Chapter 1: Lance's Date
Lance finally gets one night with a Shiro Android, hoping it will finally quell his crush.
It might have, if it wasn't for the surprise he got during the date.
Lance glanced down at the text from Shiro on his phone, Can’t wait. See you soon.
He knew it wasn’t really Shiro, but it was as close as he was going to get. He had tried for years to get over this stupid crush. He watched Shiro marry Keith — he was in the wedding party for fuck's sake. And still, that little bit of his heart ached watching the man he always loved marry someone else.
So, when he passed by that little shop to see the streak of white hair, he paused.
This wasn’t Keith’s Shiro with all white hair. This was the Shiro he fell for during all those long months on the castle ship. The one who guided him through the pain of Blue rejecting him and Red being his new lion, and every time Red decided to test him.
This was his Shiro that spent hours training with him and helping him be the second in command. This was the Shiro that listened to him talk about home and family.
Well, at least it looked like his Shiro. Only, this time there wouldn’t be a Keith to come back and steal all his attention.
Tonight, Shiro was Lance’s. Just Lance’s.
Hopefully, tonight would be enough.
His phone buzzed to remind him that he had an hour left before the date. The shop owner had him down from eight pm until noon tomorrow. Lance had already prepared himself — the spa day had cost almost as much as the rental (not that it mattered, the non-disclosure agreement paid well enough that he could have bought the Android outright… but he wanted to still be able to look his friends in the eye… and owning a bot of one of them was maybe just a little too creepy).
He had been exfoliated, moisturized, and waxed within an inch of his life. He already put in the plug — a simple black one with two small bulges that he had custom made with onyx color gems in the base. He could feel the ball inside the plug moving around, gently shifting the second bulge against his prostate.
Lance threw on the outfit he picked and fussed over his hair one last time, turning this way and that in the mirror. He was struck by how different he looked now. Usually, he gave it no thought, after all, he had aged with this body. However, something about going on a date with the spitting image of his teenage crush made his own reflection feel surreal.
On the other hand, it was probably better this way. He was no longer some lanky teen who hadn’t a clue what he was doing. No, he was a veteran, a diplomat, a prime time personality. His hair had grown out, and the parade of stylists had given him subtle highlights and taught him how to create that careless sexy look. He wore tailored clothes that showed off his figure and the lean muscle he’d gained in his early twenties. He actually had to shave now.
He was an adult, but he felt as nervous as the teen he’d long ago left behind.
His stomach churned, and he took a few deep breaths to calm himself. There was no need to be so freaked out. Everything was set up to be perfect. Besides, it was just an android. It would be programmed to do everything right and to think Lance did everything right too. Nodding to himself, Lance made his way out of the hotel room.
He was a long way from home, but that suited his plans for tonight. He didn’t need anyone knowing what he was doing. Besides, the shop he’d contacted was far off planet. Since he was doing some intergalactic talk shows at the moment, it worked as a great cover.
The trip was full of doubts, but he did his best to shove them to the side. His life was far past the point of logic, and besides, he couldn’t keep creeping on Shiro. The too-long glances at his ass were going to get him caught soon.
It didn’t matter that he was most of the way in love with Shiro, the man was happily married to Keith. Not to mention everyone in Team Voltron were his best friends, his space family, all of them devoted to each other. If Lance fucked things up and ruined his friendship with Shiro and Keith, everyone else would abandon him as well. He was the weak link that needed them, not the other way around.
So he was out of excuses. Something had to be done to get over this crush and move on.
Lance made his way to the restaurant and saw the shop owner sitting outside, playing a game on some device, one of his four purple arms scratching his head. He was a tall, bulky guy that looked half Galra, but seemed peaceable enough. Lance supposed that was needed when in the business of sales.
The shopkeeper looked up as Lance approached and put on the customer service smile. “Hello again!”
Lance blushed. “Hi, sir.”
“I think I’ve reminded you before — it’s just Ethan. And stop blushing! You ordered a talking sex doll from me, so we’re long past formalities.”
Lance pulled a face at Ethan who was laughing at his bashfulness.
“Listen, I don’t judge. He’s yours for the night, now I can fuck off and you can fuck off, eh?”
Lance rubbed the back of his neck and chuckled a bit. “Yeah, sure… see ya tomorrow.”
With a companionable pat on the shoulder, Ethan sauntered off. Lance smoothed down his jacket, took a deep breath, and squared his shoulders. Now or never.
Lance entered the cozy, low lit restaurant and looked around. Finding “Shiro” wasn’t so difficult. He was at a table with his back to the door, surrounded by a handful of people asking for autographs. Lance snuck up behind them and was immediately spotted by a starry-eyed little girl who was excited to see not just one, but two, defenders of the universe now. Lance held a finger to his lips and winked at her.
The best part about not being on Earth was the lack of photographs. The rest of the universe preferred a hologram — you didn’t ever have to meet the person you wanted to wrap your arms around. Just save up enough credits and you’d get a nice 3d digital rendering of your choice. He shuddered at the thought of a picture of this getting back to Keith.
Black hair in an undercut with a single white forelock could be seen from Lance’s vantage point. One arm was in the old Galra style that most of the universe remembered from the Voltron Coalition tours. He was classic Shiro, the one Lance had fallen hard for. Even from behind, Shiro looked so young and strong, in the prime of his life. It was strangely nostalgic.
Sauntering over, Lance propped one hand on Shiro’s chair back and leaned against it, striking a pose and flashing his best smile. “I see my friend here is stealing all the attention.” The gathered crowd squealed at Lance’s charming act.
Then it happened. Shiro turned around and looked up at Lance with this soft, enraptured smile, as if seeing the other pilot was the best thing that had ever happened to him. That was a look that Lance had never thought to see directed at him. It tightened his chest to something achingly painful and ripped the breath from his lungs. It was everything he’d ever wanted.
For the first time since seeing the shop with the AIs, Lance questioned whether this date was actually going to cure him of this crush rather than make it worse.
“Lance,” Shiro breathed, eyes sparkling with excitement. It was enough to make Lance weak in the knees. His brain shut down. He had no idea what to say.
The world around them snapped back into focus when a waiter came by to shoo away the crowd, demanding that they give the paying customers their privacy. They groaned and mumbled as they walked away, and Lance spared them a polite smile and wave. The waiter promised to return soon for their order.
Sitting in the chair across from Shiro, Lance desperately tried to calm the rather vicious butterflies accosting his stomach. The plug inside of him shifted as he leaned back against the chair, and he struggled not to squirm. “H-hey, Shiro. Been a while.”
“You have no idea how happy I am to see your face,” Shiro said, features lit up with a strange mix of excitement and relief. The dating algorithms written into his programming were impressive.
“Me too,” Lance mumbled, his eyes darting everywhere. He was so nervous. His mind was at a full stop, having no idea what to say now that he was in the middle of the arranged date. The looks Shiro was giving Lance were too much for his poor heart to take.
The waiter returned for their drink order, both of them requesting to start out with water as they perused the menus. Lance would need a whole pitcher of water by the time the date was done. His throat felt painfully dry already.
Alone once more, menu propped in front of his face, Lance peeked up at Shiro to see the man doing the same thing. Heat rushed into Lance’s cheeks as he immediately broke eye contact. Had it always been so difficult to look Shiro in the eye?
“Is there anyone watching us?” Shiro asked in a whisper.
“What?” Lance looked back to find serious and hopeful eyes gazing back at him. “Uh, n-no.” Was he worried about being spied on by the fans? Sure, if they did anything weird, rumors could spread, but that happened all the time. Shiro could be confirmed as being back on Earth, so there would be no substance to them. “We’re totally safe.”
Shiro dropped his menu with a huge sigh of relief. “I’m so glad you found a way in. I didn’t know how to contact anyone for help, but I knew you guys would find a way to save me.”
There was a sinking feeling in Lance’s gut. This was certainly not part of a normal dating script. Perhaps when he was still a naive teenager, he would have convinced himself otherwise. That was no longer the case. He was better at assessing things now and sensing a problem that was brewing.
“Well, I’m here now,” Lance said, his lips feeling numb. If he could get Shiro talking, he could figure out what exactly was wrong. Was there something corrupted in the coding or…
"You have no idea what they've made us do. What they've made me do." Shiro looked so haunted, his eyes intense and imploring. It was hard to remember that he wasn’t real. That he was just a machine — an android.
“We've all tried to escape,” Shiro continued, voice quiet and clear. “But this thing they put in our necks stop us.” He rubbed at something on the back of his neck, fingers trembling the barest amount. “They keep calling us androids, but that's not right!”
Lance’s ears were ringing.
Shiro had a hopeful smile on his face as he spoke the next words, like they were the only things bringing him comfort. “But you know that already. It's why you're here."
Lance didn't know that. He didn't know anything other than the fact that he was starting to feel incredibly sick. He told himself to say something in the tense silence, but he couldn’t force anything out. His head was a mess. What do you say to that?
Not-Shiro was starting to look worried at Lance’s continued lack of response. His fingers picked at the menu in a nervous habit Lance had never seen Shiro do. Taking a sharp breath, Not-Shiro started babbling.
"I... I think the others are clones. Or... or maybe I'm a clone, too?” He swallowed hard, looking down at the table, eyes going unfocused. “I have memories, but they're scattered. I don't know what to think anymore."
“What do you remember?” Lance heard himself ask before he’d even really thought about it. His voice sounded like he felt: scared.
Desperate eye's locked onto Lance. "There's not another Shiro out there, is there? It's just me. Just... us..."
Lance should’ve said something. He couldn't. He couldn't even wipe off the look of growing horror and panic spreading across his face. Not-Shiro noticed and the hope and happiness that burned too intensely upon first seeing Lance began to flicker and fade. The truth didn’t have to be spoken to be known.
"Oh…” Shiro’s voice sounded so suddenly small. “There is… Are… Are you sure?”
Lance nodded in a mechanical way. “We know for a fact.”
Shiro swallowed hard and looked down at his lap. "Am I really just an uppity android with too many memories, then? Are you... Are you going to take me back and—” Shiro choked off before taking a deep breath and valiantly finishing, "—and have me fixed?"
The waiter suddenly appeared at their table with water glasses. "May I recommend some wine with your meal—"
"Strongest stuff you have," Lance replied. "The whole bottle." He handed the menus back over. “To go.”
The waiter looked taken aback, but he didn’t argue, just spun around and went to fulfill the request. Not-Shiro looked panicked, his breathing kicking up a notch. “Please, don’t tell the shopkeeper. I’ll be good. I won’t say anything more. I—”
Lance reached across the table and grabbed Shiro’s trembling hand. “Listen to me, we’re going to figure this out. I promise. Nobody’s doing anything to you without your consent, okay?”
“But what if I am just an uppity android?” Shiro asked in a pained whisper that felt like a bullet to Lance’s chest.
“It doesn’t matter. If you’re scared, I’ll find a way to help. I don’t care who or... or what you are, understand?”
Not-Shiro nodded as he tried to put on a brave face, as if everything he had once believed hadn’t just crumbled around him. “I trust you.”
“I won’t let you down.”
The waiter came over with the wine contained in a fancy bag. Lance handed over a lot of what passed for cash on this planet and told him to keep the change. Wrapping one arm around Shiro’s, they left, heading for the shop Not-Shiro had come from to clear everything up. Lance took a long, long pull from the bottle of wine to steady his nerves, he was going to need it.
Lance cursed and threw his phone at the bed. The shop had been closed, the owner nowhere in sight. The business line went to voicemail. There was an emergency line, but that would just send a tech out to reset the “android” which had sent Not-Shiro into a panic. They ended up back at Lance’s very nice, very romantic suite he’d booked for the night while Lance continued to attempt contacting the shop owner.
“I can’t reach him,” Lance sighed and ran a hand through his hair. “We’ll have to wait on him to come to pick you up tomorrow—”
“Are you sending me back?” Not-Shiro sat on the deep red love seat, back stock straight, face a mixture of too many emotions for Lance to handle.
“No, of course not! I promise you, I’m not.” Lance walked over and placed his hands on Shiro’s shoulders. “I just want to get to the bottom of this. I’m going to figure this out. I’ll get you and everyone else out of there. Promise.”
Shiro picked at his nails and nodded, looking like he wanted to believe Lance but was too wary to do so. Everything about it was so different, so un-Shiro-like. An android would have been programmed to act like the videos, right? All suave confidence and perfect smiles. That wasn’t the Shiro sitting in front of Lance. Not by a long shot.
“I believe you,” Lance said as he moved to sit beside Not-Shiro. “I don’t think you’re an android. Even if you are, you’re way too advanced to be—Guh!” He choked off the moment his weight dropped onto his ass.
The plug had long ago been forgotten, but after so many hours of distraction and pacing, it was starting to chafe and the subtle press to his prostate was becoming a bit too sensitive. The slight shuffling of the ball was more noticeable than it had any right to be. Worst of all, it reminded him of exactly what he had originally planned for the evening. He was no different than anyone else that had rented and used Not-Shiro previously.
It made him sick.
Worried eyes locked onto his, making him swallow hard around his guilt. His eyes darted around the room in search of the now half-empty wine bottle. The alcohol would likely do him no favors at the moment, but how else was he to handle himself?
“It’s nothing,” Lance promised. “Have you seen the wine?”
A hand pushed against his chest, forcing Lance to lean back against the couch. The plug dug into him, the ball shifted, his hole stretched uncomfortably. He took a sharp breath and winced. Shiro’s eyes were keen and saw right through Lance’s poor attempts to cover his actions.
“How long have you been wearing it?” Shiro asked.
Lance blushed to the roots of his hair. “Wearing what?” he squeaked.
“You ordered me for a reason, when you didn’t know.” There was an odd look in Shiro’s eyes, something between sadness, resignation, and guilt. “And I… I ruined your night.”
“No! No, no, no.” Lance shook his head hard. “It was stupid of me. I’m at fault. All me. You did nothing wrong. The upside is I get to save you, right? Loverboy Lance gets to be Lance the Hero this time!” He was babbling. Quiznak, when was the last time he’d caught himself babbling? He felt like a kid again.
“Anyways…” Lance rubbed his damp palms against his pants. “I’m going to pop into the bathroom for a minute—”
“I can take care of it.” Shiro looked serious. Totally serious. Serious enough to put his hand out and slide it along Lance’s side, and oh my, Shiro’s hand was so hot, and oh it felt better than he’d ever dreamed and—
“Wait!” Lance put some distance between them with a double-armed shove. “You don’t have to do that!”
A little line grew between Shiro’s eyebrows as he tilted his head at Lance. “Why not?”
“Because I’m not going to take advantage of you!”
It was Shiro’s turn to blush. He looked down at Lance’s hands over his pecs before taking them in his own and lowering them. One hand rough and warm, the other smooth and cold. “I know you won’t,” Shiro said, voice quiet. “Most of the people that buy a night with me are just looking for some mindless fantasy.”
Me, too, Lance thought, but his tongue felt too thick to say it.
“But you know me. Or, I should say, you know Shiro .” He looked contemplative as he admitted to himself that he truly wasn’t who he thought he was. “So I guess I’m asking what your reason was. I know you have to have one.”
Lance really didn’t want to say it, but he at least owed the person he’d almost hurt the truth. “I… I fell for Shiro pretty hard.” Lance’s face heated up and his gut churned. He watched his hands, waiting for the moment that Not-Shiro pulled away. “I knew I didn’t have a chance. I knew he was in love with Keith. I’m happy for them, really, I am, but…”
Startled, Lance looked up at Not-Shiro’s stunned face. “Uhhh… Yeah. They, uh, got married.”
“But he’s a kid!”
“Well, not anymore. They’ve gone through a lot together.” They all had, though it had certainly brought Keith and Shiro closer than ever.
Not-Shiro shook his head in disbelief. “But he’s like my little brother!”
Lance couldn’t help it. He snorted. “Keith called them brothers once and Shiro was upset about it for years. Bro-zoned.”
Shiro collapsed back against the couch. “I can’t imagine it.”
Something a little too excited fluttered in Lance’s chest, but he squashed it. “Well, that just proves that you two are different people, ya know? Not exact copies. And that’s the point. You deserve to live your own life.”
Not-Shiro hummed and ran his thumb along the back of Lance’s hand. “It still feels strange to think of myself as someone else. I’m still who I am because of Shiro’s memories.”
What did you say to that? It was a complex situation and Lance was nowhere near capable of handling it. “Well, you can still be whoever you want. Besides, I think you’re already a nicer guy than Shiro.” Lance grinned, hoping it would make the man feel better.
Not-Shiro gave Lance a wry smile. “Now you’re just being nice.” They paused for a moment in awkward silence, both of them wondering how they were going to possibly handle things from now on. “Maybe I should have a different name.”
“Oh?” Lance smiled encouragingly. “Yeah, I think that’s a good idea.” After all, he couldn’t keep calling him Not-Shiro forever.
“I was thinking… I was thinking it’d be nice to be called Takashi.”
Lance blinked. He had assumed that Not-Shiro would choose something not so close to the original. “You sure?”
“Yeah…” A hint of pink crept into those perfect cheeks. “For better or worse, who Shiro was defines me, but I — he — was always able to relax and be someone other than the military officer when while simply Takashi. I think I’d like to discover who I am that way.”
“Alright.” Lance squeezed the large hands in his own. “Then it’s nice to meet you, Takashi.”
That statement was met with a large grin. “You, too, Lance.”
That shy, slightly blushing face smiling at Lance was doing things to him. He needed to take a moment to himself and recover. He really needed the plug out of his ass. “Okay, well, I’ll be right back and then we can think about food and sleeping arrangements and—”
“Is it because I’m not Shiro?”
“What?” Lance gaped at Takashi’s sad and concerned look.
“Is that why you don’t want to be with me?”
“What? No! That’s not— I mean— You are— Wait! Why are you pushing this in the first place? You don’t want to be forced to have sex with some stranger anyways, right?”
“You’re not a stranger,” Takashi said, and damn him for looking so earnest about it. “You’re someone who knows me and wanted me, even after all these years. You weren’t looking for some twisted sense of superiority or a moment in the spotlight. You wanted a private date, just you and me, talking and having fun. I… Ever since I ended up at that shop… I’ve never had that.”
That didn’t help Lance at all. Takashi wanted to be with Lance only because he’d never experienced someone being truly kind or had someone talk to him like an actual human being. Nobody had ever gone above and beyond to help him and fix the situation— no one had even tried, probably. That would just mean Lance was taking advantage of a hurt and vulnerable person if he did anything.
“You don’t owe me anything for that,” Lance said, voice soft and careful. “Don’t worry about it.”
Takashi shook his head. “It isn’t about that. I just… Wouldn’t you be lonely, too? In my shoes?”
Lance was always lonely. He never said that out loud, not to anyone. He constantly felt a step away from losing everyone around him. He had to make new friends, new connections, constantly to replace the ones that would leave. Lance was just the friend on the side, not the person you grew close to.
In a way, Takashi likely knew what that felt like. Always wanted for someone else’s image and never for himself. A shadow who watches his life play out as an inactive participant, never having a chance to be his own self.
They were two lonely souls astray in the universe.
Takashi leaned forward and Lance didn’t stop it. He should have. The guilt and self-loathing would eat him up later, but he was physically incapable of stopping Takashi from leaning in. It was like the perfect cheat code. Takashi knew who Lance was and wanted him anyways. Already acquainted strangers who were desperate to touch each other.
So when Takashi’s lips pressed against his, Lance moaned and opened his mouth. It was gentle and exploratory, like Takashi had never had a chance to just do things at his own pace before. He probably hadn’t. Lance just sat where he was and let Takashi do as he pleased, soaking up the feeling of warmth and care.
“Please,” Takashi whispered against Lance’s lips. “Please like me, too.”
Lance was going to hell. “I do.”
Then his arms were around Takashi’s neck and those big hands were wrapped around his waist. It was a dream come true and a nightmare come to life all at once, and Lance was happily drowning in it.
They devolved into grasping hands and needy moans. There were clothes flying, and a constant reminder of the plug in Lance’s ass every time he moved. His head spun before he realized Takashi had pulled them up off the loveseat. Lance wrapped his legs around the solid waist as he shoved his tongue into Takashi's mouth.
Movement. Warm hands. Heavy breaths. Lance’s back hit something soft. Shit. They were on the bed. This was progressing too fast. He should do something about it. Except his libido decided that “do something” translated to “wrap your hand around that dick” and oh wow that’s a nice dick…
“Lance,” Shiro moaned.
Wait. Lance’s eyes popped open but that moment of disorientation didn’t pass when inches away from Shiro’s face and a white tuft of hair. Pulling up his free hand, he slapped it on top of Takashi’s head, covering the white and leaving only the black. It sort of helped. At the very least, he looked more like Shiro the Teacher rather than Shiro the Paladin— Keith's husband.
Lance had a one-way, express ticket to hell.
Something odd flickered across Takashi’s eyes. “It’s okay.” He reached up and pulled Lance’s hand off his head. “You can think of me as Shiro if you want it.”
“What? No! I wasn’t— That’s not— No.”
“Lance, until a few hours ago, even I thought I was Shiro. We can just pretend. Just for tonight.”
“Don’t say ‘but’ when your hand is still on my dick.”
Lance blushed. He couldn’t help it. Shiro’s voice had just said the word dick in his presence. “I feel like you’re a masochist.”
Takashi smirked and leaned forward again, his lips moving along Lance’s when he spoke. “Maybe.”
Sex with Takashi was like an out of body experience. Hands and lips, breath and body heat, moans and whimpers, they were all surreal. Lance about came off the bed when the plug was carefully pulled out of him and tossed to the side. He trembled when more lube was pressed inside of him. He begged for it in a nonsensical stream of profanity, but Takashi understood what he wanted, what he needed.
Takashi was gentle and intimate. He looked at Lance like at any moment reality would shatter and the whole experience would be some kind of strange dream. Lance could relate to that feeling. So they held to an unspoken agreement — make it last.
Slow, gentle thrusts, soft kisses, and exploratory fingers was what their world narrowed to. They held each other and whispered soothing platitudes and promises that everything would be alright. They lost themselves in distracting pleasure where it was easy to pretend that nothing else mattered but their connection at the moment.
It was unlike anything Lance had experienced before, and his climax was intense and soothing all at once. It made no sense, but he felt closer to Takashi than he had to anyone in a long, long time.
Afterward, they held each other close, desperately clinging to one another like it could all be ripped away in a moment.
“Thank you,” Takashi murmured.
“Ditto,” Lance whispered. Truly, his crush on Shiro might have actually been broken after everything that had happened. In its place was an intense need to protect Takashi and the others with everything at Lance’s disposal. Deep down, Lance knew that was likely just a distraction from his deeper issues, but he was good at ignoring little facts like that.
“Don’t leave me,” Takashi said, arms squeezing Lance tight.
“I won’t. Promise.”
Sleep came for Lance eventually and just before it did, he heard Takashi mumble, “Do you think I should dye my hair? Make myself… me?”
“Mmhmm, ‘s a good idea.”
A nose nuzzled into Lance’s hair. “Thank you…”
This art is by Hymn!
Chapter 2: The Fickle Lioness
The next day, Ethan showed up just after noon to pick up the android, knocking before shouting through the door. “Lance? It’s Ethan!”
There were muffled thumps before. “Uh, yeah, come on in.”
He grinned as Lance scrambled to unlock the door, sure he was about to permanently sell another clone. He might end this year with a profit after all.
The door swung open to reveal a harried-looking Lance framed by a high-class hotel room. It sure was nice to have a famous client with lots of money. The android was nowhere in sight, which left the bathroom. Probably still cleaning up.
As the door swung shut, Ethan’s grin faded at the stressed out look of his client. That wasn’t the face of a satisfied customer. “Lance?”
Said customer was pacing in front of the bed, hair a mess, clothes rumples, one thumb in his mouth to gnaw on the nail. “Uh, listen. I can’t give him to you.”
Oh, good. It’s just purchasing nerves. Ethan chuckled. “Okay, sounds good, we can head to the shop and work out payments—”
“No, no. I mean. He’s not an android.” Lance swung his eyes around with a fierce look, shoulders set like he was ready for a fight.
Ethan couldn’t stop the pitying look. “Now, Lance—”
“No. Ugh. I’m about to seriously break some big quiznaking laws here.” He paused to mutter under his breath, “—and I might lose the money that I used to rent him if anyone finds out I broke the NDA…” before he continued, “But remember the stories of the battle right before we returned to Earth?”
“You took out the witch Haggar’s main training facility and helped to change the course of the war with the druids’ deaths.” Ethan diligently responded, one finger in the air. The whole galaxy knew that story.
Lance scratched his neck. “Technically, yeah.”
“And this is relevant because…”
“We also destroyed—or thought we destroyed, I guess — a clone factory.”
Ethan frowned, puzzled. He hadn’t heard any stories of that. What had they been cloning? The Galra were a scary bunch, and he prided himself in not participating in those politics, leaning instead on his mixed heritage.
“A Shiro clone factory,” Lance clarified with a significant look.
“Oh.” Ethan’s stomach sank. He had a bad feeling about what was coming.
“Yeah. That’s not an android.” Lance pointed aggressively at the bathroom door. “That’s a clone.”
Ethan realized that if that was true, it would make him worse than any Galra who had forced others to participate in the arena.
Ethan whipped out his datapad and started typing rapidly, mumbling curses under his breath. This couldn’t possibly be true. If it was… Oh no. No, no, no. He was done for! He’d be arrested for trafficking! How would he ever face his family again once they found out he was a sex slave trader? He was going to be sick.
Ethan flinched. “I—! Oh, please. Just do not let the princess know.” He has always looked up to Allura, refusing to stock any of the androids in her likeness. He clutched his datapad between two hands. “I promise I’ll take care of them—”
The bathroom door slammed open, and the clone burst out. “You can’t kill them!”
“What?” Ethan choked. “Who said kill?! Who do you think I am? I can’t even kill an earthen bloodsucker!”
Lance coughed. “Vampires aren’t real.”
Ethan gave Lance a wary look. “I am fairly certain these vampires you speak of exist. They bite me any time I deliver there.”
The clone looked between the two of them with furrowed eyebrows. “And what do they look like?”
Lance answered first. “Pale, afraid of garlic… pointy teeth… On the rare occasion sparkly... Are you sure you got all of Shiro’s memories? I mean, he was a huge scary movie buff.”
The clone pinched the bridge of his nose. “Not you, Lance.”
Lance blushed. “Oh.”
“Little flying things.” Ethan held up his fingers so they were almost touching.
“Mosquitos,” Lance responded with dawning understanding. “You can’t kill mosquitos. Everyone can kill them. They’re terrible.”
Ethan shrugged. “I can not.”
Shiro’s clone shook his head. “So, if you were not planning to dispose of the clones?”
“I’m having my manager take them off the floor and cancel bookings!” Obviously! That was the sensible thing to do.
The clone blushed a bit, though he still looked defensive. “Oh.”
Ethan supposed he couldn’t blame the guy after everything that happened. He was still swirling with guilt and panic, but it was nothing compared to the things the clone had been forced to do. Some of them had come back injured… Oh, he was going to be sick again.
“S-so, what should I call you?” Ethan asked, hoping to establish a new rapport between them.
“I picked the name Takashi,” was the slightly defensive reply.
“A good name!” Ethan smiled, hoping it would calm the man a little. “I like it. Suits you. The new hair color suits you, too!” He waved a free hand at the bright purple forelock, his other three typing away on the datapad before shutting it once more.
For reasons unknown, both Takashi and Lance blushed at that.
Lance cleared his throat and pulled Takashi over to the love seat in the room. “So, we came up with a small plan last night.”
“Lance, I hardly call save all the clones a plan,” Takashi argued. “It's more like… an intention. Plans have actual, you know… plans.”
Lance waved him off and turned to Ethan. “You in?”
Like he had a choice. If his own morals weren’t enough, his impending arrest by a quiznacking Paladin of Voltron— or two, if clones counted— would definitely spur him into action. “We must find all the sold ones as well,” he said, pulling his datapad back up and typing away.
“You sold some of them? How many did you sell?” Takashi demanded. Lance was gently rubbing Takashi’s back and trying to calm him.
“Well, we had seven at our shop. Three are left so…” He counted on his fingers. “I sold off four over the past few years since rentals were slowing down, though I have a few other shops I own but do not manage. I’ll need to check their records. Also, I know there are other shops who stock some as well, I just don’t know their rental to sales ratio.”
Takashi was borderline hyperventilating by the end of the explanation. Lance looked torn between making Ethan stop talking and making Takashi leave the room so he could get all of the information they desperately needed. “Takashi… Why don’t you go down to the front desk and get us some tea?”
Takashi nodded and headed to the door with unfocused eyes, still trying to keep his breathing under control. Ethan swallowed the bile in his throat as he watched the obviously tormented clone leave.
“So,” Ethan said once the door was shut. “Plan.”
Lance scratched the back of his neck. “He was pretty spot on. The plan was basically ‘save the clones’. I figure I can call in a few favors here and there… buy someplace safe, and then find the ones you sold.”
“Yeah, that… that works.” Ethan started pulling up his sales log. “Uh, what can we do with the ones we already have?”
“My place is out.” Lance held up his hands. “Definite no. Hunk comes by weekly, and holy crow, he would flip out.”
“So… we are not planning to tell the paladins?” Usually, they were very into that whole teamwork thing, or so the vids showed.
Lance released a bitter laugh. “First— do you actually want to face the Princess, or Shiro… or his husband Keith and say you basically pimped out a few bits of Shiro’s quintessence-fueled clones? Not that Hunk or Pidge would be much more forgiving… Or Coran.” Lance shuddered.
Ethan felt faint.
“Second— I do not want to explain to any of them how I found out about this. And third— Shiro, the real Shiro, absolutely does not need this hanging over him. It was weird enough when we all thought the Shiro androids were just for photo ops, like Santa… and, you know… thought they were built like a Ken doll.”
“What… are Santa and Ken Dolls?”
Lance waved it off. “It’s not important right now.”
“Oh, dear.” Ethan had a horrible thought. “Are the other models clones as well?”
Lance squeaked. “Other models?”
“Yes, there are models of three of the other paladins as well.”
“Which other three?”
Ethan typed away on his datapad, pulling up rotating photos of Hunk, Keith and Lance. “There are plans for the tiny green paladin as well.”
“Me?” Lance's voice cracked. It was odd that he was always so enigmatic in the vids but seemed surprised at the thought of anyone wanting a date with him, however false it may be.
“Yes,” Ethan confirmed. “There was a demand. I sold five myself.”
Lance squeaked at that knowledge. “I sold more than Shiro?”
“Well, you were marketed as Loverboy Lance, which was an advertisement in and of itself. Then, the programming was very enigmatic and engaging… and flexible. That is… assuming it was a program.”
Lance waved his hands in front of him. “There were only Shiros in the compound we destroyed.”
“Then how do we tell the difference between an android and a clone?”
Lance dropped his face into his hands. “We’ll have to thoroughly interview them all. Maybe we can find equipment to do a detailed bio scan…”
Takashi came back in then, a tray of tea balanced on his hip as he wiggled through the door. He took in the look on Lance's face and quickly dropped the tray on the table and rushed over.
“What did you do to him?” Takashi demanded.
“Nothing!” Ethan held up two of his hands placatingly, shielding himself with the other two.
“Takashi, it's fine,” Lance assured, one hand gripping the metal of the others.
Takashi assessed Lance with a keen eye. “No, this is not fine.”
Lance slipped an arm around Takashi while trying to pull him into a gentle rocking motion. Perhaps it would calm the both of them.
“I was just telling him about the other paladin androids,” Ethan cleared up before things could get worse. “We have to make sure they aren't clones as well.”
Takashi rubbed Lance's sides. “I'm pretty sure they aren't. They were all content and told me I was imagining things when we spoke. When we talked about flying, they all said it was an honor and a privilege. None of them could tell me the actual emotions. One even suggested reprogramming to ‘soothe my worries’.”
Lance bristled at that. “Who in their right minds would think that any of the paladins would ever say that to you?”
Ethan balked. He was just trying to be thorough! If there was one type of clone, there could be others, and he wouldn’t be able to sleep at night if he didn’t make sure of it. “They're made by Kreplack Industries. They made this data pad too, they're excellent at—”
“Thank you, Ethan,” Lance cut in a little too loud. “I just mean… they did a crap job of getting our personalities.”
“Yeah, I guess.” Takashi scratched the back of his neck. “That did seem odd for Hunk, but—”
“Hunk said that? Yeah. Definitely not a clone then.”
Ethan relaxed a bit, and they took a moment to calm down and sip at the tea. They set up a basic plan — get a house, move the unsold Shiros, and track the sold ones down. Once they all had their tasks, Lance checked out of the hotel, ignoring the knowing smirks from the staff at the two men behind him.
A purple Shiro with big fluffy Galra ears and yellow eyes probably should have been the weirdest thing Lance had ever seen. But, well, he had seen some shit during his time as a Paladin. Still, it was a lot to take in.
The clone was standing in the corner, arms curled up in front of him, shoulders hunched, and ears laid back. He was skittish and nervous. Those traits along with the Galra makeover made him painfully different from Shiro. It was easier for Lance not to get thrown off by similarities with this clone than it had been (and still was at times) with Takashi.
Ethan was in the front of the shop, closing things up and dealing with the other stores he managed. He was focused on his tasks, likely as a way to distract himself from the horrible reality they were facing. Lance couldn’t blame him— this was a life-changing event, there was no going back.
The other clone kept darting glances between Lance and the door that led to the shop before looking back at Takashi. They’d been talking for a while, with Takashi trying to sooth and explain what was happening. Lance kept his distance for the time being.
According to Ethan, the clone had come back from a session covered in wounds and terrified of everything — but especially knives. Ethan had tried to reset the “android” to rid it of the trauma, but it hadn’t worked. He put in a request for maintenance, but the barcode hadn’t gone through with the company. While trying to sort out the issue, Ethan had decided to just have the android help around the shop in quiet ways and stay clear of clients — it saved him money on hiring a shop hand.
Well, probably because the barcodes were fake, and the reset hadn’t worked because the poor thing wasn’t an android, add that to the list of apologies he would have to make. He was a clone who had been through some awful things (now including the reset) and would likely have nightmares over it for years. Lance wanted to track down whoever had done that and rip them apart.
“And that’s the real Lance?” the clone whispered, eyes wide as they met Lance’s before darting away.
Lance put on his professional smile, afraid that anything else would show just how freaked out he truly was. “It’s really me! I’m here to help in any way I can.”
“Why didn’t you help us sooner?”
That was such a punch in the gut that Lance almost doubled over as the air whooshed from his lungs. Takashi took over, assuring the other clone that there truly were androids out there that were totally legal and difficult to differentiate between clones without the proper equipment. The Paladins had no way of knowing.
And if Lance had any say in the matter, they never would. He would take this burden for all of them. It was the least he could do after everything that happened. At last, he could be useful to the others instead of always relying on them.
“You chose your own name?” the clone asked, voice soft with wonder.
Takashi smiled. “Yes. I have a lot of reasons for choosing it. If you can think of one you’d like then—”
“Asahi!” the clone blurted before slapping his hands over his mouth in dismay.
Takashi chuckled and places a gentle hand on Asahi’s shoulder. “It’s alright. You won’t get in trouble, especially not for picking such a nice name.”
Asahi’s ears twitched and a bashful look bloomed across his face. He was a sensitive soul, that much was obvious. It caused Lance’s protective instincts to kick into overdrive. He wondered if Takashi was feeling the same way.
“Let’s wake up Riku and tell him the news.”
Asahi sucked in a scandalized gasp. “We promised not to tell!” he hissed.
Takashi looked guilty. “We did, but… It’s fine now.”
The both of them looked at Lance like he was going to intervene. “Uh… who’s Riku?”
“The other clone in the shop,” Takashi said. “He picked a name a long time ago, but we promised to keep it a secret.”
“Ah.” Lance gave Asahi’s suspicious look a friendly smile. “I’m glad he already picked one! That’ll make introductions easier.”
“Ethan won’t like it,” Asahi muttered, glaring at the floor rather than be hostile to anyone directly.
“Things are different now,” Takashi promised for what was likely the hundredth time since the conversation started. “And we can always say the name is new.”
It made sense that they were wary of Ethan given all that had happened. Previously, he had treated them only as assets and saw displays of individuality as a glitch in the system that would hurt sales. It didn’t matter that Ethan hadn’t known, and all he was doing to fix the problem likely wouldn’t make much of a difference. Some things just couldn’t be undone.
They made their way to the storage room where the upright pods were. When not in use, the clones were kept in stasis. It occurred to Lance that more often than not, it meant the ‘functioning’ clones only had memories of their clients and little else. No wonder their sense of time was so off.
Riku was a human clone with no differences from the Shiro most of the universe had seen in the coalition vids — right down to the scar on his nose. He even acted as friendly and calming as that Shiro always was in public, all soft smiles and invested greetings. He was the kind of person that made you want to trust him. He was immediately greeting Lance as if he was a new client — Lance was once again feeling sick.
Upon hearing the details of their new reality, his emotions were kept perfectly under wraps, only a flash of surprise and eagerness cutting across his eyes before being covered up by subdued curiosity. He was friendly with Lance and swore to have no ill feelings towards Ethan, not that anyone believed him. Still, it was nice to know that one of the clones intended on being cooperative as things changed.
“So what is our next move?” Riku asked. He stood tall, shoulders back, one supportive hand resting on Asahi’s shoulder. Lance wanted to beg him to stop being so, so… Shiro. But he held his tongue and forced a smile.
“Well, next we find a place to go. Someplace safe and off the map as much as possible.”
“I’d like somewhere quiet,” Asahi said, voice soft and eyes downcast.
Riku smiled at him. “Someplace with room for animals would be nice.”
Asahi gave Riku a shy smile for that.
“Noted,” Lance said. “I’ll add it to the list of things to look for in a new place.”
“And how are we going to get there without being noticed?” Riku asked, apparently being the most pragmatic of all of them. “The blue Paladin walking around with three black Paladins is going to cause a stir.”
Red, Lance thought but didn’t say it aloud. That was a history lesson for another time. “I’ve been using a personal craft given to me for official use, so they’re likely to track it. I can send it back on autopilot, however.”
“Then how are we going to get around?” Takashi asked.
Lance smirked and tapped his temple. “I need to make a bit of a call.”
“Why are you like this?” Lance asked the open sky as a headache throbbed behind his eyeballs.
Connecting to Red from across the galaxies wasn’t really a problem. He had done that. The issue was that Red was a tough lion to connect with on a deeper level. She demanded that her pilot prove themselves on a regular basis. That had always been a problem with Lance. His erratic flying of her came directly from his erratic emotions and near-constant hesitation.
Flying Red had done a lot to help him grow as a person and a leader during the war and the aftermath. But all of that had been years ago. He hadn’t done anything to prove himself since then. All he had now was uncertainty, panic, and confusion.
Sure, the plan seemed straightforward enough: buy a house, find all the clones, live happily ever after. It all fell apart in the details, though. Other than the driving need to find and protect all the clones, Lance didn’t know what he was doing. He had too many people looking to him for guidance when all he wanted was some help of his own.
For a long time he had looked to Shiro for that, but despite all the doppelgangers, Shiro wasn’t here. It was just Lance. Lance who screwed everything up. Lance who wasn’t special. Lance who couldn’t make up his mind about anything.
I miss you, Blue, Lance thought. She had always been there to help and guide him, to support him, to encourage him when he felt like the one person who couldn’t keep up. She backed up all of his false bravado and never let people see how scared and inept he was. He could use that help now more than ever.
And just like that, Lance was seeing the inside of the storage bay that the lions were kept in. He’d seen the same thing through Red’s eyes, but there was no mistaking who it was that connected with his mind currently — the walls covered in murals of the sea instead of Red’s need for plain conformity and functionality. Lance grinned, tears pricking at his eyes.
Blue purred, and Lance could feel her worry over how upset he was. She had always viewed the Paladins as her cubs and always would. She sensed how badly Lance yearned for her protection and saw the others in his mind that needed help. Unlike Red, she had no reason to hesitate. In fact, she had every reason to go out into the universe and help save her cubs.
So she did exactly that.
A breeze picked up and ruffled Lance’s hair as he felt Blue leave the hanger and take flight. Likely, nobody would question where Blue was going or why— not that they could stop her anyway. After all, Allura had intergalactic business to conduct all the time, and supposedly, that was her lion. Lance only felt a tiny bit guilty about that.
“Any luck?” Takashi asked as he stepped out onto the roof of the shop where Lance sat.
“The best of luck,” Lance replied, turning to flash the other man a big grin. “We’re about to have the best ride in all the universe.” He could feel Blue’s purr of approval — she was happy her cub called for her.
Takashi sat down next to Lance with a fond smile. “I’m glad to hear it.” He reached out and threaded his fingers with Lance’s. It was both amazing and guilt-inducing to feel. “Is this okay?”
Lance stared at their hands. “Is this really what you want?”
Cold metal fingers brushed across his cheek and he looked up into dark eyes. “Can we at least try and see if it works out? I feel better when I’m with you. I like touching you. I like that you see me.”
And what was there to say to that? “Okay,” Lance said with only a slight tremor to his voice. He squeezed Takashi’s hand as his mind ran in circles. In response, Blue filled his senses in another burst, happy that Lance had found someone to care for him.
Due to the distraction of Blue and Lance’s churning stomach over the simple concept of Takashi caring for him, he missed what was right in front of him. Reality snapped into place as Takashi’s lips pressed against his. Ah… He could get used to such a feeling.
I feel better when I’m with you, too.
Chapter 3: Home is any four walls that enclose the right person
The official founding days of Lance's Home for Wayward Shiros.
(title from Helen Rowland)
I'm so sorry this didn't go up yesterday!
Lance called in a favor first. He knew of a sweet Olkari named Karbos who specialized in “vacation homes” for the rich and famous in the universe.
Apparently, Lance qualified.
Takashi stayed at the store with Ethan, helping to close up shop and tie up loose ends. He was telling customers that a rich patron had passed away and he didn't need to work anymore. The goal was to get everything boxed up and loaded into Blue so that they could move it to their new home… once they bought it— minor detail.
Asahi and Riku spend some time bonding with Blue who fretted over them enough to be somewhat distracting in the back of Lance’s mind. Forming Voltron with Shiro’s essence trapped in Black meant that all the lions formed a deep connection with him. They knew his memories and troubles. They knew who he was deep down at his core.
A little bit of him was in each of the clones, and Blue sensed that. She was fiercely protective of them because of it. Lance didn’t dissuade it since he felt exactly the same way.
That night, Asahi and Riku stayed in Blue as Takashi, Lance, and Ethan met up with their new realtor Karbos. They ended up at a warehouse that made both Lance and Takashi wary. It was huge and looked mostly empty. Karbos was outside, ready to greet them each with a warm hug. She led them inside the structure and it was just as empty as it appeared from the outside.
Before Lance could question it, Karbos handed out goggles to each man, and she slipped on a pair herself while the datapad on her arm lit up as each piece of tech powered up and connected.
“Okay. So, this will probably work a bit different than you are used to… That is, most Galra are used to it, but humans all seem to expect tree sheets and ink.”
Lance scrunched up his nose at that.
“We are looking at many planets and moons, so it would be a waste of resources to travel to them. Instead, we show them here.”
She tapped the datapad and the room lit up, filling with an odd colored lawn and a distant house that looked like stacked ice cream scoops. She was quick to lead them through the property, walking around the miniaturized house, explaining the scaling to them. The images of lawn and sky covered the plain metal walls, but if Lance squinted hard enough, he could sort of make out the real walls beneath the vibrant overlay. That helped him feel more comfortable about not accidentally walking into one.
Once the tour of the property was done, Karbos pulled them back towards the warehouse door, typing more into the datapad. “You will want to shut your eyes for this. Most find it unpleasant. I do not wish to clean your stomachs from the floor.”
Lance and Shiro immediately clenched their eyes shut, but Ethan just relaxed, watching as the house grew and swirled around them.
“Okay, open. Now, this time we are in true size. If you wish for a tour, I will assist. Otherwise, I will be here when you are ready to move to another level.”
The three men nodded and went up to the house, immediately discovering an issue. There were no stairs, just holes in the very high ceilings leading up to the upper levels. They still looked around and gave it a chance in case they could add stairs later.
When they walked back through the digital walls to speak with Karbos, they had decided it wasn't the house for them.
“I think this is a definite no,” Lance said.
She nodded. “And why?”
“Well, first off, there are no stairs.”
She chuckled a bit. “I forgot that would be a problem. The Krmvas are a winged race.”
Ethan pointed to his back. “No wings. So, maybe avoid the flighty places.” He flapped his hands to mimic buzzing wings.
Lance continued on. “And humans tend to prefer more privacy.”
She nodded and flipped through a few listings, pulling up another and catching Lance off guard, making him brace on the wall as the world swirled around them then settled on another property. The house was barely visible through all the trees, but this one looked like a giant traffic cone on its side. The inside wasn’t much better. The beds were basically cocoons stuck to the walls and Lance was just glad he didn’t have to be diplomatic on that setup — the oxygen levels were dangerously low.
The third one looked like a great option — until they got inside and realized every single surface was water. After that one, they all sat down and laid out a “must have” list for the house. It was simple things… like beds, breathable air, stairs, solid floors, ability to heat/cool… the bare minimum for them to survive the housing.
“So lava, that’s out for you? I have a beautiful house on—”
“Definitely out,” Lance insisted. “We would be charcoal.”
Her brow ridges twitched. “I don’t see how becoming that would be bad. I was under the impression you did not discriminate.”
Lance and Takashi exchanged a look, and Ethan spoke up. “Not Charthol. Char-coal. It’s a strange human thing with fire.”
She narrowed her eyes and looked back and forth between the humans. “Very well.” She went back to typing in the criteria. “Okay, I have three. The first is on Garvinal. It’s in your Galaxy, but two arms over.”
She led them through the swamp-like exterior, pointing out the various areas to access things, as well as a large raised area for landing air based crafts, and another area for their on-planet crafts. The house seemed too small, but Lance had learned early on that looks were deceiving in space. The interior apparently opened below the swamp- windows allowing occupants to watch the life in the ocean.
Which would have been awesome… if every wall and door wasn’t made of glass.
Lance smiled and politely declined the house — Karbos grumbling about how there were doors and they never specified materials.
The second house was set four galaxies away — helpful for secrecy… not so much for ease of travel in case of emergency. And yeah, Blue could haul ass when she needed to, but he preferred to not push her.
It was a shame that he couldn’t get past the distance. It was a gorgeous 18 bedroom maze of a place that seemed pretty nice. There was even a dome made for a garden. He shook his head, and she flicked to the third house. Thankfully, Lance was finally used to the swirling location changes.
And then he was standing in their front yard.
“This one is on Ariel. This is within your galaxy, however, it is as far away from your home solar system as one can get.”
Lance was walking around, looking at the long driveway and green — actually green — grass in the front yard. There was a rustic look to it, large circles with the look of the lifters from the hoverbikes they had at the garrison leaning against the front — almost like the wagon wheels he saw in old western movies back home.
“The entire plot would be equal to roughly one hundred acres or sixty-seven galas.”
There were trees in the front yard that Lance could imagine climbing and sitting in to read like he used to as a kid. He was slowly circling the house when she flicked to the back.
“There’s a full water source in the back — sections are free-flowing and allow for the life to be caught and prepared as food. None of the water-dwellers are sentient.”
Lance looked back at that and realized that yeah… probably a good thing to think about. No need to start a war because you ate a species capable of government and stuff. He was too busy picturing a tire swing hanging from the tree in the back to be diplomatic apparently.
There was a perfect area to build a fort too.
“There is a fenced-in area for large land-dwelling food.”
Sweet. Kaltenecker Jr would love it here and so would all her calves. He slowly walked around, Takashi smiling at the happiness radiating from Lance. Lance was oblivious to everything else as he pictured it all — the perfect spot for a grill, a place to raise chickens, a vegetable garden. Then he glanced over to the house, standing barely ten foot tall in the center of the warehouse.
“Are you prepared to view the inside, then?” Karbos asked.
Lance nodded, Takashi offering a verbal response. “We definitely are.”
Lance smiled as the interior swirled into existence. It seemed to have been stripped bare, very little left but paint for decoration. Just inside the front door, there was a giant room that Lance could picture filled with couches and chairs. It might take a bit, but they’d make it a great living room.
He wandered around, finding a nice tiled large room that he imagined as a great dining room. There were only two bedrooms on the first floor and he figured one would be his.
Karbos helped them get through the other levels, rattling off what was there for them, everything they needed and a little more. They would be able to take in all the clones from Ethan's shop without needing to share rooms.
Ethan kept pinching Lance when he got too excited — which was pretty often. “You need to stay calm or we will never get a good price.”
Lance would just smile each time.
“So, I take it we should schedule a viewing for this one?” Karbos asked.
Ethan pinched Lance, hard, and responded. “Yes. But do keep your searches going.”
“Might I ask why you are looking for such a large house? If it is just you and the two paladins?”
Ethan narrowed his eyes at the inquisition, but Takashi stepped forward. “You mean Galra, Paladin, and Android.”
Lance went to protest but Takashi put up a hand behind his back, asking for a minute— seems like he had that quirk of Shiro’s from leading Voltron and keeping them in line.
Ethan let out a low sound before he spoke. “It is not your business, Olkari. And it is most assuredly not gossip to be spread as you wish.”
She let out a short breath.
Lance hit his arm. “He means to say that we are hesitant in sharing that information.”
She narrowed her eyes at Ethan, going back to her datapad, commenting on how they could visit at any time. The three men decided to go right away. There was no point in waiting now that Ethan’s shop was almost empty.
Lance really wished the property looked worse in person, because the jabs from Ethan were starting to hurt. The man was a giant and he kept switching hands! As they went on, Lance knew this was it. He could picture a future here. There was room to expand and plenty of privacy.
Not to mention the whole irony of the planet they were on. Ariel, the name of the little mermaid.
And while he might have stumbled into a slightly twisted version of the Disney story, where he kind of got the man… The entire situation mirrored the original version so much better.
Every moment he looked at Takashi, he knew what the original Ariel felt. Her pain was in her legs, his pain was in his chest. Each smile a painful jab, dragging through his peace. He had no doubt that if, when, Keith found out... he'd be no better than seafoam.
He was mid-mental debate about whether Haggar or Ursula made for an uglier witch when Takashi slid up next to him.
“You seem happy here.”
Lance just nodded. The sun was warm, the grass was lush, and the sound of water in the distance reminded him of home.
“Do you think we can get some bunnies?” The excitement in Takashi’s eyes was almost too cute to handle.
Lance wrapped an arm around Takashi and smiled. “Yeah, Buddy. We can get a bunch of bunnies. Let’s go buy a house.”
Lance had spent the last three weeks calling in every favor he could remember. He had shipments coming of food, animals, plants, and furniture. The more he could spread the tasks out to others, the harder it would be to track him down. If the other Paladins found him — if Keith or Shiro found him — it wouldn’t be pretty.
Ethan had spent his time selling his shop and his home. He’d said from the beginning that he was going to make up for what happened, and he meant it. He was all in, not sparing a single thought about having to pack up his life and move to some remote home on a faraway planet.
Riku and Asahi were already making themselves at home, picking two rooms side by side, preferring to stay close to one another. They had bonded in the shop and felt better when they were close to one another. Still, they had a goal of maintaining their own space in order to discover who they were as a person not in relation to Shiro.
Lance felt like that was a wonderful idea, if only Takashi had done the same. Though everyone insisted on Takashi having time to sort things out on his own, he was adamantly against it. He seemed to have this fear of being left alone and clung to Lance because of it.
They argued, of course. Lance was convinced that Takashi was obsessed with the idea of Lance — friend and Paladin, savior, companion. Except, Lance was no savior and the two of them didn’t really know each other. Though he supposed that was unfair. If they both had memories of being around one another, and both retained the connection they formed on the castle ship, didn’t that make them friends? That was always Takashi’s argument, at least.
“Aren’t you afraid that I want you just because you look like Shiro?” Lance argued.
“No,” Takashi said in complete calm as he meticulously made the bed in sheets he had personally picked out.
“Because you question yourself about that constantly. I don’t need to even bother with it.”
Lance crossed his arms with a huff. “Not cool, man.”
An amused little smirk tugged at Takashi’s lips, though he fought against it. “I feel better when I’m around you.”
That was playing dirty by pulling at Lance’s need to make sure Takashi was happy. “Sleeping in the same bed, kissing me, always staying beside me… That’s like dating, you know.”
“I know.” Takashi seemed pleased by that. He set the comforter into place with a hum.
“Why are you dating someone like me?” Lance meant to only address his mistakes since the rental of Takashi, but his voice betrayed him. He flirted constantly in hopes of badgering someone into liking him, but that didn’t make it real. If someone actually wanted to be with him, especially someone who knew all of his flaws up front… He couldn’t even think of a reason why. What did he have to offer?
Warm arms wrapped around Lance and he couldn’t help but lean into Takashi’s broad chest. A soft little kiss dropped onto Lance’s hair. “I like you, Lance.”
“Let me know if that changes.”
Takashi chuckled. “Sure, I’ll let you know when I end up liking you even more.”
Lance groaned and wrapped his arms around Takashi so he couldn’t be moved. He had no desire to let the man see his bright red face. That would only encourage things.
And so, despite Lance’s constant insecurities and everyone’s wariness of Takashi’s living arrangements, things were going well. The house was coming together, everyone was getting along, and the animals were happy in their new giant pasture.
Everything was going great.
Everything except for the phone currently ringing in Lance’s hand, his best friend’s face lighting up the screen. Lance knew he would have to answer soon. It had been a week and Hunk’s texts were breaking his heart.
He finally walked out to the back door so he could pace the empty backyard. In the distance, Riku was working with all the Kalterneckers that they were keeping and looked elated to be doing so — Lance was happy Riku was finally finding a place to be himself. Taking a deep breath, Lance stared down his phone and pressed accept.
“HUNK! Hey man, what’s up?” Lance injected all the cheer he could muster into his voice, but Hunk wasn’t having it.
“Lance. You’ve been avoiding me.”
“What? Nope. No, I haven’t.” Lance paced a little faster.
There was a small chuckle on the other line before Hunk cut himself off. “You’re a terrible liar.”
“I know.” Lance rubbed the back of his neck.
“But you’re sticking with the lie?”
Lance didn’t respond.
“Lance, you’ve been off for a month. Are you…” Hunk never pressed, even during times he had every right to. He always had faith that Lance would eventually fess up to everything and they would talk it out. “Can you just tell me you’re okay?”
Lance sighed. Really, he wasn’t sure. “I will be. I promise I’ll keep in touch more.”
“Yeah. Okay.” It was obvious that Hunk wanted to hold out for more answers, but he was giving Lance space because Lance had asked for it. For some reason, that left an aching pain in Lance’s chest.
After he hung up the phone he looked at the picture until the screen went dark. It was a photo from Earth. Lance had dragged everyone to the fair and Hunk was smiling at all the food he had missed in space. That day, they both ate so many fried things that it left them sick.
He wished he could explain this to everyone else, but there was no way. Keith had already tried to toss the clones into a star once. Lance couldn’t let them all die. Or worse, be imprisoned and interrogated based on the fear that they might have the possibility of being brainwashed by rogue Galra forces. How was that any better than living their lives in the shop?
Lance would just have to get better at lying.
Chapter 4: Takashi's new life
Today was the day they would be tracking down the first one of the clones they had found.
It had been a Galra altered clone purchased by an emergency relief squad who toured the galaxy helping to keep peace and recover from disasters. They had bought the clone in hopes that Shiro’s face would help people feel reassured and comforted, despite the Galra characteristics many of the group had — even if they did pick the Galra version. Everyone had hopes that the clone had been well treated given the intentions of the buyers.
Lance had bit back a startled laugh during their first contact when the team answered the phone with a very excited, “Lion Force, what’s your emergency?” It had become common practice for many organizations seeking legitimacy to take on some form of lion name. Suffice to say, name dropping himself as a Paladin garnered him special treatment from the group.
They had agreed to meet up halfway from their base to Earth (because Lance couldn’t exactly broadcast his new home’s location). He was about to grab Takashi and head out to make it there on time.
“You’re leaving us alone with Ethan?” Asahi whispered as Lance pulled on his coat.
Lance offered a tired smile. “He’s going to be busy in his room all day tracking down the other sales. You don’t have to worry.”
Asahi frowned. “And if he decides to sell us instead?”
“He didn’t want to sell you while he thought you were an android,” Lance pointed out. “Why would he now?”
“Only because I wouldn’t be worth much in this state.” Asahi scowled.
“And you’re worth less now.”
Asahi gasped, affronted, and Lance immediately tried to backpedal. “I mean! You can’t control a clone. Well, some people can, but the druids are gone, and it was probably only the one who could manage anyways, but that’s not the point I’m trying to make— Uh—”
A hand dropped onto Lance’s shoulder. They both turned to see a smiling Takashi. “You know he didn’t mean it like that, Asahi.”
Lance flushed with shame. Takashi had heard the whole thing.
“And let Ethan have his chance to prove that he’s changed,” Takashi continued. “I don’t like being in the house with him any more than you do, but he’s done a lot to help get us to safety.”
Asahi crossed his arms and pouted, but he didn’t argue. “I’m going to finish tilling the garden today while you two are gone.”
“I appreciate it.” Lance smiled in that friendly way he was well rehearsed in.
Takashi steered them out the door and towards where Blue sat perched on a hill, looking down at the acres of land they now owned. “You’re too wound up today.”
“I’m just nervous. I don’t know how we’re supposed to keep explaining the situation to people while also keeping it a secret.” Lance was picking at the hem of his coat, pulling off imaginary lint.
“I don’t think Lion Force is going to be our biggest problem with that.”
“No,” Lance admitted as they trudged up the hill. “Probably not. But what about the other sales?”
Takashi grabbed his hand to stop the nervous fiddling. “Every situation is going to be different. There’s no use setting a plan in place for something we’re only guessing at. We’ll just have to take each case as they come.”
Lance sighed. “That sounds like the war. Ya know, during the times we were losing.”
Takashi chuckled. “But we won in the end.”
Blue purred at the two paladins entering the cockpit. She connected to them both, referring to them these days less often as Paladins and more as her cubs. Lance wasn’t sure how he felt about that, but at least she had his back. So long as she was around, nobody would be hurting the clones.
The trip was fast. Lance was able to unlock a lot of speed features now, thanks to all his time flying with Red. Still, Blue did most of the flying, letting Lance and Takashi go over the best way to explain the situation to the clone and the options he had for his future.
“Well, he is probably already aware something isn’t right, especially if he is around other androids,” Takashi reasoned.
Lance nodded. “Okay, so it shouldn’t be too hard to convince him of that. But what about the ‘come with us’ thing.”
“It’s his choice.” Takashi shrugged from where he leaned against a console.
His choice to stay in a life he might not even understand? “But—”
“Lance. Remember what you told me? ‘You deserve to live your own life.’ Why doesn’t every clone get that option?”
Lance stared at him. His mind and emotions at war with one another.
He shook his head. “You’re right… It’s just I also promised to get you all out, too. I don’t want to fail.” If something happened after he left a clone behind… He didn’t know how to deal with that.
“Well, then we let Blue here talk to each clone. She’ll never let them be hurt once she bonds with them and will let us know if anything happens. Just like Black was with the other clone. Well… from what I was taught, at least?”
Blue rumbled in his mind and though cocky, she was a bit upset that Lance didn’t think of her before the other paladin — he’d have to give her a nice wash later to apologize.
“Okay, yeah. So we have them all bond with Blue and then give them a choice of staying in their current life or coming to live at the house.”
“Good. Now that it’s settled, no more worrying over it.”
Lance grumbled and slumped in the pilot chair as he looked out at the stars flying past them.
Takashi walked over and wrapped his arms around Lance, chin nestling into soft brown hair, and looked at the screen. “Even with all the memories the witch gave me, space still amazes me,” he said, voice soft with wonder.
Lance leaned back into those strong arms and hummed his agreement. The vastness of space, the unending amount of things to discover, it never got boring.
“That’s not just a part of Shiro in me,” Takashi confided. “It’s me. I know that.”
Lance reached up and gripped one of Takashi’s hands where it rested over his collarbone. “You are your own person. All of this can only be experienced by you.”
Takashi smiled into Lance’s hair. “I like being in the stars with you.”
Lance’s heart flip-flopped inside his chest. These private moments with Takashi, they were addicting. It was hard to remember why the two of them being together was a bad idea. All Lance wanted was to share these little moments and be cared for. Was that such a bad thing?
More importantly, did he deserve it?
Not long after, Blue docked into one of the large hangers on the enormous space station that orbited a mining moon. It was the only major stop for trade, fuel, repairs, lodging, or entertainment for the surrounding three solar systems. That made it a pretty busy place, with everyone focused on their own travel needs, but enough foot traffic to easily be lost in a crowd.
Lance and Takashi headed into the bustling station to find their party and talk. Blue put up her shield once they were free of her, sitting up like she normally did anywhere but home.
At home, she laid like an Earth lioness overlooking her pride. Lance supposed she was — especially with her new perch overlooking the farmhouse.
Though the station had multiple additions over the years, giving it a maze-like quality, there were signs everywhere, making it easy to navigate. It meant they were both able to gawk at all the flashy displays and random storefronts without getting lost. The overlapping smells of food were almost constant, and Lance had to convince himself not to stop so they could get to their rendezvous on time.
They found the area containing conference rooms with relative ease, and their designated room soon after. Inside was a mix of aliens sitting at a table, engaged in subdued conversation. They turned to look at the newcomers, many of them glancing at Takashi with a mixture of surprise, curiosity, and sadness.
Lance scanned the room but saw no familiar face staring back at him. The clone wasn’t with them, even though he had been very specific about the expectations of the meet. He stood behind one of the empty chairs but refused to sit. Takashi stood just behind his left shoulder.
“Where’s the Shiro-Bot?” Lance gritted through his fake smile. He really didn’t like that right from the start there were lies.
“Well, you see… We didn’t think this was something for casual conversation,” one of the group said. “These rooms have maximized security to prevent information leaks. We found that prudent, given the situation.”
Lance scanned the badges on each person until he found the one with the official-looking badge on her chest. “You know.”
“Yes.” She nodded. “We kept the information contained. Not even all of our employees know. I can say with certainty that he never did anything that would harm the post-war peace. There was also never any indication that he was being controlled by others.”
“We were able to successfully remove the implant in his neck,” one of the others piped up. “We have that information with us so that it can be used in the future.”
They didn’t intend on bringing the clone into the meeting, that much was clear. “Where. Is. The. Clone?” Lance was no longer smiling.
His tense posture was reflected by Takashi, the pair both ready to fight if necessary. Lance could feel Blue in his mind just as ready to destroy the craft emblazoned with the Lion Force symbol to block their exit.
The aliens all averted their gazes as he stared them down until one offered his datapad. Lance looked down, and his heart dropped. Behind him, Takashi tensed.
Everyone’s Favorite Galra Found Dead, the headline read, dated two movements ago.
A quick skim of the article told Lance that the clone had died trying to save a small alien in a “shifted landscape.” Somehow, that phrase didn’t sound any better than “earthquake.” There was no picture with the article, nor any mentions of the uncanny appearance to a certain Paladin, just a list of the great deeds the man had done prior to his death. The truth of his clone status was obviously being carefully concealed.
“He loved his work,” Lion Force’s team leader said. “He told me that it felt like his calling to work with those in need. He was a good man. We all mourn his loss.”
Takashi was next to Lance, helping keep him upright as the news sunk in. Lance was a mess. It was just a small window that he had missed the clone by. If he had just decided to track them down before they were finished setting up the house…
Someone took the datapad from Lance and replaced it with a chip. “This is how to remove the device from the back of the neck. If you find any more like him, I hope that they can all live as free and happy of a life as he did.”
Lance could hear Blue rumbling outside, trying her best to comfort the pain that shot through him. Takashi was speaking, having an easier time compartmentalizing his emotions and handling the situation. Likely, he wasn’t drowning in guilt the same way Lance was.
If Keith found out that the clones had lived lives like this, saving others and being beloved by so many communities, how would it feel? Keith and Shiro had destroyed that clone base. How many men desperate for a chance at freedom had died? Would Keith blame himself more than Lance was doing now?
Keith... was never allowed to find out about this — even more than Lance’s original fears of that discovery, Keith and Shiro did not deserve the guilt. They had finally found peace and love with each other, and Lance would do anything to preserve that. Even if it meant isolating himself with the clones.
Takashi pulled them from the room and led them back to Blue. Lance was out of it for hours afterward, drowning in a thousand what-ifs. Takashi held him and gave him the time he needed to process things.
Much later Lance would have another break down when he realized that he had forgotten to ask if the clone had a name.
Lance was pushed down onto a chair in their room before a towel plopped onto his head. He closed his eyes and let it happen. Takashi scrubbed at Lance’s wet hair, fussing over how long Lance had stood in the shower, staring off into space. His skin was pink.
“It’s not your fault,” Takashi said for what was likely the hundredth time.
“I should have done something sooner,” Lance murmured.
“And if we had changed the plan, we wouldn’t have a place to bring any of the clones to. And there’s no guarantee that we would have tracked down that purchase first. There are too many factors.”
“He didn’t deserve the die like that.”
Takashi ran a warm hand up and down the back of Lance’s neck. “Even if we had found him sooner, he probably would have chosen to stay. He would have gone to that site. He would have still tried to save that child.”
“He wanted to help people, Lance. Just like you do. You can’t risk your life and then tell others not to do the same.” Takashi walked around to kneel in front of Lance and take his hands. “Helping others is what he loved to do. I believe that even without Lion Force telling me. It’s something that’s ingrained into all of us.”
A wan and painful little smile ghosted across Lance’s lips. “The Shirogane gene?”
Takashi smiled. “Maybe. But it’s more than that. Being out there, making a difference, it gives you a purpose in life. Especially for one like us, built only for someone else’s schemes. He was able to be so much more than what he was created for.”
“And then he died.”
“Before that, he got to live.”
Lance curled forward and shuddered as he tried to get his emotions back under control. Takashi left a gentle kiss on his forehead. Having someone there to offer Lance such affection and support, even during these moments when he couldn’t be the happy, carefree person everyone expected of him was invaluable. It made him crave Takashi’s presence. It made him never want to let go.
“Come on,” Takashi encouraged as he stood up and pulled the towel from Lance’s head. “Riku brought you dinner, and you need to eat something.”
“Riku made dinner?”
“Apparently, he got together with Asahi to find recipes they can try based on the food we plan to grow. It’s pretty good.”
Though Lance didn’t feel like leaving his room, he allowed Takashi to fret over him to make sure he ate. The food wasn’t half bad, and Lance focused on it to make sure he wouldn’t zone out and not taste it. He wanted to give genuine feedback to the other to make sure they knew how appreciative Lance was of their efforts.
Slowly and surely, they were learning how to live their lives on their own.
“We should get started on those implants,” Lance said once he’d finally finished his food.
“Ethan’s working on them,” Takashi promised. He set the empty plate on the dresser before herding Lance into bed. “I thought it would go a long way towards establishing trust if it was Ethan that removed the devices.”
“That’s a good idea.”
Lance flopped onto his back with a sigh, watching as Takashi changed into pajamas himself and turned out the lights. It felt so domestic, like they’d been doing this for years rather than weeks. Would things change if the implant was removed? Would it have mattered if it was removed immediately? Had Lance accidentally given some order to force Takashi to like him? Did it even work like that?
“You worry too much,” Takashi scolded as he crawled into bed and pulled the covers over them.
“It’s what I’m good at.”
Takashi pulled Lance into his arms and snuggled close. “I like getting to know this side of you.”
“The hot mess?”
“The person you don’t let anyone else see, including Shiro.”
Lance couldn’t argue that — no one wanted to be around him, not the real him anyway — but this version, this version was wanted, at least for now. He relaxed into Takashi’s arm and took deep breaths as he tried to calm his mind. “You bring it out of me.”
“Good,” Takashi said, and it sounded like he meant it. “That makes me special, hm?”
“Yes,” Lance admitted, closing his eyes. Even if this is a bad idea, you should know that you’re amazing.
Takashi pressed a warm kiss to the back of Lance’s neck. “Get some sleep.”
Somehow, Lance did.
Chapter 5: Kuro's pain
Lance, Takashi, and Ethan find and rescue a new clone- they find him alive, but Lance isn't so sure this time that alive was the better option.
This. This is where the tags come in. Please read with caution.
The next clone they tracked down proved to be more difficult to find. The owner — Carvelt Reslic— had moved seven times in the past five months, crossing galaxies to hide their trail. The paperwork after that... vanished. The final building was an abandoned warehouse covered in blood.
This was a Galra model clone and Lance had a bad feeling.
“We should report this,” Takashi said, looking pale as he surveyed the gruesome scene.
Lance felt numb. “Do you think this is his blood?”
“It’s too much,” Takashi said it like he was trying to convince himself as much as Lance.
“Are they forcing him to fight? Like they did with Shiro?”
“Maybe…” Takashi closed his eyes, eyebrows drawing together. He was likely fighting off those memories — memories that weren’t his of a horror he never personally had to experience. That didn’t change the mental scars it left behind, however.
“Come on,” Lance said as he turned and made his way back to Blue. “Let’s find the fucker that did this.”
It became an obsession for Lance. He barely slept and the others had to force him to eat. If he was too late, once again… No. He wouldn’t allow it. Not this time. Not again. He would find the clone and save him. There was no other option.
“The Galra clones never should have been taken out of stasis,” Asahi said one night, his fingers tracing along the scar that hid behind his shirt, his eyes distant. “They take out their fear and anger on us. They think it’s okay because we’re not really alive. But we are.”
Riku had gone over to soothe and comfort Asahi as Lance tried not to lose his lunch. Asahi wasn’t wrong. There would be lingering anger over the Galra for centuries to come. So soon after the war, people wanted something — someone — to focus their anger on. A Galra android in the image of a Paladin that came millennia too late was the perfect candidate.
Ethan had disappeared for a few days after that comment, only taking meals in his room— he told Lance it was the least he could do for the clones.
It was nearly a week before they came across even a scrap of information that might prove useful. There was a report about an Unilu who had been captured and quoted saying, “You’ll never find him in time.”
The name of the buyer was wrong, but the letters were all there, and Ethan admitted there was a chance that — with enough money — one of his shopkeepers allowed the Unilu to purchase the “android” without the proper identification. Asahi had been livid upon hearing that news, but at least it was something to go on, however small the chance.
At this point — Lance might have gone with no letters in common.
Clevart Liscer was the criminal that they tracked down, already in a holding cell of the local government. They granted the two Paladins access almost immediately to speak with Clevart in an interrogation room. A few of the aliens would monitor them outside of the room in case anything went wrong, but there were shackles on the Unilu’s four wrists that were bolted to the floor, not allowing for much movement.
“That one’s gone crazy,” one of the wardens said. “Be careful.”
Lance, Takashi, and Ethan entered the room with the seemingly calm Clevart, who simply laughed at the sight of Takashi. The criminal leaned back in his chair with a smirk, the chains on one leg rattling.
“Do you all feel one another?” he asked. “The druid supposed you might.”
Takashi glanced over at Lance. “I don’t know what you mean.”
“Guess not then… It’s a shame I could only afford the one,” Clevart said, leering at Takashi. “You would have been just as pretty strung up.”
Lance grabbed Takashi before he could lunge, shoving him towards Ethan and pointing to the door. Takashi didn’t like it, but Ethan was bigger and stronger — with an extra set of arms to restrain him — making it easy to manhandle him out the door. Once alone in the room, Lance turned a dark look on Clevart.
“Where is he?”
“I always wondered about a human’s skin,” was the breezy response, one hand waving at Lance’s bronze skin, the chains attached to the table pulling tight. “Does it break like a Galra’s?”
“Where is he?” Lance wasn’t about to play into this sick game. He wasn’t going to lose another clone to being just a little too late.
“I would have loved to have the extra credits to afford a real clone — not the Galra reject I got.” He shrugged one shoulder, “but he had his uses, even if he did talk too much.”
“Clevart. Where is he?”
Lance watched as all four hands pressed onto the table. “He couldn’t do anything right, even after I spent so long training him. Still tried to get hard, even when we finally gave him a cage. Barely even started taking my tentacle properly before I got caught. Hardly made any of my friends happy before that. Shame I couldn’t have enjoyed that for longer.”
Clevart had a glint in his eye and Lance knew what it meant, which made his stomach roll. Clevart obviously wasn’t able to indulge in his sadistic urges while in lockup, but he could still torture people with his words. He knew how to get under people’s skin. Lance had to keep his cool and not give him the satisfaction of a proper reaction.
That was easier said than done. The date of sale from the datapad kept flashing into his mind. It had been three years. Three years since the clone had been sold to the psychopath. Lance felt sick.
“He couldn’t even die right,” Clevart continued, eager to force a reaction from Lance. “I tried. The slut just healed, though.” He paused and sent a smirk at Lance, “every time.” Clevart then shook his head, face pinched with distaste.
“Where is he?” Lance asked again, putting more force into it.
“How long have I been in here?” Clevart returned as he picked at his nails.
Lance scowled at the smug look on Clevart’s face, but he didn’t answer. He wasn’t sure what the right way to respond was. How did he get Clevart to talk?
“Perhaps if it’s been long enough, I will tell you where to find the mutt.” He grinned. “Assuming you tell me the truth.”
Lance grit his teeth, trying to remember anything about Galra anatomy that might help him… If he could remember how long it takes a Galra to starve… There was a good chance that Clevart would give up the location if he thought the clone was already dead, so long as he believed it would hurt Lance to see the corpse.
“Pretty little Paladin can’t even come up with a measure of time. So unprepared. It figures... the reject black paladin was just as worthless. How you all won the war, I’ll never know.”
“Where is he?” Lance demanded, fists clenching, panic and anger burning in his veins and threatening to burst out of him.
“You know, you came 11,000 decaphobes too late, right? No matter what, I would have found that worthless clone — the perfect symbol of our fall from glory — and I would have made him suffer.”
“Where is he?” Lance wanted to punch the prick in the face and only years of forced diplomatic training stopped him.
“First, the Galra destroyed our planet, and then they persecuted us as pirates— doing our best to survive in the skies they forced us into, can you even imagine that? Forced into the life of a pirate then punished for it! Then the first Paladins came, promising peace — we agreed, we helped... and we get stuck in the malls as shopkeepers." Clevart acted as if this was some great offense and his race was the only one to suffer from Galra rule, as if being a shopkeeper was somehow worse than what others had experienced at Zarkon’s hands.
Lance couldn’t take hearing anymore, so he took a shot — three weeks should kill anyone left unattended. “It has been three movements,” he gritted out as if it was information he didn’t want to provide.
“I knew they were messing with my lights!” Clevart let out a howl of laughter, one hand slapping the table, the chains rattling as he kicked his feet. “Trying to convince me it was mere quintants! I’m smarter than them, you know. Smarter than all of you!”
Lance tensed. “I answered your question, now answer mine.”
“You’re lucky I love to bargain, Paladin.” There was a manic joy in Clevart’s eyes, and it was obvious he was relishing the idea of Lance finding the dead clone however he had been bound up and abandoned. “You will find him at my Uncle’s barn. In the underment, where the dung falls.”
“What is your Uncle’s name?”
“Amvrick. Amvrick Glarmpul,” Clevart leaned back in his chair, satisfied and suddenly looking bored with the conversation now that everything was said and done.
Lance stormed out the door and found one of the captors— officers… whatever, pulling up the information on the uncle. He hoped that there was still something left to save. Takashi was standing in a corner, back to the monitors, trying to control his breathing. Ethan looked ready to murder Clevart himself.
Lance really wished they hadn’t let the others listen.
“Found him,” the person at the monitor said. “Sending the information to you now.” They didn’t waste any time, all three of them immediately making a run for the door. Blue rumbled loudly in Lance’s head, more than ready to carry them to anywhere they needed to go in record time.
The ride there was the tensest thing Lance had ever experienced. They couldn’t say for sure if the clone was still alive, and if he was, what kind of physical and mental condition he’d be in. There was also the possibility of them being lied to. What if there was nothing there to be found? All they could do was hope.
They arrived at the farm to the stench of rotten flesh and stale blood.
Lance dug his nails into his palms so he wouldn’t be pulled into thoughts of battle and death and pain.
The farm was in disrepair — the fields barren and the animals missing. The main house was abandoned, and a barn off to the side was missing its doors. It was empty inside. They did a sweep of the area, looking for signs of use in any of the buildings.
The smell of blood grew stronger the further in they got and led them to a small building. It was somewhere between a barn and a coop. Lance wasn’t sure what kind of animal it was meant to hold, but there was nothing there, just dirty slotted floorboards. Then Lance found the door to the basement.
Ethan opted to continue doing a sweep of the area to check for traps while Lance searched the dark, cramped room. Takashi didn’t hesitate and was on Lance’s heels as he made his way down into the pungent dark.
Despite the dual suns being high in the sky outside, the light from the cracks in the floorboards above them illuminated barely enough to see by, leaving everything in the room cloaked in shadow. In the center of the room was the outline of a kneeling person that Lance assumed was the clone. The figure didn’t look up, move, or acknowledge them, which had him panicking.
Lance pulled out a flashlight and it caught the chains stretched across the room. Lance let the light follow them, noticing how they were bolted into the walls. Each chain led to the thick band secured around the clone’s neck. The beam of light shook as Lance lit up piece after piece of horror.
The clone’s arms were chained together, not quite behind his back, both legs clamped to keep him kneeling and chained to keep his legs open. It became apparent that he was naked and still breathing, but not moving at all.
“We need light,” Lance said, and Takashi made a noise of agreement. As much as both of them wanted to rush to the clone’s side, they had to be careful. There was no guarantee that this wasn’t a trap, for them or for the clone — or both.
Lance snapped the light around to scan it across the wall, hoping to find a power source that would turn on any possible overhead lighting. What he found instead was chilling. The walls and floor had hooks everywhere, some with chains, some with weapons. The more Lance looked, the sicker he got. Takashi was getting closer and closer to him as they surveyed the room, both of them terrified and unsettled. Lance could feel the worry radiating back from Blue.
Finally, his small circle of light landed on a switch right as Takashi whispered to him about the creepy stare.
Lance looked back at the clone. The yellow eyes were following Lance around — well, he thought they were until Takashi abruptly moved closer to the wall.
The clone was staring at Takashi.
“Maybe he recognizes you,” Lance soothed before waving at the switch. Takashi nodded and flipped it on, causing both of them to barely hold back the urge to vomit.
The walls weren’t just covered in hooks and weapons — there was blood and what he assumed were patches of skin. Some were neatly removed, with neat edges hanging from clips, and some were still hanging from hooks where it looked like the clone had just been forced onto and ripped off of.
There were patches of jello-looking stuff that made Lance pretty sure he’d never have room for Jello again.
He finally turned back to the clone and flinched. The small bit of him that he saw in the flashlight’s beam was the best part. The collared areas were mostly untouched whereas the rest was littered with scars, burns, scabs, and blood.
There were chunks taken from his one ear, looking like an alleycat that fought a long battle and lost. The other ear was bent over — the stress obvious in his features.
When Lance walked around behind him, he found his arms chained to the floor.
The clone hadn’t budged from staring at Takashi who stood frozen across the room.
Satisfied that there wasn’t anything set up to blow them sky high, Lance walked around and into the clone’s line of sight. “Hello, I’m—”
“Lance,” the clone growled.
“So you know me, that's — that's good.” Memory was a good thing. That meant his mind was still working and—
“I want to talk to the pretty one,” the clone rasped.
“The pretty one?”
“The Shiro that isn’t Shiro.”
Lance turned around in time to see the purple tuft rapidly shaking back and forth from his hiding spot by the stairs. Takashi must have been fighting off a PTSD attack, seeing the clone so injured and strapped down. That look of Galra rage in the clone’s eyes probably wasn’t helping any.
“He, uh, doesn’t want to talk right now,” Lance said, voice calm as he could get it.
The clone laughed, something deep and dark and unfamiliar. “He’ll talk. Or I won’t.”
Lance walked back over to Takashi and took his hands. “Are you alright?” he whispered.
“When I was in the arena— I mean… When he was… There was this fear that… that it would change us. Turn us into a monster. We were so close to breaking…”
Lance squeezed Takashi’s hands. “That’s not going to happen.”
Takashi gave Lance this pained and haunted look. “It did happen. It happened to him."
“No.” Lance shook his head. “He’s strong. You’re all strong. We can help him.” He tugged on Takashi’s hands and thankfully, Takashi stepped forward. “Come on. Let’s go save him.”
The clone smirked at them as they approached. “I didn’t think Master was serious about selling me.”
“He didn’t,” Lance replied. “We are here to rescue you.”
“No thanks, Paladin,” he spat out the word like it was an insult.
Takashi tightened his grip on Lance. “Please, let us help you.”
The clone said nothing and stared them down as if waiting for the other shoe to drop. He didn’t believe in being rescued, not anymore. He only believed in more pain, more tricks, more lies… it was just another shapeshifter.
Ethan came down the stairs and stood near the doorway, taking in the scene and the state of the clone. He cursed under his breath. The clone didn’t look surprised to see him.
“Please,” Takashi begged. “We’ll get you out of here. We’ll care for you. Please let us.”
Ethan let out a sigh behind them. “Why don’t we just rescue him and deal with the fallout later?”
Lance hushed him, slicing a hand through the air. If they let him loose, he might attack, running on pure survival instinct and fear. They would have to subdue him, injuring him further and ruining whatever trust they could build between them for who knew how long.
Takashi took a step closer to the clone. “Please?”
The clone just laughed. “You’d never have made it.”
“Probably not, but you did.”
“You were from my store.”
Takashi nodded. “I remember you.”
He reached out, slow and careful. The clone eyed the fingers coming closer to him with wary anger, his lip twitching like he was fighting not to snarl. Takashi didn’t relent. The tips of his fingers settled on the clone’s cheek and slid up to cup it. The clone’s eyelids fluttered and he leaned into the hand like he was desperate for that display of kindness, but he caught himself and jerked back with a growl.
“I’m not going back there!”
Takashi shook his head. “No, you aren’t.”
The clone still had the cruel smile etched into his features. “Even if I was still rental material, no one would take me. And we already had one reject working there.”
Lance tensed up at that. This clone had been sold after the trauma Asahi went through? That meant that they already knew the type of people who might rent or buy the Galra clones and — no. Lance couldn’t go there right now. This was not the time.
“Lance bought us a home,” Takashi said with a valiant attempt at a reassuring smile. “There’s no more rentals and nobody to force us to do anything. Not anymore.”
The clone snorted. “Sure. Out of the goodness of his heart, I’m sure. He’s just building a harem, you weak-minded idiot. Gain your trust first then fuck us all.”
“That’s not true, he wouldn’t—”
“Oh, please. I can smell him all over you. Did you even bother cleaning off his cum before you flew off to save me?”
Takashi pulled away. Lance’s stomach dropped to his shoes.
“It’s okay.” The clone flashed his pointed teeth in a mockery of a grin. “My owner left his cum in me too. Then he told me I had one last chance to kill myself before he left me to starve to death.”
Lance made a strangled noise. “He did what?”
The clone turned his head as much as he could, offering a mock pout. “What annoys you more, pretty boy? That he handed me a knife to gut myself… Or that he fucked me?”
“It wasn’t exactly the first time for either. Wasn’t even the first time he did it together.”
Takashi let out a pained sound, drawing the clone’s attention again.
“That’s right, love. The first few times, I actually did try to die. But he’d heal me just enough to save my life and then fuck me as I bled. Master found a way to fix me up without taking away any of the pain.” He tilted his head a bit. “Figured out fast that it was better if I just made it look bad.”
Lance was too numb to realize he had moved forward on his own, coming close to the clone and the horror of what was being said. He dropped to his knees, bringing them face to face, and reached out to soothe him, earning a growl.
“No more,” Lance promised.
“Fuck you and your games,” the clone spat.
Lance shook his head. “No games.”
Takashi took Lance’s free hand and reached for the clone with his other. “We should pick you a new name.”
The growl got louder. “Of course. Master loved names—”
Lance tried to cut him off, but the clone jumped forward as much as he could, chains rattling, causing the other two to pull their hands back with a jerk.
“Slut, bitch, whore, galra reject, mutt, slave, paladin, prick, slit, cum bucket—”
“Enough, please,” Takashi whispered. He looked like he was struggling to stay in the present instead of spiraling into past memories. He moved his hand forward again, desperately offering comfort, needing to know he could do something.
There was a long pause, the clone eyeing Takashi’s hand and face in turns. Perhaps it was the familiarity of someone who the clone was reasonably sure wouldn’t hurt him, of someone who understood what their life was like, but he calmed. The harsh look on his face eased, changing into one of forced disinterest. He carefully tilted his head into the hand Takashi had extended. “Okay, babe. You always were soft, weren’t you?”
If pretending not to care calmed him, neither Takashi or Lance were going to argue. Takashi offered a tremulous smile. “How about the name Kasha?”
The clone laughed. “No. Absolutely not. I will not go by the name some worthless human called him while they fucked, a human who abandoned him.”
They went back and forth a few times before Kuro was picked. He liked the idea of his name meaning black. The conversation went a long way in relaxing Kuro, allowing him to focus on the task of naming himself rather than focus on his surroundings or paranoid expectations. It also gave him a chance to claim a part of his own self-identity. For however much he acted as if it was trivial, Lance knew from the others how profound that was.
Lance and Ethan started to slowly unhook Kuro as Takashi held his hands. “We’ll clean you up outside. Blue can make you new clothes, too. She’s wonderful. Even better than our memories.”
Kuro didn’t respond much. He let Takashi talk as he eyed the other two, waiting on a wrong move to be made. As much as he looked ready to attack and fight his way to freedom, his body refused. He was injured, starving, dehydrated, and his muscles were weak and cramped from the position he’d been trapped in.
When the chains around his arms released, Kuro collapsed against Takashi, shaking arms wrapping around Takashi’s sides for some semblance of balance. Takashi murmured soothing things as he pulled Kuro into his lap. Lance tensed up as he watched, afraid of Kuro’s trauma and what that would mean if he suddenly lashed out.
When the final shackle was removed, Kuro tried to stand while still holding onto Takashi. It took a few tries before he gave up and accepted help to gain his feet. Ethan could have lifted both clones easily, but any attempt to touch Kuro resulted in laid back ears and hissing. So instead, Ethan hovered as Takashi helped Kuro walk painfully slowly towards the exit. Lance ran ahead to Blue in order to find something to rinse off all the blood, bandage his wounds, and get clothing started.
Kuro refused to let go of Takashi for long, only letting him strip down to his briefs before clinging tightly to him again. Ethan helped by spraying the hose when they needed it, Lance gently rubbing down Kuro’s back and blocking direct contact from the water when needed. He could identify some of the marks, the burns, and slices… but there were others that he could only guess at, and that broke his heart.
It took two full shampoos for the blood to stop flowing from Kuro’s hair, and three rounds of conditioner to release the mats in his fur. Kuro’s breath was shaky, his body trembling with exhaustion, but he still growled at Lance whenever anything was too tender. Though it was becoming clear that Kuro would be unable to follow through on that threat, Lance still played it safe. Staying wary would at least leave Kuro feeling reassured of his own safety.
Lance knelt to clean the grime off his legs and spotted two issues. He had something stuck in his ass, and he was locked into a cock cage. Both should be taken care of, but he wasn’t sure how to approach either.
“Okay…” Lance murmured to himself before carefully placing a hand on one scarred hip. Kuro flinched but didn’t immediately pull away. Lance hoped that was a good sign. “I should be able to get this off fairly easily,” Lance said, his fingers moving forward only enough to indicate what he was talking about without touching yet. “Just let me see what kind of lock I’m working with and then I’ll—”
Kuro’s arm came out of nowhere, knocking Lance away with force enough to bruise. Kuro was growling, lips pulled back to bear his teeth, eyes flashing dangerously. He stumbled as he hid more of his body behind Takashi. "Don’t touch me!”
Lance held up his hands in surrender and froze where he stood. Takashi made soft shushing noises and ran his fingers through Kuro’s hair. “Shhh, it’s okay. He’s just trying to help.”
“No!” Kuro growled. “He’s looking for an excuse to touch me!”
“I’m not going to touch you like that,” Lance promised. “I just want to get that thing—”
“NO!” Kuro tried to back away but his legs gave out. Takashi went down with him and immediately pulled Kuro close, setting them into a rocking motion. Lance and Ethan stood awkwardly by as they watched and waited for Takashi to calm the upset Kuro.
“We can worry about the cage later,” Takashi murmured. “You can take it off yourself. Nobody will touch you. Right now, we need to get that plug out. It’s not healthy.”
Kuro scoffed. “But the torture is no big deal, is that it? We’re just worried about keeping my ass healthy for totally innocent reasons.”
“Don’t be stubborn,” Takashi gently chided. “If you can’t move solid mass out of your body—”
“What solid mass?” Kuro sneered. “He kept me on a liquid diet to make it easier to stay clean. He wanted to make sure his cum stayed undisturbed inside of me.”
Lance did his best to keep his stomach firmly inside of his body.
Takashi took a moment to compose himself before he wrapped a hand around Kuro’s and slowly guided it down. “From now on, you’ll eat real food — good food. Now, pull it out yourself. It’s your body. Take control of it.”
There was silence as Kuro’s hand hovered over his backside. It was obvious that he didn’t want to. Perhaps it was the fear of being vulnerable in front of strangers. Maybe Clevart had forced Kuro to do the same thing once. It was hard to say when they didn’t have a clear picture of what all Kuro had been through and how his trauma would manifest.
Finally, Kuro reached down and tugged on the base of the plug, pulling it out bit by bit, and setting his whole body to trembling. Takashi held on tight, a solid rock of support as Kuro worked through his own inner demons in order to pull the thing from inside of him. Lance was horrified at how the base kept growing. It was big. Far too big.
At last, it thunked onto the ground, the jello-like substance Lance had seen before poured out of Kuro. It occurred to Lance that it was cum. Clevart’s cum. Lance’s whole body felt numb and cold. He couldn’t move as he watched Kuro tremble and Takashi coo praises. He should probably look away.
Ethan was the one to slowly move around and aim the hose, washing away the offending piles of goop, leaving Kuro clean and empty at last. They all stayed where they were for a long moment, coming to terms with their new reality.
“Lance.” Ethan’s voice snapped Lance out of the ringing silence of his own head. Ethan jerked his head at the med kit that sat off to the side. Nodding a little too fast, Lance collected it and made his way over to his injured patient. So long as he could keep his mind on the need to treat a patient, he could block out everything else.
Lance set to work sanitizing and patching the wounds, Takashi occasionally having to prevent Kuro from lashing out at him on tender areas. Kuro was alternating between growling and purring when Takashi would rub behind his ears. The fur was still clinging to the cat-like outline of purple ears, barely sticking out from the long hair. He was both strange and familiar in so many ways.
The suns had long since set by the time Lance was through, the only light coming from Blue who had been growling almost as much as Kuro. She was about as worried and upset as Lance was.
Ethan dropped the hose and grabbed the towels, helping Takashi dry off so he didn’t need to let go of Kuro and rolling his eyes when Takashi didn’t want to finish getting naked in front of him to swap out the wet briefs. Kuro allowed Takashi fretting over him, but shied away from Lance and snarled at Ethan. Takashi spent a lot of time reassuring Kuro as Lance pulled out the bandages as started wrapping the patches to keep them all in place as they healed.
Lance was yawning every few seconds as he finally came to Kuro’s leg wounds — the shackled area just as swollen and raw as his neck had been. It looked like his leg restraints had been moved more often, the flesh under hadn’t been quite as infected, though Kuro growled at him just as much.
Ethan was passing him supplies and barely able to look at the wounds. “I’m sorry,” he whispered. “I didn’t know.”
Kuro let out a loud snarl. “Even if I wasn’t real, this is despicable. You were going to sell something with a personality to the lowest bidder.”
Ethan hung his head.
Kuro imitated a high pitched voice. “Discount for the mistake!”
“No, but that’s what Norom said when she sold me.”
Lance stored that name in the back of his mind— if he ever met this woman he was going to make his Abuela ashamed of him, but it would also be worth it.
They finished the rest of the process in silence, Lance occasionally wiping tears from his eyes as the bandages got layered on— Kuro was more bandage than skin and fur combined by the time everything was done… in a better mood, Lance might have cracked a mummy joke.
It was a solemn group that finally made their way back to Blue, who immediately made the bed in the cockpit big enough for all of them. She jumped, aiming the unnecessarily large blast from her takeoff directly at the outbuilding, destroying one of the dungeons her newest cub had suffered in.
Takashi helped Kuro onto the bed, curling them up into the corner so that Kuro’s form was shielded from everything else. Too exhausted to think of anything more to do, Lance crawled up after them and sprawled on his back, eyelids heavy and body aching. When Ethan hesitated, Lance waved the man down onto the open space beside him. Thankfully, Kuro didn’t protest.
Silence descended over them in time for Blue’s anger to lash across Lance’s mind, upset and confused. His biggest mistake was asking her what was wrong. Apparently, the problem was that he had already started bonding with Kuro. She was overwhelmed with what she was seeing and feeling.
Lance was assaulted with memories she drew from Kuro — his physical form reacting to the intense images. He flinched as the whip cracked down, cried as the laughter rang from Kuro’s lips, despaired at knowing it was Kuro’s way of coping.
“Worthless little slut couldn’t even make my friend cum before you passed out. Got blood all over her, too.”
His head dropped, and Lance watched the blood pooling beneath the body he was in, naked and sore everywhere. The whip wrapped around him and tore the skin on his stomach and ripped another round of laughter from his body.
Lance blinked away the memory, shaking and out of breath.
Kuro was yelling at Blue. “You invasive little shit! I didn’t want you digging around in my memory!”
Takashi tried to intervene. “That’s not why she’s—”
“No! She’s just going to keep going. I know it. No sense of boundaries!”
“Blue, you don’t have to—” Lance tried to reason, to give Kuro some small dignity... but the Lion just responded with a blast of anger. One of her cubs had suffered and she insisted on showing what needed to be fixed.
Lance was now in Kuro’s body, roaming free, body still in pain and an obvious plug in his ass… Clevart across from him with a knife.
“Paladin, here’s where I say goodbye.”
“Bullshit.” Kuro’s lip curled in a snarl, his fatigued muscles feeling like lead weights.
“Uh uh, be nice or I don’t give you the option to die fast.”
Kuro laughed, a pain radiating from his ribs as the sound tore through him. “You’ve said that before.”
Clevart smiled, a gross fake smile. “I won’t be your Master much longer. You’ve outgrown your usefulness. So, you can kill yourself or—”
“Or what? You’ve already fucked me enough times today that you aren’t going to be back for a week.”
Clevart laughed. “Your new master might show up before you starve to death. Or they might not. Who knows if they’ll be as nice to you as I am.”
Kuro laughed again, but grabbed a knife from the wall and slid it across his stomach, then grazed it along his arms, occasionally pressing deeper to draw out more blood. The pain was there, he knew it was, but it didn’t feel right anymore. It was all so distant…
He threw the knife off to the side again. “There. I’m all cut up. Now we’ll see what your new lie will be.”
“Such a little slut, doesn’t even take time to enjoy something shoving into you anymore.”
“I never enjoyed anything shoving into me.”
“Only because I didn’t let you. On your knees, reject.”
Lance struggled as the body complied, taking the position he found Kuro in, feeling all the chains clipping heavily on his pained body.
Lance was left staring at the glowing cockpit around him, his body recovering for phantom pain. He wondered how Clevart knew — if Clevart knew it was the last time. He wondered how often Clevart talked about some fake new master. He wondered how Kuro survived.
Kuro was holding Takashi tight as they all relived the last moments Clevart was in control of Kuro. Blue must have decided that was good enough because she just growled once and then went silent.
Lance rolled away from them and curled into Ethan’s side who obligingly threw two arms around him. He needed the comfort of a strong presence, but was unwilling to seek it from Takashi who was trembling in Kuro’s arms. Lance felt cut off and distant from the two of them in a way he couldn’t explain.
They all ended up falling asleep before Blue got them home, and she happily landed on her perch overlooking the property, keeping the cockpit warm and peaceful for them. On a remote planet and ensconced in a Voltron lion, they were as safe as they could possibly be.
Chapter 6: We all know who wins
Kuro settles in, in his own way.
For the first week, they kept Kuro in his own room and away from the others. He spent that time healing and recovering. After that, he chose to stay on his own, only leaving the house long enough to prove that he could. Often, he didn’t believe he was no longer a captive.
Kuro was violent and cruel, which Ethan took as if it was what he deserved. Lance would grit his teeth and suffer through the remarks until Takashi calmed Kuro down. Takashi was the only one who could do anything with Kuro. The other clones gave him a wide berth. Even after their trackers were removed, no one was willing to challenge Kuro on his behaviors.
The day Kuro’s explosive behavior caused Asahi to collapse into a panic attack, Riku snapped. Lance had never seen Riku be anything other than calm, friendly, or serious. It was quite the sight to see him verbally destroy Kuro for his behavior.
“How long are you going to use your trauma as an excuse to become the exact person you hate? How can you accuse others of being monsters when you rationalize your own cruelty?” Riku had demanded.
After a long hard stare, Kuro had turned around and walked off. He stopped lashing out after that, which everyone thought was a good thing. Unfortunately, his attention turned to other things.
Kuro took advantage of Takashi’s willingness to help. He started asking for more and more of Takashi’s time, including nights when Kuro insisted on having someone with him to help with the nightmares. Lance refused to complain about it, though it did little to help him sleep at night when the bed felt too big and cold for only him.
Lance threw himself into his work to find the clones from the other shops, helping to interview every android they found just to make sure a clone didn’t slip through the cracks. It meant that he’d leave for days at a time with Ethan, but Takashi no longer joined them. The gap between them grew wider each day.
This is what you wanted, Lance reminded himself, this is what Takashi deserves, a fresh start. At least Ethan was there to remind him to eat.
He looked up from his desk to find a worried Takashi standing in the doorway, his hair a deep purple from its recent re-dye. Lance had been home only a few hours but hadn’t been able to sleep. Android interviews were strangely haunting, and he usually couldn’t sleep well after. He kept dreaming about dead eyes telling him how wonderful life was.
“Hey.” Lance smiled. “You’re up late. Where’s Kuro?”
Takashi frowned. “Kuro is not incapable of surviving on his own. I’m my own person, you know.”
“I didn’t mean it like that.” Lance looked back down at his datapad and poked at it lifelessly.
“I’m sorry, I just—” Takashi sighed and walked over to sit on the desk in front of Lance. “I miss you. I know that helping the other clones takes priority, but we still need time to be happy. Even during the war, we had downtime.”
Lance reached out and ran his fingers along the back of Takashi’s until they moved to tangle with his. “I miss you, too.”
Takashi gave Lance a tender smile. “Why don’t we—”
“Oh. You’re back.”
They both turned to the doorway where Kuro stood, looking as irritable as ever. He walked in and took Takashi’s wrist, pulling a face at the linked fingers of the other hand.
“I’m tired,” Kuro said, voice flat. “Let’s go to—”
“I have an idea,” Takashi said with a determined grin. “Since I miss my bed, how about we sleep in Lance’s room tonight? I’m positive he’s not going to get any sleep unless I’m there making sure he lays down.”
Kuro and Lance both tensed. Lance had no desire to be within range for Kuro “accidentally” hitting him again. For his own reasons, Kuro looked incredibly displeased. He opened his mouth to argue, but Takashi cut him off.
“You’ve had a good day today. You said so yourself. If you want to learn how to feel more comfortable on your own again, I think this is a great opportunity. But of course I won’t force you if you need company, so you can join us if you need to.”
Kuro grit his teeth and glared at Lance as if it was somehow his fault. Lance held up his hands. “You two have a system going. I’ll be fine—”
“You won’t be.” Takashi had a look on his face that said he wasn’t going to budge.
So that was how they all ended up in Lance’s room, dressed in pajamas, and none of them looking at all relaxed enough to sleep. When Takashi went to go brush his teeth, Kuro took the opportunity to let his true feelings show.
“Why don’t you crawl in bed with one of the others?” Kuro hissed under his breath.
Lance sucked in a sharp breath. “I don’t get in bed with anyone but Takashi,” he returned just as quietly, “I never have. And it was his choice.”
“Sure. Like I believe you’re some benevolent savior who builds a damn harem of his greatest crush without taking advantage of it. Nooo, you’re not trying to build a cult to worship your dick.”
“A cult?!” Lance spluttered as he tried to keep his voice under control. “How the quiznacking quintant do you figure I’m building a cult?”
“A commune in the middle of nowhere. Convincing everyone that being cut off is for their own safety. Only you having access to the only mode of transportation.”
“Blue isn’t trapping you here!”
“No,” Kuro glared, “that’s all you.”
“I am not—”
Takashi walked back into the room and the other two immediately smoothed out their faces. Lance stretched dramatically and yawned. Takashi looked between them with concern. “Everything alright?”
“Just tired!” Lance assured and crawled into bed, claiming one edge as his own.
Takashi didn’t look convinced, but he kept his thoughts to himself. He crawled in behind Lance and encouraged Kuro to lay down as well. Lance tried to ignore them as they shuffled around behind him, mumbling at each other like it was something they were used to doing.
Maybe Takashi didn’t know how else to act around people. Perhaps this need to care for others, to dote on them, to show them affection was the only way he knew how to handle people. Lance wasn’t special after all. He should have never given in to Takashi’s advances. He knew that it was too good to be true. He should have listened to himself.
Then Takashi’s arm was over his stomach, warm and heavy, and he was curling up around him. Lance’s panic evaporated as warmth suffused his body. Oh, how he had missed this… The kiss that was pressed to his shoulder made him feel whole in a way he hadn’t in weeks.
“Don’t fuck while I’m in the bed with you,” Kuro sneered.
“Go to sleep,” Takashi dismissed.
Lance closed his eyes and tried not to obsess over the idea that Kuro was his punishment for loving Takashi.
Things did not get better after that night. Kuro started making nasty comments to Lance any chance he had. As much as Lance wished he had grown enough as a person to brush them off, he absolutely hadn’t. They began bickering more than he and Keith ever had.
The only time they stopped was when Riku gave them a warning look, as neither of them desired the gut-punching lectures the man could dole out. Otherwise, they would clam up if Asahi fetched Takashi. Every time it happened, Takashi would have this look of pained disappointment. Lance felt guilty, but Kuro just looked frustrated.
“I don’t know what you did to convince him you aren’t as vile as you are,” Kuro hissed one day.
“Not this again…” Lance rubbed his temples and suddenly didn’t feel like finishing his breakfast.
“Yes, this again,” Kuro mocked. “You only discovered something was wrong that first time because you paid to fuck him. Now you’re not even paying him anymore. You’re like a selfish pimp, keeping your harem to yourself instead of sharing. Just kidnap them all, fuck whoever you want for free, and call it altruism.”
“That is not what’s happening,” Lance snapped. “And for the last time, I am only with Takashi.”
Kuro snorted. "Sure, just the one sex slave. Everyone believes you.”
Lance cursed under his breath and got up to throw the rest of his breakfast into the compost shoot. “Everything Takashi has chosen to do has been his decision.”
Kuro was up in the blink of an eye, his face too close to Lance’s, white teeth glinting in the kitchen lights. “I’ll see to it that Takashi makes a decision on his own. You do know he won’t choose you, right?”
“And who do you think he’ll pick, then?” Lance challenged.
“He’s going to be mine.”
Kuro sounded so confident about it. Enough so that Lance had a moment of fluttering fear. Takashi was experiencing more and more of life, was growing as a person, and had options for his future.
Takashi, like the other clones, had found the destruction of the horrible devices that had been carefully removed from their necks to be freeing. There was new life to all of them— Takashi shone especially bright at the thought that should a druid ever find him, they could do nothing.
No more quintessence-fueled control.
Lance, on the other hand, was a stagnant hot mess that didn’t know how to give back as much as others gave him. Takashi had no reason to stay and Lance knew it…
“He picked me,” Lance defended, though it was more an argument against himself than Kuro. “I told him he didn’t have to. I told him—”
“You’re right, he doesn’t have to.” Kuro’s lips spread in a nasty grin. “He spends his time with me. I’m the person he checks on first. He’s in my bed every night now.”
Lance’s stomach dropped to his knees. His lips felt numb. He tried to think of a response but couldn’t. It was expected, after all. He had known from the beginning that once given the opportunity, everyone left him. Why was this any different? How else could this have even ended?
“Pretty sure this means I’ve already won, pretty boy.”
Kuro laughed as Lance fled the kitchen.
Lance put a Kaltenecker between him and Takashi while refusing to make eye contact. “Out for a walk?” he asked with false cheer.
Takashi frowned. “You’ve barely spoken to me all week. On movie night, you sat on the other side of the room. Last night you had your bedroom door locked.”
“Did I?” Lance was a little overeager with his hay spreading technique, forcing Takashi to keep his distance lest he gets impaled on the pitchfork.
“Lance… Did I do something wrong?”
As much as Lance tried, the smile he gave was sad and unconvincing. He shook his head. “No. You’re perfect.”
“Takashi!” Kuro stormed over, looking murderous. “I thought you were going to buzz my hair so I don’t look like a purple sheepdog.”
Right on time, Lance thought. It was never long before Kuro intervened. Even if Lance wanted to have a decent talk with Takashi, it was impossible with Kuro around. It’s for the best. It’ll hurt less if I’m not part of the decision— if it just fades away.
“Didn’t we just buzz it a few days ago?” Takashi asked with an affectionate smile that was never turned in Lance’s direction anymore.
“It grows out on top faster. The less I look like the quintessence donor, the better. Speaking of, we should touch up your roots.”
“I don’t mind it,” Takashi assured.
Kuro successfully pulled Takashi away, tossing a smug look over his shoulder at Lance who pretended not to notice. He wasn’t fooling either of them. It hurt. Kuro knew that. Lance knew that. The only thing they both agreed on was that Takashi should be happy.
Lance sighed and leaned against Kaltenecker who sniffed at his pockets in hopes of a treat. “You’ll never leave me, will ya, girl?”
Kaltenecker mooed and tromped off for the food bin once she decided Lance had nothing to ply her with. Lance’s shoulders drooped.
Looking up at the sky, he thought about all the things he used to do with Hunk and Pidge when he needed cheering up after a stressful job or being dumped. He couldn’t do that now, of course. Too many questions would be asked. Besides, there was too much work to do for him to just dart off across the universe for a Me Day. That would make him just as selfish as Kuro constantly accused him of.
Those two were probably grateful to get a break from him knocking on their door and demanding their time. If only Lance knew how to be a better friend…
“Sorry,” Lance mumbled in the general direction of space. “But I really do miss you guys.”
Hunk carefully sat down in the midst of Pidge’s cluttered workroom, trying his best not to accidentally squish a project she may or may not have forgotten about. They were quiet for a moment, both of them used to Lance getting the conversation started. But that was precisely the problem, Lance wasn’t there.
“So, uh… How ya been?” Hunk asked. “I heard you went on a trip to Olkarion recently to work on that—”
Pidge spun around in her chair so fast that Hunk twitched. “So you haven’t seen Lance either.”
Hunk gave up pretending and stuck his bottom lip out in dismay. “I called him a bazillion times, but he only answered once. He wouldn’t tell me what he was doing. You think he took another contract with the secret service?”
“No, I already hacked in and looked through their files.”
Hunk looked scandalized. “Pidge!”
“What?” She held up her arms in a careless shrug. “I figure if you save the universe, you’re allowed some inside information.”
Hunk groaned and ran a hand over his face. “Please don’t get yourself arrested.”
“Never gonna happen!” she waved off. “So you think Lance is having an affair with some government official off planet?”
“I doubt it. He really learned his lesson after that Mer scandal.” Hunk rubbed his chin. “Gambling?”
“His bank accounts are mostly fine, a few bigger purchases lately nothing too out of the ordinary though, maybe drugs?”
“He says it’s bad for this skin. Kidnapping?”
“There’s security vids of him wandering around that I’ve managed to find. So he’s not locked up. Blackmail?”
“Over something he wouldn’t tell me about?” Hunk shook his head. “I can’t think of what it is Lance wouldn’t tell me.”
“Well, he’s certainly hiding something.” She leaned forward in her chair, eyes flashing. “Are you giving me the go-ahead to stalk him?”
Hunk made an unsure noise deep in his throat. “I wanna respect his privacy…”
“Yeah, but, that assumes Lance makes good decisions with said privacy.” Pidge pushed her glasses back up her nose. “We both know that isn’t the case.”
Hunk groaned and contorted this way and that as he fought with himself over the decision. “We don’t have to know details, right? We’re just making sure he’s okay.”
“I’ll give you plausible deniability.” Pidge spun back around and starting typing away at her computer, taking Hunk’s conflicted answer as an all clear. “I’ll just tell you if he’s fine. No details. You can even say that you didn’t officially agree to spy on him.”
“Just don’t mention this to anyone else,” Hunk begged.
Pidge scoffed. “Who do you think I am? Coran after a glass of his grandfather’s magic cure-all? I’m a vault of secrets.” She waved her hand at him. “Now go finish up your surprise party for Shay’s new best friend. I’ll get back to you when I have something.”
“How do you even know about that?”
“Vault of secrets!” Pidge declared before immersing herself into her work.
They got a new lead.
Lance left before the full file even processed. Because, sure, the kindly Balmeran race was probably not into welding on cock cages or anything, but he couldn’t shake the nightmares from finding Kuro just yet.
Lance and Ethan made a beeline to Blue, ready to get there as fast as possible. Takashi followed them out into the yard, yelling questions and demanding to know why they hadn’t even considered to take him on the trip. He looked conflicted and hurt, but his progress was stopped when Kuro took hold of his wrist and yanked him to a stop.
Kuro smiled in Lance’s direction— no, he smirked in Lance’s direction.
Lance turned his eyes forward and focused on the task in front of him instead of the drama behind— a clone was in danger, maybe, and he didn’t need to deal with his broken heart right now.
They made good time across the stars, landing on the Balmera with barely a stir from the locals. It became more of an issue when they began running through the tunnels in search of the house the clone was supposedly kept in. Well, house was a loose term as it was a set of rough walls and rooms carved out of the first layer of the Balmera’s crust. There was also no door to kick down, or even knock on, so they went ahead and ran inside.
The place sure didn’t scream torture chamber, but Lance had his bayard drawn anyways as they burst in. There was a high pitched screech as someone ran away screaming, “Galra invasion!”
They were soon greeted with a village of poorly equipped Balmerans bursting in from various entrances and squaring off against Lance and Ethan. Behind them was the bobbing white tuft of the clone.
“Uh?” Lance hadn’t expected them all to be so… protective.
“Lance?” the clone asked, somewhat bewildered. He peeped around the bodies surrounding him. “What are you doing!”
Frankly, Lance felt like asking the same thing. Seeing Shiro’s face atop an apron with a frilled headband keeping his hair back was a sight to see. So was the human arm flattened over the clone’s chest like a concerned and offended soccer mom. The clone’s metal arm was missing entirely, replaced with something that looked like a giant, crude swiss army knife.
Lance dropped his bayard and took a careful step forward, pausing when the line of aliens all tightened their grips on their shovels and axes. He held up his hands. “We’re here because we wanted to talk.”
“Talking does not involve guns and invading our homes,” the clone lectured. Lance felt like a kid again.
“Sorry, Shiro.” Lance wasn’t quite sure how much the clone knew of himself, so he was more than a little stunned at the response.
“Frankie. Call me Frankie.”
“What?” Lance just blinked, his mind having a hard time coming to terms with the lack of danger and the fact that the clone had already named himself.
“That’s what Gram-Gram calls me— Well, called me.” The clone’s shoulders dropped, causing a Balmera close to him to turn and place a comforting hand on Frankie’s arm.
“Okaaay,” Lance turned to Ethan for a quick moment to make sure he was empty-handed. “Weapons are gone, let’s all talk now.”
Frankie stepped forward but narrowed his eyes at Ethan. “No. Gram-Gram bought me fair and square. Just because she died doesn’t mean you can come back and resell me.”
The Balmerans all pulled in closer and guarded him. “He is ours now. Gram-Gram told us so.”
Lance held up his hands. “We aren’t trying to sell him again. I swear on my Lion.”
Frankie’s eyebrow raised. “Fine… I’ll listen, but Char stays.”
After much debate and many a fowl look, most of the village filed out easily, offering pats to Frankie’s shoulder along the way. Eventually, the room emptied but for the three of them and a Balmeran almost Ethan’s size, dwarfing the two humans.
They all sat — except for Char, who leaned heavily on his pickaxe, glaring at Ethan.
“So, first of all. You’re not an android.” Lance figured getting straight to the point was best. There was really no good way to start such conversations. After having the discussion multiple times, he decided that dancing around the issue just wasn’t efficient.
“I’m not?” Frankie looked genuinely surprised. He held a stiff posture, his human hand settled primly in his lap.
“Nope.” Lance waited for the look on Frankie’s face to finally settle, indicating that the truth of it finally sank in.
“So what am I then?” Frankie asked, eyes flicking between the other two.
Ethan spoke up. “A clone. One of the Druid’s creations.”
"No," Frankie said with a harsh whisper.
Lance opened his mouth, but he was cut off by Frankie talking.
“You are insane. I am not some weird science experiment.” He lifted his chin with indignance.
Char placed a hand on Frankie’s shoulder. “It makes sense, little one. You are your own person to your core. The Balmera and Gram-Gram have said so.”
“No, it doesn’t make sense.” Frankie’s voice was firm and no-nonsense. It was like some exaggerated form of when Shiro was in teacher mode back at the garrison. “I was programmed to follow orders!”
“You do everything on your own without orders,” Char pointed out.
“There’s a device in the back of your neck,” Lance jumped in. “It’s a Druid creation. We can remove it, and then you won’t be forced to do anything ever again.”
Frankie rubbed the back of his neck in dismay. “So I’m to believe that I’m a mind-controlled lab raised experiment... and that my being an enlightened android is impossible?”
Lance cleared his throat. “Do you remember flying the Lions?”
“Of course,” Frankie said. “I was given all the proper memories, after all— like all the androids were.”
“What does it feel like?”
“It’s an amazing rush,” Frankie instantly replied. “There are millions of tons of living steel reacting to me, listening to me. Nothing beats the joy of seeing the stars rush by and knowing that for the rest of my life, this is what I have.”
Lance smiled, typing something into his datapad before passing it to Frankie.
First on the screen was Ethan, standing next to a Lance that was a little younger in the face, all smooth lines and bright eyes. “Lance, how does it feel to fly a Voltron lion?”
“I’m so lucky the Princess let me fly one, and it’s an honor to have been chosen by both Red and Blue!”
“But how does it feel?”
“It’s a privilege I am proud to have.”
The video stopped, Lance pulled the datapad back and settled it on his lap. “That’s how an android answers. They’re basically all of our propaganda videos rolled into one bland background program.”
“Oh.” Frankie’s eyebrows pulled together.
“Yeah. So, you… are a clone.”
“And what does that mean for me?” He was twisting the fabric of his apron around his fingers, another habit unique to only him.
Lance typed into his datapad again, pulling up the video Takashi and Asahi had made of the house, Frankie cringing at a mirror image of himself and the Galra version of himself. The video went on to explain the house and the choice he had — to stay where he was after bonding with Blue or coming to live with them.
“I see…” Frankie frowned at the datapad before taking a deep breath. “I have some questions.”
Frankie had a lot of questions. He went into nothing unprepared, it seemed. They spent a good few hours discussing the house, the clones, and their future plans. Frankie talked circles around Lance until the entire Kuro debacle, Lance’s old crush on Shiro, and new confused feelings for Takashi were all out in the open between them— all things he planned on keeping private but Frankie had a way about him that Lance just spilled everything.
Satisfied that he had enough information, Frankie gathered the village and declared his decision. He said that Gram-Gram had tasked him with looking after his family and that the Balmerans didn’t need that, but the clones did. The Balmerans were sad to hear of the decision but agreed that it was the right one to make— as long as they still spoke. Lance assured them that he'd have access to not only Blue but also their video screen, so long as they all agreed to keep it secret for the clone's safety.
They took their time saying goodbyes and helping to pack up Frankie’s belongings. There wasn’t much to pack — Frankie insisting most of his things stay to help the young villagers as they grew, grabbing just his clothes and a few pictures.
He followed the Balmeran traditions of leaving his space to the village, allowing them to use it as needed for the good of the community and the Balmera they lived on. Frankie offered one final bit of himself to the crystal before they climbed into Blue and went home.
It was by far the most clean-cut clone encounter they’d had, even if it was the most thorough interrogation Lance had been through outside of the media circuits.
Frankie liked to be organized, so he made plans for everything. He apparently had intentions of taking over as head of the house to make sure everything was taken care of properly. He didn’t trust that a house full of confused men could possibly be keeping it clean or making nutritious meals on time.
It wasn’t like Lance could argue since his own eating schedule was erratic the past few months. When was the last time he’d done laundry? Who even did the dishes, anyway?
Lance started zoning out and Ethan took over the conversation, answering Frankie’s endless questions. Ethan was aware of how little sleep Lance had been getting but thankfully hadn’t lectured him on it— or worse, told Takashi just how bad it was.
When he escaped to spend time with Blue on her perch, Ethan would never give away where Lance was hiding. They both still suffered from nightmares of the memories Blue had given them about Kuro, leaving them with constant conflicted feelings about the abrasive clone himself. Being the only two non-clones in the group, they shared a sort of bond and understanding.
It’s nice to have at least one person— or alien— on my side, Lance thought.
The house had been in turmoil since the fights with Lance and Kuro had started. Pulling away from Takashi hadn’t helped much, and the peace was barely kept. Riku spent more time on the farm than he did inside the house anymore. Asahi was mad at Lance and let him know it, but Lance couldn’t explain why he wouldn’t at least talk with Takashi.
Lance didn’t remember nodding off, but it wasn’t more than an hour before he was screaming himself awake again, Blue rumbling around them in response. Frankie sat next to Lance and ran his fingers through his hair, coaxing him back to sleep, as Lance mumbled, “Miss you, Taka.”
When they got home, Asahi and Riku welcomed Frankie with open arms, showing him the garden when he brightened up at the chance to see it. Gram-Gram had taught him how to garden, it seemed, and he was eager to work this land as well.
Takashi was nowhere to be found. Kuro was glaring at everyone.
The first chance Lance got, he slipped away from the happy little welcome party. He was feeling like he didn’t belong more and more every day. He was getting to the point where once the clones were all found, he was planning to leave. Now that Frankie was the unofficial head of the house, he could leave most of the remaining NDA money to the house and let them all heal on their own— save just barely enough to live off of.
He was tired of feeling alone in a crowd so he headed back up to Blue. At least she never let him feel lonely with the way she rumbled in his mind constantly, lately being sure to avoid the topic of the clones as she could tell how excluded he felt as each new clone found a place in the house and his place seemed to get smaller and smaller.
He knew he should be happier— better that they were all able to get along (well, almost all of them at least) and survive without his meddling than to be completely unable to cope.
About halfway up the rocky hill, he was abruptly yanked into a half-hidden dip in the rock, forcing a weird sounding squawk from him. He looked up into the very serious face of Takashi. Lance’s stomach squirmed. There wasn’t an easy way for him to disengage this time, and they both knew it.
“I wanted to do this on the way down,” Takashi admitted. “But the new guy looked too happy. I didn’t want to ruin his welcome.”
“Lance, you keep avoiding me. And now you can’t.” Takashi crossed his arms. “No hiding this time. If you don’t want to be around me, you just have to say so. But I deserve better than you just… just flaking out!”
Lance looked down at his feet. “It isn’t like that.”
Takashi took that as agreement enough to talk, took Lance by the arm, and start walking. Lance let himself be led to a little clearing that wasn’t as doused in shadows from the setting sun as their previous location. Takashi intended for them to see each other’s faces clearly— great, Lance got to watch the heartbreak set in.
“I just don’t understand,” Takashi started. “I thought we were… okay. I mean, I thought we were maybe even... happy.” The doubt on his face was painful.
“We were, Taka.” Lance stared at his chest so he wouldn’t have to see whatever was in those grey eyes as he made an official break for Takashi’s future.
“I love you, Lance.”
It was simple and impactful and everything Lance had always longed to hear. His chest clenched tight and as he let out a choked-off noise.
“I know, probably the last thing you want to hear from an ex.” Takashi rubbed the back of his neck with the metal arm, shivering a bit, eyes cut off to the side. Lance wanted to scream that it was everything he’d ever wanted but knew that he couldn’t.
“I just thought maybe you felt the same,” Takashi pushed, desperate for any kind of response.
Lance had to bite his tongue to not shout that he still does feel that way. That all he wants in the world is to be held in Takashi’s arms again. But that was selfish. It wasn’t what Takashi needed, or what he was sure Takashi really wanted. This was all just Takashi being confused, right?
“Just… just tell me what happened, please.”
Lance took a deep breath and looked into his eyes. “Taka, Kuro was right about me.”
“What did Kuro say?” Takashi’s brows were pulled together and Lance’s fingers itched to smooth them out.
“That I’m just like everyone else who rented you.” Lance stepped to the side, towards the path back to Blue— maybe he could leave now and just drop off the new clones— his feet feeling like lead, his heart begging for him to stay. “You deserve better. At least he never paid for a night with you… A night of fun.”
“Lance…” Takashi grabbed Lance’s wrist, forcing him to stop his motions towards the exit. “We talked about this that first night.”
Lance kept his face turned away. “Yeah, and we decided we were two really lonely people with some incredible memories together. We determined I was still in deep for Shiro, and you were willing to even pretend for me until I got to know you.”
“You did. You told me it was fine to think of you as Shiro. And now… I know you as Takashi, but it’s time for me to accept you aren’t that same lonely guy. You don’t have to settle for me anymore, Taka. You can find the love you deserve with Kuro. I know you care about each other.”
“Why…” He was squeezing Lance’s wrist and trying to swipe away the tears. “Why do you always do this Lance?”
He yanked Lance into his arms. “You act like you aren’t worth the time and love that I try to give you.”
Lips pressed against the top of Lance’s head and his eyes stung at the feeling. “Taka…” He should argue more. He should walk away like he was supposed to. But the feeling of Takashi’s arms, the heat of his body, the steady thump of his heart… Lance couldn’t force himself to move. He just wanted one last memory, then he’d go.
“Tell me you love me, Lance. I know you do but let me hear it. Just once. Please, Lance. Please. Even if you stopped, tell me you used to before your guilt ate it away.”
Lance was shaking his head and tears were streaming down his cheeks. His breath was coming in clipped bursts. His hands were balled up in Takashi’s shirt. Takashi slowly rocked them and waited for Lance to calm down.
“Taka, I can’t. If I say it, I’m not going to let you go.”
Takashi pulled away and Lance had to fight to let go and allow it. He had to let go. He couldn’t keep doing this to Takashi.
“I don’t want to let you go either, Lance,” Takashi whispered. He cupped Lance’s face, thumbs brushing the tears away.
“But… Kuro.” Kuro would never accept it, never let them live in peace, never allow Takashi to—
There was a sound from behind them. “Kuro is his own damn clone and can make a decision by himself.”
Lance jumped at the glowing eyes coming closer. “Kuro, I swear, I was—”
Kuro pressed himself against Lance’s back, effectively trapping the smaller man between their two sturdy frames. With one furry hand, Kuro pulled Takashi into a kiss far gentler than Lance would have expected. Before he could think of anything to say, Kuro guided Takashi’s lips to Lance’s which effectively shattered Lance’s ability to think clearly.
“Look at you, being an adorable little cub scout that doesn’t want to step on any toes.” Kuro’s voice was as abrasive as always, but his actions didn’t match.
Lance was still trapped and not sure if he should respond to the kiss that Takashi was more than happy to continue — he really, really wanted to, though.
Kuro bent his head forward and pressed his lips against Lance's neck, making Lance tense. “Takashi did a fair bit of yelling today when Asahi told him my little secret. The traitor overheard our talk. Takashi found out I pushed you away from him.”
Lance’s mouth parted in surprise and Takashi took advantage of that by shoving his tongue inside. Lance groaned and gave into the kiss.
“He got really mad,” Kuro mused. “Can you imagine it? Told me it wasn’t my place and that I either accept that or lose him.”
Lance whined and tried to pull back, but with Takashi’s hand in his hair and Kuro’s hand in Takashi’s hair, there was no moving. He wanted a clearer head. He wanted to ask what Kuro’s plan was and what the current situation meant, but his desire to taste Takashi again was overwhelming.
“I decided putting up with you was worth it,” Kuro said that like it wasn’t a big deal, but they all knew the truth. Kuro must have been desperate to keep Takashi’s affection if he agreed to stop tormenting Lance, start trusting, and then accept Takashi and Lance’s relationship.
Then, the unimaginable happened.
“But you only get him when I’m here,” Kuro said in a voice that brooked no argument. “And you’re only with him. I just happen to be there.”
Lance moaned at that and wrapped his arms around Takashi, pulling him close and kissing him senseless. He didn’t know how any of this was going to work out, but he was physically incapable of arguing against it. He just needed to feel more of Takashi. Needed to fuse together and never let go. He didn’t let up until his unconscious grinding caused Takashi to whimper.
“Maybe we should move to the house?” Takashi asked as he panted for breath.
Lance and Kuro both nodded. There was a pause as they pulled apart and looked at each other. When Lance reached out and took Takashi’s hand, Kuro did the same with the other. Their eyes met, yellow and blue, waiting for the other to break this strange new peace. Neither did. In silent agreement, they made their way back to the house.
Nobody bothered them. In fact, nobody was around. It was as if they saw the three coming, decided that the peace was some kind of miracle, and hid in hopes that it would continue. Lance tried not to think about that too much. How bad had the fights gotten for everyone to be walking on eggshells about the sudden arrangement?
Hopefully, things wouldn’t blow up in their face this time.
The door to the room Lance and Takashi had claimed since day one shut behind them, none of them noticing it starting to slide back open. Takashi and Lance looked at each other, unsure of what to do next. Kuro crossed his arms and raised his eyebrows at them.
“What are you waiting for?” Kuro asked. “Let’s fuck.”
Well, Kuro still has a LOT of work to do, but they're all working together to fix things!
Chapter 8: Lance's Boyfriend's Boyfriend
It wasn’t like Lance was against poly relationships. He had met some wonderful people and their multiple partners during his travels. More than once, he had considered that option for himself and figured he’d cross that bridge when he came to it. It was just… he expected that whenever that went down, it would involve only people that actually liked him. And he figured it would be more of an ‘everyone dates’ and less of ‘my boyfriend has another boyfriend who insists on watching us fuck because he doesn’t trust me.’ but… he’d adapt.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa.” Lance waved his hands in front of him. “It’s not that easy.”
“Of course it’s that easy,” Kuro countered. He waved a finger between himself and Takashi. “We got plenty of experience in that regard. I’m sure you’ve slutted your way across the galaxies yourself—”
“Kuro!” Takashi snapped.
“Tsk. Whatever. The point is, you two wanna fuck. So do it. I’ll be right here making sure we all know the hierarchy in this house.”
“Hierarchy,” Lance wheezed.
“This is not a dictatorship,” Takashi scolded.
“You’ve been whining over that fact that you miss riding his dick for weeks and now you’re saying no?”
Takashi blushed. “There are things we should discuss first.”
“Sure,” Kuro said. “You can fuck Lance while I fuck you. Everybody’s happy.”
“Sex isn’t going to fix everything,” Lance said.
“It’s what you two want,” Kuro countered, knowing it couldn’t be disputed.
“That is… not the point.” Lance’s face could not possibly get any redder.
“Of course it’s the point! Why else have you two been bitching and moaning?”
“I want a relationship with Lance!” Takashi snapped, his patience reaching a limit. “There’s more to that than just dicks and holes! Obviously, you know that!”
Kuro flinched, though Lance wasn’t sure why. He looked over at Takashi and asked the thing he’d never really wanted confirmation on, “So… You two are officially an item?”
“Why do you think I’m here doing all this?” Kuro growled. “You think I’m some sex counselor for your shit bedroom issues?”
“Uh…” Lance’s head was spinning.
Takashi took Lance’s hands in his. “I chose you, Lance. From the beginning. That has never changed. It also doesn’t negate the feelings that grew between me and Kuro these past few weeks.”
Kuro crossed his arms. “So he gets to have both of us. That’s the deal.”
It wasn’t like Lance was against poly relationships. He had met some wonderful people and their multiple partners during his travels. More than once, he had considered that option for himself and figured he’d cross that bridge when he came to it. It was just… he expected that whenever that went down, it would involve only people that actually liked him. And he figured it would be more of an ‘everyone dates’ and less of ‘my boyfriend has another boyfriend who insists on watching us fuck because he doesn’t trust me.’ but… he’d adapt.
“But Kuro hates me,” Lance blurted, and, well, he never was good at filtering his thoughts.
Kuro rolled his eyes. “If I did, I wouldn’t be here. Neither of us would be.”
“Then I’d hate to see how you act towards your enemies!”
Takashi jumped in before an argument could happen. “Kuro is just nervous because we don’t have sex.”
“We didn’t agree to talk about that,” Kuro growled, his body language abruptly turning hostile.
Takashi just calmly stared Kuro down. “We agreed to all be in a relationship, and that means open communication.”
Lance looked between them. “I don’t understand.”
“He won’t take off the cock cage,” Takashi said, staring Kuro in the eyes as the man snarled.
Lance gaped. “But… Why?”
“It’s none of your business!” Kuro snapped.
“I bought him more comfortable ones once I realized it, but he still hasn’t taken it off in order to switch over,” Takashi continued.
“I said, shut up!”
“His arousal reminds him of his trauma.”
Kuro spun around and punched the wall, breathing heavy and trembling all over. Lance stared for a long time, his mind churning. He thought of all the awful things that Clevart had said about why he had put the device on. Basic biology meant that things would sometimes cross tracks. Arousal during trauma to help offset the abuse was common, not that it made it feel any better to know that when someone mocks you for enjoying the torture.
Lance let his hands slip out of Takashi’s to walk over to Kuro and place them, oh-so-slowly, onto Kuro’s shoulders. The muscles were tense and quaking, but the gentle contact helped to gradually ground Kuro back into the present.
After a tense quiet, Kuro finally said. “I love him, you fuck him, and then he’s happy.”
“No,” Lance gently replied. “We both love him, you keep control of your body at all times, we become friends, and then he’s happy.”
Kuro’s nails scraped along the wall. “Control?”
“Yeah. You can have control. It’s okay if you do or don’t want sex. That’s not gonna change anything. And if you do, you get to call all the shots.”
Takashi walked over to them and cupped Kuro’s face, turning it to make eye contact between them. “As I said, nobody is here to touch you against your will. Nobody will judge you for how you react or what you do and don’t want. Lance isn’t the enemy here. Nobody is. Not anymore.”
Kuro leaned in and kissed Takashi, hard and filthy, one hand tugging hard at his hair until he moaned into it. “If I have control, then why aren’t you naked already?”
“Th-this isn’t fixing the problem,” Takashi said, desperately trying to keep his head as his eyes clouded over.
“It’s fixing your problem, and that’s what’s important right now.” Kuro bit at Takashi’s neck until it pulled a whine from him. “I’m here to make sure he treats you right.”
“You can take the lead,” Lance promised.
Glowing yellow eyes turned to him. “Then get naked.”
Kuro removed his shirt, but nothing else, leaving the other two to strip bare and vulnerable before him. He sat back against the headboard and called Lance to him, pulling him down to rest between Kuro’s legs and lean back against the furred chest. Takashi was then permitted to do as he pleased with Lance’s body.
They started slow, getting comfortable with the new dynamic between them. Lance found that he didn’t so much mind having a warm body boxing him in while Takashi mouthed at every place Lance was sensitive. He was making an array of noises in no time, squirming against Kuro’s chest, fingers clawing at the bedsheets.
Kuro placed a hand on Takashi’s head and guided him between Lance’s legs. Surprisingly, Kuro then ran his nails up Lance’s stomach just as Takashi sank down onto Lance’s cock. It caused a shout of pleasure, which Kuro seemed to enjoy greatly. When Lance tried to slap a hand over his mouth to muffle himself, Kuro pinned Lance’s hands to his sides.
“Ah, ah, pretty boy. I want to hear what he does to you.”
Lance whined but nodded. Kuro was in control, after all. Perhaps he was testing those boundaries, but Lance enjoyed being topped as much as he enjoyed taking Takashi apart under him. His thoughts scattered when Takashi opened his throat and took Lance all the way to the hilt.
“I think he’ll look so pretty with my cock down his throat as well, don’t you think? Maybe he can ride you as he does it so he’ll be good and stuffed.”
“Holy crow.” Lance trembled as he kept the urge to thrust his hips under control. “That’s so hot.”
Takashi moaned around him, and it rattled its way up Lance’s dick, stealing his breath.
“Why don’t we let you do that now, hmmm?” Kuro had his metal hand sunk into Takashi’s purple hair, pulling him back to look up at them, “But I think we’ll keep your mouth free so you can tell Lance how much you missed him in you.”
Takashi nodded as much as he could with his hair locked in place. Lance bit his lip and tried not to get swept up in the moment. It had been too long since he’d even given himself time with his own hand. The first time he went to, all he could think of was Takashi and with the guilt from Kuro, that had effectively killed the mood. But, all of this… it was crazy — but so, so good.
“Get the lube,” Kuro ordered.
Takashi scrambled to obey and pulled it from the side drawer. He followed directions and covered Kuro’s hands in lube. He spread his legs so his hard cock bounced in front of Lance’s face as Kuro fingered him open. Kuro’s metal hand reached down to stroke Lance, spreading the lube over him and warming it up. Lance panted and writhed, the whole experience almost too much.
“Get in position, pretty,” Kuro ordered as he slipped his fingers out.
Takashi let out a loud moan and then moved to straddle Lance. Kuro kept his fingers around the base of Lance’s cock to keep it standing in position and make it easier to sink down onto. Lance and Takashi both groaned as he worked his way bit at a time to being filled.
“Look at that. He’s missed you like this, Lance,” Kuro said, his voice rumbling strangely.
“I’ve missed him, too,” Lance breathed, his hands running reverently over Takashi. “So much, Taka. Not just this.”
Takashi dropped the rest of the way down at that, leaning in to kiss Lance, trying to physically communicate how much he’d missed the two of them together. Kuro watched them without comment, so when they came up for air, Takashi moved forward to kiss him over Lance’s shoulder.
“Missed waking up in your arms.” Lance kissed Takashi’s neck and shoulders, letting the two of them have their moment while he rambled his feelings. “Missed the hugs during the day.”
Lance kept mumbling all the little things he missed against Takashi’s skin as he kissed, licked, and nipped everywhere he could. Kuro snorted at the more ridiculous statements and muttering cub scout when Lance got particularly sappy.
Takashi moved his hips, taking his pleasure exactly how he wanted it as Lance showered him in cheesy declarations. The situation was unlike anything else Lance had ever experienced, but it was so very them, so honest, so everything they needed. He got lost in his pleasure and the feel of bodies around him. He drowned in the sent of them, and the taste of Takashi, and the rough hands of Kuro.
Takashi was quickly working towards his orgasm, and Lance had started stroking him, wanting to see that blissed out moment of intense pleasure on Takashi’s face once more. Lance kept his grip tight, just how Takashi loved, letting him thrust up into Takashi as he rose off Lance’s dick against and again.
Takashi’s rhythm broke, his head tipping back, his thighs shaking. “Oh… fuck. Lance, please.”
“You’re right there, baby,” Lance cooed.
“Cover his face in it,” Kuro said, voice dark and excited.
Takashi came with a clipped shout, ropes of ejaculate shooting over Lance’s chin and chest. He collapsed against Lance’s chest after who held him as he trembled through the intensity of it. Lance’s hips twitched up into Takashi’s clenching hole, causing the man to whine. Kuro dug warning nails into Lance’s hip, who whimpered and went still, though his dick still throbbed with need.
“Be a good boy and wait,” Kuro demanded.
Lance nodded rapidly and was rewarded with pleasure drunk kiss form Takashi for his efforts. After a few moments, Takashi lifted himself off and slid down so he could lick up the mess he’d made on Lance’s chest, taking a moment to suck and bite at his nipples as he traveled. Lance buried his hands into purple hair and trembled in need.
Kuro’s hand slipped over onto Lance’s cock and began to stoke, slow at first, and building up speed with every whine, moan, and pleading word that spilled from Lance’s lips. It wasn’t long before he found his release as well, dirtying all the places Takashi had just licked clean.
“Good boy,” Kuro growled and both Lance and Takashi melted a little.
They were finally starting to calm down when there was a knock on the door. Takashi squeaked and buried his face against Lance’s chest. Kuro just turned his head and asked who it was.
“Listen,” Riku said, standing in the doorway with his eyes closed. “I am really glad Takashi isn’t going to be walking around like a lost puppy anymore. But… we agreed there should be some attempt to be quiet during sex— and closed doors. This is a communal home”
Kuro just laughed and threw a pillow to thump loudly against the door as Riku shut it again, making sure it would stay closed until they were all covered… all the while Takashi tried to act like he wasn’t there, burying his face against Lance as hard as he could manage.
“I’ll make everyone apology waffles in the morning,” Lance called.
“Also, someone is explaining to Frankie that this is not how the house normally is.”
Kuro smiled and opened his mouth, but Riku apparently knew that was coming.
“Not you, Kuro. I don’t trust you and Frankie is nice.”
Lance spoke up then. “Yeah, that’s totally fine. Now can you please leave so we can all talk?”
“Yes, please commence with the talking.” Riku walked off, grumbling loudly about house rules and common decency.
Lance dropped a kiss on top of the still mortified Takashi’s head and smiled. Kuro casually ran his fingers along both of their skin and muttered something about how he could get used to this.
Frankie settled into the house well, and immediately took over as promised. There was no complaint about it from anyone, not even Kuro. Frankie set up schedules for the chores and arranged helpers for evening meal plans, though he did most of the cooking. He took into account preferences, nutrition, and available stock. Honestly, Lance wasn’t sure how they had survived without him.
The garden also exploded with new growth as Frankie filled it to the brim and worked with the soil until it was yielding the most food possible. Asahi helped to maintain it, giving him a job he didn’t so much mind doing, especially since it was far from all knives. Frankie was a patient teacher full of praises, and the flourishing plants as a result really brightened Asahi’s mood.
Takashi was happy when the bunnies were finally able to enjoy fresh lettuce. Frankie was slightly less ecstatic about the fact that the bunnies felt the need to eat it straight from the garden.
The relationship between Lance, Takashi, and Kuro stabilized surprisingly well. They were all a lot calmer, and with that came more rational thoughts and conversations. For the first time, Lance and Kuro were able to actually talk to one another.
And the sex… well… it was amazing.
Kuro got to the point of finally taking off the cock cage and allowing Takashi to touch. It wasn’t for very long, and Lance wasn’t allowed in the room, but it was progress. Kuro accepted the new cages Takashi had acquired for him and used those instead. He was never comfortable with the idea of getting hard without giving his body explicit permission to do so. That may be something he would never get past, but it was something he managed with the right tools and support.
As for the rest of the clones out there, they were having trouble tracking them down. Ethan had practically locked himself in his room for the past few weeks, compiling all the information he could that might result in a lead. It was practical Frankie that finally said what everyone had been avoiding speaking of.
“You’ve reached the limits of what you can do on your own. It’s time to ask for assistance.” He looked around the table at the family meeting he had called.
“The more people that know about us, the higher the risk,” Asahi argued. “Do you know what people would do to us when they discovered that Haggar was behind our creation?”
“I understand the need for secrecy,” Frankie said, “but not everyone will react poorly. That’s already been proven.”
“But secrets slip, and that’s when trouble starts,” Lance pointed out.
“You had supplies moved here from off world. People already know of this location.”
Lance shrugged. “By people that know better than to say anything. Besides, they only saw me, not any of you. They don’t know why I’m here.”
“Which is precisely why they won’t find it that much of a concern to drop by in the future.”
Asahi paled. “You think we’ll be discovered that easily?”
“No,” Lance assured. “Blue and I will take care of it if something happens, but it won’t.”
“If you trust them enough to keep the location of a missing Voltron lion and her paladin secret, then why can’t you trust them with more?” Frankie challenged.
It was debated at length, with everyone bringing up different people and weighing the pros and cons of each. Ethan, surprisingly, was on board with Frankie’s idea. He had been worrying himself sick over how useless he felt lately and believed that new eyes on the problem was the right way to go.
Ultimately, everyone settled agreed to the people Lance wanted to deal with least: Rolo and his crew. Maybe it was petty, but Lance had never really gotten over being toyed with back in the day, never got over that first big broken heart in space. He reminded himself over and over that they had come through during the war and risked their lives along with everyone else.
So, Lance sat down at a communications console that Ethan had heavily encrypted and made a call.
“Lance!” Rolo put on his best smile. “What can I do for my favorite Paladin? You need another delivery? I came across some stuff I thought you might like based on your last delivery.”
“I’m glad we still have an understanding that you owe me for that time you stole my lion,” Lance deadpanned.
Nyma popped up into the video screen. “I’m still really sorry about that, Lance.”
“Well, here’s your chance to help out some innocent lives instead of running from the fight.” Rolo and Nyma both winced. “I need you to start looking into every android sale or shipment with any bot that looks even remotely like Shiro.”
“Those are pretty popular models,” Nyma said. “There’s a lot out there.”
Lance let out an exhausted sigh. “I know. And I especially need information on any sales being kept off the books.”
“What is it that you’re looking for?” Rolo asked.
Lance paused, staring at their pictures on the screen and debating yet again if this was a good idea. Of course, if he didn’t say anything, they’d probably figure it out on their own. They worked with a robot. Of course, they’d notice the difference if they ever ran across one of the clones, or read a report about them. And what if they just didn’t get back to Lance until they had a bulk of information to pass on, not even considering how time would be of the essence for a clone trapped in a bad situation?
“Whatever this is, you can trust us,” Rolo insisted. “Please, we’re here to help. Let us prove that to you once and for all.”
Behind the display, Ethan gave an encouraging nod. Lance groaned and rubbed his temples. “Fine, but listen. This stays only between us. Nobody else can know about it. People’s lives are at stake.”
“We promise,” Nyma said, her voice full of sincerity. Rolo nodded gravely.
Lance took a deep breath to steel himself. He was taking a leap of faith by not only forgiving Rolo and Nyma for their history, but trusting them with the lives of so many. There was no room for wavering. If he was going to do it, he had better do so confidently and expect results and trustworthiness. That was how a person gained respect and loyalty. Shiro had taught him that.
“Alright, listen. This is what’s happening…”
Pidge’s computer dinged. She opened up the flag. There had been a deep space transition from the other side of the Milky Way that was encrypted so hard she’d be surprised if the video feed even came out clear. She had a system set up to scan for such things. Not for any particular reason, just because she was curious and wanted to know things before anyone else did. She had definitely grown to not like surprises.
She looked over the code. There was nothing overly suspicious about it. Likely, there weren’t that many people out there that would even be interested in what the transmission was about and would dismiss it as just scrambled nonsense that had been caught in a solar flare. Untangling the mess could take years and the few people capable of doing it wouldn’t waste their time.
Of course, Pidge was way better than anyone in the known universe when it came to decoding encrypted and scrambled transmissions and would probably take maybe a day. She dropped it in her project folder to work on when she was bored. Maybe it would turn out to be something interesting after all.
This chapter completes the first arc we wrote for the bang. We have decided to continue updating in here instead of breaking up the arcs into different fics. However, we are both working on other projects at the moment, so the updates will be slower from here on out. Thank you for your patience and support! We hope you are enjoying this wayward adventure as much as we are!