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Same as It Never Will Be

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They had all unanimously agreed to never call a mission simple again, even if the mission was only hiking to a stream a half-varga’s distance away to collect water. They had learned relatively quickly that whenever someone dropped that particular adjective, the universe felt as if it was being challenged and would proceed to jinx everything. Occasionally they still made mistakes, however, and someone, in this case Coran, would say, “It should be quick and simple!” and everyone would flinch and groan and prepare as best they could for something to inevitably go wrong. After all, just because they knew something bad was going to happen, they couldn’t just not go on the mission.

Which is exactly how Lance ended up dangling from a cliff while holding onto Pidge, who was holding on to Keith, who was holding on to the lowest hanging branch of a weird alien tree that made up the entire edge of the cliff. The canyon below was deep, so deep that Lance couldn’t even see an actual bottom, meaning that even if there was water or something below them it wouldn’t feel any different from smashing into concrete if they fell from this height. While this set-up reminded Lance of a bunch of dramatic movie clichés, the tree branch Keith had a hold of was perfectly stable, grown on this world with its greater-than-Earth level gravity, and wasn’t going anywhere. Keith’s and, even more noticeably, Pidge’s bodies, however, were a whole other story.

Even through the helmet face shields Lance could see the strain on Keith’s face as he attempted to hold all of their weight with one hand, as well as the pain and fear twisting Pidge’s face. They had radioed for help about ten minutes ago, but the others were still another ten away and Lance realized they wouldn’t be able to continue like this for that long.

“Guys, I think–”

“Lance, no! Just shut up, help will be here soon,” Keith snapped.

“Keith, if you know what I was about to say then you know it’s the only choice! The others are still ten minutes away and you and Pidge can’t hold out that long!”

“Fuck you, Lance, I’m holding up just fine,” Pidge gritted out, tightening her grip on Lance’s hand.

Lance could hear distressed shouting through his helmet’s comms as the others tried to reassure them that they were coming as soon as they could and that Lance was not to do ANYTHING stupid until then.

“Guys, seriously, we can’t–“

“Just shut your quiznack, Lance!” Keith snarled.

“Okay buddy, first of all that is MY line. Second of all, I don’t think you’re using that word correctly,” Lance retorted.

“Lance, this isn’t the time–“

“And THIRD, all of you need to stop interrupting me and listen!” Pidge let out another pained grunt but otherwise they all fell silent and Lance was given the stage.

“Pidge, you are so far beyond smarter than me and Keith so you must realize your body can’t hold out much longer if I have. Without my weight, Keith should be able to get you guys onto the branch or at least hold on until the others get here. Argh, quiznack this sucks, but yeah it makes the most sense if I just let go right? Otherwise there’s a huge chance that you and/or Keith can’t hold on anyway and fall with me. Honestly, you guys are great, I mean it. Can you just tell my family I’m sorry and I love them when you eventually reach Earth?”

“Nope, nope, nope, not happening, Lance, we’re almost there.” Lance heard Hunk muttering anxiously through his helmet.

“Pidge, don’t you dare let him go!” Keith yelled.

“Of course I won’t! Lance, stop being a quiznacking idiot!” Pidge’s shouting did something to upset their current precarious situation and suddenly she was screaming in pain and Lance started scrabbling at her hand clutched around his, trying to get her to let go. Between the pain and Lance’s desperate efforts her fingers managed to lose their grip and he was falling.

All Lance could hear was screaming from above and voices echoing in his ears through the comms in his helmet.

He wanted so badly to turn off his comms, but between the air resistance and panic he couldn’t seem to figure out how. He wouldn’t cry like he wanted to, wouldn’t scream his frustrations like he needed to because he didn’t want that for those that were listening, didn’t want those noises to be their last memory of him. He vaguely thought he could hear Keith shouting for his wolf, but it slipped out of his awareness and all he could think of was how scared he was and how he hoped the others wouldn’t miss him too much and how he really really hoped his family back on Earth would understand his choice. Even through the sound of the wind around him as he fell and fell and fell, Lance could hear a lion roaring, his lion. His Red, desperately trying to get to him, but far to big to fit into the available space. She was in his head, a crescendo of fear, but there was nothing she could do as Lance continued to fall.

He drowned out the voices in his ears as his eyes closed and a feeling of calm settled over him. Lance just imagined he was flying. It could be worse, at least it wouldn’t be painful this way.

Suddenly there was a popping noise and Lance’s eyes flew open to see Kosmo staring at him expectantly, and his hands reached out to grab blue-black fur.

Another pop and he was lying on the ground. Alive, dazed, and hands still buried in Kosmo’s fur.

Huh. So that happened.

Lance didn’t remember much of the following few minutes; he only knew there was shouting and someone was hugging him and that he was somehow alive. It felt like his entire brain needed a little while to reboot itself to adjust to this new reality where he was not, in fact, dead.

When his brain finally recalibrated everyone was there, Keith and Pidge included, and they were all gathered around him with a broad spectrum of emotions on their faces. He was now in a sitting position, right hand still gripping Kosmo, and Hunk sobbing into his shoulder. He could sense Red landing a short distance away, calm now that her paladin was okay.

“Hey guys, guess I’m not dead after all,” he eventually croaked at them, somehow managing a relieved grin.

Pidge let out an indignant screech and launched herself at him, sobbing while cursing him out, and Lance let go of Kosmo to hug both of his friends back. He couldn’t help but laugh, both from just how ridiculous Pidge and Hunk were and because he felt high off of the knowledge that he was alive.

Everyone gave him a hug or firm hand on his shoulder after that, lots of affectionate words were thrown as empty insults, and Lance soaked up the attention and love like a sponge. Hunk hovered and Pidge clung like a koala to Lance’s back the entire walk to the lions and the rest of their group, while Allura and Shiro walked nearby with twin faces of combined relief and exasperation. Kosmo wagged his tail happily and trotted between them.

Only Keith said nothing and looked murderous the entire time.

 

Later, after Coran finished looking Lance, Pidge, and Keith over for injuries (Pidge and Keith had needed to have their shoulders wrapped to prevent further muscle damage), Keith stalked over to Lance, who was sitting on Red’s left paw. Keith grunted and Lance scooted over to make room for the other man, eyeing him warily.

“Lance…do you want to die?”

“No, I don’t. I have so much to live for and things I want to do. I need to see my family again and swim at Veradero beach. Life is hard, but most of the time…I love living it,” Lance said, looking up and directly into Keith’s eyes.

“Then why?”

“Because despite what I want and despite what you want, we’re in an intergalactic war and sometimes we’re going to end up needing to make hard choices. Strategically, I am the most expendable paladin, Keith, you need to accept that.”

“No, Lance,” Keith whispered, his voice breaking on the blue paladin’s name.

Lance felt his gaze soften as he looked at the other boy. He wasn’t a fan of this conversation, but Keith needed to hear it.

“We’re at war and you’re our leader, Keith. You can’t let your emotions cloud your judgment. War requires sacrifice.”

Keith let out a distressed, choked whine, face crumpling. He looked like he had a million things he wanted to say, and no idea how to say even one.

“Besides, I’m fine! We’re all fine right now, and who knows, maybe that kind of scenario will never see the light of day a second time!”

They sat on Red’s paw together for another half-varga in comfortable but heavy silence, neither of them actually believing the words. As Keith’s pinky may or may not have settled against Lance’s, though, the red paladin found that he felt strong enough to face any future that came their way.

 

Later, as they all sat around a campfire and Hunk prepared dinner, Lance noticed someone with slumped shoulders and a tense face sitting by their own lion. They were sitting on their lion’s paw much like Lance had been not even hours ago. Frowning, Lance looked back at the rest of the group around the fire. Hunk was eyeing their slumped comrade in concern, but then he sighed, shook his head slightly, and turned back to cooking. Everyone else was too distracted with Coran and Romelle’s antics to notice anything amiss, so Lance pushed himself off the dusty ground and wandered over to the small huddled figure.

“Sup, Pidge, how’re the shoulders feeling?”

Pidge stared stonily ahead. “Peachy, just peachy.”

“Uh huh, so how are they really? What was Coran’s diagnosis?”

Pidge huffed, seemingly unamused with the red paladin’s prying. She refused to make eye contact with him, Lance noticed. He frowned momentarily before morphing his face into a more relaxed expression, hoping to help the green paladin feel a bit more at ease.

“They really are fine, or at least they will be. Coran couldn’t tell the exact extent of the damage with the healing pod sensors, but he says the muscles in both are just severely strained. Nothing some time won’t heal.”

“Time, huh,” Lance hummed. He watched as Pidge seemed to shrink into herself just a bit more, her small body practically radiating discomfort and misery. He closed the distance between them and sat beside her, right arm coming up to sit around her shoulders while he waited for her to find her voice.

“Lance, how would you feel if I died?”

Ah. So that was what this was about. He probably should have guessed.

“Well, Pidgey, I’m pretty sure I just threw myself off a cliff to prevent that very scenario,” Lance chuckled dryly, trying for casual. The small body that had been leaning into his embrace became stiff as a board between one breath and the next. Maybe too casual, then?

“I wouldn’t have died, moron.”

“Maybe,” Lance said. “I wasn’t willing to take that risk though. At the very least your shoulders would’ve been a lot worse, probably even permanently damaged.”

“Then I could’ve built new ones,” Pidge said rebelliously.

“With both of your arms busted and when we have so few supplies?” Lance calmly answered. She was talking in the hypothetical he had to remind himself, he needed her to be talking in the hypothetical or he wasn’t sure how to handle what she was proposing.

“Yeah. Matt would’ve helped me, so would Hunk. Look at Shiro, Lance, body parts can be replaced, people can’t.”

“It’s your body, Pidge, don’t take it so lightly.”

“I’m not, but I’d rather have mechanical limbs than lose anyone in my family again.” Lance heard tears in her voice even though her face looked dry.

“Okay.” Lance found that was the only thing he could bring himself to say. He has felt like Pidge was the little sibling he’d never had ever since they’d launched unknowingly into space that day, that’s why he had been so mad at the thought of Ezor and Zethrid touching her, but to know she also saw him as an older brother… that meant more than Lance felt he had the words to express.

Pidge seemed to understand that her thoughts had been successfully communicated, however, and relaxed into Lance’s one-armed hug once again. Both leaned back against Green as they watched the stars spread out above them. They continued to watch in companionable silence until Hunk’s voice called against the quiet for them to come to dinner.

 

“Hey, buddy, how’re you doing after everything earlier?” Hunk said, ladling some thick brown mush into a bowl before handing it to Lance.

“Oh yeah, man, I’m fine. I ended up the least injured of the three of us actually.” Lance replied cheerily. He couldn’t help the face he made when he noticed the neon green chunks floating in the mush, however, which of course Hunk noticed immediately.

“Don’t diss it until you try it, Lance, the green bits are some kind of plant from the planet we stopped at last time. It definitely has an interesting color, but Coran assures me it’s safe and it even makes the stew taste like beef stew!”

“Beef?” Pidge had procured her own bowl and was spooning at it warily from nearby.

“Yeah, beef! Don’t worry though, no Kalteneckers were harmed in the making of this meal.”

Pidge, ever the skeptic, raised her eyebrows before walking away to sit with the others, continuing to poke at the stew as if something might jump out and bite her. Romelle and Coran launched into some kind of discussion on Altean culture between now and ten thousand years ago, while everyone else ate their stew and softly chatted with one another or listened to the energetic discussion taking place. Even Keith drifted closer, placing a bowl of stew down for Kosmo to eat. Lance watched Keith rest his hand on the large wolf’s back with a fond smile on his face. Just as Lance decided to go over and tease the boy about something mullet-related, a hand fell on his left shoulder.

“Lance, you know you’re my best friend right?” Hunk voice was low and serious and Lance found himself pausing at the shift in atmosphere, before turning around to face Hunk. Lance tilted his head a little as he took in the serious expression on Hunk’s face. What was…oh right, of course.

“Yeah of course, buddy, you’re mine too. I’m sorry I scared you earlier, but I’m fine. Everything is okay,” Lance said, his hand reaching up to grip Hunk’s forearm comfortingly, the one attached to the hand that was still gripping his shoulder.

Hunk’s face pinched slightly and his grip on Lance’s shoulder tightened briefly as his eyes seemed to probe Lance’s face. Whatever he was looking for though he seemed to find it, as Lance saw Hunk’s entire body visibly relax and felt his grip loosen.

“Yeah, okay, but if you ever pull something like that again I’m going to tell your mom AND Veronica, Lance.” Hunk smiled and took his hand from Lance’s shoulder while Lance jerked his own hand off of Hunk’s arm in response.

“You wouldn’t!”

Hunk fixed him with a look. “I would, and you know it.”

“Betrayal, thy name is Hunk,” Lance gasped, eyes wide in mock disbelief. They both ended up laughing after that, a lot of things passing between them without any verbal communication, just quiet understanding.

Lance and Hunk ended up eating their weird alien stew dinner over by the campfire with the others. Lance made it his priority to physically drape himself over his best friend’s body once they had all switched to swapping stories across the campfire.

 

After dinner, Lance leaned back against Hunk’s side as he and Keith exchanged petty, teasing remarks, while Hunk talked animatedly to Pidge about something to do with recoil shocks and kinetic energy.

“Everyone, I have something I wish to discuss with all of you,” Allura announced from her place in the misshaped campfire circle the space crew had going on.

“The stage is yours, Princess,” Shiro replied.

“You see, I wish to make a slight deviation in our travel plans.”

“A deviation? But, Princess, it’s already going to take us–“

“One point five years, damn it,” Pidge growled out, cutting off Coran’s confused squawk.

“Yes, but regardless of the time estimate, I feel this detour shall be worth the additional, well, time. You see, there is a planet in the next system that belongs to the Scorraks and I wish to visit and possibly accelerate our trip,” Allura continued.

“Oh, of course! The Scorraks! That’s brilliant, Princess!” Coran said enthusiastically.

“Um…what? Scorraks?” Hunk edged in uncertainly, holding an index finger up in a nervous
question.

“The Scorraks are an ancient race that used to be close allies and friends with Altea. While I can no longer look up any details to confirm that this is still the case, the Scorraks were known for their ability to control time to an extent and I am hoping they may have a way to hasten our journey.”

“What do you mean, like the ability to move faster within the realm of time or to hasten our perception of time’s movements?” Pidge asked, glasses slipping slightly down her nose in her excitement.

“Wait! Holy Kaltenecker, Allura, are you saying the Scorraks can time travel?” Lance chimed in eagerly, leaning forward slightly.

“Lance, there’s no way time travel could exist, that just gets into way too many paradoxes to even think about. Maybe it could be something similar to the Quantum Abyss that Keith was in before, but I can’t even fathom the amount of energy that would be required to control such a fabrication of time within such a limited frame of reference,” Pidge replied, pushing her glasses back up into place.

Lance pouted, leaning once again against Hunk and folding his arms while he sulked. Hunk shot him a sympathetic smile.

“I…do not know, actually,” Allura said uncertainly, clasping her hands together in front of her.

“You don’t know?” Romelle asked skeptically.

“No, my father was never very forthcoming about the Scorraks’ abilities.”

“She’s right you know,” Coran put in. “King Alfor was very hush-hush about anything to do with the Scorraks’ abilities. He feared the knowledge would reach the ears of those who would abuse it,”” Coran elaborated.

“I don’t know if this is a good idea…shouldn’t we just continue on our way? We don’t know if whatever the Scorraks can do will actually be able to help us at all. It sounds like we might just be wasting time on a pointless detour,” Hunk said uneasily.

“Yeah, I’m going to go with my boy Hunk on this one, Allura,” Lance said, a sense of unease in his gut.

“I believe the possible reward will be worth it,” Allura countered. “And even should this lead turn out to be a false one, it will not add a significant amount of time to the journey.

They end up discussing it for another varga, and while some of them (namely Hunk and Lance) were still uneasy about the deviation, they all agreed that even the possibility of reaching Earth more quickly was, at the very least, worth an investigation. They finished gathering supplies -- including a few more mystery ingredients for Hunk to experiment with -- and divvied up who would ride with who. Romelle got into Blue with Allura, Kaltenecker and Coran were in Yellow with Hunk, the mice were with Pidge in Green, and Keith would take Shiro and Kosmo in Black. Lance was going to be alone in Red until their next stop, and that was perfectly fine with him.

Their temporary campsite was packed up and loaded into the lions and everyone had started boarding to take off when Shiro hesitated as he watched Lance carry a box into Red.

“Shiro, you coming?” Keith called from Black’s open mouth, Kosmo at his side.

“I’m going to ride with Lance actually,” Shiro announced casually. Keith tilted his head slightly and narrowed his eyes in contemplation before quickly glancing between the two and returning his gaze to Shiro. He gave a jerky nod of his head in approval.

“Uh, sure, no problem,” Lance replied, unsure of what exactly was happening right then. He and Shiro didn’t usually avoid each other or anything, and they got along just fine, but admittedly things had been a bit awkward between them since Shiro had taken over Kuron’s body. Lance wasn’t even sure why it was awkward though, he understood that it wasn’t Shiro who had said and done all those things and as far as Lance knew, there wasn’t any way for Shiro to know that anything awkward-worthy had transpired between them. Did Shiro retain Kuron’s memories or had he seen things happening through Black? Or had simply someone told him? Did Shiro remember that while on the astral plane, he had tried to reach Lance once and Lance hadn’t understood? Did Shiro blame him for not realizing the truth sooner? …Like he blamed himself.

‘Yeah, he probably does,’ Lance thought morosely as he took up his position in Red’s pilot seat, shoulders slumped, and listened to Shiro settle into the cockpit somewhere behind him.

About twenty dobashes passed in silence as all the lions lifted off and left the green, craggy terrain behind them, shooting once again into the stars.

“Lance, if you had died, who do you think would have had the responsibility of telling your family what had happened?” Shiro asked, suddenly right behind Lance’s chair. The unexpected question startled Lance out of his thoughts and made him jump a little in the seat.

“Uhhh, I mean Hunk probably?” Lance hedged, not sure where this conversation was going.

“No, Lance. As your commanding officer the responsibility would’ve fallen to me.”

There was silence in the Red Lion cockpit as Lance took that in, unsure how to respond to such information.

“Oh,” Lance eventually responded eloquently.

“Lance, I swore to myself that I would get the five of you home, sane and intact, no matter what. I almost wasn’t able to keep that oath today.”

The Cuban boy looked forward into the universe speeding by them and thought about how to respond to that. This wasn’t the conversation he had been expecting whatsoever, although in hindsight maybe he should have expected it; almost everyone else had already taken their turn admonishing him after all. Which also didn’t make a lot of sense. Lance knew everyone on the team cared about each other, but they had never expressed it quite like this, and never about a situation that Lance so strongly felt he made the right call on. If anything, Lance felt everyone should have been praising him for making that call, not chiding him like a child.

“What would you have done if you’d been in my place hanging over that cliff, Shiro?”

“I – what?”

“What would you have done if Pidge and Keith were holding you up above that abyss and were likely either going to irreparably damage their bodies or end up falling with you? I thought at least you out of everyone would understand why I made the decision to fall.”

So Lance was a little grumpy at this point, even possibly a tad vindictive. Sue him.

“Well, I –“

“You would have done the same thing, Shiro, we both know it,” Lance said, cutting him off, though guilt for making Shiro sound so unsure reared its ugly head in his chest.

“Well, maybe you’re right, Lance, but also maybe after losing both my parents back on Earth, living most of my life knowing I had an early expiration date, leaving the man I loved behind to follow my dreams only to get kidnapped and tortured by aliens for an entire year, losing my dominant arm on the whim of said aliens, ending up back in space yet again to fight an intergalactic ten thousand year old war in a giant robot space cat before dying and put back into my own clone’s body, I’m not ready to lose anyone else important to me,” Shiro calmly answered, leaving Lance once again speechless and unsure of how to react.

“Um, I guess that’s fair,” ended up being the best response he could manage. Lance shrunk into his seat a little more, shoulders hunched and shame reddening his cheeks.

“You haven’t lost anything yet, Lance. You’ve been displaced for sure, but nothing important to you has been permanently lost. You’re not allowed to self-sacrifice yet, not until you know what loss really means. I know I’m being selfish and what I’m saying might be impossible…but none of you are allowed to die, Lance, you all are going to make it home. I won’t fail you.”

Shiro gave his speech with such smooth confidence that Lance couldn’t help but believe every word. When Shiro stepped up beside him and ruffled Lance’s brown hair, he knew he should have felt like he was being treated like a child, but instead the gesture combined with Shiro’s easy smile compelled Lance to give a bright smile in return.

He didn’t realize that he’d lost hope that everything would be okay until that moment, when hope found itself nestling back inside his chest.

Maybe Shiro was right. Maybe Lance hadn’t lost anything permanently.

Chapter Text

The pretty lilac Scorrak girl fluttered her eyelashes at Lance, her wings thrummed softly behind her. Lance shot her a careless grin and a wink, before turning around to follow the rest of his group.

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“Come on, Loverboy Lance, we’re going this way,” Keith called. Lance’s head swiveled around to spot the black paladin’s subtly pursed mouth.

Lance’s cheeks were calescent under Keith’s gentle rebuke.

 

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“LANCE! NO!” He heard Keith scream.

The blinding light faded and where Lance McClain previously stood, there was nothing.

 

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As the light faded, Lance winced at the new throbbing in his right side before

“Uh… where did everyone go?”

“Guys?” Lance called with his hands cupped to the sides of his mouth. “Guys seriously this isn’t funny anymore, where did everyone go?”

It took a few moments of staring at the blue fuzz covered block in front of him before he realized it was the altar where the Tempendium had rested not a dobash earlier. The blue fuzz was alien moss he decided quickly.

Despite what people assumed, while Lance would never equate himself with Hunk or Pidge, Lance wasn’t an idiot. Also he’s seen movies, a lot of movies. And cartoons.

So when adding together that he’d been fighting in a room with a magical time artifact, there had been a huge flash of light that had engulfed him, AND that he was in the same temple room, but it now had blue fuzzy looking moss on it and half of the rest of the room…

Lance wasn’t somewhere else; he was somewhen else.

Oh, quiznack.

Ok, McClain, this is fine. You time traveled and ended up somewhere in the probably future and you are all alone on an alien world. This is fine. Yep. Totally fine. Oh, mierda.

As Lance attempted to calm his breathing, he heard a small sound from the room’s open doorway. Sniper rifle already drawn and ready, Lance called out.

“Hello? Who’s there?”

The only response at first was sharp, high-pitched squeak. A few ticks later and a head poked around the doorway. It was a small lilac colored Scorrak. Lance took a deep breath and let his bayard deactivate and dematerialize back into the paladin armor.

“You can come out, it’s okay, I won’t hurt you.”

The little Scorrak made a chirping noise before stepping into the doorframe. Two more little Scorrak faces poked out beside her, one turquoise and the other rose colored.

“Hey little ones, what are your names?”

“I’m Lorla, these are my friends Minnow and Trailvak. Who’re YOU?” The lilac one said, voice high pitched and squeaky.

“The name’s Lance and I’m the dashing red paladin of Voltron!” Lance declared smugly. Maybe these kids could help him figure out what was going on and how to get back to his own time?

“Why are you called the red paladin if you’re wearing blue?” The rose colored one (Trailvak?) asked bluntly.

“And what’s Voltron?”

Uh oh.

“Cause I look better in blue, duh. Also, you know, VOLTRON, giant robot, has weird cat faces for feet and defender of the universe? Voltron.”

The Scorraks all looked at each other and shrugged, their little wings giving small flaps.

“Do you work for the Galra?” Lorla asked, putting herself in front of the other two.

“Wait, what? No! Why would you even think that?” Lance stammered, baffled by the sudden tone change.

Lorla looked suspicious, wings thrumming behind her with anxiety.

“Well you’re not Scorrak, and nobody else comes here. No one wants to upset the Garla.”

“Wait, why would coming here upset the Galra? I thought your planet was a neutral?!”

The three Scorraks all looked at Lance like he’d been huffing scultrite.

“Our planet has always been under the Galra empire, once we’re adults they’ll take us to work camps, and if we’re lucky enough to survive, we’ll get to come home once our bodies won’t cooperate anymore.” The turquoise one spoke up, having easily the highest voice of the group, similar to a human five-year-old.

Horror washed through Lance. Quiznack, what had happened to Voltron and to this planet? Why was this the future? Were the others okay? Just how far in the future was he? Were the others even still alive?

“Hush, Minnow, it has NOT been always, my grifawn tells stories sometimes about when we were free.” Lorla chastises.

 

Grifawn it turned out, seemed to be the equivalent of a grandmother or elderly guardian for the Scorraks, as Lorla took Lance through the backroads of the Scorrak town and rambled at him nearly the entire time.

 

“You have been gone for around twenty-four deca-phoebs, young paladin.”

“Oh quiznack, that’s a lot of deca-phoebs.”

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“I believe I may have what you are looking for, young paladin.” The elder Scorrak says gently, voice low. When she smiles, the lilac scales around her mouth move in a way that reminded him of his abuela’s own crinkled smile. His chest aches.

Scarla turns around and shuffles over to a pile of object near the back of the room and after a few moments of rummaging, pulls out a very familiar white and blue device. Lance attempts to swallow down the emotions he can feel building in his throat at the sight of it.

“How did you…?” He eventually manages, as she returns to him and pushes the object into his trembling hands. It was a bit cracked and a little more yellow than white at this point, but it was still a communicator to Voltron. It was hope.

“Scorraks age a bit differently than humans it seems, I believe the last time you saw me I was flirting with you as you headed off for the temple.” She chuffs, in a way Lance can tell is the Scorrak form of laughter.

Lance felt gob smacked, there was a lilac Scorrak he remembered, but jeez, what even is time?

“Scorraks have a life-span of only about forty deca-phoebs, young paladin. Conditions on our world have been harsh and there are not many of us left from before the Galra invaded, and so this Voltron communicator was passed to me, just in case you showed up again.”

“You guys knew I would be here?”

“Not exactly, but we did know it was a possibility. The Tempendium could have sent you backwards in time or forwards at any length of time, there was actually a very small chance this communicator would ever have a chance to get to you, but we had to try. Your team needs you, young paladin.”

“Of course they do! What even is Voltron without their sharpshooter after all. I mean, it’s been twenty years so they probably have a new sharpshooter now and another red paladin, but you know, those are just details.”

It wasn’t until this moment that everything fully hit Lance in terms of possible scenarios. Best case scenario was that Allura or someone could send him back in time using the Tempendium if it still even existed. Worst case was he was stuck in the future now, in a time not his own, and likely no place to belong. Red had to have a new pilot by now, so Voltron wouldn’t need him… and it had been over twenty years since he last saw his family, how would he even explain his disappearance for all that time? Let alone explain how he was still eighteen.

Everyone had probably moved on without him.

Keith had probably moved on without him.

Replaceable

Not enough

Was only convenient

Quickly shaking off his thoughts he looked up again at Scarla, thanking her profusely for all of her help.

“Young paladin, you should stay here until you can get in contact with your friends, it is not the same world you left and we are now under Galra surveillance.”

“Yeah, about that, why are you under Galra surveillance? To be honest I kind of expected the war to be over now, what with Zarkon being dead and Lotor stuck in the quintessence field.”

“You are mistaken, Emperor Lotor is the ruler of the Galra.”

“Excuse me, WHAT? But Allura would have never allowed that to happen, I mean how did the guy even get out? Just what?”

“I do not know the specifics. Roughly a deca-phoeb after you vanished, Lotor returned and commandeered the remaining Galra forces that were scattered across the cosmos. Within a deca-phoeb more he was already commanding a larger empire than his father ever had.”

“But… but what about Voltron?” Lance whispers, horrified.

The old Scorrak pauses and looks at Lance for the first time with blatant pity on her face.

“Young paladin, the last time Voltron was seen was the day you disappeared into time.”

Lance couldn’t help it, he started laughing.

It took him a few moments to come to the uncomfortable realization that Scarla was not laughing with him and actually seemed to growing sadder by the tick.

Lance stopped laughing.

“Wait… you’re not actually serious are you? You ARE just joking?” Lance’s voice manages to crack a bit in a way it hasn’t since he was thirteen.

“I am not pulling your wing. The defender of the universe was never seen after you disappeared. There have been numerous eye-witness accounts of the individual lions but not Voltron itself. I’m afraid I can’t offer you any further details as I have none to give. I am sorry.”

“No, no, thank you, you have been super helpful… I’m just trying to wrap my mind around everything. This is a lot to take in all at once.” Lance looks down at the device in his hands and absently begins running his fingers over the outer shell of the communicator, a frown etched on his face.

What could have caused Voltron to vanish like that? Were they not able to find another red paladin? Had something also happened to Keith?

“As far as you know, was I the only paladin who was affected by the Tempendium?” The boy asked.

“Yes, very sure. I suppose it is possible something could have happened after the rest of your team left us, but when they left it was only you who was missing.”

“Oh.”

“Young paladin, you must be careful not to be seen by other Scorraks.”

“Wait, why?”

“We have chosen not to pass on the name Voltron to our youngest ones, but the ones first born into the Galra clutches and the ones who can barely remember a time of neutrality only know Voltron as the ones who abandoned us when we needed it most.”

“That doesn’t make any sense! We’re the good guys!” Lance bristled, feeling indignant.

“Sometimes the best of intentions only lead to sorrow. I’m afraid Voltron did more damage appearing and then disappearing than just never returning at all. The power vacuum you all caused and then left behind created more chaos and tragedy for my people than we were previously experiencing. I cannot say for sure, but I fear it is likely that many in the universe you used to consider allies likely feel similar. I would be very careful while you are in this time, young paladin, it is not your own and more different from your own than you can likely comprehend yet.”

“Then why are you helping me?” Lance slowly blinked at her, guilt and disbelief clear on his face.

“Because your reappearance has given me something I have not experienced in a long time. Hope. I believe that if we can succeed in sending you back to when you belong… perhaps my people won’t have to suffer as they have. Perhaps I can live in a world where my bonded was never torn away from me and perhaps those fledglings don’t have to grow up knowing they’ll soon be torn from their caretakers’ arms.”

Lance couldn’t help but stare at the wistful expression on the old dragon-like creature’s face.

“To be found by the only Scorraks who would have been able to help you and to be even sent by the Tempendium to a time within your own life, you must be very lucky, young paladin, perhaps there is some higher being looking out for you.”

 

Lance was exhausted. As he curls up in a back corner of Scarla’s home, he closes his eyes momentarily while he tightly clutches the communication device in his hands. The blue-colored paladin wanted to take nap badly, but was terrified he might miss someone contacting him if he actually gave in to sleep. He had tried calling earlier, directly after his talk with Scarla, but had received no response. Scarla had given him a pat of grandmotherly sympathy and a bowl of warm soup to eat while he waited for someone to respond. It took a few vargas, some of the longest vargas of Lance’s life, but eventually the communicator in his hands slightly warmed in his palms and uttered low toned chimes. Lance jerks from his half-awake daze and quickly focuses on the now glowing device in his tight grip. He takes a deep breath and then pushes the center circle.

The person on the holoscreen is Hunk, he’d recognize his best friend anywhere, but this Hunk is a creature remade in war and despair. The most obvious difference is Hunk’s thin frame, all muscles without a glimpse of fat. His face is now narrow and tired. Lance feels the wrongness of this change, grief clogging his throat and burning the backs of his eyes.

Lance finds his right hand reaching towards the screen as he notices the man is missing his family’s orange headband, instead replaced with scars running across Hunk’s dark skin. This Hunk is visibly marred by experiences Lance could hardly fathom. The urge is to touch and to soothe, to make better, but his hand falls back limply to his side upon the realization that Hunk is looking at him warily. And that he’s on a holoscreen.

“Hunk?” Lance heard himself croak.

“Hey, Lance,” This new, lean Hunk replied. The yellow paladin sounded equal parts unsure and resigned.

Lance’s mouth is bone dry he doesn’t know what to say or where to start. Seeing Hunk makes this whole time travel thing real. He gapes like a fish at the older man on the screen and sees a sardonic smile on his old friend’s face.

He finds himself oddly distracted by the beard his old friend now sports.

 

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When Hunk steps off his shuttle, Lance is floored. The holoscreen image had not done justice to the amount of visible changes in Lance’s now aged best friend.

 

“Oh man, Pidge is going to want to run so many tests on me when I get back.” Lance said ruefully.

“Uh…”

“What? Oh my god, Hunk, Pidge better not be dead!” Lance exclaimed, starting to freak out.

“No, no! Nothing like that just…” Hunk trailed off, scratching the back of his head.

“Just what, Hunk? You’re freaking me out man, and I’ve already had enough of that today to last at least a deca-phoeb.” Lance said, staring intently at the yellow paladin.

“Pidge doesn’t exactly live with us anymore, Lance. She’s… okay? Well I mean, she’s fine enough at least, although admittedly has ended up making some interesting choices, but whatever. Anyway we Allura and I do business with her a lot so we at least get semi-regular updates on how she’s doing.”

“You and Allura? Hunk, what about Keith and Shiro?”

“Lance… I haven’t seen Keith in almost twenty deca-phoebs and Shiro even longer. Sometimes Allura and I pick-up rumors of people seeing a large red lion in the Kelora system, but we don’t know for sure if any of that has truth to it.”

“What happened to you guys?”

“Let’s just say that we all got in a big fight a long time ago... When you never came back, Lance… Well everything just… fell apart. Without you, it just didn’t work. I guess we really needed that smile of yours.”

“Your absence was like an open and untreated wound, and buddy, it festered and destroyed us from the inside out.”

“Okay, okay, wait um.. hold on there a tick, buddy. This… this is a lot to process. I need to sit down for a dobash.”

Okay so everyone with the exceptions of Hunk and Allura were off on their own. They knew where Pidge was and occasionally had contact with her, mostly for business, but they only had a vague notion of the system Keith was in and absolutely no idea where Shiro was. Dios, what a gigantic mess. There was still something though…

“Hunk, buddy, what about Voltron? There’s no way Allura would allow all the lions to scatter like this while there’s still a war going on so what’s the deal here?”

 

“We do have another castleship though, Allura was able to make one using the condensed crystal created from our first castleship and from the Altean gem used in her old tiara.

 

“What about Shay?” Lance asked, voice raw.

“I don’t know, I had to leave her behind a long time ago.”

Lance realized he didn’t know how to respond to that and they ended up spending the rest of the ride in uncomfortable silence.

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As he stepped foot on the solid soil that surrounded the dust-colored base in front of him, Lance heard a familiar roar in the distance. Lance felt the ocean welcoming him home.

“Lance!” He heard a familiar voice call.

“Allura! It’s so good to see you!” Lance yelled. He wasn’t lying either, as Allura ran out the base’s door before him, he took in her face, looking almost exactly as he’d left it, pink paladin armor cloaking her body, and Lance felt his heart stutter under the relief. He may have moved on… but feelings don’t fade as fast as Lance would like. Seeing her now, looking almost the same, but with hair cropped shoulder length and a scar on her jaw, Lance couldn’t help but remember why he had loved this woman so strongly. It felt not unlike watching a movie and understanding and empathizing with how the lead character pined after their love interest. Lance felt the emotions, and understood them, but also felt a layer of removal, some kind of shift in his feelings that made the emotions feel different from how he felt only three months prior.

“Did you hear Blue? She was welcoming you back, she missed you, we all missed you, Lance.” Allura was smiling, her perfect teeth standing in stark contrast to her dark skin. Lance found himself looking past her, towards where he thought the roar had come from.

“Yeah, I heard her. I wish I could say the same though, but it hasn’t even been a day since I saw you both. I more or less get the situation… but I can tell I’m missing a few major pieces, care to fill me in?” Both the Blue Lion and her paladin weren’t Lance’s song anymore, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t a song nestled closely to his heart, felt only through a lens of nostalgia and paths not taken.

 

“Follow me, Lance, we should take this somewhere a little more private, I don’t want any of this reaching the wrong ears.”

“Sure.”

The three of them entered the new castleship and Lance was given a brief tour. The conversation remained light and off of any of the topics Lance actually wanted to discuss, but considering the other aliens wandering around the hallways sending Lance searching looks, he figured he could hold his tongue for at least a few minutes. Allura, ever the diplomat, took her role as tour guide seriously, informing Lance all about her new home, but Hunk remained oddly silent and withdrawn the entire journey.

When at last they reached a hallway that seemed to be located in the very heart of the new castleship, Allura stopped in front of and then opened the only door visible. She gave a genial smile and ushered Lance in, with Hunk following closely behind. As the door clicked shut behind him, Lance noticed the room seemed to be a private office with a few tapestries and weapons hanging on the walls and a large ornate wooden desk in the center of the back end. In the front end, closer to the door and where the trio currently stood, were forest green colored armchairs.

“Very nice, Allura, I like what you’ve done with the place.” Lance exclaimed looking around. “It’s very… rebel leader chic.”

“Why thank you, Lance, we don’t have many resources, but I’ve managed to find pieces over the years when visiting other planets. I think my favorite part may be the desk though, it’s from Malchior 7 so it’s very special.”

“How so?”

“Well, Malchior 7 is a world where mahogany trees are 300ft tall and breathe fire. It was quite difficult to make I assure you.”

 

 

“The Red Lion would not accept any other paladin after you left, Lance.”

“Don’t make it sound like I left on purpose, Allura, I wouldn’t have, I swear it. And what about Keith? Red should have let him in without a problem!”

“My apologies, after you… disappeared everyone had a rough time and it became easier to deal with for… some of us if they had an actual target for their feelings. Their language may have stuck even if their sentiments weren’t shared.”

Lance paused a moment to take that in with wide eyes. He breathed and pushed back the hurt and anger that surged through his veins. Those were emotions that didn’t belong here and now. He’d just deal with them later when everything was over.

“Okay, but the Red Lion?” Lance soldiered on.

“I meant what I said, the Red Lion would not accept anyone but you, Lance, and that included Keith.”

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Wait what? The Earth? Gone?

No more cutting down Christmas trees with his family. No more singing songs like Gasolina on family road trips.

Everything around him feels like it’s turning into sand and slipping through his desperately reaching fingers.