They never should have brought this fight to the ground.
In the skies, Voltron had been unbeatable - tearing through the Galra fleet in minutes and leaving nothing but a debris field in orbit. When the remaining ships had retreated planetside, the lions were quick to give chase.
But on foot like this, deep within the subterranean Galra complex? The paladins hadn’t realized what they were walking into.
A Galra soldier pushes Keith down to his knees, his bound wrists jarring painfully as he tries to catch himself. Lance nearly faceplants when they shove him down next to the Red paladin, and Allura follows soon after. The princess’ Altean strength made her the most difficult to restrain, but eventually the Galra had gotten her into harsh metal cuffs as well.
Fortunately it’s just the three of them; Hunk and Pidge had headed for the prisoner wing to release as many hostages as possible. When Allura kicked in the command room door, the trio had expected to take out the last dregs of Galra resistance - not run themselves into an ambush.
Now here they are, trussed up in a corner of the fortified command room with two layers of steel doors between them and freedom. But electronic locks can be hacked, and Keith tells himself it’s just a matter of time until the Green and Yellow paladins bust them out. He and the other two just have to hold on.
“Not exactly the welcome party we were expecting,” Lance mumbles. He shifts uncomfortably, testing the material around his wrists.
From Lance’s other side, Allura nudges him to be quiet. The last thing they need is to catch the attention of the Galra commander pacing across the room.
The base’s general is tall, looming over his officers by a foot at least, and clearly dressed for battle. Various weapons are fastened to scuffed armor - but most ominous is the wide bandolier strapped across his chest. Sharp metal gleams from behind the stained leather latches. Knives.
The imposing Galra paces in front of a wall of holo-screens, video feeds displaying the base’s crumbling defenses. His head swivels, and Keith sees disheveled bandages wrapped around his head over one eye. Fresh blood darkens the fabric on his face, as if the Galra hadn’t even paused to seek proper treatment before returning to his post.
Keith wonders if the wound is a remnant of their battle above the planet. That could explain the simmering fury, the frantic fear amid the gathered soldiers. The general shouts orders, apparently gathering the last of their troops into fighterships.
“What’s our target, General Bastra?” an officer asks hesitantly.
The Galra commander stops his pacing, voice dropping menacingly. “Prepare an advance squadron for the Castle of Lions.”
Allura pulls in a sharp breath, too quiet for anyone but her equally shocked paladins to hear. Shiro and Coran are on that ship, completely defenseless so long as Voltron is planetside. Allura had been the first to speak out against leaving their home unguarded while the lions pursued their retreating foes. But the temptation of freeing this planet completely was too great a chance to pass up.
Don’t fret Princess, the ship will be waiting behind the planet’s secondary moon. We’ll be safer than a flock of parasnips during nesting season. Coran had assured them that the castle would be well-hidden. There’s no way the Galra could have found it so quickly.
General Bastra turns to approach the three paladins, thrilled to see the effect his words have had on them.
“Don’t look so surprised, paladins,” he sneers. “Voltron destroyed my fleet, shredded everything I’ve worked so hard to build. Now I will take that from you too, in one glorious final assault.”
There’s manic glee behind his threat, a euphoria that’s just unhinged enough to make Keith realize: The general is mad. Backed into a corner, Bastra is ready to throw every living soul under his command into the fire - chasing revenge and violence wherever it leads.
“One of you will tell me where the castleship is. I know it can’t go far without its precious princess, now can it?” Bastra grabs Allura’s chin, who meets his eye unflinchingly. Keith feels his lips pull into a snarl.
“Hands off, furball,” Lance grits out. “Or she’ll give you a glorious ass-kicking in a minute.”
The general’s attention flicks over to the middle paladin as if seeing him for the first time, taking in the blue armor. Bastra’s spine stiffens in recognition, and one gleaming yellow eye narrows with immediate hatred.
A quick flash of fear crosses Lance’s face, startled by the ferocity packed into a single word. The general releases Allura without a second thought and turns to overshadow the Blue paladin instead.
“Did you think I would forget who caused all this?” he growls. “Who did THIS to me?”
Keith’s brow furrows, mirroring the confused expression on Lance’s face. The general had arrived after the paladins stormed the command room; they hadn’t encountered him as they fought their way in. So how…?
Viper-quick, the general’s hand snatches Lance around the throat, pulling him to his feet in one violent motion. Keith shouts in alarm, Allura’s eyes growing wide at the sudden escalation.
“The Blue lion tore into our bombercruiser.” Bastra squeezes Lance’s throat a little tighter, claws pressing dangerously at the delicate skin of his neck. “You ruptured our auxiliary bridge, took out half my command station.”
Lance is barely balanced on his tiptoes, tied hands scrabbling uselessly at the Galra’s grip as he struggles to keep his boots on the floor.
“The Blue lion cost me my eye , scum.”
Keith glances over to Allura, cold dread sweeping through his chest. The princess must realize at the same time, meeting his gaze with a panicked expression.
She was the one flying Blue.
The general’s fangs twist into a grimace. “I’m going to make you pay for it. Make you pay for all the damage you caused.”
The Blue lion demolished Bastra’s ship... but Allura’s armor is pink. Lance wears his original blue gear even as he pilots Red. The general has the wrong paladin.
The princess opens her mouth to speak, but Lance hisses out an answer first. “If y-you ask me, Blue did you a favor. The eyepatch covers up more of your ugly mug.”
General Bastra roars and slams the paladin into the wall of panels behind them.
“Lance, what are you doing?? Stop it! It wasn’t him!” Allura calls desperately.
The general looks to her for a moment, his remaining good eye scanning over her pink armor, confused… considering…
Lance suddenly stops struggling against the hand at his throat. Keith watches in mounting horror as the Blue paladin gets that familiar protective set to his shoulders, the one that comes before ever stupidly-noble decision he’s ever made.
Desperation melts into determination as Lance locks eyes with Keith, commanding the other paladin to stay quiet - to let him do this for the sake of their princess.
And then Lance raises his voice, offering himself up to save his friends.
“I’m the Blue paladin. I’m the one you want.”