Coran’s idea to simulate real-life combat situations went about as well as Shiro expected. Which is to say, it went wrong almost immediately. To start with, he dropped all five paladins off on what he swore was a completely abandoned planet called Rogunda, gave them all training weapons, and sent them off into the forest one by one to track each other down. Unfortunately, the planet was not quite as abandoned as Coran initially believed, which meant that twenty minutes into the training exercise, Lance had barged into a Rogundan settlement, training guns blazing, and interrupted their daily Tribute to the Suns.
Which was apparently punishable by being burned at the stake.
Shiro peeked around the thick green trunk of the tree he was currently hiding behind. The wood seemed to groan as his metal fingers pressed into the bark, and he snatched his hand away just in case Rogundan trees turned out to be sentient. It would really suck if his rescue attempt was thwarted by a plant before he could even try to explain to the lizard-like Rogundans that Lance was just an idiot who didn’t mean to ruin their ceremony.
He sighed and ground the palm of his flesh hand between his eyes to try and relieve the pressure that always built up around his sinuses ever since he had somehow received the scar across his nose. He knew that Lance wasn’t really an idiot, he was actually very intelligent - he just had no impulse control and enough excitable energy to power a spaceship.
And an amazing knack for getting into trouble, Shiro thought to himself. He pushed the foliage aside to see Lance, tied upside down to a large stick by his arms and legs, being carried through the settlement by two extremely irate looking Rogundans.
“Hey, hey, listen guys! Can we talk about this? I think we s-should talk about this!” Lance said in a high-pitched voice. Shiro could see him tugging at the ropes around his wrists. The Rogundans grunted at each other and shook the stick to make him stop.
More and more Rogundans were streaming out of their tents to come see the intruder be punished for his crimes against the tribe. Shiro concentrated on the crowd that was gathering around a pyre in the center of the settlement. When it looked like everyone was focused on the spectacle that was Lance McClain, he slipped out from behind the tree and ran across the open expanse between the trees and the rows of tents. He dove behind the leathery folds of one tent and took a few deep breaths as quietly as he could.
“Seriously, I d-didn’t know I was interrupting your super important ritual, I was a-actually looking for my friends, Coran said this planet was uninhabited, so-o I just ran in…”
Shiro silently prayed that Lance’s babbling was stalling the Rogundans, even a little bit while he tried to come up with a plan. If there was one thing that Lance could do, it was talk.
When he heard the unmistakable sound of a torch blazing to life, Shiro’s heart seemed to lurch in his chest. Without waiting one more second to check for anyone who might see him, he stuck his head out from behind the tent to see what was going on.
“Oh, god, okay, okay, um, I am Lance, the great god of the sun! You dishonor me by trying to kill me! I, uh, I will rain fire down upon you! I will send mighty warriors to destroy you for this insult!” Lance was strapped to a pole in the center of a pile of dry wood, while surrounded by furious aliens that were at least two feet shorter than Shiro and Lance. The Rogundans started chanting and swaying and raising their four-fingered hands to the sky, while one wearing a headdress made of vines carried a lit torch towards the pyre.
Lance’s eyes widened and he paled significantly when he saw the fire. “Wait, please, let me explain…”
Shiro leapt out from behind the tent and landed right behind the crowd of Rogundans. “Hey!”
“Shiro!” Lance squeaked.
“I’m gonna suggest that you put that torch down,” Shiro said, glaring directly at the Rogundan wearing the headdress that was now holding the torch right above the fire. He slashed his right arm through the air to activate it.
The whirring noise and ultraviolet light coming from Shiro’s hand whipped the Rogundans into a panicked frenzy. The two hundred or so gathered around the pyre all scattered in different directions, hissing and screaming in their own language to try to get away from Shiro. Unfortunately, that included the Rogundan holding the torch, who dropped it onto the wood pile.
“Shit, fuck, Shiro, help!” Lance yelled. He started thrashing against the tough ropes binding him to the pole.
Swarms of frightened Rogundans careened haphazardly around the pyre. Shiro’s eyes widened in shock as the wood, which was soaked in some kind of accelerant, lit up almost instantly and started to travel up to where Lance was tied. He grit his teeth and forced his way through the crowd, even kicking aside some Rogundans who stood in his way.
Flames licked at his heels as he jumped up onto the back of the pyre. Lance was struggling forcefully against the ropes. “Hold still, Lance, I don’t want to cut you!” Shiro yelled. Lance immediately went still. Shiro sliced through the ropes with his mechanical hand and pulled Lance away from fire just as it reached the base of the pole.
Lance fell to the ground with a gasp. “Oh my god, oh my god…”
“C’mon, we have to get out of here, Lance.” Shiro grabbed his arm and pulled him up, wincing as he coughed from smoke inhalation.
“I can’t, I can’t, I twisted my ankle earlier, I can’t run…”
Shiro didn’t hesitate before he yanked Lance up onto his shoulder and ran away as fast as he could from the chaotic Rogundan settlement. Lance squawked in protest, but thankfully didn’t squirm around much as Shiro plunged into the forest and stumbled his way around the enormous green trees and the thorny vines hanging down from the branches.
After a few minutes of sprinting away from the fire, Lance reached down and tapped Shiro’s arm to get his attention. “Hey, Shiro, I think we’re good. No one’s chasing us.”
Shiro glanced behind him but didn’t stop moving forward. “You sure?” he gasped. For such a skinny kid, Lance was still pretty tall and heavier than one would expect.
Lance put his head down and nodded against Shiro’s chest. “Yeah, I think they’re more worried about saving their tents from the huge fucking fire they just set in the middle of town.”
Shiro snorted and slowed to a stop before helping Lance get off his shoulder. Lance gingerly tested his left ankle, which wobbled dangerously and almost gave out underneath him before Shiro grabbed him around the waist and slung his arm over his shoulder.
“It’s all right, you can lean on me on the way back to the ship.”
Lance shook his head. “I’m never listening to Coran again when he says that a planet is empty. This is the second time this has happened! I almost died, Shiro. Twice!” His face paled a bit. “I almost died…” The realization of what had just happened seemed to be sinking in for the first time.
Shiro pulled Lance a little closer. “You almost did, but you didn’t, and that’s what’s important.”
Lance nodded. “It’s just that, um…”
He fell uncharacteristically silent. Shiro decided to stay quiet and let Lance gather his thoughts as they hobbled along through the forest.
“Root,” Shiro pointed out to Lance before he tripped over it with his bad foot.
“Thanks.” Lance sighed. “I just… I just had the thought that, what if I died in space and my mom never found out what happened to me? She’s probably, uh, really worried because I usually call her at least once a week and it’s definitely been longer than that since we left Earth, so, um…”
“Lance.” Shiro stopped and tightened his grip on Lance’s waist to keep him from falling over. “If anything were to happen to you, I swear, I would find a way to tell your mom everything.”
Lance was staring directly into Shiro’s eyes now like his life depended on what he was saying.
“But,” Shiro continued before Lance could interrupt, “that’s not going to be a problem, because nothing is going to happen to you. I’m not going to let anything happen to you.”
Lance released a deep breath that he didn’t seem to realize he had been holding, like a huge weight had just been taken off his chest. “We, um, we need to get back to the ship before Allura kills Coran or something.”
Shiro nodded, and helped Lance get moving again. They had only taken a few more steps before Lance spoke again. “Shiro?”
“...Thank you. And, uh, please don’t tell Keith? About what I said?”
Shiro smiled down at the young kid who missed his mom that he was helping stumble through an alien forest a billion miles away from his family. “Of course I won’t, Lance. Scout’s honor.”