AN: Mmm, fresh new fandom smell. Once again, I am writing a fic I want to read, because it does not exist. May contain general spoilers for Season 1, but nothing really specific. I apologize for the silly title.
"Come on, Lance. Stay with me, buddy."
Lance groaned. The jungle around them was thick and stinking. Maybe it was more swamp than jungle, come to think of it. It smelled like a hot garbage dump, and something about it tugged at memories that Shiro didn't want to pursue. He hefted Lance up on his shoulder, Lance's arm limp around his neck, and tried to guide him farther down what he was desperately hoping was a path.
Lance's head bobbed uncomfortably against Shiro's shoulder. He kept trying to pull his head up and blink blearily at their surroundings, but then his head would sink again, too heavy for his failing strength. His knees were bending beneath him, and though he was trying to support a little bit of his weight and move his feet when Shiro told him to, he was mostly failing.
Shiro grit his teeth and kept going. "Come on, buddy," he murmured. "I know it's rough. We can make it."
It sucked that this had happened again. Why did Lance always catch the brunt of whatever fresh disaster they'd landed in? By all rights it should be Keith, always running ahead of the others, or Hunk, who instinctively threw himself into harm's way, depending on his bulk and toughness (as well as that of his lion) to keep himself and his comrades safe. Or even Shiro, really. He was the leader. He should be the one in the forefront catching the bullets when they came.
It was their luck that Lance tended to be just observant enough to see trouble coming before most of the others did, just heroic enough to jump into the way without thinking, and just clumsy enough to get himself hurt more often than not.
Granted, this time it wasn't Lance's fault. On their last mission, the Galra had brought out some crazy attack that split Voltron and scattered the lions. In the ensuing firefight, the blue lion was damaged, then got caught in the nearby planet's gravitational pull and started spiraling downward while the others could only watch in horror, unable to reach him in time with half of a Galra fleet in the way. Shiro had smashed his way through and gone after him, but the others had been forced to warp away before the incoming Galra battleships captured the Castle of Lions.
"We'll lead them on a merry chase about the moon and be back for you in two ticks' time!" Coran had cried over the comms just before Shiro plunged down to the planet, following the blue lion as it spun downward, sparking dead weight plummeting from the sky. "Hide out and wait! If you have to abandon the lions, do it! They can activate their particle barriers to protect themselves. Just stay alive, stay hopeful, and wait for us!"
"Good advice, Coran," Shiro muttered now. "Good, good advice. A little harder to follow than I thought it would be, but okay. Hide out and wait. Excellent plan."
At first Shiro thought it was a crazy idea to abandon the lions. Even as he was chasing the blue lion and the Galra were chasing him, he was aware that he and Lance were going to have to go on the defensive and wait it out for rescue. But surely they could just hunker in the lions and fight off any attack that came. The lions had waited for ten thousand years, after all, before their paladins came and claimed them. Surely they could wait for a few more hours, or days, or whatever Coran really meant when he said "two ticks."
But when the blue lion crashed down in what amounted to a lake almost completely shrouded with algae in the middle of this swampy, sweltering jungle, Shiro had realized the problem. Lance wasn't responding on the comms. That meant Shiro had to go get him. Now. If the blue lion sank into the lake while Lance was unconscious and the lion was damaged...
Shiro couldn't bear to imagine the possibilities. His brain lit up with an image of Lance limp in his pilot chair, face bloody, eyes closed, while water poured in from a breach and panels sparked and alarms blared. Shiro's heart wanted to tear out of his chest. He wasn't really...thinking...all that clearly when he jammed his way out of the black lion, yelled for his lion to "GUARD!" at the top of his lungs, and dove into the lake.
He got him out. The blue lion seemed to have just enough power to open a hatch to let him in, a quick burst of bubbles as the last air bled out, and Shiro got in there. He found Lance almost exactly like he'd imagined. The blast that had shaken the lion and knocked Lance unconscious had also damaged his helmet, and the facemask hadn't closed to protect him from the environment. Shiro had no idea how much water he'd already breathed in, and he had to get him out, had to get him out now.
By the time they broke surface, Shiro gasping with his heart racing and Lance still and silent in his white-knuckled grip, the Galra had already reached the crash site. Robots patrolled the shores, steadily drawing nearer. Shiro wrapped his arm around Lance's chest and swam as stealthily as he could to a stand of trees as far from the patrols as he could get.
Then there had been those desperate few moments kneeling over Lance in a pile of bracken, pushing water out of his lungs, muttering, "Come on, come on, come on, don't do this, don't you do this to me..." After what felt like far too long, dangerously long, Lance suddenly half-coughed, half-yelled and flopped over on his side like a gutted fish as water gushed from his mouth in dark, algae-ridden spurts. His hands rose to clutch his chest, and he jackknifed in the bracken, fighting down a scream of pain that died for lack of air.
Just at that moment, Shiro had never heard anything quite as good as Lance's confused and agonized fight for breath. Because he was alive and he was breathing, and for a little bit there that was more than Shiro had dared to hope for. Water streamed down Lance's face, from his hair, from his eyes, and Shiro pulled him into a sitting position and clutched him to his chest because too close. That was too close.
"Wha...what..." Lance sputtered in Shiro's ear and sagged against him, too weak to sit upright. "Ow ow ow, what happened, this hurts..."
"No big deal, you just swallowed half a lake, that's all," Shiro said, half hysterical, his voice high and cheerful. "Everything's good now, it's coming up. I bet you'll never whine about food goo again after all this slimy water."
"What water?" Lance complained. "What lake? I thought we were in space."
Shiro laughed and clutched him a little tighter, because of course. Of course that was what Lance didn't like about this situation. The fact that they weren't in space anymore.
"Ugh, no, my chest hurts." Lance managed to raise a hand high enough to press against his side, then whimpered in pain as soon as he succeeded. "I know I hit my head, I remember that much, but did I break a rib, too?"
"Ah, sorry." Shiro pulled back, though he had to hold on to Lance's upper arms to keep him up. "I think that's my fault."
Lance squinted at him through the nasty water still obscuring his vision. "Why?" He seemed to gain a little more awareness, then, and he looked around and half-raised the arm not pressing his side to look at the water still dripping off his armor. A spark of something like his usual self lit in his eye, and he raised his head and tried to peer through the jungle back toward the lake. Shiro knew without looking that a glimpse of water was just barely visible through the trees. He hadn't dared to get very far from the lake before he started doing compressions. Couldn't risk the time when he didn't even know how long Lance hadn't been breathing.
Lance finally swiveled his head back to look at Shiro, his eyes wide. "We crash-landed on that planet, didn't we? And I fell in a lake."
Shiro nodded. Even a concussed, wrung-out Lance was quite a bit sharper than most people gave him credit for. "Correct on both counts."
Lance winced and looked down at his side, then back to Shiro. "Did you have to give me CPR?"
Shiro grimaced in sympathy. "Yeah. Sorry, buddy. I know it doesn't feel good, and you already got knocked around in the battle."
Lance shook his head in wonder and looked back to the lake. The side of his mouth twisted up in a wry grin. "Man, you really are my hero. Thanks, Shiro."
Shiro caught his breath, and for a moment his thoughts almost cut off. He felt like he'd heard those words before, but not like this. Not so heartfelt and sincere. Despite the heat and the humidity of the jungle-swamp, he suddenly felt cold stone at his back, beneath him, the arid and echoing emptiness of a hidden cell buried in the ground, beneath an arena...
Then Lance was shifting, not quite shaking off Shiro's grip on his arms, but struggling to get up despite it. He almost managed his feet, then fell back to one knee with a groan. His arm wrapped around his injured side, and his head sagged. He panted and raised his head to look at Shiro, cloudy fear beginning to overcome the bright awareness. "Shiro... We gotta go. I hear 'em, the robots, getting closer..."
Shiro snapped to, staring away. He heard it too. "Yeah, you're right. We gotta go." He climbed out of the bracken and pulled Lance's arm over his shoulder. "Can you walk?"
"Yeah, man, I can do anything." Lance released a breathless little chuckle. It didn't fool either of them, but Shiro smiled in gratitude, even so.
"Good to know. Let's find a place to hide out for a while."
They set off into the jungle. Shiro kept the pace as high as he dared, always with an eye over his shoulder for the patrols. If the robots had any sort of intelligence programming, the two of them would not be hard to track—one injured and stumbling, the other distracted, neither with any woodcraft to speak of. But if the patrols were just going to go in preset patterns, they might have a chance. Shiro would put good odds on the latter, but he was never a betting man.
Lance kept up as well as he could, but before long he was panting, his head hanging down and his arm gripping Shiro with all his strength. Shiro could hear the raggedness in his breath, and he knew it wasn't good. Even just moving with cracked or broken ribs had to be agony, never mind the half-run, half-stumble they were going at. Not to mention the aching lungs from the water he'd taken in, plus an earlier concussion and general battering on top of it.
To put it short, Lance was in a bad way. Not as bad as when that explosion had rocked the Castle of Lions and almost robbed them of...well...everything, but pretty close. Too close for comfort. Shiro needed to find a safe place where they could rest ASAP.
The thick air of the jungle seemed to cling to Shiro's face, and sweat pasted his hair to his head, but not long into the run he realized that the rest of the body wasn't feeling too bad. Almost inaudible whirring sounds rising from his armor told him why—the suit was regulating his body temperature. It was just like when they did EVA in space. The pilot armor was not intended for extended exposure to vacuum, but it could handle it for short periods. Of course it would protect him from swampy heat as well as the cold of space.
Shiro turned to Lance to share this revelation with him, but instantly saw that it wasn't working the same way for him. Lance's armor had been damaged in the battle, and the small indicator lights weren't shining. Shiro was carrying both of their helmets strapped to his belt, having removed Lance's helmet in a frenzy right before he started CPR, and he could feel them bumping against his hip. Something was broken inside Lance's helmet—Shiro could hear it rattling around. No doubt the rest of the armor was the same.
If only they could trade. Shiro would gladly take the discomfort of traveling in the jungle in broken armor if he could ease the way for Lance even the slightest bit. But the suits (and the bayards, and their lions) were particular. Once they had bonded to a pilot, they wouldn't work for anyone else. A breathless feeling of helplessness began to build up in Shiro's chest at the realization. There really was very little he could do.
If only Hunk was with them, or Pidge. Both of them had become quite well-versed in Altean technology and even enjoyed tinkering with the lions, though the lions had a measure of self-repairing ability. (Thankfully, or there was no way the seven of them could have managed without the endless ranks of mechanics and support staff Shiro remembered maintaining the aircraft back on Earth.) Hunk or Pidge might have been able to take a shot at repairing Lance's armor, but Shiro didn't stand a chance. Oh, he knew very basic ship maintenance from back in his academy days, but working with advanced alien technology... Not a chance.
Lance groaned, his head bobbing up and down as he struggled to maintain his posture, and Shiro focused on him again. "Come on, buddy," he said, putting as much strength and encouragement into his voice as he could. "You can do it."
"Mm, yea'sure, fearless leader," Lance slurred. "Lead on. Where're we goin', anyway?"
"I don't know." Shiro looked forward at the track through the jungle he had chosen to follow. He was hoping it was a path of some sort, because a path meant civilization. If there was civilization on this planet, they might be able to find shelter. Even ruins would be fine. Just something, somewhere, just a modicum of safety where he could tuck Lance under a rock or something and just let him...be safe. Please. Let there be somewhere safe. "We have to keep going, that's all."
"Yeah, do we, though?" Lance pulled up short all of sudden, tugging weakly at Shiro's arm when he would have kept moving. He stared back behind them down the path, and though his eyes were cloudy and unfocused, there was a sharpness there that had been missing for a while.
Shiro turned back to him, a frown tugging down on his mouth. "What do you mean? We have to go. We have to get somewhere safe. The Galra are still searching for us."
"I dunno, man. I haven't heard anything behind us for a long time." Lance lifted a hand to shade his eyes and squinted into the jungle. "You hear that? It's just...uh...alien animals."
Shiro paused, listening. His head tilted to the side as he concentrated on taking it in. He heard something that could have been bird cries, the rustling of smaller creatures around them in the overgrowth. But Lance was right. He couldn't hear the Galra patrols. The tramp of their boots, the whine of their weapons, the splitting of the air as their ships flew overhead. All was heat and nature, nothing of metallic war.
He had been fleeing as if the Galra were on his heels the entire time, Shiro realized. It took him back to another time he had escaped. The first time? He didn't know. Maybe he had made other escape attempts in the year he'd been captive, but he couldn't remember. But the time he succeeded... Yes, he had fled like this, constantly looking back over his shoulder, listening for the patrols, desperate and terrified that he would be caught and dragged back. Back to the druids, back to the experiments, back to the pain, back to the arena where he fought and killed for the entertainment of his enemies, the enemies of his people, his race, his civilization...
"Shiro?" Lance's arm tightened around his neck, pulling him back to the present. Lance was panting again, hot breath bathing Shiro's cheek as he leaned in against him. His face, already pale from his own ordeal, was drawn with concern for Shiro, too. "Hey, man, you okay?"
"I...yeah." Shiro straightened and tightened his arm around Lance in return. "I'm fine. Sorry. I was just...thinking."
Lance stared at him without blinking. "About the patrols?"
If he only knew. "Yeah." Shiro stared back the way they had come, his breath slowly coming under control. "I think you're right. I think maybe we lost them."
Lance nodded as if he had known all along. "Yeah. Well, they have been after the lions this whole time, not us. They're probably guarding the crash site and not bothering to come after us."
"Yeah." Shiro nodded once, then again, stronger. "Yeah, you're probably right." He squeezed Lance's shoulders. "The lions will be okay. Coran said so. They'll activate their particle barriers and hold out until we can come back for them."
"Of course I'm right." Lance nodded, not as cockily as he probably meant to, but that was because he had almost no strength left now. He was leaning against Shiro so heavily that it was a wonder he was still upright all. He offered Shiro a shaky smile as his head began to sink down to his chest again. "So you think maybe...we could sit down now?"
"Oh. Oh! Yeah. Yeah, sure, buddy. Let's do that."
Lance sagged even further, a breathless sigh of relief whistling out of him. Shiro hefted him up on his shoulder and looked around again, this time with much more purpose. There...over there. A gigantic tree had fallen, opening a hole in the jungle canopy above. They could take shelter next to the trunk, maybe find some comfy leaves to make a nest, clear some ground to make a fire if they needed to.
"Right over there, Lance, okay? Maybe fifty yards over there." Shiro pointed. "Can you walk a little farther?"
All of Lance's bravado had vanished now, and oh, he had kept it up for a long time. "I'll try." His voice was low and pained, not a smidgen of cockiness left. "I'm not...I'm not doing so good, Shiro..."
"I know. I know. I've got you." Once again, Shiro hefted him higher. He was taking probably seventy-five percent of Lance's weight now. Lance moved his feet, but Shiro all but carried him the last little distance.
He didn't mind.