Lance fell back on his bed with an exhausted sigh. It had been a rough week. Granted, the days before and after the anniversary usually were, and this time around was no exception.
It wasn't just emotionally taxing, although there was a fair bit of that. As much as he enjoyed reuniting with his fellow paladins, Shiro, and Coran, it always weighed heavily on him that Allura was no longer with them. He knew they all missed her, but it was different for him. He had shared a bond with Allura that none of the others could touch. And it hurt. Even five years after she left them, it still hurt so much.
He looked up at the darkened ceiling of his room for a second before closing his eyes. It wasn't just the emotional pain, though. It was also physical exhaustion. It had never occurred to him back when the lions were still around that travel, in space or otherwise, could be so tiring. Now he knew. The flight to Altea wasn't particularly bad now that Sam had perfected the teludav a few years back, and Lance was always glad to get the chance to fly— Pidge was always nice enough to cede him the pilot seat when they traveled together for their annual reunion dinner so she could go tinker with something or other. But the trip from his family's farm to Arizona via a mix of commercial airfare and public transportation was grueling, and Lance missed how comfortable long distances had been when traveling in the castleship, or even by lion.
And then when he came back home after the reunion, he immediately got roped into farm business. Just that morning he'd had to go into the city with Pop-pop to talk to their partner corporations about profit-margin readjustments on their produce. Lance wasn't terribly well-versed in the business side of things, but his charm and a carefully-placed mention or two of his status as a former paladin of Voltron often helped the negotiations along nicely.
Plus, it allowed him some time away from his mother and siblings. He loved them all, he really did, but an unfortunate side effect of the anniversary was that his family invariably started harassing him about going out and meeting new people and moving on, and he just really didn't want to deal with all of that this year. His Pop-pop at least could respect his wishes not to talk about it, so the trip was much less stressful than it would've been with Marco or Rachel.
And there was the fact that Pop-pop didn't mind Lance ducking out for a couple of hours to get in some target practice at a nearby shooting range. He could practice his swordsmanship with the broadsword Coran had commisioned for him whenever he visited Altea or with unsharpened imitation models when he showed off for the kids he spoke to during his speaking tours (it made him look super cool!), but he got precious few opportunities to practice his shooting, so he was going to take any chance he got. There wasn't much need for sharpshooting these days, but he didn't want his skills to dull. Not to mention it was an activity that required sharp focus and concentration, which his mind away from thinking about... other, more painful things.
All in all, the flurry of activity had left him drained, fatigue drilling all the way down into his bones. He'd meant to go to bed early, but for a long while he couldn't sleep, so it was a surprise when he opened his eyes abruptly and realized that he had dozed off for a few hours without really noticing. It was still dark, but he couldn't see the moon from his bedroom window anymore, which told him it was maybe around 2 a.m.
Almost of their own volition, his eyes fell on the field of juniberry flowers they'd planted a few years ago— his mother had none-too-subtly made sure he could see them from his window back when they were parceling the fields. He'd spent a few hours out there earlier in the week, wanting to pick the prettiest blossoms so he could take them with him to Altea, regardless of Pidge's and Colleen's complaints about cross-pollination or whatnot. He knew there were juniberries all over the place in Altea, but the fact that these ones were bred on Earth made them feel like a tangible representation of the love he and Allura had shared. It gave them an extra layer of significance when he laid them at the feet of her statue, right beside the plaque that read: "Savior of the Universe. Heart of Voltron. Inspiration to all."
He must've still been a bit sleepy because it took him a couple minutes to realize that he shouldn't have been able to see the juniberries outside his window at all at two in the morning.
There was a glow illuminating his room and the terrain directly outside, a blue glow that felt strangely familiar. The first thought that crossed his mind was that of the Blue Lion— even after the cosmic mechs left Altea to find new locations to lie in wait for the next generation of paladins, Lance couldn't help but keep an eye out for Blue whenever he was in his home planet. He'd always gotten the feeling that Blue liked Earth; lots of water, lots of ice, and lots of remote locations where its hibernation would hopefully not be disturbed by a bunch of annoying teenagers looking for adventure.
But it wasn't Blue. It became clear fairly quickly that the glow wasn't coming from the outside— it was coming from inside the room. From him, to be more specific. The markings on his cheeks were glowing softly, warmly, bathing his room and everything directly outside it in an otherworldly radiance.
As soon as the realization hit, Lance started to feel a pull inside him, a tug right in the middle of his chest, similar to the connection he used to feel with his lion— both Blue and Red— back when he was a paladin. Like they were connected always, except there wasn't anything, at least as far as he could tell, on the other side of this particular connection.
Knowing from experience that a feeling like this shouldn't be ignored, he followed the pull, which led him to get up off his bed and tiptoe out of the room, careful not to wake any of his family. He wasn't exactly sure where he was going, he just really felt like he needed to be outside right at this moment. It took a little sneaking around, but he was not really surprised when he eventually found himself right in the middle of the field of juniberries. If anyone had been in his room they would've been able to see him, or at least his glowing face markings, clear through the window.
He knelt down, reaching out for the closest juniberry blossom and caressing one of its petals between his fingers. Its texture was as soft as Allura's skin had been, and Lance liked to remind himself of that often in an attempt to avoid forgetting all the little details he had loved about her. He would never forget Allura or how he felt about her, but sometimes the little things like the feel of her hair between his fingers, the way she smelled, or the curve of her lips when she tried to hide a smile felt like they were slowly slipping away from him.
He closed his eyes for a minute before lifting his head and looking up at the stars. Would he remember her more clearly if he spent more time out there in space? It didn't feel that way during his speaking tours or his visits to Altea— at least no different than it did when he was down here on Earth— but tonight he had the strangest feeling that looking to the stars was what he needed to do to be closer to her.
And that's when he saw it.
It looked like a star— due south and brighter than any other celestial body in the sky, even more than Sirius— but it wasn't a star that Lance could recognize from his astronavigation classes at the Garrison. Hell, it was a star he couldn't recognize from his own experience out there in space, and certainly not from looking up at the skies from his house in the last few years. And it seemed to be growing larger, brighter the more he looked at it, like it was coming closer and closer by the second. Meteorite? Ship?
It took over a minute of looking at the continuously growing light for him to realize what it was. "Hey there, girl. Long time no see," he whispered to himself with a smile as the Blue Lion landed in the pasture right beside the juniberry field, sending cows and chickens scampering off in fear. The markings on his cheeks were still glowing, now even warmer than before, and he felt like he was wrapped in a cocoon of familiarity and love.
Lance didn't have much time to bask in the feeling, however, as without so much as a sound, Blue lowered its head closer to the ground and opened its mouth. Something fell from its snout; an ovoid-shaped mechanical structure Lance thought might be an evacuation pod for a larger ship. It fell to the ground with a loud thud, and it was lucky that Lance had already been running toward it on pure instinct, because on impact the main hatch slid open and something from within fell out, limbs sprawled wide like those of a rag doll in free fall, almost from head height.
He hurried over and slid on his knees over the grass; that was going to hurt like a bitch in a day or so, but it was worth it because he just barely managed to catch the occupant on the pod right on his lap. Whoever the person or creature was, they were dead weight in his arms. Limp and completely unresponsive. Fearing they might be in need of some kind of medical attention, he turned the person over so he could see their face, if they had one. And then he froze.
It was her. Her dress was slightly different than he remembered— not to mention a little torn at the lower hem of her skirts— and her pearly hair was pulled back into a long braid down her back instead of mostly loose as she usually had it when she dressed in formalwear, but there was no doubt. It was her. Looking like not one day had gone by since the last time he saw her.
"A-allura...?" he whispered roughly through a suddenly parched throat. How was this possible? How could she be alive? How was she here? He'd— he'd said goodbye to her, he'd grieved for her... Was he hallucinating? Was this a dream?
It didn't feel like a dream. She was there, beautiful and solid and right there in his arms, and it felt as real as anything Lance had ever experienced. It was the kind of situation where his seventeen-year-old self would probably have done something stupid like try and wake her up with a kiss like in Sleeping Beauty, but his twenty-three-year-old self could only gaze at her in wonder, entranced by the delicate, regal lines of her face, identical to the ones that had blessed his dreams for the last five years.
Not that his current self was any smarter, really; all thoughts of her possibly requiring medical attention had fled his mind the second he saw her face. Thankfully for her immediate health, though, his mental slip went without consequences as his voice seemed to rouse her from (a most likely induced) unconsciousness. "Wha...?" she tried to speak after taking a deep breath. "Where am I?" She then tried to turn her head so she could look around until her gaze finally focused on his face directly above hers. "Who are you?"
The question made his brows knit together. Did she really not remember him? Had something happened to her? He lightly pushed her hair away from her forehead, looking for any visible bumps or bruises. Maybe she had an untreated concussion and that's why her memory was spotty... "Allura," he started, trying not to let too much of his confusion seep into his tone. He didn't want to scare her or anything. "It's me. Lance. Are you okay? Did you maybe hit your head? Can you remember?"
Her eyes glazed over for a second as if she was trying to associate the name with some past experience and failing. "I don't..." Then she looked in his direction again and all of a sudden let out a loud gasp, pushing herself up until she was sitting instead of just lying back in his arms. "Your ears!" she blurted out, her eyes wide as she fixated on the seemingly curious-looking protrusions on each side of his head.
"Wha...?" Lance mutters in surprise, taken aback by the unexpected movement and the sharp turn of the conversation.
"They're hideous!" she adds before he can ask anything else, reaching out with both hands to experimentally tug at his ears as if to try and figure them out.
The exclamation was so familiar that he couldn't help but leave the worry to the side for a moment. "Yeah, I've... I've heard that one before," he replied with a chuckle, looking down at her warmly. He was enthralled by her prismatic eyes as he let her scrutinize him, her irises reflecting the glow from his face markings, which were still shining. He didn't know if she was real or if he was just having a really, really vivid dream, but if he was, he didn't want to wake up. He found himself holding tears at bay. He didn't want to look away from her for a second.
He wasn't sure what she saw in his expression, or what she heard in his words, but after meeting his gaze for a heartbeat she gasped again. "I'm so sorry!" she said, pulling her hands back from his ears abruptly. "That was rude of me. I just..." Her brows drew together in confusion. "What happened to the tips?" she asked curiously. "Did... did someone hurt you?"
It took him a few seconds to understand that she thought someone might have cut off the tips of his ears— she thought he was Altean. "No, no," he shook his head, smiling at her in slight amusement as soon as the realization hit. "I'm not Altean. I'm from Earth. This is... this is Earth," he clarified, gesturing around them with a nod of his head.
Her confusion did not abate. "But... your markings..."
"Yes, uh..." He ducked his gaze for the first time since he first laid eyes on her. He wasn't sure what to tell her— if she truly didn't remember him, didn't remember everything they'd been through in the years they spent saving the universe from the Galra, then the story of his markings was going to be a long, long story. And he didn't know enough about memory loss to judge if just outright telling her everything was a good idea. It might make things worse. He didn't want to overwhelm her. "I knew someone from Altea once," is what he settled on, giving her a soft smile as he met her inquisitive gaze again. "She... she gave me these markings."
He knew the exact moment when some sort of understanding dawned on her because her expression relaxed and the sharp edges of her curiosity softened. "She must have loved you a lot," she whispered, a hand lifting almost unbidden toward him again, cupping his cheek so that her thumb oh-so-slightly caressed the corner of his glowing mark.
He couldn't help but lean into the touch, closing his eyes for a heartbeat as he murmured, "Yeah... I like to think she did," against the heel of her palm. He could feel the tears prickling at the corners of his eyes, his heart threatening to beat right out of his chest. He'd missed this so much. She felt just as he remembered, and he wished he could stay in this moment forever.
He knew he couldn't, however. "Allura," he started, pulling her hand away from his face carefully. He saw her blink dazedly, almost like she hadn't realized she was still touching him, and then look down at their joined hands in her lap. He had to get down to business, but he wasn't willing to let go of her completely just yet. "I need to make sure that you're not hurt," he insisted, prompting her to look up at him again. "What's the last thing you remember?"
She still seemed a little bit dazed as she attempted to answer his question. "I was..." she started in a breathless mumble, "I was home." Altea, Lance thought, trying to piece it together from his own memories of those last few hours. "We were entertaining royal guests," Allura continued a little hesitantly, and that's when she started losing him. Who was "we" in this equation? The paladins? Then again, if she didn't remember him, maybe this memory went further back than he could corroborate.
She grimaced heavily like she was physically struggling to produce the required memories. "Then... then a giant robot appeared out of nowhere and everything around us started disintegrating," she added, her tone starting to get somewhat agitated, and Lance felt a cold pit start to settle at the bottom of his stomach. That did sound familiar... "Everything. The people, the castle, even the sky," Allura described intensely, her perturbed frown deepening by the second.
The more she spoke, the more Lance began to understand what was really happening. "It was like the entire universe was just... disappearing," she continued, her voice trembling toward the end of the sentence. Her breath started coming out in pants, and Lance itched to pull her into his arms to try and calm her fears. "And then Father sent me and Mother—" She cut herself off abruptly with a horrified gasp. "My mother!"
It was that last cry that really made the pieces fall back into place for Lance... but he couldn't bring it up, nor could Allura say anything else, because that was the moment when Blue decided to make her exit. Once again the lion didn't make a sound, but the downwash as she lifted off was strong enough to shake nearby trees and structures quite noisily; the air current was so harsh it forced Lance's eyes closed and pulled several strands of long silvery hair out of Allura's braid. He instinctively pulled her toward him so she (or both of them, really) wouldn't end up blown over by the rush of air.
When he was finally able to open his eyes again, he looked up at the sky and followed the bright dot that was the Blue Lion until it disappeared into the darkness of the night. He felt a little sad; he had a feeling that was going to be the last he saw of his former lion, and he'd be lying if he said it didn't make him melancholy.
"Was that your ship?" Allura's voice prompted him to look at her again. "Can you call it back? I need to find my mother." He still had his arms around her, but she didn't seem to mind. She had her fist wrapped around a handful of the cotton fabric of the T-shirt he was wearing to sleep in, although the gesture was clearly more one of anxiety rather than affection, as she was practically begging for his help. "She was in an escape pod just like I was— she could still be out there somewhere. I have to find her!"
"Hey, hey, it's okay. We'll find her," Lance hurried to reassure her, giving her upper arms a quick squeeze in an attempt to offer her some kind of comfort, but even then, he couldn't help but felt a twinge of sadness at her words. Her assertion about her mother being placed in an escape pod only confirmed the conclusion he'd reached before: this was not his Allura.
This was a version of Allura from a different reality— likely that last one they visited, where they found Honerva and fought her, if her comment about a giant robot referred to Voltron. Her escape pod must've managed to make it into the rift and onto this reality before Honerva destroyed it, so that when his Allura sacrificed herself to restore the multiverse, this Allura was restored as part of this universe. It wouldn't even be the first case; it was one of Pidge's hypotheses as to how Altea "came back" after the war ended, and when it came to science-y stuff, Lance was quite content to take Pidge's word for it.
There was a bittersweetness there. As mindblowing as it was to have Allura back with him, in his arms like this after having been certain over the last five years that he would never see her again, the knowledge that this wasn't the same Allura he'd fallen in love with, the same Allura he'd shared so many experiences with, dulled the happiness just a tiny bit. But that wasn't her fault; regardless of whether or not she had the memories of their time together, Allura was still Allura, and right now, Allura needed his help.
So even if the circumstances weren't entirely ideal, there was no telling his heart to settle down. He loved her— after all this time he was pretty sure he would always love her— and he was going to be there for her as long as she wanted him to be. Even if she never loved him back (and he wasn't going to push her to return his affection in any way), that was okay. He would always be her friend if that's what she needed. Just having her back in his life in any capacity was more than enough. The universe had just never felt right without Allura in it, and now he was getting a second chance.
"I'm sure your mother's pod can be tracked somehow. I know someone who might be able to help," he told her when he realized she was waiting expectantly for him to elaborate. He figured Pidge might have some input; if all else failed, Coran might be able to give them some ideas.
She nodded, looking relieved for a moment. It was short-lived, as she still had plenty other things to be worried about. "And Altea?" she asked, obviously concerned. "Is everyone in Altea all right? And King Alfor?" She took a deep breath and held it for a second, as if afraid to ask the question. "Is he...?"
Lance swallowed hard. Of all the things he'd ever dreamed he'd tell Allura if he ever got the chance to see her again, this was positively, definitely not on the list. "Altea is okay," he started with the easiest part. "It might be... a little different than you remember," he added, which was an understatement if he'd ever heard one, but he couldn't exactly give her all the details of Altea's new representative government right off the bat.
"Planet's still there, though, and doing great. As for King Alfor..." He sighed, steeling himself to be the bearer of bad news. "I don't know what happened to him." It wasn't technically a false statement— he didn't know if Alfor survived in Allura's original dimension— but it wasn't exactly the truth, either. "He's not in Altea, though, or anywhere else that we know of," he revealed. "I'm so sorry."
Predictably, her expression fell upon the realization that her father was most likely dead. Tears started falling from her kaleidoscope eyes, and Lance's heart broke for her. Even having made it all the way from an alternate reality, Allura simply couldn't catch a break. It just wasn't fair. He wished he could take all her pain away and take it onto himself, but he knew that wasn't possible.
Still, if there was one quality Lance was certain was at the center of the essence of who Allura was, regardless of which reality she was born in, it was resilience. "I see," she said, wiping her tears with the back of her hand. Then she steeled her jaw and looked straight at him, determined. "I have to find my mother."
Lance was already making plans in his head. Because yes, as much as he'd been complaining about the inconvenience of travel, intergalactic or otherwise, these were exigent circumstances. He wouldn't even complain about having to travel all the way back to Altea if he had to. Allura would probably like to go back there, anyway; even if it wasn't quite the same planet she'd been sent away from on that fateful day, it was still her home. "I'll help you find her. I promise."
And he meant that with all his heart. No matter what she decided to do, where she decided to go, Lance would do everything he could to help her find her mother. His Allura had lost her entire family before she even met him; if there was any opportunity that this Allura could have a family of her own flesh and blood to support her in this reality, he would move heaven and earth to give her that opportunity. This wasn't just a possible second chance for him— it was a second chance for her, a chance for her to finally have all the happiness she deserved. And he'd meant it, too, all those years ago when he told her he would follow her across the universe.
"You would do that for me?" she asked, sounding surprised.
I would do anything for you, he wanted to say, but of course he couldn't. So instead he shrugged slightly and said, "It's no problem. My friend will be glad to help. But we'll call her in the morning, okay? It's late and this whole thing has probably been really tough for you. You should rest." He moved to stand up— trying not to wince as his knees quickly protested the movement— when he noticed she was staring at him with a puzzled expression. "What?" he asked, half defensive and half amused. Did he have something on his face or...?
Her eyes narrowed ever-so-slightly, and a long strand of loose silver hair swung in front of her face when she cocked her head to the side. "Have we met before?" she asked, and Lance's heart nearly stopped for a moment there. Was she remembering something? Could she remember something? "It's just... you knew my name, and..." Of course. Most likely she was just curious because he was being so familiar with her. Of course she would wonder about that.
There would come a time when she'd have to learn that she was in a different reality than her own; when he'd have to tell her about the Allura he'd loved, the Allura he'd fought with, the Allura who had sacrificed herself to save the universe. It was inevitable. But that time was not tonight. "Not exactly, Princess," he replied with a knowing smile, barely hinting that it was her title which made her well-known in this corner of the universe (which was not entirely untrue, although it was just one small factor) while trying not to say too much.
And then he kept speaking because, well, so much for maturity. "And I just want to help, you know. A mystical mechanical lion did just drop you off right in the middle of my farm, after all, and I mean, hey, it's not every day that a beautiful woman falls out of a pod straight into my arms, right?" He grinned at his own joke and then cringed, sure that he was about to find himself in a restraining hold just because he was unable to stop himself from putting his foot in his mouth.
To his surprise, Allura didn't seem offended by his silly (and, unbeknownst to her, recycled) quip, nor did she seem annoyed by it. Instead, she was smiling at him, looking even a little amused. "Thank you... Lance," she said, remembering his name even though he had only mentioned it once. Lance had to fight really hard not to actually pat himself in the back for actually managing to make her feel even a tiny bit better.
"It's my pleasure... Allura," he replied, his mouth stumbling on the syllables that made up her name like he still couldn't wrap his mind around the fact that she was back. He probably never would. He hoped he would always feel this utter sense of wonder whenever his gaze fell on her beautiful profile.
Shaking himself out of his daydream, he grinned at her again and pushed himself up to his feet despite the stinging in his knees. "Come on, let's go inside. You can stay in our guest room, get some rest before we get to work tomorrow." He offered her his hand to help her up, which she took with only a second's hesitation.
"Are you sure this is okay?" Allura asked tentatively as she let him pull her up to a standing position. "I wouldn't want to impose..."
He waved off her concerns with a gesture of his hand. "Nah, don't worry about it. I've got a big family, so there's plenty of space." As she carefully patted down her slightly torn dress skirt to clear out any grass stains, Lance sneaked a glance over his shoulder and caught sight of his entire family sans Veronica— including even the kids— standing at the entrance to the main house. He didn't know if it was the sound of the escape pod falling to the ground or the Blue Lion taking off that had roused them all from their sleep, but they were up now, and looking at the two of them with expressions varying from earnest amazement to slackjawed stupefaction. His mother was already crying.
He hurriedly waved at them to go away. The last thing Allura needed was to have more people gawking at her like she was some kind of apparition— Lance had done enough of that for one night. He saw them scamper off into the house and was glad for it... at least until it hit him that they were probably going to be waiting to ambush him for information in the kitchen. Regardless, he quickly turned back to Allura, who was now pressing a hand to her forehead as if in pain. "Are you okay? Do you think you can walk?"
"I thought I could," she admitted somewhat sheepishly, giving him a shy little smile that Lance secretly thought was adorable, "but now that I'm standing up I must admit that my legs feel a bit like food goo..." Of course, if she had really been in that escape pod for the last five years, then her limbs being wobbly was hardly unexpected.
He laughed softly and moved a couple of steps closer to her. "Here. Let me help you," he offered, opening his arms to her while giving her enough space to refuse if she felt uncomfortable. To his delight she stretched out her arms toward him with little to no hesitation this time, and he positioned himself so that he could hold her up by her arms, stabilizing her as carefully as possible. He could barely remember feeling tired just a few hours ago; now, every cell in his body felt energized, and he was pretty sure he wouldn't be able to go back to sleep that night— not with Allura resting just a few doors down from his. No, his thoughts were going to be with her for the foreseeable future.
"Just lean on me, okay?" he said as they started making their way back to the house, doorway now thankfully empty of nosy relatives and the like. "We'll get there just fine," he promised. "We just have to take it slowly." She smiled at him gratefully, and once again he felt his heart soar.
Together, little by little, they crossed the few yards to the back door of Lance's home, the light of his still-glowing face markings guiding each step forward.