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Break Every Chain On Me

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Leaning against the wall of the small cargo ship, Lance sighed and shoved his hands in his jacket pockets. He didn’t know how much longer he would have to sit in the back of the cramped ship. It made sense that there would be boxes packed here with little room for anything else since it was a rebel supply ship, but it was hard not to complain. His leg shook from being stuck here for countless vargas, making him feel claustrophobic. The ride was longer than Lance was used to as the vessel slowly made its way across the galaxy towards its destination: the Blade of Marmora main base.

It’d taken forever to find anyone who’d smuggle him here because of its position between the two black holes cresting near a sun. No one wanted to risk taking even the Red Paladin to such a dangerous location, and he had to waste nearly all the money he’d saved up while defending the galaxy. Maybe it was wrong to bribe Drigib to abandon her courier route temporarily to escort him here, but his thoughts were elsewhere so he couldn’t find it in him to care.

Lance’s mind was reeling; he was starting to wonder if this was all for nothing. Maybe it was, but he had to try. It was better than what he had been doing at the Castle. He thought of the way Shiro yelled at him, berated him. Something itched at the back of his mind, telling him it wasn’t right, but it wasn’t as if there was anything he could do about it. No one wanted to stand up to Shiro since he was the team leader, and what he said went. That was made clear after he went behind their backs to make Lotor emperor of the Galra Empire, which no one seemed to remember they were supposed to be trying to destroy. Well, actually, there was one group who hadn’t bent a knee to him.

“Red Paladin,” Drigib said, drawing Lance from his thoughts. “We’re arrived at the coordinates that you gave us. But-” She cut herself off with a nervous gulp. “It seems unstable to go any further. I don’t think my ship will make the journey. I’ll still hail them for you, but they’ll need to come retrieve you if you wish to continue.”

Lance rose to his feet with a groan, which was difficult in such a cramped space. He nearly tripped twice but eventually made his way to the cockpit. It was even smaller than the cargo hold, designed only for one person. It fit Drigib because she was tiny, thin, and willowy, with large green eyes that blinked rapidly under her goggles. She was traditionally pretty by human standards, if he ignored the blue tentacles she had in place of hair. That was how upset Lance was. He didn’t even feel like making a move on her.

“That’s fine,” Lance said, placing a hand on the head rest of her seat. He stared out at the base in front of him. “Red had a hard time getting to them last time. I’m just glad that you were able to bring me this far.” His fingers twitched nervously as he remembered the last time that they’d come to this base, but it was different now. At least, he hoped it was. “Open the channel but be brief. Not too much information. Though, not too little. Maybe vague? Do you think vague would work? They’re cryptic. They might understand.”

“I know how to hail someone,” Drigib replied dryly. She then pressed a button on her console, bringing up the video screen. “This is Drigib with the rebel forces supply run. I have a package from the Coalition, but my ship isn’t strong enough to make it to your base. I’m requesting a ship to come pick it up. Over.”

There was a long pause. Lance was beginning to think that maybe no one was home when Kolivan’s face popped up on the screen. “We take care of our own supplies. We don’t need aid from-” He cut himself off once he saw Lance standing behind her. “Ah, I see. It’s that kind of package. It must be grave if you couldn’t come in your lion.”

“Kind of,” Lance said with a frown. His eyes flickered to Drigib, not certain how much he should voice his concerns while she was around. “It’s about Lotor and some other things. Everything has gone apples and bananas. I don’t know who to trust.” He paused. “Well, there is sort of one person, which is why I’m here. I know we’ll be on the same page.”

Kolivan nodded slowly. “I will send one of our pilots out to retrieve you. With it getting so close to our exit window closing, it will be difficult to navigate. Your pilot was wise to hail us first.” There was a loud noise, almost like a bang, which made Kolivan huff in frustration. “It seems a pilot is already on their way. We’ll discuss more once you arrive.”

The video feed abruptly shut off without even a good-bye. Lance assumed Kolivan had disrupted it to go deal with whichever pilot had left before being given instructions. It reminded Lance of Keith, but he hadn’t seen Keith in forever, except through video feeds. The Blade always seemed to have him on a mission or something. Lance understood that Keith was one of their best, but it felt weird. They were just starting to get along and then poof, Keith was gone. He couldn’t help but feel a little hurt. Maybe Lance’s oversharing pushed him away.

Lance let his thoughts fade as he saw a ship speeding out of the base, weaving furiously through the debris that floated around the dying sun. It seemed reckless and a bit show-offish, the way the pilot seemed to be purposely skimming the edges, narrowly dodging bits of rock. He heard Drigib snort, so at least he wasn’t the only one who thought that the Marmorite was taking more risks than necessary.

Despite how the pilot was flying, the ship made it to them in one piece and latched onto the docking door to create a bridge for Lance’s transfer. Drigib pressed a button and the docking door opened to reveal a tiny Marmorite in full armor and mask. Lance held back a laugh, because he didn’t know they came that small. Still, they looked intimidating as they stood silently, waiting for Lance to come forward.

“Be right with you, buddy.” Lance turned to Drigib with his best winning smile and patted her on the shoulder. He could have sworn he heard a disgruntled snort from the Marmorite, but it was probably just his imagination. “Thanks for the ride. I’ve got your payment right here.” He reached into his jacket pocket, pulling out a sack of coins and some bills from his jeans. “Don’t spend it all in one place.”

“Yeah, of course. And for what it’s worth, I’d really rather have you in the Coalition than that purple grease trap. You have better hair, too,” Drigib replied, which caused the Marmorite to tilt their head to the side in confusion. She patted Lance’s arm with a tiny hand. “See you later, Red Paladin. I wish you luck on the next leg of your journey.”

“Thanks, see you later, Drigib!” After Drigib removed her hand, Lance began walking towards the docking door. He waved at Drigib over his shoulder. When he reached the spot he’d been sitting, he picked up his canvas sack, which held all the belongings he had in the universe plus a stolen bathrobe and lion slippers, and continued towards the Marmorite.

The Marmorite stared at the bag, but because of the mask, it was hard to tell what they were thinking. They didn’t say anything, just turned on their heel and walked back into the ship. Lance followed behind them, giving one last look to Drigib before the docking doors closed, sealing Lance in with the silent Marmorite.

There was a weird tension in the air as the Marmorite made their way to the controls, plopping themselves down with a bit more force than needed. Lance continued to follow, leaning his arm against the headrest of the pilot seat. “So...” Lance said, trying to make conversation. “Didn’t know Galra came in your size. They leave you too long in the wash or something?”

As an answer, the Marmorite grabbed the controls and jerked the ship forward. Lance stubbled backward, yelping as he fell to the ground. He stood up, rubbing his backside. “You did that on purpose!” The Marmorite didn’t answer. “Man, you’re a pain.” He took his position back at the headrest and leaned in close. “But, you know what they say, it’s not the size that counts, it’s how you use it.”

The Marmorite jumped at that, head ducking as much as they could allow it while keeping their eyes on where they were flying. “Oh, you’re shy, I get it now.” He leaned again, but this time with a seductive smirk. It was hard not to when Lance was certain this was the first time someone was responding to his flirting. “That’s cute. I like shy. That why you’re not showing off your face? I bet it's cute. You have big fluffy ears under there? Maybe you’re bit more pixie like? Let me have a look. Please, darling?”

Again, the ship jerked, slamming into some debris and nicking the wing. Though Lance fell, it didn’t knock the grin off his face. Maybe it was bad to tease his pilot, but they were behaving so cute. Lance could just imagine how pretty the Marmorite was, possibly blushing deeply under their mask. It only spurred him onward, thinking that maybe he actually had a chance with them.

“Don’t worry,” Lance said as he got to his feet. He made his way back to the cockpit but leaned against the wall instead of crowding the Marmorite. “I won’t tell anyone about that. I think it’s cute that you’re getting so flustered.” He crossed his arms over his chest. “Maybe-” Clearing his throat, Lance shifted nervously. “If you’re interested, maybe I could take you to dinner sometime? Could be fun.”

The Marmorite hung their head, then reached up and was about to touch their mask when their hand dropped. They grabbed the controls roughly, driving the ship forward with a renewed anger that Lance didn’t understand. It hurt slightly, being rejected like that, but it was something he was used to. He’d bounce back like he always did. Eventually he’d find someone; at least that’s what he told himself.

Because of the breakneck speeds the pilot was driving, it wasn’t much longer before they arrived at the base. Lance had never been inside before because of Shiro choosing Keith to accompany him on his mission there. Thinking back, he wondered if Shiro knew Keith’s Galra connection. Shiro had always been good at reading people like that, had being the keyword. Another reason why he was here. There just seemed to be a stack of things no one except him wanted to deal with.

The Marmorite continued to be silent as they docked in the hangar and led him off the ship. They didn’t even glance in Lance’s direction the whole walk to the door. Their body language seemed stiff, clearly agitated by something. Lance wondered if asking someone to dinner was a faux pas among the Marmora, because he swore that their reaction was in response to his flirting. Or maybe it was just his imagination.

Lance didn’t have time to ask as they entered the main hall of the base. He was surprised to see that everyone had come out to greet him, standing at attention. It seemed that they were treating his information as priority one, which made him feel relieved. They trusted him and were willing to listen, unlike those at the Castle of Lions. Maybe he’d finally get someone on his side in this matter.

“Red Paladin,” Kolivan greeted with a bow of his head. Lance bowed his head back, wanting to be polite. He didn’t want to upset them. “You’ve travelled a great distance to deliver us grave news.” Placing his hands behind his back, he took in Lance, his eyes landing on Lance’s bag. “What is it that you felt the need to come here yourself?”

“It’s, well...” Lance trailed off, searching for words. “It’s everything. Everything has just gone weird after Lotor took charge of the Empire. I don’t know how to describe it. He has everyone in the palm of his hand. Especially Shiro. And it’s weird, because Shiro isn’t acting like himself. Now that he’s the ‘leader’ again, he’s acting like we don’t get a say, that we just have to follow his commands without question, like subscribing to the Church of Lotor. I’m sure you can ask Keith. He’d back me up that his brother isn’t like that.”

Kolivan frowned, looking to Lance past. Lance glanced over his shoulder to see the Marmorite pilot give a quick nod of their head. “Yes, we believe that your story is valid,” Kolivan said as his eyes flickered back to Lance. “It’s troubling to think that such a powerful weapon as Voltron is in the hands of those who are untrustworthy. We did have our suspicions when the Black Lion arrived with Lotor but weren’t certain if we should pursue it without more proof. If you, his right-hand, feel that something is wrong then there certainly is.”

“Great! Man, you don’t know what a relief that is to hear.” Lance relaxed, letting his bag drop to the floor. “See, this is why I knew I could go to you guys. You don’t trust anyone, so it’s like a given that’d you’d have already been suspicious of them.” A slow grin spread across his face. “So, let’s do this. Where do I get my suit? And I have been working on my sword fighting techniques, but I still think I’d prefer a blaster, you know?”

Again, Kolivan’s eyes flickered to the Marmorite behind him, though this time it was with a disapproving gaze. “I believe you’re misinformed. You’re allowed to stay here until the barrier opens once again, but you’re not joining us. We’ll look into your information and get back to you when we uncover something. Just the fact that you left might have tipped someone off to your suspicions. It wouldn’t be wise for you to remain here indefinitely.”

“Wouldn’t be wise?” And while Lance could see the logic in his words, the part of him that was tired of being pushed around by Shiro rose up. “It wouldn’t be wise!?” Lance repeated an octave higher in frustration before huffing indignantly. “Like they aren’t already onto me just coming out here without my lion, without my armor!” He took a step forward with a scowl. “I’m tired of people disrespecting me. I’m tired of people not listening to my opinion. I want to join the Blade of Marmora, and I’m not leaving until I do.”

There was quiet muttering among the rest of the Blade members. Lance couldn’t help but feel awkward as all eyes fell on him, but he tried to stand tall. He was just glad Keith wasn’t here. Keith would probably smirk and laugh, insult Lance’s intelligence in some way. That was probably why Keith left. He was probably worried he’d have to listen to more of Lance’s complaints if he stayed as their leader any longer.

“Only Galra and those of Galra-blood can be in the Blade of Marmora. Those are our laws. Our weapons are tied to our bloodlines,” Kolivan explained once the room quieted. His voice seemed reasonable and calm, but for some reason, Lance felt like he was talking down to him. “You’re going back to the Castle of Lions. You’re not needed here. You’ll only get in our way since you can’t activate one of our swords.”

“No way!” Lance shouted with a wave of his hand. “I don’t need Galra blood to shoot a gun, so you can keep your butter knives. I don’t want them.” He stepped forward and noticed a few Galra moving towards him, but he ignored them. “You’re dying, losing more people every day. If you turn down someone who is willing to fight for your cause, then you guys have more pride than sense. I’m willing to do anything it takes to keep this universe safe, but I don’t know if I can say the same for you.”

Kolivan growled and closed the distance, towering over Lance. Still, Lance didn’t back down, staring up at him in defiance. “We’ve been fighting for over ten thousand years to keep this universe safe from harm. You are a mere speck in the grand scheme of things. Yet you question our resolve and our ways.”

Lance poked a finger into Kolivan’s chest. “It’s not my fault your ways are dumb.” He knew he was pushing the limit, but he was so angry at everything he couldn’t stop himself. “And what have you done in ten thousand years? It wasn’t until Voltron came and started saving your hides that you started to make any progress against the Empire, so I’d consider trying something new before all of you are a smear on the Galra’s intergalactic windshield.”

“You are unworthy and unfit to be a Blade of Marmora,” Kolivan snarled at him. “You don’t have Galra blood. You can’t use any of our weapons. Having you as a member would be foolhardy. No matter what information you originally came here to bring, the fact that you even thought you could simply walk in here and demand that we allow you entry is-”

“We could have him take the Trials of Marmora,” a familiar voice cut in. The Marmorite pilot stepped up from behind Lance, moving to stand beside him. His mask faded, revealing Keith’s face, and horror flooded through Lance as he realized he’d been flirting with Keith. “He’s stuck here for the time being, anyway. There’s no harm in showing him how stupid this idea is. I’ll even be the one to administer his test. And when he fails, I’ll see him out personally.”

Kolivan stared down at Keith, but Keith just puffed himself up, and despite Keith looking shorter than Lance remembered, Kolivan backed down slightly with a put-upon sigh. “Considering he won’t pass, fine.” He then turned his attention back to Lance. “You’ll undergo the Trials of Marmora, like anyone else seeking to join. If you fail, you will leave us alone and never step foot on this base again.”

“And if I pass these trials, which I will, then you’ll change your membership rules for me. You’ll let me be a Blade of Marmora.” Lance glanced at Keith then smirked. “And if I pass, you’ll also have to give me a butter knife of my very own, even if I can’t ‘activate’ it.” He held out his hand. “Shake on it. This is how humans seal the deal.”

There was a tense pause, but Kolivan took Lance’s hand, nearly breaking it as he clasped it. Lance tried to squeeze back just as hard, but he knew he wasn’t doing any harm. “I regret that it had to come to this,” Kolivan said seriously, “but it’s the only way to show you that what you seek is impossible. Please don’t hold it against us when you fail.”

“I won’t fail,” Lance said purposely before he turned on his heel and began walking. He had no idea where he was walking to, but he just wanted to be dramatic so that he could get the last word in without Kolivan saying something cooler. Though, surprisingly, he seemed to be going the right way as Keith trailed behind him, not trying to keep in pace.

“This way,” Keith said, pointing to a doorway. All the eyes of the other members were still on them, but Lance tried not to let that get to him as he walked through the door. It closed behind him, and like when they were alone in the ship, an awkward tension began to rise between them. Despite that, not that he was going to admit it, but it was nice to see Keith again.

Not liking the tension, Lance decided to try to make conversation. “I didn’t realize how much height those boots added. You’re a lot shorter than I thought you were. Or maybe it’s all the tall aliens around, no Pidge to balance you out.” He stuck his hands into his pockets. “Maybe I’ve gotten taller? You know, I did hit my head when heading into the hangar the other day.”

“Hey, this is serious,” Keith snapped. His fists clenched at his sides with the tension in his muscles clear as his back straightened. “You don’t know what you signed up for. The only reason I agreed to vouch for you is so that you could see that your place is with Voltron. Even if Shiro is acting suspiciously, they need you to be their Red Paladin.”

“No, they need you. I’m not the Red Paladin. I’ve only ever been Red’s pilot by default. First with Blue choosing Allura over me, then with you leaving. I just have to face facts. It’s not my destiny to be a Paladin of Voltron. I’ve always just been an extra wheel.” Lance sighed. “And even if you don’t go back, they’ll find someone else. They always do.”

“Lance,” Keith started, but then cut himself off, taking a deep, calming breath. “We’re at the changing room. Just put on one of the suits. They’re like the paladin armor, they’ll change to fit your size.” He took in a breath, biting at his lip. “I’ll be waiting in the testing area at the end of the hall. Just because we used to be teammates, don’t expect me to go easy on you.”

“Yeah, same goes for you, Mullet,” Lance said, surprised at how soft the nickname sounded on his tongue. He missed this, as weird as it was; not that Lance would ever admit that. It was hard to tell if the two of them were even friends, especially with the way Keith had left. “You should be prepared for defeat, because I know all your secrets.”

Keith chuckled, which was good to hear. “Not all of them,” he said, pulling away from Lance. He paused, staring at Lance for a moment as if there was something he wanted to say. Then he looked away awkwardly, rubbing at his elbow. “Lance,” he tried again, and maybe it was just the lighting, but his cheeks seemed to be turning red. “I- I have to go. Just don’t be your usual self and know when to give up.”

“Hey!” Lance squawked, but Keith was already turning, hurrying away towards the door. Lance watched him leave with a frown, getting the feeling that Keith was going to say something else. Or maybe he wasn’t, and Keith was just trying to get in his head. Lance had no idea what to think any longer when it came to Keith.

Lance shook his head, trying to clear his mind as he entered the changing room. It looked like the armor room at the Castle, with tubes holding suits suspended in air. He looked them over, trying to decide which one to pick. They all looked the same, but part of him worried that maybe choosing the right set was a test or something.

After a minute, Lance gave up trying to figure out if one was different from the other and just took the one he felt was luckiest. He put it on, surprised that it was so different than the armor he wore as a paladin. The paladin armor, while lightweight, felt heavier like a shield. This armor, though, felt as if it was a second skin. Lance flexed his fingers, testing the movement of them underneath the cloth.

There was one problem, though: Lance couldn’t see any weapons around. He didn’t have his bayard; he hadn’t been selfish enough to take that with him. Running his hand through his hair, Lance tried to think. They were clearly stacking this fight against him. He remembered Keith telling the story of how he had proceeded to the next round, but if Lance didn’t have anything to open the hatch like Keith did then he’d be stuck on that endless loop.

Only one solution came to mind. He’d have to get Keith’s blade, the one that was practically glued to his hand at all time, away from him. Lance cringed at the thought of trying to wrestle that away then pry the hatch open in one go, but he was certain they’d catch him trying to bring a pole or pipe or something into the fight because of how thin the fabric on his suit was.

“Now or never, McClain,” Lance said, slapping the sides of his face. “Maybe you’re just a boy from Cuba, but you’re also a hero. You’ve got this. You’re going to show Keith and Kolivan.” He paused then added. “You’re going to show Iverson that you’re not just deadweight. You’re going to show them that you’re something.”

Lance felt slightly more confident and inhaled sharply before he exited the changing room and headed down the hall to the testing area. Everything was so purple in the base, which he probably should have expected considering how the Galra designed everything. In fact, everything seemed so stark and bland, only built for functionality. Maybe this was why Keith liked it better here. Again, thoughts of Keith were seeping into his mind, which he hated. He needed to concentrate, not think what interior design choices Keith preferred. He shook himself physically before stepping through the door.

The room was- surprise- purple and grey, closed off with only a single door at the end, a decoy if Lance remembered correctly from Keith’s account of the events. As he stepped further into the room, the door closed and Kolivan’s voice boomed overhead, “You’ll now face the Trials of Marmora. These trials result in one of two things: knowledge or death.”

In the center of the room, a platform rose with Keith standing on it, mask on, hood up. “This is your last chance to back down.” He pulled out his blade and held his position, clearly waiting for Lance to make the first move, or maybe he was waiting for Lance to voice his surrender. It didn’t matter. Keith wasn’t getting the best of him this time.

Lance took a deep breath. It was dirty, but they hadn’t given him a weapon, and there was only one thing that he left that he knew how to do, which was talk. “And miss the chance to beat that hot ass of yours?” Keith faltered slightly, which was weird, but fell in line with what happened on the ship. “I don’t think so. Maybe we can still go to dinner afterwards? No hard feelings?”

Keith’s body went slack, and his grip on his blade loosened, which was what Lance was waiting for. He ran forward and flipped onto his hands. When his sister first started dragging him to gymnastic classes with her, he thought they were dumb, but now, he was kind of grateful as he grabbed Keith’s head between his legs then slammed the two of them to the ground.

The blade went clattering out of Keith’s hand, and Lance made a reach for it. Keith was flexible too though, and he bent himself, slamming his boot into Lance’s face before slipping out of Lance’s grip to retrieve his blade. Keith looked like a startled cat with the way he bristled and his back arched as he took a step back. He turned his head away from Lance despite having a mask on. Still, even if he wasn’t looking directly at Lance, Keith was following his movements, shifting as Lance did.

Lance knew he wasn’t trained well enough to beat Keith in hand-to-hand. He could beat him if he had a ranged weapon, but the most he could do was throw a boot at him, which was more dumb than helpful. And while he had begun practicing with a sword because of his bayard shift, Keith had years of practice on him. He didn’t have the tools or skill to beat Keith, but Lance had watched him fight a million times. Sometimes, it felt as if he could feel Keith while they were fighting together. That gave Lance an idea. He didn’t need to beat Keith in a fist fight. Instead, he just needed change the dynamic of the fight in his favor.

Lance widened his stance and put up his fists. He ran forward, fists out, making himself a threat, because he knew Keith. It was his favorite move, and the way Keith began to shift his weight meant that Lance was right. As soon as Lance approached, Keith dropped to his knees, ready to slide under his wide stance, but as he did, Lance dropped, tumbling back, using his full weight to fall onto Keith before reaching back to put Keith in a headlock, using his other hand to grip Keith’s wrist that was holding the blade. He had learned that move from Marco when they used to wrestle for control of the tv remote whenever Lance wanted to watch his novelas.

A pang of homesickness suddenly welled inside Lance, but he suppressed it. Now wasn’t the time to think about garlic knots or his mom’s hugs. All that mattered was getting that blade from Keith. Not that Keith was making it easy as he thrashed under Lance, kicking with both his legs. Lance raised their hands and smashed them into the ground. It hurt, but he did it again, trying to get Keith to drop the knife, but he had a tight grip on it.

Lance had one move left. It was the ultimate move that his mom had taught him. But it was a risk. If he used it and it failed, Keith would be free. Still, he had no other choice. He was mid-swing when he abruptly let go of Keith’s hand then his neck, turning so that their chests were touching. Then, before Keith could react, Lance’s fingers were at Keith’s neck, where he was almost certain it was just thin, cybernetic fabric.

The moment Lance’s fingers were on Keith’s neck, Keith squirmed underneath him. Smirking, Lance dug his fingers into Keith, tickling him mercilessly. Keith laughed and snorted, legs kicking as he bent his neck, trying to get Lance’s fingers to stop. He wondered how they looked to the others watching, if aliens were even ticklish like humans were. Not that it mattered as he heard the clatter of metal against the floor.

Keeping one hand at Keith’s neck, Lance snatched the blade then rolled away from Keith, kicking out his legs to put even more distance between them as he got to his feet. He began running to the door and looked back when he noticed that Keith wasn’t chasing after him. He saw that Keith had rolled onto his side, his mask gone and a scowl marring his features.

“You’re an idiot,” Keith scolded him. “You really think you’re going to get through these trials by play fighting? This is serious, Lance. This isn’t some video game. This isn’t a place where you can get glory or girls. What we do is important. Lance, please. I’m just looking out for you. Quit now, while you can.”

Lance’s grip tightening around the hilt of the blade. “I can’t believe you. Here I thought we’d bonded.” Keith’s eyes widened, and his expression softened. “We were finally getting along. I thought we were friends.” Shaking his head, Lance continued. “Guess I was wrong. I don’t care if you don’t have faith in me. I won’t quit.”

Keith got to his feet, staring at Lance with almost a pleading gaze as if waiting for him to change his mind. When Lance only glared at him, he sighed and said, “Then the pain continues.” His eyes dropped to the floor as a hand went to his elbow. If Lance didn’t know any better, he’d say that Keith looked guilty. “You are not meant to go through that door.”

“I know.” Lance smirked as Keith’s eyebrows knitted together and a confused frown formed on his face. “You already told me all I need to know, remember? I know exactly what door to use. It’s why I grabbed this.” He pressed the blade lightly to his forehead, careful not to cut himself as he used it to give Keith a salute. “Hasta la later, Keith!”

“Lance!” Keith shouted angrily at him, but Lance had already taken off running towards the other door. He passed through to the other arena, knowing what was waiting for him. It was probably cheating, using his knowledge of Keith’s trials, but that was all he had. He wasn’t trained or skilled. All Lance had was himself. That had to be enough if he was going to pass through this trial.

Weighing the blade in his hand, Lance took in a deep breath, calming himself. It was just like the discus throw back in middle school, except this was pointier, and if he missed then he’d stab someone. He wasn’t Keith, but he didn’t have to be. His fingers twitched as the floor opened, revealing the next two Marmorites that he’d have to fight. This was it. Moment of truth.

They weren’t like Keith, rushing off their platforms in a matter of seconds. Lance took another breath, bringing his hand back before he flicked the knife. He didn’t wait to see if it struck as he rushed forward. “Razzle dazzle!” he shouted, feeling it was appropriate as he leapt, using the smaller of the two Marmorites as a springboard. They gave a startled shout, striking out with their knife, but Lance had already sailed over them.

The hatch remained open, which surprised Lance since there had been a small part of him that thought Keith had exaggerated. Lance dived in like he was diving into the waves of Varadero Beach. He didn’t bother with the blade. It’d served its purpose now that he was onto the second half of the trial. Keith’s retelling became hazy at this point because he had a possible concussion. He said he saw his dad, who had disappeared years ago, and that Shiro had been there, but he wasn’t the real one. None of it made any sense.

The room he was in was even more purple than the last one, and Lance was honestly going to need to talk to someone about this. It was ridiculous. He put a hand on his hip as he walked forward, looking at the rocks in the wall and wondering what their purpose was, because he doubted they were just there for decoration. “Not Shiro?” Lance called out as he walked. “Hey, not Shiro? Keith’s dad maybe? I’m ready for the next part of my trial!”

Lance scowled when nothing happened and continued forward. For moment, his mind lingered on his Garrison days, remembering the tension he felt as he waited for the simulator. He wondered what they would say if they could see him now. Would they dismiss him like Kolivan had? Rubbing at the back of his neck, he sighed. “Keith is always the teacher’s pet. I don’t know why I expected the Blade to be any different than-”

Cutting himself off, Lance froze in the threshold of the next room, his jaw dropping, because Iverson was standing there waiting for him. A stabbing wave of panic flooded his senses, and his hand moved to his side as if he’d been wounded there. He felt worse as Iverson stepped closer, causing his vision to become hazy. The image of Iverson split in two, and then suddenly Keith was standing beside him in his Garrison uniform.

“Keith?” Lance asked, though it was strained. His side felt worse than when Keith kicked him. “What are you doing here? And why are you wearing that? How did Iverson get here?” He hissed as his side burned. “Also, why am I in pain? Is this part of the trial? Keith, it really hurts. Is this the ‘or death’ part?”

“That’s a lot of questions for someone who doesn’t have enough knowledge to fit in a paper airplane,” Keith sneered, causing the pain Lance’s side to flare worse. Lance’s heart began to race in fear. “You seemed surprised. You didn’t actually think we were friends, did you? Wow. How pathetic. You’ve always been in my shadow, even now. All you do is follow after me. It’s why you came to the Blades. You’ve never had an original thought in your life.”

“Keith, why are you saying this?” Lance asked. His breaths were getting shallow, like his energy was being sucked out of his body. “Is that why you left? I’m tired of you thinking I’m less than you. I’m tired of getting your scraps! I deserved to be the fighter pilot! I trained hard! I studied! I deserved to pilot the Black Lion! But it’s always about you! You hog the spotlight!”

“Do you really think you deserved any of those things?” Keith tilted his head to the side. “You crashed the simulator every chance you got and you don’t even have a thing. ‘Sharpshooter’? Anyone can fire a gun. ‘Swordsman’? Don’t make me laugh. This is what I’ve been trying to tell you from the start. Just give up: Fail then blame me for it. Just like you always do.”

Lance winced, feeling that remark dig deeper than he thought it would. “Yeah, okay, maybe you’re right.” He swallowed hard, glancing at Iverson. “I blame you for a lot of my own failures and shortcomings. You had everything I wanted, Keith. The grades, Shiro as a brother, and the skills. It was hard not to be angry at you, especially the with way Iverson talked after you left. Maybe you think I’m a failure, an idiot, but I’m not. I’m not going to give up, Keith. Not this time.”

Pain shot through Lance again, digging even deeper this time. His vision blurred, and he felt as if he was going to collapse, but he held strong. He ran a hand through his hair, trying to get a hold of himself. As he did, the soft sound of waves caught his attention. He could even smell a bit of the salt air. Once his vision adjusted, Lance could see that he was on the clean beaches of Varadero, which were always made pretty for the tourists.

Luis stood before him, just as Lance remembered him, possibly even in the same clothes as the last time Lance had seen him. That’s when it clicked. None of this was real. But that didn’t stop it from feeling real, just like it didn’t stop the pain coursing through his side. He stared at his brother, and tears filled his eyes, but he didn’t know if it was from the pain or from seeing him again.

“You’re selfish, you know that?” Luis said, which felt like a slap in the face. “Mom thinks you’re dead. She won’t stop crying. Was it worth it? Was shooting into space without even saying goodbye worth doing this to her? To us?” The tears rolled down Lance’s cheeks as his brother continued to speak. “You might not even see Grandma again. She doesn’t have that many years left. Yet you just left.”

“I-” Lance began, but it felt like all the words were caught in his throat. “I wasn’t thinking.” He sniffled, but it hurt too much to raise his hand away from his side. “No, that’s a lie. I was thinking. I didn’t think anyone would miss me. All of you are doctors, lawyers, parents. I was the babysitter, the cargo pilot. I didn’t think anyone would notice.”

“What are we going to do with you, Leandro?” Luis reached out a hand, ruffling Lance’s hair. It caused another jolt of pain to run through him, but he didn’t care as he was glad to feel his brother’s hand, even if it wasn’t real. “Cargo pilot, babysitter, no one can replace you in this family. No one can replace you, period.”

“Thanks, Luis.” Lance gave him a weak smile. “You always know what to say. Maybe that’s why I’m seeing you right now.” He sucked in a breath. “I did want to go back to Earth at first to see you, to tell you I was okay, but I didn’t want to lead Zarkon right to you. Even now, I don’t know if you’re safe. It was selfish at first, but it’s not any longer. I promise.”

“I believe you.” Luis’ hand slipped from Lance’s hair. “I’ll see you when you get home. You’re almost there.” Luis continued to slip away from Lance, and the world became oddly surreal as the colors became too vibrant. Purple leaked into the blue waves that were rising high above them, about to crash down on them. “One last test, baby brother. One last thing that you need to accept.”

The wave fell and smothered Lance in the water. He struggled against it, sensations burning as he tried to get his mind to see reason, that none of this was real. His breath felt short as he desperately reminded himself. In fact, Lance was almost certain that he hadn’t moved an inch from where he landed after falling through that shaft.

Lance closed his eyes, blocking out everything that he could see, getting himself under control before he opened his eyes again. He was back in the room he started in, just as he thought. A sigh of relief almost escaped, but then he saw Keith leaning against the door furthest away from him. Then the pain that Lance was feeling became excruciating, almost to the point of collapse. His legs shook violently, barely holding him up, though he stubbornly remained standing.

“This is the last test,” Keith said, confirming Lance’s suspicions that he wasn’t real. “The trials make you face your true self, though I think you figured that out already, otherwise I wouldn’t be saying it.” He walked closer to Lance, eyes gazing over him. “You’re trying to figure out what I am. What part of your mind. You’ve conquered your insecurities, embraced your past, now you’re wondering what truth I represent.”

“Enough with the head games,” Lance growled, even as his head began to swim from the pain. “There’s nothing left! No other issues that I’m-” As he said it, his breath hitched, a thought occurred to him. Lance shook his head. “No. No, I’m not facing that. You’re not making me admit that. I’ve done enough!”

An un-Keith-like smirk spread over the double’s lips. “You just figured it out.” The fake Keith continued to walk towards him, and Lance took a step back, sucking in breath. “You’ve always been observant. It doesn’t surprise me that you figured out this test, the final truth you have to face.” Keith grinned. “The fact that I like you.”

Lance blushed and reeled back. “Sh- Shut up! You don’t know anything!” He winced, more pain tearing through him. “Quiznak... did you rig this?” Lance put a hand to his neck, feeling where the collar dug into his skin. “Make it so I couldn’t pass? I bet it was Kolivan.” He tugged at the collar, only to scream violently as a huge shock of electricity burned through him. It didn’t hurt any longer, though. In fact, Lance was beginning to feel numb. “Cheater...”

“I’m not a cheater. You even said it yourself, you know me, Lance. You know I’d never do that.” Keith shook his head in disappointment. “Seriously, you honestly can’t admit that I have actual feelings for you? You’re going to fail. You know you’re going to fail if you don’t face this truth. Do you want that? You want it to end here? Just because you can’t admit that you know I love you? That I’ve never hated you, not for a second, and you know that.”

“Not this.” Lance hands went to his sides, feeling for pockets that weren’t there. Instead, he draped them around his waist, almost hugging himself. “This is unfair!” His eyes closed, inhaling sharply. “Please. Not this. Anything but this.” He knew this was a test, but he didn’t have it in him. “I can’t.”

Lance was going to give up. He had to. The pain was too much. He could feel his knees buckling, threatening to bring him down to the floor. “Lance!” the voice shot through him, seeming from all sides vibrating through him, filling him with a soft warmth that he’d never felt until now. His knees were still shaking, but he stood a little straighter, and suddenly, the image of Keith jumped, standing nearly on top of Lance now.

Images flashed through his mind, seemingly on fast forward- every rejection that he’d ever had, which was a lot. “It’s easier, isn’t it?” Keith said, face impossibly close to his. “It’s honestly easier being rejected, because someone accepting you? Someone loving you? Thinking you’re special? How could you live up to that? How could you ever live up to their expectations? It’s better to get rejected now than to be with them, to get attached, and then be rejected once they see what you really are: insignificant, plain, ordinary. Especially me. I’m half-alien, an ace pilot, and an amazing fighter. How could you ever hope to keep me when you’re you?”

“It is easier. You’re right.” Lance could feel himself shaking. He didn’t understand why this was the hardest to admit. “To go after people who I know will reject me, to keep seeking out rejection because it’s easier than trying to be with someone and letting them see the weak side of me.” A chuckle escaped Lance’s lips. “But it’s weird. I don’t feel weak when I show that side to you. I feel powerful, like I could do anything. It terrifies me because for some reason, when you look at me, it’s not just that I think I’m special, I know I am. You look at me like I’m your world. That’s a lot to be, a lot of chances to let you down, but funnily enough, despite that fear I think I really would like to be yours.”

“Then let yourself be,” Keith said as he placed a hand on Lance’s cheek. It burned, but Lance still found himself leaning into his touch. “If there’s one thing you deserve above all else, the one truth that you need to accept is that you deserve to have someone who loves you for you, every piece of you, the good, the bad, the strong, the weak, and you know you have that in me.”

“I do.” Lance felt as if all feeling had left his body, almost like he was floating. His eyes flickered over Keith’s face, and he knew it was an illusion, but he couldn’t stop himself from being in awe at the realization. “It’s scary, letting you see the real me, everything underneath, even though a lot of it is still me, but yeah, I’m going to let you in, Keith.”

Keith stared at Lance for a moment longer. A soft smile appeared on Keith’s face, reminding Lance of a thousand times that look had appeared on Keith’s face before that he chose to ignore. “Lance, you passed,” Keith whispered. The moment he heard those words, Lance felt his knees give out on him. Strong arms caught him, but that was all Lance remembered as he succumbed to the exhaustion the illusion’s pain put him through.

Keith sat in a chair at Lance’s bedside in the room that would soon be Lance’s own. He hugged his knees to his chest, resting his head on them while he waited for Lance to stir. Maybe he shouldn’t have, but once he saw Lance begin to collapse on himself, Keith couldn’t just watch through the window like the others while Lance struggled to keep hold of himself. Keith had gotten there just in time, too, making it through the door just as Lance fell unconscious.

Carrying Lance to the room hadn’t been difficult. What was harder was looking after Lance in this state. As he stared at him, unmoving, all he could do was replay the events of the last battle they had been in together. He could have thought of anyone as he was sacrificing himself, but in the end, his last thoughts would have been of Lance and when they had saved Shiro together. About how he loved Lance, how he wanted to save Lance. He had never wanted to see Lance in this state ever again after what Sendak did.

Not that it mattered because Lance hated him. The words Lance said during the trial, what he thought about him, made Keith’s heart hurt. Did Lance really think that Keith thought so little of him? That Keith viewed him as a failure? Keith had always thought Lance shined brighter than him, even during their Garrison days. He wondered if Lance knew he was watching him, but he probably didn’t. Lance had been out of it, like Keith was during his trial. There was no way he knew what he was saying.

The thoughts continued to stir in his head until he heard footsteps outside. He turned his head to see Kolivan enter the room and move to stand next to Keith, staring down at Lance’s still form. “I warned him about the trials. The suits aren’t designed for those without Galra blood. He’s lucky that his mind didn’t collapse on itself.” Crossing his arms over his chest, a small smile appeared on Kolivan’s face. “I am impressed, though not surprised. He exudes the same chaotic energy that you do, although in a different way.”

Keith scowled up at him. “Thanks.” His gaze instantly returned to Lance. “I shouldn’t have even suggested he take the trial. I don’t know why I thought he’d give up. Lance has never given up in all the time I’ve known him.” He snorted as what Kolivan said sunk in a little deeper. “I guess you’re right. He’s more stubborn than me sometimes.”

“See?” Kolivan paused, shifting uncomfortably as his gaze hardened. “I’ve decided to hold up my end of the bargain,” he informed Keith stiffly. His eyes drifted from Lance’s unconscious form to Keith. “Though, I’m not going to change the rules. I’m only going to make an exception for him. He does too good of work not to, and from the missions I led with him before Lotor’s arrival, I believe he has potential.”

“What!?” Keith got to his feet. He’d been banking on Kolivan going back on his word and sticking with tradition. Being around Lance all the time when he knew Lance didn’t return his feelings would be torture. “Why are you going to just bend the rules for him?” He clenched his fists at his sides. “No matter what potential he has, he still cheated! It wasn’t even a fight. The only reason he was able to overpower me was because he knew me!”

“Exactly, he found your weaknesses and exploited them, and he quickly got the suit under his control. Even if he can’t call the blade, we need someone like him in our ranks.” Kolivan glanced from Lance to Keith with a knowing look in his eyes. “But I have a feeling that’s not the reason why you don’t want him in the Blade any longer. We all saw how you rushed to him, it’s obvious how you feel.” He sighed heavily. “I’m not going to pretend that I know humans, but I do believe this is universal behavior for those your age. I’ll be putting him on missions with you specifically, so I suggest you work out everything before then.”

Keith wanted to protest but didn’t, knowing that he had to follow orders. “Of course. I won’t compromise the mission, not again.” Kolivan nodded approvingly, seeming to trust that Keith would get the job done, and left without another word. As soon as Keith was alone in the room again, he couldn’t help turning his attention to Lance’s still form. “My feelings for Lance...” he repeated with a frown. “The issue is more his feelings for me.”

Pulling the chair closer, Keith sat back down and looked over Lance. If he wanted this to work, he was just going to have to get rid of his feelings. But he had been trying to the entire time he’d known Lance. It started out as a crush: Keith liked guys and Lance was good looking. There was no way he wouldn’t be interested in him. Then when Lance opened his mouth, Keith thought he was safe. Lance was a loud-mouth, a jerk; except he wasn’t.

Keith couldn’t help himself and reached out to move a strand of hair out Lance’s eyes. He wished Lance wasn’t brave or kind. It’d have made this easier. Though he doubted he’d have even tested Lance in the first place if his feelings weren’t this strong for him. It was horrible, but he was in love with Lance. When it started, he had no idea, he only knew that he didn’t deserve an ounce of the warmth that Lance possessed. Lance had so much love to give. Even if by some miracle Lance did come to care for Keith romantically, how could Keith ever begin to return that?

“Why did I call out to you? Why did my feet move? Why did I rush to you the way I did?” Keith asked Lance, even though he knew he wasn’t awake. “I didn’t want you here. I don’t want you here, but still-” He let his fingertips trace the edges of Lance’s face, noticing the small smile that appeared. “It’s good to see you again. I missed you.”

A contented hum sounded from Lance, which startled Keith, making him snap his hand back. He stared at Lance, waiting to see if he was waking up, but he only hummed, continuing to nuzzle into his pillow. Keith breathed a sigh of relief and reached out a hand to play with Lance’s hair again, only to stop when a chuckle sounded behind him. Tensing, Keith glanced over his shoulder to see Krolia standing in the doorway.

“Kolivan said that I’d find you here,” Krolia said as she moved into the room, not seeming to notice how awkward Keith still felt around her, or maybe she was ignoring it. “Is this him?” There was a small smile on her lips. “He’d said that your ‘mate’ had joined. Why didn’t you tell me that you had started seeing someone?”

Keith sputtered and choked. “My mate?” He frowned when she started laughing, crossing his arms over his chest. Krolia wasn’t horrible. She wasn’t the worst mom that anyone could have, but she had still caused a lot of pain in his life after she abandoned him. Maybe he was being petty, but he wasn’t going to pretend like nothing happened. “Why are you even here?”

“Can’t I come and see my son?” Keith glared at her, and Krolia sighed. He could tell she was trying. Part of him was glad to see her again. But the other part of him remembered all the nights he felt unloved and unsafe because she decided to abandon him without an explanation. “I heard that we got a recruit that wasn’t Galra. I only wished to see who Kolivan was making the exception for. Kolivan had high praise for him.”

“Well, Kolivan’s been on several successful missions with Lance while we were forming the Coalition.” Keith focused back on Lance, placing a hand over Lance’s and finding it calming to stare at him. “Lance is brave, he’s willing to put his life on the line to do what’s right. When it comes down to it, he’ll put others before his own safety every time. He’s a hero.”

Krolia hummed. “You seem to have high praise for him, too,” she observed. She stepped closer, and Keith held his tongue, the impulse to tell her to get away from Lance rising. He reminded himself that they were all on the same team, even if he did have issues with her. “I think you’re like your father in that aspect. He always spoke highly of me, even when I didn’t deserve it. I’m glad that you picked up more of his traits than mine.”

“Easy enough since you weren’t around,” Keith snapped, unable to stop himself. He winced at his words but didn’t apologize, even when hurt crossed over Krolia’s face. “You don’t get to talk to me about Dad, Krolia. You don’t get to talk to me about anything before the moment we met on that mission, because you left. You can’t keep pretending like you didn’t.”

“I’m not pretending like I didn’t!” Krolia shouted at him. She ran a hand over her face while taking a calming breath. “I know what I did was wrong. I regret every day what I did, that I followed orders over thinking about your safety, about your feelings.” She reached out a hand to Keith, but he took a step back. “I don’t know how to interact with you. I’m used to you being tiny, whole. I wish I knew how to mend the pieces between us.”

“You can’t.” And while Keith wanted to stay by Lance’s side until he woke up, he pushed past her, out into the hallway. Krolia didn’t follow him, which he was thankful for, but that didn’t stop his skin from crawling after the interaction. Keith didn’t know what to do with himself. If he was back at the Castle, he’d train, but here, everyone was training. He wouldn’t get the privacy that he liked when he was in the training room.

Instead, Keith made his way over to the hangar, knowing that no one went here unless they had a mission. Being in the hangar made him miss Red, though. But he didn’t miss the Black Lion, not even a little bit. Not only did he hate the responsibility that came with piloting it, but the lion just wasn’t his style. He needed speed, something that reacted the way he did. The Black Lion needed someone who thought through their decisions because of how heavy the controls were, and that just wasn’t Keith.

Keith sighed, wondering if Kolivan would mind if he took one of the ships out to fly. The cycle just ended, so the window would be open for a few days, which would give him plenty of time to stretch his legs and return. Though, knowing Kolivan, he would mind, but that didn’t stop Keith from climbing into one of the fighters anyway.

As soon as he fired up the engine, Kolivan’s face appeared on his screen. “Why am I not surprised?” Kolivan asked with a disapproving tone. If Keith was being honest with himself, he’d admit that he was beginning to view Kolivan as a father figure after seeing all the work he did for the universe. The Galra’s reach might have stretched all the way to Earth if it wasn’t for the Blade sabotaging them. “Why is it impossible to keep you and your mother under control?”

“I’m under control,” Keith protested, not liking the insinuation that he was anything like her. “I was just going to take it for a patrol, make certain that our position hasn’t been compromised. If what Lance said is true, if Shiro isn’t Shiro, then our base might be in danger.” He felt a small swell of pride at coming up with that lie on the spot. “With your permission, I’d like to take a look around the neighboring systems, see if we’re still safe.”

Kolivan narrowed his eyes, clearly not believing Keith’s story from the annoyed hum that resounded from him. “We’re monitoring the surrounding areas. We’ll know if there is trouble approaching, but-” He cut himself off and pressed a button, sending information to Keith’s screen. “If you can’t stand to be at the same base as Krolia that much, here is a mission to keep you occupied while you wait for your mate to awaken.”

“Lance isn’t my-!” Keith tried to protest, but Kolivan had already ended the call. He huffed in frustration, not certain why Kolivan seemed insistent on using that word to describe his relationship with Lance. It wasn’t like that. Well, maybe it was sort of like that, but it was one-sided since there was no way that Lance had those kinds of feelings for him.

Keith shook Lance from his head, knowing that he couldn’t get distracted from the mission. He was better than that. Instead, he looked over the mission. It was reconnaissance from what Keith could tell. Lotor seemed to be moving some type of part that the Blade had flagged as suspicious. He had a knee-jerk reaction that they were overreacting, that Shiro wouldn’t let something like this happen, but then he remembered what Lance said about Shiro not being himself. That would explain all the missions that turned out to be traps. They’d suspected a mole, but he never thought it’d turn out to be Shiro.

Inhaling sharply, Keith wondered if maybe he was too compromised to attempt this mission. He had Lance on his mind, and now his brother. However, if he stayed, that meant more chances to run into Krolia, more chances for her to try to talk with him, and he just wasn’t ready for that. So he gripped the controls of his ship and urged it forward, flying it out of the base and into the sea of debris. He wasn’t trying to impress Lance this time, so he didn’t bother with any reckless actions, and instead steered straight through.

The ship practically moved on its own as he guided it towards the coordinates that Kolivan had sent. Keith struggled to keep his mind off Lance, though, as it constantly drifted back to him. Maybe it was good that Keith wouldn’t be there when he woke up. He might be more upset to see the person that he thought hated him. There had always been a rivalry between them, but he had no idea that Lance thought Keith viewed him as an idiot. It was his own fault, though. Keith said it enough times to him, at least.

Luckily, the ship Keith had been sent to investigate showed up on his radar, allowing his mind to move away from his guilt. He flew low, using the methods that the Blade had taught him to fly under the radar of a Galra ship. They didn’t seem to notice him as he landed his plane on top of the cruiser, which was much bigger and more heavily armed than needed since the information that Kolivan had sent said that they were shipping “Daibazaal relics”.

Keith made certain that his ship was secure and that his suit was working before he slipped out into the vacuum of space and began making his way towards one of the airlocks. He couldn’t count how many times he’d been thrust into the vacuum of space. In fact, it was starting to become mundane for him. He was losing the panic he once felt while floating through the nothingness without anything to teether him.

The airlock was easy to get into with the codes he’d been provided. Since Lotor had aligned himself with Voltron, it wasn’t hard for the Blade to get their hands on his passwords. It did make Keith question why Lotor would need a ship this big if he was working with the Coalition, but of course, that was the purpose of this mission: to figure out Lotor’s secret.

Stealthily sneaking through the corridor, Keith pressed his back against an alcove as he waited for the sentries to pass. He felt like he was getting better at this: following orders, remaining hidden. Maybe he still had a slip up or two, but the Blade had given him focus. It wasn’t the family that Voltron was, but Keith felt he was getting what he needed here. For the longest time, he didn’t have a direction. Shiro had pointed him in a general direction, but Keith had only been following that path because he was told to. This, the Blade, was all his decision.

The sentries left, and Keith continued forward, checking his display every so often, as it held a map of the type of cruiser he was exploring. He followed the map to the main hangar and holding area, still slinking in the shadows, using his suit to easily blend into them. It seemed that it was mostly robotic Galra that were serving on the ship, which made sense since he doubted Lotor would trust anyone in the Empire after what he did.

Keith checked to make certain that he was clear before entering the hangar. His eyes widened as he gazed up at the familiar teladuv piece. He’d remembered that Lotor had taken it, but it’d been unclear what had happened to it after that. Lotor hadn’t said what he had done with it; at least, Allura hadn’t told the Blade if he had done anything with it. It made Keith feel that maybe lines of communication were more broken than Lance realized.

With the contents of the ship confirmed, Keith had technically completed his mission, but he needed to know more. He knew from his countless missions with Pidge and now the Blade how to get information out of a Galra ship, so he didn’t think it’d be too hard to get into the system. But all those other times, he’d had back-up; if he was supposed to do more than look and come back, Kolivan would have sent more Blade with him. But then again, it wasn’t as if Kolivan knew what Lotor was carrying. They’d need more information.

Maybe he should have waited for Lance to wake up, since he knew that Lance was a large portion of Keith’s impulse control. But he hadn’t, so he took off running towards the control room. He stuck to the shadows, moving only as the sentries moved to keep himself hidden. It surprised him how far in his training he’d come with the Blades that he was able to do it instinctively without even having to count their marching in his head. He felt proud of himself, especially as he slipped into the control room without a single alarm sounding.

Keith approached the computer and began typing on it, remembering a time when he couldn’t read the letters on the screen. It was much easier now after learning from other Galra about his heritage. Despite what his ancestors did he now found a sense of pride in it, thinking that maybe he would be able to help set the Galra back to the way they were before Zarkon was poisoned by the quintessence and bring a bit of good back to the universe after all the suffering they’d caused. That was in the long term, though. In the short term, it was finding out what Lotor was planning.

Keith inserted a memory drive into the computer and began transferring the files. His eyes flickered over the logs as he copied them. The teladuv was being sent to some odd place in the middle of nowhere called the Patrulian Zone. There were a few notes about giving the Galra unlimited quintessence, which didn’t sound good in his book. The more power that the Galra had, the tighter a grip they would have on the universe.

Letting Lotor have this would be putting the entire universe at risk, but then his orders had only been to retrieve information, not blow up a cruiser. If he let it reach its destination, they might learn more about Lotor’s true motives, but at what cost? A decision had to be made, and it reminded him of when he had to decide between putting up his shield or attacking the cargo ship. He’d chosen wrong. Keith knew his first instinct was right. He wouldn’t choose wrong again.

Removing the memory drive, Keith pocketed it, making certain it was secure, then began typing on the computer. It was easy enough to engage the self-destruct controls, giving him ten minutes to get to his ship. However, as soon as the countdown started, alarm bells sounded loudly from seemingly every corner of the ship. Keith winced, wondering how every stealth mission ended up as a mad dash for his life with the back of his mind supplying that it was his poor decision-making skills.

Keith exited into the hallway and swore under his breath as he was greeted by sentries firing on him. While it had seemed at first that the ship was mostly unguarded, judging by the amount of robots that were now bearing down on him it looked like Lotor had packed the cruiser full of as many sentries as he could. He looked down at the timer, wondering if the bomb or sentries would kill him first, not that he was going to give up without a fight.

The sentry fire was uniformed, at least. Keith pulled out his blade, transforming it into a sword as he ran forward before dropping to the ground, sliding underneath the first one and slicing it as he went. He threw his blade into the next one, jumping to the side so it shot the sentry behind him before he reached forward, pulling the blade out of the sentry’s chest. His blade found purchase in another sentry, detaching its head from its body.

A growl escaped Keith’s lips, looking down at his wrist, watching time he didn’t have pass. He should have thought this out more. There were too many of them, even for Keith. That didn’t stop him, though, despite his limbs aching and feeling as if they would fall off any second. Keith swung out with his sword, ready to slice through another sentry, only it fell before he even touched it.

“Can’t leave you alone for a second,” a familiar voice said with a chuckle. Keith thought he might be hearing things until another sentry went down, and another. He turned in the direction of the shots to see another Blade member, mask up, running in his direction with two Galra pistols in his hands firing at the sentries with deadly accuracy. “I almost forgot how much trouble you could get into, babe. Going to have to get you a leash.”

The other member’s mask faded away, revealing Lance’s face. Keith stared at him, forgetting that they were in a fight for a second until a shot hit his arm, bringing him back to his senses. “You shouldn’t be here,” he grunted, switching hands to stab into another nearby sentry. “You almost had your brain fried by Galra tech. You should be back at the base. How did you find me? How did you even get here?”

Lance fired off another shot before putting his mask back on and Keith had to fight not to tell him how good he looked in the Blade uniform. “Good to know that the Kogane charm hasn’t changed.” He fired off another shot, hitting a sentry in the head. “And your mom gave me a ride after we found out from Kolivan that he sent you on a solo mission. She told me to tell you that you’re a danger magnet just like your father.”

Keith stabbed his blade into the next sentry a little harder than needed. “Of course she did,” he bit out angrily. They were making progress finally. There still seemed to be the same number of sentries, but they had made it further down the hallway, which was something considering how the timer was still ticking. “Why did you have to bring her into this? You could’ve come alone. We didn’t need her. I’ve never needed her.”

“You know, she deserves that. She deserves everything you say about her.” Lance shot another couple sentries, finally clearing a path for them to slide past and begin making progress out of the cruiser. “But, and there’s always a but, she’s an ally. You don’t have to be her best friend. You don’t have to like her. We just have to stand together. Small breaks in the team, especially with how little Marmorites there are, can tear the whole thing apart. Trust me on this.”

“Lance, this isn’t like what happened with the paladins.” Keith threw his blade, knocking down one of the sentries in their path. He retrieved his blade as they ran past. “She gave me so many emotional complexes because of what she did. She’s the reason-” Krolia was the reason he had trouble confessing to Lance, why he pushed people away. “I just can’t see her as an ally.”

“I do understand. She hurt you, Keith, so I’m not saying you have to forgive. That’s not what I’m saying. I’m on your side, she could’ve left you a letter, something to explain that she still loved you, but she didn’t.” Lance sucked in a breath as they rounded the corner to finally find the airlock and more sentries blocking the way to it. “What I’m saying is that you shouldn’t let her affect you. She missed out on getting to know an amazing person. You shouldn’t waste your time or anger on her.”

Slicing through the chest of the nearest sentry, Keith glanced to the side to stare at Lance. He watched him blast a line through the sentries. Keith had almost forgotten how it felt to see Lance in action. There was so much he wanted to say, because what Lance said made sense to him, but all that came out was, “You think I’m amazing?”

Lance snorted, then chuckled. “Always did.” With another shot, Lance had cleared the way to the release button. Keith gazed at Lance for a moment, eyes flickering over his lean form. There was something different about Lance, but this wasn’t the time to ask, as he slammed his hand on the button, opening the airlock doors wide.

Keith let himself get sucked out into space, watching for Lance, grabbing his wrist before he floated away like the sentries did. He pulled Lance closer, looking down at the countdown on his wrist. There wasn’t enough time to get back up to his ship as they only had two minutes left, and it’d take him at least four to get to the ship. He was going to die and hadn’t even got a chance to tell Lance how he felt about him.

“Lance,” Keith began, not knowing how to say what he wanted. He wasn’t sure if he wanted to lie and tell him that they were going to make it to his ship in time or tell the truth that they might not make it. That was when he saw the Blade ship speeding towards them, docking door open. “This is going to really hurt but hang on.”

Bracing for impact, Keith clung to Lance, curling around him as much as he could, preparing himself for the pain that would come with being slammed into the ship. It hurt much more than Keith expected, but he kept his grip of Lance, rolling them further inside so the docking bay could quickly close. Keith groaned as he checked his wrist, watching the timer tick down to zero. He turned to his head as much as he could to watch the explosion. Metal debris flew everywhere, but Krolia was an expert pilot and managed to maneuver the ship between all of it, avoiding the wreckage with ease.

A sigh of relief had formed on Keith’s lips, and he was about to let it out when Lance’s face popped over his with an angry scowl. “What were you thinking!?” Lance yelled at him, waving his hands wildly over his head. “I mean, I know what you were thinking, but what were you thinking!? Why did you blow up the cruiser!? I think Lotor is going to notice that!”

“It had a teladuv piece on it.” Keith winced, struggling to sit up. He was surprised when Lance’s hands were on him, pulling him into his lap to help give him support. “The logs had something about endless energy for the Galra, and they were bringing the ship somewhere called the Patrulian Zone to harness it. Whatever plans he had for it, I couldn’t let it reach its destination.”

“Patrulian Zone? For real?” When Keith nodded his head, Lance frowned, growing serious suddenly. He bit at his lip. “Allura wouldn’t let him do that, would she?” he muttered more to himself. “She might if it had to do with Altean alchemy. Then again, he could be doing this with Shiro behind our backs again. And why where we found Oriande? I thought it just led to the temple of the White Lion and the secrets of alchemy. What use would the teladuv be there?”

Keith made his mask vanish so Lance could see his full look of confusion. “What are you talking about? Oriande? Altean alchemy? There’s a white lion? When did we get a sixth lion? Does it have a pilot?” He didn’t want to get his hopes up, especially since Lance was here instead of with the Coalition, but he had to ask, “Are there enough lions for all of us now?”

“Forgot you weren’t here for that part.” Lance’s shoulders slumped, and Keith realized a little too late that he’d asked a touchy question. “There’s no sixth lion. It was this spirit thing that gifted Allura with knowledge that only her dad had or something? I don’t know. No one really tells me anything these days. That fake Shiro tore us apart, but I don’t have proof besides a gut feeling that he’s not the real Shiro.”

“We’ll get proof,” Keith said, putting a hand over Lance’s. “I trust your gut. You have good instincts and make even better observations. It’s why I really depended on you while I was piloting the Black Lion. If you think that there’s something off about Shiro then I trust you, especially if he’s acting the way you were describing.”

A soft smile appeared on Lance’s face, and he looked like he wanted to say something, but a throat clearing broke the moment. Keith looked up to see Krolia staring at them. It was hard to read her facial expressions since he hadn’t spent that much time with her, though from what Keith could gather, there seemed to be a slight wistfulness to her expression along with a hint of pain that lurked in her eyes.

“I thought I’d let you know that we’re in the clear. I put it on autopilot, so it should get us the rest of the way there.” Krolia shifted awkwardly, rubbing her hand at the back of her neck. It was such a human gesture, but Keith reminded himself that she had spent at least a year on Earth while she was pregnant with him. “I’d scold you, but your boyfriend already did the job for me. I guess, just, well, don’t scare me like that again.”

Red colored Keith’s cheeks at the mention of Lance being his boyfriend. He wanted to protest, but then the word ‘babe’ filtered into his mind and the different way Lance had been acting towards him. “I-” Keith began only to cut himself off, knowing what he had to say would probably be rude. Instead, he took a breath, deciding to take Lance’s advice. “I won’t, Krolia. Thanks for bringing Lance and saving us.”

Though she winced when he called her by her full name, she did smile at the rest of Keith’s words. “You’re welcome, Keith.” She chewed at her bottom lip, glancing off to the side. “Like I said before, I left you once. I don’t plan on doing it again. Even if you never come to view me as your mother again, just know that I’ll always be there for you.”

While Keith wanted to shut her down, say that he didn’t believe her, Lance had a point. He didn’t have to forgive her, but the pain he was holding onto because of her wasn’t healthy, either. “I’ll keep that in mind,” he decided to say instead. That was the best he could muster, for now at least. Maybe the more they worked together, the more he’d be able to let go of his past.

If Krolia was hurt by his half-acceptance, she didn’t say, as she turned back towards the controls. They sat in silence after that. Lance’s hand went to Keith’s hair, running his hands through the strands as he stared out at the screen. It was hard to tell if he was doing this on purpose or if it was a subconscious move on his part. Something had changed in Lance. That was what the trials were for, finding your inner truths, discovering who you were. It made him wonder what Lance had found, but he wasn’t going to ask that in front of Krolia.

Keith closed his eyes, deciding to enjoy Lance’s fingers in his hair while he could. He must have fallen asleep, because he could feel Lance’s hand on his shoulder, shaking him gently. “We’re back,” Lance told him with a soft smile. “Your mom went to go get a medic. I’m pretty sure it’s just a bruised muscle but better to be safe than sorry, right?”

“Yeah,” Keith said as he stared at Lance, searching his face. “There’s something different about you. But I know you’re not some weird double, because no one could replicate a goofball like you.” He poked Lance’s cheek. “Something happened during the trials after I took off running to get you. I can’t tell if I like it yet.”

Lance laughed and poked Keith back. “Hey, I’m not taking lip from a guy who sports a mullet, okay?” His fingers brushed over Keith’s bangs in a way that felt intimate, and Keith could feel his heart beginning to race while his hopes rose. “And maybe something did happen. Shame on you for spying on me. Now I’m not going to tell.”

“Lance, come on!” It hurt, but Keith pulled himself out of Lance’s lap so that he could sit up beside him. “I was only watching because I was worried about you! If I would’ve known that your trial would’ve involved me then I would’ve sat out.” He searched Lance’s eyes, trying to see if they gave anything away, but all that greeted Keith was a mischievous glint. “Lance, please-”

Keith didn’t get to finish his sentence as Lance’s lips were suddenly pressing against his. It was quick and chaste, but that didn’t stop Keith from ceasing to function as Lance pulled back with a smile. “See what happens when you say the magic word?” And if Lance expected an answer, Keith didn’t think he’d get one for at least another hour when Keith remembered how to speak. “Uh, was it okay? Did I break you?”

Nodding his head, Keith said, “Yes,” though he wasn’t certain if he was replying to the fact that he was okay or that he was broken, maybe he was both. “Why-?” Keith struggled to find the words. “What-? I- Us?” Lance chuckled, a bright smile lighting up his face, which made it even harder for Keith to find words. “Mate?”

“Mate?” Lance repeated, and Keith winced as Lance broke out laughing. Keith blamed Kolivan for that. “Sure, why not.” He brought his fingers up to rest underneath Keith’s chin in a way that Keith thought he’d only dream about. There was no going back now, he was officially in love with Lance. “The trial showed me what I’d been ignoring. I hadn’t been emotionally ready then, but I am now. Keith, I remember the bonding moment. We really do make a good team.”

While Keith was almost certain that he’d died for real in that explosion and this was the afterlife, the pain in his back said otherwise. There weren’t words for what he felt. He was angry that Lance had lied, but he pushed that down, knowing that if Lance wasn’t ready then he wasn’t ready. What mattered was that he did have feelings for Keith, too. It was hard to find the words to say to express himself, so he didn’t. He tackled Lance to the floor of the ship, capturing his mouth as he did.

“Not letting you go now,” Keith said between kisses. He knew any moment that his mother and a few members of the medical team were going to burst in to see the two of them making out, but he was having a hard time caring, especially since Lance’s face hard turned red. “You’re stuck with me.”

“Well, I do hear Galra mate for life.” That joke earned Lance a sharp nip at his neck from Keith. “Ow! I thought it was funny.” He pouted, but his hand found its way to Keith’s hair, and he carded his fingers gently through it. “But just so you know, I’m the one not letting you go. I want to make it perfectly clear that you’re the one stuck with me.”

That made Keith smile, and he leaned in so that he could give Lance another kiss. Everything was up in the air with Lotor and whatever was going on with Shiro, but they’d figure it out. They had each other now. A part of him was still scared, still afraid that he’d lose Lance somehow, but the rest of him was ready, had been since their bonding moment. Lance was right. The two of them did make a good team, and together, Keith knew no one could stop them.