One aspect of being a paladin none of them were getting used to quickly was the mind melding.
When the five of them formed Voltron, they were more like a single unit. They could feel everything the others were feeling, and while that was useful in life or death situations, it wasn’t so great when one of them got distracted, or someone’s emotions got in the way. And as Pidge had so eloquently put it that first day, sometimes you didn’t want everyone all up in your head hole.
Unfortunately, Allura was unrelenting. She didn’t seem to understand that intense emotions were just part of being a teenage human, and as a result the mind melding headbands made repeat appearances during training, much to everyone’s chagrin.
Today’s training was no different. They had only freed the Balmera the day before, but Allura had them up at the same time that morning, doing their same training, and after their lunch break the paladins found themselves filing back onto the training deck to sit in their loose circle and pretend having the others in their minds didn’t creep them out.
“Do we have to do this today, Allura?” Lance dared to grumble as he fumbled with the headband. “We freed an entire planet yesterday. Do Alteans not have a concept of time off?”
“Zarkon will not give you ‘time off’.” Allura said, just as she always did when someone asked for a break she felt was unwarranted. “Now focus! We’re doing emotion exercises today.”
Everyone but Shiro groaned.
“Mastering your emotions,” she began for the upteenth time, “Is essential to mastery of the Lions. If you aren’t careful, any one of you could split Voltron apart at the wrong time and get everyone else killed.”
“Bet it’ll be Mr. Hothead over there.” mumbled Lance. Keith glared at him, but Allura continued to speak before he could retaliate.
“I said focus! We’ll start easy. One by one, I want everyone to try calling up a happy memory. Embrace the feeling as well as you can. Lance, since you’re clearly feeling energetic today, why don’t you start us off?”
Lance made a face, but closed his eyes and did as he was told anyway. The others waited, feeling him shifting through his memories through their headbands, until finally he settled on one and the picture emerged before him like a TV screen.
Blue waves bobbed around him (no, them) as a hot sun baked down on their shoulders. The smell of salt and the crashing of water against sand surrounded them, and they moved with the waves on top of the surfboard. Up and down. Up and down. Soothing. The water was cool on their legs and there was a distinct sense of serenity and peace.
Allura studied the image, and after noting how the other paladin’s shoulders relaxed in response, smiled to herself.
“Very good, Lance.” she praised. “Hunk, you’re up next.”
Hunk waited patiently for Lance to pull himself out of his own head before beginning. He called up his memory quickly, probably already having it in mind, and the image took no time to appear. Now they were in a living room, warm and cozy on a couch while something blurry played on the TV in front of them. Two people sat either side of them, making them feel safe and secure between the two bodies. Warmth was everywhere and they felt sleepy-- like a Sunday afternoon.
“Excellent.” Allura’s voice jolted all of them away and kept them from falling asleep in the middle of training. “Pidge?”
Pidge let them in much more easily than she had in the past now that they all knew her secret. She didn’t try to blur or hide anything from the others, giving them a clear view into her memory. A dinner table, laden with all sorts of food. Her mother to her left, her father to her right, and her brother right across from her in his Garrison uniform. They all felt Shiro’s little pang at the sight, but he pushed it away before it could ruin the exercise. Just then a pair of fuzzy ears popped up beside her brother’s elbow-- her dog hoping for a piece of turkey. Lance giggled and Hunk smothered an aww.
“Well done, Pidge.” Allura said, softer than she had before. “Thank you for sharing.”
Pidge let the image drop away and blushed a little.
“Alright, your turn Shiro.”
Shiro took a deep, deep breath, and for a moment nothing happened. Then an image began to form, fuzzy and indistinct at first, but getting clearer with every passing second. A green plain. Wind whipping across and stirring hair and clothes. A rocket towering overhead. Then it flickered away and Shiro was blinking in confusion.
“Sorry.” he said with a sheepish grin. “I--”
“It’s fine, you did what I asked.” said Allura, smiling indulgently at him. She always went easiest on Shiro.
Keith, not needing to be told it was his turn on the spot, closed his eyes tightly. The first thing that appeared was familiar to almost all of them; the nighttime chase on his hoverbike. Speeding through the desert as fast as he could go with all of them there, leaving dust trails behind them, getting closer to the edge. Then they were falling, falling, falling--
Hunk tore off his head band, looking nauseous. Pidge yelped and jumped, and Lance scrambled for something to hold on to and landed on Shiro, who looked unmoved.
“That’s adrenaline, Keith.” chided Allura. “Not happiness. Try again. Hunk, put your headband back on, please.”
Keith’s face scrunched up and his hands curled into fists. For a second everyone thought he’d failed, as all they were seeing was black. Then they saw the pinpricks of light in the distance and the sensation of floating, and then Red was in front of them, huge and a little terrifying--
“I’m trying .” he bit back through gritted teeth. This image too dissipated into nothing, and all the other paladins could feel from him was frustration.
“Here, let me help.” said Shiro gently with a light touch to Keith’s shoulder. He closed his eyes again and Keith relaxed a bit as Shiro prodded him towards something familiar.
A Garrison dorm room, warm afternoon sunlight filtering through the small window. Himself and Shiro, sprawled out on the floor surrounded by textbooks and notebook paper they were blatantly ignoring. They were laughing, though they couldn’t remember about what, and all of their chests felt tight with the sudden intensity of joy.
“I forgot about that.” Keith whispered in awe as Shiro released his shoulder.
“A good attempt.” Allura said, though her mouth twisted to the side. “You can try this next exercise without Shiro’s help.”
Keith hunched his shoulders and tried to ignore the look he was getting from Lance.
Lance and Keith were fighting.
Shiro sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose, trying to block out the sound of the two bickering. He’d been trying to read this report for hours now but the two of them just would not give it a rest, and Hunk standing behind Lance to back him up when his insults fell flat was certainly not helping.
Lance said something Shiro couldn’t hear and turned to Hunk with a triumphant smile. Keith sneered and spat something vile at his back. Shiro was about to stand up and put an end to it, but Lance whirled on Keith, and his next statement was a shout, loud enough for everyone in the room to hear.
“You think I’m unhinged? At least I’m stable enough to tell my own emotions apart!”
Keith’s expression shuttered, and Lance actually seemed surprised when he turned and stormed out of the room instead of responding to his jab. Shiro had to bite his tongue really, really hard to keep from shouting at the Blue Paladin.
“Lance. That was a bit too far.”
Lance wilted a bit under the reprimand. “I didn’t mean to actually hurt his feelings or anything.”
“How about we agree not to bring up things from the mind melding sessions during arguments, alright?” It was taking all of his self control to maintain the role of the responsible adult.
“Yeah.” agreed Hunk. “That stuff can be pretty raw.”
“Whatever.” The word was a huff, but Lance looked at least a little sorry, and that was enough for Shiro at the moment. Now he had to excuse himself and go talk to Keith before he destroyed every training droid on the ship.
Keith was right where Shiro had expected him to be; on the training deck bashing droids into pieces with his bayard. He waited patiently for Keith to finish his level of the training simulation, leaning up against the wall next to the door and crossing his arms. Keith was aggressively ignoring him, but eventually he ran out of droids to destroy and was forced to acknowledge Shiro’s presence.
“I don’t want a lecture.” he said gruffly, back turned towards him and heaving with his breath. “Or a pep talk, or whatever it is you’re gonna try to do. Just leave me alone.”
“No lecture.” promised Shiro as he moved forward.
“Then what?” Keith turned, giving him the side eye. Shiro made his way across the room, not towards Keith, but instead to the covered podium where they kept the headbands. He could hear the scowl in his voice when Keith spoke again.
“Shiro, that’s not gonna help. Lance was right, my brain is all scrambled.” His face darkened. “I don’t… feel things the right way.”
“That’s not true.” Shiro tried to cajole, stepping forward while armed with two headbands. Keith stepped back.
“I needed help to figure out happiness, Shiro.” he spat bitterly. He dismissed his bayard and crossed his arms. “And once I did it didn’t feel like everybody else’s. Theirs felt… nice. Mine was like a kick in the chest.”
“That’s not bad. You feel things more intensely than the others, that’s not wrong.” Shiro held out one of the headbands, and Keith stared at it with narrowed eyes, untrusting. “Just humor me for a few minutes?”
For a long moment Keith just looked at him. Then he huffed, and finally accepted the headband, though he looked at it as though it might come alive and bite him at any moment. Shiro lead him to their usual spot on the floor, though facing each other this time, rather than side by side the way they were when they sat with the other paladins.
Keith resisted at first-- Shiro hadn’t realized how hard he was trying during training to let them in until he tried to step into Keith’s mind and hit a solid wall of darkness. But Shiro didn’t push. He waited patiently, and after a minute or so of gentle pokes and prods, the shadows parted.
Together they picked through his memories. Keith kept turning towards the darker ones instinctively, like he couldn’t help it, only for Shiro to tug him towards the others that he knew were there. He shuffled through various memories of sunny afternoons in the Garrison and starry midnight rides through the desert before he finally found one he deemed suitable, and drew Keith in slowly.
It began with sleepy darkness, broken by someone jostling his shoulder gently. Shiro’s face stared back at him when Keith’s eyes cracked open, hazy with the harsh light of the Garrison’s dorm rooms shining behind him.
“Keith,” he said softly, “You gotta get up, you have drills.”
Keith grumbled and turned over, pulling the blanket over his head. Shiro poked at him again with a small laugh.
This memory really shouldn’t feel the way it did. Keith was tired, and overall the moment was meaningless, one among many exactly like it. But he wasn’t used to this, having someone there for things as little as waking him up when they knew he’d been up too late the night before, and it made his heart swell in his chest. At the same time being half awake kept the feeling muted, kept it from being overwhelming the way it was sometimes when he started thinking about it, and contained it to a warm fuzzy feeling. The same way the other paladins had felt in their memories.
“See?” Shiro murmured to him once they’d come back to themselves. “You’ve felt like that too. You just forget sometimes.”
Keith dug his teeth into the inside of his lip. “Thanks Shiro.” He said after a long silence, quiet and sincere. “You always know what to say.”
Shiro smiled and reached out to ruffle his hair, having to pluck the headband off first.
“Glad I could help. Now please try to get along with Lance.”
Keith made a face.
A few weeks passed after that without anything major to report. They were all getting better at the physical and mental parts of their training, and for a little while Allura let the headbands rest. Until one day Pidge got so frustrated with Lance she evicted him from Voltron, and the next day they came back, much to everyone’s displeasure.
“Today,” she said, pacing around the circle of paladins on the floor, “You’re going to form Voltron in your minds. Then one by one, you will call up the most powerful emotion you can imagine. Not necessarily negative, just powerful. Your job as a team will be to keep Voltron together despite that. Understand?”
The responding chorus of “Yes Allura”’s that greeted her made her smile just a little before she gestured for them to begin. One by one the team closed their eyes and formed the image of their lions in front of them, pushing them together into the center to create the mirage of Voltron.
“Well done, paladins.” Allura praised, pacing around the circle. “Lance, you go first.”
Lance’s jaw twitched a bit, and then heart-stopping joy was slamming into all of them, making the other paladins gasp to catch their breaths. But Voltron didn’t creak or flicker-- if anything it seemed to hold stronger, and Lance grinned to himself.
“Very good. Hunk?”
Hunk breathed in deep. It took a moment to sink in, but soon they all felt the distinct sensation of anxiety in their stomachs, twisting and gripping uncomfortably. The feeling grew, and grew, until all of them were gasping again in an attempt to remember how their lungs worked. They held for a moment until it became too much for Keith and he tried to pull away-- Shiro felt him retreating and hauled him back.
“Alright, that’s enough.” Allura wasn’t frowning and her voice wasn’t sharp. “You did well.”
Hunk stopped his projection, and all five of them practically melted as the pressure released.
“Shiro, good job keeping Keith in place. Keith--”
“I know.” he interrupted, but it was quiet, not rude. “Don’t pull away.”
Allura nodded. “Pidge, you’re up next.”
None of them knew what to expect from Pidge in this exercise, yet what she came up with made perfect sense. It was determination, hot and pushing against them, driving them to do something, anything . Backs straightened in a ripple around their circle, and Voltron bound together where it had weakened in the previous exercise. Allura’s smile returned.
“Excellent. Your turn, Shiro.”
They all braced themselves for more fear, but that isn’t what Shiro threw at them. Instead they all jumped at a sudden pour of adrenaline down their spines, and their hearts began thumping in their rib cages as they were overwhelmed by the intense, primal need to survive . Lance clenched his jaw, Pidge’s fingers tapped away on her knees, and Keith growled and thumped his fist against the floor just a tad too hard. Hunk didn’t like the intensity, and both Lance and Pidge had to help him stay. They were all panting when Allura gave them permission to stop, and Shiro’s eyes looked sheepish when he opened them.
“Sorry guys.” he murmured. “That was probably too much.”
“That’s the point of the exercise, Shiro.” Allura reminded him gently. “In any case you all succeeded. Keith, you’re last.”
Keith gulped, a little apprehensive, and let his eyes fall closed. The others waited, expecting rage to start burning at the back of their throats at any moment. So they were all taken by surprise when loneliness bowled them over.
It wasn’t a wave. It was more like black holes opening in their hearts, consuming and eating away at them from the inside out. Pidge reached out with a fumbling hand and it landed on Hunks knee, squeezing in search of reassurance.
Lance crumbled first, yanking the Blue Lion out from under Voltron and throwing himself out of the circle with tears running down his face. The noise he made when he choked on a sob startled Hunk, who turned his attention away from the exercise and making the Yellow Lion fade out of the image as well. Pidge held on for a few moments longer before the image of her lion flickered to her brother and she fell away.
Shiro was grinding his teeth as he held his connection to Keith, unwilling to let go. But with just the two of them the strain was too great, and droplets of sweat appeared on his forehead.
“That’s enough.” Said Allura, and Shiro let go, the images in front of them fading as he and Keith opened their eyes. Keith was blinking slowly, looking a little hazy, like he wasn’t completely sure what was going on. He turned his head and saw Lance, still sitting a foot or two away, still crying, and blinked again.
“Sorry.” he mumbled, barely audible. “Don’t know where that came from.” But he was staring down at his hands in a way that said he knew exactly where it came from and didn’t want to acknowledge it.
“Are you alright, Lance?” Shiro asked, and Lance hurriedly swiped the tears from his cheeks.
“Yeah.” He answered, voice gravelly. “I just… I have a big family, ya know? Never really… felt like that before.”
Shiro nodded to him before turning to the Red Paladin. “Keith?”
Keith’s eyebrows rose when he realized everyone was looking at him.
Allura stepped in and seized control of situation once again. “Paladins, if you feel able, we’ll try the exercise again.”
They hesitantly shuffled back into their circle, recentering themselves and resummoning Voltron between them. This time Keith tried to summon the anger, they felt it sting on their tongues for a moment, but then it collapsed back into the black hole. Hunk and Lance grabbed onto each other, Shiro reached out to steady Pidge, and they managed to hold together for several long seconds before Allura called it off.
That day Keith left the training deck without looking anyone in the eye.
It had been a week, and Keith was aggressively avoiding Shiro.
He’d want to talk about what happened on the training deck, and Keith absolutely did not want to talk about it. He didn’t want to talk about how Shiro had been the only person who had never left him. He didn’t want to talk about how that same Shiro had up and vanished for a year. He didn’t want to talk about how he lived the majority of that year alone in the desert where he could get stung or bitten by something or get heatstroke and die alone where no one would care. He didn’t want to talk about it. If he talked about it he would break.
Of course he couldn’t admit that he was already breaking.
It wasn’t the first time he’d had this nightmare since boarding the Castleship. It was the same as it always was; Pidge and Hunk vanishing into smoke, Lance throwing insults that didn’t just hit close to home but barged through the front door and burned it down, Allura looking at him with disdain and telling him he wasn’t worthy of being a paladin or flying her father's lion. Shiro walking away.
When he awoke it was the same thing he always woke to-- his dark bunk and the black hole inside. There was only one difference-- this time, this one time, he forgot to put up his walls that blocked his mind from the paladin bond. So as he rolled over and buried his face in the pillow, down the hall Shiro was startling awake, and Pidge was pausing in her programming and frowning to herself, and Hunk was staring at the ceiling and considering who he had to go comfort, and Lance was crying in his sleep.
Shiro knew exactly who it was and found himself in front of Keith’s door barely a minute later, hand already knocking.
“Go away, Shiro.” Keith groaned sleepily from behind the door. Shiro didn’t budge, and knocked again.
“I said go away.”
“I just want to talk.”
“I don’t want to.”
“If you don’t talk to me,” Shiro paused and glanced down the hall, where Hunk was sticking his head out of his room and looking at him with concerned eyes, “Hunk is going to come pester you next.”
There was a pause, as though Keith was realizing what exactly had happened, and then he swore.
“Fuck. I didn’t mean to-- to wake all of you up.”
“Keith. If you don’t open the door we’re just going to keep asking one by one until you talk to one of us.”
Shiro waited patiently, until he heard stumbling footsteps and the door clicked as it unlocked and he was finally granted entry.
Keith was already turned away from him, shuffling back to his bed, so Shiro followed and perched himself on the edge of the mattress. Keith sat beside him but stared at his feet and wouldn’t look up.
“I’m sorry.” he interrupted suddenly, turning his head away. “I didn’t mean to let everybody else feel it too. I just woke up and I forgot.”
“You don’t have to be sorry.” He reached out with his human hand and settled it lightly on Keith’s shoulder, testing the waters. Keith relaxed just slightly, didn’t knock him away, so he left his hand there and squeezed just a little. “Just talk to me. What’s going on?”
There was a long silence, and once again Shiro found himself waiting, waiting for Keith to figure himself out enough to explain. Eventually he did.
“You left.” he blurted out, recoiling from Shiro’s touch. “You were gone, and I was alone, for a year , and I know it’s not your fault but I didn’t know if I’d ever see you again and after I got kicked out of the Garrison I didn’t have anybody else.”
“I know.” Shiro said as gently as he could. “I know. You were in the desert all by yourself. It was lonely.”
Keith drew his knees to his chest, but didn’t protest when Shiro put his hand back on his shoulder.
“I got bitten by a snake once.” he said, still not looking at Shiro. “It was a few weeks after I left the Garrison and I didn’t know if it was dangerous or not. I hadn’t figured out the hoverbike yet and it was too far to walk anywhere. So all I could do was just wait and see if it killed me.” He raised a hand and pressed the heel of it to his eye, trying to hold in the tears. “I thought I was going to die out there, alone, and no one would ever know or care what happened to me.”
Shiro scooted closer, and Keith didn’t fight it when Shiro pulled him into a hug, human hand stroking his hair. Keith was shuddering and trying not to show it, cracking apart and trying to pretend it was fine. Shiro felt like he’d been stabbed.
“I’m here now.” He said, not knowing what else to say. “I’m here, you’re not alone, we’ve all got your back.”
“It won’t last.” Said Keith, and Shiro frowned.
“What do you mean?”
Keith sniffled into his shirt, but didn’t try to pull away. “I mean it won’t last. We’re in a war. You could die, or vanish again. The others could decide they hate me too much to keep me around. Allura could decide I’m not good enough to be a paladin. Anything could happen and I’ll lose everyone and I’ll be all alone again --”
Shiro hugged him tighter, feeling his despair eating away in his chest. He’d put up his walls earlier when Shiro knocked on the door but they were slipping again; Shiro could feel it and had to bite his tongue to keep from crying.
“Keith, it’s ok, it’s ok. We’re not going to leave.”
Keith choked and shook his head, Shiro felt the despair welling higher and frantically searched for something to say to deescalate the situation.
“Hey, listen to me. The others don’t hate you, no matter what Lance says. Allura isn’t going to kick you off the team. You’re the Red Paladin. We all need you.”
Shiro felt it when Keith sundered apart, finally letting the sobs out and muttering apologies the whole way through. Shiro held him and whispered reassurances until he quieted, building his walls up brick by brick so that Shiro could breathe again.
“Don’t hide these things from me.” He murmured. “I want to help, but I can’t if you lock me out.”
“I’m sorry.” He sounded exhausted.
A few minutes later he pulled away to go back to sleep, and Shiro sat with him until he dropped into a doze. Upon exiting the room he found the other three paladins sitting against the wall opposite the door, all with red rimmed eyes and solemn faces to match Keith’s.
“Is he okay now?” Pidge hiccuped out. Her gaze softened when Shiro nodded. “Great. I couldn’t focus with all… that going on.”
“Cheers to that.” Muttered Lance. “I woke up feeling like I was gonna throw myself out the airlock.”
“I’ll ask Allura to go easy on us tomorrow.” Said Shiro, rubbing the line that had formed between his brows and feeling the exhaustion in his bones. “Everybody should get back to bed. Including you, Pidge.”
Pidge flopped a hand at him and stood to shuffle back down the hall to her room, the boys on her heels.
“Allura, it’s been weeks.” Lance said, staring down at the headbands with a puzzled gaze. “And we have missions to be planning. Are you sure we have to--”
“We are practicing with the headbands today.” Allura interrupted primly, voice crackling through the speakers. She wasn’t in her place on the training deck with the paladins, instead she was in the crows nest with Coran, a screen pulled up so that she could clearly see the images in their heads rather than just feeling through the quintessence.
The team exchanged uneasy glances. Things had been tense around the Castle lately, and a big part of it had to do with the new scar on Keith’s shoulder and the cold looks Allura had been shooting him. Keith had been more reserved than usual, shrinking in to himself anytime anyone so much as looked at him.
Now the two of them made eye contact through the glass, and Keith set his jaw. The others were surprised when he strode forward and was the first to pick up a headband.
“Keith--” Shiro began, but he just shook his head and proceeded to his usual spot on the floor. Filled with trepidation, the other paladins followed.
Once they were all settled, Allura spoke again.
“You’re going to take turns, as usual. This time I want each of you to pull up a picture of your family, as clear as you can make it.”
Shiro looked up at her sharply and came perilously close to calling the whole thing off. He knew exactly what she was trying to do and quite frankly didn’t appreciate it one goddamn bit. But Keith raised his chin, determined, and Shiro relented.
Lance went first, and the image came easily. They’d seen it before, but now names floated through, connecting themselves to people in the large portrait.
Mom. Veronica. Marco. Luis. Abuela.
On and on it went, Lance listing off names of nephews and nieces and cousins and aunts and uncles, their bond tinging sadder and sadder with each name until eventually he stopped and opened his misty eyes. But he didn’t cry, just gave his signature grin and motioned for Hunk to go.
Hunk’s was smaller. An older sister, a blob in her arms that might’ve been a baby that Hunk never met, and two mothers standing with their arms entwined. Allura barely let them look before breaking their concentration with her voice and asking for Pidge to take her turn.
She was rushing them, hurrying towards what she’d really made them do this for. Shiro felt anger settle in his stomach, but didn’t say anything as Pidge called up the familiar images of her parents and Matt.
He was next, so he shut his eyes and concentrated. He knew the image of his father would be flickering and indistinct, blurred by the years after his death, but his elderly mother would be strong. With a pang he realized he didn’t know if she was even still alive, and the image crumbled.
A mistake that should have had Allura snapping at him was ignored.
The air trembled with tension as Keith closed his eyes. They could all feel Allura’s eyes on them, fixated on her screen, and Shiro had to resist the urge to reach out for Keith.
For a long moment there was nothing, the struggle making Keith’s brow furrow. But eventually something formed-- pinkish skin with a purple stripe. Allura leaned forward eagerly, but the flash was gone as quickly as it had appeared, replaced by a human man with a strong jaw and purple eyes. That image melted away a second later, and Keith frowned.
The next thirty seconds were a whirlwind of faces and names that never stayed for long, sprinting past them and making even Shiro feel a little dizzy. One image stayed just long enough for the other paladins to register blonde hair before there was a sharp smacking sound and a sting and Keith flinched and that face disappeared too.
There’s darkness, and then one shape emerges and for once it stays put. No one is surprised when it turns out to be Shiro: dark haired Garrison Shiro. Everyone thinks the exercise will be over after that, but the image is changing on them again. Shiro’s hair turns white, the scar appears across his nose, and his Garrison uniform lightens into his paladin armor. Then another figure rippled into existence beside him-- it was Pidge, and everyone felt the little jump of shock through their bond. People fell into place quicker after that.
First Hunk, then Lance (making him choke on air), followed by Coran. Allura started to appear, but her image flickered in and out like he wasn’t quite sure.
“That’s enough.” Allura said into her speaker, and her voice sounded rough. They all sat there a little dumbly as the pictures faded, watching Keith with wide eyes.
“I don’t know what all of that was.” Keith murmured after a long moment of surprised silence. “I thought it was just going to be Shiro--”
He was cut off by Hunk tackling him into a tearful hug, and the others followed suit until they were a pile of clanking armor on the floor with Keith struggling halfheartedly underneath them.
Allura watched from the crows nest, spine straight and tight, unsure what to think.
It was a couple nights later when Keith finally ran into Allura alone. He’d been coming off the training deck, still dripping with sweat and muscles burning, when he almost ran head first into the princess in the hallway.
Keith hadn’t looked at her face. He immediately ducked his head to avoid her cold stare and made to go around her, but she caught him by the shoulder at the last second, and he froze.
This is it. He thought to himself. She’s going to say that there can’t be a Galra paladin, not after Zarkon, and she’s going to ask me to leave.
Allura opened her mouth and Keith took a deep breath.
Keith jerked away in surprise, and she let him go even though she could have probably held him in place. When he dared to look at her face, she was staring at the floor, brow furrowed in contemplation with her hands clasped in front of her.
“What?” Was all he could manage to say.
“I’m sorry.” Allura repeated without hesitation. “For how I treated you. I thought…” She let herself trail off for a moment, eyes flickering off to the side before returning to her feet. “Well, it doesn’t matter what I thought. You’re a paladin, and I should have trusted you as one. Red wouldn’t have chosen someone we couldn’t trust.”
Keith was quiet for a second, racking his brain for something to say. He wasn’t good with this kind of thing, with emotion, with being nice to people. He wished Shiro or Hunk or even Lance was here to tell him how to do this.
“It’s ok.” Is what he settled on, fully intending to let this whole thing go and just go back to his room. But Allura finally looked up at him and Jesus Christ her eyes were shiny like she was about to cry and before he could react she was throwing her arms around his neck and crushing him in a hug.
Keith completely froze, all of his muscles locking up at the unexpected touch. If Allura noticed she didn’t say anything.
“I’m so sorry.” She whispered in a choked voice that Keith wasn’t used to hearing from her. “I wanted to hate you, but I just… can’t seem to.”
Keith really wasn’t sure what that was supposed to mean, but he just repeated, “It’s ok.” After a moment of hesitation, he brought up one hand and lightly, ever so lightly, laid it on Allura’s back. She squeezed him tighter for just a second, then much to his relief let him go and stepped back. She took a half second to swipe the tears from her cheeks before putting her shoulders back and smiling, back to her perfect princess self.
“I’ll see you in training tomorrow.” She said, and then turned on her heel and walked away. Her steps didn’t ring with anger the way they had before.
Keith stood there for a moment, stunned. Eventually he found himself moving again, but towards Shiro’s room rather than his own.
What the hell just happened?