"...no, no, no!"
Keith smirks. He's found Shiro, he's pissed off the Garrison, he has a hovercycle full of idiots who were trying to help him for some reason, that crazy cadet who'd flown way too enthusiastically and erratically to be trusted in combat formation is shouting in his left ear, and they are going to make it.
"Yup," he says, his heart pumping sparks through his veins, and guns the engine.
And then they are in freefall.
"You're gonna kill us all!" the cargo guy screeches.
As if. Keith knows exactly what he's doing, for the first time in a year, Keith is in control, Keith is somehow exactly where he's supposed to be.
"Shut up and trust me!"
Keith hates being a passenger. He braces himself against the pilot's seat and hangs on tight.
Keith really hadn't remembered the guy too clearly at first, but it's all coming back to him now. The flying style and the voice are kinda distinctive.
"YOU ARE THE WORST. PILOT. EVER!" Keith yells into his left ear, and can't even feel embarrassed when his voice cracks.
As entertaining as this guy's simulations had been to watch in flight school, and as much as Keith had come to dislike the Garrison instructors, they were definitely on to something when they assigned this guy to fly inanimate cargo.
"Where are you going?" Keith yells as they leave the atmosphere, and the guy says something about autopilot and being lion psychic.
Keith grips the seatback tighter and stares out the window. The robot's eyes? He is actually in space. He has Shiro back and he's in space and right in front of them is an alien warship.
"They found me," Shiro says, and the alien warship fires and the cargo pilot's hands are on the controls and they are clearly not on autopilot and he manages to dodge most of the shots but some get through and Keith's hands twitch but he can't do shit because for some reason the alien war machine Keith spent a whole year searching for wants this guy as a pilot, what the hell.
"I think I know what to do," the cargo pilot says.
If Keith focuses just right, between the flashes of laser fire he can see their reflections in the glass. Shiro's face is strained. The big genius dude - Hunk? - still looks like he's about to lose it. The clever little guy - Pidge, what kind of name is that anyway? - is clinging desperately to the console and shouting in the cargo pilot's face about a simulator.
"Well, that's good. I always wreck the simulator," says the cargo pilot with a bright grin, then he fires a laserbeam and opens up the side of the ship like a sardine tin.
His expression morphs between wild grins and steely eyed determination, and Keith's gaze keeps inexplicably catching on his face, and he wonders if he had looked like that while flying the sims.
Their eyes meet through the reflection, and after a moment the cargo pilot's grin goes sharp. Keith's breath hitches in his throat.
Their gaze breaks as he throws the lion into a sudden twist then thrusts the handle forward. The acceleration nearly knocks Keith down and leaves his stomach and lungs about 10 miles behind.
Then they're running along the side of the alien ship and clawing at it's plating, leaving a row of explosions behind them.
This guy is insane. Keith is inside the head of a giant blue robot lion being flown by a crazy lion-psychic cargo pilot through space, going who the hell knows where.
Pidge speaks up and apparently 'hell knows where' is out past Kerberos, which he somehow knows from one glance, and yeah this guy is smart.
And now they're being chased by the aliens, heading into deeper space, and suddenly there's a wormhole wanting to take them even deeper, and yes, this is it, this is what Keith has been chasing for the past year and longer, he can feel it like a kite on a string, like a pull in his gut.
The crazy guy defers to Shiro, and Keith is almost startled by the sudden onset of common sense and sanity, but then Shiro is Shiro and cargo pilot clearly has a thing, what with the "I'm saving Shiro" and the weirdly long handshake and yes, Keith had seen that look in his eye.
Shiro calls them all a team, and the feeling of being in the right place solidifies, and Keith feels a flutter in his chest that has nothing to do with inertia.
Come on, cargo pilot, Keith urges silently, looking down at the back of his weirdly tidy brown hair, go for it, and he does.
The trip through the wormhole is wild. The force is immense, stars streak by them like traffic lights on a late night highway, his heart is beating wildly and his grin isn't due entirely to the g-forces pulling his skin back. Keith's grip on the pilot chair rips free and he finds himself splayed with Shiro against the back of the cockpit and hoping Hunk doesn't lose his grip.
They're finally through and Keith takes his first breath in years. He shakes his head clear then staggers back up to his position behind the pilot's seat, Shiro at his side. He peers through the display.
"Wow," says the cargo pilot, quiet and reverent. "That was..." and yeah, it really was. Keith feels another fleeting moment of connection, but it's broken when Hunk finally loses his lunch.
Atmospheric re-entry is a bitch, and Keith does not want Shiro to end up as a bloody smear on an alien planet within 48 hours of getting him back.
Cargo pilot didn't do too bad out in open space, but he'd been on autopilot back in Earth's atmosphere, and from the way he's gripping the controls it's pretty clear he's in command now.
The atmosphere is shaking them hard. Keith doesn't realise how closely he's crowding the guy until he complains about personal space.
Then he's accusing Keith of being scared. And okay, yeah, Keith can admit that to himself. He is scared. Keith is not a good passenger, they just went through a wormhole chased by Shiro's alien captors, and also the pilot is nuts.
But how the shit can this guy tell? Keith is great at hiding fear. Maybe he just expects his passengers to be in a constant state of mortal terror?
"With you at the helm?" Keith says scathingly, "Terrified."
They're shaking apart in the atmosphere of an alien planet and the guy takes the time to make a fart joke.
Keith doesn't know why he's surprised - this guy was a literal joke at school, pirated external feeds and comms from his sims were comedy gold - but Pidge and Hunk both yell at the guy so at least now he knows.
The crazy robot-stealing lion-psychic cargo pilot is named Lance.