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Deceitful Appearances

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Waking up to the sounds of the castle’s blaring alarms and suiting up for a mission is tough enough on a good day.

Today was not a good day.

Lance swore silently as he sat up in bed. Yesterday had been an especially strenuous battle against the Galra and he was feeling the lingering aches and bruises this morning more than usual. He had only just fallen into a fitful sleep before the bedroom resonated with the angry sound of the alarm. He looked around the room and found his armor lying in a heap on the floor.

Heh, good thing I was too tired to put it away yesterday.

Lance got up and began to sluggishly pull on his under armour. His fingers absentmindedly began tracing the dents and scratches along his chest plate as he thought of their mission yesterday.

Well, it wasn’t just yesterday. It’s been weeks since we’ve caught a break from this war, Lance said to himself as he let out a humorless chuckle and made his way out the door.

The past couple weeks had been constant relief missions, intelligence gathering, alliance securing, Lance was just so tired. Everyone must’ve been too. Before he knew it, Keith had joined alongside him walking down the hall. They hadn’t spoken since Lance had expressed his frustrations to the black paladin last night. Lance was frustrated with himself as he was second guessing a decision he made on their excavation mission. It went wrong and they evacuated the collapsing cave on Lance’s call. Keith had told him about all the people he’d saved and about all the artifacts he’d helped return but Lance was having none of it and left Keith’s room in a fit of anger.

Walking in silence, Lance knew he shouldn't've snapped at his friend last night and muttered a soft apology just as they entered the bridge. Keith looked over with an unreadable expression and opened his mouth to reply but Shiro spoke first.

“Thanks for coming so quickly everyone. I can’t imagine how exhausted you all must be.” Shiro’s smile was genuine but it was clear that he, in fact, could imagine how tired they all were. He was drained, too. A stoic expression returned to his face as he continued, “this mission is vital and if we succeed, it might actually shift the tide of this war in our favor.” Shiro gestured to Coran to continue but Pidge beat him to it.

“Wow, never heard that one before.” The green paladin drawled sarcastically without even looking up from whatever was so captivating on her tablet. She was smirking which lightened the mood a little but everyone knew the truth behind her words. This fight was beginning to feel never ending. Coran smiled and began his pitch.

“This mission is different, Number 5. Nesea is an ancient planet with a thriving society of creatures that are very similar to, oh what is it. Centipedes? No, um-”

“Centaurs, I think.” Hunk offered as an image of what looked like a half-horse/half-human being filled the screen of the bridge.

“Yes, quite right, my boy! Neseans bear many visible similarities to the centaurs found in human mythology. However, these creatures are very real.”

Allura spoke next and Lance couldn't help the growing sense of nervousness he was feeling in his stomach. “The goal of this mission is to convince the Nesean leader to join the alliance. Voltron will be able to provide protection from the Galra if the coalition can count on Nesaea’s support in the war.”

“Nesea and Altea were once inseparable allies who’ve already fought alongside Voltron. This should be a simple, but very important, mission,” Coran continued.

As Pidge and Coran began talking more about some technical aspect to the mission that Lance could not hope to understand, he let his mind wander. Maybe I just ate something weird, he thought as he rubbed his stomach. I’m not usually so nervous before a mission. Usually, I'm not one to complain about a simple mission but I wonder if- Lance suddenly whipped his head around to face the black paladin.

“What are you staring at? You’re going to burn a hole through my head, man.” Lance muttered quietly as he elbowed Keith’s arm. Lance looked up at his friend, smirking but the smile fell and turned into a look of confusion when he saw the determination behind Keith’s eyes. This only made Lance’s more tense.

What on earth is he planning?

“-should be all you need. And, I don’t think you’ll need to bring any other transmission equipment. What we’ve packed should be enough, Number 5.”

Allura continued, addressing the whole group. “You will travel down in Black, as it is the ‘staple’ of Voltron and is easily recognized. We want to do everything we can to ensure that the Coalition is the better alliance option than the Galra.” She looks over to Keith and says with a little smile, “obviously, that means you’ll be flying.” Lance looks over, too and the spark in his leader's eyes is still burning.

Don’t do or say anything stupid, Mullet. Whatever your planning will-

Keith nods and adds, unexpectedly, “I think Lance should lead this mission.”

Like that. Don’t say something stupid, like that.

Lance is frozen in place as the whole group turns to the two of them. Keith continues by confidently saying how it’s time for Lance to be given the trust and responsibility he deserves. Lance, on the other hand, does not share this confidence. He stares, bug eyed, at the Black paladin as he speaks and has to stifle a laugh. But, before Lance can counter, Hunk speaks up.

“I agree. I think this would be the perfect mission for you, Lance. You’re great with people and have really proven yourself as a capable diplomat.” He pats a shocked Lance on the back, as Keith smiles. Lance looks around the room and is shocked to find everyone smiling and nodding.

Pidge states, “okay, so it’s settled. Lance, you will be leading us on this mission.” She smiles and adds, “don’t kill us, please.”

Lance laughs but it’s clearly forced. What is Keith thinking? What if I do kill everyone? What if i make the wrong call or-

A hand on his shoulder is what pulls Lance from his spiral. He looked up and was met with an unwavering look from Keith. “Lance, I wouldn't have suggested you lead this mission if I didn’t think you could do it. You’ve always worked hard and everyone here trusts you one hundred percent. You deserve this.”

Lance is taken aback, but smiles. Confidence slowly building, he finally speaks up, “thanks guys. I won’t let you down.”

Shiro smiles, “we know.”

“Neseans speak with extreme respect towards their elders and are extremely hierarchical. You mustn't ever look them in the eye. Disrespecting them could damage the chances at this alliance so avoid direct eye contact at all costs.” Allura spoke sharply, solidifying the importance of her words.

This time, it’s Pidge who speaks up. “Thanks to the information I pilfered from the Galra a couple of weeks ago, we know that Nesea is where the Galra are going to attack next.”

“Yes,” Shiro continued, “which is another reason why this mission is so important. The Nesaeans aren’t a very large race but they control a large portion of the surrounding outer-space with their advanced air and spacecrafts. I can confidently say that having them on our side will change the flow of the war.”

Lance, still reeling with the news of this new responsibility, has more than a few questions. “Why aren’t you and Allura coming? You are both more experienced diplomats and,” he motions to the Princess, “don’t they, like, have history with Alteans? I’m sure it would benefit the mission if you-”

“They are a good species who have the same hatred towards the Galra as we do. Plus, Shiro and I have work that needs to be completed on the ship. I trust you, Lance.” Allura stepped forward and placed her hand on Lance’s shoulder. “We all do.”

The tone of her voice left no room for argument and before Lance knew it, they had moved on.

Shiro looks directly at Lance as he adds, “you will be responsible for reporting back every 5 hours to update us on the progress of the mission. This mission should last two days at the most, but let us know if you think you need more time.” Shiro smiles at the group, announces they will be leaving in 10 doboshes, and exits the bridge with the Alteans.

The rest of the paladins are quietly making their way to the hangars when Hunk speaks up.“Lance, you look worried.”

“Of course I am! Look, I can barely decide on what we should watch for movie night let alone lead the team on a mission. I’ve never done anything like this before!” Lance sends a glare towards the Black Paladin. He wasn’t actually as frustrated as he sounded but needed to let Keith know how Lance did not appreciate surprises like that. “See?” He lifted his hand into Keith’s face, “I’m so nervous, I’m shaking.”

In truth, Lance was probably actually shaking more from excitement than nervousness. He knew how important this mission was to the team and would do everything to complete it successfully.

Keith chuckled and batted Lance’s hand away. “You aren’t doing this alone, you know. We’re all here with you. And just like you always have my back, I’ve got yours.”

Something clicked in Lance’s mind at those words. He could do this. He would do this. His team needed him, and Lance was prepared to do anything for them. With a newfound sense of resolve, he replied with a smile, “Yeah, let’s go.”