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Born of the Stars

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The simulator controls fought Lance’s carefully controlled movements as she tried to pull them out of the steep dive towards the moon’s surface. They jerked in her grip and responded stiffly to the instruction. They always did, but today it felt more grating than normal. Irked her and rubbed her the wrong way until she felt raw and open.

She wished they would just put her in a real ship instead of insisting on the simulator so much. She knew how those worked. Knew how they flew and how they actually felt right in a way the simulator never did. They responded properly.

She’d practically grown up flying in-atmosphere ships, she knew every model and make like the back of her hand. Could fly almost all of them with ease. But the fucking simulator-

She could write an entire essay about how much she hated the damn thing. If she wrote essays that is.

The Garrison had allowed her to get in the ships before, though it took so much effort just to get that far. She still remembers Iverson’s face when Sabre had called him and demanded (cussed out more like) that she be put in a real plane immediately, damn her scores.

And now that she was fighter class they let her do it even more, though Iverson still bitched and moaned about how it didn’t mean anything and she still had to perform excellently in the simulators or be demoted. So here she sat, failing over and over again with Hunk in the back seat, nervous and vomiting from his terrible motion sickness, and Pidge, insubordinate and stubborn.

It was a goddamn mess and today couldn’t get any worse.

But she grinned and bore it until the end, confidence plastered on her face like a poorly applied charcoal mask. She felt like screaming but Francisca’s favorite words, ‘fake it ‘til you make it’ circled around her head. Fake your smile until it’s real. Fake your confidence until your brave. Fake your calm until your head is level.

The world is harsh and won’t wait for you to get yourself back together. It’s a lesson she learned early and refused to forget. So she sat and grinned and postured right up until the plane crashed into the planet, killing them all.

The trio exited the simulator like kicked puppies lined up outside for the slaughter as Iverson tore into them. He picked apart their individual flaws before moving on to degrade them as a team. Lance stood there with her head bowed, lips pressed into a thin line as he berated her leadership skills. As he dragged their teamwork through the mud.

“The Galaxy Garrison exists to turn young cadets like you into the next generation of elite astro explorers.” Iverson’s gravely baritone reprimanded them, something like disappointment and frustration in his voice. “But your arrogance and foolishness are leading you down a path of failure. If you don’t shape up quick, you’ll find yourself making the same mistakes that took the lives of the men on the Kerberos Mission."

Pidge stiffens at her side and Lance has a second to curse every deity she knows for burdening her with a teammate who doesn’t know when to keep his damn mouth shut before he opens said mouth and practically snarls at Iverson. “That’s a lie!” His face is twisted in anger and denial and Lance is really just trying to keep the fraying edges of her patience together at this point.

Before Iverson even has a chance to turn and face Pidge with a scowl, Lance has a hand over his mouth, stopping any more defiant words that may spill from it.

“Care to repeat that, cadet?” Iverson’s voice is dangerously low and nope. No, that is a trap if she had ever seen one. Do not repeat that, do not pass go, do not collect two hundred dollars thank you very much.

“No, no. Definitely not, sir,” Lance hastily replies, even as Pidge struggles in her hold. Lance looks at Hunk out of the corner of her eye but knows she won’t be getting any help from her best friend in this particular disaster. Hunk is terrified of Iverson. “He must’ve hit is head in the simulator. And he’s been staying up too late trying to his grades in tip-top shape, you know? He’s just overtired is all,” she finishes with a weak smile and a loud gulp. “We all heard you loud and clear, with the utmost respect, sir.”

Iverson glares down at the pair of them, before bending slightly so he can get right up in Lance’s face. Pidge immediatly stops struggling, finally reading the room.

“Then I’m glad you know your place, cadet. I’m sure I don’t need to remind you how close you are to losing you spot as a fighter pilot, or how you only got it because the best pilot in your class dropped out.” Lance stared up at Iverson wide eyed, heart in her throat. The circumstances of her elevation were a sore spot that almost everyone knew about and Iverson loved to exploit. Lance bit her tongue so hard it stung in order to keep herself from saying something.

She would not let him win.

He stood there a second longer, staring at her appraisingly before turning his back on all three of them. “It’d be a shame if you were to follow in his footsteps, Martinez. Dismissed.”

***

After the call for lights out, Lance goads Hunk into sneaking out with her and finding Pidge. She uses the excuse of ‘team bonding’ and her distress over Iverson’s threat of expulsion to get Hunk to agree to it. He always did have a soft spot for her ‘magic kicked puppy eyes’ as he called them.

She plans to take them all out into town, maybe go to an arcade, teach Pidge how to hit on girls--or whatever he was into--or take Hunk to that new Thai restaurant he’d been going on and on about.

Her and Hunk were dressed in their civvies so they could blend in. Well, she’ll blend in, Hunk was dressed primarily in yellow. Which not to say it looked bad on him because it didn’t; yellow was is color. It just was hardly inconspicuous. At least he had a darker vest and pants to offset his shirt. She didn’t understand the purpose of his gloves though.

She still can’t believe Mace convinced Hunk that fingerless gloves were cool.

Lance, at least, was dressed more practically. She was clothed in deep blues and blacks. Her form-fitting, skinny jeans tucked into combat boots and the worn-in leather jacket Mace gave her. She chose to leave her long, chestnut-colored hair down, content to let it fall in gentle curls down her back. She did her makeup like she always did, her eyes done in dark neutral makeup and lips painted her signature red.

This may be an excursion with friends but she had appearances to keep. Reputations to uphold.

Reputations Hunk would rather her not have but that isn’t something they can control. She cannot craft the words they throw at her, only turn them around and make them her own. Just like Francisca taught her.

“This is such a bad idea,” Hunk’s worrying pulled her out of her thoughts. “We’re going to get caught and then we’ll be in so much trouble and then we will be expelled. Auwe! Koʻu makuahine ua hele e pepehi mai iaʻu-”

“Hunk!” Lance whisper-yells at him as she peeks around a corner, checking if it was clear. “You are really killing my vibe, Honey Bee.”

Hunk has the decency to look sheepish and lower his voice. “Sorry. I’m just saying, for the record, that this is a bad idea.”

“For someone in a space exploration program, you don’t have much sense of adventure,” Lance quips cheekily.

Hunk huffs as they crawl beneath the window to the teachers' lounge. Lance is still amazed at how lax the security here is, but maybe they think kids are more well behaved or something. A military school should honestly know better but whatever. Their loss is her gain.

“You’re the one who convinced me to join in the first place.”

Lance smiles where Hunk can’t see her. The reminder that Hunk came to the Garrison mostly because of Lance always gave her the warm fuzzies. Not that it was just her though, the Garrison’s engineering program is one of the best in the world, but Hunk could’ve gone to any of them instead of coming here and that means the world to Lance. More than she’ll ever tell him outright, but she wouldn’t be surprised if he knew anyway. “And, by the way, all your ‘adventures’ end up with me in the principal's office. I don’t call that a fun time.”

“Not all of them!” Lance protests, half laughing, and half offended.

Hunk gives her a look before the two catch sight of Pidge leaving his room. “Where do ya think he’s going?”

She doesn’t wait for a response before she’s sneaking off after the younger cadet. Hunk groans, exasperated but used to her shenanigans, and follows dutifully behind.

***

They find Pidge on the roof.

The boy’s sat in front of some sort of scanning device and equipment Lance isn’t even going to try and name. Hunk looks over her shoulder at it in interest but doesn’t move forward even though she knows he wants nothing more.

Probably waiting for her to make sure it’s safe.

Lance steps farther onto the roof, closer to the younger boy. Pidge doesn’t so much as twitch when Lance stands behind him. Lance rolls her eyes at her oblivious team member and bends herself over the younger boy, her hands on his shoulders and face upside down in front of his.

“Whatcha listening to?” she asks as Pidge squeals in alarm. Lance has to bite back a laugh at the sound. It reminds her of a kitten.

It takes a second, but the younger boy eventually pushes her off when he realizes who she is.  “Lance, Hunk… fancy meeting you up here.” He’s nervous, fiddling with his glasses as he speaks. Does he think they’re going to report him? He shouldn’t, Pidge is way smarter than that.

So that must mean it’s something else.

Lance narrows her eyes, crosses her arms and cocks out her hip. “Mhmm,” she hums like her Mama always did when she was up to something as a kid. She has a lot of practice imitating it because she was always up to something. “Why are you up here?”

“Nothing,” Pidge replies too quickly. Lance can see the way he forces himself to relax and slow down for the next sentence. “Just… looking at the stars.”

Hunk, who she guesses deemed it safe enough to try crawling over to the technology gold mine in front of Pidge, slowly reaches out to touch the small satellite. He doesn’t get very far at all before Pidge slaps his hand away without ever taking his eyes off Lance.

“Stop it.”

Hunk lets out a startled whine and backpedals wildly. Lance doesn’t even bat an eye at him, he’ll do it again in a second, she knows. Her best friend is too curious for his own good. It’s why he actually agrees to so many of her ideas.

Lance raises her eyebrow to convey how much she does not believe him and pointedly looks to the tech Hunk was just messing with. “What’s that then?” She’s genuinely curious as well as proving a point. Multitasking is but one skill she has mastered in her seventeen years of life. “It’s not Garrison, that much I can tell.”

“I built it,” he tells her smugly.

Lance looks at him impressed but not wholly surprised. She knew how smart he was. She crouches down next to the set up for a closer look but is careful not to touch anything.

“You built all of this?” Hunk asks amazed, disregarding his earlier warning and reaching out to tap at the keyboard.

“Knock it off, Hunk.” Pidge slaps his hand away again and Hunk groans in frustration. Poor baby, she thinks. She can practically feel his need to take apart the computer and see how it ticks.

“But, yeah. With this, I can scan all the way to the edge of the solar system.” He raises his chin, practically preening and fluffing up with pride.

“The edge of the solar system, eh? All the way to Kerberos?” Lance tilts her head, hair falling to the side and voice lilting in that challenging way so many people hate.

In the blink of an eye, Pidge goes from prideful to pouting. It’s like a switch was flipped, the smaller boy drawing in on himself with an unreadable expression on his face. It a quiet kind of… sadness? Frustration?

It’s so different from the fiery anger he directs at the instructors who bring up Pluto’s moon. Lance isn’t sure what the difference means.

“Okay, what’s the deal? You go ballistic anytime it’s brought up!” Pidge just curls further inwards and Lance softens. “We’re a team, okay? I want you to know you can trust us. You don’t need to keep it to yourself.”

Pidge gives him a look that tells Lance just how much he believes that, but the younger starts talking anyway.

“Okay, fine.” He takes a deep breath, “The world as you know it is about to change. The Kerberos mission didn’t go down due to pilot error or crew mistake-”

Pidge abruptly cuts himself off and turns to glare at Hunk who was fiddling with one of the wire panels on Pidge’s monitor. Pidge’s six sense with this technology is actually getting kind of scary. “Stop touching my equipment!” he shouts.

Hunk pouts, falling onto his side like a lame dog.

Lance shakes her head at his dramatics before throwing her two cents in. “Well, yeah. The people on that mission were top of the class. Best of the best. They wouldn’t have just gone down.”

She never did like the story that went out about the lost Kerberos Vessel. Shirogane was her piloting hero, of course, she’d be suspicious of them blaming him for the crash. And according to Hunk, the Holts were practically legends in the scientific community. Nothing about the Garrisons story made sense, so obviously her first thought had been it’s a lie.

Maybe there was something wrong with the ship's equipment and it killed them. The Garrison couldn’t just let that get out and stay at the top military organization for space exploration.

“My theory was always that something was wrong with the ship and the Garrison was trying to cover their collective asses.”

Pidge is shaking his head before she even finishes talking. “No, no, no. The ship didn’t crash at all.”

Lance’s brow furrows in confusion. “That doesn’t make any sense.”

“Exactly!” Pidge exclaims snapping his fingers at her. “Why would they lie about it crashing at all? I wanted to find out, so I’ve been digging through their files-”

“Wha? That’s illegal!” Hunk sits up abruptly, a part of the conversation again.

Pidge ignores him and continues, tapping away at some keys on his computer. “-and scanning the system looking for the lost ship. Instead of finding it, I’ve been picking up alien radio chatter.”

Hunk gets even more panicky. “Aliens? What do you mean aliens?”

Lance looks at Pidge thoughtfully. Aliens had to exist, that was mostly accepted at this point. It’d be incredibly arrogant to believe Earth was the only planet with life on it with everything they know about the universe now. But aliens near Earth? Advanced species coming after them?

That’s insane.

Lance tells Pidge that.

He scowls at her. “I’m serious,” he snaps, grabbing a notepad and shoving it in her face.

Most of the page was covered in colorful doodles of random things, but there were a couple of spaces in the margins that looked like he was trying to figure out the spelling of random words. Some bits were crossed out and rewritten over and over again. In the middle, there’s a large word circled in red a few times.

“Most of its complete gibberish. Noises and words that aren’t apart of any known language on Earth; I’ve cross-referenced all of them. But they keep repeating certain words, one of them being ‘Voltron,’” he taps the circled word for emphasis. “Another being ‘Earth.’”

“But tonight,” he gestures to the monitor where Lance can see the wave frequencies on the screen. They’re moving erratically as if someone really is talking on the other side. “The radio is going crazier than I’ve ever seen. I think they're looking for something. And they’re looking here.

As if from some divine dramatic cue, the Garrison alarm chooses to blare high and loud at that exact moment. All three of them jump at the sound as Iverson warns all the students to stay in their barracks until further notice. That this is not a drill.

“Zulu-niner?” Lance repeats, thinking back to the book of codes she was handed during her first term at the Garrison. “That’s an unrecognized object in our airspace.”

All three of them look to the sky at the same time but its Hunk who spots the… thing rocketing toward them first. It looks like it’s on fire, ripping through the atmosphere at unreasonable speeds and seemingly heading straight for them.

Lance’s heart pounds at the sight. “What the hell is that?”

Pidge whips out binoculars before she even turns around, the boy focused intensely on the object. “It’s a ship!”

“What?” Lance grabs the binoculars, dragging Pidge with them when he doesn’t let go. It doesn’t matter that Pidge told her it was a ship, when she sees it actually flying towards them her brain short circuits. “¡Dios mío! ¡No puedo creerlo!” Lance exclaims, eyes wide. “That is not one of ours!”

The trio gazes up at the sky in wonder and fear.

“No. It’s one of theirs.” His eyes are practically sparkling as they watch the ship crash into the rocks a mere mile away. The ground shakes with the force of it hitting the ground.

Pidge scrambles away like a bat out of hell, quickly and precisely shoving all of his equipment into his backpack.

“Wait. so like, aliens are real? That’s a thing that’s definitely happening now?” Hunk asks, wringing his hands.

Lance gives him a wry grin as she moves turns back to Pidge. The younger boy is pulling his backpack over his shoulder and looks up at her, excitement dancing behind his eyes. His practically vibrating in place, hopping from foot to foot as if it physically impossible for him to stay still right now.

Lance grins, she’s not much better off.

“We have to see that ship.”

Lance couldn’t agree more. Real life aliens? That’s a piece of history she's definitely not missing. She grabs Hunk’s hand and drags him off after Pidge.

“Come on, Darling. The adventure isn’t over yet!”

Lance laughs when Hunk just groans in response.

“For the record, this is the worst team-building exercise ever.”

***

Fifteen minutes later, the three of them are set up on an outcropping above and away from the tent set up around the crash. Pidge was fiddling with his equipment, hacking into something by the looks of it and zoned out to everything else.  Lance was laid out on the ground sniper style, hair tied out of her face as she surveyed the area with Pidge’s binoculars while Hunk crouched behind her shuffling his feet and babbling about nothing and everything.

“What is that?” Lance spots the ship that crash landed, surprisingly intact for something that hit the surface of a hard rock at thousands of miles an hour. It looks like nothing she'd ever seen before, sleek and amazing. Lance itches to fly it, wants to know how it moves and responds. She doubts she’ll get the chance with the military swarming over the thing, but she can dream.

She scans the rest of the area and gets distracted by a commanding officer coming out of the temporary base. A colonel by the looks of it; a young one.

A sly grin slides itself across her face, “Who is she?” she asks, voice silky smooth. Pidge hits the back of her head hard enough to make her yelp. Lance rips the binoculars from her face to glare at the boy. “What the hell, Pidge.”

He doesn’t even deign to look at her and Lance huffily goes back to scanning the area. “So good news is that the Garrison finally stepped up their security. Bad news is that they got their shit together to the inconvenience of us. I don’t think there’s a way for us to get inside, not without risking bodily harm. And I prefer my body unharmed, thank you very much.”

Hunk, unsurprisingly, suggests just heading back to the barracks and forgetting about the whole endeavor entirely. Saying that they should raid the barrack’s kitchen for food as a bonding experience instead of spying on the military and alien spaceships. He even gets up to start back towards the Garrison before Pidge speaks up.

“Hold up. There’s a camera in there. Look!”

Pidge has somehow acquired the feed of whatever camera set up in the room. Lance doesn’t even ask how; the answer is just that he’s Pidge.

Peering over his shoulder, Lance can see the slightly fuzzy feed. It’s a medical room with personal roaming about dressed in hazmat suits. They’re setting up equipment and running tests and writing on clipboards. It was sterile, all white and pristine stainless steel.

But what caught Lance’s attention and kept it was the fact that there was a human person strapped to the table in the middle of the room. The man wore odd clothes, torn and filthy, and he looked like he was in need of a good meal or two. He struggled and strained against the binds around his wrists, panic clouding his eyes as he spoke to the apathetic doctors. He looked so frantic and erratic and scared that it took Lance a full five seconds to even realize who she’s looking at.

It’s Takashi Shirogane.

The pilot of the Kerberos Mission.

Her hero.

He’s alive. A little roughed up, new scars and white hair and robot arm, but he’s alive.

And he’s strapped to a table like some sort of science experiment. Lance feels anger rise in her stomach at the sight and has to stop herself from sneering.

She tells the other two who he is as Shirogane talks on the screen. She can’t hear what he’s saying because Pidge has the headphones, but he is freaking out. And still, none of the scientists even bat an eye at him. They aren’t even listening to him.

Pidge looks at the screen with a mixture of curiosity and something darker she can’t categorize. Something more desperate. “Where’s the rest of the crew?” he asks impatiently, under his breath. After a moment he informs Lance and Hunk that Shirogane’s talking about ‘Voltron.’ That they need to find it somehow.

The three of them watch as Shirogane is examined and then put to sleep, still struggling. It makes Lance’s blood boil. How dare they?

“They didn’t even ask about the rest of the crew!” Pidge protests angrily.

“What are they doing down there? This cannot be regulation.”

Pidge looks up determinedly, “We need to get him out of there.”

Lance opens her mouth to agree when Hunk suddenly stands up. “Mhmm, okay. Hate to be the voice of reason, always,” he shoots a look at Lance that she returns with a grin. “But weren’t we just watching on the screen because there’s no way past the guards?” he uses wide gestures, sweeping hands and fast motions like he does when he’s nervous.

“Well, buddy, that was before we were properly motivated.” She tilts her head questioningly at Pidge. “Maybe we could tunnel in?”

“Or we grab some hazmat suits and sneak in like med techs,” he offers.

“Or, hear me out, or, we dress like cooks, sneak into the commissary… have a little late-night snack?” Hunk tries weakly. Both Lance and Pidge give him unimpressed stares.

Lance shakes her head before tapping her chin with her knuckle, face scrunched up in thought. “No, what we need is a distraction.”

BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! BOOM!

As if on cue four loud booms in rapid succession sound off behind her, causing all three of them to jump in fear. “What the hell?!” she yells.

“Are they here? Oh god, are—Tha—The—Is that the aliens?! They got here really quickly!” Hunk panics behind her as Lance reaches for the binoculars she set to the side.

Pidge, who was the first to recover, squints off the side of the cliff and points in the distance. “No, those were a distraction! For him!”

Lance zooms in with the binoculars and the moving dot turns into a person riding a red hoverbike. The bike is getting steadily closer to the tent and Shirogane. He doesn’t even wait for the bike to fully stop before he’s jumping off and running for the entrance. She can just make out a red jacket and black hair in the dim light and Lance feel indignation rise up in her throat. She’s completely missed what Pidge had been saying.

¡Hijo de puta!” Lance swears, shoving it into Pidge’s hands and running for the cliffside. “If he thinks he’s going to beat me in this too he has another thing coming! ¡El nervio de este cabrón!”

“What?” Pidge asks, confused from both her anger and her Spanish. She’d forgotten he didn’t speak Spanish for a moment, most people do these days. “Who are you talking about?”

“Keith!”

“Who?” Pidge asks, even more confused. But Hunk, bless him, understands immediately and not for the first time that night runs after her.

“Are you sure?”

“I’d know that mullet anywhere!” she calls, already halfway down the cliff.

Pidge stands at the top for a second longer, asking again in a tone that sounded more like a whine, “Who’s Keith?” before following behind.

Lance sprints across the clearing and past knocked out guards until she charges into the main room, breathing heavily. When she gets there, the technicians are all on the ground and Keith is already lifting Shirogane off the table. Hunk and Pidge arrive, breathless behind her.

“Nope. No, you don’t-- no, no, no, no.” Lance shoves the stupid metal table out of the way to come up on his other side to help bare Shirogane’s weight. “I’m saving Shirogane.”

Keith looks at her in confusion and suspicion. “Who are you?”

“Who am I? The name’s Lance Martinez,” Lance pauses but no recognition appears on Keith’s face. Anger sparks in her gut. She knew Keith wouldn’t remember her, after all, she didn’t matter at all to the star pupil. Wasn’t a threat. But she can’t help but push it farther, force him to know her now. Being forgotten, being unimportant terrifies Lance and it doesn’t matter that she doesn’t even like Keith. She wants him to know her. She doesn’t want to be insignificant.

“We were in the same class at the Garrison,” she reminds through clenched teeth, as she forces herself to look away from Keith and towards the door. She starts moving because they need to get out of here, and she recognizes that even as anger burns in her.

“Were you an engineer?” he asks, face blank, as if it wasn’t the most insulting thing said to Lance in the last year. No offense to Hunk.

“No! I’m a pilot,” she throws out the title like it means something, because it does. It means everything to Lance.

“Oh!” He finally remembers, eyebrows furrowed as he thinks back, “I remember you. You’re the cargo pilot.”

Lance can’t stop herself from snapping, “Fighter pilot, now. Thanks to you washing out.” Hunk gives her a sharp look, because she’s never willingly brought it up before. It’s a sore spot. To be second best, the second pick for something that dominated her dreams for so many years… Lance is actually surprised at herself for bringing it up.

They make it to the rock that Keith had hidden his hoverbike behind. “Congratulations,” Keith remarks flatly.

Lance fights the urge to punch him in his stupid, arrogant face.

Hunk comes up behind them from where he and Pidge had been watching the progress of the returning military. “Hey, uh, mind if we catch a ride with you? It’s just that they do not look happy.” He’s jumping from foot to foot as if he can’t stay still.

Lance is trying to get Shiro on the bike when it abruptly jerks back onto the tailfin. She just barely grabs Shiro’s head away from the bit of metal that would have slammed into it, probably giving him a concussion or brain damage.

She turns to glare at Hunk who gives only a sheepish smile in return.

She can hear Hunk worrying about weight bearing and available seating areas but doesn’t pay attention, instead focusing on getting Shiro on the damn bike before the Rovers get back. With Pidge’s help, she manages it a second before Keith fishtails them in a circle and speeds off in the other direction. Lance practically throws Shiro into his arms so she can grab onto anything before she falls off, hers being the most precarious position on the bike.

Once she gets situated--it’s almost like surfing, actually--she turns around to find the Rovers eating up the distance between them easily.

“Uh, can’t this go any faster?” she asks because she'd really like to not go to jail today. A sentiment probably shared by everyone else here.

Keith doesn’t look back as he answers in a flat voice, “We could toss off some nonessential weight,” She actually looks around the bike for a second before she realizes. Her expression sours like she bit into a lemon.

“Oh, haha. That’s an insult. Funny.” Lance replies in the same tone dull tone.

The next three minutes of her life was spent in heart-stopping fear and grudging wonderment. Unsurprisingly, fleeing from the military on a hoverbike with four other people, one of whom was officially dead an hour ago, was not how she foresaw her day going.

But the worst part was how beautifully reckless Keith was when he drove. Lance wanted to hate him for it but the thing was, he was good. Amazing, even. He took turns without thinking because he knew he would make it instinctively. He took out Rovers by outmaneuvering them in ways Lance could only dream of doing. And he did it even with the extra weight on the bike depleting his steering and speed, directing Hunk to lean one way or another in order to make up for the deficiency.

It was breathtaking piloting skills and if it had been anyone else Lance would be worshiping the ground at their feet.

But it wasn’t anyone else.

It was Keith.

And Lance would sooner dump grape juice on Francisca’s favorite white lace dress before she admits to being impressed by Keith in any way.

***

They ended up at some sort of shack in the middle of the desert, the sun just coming over the horizon when Keith finally stopped driving. This time, it’s Hunk who carries Shiro inside and sets him down on a couch that looks like it should’ve been tossed three years ago

It takes Shiro two hours to wake up.

In that time, Lance had been wandering around the shack, poking at this and that, curious as to what the other pilot had been doing for the last year. She was so engrossed in being nosy, that it took her over an hour to realize the tugging sensation in her chest had gotten worse, more insistent and noticeable than it had been when Pidge suggested they check out the ship back at the Garrison.

She’d ignored it up until now, but it was too much to brush away anymore.

It wasn’t painful, and she didn’t even really feel it, if that made sense. It just… was. Like something was calling her but she couldn’t really hear the voice or what they were saying. It felt like a pressure behind her sternum, nestled next to her heart that ebbed and flowed in a way that reminded her of the waves on a beach. When she focused on it, it seemed to get stronger, more insistent.

She forces her hands at her sides when Keith and Shiro come back inside, expressions pensive and somber. Keith moves forward with purpose while Shiro looks almost unsure of himself. He looks looser than when he woke up, but now he looks almost lost. It’s such an odd expression to see on him.

Keith stops in front of a covered portion of the wall Lance hadn’t looked behind. When he pulls down the sheet the room goes quiet. The first person to speak is Shiro. “What have you been working on?”

“I, I don’t know. I was lost after you--” Keith hard stops as if biting his tongue. He starts again, “After the Garrison. I was drawn out here.” Keith points to a place on the map circled over and over again labeled ‘energy source.’ “It was like some feeling in my chest--” Lance breaths in a sharp breath, hand flying back to her own chest and the accompanying pressure. “--was telling me to search.”

“For what?” Lance croaks out a second before Shiro can, their voices overlapping. Everyone turns to look at her and Keith seems almost annoyed. But he must see something on her face, because he answers instead of snapping at her or something. It’s more than Lance would have done for him.

“I didn't really know… until I stumbled across this area. It's an outcropping of giant boulders with caves covered in these, ancient markings. Each tells a slightly different story about a blue lion, but they all share clues leading to some event, some arrival happening last night.” Keith looks to Shiro, eyes wide and vulnerable. “Then you showed up," he says in a voice so quiet, Lance almost doesn’t hear it.

The room is silent. The ‘you could hear a pin drop’ kind of silence.

Lance isn’t one for believing in gods or mythical beings, but this doesn’t mean nothing. Even she can see that. This is too much to be pure coincidence and she's not sure what it means if it isn’t. None of them are.

***

It’s kinda creepy that the graph Hunk made of Voltron’s emission spectrum looks exactly like the outcropping of rock Keith found the cave systems near them.

The feeling of absolute certainty in Lance’s chest that that is the place they're looking for is far worse.

***

“Okay… this, is officially freaky,” Lance announces as they make the trek out to the rocks, Hunk’s gizmo going haywire over the alien signatures… or something.

The party of five carefully picked their way down cliff faces and through ravines, following the sound of beeping. It was hot in the midday sun and Lance had taken her jacket off and pulled her hair into a half-up-half-down ponytail to keep it out of her face.

The entire time, her hand barely left her chest, the pressure growing stronger and stronger the farther they walked.

No one wanted to talk much, and that left Lance to bounce around in her own mind. Not a good idea normally, but right then she had something to focus on. She studied the feeling in her chest, the pressure that felt like riding a wave just as it’s about to crest. The anticipation as it built up before it completely engulfed you stretched out and hanging there. Like a thunderstorm about to break, static filling the air and jumping from her fingertips with that not-quite-pain.

It set her teeth on edge, made her apprehensive and jittery like a storm about to break. Her hands were twitching at her sides, tapping and twisting various shapes and patterns on her thigh by the time Hunk finally leads them down into one of the cave systems.

Their merry band of misfits only gets so far inside before stopping in amazement.

Inside, the cave is filled with wondrous carvings. Lions and people and battles from long ago, all painstakingly carved into the rock walls around them.

Lance leans in to study the markings, memories of Sabre ranting about different art styles and impressions of different ancient civilizations tickling the back of her mind. When she’d come back from her studies in India, it had been all she talked about for months. The old carvings and what the could mean and how you could tell them apart, Lance had never seen her sister so animated before.

She was by far, no expert--that was her parents and Sabre’s area, not hers--but even she could tell there were quite a few styles lining the walls. Some were flowy and others were jagged and harsh. It was odd; there were too many tribes here. Too many overlaid styles, it didn’t make much sense and when she gets the chance, she’s dragging Sabre back from Africa immediately.

She’s going to have kittens when she sees the cave, Lance could already see her face.

Lance reaches out to trace a carving of a lion lunging with the tip of her finger, the lines sleek and fluid like water. She barely grazes the rock, but it feels like lighting zapping through her hand, arcing up her arm into her chest. The carving glows a brilliant blue, starting from where her fingers had brushed against it and flowing outwards like a ripple in a giant pond.

Within seconds the whole cave was lit up, every carving glowing bright and serene.

“They’ve never done that before.” Keith feels the need to interject and yeah, Lance had kind of assumed. Glowing cave drawings seems like something someone would mention beforehand.

She doesn’t get a chance to retort because a second later the floor falls from underneath all of them and they’re free falling through the air. Lance can just barely hear the others screaming over the sound of her own terror before she's submerged in water, the distant sounds of four other splashes around her.

Lance is the first to break the surface, the others following suit a second later. The cave is thunderous with the sound of the crashing waterfall overhead. The sound echoed off the walls and reverberated back to them tenfold, drowning out almost all other sounds.

“Where the hell are we?” Keith calls over the waterfall. He doesn’t look happy as he slowly swims over to where she, Hunk and Pidge are clustered together, hair hanging in his face and scowl firmly set on his features.

Lance looks around the cavern to take in what she's seeing. There was no sunlight, just the quiet blue glow of even more carvings on the walls lighting up the dim cave. It was huge, the size of a football stadium in width and height.

It had to be she supposed, because on an island in the middle of the vast pool of water, was something giant and blue and glowing.

The Blue Lion.

The wave in her chest was finally crested, battering against her rib cage and crashing down against her over and over again. Her ears rang with the first crack of thunder as the rain began pouring down. Lance gasped in air, as if she was drowning in the feeling.

She was climbing out of the pool before she'd even made a conscious decision too, the other four right behind her.

She was breathtaking. Towering over them proudly behind the blue force field, chin raised elegantly. She was mountains worth of sleek edges and graceful design. Bright, ocean blue metal curved gracefully over her head and down her back and chest, light armour plating twinkling in the low light. Interlocking black and white markings cover her muzzle, reminiscent of teeth and an actual lions’ lips. The white brakes away from the black and follows the line of her jaw up to her pointed ears and down across her underbelly and throat. Golds, reds and bright azure decorate her eyes, neck, and wrists like extravagant finery.

She was sleek and ferocious, sat atop the platform decorated with intricate, glowing, blue carvings that spread out around her like a throne of light. It cast soft shadows over her powerful body and caught the light in the gleaming metal.

A deep rumbling filled Lance’s chest, vibrating so hard she feels as if she was going to shake apart.

She slowly steps towards her. The Lion hasn’t moved and lacks actual pupils--her eyes just pure, endless blue--but Lance can feel the weight of her gaze pressing down on her.

“Is this it? Is this the Voltron?” Pidge asks into the silence.

“No,” Lance answers without really thinking about it. “Not all of it at least.”

“Wha-? How do you know?” Keith asks, tone suspicious.

As if like an answer, the cave falls away and Lance is suddenly somewhere else.

Places and visions and people appear and disappear rapidly. Surfacing and falling away faster than Lance can keep track of.

Five Lions standing in front of her, roaring as one as they charge into battle.

A giant warrior standing in front of a planet, shielding it from harm. Hundreds of battles fought thousands of years ago.

Planets she'd never seen before but knew somehow.

People she doesn’t know but who spoke with familiarity.

Flying through the stars.

Warriors. Dozens of them dressed for battle and standing beside their Lions. Grim-faced or laughing or snarling.

Then it’s gone and the somber blue of the cave rushes back at her, the waterfall no longer the only thunderous sound in her ears. Lance gasps and almost falls to the floor with the force the vision had hit her with.

“Oh my god. Oh my god. Oh my god-”

“This is what they’re looking for.”

“Incredible.”

Legs wobbly and hands shaking, Lance stumbles forward to the barrier. In the back of her mind, something whispers too quietly for her to make out any words.

Electricity courses through her the second her hand touches the barrier, zapping across her fingers like lightning. The wall falls and the voice is suddenly crystal clear in the back of her mind.

A voice like the waves of Varadero beach and rain falling against the roof and the river near Hunk’s house.

Paladin, paladin, paladin, paladin-

It sounds almost reverent.

It is not as unsettling as it should be.

The Lion moves with a muted mechanical whirl, tail swishing behind her from where it had been neatly resting across her paws as she climbs to her feet, regal and elegant and an otherworldly kind of graceful. Pidge squeals behind her and grabs her arm, latching onto it with a death-like grip.

Raising her head, the Lion lets out a ground shaking roar, the previously still cave air whipping around them and causing the sound to reverberate off the walls and bounce back at them, making it seem as if there were dozens of her.

The sound wraps around Lance like a promise, fills her chest up so much that for a second, she wonders if roaring back would make it go away.

The others yell at the sudden movement and noise, nervous and confused. Pidge tries to haul her back when the Lion delicately lowers herself to her level, but Lance stays firm. She bows before her and opens her gaping maw, the interlocking design of white and black part, the black ‘teeth’ lining the top like stalagmites.

Lance should be more concerned about walking into the literal belly of the beast than she is.

But she’s always been odd, too impulsive and stubborn, so she runs inside without a thought, a wide grin on her face as she follows the short path to the cockpit. Hunk’s right behind her when she sits down in the pilot seat, her second in command for everything.

She doesn’t expect the seat to move so suddenly and squeals at the movement before laughing loud and free.

She can feel the chuckling in the back of her mind, a soft vibration edging down her neck.

The screen in front of her lights up a light blue, glowing softly as it displays the cave and other such things as if she’s seeing through the Lion’s eyes. All the controls are to her exact measurements, the grips formed to her hand as if they were molded for her specifically.

Her hands just barely brush the grips but it’s the same electricity from before, intensified. Like pure energy flowing through her, as if she’d downed three cups of coffee in as many minutes. Her chest buzzed and it was as if she could feel all the stars in the sky and every atom of water in the universe.

Her laugh turns breathlessly, unbelieving.

“Hey baby girl,” Lance breathes, voice no louder than a whisper as she runs her hand along the control panel. “You’re a beauty, aren’t you?”

The Lion purrs in the back of her mind, a deep rumbling that sounds like waves crashing over themselves. “I am much older than you, dear paladin.” An all-encompassing affection swathes her psyche. “Thousands of years, in fact. Older than your oldest civilizations.”

Lance’s mouth goes dry at that. The sheer power and wisdom within this great beast utterly terrifying. And it’s talking to her as if she’s special. As if she is the most important thing to her.

She doesn’t know how to respond to that, so she does what she always does when unsure of a path. Pulls confidence over her like a well-worn coat and fakes it.

She practically purrs at the Lion, “You don’t look a day over twenty, my love.”  Her voice is too shaky for her tastes, but the Lion hums pleasantly at the back of her mind and Lance grins.

“Lance?” Hunk interrupts, voice weary and tired as the others crowd inside.

She turns to him slowly, blinking at him with bright blue eyes and a small smile. “Yes, darling?” she drawls sedately.

Hunk wrinkles his nose slightly, sensing something is off about her. “Are you flirting with the giant robot cat?”

She raises an elegant eyebrow at him. She knows it’s elegant because she practiced it in the mirror for hours after she’d seen Francisca do it and send a boy falling over his own feet in response. “Do you really need to ask?”

“Sometimes I just hope you know?” He tells her tiredly. Lance laughs which only makes his expression fall further.

The Lion recaptures her attention with a sensation not unlike a cat pushing against your leg, but instead, it’s her mind. Lance jumps a bit at the odd feeling. “Come, my paladin. Show me how you fly,” she challenges. It’s playful and such a very human thing to say. It takes her a second to realize, and, well. Lance had never been one to turn a girl down.

That’d be downright unchivalrous.

She follows the gentle prods and pokes as the Lions guides her hands over the controls. She instructs with a gentle crooning that reminds her of starlight and murmuring creek beds. After a second, Lance grabs the controls in a confidently firm hold.

She’s never flown an alien spaceship before. But she has a feeling they’ll be no problem here.

“Okay, let’s do… this.” was the only warning she gave the others before thrusting the controls forward and sending the Lion through the wall so quickly Lance hit the back of her seat. Pidge and Hunk squealed while Shiro and Keith made much more dignified grunts of surprise.

She barely registers the damage she must’ve done to the cave walls and carvings because she’s suddenly in the open air and can feel the elation the Lion feels and being in the sun once more, how she revels in it.

It rubs off on Lance who was already beaming. Flying the Lion is exhilarating.

It’s everything the simulator isn’t, everything the fastest planes on earth isn’t. It’s freedom and happiness. It’s the joy she gets every time she flew as a kid but multiplied. She spins and twirls, backflips and does figure eights.

She whoops and hollers along with the Lion as they play along the desert terrain.

The others are not as excited about it as she is.

“Make it stop! Oh, Akua, make it stop,” Hunk calls from Lance’s left where he has her armrest in a death grip. He’s looking distinctly green, even with his tan skin. Lance winces, she’d forgotten about his motion sickness in all the excitement.

“If Yellow’s kit throws up in me, I will spit him out,” The Lion says matter of factly in her mind.

“Yellow’s kit?” Lance asks confused, as she evens out their flight pattern. She looks back at her best friend confusedly. “You mean Hunk?”

Now Lance is thinking about him with tiny kitten ears and toe beans and as a little chubby kitten that still has the headband. It makes her want to coo at him.

“What about me?” The boy in question asks weakly, still swaying oddly even though he’s on his knees.

Lance pats his arm comfortingly, “Nada, cariño. Just calm down,” she pauses. “and don’t throw up.”

“Paladin,” Her Lion sounds tense and with the slightest hint of contempt dripping from her voice. Lance’s shoulders go up, back straightening in response.

“What, baby girl? What’s happened?”

“What is the lion saying? What’s wrong?” Pidge asks and Lance raises a hand at him, silently asking for a second. Pidge huffs offended and annoyed but obediently waits.

“Galra.” She growls, the sound harsh and scraping.

“‘Galra’? What the fuck is a galra?”

“Galra,” Shiro repeats, voice low and panicked. Lance turns around to look at him and finds him staring back at her. The pink scar on his face a stark contrast to the deathly pale skin around it. Lance’s gut clenches at the expression. Something that can terrify Shiro is not something she wants to meet ever.

Out of the corner of her eye, she can see Keith reach out to the older man, bringing Shiro out of his thoughts.

“The galra are conquerors, destroyers of the universe. They are plagues.” Blue shows her blurred images, memories of long ago, battles won and lost. They all show the same thing; cruel creatures intent on control. “They are currently approaching your Earth.”

A screen flashes to her right, indicating an object heading toward the very quickly and confirming what Blue just said.

“What?!” Lance cries, yanking the controls to come to a grinding halt. She stops so abruptly, Blue skids across the desert sand, tumbling over herself before coming to a stop in a decidedly ungraceful heap. The passengers inside are jostled around violently and curse at Lance and her driving skills.

Blue huffs at the rough treatment but stands up without a problem. She shakes herself off harder than necessary to the annoyance of those in the cockpit. “Calm down, my Paladin. These filth are of little concern to you,” she tells her primly.

Lance whispers under her breath fiercely, voice strained, as she tries to keep the words from the others. “Baby girl, there are evil warlords headed for my home. It is very much a concern.” She can feel the worry and terror and panic welling up within him. Her family is on this planet. Oh god.

Her lion rumbles at her, concerned at the force of her emotions. Then apparently coming to a conclusion, she tells her, “Then we will get rid of them,” before jumping into the sky without warning.

“Where the hell are you going?” Keith demands, his grip on the back of her seat so tight Lance can hear it creaking. But Lance doesn’t have the energy to snap at him right now, she's too busy trying to shove the panic down from where it’s crawling up her throat.

“There’s a Galra ship approaching Earth. Blue says we’re getting rid of them.”

“What?” Pidge snaps, “What is it saying exactly?”

“It’s not like, words words. She’s a lion, she can’t exactly talk,” Pidge glares at her and Lance glares back, neither willing to back down until Hunk speaks again.

“Well, this is the weapon they want right? Why don’t we just give it to them?”

Panic spikes in her chest and she doesn’t think it’s entirely hers.

Lance flips around in her seat so fast she gets whiplash, “No!” she shouts at the same time Shiro says, “You don’t understand,” in a sharp voice.

The four of them look at her questioningly--Hunk more worried than the others--and Lance realizes she might be a bit overprotective for someone who only met her alien, lion-shaped weapon-ship fifteen minutes ago.

“Uh,” she wets her lips, thinking carefully. “She doesn’t want to go with them. The Galra they’re not- Blue says they’re bad. Very bad. Right, Shiro?”

His face goes grim. “Yeah, I’d say they’re pretty bad.”

“Uh,” Hunk raises his hand, “how bad? Like, exactly?”

Shiro looks at him, eyes piercing, “They spread like a plague, conquering planet after planet. They destroy all who oppose them and won’t stop until everything is either destroyed or theirs to control. There is no reasoning with them. There is no mercy. They are the living nightmare of the whole universe and there is no waking up.”

The air in the cockpit is tense and heavy. Lance who never turned away from Hunk, watches his face slowly morph to a mix of sheepishness and terror.

Lance squeezes his hand comfortingly.

“Okay, uh, that’s pretty bad. So that’s a no on the giving vicious alien species advanced, super weapons. What are we gonna do instead?” he asks.

Hunk doesn’t get his answer.

Because at that moment, Blue finally breaks through the atmosphere and then there is nothing but open space in every direction with Earth laid out below. The part that catches her attention though, is the warship floating menacingly in front of them. It creeps closer and closer and the air in the cockpit is thick with fear.

The others are tensed behind her, all of them staring dumbly at the ship more advanced than anything Earth could even dream of.

Lance feels like panicking. Panicking sounds like a great idea and if the way her heart is pounding at her rib cage id anything to go by, it agrees.

Having a panic attack and curling up in the corner for an hour or so, sounds like a grand idea. Just like the good old days.

Lance is pulled out of her dark thoughts when Blue shouts at her. “Paladin, move!”

She jerks the controls without thought, dodging the laser beam directed at them by a hair's breadth. The warship is firing on them and Lance’s heart hammers in her throat as she twists and spins, dancing away from the oncoming fire as best she can.

The cockpit is chaos. The others are screaming, trying to back seat pilot or just making unintelligible noises.

Pidge’s voice, unsurprisingly, rises above the rest. “Lance, if I die, I’m coming back and haunting your ass so hard!”

Language, Pidgeon!” she screams back as she does a barrel roll away from a giant blast headed for their chest. “Also, hey! Baby Blue and I got this covered!”

“This isn’t the simulator, man!”

No shit. Lance thinks. The simulator had never felt this fluid, this intense. It is everything real flying feels like and more.

Instead of saying that, she laughs tightly, pulling her easygoing persona more securely around her. “Well, that’s good! I always wrecked the simulator!”

“Paladin, we must take the fight away from your home planet. We can lead them away, it is not your planet they truly want, but me. If we run, they will follow.”

Lance nods, “You got it, sugar.” She pushes them forward, charging the warship and slashing along the side with Blue’s wicked claws before dancing away from the laser beams and shooting off past them, away from Earth.

“I hope you know it’s really weird hearing you have only half a conversation,” yells Hunk as he hangs on for dear life.

It takes a heart-stopping second, but the warship does give chase, doing a one-eighty frighteningly fast and rushing after them. Lance realizes with dread that they are much slower than them. The warship is gaining, eating up the distance between them like it means nothing.

Keith speaks again, the first time since they left the atmosphere. “Where are we?”

Lance doesn’t answer him, half because she’s busy piloting a ship and half because she’s petty and doesn’t care. Instead, it’s Shiro that answers.

“We’re by Kerberos,” he sounds surprised and awed, gazing around the cockpit disbelievingly. The feeling is shared by all five of them.

“What?!” Pidge exclaims. “It takes our ships months to get out this far. That was five seconds.”

Lance beams with pride. Her Baby Girl is so fast.

In the space between one second and the next, a giant swirling mass of… something, flares to life in front of them. It’s huge and unsettling and a deep inky black that absorbs all light. For a second Lance believes it to be a black hole before she realizes that the thought is ridiculous.

“What is that?” Hunk asks, voice shrill. He grabs her upper arm, choosing to hold onto that instead of the armrest. He squeezes tightly, just on the right side of painful. Still cautious of his strength even when terrified.

“Paladin,” Blue stresses. “You need to go through the wormhole.”

“I need to do what now?”

“What is the lion saying?” Shiro asks, the calm, confident leader they need. Lance doesn’t even think to question his authority as she normally does with anyone else who tries to boss her around.

“She wants us to fly through the wormhole.”

“Where does it go?”

Her Lion stays silent despite her mental prodding. “I- I don’t know. Shiro, you’re the senior officer. What do we do?”

He’s quiet for a moment and Lance is hyper-aware of how much time they have before they reach the wormhole anyway or get run over by a warship. Her fingers tap anxiously on the grips, waiting.

“The Lion knows more than we do. I say we follow her,” he stops and looks at each other them, children compared to him. “But we’re a team, we decide together.”

The other three look at each other unsure of their decisions. Lance holds her tongue. Her decision was made the second Shiro agreed with Blue, but he also said decide together.

She knows what they’ll choose, but it’s not about that. That’s not why Shiro asked for their opinion.

Slowly, the three all nod to her. She breathes a sigh of relief and pushes Blue faster towards the wormhole, hoping to make it there before the warship is upon them.

The grins she wears is far from genuine and her voice is too flat, but she makes the joke anyway.

“Looks like we’re skipping class tomorrow.”