“I’m just saying,” Pidge says, gesturing grandly, “a hotdog could be considered a sandwich.”
“Pidge,” Keith says, his voice scarily calm. Lance is even willing to compare it to the calm before a storm, considering the thunderous look in Keith’s eyes and the subtle way his hands are shaking. “A hotdog is a hotdog. Not all things are like other things.”
“There’s bread on two sides and something in the middle,” Pidge points out.
“More like there’s bread on three sides,” Hunk says.
“Sure,” Pidge says. “But a flatbread is folded, too, and we consider that a sandwich.”
“By that logic, you’d have to argue that a taco is a sandwich,” Lance chimes in. Mostly just to see the vein bulging in Keith’s forehead when Pidge starts nodding consideringly.
“Yeah, that makes sense,” she says. “They’re all in the sandwich category.”
“No!” Keith bursts out, shouting now. “They’re not! A taco is a taco!”
“A hamburger is a hamburger,” Pidge says. “And yet…”
Keith growls, getting genuinely angry. Allura and Coran are talking in furtive whispers, looking on with alarm. Earlier, Lance overheard Coran say something about humans and being unexpectedly volatile, and Allura adding something about them being inexplicably sensitive over worryingly small matters. Shiro just looks tired. Not because they’re arguing about this, but because he was arguing just as fervently as Keith until the conversation combined with Pidge’s stubbornness exhausted him.
It’s just another day aboard the Castle of Lions. One where they don’t have any missions planned and haven’t unintentionally run into Galra forces, sending them running to their lions and scattering their forces.
In fact, they’re traveling vaguely in the direction of sector G-6H1, where they’ve yet to make any allies and have a list of planets they’re planning on visiting, when they pass a planet the size of a moon, mistaking it for something civilization-less.
They learn better in a matter of seconds.
The argument continues as they approach the planet, both Keith and Pidge talking at full volume as they enter its range. Allura and Coran are still whispering, Hunk paying the argument his full attention, and Shiro looking on the verge of tears, just listening to it.
No one else seems to feel it when Lance does. The weird tingling, as if his blood is just beginning to boil. He starts to feel dizzy moments later, and that’s when Keith falters, trailing off after shouting something about cookouts and the visceral difference between a hotdog and a hamburger.
“You feel it too?” Lance mutters, garnering his attention, swiftly followed by everyone else’s.
“Yeah…” Keith says. “What’s—”
That’s as far as he gets, before they’re all screaming. Dropping to the ground and curling in on themselves. Lance finds himself clutching his arm, which is burning. In a blur, he sees his friends holding onto different parts of themselves — Shiro his chest, Pidge her wrist — and then it’s over, almost as quickly as it began.
“What was that?” Keith groans, pushing himself into a sitting position. He’s gripping his neck, and when he lets go, Lance sees the shadow of something against his skin. It almost looks like a burn mark.
“Your neck!” Lance says, forgetting his own pain and scooting over in order to examine it. Dipping under his collar isn’t what Lance first assumed to be a burn mark, but what looks more like a tattoo. “Dude,” Lance says.
“What? What is it?!” Keith says, twisting his head as if he’d be able to see his own neck.
“It looks like a tattoo,” Lance says, and then presses it. Keith slaps his hand away but doesn’t protest in pain, and Lance realizes that his arm doesn’t hurt anymore, either.
“Me too!” Pidge shouts suddenly, examining her own wrist. “It kind of looks like… a tree?”
“No,” Hunk says. “More like… the hands of a clock?” he says, and then twists his arm the opposite way. “Or a roof?”
“Keith’s looks kind of like a star,” Lance says, before shrugging off his jacket in an attempt to see his own. To his surprise, it looks scarily similar — if not exactly the same — to Keith’s.
“What do you mean?” Keith says. “Someone get me a mirror.”
“Here,” Lance says, shoving his arm in front of Keith’s face. “Ours are the same. It looks like this.”
“Huh,” Keith says. “Not my first choice for a tattoo, but not horrible, I guess.”
“Can’t believe we didn’t even get to choose our matching tattoos,” Lance jokes, cracking a smile out of Keith.
Just then, Pidge bursts out laughing. “Shiro’s looks like a butt.”
“No, it doesn’t!” Shiro protests, his shirt pulled up to his chin as he stares down at his own chest. “It looks like an apple! Maybe a peach.”
Hunk snorts. “Peach emoji,” he says quietly, which elicits more laughter from Pidge.
“What on Earth…” Allura says, which makes Lance grin. It’s a saying she picked up from him, but while he only ever said it sarcastically, solely to be dramatic, she uses it in all serious. The first time she ever said it, it sent Lance into a fit of giggles, knowing she’d never even been to Earth before.
Both Allura and Coran are decorated with marks, too. Allura has a sort of ink-blot version of a crown on her shoulder, and Coran — if Lance is being polite — has what looks like a banana on the back of his hand.
“Now would be a good time to explain what tattoos are,” Coran says desperately, staring at Lance. His eyes are wide with alarm, and he keeps rubbing at his hand, as if he can make the mark disappear.
“They’re permanent decorations for your skin,” Lance says helpfully. “You get stabbed with a needle full of ink, like, thousands of times, and the ink stays under your skin and makes a picture.”
Allura is gaping and Coran looks more than a little green.
“How barbaric,” Allura whispers.
“Permanent?” Coran adds, as if just now registering that part of the sentence.
“Maybe it’s because of that planet,” Shiro says, staring out of the bridge now. For the first time, they notice that moon-sized planet that none of them had bothered to register before, and Coran stares at it in horror, probably already blaming it for his unsolicited tattoo.
Immediately, Allura pulls up the screens, letting the Castle do its work and scan the planet.
“Unfortunately, it’s currently the middle of the night there,” she says. “We’ll land first thing in the morning and see if they know anything about this.”
It’s a mark of how many truly insane things they’ve experienced in space that that’s the end of the conversation. Sure, they’ve all received random space-tattoos, but none of them are in pain or dying. They haven’t been sent into the past or transported to a portion of space that you can’t escape without competing in a deadly tournament.
And so, knowing that they’ll probably figure out what the hell these tattoos mean in the morning, they practically forget about it. Allura announces that they’re done for the day and they unanimously make their way into the kitchen for dinner.
Pidge starts up the sandwich argument again while Hunk’s cooking, and Keith storms off in a fit of rage, leaving Lance to offer to bring him his meal once he’s finished his own. He manages to coax Keith out of his room with the promise of Uglanian food — something which they discovered a few months ago and has become a delicacy aboard the castle-ship — and then further persuades Keith to come with him to the rec room after he’s finished eating.
Most nights, some combination of them end up hanging out in here after dinner. It varies, and yet it always feels comfortable, and they’re always happy whenever anyone else decides to swing by. Sometimes they’ll be off in their own rooms, needing alone time or catching up on some work on their datapads, but it’s become general knowledge that most of the time, you can end up heading to the rec room at the end of the day and expect to find yourself some company.
This room has unequivocally become Lance’s favorite thing about space, and for several different reasons.
First, it was because of the movies. Although none of them were in English, it was still a novelty to be able to sit down and watch something that wasn’t real life. Plus, Lance had suffered through animes that didn’t have captions in either Spanish or English before, so he hadn’t had many qualms about watching something he couldn’t audibly understand. That was before Allura realized how to upload English onto the database and have their movies automatically subtitled.
After that, it was because they’d slowly formed the routine that they stuck to now, of migrating to the rec room after dinner for time spent with each other that wasn’t focused around fighting or training or whatever-ing. Just fun.
They’d play Altean board games or the myriad of games they remembered from Earth, introducing Allura and Coran to the “ancient arts” of charades and poker and twenty-one questions. Pidge and Lance even worked together to recreate monopoly, arguing over which spaces were meant to be which colors and how much the properties were supposed to cost. To this day, a single round of monopoly usually results in at least one of them sulking for an entire day afterward, and both Allura and Shiro are embarrassingly prone to cheating. Shiro tries to bribe them with lighter training sessions, and once, Allura planned a vacation to a nearby planet solely so that Lance would trade Boardwalk to her.
More recently, they found an old Wii at a space mall along with a copy of Mario Kart. Keith is hilariously bad at it and Coran is scarily good. Hunk had to fix the display system just last week when Allura was blue-shelled right before the finish line and promptly threw her remote at the screen.
But mainly, Lance loves this room because it’s where he and Keith first became friends. Somehow, back when Keith was often quiet and reclusive, Lance managed to convince him to join them for a night of card games. And at the end of the night, he and Lance were shouting at each other out of excitement rather than anger or annoyance.
It was probably around the same time that Lance realized he was in love with him, but that’s besides the matter.
He just really loves the rec room, okay?
Tonight, everyone’s gathered, and a game is already underway when the two of them arrive. Allura must’ve broken out the alcohol, because a table’s set up and their teammates are flipping cups like their lives depend on it, shouting at one another and blatantly cheating as they shove each other and knock opponents’ cups off the table.
“Partners?” Lance says to Keith, who’s already grabbing them fresh cups to flip. Lance goes ahead and grabs them a couple cans of “fizzies,” as the Alteans call what is definitely beer, and stands across from Keith at the table.
“Oh, no fucking way,” Pidge says immediately. “You’re not teaming up,” she says, drawing the attention of the others easily.
“Yes, we are,” Lance says.
“It’s not fair!” Pidge claims, and then everyone’s chiming in. Sure, Lance and Keith are what one might call gods at drinking games, but they can’t be controlled like this!
An argument that takes much too long takes place, considering the fact that the two of them win, mainly by claiming that they were meant to be partners for this game of Flip Cup because of their matching tattoos, and then they go ahead and crush everyone else anyway.
Several other games follow before they finally calm down enough to actually sit down and have a normal conversation. Pidge is squinting at her tattoo, her eyes looking slightly crossed. She’s definitely drunk, but if any of them deign to point that out, she’ll go to the ends of the universe to deny it.
“On second thought, I think it looks more like a flower,” Pidge mumbles. “Not a tree.”
“Flowers are dope,” Hunk says intelligibly.
“Mine… kind of looks like a butt,” Shiro admits, to another round of raucous laughter.
It’s not until the night is over, Allura having suggested a move to their own bedrooms in order to be up and presentable by the morning, that Lance broaches the topic of his and Keith’s tattoos again. He gets the perfect opportunity as they’re headed to their rooms, which are directly across from each other and in the opposite direction of everyone else’s.
“Why do you think ours are matching?” he asks.
“Other than us being destined to kill at any drinking game?” Keith jokes. He touches his tattoo lightly, his gaze far away. “I have no idea. Coincidence?”
Lance laughs, if only because he’s not sure he believes in coincidence anymore. How can he, when the five of them just happened to stumble across the Blue Lion, and then be perfect fits for the rest of the Lions? How could that have been anything but planned, destined by the very universe?
And how could that be destined, and not everything else that happens to them, despite how random it may seem?
“Maybe,” Lance says anyway. “Or maybe it, like, means something.”
“Like what?” Keith says.
Try as he might, Lance can’t think of anything. Maybe the symbols mean something. Maybe Pidge is destined to find some sort of magical tree-flower, and the two of them are destined to be lost to the stars forever. Or maybe they’re some kind of prophecies. Maybe they’ll disappear once they’ve fulfilled them, or maybe they’re actually some kind of curse, something dangerous and deadly despite the air of levity they’ve regarded them with.
“I have no idea,” Lance admits. And then he bids Keith goodnight and steps into his own room, crashing into his bed and managing to fall asleep without thinking about it any further.
Morning comes with a rush of anticipation mixed with trepidation. They try to contain themselves while they eat breakfast, but they all eat much faster than usual.
Afterward, they gather in the bridge as Allura sends out the communication, the call being picked up almost immediately.
“Hello,” Allura says. “I’m Princess Allura of Altea. I have with me the Paladins of Voltron. Something odd occurred to us as we passed by your planet last night. Could we land to discuss this phenomenon?”
The alien — a wrinkled looking man with blue skin and pink eyes — sighs loudly. “You got Marked, didn’t you?” he says. Seeing their shocked faces, he nods sagely. “Yes, come on down. We’ll have a party to greet you.”
And so they board their lions — Allura and Coran hopping in with Pidge — and head down to the surface, feeling both wary and relieved that the alien knew exactly what they were talking about.
The party that greets them seem much younger than the alien they communicated with, and most of them have strips of fabric tied in seemingly innocuous places. These fabrics have a range of colors, some tied around calves or ankles or elbows or wrists.
Lance realizes that maybe their tattoos aren’t something to display when Pidge holds out a hand to shake and they catch sight of the tattoo on her wrist, deliberately averting their stares with blushes staining their cheeks. The same happens when they see the mark on Keith’s neck, and Lance feels relieved solely because he decided to wear his jacket, keeping his mark hidden.
“Right this way, Princess,” a girl says to Allura, bowing her forward, and they all follow the precession through the city, toward what looks like a palace.
“This is the planet Belle Âme,” she informs them all, walking backward now. “You aren’t the first travelers to visit us, having gained Marks yourself.”
“Right,” Allura says slowly. “What do they mean, though? Are they dangerous?”
The girl blushes again, turning around to walk forward once more. “The minister will tell you all about it,” she says simply. “It’s rather a personal matter.”
After that, they reach what Lance realizes isn’t a palace, but a church. It’s elegant inside, filled with stained glass and motifs like you would expect in a church back on Earth, except they depict different scenes than the ones they’re familiar with. There seems to be a common theme of what looks like puzzle pieces and depictions of mitosis.
“Welcome, brave saviors,” the minister says. Their greeting party bows out of the church, and Lance hears a giggle or two after the doors close behind them. It’s relieving that these people know who they are, though, because they’ve come across planets before that have never even heard of Voltron, which is always disconcerting.
“Thank you for having us, Minister,” Allura says. “Please, can you tell us what these marks mean?”
“Gladly,” the minister says, gesturing to the pews before them. They take their seats obediently, settling in as he stands before them, his hands folded. “Here at Belle Âme, these Marks mean a whole lot to us,” he says, before laughing lightly and gesturing to the church around them. “It’s a vital part of our religion, even.”
They wait, silent and expectant.
“We thought these Marks were specific to our people, once upon a time, until the first instance of a group not unlike yours passed by us. The planet, or maybe the universe, graced them with the same gift it gave us.”
Lance finds himself fiddling with the zipper on his jacket. He feels nervous, though maybe that’s only because he’d never liked going to church all that much.
“These Marks cannot be removed. They are now essential to your being — a guide to your very existence,” he continues. “Our people keep them hidden, as they’re also what makes us vulnerable.”
“But what are they?” Keith interrupts, impatient as always.
The minister sighs. “They’re a compass,” he says. “Except instead of pointing north, they point to the person you’re destined to be with. Your other half. Your soulmate.”
Everyone’s silent for a second, letting that knowledge sink in. And then Hunk says the very thing that Lance is thinking.
“How do they point to that person, exactly?” he asks.
The minister smiles. “Only one other person will have the same Mark as you,” he says gently. “And that person is your match.”
Lance finds himself unable to look at Keith. Something like embarrassment and astonishment and terror and excitement rush through him. Idly, he registers the fact that Keith is sitting just as stiffly as him, their shoulders almost touching where they sit directly beside each other.
“Wait,” Pidge says, her voice too loud in the openness of the church, that single word echoing over and over again. “So that means…”
“Pidge!” Keith says, interrupting her, and then Pidge is cackling.
Suddenly, Lance can’t stop remembering last night. Him and Keith joking around about their matching tattoos, saying the others couldn’t separate them, that they were destined to be a killer team in Flip Cup. Them making jokes, saying things like, “You guys wouldn’t get it… it’s a matching tattoo kind of thing,” and the others groaning in annoyance and eventually ignoring their antics all together.
The fact that all of them know that he and Keith have the same exact Mark decorating their bodies, and that that means they’re soulmates, apparently.
The fact that Lance has been in love with Keith for what must be years, now, not that any of them have done a stellar job of keeping track of how long they’ve been in space. And that if they’re meant to be together, maybe Keith loves him, too. Maybe he’s been hiding it just as well as Lance has.
“Is there a problem?” the minister asks, staring at Pidge in confusion.
Both Lance and Keith shout, “No!” at the same time, which makes them both redden even further. Hunk has joined in with the laughter, and even Shiro is smiling. Allura thanks the minister for his time, and then they’re all making their way back to the castle-ship, the silence between Lance and Keith pervasive.
In some kind of unspoken agreement — perhaps because they’re soulmates and just know each other on this level innately — the two of them break off from the others the second they’re back on the castle-ship. Lance can hear the others talking loudly behind them, their voices echoing down the hall. Meanwhile, he and Keith are silent all the way until they make it to their rooms, where they do a weird kind of step toward their own rooms before Keith ends up turning around and entering Lance’s. The second the door closes behind them, Keith exhales loudly.
“It doesn’t have to mean anything,” he says immediately, already pacing. He makes it from one side of the room to the other in what seems like a second flat.
“True,” Lance says, deciding to just go with it. If Keith doesn’t feel anything for him, then he’s not going to expose his own feelings for no reason.
“I mean, this is one planet out of the entire universe. Why would they be the only ones with these… these… Marks?”
“Right,” Lance agrees.
“And how do they know?” Keith adds, spinning on his heel to face Lance, his arms extended. “Who told them what exactly these Marks mean? How did they decide that it meant soulmates?”
“So… so… you don’t have to do anything,” Keith concludes. “You don’t have to think anything about it.”
“Sure,” Lance says. “You neither.”
Keith blinks, still breathing heavily, and just stares at Lance for a second. There’s some kind of emotion in his eyes, but Lance can’t figure out what it is.
“Okay,” Keith says, inexplicably calm now. “Right.” He clears his throat. “Um. See you at dinner, then.” And then he’s gone.
It’s awkward, for a while. A few days, anyway. The others joke about them being soulmates at dinner, which Keith weathers for about half a second before exploding a second time, saying that that universe can’t know for sure, and how’s the universe supposed to know who anyone is supposed to end up with, anyway?
After that, anytime Keith and Lance accidentally touch, they end up jerking away from each other. Whether it’s passing the salt at dinner or their knees bumping on the couch.
Not to mention, Keith barely even looks at Lance anymore, and speaks to him even less.
Lance is almost tempted to believe that Keith is right about this whole thing. Sure, he might be hopelessly in love with Keith, but how can that make them soulmates if Keith doesn’t feel the same?
That’s what he thinks for the first day or two, at least, until he begins to think that maybe Keith feels the same way as him. Like his feelings were abruptly put on display at that church, and now he’s doing his best to hide them because he has no way of knowing if Lance actually feels the same, or if he’ll feel obligated to reciprocate because the universe seemingly mandated it.
Plus, Lance realizes that maybe Keith looks at him more often that he thinks. Because he’s definitely been talking to him less, walking around with what seems like a perpetual blush on his face, but whenever he looks away after Lance makes eye contact with him, Lance is left wondering how long he was staring at Lance before he noticed.
And he also can’t help comparing how Keith was acting before they knew about this whole soulmate thing versus now…
It’s Lance’s own desperation that finally has him caving, deciding to confront Keith and actually do something about this. He doesn’t actually get the courage to do anything until late in the night, however, after he’s been laying awake and staring at his ceiling for hours.
And so, wearing pajama pants and a pink tank top that he definitely didn’t steal from Allura’s laundry, he crosses the hall.
At first, he thinks Keith must be asleep. Or ignoring him. Because Lance knocks and he doesn’t even hear a shuffle on the other side.
Even still, he waits there for a moment, just in case Keith plucks up the courage, and is rewarded for it. Moments later, the door slides open, revealing a very much awake Keith standing on the other side.
“Can I come in?” Lance says before Keith can say anything, and Keith nods mutely before stepping backward, allowing Lance into his room.
They both just stand there for a moment, until Keith’s eyes trail from Lance’s face and down his arm, becoming glued to the spot where Lance’s Mark is.
“Keith,” Lance says, making Keith’s eyes flick back to his face.
“Just — I’m only going to say this once,” Lance says. “So make sure you’re listening. We can forget about it after, if you want.”
“I — okay,” Keith murmurs.
“Right,” Lance says, and then clears his throat. “Okay. I don’t think the universe is wrong. In fact, I think it’s very much correct, if only because I’ve been in love with you for… God, years now. So we can ignore the Marks if we want. But we could also… not. If we want.” Lance clears his throat a second time, feeling grateful for the darkness of the room and also like he might combust at any second.
“Okay, that’s all,” Lance adds. “Goodnight.” He throws up a peace sign, already walking backward, when he hears the sudden rush of breath from Keith’s direction followed by Keith stepping toward him. His hands come up to grip Lance’s biceps, fingers curling around the width of his arms, and he holds him there.
“Wait,” Keith says. “What?”
“Whoops! Ya snooze, ya lose, Keith. I only put my heart on the line once.”
“You’re serious?” Keith says. “You’re not just saying that to be nice?”
Lance laughs. “Dude, if you think I’m saying this shit because I realized you have feelings for me, then you’re an idiot. You’ve got your feelings under, like, a steel trap.”
“No, I don’t!” Keith argues. “Just last week I threatened to blow up Pidge’s lab because of her sandwich argument!”
“You threatened to… what?” Lance mumbles. “Never mind. Just — do you feel that way about me, or not?”
“Well… yeah,” Keith says. “It’s obvious.”
“Obvious, my ass,” Lance says.
“I’m serious! Shiro and Hunk and Allura confronted me about it! Months ago!”
Lance gapes, both trying to absorb that information and successfully imagine how those conversations might’ve gone.
“So if they didn’t confront you, then you’re the one with the steel trap emotions.”
“But I don’t—”
“I thought I had absolutely no chance,” Keith continues. “And then that soulmate guy made it ten times worse, ‘cause I thought you’d feel bad for not feeling the same, or maybe like you had to love me because of the universe, or whatever.”
“Not to mention you were agreeing with me—”
Lance huffs, tired of not being able to get a word in edgewise, and grabs Keith by the hips to pull him in. Keith stumbles a single step forward before Lance is kissing him, holding him close as Keith freezes in surprise before melting in his grip.
“Okay,” Keith whispers, the second Lance pulls away.
Lance chuckles, realizing a moment later that he’s been stroking the Mark on Keith’s collar. The star that matches his own, making them a pair. A team. Soulmates.
“Okay,” Lance responds. “So… should I go to my own room now, or…?”
“Shut up,” Keith scoffs, and Lance follows him back to his bed, the two of them arranging themselves under the covers and winding up curled around each other. It’s already late, but then end up staying up even later, their voices mere whispers in the early hours of the morning. They talk about the universe, and themselves, and when they first realized they liked each other and the excruciating conversation Keith had with Allura in particular, in which Allura offered to subtly be Keith’s wingman for Lance, which sends Lance into a laughing fit and has Keith muffling his laughter with a pillow.
They kiss lazily under the cover of darkness and share secrets that they’ve never spoken aloud before. They talk about their futures and their pasts and every little bit of it is perfect.
Lance thinks he might understand why their Soul Mark is a star. Not because they’re destined to spend the rest of their lives in space — though, honestly, that might be true — but because in this moment, Lance suspects that the universe is right. That however it knew, however it decided that the two of them would be meant for each other — it was right.
That even if it hadn’t happened like this, with the two of them finding the Blue Lion, even if Keith had been raised in space with the Galra, or born to that planet full of soulmates, they would’ve found each other. That their thoughts and actions and paths in life would’ve always led them to each other, no matter what.