Rest Stop Part 5
Lance hadn’t broken down crying yet.
Needing to survive on your own did that to a person. Or, you know, the exact opposite. But Lance had gone nearly 17 years without someone finding out he was wingless. He was a master at delaying the inevitable.
He had already found a stream, collected shells, and used them as jars for the water to distract himself.
Hence why he was multiple stories up in a tree.
Well, there was fruit up here. That was part of the reason. Diverse trees sprouted up to the sky, the thickest wider than Blue herself and the thinnest the width of his pupil. It had felt like it was made of stone, but the fruit growing high, high above convinced him it was not. He had picked this tree mainly for it’s trunk. It was solid and thick, but he could securely wrap his arms and legs around it. Spikes adorned the bottom of the fruit, an armor for the flesh, but not the top. There weren’t many branches, so he’d be relying heavily on the trunk and the strength climbing had given his core over the years.
“Oof” Lance’s hand had scrambled to hold on to the bark of the trunk so he didn’t fall off the branch. It had been just high enough for him to have to launch himself at it. Huffing air through his nose tiredly, Lance worked himself into a standing position. Already, the greens of the leaves where shifting with the light. He grinned. There was the satisfaction, the freedom, the breathlessness he had been waiting for.
Now, who-knows-how-many miles up in a tree, he was kinda breathless. Groaning, he reached back further. His legs flexed reflexively when his back muscles shifted to stretch lower. Tighter than a New York subway system, Lance held on to the tree trunk with his legs and arched his back to hang upside down. Every part of him was tense with concentration, the open air under him making the drop apparent. His hair swayed minutely with the movement. Teasingly, the fruit hung just out of his reach, the smooth part clouded with pastel orange. He pushed a little harder towards his goal and nudged the fruit.
Plucking it decisively, he swept himself up into a sitting position, stomach aching with the sudden sit up. The air up here was cool and misty, and he breathed it in to make up for the burn. Shades of green spilled over the trees, splotches of purple and orange breaking it up without taking aesthetic. Up here in the treetops, alone, Lance doesn’t have to think about wings or the ocean that wants to spit him out. Climbing was cold, hard work. It was dull and adventurous, the sensations calm and dim, but the heights and movement invigorating. Stretching from place to place, a deadly drop below him, clinging to a bigger mass were all things that made Lance feel alive. The ocean may have been motherly, a supportive hand guiding him down the path, but climbing was the ravine he had to overcome in the middle of the path.
Carefully, he scrapes off the spikes, ignoring the weird crackling sound coming from the fruit. A light blue skin was left behind. Holding the stem with his teeth, Lance shrugs off his jacket and ties it into a basket on a tiny limb above him. He puts the fruit securely inside. Warm, bright light hums under his tan bare skin. He’ll have to be careful to not scratch himself up too much without his jacket as protection. Leaning back, he sighs. The next piece of fruit isn’t too far away, but the sparse amount of thick branches he can stand on make it a balancing act. An act that requires endurance and focus.
His favorite kind of act.
Lance doesn’t like the disappearing act he has to play.
Dragging a stick with giant leaves tied to the ends, he sweeps it side to side behind him. The steady trail of footprints vanish back into smooth sand with each swipe. Tides dance back and forth, swishing up and away, exceling the roar of the ocean across the water to the shore. The lonely, near empty shore.
But it’s an act he has to play. Vanishing into thin air without the lift of a feather. Ironic, but safe. The act of love (if he could have called it that in the first place) pouring into hate. The counteract of lifting a shield. He doesn’t have wings, doesn’t have a spotlight on stage. He’s just running around in the darkness, bumping into the other actors and props, the audience watching in sick monotone from his shadows. It’s best to just take him out all together. It wasn’t like he was good for much anyway.
Every hide and hair of him needs to be hidden, out of sight, out of danger. Like the tides washing up against the sand, taking away the evidence of everything ever there. Hunk’s brotherly smiles wouldn’t exist for him anymore. Shiro’s nudges and parental lectures wouldn’t make him groan dramatically. Allura’s commands in battle wouldn’t fill his helmet. He’d miss Pidge being a gremlin but simultaneously sweet girl who let him borrow her headphones. Coran wouldn’t tell him anymore stories. He’d never know Matt or Samuel Holt. He doesn’t even want to think about the tight bud of affection for Keith. That bomb was being shoved underwater for today. For forever, hopefully. Washing it all away. Like the sand and waves.
But he’s alone.
Even though they know he’s somewhere here, they don’t know where. That’s something to Lance at least.
But he’s alone. So he does what he always does when he’s alone.
Says fuck everything and starts to play.
This time, he’s dancing. Spinning, forgetting, ignoring, feeling, singing, whooping. He’s switching lyrics and rhythms, drawing them out in the sand, little bits and pieces of his heart.
-the devil in me-
He sways so he can savor the feeling, so he can write it out clearly.
-at my worst-
He steps on it and doesn’t care.
He trips. Laughs.
-I feel when you’re next to me-
By the time he’s done, his stomach is grumbling for the crisp fruit in his cove, the damp sand is littered with words and footprints and designs, and grimy wet sand cakes his jeans and skin.
He should swipe it all away. Make it disappear.
The tides will come racing up in the night and sweep it all away. Sweep it all away like him. He’ll come back tomorrow, see if it’s gone and possibly do it again.
When he dives in the ocean, his stomach is growling, his eyes and hands switch over, he’s covered in silt, and his heart finally isn’t such a hallow canal.
The silence. The cold. The worry. The humming of healing pods. The hurt.
Keith hates it.
The (un)whole team had been holed up in the living room nest for the two nights and two days Lance had been gone. Two nights and two days since they had found out he was wingless. Two nights and two days since his mind had started to question Lance’s trust in him. Two nights and two days since the hurt had started to gnaw at him. Two nights and two days since Keith had lost the light of his life.
Okay, maybe that’s dramatic, but without the human light bulb known as Lance, the castle was dim and subdued. Guilt and remorse weren’t though. They burned hot and bright.
None of them had ever even met a wingless before. They were rare to begin with, then the horrible treatment they called life…
Keith was suprised Lance was alive.
And there was another reason.
He was suprised.
He had missed every sign, every note, every craving, every regret, every fear, in Lance.
All of it.
The thought hadn’t crossed his mind, hadn’t even been a possibility, that Lance simply didn’t have wings. That he hid. That he didn’t have wings to wash, or feathers to fly.
That no matter what he wanted, he couldn’t approach them, not with the way he must of thought they’d treat him. Must have been conditioned to think.
Months of kind words and nice touches do not make up for life time without them.
And Keith can get it, he really can, having hoped around foster homes and orphanages and schools. He’s felt like he couldn’t approach people. When Voltron first started, he had no idea who to talk to outside of Shiro, and that was another bag of tangled yarn. But he was always a differently shaped puzzle piece because he was an orphan, because he didn’t understand, because he felt uncomfortable.
But those people didn’t carry him to healing pods or fight in a giant-man-lion robot together. Didn’t practice together, didn’t train together, didn’t live and laugh and lose little pieces of themselves to this war together. He can get the feeling and he can fathom reasons why, but he can’t apply them.
Not to Voltron. Much less himself.
It hurts, little knives wedged in his chest, poking a little further every time Keith thinks about all the times Lance would shy away and cover it up loudly. Lance was always there for them. Ready to take a bullet or a knife for anyone. But he was the same person who’d looked at Keith with nothing more than fear in his eyes after bursting out of the waves onto gritty sand, back bare.
The person who’d ran away from him the moment his secret got out. The secret Keith didn’t think of. Little fights and playful shoves. Loudly beating hearts. Late night talks and finding each other passed out on the couch. Screaming down the halls, running after the other. Things Lance thought would disappear when his back appeared. But why would they?
Keith thought they were trustworthy of something like this.
They protect each other’s lives daily. What’s a pair of wings got to do with it?
At the same time, he knows. Knows that he doesn’t know enough, that the hurt laced in his mind was warping his rationality. Keith can understand a lot of things, even with his judgement out of whack.
But being wingless?
He can’t. Lance couldn’t bring himself to tell them, hid it so hard and isolated parts of himself from them, from everyone. Keith wished he hadn’t, not from him.
He’s always had the sky. He’s not wingless.
Lance had people there physically, people who’d touch him and people who’d hurt him, but they weren’t there for him. Just silhouettes in his life.
Days ago, he had wanted Lance to fill the space in the nest.
This morning, he wanted to fill the space in Lance’s heart like the half-gone footprints and words written in the sand.
Lance splashed into the ocean.
The sky was a stirred up grey, a color out of a witch’s pot, rain threatening to fall sometime in the nearby future. Bobbing on his back, Lance tilts back to look up at the sky, the cool wind chaffing him dry. Clouds of sand trail from where his toes almost reach the ground, mirroring the sky above. He’s lazily pivoting off the ground, almost sitting in the water, staring at the clouds above him. Clouds were perfect to look at and space out while doing it and not feel completely alone.
Most days were hot on his little island, so he wore his jacket wrapped around his waist while he swam. Then, when he’d crawl out, he could put it on and stay cool easier. The sleeves billowed up against his stomach now.
Closing his eyes, he lets he second pair blink into place, his ear covering slipping over his ears, and the webbing between his fingers growing. Sharp little pricks poke his mouth before his jaw adjusts to his new teeth. Breathing out, he opens his eyes and twists to kick off the sandy coast.
He’s only drifted a little when a giant disturbance echoes through the water.
There’s nothing alive on this planet that big. There’s nothing alive-
Against his better judgement, he shots off to the source, water wicking through his hair. It doesn’t get in his eyes for the miles he swims in seconds or when he notices a big, dark shadow above him on the surface. A human shaped shadow.
“Dumbass! The hell!” Lance exclaims, rising above the surface, arms cradling Keith up away from the water. Blue waves rock and bob them, and Keith’s wings are stretched high above them. One wrong move and they’d be wet. Wet and heavy, would drag him down to the see floor, oxygen betraying him and floating to the surface. “I knew you’d come.” Keith shrugs, seemingly not panicking about the sea water he’s in. Panic is pushing through Lance’s veins, but deep breathes and focus let him grip it by the handle. The team most likely hates him, so why would Keith know he would come? Why should he have come? Would they have baited him out with Keith to beat him lifeless? Did they?
Something soft and bubbly closes around his wrist.
An inflatable he hadn’t noticed in his angry concern was wrapped around Keith’s waist. Connected to it was a smaller one on his wrist.
“Lance, you need to come with us-”
They hated him enough to try to capture him.
Now that he was searching he could see the team on the grainy, gritty shore not too far away, hidden in the shadows of trees.
“Fuck this.” He says, pauses to let his eyeteeth push out, and swoops his head to the plastic.
Tearing into the plastic, it pops with little resistance.
He drops Keith, sinking back down into the current, the cold flourishing in his senses. Kicking back, he retreats a few feet, letting the ocean bloom around his eyes. The blue here is prettier, but the intentions are not.
Keith starts to struggle above him, the shadow distorted . Something’s wrong -
The tube was connected.
Rushing back up, Lance pushes Keith out of the water, legs spinning for extra strength. Soaked feathers drape against his arms and get in his mouth. The taste of foreign salt and pillow fluff fills his mouth. Fear eats Keith’s face, terrified frown sharp against his expressive eyes. The grip on Lance’s arms leaves his knuckles white. His legs trail in the water beneath him and Lance tries not to groan with how heavy he is.
Then, hands are reaching down and pulling Keith up, supporting him, flying away with him. Shiro and Hunk are looping hands under his arms, Pidge’s arms are snaked around his side, Matt’s on his other, Allura and Coran are grabbing his waist, right above Lance’s arms. Grunts and groans echo from the team as they struggle to fly upwards, away from the death rippling below. Stupidly, Keith refuses to reach up and let go of Lance.
Plucking him right out of the sea.
“Hey! Let me go!” He shouts, wriggling against Keith, then rocking his arms. “Never!” Keith yells back, clenching his fists so hard Lance can feel his bones being squeezed. Erratic breaths puff past his lips, his knees clicking in and out of place. He tries harder to shake out of the hold, adrenaline lacing his veins. Hunk’s free hand shoots out and clasped his shoulder, trapping him further. Ear-splitting screams leave his mouth, wordless.
He gasps, other hands grabbing his body, forcing him still. Without his struggling, the emergency flight that ends up as a crash landing into wet sand goes as a smooth blur. A mess of limbs is what they’re reduced to. Keith lets his forearms go at some point. Lance tries to roll away from the pile of ex-friends.
“OOOOOOHHHHH!” Howling screeches attack his ears, his ear covering pulling back in surprise as Keith descends upon him. “AH!” Rough hands brawl against Lance. Anger radiates off them. Two knees are digging into his sides. Sweat streaks their faces. Lance tries to punch Keith, but he catches the swing. With a fast spin of colors, he’s flipped on his back. Coarse sand sticks to his face. He tries to buck backwards. With a grunt, Keith straddles his back, one hand pulling his wrists back and the other pushing his head down.
The small of his back is prominently empty.
Lance squints his eyes together, trying to keep the tears in and the sand out.
An animalistic scream runs his throat raw.
“Let me go!” It’s almost lost in the guttural letters.
“Don’t kill me, leave me alone-”
His arms spring forward with a thud. “Lance?” is barely more than a whisper.
“I’m not going to kill you.”
His breathing starts to slow.
The hands pull back.
Wet hair drips on the small of his back.
Where his wings would be.
Slowly, more wet hair starts to slather his back with salty sea brine. Pidge huddles close under his arm, Matt shadowing over her. Hunk’s short hair and headband take up the space between Keith and Pidge, his legs resting on Lance’s. Coran forces himself between Shiro and Keith, and Allura snorts before curling up and taking his arm.
He’s not sure how long they lay there, silently breathing, covered in sand.
“So, I’m guessing you don’t think I’m the filthiest scum of the Earth?”
“We couldn’t if we tried.” Hunk admonishes, rubbing circles into his skin. “You’ve been a vital part of the team since day one. Don’t you ever forget it.”
“We need our sharpshooter. It doesn’t matter that you don’t have wings.” Shiro adds in. “We’re family, Lance. Your body doesn’t exclude you.”
“Even though it has some freakishly cool features.” Pidge reaches up his arm to play with the blue webbing between his fingers.
“Two sets of eyelids, an ear flap, and retractable, sharp teeth. My knees click in and out, so they aren’t always a joint. Webbed fingers.” He agrees.
“Besides” Keith snuggles into his back “ I have no idea how someone could hate you for your back. It’s smooth, and really warm.” He sighs out tiredly.
Lance doesn’t know how to reply to that.
“Lance, the team quite literally almost fell apart without you. “ Allura says. Lance turns his head to meet her eyes.
“We need you back at the castle, Lance.” Coran smiles.
They want him.
And he’s always wanted them.
“Okay.” he breathes.
Two beats of silence are filled with smiling from his space family.
“Alright, my back’s starting to ache.” Pidge complains, pushing Matt back to stretch out her wings. The cuddle pile disengages with that, everyone taking their time to pull away. All except Keith.
“Keith?” Lance asks, sitting up. His hips are still trapped, so he mimics a seal. Keith had sat up, but he’s still on top of him. The rest of the team was heading back, leaving him helpless. Lance swore Shiro had a little grin on his face as he walked away.
“Don’t you ever run away again.” It’s dark and demanding. A trace of past distress leaks into it. “ I thought you trusted us. Even though you never showed up for group preening or cuddling or flying, I thought you felt supported by us, enough to tell us if something was wrong or you wanted comfort. At least me.” Sadness dulled through the last words.
“Oh, Keith-” He frantically swivels his head to get a better look at Keith. “Done. And I do trust you. If it came down between you or Shiro fighting for my life I’d pick you. I’d pick you for everything. Being wingless and alive though, it’s not safe or simple. I was holed up in my family’s attic for years. The Garrison was my first real social experience. I didn’t know how anyone - you’d react. I was scared.”
“You don’t have to be scared of me.”
“You’d pick me for everything?”
“Yeah. Go ahead, ask.” A warm flower of affection blooms under his heart for this boy. The fear nulling it with brackish water had drained away and it was just as persistent as it had always been.
“Brother?” Keith blurts out.
“Not sure how that’d work, but sure.”
“The person who yanked you out of a cave?”
“I’d think I be worried if it was someone else.”
”Hunk snores like crazy, please.”
Lance tilts back to slot their mouths together.