Lance was never proud of the one thing that could make him stand out.
(The one thing that made him stand, even in his family, the one thing that destroyed the chances of affection and hugs and attention, the one thing he’d never move past, the one thing that’d always haunt him, the one thing that could get someone killed)
Lance was born with a smooth back, tan skin free of birth marks but full of freckles. Lance was born with beautiful blue eyes, deep tawny hair, and a dazzling smile. Lance was not born with a pair of wings.
Lance was wingless.
Less than 1% of the world was wingless, and that meant those who were….never had good fates. Abandonment, abuse, neglect, suicide rates almost a solid 100….anyone born wingless in this time and age was destined a shitty fate, to die for the lack of something they could not have.
But Lance did not.
His mother hated him with her very soul, but even she wasn’t heartless enough to murder someone, no matter how indirectly. His siblings might laugh with him, might eat with him, but they were never around for more than a few seconds, tossing looks over their shoulder for a parent or aunt or uncle. Lance was hidden away, kept out of sight by his parents and family for his whole life, living in the attic or traipsing the private stretch of beach that had been in his family for years, hearing the voice of the sky but never being able to answer it. (Not like he could without wings, anyway)
But then, he found a way he could.
The Galaxy Garrison, a military school where uniforms over wings were required, where group preening, cuddling, and flying sessions were encouraged but never mandatory. A place he could hide in plain sight and still see the sky. A place Lance signed up for in secret, got a scholarship, and shoved it all at his parents, the father who’d taught him the wingless were useless and the mother who never hugged him. A place that hate crimes couldn’t trace back to and murder his family if his secret ever got out.
It was too good to be true.
And it was. Lance was never the best, always mocked for trying to answer the call of the sky for the first time in his life. It wasn’t like when he’d answered the push and pull of the ocean. The ocean was cool, sometimes cold or freezing, but sage, wise and ready to crash and fall and crest back up. Ready to change, ready to grow, ready to soothe. Content to watch and learn, finding complexity in the simplest things, but brave enough to venture out on it’s own, to try on its own to live up and live past expectatons. The ocean was a gentle hand running over his back, swirling him around in currents of fate and past, gentle but wild, pushing but never shoving.
The sky shoved, but in what Lance saw as a good way. Watching gaggles of siblings and uncles and aunts swoop and soar, thrown out into organized anarchy midair, riding drafts. The sky was wild, insane. It could not sit still, it could not listen, it could not be gentle or understand. It was headstrong or helpful, stubborn or relenting. There was no in between. When it’s chicks matured and reached for the air, the sky threw them out, to the ground or the air.
A few chicks crashed, or came close, but they picked themselves back up, flapped with crooked or straight feathers, and chased the others. The ocean did not work that way. It could mimic, but it would never let it’s young crash or drown unless it was the best choice. Lance was glad for that, though he knew the sky would have pushed him faster, harder, to be who he could be, he knew he’d be the rare smashed egg, splattered on the concrete.
If it took years, he didn’t care. He was alive.
Lance remembers the looks at the Garrison at night or on weekends when he wore a bulky jacket and the issued pajamas, instead of snatching the chance to stretch his wings. The stares, the quirked eyebrows that the kid who joked, flirted, and screamed on a regular basis wouldn’t try for more attention.Hunk, dear god Hunk, had wings big enough for both of them.
Beautiful, mahogany feathers that glowed golden on the ends when light shined on them. Thick, massive wings that he’d drape around Lance’s shoulder, wings that engulfed him in warmth and affection and took away unwanted attention. Too many people saw Hunk’s wings as plain. Lance saw them as a fucking savior, the first thing to treat him nicely and warmly.
But this savior need protecting from the savee.
Which was why Lance never told Hunk, or the team, that he was wingless.
Even Alteans had wings.
Coran’s were a gorgeous tangerine color, white, brown, red, and black speckles slipping between the feathers and coating them like candy sugar. Allura’s were an exact image of Alfor’s, deep, black wings the color of the vastness around them, silver streaks and dots making constellations that shined in lights.
The team’s may have been Earthen, but god, were they ethereal. Shiro, had a collage of slate gray and white, individual feathers breaking layers of colors, proof of the stress of the Arena. They peaked at the top, and were enormous, taller than Hunk’s but not quite as wide or thick. Pidge’s wings were peaked, but they curved out into cute little floofs. They only reached her hips, not past her calves or thighs like everyone else. They clearly weren’t fully grown, but Lance loved their speckled outsides, the tawny, earthy, color so close to her hair but clearly had a more hay-ish tint.
Holy shit, Keith.
His wings were like giant sparrow wings, angular but not peaked, wide burgundy curtains of feathers that fell to his thighs. They were warm, and firm, like a well trained muscle (which they were, technically). The ends were sharp and sleek, but the shy wing touches he sometimes gave Lance proved they were incredibly soft. Lance was always reminded of a wolf when he saw them; built for fast paced marathons. They were no where near as strong as Hunk’s, but Lance had watched Keith carry a Pidge in a simulated rescue. Wings weren’t designed to carry more than the weight of one person, the person with them.
He would never have a pair of wings.
So he reveled in the freedom that lacking a pair of wings gave him. Lance climbed, slept on his back, swam, and learned how to read emotions through little tics. The swimming came easily, like the ocean changed for him, parted and shifted to let him pass or propel him ahead. Lance knew he did. Wings weren’t an instant evolution. Generations of humans developed the genes and mutations of wings - Lance wasn’t just going to instantaneously sprout gills. He could, however, form a thin membrane as a sideways, second pair of eyelids. The same membrane acted as a moveable filter in his ears to hear underwater, and a slight webbing between his fingers. Strategically placed, retractable fangs a little bigger than his front teeth weren’t hard either.
The most notable change was when his legs stopped kicking, his knees disabled, and they swished back and forth. He could easily switch to kicking, but the longer he spent in the water, the more his legs acted as a single mass of flesh and bone. It wasn’t a tail, and Lance sometimes thought he was imagining it, but it was like a snake’s body, swinging side to side to move forward.
Wings were amazingly expressive, every angry twitch or nervous shuffle gave way to a mindscape, a scope of emotions and thoughts Lance learned to pick up on. Hiding your wings was seen as a sign of fear, distrust, and refusing to show them was a red flag in any relationship, platonic or romantic. It was normal to reach out and rest a wing on someone else’s as a sign of reassurance, and to purposely keep your tucked away meant you didn’t trust anyone with them. Your wings were essentially your life - if they got wet or mutilated you were grounded, tied to Earth and water.
And water drowned.
To his team, Lance was a hallow corpse without emotions. He was jello before it froze. They could hear his laugh, see his smiles, hear his cheers. But without his wings, the team couldn’t read him clearly. It was like they had lost their glasses, and Lance was the blurred board they couldn’t see, couldn’t guess, couldn’t decipher more than a few letters from.
They didn’t know, so they couldn’t understand. Lance wasn’t sure if he ever wanted them to understand.