Leaving Archaic was not as simple as they thought it'd be before arriving.
Lance asked the paladins to go ahead and get to their lions, saying it would only take a minute to get Blue and that he and Keith would meet them in space. Though they fought a little bit on it, Shiro finally agreed and they started their way up, contacting Allura and informing her about how the mission went.
Keith gathered a few of the items they needed to bring from their bedroom in the Black Fortress-some clothes and a few other random objects (including Lance's vast skin care products much to Keith's playful irritation)-while Lance swam to Blue and flew her to the surface. When Lance was ashore, Keith brought the items up and stored them in one of the storage closets in the back, kissed Lance-who was in the pilot seat-on the cheek, and exited the Lion.
Keith didn't do too well with staying in Blue for very long. After they had woken up, Lance had established his connection with Blue and got them to the surface, and they saw the ruin of their planet. Who knows how much time had passed, they first thought. Surprisingly, the lower levels of the Black Fortress were still there. It had been built under the surface and then just went up. Now the basements and underground work were all that was left.
After the first day awake had ended, they weren't sure where to go. The Draegon castle no longer stood, not even ruins or if they existed they were too deep in lava to find. The Syren castle made it, but Lance couldn't stay still in there, too many haunting noises of silence that should never have been there. The castle should never be silent Lance had thought at the time. And, obviously, they're room in the fortress was destroyed.
Then, Lance had suggested Blue. With his connection to Blue that manifested in mental speech, she had told him that she could just stay on the beach and there was a few bunks in her cargo hold that they could sleep on. It wasn't the best, but for the first day they didn't seem to have another choice. So, Lance told Keith. The words were barely lingering in the air before Keith started shaking, staggered, and threw up on the beach. Which, hey, scared the absolute shit out of Lance. Was Keith hurt? Did he go to sleep sick or injured? Lance had run over, helping Keith to the beach ground before he fell into the mess, and rubbed his back, franticly asking if he was ok. Keith had hyperventilated and dry heaved for who knows how long before Lance got him calm enough to communicate, even simple nods and shakes of the head.
Draegons were not a fan of small spaces. Even with their wings put away or closed, they felt cramped in too small spaces. Understandable, though none of them were truly claustrophobic in the way that they couldn't breathe or that it caused them literal pain, they'd just get irritated and moody. More of a manners problem than a stability one.
This was not the case with Keith.
For Keith, The Blue Lion was a mental representation of losing their home, planet, family, and everything else. Logically, as he told himself, he knew that it wasn't Blue's fault nor was he actually putting blame on her, but Keith didn't have the reassuring connection with her that Lance did. What if they went to sleep in the cargo hold and didn't wake up? What if Blue decided she didn't like staying on the surface and dove under water so Keith was basically dead or trapped? What if-
These thoughts went on and on and on. Keith's irrational mind couldn't put the word 'safe' and 'Blue Lion' in the same thought. He started panicking, so much so that he got nauseous, and threw up. He was a mess and he knew Lance was confused and scared but he couldn't calm himself down for a while. It took Lance treating him more gently than if he was a newborn infant before he had a cohesive mind to talk to Lance.
That day, Lance swore he would never push Keith to go into a small space or room. He had been aware of the claustrophobic tendencies of Draegons (duh he grew up with them) and it's not like he'd never seen Keith get pissy because they had to go through a tunnel or something. And though Keith had (brokenly) explained that it wasn't that but just the irrational things about Blue specifically, Lance just couldn't get the sight of Keith getting so sick of the idea of going in Blue that he threw up.
It's been several centuries since then, and Keith can stand going into Blue now, but he doesn't like to stay long. Unknown to Lance, Keith feels incredible guilt over this, but he would never tell Lance that.
Lance-in Blue-and Keith-in Draegon form-left Archaic and met up with the other Lions. Keith wasn't connected to the comms and that left Pidge to talk Lance's ear off about Keith surviving in space without any sort of equipment, which got old super quick.
The topic of discussion changed as Shiro told Pidge to calm down, they're on the team now, you can ask Keith himself later, and that's when Shiro said:
"I think this mission went pretty well actually. We got the Blue Lion, we got its-her sorry-paladin, and we even got an extra member. The Princess will be pleased, I think."
"Princess? That a nickname or is your leader actually named princess? Thinks pretty highly of themself, huh?" Lance replied.
"No, she's a real princess. Her name is-"
"A real princess? What's the royalty of another planet doing with the Lions of Voltron and the Castle of Lions?" Lance interrupted, a little peeved. Regardless of how the castle survived, had someone desecrated Altea just for the palace? Because that was inexcusable.
"*Sigh* you'll meet her in a minute, she can tell you herself. We're here." Shiro said, exasperated and ignoring Pidge's background comment "What do you mean 'other planet's Royalty?"
The Castle of Lions was just ahead and Shiro sent a message that they were back. As the lions entered the castle and the comms disconnected, Allura informed Shiro that she and Coran were on their way to the hangers.
Black went in first, followed by Yellow, then Green, and lastly Blue with Keith flying to the side and curving around to land beside them. They all exited their Lions, and Keith de-transformed. He was immediately smothered by Pidge, who had many questions, before Shiro once again pulled her back and said that by 'later' he had actually meant later as in maybe at dinner or something Pidge. As Lance and Hunk joined in on the scolding of Pidge by teasing her, they didn't notice Keith looking at the lone Red Lion.
Red sat there, no paladin to hold up Alfor's legacy and not moving the barrier in the slightest. A strange feeling, like adrenaline but much calmer filled Keith, but nothing more. His repressed dream from childhood that he could be like Lance and fly a Lion was crushed, ever so quietly. That strange feeling flared again, but he ignored it, assuming it was from being in a new place.
He turned back to the others, but didn't join in on their conversation. Lance was a few feet from him, and Keith walked to his side but out of their circle, and took Lance's hand. Without missing a beat, Lance gave Keith his arm, to which the Draegon hugged to his chest, and continued as if nothing happened. Ok, not completely true, he may have blushed a little when Keith nuzzled into his bicep for no seen reason. He gave an incredulous glance to Keith, whom looked at him with the face of innocence.
Their talk was interrupted by the sound of someone clearing their throat. They turned, and found Allura-Coran to her right-waiting to speak.
"Hello, welcome to the Castle of Lions. My name is Princess Al-"
"Allura?!" came to voices in unison.
Everyone turned to the Ancients, as they stared, jaws on the floor, jaws in space, at Allura. They didn't utter anything else, until a choked sob came from Lance as he pulled his arm from Keith and covered his mouth. The Paladins and Alteans were startled as they saw tears begin streaming down the Syren's face.
"Keith am I-
"You're not dreaming. I see her too." Keith answered, still slack-jawed and confused.
"Oh My Syren, Coran?!" Lance gasped. They all looked at Coran, who seemed to be confused at this.
"Pardon me, but how is it that you know us?" Coran question calmly. He, much the same as the others, was startled by the water works and didn't want to, uh…'spook' them.
"What? C-Coran it's me, Lance? And Keith?" When Coran was still confused, you could almost see the sadness in the Ancients' eyes. "Pr-Prince Lance a-and Princ-ce Keith?" Lance tried.
There were a few moments where nothing happened, but then Coran gasped much the same way the Ancients' had. "Lance?! Keith?!" Coran took a step forward, before running the short distance to embrace the boys. "Oh Altea, You're Alive! I should have known, but I-I didn't think-" Coran was babbling as the three hugged so tightly, having believed the other was dead. "I should have known, you Ancients and your lifespans." They released each other, but stayed close, still murmuring things like 'I cannot believe it' and 'you're alive!'
"Coran." Allura called. He turned and looked at her, as did everyone else. "Please explain." She said it calmly, but there was a touch of irritation. Who were these strangers to be so close to Coran that she's never heard of?
"Princess, do you not…." Coran trailed off, understanding and sadness shaping his expression. "You don't remember them, Allura?" He asked gently.
"I don't." She stated stiffly.
"Its okay, Coran." They turned to Lance. He and Keith were looking at each other, at the floor, and then Lance looked at Coran. "We didn't expect her to remember us even before….Zarkon happened." Lance smiled sadly, then reached down and took Keith's hand, squeezing it reassuringly.
"I'm sorry, my boy." Coran turned fully to Allura. "Princess, this is Prince Lance of the Syrens, Son of the late Queen Camila, who was the e-embodiment of compassion if there ever could be." Which made Lance's eyes water a little, but he didn't look up, just stared at his and Keith's joined hands. "And this is Prince Keith of the Draegons, Son of late Queen Krolia, whom had…." Coran took in a harsh breath. "Whom had the heart of a lion." He finished.
"They are royalty!" Pidge said, causing Lance to chuckle and look up, tears stopping. He looked over at the other Paladins.
"Yeah, that's what's important here. We're royalty. You know what that means Pidge, you'll be waiting on my hands and tail, serving me. Come forward, and bow to me!" Lance grinned.
"Isn't that job reserved for your boyfriend?" She replied.
Lance and Keith splutter, turning red and Shiro, also slightly red, turned to her and scolded her again. Coran interrupted everyone, and then gestured for Allura to speak.
"Welcome to the team, Lance, as our new Blue Paladin. The Blue Lion, is fun-loving and has boundless energy, and needs a paladin who can be gentle and kind but also strong and immovable. As the right leg of Voltron, you will be our strength, the last leg we stand on." Allura said, smiling brightly at Lance.
She then glanced at Keith, and after a moment, she took a deep breath and continued. "I believe the quintessence I sense from you, Keith, may make you a perfect Paladin for the Red Lion. The Red Lion is loyal to a fault, temperamental, and the most difficult to master. Its faster and more agile than the others, but also more unstable. Its pilot needs to be someone who relies more on instincts than skill alone. Will you pilot the Red Lion?"
"You should do it!" Said Pidge.
"Yeah, you can be a pilot with us!" Hunk said.
"We'd be glad to have you fly with us." Shiro smiled at Keith, strangely like a proud dad.
"I'm sorry Al-" Keith bit his own tongue. This was not little Princess Allura who they played with. This was a stranger. "I'm sorry, Your Highness, but it's not really up to me. It's up to Red." Keith answered.
"I welcome you to try." Allura replied.
Keith silently let go of Lance's hand, and walked over. All he could feel was everyone staring at him. He tried to just breathe and keep moving. Keith stopped, and stood before Red's massive left leg. The barrier was still up. He stepped closer, placing a hand on the force field, and still, it stood. Keith breathed, then turned around and began walking back to Lance. Just get to Lance he thought Don't pay attention to their disappointed stares, don't look at them just focus on Lance
He got to Lance's side after what felt like forever (it was like five seconds) and took Lance's arm to his chest again. He looked in Allura's direction, not wanting to see the disappointment in her eyes, and apologized. She replied that there was nothing to be sorry for, the Red Lion chooses and Keith can't control that. She then invited them and the other paladins to a meal and said they could talk more then, to get to know each other better.
After a discussion about how weird the food goo was, because obviously it was the most important thing at the moment, the team chatted about different things, varying from Voltron dynamics, boasting about skills, and of course food goo ("It's just so weird!" "Yes, we get it Lance, heard you the first twenty times."). Then Pidge began her questioning.
"So, how old are you guys, physically versus how long you've been alive?"
Keith and Lance glanced at each other, trying to think. "I'm actually not too sure on an exact number, I don't remember how close to my origin day I was, nor do I know how close when we woke up." Lance answered, confused.
"What's an Origin Day?" Hunk interjected.
"The day our incubation ended and we became a part of Archaic."
"Oh!" Pidge smashed one fist into her other palm, "It must be what you call a birthday! And by 'become a part of Archaic' you mean?"
"Archaic is basically made up of quintessence. On origin day, our body's natural quintessence becomes tied to the planet's quintessence, and we hatch." Keith explained.
"And that's why we couldn't track you also being alive. When you're in your side of the planet, your quintessence is basically masked by that of the planet's. Lance must have been in the black Lake when Allura scanned the first time." Pidge said.
"You got it." Lance answered with a wry smile.
"Ok, so what did you mean by 'Woke up' and how old, if you were to guess, would you say you were?"
"Well," Lance began, giving a nervous glance to Keith, then looking back at Pidge. "Word got out that Altea was attacked, and not long after that message, we found the Blue Lion entering our atmosphere because I had a connection with her, and the empire's warships on her tail. Our family…." Lance took a hard swallow and paused. "Our family knocked us both out and put us in Blue, who manipulated Archaic's quintessence and went to sleep in the core. And because of Blue shutting down, her quintessence basically disappeared, and we stayed asleep till she woke up. That was roughly….." Lance looked down at his hands, counting silently with his fingers. "Five hundred plus deca-phoebes ago?" Lance said with hesitation. Was that right?
"FIVE HUNDRED?!" The humans cried. That amount was roughly five hundred years, right?
"Only five hundred?" Coran said. "Well you're still quite young then."
The humans blanched at this. Young? What the fuck Pidge thought how much would it have to be for them to say they're 'old'?
"What the fuck?" Pidge said, not realizing that that came out loud.
"Pidge, language!" Shiro chastised.
"Oh whatever, they're older than you, they can handle some swears." Pidge waved him off.
The rest of dinner went on, drifting between different topics, before Coran called that it was time for everyone to retire for sleep. Lance and Keith looked at each other as the group made their way down the hall with all the paladins bedroom, Allura planning to stick Keith and Lance next to them.
"About that…" Lance began as he and Keith stopped walking. Keith grabbed his arm and made a face, mumbling something like Lance I'll be fine, don't worry about it and Lance mumbled something back like hell
"Keith and I both need specific environments while we sleep." He started, and Keith slumped, looking upset.
"And what would those be?" Allura asked.
"I need to sleep in water, otherwise I could dry out and suffocate in my sleep," Lance said, and the others visibly paled at this information. "And Keith needs a room big enough for him to transform. If his body temperature drops too much, he could go into hypothermic shock and might not wake up." He finished.
The other inhabitants were glad they said something, otherwise they might have found two corpses in the morning and that would have been bad news for multiple reasons.
"Not to worry!" Coran said, stepping forward and pointing his index finger up for no reason. "I was aware of this and altered one of the bedrooms here for you. The normal bunk that is against the wall has been transformed into a sort of tub, and the room itself should be large enough for a large, scaly friend." He finished, turning around and guiding them to said room.
It was at the end of the hall, between Hunk's and Shiro's rooms. Pidge and Hunk were next door on the left side of the hallway, and Shiro was on the right. The room Coran had prepared was on the wall that ended the hallway, and the door took up the entire wall.
The Altean led them all in, showing that the room was at least 3 times the size of the other paladin's. On the far left, where the bunk in the wall usually would be, was a sort of tub. It looked like the other beds, but when you walked closer to it, it plunged into the floor a few feet and had crystalline water.
While everyone was looking at the tub-bed, Keith stepped to the center of the room. He looked around, sniffing the air and letting his senses dictate if this would work. He took a deep breath, and nodded to no one. It might be a little tight, and he wouldn't be able to sleep in Lance's arms or vice versa like usual, but it would do.
Everyone but the two Ancients left the room, and wished them a good night, and some good rest. Shiro lingered at the door, while the others left. He smiled. Looking at Lance and Keith, he said:
"Welcome to team Voltron."