The battle was drawing to a close. Almost all of the drones and soldiers aboard the Galra base had been dispatched, and as of yet there were no signs of the druids. The paladins could soon get what they came for, one of the large vats of quintessence, and leave. Pidge had been begging for weeks to come back to this base so that she could run some tests on the mysterious substance, to better understand Zarkon’s power. Allura had been reluctant, but eventually Pidge managed to get through to her.
The conflict at first had been hard. More soldiers had been posted at the base since their last attack, and even Allura was on the ground fighting them, armed with one of the gladiators golden staffs. The paladins were beaten and battered, the cloth portions of their armor torn and exposing the skin underneath. But in just a few moments, they would be victorious.
Shiro squared his shoulders, waiting for the drone he was facing off against to make a move. Seeing the light starting to emerge from the drone’s gun, he summoned his shield. But just as the drone pulled the trigger, Pidge fell upon him from behind, garroting him with her bayard and yanking him backwards.
Shiro ducked into a roll, dodging the shots that flew up into the air, and dispatched the drone with a single strike from his cybernetic hand. The sound of shattering glass grabbed his attention, and he turned. The drone’s bullets had hit a huge vat of quintessence that hung suspended by a crane, probably being prepared for transport before they had shown up. Slowly but surely, the glass was cracking. Keith stood directly beneath it, engaging another drone.
“Keith!” Shiro called out. “Watch it!”
Keith decapitated the drone with his bayard and looked up. And of course, at that moment, the whole thing shattered, absolutely drenching the red paladin in the glowing purple liquid. He gave a cry of shock and stumbled back a few steps, yanking off his helmet.
“Are you ok?” Shiro yelled over to him. Keith didn’t answer. From where Shiro was, all he could see was Keith staring down at his hands, which were now uncovered thanks to the tears of the battle. “Keith?”
Keith took several more steps backwards, until he ran his back into the wall, still staring at his hands.
“What’s going on?” Asked Pidge, coming to stand alongside the black paladin.
“I don’t-” Shiro began, but Lance cut him off as he jogged towards Keith.
“Hey man, are you-” he was about twenty feet from him when he stopped dead. “Holy quiznak!”
“What’s going on?” Allura asked, having just finished destroying the last drone.
“He’s purple!” When Lance spoke, Keith slid down the wall to the floor, as though his legs had given out on him. Everyone immediately rushed towards them to see if it was true.
To everyone’s confusion, he was. Everywhere the quintessence had touched, Keith’s skin was turning a dark, Galra purple. And the shade was spreading. Gaping, Shiro looked at Keith’s face and immediately felt sick. He looked absolutely terrified.
“He’s turning Galra!” Hunk exclaimed, leaping to hide behind Lance.
“Bayards up!” Allura cried, disgust shining in her eyes as she took up a battle stance with her staff.
“No!” Pidge yelled, throwing herself in between Allura and Keith. “We don’t know what’s happening yet!”
“Isn’t it obvious?” Allura snarled.
Shiro, for his part, wasn’t listening to any of them. All he could see was Keith’s horrified expression. Slowly, he took a few steps forward.
Keith’s eyes snapped up to him. They were still normal, not the glowing Galra yellow.
“Don’t come near me Shiro!” he said hoarsely, drawing everyone else’s attention back to him. Shiro ignored the request and continued moving towards him.
“Shiro, please.” Keith pleaded. “I don’t want to hurt you.”
“You won’t.” Shiro said calmly, reassuringly as he neared the younger boy.
“You don’t know that!” Allura said in a sharp tone, but Shiro ignored her too.
As he got closer and closer, Keith held out a purple hand, warning him away.
“I trust you.” Was his response. He was almost within touching distance now, and he could see the tears in Keith’s eyes. He had never seen him this scared before.
Keith shrunk back against the wall as Shiro knelt in front of him. He was looking away, using his hair to hide his face. He flinched when Shiro touched him.
“It’s ok.” Shiro murmured soothingly, pulling him into his arms. The other paladin was trembling. “You’re ok.” It was the same thing he used to do when they both lived on Earth, when Keith had nightmares. A harsh sob escaped from Keith’s chest, and he clung to his older brother desperately.
The others stood, silently looking on. They could all hear Coran over the comms, repeatedly asking what was going on, but none of them answered. Lance and Pidge had sad, sympathetic looks on their faces. They had never seen Keith like this before. Hunk was still a little afraid, unsure of what danger could be awaiting them, but the more time passed without Keith snapping, the less fearful he felt.
Allura’s expression was stone cold. She could feel the disgust and fear twisting around in her gut. She knew it, she knew you could never trust anyone with the slightest bit of Galra blood in them. She gripped her staff until her knuckles turned white.
They sat there a long while, waiting to see what would happen. After some time, as the quintessence dried, the purple hue began to fade, revealing Keith’s pale skin once again.
“See?” Shiro said with a soft smile. “You’re fine.” Keith looked up at him. His face was still a little splotchy, but he would be back to normal in a few minutes at most. With a firm grip, he raised the still shaky red paladin back to his feet.
“Come on, guys.” Shiro called to the rest of the team. “Let’s get what we came for and get back to the Castle.”
“No!” Exclaimed Allura fiercely, resuming her battle stance while everyone else looked at her in surprise.
“Allura, what are you talking about?” Shiro asked, edging slightly in front of Keith. He didn’t like the look on her face.
“He is not stepping foot inside my Castle again.” Before anyone could argue with her, she was sprinting right towards them, raising her staff and a battle cry in her throat. Without thinking, Shiro jumped in front of his brother and raised his arm, blocking Allura’s overhand attack. The Altean’s eyes flashed, and whipped her staff into Shiro’s side, knocking the breath out of him. Moving so fast it was unnerving, Allura grabbed him by the back of his armor and threw him to the side.
“What are you doing?”
The other paladins were screaming, but the Princess couldn’t hear any of them over the blood rushing in her ears. Her vision had tunneled, seeing only Keith’s face. Almost all of the purple was gone now, but she could still see it in her mind's eye. She knew she couldn’t trust him.
She lashed out at him with a powerful side strike. Instinct taking over, Keith dove and rolled underneath it.
“Princess?” he asked, in a half hearted attempt to make her stop. But she didn’t, she just turned and swung again. Throwing himself back to avoid it, Keith found himself on his feet and running from her. Looking over his shoulder, she was still pursuing, that same crazed look still on her face.
A snarl curling her lip, the Princess swept her staff out in front of her, tripping her prey and sending him to the floor. He hit with a hard thunk and a grunt, and rolled several times before coming to a stop. A few hundred yards away, the lions were parked, still sitting peacefully in their barriers.
Keith was panting and holding his shoulder, aching from the impact on his old trial wound. He considered summoning his bayard, but decided against it. He wasn’t going to fight Allura. Not only would he most likely lose, but he wasn’t going to betray her trust. Even if she had struck first.
Allura loomed over him, breathing hard. Keith just laid there and looked up at her, making no move to rise. Slowly, she raised her staff.
“I,” she said, her voice cold as ice, “Will not allow some filthy Galran monster on my ship. Or in Voltron.”
Keith didn’t answer, and with a scowl on her face, Allura raised her weapon over her head. The red paladin covered his head with his arm and waited for the blow.
Confused by the metallic sound and lack of pain, Keith looked up. Above his head was the red metal torso of his lion.
Allura’s jaw went slack with disbelief. The red lion had dove between her and Keith, and her staff had struck it on it’s nose as it had crouched protectively over its paladin. The lion's eyes glowed threateningly at her.
Cold chains of fury wrapped around Allura, making it difficult to breathe. The Red Lion, her father’s lion, was here protecting some half Galra mutt, even after everything that Zarkon had done to both of them.
Feet pounded on the floor behind her, and she didn’t need to turn around to know that the paladins were gathering. Shiro was among them, having finally got his breath back from Allura’s blow, and shoved his way to the front.
“Enough, Allura.” he said in a low, dangerous voice.
“No.” she responded, still holding her position with her staff against the red lion’s nose. “I will not accept him, not matter what the red lion says.” The lion in question let out a threatening growl in response, but still Allura did not move.
“Without Keith, we can’t form Voltron.” Shiro said, trying to reason her back off the cliff. The others remained silent, completely at a loss of how to deal with the situation. “Without him, we can’t defeat the Galra, isn’t that what you want?”
“I will not .” Allura snarled, and Shiro’s control failed him. Storming forward, he grabbed Allura's staff and threw it to the side, standing solidly between her and the Red Lion. Her face colored with rage.
“He is not coming back on my ship.” she blustered, clenching and unclenching her fists.
“If Keith leaves,” Shiro said, fighting to keep the angry edge out of his voice, “I go too.”
Allura gaped at him. “What? You’re the black paladin!”
“And Keith is the Red Paladin.” Shiro countered. “I’m not going to abandon him.”
“It’s your choice, Princess. Either you get control of yourself, or you give in to your hatred and doom the entire universe.”
Allura stood there for a moment, trembling, and then with a wordless cry of fury, spun on her heel and stormed back towards the Castle.
Shiro let out a sigh of relief, and after taking a moment to compose himself, turned to help up Keith.
“Shiro.” He said as he got back to his feet, “Maybe she’s right. If the princess doesn’t want me here-”
“Don’t finish that sentence.” Shiro warned. “Let’s just get back to the Castle.”
Keith followed him, keeping his eyes on the floor as they passed the other paladins. He couldn’t bear it if he looked up and saw mistrust or hatred on their faces. As they entered the Castle, the last bit of purple vanished from his skin.
The next day, the atmosphere in the Castle was unbearably tense. Keith couldn’t stand it, and found himself on the training deck, losing himself in the clang of steel (Or whatever the bayards are made out of).
Stepping confidently, Keith struck at the Gladiator where it had left itself open. With a smooth chop, he cleaved it’s arm at the elbow. Spinning behind it, he took off a leg, and then with one more fluid motion, severed its head, and the simulation vanished. He paused to slow his breath, wiping the sweat from his forehead and reveling in the burn in his muscles.
“Practicing to kill us all in our sleep?” Keith whirled, bayard at the ready, only to see Allura standing in the doorway, glaring at him. He lowered his weapon, dismissing the blade so that only the normal bayard remained.
“That’s not fair.” he mumbled, more than a little wounded she thought he would do that. He thought his little run in with Haggar a few weeks ago had changed her mind about him, but apparently not.
Her eyes narrowed into dangerous slits. “You are not worthy to be here.” she hissed. “You are not worthy to fly my father’s lion, and you are not worthy to be a paladin.” Everyone of her words felt like he was being stabbed again.
But still, he met her crystal blue eyes. The hatred there bore right into him, and he clenched his jaw. With a slight movement, he tossed the bayard to the floor, where it slid and bounced until it came to rest at Allura’s feet.
She raised a haughty eyebrow. “Is that supposed to impress me?” she asked. “You still have that disgusting Galra knife, don’t you?”
Keith reached behind him, and with a slight shink , drew the knife out of it’s sheath. Allura noted that strips of cloth covered the glow of the symbol on its hilt, and she watched Keith carefully, expecting an attack. But instead he threw it to the floor as well to join the red bayard.
Without another word or a look at her, Keith turned and left the room from the other exit. He didn’t know where he was going, and he didn’t really care. Maybe if he was lucky he would stumble out of an airlock.
He wasn’t surprised when he ended up in Red’s hangar. The lion's eyes lit up when he entered the room, as though she knew what had just happened.
He crossed the room and pulled himself up onto one of her metal paws. Sitting cross legged, he pressed a palm against her red leg. He scrutinized his skin, but there wasn’t any sign of the Galra purple.
“Do you hate me too, Red?” he whispered. Her reassuring purr reverberated in his chest, making a sad smile appear on his lips. “That makes one of us.”
Lance wandered through the Castle, unsure of what to do. Allura, Keith, and Shiro were all practically at each other’s throats. Hunk and Pidge were locked up in the lab, running their tests on the quintessence. And he daren’t talk to Coran, just in case the Altean made him clean more healing pods. He passed by the training deck, and when he glanced in offhandedly, was surprised to see something lying on the floor. It was the red bayard, and Keith’s knife.
Lance frowned and glanced around the room. The red paladin was nowhere to be seen. Why would he leave his weapons here, especially the knife? He carried that thing with him everywhere.
Carefully, Lance stepped inside and picked up the weapons. He might as well return them.
He had to check practically the entire castle before he found Keith in Red’s hangar.
Should have looked here first.
Keith had his back to him, and didn’t seem to notice when Lance entered the room. Lance opened his mouth to call to him, but froze when he heard Keith’s voice. He was talking to Red, just like he did with Blue sometimes.
“Maybe Allura is right.” he was murmuring quietly, almost too low for Lance to hear from across the hangar. “Maybe I should go. I’m sure she could pilot you, you were her father’s lion, after all.” He paused, probably listening to Red’s response. “I know, I would miss you too, but maybe that’s what’s best for everyone. The last time there was a Galra paladin…”
Lance’s throat tightened. He wasn’t positive, but he could’ve sworn Keith sounded afraid.
“I know, I know. I just… I don’t know anything about myself. I don’t know how Galra work. I don’t know what that quintessence stuff can do. I could turn, like a werewolf, or go crazy, or hurt somebody. I don’t want to hurt them, Red.”
God, Lance had to stop this now before he started bawling right in front of him. So, as carefully and nonchalantly as he could, he cleared his throat.
Keith whirled, cheeks burning at the idea that someone could have heard him, but Lance’s face looked so casual, his shoulders released a little bit of their tension.
“Hey.” Lance said, starting to walk towards him.
“Hey.” Keith had to fight to keep the wobble out of his voice.
“You left these on the training deck.” Keith looked down at the weapons and his mouth twisted. For some reason, the fact that Allura had left them there stung. Like his attempt at earning her trust wasn’t even worth her consideration, not even a moment of her time.
“Thanks.” he muttered, pulling his knees to his chest. “You can just… leave them where ever.”
Lance laid the weapons on Red’s paw, just a foot or so behind where Keith sat. He paused, as if he was going to say something, but seemed to think better of it and turned to leave. Keith leaned his head against his knees and watched him go.
“Alright, team, I think we all know how the Princess feels.” Shiro said, tapping his metal fingers on the table where he had gathered the other paladins (minus Keith). “But if Voltron is going to continue to be effective, we can’t have any hidden animosities. I want to know how you all feel about this… situation. How you really feel.”
Pidge and Hunk exchanged a nervous look, and Shiro let out a tired sigh.
“You can be honest with me, I won’t get angry.”
“I don’t know if we can trust him.” Hunk burst out, his words bubbling forth like a spring. “You saw what happened, he turned purple , and the Galra are the universe's greatest threat, how can we be sure he won’t turn on us and kill us in our sleep?”
“I don’t think that’s fair,” Pidge jumped in, looking at Hunk admonishingly. “He didn’t just turn purple out of nowhere, he had quintessence dumped on him. Who knows what any of us would look like doused in that stuff? Besides, that’s not how genetics work. I’m Italian but you don’t suspect me of suddenly sprouting a mustache and uncontrollably collecting coins.”
“But this is alien genetics, Pidge.” Hunk countered. “It could be completely different for all we know!”
“Come on, Hunk. We’ve been traveling through space with the dude for months now. If he was some sort of Galra werewolf don’t you think something would have happened by now?”
“Ok, ok,” Shiro interrupted, “I think I get the picture. Lance?”
The blue paladin stared thoughtfully down at the table, trying to organize his thoughts. “At first, I didn’t know what to think.” he began slowly. “But today, I heard him talking. He was in the hangar, talking to Red.” Shiro leaned forward, clearly interested in what Lance had to say. “He’s just as scared of this as the rest of us are. He doesn’t want to hurt us. He would leave if we asked him to.”
“Do you think we should?” Shiro asked evenly, no emotions betrayed on his face. Lance slowly shook his head.
“No, I don’t think so.”
Hunk didn’t look particularly reassured, but Shiro gave him a soft smile before turning his attention to the yellow paladin.
“Hunk, I know this whole thing makes you nervous.” he said steadily. “But Keith is one of us. I trust him with my life, and at this point you and Allura are outnumbered.”
“I never said I wanted him to leave.” Hunk said hastily. “I just said we should keep an eye on him.”
“Teams have to trust each other.” Shiro said. “Tell me honestly, do you think you can trust Keith?”
Hunk studied his folded hands hard, and then slowly nodded. “Yeah, I can try.”
Shiro let out a relieved sigh. “Good. Now if you guys don’t mind, I’m going to hit the hay.”
The team scattered in different directions, Shiro heading for bed and Hunk and Pidge going back to the lab. Lance turned to leave through a different door, vaguely considering the idea of giving the pool another shot. The door slid open, and Lance nearly jumped out of his skin.
“Keith! What the- What were you- Jesus , man!”
“Sorry.” Keith mumbled, standing to the side so that Lance could pass him. But he didn’t, just turned to face him again.
“Did you hear all of that?” Keith slowly nodded, his hair falling into his eyes. “Sorry about Hunk, you know how he gets sometimes.”
“It’s ok.” Keith paused and bit his lip, as though debating whether to continue speaking. “Thanks. For what you said.”
Lance smiled. “No problem, buddy.”