The pilot was most likely dead. The tiny ship hadn’t just crashed; it had been nearly crushed when it was side-swiped by that Galra warship. If there was a chance someone had survived, Keith had to try to save them. “I’m going to check for survivors,” he told the team. The Black Lion dove towards the planet.
“Need backup?” Shiro asked, from the bridge of the Castle of Lions.
“Should be fine,” Keith said, as he maneuvered his Lion down to the surface. “Looks quiet from here.”
“Famous last words,” Hunk muttered. He and the other Paladins were patrolling the ruins of the Galra warship, looking for survivors or remaining threats.
“Okay, we’ll keep an eye out in case the Galra return. Keep your comms on and don’t take too long,” Shiro said. “We need you back at the castleship.”
Keith landed his Lion and tracked down the crashed ship. He found the pilot crumpled in the captain’s chair. “Pilot’s dead,” Keith reported soberly, after inspecting the man. “Looks like he died on impact. Broken neck.” He checked a couple of cabinets and found a silver emergency blanket, which he laid over the man as a shroud. Keith frowned. “He looks human.”
“Human!” Shiro exclaimed.
“See if you can get his flight logs,” Pidge said. “If you can hook up your wristlink, I should be able to pull the information from here.”
“Got it,” Keith said. He found a port and linked up. “Getting anything?”
“It’s a Beinarian shuttle,” Pidge said, after a moment. “Those don’t have the fuel capacity for deep space.”
“Beinaria is in Galra-occupied territory,” Keith said. “Probably a refugee making a run for it. I don’t know where he was going, though.”
“Faivatte,” the corpse said, sitting up. Keith shrieked.
“Um… did that sound come from Keith?” Hunk asked.
“Keith! Are you okay?” Shiro asked.
“I’m fine,” Keith gasped. “Uh, a revision to my earlier report. The pilot is not deceased.”
“Badly injured?” Shiro asked.
Keith looked over the man. His clothes were torn and bloody, but he seemed intact. “No, he looks good.”
“Thank you.” The corpse flashed a smile. “Jack Harkness.” He held out his hand.
“Keith,” Keith said, cautiously shaking the man’s hand. “Paladin of Voltron. Thought you were dead. I guess you’re not human, after all.”
“It’s complicated,” Jack said. He tilted his head to look at the knife strapped to the back of Keith’s belt. “Blade of Marmora, huh? Got some Galra in you?”
“Apparently,” Keith said. He touched the blade protectively. “What about you?”
“Oh, now and then,” Jack grinned. “Say, any chance I could catch a ride with you? I don’t think this thing’s going to fly again.” He jerked his thumb at the missing chunk from the ship’s hull.
"I can't get you to Faivatte," Keith said. He faced Jack and leaned against the console. "A Galra fleet just moved into their orbit."
Jack tapped his thumb against his chin. "Can you get a message to Kolivan?"
Keith crossed his arms over his chest. "Depends on the message."
Jack took a data stick from the pocket of his long, blue coat and held it up. "I owe him a debt. I'm ready to pay."
Keith considered this, then nodded. "I'll take you back to our ship and I'll contact Kolivan. We'll hand over your message or we'll hand over you . His call."
Jack cocked his head and smiled. "Handle me any way you like."
"Shiro, I'm bringing a guest," Keith said, into his comm.
"Copy that, Keith. We'll be ready," Shiro said.
"My lion's this way," Keith told Jack. He climbed out of the wreckage of the Beinarian ship with Jack right behind him.
"Um, guys?" Hunk said. "Was that dude... flirting with Keith?"
Lance snorted. "Good luck to him. It's like flirting with a brick wall."
"Mm-hm," Shiro said, just barely loud enough for the comm to catch it.
"I can hear you!" Keith hissed, "And this is not an appropriate discussion during an active mission."
"Since when?!" Pidge exclaimed.
"Since... it's a good idea to limit personal chatter," Keith said. "And I can flirt just fine!"
"Uh-huh. Hey, Keith, when was the last time someone flirted with you?" Lance asked, grinning.
"I don't know," Keith said irritably. "Back at the Garrison?"
Shiro sighed audibly.
"Oh, dear," Allura said.
Keith and Jack reached the Black Lion, which lowered her jaw to let them in. Jack let out a low whistle. "What a beauty!" he said, as Keith led him into the cockpit. "I've heard of the Voltron Lions, but I never thought I'd see one up close. Does she fly as smooth as she looks?"
Keith grinned. "Hold on."
Shiro met them in Black's hangar. "Hello," he said, offering his hand to Jack, who shook it. "I'm Shiro. Welcome to the Castle of Lions."
"Jack. Very glad to meet you," Jack said. He dipped his head in greeting. "I take it I'm getting my own personal escort?"
"We have to take precautions," Shiro said apologetically. He led them down the hallway toward the ship's bridge.
"Understood," Jack said. "Met up with a rebel in the Sarveert system and he had me in cuffs as soon as I walked through his door."
“That’s rough,” Shiro said.
“Actually, he was very gentle,” Jack said.
"I don't think that will be necessary here," Keith said, "as long as you're on good behavior."
"I'll obey your every word," Jack assured him.
Shiro made a squawking sound.
"Shiro, you okay?" Keith asked.
Shiro coughed. "Just something in my throat. Dust, I think."
The other Paladins were on the bridge when they got there and Keith did quick introductions. Coran took one look at Jack and his shredded, scorched clothes, and said, "I'd say you could do with a change of clothing."
"If you've got something, I'd appreciate it," Jack said. “I haven’t been this eager to get out of my pants since the liberation party on Cilnoth.”
Coran held his hands out, one high, one low, then one right and one left, muttered some numbers, counted on his fingers and nodded. "I think something of Shiro's would do." He looked at Shiro, who nodded approval. "Excellent," Coran said. He ran off. Keith and Jack went to the console to send a message to Kolivan.
Shiro joined the other Paladins. "What do you say?" Pidge asked.
"He's definitely flirting," Shiro said glumly.
Lance patted him on the back. "Take heart. Keith's never noticed anyone before, so why would he notice now?"
Shiro brightened. "That's true."
"All right," Keith said. He and Jack walked over to the other Paladins. "I've sent a message. It might be a while before he gets back to us, though."
"One more for lunch," Hunk said. "How do you feel about Keranese rock fungi?"
Jack's eyes lit up. "Love it! Haven't had any since my last meal on Keranisle."
"Great!" Hunk said. "Some of these guys are a little suspicious of the things I cook up." He glared at his friends.
"Keith is very particular about what he puts in his mouth," Lance said, attempting an air of innocence. Shiro stepped on his foot. "Ow!"
"Sorry," Shiro said, his expression neutral. "Cramp."
Jack looked at Keith and flicked his tongue over his lower lip. "Quality over quantity, huh? I can appreciate that."
"Uh," Keith said uncertainly.
"Here you are!" Coran said cheerfully. He strode up, dangling clothing from one hand. "This should fit you just fine. It's a little bland, so I brought you one of my scarves." He waved a blue bit of fabric from the other hand. "It'll bring out your eyes."
Shiro frowned. "It's not bland. Black's a good color."
"Bichromatic minimalism is very in right now," Jack said, stripping off his coat. "I'll be all the rage."
He took off his torn shirt and put his hands on his waistband.
"Whoa, one sec," Hunk said, holding up his hand.
Jack stopped. "Nudity taboo, huh?"
"You're not hurt at all," Keith said, staring at Jack's bare chest.
"I heal fast," Jack said, with a shrug.
"We'll find you somewhere to change," Shiro said quickly.
"Wouldn't mind a shower, either," Jack said. He licked his thumb and rubbed a bit of soot off his stomach.
"Sure,” Keith said, watching Jack’s thumb. “My room's got-"
"Lance!" Shiro said suddenly.
"Huh?" Lance replied. He was also enjoying the show.
"You've... uh, got the best shampoos. And stuff," Shiro said. “You always smell nice.”
“He does?” Keith wrinkled his nose.
"Yeah? Oh! Yeah," Lance said, understanding dawning. "Come with me," he said to Jack.
"Don't start on that Keranese fungi without me!" Jack called out as he walked off, but it was Keith his glance lingered on before he turned away.
"Keranisle is a penal colony," Pidge said thoughtfully. "When he said 'last meal', do you think-"
"Wow, that dude was completely flirting with you," Hunk said to Keith, ignoring Pidge.
Keith snorted. "He's just friendly."
Coran stroked his mustache. "Reminds me of a fellow Alfor had a fling with once upon a time."
"My father did what ?" Allura asked in horror.
Coran flapped a hand at her. "Long before he met your mother. You know, I don't even remember his name. Handsome fellow, though. Wonder if they're related?"
"That seems unlikely," Shiro said, frowning in the direction of Lance and Jack.
“Ten thousand years,” Pidge said slowly. “Normal humans don’t live that long.” She frowned, thinking.
"Yes, you're right. It must have been someone else," Coran said.
"I think I'll clean up, too," Keith said. He sniffed his armor.
"We could all stand to wash and change," Shiro said. "We'll meet up for lunch."
Everyone stared when he walked into the dining hall. "What?" Keith asked.
"You're wearing a new shirt," Shiro said, and the words came out like an accusation.
"Yeah?" Keith shrugged. "I picked it up the last time we were at the space mall. Don't you get tired of wearing the same old thing?"
"No," Pidge said.
"Not really," Hunk said.
"I mean, you find a look that works..." Lance said.
"Well, I think it's fantastic," Jack said. "Red really suits you."
"Thanks," Keith said. "Hey, that scarf does bring out your eyes. Looks good." Shiro dropped his head on the table. Lance patted his hair gently.
"Thank you!" Jack beamed.
"Are you okay?" Keith frowned at Shiro.
Shiro lifted his head. "Cramp," he said. He leaned back in his chair and rubbed his neck. "I'm fine."
"Okay," Keith said. "Good."
"Uh, Keith?" Shiro added. "The shirt is nice. I mean, it looks really nice on you. And your eyes."
"I'm beginning to see the problem," Allura mused.
Keith smiled at Shiro. "Thanks."
"Here we go!" Hunk said, setting dishes down in front of them. Jack immediately took a big bite.
"Oh, this is amazing!" Jack said. "I'm not just saying that because I've been living off Beinarian space rations for three days. Where'd you get this recipe?"
"It's my own." Hunk beamed. Around him, the others tentatively started eating. "I never know what I'm going to have to work with day to day, so I improvise a lot."
"Okay, I taste the fungi and lina juice, but that's not priqua seeds in the sauce, is it?" Jack asked. "It's something saltier, but with a bit of a bite."
"Balmeran cave bugs," Hunk said. "They're incredibly versatile and they store well."
"Delicious," Jack said. "Hats off to the chef! You're not hungry?" He looked at Keith, who was poking at his food.
"It's good," Keith said, though he hadn't taken a bite.
"The best way to eat a dish like this is right here." Jack drew the tip of his finger across the front of his tongue. "You'll get the best flavor. If you gulp it down, it'll hit the back of your throat and you'll just get bitterness. Here," he touched his tongue with the tip of his finger, "you'll get the flavor."
Keith took a careful bite. "Oh, yeah, that's really good," he said, in surprise.
“Thank you!” Hunk said, grinning.
"You just have to know the best way to use your tongue," Jack said, and took another bite.
There was a choking noise across the table, and Pidge said, " Eat it, Shiro, don't inhale it."
The call came in after lunch. Keith answered it on the bridge. Yes, the Blade of Marmora had worked with Jack Harkness before, and yes, they were very interested in the information he had to share.
"We can't take him into Faivatte right now," Keith said, standing in front of the huge viewscreen. Jack was beside him and the others were in their usual seats. "It's too hot."
Kolivan nodded. "What about Rwinginar?"
"How's it look, Pidge?" Keith asked.
Pidge tapped at her personal console and pulled up the latest report. "Should be clear."
"We can do that," Keith told Kolivan.
"Good," Kolivan said. "I am sending you a datapacket with coordinates. Jack, my agent will contact you there in seven vargas. Keith, it would be helpful if you could ensure that Jack was in one piece to greet my agent."
"Yes, sir," Keith said.
"That will work," Jack said. "And my debt?"
"If your information is worthy, your debt will be cleared. I will judge its worthiness," Kolivan said. Jack nodded respectfully. Kolivan ended the call.
"Here it is," Pidge said. A galaxy map popped up with a marker on a large planet.
"Black can get there in less than a varga," Keith said. "I'll stay with Jack until contact is made."
"What about after?" Allura asked.
"You can leave me on Rwinginar once the job is done," Jack said. "I have connections there."
"Good," Shiro said. "That sounds like a plan."
"Rwinginar," Jack said thoughtfully. "Rwinginar. Oh!" He tapped on his wristband and pulled up some data. "Oh, perfect. The timing couldn't be better."
"Rwinginar is significant?" Keith asked.
"In a way. Tonight, just three vargas from now, will be Rwinginar's triple sunset, when all three suns set at the same time. It's an event that happens once in a thousand deca-phoebs. I swore I wasn't going to miss it again." He turned to Keith. "We could get dinner. I know a lovely cliff-top restaurant that has a clear view over the sea and an excellent wine selection. My treat."
Keith smoothed the back of his hair. "Yeah. Yeah, that sounds nice."
Lance, Hunk, Pidge and Allura turned to look at Shiro. Shiro stared wide-eyed at Jack and Keith, then pulled himself together. "I don't know if that's the best idea," he said. Jack and Keith turned to look at him. "I-I mean, if the Galra are looking for Jack-"
Jack looked at Shiro, then at Keith, then back at Shiro. "You're right," Jack said decisively.
"He is?" Keith said in surprise.
"Rwinginar's still Galra-occupied territory. Keith and I shouldn't be alone." Jack gave Shiro a winning smile.
"This is not the direction I expected this to go," Lance muttered.
“Do you ever miss popcorn?” Pidge asked Hunk. “I miss popcorn.” Hunk nodded.
"I'm sure we'll be fine," Keith protested.
"Shiro, why don't you join us?" Jack suggested. "We can have roasted liikbak and sip blue wine over the Stariver Sea." He turned to Keith. "If that's all right with you."
Keith's mouth fell open. He looked at Jack, then at Shiro, and finally said, "Yeah, that sounds like a good idea. Shiro's great at watching my back."
"I noticed," Jack said, clapping Keith on the shoulder. "I'm sure the three of us can handle anything that pops up."
"Right," Shiro said. "We'll check in with the castleship when we arrive and when we've made contact."
"I'm going to take a room at a little bed and breakfast by the shore," Jack said. He put on his battered overcoat. "You're welcome to stick around after the exchange. I really should get out of your pants," he added to Shiro, then laughed. "I don't say that to guys often."
"That sounds nice," Shiro said. "However, we do have duties here."
"No, no, no," Lance said, waving his hands. "You deserve a break. Take a night off. Relax." He nudged Allura.
"Oh, yes!" she said. "We'll call you if anything comes up. You won't be terribly far. Just keep your comms on."
"One way!" Lance said quickly. "We don't need to hear what you're doing unless you're calling us."
"Thank you," Shiro said sharply.
Keith narrowed his eyes at Lance. "Why are you acting weird?"
"I'm just being me," Lance said. "Go." He gestured for them to move. Jack, Shiro and Keith started walking toward the Black Lion's hangar, but Keith stopped.
“I forgot my gloves,” Keith said. “Go on, I’ll catch up with you,” he said to Jack and Shiro. He dashed up to his console, and gestured for Lance to come over.
“What? I didn’t take them this time,” Lance said.
Keith gestured again, a little frantically, and Lance came over to speak to him. Despite Keith’s instructions, Jack and Shiro were waiting for Keith, and watching.
“I know I’m going to regret this,” Keith said, in a low voice, “but I need your help.” He grabbed his gloves from the console shelf and tugged them on.
Lance raised his eyebrows. “Sure! What do you need?” he said in his normal voice.
“Shh!” Keith said. He took a deep breath and said, “I think Jack is flirting with me.”
“Really,” Lance said, his voice desert-dry.
“Shut up. I don’t know what to do!” Keith grabbed Lance’s shoulder.
“Give me a couple of minutes and I’ll draw you a diagram,” Lance said. He patted Keith’s hand and carefully pried it loose.
Keith rolled his eyes. “I know that part. It’s just that Shiro ’s coming along.”
“Okay, I’ll need a bigger piece of paper,” Lance said.
“Shiro’s not interested in me!” Keith hissed.
Lance blinked. “Huh?”
“I’ve been flirting with him for years and he’s never responded. But Jack’s into him and I think Shiro’s into Jack, and maybe I should just step aside,” Keith said miserably.
Lance processed this. “Okay, brace yourself, because I’m about to blow your mind,” he said. “Shiro is completely into you.”
“He’s not.” Keith gave his head a dismissive shake. “I think I know Shiro better than you.”
Lance squeezed his eyes shut and pinched the bridge of his nose. “Okay, how do I do this?” He opened his eyes. “Got it!” He raised his voice. “Jack, can I speak to you for a moment?”
Keith’s eyes widened in alarm. “What are you doing?”
“Trust me,” Lance said. He waved Jack over to the side of the bridge and they leaned forward in a huddle.
“What is it?” Jack asked. They whispered together. “I suspected,” Jack said. Lance said something else and Jack nodded. “Definitely.” They both turned to face the rest of the room. “Gentlemen!” Jack said. He went over to Keith, linked arms, and dragged him over to Shiro. “We are going to have a lovely and enlightening evening.” Keith gave Lance a desperate look and Lance returned the look with a thumbs up. Shiro just looked confused.
"Wait!" Pidge called out. The three of them stopped. "Are you immortal?" she asked Jack.
"Yes," he said.
"How?" she asked.
"Temporal paradox. Every time I die, I live again," Jack said.
"Useful," Keith said, with a glance at Shiro.
"Sometimes," Jack said.
"Neat," Pidge said.
"Not usually," Jack said. "You wouldn't believe the dry cleaning bills." He turned back to Keith and Shiro and they headed down the hallway.
“I thought that fellow looked familiar,” Coran said. He tugged at his mustache. “Alfor and I saved him from a galomping voont once. I suppose it’s understandable I didn’t recognize him. We didn’t spend much time looking at each other’s-” He noticed the faces watching him in horror. “-credentials.”
"Coran, if you know anything about the stranger that Keith and Shiro are escorting to a rendezvous, then perhaps," Allura faltered. "perhaps you should tell them when I am not in the room."
“You can tell me about it,” Lance said.
“Lance!” Pidge smacked his arm.
“What? It’d be educational,” Lance said.
Late that night, after the suns had set and they’d safely delivered Jack’s information to the Blade of Marmora, Jack and Keith and Shiro sat in their room in the inn overlooking the golden waters of the Stariver Sea. The blue wine Jack had mentioned was blue-grey and shimmery and very strong. They lounged on overstuffed cushions and sipped from stemless glasses as they talked.
“Should I open another bottle?” Jack asked, tilting the last of the wine into Keith’s glass.
“I don’t know. I think Keith’s drunk,” Shiro smiled.
“I am not,” Keith said. He swirled the wine in his glass and watched the shimmers ripple.
“Tipsy?” Shiro leaned over and bumped Keith’s shoulder with his.
“No.” Keith shook his head carefully.
“Buzzed?” Shiro asked.
“Maybe a little,” Keith admitted. “But we’ve been drinking the same amount, and I’m part Galra. You should be drunker than me.”
Jack took a sip of his drink and rested his hand on Keith’s thigh. “Do you have any Galra in you, Shiro?” he asked.
“Nope,” Shiro said. He dropped his head back, relaxing on the cushion.
There was a moment of expectant silence, then Jack nudged Keith’s knee with his own. Keith sat up. He swallowed the wine he’d been sipping, wiped the corner of his mouth with his thumb, and gave Shiro a shy smile. “Would you like some?”
It had taken a while, but Shiro got it in the end.