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Battlefield

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Lance took a last, desperate inhale around the gag as they shoved him backwards over the cliff edge, panic and tears blurring the night sky above him as he hung weightless for all of a second.

It wasn’t enough.

He crashed into the water below with a force that knocked the breath right back out and he could do nothing to reclaim it as the cinderblocks tied about his wrists dragged him immediately under and his short, muffled scream was swallowed whole.

He clamped his mouth shut even as cold, bitter water flooded inside in a last bid to keep breathing for even a few more seconds.

His legs jerked helplessly against the bindings, pressed flush against his thighs and all the twisting and writhing in the world could not slow his descent into the surreally calm water around him, silence seeming to push him down further.

His hands strained at the manacles, his shoulders heaved against the coarse rope wrapped all about his chest and back and pinning his arms down. He could feel it grating through his shirt, angry burns rubbing on mocha skin. He threw all of his weight back, angling himself to yank up against the pull and nearly screaming as his shoulders protested the heavy weight.

They did not budge.

More tears filled his vision, no different from the water around him except they stung beyond painfully; fear and regret and despair and horror and failure in each drop.

Another bubble burst from his throat and Lance hiccupped it back, throat starting to ache and a pressure building behind his eyes.

He was going to die.

He was really going to die.

His struggles slowed.

There was no use.

His gaze tracked upwards, the wavery sheen of the moon barely visible from the surface, framed as his bangs floated about in the weightlessness of the lake, growing further and further away as he continued to sink.

They were never going to find him.

A sob built in his throat and Lance squeezed his eyes shut against the dimming moon. He didn’t want to see anymore.

He was going to die.

He cast his mind out, seeking any trace of Red, of Blue, of anyone.

Silence echoed.

He was alone.

He was going to die alone.

Such a thought scared him more than actually dying.

Even with his eyes closed a different sort of blackness was starting to encroach, an opposite to the heat and fire as his lungs protested no more, begged for air that he could not give.

His mouth opened against his will and the bitter water took over.

He choked.

A last bit of life was restored to leaden limbs as his body spasmed and Lance’s eyes opened for the last time, lids heavy as they looked up for the last glimmer of light.

It was gone.

No.

Not gone.

Blocked.

There was something in front of it. Something moving.

Moving quick.

Moving towards him.

Lance’s eyes fluttered closed at the same time he felt a hand dig into his hair and the sudden feeling of weightlessness as the blocks were freed from his hands.

And around the gag, around his last stuttered breath, Lance smiled.

He wasn’t alone after all.

Chapter Text

“You’re not dumb.”

The words hung in the air, heavy with conviction and at the same time a plea, a wish, a desperate hope that the recipient believed them.

Lance did not react, his head remaining stationary on his upturned knees while his arms hugged about them, making a pitiful image next to the dying remains of their campfire.

“Lance--”

“I know.”

Lance’s tone was sharp and dull and bitter all at once. This close, even in the barely there glow, Hunk could make out the faintest sheen on dark lashes before Lance angled his head, pressing his face fully into his knee.

“I know,” he repeated, muffled.

Hunk didn’t believe it for a second.

He joined his best friend on the bumpy ground, settling himself into a cross-legged sit and throwing a handful of loose kindling onto the fire.

Lance had been quiet all day since their “visit” to Bob’s game show, not even cracking a smile when Hunk and Coran had together concocted a sort of s’more or offering up a complaint when Keith ordered them all to jog the perimeter of their camp for the night (which, despite knowing the training and exercise were good after being cooped up all day in the Lions, Lance normally dramatically protested before doing it anyways).

Hunk had a feeling he knew why and his stomach curdled.

Garfle Warfle Snick had been all anyone could talk about at the group dinner as Coran had demanded details of the legendary encounter and the team had been full of laughs in describing the faux-Galrans and Keith’s drawing abilities and Lance’s bi-boh-bi-ing and the shenanigans of the set.

But Lance had not been smiling. Not really. He’d bared his teeth in a false version of one, laughed at himself when Pidge ribbed him about not knowing any of their allies’ names, and had weakly chuckled when it came around that he’d been chosen to “escape” because Keith didn’t want to be stuck for him with eternity.

It took a few pointed looks and subtle shoves from Hunk and then surprisingly Keith, purple eyes narrowed in thought, for them to move on from the topic and instead they got Coran telling one of his stories about the Paladins of old that then had Krolia one-upping him with a Blade mission and the two of them went back and forth for a good varga with a seemingly entranced audience.

And they all probably would have been except for the fact that Lance… Lance was not partaking in it. He instead had his head propped up as he was now, firelight dancing across his face but his eyes not seeing it.

When Lance had excused himself to feed Kaltenecker and get her settled for the evening, Hunk had been a little surprised when he found himself the attention of a bunch of concerned and confused gazes.

He’d quietly told them his suspicions and had watched as Allura’s expression had shuttered and Pidge sucked in a harsh breath, guilt flashing across her features. Keith’s lips had thinned into a line and he’d looked to Hunk and he could see an apology on his lips.

But it wasn’t he who needed an apology for being laughed at. He more than understood how it felt to be the butt of a joke, to be laughed at, but even with his stint as “Humorous Hunk” in the Voltron Show  he’d known still then (mostly) that it had been an act.

Lance did not have that.

He instead had a history of kids teasing him as he learned how to speak English, of teachers belittling him as he struggled to understand more complex math and science formulas, of instructors telling him he was only in the fighter program because of a drop out.

Lance had been told his whole life he wasn’t smart enough, not good enough. And he was. Lance was smart. He was people smart; he understood them in ways Hunk envied. He saw things about others; he read emotions and intentions. He was tactical and a great leader and reflexive and could change direction on a dime and make those quick-second decisions that Hunk knew he’d be agonizing over still a day later.

But those things didn’t matter, not to Lance. Not when he was so used to being compared to others not on his strengths but his “weaknesses” and finding himself wanting.

And now…

Now he’d had to suffer that all again, repeatedly called dumb, called “the stupid one,” and had Hunk not been so overwhelmed by all that was happening at the time of the show he’d have nipped that in the bud (or, tried to) before Lance had been repeatedly humiliated when he heard the quiet, disbelieving and now realized hurt tone of Lance asking for clarification if the host meant him.

Hunk felt like the stupid one.

He had to try and fix it, somehow.

He’d told the others as such, knowing the last thing Lance would want to do is feel cornered, even if this was a positive intervention. They’d all reluctantly agreed to let Hunk handle it, Shiro quietly telling him, “he knew best,” and had retired not long after to their sleeping arrangements, Keith noting he’d be up in five varga for a watch change.

And now here they were and Hunk’s more blunt approach -- no way for Lance to dodge it, to laugh it off, to weakly protest he didn’t know what Hunk was talking about -- had not quite gone as well as he’d hoped.

He should have known it would not be that easy.

Lance rolled his head free a moment later, smeared tear tracks down his cheek, and kept his eyes averted towards the fire.

Hunk’s heart broke.

“Shouldn’t you be sleeping?” Lance asked quietly after a pause, no judgment in the question but only a sort of tiredness that Hunk recognized. It was the tone he took when even a hug couldn’t make him feel better, when he didn’t want to burden another with whatever was troubling him.

He wanted Hunk to leave.

He was going to have to do a lot better than that.

“Nope.”

Lance finally looked his way then, a crease of confusion to his brow.

“I can’t sleep,” Hunk admitted and that had Lance sitting up although he remained curled over his knees. “Not when I know you’re upset.”

Lance turned back to the fire. “I’m not upset.”

Hunk didn’t bother that with a response.

“I’m not,” Lance insisted in the growing quiet. “I’m…” His hands tightened around his legs, knuckles turning white. “I just…” He let out a soft sigh. “I thought… I thought things were different now. Guess not, huh? I’ll always be the dumb, stupid one no matter what.”

“Lance--”

“It’s fine,” Lance cut in, hunching further over.

“It’s not,” Hunk retorted sharply. “It’s not fine, Lance,” he lowered his voice. “And you are not dumb or stupid or any of that. That was a stupid game show and a stupider host. Don’t listen to anything he said. He was wrong.”

“Keith doesn’t think so.”

Lance flinched as soon as the words were out of his mouth, clearly not meaning to say them. Hunk’s eyes narrowed and his, “What?” came out flatter than he’d ever heard himself speak.

Lance flushed. “I… forget that.”

“Like hell,” Hunk snapped, and the curse felt as foreign on his tongue as it apparently sounded to Lance as dark blue eyes shot over to him, widened in shock. “What did Keith say?”

Hunk had thought the two of them had reached an understanding. He’d have have to be blind to not see the way Keith implicitly trusted Lance to have their backs, to be his second in command. Although the two of them still exchanged insults and barbs Hunk had thought at this point it was mostly out of habit, in jest.

He’d thought the two of them had become friends but…

“You heard him too,” Lance said quietly, barely a whisper. “He picked me to get out so he wouldn’t be stuck with me.” His words began to become quicker, higher. “So the four of you would be there and you guys are all so smart and you’d figure a way out, I know it, while I would just hold everyone back because I can’t contribute anything because I am the stupid one and the host was right and I am dumb and I wouldn’t want to be stuck with me for eternity either.”

“You’re not the stupid one. I am.”

Hunk barely contained his yelp of surprise as Keith sounded above him and Lance stiffened next to him, even moreso as Keith dropped down on Lance’s other side.

“Keith,” Hunk protested weakly, eyes flicking between Lance’s bowed head and clenched jaw and Keith’s resolute stare.

“I need to say this,” Keith said. He reached out a finger, let it hover in the air for a second, and then firmly poked Lance in the shoulder, who curled away from it as though somehow expecting something worse. “Listen,” Keith commanded, voice low but strong all the same.

Lance didn’t say anything but Hunk could see that Keith did have his attention, his head turned ever so.

“I’m not good at talking about things,” Keith said. “I have… have trouble talking about my feelings. And what I said during that stupid show… that was wrong of me. And stupid. Really stupid. But I…” A flush was creeping up the back of Keith’s neck, embarrassment and awkwardness warring, but he grit his teeth and continued.

Hunk felt something uncoil inside him at the display. Keith had really grown up.

“I don’t take back my pick,” he continued. “You’re who I would want to get out of there, Lance. And it’s not because of what I said. It’s… you called me the future but you’re wrong.” Lance winced and Keith plowed on. “You are. The future. You… You bring people together, Lance. You make them care. You are the one who has the best chance to unite the universe in this fight. That is why I picked you.”

“Keith,” Lance murmured, picking his head up fully. “You…”

Hunk chuckled as Lance launched himself sideways at Keith, wrapping his arms tightly about the now ramrod form.

“Er, okay, we’re hugging now,” Keith muttered, lifting his arms up and tentatively patting Lance on his back.

“That’s not a proper hug, Keith,” Hunk advised, scooching over and wrapping his arms around both of them and squeezing so hard Lance gave a little squeak. “This is.”

Lance relaxed almost bonelessly in the embrace. “Thank you,” he whispered, voice thick.

“None of that,” Hunk chided. “There’s nothing to thank us for. Just do one thing for me instead, okay?”

He could feel Lance’s head tilt against his arm.

“Believe us when we tell you that you are not stupid or dumb. Believe us instead we we say you are smart and kind and one of the most amazing people that exists in this world. Got it?”

“Hunk…”

“What he said,” Keith put in, earning a wet laugh from Lance.

“Okay,” Lance agreed quietly, tones soft but sincere and the earlier melancholy gone. “Okay.”

Hunk let out a contented sigh and squeezed both Lance and Keith tighter.

Things were going to be more than okay indeed.

Chapter Text

 

“Lance!”

Pidge’s hoarse scream cut through the crackling, smoky air. “La ” she broke off into a wracking cough, sinking to her knees outside the burning remains of the supply pod.

The supply pod Lance was still in.

Desperation forced her back to her feet and she surged forward, heat blistering her face and the metal sheeting glowing a dull orange.

“Lance!”

He did not respond.

The flames grew higher.

It was supposed to be a simple supply run.

Not…

Not this.

Not a freak asteroid storm.

Not Lance desperately trying to navigate their unarmed, unshielded aircraft out of the barrage.

Not her attempts to contact the castle, static buzzing in the cockpit from the interference of the storm.

Not one of the asteroids striking them, sending the ship into a tailspin.

Not the plummet towards the small dwarf planet below.

Not Lance throwing himself over her, just as vulnerable as she in his civilian clothes, as the ground reared up and the impact was imminent.

Not this.

She’d been tossed free of the ship. Pidge wasn’t still sure how, but other than a smattering of thin cuts sliced into her arms and a deeper but not serious gash above her right knee and some no doubt still to appear bruises she was relatively uninjured.

But Lance…

Lance had not been on the ground with her.

Which meant he was still in the ship.

That was on fire.

That was going to explode.

And he wasn’t responding.

Fuck.

“Fuck,” Pidge said it aloud as well, hands shaking as she wrenched her singed shirt over her head and leaving her in her camisole. “Fuck fuck fuck fuck.”

She picked up a jagged piece of glass from the window and holding it as carefully as she could she sliced through her shirt, dividing it into two.

Dropping the glass she pulled the halves apart and bundled them over and over her hands in a terrible imitation of boxing gloves to protect them as best she could from what she was about to do next.

And without giving it any more thought Pidge braced her hands on crumpled door frame and pushed.

She could feel the heat sinking in already, licking at her now bare shoulders too.

She pushed harder.

Acid smoke swirled and she turned, burying her face into her arm as she coughed.

She realized then her glasses were missing, likely launched as she had been.

She didn’t care.

The frame gave a creak and the heated metal bent inwards, allowing her enough room to pass through.

The smoke was thicker inside, billowing about her as it sought the open air.

Pidge held one cloth-wrapped hand over her mouth and shoved herself deeper in.

She hauled herself into the cockpit, stumbling over a piece of debris that had landed on the floor.

She realized a tick later that it wasn’t debris at all.

“Lance!” she gasped, dropping to her knees, wincing at the heat that hit her flesh. “Lance!”

He was lying on his side, back to her.

He wasn’t moving.

Pidge pulled off her hand wraps and reached out, grasping at his raised shoulder and side to turn him towards her, grunting. Her lower hand came away wet.

Honey eyes widened.

What?

They tracked to Lance’s stomach.

His shirt was plastered there, gray material turned red.

Blood.

It was leaking sluggishly now that his weight was no longer putting pressure on it, adding more scarlet to the already puddled floor.

Oh God.

Oh God oh God oh God.

What had happened? How bad was it?

Bad, she answered herself. It had to be bad.

Lance let out a soft moan, barely audible over the snapping of flames coming from the console, as Pidge tentatively dug fingers into the hem of the shirt and lifted it.

Acid tickled her throat.

Bad was an understatement.

Lance’s stomach had been cut open nearly all the way across, a thick, oozing line of red and as Lance shuddered she caught sight of something pink glistening further in.

She was going to be sick.

She couldn’t afford to be.

“Lance,” Pidge whispered, bloodied fingers — Lance’s blood, oh God — lighting upon his cheek. “L-Lance.”

He let out another moan and his eyes fluttered.

Pidge tapped it more insistently.

She needed to stop the bleeding. She needed to get him out of the burning ship. She needed to, she needed to—

The console let out a dangerous snap.

Prioritize. Get out of ship first before they both blew up.

She couldn’t carry him. She wouldn’t be able to drag him far either and definitely not through the warped doorway.

He needed to wake up. He needed to get up.

Oh God they were both going to die.

“Lance, Lance please. Lance, wake up!”

Hazy ocean eyes opened.

“Pidge?” he rasped, wincing. “Wh-what…?”

His eyes moved past her face and deeper into the ship, no doubt catching sight of the mangled interior and the flames starting to lick for the ceiling.

His eyes widened. “Wh-what—?”

“We need to go,” Pidge told him, hoping her voice wasn’t wavering as badly as it sounded to her.

Lance’s hands twitched at his sides and braced themselves on the heated floor below. He went to push himself to sitting—

And fell back with a breathless gasp.

His stomach gushed a new line of crimson.

A matching color appeared on his lips as he tilted his head, coughing weakly.

Internal bleeding.

“Get up!” Pidge demanded as Lance’s eyes closed. “I can’t carry you! Get up!”

Her hands trembled, useless.

“Pidge… I…” He coughed again, more blood painting his teeth.

“Get the fuck up Lance,” her hands dug into his shoulder, clenching the fabric there. “Get up now!” A sob worked its way up her throat and the ship gave another dangerous moan. “I’m not leaving without you. Now get up!”

Lance responded by bracing his hands once more on the floor and he shoved up, a short scream torn from him as his stomach contracted and blood gushed and he hunched over, panting.

“Up, up up,” Pidge tugged on his shirt, rising to a crouch herself and trying to tug him towards her. One hand scrambled out and recollected her shirt.

She was going to need that for bandages.

Lance followed.

He leaned forward onto his knees, lifting his right leg and bracing it beneath him. Pidge bent down and slipped his right arm over her shoulders before rising to her full height, pulling up on the captured limb.

Lance rose with her.

His legs nearly buckled beneath him as she got him into a hunched stand, too short, too small, to be an effective crutch.

The front of the cockpit screeched as metal collapsed in on itself.

It was the motivation Lance needed.

He took a shaky step forward, breaths heavy and shallow at the same time, and Pidge did what she could to support him as she steered them towards the crumpled doorway.

Heat brushed her shoulders, sparks landing on the exposed flesh and she gritted her teeth as her she reached her free hand out, having to push aside a small beam that had come loose in that time. The destroyed shirt soaked up most of it but she let out a small groan of her own as it struck against her unprotected wrist.

They were pushing through the doorway a moment later.

Lance practically fell out, hitting the debris-strewn ground with a dull thump.

Pidge looked over her shoulder as the front of the shuttle became engulfed.

“Move!” she screamed, yanking on Lance’s arm. “Move!”

He got his feet beneath him again and they stumbled away from the ship.

Just one more step, just one more step, Pidge chanted to herself. They just had to get far enough way before

The ship exploded.

Heat washed over their backs and hot air buoyed them forward, sending them tumbling into the dirt.

It was a good thing they didn’t make it farther, Pidge thought, eyes wide, as she watched flying metal crash further up the landscape, propelled high into the air by the blast.

They’d made it.

She scrambled to her knees, turning to Lance who had collapsed onto his side, eyes closed although his face was tight with pain.

“Hang on, hang on,” she muttered, shoving him back onto his back and he let out the barest moan. She unraveled her shirt from her grip and before she could think on how much this was going to hurt she pressed it down onto the gaping wound across Lance’s stomach.

He screamed.

It was a sound Pidge never wanted to hear again. His eyes had flown open wide as she put more of her weight onto the wound, trying to stopper it, and his hands scrabbled weakly on the ground.

It wasn’t enough.

Pidge’s shirt had turned an ugly red, her hands staining just as much, but it wasn’t enough. The wound was too deep, too wide, too much.

And she had nothing left to stop it.

Lance had stilled although his chest was heaving, gurgled gasps of air clouding his throat.

He was pale.

The light on this planet was dim, in their night cycle with a sliver of moon casting down its rays and the burning ship a flickering orange behind them. Lance’s normal mocha tones though were growing washed out.

He was losing too much blood.

“Lance,” Pidge whispered, abandoning her useless bandaging and placing blood-drenched fingers on his cheek.

He blinked open dull eyes.

“Pidge,” he murmured. A ghost of a smile tried to pull up red flecked lips. “I…Th-thank you.”

“Thank you?” she repeated, voice pitching high. “For what?”

His smile grew even as his eyes closed. “For… for s-saving me.”

Saving him? Saving him? He was dying right in front of her. She’d pulled him from the ship only to lose him now.

No.

No.

The others would come, she was sure. Maybe a blip of their signal got through, maybe Keith and his weird instincts would sense something was wrong. Maybe the Blue Lion would too. And if not that, then when they didn’t return from their trip the team would go out and find them.

But they’d be too late.

Lance didn’t have time.

She needed to do something. Something now.

Her eyes cast about the clearing looking for inspiration, an answer.

Burning ship, burning metal, rocks, sand… and the shuttle’s emergency kit, torn open just a few paces away and its contents strewn across the ground.

They focused on one of the flares.

Her stomach heaved.

Oh God.

She looked back to Lance, to the saturated scraps of clothing.

Oh God.

She…

She had to.

She pulled herself to her feet, limbs aching and heavy. “No,” she told Lance, staring down at his prone form. “I… I haven’t saved you yet. But,” she swallowed, licking dry lips. “I will. Just… just hold on.”

Pidge was to the flare and back to Lance’s side within a few ticks.

Oh God.

She needed to stop the bleeding though. It was the only way.

“I’m so sorry,” she whispered.

Lance didn’t seem to hear her, head lolled to the side now.

Pidge pulled back her useless bandages, dropping them with a wet plop to the side.

The wound stared up at her, gaping and bloody and oh God what the fuck was she doing?

The flare came to life in her hands, bright blue and white fire highlighting the scene.

Oh God.

Pidge stalled in doing it, moving instead to sit backwards on Lance’s chest, straddling him with her knees pressed into the dirt with as much force as she could manage to pin him down.

The flare hovered above his stomach in front of her.

Pidge took a steadying breath.

And she lowered the flare.

Lance wailed.

Not unconscious then.

He writhed and bucked beneath her as she dragged the flame and metal tip against his skin, tracing the line.

The scent of burnt flesh assaulted her nose.

Lance rolled beneath her, his hands scratching at her calves.

Pidge choked down bile and kept going.

It was like welding. Searing two pieces of metal together.

Just… just with flesh.

The skin was bubbling and blistering as she moved the flare across, red and darkened and blood drying instantly into flakes at the heat.

She forced herself to make two passes.

Lance went limp while she was on the second one.

She sobbed and prayed.

Pidge flicked the flare off a few ticks later, dropping it like it had burned her instead.

She rolled off of Lance, crawling towards his face.

Tears glistened on his cheeks.

“L-Lance?” She reached a trembling hand out to his cheek, to his lips.

A shallow puff of hot air warmed her fingers.

He was still alive.

Pidge maneuvered around him, pulling his head and shoulders into her lap, trying to prop him up against her as he let out a weak cough.

“I’m so sorry,” she whispered. “I’m so sorry.”

He did not respond. One of his tears finished its trek down his cheek, plopping onto her knee.

Pidge held him as the ship in front of them burned brighter and brighter.

She held him as its fires went out.

As the moon trekked across the sky.

As his breaths grew quieter and quieter.

She held him and pet his hair and told him she had saved him now so he had to wake up, he had to hold on, he had to be okay.

And in the thick silence broken not even now by Pidge’s whispers and sobs, there was a roar, a burst of blue light against the dark sky.

The Blue Lion.

Lance was saved.

Chapter Text

Keith sucked in a harsh breath, interlocked fingers tightening against one another as the whip sank into his back.

Don’t scream.

Don’t cry.

Don’t give them the satisfaction.

It was the only thing he had to cling to.

Well, besides the post he was had been forced to kneel in front of, arms chained flush around its girth and restraints pinning his ankles to the ground behind him.

He wasn’t going anywhere.

He vaguely wondered if he was going to die here.

The whip cracked and Keith hated how he tensed.

Sixteen.

He counted the number as he bit down on his tongue to swallow the groan as it connected, digging into already bleeding, raw flesh.

He had no idea how many more there would be.

Probably…

Probably a lot.

“Who’s next?” roared out the the Galran commander of the base Keith had been attempting to sneak in to on a Blade mission that had not gone anywhere close to planned. “Who wants a piece of this traitor halfbreed’s flesh?”

A clamor arose from the gathered troops and Keith sensed more than saw a new soldier come up behind him.

There would be no shortage of volunteers.

Not for him.

It had been bad enough to be captured, some sort of failsafe programmed into the mainframe Keith had been accessing that had shocked him with such a heavy pulse he had fallen right then and there, unable to move or even speak even as the alarm had started and pounding feet had rushed the control room.

It was worse when they’d disabled his Marmora mask and gotten a glimpse of his features; peach skin and white ringed eyes and growls of ‘halfbreed’ and ‘traitor’ had started to sound.

Apparently the Galra hated a mixed race Galran more than they hated even a Blade of Marmora, for the initial plan to apparently just shoot him in the head and send his body off as a warning to the Blades had been forgone in favor of hauling him out by his hair and deciding they were going to “have some fun.”

Keith supposed at least this way he had lived.

He knew it was only temporary.

Once they got tired of this game...

He closed his eyes.

Seventeen.

He wished he’d had a chance to say goodbye.

Eighteen.

He should have never left Voltron.

Nineteen.

He wished Shiro was here.

At twenty he couldn’t quite choke back a cry.

It hurt.

“Oh ho, listen to that,” chuckled the commander. “He does make noise.” Keith could almost feel the sharp grin. “Now let’s make him scream.”

The lashes came faster then, sinking into raw flesh, striking high and low and leaving bloody welts and flayed skin behind.

At thirty-two Keith was sagging against the post, only the restraints keeping him upright.

At forty he had still not let out more than a groan or hiss.

His lip was a bloodied mess.

His back was even moreso.

Keith was grateful he couldn’t see it.

No screaming.

No crying.

He would go out with his pride.

His resolve held until they dumped the salt water.

The scream ravaged his throat as fire exploded down his back, salt sinking into every wound, and he tossed his head back as though that could relieve the pain.

“I think this disgusting piece of halfbreed filth needs to be cleaned,” the commander sneered.

Another barrel was dumped over him to the sound of cheering, a gushing torrent that flooded his mouth, his nose, stinging his eyes while his back wept blood and salted tears.

Keith couldn’t breathe.

He could do nothing except choke and shake and wait for it to be over.

“Look at you. Pathetic."

A clawed hand descended into his hair, yanking Keith’s head backwards until he was forced to look up at the commander above him.

Pained amethyst eyes met cruel yellow.

Keith spat out the water he hadn’t yet coughed out.

It hit the Galran dead center between his eyes.

Keith grinned, a bloody thing.

The commander bellowed.

Those enraged eyes were the last thing he saw.

Chapter Text

Shiro shot to sitting with a sharp gasp, chest heaving and sweat plastering his bangs to his forehead.

Darkness stared back.

His breath hitched. He couldn’t be back there. Not again. Not anymore. Not the darkness and the silence  and the stillness and—

A light blinked.

Then another.

And another.

There were many lights now, soft Altean teal mixed with purple, highlighting metal beams and panels and an assortment of boxes and canisters.

The Black Lion.

He was inside the Black Lion.

But not in the Astral Plane, not hovering and unsubstantial and alone.

He was in the small storage chamber that had been converted into his temporary quarters as they traveled towards Earth.

He was here.

Fingers clenched into a fist on his left while his right was a gaping, missing piece and as much as Shiro had hated all the Galran arm had stood for, had reminded him of, he felt the loss so much it hurt.

His flesh hand moved to press against his heart, feeling it thudding, grounding him in the moment.

He was here.  

He was…

He was still alone.

Loss struck him again, cold and harsh and his heart picked up its tempo once more.

He didn’t want to be alone.

No.

He couldn’t be alone.

Shiro hauled himself from the narrow bed, bare feet striking chilled floors.

He forewent the slippers even though they were ones he could manage with his missing arm as the pressing need to be with someone, to not be in this quiet, silent, dark room spurred his urgency.

Shiro stumbled into the small hallway that connected his room to the cargo bay and hurried through the echoing chamber towards the cockpit where he knew Keith would be even at this hour.

As he approached though his footsteps slowed and he could feel heat starting to stain his cheeks.

What was he doing?

A grown man fleeing from his bed as though a child awoken from a nightmare and looking for the comfort of a parent.

He came to a complete halt in the space just before he hit the cockpit.

He couldn’t bother, burden, Keith with this. Keith had enough to worry about; thrown back into the role of the Black Paladin, responsible for keeping them all together as they flew to Earth on the meager rations they had managed to save and going on two days now without even a stop to land as there had been no inhabitable planets.

He was being stupid.

A cold shiver worked its way up his spine at the thought of returning to his room.

Dark..

Quiet.

Alone.

Shiro wrapped his one arm about his stomach in a hug, looking for a piece of comfort as he warred on the threshold.

He’d just…

Just take a peek. Make sure Keith was okay just like he used to on the castle on his nightly patrols as nightmares sent him from his bed. He hadn’t burdened Keith or the others then.

He wasn’t going to start now.

He knew a lot had changed in the past few weeks, but he liked to think they still saw him as a leader.

Maybe.

Guilt churned his stomach as hazy memories from his clone pressed in. Shiro remembered what he had done; firing on the team, turning his back on them.

What he had said to Keith.

I should have abandoned you just like your parents did.

They saw that you were broken.

Worthless.

A cold chuckle.

I should have seen it too.

Shiro hunched over, feeling sick now too.

Keith had already told him he didn’t believe it, didn’t hold those words against him. And Shiro knew Keith spoke the truth.

It still hurt. It still hurt to know those words had left his lips, that Keith had had to hear them.

He’d done enough. Keith had had to deal with enough.

Shiro wasn’t going to do anything more.

Just a quick peek, a reassurance that he was not alone on the Black Lion, whose faint presence while comforting was a harsh reminder of those months of forced solitude and nothingness.

Shiro poked his head around the door to the cockpit…

And found that Keith was not in the pilot’s chair as he had anticipated but lying on the low cot further back, his space wolf curled up by his feet  and his head pillowed in Krolia’s lap, who had her head tilted back against the wall in slumber too.

Shiro’s gaze softened and the roiling in his stomach quelled itself at the sight.

Keith had found his family.

Shiro hated the sharp pang that stabbed his heart.

He was so happy for Keith. He just…

He missed him. Keith had been his family, his little brother and more than the big brother program they’d met in had ever meant for it to be.

Shiro was alarmed to feel tears pricking at his eyes even as he smiled at the scene.

A sob tried to jerk its way up his throat and he hastily brought his hand up to his mouth, holding it in.

He needed to go. He didn’t want to intrude on this.

There was a new feeling, a new loss, pricking at his heart. Keith had gained a mother and Shiro…

Shiro, please… you’re my brother. I love you.

Shiro hiccuped back another sob.

He needed to step back. To let Keith be with his new family wherever that took him. They were on different paths now; Keith the leader of Voltron with his mom there and the Blades behind him and Shiro…

Shiro was only going to hold him back. He wasn’t the same person Keith had once known, had looked up to. He was the broken one now. He knew that without a doubt. He would only hurt Keith; drag him down with his shattered memories and fears and history and that was the last thing he wanted to do.

Shiro took a literal step back then.

It was for the best, to start now. The distance wouldn’t hurt so much later then.

He would just—

“Where do you think you’re going?”

Shiro froze.

Krolia did not move, did not open her eyes, but even so Shiro could feel the weight of her stare.

“I…” he swallowed thickly. “I—”

“Get over here.”

Shiro mutely shook his head. “Krolia—”

“I said,” her eyes were open now, narrowed at him with the tone of someone used to being obeyed, “get over here.”

Shiro tentatively picked his way across the cockpit, trying to supress the shiver as the sweat that had soaked him was cooling now and he couldn’t shake the feeling of being a kid again and about to be scolded by his obaasan.

“Sit,” she directed as he reached the cot and she tapped the hand that was not gently carding now through Keith’s long bangs next to her.

There wasn’t much room but Shiro didn’t think she cared for his protests.

He carefully perched himself on the edge, metal port that remained of his right arm bumping against the Galran. She reached around him and yanked on his left bicep, pulling him flush to the wall as she was and Shiro was too startled at the handling to offer any protest.

They sat in quiet then, broken up only by the gentle humming from the console and the low whuffling noises of the wolf and Shiro rubbed at his eyes, banishing the beginnings of the tears.

“What’s wrong?” Krolia’s tone had softened significantly and this close Shiro could make out the individual flecks of color in her purple eyes.

“Nothing,” Shiro said quietly, lowering his gaze to his knees.

Krolia’s fingers dug into his flesh arm where she had yet to remove it, almost a side-hug if it hadn’t been quite so… violent.

“A nightmare,” Shiro admitted, the words a breath as the remnants of silence and darkness and please, can anyone hear me, is anyone there? pressed in.  “I’m… I’m sorry for disturbing you, I just—”

He broke off. He didn’t even know what he was trying to say.

“Shiro,” his name was both firm and soft, “hush.”

Her hand rose on his shoulder to his head and Shiro found himself being physically pushed over until his opposite cheek collided with Krolia’s shoulder, fortunately not in her armor. Her fingers stroked through his hair, her thumb brushing against his face.

Tears Shiro could not explain filled his eyes and a breathy sob pushed its way free.

“You are safe here,” Krolia murmured. “And you will always have a place here, with us. With my son.”

“But—” Shiro tried to protest, to explain how he was only going to hurt Keith, hurt all of them, but Krolia shushed him again.

“You looked after my son when I could not,” she said quietly. “You protected him. Now it is time for us to do the same for you.”

Shiro’s shoulders shook. He felt the tears begin their trek.

“You are loved, Shiro,” Krolia’s hand stroked his cheek. “You are family. And you belong with us.”

Another sob was pulled from Shiro even as his lips turned up into a tearful smile, pressing his forehead against Krolia’s shoulder.

“Rest now,” she said gently. “No nightmares will visit you here.”

“Thank you,” he whispered, words simple but he knew Krolia could feel the weight behind them. What they meant. What this meant.

“No, Shiro,” she corrected softly. “Thank you.”

And safe in Krolia’s embrace, no longer alone, never to be alone again, Shiro slept.

Chapter Text

“Uh, Lance? What’re you doing?”

Hunk hadn’t thought he’d been that quiet even on slippered feet but Lance startled so much that the bowl he’d been vigorously stirring slipped out of his grip and clattered with a bang to the kitchen floor, sending what  looked like batter flying.

Lance turned towards it but he didn’t pick it up.

He stood there instead, shoulders curled in and as Hunk stepped closer he could see them trembling beneath Lance’s robe, which was coated in the splatter as well as what looked like dusts of flour and something sticky; egg, maybe?

He could also see a shine trickling down Lance’s face.

“Oh, hermano,” Hunk closed the distance in another step and wrapped his arms about Lance from behind in a gentle but firm hug.

Lance let out a low sob and turned in the embrace, burying his face against Hunk’s pajamas and fingers clinging into the fabric.

Hunk rubbed a hand against Lance’s back and lifted his eyes past the dark head to survey the dimly lit kitchen for some answers.

He’d woken up himself just a bit ago and although it was only 0400 and he really should try and sleep for the remaining two hours he hadn’t been able to fall back asleep and had decided he’d head to the kitchen and try out that breakfast bake he’d been thinking of making for a while now.

He never thought he’d find Lance.

And most definitely not attempting to cook. Lance wasn’t bad (not anything like Shiro’s attempts) but alien ingredients were finicky and after he’d nearly poisoned them both with what he thought had been a pepper but was in fact a lethal herb when not cooked he’d sworn off any future attempts without “Hunk supervision.”

Lance’s ingredients seemed to be all over the place and Hunk didn’t just mean how they covered both counters and now the floor.  Flour and sugar in their alien colors of blue and gray dusted the entire landscape and broken eggshells dotted it around the multiple bowls and spoons. There were a number of different fruits, some peeled, some chopped, a few looking to be smashed and all oozing.

It was a kitchen warzone and Lance was somehow in the middle of it.

As the minutes ticked by Lance’s faint trembles ceased and Hunk felt his shirt being released from no doubt a white-knuckled grip. Lance rocked back on his feet and Hunk lowered his arms so Lance could step out of the hug.

“Sorry, sorry,” Lance murmured, voice thick as he rubbed a fist over his eyes, pointedly not meeting Hunk’s. “Lo siento . I’ll clean it up. Just give me a tick to—”

“Lance,” Hunk interrupted, throwing a hand out to catch Lance’s shoulder as he made to turn towards the fallen bowl. “¿Qué pasa , hermano?”

Nada.”

Hunk frowned while raising an eyebrow. He changed direction. “What were you making?”

“A mess,” came the short reply, followed by a huff of laughter that wasn’t humorous at all.

Ocean eyes finally flicked up to meet Hunk’s own honey brown. “It’s nothing. Really. I’m sorry for the mess.”

“I don’t care about the mess,” Hunk frowned.

What was going on?

“I used up all of the eggs,” Lance continued, looking away again. “And I think I ruined that one knife from trying to cut up that weird melon thing. And—”

“Lance, stop,” the last word coming out both a plea and a command. “Stop, please. It’s fine, okay? I don’t care about the kitchen, I care about you . What’s wrong?”

Es estúpido,” was the answering mutter.

“It’s not stupid,” Hunk countered. “Lance, por favor, háblame.”

Lance let out a sigh and his arms wrapped tightly about his middle. “I… I forgot how to make panetela.”

Hunk waited.

This was more than about a forgotten recipe, even if he knew it was a cherished one to Lance.

“It was Veronica’s birthday yesterday and I forgot,” Lance continued softly. “I forgot her birthday, Hunk. I…” He looked up, eyes sparkling with tears again and pitch growing higher. “I’m forgetting everything. I forgot the name of Nadia’s favorite stuffed animal and Luis and Lisa’s new address. I’m forgetting mamá’s laugh and papá’s hugs and… and….”

“Oh, Lance…”

“Are we ever going to go home?” Lance choked out. “Are we? Is this war ever going to end, Hunk?”

Hunk pulled Lance back into a hug, clutching him tight.

“Yes,” Hunk said softly, closing his own eyes and trying to fight back tears.

He missed home so much too.

“You don’t know that,” Lance mumbled, muffled.

“I do,” Hunk insisted gently. “I don’t know the how or the when but we are going to go home. All of us. And we’ll see our families and hug them and… and…”

He let out a loud sniffle.

“Oh, Dios, Hunk,” Lance pulled his face free. “ Lo siento. I didn’t mean to make you cry. I’m—”

Hunk cut him off by squeezing him tighter and Lance’s apology turned into a small squeak.

“No apologizing,” he said firmly. “Not… not for this, okay?”

“...‘kay.”

Hunk could feel Lance swallow thickly, throat bobbing on his chest.

“...Hunk?”

“Hm?”

“I’m… I’m glad you’re here with me.”

Hunk felt tears sting his eyes again. “Right… right back at you, hermano.”

All was quiet then, peaceful, until an angry sounding sizzle permeated the air and Lance backpedaled out of the hug like he’d been lit on fire.

Dios, the stove!”

Hunk winced as he watched some concocotion — one of Lance’s many attempts with alien fruit at guava paste no doubt — boil over the side of the pot. That was not going to be fun to clean up.

He surveyed the kitchen again, a small smile tugging up his lips.

“You know,” he said, as Lance gingerly with giant hotpads moved the burning pot to an unused burner, “it looks like we still have more than enough eggs scrambled about to make a small panetela and I know a fruit from the one I made for your birthday that I still see on hand. What do you say, hermano, want to make some panetela in honor of Veronica’s birthday?”

Lance’s lip wobbled. “Y-yes.”

“Let’s clean up just a bit first,” Hunk said, bending down and picking up the batter bowl from the floor. “And then we’ll make enough to feed everyone for breakfast. I mean, it has fruit, so it’s sort of healthy enough, right?”

Lance let out a wet chuckle. “That’s something I would argue, Hunk. Where’s you and your protein spiel?”

“I’ll cook up some sausages too,” Hunk shrugged with an easy grin. “Get us all ready for training in a few hours.”

Lance groaned but Hunk could see the smile behind it.

Gracias, Hunk,” Lance said softly as Hunk joined him behind the counter. “I… I couldn’t do this without you.”

Hunk knew he wasn’t talking about the panetela.

“Me either,” Hunk agreed quietly, reaching a hand out and giving Lance’s shoulder a squeeze and being graced with a smile that could brighten the darkest recess of space.

And while those feelings of homesickness were not going to go away anytime soon and their loss was still painful, in this moment Hunk felt like he was back at home and everything was right in the world.

No.

He smiled at Lance’s head, bowed over the sink and scrubbing at one of the pots with a grimace.

Everything was right in the universe.

Chapter Text

Day one hadn’t been a problem. Neither had day two. Day three had been bearable and day four through five the same although he was starting to feel dizzy and light headed and the water ration they gave him was not enough to fill his gnawing stomach.  

By what he thought was day six though he was curled on his side, thin arms wrapped about himself as it was so cold and the effort of shivering was exhausting and at what point did he stop being hungry?

He didn’t know.

What Lance did know was that no matter what he could not do what they wanted him to.

Even if an entire plate of garlic knots descended in front of him, with their flaky golden crust and warm, tender buttery insides and the perfect blend of garlic and parmesan and—

His stomach let out a mournful gurgle and Lance squeezed his eyes shut tight as though doing so would push away the image of the food.

When he opened them there was no food.

The rifle, however, was still there.

Uncharged, of course.

They weren’t stupid.

Lance glared at it.

Then shivered.

His stomach moaned.

What if he just… pretended to agree?

He winced, feeling the skin pull above his eye where they’d clubbed him and it had only finally stopped bleeding the other day.

That’s right. He’d already tried that.

Hadn’t ended well.

You will shoot or you will starve.

The words of this side’s leader echoed in his head.

Lance grit his teeth and curled up tighter.

He almost wished he’d been captured by the Galra. As horrible as that would be they, he liked to think at least, would know he was more valuable to them alive than dead.

These aliens didn’t think that at all.

It was no loss to them if Lance died. And he had no doubt they would kill him if this kept on for much longer and their patience tired. The only thing they wanted from him was his sharpshooting skills and he would not, could not, help them.

He would not murder for them.

He’d rather die.

He may very well get his wish.

You will shoot or you will starve.

They checked in on him once a day, both for his answer and to deliver a single cup of water. At least Lance assumed it was a day as his cell had no windows and it was hard to mark the passage of time as he spent as much time as he could fitfully sleeping to conserve energy.

His limbs were leaden anyways and a dull ache had permanently settled into his head.

He wondered if the team was missing him yet.

He’d been sent to the planet for what was supposed to be a light peacekeeping mission, just to oversee a diplomatic meeting between two opposing religious sects.

It had all gone wrong when one side had pulled a gun and shot the daughter of the other. Lance recalled the horror as her body had fallen just yards from him, hole through her head and long ears seeming to float as she fell back.

He’d shouted something, maybe stop, it was all hazy now, but both sides had come more armed than the “do not bring weapons” stipulation of the meeting implied and a firefight had broken out right in front of him.

Lance had made the split-second decision to cover the side of whose daughter had been shot, setting his own blaster to stun to just quell the threat for now, to stop any more bloodshed. He’d fired not even a dozen times, each one a perfect headshot, when he’d seen a grenade roll onto the ground.

He’d dove, prayed his armor would hold and…

And woken up in this cell, stripped of his armor and been told those words.

They had said nothing else.

You will shoot or you will starve.

Lance refused.

He’d told them so in many other words, tried to reason with them.

They didn’t listen.

Lance told himself he just had to hold out. The mission was supposed to be for a week of discussion and terms and then a party afterward celebrating the newfound peace. When he didn’t show back up at the castle then the team would come.

He just prayed they didn’t get caught in the crossfire too.

He would never forgive himself if they…

The daughter was replaced with Pidge in his mind, a gaping hole blown through her forehead and honey eyes dulled.

Lance shuddered and swallowed down the weak taste of stomach bile.

No.

It wasn’t going to happen.

Even though he could do nothing to stop it.

The door to his cell creaked open.

“No,” Lance told them before they could ask, face pressed against his arm.

“Well, if you want to stay here I won’t force you to leave, but—”

Lance uncurled at the first sound of the voice, not the whispery hiss of the aliens but of—

“Matt,” he gasped, eyes widened at the sight of the rebel.

What was he doing here? Lance didn’t really care, he’d take the rescue please and thank you.

Matt’s joking tone though had been replaced with a look of concern that could not hide the dark anger pulling at his mouth as no doubt the wound on his head became visible.

“‘m okay,” Lance reassured him, getting shakily to his feet.

The world tipped.

He faintly realized he couldn’t recall the last time he’d stood up.

He’d have fallen right back down if Matt hadn’t caught him, one arm tight about his waist and the other thrown over his shoulders.

Lance titled his head up and gave him a weak grin. “Thanks, man.”

“Thank the princess,” Matt told him, starting a slow walk and Lance had to put more focus on placing his feet than he’d thought. “She was worried when you didn’t contact Voltron and unfortunately the rest of the team’s mixed up in a bit of a situation right now. Nothing crazy,” he reassured as Lance’s next step faltered, “but they couldn’t spare anyone at the moment and asked if the rebels could pop over. Glad we did. You’re really all right?”

“Allura was worried about me?”

Lance could feel Matt’s eye roll.

“You’re fine,” the older boy shook his head, even as he tightened his arm about Lance’s shoulder in a hug and Lance squeezed back at the arm he had pulled around Matt’s side.

He was fine.

And he would be much better once he had a whole plate of garlic knots.

His stomach rumbled.

He told Matt his meal plans.

Matt told him he had freeze dried food goo on his ship if he wanted something a little sooner than it would take to get back to the castle, retrieve Hunk from his current mission and then figure out the space equivalent to garlic, which could very well take another week.

Lance decided freeze dried food goo sounded heavenly.

It was not.

Lance ate the entire portion anyway to the gathered rebels’ horror and awe, increasing when he asked for seconds and he let that buoy him, to push away the cold words and colder rifle and cell and replace it with warm laughter and strangely warm food goo and the good kind of rumbling of his stomach.

He was going to be fine indeed.

Chapter Text

 

Pidge swallowed heavily, feeling the collar bob against her raw throat.

She swallowed again.

One more time.

This time she would get through.

She angled her feet, putting all of her weight on her right one.

And she charged.

Her neck sizzled.

Pidge screamed.

She kept going.

Any second now, any second…

Black spots danced in her vision and Pidge stumbled backwards.

Her legs collapsed below her and she took a hard sit, harsh pants intermingled with moans as she hunched over, hands going to her abused neck as though to comfort it.

It only hurt more.

Tear lined eyes lifted to glare at what appeared to be nothing.

Pidge hated this prison.

It was mocking her.

What looked like an empty piece of flat land was surrounded by some sort of invisible forcefield that was linked to the ring about her neck.

Pidge growled at it.

It was a fucking shock collar. And she was the disobedient dog that was trying to wander outside of its yard.

Fuck. Them.

The aliens had dumped her here without even a guard, patting her on the head as she tried to bite their stupidly long fingers, and told her to “be good” and they would collect her after they finished inspecting the Green Lion, which had joined Pidge in this misadventure of rock collecting from the “strange magnetic waves” planet and she’d just had to take a look and snuck down while the castle was anchored above it and everyone else was asleep.

Well.

She was getting an up and close personal look now at the rocks that had caught her interest.

She hated them.

She hated the aliens for underestimating her simply because of her size and appearance.

She hated that she had yet to prove them wrong.

Pidge had learned in the near two varga she had been trapped here quite a bit about her prison and the situation. She knew that the collar, which no matter how much she twisted and tugged she could not free herself from, had some of the rocks embedded in it and that they reacted based on proximity to what she guessed was its opposite charge in the larger rocks that surrounded the corners of her prison and kept her in the twelve by twelve foot square.

She learned that she had no tools in which to break the rocks free of the collar and attempting to smash it against the ground had failed as her head had gotten in the way. She’d stopped after nearly giving herself a concussion.

The only thing she had found that could destroy the rocks was the rocks themselves.

She’d discovered such after her fourth run at the wall, trying to power through the pain as the collar lit up about her neck, and a piece of stone had chipped off, managing to fall just so that she saw it as she had fallen to her knees.

The rocks disintegrated over repeated use.

The solution was then clear: she had to remove all of the rocks as without them the collar was just a piece of metal and she could then escape.

The problem became obvious: there were a lot of fucking rocks.

She’d felt out a total of four embedded in the collar, approximately the size of a large marble. And each time she charged into the forcefield and managed to withstand the shocks for at least ten ticks she lost a tiny little piece from one.

It was going to take a long, long while.

Pidge had tried just battling through, figuring once she passed the boundary of the boulder, about a foot in width, she’d pop right out.

It hadn’t worked.

There was a pushback the two times she’d managed to force herself to stay in, to drag her feet forward, a pulse almost that had thrown her backwards.

Slow and steady.

It was harder than it sounded.

Knowing the pain that awaited her was not a motivator in the slightest. Her neck was rubbed raw, light burns covering it from the repeated shocks, and her throat worse. She would kill someone for a glass of water.

Eventually the team would wake up, discover she was missing, someone would remember her expressing a desire to visit the planet and Allura saying they did not have the time and they would come down and find her.

But that would be vargas from now and Pidge didn’t want to be here a minute longer. She didn't know what they were doing to Green, if they were hurting her, and given their treatment of herself earlier, the head pats and chuckles and then the fucking collar, Pidge didn’t want to know what they were going to do to her when they came back.

She was small, she knew that. And these aliens were large, nearly seven feet and with the width to match. She physically had no advantage against them and she would be unable to fight them off if they tried to do anything to her.

She shuddered.

She had to get out.

The collar was down to one rock piece now, barely a nub. She’d tried yanking it out, only scratching her fingers for her efforts.

One more time.

It had become her mantra.

She weakly pulled herself to her knees and then to shaking legs.

One more time.

This pain was nothing.

Nothing compared to what they could do.

She hit the barrier again.

And again.

And again.

Her voice was gone now, a hoarse rasp of pain.

She swayed.

One more time.

She stumbled forward.

It took a tick for her to realize what had happened.

Her legs shook and she went to her knees.

She’d done it.

She was free.

A trembling hand went to the collar and sure enough the last piece of stone had crumbled away.

She’d done it.

Pidge let out a sob of sheer relief.

She gave herself a minute, hunched over, to just breathe.

Honey eyes lifted then, hardened with determination. It wasn’t over yet. She still had to get back to Green, evade the aliens and then launch.

But she knew she could do it.

They were going to regret ever underestimating her.


Chapter Text

It was a trap.

Well, they’d known it was a trap. It couldn’t be anything else when the castle had received an audio clip of Shiro screaming and the gravelly voice of a revenge-bound Galran who had lost family to “the brutish Champion” and had gone to great strides to spirit Shiro away during an on the ground battle. The message stated that he was going to blow Shiro up and all of them too within the varga.

He hadn’t provided any other information.

Pidge had managed to hack the signal, a relief as Shiro’s armor had gone offline, and they had taken off immediately via a wormhole.

Allura had stressed caution, going down to what looked like an old, abandoned huge base with them.

It hadn’t mattered.

They’d been on the ground for a matter of minutes, split up to cover as much ground as possible, when the first explosion had rocketed the area.

Another one had followed seconds after.

Keith, Hunk had reported, sounding frantic. A land mine. He’d seen it from his higher location. Keith was… Keith was down.

Pidge had keyed in then, voice high with pain, reporting the same. She’d activated her thrusters to push her away once she heard the first one, but…

But her legs were busted. She couldn’t help any more.

The Galran’s words hung over them.

All of them were going to blow up.

It had been a warning as well as a threat.

Keith still wasn’t responding.

Allura had ordered Hunk to retrieve Keith as he saw his location. She said they were all to use the jetpacks and float, touching down only as needed to propel. Pidge shakily announced she could get herself back to the ship.

Allura and Lance went on ahead.

Time continued to tick down.

Hunk rejoined them about twenty minutes later, quietly reporting Keith was alive but still unconscious. He was burned. Badly. Coran was with him and Pidge now.

They’d been at it for almost forty dobashes, shouting for Shiro at the top of their lungs as they burst through every closed door, traversed every hall.

He didn’t respond once.

Allura made the call to pull back, voice shaky, at the fifty mark. An hour had been their warning and given what had already happened she had no doubt it was accurate.

They didn’t even know that Shiro was here.

Lance refused to give up.

Lance had taken off at a dead sprint, forgoing the slower search with the boosters, and flinging open every door, screaming for Shiro to respond.

He’d take his chances because Shiro didn’t have a chance if he didn’t.

On the last door of his current hallway Lance had found Shiro.

Unconscious, blood covering his temple.

Strapped to what most definitely would be a bomb connected to enough boxes and crystals that Lance didn’t have to imagine what would happen if it went off.

The counter read 03:28.

He’d called out his find. He needed Hunk to disable it.

Hunk quietly keyed in he wouldn’t make it in time. He was over five minutes out at his current position. A sob had muffled most of his reply.

Allura reported she was nearly back at the ship and would not make it either.

It was up to Lance.

02:59

Lance had spent the next thirty seconds futilely pulling at the restraints that kept Shiro tethered to both the bomb and the largest of the crystals, easily triple Shiro’s size and not something Lance had the physical strength to move.

It wouldn’t budge.

Hunk pleaded with Lance over the comms to come back.

They… they couldn’t lose him too.

They’d already…

They’d already decided...

Lance yanked the helmet off.

He couldn’t afford distractions.

Even if he had not a clue what he was doing.

But he was not leaving Shiro here.

02:29

“Hang on,” he promised, voice high as he fired his bayard point blank at the connecting links. “Hang on Shiro, it’s gonna be okay. I’m… I’m gonna get you out.”

There was another sound now over the of blaster fire echoing in his ear.

Lance ignored it.

He couldn’t afford a delay.

He paused his shooting after twenty rounds to look at his progress.

Not a dent.

Not a quiznacking dent.

02:02

He sucked in a sob. Over it he heard the sound again.

It was his name.

“Shiro!” he gasped, pivoting to the front. “Shiro!”

“Lance,” Shiro rasped. Charcoal eyes looked up and met his and in them Lance could see the resignation.

No.

No.

“Go,” Shiro whispered, holding his gaze.

01:44

“I’m not leaving you,” Lance said, voice catching. “Don’t say that, don’t you—”

“Lance,” Shiro interrupted him. “Please.”

“I have time,” Lance whispered. “I can get you free, Shiro. I can. I just need a, a tick.”

“Lance,” Shiro’s voice was firmer now, his eyes sharper even as tears gathered in the corners.

He didn’t need to say it.

They both knew Lance wasn’t going to be able to free him.

Not in time.

01:32

“No,” Lance whispered, dropping to his knees and putting him level with Shiro. “No. Shiro. I…” his voice broke with a sob. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, I—”

“Lance,” Shiro cut in again. “It’s okay.”

“It’s not.”

Lance leaned forward then, wrapping his arms tight about what he could of Shiro’s chest, digging his face into the armored plates. He felt Shiro bow his head, breath hot on his neck, in his own version of a hug.

No.

This couldn’t be happening.

No. Dios, no. Please no.

“Can you do something for me?” Shiro asked softly.

“A-anything,” Lance hiccuped, even as he silently cried out no, he wouldn’t do anything because Shiro could do it himself.

“Tell them I’m sorry,” Shiro murmured. “Tell them, I…” Lance heard him swallow thickly. He clung harder to the armor. “I know they can do it.”

“Sh-Shiro,” Lance sobbed.

01:02

“Tell Pidge… tell Katie she will find her family. They’re out there. She will find them.”

Shiro was crying now, Lance could feel the tears falling into his hair.

This couldn’t be it.

“And tell Keith,” Shiro’s voice caught on the name. “Tell Keith I… I love him. Tell him I believe in him. He… he can do anything. Tell him I’ll never give up on him,” Shiro was shaking now and Lance clutched him harder. “ Please. Tell him. Make sure he knows.”

“I will,” Lance promised. “I w-will. Shiro, I… I…”

00:45

“Thank you,” Shiro whispered. “Thank you, Lance.”

Lance sobbed.

He didn’t want to leave.

He couldn’t leave.

Shiro...

“You have to go,” Shiro murmured, rubbing his head against Lance’s cheek.

A final farewell.

“I c-can’t,” Lance cried. “Shiro, por favor , I…”

He couldn’t leave Shiro here.

Shiro was going to die.

He was going to die alone.

“Lance, buddy, look at me.”

00:31

Lance pulled his tear-streaked face away from Shiro’s chest, meeting an equally tear-filled gaze. Shiro mustered up a watery looking smile that Lance couldn’t even try to match.

“You are the bravest, most selfless, kindest person I’ve had the honor to meet,” Shiro said quietly. “You’re going to do great things, Lance. Don’t...don’t ever forget that.”

“‘K-kay,” Lance managed, the word so inadequate but his throat was too tight, too choked for anything else. “Sh-Shiro…”

“Go,” Shiro repeated, pleaded. “You have to get clear.”

Lance leaned forward, wrapping Shiro up once more in as much of a hug as he could, squeezing him tight.

00:14

His feet moved then without his accord, stopping at his fallen helmet and jamming it over his head.

His thrusters activated.

00:10

“Good bye, Shiro,” Lance whispered, holding that charcoal gaze for as long as he could.

Oh Dios.

This was really..

This was really...

Shiro inclined his head. “Good bye.”

00:06

Lance took off for the high window, shooting out the glass.

Voices were screaming in his ear over the comms. He didn’t have time to respond.

00:00

Lance felt the blast more than he heard it.

He was sent tumbling head over heels, flames licking at his back.

Everything went silent as he fell, only his pulse pounding in his ears followed by a high ringing.

He smashed into the ground outside the base, rolling and bumping painfully until he came to a stop on his back.

The burning base lit up the sky, fire and smoke pouring from all sides.

Shiro…

Lance choked on a sob.

Shiro...

“Lance!” his name was being screamed over the still ringing sound, Hunk and Allura and Pidge and Coran and even Keith, a whisper in the background.

“Lance, come in!” Hunk begged. “Please! Lance!”

He reached a trembling hand towards his comm.

“I’m…” he swallowed. Paused. “I’m here.”

Shiro was not.

He couldn’t say it.

The silence, the omission, spoke for itself.

Keith’s broken cry echoed over the comms.

Chapter Text

"I'd bet half my fleet that this group of heroes has a soft spot for the small one."

Zethrid's words echoed in the cell and her gaze turned toward Pidge, fangs pulling into a smile. "You."

Pidge's eyes widened behind her glasses, a soft, barely audible gasp pulled from her lips.

Zethrid stepped forward.

Lance knew he was severely outclassed by the two part-Galrans and the energy cuffs weren't helping that in any way, but like heck was he going to let either of them harm a hair on Pidge's head.

Not on his watch.

"Don't you touch her!"

He lunged forward, swinging his bound arms at Ezor, half-hoping the rest of the team would leap into action too and overwhelm the two commanders turned pirates with sheer numbers.

Ezor easily dodged, a laugh on her lips.

Lance barely had time to turn around, to try again, when she kicked her leg out and connected solidly with his chest.

He went flying, skidding on his back along the cell floor with a shout.

He planted his feet, tensing to leap up…

And a hand wrapped about his neck and slammed his head against the ground.

Lance saw stars.

He gagged as the hand tightened — Zethrid, he identified, — and then lifted him up, all of his weight dangling from the hold.

Black spots danced in his eyes.

He faintly heard shouting.

Hunk?

"I suppose we could always torture the loud one," Zethrid mused, giving him a shake.

Lance gagged again, weakly raising his bound hands up and fingers scrabbling at the underside of Zethrid's single hand, leaving barely there scratches behind.

It did no good.

The black spots took up more of his vision.

Lance could blearily make out his team looking at him, horror and anger etched in their faces.

"What do you think, Ezor? Does this one work for you instead?"

A more slender hand lighted upon his cheek followed by another giggle.

Lance unsuccessfully tried to jerk his head away from her touch.

She laughed again. "I'm sure his screams are lovely." Her thumb rubbed his cheek. "Just like his skin. So smooth."

Hunk took a step forward and Lance saw in his peripheral Krolia shift her stance.

"Uh uh," Zethrid chided and somehow her grip tightened even more. "One more step and I'll break his scrawny neck."

Hunk halted abruptly.

Lance's hands fell limp in front of him from his useless attempt at pulling Zethrid's away.

"Now, what shall we do first?" Zethrid asked, turning her arm so Lance was forced to look at her face. "I've always been partial to explos—"

An alarm blared.

Lance's breath hitched in a way that had nothing to do with his nearly closed airway.

Gracias a Dios.

"What the...?" Ezor looked up at the ceiling as though it held the answers.

Zethrid scowled. "Damnit."

Her hold loosened and suddenly there was air as Lance fell from her grasp, landing painfully on his knees as his legs kicked out and tried to get underneath him.

The two Galrans took off without another word, cell door slamming closed behind them and Lance doubled over, coughing.

"Lance, hermano, you okay?" Hunk was kneeling in front of him then, his own bound hands clutching at Lance's forearm while the others gathered around.

"Y-yeah," Lance rasped, reflexive tears brimming in his eyes from the coughing.

He was fine.

Pidge was unhurt.

And now it was time to get the heck out of here.

Chapter Text

 

Hunk's stomach desperately wanted to vomit out all of its contents.

He forced himself to hold it in.

The last thing needed here was more bodily fluids.

He risked another glance down and felt the bile tickle his throat.

Nope.

It was not getting better.

And Lance was getting worse.

Such was enough to sober Hunk's stomach and he reached out a shaking, blood-stained hand towards his best friend's face, pillowed in his lap.

"Lance?" he whispered. "Hermano?"

Lance let out a whimper, hands twitching where they laid at his sides.

Hazy blue eyes blinked open. "Hunk?" he rasped.

"Right here," Hunk picked up one of the hands in his own, squeezing it and trying to push heat back into it. "You're doing great. They're… they're almost here."

Ten minutes out Pidge had relayed a while ago, voice tight.

Hunk didn't know if Lance had ten minutes.

The shrapnel from the explosion that had sliced through his underarmor, ripping open his stomach, told a very different story.

It said they had maybe five more, if that.

It had already been almost twenty, but none of the other Paladins had been able to break away from the fight to come to their aid without drawing enemy ships after them and putting the two stranded and immobile Paladins on the ground in even more danger.

Based on the still growing puddle of blood surrounding them as Lance's stomach continued to pump and send it gushing down his sides Hunk wondered if the enemy ships were really the true danger at this point.

"Who… who's they?" Lance slurred, eyes already fluttering closed.

"No no, stay awake," Hunk tapped the too pale cheek with his bare hand, his gloves long gone in a failed attempt to make a bandage of any sort for Lance. "C'mon, hermano… don't… don't go to sleep."

If he fell asleep Hunk didn't know if he was going to wake up.

"'Mm," Lance mumbled. "'m tired though. No more… no more studyin'. 'm not gonna pass any...anyways."

"Of course you'll pass," Hunk choked out. He'd been playing along with whatever conversation Lance started up as confusion settled over him with the continued blood loss, but the fact so many of them kept veering in a darker spiral had him nearly as worried as the injury.

He had to be at about twenty percent loss now, Hunk estimated.

More than enough to send him into hypovolemic shock. He was already displaying more severe symptoms.

Lance's brow furrowed. "You… you want salt? Gonna ruin it. Y'know better."

"You're right, you're right," Hunk murmured. He glanced down the length of Lance's body, making certain his feet hadn't slipped off the rock Hunk had rolled over after tucking them under the overhang of a small hill and as out of sight of potential enemy eyes as he could. "Too much salt is bad."

Lance hummed in agreement.

"Lance, no sleeping," Hunk pleaded as he felt Lance's head tip slightly and the harsh, shallow breaths became muffled on Hunk's armor. "C'mon. Stay awake, okay?"

"'m cold," Lance murmured instead. "'m cold, Hunk."

He emphasized this by shivering.

A new line of crimson added itself to the growing puddle.

"I know, I know," Hunk whispered, bringing his hand that wasn't holding tight to Lance's hand down to the other shoulder and rubbing it, trying to generate some heat through the underarmor. He'd already stripped off Lance's chestplate and arm guards for easier breathing and to make Lance more comfortable, but he was wondering now if maybe the weight would have been good to warm him.

No, he shook his head. It wouldn't have mattered.

He had kept Lance's belt on, bringing it up some to wrap about Lance's navel as though it could keep Lance's insides inside of him.

It wasn't doing much.

The wound was too deep.

Too wide.

There was so much blood.

"Two minutes," Pidge keyed into his ear.

"Hurry," Hunk whispered back.

"No, no hurry," Lance mumbled. "You'll trip."

"Pidge is flying," Hunk told him, shifting his other hand back to Lance's head, combing bloodied fingers through the brown locks. "She can't trip."

"Pidge's flying?" Lance frowned. "But 'm the pilot."

"You still are," Hunk pressed two fingers to Lance's pulse on his neck. "You're an amazing pilot."

It beat rapidly.

Too fast.

Too shallow.

"Nu uh," Lance shook his head weakly. "'ways crash." His right hand rose slightly. "Boom."

"No, not boom." He tapped his hand against Lance's cheek even as his heart clenched again at the newest admission.

They were going to have a talk when this was all over. And when. Not if. When.

"C'mon hermano," Hunk cajoled. "Let me see those pretty blues of yours."

Lance's lips twitched up into a smile. "'kay."

His eyes remained closed.

"Lance, c'mon, mírame," Hunk ordered, voice breaking. "Mírame."

Lance's eyes fluttered open before he closed them with a groan. "'s too bright."

There was a roar then, a whoosh of air.

Hunk almost cried as the Green Lion swooped overhead.

"Pidge is here," he told Lance. "Allura too. C'mon, hermano, don't you want to say hi to the princess?"

"Princess?" Lance repeated. "A r-real one? Really?"

Allura was already descending from the Green Lion before Pidge could even land the ship while Shiro and the Black Lion showed up a few ticks later, remaining in the air and standing guard.

"Really," Hunk promised, meeting Allura's eyes as the Altean sprinted for them.

He'd never seen Allura run before. Or look so scared.

"She's… she's super pretty," Hunk continued, trying to talk over his own rapidly pounding heart now. "And smart. And she's your friend."

Allura was at his side now, dropping to her knees and making a splash in the blood puddle.

Hunk's stomach reminded him how it had been being ignored for a while now.

He shushed it.

"'m friends with… with a princess?" Lance mumbled.

"Yes, you are," Allura said, shooting Hunk a confused look even as she slid one hand under Lance's knees and the other beneath the slight gap behind Lance's shoulders.

Lance's eyes flew open at the new voice.

He blinked.

"Wow," he said, voice dazed. "You are really pr...pretty."

"And up we go," Allura said in response, standing in one swoop with Lance cradled in her arms.

He moaned, head lolling back against her chest, eyes closed again.

"Leave the armor," Allura ordered as Hunk leapt to his own shaking feet, Lance's upper pieces scattered about them. "We have no time to waste."

Hunk agreed completely.

He charged up the ramp right behind Allura, the Lion taking off as soon as they were inside.

Allura had already pulled out the travel cot in the cockpit and procured every piece of emergency medical equipment she could find although she looked at a loss of what to do.

Hunk elbowed past her, grabbed one of the folded blankets, whispered an apology and pressed it down over Lance's stomach.

He jerked on the cot, a whimper pulled from his lips.

Not the reaction Hunk had expected or wanted.

He was fading.

"No," he whispered, pressing down harder, as though seeing Lance in pain was a comfort.

It was, in a sick, twisted way.

"Hold that," he commanded Allura and she did so without question. Hunk grabbed the emergency heat packs, broke them to start the reaction, and began to pile them about Lance; on his chest, between his arms and sides, and then grabbed a second blanket, shaking it out and spreading it over Lance's lower half, pausing only to re-prop Lance's feet on the empty emergency kit box.

Lance shuddered and shivered.

Hunk moved to his side and picked up Lance's left hand and clutched it between his own.

"Hold on, hermano," he whispered, looking at the pain-lined face that he liked to imagine had a small dash of color back in it from the heat.

"Wormholing now," Pidge called from the front, voice wavering. "One minute till landing. Coran has a pod prepped. Is… is he…?"

"Lance is strong," Allura said quietly, having not paused in her orders even as blood had welled up about her gloves. "He shall be all right." She met Hunk's eyes. "He is dear friends with a certain princess after all, and she will not accept any other outcome."

Hunk let out a wet, slightly hysterical chuckle.

"Hear that, hermano?" he squeezed Lance's hand, choking back a sob. "No dying now. Princess's orders."

"'kay," Lance breathed. "No… no dying."

"No dying," Hunk repeated, feeling something loosen in his chest.

Even though he knew Lance was delirious at this point he felt comforted by the words, the promise.

Lance was many things but he was not a liar, not even now.

Hunk believed him with all his heart.

Lance was going to be okay. Here. Now. And later.

Hunk would make sure of it.

That was his own promise.

 

Chapter Text

"Kneel."

The command came, cold and haughty and Keith bristled at it, at the lounging figure on the throne.

They should never have trusted Lotor.

His own gaze narrowed, sharp amethyst meeting cruel yellow purple.

"No."

"It was not a request," Lotor sat up in his throne. "Kneel and pledge your allegiance to me or suffer the consequences."

"I would rather die."

Lotor let out an exaggerated sigh. "So dramatic. Here I am, offering you, a halfbreed just like me, the chance to join my new and glorious empire and you are so quick to refuse. Foolish. Isn't he foolish, Shiro?"

Keith grit his teeth as the figure that had once been his older brother gave a jerky nod, charcoal eyes morphed with a reddish-purple hue.

A clone, they'd learned, loyal to Haggar and thus Lotor, who she had put upon the throne.

A fact they had learned too late.

They were all paying the price now.

Keith still didn't know what had happened to the real Shiro and he felt sick at his cowardice for not asking, because as vague as the hope was that Shiro was still in there, somehow, he still had that hope and he couldn't bear to lose it.

Not yet.

He'd already lost so much.

Lotor had rounded up all of the Blades of Marmora, imprisoning or killing those who would not pledge allegiance depending on their "worth" according to the prince, now emperor. He'd had to watch Kolivan's throat be slit right in front of him and the other Blades, a warning Lotor had said, to those who did not conform.

He'd never forget the sound Kolivan made, that death gurgle as blood spilled over and his eyes finally, finally went dim.. 

He’d never forgive Lotor.

Lotor was now using Voltron's vast intelligence network and Shiro's influence to retake control of freed planets in the name of the Galra, to summon former allies and slaughter them in cold blood if he found them wanting.

It sickened Keith.

He had no idea still of what had happened to the Paladins, he tried hard not to think the worst. They had to have value to Lotor, right? They would… they would be okay.

They had to be okay.

He didn't know about himself.

Keith had no qualms that given his current status as a Blade his life held little worth to Lotor. It was why he was surprised he had been given a personal audience with him, dragged from his cell with a few other captured Blades who Lotor had deemed of interest and worth sparing despite their defiance, and delivered here.

He had no idea if Lotor would actually kill him, but he'd rather that fate than ever bowing to him.

His eyes flicked over to Shiro, standing at attention as stiff as a sentry next to Lotor's throne.

There was still no recognition in his face.

"Let me reiterate once more for your less intelligent human side," Lotor leaned forward. "Kneel and pledge your allegiance or there will be consequences."

Keith jerked his chin up, hands clenching behind him in the energy cuffs.

He wouldn't repeat himself.

He'd made his stance very clear.

Lotor snapped his fingers. "Bring him out."

Keith blinked, trying not to show his confusion at the turn of events.

Bring him out?

Who was he—?

"Lance," he gasped, unable to bite back the name as Lance was dragged into view from behind the throne by a Galran soldier, hand twisted cruelly in his hair.

He was in his civilian clothes, or what remained of them. Barefoot, jeans ripped up one leg and jacket missing, just a rumpled baseball tee left behind with dried blood taking up a spot on the right sleeve that was yanked behind Lance in his own set of cuffs.

He was gagged too, a thick strip of cloth digging into his mouth and tied tightly behind his face. Ocean eyes widened as they locked on Keith and Keith was hit with both a wave of desperation and relief in that gaze.

He swallowed thickly.

What game was Lotor playing?

"I have here someone who may make you reconsider your stance," Lotor said conversationally. "Allow me to explain."

He rose from his throne, stalking with a dangerous grace, over towards where Lance had been forced to kneel, the soldier keeping his hand tight on Lance's head and immobile.

"You see," he said, reaching out a long purple finger and tracing it down Lance's face, who gave the barest perceptible shudder, "Lance here would very, very much like for you to take my offer."

Keith's stomach turned over as Lotor caressed Lance's face again and Lance tried to lean away from the touch.

"I have all of the members of Voltron at my disposal," Lotor continued, turning his gaze back to Keith. "They all have value to me, the little hacker girl in particular and of course," he licked his lips, "the beautiful Princess Allura."

Keith's nails dug into his palms, biting his tongue.

"All save for this one," his hand brushed Lance's cheek again. "Oh, I have no doubt I could find some use for him, but in terms of value beyond his appearance, which is quite exquisite, well… He is rather lacking."

Lance shuddered again as Lotor's hand trailed from his cheek, down his neck, and came to settle over his heart.

Keith couldn't say silent any longer.

Lance looked so scared.

It was wrong.

"Get your hands off him," he growled, feet shifting for all the good a charge would do.

Lotor chuckled.

"I am willing to make other arrangements for Lance, of course. It all depends on you, Keith."

Lotor's lips curled up into a smirk.

Keith's stomach dropped.

He knew where this was going.

"I will give you one last chance. Kneel before me and pledge your allegiance or Lance here," Lotor's hands shifted to hold Lance about his shoulders, "will find a fate much worse than solitary confinement to live out the rest of his days. It's all up to you."

Keith's eyes looked back to Lance's, who met his with the very beginnings of a sheen starting to develop in the corners.

Still, Lance gave the barest shake of his head against the tight grip.

No.

Keith swallowed thickly.

If he didn't do this then Lance…

And if not this time then there would be a next. Something maybe even worse.

Lotor was not going to stop until he got what he wanted.

It was up to Keith how many broken bodies he left in his wake.

"Well?" Lotor prompted. "Your decision?"

And holding Lance's ocean gaze, desperate and pleading and strong all at once...

Keith knelt.

 

Chapter Text

“Whoa, Pidgeon, what is that?

Pidge let out a sound between a shriek and a bellow, whirling around and hands grasping at her towel.

“Don’t you fucking knock?” she screeched, backpedaling across the expanse of the bathroom, face flaming. “Jesus Christ, Lance!”

He held up his hands. “Hey, you’re the one who forgot to flip the sign. But, uh,” his head was angled away now and even though Pidge had put several yards between them she could make out the blush highlighting his cheeks. “Um, I, um…”

“I forgot the sign?” Pidge repeated, clarifying.

Lance let out a tiny squeak, eyes still averted towards the ceiling.

She sighed. They’d put the sign that flipped between a figure that she and Lance had doodled to sort of look like her and then on the opposite side the guys’ as she had turned down Allura’s offer to move to a separate hallway and thus have her own bathroom. She was supposed to turn the sign to her side when she was in the bathroom but she’d been in such a hurry that morning, head spinning with a new idea to modulate the flux capacitors, that she had apparently forgotten.

Again.

Normally though the worst was someone walking in while she was at the sink brushing her teeth or washing her face.

Not freshly out of the shower and wrapped in a towel.

Her cheeks, which had been returning to normal in the face of Lance’s own blush, heated up again.

Damn it.

“You don’t have to apologize,” she put out. “It’s my fault. Sorry.”

He squeaked again, eyes still pointed up.

Pidge’s lips quirked despite herself. “What? You stare first and now you can’t even look at me?”

“I wasn’t staring,” Lance protested, voice still high. “Well, not at… at,” his hands wiggled over his chest and down his torso in some horrible caricature of curves.

Pidge snorted and crossed the bathroom towards the sinks and Lance.

Now that the surprise had worn off it was no different really than walking about the house with Matt around and the towel was more than secure and dropped almost to her knee, minus a small panel that revealed a bit of her upper leg when she walked.

Besides, she felt her cheeks trying to darken again, the best way to deal with embarrassment was to face it head on. If she refused to be self-conscious about the whole thing then it would blow over much quicker than tiptoeing around Lance for the next week, although she knew for all his flirtations he really was quite the gentleman. Still, she was embarrassed and she wanted to nip that in the bud.

After a few moments of quiet he tentatively joined her at the counter, toothbrush in hand.

She met his gaze in the mirror, raising an eyebrow, and to her surprise he met it with a more serious look than she expected considering his cheeks were still dusted pink.

“What?” she asked, it coming out a bit sharper than she intended.

Lance dropped his gaze. “Nothing.”

They were both quiet then, the only sounds those of brushing and the Altean toothpaste foaming in their mouths more than any Earth equivalent was capable of.

They both spat at the same time.

Lance caught Pidge’s eye, foam all over his chin and Pidge grinned back, a dash on her upper lip.

They burst into laughter and just like that Pidge felt the awkwardness fade away, reaching out and flicking a burst of water at Lance.

He yelped but did not retaliate.

Pidge smirked. He chose his battles wisely. Well, this one at least.

“So?” she asked as he rinsed the sink out.

“...so?”

“What were you looking at?”

She had to know. Because generally one didn’t screech “what is that?” without some sort of trigger and if made a comment about her hair, which when wet hung long and she felt a pang of loss at her longer locks, she would slug him.

“Oh, um…”

“Spit it out.”

“Scar,” Lance blurted, face coloring a moment later. “Your, um, scar,” he said softer. “On your leg.”

Pidge glanced down, catching the barest glimpse of the dark line that cut along the whole length of her outer right thigh. Lance must have seen it when she had been walking and the towel had shifted.

“Oh,” she said softly. “That.”

She knew exactly what he was talking about.

“I’m sorry, that was super rude of me,” Lance babbled. “I didn’t mean to look, I promise. I just saw it and I didn’t know you had a scar and it looked painful and it probably was painful and it’s none of my business but I was worried and that’s silly because it’s a scar and it shouldn’t hurt anymore unless it does hurt but then—”

Pidge reached out and clapped a hand over Lance’s mouth, hot breath tingling on her palm. “Breathe,” she ordered, because Lance was starting to actually turn a little blue from lack of oxygen in his whirlwind.

“It doesn’t hurt,” she said, removing her hand and wiping it with an exaggerated grimace on the side of her towel.  She rolled her shoulders, averting her gaze. “I don’t actually know how I got it.”

That wasn’t entirely truthful. She knew when she got it.

She’d never forget.

The omission hung in the air and she could feel Lance’s confusion and concern but he didn’t ask again. Pidge appreciated that about him. For as hands-on and obnoxious as Lance could be he did always know when to take a step back, unlike a certain engineer of whose middle name Pidge was sure was ‘Nosy.’

Her hand brushed against her thigh, hidden beneath the towel. Even then she could almost feel the slight pucker of skin that had not healed properly.

She didn’t mean just physically.

There was an ache that had never fully faded even once the wound had scabbed and then scarred.

She’d lied.

It did still hurt.

Even thinking about what happened hurt.

She must have made some expression because the next moment Lance was murmuring, voice low, “Oh, Pidge, c’mere.” He opened his arms wide and she stepped into his gentle hug, his hands very carefully wrapping about her back. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to upset you. I was stupid, okay?”

Her hands rose up to clutch at his jacket and she shook her head. “You’re not stupid,” she whispered. “I just…” she swallowed. “No one else knows about it. I…”

“You don’t have to talk about it,” Lance said gently. “I’m sorry for bringing it up. It’s obviously something that—”

“I got it when Sendak invaded the castle,” she interrupted, words spilling from her lips.

Lance’s hands, which had been gently tracing soft circles on her towel-clad back stilled.

She swallowed. Cat was out of the bag now.

“I don’t know how,” she said, “really. Maybe when I was in the vents, maybe when I attacked Sendak, maybe when Hax—” she cut off on the name, closing her eyes. It hadn’t been her, not really, who had killed the Galran soldier, but she still felt responsible.

She hadn’t talked much about that either.

Lance’s arms tightened about her.

“I didn’t realize I was hurt till later,” she continued quietly. “And… and you were so… so…”

She would never forget the image of Lance lying so still, both immediately following the explosion and then when she’d run into the control room to try and free him and Shiro.

Lance should never be that still.

Even when he’d regained consciousness enough to shoot Sendak, to briefly talk to them, he’d lost it again soon after when he’d tried to stand with Keith’s help and his eyes had rolled back in his head and he’d collapsed without a sound to the ground.

Pidge had been so scared.

They’d loaded Lance into a suit, into a cryo-pod of whose technology was completely foreign to her, and he’d been floating in the tube for the better part of day, so still even then although at least his face had been smooth and free of pain.

She honestly hadn’t realized she’d been hurt until after Lance was in the pod and she’d gone to her room to change, finding the bloody gash. She hadn’t wanted to bother Coran as he cared for Lance and had no desire to seek out any medical attention from the others, and so had gingerly washed it and then wrapped a bandage about it.

She hadn’t give it much attention other than to change the bandage and dot an antiseptic cream she snatched from the infirmary later to prevent an infection.

She honestly wasn’t surprised it had scarred given her lack of care to it. It felt right in a way, to have a reminder of what had happened. Of what had happened to… to Haxus. And Rover. Even now she felt a pang at the loss of her robot who had been her early confidant up in space.

She kept it covered, hidden, trying to forget it and the memories it represented.

She would never forget those yellow eyes widening with horrified panic as he fell.

“I’m sorry,” Lance apologized softly, “for worrying you. And I’m… I’m sorry about what you had to do to protect us.” His hands lifted from her back and Pidge found them settling on her shoulder, pushing her slightly back and then one tipping up her chin.

Dark ocean eyes peered into her own, a compassion and softness she wasn’t sure she’d ever seen from Lance before. “Thank you. For saving all of us. For saving me.

She sniffled.

“And that scar?” Lance continued, holding her gaze. “It’s a battle scar telling the universe how absolutely brave and amazing you are. Okay?”

“But,” she licked her lips. “But Hax—… that Galran, he…”

“You did what you had to,” Lance told her, thumbs rubbing circles now on her shoulders. “And Rover did too. He wanted to protect you, Pidge and he did, just like you did for all of us.”

Pidge’s lips parted in surprise.

She hadn’t ever thought of it quite like that.

Rover had protected her. Not just from Haxus’ attacks but from her having to… to more permanently stop him herself.

He’d done that for her.

So that she could then pull herself together to protect everyone else.

She bowed her head, pressing the crown against Lance’s chest. “Thank you,” she whispered, not sure it conveyed enough but Lance gave her shoulders a gentle squeeze in understanding.

Pidge smiled.

She had nothing to hide anymore.

Chapter Text

Move.

He needed to move.

This was his chance.

He needed to take it.

He needed to move now.

Keith shot to his feet from sitting, arms pulled tight behind him but his legs unbound.

The world spun alarmingly and he tilted, head pounding.

Keith steadied himself.

Move.

Move, move, move!

His fingers scrabbled beneath his shirt, lighting on the hilt of his hidden luxite blade he had kept out of sight for… for days, always waiting for the right moment.

They were stupid to not search him more carefully, believing his other knife he kept was his coveted luxite blade. They had gotten lax in the days of his compliance.

They would regret it.

The blade shot to full length, slicing along his back.

It also sliced through the rope binding his hands.

Keith ignored the sting of pain in favor of freedom.

It had been too long.

He was pivoting, arm flying wide before he could even think the movement through.

The blade sank into the chest of the approaching guard.

Too slow.

Keith yanked it free with a splatter of black ichor.

The alien collapsed in a silent heap.

He stumbled forward.

Dizzy.

His head hurt.

Move.

He needed to move.

Move before the others returned.

He wasn’t going to get another chance.

The lack of food and water made his steps heavy and his vision wavered in and out from it and the head wound he’d sustained in his capture.

A Blade, they had sneered with delight.

Wouldn’t the Galra Empire just love to see him?

That’s what they were doing now. Arranging the deal.

Selling him like he was a piece of property.

No.

Fuck them.

He let the wash of anger fuel, him, clear his head, and his steps became more certain as he moved through the forested landscape.

His head still hurt.

Keith had had no choice but to wait, the bounty hunters crafts’ requiring too many bodies to pilot. He needed a smaller ship.

The buyer’s ship.

Now he just had to get to it.

The bounty hunters weren’t very discrete, lighting up their meeting location with torches clutched by the nearly dozen remaining members.

Keith was still embarrassed he’d been caught.

But a two week long solo mission, always on guard, always checking over his back, was exhausting, even for someone like him.

He wondered if Kolivan was worried that he’d missed his check in two days ago.

He wondered if he would do anything about it.

No.

The answer came swift and stabbing.

No.

Keith was on his own here.

There was no team with the Blades.

Only the mission.

Always the mission.

He...

He missed Voltron.

His head hurt.

Keith scowled.

He was losing himself in thought. Stupid.

He needed to be alert, needed to be ready.

He blinked, staring at the clearing.

Hadn’t… hadn’t there been more lights than that?

There were eight.

There were supposed to be twelve.

Keith’s breath hitched.

The forest was suddenly too loud, too many leaves rustling and the trees no longer offering shields but obstacles to his vision.

A particularly large shake of a bush to his right had Keith whirling to face it, sword flashing without remorse.

The charging alien’s scream cut off with an abrupt gurgle as the blade severed her head from her shoulders, sending it flying into the trees.

There was more movement behind him now and Keith pivoted, his position clearly given away.

There was no one there.

What?

Something touched his ankle.

He glanced down.

Purple eyes widened.

That was all he had time for as the cord, a whip, yanked and Keith’s leg was pulled out from underneath him with a gasp and he smashed into the ground, head bouncing.

Stars burst in front of his eyes.

He felt his hand loosen its grip on his blade.

No.

No.

Panic clawed at his chest as he was dragged through the foliage, being reeled in like a fish on a line.

His ankle screamed.

No.

He swept his blade out uselessly, trying to reach the cord, to cut himself free.

He couldn’t.

He was being pulled too fast, he was too dizzy, his head hurt.

And then he was clear of the trees and into the clearing where he blearily traced the cord back to a hulking example of a Galran.

The buyer.

The Empire.

His struggles renewed with a vengeance but it was already too late.

Blows were raining down on his sides from the bounty hunters, lining the path to the Galran and one booted foot smashed down on Keith’s wrist.

He heard it break.

He screamed, not so much out of pain but of horror as his fingers uncurled and his blade was left behind on the ground.

No.

No no no no no!

The cord was nearly retracted now and Keith found his body leaving the ground, weight dangling from his one ankle.

He kicked out with his left foot, angling it up towards the Galran’s chin, but just like his blade it did not reach.

No.

This was not how it was going to end.

But…

He had no idea how to stop it.

The Galran chuckled and lifted Keith higher, the cord all the way retracted now into his weapon save for the remaining bit cutting into Keith’s ankle.

His head ached, blood rushing to it as he hung upside down, his fingers barely skimming the ground, and Keith forced himself to try and steady his breaths, to focus around the pain emanating from his wrist and ankle.

Breathe.

Patience.

Focus.

Wait for the right moment.

Although what that was going to be in this situation Keith had not a fucking clue.

“Would you look at that?” the Galran gave Keith a shake and he swallowed down the moan as his head rattled . “I seem to have caught myself a Blade of Marmora.”

We caught the Blade,” corrected the bounty hunter leader, stepping forward. “We—”

A beam of purple light exited out the back of the alien’s head from the gun in the Galran’s other hand.

There.

That would be his moment.

Keith took the distraction for all it was worth.

He shoved his body upward using every core muscle he had, going from a limp dangle to an almost mid-air sit, momentum swinging him forward and his left hand angled for the blaster.

The cord wrapped about his ankle lit up with a crackle and pain pain pain shot through Keith’s body.

He let out a strangled scream, body convulsing at the sudden shock and fell backwards, once more hanging upside down.

No.

No.

I caught myself a Blade,” the Galran repeated over Keith’s heavy pants. “Does anyone else disagree?”

The remaining bounty hunters were silent.

“That’s what I thought.”

The cord disengaged and Keith found himself falling, barely managing to reach his hands out to catch himself.

His newly broken wrist didn’t like that.

His vision whited out at the pressure.

When it cleared he found himself being dragged once more by his abused ankle, both caught up now in the cord,  body bouncing along the ground and headed towards a Galran battle cruiser.

In the Galran’s other hand was Keith’s blade.

His breath caught.

No.

Not that.

Not this.

He tensed, not sure what he was going to do with both feet bound and his right wrist broken but he couldn’t go down without a fight he had to fight he had to—

The cord glowed purple.

Keith screamed, head smashing against the metal ramp that he was being dragged up now.

The door closed behind them.

No.

No.

He had to get free, he had to fight—

The Galran laughed, dropping Keith’s feet to the floor of the ship with a resounding thud that echoed through him and sent dark spots racing across his vision.

He found his hands bound in the same glowing cord when it cleared.

No.

This…

He….

“I’ve caught you, little  Blade,” the Galran smiled sharply. “And we have some time still until we reach the Empire.” He raised Keith’s blade up, sharp edge glinting in the purple lights.

Keith’s stomach clenched.

His tongue felt frozen, thick.

He…

He was scared.

The realization only made him more so.

He couldn’t fight.

He was caught.

He was alone .

No help was coming.

And he…

He could no longer save himself.

He was...

“I was to bring you back unharmed, but, well…” the Galran chuckled. “Those bounty hunters, so vicious.”

He bent down, lowering the blade to rest against Keith’s throat.

Keith swallowed. A bead of blood ran down his neck.

He…

He didn’t know what to do.

He trembled.

It had nothing to do with the shocks.

The Galran’s fanged grin widened.

“Now,” he whispered, breath hot on Keith’s face, “let’s see what a Blade of Marmora is made of.”

Chapter Text

Screaming.

Who was screaming?

They were so loud.

It…

It sort of sounded like…

Him?

At the realization it cut off, the ear splitting wails giving way to loud pants that still somehow hurt, each inhale feeling like fire was flooding his stomach.

He whimpered.

Over them he heard someone else shouting.

They sounded scared.

Was… was he scaring them?

He tried to open his eyes, to figure out what was going on.

Harsh light assaulted his vision and he shut them.

It hurt.

“Hold on, hold on buddy,” the shouts were quieter now but no less panicked. “It’s gonna be okay. I’ve got you. It’s gonna be okay.”

Shiro? He tried to say such but pain swam up his throat and he coughed.

The fires were set alight.

He was screaming again.

He couldn’t stop.

“Lance, Lance shh, it’s okay, you’re gonna be okay. Stay with me buddy.”

There was a sharp crackling then in his ear and he cried out.

“Number One, there’s no time. You need to get them out now.”

“Coran, I can’t,” Shiro sounded, voice echoing both in Lance’s helmet and outside it. “I can’t do—”

“He will die, Shiro.”

Shiro’s breath hitched.

Lance wondered who they were talking about.

They sounded like they were in trouble.

“What… what I do?” Shiro’s voice trembled.

“You need a flat surface, preferably elevated so you are at height.”

“Okay. Okay. Got it. Hang on a tick.”

Shiro picked up the pace and Lance whimpered.

It hurt. Dios, why did everything hurt so much?

What had happened?

He couldn’t remember.

He was being lowered from Shiro’s arms a moment later, something hard beneath him and as painful as Shiro’s hold had been he missed it.

“Okay, done,” Shiro said.

Wait.

Done?

Were…

Were they talking about him?

“You said the radzes entered his stomach, yes?”

“Y-yeah. Four of them.”

Coran cursed.

Lance started.

Radzes.

He knew that word. Sort of.

Those were the weapon they had been sent to retrieve. The small spiked bullets that could penetrate almost any substance and worked their way into the bloodstream to flow to pierce the heart.

Near instant death.

Voltron had learned of them through the Blades and their Paladin armor had been found to be one of the few substances the bullets could not pierce. They’d gone down to stop the production and apprehend all of the ones that existed before the Galra could get their hands on them.

Lance had entered the lab…

He didn’t remember anything else after that.

Had he…

Had he been shot?

Coran and Shiro had apparently carried on their conversation without his listening as next he knew Shiro was unclasping his chest plate and dropping it to the floor with a clatter.

Lance jolted at the sound.

His stomach flared.

He screamed, a near breathless sound.

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry, it’s okay, you’re okay. It’s okay.”

Shiro sounded like he was almost ready to cry.

It was most definitely not okay.

“— ep him calm, Shiro. A faster heart rate causes them to —”

Coran’s voice cut off abruptly as the helmet was lifted away and then there was a heavy hand pressing on his shoulder and a lighter, warmer one descending on his head and stroking bangs backwards.

“Lance, buddy,” he heard Shiro swallow, the higher tone of his voice fading, replaced with a cooler calm. “Lance, I need you to take a deep breath for me, okay? I need… I need you to do that.”

The hand continued petting his hair and the one on his shoulder was a steadying weight and Lance tried to do as Shiro asked, although knowing he needed to do it because his rapid heart rate was going to kill him was terrifying and what if they were almost at his heart now and—

“Lance, please,” Shiro pleaded. “Calm down. It’s going to be okay. Breathe for me, buddy.”

“Sh-Shiro,” Lance whispered, pitch high and breathy and oh Dios that was him?

It hurt.

It hurt so bad.

“Shh, shh, I’ve got you. Come on buddy, deep breath. Breathe with me.”

He heard Shiro suck in a noisy inhale and he tried to copy it.

No more time to waste.” Coran’s voice was softer now, as while Shiro had removed Lance’s helmet he had placed it just above his head and he could still hear the comms.

He didn’t know if that was such a good thing.

What was Shiro about to—?

The sound of ripping fabric reached Lance’s ears.

His undersuit, he realized, a breath of cold air washing over bare skin on his stomach.

He shuddered.

The fire roared back to life.

Lance let out a choked moan.

Keep calm. Keep calm.

Dios.

There was a rustle of cloth and he felt Shiro move from above down to his feet. Something wrapped about his calves, tightening.

Shiro was tying him down.

Oh Dios. Dios Dios Dios.

“Shiro,” Lance whimpered as he felt something drag against his legs, the restraints weighted down now. His armor, he realized, that Shiro had removed.

Shiro moved back towards his chest, his flesh hand now on his shoulder, not as gentle as before but almost bracing.

Holding him down.

Oh Dios.

“I’m in position,” Shiro murmured.

“The radzes will have already moved from the entry points. You must find them. They react to heat.”

Lance could feel Shiro’s shudder through his shoulder.

“Coran, you can’t mean—?”

“Yes. Seek them out and then… then you must remove them.”

Lance did not like where this was going.

“Shiro,” he whispered, voice cracking. “Sh-Shiro, please—”

“It’s going to be all right,” Shiro responded, the waver in his voice betraying him. “It’s gonna be okay.”

“The heat from your hand will cauterize Lance’s flesh inside,” Coran sounded. “Be careful and quick. We… we don’t want any further damage.”

Lance let out a low sob, keeping his eyes wrenched shut.

No.

Oh Dios no.

“Quickly, Shiro. You don’t have time.”

“Okay. Okay.”

Shiro took a deep inhale. “Lance, I’m so sorry. I’m going to be quick, okay? Just… just hold on. It’s gonna be okay.”

Shiro’s grip tightened painfully on his shoulder and he could feel him pressing down with his body weight, larger form strong enough to do so.

Oh Dios.

There was a wash of heat then, almost gentle. It passed over his stomach.

Shiro was hovering his hand, he realized.

But even that started to hurt, the warmth turning hot and Lance moaned again, trying to shift away even though he knew he couldn’t.

There was a quick intake of breath, an “I see them,” and then—

Burning hot fingers plunged into his stomach.

Lance wailed.

He flung his head back, smashing it against the ledge, and his feet kicked out uselessly, not going anywhere thanks to the restraints and the weight.

He could feel them curling inside of him, pinpointed streaks of torture, digging and searching and searing and oh Dios make it stop make it stop make it stop!

He continued to scream.

Shiro’s fingers left only to go back in.

It was worse the second time.

It didn’t end.

Shiro was saying something but Lance could no longer hear him. He could only hear his own screams, his pulse, he needed to calm down calm down calm down before he killed himself but he couldn't he couldn’t breathe it hurt it hurt it hurt.

Twice more it happened, Shiro’s heated hand moving lower each time, the vague sound of curses assaulting Lance’s ears as surely as the pain inside of him.

And then…

It stopped.

The pain was still there, a crackling, stabbing torment, but no longer actively moving, Shiro’s fingers stopping their plunging search.

“Got them,” Shiro panted above him and the bruising grip on his shoulder lessened. “All… all four.”

That shaking hand came up to rest against Lance’s forehead, brushing against the sweat-soaked bangs. Lance turned his head into the gentle touch, shuddering and crying.

“All over,” Shiro whispered. “It’s over. Lance, it’s over. It’s okay. It’s okay. You were so brave. It’s over now. You’re gonna be okay.”

Lance didn’t feel capable of speech, his throat ravaged from his shouts and his stomach and chest still a mass of agony and fire.

“Excellent job, Shiro,” and Coran’s relief was palatable. “Bring him here now. I’m prepping a pod as we speak.”

“Roger that.”

The hand left his bangs and Lance whined at the loss, but they were traveling to his feet, relieving the weight and the restraints.

“I’m so sorry,” Shiro murmured, back a moment later. “I’m so sorry, Lance.”

Lance rocked his head against the surface.

No.

No.

Shiro had nothing to apologize for.

He’d… he’d saved him.

“Th...thank you,” Lance managed, prying open tear-crusted eyes. Shiro’s countenance, worried and scared and relieved and horrified met his.

Shiro let out something that could have been a sob, could have been a laugh, and the hand trailed down his cheek, rubbing it gently. Lance closed his eyes, soothed by the gesture.

Everything still hurt, but…

But it wasn't so bad now.

He was okay.

He was safe.

Shiro had saved him.

“You’re gonna be okay now,” Shiro promised him, voice choked. “I’ve got you.”

Saying so Lance felt one hand slide under his knees and the other even more carefully shift to his back and he was lifted into Shiro’s arms and cradled close. Lance tilted his head forward, nudging it into the crook between Shiro’s arm and shoulder.

Safe.

“I’ve got you,” Shiro repeated softly. “You’re gonna be okay.” The arms tightened.

“You’re gonna be okay.”

Chapter Text

Don’t panic don’t panic don’t panic.

Hunk chanted the mantra to himself.

Don’t panic don’t panic don’t panic.

It wasn’t working.

Of course it wasn’t working.

He could do nothing but panic because that was the only thing to do when one woke up and found themselves bound, gagged, hooked by their arms on a giant tree branch and oh, did he mention, hanging above a volcano?

The natives’ chanting grew louder.

It almost blocked out the sound of their axes as they chopped away at the tree to send him plummeting to his death.

Hunk resumed his struggles.

It was no use though.

His arms were aching as his entire body weight dangled from them and he could feel the bark shredding his wrists raw as he had as he futilely tried to jerk back and propel himself backwards towards the trunk.

It had failed as much as all of his other attempts.

Which meant spectacularly.

A muffled sob worked its way out of his throat.

He was going to die.

It was entirely his fault.

Hunk wasn’t even supposed to be here. He had been running an errand in the supply pod and picking up some grocery items when he’d gotten to talking with the shopkeeper, who made mention of a rare fruit that grew on the planet next door that was so delicious it made babies cry (Hunk was pretty sure the translator wasn’t quite working on the local idiom) but he understood the gist.

He’d expressed his interest in trying it and the shopkeeper’s eyes had widened with horror. No, he’d told Hunk, it was far too dangerous. The fruit was guarded by a tribe who worshipped it and they would kill all outsiders.

Hunk thought that sounded just a bit exaggerated. Killed over a piece of fruit?

It would only be a slight detour and Hunk figured he had time; Allura, Shiro and Coran were tied up with Coalition meetings and that meant the castle was going to be stationary for the better part of the day.

He’d popped over, finding the planet to be almost jungle-like and the air just as hot and humid.

He hadn’t spotted anyone despite calling out hello several times.

He’d taken it upon himself to explore, just for a little while until he got too hot.

He’d found what could only be the fruit not even a few minutes later. It sort of resembled a pineapple except for the fact it literally shone and glittered in the sunlight and its stems were a pale gold instead of green.

Hunk stared, mesmerized. It was beautiful. He had no doubts it would taste as amazing as it looked.

He hadn’t made a move towards it, even if his mind was already running calculations on how to best get it down, when he’d been surrounded.

The natives were bi-pedal with overly large round heads for their bodies and bulbous eyes. Hunk had raised a hand in greeting, a hello on his lips.

He’d been clubbed over the head before his arm had even made it all the way up and a second strike as he fell to the ground had knocked him out.

He’d woken up dangling from the tree over the volcano and the chanting.

It hadn’t taken a genius to figure out what was happening.

He’d tried to call out to them, to explain he meant them no harm, but there was a thick vine jammed into his mouth and wrapped about his head and the same vegetation was binding his ankles, legs, and then his wrists, which was really the only thing holding him onto the branch.

The shopkeeper had not been exaggerating.

Hunk should have listened.

Now he was going to die and no one would ever know what had happened.

He wondered if he would drown first or if the heat of the lava would do it instead. It would melt the flesh right off his bones and then turn those to ash.

There wouldn’t be a thing of him left.

They’d never find him.

The branch dipped.

The chanting grew more frenzied, the tree groaning.

Hunk squeezed his eyes shut.

He didn’t want to see it flash before his eyes.

He didn’t want to picture Lance crying, curled up on Hunk’s bed and waiting for him to come back, to hug him, to be his brother.

Of Pidge sitting in their empty work lab, alone, only robots and pieces for company and having lost another member of her family.

Of his parents, wondering where their son was, if he was ever coming home.

There was a crack that split the air and Hunk felt more than heard the tree lose its battle to the axes.

The natives cheered.

And Hunk fell.

He was propelled off the branch, falling in front of the great tree coming into the volcano with him.

He kept his eyes closed tight, feeling the wash of heat growing more intense.

Any second now.

He slammed into something hard.

Metal.

A giant, echoing whoop assaulted his ears.

Hunk’s eyes flew open.

He was inside the Red Lion’s mouth.

“Bullseye!” Lance cheered from up in the cockpit. “Atta girl, Red! Let’s get outta here!”

Footsteps sounded a minute later and Hunk could only stare as Lance came down the ramp.

His best friend’s face, formerly a cocky, satisfied grin, morphed into clear concern as he no doubt caught sight of the tear tracks on Hunk’s own.

“Hunk, hermano,” he knelt down, flicking the swiss army knife Hunk and Pidge had made for him for his birthday. “It’s okay. Estás seguro, estás bien. Se acabó, estás bien.”

Hunk let out a muffled sob, this time of relief.

Lance cut through his gag first and then made quick work of the rest of the vines.

“Hunk—”

Hunk cut him off with a hug, Lance letting out a soft squeak even as his own hands came to wrap about Hunk, digging into his vest.

Gracias,” Hunk whispered, burying his face against Lance’s neck. “Gracias, hermano.”

Hunk hugged Lance until they landed back at the castle.

Chapter Text

The pile of clothes dropped in front of him with a small plop .

A prison uniform.

Lance raised his chin at it, meeting the cruel yellow gaze of the Galran in front of him.

He would not wear it.

“Change,” rumbled the Galran, meeting his eyes with a dark look of his own.

“No.”

His voice came out more even than he felt and Lance was grateful for it because he didn't want the Galran to see how scared he was.

He’d awoken in this cell, alone — a vague recollection of being in a marketplace someone shouting for him to move and then blaster fire and nothing after that — shoeless and surprisingly uncuffed although he supposed without a weapon he wasn’t much of a threat to the much larger and stronger Galrans.

The realization had still stung.

He’d paced the cell, finding no opening save for the tightly sealed door, and had resigned himself to wait for something to happen, be it a rescue or an overconfident Galran that he could try to overpower and escape.

Neither of those things happened. Instead this Galran, a lieutenant based on his insignia, had arrived with a half-dozen sentries and they had all crammed themselves into the small cell, forcing Lance to back up to the far wall as the sentries’ guns had angled on him and the Galran stood in front of the door.

He had expected a number of things to possibly happen.

The fact they wanted him in a prisoner uniform — form-fitting if ragged black pants and shirt that blended near seamlessly together and then the raggedy purple shirt — was not one of them. And Lance would not wear it.

He was not a prisoner. He refused to be labeled as such.

“Change,” the Galran repeated, clawed hands opening and closing almost with anticipation, “or I will do it for you.”

Lance crossed his arms over his chest, digging white-knuckled fingers into the folds of his jacket and trying to draw comfort from the familiar material.

He didn’t want to.

He also knew he didn’t really have a choice. And at least... at least this way he maintained some semblance of control.

He forced his hands to loosen on his sleeves, letting out a breath.

It was going to be fine.

He slowly shrugged out of his jacket, holding it for just a minute as he had no idea if he would see it again, fingers tracing over the ribbing, the zipper. He was in the process of gently folding it when he sensed more than saw the lieutenant move.

Lance let out a yelp as a clawed hand dug into his forearm and it was dragged behind him and he was slammed chest first against the wall, dropping his jacket in the process.

His breath hitched.

He was completely pinned.

His smaller size became much more apparent.

“Hey, man,” he put out, trying to speak over the hammering of his heart. Don’t show fear. Don’t show fear. “What gives? I was—”

“You are too slow,” came the growled response, breath hot on the back of Lance’s ear.

“I—”

“I will take over now. And you,” the hand tightened around his wrist and Lance felt the tips puncture his flesh, “will regret it very much.”

Lance did not doubt that.

He tried to shift his feet, to do something, and the sentries’ guns whined around him.

“If you value your life you will not move again,” the Galran warned. “I do not care much one way or the other.”

Lance swallowed thickly.

He did not doubt that threat either. He knew on the Voltron totem pole he was at the bottom; they didn’t need him alive like they would need Shiro or Allura.

The Galran removed his hand from Lance’s wrist and Lance only ever so slowly moved it back to his side, hating how it trembled.

His tremble turned into a gasp as claws raked across his back, tearing through both shirt and skin. They were superficial wounds, he could tell, but they still hurt and he tensed as he felt fingers clench in one of the new holes, knuckles digging against the cuts.

The Galran yanked and the harsh ripping sound of what had once been his shirt filled the cell.

He pulled it off in pieces, claws scraping over Lance’s shoulders and the backs of his arms.

Lance remained as still as he could, eyes squeezed shut tight.

Within the minute he had been relieved of his shirt and given instead a covering of red cuts and scratches.

He felt the clawed hand descend on the waistband of his jeans and Lance shifted his weight, heart leaping into his throat. “I can—”

“Quiet,” hissed the lieutenant.

Lance’s mouth snapped shut without permission.

But as the Galran moved back to it, claws digging into the swell of his hip as he gripped the material, Lance tried again, trying to step off the wall, to pivot.

“Just let me—”

He heard the sentry fire.

He thought it was just a warning shot.

Then the pain hit.

Lance screamed, knees buckling.

He’d been shot, the blast slicing along the top of his right shoulder and leaving a laser burn in its wake.

Apparently his movement as he fell against the wall was worthy of another shot.

This one struck him in his left calf.

His leg fully collapsed beneath him, sending him to the floor with a wail.

The Galran must have called off any further shots but he followed him to the ground.

Lance offered no resistance as claws sank into his hip, slicing along his outer thigh and shredding his jeans and boxer shorts down the side, focusing instead on trying to quell pounding of his heart, so loud he could hear almost nothing else as pain pain pain flashed in his vision.

He came back as the Galran moved to grasp at the now torn pieces on each side of his legs and pull back what he could, to fully undress him.

“No,” Lance gasped out. “N-no.”

Please no.

The Galran paid him no mind except to bring a closed fist down upon the laser wound on Lance’s shoulder.

His vision whited out.

When it came back Lance found himself stripped bare, only trickles of blood covering him.

His face flushed with shame even as it paled with fear. He tried to curl his legs up but the Galran grabbed his right about the ankle and pulled, dragging Lance against the ground and closer to him.

His foot was shoved into a bunched piece of fabric.

Lance stilled.

The Galran…

The Galran was dressing him.

The pants were pulled roughly up to his knees on each leg, Lance swallowing his cry as the harsh grip lighted upon the shot wound, cauterized by the heat but still painful beyond measure.

“Stand,” the Galran commanded him.

He was going to allow him to finish dressing himself.

Lance didn’t dare let the opportunity pass him by.

As much as it hurt, bracing his injured leg below him, Lance managed, pulling himself painfully to his knees, hands lighting on the pants left about his knees, and digging his fingers into the material.

As he stood he pulled them up as quickly as he could.

And he knew it was stupid, but as soon as he was covered he felt safer.

He was at least less exposed.

“Turn,” the Galran ordered and Lance slowly did so, trying to put as little weight on his left leg as he could.

The prisoner shirt was thrust into his hands.

Lance hurriedly pulled it on even as his shoulder protested and numerous cuts flared. The raggedy top was shoved at him then and Lance pulled that one on too.

When it cleared his head, purple cloth giving way to the cell, it was to see the Galran lieutenant holding his green jacket in his large, clawed hands.

Lance trembled.

No.

Yellow eyes bore into ocean blue, cruel satisfaction dancing in those orbs.

And the sound of fabric being shredded rent the air.

 

Chapter Text

Pidge scowled.

Well, she knew she scowled. The actual expression was mostly covered up by the muzzle they’d forced upon her after she’d bit one of the Galran’s fingers.

Hard.

She could still taste his blood, not quite as metallic as a human’s but almost bitter.

Her tongue flicked out, encountering the hard press of metal wires that were smushed against her lips without even any way for her to attempt to bite them and the top of it dug into her cheeks and the bridge of her nose.

She scowled again.

Her fingers itched at her sides to remove it as she had carefully watched them put it on even while she’d snarled and swore and knew exactly how to remove it and its stupid latches. But of course her arms had suffered a similar fate and they were wrenched behind her back and cuffed together with no give between the manacles.

Pidge’s gaze narrowed at the two Galrans assigned to guard her who were more distracted at the moment with bandaging the one’s finger and shooting her dark looks of their own although she was pleased to see the slightest bit of apprehension on the bleeding Galran’s face.

Fucker.

Just they wait until she was free. She would make that look like the papercut that it was.

Pidge did hate that for the moment she was being forced to wait. She hated waiting, hated having to rely so much on others.

But she was well and truly stuck, not only bound and muzzled but her hands were tethered to a column behind her and forcing her to sit. She jiggled one leg trying to keep her foot from falling asleep.

The team at least she knew would be en route if they weren’t already as her sort of “Fuck this!” screamed into the comms as she was surrounded before they’d subdued her and taken her helmet and bayard had to be a good enough clue something had gone wrong.

And if it wasn’t she was surrounded by idiots and she would beat them all to a pulp when she eventually freed herself as soon as an opportunity presented itself.

It was embarrassing though. She was the stealthy one next to Keith and given the fact he was with the Blades now she had taken that title for herself. Her Lion was the one with the cloaking, she had the hacking skills to pull up cameras and scan for heat signatures, her size was ideal for ducking behind obstructions and she had still been captured like a novice as she walked blindly around a corner that was not on the floor plan and smack into a crew of Galra wearing what must be space hard hats and in the process of quietly (and who the fuck worked that quietly?) fitting a door into place.

Renovations.

She’d been bested by the Galra performing renovations on their base.

Lance was never going to let her hear the end of it.

Neither would Shiro, who she had finally convinced to let her go on a solo mission as it was a step towards working towards the solo mission she really cared about to track down a lead trail she had on Matt.

God fucking damnit.

Stupid Galrans. Stupid base. Stupid construction. And now stupid muzzle.

An echoing boom sounded and Pidge smirked as the Galrans gave little starts of surprise.

Her rescue had arrived.

They moved as one towards the door…

And promptly let out shrieks as a blast of bright blue light went through it.

Lance, Pidge identified, without a doubt.

The barrage continued, shots pointedly aimed away from Pidge’s location and she managed a grin. The tracking she’d installed in the armor to pinpoint locations was doing a mighty fine job and Lance was actually taking the time to look at it rather than shooting blindly.

The Galrans were trying (re: failing) to return fire against the high-powered bayard that was decimating their door and Pidge watched with great satisfaction as one of them was blasted backwards and the second followed a moment later.

Lance stepped through the opening he’d shot out, cocky grin visible even under his visor as he surveyed his damages and the unconscious pile of guards and he turned to her no doubt about to brag.

The grin slid right off his face.

“Pidge!” He was sprinting towards her within the tick, sliding to his knees and Pidge winced as his armor screeched against the floor. “Pidge, Pidgeon, hang on, hang on.”

Pidge raised an eyebrow knowing better than to try to speak as all she made were unintelligible noises.

The gesture seemed to take Lance aback and while his hands were still running about her head looking for the latch they weren’t quite as jittery.

“You’re… you’re okay?” he asked quietly, voice a tad too high to be casual.

Pidge’s gaze softened and she nodded.

Lance was really worried about her. It was…

Sweet.

“Still, just a tick,” he promised. “I’ll get this off.”

He was true to his word and she heard the hiss of the buckle as Lance unthreaded it before carefully lifting it up and over her nose and she let out a little gasp as the wires left her lips and cheeks.

“I’m fine,” she said as Lance froze. “Cut me loose.”

“Gladly.”

A moment later she was bringing her arms back around and rubbing first at her wrists and then gingerly touching her face.

“I’m okay, honest,” she said, mustering up a smile and trying to set Lance at ease as he seemed to be the more anxious one of the two of them and she had been the one captured. “Good timing though,” she said, wincing as she encountered the rubbed raw skin atop her nose from her attempts to free herself against the ground. “That sure did leave a…”

‘Mark’ died on her tongue as her eyes widened.

Shiro.

She had always wondered, never asked and she doubted he even knew.

But…

She had a sick feeling she’d just found her answer.

Lance seemed to realize it too if his sucked in breath was any indication and both of their eyes turned as one to the muzzle Lance had dropped next to him.

His bayard was in his hand a moment later and a smoking crater rose from where the muzzle had once lain, now a few smoking wire bits.

“Don’t tell him,” the order came out more like a plea as she met Lance’s eyes.

He reached forward instead of answering and his thumb rubbed gently at her cheek against one of the many lines left behind.

“Lance—”

“I won’t,” he agreed quietly. “But..."  His eyes turned to hers. “You’re sure you’re okay?”

“Promise.”

His gaze was searching but whatever he was looking for he found and nodded. “Okay then. Based upon your genius tech,” his grin fell a little flat but she appreciated the effort and compliment, “your helmet and likely your bayard are two doors down. Let’s go get those while the others finish up and then blow this popsicle stand.”

Unsaid was, let’s get that helmet on stat as it would assist in covering up most of the marks until they faded. Pidge’s throat tightened. She had been viewing the entire capture as an inconvenience and a big joke and while the blasé attitude had warded of any panic, she was becoming more and more aware of how bad it could have been.

She accepted Lance’s hand up and gave a little yelp as instead of letting go he pulled her into a tight hug. “Glad you’re all right, Pidgeon,” he murmured.

She hugged him back. “Me too.”

Her gaze tracked to the smoldering remains of the muzzle and her hold tightened. “Me too…”

Chapter Text

A clawed hand pulled on Keith’s hair, twisting it around and around the knobby finger as he struggled not to wince.

“Soft,” came the voice, giving it another tug, sounding awed.

“What is it?” asked another, their hands digging into his scalp. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Keith would have been more than happy to inform them it was called hair but the wadded up what he was trying to forget was a sock from one of their feet was stopping that after he’d gnashed his teeth and bit one. Not that it had done any good; their skin was too thick.

Just thinking about the sock made his stomach roll and Keith tried desperately to swallow down the bile that the smell and taste was generating.

He was not going drown in his own vomit murdered by a sock after they’d just fucking survived Lotor.

“Is it fur?” the second one wondered aloud.

“Soft,” repeated the first.

Keith growled low in his throat and tried to jerk his head away from their touch.

The hand tightened and he hated the reflexive tears pulled to his eyes.

The aliens, almost troll like creatures, went back to petting and sifting through his hair.

Keith silently cursed everything. The planet, the stupid mushrooms he’d been sent to pick for their meal, the fact he’d let his guard down after so used to having his wolf watch his back, but who was still healing from the run-in with the pirate band and he’d left him behind at camp to rest.

Fuck everything.

And when the team got here, as eventually they had to realize it should not take him over twenty minutes now to pick a patch of mushrooms, they’d find him tied up with his own boot laces (of course the one time he changed out of the armor after Coran told them the atmosphere was breathable), straightjacketed into his own coat and his knife relieved and currently riding on the hip of the smaller (and smarter) of the two aliens.

Keith was going to die of mortification.

But as much as it would hurt his pride he would rather that outcome than whatever it was these two might have planned for him. Assuming he didn’t die from the stench of his gag first.

His hair was pulled again, tighter, and Keith let out a muffled groan.

That hurt, damnit.

“Want,” intoned the large troll. “Mine.”

“You can have it, brother. I have my own prize.” He patted the knife.

Keith growled.

That was his.

His hair was pulled again and this time the tugging didn’t stop.

Keith let out a stifled yell as he was pulled from his knees and up, toes leaving the ground and all of his weight dangling from his pulled hair.

He took back his earlier complaints. This hurt.

And then the alien shook him.

Not a side to side shake, which would have been painful enough on its own, but an up and down motion, slamming Keith’s knees into the ground only to lift him and repeat.

Keith’s watery eyes spilled over without his consent.

“Mine!” the alien growled. “Mine mine mine!”

Keith faintly realized the alien may be trying to rip his hair out.

He took that back as his knees collided with the ground again and his scalp pulled.

The alien was trying to rip his hair out.

“Yes, brother, yours,” chuckled the other. “Keep on it now. I’m sure its fur will loosen soon.”

Keith let out muffled scream as he felt a few strands tear at the rough handling.

The troll let out a shout of his own of delight and Keith was dropped face first to the ground, stars bursting in front of his eyes.

“Mine! Soft mine!”

Around the pain emanating Keith forced himself to roll to his side, taking in the scene with blurry eyes as the troll danced about, holding the pieces he’d retrieved.

He was grateful it hadn’t been worse.

Yet.

They were distracted. He needed to take advantage of it.

What Keith was going to do he didn’t quite know, but he figured if at least he could roll away and try to hide himself in the brush surrounding the clearing it eliminated the whole hair pulling torture thing.

Unfortunately the other troll wasn’t as stupid as his apparent brother.

“Brother,” he called, voice a warble, “your prize is trying to leave.”

The troll let out a shattering roar that left Keith’s ears ringing. Enhanced hearing from his Galran side was not an advantage right now.

The alien stomped over to him and grabbed him once more by his hair, wrenching Keith to his knees.

“Mine! Soft mine!” He shook Keith back and forth like a ragdoll. “All mine!”

His other hand descended and wrapped about Keith’s ankles and Keith found himself being stretched.

Purple eyes widened.

Fuck.

The troll pulled, fingers digging with bruising strength into his skin and his scalp screaming at the abuse.

Forget his hair.

He was going to be ripped in half.

Keith threw his body weight to the side, trying to dislodge even one of the grips.

It did no good.

Spots were dancing in his eyes and he could feel his neck being pulled beyond its limits.

Oh God.

This…

This was not how he thought he was going to go.

And then he was falling.

Keith hit the ground with a thump, world echoing strangely around him. He could make out what looked like blaster fire and there was a howling noise — his wolf — and then hands, gentler ones but still rough, were descending on his shoulders and he was being scooped into strong arms.

“—looks rancid, hang on—” and another pair of hands, small peach ones, were pulling the gag out of his mouth and Keith gave a weak cough, air assaulting him in a good way. “—kay, we’ve got this. You go on ah—”

The scenery was blurring about him then and Keith let out a groan, stomach still turning.

A purple face looked down above at him, matching purple eyes creased with concern.

“M-mom?” Keith coughed.

“Hush,” Krolia told him, in that brusque but somehow still managing to sound tender way. “You’re safe now.”

Keith’s eyes fluttered closed against the rushing landscape.

They were back at camp within a few minutes and he heard Coran’s soft exclamation. He couldn’t be bothered to be embarrassed yet by the attention as Krolia lowered him down to the ground and she and Coran began to untie his feet and remove his jacket, too relieved that both the nausea was settling and the worst of the pain was beginning to fade.

“How is he?” Krolia asked, voice pitched low.

“Nothing to fear,” came Coran’s chipper response and Keith felt hands prodding along his back as he was rolled to his side. It both hurt and was easing the ache. A massage, he placed after a moment. A very, very hard massage directly on his spine.

He winced. He took it back. Coran’s fingers were pointy.

Still, they were eliminating more of the pain and he felt himself growing limp beneath the ministrations.

Coran chuckled and he heard Krolia let out a light laugh.

He didn’t care.

It felt good now.

The hands moved to his neck, more gently rubbing at the base and a low moan was pulled from him. That made him flush pink and stiffen but Coran paused to pat his shoulder.

“At ease, my boy. Relax.”

“Listen to him, Keith,” Krolia said and Keith felt her hands descended in his hair, catching on the knots put in place by the rough handling, and she instead moved her hand to brush his bangs back. Under both of their orders and the gentle ministrations Keith had no choice but to do so.

“Nothing damaging at all, you Galra have hardy spines indeed,” Coran said after a few minutes. “I’ve got some glornack seeds to take the edge off for now but with a little rest and relaxation he’ll be right as ravioli soon enough.”

“Got that?” Krolia poked his forehead. “Rest and relaxation.”

Keith frowned at both the poke and the order, but Krolia did it again, harder.

“Fine,” he managed to mumble.

“Good son.”

As Coran got up, saying something about getting the aspirin and a drink, Krolia’s hand moved to his shoulder and she gave it a more gentle squeeze. “You are truly all right?”

“Mhm.” He lifted his eyes up to meet hers. “Yeah.”

“Good,” she repeated. “Now once you take your medicine you will rest with Kosmo—”

“Not Kosmo,” Keith protested weakly.  

“With the unnamed wolf,” Krolia let out a sigh. “Got it?”

“Got it.”

“Good son.” Krolia bent over and placed a kiss to the top of his head, her touch a soothing balm to what the aliens had done.

A glass of water and glornack seed later, Keith found himself being gently tucked into his cot and his wolf let out a soft whine, nuzzling a cold nose against his neck and settling down with his head heavy on Keith’s chest. He hadn’t really been tired before but now he was overcome with exhaustion and his eyelids were heavy.

“Rest,” Krolia murmured, hand brushing tenderly through his bangs.

And Keith did.

Chapter Text

“Keith, man, look, I know you went through something sort of traumatizing and all yesterday but I have to know. Did you wash your hair once in those two years? Once?”

“Lance,” Keith’s teeth ground together. “I am not in the mood.”

“Yeah, no kidding.” Keith winced as his hair was yanked backwards, painful, but nowhere near the pain he was familiar with from earlier. “Man, it is really stuck in there.” A pause. “Hey! Is this Allura’s brush?”

“...yes,” Keith admitted as Lance gave it another yank, pulling unforgivingly on his hair.

He could almost hear the eyebrow quirk. “Does she know you have it?”

“...”

“Oh Dios, mullet, she’s gonna kill you.”

“Not if you get it out,” Keith said, trying to keep his voice even as Lance continued to tug futilely on the brush that he’d… borrowed to attempt to brush out his hair from the trolls’ handling yesterday after an entire day of forced relaxation in which he had discovered how badly his hair had been knotted from the incident. The brush had gotten stuck and Keith’s efforts had tangled it more. Lance was the one on night guard and he’d sucked up his pride and gone for assistance.

Because Lance was right. Allura would kill him.

It wasn’t his fault though. He didn’t own a brush and Allura had left hers lying out in the campsite when she’d gotten distracted by the mice attempting to eat poisonous berries.

“Keith, man, umm… I’m gonna have to cut it out.”

Keith stiffened.

He hoped his “what?” didn’t come out as croak-like as it sounded.

Cut his hair?

A hand patted his shoulder. “Sorry, man. But…”

Keith swallowed. Face Allura’s anger or the dreaded haircut that he had actively avoided since childhood.

There was only one answer here.

“Do it,” he choked out.

“Good choice.”

And come the next morning when Pidge spat space coffee and Shiro missed a step going down the ramp and toppled over with a shout (saved by Coran passing by) and Krolia demanded to know what had happened to her son’s beautiful locks, Keith held his head high and insisted that the haircut had been his idea and it was time for something new.

And maybe if it hadn’t been an exact replica of Lance’s minus the longer bangs they’d have believed him.

Still. It was the safer option than the alternative.

Keith vowed to never touch a hairbrush again.

The end.

Chapter Text

 

“Right this way, if you please,” came Lotor’s cultured tones, dripping with smug amusement.

“I don’t,” Lance growled out, bracing his feet.

He had no idea what was in front of him, blindfold wrapped suffocatingly around the top half of his face that he was trying very, very hard to pretend wasn’t really all that bad and what did it matter that he couldn’t see what was going on around him in enemy territory? It didn’t matter, not one bit.

What mattered was not letting this smug, traitorous jerk know how unsettled and frankly scared he was.

“Oh, Lance,” and an unwanted hand descended on his shoulder from out of the darkness and Lance hated how he startled. “It was not a request.”

“Quiznack you,” Lance snapped, sidestepping and trying to throw off the offending limb with a roll of his shoulder, bound hands trapped behind him and useless.

Don’t panic, don’t panic, don’t show fear. Lance repeated the mantra to himself.

A second hand landed on his other shoulder and both squeezed more than painfully.

Don’t panic, don’t show fear.

“That is not a nice thing to say.”

Don’t panic, don’t show fear.

“And you’re not a nice person so I don’t care,” Lance growled.

A low chuckle. “And to think you were the Princess’ choice for diplomatic relations. Oh, how amusing. Although,” another laugh, “it is not the only wrong decision she made, hm?”

Lance whirled about, anger hot at the dig to Allura, swinging his leg out like Shiro — had that been Shiro though? Who had taught him, coached him? Shiro? A clone? What had happened to him? Where was he? What had they done to Shiro? — had showed him.

His foot hit only air.

“Missed,” the word was sing-songed.

And then a punch of the prince’s own slammed into Lance’s stomach.

He doubled over the hit, gagging.

“Now,” Lotor’s other hand roughly grabbed his chin and Lance was too busy trying to suck air back in to try and bare his teeth. “Let us try this again, hm? When I say ‘right this way’ you say, 'thank you, Emperor Lotor.’”

“Quiznack you.”

Lance’s face was smashed against a wall.

“You know,” Lotor ground his cheek further against the hard metal, “I was going to be kind and remove your blindfold once we reached your new accommodations, but I think I have reconsidered such.”

He let out a low chuckle. “It is not like you need to see your new friends anyways.”

Friends?

Lance stiffened.

He hadn’t heard a thing about what had happened to the rest of Team Voltron ever since a contingent of Galra had overrun the castle in the dead of night, dragging them from their beds with a glowing, red-eyed Shiro standing at attention.

Lance considered himself fortunate he hadn’t been asleep yet, still in his civilian clothes sans jacket and footwear, so at least he hadn’t been captured in his pajamas. He’d caught a glimpse of Hunk, in his yellow sleepwear and completely unconscious over the back of a sentry, screamed his name and then he’d gotten the same treatment and awoken in a cell aboard Lotor’s base, alone.

He’d screamed and demanded to know what was happening but he’d been ignored for the better part of by his guess two days until quiznacking Lotor had shown up with a small contingent of Galran officers and sentries. He’d said nothing though as the soldiers had manhandled Lance into the energy cuffs and then secured the thick blindfold about his face.

He supposed he was lucky they hadn’t gagged him as he continued to yell, voice growing increasingly higher, at Lotor.

He’d been forced to walk, the sentries guns at his back good motivation, and had fallen into silence until Lotor had to open his big mouth and now here they were.

“Oh, not your friends,” Lotor clairfied. “No, no. You see,” his breath hissed against Lance’s ear and he could feel fangs nearly nipping him. He tried to resist the shiver.

Don’t show fear.

“You hold no interest to me. You have no discernible talent that I can use and your worth as a bartering chip is negligible pitted to the rest. So… I have no use for you.”

Lance’s breath hitched.

“That said, it would be foolish to throw you into the incinerator like the other fodder I have captured if only due to the unique makeup of one who is capable of taming two of Voltron’s mighty beasts. I will keep you until the day comes that I might have need of you. But until then you are to be forgotten as the insignificant blip that you are.”

Lotor yanked him off the wall, hand still twisted in his hair, and began walking.

Lance had no choice but to stumble behind him, neck wrenched painfully in the hold and too off balance to even try to brace his feet for all the good it would do.

What did he do?

What did he do?

Metal footsteps of the sentries clanked about him, cutting off any other avenue of escape even had he miraculously thrown off Lotor and made it somewhere while being completely blind.

“But I can be kind,” Lotor continued. “I know how much you hate to be alone, Lance. It is why I arranged for some company to keep you while you live out the rest of your life. And ah, here we are.”

They came to a grinding halt and Lotor’s hand lifted from his hair.

Lance threw another kick, a tight roundhouse.

His bare foot clanged against Lotor’s armor and he let out a yelp as a hand wrapped about his ankle and he was lifted by it, seemingly effortlessly, and was now hanging upside down in Lotor’s grasp, his shirt sliding down to uncomfortably cover his mouth and nose.

“Let me go!” he snapped, the words somewhat muffled,  kicking out with his other foot and it smashed into the chestplate.

He didn’t even feel Lotor flinch.

“Oh, Lance,” came the sigh. “You do not know when to give up, do you?”

Lance didn’t bother that with a reply.

A door hissed open to his right and before he could even blink, even brace himself, Lotor was tossing him like he was a sack of garbage.

Lance bitterly supposed that was all he was to the prince.

He hit the ground with a jarring thud, captured hands taking the brunt of the blow and he swallowed down the reflexive cry.

“Now,” Lotor said and Lance could hear his smirk, “for your actions you will remain cuffed until I say so. And let me just say now… that will not be for quite some time.”

Lance paled.

Lotor was going to leave him cuffed and blindfolded? With his hands behind him as they were he could do nothing to assist himself and Lotor knew so as well.

“Food and water will be brought once per day and laid out in bowls,” Lotor continued. “You’ll want to eat fast though before your cellmates help themselves. Then again, I suppose eating and drinking will pose their own set of problems down the road, hm?”

Lance hated that he felt his cheeks heat.

They darkened as Lotor continued, “I’ll be certain to check the camera feeds every now and then to see how you are faring. I imagine it will be most amusing.”

“Lotor…” the intimidation Lance was going for was lost somewhat as his voice wavered without his consent.

Lotor laughed.

Then there was the sound of a door hissing shut and Lance lurched to his feet.

No.

No!

“Enjoy your new home, Lance,” came Lotor’s last words before the door thudded shut.

Lance crashed into it, bouncing off the surface and landing ungracefully on his rear end.

He sat there then, shaking and trying to hold in the oncoming sob.

This…

This couldn’t be happening.

This was his worst nightmare come to life.

“Lotor!” he screamed, voice cracking. “Lotor!”

Silence.

And then a skittering noise, like sharp nails.

“H-hello?” Lance whispered.

Friends, Lotor had said. What had he—?

Something furry brushed against Lance’s bare foot.

He shrieked and kicked out and the thing let out a violent sounding hiss and more echoed.

Oh Dios.

Lance stumbled to his feet and away from the unseen creatures until his back hit a wall. A corner, he realized, upon shifting and finding it boxed.

The skittering sounds were across from him, or at least he thought so, and Lance weakly sank down, tucking his feet up as best he could in the cross-legged sit, arms aching and head pounding and chest heaving.

And he cried.

Chapter Text

“I can’t believe you did that.” Shiro’s voice was a mixture of awe, gratitude and, above all else, amusement.

“Can’t believe I did either,” Keith muttered. He yanked off the Galra helmet, smearing the purple facepaint Lance had applied with far, far too much excitement all over his face and hands, and spat out the fake teeth Coran had found for him.

But he would do anything for Shiro and if that meant dressing up as a Galran to get into the heavily fortified base since their hacker was out of commission from the same attack that had ended up with Shiro captured and left them down two Paladins and no ability to form Voltron then he would do it.

He still needed to find and burn Lance’s phone though when he got back. There would be no evidence of this ever happening.

Ever.

“Where on earth did you guys find armor that fit?” Shiro asked, both curious and still far too amused.

Keith scowled even while his cheeks highlighted pink. He knew he was somewhat small by human standards but next to the Galra he’d met during the Blade of Marmora trials he was very well aware of how really small he was.

But he knew Shiro wasn’t poking fun at his height and so he sighed as he strode past Shiro further into Red’s cockpit and called over his shoulder. “Coran managed to dismantle —”

“Holy sh—” Shiro broke off on his own swear out of force of habit. Still, the action had Keith pivoting, brow creased. “Keith! You’re hurt!”

Keith blinked.

“No I’m not,” he denied, even as he glanced down.

There was a hole in his stomach, crimson dripping down his front and staining the uniform even darker.

Oh.

He had apparently been shot.

It seemed Galra armor wasn’t as durable as Paladin armor.

It was like his body was waiting for him to realize it as now it was all he could think about and his stomach was a ball of fire and his back was aching too and he supposed that made sense as Shiro had seen the wound from the back so it must have gone all the way through and apparently adrenaline had kept him going for as long as it had because it hadn’t even hurt but now it really, really did and when had he gotten shot he didn’t even remember but—

Keith’s knees buckled beneath him and a short gasp was torn from his throat.

Shiro was there within half the span of a tick, arm wrapped tight about his shoulders and guiding Keith from the freefall to a controlled kneel in the cockpit.

“Easy, easy, buddy,” Shiro murmured.

“Shiro,” Keith said, the word echoing about as though it wasn’t actually him speaking it. “I got shot.”

“Yeah, you did.”

The cockpit was shifting around him and Keith faintly realized he was being lied down on his side, wedged against the wall by Shiro’s knees and the soft clanking was Shiro’s prosthetic hitting against the metal of his armor as he tried to remove it.

Everything was going blurry.

“Keith,” Shiro’s hand squeezed his shoulder. “Keith.”

He let out a low groan in answer.

“Buddy, I need you to direct the Red Lion to return to the castle, okay? I can’t fly her and you… you need a pod.”

Keith hummed. He’d never been in a pod before.

“Keith!” Shiro’s tone was sharper.

Scared.

Right. Red Lion.

Keith splayed a hand on the floorboards, feeling the soft purr of engines and his Lion. He didn’t say anything but he didn’t need to; Red was like him and guided by instinct. Her engines grew louder and Keith felt the subtle motion of liftoff.

“Good job, buddy, you did good.”

Shiro sounded like he was speaking from the end of a tunnel now, or maybe from the bottom of a cliff, words a gentle murmur now.

“You’re gonna be all right, it’s gonna be fine,” Shiro kept up his litany that was growing softer and softer in Keith’s ears.

He managed a small smile even around the pain that was giving way to a detached numbness but that was okay too.

“—be okay. Keith, buddy hang on—”

Keith’s eyes slipped closed.

“—ith, please—”

He was so tired.

“—be okay—”

Keith let out a small breath. If Shiro said it would be okay…

Then it would be.

He was just…

Just going…

Going to...

“—Keith, hold on—”

Sleep.

 

Chapter Text

 

Wail -- Lance

“Hunk!” Lance screamed. “Hunk!”

He writhed in the arms wrapped tight about him, iron-clad and unrelenting. “Let me go! Let me go!”

Hunk was right there. Hunk needed him.

He could still save him. It wasn’t too late. It wasn’t.

The arms tightened. “I’m so sorry, my boy,” came Coran’s whisper. “I’m so sorry.”

And before Lance could protest any further he was being lifted up, legs kicking out uselessly, and Coran was taking him away.

Hunk’s bloodied, still form slowly vanished from sight.

Lance’s scream turned into a wail.



 

Beg -- Keith

Keith’s eyes flicked rapidly, heart racing.

Knife.

Shiro.

Galran.

Knife.

Shiro.

Galran.

Blood.

A crimson line split open on Shiro’s neck as the blade was pressed against tender flesh. Keith took a staggered step forward, hands trembling at his sides.

“Ah ah, stop right there,” the Galran’s smile widened and he dug the knife deeper, “or I’ll kill him here and now. But,” his expression turned even crueler with amusement, “perhaps I might be… enticed to show him mercy. What do you say, little Paladin?”

Keith halted as more blood trickled down Shiro’s neck.

“Ke–”

“Quiet!” snapped the Galran and Shiro gagged as the chokehold tightened.

More blood.

Amethyst met charcoal and Keith could see Shiro’s answer to the situation in that one look.

Go.

Keith shook his head.

Never.

He turned his gaze to the Galran’s cruel yellow.

“Please,” he whispered, begged, “ let him go.”

Fangs glinted. “And now we’re getting somewhere.”

 



Bleary -- Lance

Someone was talking.

Maybe.

The ringing in his ears was making it difficult to determine that fact.

Lance  forced open his eyes and the ringing somehow seemed to get louder as the world blurred in front of him; bright flashes of light and fire and flickering darkness.

His stomach lurched and he hurriedly closed them.

Someone was shaking his shoulder then, hands rough and desperate and he thought maybe this time someone was actually speaking.

“–ance, damn it, open your eyes–”

Ah.

Someone was talking.

Lance blinked open bleary eyes once more, a visage of peach and black filling his vision while the exploding lights still echoed in the background.

Keith?

He was talking again, lips moving but Lance stared, the ringing growing louder and louder and louder.

It hurt.

“–need backup, Lance is down, does anyone–”

Lance shut his eyes again as though that would somehow mute the world.

Just for a minute. The ringing would stop in a minute.

“–Lance no, don’t you fucking da–”

The ringing stopped.

So did Keith’s voice.

There was nothing then. Just silence.

He…

He missed the ringing.

 

 

 

Grit -- Keith (and Lance)

“Lance,” Keith ground out, “are you done y–?”

He cut off with a choked gasp, question answered, as Lance pressed down on the gaping wound that stretched across his lower back.

“Almost,” came the response. “Sheesh, mullet, where’d you learn to dodge?”

Behind the casual, teasing words though there was clear worry, which Keith more than understood as Lance pressed again and he felt blood, hot and sticky, drip down.

That paled though in comparison to the burst of white-hot agony that shot through his body and Keith grit his teeth to keep the scream locked in his throat.

Enemy territory. Be quiet. Be quiet. Be quiet be quiet be quiet be–

“That’s a lot of blood,” Lance whispered, cutting through the spiral that was making Keith almost dizzier than the blood loss.

“’s fine,” Keith managed. “Just… just…”

“Hurrying up, got it,” Lance’s voice was high but in contrast his hands were steady and Keith drew as much comfort from it as he could. “Hang tight, mullet,” his voice softened. “You’re gonna be okay.”

And as warm hands deftly but carefully treated his injury, Keith believed him.

 

 

Cuddle -- Lance (and Shiro)

This was embarrassing. Like, beyond mortification embarrassing.

And yet there Lance was, hovering just outside Shiro’s door in the middle of the night after being roused from a vivid nightmare in which Shiro died – blood and a glowing clawed hand and Sendak’s cruel laughter and gasping breaths and fading eyes – and he just…

Just had to make sure he was okay.

Just a peek.

Lance forgot that the castle doors didn’t allow for a peek open but instead the entire thing went straight up into the ceiling and while dim it was still bright hallway light and it was shining right on Shiro who grunted, rolled over and then opened his eyes.

Oh Dios.

“Lance?” Shiro was already sitting up, sleep clearing from his face and concern painting it instead.

“Um,” Lance said unintelligibly. “I, um…”

His face felt like it was on fire.

“I’m just, um, gonna go,” he inched backwards. Shiro was fine. Safe. Just as he’d wanted to know. “I’m sorry, like so so sorry. I, um, just… yeah. I’m gonna g–”

“Lance, stop,” Shiro commanded gently and Dios help him Lance froze. “Come here,” Shiro patted the bed next to him.

His feet moved mechanically over and he took a seat on the very edge. He couldn’t look at Shiro’s face.

“Nightmare?” Shiro asked softly.

Lance managed a nod.

“About me?”

Another nod.

“Oh, buddy…”

And to Lance’s surprise a warm hand wrapped about his shoulders and Lance melted into the embrace, fingers automatically lifting up to dig into Shiro’s sleep shirt and burying his head against Shiro’s chest just as he used to do with Papá when he’d had a nightmare.

He realized with a jolt what this must look like and oh Dios this was too much, this was–

“Shh,” Shiro’s other arm, heavy and cool but comforting still, wrapped around him and cuddled Lance fully to his chest and he couldn’t have pulled away now if he’d wanted to. “It’s okay,” Shiro murmured, rocking him gently. “It’s okay.”

Lance relaxed in the hold.

Now it really was.

 

 

Gentle -- Keith (and Shiro)

“Hey, hey, easy,” murmured a voice. “It’s all right. You’re okay.”

Keith stilled.

He knew that voice.

Purple eyes blinked open and were greeted with Shiro’s face hovering nearly above his, concern etched into his brow but a smile pulling up his mouth as their eyes met.

“Shiro?”

“Hey, buddy,” Shiro murmured. “You took a pretty hard hit to your head. How’re you feeling?”

“Fine,” Keith responded automatically, more embarrassed than anything as hazy memories floated back: training with Shiro, determined to prove his skill in hand-to-hand, putting the gladiator on one of the higher settings when Shiro wouldn’t fight him at full strength with his Galran arm and…

And he didn’t remember much else other than a flash of silver and pain pain pain erupting on the back of his head.

God.

How mortifying.

“Keith,” Shiro chided albeit kindly, seeing right through both the response and the pain Keith was trying to hide.

Of course he did.

A metal hand came up to gently brush the side of his face and before Keith could stop himself he leaned into it, the cool metal soothing against hot flesh.

“Let’s get you to Coran,” Shiro said softly, thumb rubbing across Keith’s cheek and voice a soothing cadence. “You’ll feel better.”

Keith managed a nod even though, with Shiro’s gentle touch, he was feeling better already.

 

 

Fever -- Lance

Hunk slid a hand below Lance’s bangs and winced at the not just the heat but the sweat and the little moan Lance made as he tried to follow Hunk’s hand, no doubt cool to his fevered flesh.

“He’s burning up,” Hunk said softly, looking over his shoulder where Pidge was hovering, having found Lance like that when she’d gone to rouse him after he’d been late for breakfast.

“‘s cause I’m so hot,” Lance slurred, ocean eyes hazy.

“It’s because you have a fever, idiot,” Pidge sniped although without any actual heat. “Why didn’t you say something?”

“‘m not sick,” Lance protested weakly. “Jus’… jus’ tired. ‘m fine.” His hand twitched on the bed, possibly what he’d intended to be a wave.

“You’re not fine, hermano,” Hunk chided gently.

Lance grunted at that but didn’t refute him, merely closing his eyes and pressing his head against Hunk’s hand, now gently rubbing circles on a flushed cheek.

“You will be though,” Hunk assured. “We’ll get you fixed up in no time, okay? You just rest now.”

“’m’kay,” Lance mumbled.

 

 

Bawling -- Keith

“I thought you said you were good with kids!”

“I am!” Lance protested over the sound of loud crying. He bounced the baby in his arms, lowering his voice so he wasn’t shouting directly in the mullet’s ear.

Even though Keith had been doing nothing but for the last couple minutes although since he’d been morphed into a baby (spell gone wrong, should wear off by tomorrow,  just keep him safe and happy until then, a frazzled looking Kolivan had advised before going off with Shiro, Allura and Coran to a Coalition meeting) Lance couldn’t really blame him.

But Dios, did Keith ever stop crying?

“Shh, shh,” Lance soothed, wincing as Keith’s tiny, chubby fingers got free of the blanket wrap and grabbed at what hair he could reach around Lance’s ears. “Ow, Keith, come on, stop that.”

Lance juggled Keith to one hand to carefully tug his hair free.

Keith’s crying turned even louder.

Lance almost wished he’d been able to retreat to the kitchen like Hunk had, proclaiming he was going to try and find something for Keith to eat as he was probably just hungry and cranky.

“Lance,” Pidge moaned, hands clamped over her ears as Keith bawled, face scrunched up and red and fat tears dripping down his face, make it stop.”

“Because I’m just standing here doing nothing,” Lance grumped. “You know what? You try.”

“What? No! Lance--”

But Lance was already handing Keith to her and unless she wanted to drop him Pidge had no choice but to take hold of the wriggling, screaming bundle.

She might still drop him at this rate. She had no clue what she was doing and this was insane, why was Lance--

But as soon as the thought crossed her mind Keith abruptly stilled, cries tapering off.

Pidge stared.

What?

Bright purple eyes were gazing up at her and Keith burbled, a happy little noise.

“Aww,” Lance cooed, “he likes you.”

Pidge felt a weird, dopey smile start to cross her face and she struggled to rein it in. A little hand reached up towards her and remembering Keith’s tugging of Lance’s hair Pidge pulled back.

Keith’s chin trembled.

She sighed and leaned forward instead and the chubby hand found her glasses, batting at them with a little giggle.

“Now,” Lance’s voice was soft and his hands landed atop hers, guiding them, “you need to support his head... and there you go. Aww, look at that. Hang on, let me get a picture.”

“Lance, don’t you dare.”

The threat was lukewarm at best as Pidge couldn’t raise her voice, couldn’t move her head as Keith patted at her cheeks and honestly that goofy smile was starting to come back and she couldn’t stop it.

She heard the camera click.

But as she looked down at Keith, who stared up at her with such open awe and joy, she found she didn’t mind at all.

She was actually going to need a copy of that.

 

Chapter Text

Heartbreak -- Lance

“Keith, no, that’s… that’s not what I meant. You know that’s not what I meant.”

“Do I?”

Keith wouldn’t look at him, shoulders hunched and arms wrapped tightly about his middle where he’d stopped after Lance had run after him.

He’d known as soon as he’d said it that it had been a mistake.

Are you joking? I’m being completely serious when I say I do not want you to lead me anywhere.”

Dios. Why had he said that? Why?

“I don’t want to be the leader!” Keith had said hotly. “That’s just what Shiro wanted!

He’d ignored Keith’s shadowed eyes, heaving chest and his protest of denial. Instead he’d attacked him as feelings of hurt and never going to be good enough overrode anything else.

“Well I never heard Shiro say that and how convenient that you’re bringing it up now when Shiro’s gone.“

Lance winced as his own words echoed even now.

He’d been so cruel.

“You want the job so badly? You can have it.”

And it had taken Lance far, far too long to realize how hurt Keith had sounded, how cornered, and now…

Now he was afraid he was too late.

“Do I, Lance?” he repeated. “You… you don’t even know me. You think I really wanted this? To take Shiro’s spot? To be the leader? I don’t. I just… I just want Sh-Shiro, Keith’s voice broke.

Lance felt his heart stutter.

He’d caused that.

“I’m s-–”

“Save it,” Keith snapped, eyes flashing as his anger returned.

Lance took a wavering step forward. “Kei-–”

“And don’t follow me.”

Lance remained rooted in the hall, hand outstretched and feeling his heart break.

 

 

Protective -- Pidge (double length as provided receipt of zine purchase!)

Pidge trembled where she stood behind the cover of the pillar, pulse racing in her ears and hands white-knuckled around her bayard beneath the gloves.

The mission parameters ran through her mind. She was not to engage. Lance would draw their attention, she would get the data. In, out, and done and hopefully one step closer to finding Matt.

But...

But it hadn’t gone as planned.

Not at all.

The unplanned Druid visit had made sure of that.

Lance screamed again over the sound of crackling magic.

Pidge’s fingers dug into her palms.

“Where is your fellow Paladin?” The Druid’s voice was bland with a touch of condescension.

She had asked that question several times now and each time Lance had stubbornly remained silent.

Except for the one, quick burst of a plea over the comms.

“Pidge, g-go. M-Matt needs--”

He’d cut off with a scream.

Like hell was she leaving him behind. And thanks to this base’s moon system outside communications were inoperable and by the team arrived when they didn’t make their check-in in ten minutes... it would be too late.

She had to do something.

But...

But she had no idea how to fight a Druid. Not directly. She had no chance. Not even Keith had been able to do so.

Surprise. She needed the element of surprise.

“Little green Paladin,” and Pidge startled as the Druid’s voice was in her ear. She had Lance’s helmet.

Oh God.

“I know you can hear me. You have one minute until I kill the Blue Paladin right here. But... if you show yourself I’ll let him live.”

Pidge knew that was a blatant lie.

She also knew the Druid would kill Lance.

God.

She took a shuddering breath. One minute. She could work with that.

Her fingers flew.

And fifty-six seconds later a programmed hologram was stepping out while Pidge scurried away.

Please let this work.

“Ah, there you are,” the Druid sneered.

“Please,” ‘Pidge’ said, taking slow measured steps, in complete opposite to Pidge’s actual mad but silent scramble up a series of crates behind the Druid. “I’m here. Don’t hurt him.”

“P-Pidge,” Pidge heard Lance gasp.

She wished she could reassure him.

‘Pidge’ spread her arms wide, showing no bayard was in them. “I’m here,” she repeated. “Don’t hurt him.”

“Fool,” the Druid laughed. “You truly thought it would be that easy?”

“Please,” ‘Pidge’ said. “Don’t hurt him.”

Pidge winced at how repetitive her hologram was but it’s not like she’d had time for much.

She cleared the top box, giving her a direct line of sight down. Her hologram was a few paces from Lance, sprawled on the floor on his back and chest heaving beneath his armor, the Druid behind him with Lance’s helmet in hand.

Completely oblivious.

Pidge grinned sharply.

“You think you can protect him?” the Druid asked, gesturing as a ball of energy appeared in her hand. “You cannot even protect yourself.”

What should have been a direct hit passed right through the hologram.

The Druid’s eyes widened. “Wh--?”

Pidge didn’t give her a chance to finish the thought, already leaping down with her thrusters and bayard extended.

Hers was a direct hit.

The Druid screamed as green light enveloped her and Pidge did not let up on the shock, not until  the figure collapsed in a slightly smoking pile.

“P-Pidge,” Lance stared at her, blood coating the side of his face and eyes wide and trembling slightly himself no doubt from the torture. Pidge felt a wave of fierce protectiveness surge through her at the sight.

“You can’t be the only self-sacrificial idiot,” she told him brusquely to cover up the sheer relief she felt and despite the circumstances she felt her heart warm as Lance’s lips quirked into a smile.

“Now come on,” she knelt down next to him and slung an arm over her shoulders. “We’re going home.”

 

 

 

Writhing -- Shiro

“Shiro, you’re okay! It’s okay, come on man, please, please stop--”

Shiro bared his teeth at the voice as though that would make it stop, would make it go away, would make it stop hurting him.

He pulled futilely against the restraints holding him down, trying to summon up the strength to free himself but everything was hazy tinted with red pain on the edges. He heard a short yelp as he finally got the cursed arm to activate and then there was a screech of, “Pidge! Disable it!” and then just like that his arm went limp.

Shiro howled, throwing his head back and writhing against the metal table of the witch’s design.

She was going to hurt him.

“Shiro, stop, please you’re hurting yourself!”

He would not let her touch him.

Not again.

“Shiro, please! You’re okay! It’s just the poison, man. It’s messing with your head. You’re safe, I promise.”

Promises were all lies.

The voice was lying.

“Coran, where is the--?”

“Here, lad.”

Something pricked against Shiro’s neck.

Needle.

Drug.

No.

No no no no.

“I’m so sorry, Number One,” came a soft, sad voice. “But it’s for your own safety.”

He could feel his body growing heavy, his movements coming to a jerky standstill.

A hand smoothed across his brow with a murmured, “shhh,” although there was no comfort to it.

The witch was cruel like that.

Shiro pulled away from it, whining in the back of his throat, one last pitiful protest before darkness swept him away.

 

 

Touch starved (concept) -- Lance

Just as he had for the past two days, Lance stared at the cryo-pod, arms wrapped tight about himself and prayed that today would be the day Hunk came out.

He knew it wouldn’t be, Coran had said there were still nearly two to go to repair the internal damage that had shredded Hunk’s stomach and intestines and honestly it was a miracle that he’d made it out of that fight alive at all.

Lance clung to that to comfort him, just as he did the sight of Hunk’s face, smooth behind the glass and free of the sheer agony and terror that had filled it as Lance knelt next to him screaming for help.

He wished he had something else, someone else, to cling to.

He felt so lonely.

A hug would fix it, he knew it. Just a touch of human comfort, a pair of warm arms letting him know that no, he wasn’t alone.

But there was no one there.

Maybe once upon a time he’d have gone to Shiro even if the thought was a little embarrassing, but Shiro had been more closed off of late and the last thing he needed on top of being down a Paladin was Lance being clingy. He’d never intrude on Allura like that and while Coran he knew would be absolutely down to offer a hug he’d been wrung so thin caring for Hunk before he’d been stabilized to go into a pod, offering up his own quintessence to tide him over and keep him alive and Lance had never been so so grateful, that he’d been sleeping the better part of two days minus trundling down to check on Hunk and then back to bed.

He’d tried wrangling one out of Pidge but she’d slapped his hands away, and had been immersed in her project (something to help the efficiency of the pods and it was for Hunk so of course Lance couldn’t complain) that she hadn’t noticed his flinch before he’d hidden it.

Lance squeezed his sides tighter, the most pathetic hug the universe had ever seen.

“I wish you were here,” he whispered, voice echoing in the near silent infirmary. “I...I could really use one of your hugs right now, hermano.”

Only the quiet answered.

Lance hugged himself tighter and waited.

 

 

Break (in regards to at their limit) -- Lance  (double length as provided receipt of zine purchase!) 

“No,” Lance whispered. “No. Please. There... there has to be...”

This couldn’t be it.

It couldn’t.

He’d held it together all this time. He’d believed that it was going to be okay, that they would fix it, that... that...

That the last real image he saw wouldn’t be Hunk’s horrified face just before the bomb went off.

The explosion had been but a few feet away and the blast had shattered Lance’s visor, glass pelting his face sinking deep into his eyes.

He remembered screaming.

He remembered pain.

He remembered blurred colors giving way to outlines and then dark shapes and finally pure blackness.

He tried not to remember anything else.

He’d been thrown into a cryo-pod, they told him, as the eyes weren’t his worst injury.

No, that would be the giant piece of serrated metal that had cut through his armor, across entire front and practically both gutted him and pierced his heart. They’d had no choice but to put him immediately into the pod to save his life.

Lance would always be grateful for that.

But...

But the pod hadn’t healed his eyes. They were too far gone. It hadn’t healed the sliced optic nerve, rather sealing it up instead as the pod was programmed to do.

Lance hadn’t given up hope.

It was the only light he had in his now dark world.

Pidge and Hunk had been attempting a bionic eye to bypass the nerves, but despite the Altean technology it just... wasn’t possible. Hunk’s sobbed apology had rattled Lance’s heart.

But he hadn’t given up.

They’d tried the pod again, Coran sedating him first and slicing open nerves and flesh and trying to calibrate it based on stored human biology.

It hadn’t worked. That pain, that guilt he’d made Coran feel had been for nothing.

And now Allura had tried. She’d restarted his heart, surely she could fix this.

She had to.

He...

He needed her to.

A sharpshooter needed his sight. Voltron needed his sight. The universe needed his sight.

He was useless without it.

But...

But...

And even though he knew Allura was right there he startled as her hand descended on his cheek. A few days ago he’d have blushed and stammered at the contact, the proximity.

Now all he did was pull away, sob building in his throat.

He heard her hand drop to her side, a whisper of cloth.

That’s all his life would be now.

“I am so sorry,” Allura whispered. “Lance, I... There is nothing more I can do.”

“Please,” he whispered, begged, pleaded. “Please. Allura, I...”

He knew she couldn’t.

He reached out then, needing something to ground him, something solid and concrete and real.

His hand met air where he thought Allura should be.

It wavered there.

“Oh, Lance,” and then warm hands wrapped about his trembling limb and he felt her draw it close and then against her cheek. “It... it will be all right.”

But he could hear her hesitation, her fear, her uncertainty.

He was broken.

A broken soldier, a broken body.

And he could not contain the sob any longer.

But there were no tears to cry with him.

And as Lance felt dry sockets sting and heard Allura’s soft murmur of false comfort the last bit of hope he had shriveled and died and the rest of him broke with it.

Chapter Text

“I just wanted a dance.”

The alien dipped Lance, hand possessively curled around the boy’s limp torso, in a twisted, distorted version of a dance.

The movement drew attention to the dark red stain spreading across the back of Lance’s shirt and the matching crimson stripe that dribbled out of Lance’s mouth, gravity sending it down his cheek from the hold. An unconscious whimper was torn from him as claws pressed into the wound.

“Let him go,” Shiro snarled, hands bound behind him, feet under him and so useless. At his back he could hear Keith straining at his own bonds, teeth grinding at the effort.

“I just wanted a dance,” the alien said again, pulling Lance up and to his chest, swaying them both to a silent song.

Lance’s head lolled backwards until the alien gently tipped it forward so it rested on his shoulder. Lance’s toes dragged against the ground as the alien turned them slowly in a circle, one dark arm hanging limp at his side and the other bonelessly draped over the alien’s shoulder where he’d placed it.

Lance looked like a marionette whose strings had been cut.

The alien let out a soft, sad sigh as they swayed.

“Just a dance,” he murmured again. “If he hadn’t said no… if you Paladins hadn’t interfered… Well, it wouldn’t have come to this.”  

He spun the two of them around again and another soft plip of blood struck the scarlet patterned dance floor.

Lance’s feet smeared through it.

“But now I’ll have it,” the alien whispered, hand rising to brush Lance’s cheek. “And I guess...” his lips quirked up. “He did save his last dance for me.”

 

Chapter Text

Shiro had been in plenty of bad situations before. The situation he currently found himself in he would not typically classify as such. Sure, there had been a cave-in and he and Lance were trapped in the mine they had been inspecting for the local population, but neither of them were hurt, they had plenty of oxygen left in their suits, and even though the comms were spotty the team was aware of their situation and Hunk was already devising a drill to safely retrieve them and had crackled in that it shouldn’t be more than three hours.

Simple. Safe. Not the worst thing.

Except for Lance.

The younger boy was rarely quiet, rarely still, and had been happily chattering at Shiro up until the collapse.

Now he was silent.

Shiro knew he was unhurt, having checked on him first thing even after Lance’s confirmation of such because he’d seen the way Lance downplayed injuries when they were actually serious. Papercuts or stubbed toes on the other hand the entire universe likely knew about.

Shiro realized he had to revise his earlier statement.

Lance was silent so far as words.

But his breaths were loud and fast as though he couldn’t get enough oxygen and in the dim light cast by the lights on their armor he could see the boy’s hands clenching and unclenching on his thighs and his legs, crossed, shaking.

Something was wrong.

“Lance?” he called gently.

No response.

“Lance,” he said it more firmly, angling away from the front of the cave-in where reception was best and towards the largest section of the chamber where Lance had seated himself in the middle of the floor, even then his knees brushing against the walls.

Estoy bien,” came the barely audible murmur. “Estoy bien estoy bien estoy bien estoy bien.”

Shiro knew very little Spanish but he knew “I’m okay.” He also knew that that was the least reassuring version he’d ever heard.

He maneuvered himself next to Lance, his helmet scraping against the low ceiling and sending a smattering of dust down.

Lance shuddered and his mantra of “estoy bien” picked up once more.

Shiro very carefully placed a hand on the trembling, hunched shoulder.

Lance jerked his head up with a gasp and Shiro could see that the boy’s eyes were mere pinpricks, his face white beneath his tan, and breath fogging up the bottom of his visor.

He looked terrified.

He was terrified.

“Hey, hey,” Shiro murmured, quickly running eyes over Lance again in case he’d missed an injury but saw nothing. “What’s wrong, buddy?”

Lance just shook his head.

The action sent his own helmet brushing the rock above and Lance abruptly stilled.

He couldn’t stop the low moan though from escaping even as he bent back over, curling in on himself.

Shiro had an awful, sudden feeling of the source of Lance’s distress.

“It’s a little cramped in here, huh?” Shiro said softly.

Lance let out something that sounded like a choked sob.

“‘m sorry,” Lance managed, voice high. “‘m sorry.”

“No, no, you’ve got nothing to apologize for.” Shiro rubbed his thumb along Lance’s shoulder and felt a shudder rocket through the thin frame. “What can I do to help?”

Lance shook his head again, this time though it didn’t hit the ceiling from his curled sit. “I, I don’t know. ‘m sorry. I, I just…”

Shiro could make out the faint shine of a tear tracking down the too-pale cheek and Lance trembled again.

What did he do? What would make Lance comfortable?

The idea dinged in immediately. He’d observed how much Lance loved hugs, loved any type of physical contact.

Shiro couldn’t do much about their situation but he could offer that.

“Lance? Would… would you be all right if I hugged you?”

Because he was realizing he had never actually done so outside of group hugs and something clenched in his stomach at that. But this was not the time to dwell on that revelation, especially as Lance gave a nod that was too quick to be casual.

He shifted his hand to stretch around Lance's back and then gently guided Lance’s head down, resting it against his shoulder, and brought his prosthetic around and tapped it against Lance’s closed fist. The gloved hand opened and immediately latched on.

Had it been his flesh hand Shiro knew he would have actually been in some measure of pain.

“This okay?”

A nod against his shoulder.

Gr-gracias, Shiro. And I… ‘m sorry.”

“Nothing to apologize for, buddy. Just sit tight with me, okay? We’ll be out of here soon.”

Lance’s grip tightened on his hand in answer and Shiro squeezed back as tight as he dared.

And together they waited.

Chapter Text

“—rry up! We—”

“—siento, lo siento, I can’t—”

“—unk, hermano, please—”

Hunk groaned as words and sound and static and what was that ringing make it stop it hurt assaulted his ears.

Upon trying to open his eyes colors and lights and pain filtered in and he closed them just as quickly.

The ringing seemed to grow louder.

“—need backup, please—”

The words buzzed both outside and inside his brain.

“—almost there jus—”

“—onna be okay, estás—”

More buzzing.

Ringing.

An explosion rocketed the ground and even with his eyes closed he felt the world turning.

His stomach turned with it.

He was going to be sick.

Hands were on his shoulders, digging uncomfortably into his flesh, and he was being turned on his side just as the acid crept up his throat.

The ringing grew worse, somehow audible over the gasping heaves he could tell he was making.

What was happening?

What was happening what was happening what was happening—?

“—here! Almost there, la—”

“—please, please, I can’t—”

There were so many voices now.

Screaming.

Yelling.

Crying.

Static.

They hurt.

Hunk picked out one from the cacophony.

Lance.

He tried to say it but all that came out was another moan.

The hands were back on him.

Long.

Slender.

He knew those hands.

They were scrambling over his arms, his shoulders, trying to find a grip, trying to lift him.

Hunk tried to tell them no.

They would get hurt.

They couldn’t do that.

He was too big.

“Nglghhhhh,” he managed.

“—ran, hurry, he—”

“—easy, easy, lad—”

More hands joined Lance’s.

Bigger.

They were attached to large arms.

Arms he felt sliding under his back, under his legs.

He tried to protest again.

No one could lift him.

No one had since he was a kid.

He was too big.

Only one person could pick him up now and—

Air rushed beneath him.

His stomach flipped at the movement.

But the arms were large.

Firm.

Safe.

He cracked open his eyes again but there was only a blur of color.

The ringing was growing worse.

“—you’re all right, I’ve got—”

They were moving.

Someone was carrying him.

Cradling him.

The arms were large and strong.

Hunk didn’t know how it was possible, but…

But…

“Dad?” he croaked.

Somehow over all the ringing he heard a sharp inhale.

The hands tightened.

Safe.

Hunk let out a little sigh of his own and rested his head against the large chest.

“Dad,” he whispered again.

Safe.

He drifted off to the lullaby of ringing and screams and his name.

xxx

“He thought you were his dad.”

Number Three’s words were soft.

Coran was not sure if it was because of what they were or the quiet infirmary environment where Number Two was now peacefully resting in a cryo-pod.

A concussion, Coran concluded, from the explosion that had cracked his helmet, but he would be right as ravioli in but a few varga.

That hadn’t made it any less scary at the time; Number Two down inside an active warzone with Number Three at his side but the slender boy could not carry his friend and the others had been unable to come to their aid. Coran had heard Number Three’s pleas, his absolute terror, and he’d made the decision to retrieve them himself. Alteans had immense strength and shape-shifting capabilities; he knew he could easily lift Number Two (Coran still claimed the whole back incident on the Balmera was from being in cryo for ten thousand years; he was still quite the spry fellow if he did say so himself!)

It had been a mad rush back to the castle but even amidst the cacophony of battle Coran had not missed what Number Two had called him.

“Dad.”

He felt something warm blossom in his chest at the same he felt his heart twist at what once could have been.

“Dad.”

Coran tried not to read too much into it. He was not particularly close with Number Two (although he did care for him even though they’d only known one another for a few short movements) and the poor boy had a concussion and was merely confused, but…

But still.

“Dad.”

“You know,” Number Three’s voice was still soft and as Coran glanced over to him from the pod schematics, he was looking tenderly at Number Two as he floated. “Hunk’s a, a big guy. His dad is the only one who… who can still pick him up.”

Dark blue eyes turned and met Coran’s jewel-tones. “Hunk’s hugs always make me feel so safe. And he… he was so scared. And I… I couldn’t… But you, him… What you did there...”

Number Three trailed off.

Coran understood.

He opened his arms, split seamed jacket and all.

Number Three was in them a moment later, practically melted to Coran’s front and his hands holding tight to Coran’s lapels.

Gracias,” came a teary whisper.

Coran just hugged him tighter.

He resolved to give Number Two — Hunk — a large hug, a fullbody one that wrapped the other boy up just like this when he came out of the pod.

Coran may not technically be anyone’s father.

But he felt like one in that moment.

“Dad.”

Chapter Text

It was getting worse.

It was supposed to be getting better.

Lance gingerly pressed his hand against his outer thigh and immediately winced at even that gentle touch.

He was scared to look at the wound where the sort of jaguar-cougar-hyena-looking alien had gotten a lucky swipe in last week during a foraging expedition.

Those claws had been sharp.

Hunk had been with him and helped him back to camp where Lance had washed it out with a water pouch, blotted it dry, and wrapped it with some bandages and then clumsily sewed his underarmor back into one piece before anyone else saw and asked questions. He’d asked Hunk not to say anything; it wasn’t deep (the underarmor had protected him from the worst of it), they didn’t have the supplies for anything more and Lance was absolutely not going to go into their one healing pod for something like this. Hunk had reluctantly agreed as he too knew supplies were low and it was really just a scratch.

But Lance was starting to fear it was more than that. He’d changed the bandages two days ago (those in short supply too, couldn’t afford to waste them) and the skin around the cut was still red and slightly swollen when it should have been healing.

He blamed it on the fact he was still walking on it daily, trying very hard not to limp, and the fact he wasn’t sleeping all that much and eating a diet of mostly food goo, all of which had to be affecting the healing process. Affecting his health too, as he was starting to feel a little sluggish and his cheeks had been a little pink earlier.

Everything was fine though. He couldn’t let it be otherwise.

But even after changing the bandages and washing it out again, it had not improved.

If anything it felt worse.

They’d landed on a quiet planet tonight on their return trip to Earth and Lance had snuck away after dinner to the small lake that Coran had approved as safe. He probably just needed to wash it again, really get it rinsed out more than the water pouches provided, and it would be better.

Lance had left his outer armor behind in Red so all he had to do here was peel off his underarmor. But his entire leg felt like one giant mass of hot pain, far worse than it had even a few varga ago when he’d had to do this for the bathroom break.

Water.

He just had to get it in the water.

Nice, cold water.

Lance finally shimmied out of his pants, leaving him in shorts and his underarmor top, and the bandages.

There wasn’t any blood staining them but even in the dim moonlight Lance could see red streaks creeping up his leg. He prodded one and immediately regretted it as his leg flared and he bit down on his tongue to contain the yelp.

Nope.

Not doing that again.

Instead he brought slightly shaking fingers to where he’d tucked the bandages inside one another and began to unravel them and expose the wound beneath.

His stomach lurched as he caught sight of it.

Worse.

It was definitely worse.

Where it had just been red and a little swollen before it was now dark, almost scarlet, and he could feel the heat radiating from it. But it was the almost yellowish colored pus, crusting around the edges but gooey looking in the center of the cut, that made him really nauseated.

That…

That was not good.

Lance swallowed thickly and averted his eyes from the sight.

Water.

That would help.

Lance limped his way to the lake, shivering as cold water lapped at his toes. He’d planned to wade out until the lake covered the wound, but the ground was slippery rocks and he felt unsteady enough already. He decided it would be best to sit.

When the water was at his calves he decided that was deep enough and slowly lowered himself to a sit in the shallows.

Ripples washed atop his leg and Lance choked on a cry as agony exploded as it struck the cut and he jerked his leg up, holding himself up by trembling arms and his right foot.

Dios.

Dios Dios Dios.

It had to go back in.

He had to clean it.

Whimpering, Lance forced himself to lower his leg back into the water.

It was no better the second time.

He let it sit, hoping it would start to numb in the cool temperature.

The rest of him did so, after a few minutes, but his thigh still felt like an inferno.

Clean it.

He just had to clean it. It would be better then.

He lowered his hand beneath the water to prod at the edge of the wound.

He couldn’t contain the cry that time as his own fingers felt like hot pokers stabbing into him. The claws had hurt less.

Tears blurred his vision and he hunched over, wrapping his arms about his stomach.

It was time to face reality.

Something was wrong.

Despite his efforts the wound was not healing. It was infected. And this was not enough to fix it.

He needed help.

He needed help now.

Lance staggered to his feet, swaying, and turned around for the shore.

Two steps in his leg buckled beneath him.

His breath caught as the world tipped sideways.

He was going to fall.

He was going to fall and it was going to hurt and--

And then there was sudden splashing to his left, a shout of his name.

Lance fell...

Right into a pair of large, familiar arms.

“Hunk,” he whimpered, chest tight and loose all at once.

Hunk was already shifting, lifting Lance out of the water and cradling him. Lance heard the harsh intake as Hunk no doubt caught sight of the infected wound, sickly red in the moonlight.

“Come on, hermano,” Hunk said after a moment, voice thick. “Let’s get you back to the others. I think… I think it’s time Coran took a look.”

Lance managed a nod. Yes. He agreed. This was beyond him now. And… He winced. Hopefully no one would chew him out too much. He hadn’t meant for it to be this bad. He thought he could handle it. He really did.

Hunk seemed to sense that train of thought as he gave him a squeeze. “It’s not your fault,” he murmured. “Everything’s gonna be all right. Promise.”

And comforted by the warm assurance Lance nodded again and Hunk carried him back to camp.

Everything would be all right.

Chapter Text

“Quite the sight, huh?”

Veronica let out a soft hum of agreement as Matt Holt took a seat next to her on the large, flat boulder overlooking the Arizona desert landscape.

And despite the flaming sunset that was postcard perfect she knew it was not the sight he was looking at.

That distinction belonged to the two figures scrambling all about the Green Lion like it was some jungle gym, their words indistinguishable from this distance but their laughter and playful shrieks telling enough. The bucket and polish they had been using earlier to clean the giant ship had been abandoned in favor of their game.

“They make me feel old,” the young man sighed, propping his chin in his hand on a drawn up knee. He let out a hoarse chuckle. “Doesn’t help Katie went and got herself caught in a time loop for three years. Now I’m really her big brother.”

Despite the severity of the statement there was a note of amusement in his voice and Veronica cast a side-eye towards him. She had never really known Matt Holt before, well, before, but she’d never forgotten the photo the news outlets had played when he’d gone missing. Comparing that bespectacled wide-eyed boy to the one sitting before her now she too felt old.

Old and worried.

“He’s going to break his neck,” she remarked, watching as Lance dangled precariously upside down from the Green Lion’s mouth, only one leg hooked inside, and clearly taunting his companion.

“Katie would kill him before she let that happen,” Matt smirked. “Don’t you worry about him.”

But if the other sentence had been lighthearted this one carried a weight.

Veronica traced Matt’s gaze to where his sister, Pidge or Katie she wasn’t quite sure now, was climbing up the Green Lion’s front, a green cord swinging, and Lance was scrambling up and around the Lion’s head with a yelp.

There was something heavy in his eyes.

Something sad.

“All older siblings worry,” she said softly. “Don’t we?”

“Practically a full time job.”

The words were again at odds with the tone.

They looked on in silence as Lance appeared on the other side of the Lion, sliding down one of its front legs and Pidge gave chase a few steps behind.

“They’re like little kids,” Matt said.

“They are little kids,” Veronica corrected. Lance would always be her baby brother no matter how much he might protest, and given the strange time loop phenomena it was even more true now.

“Little kids fighting in a war.”

There was no missing the bitterness then and Veronica pulled her eyes away from the playful scene to focus on the auburn-haired young man.

“Katie’s involved because of me,” he said quietly, still looking forward. “Me and Dad. And because of me, because of Katie, your brother got involved. All those kids did.”

He let out a soft sigh just as Pidge’s victorious shout wrent the air and Lance’s panicked yelp as she tackled him from behind.

“It’s not that they can’t handle themselves. I’ve seen them,” he turned then, a small grin tugging up his face and highlighting the scar carved on his cheek. “They’re amazing. My sister. Your brother. It’s just… I’ve seen what’s out there too. And I just… I know this isn’t over. Not by a longshot.”

Veronica felt an icy tingle down her spine at odds with the dry heat.

She knew it too.

They may have freed Earth but the Paladins of Voltron weren’t bound to one planet.

Her brother was going back out there and while she had not seen space she had seen war. She too knew this was only the beginning and Lance was going to be caught up in the thick of it.

She knew Lance was capable, more than most gave him credit for. She knew he had a team watching his back just as he would watch theirs.

She still worried.

Her family had just gotten him back. They couldn’t lose him again.

Veronica knew that this time… this time they would not be able to pull themselves back up.

“But hey,” Matt’s voice was brighter again, stronger, and Veronica found herself straightening up as well. “They’ve got each other out there. And,” dark honey eyes met Veronica’s icy blue, “they’ve got us too. And while we older siblings may be champion worriers, we’re also champion ass-kickers to anyone who so much as looks at them funny.”

Veronica’s lips twitched into a smile at that. “Isn’t that the truth?”

“Sure is.” Matt rose from the boulder and held out a hand to her. “Come on, debriefs about to start.”

Veronica accepted it, glancing over her shoulder one last time towards the Green Lion. Lance and Pidge had finished their playing and were also en route towards the main building for the debrief. But…

Pidge was riding piggyback and Lance was running and their laughter was still audible.

They were kids.

They were adults.

They were Paladins.

And she and Matt…

They were older siblings.

They were worriers.

They were ass-kickers.

And no matter who they had to fight to protect their younger siblings they would do so.

Always.

 

Chapter Text

Pidge blinked.

She blinked again.

The date on the Earth-converted calendar she’d idly pulled up on her tablet remained the same.

February twelfth.

Matt’s birthday.

He would be twenty-five today.

Was, Pidge corrected with a burst of horror at herself for even thinking that.

Matt was twenty-five today.

Because he was alive. 

He just…

Was just…

The red digits blurred in front of her and Pidge dropped the tablet onto her bed and reached her hands up and pushing Matt’s glasses atop her head so she could rub her eyes.

She wasn’t going to cry.

She wasn’t.

There was nothing to cry about.

Matt was alive. 

He was.

He was fine.

He wasn’t being tortured. Or, or forced to fight in the Arena or being worked to death in some labor camp.

But the images were burning themselves into her mind now and no matter how hard she shoved her palms into her eyes she could see them.

Matt lying on his back, eyes blank and staring up at an indistinct crowd.

Matt collapsed in a mine just like the Balmerans, a Galran standing over him wielding a whip.

Matt curled up, starving and cold and chained in a cell.

No.

Not him.

Not her brother.

Not Matt.

“Stop,” she choked the word out, voice breathy and high as though saying it aloud would make the images cease. “St-stop.”

Matt was screaming.

Matt was bleeding.

Matt was--

“Stop!” she screamed it then, the plea tearing out her throat. “Stop stop stop stop!”

Her pulse pounded in her ears, her eyes burned with unshed tears and her fingers still digging against her eyelids, her chest heaved as though she’d just been sprinting, and the images…

They were gone.

Pidge tentatively lowered her hands and lifted her head, blinking in the near darkness of her room, the lights from bits of tech projects haloed through her tears. 

She let out a shuddering breath and wrapped her arms about her middle, blinking rapidly to clear her vision.

Her room remained.

The phantom images of Matt were gone.

“They weren’t real,” she whispered.

None of that was real.

She was just tired. Voltron hadn’t had much of a break in the last few days, going from mission to mission with training jammed in between and on top of all of that she hadn’t had any new leads from any of the data she’d downloaded for where Matt or her dad had gone in over a week and she felt like she was failing them because she’d come up here to save them and…

And she was no closer than she had been all those months ago when she’d first gotten here.

No, Pidge amended, as she curled over her arms.

She wasn’t just tired.

She was exhausted.

Of, of everything. 

And seeing that date had been too much. 

It was a reminder of her failure, of how long Matt had been up here, had been suffering, and she had nothing to show for all her efforts. 

She was an awful sister.

Matt had always supported her, always been there for her. And when it mattered…

She couldn’t do the same.

Pidge was alarmed to feel her eyes stinging again and even with her arms wrapped tight around her her heart felt like it was trying to split apart.

“M-Matt,” she whimpered, tucking her head down. 

The  glasses slid down to land back on the bridge of her nose. 

Another reminder of him.

Of how much she’d failed him.

Of how much she missed him. 

What she would give to have one of his hugs. Or one of his obnoxious hair ruffles that she secretly cherished, or to hear his laugh, or to see his smile, or--

Her thoughts broke off as the sob worked its way out once more and she moved her hands to cover her mouth, to hold it in. 

She didn’t want the others to hear. They shouldn’t, no one else retired for the evening and all in the lounge watching a movie that Lance had insisted on. She’d been invited but she’d bowed out, actually tired and ready for sleep, but now she regretted it.

But if she’d watched the movie… she’d have missed Matt’s birthday entirely. She wouldn’t have even known.

She really was a horrible sister.

And this time she didn’t hold back her cries.

They shook her entire body, heaving gasps that made her feel like she was going to suffocate as her heart broke into pieces.

She wondered if Matt was in this kind of pain.

She cried harder at the thought.

She’d failed him.

She’d failed him she’d failed him she’d fai--

Someone knocked on her door.

Pidge choked on her next sob.

“Pidge?” 

Shiro.

It was Shiro.

Shiro had just heard her crying. 

“Pidge?” he called her name again. “Can… can I come in?”

What did she say?

What did she do?

She couldn’t let him see her like this, this weeping, pathetic, mess when she’d been trying so so hard to prove to him that she wasn’t some helpless little girl, that she wasn’t just Matt’s sis--

She hiccuped out another sob at the always there reminder.

Matt’s sister.

His failure of a sister. 

“Pidge, I’m coming in,” Shiro announced, and even through the door she could hear how worried he was.

She’d done that.

“I’m,” she choked the word out past the lump in her throat. “I’m fine.”

There was the dullest tap on the door, possibly Shiro’s prosthetic pressing against it. “Pidge,” his voice was even softer. “Can I come in?”

He was just like Matt. He would wait until she gave the okay.

No matter how long it might take.

More tears trekked down her cheeks.

“Y-yes.”

Her door slid open with a whoosh, the soft teal light of the hall flooding in and illuminating Shiro from behind.

Shiro, who was holding a piece of what looked sort of like cake with a single, flickering skewer sticking out of it and lit like a candle.

Birthday cake.

For Matt.

But she wasn’t seeing Shiro then.

She saw Matt, holding out a piece of vanilla cake, trying to cheer up his little sister after a long day at school.

Her lip trembled.

“Oh, Katie,” came a soft murmur.

Gentle.

But not Matt.

And the spell broke and it was Shiro once more. 

He crossed the room, stepping deftly over her piles of clutter, and placed the plate with cake, three forks on it she faintly noticed, on a rare clear patch on her nightstand and then eased himself down onto the bed.

He didn’t say anything but merely held open his arms, an invitation.

Pidge dove into them with a broken sob.

They weren’t like Matt’s arms. Shiro’s were too big, too muscular, and one was heavy and both hot and cold at the same time.

But they were still safe.

Still comforting.

And as they wrapped around her, pulling her in close, if she closed her eyes she could pretend that they belonged to someone else.

“I miss him too,” Shiro’s whisper sounded like a gunshot in the room, silent other than her muffled cries as she pressed her face into his chest.

His voice was thick with his own tears. 

It somehow made Pidge feel better.

“I miss him every day,” Shiro said, one of his hands now rubbing small circles on her back. “I think about him every day. I…  I wonder if…” His hand stilled. 

“But,” he audibly swallowed, “Matt is one of the smartest people I know and I know a lot of really smart people,” he gave her a tiny squeeze. “And he’s not going to give up. He’s out there, Katie. He’s alive. And we’ll find him.”

Pidge knew Shiro was trying to comfort her.

She also knew Shiro never lied. He never made false promises.

She lifted her head, sniffling, and looked up to see warm charcoal eyes staring down.

“You, Katie, are the absolute smartest person I know,” he said, holding her gaze. “And you are going to find your brother. And your dad. And I -- all of us -- will do whatever we can do to help. And no matter how long it takes, no matter how difficult it is, I know you’ll find him.” Shiro smiled softly. “Matt is truly blessed to have you as a sister.”

Pidge sniffled, eyes watering but for a different reason now.

All she had been able to see were her failures, but… but while they hadn’t yet been successes they weren’t failures.

They were attempts.

And she just had to keep trying. Matt had never given up on her. She wouldn’t give up on him or herself.

“You up for blowing out the, er, candle,” Shiro said, inclining his head towards the cake and the skewer that was nearly burned down to the bottom and was resembling a miniature campfire now, “before we light the weird space cake on fire? Make a wish for Matt?

Pidge nodded. “Yeah. I, um…” she leaned forward, wrapping her arms as far as she could around Shiro’s broad back. “Thank you,” she whispered.

He just squeezed her tight.

Pidge ended up needing Shiro’s help to blow it out and even then they still charred the cake some, but even burnt and not really cake at all but some sort of chewy sponge-like edible thing that tasted vaguely of strawberries it was the best birthday cake Pidge had ever had.

And her wish?

She wished that she would find Matt and they would celebrate her upcoming birthday in two months together. 

But it wasn’t just a wish. It was a promise.

And she was going to make it come true.

 

Chapter Text

"You ran away. Maybe you should have just stayed away.”

Lance couldn’t get the words out of his head. They made it ache as much as his throat currently was. Fitting punishment, he thought. He took another painful swallow and hid a dry cough behind his hand, not wanting to call any attention to himself at the near silent campfire.

They’d all said a lot of things up there. Hurtful things. He knew they’d been suffering exhaustion and a lack of oxygen and a growing sense of hopelessness but those weren’t reasons, those were excuses.

“Maybe you should have stayed away.”

He glanced to across the fire where Keith was sitting by Shiro and his mom and petting his space wolf. He looked… okay, all things considered, after all the things they’d said. 

Lance still felt awful. His parents had not raised him to be like that. Especially… especially when he knew what he’d said wasn’t true, not at all. Keith hadn’t run away. He’d left so there was no longer an issue with numbers and math and Lions and Lance had let that stupid, shameful self-doubt and jealousy rear its head. He’d thought he’d gotten past that but… but apparently not.

Lance realized a tick too late that he’d been staring rather fixedly at Keith as the other boy looked up and caught his gaze.

Lance flushed and hurriedly turned away.

He let out another low, painful cough a moment later.

“That doesn’t sound so good,” Hunk’s voice was a gentle murmur that was still too loud in the quiet camp as he took a seat next to Lance on the ground with a low thump. “You feeling okay, hermano?”

“Yeah,” Lance rasped the word. He took a quick swig of water that hurt going down and tried again. “Yeah. ‘m fine. Just… just a long day.”

Hunk gave a soft hum of agreement. 

His eyes did not leave Lance’s face, brow furrowing.

“What?” Lance tilted his head at the third degree.

“You’re flushed.”

Lance made a gesture at the campfire a few feet from them with a raised eyebrow. Yes, he did feel warm but the heat was nice as the air was cool on his back and while putting his armor back on would help he had no desire to wear the bulky pieces after non-stop floating in space for the past two days, give or take, in them.

“Hunk, stop,” Lance protested faintly as Hunk didn’t seem to like that answer and instead reached forward and swept a large hand beneath Lance’s bangs. His frown deepened.

“Hunk?” Shiro called from across the way and Lance felt his face flame again as every eye was drawn to them. “What’s going on?”

“Nothing,” Lance said quickly.

He immediately followed that with shoving a fist over his mouth as another dry cough tried to come out.

“Yeah,” Pidge drawled the word, “that sounds like nothing.”

“I’m just tired,” Lance defended even though his throat did feel like it was made of sandpaper and each word tasted like more sand. “I’m gonna,” he stretched his arms over his head with an exaggerated yawn that holy quiznak that hurt to demonstrate his intentions, “go turn in--”

He broke off with a choked cry as Hunk’s fingers prodded into his jugular.

It felt like someone had just driven a cactus into his lungs. 

“Still nothing?” Pidge asked sarcastically although beneath the words there was an undercurrent of concern. 

“Let’s take a looksie, hm?” Coran was coming over now followed by Allura and then Shiro was getting up and Krolia was too, a frown that matched Keith’s pulling down her expression, and Lance was sure his face was going to light itself on fire with mortification at the unwanted attention. 

He didn’t deserve any of it.

“I’m fine,” he gasped, trying to wave a hand in front of him as though that would ward them off but Coran was pulling out a flashlight from somewhere and Hunk’s hands had clamped down on his shoulders from behind and Lance was well and fully trapped.

Lance let out a sigh, regretted it immediately, and tentatively opened his mouth at Coran’s inquiry. It would just make it worse to fight at this point and once they’d satisfied themselves that it was just a sore throat then--

“Oh, buddy,” Shiro said sympathetically and Lance jerked his head back from where he’d tilted it.

That was not the response he’d imagined he’d get.

Pidge’s face was a mixture of intrigued and disgusted and Allura’s nose had wrinkled rather cutely but the alarm in her eyes negated any positive to it. 

“You’ve got an infection, lad,” Coran filled him in. “Or, so I imagine that’s what all that lovely white and red spots would indicate, not to mention those terribly inflamed tonnels --” “tonsils, Hunk corrected automatically, “--you humans have for reasons beyond me.”

Lance’s eyes widened.

What?

“Space strep I’d say,” Pidge tapped her chin. “Which means…” She took a giant, exaggerated step backwards and when no one else moved she reached forward and hooked her fingers into Allura’s belt and tugged.

“Strep is highly contagious,” Shiro said by explanation as he too retreated a few steps and instructed Hunk to do the same. Lance felt Hunk give his shoulders tender squeeze before he too stepped away leaving Lance feeling even lower than he had before, especially as Krolia’s eyes were kind and Keith’s were sympathetic and he did not deserve it after what he’d said. He faintly wondered if Keith hadn’t told his mom or Shiro all that had gone down because if he had they should all be torn a new one by this point.

“Will it clear up on its own?” Allura asked, looking towards Shiro.

Pidge answered with a shake of her head. “No. It’s a bacterial infection. Penicillin should do the trick and I should be able to whip some up in about… a day, so long as that cryo-pod  we’ve got has incubation capabilities.”

“You know how to make penicillin?” Hunk asked while Coran answered in the affirmative to Pidge’s inquiry.

Pidge looked affronted and Lance hid a laugh. “My mom is one of the world’s best known botanists with an extensive background in chemistry. Of course I know how. All I need is something citrus to get started.”

“We have some gubbiori fruits from one of our last stops,” Krolia put in. “They are aboard the Black Lion.”

“Which is where I’m going,” Pidge said, taking another step backwards although she shot Lance a smile. “Just take it easy till then, okay?”

“Take it easy,” Lance repeated, talking past the pain and going for a smile. “Got it.”

“But…” Hunk worried his hands together. “If Lance is contagious who will take care of him?”

“I don’t need--”

“I will.” 

Lance’s mouth dropped as Keith stepped forward. 

“No, no,” Lance waved a hand as he clambered to his feet as though height would make him more believable. “I’m good. I can--”

He broke off on his own that time as another dry cough choked his throat and a sudden wave of dizziness swept over him.

“You’re running a fever,” Hunk pointed out. “And all of this on top of… of earlier,” and he sent a quick, guilty glance in Keith’s direction too. “You need someone to keep an eye on you . And it has to be in closer quarters than this,” he gestured to the open air, “until you’re on the antibiotic. But,” he turned to Keith, “how are--?”

“Galrans are immune to most bacterial diseases,” Krolia said smoothly. “Keith is a perfect candidate. He can stay aboard the Red Lion with Lance so as not to spread it and can pilot if needed.”

Lance ignored the pang at that reminder and the new guilt at his earlier words.

“You ran away.”

He couldn’t do this. Not for over a day.

And yet Keith was already walking towards him and Allura was wishing him well and Coran offering to assist Pidge and Shiro was nodding his approval and there was no way he knew what had happened if he could still look at Lance like that and before Lance could further protest Keith’s hand had clamped ironclad on his upper arm and he was pulling him towards Red.

“Keith--”

“Don’t talk.”

Lance’s jaw clicked shut without approval at how curt the words were, out of hearing now of the others. 

He deserved them. Anything Keith said--

“Rest your throat,” Keith said, softer, and Lance stumbled on his next step.

He remained silent as Keith steered him into the small room behind the cockpit where Lance’s collection of blankets and quilts he’d managed to save were spilled all over the floor and gave him a gentle shove towards the bed, stooping to pick up some of the bedding. 

Keith still had yet to meet his eyes.

It was a far cry from the hothead Lance had once known, anger and temper always rising to meet Lance’s pushes from his own jealousy and self-worth issues.

Keith hadn’t run away at all.

He’d grown up.

It was Lance who needed to do the same. 

“I’ll go get you some water,” Keith said, dumping the pile on the foot, maintaining a distance now from Lance, “and check if anyone has something honey-like. I have a hot plate on Black that I can use to heat up--”

“Keith,” Lance tried to speak.

“No talking.” Keith took a breath and continued as though there hadn’t been an interruption. “Water for tea or even soup, if we have any. I’ll pull the medical k--”

“I’m sorry,” Lance blurted it out.

Keith stiffened.

“I’m sorry,” he repeated. “I’m sorry. I… I never should have said that.”

Keith remained quiet.

And then.

“It’s fine,” the words were barely a whisper.

“It’s not,” Lance said hotly, throat aching but he ignored it. “It’s not. You didn’t run away. And… and I’m…” he swallowed painfully for more than one reason. “I’m glad you came back. We…” he swallowed again. “I missed you.”

Keith’s eyes widened, something like disbelief crossing his face. As though he couldn’t believe what Lance had just said, especially in contrast to earlier. 

Lance had really missed up. 

But now he could fix it.

He surged to his feet, pushing aside the quilt pile, and before Keith could even think of retreating he’d wrapped him in a tight hug. 

“You can’t get sick,” Lance reminded him as he tightened the embrace. “You… you jerk.”

Keith huffed out a wet sounding laugh. 

A moment later he tentatively returned the hug.

“I’m sorry,” Lance said it again. He’d keep saying it even if each iteration of words felt like he was gargling glass but it was a good hurt, in a way. 

“I’m sorry too,” Keith said quietly. “We… we both said things out there we didn’t mean.”

Lance hummed, accepting the shared apology for what it was.

“We… we good now?”

“Yeah,” Lance gave Keith another squeeze and then released him.“We’re good.”

“Then back to bed,” Keith pointed a finger. “And no more talking. Idiot,” but he said it fondly if exasperated and Lance let out a dry, scratchy laugh followed by a soft “ow.” 

No more talking sounded like an excellent plan. 

And although he knew he’d be pretty quiet for the next couple days, Lance also knew that he and Keith would be hearing each other loud and clear.

And now they always would.

Chapter Text

Keith felt like he was going to be sick.

No, he amended as bile swam up his throat. He was going to be sick. 

He…

He was a Galran. 

His hands shook on the knife that was burning his hand. He wanted to drop and kick away. He wanted to hold close because for so many years it had meant everything to him. 

He was a Galran. 

The, the aliens who had hurt Shiro. Imprisoned him. Tortured him.

He was one of them.

And Shiro…

Shiro was calling his name?

He’d been hit harder than he thought. Because Shiro…

Shiro should want nothing to do with him.

But his voice sounded again, closer, and accompanied by rushing footsteps.

“Keith!” 

Keith couldn’t turn around. He only brought his hand up to his mouth, to hold back the vomit, the sob threatening to tear him apart, to somehow push his heart back into his chest.

That hurt more than any of the cuts and bruises from the trial. 

“Keith!” and a heavy hand landed on his shoulder.

The prosthetic. 

But it’s grip wasn’t harsh, wasn’t cruel. It even avoided the deepest cut. Instead it…

It felt warm. 

Safe.

“Keith,” Shiro’s voice was softer. His other hand came up from behind gently pulling Keith into a hug. “It’s okay,” Shiro murmured. He swallowed, chest rising at Keith’s back.

“We’re okay.”

Keith’s heart stuttered. 

Shiro wasn’t…?

He was still here?

Keith turned in the hold, arms rising up to wrap about Shiro.

He held onto the knife, which didn’t seem to burn so much now.

Shiro just hugged him tighter.

“We’re okay,” Shiro repeated. Keith felt a kiss pressed to the top of his head. 

“We’re okay.”

Chapter Text

“I said,” the man pressed the gun, hot and heavy, against Keith’s head. “Unlock it.”

“Don’t,” Keith gasped, hating how wavery the word came out. 

He blamed it on the black spots dancing in his eyes, starting to block out the hunched form of Hunk by the Garrison safe, keypad open and hooked up to a laptop. 

And he’d thought Galra were the ones they needed to watch out for.

Blood dripped from a gunshot wound on Hunk’s arm and another dark stain was spreading on his shoulder while a giant gash cut across Keith’s chest and his right leg violently shook beneath him as blood gushed from his thigh.

At least…

At least they’d put up a good fight. 

The man’s three accomplices were dead or unconscious; two by Keith’s luxite blade that he had on him no matter what, even a trip to the bathroom in the Garrison, and one by Hunk’s punch.

But not their ringleader, the one who wanted the Galra weapons the Garrison had under lock and key and was mad enough to try and take them by force.

In their defense, they’d gotten pretty close. 

They’d lured Hunk from his quarters, posing as Garrison officials based on the outfits they’d been wearing, but then had to contend with Keith who had come across the scuffle on his bathroom break. Unfortunately they’d gotten in a few lucky hits and when the ringleader had put a gun to Keith’s head and threatened to shoot him right there Hunk had immediately surrendered.

He’d led them to the vault and spent the last several minutes stalling by claiming he wasn’t familiar with the combination. Keith had known though he was no doubt configuring some other hack, reaching out to the team, to the Garrison, to anyone.

But…

But it might not be in time.

And the man was growing more impatient.

And desperate.

Keith blinked exhausted eyes, hoping to will the black spots away. He needed to think, to figure a way out of this, in case Hunk’s plan didn’t work, if no one stumbled across the bodies and hastily wiped up blood trail in the dormitory wing for higher up officers only in the dead of night.

He couldn’t.

He couldn’t focus.

His mind felt sluggish.

His leg ached and his chest screamed.

He realized too slow that’s because the gun had moved.

“Don’t fall asleep now, you halfbreed freak,” the man ground the gun deeper into the wound.

Keith couldn’t suppress the hoarse scream.

At least the blackness had faded out, even if everything seemed to be tinged now in red as pain pain pain thundered in his skull.

“Keith!” he heard Hunk yell and in response the gun heated to a charge, searing raw flesh.

He screamed again.

“Unlock it, fatso,” the man demanded. “Or else I’ll kill this alien freak right now.”

“Hunk, don’,” Keith slurred.

His tongue felt too big for his mouth. He thought he might have bitten it. It would explain the metallic taste sliding down his throat.

“Hurry up,” the man snarled. 

He dug the gun back into the wound.

Keith successfully bit his lip that time instead of his tongue.

The scream stayed locked inside. 

“K-Keith,” Hunk’s voice trembled.

They both knew what the outcome would be if Hunk unlocked it.

They knew what it would be if he didn’t.

Keith felt himself slipping again, his leg giving out and darkness pressing back in. 

“Wake up,” the gun jabbed again, angled now high into the wound as the man had to adjust his grip as Keith slumped down.

Keith had a terrible idea.

It was beyond reckless.

It was the only thing his brain could come up with.

Keith raised a hand up, latched it about the man’s wrist holding the gun.

“What the--?” the man gave a shake as though that could dislodge Keith when he’d made up his mind. “Let go, you freak.”

He pushed lightly down on the trigger, setting the laser to searing again.

“You want me to kill you, huh?” he snarled. Spittle flew, landing on Keith’s cheek.

“N-no,” Keith managed.

He felt out the man’s hand, tracing it, the gun.

The trigger.

“Just…” he found it.

“Sh-shoot me.”

Keith pushed down on the trigger.

His scream was swallowed by the gunshot.

The laser went through Keith’s shoulder, out his back…

And into the man’s chest.

He was dead before he hit the ground.

Keith stumbled forward.

A pair of arms caught him just before he hit the floor.

“--holy cheeseballs, oh my God. Keith. Keith!”

“‘Mkay,” he mumbled, dimly aware of Hunk pulling him to a half-sit and cradling him to his chest.

It was actually quite comfortable.

“You shot yourself!”

“Mmm.”

“This is not a “mmm-ing” moment!”

Keith couldn’t help it.

He laughed.

It hurt and tasted like blood but he couldn’t stop.

He didn’t even know why that was so funny.

“You … you reckless idiot,” Hunk choked out. 

“Hear… hear that a lot.”

“Because it’s true!”

There were voices approaching now and the squawk of radios.

“Over here!” Hunk shouted.

His voice softened as the arms about him squeezed gently. “You’re gonna be okay, Keith.”

“Mmm,” Keith agreed.

Hunk let out a watery chuckle. 

And Keith knew without a doubt everything would be. 

Chapter Text

Don’t be scared, Pidge told herself. That was the most important thing because she needed a level head to focus, to think of a way out of this, and giving into fear would only hinder her from doing so.

The constant clanking and tugging and crying all around her was very detrimental to that plan. 

So too were the shackles digging into her ankles and wrists, linking her to every other person on the chain, that sent her constantly stumbling as they abruptly stopped and started.

The aliens -- the slavers -- seemed to enjoy watching them struggle to walk, cracking whips in the air and sometimes on an unprotected back to speed them up after they were the ones that had halted them at the checkpoint.

Pidge was jerked forward again, no closer to finding an escape than she had been hours before when she’d first woken up and found herself chained, and now just a few aliens away from the cargo ship ramp.

Think.

Think think think. 

Her head ached, whatever they’d drugged her with still in her system, and made her limbs feel as heavy as her mind.

As heavy as her heart at how badly they had failed.

Voltron had gone to assist the Blade with slave trade ring they’d been tracking.

Pidge never imagined she’d end up on the other side of it.

She had no idea where her Blade contact had gone, but as it stood she could not expect them to show.

She was on her own.

On her own while she was drugged, chained, stripped of her outer armor and even her boots, and all of her tools -- her bayard although they hadn’t seemed to realize its importance nor what her armor had symbolized. 

Pidge yanked futilely as though something different would happen.

The definition of stupid was doing the exact same thing without changing a variable and expecting a different outcome.

She supposed she was feeling pretty stupid right now. 

“Come on,” she pleaded at herself, at the cuffs, at the situation, at the other aliens around her who had lost their will to fight long ago.

Nothing changed except she was now only two aliens away from the ramp.

Her fingers scrambled at the cuffs on her wrists, she pushed her left foot atop the right anklet cuff as if that would enough leverage to pop her foot out. 

All she got for her efforts was a stubbed toe and another sharp scratch on the bottom of her foot as it slipped off the cuff.

“Oh ho,” came a chuckle. 

Pidge jerked her head up.

She was at the front of the line.

“This one is pretty feisty still,” the slaver grinned, displaying rows upon rows of sharpened teeth. He reached a hand for her and Pidge bared her own teeth, pathetic as they were next to his.

“Don’t fucking touch me,” she snapped, raising her hands into fists. 

He laughed again as did his partner.

“So much vulgarity in such a tiny body. Let’s see what else there is to it.”

He jerked on the upper chain her hands were connected to and Pidge stumbled towards him.

Hands were on her then, shoulders and jaw and she tried to scream, to kick to hit to do something, anything.

She couldn’t.

The failure as well as the tight, twisting grip on her hair made frustrated tears spring to her eyes. 

She didn’t allow herself to stop struggling.

She would not make this easy for them.

They got a hand inside her mouth to examine her teeth-- she chomped down on it.

They grabbed her arms, feeling out muscles -- she slugged one as hard as she could on his snout. 

They prodded at her stomach -- she kneed one. 

And, she grinned around the stinging cheek as she was open-handed slapped, apparently these aliens were sensitive down there too. 

“Chovili mines,” ordered the partner, holding his nose and amusement gone. His voice darkened. “Break it.”

And that seemed to be the cue for both what happened next and what her fate would be as another set of hands landed back on her right arm, one braced at her shoulder and the other at her wrist and they twisted her arm.

Pidge heard the bone break first.

Then she felt it.

White hot lightning raced up and down her arm, as raw as the scream torn from her throat and she twisted, writhed, to no avail as the unrelenting grip only pressed down harder on broken bones. 

“Just a taste,” a voice, hot and rancid, hissed in her ear as she screamed again, feeling bones grate upon one another. “You’re going to love your new home.”

A hand shoved at her back, sending her stumbling and clanking into the bowels of the ship, where there was no escape, no way out, and no help was going to come.

And Pidge had to admit it now.

She wasn’t scared.

She was terrified.

 

Chapter Text

 

Matt wasn’t hiding. Absolutely not. 

He was just… taking a break. In this very out of the way bathroom that he doubted anyone even remembered its location based on the layers of dust and dirt coating the floor that was in the process of completely ruining the semi-formal clothes he’d been cajoled into for the welcoming gala. He didn’t care; he hadn’t liked the outfit anyway. Garrison clothing felt so constricting after his Rebel wear.

It was what had made his leg start aching and set off this whole chain of events.

Marlea would cover for him, he knew, and with her charming voice -- a dopey grin pulled up Matt’s face from the earlier pain -- they wouldn’t even realize he’d ducked out. 

And with that knowledge Matt began the arduous process of pulling off the almost knee-high Garrison style boots that had the delightful ability of pressing directly atop the thick scar.

Just peachy.

It took more than a few tries and pauses, mixed with grunts and once a whimper that Matt immediately bit his lip on because just… no. 

It’s not that the scar hurt, not really. But his entire leg was constantly stiff and it tended to ache with a bone-deep weariness when he’d been on his feet too long. The boots had made it worse and in the sharpest twinges it almost reminded him of the injury that started it all. 

He tried not to think about that too much.

The boot finally finally released with a faint pop and Matt tugged the whole thing off and chucked it across the bathroom where he planned to never wear it again. 

He tipped his head back on the cold tile, letting it seep into his scalp, his back and shoulders.

It did not cool the still pulsing heat of his leg.

Grumbling, Matt leaned forward and pressed his hands to the thickest part of the scar, just below his knee, and gave it a gentle rub.

It hurt. 

That horrible whimpering noise managed to escape again.

Goddamnit.

The pants were too tight to roll up high enough so he could access the scar as skin on skin contact had always helped the most.

Matt ended up removing his other boot and stripping off his pants, leaving him in boxer briefs on the dirty Garrison bathroom floor and clothed in the Garrison’s finest from the waist up. It reminded him of how when he was younger he would get half dressed just like this before school so he could crawl back into bed and look presentable from the top when his parents came to check on him and he bought himself a few extra minutes of shuteye that way. 

He let the fond memory soothe him as he brought both hands down now to gently circle about the large dark red scar that ran from just below his knee to mid-leg. 

It was a miracle he hadn’t lost the leg.

It was more of a miracle he’d remained alive as he was still surprised the Galra hadn’t thrown him into the arena anyway just to watch the blood bath. He wouldn’t have offered any fight; he was fevered from the infection that had set in, pretty much incapable of walking let alone running, and considering the wound was only on his leg his whole body seemed to hurt from it. He’d have been massacred and couldn’t have done a damn thing about it.

But they hadn’t. They’d thrown him into a cell where he’d found himself at the mercy of the other prisoners where they could easily have let him die; taking his food and water rations or smothering him when his pain became too audible.

But they didn’t.

They’d cared for him, one alien -- Balri, he smiled sadly -- had even acted a bit like a mother. She’d been killed the day his fever had finally broke.

In that cell though he’d ultimately found and befriended -- been adopted, Forian told him with a kind if terrifyingly sharp smile -- by the Rebels and he’d been lucky when they moved him to a labor camp he’d stayed with them.  Several months after that they’d broken out and the rest was history as he learned combat, picked up multiple alien languages, and quickly risen in their ranks.

His leg never let him forget how he’d gotten there. It was always stiff, scar tissue unyielding and given the rudimentary care he’d been given it wasn’t surprising. He’d learned to work with it, compensate for the way it would sometimes seize if he was moving too much.

Most didn’t even know he had a limp. 

It was something he hid well when in battle, when in public. Only his fellow Rebels and now Marlea knew (although he supposed she was a Rebel too although she hadn’t been so when he’d first joined) and Matt wanted to keep it that way. 

Only Marlea though knew of how he’d gotten it.

Oh, of course the other Rebels and prisoners had had an idea; he’d been attacked by the other human, who gained the name of Champion while Matt waffled between delirium and reality. He was blood thirsty, they said. He was a killer. He had no morals.

And Matt had been unable to share the full story -- Shiro had saved him because Matt could not fight, Matt would have been slaughtered in the Arena and Shiro had been protecting him  -- because Shiro’s life depended upon that image and growing fame and the protection it gave him.

Matt often wondered, especially on those long nights at the labor camp, if Shiro was…

If he was okay.

Not just alive but… but okay. Because Shiro had been one of the gentlest souls he knew and having to live up to that image, to, to kill could change anyone. Hearing that Shiro had gone missing  -- the guards unable to control the rumors -- had given him hope. He’d prayed he’d somehow escaped.

When they’d reunited over a year later it had been as Matt had feared; Shiro was different. Colder. But there were touches, flashes, that reminded him of his best friend.

And then he’d found out when he’d arrived on Earth just a few weeks ago that the person he’d met wasn’t really Shiro. 

It was his clone. 

He and Shiro hadn’t really talked much since Matt arrived -- Shiro busy as a captain now -- but the few moments they’d had, while hurried, had been… softer. Gentler.

That was the Shiro that Matt had known. 

He hoped they had a chance to catch up before they split ways as the Rebels were heading back to a main outpost and the Atlas was going to rendezvous with Olkari. 

His leg gave another sharp twinge to bring him back to the present and Matt more gently rubbed his thumbs in circles over the scar tissue. 

He wondered if he could manage to sneak back to his quarters without anyone seeing him as the thought of having to pull back on the tight pants right now made him cringe.

A few minutes, he decided. He’d figure it out then.

A few turned into a half hour.

Then an hour.

The pain was almost gone now and Matt found himself nearly dozing when there were footsteps outside the bathroom.

It was like being doused in cold water and he sat up with a gasp -- there was no way whoever was coming didn’t see the light under the door -- but he wasn’t fast enough to do anything as the door swung open…

And Shiro walked in.

Matt immediately pulled his legs up to his chest, wrapping his arms about his leg and hoping, praying, he’d covered the scar.

Shiro couldn’t see it.

“Shiro!” his voice was pitched high and he fought to bring it under control. “What, what are you doing here, man? The party--”

“Marlea asked me to check on you,” Shiro interrupted. His expression softened as he held Matt’s gaze. “You okay?”

“Peachy, yeah,” Matt went to wave a hand and made an awkward flopping motion as he couldn’t do that and reveal the scar. “Just, uh, you know. Checking out the old haunts. Nostalgia and all that.”

“Nostalgia,” Shiro’s lips quirked up but the smile did not reach his eyes, which were creasing with concern. “In the old administration wing bathroom.”

“Yup,” Matt chirped.

Shiro did not look convinced and his gaze was drifting between Matt’s face and his leg that in hindsight maybe flinging his arms around wasn’t exactly subtle when trying to hide something.

“It’s all good, really,” Matt tried to reassure him, bring his attention back up. “Just needed a break; those galas get stuffy, you know?” And he knew Shiro did; he’d never liked the fame of before and certainly not now. That hadn’t changed and deflection was good, very good.

“And you took off your pants and boots because…?”

Shiro phrased it lightly but the concern was only growing more intense.

And the deflection had massively failed.

“Hot,” Matt said the first thing that came to mind. “The tile is nice and cool and--”

“What’s wrong with your leg?”

“Wrong?” Matt’s tone was high again. “Why would--?”

“Show me.” 

Shiro’s voice was the commanding tone of the Garrison officer and former Black Paladin but it was the softer side of his friend and… and there was a waver of fear, of knowing without wanting to have it confirmed what was hidden beneath Matt’s hands.

“Shiro, it’s--”

“Matt, show me.”

He had no choice but to do so. 

Matt huffed out a sigh he didn’t feel and lifted his hands. 

The scar somehow looked darker than normal under the fluorescent lights.

“There,” Matt rolled his eyes as Shiro stared, trying to bring levity back to the situation, hoping beyond hope Shiro had taken a stupid pill that morning and wouldn’t piece it together and they could move on. “Happy n--?”

“I did that.”

And fuck.

Shiro was barely audible. He swallowed. “I… I did that. I…” his eyes drifted from the scar to Matt’s face before he looked away.

“I hurt you,” he breathed.

Well fuck. 

What did he do?

Deflection wouldn’t work and Shiro was like a dog with a bone; he wouldn’t let it go and he wouldn’t be satisfied with an “it’s all right” because Matt knew Shiro (or, well, he had and hoped he still did) and Shiro wanted, needed, to take responsibility. Only then could he move forward.

So Matt gave it to him.

“Yeah, you did.”

Hurt and guilt flashed across Shiro’s face as expected.

“And you saved me too,” Matt followed up with before those words could percolate too far. His voice quieted. “You saved my life, Shiro. We… we both know what would have happened if… if I’d gone out there.”

“I hurt you,” Shiro whispered again.

This wasn’t working.

“Come here,” Matt shifted, gesturing with his hand.

Shiro immediately started forward, crouching down.

Matt socked him in the jaw.

Shiro ended up on his rear with a thump, surprise more than pain crossing his face.

Matt wished he could say the same. His hand hurt. Was Shiro’s jaw made of metal too?

“I hurt you now,” he said, shaking out his hand. “We’re even.”

The barest twitch pulled up Shiro’s lips as he glanced to where Matt was still cradling his hand and clearly the one who had been hurt in that exchange.

“Don’t say anything,” Matt warned. 

And that brought out a weak laugh as Shiro shook his head. 

“I mean it,” Matt continued. “Nothing. There’s… there’s nothing else to say. Okay?”

Shiro followed the switch, his smile dimming.

But then he nodded.

“Okay,” he agreed quietly.

“Excellent,” Matt beamed. “Now help me up. Gently,” he cautioned as Shiro’s super cool but super strong robot arm moved to lever behind his back. 

“I’m assuming you’re not going back to the party?” Shiro asked, carefully helping Matt to his feet, slinging one arm over his shoulder.

“And have to get back into those pants and boots? Fuck no.”

Shiro chuckled. “Fair enough.” 

“But I haven’t had enough to drink considering I was planning to get plastered tonight,” Matt said. “You still got that hidden sake stash?”

“They never found it,” Shiro said by way of answer.

His eyes were dancing as they met Matt’s.

“Sounds like my kind of party,” Matt grinned. “To stupid life choices?”

“To hauling your drunk ass back to Marlea in the morning while I have to go to a council meeting sober?”

“I’ll drink to that,” Matt laughed.

“Jerk,” but Shiro was laughing and the pain was gone from his eyes to be replaced with only exasperated fondness. 

Matt’s leg was still twinging as they slowly walked, but it was a good kind of hurt.

It was a reminder of what they had survived. Together.

And now Shiro was back at his side. 

And he would suffer any pain to keep him there. 

Chapter Text

This was not happening.

This could not be happening.

But reality was cold.

And Coran’s blood was hot.

It was between Allura’s fingers, soaked into her sleeves, covering the front of her gown.

It would not stop.

More and more scarlet kept pushing its way out and all Allura could do was hold the balled up napkins to his stomach where he’d taken the shot meant for her.

It wasn’t enough.

Even had they been able to get to a pod in the next few minutes, somehow navigate through the battle waging behind them against who she had thought were new allies but were in the service of the Galra, it would not be enough.

Coran was…

He was...

“Coran, please,” her voice broke. “Please. Please, I cannot…”

She could not lose him too.

The grief of losing her father, her planet, her home, was still just phoebs old and fresh even if it had happened ten thousand decaphoebs ago to the rest of the universe.

“Princess,” Coran murmured.

He sounded so weak.

A cough shook him and blood dripped down his chin. 

One of his hands lifted into the air, hovering there.

With a cry Allura abandoned the useless compress and caught it between her own.

Words that had always come so easily to her were lost.

What could she say right now?

She instead clutched his hand and pressed it to her heart as though she could will her own heartbeat into him.

“Do…” Coran’s voice caught. “Do you r-remember…?” he broke off with another bloody cough. 

Allura’s tears splattered against his face. 

“When we f-first… met?” he managed. Allura could barely see him through her tears as he told the familiar story.

Please.

No.

She couldn’t lose him.

“Your father… he put you in my arms and you…” Coran’s lips twitched into a smile. “You ripped off half of m-my moustache.”

He let out a gurgling laugh that revealed blood-stained teeth.

“It was… was the happiest I’d been in… in a long while.”

His eyes opened then; glassy with pain but they still managed to focus on her. 

“Thank you.”

“Coran, please,” Allura whispered. “Please. Stay with me. Please do not... “ Decorum flew out the window with her next sob. “Please don’t go.”

“Allura…” Coran’s fingers curled ever so over hers. 

“Please,” she begged. 

No other words would come.

The blood was beginning to slow.

Coran’s hand was growing cold.

He let out another cough, a shudder.

He must be in so much pain. 

More tears splattered his face, his beloved moustache. 

“Allura,” he said her name again. He swallowed. His eyes locked on hers. “I will never leave you. I will always be… be…”

His hand spasmed and Allura clutched it tighter, knowing what he was trying to say.

To promise.

HIs last words. The last comfort he could offer.

Her tears somehow fell faster.

This was…

He was really going to…

She swallowed back her childish plea.

She would not let him go hearing only her desperation. 

He would hear only her love.

“And you… you shall always be in mine,” she whispered, bringing their hands back to her heart even as she bent down, pressing a kiss to his brow.

An Altean promise between family.

Coran smiled.

His eyes slipped back shut.

His hand grew limp between her own.

And Allura bowed her head over his body and sobbed. 

Chapter Text

“So now we just… wait?” 

“Quiet,” a hand cuffed the back of Matt’s head and he let out an overexaggerated “ow” that earned him a second hit. 

“Gonna take that as a yes.”

“The trade is for your life, Rebel scum,” spoke the other alien. “Your tongue is not required.”

Matt swallowed down his next comment for the moment as he would very much like to keep all of his body parts attached and while the aliens hadn’t resorted to violence (unless one counted the whole tranquilizer dart thing that had wound up with him captured in the first place and now the head knocking) given the way the one in the corner and who had just threatened him kept twirling a knife Matt wouldn’t rule it out.

If he were a bad guy asking for a ransom he’d want to rough up the hostage.

He still wasn’t entirely sure what they were hoping to get from the Rebels or why they’d nabbed him; Commander Plarion was a much more valuable target and they hadn’t even given him a glance in the ambush, gunning for Matt and he’d led them away from the rest of the team. 

All he knew was they’d sent some missive that they had “Matt of the Rebels” (he hadn’t given them his name but it had confirmed they knew who he was and hadn’t pursued him by accident and he was trying not to focus on the why to that question because it couldn’t be good) with terms unknown to him of his release except they had twenty dobashes  to respond or his life was forfeit. Not a very good practice Matt thought for a hostage but he wasn’t a bad guy so who knows, maybe this was standard protocol.

Matt tilted his head back against the uncomfortable chair and let out a deep sigh.

One of the things he’d learned from being a Galra prisoner was that the bad guys loved a reaction. They thrived on fear and pain and submission and giving it to them only made them hungry for more. Granted, complimenting them (and Matt had been sincere, the Galran’s sideburns were impeccably groomed) tended to end up with him on the ground nursing some new bump and bruise, but they never lingered or dealt out more than their pride demanded if he didn’t give them what they wanted.

So Matt wouldn’t let these aliens -- Norians, not aligned with either side but greedy to the core in the pursuit of knowledge with a special love of technology -- see him as anything but cool, calm, collected and bored out of his mind even though…

Even though as much as he told himself not to worry he was worried.

Why had they taken him? If it was for his coding and translator abilities then why would they put up a ransom instead of just trying to use him? Plarion had been right there. He was the far more valuable target and would be the one the Coalition might be willing to negotiate for.

Matt?

He wasn’t a nobody but he wasn’t a somebody either. 

Olia would of course see him home safely but if they didn’t get him back… well, there were few on the Coalition as adept as himself at languages and of course his hacking and coding skills, but they would manage. He’d be a casualty of the war, an acceptable loss, and they would move on.

So this had to be something more.

But what?

Matt tested out the strength of the restraints once more under the guise of trying to find a more comfortable spot, but the cords were unforgiving on his wrists and ankles and held him successfully to the chair, which he’d already discovered was bolted to the floor.  Unless he suddenly gained the ability to become intangible he was stuck.

A distinct beep sounded in the room and Matt’s was not the only head that turned to look at the large video screen. 

Not even fifteen minutes. Maybe the ransom requested had been reasonable?

But as the transmission popped up Matt’s stomach dropped.

The Norians hadn’t contacted the Rebels.

They’d contacted Voltron.

Princess Allura was standing at attention on the screen with Shiro and the Altean advisor Matt wanted to call Cantaloupe but he knew that wasn’t right next to her and behind them…

Matt kept his face blank even though Katie wasn’t able to do the same.

And he had a sickening, horrible feeling what the cost of the ransom was.

Under no circumstances would he allow it to be paid.

Matt opened his mouth but before he could get a word out he was being dealt another cuff to his head, this one harder than before. His ears rang with it and he bit his tongue to keep the groan inside.

He couldn’t let them see his pain.

He couldn’t let Katie see him scared.

“Voltron, greetings,” the leader of the group of Norians smiled.

It was not a nice smile.

“Captain--”

“Altean,” the Norian cut her off. “I made it very clear who was to be responding to our request. Unless you wish for violence in front of the little girl--” Matt winced internally as he could see Katie bristle even as she held her tongue “--you will do as we asked.”

There was a pause and then Katie stepped forward to the front of the screen although the princess remained right behind her and if looks could kill the Norian would be a pile of ash. 

“Do you know this Rebel, little Paladin?”

There was no use denying it; they looked far too similar. 

Katie let the silence answer for her.

Matt barely held in the gasp as a hand descended atop his head and twisted his hair.

“I asked,” his eyes were watering at the force of the pulling, “do you know who this is?”

“Matthew Holt,” and he was so proud of her as voice didn’t waver the slightest bit. She wouldn’t give them what they wanted either.

Even if...

“And what is his relation to you?”

He could hear her swallow. “My brother.”

“And…” the hand yanked back on Matt’s head to bare his neck and he felt something cold and sharp press on his throat. 

Ah.

There was that knife.

He resisted the urge to swallow.

“How much do you love your brother?”

“What do you want?” Katie’s voice was harsh but Matt had literally known her since she was a day old and could hear the barest waver beneath it.

She was scared.

He was making her scared.

He wanted to say something but the knife was pressing dangerously on his throat and just really, really not a good idea. 

But…

He wasn’t sure he’d get another chance.

He compromised, carefully lifting his hand as high as it could go in the cuffs. He bent his ring and middle finger down and held it up.

I love you. 

Sign language had not been one of Matt’s first languages but it was his favorite and he’d taught Katie a number of signs. He would flash this one to Katie as she sat at the school bus window; his silent sign of support for what he knew would be a rough day socially ahead for her.

He heard the barest intake of breath.

She’d seen it.

“And I thought you were supposed to be smart,” the Norian said, although amusement colored his words and not noticing the exchange going on next to him. “Exactly as the missive said. A life for a life. You for your brother.”

What Matt had feared the most.

He shook his hand back and forth.

No.

Never.

“Deal.”

Katie never had been good at listening.

“No,” Allura’s voice sounded then, sharp but sad and Matt felt a surge of relief. Of course Allura wouldn’t allow Katie to do something so stupid. He was the entire reason she was up here in the first place. He would never forgive himself for bringing her into danger and could not live with himself if she tried to take his place. 

“Allura,” Katie’s voice was pleading and Matt felt his heart twist at the sound. “I--

“I think the little Paladin--” 

“There is no deal,” Allura snapped, cutting everyone off. Matt couldn’t hear her next words, a murmur no doubt to Katie. Louder she said, “We will not consider the ransom price as suggested. We are willing to nego--”

“There is no negotiation, Princess ,” the Norian sneered her title. “The little girl for her brother. Otherwise…”

Matt couldn’t hide the gasp as the knife nicked flesh and he felt blood trickle down his throat.

“Allura, please,” Katie’s voice was thick. “Please let me go. They’ll kill him.”

“Pidge--”

“We must let her go,” Shiro spoke, his voice oddly flat. 

Matt’s eyes widened.

Shiro was talented at many things. 

Acting was not one of them. And for him to sound like that…

They had a plan. 

He’d seen what happened with Zarkon, the trick with Lotor and the black bayard. 

He fought to keep his face impassive with a touch of fear. It wasn’t hard with the knife still digging into his jugular.

“Shiro--”

“Allura, please,” Katie interrupted the princess. “Please. I’ll… I’ll be all right. I promise.”

“Pidge…” Allura’s voice was softer.

Matt could feel the Norian’s chuckle. “We have an agreement then? One varga from now on Lalia’s moon?”

“If you harm one more hair on my brother we won’t,” Pidge threatened, the fire back in her voice. “You got that?”

“As the little Paladin wishes,” came the amused reply and Matt abruptly felt his head being released and the knife lifted. “We will see you in one varga.”

Matt  jerked his head up to meet Pidge’s gaze before the transmission was cut.

Her hand was pressed to her heart in the same position he hadn’t taken his out of.

I love you. 

And…

She tipped her glasses with her other hand, sending light cascading across one lens.

A wink.

Matt hid his laugh in the sound of a sob as he hunched over, letting his bangs shield his eyes.

He had a role to play now too.

And he would give a star performance of weepy, captured, big brother who had just completely and utterly failed his sister.

He took one last breath to hide his laughter.

And he began to sob. 

Chapter Text

“No no no. Shiro, don’t you dare.”

Pidge’s voice was high with pain but equally breathy with desperation and horror as she dangled in open air with only Shiro keeping her from plummeting to her death.

And she could tell from the tensing of his arm, from the shuddering breath as he steeled himself, what he wanted to do.

He couldn’t.

She couldn’t let him.

She tried to bring her right arm up but white hot pain shot through her shoulder -- broken or dislocated collarbone, God, fucking God -- and she barely swallowed down the resulting scream.

There was no way she was lifting it where it hung as deadweight and doubly no way it would be of any help.

God.

Her other hand was just as useless, clamped inside of Shiro’s prosthetic.

She was pretty sure he’d broken her fingers.

She didn’t care.

“Don’t you fucking dare,” she repeated as though that was enough to change Shiro’s mind.

“Pidge--”

“Shiro, please,” it came out a sob. “Please. Please.”

There had to be another way.

She didn’t know what it was but there had to be.

Her mind raced through all the details again, hoping, praying, that something would click.

They were in their civilian clothes; no jetpacks or bayards.

They were hanging off the cliff face that had collapsed beneath them without any warning.

They’d been hanging there for almost a varga. No one expected them back for another four.

The cliff was crumbling, bits of dust and tiny rocks peppering them intermittently. 

Shiro’s strength was fading.

It was a miracle he’d held on as long as he had; flesh fingers rubbed raw from digging into the rough rock and holding all of his body weight plus Pidge’s up by that one, single arm.

And Pidge…

Pidge was literal deadweight.

But Shiro would never let her fall.

At least…

At least not on her own.

Because even had Shiro been able to summon up some inane strength to keep them there until rescue… 

The cliff was not so willing.

Based on the amount of rocks shifting now, the way Pidge could see the underside from where Shiro was holding on starting to spiderweb…

They had minutes.

And Shiro, damn him damn him damn him, had come to a decision.

There was a lower shelf to their right that while Pidge couldn’t climb up to the top with her busted arm was more than large enough for her to wait for a rescue that would eventually come.

But to get her to it Shiro would have to swing her over.

The extra motion he would have to genrate to propel her would without a doubt send the cliff crumbling beneath his hand. 

He would fall.

He would die. 

And yet…

Yet if they did nothing…

They both would.

The only other option was that Shiro let her fall. He had enough strength to pull himself up. 

But he would never do it.

She was both eternally grateful and livid at the fact. 

“Katie,” Shiro’s voice was soft.

Tired.

Tears stung her eyes that had nothing  to do with pain or rock dust. 

He was using her real name.

No.

No no no no.

“Shiro,” she sobbed his name. “Please.” 

This couldn’t be happening.

She couldn’t…

She couldn’t lose him too.

Not again. 

Please.

“I’m sorry,” she barely heard him over the crack as the rock started its final protest, “I’m so sorry, Katie.”

She heard him swallow thickly.

“Tell… tell Keith I love him.”

“Shiro, no, please--”

“And I’m so proud of him. And of, of everyone.”

“Sh--”

“And tell Matt and your dad I said hello. I know… I know you’ll find them.”

Please.”

This couldn’t be happening.

Shiro couldn’t...

This wasn’t…

And yet she could do nothing, as helpless as she was useless, as Shiro began to sway them back and forth, momentum building with each pass.

She could hear how much it hurt him; low groans torn from his throat, and felt the way his prosthetic tightened about her hand that didn’t hurt her at all anymore. 

He didn’t stop.

Blood droplets were falling with rock dust now, hot and wet as they hit her face, as ravaged fingers grated on the rock.

“Shiro,” she sobbed, wind starting to brush her face, as the ledge loomed closer and closer, and as the cliff trembled. “St-stop.”

She knew he wouldn’t.

He couldn’t.

But she couldn’t…

She couldn’t lose him.

“Love… love, you, Katie,” Shiro gasped out.

And Pidge knew this was it.

There was no pleading, no begging or tears or prayers or hope or logic or anything that would stop what was about to happen. 

“I…” she could barely get the words out. “I love you too.”

Shiro’s hand squeezed hers.

There was a rumble.

A roar.

A scream.

And then Pidge was flying.

She smashed, landed, on the rock shelf.

And Shiro…

Shiro didn’t. 

Chapter Text

Hunk clung to the toilet bowl, arms shaking and stomach rolling no matter how much he’d already heaved out.

Lance was all right.

Lance was all right.

Or he could have crashed.

It could have been a trap.

The Galra could have him right now and they could be torturing him and--

Hunk gagged over the toilet, the sound mixed with a sob.

He wanted Lance.

He needed Lance.

He knew how excited Lance had been to go on the solo excursion with just Coran -- just a supply run, nothing crazy, there weren’t Galra there he was fine but what if he wasn’t? -- and Hunk was happy for him but… but…

Deep breaths, Hunk told himself. It was okay. Everything was okay. Just hold the breath in and let it out.

He couldn’t.

He couldn’t breathe.

He made a choking noise instead and his hands slipped off the toilet rim as he slid sideways.

Black spots danced in his vision.

God.

God. 

He couldn’t breathe.

He was going to die.

Oh God he was going to die. 

It made his chest seize more. 

He was going to die he was going to die die die die die die die--

Something slammed against his back and Hunk spat out a mouthful of bile, the sound dully splattering all over the toilet and floor. 

But air.

There was air.

And…

And someone was talking.

“--there you go, buddy, you’re okay, deep breaths.”

Breaths.

Breathing.

Because he couldn’t breathe because Lance could be being tortured or dead--

What Hunk faintly realized had been a hand slammed against his back again.

“C’mon, Hunk, you’re okay, you’re okay, breathe in with me, buddy.”

Lance used to do breathing exercises with him when his anxiety got so bad he had panic attacks.

But Lance could be dead.

He could be dead and Hunk would be up in space without him and he’d never see him again and what he would he tell Lance’s parents and oh God Lance was dead he was dead and--

He couldn’t breathe again.

The hand hit his back again, another gasping inhale torn from him.

The hit had been harder that time.

Metal.

Shiro’s prosthetic.

Focus.

Focus item.

Focus focus focus.

Hunk nearly gave himself whiplash as he turned, desperate, flailing hands reaching out and latching onto metal. He could feel Shiro startle and he was sorry because he knew that Shiro didn’t really like people touching his arm and he didn’t talk about it and he really shouldn’t be touching it but it was cool and warm and smooth and no this was wrong he needed to stop he needed to let go he--

Shiro pushed his arm in Hunk’s direction.

“It’s okay, here, look, it’s okay, Hunk, you want to see my arm?”

Hunk may have choked out a yes, he wasn’t really sure it was intelligible, but Shiro made a soothing noise and told him it was all right and Hunk’s fingers skimmed over the divets and panels and traced the joints of the fingers and up to the stump where it met flesh beneath Shiro’s shirt. He catalogued how it was cool on the outside plating, warmer on the the connections, the metal slightly rough on the tips of the fingers from use that some polish and a little buffing would fix right up.

He became more and more aware of Shiro talking softly, nonsense things but they were calm and nice and it was so nice of Shiro to let him look at his arm like this, and his pulse wasn’t drowning out the rest of his thoughts and it was okay and Lance was okay and he was okay.

He was okay.

Hunk sucked in a large breath and let it out with a shudder.

There.

Breathing.

Okay.

His chest still felt tight though and he could feel snakes running beneath his skin.

The scent of his own puke wafted back at him as he took in another inhale and Hunk moaned as his stomach did another flip.

“Let’s get you out of here, huh?” Shiro posed gently. “The kitchen sound okay?”

Kitchen.

A safe place. Warm and homey even if it was full of alien equipment and alien food because they were in space and Lance was out there in space and he could be--

Hunk sucked in a gasping breath before he couldn’t breathe again.

“Okay, no kitchen,” he heard Shiro say. “Maybe the lo--”

“Nglh,” Hunk moaned, clutching Shiro’s hand tighter.

He wanted the kitchen. 

The kitchen he’d originally gone to to distract himself with baking before the urge to puke had overtaken him and he’d raced to the hallway bathroom where he’d been for he didn’t know how long.

“Okay, kitchen,” Shiro changed course easily and Hunk felt a surge of gratitude for how… how understanding and nice Shiro was being and he’d always admired him but still not to the degree Lance did and Lance could be dyi--

Shiro’s arm slid under Hunk’s armpit and the sudden pressure startled Hunk out of the spiraling thought and with a heave and a strength Hunk had not expected considering his size Shiro had him on his feet.

He was still holding onto the prosthetic.

“All right, to the kitchen we go,” Shiro gave him a gentle nudge towards the closed door. 

Hunk took a wobbly step and then another.

Shiro reached past him for the door and then he was being guided down the hallway to the kitchen and to its table.

The table where Keith, Pidge and Allura were sitting.

Apparently it was dinner time.

Which meant he’d been in the bathroom for almost an hour.

Hunk felt his face darken at their questioning looks as he still clung to Shiro’s hand and Pidge’s at large “Hunk puke again?” but he still couldn’t let go and if Shiro hadn’t been steering he wasn’t sure he’d be moving as he was gently but firmly directed into a chair.

“There we go,” Shiro said, giving his shoulder a squeeze and bypassed the others for a moment even though he couldn’t miss Allura’s inquiry to Pidge of “Again? Is he ill?” and the concerned look being thrown his way that he knew would disappear once the Altean princess realized he wasn’t actually sick-sick. “How about a glass of water?”

Hunk whimpered and tightened his grip on the metal hand.

Not yet.

“Okay, I’ll stay right here. Keith, could you…?”

Keith got up with a screech and Hunk winced at the sound but that uncomfortableness was thrown by the surprising apology from Keith and a fleeting but kind touch on his opposite shoulder.

A moment later a water glass was being placed in front of him along with a damp cloth no doubt to wipe his face.

Hunk was touched by the considerate gesture.

He couldn’t reach for it, the noise it would make too loud in the otherwise silent kitchen.

He wished someone would say something.

It sounded like a tomb.

A tomb like the one that--

He made a choking sound and violently shook his head.

No.

Lance was all right.

He was all right.

It was easier to remind himself of here, surrounded by the others and familiar and warm kitchen walls and appliances.

“Hunk?” Shiro’s voice was so kind. “Do you want to talk about it?”

Hunk shook his head again.

No.

It was embarrassing.

He was a Paladin of Voltron, a literal hero, and he had an anxiety attack over the thought of Lance dying on a boring, routine supply run.

“Talk?” Allura echoed. “Should we not be seeking medicine?”

“Ah, no, Princess, I don’t think so,” Shiro said. 

Hunk couldn’t see her expression but he could hear the frown of confusion. “Then if he does not require medicine and therefore is not ill why does he exhibit the symptoms of illness?”

“It’s a… different sort of illness,” Shiro said and Hunk jerked his head up, eyes widening.

Shiro…

Understood?

No one outside of his family other than Lance had ever really understood. It was always an inconvenience, an eye roll, a look of disgust at his vomiting that was a regular effect of his anxiety.

Shiro gave him a soft, encouraging smile. 

“If it is a type of illness is there a medication or treatment that proves helpful?” Allura mused, her gaze flicking between Hunk and Shiro.

Hunk felt something loosen in his chest at the lack of judgement on Allura’s part.

“Lance,” and it was the softest Hunk had ever heard Keith say the other boy’s name. Dark purple eyes locked onto Hunk’s honey brown. “Lance helps, doesn't he?”

Hunk managed a nod.

“And…” Pidge said slowly, a touch of something that sounded like guilt coloring her tone, “and Lance isn’t here right now.”

Hunk winced.

“And you’re worried about him,” Shiro finished quietly. “Aren’t you?”

Hunk jerked his head.

He knew.

It was ridiculous. 

He could see Allura frowning, head cocked so as she no doubt thought about what Lance was currently doing. Not fighting Galra, not infiltrating, not on a mission. Just... getting supplies. With Coran. On the friendly planet below.

A moment later though her face was smooth with a touch of gentleness Hunk did not often see on the princess. “Lance is all right, Hunk.”

Hunk shuddered at the words, ones he had been trying to say aloud this whole time.

“Lance is all right,” Pidge repeated. 

“Lance is all right,” Shiro said, giving their conjoined hands a squeeze. 

Hunk let out another breath at the mantra.

But…

“Lance is all right,” Keith said quietly. “And you know it too, Hunk. Say it.”

Hunk’s chin trembled.

“Say it,” Keith said again. “Say he’s all right.” 

“L-Lance,” Hunk stuttered out, squeezing Shiro’s hand for support. “Lance is… is all right.”

And just like that he felt like he could draw in a full breath.

“Lance is all right,” he said it again. “He’s all right.”

“Yes he is,” Shiro said gently. “And so are you. Feeling better, buddy?”

Hunk nodded.

Yes. He was.

The attack had passed.

“Good,” Shiro gave his hand another squeeze. “How about we all prepare something for dinner other than goo? We can make it a little project for all of us and then we can surprise Lance and Coran when they get back.”

Hunk felt his eyes watering at the suggestion. We. Us. A distraction. A focus. 

“Thank you,” he whispered. 

“We’ve got you, Hunk,” Shiro said gently. “It’s all right.”

Hunk smiled, watery but genuine.

Yes.

Everything was. 

Chapter Text

Lance + Sleep Deprivation

(Timeline notes: set during Garrison, pre-canon)

His eyes fully closed against the soft but still too bright lights in the Galaxy Garrison library, hand loosening around the pencil.

It fell with the barest tap.

And Lance jerked awake with a gasp, elbow smashing into the table and he barely caught himself before he slid out of the chair.

No.

No sleeping.

Not until he understood the Nevarra engine system back to front because if he didn’t he was going to fail his upcoming exam and he’d already been made cargo pilot and if he couldn’t prove he could do this then they might take even that away and then he’d be nothing except as stupid as everyone always said he was and he’d disappoint Mamá and Papá and Veronica and why was this so hard it was an engine system why couldn’t he get this why was he so stupid?

 

Pidge + Stitches

Pidge glanced down at her leg where the cloth was more than blood-soaked, as were her gloves she was pushing against it.

She could feel her strength flagging, could feel a sort of haziness creeping into the edges of her vision and the desire to just sleep.

And as scary as the hugeass needle was… that was more so.

“Hey,” Keith’s voice jolted her from where she realized her head had been drooping. “I told you to keep pressure on it.”

“I…” Pidge looked down at where her hands were merely resting against against her leg and they only twitched when she tried to direct them to do so. “I…”

Keith picked his way through the large limbed tree they’d taken momentary refuge in and crouched at her side.

Fire flared in her leg as he pushed down atop her hands and she choked on a scream, muffled as Keith plastered his other hand over her mouth.

That’s right.

No screaming.

No extra noise.

No attracting the hungry wildlife anymore than she already was.

“I’m sorry,” Keith said softly as she hiccuped on a sob she couldn’t fully explain behind his hand. Bright purple eyes met hers and she could see the apology reflected in them, the guilt.

She gave a tiny shake of her head. No. No apologies necessary.

Keith inclined his head.

The two of them had always done better without words.

“I’m going to take my hand away,” he said.

Pidge nodded that time.

Understood.

 

Keith + Bleeding Out

Keith couldn’t move.

His legs refused to carry him any further, shaking even now after they’d collapsed beneath him and sending him to the cold floor of the Galra ship.

His hands were trembling, one splayed out in front of him and the other pressed to his stomach just beneath where the sword stuck out like a sick flag as though that could keep the hot blood in.

It couldn’t.

It didn’t.

He could feel it now, pooling beneath him and he shivered.

Hot blood.

Cold floor.

It hurt

It…

It wouldn’t be long now.

His feet twitched uselessly and even if he’d been able to get up, where did he think he was going to go?

There was no team waiting for him.

The Blades of Marmora waited for no one.

It was the mission before the man and Keith was not viable to the mission. He’d been the distraction while they gathered intel on the base, wired it to explode after they left. 

He wondered if blood loss would kill him first or the blast.

He wasn’t sure which was better.

 

Lance + Denied Food (sequel to “I Pledge Allegiance To...”)

“It’s a shame, truly,” Lotor took another delicate bite. “But if you won’t eat what you are given then I cannot share this absolutely delectable meal with you now. You see, Lance,” his eyes danced, “you must be punished, and so you shall. No more gruel, no more water and most certainly not my meal until you have improved upon your manners. Like looking at me for instance when I am speaking to you.”

Lance kept his head hanging low.

He wished he could say it was fully out of defiance but he knew he was just lying to himself.

“A shame,” Lotor repeated, “especially after your dear friend Hunk went to such trouble to make a meal you’d enjoy too.”

Lance’s head jerked up.

What?

“He is quite a skilled cook, is he not? Such a valuable service he provides. Unlike yourself.” Lotor smirked. “Although… perhaps we could find something for you to do too, hm? Give you some company?”

Lance trembled.

“Alas,” Lotor speared another piece of meat, “I am a man of my word and until our dear friend Keith missteps… I suppose the only company you shall entertain are your little rodent friends. And,” his smirk widened, “myself, of course.”

 

Lance + Locked in a Freezer

“Hey!” Lance pounded his hand on the door.

Cold metal bit sharply on bare flesh and he retrieved it with a hiss, clutching it to his chest.

He kicked it instead, the thud traveling up his entire leg.

Ten thuds and an aching foot later Lance had to admit defeat.

No one was out there.

No one would be until closer to dinner and that… that was hours from now.

Lance didn’t know all the statistics with freezing to death nor how actually cold this freezer was but…

“This isn’t g-good,” he whispered, wrapping his arms around himself and tucking his hands beneath his armpits to keep them warm.

This was far, far from good.

“I’ve just gotta… gotta keep warm, r-right?”

Chuchule gave a morose squeak.

He couldn’t even feel the little spot of heat from her body.

“Come h-here,” he pulled his hands free and cupped them in front of him. The little mouse only gave it a second’s thought before she scurried down his arm and into his hands. Lance gave her what he hoped wasn’t too wavery of a smile. “We’re g-gonna be oh-k-kay.”

Chuchule nuzzled his palms.

Lance started walking.

Chapter Text

“—have to be around here s-somewhere,” Lance muttered to himself, breath misting in front of him and he rubbed at his arms, regretting not grabbing his jacket where it was slung over a kitchen chair. But he thought it’d be a quick pop into the walk-in freezer, find the berries Hunk had frozen a few weeks earlier that he’d called “the greatest thing in the universe” and use them to make a berry tart for his birthday. 

But Lance had been unaware the freezer was not just a single storage chamber but apparently a near maze of them, although in hindsight for a castle this large it made sense. He’d been in there now for almost five minutes and still no berries in sight. Chuchule, who had accompanied him in while the rest of her siblings played in the kitchen, gave a soft chirrup on his shoulder where she was huddled beneath his shirt.

“I know, I’m sorry,” Lance apologized. “One more m-minute, alr-right?”

Chuchule gave a little squeak. 

Lance took that for a yes and continued his search. Hunk had always had a unique storage system and it appeared Coran did too and Lance knew wherever they were located would make perfect sense to the two of them but to anyone else? That would be a giant nope.

Just when Lance was about to throw in the towel, his teeth starting to chatter to the point they hurt, he found the berries.

Gr-gracias a D-Dios,” he scooped the container off the shelf — stored with some frozen meats, cheeses and absolutely no other produce and seriously, what the cheese? — and began to make his way back to the exit. 

The exit that was closed.

Lance blinked.

The door, that he knew he’d left propped open with a large sack of space potatoes from the pantry, stayed closed and only one lone space potato had been left behind.

Chuchule gave a chitter on his shoulder.

Lance didn’t speak mouse but he agreed; it looked like Platt had seen the potatoes, gotten a little impatient for dinner, and helped himself to a snack. 

And he’d just…

Accidentally closed the freezer door.

Lance shuddered out a breath. 

There was no need to panic. All he had to do was pull on the door handle and…

And there was no door handle. 

Okay.

Maybe it was time to panic a little bit. 

“Hey!” Lance pounded his hand on the door. 

Cold metal bit sharply on bare flesh and he retrieved it with a hiss, clutching it to his chest.

He kicked it instead, the thud traveling up his entire leg. 

Ten thuds and an aching foot later Lance had to admit defeat.

No one was out there. 

No one would be until closer to dinner and that… that was hours from now.

Lance didn’t know all the statistics with freezing to death nor how actually cold this freezer was but…

“This isn’t g-good,” he whispered, wrapping his arms around himself and tucking his hands beneath his armpits to keep them warm. 

This was far, far from good.

“I’ve just gotta… gotta keep warm, r-right?” 

Chuchule gave a morose squeak.

He couldn’t even feel the little spot of heat from her body. 

“Come h-here,” he pulled his hands free and cupped them in front of him. The little mouse only gave it a second’s thought before she scurried down his arm and into his hands. Lance gave her what he hoped wasn’t too wavery of a smile. “We’re g-gonna be oh-k-kay.”

Chuchule nuzzled his palms. 

Lance started walking. 

One foot in front of the other, around and around.

Not too fast; he didn’t want to sweat and then have that cool.

Not to slow; it wouldn’t keep his heart beating fast enough.

He tried to count both his steps and the minutes.

He kept losing track.

He blamed it on the circles he was walking in.

His eyes felt heavy.

He kept moving.

His breath clouded the air, obscuring his vision.

He kept moving.

Just keep moving.

Just keep moving.

Just… keep…

Moving… 

His feet began to drag.

Just…

Just keep...

He stumbled over something.

Oh.

The berries he’d set down by the door.

He faintly realized he was falling, everything seeming to happen in slow motion, to someone else.

He barely felt the resulting crash, his shoulder taking the brunt of it, as he didn’t throw his hands out because Chuchule was still curled up in them, barely a tremble left to her, but he would protect her for as long as he could.

He was so sorry.

He hadn’t…

He hadn’t meant for this to...

Cold metal seeped through his shirt, his jeans.

Lance couldn’t even shiver. 

His eyes were so heavy. 

He was so tired.

He was so sorry.

L-lo… lo siento,” he barely whispered, his lips not wanting to move. A tear stung his eye, a welcome heat, and the little drop of warmth dripped down his cheek.

Cold air kissed the trail and Lance shuddered.

He curled around his cupped hands, drawing his knees up to his chest and buried his face against them.

He could barely feel the material. 

He was going to…

He was going to… to die.

Another hot tear and then icy coldness trailed down his face. 

Dios. He… he didn’t want to die.

Not like this. 

He didn’t want Hunk to find him. 

He couldn’t… he couldn’t do that to him.

But he couldn’t move. 

He was so cold. 

A whimper was torn from his lips.

The ground shook.

Wait.

That wasn’t…

What was—?

The freezer door gave a giant screech that left his ears ringing after the pressing silence.

And then he felt warmth as hands he would recognize anywhere landed on his shoulders, dragging him to a sit, and then beneath his back, his legs, and he was being lifted into equally warm arms and cradled against a warm chest.

“—ohmyGodohmyGod,” Hunk’s babble cut in above the ringing. “Mice, go, go get Coran too. And, and everyone. Get everyone. Oh my God, holy cheeseballs, Lance, Lance, please wake up. Lance, please.”

The arms jostled him and Lance let out a low groan as he felt that, same as his toes and fingers were beginning to tingle.

It was painful.

It felt good. 

It was warm. 

“Oh God, Lance, Lance, can you hear me? Hermano?” 

Lance couldn’t quite form words, couldn’t summon the energy to open his eyes, but he let out what he thought was maybe a mumble. 

His hands twitched. 

Something was poking them from the inside.

Chuchule.

She was…

She was okay.

Lance let out a tiny sigh.

They were both going to be okay. 

Chapter Text

Allura + Dragging Self Along the Ground

She had tried a few smaller forms with varying success over the past few movements and she was going to try her smallest form yet.

A mouse.

It was perfect though as she knew the mices’ bodies as well as her own, their consciousnesses linked to her own and she could feel them.

She spread her hands wide and took a deep breath. Transformation was all about centering, about manipulating quintessence into new pathways but not forcing it to do so.

Flow.

Just like how the universe flowed about them.

And she would become a part of it.

Allura closed her eyes, took another breath, and changed.

She winced as she felt her body transforming, the soft ache as bones condensed, as muscles shrunk. It was a good hurt though. This was normal. And every time she practiced the same form it got a little less painful as her body knew to move into it.

She was fine.

This was nor—

Pain spiked through her, a bolt of lightning that had her eyes flying open, the world awash in gold tinted hues, and a moan passed through her lips as she hunched over.

She just…

Just needed to concentrate. It was the smallest form she had ever tried, this was to be expec—

Allura screamed as something beyond pain filled her veins, set her blood alight with fire, and around the flames she felt something cold settle in her chest.

The change had gone wrong.

 

Lance + Unwilling Suspension

He could feel his feet and legs starting to blister.

Tears that never stood a chance stung his eyes and he closed them.

He could still see the magma.

Could feel it.

Would the pain from the heat kill him first?

Or would it be the magma?

What would be worse?

He didn’t know.

He just…

He didn’t want to di—

Lance screamed as the chains above him jerked and tried to pull his shoulders from their sockets, as his hands were dragged against the superheated metal.

He dropped a full foot, stomach bottoming out and he scrunched his eyes closed as he waited for his feet to plunge into magma, for it to eat him alive.

He jerked to a sudden stop that made him scream again.

 

Keith + Isolation

Keith waited almost an hour outside of the Galaxy Garrison  gates.

No one came after him.

Keith knew he should have expected that outcome. He’d never made friends at the Garrison after all, couldn’t even remember the name of any classmates other than that asshole Griffin.

He hadn’t needed to.

He’d had Shiro. And Shiro’s friends.

And… and they were all gone.

Even Adam…

His hands clenched into fists, crescents cut into his palms.

Even Adam hadn’t done anything, said anything, when the Garrison handed down the expulsion notice after he’d punched Iverson, rage and recklessness blinding him when commander had caught him trying to gain access to the main control room to find the audio transcripts from Kerberos because no one else would.

His cheek still throbbed where Iverson had backhanded him.

He had known there would be consequences, but…

And Adam… although they hadn’t talked much in the last couple months — Adam adamant Shiro was dead, there was nothing there, it was time to move on and he’d hated Keith trying to plead with to him to listen, that something wasn’t right, he’d loved Shiro once, please help him — he’d just…

He’d washed his hands of Keith as surely as he had of Shiro.

For the first time since Shiro had come into his life Keith was…

He was truly alone.

 

Keith + Burns

Keith wasn’t seeing his hands though; angry red burns, some so dark they appeared black, on his palms and fingers and wrapping around to the backs as blood both dripped and fell in flakes and the scent of burnt flesh and leather wafted in the air.

No.

He saw a different pair. A larger pair, rough and calloused but always so tender, so soft, covered in the same burns but even worse; pale flesh now black.

Even gloves — better ones than Keith’s, melted in patches over his hands — couldn’t have protected Pop from a collapsed, burning building that had taken the other firefighters hours to put out before they could go in for him.

There hadn’t been much left.

Keith had never seen Pop’s body. They hadn’t let him and he was grateful now, despite how much he’d hated them then as he screamed to be allowed to see Pop, that Pop wasn’t dead, that they were wrong and… and…

So Keith had never seen Pop’s body.

But he could imagine what he had looked like, at the end.

Something like this.

Probably worse. Definitely worse.

 

Lance + Confined to Bed Rest

The team had been visiting as much as they could, but the last two days had been full of both Voltron and Coalition duties and Lance wasn’t going to force anyone to spend time with him when all they wanted after long days was a nice hot shower and sleep.

He missed showers. He had to keep his ears dry and while he had a shower cap to put over them and his head it wasn’t the same and standing for too long made him dizzy too.

Everything made him dizzy.

This walk — all sixteen steps of it — was making him dizzy and he stumbled on his slow shuffle back, heart leaping into his throat as the world tilted.

It righted itself a moment later and Lance realized Pidge had practically teleported to his side and had one of his arms slung over her, her other hand about his waist.

“Sorry,” he whispered, feeling his cheeks color.

“Come on,” her voice was softer than before. “Let’s get you back to bed.”

Under Pidge’s guidance Lance found himself in it a few moments later, head guided onto his pillow that once upon a time had been comfortable but was now only a reminder of how much he was lying down being useless while everyone else did things, but Coran had advised against a cryo pod for this (Lance had caught his knowing gaze and he’d felt himself flush but he would still take this over… over that) and that meant he was sidelined for at least a week while he healed.

“When were your last drops?” Pidge asked, brusquely but still softly.

“Um… at dinner.” When Coran had popped in during the meeting, delivering soup and ear drops and a squeeze on his shoulder and been gone much too quickly.

“Right ear.”

Chapter Text

Lance + Vivisection (prequel to Rows of Stitches, Lines of Pain)

The alien said nothing.

So Lance decided to.

Maybe… maybe this was all just some big, giant misunderstanding.

“Excuse m—?”

“Record. Subject 6381 has immediately attempted to establish communication,” the alien interrupted.

Subject.

His stomach clenched more.

He really was…

“Hey,” he pitched his voice sharper, wrists shaking in their restraints. “I’m talking to—”

“Subject has universal dialect. Informal version of speech. Rising cadence, monitors indicate increasing heart rate—”

“My name isn’t ‘Subject,’ it’s Lance—”

“Subject is becoming more agitated—”

“I’m a Paladin of Voltron—”

“Recommendation to sedate and try awakening sequence again. Applying sedation in—”

“Wait, n-no, no, stop!” Lance flailed as best he could as the alien loomed over him, a syringe in hand. “I don’t need—”

 

 

Hunk + Bedside Vigil

Lance had survived the crash that broke both of his legs, four of his ribs, busted his face on the airbag, cut open his head on shattered glass, had his arms pinned in by the dashboard that embedded itself in his chest and impaled from the back by twisting metal as the humvee had bounced and rolled across the road.

But now…

Now he wasn’t waking up.

He had a pulse, he was breathing (with the aid of oxygen, a line taped over over a bruised face underneath his broken nose) but …

But that was it.

He had no response to outside stimuli, no function outside of what the machines were providing.

A coma, they said.

They didn’t… didn’t know if he would ever wake up.

If they’d had a cryo-pod Hunk wondered if it would have been different.

But they didn’t so there was no use wondering what ifs. All they had was Earth medicine and it wasn’t enough to fix Lance.

But Lance couldn’t be…

He just couldn’t.

“Lance.”

His voice cracked on the word, a gunshot in the silent room.

Hunk licked his lips.

“Lance,” he tried again, squeezing the limp hand. “Please… please, hermano. Por favor. Despierta.”

The oxygen machine hummed.

The vitals display glowed.

Lance remained still and silent.

“We’re… we’re waiting for you. All of us. Please come back.”

 

Keith + Trying Not to Cry

“Sorry isn’t good enough.”

Of course it wasn’t.

“I know,” the words came out barely a whisper.

“Keith—”

“Shiro,” Keith interrupted him. “I, I know, okay? Please… we… we lost someone today.”

Someone else he’d disappointed.

Someone he’d never see again.

His eyes stung as Regris’ mask flashed in his face.

He’d… he’d never even known what the other Blade had looked like. 

We,” Shiro stressed the word and Keith felt something further clench in his stomach as Shiro completely ignored the fact someone had just died, “needed you here, Keith. The Coalition needs you here.”

“I know,” he whispered again.

“Do you?”

The words were cutting.

Cruel in a way Shiro never used to be.

Keith couldn’t look him in the eye.

Shiro kept talking.

 

Chapter Text

“--idge! Pidge! Oh God, oh God, please wake up. Pidge!”

A trembling hand gave her the barest shake and another one patted her cheek.

“Pidge!”

“‘m awake,” she mumbled, ears ringing from both the blast and Hunk’s shouts, hoping one of the two might stop with her acknowledgement.

“Oh thank God. Oh thank God,” Hunk whispered and Pidge sent a silent thanks for the quieter volume. “I th-thought…”

Yeah, Pidge had thought she was a goner too. That’s what normally happened when one stepped on a hidden explosive, but she seemed to be all in one piece and she silently sent a thanks to the hardiness of Altean armor.

“I jus…” her tongue felt thick and dust and dirt seemed to have settled in her mouth. “Needa… minute.”

Just for the ringing to stop and for her thoughts to line back up from the lazy circle her mind was going in.

“Take all the minutes. I’m just so… so glad you’re…” 

Hunk sniffled and Pidge felt something wet plop onto her cheek where the visor didn’t cover. 

“‘m ‘kay, Hunk,” she managed, twitching her hand and bumping it against some part of Hunk next to her. 

Because if Hunk wasn’t panicking about blood (or having fainted) and there was the distinct missing smell of burnt flesh and she didn’t seem to be in any pain other than a general throbbing stretching from her shoulders to her toes and she could feel that then she really was.

And then Pidge moved her legs.

And she re-evaluated around a choked scream.

Fire was running and down her right leg, sinking teeth and claws into her flesh and she screamed again as it flared with new life as she brought her leg back to where it had started.

She became aware Hunk was shouting once more and she wanted to beg him to be quiet but she could taste bile swimming up her throat and if she opened her mouth it would spill out and that would make this situation far far worse because then Hunk would vomit too and it’d be a horrible, disgusting circle.

So she breathed in deeply through her nose, tried to swallow back down the creeping acid, close her ears and convince herself that her leg was not actually on fire.

The pain was starting to go back to a throb -- sharper than before but bearable -- and with it the nausea and Pidge shuddered out a breath and then other, keeping her eyes closed to limit stimuli.

All right. So she wasn’t as okay as she’d thought but it still could have been worse. 

Right?

“Hunk,” she rasped, cutting into his babbling now -- thankfully at a lower volume -- and he cut off immediately. “How… how bad...?”

“Um…”

Even with her eyes closed she could see him pressing his fingers together.

“Hunk,” she fought to keep her voice even because snapping at Hunk would only make him more anxious. “How bad?”

“There’s… there’s…” she heard him swallow thickly. “Your armor. It… broke. And your leg… it… it broke t-too. There’s…” he gagged. “B-bone.”

Oh.

Well.

That explained a lot. 

“A-and,” Hunk’s voice was growing higher. “Bl… bloooo…”

Oh no.

“No fainting,” Pidge snapped, wrenching her eyes open and angling them to where she heard Hunk.

He was swaying, his eyes blown wide as he stared at her leg further down.

“Hunk!” she bit out. “No--”

A gasp stole the rest of her words away as even though she hadn’t moved her leg, hadn’t so much as twitched, her body apparently wanted to remind her there was a bone poking out of her leg. 

Tears pricked her eyes and she squeezed them shut, the only movement she dared as anything else would hurt more, she knew it, and it hurt so fucking much. 

“Oh God, oh God, Pidge, I’m so sorry, h-hang on. I’ll, I’ll get help. Just a tick. Hang on.”

She heard him fiddling on his helmet, hands shaking so badly they couldn’t find the activation switch for the comms.

A second later static burst in her ear and she and Hunk both cried out.

Around the pain Pidge felt something cold settle in her stomach.

Comms were down.

Which meant…

Which meant no help was coming.

She and Hunk were at least four miles out from the town they’d been assisting clear old war-time mines that her scanner had been doing an excellent job of picking up except apparently for this one. All of the Paladins spread out in a large circle about it and it was unlikely they’d have heard the explosion over the planet’s many waterfalls and rivers they’d had to pick around or seen any sign of smoke above the high trees.

And she could feel it now, the blood.

It was hot beneath her leg where the rest of her was starting to grow cold.

Shock, her mind supplied helpfully. 

She told it to fuck off.

It didn’t help.

“Hunk,” she tried to say.

It came out a whimper.

Hunk heard it anyway.

“Oh God, oh God, Pidge.’

He sounded like he was about to cry.

She wanted to cry too but was fighting the urge very much. 

Crying would hurt. She knew it.

She shivered instead as cold began to press in although she knew, logically, she hadn’t lost enough blood to be going into hypovolemic shock and she shouldn’t be as there were no major arteries in a human’s legs that would lead to such. But trauma and intense pain could still lead to shock symptoms and that didn’t make them any less dangerous.

The action shook her whole body and she let out another whimper as it hurt holy fuck it hurt.

But more terrifying was how…

How removed she felt from it. The pain was hers but it… it wasn’t.

She tried to take a breath, to will herself down from her body’s reaction, but her chest was tight now and air difficult to come by.

She could faintly hear Hunk talking but it sounded like it was down a tunnel and her eyes didn’t want to cooperate now, eyelashes fluttering against her cheek but too heavy to lift.

No.

God.

She could feel her pulse trying to beat out of her chest, roaring in her ears.

It hurt too.

A numb pain to the fire that made up her leg, but it still hurt.

She couldn’t seem to draw a full breath.

Hunk was still talking.

She couldn’t hear him.

Oh God.

Oh God oh God oh God--

Hands landed on her leg. 

Pidge found air.

She used it to scream.

She screamed and screamed and screamed as those hands grabbed and pushed and they hurt they hurt they hurt. 

Lightning was diving into her very veins, crackling up her leg, into her heart, she was going to die die die--

“Pidge!” 

Hunk’s voice was loud. Scared.

But it jolted her out of her own panic.

And she was aware then that she was no longer lying on the ground.

She was in Hunk’s arms.

Warm struck her then.

Hunk had removed his chestplate and she was being cradled against him.

Heat was good for shock and they didn’t have blankets.

“Shh, shh,” he murmured, hand rubbing up and down her outer arm and she realized he’d somehow removed her upper armor pieces too. “You’re… you’re okay. It’s okay. Shhh.”

Pidge whimpered and tucked her head -- her helmet was gone too -- into the crook between Hunk’s chest and shoulder, burying her nose where it was warm and dark and if she pressed hard enough she would disappear and the pain would then too.

Hunk rocked her gently, still rubbing one large hand up and down her arm, her back.

It was a nice heat; nothing like the fire in her leg although even that…

That seemed to be hurting less. 

“Shh, it’s gonna be okay,” Hunk said softly, his words thrumming through his chest like a purring engine.

Safe.

“Hunk.”

Her voice was so small and high and that could not be her.

It was her.

“There you are,” he sighed, she felt it through his entire body. “Oh, Pidge, God… God that was…”

He cleared his throat. “I, I used the armor to hold your leg in place. It’s elevated now, just for a bit.” And now that Hunk pointed it out she was aware of that, her leg propped atop something hard and rounded.

Ah.

Her helmet. 

“--help with blood flow and once you’re more… more stable I’ll carry you and we’ll get you to a pod, okay? We’re just gonna… gonna stay here for a little longer. Just… just rest, okay?” I’ve… I’ve got you.” He punctuated it with a soft squeeze. “You’re gonna be all right.”

Pidge peeked open her eyes in the comforting darkness of Hunk’s underarmor.

She kept them open, feeling eyelashes brushing the fabric and feeling the steady thump thump thump beneath her cheek.

She let out a breath.

And another.

They didn’t hurt as much now.

Ever so slowly she began to turn her head, light filtering back in from the forest around them.

She looked out and saw her leg, propped atop her helmet from where she was lying in Hunk’s lap.

There was a dull orange splotched with red cloth holding a piece of equally blood-stained armor streaked with crimson fingerprints tight to her leg and hiding the gruesome injury from view.

She tilted her head back to see Hunk sans his beloved bandana looking down.

“Hunk,” she whispered, eyes hot with tears again.

“Hey,” he smiled softly, warm chocolate eyes meeting her own. 

Her gaze tracked upwards to the strangely bare forehead.

She didn’t think she’d ever seen Hunk without his bandana.

He seemed to follow her look and he let out a low chuckle. “Yeah. I know. Big forehead.”

Her lip trembled.

“Aw no, Pidge, don’t cry, it’s okay. Nothing some soap and water can’t fix. But even if it couldn’t…”

He squeezed her tight. “I’m just… just glad you’re okay.”

“Hunk,” she said his name again.

It was the only word she seemed capable of saying.  

“You’ve got some color back in your cheeks,” he said softly. “Ready to get going? I’ll go slow. I promise.” He let out a soft huff of laughter. “I don’t really run.”

Pidge gave a tiny nod that morphed into a groan as Hunk’s arms shifted around her and her leg was jostled as he angled one under her knees and shifted to his own.

“Sorry, sorry, just a sec.”

A moment later Hunk was on his feet.

“Doing okay?” Hunk asked and she managed another nod even though she had to close her eyes as the world swam alarmingly around her. 

“Gonna be about an hour,” Hunk told her. “If you need to stop or if it… if it hurts too much again just tell me, all right?”

She nodded again.

“Okay, then off we go.”

While walking hurt, every step, no matter how careful, jostling her leg, it was nowhere near as bad as it had been.

And above the pain…

Cradled as she was in Hunk’s arms, knowing he’d faced his own fears to help her, she felt…

She felt safe.

And everything was going to be all right. 

Chapter Text

“Shiro, I…” Lance swallowed. “I don’t think—”

“Don’t stop,” Shiro pled. “Please don’t stop.”

Lance continued compressions on the far too still chest beneath his hands. 

He’d been at it for almost ten minutes, almost since he and Shiro had blasted open the door to where they’d finally tracked Keith to.

Keith, who had been in Galra hands— in Haggar’ s hands — going on four days now. 

And he…

He was…

They’d found him lying on a table, hooked up to various monitors and machines, like he was some, some lab rat.

The machines hadn’t been making any noise because…

Because…

Because Keith was…

Lance had never thought of Keith as small.

He looked small now.

Skin ashen, hair and limbs limp, and no movement to the bare chest. Bruises littered his arms, his neck, with little red pinpricks that showed where needles had entered again and again and again.

Shiro had pulled him off the table into his arms, shaking him and begging Keith to wake up, to open his eyes, to, to…

Keith hadn’t responded.

He couldn’t because…

Shiro had laid Keith down on the floor and gone to start compressions.

On the third press there’d been a crack. 

Breaking ribs was normal, Lance knew, in CPR, but that hadn’t been normal.

That had been Shiro not able to compensate for the weight, the strength, of his prosthetic.

Lance hadn’t hesitated as Shiro had turned stricken eyes to him and he’d knelt down, placed his hands atop one another, and tried to restart the other boy’s heart.

But he couldn’t.

Because Keith was…

“Keith, Keith, please,” Shiro whispered, one of Keith’s hands raised and pressed to his cheek. “Please.”

Lance had never heard Shiro sound so broken.

He’d never looked so small before either.

Lance paused, readjusted Keith’s head, and lowered his own to perform rescue breaths again.

One.

Pause.

Readjust.

Two.

Pause.

Still nothing. 

There wouldn’t be anything because Keith…

Keith was…

Lance swallowed thickly as he came back up.

Keith was gone.

There was no heartbeat. No breath.

Even if they were to shock him had they supplies there was nothing to restart.

He was dead.

Cold to the touch.

Lance didn’t put his hands back on Keith’s chest. 

Instead he placed one on Shiro’s hunched shoulder.

“Shiro,” he whispered, voice thick. “He’s… he’s gone.”

Shiro let out a low sob.

He didn’t deny it this time.

He knew.

Shiro leaned over, prosthetic slipping beneath Keith’s back and he brought him to a sit and then pulled him into his arms, curling around the still form.

A sob shook them both.

Lance wrapped his arms around himself, trying to hold in his own sob.

This wasn’t…

This couldn’t be…

He could faintly hear voices from inside his helmet, cast haphazardly to the side when he’d gone to do rescue breaths. 

The team would be looking for an update.

For good news.

How could he…?

How could he tell them?

He glanced from the helmet back to Shiro and Keith.

Shiro was whispering something, lips pressed into Keith’s hair, and tears trickling down his face to drip into the dark strands.

Lance averted his gaze down.

He shouldn’t be watching this. It was too personal, too intimate. 

He felt frozen though, unable to move.

So he stared at Keith’s hand, lying limp on the ground, fingers curled ever so.

And the fingers…

Twitched.

Lance blinked.

Stared.

It was just…

Just from Shiro’s sobs. 

Just his imagination.

Keith wasn’t—

They twitched again.

Lance’s breath hitched.

It wasn’t possible.

Keith had been dead. No heartbeat.

But…

But…

Keith’s hand moved. 

But Lance had seen stranger things since coming to space. Why couldn’t a completely dead body come back to life?

Tears overspilled his eyes and he choked out, “Shiro. Sh-Shiro.”

“Lance,” Shiro lifted his head, despair etched into every inch. “Please, not—”

“He’s alive,” Lance blurted. “Shiro, he’s not d-dead.”

Shiro stared at Lance for all of a second.

And then he was uncurling, tipping Keith against one arm.

Keith’s eyes were flickering beneath closed lids and his lips had parted.

“How?” Shiro breathed, gaze darting to Lance before back down to Keith.

Lance shook his head.

He didn’t know.

At this point he didn’t care.

Keith was…

A low, breathy moan sounded and Keith’s head lolled on Shiro’s arm.

Slits of dark purple peered open.

“Keith?” Shiro whispered. “Keith, buddy?”

Keith blinked slowly.

“Shi…” it was barely a rasp. “...ro?”

“Yeah, yeah, buddy, I’m here, I’m here,” Shiro babbled. “I’m here. You’re okay now. You’re okay.”

Keith’s lips curved up ever so. 

His eyes slid closed then, but his chest continued to rise and the soft smile remained.

Lance shuddered out a breath.

Keith wasn’t gone.

He was right here.

And he got up to retrieve his helmet and tell the team the good news.

Chapter Text

“I assure you, I am fine,” Allura summoned her most authoritative, regal tone as though that could hide the exhaustion behind it and her fever-flushed skin and overbright eyes and the way she trembled still with cold even beneath her heaviest quilt. 

The deadpan look Coran gave her informed her clearly of his thoughts on the matter.

“Coran,” she tried again, struggling to even straighten up from her slouch against the pillows, “there is much I must be doing.”

“I agree, Princess,” Coran bobbed his head. “Things like resting and sleeping and eating your soup.”

Allura’s nose wrinkled at the reminder of the dish Coran had brought up that honestly made her stomach turn over at just the look of it — a garish shade of orange with little brown things floating in it.

But she shook her head.

No.

She would not be distracted by such. 

“The Coali—”

“Number One is handling the Coalition meeting,” Coran interrupted, gently though, as gentle as the hand he pressed to her brow to push her down into the pillow throne, smoothing back a wayward, sweaty bang and Allura leaned into the touch, soothing and cool. “The only thing you must do, Allura, is rest and heal.”

“But—”

She cut off as the cough she had been stubbornly keeping at bay swam up her throat and she faintly felt Coran rubbing her back as she bent over double, hacking and gasping.

Her eyes watered from the force and her nose dripped in tandem and she was almost, almost grateful Coran was keeping her from the meeting.

Even over the sound of her sickness she heard the whoosh of her door and she jerked her head up, regretting it as the world gave a lazy spin at the action but it had nothing on the flip her stomach was doing.

Pidge, Lance and Hunk.

They were all there.

Seeing her like this. 

She felt her cheeks darken even moreso than the fever had done. 

Alaraan, this was mortifying. 

She tried to straighten up, to make herself somewhat presentable, but all she managed to do was slump backwards against Coran’s arm and the pillow and then sideways.

She took the opportunity to hide her face in a pillow to muffle the incoming sneeze.

“She’s gonna be okay, right?” she heard Lance ask between three rapidfire sneezes that left her reeling.

“Just a standard Altean flu strain,” Coran responded cheerfully, his “She’ll be right as rain in just a couple quintants.”

“She,” Allura pulled her face free, voice a rasp  that had all three humans wincing in sympathy, “is right here. And she…”

She broke off into another coughing fit, emerging to find four sets of concerned eyes upon her.

“She sounds like she could use some soup,” Hunk said gently, lifting the bowl he was carrying. “My mom’s recipe that cures almost anything.”

“And a movie,” Pidge chimed in, laptop in hand.

“And some company,” Lance’s smile was so soft, dark ocean eyes meeting her own. “If… if she wouldn’t mind.”

Allura glanced to Coran.

“It’s not contagious to humans,” was all he said, a knowing twinkle to his eye.

“Then… then she would very much like all of those things,” Allura said quietly.

Coran gave her shoulder a squeeze. “Then it sounds like you are in excellent hands. I shall go check in with Number One and you shall stay here and rest.” He bent down and pressed a kiss to the top of her head. “Feel better, Princess.”

Allura felt tears spring to her eyes for a different reason and her throat was treacherously thick as everyone piled onto the bed with her; Lance and Pidge pressed up on her sides and Hunk sneaking in behind her and he was far more comfortable than any pillow to lean against. 

For as sick as she felt…

She had also never felt more content.

Chapter Text

“Are you… okay?”

Keith knew the question was beyond stupid as soon as it left his mouth but he had to say something because the silence was too loud.

Lance didn’t answer.

He didn’t move either from where he was sitting, nearly curled around himself, at the base of a pillar on the edge of the Dvorian’s giant water temple, looking so small in a way Keith had never seen.

Lance had been acting larger than life just earlier that day as he strutted around in the loose almost ancient Rome-like tunic the Dvorians favored and had bestowed upon them for the celebratory dinner, hair shining with jeweled clips and a smile so wide it had to be hurting his mouth.

Not now.

The jewels were missing from tousled hair and scattered across the ground, and the tunic ripped open, ragged edges gathered and hidden by Lance’s knees, and his face was hidden the way he no doubt wanted to be.

It was wrong. 

All of this was wrong.

Keith didn’t know how to fix it. Not really.

Punching the asshole prince, his hand still aching where it had connected on hardened scales, had been a step in the right direction but it…

It couldn’t fix this.

“Lance,” Keith took a careful step forward.

“I’m…” Lance’s voice was high and breathy. “I’m f-fine.”

It was opposite the way he’d sounded not even a few minutes ago, cheerful chattering breaking the silent night where Keith had escaped to from the party, evening, and emerging with the Dvorian’s third prince.

The Dvorian’s worshiped water and Lance had been nearly the center of attention all evening given his connection with the Blue Lion. Keith had been hearing over and over about some giant sacred water fountain temple only viewable to the royal family and their guests, and he’d realized only after jumping a few walls that apparently that’s where he was. 

Oops. 

Before he could leave Lance and the prince had arrived and he’d frozen next to a pillar across the way.

“Wow,” Lance had said, coming to a halt at the edge of the pool, gaze moving slowly about the temple and awe clear and fortunately not spotting Keith. “It’s beautiful.”

It is,” the prince had agreed quietly. “But…”

Lance had turned then towards the prince, the barest glimpse of confusion on his face. The prince had smiled, sharp teeth glinting in the light, and finished.  

“Not as beautiful as you.” 

Keith had seen Lance’s eyes widen and he’d taken a miniscule step back as the prince leaned forward. 

Look,” Lance’s voice was friendly and his expression still open, but Keith could see the way his hands had come in front of him, creating space between the two and that told him all he needed, “I’m really flattered and that’s really, really nice of you to say, but—”

The prince cut him off with a kiss. 

Lance had stumbled backwards and Keith had taken one forwards, too far to do anything at the moment but prepared to charge across the stupid sacred pool if this alien prince tried to engage Lance again.

Hey,” Lance’s voice was sharper then and Keith had felt himself untense the barest bit. That’s right. Lance was a Paladin too and good with words and he was more than capable of handling this on his own.  “I said I wasn’t—”

And the prince lunged. 

Lance’s yelp as he was slammed up against a temple pillar was muffled as the prince’s mouth closed back over his and webbed hands had descended on Lance’s hair, his tunic, grabbing and yanking and using his size to keep Lance pinned.

Keith had seen red.

He must have made some noise as he charged — he didn’t know if it was scream or a roar except that it had been angry and scared and pissed the fuck off — because the prince had lifted his head, turned—

And impacted right against Keith’s fist. 

The crunch of scales had been darkly satisfying.

The prince stumbling backwards and releasing Lance had been even better.

He had drawn himself up, flat nose flaring, and hissed, “You dare attack a member of the—”

“Shut up,” Keith’s voice had been a low growl as he moved to stand between the alien and Lance.

The prince’s eyes had widened.

He took a step back, hand resting on his cheek. “This is not over. My father will hear of this, this assault. This trespass!”

Tell him,” Keith snarled. “Tell him because I’m gonna tell him what the fuck you just tried to do.” 

And the asshole still had at least one functioning brain cell as, other than one last look past Keith at Lance, he had retreated.

And here they were. 

And Keith didn’t know what to do. Anyone would be better than him right now as he didn’t do comforting, especially with Lance, especially with what had just happened, but he didn’t dare leave Lance alone right now. 

He took another step and then another.

Lance didn’t look up.

Keith very, very slowly joined Lance in a sit against the pillar. 

He said nothing else. 

This close he could feel Lance trembling next to him, the way his knuckles were white against dark skin as they wrapped around raised knees. They sat in silence for several minutes, only the gentle lapping of the water and Lance’s muffled gasps breaking it.

Patience had never been Keith’s strong suit and this wasn’t helping at all.

“You’re not fine,” Keith said bluntly, if quietly.

Lance froze.

“You’re not fine because what that asshole did wasn’t okay and he… he hurt you.”

Lance gave a tiny shake of his head. “I’m… I’m not hurt.”

“Look at me and say that.”

Lance didn’t lift his head from his knees. His shoulders were shaking again.

“He hurt you,” Keith repeated. “You told him no and—”

“You saw?” Lance interrupted, finally looking up.

Tears were smeared over flushed cheeks, more lingering in dark eyes.

It was Keith who looked away that time.

“Yeah. I’m… I’m sorry I didn’t step in soon—”

Keith cut himself off as he was nearly knocked sideways with the force of Lance’s hug, throwing one arm to catch them from tipping over and the other more hesitantly wrapping around Lance’s back.

He didn’t comfort people but this…

This felt right.

“Gracias,” Lance whispered. “Gr-gracias. I, I thought… I thought he…”

Keith found his one-armed hug becoming a little tighter. 

And although he knew they needed to get up, needed to tell Shiro and Allura what had happened, Keith had no plans to move right now and Lance seemed to be of the same thought, only tightening his embrace and resting his head on Keith’s chest with a little sigh, trembles slowly coming to a halt.

And the silence this time wasn’t loud at all.

Chapter Text

“Nope, nope, I can’t do this, I can’t do this.”

The pen clattered to the table, rolling across the introductory letter Hunk had spent the last several weeks writing for his application to the Galaxy Garrison.

All he had to do was sign it.

He couldn’t sign it.

Why had he ever thought he could do this?

All of the words — accomplishments and awards — blurred beneath his eyes.

They meant nothing.

Not to the Galaxy Garrison. 

It didn’t matter how good he looked on paper if he couldn’t measure up in person.

That letter didn’t tell the truth.

It didn’t say how he got anxious over the thought of failure. Of how he was really shy and what kind of military academy wanted someone like that in their ranks? It didn’t mention his nervous stomach, his habit of both vomiting and word vomiting. It didn’t talk about his fear of flying, of how even a bumpy car ride made him feel sick and they wanted him to fly in a battle cruiser? 

Nope nope nope.

It didn’t matter how badly Hunk wanted to go because at the Galaxy Garrison he would be able to study engineering in ways he’d never even allowed himself to dream, would be able to build the greatest machines to advance Earth’s quest in exploring space.

Would be able to be right there to cheer Lance on as he worked to become a fighter pilot.

None of it mattered because he couldn’t go.

They wouldn’t want him.

They’d take one look at him if he got asked for an interview, politely dismiss him, and then laugh behind the closed door at how someone like him could have ever thought he’d make a good candidate for their prestigious program.

His stomach lurched and Hunk moaned, hunching over the table, willing himself not to puke in the library again.

Hunk felt his face flame at the memory of last time, of having to walk through the high school halls with vomit all down his front because he’d been so concerned with trying to save the book he’d been reading. 

He couldn’t do this.

He couldn’t he couldn’t he couldn’t he—

“Hunk?”

Lance’s voice came out of nowhere and Hunk’s knees slammed against the underside of the table as he jerked upright.

The pen rolled off the far end of the table to land at Lance’s feet.

His best friend picked it up as he made his way towards Hunk, brows drawn but a small, comforting smile on his face and dark ocean eyes seeking out Hunk’s honey brown.

Hunk looked away first.

He didn’t want to see Lance’s disappointment when he told him he wasn’t going.

“What’s wrong?” Lance asked quietly.

Hunk shook his head.

He could sense more than see Lance look to the table and his letter and then to the pen now in his hand.

“Hunk—”

“I’m not going,” Hunk cut him off before he lost his nerve. “I, I can’t go.”

“Yes, you can,” Lance said firmly. 

Hunk shook his head again.

No. He couldn’t.

He heard Lance give a soft sigh and he winced. 

He was already disappointing people.

Lance leaned past him then and Hunk heard the click of a pen.

His head jerked up, just in time to see Lance signing Hunk’s name with a flourish on the letter.

“L-Lance,” his voice wavered. “You, you can’t do th-that.”

“I just did,” Lance grinned, picking the letter up and sliding it into the envelope Hunk had previously prepared.

“It’s fraud,” Hunk whispered.

“Are you gonna stop me?”

As teasing as the words were there was something serious in Lance’s expression. He would hand the letter back, no questions, no pleas or cajoling or ultimatums if Hunk said so.

Hunk paused.

And gave a slow shake of his head.

“Then let’s get this baby in the mail,” Lance cheered. 

Hunk felt his stomach lurch again.

Not with nerves though.

With… with hope. That maybe…

Maybe he could do this.

And two interviews, one exam, and four months later, standing proudly in line with his fellow first year Galaxy Garrison cadets, Lance at his side, he had. 

Chapter Text

The ground shook beneath Shiro’s feet as he landed, dropping well over one hundred feet.

He didn’t feel it.

The only thing he felt was rage.

It was all directed at the crumpled figure feet from him, a blade point down through the floor the only thing separating them.

He wanted to kill him.

He would kill him.

And then this… this pain in his chest would go away. 

He charged forward with a wordless scream, glowing blade extending from his hand, pure power coursing through his veins.

His sword struck against the other blade, the boy somehow pulling it free to block the death strike.  

But Shiro could feel it; the arm holding the sword trembling with exhaustion and pain.

He pushed down, heat from the blade searing a line into the boy’s cheek and he screamed.

It was music to his ears.

“Sh-Shiro,” he gasped, “Shiro, please.”

Shiro’s lips curled up.

Pleas would not stop him.

“You’re my brother,” came the ragged breath. “I love you.”

Shiro leaned forward, his own words a whisper.

“And I never loved you.”

Purple eyes widened. The trembling arm lost its fight.

And Shiro’s blade crashed down.

Shiro sat bolt right up with a strangled shout, chest heaving and bangs plastered to his forehead.

The darkened interior of the cargo hold turned bedroom of the Black Lion met his wild gaze.

He sucked in a breath.

Black Lion.

Not the Galra facility.

He glanced down.

Right arm missing.

Missing because Keith had cut it off.

Because Keith was alive.

He hadn’t killed him.

He hadn’t said that. 

It was just a dream.

Shiro huffed out a strangled sob as he hunched over.

Not a dream.

A nightmare.

God…

God that had been…

He couldn’t stop shaking.

Keith had…

Shiro had…

God.

God, he could have…

His stomach gave a lurch and Shiro swallowed heavily, refusing to be sick. 

He sat there, willing his heart to slow, telling himself it hadn’t been real, that wasn’t what had happened.

But what if…?

What if he’d…?

He…

He needed to see Keith. 

Now. 

Shiro’s feet were swinging him out of bed and his left hand awkwardly fumbling for the blanket as the cool air of the cargo hold struck sweat-covered flesh and while there was no time to throw on a shirt he hated seeing having scars so visible even if no one else was awake to witness them.

Blanket somewhat secured, ends clutched in his left hand, Shiro stumbled his way out of the room, bare feet padding as softly as possible on metal floors. Both Krolia and Keith, not to mention Keith’s space wolf, had incredible hearing and he didn’t want to wake them in the dead of night. Not when they all needed their rest.

Shiro’s steps became more hesitant as he approached the cockpit where Keith slept on the pullout. 

What if…?

What if he’d actually…?

But there was a figure lying in the bed, a telltale mullet highlighted by the soft lights from the cockpit, and a slow, steady rise of his chest visible beneath his blanket.

Shiro let out a breath of his own, slumping in the doorframe.

Keith was alive.

He was okay.

It hadn’t been real. 

At least…

At least not that part.

Because Shiro had still hurt him.

The scar was visible on Keith’s cheek, a stark reminder.

The other wounds were invisible but they cut even more deeply.

Those words…

They hadn’t been his. And yet…

Yet he had said them.

He and Keith had spoken, once, about it. Keith had been blunt but there was a softer edge to it, wiser and older and Shiro lamented that he’d lost out on two more years of Keith’s life, that Shiro hadn’t been the one to say or do those things so…

So it was okay.

Shiro was his brother and he loved him.

Shiro had whispered back the same.

It still didn’t make the memory go away, didn’t make the tightness in his chest release.

But that was his burden to bear and he would not allow it to fall on anyone else.

And with that…

It was time to go.

He’d lingered long enough.

He shifted on his feet to turn, to return to a bed he had no plans to sleep in for the night...

And barely kept in the shout, just a harsh inhale, as Keith’s wolf lifted its head from where it was curled on the foot of the bed and stared back at him, yellow eyes nearly glowing in the dark.

It looked like he hadn’t been as quiet as he’d hoped.

“Sorry,” Shiro barely breathed the word out, taking a careful step backwards.

The wolf cocked his head.

And Shiro’s heart leapt into his throat as the wolf stood up, mattress dipping, before it bunched it legs and jumped, landing with a tap of its claws right in front of him.

Keith remained asleep.

Shiro very much wanted to keep it that way.

“Go… go back to bed, boy,” Shiro whispered, backing up as the wolf pressed forward, a cold, wet nose sniffing his leg.

Shiro backed fully out of the cockpit into the hallway.

The wolf followed, a soft whine building in its throat that at this rate would wake Keith.

“Shh. I’m goi—”

Shiro never got to finish as the wolf pressed its head fully against his leg and there was a soft pop and the horrible sensation of falling.

It was over in seconds and Shiro found himself flat on his back in his own bed, the wolf looming over him.

“Wha—?”

A large, rough tounge licked across his face before there was a soft whuff and the wolf flopped down, large head resting on Shiro’s chest and warm body pressed up against his side. 

Shiro’s throat was suddenly tight.

The wolf gave another whine and then nudged its head against Shiro’s left hand, still holding tight to the blanket.

Shiro shakily released it, bringing his hand to rest against the wolf’s head, fingers carding through the soft fur. 

The wolf licked the underside of his chin in response.

“Th...thanks, boy,” he choked out.

The wolf licked him again before settling, warmth and heaviness on his chest and somehow making him feel safe. 

Shiro found himself shuddering out a full breath and then another.

He felt…

Safe. 

And actually tired.

“Thank you,” he whispered again, fingers curling in the wolf’s fur and eyes fluttering closed.

No more nightmares visited him that night.