luca shoved Alex away and he stumbled dramatically backward, flailing his arms like a windmill while suppressing a smile. Luca pulled out his sleek wooden gun, already loaded with a rubber band, hands shaking as he pointed it at the younger man. He spits out a sentence in complete gibberish, disdain dripping from every word. Alex dropped to his knees and pleaded with his cousin. The words were also made up but somehow so heartfelt, Lance felt himself tear up. Luca snarled and there was a loud SNAP! Of a rubber band hitting its mark. Lance gasped in surprise when Luca dropped his gun and clutched at his chest. He pulled his mother's long red scarf from his sleeve and looked at it as it covered his hands. He gurgled something then fell flat on his face, dead but still breathing. Alex blew on his smoking gun, watching the invisible columns dissipate. Lance started clapping, so moved by his little cousins. The boys scrambled to their feet and bowed, each wearing huge grins.

"Bravo! Bravo! That was amazing! I think I cried." Lance exclaimed, wiping away an imaginary tear. The boys laughed at him. His mother hummed.

"Yes, that was amazing, boys. Why don’t you go show your aunt Maria in the living room, ok?" the boys lit up and dashed out of the room, chattering excitedly between themselves. Lance watched them with a fondness only an older sibling could muster. Ah, to be young again. "lance." Mama called from her place on the bed. He noticed she had placed his school books on his desk next to Miguel's comics. Huh, good idea. He slipped over the war zone to sit next to her. She looked at him while he messed with the duvet. He knew what she was asking with those compelling eyes. It wasn’t that he was embarrassed or anything that kept him from saying anything. It was just the simple fact that he couldn’t remember. He had a snippet, snapshots of what happened but not a full picture.

"lance, what happened?" she finally asked, getting a little impatient with her son. Unlike most boys, Lance shared almost everything with her. Sure there were those things you do with your friends that don’t get mentioned but this was not something like that. And Lance knew that. So lance put down the duvet, looked at his mama, and told her everything he could remember. She sat and listened stone-faced as he retold it. His voice broke when he mentioned the man's eyes. His mother just nodded, remembering her days like that. He summarized all the time with Keith in a sentence, because for right now, it wasn’t really important. When he was finished, silence settled in as she processed it.

"Did anything slip?" she asked finally. Lance sighed.

"No, human all the way." she nodded.

"Good. " there was another stretch of silence.

"Hey, mama?"

"Yes?"

"Will it happen often? You cause I'm a…?" he stuttered.

"Because you are a siren?" she finished for him. He nodded. "Probably won't make it that far but yes, it might." she regretted it, saying that, knowing it was the truth. She also regretted that he even inherited it from her. He looked back at the bed.

"When will it stop?" he whispered. There was pain in his voice. Pain and desperation rooted in all the horrible memories from his childhood because of this, because of his blood. It made her heart ache. Every once in a while she would toy with the idea of running away to the ocean with him and raising him beneath her depths, but then she would remember the pain of her tail being ripped away.

"When you are old enough to control it," she responded, not looking at him. He looked at her and she smiled slightly. "No, I can't tell you when that will be, it's different for every Mer," he grumbled something under his breath but she let it slide. It was late and everyone was tired. As if on cue, there was a knock on the door. Both turned towards it and she laughed again.

"Well I'm glad you're ok, Lance," she said, standing. He nodded and lay back.

"Yeah," he sighed, counting the glow-in-the-dark stars on his ceiling. They were actual representations of constellations he had seen back in Cuba when he would sneak out at night for a swim. He sighed again. Everything was better from the ocean, even music, and dancing. Seeing his …exhaustion, she decided to bend some of her rules for keeping him safe.

"How about we go for a swim tomorrow," she suggested. His head lifted to look at her. "Go around lunch and stay to watch the stars." she continued. He grinned.

"Really?" he asked, almost excited at the prospect.

"Yeah, and maybe we could invite Veronica as well. You know how she loves to watch you swim." His eyes crinkled into a grin.

"That would be great, mama. Thanks." he hummed then lay back again. She was about to say something else but the knocking returned, louder. Smiling softly, the opened the door and left. Life was complicated for all of them, even the three little rascals darting back into the room. Josephine trailed behind them, one hand resting on her pregnant belly, her two boys nightclothes in the other. Miguel, she noticed, was already set for bed, and had unstrung his gun for the night. He was such a responsible little boy, even if a little rambunctious. These family gatherings had started a long time ago when Lance was still a little boy. It was good for him to be away from his older sisters and to play with more boys his age for a week or two. Unfortunately, when they moved, only a few families came with them, and none of the children his age came. That’s why she was so glad that he was friends with hunk and pidge, even if pidge was a girl. She was more boyish than the two combined. It was good for him. At least one part of his life might be a shadow of normal.

Lance lay back again when the boys darted in, followed by aunt Josephine who was trying to get Luca and Alex ready for bed. Miguel, ever the responsible one, was trying to catch Alex, who had just gotten a candy bar from Uncle Christopher and was not in the mood to go to bed now or ever again. If Lance's eyes hadn't felt so heavy he would have gotten up to help her. I'm sure one more moment won't hurt, ill get up in a second.

The next thing he knew, Alex was sitting on his chest, face glowing gold in the sunlight from the window. Lance blinked at him, Alex blinked back. He leaned in very close till their noses were touching, grinned, then practically shouted "Time for school!!" before leaping off and running out of the room towards the kitchen.

School? It was Sunday.

Right?

He slid out of bed and shimmied into a suitable pair of pants and grabbed a shirt to change into. Lovely smells were wafting from the dining room, coffee, bacon, eggs, pancakes, strawberries, sausage, and many more. This was one of the better things about staying in the same house as 21 other people, you all pitch in on meals. The living room, dining room, and kitchen were packed, everyone chatting, eating, getting food, and trying to usher children out the door. His school started at 8:45, while everyone else's started around 7:45. he, however, had to stay till 5 while they all got out at 3:30. that was fine, he liked sleeping in, better for his beauty sleep. His mother was on the other side of the room, flipping some eggs while talking to someone with short brown hair. He should know who it was but this early in the morning with everyone looking the same, it was the best he could do. He danced over to the pair, leaping over small kids, dodging adults, plucking food from their plates till he was right behind them. Usually, he was a very polite child that waited for permission to speak but right now he was just so confused he forgot all about it.

"Hey mama, what is going on? Alex said it was time for school," he asked, tapping her on the shoulder. She glanced at him with a big smile.

"Well, honey, you slept all day yesterday, Sunday that is, so now its Monday," she replied, flipping the egg again.

"Yeah idiot, I came all the way out to see you and you slept through the entire thing. Rude." the girl cocked her hip and crossed her arms playfully and Lance finally took a moment to actually look at her. Though a moment wasn't necessary since she was probably his best friend in the whole world besides Pidge and Hunk.

"Veronica!" he exclaimed, wrapping his arms around her and lifting her off the floor for a sec. She gasped and wiggled in protest.

"Yeah, now can you put me down?!" She cried back, words broken up with barks of laughter. He set her down and held her at arm's length, grinning. Then his smile faded as he looked between the two of them.

"Wait, does this mean I missed the swim day?" he asked, looking super disappointed. "Why didn’t you wake me up?" both the girls eyed each other then started giggling. Veronica grabbed his shoulder.

"Mom told me what happened and I said to let you sleep, my fault. So, since technically this is your tomorrow, we are going today."

"But I have school."

"Lance!" his mother sighed with a smile. He didn’t understand what she found so funny though. "this is more important than school. And it cant hurt to miss one day out of them all, right." she raised her eyebrow at him, almost daring him to test her. Skilled hands spread the eggs onto the plate and Veronica, without being asked, picked them up and took them to the table with all the other heaping piles of food. When Lance didn’t challenge her, she huffed and turned back to her work, this time adding spinach and ham to them to add variety. Not to mention that was his favorite combo out of all she had put together yet.

"We'll head out after the kids all go to school, alright?” She asked, cracking 3 eggs into the pan one after another in rapid succession. It sizzled on the pan, sending lovely smells his way causing his mouth to water. This must-have reminded his stomach that he had, in fact, missed an entire day of meals and was actually very hungry at the moment because it suddenly growled at him to feed it. Lance giggled and his mother almost looked shocked that such a sound could come out of something, not his mouth.

“ Alright, mama. How bout we leave at 9?” Lance proposed, still kinda giggling. She smiled back and would have placed a hand on his cheek if she hadn’t been cooking. Lance gave her a peck on the cheek then turned around to slowly make his way over to the breakfast table. It was nice, seeing everyone in his family in one place, all having so much fun. Veronica was over by the door, messing with Duena as she made sure she had everything for school. Duena was the families resident genius, just starting freshman year at 12. Papa had been a little nervous about it, worried it might be hard for her to make friends with such a big age gap but Mama was sure she could do it. She had always been confident in us all, encouraging each of us to do what we love to do, as long as we can do it as well as the things we are responsible for of course. Actually, everyone in their family was super supportive of everything, even grandpa when he could understand what was being said. He and Grandma hadn't learned English so they only talked in Spanish, not that it was a problem. If lance wasn’t going to school in English, I doubt he would have learned it either.

The food looked amazing and he was itching to try some by the time he found a clean plate and fork and made his way over to it. There were so many options to choose from that he didn’t know what he wanted. He could rule out anything Aunt Josephine cooked since she was on a rigorous pregnant diet thing that basically meant she could only eat veggies and meat. That was okay, I guess, but really the good stuff was with Aunt Maria or Edenia, both of whom were professional cooks. Edina had become Aunt Maria's apprentice after she graduated from high school 4 years ago and now they were both amazing and travel the world just cooking for people. I think all I really know is their food is amazing. So when lance saw Edenia's favorite breakfast food, banana, and chocolate pancakes, sitting right next to his own, he was sure it was a sign from heaven. He scooped up a reasonable amount, getting a couple looks from Uncle Christopher and the twins. He stuck his tongue out at all three before grabbing a couple freshly sliced tomatoes 'cause why not, right?

"I thought you were 17, Lance," Osana called, grinning before looking to her sister.

"Yeah, but apparently you are a 3-year-old." Ramira continued, holding her hand out for a high five. One that Osana gave happily.

"Looks like Duena isn't the youngest after all." Osana pouted.

"Shame, whose gonna break the news to her?" Ramira finished, laughing. Lance rolled his eyes.

"Don’t you too have a job or something?" he spat while grabbing a glass of orange juice and dodging Anita who ran right in front of him, screaming about how school is of the devil in Spanish. Huh, who would have thought the Devil child wouldn’t want to go to her place. Ramira snarled at him playfully before she grabbed her bag and walked out the door.

"See ya later, short-stack!" Osana called before following her twin. Lance was about to shout a retort but the door shut and Aunt Lalla cut in front of him chasing Isadoro, trying to get him into the car to go to school. He chuckled before moving on to find a place to sit. The twins, two girls that will most likely grow up to be evil masterminds or diabolical scientists or run a nail salon. They had just graduated and were now working days at the local beauty salon and taking night classes. It was hard but they loved it. And somehow, with their busy schedule, they still find time to make fun of Lance every chance they get. It could get annoying after a while. Who was he kidding, It was annoying before they even started.

He settled down in the corner behind one of their ratty chairs, somewhere where he could see everything but they couldn’t see him unless they were looking for him. He and Katia traded off having this spot. She had gone to school early for wrestling practice. If she won her next match she could go on to state championships and if she won that there was a great cash prize. That plus her natural skill in beating other people up made this an amazing opportunity for her. It was strange, he was the only one out of all the sibling not doing something usually associated with the male gender, like wrestling. That was Katia's thing. The twins had been basketball pros for their high school careers, Edenia had played lacrosse for 2 years before the school said she was too violent to play, even for the men's team. Veronica was a state champion in shooting as well as designing her own gun, to begin with, not to mention building it. She has already broken two records. Duena was an orange belt in karate and she started 3 months ago. Yeah, in a family of mainly women, he was the most feminine, at least when It came to athletic activities. Its why it had always confused him when Mama said something about him not getting enough male influences. Have you seen his family?

It was interesting and quite humorous to watch as the rest of the adults attempted to get their kids off to school on time with everything needed. Most of the time it wasn’t so bad, it was just this week things would be hectic since all the bad influences were in one place and they are called Lance's uncles. Even Ben, Veronica's husband, a marine if any of you were wondering, could be a bit sketchy sometimes. Still, eventually, they all left, each more exhausted than the last till all he was left with were him, mother, and Veronica, both of whom were cleaning up in the kitchen laughing about something. Being the good child he was Lance got up and began piling all the plates he could find in the house together to take to the duo to clean. Each and every plate was licked clean, even the serving bowls. Miguel, he thought. This was Miguel's work, that gluttonous little kid. Ha, he remembered when he was like that.

-----

So the car ride was exactly what you would expect from being in the car with two very rowdy women in the front seats dancing and singing with crappy pop songs are on the radio, collapsing into laughing fits halfway through one song. One time Mrs. McLain laughed so hard she had to pull over for fear of crashing. Veronica had tried to spin in her chair but she got all tangled up in the seatbelt when beautiful came on by One Direction. The car ride was 15 minutes tops though Lance kinda wished it was longer. Not that he didn’t want to get to the water or anything, it was just nice to be apart of something where he didn’t have to hide. Where he could sing to the radio without fear of hurting them, where he could smile and laugh and forget himself, loose control, change. It was nice to really be himself without the tail.

They arrived, the wheels grinding against the small gravel beach. It was a little warm not too bad, but the water would feel amazing. That was evident when Veronica, being the daredevil child she is, jumped out of the car, like always before the car fulled stopped moving in her bright orange swimsuit, having changed In the car, ordering him to turn around because she's a respectable woman thank you very much. She ran, tossing her balled up clothes back at the car though they missed and fluttered to the ground rather pathetically. She sprinted onto the old dock, her feet slapping against the decrepit planks. Mrs. McLain always told her to slow down just in case the docks gave out while she was on them like it always looked it would. Veronica just ran faster and laughed into the wind. She leaped, arcing over the glimmering surface and there was a moment of silence as she hung there. Then she fell, crashing into the water with a colossal splash. Neither of them was quite sure when it started but Lance and his mom kept tabs of which cannonball was the best out of all of them. This one, for its size and splash radius, of course, was maybe about a six. The highest score so far recorded was 11th grade in morocco’s saltwater pools. That was a cannonball. Sure she jumped from 20 feet up and broke her leg but boy, was that a cannonball.

Mrs. McLain finished parking the car with a grin. Lance slipped out of the back seat promising to meet them in the water. She nodded and he smiled. He was always the last one to get in the water, whether it was from nerves or something else, that was just the way it was. None of them had actually brought shoes on this little adventure. They never brought shoes. Mrs. McLain sat for a moment watching Veronica swim with such glee as she finished removing her shirt. She, unlike her daughter, had changed at home. Somewhere overhead a bird sang as she stepped out of their car. Small tufts of grass pushed out of the gravel and tickled her feet. A small gust of wind swirled past her legs and brought the chirp of newly hatched chicks to her ears. It was almost as if time stopped for one moment, taking her far away to a time when things were different. She drew in a large breath before making her way down to the water's edge. She dodged the dock, climbing underneath to slip into the water gently, slowly letting its cold arms envelop her completely. For a moment she pretended that her tail was back, sparkling baby blue against the gray-green waters. Then Veronica called and the illusion was gone.

Lance slipped into the bank and made his way over to a small lagoon he had found when they first moved here. It was a little pool with clear water that was just deep enough to sit in. In the side, there was a hole leading out to the main lake. It provided a small amount of privacy, something he was grateful for. He slid into the water quietly, shivering slightly as the crystal waters closed over his knees and swallowed part of his torso. Since this part of the lake was almost completely in shade, it was cooler than the rest of the lake, at least the top layer that bakes in the sun day by day.

The familiar tingling started in his toes, almost numbing them but not quite. It inched into his ankles, melting away skin and muscle to fuse together. He winced, eyes squeezed shut and fingers digging into the gravel, dislodging a guppy or two. It spread up his calf and seemed to pool in his knees, lashing out into his thigh every once in a while. The melting in his ankles crawled forward agonizingly slow as it ripped muscle apart and stitched it back together, melting bone and stretching it. It was like growing pains got a hold of steroids and a flamethrower. The numbness shot up from his knees when the burning began its work there, into his spine, sending small jolts everywhere. He arched and gritted his teeth as his spine seemed to stretch down to meet the new segment of the spinal cord. His fingers itched as thin webs of transparent blue stretched between his first knuckles. He pulled himself under the water, letting all the air out of his lungs. The burning inched up his spine, leaking into the unused passages of his second lungs, opening them up. Lance sucked in a huge amount of water, filling his dormant gills with water and forcing them to work. They refused at first, causing him to cough painfully against the flood but then they began to work. The water seemed to douse the fire all over his body. His next breath tore open the gills on his neck. He winced slightly at that but it didn’t really hurt. He shifted, sliding to the side so his now much longer tail had someplace to go. He didn’t remember it being this cramped last time. Dying Sparks from his spine danced onto his eyes, melting the small skin tether holding his second, transparent eyelid up away. It shut slowly, sliding in a snug fit against his eye. All that was left was a small ache in his tail that swimming would easily fix. He twisted again, pulling himself away from the shore. He winced against the light, everything was so bright now and it burned. He ran his hands along the far wall, tearing up seagrass and weeds while looking for the hole with as little use of his eyes as possible. It always took longer for them to adjust compared to the rest of his body. The wall gave way under his left hand and fell into nothingness. With a graceful twist, he pushed himself off the wall and through, only scraping his shoulder slightly against a rock overhang.

He shot deeper into the water, cold and thick against his skin. It was quiet under here, in this aquatic world, things moved slower, smoother. He slipped through the water, skimming across the lake floor. He dragged his fingers through the mud, scooping up a small amount onto his finger before darting away to another part of the floor. He laughed, sending bubbled dancing up to the surface. He watched them go, marveling how small the world looked with the light shining through the water. He twisted, bending back and falling into the water. He paused, flicking his tail gently, slowly propelling himself through the water, and closed his eyes, feeling the movement all around him. The ripples and vibrations of everything moving, breathing in the water. He could practically feel his mama and Veronica treading water a little to his left. They were talking too, and if he really tried, he could probably tell what they were saying. Instead, he shot up in their direction, only slowing when their feet paddled inches above him. He spun, grinning wickedly as he plotted out what to do. Last time he had jumped over them like a dolphin, drenching them both. This time it was going to be different. His grin widened. Lance moved behind Veronica, coiling his tail beneath him. He flexed his fingers before shooting upwards, wrapping his arms around her waist and pulling her out of the water with him. She squealed before they both crashed back into the water with a splash, successfully dunking their mother in the spray. Veronica kicked, nailing him in the tail. He released her and they both broke the surface, her with much more coughing and spluttering. Lance and Mrs. McLain however, were laughing hysterically.

“ Mom! oh my gosh, Lance! you're such a jerk.” Veronica exclaimed, slapping in the water in his direction, laughing harder than she probably wanted to be at the moment. Lance just slid back and glided over to his mother who is still trying to recover from laughing. Her hair hung in ropes around her face and she just seemed to shine with joy. Once she had composed herself and pushed her hair out of her eyes she motioned for Veronica to come closer. Veronica, very unsure about her mother and brother since they both seemed to be in cahoots with the devil at this moment in time because they had dared to drench her in water after she was already soaking wet so really matter but you know she doesn’t really care. She inched closer, watching bother her mother's hands and her brothers tail because if anything was going to happen it was going to come from one of those two places. Unless of course, her mom did something truly outrageous like kick at her. Just to be safe she glanced down as well. Mrs. McLain, however deep into the playfulness she was, was not in the mood to wait for her sulking daughter to swim over to them so she closed the distance herself. Veronica almost flung herself backward to prepare for the onslaught that..never….came. Just a flat look from her mother. Veronica threw up her hands.

“What! Like you guys have never teamed up against me before!” She cried, words only subtly laced with humor as she begrudgingly treaded nearer. Lance bobbed gently.

“Yeah, when I was 5.” He crooned. Veronica gave him a look that, had it not been directed at lance, Mrs. McLain would have been proud. Instead of saying that, however, she just gave a small chuckle.

“Veronica darling, it’s your turn to go get the floaties from the car.”

“ mom,” Veronica groaned “it’s always my turn to get them.”

“Honey, your brother has a tail and I don’t want to. Now scoot.” Veronica screwed up her face preparing to say something before letting it drop. As she paddled towards the bank the pair could hear angry Mutterings and slurs about how life is unfair with a mermaid brother. Lance, showing how mature he was, refrained himself from calling after her, reminding her to get the koala. It’s not an achievement of any sort but I thought I might mention it cause at least he tries, right.

Lance turned back to his mom, slowly swaying in the water, occasionally flicking his fin to keep him upright. They took this time alone to talk about some things that Veronica just couldn’t understand. It wasn’t that she didn’t try or anything, seriously ask her anything about space and she’ll teach a semester-long course, so no, she tried desperately but this took experience. It took memories and practice and knowledge that she didn’t have. She was a student, and engineer, someone who came at life with a problem fixing attitude and that was great for everything she wanted to go in. She was going to be the first woman to walk on Kerberos, there was no doubt about that and she'll probably make all her opponents cry along the way.

Basically, for just a short moment, lance and his mother cut all ties to their human side and talked. Now, if anyone knew lance at all, they knew he did not like sitting still. Ever. He just had to be moving, had to be thinking, had to be flitting from one place to the next in an instant. It didn’t matter if he was in class or the car or in the water, he had to be moving. So Mrs. McLain could only roll her eyes at her son who was swimming literal circles around her, I mean, who does that? Someone so full of nervous energy, curiosity, and self-doubt, that’s who.

"lance, honey, could you slow down, please. I like to look at who I'm talking too. "his mother drawled, eyes brow raised and crossed arms sending a fully readable signal. Boy if you don’t stop I'm gonna whoop your scaled ass. Lance complied, slowing just enough so he was merely swaying in the water a little more than necessary. "what are you doing?" She asked incredulously, shaking her head a little as she watched him do the mer equivalent of bouncing on one's toes.

“Just working out some of the kinks.”

“Still messing with you then?”

“I think it’s just that it’s such a cramped space when I change.” There was a pause, Lance waiting for his mother and Mrs. McLain thinking over everything.

“Did it hurt as much this time?” She asked finally. Lance sunk deeper into the water then bobbed up.

“the burning was worse, yeah. Also, my gills are itching. I don’t think they like the water.” He sighed. She nodded, swimming closer.

“It makes sense. You come from a line of deep ocean creatures. Freshwater is like polluted air to you. But at least it’s water.” Lance nodded, pulling one hand out of the lake to watch the water spill over his new scales. They were dainty little things, stretching delicately over his knuckles and brushing over his veins. The thin translucent webbing stretched and folded as he gently wiggled his fingers, the sun glinting off his blue claws.

“Hey, mom? Why can’t I control my song?” He asked slowly, not looking up from his hand. Mrs. McLain tilted her head back, wetting her drying hair in the cold water.

“Because you’re still a child, Lance. A little guppy. When your older the control will come, you know this.”

“But I’m already 17! You said it would come when I became an adult and that merpeople think 16 is adult level.” He whined, pulling his hand under sharply and flaring at her with a harsh, glowing gaze. She stared back, not intimidated in the slightest. His glare softened and he groaned, falling back into the water with a splash. “Why am I different?”

“Oh hun,” Mrs. McLain sighed, paddling smoothly over to her son and pulling him into her arms. “ you aren’t that different.” Lance pulled away, turning to look at her in disbelief.

“But I am, I don’t fit with the humans, and I’m not maturing like a mer. Something is wrong with me, mom.” Lance lowered his eyes, finding it more interesting to watch the fish swim below him than make eye contact with his mother. She tutted.

“Lance, Of course, you don’t fit with them.” She stated. Lance rolled his eyes.

“Wow, what a great help mom.”

“No, honey, listen to me. Of course, you don’t fit with one or the other. You are an entirely new idea. I’ve only ever heard of half Mers in myths and legends, and they change and morph with each new telling. You are something special and beautiful and I would never change any of it to be ‘normal’ and ‘fit’ with the others. Would you?” She moved closer to where she could see his face. He grinned slightly.

“No, I guess I wouldn’t.” He admitted finally. His mother leaned back and nodded with pride.

“Besides,” she continued, “ if you weren’t exactly how you are now, you wouldn’t be such an amazing dancer.” Lance burst out laughing and circled her slowly, bobbing in and out of the water.

“Good point mom,” he laughed. There was a lull in the conversation where both of them sunk into thought.

“So, what are we going to study today?” She finally asked, meeting his eyes with a twinkle. He groaned.

“Seriously, mom? School? Today?” He whined, tossing his arms dramatically. They both knew it was an act.

“ well sweetie, it is a school day. And where else are you going to get mer-school, hm?”

“Yeah, I know mama, just messing with you.” He grinned.

“Well, I hope you’re happy!” Veronica suddenly shouted, paddling furiously while dragging a small train of inflatable rafts and pool toys. Her hair was plastered to her face, deepening the ugly glare she was throwing them. Lance laughed before diving down and shooting over to help her. He emerged just in front of her, took the rope holding them all together with a toothy grin and shot back over to their mother. Veronica barely had time to grab hold of a floaty before they were jerked forward to the center of the lake.

The next couple minutes were spent with Lance helping the two women get on their respective float's properly and fetching things from other buckets and plastic bags strewn about in the water. Veronica lay back, sunglasses on, intent on sunbathing on a white, child’s unicorn float. His mother sat on a normal raft with buckets of pool toys and laminated papers in piles on a buoy. Lance then hung onto an inflatable koala, his tail flicking in the water beneath him. Then the school day began. Mrs. McLain taught him about mer history, swimming techniques, sea life, aquatic biology, tail care, and astronomy, Lance drinking up every word, till the sun beat down on them in the afternoon. There was no particular order in how she taught, just what seemed to flow into each other. Lance would never admit it out loud, but he loved it. He loved learning. Learning about currents and algebra and all kinds of history. About civics and health and different languages. Their entire family was like that. As uncle Ben had stated, each and every one of them were dry sponges ready for spring rains when it came to knowledge. Lance had spent many a night lying awake wondering if it was the siren blood that gave all of them such an aptitude with …. Everything.

The morning passed quickly, Mrs. McLain focusing mainly on active lessons. Diving techniques, aquatic biology, and scale care. Other things were thrown in as well but she knows Lance would appreciate the day diving deeper into the cool of his other world.

At noon, Lance was sent with Veronica to go get the food while Mrs. McLain packed up the morning. Today it was garlic shrimp. Last time it had been picadillo. Personally, lance preferred the shrimp, but, no matter what they had, it was delicious. Aunt Maria wasn’t the only one who could cook. Lance practically screamed when his mother pulled a bag of garlic knots out of the cooler. She smiled knowingly and divided them between her two children evenly. She didn’t care for them much but knew that Lance would do practically anything for them. Lance took them happily, much like a greedy toddler took cheerios or lucky charms, and munched on them slowly, swimming in lazy circles on his back. Veronica tossed a few of hers at him, high up and he dove to catch them in his mouth. He had yet to accomplish such a feat. He also had yet to not eat anything that fell in the water, much to the disgust of his sister.

When lunch was over, Lance took all the dishes back and placed them on the shore while the women dozed. The sun was warm, nice and comforting if not a little strong on his now overly sensitive skin. So while they tanned, content to float on top of the world, Lance dove deeper into the murky water. Over the years he had explored every part of this lake. It wasn’t as big or interesting as the Ocean but it had enough going n so it didn’t feel desolate. But still, he would be lying if the constant dull colors didn’t bother him. A pike fish slid past him as he dodged some algae and nestled into a well-loved patch of sago pondweed. He moved carefully, giggling slightly as the green grass tickled his stomach, his tail glittered gently, each stroke disturbing a small cloud of mud. The little underwater glade grew next to the lake wall. It was dark, densely compacted mud and silt that had gathered over however many years this little lake had been here.

When they had first come here when lance was 10 he had spent an entire week finding anything he could possibly and by the end of the week he had a small cash of things. Things that he did not want to share with anybody that didn’t live in the water. He needed a cubby, a well-hidden hiding spot. Hidden from what was any bodies guess but he was 10 and secrecy was everything. Secrecy and playing in the mud. So when little baby Lance found a stretch of wall that could withstand being burrowed into he did exactly that. It had taken a while, digging into the wall then finding sticks and branches either In the water or within arms reach of it to stabilize the new tunnel while he smoothed it out. Eventually, he burrowed deep enough to sit up. Then he started bringing in lily pads to line the floor and walls, keeping a cloud of mud from arising every time he entered his cave. Then he started working on the shelves. He then spent hours ordering his new collection of treasures. A snail shell, a couple fishing hooks, an old shoe (he was still looking for its match) a green and blue broken fishing rod and several other little things people had lost over the years. Recently though, lance had been working on enlarging the burrow into a little room. He vaguely hoped he could get a little underground house built and furnished but he wasn’t very hopeful. In the meantime, it gave him something fun to do. Plus, while he was digging and carving he could work on new dance routines that Mrs. Livermore asked him to do. She often tried to get him to choreograph entire performances but he quietly thought that was just because she was lazy.

By the time he could feel the women stirring on the surface he had made another small room he could almost turn around in without bumping into the sides or ramming his head into the ceiling. It was progress and lance couldn’t help but feel a small bubble of pride blooming in his chest as he wiped the remnants of the mud from his tail and swam up to meet the girls.

The sun was lowering over the horizon, more golden orange than sunflower yellow. The sky was just turning pink on the edges with lilac undertones. It was actually rather beautiful. His mother and sister on the other hand, not as much. Both had just spent a majority on the afternoon bathing in the arms of the sun and were now very dark and very burned. Yet both were still smiling as they rolling to the now freezing feeling water on their heated skin as Lance popped out of that depths with a grin. He might have laughed too if Veronica hadn't whipped off her sunglasses and threatened him silently with them. It was a struggle to keep the laughter in though, one that caused him to slip under the water many a time. Mrs. McClain laughed instead. They didn’t say much after that, all three captivated by the brilliant sunset being painted on the horizon.

The light sky pink had burned into a deep golden magenta, swirling with navy blue and vermillion. Honey and peach stained the wispy clouds, melting beautifully with the now deep purple and midnight blue. Bird silhouettes danced across the sky with a level of grace lance could only dream of. Stars were just starting to peek out of the misty darkness and a blanket of quiet peace drifted over the lake's surface. A cricket chirped softly, water rippled, the trees sighed.

The sunset lasted about 30 minutes, none of the McClain's saying much other than pointing at a new color blossoming in the sky or a hypnotizing reflection on another part of the water. It wasn’t till the sun winked out of sight behind a hill did Mrs. McClain break the quiet with a gentle hum.

It was a lullaby, one both children had grown up hearing. It wasn’t till later they found out it was a sirens song of healing and peace. By the time the song was finished, the burns that had decorated their arms and cheeks had faded away into a nice tan.

"Thanks, mom, " Veronica whispered, placing a steady hand on her arm. She may have given up her tail for life on land, but she still had a few secrets.

Mrs. Mclain just smiled sweetly before letting herself slip completely under the surface. neither child was worried. a moment later, Mrs. Mcclain emerged, hair slicked back. Not for the first time did Lance wonder what his mother was like back when she had a tail. She had said it was so long ago it would be like looking at a different person. Lance would have liked to meet her.

Veronica sighed loudly, staring at the sky with an intense longing. "Oh, I wish I could live in the stars." She whispered, more for the sake of sounding like she was talking to herself but actually wanting them to say something than actually talking to her self. Mrs. Mcclain took the bait.

"Would telling us about them help with your longing?" she asked sweetly. Veronica's eyes sparkled.

"Definitely." she declared before diving into a lecture on the north star and all its attributes. The subject was... interesting but Lance couldn't pay attention. just last week she had made him read a paper she wrote on this very subject and he already knew most of what she was saying. but what really held his attention were his mother's comments. Little reminders of facts that he knew Veronica had no clue about. Like a Very specific part, it can be used for navigating, or how it's one of the only stars that could help you find your way out of the Mariana trench. Or how some of its neighboring stars were markers for different levels in the ocean and by their visibility you could more or less accurately guess the creatures that could be swimming with you. Lance marveled at his mother's knowledge. She insisted it wasn't impressive but he would always be surprised.

The little lecture continued for about an hour before Mrs. Mcclain finally put a stop to it, saying it was getting late and Lance had to go to school tomorrow. She relented, mumbling something about how she was just getting to the good part under her breath before helping her mother pack up the stuff and ferry it over to shore. Lance was dismissed to go change back, or as Veronica called it, "Find his legs". He always smiled at that. secretly. Never in a million years would he let her know that he thought she was funny.

Changing back was just as painful and uncomfortable as getting the tail. He dragged himself out of the water, digging his claws into the gravel and soil. Beaching yourself on a small section of rocks without the help of a receding tide was quite difficult and required a lot of upper body strength. His tail flopped uselessly on the shore, glinting in the moonlight. Once he was fully out of the water, the pain started. His back burned and ached as bone disappeared, the skeleton of his tail melting out to re-grow leg bones. Muscles separated from a single mass into two again and scale either flaked off or were reabsorbed into his skin. His fingers burned, the webbing withering and falling off, the claws shrinking back into his normal, manicured nails. He squeezed his eyes shut, gasping quietly as his gills closed one by one and his eyelids re melded together. He waited till all the tingling and burning stopped before moving, opening his es cautiously. It was darker out, though that could have been his eyes getting used to being human again. He wiggled each of his fingers and toes before climbing to his feet and shimmying into his clothes.

The girls were waiting for him at the car talking quietly when he emerged from the tree line. They smiled and climbed into the car. Veronica hoped into the back like usual. She got the front on the way to the lake, he got it going home. Home. Such a funny word. Somewhere deep in his heart, he knew home would be nothing less than deep in the ocean.

Chapter Text

Pidge was pissed. No, she was more than pissed. She was absolutely Livid. They all had an understanding. She texted you, you responded as fast as humanly possible, even if only to tell her to fuck off or something. Hunk got it, Matt got it, her parents got it, Shiro even got it on the rare times she texted him. She had thought Lance had it too but here they were, 2 fucking days later with him still not responding. He hadn't even looked at it yet even though she had told him she would text. At first, she was just mad at him. He was completely ignoring her, how dare he, that bastard. But by the time morning rolled around and he still hadn't even looked at it, part of that anger started giving way to worry. What if he secretly hated her and this was his way of letting her know. What if he was annoyed with how young she was. What if he thought she was stupid and childish and he never wanted to talk to her ever again. Sure, the logical side of her brain knew that he didn't feel that way, but the emotional side didn't give a flying shit what she actually knew and decided what was real on its own. It's dumb like that.
But hey, that's being a teenager for you. By about lunch, her brain had come up with even more scenarios, each one that much worse. What if he lost his phone. What if it was stolen. What if he was mugged at knifepoint. Or gunpoint. What if he had run into the mob. She had latched on to that theory for all of 10 minutes before she remembered the only real mob in this town was run by the Galra family and they had no need to mug people on the street for loose cash with all the tax money they were getting. Of course, that led her to another way of thinking. What if he had been kidnapped for a ransom of 20 million dollars and right now his family was raking together all the money they could to save him. She had stuck with that for a while, well past dinner and into the night. Then, at 1:47 am she sat up with the worst though yet. What if he had been murdered.

Obviously, this had to be the only plausible answer to why he hadn't responded to her and since her father wisely turned off the wifi after 11 she couldn't prove her hypothesis right. At least not that way.

This is how Matt Holt came to be stumbling down the stairs at 3:26 Tuesday morning to find his younger sister hunched over a newspaper on the kitchen counter, mumbling to herself. Beside her was a stack of older newspapers that had already been looked through and discarded. Wait, where did she get the newspaper? Dad canceled their subscription months ago after he set up the news app.

"Pidge?" He asked tentatively, voice still hoarse from sleep. Her head shot up and stared at him, like a deer caught in the headlights mixed with a prowling beast that just found its prey. The dim light reflected just right over her glasses that he couldn't see them but he suspected her eyes were bloodshot and unseeing. He tried again.

"Pidge? What are you doing?" Her jaw flexed twice before turning back to the paper.

"Looking for an article that proves Lance was murdered," She said, flipping the paper over to look on the other side. Matt nodded, figuring it would make more sense in the morning.

"Where did you get the Newspaper?" He asked while yawning.

"Rolo's yard," She replied curtly as if he were stupid to ask. Maybe he was.

"Okay, and why do you think Lance was murdered?"

"Because he's not answering my texts." Matt squinted, shuffling over to where she sat.

"Oh," He paused, the quiet night only broken by the crinkling of the paper she was holding. "When did you last sleep Pidge?" She stopped, seeming to count something, blinking a couple times. Her face screwed up.

"Yesterday," She finally answered, putting down the paper and looking at him. He nodded, knowing full well she said the same thing yesterday morning when he found her working on some code at 2 AM.

"Okay. How about this, we go to bed now and in the morning I'll drive you over to Lance's house to see why he isn't responding then I'll drive you both to school, how's that sound?" He suggested. She thought it over and was going to protest but she yawned first. So instead she smiled sheepishly and nodded. A car drove by outside. Matt walked her to bed and made sure she was asleep before climbing back into his own. Ever since she had been small he had been finding her in the middle of the night working on something her overactive mind thought was much more important than sleep and leading her back to her bed before she collapsed.

Morning came much too early for both of them, each built for the night and all its creative glory. And yet, they were born to two very enthusiastic Morning people who frolicked with the birds and deer as the sun rises at 4:00 in the morning. Ok, Pidge might be exaggerating but to be fair she hadn't had her coffee yet and anything she said before her 3rd cup was completely untrustworthy. Especially in the morning. She growled unconsciously. Matt, who was in the hallway and heard it, grunted in response. Perhaps it was a good morning, perhaps it was a warning, or perhaps it was just a grunt. We will never know since this is a language only he and she seem to understand when groggy and unintentionally pissed at everything. So they shuffled like zombies around their morning routine which consisted of the brushing of teeth and hair, slipping into oversized jackets and shorts or pants respectively. Then, called by the mystical sent of Coffee, both children stumble into the kitchen where Colleen (a literal angel in her children's eyes) has two freshly poured steaming cups of Black Java ready for her children to descend upon like rabid animals. As the children drank greedily Colleen shot a guilty and humorous look at her husband who sat at the table with a book and his second cup of coffee himself. She totally blamed him for their addiction. And she blamed him for all the secret all-nighters and explosions from half thought out projects. She may blame him, but she still loved him

Mrs. Holt smiled sweetly before plopping into a chair and grabbing a couple pancakes herself, drowning it in melted butter, syrup, and blueberries. She thought she heard her children grumble something that sounded suspiciously like "good morning" and "thanks for the pancakes" between their desperate slurping but she could have been wrong. Either way, she hid a small smile behind her cup of earl grey tea.

 

This breakfast, like every other breakfast, passed without much talking. The children were too busy guzzling down their coffee, shoveling food into their mouths, gathering their stuff and cleaning the kitchen before they leave to say much and Sam Holt was usually half-buried in his research and that didn’t make for a good conversationalist. That was fine with Colleen though, she had other things to get done, like check the garden and set up a new fully automated sprinkler the way she and her plants like it. If you are going to learn one thing, something almost everyone around her has learned, its that you don’t mess with Colleen's plants. And that you should always text Pidge back right away.

Around 7: 30, Pidge and Matt dashed out the door, barely holding on to everything they were holding. School for Pidge didn’t start till 8:30 but her children were always leaving early for an experiment or something. She called goodbye just as the door slid shut with a laugh. They would never change.

Matt had been driving Pidge around since he got his drivers license. In fact, his first solo drive (meaning without his parents) was to drop her off at hunks how to work on a robot. His second drive was picking her up and taking the charred remains of said robot to the dump. That had been an interesting day. Suffice to say, he didn’t need to think about where he was driving other than the other cars. Even then he could wander a bit. In exactly 12 minutes the Holts pulled up in front of the McClain household, parked in their practically reserved spot across the street. 3 minutes later the door burst open, releasing a swarm (I mean literal swarm) of children into the tiny little yard, squealing, laughing, and crying at the prospect of going to elementary school. After them came the parents, more like tired zombies who struggle to corral the younger ones into their respective car which line the curb. They watched in comfortable morning silence, that is to say too tired to think of words, as each Mcclain child left the house one by one. Even Veronica which was surprising since she lived on the other side of town. As Osana stepped around a garbage can waiting for pick up a though popped into Matt's head.

"Hey, Pidge, did you call or text to let him know we'd be here to pick him up? Just so his parents don’t drive him or something," he asked, peering expectantly at the shabby door. Pidge waved her hand dismissively, also staring at the door.

"Don’t need to. He walks," She mumbled. Matt blinked.

"He walks to Balmera high? That’s like 3 miles uphill from here!" he exclaimed, turning in his seat to stare at her, astonished. Pidge glanced at him and screwed up her face like she was trying to unscrew a corkscrew with her mind.

"Ok, so I guess he jogs to school then." She amended with a small smirk. Matt huffed, sat back in his seat, and whistled.

"Damn. No wonder that boy's in shape, huh," Matt said just at said boy emerged from the house. His same old, ratty bag slung over one shoulder with just the tips of his dance shoes peeking out over the edge. It looked dirtier than she remembered. One earbud was stuck in his ear and the other dangled over his chest, swinging with the movement of him closing the door. He quickly plopped the other bud in place before starting off down the street. Morning light danced off his hair, painting it gold. Pidge flung open the door and clamored out in a very dignified way that had no squawking, cursing, or getting stuck involved at all. None. Anyway, by the time she was actually standing instead of wrestling with her seatbelt, Lance had already made it a little way down the street, practically dancing to the music. Probably Katy Perry or some other stupid popular pop artist. Calling him would be completely useless, def as he was to the world around him, so she did the next best thing any sane person would do. Fling a rock at him. It was just across the street and she had a decent arm so it would land right in front of him. Or at least, that’s where it was supposed to land if that car hadn't come barreling through. Instead of landing perfectly in front of her best friend that blew her off, the rock found its way through a car window, shattering it and making itself comfortable in the passenger's seat of this car. The car came screeching to a halt, and a very large, very angry man exploded from it, red-faced and screaming something at her. She didn’t care since she was mad that he had driven in front of her perfect throw. Hands clamored at her arm and back, probably trying to pull her away or calm her down or some other shit but she was not having it.

"FUCK OFF MATT!" She screamed at him, yanking her arm out of his and practically shoving him away, then turned back to start screaming at the man again but was instead met with a blue hoodie.

"KATIE!" Lance yelled, effectively shutting her up for a moment. Her face turned bright red, whether from embarrassment or anger though is up to you. Lance, satisfied with her silence for now turned back to the man who was still yelling, though now he had moved to gesture at the damage.

"Look at what that little devil did to my car! I want him in juvie for this, the brat!" The man exclaimed, pointing directly at pidge while practically screaming at Matt and Lance.

"I'm a girl you fat jerk!" She screamed back, attempting to step around Lance to get in his face but the boy seemed to know what she was trying to do and expertly swung her around to face the car, giving her a little push towards it into Matt. She tumbled into his arms, red-faced and ready to swear harder than she had in the past week, but one very stern look from Matt and his vice-like grip bit her tongue for her. Damn him.

Lance turned to the man with an apologetic, fake grin plastered to his face.

"Now sir, can we talk this out," He tried, placing one hand behind the man to perhaps lead him away or something. Of course, turning him away from Pidge means that he was face to face with the car, specifically the empty void of a former window. The man, red-faced, turned his murderous glare on the Cuban.

"And who the hell are you? Did you see what that Bitch did to my car!?" He exclaimed, several decibels below where he had been so Lance took it as a step forward. Even with the name-calling.

"I'm a friend. And I'm hoping we can clear this up in a timely manner, seeing as you probably have somewhere to be and we have to get to school." Lance implored, his voice calm and steady. Pidge could feel to her dismay, part of the anger dripping through her fingers. Matt sighed and slipped back into the car in favor of resting his head against the wheel.

Lance shot a deadly glance over his shoulder as he talked the man out of pressing charges. She didn't understand what all the fuss was about, it's just a window. Matt still had his head on the steering wheel, seemingly asleep. Pidge, however, noticed the tired, disappointed furrow in his brow. Something squeezed in her chest, a hint of regret flavoring her thoughts. A sparrow flew overhead, its chest more vibrant than the pale, bright blue sky. A couple clouds sat in the blue, pure and fluffy and leaving on the wind. Trees sang quietly, light humming soft harmonies with the birds and breeze. Her nose itched and her eyes burned slightly as her chest contracted.

"What the hell was that Pidge!?" Lance cried, circling around the car and pulling her out of her head. The man was already driving down the street. Lance's bag had been slung off to the curb and his headphones dangled out of his shirt, frayed and old. A Hispanic pop song played quietly, one that probably reminded him of home. Shit.

"I was just trying to get your attention," She answered, trying very hard to sound confident but the wave of shame seemed to drown out her words. Her cheeks burned.

"There are plenty of better ways to do that Pidge, especially for someone as smart as you," There it was again, that stabbing in her heart. Lance crossed his arms and glared at her, obviously waiting for her to respond. Panic. She shot a "help me" glance at Matt only to be met with the same waiting look. Fuck that. She turned back to Lance, heart beating that much faster. He raised an eyebrow, slowly tapping his finger against his bicep. Ok, note to self, don’t ever make Lance mad again cause this is terrifying. What to say, what to say, what will make him happy. …this is why she hated emotions. No right answer. Lance's glare hardened. "Pidge," he practically growled. She broke.

"Ok, I'm sorry. I was mad at you that you hadn't responded to my text on Saturday and I got worried you were hurt or something so I had Matt drive me here and when I saw you were ok and you had just blown me off I got super mad so I threw a rock at you…" she babbled, tears brimming and fiddling frantically with her hands while quite pointedly not making eye contact. "… plus you had headphones in so you didn't hear me call your name." she finished quietly, dropping her hands to her side with a defeated huff. Lance visibly softened.

"Oh Pidge," he started, stepping forward. She stepped back violently.

"No. You are about to forgive me and tell me everything is alright and you probably calmed that guy down to the point where all he wants is a little money for the window which was really stupid of me. I'm just so stupid. And you're just so nice and if you forgive me now its gonna make it so much worse that I was mad at you since I know you don’t hate me, right? I mean you don't. Obviously. So you must have had a good reason for no texting and-" She broke off sobbing when Lance pulled her in for a hug. She sobbed into his chest as he gently hummed and stroked her hair and whispered gentle words she couldn't understand and that made her cry all the more. She was just calming down when someone else, probably Matt, hugged her from behind. She could understand him though.

"- freaking out all weekend. Yesterday she was convinced you had been murdered. Not sure how long its been since she slept." Matt whispered. Ok, time for crying is done. She slipped out from between her two brothers - I mean her brother and Lance, dragging her arm over her eyes to get rid of the tears. Sure her face was still burned and her eyes were bloodshot but it made her feel more put together. She really did try to glare at Lance when he pulled a tissue out of his bag and handed it to her. That glare didn’t hold up though as she blew into it. Matt grinned.

"Alright, alright let's get going. We can talk in the car ya know," He added, walking over to grab Lance's bag. Pidge attempted a laugh while nodding.

"Yeah, right, of course," She sighed, opening the passenger door. Lance looked at them like they were asking him to explain the quadratic formula and its relation to the moon concerning the earth. Matt, feigning complete innocence on his utter confusion, tossed his bag gently into the back seat and grinned.

"Come on Lance. Climb in."

"Wait but-" Lance objected weakly before Matt shoved him in much like he did Lance's bag.

"No time to protest, we driving you to school bro," He explained, shutting the car door with a little more force than he needed to. Matt jogged around the front of the car and slipped behind the wheel once again, just as another protest began to spill from Lance'

"Guys you don’t have to-" He began, torn between leaning forward and reaching for the door.

"Oh shut up Lance. I had Matt drive me here so we could take you to school, you idiot." Pidge snapped, still trying to pull her emotions into check after that slight meltdown. Slight. (it's not working) Lance sat back with a small thud, letting his hand fall into his lap. The car purred to life much in the way someone who spent the entire night partying does at 6 in the morning to clean up the mess they made. They drove away in comfortable silence, Matt thinking about the road and wondering just how stupid his sister really is, Pidge scolding herself unneeded about letting emotions show, even if it was for Lance. Lance was stuck in his mind, swimming away from the pain throbbing in his head and neck. People danced in front of his eyes, new choreography for dance class. He still had yet to write the solo for himself, he just didn’t like to choreograph for only one person. Why do that when you can make it up as you go?

For a car ride that was supposed to be filled with figuring out why exactly Lance hadn't responded to her texts, the ride was unusually silent, but not uncomfortably so. Pidge glanced behind her to stare at Lance, unashamedly creepy. She drank in his poised back and dark skin, the slight curl in his hair well overdue for a trim by his standards, the worn back and tattered shoes. Memorizing the faraway look pooling in his eyes, the almost perpetual shine in his skin she is sure is caused by glitter foundation but he always denied it. Something was off. Her brow furrowed slightly and she pushed up her glasses. Shirt, shoes, bag, hair, pointy chin, bruises, jacket, headphones, sparkle- wait, bruises?

"Matt pull over," She ordered, not even waiting for him to do so before she scrambled over the seat into Lance's lap. He screamed, choking on honey tufts of hair. Matt swerved, throwing Pidge into the seat, probably bruising her side. She grunted then finished clawing her way into Lance's lap, effectively pinning him against the seat and window. The car skidded to a stop out on the side of the road. Pidge, completely focused on her mission, pulled the top of his jacket away, exposing the ugly splotched bruise. It faded from blue to black to purple to green and yellow, circling his entire neck. His breath hitched slightly. silence consumed the car, Pidge staring in morbid fascination at his neck, Lance waiting for her to say something, and anything Matt dreamed of saying died on his lips at the sight. Pidge touched it gently, drawing back as if she had been burned.

"Lance. What happened?" She whispered, voice smaller than a fragile breeze. His mouth grew dry, his tongue morphing into cotton.

"I uh, I fell," He replied numbly.

"Bullshit," She snapped, stretching her hand around his neck, not touching it. "This is a handprint. A huge, monstrous handprint."

"It's not bullshit," He protested weakly, "I did fall. After um," he cleared his throat, "after… he dropped me." Pidge looked back up at him, eyes larger than saucers, gleaming darkly with realization and horror.

"… He?" she whispered. Matt shifted, almost as if he could see the story in Lance's eyes and desperately wished it were something else. Lance wished with him. He coughed, moving as much as he could with Pidge in his lap. The car grumbled beneath them, purring warmly in contrast to the suddenly cold cabin.

"Uh, yeah. He. The- the, um, the-" He started, and was all he could get out before tears began falling. Telling the story to you magical mother was one thing, keeping all facts and knowing that she will make it all better. Plus it hadn't really hit him yet. Admitting to some of his best friends that he was almost raped, that he spent who knows how long under that monster, pinned and incapable of defending himself, forced to look into those lust-filled, wild eyes, knowing every aspect of him would be destroyed in that one moment, it was just too much. He sobbed, the words slowly choking him from inside. Pidge watched, her already weakened emotional walls not handling the sight of basically her older brother crumbling before her. She flung her arms around him, burying her face in his shoulder and they just sat there and cried together.

Matt's knuckles had gone numb from gripping the steering wheel too hard. He gritted his teeth, physically unable to pry himself from his spot to join them in comforting lance. Yet, it was just as painful watching them in the cracked, rearview mirror, Listing to the brittle and vulnerable gasps. The fact people like That exist boiled his blood, and that it had to happen to Lance was just so much worse. He tried to cover it up, Matt knew, but the boy struggled. Not with school or anything, he was brilliant in his own way, but with people. He didn’t know the details, but he could see it in his eyes. The pain, the exhaustion, the desperation all leaking out behind a wall of jokes and mirth. Lance is such a good person. He doesn’t deserve this. No one does.

The sobs slowly died down, turning into the occasional hiccup and sniff. Matt cleared his throat, draw to pairs of red, glassy eyes to him.

"What if we don’t go to school today," he suggested with a small, forced smile. Pidge nodded solemnly, Lance did smile, a small smile, but a real smile.

"We need ice cream." Pidge agreed, snot dripping from her nose for the second time today. And it was only 8:15. Matt nodded with Pidge, fully supporting the idea of ice cream. And the sun. And the fresh air. And, like, 20 puppies if he could find them. All that was good for the heart and soul in recovery. So, with them fully on board with this rebellious plan, they turned their expectant to Lance, the one who really needed to make the decision. Lance, bless his soul, couldn’t imagine doing anything else today.

"Ok," he said with a smile, wiping away the tears, "Let's go get some ice cream."