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Paint On His Hands

Chapter Text

If you asked anyone who lived in Lions Beach what kind of a city Lions Beach was, they’d tell you one thing.

It was a shitty town.

While it was in fact a beach town, and did have a rather nice beach, it was not a nice place to live. If one could get over the copious amount of litter that lined the streets, the constant dead fish smell that hung in the air, and the fact that if there was ever a flood everyone in town was unceremoniously fucked, there was still the small detail of The Galra that every resident of Lions Beach had to deal with.

The Galra was the only bit of organized crime in town. Considering Lions Beach’s small size, the gang— while nothing near an organized mafia— was still quite a dangerous gang. They had claim over most of the East sector of town, and only those who agreed to look away during robberies or muggings were granted permission to live there.

They owned other parts of the town as well, which was made obvious by the numerous gang symbols they had painted all over the walls. If one saw the familiar purple symbol on a wall that wasn’t there before, they then knew that area had been claimed.

The police had tried their best to curb the spread of the gang’s territory. But after the chief of police, Alfor Altea, had been killed in a shootout, that effort had been halted.

The town still functioned as normal, but no one was safe from the Galra now unless they were a member. Nothing could be done about it though. The police had failed, so what else could anyone do?

Lions Beach was a shitty town, and while change needed to occur, no one was willing to make it happen.

That was, until the first mural showed up.

✩☽✩

“No! Not Sal’s!” Hunk moaned, staring at the purple graffiti on the side of the deli with wide eyes.

Beside him, Lance patted his friend’s back in a gesture of reassurance. This was the third claiming this week, and Lance couldn’t help but notice how the Galra’s territory was creeping closer and closer to where he and his two best friends lived.

It had been about a year since Alfor Altea had died, and any hope of getting rid of the Galra had died right along with him. The gang had been gradually expanding their territory ever since. And while Lance had had no reason to worry about it before, he had plenty of reason now.

“Shit man… does Sal know?” Lance asked, glancing at the front doors of the deli.

“Judging by how pissed off he looks, I’d say he’s well aware of the situation,” Pidge commented, pushing her glasses further up onto her nose.

Looking to the shop, Lance could see the deli owner frowning as he scribbled furiously into a notebook while talking on the phone. Pidge was right. He had to have known. And while he was certain Sal was not happy about this in the slightest, they all knew there was nothing to be done.

“Should we go talk to him?” Hunk asked, looking at his former boss with a worried gaze.

Pidge shook her head. “No, it’s getting dark, and since this is Galra territory now we don’t want to be anywhere nearby when the sun drops.” She explained.

Lance nodded in agreement. “Yeah, Pidge is right. We can talk to Sal tomorrow, but I need to get back in time for dinner.” Hunk swallowed down a lump in his throat and nodded, sparing one last glance at the graffiti on the wall before following his friends back to their neighborhood.

It didn’t take long for them to reach Arus Street, and the three friends dispersed as they each went to their own houses along the small slice of suburbia. Opening his front door, Lance was greeted with the sounds of children screaming as soon as he stepped inside.

“Toni! Camilla! Get back here!” He heard his mother shout. Lance sighed, wondering how his niece and nephew were stressing his mother out now.

“Uncle Lance!” Camilla shouted as soon as Lance entered the living room, leaping up into his arms. Lance grunted as he caught her, lifting the girl (who was getting way too big to be carried, mind you) and resting her on his hip.

“What are you doing, Camilla? You’re not making grandma stressed out, are you?” Lance asked, looking his niece in this eyes.

The little girl squirmed in his arms, not in a sign that she wanted to get down, but in a sign that she had been caught.

“Well… Toni started it!” She shrieked, pointing to her brother as the little boy came tumbling into the room.

“What?! No I didn’t!” Toni protested in a squeaky voice, tripping over his toddler legs and falling onto the ground.

“Ha! That’s what you get, dummy!” Camilla called out, pointing at her little brother and laughing. Lance frowned and put her on the ground.

“Camilla, that isn’t very nice. Go say sorry to your brother,” Lance demanded, pointing to Toni who had now managed to get back on his feet. Camilla huffed and crossed her arms, reluctant to apologize to Toni. But with one more stern glance from Lance, she surrendered and awkwardly patted her brother on the arm.

“I’m sorry I called you a dummy,” she said, looking at her shoes.

“It’s okay. I’m sorry I pulled your hair,” Toni replied, running his fingers through his sister’s curls.

“Oh thank god,” Lance’s mother said as she entered the room and saw the two kids had made up, “they’ve been screaming at each other all day and it’s driving me insane.” Lance nodded in sympathy as his mother came over and wrapped her arms around him, squeezing him and planting a kiss on his cheek.

“How was your day, mijo?” She asked once she pulled away.

“It was good, Mama! I passed my precalc test!” He said, watching over his mother’s shoulder as Camilla and Toni began to play with some dolls.

“That’s fantastic! I’m so proud of you,” His mother said, smiling warmly at Lance. “Did anything else happen?”

Lance immediately thought of the familiar purple symbol haphazardly painted on Sal’s wall, and his expression turned sour. “Sal’s got marked.” He said, his good mood dropping.

His Mama’s face twisted into a frown at that. “It’s getting closer,” she commented, sitting down on the couch.

Lance joined her. “It is, and I don’t like it.” His mother placed a reassuring hand on his shoulder.

“Well mijo, all we can do is leave it up to the police,” she said, trying to give her son a reassuring smile and failing.

“Mama, you know just as well as I do that the Lions Beach Police aren’t going to do anything about it.”

His mother sighed , running her fingers through the dark curls that escaped her ponytail. “I know… I know. I just keep hoping that one day…” she trailed off, and now it was Lance’s turn to rest his hand on her shoulder.

“Don’t worry. Something’s going to stop them eventually,” Lance said, knowing the words were meaningless. “It has to.”

The rest of the afternoon passed by in a blur after that. Lance headed to his room to work on homework, while his mother put Toni and Camilla down for a nap. Soon enough, the rest of the family began to trickle in. First, with Lance’s sister Veronica, then with his other sister, Melissa (the mother of Toni and Camilla). Then, his father got back from work, and he got to work on dinner.

The only person missing was Lance’s older brother, Andy.

Now Andy was known for having a rather unpredictable schedule with his job, so the family didn’t think much of it when dinner time rolled around and Andy was nowhere to be seen.

But it was when they were halfway through dinner and no one had received so much as a text from the twenty-two year old, that they began to worry.

It wasn’t until they were finishing up their meal that they heard the front door unlock, and watched as Andy stumbled into the dining room, blood dripping from his nose and his right eye swollen shut.

“Oh my god! Andy!” their mother shouted as she rushed towards her son.

“Andy holy crap, what happened to you?!” Melissa asked as she and the rest of the family rushed towards him, all working together to lead him towards a chair.

“Who did this to you?” Veronica asked, eyes narrowing in anger.

“Guys, calm down, I’m okay,” Andy reassured them as the McClain’s all hovered around his chair.

“Dude, you’re bleeding and you have a black eye, you’re not okay.” Lance said, crossing his arms as he stared at his brother.

“Did Tío get a boo boo?” Camilla called out, standing on her tiptoes to try and get a better look at her uncle’s black eye.

“Andy-”

“What’s going on-”

“Tío Andy-”

“EVERYONE BE QUIET!” Lance’s father’s voice boomed, cutting off the panicked questions as everyone flinched back. Once silence fell, John McClain cleared his throat, and laid a hand on his older son’s shoulder. “Andy, son, tell us how this happened.”

Andy took a deep breath, looking relieved that the barrage of questions had stopped. Gripping the arm of the chair he was seated in, he closed his one good eye for a moment as he gathered his thoughts, before opening it again to look at his mother and father.

“It happened when I was walking home from work, like I always do, although it was a bit later than usual because I had to help Midori close up since Rogelio left early. But anyway, yeah, I was walking home and I had just passed Sal’s, when out of nowhere two Galra goons show up and start threatening me with a bat,” Lance’s mother gasped at this, but Andy kept going.

“I didn’t want to get into any trouble with them, so I didn’t fight when they asked for my wallet and instead just handed it over. I only had like, twenty bucks in there anyway, so it’s not like it was a huge loss. Then they asked for my phone, so I went to give it to them when I realized I had left it back at the shop. I tried explaining this to them, but neither of them believed me. I turned all my pockets inside out and tried to prove to them that I was telling the truth, but either they thought I was hiding it in my underwear or something, or they wanted an excuse to beat me up.” Andy paused for a moment, and sighed.

“...they didn’t use the bat though. Guess I should be grateful for that. They just punched the shit out of me instead.”

A heavy silence hung in the room for a moment, none of the McClain clan quite sure of what to say.

“We have to call the police,” their mother finally said, already turning to grab the house phone.

“Mama, no!” Andy yelled, reaching forward to grab his mother’s wrist. She paused, staring at her son with wide eyes.

“Mijo, we have to report this,” she said, waiting for him to let go of her.

“But why? What are they going to do? Go after them? You know they won’t. The police haven’t even threatened the Galra since the Chief died,” Andy said, the bitterness in his voice as clear as day. “All calling them will do is get us involved in some bullshi- bullcrap investigation that’ll just cause a ton of trouble without achieving anything.”

“So what? You expect me to sit here and do nothing after my son has been hurt?” Their mother exclaimed, her face a mixture of shock and hurt.

Next to her, Lance’s father rested an arm around her shoulders. “As much as I hate to admit it, he’s right, Maria. Calling the police won’t solve anything.”

“Damn right it won’t. The only way we can solve this is if we find out who these guys are, and hunt them down ourselves,” Veronica said. There was a glint in her eyes that Lance recognized as meaning she was already forming a plan in her head.

“Veronica, please stop,” Lance’s father asked, squeezing his eyes shut as he tried to come up with a solution. He took a shaky breath, almost as if it was painful to do so, and Lance noticed his hands were trembling. “Look, I am just as upset as the rest of you that this happened. But we have to keep in mind that the Galra have been committing crimes like this for months now, and nothing has happened because of it. Remember when the Shimizu sisters were mugged, and they reported it to the police? What happened after that?” John met the gazes of everyone around him, daring one of them to say it.

Veronica broke first. “No one got arrested, and the next day Luxia got threatened,” she murmured, shuffling her feet on the ground in front of her.

“At knife point,” John added with a solemn nod. “The only reason she wasn’t hurt was because Plaxum happened to come home right at that moment. And even then, the only reason they fled was because she had come from softball practice and happened to be holding her bat.”

The mix of panic and anger that had been keeping the McClain’s afloat had completely dissipated now, everyone’s spirit sagging as they remembered the reality.

“All I’m saying is that calling the police will probably end up doing us more harm than good,” John finished, keeping his hands folded in front of him.

Andy sighed from his chair. “It was only twenty dollars. I don’t want any of us to get on the Galra’s bad side, so I’d rather just deal with the black eye,” Andy said, wringing his fingers in his lap. “I’m more mad at myself than anything else. I was walking by Sal’s, and Sal’s isn’t even in their territory so I had my guard down! That’s how they were able to sneak up on me. If I had just been a little more aware maybe I could’ve… I dunno… made a run for it or something.”

“Actually,” Lance began, getting the attention of his family, “Sal’s got marked last night. Hunk, Pidge, and I saw the graffiti when we were walking home from school today.”

“Mierda, that makes sense now,” Andy muttered under his breath. “I’m just… I’m really tired right now. Can I just get some food and head to bed, and we can deal with all this in the morning?” He asked after a few minutes of quiet.

Suddenly, Lance’s mother was jolted out of her silent trance, and was moving yet again. “Of course, mijo. Dinner is still warm so let me go get you a plate. Lance, Veronica, help your brother to his room.” She demanded, rushing past all of them towards the kitchen.

Having broken the spell, John followed his wife into the kitchen, presumably to talk with her a bit more about what they were going to do. Melissa muttered some goodbyes as she took Toni and Camilla's hands, and walked with them out to their car so they could drive to their own home. Once Veronica, Lance, and Andy were left alone, Lance and Veronica wasted no time in hoisting Andy to his feet, and guided him slowly to his and Veronica’ shared room.

By the time they had gotten Andy changed into his pajamas and settled into bed, their mother had fixed him a plate of food and delivered it to him so he could eat. Lance didn't remember much else of that evening. He helped Veronica wash the dishes, put away Toni and Camilla’s toys, and wiped down the kitchen counters. It wasn’t anything outside of his usual evening chores, but the whole time he felt as if he was set onto autopilot. As he cleaned, all he could think of was Andy’s black eye, and the utter defeat in his father’s voice when he had said there was nothing for them to do.

Suffice to say, it pissed Lance off.

The fact that they had no choice in the matter, the fact that they knew the police weren’t going to do shit to fight against the Galra, it pissed Lance off.

It was completely unfair. The residents of Lions Beach did nothing to deserve this. They were trying to live their lives like any other town. Why should they have to live in constant fear of being attacked?

Sal’s used to be safe, but then it was marked. Lance’s school used to be a safe place to hang out in the evenings, but then it was marked. You were safe, unless your street was marked.

That damn mark. That was the cause of all of this. If that ugly purple graffiti had never appeared on Sal’s wall, Andy wouldn’t have been beaten up.

Lance never wanted to see that mark again.

It wasn't long before all the chores were done and Lance was back in his room, pacing back and forth along the floor. Agitation itched underneath his skin, keeping him from standing still for more than a few seconds. He couldn’t get the events of that evening out of his mind, no matter how hard he tried to distract himself. He hated the Galra. He hated them and everything they stood for, and wanted nothing more than to erase all the Galra marks from every inch of Lions Beach.

He could already picture it. Walking down to Sal’s with some spray paint, finding that ugly purple mark, and covering it up with whatever design he could think of. Then the next morning, Sal would realize his deli was no longer Galra territory, and the Galra would have to go to the trouble of coming back the next night to paint over Lance’s cover up.

Lance snickered to himself at the thought. He wouldn’t do it of course. That’d be stupid. He could get arrested. Or worse, he could get caught by the Galra. Lord only knew what would happen to him if that happened.

Out of the corner of his eye, Lance saw the cans of spray paint he’d had nothing to do with since the last time he’d tried to graffiti something back when he was twelve (that night had ended with his mother finding out and dragging him back to the wall the next day by the ear to clean it up).

He had the materials. He could do it.

Lance mentally smacked himself. He couldn’t do that! It was insanely dangerous. If the Galra caught him, he’d have a much worse fate than Andy did. It was stupid and wouldn’t do anything. He wouldn’t do it.

‘Sal’s isn’t even in their territory.’ His brother’s words echoed through his mind, and Lance winced. Yesterday, Sal’s was safe. Today, it wasn’t. With a few sprays of of purple paint, they could no longer walk by their favorite deli after sundown. It was bullshit. Complete, and utter bullshit.

Lance found himself moving without even making the conscious decision to do so.

Grabbing a duffel bag out of his closet, Lance began throwing cans of spray paint inside. Along with that, he grabbed his sketchbook in case he needed a dose of inspiration, and tossed it in there as well. Once the bag was packed, Lance pulled a blue hoodie from his dresser drawer, and yanked it over his head. Then, rather belatedly, Lance remembered how damaging the fumes of spray paint could be, and rummaged through his drawers to find a blue bandana to tie around his nose and mouth.

Now ready, Lance stood at the edge of his window, the hesitation finally setting in. He was really doing this. He was really taking this risk just so he could stick it to the Galra.

Well, what else was he supposed to do on a Tuesday night?

Lance hopped out the window, thanking his lucky stars he only lived in a one-story house, and made sure to leave his window cracked enough to where he could get his fingers underneath the edge to get back in. Once outside, Lance crept past Andy’s window as quietly as possible, making sure to stay low despite the fact that all the lights in the house were off.

When he was clear of the house, that's when Lance began to run.

The cool ocean air wrapped around him as he ran, invigorating him more than he imagined any drugs could. Despite the danger he was putting himself in, Lance couldn’t help but revel in how good it felt to be doing something to fight the Galra’s control. He had hated sitting still for so long, watching as his city was taken away from him, one street at a time.

But now, he was fighting back. Sure, he wasn’t going up to any Galra members directly and challenging them to a duel, but he was giving them a big ‘fuck you’. At least in his own way.

By the time Lance reached Sal’s, he was heaving from his sprint, the adrenaline beginning to ebb away little by little. After he had recovered a bit of the air in his lungs, Lance threw his duffel bag onto the ground, and stared at the ugly purple mark that was like a scar to the deli’s wall.

He was in Galra territory now.

Knowing he didn’t have much time before someone came by, Lance pulled out his sketchbook along with some cans of spray paint, and hurriedly flipped through the pages to try and find what he should cover this up with.

“Oh yeah, this’ll do,” Lance muttered to himself, smirking as he found the design he wanted to use. He dropped the sketchbook on the ground, tied his bandana around his face, and got to work.

Lance quickly lost himself in the process of painting, forgetting the fact that he was doing something incredibly stupid and could be jumped at any moment, in favor of focusing on the wall in front of him. The smell of chemicals filled his nose, the sound of the aerosol blocking out the world around him. Little by little, purple was erased by blue, and after what felt like hours, Lance was finally done.

Dropping the can of white paint he’d been using to add accents, Lance took a step back to admire his work. Nodding in satisfaction, he quickly packed up his stuff and started back home, happy with what he had accomplished.

Crawling back through his window, Lance collapsed onto his bed in a heap of sweat and paint, all his energy from earlier completely gone. He could feel the tempting call of sleep itching at his mind, and he was drawn to it like a siren song. The last thing he thought of before his mind was swallowed by the abyss of unconsciousness was how much he would pay to see the look on the Galra’s faces when they saw what he had done.

Chapter Text

“Lance! Lance you’re going to be late for school!”

Lance groaned at the shrill voice in his room, rolling over and burying his head underneath a pillow in an attempt to muffle the voice that had so rudely woken him up.

“¡Lance! ¡Necesitas levantarte!” His mother shouted, her voice much louder as opened the door to his room.

¡Mama! ¡Cinco minutos más por favor!” Lance called back, his words slurred from grogginess.

“I already gave you five minutes! Hurry up or your breakfast will be cold!” Lance groaned again when his mother switched on the lights in his room before leaving in a huff. Pulling his head out from under the pillow, Lance winced as the bright light burned his eyes and covered his face with his hands.

Suddenly, everything from the night before came back to him.

Eyes shooting open, Lance almost jumped out of his skin when he realized he was still wearing the same paint-covered clothes from the night before. Shit! Why hadn’t he bothered to change? His hands were covered in paint as well, and if he was being realistic, he probably had a least a few smudges on his face.

He couldn’t let his family see this.

If either of his parents found out what he’d done, he’d be grounded for months, no ifs ands or buts about it. He’d be toast. No, he’d be worse than toast. He’d be the charred, ashy remains of toast when it catches on fire in the toaster and you have to put it out with a cup of water.

Suffice to say, he’d be screwed.

So, like any logical person, Lance stripped himself of his incriminating clothes underneath his sheets, and threw them in the closet where he had stuffed his duffel bag. Now wearing nothing but his boxers, Lance leapt out of bed and sprinted to the bathroom, throwing himself into the shower before his family could see him.

After he was clean, things were as simple as getting dressed and going downstairs for breakfast. He tried not to yawn too much, lest his mother get suspicious as to why exactly he was so tired, but ended up zoning out for a full three minutes while staring at a cup of coffee anyway. Thankfully, his mother was busy frying eggs when that happened, and the only one to witness this was his sister, Veronica. And the thing was, Veronica was known for staying up way into the wee hours of the morning, so she didn’t bother to make a comment and instead just gave her brother a knowing grin, before reaching over to nudge the cup a little bit closer to him.

By the time the clock struck 7:45, the time at which he usually left for school, Lance’s head was a little clearer thanks to the coffee he’d been drinking. He still felt like his brain was stuffed with cotton, but it was more bearable than before.

Stepping outside his house, Lance ran over to Hunk and Pidge, and the three began their rather short trek to school.

“Dude, no offense but you look like hell,” Pidge commented once they started walking.

“Thanks,” Lance replied dryly, “I didn’t get a lot of sleep last night.”

“Really? How come?” Hunk asked, giving his friend a worried look.

“Oh, no reason. Just couldn’t sleep is all,” Lance said with a shrug. While he was super excited to tell Pidge and Hunk what he’d done, he wanted them to see the actual art itself first.

Hunk raised an eyebrow at him, but left the subject alone. “Well, I would’ve slept wonderfully last night, if it weren’t for a certain someone hacking my computer,” Hunk said, directing a very pointed glare towards Pidge.

Pidge threw her hands up in the air. “Hey! You don’t know that it was me! Those thirty five tabs could’ve opened up on their own!”

“And I’m betting the fact that they were all videos of pigeons was a coincidence as well?” Hunk asked, making Lance snort.

“Actually they weren’t all videos of pigeons. One of the videos was a Rick Astley video,” Pidge clarified, waggling her finger back and forth.

“Oh, you’re right, I forgot about that one. I guess the wonderful sound ‘Never Gonna Give You Up’ was covered up by the sounds of screaming birds.” Lance was trying really hard not to laugh now. Sometimes he couldn’t understand a thing Hunk and Pidge were talking about when they were discussing something sciencey, but it was conversations like these that Lance loved to listen to.

The two continued to argue about how enjoyable it was to listen to a bunch of screaming pigeons, while Lance listened with a wide grin. As they got closer to Sal’s, Lance felt himself picking up speed, anxious to see what his art looked like in the light of day. Hunk and Pidge didn’t notice, instead picking up their own speed to match their friend’s as they continued to talk.

“Look, all I’m saying is that if we were to make a band, I would definitely want to get some pigeons as backgrou- what the shit?” Pidge cut herself off when they came up to Sal’s, eyes widening as she spotted the new addition to the stone.

When he had finished, Lance had been unsure of how the mural would look considering he didn’t have any stencils or a lot of colors at his disposal. But now, in the light of day, the different swirls of cerulean and azure forming the shape of a growling lion looked pretty damn cool.

“Wasn’t… wasn’t there a Galra symbol there yesterday?” Hunk asked, scratching his chin as he looked at the lion.

“Yeah, there was. It looks like someone covered it up though,” Pidge said, adjusting her glasses as she peered in to get a better look.

Hunk let out a low whistle. “That’s… pretty cool, actually,” he commented, giving the art an appreciative nod.

Pidge hummed in agreement. “It is. I mean, it was probably super risky, but whoever did it has some serious balls. I’m sure the Galra won’t be too happy when they find out their newest claim has been, well, unclaimed.”

Lance’s grin was nearly breaking his cheeks now with how much he was smiling. Neither of his friends noticed, both too focused on the graffiti to see their friend’s face. Lance opened his mouth to brag about his amazing art skills, but was interrupted by loud yelling.

“I’m telling you, I don’t know who did it! Yesterday the mark was there, and today it was covered up!” It was Sal, that much the trio could tell. It sounded like he was arguing with someone in front of the deli, and the three exchanged knowing looks before silently peeking around the corner to get a better look at what was going on.

“Don’t fuck with us, old man. If you did this to be cheeky I’ll have you know we’re not the type to take that kind of disrespect lying down-”

“Zethrid. Stop.” The angry woman yelling at Sal was cut off by another woman with dark purple hair standing beside her, this one seeming much calmer than her counterpart. “Sal, listen. You’re a smart man, you’d know how much it would piss us off if you were to purposefully cover up the mark. We’re not accusing you of anything. We just want to know if you have any idea of who it could be.”

Sal’s expression, which had been twisted into rage before, smoothed out somewhat. Taking a step back from both women, he folded his arms across his chest, and schooled his face into something akin to indifference. “No. All the people who come to my shop are respectable people. I can’t think of anyone that would be stupid enough to pull a stunt like this.” Lance gulped, glad his two friends were too focused on the conversation to notice the nervous sweat that had broken out on his forehead.

The angry woman, who Lance could now see was very tall, huffed before stepping right in front of Sal, shoving her finger into his chest. “Alright bucko, we’ll leave you alone for now. But if you or anyone you know has any idea who this little punk is, you better tell us or else someone is gonna get a real serious talking to.” Sal’s poker face never wavered, but Lance could see the tightness around the corners of his eyes. He was intimidated by them.

“Will do,” Sal said, not hiding the contempt in his voice. The girls shared one last look, before nodding and walking away, leaving Sal all by himself in front of the deli.

“You can come out now,” Sal called out once the girls had disappeared from view. The trio glanced to one another, unsure if Sal was talking to them or not, when Sal turned his head to look right at them. “Yes, I mean you little eavesdroppers.”

Sharing a few wide-eyed glances, the three kids walked over to Sal, all flushed red from having been caught in the act.

“Hey Sal,” Hunk greeted as they got close.

“How much of that did you three hear?” Sal asked, not bothering with actual greetings.

“Uh… we caught the tail end of it,” Lance admitted, scratching the back of his neck.

“Ah, got it,” Sal nodded. “Well, not much to do about it. The Galra aren’t too happy their mark got covered up, and while it was annoying to have two of them banging on my door this early in the morning, I gotta admit, I’m grateful to whoever did it.”

Pidge raised an eyebrow at that. “Really? Even after you got threatened because of it?”

“Yup, even after that. I hate those Galra as much as the next person, and finally having someone do something about it is pretty refreshing. And while I know the Galra are probably gonna repaint the mark over top of it tonight, it’s the thought that counts,” Sal paused, looking wistful, before his gaze went back to being serious. “But really, if any of you know who might’ve done this, keep it to yourselves. You know the Galra don’t take kindly to being disrespected, and if they get so much an an inkling that any of you might know who did it… well, it ain’t gonna be good.”

‘It ain’t gonna be good.’ Those words echoed through Lance’s mind as Pidge and Hunk continued talking to Sal. He would’ve joined in on the conversation if he could, but he was too distracted as he realized what exactly he had done.

He couldn’t tell Pidge and Hunk, no matter how much he wanted to. If he did, and the Galra somehow found out they knew, they could be threatened. Or worse, they might even be attacked.

So when the trio continued their walk to school, Lance stayed quiet, not offering much commentary on the subject of the graffiti. And soon enough, the subject dropped, entirely, and Lance was able to forget about his adventure the night before for just a little bit.

It didn’t take long for them to get to school from there. They walked into the main courtyard with ten minutes before class started. Pidge and Hunk had now having moved on to a discussion about the morality of programming a robot to build other robots, and Lance noticed the fourth member of their little group walking into school.

“Allura! Over here!” Lance called to the white-haired girl.

Allura turned around at the sound of her name, her worried frown instantly transforming into a smile at the sight of her friends.

“Hi guys,” Allura greeted as she walked up to them, adjusting the strap of her bag.

“Holy shit, Allura, guess what we saw this-”

“Wait,” Pidge said, cutting off Hunk. “Where’s Romelle? She needs to see this too.”

Allura blinked, seemingly confused by Pidge and Hunk’s odd behavior. “She’s retaking a test right now. What’s going on?”

“You need to see what we saw this morning,” Hunk said, already taking out his phone and pulling up a picture of the lion mural he’d taken and shoving it in her face.

Allura frowned as she took the phone from Hunk’s hands. “What am I looking at exactly?”

“That’s the side of Sal’s deli, there was a Galra mark there yesterday,” Pidge jumped in. “But last night someone covered it up!”

Allura blinked in surprise. “Someone actually covered up a Galra mark? Do we know who?”

Hunk shook his head. “No, we actually overheard two members of the Galra threatening Sal about it. He didn’t know who did it either.” Lance made sure to keep his expression neutral as this conversation went on.

Allura stared at the painting for a few more seconds, before she handed Hunk’s phone back to him. “I’m… worried about this. While I’m thrilled to see that someone is finally taking a stand against the Galra, I know they won’t be happy about this.”

Before the conversation could continue, the bell rung and the hallway flooded as kids rushed to their classes.

“We should get to calculus, Hunk,” Allura said, gesturing to the boy. “Pidge, Lance, we’ll see you later!” Lance and Pidge waved goodbye as they turned to go to their own classes.

“By the way, what did the two Galra women interrogating Sal look like?” Lance could hear Allura ask Hunk as they walked away. Glancing behind him, he watched as Allura took out a notepad, scribbling down everything Hunk told her.

Lance sighed as he and Pidge parted ways. Of course Allura would want to know about the Galra women interrogating Sal. She’d been gathering whatever information she could find on the Galra ever since her father had died in that shootout.

Lance knew that if he covered up another Galra mark, it would piss the Galra off more. They would want to find him, hunt him and his family down. The people he loved would be at risk.

But he’d also be reducing their territory, and showing the citizens of Lions Beach that they don’t have to bow down to this gang. He would be making a statement.

Lance thought of Andy’s black eye, the way their father told them to do nothing because he didn’t want to risk their safety. He thought of how Plaxum didn’t come back to school for two days after the Galra broke into her home, and how she started carrying pepper spray in her backpack after that day.

He thought about how Allura hadn’t come to school for three weeks after her father died, and how when she eventually did, she was different. She was harder, her optimistic outlook on life squandered into one of pessimism as the need for revenge took root within her.

It was risky, but Lance wasn’t going to stop. He knew an opportunity when he saw one, and this was his chance to make a statement.

Lance was already mentally sketching his next mural as he made his way to his Biology class.

✩☽✩

The next day, another mural was found. This time it was discovered on the side of Olkari Tech, a store dedicated to selling and repairing all sorts of technology. The mark on Olkari had been there for about a month, but now it was gone, covered by a bright red and white mushroom from Mario Kart. No one knew who did it, but this time there was a signature in the bottom right corner of the painting.

The signature just said one word: Blue.

Whispers of Blue began to fly around the town, and more specifically, the local high school. Who were they? How did they do this and not get caught? Were they part of some other gang that was working against the Galra, or were they on their own?

No one was sure, but one thing was certain.

The Galra weren’t going to stand this for long. It was only a matter of time before someone was going to get hurt.

✩☽✩

It was dark, night having fallen long ago. Stars glittered overhead against a tapestry of black, only a sliver of the moon visible from behind its shadow. In the silence of the evening, the growl of a motorcycle echoed through the air, followed by tires screeching and a blur of red.

The boy zig-zagged his way through the darkened roads of Lions Beach, the orange street lamps giving everything an eerie glow. He rode quickly and confidently, fully aware of where he was going and how to get there. He knew these streets well.

The boy rode past several Galra markings, the increasing frequency of which indicated he was deep into their territory. Yet, he didn’t seem concerned by this fact. In fact, he even seemed to speed up a bit the further he got downtown, showing blatant disregard for every speed limit sign he passed.

Eventually, his bike slowed as he approached a large apartment building, dark and imposing against the night sky. Pulling into a parking spot, he hopped off the bike, not bothering to remove his helmet as he stepped up to the front doors.

He rang the buzzer and waited. After a few seconds when nothing happened, he rang it again.

And again. And again. Until...

“Jesus christ, what do you want?” An annoyed voice filtered out of the intercom.

“It’s me, I got called in?” The boy said, his tone showing he was equally as annoyed.

“What’s the password?”

The boy groaned and pressed his hand to the talk button again. “Vrepit Sa,” he huffed.

The intercom was silent for a moment, and then a loud beep indicated the door was unlocked. Rolling his eyes beneath his helmet, the boy shoved his way inside. He wasted no time heading straight to the stairs, the security guard not even glancing up from his magazine as the boy passed by.

The boy headed down the shadowy stairwell with hurried steps. He seemed to be in a rush.

Once he reached the basement of the building, he reached yet another door. He began to pound his fist on the metal over and over, until a metal window set into the door slid open, and an eye looked out.

“Password?” The voice asked. The boy didn’t say anything this time, instead flipping off the person behind the door. “That’s not the pass-”

“Oh jesus christ, Morvok, just let him in!” Another voice called out from behind the door. The door holder sighed and the boy could hear the sound of locks clicking.

“I just don’t get why we even have a password if this one never uses it!” Morvok protested, swinging the door open. The boy stepped inside, and Morvok shut the door behind him.

The basement looked, oddly enough, like a small apartment. There was a small kitchenette where a girl with pink hair was currently cooking something. Next to that was the living room, with a saggy blue couch that had several people lounging on it. They all seemed to be watching old reruns of Golden Girls on the small TV in front of them.

And then, sitting alone at a dining table behind the saggy blue couch, was a tall man with long, silky, white hair. He smiled at the newcomer, standing up and walking over to greet him.

“Hello Keith, I’m grateful you could come on such short notice.” The man said, stepping in front of the boy.

Keith scoffed, and pulled off his helmet. “Yeah, I wasn’t exactly planning on having to run out of the house at 3 am on a Monday night, thanks for that, Lotor.”

Lotor gestured for Keith to follow him, and led the boy to the dining table where they both sat down. “Unfortunately it couldn’t be helped.”

“It’s bullshit, but here I am,” Keith said as he sat down. “So let’s get on with it. What do you want? Do you want me to deliver another special ‘package’ for you?” He asked, putting air quotes around the word package.

Lotor pressed his lips together and shook his head. “No, that’s not it. Acxa, could you hand me the photo?” A woman with short, purple hair who was standing behind him pulled out a glossy printed photograph, and placed it into Lotor’s waiting hand. Lotor then handed the photo to Keith. “I suspect you’ve seen murals like this one before?”

Keith’s eyes narrowed as he looked at the photo of the graffiti. He knew exactly what this was. Everyone at school had been talking about this ‘Blue’, and how they had been covering up Galra marks. “I’ve seen these, yeah, but... why did you print out the photo to show me? You literally could’ve just showed me a picture on your phone or something.”

Lotor blinked. “Um, well, that, uh-”

“Forget about that. We don’t have much time,” Acxa barked at him.

“Yes, what she said,” Lotor said while nodding gratefully. “So, the person who's been painting these murals, ‘Blue’ as they call themself, has been causing quite a lot of trouble for us as you can imagine.”

Keith nodded. “Yeah, I can see that. Why don’t you just paint the marks back over the graffiti though?”

“We’ve tried,” The pink-haired girl from the kitchen chimed in, walking into the dining room while holding a bowl of popcorn. “Every time we do though, they get painted back over again the next morning,” she explained, handing Lotor the popcorn.

“Thank you, Ezor,” Lotor said, eyeing a piece of popcorn before popping it into his mouth. “What she said was true. So far, everything we’ve tried has failed in deterring this street rat. So we decided to take a different approach. And for that we need you.”

Keith raised an eyebrow at that. “Why? What do you think I can do that you guys can’t?”

“A lot of things,” Lotor began, leaning forward across the table towards Keith. “You’ve only ever done deliveries for us, and you’ve never gotten caught. No one outside of the Galra even knows you’re a member. This means you have an opportunity.”

“An opportunity for what? Look, can you guys just cut the bullshit and tell me what you need me to do?” Keith asked, becoming frustrated with the conversation.

“What we want,” Acxa began, slamming her hand down on the table next to Keith, “is for you to find Blue, and befriend them. Gain their trust. Then, once you two are friends, lead them right to us.”

Keith’s eyes widened as he realized what they were implying. “You… you want me to deceive Blue,” he said, biting his lip. He was silent for a moment, and then shook his head. “No. I’m not doing it. We had a deal. I don’t mug people, I don’t lie to people, and I don’t hurt people. All I do is make deliveries. That was the deal.”

Lotor chuckled at that, and shook his head. “All deals can be adjusted, Keith. There was no written agreement, so I can change the terms whenever I want. What was it you got in return for working for us?” Lotor tapped his chin thoughtfully. “Ah, that’s right. You were guaranteed protection for your older brother. What was his name again? Shiro? He works at the hospital as a nurse, correct? I’m sure I could have someone go pay him a visit so he can give his thoughts on our deal-”

“No!” Keith shouted, standing up and slamming his hands down on the table. Acxa’s hand went to the gun slung on her hip, while Ezor reached for the crowbar taped beneath the table. Time seemed to freeze for a minute, the only sound in the room being Keith’s ragged breathing.

Then, “Acxa, Ezor, sit down. Keith, is there something you wanted to say?” Both girls gave Keith wary glances, reluctantly sitting down at their leader’s orders. Lotor gave Keith a feral grin, and the dark-haired boy sighed.

“I… I’ll do it. I’ll befriend Blue," he said quietly, slinking back down into his seat.

Lotor folded his hands together in front of him. “Excellent. It’s up to you to find them, and however you wish to go about gaining their trust is your own decision. Contact us when you’re ready.”

Keith nodded and got up to leaving, pulling his helmet back over his head. He had just reached the door and was about to step through, when Lotor spoke again.

“Oh, and Keith? Don’t ever forget, we’ll be keeping an eye on you.”

Keith gave a single brief nod at that, before stepping through the door, making sure to slam it behind him.

Chapter Text

It had been about two weeks since Blue’s first mural when the next surprise came involving Lions Beach’s renowned vigilante.

Blue got instagram.

All within the span of an hour, almost every student at Lions Beach High with an instagram got followed by someone with the username ‘Blue_Paints’. The minute these kids clicked on this mysterious person’s only post though, everything made sense.

Blue’s first instagram video was of them painting a new mural, this time on the side of a neighborhood electric box. They didn’t show their face, but their voice was loud, if a bit muffled (probably due to their bandana), as they gave everyone a quick intro on themself.

Almost immediately after it was posted, Pidge sat on the edge of her bed, eyes glued to her phone as she watched the video unfold.

“Hey guys! It’s everyone’s favorite local graffiti artist, Blue here!” They began, the camera shaking a bit as they painted a large sun on the electrical box. “I figured since more and more people were talking about me it was time to get an instagram so I could actually talk to you guys!

“Okay, so first off a bit about me. As you guys know, my name is Blue. Obviously that’s not my real name, but it’s what you get to know me as. I’ve heard a lot of people wondering why I’m doing this, if I’m trying to one up the Galra or something, but in reality I’m just a guy who was sick of seeing Galra marks everywhere.

“Hmm, what else should I talk about? I don’t wanna give too much away with this because I know the Galra are kinda after me and I really don’t wanna get shanked walking down the street one day.

“Uhh, so… here are some fun facts about me! I’m not gonna say my specific age, just know that I am above 15 but below 25, I’m a guy as you can probably tell by my voice, I’ve been drawing since I was little, and uh… I think that’s about it. At least for now. Maybe if you guys send me questions I’ll do a Q&A. Man, wouldn’t that be fun!”

Blue flipped the can of yellow spray paint in his hand and moved down to the bottom right corner of the painting. In one fluid motion he sprayed his signature, and dropped the can in his bag. He gave a thumbs up to the camera, and then the video ended.

Pidge stared at the screen of her phone, eyebrows furrowing as she tried to think of why that voice sounded familiar. There was something about it, something about the lilt of his words and how one could practically hear his cocky grin that got her wondering if she actually knew this guy.

Wait. She could find out where he lived.

Yanking her laptop onto her lap, Pidge pulled up her screen and began to type away, running a trace program to find where his phone was right this second.

Just because you turn off location services doesn’t make you invulnerable to tracking, she thought to herself as she worked.

It only took about fifteen minutes for the trace to be complete, and Pidge’s eyes widened as she realized whose house she was looking at.

“That dumbass…” she muttered, before jumping off her bed and running towards her front door.

“Katie! Where are you going?” Her mother called.

“I’m going over to Lance’s, Mom! I left something at his house and need to get it!” Pidge called back, shoving her boots onto her feet and almost tripping because she forgot to tie her shoelaces.

“Alright honey, just try not to stay out too late, you know how dangerous it can get," her mother called back.

Pidge nodded to herself and finished tying her laces. Then, she leapt to her feet and swung her laptop bag over her shoulder, before opening the front door open and sprinting out into the street.

The night air was cool against her face as she ran towards Lance’s house. She relished in it, grateful for how soothing it was against her flushed cheeks.

Arriving at the house, Pidge noticed how most of the lights were off, and knew she couldn’t ring the doorbell lest she risk waking Mr. and Mrs. McClain. Instead, she went through the unlocked side gate, and walked over to Lance’s window, only to find the lights off there as well. Frowning, she knocked on the glass, and waited for a response.

Nothing.

She knocked again, the rapping noise echoing into the night. And still, nothing.

That was when she realized Lance must’ve had his headphones on, which was a common habit he had taken up to help fall asleep. Defaulting to plan B, she turned around and walked over to the window of Veronica and Andy’s room, knowing Veronica would be awake, and knocked on the glass three times.

After a moment of waiting, the light turned on, and the blinds were pulled up. Pidge waved at Veronica, who gave her a confused stare, before she opened up the window.

“Pidge? What are you doing here?” Veronica asked.

“I let Lance borrow a thumb drive of mine today and I forgot to get it back. I would wait till tomorrow but I really need it now,” Pidge explained, the lie slipping out with practiced ease.

Veronica raised an eyebrow at that. “Is this one of your things where if you don’t get the drive back something’s going to get blown up?”

Pidge began to sputter at that. “That-that was one time, okay?!” She exclaimed, cheeks flushing at the reminder of that… incident with the FBI. “Look, I can’t give you details, but this is really important, so can I please climb through your window to get to Lance’s room?”

Veronica stared at her for a long moment, before sighing and stepping to the side. “Come on in, dude,” she said.

Silently cheering at the victory, Pidge climbed through the window, only just managing to catch herself before she fell flat onto the tan carpet. As soon as she was in, Veronica shut the window behind her, and went to go sit back down on her bed. Pidge noticed how her laptop was sitting open, and was grateful she hadn’t woken the older girl up.

“Veronica? Why’s the light on?” A sleepy voice mumbled on the other side of the room. Turning, Pidge saw Andy cracking one eye open. He frowned for a moment when he noticed the stranger in the room, but immediately relaxed as soon as he realized who it was. “Oh, it’s just Pidge,” he said, closing his eyes again.

“Hey Andy,” Pidge greeted in a low voice.

“Hey Pidge, Lance sleeping with his headphones on again?”

“Yeah, so I had to knock on your guy’s window to get in here,” she explained, stepping towards the door, “sorry I woke you up.”

“It’s chill dude. Go kick Lance’s ass or whatever it is you’re here for,” Andy mumbled, before rolling over to face the other wall.

Pidge laughed to herself at that. “Will do,” she said, mouthing a ‘thank you’ to Veronica as she crept out into the hallway. Veronica gave her a thumbs up, and reached over to turn out the light in the room.

Now in the hallway, Lance’s room was right next to Veronica and Andy’s, and Pidge silently pushed open the door and closed it with practiced ease.

As soon as the lock clicked shut, Pidge flipped on the lights in the room, hoping to wake her friend up. Looking over to Lance’s bed, she rolled her eyes when she saw he had an eye mask on.

So instead, Pidge dropped her laptop bag on his stomach.

“WHAT THE FU-” Pidge cut Lance’s shriek off by plastering her hand over his mouth, and he frantically clawed at his eye mask before managing to rip it off his head. It took him a few seconds to realize who exactly was covering his mouth, but once he saw it was Pidge, he immediately relaxed back into the pillows and breathed a sigh of relief.

“Jesus fuck, Pidge. You scared the shit out of me,” Lance said when Pidge had removed her hand from his mouth. “What the hell are you doing here? How did you even get in?!”

“Veronica let me climb through her window,” Pidge shrugged as if it was obvious.

Lance frowned. “Traitor,” he muttered to himself, “that still doesn’t answer my question though. Why are you here?”

“I'm here, because you’re a dumbass who didn’t realize you could still be tracked even if you turned location services off,” Pidge explained, lifting the laptop from where she had dropped it and setting it on the ground. She opened up the computer and began to type rapidly, not bothering to tell Lance what she was doing.

Lance shifted so he was propped up on one elbow, and narrowed his eyes at the girl on his floor. “Pidge, you’re still not making any sense.”

Pidge rolled her eyes when he still didn’t get it. “I know you’re Blue, okay?” She said, giving him a ‘duh’ look.

Lance gaped, and Pidge looked back to her computer.

“Wha-”

“I tracked your phone through Blue’s instagram. And, by the way, making an instagram was a really stupid idea because if I can track your phone in fifteen minutes through that account, it probably wouldn’t take the Galra more than a few days.”

Lance stared at her for a few seconds, his eyes wide the remaining grogginess flew out the window. “What are you doing right now?”

“Making it so people can’t do the same thing I did and find your phone’s location through Blue’s instagram.”

“How?”

Pidge sighed. “I’d go into detail but I know every time I go into computer talk you zone out. Just trust me when I say this will keep you safe from other hackers.”

Lance looked like he wanted to say more, but after a moment of contemplating, he nodded. Pidge continued to tap away on her keyboard, and Lance slid out of his bed to sit next to her on the floor.

He was quiet for a moment, and Pidge continued her work, waiting for him to speak. Then, in a small voice he asked, “are you… mad?”

This got Pidge to look away from her computer. Pausing what she was doing, she turned to look at Lance, and saw he was hunched over, wringing his hands in his lap. “Why would I be mad?” She asked, shifting so she was facing him.

Lance ran a hand through his hair. “Because I’ve been Blue for two weeks and haven’t told you, Hunk, Allura, or Romelle.”

Pidge stared at him for a moment, gnawing on her lip. She put her hand on his shoulder, and turned his head so he was looking at her. “While I wish you had told me, I get why you didn’t. You didn’t want any of us to be targets for the Galra. You were trying to keep us safe,” she said, patting his shoulder.

“But you were also forgetting to keep yourself safe, which any one of us could’ve helped you with. That’s why I wish I’d known sooner. You’re lucky nothing bad has happened yet.”

Lance gave Pidge a shaky smile. “I mean, I’ve been chased a few times already. Let me tell you, being on the swimming team for three years now has its benefits because having strong upper body muscles really helps when you’re trying to parkour away from people chasing you.”

While this concerned Pidge, she couldn’t help but snort at the mental image of Lance trying to parkour away from some pissed Galra goons. “Well now that I’m here, I can help you find the easiest escape routes and stuff if you’re getting chased down.”

Lance frowned. “Wait, Pidge, I don’t want you getting involved with this.”

Pidge blinked a few times. “It’s funny how you think you have a choice in if I help you or not,” she said, folding her hands across her lap. Lance opened his mouth to retaliate, but Pidge held a finger up to shush him. “I know you’re going to say it ‘isn’t safe’ for me to help you and whatnot, but I’m gonna be tracking you from my house. I won’t be anywhere near where you’re at, so I won’t be in any danger. Plus, if my best friend is going to be pissing off the biggest gang in town on a regular basis, you can bet your ass I’m going to make sure he doesn’t die.”

“But-”

“No but’s. Just stop sleeping with headphones on so that I don’t have to make Veronica get up every time I want to get into your house at night.”

Lance sighed, dragging a hand down his face. “...alright. Thanks Pidgeon.”

Pidge smirked. “You’re welcome, Lance. Now, wanna go get me something to drink in the kitchen while I finish making it so you can’t be tracked with your phone?”

Lance grumbled an affirmative as he pushed himself to his feet with a grunt. It wasn’t obvious, but Pidge could tell his back was a little straighter as he walked away, as if some invisible weight had been lifted from his shoulders.

Chapter Text

“We got sent info about a new Galra Mark. Head to Balmera Cafe, it’s a few buildings down from there,” Pidge told Lance through the earpiece he was wearing.

Lance muttered a ‘sure thing’, knowing the mic would pick it up even with his bandana obscuring his mouth. He ran down the empty streets, sticking to the shadows with his hood pulled over his head. His duffel bag was hitting his back as he ran, the constant thump thump the only noise in the late Lions Beach night.

It didn’t take long to reach Balmera Cafe. He slowed to a stroll, taking in the bright cursive logo on the window. The store inside was dark, and Lance figured Shay and her brother Rax were sleeping. It was nearly midnight after all.

“Where to now?” Lance asked, keeping his voice low.

“Three buildings down, in the alleyway between the apartment building and the bookstore,” Pidge answered. Ever since Blue had opened his Instagram account, people had started tagging him in photos of Galra marks to cover up. It was a pretty cool system, and Lance was grateful for the help.

Lance headed down the street and found the spot Pidge was talking about. The mark was a purple blotch against the smooth brick of the apartment building, almost like a scar. Pulling out a can of pink paint, he shook it up as he planned how he was going to go about this, and then got to work.

It didn’t take long for the ugly mark to disappear, with a bright pink hibiscus flower being drawn in its place. The harsh smell of the paint burnt his nostrils, and Lance smirked to himself as he wrote his signature in the corner and stepped back to take a photo of his newest piece to post to Instagram later.

Pocketing his phone, Lance turned to his bag to put the paint back inside. Just as he had slung the bag over his shoulder, he heard a voice from behind him that made his insides freeze.

“Well well well, look who we have here.”

Lance whirled around to face the dark part of the alley, eyes widening as two figures emerged from the shadows. It was two men. The one on the left kept a blank face, while the one on the right had a downright nasty smile. Lance didn’t miss the Galra Marks both men had tattooed on their right arms.

“Would ya look at that?! It’s our good friend Blue,” the one with the smile said. “The boss is gonna be happy to hear about this little run in.”

“Oh fuck,” Pidge muttered in Lance’s earpiece.

“Haxus,” the smiling one said, turning to his expressionless friend, “what do you think we should do about ol Blue here covering up one of our marks?”

Haxus smirked. “Well the boss said he wants him brought in alive, but he never said he couldn’t be a little injured. Did you bring the bat, Throk?”

Throk nodded, pulling a bat out from a backpack that Lance was pretty sure shouldn’t have been able to hold a bat. Lance gulped, already edging his way towards the opening to the street opposite the two Galra men. His heart was pounding so much he was convinced the two in front of him must’ve been able to hear it. He hoped they couldn’t tell he was shaking.

“Lance, listen to me,” Pidge’s voice was calm and low in his ear, “your only option here is to run. I can guide you so that you’ll lose them, but you’re going to have to follow my every direction exactly. Cough to confirm that you understand me.”

Lance coughed, still backing towards the exit as Throk and Haxus came closer.

“Great. Now when I say go, turn around and sprint out of the alleyway and make a left. I’ll tell you where to go from there. Got it?” Lance coughed again. “Okay, get ready to go in three,”

“Two,”

“One,”

“GO!”

Turning on his heel, Lance bolted for the exit to the alleyway. He heard Haxus and Throk shout and footsteps began to pound behind him. Lance made a sharp turn to the left and was now out in the open.

“Across the street there’s another alleyway. Go in there.”

Lance did as Pidge said, shoes slapping against the asphalt and his bag pounding against his back. “When you get in there, there’s going to be a fire escape. Climb up it and get to the roof.”

While Lance wasn’t so fond of this plan of Pidge’s already, he knew she was his best chance of making it through this with all his body parts intact, so he followed her directions.

He darted into the alley and saw the fire escape Pidge was talking about. Using his momentum, he leapt up onto the rungs, and began to pull himself up the ladder.

A hand grabbed his foot and he yelped. He tried kicking out to make the hand let go, but Throk’s grip was iron tight against his ankle. Then, a second hand grabbed his other foot. Lance was gripping the metal rungs of the ladder with white knuckles, but the cool metal was too smooth to provide any sort of grip. It was only two more tugs from the men before he was pulled down onto the ground.

“Lance? What’s happening? Why are you not moving?”

Lance groaned, his head spinning as he tried to get his bearings. It seemed he’d fallen on both Throk and Haxus, because both of them were in similar positions as him.

Trying to scramble to his feet, Lance ignored his dizziness as he pushed himself away from the men. Haxus looked up and made a grab for his ankle again, but he managed to roll out of the way just before he could. Standing up, Lance made a dash for this new alley’s exit, and found himself back in the street running for his goddamn life.

“Where do I go?!” Lance shouted, not caring if the men heard him talking to Pidge anymore.

“Shit- um- GO STRAIGHT!” Lance rolled his eyes at the ever so helpful advice and continued to sprint forward. He could hear Throk and Haxus’ footsteps right behind him, and his lungs were starting to burn. He wouldn’t be able to make it much longer. “MAKE A RIGHT!” Pidge then yelled as he got to an intersection.

Turning on a dime, Lance glanced behind him to see how close Throk and Haxus were and oh nice he’d gained a little distance on them-

And he proceeded to crash right into someone.

“What the fuck?!” A guy’s voice said. Lance looked up from where he’d fallen on the ground, and saw a guy with a motorcycle helmet over his head staring down at him. Lance opened his mouth to respond, but Throk spoke first.

“HEY! YOU! HOLD THAT LITTLE SHIT DOWN!”

Motorcycle dude looked up, just now noticing the two Galra men pursuing Lance. Then a hand was being shoved in his face.

“Come on we gotta run!” The motorcyclist urged. Lance took the hand and the guy yanked him to his feet, and the two began to run away from the Galra together.

“Follow me! I have a motorcycle!” The guy shouted. While Lance usually tried to avoid getting into vehicles with strangers, this was kind of a desperate situation. So, he held onto the guy’s hand as they approached a red bike parked against a street light.

The guy hopped on and started it in one fluid motion, and Lance didn’t even have time to think about the fact that he’d never ridden a motorcycle in his life before they were taking off, leaving Throk and Haxus in the dust.

As they drove away from the Galra, Lance breathed a huge sigh of relief and rested his forehead against the motorcyclist’s back. He was alive. He’d made it. Blue had been lucky to avoid any encounters like that until now. But he might not get so lucky next time.

“Where do you want me to drop you off?” The motorcyclist shouted, his voice barely audible above the roar of the bike engine.

“Sal’s!” Lance shouted back. The motorcyclist gave a thumbs up, and Lance rubbed his eyes as he tried to calm his racing heart. Pulling his phone out of his back pocket, he kept one arm looped around the driver’s waist while he texted Pidge with the other to let her know that, yes, he was alive but he couldn’t respond to her through the earpiece at the moment.

Once that was done, Lance put his phone away and let himself breathe. The cold wind biting the little skin on his face that was exposed was like a balm to his frayed nerves. His head ached from when he’d fallen on top of Throk and Haxus, and he knew his legs were going to be screaming at him in the morning. More than anything, he just wanted to go home.

Thankfully, it didn’t take long before the driver was slowing down and Sal’s deli came into view. The bike came to a complete stop in front of the lion mural Lance had done so many weeks ago, and the driver cut the engine.

“Holy shit dude, thank you so much,” Lance said as he climbed off the bike. “I don’t know what I would’ve done if you hadn’t showed up.”

The driver didn’t take his helmet off, but he dismounted the back to stand in front of Lance. “It’s fine. You’re Blue, right?”

Lance nodded, gesturing at the paint that stained his hoodie. “It’s that obvious, huh?” He said with a small laugh. “Yeah, that’s me alright.”

The guy nodded his head. “What you’re doing is pretty cool, covering up Galra marks and all.”

Lance gave a sheepish grin before remembering his mouth was covered by a bandana. “Thanks. I was just kinda sick of the whole territory claiming thing.”

“I think we all were,” the guy agreed.

It was silent for a moment, neither party sure if the conversation was over or if there was still more to be said. Lance was going to say he had to go, but the guy seemed like there was something more he wanted to add, and Lance didn’t want to cut him off. It was only a few moments before his patience was rewarded.

“So… has that happened before? With the Galra chasing you and all?”

Lance blinked. He hadn’t been expecting a question like that. “Uh, not really. Though to be honest I’m surprised it hasn’t happened before. I do go right into Galra territory. I guess I’ve just been lucky.”

The dude nodded again, his helmet bouncing up and down. “I uh, know we, uh, I know we just met and that you have no reason to trust me but, like…” he paused. “Do you need a bodyguard? Like, someone to watch for Galra while you… do your thing?”

“Lance, we don’t know this guy. He could be working with the Galra for all we know,” Pidge hissed in his ear.

Lance stared at the guy, unsure of what to say. On the one hand, Pidge was right. He didn’t know this guy at all. This could be a trap. Get his guard down and deliver him straight to the Galra.

On the other hand, this guy had already saved him once. He didn’t have to save him from Throk and Haxus, he could’ve held him down like Throk had said. It would’ve been all too easy for him to do that. Lance was already on the ground. But he didn’t. Instead he helped Lance to his feet and gave him a ride on his motorcycle.

Plus, it would be nice to have someone watching his back with a getaway vehicle at the ready. Lance wouldn’t have to keep looking over his shoulder while he did his murals. And hopefully he could avoid a situation like what happened with Throk and Haxus in the future.

“Why do you want to help me? You’ll only be making yourself a target for the Galra,” Lance asked, crossing his arms over his chest.

The guy was silent for a moment, before he sighed and lifted the visor of his helmet. Most of his face was still obscured by the helmet, but now Lance could see a pair of dark eyes staring at him. “They’ve threatened people I love before. I’m sick of what they’re doing, and you’re the first person to actually do something about them. And like most of Lions Beach I don’t want to see you beaten to a pulp by those guys. That’s why.”

Despite his voice being muffled by his helmet, Lance could hear the sincerity in the guy’s words. It was risky, it was stupid, and Pidge was probably going to yell at him for this, but in that moment Lance decided to believe this mysterious motorcycle man.

“You got yourself a deal then,” Lance said, holding out a hand to shake, ignoring Pidge’s cry of protest in his ear. The guy blinked, before returning the handshake with fervor. “Though I want to warn you. I have someone who is tracking my movements at all times, so if you decide to try any funny business and take me somewhere I don’t want to go, she’ll find us and it won’t be pretty for you.”

Pidge muttered a ‘damn right’ in his ear, sounding resigned to what Lance was doing.

The guy chuckled. “I’ll keep that in mind,” he said, shoving his hands in his pockets. “I gotta go now, but when are you heading out again so I can meet up with you?”

Lance scratched his chin under his bandana. “Well after tonight I’m gonna need a few days to recover, so how about Friday? Meet me here Friday at 11pm, and we’ll find a new Galra Mark to go cover up.”

Blue’s new bodyguard gave a thumbs up and flipped his visor back down as he walked over to his bike. “Sounds good, Blue. I’ll see you then,” he started the engine to his motorcycle, and almost drove away before Lance stopped him.

“Wait!” He called out. The guy paused, and gave Lance a curious look. “What do I call you?”

“Uh…” the guy seemed thrown off by the question. “I dunno. Didn’t think I’d get this far.”

Lance snorted at that, and then tried to think of a nickname for his mysterious bodyguard. He glanced at the streak of red on the bike and an idea popped into mind. “What if I called you Red? Like, because of your bike?”

The guy glanced down at his motorcycle, and nodded in what seemed to be approval. “I like that. Yeah, call me Red then.”

Lance gave him a thumbs up. “See you later then, Red.”

Red waved goodbye. “Later, Blue!”

And with one final roar of his engine, Red sped away, leaving Lance alone in front of Sal’s.

“You’re kind of an idiot, you know that right Lance?” Pidge commented as Lance began to trudge back to his house.

“Yeah, but I’m your favorite idiot, so I think I get a pass,” Lance retorted.

Pidge just sighed and Lance smirked to himself all the way back to his house.

✩☽✩

Keith was struggling to get control of his racing heart as he sped down the empty streets of Lions Beach, replaying his interaction with Blue over and over in his head.

What he had said to Blue wasn’t a lie. He really was sick of the Galra, and he really didn’t want to see Blue beaten to a pulp by Lotor’s goons. He just couldn’t reconcile the ache in his gut as he thought about what he was eventually going to have to do.

The knowledge that Blue had someone tracking him though made him feel better. It would let him buy Blue more time, telling Lotor he’d have to wait to get Blue to remove the tracker and maybe even find a subtle way to warn the graffiti artist that he wasn’t trustworthy.

Keith hated himself for going along with Lotor’s convoluted plan in the first place. If it was just his life being threatened by the Galra he wouldn’t care and wouldn’t have agreed to this bullshit. But that was the issue. It wasn’t just his they were threatening, it was Shiro’s too.

Keith wasn’t going to let them hurt his brother no matter what.

It didn’t take long for Keith to reach his apartment building. He parked his bike and cut the engine, the silence of the night as thick and oppressive as the salt in the air. Pulling his helmet off, he took the stairs two at a time. Everyone’s lights were off, most of the residents having gone to bed a long time ago.

Keith unlocked his apartment door and let it slam shut behind him, knowing he wasn’t going to be waking anyone up. Keith was grateful his brother took the night shifts at the hospital, that way he didn’t have to explain why he’d been out so late at night. The last thing he’d want is Shiro getting suspicious of his ‘extracurricular activities’.

He headed into the kitchen, hanging his keys on the hook and setting his helmet on the counter. He was about to open the fridge to see if there was any food he could snack on before he passed out, but then noticed a sticky note on the microwave.

Knew you’d probably be hungry when you got back from work, so I saved some food for you and left it in here. Don’t stay up too late! You have that physics test tomorrow!

Shiro

 

Keith flinched a bit at the words ‘home from work’. Shiro knew Keith had a job, Keith just neglected to mention it was running errands for the Galra. As far as he was concerned, Keith worked at a Starbucks somewhere in town.

Popping open the microwave, Keith smiled when he saw a plate of pasta waiting for him. It’d been sitting there for a while, but the microwave had kept it safe from any bugs so all he needed to do was reheat it for a few seconds and it would be perfect.

Keith turned the microwave on and went to the fridge while the pasta cooked. He pulled out a bottle of water and downed half of it without pausing for a breath. He really should start bringing a water bottle out with him when he had to run some deliveries.

The pasta finished, the microwave announcing it’s success with a harsh series of beeps. Keith opened it up and grabbed the plate out, setting it down on the kitchen island counter next to his water bottle. Shrugging off his jacket, he tossed it onto the couch before settling into a chair and digging into his meal. As he ate, he took out his phone to see what was going on on social media.

Pulling up Instagram, the first thing he saw was a post Blue had just made. It was a photo of his most recent mural. It was of a large pink hibiscus flower, the bright petals unfurling outwards and blocking out any trace of the Galra mark that had been there before. That must’ve been what he was doing when he’d run into Throk and Haxus.

It was honestly a miracle Keith had just happened to be in the area when Blue had run into him. He had just finished his last delivery and was walking back out to his bike to head home when the graffiti artist had appeared out of nowhere, being pursued by two of the dumbest assholes the Galra employed.

In retrospect, Keith wished he had finished his delivery earlier so he wouldn’t have had to run into Blue. But now Lotor’s plan was in action and it was too late to do anything about it.

Continuing his scrolling through Instagram, Keith saw a new trend forming. Kids from his high school were now taking photos in front of Blue paintings. There was a photo of Plaxum posing in front of the mural by Sal’s. There was a photo of Romelle doing peace signs with that dude Hunk in front of the mark by Olkari Tech. There was Ina and Nadia posing together next to another one, and on and on it went. Keith’s entire feed was filled with people talking about Blue. One thing was for sure. Blue was certainly popular with the teenagers of Lions Beach.

Suddenly, a text popped up on his screen and distracted him from all things Blue-related.

Pidgeot: yo bitch respond to my texts

Keith cursed under his breath as he saw that Pidge had messaged him no less than four times while he’d been out that night.

KKogane: Sorry I was at work

Pidgeot: oh that’s chill, just wanted to make sure u werent dead in a ditch or anything

KKogane: Yeah I’m fine, I just got back home actually and I’m eating dinner now

Pidgeot: its midnight?

KKogane: time isn’t real I don’t see your point

Pidgeot: fair enough

Pidgeot: im heading to bed but make sure to get some rest dude

KKogane: I will, thanks Pidge

Keith finished his food and put his dishes in the sink. He went about his normal night routine of showering, brushing his teeth, and going back to run the dishwasher so that Shiro wouldn’t have to do it when he got back in the morning. Lastly, he put his phone on the charger and fell into bed, the fatigue from all the events of the day hitting him all at once.

That night he dreamt of a boy with kind blue eyes and a bandana covering his face. And then he dreamt of red, splattering everywhere as those kind blue eyes filled with betrayal.

It was one of the worst nights sleep he’d had in a long time.

Chapter Text

When Friday rolled around Lance found himself waiting outside of Sal’s, a mixture of adrenaline and fear coursing through his veins as he waited for his ‘bodyguard’.

After that fateful meeting when Lance had gotten home Pidge wouldn’t let him hear the end of it. She yelled at him for a good ten minutes, lecturing him on stranger danger and things of the sort. Lance had to remind her that, hey, Red was given the perfect opportunity to turn him in and didn’t, and that he was old enough to make his own decisions.

Pidge didn’t seem very convinced, but the damage was done, so that was that.

She’d only made one more attempt to try and dissuade him from meeting Red on Friday, and when he held firm in his choice, she relented. The only thing she requested was that Lance send her Red’s license plate number, and in return he made her promise she wouldn’t find out Red’s identity unless he kidnapped Lance.

Lions Beach was getting colder, but the night sky was perfectly clear. The stars twinkling above were almost crystalline, and Lance was grateful for the warmth his hoodie provided him. He pulled his bandana tighter around his face, and wondered if Red was going to use only the motorcycle helmet to hide his identity tonight. It couldn’t have been comfortable having to keep that thing on the entire time. But then again, Lance had never worn a motorcycle helmet himself so he couldn’t really say much on the subject.

“Where the fuck is this guy? We’ve been waiting, like, fifteen minutes,” Pidge’s voice crackled through the earpiece Lance had on, her impatience ebbing into him and making him shift from foot to foot with nervousness.

“I’m sure he’s just running late,” Lance assured her, although he didn’t really believe himself. “Look, if he’s not here in the next ten minutes I’m gonna head back to the house and grab my bike.”

“I think you should just come get it now but whatever dude.” Pidge said.

Lance opened his mouth to retort that he had to give Red a little bit of leeway, when the sound of an engine roaring cut him off. Looking up, Lance saw a familiar red motorcycle speeding towards him, and it screeched to a stop only a few feet from where he was standing on the sidewalk.

“Hey Red,” Lance greeted, giving him a little two fingered salute as a greeting.

“Yo,” Red returned, cutting the engine and hopping off his bike. “Sorry I was a bit late, work ran long.”

Lance shook his head. “You’re fine dude, don’t worry about it,” he reassured him. “Anyway, someone sent me a pic of a mark over by library they want covered up. It’s not new, but it’s not too deep into Galra territory so I figure it’s fair game.” Taking out his phone, he pulled up the DM conversation he had had over instagram with the follower who had sent him the location, and showed it to Red.

Red hummed as he looked at the map. “I know how to get there,” he said, before handing the phone back to Lance. “You ready to go?”

Lance nodded and Red hopped back up on his bike. Lance went to get up behind him, when Red held out a hand to stop him. “Oh, before I forget,” he reached behind him where Lance only just now noticed another helmet was strapped to the back, “here you go. I’d rather avoid having your brains splatter all over the sidewalk if anything happens.”

Lance tried not to think too hard about that very unpleasant mental image, and took the black helmet into his hands. “Thanks dude,” he said, pushing his hood down and pulling the helmet over his head. It didn’t have a visor covering the face like Red’s, but it protected Lance’s skull, which was the most important part.

Now safer than before, Lance climbed up behind Red and only then realized another dilemma.

While he hadn’t thought about it during his last ride, (mostly because he was, y’know, fleeing for his life) he now realized that it might be awkward wrapping his arms around the waist of a guy that was basically a complete stranger to him. Red hadn’t said anything about it being weird last time, but Lance felt the anxiety begin to buzz in his chest as he debated whether or not to ask.

“You good?” Red asked when Lance hadn’t done anything after settling himself behind him.

“Um, is it good if I like, uh-” he paused before deciding to just suck up and ask, “where do I put my arms?”

To his surprise, Red straight up snorted at that. “Just put your arms around my waist. Or are you gonna say ‘no homo’ first?”

Lance rolled his eyes. “No, I was just asking because I wanted to make sure you were fine with me practically embracing you, considering we just met a few days ago,” he explained. “And I’m bisexual by the way, so hopefully you’re not ‘no homo’ about that.”

Red looked back at him, and even though Lance couldn’t see his face behind the visor, he would imagine the guy looked surprised. “Really?”

He raised an eyebrow at him. “Yeah. Not all people are straight, big surprise!” If Red was gonna be an ass about this he could say goodbye to his job as Blue’s bodyguard.

“No no, I didn’t mean it like that,” Red said in a rush to correct himself. “I’m gay so, like, I really don’t care, but I was just… not expecting that, I guess.”

Oh. Well. Lance hadn’t been expecting that. “That’s cool,” he said awkwardly, wondering how their conversation suddenly devolved into them coming out to each other. Not that he was complaining. At least he knew they had something in common now. “We gonna head out?”

“Yeah, just make sure to wrap your arms around me tight so you don’t fall off,” Red said, a hint of amusement in his voice. Lance just sighed and did as he was told, and with a jolt Red started the engine and they headed off.

Since it was night and almost no patrol cars were out, it seemed that Red didn’t really care about the speed limit considering he was averaging twenty above at all times. Lance tried not to tighten his grip around Red’s waist too much— the last thing he wanted to do was crush the poor guy— but every turn made his heart leap into his throat. He was grateful for how loud the bike’s engine and the wind howling in his ears were, because those were the only things drowning out Lance’s screeching.

Thanks to Red’s disregard for traffic law, they made it to the library in less than fifteen minutes. Red slowed down, and the minute the engine was cut and Red gave him the okay gesture, Lance practically jumped off the bike, thanking the Lord that he had made it there alive. He suspected that if this little bodyguard thing continued, he’d eventually get used to riding on a motorcycle, but for now he had to hold himself back from kissing the ground with joy.

“You good?” Red asked as he climbed off the bike with much more grace than Lance had.

Lance, who was still catching his breath and probably looked like he was close to tears, gave an eager nod. “I’m fine, just new to riding motorcycles is all,” he explained, waving off his concerns with one hand.

“Yeah, I can tell,” Red snorted.

Lance turned to fake frown at him when he realized that didn’t really work thanks to the bandana covering his face. A moment after realizing that, he also noticed that Red had taken off his helmet, and was wearing a similar bandana to his own. The only difference was, albeit unsurprisingly, that his was red.

Red must’ve noticed his staring because he shrugged. “I figured I might as well fit the color thing we had going on.”

Lance only nodded in response, slinging his duffel bag over his shoulder as he turned to find the mark they were here to cover up. It only took a few seconds of searching before he spotted the symbol stark against the side of the library.

He stepped over to the wall, fingers tracing along the long-dried purple paint. “Why’d they have to do it on the library itself? This is a public government-funded building.” Red made a noise of ‘I don’t know’ behind him. “Alright Red, I’m gonna get to work. Watch my back for me, ‘kay?”

Red gave him a thumbs up and leaned against the wall opposite Lance. With his leather jacket, red bandana, and longish black hair Lance could now see without the helmet in the way, he couldn’t help but think Red looked like a stereotypical edgy ‘bad boy’.

He had pretty eyes though. He’d give him that, even if he did have a mullet. (Who the hell had a mullet anymore? No one with a shred of self-respect, surely.)

After taking a moment to consider the placement and size of the mark, Lance pulled out a can of white paint and got to it. The entire time he was painting, he could feel Red’s eyes boring into the back of his head. It kind of made him uncomfortable, having an audience for this sort of thing. He wondered if Red was judging his method, or if he thought this piece looked shitty, or maybe Lance was being pessimistic and Red was actually just fascinated watching a graffiti artist at work. Honestly, Lance had no idea, but he was too engrossed in what he was doing to bother turning around to find out.

When he was a little over halfway through, Red’s voice came out of the blue. “How do you come up with these?”

Lance jumped, having been hyperfocusing on what he was doing. He turned to glance at Red, and saw he was staring curiously at the half-finished mural. It was dark so he couldn’t completely make out his eyes, but he was pretty sure there was no judgement in his gaze.

“Sometimes I sketch them out during the day, but a lot of the time I’ll just stare at the wall until an idea pops into my head,” he answered, going back to his painting.

It was a few minutes before Red spoke again. “You’re, uh, really good at art by the way.” He seemed embarrassed as he said this, eyes cast towards the ground as he scratched the back of his neck.

Lance turned and raised an eyebrow at him. That came out of nowhere. “Oh, thank you! I’ve been drawing since I was little, so I’d hope I’d be at least decent at it by now,” he said, laughing lightly.

Red didn’t say anything else for the rest of the painting process, and Lance internally categorized him as one of the ‘strong and silent’ types. It wasn’t that he didn’t talk, he just didn’t talk a lot. Not like he didn’t have much to say, Lance couldn’t know that himself, Red just seemed to be more comfortable letting his actions do the talking for him.

When Lance finished spraying his signature, he let out a wolf whistle as he backed away to get a look at the entire thing. Red pushed himself off the wall to stand beside him and presumably take in the completed mural himself.

Considering he was graffiting a library wall, Lance wanted to make sure his mural fit the theme. While it was probably a bit on the nose, Lance had to say the large book with words floating off of it looked pretty damn cool. At the very least, it was better than the Galra mark that had been there before.

“I like it,” Red said.

“Thanks. I like it too,” Lance replied.

He quickly took out his phone to snap a pic, and Red glanced at him. “That for your instagram?” Lance nodded, and Red nodded back in understanding. Once Lance had packed up his things into his duffel bag, Red was already walking towards the bike.

“Where to now?” Red asked, unhooking the bungee cord he had used to secure his helmet to the back of his bike.

“Well the night is still young, so how about we go find ano-” Lance was cut off by a voice yelling from across the street.

“HOLY SHIT IS THAT BLUE?!”

Lance whirled around to see who had recognized him, and in the same second Red had leapt off his bike and was now standing in front of Lance protectively. Lance, who was taller than Red, was able to look over his shoulder to see who had found them.

To his surprise, it wasn’t the Galra, but instead a group of teenagers that were running towards them. As they got closer, Lance recognized them as kids in his grade at school.

“Red, chill, they’re just kids,” he said, tapping the other’s shoulder to let him know it was okay. Red glanced at Lance, seeming wary, but Lance shook his head. “Dude, I recognize them. They’re not Galra.” That seemed to get Red to relax, as he stepped out of the way just as the teens came barreling towards them.

“You- you’re Blue, right?” The girl at the front, who Lance recognized as Nadia from his science class, asked as she took a moment to catch her breath.

Lance nodded. “Yup, that’s me,” he said, smirking even though the teens couldn’t see his face beneath the bandana.

One of the two boys in the group rolled his eyes. Lance recognized him as James. “C’mon Rizavi, we can’t know for sure if this is him or not. It could be a guy posing as him!” James was the kind of kid who called all his friends by their last names because he thought it made him look cool. In all honesty, it just made him seem more like a wannabe drill sergeant more than anything else.

Lance had to hold himself back from rolling his eyes. “I mean, I literally just finished covering up the Galra mark on the side of the library,” he said, pointing to the mural. “The paint is still wet if you don’t believe me.”

James narrowed his eyes and peered over Lance’s shoulder to see if he was telling the truth. After a second, his eyes widened and Lance had to hold back an ‘I told you so’.

“Statistically speaking, the odds of us running into Blue without looking for him were extremely low, though I suppose if we wanted to we could’ve just hung around by the newest Galra marks and upped the probability. But we didn’t have to do that because here he is right in front of us!” The other girl, Ina, said to her group.

“Thanks for the analysis, Leifsdottir,” James said in a tone that Lance couldn’t distinguish between sarcastic and genuine.

“It’s nice to meet you, Blue,” the guy at the back of the group, Ryan, said. As far as Lance knew, Ryan didn’t speak much, but from the few times he did Lance could tell he was a nice guy.

“Nice to meet you guys too,” Lance said, hoping they wouldn’t recognize him based on his voice. He doubted they would, but it would still be awkward if they did.

Nadia held her hand out and Lance took it, and she shook it so eagerly he thought his arm was going to fall off. “It is so awesome to meet you dude holy shit! I’ve been following your stuff since the first mural! I think what you’re doing is hella cool!” She said before letting go of his hand and turning to Red. “Who are you?”

Lance slung an arm around Red’s shoulder. “This is my bodyguard, Red,” he introduced.

“Whoa you have a bodyguard? I didn’t know that!” Nadia exclaimed, reaching out a hand for Red to shake. Hesitantly he took it, and seemed just as taken aback by Nadia’s strong grip as Lance had been.

“Yup,” Lance said, popping the ‘p’. “We just teamed up a few days ago. He saved me from a hairy situation with the Galra and offered to stick with me so here we are.”

“Is that your bike?” Ryan asked, pointing to the motorcycle.

Red nodded. “Yeah, it is.”

Ryan nodded in what seemed to be appreciation. James seemed to be trying to keep an impassive face, but Lance could tell he was impressed.

“Hey, uh, sorry if this is annoying but could I get a picture with you?” Nadia asked, holding her phone in her hand. “You don’t have to take your bandana off or anything. I’ll just tag your instagram account.”

In his ear, for the first time since he’d left Sal’s, he heard Pidge speak to him. “Lance, this probably isn’t a good idea. You don’t want people being able to recognize you in the streets-”

“Yeah, sure thing!” Lance said, cutting Pidge off. Sure, it might not have been the smartest idea, but he was like a celebrity now. Of course he was going to take a picture with Nadia. “Do you want a selfie or do you want someone else to take the pic?”

“Can we do both?”

“Hell yeah we can!” Nadia grinned wildly at that while James and Red both sighed.

Lance slid up beside her as she held her phone out, and did a peace sign as she took a selfie of the two of them. “Would you mind if we took the photo by your newest painting?” Lance nodded and the whole group walked over to the mural. Ina, Ryan, James, all looked uncertain for a moment before deciding they wanted to be in the photo too, and Nadia handed the phone to Red before running to take her own place right next to Lance.

Red sighed, accepting his fate as the cameraman with little argument. For the photo, the tallest of the group, Ryan, stood at the back, with James on Lance’s right, Nadia on Lance’s left, and Ina sitting down in the front. Red counted down on his fingers, and then proceeded to take a few photos before holding the phone up to signal he was done. The group dispersed as Nadia rushed over to check the photos.

“Oh my god these turned out great!” Nadia said, fist pumping the air. “Thank you so much, Blue. You’re really an awesome dude.” They all exchanged goodbyes, the kids going back across the street to where they’d been before.

James however, held back for a moment, and Lance looked at him curiously.

“Um, look Blue,” James started, leaning in close to him so he could hear his low tone. “Seriously, you’re really a cool guy for doing this. It takes some serious balls and it’s long overdue. So, um, what I’m trying to say is,” he paused and scratched the back of his neck, clearly uncomfortable. “Thank you.”

Lance stared at James with wide eyes, not expecting such a heartfelt sentiment coming from someone he had deemed ‘sort of an asshole’. He was about to respond when Nadia called across the street.

“GRIFFIN! WHAT ARE YOU DOING? GET YOUR ASS OVER HERE WE GOTTA GET TO THE STORE BEFORE IT CLOSES!”

James looked up and gave a quick salute as a goodbye to Lance, before rushing off to join the rest of his friends.

Now alone with Red once more, Lance turned to face his guard. “That was fun, wasn’t it?”

Red rolled his eyes. “That was kind of stupid of you, Blue. Those teens could’ve been involved with the Galra for all we knew.”

Lance scoffed. “I told you, I recognized them. They’re good kids, alright? They hate the Galra just as much as the rest of us do.”

Red seemed frustrated. “It’s just that you can’t expect me to protect you when you don’t let me do my job as your guard.”

“Yeah Lance, I double what he said,” Pidge added ever so unhelpfully into his ear.

“Hey. You. Stay out of this,” Lance hissed.

Red raised an eyebrow. “Um, what?”

Lance sighed. He had to explain this to him now. “Remember how I told you a friend of mine is tracking me at all times?” Red nodded. “I also have an earpiece in so she can talk to me and give me getaway routes if need be. She heard what went down and was just adding her own commentary to the situation.”

“Which was?”

“She was agreeing with you about the whole getting recognized situation that just went down,” Lance grumbled.

Red snorted at that. “Glad to know your tech person has more common sense than you do.”

“Hey!” Lance protested as Pidge laughed in his ear.

“You gotta admit, he has a point,” Pidge said in a light tone. “Oh, and while we’re on the subject, tell Red he can call me Green, and that if he needs GPS routes during a getaway or something to just shout for me and I’ll give you directions.”

Lance relayed the message, and Red nodded. “Thanks Green, I’ll let you know.”

“Why Green?” Lance then asked Pidge.

Lance didn’t even have to see his friend to know she shrugged. “I dunno. You guys have a color theme going on and my favorite color is green so I figured it fit.”

“Fair enough,” Lance admitted.

“Also you have an on-demand essay in your English class tomorrow, so you should come back now,” Pidge added.

Lance groaned. “Oh c’mon! You’re not my mom!”

“Yeah, but you always have a hard time with Rudan’s essays, and you’re already going to be exhausted as it is. You can go out again tomorrow night or something, just come on back.”

“Fine,” Lance relented. “Red, we gotta head back. I have something I need to get a lot of sleep for tomorrow.”

Red shrugged. “Fine by me,” he said, pulling his motorcycle helmet on and tossing the other one to Lance. “Back to Sal’s?” He asked as Lance wrapped his arms around his waist once more.

“Yup,” Lance confirmed.

This time, the kick as they pulled onto the street didn’t startle Lance as much. But as Red sped up, Lance still had a hard time keeping himself from yelping with every twist and turn along the windy roads.

But now he wasn’t as afraid. Who knows? Maybe with time he’d even start to enjoy it.