Keith smirked as Caspor’s gaze was drawn to the left, distracted from their game. It was all too easy to play this crew of criminals — give them something shiny, something pretty and unattainable, and they couldn’t keep their eyes from it.
Lance was reclined on a high couch, his long legs encased in dark brown leather pants, his stained off-white shirt missing its first two buttons, revealing tantalizing glimpses of caramel skin and collarbone. He gave a sly grin to everyone sitting at the card table, one knee lifted up, his wrist braced on it while his hand loosely clutched one of his pistols. With his other hand, Lance tipped the brim of his hat up, giving them a sultry, half-lidded stare, blue eyes gleaming.
“You aren’t getting any card advice from me, Po,” Lance said with a smirk of his own, adjusting one of his shoulder holsters’ straps — the straps that cut across his torso tightly — and as he pulled at them, they widened the gap in his shirt further. “Keep your eyes on the prize, because it isn’t me you’re gambling to win.”
His voice went low on that last part. Caspor swallowed dryly, eyes snapping back to his hand, though Keith could see that he was keeping Lance in his peripheral vision, splitting his focus.
Clearly, Lance was also all too aware of this. He chose that moment to yawn as though bored, using the hand holding his gun to cover his mouth, while his back arched beautifully into a languorous stretch.
Now Keith was the one getting distracted … But he refocused on the game, on his nearly winning hand. He reminded himself that, unlike the poor gullible bastards at this table, Keith would be walking out of here with some extra gems, and taking that charming cowboy home to his bed.
But Lance was exceptionally good at drawing attention, keeping it fixated on himself by use of roguish winks and pouted lips — with his long, lean body displayed at its best angles.
Somehow, the multiple gun holsters just added to the effect.
And while the men and women at this exclusive gambling table ogled Keith’s partner in crime, Keith was able to perform some very sneaky slight-of-hand.
“Call it, Po,” came the rough voice of Gunthra, leader of a small gang of transporter thieves and smugglers. “I’ve got a haul of hoverships that need repainting. You still owe me those clean ID plates.” She blew a jet of grey smoke at Caspor when she finished talking, stubbing her glowing death stick out on her metal vambraces.
Caspor scowled, dropping a few shimmering jewels onto the considerable pile in the centre. “You’ll get them when the game is done.”
“Yeah, better get those ID plates now,” Keith said in a sleepy tone, acting like this was just another lazy night for him, like he wasn’t sweating nervously beneath his long crimson duster as he laid his cards face up on the table. “Because I just cleaned you all out.”
Gunthra swore filthily.
Traxit, a small insectoid alien that was the chief accountant for several crime bosses, gave Keith a steely glare with his multifaceted eyes. “You’re a sly one, McClain. Can never read your poker face, and you mammals are usually so obvious.”
Keith shrugged. “Helps when you don’t care about the outcome. But I’ll be taking these for now — Lance and I could use some new threads.” He plucked at his blood-stained coat, a dangerous lilt to his voice meant to be taken as warning to not interfere with his win. A few of the others removed their hands from their concealed weapons, but Keith still didn't relax.
Gunthra laughed boisterously. “Business not going so well then?”
Not in the last little while, no — Lance and Keith worked on contract, mostly, and when people didn’t hire them (or more often, when they turned down the contracts because they were too far out of field from “morally grey,” resting clearly in the “so wrong, blatantly evil” section), they didn’t make money. When they didn’t make money, basic supplies were tough to come by.
“Business is steady,” Keith lied easily. “But extra gems never hurt anyone.”
“Careful with your bragging, youngling,” said Caspor, sneering. “There’s enough firepower between here and your hovertruck to challenge that assumption.”
Lance stood up from the couch, and he walked to Keith with a slow, meandering gait — one that drew stares down to those hips, even with the threat of danger implied by the guns on either side.
“We’ve taken your cronies out before, Caspor, don’t embarrass yourself again,” Lance said in a drawl. “You’ve lost fair and square, rana asquerosa — be nice or we won’t grace your tables again.”
“Might be better, considering how often you win,” Caspor grumbled, but he was clearly salivating a little at Lance, who stood there, one hip jutting out while he tugged his navy blue hat back down, grinning at everyone. Gunthra whistled lowly.
“I do so love to see you, dear, even while Keith takes my hard-earned gems,” she purred at him. “Po, be nice to the pretty lads so they’ll come back.”
The silent members of their table, two more smugglers and the madam of a local brothel, gave Keith and Lance cool glances of dismissal, albeit with a little extra heat tossed in Lance’s direction.
Keith turned away without saying anything else, while Lance said good-bye with his usual cheerful attitude, the sultriness tucked away for now.
The two burly guards at the door stepped aside for them, letting them back into the main bar room — a giant wooden structure with several gaming tables, a few more tables just for meals or drinks, a small stage for the prostitutes to sing for their supper (and for reeling in clients), and a huge saloon lining one entire wall.
Lance swung by the bar, taking the half-finished drink off a tall, muscular humanoid with bright blue skin. The man raised a brick-sized fist as he whipped round, ready for violence, but immediately crumpled into submission before Lance, groaning.
“C’mon, Lance, how many—”
“At least twenty more, Grisner,” Lance said with a happy grin, sipping the bubbly drink with obnoxious appreciation. “How’s your wife doing?”
“Fine, alive, just like every other time you ask,” Grisner muttered. “She says you need to come by for dinner, or she’ll hunt you down and force feed you.”
“Oooh, absolutely,” Lance agreed, downing the rest of the drink in one shot. “Saving her life was one of the best things we ever did — free drinks and offers for dinner? Score.”
Grisner swatted at Lance, who danced away, laughing giddily as he put the empty glass back down on the bar.
Keith waited patiently, his eyes roving the room.
There were always curious glances sent their way — leers, glares, shifty stares — but he knew by now which folks were trouble and which just wished they were. More than once, Lance and Keith had been attacked by would-be assassins or gangs of bandits. They were mostly pathetic crooks thinking they could earn a reputation by taking out Lance and Keith — the two strangers who had “stolen” contract work right out from under the noses of several well-established mercenary bands. But all their attackers ever accomplished were two things: humiliating defeat, and one more legendary story attached to Lance and Keith’s own reputation.
“Hello there, McClain,” said Bos’Nar, a huge reptilian alien with a wide, sharp-toothed grin and dark red scales. “I heard you cleaned up Caspor’s game. Again.”
Keith nodded. “He never learns.”
Lance waved at Bos’Nar from the bar. “Our brand of luck is one you can always buy, remember that if you ever need a shipment delivered!”
“The Two McClains aren’t what I need in my organization,” Bos’Nar said with an easy, disconcerting smile. “At least, not today. But I have an offer from a friend — Keegin Dras.”
Lance’s smile didn’t falter, but Keith knew him too well, especially now with the months they had spent being inseparable — Lance didn’t like that name, the tightness around his eyes and jaw sending Keith a clear signal.
“We’ve got a couple of jobs lined up in other towns,” Keith said in his usual monotone. “But give us the contact info and if time opens up—”
Bos’Nar handed Keith a slim memory stick. “All the details are there.” His smiled widened, showing off the extra rows of teeth. “Safe journey home.”
The boss melted into the crowds surrounding that stage, where two feathered aliens had appeared, one female, one male, their glittering costumes covering next to nothing.
Lance gave Grisner a farewell pat to the shoulder as he pressed himself in close to Keith’s side. “We need to leave, now.” He whispered the words in Keith’s ear, his cheery smile never failing.
Keith didn’t need to be told twice.
Bos’Nar’s amused little wish for their safe travel … It likely meant that something was going to happen. He hadn’t warned them because, like most people here, he had no vested interest in doing so. If Lance and Keith ended up dead, then they weren’t worth warning in the first place. So whatever was about go down was probably something petty. Something they could definitely handle if they got out ahead of it.
They left together, the bartender tossing Lance his well-worn midnight blue jacket. Lance caught it and slipped it on, tugging the leather low enough to conceal his hip holsters as it rested just at mid-thigh. Keith’s own duster went well past his knees, though not quite to his ankles, allowing him to hide his twin blades, and the dagger tucked into his left boot.
Their hovertruck was where they’d left it, just a hundred metres from the entrance to Jorlack’s gamblers’ saloon. They’d tucked it in an alleyway between two dilapidated buildings — Keith knew this was a prime spot for an ambush, which was why he chose it. He had studied it meticulously, down to the last details of the broken beams and rusty hinges. If they were going to be attacked, which they had been several times before, then Keith made sure it was on turf he knew like he knew the scars and freckles on every inch of Lance’s skin.
“Who is Keegin Dras?” Keith asked, as they made their way, casually yet cautiously, to their vehicle.
“She’s a boss of Whiero City — all of Whiero — and Brisha used to work for her, as a runner,” Lance said quietly, his eyes darting about, his hands resting on his belt right by the grips of his pistols. “Keegin Dras doesn’t take kindly to mistakes, and her views of what constitutes a mistake are … well. Brisha was once a couple of minutes late to a meeting — Dras took two of her fingers as payment for her wasted time.”
Keith thought of the soft-spoken server at Jorlack’s, and how sweet she was to every customer, even the rowdy, crass ones, making them ashamed of their behaviour with her unbearable kindness. He had never thought to question her missing fingers — everyone here had horrendous scars, missing limbs, disfigurements worn as badges of pride.
“Okay. No jobs for Keegin Dras,” Keith said.
“Your arrogance astounds me, whelp!” hissed a voice from above them, its accent tripping over the common tongue.
Keith looked up, his face already set in a neutral expression as a masked alien appeared, perched on the crumbling roof; several of this nameless mercenary’s armed cohorts emerged at both ends of the alley. Lance was smiling again, but this grin was different — lethal and humourless. Keith hated how familiar that look had become.
“Arrogance isn’t really all that bad if it’s based in truth,” Keith said, his hands sliding down to the pommels of his blades.
This really was going to be too easy — they had actually announced their presence, thereby eliminating the element of surprise in favour of theatrics. Such amateurs.
“That you can pick and choose work while the rest of us fight for your scraps!” the alien shrieked, shaking a big gun in their direction “No—”
A bright shot lit up the night, the near silent sound of a laser pistol rendering whatever the moron had been about to say moot. He fell to the ground in front of them, dead on arrival.
Lance rolled his eyes as he blasted another charging bandit without even a side-glance.
Keith backed up against Lance, a few shots from their attackers whizzing past him just as Lance fired four or five more times, taking out their gun-wielding opponents on one end of the alley. Keith faced the opposite direction, running at the ones on his side, startling them as they fumbled with their weapons. They clearly had not expected Keith to rush them with the threat of three guns pointed at him; he released his two blades with quick twirls, slicing through scales and feathers and fur. The mixed clan of mercenaries was efficiently put down inside of two minutes.
“Should have been faster,” Lance said disappointedly, executing a flashy spin of both his laser pistols as he tucked them back into his hip holsters. “They didn’t even stop charging after I shot the first guy. Like, somehow you’re more laser-proof than your buddy who’s wearing the same pointless armour? Dude. Sad.”
“They have anything on them worth taking?” A few months ago, Keith would have been above scavenging for necessities from the dead. A few months ago, killing eight beings in such a cold-blooded way would have had his stomach churning. But that was then, and this was now — and right now, even with the money they’d won tonight, things were going to be tight. Keith and Lance were relatively successful, but they weren’t, by any means, financially secure — especially since most of their money was being saved to buy a ship. To buy passage off this world.
Lance was already bending low, digging through pockets. “Eh, there’s some loose change. The guns are crap. And I do not eat larvae, so nothing we can consume.” Lance made a face as he tossed a bag of bug snacks aside. “Okay, I’m officially done for tonight.”
Keith helped him gather up what little money there was, and then walked past the corpses to the hovertruck. “Let’s get going.”
He didn't bother checking the engine — sure enough, it started smoothly.
Lance sighed. “Wow, didn’t even tamper with the getaway vehicle? Keith, what does a guy have to do to get a better class of rival out here?”
“Let’s not find out,” Keith said evenly.
Lance sunk low in his seat. “Actually, yeah, good call. Also, nice call back at the table. If Gunthra ever catches you messing with her hands, she’s going to stab you in the face.”
“Good thing you’re there to hold her attention, then.” Keith flashed Lance a look, one eyebrow cocked. “Laying it on a little thick tonight?”
A smug, smouldering expression met his gaze. “Maybe? It definitely wasn’t for Po or Gunthra, if that’s what you’re thinking.”
“You called Caspor a disgusting frog, and Gunthra would eat you for breakfast, raw.” Keith flicked his gaze over to Lance, sliding his eyes up and down that lithe body, taking in his fill the way he’d wanted while at that card table. “I know your little show wasn’t for them.”
Nearly half an hour later, Keith started slowing down as they approached the small town of Dagos, tucked into the foothills of a huge mountain. He pulled up to the tiny inn and bar in which they resided, living mostly free of charge, thanks to the owner — an elderly green-skinned alien named Yathir.
Lance whistled innocently as Keith parked the hovertruck. They hopped out together, their doors shutting in unison. When they entered the inn, Yathir was up and washing glasses at the bar, the place empty tonight. He welcomed them back with a quick wave from one of his six hands. Yathir occasionally paid them to run the bar for him while he slept his days away, and he graciously sheltered them and fed them, even when they couldn't pay for the kindness.
“Ah, the Two McClains return. And in one piece, no less — must’ve been an easy night.”
“Easier than most,” Lance said happily. He tossed a bright red gem to Yathir. “Here, partake in the fruit of our labours!”
Yathir caught the gem in one right hand, blinking down at it. “I can use this to repower the stove. Nicely done.”
“I’ll admit that’s part of why I gave it to you,” Lance said with a corny grin. “I miss your pies.”
Yathir smiled fondly at him, tilting his head towards the stairs. “Did you get any refracting gems? The lights in the upper corridor are on the blink again.”
Keith reached into the satchel tied at his waist, pulling out two light blue jewels. “Those should do.” He tossed them to the innkeeper, who snatched them out of the air with his other two right hands.
“Thank you. Now, go on and get some sleep. I promise to be up to my job tomorrow so you two can enjoy a lie-in.” He shooed them away with a wave of his three left hands.
Lance and Keith went without any need for further encouragement. When they reached their room, one of the largest in the inn, Lance took off his hat and kicked off his boots.
“Yes, home base!” Lance crowed as he dropped his jacket onto a nearby chair.
Keith was a little more methodical in his clothing removal, hanging his jacket in the wardrobe, ignoring the creaking door that never fully shut, and taking his boots off while sitting on their bed. The sheets smelled freshly laundered. He leaned back on his hands once his boots were lined up neatly next to the nightstand, watching Lance unbutton his shirt, taking it off along with his shoulder holsters all at once.
“Wait,” Keith rasped out, surprising himself with how hoarse he sounded.
Lance paused with his hands on his hip holster’s belt buckle, raising an eyebrow. “Yeah?”
“Um,” he started, then stopped. “Just … hold on, for a tick.”
Right now, Lance standing there, shirtless and barefooted, with his dusty and patched-up leather pants slung low on his hips, gun belt hanging further down on his stomach, one side of it resting on exposed skin … It was a picture Keith was trying to burn into his mind, alongside many similar ones, yes, but somehow this image was always worth appreciating.
Lance clued in quickly, as expected, and that slow smile was back, the one he’d had on that couch while splayed out for all those greedy eyes to consume.
Except now Keith got to actually touch and keep.
Lance, the jerk, made things worse by leaning in close to Keith, pressing hands to his shoulders, gently pushing. “Get comfy, man, I have an idea.”
Keith huffed out a noise of annoyance. “Lance, no more ideas, it’s been a long day—”
Lance had turned away as Keith settled himself back against the headboard; the taller boy was digging through their small chest of drawers by the window, pulling out something with a giddy, “Ah ha! Success! And congratulations to me!”
When he faced Keith again, he was holding a luminescent blue bottle, liquid swishing around in it. Lance popped the cork with his mouth, spitting it out onto the sheets and crawling onto the bed, still in his pants and hip holsters. He straddled Keith, slanting back and settling onto Keith’s thighs, holding the bottle between them.
“This is that extremely tasty wine thing — the one that gives you goosebumps, and sort of stands your hair on end?”
Keith boggled. “That crap costs, like, eighty gems, Lance, where the hell—”
“It was a gift from Grisner’s wife, after we stopped those assholes from hijacking her ship.” Lance grinned. “She had been transporting a couple of crates of this stuff. She said she could say one was broken in the struggle. I didn’t want her getting into trouble with Bos’Nar, but she insisted that I take at least a couple of bottles. So …”
He offered it to Keith, pressing it to his lips.
Keith sighed, making the bottle sing with his breath blowing loudly over the opening. He took it from Lance’s hand, but before he downed any, he paused, tilting his head. “Why ‘congratulations’?”
“Because,” Lance said with great relish, “today, or, well, maybe yesterday or a couple of days ago, whatever — I turned twenty. I am officially out of the teens. This is grown-up Lance talking to you now.”
Keith grinned. “Really? You seem a lot like teenaged Lance — immature, highly irritating, way too loud —”
“Pfft, I am, like this wine, refined with age,” Lance scoffed, his eyes dancing with mirth. “And more than that, I’m older than you.”
“By two months,” Keith protested. “No way that counts.”
“Way!” Lance sung out. “But because I am a generous soul, you get first swig.”
Keith stared at the bottle, smiling, and then paused again. “That means that Pidge is probably seventeen now. And Hunk would be twenty soon, too, right?”
Lance’s happy expression faded, and Keith mentally kicked himself for bringing up their lost friends. Well, no, that wasn’t right — Keith and Lance were the ones who were lost. The others just hadn’t found them yet. Yet.
“Yeah,” Lance murmured, his eyes growing distant. “And Shiro promised me a really cool gift for my twentieth — never said what it was. Didn’t wanna spoil the surprise.”
Keith’s own mind drifted off, to the secret place beneath the floorboards, under their bed, where their armour and bayards remained hidden, far too flashy and high-tech for this world that had speedy transport between planets, but not much else. No wormholes in this particular galaxy, or at least not near these few solar systems. The Galra prison shuttle they had crashed was in no way salvageable — and so they were stuck, had been stuck, for six months now. On a gritty world where if any law existed, it was just so it could be broken, crime being the way of life for everyone in some capacity or another.
Their Lions were on the Castle — Lance and Keith had been taken while wandering out and about on foot, a simple recognizance mission on a seemingly peaceful, Galra-free planet; the Galra had been beaten back for a time, Team Voltron and the Empire at a stalemate.
The Galra soldiers had stalked the Paladins on their walkabout, and captured them with hardly any resistance, since Lance and Keith were caught unawares. Their easy arrest had the Galra severely underestimating them, and that gave the two Paladins the advantage. Keith and Lance had waited for an opportune moment, attacking as a unit, knocking the pilot out by accident in the scuffle, sending the ship careening out of the wormhole and into a random system. They almost immediately collided into the barren wastelands just north of Dagos. They had no idea where they were, no way to reach out to the Castle, and then …
“Hey, come back,” Lance said gently.
Keith blinked himself into the present, banishing the longing that came with reminiscing. He forced himself to smile again, feeling it become more sincere after he took a big gulp of the blue wine. He shuddered a little, the sweet, spicy taste dancing on his tongue, racing through his veins and sending a pleasant tingling across his skin, over his scalp to the ends of his hair.
“My turn.” Lance took the bottle back, leaning away to down a long swig. Keith took a moment to enjoy the line of Lance’s throat as he swallowed. Once he was done, Lance wiped at his mouth, his eyes half-shut. He shivered. “Man, that is awesome. Let's never find out what this is made of — it tastes so good, I don't wanna ruin it.”
He offered Keith another sip, and Keith took it. They passed the bottle back and forth until it was half empty. At this point, they were nowhere near drunk — just happily buzzed — but Keith put a stop to it regardless.
“Save it for another occasion, like my birthday,” Keith suggested. “Not that I’ve ever cared much about it.”
Lance groaned. “No, that’s sad, stop. I will make you care. It’s going to be an amazing birthday, just you wait.”
He leaned over Keith, rising up on his knees to put the cork back in the bottle, and then placing said bottle on their rickety nightstand. Doing so put Lance’s bare chest within range of Keith’s mouth, and he really didn’t have the strength to resist that bit of temptation. He pressed a soft kiss to one pectoral, smiling against it when Lance shivered again, for a whole new reason. His skin still had raised goosebumps from the wine, and Keith brushed his lips along it, a light, teasing touch with little to no pressure.
Lance collapsed back onto Keith’s legs, sighing. “No fair. I had plans, damn it, and now I’m all … melty and sleepy and stuff.”
“We can sleep,” Keith said simply, but his smile was dark and predatory, and he knew it. “Or …”
Lance’s eyes darkened to match Keith’s expression. “Or …”
Keith stripped off his shirt, tossing it out onto the floor, then resting his hands on Lance’s hips, just above the guns that had kept Keith safe while he did his best to watch Lance’s back. “We can do other things.”
A burst of laughter. “You’re so vague, even now. Dude, like, how many different times, in how many different positions …”
“Shut up,” Keith said, flushing, and Lance laughed more, even when Keith tugged his hips in closer. “Always ruining the moment, you jerk.”
“Yeah, no, I don’t know how to not make fun of you — but I do know what’ll make you not care.” Lance waggled his eyebrows, and Keith loved this — Lance being sultry and suave for the slime they stole from was one thing, but this goofy, over-the-top flirting, this was the real Lance, and it was far, far better (though yes, Keith was weak for the other Lance, too … weak for Lance in general).
“How are you going to make yourself less annoying? And how are you just figuring it out now, when you could have saved me a whole lot of grief,” Keith grumbled lightly.
He had to bite down on his tongue to keep a disappointed noise from escaping him when Lance bounced back off the mattress, heading over to his haphazard pile of clothes … and pulling out his hat, setting it jauntily on his head. His smile was broad and carefree as he made his way back to the bed, straddling Keith yet again, this time with the ridiculous cowboy hat (that Lance had found in a swap-meet over two months ago, and had yet to stop wearing everywhere).
But now, Keith had a lapful of shirtless cowboy Lance, and suddenly, that hat was not so much ridiculous as it was ridiculously hot.
“You know what they say?” Lance said with the most awful, cheesy grin ever, which still didn’t prepare Keith for what came next. “Save a horse, ride a cowboy.”
Keith moaned, covering his face with both hands. “No, no, they don’t say that, and if they have, it should have never happened, why—”
Lance bent in close, bracing one hand on the headboard behind Keith’s head, the other dropping to the centre of Keith’s chest. Keith ended up swallowing his words as Lance leaned down, drawling out, “Well, hey there partner, fancy meeting you here.”
“You mean in the same bed we sleep in every night?” Keith said, and yes, his voice did crack, but no, he didn’t care. Not when Lance was smirking at him, that hat resting perfectly on his head, tilted back just far enough so that when he pressed his mouth to Keith’s, the brim didn’t get in the way.
It was a too short, not intense enough kiss, since Lance pulled away to announce, “I have places to be, and you know, I think I may need a ride.” The waggling eyebrows were back.
Keith raised his own in return. “I thought it was ‘save a horse, ride a cowboy’? Aren’t you the cowboy?”
He was met with an eye roll. “Man, quit ruining the fun — also, you know damn well that we’re both cowboys here. You’re rocking those boots way too well, and you got the silent, mysterious stranger thing down pat … in fact …”
Lance took the hat off his head and placed it on Keith’s. “There. Now, how about my ride, stranger?”
Keith’s hands started unbuckling Lance’s hip holster belt, careful with the guns as he set them aside on the nightstand, and then he started working on the pants. He managed a fairly convincing accent as he said, “I think I can oblige you.”
“Well, thank you kindly,” Lance breathed out, eyes widening, his teasing stance starting to waver as Keith worked quickly, but tenderly. And then Lance’s lids were fluttering shut, and Keith was lost to that skin again, too smooth against his rough hands. But Lance’s own fingers had gun callouses, and both of them had accumulated new, raised scars, so they complemented each other that way.
After, when they were sweaty and sated, Lance having collapsed forward onto Keith’s chest, he couldn’t help but crack up when Lance murmured in that awful drawl, “Mighty fine steed you got there.”
“God, Lance, why?” Keith wheezed out, a stitch forming in his side. “Ow, no, stop. No more.”
“More?” Lance braced himself up on an elbow. “Look, Keith, I’m twenty years old now, things aren’t like they used—”
Smothering Lance with a pillow seemed like the best way to ensure a good night’s rest. That, and curling up, tangled in each other’s limbs, not sure where one ended and the other began.
Keith opened his eyes just wide enough to see over Lance’s dishevelled hair, out of the window to the night sky. Amongst those stars, their family was looking for them. At some point, they would be found — Keith believed it down to his bones.
But in the meantime, he had Lance, and he didn’t really need much else other than the roof over their heads, and the food in their bellies, and this. He and Lance were a couple of strangers, roaming about doing good (and not-so-good) work, and like the old cowboy legends back on Earth, they would disappear into the sunset (or the wormhole), when their time here was done.