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when the world's about to fall, i got your back

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Shiro hissed for the third time in as many minutes and tried to discreetly rub his shoulder, at the area where the metal of his clone’s arm met skin.

‘Tried’ was the key word, because Lance was pretty sure he would have noticed even if he wasn’t the team’s sniper and thus obligated to pay attention to his surroundings at all times. He frowned and tentatively shuffled closer to Shiro. “Hey, are you okay?”

“I’m fine,” Shiro growled, his tone as piercing as the icicles hanging in the cave in which they were currently taking shelter.

Lance flinched and ducked his head, hugging his knees to his chest. “Sorry,” he whispered.

I’m sorry for not listening to you, for not realizing that something was wrong until it was too late, for not being a good enough right hand man.

Lance glanced out the mouth of the cave and mentally urged their friends to find them faster.

He had been skeptical when Hunk had insisted they stop at this ice planet for food. He had no idea what Hunk had expected to find here but he was happy for the chance to stretch his legs.

What he hadn’t been happy about was when Keith split them up to scavenge for supplies and paired him up with Shiro.

“I really don’t think putting me with Shiro is a good idea,” Lance had hissed to Keith in private while everyone else was getting their gear together.

He glanced over his shoulder to where Shiro was chatting with Allura and caught the older man looking away at the same time, like he had been watching Lance as well. If he hadn’t spent the better part of the last few years (first at the Garrison and then in outer space) cataloguing Shiro’s every tic like the hopelessly lovelorn fanboy that he was, he might not have noticed the way the older man was clenching his jaw.

Something heavy fell to the pit of Lance’s stomach.

Keith had raised an eyebrow at him. “Why not? Your long-range style will work best with Shiro’s close combat skills if you run into any trouble,” he said, sounding genuinely confused.

Lance loved Keith like a brother—albeit a very annoying one—but sometimes, he couldn’t believe that the other boy managed to survive eighteen years (or was it twenty now?) with the social skills of a cactus. “That’s not—look, just put me with Allura or Romelle or even with you, if that’s what you’re concerned about.”

Keith narrowed his eyes. “What’s wrong with Shiro?” he asked slowly.

Nothing, except he’s barely looked me in the eye since Allura brought him back to life, so that means he probably hates my guts now after the way I failed him as a teammate and friend, Lance remembered thinking bitterly then.

That didn’t mean it wasn’t the truth, though.

“I just...think it’ll be awkward, given...everything,” he had replied lamely.

Something that may have been understanding flashed in Keith’s eyes but all he had said was, “You’ll be fine. Just keep your comms on and let us know if you run into any trouble, okay?”

Lance really shouldn’t have been surprised when, as was par for the course for the last several months, they did end up running into trouble in the form of a freak snowstorm that forced him and Shiro to take shelter. He had only been able to send their coordinates to Pidge and Keith just before their comms got disconnected, so there was no telling how long they were going to be stuck here. It didn’t look like the storm was going to be letting up any time soon, either.

It was like something out of either Lance’s fantasies or worst nightmare. So far, the situation seemed to be leaning towards the latter.

Lance heard a ragged sigh and looked up to find Shiro gazing at him guiltily. “I’m sorry, Lance,” he said, sounding utterly exhausted and looking far older than he had any right to be. He rubbed his hand over his face. “The cold—it’s been giving my shoulder trouble but I shouldn’t have taken it out on you,” he said, words stilted.

Lance knew that it wasn’t the apology Shiro had trouble articulating, because he wasn’t the kind of person who would ever let pride get in the way of his relationships, but the admission of weakness.

Oh, you gorgeous, wonderful idiot. He shuffled closer to Shiro until he was kneeling right in front of him. “Is there anything I can do?” He hesitantly stretched his hand out.

Shiro flinched and Lance instantly reeled back, trying (but failing) not to feel too hurt about that. “N-No, I don’t want to trouble you,” said Shiro, sounding ashamed, of all things.

Other than the fact that Lance believed Shiro should never be ashamed of anything, the faint hint of self-loathing in his voice absolutely broke Lance’s heart. Yes, Lance knew he’d fucked up on the clone thing and Shiro deserved far better than him, but he’d be damned if he just sat back and did nothing while Shiro suffered.

Shiro hissed again, slapping his hand over his shoulder, and it further solidified Lance’s decision for him. “You’re hurting,” he said. “Let me help you.” When Shiro remained silent, Lance added, more quietly, “Please.”

Something in his voice must have gotten through the brick wall that was Shiro’s stubbornness (which Lance usually loved but now despaired of) because Shiro sighed and slumped against the wall. “Okay,” he said.

It took some awkward manoeuvering but they eventually got settled into a position that worked. Shiro sat in between Lance’s legs, back to chest, while Lance had his arms wrapped around the other man’s shoulders. Lance activated his suit’s external heating function and began to massage Shiro’s shoulder. It wasn’t much, he knew, but he had to try.

(He firmly ignored the fact that he had daydreamed about himself and Shiro being in this exact scenario for months, possibly even years.)

(Time and place, self, time and place.)

“I’m sorry I can’t do more for you,” Lance murmured.

Shiro turned his head and blinked at Lance, looking genuinely confused. “Lance, you’re already doing more than enough. What are you talking about?”

Lance floundered because—what? This was just the bare minimum! And worse, he was pretty sure Shiro would probably prefer Keith or literally anyone else instead of him right now. “W-Well, I mean, I should have realized that something was wrong when we were in the Voltron mindspace back on Olkarion,” he stammered. “Maybe...Maybe things would have turned out differently if I had figured it out earlier.”

Shiro twisted in his arms until they were face to face. “Is that what you really think?” he asked incredulously. When Lance averted his gaze instead of answering, his breath hitched—which, what? “Lance—no. There was nothing you could have done.”

Something about that statement broke the dam within Lance and he found himself spilling out all the fears he had been bottling up inside him for weeks. “But I was the one you called out to! I-I should’ve known that something was wrong! Heck, I did know because you—your clone even told me! It’s all my fault!”

Shiro raised his arm and squeezed Lance’s shoulder. “It wasn’t your fault,” he said quietly.

And the worst part was, he sounded so sincere, like he really meant it. “It’s okay, Shiro,” Lance sniffed. “You don’t have to pretend.”

Shiro noticeably stiffened in his grip. “Is that what you really think? That I blame you?”

Lance swallowed and tried to shrug Shiro’s hand off. The other man didn’t budge. “Well, it’s true, isn’t it?” he said. “You’ve barely said a word to me since you...came back. I’m not an idiot, I know what that means.”

Shiro, for some reason, looked absolutely gutted. “Lance, no—I don’t blame you at all and the fact that you think that—” He finally dropped his hand and a guilty expression spread across his face. “The truth is...I was scared.”

Lance blinked. That...did not make any sense. Shiro? Scared? Since when? “What?

Shiro exhaled shakily. “I was scared of facing you after coming back from the astral plane. The clone—I saw some of his memories, including the way he treated you…” he trailed off with a frustrated huff before continuing, “God, you must hate me now, don’t you?”

It was Lance’s turn to feel like he had been gutted like a fish. “Of course not! The clone wasn’t really you. And he apologized in the end,’s all good now,” he finished lamely.

Yes, Lance had been hurt when the person he thought was Shiro had dismissed him like he was an annoying little kid rather than the competent Paladin he thought—knew he was, but he still mourned the clone’s death.

Up until everything went FUBAR with Lotor, the clone was simply trying his best, much like the real Shiro.

(But Lance would be lying if he said he wasn’t happy that his their Shiro was back.)

“Still,” said Shiro, “He should never have yelled at you or ignored you like that.” He tried to subtly pull away from Lance’s arms but Lance stubbornly kept hold of him. “Lance?”

Lance silently reviewed their conversation.

The truth is...I was scared.

I was scared of facing you.

God, you must hate me now, don’t you?

“Hold on,” he said slowly. He pushed Shiro away until there was about a foot of space between them, though he didn’t let go of Shiro’s shoulders. “Did you think that I was angry at you for something your clone did?” he asked.

The way Shiro ducked his head was answer enough.

“Oh my god, Shiro, I don’t—I could never be angry with you.” Lance had to laugh as he finally realized what had happened.

All this time, he thought that Shiro was angry with him while Shiro thought the same about him. “Holy crow, we’ve both been idiots, haven’t we?”

Shiro’s lips quirked up into a grin as he seemed to come to the same conclusion. “I guess we have.”

Lance laughed again, because he just had to, and drew Shiro against his chest. It was undeniably awkward, as their clunky suits were in the way, but they made it work, somehow. Shiro wrapped his arm around him, chuckling. Even with their chest pieces acting as barriers between them, Lance could still feel the vibrations of his laughter.

“Okay, just so we’re on the same page,” said Lance, “neither of us are actually angry with each other...right?” Shiro nodded, his beautiful cloudy grey eyes bright and honest. “So we don’t have to ignore each other anymore, right?”

Shiro huffed out a laugh. “I don’t think I could ever ignore you, but yeah, we’re good.”

Lance felt like his heart had suddenly grown wings and was taking flight. “Good,” he said, satisfied.

They sat there for a few more minutes, neither letting go of the other, before Lance replayed Shiro’s words in his head. “Wait, what do you mean, ‘you could never ignore me’?”

Shiro shifted awkwardly, looking embarrassed. Wait, was that a blush—

As entertaining as it is to watch the two of you fumble with your feelings for each other, I should probably let you know that the storm’s been over for a while now,” Keith’s voice announced over their comms.

Lance whipped his head up to find Keith standing at the mouth of the cave and grinning down at them, his gaze noticeably lingering on where their arms were tangled around each other.

“K-Keith!” Shiro groaned, slapping his palm over his face.

Keith didn’t look apologetic in the least. “Come on, Hunk managed to find some things that look like they’ll last us a while.

It took some time for Lance and Shiro to untangle their limbs from each other but Keith thankfully didn’t comment on it.

But, as they left the cave, Lance couldn’t help sneaking a glance at Shiro to find that the other man was watching him, too. Even through his helmet, there was no denying the telltale rosy pink blush on his cheeks. But he didn’t look away.

I don’t think I could ever ignore you.

Lance felt the wings in his heart fly even higher.