Other people — other people slouched when they weren’t watching their posture. But Lance? When Lance wasn’t paying attention, he stood straight. It was bizarre.
Shiro has been… watching Lance, lately. Observing. And he’s a little ashamed to say he’s been shocked at what he finds, again and again. When he first met Lance, he’d been worried. He hadn’t known Lance for long, but he’d seen obnoxious jokes and bad flirting and hyena laughter and he’d wondered what the hell the Blue Lion was thinking. He’d had a whole speech on maturity planned, expected a huge fight and dramatics and generally created an image of Lance in his head based on maybe three interactions that were stressful enough that no one would be on their best behaviour, let alone an 18-year-old kid who struggled with social norms at the best of times, ripped away from his family and told he would have to be a soldier in a 10 000 year old war.
Yeah. Shiro made a bad judgement, and the guilt eats at him, a little.
His wake-up call had been the Rover disaster, actually. Lance hadn’t hesitated a moment before bodily throwing himself in front of a man he barely knew, protecting him from a bomb. Shiro couldn’t reconcile that kid to the caricature of Lance he’d built in his head, so he’d started paying much closer attention. It was then that he learnt that Lance portrayed a very careful image of himself. It was almost intricate, really.
Aside from the bomb, the posture thing has been the first thing he really noticed. Whenever Lance was watching himself — hanging out with the team, bothering Keith, eating meals — he was hunched. All the way over, to the point it made Shiro wince, a little. That boy loved to slouch like no one Shiro had ever seen, it was ridiculous. But times when Lance was really focused? During training, a briefing, or his medic lessons with Coran (another thing that stacked onto Shiro’s guilt — those lessons were something Lance sought out of his own volition, his own desire to support the team in any way possible)? He stood as straight as a nail, as if a broom was taped to his spine. It always made Shiro blink, do a double take, remember that yeah, holy shit, Lance was 6’2”.
The next main thing he noticed was that for all Lance’s flirting, he had no actual interest in sleeping with or dating anyone. He flirted with pretty much any girl his age (well, presumably. Space is weird) they saw, and most of them rolled their eyes and walked away, but Lance genuinely did have some charm. Even statistically, some girls were bound to return his affections. But Shiro noticed that Lance would clam up immediately if anyone flirted back. Sometimes he wouldn’t even stammer out some form of farewell, he’d just straight-up leave. Shiro could not possibly understand why.
The next big thing was his whole rivalry with Keith. For as much as Lance claimed to hate him, he went out of his way to spend time with him — a good time, too, not just them arguing — to the point where the only person on the ship Lance spent more time with was Hunk, and maybe Coran. They sat next to each other at every meal, even often entering the kitchen together. Shiro knew for a fact that Lance often needled Keith into going swimming with him (although Keith had offhandedly mentioned once that since that first time, Lance has always worn a swim shirt. If Shiro was more confident in his and Lance’s relationship, he’d ask him about it, but he’s worried that at this point it would only drive Lance farther away).
All of this was only the tip of the iceberg. There were lots of strange behaviours and contradicting actions that completely baffled Shiro. Who was Lance, really? What were his goals? What did he want? Shiro knew that Lance had a big family, that he was from Cuba. He knew Lance had a nice smile and a really wonderful laugh when it was genuine. He knew Lance was talented, with all sorts of artsy things and especially talented with math (although this, too, took Shiro far too long to notice). But he really didn’t know Lance at all, not like he knew the rest of the paladins, and it bothered him. They were supposed to be mentally linked to fly a giant mecha, and Shiro was responsible for Lance, besides. They should have a relationship, and it was horrible that they didn’t. Shiro knew that the only way to develop this relationship in a healthy way was to be honest with Lance, communicate, and then spend time together after that. And as hard as the conversation was going to be, Shiro was determined to have it.
“Hey, Lance, can I talk to you?”
Shiro makes sure to ask as inconspicuously as he can, along with asking privately so none of the other nosy kids (namely Hunk and Allura) would have anything to say. Still, though, Lance tenses briefly, before forcing his face into calm neutrality and hunching his shoulders, hands in his pockets. Shiro’s heart sinks, even though he anticipated the reaction. It’s hard to watch someone be so visibly uncomfortable with you.
“Sure, Shiro, what’s up?”
“I just wanted to chat,” Shiro promises. “You want to head to the kitchen and make some hot chocolate?”
Lance brightens immediately, which makes Shiro smile. Lance’s rampant sweet tooth is another thing Shiro has noticed. It’s worse than Keith’s.
“Okay!” Lance chirps, skipping over. Shiro relaxes for a moment, as Lance babbles about his mother and sisters on their walk to the kitchen, until he realizes that Lance has told this story before and his hand is clenched tightly into the sleeve of his hoodie.
He’s nervous. Shiro swallows past the lump in his throat. How coldly has he acted towards Lance for the kid to be so scared to be alone with him? Shiro decides to take a risk.
“I remember you mentioning that! Your mom grounded your sister for two months, right?”
Please please please let this come off as me listening to him, Shiro prays, and not me finding him annoying.
Lance startles. “Y — yeah, that’s right. I don’t —” Lance winces. “Nevermind.”
Shiro grimaces as Lance looks away. This is… this is worse than he thought. He really and truly hopes he manages to fix this.
As soon as they enter the kitchen, Lance makes a beeline for the cupboards, pulling out a pot, some space cocoa, sugar, and some of Kaltenecker’s milk.
“You can just sit down, Shiro, don’t worry about it. I got it.”
This is another thing Shiro has noticed. Whenever Lance is overwhelmed — be it with anger, nerves, or even excitement —he defaults to acts of service. Washing the dishes, scrubbing the grout from the tile, collecting the laundry. Shiro has even seen him clean the pods, even though they make him uncomfortable and he doesn’t really enjoy being near them. (It actually wasn’t Shiro who noticed this. Pidge was the one who realised that whenever Lance and Keith argued at the dinner table, Lance would get up and start clearing the table, washing the dishes. Every single time. He did not seem to notice he did it. Pidge has since informed everyone but Lance and Keith themselves, and Shiro has caught her subtly inducing arguments between the two so she doesn’t have to do the chores. It’s something Shiro should put a stop to, but he’s not sure how to bring it up without making Lance defensive.)
This time, though, Shiro won’t let him do it himself.
“I’d actually like to help, Lance, if you don’t mind?”
Lance tenses, even more than he was previously. He seems to struggle with himself.
“If you help you’re going to stress me out,” Lance admits after a moment. “Sorry to be a control freak, but other people in the kitchen when I’m trying to do something irritates me. It’s — cluttered. Too much at once.” Lance bites his lip. “But, um, you’re the boss. Actually, nevermind, ignore that, you’re welcome to help if you want to —”
“Lance,” Shiro interrupts, “it’s absolutely fine. I don’t want to make you uncomfortable. Is it okay if I sit on the counter, or would you rather I stay back at the table?”
Lance exhales deeply, shoulders slumping in relief, even as he tries to slap a smile on his face and pretend he’s feeling normal.
“That’d be fine.”
Shiro hoists himself up on the counter a couple feet away from Lance as he begins to measure our ingredients. He’s silent for a moment, waiting for the right time. He waits until Lance’s spine straightens, and his tongue sticks out. Until he’s relaxed.
“There’s no easy way to say this,” Shiro says, and Lance tenses again. “But I owe you an apology.”
This knocks the tenseness right from Lance’s shoulders, and stops what he’s doing to look at Shiro in confusion.
Shiro takes a deep breath. “I assumed very poorly of you, our first couple weeks in space, for no reason. I decided off very minimal and skewed interactions that you were immature and shallow, and I was so wrong. I judged you unfairly, and for that I’m sorry. I’ve since gotten to know you and I realize you’re a genuinely good and kind person, and very smart, and I’m really sorry for assuming otherwise.”
Lance is completely frozen, staring at Shiro with a gaped mouth. Shiro holds his gaze, hoping his sincerity has come across. After a few moments, Lance’s brown eyes cloud with tears, although he blinks them away. He sighs, deep and long, and continues mixing the sugar into the heated milk.
“Yeah, I know.”
He sounds resigned. Disappointed, but not surprised. Shiro says as much.
“Well, you don’t look at me with fondness. Not like you look at everyone else,” Lance says matter-of-factly. Shiro winces. Lance is fair, and is completely right to say so, but it still hurts. It’s hard to be wrong.
“That was once true.”
“But it’s not true anymore?”
“I’ve been… paying better attention. Noticing some strange things, things that didn’t make sense with the person I assumed you were.”
Lance nods, carefully pouring the hot cocoa into two mugs. He hands one to Shiro, who accepts gratefully, then hoists himself up on the counter next to him with his own mug.
“I imagine I’m a little confusing,” he says.
Shiro inclines his head. “Yes.”
“It’s a long story.”
“I don’t mind, if you’re willing to tell me.”
Lance is silent for a moment, just sipping his cocoa. Eventually, he takes a deep breath, hands clenching forcibly before relaxing.
“My parents did not plan me. They completely believed they were done after Rachel, and that was the truth for years. But when my mom was fifty — well, I came along.”
Shiro inhales sharply. He doesn’t know a lot about pregnancy or childbirth, but that seems… late. Lance shoots him a joyless smile.
“Yeah, not great. But she chose to take the risk. She said she loved me the moment she knew about me.” Lance snorts. “She’s very sappy, my mother. Anyways. I was born four months early. Ma says I fit into her hand. It was… hard, for her and Papá. For everyone, really. It was a lot of time in the hospital and the constant fear that I’d just die. And I didn’t, obviously, but I had — and still have — a lot of health issues. My eyes were fused shut when I was born, I didn’t have a gram of fat on my body. I was even missing some organs. I have all my organs now, and my eyesight is actually really good, surprisingly, but I still have a lot of health issues.
“My lungs don’t expand all the way. My heart’s a little too small. I have a lot of deadly allergies, I’m anaemic, I can’t gain weight for shit. And even all my issues now aren’t bad, compared to when I was growing up. I grew out of a lot of my allergies, and my bones used to be really frail. I was a walking hazard, basically. My parents… they loved me so much. They only wanted to keep me safe. But eventually, after close call after close call, they got, like… really protective. Crazy. I wasn’t allowed to socialize with anyone as a toddler, they were too scared I’d get sick. I wasn’t even allowed to feed myself. Fuck, one of them slept on the floor beside my bed until I was ten goddamn years old. They were terrified I’d die in my sleep.
“And then —” Lance sighs deeply, swirling around the leftover liquid in his cup. Shiro sets his own cup down; he’s barely touched it since Lance started. He — he’s completely blindsided. He’d never have known this about Lance, by looking at him. Sure, Lance is scrawny, and he gets cold easily, but Lance as a walking health risk? Lance, who seems like the biggest presence in any room? Who consistently scores as one of the best in training? Who regularly chases Pidge around the castle? It just doesn’t seem real.
“Then came the ASD diagnosis. And like, I am not ashamed of it. In fact it was a relief to have a reason for all the different struggles I was having, for the shitty social skills and general other-ness. But Jesus fucking Christ, it did not help my relationship with my parents. They went from overbearing to suffocating. Before it was just —” Lance sits up straight, finger in the air mockingly, voice high and nagging — “‘Sit up straight, Lance, your lungs!’ ‘Careful, Lance, do you know what’s in that? Are there any nuts?’ ‘Lance, check your heartbeat, you just went up the stairs.’ ‘Lance, go grab another hoodie. There’s a bite in the air, it’s only 75°.’” Lance sighs. He sags forward, eyes closing. Shiro sees the exhaustion in him for the first time, in the very bones of him. Shiro — he knows how Lance feels, being so limited, but he can’t imagine his own parents holding onto him so tightly. How draining that must have been.
“My parents were never intentionally ableist. They never wanted to hurt me, they never intended to do anything but protect me. But I was diagnosed and then it was like they suddenly forgot that I knew how to think for myself. Like yeah, sure, I’m not great with social cues, but I can fucking talk to people! I’m not helpless, but they forgot that. They even tried to pull me out of school, but Veronica went ballistic on them. Fought them for three straight days. She’s always been the one who believed in me, did everything she could to give me as much freedom as possible. It strained her relationship with my parents. It was worse than mine, and at that point in my life I couldn’t even look at them without getting angry. Being in the same room as them was suffocating, I always wanted to just blow up, but I didn’t really. I had a lot of energy I needed to dispel.”
“Is that why you clean to often?”
Lance blinks. “Is that why I what?”
Shiro shifts, biting his lip. It seems that he was right, that Lance hasn’t noticed. “When you’re upset, or overwhelmed. You tend to clean. You clear the table whenever you argue with Keith. Pidge has been egging you on, by the way. So she doesn’t have to clean up.”
Lance snorts incredulously. “That little shit,” he says, shaking his head. “I guess I do clean when I’m overwhelmed, don’t I? I haven’t noticed. But that makes sense. There wasn’t much I was allowed to do, but I could clean, then I was doing something that wasn’t having a screaming match with my parents.”
Shiro hums, and sits with that, for a moment. All of Lance’s fronts — his obnoxiousness, blind hatred for authority, reluctance to follow vague orders — they make sense, now. If the main authority in Shiro’s life assumed he was dumb and helpless and kept him pretty locked up, Shiro thinks he would have some baggage, too.
“What made them let you go to the Garrison, if you don’t mind me asking?”
Lance grins, but it’s bittersweet. “Oh, they didn’t. I left in the middle of the night when I turned 18.”
Shiro blinks in shock. “You ran away?”
Lance shrugs. “Not technically. Legal adult, I was allowed to do what I want. I had Veronica’s help. She got me the applications, sent them in for me too. Had to get my passport in secret, same with the funds. It wasn’t easy, and it also kind of felt shitty. My parents were as distraught as they were furious. Marco said Ma cried for days. But… I had to get out. I honest to God would have died within a year if I stayed.”
Shiro believes him.
“You talk about your parents so fondly, though.”
Lance shrugs again. “Yeah, ‘cause I miss ‘em. I might never see them again, and like I said — they went about it the wrong way, but they loved me. Love me. Besides, our relationship actually really improved once I left. I called them after a month, was totally honest with them. It was a lot easier for them to treat me like a capable person when they saw me doing just fine in my own.”
There’s another silence as Shiro visibly processes all that information, before Lance takes a deep breath. He turns towards Shiro, looking him on the face.
“That’s why your judgement hurts so much,” Lance says, and Shiro feels his heart drop even though he knows he deserves the words. “I saw your medical bracelet.” He holds up his wrist, where Shiro notices the silver band for the first time. The same one he’s worn for years. “You — you were my hero, y’know? Another guy just like me, just as sick as me, who’s a pilot anyway. A great pilot. The best pilot. Having your hero look at you in disgust — it hurts. It was devastating. I know I definitely was acting like a bit of a fool, but —”
“No, no, Lance —” Shiro’s voice is desperate and he knows it, but he can’t help it. He reaches out to clasp Lance’s shoulder, but falters at the last moment, unsure if he’s allowed. His hand hangs there, in limbo. “You weren’t acting like a fool. You were acting like a regular teenager, and I was expecting you to act like a grown adult. It wasn’t fair of me, and I didn’t take the time to know you. I mean it, Lance, I’m going to do better by you. I swear it. I won’t disappoint you again.”
Lance’s eyes close. His breath shudders, as he takes several deep ones. His hands shake briefly before he stills them, opening his eyes and staring at Shiro with strength and — and with a deep kindness that Shiro does not feel like he deserves.
“I forgive you,” he says firmly. “You’re not perfect, man. You made a mistake and you apologized for it. I appreciate it.”
Shiro exhales deeply, and he lets himself let go of the guilt. Lance forgives him. It’s time for them to move on, build trust.
Lance hums, turning back away. They sit in silence again, but this one is comfortable. It’s filled with the promise of a new beginning, a new start. Filled with the opportunity to get to know the Blue Paladin, who supports from the sidelines and cares with a heart that outshines the darkest of nights.
Shiro can’t wait.