LOOK WHAT I ACTUALLY SAT MY BUTT DOWN AND FINISHED!

I was supposed to be writing a paper in Spanish...and studying for an English test...*laughs nervously*

BUT WHO'S GONNA CARE ABOUT THAT, AMIRIGHT?! (the professor, my parents, my GPA...)

ANYWAY you're welcome.

This piece was betaed by my brilliant brother, who is my best friend, critic, and cheerleader all rolled into one huggable package. He's amazing, guys, and he is the only reason I ever published a single word. Really, he's the best.

WARNINGS: The usual emotional torment BUT THERE IS A MENTION OF SELF-HARM. It is not graphic, but it is strongly hinted at. So be careful with that.

DISCLAIMER: I theoretically remembered to put one on the first chapter, but just in case I didn't, here ya go. I do not own Voltron. Not even a little bit. *cries*

Enjoy!


Shiro was still in his chair when the pod beeped and started to open.

He swallowed hard, rising to his feet and moving quickly over as the front dissolved into pixels. The slender figure of the Blue Paladin pitched out of the pod, falling towards the floor and Shiro quickly caught him, an arm around the thin waist and the other cradling his head against his shoulder.

"Ugh, mi cabeza," Lance groaned, voice muffled in Shiro's shirt. "Did you get the coordinates of the planet that hit me?"

Shiro choked out a laugh, his eyes somehow finding more tears after the wretched revelation that had followed their mission. He held Lance tighter, suddenly finding it very, very hard to let go.

"Shiro?" Lance said, voice hoarse but rapidly growing more coherent. "You okay?"

Shiro snorted. "I just found out that one of the most important people in my life has been hiding a devastating level of insecurity for as long as I've known him. Probably longer. And that he genuinely believes himself to be worth less than we are. And that he thinks he doesn't belong with us. He's got no idea how utterly vital and irreplaceable he is. And I don't know how to fix it."

Lance went stiff, his hands twisting into claws in the fabric of Shiro's vest.

"What are—" his voice died. He cleared his throat and tried again. "What are the odds of you dismissing that as concussion-induced rambling? I mean, I did hit my noggin pretty hard. And it really isn't all that important, we've got so much other stuff to worry about. I mean, we're the defenders of the freaking universe! And we had to rescue Slav and we've got a crapton more planets to liberate and we still have to coordinate our attack on Zarkon's flagship with the Blade and—"

"Zero," Shiro cut him off gently.

"Huh?"

"The odds of me forgetting this or overlooking it or dismissing it as concussion-induced rambling are absolutely zero," Shiro said. He pushed Lance away enough to meet his gaze.

Lance kept his eyes pinned to the floor, face burning. "I'm so sorry, Shiro," he whispered.

Shiro blinked, nonplussed. "What for?"

"For—" Lance's fists clenched. "For causing more problems. You've got enough on your shoulders already, you shouldn't have to deal with me on top of everything else. I'm so sorry, Shir—"

"Oh, no," Shiro snapped. "Nope. Not doing that." He grabbed the boy's shoulders, lightly shaking him. "Look at me. Right now."

That hesitant blue gaze slowly rose to meet his, and he poured all of his conviction into his next words. "You. Are. Not. A. Problem. You are not a burden. You are not something I "have to deal with." Your struggles are genuine and valid and Lance, I am so sorry you've been struggling with this all alone." His heart cracked a little more at the look of total disbelief on Lance's face, the sheen of tears in his eyes. He dragged him back in, one hand on the back of his head, and felt the kid latch on desperately.

"So sorry," he breathed, blinking tears out of his own eyes.

"'s not your fault," Lance choked out, hiding his face in his leader's shoulder. "It's me, my head, I'm just…ran out of meds, and I just…" he shrugged. "I'm just a little sad, Shiro, it doesn't matter. That's all."

Shiro's heart skipped a beat.

"Lance," he said, very proud of himself for how steady his voice came out. "Do you have depression?"

There was a very telling silence from the child tucked in his arms.

"Oh, Lance," Shiro gasped, tears flooding his eyes. "Why didn't you say anything?!"

Lance shifted to clamp one hand over his mouth, shoulders beginning to shake with sobs. Shiro held him tighter, rocking him back and forth slightly.

The doors of the medbay swishing open caught his attention, and he looked up to see Keith coming through with a smile that quickly shattered at the look on Shiro's face.

"Shiro?" he quickly crossed the floor, concern growing in his eyes as he spotted Lance. "Quiznak, Lance?! Are you okay?!"

Lance shoved himself away from Shiro, long fingers swiping his tears away lightning quick. "All peachy, Mullet!" he chirped, bright smile in place. "Just…I dunno, a little bit more of a close call than usual. But I'm all good here! Lancey-Lance is ready to razzle dazzle!"

Shiro was struck speechless. How many times had he seen that smile, heard that obnoxiously bright tone of voice? How many times had he stared into a mask that was as fake as his right arm and not noticed at all? How long had they been falling for this perfect lie that hid such a broken, broken heart underneath?

"No, you're not," he said, finally regaining his grip on words.

Lance went white, looking at him with barely disguised terror screaming in his eyes, but his smile never faltered. Keith's brow furrowed, eyes going back and forth like he was following a tennis match.

"Well, obviously," Lance said, voice still light and cheery. "My head feels like it's about to explode and I'm freezing and I could totally sleep for a week, but—"

"Stop," Shiro half-begged. "Lance, stop."

The boy turned to face him, swallowing hard and the corners of his smile fraying. "I can't," he whispered. "I-I can't, Shiro, you don't want me to do that. Don't ask me to do that. Please don't ask me to do that."

"Lance, you can't live like this," Shiro said, the fingers of his flesh hand raking through his hair. "How—how have you been dealing with this for so long all by yourself?"

"Dealing with what?" Keith broke in, arms crossed and frowning, the worry in his eyes ramping up.

"I'm fine, Shiro," Lance said, ignoring Keith completely. "I'm fine."

His hands were shaking.

Shiro straightened. He stepped forward and gripped Lance's shoulders again. "No, you're not," he said again, but this time he said it gently. "And that's okay, Lance. It is okay to need help, to struggle. What is not okay is to sentence yourself to an existence of pain and loneliness because you don't want to bother anyone else. Understand?"

"It'll just cause more problems!" Lance argued. "It'll put more stress on the others and that's not something we need right now! I'm fine! I am!"

"Who are you trying to convince, Lance?" Keith broke in suddenly, his voice uncharacteristically soft.

Lance froze. "What?" he whispered.

"Who are you trying to convince?" Keith uncrossed his arms and stepped forwards. "Because from where I'm standing, it doesn't even look like you believe what you're saying. To me, it looks like you're trying to convince yourself."

"Then get a different viewpoint," Lance snapped back, but his face was pale, clearly rattled by Keith's words. "I personally think it's a miracle that you can see at all through that ridiculous mullet."

Keith didn't rise to the bait, just inhaled sharply, his eyes widening in realization. "You've been doing that on purpose," he breathed out.

Lance looked taken aback. "What?"

"Every time we start to really get somewhere, really have a conversation," Keith said. "You do something like that. You provoke me, we get sidetracked into some sort of contest or something, but you've been doing this on purpose, haven't you?"

"When you offer to help Coran with the cleaning," Shiro continued, and Lance whipped back to face him. "When you flirt with Allura until she turns away. When you tease Pidge until she explodes. When you ask Hunk a cooking or mechanical question. And with me, when you smile and crack bad puns and make inappropriate jokes until I give up."

Lance took a step back, staring at them with the look of a man rapidly losing control. "I—" he started. "I—I don't—"

"Are we wrong?" Keith moved a little closer.

Lance swallowed hard, too-bright blue eyes going to the floor. "It doesn't matter."

That was it.

Shiro set his jaw. "Keith, take Lance to his room and let him change into something more comfortable. Then bring him to the lounge. Mandatory team meeting, attendance absolutely required. No excuses. Fifteen minutes."

"What?!" Lance squawked. "Wait, that's not—no, don't—what are you—"

"Yes, sir," Keith said over Lance's flailing. "Come on." He grabbed one of the Blue Paladin's arms and dragged him out of the medbay, still protesting.

Shiro took a deep, shaky breath.

This was not going to be fun.


Fifteen minutes later found them all in the Paladin lounge. Pidge and Hunk were still bickering over a schematic on a tablet and Allura was immersed in her own, scrolling through distress beacons and plotting a course to their next mission.

Coran was sitting beside her, but his tablet was loose in his hand. His deep blue eyes were on Lance, sitting all-but hidden behind Keith, determinedly not looking at anyone in the room and Shiro had to wonder if Coran was as blissfully ignorant as he'd first assumed.

Keith himself had his arms crossed, jaw set, and body slightly angled in front of Lance's as though to protect him.

Shiro swallowed hard and slowly exhaled. "Alright," he said, drawing the attention of the others in the room. "I know this was a little sudden, but something has come to my attention that needs to be attended to now."

Pidge blinked, her glasses sliding down her nose. "Um, okay? What's the problem?"

Shiro winced in unison with Lance. "It's not a problem," the Black Paladin stressed. "It's a grievous error that needs to be amended."

Hunk frowned, deep brown eyes focusing on Shiro's face. "What's going on, Shiro? You look seriously rattled."

"Indeed," Allura put in. "You do look highly distressed. Whatever could have upset you so?"

Shiro swallowed hard. "The devastatingly painful and lonely mental state of one of our teammates," he said softly.

Hunk's face went chalk white and he whipped around, eyes zeroing in on Lance, who swallowed hard and looked away.

So he knows already, Shiro mused. That's not too surprising.

"Lance?" Hunk said, his voice soft but unwavering. "Something you want to share, buddy?"

Lance shook his head firmly, eyes on the floor.

Pidge slowly sat up straighter, her own honey-colored orbs focused on the sharpshooter. Her fingers tightened to white streaks around her tablet.

Keith gently knocked his shoulder against Lance's. "Spit it out, man," he said, rough but genuine. "Nobody here's gonna judge you. Besides, we're a team. What hurts one of us hurts all of us."

"Lance?" Allura's beautiful eyes were wide and worried. "Are you hurt? Did the cryo-pod not heal your injuries?"

"It's not necessarily a physical injury, Princess," Shiro put in.

"Not yet," Hunk muttered, and Lance jerked to face him, betrayal written across his rapidly-paling features.

Keith choked on his next inhale and Pidge let out a soft sound, tablet tumbling to the floor. Shiro had to sit down, blood pounding in his ears.

Oh, please not that…

"What?" the Black Paladin managed to croak out.

"Hunk," Lance said, pleading, desperate.

"No, buddy," Hunk said, tears lining his brown eyes. "I'm not watching you do this to yourself again."

"Again?!" Keith sat bolt upright.

But Hunk didn't seem to hear him. "Why didn't you come to me?" he asked.

Lance shook his head. "Didn't want to bother you," he whispered, hands trembling. "Besides, I'm fine. I'm fine."

"Who did this to you, Lad?" Coran asked softly. "Who made you think this way? Who told you that you always had to smile, always had to be fine?"

Everyone turned to face him, most of them seemingly haven forgotten he was there.

Lance stared at him, seemingly unaware of the tear sliding down his face. "I—it's just an inconvenience," he stuttered out, voice cracking. "It's—there's something wrong with me, something broken, and it just causes more problems and—"

"No," Coran said firmly. He crossed the room, gently gripping Lance's face between his hands. "No, Lance. There is nothing wrong with you. This is not a burden, or a problem, or whatever other lies they stuffed into your head. You are not broken. There is nothing wrong with you."

More tears escaped Lance's bright blue eyes. "I—" he started, but his voice broke and he pulled away, tried to hide his face in his hands but Coran pulled him off the couch and into a tight embrace.

"Cry if you need to, lad," he whispered into Lance's hair. "It does not make you weak. Allowing others to share your pain and help carry your burden makes you strong."

Hunk practically teleported over to them, crouching down behind Lance and wrapping his great big arms around them both. "Esta bien, hermano," he said, voice thick with tears. "We've got you. We're all here. Don't make yourself be alone, Lance. You don't have to be alone anymore."

And Lance finally cried, clinging to Coran and sobbing into his shoulder. Pidge expertly wormed her way to Lance's side, wrapping her arms around him as tight as she could and hiding her own tears in his hoodie. Allura, still looking totally baffled, wasn't far behind her, leaning in to press a kiss to Lance's temple. Even Keith joined in, managing to wrap a hand around Lance's upper arm and holding on. Shiro added himself, reaching in to rest his organic hand on the back of Lance's neck.

"You brave, brave boy," Coran whispered. "You've been carrying this load all alone for so long. Let us share the weight a bit. That is, after all, what families are for."

Lance only cried harder.

Shiro swallowed hard, his own throat getting tight. Hunk and Keith were both already past the point of tears, and Pidge had been for awhile. Allura still looked completely lost, but kept her fingers running through Lance's hair, occasionally leaning to brush a kiss against his head.

Aside from Keith, Shiro hadn't had a family in a long time. But as he considered Coran's words, he realized how true they were.

They were a family. They were a team. What hurt one of them hurt all of them. Even when they were angry at each other or got on each other's nerves.

Case in point, Keith and Lance.

They drove each other batty, but whenever one was in danger, there was no length the other wouldn't go to to bring them home.

Keith was already a brother to Shiro, but Pidge and Hunk were like the nerdy little siblings Shiro had never known he needed. Coran was a strong, dependable mentor and crazy uncle figure. He watched out for them, and he supported Shiro, taking some of the weight off his shoulders. Allura was so strong and so loyal and smart that Shiro had no idea what he would do without her. They lead Voltron together. She commanded from the Castle as he gave orders from Black. Lance had jokingly referred to them once as the Wonder Twins, and honestly, he wasn't wrong. And Lance…

He made them smile. He made them laugh. He made them remember why they were out here, what they were fighting for. He was just so human. He laughed and cried and was too dramatic half the time and it was beautiful. His joy at simple things, like meeting new aliens or seeing new planets. His fear, when they were forced to face enemies far greater than themselves. His sorrow, because he missed the rain and his family. He made them remember what they were: just a bunch of kids in way over their heads. But he kept them going. He fought for them.

And not only in the war against the Galra. Lance fought the hardest battles for them. He fought the quiet battles, the ones after the ships have all landed and the guns have stopped firing. He fought the battles against the screaming silences that spanned the Castle ship, the battles against the mind and the heart and the soul, wrung out and wearied beyond all hope from the constant war and death and dark, endless space.

From the very beginning, every single one of them would have been so lost without Lance.

Their Lance.

Their Blue Paladin.

And it was high time somebody told him that.

Because they were a family, and they loved him, and somehow that had gotten lost in translation.

Time to make it crystal clear.

"Lance," Shiro said firmly, reaching out and gently lifting the boy's head so they were eye-to-eye. "I need you to listen very carefully to me. We love you. Every single one of us. We need you here. We need you as our Blue Paladin. You're hurting, and you're not okay, but we love you anyway. Broken pieces and all, okay? I need you to say you understand. We love you."

Lance tilted towards him and Shiro pulled him close, hugging him tight.

"Why?" Lance choked out.

"Because you make us human," Shiro whispered into his hair. "You make us laugh and smile and remember who we are and why we're out here. You remind us of home and everything we're fighting for. I don't know what we would do without you, Lance."

"We would never have even made it off Earth," Keith said, discreetly wiping his eyes. One hand stayed firmly on Lance's shoulder. "Blue was dropping hints for me, yeah, but she was waiting for you. You, specifically, out of everyone else on our planet. She chose you. So technically, you saved the universe before you even knew about Voltron."

"Totally," Hunk sniffed, grabbing one of Lance's hands and squeezing it tight. "You're a hero, man. You've always been a hero, and I'm so sorry I haven't said it more than I have. Because you deserve to hear it every day."

"You have a strong and noble heart and a beautiful smile," Allura said gently. "I may not fully understand the situation, but I hope you never doubt how valuable your life is to those whose lives you touch. You are a burst of starlight, a breath of fresh air, and a soothing balm to wounded souls."

"You, my boy," Coran said thickly, "have a heart brighter and more valuable than a Battle-ship class Balmera crystal, and I do mean that."

Lance was red to his ears and he was crying again. Shiro kept one arm around his shoulders and pulled him close again as Pidge plonked herself in the lanky boy's lap. She pulled his hands away from his face and wrapped her arms around his neck in a full-out, proper hug.

"I love you," she said, quiet and sincere. "You can never replace Matt because you're not Matt, but you're you, and that's just as good. You're my other big brother, Lance, and I love you very much."

She didn't say anything else, but that was more than enough. Lance hugged her back tightly.

"Well," Shiro grinned. "I think that about sums it up."

Lance giggled wetly and wiped his eyes as Pidge moved off of him. He sat up a little straighter, visibly composing himself. "Thank you," he said quietly, meeting their eyes one by one.

Shiro's heart warmed at the hope he could see sparkling in those blue eyes.

He leaned over and hugged the kid again. "You are so welcome," he said. "You are a very important person to us, kiddo, and it's high time we told you that. Now," he grew serious and held Lance at arm's length. "One good talk and one good cry is not going to make all your hurts magically disappear. It's a good start, but if you start feeling like that again, I need you to promise me that you will come find me."

Lance bit his lip and Shiro's grip tightened on his shoulders.

"Promise me, Lance," he said, almost desperately. "It doesn't have to be me. It can be any one of us, but I need to know that you will ask someone to help you when you need it. Please."

Lance took a deep breath and looked around at the others and Shiro was so dang proud of his team when they all met that blue gaze with warm smiles and firm nods.

"Any of us, Lance," Keith said, squeezing the younger boy's shoulder. "Anytime."

"Even if it's three o'clock in the morning and we just got done with a horrible mission?" Lance challenged.

"Even if it's four o'clock and I'm taking out all my frustrations on a Gladiator bot in the training deck," Keith shot back.

"Or if I'm up to my eyeballs in some super important, complicated piece of code that could lead me to my family," Pidge said, lifting her head and glaring at Lance. "If I find out later that you decided my work is more important than you are, I will put you in a cryo-pod myself. Got it?"

Lance gave a trembling smile. "Got it, Pidgeon."

"Good."

"Even if it's the first uninterrupted me-time I've had in two months and I'm relaxing in the kitchen by myself," Hunk put in, brown eyes firm in a way they rarely were. "I will deny you cookies for the rest of this war if I find out you've been hiding this from me again. Okay? You are so, so important, hermano. To all of us, and to me and I just…I love you man."

"Hunk!" Lance half-wailed, laughing a little bit as he tackled his friend. "You made me cry again!"

Shiro chuckled at the sight and waited until Lance had calmed himself down again before getting the boy's attention.

"Even if it's the middle of the morning and you're halfway through a laugh when it hits you out of nowhere and everyone else is still laughing," Shiro said softly. "Because you are far more important than a joke or a conversation or anything else. Now realistically, I may not be able to talk to you every single time. But I promise you right now, you will always be my first priority."

"If we cannot speak to you in the moment," Allura put in, "we shall always come and find you afterwards and make sure you are alright." She smiled at him. "Our Castle would fall dark and silent without its Balmera crystal, but our team would simply fall apart without our Blue Paladin."

Coran said nothing, merely smiled and squeezed his shoulders. But Lance's responding smile was blinding, obviously understanding the gesture's meaning.

"Alright," Shiro said, slapping his knees and pushing himself to his feet. "Who else is hungry?"

"Oh my quiznak, me," Pidge groaned, dramatically collapsing across Lance and Hunk's legs. "Emotions are exhausting."

Lance snickered as Hunk heaved a long-suffering sigh. Keith grinned and Allura straight up laughed.

"Yes, Pidge," Hunk said dryly, pushing her off onto the floor and standing as well. "Since you asked so kindly, I will make you something to eat."

"Hunk, you're an angel," the tiny genius clasped her hands and stared up at Hunk with big eyes.

"Right?!" Lance crowed. "That's what I've been saying for literal years!"

Keith smirked. "Weren't you swearing eternal revenge on him literally yesterday for stealing your lion slippers?"

"Okay, look, that was an extenuating circumstance!"

Shiro shook his head with a soft laugh as his team devolved into playful squabbles like the bunch of kids they were. There were still tearstains on their faces, and maybe they were sitting just a little bit too close together to be considered normal, but there was so much genuine love and hope and joy on their faces.

Family, indeed.

As Pidge grabbed up a pillow and body-slammed Keith into the floor and a full-scale pillow war broke out, the sick feeling in Shiro's chest finally lifted.

No, they weren't perfectly fine after one conversation. But it was a start, and there was so much light at the end of this tunnel.

And as another pillow smacked him in the face (definitely Keith), Shiro knew they were all going to be just fine.

(Just as soon as he finished beating their sorry little butts into the floor because dang it, Keith, yes he was still the God of Pillow Fights and they were all going down)


Later that night…


Coran smiled as he snapped a holo-pic of the scene in the lounge.

Shiro was sprawled on his back on the floor, Lance curled up under his human arm with his head on the older boy's shoulder. Keith was at Lance's back, forehead leaning between Lance's shoulders and one arm slung over the younger boy's waist to hold on to Shiro's shirt. Pidge was curled up in a tiny ball on Shiro's stomach, one of her hands linked with Lance's. Hunk was behind Keith, his great big arms wrapped across Keith, Lance, and Pidge. Allura was nestled to the right of Shiro, her head resting on his chest beside Pidge.

The entire room was lit with gentle starlight, and Coran knew at a single glance that there would be no more tears or nightmares tonight.

A family, indeed.

"You're going to rattle the stars, you are," he murmured as he carefully draped blankets across their tangled forms. "The lot of you. Burning so bright the rest of us can scarcely look at you."

He laughed softly as Pidge muttered in her sleep, twisting and throwing her leg across Lance's face. His breathing hitched once before one lanky arm wrapped around her shin and hugged it like a blanket.

Coran smiled.

A family indeed.

As long as they were together, they would all be just fine.


And there you go! All neatly tied up with a bow.

This is as far as I was planning to write, but I might do a little epilogue at some point where Shiro deals with *SEASON SIX/SEVEN SPOILERS* the things his clone said and did to Lance. What do you guys think? Should I?

I'm marking this as complete for now, but I might do that later.

Loved it, hated it, let me know! Leaving a review is so beyond encouraging I don't even have accurate words to describe how much it motivates me. Reading your kind words is literally one of the things that got me through these last months and I cannot begin to express how grateful I am to every single one of you. So thank you, thank you THANK YOU, and I hope you enjoyed the story!

Til next time!

OH I ALMOST FORGOT! The first person to successfully point out the Treasure Planet reference in a PM or review gets a sneak peek of their choosing: The first page of chapter nine of "I'll Leave the Love", or a preview of my new story, "The Mighty Heart of the Blue Paladin."

You guys have fun with that! *evil laughter*