It took seven years, a war, multiple near-death experiences, one actual death experience, a clone, a resurrection, and the liberation of Earth for them to get engaged. That was the easy part.
"Here," Hunk said. He put several shakers on the coffee table next to the big bowl of popcorn. "This is regular salt, this is ranch flavored, and this one's ground cave bugs with garlic and just a pinch of chile powder."
"Ooh, I'll try that one!" Allura reached for the cave bug shaker. She sprinkled some over her popcorn and passed it along.
"And look what else!" Hunk brought out a large, frosted pitcher. "Milkshakes!"
"What are milkshakes?" Romelle asked. Allura pulled Romelle's arm and leaned over to whisper in her ear. Romelle's expression changed from puzzlement to horror. "They drink that?!"
"Yup, and it's awesome," Pidge grinned. "Me first!" she said to Hunk, holding out a cup. He poured her the shake. "Matt, what's the movie tonight?"
"A World War III-era spy thriller," her brother said. "The ancient tech should be pretty funny."
"As long as you two don't spend the whole movie talking about how they're doing it wrong," Shiro said.
"Keith better not complain about the martial arts," Lance said, looking pointedly at Shiro's fiancé, who was leaning against Shiro and sniffing the cave bug shaker with a suspicious frown.
"I don't do that," Keith said, not looking up. He cautiously sprinkled a bit of the mixture on his popcorn, tasted a piece, then added a little more.
"Yes, you do," said at least three people.
Shiro had his arm around Keith's shoulders. "Yeah, you do," he said with an affectionate smile. He kissed Keith on the temple and stole some of his popcorn.
"Say, have you fellows set a date yet?" Coran asked. "It takes time to plan these things, you know. We'll need clothing, a band, a caterer, a location, and I have no idea where we're going to get thirty-two favian branches and an ooch for the traditional oochian warve."
"End of April, probably," Keith said. He handed the cave bug shaker to Matt. "I need to know when my mom can be here before we set a date."
"Don't cut it too close," Lance said. "You gotta give your best man time to plan the bachelor party. I am your best man, right?"
"Well-," Keith said, then realized Lance was looking at Shiro. "Wait, you want to be his best man?"
"You can't be the best man and the groom, you know," Lance frowned at Keith. "Stop trying to hog everything."
"I wasn't hogging anything!" Keith crossed his arms over his chest and glared at Lance. "I was going to ask you to be my best man."
Lance blinked. "Do you even like me?"
Keith slouched down until his chin nearly touched his chest. "You're one of my best friends."
Lance pondered this. "All right, man, if you want me to-"
"I don't," Keith snapped.
"But you said-"
"I don't want to be your second choice," Keith said. "The wolf will do it." He rested his hand on Kosmo, who snorted and disappeared. He reappeared next to Romelle and poked his nose at her popcorn bowl. She gave him a few pieces.
"I'm sure you could find someone else to do it," Hunk said. "Someone in this room, perhaps?"
"No, I'm gonna do it!" Lance said. "Shiro, sorry to leave you hanging, but I'm going with Keith."
Keith glared at him. "Fine."
"Great!" Lance glared back.
"Who will you choose as your sword man?" Allura asked Shiro.
"'Sword man'?" Pidge asked.
"On Altea, it was considered very bad luck to carry a weapon when getting married, so the sword man - or woman - was always armed in case of attack," Allura said. "It's a tradition we held for thousands of years before Altea was destroyed."
"I thought Altea was peaceful before the Galra attacked," Hunk said. He sprinkled the cave bugs over the popcorn.
"It's not for enemies," Coran said. "It's for wompabugs. They're attracted to string music."
"I've asked Matt to be my best man," Shiro said.
Lance pointed at Matt. "We'll coordinate bachelor parties. Schedules, dress code, who gets who, all that. I'll make a spreadsheet."
Matt grinned. "Color coded?"
"Of course!" Lance said. "What are we, animals?"
Coran cleared his throat. "Speaking of joyous events, ah, I've arranged a few appearances. For morale and all that."
They started the press junket in an Earth studio. "You'll be fantastic, fellows, the camera loves you!" Coran said. He tugged at Shiro's tunic to straighten it.
A makeup artist brushed a little powder over Shiro's cheeks. "Are we covering the scars?" she asked the other makeup artist, who was attempting to apply concealer to a faint bruise on Keith's cheek. Keith twitched every time the brush came near his skin.
"No!" Keith and Shiro said at the same time.
Keith's makeup artist tapped the end of her brush against her chin. "Hm. Normally I'd say yes, but I'm liking the look. What do you think?" She turned to Coran.
"Okay, we're good here," Shiro said, gracefully blocking the powder brush. Keith swatted away the brush with the concealer and rubbed his cheek with the back of his hand.
Coran looked over them and sighed. "We're needed on the set in five minutes, anyway."
Keith and Shiro held hands as they walked onto the set. The studio audience started applauding as soon as Keith and Shiro were in view. "If they make us play evil Pictation, you do the drawing," Keith muttered to Shiro.
Between the pre-Kerberos press junket, Garrison publicity events, and the Voltron shows that Coran had pushed on them, Shiro had acquired quite a bit of media experience. He took the lead here, chatting with the show's host while Keith interjected the occasional comment and tried to pretend he wasn't totally hating everything about this.
"What are you planning for your big day?" The host smiled brightly at Keith. She had curly brown hair, golden-brown eyes, and a bright, well-practiced smile.
"Uh..." Keith straightened his back and reminded himself not to slouch. "Just a small ceremony with friends and family. The Princess Allura has agree to perform the ceremony."
"Neither of us grew up with a strong religious tradition," Shiro said. "What's important to us is being with the people we love. The trappings don't matter." The audience let out a collective awwwwww. Keith gritted his teeth to keep from glaring at them.
"Your smiling needs work," Coran told Keith after the show. "I'll send you a tutorial."
"My smiling is fine," Keith scowled. "Why do we have to talk about Shiro and me? Can't we talk about the Atlas?"
"Everyone's seen the battle footage a thousand times, and if Shiro starts talking about the specs again, he'll put half the galaxy to sleep," Coran said.
Shiro frowned. "The Atlas is a revolutionary ship. I think everyone should be thrilled to hear about its potential for-"
Coran pressed two fingers against Shiro's lips. "The Atlas is amazing and I'm putting together the choreography for an airshow, but you two are romantic and the world needs more beauty right now." He clasped his hands together over his heart and a tear welled up at the corner of one eye.
Keith stared at him, then pivoted on his heel and walked away. Shiro looked at Coran, then at Keith, then turned back to Coran. He covered his mouth with his hand to hide the fact that he was trying not to laugh. "I think we're going to take some personal time tonight," Shiro said. "We'll see you at the tour launch tomorrow."
Their first stop after Earth was Apleshan, populated by green-feathered bird people. The audience rustled when they applauded in a way that was almost musical.
"-I really cannot overstate Commander Holt's role in-" Shiro said, but the host cut him off with a swipe of a feathered hand.
"And we're very happy, very happy, about that, but today isn't about war, it's about love," the host said. A couple of audience members giggled. It sounded a bit like chirping. "We have a tradition for betrothed couples here and we thought it'd be great, really great, if we could share that tradition with you. What do you say?" Keith opened his mouth. "Great!" the host said, before he could speak. "Which one of you is the elder?"
Keith looked at Shiro. "I am," Shiro said. "But-"
"Excellent." The host swept out an arm with a flutter of feathers. Two bird people emerged from the wings. "We will see you back here this evening." He turned to the camera and winked. "But you folks at home won't have to wait that long. We'll be back right after commercial."
One of the bird people went to Shiro and took him off stage left, the other took Keith stage right. "I'm Vwaii," Keith's escort said as she led him down a plain blue hallway.
"I'm Keith," Keith said, and immediately felt stupid for saying it.
She laughed. "I know. Don't worry, this will be fun." She turned a corner and opened a door that led into a brightly colored room. Framed paintings hung on all the walls. "All you're going to do is create a painting for your beloved." She gave him a gentle push towards a desk already laid out with paper and paint.
Keith groaned. "I'm a terrible artist."
"Just paint something that's meaningful to you," Vwaii said. "Look." She took a piece of paper and dipped her fingertips in the paint. The narrow feathers swept across the page, leaving trails of yellow and green. "My beloved gave me a flower after our first fight and I pressed it into a book." She finished and turned the paper for Keith to see. The flower was drawn in incredible detail, down to a crease on one petal. "Now. You try."
Keith reluctantly reached for a brush and found none. "Where's the brushes?"
"'Brushes'?" Vwaii asked, puzzled.
"Yeah, tools you use to paint," Keith said. He mimed painting with a brush.
Vwaii lifted her paint-tipped feathered hands. "But why, when you have fingers?"
Keith looked at his own stubby, featherless fingertips. "This is going to be the worst painting ever," he muttered.
"No, push the tip of the needle through, then loop the yarn, pull it back through, no, make sure the yarn is still on the - okay, try again."
Shiro stared at the tangle of red yarn and sighed. "I hope love counts for more than skill."
They met back on the set that evening. Keith flopped down in the chair and blew at his bangs to get them out of his eyes. Shiro gave him a sympathetic smile and took his hand.
"All right, we are excited, excited, to see what you two have come up with!" the host said. "Bring out the work of the elder partner!"
An assistant brought out a lovely wooden box, opened the lid, and held it in front of Shiro. Shiro sighed reluctantly and took the wadded bunch of red yarn from within. He shook it out, twisting and untucking as he did so, but he finally had a long, knobbly rectangle.
"It's a... scarf?" Keith guessed. The audience applauded and the host rang a bell. Shiro draped the scarf around Keith's neck. It wasn't very long, but Shiro folded the ends over each other and pinned it together with a curved wooden clasp.
"I started getting the hang of it at the end," Shiro said.
Keith touched it. "It's great. Very soft. I love the color." He kissed Shiro and the audience awwwwwww 'd.
The assistant took the empty box away and the host said, "Now bring the work of the younger partner!" The assistant returned with a roll of paper tied with a ribbon and handed it to Shiro. Shiro untied the bow and carefully unrolled the painting. A photo of the painting popped up on the main screens so the audience could see. It was a black blob with streaks of white, blue and red. The audience whispered and rustled and many had confused looks across their beaked faces.
"Well, Shiro," the host said, giving the image a puzzled look. "What do you think?"
Shiro stared at it, entranced. "It's amazing." Several audience members snickered.
"Shiro, you don't have to pretend," Keith muttered.
"I'm not," Shiro said. "It's Black, isn't it? The Black Lion of Voltron," he explained to the host, who lifted his feathered eyebrows, shrugged, and dinged the bell. "But it's not what she looks like. It's what she feels like."
"Yeah," Keith said, surprised. "Yeah, I guess it is." He smiled at Shiro, who rested his hand at the back of Keith's neck and pulled him in for a soft kiss. The audience awwwwwww 'd again.
"Aren't they adorable?" The host lead the audience in another round of applause. "Stick around after the show for our next feature. 'Bumdiamples: Fact or Fiction'?"
Coran was waiting by the side of the stage when they went off the air. "Amazing. Wonderful television." He eyed Keith's scarf and nodded approval. "My Pop-pop used to knit, you know. He knit our taxes every year. If there were a lot of deductions, we knew it was going to be a cold winter."
"It's one step forward, one step back, side step left, side step right," Zlaiku said. The Arusian's horns had been freshly polished and shone in the midday sun.
Keith and Shiro did the steps, both of them staring down at their feet. "That's not so hard," Shiro said. He grinned at Keith, who smiled back.
"The Dance of Matrimony is not to be taken lightly," Zlaiku said sternly. A small camera hovered over his shoulder.
"Of course not," Shiro said, schooling his face into a solemn expression. “Please continue.”
"You've done forward, back, left, right." Zlaiku said, ticking the steps off on his fingers. He nodded. "Step forward again." They did. "And back." They did. "Now four steps in a circle, pivot left, pivot right, shimmy, shimmy, hop-"
"Wait-" Keith said. He flung his arms straight out to his sides as he tried to keep his balance.
Zlaiku raised his voice. "Twirl, forward, forward, back, half spin left, full spin right, two rabdans forward," he mimicked hopping while wiggling his hands, "three bagwarns back, spin left-"
"Hold on-" Shiro said.
Zlaiku glared at him. "Arms up." Shiro and Keith both raised their arms straight up. Shiro wobbled. "Spin, spin, pelvic thrust, a bootnaner lanward, a bootnaner surward, hop, hop-"
Keith's foot caught a rock and he landed on his rear with a puff of dust and an oof.
"Keith!" Shiro exclaimed. He stopped dancing and leaned over to offer his fiancé a hand up.
"Is this really necessary?" Keith demanded, brushing off his pants.
Zlaiku lifted his head so he could look Keith directly in the eyes. "If the Dance of Matrimony is not performed precisely, the couple will be together until death."
Keith and Shiro exchanged uncertain looks. "That's what we want," Shiro said. "In our culture, we say, 'until death do us part'."
"Um, actually, I've been wanting to talk to you about that," Keith said in a low voice. He gave the camera a sideways look and shifted a little to block it.
"What?" Shiro asked.
"Given your history-" he took a breath and tried again, "I mean, you have a habit of-" Keith eyed the camera and turned a little more. "If something happens and you come back from it, I want to still be your husband."
"Oh," Shiro said, and considered it. "Maybe put in an additional phrase?"
"Or drop that part all together," Keith said.
"If something happens, I don't want you to be alone," Shiro said.
"Shiro," Keith said softly, "I'd wait for you forever."
Shiro smiled at him, eyes shining. “Okay. We'll drop that part.”
Zlaiku cleared his throat. "In our culture, couples who fail to perform the Dance of Matrimony will be together for the rest of their lives, because they will cleanse the shame of the dance by throwing themselves on the sacrificial fire."
Shiro looked at Keith, then began, "That's not quite-"
"DANCE!" yelled Zlaiku. "Dance, for your love, and for your lives!"
Keith shrugged helplessly at Shiro. They danced.
Their host on Uytune provided them with hot baths, silk pajamas (red and black for Keith, black and white for Shiro), and a light meal of fruit and cheese and bread.
"We are very devoted to physical connections here," their host, Tunale, told them over dinner. "To follow our tradition, you must consummate the relationship before the ceremony to the satisfaction of all parties."
"We've, uh, already done that," Shiro said. He took Keith’s hand in his and squeezed lighty.
"Of course," Tunale said. "But this is a ceremonial consummation." He handed a book to Keith. Keith flipped it open to a random page and his eyes nearly popped out of his head.
"Uh-" Keith croaked.
Shiro handed him a cup of water and leaned over to see the illustrations. Shiro's expression stayed steady. He turned to Tunale and said, "I don't believe our anatomy is," he took a deep breath and glanced back at the book, "compatible with your techniques."
"Oh, of course," Tunale said, steepling all three sets of fingers and thumping his tail. "There's a conversion chart in the appendix." Keith thumbed through the pages and opened the book to the appendix. "Pick the genital set closest to your own and go to the page marked below it."
Keith, his cheeks bright pink, bent over to study the chart. He selected a set of genitals and turned to the correct page. He opened his mouth to speak, but the only noise he could make was a squeak.
"Is everything all right?" Tunale asked.
Keith cleared his throat. "We don't bend like that," he managed to say.
Tunale frowned in puzzlement. "Are you sure?" he asked. "Have you tried?"
"Yes," Keith said.
"Maybe we could - wait, you have?" Shiro's head swiveled to look at Keith.
"Look," Keith said quickly, "can't we just improvise something?"
Tunale heaved a sigh. "I suppose you'll have to. No, keep it." he said, when Keith tried to hand him the book. "Perhaps you'll find it inspiring."
Tunale showed them to the room where they'd be spending the night. "Anything you need should be on the shelves or in the nightstand," he said. "Enjoy your desheari." He slipped out of the room and slid the door closed behind him. The room was oval, and with rounded white walls and a round bed at one narrow end, it resembled nothing so much as an egg, though the bed was red rather than yellow. Along one wall was a shelf full of brightly colored creams, lotions and powders, and a few miscellaneous items.
"What does that word mean?" Shiro asked. He reached into a vase full of assorted feathers and pulled one out at random. It had spikes at the end.
"I think it's pretty clear from the context," Keith said, examining some of the small bottles.
"The literal translation, I mean," Shiro said. He slid the spiked feather back in the vase and drew out a long, soft feather that shed glitter when he shook it. He put that one back in the vase as well.
"Dunno," Keith said. "Ask Pidge when we get back. She's collecting dirty words in different languages. There's a chart." He picked up a jar of red, shimmery liquid, twisted the top off and leaned down to sniff it.
"What's it smell like?" Shiro asked.
"Like the flowers Lance brought back the last time he visited the mer- aaahh!" A tentacle shot out of the jar and up Keith's nose. Shiro caught the jar before it could hit the floor. A tiny sea creature flailed desperately as its suckers clung to the inside of Keith's nostril. Keith made frantic noises as the small tentacles slapped against his tightly closed lips.
Shiro set the jar carefully on the shelf. He cupped his hands around the creature. "You don't want to be there, do you? Why don't you let go?" The creature flailed in his hands, but let go of Keith. Keith flung himself backwards, landed on the bed, and sneezed several times in quick succession. Shiro put the creature back in the jar, where it disappeared underwater.
Shiro sat down next to Keith and put his arm around his fiancé. "Are you okay?" he asked.
Keith sneezed again. Shiro found a box of red tissues in the white nightstand and offered one to Keith. "I'm fine," Keith said. "I think we should leave that stuff alone, though."
"Agreed," Shiro said with a smile. He brushed a lock of Keith's hair away from his face and kissed him. When he spoke again, it was in a low, throaty voice. "I don't need anything but you."
"Come here," Keith said softly. He tugged Shiro down to the bed beside him. "I love you," he said softly, and kissed Shiro. Shiro laid back on the bed, and gently pulled Keith on top of him.
"And we're live in five, four, three, two, one!" The curtain along one wall drew open. Keith and Shiro had assumed it was covering a window. It was not. A blinding set of stage lights flipped on and they could hear the murmurs of a studio audience.
"No!" Keith yelled. "Come on! " He jumped up and put himself between Shiro and the audience.
Shiro rose to his feet. "We didn't agree to this!" he called out into the lights.
A slender figure approached them, a silhouette in front of the blinding lights. It wasn't until the figure reached the lights of the bedroom that they could see his face. "Bi-boh-bi-bi!" the show's host exclaimed.
Keith threw up his hands. "Nope!" He stalked out of the room.
Shiro looked at Bii-Boh-Bi. "I'm with him," he said, and followed Keith out of the room.
The door wooshed closed as Shiro stepped into the hallway, but his feet landed on nothing but air. He tried to activate his jetpack, but as he dropped into the dark chute, he remembered he was only wearing silk pajamas. The silk fluttered as the chute spat him out. He landed in a seat and something clamped over his feet before he could get his bearings. Lights snapped on, blinding him before he could get a good look at his surroundings. Somewhere nearby, Keith sneezed.
"Welcome! To Garfle! Warfle! Snick!"
Shiro blinked a few times and as his eyes adjusted, he saw a four-armed green creature sitting in a round, green and blue hoverchair. "What's going on?"
"Norlox, tell us what we're doing, for the fellow that took his time getting here," the creature said.
A announcer said, "You're playing Garfle Warfle Snick, with your host, Booooob!" The studio audience cheered and the green creature held his hands out in a faux-modest gesture. "The current warfler is... The Nearly Wed Game!" More cheering.
"What's your name, son?" Bob asked.
"Uh...," Shiro said, trying to get a look around. They were on a game show set, but he couldn't see any exits.
"Bet that makes it tough to talk about you behind your back," Bob said, and chuckled at his own joke. "Got any other names?"
"I'm Shiro," Shiro said. He turned and saw that Keith was strapped in a chair identical to his own. "Keith, what's going on?"
"I think we're being tested," Keith said grimly.
"Around here, we grade pass/fail, where you either pass me on your way out or you fail to leave the studio," Bob's voice dropped to a growly bass and the studio went dark, with a single beam of light shining across Bob's eyes. "Forever." The lights came back up and Bob's voice bounced back to his usual tone. "Buuuut all you've gotta do is accumulate quaz-cernbullion credits and you go free. We've already started!" Bob floated over to Shiro and leaned forward. "Shiro, I understand that you and Keith here are getting married."
"Yes?" Shiro looked over at Keith.
"You don't sound too certain, Shrio. Having second thoughts?" There was a sound effect of a prison door slamming.
"No!" Shiro said.
"All right, then." Bob's hoverchair floated to the other side of Shiro. "Would you say you know Keith pretty well?"
"Yes," Shiro said.
"Great! This should be easy." Bob floated over to Keith. "We've asked Keith a series of questions. I'm going to ask you the same questions and you just have to get the same answers. Simple, right?"
"I guess," Shiro said.
"All right! Audience, let's give him some support!" Bob turned to the audience, who applauded and cheered. Shiro squinted, trying to see the audience beyond the lights, but all he could see was glare. "Blazzle hoochas on the board, please!" A board lit up over Shiro's head and started counting down the time. "First question. Which of you said, 'I love you' first?"
"Keith," Shiro said immediately. Keith flipped over a large card so everyone could see what he'd written. It said, "Keith". A bell dinged and unfamiliar symbols appeared on a scoreboard.
"We are already off and running! Shiro, what word best describes Keith first thing in the morning?"
Shiro shot an apologetic look at Keith. "Grouchy."
Keith rolled his eyes and flipped over a card. Grouchy. The bell dinged and the audience applauded. "Hey, love ain't all frium and roses, which is why the next question is 'Which of you says "I'm sorry" first after a fight?'"
"Keith," Shiro said, after a moment.
Keith flipped over a card that said, "Keith."
"Beautiful!" Bob's hoverchair did a figure eight around Keith and Shiro's chairs. A short musical riff played. "Oh, we've already got a spirfle! Shiro, tell me honestly. Would you let Keith be bitten by a megal lizard for ten quintle credits?"
"No!" Shiro said.
"Wait-" Keith said, flipping through his cards.
"Won't be in there, son, it's a spirfle," Bob said, floating over to Keith. "How about twenty quintle credits and we pay the taxes? It's a painful death, but at least it's slow. " A reptile appeared in his hand and he held it over Keith. A drop of drool dripped from the reptile's mouth. Keith jerked to the side and the drool hit the arm of the chair. It sizzled as it burned all the way through the chair and into the floor.
"No!" Shiro said. A buzzer sounded and the audience groaned. Symbols flipped frantically on the scoreboard.
Bob shook his head. "I won't lie; that's a big setback. Still, we're early in the game." The megal lizard disappeared and Bob perked up. "Next question! Which of you is the vlermark and which of you is the votisworn?"
"I'm sorry, the what?" Shiro asked.
"It's a simple question, Shiro," Bob said with a little laugh. "Vlermark or votisworn, which are you?" Bob flew a circle around Keith's chair and nudged him with two elbows. Keith growled at him, which Bob ignored. "I guess you don't love him for his brains, do you? But that body, eh? Hubba Hubba!"
"Shiro-" Keith began.
"No hints, now!" Bob said, and a clear barrier dropped between Keith and Shiro. He floated over to Shiro. "Come on. Vlermark or votisworn?"
Shiro looked at Keith, who shrugged helplessly. "I'm the... votisworn?" The audience broke out in laughter. Shiro looked at them and back at Bob. "Is that bad?"
Bob lifted all his hands. "That's between you and your votis." The audience laughed again. "Show 'em, Keith."
Keith flipped over his card. It said, "Keith - votisworn; Shiro - vlermark." The buzzer sounded and the audience groaned.
"Oh, too bad," Bob said. The timer chimed. "And that's it for the first warfler! We're going into a speed round next and Shiro? I think it's time we raised the stakes." He gestured with his right hands and Keith flew out of his chair and to an open part of the stage.
"What are you doing?!" Shiro demanded.
"Raising the stakes!" Bob said. Dozens of ten-foot high metal stakes shot out of the floor, forming a round fence around Keith. "Ha! Little play on words there, Shiro. Let's get this round going. What is Keith's favorite food?"
"Uh, those swirly things Hunk makes. They're sweet - they're cake - cake on a stick?"
"Let's see Keith's answer!" Bob said. Keith's answer cards were still on his chair and one of them flipped up now. It said, Cake Pops. "That counts!" A bell dinged. "Good job, Shiro!" Keith stood in the center of the stakes in a fighting position. His eyes darted around, waiting for attack. "Next: which of you is more likely to cry during a movie?"
Shiro looked at Keith, who was braced for a fight. "Well... Keith. But it's just the movies about dogs."
"Let's see it," Bob said. The card flipped over. Keith. The bell dinged and Keith's cheeks reddened. "Next question: which of you is the better pilot."
"Keith," Shiro said, without hesitation. The card flipped over. Shiro. The buzzer went off. The audience awwwwwww 'd.
"That is sweet. Aren't they adorable?" Bob turned to the audience, who cheered. "Unfortunately, that is a wrong answer." Bob gestured with his left hands and something round and chitinous dropped from the roof into Keith's cage. It was about a foot in diameter and the yellow-green color of an old bruise. Keith reached for a weapon he wasn't carrying. A leg shot out of the creature on one side, with a pop. The tip of it was dagger-sharp and a purple gel dripped from the end of it. Then pop, another leg emerged, then pop, pop, pop, and kept going until it had ten legs total. It launched itself at Keith. Keith's eyes went wide. He dove into a roll and made it to the other side of the cage. The creature bounced off the stakes behind where he'd been.
"Let him go!" Shiro demanded. He tugged at his feet, trying to loosen whatever had a hold on him.
"Can't do that. Baldabeasts are extremely venomous. Don't want one loose on the set! Safer for everyone if it's behind bars." Bob shrugged. "Except Keith, of course, but that's where you come in. Win the game and everyone goes home!" Bob lowered his voice conspiratorially. "Except Norlox. His wife kicked him out." The announcer gave Bob a dirty look.
Keith had his back pressed against the stakes and his arms hooked around them. The baldabeast rushed at him and Keith lifted his slipper-covered feet and slammed both of them into the creature, sending it flying back to the other side of the cage. It hit the stakes and fell to the ground, then rolled over and lifted itself up on its legs again.
"Speed warfler!" Bob said. "Get five right answers before the time runs out and we will lower the stakes. Ready?"
"Uh-" Shiro was watching Keith's fight.
"Let's go!" Bob snapped his fingers and a new timer started counting down. "What's Keith's favorite color?"
"Red," Shiro said. The bell dinged.
"Who hogs the sheets?"
"I do," Shiro said. The bell dinged. Keith kicked the baldabeast across the cage again. One of the beast's legs tore Keith's left slipper off as it flew back. The baldabeast bounced off the bars and showed no damage at all.
"What's Keith's greatest fear?"
"That everyone he loves will abandon him or die." Ding!
"Second greatest fear?"
"Who is more likely to breplitz?" Bob asked.
"What?" Bzzzzz! "Wait, I don't know that that means!" Shiro protested. Another baldabeast dropped from the ceiling into Keith's cage. With a pop-pop-pop-pop-pop its legs shot out of its body and the two beasts flanked Keith. "Keith!" Shiro yelled, trying frantically to free himself from the magic bonds holding his feet down. Keith grabbed the bars behind himself, kicked off his remaining slipper and shimmied partway up the side of the cage. When the baldabeasts leaped for him, Keith launched himself across the cage to the bars on the other side.
"Shiro, keep going!" he yelled.
"How many tribobs does Keith skizze?" Bob asked.
Shiro stared at him. "...three?" he guessed. Bzzzzz!
"Ohhhh, no!" Bob said cheerfully. Another baldabeast dropped into the cage. "If you were buying shoes on Dizoolexa, whit size would you get for Keith?"
"Uh... nine?" Shiro asked. Most of his attention was on what was happening in the cage. Bzzzzz! Another baldabeast dropped down in front of Keith, who gave it a hard kick before its legs could pop out.
"Oh, too bad. I'm afraid that's a bit of a trick question. The Dizoolexans use the Mizule scale for shoes and clothing. Next question! Which one of you-" As Keith twisted away from a baldabeast on his left, one slipped in on his right and sank one sharp leg into Keith's thigh. Keith cried out.
"Keith!" Shiro yelled. The bell dinged.
"That is correct!" Bob said. The baldabeasts disappeared, the stakes retracted into the floor and Keith hit the ground with a thump. "Now, our final round." Shiro found himself standing at a podium. He tugged at his feet, but they were still unmovable. Keith stood at a similar podium facing him.
"One question, and one question only," Bob said. "I'll be honest here and say that your score's not good." He chuckled. "A votisworn, Shiro? You?"
Shiro looked helplessly at Keith, who shrugged helplessly back and mouthed, I don't know!
"Buuuuut it's not too late. If you win this round, you'll win the game. Got it?" Bob asked. Keith and Shiro nodded. "Okay!" Bob gestured and Keith and Shiro suddenly had pens in their hands. "If you had to sacrifice the universe to save your partner," Bob paused so they could absorb that, "or you had to sacrifice your partner to save the universe, who would you sacrifice? Let's put plizzle hoochas on the board and start now. " Bob cocked a finger at the timer and it started running. Countdown music came on over the speakers.
Shiro stared at his pen for half a moment, but really, there was only one answer. He wrote it down.
The music ended on a downbeat. "And... time!" The pens disappeared. "Let's see what we've got," Bob said. With a sweep of his hands, the screens on Keith's and Shiro's podiums lit up with the answers. They'd both written the same thing.
Keith crossed his arms and shrugged. Shiro gave him a rueful smile. The bell clanged furiously and confetti fell from the ceiling. "What a pair, what a pair!" cried Bob. "Looks like we have a couple of winners here! Thanks for playing and we'll see you next time on," Bob gestured at the audience, who joined in with "Garfle Warfle Snick!"
Abruptly, Keith and Shiro found themselves back in the hallway outside the room on Uytune. "Keith!" Shiro said. He touched Keith's thigh, but the tear in the pajama pants was mended as if it'd never been torn.
"It's gone," Keith said. He prodded the spot where the wound had been. His slippers had returned, too.
"That wasn't real?" Shiro asked.
"I don't know," Keith said. "Coran says Bob tests warriors. I think that was your test."
"Now what?" Shiro asked. Keith shrugged, but before he could speak, Coran and Tunale came tearing around the corner.
"We're very sorry," Tumale said, breathing heavily from the run. "We thought you understood - never would have -" He put two sets of hands on his knees and tried to catch his breath." His tail drooped.
"My apologies," Coran said. "It's my fault. Certain terminology has changed over the last ten thousand years. I didn't realize what we were agreeing to."
"You knew about Bob?" Shiro asked Tumale.
"Bob?" Tumale stared at him. "You saw Bob?"
"Just now," Shiro said.
"Bob is here?" Coran asked, looking around eagerly.
"No, he took us to his game show," Keith said. He poked the spot where the baldabeast had stabbed him. "I think."
"You walked off the set mere moments ago!" Tumale said.
"The magic of television!" Coran said.
Keith and Shiro exchanged a look and Shiro said, "We're going to stay in Black tonight."
The Oklari kept their prenuptial rituals private, but they sent a gift. Keith opened the box to find a canister of blue spores. Shiro read the card while Keith puzzled over the canister. "'We wish you congratulations and while our traditions are not the same as yours, we thought you might enjoy a gift from our culture. These spores are traditionally set free in the couple's bedroom on their wedding night. They promote virility and enhance pleasure-" Keith's eyes widened and he set the canister down very carefully. "-and provide luck and joy to young couples." Shiro folded the note and they both gave the canister suspicious looks.
"Okay if I give it to Lance?" Keith asked finally.
"Sure," Shiro said.
The next, and last, stop on their trip was Balmera. The Balmerans would commune with the Balmera and their beloved before a wedding, so Keith and Shiro spent an afternoon sitting quietly with their eyes closed and their hands pressed against the Balmera. It was extremely boring to watch and the whole segment got cut down to a 30 tick montage, but Keith and Shiro went home feeling calm and very connected to each other.
Krolia came by the next day. "I wanted to speak to you about the ceremony," she said to Keith. She sat down at the kitchen table and took out a notebook. Shiro went to get coffee. "I think I have a solution to the matrimonial battle problem."
"It's not a genetically enhanced raccoon, is it?" Keith asked warily, sitting down beside her.
She smiled. "Kolivan was joking."
"It's hard to tell sometimes," Keith muttered. Shiro brought out coffee for each of them and sat down next to Keith.
"No raccoons," Krolia assured him. "But we may be able to get a snick."
"A snick!" Keith exclaimed.
"One’s been terrorizing the farmers on Berus 3. We might be able to capture it instead of killing it and bring it here," she said.
"Hold on," Shiro said, lifting a hand. "Why are we bringing a snick here?"
"It's a Galran tradition," Keith said. "You do battle with a foe in front of your family to demonstrate that you would lay down your life for them if you necessary."
"On our wedding day, we're supposed to-"
"Not we, me," Keith interrupted. "You're not Galran, so you don't have to."
"Does it have to be on the day of?" Shiro asked.
"Not necessarily," Krolia said. "It's often done far in advance so that the next of kin can get their deposits back if it goes poorly."
"Is there a limit how far in advance?" Shiro asked. Krolia shook her head. "So sometime prior to the wedding, Keith needs to fight an enemy-"
"Alone," Krolia interjected.
"Keith needs to fight an enemy alone to demonstrate that he'd die for me?" Shiro asked.
There was silence for a moment as they all thought it over, then Krolia closed her notebook. "I'll let Kolivan know we don't need the snick. That'll free up some room in the budget."
Keith leaned against Shiro, who put an arm around him. "I think it'd be fun to fight a snick," Keith said.
"Not really," Krolia said. "They spit putrid slime."
"First we were going to split the group down the middle," Lance made a chopping motion, "but then Hunk said he couldn't decide which one of you he wanted to go with and Allura said she 'didn't think that was a choice she could rightfully make' so that wasn't going to work. Then I thought Matt and I could alternate choosing who goes to our parties like when we were picking teams back in school."
"Nope," Pidge said.
"Uh-uh," Hunk said. "I always get picked last."
"It wouldn't be exactly like school!" Lance sighed the sigh of one who has explained this several times already. "You'd be chosen by your party potential."
"So you' d be picked last?" Keith asked Lance.
"Hi, best man here, and if you keep insulting me, your bachelor party's going to be you watching Air Bud 55: Space Cadet alone with a bottle of nunvill!"
Keith crossed his arms over his chest and glared at Lance. "That movie transcends the genre."
"They can't even get wormholes right!" Lance said.
"Oh, now you care about that," Pidge sighed.
Lance lifted his hands. "May I continue?"
"Please do," Shiro said.
"Thank you." Lance gave Shiro a nod of acknowledgment. "This is the deal - we're doing a double bachelors party so we can all have fun together . We're going to go wingsuit flying over the Grand Canyon and when we land, we're going to go whitewater rafting down to the party site where we will party."
"I’m doing the food," Hunk said proudly. "Don't worry, I remembered the cake pops."
"What's wingsuit flying?" Allura asked.
"Jumping out of a plane with no parachute," Lance said.
"Are there jetpacks?" Allura asked.
"Nope. That’s the fun," Lance said. "Nothing between you and the ground but the air, with a bit of fabric to help you on the journey."
"Nobody shooting at you, either," Matt said. "That’s also part of the fun."
"Seems a bit tame, but I'll give it a try," Allura said brightly.
Romelle's eyes were wide. "Is that an Earth engagement tradition?" she asked.
Shiro looked at Keith and smiled. "We're making our own traditions."
The wedding took place on the top of a mesa overlooking the desert. Shiro and Matt wore their Garrison dress uniforms, while Keith and Lance had newly-designed Voltron dress uniforms. Galran tradition required Keith wear a weapon, so he carried his Blade of Marmora knife.
Canopies had been put up for the guests and each groom had a hovertrailer for a dressing room. Keith had dressed quickly and now sat staring at a game on his tablet as he waited. "This is stupid," he grumbled.
Lance looked over. "You just have to match four."
"No, this whole thing." Keith swept his hand around. "The traditions and the ceremony and the words to memorize and the stupid clothes." He flicked at the epaulet on his left shoulder.
"You're nervous," Lance realized suddenly.
"No, I'm not!" Keith protested. "Why would I be nervous? This isn’t even dangerous!"
"Yeah, that's why you're nervous," Lance said. "You have to go up in front of a bunch of people and talk about your feelings and you can't even punch anyone.”
"If we're going to talk about nervous, how about how you still haven't asked-"
Lance threw up his hand to stop Keith. "This is not about me." He studied Keith for a moment. "You smile a lot more now."
"I do?" Keith asked.
"Yeah. It's kinda weird," Lance said.
"In a good way." Lance sat down next to Keith. "Look, you love him and he loves you, and now you're going to say it in front of other people. That's all. The rest of it doesn't matter." Lance flicked the epaulet. Keith stared at him. Lance sighed. "I'm no good at this best man stuff, okay?" Keith suddenly leaned in and hugged him. "Keith? Are you... hugging me?" Lance carefully put his arms around Keith.
"Don't made a big deal about it," Keith said. He let Lance go. "I'm glad you're my friend, okay?"
"Same," Lance said. There was a knock on the door and Lance opened it.
"They're ready for you," Coran said. "Still certain about the cello?"
"There's no wompabugs on Earth," Keith said. He took a deep breath. "Okay. Let's do this."
"You should say Form Wedding Party," Lance said.
"On me," Keith said. "Form Wedding Party."
Keith and Shiro told each other things they already knew in front of people they saw every day, then mounted hoverbikes and raced each other to the cabin where they would spend their honeymoon and almost certainly not have to fight any raccoons.
Keith parked his bike and sat down on the steps of the cabin to watch the sunset. Shiro sat down next to him and took hold of his hand. "Want dinner?" Shiro asked.
"Soon," Keith said. He rested his head against Shiro's shoulder. "I never thought I'd have anyone like you."
Shiro kissed the back of Keith's hand. "I am the happiest I've ever been in my life right now. I love you."
"I love you, too," Keith said. They watched until the red-gold rays of the sunset changed to the deep blue of twilight. "Dinner now, I think," Keith said, but it was a few more minutes before they got up.
"When we get back, we have to ask Pidge what a 'votisworn' is," Shiro said, as they went into the cabin.
"Yeah, I'm pretty sure I'm the votisworn," Keith said.
"Do you even know what that means?" Shiro asked.
"No," Keith said. "I just have a feeling."