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Alarm bells were going off in Keith’s mind. It was a very clear, very obvious sign that something was wrong. Something was very, very wrong. His bayard was heavy in his hands as he tried to disengage from the stalemate, but he couldn’t get away.

“Keith!" Shiro’s voice echoed in his ears. He shoved the Galra soldier off of him and turned just in time to feel the jolt as a knife tried to cut through the first layer of his paladin’s armor. He carried through with his momentum and splattered purple ichor across the floor.

Those bells were still going off, but the environment was moving too fast for him to pick up on what was causing them. He took in the soldiers being held back by Hunk’s blaster fire as he covered Pidge while they hacked into the ship’s mainframe. Shiro burned a hole straight through the armor of a sentry. Acrid smoke seeped its way into the air from the fresh hole in its metal chest.

Up in the rafters, Lance crouched under cover. Periodically, he would take down a machine before it could get to one of the other paladins, but even with his aerial support, they were close to being overrun. Whether they were flesh and bone or metal and wire, the bodies continued to pour into the already small room.

“How are we doing on time, Pidge?" Shiro asked as he blocked a swing that was on course to be uncomfortably acquainted with vital organs. He opened his mouth to say something else but was cut off by another attack.

Their fingers flew across the computer screen in front of them. “I need just a little more time. A dobosh, maybe half.”

“You’re asking for time that we don’t have!" Keith grunted. He pivoted on his heel after narrowly dodging a blast from somewhere in front of him. A sudden flash of blue filled the room for an instant before two sentries fell to the ground, their lifeless suits of armor deafening the paladins with the sound.

A burning sensation erupted from Keith’s shoulder. He dropped his bayard, which turned back into its default state, instantly as his sword arm went limp. The energy from the blast sent him spinning dazedly into the path of a Galran soldier. He raised his arm to block the strike he knew was coming, but a flare of pain that caused his vision to white out stopped him from moving anything in any sort of defense. A sword bit into the junction between his other shoulder and neck. His legs gave out beneath him; his body hit the floor jarringly, and the metal was wrenched out of his shoulder.

A red lake blossomed out from his vision, growing larger by the second. Distantly, he wondered why it wasn’t purple.

The flare of burning pain was enough to remind him.

The Galra above him raised his sword for a death blow, and Keith couldn’t be bothered to move. Not when it hurt to breathe, not when the only sound he could hear was the rushing of blood in his ears which was getting quieter, quieter, quieter.

His eyes started to drift closed, and distantly he registered a glowing purple hand jutting from the soldier’s chest. The Galra stared down, confused for a moment. His arms faltered, and the sword clanged to the ground beside Keith. Then his head exploded into a mist of thick purple ichor and bright blue light.

The lifeless body fell to the floor right in front of Keith, and a set of legs in dirtied white and black armor kicked it further away. A similar set of feet, this time dressed in white and blue, stood with their heels toward Keith as the ones in black turned and crouched over him.

Blearily, he forced his eyes open and stared at who was hovering over him. Black hair with a shock of sharp white. He knew who this was. He knew he knew, only he didn’t know.

The man’s mouth was moving. But black spots were dancing in front of Keith’s vision. The man reached forward and turned Keith’s head to face him. He could feel his heavy head lolling to the side. His hair was sticking uncomfortably to his head.

Keith started to let his eyes close again, only he was stopped once more by the man above him. A hand was on his cheek, and there were tears from the other falling onto the broken white and red armor that Keith was wearing, but he couldn’t feel it.

He couldn’t feel his fingers or his toes now that he thought about it.

His arms were heavy; he didn’t want to move them.

He just wanted to sleep. That’s all he wanted.

Shiro.

That’s who that was. That was Shiro. Keith felt the corners of his lips rise in a smile. Shiro was going to go into space soon. He was letting Keith come to the launch to see him off. Shiro was saying something to him, but they had gone over this already; Keith couldn’t read lips.

He tried to say so, but something warm and wet fell from his mouth, dribbling down his chin, and bringing a strong metallic taste with it. God, he was drooling, how embarrassing.

Keith was just barely starting to make out his name from between Shiro’s lips when his vision tunneled suddenly. His body was beginning to tingle, and he was so tired.

Whatever Shiro was trying to tell him could wait until morning. For now…

For now, Keith would just…

He would just sleep.

Yeah.

He would just sleep.

 

---

Lance loved the feeling of his bayard.

He loved how quickly it moved and how easily it allowed him to lock onto enemies. Keith might feel alive while training, Hunk might feel alive while cooking, but Lance was truly living when he was in the field with his sniper in his hands.

He was amazing. He was a sharpshooter. He was Lance McClain from Earth, boyfriend to two amazing paladins of Voltron.

Never had he ever felt so weak and helpless with his bayard in his hands.

Lance had been too late to see the Galra sniper, hiding in an alcove beside him. He should have seen the muzzle of the gun, then he wouldn’t have needed to have spotted the Galra soldier coming up behind Keith. Time had moved so slowly in those instants.

He had seen the purple flash of light out of the corner of his eye and his heart had leaped into his throat. The blast couldn’t have been in the air for more than a few milliseconds, but he saw everything.

The blast hit Keith’s sword arm, causing him to drop his bayard, which instantly retreated back into its resting form. But that wasn’t the end of it.

Lance watched, feeling useless, as Keith spun, gripping his shoulder. His jaw clenched tight so that he wouldn’t scream again.

Lance saw the unfiltered terror that registered in Keith’s dark eyes the second he caught sight of the soldier behind him. Keith was injured, without a weapon, and in enemy territory; he was no better off than shark bait.

The soldier in front of Keith raised his sword, and Lance’s bayard was moving ever so slowly despite how quickly he was telling his arms to move, move, move.

The sword fell, and Lance saw Keith try to raise his hands in defense, but nothing happened. His weapon was on the floor, and his arm was dead. The blade parted the white and red paladin armor better than a hot knife through butter; nothing was stopping its path. The blade sunk deeper into Keith, and Lance saw every emotion flicker across his face: terror, confusion, acceptance, and then anguish.

Keith was screaming, and he probably didn’t realize it. The red paladin fell to his knees in front of the soldier, and Lance finally had his bayard ready to fire, but the terrible thought that he might not be fast enough to pull the trigger and save his love flashed through his mind.

Shiro was there though.

Shiro was there, and his hand was through the soldier, and Lance’s finger squeezed the trigger, and the soldier’s head exploded in a gruesome mist, and Keith was safe.

Keith was safe.

Keith was safe, and time finally resumed for Lance. He shot the sniper who had first shot Keith almost effortlessly, before dropping down into the war zone. Shiro was covering their boyfriend’s body, but something was wrong.

The fallen paladin was pale, but he shouldn’t have been that pale. His dark hair was pulled away from his forehead, making him look so serene, so terrifyingly peaceful. Lance ran to them.

He shot his way through the droves of enemies, killing one coming startlingly close to Pidge, but his eyes never drifted from the two others in the center of the chaos.

Lance reached them. “Check on Keith." He said. His voice was coming out much calmer than he thought possible at that moment. He sounded like he had a grip on the situation when he most definitely did not have a grip on the situation.

“What the fuck are you doing down here? Get back up to your perch!" Shiro yelled. And Shiro never cursed, never. That was enough to signal that he was worried, more than worried. There was a foreign edge to his voice; sounding frantic, unhinged.

Lance stood with his back to Shiro. His gun was pressed against his shoulder and he brought down enemies left and right. “Check on Keith, I will cover you.”

“You are not equipped for combat in close quarters. Get back up there!”

“Check. On. Keith.”

Shiro sighed in exasperation but didn’t wait for a second longer before he dropped to his knees beside their partner. “How are you doing?" He asked softly but loud enough to be heard. “Keith, can you answer me?" The blasts from Lance’s bayard flashed in the corner of his vision.

Keith’s eyes stared blankly at him. He was looking, but he wasn’t truly seeing. Shiro used his prosthetic to turn the other’s gaze toward his face. His other hand rushed to staunch the flow of blood from his neck. And his heart plummeted - there was so much blood.

“How is he?" Lance asked through his teeth. He didn’t dare take his eyes off of the fight in front of him. He was taking down enemies, but he wasn’t doing it fast, or often, enough. Shiro didn’t respond immediately. “Shiro?”

Lance risked a glance back at the two of them. The black paladin’s hands were stained red with Keith’s blood. Worry was etched into his face and his other hand was loosely pressed to Keith’s cheek. Lance was almost sick.

He wasn’t good.

Movement behind Shiro’s body caught his eye, and he spun to shoot the advancing soldier. The blast shot true and it fell back instantly, a hole between its eyes.

Shiro glanced behind him at the fallen soldier and nodded appreciatively to Lance before the whites of his eyes grew in warning. He opened his mouth to shout, but Lance felt something in his knee fail, and he fell gracelessly to the ground. Once on the ground, he rolled to his backside and shot the person behind him.

The body fell beside him, and the sword that it had been carrying was dripping red with human blood.

“Lance!" Shiro tried to make his way over to him, but Lance stopped him with a glare.

“I’m fine." He hissed. The pain was starting to get to him. “Just make sure Keith’s okay." He could feel the wet of his blood dripping to a puddle on the floor.

Lance turned his attention back to the rest of the battle. Shiro reluctantly started to talk back to Keith, trying to keep him awake.

He tuned out their conversation and tried not to let his panic rise as the worry in Shiro’s voice did. He just needed to concentrate on keeping the three of them safe. They always looked out for him, so now it was his turn.

“Keith!" Shiro yelled. Lance felt his heart in his throat, but he kept his eyes on the battle, keeping the Galra at bay. “Hey, babe- baby! I need you to open your eyes." Panic was working its way into Shiro’s voice like fire through ice. “Please, Keith. Keith!”

Shiro cursed again, and Lance risked a backward glance at his partners. It… Didn’t look good.

Keith’s head had fallen to the side limply - lifelessly. His face was so pale, and there was no trademark smirk on his lips or familiar quirk to his eyebrows. None of the expressions that Lance had spent hours memorizing on his boyfriend’s face appeared there now. The lack of familiarity was jarring. Where was the Keith that he had fallen in love with?

“Got it!" Pidge screamed across the comms, their hand raised above their head holding the small USB-like drive. “We need to get out of here, now!”

Lance nodded and pushed himself to his feet only to fall down again, pain flaring behind his knee. Tears erupted from his eyes as he bit back a scream, but it wasn’t enough to muffle the sound completely. He pushed himself up using his bayard as a crutch - which was probably a stupid decision - and looked back at Shiro and Keith.

Shiro had two fingers of his flesh hand pressed into the pale skin of Keith’s neck. From where he was, Lance wasn’t sure he could see Keith’s chest moving with breath at all.

Shiro lowered his head to rest on the armor that wasn’t moving. He cast his eyes backward and looked to Lance’s knee. His vision was torn between the red and blue paladins, and Lance saw the moment he made a decision.

He grabbed Lance by the arm and pulled him up into his own, ignoring his scream of pain.

“Shiro?" Lance asked, his eyes drawn up in confusion. “Shiro, I can hop or-or crawl or something- go get Keith!”

The black paladin shook his head.

“What? What do you mean no!? Go back and get ah-!" Lance cut off as his foot accidentally clipped the edge of the hallway and sent cold fire up his leg.

Shiro’s voice sounded tight. “Keith- He’s- Keith’s not-”

The blood drained from Lance’s face, maybe because of the dread sinking low into his chest, maybe because there was so much blood escaping through his leg. Keith had been fighting just ten minutes ago, that wasn’t enough time for someone to…

This wasn’t the way it happened in movies and books. The lovers always got to speak before one of them died; it was heartbreaking when they died in each other’s arms.

Lance hadn’t even-

Lance hadn’t even gotten to say goodbye.

“No." He whispered, the sound barely perceptible to his own ears, Shiro couldn’t have heard him. “No." He tried again, louder this time. It still wasn’t enough.

Shiro hadn’t seriously… He couldn’t have chosen to leave Keith behind, but here they both were. Lance was in his arms, and Keith was laying in another room, alone.

Lance tried to raise his head to look at his partner but found that he couldn’t. His… Everything… Felt heavy. His arms, head, eyes. Blood loss, a voice inside his head reasoned.

“Lance." Shiro rearranged his grip on him. “Lance, baby, stay awake, yeah? Can you do that for me?" There was something frantic in his voice. Shiro’s hand was nestled under his knee, and that should have hurt, but it didn’t.

He nodded his head as best he could, but he only ended up resting his head on the hard white armor which was becoming more and more comfortable by the second.

The world shifted around him, and he distantly realized that he was in the cockpit of a ship. People were yelling at each other. At him?

He tried to reach for someone’s hand, but his fingers were tingling unpleasantly - he didn’t think he was successfully grabbing anything.

The ship he was in took off, and someone sat next to him. He must have been on a bed of some sort because the added weight caused it to depress, and his body rolled slightly towards it.

Fingers brushed their way through his hair gently, making him forget everything that had just happened. Wetness splattered against his face and he screwed his eyes up in discomfort.

“I’m sorry.”

Shiro whispered. Lance could feel the heat of his breath against his ear.

“I’m so sorry.”

What did Shiro have to be sorry for?

“I’m so fucking sorry, Lance.”

---

A pulse.

Shiro was looking for a pulse, that’s all he needed. He would take anything at this point. Anything that would say that Keith was still alive. His fingers slipped across too-pale skin, encouraged by the pooling blood.

It should be right here. He pressed his fingers harder into the flesh, but he couldn’t find anything.

Keith’s chest wasn’t rising. That could just be because the armor was disguising signs of life, Shiro reasoned in his head. And… There! The slightest beat against-

A blast of blue fired above his head and he sent Lance a thankful look, only for his eyes to widen in warning when drawn to right behind Lance, but he was too late. The Galra soldier behind the blue paladin swung his blade downward and into the joint behind his knee.

Lance rolled to his behind as soon as his knees hit the ground and shot the soldier behind him.

“Lance!" Shiro yelled, the word torn from his throat. He momentarily forgot his other partner in favor of getting to him.

The blue paladin shot him a lethal glare. “I’m fine. Just make sure Keith’s okay.”

Shiro receded back to Keith where his fingers were still pressed into the carotid artery, his subconscious still searching for a pulse that… Had been there. He searched again, feeling for that slight beat, that slight promise of the life that said Keith was still there.

He…

He couldn’t find it.

There was no flutter of his eyes under his eyelids to say that he was dreaming. There was no rise and fall of his chest to say that he was breathing. There was nothing to say that he was alive. Keith was…

Gone.

The last of his strength vanished. His body collapsed across Keith’s, trying to will some of his life into the younger man’s body. Keith didn’t deserve this. Keith deserved the long walks on the beach he dreamed of with Lance. Keith deserved to finally find out about his mother. Keith deserved to race Shiro through the desert like they had done so often in the past.

All of Keith’s smiles, all of his laughs, all of his time spent sparring; all of it was gone. Tears fought their way past his defenses and out through his lashes. His breathing became shaky, and his body started to tremble. This… This wasn’t fair. The Galra had taken everything from him already, why did they get one of the loves of his life too? Wasn’t his arm enough?

Pidge’s eagerness shook him from his sorrow. “Got it! We need to get out of here, now!" Shiro didn’t move.

In front of him, Lance moved to push himself up but immediately fell back down, a scream of pain barely pushing past his lips. That was what got Shiro; if he couldn’t keep Keith safe, then he would make damn sure that Lance was, even if it killed him.

He lifted his head up to look to Lance, who was propped up using his bayard as a crutch, bleeding profusely from the back of his knee, blood staining white armor red.

Keith’s body wasn’t moving. Given time, it was going to get slowly colder and colder. There was nothing Shiro could do for him, but he could save Lance; he could still save Lance.

His heart tore in two as he pushed himself to his feet to gather Lance in his arms, ignoring the screech of pain that erupted from the man’s throat. He didn’t spare a second, fleeting glance at his boyfriend. He knew what he was going to see: a broken and bloodied version of the man he loved whose body was being laid to waste from Galra soldiers tearing it apart.

“Shiro?" Lance’s voice was weak and confused, “Shiro, I can crawl. Go get Keith.”

Shiro shook his head.

He couldn’t go back. It was too late for Keith, and if he left Lance to crawl back to Green, the Lion everyone had piled into for what was supposed to be a reconnaissance mission, then all three of them would likely be overrun. He couldn’t let that happen to them.

“What? What do you mean no!? Go back and get ah-!” Shiro felt guilt rip its way through him with every word that Lance spoke and even more so after he misjudged a hallway and ran Lance’s injured leg into the side. That had to have hurt, but they couldn’t slow down.

Shiro swallowed with difficulty before he started. “Keith- He’s- Keith’s not-” He couldn’t physically force the words out, because if he spoke them, then they became real, and he couldn’t deal with them being real at the moment.

“Lance?” He had gone strangely quiet in his arms and he readjusted his grip, wincing as his arm brushed the wound under Lance’s knee, but the younger paladin didn’t shift this time.

Panic flashed through Shiro’s mind, but all he could think of was, Not you too. He just needed to turn left twice more and they would be safe. “Lance, baby, stay awake, yeah?”

Something next to him exploded with a flash of sparks, and he flinched away from the ricocheting bullets, pulling Lance closer to his chest protectively. He couldn’t lose someone else. Heavy footsteps filled the corridor behind them, and Shiro didn’t have to look behind him to know that the Galra were gaining on them.

Just a little farther.

Adrenaline coursed heavily through his legs as they pumped back and forth. He rounded the corner, and they were in the Green Lion, which detached from the Galra ship as soon as the door was closed.

“What are you doing?” Shiro roared after he had set Lance down on the make-shift cot in the back of Green. His hand lit up unintentionally with his anger. Pidge jumped in their seat when he barged into the cockpit. “I need to go back for Keith!”

Pidge shifted their eyes away from him and back onto the controls. “I’m sorry Shiro, there was no more time.”

“That’s bullshit!”

“It’s not bullshit and you know it!” Pidge screamed, trying to hide their own tears. “If I had waited any longer, then we would have been overrun with Galra, and we would all be dead. We could still be dead if you don’t shut your goddamn mouth and let me fly!”

Shiro felt something break inside him, and he went quiet, walking unsteadily back to Lance. Hunk had Lance’s leg bandaged as well as it could be, but the Blue Paladin’s face was still contorted in subtle pain.

Shiro sat down beside his lover, carding his fingers through the soft brown hair, and he let his grief wrack him. He leaned down to kiss Lance’s temple but stopped himself.

“I’m sorry.”

The words weren’t enough, and he knew it. God, he was such a fucking idiot. Keith was gone. Hunk left the two of them, his hand rested on Shiro’s shoulder for a few seconds longer than usual before he joined Pidge.

“I’m so sorry.”

The tears that hadn’t already fallen were doing so now, making small puddles on the cot below him.

“I’m so fucking sorry.”

---

Lance had lost consciousness shortly after that, the heaviness of his eyes outweighing the incessant throbbing in his knee trying to keep him awake. When he did open his eyes again, it was to the pristine interior of the med-bay behind the spotless glass of a healing pod.

There were a few tics that he spent watching them before the glass slid to let him fall into Shiro’s waiting arms.

Coran and Allura were both standing off to the side. He had his mustache twisted to the point that it more resembled two spikes than the handlebar that it was supposed to. She was worrying her fingers through her long white hair, trying fruitlessly to rid the ends of tangles. Lance was going to talk to her about hair care when he got the chance.

Pidge stood to the side. Their hands were wrung tightly together as they looked at him. One of their hands was freed from the prison of the other to push the glasses that they always wore further up the bridge of their nose. Tears had forged a path from their eyes to the tip of their chin, but there didn’t seem to be any more falling now, so that was good.

Hunk stood right next to them, his arms hugging his body protectively. Warm eyes were fixed on Lance’s face, looking for any change, and when Lance looked into them, Hunk was the first to excitedly point at the change.

Shiro stood directly in front of Lance’s pod. He was a wreck; if Pidge had barely cried, then he had cried for all of them. His eyes were rimmed red, and the white tuft of hair was sticking up at odd angles as if he had been constantly pulling at it. Prosthetic fingers drummed against the muscled flesh non-stop.

A pile of blankets and pillows was tucked into the corner, making it clear that at least one person had slept in the room with him.

The glass slid back and let him fall into Shiro’s arms, which had untangled themselves as soon as the door opened. Lance scrunched his nose when the first thing he smelled after the stale air of the healing pod was his unwashed boyfriend.

Shiro’s flesh hand came up to hold Lance’s head closer to him as he breathed a sigh of relief. Tears pattered down onto the tight suit that he wore in the pod.

Lance pushed himself back from Shiro, only to be caught in a crushing hug from Hunk and ambushed by Pidge all at once. “We’re so glad you’re okay,” Hunk said is he squeezed tighter, Pidge’s head nodded their affirmation against his back.

“Where’s Keith?” Lance murmured, although he didn’t have much air in his lungs for the others to hear. Hunk released him, and his feet met the floor once more.

“Where’s Keith?” He tried again, his voice slightly stronger this time. The effect on everyone was instant; they all cast their eyes down and away from Lance, even Shiro.

He looked at every other person in the room to be sure, but Keith wasn’t there. A cursory check of the healing pods around the room confirmed that they were empty.

“Guys?” He looked to his partner, and everything came back to him.

Keith’s body lying on the floor, far too pale, with Shiro crouched over him.

The minuscule shake of Shiro’s head when Lance had begged him to go back for their third piece.

They had left Keith behind.

Pidge’s tears had started up again. “We- we had to leave. The Galra were gaining on us, and- and, if we hadn’t taken off right then-” They cut themselves off to dry their eyes with the long sleeves of their shirt. “I’m so sorry.”

The smile that Lance had worn earlier was now a ghost of what it had been as his heart broke inside of his chest. He shook his head, taking a step back to the glass of the healing pod, and covering his open mouth with a hand. Tears wet his hand surprisingly quickly, and he slid to the ground.

“What do you need, Lance?” Hunk asked him while he and Shiro knelt down beside him. Hunk’s warm hands gripped his smaller one and squeezed it as comfortingly as possible.

“Alone,” Lance mumbled, his eyes were closed now.

“I want to be alone.” He reiterated, swallowing thickly. Four sets of footsteps exited the room. “I said alone, Shiro.”

Shiro took a step closer to him and placed a hand on his shoulder. It wasn’t the Galra prosthetic, but Lance flinched anyway. “I loved him too, Lance.” He tried, his voice was like gravel from underuse.

Lance breathed in heavily through his nose but didn’t look at the other man. “You left him, Shiro.” He shook the hand from his shoulder and curled himself into a tighter ball. “I said I wanted to be alone,” His voice broke as he whispered again, “Just please, leave me alone for now.”

Shiro sighed and turned to leave the room, but before the door slid closed behind him, he called back. “I’ll see you tonight, yeah, Lance?”

“We’ll see.”

---

Lance couldn’t do it.

The bed was too empty without Keith, which meant that there was actually enough room for it to be comfortable on the full-sized bed. They had constantly had each other’s elbows in ribcages, but they made it work. Lance up against the wall with his back to it, Keith in the middle, on his stomach or curled up with one of them, and Shiro on his back on the edge because he was the most difficult to push off.

Now, even though there was nothing between them, it felt like there was a wall that reached the ceiling.

Lance crawled over the not-really-asleep Shiro and pushed his way out of the room, making his way to his own, which he hadn’t been in since the three of them decided to be together.

His room was utterly barren, there was even a bit of dust on the floor and sheets, which he quickly brushed off as best as he could. The blanket that had been tucked away into the closet was just big enough to wrap around him, and despite the numerous holes, it was warm. He had grabbed his sleep mask and headphones from the room before he left, but when he put them on, he still couldn’t sleep. The room was too… Dead.

He tossed and turned for three minutes before he got up and went back out into the hallway, trailing the ratty blanket behind him. It was too late to train, and that would… That would remind him of Keith. The bridge was probably empty, but he and Keith had spent a sleepless night under the holographic stars and told each other stories of Earth. He could...

He couldn’t do anything, because he, Keith, and Shiro had done everything. Too tired to do anything, and too awake to do nothing, he wandered the castle until he came back to Shiro’s door. He had raised his hand to open the door out of instinct, but he stopped himself a hairbreadth short of pressing it and turned around.

Hunk’s room was right across the hall, so he found himself knocking on that door. There was no response at first, so he knocked louder. Something shifted on the other side before the barrier slid open to reveal his best friend.

“Lance?” He whispered questioningly but stopped when the smaller man took one step and wrapped his arms, blanket included around the other. It only took him a second before his arms were wrapped around Lance. “Do…” he trailed off. “Do you want to come in?”

Lance nodded without saying anything else, and they both awkwardly waddled further into the room, neither willing to relinquish the hold that they had on each other.

They sat on Hunk’s twin bed because apparently, the Black Paladin got a bigger bed than the rest of them. It took a while before either of them spoke, but when the silence was finally broken, it was Lance who did it. “I can’t.”

His voice was so weak and broken, it scared Hunk with its frailty. Hunk opened his mouth to respond, but Lance spurred onward. “I don’t want to lose Shiro, but I think I’ve already fucked that up. Keith is- Keith was… I don’t know how to say it. I just- I want him back.”

Tremors wracked his body as he tried to push himself further into Hunk’s embrace.

“I c-can’t stay in-in the room with him, Hunk. It’s-it’s t-too empty, and-and I-I-I-I tried to g-go back to my r-room, but it-that was worse.” He collapsed into sobs, his body shuddering with the force of them.

“Do you want me to sing to you as I did with Jenny? That seemed to help you then.” Hunk rubbed a hand comfortingly on his back before humming a melody softly, letting the vibrations run through the both of them. Lance didn’t say anything, but his shaking began to peter off during the melody.

”Moe moe pepe
Tumu tumu le laau
A agi le matagi e lue atu ma toe sau
A gau le lala
paū le moega
Malie oe pepe lau faaluega”

He repeated the chorus several times before Lance calmed down enough to speak without any tremors.

“I’m scared, Hunk. I’m scared for us. For Shiro and I.” His hands tightened into fists at his sides, pulling the sheets off of the mattress. “I’m just scared. I’m so so scared.”

“I know, buddy. I know.”

---

They fell asleep shortly after, Hunk laying back in the corner, head propped up slightly with Lance laying on him, his head resting on Hunk’s chest.

That was also how Shiro found them the next morning. He watched the gentle rise and fall of their chests as they breathed softly. Hunk woke first, and the two of them stared at each other from across the room.

Shiro mouthed his question to Hunk so that they wouldn’t wake Lance. “Is he okay?”

Hunk started to nod before he stopped himself and raised a hand to make a so-so gesture. “He will be.”

Shiro swallowed thickly before nodding himself. It would just take time. Maybe a lot of time. But eventually, they would be able to put themselves back together, like a vase that had been shattered once before. If you go too fast, you might get hurt by the shards of the other.

Lance shifted in the larger man’s arms, and Hunk began to hum an unfamiliar but soothing melody to the blue paladin.

Shiro was struck by a memory of him, Keith, and Lance, the three of them laying on the bed, a mess of limbs poking sides and feet sticking off of the bed. It had been just after a really bad nightmare of Shiro’s that left his phantom pains wreaking havoc on his anxiety.

His head was laying on Keith’s chest so that he could hear his heart beating against his ribcage, he could feel the vibrations. Lance was playing with his hair, pressing soft kisses into the roots of his hair and on his temples. They were both singing “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star,” but…

Lance was singing it in Spanish, whereas Keith was singing it in Japanese. The melody was the same, but they were both stumbling over their words, laughing through the entire song. Shiro couldn’t help but smile.

And here Lance was, his head pressed against Hunk’s chest, right above his heart, as the yellow paladin rubbed circles into his back and hummed to him.

Maybe… Maybe they weren’t like shards of a vase, broken and in need of being put back together. Maybe they were a vase broken so thoroughly, that there were whole pieces missing.

“I’ll bring you two something to eat,” Shiro whispered, feeling a little bad that he was interrupting the melody, but he left the two of them alone in the room, ignoring the sharp pang in his chest right where his heart was.

He rounded the corner, trailing the pads of his fingers against the smooth metal of the wall. The familiar blips of an incoming transmission could be heard from the bridge and Shiro… Shiro just didn’t want to deal with it right now. Shiro couldn’t deal with it right now.

“Paladins to the bridge,” Allura’s tight voice echoed down the hall, “Immediately.” Shiro felt his stomach hit the floor. If Allura had some goddamn team building exercise, he was going to pull his hair out. For a split second, he considered turning around, not going to to the bridge, going to his room, to his empty bed.

In the end, he walked down the hall, headed to the bridge.

Hunk and Lance filed in behind him, and he could feel their eyes boring into the back of his head. Don’t turn around, don’t turn around, don’t turn around, he chanted to himself.

It took him far too long to reach the bridge, Hunk, and Lance both right on his heels. Everyone else was already there.

Allura turned around, her back held straight, and her hands clasped behind her. So she was being formal now, was she? Hiding her mourning away? Didn’t she realize that not everyone can do that?

“What’s so urgent, Allura?” Shiro asked, exasperated. “We’re here; now what is it? Some of us want to mourn.”

Lance’s hand wrapped around Shiro’s bicep, squeezing tightly. “Don’t bother Allura. She didn’t do anything wrong here.” There were tears in his eyes that hadn’t quite fallen yet. “She didn’t leave Keith behind, now did she.”

“Lance…” Hunk sighed. “It’s not Shiro’s fault, okay? It was the Galra.” He tried to pull Lance away, but Lance stood his ground.

“No!” he shouted, “If Shiro had gone back as I had told him to, then at least we would have a body. We have nothing, Hunk! I have nothing.”

“I’m sorry. I just…” Shiro sighed, playing with his hands. “I just didn’t want to lose you too…”

“Well, maybe you should-”

“Paladins!” Allura shouted over Lance’s retort causing them to all look at her with grief-stricken faces. “We’ve… We’ve received a transmission.” She looked sideways to where Pidge was clicking away on a computer, the lines of code flying past the reflection on their glasses, obscuring their teary eyes.

“A transmission?” Lance asked, incredulous. “We need to take a break, Allura.”

“Would all of you just shut up?!” Pidge screamed, turning their back to the screen, lines of Galra script stalling for a moment. “Shut up and listen to them, god.” They turned to look at Allura and Coran. “And get on with it. There’s no good way to say it.”

Hunk looked at the Alteans. “Say what?”

Allura took a deep breath, closing her eyes before steeling herself. “Keith isn’t dead,” She paused to let the others absorb the information. “We received a transmission a few minutes ago. It’s… it’s a live stream.”

“Put it up,” Shiro said, he could feel his heart in his throat, creeping its way up to his mouth. He swallowed and watched the hologram flicker from white to a dark screen.

A dark screen with a very familiar red paladin suspended from the ceiling. His feet were touching the ground, thankfully, but his eyes were drooping as if he hadn’t slept in days. It must have been the blood loss, the voice in his head reasoned.

Right next to him, Lance’s voice hitched, he breathed, “No,” even as Keith blinked his eyes open, staring at nothing dully. Shiro thought back to the nights that the three of them had stayed up late, talking about their families and their favorite memories. He remembered how Keith’s eyes had looked when he talked about his father’s death. Then they had been sad, the pain of his loss still evident in them, but now…

Now Keith’s eyes looked empty.

“Oh my god,” Hunk muttered beside him. He pulled Lance into him, and Shiro realized he wasn’t looking at the empty eyes, but the fresh scars through his pale skin. None of the cuts could have been deeper than an eighth of an inch, but they covered Keith.

His bangs hung in wet clumps around his head, though they never obscured his eyes. Never obscured the eyes that were looking straight into the camera and straight into Shiro. Never obscured the eyes that accused Shiro with nothing more than a glance.

You did this.

You left me there, Shiro.

You could have stopped this.

His stomach roiled as the thoughts crashed into him. He glanced over to Lance who had been tucked into Hunk’s arms and was covering his mouth. There were tears welling up in his eyes as he stared, sickeningly transfixed to the screen. He wasn’t moving. He wasn’t blinking.

Shiro forced his eyes to return to his lost partner, looking at the new scars, again and again, internally memorizing them so that he would never forget what he had done.

“It seems they are watching now,” someone hissed, and with a jolt, Shiro realized it was coming from the live stream. A cloaked figure floated onto the screen, the robes they wore silently soaking up various dark liquids from the floor. They climbed like black veins, getting closer, but never reaching anywhere. Druid.

Everyone watching tensed, the whole room held its breath. Long claws traced their way over Keith’s broken skin and he… he didn’t even flinch away from the touch.

“What do you say? Should we give them a show?” The voice sounded vaguely feminine, but who knew what was really behind the hood. Whoever they were sounded like they had gravel in their throat. They didn’t wait for Keith’s reply before one of his hands was released from its iron manacle. His wrist was already starting to bruise an ugly dark red color that looked almost black through the hologram.

And there Keith’s hand curled and twisted away from their grip. He was still fighting, and Shiro wanted to cry because it was such a relieving sight amongst the darkness of the cell. But it lasted a second before the Druid spread his fingers, and Keith’s curling fingers were too weak against their hands.

They grabbed something from a counter, metal clinking against metal, and showed the item off to the camera like an auction show. It was a shining, thin piece of silver with a flattened end.

A nail.

A glimpse of yellow-white shone through the darkness of the hood as the Druid placed it right under Keith’s nail. Against the bed.

On the screen, Keith’s eyes widened. He tried to pull his hand away, his movement getting more and more frantic as the Druid picked up something that looked startlingly like a hammer.

Shiro’s skin crawled as he knew what was going to happen. His shoulders tensed as he watched with sick fascination, unable to tear his eyes away. His jaw clenched, just shy of enough force to crack the teeth.

“Stay still,” the Druid commanded, squeezing the finger straight. “We want a show for those at home.”

Keith trembled, one hand suspended above him, hanging from the ceiling, the other in the iron hold of the Druid. “N-no,” he faltered. “Please. Please no.”

Icy tendrils gripped Shiro’s heart fiercely in his chest. Lance turned away, hiding his face in Hunk’s chest, and Pidge had covered their eyes and curled up into an even tighter ball at Keith’s words. Coran and Allura had both turned into each other, looking away from the hologram, but Shiro stood, watching.

“I think I’m going to be sick,” Hunk muttered, clutching his stomach - eyes squeezed shut.

On the screen, the Druid pulled the hammer back, before driving the nail forward with slight force - and into his finger, right under his nail.

And Keith screamed.

The Druid pulled back the hammer and slammed it in again, deeper. Keith’s legs had given out from under him, and he hung freely from his strung-up wrist. His thumb was bent at an awkward angle, and Shiro had the suspicion that it was dislocated.

“Turn it off,” Shiro muttered, his voice too small to be heard over the live stream’s noise. The video continued to play, the fingers of Keith’s hand curling in, trying to form a fist, but the index finger stuck out, the tip of silver shining against his fingertip, blood dripping from it, the rest of it was swollen from the intrusion.

Turn it off!” he boomed, startling Pidge from their seat to press a button, the video shutting off.

The room was silent, the quiet broken only by inconsistent breaths from everyone. No one moved.

Slowly, Lance unfurled himself from Hunk’s chest and fixed Shiro with a white-hot glare. He took a single step forward, the motion unnaturally calm for the turmoil churning in Shiro’s gut.

“This is your fault,” Lance spat, venom dripping from his voice. “I told you to go back for him!” he yelled before taking a deep breath, calming himself before continuing, “I begged you, and you turned your back on him. Look where he is now.” He gestured to the screen that was flickering with static. “Look what you did to him.”

Lance shook his head, turning on his heel. “And here I thought you loved us.”

He left the room, leaving the team in silence and Shiro without a heart.

Shiro’s jaw clenched as he turned around, looking at the flickering screen. “It’s live?” he choked out, looking at Pidge who was still tapping away at their computer. They nodded, not looking away from the computer. “Can you trace it?”

“I’m trying,” they said, “But there are more than a hundred different origin points that bounce around more than a dozen times before we intercept them. Some of the origin points disappear and others appear in their place. I’m trying to narrow it down, but it’s not working.” They wiped the tears from their eyes with the ball of their palm. “I swear I’m trying.”

Shiro nodded and set his flesh hand on their shoulder. “I know.” He squeezed it gently. “Is there anything I can do?” He asked, keeping his eyes away from the screen.

They shook their head, going back to their console and sniffling heavily. “I don’t know. Maybe some food? Water?” They breathed in heavily. “I’m gonna be here for as long as it takes.”

He nodded again. “I’ll get you something, but… can I… can I ask something of you?” He asked.

“Yeah, whatever you want,” they replied, their voice breaking in the middle.

“Could you… send a feed through to my room? I need to watch- as messed up as it sounds but-” Shiro cut himself off with a deep breath. “I need to watch what I’ve done.”

Allura walked up to him, her eyes glaring daggers. “You didn’t do this, Shiro. The Galra did.”

He winced and turned back to the screen before looking at the spot where Lance had stood. “He doesn’t seem to think so.” He crossed his arms in front of his chest. “I just… can you do it?” He turned back to Pidge.

They looked back up at him through the stagnant tears in their eyes that refused to fall and only kept building and building. “You’re going to destroy yourself.” Their voice was quiet, and Shiro almost didn’t hear it around the static of the screen and the hum of the ship’s engines. “But I’ll do it.”

He nodded. “Thank you,” he whispered back, just as quiet. He squeezed their shoulder again and left to get them a plate, ignoring the tears that were falling down his face like tiny rivers.

---

Watching had been a mistake.

But then again, maybe it was a mistake he deserved to make.

The torturer had started by ‘straightening’ each of his fingers and toes; the fragile bones had to be shattered inside, and Shiro didn’t think that he would ever be able to grow nails again.

Next, they had taken their time carving names into Keith’s back with a small blade. Name upon name upon name, filling Keith’s back easily, and then his arms, and then his chest.

It took Shiro too long to realize that they were the names of all the soldiers that Voltron had killed. Not just Keith, Voltron.

Keith was barely standing at the end of it, and blood made a mess of him. The Druid turned to the screen and smiled through half-rotted yellow teeth. “Looks like the red paladin is finally living up to his nickname,” they hissed as spittle flew onto the camera lens, distorting Shiro’s view.

They left for a few minutes, and he spent the entire time whispering to Keith, begging him to stay strong, promising things that he couldn’t even hear. And when the Druid came back, they had a cauldron of bubbling liquid that steamed like it was boiling. They upended the contents over Keith’s back and-

Shiro had heard Keith laugh before. He had heard him cry before. He was there in the long nights when Keith couldn’t sleep because he was thinking about the fire that had taken his father. He had been there while Keith cried to him about his crush on Lance as the guilt inside of Shiro ate him from the inside out. He had been there when Keith knocked on his door, hand in hand with Lance and asked him if he would like to become a part of their relationship.

He had thought he’d heard every sound that Keith could make. A giggle, a laugh, a cry, yelling, whispering, groaning, moaning.

But this…

This was a scream.

This was a scream that tore Shiro down to the bone when he heard it. This was a scream that had him reaching for the volume control on instinct to save himself from whatever pain Keith was experiencing. This was a scream that scared Shiro through to his very core.

Keith jerked away from the liquid as if it had burned him, which, maybe it had, but the chains that held him there made sure that he couldn’t get far enough away. Violet eyes flew open as more of it was dumped on him, this time over his head.

Some of it made its way into his eyes, and Keith writhed.

Shiro turned it off after that.

He turned it back on twenty minutes later when he started to worry. What else had they done?

Keith was nodding off, his feet trailing against the floor uselessly as he slumped in the chains. His eyes were red and half-lidded as he tried to sleep, but he wasn’t having much luck.

As Shiro watched, he jerked again in his chains, his eyes flying open as he sucked in a deep breath. He coughed feebly, red droplets flying from his lips weakly. And Shiro…

Shiro knew what they were doing.

He couldn’t breathe if he fell asleep with his arms suspended above his head. He would be suffocated by the pressure on his chest. So Keith couldn’t sleep.

“How long can you go without sleep?” He whispered to himself, shivering at the thought. He could barely go three days without sleep himself, he couldn’t imagine…

“The record is eleven days,” someone said from his doorway and Shiro snapped his head to look at him.

Lance.

Lance was standing in the doorway of his own volition. Shiro opened his mouth to respond, but nothing came out. “At least, that’s the longest recorded. They couldn’t let anyone try for it anymore because they had to be hospitalized. Pidge told me one day during finals because I told them I hadn’t slept in a month.”

He was looking at the screen with glossy eyes like he was looking, but he wasn’t watching the screen. His arms were crossed in front of him and Shiro could see the imprints where his hands were pushing against the blood flow. “So, he’s got eight days left… at best.”

Shiro turned to Lance, turning off the feed. “I’m sorry,” he started.

“I don’t want to hear it.” Lance looked at Shiro, watched him. “I just want our boyfriend back.” His voice broke in the middle of the sentence, and he became impossibly smaller. “I just want you both back,” he whispered.

Shiro wasn’t sure what he was supposed to do. Stand there? Go to Lance? Comfort him from where he was? Thankfully he didn’t have to wait long.

“You’re just gonna stand there?” He laughed wetly, sniffling and wiping at his eyes. “Not gonna hug me or anything? I thought that’s what you were supposed to do, y’ know, when I played this out in my head. Maybe I was hoping for-”

He didn’t need to say anymore, because Shiro practically launched himself at Lance, wrapping his arms around him.

“I will always come back to you,” he whispered fiercely.

---

Things weren’t… okay. Not in any way or form.

Lance stayed with him as he fell asleep that night, but his arms were too rigid and harsh, all bone when they wrapped around him. There was nothing of the softness that had been there before. He didn’t tuck his head into Shiro’s neck as he expected. He didn’t snore softly as he had before as Shiro expected.

He wasn’t even sure if he was even sleeping.

Shiro sure wasn’t.

The bed was too empty, even with Lance there.

“Are you awake?”

Shiro almost thought he didn’t hear it; the beating of his own heart louder than Lance’s voice.

“Yeah,” he answered, just as quietly in case it was all in his head and not reality.

Lance blinked his eyes open, and they somehow caught the light in the best way, looking bluer than the Hawaiian ocean. They had a depth to them that Shiro could stare into for hours if Lance would let him.

“Would you have left me behind?” He stared at him, the question as deep as his eyes. “If it had been me in Keith’s place and everything happened exactly the same except it was me and not Keith… would you have left me behind?”

Shiro looked at him before he pulled him closer, into a bone-crushing hug. “If I… if I thought…” he started, a lump forming in his throat. “If I thought that you were dead-” His voice broke and he sniffled. “And Keith was there and injured? Yes. I would.”

Lance curled tighter into him. “I talked with Hunk,” he started. “About… everything. And I don’t know if I could do it. If you or Keith were… gone… and I could save one of you? I don’t think I would be able to do it.” Shiro squeezed him tighter as he took a deep breath before continuing, “And I think we would all die because of it.”

---

After that they were… better. Better, but not… not good.

They met each other on the bridge the next day, to watch the lines of code and Galra script fly across Pidge’s glasses. They watched Keith together, holding each other’s hands and promising him through the impenetrable feed that they would find and save him at all costs.

They watched as the Druid took a red-hot poker to his face, listening to the crackle of his skin as it was cooked through, leaving an ugly red scar from his jaw to just below his eye. It bled red rivers down to his chin before continuing down his neck in sick rivulets falling to the floor.

They watched as the Druid walked over with a sharpened piece of metal only to press it through his skin. Blood welled up from the cut, spilling down his chest as it was pressed in and curled around his collarbone. Keith screamed. They felt goosebumps crawl across their skin at the sound, the hairs at the base of their necks standing on end.

They watched as the Druid repeated the same on the other side, curling in rings before attaching long chains to them. They strung the chains up, lifting Keith up off of the ground by the rings under his bones.

The Druid spun him around to face Shiro and Lance, and it was like they were putting on a show for them. Look at this prize, the claws curling around his upper arms said. Don’t you want to see more?, Keith whimpered as the nails tightened around his upper arm before the Druid yanked down on him, and the bones in his shoulders snapped, jagged fragments poking against the inside of him and leaving visible imprints.

Keith screamed.

Suspended in the air, his skin stretched around the rings like terrible piercings, but so much worse. So much worse because Shiro and Lance could see where the skin was hollow around them, leaking blood down his chest. He thrashed, screaming, as the Druid frowned and tightened their grip before using all of their weight to pull him down to the ground with more force than before. His skin tore, the rings parting it like a red sea of flesh.

Keith hit the ground with the beat of their hearts. He tried to curl inward around his chest but cried out, and he had never sounded so… small.

Lance did throw up after that one, and Shiro would have if he had managed to eat anything at all that day. Even so, he still felt bile tickle at the back of his throat.

Neither of them could watch anymore after that, even if they had wanted to, which they didn’t. They went to bed that night and held each other tighter than they had before.

---

When Pidge got that beep, that final beep, that told them where Keith was, they didn’t tell Lance and Shiro. Instead, they went straight to Allura and planned for her to lead a retrieval mission with them and Hunk.

It was better. Wasn’t it? Not including Lance and Shiro?

Sure, they would want to be on that mission, but Pidge had seen the way they watched Keith as they held each other. They couldn’t be on that mission.

Especially not Shiro.

He would blame himself, and he could throw the whole mission off its course. They couldn’t afford to do that. Not when Keith was so…

fragile

Anything could go wrong at any point, and they needed to be exact.

They weren’t sure if either Lance or Shiro would forgive them, but hopefully, they would see the sense in it in the end.

If not, Pidge was perfectly fine with sacrificing two friendships to get one friend back from hell.

They snuck out as soon as physically possible. Coran was supposed to stay behind and deter their snooping eyes from the feed as long as they were gone.

That ended up being a lot easier said than done.

They always seemed to separate at the worst possible times, and Coran was practically tugging his hair out trying to keep them from Shiro’s room where the feed was set up.

Turns out, all his stress was for nothing.

He walked onto the bridge, and Lance was standing there. He was alone in the room, staring up at the screen. The room was empty. Completely empty. The chains that Keith hung from swayed slightly as if they had just been jostled, but Keith… Keith wasn’t there.

And Coran knew that it was because Pidge, Hunk, and Allura were there - but seeing the empty room and the dangling chains sent dread straight into the pit of his stomach.

He swallowed and walked up to Lance, resting his hand upon the boy’s shoulder. Lance flinched away from his hand, and it broke Coran’s heart. “How are you doing, my boy?” he whispered. His voice wasn’t as chipper as usual, and what happiness that appeared present was forced.

Lance didn’t look at him. “He’s gone,” he choked out; his hand went to his throat like there was something caught there. “Where did they take him?” His voice wobbled before it broke entirely. “What if… what if he’s-” His eyes blue eyes squeezed shut as he refused the word that hung in the air, dead.

He continued on before Coran could tell him otherwise. “I didn’t- I didn’t see… I didn’t see them take him. What if I never see him again? What if I didn’t see him the last time I could because I was in the fucking restroom? What if the-” he stopped as the video cut out. No sound. No white noise. Pure silence.

And just like that, Lance’s last connection to Keith was cut, severed, gone.

It was like hope had been all that had held him up, and as soon as it disappeared from his mind, he fell. Coran was there, preventing him from hitting the floor. “It’s alright,” he said as Lance tucked his face into his neck, “Keith’s alright.”

“What happened?” Shiro demanded as he ran in, checking on Lance. Coran passed him over to his boyfriend quickly.

Lance clung to Shiro’s shirt, his fingers pulling at the fabric and clawing at Shiro’s skin. “He’s gone, he’s gone, he’s gone-” he muttered as he sobbed, a heavy, heaving, raw paroxysm. It was worse than the first time because Lance saw the black screen, he saw it cut out, he saw the empty room with the dangling chains, and it seemed so much more… final.

Shiro looked up at the blank screen, his hand on Lance’s back as he pulled them closer together.

“My boys, would you listen to me? Keith is quite alright,” he tried to console Lance as he placed his hand on his back. “Don’t cry now. The others went to retrieve him.”

Lance shook his head, spreading snot and saliva over Shiro’s shirt, but his boyfriend didn’t seem to care. “Lance,” he said quietly, “Lance, listen to him.” Shiro nodded at the older Altean, encouraging him to go on.

Coran sighed heavily. “Pidge cracked the feed three vargas ago. They left with Hunk and Allura.”

Shiro hugged Lance closer to him. “Why didn’t they tell us?”

Coran frowned briefly and worried his mustache between his fingers. “They wanted it to be a surprise when they got back,” he lied.

Shiro’s eyes widened slightly as he recognized the lie, but he turned Lance around, ignoring the sudden chill from the wet spots on his shirt.

“Keith’s going to be fine.” Coran smiled widely at him. “They should be on their way back now.”

Almost on cue, Pidge’s voice crackled through the bridge, “We’re coming in hot, and we need a wormhole ASAP. Allura’s in the first ship. Hunk and I are in the second.”

Lance wiped his nose with the sleeve of his jacket. “And-” he swallowed thickly as he sniffed. “And Keith?” His voice was small, incredibly so.

For a few heart-stopping moments, they didn’t hear anything except for the crackle of an open line.

“Keith’s with us-” Pidge said, and the room breathed with relief, “but he’s in bad shape. He’s gonna need a pod immediately.”

Lance nodded and pushed himself up off of the floor. He stumbled a bit, losing his balance, and Shiro helped steady him as he followed. “We’ll meet you in the hangar,” he called, not bothering to stop and listen for a reply.

They walked down the halls, then they jogged, then they ran. Eventually, they were sprinting, the burn in their legs a comforting pain as they raced to the hangar, to the incoming ship, to Keith.

Allura ran past them on the way, her hair billowing past her as she took off her helmet. They nodded at her, grim smiles on their faces.

Ahead of them, they saw the subtle shift of light as the ship landed in the castle. They picked up their pace as much as they could even through the scratching of their breath in their throats. Flashes of white and green and yellow armor emerged from it, and they stumbled looking for the red, looking for their red.

The hangar opened out in front of them and there.

Hunk was helping him out - well, helping was a generous statement. He was carrying Keith out of the ship, and they both hoped that he looked so small because he was so far away. But he was so close to them, and their hearts lodged in their throats.

And then they were there.

Hunk passed him off to Shiro and Lance, and god. His face was scarred and angry red where they had taken the burning metal to his cheek; dried blood caked around the wounds. His collarbones were horribly bruised around where they had snapped and the skin looked like it was starting to get infected. He was shirtless, showing off all of the names upon names upon names that were carved into him, the skin red and irritated everywhere.

He blinked his eyes open and looked at Lance and Shiro, and he smiled. Hunk squeezed him a little, and his chest flared; he gasped and motioned for him to be set down. Because Shiro and Lance were right there, and he could finally believe for a second that everything was okay.

Hunk gently let him down, and he stumbled forward, his feet going out from under him. For a moment, he felt suspended in the air again, back in the Druid’s chamber, and his wounds burned, ached, screamed at him.

It lasted all of two seconds.

Two seconds and then he was in Shiro’s arms, and they wrapped around him comfortingly, holding him close. Someone draped something over his shoulders; the smell of Lance invaded his senses after days of nothing but blood and metal.

More arms wrapped around him, and even though he couldn’t raise his own to hug them back, he leaned his forehead upon their shoulders, and he smiled.

He wasn’t okay.

He might never be okay.

But for now, he was home, and he had his lovers beside him.

For now, he was happy.

He came back to them.