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Great Minds Think Alike

Chapter Text

Keith dashed down the long hallway. Purple lights and solid metallic doors rushed passed him as he ran at top speed, bayard activated in his hand, ready to unleash his ire on anyone who dared to step between him and his goal.

Behind him he could hear Lance’s footsteps, the other paladin keeping up with him with seemingly no effort. He didn’t have to look back to know that Lance’s bayard was activated as well. He was watching their back while Keith watched their front and led the way.

Well, not really. Technically it was Pidge who led the way.

“Turn left at the next junction,” he heard her voice through his comm. “But be careful, there are two sentries waiting for you.”

“Don’t worry, they won’t even know what hit them,” Lance piped up behind him.

Keith grunted in approval and tightened his grip on his bayard.

When they arrived at the junction they didn’t slow down. The sentries had their backs turned towards the two intruders and seemed too focused on the hallway before them to notice the footsteps behind them in time. Keith swung his bayard through the first sentry’s torso as Lance fired and fried the other sentry’s circuits with one smooth shot through its head at the same time.

The two of them proceeded onward without hesitating or slowing down for even a second. They couldn’t afford to lose any time or risk the failure of this mission. It was too important. Too personal.

“Turn right,” Pidge said as the duo approached the next junction. “It should be the third door to your right.”

They followed Pidge’s instructions and came to a stop in front of said door. Keith felt his heart beating in his throat, as if it wanted to jump out at any second and scream at him to not get his hopes up. His breath came too fast and his hands were sweaty under his gloves. He was nervous. Or anxious? Scared? Maybe all of it.

Behind this door was his friend. Or he should be. He hoped so. They had searched for too long for this to be another failure. Another disappointment. It’s been months since their leader and friend had disappeared into thin air and apparently vanished from existence altogether. There was no trace, no explanation, no hint as to where he was or what had happened. Not even the Black Lion had helped. Or maybe she didn’t know either? She wasn’t very talkative.

If he wasn’t behind this door… He didn’t even want to think about this possibility. Every time they came to a dead-end it had torn his heart apart more and more.

The door unlocked with an audible click as Pidge overwrote the controls and opened to the side revealing the room behind. It was a mostly empty room. Two tables stood at the walls to their left and in the middle of the room was a chair that looked similar to a dental chair only less comfortable and with cuffs on their arm- and headrests. But all of this faded into the back of his head when Keith saw the pod in the right corner of the room, filled with a purplish liquid and a body.

The buff male wore a Galra prisoner garb and had cables and tubes attached to his head and arms. No, arm, singular. The right arm ended right above the elbow where the empty sleeve of the garb swam useless in the liquid. Over his mouth and nose was what looked like an oxygen mask. The males features were relaxed, a rare view on the man’s face, but the scar across the bridge of his nose and the white streak in his else black hair were unique. Even if the hair was too long and the beard was an unfamiliar sight, Keith had no doubt about who this was and that their search had finally – finally – come to an end.

“Shiro!” Keith exclaimed and dashed through the room to his friends glass prison. He pressed his hand on the thick glass and pounded against it, trying to wake the older man up or get his attention or anything to indicate that he was alive. But there was no response, not even a flinch or twitch of any muscle. Keith’s pounding grew stronger and more desperate in his urge to free Shiro from the pod and get him out of here.

He had hoped to finally find him, of course he had. It was better than having to stomach another failure, but now, seeing his friend like this, the small voice in his head that had hoped to not find him here grew louder again. He had been with the Galra once again. A prisoner at their mercy and from the looks of it a guinea pig of one of their sick experiments. Maybe it would have been better if they hadn’t found him here after all. Everywhere was better than with the Galra.

But he was here, in this pod, swimming in this strange liquid, without his prosthetic. Longer hair than should be possible after only four months and dead to the world. Or maybe he was really d-

Tears pricked in Keith’s eyes as the thought crossed his mind and he tried desperately to blink them away.

No, they couldn’t be too late. Not after all this. Not after all their hoping and praying and fighting.

“Earth to Keith!” Lance’s voice and his tight grip on Keith’s shoulder startled him out of his thoughts. “Calm down, he’s alive. Look.” He pointed with his index finger and Keith followed the direction with his gaze to look at Shiro’s chest that was faintly rising and falling. He was breathing.

“Right,” Keith said under his breath as he watched the steady rise and fall of Shiro’s chest.

“We need to get him out of there,” Lance said and rounded the pod. “There is no control panel or anything similar.” He returned to his place next to Keith and threw him a quizzical look. “What should we do now, fearless leader?”

Keith turned to look at him. Lance’s furrowed eyebrows relaxed and the corners of his mouth turned upwards in a encouraging smile. Leave it to Lance to turn an uttermost lousy situation around and focus on what should be done next, rather than sitting down and despair.

Keith gave him a fierce nod.

He took a deep breath and ordered his priorities in his head before going into action. Shiro was alive and there was no immediate danger.

“We found him,” he reported through the comm and got several gasps of relief and a chaos of responds in return.

“How is he?”

“Thank god.”

“Can we talk to him?”

“Is he okay?”

“He’s okay, as far as we can tell, but he’s in a pod with some kind of purple liquid,” Keith interrupted and tried to focus on what to do next. “Pidge, can you try and see if you can hack into the pod’s system from your end? We can’t find any control panel or anything on this thing.”

“Roger,” she said and the fast typing of her fingers on the keyboard sounded through the comms line.

“Lance, search the room. See if you can find his prosthetic or any hints to where it is.”

Lance nodded, turned to the rest of the room and started searching.

“Wait, what?” Hunk’s voice chimed in through the typing. “He doesn’t have his arm?”

“No,” Keith answered hesitantly. “But we’ll find it.”

“Okay… Let’s hope so,” Hunk mumbled barely audible and the line went quiet once again except for Pidge’s typing.

Keith returned his gaze to the pod and watched Shiro’s sleeping face. He’s never seen him this calm ever since he first escaped the Galra. He wasn’t sure if he should be happy that Shiro was able to relax like this or worried because he’d never done so of his own accord. Not even in the cryo pod in the Castle of Lions when he’d healed from Haggar’s injury.

Suddenly the amount of bubbles in the liquid increased rapidly and Shiro’s brows furrowed.

“Pidge? Something’s happening,” Keith said through the comm and couldn’t suppress the slight panic in his voice.

“Right, sorry, that was me,” Pidge quickly answered. “I hacked into the pod’s control system. In order to open the pod the liquid needs to drain off completely. When that’s done I should be able to release the tubes and you can get him out.”

“Good,” Keith replied and watched as the liquid slowly drained off. “What is this stuff?”

“It seems to be some kind of sustainment liquid. It feeds the body the needed substances for its survival like nurture, water and vitamins.” The liquid was now completely drained off and the only thing keeping Shiro upright were the tubes connected to his arm, head and as Keith could see now, also to his back. “Opening the pod now and releasing the tubes.”

With a hiss the pod opened and a clinical and sterile smell evaporated from the inside. With a click the tubes released Shiro’s body and the giant male fell forward. Quickly, Keith released his bayard and caught Shiro in his arms, but the male was too heavy for him and together they both slumped to the ground.

Within seconds Lance was next to them and helped Keith maneuvering Shiro’s form fully out of the pod and on the ground. The older man’s brows were still furrowed and Keith could see that his eyes shifted under their lids. He started to look more like himself and less like a lifeless shell.

“Shiro?” Keith looked for any sign that indicated he would wake up. A stir or flinch. Anything. But there was nothing. “Pidge, you sure there was nothing else in this stuff?” he asked after they’d waited for another minute and nothing happened.

The line was quiet for a moment before Pidge finally answered, “There were some anesthetic in the liquid to keep him from waking up, but aside from that… no, nothing. Why?”

“He’s not waking up.” They needed to move and get out of there. They were lucky enough that no one had noticed them yet. But it was only a question of time until they noticed that Pidge had tampered with their security systems and cameras.

Keith reached out and lifted Shiro’s upper body into his arms. Even without his prosthetic he was heavy. Too heavy. There was no way the two of them could lift him and fight their way through to the rendezvous point in the hangars where the Green Lion was waiting for them.

“I can get to your location and carry him,” Hunk said.

“No,” Keith immediately answered before the yellow Paladin could even think about moving. “We need Pidge to guide us back to the hangar and we can’t leave her without protection in case they find us.”

“I knew it was a bad idea for me to not accompany you,” Allura chimed into their conversation and through her irritated voice Keith could also hear her tension.

“We need you as our plan b in case we don’t make it to the hangar. So no, it was not a bad idea,” Keith hissed and tried to think of a plan c or d or anything to get them out, to move Shiro and get everyone back to the castle in one piece. They finally found him and now they would fail because of this?

No. Not as long as he was their leader.

He turned to the other Paladin. “Lance, listen. We-”

Suddenly the great weight in his arms shifted.

“Nng…”

“Shiro?” Both Keith and Lance immediately turned their attention back to their unconscious friend whose eyes sluggishly started to flutter open. Keith held his breath as he looked at Shiro who watched the ceiling with half-lidded eyes. He waited for Shiro to react in some way. To look at him or Lance or even to have a flashback. He would take anything at this moment to be honest, because Shiro’s blank stare slowly started to freak him out.

“Hey, buddy. You with us?” Lance said cautiously and leaned into Shiro’s line of view. He adjusted his gaze a few inches and looked at Lance for a few seconds. Then, all of a sudden, his eyes snapped fully open, his nostrils widened as he sucked in a deep breath and he jerked out of Keith’s arms and scrambled away from them. He misbalanced his weight when he tried to brace himself onto his non-existent right arm and fell to the side.

For a few seconds he continued his labored and too quick breaths and watched them through his mess of hair, when suddenly his gaze drifted away and he returned to look into the distance at nothing in particular. His breathing evened out and his tense body began to relax bit by bit.

Next to him, Lance released a long breath. “Shit,” he muttered.

When nothing happened after another few seconds Keith slowly moved closer to Shiro. As soon as he was almost in arms reach Shiro’s gaze snapped back to him and Keith froze. He had no intention to scare his friend again when he was clearly not aware of where he was. He needed to calm him down and make him realize who they were.

He counted it as a victory that Shiro was still watching him and hadn’t backed away yet. Maybe he had recognized him or was beginning to.

“Hey. It’s me, Keith,” he said as calmly as he could. “Lance is here too.” He gestured to the other Paladin behind him who uttered a quiet ‘hey, buddy’ and tried for a reassuring smile. “The others are waiting outside.”

Shiro’s gaze flickered back and forth between Keith and Lance for some time until he settled to look at Keith once again. It felt as if time was slowing down and waiting for recognition to dawn on Shiro’s face. But nothing happened.

Shiro used his left arm to prop himself into a sitting position and when he looked back at Keith through his long strands of hair the indifference on his face finally shifted. But instead of the recognition Keith was hoping for, came wariness and confusion. And then he finally opened his mouth and spoke with a croaky and gravelly voice.

“Who are you? Why are you here? What do you want?”

No. This was wrong. This wasn’t what he was supposed to say. This wasn’t how his voice was supposed to sound. It was all wrong!

Keith’s breath was caught in his throat and he was unable to utter a single word. Thankfully, Lance regained his composure rather quickly. “We’re your friends. Team Voltron, remember?”

Shiro’s confused gaze wandered to Lance and remained. He didn’t seem to remember.

“We’re here to get you out. To rescue you from the Galra,” Lance said and Keith could hear the fight in the other’s voice. The fight to try and not lose his nerves and keep calm.
Right now, the only thing Keith felt, was failure. They came too late after all. He’d lost Shiro again.

“Guys? You need to move. Now. They’re onto us. I don’t know how long I can keep their systems down.” Pidge’s voice resounded in Keith’s ear, but for some reason it sounded as if she was talking through a pillow. He could barely understand her through his racing thoughts.

Where had they gone wrong? Where had they lost too much time, that they were here now, but too late? What could they’ve done better? What could he have done better?
Why did he always fail in the end? He'd failed his mother, his father. He'd failed Shiro. Failed his team. And now, he'd failed Shiro again.

“Keith? Lance?”

“I- I’m not sure if we can make it.” Keith barely registered Lance’s voice even though he was sitting right next to him, but he was grateful, oh so grateful for Lance’s ability to think and talk right now, because Keith definitely couldn’t. He kept looking at the man sitting in front of him. The man who was his best friend, hell, his brother, but didn’t recognize him.

“What do you mean? What’s wrong?” said- Hunk? Maybe?

“Just try and get to the hangars. We can take care of everything else in the castle,” Allura spoke with an unsteady voice.

“R-right,” Lance answered.

Shiro looked at Lance with an even more confused expression. “Who are you talking to?”

“Oh, right, sorry.” Lance motioned to his helmet with his hand. “I was talking to our teammates through our comms. You know, the teammates I mentioned earlier?” Shiro slowly nodded and continued to watch him warily. “We’re going to get you out of here, okay? I’m sure you don’t want to stay here.” A flash of… something flashed over Shiro’s face (fear, maybe? Keith wasn’t sure), before he looked at Lance with pure conviction and nodded.

“Alright. Good,” Lance muttered, more to himself than to any of the other two in the room. He slowly stood up and Keith felt his hand once again on his shoulder. “Keith, buddy?” He squeezed his shoulder and began to shake it softly. “We need to go.”

Keith ignored his teammate and continued to stare at Shiro. He couldn’t avert his gaze, no matter how hard he tried. He looked so different. His hair, his arm, his features. The longer he looked, the more differences he could make out. He looked older, as if he’d aged a few years. Maybe it was just the hair, or maybe the beard, or… No, it was in his eyes. They’d lost their glint. The glint that had won Keith’s trust all those years ago. The glint that had given him strength during all those fights in the last months. Now they were blank and looked so tired.

There was a loud smack and suddenly Keith felt a hot sting on his cheek. He blinked back his tears and look up at Lance who was standing in front of him, his left hand still flat and up in the air.

“Come on, Keith! We need to get out of here. Now!” Lance said and when Keith didn’t answer he raised his hand once again for another slap.

Keith scrambled back a few inches to avoid the second hit. “Yeah. R-right.” He swallowed the lump in his throat and got to his feet.

Lance gave him an apologetic look and turned around to haul Shiro to his feet. They turned towards the door but before they were able to make more than three steps there was a loud thump behind them. When Keith turned around he saw Shiro lying on the ground, face downward.

“You okay?” Lance was next to him in seconds, while Keith still stood and looked at his teammate and the other man on the floor. Shiro nodded and with Lance’s help got to his feet once again.

“Sorry. Lost my balance,” he muttered with his gravelly voice.

“No problem. Think you can make it?” Lance said worried.

Another nod.

“Great,” he said and they headed for the door again. “Then let’s head for the hangars.”

Shiro’s arm darted forward and grabbed onto Lance’s. Keith stopped dead in his tracks and looked back at the older man, as did Lance after a short glance to his arm, where Shiro still had a hold on him.

“Wait,” Shiro said, “why the hangars?”

Lance looked at Keith with a confused look and then back at Shiro. “To escape, of course.”

“No,” Shiro said and tightened his grip. Lance winced slightly under the pressure.

“What? But you said you wanted to get out.”

“Yes, but I won’t leave without Shiro.”

The next few seconds felt like an eternity as the quiet stretched on and on until Shiro’s words finally sunk in.

Lance was, once again, the first one to find his words. “What are you talking about? You’re Shir-”

“No!” Shiro yelled and his voice echoed through the hallway. He let go of Lance’s arm and rubbed his temple. “I- I’m…” He shifted his confused gaze between Lance and Keith until the floor won his interest. After a while he looked back up at Lance, all confusion gone and replaced with tenacity. “I’m not important. But I will not leave without Shiro.”

“I-I don’t understand. You’re Sh-”

“You don’t have to understand. You want to get me out of here, right?” He looked at them both, jaw set and with an expression that held no room for discussion. Almost like their Shiro always did. Almost.

Maybe he was still in there. Or maybe this wasn’t even their Shiro. He kept talking as if he wasn’t. As if the other one was…

“Well, y-yeah.”

“Then we’re going to get Shiro or I’m not leaving. I won’t leave him here.”

“But-”

“Okay.” Keith finally found his voice once again and was now more determined to do what his mentor – or this thing – asked than ever before. If what he said was true, and there was another Shiro on this ship, then this would make sense, somehow… maybe. Because this couldn’t be his Shiro. This wasn’t his friend or the head of Voltron. This was just some sick joke. This couldn’t be Shiro.

“Do you know where he is?”

“Yes, I can feel him.”

“Alright, lead the way.”

“Wait, Keith. You can’t be serious,” Lance said incredulously and stepped between Keith and Not-Shiro.

“If he says, that Shiro is on this ship, than we need to find him,” Keith said.

“I can’t believe you right now! Shiro is right here!” He pointed at Not-Shiro. “I know this is confusing and it hurts, but we need to leave, now. We can look for a solution at the castle, like Pidge said. But-”

“No, Lance. We will follow him to Shiro and then we leave this ship and not a second earlier.” Keith pushed Lance aside and looked at Not-Shiro. “Let’s go, now.”

Not-Shiro nodded and dashed forward. Keith followed a few steps behind and heard Lance do the same only a few seconds later, mumbling quietly under his breath about how he could not believe this and that they were all crazy.

Well, Keith was not the one who mistook this thing for Shiro, so let’s see who’s crazy once they found the real Shiro.

Because he sure as hell wouldn’t leave this ship without him.

Chapter Text

“Pidge, change of plan. We need to make a small detour.” Keith had his comm activated and filled in his other teammates, while he followed Not-Shiro through the hallways.

“What? We don’t have time for a detour,” Pidge insisted.

“Then we need to make some time.”

“You can’t just- dammit.” There was a crackle through the comm’s line and he could hear shouting. “They’ve found us. Hunk and I need to get away. I’ve got the map, so tell when you’re ready and I’ll lead you out.”

Pidge barely managed to end her sentence as the alarms started blaring.

“Dammit,” Keith mumbled. “How much further?”

“We’re almost there. He’s close.” Not-Shiro turned right once again and suddenly dashed forward. When Keith rounded the corner and stepped into the hallway he saw Not-Shiro charging at a sentry. He evaded one shot of their blaster with a long somersault and used his momentum to quickly get up again. With another step he was at the wall and jumped high. He pushed away from the wall with his left foot and came down on the sentry with all his weight, grabbing its head with his left hand and slamming it into the ground. He quickly grabbed the blaster from the destroyed sentry and moved onward without hesitating for a second.

All of this happened in the brink of an eye before Keith could even think about helping him or Lance could raise his bayard. He’d attacked fast and precise, using his surroundings to his advantage. Just like the real Shiro.

However the Galra made this thing and whatever it was, he had to admit that they’d done a fine job at copying his friend. He’d almost mistook him. Almost.

They stopped in front of another massive door. Without another word Not-Shiro raised his blaster and shot the control panel next to the door. It open a few inches and then stood ajar. Not-Shiro tossed the blaster on the floor and grabbed the door with his now free hand. He planted his feet on the floor in a steady stance and then pulled. His arm and legs started to tremble under the strain when the door finally started to move, inch by inch.

The hot feeling of a too close laser on Keith’s cheek made him look up and he saw the sentries heading their way.

“Crap!” Lance said through gritted teeth as he raised his bayard and returned fire.

Keith immediately took action and summoned his shield, big enough to cover both himself and Lance. Lance’s protection was now the most important thing. He could dash forward and discard of the enemies in close combat, but that would leave Lance wide open with no opportunity to take cover. So he stayed put and watched as Lance’s shots took down one sentry after another.

Next to him he heard the sharp intake of a breath. When he averted his gaze from the fight in front of him and looked to his left he saw that the door was now almost completely open. In front of the door was Not-Shiro, clutching his right thigh, his features scrunched up in a pained expression.

“Shiro, you okay?” Lance asked, eyes not moving from his targets.

“I’m not-” Not-Shiro started but was interrupted by another shot that hit the floor only inches from his feet. “I will get Shiro. Keep them busy,” he finished, seemingly assessing the injury as unimportant and quickly limped into the room.

Lance quickly moved and took cover behind the door, which finally gave Keith the opportunity to actively partake in the battle.

He dashed forward, shield still raised and activated his bayard. He ran straight into the first sentry and pushed him to the ground with some additional force of his jet pack. With one quick swipe of his bayard he cut through its metallic torso. One of the drones nearby raised their blaster and aimed for Keith’s head, but the Paladin ignored the threat, waiting for the familiar sound of a laser shooting through metal. When he lunged for the next sentry the former one, aiming for his head was struck down by one of Lance’s shots and slumped to the floor.

After a few more swipes and quick evasive maneuvers his bayard thrust through the last sentry’s middle. Keith turned around and made for the room Not-Shiro had disappeared in a few seconds prior.

Suddenly a loud crash erupted from the room. He heard glass breaking and the clattering of something metal falling to the floor. Panicked, he entered the room and stopped dead in his tracks when he arrived at Lance’s side.

There were several pods, similar to the one they’d found Not-Shiro in, two rows in total each consisting of five pods. They were all empty, except for the one Not-Shiro was confronting. This pod’s pane had been destroyed, purple liquid flooding the rooms floor around it. Inside the pod was a body, also held upright by tubes and cables connected to its head, back and arms. Arms, plural this time. The body had two arms, but they were both of flesh and blood. There was also no scar in the persons face.

It was also not a man in the pod. It was a child.

Keith watched frozen in place as Not-Shiro carefully stepped into the pod and lifted the small body into his arms. He balanced it on his right shoulder and tried to prop it with the stump of his right arm. With his left he ripped out the tubes and cables. “I’ve got you, little one,” Not-Shiro muttered, as he shifted the child to his left side and held him securely with his one arm. The child stirred and lifted one of his arms up in Not-Shiro’s tunic, holding on to it. The adult turned back to the two dumbfounded Paladins and walked towards them, still limping a little bit. “We can go.”

“Wait, what? B-but that’s… That’s a child. That’s not-” Lance stuttered before he seemed lost for any more words and fell silent. Not-Shiro looked at him with a confused look.

“What are you talking about? Of course, it is a child. What did you expect?”

What they’d expected? ‘A grown man, with a prosthetic arm, a scar across the face, an unmistakable white tuft on his head and some idea as to what the hell was going!’ is what Keith wanted to yell at the irritated man standing opposite him, but he couldn’t manage to make the words leave his mouth. Instead he stared at the small child, still frozen.

He wore the same prisoner garb as Not-Shiro and the small hand that clutched the fabric of the older man’s tunic trembled slightly. The short hair was black except for the white bangs, that almost reached the boy’s eyebrows.

He looked like Shiro, a younger, healthier version of him, but this was still wrong. It was wrong on a completely different level than it was with Not-Shiro. This was a child, a boy, barely older than four or five.

Keith stared at the child, trying to process what he saw, but no matter how he tried to make sense of this, he couldn’t. This wasn’t Shiro. And the one carrying the child wasn’t Shiro either.

He could only repeat one question in his head again and again. Why? Why did he never succeed? Why did he always fail, no matter how hard he tried?

With a crackle their comms came to live and the two Paladins were shaken out of their shock. “Guys, you really need to get out of there now! This is really not looking good,” Hunk’s nervous voice echoed through the line.

“Guys?” Pidge asked. When she got no answer she repeated her call with more force and honest concern in her voice. Lance collected himself first, just like he had the past few times in the last hour or so.

Keith really didn’t know how he did it.

“I- yeah. A-alright,” Lance stuttered in the comm and then jolted Keith out of his own trance. “We need to get going.”

Keith blinked a few times and finally tore his gaze from the child to look at Lance. The other Paladin looked as sickly as Keith felt.

He gave the other a shaky nod and then turned to the door to look down the hallway.

Calm down, he told himself and focused on the next few steps. They needed to get out of here in one piece and get back to the castle and then, as Lance and Allura had said, they could focus on the problem- problems in the room behind him.

He had hoped that after this mission the weight of being the leader, of having to make sure that each mission went smoothly without any major accidents, would finally be lifted from his shoulder. That he could return to being the Red Paladin, return to his Lion.

But that was not the case. In fact he somehow got the bad feeling that this weight would never be lifted from his shoulders until this war was over or he would fail in the worst way possible. And in hindsight of his record as of late, the latter seemed more probable to him.

No matter how hard he tried, he just couldn’t understand why Shiro chose him to be his successor.

As he looked down the hallway he could already hear the approaching footsteps of the sentries.

“Pidge, we could use some guidance now,” he said into his comm and turned to run the other way, away from the footsteps.

“On it,” came her quick answer, followed by instructions to turn left or right or keep straight on.

Once more in the heat of battle, Keith shut out all distractions that threatened to slow down his reaction time or reflexes. He fought his way through dozens of enemies, leaving behind hallways full of scrap metal, fully immersed in his mission that he almost missed it when Not-Shiro slowly fell behind. In a second of calm he dared to throw a quick glance over his shoulder and saw the boy stirring awake and slowly opening his eyes. When the duo came to a stop Lance nearly ran into them, avoiding them by mere inches.

“Hey, we need to keep moving,” Keith called back at them, barely able to restrain the quiver in his voice. They couldn’t lose any more time. The others had already risked enough because of their delay for this… kid.

At hearing his voice the boy perked up and turned to look at him. His eyes were the same dark color as Shiro’s. The same grey and the same glint.

Keith’s breath was caught in his throat and with every step getting closer to the two of them his eyes widened more and more. They were glistening with determination and confidence. Just like the ones he remembered and unlike the ones Not-Shiro had. But how was this possible? This was a boy, a small child. Why did he have Shiro’s eyes? Shiro’s glint?

He didn’t know how or what the Galra had done, but they’d done an even better job with this child than with the adult. Maybe older and with the same appearance as the Shiro that disappeared, he would’ve mistaken this one for the real one. At least that’s what he’d thought until the boy opened his mouth.

“Keith?”

The small voice echoed through hallway and for a short moment Keith forgot how to breath.

He knew his name. Why- how did this kid know his name?

“Are you okay?”

Keith jolted awake at the question but before he could even think to give the boy a verbal answer, Not-Shiro spoke up. The older man’s raspy voice stood out against the soft and high voice of the kid. “You know him?”

“Of course,” the boy said and then looked at Lance, pointing with a finger at the other Paladin, “and that’s Lance.” He looked up at the surprised face of Not-Shiro. “You mean, you don’t know them?”

Not-Shiro gave a hesitant shake of his head before the exchange was interrupted by a second blaring alarm, followed by a deep growling voice. “Initiate code Z. Commencing lockdown.” The voice dripped with almost palpable menace, although Keith was sure he still heard something akin to unease in its tremble. “The subject is not to be harmed or leave this ship under any circumstances.”

The conversation from before is immediately forgotten as the doors around them echo with audible beeps and were locked. “Wait. Lockdown?” Lance threw panicked looks between Keith and Not-Shiro, before his head snapped back and with a horrifying realization it became clear to them what the Galra had meant by ‘lockdown’.

They heard a loud metallic screech echoing through the hallway from behind and in front of them, as the walls slowly revealed massive metallic doors, closing at alarming speed.

“Crap,” Keith said barely louder than a whisper before he turned around and ran as fast as he could towards the closing door. The other two followed his example without him needing to say a word, racing next to him. As they ran, there was only one thought racing through Keith’s mind. Faster! But with every step they made towards the closing door it became clear that no matter how fast they ran, no matter what they’d do, they wouldn’t make it.

With a loud thud, the door closed, mere seconds before they reached it.

Keith panted, trying to catch his breath and let all of his frustration out on the door, banging against it with all his power. “Dammit!” he roared and his cry echoed through the now closed off hallway. From the corner of his eye he could see the boy in Not-Shiro’s arms flinching slightly at his outburst. On his other side stood Lance, who regarded the door with growing dread and continuously mumbling away on himself.

They were trapped. There was no way out. No vent, no window, nothing. Not from inside at least.

He calmed his breath and activated his comm once more. “Pidge, we’re trapped. We need you to get us out.”

There was a long silence, before he finally got an answer, but it was not Pidge who responded. “You are what?” Allura’s tense voice rang through the line.

“I can’t get you, Hunk and I are on our way back to the castle to get the Yellow Lion. They launched their fighters.”

“I’m on my way.” Keith could hear the faint sounds of a battle echoing through the comms, almost drowning out Allura’s voice.

He wanted to stop her, to tell her to wait for Pidge and Hunk, but before he could form the words his visor suddenly glided shut. He took a deep breath and realized with horror how hard it had been to breathe before. He’d barely noticed his breaths coming faster and more shallow, but now, that he could breathe normal again he looked around at his companions.

Lance’s visor was closed as well and he looked back at Keith with a confused expression, quickly replaced by realization, as he came to the same conclusion as Keith.

The Galra were draining the oxygen off the room, waiting for them to pass out.

The two Paladins swirled around to the other two with them in the room. The duo that each only wore a prisoner garb and had nothing like their helmets to protect them from hypoxia.

Not-Shiro was leaning heavily against the wall, his face damp with sweat and his already pale skin seemed to lose even more color with every second. In his arm Keith could see that the boy was in a similar state. He clung onto Not-Shiro’s tunic as if his life depended on it, his face tucked into the older man’s neck and breathing way too fast.

The last bit of strength seemed to leave the adult and he slumped to the floor, losing his grip on the boy. He slowly slid down from Not-Shiro’s lap, but held onto the fabric even as his small hands started shaking.

The two Paladins were at the other two’s sides immediately.

“Shiro!” The name slipped past his lips before he even realized it, but he didn’t care. No matter how many times he’d told himself that this wasn’t his Shiro, this man still had the same face as his friend and every vein in his body screamed, seeing him like this. “C’mon, you need to hold on!”

Next to him Lance was talking to the boy, trying to reassure him that everything was going to be okay. But looking at the Red Paladin's face Keith knew that he wasn’t even convincing himself with his words.

Keith looked back at Not-Shiro and saw the small trembles that ripped through the man’s body every few seconds. With a precarious hand Keith reached out and took the other man’s in his. It was trembling slightly and lay completely limb in his own. At the contact Not-Shiro slowly dragged his head higher so he could look Keith in the eyes through half-lidded eyes. To Keith’s surprise his eyes weren’t as empty and tired as before. There was something else in them. Fear and sadness, but also something akin to assurance. The trembling hand squeezed his own before going limp again and Not-Shiro’s gaze drifting away once more.

Keith looked at the man, stunned. The indication of what the other wanted to say was clear to the Paladin. Don’t worry. It’s going to be okay.

How could the man think of reassuring Keith when he was lying on the floor, slowly suffocating with no escape.

“Guys, you need to hurry! They’re draining the oxygen off the room and Shiro and the kid don’t have a helmet or mask to protect them,” Lance said through the comm with a shaky voice, accompanied with no small amount of panic.

“We’re on our way,” Pidge exclaimed.

“What kid?” Hunk asked and Keith could practically see his confused frown through the comm.

“We’ll explain later, just hurry!” And with that Lance suddenly took off his helmet and placed it on the kid’s head. Time seemed to slow down as Keith watched in horror as Lance’s breath picked up in speed and became shallower at an alarming rate.

“What the hell are you doing!” Keith exploded, grabbing Lance’s arm and shaking his friend as if trying to cast out the demon or whatever had possessed him to do something this stupid.

“He’s jus’…a kid,” Lance managed between quick breaths. “Needs it more…than me.”

Keith opened his mouth to retort and tell him what utter nonsense that was, but the kid beat him to it.

“No!” His small voice sounded ragged and strained, “Take it back, Lance. You need it more than I do. I can handle it. Please!” The last word was accompanied by a quiet sob and Keith realized that the kid was crying. There were tears streaming down his small cheeks. The boy reached out with his small hands and shook Lance vigorously, repeating his plea again and again. But when Lance only gave him a weak smile the boy seemed to understand that the Paladin wasn’t going to take the helmet back. The boy lifted his hands and tried to take the helmet off himself, but his small fingers fumbled uselessly and slipped off the material without success. He only stopped at his unrealizable task when a trembling hand lifted to rest on the helmet.

Not-Shiro looked at the kid with a similar expression as the one from before. And for some reason the boy calmed down. The sobs and hiccups lessened and soon enough abated completely. The two continued to look at each other as if having a silent conversation nobody else was hearing, when the ship suddenly started to shake.

Keith jolted up and whirled around to look at Lance again. The Red Paladin had a tired gaze, but there was still some alertness behind it and it told Keith that hadn’t imagined the rumbling of the floor. But what-

“How did she get out?” echoed Pidge’s panicked voice and only now did he notice the heated exchange the others had over the comms.

“She opened the hangar doors on her own,” answered Coran.

“Does that matter right now? What is she doing?” Hunk retorted.

“She’s charging at the ship,” Allura exclaimed.

“What’s going on out there?” Keith interrupted. They didn’t have time for any distractions. Not while Lance and Not-Shiro were slowly losing consciousness and if the Galra wouldn’t stop, they could soon be dead.

“It’s the Black Lion, she’s-”

The rest of Pidge’s sentence was drown out by a loud explosion as the wall opposite to Keith suddenly burst open and revealed the metallic mouth of the Black Lion. Keith stared at the gaping jaw before he grasped what had happened.

The Black Lion had come to rescue her Paladin. And for some reason he had the distinct feeling that she wasn’t here for him.

He quickly turned back around and saw that Lance and the boy were also looking at the Lion in shock, while Not-Shiro seemed to be on the verge of fainting. He grabbed the older man’s arm and flung it over his shoulder. Before he rose he threw the boy a resolute look and spoke, “Get inside, now!”

The boy hesitated and threw Not-Shiro a worried look, before he complied and headed towards the Lion. Lance stood wordless and grabbed Not-Shiro’s stump and helped Keith to lift the man.

He was about to protest and tell Lance to follow the boy inside, but the Red Paladin beat him to it.

“I’m okay. Just need to get to the Lion… right?”

Keith gave a disapproving grunt, but didn’t say anything while the two of them entered the Black Lion’s cockpit.

They had barely laid down Not-Shiro when the Lion already closed its mouth and started to move.

While Lance, the boy and Not-Shiro stayed in the back of the cockpit, Keith advanced to the pilot-seat in the front and sat down with a pant.

“Guys? We’re in the Black Lion, we’re safe.” A wave of relief rushed through him through their bond before he even heard the others’ shouts of joy.

“Time to get out of here,” he said and maneuvered Black towards their checkpoint. “Coran, prepare the infirmary.”

“Already done, Number Four,” came Coran’s quick response.

He could see the other Lions fast approaching his location, outrunning the Galra fighters and dodging their attacks. Within minutes the Galra were out of sight and Keith heaved a sigh of relief when the castle finally came into view.

They’d really made it and judging by the Black Lion’s reaction he may not have failed as much as he initially thought, even if he still had his doubts.

Chapter Text

The cryo pod closed with a hiss and Hunk watched as his best friend’s eyes slowly closed and he finally succumbed to sleep.

His gaze wandered to the second cryo pod next to Lance’s. Inside was another friend. A friend he hadn’t thought he’d ever see again, if he was completely honest. He’d hoped to see him again, yes, but a big part of him had already accepted the fact that he wouldn’t. He didn’t have Pidge’s or Keith’s confidence in the impossible or in this case the improbability of a friend, who vanished into thin air to still be alive.

But he was proven wrong, the evidence standing – or rather sleeping – right in front of him. He couldn’t belief they’d really found him, but it was him, Hunk had no doubts. He looked the same – apart from the missing arm and longer hair – he moved the same, and he had the same expression spreading across his face as the last time he’d been in a cryo pod. Even underneath the long hair Hunk could see him frowning.

“What’re we going to do now?” Pidge asked with a quiet voice from her place on the steps opposite to Lance’s pod.

The room was quiet. Everybody knew what she meant and nobody had an answer.

Because bringing back Shiro hadn’t been as easy as they’d thought it’d be. Yes, they’d known that getting in and out of the Galra ship would be difficult, but after that? They’d thought Shiro would take the lead once again but it became clear once he’d stepped – or rather, was carried – out of the Black Lion, that that’d been wishful thinking. Because Shiro’s return had been accompanied by two problems.

One was his amnesia. He didn’t remember anything. Not his team, not the Black Lion, not the castle and not even his name. Okay, that wasn’t quite right. He did remember his name, but not that it was his.

And that’s where the second problem, currently standing in front of Shiro’s pod, came in. The small boy’s hands were pressed on the pods pane and he looked up at the sleeping face of Shiro with an expression that was just wrong on a small child’s face. The fear and wariness had been apparent on the boy’s face since they’d exited the Black Lion. Even when Hunk had decided to carry the child when no one else had seemed to notice him slowly falling behind with his shorter legs, his gaze had stayed on Shiro the whole time. On top of that, he hadn’t said a single word yet.

The only thing they knew about the kid so far was that he’d been in a pod, like Shiro, that the two of them knew each other (and if the boys attachment was any indication, cared deeply about each other) and that his name was, strangely enough, also Shiro. But according to Lance and Keith the adult Shiro had said that his name was not Shiro and in all honesty, Hunk didn’t know what he should believe and what not anymore…

All that aside, Hunk had to admit that the boy looked like a smaller version of their friend. The face, the eyes, even the white tuft was the same. All in all he looked like a shrunken version of their friend, just with two arms and without the scar across his nose.

“They should be fully healed in a few vargas,” said Coran, pressing a few buttons on the console in the middle of the room. “We should use that time to all get some rest. This was a straining mission in…. more than one way.” The Altean threw a look at the boy, who still had his back turned towards them and watched their sleeping friend.

“Yes, I think that would be best,” Allura agreed. She turned to the boy and took a few steps towards him. She crouched down next to him and seemed reluctant for a few seconds, before she spoke in a calm voice, “Shiro?”

He made no motion that indicated that he heard her. In fact, Hunk was wondering if he even noticed her presence next to him, but then he turned to Allura, one hand still resting on the pane, and for the first time since Hunk had seen him, his expression changed. The wariness seeped away and the fear spread leaving just enough room for a bit of confusion. Then, with a voice so quiet and scared that Hunk almost overheard it, he asked, “What did they do to me?”

For a moment all you could hear were the ships engines.

They. Everyone in the room knew who he meant with they and as much as Hunk would love to say that the boy’s accusation was wrong, that it hadn’t been them, he couldn’t, because lying wouldn’t help anyone. Although he had to admit that it had helped him until now. He hadn’t wanted to think about Shiro being at the Galra’s mercy once more. Convincing himself from it had kept him calm and sane every time they’d started a new rescue attempt. And when they’d gotten the intel about the Galra ship, Hunk had prayed that it was once again a dead-end. Everywhere would have been better than with the Galra and now, with a small child and an amnesiac man in front of him, his fears had only been confirmed.

Allura was looking down at her hands that she was kneading in her lap now, clearly uncomfortable and at a loss with the question. “Allura?”

Hunk watched as the princess’ head snapped back up and she looked at the boy with wide eyes. The reactions of the others in the room were similar, as was Hunk's. How did he

“You know my name,” Allura whispered.

The boy looked between her and the others, clearly even more confused than before, until he settled to look at Allura once more. “Of course I do,” he said with an unsure voice, his frown deepening. Suddenly the confusion on his face was gone and all that was left was fear. He took a hesitant step back and looked back at Hunk and the others. “…Shouldn’t I?” he asked once he spotted Keith in the back of the room, his question leaving them in complete silence once more.

Hunk turned to watch Keith, only to see his teammate shift uncomfortably under the kid’s pleading eyes. “I–… I-it’s not…” he stammered and lowered his head as the white floor suddenly seemed to be very intriguing. It wasn’t unusual to see Keith lost for words, after all, he more often than not expressed his thoughts through his actions. Of course, fighting and living with three other teenagers and being the new Black Paladin had forced him out of his comfort zone bit by bit and he’d gotten better at words, but not an expert. Not by a long shot. But under the questioning and fearful gaze of the little child the Black Paladin seemed to be reduced to his former insecure self.

Hunk knew that this wasn’t going to end well. Not if nobody interfered.

The boy– Shiro, was scared and wanted answers. Answers they couldn’t give him. Not yet, anyway. They were all overwhelmed by the situation, tired from the strenuous rescue mission and–

Suddenly the uncomfortable silence was disrupted by a low rumble. Hunk’s head whirled back to the pod just in time to see the boy curling in on himself and balancing on his toes, clutching his stomach while his ears turned a bright red. The rumble slowly subsided and Hunk could only barely suppress a chuckle.

Well, that was one way to release the tension in the room.

“Sounds like someone’s hungry,” said Pidge, not bothering to hide her amusement. But when her stomach mimicked Shiro’s her snicker died down immediately and her cheeks turned a similar shade as Shiro’s ears.

“Alright, I can’t listen to this any longer. How about you all wait in the dining room while I whip up something to eat,” Hunk announced and quickly added before Coran could intervene, “I can handle it, in fact I could really use some cooking to blow off some steam.” He tilted his head slightly in Shiro’s direction and felt an inwardly wave of relief when Coran seemed to get the message and simply nodded.

“Do you need some assistance, Hunk?” Allura asked, raising to her full height.

“Thanks, but no,” Hunk quickly replied and hoped she would take the hint as fast as Coran did.

Of course she wouldn’t.

“Are you sure, you also were– ”

“I think it would be best if you would stay away from the kitchen, princess,” Coran interrupted. “Or do I have to remind you of your last attempt at cooking?”

Now it was Allura’s turn to blush. “I-I guess you’re right,” she endorsed quietly.

“In fact I could use some help in tidying up this mess. Number Four? Number Five? Why don’t you give me and the princess a hand, while Number Two and Number One prepare our meal.” It was not a question and at least Pidge seemed to grasp Coran’s intentions rather quickly, thankfully.

“Yeah, sure,” she said and stood.

Keith threw a few confused glances towards Hunk and Pidge, but seemingly decided to roll with it for now and ask questions later.

Hunk turned to Shiro and was surprised to see the boy standing upright, carefully following the conversation. The boy’s posture reminded him once more of their former leader, observing and assessing situations to find anomalies or resolve conflicts. The boy was definitely acting more mature than his tender four or five years.

“Hey Shiro, you coming with me?” Hunk waited for the boy to look at him, before he threw him a reassuring smile.

The kid hesitated a bit before he looked back up at the older man, sleeping in the pod. “But…”

“Don’t worry, we’ll be here when he wakes up, but for now we should try and do something about your empty tummy,” Hunk said jokingly and as if on cue Shiro’s stomach started to rumble again.

“Okay,” Shiro replied with a small voice and reluctantly walked towards Hunk.
Hunk sighed in relief. Problem evaded.

For now.

****

Hunk was cubing the vegetables and started adding them to the sauce in the pot, reducing the heat to keep it from burning in or the veggies from becoming squashy. While the sauce was boiling he could concentrate on the fixings. Several dips and spreads for his home-baked bread, which – eureka! – he finally had managed to not turn adamant after his many failed attempts the previous weeks. In the end the cause had been his flour replacement reacting with the water and turning to a clay-like substance that hardened in the oven.

Maybe they could use the failed attempts as ammunition or something…

His thoughts were interrupted when he heard an irritated huff behind him. He turned around to see Little Shiro – well, he had to distinguish the two of them somehow because it became really irritating to think of both of them as Shiro and until they would-or-could tell him to do otherwise, he would stick to his nickname – frowning at the bowl in front of him. Fortunately it wasn’t his I’m-deeply-contemplating-frown that he’d worn their whole way to the kitchen or his fearful and confused frown from the infirmary.

He hadn’t said a single word while Hunk had led him to their quarters to change into his civvies – they would have to find something for Little Shiro to wear too, he couldn’t stay in this prisoner garb, not under Hunk’s supervision! – and on the rest of the way to the kitchen. He didn’t want to be carried or hold hands. He’d just had this frown on his face and occasionally rubbed his head or let out a frustrated sigh, which actually was pretty adorable, but then Hunk had remembered where the kid had been until now and what was probably going through his head and the thought had died immediately.

None of them had any idea of what had happened on that ship before they’d gotten there to rescue the duo. Although Hunk had a pretty good idea as to what could have transpired. He wasn’t stupid, after all. They had two Shiro’s on their ship right now, and if the Galra hadn’t somehow discovered time travel and abducted a kid-Shiro or some other crap like that, it was pretty obvious that this was a serious case of cloning. And as if that wasn’t bad enough, no! They also somehow managed to wipe Shiro off his memories and took his arm!

The thought alone made Hunk’s aggravation return and he had to remind himself that he needed to pull himself together. At least until Little Shiro was taken care of and he and the others could finally have an overdue discussion.

“What’s up, buddy?” Hunk asked looking at the boy sitting on the kitchen island opposite him. He couldn’t hide the small smile that spread on his face when he saw the mess on the purple tunic. The bowl was clutched securely between his legs and he panted heavily as he restarted to stir the mixture.

“Nothing,” the boy panted.

“I can finish it, if it’s too taxing for you,” Hunk offered, but the boy made no move to take him up on it. Instead his stirring speed picked up and the bowl started to gradually slip out of his lap. Suddenly, Little Shiro’s arm jerked and the stirring spoon slipped out of his hand and sped through the air. The utensil landed on the floor a few feet away, leaving a trail of the spread Little Shiro had been stirring on the floor.

Hunk and Little Shiro stared at the spoon for a short while, until Hunk couldn’t hold it anymore and chuckled. He barely registered the quiet sobs of Little Shiro next to him at first. When he did, he immediately stopped chuckling and turned to the boy. Streams of tears were pouring down his cheeks. He was trembling and utterly distraught, sniffing and sobbing between hiccups.

Hunk stood, uncertain of what to do and what had caused this sudden surge of emotion in the child. Another sob woke him from his immobility.

“Hey, hey.” Hunk finally moved and came to the boy’s side. He hovered his hand over the small trembling shoulder, unsure if he should touch him or not. After another hiccup and a violent tremor passed through the small body before him he decided to forget all restraints.

As soon as his hand came to rest on the small shoulder, Little Shiro’s back went stiff and he hurriedly tried to wipe away his tears. The result was a tear- and snot-stained face plus a pair of puffy red-rimmed eyes. Though the tears had stopped, the trembling had not.

Hunk made a small step to the side in order to look Little Shiro in the eye, but the boy evaded his gaze and turned to look at the bowl in his lap instead, still sniffling and with bright red ears.

“Hey, what’s wrong?” Hunk tried, but Little Shiro kept his gaze downward to the bowl with an intense concentration. Almost so intense that Hunk worried he might stare a hole through the bowl and the spread would adorn the island and Little Shiro’s legs instead of the dedicated bread. He deliberately seemed to ignore Hunk’s question.

“You can talk to me, buddy,” Hunk reassured him and waited patiently for a reaction.

The boy’s face scrunched up once more and Hunk feared he would cry again, but instead his shoulders slumped slightly and he mumbled, “You wouldn’t understand.”

Probably not, Hunk thought, but he couldn’t just ignore Little Shiro’s obvious distress. He rubbed his hand in circles over the boy’s small back and felt him relax a bit more. “I wouldn’t be so sure about that. I’ve witnessed some crazy stuff out here in space and I’ve got at least ten years on you,” Hunk retorted and hoped for his casual tone to calm Little Shiro more.

The boy looked up at him with an incredulous expression. “No you don’t?” It was probably meant as a statement, but the way he pronounced it he didn’t seem so sure of the fact himself.

“How old are you?” Hunk asked then.

“I’m tw– ” He stopped abruptly, his mouth snapping shut and forming a thin line and thinking hard before he continued, even quieter than before. “I’m almost five.”

“I see,” Hunk quipped, then, with a more gentle voice continued, “So, what’s eating you up?”

“It’s just…” he trailed off and his eyes wandered back to the bowl, but instead of the former stare he was just looking at it with a tired expression. “I’m confused.”

Hunk looked at the boy with sympathy. “Me too, buddy. But it’s going to be okay. Once Shiro wakes up, we’re going to find some answers,” – hopefully, he added in thought, trying to convince himself with his words. “For now, all we have to do is make sure that this little guy– ” he poked Little Shiro’s stomach with his index finger “ –is getting some food and that you get some rest afterwards. It’s been a long day, for all of us.“

Little Shiro let out a weak giggle at the nudge and looked back up at Hunk and when the smile on the boy’s face stayed a few seconds longer than before, Hunk inwardly gave a cheer of triumph.

“Let’s get this finished then.”

****

Dinner passed without any major incidents, although Hunk didn’t miss how Little Shiro tried to make himself as small as possible on his already too big seat. The frown had once again found its way back on his face and besides some small glances, he kept his eyes on his plate or his lap.

Of course Hunk knew that some silly fooling around while cooking wouldn’t make all the stress and confusion of the day disappear, but it still hurt to see the insecurity creeping back into the boy’s attitude during their meal.

Some of the team – mainly Coran and Hunk himself – tried to lift the mood, but it was fruitless. While Pidge and Allura at least gave some responses to their efforts, Keith was silent throughout the whole time and Little Shiro only gave one-word replies, if any.

Keith was the first to leave the room, food barely touched and saying he was tired. He probably was, but Hunk was positive that it wasn’t the only reason he left early. Since they’d returned to the castle, Keith had been particularly quiet. Hunk was surprised that was even possible, but as he could see now, apparently it was.

Pidge was the next who fled the room as soon as everyone else was finished, muttering about some important work she apparently had to attend to. Now it was only Hunk, Allura, Coran and Little Shiro left in the dining room.

The boy was fighting a losing battle against sleep and with every passing second it seemed that his will to fight was fading more and more. Coran volunteered to take care of the dishes, which allowed Hunk and Allura to look for some clothes for Little Shiro.

Hunk and Little Shiro made their way to Shiro’s quarters and waited for Allura to arrive with the spare clothes. When they’d waited for ten more minutes and Allura was still nowhere to be seen, Hunk eventually ran out of things to babble about. Thankfully, after a few minutes Little Shiro broke the silence that had ruled over the room.

“When will he wake up?”

It took Hunk a total of zero seconds to know who he was talking about. He looked down at the boy, currently sitting on the edge of the bed and with a soft smile he answered, “In a few hours. Lance will wake up soon too, so it can’t be that long until Shiro wakes up.”

Little Shiro nodded and laid down on top of the covers on Shiro’s bed. He gripped the soft material and tucked it closer to his face. “I’m gonna sleep now. You can leave the clothes in front of the door,” he mumbled and closed his eyes.

“Um…,” Hunk started, but Little Shiro’s muffled yawn made him stop. The boy seemed to already be asleep. He scrunched his nose and then burrowed his face deeper into the covers.

With a sigh Hunk quietly stepped out of the room and closed the door.

Only a few minutes later Allura rounded the corner with a pile of clothes in her arms. When she saw Hunk outside the room she slowed down and threw him a worried glance. “Is everything alright?”

“Yeah, he was just really tired. Said we should leave the clothes out here and immediately dozed off.” He gave her a weak smile.

“Hunk, I meant if you were alright?” Allura emphasized with a stern look.

“Oh… Yeah, it’s just, really…” He sighed and slumped his shoulders, “Really confusing.” He laughed weakly at the irony of his choice of words. Hadn’t Little Shiro said the exact same thing? He couldn’t even begin to understand how overwhelming the situation had to be for a four year old child. In hindsight it was no surprise that the boy was so quiet and distant towards them.

Allura lowered the pile and looked at him with glum eyes. “Yes, I know what you mean.”

“Whatever they did to him – them – we’re going to find a solution, right?” Hunk knew that they would do everything they could, they always did, but he needed to hear someone else say it. This was so much more than just liberating a planet or rescuing prisoners. This was about a friend and team member and they couldn’t fail here.

Allura lowered her gaze. “I have never seen anything like this. I cannot promise you something I don't know if I can keep, but if there is any way to revert whatever they did, we will find it.” She locked her eyes once more with his, her gaze vibrating with fierce determination. “And if we can’t, then the Galra will regret it to ever have laid a hand on him.”

A chill ran down Hunk’s spine. He tried to swallow the lump in his throat as he watched Allura placing the clothes on the floor next to the door, her demeanor reverting to the usual composure she always portrayed.

“Now, I think Lance will soon wake up. Shall we go to the med bay and wait there?”

“Sure,” Hunk replied after he finally, successfully, got rid of the lump and followed her down the hall.

Chapter Text

Lance had his legs up on the soft cushions, while his head was propped up on a fluffy pillow. He was tired, very tired, but sadly he wouldn’t get to sleep until they had discussed a certain matter.

Said matter was about what they’d found on their rescue mission, which, as Lance quickly discovered after waking up in the cryo-pod, had not been a dream. Not the mission and not the two Shiro’s.

Neither was the almost-suffocating nor the rare sight of Keith.exe stop working several times.

But that was unimportant, because there were more important things to think about right now.

“And where is he now?” Lance asked and watched as Hunk took a seat next to him.

“He’s sleeping in Shiro’s room,” Allura answered. She threw another look at the door and sighed. “I do not understand what they could possibly gain from any of this?”

“Whatever this is,” Lance replied.

“That’s not important. They’re safe as long as they’re here, so let’s focus on fixing it.” Keith said, arms crossed over his chest.

“How is that not important?” Lance asked and sat upright. “In order to fix it, we need to know what ‘it’ is!”

“I can tell you what ‘it’ is,” Keith said and stood. “Two imposters of which one is a little kid and the other doesn’t even remember his own name! A clear case of some kind of cloning or cyborg crab. What else do you need to know?”

“Imposters?” Lance retorted incredulously. “How can you even say that?”

“How can you believe that one of these two… things is Shiro!”

“Keith,” Allura intervened before the situation could get out of hand, “I understand that this is more than confusing, but we have to at least listen to what Shiro has to say when he wakes up. We can’t just jump to conclusions.”

Keith made a step towards Allura, ready to carry his point, but was interrupted by Pidge, who stood in the door with her laptop in her hands. “They’re not really jumping to any conclusions. They’re both not completely wrong with their assertions.”

“What?” Keith asked and crossed his arms over his chest again.

“I mean that you’re both not wrong,” Pidge replied walking over to them and sitting down next to Hunk. “While you were looking for Shiro I searched their systems for some information and found some interesting files. I couldn’t get everything before they noticed us, but I think I was able to download some important files. It was pretty tricky to find a loophole in their system to actually get access to the files, but after I–”

“Um… Pidge?” Lance interrupted her rambling, whereupon Pidge looked up from her laptop. She looked at him for a few seconds, before she finally noticed the eager looks from the others.

“Oh, right, sorry. Back to what I wanted to say. I found this file in their system. I’m not completely sure what it is about yet, but as far as I understood it’s about some sort of genetic experiment. I think it’s not too farfetched to include the possibility of cloning in our current situation.” She made a short break and readjusted her glasses, probably waiting for some kind of surprised exclamations, but to no avail. It was merely a confirmation of what Lance had already suspected. And judging by the reactions of the others, they had too.

“What else did you find?” Allura asked.

Pidge looked back down at her laptop and started typing again. “Not much. I didn’t have enough time to download everything and I wasn’t able to read through everything I did manage to yet.”

“If you need a second pair of eyes, just say the word,” Hunk offered while his eyes already started to skim over whatever was on the display of her laptop.

“So, we’ve got two clones, okay, but why is one of them a kid? Doesn’t seem like they were very successful with their experiment,” Lance said, making air quotations at the last word.

“I don’t think they really failed,” Pidge said. “According to this data they have succeeded with at least one clone.”

“And where is that one?”

Pidge looked at him and shrugged. “We’re going to have to read through the rest of the files, before I can say anything for sure. I don’t want to make random assumptions.”

“How about we stop thinking about these clones and start looking for the real Shiro?” Keith said through gritted teeth. His shoulders were tense and his fingers were gripping his sleeves with such force that his knuckles were white.

Lance could only guess what was going through Keith’s head right now. The whole situation was hard enough for himself to fully grasp and his relationship with Shiro was only based on the time they’d spend together as teammates. But Keith had known him way longer. That's for sure.

And Lance could see how this fact made him biased. He didn’t think about the many hints and facts they had already been able to gather. He just saw two people who weren’t his friend and that was it for him. No room for debate.

But that wouldn’t stand. If Keith didn’t want to think about the different possibilities in this case, then Lance would make him think about it. Or at least, he would try.

“And what makes you that certain that we don’t already found the real one?” Lance asked, hoping for Keith to really consider this.

They may not have any confirmations that they did, in fact, have the real Shiro, but until they had they couldn’t just ignore that possibility.

“Because one of them is a little kid and the other one has amnesia and thinks that the kid is the real one!” Keith shot back with a strained voice. “I can’t believe I even have to say it out loud for you. None of these two things is Shiro!” His voice had grown in volume to the point where he was yelling. He looked at them with an angry and distraught expression. Then, with quick steps, he stormed out of the room.

“Keith, wait!” Allura tried to call after him, but in vain. Keith was already out the door and probably even out of ear shot, considering his pace.

“Oh man,” Hunk whispered with an unsure voice and looked at the closed door, Keith had gone through, “shouldn’t anyone go after him? I mean, what if he…” He trailed off and let his eyes wander over the team. Lance knew what he was afraid of and he would be lying if he claimed he wasn’t worried as well, but Keith wasn’t that impetuous. He wouldn’t do anything rash.

Right?

“No, leave him be,” Allura replied. “He may be agitated, but he is still a Paladin of Voltron. I trust him not to do anything impulsive,” she said, her tone firm. “And we still have some matters to discuss.” Her expression morphed back into one of complete seriousness.

“I am calmed to know at least one of our two friends is…only…a clone and not some kind of trick or mind game by the Druids, but still, amongst many questions I have, I wonder how the little one knows my name.”

Why indeed? How did this small child know Lance’s, Keith’s and Allura’s–

Wait.

“He knows your name as well?” Lance asked surprised.

“What do you mean ‘as well’?” Allura asked in return, equally taken aback.

“Back on that ship he called me and Keith by our names,” he answered.

“Did he hear you say each other’s names or Allura’s?” Pidge inquired.

“No, it was right after he woke up, after we got him out of that pod.”

Lance had been taken aback when that little hand had pointed at him and the boy had said his name.

“That is all the more worrying,” Allura said and crossed her arms over her chest. “We should definitely question him as soon as he wakes up in case he knows more.”

“Wait a minute. He’s just a kid! You make it sound like he’s a criminal or our enemy!” Lance exclaimed.

“It’s not that farfetched to think like that, Lance,” Pidge said and looked at Lance. “Something is definitely off about him. He knows your names, probably the rest of ours too, wasn’t fazed or surprised by the Lions or the castle ship in the slightest and he seems to be completely okay with aliens.” She gestured towards Allura and Coran. “If I would suddenly wake up on an alien ship with giant alien cats flying through space and some strangers knowing my name, I wouldn’t be half as calm as he is,” she concluded with a set expression.

Lance shot her an angry look back. He couldn’t really say that much about the kid, after all he had been asleep in the cryo-pod until thirty minutes ago, but he could still remember how frantic the boy had been when he’d taken off his helmet. He couldn’t imagine that the Galra would care for a clone to react like that. “He’s still just a kid. We shouldn’t treat him like that. Not until we really know what’s going on.”

“I’m with Lance on this one. I don’t know what you saw, but he didn’t seem calm to me at all,” Hunk said and started fidgeting with his hands. “He had a serious breakdown in the kitchen, which I still don’t even know why and at dinner he was super quiet and barely interacted with anyone, his food included. And it wasn’t some I’m-spying-you-out kind of quiet but more like an I’d-really-rather-be-somewhere-else-right-now kind of quiet.”

“That doesn’t change the fact that he poses a danger to us as long as we don’t know who or what he is and what his mission is,” Allura said with a now calmer voice as she let her arms fall to her sides. “I want to do this as much as you two, but before we can start to act in any way we need more information. We can’t just jump in head first. I am still holding onto what I promised you, Hunk, but as I said, I can’t just turn a blind eye to this, just because he is a child.”

“Well, you won’t get any support from me,” Lance said decisively.

Allura let out a soft sigh and let her shoulders fall. Clearly, she wasn’t happy with her decision either, but if she went through with it, Lance sure as hell wasn’t going to help. Whatever the Galra had planned with the clones, Voltron had interrupted those plans the moment they’d freed the two of them.

“Pidge, Hunk, if you find anything important, let me know immediately. Once both of our guests awake we can ask them some questions,” Allura said after some moments and with that turned to leave the room.

Lance leaned back against the soft cushions of the sofa and closed his eyes. He was beat. The last day had been tiring and his following stay in the cryo-pod and the now strained atmosphere was taking its toll on him and he hoped to get a little shut-eye.

But the universe apparently didn’t want to give him a break. Before Allura had even left the room, the door swooshed open and a panting Keith appeared. Lance was back up on his feet, before Keith had even said a single word, but when he did, he was sure he wouldn’t get his nap for quite a while.

“The kid, he’s gone.”

Chapter Text

The door closed with a quiet whoosh and left the room in an eerie darkness.

Hesitantly, Shiro opened his eyes and looked around his room. Or rather, tried to. He couldn’t see all that much through the thick layer of darkness. He quickly squeezed his eyes back shut and scrambled underneath the blanket.

After a moment, he peeked out from under his cover and watched with growing trepidation as the shadows slowly began to move. The big shadow at the other end of the room, which he knew was the door to his bathroom, suddenly grew and morphed into a giant moving glob of something. Long and boney fingers reaching out to him. Little spots of darkness crawling over the walls of his room, growing bigger and drawing nearer to him the longer he looked at them.

He was scared.

He knew that he was safe here. Here in his room. In the castle. But his mind still told him to hide and run. To get away from the monsters.

He startled when suddenly a muffled voice cut through the silence. It was a female one. Allura, his mind concluded, though he didn’t know how or why he knew her name.

A second voice, Hunk, answered Allura. Shiro listened to their voices and tried to calm down with their help. He squeezed his eyes shut and pulled the blanket over his head once more.

I’m not alone, I’m not alone, I’m not alone, I’m not alone. He repeated the words in his head over and over and slowly but surely the trembling of his body subsided.

He listened to Allura and Hunk’s conversation, disregarding the meaning of their words and solely concentrating on the sound of their voices. The trembling was almost completely gone, when their voices suddenly grew quieter.

No, please, don’t go! Shiro begged, but he couldn’t bring himself to say the words out loud. He shouldn’t be dependent on their presence. It just didn’t feel right. Just like it hadn’t felt right to cry in front of Hunk. Just like it hadn’t felt right to struggle so much with the simple task of stirring some stupid spread.

Just like he didn’t feel right.

He was left in the silence of his dark room, the trembling of his small limbs returning. But he couldn’t move. Despite how scared he was, moving would mean to leave his safe place under the blanket, revealing himself to the horrors waiting in the shadows.

But if he made it just outside his room, he would be safe. There he could find his friends, the other paladins. They would protect him. He was sure of it.

Slowly he opened his eyes again and lifted the blanket a tiny bit, so he could peek into the dark room once more. Faintly he could make out the light framing the door to his room. He took a deep breath, waited a few beats and then mustered up all his courage and leapt off the bed and to the door. With a quiet swish it opened and he ran out into the lit hallway to the opposite wall. Still clutching his blanket tightly he watched the dark room warily. It seemed like an eternity passed until the door finally closed again and trapped all the shadows on the other side.

Shiro ignored the pile of clothes that laid right next to the door and immediately set off down the hallway. He didn’t dare to get near the door, afraid it would open again, leaving him defenseless against the shadows. He slung his blanket around his shoulders and turned right at the next junction.

Without any real goal he walked through the gigantic hallways. The white walls rose up high into the distance where they eventually faded into darkness. He couldn’t make out the ceiling, wasn’t even sure if there was a ceiling, but something told him that yes, there was one.

He continued looking up at the high ceiling, wondering how he knew that. He wondered how he knew who the paladins were, that they were his friends and that he could trust them. For him it seemed normal to know them, it seemed right, but their reactions told him different.

They clearly didn’t know him.

With small steps he made his way further into the castle. He came across countless rooms. The kitchen he’d been in earlier with Hunk, the training room, one of the many rec rooms. He walked onwards realizing that he had no idea where he actually was. But for some reason he stayed calm. Because he didn’t know where he was, but he knew where he was going. He knew that behind the next corner would be the hangars, and after that would soon follow the cells. Somewhere between the names of the paladins and the scary violet fluids and lights was the information he needed to navigate the castle ship.

Before he rounded the next corner he stopped and listened into the silence.

Maybe he was paranoid – which he definitely was, considering the frantic escape only minutes prior from his room – but he was sure he heard a faint clicking noise not far behind him.

It could have been the castle, after all he could hear the whirring of the ship's engine even now, but it sounded different. The castle made low and almost calming noises, but the noise from before sounded like–

There it was again.

Clutching his blanket tighter around himself Shiro ran to the wall closest to him and cowered down, pulling the rest of the blanket over his head. There he waited, praying for whatever had made that sound to go away and to leave him alone.

He knew that it wasn’t what he should do. He should stand up and search for the source of the noise and then either take care of it or tell the others. At least that was what He would do. It was what He already had done several times in his life, but He also had more courage than Shiro did.

And Shiro wasn’t Him. He was sure of it. Because it didn’t make any sense for Shiro to be Him. Even though his memories told him different.

Because in his memories there was no small child, afraid of shadows. In his memories there was an adult man, with a weaponized arm and unafraid of seemingly anything.

But his memories also felt so surreal. He didn’t know if he should even trust them.

So instead of listening to the faint voice in his head, telling him to take action, he listened to the louder voice – the one that had told him that it was okay to let Hunk carry him because he was too tired or to cry because he was confused and his head hurt and that now told him that it was okay to hide because he was scared.

Caught up in his own head and his fear, Shiro hadn’t realized that the source of the clicking noise had become so close that it was right next to him. Suddenly there was a cold and tingling touch at his bare feet. A scream tore from his throat and he scattered away as far as he could, until his back hit the wall and he had nowhere else to go. He curled up further, gripping the blanket tighter with his trembling hands.

“Go away!” He screamed, his small voice echoing through the empty hallway, followed by hiccups and sobs.

He couldn’t take this anymore. Like a dam that finally broke, his tears spilled over and rolled down his cheeks, right into his blanket. His small body wrecked with sobs when he felt the cold and tingling sensation again. Only this time it wasn’t just one, but four of them. Before he could react in any way there was a small squeak. His breath hitched and he was quiet for a small moment. More squeaks followed the first one and suddenly he knew what was tingling at his feet. Just as before, with the paladins, his mind just knew who found him and was trying to cheer him up in their own ways.

Still, he was cautious when he opened his eyes and slowly lifted his blanket over his head, keeping the rest of his body safely covered.

And just as he’d thought, there at his feet sat the four mice, Allura’s small and furry friends. As if the reveal of his head had been enough of a permission, one of the mice, Platt, if he remembered correctly, clambered up his leg and arm and then settled down on his shoulder, snuggling into his cheek. Shiro let out a watery giggle at the tickling of Platt’s whiskers against his skin.

Quickly, Shiro wiped away his tears and snot with his sleeve. “I’m sorry I yelled at you,” he said quietly and started to relax a bit, knowing that he wasn’t alone anymore and in good hands. After all, the mice were smarter than most gave them credit for.

“Can you help me?” he asked the remaining mice on the floor. “I’m looking for my-” He stopped, thinking his question over once more before saying it out loud.

He wanted to go to his friends, because he was tired and scared. Yes, the mice were here and while he was eternally grateful for that, he was also still unable to calm down completely. And his friends would be able to amend his fear. But even if he wanted to go to them, there was a feeling deep inside him telling and urging him to not go to them. No, he had to go towards that pull inside him. He knew he would feel safest following that feeling. He didn’t know how or why he knew, but like so many other things lately he just did.

The voice that had been so faint until now became louder and louder, telling him that not even his friends could give him what he longed for most right now.

Safety. Warmth. Home.

No. The only one that could give him what he sought was the man that rescued him.

The man that he felt so secure with, as if they belonged together. The man who looked a lot more like the man in his memories than Shiro himself.

“I’m looking for my friend,” he said, voice firm and sure. “Can you take me to the infirm’ry?” He blushed a little at his stumble upon the word, but the mice understood him nonetheless. Plachu motioned immediately for him to follow. Quickly, the rest of the mice settled down on his other shoulder and head while Plachu led the way.

The mouse was fleet on their little feet, guiding Shiro through the long hallways of the castle ship. With quick steps, Shiro followed Plachu around another corner coming to a stop in front of a closed door. Waiting for a few seconds, he quickly realized that the door wasn’t programmed like the others in the castle. It stayed firmly shut, blocking their entrance to the room behind.

“What now?” he asked, his small voice resounding loudly in the long hallways.

Suddenly, Chuchule and Chulatt scurried down along his arms and legs and together with Plachu disappeared in the vent near the door. Shiro followed the three to the vent and knelt in front of it, peeking inside and seeing the mice waving at him.

“I can’t follow you in there. I’m too big,” he said and watched as the three mice turned and disappeared in the darkness.

Huffing, Shiro sat back up and stayed there on his knees. Looking at Platt, who was still lying on his left shoulder and looked back at him with an untroubled gaze, he said, “Guess that means we have to wait.” With a squeak Platt etched closer to his cheek and made himself comfortable once more.

It didn’t take long for Shiro to start shifting on the floor and shuffling closer to wall. He knew it was unreasonable to think that anything would happen to him in the castle ship, but he couldn’t help himself. He just couldn’t let go of that bad feeling he had whenever he was alone and in the quiet for too long. Now, with his back to the wall and not out in the open anymore he felt safer.

After only a few more seconds the giant door suddenly opened. With a muffled squeak, Shiro jumped up and away from the door. When nothing emerged out of the room after a few more moments he slowly edged closer to the door and peeked around the corner.

There on the floor only a few feet away from him sat the three mice, waving happily at him and jumping up and down. A look past the mice showed the reason for their joy and celebration. The room they had opened was none other than the infirmary. And in the back of the room, in an activated cryo-pod, was the man the voice in Shiro’s head had demanded he find.

“Thank you,” he said absentmindedly, thoughts already drifting away from his four little companions.

Before his mind could fully react, his body started moving, short legs carrying him towards the cryo-pod, almost tripping over the blanket pooling down on the floor.

Once he reached the pod he lifted his arms, small hands reaching out towards the glass separating them. The two voices in his head quieted down, becoming a silent hum in the back of his mind that he could easily ignore. The only thing that he was consciously aware of was the need to be near that man. It felt right, like he belonged here. As much as everything had felt wrong before, it now felt right.

With a low hiss, the pod opened up, cold steam dissipating in the air. When the man in the pod stepped forward and with a thud landed on his knees, Shiro took a few steps back, making room.

The man had barely opened his eyes, when Shiro launched himself at him, the need for safety and protection finally too much. One arm closed around him, keeping him close and burying him in an embrace that felt like home. He snuggled into the warmth, burrowing his head into the man’s neck. Feeling the exhaustion and fatigue catching up with him, he closed his eyes, not even thinking of the shadows and creatures hiding in them.

The last thing he heard before he finally let sleep take him over was a whisper, softly spoken into his hair.

“I’ve got you, little one.”

Chapter Text

The small body in his arm slowly but surely settled down. Within a few seconds the boy had calmed and drifted off to sleep, arms going slag and only barely holding onto him anymore.

He stayed still for a short moment, gathering his thoughts and relishing the moment of finally being reunited again. He hadn’t quite realized how much it had ached to be apart from the boy until he held him close once again. A calm sort of relief he couldn’t explain settled over him and he let out a small sigh into the boy’s soft hair.

He was glad Shiro was safe once again. The terrified face staring back at him on that ship had haunted his dream in the pod. It had awoken a faint unknown feeling inside him that he couldn’t quite place, but knew he had to listen to. It told him- no, screamed at him to protect and keep the boy close.

It was that feeling that had made him ignore his nagging fear when he’d first awoken, those two strangers getting too close and being too loud. When they had tried to take him away from Shiro he’d felt the panic in him rising, threatening to overwhelm his urge to go find and save the boy.

And now that they were together again, he knew why. He couldn’t remember ever feeling this calm and whole. Well, to be completely honest, he didn’t remember much from before waking to these people saving him and Shiro anyway. The thing he did remember though was pain. Pain and confusion as his vision had slowly filled with purple and his head with a numbing and impervious fog.

A fog that remained to be cleared.

The boy stirred in his arm, his little hands tightening once again where they tried to get a hold of the dark bodysuit he was wearing, returning him back to the present. With a quick glance he made sure that Shiro was still asleep and then turned his gaze up to take in his surroundings.

He was in a big circular room, bright lights almost blinding him. There wasn’t much else to catch his attention. Except for the pod behind him and a console in the center, the room was mostly empty. When his gaze travelled to the console, he noticed the four little balls of fur jumping up and down, trying to get his attention. Looking more closely, he faintly recognized them as mise, though the unnatural colors of their fur made it hard to do so at first.

He slowly stood, carefully making sure that Shiro wouldn’t topple out of his arm and onto the hard floor below. When he reached the end of the few steps, he regarded the mice for a second longer. They stopped their jumping and now watched them with the same curious look he felt on his own features. It almost felt as if they were assessing him.

A quick glance at the console one of the mice was standing on made him realize that they must have been the one to release him from the pod. After another stir from the boy in his arm it wasn’t hard to put one and one together and conclude how Shiro had found him in this unknown place.

“Thank you for bringing him to me,” he told them, feeling genuinely grateful. He still didn’t know where his rescuers had taken them, only that they’d saved him and Shiro and healed his injuries. The graze on his leg was gone and the exhaustion he’d felt after escaping from that trap was also gone, though it was replaced by a different kind of fatigue. One that he was sure would be gone with a good night’s sleep.

In response the mice seemed to finally finish their assessment, apparently deeming him as safe. At least that was how he interpreted it when one of them climbed up his leg and settled down on his arm next to Shiro.

Suddenly one of the mice perked up, their ears starting to twitch, before it scurried down the console and towards the door. It opened almost soundlessly and then the mouse was out of sight. For a moment, he couldn’t help but frown at the action, but then again, he’s never seen mice like these ones before, so who was he to judge. Maybe this behavior was normal for them.

Watching the dark corridor before the door closed, he was made aware again of the fact that he had no idea where they were. None of their two rescuers were anywhere to be seen. He could faintly remember more faces before he’d been placed into the pod, but nothing beyond that. He needed to find some answers as to where they were and what had happened while he’d been healing.

Securing his hold on Shiro, he set out to follow the mouse out onto the hallway and do some exploring, when the door suddenly opened again before he’d even reached the steps.

In the doorway stood a man in an almost completely blue uniform with fiery red hair and a mustache. At first the man’s build and appearance reminded him of a character from one of those old space movies. Then his eyes caught the other man’s ears and suddenly the comparison didn’t feel so farfetched anymore. They were pointy in a way that was decidedly not human, but also not so much as to stand out. At least not as much as his purple eyes or the marks on his cheekbones did.

The probably-not-a-human’s gaze caught his own and his features softened, a light smile tugging at his mouth when his eyes wandered down and landed on the sleeping Shiro.

“Ah, there’s the lad,” he said, calmly entering the room completely and walking towards the two of them. When the stranger didn’t stop after reaching the stairs and instead kept on walking towards the duo, he made a hesitant step backwards, to keep some distance between himself and the orange haired being.

Sure, the other hadn’t attacked them or showed the slightest inclination to do so, but still. They were in a room he didn’t know, inside whatever this was with a stranger coming closer and closer to him. One would think that he was getting used to not knowing what was going on, since he didn’t even know his own name, but that wasn’t important to him, as long as Shiro was safe. What was important was the orange haired stranger with them in the room.

Finally, the stranger seemed to catch onto his wariness and stopped dead in his tracks at the other end of the small circle in the center of the room.

“Pardon me,” the stranger said another on of those gentle smiles. “I didn’t want to frighten you. The paladins mentioned that you wouldn’t remember anything.” He waited for a moment before quietly continuing, “it seems they were right.”

For a short moment the expression crumpled and the other let out a soft sigh, before regaining his composure. “My name is Coran. I’m the advisor to the royal family of Altea and as such you may ask me any question you might have. Considering the circumstances, I bet you have many.”

Coran barely stopped long enough to let him respond with a curt nod, before he proceeded. “As much as I want to answer all your questions right now, I’m afraid there are five very distraught paladins searching for the lad here,” he pointed down at the boy, “and I would like to inform them that he’s safe. So, if I may,” Coran trailed off and gestured at the console where the mice were still following their conversation with rapt attention and, suddenly, he felt his cheeks burn the slightest bit. Because as much as his action to back away from Coran before had been reasonable, he now understood that the other had only wanted to reach the console, not the two of them.

“Sure,” he quickly answered when he realized that Coran was still waiting for his consent.

He stepped forward and reached the console with a few more steps. After pressing some buttons in quick succession, he began to speak. “Paladins, I found him and I can assure you he’s safe and sound.”

There were exclamations of relief thrown in disarray, barely distinguishable, but he managed to filter out a thank god and a finally somewhere in between. Then one voice remained and spoke, “Coran, do you need assistance? Where are you?” The voice sounded female and the manner of speech strongly reminded him of Coran’s.

“There’s no need for your involvement, princess. I’m certain I can handle a little boy and his companion myself.”

“His companion? You mean he’s woken up?”

“Yes, but as I said, I can handle this. You all can go and take a rest. You’ve more than earned it.”

“But–” A male voice this time, though he had no idea who it belonged to.

“No buts, Number Four,” Coran interjected. “Rest.”

Then he pressed another button and the voices cut off all at once.

“Now, what do you say we find some new clothes for you and then get settled somewhere more comfortable to talk a bit?”

That made him take a look at his clothes and for the first time since he awoke, he realized that he was still wearing the dark suit. The ripped tunic had been removed sometime during his unconsciousness and left him in nothing but the dark bodysuit he’d worn since he first woke up.

He looked back up at Coran and gave him a nod. Getting some more comfortable clothes that didn’t remind him of his imprisonment sounded nice.

***

It didn’t take them long to find some clothes for him to wear. A plain white shirt and a pair of gray sweatpants was quickly rustled up, though not nearly as quickly put on. He didn’t want to let go of Shiro for even a short moment, but in the end Coran managed to convince him to give the boy to him for the few minutes it would take him to change and take a quick shower.

His hair was still soaking wet when Shiro was finally deposited into his arm once again and the tenseness in his chest slowly let up.

“You care deeply about him, don’t you?” Coran commented while they navigated the giant hallways.

He gave an absent nod before posing a question of his own. “Where are we?”

“The castle of lions,” Coran answered without missing a beat.

“A castle?” He couldn’t quite reign in his surprise at that. He’d suspected it was something special, considering the high technology and the strange architecture, but a castle had not been one of his guesses.

“Yes, but I think calling it a ship would be more fitting nowadays. After all, its last use as a castle has been a very long time ago.”

A ship and a castle in one? It probably should surprise him, but for some reason it didn’t. “I see,” he finally said.

At the end of the hallway they reached another door, revealing a big room behind it. The center of the room was lowered, a row of couches framing the area. He had to admit, they looked rather comfortable and he was once again reminded of the fatigue still clinging to him.

Coran entered the room first, leading them to the couches in the center and taking a seat. In order to keep some distance between them, he took a seat a few feet away from Coran, hoping to be able to keep a better eye on the other.

Once he was seated, he released Shiro from his hold and sat the boy down in his lap, putting an arm around him to keep him from falling off. At the action, the boy stirred, making himself comfortable in the new position. A soft circular stroking motion on his back though, calmed him down quickly enough.

“You’re very careful with him,” Coran stated and upon looking up at the other man, he found him watching the two of them closely.

“Of course, he’s…” he trailed off for a moment, not sure what he actually wanted to say. He didn’t know why, but this boy felt important to him. The few moments they had been separated had awoken an ache in his chest, he couldn’t explain. It made him anxious and twitchy, like an important part of himself was missing.

“He’s important,” he finally settled on, looking down at the calm face of the sleeping boy.

“That you are,” Coran said. The other immediately had all of his attention, his head snapping back up and regarding the orange haired man confused.

“I don’t understand,” he said, cocking his head to the side.

For a small moment Coran just watched him. First his hair then his face and then finally shifting down to Shiro, remaining there for a while.

“Can you tell me what the first thing is you remember?” Coran suddenly asked, returning his gaze back up.

He didn’t know how Coran knew that his memories weren’t all there – were spotty, at best actually. He had some knowledge, like that they were in space and that he was a human. But anything beyond that, like his name or who he was and how he ended up in his current situation was a mystery to him. The first thing he remembered?

“Waking up in that pod when the paladins rescued me,” he answered.

“Then, how do you know the little one here?”

It was a simple question, but he found himself faltering thinking of the answer. Because to tell the truth, he shouldn’t know Shiro. At least not with the way he did. To be honest, he didn’t know that much about Shiro personally. He didn’t know his favorite food or what he liked play, but he knew other things. When he was sad or happy, scared or content. He felt it on a level that was more than personal and more than natural.

“I don’t know,” he said. “But I just do. I can’t explain it, but it feels like I’ve known him for a very long time.”

Coran made a humming noise and nodded as if that answer gave him an epiphany.

“How do you know Shiro?” He countered and waited patiently for Coran to answer. Judging by everything that happened until now, he got the feeling that Shiro must be someone very important to these people.

“Well, that’s a big question to start with. It’ll take some time to answer, but I guess we can take all the time we need right now.”

And then he began. He told him of the lions and Voltron, of Altea and the Galra and of the war. It was the first time he heard any of it and yet it felt familiar hearing all these names. It took them indeed quite a while to recount the whole story, but at the end of it, it felt like some of his question had been answered. Though there were also many new ones.

“So, the Galra, they somehow turned Shiro into a child?” he asked once Coran reached the end of his story. It didn’t really make any sense for them to do so but looking at Shiro in his arms, there was no doubt that that is what happened. After all, the Shiro in Coran’s story was a grown man and not a little child.

“Not quite, I’m afraid.” Coran’s voice was, for the first time since he’d met the man, hesitant, as if he wasn’t quite sure himself. “On that ship where we found the two of you, there was some data. Pidge, one of the paladins, managed to get a hold of some of it. The files are about a project that spoke of cloning. We aren’t sure yet what it means but considering that we found the two of you there, we assume that at least one of you could be a clone.”

A clone? But that would mean that he was–

“How can you think that? Do you not recognize your own friend?” he countered and looked back down at Shiro. There were so many distinct features on him. His eyes, the white tuft of hair on his head and his overall appearance. How could they not recognize their own friend?

Coran spoke again, ripping him out of his thoughts. “Have you looked in a mirror since you’ve woken up?”

Slowly, he shook his head. It seemed like a random thing to ask, but he had a feeling of where this was going and he didn’t like it one bit.

“Wait here,” Coran said and after one last glance, full of empathy, he stood and left the room.

It wasn’t long before he returned. Too fast for him to form any sort of order in his mind, thoughts racing. In his hand Coran held a small mirror, which he held out to him. Hesitantly, he reached for it and held it in front of himself.

His throat closed, not letting through any air when he surveyed his reflection.

Wide grey eyes looked back at him through a curtain of white and dark hair. He’d known he had some white streaks in his hair, after all they were falling in his face all the time, but he’d never thought much of it. But now, looking at the white streaks together with such a familiar face made his breath catch. It was older and more tired, but he couldn’t deny that it was Shiro’s face looking back at him.

His grip on the mirror slackened and with a loud clank, it landed on the floor, leaving the surface with a myriad of cracks.

“I’m a clone,” he heard his voice rasp, though he didn’t feel himself actually say them. Somehow, he felt numb, as if the mirror had sucked in all his feeling with that one glance.

“Now, we don’t know that for sure. It could also be the little–”

“No!” His voice was thick but sure, cutting Coran off before he could even finish that last word. Shiro couldn’t be– This little boy couldn’t be a clone. He was just a child. He shouldn’t have to think of things like clones and wars.

But that meant that he himself wasn’t real. He was just a creation, made for some greater goal in this war. And yet–

“You saved the both of us. That means whatever they had planned for us won’t happen anymore.”

The look on Coran’s face was anguished when he answered. “We don’t know that for certain yet but, hopefully, yes.”

“Good, that’s all that matters. That’s okay.” His grip tightened around Shiro, who was still obliviously sleeping in his lap. It didn’t matter if he was real or not, as long as he could protect this boy. That was all that mattered. Everything else would surely be solved one way or another.