Keith groans over the channel line, and his fists slamming on the panel sends a wave of static through their ears that make the rest of them wince in pain, but no one says a word.
After a few seconds of silence as they maneuver Voltron back on its feet, Allura composes herself and speaks up. “Shall we try again?”
“This is useless!” Keith barks on the other side. “She won’t listen .”
In her cockpit, Allura feels a low rumbling, Red stirring restless under her hands, responding to the anger and agitation in its rightful paladin even from this far. She rests her hands over the panels and tries to soothe the lion with thoughts of confidence, of purpose, and it jitters under her touch, but accepts her plea of trust.
Allura calls out a break, and lets the others get enough distance before she brings up the comm screen and opens a private link to the black lion’s cockpit. “Keith, you mustn’t fight the lion. You have to trust each other and work together, you know this.”
“I’m trying ,” Keith says, and he opens his mouth to say something else, but it doesn’t come out, and he deflates into his seat instead, shaking his head. “This is all wrong. You should be here.”
Allura smiles at him, but there’s something in it that doesn’t reach her eyes. He’s not the only one to think so, but she’s had this argument with Coran far too many times, and in the end… “I’m not the one she let in, am I?”
Keith has no answer to that but to shift uncomfortably and look away.
“The Black Lion has lost two paladins,” Allura tries to reason. “But still she’s taken you as her third. Give her time to come around.”
“I’m not a leader,” Keith argues, sinking lower into his chair. He brings his knees up, folding into himself, and looks almost comically small in the chair that once held Zarkon himself. If Allura stares at it too long, she can almost see the shape of Shiro sitting there too, his presence dominating the screen Keith tries to turn away from.
“You said it yourself,” he continues, “The black paladin has to be a natural leader, someone people will follow. That’s not me.”
“Do you think they won’t follow?” Allura asks, nodding at the three lions resting at some distance, Pidge, Hunk and Lance sitting together in the shade and letting her have this one. “Do you think they don’t trust you to lead them into the heart of Zarkon’s forces and come out alive?”
Keith watches them, confidence wavering in and out of his eyes, and Allura wants to reach through the screen and shake Keith by the shoulders.
“Do you think I don’t trust you?” she asks, and the way Keith’s eyes widen and he gapes around looking for the right answer to give almost makes her laugh.
It seems to awaken something in him, and Keith sits up straight, adjusts his helmet, fidgets with the controls until the thought settles in him. Another rumble starts low under her seat, and Allura can feel it spread out through the Red lion as the Black one calls out to them and they answer, one by one, a roar echoing through her mind before she looks out to see the other three rushing back to their ships.
“Break’s over, get in line,” Keith calls, and Allura joins the others in answer.
She feels the Red lion jittering under her hands again in time with Keith’s changing expression on the screen, but this time it’s something else than fear, than anger -it’s impulse, it’s a dare for her to keep up, and Allura smirks at it even as she takes back the controls and pats the side of the small chair.
“We’ll find him,” she promises, more to the Red lion than to herself. “We’ll find Shiro, and you’ll have your paladin back. But work with me for now, alright?”
Red roars loud in her head, through her whole body and back, and Allura feels herself set alight, feels energy bursting from her every pore, ready to take on the world with Red at her side, even as Keith watches her, smiling a little wistfully at her words.
His eyes are locked with hers as the others take place, and it’s in the understanding they share that Allura takes trust, it’s a promise they make.
Keith nods to himself as he closes his eyes and the whole panel lights up around him as the Black lion roars. “For now let’s just do the best we can.”