When Shiro woke up, he knew where he was.
The magnitude of that took his breath away. He spent a solid five minutes just breathing and wrapping his head around the thought.
He couldn’t have said the exact room number, but Shiro knew the area. He knew this hallway, knew he was in one of the guest quarters at the Garrison. He knew the sound of the florescent bulbs over his head, knew the feel of the cheap-as-hell sheets under him.
For one moment, Shiro could almost think the events of the previous day - of the previous who knew how long - were just a strange dream.
Then he shifted, and the mechanics in his arm whirred .
So much for that.
Sitting up, Shiro took stock of himself. After they’d knocked him out, he must have been moved straight here. There was a hint of grit and dust in his hair and over his face. He had at least been changed out of the dirty jumpsuit he’d found himself in after escaping (from where?) and into medical scrubs.
For a moment, the clothes threw him for a loop, too. It was polyester blend, which normally wouldn’t make Shiro’s stomach twist in painful glee, and yet here he was, smoothing his hands over it. Because it was an Earth material. While he was on Earth.
Shiro was home.
He’d was dressed in pale, short-sleeved scrubs, showing the lower half of his arms. Which looked different. They were both bigger, for one. His left was covered in crossed lines of gnarled flesh and discolored skin.
Scars. It looked like he’d been holding a bomb when it went off. A bomb with claws.
That wasn’t even touching his right arm.
Breath catching, Shiro stood and half-stumbled to the ensuite bathroom.
The face in the mirror wasn’t the one he expected.
Clearly, he hadn’t seen much sun in the past while. The face in the mirror seemed older. From the patch of white hair to the shockingly noticeable scar across his nose, he looked like he’d jumped to nearly 30 years old, rather than the age he thought he was. In fact, all of him was larger, not just the arm. These scrubs had to be a size larger than what would have fit him before leaving.
Shiro almost didn’t believe it was him. But then he moved his hand, and the mirror image followed. He shivered and reached up, touching the scar across his nose in mute horror.
Pinned down by something on his arm, something sharp raking across his face as he squirmed, trying to get away. It was going for his eyes, no no no! There was a hum from his arm, and a flash of purple light, then-
Gasping, Shiro shoved himself back from the mirror, hard enough that his back hit the wall. He slid down it, clutching his hair and shivering.
What was that?
Maybe it had something to do with Voltron? The name stuck in Shiro’s head like an alarm, driving him to action.
But the name gave no clues what Voltron was . No location, no details. Just the word.
Taking a deep breath, Shiro stared at the lights and took deep breaths to get himself under control.
Seemed he wasn’t going to get a chance.
Pushing himself up to his feet, Shiro forced his breathing into something more steady. Then he stepped out of the bathroom.
The person standing at the door was a stranger. She was small, barely a couple inches over five feet, and she had a no-nonsense look to her that made Shiro’s spine straighten. She was wearing a medical suit, covering all of her to the neck, and the tale-tell glimmer around her face showed she was wearing a projected medical mask. A shiver down Shiro’s back.
“Hello?” he asked, hand resting on the bathroom door frame. The woman’s professional, distant air kept him from coming closer.
“Good morning. Take a seat,” she told him. She took a seat on a cheap looking metal chair shoved into the corner of the room nearest the door. “We have some things to discuss with you.”
Dazed, Shiro sat down on the foot of his bed. “Are you here to ask me about Voltron?” he asked, chest tight.
The woman glanced up at him. “Not yet. That’s not really my area. I’m Doctor Fraiser. I want to talk to you about your tests.”
“My-” Shiro cut off and closed his eyes. They must have done blood tests on him while he was out. That wasn’t a surprise, not really, but it still made his stomach twist. The very memory of those bright lights above him, and shadowed figures leaning over, claws on his arm-
Shoving the thought away, Shiro took a deep breath and nodded. “What about them, Doctor?”
Fraiser eyed him for a moment, eyes shadowed. Was she was hiding sympathy or distrust? “Your blood tests came back clean. Unfortunately, that’s not saying much. We don’t have ways of testing most of the things you could have been exposed to. But scans of your body showed nothing significantly out of the ordinary, other than the scar tissue and...” She gestured to the arm rather than speak to it directly.
Despite himself, Shiro curled it closer to him in his lap and reached up with his left hand, covering the ugly, gnarled skin where it met flesh. “So am I under quarantine?”
“You know the answer to that,” Fraiser replied mercilessly, though her eyes flicked up sympathetically to meet his. “Same as it would have been returning from Kerberos. You’ll be under watch for the next several weeks while we make sure there’s nothing that’ll catch.”
That explained the suit and the mask. Really, Shiro shouldn’t have been surprised.
Shaking his head, Shiro stood. Fraiser tensed, barely noticeably, and Shiro froze as his chest tightened. He shouldn’t take it personally. He was an unknown element to her. He had battle scars and a metal arm. That was worth tensing. It made Shiro tense, and he was attached to it.
But it still hurt anyway.
“We don’t have that long to waste,” Shiro told her, keeping his voice calm. He couldn’t afford to be called hysterical, not when it would get him sedated again. He had to stay calm. “I need to speak with Commander Iverson.”
Fraiser eyed him, then nodded. “I’ll tell them you asked for him. That’s about all I can do. For now, Lieutenant, try to stay comfortable. This is procedure.”
Resisting the urge to growl, Shiro shook his head. “Procedure shouldn’t take precedence over saving humanity.”
“That’s not my call,” Fraiser replied softly. “I’ll pass it along. That’s all I can do, like I said.”
Closing his eyes, Shiro nodded. “Thank you.” He managed to sound sincere, or at least close to it.
“For now, I’ll leave this information here for you.” She set down a handful of papers on the table next to her, rather than handing it directly to Shiro. “Some of this is paperwork for regarding your status as deceased. Some of it is what to expect from your physical changes.” She paused, looking him over. “And, considering some of those wounds, I’ve added extra information on PTSD. I advise reading all of it.”
Bristling, Shiro looked away.
PTSD. Wouldn’t that make more sense if he could actually remember what had happened to him? How could he have post-traumatic stress for something he didn’t remember?
Well, there had been his panicked memory in the bathroom. Fair enough.
“I’ll speak with you later about more testing. We have other scans we’d like to do, especially for that arm. How did you get it?”
Shiro stared down at it, working the fingers one by one. “I don’t remember.”
Sighing - and this time it was a frustrated sigh, and Shiro suspected she didn’t believe him - Fraiser nodded. “I’ll be back.”
When she opened the door, the shoulder of someone outside was just visible past the doorframe. A guard.
Who were they trying to keep out?
It was to keep him in.
He was still swallowing that when the doctor left.
Shiro paced the little room so many times he could walk it with his eyes closed. He read through the paperwork, or at least tried to, and then searched the room for other things to focus on. The PTSD packet and the health risks information went completely untouched.
He’d read it after he dealt with Voltron. Nothing in there would matter if he didn’t get someone to listen. Voltron was the only thing that could save them. Shiro knew that, as sure as he knew his name.
He just didn’t know anything else but a name.
Under the florescent lights, Shiro lost track of time. He didn’t turn off the light switch. Somehow, Shiro was surprised when it stayed on. The room’s lights should have automatically flickered off when it was time to sleep.
They never did. Instead Shiro was left aching and disoriented. There was no clock in the room, and it had been stripped bare of anything but pure essentials and bolted down furniture.
It was a prisoner’s room.
Shiro told himself he was being sensitive. It didn’t help.
By now, a day had to have passed since he talked to the doctor. From how his limbs dragged and his eyelids felt weighed down, he was confident that he’d skipped at least a night’s sleep.
Finally, the door opened, and Iverson stepped in.
Shiro snapped to attention, then froze in place, surprised at himself. He’d been afraid he’d been gone for ages, considering how much older he looked. Or the muscle memory drilled into him by the Garrison just stayed true for longer than he would have expected.
“At ease,” Iverson told him, sitting down in the same seat Fraiser had taken. He was wearing a hazmat bodysuit as well, with the same protective screen over his face. “How are you, Shiro?”
Despite himself, Shiro relaxed a little. Iverson had always treated Shiro differently, using a nickname instead of his rank, talking to him instead of talking at him. When he was in training, it had bothered him deeply. Iverson picked favorites, and it wasn’t fair.
Now he was just glad someone seemed to be in his corner.
Taking a deep breath, Shiro shrugged. “As well as I can be, considering. This is about Voltron, right?”
“Among other things,” Iverson replied, which was basically a no, but he was going to humor Shiro anyway. Good enough. “First, I’d like to know where you’ve been. What happened on Kerberos?”
Shiro swallowed hard. “I...” He closed his eyes. “We arrived as scheduled and disembarked to set up the equipment. Ma- Cadet Holt and Commander Holt were just finishing up on the first sample when we saw an unidentified vessel. It caught us.”
After that had been... the alien king. Leader? Officer? Shiro didn’t really remember, just the blur of trying to speak and being smacked down, then dragged along. The horror of looking around that huge ship and recognizing the scale of what they had stumbled on.
It felt like a memory, but it was so... so strange. Maybe it had been a dream? Shiro had no proof one way or another.
“You claim to be abducted,” Iverson repeated, voice utterly without inflection. “That’s your official story.”
Irritation choked Shiro. Really? Was he really going to have to fight for such a basic, rudimentary fact? Was he going to have to work for each scrap of his story to be believed? It was a terrifyingly real possibility, and they didn’t have fucking time for that. “All due respect, sir, but I got the craft I landed in somewhere.”
Miraculously, Iverson didn’t snap at him for that. Instead the edge of one lip pulled up. “We have questions about that, too,” he replied, without acknowledgement of the point. But he wasn’t pushing Shiro to prove aliens were real, either. It was a concession of a sort. The kind that saved face. Iverson was famous for those.
“After that,” Iverson pressed. “Continue.”
Shiro swallowed. “I don’t remember,” he admitted. “I know how that sounds, but I honestly don’t. All I remember is that the ones that kidnapped me are going to be coming, and they’re looking for Voltron, a weapon. We need to be prepared for-” For who?
Shiro paused and shivered like a cool breeze had started right behind his neck. The soldiers when they were captured all had same strange insignia on their armor.
A name rose in Shiro’s head like a flash of a fish under the surface of a murky lake. “The Galra. They’re the Galra.”
Leaning back in the chair, Iverson sighed. “You’re not giving me much to work with, Lieutenant. You disappear for a year, and come back ranting about aliens and weapons on Earth. You understand how this sounds, right?”
A year. He’d been gone a year.
Shivering again, Shiro ducked his head. “Yes. But it’s true. We need to be ready.”
“Voltron. What kind of weapon is it?”
“I think it’s-” Shiro closed his eyes, concentrating. If Voltron was so important, shouldn’t he know why? “I honestly don’t know, sir. But it has to be something devastating.” He met Iverson’s gaze, trying to match Iverson’s stern, steady look.
Iverson took another deep breath, slow and controlled. “Can you give me anything on Voltron to work with? I can’t go to the Rear Admiral and say ‘an amnesiac who disappeared in space for a year says we have to go find a ‘Voltron’, but we don’t know what it is, to defend against the Galra, who we don’t know anything about.”
Wincing under the diatribe, Shiro nodded. “I...” He closed his eyes tightly, willing his brain to supply the memories. Anything at all. Size, shape, location. Even just a timeframe. A single detail he could offer in good faith.
He had nothing.
“I’ll try,” he finally offered, meeting Iverson’s gaze, his eyes desperate. “I’ll cooperate willingly with anything you want. Just give me a chance to remember. I don’t know why I can’t remember, but I’ve had fragments of memories come back, I think. I’ll give you what you need.”
Nodding, Iverson leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees. “I want to believe you, Shiro.” And god, the use of his name was cutting Shiro to the bone, hitting him somewhere Iverson had never managed before... before this past year.
(A year? Only that? He looked so much older. Was it just from the scars and hair? Had the aliens done something to him other than the arm?)
Shiro took a deep, shaky breath. “I know. Thank you. I’ll have more for you soon.”
“Atta boy.” And it was disgusting, how much Shiro wanted to cling to the words.
But why shouldn’t he? He was home. He was at the Galaxy Garrison, which had made him their golden boy. Shiro had been molded to their standards. They would believe him. They had to. No one else in the world would.
Iverson stood and made for the door. Frustration seized in his chest as Shiro jumped to his feet. “Sir,” he called, then waited for Iverson to turn. “I... My family. When can I...?”
When Iverson closed his eye, Shiro’s stomach sank. “Everyone on that mission is still considered dead,” Iverson said. “At this point, we’re going to wait out your quarantine before we do more. And until you get that paperwork finished, of course.”
Right. Shiro should have finished that already. Putting it off had been stupid. “But, Sir-”
“Shiro, you’re dead to them.” Iverson’s steely gaze didn’t move an inch, even as Shiro’s heart iced over. “Let us figure out what we’re doing, here, and make sure the reunion won’t get everyone on Earth killed, by illness or otherwise. We’ll worry about the rest later. We need to do this safely.”
“Yes, sir,” Shiro replied, properly chastised. “How long until the quarantine is over? I’m not sure how long I’ve been here.”
Iverson eyed him like he wasn’t sure Shiro wasn’t trying to sneak something. “Four more weeks. You’ve been here two days.”
He left while Shiro’s stomach was still spiralling down to his feet.
Every hour that he was in the room and the Galra didn’t attack was like a damnation.
Which was selfish. Stupidly so. Shiro didn’t want the Galra to come. He didn’t want them to attack, to take over, to kill everyone. Even without his memories Shiro knew, deep in his bones, that the Galra were vicious and unstoppable. The only thing that could save them was Voltron.
But without any idea of where or what Voltron was, that knowledge was useless.
Shiro scrubbed his natural hand over his face, staring up at the dark ceiling. If he could at least get a hint, maybe he could spark something. Shiro had assumed Voltron was a weapon, but maybe it was some kind of planetary defense system? Maybe it was something that disabled the ships the Galra would come in? Or maybe it was a giant space laser?
What would any of those things be doing on Earth without their knowledge? What was Voltron doing here?
They needed answers, but the answers were all locked up uselessly in Shiro’s head.
Growling to himself, Shiro kicked off the covers and walked into the bathroom. He yanked off the scrub top and made himself stare down at himself. Earlier, he’d showered, but he’d spent the time delicately trying not to look, too disturbed and afraid of what had caused the scars.
But last time Shiro had poked at them, it had triggered what was probably a memory. The fate of the planet depended on this. He was going to remember, and then the Galaxy Garrison would believe him again, and they’d all survive.
Shiro grit his teeth and began to touch.
The skin was undeniably ugly. Near all of the wounds had healed badly. Most of them weren’t lines where he had been neatly stitched together, but instead huge, gnarled patches. What might have been an electrical burn skipped up his arm. Shiro’s shoulder and side were marred with near perfect circles that might have been puncture wounds. One started on his left side, but the matching mark came out his back, like he’d been speared through with a hook.
What the hell had Shiro been up to this year?
This time, there was no flash of memory, nothing so direct. Instead, Shiro’s left hand shook, too hard for him to keep tracing the scars. His vision blurred just as every hair on his body stood up. Suddenly, Shiro was dizzy and his stomach was twisting and everything was tilting to the side he was going to be sick but if he did he was going to choke and he’d die without getting anything done, he’d survived but now he was going to die here they were coming and he couldn’t stop them no one would listen-
Shiro came back to himself slowly, curled on the bathroom floor with his forehead pressed to the chilled tiles. His cheeks were wet.
Maybe it was time to read that packet.
Each time Shiro slept, he dreamt.
He woke shuddering and crying out to an empty room.
Nothing he dreamt of was useful.
Shiro stared down at the metal arm, brow furrowed as his stomach sank uncomfortably.
This was the heaviest of the available hand weights at sixty pounds, but he was holding it without any kind of strain. Hell, he was fairly certain he could have picked it up with one finger.
Fraiser bent over her clipboard, scribbling lightning-quick as she looked between Shiro and her read-outs. Idly, Shiro wondered if the projected mask affected her eyesight. He’d never actually worn one.
“Any fatigue?” she asked, still writing furiously.
Resisting the urge to snort, Shiro shook his head. “None.” When Fraiser nodded to him, he put the weight down and dropped his arm by his sides, waiting for further instructions.
Fraiser finally met his eyes. “Do you have any idea why you were given the arm?”
Every time Fraiser or Iverson came by, Shiro was asked some variation on this. Which made sense. The arm was an unknown alien technology, and they must desperately want to know what it could do and how it worked. None of the tests had hit any kind of limit.
Something the military was undoubtedly interested in.
Shiro shook his head, looking down at his bare feet. Since he hadn’t left the room, no one seemed to have thought he needed shoes. “No.” At Fraiser’s bland look, he shrugged one shoulder. “Really, I have nothing. The only thing I’ve remembered is being hurt. Fighting.”
“You understand that it’s important for us to know everything we can, right?” Fraiser asked, voice painfully gentle. Shiro nearly flinched back from her. “If something happened out there, the Garrison will understand. You won’t be in trouble.”
He couldn’t snap. He couldn’t yell. Shiro didn’t dare do anything to make himself even more of a threat. “I really don’t remember, I swear. Anything I could say would be pure conjecture.”
Fraiser met his eyes. “That would be better than nothing.” Something about the tone was like a confession, like she was admitting more than she should have. “Some possible answers would be more satisfying than none.”
More satisfying to who, exactly?
No, Iverson had admitted it already, when he spoke about reporting to a Rear Admiral. It probably went higher than that, now.
“Considering what I’ve gotten the impression of,” Shiro replied, slow as he carefully chose each word. “I think I got injured, and this was a replacement. I know I was hurt a lot. Losing an arm would make sense. It had to be later, since it matches the other one.” At Fraiser’s confused look, Shiro shrugged. “I’m bigger than I used to be.”
For a moment, Fraiser tapped her pen on the clipboard, staccato and loud in the otherwise quiet room. “I can work with that,” she decided. “We’ll do some more testing. The scans we got originally were inconclusive. The metals your arm is made of don’t react to x-ray as well as we’d hoped. What we did manage to see of the inside doesn’t look like anything we’re familiar with.”
Shiro drummed his natural fingers against the metal forearm, matching Fraiser's nervous rhythm. “Will you need to open it?” he asked, trying to keep his voice steady.
“Eventually,” Fraiser replied, voice clipped and professional. But after a moment, she softened. “Not yet. We’d like to understand it more before we take that kind of risk. Scanning it from the outside is still the smartest thing to do. But the powers that be are nervous of letting you out of your quarantine room. This hallway is closed down, and we’ve done all we can, but your stay here isn’t exactly regulation.”
If they could break regulation for that, why couldn’t they break it to let Shiro out?
Why were they even breaking those regulations? Why was Shiro still here? This was an academy, not a medical institute or a research facility.
Somehow, Shiro had never questioned being kept here. The Garrison was the place he knew, and he was so grateful to be home he hadn’t thought twice about it.
Shiro chewed on his bottom lip. Fraiser was at least somewhat sympathetic, or at least responsive to his emotions. So maybe she would allow him a little more.
“I assume for those tests I’ll be going out with you in one of the suits?” Shiro waited for Fraiser’s nod. “Could we make a slight detour? I’d like to see outside, if I can.”
Fraiser closed her eyes, sudden and hard. “I’ll ask for you,” she promised, voice professional. “I can’t promise. I’m not sure I even recommend it. The suits can fail. But I will ask.”
Last time she’d asked around, Shiro had gotten what he wanted. It was better than nothing. So he smiled. “Thank you.”
“Don’t thank me yet,” Fraiser replied. “For now, you have more tests to do. Let’s do one-handed push-ups. We’ll go until you feel strained, agreed?”
Shiro nodded back, shoulders set and determined. He’d pass all their tests and then they’d listen to him again. That was how it worked.
Waking with a start, Shiro gagged on bile. His sheets were tangled around him, stuck to his skin from sweat. He had to kick and buck to get free and tumble out of bed. Then Shiro scrambled to the bathroom to heave over the toilet.
That had been one of the most cohesive dreams so far. The background roar had, for once, been accompanied by images. Now Shiro knew it had been a crowd.
People - aliens - had been watching him fight and be hurt. And cheered for it.
The horror of that took his breath away and made his stomach twist anew. He leaned over the bowl again, gagging on phlegm.
Shiro had been in an arena, an honest to god stage . He’d fought a strange, hulking figure with a staff that crackled and hummed like a sci-fi drone. The crowd had gone wild for the fight, and Shiro had only a single bladed weapon and a deep sense of certainty. Somehow, he’d stood in that arena and been darkly, viciously glad, because it was better this way than-
Once his stomach was done crawling out of his throat, Shiro stood and rinsed out his mouth. Then he paced. The chill of the tiles was sharp against his feet, a reminder of where he was, but it wasn’t enough. He ran his fingers up and down his arms, trying to soothe the gooseflesh. That wasn’t enough, either.
What was Shiro even doing? Why was he in a tiny bathroom instead of doing something?
He stormed out and banged on the door.
“I want to speak to Commander Iverson,” Shiro called, voice hard and low. It was the tone he’d quietly practiced, excited for the day he’d have a team of his own. When he could be a Commander himself.
Now it got him nothing.
He continued to pound, using the metal arm so he wouldn’t tire or feel pain. All the while, he fought to catch his breath, but it was beyond Shiro’s control. Just like everything since Kerberos.
Reaching out, Shiro tried the knob again, just in case, but it didn’t turn at all. Snarling, Shiro hit the door again, even harder this time. By now he was nearly beating on it. “I need out! You have to listen to me. Go get Commander Iverson.”
Nothing. No response, no footsteps. There might not have even been anyone outside.
Except Shiro knew better. There were. They just weren’t listening to him. Probably under orders, because he was dangerous and alien now. Because he couldn’t find the right words to make them finally listen.
Shiro was useless. He’d fought and he’d escaped and finally, finally gotten back home, and then he’d failed because he’d forgotten everything important.
Shiro wound back and punched the door.
The wood cracked under the force, showing the reinforcing steel underneath.
Then Shiro’s hand started to hurt.
He yanked it back, staring down as he bit his lip. Had he broken something? Oh god, it burned like electricity, sparking up his arm. Something inside seemed to be jolting and shifting, and the whole thing lit up like a heated iron brand. After a moment, something gave , and the pain flared, then died.
The hand still glowed.
“Why didn’t you tell us about this?” Iverson snapped, pacing back and forth in the space between Shiro’s bed and the chair Fraiser occupied. They’d brought in another seat for Iverson, but he hadn’t used it yet.
Shiro shrugged, working the fingers on his hand. “I didn’t know,” he replied, voice soft. His every instinct said to duck his head, to straighten his shoulders, to obey the rules until the storm passed.
But it hadn’t helped so far. “Bullshit!” Iverson snapped. “You don’t just forget something like that.”
Fraiser opened her mouth like she wanted to say something, then noticed Shiro’s gaze and shut her mouth. She wasn’t going to cause a scene in front of him, it seemed.
“Sir, I don’t know that I’ve ever done that before,” Shiro replied quickly. “I’ll be happy to cooperate with any testing-”
Iverson snorted. “Lieutenant, you certainly will be. And from now on, cooperation means telling us when your arm is a deadly weapon.”
Biting his tongue, literally, Shiro kept from snapping back. “Yes, Sir,” he replied instead, and hated the words. “I’ve been remembering, but slowly. There’s not much to set off the memories in here, and-”
“Don’t even say it, Lieutenant,” Iverson replied, voice low. “You do not hide something like this from us and then ask for special treatment.”
Ducking his head, Shiro felt something in his chest crumple. “Yes, Sir.”
“You will be doing more tests with the arm, and you’ll be the model of obedience when we do scans.”
“You will not protest any means of understanding the weapon better.”
“You will not cause any more late night disruptions like this.”
Finally, Iverson seemed to have vented the worst of his temper. His expression was still twisted with anger, but at least he was looking at Shiro’s face again. “This is bigger than you, Shiro. Try and remember that.”
Guilt stabbed through Shiro, but not in the way Iverson had probably meant for it to.
This was bigger than him, bigger than his arm, and bigger than the Garrison.
Voltron was bigger than everything.
“Yes, Sir,” Shiro replied, his voice hardening. “And, Sir, about Voltron.”
Iverson’s gaze darkened. “Have you remembered anything about it?”
“No, Sir. But-”
Holding up a hand, Iverson shook his head and snorted. “Then I don’t want to hear a word.”
Frustration bubbled up in Shiro like a fountain of boiling water. “Sir, one would think if you’re interested in the weapon attached to me, you’d be interested in the other one I have to offer.”
Iverson whirled on him, his eye bright. “That is dangerously close to insubordination, Lieutenant.”
“Sorry, Sir,” Shiro replied, and didn’t manage an ounce of sincerity.
Scowling, Iverson stared him down. “You had best think carefully about how you want your time to be here to go.”
And then he stalked out, slamming the door behind him.
Once he was gone, Fraiser sighed and stood. She looked him over. “I didn’t believe you,” she replied softly. “Now I do.”
What had changed her mind?
Meeting her gaze, Shiro took a deep breath. “Doctor? Why am I still here? Why haven’t I been moved?”
Fraiser considered him for a long, long moment. Then she swallowed and turned, so her back was pointedly facing the security camera. “Don’t ask me why they’re afraid for you to be seen,” she replied, voice low, barely more than a hiss of breath. “I won’t be able to answer if you ask why they don’t want you spotted. Don’t ask me if your paperwork has been misplaced. Don’t ask me what they intend for you after quarantine is up.”
Gaping at her, Shiro nearly recoiled. That was... “Those would be dangerous questions. Why are you telling me this?”
“It would be, if you were asking them, and I was answering,” Fraiser replied, voice hard. “And I’m warning you from asking those questions because I swore on oath, and the answers would hurt you.”
This was damn near treasonous. Fraiser could be discharged for less.
But her eyes were clear and her back was straight as she met his eyes.
She knew that, and she was doing it anyway. Because she couldn’t support this anymore, but there was little else she could do.
Nodding, Shiro ducked his head. “I appreciate the advice, Doctor.”
“Good.” She nodded to him, back straight, all five-feet nothing of her. “And I advise you read those packets I left you as well.”
Shiro winced. He still hadn’t touched them. For one, it was admitting something, and for another, acknowledging it would give the Garrison another reason to think he was dangerous and shut him down.
“Have a good evening, Lieutenant.” With that, Fraiser followed Iverson out, closing the door much more gently behind her.
Once she was gone, Shiro curled up on himself, the pure white bangs brushing against his knees. His breath came out shaky, like he was on the verge of tears.
Shiro was a prisoner again. He’d known it, but he’d hoped it had an expiration date.
He was dangerous. And they were never going to let him out.
The sound of footsteps woke Shiro instantly.
Shiro sat up and rubbed over his face. Were Iverson or Fraiser returning for more of the testing they’d spoken about.
But then there was a shout, and a thud.
Which was just a little different.
Shiro was already untangling himself from the sheets and standing when the door opened. And in it was-
Keith? The hell?
“Shiro!” Keith cried, the relief painfully obvious in his voice. “We’ve got to go.”
Shiro stepped closer, turning on the light to see Keith more clearly. The year and a half had aged him, obviously, no longer really a teenager. But there was that same wildness to his eyes and movements that he’d had when they’d first met.
It all made his eyes burn.
But Keith wouldn’t appreciate that, wouldn’t want Shiro collapsing all over him and crying. So he forced himself to keep his hands to himself. “Go where?”
“Away!” someone replied, voice a whispered hiss, though no more quiet for it. Shiro’s brow furrowed as he took in three more cadets. The one speaking was lanky, and stood so close to the large and broad one next to him they were practically touching. The big one looked like he wanted to be anywhere else. And there was...
No, not Matt. Matt never had that edge to his face, and was at least a little taller.
Not-Matt stormed forward, reaching for his arm and then freezing when they saw the metal. “We have to go. They’ll realize we’re here soon. So c’mon!”
Finally, what they were asking clicked. Shiro took a step back. “No. What are you even...? I’m not going anywhere. Go back to class.”
There was a pause.
“After all that?” the lanky one yelped, eyes wide. “We’ve spent days chasing you down, and we saw all that footage! We knocked out a guard!” He gestured to the crumpled, unconscious form next to the wall.
“You can’t stay!” Not-Matt snarled, with surprising, sudden venom. “You can’t just hide out in here.”
“I can’t go back to class,” Keith told him, the same dry, understated tone he always used when Shiro wouldn’t like what he was about to say. “I dropped out.”
Shiro gaped at them all, overwhelmed.
The big one cleared his throat. “If he doesn’t want to-”
Not-Matt turned on him, already bristled and lips drawn back in a snarl. When the big one tried to shush him, his voice only got louder. “He doesn’t get a choice! They’re not going to listen to him, and the rest of the crew are still out there!”
The words were like a punch in the gut.
Matt and Commander Holt were still out there. He hadn’t even been able to get the Garrison to look around on Earth, much less anything more, and Shiro still didn’t remember anything about them. But all this time he’d just... let it slide.
What was wrong with him?
“Shiro, you need to leave with us,” Keith replied, voice low and painfully, deathly serious. “Pidge dug up everything. They’re never going to listen. There are all these orders coming down the line-”
Lanky’s shoulders fell, and he suddenly looked older. “They’re right, man.”
Stepping forward, Not-Matt grabbed Shiro’s metal wrist, still glaring. “It’s the only choice. They’ll never admit it wasn’t pilot error.”
Even as he stumbled forward, Shiro’s brow furrowed. “What pilot error?”
Big and Lanky shared a look. When Big Cadet looked back over, his shoulders were slumped. “The Kerberos mission. That’s what they said happened. Now, stay or go, we need to pick now, because they’re going to find out we got in any second and I really don’t want to be here when that happens.”
“He’s going,” Keith replied, voice hard, but small and far away.
No, Shiro was far away, knocked out of his body and choking on his own thoughts.
That didn’t... The three of them hadn’t even been on the ship, how was it supposed to be... the Garrison had to know, they’d been broadcasting their progress, their audio recordings had been transmitted to base...
They had to know that...
That was why. That was why.
That was why the higher ups refused to move him to another facility. That was why they didn’t want him moving around the Garrison. Iverson had built him up, but they’d never, ever meant for him to see the light of day.
Because the second he did, and word got out that he was still around, it would be difficult to deal with.
They’d made him their prisoner, possibly damned the entire planet, just to save face.
Something in Shiro cracked. Then it went very still.
“I’ll come with you,” he replied, his own voice sounding distant to his ears. Shiro didn’t fight being tugged, and eventually his feet figured out how to work, and he was running with the rest of them.
It should have been hard to get out. But Shiro had woken up knowing where he was. He knew every inch of this place, every hallway and every nook. Knew the best ways of slipping out for night after night spent on the roof or in the desert, alone or with Keith.
But this time it was different. This time the walls were hateful, the voices down the hall poisoned. This time the lights were sinister and the plain corridor oppressive.
Shiro wasn’t sneaking out of his home. He was escaping his prison.
And he was never going to come back.
By the time they were zipping away on a hoverbike, the alarms were already blaring behind them. Shiro would care about that later. Then he would care about the fact that these four cadets found him and pulled him out, at the cost of their own careers, that they were going to be in such deep trouble when this was all over.
But instead, Shiro stared up at the starry sky.
“Do you see something?” Broad asked, following Shiro’s gaze up. “It’s not the aliens, right?”
Without looking away, Shiro shook his head. “No. I just haven’t seen this in a long time.”
From the corner of his eye, he saw Not-Matt close his mouth and look away, lips thin. Likely, Shiro had just accidentally cut off an interrogation before it happened.
Good. He didn’t want to answer any more questions. He wanted to watch the stars.
“How are you doing back there?” Keith yelled over the wind as he glanced over his shoulder. He banked hard, avoiding a rock outcropping, and nearly sent his passengers tumbling to the side.
Lanky snorted. “We’d be doing better if you’d smooth your ride, dropout!”
But Shiro smiled back, if slightly strained. “I’m okay.”
Zipping along the desert, stolen from the place he’d trusted with nearly his entire heart, the wind in his hair and the sky open above him, Shiro felt alive. More alive than he’d been since Kerberos.
This was right. It was where he should be.
Though Shiro wished he could have gotten here without dragging these four along.
Lance - now Shiro knew his name, because he basically hadn’t shut up for more than five minutes at a time - glanced around Keith’s shack. “Okay,” Lance drawled, clearly judging. “Glad you have this little place set up. You, uh, been here this whole time?”
Glaring, Keith gave a jerky nod. He stepped to Shiro’s side, just shy of hovering, which was such a role reversal that it nearly made him laugh.
But they were in a tiny shack that Keith had been living in, alone, for who knew how long. Because he’d dropped out. The humor of the situation sputtered and died.
Hunk (and Shiro knew his name too, now, also because Lance didn’t shut up) stepped forward to examine whatever Keith had under a flap on his wall. When he pulled it away, he revealed maps and charts, scribbled over in marker and half-covered in old photos. Just looking at it made Shiro’s head hurt with unanswered questions.
Pidge wheeled on Shiro. “So what happened to the rest of the crew?”
God, who the hell was this kid, anyway? Matt didn’t have a younger brother, just Katie. Some kind of cousin? Shiro didn’t know if they’d ever talked about that. Mostly he’d tried to stay away from extended family talk, because people always wanted him to reciprocate.
“I don’t know,” Shiro replied, scrubbing his left hand over his face. “Last thing I remember was getting captured by the Galra, and getting dragged away. Everything after that is a blur. I have pieces, but I have no idea what order or what they’re about, or if they’re real.”
Pidge leaned forward, eyes bright. “You really don’t remember anything?”
Turning around, Hunk tugged the sheet the rest of the way off. “Dude, Pidge, he said he didn’t. Don’t be like Iverson.”
But Pidge continued to stare, near feverishly intense, and Shiro resisted the urge to flinch and lean away.
Instead he changed the subject. “What are you even- how did you find me?”
Resting a gentle hand on Shiro’s arm, Keith pushed him toward the couch. “Long story short, I found the crash site. When I looked into it, I found out about you.”
“We found him skulking around like a raccoon in trash,” Lance snorted, sitting down on the opposite side. “And then Pidge spilled everything about the Kerberos mission like that. Took us months to get so much as a hello. Go figure.”
Shiro shook his head, closing his eyes. “So you just... do you understand how serious what you’ve done is? I should have left you behind.”
“Like hell,” Keith snapped. “I already dropped out, I’m not staying there for anything.”
Pidge snorted. “I’ve done worse.”
All of them paused and stared at him.
Frowning, Hunk tilted his head. “Like what?”
“Well, hacking into Garrison records and transmissions, for one,” Pidge drawled back. “That’s usually a pretty big deal.”
Lance shrugged. “Well, we weren’t going to get left behind on this.”
“I could have been left behind,” Hunk muttered, cementing Shiro’s opinion that he was the only one with an ounce of sense.
But Lance just shot him a grin, as though this was all a fun game and not a way to ruin their entire lives. “You wouldn’t let me n’ Pidge go alone, would you?”
Hunk’s sigh, and the fact that he was here at all, proved that.
“Going back now isn’t going to do us any good,” Keith replied. “They’ll just want to make us bring them to you, and we’re not doing that. So you might as well deal with it.”
Shiro didn’t want this responsibility. He didn’t want to know four cadets had thrown their lives in the gutter for him, or for his knowledge, or just for the adventure of it.
Sighing, he focused on his breathing.
“So this is it?” Hunk asked. “Your research?”
Keith nodded. His hand rested on Shiro’s arm, warm and solid. Shiro didn’t dare lean into it, not when he was so tightly wound. “Yeah, that’s it,” Keith replied.
“Let me see,” Pidge muttered. He joined Hunk in front of the board. “Is there a pattern? I don’t understand how you got the landing site and timing out of this.”
Keith shrugged. “I just looked at it and it made sense. It wasn’t an immediate thing. After months of feeling pulled there, I was kind of beyond questioning it.”
Humming, Hunk tilted his head. “I recognize this. Not the drawings, but these readouts.” He started to murmur to himself, low and thoughtful, and a second later Pidge picked it up and replied.
God, it was exhausting to listen to them. Or Shiro was just exhausted. That one beautiful moment of freedom was drained out of him, now that he was under this roof and faced with the consequences.
Movement from the corner of his eye made Shiro flinch. Lance froze with his hand extended. “Sorry!” Lance replied, voice tight. “I didn’t mean to- shit, dude, I’m sorry. Just... you okay?”
“I’m fine,” Shiro replied, instant and automatic. He wasn’t going to vent to some cadet. He wasn’t going to vent to anyone. “Just tired. What’s this about an energy?”
Keith met his gaze seriously, but his eyes slipped away and tracked over Shiro’s face. He was probably taking in the changes. Shiro’s stomach twisted into pained knots. “I think it has something to do with Voltron. I knew exactly where you’d land, Shiro. At least, where your ship would. And exactly when, too. But you were so close to the Galaxy Garrison, and I nearly got caught when I tried to distract them and get you out.”
Voltron. Right. Shiro needed to focus on that. “You think Voltron is near here?”
“Makes sense, right?” Lance offered, shaking off the awkwardness of before. “Why else land here?”
Well, Shiro had assumed it was to contact the Garrison. But then, why not a bigger base? Why the academy?
Maybe he’d been aiming for something else.
“I can build this,” Hunk said suddenly, then blinked and turned around. “I can build something to track these readings. Then we can find more information. Maybe we can find out exactly where it is? The cave where Keith found all this might be, like, an instruction manual.”
Shiro leaned back, eyes wide.
Days. Weeks, even, and he hadn’t gotten so much as an agreement that Voltron was real. And in an hour outside of the Garrison, they already had a workable plan for finding it.
All that time they could have been preparing, could have been figuring out what to do.
What a stupid, stupid waste .
“Let’s do it,” Lance replied, chest stuck out and voice lower, like a movie hero. “What do we have to lose?”
Hunk eyed him for a moment, but then nodded. “Keith, what supplies do you have?”
With a sigh, Keith got up, but his hand stayed on Shiro’s arm for a moment longer. “I’m glad you’re back.”
“I’m glad too,” Shiro replied. It was sincere, but it didn’t ring exactly true. He wasn’t glad to have spent the past two weeks with the Galaxy Garrison. He wasn’t glad to have started all this with them.
But he was glad to be with Keith. He’d missed him. Seeing him again soothed an ache that Shiro hadn’t even registered. The circumstances were so wildly different, but Keith was still that fresh, first-year cadet that Shiro was so protective of. The one on the edge of being great, but threatened by the pressure the Garrison put on its stars.
Maybe Shiro should have remembered that before he’d bowed his head to Iverson, all because he’d used a nice tone.
Glancing up, he took a deep breath. “Keith, can I-” Shiro winced at himself. He was asking permission to go outside and see the sky. “Nevermind. I’ll be outside.”
The look Keith shot him was pained. “Yeah, go for it. How long do you think this is gunna take, Hunk?”
“Uh, a couple of hours, maybe?”
Pidge snorted. “We can get it done before dawn with both of us on it.”
Nodding, Keith gestured for them to follow. “Tell me what you need.” And they disappeared into another room.
Shiro stood, surprised he didn’t fall over. His head was so full that it should have been too heavy to lift.
“You, uh, need company?” Lance asked, looking Shiro over. His eyes landed on the arm for just a second too long. If Pidge had hacked the Garrison like he’d claimed, he’d probably seen it activate. He knew what it was.
The knowledge sent a shiver through Shiro.
So he gave Lance a smile that didn’t reach his eyes. “I’ll be okay on my own. You stay inside where it’s warmer.” It was on the tip of his tongue to tell Lance to head back, to take all of them back with them, but that ship had sailed and they were all going to have to live with it.
Lance nodded slowly. “Okay. I’m good with warm. You enjoy.”
Stepping out, Shiro closed the door carefully behind him. Then he sat down with his back to the shack and stared up.
He stayed there until his whole body felt chilled to the bone, and until the dust made his scrubs look brown.
Two weeks back on Earth, and Shiro already felt like it wasn’t home anymore.
When the voices picked up, Shiro stepped back in. By then, the sky was just beginning to warm as the sun threatened to rise. Shiro had officially been up almost all night. He was so damn tired.
“-so we head out now, and-” That was Pidge, frowning over the machine in Hunk’s hands.
Hunk frowned. “Can we at least wait until it’s light out?”
“Give it ten and it will be,” Shiro replied, and all four glanced up at him.
Keith shrugged. “Alright, we’ll take our packs and head out. I can take us to where I found the original stuff, and we can figure out where to go from there. I looked over the entire place and there wasn’t anything deeper.”
Lance shot him a grin. “You didn’t have my eagle eyes or Hunk’s genius.”
Frowning, Keith bristled and prepared to argue for own diligence, but Shiro put a hand on his shoulder. No. Not only was that going to start a useless argument that would waste their time, but Shiro just did not have the patience for it.
Maybe he should have napped instead of watched the stars. No, he definitely should have. Now the idea of walking around a desert in the hot sun while he already felt ready to collapse sounded like actual, literal torture.
This was important information. If they could figure out what those symbols were saying and find more of them, maybe they could find Voltron. And they had to before the Galra arrived. It was already a matter of time.
But it had been two weeks and the Galra still hadn’t shown up. Could they wait a few hours?
The thoughts were unbelievably selfish. Shiro could barely believe he was thinking them. For the good of everyone he needed to suck it up and deal.
Then again, Keith had said he didn’t understand at first. That he’d stared at the pictures until it clicked. It was going to take time anyway...
While he was lost in thought, Pidge spoke again. “This signal is definitely like nothing terrestrial. I’m not at all sure what it is that Hunk’s device is picking up, other than strange.” He glanced sideways at Shiro, tone bland but gaze edged. “I don’t suppose you remember anything about that either, huh?”
The pressure in Shiro broke through.
“I don’t remember!” he snapped, baring his teeth. Pidge took a nervous step back, eyes wide at the sudden force of him. “What do you think, that I just decided to hold back for no damn reason? Or maybe you think I want something, too? If I knew anything, I would tell you. Who the hell even are they to you?”
Shiro was left panting at the end, his metal hand working into a tight fist. Frustration bubbled and broiled under his skin, tensing his whole body.
Pidge’s face was stricken and fearful.
Matt stared at him, eyes wide with confused horror. He was on the ground, and Shiro was crouched over him, face pulled back in a snarl. Then he dropped the expression. “Take care of your father.”
Taking a step back, Shiro held up his hands. “I’m sorry, that was-”
“My father and brother,” Pidge told him, voice shaken. But his expression hardened. “They’re my family.”
Shiro’s heart sank.
But then his brain caught up. The Holts didn’t have another son, they just had Matt and...
Who would look just like Matt if you cut off her hair and stuck glasses on her.
Shiro was an idiot.
“Dude,” Hunk breathed. “That explains a lot.”
Lance scoffed. “I’ll say.”
Pidge- Katie- met his eyes, daring him to say more.
And Shiro had done more than enough. “I’m sorry,” he repeated, eyes closing. “That was uncalled for. Completely.”
Taking a deep breath, Pidge eyed him, but nodded. “I shouldn’t have said that,” she (he?) finally replied, grudgingly. “I believe you. It’s just frustrating.”
Shiro just nodded, head still down.
“You guys get ready,” Keith said, hard enough to invite no argument. “I need to talk to Shiro for a second.”
There was a moment of hesitation, especially from Lance, but then the three of them slipped out into the other room again. By the time the door closed, Pidge was already getting interrogated by the other two.
Keith put a hand on Shiro’s shoulder and tugged until they were facing each other. “Are you okay?”
Unable to help it, Shiro snorted. “I thought I was,” he admitted. “Maybe not so much.”
“Your hand was shaking,” Keith told him, voice low. “Do you need something for it?”
Shiro shook his head. “I don’t think there’s anything to do. I just need... I need time. I need to sleep. My temper is frayed, and I’m not sure...” He glanced down at his hand, swallowing hard. “I don’t think I’m good company right now.”
Frowning, Keith nodded. “We’ll go. The four of us will fit better on the bike anyway, and we’ll have a look around with Hunk’s thing and come back. I’ve been all around that area, and I haven’t found anything extra. I’m willing to give it a shot, but if Voltron is there, I would have found it. So let us look, and you sleep.”
They’d all stayed up all night as well. There was no reason Shiro should need special treatment.
Except that his whole world had turned out to be a lie tonight. The basis of so much of him was gone. Shiro was a soldier with a military he didn’t believe in. That he might well hate. Who was he, when he wasn’t Lieutenant Shirogane? Everyone he knew outside of the family he didn’t speak to was in the military. Hell, even now he was still referring to the others as ‘the cadets’, thinking in terms of their careers, in how he should act as an officer.
Shiro needed to rethink his entire life, his entire basis of who he was.
And fuck , he was so damn tired.
“I shouldn’t,” he repeated, more to himself. “I should go with you.”
Keith snorted. “Why? To take pictures and follow around a beeping machine for a few hours? Because the desert is scary? I’ve lived here for weeks on my own, I can keep it up for another afternoon. And we both know this place is fine once you’re used to it.”
But he’d also wanted to hit something.
He was better off away from them until he’d calmed down.
“Okay,” Shiro murmured back. “Just for a few hours. Be back by noon. You don’t want to be out at peak Garrison traffic time. They’ll be looking.”
Keith eyed him blandly. “I do know how to keep a low profile. I’ve managed this long. You’re tired, and you need rest. You’ll be more help after a few hours of sleep than if you drag yourself out with us. So rest.”
That all made sense.
And damn Shiro for being a useless jackass, but he was going to accept it.
When he nodded, Keith clapped him on the arm, then started to pack up his corkboard. “By noon,” he agreed. “You’ll be safe here. And when you wash up, I have some old clothes of yours. I grabbed your stash bag when you left for Kerberos.”
Probably wise. That wasn’t something Shiro had ever wanted the Garrison to know he had. It had the keys he’d (illegally) made to the bike bays, the map of the desert he and Keith had drawn up, and an emergency stash of cash, along with the extra outfit.
With one last long look, Keith offered a smile. Then he stepped out.
Ten minutes later, all of them left.
They never came back.
Instead, there was a roar of an engine, strange and alien and that resonated in Shiro like a drum. That reminded him of what he couldn’t remember.
When he looked out, he saw a ship. A ship shaped like a lion, careening through the desert like a paper airplane with a bent wing. It struggled with itself, and then suddenly straightened and flew off, with a shockwave powerful enough to make Shiro’s ears ring, even from so far away.
Then he changed into the clothes Keith had saved, and spent the next hour putting together an old, barely held together junker of a bike he found in the back. It turned on, but barely. The one Keith was using had been much newer, and he must have gotten it to replace this one. How, Shiro had no idea. He didn’t want to think about it right now.
But Shiro didn’t need this bike to last long. Just long enough to search the caves.
Shiro had let the four cadets wander off into the desert, completely alone, nevermind that Keith had survived it for months, nevermind that Shiro had been tired, boo fucking hoo.
Whatever Voltron was, it was a weapon. And Shiro had let them go searching for it alone. Who knew what had happened to them?
So Shiro searched. But he didn’t have a Fraunhofer line emissions detector or a mysterious energy to follow. He only had a map and desperation.
If they were anywhere in this desert anymore, it wasn’t somewhere Shiro had found.
If they were on that lion ship, who knew where the hell they had gone.
Shiro did what he always did when there was nothing else to do: he paced and he tidied.
It lasted him until the evening, when the thoughts of ‘what have you done?’ wouldn’t leave him alone.
And he stared up at the sky, and he saw a star that didn’t belong. A moving one, not blinking like a satellite or the ISS.
Shiro didn’t have to guess what that was.
So he locked up Keith’s cabin, taking a few minutes to prep it against the desert. And he made a plan.
The Galra were here for Voltron. But if it was the lion, it was gone.
They were probably also looking for Shiro. So if he wanted them away from Earth, he needed to give them something to chase.
Shiro could be that something.
It was just a matter how. And Shiro had an idea.
He was going to leave the way he came.
So he put his stash bag over his shoulder, the copied key for the Garrison garage inside, and he got on that fucking junker of a bike, and he went back the way he’d just sworn he wasn’t going to return.
But, hey, he wasn’t going for long.
Breaking in was painfully easy. Somehow he had escaped from the Galra. After that, the Garrison was nothing, especially alone, and especially with the accesses no one had revoked.
And Shiro had knowledge of the building and personnel. Specifically, where Iverson would keep a top secret alien craft they didn’t want anyone to know about. His codes and keys didn’t work everywhere, but that was okay.
Locks weren’t much of a problem when he had a hand that could cut through metal.
The ship had survived the landing mostly intact, and the Garrison hadn’t dared take it apart, not when it was their only one. Not when they probably couldn’t put it together again.
Plugging in the codes for the hangar door, Shiro stepped inside the ship. It turned on at his touch.
And hell if that didn’t feel like a fucking invitation.
So Shiro sent the Garrison one last little message, because he couldn’t resist.
‘Blame the theft on pilot error.’
Then, Shiro sent the ship skittering against the ground and out the open hangar door, nearly taking out the wall with him on the way. But the little vessel was made of tough stuff, and it flew like a dream. Within a few seconds of being outside of the building it rocketed up, even without building up proper velocity.
As he passed the Galra ship, he sent them a message too. The words came to him, in a language he didn’t remember knowing. He was fever bright, buoyed by the sheer stupidity of what he was determined to do.
‘Catch me and Voltron if you can, you stupid sons of herd animals.’
The Galra ship was huge, and it was battle ready, and it would destroy Shiro in less than a heartbeat if he was caught.
But first they had to catch him. And Shiro had one serious advantage over those giant, lumbering warships.
Shiro could fly.