Chapter 1: The Champion
For Keith, the gladiator matches had always been a disgusting parallel to the history of the Galra Empire; cheering masses of Galra watching as aliens fight to the death in the midst of blood and pain and fear. Sometimes, as he turned to see Sendak leaning forward on the edge of his seat, eagerly awaiting the next kill, Keith wondered if any of this was worth it. If, at the end of it all, all of his patience and waiting would pay off and Zarkon’s empire would fall. Getting him into the emperor’s inner circle hadn’t been easy. It had taken years of maneuvering from agents of the Blade of Marmora, many of whom he had never met, to even get him near to this point, just a few feet away from Emperor Zarkon himself.
He was close enough now that if he wished, he could draw his blade from its hidden sheath and plunge it deep into Zarkon’s heart before anyone was the wiser. If only it would be that easy. Ten thousand years had allowed the emperor to build a strong core to his empire, one that would survive even his death. No matter how much he might want to just act, if Keith wanted his actions to mean anything he needed to find the one thing powerful enough to destroy not just Zarkon, but his empire. He needed to find Voltron.
He hated this, the waiting and watching, to be so close and yet still so far away. Sendak knew something about Voltron, of that Keith was certain. All of the intelligence they collected lead in that direction. Thace’s last missive even hinted that the commander knew the location of one of the lions. But two months at his side as his second, and then three more as his personal play-thing and betrothed had revealed nothing. If he didn’t get somewhere soon Keith half expected he would be clawing his own skin off.
“AAAAAND NOW!” cried the announcer in the center of the arena, drawing Keith’s eye to the force shield that was slowly fading out to reveal the next poor bastard they’d picked for the final match. He could just see their shadows. One large and hulking, clearly one of the Druid’s Robeasts. The other was smaller, bipedal, a silhouette Keith had never seen before.
“HERE HE IS!” the announcer continued, jumping away from the ring. “THE HERO THAT FOUGHT ONE HUNDRED BATTLES AGAINST OUR FIERCEST CREATURES AND CAME OUT ON TOP! THE MAN, THE MYTH, THE LEGEND, THE CHAAAAAAMPIOOONNN!”
The force shields vanished amidst loud cheers and an alien was pushed into the ring. Keith frowned, unable to identify his race. The male (he assumed) being was a little on the small side for a Galra, though still a head taller than Keith himself. He had pale pinkish skin and short black hair, and the simple prison uniform clung to his large muscles, defining his shape. He was not, Keith noted, given a weapon, but neither did he seem to have been subjected to the Druid’s experiments. Keith suspected that they wanted to see how far they could push him; find his limits before meddling with his body. Already he had lasted far longer than most prisoners thrown into the arena, if this was the same Champion Keith had been hearing about for the past several cycles. It was the first time he had the chance to see him fight, but from all he heard, this prisoner fought like a monster.
The man stared up at the assembled crowds with an open hostility Keith had rarely seen in the arena. He stood tall, defiant, a commanding presence even weaponless and in prison rags. Dark, angry eyes met Keith’s calculatedly bored gaze, and for a moment he was lost in a whirlpool of swirling steel-grey light. Then the champion looked away, releasing Keith from the pull of that penetrating gaze.
“Who is he?” The words were out of Keith’s mouth before he stopped to think. Sendak looked at him in surprise.
“Finally taking an interest, I see?” He was grinning, smug bastard. He knew Keith hated these games, and took a sick sort of joy in making him attend.
“Something like that,” Keith admitted, unwilling to indicate more than a passing interest. He walked a thin line with this relationship, defiant enough to keep Sendak’s attention but submissive enough to not seem like a threat. Anything out of character, and he risked drawing the commander’s suspicion. “I’ve heard my men talking about the Champion like he’s some sort of god. I’d like to see if he’s as good as they all say.”
Before them, the alien faced off with the Robeast, circling, keeping his back to the arena. Sendak leaned closer to Keith until the fur of their ears brushed. Keith repressed a shiver, hating the feel of even that much physical contact. Sendak chuckled.
“Well then, that is indeed the Champion. I caught him on one of my patrols out to the edge of the empire. He’s a native of some backwater planet whose people haven’t even managed to reach the edge of their system, but he managed to take down six of my soldiers before we were able to subdue him.” The commander sounded impressed.
“Why capture him?” Keith asked, projecting disinterest. In the ring, the Champion rushed the Robeast, one quick hand reaching up to grab at the creature’s weapon. He tugged on the blade, swinging his legs up to plant a solid kick on the Robeast’s chest, sending the beast reeling back and away from the champion. When he hit the ground, the man rolled and jumped to his feet, the Robeast’s blade in his hands. “Why not kill him and remove the risk to your guards if he escapes?”
Sendak chuckled, a dark and unpleasant sound. “Surely you know me better than that. He has information he has yet to reveal, but he will break eventually, I’m sure of it. And even if he does not, the Druids will turn him into one of our greatest weapons.”
Keith felt a growl building low in the back of his throat, but willed it down. Now was not the time to express his views on those creatures they called Druids and their vile experiments. Instead, he asked another question.
“What information?” Mentally he crossed his fingers. Sendak seemed to be in a sharing mood, but one never knew when that mood would turn.
“He had traces of Altean energy on him,” the commander growled, leaning forward as the Robeast attacked with spinning blades where most species would have hands. The champion dodged, slipping under its guard to come up, thrusting his stolen sword up and through the center of the creature. It sparked, sending the champion dancing away to avoid burns, then slowly toppled over onto its front. The champion raced forward and withdrew the blade, backing quickly away with his weapon pointed at the downed beast. It didn’t move.
“Altean?” Keith blinked, glancing at Sendak before turning back to the arena. Altean energy after this long could only mean one thing. Voltron.
“He will tell me what he knows,” the commander told him smugly. “One way, or another.”
A hatch opened in the back of the Robeast, releasing a smaller creature that flew at the champion. This foe was smaller and more agile, dodging each of the champion’s blows and attacking with ferocious intent. It buzzed around the man’s head, razor-bladed appendages snaking out to cut at him, tearing at his shirt and leaving long bloody gashes in his skin. He ducked and rolled away. The beast followed, getting in a cut at his shoulder. Keith leaned forward, sitting on the edge of his seat. The champion lashed out in a flurry of blows. The beast dodged, but not quickly enough, as one metal arm went flying.
In retaliation, the blades spun faster, making a whirring sound audible even high in the stands. It dove at the champion, who jumped away just in time. One limb snaked out, glancing across the champion’s nose and leaving a shallow gash in its wake. Keith half rose before he realized what he was doing and forced himself back down, thankful that Sendak’s attention was now fully focused on the match. The champion swung his blade, and the Robeast crashed to the ground in a pile of wires and sparks. The man looked up, angry eyes once more meeting Keith’s as blood dripped down his face. It was a sight the young spy would not soon forget.
Around Keith, the crowd rose to their feet in a wave of motion, cheering and clapping for the champion. The man didn’t even seem to notice. His hard gaze remained level, challenging, directed straight at Sendak and those around him. He continued to stare until the guards came and forced him back behind a new force shield. The Galra felt the loss of that gaze like a physical thing, slumping into his seat like a puppet whose strings had been cut, his relief going unnoticed in the general post-games pandemonium and the commanders’ usual collecting and paying of bets. One thought burned its way into his mind:
He had to meet the champion.
Chapter 2: Spies
This one is super short, but next week we get to see Keith and Shiro finally meet. A big thank you to my betas, forgttenkanji and spaceprincekogane on tumblr. You can also find this fic (and me) at my tumblr WanderingsofAlice
Thank you so much for reading! Please let me know what you think!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
As much as Keith wanted to rush down to the cells and find the Champion after the games, he was forced to stay at Sendak’s side until the commander was called to a meeting with Zarkon and his advisers. After that, he had one more duty to take care of before he was free to pursue his own interests for the evening. The waiting chafed at him, though he knew the Champion would be with the healers for several varga. So instead of taking off for the cells as soon as Sendak vanished into Zarkon’s chambers, he checked the binding on his Marmora blade and slipped from his rooms.
Ulaz awaited him in their usual meeting place on the lower decks— a dark, disused room off a lightless corridor, where the only beings who disturbed the dust were mechanical sentries and the occasional vermin. It was a place no one would suspect two well-respected soldiers to be lurking.
Ulaz was pacing when Keith arrived, though he stopped when he noticed the younger spy. “Lieutenant Kogane.” He gave him a brief, strained smile. “I’m glad to see you were not delayed.”
“How many times have I asked you to call me Keith?” Keith asked, making a face at the use of his assumed name. He’d been using it as part of his cover identity for years, and had never quite been able to get Ulaz to call him by his real name when they were alone.
“The only Galra ever to go to Earth was discovered as a spy, Kogane,” Ulaz replied with a frown. “While most are already aware that you are a half-breed, the name your mother gave you is a liability tying you to your father’s race. If anyone made the connection, it would cost you your place as Sendak’s betrothed, and spell disaster for our mission. I will gladly address you as you choose once we return to our people, but even among friends here, I will not put you in unnecessary danger.”
Keith sighed. “I know. Sorry, Ulaz. I’m just… frustrated. Sendak hasn’t told me anything useful in weeks, and I know he knows something. It’s driving me crazy.”
“I know,” Ulaz told him. “You must be patient. It has only been a few months. Thace and I were here for years before learning anything valuable enough to send back. Our intelligence suggests he knows something big, perhaps even the location of Voltron itself.”
Keith chewed on a knuckle in annoyance. “He hasn’t even hinted at it… but he did say he thought the Champion might know something. You know, the one from the arena.”
“The human,” Ulaz nodded thoughtfully. “We have long thought that Voltron, or some part of it, might be on Earth. It is the reason your mother went there in the first place.”
Keith froze, focusing only on his first two words. “Human?” He reeled in shock, steadying himself with a hand on the wall. “The Champion is human?”
The spy inclined his head. “As was your father.”
“I know that,” Keith replied dryly, trying to cover his surprise. He’d never seen a human before. All he knew of his father was his species, the name of his planet, and that his mother had considered leaving the Blade of Marmora for him, until he had died. After that, she refused to speak of Keith’s father, or of Earth. But if the Champion was human... He might know something at least. Anything, even the smallest detail, would be more than Keith had now. Perhaps, by questioning the Champion, he might find something to fill the void in his own history, something to connect him to his father and a planet he had never seen.
“Kogane.” Ulaz bent slightly to look him in the eyes. “I would not advise seeking the human out. Especially not for idle curiosity.”
Keith flushed, irritated that Ulaz knew him so well. “He might know where Voltron is. That’s got to be worth the risk.”
“Perhaps.” The other spy frowned at him. “But it is not one you can afford to take. You must remain as Sendak’s betrothed until we find Voltron, and secure it from ever falling into Zarkon’s hands. If you were to be found out-”
“I could end up dead or in the arena. I know,” Keith sighed. “I know what it means for us if I’m caught. I’m not stupid, Ulaz. But I think we need to speak to him to see what information he has.”
“Then allow me to do so. So many risked everything to place you where you are. If I am caught, it will be far less of a blow to our cause.”
“Where I am?!” Keith shouted, then covered his mouth. They both waited in silence to hear the pounding of sentry feet, and only relaxed when the next patrol passed their location without incident. Then Keith turned his glare on Ulaz. “Where I am is getting us nowhere,” he hissed once the patrol was out of earshot. “I can’t get anything out of Sendak.”
“You must have patience,” Ulaz started to say, but a sharp gesture from Keith cut him off.
“I’ve been patient! Patient isn’t working.” He started to pace, frustration he couldn’t show where Sendak might see propelling him in a small circle as he spoke. “It’s been months and I haven’t learned a damn thing. It’s like he doesn’t even see me as a soldier anymore. I’m like… like his toy or something, not even a person. He doesn’t tell me anything we don’t already know from someone else.” He stopped abruptly and turned to face Ulaz, tugging at his hair. “I’m going insane, Ulaz. And every time he touches me, I…” he shuddered.
“You see the blood on his hands.” Ulaz’s voice was soft, understanding. “I know you hate this, but please, bear with it for just a little longer. We know he knows where the red lion is. As soon as we can find it, we will get you out.”
Keith looked away. “I know. I know. But it’s just… I need to feel like I’m actually doing something. Not just sitting there like Sendak’s dress-up doll until he gets tired of me or I actually have to marry that bastard.” He sighed, his shoulders slumping in defeat. “Look. If you let me go talk to the Champion, I promise I won’t get caught, and I might even learn something useful for us. Please, Ulaz.” He opened his eyes wide and bit his lower lip, trying to look as pathetic as possible, the way he had as a child when he wanted to get his way.
Ulaz slowly shook his head, a fond look crossing his face. “You have not changed, young one. Alright. I will let you do this, but you must promise me you will not be caught.”
Keith nodded, a triumphant smile on his lips. “I promise.”
“Good. Now, you will need to earn his trust. He will not tell you anything until he believes you are not his jailer,” Ulaz warned.
“I can do that,” Keith said, forcing himself to sound positive. He remembered those dark, angry eyes in the arena. The Champion had focused on Sendak, yes, but his glare had found Keith as well.
Next update will be on Saturday, March 25th.
Chapter 3: Converge
And they finally meet! Thanks for reading! And a huge thank you to everyone who left comments and/or kudos!! Please let me know what you think, and come back next week for the next chapter!
The area where they kept the prisoners was dark and cheerless. The air smelled of dried blood and urine, afflicting Keith’s sensitive nose and causing him to gag until he remembered to breathe through his mouth. At least it wasn’t hard to find the human’s cell. A quick check on the computer pulled up a map of the prison, and another few keystrokes brought him to the controls for the cameras and sentries. A technique learned from Ulaz let him tap into the cameras and replace the live feed with a loop of old footage. There. Now he had at least half a varga before anyone noticed something was up with the camera system. Longer, if the lieutenant on duty managed to live up to expectations and not even look at the vid screens for the rest of his shift. All that was left was to slip around the sentry patrols until he found the human’s cell.
Keith was in luck. The prisoner was already back in his cell, and because of his status as Champion (or perhaps because they were afraid he would attack other prisoners if left alone with them) he was given his own unit. From where he was lurking in the shadows, Keith could see the human slumped against the wall, head on his knees. He looked so vulnerable there; far cry from the angry, dangerous man that had so easily destroyed hundreds of opponents in the arena.
Then the Champion raised his head and looked directly in Keith’s direction. The Galra froze. Hidden in the shadows as he was it would be difficult for anyone to spot him, but even a small sound might have alerted a being with sensitive hearing to his presence in the otherwise deserted passageway. He watched the human scan the area and noticed the bandage across his nose. The healers must have worked their magic on him, because he didn’t seem to be in any pain. The wound would probably scar though, giving him an older, more dangerous look.
“I know you’re there, whoever you are.” The prisoner’s voice was tired and resigned, not at all what Keith had expected from the fighter he’d seen in the arena. He kept still, unsure of what to do now that he’d been spotted. Ticks passed, and the man sighed. “You can come out, you know. I can’t hurt you from in here.”
Keith slowly stepped into the light, hands raised and empty. The human followed Keith’s approach with his gaze but didn’t move from his position against the wall. He just watched as if waiting for whatever would happen next. So Keith moved carefully, trying to project a nonthreatening demeanor until he stood next to the force shield. Then he waited, unsure of what to say.
The Champion looked up at him with those beautiful grey eyes, and once again Keith was lost. This close his sharp sight could pick up on the threads of darker and lighter grey that ran through them, and he wondered if this was what the sky on Earth looked like before a storm.
“What is it now? Or are you just here to stare at ‘The Champion’,” the human asked, voice flat with a hard edge of sarcasm creeping in at the end.
Keith shook his head, breaking the hold of that wonderful gaze and mentally berating himself for behaving like a stunned tree-rat from that planet with the three suns.
“I, um. Here.” He dropped a bag he’d had slung over his shoulder and pressed a few buttons on the force shield controls, opening the small door in the bottom that was used to feed the prisoners. Then he pushed the bag through with his foot and closed it again. “Its medicine, should help with your wounds. Ah, and ease the pain. And there’s some food. I know they don’t give you much. You’ll probably want to hide it from the guards, but what you don’t eat should keep for a while. It’s just standard ration bars, which, I know they taste awful but… I’ll shut up now.” Keith trailed off as he noticed the human staring at him as if he’d suddenly grown an extra head.
“Why?” he asked, frowning at the bag and then back up at Keith.
“Why what?” Keith cocked his head to the side, watching a series of expressions cross the human’s face as he thought.
“Why give me this?” He pulled the bag closer and carefully reached in, pulling out a meal pack and a box of painkillers that Keith had appropriated from an unwatched supply room.
“I…” Keith blinked, and then shrugged. “Honestly, it was my friend’s idea. Said I’d need to earn your trust. I figure food’s as good a way as any.”
Surprisingly, the human laughed. “And telling me that is supposed to help?”
“Well… no.” The spy shook his head and slid down the wall extending from the opposite side of the cell, pulling up his knees as he sat in a mirror of the Champion’s posture. “But lying didn’t seem like the best idea to start off with.”
The man narrowed his eyes, watching Keith’s face with suspicion. “You people seem to prefer torture to get what you want. Why the change?”
“They’re not ‘my people’,” Keith said, ears going back in irritation. “And everyone knows torture is a terrible way to get information.”
“Not your people?” He raised an eyebrow.
Keith glowered. “That’s not important. What do you know about Voltron?”
The champion sighed. “Look, like I’ve told everyone else that’s ‘asked’, I have no idea what a Voltron even is.”
“Huh.” It was rare that they came across any race in the galaxy that didn’t know what Voltron was, at least as a legend told to children. Either the human was lying, or his species hadn’t encountered any other sentient beings before he was taken prisoner. If he truly didn’t know what it was, that might be why all interrogations so far had failed to yield results. At least that would be an easy thing to test, all Keith had to do was tell him what Voltron was.
“It’s the most powerful weapon in the universe. It was created by the Altean king Alfor, and lost ten thousand years ago. Sendak believes you know where part of it is.” Hatred leaked into Keith’s voice at the mention of Sendak’s name, his ears going flat against his head until he forced himself to relax. He’d hated the man for years, but being so closely linked to him, having to spend every day in his presence, had brought about a kind of loathing that permeated his thoughts on the commander. It was a relief to let it out, even a little, in front of someone who wouldn’t reprimand him for it.
“How would I know that?” The human was leaning forward now, resting his elbows on his knees as he watched Keith. “Even if it’s on Earth, it’s a big planet. It could be anywhere.”
“It’s big then?” At the mention of Earth, Keith’s eyes lit up and he shifted, leaning towards the other man. All mention of Voltron was forgotten at the mention of his father’s planet.
The Champion stared at him. “It- Earth? Yeah. I mean, it’s not the biggest planet in our solar system, but it’s not the smallest either.”
“Does it have many people? How many sentient races? How advanced are they? Do you have oceans? Deserts?” Questions he had always wanted to know poured out of him like water from an upturned bucket.
“Uh, it’s… why do you need to know?” confusion morphed into suspicion on the Champion’s face, his eyes going hard and cold.
Quiznak. He’d let his excitement run away with him, forgetting that he human would likely see his questions as another interrogation. Keith forced himself to settle back against the wall, palms open and facing upwards on his knees, doing his best to appear non-threatening. “I’m curious. I’ve never seen a human before, and I’ll probably never see Earth.” It wasn’t quite a lie at least. Not that he had ever considered telling the man the true reason for his curiosity.
Suspicion turned to anger and the human glared at him. “You’re trying to get information out of me so you can invade my planet,” he accused. “Looking for this Voltron thing, or whatever it is that you people want.”
Keith shook his head, annoyed at himself. He’d screwed up by asking those questions, and he knew it. “That’s not why I asked. If I was trying to get information out of you for Zarkon, I’d already have it, and you’d be dead.”
The Champion leaned back against the wall, studying Keith’s face. “And this is supposed to get me to trust you?”
“Yes!” Keith snapped. Then, “No. I’m not good at this, okay?” He sighed and ran a hand through his hair, letting his ears droop in frustration and embarrassment.
“Look,” the human said, corners of his lips turning up in what might be the beginning of a smile. “Let’s start simple. I’m Shiro.”
“…” Keith looked down. It was too risky to tell this man either of his names. Anyone who found out that Lieutenant Kogane was visiting the prisoner would be sure to mention it to Sendak, which would put both Keith and the Champion - Shiro - in serious danger. And Ulaz had a point about his real name. If anyone ever connected it to him, it would cost the Blade of Marmora years of effort, not to mention the death sentence it would get Keith.
“Hard question?” Shiro asked.
Keith shook his head. “Not exactly. I just can’t risk Sendak finding out I’m down here.” He carefully bit his lower lip, cursing himself for not coming up with a plan for this. He wasn’t the type of agent that could just come up with a new cover right on the spot, and he should have known the Champion would ask for his name.
“You’re not here on his orders?” the human sounded surprised. Keith glanced up to see him frowning again.
“If he finds me down here he’ll kill me,” he told the man honestly. “And that would waste all the hard work we did to get me here.”
Keith swallowed a growl, annoyed at himself for the slip. This conversation was getting more dangerous by the second, and he didn’t have any good answers for the Champion. “This was a mistake,” he muttered, pushing himself up off the ground. He’d have to come back later, once he’d had a chance to think of better responses to any dangerous questions.
“Wait,” Shiro called, extending a hand as if to reach for him. “You don’t have to tell me.”
“You’re right,” Keith told him. “I don’t. Use the medicine if you want. There’s another match tomorrow. Try not to die. Sendak bet three hundred GAC you’d finally be beaten this weekend, and I’d hate to see him win.” Before the human could say anything more, Keith had disappeared back into the shadows.