Keith hid his knife inside his boots and sat down next to Shiro. He reached for Shiro's hand and felt metal. Keith lifted it and stared. "What did they do to you?" he whispered. He put the metal hand down gently and wrapped his hand around Shiro's flesh hand.
The Garrison trucks parked in a half-circle around Keith, Shiro and the shuttle, with the Blue Lion on the other side. Keith's mouth went dry when soldiers emerged from the vehicles with guns drawn, but he didn't move.
A woman got out of the vehicle and walked over to him. Her hair was gunmetal gray and tied back in a tight bun. A soldier walked beside her, gun ready. They stopped about fifteen feet away. "Keith?"
"Professor Montgomery," Keith said. A man got out of another vehicle and stepped up beside her. He was carrying his own weapon.
"Is that... Officer Shirogane?" he asked. It was Mr. Harris. Keith had had a class with him. Biology. Mr. Harris had once said Keith shouldn't have been allowed into the Garrison. In front of the whole class.
Keith nodded. "He needs a doctor. Please."
"He came down in that?" Professor Montgomery asked, looking at the shuttle.
"Yes," Keith said.
"And that?" she asked, raising her eyes to look at the lion.
"It was in the desert," Keith said.
Professor Montgomery nodded, not in agreement, but as a signal that the information had been received. She turned to Mr. Harris. "What do you think?"
"We can't examine the vehicle and the... lion... until we've got failsafes in place. Everything here needs to be placed in bio-containment immediately," he said. He gave Keith a narrow look. Seems like Mr. Harris's opinion of Keith hadn't improved.
Keith gritted his teeth. "Officer Shirogane sustained these injuries while on duty as a pilot and it is the Garrison's responsibility to provide medical care immediately ."
"Son, this is not your call to make," Mr. Harris said. Keith nearly lunged at him, but Professor Montgomery held up her hand before Keith could move.
"Keith, I promise you that Officer Shirogane's well-being is of utmost priority," she said. "We have a medical team on the way. I hope you understand that you are under quarantine as well."
"The guards are authorized to use lethal measures to maintain quarantine," Mr. Harris warned.
"I'm not leaving Shiro," Keith said.
“If you’re not family-” Mr. Harris began, but Professor Montgomery interrupted.
"If you comply with all instructions, there's no reason you can't stay,” she said. “It’ll free up a guard,” she said to Mr. Harris, who reluctantly nodded.
In less than an hour, the Garrison had erected dome tents with insulated corridors. Two med techs came out in hazmat suits with a rolling stretcher. They lifted Shiro onto the stretcher and rolled him into one of the tents. Keith followed, staying within an arm’s length of Shiro. The tent was furnished with a folding chair and an exam table. Keith sat down to wait anxiously while the techs transferred Shiro to the table and began an examination. One left and came back with a rolling tray with a set of syringes laid out on it.
"What is it?" Keith asked, leaping to his feet. "What's wrong with him?"
"Please don't interfere," one tech said. He lifted a syringe, examined it, and drew blood from Shiro's left arm.
"What on Earth do we do with this?" the other tech asked, pointing at Shiro's metal arm. "Should we detach it?" He pushed up Shiro's sleeve. "It seems to be fused."
"It's what?" Keith asked. He tried to move in and get a look, but the tech blocked him.
"Stay out of the way or you'll be removed."
Keith stepped away and put his back to the tent wall. He folded his arms over his chest and forced himself to hold still.
The techs took samples of his blood, hair, clothing, and even the dirt on his cheek.
"That's from the sand at the landing site," Keith said dryly. One of the techs glared at him and he shrugged. "Just thought I'd save you some time."
The tech looked him over and said, “We’ll need blood from you as well.” He picked up a syringe.
“No,” Keith said. He took a fighting stance without thinking about it.
“He’s right,” the other tech said. She handed the first tech a collection vial. “You’ve been exposed.”
“Exposed to what?” Keith asked.
“That’s what we’re trying to find out,” the first tech said. “Take off your jacket and show me your arm.”
“This is stupid!” Keith protested. “I didn’t even go anywhere!
“If you’d followed proper containment procedures, we wouldn’t be having this conversation,” the second tech said. She walked around Shiro and the two techs stood between Keith and the doorway - and more importantly between Keith and Shiro. Keith knew he could get past them, but could he get past them and carry out Shiro safely? And where would he find medical care for Shiro? He still hadn’t woken up.
“Fine,” Keith snapped. He yanked his right arm out of his jacket and offered it up to the first tech. The man took his sweet time finding a vein, but Keith had never been afraid of needles, so he only glared impatiently.
When the vials were full, the techs packed up everything and left Keith alone in the room with Shiro. Keith put his jacket back on and slipped his earbud in his ear. "Pidge? Are you there? ... Pidge?" It took her a minute or so to pick up.
"Keith? Does he know anything about my family?" she asked.
"He's not awake yet," Keith said, keeping his voice low. "What's going on outside?"
"We're in the dorms. We're on lockdown. Everyone's supposed to stay in their rooms, but of course, no one is." She sighed. "And we got detention for missing our simulator session."
"Who cares?" Lance was apparently behind her. "That was way better than any simulator!"
"Yeah, you didn't crash it." Hunk as well.
"They should have cameras all over that place. I'm trying to get a visual on you," Pidge said. There was a moment while she worked, then she said, "Okay, I'm in,” she said. “Wave?”
Keith looked at the camera and lifted a hand. "Can you find out what they know?" he asked. "The techs have been taking samples but they won't tell me anything and Shiro's still unconscious."
"Let me see," Pidge said. She was quiet for a moment, then, “No, they’ve logged the samples, but there’s no results yet.”
“Okay.” Keith said. He gripped the edge of the bed and looked down at Shiro. Why had his hair gone white? Was it a symptom of something worse?
“I’ve tagged the file,” Pidge said. “I’ll know the moment it’s updated.”
Keith tried to sit, but he couldn’t hold still. He paced around the exam table, arms folded over his chest. It was at least half an hour before Pidge came back with more information.
"Okay, Takashi Shirogane. They don't know anything. His blood's normal and they've sent the other samples to a lab on base, so nothing there yet. He's got a concussion, which is probably why he's knocked out."
"Is it bad?" Keith asked.
"Hard to tell until they do a scan. The sooner he wakes up, the better," Pidge said. "What happened to his arm?"
"What do they say about it?" Keith asked.
"Nothing. They took a couple of surface scans but they don't know anything. They don't even recognize the metal it's made from! The aliens did that?"
"The techs looked like they were about three seconds from dissecting him," Keith growled.
"What do you want us to do?" Pidge asked.
"Nothing yet," Keith said. "I'd better see if he wants me to break him out before I get both of us thrown in the brig. But if they try to slice him open, we're gone."
"Keith… they’ve got a file for you, too.”
“I know,” Keith grumbled. “They took blood. I think they just wanted to stab me with something.”
“Your potassium and ferritin are really high,” Pidge said. “Maybe you were exposed to something.”
Keith shook his head. “They’re always like that. They did a bunch of tests on me when I was a kid and there’s nothing wrong. I’m just a mutant.”
“Maybe you should get out of there,” Pidge said.
“I’m not leaving Shiro,” Keith said firmly.
“They’ve got a bunch of stuff flagged on your record. One of the doctors has requested more tests,” Pidge said.
“It’ll be fine when they compare their results to my Garrison medical records,” Keith said.
Pidge was quiet for a moment, and Keith could hear the usual dorm noises behind her. The TV was on and a couple of people were yelling at each other about a missing book. “I just have a bad feeling,” she said.
“I’m not leaving Shiro,” Keith repeated. “I don’t know what they’ll do if no one’s looking. He’s… he’s Takashi Shirogane, and look how they’re treating him!”
“Yeah, and you’re not Takashi Shirogane,” Pidge said. “I just want you to be safe.”
“I can take care of myself,” Keith said.
Pidge sighed. “Okay. Tell me if there’s anything you need.”
“I will,” Keith said. He moved a folded chair next to the exam table and sat down, leaning forward so he could rest his elbows on his knees and grip his hands together. He waited for Shiro to wake up, or for the techs to return, or for Mr. Harris to barge in demanding answers. His eyes grew heavy, and he rested his head against the table just for a moment...
He woke to the sound of a groan beside him and jumped to his feet. "Shiro!" Keith said.
Shiro's eyes opened halfway. "Keith?"
"Keith!" Pidge said in his ear.
"He's awake!" Keith said, nearly giddy with relief. He's alive .
"Keith!" Pidge said louder.
"Gimme a sec," Keith snapped.
"We don't have a sec! Keith, they're on the way."
Keith looked at the door to the tent.
"No! Not the Garrison!" Pidge said.
"Keith?" Shiro weakly propped himself up on his elbows. "Where are we?"
"Oh no," Keith said to Pidge. "Where? When?"
"As far as I can tell, they're near Neptune, but they're moving way faster than any Earth ship. They keep mentioning the Champion - I guess that's Shiro - and Voltron. I don't know which one they're after."
"What's going on?" Shiro asked.
"You landed in some alien ship," Keith said. "We're under Garrison quarantine and there's an alien warship headed for us."
"They found me," Shiro said. He sat up abruptly. "The ship I arrived in, do you know where it went?"
"It's quarantined around here somewhere, but it was on fire when you landed. I don't think it'll fly," Keith said.
"Take me to it. It's our best shot." Shiro ordered.
"No, I think we have another option," Keith said. "Pidge?"
"On it," she said, her voice low. "We're breaking out of the barracks. We're on foot, though. We left the bikes at the cave."
"Take a Garrison car," Keith said.
"It's going to be tough to steal an officer's keys while we're on lockdown," she said.
"Don't need 'em," Keith said. "Pick a standard issue vehicle, no more than five years old, and find the lower panel in the center console." He gave her the instructions on how to hotwire it once she’d opened up the panel.
"Got it," Pidge said.
"See if you can work up a distraction while you're out there," Keith said.
"I'll try," Pidge said.
"What's your plan?" Shiro asked Keith.
"We found a ship in the desert," Keith said. "It's a huge, flying, blue lion. It's part of something called Voltron."
"Voltron!" Shiro exclaimed.
"You know what it is?" Keith asked.
"It's a weapon," Shiro said. "I don't know much about it, but they want it, so I think we need to find it."
"The aliens?" Keith asked.
"Were the Holts with you?" Keith asked.
"We were captured together," Shiro said. "I don't remember what happened after." He shook his head. "There's a lot I don't remember."
"We’ll figure it out." Keith put his hand on Shiro's shoulder. "I think you hit your head pretty bad. Can you walk?"
"Ever since I was a kid," Shiro said. He carefully slid off the table and put his feet on the floor. And wobbled. Keith caught him before he fell. "You're taller."
"I grew," Keith said. "It could be a few minutes. Maybe you should sit down."
Shiro shook his head. "Feeling better every second. Tell me about Voltron."
"I've been following this weird energy ever since I got kicked out of the Garrison," Keith began.
"You got kicked out?" Shiro asked.
"Um. Yes," Keith said.
"Okay, we'll come back to that later," Shiro said. "Weird energy?"
"Yeah, I tracked it into the desert," Keith said. "Pidge built a radio, because she's trying to find her family, and we've been picking up transmissions of these aliens who are looking for the Voltron. That led us to the blue lion."
"The Galra," Shiro said. “Those are the aliens you heard.”
"Is that what they're called?" Keith said. "That's how she knows they're coming, but we don't know how long-" There was an explosion, which lit up the sky and the tent and shook the earth. "Pidge!" Keith yelled.
"It's okay, that was us!" Pidge said. "There's your distraction. I've got video of the quarantine area and I'll let you know when to go. Oh, by the way, I owe you a cooling unit."
"That was my cooling unit?"
"Yeah, that's what happens when your thermal line and your hydro port meet your compound wires!" Pidge said. "I think your house might be a little scorched. I tried to pull the cooling unit out of range but - Lance, go around the rocks, not over them!"
"I'm gonna hurl," Keith heard Hunk say.
"Oh, oh!" she said suddenly. "They're pulling everyone away. The guard on your tent is gone, Keith. Let's see..." she paused for a moment, "okay, if you take a direct line west, you shouldn't meet anyone until you actually get to the lion. There's three guards at its feet."
"Weapons?" Keith asked.
"Handguns," she said.
"How far apart are they?" Keith asked.
"They're standing right next to each other and talking. I don't think they're supposed to be doing that," Pidge said.
"They're not, but it's good news for us," Keith said. "I'll take them out. You should have a clear path when you get here. See you soon."
"See you," Pidge said.
"What's going on?" Shiro asked, and Keith filled him in on the situation.
"I'll leave you at the mouth of the tent, I'll take them out, then I'll come back to get you," Keith said.
"No way," Shiro said. "I'm not letting you take on three armed soldiers alone."
"You can barely walk," Keith pointed out.
"I've fought tougher opponents in worse situations than this," Shiro said.
"Yeah? Well, this time you don't have to. You've got me," Keith said.
"I'll sneak up on them and take them out before they can draw their guns." Keith said. "Just be my backup. I'll signal you if I need help."
Shiro examined him and then nodded. "Okay."
They made their way through the tent village and to a point where they could see the lion. Like Pidge had said, the guards were whispering together and kept looking over their shoulders in the direction of the explosion. Keith left Shiro propped up against a tent pole and snuck around while the guards were looking the other way. It was quick work for him to disarm them and knock them out. He ran back to Shiro and politely did not point out that Shiro was still having trouble staying upright. He just let Shiro lean on him as they made their way to the base of the lion.
Keith looked up at it. "Hi," he said.
"This is incredible!" Shiro said, looking at the lion in awe.
"It should lower its head so we can get in," Keith said. "Hi!" he waved a hand at the lion. "It's me, Keith. We met earlier?"
"Is it sentient?" Shiro asked.
"It's... something," Keith said. "Sorry if I'm being rude," he said to the lion, "but it's an emergency. Can you let us in?"
"Er, hello," Shiro said. "My name is Takashi Shirogane and we could really use your help." They waited. There was no response.
A Garrison vehicle tore down the road and skidded in a half circle before stopping just next to one of the lion's feet. Lance jumped out of the driver's seat, Pidge climbed out of the back with her gear and Hunk threw himself out of the car and puked behind one wheel. "He drives as well as he flies," Pidge said of Lance.
"Yikes," Keith said.
"Hey!" Lance said, looking up at the lion. "Blue, baby, how ya' doing?" The lion roared, then lowered its head and opened the ramp.
"Amazing!" Shiro exclaimed.
“It likes Lance,” Pidge observed dryly.
"Yeah, I've got a special touch," Lance said. "Shiro, right? I'm Lance." He offered his hand, and Shiro met it with his metal one. Lance looked down at the metal hand in surprise, then shook hands.
"This is Pidge," Keith said, as she approached. "And there's Hunk," who was following after her, still looking a little green.
"Nice to meet you," Shiro said, and shook their hands. "Let's get inside. I don't know how much time we have."
"Good idea," Lance said. "Do you want help?" He made like he was going to take Shiro's arm off Keith's shoulders.
"I've got him," Keith snapped. Lance backed away.
The five of them crowded into the cockpit with Lance in the pilot's seat and the Lion launched into the sky.
Later, after the excitement (and terror) of their first fight as Voltron wore off, the newly-minted Paladins went off to their newly-assigned rooms to get some sleep. Keith went to bed in his empty room, but despite his exhaustion, he couldn’t fall asleep. He got up, and following an instinct, he walked down the long hallway to the hangar of the Green Lion. He found Pidge working on her laptop with her equipment spread around her.
“Hi,” he said. He leaned against a wall and folded his arms over his chest.
“Hey,” Pidge said, without looking up from her work. “You couldn’t sleep either?”
“Nope,” Keith said.
“How’s Shiro?” Pidge asked, and this time she did look up at him.
“He’s going to be okay,” Keith said, with a small smile. “He’s safe now.”
“Except for the Galra Emperor trying to kill us all,” Pidge said dryly.
Keith shrugged. “We can all look out for each other.” He pushed a lock of hair out of his eyes (which promptly fell back in place). “Thank you. I owe you.”
“You do,” Pidge said. She hit two keys, set the laptop down and stood up. “Did Shiro say anything about them?”
“He still can’t remember,” Keith admitted. “But he will. And those prisoners we rescued might know something.”
Pidge nodded half-heartedly.
“Pidge,” Keith said, spreading his hands wide, “we can go anywhere now. We can take on anyone! Voltron is the most powerful weapon in the universe!”
“Great, we can blow up ships,” Pidge said bitterly. “How’s that going to bring my dad and brother home?”
“I don’t know,” Keith admitted. “But we’ll figure it out. Just tell me what you need.”
“Right now?” Pidge’s voice cracked. “I think I need a hug.”
Keith hesitated for just a moment, then strode over to Pidge and wrapped his arms around her. She pressed her face against his shoulder. “I swear to you, we will bring them home,” he promised.