“Sometimes I lay under the moon and thank God I'm breathing. Then I pray don't take me soon, 'cause I am here for a reason.” -Matisyahu, from the song One Day
There are only some people Lance would proudly say are his friends.
Like the girl he got partnered up with in sixth grade for an important Science project. But the girl usually kept quiet during the time they were together. He remembered constantly trying to get her to open up, or at least speak, by the use of knock-knock jokes or some lame pick-up lines. But the girl would just give him weird looks and one-word answers that makes all his efforts go down the drain. He still considered her as an acquaintance, but he doesn't know if she feels the same.
Or maybe the other girl he met when he was a kid. He didn't much remember the memory clearly, but he did recall with crystal clarity (and embarrassment) how he was crying at a playground and a teenage girl with a blue ribbon walked up to him with a smile to cheer him up. He actually really liked that girl, as a friend of course, because she actually listened to him and his problems rather than telling him to suck it up and quit being a baby. Of course, like a cliché scene written by an author to keep his life interesting, the girl was nowhere to be found the next day. He searched for hours and hours, even asked around town, but no one even knew about this so-called girl he was talking about. Everyone thought he was a crazy kid searching for his imaginary friend which he made up because of his 'family problems.'
That was not pleasant.
He doesn't know whether to consider the people with him as 'friends.' Sure, they had a few laughs and quips, weird conversations and late-night talks, working together and helping one another, but he doesn't know if that's enough for a real friendship.
He doesn't know if Pidge shares the same interest in movies he likes, or if she even found movies interesting at all. She may be a techie expert and a mind-blowing genius, but that doesn't mean she secretly likes the movies Forever is Over or I See You the way he does.
He doesn't know Hunk's likes and dislikes, despite being best friends with the guy for a year. He only knew that Hunk was an engineer taught by his father, amazing at cooking and baking and everything else related to food, and is an amazing teddy bear who gives out hugs no one can escape.
(He remembered trying, once, but then decided that he liked the hug and just let Hunk do whatever he wants. Sometimes, Hunk hugs him because his family used to do that and he misses them. So, on random days, Lance would walk up to Hunk and give him a big hug to remind him that even though his family isn't here, he's here for him.)
But then again, Hunk and Lance were slowly drifting apart as he and Pidge slowly became closer. They never wanted to leave him out, but on times where they would talk about some gibberish he couldn't understand, he decided not to hang out with them altogether. They were still friends though, despite talking only on missions and when one of them would end up with him.
Allura and him are close, but not close enough to talk about their deepest secrets and fears. He knew the responsibility that weighs on her shoulders, and he doesn't want to add up on the pile by telling her how he feels like the seventh wheel even though he recently became the right-hand of Voltron. He flirts with her, yes, but she barely pays attention to what he says except when they're in grave danger or when they have doleful moments about missing the family they wish to see again.
His used-to-be-rival-and-now-leader. He wants to be closer with him. After facing difficult moments from when Shiro was missing, he thought that they would get closer, bond more deeper, or even talk to each other more, but no. Keith still has trouble interacting with them despite being the leader. Lance wanted to tell him that he shouldn't be afraid, he shouldn't be scared and run away from them. They were now a team, probably family, and family always had each other's backs.
But Keith and Lance still had a gap, a tension Lance so desperately wants gone. He wanted Keith to trust him not only as his right-hand, but at least as a friend or family. He knows that Keith and Shiro knew each other the longest, and that they have a connection no one could explain, but Lance wanted to be a part of that too. He just wanted to have conversations with Keith about life, favorite colors, or anything else that could bring them closer. But Keith wasn't ready, and that was okay. Lance could wait.
But for how long? How long is he going to wait like he did years ago? How long is he going to hide behind masks, fake smiles, and a horrible facsimile of laughter? How long is he going to pretend to be alright, to ignore everything that happened in his miserable life, and move on into this war, acquiesce it like he hasn't experienced it before?
He's been through hard times like nobody would expect he would. His selflessness was repaid by unfortunate event after unfortunate event, down from when he was a kid up to the point to where he was now. He struggled greatly, but he's not complaining. He doesn't evade it, he accepts his fate and goes through it the way he knows how.
Moving forward, now as the Red Lion's Paladin.
But take that away and what is he? A helpless, weak, young boy desperate for any innocence he lost when he was a kid. A kid who knew too much, too early. They may be Voltron, but take that away and they're just a bunch of ragtag teenagers finding their place in the vast universe.
Lance was the last one who came into the training room the next morning.
Nobody noticed anyways. Pidge and Hunk were chatting excitedly to one another about a project they were both working on. He thinks it's about reprogramming a sentry to play Thriller all while dancing along to the song, but he isn't sure. Allura and Coran were speaking (or arguing) in Altean, foreign words ringing in the air as they both tried to bring the other down with a topic that's lost to him. Shiro and Keith were talking, solemn expressions on their faces as their voices grew softer and softer, until the words they were speaking became a secret conversation heard only between the two of them.
Lance doesn't know where he fits in with all of this.
Amidst the fighting, Allura looked up and her gaze connected with him. A smile graced her face when she saw him. “Lance! I was wondering when you'd arrive!”
Her sudden speech made everyone stop what they're doing and turn their heads at him. He would've laughed if it wasn't so creepy how in tune the others turned their heads and stared at him with their eyes, varying in color and the sizes of their pupils. Lance ignored how Keith's amethyst-colored eyes brightened with curiosity (probably about why he was late), and relief. Was Lance imagining that? Keith couldn't possibly be relieved to see him, right? Lance shook away those thoughts and focused solely on Allura, conjuring up a smirk and his good old-fashioned finger guns. “Why? Did you miss me, princess?”
Pidge and Hunk rolled their eyes, muttering the words “Typical” or “Classic” under their breaths. Shiro shook his head and Keith huffed and crossed his arms, looking away from him in annoyance.
Good. Lance thought, it's better to let them think of me like this. They don't need to know about my past, they don't need to know who I was.
Allura ignored what he said and walked towards him with a bright look and a strange glint in her eyes, prompting Lance to tense up. Allura was about to tell him something, and he doesn't know if he'll like it.
“Lance.” She started, her smile widening and the excitement of what she was going to say seeping through her words and the way she said his name. “Keith and I had an idea. Since we have been caught up with quite a lot lately, we have decided to use our downtime with some bonding exercises!”
Lance held the urge to groan, not liking the idea at all. And yet, he forced a smile and replied kindly. “Really now?”
Keith stepped up and nodded, his arms still crossed but his face morphing into a neutral one as he made eye contact with him. “Yeah. After getting Shiro back and having Allura as a Paladin, we thought that we should catch up with some bonding that would help improve our bond and 'trust' in one another, as Shiro would like to say.” Keith rolled his eyes, murmuring underneath his breath. “Though we already have perfect teamwork and bond with each other.”
Shiro smacked Keith behind his head and spoke sagely, pretending he didn't hear Keith's squawk of indignation. “Though you all have excellent teamwork and a great bond, you guys never did open up to one another yet.”
Now it was Lance's turn to squawk. “What? But we do too open up to one another!”
Keith lets out a hum of agreement and rubs the back of his head. “Yes! Thank you Lance!”
Shiro groans and and directs a glare at Keith. “You know what I'm talking about. You five aren't just teenagers anymore, you're a team that makes up Voltron. And to be a team is to have faith in one another, know each other's strengths and weaknesses, and trust the secrets you keep with your teammates, despite the coincidences that brought you all here.”
Pidge raised a perfectly good eyebrow. “That sounds like it's straight from a movie.”
Hunk squints his eyes at Shiro, looking at him with suspicion leaking on his features. “It does sound oddly wise.”
Shiro clears his throat, a blush creeping up his neck as he continued on. “Okay, that's all. Allura, you have the floor now.” Everyone laughed, which made Shiro's blush grow deeper, but nevertheless, Allura clapped her hands and derived everyone's attention from Shiro to her. “Everyone! I need you all to sit in a circle to start our bonding exercise!”
Lance and the others followed suit and sat in the middle of the training room, Allura in the middle of Hunk and Keith, Pidge beside Hunk, and Lance next to Keith and Pidge. Lance shot Shiro a confused look, to which he waved off with a reassuring smile. “I'm not joining, sorry.” That wasn't the answer Lance was looking for, but he guess he'll just have to ask later.
Lance turned back his head to Allura, who started explaining what they were about to do. “I contemplated what to do for a couple of doboshes before I reached a conclusion that I liked.” Allura beckoned Coran with a nod of her head, and he brought out a set of the familiar mind-meld helmets they used long ago. “We will be using the mind-melds, but instead of individually focusing on one thing, we will one-by-one focus on a memory important to each of us and describe the memory however we want.”
That sounded like a good idea to everyone who hummed with excitement. Except for Lance, who was floundering and having an internal crisis in his head.
Okay, that was not okay. He barely kept his memories out from when they first used the mind-meld devices, and now he has to focus on a memory without thinking of anything else from his messed-up past? Uh, no. He absolutely could not do this.
He was about to speak out his disagreement, but everyone was already putting on the damn thing, letting the words die bitterly in his throat. Beside him, Pidge held out a mind-meld, a bit of mirth sparkling in her amber eyes. “Stop squandering around and put on the mind-meld, Lance.” She tilts her head at him, grinning in a way that teases him a peek of her pearly-white teeth. “Funny, I though you'd be excited to show your memories to us.”
He shrugs and takes the device from her hand, putting it on his head with agitation coursing through his bones. “Thanks Pidgey, but I'd rather hear more about you.” He leans towards her with a smirk and waggling eyebrows. “What tragic memories have you gone through to be where you are now, huh?”
Pidge laughed, pushing him away with a genuine smile (that he wanted to accomplish) on her lips. “Seriously, Lance? Your theory about heroes having tragic backstories is ridiculous.”
“She's got a point, buddy.” Hunk piped in. “Not all heroes come from sad and depressing backgrounds like you'd expect they would.”
“Oh come on! How about Allura, Shiro, and Keith?” Lance protested, pointing at the said people he mentioned. “Shiro had to go through a year in Galra captivity, and lost his arm in the process! Allura was asleep for ten thousand years and woke up with the heartbreaking news that her planet and people were destroyed by the alien her father once trusted, Keith lost his father, never knew his mother, dropped out of the Garrison because of the Kerberos mission, and after a year found Shiro but was sucked in a war against the race that imprisoned him. Even you, Pidge!” Lance poked her shoulder with a teasing jab. “You went to Garrison to find the answers they weren't giving you for the brother you're missing. And you're still looking for him like the brave hero you are.” He ends his speech with a smug smile.
He turned towards the shocked faces of Allura, Shiro, and Keith. “No offense to you guys, though.”
Hunk turned towards Pidge. “He's got a point, Pidge. Not all heroes come from happy and normal backgrounds like you'd expect they would.”
“Hunk!” Pidge cried out in betrayal. “Whose side are you on?!”
“I don't know! I'm neutral!”
“Can't we just start the damn exercise?” Keith groaned, running a hand down his face. “We're wasting time. Hunk, you start.”
So he did. Hunk's memories appeared holographically and Hunk jovially explained, in detail, how his mother and him would bake cookies simply for fun while talking about how their day was, how he and his father got closer by the love of engineering, and how he used to play with his niece and nephew before he enthusiastically cooks them a delicious meal they deserve after a tiring day. He got teary-eyed when his mind showed him a picture of him and his family, to which Pidge comforted him by placing her hand on his shoulder sympathetically.
The one who came in next was Pidge, surprisingly. After Hunk's brave start, she was determined to come in next. Memories of her and her brother came up and she started to full-on ramble, babble about the times they used to talk late at night, how they communicated with a code only the two of them knew, and how it was hard for her to move forward because of his disappearance. In the end, her mind showed her a picture of her brother (Matt, Pidge states at the beginning of her rambles) standing proudly with his Garrison uniform and posing in a blithely manner. It was a funny picture, but overall it had a heartwarming touch to it. Lance took a moment to stray his eyes from the picture to look at Pidge, who was staring at it with the most huge and hopeful eyes and a knowing smile that reminded him too much of someone. Too much of before.
“Come on Lance! Stop, please!”
Everyone froze at the new voice, slowly turning to the person whose name was said with it. Lance stilled at the familiar voice, his heart clenching painfully at the memories it brought back to him. He felt tears sting and burn his eyes, but his whole body felt cold. Cold with the pain he knew all too well, with the memories he could never forget, rendering him speechless as the scene that was playing in his mind played in a holographic screen in front of him, in front of them, of the past he hopelessly wants to keep locked away.
A girl, with flowing chestnut hair that brushed atop of her shoulders, eyes like a forest that he inevitably admired, appeared. Her face was scrunched up in worry, her eyes that were normally impassive were wide with concern, for him. For the person responsible of the flame burning out those eyes, the reason why her light was extinguished after burning ardently for so long. Him. Him.
Huge eyes, jaw wide, surprised tone. “You're Lance! McClain!”
Unabashed passion, daring smirk, teasing voice. “So, what'd you say Lance? Want to come with me?”
Grim face, closed-off look, serious words. “You promised.”
Tears streaming down, screams all around, face imploding with pain as she held her bleeding shoulder. “I-I can't fight anymore, Lance. I'm sorry.”
Every memory flashed through his eyes rapidly, hastily, the noises and voices they produced clamoring in his mind, obstreperous in a way that cannot be tuned out. The memories were incongruous with the voices, making the transitions dizzying and confusing and painful and vivid and–
“Lance!” He heard Keith call out, and he looked at him. He was looking back, holding the mind meld on his head with a bewildered look on his face and an array of emotions running through his eyes. “What's happening?!”
He examines everyone else, who seemed to be copying Keith's position of holding their mind-melds with protuberant eyes and panic-filled questions they ask astoundingly.
“What's happening? What's happening? What's–”
“Why is this happening?! What's wrong with the systems?! Allura–”
“Calm down! This has never happened before! Lance, what–”
He doesn't understand why they are freaking out, but then it struck to him like lightning bolting throughout the sky. The pain seared through his bones, his body, from the device that was showing him too much of his past. Too much of her.
He recalls screaming, shouting for the pain to stop, to end already but it doesn't listen to him. It doesn't listen and it just burns his head, his flesh, everything until he feels a sharp tug traversing his mind.
Then he knew nothing anymore.
The pain stops, but it was replaced with dark spots covering up most of his vision, enticing him to unconsciousness. Lance considered that he'd give in to the darkness, in return for it mitigating everything else related to the guilt he kept deep inside for so long. He let the black consume him, conceal him and his thoughts away into the oblivion he welcomed with open arms.