Keith’s hands shake as he presses his forefinger to one of the computer consoles against the far wall. How many times has he done this in the past week? Keith tucks himself against the alcove adjacent to the console.
“What’s taking so long?” Kolivan’s voice whispers harshly in his ear.
Keith waits for the Galra sentry to pass before taking his spot next to the console again. “Guards are tight on this level,” Keith whispers back.
“Give it a rest, Kolivan,” Thace grouses. “You’re putting everyone on edge.”
Keith hears Regris chuckle into his ear piece, but he says nothing.
He shoves the encrypted chip back into the console. The download continues were it had last paused.
“The information is coming through,” Kolivan says.
Keith rolls his eyes beneath his mask and a trickle of sweat slides down over his cheekbone. His fingers tap wildly at the touchscreen, the soft clacking echoing down the corridor. Keith narrows his eyes, scrolling through one of the screens.
“I think I got something,” he murmurs.
“What?” The three other Blades ask.
“It looks like Lotor had something delivered here,” Keith says. “Are you seeing what I’m seeing?”
“Yes,” Kolivan says. “Regris hack into the depot logs.”
“On it,” Regris rasps out.
“It also looks like he retrieved something,” Keith scrolls through the data.
“Don’t pay too much attention to the information,” Kolivan orders. “Just retrieve. I’ll have Dorma’s team sort through it.”
Keith nods to himself, clicking open another folder. His eyes grow wide, his mouth ajar. “Holy crow…”
“What? What is it?” Thace’s voice crackles through the comm link.
“It looks like some of the intel are the notes Mom made while on the Deadzone and the data Lotor had on that new quintessence,” Keith answers. Did Lotor manage to take Larka’s notes before bailing on them all those months ago. Keith swallows around the tension in his throat. Lotor’s plans weren’t deterred by that insurgence of Zarkon’s men at the Deadzone. Whatever he had needed from Larka, Lotor had obtained it.
“He was here,” Regris says, airily. “One of Lotor’s cruisers docked here a fort-quint ago. Stayed here for a total of thirty-two vargas before leaving with a package. What he dropped off is in the central warehouse on the eighth floor.”
“Heading over there now,” Thace says.
“I will meet you,” Kolivan answers.
The console pings that all the data has been downloaded just as Keith begins to hear the clang of metal sentries coming down one of the other hallways. Keith grabs the encrypted chip and runs.
“I got the intel,” he says, “and heading to the warehouse now.”
“Good,” Kolivan mutters. “Regris?”
The comm link is silent. Keith stops in his tracks. Was he hiding from soldiers or… did something more ominous happen?
“Regris?” Kolivan prods once more.
The screech of sirens has Keith nearly jumping out of his own skin. Dark red lights flicker against the purple and gray backdrop of the Galra base.
“Kythel, head back to the shuttle.” Kolivan’s words leave no room for argument. “Take the intel and head back to the shuttle.”
Keith wants to argue. They could need him, but Kolivan’s words from phoebs ago echo in his ears.
“I want to train you. I want to personally train you, but I can’t do that if you won’t listen to my instructions.”
Keith grits his teeth. The clanging of sentries is getting closer. They’ll be upon him in no time. He pats his utility belt, just to make sure the encrypted chip is safely tucked away. Keith then turns down a side corridor, towards Regris’ last known location near the main vestibule to the hub. Yes, he’ll head back to the shuttle just after he finds Regris.
A sentry rounds the nearest corner and Keith unsheathes his mom’s blade, activating the properties only to ram the weapon into the chest of the robot. The metal parts like warm water around the softly glowing dagger, electricity crackling near the hilt. The sentry jerks as Keith pulls the blade from its chest and swivels around to behead the next one. His eyes widen when the sharp edge doesn’t impale itself on metal, but this time lodges in malleable flesh, gristle, and bone. The first squirt of blood slaps across his mask, the soldier gurgling as Keith’s blade wedges itself half way through his neck. Keith presses his foot against the soldier’s chest and kicks his way free. Dark purplish red blood sluices over the blade, pattering to the gray floor.
A shot of plasma hits the wall, violet and scorching, just above his head. Keith whips around to see another sentry, rifle held high. The young Blade throws himself around the corner, somersaulting across the hall, only to get up and start running. He makes it to the hub in less than five doboshes without being held up by the frantic soldiers, desperately attempting to find out how they were infiltrated.
He finds Regris near the alcove of the kiosk he was hacking into. Sprawled across the floor with a plasma shot to the outer thigh, blood oozes from the wound and collects in the burnt part of his Marmora uniform and armor. His mask has deactivated, his hood dropped to reveal his reptilian features and the dusting of light blue fur atop his head. A jagged cut is nearly swallowed by the swollen contusion. Tacky blood has smeared across his forehead, only to slick against the downy fur.
Whoever found Regris assumed he was dead and went to find backup.
“But he’s not,” Keith murmurs, checking for a pulse and finding the steady thump, albeit much slower than usual. Keith grabs Regris’ equipment hanging from the console and shoves it in his utility belt, before hoisting Regris across his shoulders. Regris’ tail hangs limp, hitting Keith’s thigh as he jogs. His chest burns with exertion, but he’d be damned if he was going to leave a comrade behind. Keith swallows the pain burning across his shoulders and continues on.
A beatific smile crosses his face when he sees the rendezvous point and the open doorway to the shuttle a little beyond that.
It’s empty when he breeches the door and Keith sets Regris down on one of the seats. Blood glazes his right shoulder, but he ignores it, instead heading over to the emergency medical kit.
“Dad?” Keith speaks into the comm link. “Kolivan? Where are you guys?”
Keith busies himself with opening the antibacterial gel and smearing it on Regris’ wound before encasing it in a sheet of gauze.
“We’re almost there,” Thace chuffs. “Prepare the ship.”
Keith nods, making sure Regris is strapped in before setting the disengagement sequence to start in two doboshes. Returning to his friend, he tries to stanch the bleeding on his head. He grimaces. Regris will need stitches, or maybe some time in a sleep pod, but he’ll be okay.
“What happened to him?” Kolivan asks as he enters the shuttle. Thace breezes past him, briefly looking Keith and Regris over before taking his seat at the pilot's chair and preparing them for take off. “Thace, make sure to blow a hole in this hull after you disengage us. I want them confused and worrying about the flooding instead of tracking us.”
Thace nods, tapping away on the consoles and gripping the toggles.
“I was heading back to the shuttle,” Keith finally answers, smearing some gel on Regris’ forehead too. “I was heading back and I found Regris at his location like—”
“I thought I told you to return to the shuttle,” Kolivan says. “It sounds like you took a detour.”
“We hadn’t heard from him and I wanted to see if he was alright,” Keith murmurs. “It’s not like we were late. I got him and got back to the ship before you and Dad did.”
“That’s not the point, Kythel. I gave you—”
“Everyone sit down and strap in,” Thace murmurs, strained and aggravated. “I can’t take this thing off with you all standing around.”
Keith jolts into his seat as Thace propels their shuttle off the underwater base before shooting a hole at the bottom of the hull. Keith watches through the glass as black, brackish water gushes through the gap, sucked into the underground level of the base. The mission was a success, even with Regris being battered and bruised, but they got what they came for. Right? So, why is there a churning, unsettling sensation in the pit of his belly?
After debriefing at the Record, Keith and Thace made the journey back to Gal while Kolivan sees to Regris' recuperation. The logistics of using both the Marmora HQ and the colony of Gal was difficult at first, traveling back and forth could put unnecessary lives on the line, forcing their already small force to spread itself thin once again. That did not stop his mother from setting up shop back on Gal.
“We’re back,” Keith says when the doors to laboratory slide open.
It’s a sprawling and pristine laboratory, refurbished and repainted, more Altean than Galran. It’s almost as if his mother is trying to distance herself from what she had witnessed on the dreadnought and the Deadzone, but still searching for something wholly familiar.
Thace smooths a hand on the work bench currently occupied by Larka’s stack of usual datapads and blueprints. His other hand presses to her shoulder as he reaches over to kiss her temple.
Larka shrugs his hand away, refocusing on the text in front of her. “Be careful, don’t break anything,” she says, gesturing to the handful of vials in the corner held in some transparent gurgling machine. They’re not in any danger of his father’s estranged hand. Keith doesn’t miss the slight pained expression on Thace’s face.
“We just got back,” Keith says again, attempting to diffuse the tension between his parents. He’s not entirely sure what’s happened between them; one moment his mother can’t stand to be away from his father, the next she avoids him like a plague. “Regris was wounded, but he'll be fine," he pauses, waiting for a reaction. When he doesn't get one, he continues, "Kolivan stayed at headquarters to go over some of the new intel.”
“Dorma will send you some documents,” Thace says, unprompted, “once the preparations are made.”
Finally, Larka pulls away from her monitor long enough to glance at Thace before fixing her gaze on Keith.
“What kind of documents?”
“Lotor managed to take some of your research before—”
“My research was incomplete,” Larka interrupts Thace.
“I know that, my love,” Thace starts, earnestly, “but he may or may not be creating a supply line. He's using less frequently visited depots as—”
“I purposefully left gaps,” Larka sneers. “There’s no way that—”
“I understand that,” Thace grits his teeth, “but you’re not listening—”
“You think he figured out the synthetic formula that I’ve been—”
“Ancients, Larka, that isn’t what I’m saying.”
“Okay, okay, please,” Keith groans, rubbing his temples and turning around, “don’t do this right now. Or just… don’t do this with me in the room.”
“Kythel…” Larka says, hesitantly.
“I promised to call Shiro,” Keith says. “I’ll see you guys back at home.”
He doesn’t wait to hear his parents call after him and he’s grateful when he’s outside the science building. Beneath warm sunshine and insects chirping in the distance, Keith takes a deep breath, leaning against the metal wall of the building. He’s almost tempted to take a shuttle and escape to the Castleship just to get away from this cloud of tension that surrounds his mother. He doesn’t blame her, only wishes she was a bit more focused on the bigger picture and not so hyper-focused on what she cannot see.
The communication building stands beside the sprawling air base, a large structure of its own, covered in satellites and foreign solar panels, and decorated in antennae. Inside, the transmitters and terminals take up so much space that it’s a struggle to find a vacant, private room.
After finding one, Keith taps in the Castleship’s transponder code, a strange thrum echoing in his head as he anxiously waits. It’s the correct time, right? Was Voltron out in the field? Keith lets out an elated breath when Shiro finally answers the call, a small smile lifting his lips. The scar across the bridge of Shiro’s nose wrinkles as he gives Keith a toothy grin.
“Hey, Prince Kythel,” Shiro teases.
“Stop,” Keith groans. “Not you, too.”
Shiro chuckles, “A lot of these planet we’re liberating, they keep talking about Prince Kythel who once piloted two Lions but gave it all up to infiltrate the treacherous Galra Empire—”
“You really need to let Lance write the sensational propaganda pieces,” Keith laughs. “That’s awful.”
Shiro lets out a bark of laughter. “Oh, really?”
“Yeah,” Keith says, lightly. “But how do people know about this?”
“Well, ever since you left Team Voltron, people are always wondering where Keith is. It’s a small universe and rumors spread fast,” Shiro explains. “It’s not so bizarre to say that you’re part of a resistance Galra faction, fighting against the Emperor.”
“So, it’s official?” Keith asks, more to himself than his boyfriend. He looks down at his hands “I’m not a paladin anymore…”
“Hey, Keith,” he says. “Look at me.”
Keith clenches his jaw before looking back up.
“Team Voltron is proud of you,” Shiro says, sternly. “Lance, Allura, Hunk, Pidge, and I – we all – support your decision to train with Kolivan and Thace. You’re the representative of the Blade of Marmora within the coalition. You still help liberate and protect worlds from the Empire. Just because you’re not sitting in a Lion doesn’t mean you aren’t a paladin. You’re a warrior and a pilot. Don’t forget that just because I’m not there to remind you.”
“Thanks, Shiro,” Keith smiles. He wants to reach through the holo-monitor and hold him tight. Keith clears his throat, forcing away his looming tears. “H-how is everyone?”
“They’re good,” Shiro nods. “You know, Lance and Allura made it official.”
“W-what? Are you serious? That’s amazing!” Keith says, excitedly, almost fidgeting in his seat.
“Yeah, yeah, Hunk’s been teasing them all week because it was Allura who plucked up the courage to ask him.”
“Lance is pretty bashful when he wants to be,” Keith shrugs.
“How about you? How is everyone on Gal and at HQ?” Shiro asks.
Keith shrugs again. “Good, I guess? Mom and Dad are fighting. It’s kind of awkward.” Keith wants to elaborate, to share how strange it is to see this growing distance between his parents. “I know Mom is trying to puzzle together what the Earth experiment really was. Why did they target your Dad and all of that.”
Shiro lets out a deep breath. “I know. It really is a puzzle.”
Suddenly, the overflowing dam breaks. Keith gushes to Shiro, tells him about the mission that he just got back from. The intel he gathered at the Galra base, half submerged in that black ocean. He tells him about Lotor and the supply line and the information Lotor took from his older sister. When Keith is done, he leans back in his seat, worn out and wrung dry.
“Lotor is planning something, Takashi,” he says, voice raspy. He needs a drink of water, and maybe some food. “I don’t know how he’s working with those druids, but he obviously needs their help to accomplish his goals. But… I wonder if Lotor even knows about the Earth experiment. And if he doesn’t—”
“Is he being used by the druids, too?” Shiro finishes. “I’ve been thinking the same thing. What if Lotor isn’t our enemy in all of this?”
“More questions and less answers,” Keith mutters.
Shiro scoffs. “You got that right.” He turns his head at the sound of knocking on the off-screen door. “Just another tick. I’ll be right there,” Shiro calls through the door.
“Who is that?” Keith asks.
“Pidge,” Shiro answers. “We’re supposed to head to Reiphod soon, but Allura isn’t back yet.”
“Where is she?”
“On Gal,” Shiro says. “She needed to talk to your mom in person.”
Keith raises an eyebrow. He wasn’t aware of that. Was his mom aware or did she lock herself in the labs all day? Keith shakes his head.
Keith chuffs in aggravation. “Just Larka being Larka.”
Shiro smiles. “Yeah, well the next time we get into an argument, I’ll make sure to use that excuse. Just Keith being Keith. Nothing out of the ordinary.”
Keith rolls his eyes.
“Oh! Before we sign off,” Shiro starts, “I wanted to tell you that the rebels have taken over Sigma quadrants one through four and they're putting up more outposts. Nothing too extensive, just encampments until we can get more resources from Olkarion. Hunk and Coran will be sending the new intel and the maps soon.”
“I’ll pick them up from headquarters and distribute the information at the next coalition summit,” Keith says.
“Thanks, Prince Kythel,” Shiro teases.
“I’m begging you, Takashi, please.” Keith’s complaining turns into a fit of laughter.
“It’s good to see you smile, Keith,” the black paladin says with a smile of his own.
“I love you,” Keith says, cheeks flushing.
“I love you, too.”
After they sign off and the monitor goes black, Keith sighs and drums his fingers on the table. Time to see Allura before she manages to slip through his fingers.