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Such As We Are

Chapter Text


 

Such as we are made of, so we be

-William Shakespeare, Twelfth Night - Act 2, Scene 2

 


Keith watched the arriving green lion with trepidation. A strange heavy feeling settled in at the back of his mind- a feeling that intensified when the lion touched down and two figures emerged. He couldn’t tell with their helmets on what race they were, but they didn’t move quite like Galra, or any of the other bipedal sentients he had encountered. How, he wondered, would they feel about the Blade of Marmora? They were rebel fighters, yes, but they were also Galra. And he knew very well how most aliens felt about his people.

As they approached, the small one in green was looking around with interest but the taller one walked straight towards Kolivan without hesitation. Keith shifted, hand on his blade just in case, but the man stopped short of his leader and removed his helmet. From where Keith was standing, he could only see the profile of the man’s face - a strong jaw and determined eyes staring straight ahead at the Galra before him.

“My name is Takashi Shirogane. This is Pidge Gunderson. We are Paladins of Voltron. We’re here-”

“I know why you are here,” Kolivan interrupted. “Ulaz was a fool to send you.”

The tall man’s face hardened. “Ulaz gave his life to save us. Without him, we wouldn’t be here. And four lions of Voltron would have fallen into Zarkon’s hands.”

Keith closed his eyes against the pain that welled up at the mention of Ulaz. They’d known when he died, nearly forty quintants ago, but it still felt raw. He could only continue to remind himself that Ulaz was gone, there was no changing that. And now here were the beings the spy had died to save, asking for their help in achieving the goal Ulaz and so many others had dedicated their lives to. And Keith could tell by Kolivan’s expression that this was not going to go well for the paladins.

“And yet, you might have led him right to our door. Tell me now, Paladin, why I shouldn’t send you back to where you came from.”

The paladin met Kolivan’s eyes, not backing down. “Because,” he said simply, “Voltron is your only hope of defeating Zarkon. And that can only happen with all five lions. We’re here because we know the red lion is here. Since we were able to detect its trail we know it’s been flown recently, which means you also have a Paladin. We want to offer them a chance to join Voltron.”

Keith frowned, surprised, and started to move forward when Kolivan looked at him and gave a slight shake of his head. The soldier nodded slowly and remained in his place, though he couldn’t help but think about his ship, stored carefully away with the rest of the fleet.

“They want your ship?” someone whispered behind him, and he shrugged.

“They can’t pilot it even if they want it,” he whispered back. For reasons no one understood, Keith was the only one who could breach the barrier the red lion created around itself. And that was the one reason Kolivan allowed him to keep it, and fly even the safest of missions. Briefly he wondered if the other lions were like that, if the green lion would allow only its chosen paladin inside it, or if anyone could pilot it.

Raised voices brought his attention back to his leader, who was frowning at the newcomers. “I said no,” Kolivan told them firmly. “We will-”

“With respect,” the black paladin broke in, “you need us. As much as we need you. You don’t have to decide now. You said it will be two days before the path opens that will allow us to leave again. We ask that you take that time to consider our proposal. We’re willing to negotiate for the lion, if you won’t join us.”

To Keith’s surprise, Kolivan paused. At last, he gave a sharp nod. “So be it. Kogane!” Keith jumped, not expecting to be called upon, and left his place within the ranks of soldiers to stand at attention at Kolivan’s side. At his leader’s gesture, he removed his mask before standing at attention.

“Sir,” he said, saluting. He watched the paladins out of the corner of his eye, intensely curious. Was Kolivan actually considering their request?

The general acknowledged him and turned to address the visitors. “Kogane will see you to your rooms. I will send someone to bring you if I wish to speak further.”

“Thank you General,” the black paladin said, smiling. Keith was struck with a passing thought that the alien looked nice when he smiled. It was an expression he wouldn’t mind seeing more of. “I hope to speak with you again soon.”

Finished with them, Kolivan turned and gestured to the assembled troops that had been gathered as a show of force against the strangers. With the efficiency Keith expected, they filed out of the large hangar, leaving him alone with paladins. Without his leader nearby, Keith could at last satisfy his curiosity and examine the two aliens. They were both pale, with small rounded ears and distinctive features. There was a scar on the face of the black paladin that spread across his nose, and the front part of the hair atop his head was pure white. Even up close, he couldn’t quite place their species, though he thought perhaps he had seen one of their kind before.

The pair, he noticed, were staring at him as well. Sizing up his slight frame, from his black Blade of Marmora boots to the slightly tufted tips of his pointed ears. About a foot shorter than the average Galra, Keith’s purple skin was several shades lighter than most, though his yellow eyes were just as bright. He grinned, displaying his pointed canines, and jerked his head in the direction of the rarely-used guest quarters on the station.

“Come on, I’ll show you where you’ll be staying.”

“Thanks, uh, Kogane, right?” the taller alien asked, and Keith nodded. “I’m Shiro. This is Pidge.”

Keith paused, frowning at him, startled by the use of familiar names. Eventually, he returned the aliens’ smiles. “Call me Keith.”

“Keith?” the smaller alien, Pidge, asked, tilting her head. “That’s not a very Galra-like name.”

“My father was an alien,” Keith told her. “Not sure what though.” He knew his mother had met him on a mission, and fallen in love. She’d tried to bring him back with her, but they encountered Zarkon’s forces and he was killed. She had made it back to one of their outposts, where she’d had her baby. She hadn’t survived much longer, dying of wounds sustained while attempting to rescue her lover. Keith had been raised by her brother Ulaz, and his partner Thace.

Awkward silence followed his words, so he gestured in the direction of their room and started down the hall. After a moment, they caught up to walk on either side of him.

“So, uh, your leader didn’t mention anyone piloting the red lion. Do you know it’s Paladin?” Shiro asked, perhaps encouraged by the Galra’s casual air. Keith gave him a noncommittal shrug.

“That’s not really my place to say,” he told them.

“Do you think Kolivan will really think about working with us?” Pidge wanted to know.

Keith shook his head. “I’ve never known him to go back on his word. And it would be foolish to turn down allies, especially the Paladins of Voltron.” He didn’t tell them he was their final paladin. He’d been forbidden to let outsiders know of the red lion, or his connection to it. Until Kolivan made his decision, it wouldn’t do anyone any good for Keith to break this rule.

“I hope he thinks so,” Shiro said. “He didn’t seem very inclined to trust us back there.”

The Galra sighed. “Trust has been in short supply in this war. It’s hard to even tell who can still be trusted anymore.”

“I guess I can understand that,” the taller Human said, and Keith noticed he rubbed his right arm when he spoke. “10,000 years is a long time for a war to go on.”

“Do you- um,” Pidge looked nervous, glancing up at Keith and then at Shiro. “Do you ever hear about people escaping the Galra? Uh, I mean, Zarkon?”

Keith looked sharply at her, meeting her wide, honest gaze. “Escaping the empire?”

“Zarkon’s prison ship. There were two of them, Humans, like us.” She was watching him with so much hope in her eyes, he felt bad disappointing her.

“No, I’m sorry.”

She sighed and looked at her feet. “That’s ok. I guess you wouldn’t, this far out here.”

“Looking for someone?” Keith asked her, filing away their species for later thought. He thought he might have heard of Humans before, but he couldn’t quite remember when.

“Her father and brother,” Shiro supplied when Pidge continued to watch the floor. “They were imprisoned on one of Zarkon’s ships. We think they might have escaped, but that’s all we have so far. We’re hoping someone out here has heard of them.”

“I’m sorry,” the Galra told them. “But I’ll ask around, see if anyone else has heard something.” He stopped outside of a door, and turned to face the Humans. “This is you.” He opened the door, revealing the sterile rooms of the guest quarters - two small bedrooms joined by a tiny open room with a few relaxation couches and an entertainment screen. “The door is monitored. You’re not authorized to walk around the base on your own. If Kolivan decides to speak with you, he will send someone to escort you. If you need to leave for any reason, you can press this button” he indicated a large button attached to an intercom system next to the door “and someone will come.”

Pidge immediately headed in to explore the room, her mood seeming to lift as she spotted the entertainment screen and the robotic food preparation unit in the corner. Shiro, however, stopped in the door.

“Thank you Keith,” he said, and the Galra was struck by the honesty in his eyes. “Please let us know if you find anything.”

“Sure.” Keith nodded. “I’ll probably see you tomorrow anyway, once Kolivan makes a decision.”

Shiro looked like he was about to say more, but at that moment Keith’s chronometer beeped. He looked down at it in surprise, and moved to shut off the device.

“I think that’s my cue,” he told the Human. “Use the intercom if you need anything.” He waited until Shiro closed the door, listening for the mechanized lock to click into place. Then he turned and headed off down the corridor to the medical wing of the base.

Chapter Text

It was still fairly early in what passed for morning on the base, when Keith found himself called to escort the Paladins to meet with Kolivan. He’d been surprised his leader had decided to negotiate so quickly, and was equally shocked to be the one called upon to escort the pair for as long as they stayed. He didn’t really think that Kolivan would let him join Voltron, but perhaps he wanted Keith’s opinion on them before agreeing to any trade for the red lion. Keith just hoped he wouldn’t cause too much of an explosion when Kolivan found out they couldn’t just take the lion - if they wanted a working lion, they needed the only Paladin it would accept.

When he knocked on the door to the guest rooms, the smaller Paladin opened the door, rubbing at her eyes sleepily. Over her head, Keith could see Shiro doing push-ups on the floor. He stopped and looked up when Pidge greeted Keith, rising to his feet in a smooth motion that made Keith’s mouth go dry.

“Keith!” he said with a smile that was all for him. “It’s early. What -” his face fell. “Did Kolivan send you?”

Keith nodded. “He did. He’s agreed to talk. I’m to bring you to the war room as soon as you’re ready.”

 

Watching Kolivan and Shiro “discussing” the red lion was fascinating for Keith. He’d been on the receiving end of Kolivan’s lectures before, and he knew how disconcerting it could be to meet that cold stare and hold your ground. But Shiro stood firm. He sat straight in his chair, leaning forward somewhat on particularly important points, holding Kolivan’s attention with an unwavering gaze. Keith had never seen someone stand for so long against his leader before. It was a thing of beauty. He was utterly entranced.

Unfortunately, the same could not be said for the other Paladin. She fidgeted, clearly attempting to keep up with the discussion, but just as clearly bored. Her eyes wandered over the room, looking with interest at anything electronic. She was able to contain herself for the first varga of negotiations, and her fidgeting was only mildly distracting for the second, but by the beginning of the third varga the officers seated around her were clearly becoming annoyed. Kolivan noticed. While she was distracted by the cleaning bot that had made an appearance in the room, he locked eyes with Keith, and gestured to the young Paladin. Keith nodded, and tried to think of something that would suitably distract her while the negotiations continued. After a few moments, he thought he had it.

Keith waited for a break in the negotiations, when the Paladins were standing together, conversing in low undertones. Shiro was frowning when he walked over, while Pidge hung her head and gazed at the floor. They stopped speaking when they spotted Keith’s approach, and looked at him expectantly.

“Hey,” he said awkwardly, resisting the urge to rub the back of his neck. “Why don’t I take you on a tour of our labs? Our engineers have a few things I think they could show you. If you want, that is.” While he would have liked to have continued watching the showdown between Kolivan and Shiro, orders were orders - even if they were unspoken. And Pidge was clearly bored and unhappy - a state he sympathized with.

Pidge brightened right away, shooting an excited glance at Shiro, who nodded. “Go ahead, I can take care of things here,” he told her.

“Yes!” the younger Paladin practically bounced to the door.

“If you have any information you can show her on people who are or have been in Zarkon’s prisons, I think she would appreciate it,” Shiro suggested as he turned to go.

Keith nodded. “I’ll see what I can do.”

Shiro graced him with another genuine smile before turning back to the negotiations. By then, Keith had to hurry to catch up to Pidge, who was already waiting in the hall for him.

After spending a varga or so in the labs, as promised, he took her to the communications room approved for use by the few families and non-combatants on base. The tick he turned on a machine the Paladin was engrossed by the system. Keith watched her for a few doboshes as she switched the language to one she understood and dove in. After about a varga, she started muttering to herself and glaring at the screen. After about ten doboshes of that, Keith decided he’d had enough.

“You’re looking for your family, right?”

“Huh?” She glanced at him out of the corner of her eyes then turned back to the computer.

“I, uh, can help. If you tell me who to look for.”

The Paladin paused, then continued to type. “My brother’s name is Matt. He looks like me, but taller. My father is Samuel Holt, he’s tall, with grey hair and glasses. They were captured almost two years ago now, and escaped shortly after Shiro was rescued.”

Keith nodded and ignored an unwelcome surge of grief at the thought of Ulaz and the way he’d given his life to rescue the Black Paladin, not once but twice - first blowing his cover on Zarkon’s base, and then dying in a suicidal maneuver to save the four Paladins. Instead, he took the photo she offered him and added his own efforts to the search.

Over a varga later, it was fairly clear that they weren’t going to find anything. They system held only extremely innocuous information about Zarkon’s fleet, and nothing at all about prisoners or escapees. Keith sighed. He knew what he should do - tell her this was all they had and leave it at that. But it wasn’t the truth, and it wasn’t what he wanted to do. Oddly, he trusted the Paladins. And, like he always did, he decided to follow his gut.

“Stay here,” he ordered Pidge, who barely acknowledged him, and left the room. Just down the hall was another communications room, one that was always under guard. Fortunately, he knew the Blade that was on shift. And he was in luck, because he also owed her a favor. She’d been the one to let him out of the station the last time he’d taken it upon himself to run an unsanctioned mission.

“Keeren,” he grinned at her as he approached.

Even with the mask, he could tell she was rolling her eyes at him. “What do you need Kogane?” She sounded suspicious, and he didn’t blame her.

Keith tried to look innocent. “I know you’ve been on a long shift, since we’ve got everyone on extra guard duty with the aliens here. So I thought I’d offer to take over for a while.”

Keeren watched him dubiously. “You’re serious?”

“Yeah,” he nodded. “I’m not sure my being in the negotiations is the best idea. Kolivan might just keep the lion here if he’s reminded that I’d have to go too. So I’m making myself scarce for a while.”

“Hmmm…” she didn’t seem convinced.

“Just for a varga or two. You can come back before shift is over, so your captain won’t know.”

“Fine. I’ve got stuff I need to do anyway.” She pushed herself away from the wall. Standing, she was at least a foot taller than Keith. “You know the drill. Don’t leave the room unguarded unless an urgent message comes in. Don’t let anyone unauthorized in. And make sure you listen for a call. We’re not expecting any, but you know that doesn’t mean anything with agents out halfway across the empire.”

“Got it,” he told her.

She gave him a perfunctory nod. “Good. I’ll be back.” Then she marched off down the hall.

Keith waited until he was sure she was really gone, before darting back to the place he’d left Pidge. She was growling at the computer, disappointed at the lack of information.

“Come one,” Keith said, tugging at her arm. The Paladin shrugged off his hand.

“Just a little longer. There might be something…”

Keith tugged again. “I’ve gotten us access to a different computer system. It might have more information.”

That got her moving. She all but dragged him out the door, only to pause when she realized she didn’t know where they were going. Keith led her to the secure room, and closed the door behind them. If they were lucky, no one would come to check why the guard was in the room and not outside the door. And if they were even luckier, they would find the information they were looking for.

 

A varga later, they’d found more information than Keith had even suspected. Pidge had a full data crystal of information to comb through when she had more time, and they thought it might have a few good leads for her to follow. The look on her face when Keith handed her the crystal - half gratitude, half hope mixed with fear - convinced him he’d done the right thing.

Thank you,” she told Keith, hugging the crystal to her chest. “I don’t know if this has everything I need, but it’s so much more than I had.”

Keith grinned. “Good. I’ll keep an eye out in case more information comes in. I-” he stopped. The computer was beeping a transmission code for priority communication with a field agent.

“Wait.” Keith knew that code. Knew who that code belonged to. “Stay right there,” he ordered Pidge, pointing to a corner where the camera couldn’t see her. Then he typed in his code to accept the call. Almost immediately, Thace’s face filled the screen and Keith knew something was terribly wrong. He looked strained, his eyes tight and unhappy as he scanned the room, widening a little when he recognized Keith on the other end.

“Keith! What are you doing on this channel?” Thace demanded, frowning at his child.

“I was using the computers to dig up something for a mission, Father,” Keith told him, and it wasn’t even a lie. Kolivan had tasked him with escorting the Paladins and making them comfortable. That had to count as a mission.

Thace nodded, accepting the excuse without any further questions, which only made Keith worry more. “I need you to get a message to Kolivan. I’m uploading some data now, tell him it’s vital.” He glanced quickly over his shoulder, then back at the screen.

“I will,” Keith said, wondering if he knew of Ulaz’s death, or if he should even tell him. Chances were he knew someone had been killed, but didn’t know who. He’d been out of contact, and they’d been unable to get a message to him without risking his cover.

Thace gave him a strained smile. “Good lad. Tell your Dad-” he stopped, looking over his shoulder again, giving Keith a chance to school his expression into something neutral. “Tell your Dad I love him.”

Keith closed his eyes against the wash of fear and grief that rose in him at those words, reminding himself that Thace was one of their best agents. Somehow he managed to keep his voice level when he replied “I will.”

“You’ve always made me proud, Kit.” Thace gave him a fond smile. “I’ll try to come see you soon.”

“I’ll hold you to that.” There wasn’t much else he could say.

Thace started to say something else, but stopped. “Someone’s coming. I’ll be in touch when I can.” The screen went black.

Keith stepped back from the screen, automatically pulling a data crystal from a storage drawer and loading Thace’s files onto it. He worried at his lower lip with one of his fangs, mind racing over the possible content of the transmission.

“Who was that?” Pidge asked quietly, taking a tentative step out from the corner.

Keith shook himself out of his thoughts. “Thace. He’s…” he considered lying. No matter that he’d trusted her enough to bring her in here, he didn’t like the idea of this near-stranger knowing who Thace was. It could spell so much trouble for them later on. But then again, if he didn’t tell her, and she encountered the mole over the course of a mission, well. That could end in disaster. “He’s one of our best undercover operatives.”

“He’s your father?” she wanted to know, and Keith tried not to be annoyed at her questions.

He inclined his head slightly, tugging the filled memory crystal from the computer. “Yeah.”

“Oh. Ok. Are you…?”

Keith sighed and turned to the door, ignoring the worry in her voice, or the implied ‘ok’ that dangled unfinished on the end of her sentence. “We need to get this to Kolivan. …Just as soon as I figure out how to explain what I was doing in here that doesn’t sound like I was giving you unauthorized access.”

Chapter Text

The next quintant, Kolivan informed Keith that the negotiations would resume in the afternoon. He was to escort the Paladins about the station for the morning, and report back with an analysis of their intentions and personalities. The assignment came as a relief, as he’d spent the night playing the conversation with Thace over and over again in his mind. He just couldn’t shake the feeling that the information he’d given to Kolivan meant something bad had happened. And that feeling made him restless and irritable. He’d almost worn a groove into the floor of his room by the time Kolivan called him to go take care of the Paladins.

Unfortunately, the humans were damned perceptive. Shiro opened the door at his knock, took one look at Keith’s haggard face, and escorted the young soldier into the room shared by the Paladins.

“Sit,” he ordered, pointing to one of the more comfortable chairs. “Let me just make up some breakfast. Pidge is still asleep, so we’ve got some time. Unless,” the Paladin paused in the middle of reaching for the replicator, “there’s someplace we need to be. I’m sorry, I didn’t even ask. I know Kolivan postponed this morning’s negotiations, but if you need us for something…”

“No,” Keith shook his head. “I’m just here to escort you around the base for the morning. Give you a tour of the parts you’re allowed to see. I guess it’s some sort of good faith gesture?”

“Alright then.” Shiro smiled at him, and maybe Keith was just tired, but it felt like his heart skipped a beat or two. “Sit. I’m going to guess you didn’t eat breakfast?”

“I- … no,” Keith realized with surprise. Then with a start, he checked the pouch on his belt, only to be relieved at the sight of two vials of shimmering golden liquid, and a third empty vial he knew had been full the night before.

A plate thumped to the table in front of him. Keith looked up to see Shiro sitting down across from him with a plate of his own. The human grinned sheepishly.

“I know it’s just replicated food, but it’s better than nothing. The cook on our team, Hunk, is very insistent that we eat a good breakfast. He says it’s the most important meal of the day.”

“My Dad agreed with him. He was always big on making sure Father and I ate,” Keith admitted, then blinked. He didn’t talk about his fathers like that. Not really. Then again, everyone here knew them both. Just like they’d known Keith’s mother. And knew him. The Blade of Marmora was small, and Keith’s family story was well known to everyone who had been there more than a deca-phoeb or two.

Shiro was nodding. “He must be a wise man.”

The Galra gave him a rare smile. “He was.”

“Was?” the Paladin looked concerned.

“He died a little while ago.” Keith tried to produce a small smile to ease the discomfort those words usually caused in people.

Shiro’s brow furrowed. “But… Pidge said you spoke to him last night?”

“No, that’s my Father. They are - were - a bonded pair. They took me in when my mother died. Father… doesn’t know yet. Kolivan doesn’t think it’s wise to tell him until he’s finished his current mission.”

“I see.” The other man’s expression was hard to read. It wasn’t pity. Keith would have walked away if it had been pity, orders or no. Just… a general sense of sorrow. The Galra toyed with the idea of telling Shiro he was speaking of Ulaz, but thought better of it. That would only just make him feel guilty.

“What was he like? Your Dad, I mean,” Shiro asked. Keith frowned at him, then smiled when all he saw in those gentle grey eyes was compassion. And then, the damn broke and words poured out of him like water from a tap. It was a relief to talk about Ulaz to someone who hadn’t known him the way the rest of the Blade did. Any information Keith shared was new to Shiro, allowing him to share who his Dad had been to Keith, and not just the spy that infiltrated Kolivan’s prison ship.

When the words ran dry, Keith was shocked to find tear tracks on his face. He hadn’t even realized he’d been crying. Shiro smiled sadly at him, and patted his shoulder. Somehow, they’d moved closer together over the course of the conversation.

“I’m so sorry,” Shiro told him earnestly. “Ulaz was a good man. I wish I could have saved him.”

“I never said his name was Ulaz,” Keith said, looking curiously at the human.

Shiro shrugged. “It was easy enough to put together.” He paused, then tentatively offered “If it helps, I didn’t know him long. But he was a good man. He saved my life twice.”

“I…” Keith sighed and wiped the last trace of tears from his cheeks. His ability to cry had always confused Ulaz, since most Galra weren’t capable of producing tears. Aside from his smaller frame, it was the only visible legacy of his alien heritage. “If it had to be, I’m glad it was you he saved.”

Shiro squeezed his shoulder in silent thanks, then took up their empty plates and carried them over to the cleaner. After a moment, he turned back to Keith. “I’d been meaning to thank you - I know you risked a lot for Pidge yesterday, getting her in to your secure computer room. You didn’t have to do that. I mean, you hardly know us. But it meant a lot to her. We think we might even have a lead we can follow now, to help her rescue her father and Matt.”

“Good. That’s good.” The truth was, Keith wasn’t entirely certain why he had done what he did. It had felt right at the time, but he wasn’t the type to put himself on the line like that for someone he barely knew. Still, there was something about these two, and about Shiro in particular, that made him want to help. “So…” he cast about for a less awkward topic of conversation. “How did negotiations go last night?”

His companion sighed and slumped back into his seat next to Keith. “Honestly? I don’t know. I’m not sure how to read your leader. I can’t tell if he’s inclined to listen to us, or is just dealing with us until we get tired and leave.”

“He’s listening.” Of that, Keith was certain. “If he didn’t think you were worthy allies, he would have sent you back this morning when the path opened up.”

“Then… do you think he’ll be willing to let us have the red lion? Voltron could be a good ally. I think it’s probably the only way to defeat Zarkon. It’s certainly one of the only things that can threaten him. But we can’t form Voltron without all five lions.”

Keith considered his answer. “I think… I think you can convince him of that. It’s not going to be easy, but Kolivan knows we need allies. And I can’t think of a better one than the very weapon Zarkon has been looking for for ten thousand deca-phoebs. Kolivan just needs to know the Blade of Marmora can trust you.”

“I see.” Shiro looked thoughtful. “How can we convince him we’re trustworthy?”

Keith shrugged. “I think that’s something you’d have to show. Not sure how you’d manage that stuck here, though.”

“Hmm…” Shiro started to say something else, when the door to one of the sleeping rooms opened, and Pidge stepped out, rubbing her eyes. She blinked when she saw Keith seated on the couch with her leader, and yawned.

“Good morning,” she told them. “Am I late?”

Keith shook his head. “No, Kolivan postponed this morning’s negotiations. So I thought I’d give you both a tour of the station when you were ready.”

“Oh. Good. Breakfast?”

Shiro pointed to the replicator, and Pidge trudged over to it and started pushing buttons.

 

Soon after Pidge had finished eating, the trio set out on a tour of the base. Keith showed them the training rooms, where masked warriors traded blows with staff, knife, or sword. Then he took them to the target ranges, where any number of weapons were in use against varied targets. From there, they saw the hydroponic gardens that grew what fed those on the station, the smallest of the Marmora hangers (Keith carefully avoided showing them the hanger with the red lion), and the mess hall where all of the soldiers ate. All the inhabitants they passed had faces covered by masks, hiding their identities from each other as much as the outsiders. That Keith wasn’t wearing a mask would have been considered strange, were he not with the Paladins. He kept it in a pouch at his hip instead, ready to use when he returned them to their rooms.

The Paladins were intriguing people to spend time with. Pidge was curious about everything, especially technology. She spent considerable time examining one of the station’s sanitation bots, exclaiming over its basic functions as if she’d never seen one before. Then again, from what Shiro said about their planet, she might not have. Earth, it seemed, was still far behind the kind of technology the Galra were capable of, and had barely reached the edge of their own solar system by the time the Paladins discovered the first of their lions and left the planet.

Shiro, though. There was something about Shiro that caught and held Keith’s attention in the same way their tech fascinated Pidge. The older man told him a lot about Earth as the quintant went on. From his time at a military academy, to the family who probably still believed he was dead. Keith found he enjoyed the sound of the Paladin’s voice, and would be more than happy to simply listen to him talk for varga. He caught sight of Pidge watching them both with a grin while they were eating lunch, and quickly looked away. His gaze then was caught by Shiro’s gestures as they talked - or more specifically the flash of metal when he moved his right arm. In a quick motion, Keith grabbed at his hand and examined the palm with a frown.

He looked up to see Shiro watching him, and blushed. “This is Druid-make, isn’t it?” he asked, tapping one of the warm metal fingers.

“Uh, yes, I think so. Why?” The Paladin was still watching his face, as if trying to read his thoughts.

Keith looked back down at the hand he was still holding in both of his. His blush deepened, and he let go, hiding his own hands under the table. “It’s, ah, I hadn’t seen any of their work close up. Or, at least, not when they weren’t trying to kill me. But it looks like it works just like a regular arm.”

“It does,” Shiro told him, flexing the fingers for him to watch. “But I can also use it as a weapon. See?” Before Keith’s eyes, Shiro’s hand glowed purple and shifted into a sharp point, then quickly changed back to a normal hand.

“Huh. That’s a lot like…” Keith reached for the knife at his back, bringing it out and showing it to the Paladins, before extending it into the size of a proper sword.

“Can I see?” Shiro asked, and the Galra handed him the blade, which immediately shrunk down to its smaller size. Pidge wanted to examine it next, and they launched into an involved conversation on Galra and Druid technology. Keith didn’t even notice when his chronometer went off, just muting the beeping as he tried to explain the process to extend his blade to the Paladins.

Eventually, the conversation lead Keith to show the pair the weapons labs, where Marmora scientists worked on advancements that could give the Blades a cutting edge in the war. From there, after a quick check with Kolivan to find that negotiations wouldn’t start for another few varga, Keith led them through a few more training rooms and hangers. There wasn’t much else he knew he could show them after that. All that was left were the living quarters and a few of the more specialized -and therefore secret- training rooms.

Keith was paused at a fork in the hallway, trying to decide what they could do next when a wave of dizziness swamped him. He pressed a hand to the wall to support himself, only to see with surprise that he was shaking.

“Keith? Are you alright?” Shiro moved closer to him, a look of concern on his face.

“I’m fine,” Keith snapped, then instantly regretted it as the Paladin drew back. “I’m fine,” he said again, checking his chronometer. “Quiznak. No, really, I’m fine. I just…” he checked his pouch. Sure enough, there were two vials of shimmering golden liquid when there should only have been one. “I think I need to sit down for a bit. Do you mind if we go back to my room?”

“Of course not,” Shiro said, and moved to support him as they walked down the hall. Keith didn’t need it, he could walk just fine, but the warmth of Shiro’s hand on his back was enough to distract him from the headache he’d been ignoring as it built for the past varga, and which was now very clearly making itself known.

When they reached his room, Keith asked the other two to wait in his small seating area, as he went into the even smaller sleeping room. There he drew from another pocket a device that looked like a double-walled syringe with spiraling cords of purple electricity moving slowly up and down between the outer and inner walls. The Galra fumbled in his pouch and withdrew one of the two full vials, loading it into the inner chamber of the syringe. A glance at his face in the mirror showed that he’d gone several shades paler. He’d really been pushing it this time.

“Idiot,” he cursed himself. He’d been so focused on the Paladins, on Shiro, that he’d forgotten his medication. Rolling up a sleeve, he slowly inserted the needle of his syringe beneath the skin of his upper arm and pressed the plunger, pushing the gold liquid into his body.

Almost instantly, he started to feel better. A few ticks later, his skin was starting to regain its natural shade. By the time he’d cleaned the syringe and replaced the empty vials in his pouch, his headache was gone and the dizziness was fading. Feeling nothing but a bit embarrassed, Keith exited his room to find only Pidge waiting for him.

“Where’s Shiro?” he asked.

Pidge frowned at him, looking him up and down with mild confusion. “You look a lot better,” she observed. “You looked like you were gonna pass out when we came in here.”

Keith shrugged. “I’m fine now. Where’s Shiro?”

“Kolivan called, and he went to go see what he wanted. He told me to wait for you.”

“Oh.” That made sense. The Galra repressed some disappointment that he wouldn’t get to spend the whole quintant with the Paladin. “We should probably get going then.” He hoped nobody had mentioned his dizziness to Kolivan. There was no way he’d be allowed out on even local missions, let alone to go with the Paladins, if his leader got wind of him forgetting his medication.

Chapter Text

They heard the yelling before they reached the war room. Keith identified Kolivan and Shiro’s voices dominating the general babble coming from the war room, and sped up with Pidge on his heels. They entered the room to see what looked like a face-off between the Paladin and the Blade’s leader. Shiro was speaking heatedly, glaring at Kolivan.

“We have a lion that can get in unnoticed. We can get in, rescue your agent, and get out without anyone the wiser. You yourself said you don’t have that capability for where he is. Allow us to do this as your allies.”

Kolivan glared. “We do not have the manpower to back you up. You would be going in blind. And Thace himself said it was too dangerous to rescue him. What you propose is a suicide mission.”

Keith froze. “Thace?” The name was a whisper, a prayer. No. He couldn’t lose Thace too.

“Keith, wait.” Pidge grabbed his arm, and it was only then that he realized he had started walking towards Shiro and Kolivan. Keith shook her off.

“It’s only a suicide mission if you don’t have the right ship or the right people. Voltron can do this.”

“No,” Kolivan declared, and Keith stopped. He knew that look on Kolivan’s face. He wouldn’t let the Paladins try. He’d hold them until the passage window out of the base closed again, dooming Thace to whatever fate he was facing at the hands of Zarkon. Keith turned on his heel and left the room, breaking into a run as soon as he was clear of the door.

It took him no time at all to throw the things he would need into a pack. He was already wearing his uniform and carrying his knife. He added a few extra weapons, and a movement’s worth of rations and medication to his bag, then he was out the door again. Fifteen doboshes after he’d heard Kolivan say Thace’s name, he was staring at a line of stealth fighters, all ready for immediate takeoff.

That was where he ran into trouble, as he had no idea where Thace had been assigned to infiltrate. Only Kolivan and Thace himself knew that. Keith could guess, but a guess wasn’t good enough when Thace was in danger. He could attempt to hack into the secure computer system from the lion, but there was bound to be someone on the lookout for that. There was the possibility he could use the lion’s sensors to locate Thace through traces of his qunitessence, but he didn’t know if those sensors would be strong enough. And anyway, he couldn’t take the lion. It was too well-guarded, there was no way he’d be able to get it out without being stopped. He should have stayed to hear if someone mentioned the location, but no, if he’d stayed he might not have been able to get away. But maybe-

“Going out?” a voice said from behind him, and Keith turned to see Shiro, Pidge, and, to his astonishment, Kolivan.

Keith dropped from the back of the fighter where he’d just released the last restraint, and watched them, expression determined. “I’m going to rescue Thace,” he stated, challenging Kolivan to tell him no with a glare. To his surprise, it wasn’t Kolivan who replied.

“Good. Pidge, go get your lion ready. We’re leaving as soon as Keith’s ready,” Shiro ordered. Pidge scampered off as Keith’s jaw dropped.

“I- what?” he asked, thrown off by Shiro’s statement.

The Black Paladin grinned at him. “We’re coming with you.”

“What?” Keith repeated, feeling stupid. “You’re… coming with me?”

“They are,” Kolivan said, a smile threatening at the corners of his eyes. “You left before the Paladins could explain to me the stealth technology they have added to the green lion. They’ll be able to get you in to the ship where Thace is being kept without being seen.”

Keith stared from Kolivan to Shiro, astonished. He hadn’t expected anything even close to this.

“After what you told me this morning,” Shiro said, “I wasn’t about to let you lose another parent.”

Kolivan handed him a data crystal. “This holds the last known co-ordinates of Thace’s ship. We think he is being kept there, until Zarkon can decide what to do with him. If you’re fast, you can get in and out before anyone is the wiser.”

Keith nodded, accepting the crystal. “I won’t fail you, sir,” he told his leader.

“Good.” Kolivan inclined his head to him, then left the hanger.

 

The Castle of Lions was even bigger than Keith had thought it would be. Shiro chuckled quietly over his shoulder at his exclamations upon sight of the castle-ship. The sound and the feel of his breath on his neck sent shivers down his spine, and he wasn’t certain the hair on the back of his neck wasn’t still standing on end when they docked. The remaining Paladins were waiting for them when they ascended from the hangars. Keith instantly knew the blue Paladin would get on his nerves, but he thought he might actually like the yellow Paladin. They were both extremely curious about him, and they asked as many questions as they could in the time it took to get to the bridge. They also took Shiro at his word when he said Keith was trustworthy, which was good, because Princess Allura hated him.

After punching in the coordinates from his data crystal, Keith let Pidge draw him away from the bridge while Shiro had a very intense discussion with the Alteans. All he could do was trust that Shiro would keep them on course, and let the three younger Paladins bombard him with questions about the Blade of Marmora to keep his mind off Thace, and what would happen to his father if they failed.

Eventually, Shiro found him hiding from the exuberance of the Paladins (and by all the gods were they young) in the training room, running a simulation against the training dummies.

The older man raised his arm and formed a blade with his hand, sliding in next to Keith as two more training robots activated to attack them. “We’ll be there in about six hours,” he said, blocking the first blow as if it were nothing.

“Good.” Keith ducked under one attack before slicing off the arm of another robot with his sword. Shiro gutted the thing, and two more instantly sprang out from the walls.

“Are you doing alright?” the human asked, sending an attacker stumbling back with a well-placed kick. Keith winced. Of course he would be worried. Keith hadn’t had a chance to explain his symptoms from earlier, and as a leader Shiro had to be worried about his performance in battle.

The Galra spun, taking off the head of a dummy and dancing away from the attack of two of the three new robots that replaced it. “I’m fine. It won’t happen again.”

Shiro dropped, rolling under the flailing sword of a robot to come up on his feet, back to back with Keith. “Good. I need you at your best if we’re going to pull this off.”

“I’m ready. There won’t be a problem,” Keith told him, dropping into a crouch. He was very aware of the human at his back, moving with him as they navigated a growing sea of enemies. Each destroyed robot was replaced with two more, surrounding the Paladins with whirling blades.

Shiro stayed with Keith, guarding his back as Keith guarded his, blocking anything from approaching the other unseen. They couldn’t have choreographed a better path through the attackers. Their fighting styles just seemed to click, complimenting each other in a way Keith had never experienced before. It felt almost as if they had trained together for deca-phoebs, though that was impossible. And then, the robots stopped dead, dropping down into the floor without warning, and, sensing something behind him, Keith turned just in time to block a blow from the black Paladin.

“What was that for?” he demanded, backing up a step as Shiro attacked again.

“I wanted to see how you react to the unexpected,” the man said, grinning. “You’ve got good reflexes.”

Keith growled, thinking I’ll show you good reflexes, and went on the offensive with a flurry of blows. He pushed the Paladin back, and then back again until he was against the wall, not letting up enough even for him to get an attempt at an attack. Then he looked up to see that, while he was sweating from exertion, Shiro was still grinning.

“Having fun?” he asked, and caught Keith’s blade in his metal hand. Then, before the Galra could register what had happened, he twisted, tearing the weapon from Keith’s hand and swinging with his left in a barehanded attack. Keith just barely managed to dodge the blow, and then it was his turn to be pushed back. His back hit the wall, and he caught Shiro’s blow on crossed arms.

“That all you got?” the older man taunted.

Keith’s growl turned into a snarl and he threw his arms wide, pushing Shiro’s fist away from him. “Hardly,” he spat, swinging into a round-house kick that connected with Shiro’s abdomen.

Shiro gasped as the breath was knocked out of him, but recovered quickly, meeting Keith’s next blow with a counter attack of his own. “Come on, I thought Galra were supposed to be brilliant fighters,” he goaded, only slightly out of breath. Keith kicked again, this time aiming at his knees.

“And I thought you were supposed to be the Champion of Zarkon’s arena,” he retorted as the human danced away.

“See, you can’t trust everything you hear. I had years of experience before Zarkon captured me,” Shiro told him, recovering with a well-aimed kick that Keith just managed to duck under.

He came up swinging, landing a punch to Shiro’s chest. “Then show it,” he taunted. “Or are you just an arena brawler playing at being a soldier?”

Shiro huffed a laugh and lashed out, kicking Keith’s feet out from under him. “Oh yeah? Then what are you, when this ‘arena brawler’ just dumped you on your ass?”

The Galra surged to his feet and redoubled his attack. He watched Shiro’s eyes widen, then narrow as he met him blow for blow. They pushed each other across the empty room and back again, sweating, panting, getting more exhausted with each strike or block but neither one willing to admit defeat. Eventually they came together in the center of the circular chamber, Keith blocking a punch from Shiro that had been aimed at his ribs, while Shiro’s raised arm caught Keith’s hand just above his head. They stood there, frozen, panting, close enough that Keith could feel Shiro’s every breath across his face.

Keith looked up, and met Shiro’s eyes. There was something there in that gaze. Something very new was growing there, an emotion he did not want to name. His heart was beating fast, and he could feel Shiro’s heart matching pace, a pair of staccato beats that blended together into a soft thrum. He became aware then of how close Shiro’s lips were to his. If he just leaned up, just a little…

“Oh!”

They broke apart, turning together to see Pidge standing in the doorway looking embarrassed. Keith felt… almost bereft. He was very aware of the parts of him that had been in contact with Shiro, almost as if there was a lingering warmth where they had touched.

“I, um. I’m sorry.” The younger Paladin was blushing hard enough Keith thought he might see steam coming from her ears. “It’s just, ah, Coran’s looking for you Shiro. We figured out which ship Thace is on. Zarkon’s flagship.”

Chapter Text

Zarkon’s flagship. It was just as imposing as Keith had imagined it, all purple metal and giant guns. The long range scans provided by the castle ship showed only a few spots where they could slip in undetected.

“We’ll have to take the green lion,” Shiro observed, tapping on a part of the image to enlarge it. “It’s the only one with the stealth systems we need to get in.”

“It’ll have to be a small team then,” Pidge said thoughtfully. “There’s not enough room for all of us.”

Shiro nodded. “Just me and Keith, I think.”

“Are you sure that’s wise?” the princess asked, shooting a dark look at Keith. The Galra ignored it. The Alteans had enough reason to hate his race, never mind he wasn’t part of Zarkon’s empire.

Shiro, however, couldn’t let it go. He moved closer, placing a large, warm hand on Keith’s shoulder. “I trust Keith,” he declared. “He and the Blade of Marmora haven’t done anything to deserve our suspicion. They’re fighting Zarkon, just like us. Keith’s father gave his life to save me. If anyone had reason to hate us, it’s him. But he’s willing to work with us. And I think we owe him the chance.”

Allura had the grace to look ashamed at that, while Coran and the other Paladins shifted awkwardly around them. At length, Keith coughed and turned back to the image in front of them. “I, uh, I think this is the best way in. If Pidge can drop us off here,” he tapped a finger against the projection of a door, “we can get into the ship via the air ducts. Most of the patrols in this section will be robotic sentries. It’ll be easy enough to avoid them, but when we get to here,” he moved the image, drawing up a section of the ship closer to where Thace was likely being held. “We’ll need to be careful. This is where the druids work, and there are more live patrols. Thace will likely be held here.” He traced a path from the entry point through to the place the Blade of Marmora thought the druids kept their torture room. “He’ll be restrained. Probably injured. If he can’t walk, we’ll have to figure out some way to get him out. It’ll be best if we can avoid getting caught until we’re well out of the ship, but that’s not likely.”

“We’ll need something to distract them then,” Shiro said. “We’re not strong enough to fight Zarkon head on yet. The plan is to get in, get Thace, and get out. Pidge, after you drop us off, I want you to get back here to the ship and rendezvous with Lance and Hunk. Lance, I want you and Hunk in your lions, ready to come get us if things go south. If we get into trouble, we’ll need you to cause a distraction long enough for Pidge to swoop in and pick us up.”

The blue Paladin nodded. “What about that?” He pointed to a large cannon on the top of a smaller ship in a fixed orbit around the massive flagship.  “I bet it’ll make a really big explosion if we blow it up.”

“Good plan,” Shiro told him. “Blow it up if it looks like we’re going to be caught.”

“Five dobosh until we’re within range,” Coran called from the front of the bridge.

“Right then. Let’s get to the lions,” Shiro ordered, and then they were off.

 

Pidge maneuvered her lion into place beside Zarkon’s flagship, getting them close enough that they could jump to its hull without much effort. Keith winced at the thump of their boots on steel, but they managed to slip into a wide air vent and secure the lid behind them. Outside, Pidge turned and went back to the castle ship, leaving them on their own.

“Which way?” Shiro asked quietly through their comm unit. Keith pointed and began moving as quietly as possible. He knew the layout of this ship as well as any in Zarkon’s fleet. He’d studied them all for varga in training simulators, preparing for just this sort of occasion. He hadn’t thought he’d ever have to rescue his father, but he couldn’t think about it like that. This was just another mission. He proceeded in grim silence, running worst-case scenarios over and over in his mind, convinced every little sound would give them away, until Shiro stopped him with a hand on his arm.

“We’ll find him,” was all he said, but the look in his eyes made Keith believe it. He nodded, and continued.

After what felt like varga, they made their way into the druid’s torture chambers, and dropped from the air vent into the main hallway. Shiro gestured for Keith to check the rooms on one side of the hallway, while he checked the others. Silently, and with extreme care, they peered into empty room after empty room. In some, they found the appalling evidence of past torture. Bloodstains. Chains. Ropes. Even body parts. Once, Keith’s chronometer started to beep. He turned it off, and continued. At last, when Keith’s was almost vibrating with nerves and he’d half convinced himself they were going to be caught at any tick, Shiro signaled for him to stop. Together, they peered through the door. Inside, they saw two druids standing over someone tied to a chair.

“Who do you report to?” one druid demanded, but got only silence in return. The other reached out and casually backhanded whoever was in the chair.

“Who do you report to?” the first druid demanded again. And again, he got only silence. They repeated this process a third time, though this time they used a knife instead of a backhand. A fourth time, and whatever they used to hit the prisoner elicited a grunt. The fifth got silence again. So too did the sixth, seventh, and eighth tries. Eventually, they must have gotten tired, perhaps deciding to let their victim sit with his fear and pain.  The druids turned to the door, and Keith and Shiro ducked out of sight. A few moments later, footsteps alerted them to the approach of the druids, and they retreated into one of the empty rooms. The footsteps continued towards them, and paused just outside the chamber. Keith held his breath, listening with all his might. After what felt like deca-phoebs, but must have been mere ticks, the druids moved on.

As soon as they thought it was safe, Keith and Shiro returned to the room. As soon as he looked inside, Keith growled with anger. His father was there, tied tightly to the chair, blood trickling down his face from a dozen small wounds. From the way he was holding himself, Keith felt sure Thace had broken ribs, and he wouldn’t be surprised if there were other injuries he couldn’t yet see. It took all his willpower to force himself to scan the room for traps before running to his father’s side.

“Father,” he said, kneeling at Thace’s side. “Father, I’m here.”

“Kit?” Thace said groggily, a frown creasing his face and causing a few cuts to break open and bleed. His unfocused eyes gazed around himself, then caught sight of the young man kneeling at his side. His gaze sharpened then, zeroing in on Keith’s face. “What are you doing here?” he demanded, tugging at his restraints.

Keith drew his knife and cut the bonds. “I came to rescue you,” he said.

Thace chuckled. “Then I’m going to assume you’ve managed to come along on a mission without permission again.”

“Again?” Shiro asked, half watching Keith and half keeping track of any sounds of approach in the hallway.

Keith blushed. “I, ah… might have left the base without permission a time or two.” Thace laughed.

“More than two,” he told Shiro. Then he looked back to Keith, flexing his hands to get the blood flowing properly again. “I take it we’ve made some new allies?”

The Galra nodded. “This is Shiro. He’s the leader of Voltron.”

“Voltron!” Thace examined Shiro again, more intensely this time. “He must be the one Ulaz rescued.”

“That’s right,” Keith said, hoping to change the topic before Thace asked about his bond-mate. “He and the other Paladins came to the base looking for allies.”

Thace stood then, gingerly, and Keith could tell he was more wounded than he let on. “Do you trust him?” he asked his son. Keith inclined his head. “Then that’s good enough for now. We need to leave before they come back.”

Shiro and Keith supported Thace from the room and down the hall. They were almost back to the air vent when things started to go wrong. First, Keith’s chronometer started beeping, though he’d sworn he’d set it to mute. He cursed and shut it off, and they all froze, listening to see if the sound had alerted anyone to their presence. After the silence stretched on for long enough, they started to move again. That was when Thace fell, sword clattering to the ground, taking Shiro down with him. This time, they almost immediately heard the sound of approaching sentries.

“Come on!” Keith pulled Shiro and Thace to their feet, slipping under Thace’s arm and half carrying him down the hall with Shiro at their backs.

“You should leave me,” Thace told him, making an ineffective move to slide from Keith’s grip. “Get out while you can.”

Keith shot him a glare, tightening his hand around Thace’s arm. “Not a chance, old man. I won’t lose you too.”

The older Galra chuckled. “Stubborn as always.” Keith didn’t like the undertones of pain in his voice. There was a weakness to it that frightened him. Thace needed healing, and he needed it soon. They had to get him out.

The footsteps in the hall were getting closer, and Keith could hear shouting. He tried to shoulder more of Thace’s weight, increasing their speed. He winced at Thace’s grunt of pain, but couldn’t stop or slow down. It was a race now, and they either all got out, or nobody did. Shouting sounded at their backs, and Keith chanced a look over his shoulder to see the what looked like the same pair of druids from before rounding a corner at the head of a patrol unit, magical energy coalescing around their hands as they flickered in and out of existence, teleporting steps forward at a time, enlarging the gap between them and the soldiers behind.

“Shiro!” Keith warned, just in time for the black Paladin to duck out of the way of an energy blast.

“Keep going!” the human ordered. His hand began to glow purple, forming an energy blade. Keith drew his own sword with his free hand, extending it to its full length with a thought. They kept running. Blasts of dark energy and weapons fire blew past them, missing by mere inches. Keith hissed as a laser blast grazed his shoulder. He could see the hatch now. It was just a little further. Closer. Closer. Almost -

A ball of energy crashed into him. Electricity shocked his nerves and he toppled forward. A scream tore from his throat as he fell. Thace crashed to the ground beside him, writhing in pain. Black ropes of power lashed across their bodies like lightning. Keith screamed again, but no sound came out. Behind them, Shiro engaged the druids, dodging energy blasts between attacks.

The energy faded. Keith didn’t have the luxury of time to recover. He jumped to his feet, blade ready, and slid into the fight beside Shiro. The druids sent another blast at him. Keith dodged, swinging, and caught the druid in the side. It dropped, teleporting away from the fight.

“Lance, now!” Shiro shouted into the comm. He took off the head of a sentry and spun, blocking the attack of another. Keith hacked off another’s leg and ducked an energy blast. Then the ship rocked, sending them all tilting to one side of the hall, then to the other. Lance had successfully blown up a smaller ship. The hatch for the air vent swung open, just a few feet away.

“Go!” Keith shouted to Thace, pointing to the hatch. He nodded and ran. Keith distracted the remaining druid, driving his sword towards the creature’s neck. It ducked and knocked him back with a ball of energy, but Shiro was there to catch him. Together they dove at the druid. Keith’s sword sliced through its chest, Shiro’s its neck. It fell, dissolving into air. Behind it, they still faced a force of sentries and Galra soldiers.

“Let’s go,” Shiro ordered. Keith didn’t need telling twice. They turned and ran. Four feet from the vent. Three. Two. A blast hit Keith in the side. He went down in a spray of blood and golden liquid, the vials in his pouch having taken most of the blow.

Shiro pulled him up and boosted him into the vent, following him up. Weapons fire trailed them as they scrambled forward, leaving holes in the vent floor. Keith knew he was also leaving a blood trail, but that hardly mattered. They were almost out.

They got to the hatch. Keith and Thace put on their masks, which would also act as breathing units for a short-term exposure to vacuum. Both were bleeding, but Keith was relieved to see Shiro had escaped without wounds. He kept his hand on the wound in his side, putting pressure on it while Shiro looked out to see if Pidge had arrived. He was grateful his suit could still create a decent seal with a rip in it. His injuries weren’t bad, but vacuum wouldn’t help.

Thumping sounded in the vent behind them, and they knew they’d been followed. Cornered, they could only wait for Pidge to come and hope. The thumping got closer. The enclosed space would be too small for sword work. Without a projectile weapon, they were sitting ducks. Then, a larger thump, this time on the outside of the ship.

“It’s Pidge,” Shiro told them, opening the hatch. Behind them, Galra soldiers rounded the corner. Keith could hear them exclaiming as they spotted the trio. Shiro climbed out of the hatch and helped Thace out with him. Keith edged back, staring down the two soldiers directly before him as they attempted to aim their guns in the close space. They bumped into each other, jostling each other’s weapons. Finally one pushed the other back and leveled his blaster at Keith. That was when Shiro reached back down and grabbed Keith by the back of his uniform and tugged him up and out of the vent. The Galra slammed the hatch shut behind himself, hearing the impact of weapons fire on the thick hull.

“Keith!” Thace called, directing him to the lion. Before the enemy could even open the hatch, they were safely inside and speeding back to the castle.

Chapter Text

“Woo! We did it!” The Paladins were celebrating even before they met outside of the lions’ hangars. Keith grinned, leaning against Thace. The two Galra were supporting each other, both watching the humans with curiosity.

“They certainly are energetic,” Thace observed as Pidge and Hunk cheered Lance’s recap of blowing up the small ship.

Keith laughed - and then winced when the movement aggravated his wound. “They earned it. They haven’t had many victories yet.”

“They seem… very young.”

“They are, I think,” Keith agreed. “Though maybe it’s different for humans.”

Thace frowned, watching them. “Your father was human, you know.”

“What?” Keith pulled away, turning to get a better look at Thace’s face. Doing so caused a wave of dizziness he ignored. He must have lost more blood than he thought.

The older Galra nodded. “Your mother went to Earth because there were rumors of Voltron on the planet. That was where she met your father.”

Keith glared at him. “Why didn’t you tell me that before?”

Thace’s eyes widened. “You didn’t ask.”

“Huh.” Thinking back, he hadn’t asked. He’d had enough problems because he wasn’t full Galra, he hadn’t wanted to know just what his other half was. It wouldn’t have made the snide comments or pointed insults hurt less.

“Are you two alright?” Shiro rejoined them then, extracting himself from the exuberance of his younger teammates. “How badly wounded are you?” He looked with concern from Thace to Keith. The older Galra was leaning heavily against the wall, while Keith still had a hand pressed to the wound in his side. It wasn’t bad - he’d had far worse - but it stung.

“I’ll be fine,” Thace assured him. “However, we should see to my kit. He looks like he’s about to faint.”

“I’m fine,” Keith protested, though now that they drew attention to it, as the adrenalin faded from his system it left him feeling drained and exhausted. His headache from the quintant before was back, and he was starting to feel a bit nauseous. “It’s just a scratch.”

Shiro eyed him dubiously. “If you say so…”

“I do. See?” Keith raised his hand from his wound and turned to show it to Shiro, or tried to. He stumbled forward, only saving himself from falling by catching on to Shiro’s shoulders, leaving a bloody hand print on the white armor.

“Ah, sorry,” he tried to push himself back and failed. Shiro’s strong arms wrapped around him, holding him up. “I think…” he couldn’t quite focus with the warmth of Shiro so close.

“Paladins!” Keith turned to the sound, and saw Princess Allura hurrying towards them, grinning. “You did well today.” Her smile twitched when she saw Shiro holding Keith, and she looked almost in danger if frowning when she focused on Thace.

“Agent Thace,” she said, the formality in her voice almost painful. “Welcome to the Castle of Lions.”

Thace inclined his head to her and returned her smile with one that was more genuine and grateful. “Princess Allura. You have my gratitude for coming to my rescue. All I can offer in return is my knowledge of Zarkon and his fleet.”

If he’d been feeling better, Allura’s expression would have been highly amusing. She seemed torn between surprise, confusion, pride, and the same sort of distrust she’s shown Keith.

“We would welcome any information you have,” she said eventually.

“Then you shall have it,” Thace told her. He said something else, but Keith missed it as another wave of dizziness swamped him, making him cling to Shiro to stay upright.

“Keith?” the concerned face of the black Paladin filled his vision, blurring around the edges. He shook his head to try and clear it, but only succeeded in causing more dizziness to wash over him. In one clear moment, he realized he hadn’t taken his medication since just before they’d left the Marmora base. Adrenaline and fear had helped him stave off the effects, but now, compounded by blood loss and the shock to his system from the druid’s energy attacks, he was feeling the symptoms that had caused the Marmora druids to give him daily injections of quintessence from the time he was a small child. He reached for the pouch at his side, only to encounter torn fabric, not even enough to hold a single vial.

“Keith? What’s wrong?” Shiro asked.

“I-” Keith started to tell him. And then everything went black.

 

“Keith!” Shiro caught the Galra as he fell, lifting him up into his arms. He was surprisingly heavy for his slight frame, but Shiro was still able to lift him with ease. “Keith!” he called again, and got no response. “We need to get him to a healing pod!”

He wasn’t surprised when Thace started forward, reaching for his son. “How long has it been since he had his medication?” the Galra demanded, face lined with worry and his own pain.

“Medication? I… don’t know,” Shiro admitted, wondering if that was what he had been doing back on the base, when the Galra had vanished into his room just in time for Kolivan to call for them. He’d been pale and dizzy then, too. He was even paler now, skin such a light purple it was almost pink.

Strangely, it was Pidge that spoke up next. “Um, I don’t know for sure, but… the last time I saw him take it was over eight hours ago.”

“Keith,” Thace said admonishingly, though the younger man was clearly unconscious. Then he looked at Shiro. “He must have brought a bag. Where is it?”

“I’ll get it!” Pidge volunteered, and raced off.

“Bring it to the room with the healing pods!” Shiro called after her. Then he shifted Keith into a more comfortable position in his arms and started in the direction of the pods. Thace kept pace with him, despite his injuries, and the others fell in behind so that they reached the healing pods together at the same time Pidge appeared with the small bag Keith had packed.

“Lay him here,” Thace said, gesturing to the raised floor beside one of the tanks. “Before we put him into a healing pod, I need to administer a dose of his medication.”

Shiro obeyed, standing by worriedly as Thace reached into a pocket of Keith’s uniform and drew out a very strange looking syringe.

“If he didn’t bring any of the refined quintessence, I can pull some from the ambient energy of a planet,” the older Galra explained. “It won’t work as well, but it would be better than nothing. Fortunately,” he reached into Keith’s bag and drew out a vile of shimmering gold liquid. “My son is wise enough to bring extra when he escapes on an unsanctioned mission.”

“Unsanctioned mission?” Shiro asked, watching Thace insert the vial into the syringe.

The spy laughed. “I take it you got permission for this mission then. Tell me, when you did, where was he?”

“He was loading up a stealth fighter,” Pidge told him. “Kolivan said he was probably trying to leave without permission.”

Thace nodded and moved closer to his son, smoothing the hair back from his forehead affectionately. “He’s well known for that. Kolivan won’t assign him to a unit because of his condition, so he… improvises. And Kolivan lets him get away with it because he’s successful. Some of our biggest successes in recent deca-phoebs are due to him. We wouldn’t have the red lion without him.”

“The red lion?” Allura asked, surprised. Thace nodded.

“Indeed,” he said, carefully rolling up the sleeve of Keith’s suit. Then he injected the quintessence into the younger man’s upper arm. When he withdrew the syringe, gold sparks played around the injection site for a few seconds before sinking into the skin, which was slowly turning back to a deeper purple.

Shiro filed the information about the red lion away to ask Keith when he woke up. Right now, he was more curious about something else. “May I ask, why does he need this quintessence?”

Thace straightened and met his eyes, searching his face carefully before replying. “Keith’s father was an alien. He died before Keith was born. His mother, my partner’s sister, brought Keith back to us after a very near escape from Zarkon. Too near. She died soon after, only able to tell us a little about the man she had loved. We thought we would lose Keith too, for a long time. He was exposed to the druid’s magic while in his mother’s womb, and we still don’t know all of what it did. By the time he was a deca-phoeb old, he had not seen the outside of the medical chamber. Eventually, one of our own druids came up with the idea of injecting him with refined quintessence. It worked. By age two, he was as strong as most children his age, provided he continued to take the quintessence.”

“And if he doesn’t?” Shiro wanted to know.

Thace looked down at the sleeping face of his son. “If he doesn’t, it starts like you saw. Dizziness. Headache. Fainting. If he goes long enough, he starts to get very sick, as if his own quintessence is draining away. I… don’t want to think about what would happen if he didn’t get help after that.”

To the Paladins’ shock, it was Allura who spoke first, laying a gentle hand on Thace’s shoulder. “We’ll take care of him, Thace. He’ll be alright.”

“Then I owe you twice over, Princess,” the Galra told her, gratitude clear in his voice.

It was Allura who took over from there, directing Coran and the Paladins to place Keith into a healing pod, and then to open another for Thace himself. After that, she dismissed the Paladins, telling them all to get some rest. They would debrief after Thace and Keith woke.

 

Pidge found him an hour or so later, sitting on the floor in front of the healing pods, watching Keith sleep.

“He’ll be fine,” she told him, coming to sit next to him. “It wasn’t a bad wound.”

Shiro sighed, glancing at her and then back at the sleeping Galra. “I know. It’s just…there’s something about him. I can’t quite place it.”

She rolled her eyes. “Of course not.” Her voice was dry, and he shot a look at her, only to see her grinning impishly at him. “Y’know,” she said slowly, “If you wanted to be closer to him, I don’t think he’d mind.”

The older Paladin blushed, looking directly ahead and hoping she didn’t notice his reaction. It was a futile hope.

“Are you going to tell me you didn’t want to kiss him when I found you two sparring earlier?” Pidge asked, and Shiro’s blush deepened.

“No…” he said, though that wasn’t entirely true. He’d been tempted. Despite having known him for only a few days, there was just something about Keith that drew him to the other man.

Pidge snorted. “Right. Look. I’ll tell you the same thing I told Matt when he had that thing with the student from engineering back at the Garrison. If you don’t say something, you’ll never know. And-” she added, before he could find an objection, “Just because you’ve only known him a few days, that doesn’t mean there might not be something there. And who knows, we could all get blown up when Zarkon sends the next robeast to attack us, and you wouldn’t ever have said anything.”

“Huh.” Shiro turned to smile at her. “How’d you get so smart?”

The green Paladin shrugged. “Eh. Maybe it has something to do with how clueless my brother is about stuff like this. You remember that thing with the engineering student.”

Shiro laughed. “You’re right. I can’t count the number of times I heard him moaning about how she wouldn’t ever notice him. Eventually I had to threaten to tie him down and force feed him those frozen peas your father loves so much if he wouldn’t shut up about it.”

“She came to the memorial, you know,” Pidge told him quietly. “She cried. Later, she told me how wonderful my brother was, and that she’s always sort of wanted to ask him out, but he’d always been so busy.”

“She told you that?” Shiro supposed he didn’t know much about what people did at memorials, but that didn’t seem like the right thing to do.

Pidge shrugged. “I was just his kid sister, you know? I guess I was someone non-threatening she could confide in. Anyway, I actually came here to tell you that Coran says we should be able to wake them up in half an hour or so. The readings look good so far.”

Shiro blinked at the abrupt change of subject, then, as he processed what she had said, allowed his relief to show on his face. “Good. That’s good.”

“I’m gonna go check on the radar readings for the ship,” Pidge told him, standing. “I think I saw something odd, and I want to make sure it’s not a surprise coming for us.”

“Let me know if you find anything.” He watched her leave, and then turned his attention back to the younger Galra in the healing pods.

He didn’t know exactly what he was feeling about him. He was like no one else Shiro had ever known. When they fought together, it was almost like they could read each other’s minds, they moved together so well. Keith fascinated him. He was quiet, intense, with an underlying fire Shiro could more sense than see. He had the feeling that while Keith was around, the Galra would continue to surprise him.

Shiro stood, slowly moving closer to the tank. Keith looked so peaceful while he was asleep, almost gentle. The Paladin placed a hand on the glass, watching him breathe. The room was silent, save for the humming of the engine under his feet. Something in his dream caused Keith to wince, and Shiro couldn’t help but look down at his side, where he’d been wounded. It was hard to tell under the cloth of his suit, but he thought it looked like it was healing well. He leaned forward a little and let his forehead rest on the glass, closing his eyes as he allowed himself to relax. That was something else about Keith. Being around him eased something in Shiro, soothing his tension just the tiniest bit, making him feel like he wasn’t holding the whole world on his shoulders.

He stayed there, eyes closed, relaxing against the glass, for some time. Eventually, he started to pull away, thinking of checking the readings to see if they could wake Keith soon. And then, the alarms started blaring.

Chapter Text

A few seconds later, Coran rushed in with the Paladins on his heels. “We’ve got to wake them up now!” he cried, running to the panels. “The Castle is under attack!”

“Zarkon sent a robeast,” Pidge explained, doing something with another screen.

“We caught it on the radar,” Coran added. “So we have a few ticks before it gets here. But we need to get these two up now, I don’t want them in the healing pods if we lose power.”

Shiro stayed by the pods. In seconds, Keith opened his eyes, focusing first on Shiro. He smiled then, a sweet smile that hit Shiro somewhere around his heart and made him want to protect the other man from the rest of the world. Then he frowned, brow creasing as he noticed the activity around him, the blaring sirens and flashing lights a tell-tale sign of something wrong. As soon as the glass of the pod pulled away, he was moving. He staggered, and Shiro caught him, steadying him until he was on his feet.

“We’ve got to stop doing this,” Keith joked, pulling away, and Shiro grinned.

“Can’t say I mind it, though maybe now isn’t the best time.”

That startled a laugh out of him. “Maybe not. What’s going on?”

“We were followed,” Shiro said, addressing both Keith and Thace, who had just been helped out of his pod by Hunk and Lance. “Zarkon sent a robeast after us.”

“What can we do?” Thace asked, reaching for his sword on a table next to his pod.

Shiro considered his question, glancing at the Paladins that had gathered around them. “Lance, Hunk, Pidge, get to your lions. Thace, why don’t you go with Coran to the bridge, I’m sure they can use your knowledge of Zarkon’s forces. Keith, how are you at operating weapons on a fighter?”

“I’m good,” he told him.

“Good. Then you’re with me. Everybody, suit up.”

They all scattered at his order, scrambling to get into their gear and ready to fight.

“We aren’t going to the black lion?” Keith asked, as he and Shiro ran for the hangar.

“It’s sealed in its hangar,” Shiro told him. “We won’t be able to access it until we have all four lions. Allura’s father built it in as a failsafe to keep Zarkon from getting it.”

“We should have brought the red lion then,” the Galra mused. “But that won’t help us now.”

Shiro agreed. “Hopefully Kolivan will ally with us after this. Now, I need you on the forward guns.”

 

Shiro’s fighter rocketed out of the castle ship just behind the three lions. In the distance, they saw the robeast fast approaching. This one looked a little like a lizard, with large glowing eyes that more than likely shot lasers. Next to him in the cockpit, Keith gripped his controls and stared ahead at the creature.

“Hold,” Shiro commanded, mentally going over all possible strategies they could use against this creature. They waited in tense silence as the robeast got closer and closer. “Now!” he ordered, and the lions surged forward. Shiro followed. He took the fighter up over the beast while the lions attacked it head on, getting a good look at all its weapons.

“There,” Keith pointed. “There’s a laser on the tail. Two more on the shoulders and the eyes.”

Shiro dove under the beast next, noting the armored underside. By then, they were all dodging lasers, weaving around each other as the lions released their own weapons. Keith expertly manned the guns on their fighter, shooting again and again, each time hitting weak points in the thing’s design. Shiro flew around its ‘feet’, trying to provide his companion the best shot.

The lions buzzed around the beast, harrying it with blasts from their weapons. The whole fight was a confusion of lasers and weapons fire, one maneuver blurring into another.  If anyone asked Shiro later, he couldn’t tell them who flew what pattern or got in which shot. It was a relief to have Keith working the weapons, as, between shouting orders and keeping the fighter from being hit by enemy and friendly fire, he didn’t have a chance to reach for his own weapons controls. To make matters worse, the robeast learned from each attack. Every shot Keith or one of the Paladins got in, the thing put up more guards. Eventually, Pidge figured out that the places where lasers fired out were its weak spot. Lance used his lion’s ice beam to freeze over the beast’s face, while Pidge and Hunk concentrated fire one the shoulders and then the feet, causing minor explosions in each place they’d seen a laser come from. They systematically destroyed every laser, leaving only the eyes, which were slowly melting the layers of ice being poured onto it.

Lance stopped the ice beam and readied his own laser. Pidge, Hunk, and Shiro lined up beside him, waiting for the ice to melt. As soon as it did, they fired. The concentrated effect of four lasers built, and built, until the robeast’s eyes shattered. They waited. If it had any other weapons, this was when they would find out. It began to shake. Vibrating enough to dislodge pieces from its hull. In seconds, Shiro realized what it was about to do.

“Fall back!” he ordered, throwing his fighter into reverse. Seconds later, the lions did the same. They weren’t quick enough.

The robeast exploded. Waves of power radiated out of the blast like tsunami from an earthquake, bowling over the lions and Shiro’s small fighter alike. The thrusters couldn’t keep up. They were in the worst possible position, pointed towards the explosion with no way to change direction. Shiro frantically worked the controls, trying to regain command of the fighter, and only succeeded in spinning them. Alarms blared and the ship wasn’t responding. It felt like the tail had been torn off by debris, a feeling that was reinforced by a glance behind them to see that the blast doors had sealed against a vacuum.

“Hang on!” he yelled to Keith, who was holding tight to his seat. He pulled up hard on the controls, doing what he could to turn the fighter in the direction of the blast. If he couldn’t change their direction, at least he could try to ensure they didn’t hit anything. They rode the waves, getting further and further from the castle and the lions with each passing second. They were going fast, too fast. Only quick reflexes and years of training enabled Shiro to maneuver around a few large asteroids in their path. One wing was torn off by debris, crippling his ability to adjust course. Then, without warning, a large planet loomed in front of them. Shiro fought the controls, but the fighter had become almost unresponsive. They hit the atmosphere at speed and rolled. Hanging upside down in his seat, Shiro used the last juice in the thrusters and forced the craft upright.

“Get ready to eject!” he called. “I don’t think she can land!”

“Ready!” Keith yelled back over the blare of alarms. Shiro tried again to pull the fighter into an easier descent, but now nothing could respond. The heat of atmospheric entry was burning the hull, and Shiro was very glad that whatever material this fighter had been made out of was sturdy enough to withstand the forces acting on it, even as damaged as it was. They rocketed downward, unable to steer or attempt to soften the landing.

“Hang on! Just a little more….” The displays cut out, leaving Shiro with no way to know how high they were. They were through the mesosphere and into the stratosphere. Suddenly they were engulfed in clouds. “Bailout!” Shiro hit the eject button. Keith hit his a second later, and then the cockpit of the fighter broke open. Boosters under their seats activated, propelling them upwards and away from the doomed fighter. Shiro felt the impact on his body, jolting him and bruising his shoulders with the force of the ejection. Seconds later their shoots deployed, jarring them again as the seats fell away. Then they were drifting slowly down.

“You ok?” Shiro yelled to Keith, hoping he could hear him over the wind rushing past his ears.

“Fine! You?” his companion called back.

“Fine. Just trying to find a safe place to land!” He used the thrusters in his armor to maneuver closer to Keith. The Galra’s suit had its own thrusters, which he used to steady his own fall. Together, they scanned the ground below them. It looked like an enormous desert, nothing but sand as far as their eyes could see.

“I don’t think we have much choice,” Keith observed, sounding remarkably calm for a guy who had just been through a battle with a giant space robot, thrown through space in an out-of-control fighter, and then forcibly ejected from said craft as it crashed into a planet. Somewhere below and beyond them, the fighter crashed to the ground, causing a giant fireball.

“It shouldn’t matter, I’m sure the others will find us soon. I just want to hit ground somewhere where nothing will be trying to kill us.”

Keith laughed, drifting away a little and thrusting back to line up with Shiro. “That would be nice.”

Soon enough they landed next to a shady outcropping of rock, not too far away from the wreckage of the fighter. Shiro set up a makeshift homing signal, hoping that Allura or Pidge would think to check that frequency. He wasn’t at all sure what had happened to the other Paladins, or how long it would take for them to regroup and look for them. Then there was nothing to do but wait.

 

Chapter Text

“Well,” Keith observed, “It could be worse. At least we’ve got water. And we’re on a planet.” He patted the bottles of water they’d been able to save from the wreck of the fighter.

“And not captured by Zarkon,” Shiro added. “As missions go, this definitely isn’t the worst thing that’s happened to me.”

Keith laughed. “That’s an understatement. Worst for me was… the time I went on a solo mission to get scaultrite from a Weblum and got stuck in its stomach. I was in there for hours before I figured out how to get out with the scaultrite I needed.”

“Hmm… aside from getting captured by Zarkon, my worst was probably when Matt and Dr. Holt asked me to fly out to Mars and we forgot to get proper authorization. Escaping the security drones was a nightmare, we didn’t even get the samples we’d gone for, and I had to spend the entire flight back with Matt laughing at me accidentally pissing off a general that was directly responsible for deciding which missions I got to fly.”

“Hah. Nice one. There was also the time I skipped class and took a fighter out to do some training and got caught outside the base when the pathways closed. Thace and Ulaz were so mad at me by the time I got back in. I was grounded for a month.”

“Ok, that’s pretty bad, but what about the time that I was supposed to pilot my unit back from a study of Saturn’s rings? The nav system went out, my navigator was throwing up in the back due to some bad food she’d had just before we left, and the only other member of the unit that could navigate was too busy trying to impress two of the older guys in the unit that he led us off course so badly we almost flew into the sun.”

The spent some time trading stories of missions gone wrong, and then missions gone right. Shiro learned a lot about Keith over the next few hours, from his love of adventure, to his frustration at the limitations his dependency on quintessence placed on him. He also found himself revealing more about himself than he ever had, even telling Keith stories he wouldn’t have told his fellow Paladins. That feeling of being safe and supported continued to grow. There was something there, something more than just companionship. Unknowingly, they shifted closer together as they talked, until they were sitting side by side, only inches apart.

Shiro put his hand down by his side, and felt warm fingers under his. “Oh!” He pulled it back. “I’m sorry.”

“It’s alright,” Keith said, moving his hand closer towards his side so Shiro could put his next to it. The sun was setting on the horizon, and they watched it go down together, hands just touching between them.

Eventually, Shiro sighed and asked the question that had been worrying him since he’d gone to the Blade of Marmora’s base. “Do you think Kolivan will allow your red Paladin to join us?”

The Galra looked at him, eyes serious and determined. “Whether he does or not, it doesn’t matter. I’ve already made up my mind.”

Shiro frowned at him. “But you’re not the red Paladin, are you?”

Keith blushed and looked down, rubbing at the back of his neck. “Actually… you know how I told you how I go off on, ah, ‘unsanctioned missions’?”

“Yes,” Shiro said, a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. He had a feeling he knew where this was going.

“Well, on one of them, I was exploring this ship for salvage, and I just… had this feeling, you know? The ship was abandoned, so I just sort of followed the halls around until I came to a huge hangar. And in it was this giant lion. At first, I couldn’t get through the force-shield around it, so I started poking around in the ship, looking for a way to disable it. I was up in the ceiling looking for the wires powering the shield when Zarkon’s forces showed up. And, well, I didn’t know it was the red lion, but I knew whatever Zarkon wanted was something I didn’t want him to have.

“I was just one person against about forty or so sentries and soldiers, so I set up an ambush. I used some of the wiring I had found to electrocute some of them, then dropped down on top of the rest. It was a pretty close fight, but when about ten of them cornered me the force shields around the lion went down and it came to my rescue, blasting Zarkon’s soldiers and scooping me up. Then I had to pilot it out of the derelict ship, destroy the ship I’d come in, and evade pursuit until I could get back to the base.”

“So you are the red Paladin.” Shiro was smiling now.

Keith ducked his head, not quite daring to look at him. “Uh, yeah.”

“And what do you want to do?” The older Paladin prompted.

Keith coughed. Still looking down, and in a voice low enough anyone not next to him would have had to strain to hear it, he said “I’d like to join Voltron, if you’ll have me.”

“Keith,” Shiro said, and waiting until the younger man looked up to see his expression. Then he held out a hand. “Welcome to the team.”

Keith at first looked surprised, then he, too, smiled, and he reached out to shake Shiro’s hand. “I won’t let you down,” he promised. His hand was warm and callused from years of blade work, and it fit within Shiro’s as if they were two pieces of a puzzle. Shiro held it for longer than necessary, blushing when he realized what he’d done and letting go. Instead of reacting to it, Keith just grinned at him, and shifted to sit just a little bit closer, allowing their shoulders to touch as they watched the sun vanish below the horizon.

 

Several hours later, they still had not been rescued and Shiro was starting to get worried. Keith had gone several shades paler again, and he would eat his helmet if the other Paladin didn’t have a splitting headache. He was clearly showing the same signs they had seen before, indicating he needed his medication.

“Sorry,” Keith muttered, when he caught Shiro watching him with concern. “Didn’t have time to grab more quintessence before we took off.”

“What about that device Thace used to give it to you? He said it could pull some from the planet if need be?” Shiro hoped he’d brought that at least, and was relieved when Keith brought it out.

“Here,” Keith removed it from a pocket on his suit. Shiro didn’t like the way his hands shook when he did. “If there’s anything around here to take…” he looked dubiously at the sandy desert stretching out around them. “If we’re in a dead area, I won’t get anything. It’s not like this thing has range. It has to be stuck directly into the source.” He turned a dial on the top of the syringe, pushed the plunger down, and jammed the needle into the ground between them. A few yellow sparks followed the plunger as he pulled it back up, but when no more followed they quickly dissipated.

“Nothing?” Shiro asked. Keith shook his head. He tried again in a few more places, but each result was the same. Eventually he flopped back down on the ground next to Shiro and sighed.

“Let’s just hope they get here soon.” He turned the dial on the syringe again, and some of the purple sparks from between the outer and inner walls raced up and down the needle, leaving it sparklingly clean. “It self-sterilizes,” he explained at Shiro’s curious look, passing it over for him to examine.

Shiro tapped the outer wall over the cord of electricity, watching purple sparks scatter and then coalesce back into a rope. “What about using some of my quintessence?” he asked, oblivious to the shocked look on Keith’s face. “There’s quintessence in everything, right?” He looked up and frowned at his companion’s expression.

“No!” Keith said quickly. “Well, yes. There is quintessence in everything. But no. I’ve never seen it taken from another person before, I don’t know what it would do.”

Shiro tilted his head, considering the words. “You think it would hurt me?”

Keith shook his head. “I don’t know. They just told me never to take it from any living being, and I’m assuming they mean because it could do something to them.”

“If the others don’t come soon, it might be worth the risk. Thace said you could die if you don’t get some in time.”

Keith’s expression went mulish. “No. I’d rather risk not having it. I don’t want anything to happen to you.”

“And if you die?” Shiro wanted to know.

“They’ll come before that,” Keith said firmly, though he looked a little concerned.

“Keith…”

“I’m not risking you,” Keith told him, and snatched the syringe back with a shaking hand, quickly depositing it in a pocket.

Shiro sighed and let it be. He wasn’t going to push, not when Keith was looking ready to faint or throw up at any second. Instead, he shifted a little bit closer, allowing Keith to lean on him and rest his head on his shoulder.

“They’ll be here,” he said, trying to comfort the Paladin. “I’m sure they’re looking for us now.”

“Yeah,” Keith agreed. “It won’t be long,”

 

Three hours later, Shiro was practically wrapped around Keith to keep him warm. He was shivering violently, and Shiro could almost see the quintessence slowly draining from him. They had salvaged some space blankets from the wreckage of their ship, but even that couldn’t help keep Keith comfortable.

“Fucking druids,” Keith muttered, burying his face in Shiro’s chest. “How the fuck did they do this anyway?”

Shiro rubbed a hand up and down his back comfortingly. “I don’t know. But if we can find a way to cure you, we will.”

Keith sighed, and shivered. In the dim light of the planet’s moon, his skin looked almost white it was so pale. “You’re really pretty, y’know that?”

“What?!” Shiro felt his face heat up and was sure he was suddenly bright red.

“Y’r pretty,” Keith repeated. “’N kind. ‘N strong.”

“I, um. Thanks? You too.” Shiro replied, flustered. Where had that come from? He knew he’d been attracted to the other man, but this…

“Wanna kiss you,” the Paladin in his lap told him. “Wanted to since we sparred.”

“Kiss me?” Shiro repeated dumbly. And then fiercely clamped down on the parts of him that wanted to kiss Keith too.

“Mmm.” Keith curled tighter into his lap. “Can I?” He turned his head to look up at Shiro, eyes wide and hopeful.

Shiro shook his head, still stunned, and his face fell. The heartbreak there was so plain it was painful.

“…Sorry…” Keith said, trying to burrow deeper into the blanket.

Shiro collected his scattered thoughts. He wasn’t sure exactly what he was feeling, but he knew one thing for sure. He liked Keith, a lot. And he wanted to kiss him too.

He brought a hand up to smooth the Galra’s black hair, petting him almost like a cat. “Don’t be sorry,” he told him.

Keith turned his head and looked at him out of one eye. “Yeah?”

“Yeah.” Shiro smiled at him. “We can talk about this later, when you’re better.”

Keith turned his face back into Shiro’s chest. “Might not get better.”

“You will,” Shiro promised him. “No matter what. I promise you.”

“’Kay,” Keith sighed, and Shiro felt him relaxing against him. “I’ll hold y’ to it. And the kiss.”

“Just as soon as you’re better,” Shiro said, and meant it.

Keith’s shivering slowed, and he began to emit a sort of purring sound as Shiro continued to stroke his hair. “Feels good,” he muttered, and Shiro smiled, continuing the motion.

 

An hour later, and Keith was too still in his arms. Shiro shook him, gently at first, and then harder.

“Come on Keith, wake up. You can’t pass out yet.”

He got no response.

“Keith,” he tried again, poking his ears and not even getting a reflex twitch. “Keith. Wake up.” He made it an order, using his best command voice. Nothing.

“I won’t kiss you if you don’t wake up.” No response, and it sounded dumb coming out of his mouth. He sighed, shifting them both until Keith was laying with his head in Shiro’s lap. His eyes were closed, and his face tight with pain. He felt… diminished somewhat, and Shiro again got the feeling that his quintessence was draining from him. He closed his eyes, trying to think. There had to be something, anything, he could do. He didn’t know how long it would take for the others to find them, and by then it could be too late. His eyes fell on the pocket where Keith had stashed his syringe. Keith had said he thought it might hurt him if he tried taking his own quintessence, but what other option was there?

He removed the syringe from its pocket. The needle looked very sharp in the moonlight. He turned the dial he’d seen Keith use, and watched as it sterilized itself. Then, before he could convince himself of the stupidity of it, he plunged it into his elbow and began to pull back on the plunger. It felt… odd. Not unlike giving blood, but also like something important was being drawn from him - something his body didn’t want to let go of. White, sparkling energy started to fill the syringe. He continued drawing back on the plunger, until he’d filled the whole thing. It was more than the yellow stuff Thace had given Keith, but Shiro had no way of knowing how much he’d need if it was the raw stuff and not the refined quintessence he was used to.

“Come on,” he muttered, sterilizing the needle again. Then, praying he wasn’t making a mistake, he slid the needle into Keith’s upper arm as gently as he could and pressed the plunger.

“You’ll be fine,” he told Keith, though he wasn’t sure it was meant as a comfort for the unconscious man or for himself. He cleaned the syringe and put it back in its pocket, and then waited. He wasn’t sure what he was expecting. Possibly something dramatic, sparking or some physical reaction. But Keith lay still in his lap, and did not wake. Then, slowly, he seemed to relax, the lines of pain easing from his face. Shiro sighed in relief.

After a few minutes, he noticed that he could hear a faint beeping coming from the remains of the ship. He checked Keith again, noticing that his color was coming back, skin darkening to its normal purple. Leaving him for a few minute to go check out the sound couldn’t hurt. And maybe whatever it was would help the others find them. He moved Keith until the Galra was stretched out on the soft sand, Shiro’s blanket pillowing his head, while the other covered him to keep him warm. He hesitated before getting up, smoothing Keith’s hair away from his face. On impulse he leaned forward, pressing a gentle kiss to Keith’s forehead. “I’ll be right back,” he said softly, then got up.

The beeping was coming, miraculously, from the ship’s radio system. When he pulled the small unit from the wreckage, he found it singed, the casing damaged, but the components inside at least half operable. It wouldn’t send a signal out, or broadcast anything but the beeping noise, but he brought it back to their campsite to work on in the hopes he could fix it. He wasn’t good with tech like Pidge or Hunk, but he’d done more than enough classes on communications units back on Earth. He sat down next to Keith and got to work, scattering parts and tools from a salvaged kit around himself. As he worked, the sun began to rise.

 

His hands were covered in grease and he’d opened up the casing to display the guts of the machine when he heard movement next to him. Keith stretched, rolling his shoulders and groaning. In the light of day, Shiro could see that his skin was still several shades lighter, but that wasn’t important. What was important, was that he no longer seemed to be in pain. He wasn’t shivering or shaking. And now he was waking up. Shiro couldn’t help the pleasure and relief that showed on his face.

“Good morning,” he said, turning back to the radio in his hands. If he could just get it working… the others had to be close now. Maybe he could get a signal to them.

“Morning,” Keith sounded more than a bit surprised to be awake.

“Feeling better?” Shiro asked him, glancing up to see him sitting up and looking back towards the crashed ship, away from him.

“I… yeah.” He furrowed his brow, turning his eyes to look down at his no longer shaking hands. “I don’t understand.”

Shiro focused on the radio. “I, ah, may have given you some of my own quintessence after you passed out?”

“What?! I told you that was dangerous!” Keith yelled, surprise and anger in his voice.

“And I didn’t care. It was that or watch you die, and that wasn’t an option! I-” Shiro met his eyes, and felt his jaw drop.

“Well, you-” Keith started angrily, then noticed his expression. “What?”

Shiro blinked and shook his head, looking again to be certain he wasn’t seeing things. Keith’s eyes had changed. They’d become white, with just the barest hint of glowing gold. And where there had been nothing but a flat yellow glow before, now he had perfectly round irises of the deepest violet, set around pure black pupils.

“What?” Keith asked again, tone growing worried.

Mutely, Shiro reached for his helmet and set the faceplate to reflect, holding it up so the Galra could look into it like a mirror. Those strangely human eyes widened, and he reached up to touch one of his lower eyelids.

“What happened?” he asked turning the helmet to look at his face from different angles. Suddenly something occurred to him, he reached up and checked an ear. While it was still pointed, the point had become smaller, more gradual, while the rest of the ear had become just slightly more round. “I look… more human.”

“Maybe it has something to do with my quintessence?” Shiro offered, suddenly feeling guilty. He hadn’t meant to do anything like this. “Keith, I’m sorry,” he said, after a few moments had passed while Keith carefully examined his face in the mirror. That got his attention. He looked up, meeting Shiro’s gaze with those new, almost-human eyes.

“It didn’t… do anything to you, did it?” he asked, clearly worried.

Shiro shook his head. “No, I’m fine, but….”

“Then I don’t care,” he said firmly. “Maybe it’ll go away when I take a regular dose. And even if it doesn’t,” he shrugged. “I’ve always been smaller and weaker than other Galra. I don’t see how my eyes make anything any worse. Actually…” he frowned. “I think… huh.”

“What?” Shiro wanted to know.

“I can see colors!” Keith exclaimed, astonished.

“You couldn’t before?”

He shook his head. “No full Galra can. I can -could- see a few a few more shades of grey and purple than most, but this…” he looked around again. “Well.” He grinned at Shiro. “Since this is your fault, you’re going to teach me which colors are which.”

Shiro laughed, relieved he didn’t seem to be angry. “That I can do. Though, one question. How did you know your lion was red? Or that Pidge’s was green?”

Keith grinned in return. “That was the name for that particular shade of grey.”

“Really?”

The younger Paladin laughed. “No, not really. I know because aliens who can see colors told me. The Blade of Marmora aren’t all full Galra, you know.”

“Good to know.” Shiro knew he should get back to work on the radio, but he couldn’t bring himself to look away from Keith. His grin was fascinating. In fact, it was quite possible that it was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen.

Keith scooted closer, until all that lay between them was the radio. He was watching Shiro intently, his gaze making the human blush from its intensity.

“You’re really ok?” he asked, and Shiro nodded.

“I’m fine. Nothing happened to me at all. It didn’t even hurt.”

Keith relaxed. “Good. I don’t… I don’t want anything to happen to you.” He blushed when he said it.

“And I don’t want anything to happen to you, so I guess we’re good there,” Shiro told him. Keith nodded, and turned his attention to the radio.

“What’s that?” he asked.

Shiro showed it to him. “It’s the fighter’s radio. I’m trying to make it work. If I can get off a signal, they others will find us sooner.”

“Hmm.” Keith looked at the wires. “I’m not sure about the colors of the wires, but if this is the one that’s normally a really light grey,” he pointed to one wire encased in yellow, “and this is the one that’s almost black,” here he pointed to one in blue, “then if we connect them here” He moved the wires, connecting them to a spot on the chip. The radio started to emit static, and he glanced at Shiro, grinning.

They worked on the radio for several more hours, heads bent together over the mangled casing. Shiro was acutely away of every time their hands touched, and from the blush spreading down Keith’s cheeks when it happened, the other Paladin had to feel the same. Eventually, they got it broadcasting a general SOS on a frequency Shiro knew the castle ship and the lions both could pick up. Shiro sat back, pleased they’d even managed that. It probably wouldn’t be able to do any sort of two-way communication, but at least it increased their chances of being found.

“Guess those classes in communications systems came in handy after all,” he joked, just to see the small smile Keith gave him in return.

“Guess so,” the other man said and stretched. “You’ve been bent over that thing all night?”

“Yeah.” Shiro stretched too, feeling his neck crack as he did. “Ouch. Guess I got more tense than I thought.”

“Hmm.” Keith stood and paced over to kneel behind him. As the day had gotten hotter, both had removed the outer parts of their suits. Shiro’s armor had just been too hot to keep on, and it seemed that Keith’s Marmora suit had been the same. Now, Keith’s strong fingers started kneading his shoulders through the thin fabric of his under shirt. An involuntary groan of pleasure escaped his lips, and he could hear the other Paladin chuckle behind him. “Stay still,” Keith ordered. “Your muscles are all in knots. When was the last time you relaxed?”

“Um…” Shiro couldn’t actually remember the last time he’d had a chance to relax. Maybe not even since he’d left Earth.

Behind him, Keith rolled his eyes. “Fine. Lay down.”

Shiro obeyed, and then yelped as Keith straddled him and began to press down on his back. “Shh. The point is to relax,” Keith told him, and he closed his mouth on his half-formed protest. Before long, he was practically boneless, laying like an overcooked noodle on his back in the sand while Keith moved his neck from side to side.

“Better?” Keith asked him softly.

“Mm-hmm.” Shiro couldn’t bring himself to form actual words. Keith’s warm chuckle made him feel warm, even though the sun was setting again and the night was starting to cool. He moved his hands, settling Shiro’s head in his lap and gently massaging his scalp.

“That feels amazing,” he said, when he could make his tongue work.

“Mm,” Keith hummed, smiling. “It sure beats just sitting here watching the desert and feeling hungry.”

“Yeah,” Shiro agreed. “Still, I hope the others get here soon though. It’s been over 36 hours, and still no sign of them.”

Keith nodded, but didn’t stop the massage. “That blast was pretty big though. I guess it took them a while to regroup, if the lions weren’t damaged like our fighter.”

Shiro watched his face, entranced by the expressions that crossed it. “I don’t think it was strong enough to really hurt the lions. They’re a lot stronger than the fighter. But they might have been separated and shoved as far or farther than we were.”

“They’ll be here,” Keith told him. “I don’t know about your Alteans, but if nothing else Thace will be able to find us.”

Shiro let a comfortable silence lapse between them for a while, enjoying the feel of Keith’s fingers in his hair. Then, something occurred to him, and he sat up suddenly. “Keith!” he said urgently, scrambling around to face him. “How often do you need to take quintessence?”

Keith tilted his head, thinking about it. “Every eight hours or so.”

“And when do you start to feel it if you’ve forgotten?”

“I’ll start to get a headache pretty quick, but I’ll start to feel dizzy and weak in about two hours.”

Shiro narrowed his eyes, examining his friend. “And how do you feel now?”

Keith blinked at him. “Fine. Hungry, but fine.”

“You’re sure?” Shiro didn’t see any of the symptoms he had last night. The only difference from this morning was that the whites of his newly human eyes were glowing slightly in the fading light.

“Yeah…” Keith said, then he understood, and his eyes widened. “I… don’t need it?”

“At least not right now,” Shiro told him. “Tell me if you start to get a headache or feel dizzy, ok?”

Keith nodded. “Yeah, I will.” He shook his head and held up a hand in front of him, checking to see if the color of his skin had gotten any lighter. It hadn’t.

Shiro sighed and settled back down, now once again facing Keith over the radio. “Maybe we should ask Allura when we get back to the castle. She might know what happened.”

Keith shrugged. “If not her, then the druids back at the base might have an idea. Until then, I guess I just pay attention to how long it takes before I start feeling sick again.”

“If this works better, maybe I can keep giving you quintessence. Uh, if you don’t mind the… side effects, that is.”

“Mind?” Keith shook his head. “It’s… a little odd. But to not have to take quintessence every eight hours? I’ll take it. So long as you don’t mind, and it doesn’t hurt you.”

“I’ve been fine so far. I guess we’ll see how it goes, but if it helps you, I don’t mind at all.”

Keith stared at him, then chuckled and shook his head. “I was right. You are really kind.”

Shiro grinned. “I didn’t think you’d remember saying that.”

“Yeah, well.” Keith looked down, blushing. “I also remember saying that I want to kiss you. And…. And you saying we’d talk about it when I was feeling better.”

Shiro felt himself turning bright red. “I… also remember that.”

“So?” Keith asked, not making eye contact.

“Do you still want to kiss me?” Shiro wanted to know.

“I… yeah.” Keith’s face had darkened from lavender to a deep reddish purple.

“Ok then.”

“Wha?” he looked up then, surprised, and met Shiro’s serious eyes. “Ok?”

“Ok,” the older Paladin affirmed.

Keith stood abruptly and walked over to stand in front of Shiro. “You’re sure?” he asked shyly. Shiro looked up, met his eyes, smiled, and nodded.

The Galra leaned down then, placing his hands on Shiro’s shoulders. He met his eyes for just another moment, enough for both men to see the desire in the other’s gaze, before tilting his head slightly and bringing their lips together. It was gentle at first, almost shy. And then Shiro surged forward, pulling him down into his lap.

“Impatient,” Keith teased, wrapping his legs around his waist. Shiro chuckled. “Less talking, more kissing.” And Keith obliged.

Of course, that was when three lions of Voltron landed next to their camp site. 

Chapter Text

“I can’t believe you were making out when we came to rescue you!” Lance crowed, laughing at Shiro’s deep blush. Keith just looked at him with challenge in his eyes until he backed down. They had just returned to the castle ship, and Shiro was really hoping that Allura hadn’t heard about the way the Paladins had found them. As it was, he was never going to live it down. While the three younger Paladins respected him, he doubted they’d ever look at him the same now that they’d seen him with another man’s tongue in his mouth. Not that he regretted it, oh no. He glanced over at Keith and had to restrain a smile. The tips of his ears were a dark burgundy, but he walked next to Shiro, so close their hands brushed as they moved.

“Keith!” Thace rounded the corner at a near run, coming to a halt right in front of them and pulling Keith into a hug.

“Shiro!” Allura and Coran followed, almost running right into the Galra.

“I’m fine,” Keith reassured Thace. “Really.”

“Thanks for the rescue,” Shiro told his team. “I take it everyone is in one piece?”

 “Don’t do anything like that again!” Thace told his son. Beside him, Allura nodded.

“We’re all fine. I’m sorry it took so long to find you, but the lions were thrown even farther off course than you were. I… wait.” She frowned, looking at Shiro carefully.

“What’s wrong?” he asked, just as Thace frowned, and held Keith at arm’s length, looking him over.

“How much quintessence did you have with you when you crashed?” he asked, examining his son. “You-” he stopped, looking right into Keith’s almost-Human eyes, his own going wide in surprise.

Keith shrugged. “I didn’t have any. And the planet was dead where we were. Just desert. I couldn’t pull anything from the sand. So Shiro gave me some of his quintessence.”

“What?!” Thace and Allura exclaimed at the same time, looking from one to the other in astonishment.

“You gave him quintessence?” Allura demanded of Shiro. “How are you feeling? Light headed? Dizzy?”

“You took his quintessence?!” Thace cried at Keith, shaking him a little. “Don’t you know what could have happened to him? To you? How are you? What else has changed, or is it just your eyes?”

“I’m fine,” Shiro told Allura, as Keith locked eyes with his father.

“Nothing’s wrong, Father,” he said. “I’m fine. Shiro’s fine. And I took his quintessence almost two days ago now, and haven’t needed any more since.”

“What?” Allura said into the silence. Coran frowned and hummed, walking around the pair of Paladins.

“Shiro, have you felt any changes in you since you shared your quintessence?” he asked, poking the Human in the cheek and then tugging on his ear.

Shiro jerked his head away when the Altean went to pull his hair. “No, I’m fine.”

Coran switched his attention to the Galra, tapping the point of one ear and then forcing his mouth open to look inside. “And you, Keith, how do you feel?”

“Ah c’n shee colah” Keith said around the finger that was testing the points on his canines. “I can see color,” he repeated when Coran withdrew his hand. “My ears are rounder, and my skin is lighter. And I haven’t felt the need for quintessence in almost forty eight hours. Otherwise, I’m exactly the same.”

“Hmm…” Coran walked around them again, and then waved a hand through the air between them. Then he grabbed Allura and Thace, and pulled them off to the side, where they all put their heads together for a quiet conference, leaving Shiro and Keith alone with the Paladins.

“What was that all about?” Hunk wanted to know.

Shiro shrugged. “I’m guess we did something that should have been impossible.”

“Whatever you did, they’re sure worked up about it,” Pidge observed, watching the trio arguing with each other in voices too soft to be overheard.

Keith frowned. “Well, at least we’re not getting yelled at for crashing the ship or something.”

“They wouldn’t have yelled at you for that. Allura and Thace were really worried when we couldn’t find you,” Pidge told them. “Thace even promised he’d get us the red lion so you could get to the black lion and we can form Voltron.”

Shiro and Keith shared a look and grinned at each other.

“What?” Lance wanted to know. “Why are you looking at each other like that?”

Keith chuckled. “I’m the red Paladin. And I already told Shiro I’d join you all, whether or not Kolivan gives me permission.”

“I knew it!” Pidge exclaimed. “I thought Kolivan had another motive to having you show us around the base. I bet he wanted to get your opinion on us before making any decisions.”

Before anyone else could say anything, Allura, Thace, and Coran returned. Thace and Allura looked slightly confused and uncertain, but Coran was beaming. He reached out and pulled Keith and Shiro into an abrupt hug, shouting “Congratulations!!”

“Uh, thanks Coran, but, what are you congratulating us for?” Shiro asked, still trapped under the enthusiastic Altean’s arm.

“Finding your bond-mate, of course!” he let them go, still grinning. “It’s so rare these days to find true love! It’s just so beautiful when it happens.”

“Bond-mate?” Shiro looked at Keith who shrugged.

Allura cleared her throat. “Coran, they may not realize what has happened. Shiro, Keith,” she continued before Coran could attempt to explain. “Sharing quintessence between sentient beings is extremely dangerous for both parties involved. If their spirits are incompatible, it usually causes the one receiving it to reject the quintessence. The results are… unpleasant.” She shuddered, then looked Shiro in the eyes. “When you gave Keith some of your own quintessence, you gave him part of your life force. If he had rejected it, it would have rebounded to you, but, tainted by his quintessence, your body would reject it as well. You both should have died.”

She stopped, and in the silence Shiro looked at Keith, stricken. He could have killed them both by accident, just from trying to help.

“Fortunately,” Thace stepped in giving Shiro and his son a reassuring smile, “that is not what happened. It seems you two have the same sort of bond I shared with my life-partner. Your very souls are joined, and as such you can share quintessence as if you were the same being. These bonds are rare. In my lifetime, I have heard of three, including mine and your own.”

Now Keith and Shiro shared a very different look, one part wondering, one part overjoyed, and one part shocked and a little overwhelmed.

“I am pleased for you,” Thace continued, looking at his son. “I had long hoped you would find someone to love as deeply as I loved Ulaz. It is… comforting to me, to know you’ll be happy, especially as I have just learned of Ulaz’s death.” He stopped then, his smile becoming a little strained but still genuine.

“It is our belief,” Allura picked up, watching Thace with more openness than she’d had before. Shiro thought maybe the events of the past few days were making her rethink her prejudices against all Galra. “That the druids that tortured and ultimately killed Keith’s mother somehow managed to drain Keith’s quintessence, causing it to become unstable. But when Shiro shared his own quintessence, it reacted with Keith’s, causing it to become more balanced. When we get back to the Blade of Marmora, I will look into it with some of their druids to find a more definitive answer.”

That was… quite a lot to take in. When Shiro turned to Keith, he could see his lover was overwhelmed. He decided then that any other questions could wait, to be answered in the coming weeks and months, as they grew to know each other better. Just because they were ‘bonded’, it didn’t mean they weren’t going to have to work at this relationship, and learn to take care of one another. It would have to grow organically, as it would have without this knowledge. It might even be harder sometimes, since they both knew they were ‘meant’ to be together, whatever that meant. But for now, even that knowledge could wait. He reached out, and took Keith’s hand in his, giving it a reassuring squeeze when he looked at him.

“We don’t have to look into this now if you don’t want to,” he said quietly to him. Then he raised his voice to speak openly to the small group gathered around them, the one that was almost, but not quite yet, a family. “I think Keith and I are going to have to take some time to digest all of that. But in the meantime, we’ve just spent two days on a desert planet without any food. What are the chances there’s something lying around for two starving Paladins to eat?”

 

It did take time to build a relationship, as it always does. There were fights, and nights sleeping in separate beds, times when someone’s habits got on the other’s nerves. But, as in all relationships worth working for, the good times outweighed the bad tenfold. Smiles, kisses, and laughter outnumbered shouts, hurt feelings and tears a thousand times. They had to learn how to be a couple, and how to be Paladins, and how to be both those things at once. But they did it. And as far as Keith and Shiro were concerned, their relationship was worth all the work.