Lance’s thoughts were everywhere: one moment he was about to die from an exploding planet, the next he found himself alive and hearing Lotor’s voice come across the comms. A feeling of dread settled at the pit of his stomach. He didn’t like this. He didn’t like that the team now owed him for saving their lives.
He knew Allura would take charge of the situation, but he was still concerned that something was amiss. Especially when Lotor smiled at Keith when he entered the hangar. Matt soon joined them, after giving Pidge a tight hug, but he was giving Keith a stern look as if to say “don’t fucking think this conversation is over.”
That surprised Lance, he was sure they were perfectly fine before the mission and during the battle. He couldn’t imagine why Matt was so upset with Keith, unless something had happened that he wasn’t aware of.
Keith on the other hand, had a mix of emotions that his eyes couldn’t hide. He was an open book, at least to Lance, and it was immediately clear that he’d almost done something reckless. Enough so to make Matt, a skilled and experienced fighter, upset.
When Matt found himself alone, Keith having hurriedly left with the others while some joined Allura to interrogate Lotor, Lance approached him. “Matt…”
The other boy turned and his expression softened, “Hey Lance, glad to know you and the others are okay.”
“Yeah… about that…”
Matt frowned. “You’re wondering about what happened before Lotor saved you guys, aren’t you?”
As ridiculous as their first meeting had been, Lance found it odd to see such a serious look on his face. “Something happened when the comms were down. I know it involves Keith.”
Matt sighed, an indicator that he was debating whether he should say anything or not. In the end, he chose the first option. “Keith… tried to sacrifice himself…”
Hearing those words knocked the air out of his lungs and for a moment, he felt like he couldn’t breathe. Regardless, he hid his reaction well, lowered his gaze and quietly said, “I see.”
“Please don’t tell Pidge. I don’t think she needs this right now,” Matt mentioned as he ruffled his own hair out of frustration. “Quiznak, I shouldn’t have told you either, but—”
“It was eating at you. I could tell,” admitted Lance with an understanding smile. “The instant you looked at Keith, I saw how pissed off you were.”
“Yeah,” Matt sighed. “I tried talking to him about it on the way back, but he kept brushing me off.”
Lance was going to suggest he tell Shiro, but then he recalled how Shiro hadn’t listened to him when he suggested they leave the planet before the shield activated, and held his tongue. Instead, he said, “I’m sure he’ll come around. Just give him some space. The last thing he needs is to feel like a criminal for trying to do what he felt was right.”
“That’s true and I should know because I’ve done some stuff myself that Pidge would be mad at me for,” said Matt as he chuckled towards the end.
“Come on. Let’s go meet up with everyone before they worry we got sucked into space or something.”
Matt smiled. “You’re alright dude.”
“Same for you, even if our first meeting was ridiculous.”
They laughed as they walked out, but Lance’s heart remained heavy.
He remained so exceptionally calm, it was almost disturbing, especially with how members of the blade were standing by while Allura interrogated him. Trying to make sense of the prince’s presence.
“What was your purpose for saving us?”
Lotor merely smiled. “Dear Blue Paladin, have you not heard the news? I’m now an enemy of the Galra empire. I figured I might as well join you out of convenience of having a common enemy,” he said, knowing full well he was disrespecting her by not addressing her as princess.
Allura’s face remained stern, but the cold look in her eyes indicated that she wasn’t done with him. “I have no need to make a truce with you.”
“You forget Blue Paladin, I have endless knowledge of the empire's strategies, experiments, and blueprints. Even of items that are supposedly not documented. It comes with the task of watching out for yourself.”
“We are capable of gathering that ourselves.”
Lotor’s smirk didn’t waver. “You didn’t even know about the explosion of the planet, until it was too late. I figured it out early on and I was exiled at the time too.”
“Why are you so insistent on helping us?”
“Because you have something that I need. I’m neither invincible nor immortal, you know.”
“And that would be…?”
He smirked. “I could get to the point, but that’s no fun, so I’ll let you figure it out. I’m in no rush anyway.”
Allura sighed and rose to her feet. She turned to the members of the Blade of Marmora. “I’m going to have him placed in a cryopod. There’s another way to interrogate him.”
Kolivan nodded and assisted her with moving the portable prison chamber to the cryopod room.
He smiled in seeing them so joyful, and how hard Matt worked to be a good brother to Pidge. It made him miss his own siblings.
Not long after, he sighed and made his way over to the table where Coran and Hunk had prepared lots of fresh food to rejuvenate everyone. Lance liked that even in space, he could tell what was Hunk’s cooking, regardless of the ingredients he used. Unfortunately, he wasn’t hungry and checked to see what everyone was doing. Pretty much everyone was caught up in their own conversations. Distracted.
Lance didn’t see Keith, so he figured he’d gone back to his room. When he checked again to see if anyone was paying any attention to his movements and was in the clear, he stealthily made his way towards the door and left. He paused for a bit to see again if anyone noticed, but nothing.
Quietly he walked towards the hangar where the pods were, lost in his thoughts.
He honestly couldn’t imagine a day without Keith. Sure he’d been gone during all the events to promote Voltron, but Lance hadn’t forgotten about him. Right after Keith had left those doors on that day they told him goodbye, Lance had chased after him. Keith had been caught off guard, but Lance immediately knew he’d been sad because when he turned around, his expression went from heartbreakingly-sad to genuine joy. In that instant, Lance made it his mission to never let that smile fade. Telling Keith to message everyday through their wristwatches, even if it didn’t relate to a mission. The excuse Lance gave him had been that it was to help the team not worry about Keith while he was with the Blade of Marmora. Keith had agreed without hesitation and went on his way with a bright smile.
The truth had been that Lance was genuinely worried for Keith and didn’t want him feeling like an outsider, not after everything they’d gone through; but that had been the best he could do at the time. He could never bring himself to tell his supposed rival that he had a crush on him since their days at the Garrison.
Sighing, Lance found himself in the pod bay and randomly picked one, too distracted to care about what features it had. He just wanted some space to think and right now he felt like he was suffocating. Carefully, he powered it up after getting in and headed off towards Lexus.
He wasn’t that hungry, but he took a small plate and left once he saw that everyone was distracted. He had just turned the corner when he heard the door whoosh open and for a moment, he thought someone had caught onto him having left, quickly placing the plate of food on the ground and thinking up a way to escape being seen. When he heard the same person sigh, he immediately recognized it as Lance.
Keith found it odd how he seemed so quiet. It was very unlike him. As Lance’s footsteps came closer, he hid behind one of the pillars, doubting that he wouldn’t be seen. But when the footsteps faded from Lance turning towards the opposite hall from him, he became concerned. The paladins quarters weren’t that way.
It didn’t take long for him to realize what Lance was doing and as much as he wanted to stop him, he couldn’t because Lance had been quick to pick whichever pod and fly out.
He figured nearly dying would’ve been overwhelming for Lance, but something tugged at his chest that urged him follow. So he took the pod that he knew had Pidge’s modifications of invisibility and chased after him towards Lexus.
He recalled how the team had briefly discussed switching the armor, since Keith was no longer a paladin with a lion and was currently training with the blade. Lance had refused and jokingly stated that red didn’t look good on him and that pink suited Allura better. It was weak, but it had been enough to keep the team from bringing it up ever again after that.
Truthfully, Lance just didn’t want to accept Keith as someone who could no longer associate with them, even if that wasn’t the case. He honestly feared that if he put on the red paladin armor, he’d be replacing him and it would’ve felt wrong. Hunk had caught onto him when he entered his room later that day to ask if he way okay. Lance, not one wanting to lie or worry his best friend, had stated that he was still getting used to Keith not being around. Hunk had given him a hug and some words of encouragement before leaving.
It was strange, how long ago that was and here he was, having survived a brush of death and trying to keep himself together from letting his thoughts overwhelm him as he entered Lexus’ atmosphere.
Lance checked the map for a good landing place and found a wide area along what could be considered a beach back on earth. He maneuvered carefully before completing the task and exiting the pod.
The view was as astonishing as the first time and what made it even better was that he could breathe the air here, so he took off his helmet and let the gentle breeze of the violet ocean soothe him. It reminded him of home, of everything he missed.
Sighing, he sat down on the quartz-like sand, taking in the scenery of the violet ocean and the coral-like forest that was behind him. He hugged his knees up to his chest, feeling all his emotions bubbling to the surface now that he was alone. It wasn’t long before the tears came and his breathing became shaky as he sobbed quietly.
He normally would do this in room, but he’d felt like he couldn’t breathe when he heard about what Keith almost did; and not even hiding in his quarters to cry would’ve been enough. He’d needed something to ground him, which was why he came to Lexus. Sighing, he decided to think over the whole situation and how Keith would’ve come to such a decision.
The air helped clear Lance’s thoughts to a less chaotic mess, making it easier to navigate through his memories. In all the times he’d messaged Keith and seen his reports to the team with Kolivan, Lance couldn’t really find anything that yelled “Keith is chill with sacrifice.” But then the incident with Regris came to mind and he recalled how upset Keith had been from the mission. When Lance asked him about it during their space texting, Keith had replied that Kolivan had told him to learn from the example.
At the time, Lance had thought Kolivan had meant for Keith to be more cautious on missions, but the more he thought it over along with the few other details Keith had mentioned to him about the blade—like how if one messed up, they were on their own—he realized he’d understood wrong and facepalmed out of frustration.
If there was anything about Keith that stood out, it was his determination to do what he felt was right and the impulse to act immediately on his own when a dire situation would come up. Lance had a feeling that the latter had gradually became meshed with some of the teachings of the blade, and not for the better. He knew that the they did things their way and had always lived by strict codes, but Keith was first a paladin and at least to Lance, he always would be.
Who was he to talk about sacrifice? He’d saved Coran during an explosion without hesitation and nearly died. He hadn’t planned on dying, but at the time there hadn’t been much time to think it through.
Maybe that was why they had such a good dynamic when working together. They shared in the loyalty of protecting those close to them, but would forget their own importance in certain instances and overdo it. Lance had become more aware in caring for himself better after Hunk had come into his room crying and making Lance swear to never scare him like that ever again the night after he’d exited the healing pod.
Granted, the concept itself was always filled with good intentions and sometimes it was inevitable, but the detail that Lance had learned was to never always consider it as the first option nor as the only one, because situations existed where it changed it nothing.
“You’d be missed more than thanked,” Hunk had told him.
His tears had quietly kept seeping down his face while struggling to control his breathing, but his face had gradually turned determined, now that he knew what to say to Keith.
Wiping away the remainder droplets from his face, he got up. “Alright Lance, you got this.”
“And what would that be huh?” replied an unfamiliar voice.
He froze before turning around with his bayard activated. “Who are you?”
The cloaked figure raised their hands as they smiled. “I’m Pytharek and it’s an honor to meet you, Red Paladin.”
Upon seeing him, it pulled at his heart to see Lance start to sob. He wanted to go to him and comfort him, but he didn’t know how nor was Lance even supposed to know that Keith was even here.
He turned away to check the surroundings out of habit from his training when all of a sudden he caught sight of a floating black silk-like creature weaving its way through the trees and from what Keith knew, there weren’t any local creatures within this area, which made him suspect that something was out of place.
Just as he was beginning to go inspect it, the creature suddenly began rushing towards him.
Standing before him was what earth would call a femme fatale. Pytharek was stunning Galra, petite for her height, but oozing confidence like a waterfall.
“Why are you here?”
Her smile didn’t fade. “Funny you should ask when honestly, I thought you were here to attack us.”
Almost immediately, two figures flowed out from her shadow to stand alongside her.
Lance stayed focused, but he was up against three and only had one gun in hand. No one knew he was here and most assuredly, these Galra before him were druids.
“Since you so preemptively interrupted our gathering of supplies, we were sure that you’d come to expose us,” said the medium tall one on the right.
“However, it would seem you hadn’t expected to see us at all,” added the tallest one on the left.
Lance grit his teeth before immediately activating his shield to block an attack and switching his bayard to a pistol to quickly shoot back at them. His problem of defeating them worsened when he realized they could teleport in short bursts across the area, making it increasingly difficult to focus and attack them. He tried to aim shots towards the ground to disorient them momentarily, but it wasn’t enough since in the next instant he’d be having to block and dodge. Unable to attack without giving up holding his gun properly. This issue had become a constant problem and he’d been working on making something smaller, but he hadn’t been able to make anything else as of late minus his long ranged rifle.
The three soon came together and shot a burst of dark energy that pushed him back to the ground, leaving him vulnerable to the attack Pytharek’s two followers struck him with.
Immediately after, his nerves burned as if he’d been dumped into a bath of acid. He body spasmed from the agony and soon his screams pierced the sky.
“You know what’s fascinating? How once you know the anatomy of a body from the inside out, you somehow realize that there’s so many ways to make it do anything for you,” mentioned Pytharek. “The nervous system in any creature’s body is always vulnerable to agony.”
His vision soon began to blur and his hearing began to sound muffled the more the pain continued. Seconds that felt like an eternity passed before he heard Pytharek state something in a foreign tongue before a dark silk-like creature appeared from behind her to wrap itself around him. “I think your stay with me, will be a pleasant one,” she assured as the two other members of her group carried him off back to their ship.
The push and pull of attacking continued for a small while before suddenly, a shriek pierced the air. Keith lost his focus for a moment in realizing it was Lance just as the creature struck the side of his face. Something warm and wet slid down his cheek as he managed to prevent himself from being knocked to the ground. Gritting his teeth, he reacted faster upon the next attack and slashed at the creature. It made a pained sound before stiffening into a more bold stance, readying to strike again as it blocked his path to reach Lance. Nevertheless, it suddenly froze, before dashing away with incredible speed.
“Fuck!” cursed Keith as he struggled to chase after it. He didn’t like this at all. Lance’s screams hadn’t stopped and the longer he heard it, it continued filling his heart with dread as Keith pushed his body to move faster.
Upon reaching where Lance had been, he saw him unconscious and being whisked off into the pod he came in by what appeared to be two cloaked figures he supposed were druids and a third calmly walking over to join them. They joined into one after placing Lance in the passenger seat and seating themselves in the driver’s seat.
The sight of the merge disturbed him, but it didn’t prevent him from immediately reacting and sneaking over to slip up behind the pod as the figure distracted themselves with booting it up. With ease, Keith quietly molded himself against the pod upon activating the reduction of electrons on the surface of his suit to attract the electrons on the metallic surface.
Seconds after, he felt the pod rise and travel over to a farther location amidst the coral-like forest. He couldn’t see anything at first and then suddenly, he saw a ship appear from a cloak of invisibility. Right after, it opened a hatch for the pod to enter through.
Rapidly taking in his surroundings, Keith spotted some rafters and put the next part of his improvised plan into gear. He deactivated the changing polarity feature and then took advantage of the built up wind pressure by activating the gliding gear in his suit to lift him backwards high enough so that he could grab onto the rafters silently. He quickly lifted himself up onto it before crouching and watching the pod come to a stop. The merged druid exited and was soon greeted by bot soldiers, who took Lance and headed off in one direction, while the merged druid destroyed the pod, then headed off where Keith assumed was the control room. He tried to activate his wristwatch to reach the Blade of Marmora, but unfortunately, all signals were jammed.
“Damn it,” he quietly cursed before feeling the ship rise into the air and make its way far from the planet. Great.
Knowing how his connection with the lions had long since been broken, Keith tried to see if he could reach Red or Black, but he couldn’t sense either of them and sighed defeatedly. He was on his own.
He debated on where to go first: find Lance, possible escape routes, or find their control center to reach the others. Lance was his priority above all else, but he needed to think through this. Impulse alone wouldn’t save them both nor did it always work. In addition, druids were unpredictable with their methods. Haggar was a clear example of that.
Unfortunately, all he could gather was that he was floating within some sort of dark space and that his armor had been removed. His bayard was not with him either.
He sighed once he gathered enough calmness and wondered about all the possible scenarios he’d be forced to encounter.
Interrogation was inevitable and Lance was no fool. He’d studied enough war tactics from the Altean texts Allura had given him access to and from overhearing Matt telling stories to Pidge to know that all this was meant to break down his mental barriers.
The instant he’d see anything more outside of this container, his only advantage would be to pretend that he was still unconscious to gather some information on his surroundings. It was better than being awake because then it’d prompt the enemy to be on high alert and assume that he’s had time to think over on what to do.
Even so, chances of escape were slim to none unless his enemies were really absolute dolts. It was obvious that without a suit he’d be forced to look for escape pods if they had any as his only way out. Unless he’d risk looking for his armor and bayard first.
Lance internally groaned at his limited options and for letting his vulnerability prevent him from realizing sooner how close the enemy had gotten to him at the beach. He wished it was easy to stop feeling so overwhelmed from caring so much, but he couldn’t help it. He was too empathetic for his own good.
For whatever reason, he found himself recalling how Keith had rescued Blue as well as untied him from the tree Nyma had chained him to. Keith had teased him through the comms that the connection had broken, but when he’d arrived to help Lance and return Blue to him, he’d had a genuinely concerned expression on his face. It had surprised Lance how much Keith had fussed over in checking if he was okay, but secretly, he’d also found it endearing.
Sighing Lance forced himself to focus once more on the task at hand. He needed to get out of this, he needed to survive, because he needed to tell Keith how important he was.
Maybe also how he was Lance’s world.
Before he could react over his hopeless crush on the mullet, he heard something shift outside of the container and immediately made his body limp and seem asleep as it progressively grew louder.
Moments of silence passed before the container surrounding him cracked open and felt himself pulled out of it, but remained floating. Without delay, he was navigated through several corridors before stopping in bright room, filled with intense violet light. Lance remained limp as a rag doll as the druids whispered in Galra tongue on what to do with him.
Then without warning, his body was slammed against a wall. The force knocked the breath out of him and caused him choke then cough awake.
Pytharek’s voice, merged with the other two as she spoke. “Ready to start?”
Lance’s vision was blurry, but he bluffed confidence. “Sure.”
The figure before merely smirked and gently lifted one of her open palms to create an almost fist and before Lance could question to what it was she was doing, his entire body was immediately succumbed to crushing pressure.
The sensation was awful and Lance forced himself to grit his teeth to keep himself from screaming, grunting in pain instead. His vision began to fill with shadowed stars dancing across it and the lighting began swerving into all sorts of radical colors like when one had tried too hard to stare at the sun.
“Milva. Rectva,” she called as she stopped the compression. The two figures slinked out from the shadows before gently placing their hands on her shoulders.
The three of them teleported backwards to reveal a table in front of them with Lance’s armor, his bayard, several Galra devices and… vials with a purplish glow to them.
Something screamed in the back of Lance’s mind that those last items were dangerous, but of course his luck had to be that Pytharek picked one of them up and popped it open.
He watched her take a whiff before she and the other two teleported forward enough to be within inches of Lance’s face. “Believe me when I say the real fun starts here,” she claimed as she stretched out a hand to pinch his nose closed and used the other to force his mouth open and make him swallow the liquid.
She was right.
The agony this shit brought on was fucking hell.
The ship consisted of fours levels according to status reports shared between soldiers that he’d eavesdropped on. That was all though. It wasn’t specified what was where. He’d explored the hangar in a short amount of time, finding weapons and supplies, and verifying that the hangar couldn’t mechanically be opened. Then had gone above to discover the control room where the druids were conversing over what to do with their new prisoner. Keith had quickly realized that they weren’t as advanced with sensing enemies within range as Haggar was, which was one benefit he could use later. As he continued the search across this level, he soon came across a small room filled with pure quintessence and corrupted quintessence.
“What the hell…” he muttered as he cautiously approached, having learned his lesson the last time he’d encountered something like this. The vials weren’t as huge as his last experience, incredibly small honestly, but they were definitely still something to be concerned about. He grabbed some both in hopes of being able to get them analyzed later.
Yet as he made his way out of the room, he came across an access to the floor above him. He wasn’t sure if would lead him to Lance or if Lance was elsewhere.
Jeez, he hated making decisions like this.
All of a sudden, something pulled at him to check the control room again. Keith immediately put aside his internal debate to follow his impulse and found that the druids had left, which was both good and bad.
Good because he now had an opportunity to try to send a message for help.
Bad because they probably left to interrogate Lance.
Pytharek had merged again with Milva and Rectva, so the crushing force from earlier had returned, but this time it wasn’t short. His vision was crystal clear this time due to the vial and his hearing was heightened, so his own screams were louder than ever before as he felt his ribs fracture one by one, as the pressure was more concentrated around his chest.
The instant it stopped he coughed for air, which felt disgustingly heavy and tasted like shit. The taste of iron soon filled his mouth and not long after, he spat some at the merged druid before him.
It merely smiled before the combined voice spoke again. “Let’s amp up some other areas of pain,” it said before reaching out with a glowing palm.
Lance flinched away and glared angrily at the merged druid as it made contact with his face, increasing the aftertaste of that vial Pytharek had made him swallow earlier by tenfold. He was going to throw a witty insult, but then his surroundings changed suddenly.
“W-what?” he said as he realized he wasn’t pinned anymore or injured, but now sitting in some large arena filled with hundreds of other Galra, including Zarkon and Haggar.
Lance tensed when he finally took a look at what was in the middle of the arena.
The instant he stood up, everyone around him held him back and the dread and helplessness he felt overwhelmed him.
“LET THEM GO! LET THEM GO! THEY HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH THIS! IT’S ME YOU WANT NOT THEM! STOP THIS!”
Lance tried to shut his eyes, but those holding him back kept them open to make him watch as one by one they were cut down by Sendak. Their cries endlessly shattering his heart to bits. Tears seeped down his face as he hopelessly shrieked for this madness to end just as everything around him froze.
He was unprepared for when the scene switched to him being back at the Castle with the team looking at him disappointedly in the common room.
“W-W-Where a-am I? What the hell is this? G-G-Guys?”
Allura spoke first. “How could you make such a mistake?”
“What are you—”
Shiro followed after. “I thought you were our Sharpshooter.”
“But I am! You even gave me that title Shiro!”
Hunk shook his head at him as if Lance had committed the ultimate betrayal.
“I thought we were best bros…”
Coran wouldn’t make eye contact with him, but his face was stern.
Pidge didn’t hold back either. “This is probably why Blue left you. We’d probably be better off with Keith piloting Red.”
“This, this isn’t, I don’t, I, what is—”
“Yeah Lance, leave the math to Pidge,” spoke a voice from behind him.
He didn’t need to turn it around to recognize that it was Keith.
Lance felt like his heart had been crushed to bits, put together, then dissolved completely in a bath of acid as he felt himself rushed back into reality. The lab and the merged druid were still there, before its parts separated into Pytharek, Milva, and Rectva. They were panting and it was a significant detail, but his mind was so disoriented that he couldn’t think straight or recall why he was here. All that kept replaying in his head were those horrible visions he’d been forced to see… or was some of it real?
He held onto what remained of his mental barricades as he did his best to ignore the endless new sources of agony from across his body. His breathing was a lot harder to get back than before as he tried not to let more blood fill his mouth.
Lance’s entire body was shaking from a mixture of exhaustion and pain. Even if he felt worthless right now, he wasn’t about to give up anything so easily. If he was good at anything, it was being a difficult person.
Unfortunately, he didn’t get very far and had to hold back from trying to slash it apart with his luxite knife before deciding to try again. He didn’t get access to the communications system, but he definitely found something else that was interesting. He’d managed to access to the signal the Galra often used to broadcast orders or updates of certain tasks. He couldn’t directly say anything, but maybe he could sneak in some typed up gibberish for morse code. He knew at least Matt, Pidge, or Hunk would notice if they had already caught onto his and Lance's disappearance.
In finishing that up and adding in some coordinates and directions to follow by, he quickly copied some info to a hard drive and erased his presence of ever accessing the control system.
Amidst doing this, the computer received a report on the engine, which included a map of the ship itself, revealing to him Lance’s location and immediately, Keith rushed out of the control room.
It was for the briefest split second, but he thought he saw what looked to be the concoction of a horror movie with the sight of the druids partially merged and looked absolutely deformed as if they were from a failed mutation experiment.
This and other things he gathered seemed important, but for the life of him he couldn’t focus enough to put anything together. It reminded him of trying to play music and knowing the notes to the song, but unable to play it properly on the instrument.
Jeez, he really hated feeling like he was floating in limbo.
Not long after, the druids were separate now and this time moved away from each other as they concentrated on another approach of interrogation. His throat felt worn out from all the screaming before, and he willed his mind to make himself feel numb, at least long enough to prepare him for another round of horror.
Pytharek snatched up another vial, apparently his third one and forced Lance to swallow it as it meshed with the taste of blood already in his mouth. Milva, grabbed his left arm and stilled it from trembling with her magic, prior to rubbing on corrupted quintessence, which felt like acid burning through his skin. Rectva, snatched his right arm and using one of the metallic devices, pulled off the fingernails from his right hand, and at an excruciatingly slow pace to make it worse. He managed to force himself to look in the middle of coughing just as she dunked the exposed fingers into a small bowl with the same liquid, prompting him tp scream at the new pain shooting into his spine.
Despite the insanity of the situation he continued at it with keeping his mental barricades strong.
He wouldn’t let himself end here.
Even if the odds were against him.
Gritting his teeth, he picked up the pace, even though he was already moving quickly to find Lance. He was honestly glad that the access panels hadn’t completed been updated to reject his dna, but hoped that they weren’t even aware of this advantage he had.
He soon found the prisoner cells and then searched in the remaining halls, for any other rooms that could possibly match what he was looking for. Not long after, he came across one room that seemed to be emitting a lot of dark energy. Keith wasn’t a wielder of magic like Allura, but the blade had taught how to defend himself against it, his luxite knife being a key item. When he made his way up to the rafters again and managed to peek into the room, his heart dropped.
There, below him, were three druids and Lance pinned against a vertical table, unpleasant things being done to him. Keith was this close to cutting through it with his sword before he thought better of it and decided to activate a small bomb he set up in the druid room to create a distraction. The jammer prevented stuff from going out, but not from going across the ship.
When the alarms began blaring, the door whooshed open and the three druids, now merged again, exited in a rush to tend to the situation and investigate. He waited till they were out of sight along with some soldiers before hopping down and placing his hand on the access panel to open the door.
Keith nearly shouted in shock and covered his mouth at the sight of Lance’s condition before rushing over and gently lifting his face with one of his hands. “Lance?”
He coughed before blinking open his eyes and smiled. “G-G-Guess ‘ou’re here to s-s-say I messed up t-t-too huh?”
“What did they do to you?” Keith whispered before he looked around and his heart stilled at the sight of empty vials that had at some point been full of corrupt quintessence. Immediately he counted how many there were before opening several of the pure ones he had on hand. “Lance… I’m here to help. Trust me.”
“I s’know issa trap,” murmured Lance in reply as he refused to open his mouth and even tried biting as a last defense.
Keith really didn’t need Lance to be difficult right now. “I’m still mad you don’t recall our bonding moment.”
“Wait… Keith?” Lance said as he started to realize that the impossibility of being rescued was happening. “Wha’s happenin’?”
“Just shut up and trust me. Now, drink this,” urged Keith as he held up the vial towards Lance’s mouth.
The other boy was somehow giving him a deadpan stare as he swallowed the pure quintessence, but could feel himself start to think clearly again and feel some slightly less electric-like pain as the liquid cancelled out the corrupt version of itself.
Keith proceeded to coax two more into him before quickly breaking the locks with his luxite knife and catching him when he broke the last ones holding up his arms.
Lance chuckled. “I can tell you I won’t forget this bonding moment.”
“If anyone asks, I don’t know you. Now move and take your bayard,” stated Keith before he helped Lance straighten up.
The other boy tensed up as the fresh injuries on his hand and arms flared up and he bit his lips to prevent himself from screaming.
Keith saw him tense and when he looked closer, he saw better what had happened. Lance’s nails were gone, fingers bleeding and tense from that weird bowl he’d seen them dunked in from above. His other arm looked as if he’d been burned with boiling water or oil. Glowing purple residue at the edges being the indicator at what the cause had been.
“Lance, can you hold your bayard?”
He grunted as he shifted into a position for Keith to support him. “I can try… with my left. My right…”
“Don’t worry Buddy. We’re gonna get you fixed up when we get outta here.”
Lance, now more lucid with the pure quintessence smiled and glanced at Keith from the side. “Thanks man.”
Keith held onto Lance’s paladin armor from his right, as he supported Lance from his left side as Lance held onto the pistol version of his bayard at the ready. They needed to leave before the druids returned and it was nerve wracking not knowing how soon they’d return. Keith had made sure to place the bomb in a critical area and another in the second level by the engine for the escape to the pods.
Just as they reached the third level, along the rafters, they were met with a dilemma. All paths were filled with Galra soldiers keeping watch for any intruders. The only good news was how the best path the level below this one, wasn’t as heavily guarded as the others.
“You think you’re up to watch my back Lance?”
Lance made a sound of offense, almost as if he wasn’t aware of his physical condition. “Always.”
Keith looked back at him and smirked. “Good, ‘cause I’m gonna need some cover fire,” he said before immediately hopping down to rapidly cut down the guards standing by.
With the ability to concentrate now, Lance did his part and made sure to take down whatever enemies tried to sneak up on Keith. His weapon had turned into his sniper gun, but significantly lighter than before and with less recoil to make it much more doable to do it with one arm.
Yet, as Keith helped him reach the access to the floor beneath them, another group showed up and began firing at them. Lance used his pistol this time as Keith blocked off their attacks with his dagger before cutting some enemies down.
Lance went through first, before looking up to yell at Keith, “Let’s go Mullet!”
Keith was going to hop down when a defeated bot soldier was suddenly flung into his direction, smacking him against the wall before falling through the opening. He caught himself from landing too horribly, but he’d heard a crack from his sternum fracturing down the middle.
“Oh my god Keith! Are you okay?”
Keith grunted upon sitting upright from the vent he’d fallen into, which was above the rafters they needed to access. Lance, although already injured, seemed more concerned over his well being that it kind of dumbfounded Keith for a moment before he cleared his head from the disorientation and said, “Yeah, I’m fine, let’s go.”
Lance gave him a deadpan stare before flinching from the sensation of some injuries acting up, which made Keith turn around.
“Are you alright?” he asked, his face worried.
Lance gave a nod and a failed thumbs up with his right hand, the bleeding having stopped a long while ago, dried blood caking over where the nails once were.
Yet, before Keith could say anything else, some soldiers came down into the vent. Two approached him as Lance shot down one behind them. Keith finished his opponents quickly before throwing a smoke bomb their way while his mask was on. Right after, he and Lance quickly moved ahead and turned at an intersection that could buy them some time. They quietly hopped down into the rafters and closed the vent they’d come from.
“We’re almost there,” Keith assured as he hurriedly explained his plan with the remaining distraction from the bombs he set up, all while they moved along the rafters.
“Are you sure we’ll be able to grab a pod and go? It’s not like they travelled far.”
“They actually did a wormhole jump earlier. I’d felt it, but I wasn’t sure till I checked the control room in trying to communicate with the others.”
“Were you able to reach the others?”
“Sorta. Just gotta hope that one of our geniuses notices what I did.”
Lance raised an eyebrow at him as they took a small break to rest for a minute. “Should I be concer—ow!” he said as he felt the burn on his arm act up again.
“It would seem so.”
Keith had been sarcastic and witty this past hour since rescuing him, but he’d been using it as a way to not overwhelm his thoughts with being worried over Lance. He probably had some serious internal injuries too, which was why Keith couldn’t really focus much on his own injuries when he knew Lance had suffered worse. Especially when he saw how Lance struggled to catch his breath.
Granted it wasn’t as bad as when he’d found him, but Keith hated seeing him like this. He’d nearly died once when Sendak had taken over the Castle and it’d driven him over the edge. The instant he confronted the Galra commander, he hadn’t held anything back. He’d gladly kicked his ass with Pidge’s, Shiro’s, Allura’s, and surprisingly Lance’s help.
“Those druids are gonna come after us soon,” Lance mentioned as they started going forward again.
“Well they have no ability at sensing enemies like Haggar, so we do have some advantage,” Keith added.
Lance pondered on something he wasn’t sure of, as if he’d forgotten something important before randomly saying aloud, “I think they’re conjoined.”
Keith paused to turn around to look at him with a confounded expression. “What?”
“I don’t know, but like sometimes when they tried merging into this one druid, they’d fail and it seemed kinda odd,” he said as he recalled the several times it had occurred.
“What like a failed fusion?”
“Yeah! For like sec they’d looked real shitty and partially combined, then most times they’d just separate. I’m too out of it to—ow!—properly tell why that’s important though.”
“Was there anything else you noticed?”
“Um… they sometimes were like out of breath once they separated, but again I don’t know how—ow!—that matters.”
“Lance, I think you just helped us find their weakness.”
“Think about it, they probably struggle to keep their magic and form stable while merged as one.”
Keith smirked at him. “Nice work Sharpshooter.”
Regardless of the pain Lance was in, he suddenly found himself blushing and on cloud nine at the sight of that smirk. “I, uh, wait, I mean, um, thanks.”
Before Keith could get out another response, the rafters below them suddenly gave out and they found themselves on the floor of the hallway of the second level.
Keith’s vision had gone out of focus with everything doubled and slightly blurry, so all he could see was a random blurred figure approaching before he was suddenly attacked by the same random dark silk-like creature from Lexus.
His vision was now fading as he felt himself being choked by the damn thing. What made it worse was that he had no clue where his knife had ended up after the fall.
Lance had managed to not take as much damage from the event since Keith had shielded him at the last second, so without delay he found his bayard and shot at the merged druid.
It shrieked and stepped back as it’s concentration broke long enough for the silk-like creature holding Keith to suddenly release his comrade and aim for him. “Oh fuck!”
He grabbed any piece of debris he could use as some form of defense while endlessly yelling and hoping for Keith to recover fast enough and help.
“Keith! Keith! Buddy! Hey—EEP! OW!” he cut off as a particularly hard strike sent a strong vibration through his right hand, shaking up his tired nerves. “Shit! Shit! Shit! KEITH! FUCK!” he shrieked in a panic as he found himself struggling to keep the creepy thing away from himself.
As he was readying to yell at Keith again, a slash cut through the air behind the creature, causing it to scream from whatever agony it had felt in that moment. It dashed off to scurry behind it’s masters, apparently begging to be healed. When Lance looked over Keith to where the druids were standing, they were separated and looking extremely out of breath. More so than ever.
Nevertheless, it wasn’t long before they tried to strike them with electric dark energy. The same they’d used to harm Lance with before kidnapping him. However, something felt off. Their movements were slower and less calculative than before. They weren’t even teleporting, Lance noticed.
Keith threw whatever debris he could seize along the direction of the oncoming attacks as a way to block them while Lance got up before they could run off again.
Of course, as they reached the hangar, the path to access the floor below was gradually becoming blocked by enemies trying to shoot them down. Reluctantly, they had to take cover and think up another plan.
“What do we do?” asked Lance as he held back a flinch from pain flaring up in various areas across his body.
Keith quickly analyzed their surroundings, but his main plan required Lance to put on his armor, and with no caution either. “I could set off the bomb, but it’s at the hangar door above the engine and it’ll get rid of most of the soldiers, but the pressure could kill you without your suit on.”
“Oh fuck…” said Lance as he realized what needed to be done.
“Trust me this wasn’t what I planned, but the druids are making that harder for us.”
“It’s fine. You got anymore of those smoke bombs?” Lance asked, as he tried to fire at some oncoming bot soldiers. They were hiding behind a pile of damaged, irreparable ships in the hangar.
“Yeah? What good would it do?”
“Well, just throw some to make it look like we’re up to something and not vulnerable.”
“Right. Good call,” responded Keith as he threw some over in random areas. “You’ve got about 3 minutes.”
“Wonderful…” muttered Lance as he snatched up the pieces of his armor and rapidly pulled them on the areas that weren’t so injured. He had to bite his tongue as he slid on the gloves over his hands and armor parts for his arms. The chest piece was the last to add. “Can you help me with this last one?”
“Yeah, hang on,” stated Keith as he helped Lance put on the final piece. It broke his heart all the sounds Lance had made in putting everything on again, but they needed this plan to work. When Lance managed to get his helmet on, they both nodded and Keith set off the bombs.
The sudden rush of pressure sucked out most of the soldiers and apparently one of the druids. Keith had stabbed his knife into the ground to hold onto, while Lance had latched onto him until the pressure stabilized in the small space.
Regardless, as they made their way to access the floor beneath them, the druids, in their merged form, somehow teleported over to where they were. Keith was in front while Lance stood behind him. The dark silk-like creature still present and now more or less healed and prepared to come at them.
“How dare you think you can escape? We’ll make you suffer even worse than the Red Paladin has for all that you’ve done to our ship!” it snapped angrily as it compelled its creature to go forwards.
Thankfully with Lance’s jetpack, they could easily shift away much easier compared to before. Especially since the creature was having trouble navigating under a different atmospheric pressure.
Keith quickly grabbed a sheet of floating metal and nudged Lance to switch directions. Lance quickly understood what he wanted to do and obliged as Keith put the flat side of the sheet towards the oncoming creature which ended up getting pressed against it. The metal sheet was released in the direction of the remaining two druids, but then the third druid reappeared to merge with them. Managing to partially stop the oncoming attack and carelessly moving it towards the gaping hole formed from the bombs that were set off earlier.
When Lance saw the merged druid turn its attention back to him and Keith, he panicked as he felt himself and Keith being pulled towards them, even with the jetpack on. His nerves settled down more or less when he felt Keith place something in his hand. They both weren’t paralyzed, so that was a huge indicator that the magic was weaker this time, but they remained still to let them believe they were. Lance felt himself be shifted to be next to Keith instead of behind him as the distance between them and the merged druid decreased.
Once they were close enough, the conjoined form, or true form of the druids made an appearance and Lance and Keith immediately smacked into their faces, vials of pure quintessence. The druids shrieked from how the liquid burned at their skin and eyes, effectively breaking their hold on Keith and Lance.
The lack of gravity made them bounce instead of land with a thud, but thankfully Lance was able use the jetpack to move them back on track. Yet, as they rapidly tried to move around their main enemy, Keith’s leg was snatched by a clawed hand with such force that he cried out in pain. He was holding onto Lance, but the druids refused to loosen their grip.
“YOU’RE OURS!” they said in unison before shocking their bodies with dark energy. For Lance, he’d lost count, but for Keith, it was his first and he honestly couldn’t imagine how it was that Lance had even withstood this when getting kidnapped.
Both were yelling now, their bodies spasming from the agony surging through their nervous system. Keith pathetically tried kicking at their faces, but managed to only strike at the clawed hand holding his leg in place. Fortunately, it was enough of a distraction to reduce some of the concentrated dark energy circulating through them and allow Keith enough movement to push Lance away as he let go of his right arm. Just as the druids amped it up once more.
Lance’s body, already exhausted from being struck with one agonizing hit after another, could match the sensation of metal stretched to its maximum tensile strength as he struggled to summon his bayard and activate its pistol form. His vision was switching focus between blurred and clear as he tried to help Keith, whose screams fueled his adrenaline to move swiftly and get payback for what the druids had put them through.
It felt as if his body was on autopilot as he moved and aimed with perfect precision at the wrist of the clawed hand. All while avoiding causing any further harm to Keith, who was soon floating freely away from the shrieking druids. Lance promptly moved forward to grab onto him, but saw that Keith was trying to reach for something, even though his body was still recovering from the spasms.
“My… kn-knife…” murmured Keith as his arm hopelessly reached behind himself before Lance assisted him with grabbing it.
Lance was going to let go of Keith’s hand, but Keith’s grip was too loose on his knife as it was activated to form a sword, so he held on.
“F-Forward,” Keith insisted and Lance obliged with his jetpack, catching on to what Keith intended to do and knowing Keith all too well that he was angry too at their enemy giving them such a hellish time.
At once, both lifted the sword and swung it across the exposed conjoined form of the druids, who suddenly stopped screaming. Thick, slate-colored fluid seeped from the deep gash across their chest. Their choked sounds, followed by silence and stillness of their movements signaled their defeat.
Both boys were panting from how difficult that had been after barely catching a break and glanced at each other.
Lance smiled and spoke first. “Still sharp... as ever... huh… Samurai?”
Keith blinked at him before giving a light chuckle, careful to not make his sternum fracture worse. “Yeah, but I... would’ve missed… without your... help,” he responded, not at all missing the surprised expression on Lance’s face, “much less… grab the sword…”
Lance was going to reply something witty, but he changed his mind when he saw Keith flinch from his leg injury. His priority right now was getting himself and Keith to a damn escape pod before any other Galra could come find them.
He would’ve gladly helped remove that creepy-ass hand still gripping Keith’s leg, but it had penetrated his blade suit, meaning that he’d suffer from the pressure change if it was taken out now, so they moved quickly with accessing the level, ripped open from the pressure change earlier.
When they popped through the rafters, they came across a few pods and a halted engine with some ripped up parts of bot soldiers floating around. They navigated towards the closest pod and hopped inside, checking the status of it before deciding to keep it. They weren’t safe yet, but thankfully, the hatch to release the pods could only be opened from within the pods themselves. With their combined knowledge of Galra language, they figured that out and soon were riding away from the damaged ship.
They remained silent, neither sure of what to say or ask first.
It stayed like that as Keith piloted the pod in the opposite direction the druid ship had been travelling in, until he grew impatient and asked, “What the fuck were you doing on Lexus?”
Lance had no patience left either and replied with, “What the hell were you doing before Lotor stopped the explosion?”
Keith’s hands tightened on the controls he was handling, and he gritted his teeth. “Nothing important.”
“You really think I’m gonna buy that?” Lance answered as he glared at the back of Keith’s head.
“Like you’re any better about telling things,” Keith retorted, scowling slightly.
“Stop avoiding the question Keith,” Lance demanded, as he began making the effort to get up from the backseat.
“When you answer mine first,” spat back Keith stubbornly.
“It relates to how you answer yours,” answered Lance in a very serious tone as he finally managed to stand.
“What are you doing?” asked Keith as he glanced behind him, “and I already said, it’s not—”
“IT IS TO ME!” shouted Lance, his hands tightened into fists at his sides, nerves tiredly screaming about his injuries, but he easily ignored them with how furious he was right now. And he was ready to lay down his case right then and there about how Keith shouldn’t have tried to casually throw away his life like that.
Unfortunately, before he could even do that, a bright neon light shined through their field of view from the pod and panic rose within them once more.
For fuck’s sake.
Keith growled in frustration. Neither he nor Lance had much fight left in them. They were purely running on a mix of sheer adrenaline, spite, and willpower. The first one being the only reason they had any energy at all.
“Got any ideas?” asked Keith as he spotted a basic cargo Galra ship with fighter drones approaching.
“If we had those saucer guns from the castle, I’d say yes, but we don’t…”
“Fuck,” they said in unison as they scowled at this new enemy. Their expressions turned to worry the instant the fighter drones began firing at them from all angles that made up half a circle.
Even without a plan, both boys remained stubborn, Keith working to dodge whatever he could and Lance notifying him of the closest incoming shots. Nonetheless, there was only so much they could do and soon enough, one of the engines pods was busted by a direct hit, and they lost most of the mobility they had before as they struggled to dodge. Not long after the first engine, their second and third were taken out, leaving them floating like an open target.
Nothing left to improvise with.
The fighter drones had stopped shooting, but that was because they were loading up their guns to full power before aiming at them.
Despite the direness of the situation, their hands ended up intertwined, the silence speaking endless words they couldn’t say aloud in seconds. They soon glanced at each other determinedly, prepared to accept whatever would come to happen.
As the fired shots from the fighter drones reached their helpless pod, something large and green blocked their view of the danger. It took on the entire force of the hit, but it managed to protect them.
“Hi. Hello. Green Paladin here. I’m looking for two idiots. Have you seen them? Oh wait, nevermind. You are the ones I’m looking for,” greeted Pidge with the Green Lion’s head looking into the front window of the pod, but it was clear how relieved she sounded through the speakers.
“I’m not even mad,” commented Lance, because he was just as happy as she was to be found.
“Same,” answered Keith with a small smirk.
“Well, I’ll leave you both at the lost and found center. Gotta do something about those guys over there,” she explained before heading off to attack the fighter drones that had nearly ended them seconds ago.
Before they could bother to ask, the Yellow Lion appeared and began towing them away from the danger, just as the Blue Lion, the Black Lion, and some ships from the Blade of Marmora passed them to join Pidge.
“Do you have any idea how WORRIED we were about you guys?!” yelled Hunk as he began scolding them about how they’d been searching for them for the past day.
Lance and Keith flinched, not because of their injuries but because of the amount of trouble they’d put their friends through in having to find them.
“THANK QUIZNAK that one of you managed to hack into their control system—which I’m betting was Keith—and recalled how Pidge, Matt, and I had a tracker on the Galra radio and sent that morse code message,” he added as the Castle started to come into view.
“Well ONE of us got captured and I had to figure something out before rescuing him,” mentioned Keith as he crossed his arms and avoided looking at Lance.
“OH so this my fault now?” demanded Lance, who’d been in the process of sitting back down. He resumed standing, the remnants of his adrenaline permitting him to do so as he moved back to where Keith was.
“If you hadn’t taken that ship to Lexus, we’d probably be fine right now,” remarked Keith as he found himself standing up to angrily look at Lance.
“Uh guys?” Hunk tried to interrupt, but was ignored.
“There was no reason for you to have even been on that ship, mullet!” pointed out Lance as he jabbed at Keith’s shoulder with his left hand.
“I did TOO have a reason!” argued Keith as he brushed off Lance’s hand like an unwanted pest.
“Guys please!” Hunk tried once more, but was ignored again.
“Well I had my OWN reason for why I was on that planet!” spat back Lance, as he felt his muscles start to shake under his own weight.
“And WHAT exactly was that huh?” demanded Keith, fists at his sides, his body tense.
Lance had been ready again to lay it all down before Keith, but as fate would have it…his body gave out. He would’ve landed on the floor horribly if not for Keith reacting quickly and catching him. Yet, even though Lance felt himself entering oblivion, he managed to get out the words, “I would’ve missed you,” with a soft smile before blacking out.
He really hated how shitty his timing was.
“HUNK! Hurry please! He collapsed!” shouted Keith in a panic as he held onto Lance’s still form that was barely breathing from whatever internal injuries he had.
“I AM!” replied Hunk desperately through the speakers as he rushed, but Keith knew that the Yellow Lion was the heaviest and therefore the slowest of the Lions, so not much else could be done.
By the time they reached the Castle with Coran waiting by the hangar for Hunk’s lion, Lance’s body had begun to feel cold, and Keith struggled harder to not panic further from this new piece of information. Hunk helped him gently place Lance on a hover stretcher, which scanned him for damage across his body. It was meant for Altean anatomy, but after Pidge managed to snatch some anatomy books on humans from some black market, she and Coran modified it to apply to humans too.
From the face Coran made, the news wasn’t good. Keith was by far no doctor, but he had enough common sense and personal experience to understand the severity of the terms punctured lung, fractured ribs, second and third degree burns, internal bleeding caused by trauma to other internal organs and biting of the tongue, nerve damage, and extensive bruising.
He hated how helpless he felt, but he trusted Coran and the other medical professionals the Rebellion had on hand to stabilize Lance enough to get him into the healing pod and recover properly. As Lance was being operated on to secure most of the immediate injuries, Coran briefly left the room to urge Keith to get checked himself for any serious injuries.
“I’m fine Coran,” insisted Keith as he was pulled by the strong elderly Altean.
“My boy, ev’ryone says that when they’re not. Now come along. Lance is in good hands and I’ll check ‘im myself when I’m done with you,” assertively stated Coran as they entered a room that was adjacent to the healing pod room.
“Where’s Lotor?” Keith asked, trying to change the subject.
“Sealed away for now. The Princess was going to int’rrogate him while he was unconscious, but then finding you and Lance became top prior’ty,” answered Coran before he added, “His pod isn’t linked directly to the ship’s crystal, so no repetition of last time likely to happen either.”
“Oh…” Keith said as he was sat down and then scanned by a different Altean device that Pidge had managed to help Coran modify.
Not long after the scan was completed, Coran’s expression turned grim as he looked over the information. “You’ve suff’red some nerve damage as well, a simple fract’re to y’r fibula and tibia, a pretty nasty fract’re on your sternum, and some extensive bruising relating to a fall most likely, and various degrees of burns near your gashed leg. You’ll need to go into a healing pod Keith.”
Keith sighed. He didn’t want to be out cold while Lance was dealing with worse. He snapped out of his thoughts when Coran placed a reassuring hand on his shoulder. “Believe me, you need it and how do you expect to support Lance in this condition? We can’t have that.”
Reluctantly, he gave in to Coran’s insistence and joined him to the healing pod room before he recalled something important and pulled out the remaining vials he’d managed to collect and secure within something akin to plastic wrap, but of a material that couldn’t break easily under any sort of pressure, yet with the right solution poured onto it, it could undergo sublimation, leaving behind whatever it was protecting.
“What, in the name of King Groggery the Infirm is that?” stated Coran as he took the vials from Keith with experienced delicacy and turned them over in his palm. “By the universe, these are vials of pure quintessence and corrupt quintessence. How did you get these?”
“I found them while looking for Lance,” answered Keith quietly as he looked at the ground while recollecting the sight of Lance’s condition from when he first found him. “I grabbed some to bring back for analysis, but we had to use a lot of the pure ones while escaping, so there’s just two left.”
“Don’t worry my boy, I’ll see to it that this gets done. I’m sure the blade and some of the rebels can assist us with the analysis. Magic is indeed well known, but much of its history has been lost, especially with the loss of Altea itself, considering that our forte was in alchemy,” explained Coran before he realized that he’d gotten distracted. “Alright, now off you go into the pod!”
“What about my clothes?” asked Keith, referring to his blade suit.
“I already added the schematics of them into the healing pods, so it can molecularize the complex structures it’s made up of,” assured Coran as he prepared a pod from the center control panel. It hissed open. Keith removed his knife and placed it on the ground next to the pod before stepping inside.
The healing pod made its own scan to double check if the manual scan Coran had done was consistent. When it seemed satisfied with the results, it molecularized Keith’s suit into a separate location and replaced it with the Altean version of hospital gowns as it released an anaesthetic gas to put him to sleep.
Keith’s vision faded and soon his mind was wrapped in darkness.
When he opened his eyes again, he was floating in an abyss of nothingness, unsure of where to go, what was going on, or who he even was for that matter.
Then suddenly, he was underwater, but not drowning, just one with it. He could feel the push and pull of the current as memories filled with his strongest emotions swirled around beneath his feet. He recognized his family and everything they’d done together, his friendship with Hunk from the Garrison, his blooming friendship with Pidge after finding Voltron, his respect and admiration of Shiro for taking on the role of team leader, his trust in Coran when he’d been vulnerable, his growing friendship with Allura from learning to trust each other, his admiration of Matt for being so supportive and wise, his feelings for Keith that he’d never been able to suppress and saw grow in size when they’d separated and messaged each other everyday.
Everything he treasured and wanted to protect was still here.
Lance smiled at his achievement, but frowned when he felt something tug at the back of his mind that he still had something important to do.
What was it?
He could still feel his unison with the water he was submerged in, yet, the feeling kept nagging at him and urging him to break the surface.
But he was peaceful here. What could possibly—
His train of thought broke as he recollected the day’s past events: his capture, his determination to hold on, his surprise that hope had brought him Keith, his will to fight to protect his world.
There was no way in hell that he could let himself stay here and with that Lance pushed his body to move upwards.
And broke the surface.
With practiced hands and years of experience, she and her team completed their task of stabilizing his body enough to place him into a healing pod and have it do the remaining work of helping his body recover.
Coran had returned sometime before to assist her and was now carefully taking Lance to the healing pod bay. Her work here was done.
Keith, having fewer injuries, exited first out of the pod. Pidge had been the only one there at the time and although she was small, she was strong enough to help Keith stand as he became aware of his surroundings.
He was going to ask about Lance, but then saw the pod next to him with Lance inside. Hunk then showed up and urged Keith to eat something before stalking Lance’s pod all day like last time.
Keith denied ever having done such a thing. Pidge merely smirked at him with a, “Keep telling yourself that.”
“You’re both terrible,” he remarked with a huff as he was guided to the kitchen.
“We missed you too Keith,” Hunk and Pidge said in unison, which Keith paused at the sound of, recollecting all too well how those words reminded him of the last thing Lance had said to him before he blacked out.
Pidge and Hunk seemed to notice his mood had dropped and tried to save the moment with letting him know that Matt and the blade were on the case about the vials. Hunk proceeded to mention some of the new dishes he’d come up with using some of the supplies the rebels had that the paladins weren’t familiar with. He was very adamant about achieving the flavor of chocolate in one of his recipes. Pidge insisted it was amazing and that she loved it as a snack while staying up late working on projects in the lab that was either her room or Green’s hangar.
Keith merely smiled and appreciated how hard they were working to keep his spirits lifted. Neither mentioned anything about Lance, which was nice. Allura, Shiro, and Coran were out on a small mission to assist with passing out food to some needed aliens and would be back soon.
When he’d finished eating and got the opportunity to change into his usual clothes, Pidge dragged him to the lab she had in Green’s hangar with Hunk to explain how they came across his signal from the druid ship. It wasn’t necessary, but he knew they were just trying to keep him distracted. At least, this time, he could make better sense of what she was saying and clarify what’d he’d done in his attempt to hack the control panel. Pidge eagerly listened and seemed very proud at how Keith had gone from calling things random buttons or weird things to their proper names. Keith laughed at how worked up she was, but even Hunk shed an imaginary tear of joy at how much knowledge Keith had gained in training with the blade.
He mentioned that he’d managed to break the first three layers of the encryption out of the fifteen that had been present. Keith went on to explain his dilemma with the fourth one and soon after Pidge and Hunk suggested different methods of approach that he could attempt next time he ever found himself needing to deal with it again.
“I mean, if you ever have a chance to hang around—which I’m sure the princess won’t mind—maybe I can show you how I do it during a mission,” offered Pidge with a shy smile.
Keith blinked in surprise at her offer before he heard Hunk clear his throat next to him.
“I’d be happy to offer some pointers too, you know? You’re still part of the team Keith,” mentioned Hunk, as Pidge nodded next to him in agreement.
“You don’t really have to—”
“We want to,” stated Pidge as she crossed her arms.
“Yeah, what she said,” added Hunk as he pointed at her.
Keith smiled at their honesty. He’d forgotten what it was like to be around his space family after being away for so long. Even when Lance had texted or video messaged him everyday about missions, personal things, and shenanigans that happened around the Castle or in general.
“Alright alright, I’ll ask Kolivan if I can come by for visits from time to time.”
They whooped excitedly and he laughed.
“It’s been so long, the Castle isn’t the same without you around,” mentioned Allura with a smile as she gently held his hands in hers. “Please be reminded that you’re welcome to come by whenever you’re available.”
“Lion or not, you’re still part of this team Keith,” assured Shiro as he placed a hand on his shoulder.
Coran stroked his mustache. “I can easily arrange with Kolivan for you to come by when the timing seems right. I did plan the Voltron Coalition events after all,” he said confidently as he cupped his chin with his index finger and thumb.
“If it's too much trouble—”
“Nonsense,” cut in Allura as she looked at him determinedly. “We care about you and we know the blade missions can be a lot. We’re not telling you to stop your training, merely just reminding you to take a mental break when needed.”
“Thanks guys… I’d really… I’d really like that,” replied Keith, and he truly meant it. All this time, even though he still immensely cared for everyone, he’d kept his distance because he felt unwanted and unneeded. He held onto the hope that maybe he’d been wrong when Lance chased after him and insisted that they message each other everyday through their wristwatches. Keith knew he’d told him long before Shiro could pilot Black again to leave the math to Pidge, so he figured Lance would’ve been satisfied by the turn of events. Yet, despite everything, Lance had continued to worry over Keith when there seemed no reason to, and that alone had made Keith’s heart flutter endlessly that day.
He snapped out of his thoughts when he heard Allura mention something about paladin armour. “Could you repeat that please?” he asked, hoping it didn’t come off as rude.
“I said that if you feel out of place with your blade suit, your paladin armour is still in your room. We never put it away,” she repeated kindly.
“Yeah, Lance made the argument that red didn’t look good on him and that pink suited Allura better either way,” mentioned Shiro with a hand under his chin as he recollected the event. “None of the rest of us had anything to say so we just left it at that.”
“Oh goodness!” exclaimed Coran as he remembered something. “We should leave soon, we have another diplomatic talk today in the dining room,” he alerted Shiro and Allura.
“You can go on ahead. I’ll be there in a moment,” notified Allura calmly as Shiro and Coran nodded in understanding before heading off while discussing over what topics to touch on during the event.
When they were out of earshot, Allura turned her attention back to Keith, her hands still gently holding his gloved ones. “I should tell you, that in my time of being a paladin and working with Lance… I believe he feared feeling as if he were replacing you and hoped you would be able to come back one day. There’s the possibility that I’m wrong, but it is what I have come to believe in coming to know Lance better as time has passed.”
Keith was caught off guard by Allura’s statement, but he realized that she’d been worried about Lance for some time before the kidnapping, but didn’t know any better on how to approach him about it. Then again, Lance was good at being difficult and probably had his reasons. Keith had come to learn over time through their communication with their wristwatches that Lance was good at hiding his insecurities, better than Keith himself could. It had only been scarce occasions when Lance’s guard dropped only slightly before being fortified in the next second. When Keith had first seen it happen during a video message, he hadn’t been sure of what to make of it nor did he know what to do to help someone feel better.
When it happened the second time, Keith was unfortunately unable to react quick enough, so he became determined to be ready for when it would happen the next time.
Eventually, it did, and it involved Lance mentioning how he missed his mother making papaya smoothies after coming home from school.
“What do they taste like?” Keith had asked curiously.
Lance’s face of utter disbelief in the video had been very hard to not laugh at, but Keith kept his composure as Lance went off on how freaking amazing they tasted.
“When we get back to earth, I’m dragging you to my house to try them. My mom makes the best!” Lance had promised with the most determined expression.
Keith had chuckled at how adorable he looked and said, “I’ll hold you to that.”
Several minutes remained when Matt and Kolivan entered the room to report their findings regarding the vials that Keith had managed to bring back. Everyone (not including Keith this time) circled around them as they explained that the druids had been spies for the empire that gathered samples of quintessence and tested their concentration by seeing how much corrupt quintessence could be produced from it. Apparently, the ratio was hardly ever one to one and the pure quintessence would have to be left alone before being checked again. Much like how a farmer checked if the fruit was ripe enough for picking. They weren’t sure yet what purpose this served, but the fact that they had been going on amidst the area of the Voltron Coalition prompted them to investigate if any other spies were present and in hiding.
As Keith listened in to what they were saying, before hearing the group discuss theories on what to do about it or how to be better prepared for the future, he suddenly heard the healing pod open. When he turned to look, he saw Lance fall out and immediately caught him.
“Hmm… warm…” murmured Lance as he nudged his head into Keith’s shoulder.
Keith of course was internally screaming, but that wasn’t important.
As Lance realized where he was he asked, “Keith? Issat really you?”
Keith, who was fighting very hard to not blush, quickly replied, “Yup.”
“Are we… safe?” asked Lance as he looked up at Keith.
“Yeah… we’re in the Castle. You’ve been in the healing pod until now,” explained Keith as he tried not to shudder from Lance’s breath being so close to his neck.
“Oh…” Lance quietly said as he moved to try to stand on his own. Keith kept supporting him either way.
Not long after, the others took notice that Lance wasn’t in the healing pod anymore and excitedly fluttered over to greet him. He was happy to see everyone again, but he was low on energy and wanted to change into his usual clothing before discussing more serious matters, such as why he was even captured.
“Lemme change clothes in my room,” Lance said with some forced energy as he raised his hands in surrender, not at all bothered it seemed that Keith was quietly helping him stand. “I’ll go to the kitchen afterwards.”
“You sure—” asked Hunk before he was cut off by Pidge nudging him in the arm. “Uh, yeah, kitchen, yes, okay,” he suddenly said before rushing out of the room with her and everyone else.
Soon after it was just Keith and Lance. They remained quiet until Keith asked, “You sure you wanna walk?”
“I’ll be fine… just tired,” answered Lance like it wasn’t a big deal.
Keith merely sighed and let go momentarily to bend down in front of Lance with his back facing him. “Come on.”
“Keith… what?” asked Lance as his eyebrows knitted in confusion.
“I’m offering you piggy back ride. Now get on already. Walking will take forever at this rate and you’ve got people waiting to talk to you in another room,”argued Keith as he waited, stretching his patience for the very boy he’d fallen for of course.
Lance stayed silent before quietly accepting the offer. Once Keith lifted him up and started walking, Lance muttered a quiet, “Thanks.”
“You don’t have to be difficult around me you know?” commented Keith as they reached the halfway point on their small journey to the kitchen.
Lance huffed and pouted. “It’s just… hard… not to be…” he struggled to say, tone indicating that he wasn’t sure if he was making any sense at all with that statement.
“I get it,” was all Keith replied, but it was enough and the rest of the journey was quiet. When they were a few feet away from the kitchen, Keith gently set him down, to prevent anyone from seeing them and helped him walk the rest of the way.
“Wow! That was—” Matt had tried to say, but was cut off with Hunk speaking loudly.
“Hey guys!” greeted Hunk as he set down some food from some recipes he’d developed during the promotion of the Voltron Coalition.
Keith and Lance sat down by some available seats before Lance happily dug into his food after not having eaten in so long. The space mice rushed over from where Allura had been standing to hop onto him as he ate, expressing from all their jumping around that they’d missed him and had been worried.
Once Lance swallowed some food, he chuckled. “For such little guys, you sure have some big hearts. Don’t worry, I’m here now,” he stated before he continued eating. After some moments, the others began discussing about his capture and asking questions.
Keith had already informed them all that he’d done and learned about while rescuing Lance, so he didn’t need to pitch in, but he still listened. The beginning matched what he’d observed Lance do and Keith heard him say that he was gathering his thoughts after nearly dying. However, the way Lance had glanced at him when he mentioned that detail, meant that that wasn’t the whole truth. Keith wanted to ask about that, but chose to hold his tongue until they could talk in private.
In the meantime, as Lance vaguely dove into the details of his torment, Keith had to fight back from shaking angrily because he firmly believed Lance had deserved none of it. He stayed quiet, but when he looked across the room, Shiro was watching him, and Keith was reminded of when he’d shared his side of the story.
He’d admitted that he felt like he could’ve helped Lance sooner and that his condition had been Keith’s fault.
Shiro had gone over to Keith and hugged him as he said, “You did what you felt was right and you’re both safe now, so don’t blame yourself.”
Keith blinked at the recollection and calmed down before focusing back onto Lance’s story which was when Keith had broken him free before they both worked together on reaching the escape pods.
Even though Keith knew the events that had taken place, it was definitely much more interesting to hear Lance tell it which made Keith gaze endearingly at him without him noticing.
Both were rather quiet and wouldn’t make eye contact.
Lance had been waiting for a moment of privacy to talk to Keith, but now he was nervous and fiddling with his fingers as he tried to think of the words he wanted to say.
When he glanced over at Keith, Keith seemed rather pensive about something himself and Lance couldn’t tell if it was good or bad.
“D-D-Do you w-wanna go to my room? To, uh, chat?” asked Lance suddenly and hoped his voice didn’t sound so cracked.
Keith blinked at him for a moment in surprise, but then nodded. Soon after, they were walking next to each other to Lance’s room, Lance now reenergized and the sedatives having warn off a long while ago to be able to walk without help.
Upon the door sliding shut, Lance’s heart raced as he invited Keith to sit next to him on the bed to talk.
The nervosity between them filled the air before they gathered the courage to speak.
“I need to tell you something!” they said at once and blushed in realizing how close their faces were.
“Uh, you can go first,” Keith insisted. He’d been waiting to hear what Lance had been wanting to say during their arguments in the escape pod before fate interrupted them.
“Oh, okay, um, well…” Lance trailed off, gaze looking away as he gathered up the words he’d been holding on to since Lexus. When he felt ready he returned his attention to Keith and looked into his amethyst eyes.
“The real reason I was on Lexus was because I was… overwhelmed… I saw how Matt was pissed at you and found out what you’d been about to do and I just… I couldn’t handle thinking about life without you around,” he started as his fingers gripped tightly at the bottom edges of his jacket touching his jeans. “I know the blade teach the concept of “knowledge or death,” but sacrifice is never the first or only option. I know sometimes it can be inevitable like me saving Coran that time, but believe me, there are situations where it won’t change a thing and you should be aware of that whenever you consider it. I had to learn that the hard way through Hunk,” he continued as he gestured with his hands for added emphasis before sighing. “You’d be missed more than thanked he’d told me and that’s why…”
“That’s why you said that to me in the escape pod…” finished Keith as it all began to make sense why Lance had broken down on the shore of the beach.
“Yeah, nearly dying sucked, so that affected me too and I don’t like owing to someone like Lotor, and I’ve been taking better care of myself since Hunk told me that. Yet, the thought of losing you hurt more... I just wanted to let you know that you’re important Keith… you’re important to me… you’re my… world…” confessed Lance as blushed and intertwined his hands together.
Keith’s chest filled with an overflowing warmth as he processed Lance’s words and felt his eyes tear up in feeling all the emotions behind them. Gently, he used his own hands to cup Lance’s intertwined ones, watching how Lance’s hand seemed to relax in his hold before looking up and meeting his mediterranean blue eyes.
“I would’ve missed you too… if me rescuing you is any indicator of how worried I was about you,” confessed Keith as he blushed too.
Lance couldn’t believe that this was happening and he wanted to cry happy tears, but there was one more thing he need to tell Keith. “I lied about forgetting our bonding moment,” he admitted as he looked down at their hands.
Keith gently removed one of his hands and delicately placed it against Lance’s cheek. “Why?” he said quietly as his eyebrows furrowed in confusion.
“I thought what it meant was too good to be true… so I pretended to forget…” answered Lance before he rested his forehead against Keith’s. “I’m sorry.”
“Hey, hey, it’s okay,” Keith cooed softly. “I’m not mad anymore. We’re here now and that’s what matters.”
Lance chuckled. “Yeah, that’s true,” he agreed as he sighed happily.
Keith smiled at how beautiful Lance looked in the dim lighting of the room.
The moment was interrupted when they heard Allura summoning them to the control room through the speakers.
Lance groaned as he slid his head down to Keith’s shoulder. “As much as I hate to say it, I’m just glad to hear her voice and not the screaming druids or their normal creepy-ass voices.”
“Well that was some Nightmare Before Christmas,” mentioned Keith as he combed through Lance’s hair with his fingers tiredly, a small smirk tugging at his face.
Lance’s jaw dropped. “You did not just—no, I can’t fucking believe this! Did you just make a movie reference?!”
Keith’s smile widened. “Did I? I don’t think so.”
“You did you piece of shit. I’m telling everyone of this discovery!” declared Lance as he began hurrying out of the room.
“Lance get back here!” called Keith as he ran after him.
“You just got healed! Don’t push yourself!”
“Oh right—oh shit!” Lance tripped and awaited the horrible landing when he felt someone catch him and pull him back up.
“What did I tell you?” said Keith with a disbelieving stare.
“I was… fine,” insisted Lance as he pouted.
“Uhuh, let’s go with that,” commented Keith as he intertwined Lance’s hand with his own.
Lance blushed furiously, since he was still processing the conversation that had transpired in his room and now this, but he was happy and wouldn’t have the day end any other way.