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The only ones to cry when a star dies are the ones who saw it shine. Lance waited to see what stars this planet held after he left the meeting. The others made it clear that it wasn't appropriate for him to flirt with the pretty, red-scaled princess while her father and Allura discussed joining the coalition — even if she was flirting back.

There was only so many times Lance could hear Pidge scoff or see Shiro’s eyebrows twitch before he accepted that they didn't want him at the meeting. So, with a dramatic bow, Lance bade the princess goodnight and left the palace, a smirk in place at the sight of Keith’s frown as he strolled outside.

The sun hadn’t set yet, but a chill had settled over the area and Lance shivered. There were odd trills echoing from what he assumed were birds. Would they be lizard birds? Pidge would know. His smirk faded as a pang in his chest grew. 

Guess I’ll just head back…

Lance bit his lip and trudged towards the castle, his chest feeling tight. With a glance to the side Lance caught sight of the sea downhill and a ball of excitement sprung alive in his chest.

He jogged down the steep hillside with a grin. When would he get another chance to see an ocean between missions?

When he grew closer though, he stumbled to a stop. The excitement he felt burst like a bubble. The sand was brown and felt rougher than Earth's when Lance bent down to feel. The sea looked more like dry oatmeal or cat vomit. Murky and orange, the waves squished against the sand rather than wash over it. 

With a slump of his shoulders, Lance sighed and crumbled to the ground. He noticed the wind felt scratchy and stuffy, like it carried salt or whatever this planets’ equivalent was with it as it brushed past him. Lance curled into a ball and watched the sunset — too bright, too fast — and gazed at the stars as they twinkled to life.

There were a lot of red ones. Bright and intense. He'd have to ask Pidge why they were like that here. They made him think of Keith. He shook his head and rubbed at the crick in his neck.

Lance swept his eyes over the thick water and tossed pebble after pebble over the surface, but the ripples looked more like rumples in a blanket than currents.

Lance was reminded yet again that this wasn't home. Something inside him twisted and coiled. What did his family think happened to him? Did they even know he was gone, or had the Garrison somehow covered it up like they did with Shiro…?

Lance shivered again and ducked his head into his arms. He stared at the porridge-like gloop that spread over the course sand without paying much attention to it.

The stars didn't even shine in the water. How was that even possible?

 

•×◦∙─────────∙◦✖◦∙────────∙◦ו

 

Lance missed the stars that would gleam across Varadero beach on hot summer nights. How they would make his mamá's eyes sparkle when she chuckled with a shake of her head at the sight of him — sand everywhere, even in his hair and underwear.

His lips twitched with a smile. How could he have forgotten that day? Lance was eight and decided he was going to live in the sea from then on. He had spent the whole day in the ocean and ignored Veronica when she told him to come home.

By nightfall, he was too hungry to live out his dreams of becoming an even more beautiful mermaid than Ariel herself. His mamá may have been amused at first, but her eyes flashed dangerously in the moonlight when she noticed how much sand Lance had dragged into the house.

He didn’t know how long he sat listening to the squish squish of the mushy waves. He didn’t know how long the red stars above stared down at him impassively, but if anyone but Hunk asked if he cried during that time Lance would deny it.

And if even Hunk asked if he cried over being kicked out of the meeting, well, space truth serum be dammed, he’d only admit that to his mamá after a soft, Mi dulce chico, por favor dime por qué estás molesto.

It wasn't hard to hear chatter from the palace over the near silent waves. When he first heard the hint of a conversation float down, Lance’s head snapped up from where he’d buried it in his arms, struck silent so fast the lizard-chickens seemed to stop trilling too.

His team was making their way back to the castle. Lance scrubbed his face and scrambled up the hill. He tripped twice.

Lance sidled by Hunk with a twitchy smile. Hunk made to smile back, but ranked his eyes over Lance’s face instead and grabbed his elbow. After the others passed them, Hunk put a gentle hand on his shoulder.

"You okay, bro?" he asked quietly.

"Yeah, bro, totally! Did you see how taken the princess was with me? She has good taste." He winked with a roguish grin. Lance faltered when he caught sight of Keith with his head turned to the side, his usual frown pointed at Lance.

Lance screwed up his face at the Red Paladin, puffed up his chest, quirked his eyebrow.

Keith huffed and turned away.

Hunk caught his attention. “You didn’t really have to leave, you know? Allura was just frustrated with the lizard king.”

His eyebrows were still pinched in that way that told Lance he didn’t believe him. Lance felt a thump of guilt. He didn’t want Hunk to feel bad for being annoyed by him. He knew he could get too loud sometimes.

“Are they really lizards?” Lance said. He hoped Hunk didn’t hear the desperate note in his voice.

Pidge pushed up her glasses and called back, “They’re more like turtles, actually.”

“What!? How?”

The walk back to the castle was filled with more information about turtles and the not-actually-lizard people than anyone wanted to know. The weight in Lance’s chest lessened as Shiro stuttered with a horrified look on his face as he asked how and why Pidge knew the turtle-lizard people could only do doggy-style.

Allura saved them all Pidge’s explanation with a clap of her hands.

"Remember, Paladins, tomorrow night King Zrelthes is throwing a banquet in honor of our new alliance!”

Shiro gave the princess a relieved smile. “We’ll be spending the day training. Get some rest.”

Lance smiled as his team bid each other goodnight. Rest. That was all he needed. Tomorrow would be better.

 

•×◦∙─────────∙◦✖◦∙────────∙◦ו

 

True to Shiro’s word, they woke up early and began training first with the mind meld. It was hard to concentrate. Lance kept thinking about the lizard-turtle princess with much less enthusiasm than before, and noticed how pleased Pidge felt about that. He tried to nudge her mind with his, but the pleased feelings cropping up through their connection didn’t go away. Was it someone else?

They spent twenty more minutes trying to focus on Voltron, but they were all having trouble. Pidge had mentally scarred Shiro so badly his mind kept returning to the lizard-turtle people.

That caused Lance to think of the princess and her dark eyes again to someone’s irk. Then her eyes made him think of space and then he thought of the red stars he saw on the planet last night. That made Lance think of Keith’s stupid mullet.

That sparked a curious, excited feeling in their connection. It didn’t feel like Hunk or Pidge... Shiro was the only one still trying to focus on Voltron, so that meant the person pushing at Lance’s mind tentatively was —

“Cool! Great job guys! Why don’t we move on?” Lance ripped off the helmet before anyone could say anything.

They were much more successful with the invisible maze. They still got nasty shocks every now and then, but it went better than the first time they tried. After that, they worked as a group against a few gladiators, starting at level one. With Shiro and Keith on the front lines, Lance and Hunk in the back covering them, and Pidge weaving around all of them, they were doing great!

They advanced three levels — Allura and Coran monitoring them above and increasing the number of gladiators at random each level — until things became complicated.

The training bot swinging its staff to his left missed Pidge as she ducked and charged for Lance instead. Lance readied his bayard and pulled the trig—

Keith stabbed it in the chest.

Lance managed at the last second to jerk his gun to the side and hit the robot in the shoulder as it vanished instead of Keith.

“What the cheese, Keith!?”

Keith turned to him with puppy eyes. Or, at least they looked as much like puppy eyes as Keith could make them while he was scowling. “What? You’re the one who almost hit me!”

“Because you—”

“How hard is it to point and shoot?”

Lance gasped. Maybe he was being dramatic, but you don’t just point and shoot when your comrades are right in front of you. “Just stick to your knife collection, mull—“

“Lance, watch out!” Hunk knocked him to the ground and smashed the robot that had been about to flatten him like a fly with the butt of his gun.

“End training sequence,” Shiro called. He walked over to them as Hunk pulled Lance up from the ground. “Everything okay?”

“No,” Keith muttered.

“Yeah,” Lance said at the same time.

Shiro’s eyebrows rose. Keith hadn’t even glanced at him, his eyes locked on the hand Lance rubbed his bruised hip with. Hunk twiddled his thumbs, his eyes darted back and forth between Lance and Keith.  

“Are we gonna finish this, or what?” Pidge asked blankly.

They started over again.

With a new formation (Lance and Keith on the sidelines with Pidge in the front and Hunk and Shiro close behind her) they destroyed more training bots. Hunk could graze through them with his bayard easily so long as no one was in his way.

Things were fine at first, but Lance hadn’t seen just how many bots Allura generated this time until he was already surrounded.

They were closing in. He shot at one — two — missed

“Lance!”

Keith stabbed through one and pushed through the flash of blue light as it disappeared, to impale the other. Pidge had followed to finished off the rest, but Keith had ran in front of her and she jerked back to avoid hitting him, tripped and fell.

“End training sequence!”

Lance huffed. Sweat slid down his face. He helped Pidge up and watched as she went over to the others as they stretched and guzzled down water Coran brought them.

“You shouldn’t let them get so close.”

Lance looked at Keith. He was staring down at his bayard. “Uh, yeah, I wasn’t trying to.”

Keith looked up at him, a thoughtful look on his face. “Than what happened?”

Lance glared at him. “There were too many! Is that what you wanna hear?”

Keith frowned. “No. Just don’t let yourself get cornered like that. You could get hurt.” He ran his eyes over Lance. “Worse.” He added and walked over to Shiro. Lance clicked his tongue and joined them.

“Alright, team, we can do this.”

They rested for a few more minutes, then began again.

Training bots came at them from all sides. In all the chaos, Lance and Keith bumped into each other, back to back. None of them were getting close to him this time. Lance shot each bot in the head and jumped away from Keith.

He frowned when he saw Keith slash through bot after bot with ease.

“You keeping up over there, Keith?” Lance called.

“Just concentrate.” He grunted.

Lance was doing well — he was keeping up with Keith.

One by one each gladiator fell. Hunk laid down covering fire ahead of them as Pidge and Shiro worked as a team taking down a gladiator together. Lance was farther from the others who were in the center of the training deck.

He ran along the wall and blasted bots that were too close to the others.

“Nice job, Lance!” Shiro praised. Lance grinned, pride swelling in his chest.

He moved to the center and fought alongside Hunk, who was getting swarmed. The hair on the back of his neck sprung up — Lance felt more than saw the gladiator that advanced towards them from behind.

Lance pushed Hunk to the side just in time and began firing wildly, but the one near him swung its staff and knocked his gun out of his hand before he could land a hit.

Lance’s eyes tracked his bayard as it flew to the ground, and the gladiator took advantage of the distraction. 

It lunged at him and swiftly swept his feet off the ground with its staff. His head smacked against the floor. His vision went blurry. Time slowed down for a split second.

Lance saw a flash of purple, and when his sight came into focus he saw Shiro charge at the gladiator that was about to shock him with the end of its staff. Shiro pierced its chest with his hand. The bot vanished in a flare of blue light.

“End training sequence!” Shiro yelled breathlessly.

Shiro jogged over to Lance and helped him to his feet. “Are you okay, Lance?”

Lance opened his mouth, but Keith spoke over him as he ran over. “I told you not to let them get close!” he eyed Lance’s and Shiro’s interlocked hands with a sneer. “And you dropped your weapon!” Keith bent over and scooped up Lance’s bayard.

“I was a little distracted, mullet!” Lance bit out. He pulled his hand out of Shiro’s and crept over to Keith. He yanked his bayard out of Keith’s hand and the two boys scowled at each other.

Hunk shuffled forward and cut Keith off before he could yell at Lance. “Um, yeah, my fault. He was helping me.” He smiled at Lance. “Thanks, buddy.”

Lance returned the smile, then leered back at Keith.

Shiro stepped between them. “Relax, guys. Let’s take a breather and get back to it in a minute.”

Lance felt his shoulders relax as Shiro saving him replayed in his head. An awed grin broke out on Lance’s face. “Shiro, that was amazing!”

Shiro blinked in surprise before a kind smile spread over his face. “Thank you, Lance. You were doing well, too.” Lance beamed and threw out his chest with his hands on his hips.

Keith sighed loudly. “Let’s just finish this.” Shiro patted his back and guided him away.

Lance glanced at Hunk. He shrugged. Coran brought them more water, and Lance gushed loudly about Shiro to Hunk and Pidge while they rested. Lance’s eyes found Keith and Shiro and delighted at the flush in Shiro’s cheeks as Lance went on and on about how much he resembled a knight in shining armor.

“Does that make you a damsel in destress?” Pidge asked with a smirk.

Lance smacked the back of his hand against his forehead and fell backwards into Hunk. “Absolutely! As beautiful as I am, who else but Shiro is dashing enough to save me?”

Shiro sighed fondly.

“Of course, we all already know which princess Shiro wants to sweep off her feet,” Lance grinned at the blushing man as he stuttered. The three snickered as Shiro’s eyes darted to Allura’s form to make sure she hadn’t heard. He could tell something bad was about to happen.

“But I don’t mind fighting Allura for your attention, sir, ” he winked roguishly. Shiro buried his face in his hands with a disappointed shake of his head. The fool...

Keith groaned loudly and got back into position. “Can we just finish this already!”

Lance’s smile faded. Pidge poked him in the side. “You’re a detriment to his health,” A suspicious curl of her lips had Lance narrowing his eyes at her. “And your own.” She glanced at Allura as she marched her way over to them. Pidge wandered over to Keith, abandoning Lance in his time of need.

Quiznaking gremlin.

Allura stopped in front of Lance with her hands on her hips, towering over him. Lance gulped.

“What is this talk about fighting me for Shiro?” she asked coldly.

 

•×◦∙─────────∙◦✖◦∙────────∙◦ו

 

When Coran started up the sequence again, Lance thought there were less training bots this time.

He must have miscounted.

Allura would never take it easy on them, even when they were failing horribly. And with the bad mood Lance indirectly put her in, he didn’t think she’d show them mercy anytime soon.

Lance stuck close to Pidge this round. She had to get closer to the bots than Keith to finish them (not having aim as good as the team’s Sharpshooter™ ;3), and that left her open. They fell into a pattern. Pidge would lure a gladiator to her and shoot it. If the shock wasn’t enough to take it down, Lance would be behind it ready to nail it in the head if needed.

She wasn’t feeling very thankful, though. “You just had to hit on her boyfriend, didn’t you?” She grunted and dodged a swipe from the bot.

He and Pidge wound up side by side. Two gladiators sprinted towards them. Pidge leapt to the side to take care of one, as the other launched itself at Lance. This one had a sword.

“Aw, no, they have swords now?!”

He could feel the smug look on Allura’s face as she supervised their exercise.

Before he could even think of taking aim, it was in front of him with its arm raised. He managed to drop to the ground as the bot sliced the air where he had just been, but Lance sprung up too slowly.

The bot kicked him in the stomach. The air flooded out of him as Lance slid across the floor. At least he still had his bayard. Before he could even pick his head up, Lance heard the bot bolt towards him and he flung his bayard in front of him, his eyes shut tight, just as the gladiator drove its sword downward.

 

Shhtng!  

 

Lance opened his eyes. Keith was above him, his sword held shakily as the gladiator bared down against it with its own. Keith peered at Lance, then tried to push at the gladiator. It wouldn’t budge.

“Lance, are you—”

The training bot drew back its leg and rammed it into Keith’s side. He yelped and skidded across the deck.

“E-end training sequence!” Lance shouted. He scrambled to his feet and dashed over to Keith as the others followed. Keith was baring his weight on his forearm, with the other clutched to his side.

“Hey man, are you okay?” Lance knelt down close to Keith.

“’m fine,” he spit out.

“Are you sure? That was a pretty hard hit,” Lance reached for him, but must have brushed his side too hard, because Keith yawped and smacked his hand away.

“Damn it, Lance, come on!”

“Keith,” Shiro began. He crouched down next to Keith, checking him over.

Allura and Coran hurried in. “Is everything alright?” Coran asked as the team circled around Keith on the floor.

Shiro ran his hand though his hair and sighed heavily. “Everyone calm down.” He tried to tug Keith up off the floor. “Let’s get you to a pod.”

“I don’t need one! And we wouldn’t still be here if he’d stop screwing up!” he vehemently gestured towards Lance, causing him to flinch. “We’ve had to do this three times because he won’t focus!”

“I-I am focusing, mullet!”

“Oh, yeah? Then why do you keep messing up? The rest of us had no trouble with this level.”

“Well – I’d be able to hit the gladiators if you’d stop running in front of them! I could hit you!”

Shiro stepped in between them. “Guys, seriously, enough. We’ll take a brea—”

“The Galra aren’t just gonna stand around waiting for you to shoot them, Lance! And what about when I wasn’t even near you? What, were you hoping you wouldn’t get hit when the gladiator saw how pathetic you looked?”

Lance bristled. “I didn’t need you to get involved!”

“Yeah? Well, next time I won’t!”

“Come on, guys,” Hunk edged forward. “It’s just training—”

“Exactly! If you can’t even have our backs in training how can we rely on you on the field?”

It felt like the training deck became twenty degrees colder. Even Keith’s bayard wouldn’t have been able to slash through the suffocating beat of silence that followed.

“Y-you just like showing off!” Lance shouted, not one to let it be quiet for too long. Everyone knew how loud Lance got anyway.

“Guys! Enough!” Shiro yelled. He sighed again and sent everyone out of the training deck. Shiro and Keith argued back and forth until Keith agreed to get into a healing pod while Lance hung back a few feet away.

Keith gave Shiro a small, barely there smile as he helped him stay up and gave his shoulder a gentle squeeze.

Shiro put his hands on his hips, “Now look, I know it can be frustrating, but you two need to keep a level head. We can’t have you two fighting each other in the middle of battle when you’re supposed to be helping each other.”

Shiro didn’t lecture them for long. He told Lance to take a break and escorted Keith to the med bay with a hand on his back, listening to Keith ranting hotly as they went.

Lance couldn’t make out what Keith was saying, but he didn’t need to, to know it was complaint after complaint about how useless Lance was. He sighed heavily and turned towards the deck.

He thought about the pained expression Keith had on his face as he started the training sequence again, a nauseous feeling coiling around his core. Lance thought about how Keith sounded when he was hit. The venom in his voice when he called Lance pathetic as he readied his gun.

Lance thought about how Keith was probably persuading Shiro to kick Lance off the team right now as he climbed into a healing pod. Lance thought about how Keith had saved him from the gladiator, as a new one darted towards him. Lance thought about how Keith was able to handle himself easily while Lance struggled even with the team’s help. How Keith was improving while Lance seemed to get worse and worse every day.

Lance thought about Keith as he fired off shot after shot.

Lance always thought about Keith.

 

•×◦∙─────────∙◦✖◦∙────────∙◦ו

 

Hours later, Lance managed to complete four levels on his own. His muscles ached and bruises littered his body, but he did it. He began target practice before Keith shambled in, bayard in hand and chin to his chest. He cleared his throat, but Lance ignored him and took aim.

If he thought Lance was going to start things off, apologize, he was going to be standing around for a while. Lance wasn’t going to make things easy for the mullet head. The silence around them was only broken by the repeated crack crack crack of Lance’s bulls-eyes.

“So, um,” Keith took a deep breath. “You were right,” Lance nearly missed.

“¿Qué?”

Keith sucked in another breath. “You were right. I was getting in your way. Pidge’s too.” He frowned and glanced at Lance, then his eyes darted to the screen marking Lance’s progress. “So… sorry,” he muttered. Keith raised his bayard. “But… I figured we could… train together?” he asked hesitantly. “It’s fine if you don’t want to, but I— Shiro said if we got use to each other it would make training as a team easier.”

Lance studied him for a moment. “Yeah, sure,”

Lance hadn’t really wanted to, but if Shiro thought it was a good idea he couldn’t say no. It was rocky, Keith still ran in front of him from time to time, and Lance let the gladiators get too close a couple times and needed Keith’s help to his chagrin, but for the most part things went well.

Until they upped the difficulty.

They had already made it through a few levels after starting from level one to study each other’s default techniques when Keith decided to go further than what they did as a team. Lance didn’t think they could handle it with just the two of them.

He’d been training all day now. He’d skipped lunch. His limbs screamed at him to stop, but Keith snapped that Lance could leave if he wanted to, but he couldn’t. Lance made it clear earlier that he couldn’t just leave. Not now. Not until he got better.

He reluctantly agreed to continue. It went okay at first, but the higher level brought more gladiators that swarmed Keith as Lance was stuck jogging backwards and firing at ones that closed in on him from behind. They slammed into each other — Keith dropped his bayard. “Engh, Lance!”

“It’s not my fault! It’s those stupid gloves of yours!”

Lance ducked to avoid a swing from the gladiator’s staff, but it knocked into Keith and sent him to the ground. “LANCE!”

“Sorry!”

There were too many. Lance got hit in the gut and flung across the floor. “E-end training sequence!” He choked out.

“Ugh, we could have finished that.”  

Lance picked his head up from the floor to look at Keith incredulously. “Are you kidding ? We were totally outmatched! Maybe if the others were here…” He laid back down and closed his eyes.

Keith stood from the ground and picked up his bayard. “Just us is fine.” he groused.

“Dude, no,” Lance shook his head. “We suck together.” He sat up and rubbed his sore muscles. 

Keith’s shoulders rose to his ears. “We just need to get use to each other. We make a good team.”

Lance gestured to the training deck. “Like quiznak we do.”

That was the last straw, Keith decided. They broke out into an argument for the umpteenth time. Maybe it was because they were already tired and grouchy before, Lance didn’t know why exactly Keith was so angry, but they kept hurling insults and criticisms at each other for however long until Shiro ran in and broke them apart. He gave them the disappointed dad look™ and sent Keith away. He asked Lance what happened.

Lance threw his arms in the air. “We were training like you said to—“ Shiro’s eyebrows knitted together, “—and then he got bent out of shape because I said we couldn’t finish this together!”

“I see…” Shiro said slowly. “Well, don’t worry about it. He just needs time to cool down. Why don’t you go get something to eat? You’ve been working really hard today.” He smiled kindly.

Lance smiled and found Hunk baking in the kitchen. He complained to Hunk about Keith and his hideous haircut (“Seriously, how does it even stay out of his eyes when he fights!?”) while his friend listened and set food on the table in front of him.

Lance wanted to take a nap before they headed to the banquet, but they only had an hour until they had to leave. Lance spent the time soaking in a hot bath in an attempt to relax his strained body.

He counted the bruises he collected today. He must have gotten more during his solo training than his entire life! My poor, flawless skin…

Lance sunk down into the warm water until it reached below his nose and blew bubbles in the water. Staring down at his own bruises, he couldn’t help but wonder how big the one Keith had gotten was.

He sunk his teeth into his lip. I should've asked if he was okay…

It was gone now, he thought to himself with a shake of his head when he felt a jolt of guilt. It probably didn’t even have enough time to form.

Shiro surely had gotten Keith into the healing pod. He wouldn’t have let him leave after taking a hit like that, let alone train with Lance of all people afterwards. Lance heaved out a sigh and leaned back against the tub, the cool, hard frame a stark contrast to the soothing warm water.

Lance’s mind wandered, like it had during the mind meld exercise. Back and forth between Keith and memories of struggling to bathe his nieces and nephews and Shiro’s proud smile and his disappointed voice.

Lance dunked his head under the water.

It was nothing like the salty waves of Varadero beach.

 

•×◦∙─────────∙◦✖◦∙────────∙◦ו

 

When they arrived back at the palace, Lance wasn’t sure what to do with himself. His body still hurt, and struggling to put on his Paladin armor strained his muscles more. The bath helped, but the warm water made him sleepy.

He watched Shiro and Allura mingle with the king and queen. Coran was recounting a wild adventure he’d had with king Alfor with eccentric waves of his arms to a group of older looking turtle-lizard-reptile people.

Lance stuck close to Hunk and Pidge. He didn’t know where mullet was, probably stuck to a wall brooding. He’d avoided Lance since the incident in the training room and wouldn’t even look at him when they were near each other.

Lance didn’t mind, though. Nope. Not one bit. He was used to it. Keith hadn’t even known Lance existed in the Garrison.

“If you can’t even have our backs in training how can we rely on you on the field?”

A sour taste filled Lance’s mouth. He wasn’t up to flirting with the locals as much as he was yesterday. Even smiling at the princess when she caught his eye felt like too much effort. He was a paladin, though. He had to be polite or Allura would— well, he didn’t want to think of what Allura would do if he made her angry twice in the same day.

So, when the princess caught his eye again, smiled and gestured for him to come closer, he plastered a grin on his face and sauntered over. He focused on her while they danced. It shouldn’t have been as difficult as it was.

She was pretty and sweet and giggled at his jokes and smacked his chest playfully when he compared her eyes to the night sky.

So why did he keep thinking about Keith of all people?

Why did his mind wander to Keith when the princess draped her arms around his shoulders and trick himself into thinking he felt the emo’s intense stare on him when he spun her around?

Why did he always think of Keith?

 

•×◦∙─────────∙◦✖◦∙────────∙◦ו

 

They returned to the castle later that night. Lance isn’t sure what time it is, but he hasn’t known since they found the Blue Lion. Everyone was exhausted after the long day. They hadn’t expected to stay on the planet for so long, but when the king insisted they stay to watch a group preform a traditional dance in their honor, Allura agreed, not wanting to be rude to their new ally.

Lance followed the others to finally go to sleep, and ignored Keith shuffling around and trying to catch his eye. He didn’t want to think about Keith anymore that night. They were all in their rooms, about to settle in for the night, when Allura’s voice rang out through the intercoms.

“Paladin’s, please return to the bridge. We’ve just received important information.”

Lance groaned and threw his blanket on the floor. He had just settled in after putting on his face mask! When he arrived at the bridge, he saw everyone, even Shiro and Allura, were in their pajamas. Pidge’s glasses were gone, and she rubbed at her eyes as she propped herself up against Hunk’s side.

Allura greeted them with a guilty smile. “Thank you, Paladins. I’m sorry to disturb you, but this couldn’t wait until morning.” She pulled up a holograph and showed them a diagram of a large crystal. “If you remember…”

Lance zoned out. God, he was tired. He yawned, his dry face mask cracked at the edges of his mouth from the stretch. How long was Allura going to drone on? His eyes were blurry… A sudden nudge to his side had Lance jerk his head up. He glanced to the side and saw Keith nod towards the princess. Had he been standing next to Lance the whole time? Lance glared at him and turned away. Keith kept fidgeting. It was annoying.

Lance peaked at him from the corner of his eye. Stupid Keith. Always doing cool junk. His hair was rumpled and he yawned. Why is he so cut—

Keith looked at him and raised his eyebrows. His cheeks looked flushed and his eyes darted away as he fidgeted more.

Lance forced his eyes back to Allura.

Nope. No more thinking about Keith. Ever. Ever, ever. 

“A Balmeran just contacted us in secret to warn us that the crystal has fully formed and will be harvested and transported soon. We will have to move quickly.” Shiro began to make battle plans Lance half listened to.

He picked up on a few key points here and there. Where the others would be positioned, when the best time to infiltrate would be…

“Someone will have to go into the mines and protect the crystal while the rest of us take care of the Galra.” Shiro said sharply. He hard stared at the diagram.

Keith opened his mouth, probably wants to go and show off for Shiro again , Lance thought bitterly. So, Lance blurted out, “I’ll do it.”

Shiro looked at him with mild surprise. He opened his mouth—

“WHAT!?”

Lance jumped a foot in the air. He slapped a hand to his ear, scowled at Keith, and got in his face. “What? You don’t think I can do it, Kogane?”

Pidge scoffed somewhere to the side, but Lance barely noticed.

Keith frowned. “You can’t…” his eyes widened. “I-I mean—“

“What, you trying to show us all up again? Get all the glory?” Lance spit out.

“No! I just think it’s… too dangerous…”

“I can do anything you—“

“Alright, enough!” Shiro sighed and dragged a hand down his face. Lance huffed and stepped back. “It’s late. We’re all tired. Let’s just… go to bed. We can get up early and finish planning then.” He looked at Allura for approval. She bit her lip and nodded.

Everyone shuffled out awkwardly. Lance stormed back to his room without a second look. He picked up his blanket and flung himself into bed. This isn’t home, he thought, as he tugged his blanket over his head, smearing bits of his mask onto the sheets. This isn’t home. No one was going to baby him here. They weren’t going to tell him that it was okay, he tried his best. His best wasn’t enough. He wasn’t enough. He needed to be, though. He needed to get better if he wanted to see his home again.

Lance needed to become stronger, faster, smarter, if he wanted to feel his mamás hugs again. He needed to figure out how to improve if he wanted to keep up with that stupid mullet. Lance turned onto his side and curled into a tight ball. He needed to show the others he had their backs, that they could trust him with their lives out on the field, that he wasn’t just a useless seventh wheel.

He’d start tomorrow, on the mission. He already volunteered himself. He’ll show them he wasn’t useless. He’ll show them he’s just as capable as they are. He just needs to sneak in and secure the crystal, right? Easy peasy. What could go wrong?

Lance would protect the crystal, or…

Or…?

Well, new stars are born and old stars fade away without anyone noticing every day. How was he any different?