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Only I Will Remain

Chapter Text

The twin moons reflected brilliantly against the broken marble pillars of the abandoned temple. It was easy to imagine how they would have sparkled and shone hundreds of years ago, when a constant stream of worshippers visited and rubbed the pillars for luck. Matt’s hands clenched into fists at his sides. He wasn’t here to enjoy history. He couldn’t afford to get sidetracked from his mission. Some information on local culture was recon. That was smart. Getting lost in the history of a people colonized hundreds of years ago though? He couldn’t afford that.

Not when he was working for the empire that had destroyed it.

He ducked behind a broken wall when he saw a flutter of cloth in his peripheral vision. This was what he had been waiting for.

The new figure moved quickly, flitting from shadow to shadow in a similar fashion as Matt himself had less than half an hour ago. Their fox-like ears, an identifying feature of the Ridali people, poked up out of their traveling cloak, helping cool them in the hot desert night.

Unlike Matt, however, when they approached the pillars, rather than immediately hiding and admiring their beauty from afar, the new arrival stepped closer, into the moonlight. Matt’s carefully controlled breathing caught when the light hit their face.

A child.

He had been sent here to murder a child.

He grit his teeth but otherwise didn’t move. He knew his mission. Haggar’s words ran through his head.

You will kill the first Ridali to come to the temple. You will send a message. You will remind these traitors that we are always watching.

Matt hadn’t protested then, and he wasn’t about to now. This didn’t change anything.

He waited as the child finished their ritual, holding their hands up to the moonlight, then pressing them against one of the broken pillars. After a moment, they pulled away, then repeated the motions, gathering the moonlight in their hands and resting them against the broken pillar. This time though, they rested their forehead on the cool stone too.

Gradually, Matt realized that they were praying. His hand rested on on the hilt of the dagger strapped to his thigh. He needed to move soon. The temple was the refuge of the rebellion on this planet, and he hadn’t been able to scope it out beforehand. If he let the child go inside, he wouldn’t be able to follow.

He’d lose his target. He’d fail.

An image came unbidden to his mind. His father’s face, bruised and bloodied, but alive, somehow, miraculously, still alive. As long as Matt cooperated, he would be okay. Or as okay as you could be in Galra custody.

If Matt gave up his soul, his father could keep his.

It was a worthwhile trade.

He silently slid the knife out of its sheath. The child hadn’t noticed him, wrapped up as they were in their prayers. He took a deep breath and then leapt over the wall separating them, grabbing the child and clamping a hand over their mouth before they had a chance to scream. Their large ears flicked, and their strong legs kicked as they tried to escape Matt's grasp, but their tiny body was no match for his Galra-enhanced strength.

His knife flicked out, stabbing once, twice, three times, twisting in the kid's stomach before pulling out.

Matt kept his hand firmly planted over their mouth to muffle their screams. Luckily, they bled out quickly.

First they stopped trying to bite, then kick, then he had nothing but a limp body in his arms.

Matt moved his finger to their ear, where he knew he’d be able to feel for a pulse. Nothing. Nothing but warm skin.

He took a deep breath and took his hand away from the kid’s, the body’s, mouth. Then, after a quick check to make sure no one was coming, Matt wiped his knife off and then pulled off their traveler’s cloak.

They were so small. He remembered when Katie was that small, when they would climb on his shoulders when they were outside because they wanted to be closer to the stars. This was someone's child on the ground at his feet.

But then that was the point, wasn't it? He was supposed to demoralize the resistance. If a Galra soldier had come to his house and twisted a knife in Katie's ribs…

Well, he was doing this for his dad. Matt would sell out the universe to protect his family.
He would also mutilate a corpse.

He cut away the Ridali child's shirt and then got to work, plunging his knife in deep so he wouldn't have to go back and cut a second time.

It wasn’t easy work, but after the blood had dried on his hands and his soul, Matt was done, another mission completed for the Empire.

He wiped his knife off and turned away from the child’s corpse. The bloody Galra insignia he’d carved into their chest followed him all the way back to the spaceport.

He clenched his fist and continued walking. He’d completed his mission. It was best if he forgot the details as quickly as possible.

--

When Matt returned to the Galra ship, he was immediately flanked by drone soldiers. Once, he would have fought them. He would have aimed for their joints and tried to sweep their feet out from under them so he could escape and go…

Well that was just the thing.

There was nowhere for him to go. Incapacitating the guards would have been child's play, but why? The only place for him to go was deeper into the ship, a ship filled with Galra soldiers and druids.

And his dad.

If he took a step out of line, he wasn't the only person who'd be put at risk.

Haggar had his father, and even if he hadn’t been working for her for the past year, she’d been in his head, she knew he would do anything for his dad. As long as she had his father, Matt was putty in her hands.

And so he didn’t resist the drones, not anymore.

Instead he bowed his head and allowed them to escort him back to the cells.

He sat down heavily in the corner of his cell, ignoring the other prisoners as they moved away from him.

Although he was barely ever forced into the arena anymore, he still shared a cell with those prisoners, the unlucky aliens that the Galra thought would be better for entertainment than any real work.

Sometimes he wondered if he fell into that category, if he was there for nothing but Haggar and Zarkon’s amusement. It wouldn’t matter, really. Even if he wasn’t essential to the Empire’s propaganda, he was still killing innocents, tearing apart families, destroying hope for people who had nothing else left.

No matter how he looked at it, he was a monster.

Galra, through and through.

He absently tapped on his knee, as he often did when he had these thoughts.

Both of his legs were Galra tech, another of those strings that inevitably connected him to the evil empire. Even if he somehow managed to get away, to save his father and just leave, everyone would always know where he came from, who he was.

He sighed and rested his head on those cursed legs. At least while he was planetside, he could look at the sky to distract him.

The Ridali sky had been beautiful, a dark stroke of blue with veins of light green. The moons were bright enough to hide most of the stars, but they were brilliant in their own right.

Matt closed his eyes and thought about Ridal, about the temple and the moons and the individual grains of sand in the desert. He very carefully didn’t think about the stain of blood he’d left, of how easily his knife had parted flesh, of the muffled screams that still echoed in his head.

It was better to think of sand.

Chapter Text

“It’s a small target,” Pidge said, frowning, as they skated their fingers over the holographic map. “It’s not heavily guarded because it isn’t really worth anything.”

Allura nodded before immediately shooting Pidge’s idea down, zooming out on the map to show that not only are these key trade routes, but this one, at least, is near a base and is likely to be heavily guarded. She went from polite to ruthless so quickly and efficiently that Shiro had to laugh. It wasn’t until then that he realized he’d been humming.

He began again, focusing on the tune this time, wondering what his subconscious had provided him with. Pidge and Allura’s discussion faded into the background, only the occasional movement of the map reminding him they were there.

Music of the Night.

His breath hitched. Of course he’d be thinking about Phantom of the Opera again. It was more applicable than ever after Haggar’s experiments, after he became their weapon...

Allura looked up for the briefest moment, but he quickly smiled to show her that he was fine, he was present. This wasn’t a flashback it was… it was something else. His flashbacks were usually accompanied by complete bodily lockdown. His chest would tighten as his heart sped up, pounding and pounding like if it just moved hard and fast enough it would break out of the prison his ribs made. And as much as he wanted to let it, because then at least part of him could escape, he couldn’t move. Like a nightmare in real life. His real life was a nightmare.

He shifted his stance as he took a deep breath, disguising the action so the others wouldn’t worry. He was the Black Paladin, their unelected leader. He needed to keep it together. For them. For himself.

This feeling wasn’t like that though. He had lost the song in his momentary panic, but now that he was breathing again, he tried whispering it under his breath.

“Nighttime sharpens, heightens each sensation. Darkness stirs and wakes imagination.”

Despite the darkness of the song, and the constricting feeling still present in his chest, Shiro realized he’d dredged up a happy memory. Or at least not an immensely painful one.

Matt had sung this song. So so long ago. When Shiro had curled in the corner of his cell and hugged his knees, muttering “the phantom of the opera is here inside my mind,” over and over again, when he felt like something more, less, and worse than human all at the same time, Matt had been there. Had encouraged him to let go, because sometimes that’s the only way to survive.

“Silently the senses abandon their defenses…”

He was filled with a strange mix of gratitude and guilt. Matt had been there for him, had helped him get through… maybe not the worst he’d been put through at the hands of the Galra, but more than he could handle back then.

And he wasn’t there to return the favor. Matt was… who knew where, in a work camp or going through experiences so bad that Shiro had literally blocked them out of his own memory. And Shiro had left him there. He wouldn’t have even looked for him if it hadn’t been for Pidge.

Speaking of Pidge, he needed to focus on the battle plans.

After extensive discussion with both her advisor and Paladins, Allura laid out the plan. They were going to start doing strike missions, short in-and-outs where the objective was to disrupt the Galra as much as possible while putting themselves in the least danger. Voltron wouldn’t be necessary, so they were going to divide and conquer.

The Red and Yellow lions would take care of a well-guarded weapons transport ship on an infrequently used trade route, and the Green, Black, and Blue lions would disrupt a more frequently used route. The goal for them was to get information. Shiro and Lance would distract and deflect while Pidge used Green’s cloaking device to get in.

Simple enough in theory.

It turned out that it was actually alright in the field too. They didn't have too much trouble drawing the attention of the flanking ships, and once the distraction was in place, it was just a question of doing damage and not dying.

Those were two things Shiro was very good at. He covered Pidge as they went for the ship, leaving Lance to lead a good portion of the fleet into a nearby asteroid belt.

"Ha, take that!" he occasionally heard over the comm as Lance spiraled and dove and generally led the ships following him in a life or death game of tag.

Shiro grinned as he took out his own Galra ships. He could get used to these less stressful missions. He let himself sink into the battle.

---

"Hey dudes, not to rush you or anything, but the tailor's shop has been open all day and it's getting close to closing time."

Pidge laughed and continued loading the boxes into their lion. On the other end of the comm, Shiro said, "Is that a meme I missed?" which made Pidge laugh even harder.

"Oh god Shiro, no it's... it's just Lance being Lance-"

"-Hey!"

"It means he's tired. Lance, I got you. I'm heading towards the bridge now. I gotta be stealthy, so Pidge out."

Pidge was just able to catch Lance's whispered, "que tengas suerte," before they clicked off their comms. They were alone on a Galra ship and needed to get to the bridge, preferably as quickly and quietly as possible.

They chewed the inside of their cheek. Sometime when they weren't spending all their nights working on Green, they should look into adding a cloaking mechanism to their suit. Could they even make their suit do that? It might make the suit too bulky or heavy. They frowned and made a mental note to talk to Hunk about it at some point.

First though, they had to infiltrate a Galra ship. No sweat.

They took a deep breath and listened for the footsteps of the Galra soldiers. The main ships had started to change the droid’s patterns, apparently having caught on to the fact that team Voltron could predict the movements of the lowliest soldiers, but this trade route was too out of the way to have gotten that message.

Which meant that Pidge had a ten second gap to bolt from the hall they were hiding in to the next corner. Or… ticks. Which meant they had slightly longer. Still, they had to be careful here. They took a deep breath and began counting as the patrol passed.

It took four seconds for the droid to turn the corner. Pidge ran as fast as they dared for their next checkpoint. It was like a videogame, they thought giddily. Like one of those flash games where you have to avoid the guards with the flashlights. And just like a game, they would die if they got caught.

Good thing they were good at video games.

Getting from the cargo bay into the main ship was the hardest part. They had to watch for three passing shifts of guards. It took precious seconds to work out the pattern and more to make sure they were right. When they felt confident, they rushed ahead, throwing out their bayard to catch on a vent that they planned to use to get into the bridge.

It caught, and supported their weight as they quickly scaled the wall. A moment later, they were as safe as they could get on an active Galra ship, and they took the moment to turn their comm back on.

“THAT IS AN EX-GALRA!” Shiro’s voice laughed in Pidge’s ear. His next words were punctuated by the firing of Black’s laser. “Dead. Deceased. If you hadn’t nailed it to the perch, it’d be pushing up daisies!”

Pidge put a hand to their mouth to stifle a giggle. They still needed to be quiet.

“Lance, how are you doing?”

“Remind me never to fly into an asteroid field again! Like ever. Even to outfly Keith.”

“Don’t worry guys,” Pidge whispered. “I’m above the bridge. As soon as I’ve got an opening I can drop in and get to the computer.

“Great, Pidge, I’m going to cause a distraction. Hold on to something. Lance, start heading back when you can.”

“Roger,” Pidge and Lance said at the same time. And then they all fell into a tense silence. Pidge gripped the vent and readied their bayard. A moment later, the entire ship shook and chaos erupted on the deck. The commander started shouting and telling people to go check it out as the ship shook again, then the sound of metal on metal tore through the air.

In just a moment, half the bridge emptied out. Thanks Shiro.

Pidge took the opportunity in front of them and leapt out of the vent shaft.
--

"We've got a fleet incoming!" Keith suddenly yelled.

"Can we get ahead of them?" Hunk asked as he literally bit a hole in the weapons carrier they were attacking. "I can finish this in like, thirty ticks."

"No time," Keith said, and wow his voice was tight. He had to be really stressed. Maybe coming out here with just the two of them hadn't been the best idea. Then again, the fleet wasn’t supposed to be this big. They miscalculated. "I'm leading them off you. Call Allura, we need the Castle!"

Hunk reached into the cargo ship with his lion’s paw and pushed everything in the bay, ships, Galra soldiers, and any unsecured weapons, into space. With another minute, he could have gotten the secured crates too, but Keith needed him.

"Hunk to Castle, we need backup! We've got a fleet on our tails!" he yelled as he activated the boosters that would get him to Keith faster.

No sooner had he cleared the cargo ship then he saw they were in trouble. A lot of trouble. Like, more trouble than he had thought. Like if he and Keith were rabbits that had stumbled into a Carnivores Anonymous meeting, they’d be in a similar amount of trouble. Or to summarize, shit.

“Hey Allura, I know I said we need backup, but we like, really need backup,” he said, “like Voltron would be nice right now.”

And that’s not an exaggeration at all, Hunk thought as he watched Keith dive to avoid heavy gunfire coming from a small squad of ships behind him. He leveled out right under the rest of the fleet, twice as big as they had been expecting. Hunk could tell what he was going for, but apparently the Galra could too.

Instead of continuing to fire at the Red Lion until they hit all of their ships, demolishing half the fleet and giving Keith a way out, they just… waited.

Hunk heard a quick and vicious stream of what he assumed was cursing in Korean when Keith realized his predicament.

And before he knew it, he was charging in with a scream, fervently hoping that Yellow’s armor would hold out against the onslaught. He patted the dash reassuringly, though he wasn’t sure whether it was more for himself or his lion, as it shuddered with every hit. Still, Yellow was well built, and she had almost as strong a protective instinct as her Paladin, so she sped on, straight into the side of one of the ships threatening Keith.

The Galra ship didn’t stand a chance against Yellow’s assault. The metal immediately caved under the weight of the lion, and when Hunk suddenly turned around, he managed to aim so that Yellow’s tail hit the wing of another ship, sending it into an uncontrolled dive towards the squad near Keith.

“Incoming!” he shouted, though Keith was already moving, taking advantage of the momentary confusion to shoot through the couple of ships between him and… a slightly more defensible position. Even with Hunk’s disruption, they were still in the middle of a Galra fleet. They needed help.

“ALLURA, ETA?”

“Sorry, we’re on our way! 500 ticks! We’re moving as fast as we can.”

“We can hold them off for that long,” Keith said, and Hunk could imagine the nod of grim determination accompanying the words. Then a Galra ship exploded right next to him (thanks Keith), and he was immersed in the battle again.

They needed to thin out the fleet.

“Keith, take cover!” Hunk shouted, suddenly getting an idea. “I’m activating my bayard!”

Keith didn’t need to be told twice. He immediately dropped his lion into a dive, heading for the cargo ship Hunk had been wrecking not two minutes earlier. Hunk trusted Keith to take care of himself. He needed to focus on his own battle.

He yelled something inspirational, he wouldn’t have been surprised if it ended up being “I’M A LEG” again, to help himself focus his, well, focus, on his bond with Yellow as he shoved his bayard into the port.

For a second nothing happened, and then Yellow roared and a heavy machine gun appeared on its back. Hunk whooped with glee. “WE’RE BACK IN BUSINESS BABY!”

“I don’t think you were ever out,” Keith said, as Allura laughed on the other end of the comms.

“300 ticks, Paladins.”

Hunk nodded out of reflex, even though he knew none of his teammates would be able to see it, then he grabbed hold of his bayard. Yellow did the rest.

Not thirty ticks later, what had been a full fleet of dangerous Galra ships were nothing more than smoking wreckage. Hunk slowly pulled his bayard out of Yellow. That was… more intense than he was expecting.

“I, umm, we’re clear.”

“Oh man, that was so cool!” Keith said, coming out from behind the weapons transport. His own lion was smoking in a couple of places, which made Hunk’s chest constrict. He sounded fine though, and none of the damage was anywhere near the cockpit. Hunk allowed himself to breathe again.

After that, it was just a matter of cleaning up while they waited for the castle.

“So if your bayard makes a sword, and mine is a machine gun, do you think that means Pidge’s is a taser?” Hunk asked as he repeatedly slammed his lion into the transport ship.

“We could test it on Lance,” Keith said, deadpan, as his lion bit a Galra fighter in half.

Hunk snickered despite himself. “Keith!”

“That counts as bonding, right? Shiro would approve of us getting more familiar with our weapons.”

Hunk laughed, “We could probably convince him.”

They continued quipping as they waited for the ship, and when Allura arrived with the castle, it was to an utterly destroyed trade route. Mission success.

Allura decided to have everyone debrief together, so Hunk and Keith were left on their own while they waited for the other Paladins. It was Keith that suggested the training deck.

“Nope. Nuh-uh. My stomach has been abused enough by just flying, I'm not going to go in to get hit by a robot when I don't have to."

Keith frowned, his fingers tapping the hilt of the dagger he always wore. "Level One then," he said.

"No! Then I'll just get embarrassed when it beats me up!"

"I'll help. And we'll focus on blocking." And then Keith started walking away,

"This sounds like a terrible idea," Hunk muttered as he followed. "And I'm teaching you to cook after this!" he yelled.

Despite his protests, though, he did train with Keith and the training bot and... it wasn't as bad as it could have been. Sure, he was embarrassed and sweaty and sore when Lance, Pidge, and Shiro showed up, but he also felt pretty accomplished. Maybe he'd complain less the next time Keith forced him to the training deck.

Chapter Text

The world was conspiring against him. God had abandoned him, and science was laughing in his face. It was the only explanation for how he felt right now.

Sure, Matt may have been a guinea pig for aliens that were interested in completely subduing his species, he supposed that job description implied a certain amount of suffering, but after the first… while… he had established he wasn’t going to die. He was pretty much their only viable experimental subject right now, he knew he was too valuable to kill.

So then why couldn’t he breathe? They hadn’t finally gotten tired of him, right?

He tried not to dwell on the fear that thought filled him with. Instead, he gathered all of his energy and threw his feet off the table. Well, off the edge. This was a Galra medbay after all. His feet didn’t even come close to the ground when he sat up. Not unless someone lowered the platform.

As far as he could tell though, he was alone in the room. Or as alone as he ever was. It wouldn’t be much of an experiment if the subject wasn’t under constant observation, now would it?

He tried to calm himself, which was exceedingly difficult because he couldn’t breathe and finally gave up and just forced himself to hop off the table.

For a second, he thought he’d be fine. For just a second, the world spun and every breath hurt, but he was standing.

And then his bad leg gave out and he crumpled to the floor.

Fuck.

Apparently, his symptoms were worse than he’d thought. Sure, his leg hadn’t been able to heal properly since the life-saving wound had gotten infected, but even on bad days it was usually able to support his weight.

And what had the scientist said? The poison she infected him with shouldn’t do much more than create a localized burning sensation. Apparently it was derived from a plant common on one of the Galra’s original colonies. It was irritating, but not particularly dangerous to anyone other than babies.

According to their experimentation, humans seemed to have relatively similar compositions to the Galra, especially when it came to the body’s reactions to toxic substances. Oxygen capacity, strength, and bone regeneration were all wildly different, but the effects of various poisons? All evidence thus far suggested that humans, or at the very least, Matt, showed similar symptoms as a Galra child. Matt was painfully aware of just how thorough that evidence was.

So when the Galra scientist muttered about his weak body and the tremors that still shook him from the last experiment, despite the typical three days recovery, she decided to take it easy for the next test.

“This next poison is a localized irritant,” she had said. As her experiments had progressed, so had the scientist’s relationship with Matt. She never told him her name, but she’d give him some indication of what she expected him to be going through in the next couple of days. And when he volunteered information about his species, expected lifespans, common problems for the elderly, rudimentary explanations of allergies, she warmed up to him even more. Maybe it had something to do with his willingness to share his scientific knowledge. Knowing how many livers a given subject possessed tended to help when you were trying to figure out how their species reacted to given poisons.

“I used to use it to get revenge on my brother when he and his friends were being insufferable assholes,” the scientist said, adjusting the heat under a beaker on the other side of the room.

“I’d hate to be your brother,” he said with a weak laugh.

The scientist looked at him for a long moment, her expression inscrutable, then turned back to the beaker and turned off the heat. A minute or so later and she had her solution mixed into some sort of greenish paste. She brought the paste, a scalpel, and some antiseptic wipes to the smaller table next to Matt’s. His fingers tightened on the edge of exam table when she opened the wipes and the smell of the antiseptic stung his nose.

Still, this was common procedure. He tried to focus on breathing as she pulled up his loose shirt and wiped down his side. She smeared the paste she’d made on the scalpel blade with the same efficiency. Then she made a precise incision on the clean skin, just below his ribs. She cleaned her tools without paying any attention to Matt, then she pinned up his shirt so it wouldn’t cover the new wound before leaving him alone.

That had been two days ago.

Now he was lying on the ground, barely able to move, taken out by what was supposed to have been one of the most benign poisons in the universe. If breathing didn’t make his chest feel like it was on fire, he would have heaved a disappointed sigh.

As it was, he was just trying not to pass out.

He was doing okay, except he that kept zoning out. His eyes would unfocus and then eventually start to close… Yeah, he was fucked alright.

He wasn’t sure how long it took, time had lost almost all of its meaning, but eventually the floor started darkening. The shadows under the tables began to roil, as if they had a life of their own. More life than Matt did, at any rate. He wondered if he was running a temperature. It would help make sense of the hallucinations if he was. Why else would the shadows have darkened and begun to approach him?

And why were they swearing?”

“Matt!” the shadows screamed, “Kletch, Matt, are you okay?”

Matt blinked rapidly. Slowly, the concerned shadows began to solidify into something more recognizable. The Galra scientist’s legs. That made significantly more sense than talking shadows.

Everything blurred together as the scientist grabbed his shoulders and pulled him off the floor, but Matt was pretty sure she spent the next hour or so trying to save his life. He remembered being hooked up to a machine that beeped annoyingly, and being stuck with needle after needle as a second figure came in and started arguing with the scientist. He didn’t catch any of what they said.

At some point though, he felt a pressure on his shoulders that surprisingly, didn’t let up.

Eventually, he realized that the room had gone silent. The other person had left.

He looked up to see the scientist, her face even with his own. “I’m sorry Matt,” she said, her voice holding some emotion that he was too tired to decipher. He blinked. She had never apologized before. “I won’t see you again.”

Her grip tightened, and then he felt something bite into his arm. A needle, what else would it be?

At least its contents worked as expected. A pleasant warmth radiated from the injection, making his head feel even fuzzier than it had for the past who knew how long. It took the edge off the pounding though, forgoing pressure for darkness. Matt closed his eyes and finally passed out.

--

“This is unacceptable,” Zarkon growled.

The holo screen played out behind him a video of the Yellow Lion stopping, the Red Lion fleeing, and then, just as the situation was looking stable, the complete destruction of the Galra fleet. And then it repeated.

Zarkon was nothing if not dramatic.

Haggar nodded. This was technically not her fault, none of her experiments had been involved in the destruction, but she had made enough mistakes regarding Voltron recently that she considered it best to tread carefully.

“The Paladins have become more powerful than expected, my Lord,” Hagger said, inclining her head in a shallow bow.

“They aren’t even using Voltron! Two lions have destroyed an entire fleet.”

“My Lord, we have plans-” Haggar began.

“These are avoidable losses,” Zarkon cut in, immediately silencing her. He swiped his hand across the holo screen, rewinding it to when the Paladins were using juvenile military tactics. As annoying as it was, Zarkon did have a point. The Paladins shouldn’t be this strong on their own. They were learning far more quickly than anticipated. She blamed the Altean. “Avoid them.”

“Of course, my Lord.”

“More and more colonies attempt to rebel. Voltron gives them hope. The Great Warrior makes these worms believe that my Empire can be disassembled. If only they have enough hope, their Paladins will save them.” Zarkon’s eyes narrowed. “They are wrong, but this hope is a dangerous thing. Single Paladins cannot be allowed to inspire that hope.”

Haggar considered what Zarkon was suggesting. She was well aware of the risk Voltron posed to the Empire, although she privately thought that Zarkon was a little obsessed. The new Paladins had no idea what they were doing, and they were far less competent than those who had inspired the stories that were still whispered throughout the galaxies.

Haggar would destroy them. Zarkon knew her plans, knew about the Champion and the Halfbreed. He knew that she would succeed in her task, that she would make sure all of her puppets were in just the right positions when she started pulling their strings. He trusted her, he just wanted her to work faster.

Unfortunately, good science couldn’t be rushed. Not more than it already was.

Which meant that she would need to find another alternative. To knock the Paladins down a peg or two while she set the pieces for destroying them from the inside out.

“The Yellow Paladin is the only problem,” Haggar said, watching Zarkon’s reactions. Although she knew quite a lot, even she wouldn’t say she could always predict Zarkon. She liked to think that her willingness to acknowledge his surprises was what had allowed her to keep her position by his side for so long.

Zarkon slowly smiled. Good. It appeared they were on the same page.

“If we eliminate him, they will be thrown off balance. Wounded. They will need time to recover.”

“Time that they will not have,” Zarkon said.

Haggar grinned. She could work with this.

--

Matt clenched his teeth and resisted the urge to look at his scars. Battle scars, those were one thing. When his fingers traced the gnarled skin of his left shoulder or the bump of skin under his eye, he remembered the lessons he learned, and the fights

The dark greenish lines across his stomach though? Or the carefully placed cuts across his side? Those were associated with nothing but pain.

On particularly bad days, he’d trace those cuts and feel the traces diluted of the fevers and stomach pains and stabbing headaches that had come with them. He punished himself with those scars, scars that, if he wasn’t so much of a coward, he’d still be earning.

At least then he’d be the only person getting hurt.

That was for bad days though. Matt moved his hand from where it hovered at his side and grabbed his metal knee instead.

“The memories are there somewhere,” he muttered to himself, “find some pictures you can share. Keepsakes of the life that’s there behind her.”

Matt was interrupted before he got far in the song, so he was still mildly freaking out when two Galra soldiers entered the cell and told him to get up and come with them.

His heart hammered against his chest as he stood, still spattered with alien blood.

They were taking him to the arena. They had to be. Maybe Haggar was disappointed with his latest performance and needed assurance that he still knew what he was doing.

Or wanted to punish him.

As futile as he knew it was, Matt seriously considered disabling the droids and making a break for it. He didn’t have anywhere to go, but pretty much anything was better than the arena. Matt wasn’t built for one on one combat (literally), and for all the morality that he’d given up and rejected, there was something about performing in front of a bloodthirsty crowd that he just couldn’t justify. He preferred to keep his shame private, thank you very much, a corrosive acid that ate him from the inside out. Stepping into the arena was like taking a knife to his most private emotions and flaying them open for the entire Empire to see. He couldn’t, he couldn’t do that.

Not after killing a Ridali child.

“It’s an open book to write here,” he muttered under his breath, forcing himself to breathe so he could force out the lyrics, “it’s a life we can restore. We can get back what we had and maybe more.”

If the droids tried to stop him, he would punch them, the one form of rebellion he’d allow himself.

“Maybe get us back to better than before.”

As he began walking though, Matt quickly realized that the droids weren’t leading him to the arena. No, they were going the opposite direction. Which meant they weren’t going to the medbay either.. It took a couple minutes for him to figure it out, because most of the interior of the Galra ship was pretty uniform, but eventually he understood his destination. He was being led to the bridge.

Which meant he was being assigned another mission.

Gonna get us back to better than before. Won’t anything be better than before?

Now that he knew what was happening, Matt was able to compartmentalize. Push everything away in the interest of professionalism.

He rolled his shoulders back, tilted up his chin, and wiped all emotion off his face.

He was simply a tool to be wielded. Feeling just got in the way.

That’s what he told himself, at least.

Haggar didn’t look at all impressed when Matt stepped onto the bridge. In fact, she barely looked at him, only turning in his direction long enough to wave away the droids.

It didn’t take long for Matt to realize why Haggar was so uninterested in him. Zarkon, the Zarkon, Lord of the Galra Empire, was on the screen at the front of the ship.

“A human?” his voice said, booming across the room. Everyone looked up when Zarkon spoke. It didn’t take a lot of imagination to see how this man had come to control (almost) all of the known universe. He certainly had the presence necessary for a dictator. And Matt knew from experience that almost all Galra were completely devoted to him.

“The Assassin’s species is of no importance,” Haggar answered. “He will get the job done.”

Zarkon grunted and turned his attention away from Haggar, right onto Matt.

Matt gulped and raised his chin a little higher, trying not to feel like a bug under a magnifying glass. Or, since that description actually fit his situation quite well, at least hoping that that magnifying glass wasn’t focusing the sun. He’d come too far to burn.

“Tell me boy,” Zarkon said, “what do you know of Voltron?”

“Voltron is known as the greatest weapon in the universe,” Matt said, looking just below Zarkon’s eyes. “Though that’s somewhat misleading as it’s really more of a ship. Well, five ships. The Paladins of Voltron are five mythic warriors who pilot these ships and right wrongs throughout the universe. That’s what the legends say, at least. Most aliens believe it to be nothing more than a myth, although you, my Lord, obviously know that that is not quite true.”

“What do you know of the Paladins?”

Matt took a deep breath. For a second, he considered denying that he knew anything. There was no reason for him to. The nice thing about rumors overheard in bars was that they could not be traced. Zarkon didn’t know that he knew anything.

Except that he did. Matt wouldn’t be here if he didn’t.

He looked down.

“One. I know about one Paladin. I know that the Black Lion is piloted by the Champion.” He bit his lip. “My former cellmate.”

Shiro.

Zarkon looked at Haggar. “Disappointing, but not unexpected. He will kill the Paladin.”

Matt tried to remember how to breathe. It felt like a vice was closing around his chest, like that time the scientist had infected him with the venom from an octopus-like alien he had seen in the arena.

"No," Matt said, backing away, as if there was anywhere for him to go. "I-you can't expect me to- I won't do it!"

"Calm down, boy," Zarkon hissed, and Matt couldn't help but cower under that glare. "I'm not unreasonable, you need only take out one of them."

The walls felt like they were closing in around him, like his own ribs were constricting to pierce his heart. They were going to make him kill Shiro. He couldn't, he couldn't...

Haggar cut in before he could have a full on panic attack. "You will not be sent to kill the Champion. Your mission is to exterminate the Yellow Paladin. You may kill the others in the process, but it will not be necessary. Now get ahold of yourself," she said, her voice suddenly turning sharp. "You have a job to do."

Matt sucked in a deep breath. Then he took another one. This was fine. He had no attachments to the Yellow Paladin. As long as he kept the Black Paladin safe, it was just another job. He could even knock out Shiro if he had to, as long as he didn't have to kill him. He had made a promise to himself in the early days of his training, a vow.

He would kill anyone, literally anyone, with little complaint for the sake of his father. Anyone but Shiro. No matter what, he couldn’t kill Takashi Shirogane. He couldn’t live with himself if he did.

Shiro’s friends though? His team and his crew? His family?

Matt took a shaking breath.

He had made no vow to protect them. This was just another mission. For his father.

“I will- I’ll need files. E-Equipment,” he forced out of his constricted throat. This was just another mission, and if he treated it like one, he would be fine. He’d throw himself into his research now, just like he did back at the Garrison. He would focus on anything and everything but the act itself. Like preparing for a presentation in front of his professors.

Haggar looked unimpressed for a moment, “Sentries, lead him to the weapons room. Provide him with the tools he needs.” She glanced at Matt, then pulled a computer chip out of her robes. “This contains all the information you will require.”

Matt reached out to take the chip, but Haggar pulled away before he could take it.

“I have been inside your mind, Assassin,” she said. “I know your thoughts, your dreams, your darkest secrets.” She stepped closer, so Matt was forced to look up to meet the darkness under her hood that obscured her eyes. “I know you better than you know yourself. And I know what the Champion means to you.” She smirked. “I know you will not kill him. We do not require you to. But know this, Assassin. When your mission is over and you have killed the Yellow Paladin, because you will kill the Yellow Paladin, you will wish you had killed the Champion as well.”

“I-I will complete my mission, Ma’am.”

Haggar smirked. “I’m sure you will.”