The explosion was so big, the paladins could see it from the surface of Naxzela. Almost immediately, the force pinning Voltron to the ground was lifted, and they all cheered, relief rising in their chests as Voltron rose from the planet.
“Good work, Keith.” Shiro praised. They all paused, waiting to hear Keith’s response, but there was nothing. Nothing came through the comms but static. The silence dragged on, and Lance felt unease curl in his gut. Something wasn’t right.
“There must be something wrong with the comms.” Pidge said, not sounding very confident at all. “Interference from the explosion or something.”
“You’re probably right.” agreed Shiro, but Lance couldn’t shake the feeling that something was awfully, horribly wrong. Suddenly, pure panic overwhelmed him, and for a moment he couldn’t breathe. It was Red. He could hear her in his head, roaring.
Before he could ask her what was wrong, she had torn herself away from Voltron and taken off, going as fast as she could, which by the way was really fucking fast.
“Lance! What are you doing!” He could barely hear Shiro’s voice over Red’s distress, but he tried his best to answer anyway.
“It’s not me, it’s Red! She won’t listen to me!”
The lion was heading for the wreckage of the ship, bounding between floating chunks of metal and propelling herself in a spiral. Lance had gotten used to the Red lion’s speed, but sometimes all of this twisting and turning still made him feel like Hunk on a roller coaster.
“What is she looking for?” he heard Pidge cry.
“I don’t know, I- oh. Oh. ” Red had just pushed past one last chunk of wreckage, sparking with electricity, and revealed what remained of a Galra fighter ship. Floating lifelessly just outside of it was someone wearing the gear of the Blade of Marmora. Lance barely had time to think of a swear before the Red lion was swallowing up the person.
Lance launched himself out of his pilot seat and rushed to where the person would appear. His stomach clenched as he knelt beside the body, praying desperately as he dismissed the mask. His prayers were not answered.
“Oh god, Keith, Jesus fuck , what did you do?!” The former paladin was absolutely mangled, his blood soaking the floor and his suit and Lance’s armor. Red roared at him, desperate in the back of his mind, and Lance rushed back to his seat. There was nothing he could do right now, he had to get Keith back to the Castle, now .
“Lance, talk to us.” Shiro said, his voice an annoying buzz in Lance’s ear. “What’s going on?”
“Red found Keith.” his voice sounded strangled, even to him, as he pressed Red as fast as she would go. “He’s hurt, he’s hurt really bad.”
Dimly, he heard Shiro opening comms with Coran, ordering him to get a healing pod ready, but Lance really wasn’t listening. His blood was humming with fear, and he couldn’t tell if it was his or Red’s or maybe both. The Castle was in sight in a matter of seconds, and he barely took the time to set Red down properly before he was hauling Keith out of the lion. Everywhere he went he left streaks of blood, and Lance was barely keeping his lunch down.
Coran met him outside Red, visibly losing several shades of color when he saw the extent of Keith’s injuries. Still, he helped Lance lift him, and together they hauled ass to the infirmary.
Lance pushed him into the healing pod, not bothering with the special suit, as Coran typed away furiously on the console. The pod closed, and Lance’s knees buckled, sending him to the floor. His blood still rushed in his ears, his whole body thrumming with adrenaline. He could still hear Red in the back of his mind, but she was much quieter now, giving him room to think. The door behind him whistled open, and the other paladins crowded in.
“Lance? What happened?” That was Hunk’s voice, Lance dimly realized, but all he could manage was a weak shrug. Which wasn’t exactly untrue. He had no idea how Keith had gotten so hurt.
“Red found him.” he found himself saying. “Outside a smashed up Galra fighter.”
“Do you think he got shot down?” asked Pidge, jogging up to the healing pod. Lance just shrugged again. He felt a hand on his shoulder, and then Hunk was lifting him to his feet.
“Are you ok?” he murmured. Lance forced himself to nod.
“Yeah, it was just- there was a lot of blood.” Looking around, all of the others were staring at him with distraught expressions. Thankfully, the whoosh of another opening door pulled their attention from him.
Matt came stumbling inside, rubbing at his eyes. “Guys, guys, Keith is-” He froze when he caught sight of all of them gathered around the healing pod, and his eyes widened. “Oh my god, he’s alive?!”
“What are you talking about?” Pidge demanded of her brother, copying his expression. “What do you mean he’s alive? What did he do? ”
Matt came forward to join the others, gazing up at the healing pod with joy. “We couldn’t break through the barrier,” he recounted, “no matter what we threw at it. So Keith flew his ship right through it.”
“ WHAT?!” All of the inhabitants of the castle exclaimed at once, making Matt flinch back momentarily.
“I told him not to, but he wouldn’t listen.”
“He was going to sacrifice himself?” Hunk said, his voice a high pitched squeak.
“Yeah,” Matt responded. “I guess being with the Blade has really gotten to his head.”
Lance’s mind was buzzing, and he couldn’t think of anything to say. He just stared up at Keith’s bloody face. If Red hadn’t found him…
“Well obviously we can’t let him go back.” said Allura, of all people. “Their mindset is clearly toxic. If it weren’t for Lance, we would’ve lost a paladin.”
“I don’t know.” Everyone turned to stare when Shiro spoke, saying the last thing any of them would have expected. “Maybe we should let him go back.”
Lance gaped openly at him, and he wasn’t the only one.
“What? Of course we can’t let him go back, he almost died!” Pidge cried indignantly. Shiro gave her a sharp look.
“He was just thinking of the bigger picture. The mission is bigger than the individual.”
Lance narrowed his eyes, unexpected rage welling up in his chest. He thought dimly that it might be Red again, but at this point he didn’t care.
“Oh, really?” he snarled. “Because I remember you singing quite a different tune when Allura was captured.”
Shiro scowled at him, a cold, mean look that Lance had never seen on his face before. “That was then. This is now. Keith did the right thing.”
“You’re saying your brother flinging himself into the arms of death was the right thing?”
“Yes.” Shiro gave his answer firmly, raising his chin in defiance, and once again Lance found himself speechless.
That couldn’t be him. That couldn’t possibly be him.