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You Are Not A Human Being

Chapter Text

Keith had never expected that such a small force of Galra could almost cost them the Castle of Lions. Sendak had been far more ruthless, brutal and… unsentimental about losses than he’d ever seen any soldier be. Lance had almost died and Zarkon had come way too close to getting his hands on Voltron. Just the thought made him shudder.

After the day they’d had Keith wanted nothing more than to lie down and… think. He wasn’t the only one. Hunk was looking woozy and Lance was still spaced out from his dip in the healing tanks. Even Shiro and Allura couldn’t hide how much they needed a nap. Only Coran was looking fresh. What was his secret?

But apparently his day wasn’t complete without one last bombshell. Pidge stepped before the team looking unusually nervous.

“I can’t man up. I’m… a girl.”

Keith blinked and stared at Pidge. Was he supposed to know that? Why didn’t anyone ever tell him these things?! What was he supposed to say?! Nothing in his life had prepared him for this moment. He looked at the others for advice, but Hunk looked as confused as him. The commotion snapped Lance out of his trance, and he looked around wildly.

“What?! What?! Who’s a girl? Is it Keith?”

Hunk elbowed Lance while Shiro rolled his eyes like a patient but overworked father.

“We’ve always known.” Shiro said.

They had?!

“Er… yes. Always.” Keith lied.

“We had?” Lance said.

“Everyone besides Lance.” Allura said.

Lance flashed them a mischievous grin.

“Is it my fault that no one ever tells me these things?”

Pidge looked relieved. Like a terrible weight had been lifted from his… Her! From her shoulders. Keith envied that. Being honest with others. Trusting them to be there for you even after the truth was revealed. What would happen if he revealed his own secrets? Would they still welcome him with open arms?

Shiro ordered them to get rest and no one had any complaints. While Pidge was walking towards her room, Keith called after her. Pidge turned to look at him surprised.

“What is it?”

“I just wanted to say that you’re… doing the right thing. Staying with Voltron and not going after your family.”

First Pidge looked taken aback and then insulted. When he saw the anger on her face, Keith realized how that had sounded.

“I mean… we are your best chance to find your family. Voltron is the most powerful weapon in the universe, right? We’ll be able to gather intel on all the people Galra have taken prisoners with it and when we know where they are… well, rescuing them will be easy with Voltron.”

The anger on Pidge’s face was replaced with surprise. Then she smiled.

“You’re right, Keith. You’re right. Thank you.”

Keith tried to figure out what he was supposed to do next and offered his hand for a shake. That’s what Shiro would have done. Right?

Pidge ignored his hand and went straight for a hug. Keith stood awkwardly in her embrace.

“Sorry if I’ve been difficult.” Pidge said after letting him go: “You know… I used to think you were kind of a dick. I’m glad I was wrong.”

“You thought I was a dick?”

Pidge laughed.

“You make an excellent impression of one.” Pidge said.

After saying goodnight Pidge went to her room and Keith dragged himself to his. When he was inside, he made sure Allura’s mice hadn’t found their way in and then checked that the door was locked. When the room was secure, he took out the only memento he had of his mother. A knife. The kind he had never seen before. Nor had any of the experts he’d showed it to. No one had seen anything like it.

Before facing the Galra.

The shape was a bit different, but the carvings left no room for doubt that it was a Galra blade. A gift from his mother to his father, who’s then passed it on to him… before passing on himself. Which meant… which would mean…

Keith shuddered at the thought.

Sendak had been a cruel and brutal commander but the worst part was that he’d still behaved himself like a professional soldier instead of a maddened war criminal. Like being unnecessarily cruel and vile had been part of his training. None of his soldiers had complained when their commander had spent their lives. Victory or death. Nothing else mattered. You either won or died trying.

His father had accepted a weapon from such an army.

It did make sense. The Galra Empire believed that the universe’s rightful place was under Zarkon’s boot. Why wouldn’t they send scouts to Earth for an eventual invasion? The blade proved that. And his father had met one of those scouts… and impressed such a brutal culture for one of their own to gift him with a weapon… and a son.

Had his father been a traitor to the human race? Had he been helping the Galra prepare for an invasion? Where… humans even his people?

Keith had always been faster than the other children. Stronger too. When it came to reflexes, he’d yet to meet his match. Only Shiro could best him and he was a soldier in his prime with over a decade of experience and Keith was already gaining on him. He’d blasted his way through all the pilot tests the Garrison had thrown at him and Shiro had declared him a prodigy.

Shiro… his brother… or father. What would Shiro think if he knew who Keith really was? What he really was? A member of the race that had enslaved him. Taken his arm. What would Allura think? Or Coran? Galra had destroyed their planet and culture and… the Altean race. Two people couldn’t rebuild an empire. Altea would die with them.

Keith hid the blade. He needed to train. It would help him clear his mind. He jogged to the training room and picked up a practice sword. After setting the sparring bots to the highest difficulty he trained until he was ready to drop. Then he trained some more. His muscles were burning and he was half-blinded by sweat but he pushed himself through the pain to that blessed place without thought.

“Would you look at that? Now there’s a butt that just won’t quit.”

Keith flinched and then cursed himself. He’d been so absorbed in his training that he hadn’t noticed someone sneak inside. Lance was standing at the door to the training room in his swimming trunk with a towel thrown on his shoulder. His hair was still wet from a dip in the pool.

“Training keeps me sharp. You should try it.” Keith said.

“Woo. Hostile. For your information, I’ll be taking Blue for a flight after I’ve dried up. Some of us have to practice flying to be awesome at it.” Lance said and looked at him: “That looks more like self-torture then anything.”

“You do that.” Keith said sullenly: “We can’t have you slowing us down.”

“This coming from the guy who almost skewered Klaizap. I’m no politician but I’m sure that’s something of a gaff.”

“He was Arusia’s bravest warrior!”

Lance grinned.

“And how lucky we were to have you protecting us from such a fierce killer.” Lance said and then looked around: “Can I ask you something?”

“What?”

“Did you really know that Pidge was a lady?”

“… of course.” Keith said.

Lance had the most infuriating grin he’d ever seen.

“So, you didn’t. You’re not as hard to read as you think.”

“What made you such a social expert?”

“Growing up with way too many siblings. You learn to recognize these things. Like if someone has something bothering them.” Lance said and then just looked at him.

Keith looked away first.

“Nothing’s bothering me.”

“Once again, you’re not so hard to read. Unlike Pidge. Seriously. That’s how you keep a secret.” Lance said and his grin mellowed into something… thoughtful: “If you want to talk about, I can listen. We wouldn’t want you to slow the team down with emotional baggage.”

Keith was about to tell Lance to mind his own business and bugger off when what Pidge had said came back to him.

I used to think you were kind of a dick. You make an excellent impression of one.

A dick, huh? He’d never meant to act like one. He’d just wanted people to leave him alone and let him figure things out for himself. He looked at Lance. He’d always thought Lance was an idiot and a braggart who’d fold over the moment the going got tough. He’d been wrong on two accounts. There was a kind of… low cunning to him and he’d taken a blow for Coran without hesitation. He was still a braggart though… and now he was offering to help him. Shiro had always told him to try being more sociable.

“Talk to me. Even if it’s something embarrassing no one would believe me.” Lance said.

Keith drew a deep breath and… took a leap of faith.

“Pidge had me thinking… he… She! She’s trying to find her family and that… got me thinking about my father.”

“You must be worried about him.” Lance said.

“He’s dead.”

Lance’s eyes widened.

“I… I’m sorry. That must have been awful for you. How did he… you know?”

“He was a firefighter. There was a fire and… you know.”

They stood in heavy silence. Lance was the first one to break it.

“And your mother?”

“I’ve never met her, but I just found out that she might have been… a criminal.”

Keith gripped the sword’s handle harder.

“My dad never told me and… what if he was a criminal too? It feels like everything I knew about him… about myself… was a lie.”

A lie. The one person he should have been able to trust had lied to him all his life. He wanted to be angry… he was angry but… it was too much. It was too big to process and just left him numb.

“What was your dad like?” Lance asked.

“Rarely at home but… I was always happy when he was.”

“Well, he was a firefighter. Keith… I don’t think you can ever really know someone. Even your parents. So… it’s unfair to jump into conclusions and assume the worst when you don’t know the full story.” Lance said before laughing nervously: “That’ what my mom said anyway.”

“She sounds nice.” Keith said quietly.

“Because she is most of the time. Feeling better?”

“… I don’t know.”

“If you want to talk more…”

“I think I want to sleep now.” Keith said.

“You do that. Wouldn’t want to ruin that cute face of yours by staying up too late.”

When Lance turned to leave and Keith saw his back, he shuddered. Lance’s skin was a mixture of brown and pink… except for his back. The healing tanks had saved his life after the explosion, but it couldn’t erase the scars. White wings woven form scar tissue were sprouting from Lance’s back.

Lance stopped and glanced at him over his shoulder.

“You know… I hate to be a dick about this but… Pidge pretending to be a boy wasn’t exactly the hardest disguise to pull off.”

Keith snorted. He couldn’t help it.

“Look at that. You can laugh. You might be human after all.” Lance said.

Keith smiled.

“Thanks, Lance.”

“I don’t know what for but yay. Compliments.”

Chapter Text

After they’d cleaned up the mess Lance had gotten himself into with Nyma that had almost ended up with bounty hunters getting away with the Blue Lion, Shiro told Lance come to his room. Keith didn’t envy him. Shiro rarely raised his voice. He never had to. When he lectured you the subtle disappointment in his voice was so much worse than a screaming fit. Shiro had expected things from you and you’d messed up.

When Keith later went to look for Lance, Shiro told him he’d assigned Lance with some extra training to make sure the lesson stuck. He found Lance in shooting range and found him to be a surprisingly good shot. He didn’t waver or hesitate when pulling the trigger, and the bullet always found the bull’s eye. Lance didn’t notice he was being watched until he stopped to change the magazine.

“If you came to chew me up, don’t. Just don’t. Unless you’re happy with Shiro’s and Allura’s sloppy seconds.” Lance said.

Keith groaned in annoyance. How did Lance always find a way to get under his skin?

“Can’t you take anything seriously?”

“Sweetheart, I’m always serious.” Lance said and took aim.

Keith lost it. He couldn’t help it. There had been too many close calls in the past few days. He grabbed Lance and picked him up. Too easily. Lance was taller than him and surprisingly muscular for such a lanky guy. Just dragging him up like that shouldn’t have been possible. For a human anyway but he was too angry to care.

“Goddamn it, Lance! You…!”

There was a flash of cold anger on Lance’s face that transformed him into something terrifying.

“I, what?! What, Keith?! What?! I don’t need you to tell me that I screwed up! That we almost lost Blue because of me! I get it!”

Lance wasn’t jut angry but close to tears too and Keith felt the rage leave him. Without it he was just tired. He’d stayed up for too long. Been on the edge too much. Fought too hard. He let go of Lance and his hands fell weakly on his side.

“… I’m sorry. I… I’ll leave you to it.” Keith said.

Lance didn’t answer and just sullenly stared at the floor. Keith was almost out of the door when…

“… wait.”

When he turned back the usual bravado Lance carried himself with was gone. He just looked sad and lost. Even Keith could tell something else was wrong than just being made look like a fool by a second-rate bounty hunter.

“… I’m listening.” Keith said.

Lance couldn’t look him in the eyes and gazed at everything in the room except at him.

“When that crystal blew up… I could’ve died. I… felt my back burn and… tear. When I passed out… I wasn’t sure if I’d wake up… or how much of me would be left.”

Finally, Lance could look him in the eyes, and he looked just so… so scared.

“This is war. I know Shiro tries not to call it that but… that’s what it is. This is war and we could die. At any time.”

Keith couldn’t think of anything to say… except one thing.

“Why… didn’t you tell us? Shiro… you could have talked to Shiro.”

Lance rolled his eyes.

“Oh yeah. Talk to Shiro. Tell the man who survived over a year with the Galra that one explosion had me pissing my pants. You can’t tell a hero you’re afraid.”

Keith fell quiet. Shiro was a hero? Yes. Yes, he was but… who listened to a hero’s problems and worries? Shiro had held it all together so well that none of them had wondered if there was something wrong. Something he might have to get off his chest. They all just tried to live up to the image they had of Shiro and none of them had stopped to think could even Shiro live up to it.

“If you’re so afraid… we could find another paladin.”

Lance laughed mirthlessly.

“I say Vol. You say…?”

Keith stared at him confused. He still hadn’t gotten that.

I say… Voltron?” Keith suggested.

“You’re no fun. I say Vol. You say Tron. The point is, we are Voltron. The only thing that stands against Zarkon. If one of us ran, that would be that. People would lose what little hope they had.”

“But if you’re so afraid…”

“Show me a man who’s not afraid and I’ll show you a liar. I’ll just have to… fake it till I make it. We are what we pretend to be.” Lance said.

People were what they pretended to be? Keith nodded. He liked that.

“But you’re right. I am afraid. If I could die tomorrow, why not have fun today? And when Nyma started giving me the old bedroom eyes, what was I supposed to do? Take a cold shower?”

“You should have still been more careful. Even Hunk knew something was off.” Keith said.

“Hindsight is 20/20. I just thought my roguish charm and sinewy body had done it again.”

Keith snorted. No one could infuriate him like Lance, but few people could make him laugh like him.

“You know… Nyma was an alien. So, she… wasn’t even necessarily a she.” Keith said.

“As captain Kirk said, what happens in space, stays in space. Besides, I’ve never been terribly particle about those details. If it’s pretty and willing, I’m game.”

“I think we call that not having standards.” Keith said.

Lance gasped in feigned insult.

“I have standards. I have all the standards. You don’t see me putting the moves on Pidge. I don’t know what my cutoff date is, but fourteen is way below it.”

“She has to be eighteen or very close to it to attend a military academy.” Keith said.

“She had us all convinced that she was a he. Who knows what else she tricked us about? I’m not taking any chance with that shit.” Lance said and rubbed his pointed chin: “I’m running low on options on the castle. I'm starting to suspect that Allura isn't all that into me.”

“No. What gave you that idea?” Keith said.

Lance smirked at him.

“Was that a joke? There might be hope for you yet. I guess that just leaves you.”

Keith rubbed his eyes in exasperation… and felt his cheeks warm up.

“I’m flattered but…”

Lance just laughed.

“That was a joke. Or was it? Figure it out before some weirdly hot alien steals me away.” Lance said and changed the magazine in the rifle: “I'd love to see how the Red Lion flies.”

“They’re not for joyrides.”

“Not with that attitude. You should have some fun today. We might be dead tomorrow. Get hammered. Do something you regret in the morning. It’s better to regret thing you did than things you didn’t.” Lance said.

“No. It’s not.”

“You sure?” Lance said.

Keith just sighed and looked at the targets.

“You’re a good shot.”

“Yay. More compliments. I could get used to those.” Lance said.

“But it’s not a good idea to over-specialize. How’s your swordsmanship?”

“Are you asking me out on a date?”

Keith counted to ten.

“Lance… why do you have to make everything so difficult for me?”

“Maybe I like the way you look when you blush?” Lance said and the rifle transformed into its Bayard form: “Fine. Sword fighting. Show me what you got.”

“Gladly. Let’s see how I like you looking blue and purple.”

“I like where this is going. Let’s just say that I kept those handcuffs Nyma left me with.”

The match wasn’t the one-sided beatdown Keith had thought. Lance was in good shape and he had the basics down. It was nothing Keith couldn’t have handled but he couldn’t bring himself to be as vicious as usual. And he couldn’t stop smirking. When Lance was finally too tired… and blue and purple to go on, they called it a night.

After a quick shower, Keith headed to his room… and then changed his mind and knocked on Shiro’s door. He was still up as always. Did he ever sleep?

“Keith? Is something wrong?”

“I… talked with Lance and…”

“Oh?” Shiro said sounding awkward: “Hope I wasn’t too hard on him.”

“No. It’s just… are you alright? I… don’t think anyone really asked you that. After everything you went through with the Galra. If you ever need to talk about it, you know we’re here for you. Right?”

Shiro was quiet for a while and then smiled.

“I know. Thank you, Keith.”

Back in his room, Keith took out the Galra blade. People were what they pretended to be? Lance could be surprisingly deep. If people really were the masks they wore, then he’d pretend to be… Keith. Paladin of the Red Lion. Then that would be who he was. People were what they pretended to be after all.

Chapter Text

They had arrived on the planet Velka hoping to meet a rebel force operating there but when Keith had come down on the planet to scout it with Shiro and Lance, they’d found that the rebels had been dealt with just a few weeks prior. The Castle was hovering on the orbit and they’d have to wait for the planets movement to bring it back on the right spot so they could fly back as quickly as possible. Until then they had to lay low and hide.

Shiro had told them treat this as a short vacation but Keith had always hated just sitting around doing nothing. It made him restless and gave him too much time to… think. If he didn’t have anything to do, his thoughts always returned to the Galra blade hidden in his room. In desperation he even agreed to go on a food run with Lance.

They left their rented room and Keith pulled up his hoodie. Lance glanced at him annoyed.

“Could you stop that?” Lance said.

“It’s not wise for people to see our faces.”

“What do you think people are going to remember? A guy covering his face acting all suspicious or some dude they just passed on the street?” Lance said and looked around: “It’s not like we stand out here.”

Keith grumbled… but then pulled down his hoodie. Lance had a point.

In Coran’s story planet Velka had barely gotten out of the middle ages when the original Paladins had saved them from a space locust. Things had changed a lot since then and Keith suspected it had something to do with the Galra military academy in the city. The city’s technology had also far surpassed Earth’s and become a hub world for trade and species from all over the universe now mingled there.

They entered the first restaurant they found and started studying the menu.

“This is stupid.” Keith said.

“I know.” Lance said from behind the menu: “No English menu. Stupid, racist aliens.”

“Not that. How are we supposed to fight the Galra without allies? This is the third planet where this has happened.”

“I’d imagine Zarkon is very good at blowing up rebels. He’s had ten thousand years to practice.”

Keith threw the menu on the table annoyed.

“How does anyone even live that long?”

“We should ask Zarkon before we shoot him off the universe. I wouldn’t mind still be pimping at that age.”

“I…” Keith said when he fell quiet.

Lance followed his gaze and whatever stupid joke he’d been thinking was caught in his throat.

Two Galras walked in.

Both were young women, looking like Galra equivalent of older teenagers and they were dressed in military academy uniforms. The one who walked in first was tall and fit with a cocky grin. Her friend was smaller, and she had a sharp glare hidden behind a pair of glasses. Keith couldn’t quite put his finger on it but there was something… off about the taller Galra. Her features… came together differently than her smaller friend’s.

The Galra looked around disappointed when they realized there were no free tables.

Keith grabbed Lance’s arm.

“We should go.” He whispered.

“Or we should go on the offensive.” Lance shot back and stood up: “My saviors!”

Lance waved at the Galras. The smaller Galra looked annoyed but the taller one seemed intrigued.

“We are?” The tall Galra said.

“Yes. Yes, you are.” Lance said while walking up to them: “We just arrived here and have no grasp of the lingo. Mind helping a starving man? What is safe to eat?”

The tall Galra grinned.

“That depends. What’s in it for me?”

“You need more than my gratitude? Fine. We can share our table.” Lance said.

Cold sweat started running down Keith’s back and he wished he had a weapon on him when the Galras glanced at their table.

The tall Galra crossed her arms.

“That almost sounds like I’m doing you another favor.”

“Well… that’s because you would. My friend is pretty to look at but there’s not much going on upstairs. I prefer intelligent company during dinner.” Lance said.

Prick, Keith thought.

“Dumb and pretty, huh? Sounds like he’s right up Alsa’s alley.”

“Shut up, Razkha.” The smaller Galra said.

The tall Galra… Razkha looked at Keith then at the smiling Lance. Finally, she grinned.

“Fine. We’ll amuse you and your dumb, pretty friend but no hanky panky. I’m not that kind of a girl.”

“And I’m not that kind of a boy.” Lance said.

“Liar.” Alsa said but followed her friend to their table.

“Not a liar. Just lucky. The name’s Smith. My dumb, pretty friend is John.” Lance said.

They sat in the same table and ordered what Razkha recommended. Keith tried to act natural and look like he didn’t want to run away. The intel they could gather might make this trip worthwhile after all.

“I’m guessing you are students at the military academy.” Lance said while they waited for their food.

“What gave us away? You a spy?” Razkha said.

“Me? A spy? I would never.” Lance said.

Razkha pointed a fork at Lance.

“Sounds like something a spy would say.”

Lance put his hands up.

“You caught me. Can we at least eat before you bring us in? Maybe I can even convince you to let us go.”

“Fine. This once.” Razkha said and put down the fork.

Keith and Alsa shared a look and for the first time in his life he was in perfect understanding with someone while they watched Lance’s and Razkha’s flirting. Then he shuddered. What was he doing? Emphasizing with a Galra. With the enemy. An uneasy feeling started forming in his stomach. Razkha and Alsa were… different. They didn’t act like bloodthirsty monsters but… kids you could find in any military academy. He’d… gone to school with people like this.

“You two soldiers too?” Alsa said.

“I’m a lover. Not a fighter. And something of a master of my craft.” Lance said.

“You move like a soldier. Your friend too.” Alsa said.

“Give it a rest.” Razkha sighed: “Sorry. She’s an espionage trainee and won’t turn it off.”

“She’ll get far. I was studying to be a soldier too but… something else came up. You know. One of those once in a lifetime opportunities.” Lance said.

“And what is a once in a lifetime opportunity?” Razkha said.

“I’m not putting all my cards on the table just yet. Give me time and I might tell you.” Lance said.

“Ooh. A mystery. I like those.”

Their food arrived and what looked and smelled like pizza was put in front of them. It even tasted like pizza.

“What about you, John? Did you get a lifetime opportunity too?” Razkha said while wolfing down her… pizza?

Alsa smiled her crooked smile and adjusted her glasses much like Pidge would.

“I’m guessing he got kicked out.”

Lance laughed and patted Keith’s back.

“She got you there.”

“Yeah.” Keith admitted: “They said I had an attitude problem. Guess they were right. Even my… friends think I’m a dick.”

Razkha growled.

“It’s such bullshit. They’re always harder on us half-breeds. Shit. My mom got practically disowned for marrying a Velkan. So… which of your parents is Galra?”

Keith and Lance almost choked on their space pizzas.

“What’s wrong?” Alsa said suspiciously.

“I…” Keith said and took a drink of water: “I’m just surprised. People can rarely tell.”

“Yeah. It’s subtle but one half-breed knows another.” Razkha said.

“And I thought I was quick on the uptake.” Lance said and gave Keith… a look: “And it was his mother.”

“So, we’re in the same boat.” Razkha said.

“Lotor is trying to crackdown on the discrimination in academies. If you’re interested, I could talk to my aunt. She might be able to get you reinstated. People rarely say no to a hero’s widow.” Alsa said.

“Widow?” Lance said.

“My uncle…” Alsa said and suddenly her eyes turned misty: “… he died. Fighting the Blue Lion. We didn’t see each other much but… he was still my hero.”

A shiver ran down Keith’s back and Lance stared at his pizza suddenly looking nauseous.

“… I… I’m sorry.” Lance said.

“Guess we brought the room down, huh?” Razkha said: “But Alsa is right. We need all hands on deck now that Voltron is back. It’s making the scum bold. The local rebels almost blew up our academy just a few weeks ago. If it wasn’t for Lotor, we’d all be dead.”

“It’s insane that some people are still loyal to a slaver king that got dealt with five-hundred years ago and good riddance I say.” Alsa said.

“Galra use slaves too.” Keith said. He couldn’t help himself.

The table fell quiet. Razkha looked like she’d been slapped and Alsa was eyeing them nervously. Lance was on the verge of a panic attack.

“We… heard about Balmera.” Keith said.

Razkha pushed her plate away looking as repulsed as Keith felt.

“… yeah. That. The old guard held that planet. That’s what happens when you live too long. Awful ideas stick around, and new ones can’t breathe.”

“Lotor will fix it. Commanding officers won’t be able to act like tyrants soon just because they have no oversight.” Alsa said.

Razkha smiled sadly at Lance.

“Try… not to judge us by the worst of our race.”

They tried filling the dinner with empty chatter after that, but the spark had gone out. Once they’d finished their food, they made an excuse to leave.

“Going so soon?” Razkha said.

“We have to get in touch with our spymaster. We’ve confirmed that Galra girls are… third… fourth prettiest looking in uniforms.”

“Faint praise, Smith.” Razkha said.

“But honest.” Lance said and kissed Razkha’s hand: “I hope we meet again.”

“I’ll try not to think how many girls you’ve said that before.” Razkha said and nodded at Keith: “Stay safe, cousin, and stay in touch. Maybe we’ll fly together some day.”

“Maybe.” Keith agreed.

“But… try not to be too critical of the Empire. Not every place is as liberal as Velka.” Alsa said and wrote down Keith a phone number: “Give me a call if you want to be a soldier again.”

Razkha laughed.

“Look at you, Alsa. Going on the offensive.”

“Shut up, Razkha.” Alsa muttered.

They waved each other goodbye and went their separate ways. As the walked back to their lodgings, they didn’t say a word. Finally, the silence became too much for Keith to bare.

“Lance… I…”

Lance didn’t answer and dodged on an alley. Where he threw up. Violently. Until all he could do was gag and spit out yellow water.

“Lance?”

Lance looked up with a haunted look in his blue eyes and wiped his mouth.

“… that was a… terrible idea. They… Razkha and Alsa seemed… nice.”

“… I… yeah.” Keith agreed.

“… guess her uncle was nice too. How many… nice people do you think we’ve… killed? How many have I killed?”

Keith didn’t know what to say.

“… this is war.” He whispered.

“… guess it is.” Lance said and looked at him: “… your mother, eh?”

“… I… Lance… I… you…” Keith blubbered.

All the things he wanted to say… they were strangling him, and he couldn’t get any of them out.

“How long have you known?” Lance said.

Keith looked away.

“… not long.”

“And when were you going to tell us?”

Keith looked up and wondered if one of the stars in the sky was the Castle of Lions.

“… never. I was never going to tell anyone. Would you? The Galra… Allura… they destroyed her planet… killed her people.”

It was all too much. He was so tired. Keith sat down on the cold street.

“I… I don’t know how it happened. Dad… he never told me and… please. Lance, please. Don’t tell anyone.”

“So… even Shiro doesn’t know?” Lance said.

“… no.”

Lance groaned… and then he sat down next to him.

“Damn it, Keith. Goddamn it.”

Keith rubbed his face… and realized he was crying.

“… please, Lance.”

“… stop… just stop… stop crying… you’re making me cry too.” Lance said while rubbing his eyes.

Keith couldn’t stop. Neither of them could. They cried together on the sidewalk. People passing them by hastened their steps when they noticed them.

“… we’re making a scene.” Keith sobbed.

“… guess so. We… should probably go.”

They walked away together leaning on each other for support.

“… I trust you.” Lance said and sighed: “… and I won’t tell anyone.”

Without thinking about it, Keith pressed his head against Lance’s shoulder.

“… thank you.”

They kept walking and despite how sick he felt… there was also a sense of relief. Then a thought came to him.

“Who’s Lotor?”

Chapter Text

Keith couldn’t have been happier to leave Velka when they did. Razkha… just the fact that she existed raised too many questions that he didn’t want to think about. But he couldn’t stop thinking about them. Razkha wasn’t just some outlier. When he looked at the streets of Velka, he could spot dozens of people like her.

People born of Galra and Velka unions. He could even see Galras proudly walking with their Velka friends and families without anyone looking at them twice.

Why wasn’t anyone saying anything?! Didn’t they know what the Galra had done?! How could they explain away the atrocities the empire had committed? How…?

The thought got a bitter laugh out of Keith.

How? He knew how. Back on Earth his own government had taken part in military operations across the world for… questionable reasons. Sometimes their motives could even be sinister, and everyone had known but… everyone had just shrugged and gone on with their day. Sure. People somewhere far away might have been suffering and dying but it wasn’t their fault. It wasn’t their problem. So… they just didn’t think about it. He’d done it too.

When they got back to the Castle everyone was there to greet them and Hunk had even prepared a feast to welcome them. Allura was smiling but her eyes were full of disappointment. They had wasted more time to find a dead ally. Still, she smiled and didn’t make a big deal about it.

“Welcome back.” Allura said.

“It’s good to be back.” Shiro said.

They left for the mess hall where Hunk had set the table. Keith had had his doubts about traditional Balmeran cooking but Hunk could do wonders with rocks.

“This is the best part of every mission.” Hunk said while filling everyone’s plates: “I love coming home and eating with everyone.”

“I love coming…” Lance said and took a sip of water.

The mess hall fell quiet and everyone stared Lance as he drank and let the maximum amount of awkward silence build up. Only Hunk seemed more bemused then annoyed.

“… Home and eating with everyone.” Lance continued after finishing his drink.

“Gross.” Pidge said.

Allura rubbed her eyes. Shiro smiled like a father who had just found his child drawing on the wall. Coran caressed his moustache thoughtfully. Only Hunk laughed.

“Lance… I don’t think I like the side you bring out of Hunk. Why are you two friends again?” Pidge said.

“I was always getting beaten up as a kid for some reason. Hunk was the only one to step in.” Lance said.

“We still haven’t figured out why.” Hunk said with an amused smile.

“I know right? My face is a national treasure. How could anyone want to beat up me?” Lance said.

“I can think of a few reasons.” Pidge said.

“Good thing that not everyone is as smart as you.” Lance said dug in: “Dude, you made the shit out of these rocks.”

“Thank you, Lance. Your gratitude makes it all worth it.” Hunk said.

“Was that sarcasm? It sounded like sarcasm.” Lance said.

Hunk just smiled.

“I bet your new girlfriend would love these.” Lance said and looked at his plate: “Is eating rocks technically speaking cannibalism for Balmerans?”

“She’s not my girlfriend!” Hunk said bashfully: “She’s just a rock I respect very much.”

“I know the feeling. I could never date someone I respect either.” Lance said.

Lance and Hunk laughed. No one else did. Pidge was finding new ways to express contempt with a single glare while Shiro was counting how long it would take until he could send his children to college and get them out of his hair.

For a moment Keith forgot about Velka and stared at his food annoyed.

Lance never laughed like that with him. Or joked like that. Why didn’t he? Weren’t they friends? He thought… hoped they were. He’d never… really had friends. Lance was his… first friend. Not a colleague or an acquittance but a real friend but to Lance… he was just one of his friends. Hunk was Lance's best friend. He was no one special to Lance.

The thought hurt.

Coran rubbed his moustache.

“A politician on planet Orr made a joke like that once. The war lasted for three generations.” Coran said.

“It made them an easy picking for the Galra.” Allura added.

“Lance, tone it down.” Shiro said.

Keith kept poking at his food. Coran glanced at him.

“Are you suffering from space nausea? If you want, I can make you a traditional Altean nausea remedy.”

“Don’t do it, man. The stuff makes me nauseous.” Lance said.

“That’s how you know it works.” Coran said.

“I was just thinking…” Keith said.

“About what?” Pidge said.

“I… it’s nothing.” Keith lied.

“Doesn’t sound like nothing.” Shiro said.

Keith looked at Lance. His usual smirk was gone, and his eyes were guarded.

“What… are we going to do with the Galra if we win?” Keith said.

“When we win.” Allura said.

“I… yeah. When we win.” Keith said.

Allura’s regal mask was up but she had an uneasy look.

“Once Zarkon has been dealt with, we’ll drive the Galra away from the planets they’ve conquered.”

“What if they don’t want to leave?” Keith said.

Allura’s face hardened and there was the kind of coldness to her eyes that you could only get from losing your planet. Your home. Your people.

“I don’t care what they want.”

“Maybe we should. Many of them have lived on those planets for generations. They’ve made homes there.” Keith said.

“Those planets have been occupied for generations.” Allura said.

“Many of them have family there. What will we do about them? Razkha’s mother was Galra but her father was Velkan.”

The mess hall fell quiet. They were all looking at him.

“Keith, who’s Razkha?” Shiro said.

Suddenly Allura looked very tired. And very, very angry.

“Forgive me if I don’t have the energy to consider the feelings of genocidal monsters.”

“If…” Lance said and took a deep breath: “If we’re holding people responsible for their culture’s crimes, we’d all be shot.”

Allura half rose from her seat.

“Are you siding with the Galra?!”

“No! Of course not, but… not every Galra is Zarkon.” Lance said.

Pidge, Hunk, Coran… they all looked nervous. Scared. Shiro just watched and listened with an unreadable expression.

“If they had done the right thing, Zarkon would never have… been able to do what he did.” Allura said.

She didn’t shout. She didn’t need to. Not with all that cold fury in her voice.

“What should we do then? Blow up the Galras’ home planet to make it fair?” Keith asked.

“If I could, I would!”

A painful silence fell in the mess hall immediately. No one looked more horrified than Allura. Horrified and lost. Lance tapped the table nervously and cleared his throat.

“Princess…” Lance said quietly: “Nothing good has ever come out of treating people as things. Zarkon has to be stopped but… I won’t help you get even with him. I don’t even want to know what that would mean. I won’t let you use Blue for that either.”

Allura didn’t even have the strength to look at them.

“That would have been considered treason once upon a time.” Allura whispered.

She stood up like an old woman.

“Thank you for the meal, Hunk, but… I’m not really hungry right now.”

She walked away dragging her feet. Coran stared at his food.

“She… she didn’t mean that.”

Shiro shook his head.

“Coran, you don’t need to explain. None of us can even begin to understand your pain. She has every right to be angry. We won’t judge her for it. We know her.” Shiro said and took a bite of his food: “This is excellent, Hunk. You outdid yourself.”

“… thank you.” Hunk said unenthusiastically.

Shiro smiled and then turned to look at him and Lance.

“So… who’s Razkha?”

“A cadet at the Galra military academy on Velka. We were trying to get some intel out of her.” Lance said without looking at him.

“Did you find anything I should know about?” Shiro said.

Lance shivered.

“… no.”

“Okay. I won’t push it. Let me know when you’re ready to talk.” Shiro said.

A painful dinner followed. Lance didn’t look hungry but forced himself to eat for Hunk’s sake. Keith couldn’t do even that much. They all wandered off without looking at each other after cleaning the table. After a quick shower Keith stumbled into bed and tried to sleep but couldn’t. He hadn’t had a wink of sleep after meeting Razkha but he couldn’t escape his own thoughts.

Just a few days ago it had all seemed so simple.

Zarkon was evil. They were trying to stop him from hurting innocent people. It was simple so far but… what came after the evil overlord was dealt with? Voltron was the most powerful weapon in existence, but he was afraid that this was a problem too big even for Voltron. They wielded so much power as paladins. Would they be able to wield it responsibly? What if… they became another Zarkon without even noticing?

There was a knock on the door. When he opened it, Lance grinned at him in his paladin gear.

“Suit up. Let’s go for a ride.”

“Why?” Keith said.

“Because I want to do something fun after that disaster. You should try having fun sometimes. You might surprise yourself and like it.”

“Lance…”

“Fine. The Lions aren’t for joyrides. Think of it as… training. We should get to know the other Lions in case… something happens to one of us.”

Keith was quiet and then smiled.

“Okay. Red or Blue?”

“Blue. Wouldn’t want her to get jealous.”

Lance waited in the hallway while Keith got dressed. They walked to the hangar together.

“Thanks.” Keith said.

“For what?” Lance asked.

“For having my back.”

When they approached the Lions, the Blue Lion bowed its head to let them in. Keith couldn’t quite explain it, but the Blue Lion had always struck him as the most welcoming of the pride. Even the atmosphere inside the cockpit was different from Red’s. It was… warmer somehow. Softer.

“Where we off to?” Keith said.

“I don’t know.” Lance said and grinned: “Let’s find out. Hey Blue. Can you play the wingman for me?”

In response Blue powered up and blasted out of the hangar on it own.

“That’s my girl.” Lance said.

“I hope we don’t get in trouble for this.” Keith said.

“Don’t worry. I cleared it up with Coran. It’s good to be the boss’s favorite.” Lance said.

The Lions had been built for travel between planets and soon the Castle was nothing more than a distant memory. The monitors large as windows gave them a clear view to the vast space outside. It could be overwhelming realizing how small and insignificant you were. Less than a speck of dust but it was also comforting. Here it felt like none of his problems and anxieties mattered. The stars forgave everything.

“It’s big. You’d have to be crazy to want to take it over.” Lance said.

“Zarkon doesn’t seem to be playing with a full deck.” Keith said.

“Yeah. Why else would he try to take over something infinite that keeps expanding?”

“I think Hawking wrote that space doesn’t actually expand.” Keith said.

“Wait, wait, wait.” Lance said confused: “Didn’t he say it does?”

“He might have changed his mind. It’s been a while since I read his stuff.”

“You actually read it?”

“And you didn’t? It was mandatory reading at the garrison.” Keith said.

“I skimmed it.” Lance said sounding a bit guilty.

They stared outside in silence. It wasn’t an uncomfortable silence but a comforting one. Some moment didn’t need words… but Lance decided to speak anyway.

“Peaceful, isn’t it? But… I wouldn’t want to be trapped here. Just drifting here. If the Galra shoot me down, I hope I don’t have time to even notice.”

“Lance?”

Lance didn’t seem to hear him.

“The alternative is just… so much worse. Drifting away helplessly. Counting when you run out of food, water… and oxygen. You’ve probably taken out the cyanide pill but… you don’t bite. Because you hope… against all hope that someone will pick up your distress signal. That you’ll see your wife and niece again. But no one ever comes… and you die. Alone. Scared. Suffocating.”

Lance didn’t look at him, but Keith could see his face reflected off the monitors. It hurt. Seeing him looking like that.

“Lance… if it had been you, do you think Alsa’s uncle would have spared you a second thought?”

“Guess we’ll never know. He’s dead.” Lance said and closed his eyes: “It scares me, Keith. So much that I can’t sleep. I’m scared that we get into another fight and I’ll have to kill someone else’s uncle. Or aunt. Or someone’s son. Or daughter. Or father. Or mother.”

Keith shuddered. The blink of an eye could be an eternity in combat. If Lance hesitated even for a heartbeat because he didn’t see an enemy at the other side of the gun but an uncle… Or an aunt. Or a son. Or a daughter. Or a father. Or a mother. A person with history and family. If that happened… Hesitation would kill him.

“Lance… promise me. If it ever comes down to you or some Galra soldier… promise me, you’ll fight. Promise me you’ll come back.”

“Only if you promise to come back too. Even if it means running. I’d rather have you be a living coward than a dead hero.”

Keith smiled.

“I promise.”

They sat in silence… until they saw it. Even with the monitors toning down the brightness and Blue keeping its distance, it hurt to look at… and even then, he couldn’t look away. Some sights were worth risking blindness.

It was… a dragon.

It was the only thing he could compare it to. Its scales shone like a mosaic of stars as it flew through space. It was so beautiful and humbling. It could have crushed the castle of lions and never even notice. Something that colossal could only live in space. In gravity it would be crushed under its own weight. Here it could coil around a planet.

Lance was half out of his seat and the light had brought tears to his eyes.

“… what… what is that?”

As if he’d been summoned Coran’s face filled one of the screens.

“You two are in luck. That’s a comet wyrm. It was a symbol of good luck in Altea and worshipped as a god in multiple other planets. It travels through the cosmos looking for barren planets.”

“And… what happens when it finds one?” Keith asked.

“It rests and dies, and its scales will birth new life on a dead planet.” Coran said.

Coran invited everyone in the Castle to see the wyrm for themselves. They stared at the symbol of good luck as it shone in the darkness. Like him and Lance, Allura forgot her worries for a moment. Keith didn’t even realize he was holding Lance’s hand and when he did, neither of them cared. Lance gripped his fingers harder.

The moment felt like it lasted for an eternity, but it was over too soon. They sat back and laughed. All of them. Keith had never laughed like that after his father’s death. For the first time in a long time he felt like he… belonged. Like he was home.

"Blue... thanks for showing us this." Lance said.

After telling Coran that they would be gone for a bit longer, Lance turned off the monitor. He leaned back in his chair.

“I think… I’ll take a nap.” Lance said.

“Yeah. Me too.” Keith said.

Lance told Blue to take them home the long route. They fell asleep side by side and dreamt of the stars.

Chapter Text

The security droids surrounding Lotor’s mansion recognized Acxa’s ship and allowed her to land safely. The mansion was built far away from everything but was still heavily fortified. Lotor had never left anything up to chance. The droids led her to Lotor’s training room where he was in the middle of running through a flight simulation.

Lotor was a master pilot but sometimes his training went too far. He was facing five enemies at the same time and even with all his skills he couldn’t bring them down. The enemy leader was the worst of them all. Impossibly strong and resilient without sacrificing any speed. If the empire had a fleet of ships like that, no one could stand against them.

None of the other ships were as impressive as the leader but still threats in their own right.

The ship sticking closest to the leader was the fastest Acxa had ever seen and it danced circles around Lotor. The bulkiest of the ships hit like an asteroid and didn’t notice or care about damage. The smallest ship had weapons that could have been magic and its abilities were constantly blindsiding Lotor. The last ship didn’t stand out like the others and seemed to be designed for support and covering for the other more specialized ships. A job it did very well.

After a lengthy dogfight Lotor was able to shoot the support ship down and the training ended.

Acxa waited for Lotor to step out of the training room before she started clapping. She hadn’t told him about her arrival but Lotor didn’t seem surprised. Few things ever surprised him.

“Impressive.” Acxa said.

“Not impressive enough. I won in a way I didn’t plan.” Lotor said.

Unlike his father, who was a titan, Lotor was merely a giant. He towered over Acxa but was slender and light on his feet. He was more beautiful than handsome and had long, thick white hair. Despite the demanding training program, he didn’t smell of sweat and his heartbeat was relaxed.

Lotor escorted her to the living room where he poured them drinks.

“What do I owe this unexpected pleasure for?” Lotor said.

“Emperor Zarkon has summoned you. He demands your presence.” Acxa said.

Lotor smiled. He had the smile of a man who knew something you didn’t. A smile like that left everyone on their toes and looking over their shoulders.

“Does he now? I suppose I’ll head over there immediately. Once you find me.” Lotor said.

Acxa looked at him uneasily.

“I could almost swear you’re planning something.”

Lotor just smiled and finished his drink.

“I need your opinion on something.” Lotor said.

One of the screens turned on and Acxa saw…

“… is that…?”

“Yes. Yes, it is.” Lotor confirmed.

She’d heard the stories of Voltron. The most powerful weapon in the universe and the greatest threat to their empire. The stories didn’t do it justice. On the shot footage Voltron destroyed a fleet of ships on its own. All on its own. How could you fight something like that?

“Terrifying, isn’t it? No wonder the emperor doesn’t want anyone to see this.” Lotor said.

“That’s… one word for it. The emperor… he’s been sending our people… to fight that?”

“He’s obsessed. No sacrifice is too great if he can have Voltron.” Lotor said.

Victory or death. Those were the words every Galra soldier lived by. She knew a day might come when her life would be spent for the good of the empire. Sometimes she had spent the lives of those serving under her but… spending a life was one thing. Needlessly wasting them was quite another.

In the next video Voltron had been split into… five. The ship looked like large cat beasts. Even now no ship could match them. She watched as her enemy faced one of Haggar’s abominations. She studied their skills and abilities. It was a treasonous thought but… she was rooting for them. She had never trusted the mages. At least Voltron’s pilots were facing their enemy head on.

“Which do you think is the weak link?” Lotor asked.

“I don’t think there is one.” Acxa said.

“Good answer. If you had to fight one of these Lions, which would you go for?”

Acxa watched the Lions. She pondered her answer like her life depended on it. Knowing Lotor it might have.

“The Blue Lion.”

“Why?”

“It’s… used for support more than anything. It covers up the others’ weaknesses. Fell the Blue Lion and you cripple all of them.” Acxa said.

Lotor smiled.

“Yes. It would be like cutting off their feet.” Lotor said and poured himself another drink: “Inform my father that you didn’t find me. I must have left on one of my expeditions and you’re in hot pursuit.”

Lotor sipped his drink and studied the screen.

“He must be desperate to call for me. Wouldn’t it be a pity if this was the end of him?”

***

Keith stood uneasily in the corner and studied the other partygoers almost scornfully. The Castle of Lions was filled with races and creeds from all over the universe. People they’d helped or who’d heard stories of their deeds. How could they hold a party when there was so much left to do?

Most of their guests had swarmed around Shiro who was looking as relaxed in a party as he did at the helm of Voltron. Was there anything he couldn’t do? He wondered how many lifelong friendships Shiro would have after one night.

“Keith! My man! Why are you hiding here?” Lance yelled.

Lance walked up to him and stuck a drink in his hand. Keith accepted the drink reluctantly.

“I don’t really like parties.”

“How do you know? You’ve never been to one.” Lance said and took a sip from his drink: “You’re the one who complained we haven’t done enough to gather allies.”

“It just seems… disrespectful somehow. We should be helping people. Not partying.”

“Not all of us can be dark and brooding all the time.” Lance said and looked around: “Besides, we’re gathering intel and creating alliances. You should see the number of fence sitters who are already offering Shiro their daughters. Guess no one told them about Adam.”

“They broke up.” Keith said.

Lance spilled his drink.

“What?”

“Shiro and Adam broke up. Just before Shiro was… taken.” Keith said.

“Oh.” Lance said looking uncomfortable. He finished his drink: “Anyway… one of our guests told us about a secret Quintessence factory. That’s probably our next target.”

“Quintessence?”

“Yeah. Never heard of it either. Coran called it an energy source.”

Keith nodded when he noticed Shay among their guests. Despite being a full head taller than most of them and built like a… Keith tried to think of a word aside from a brick wall… She was built like a… fighter but looked small and lost. She had an unmistakably warm, pleasant aura. It was easy to guess why she and Hunk had hit it off so well. Lance waved at her.

“Shay! You came!”

Shay looked relieved when she spotted them.

“How could I say no to the saviors of our home?” Shay said and bowed her head: “I also wanted to thank all of you for everything you did.”

“It was Allura who saved Balmera.” Keith said.

“She couldn’t have done it without you.”

“Or you.” Lance said and raised his glass: “You did us a solid one back then. Hunk has been gushing about you non-stop ever since.”

Keith had never seen a walking, talking rock blush.

“He has?” Shay said and looked around: “I… haven’t seen him.”

“He’s in the kitchen putting the finishing touches on the desserts. Balmera didn’t really have those so he had to get creative.” Lance said.

Shay’s gaze dropped on her feet. She smiled.

“That’s a lot of trouble. For one guest.”

“Hunk has always been a thoughtful guy.” Lance said.

“Yeah. He’s even friends with Lance.” Keith said.

“That he is. He should be done in time for the dance.” Lance said.

“Dance?” Shay asked.

“You’ve never…?”

“The Galra… denied us many things.” Shay said.

Lance downed his drink in one go and Keith followed suit. It was stronger than he’d expected. Being a slave left a little time for fun. Or anything else besides surviving.

“You should ask him for a dance. Knowing Hunk, he won’t be able to muster the courage to do it himself.” Lance said.

“I don’t know how.” Shay said.

“Easy enough to fix.” Lance said and put down his glass before doing a curtsy for Keith: “May I have this dance, my good sir?”

Maybe it was the drink or just wanting to help Shay out, but Keith took Lance’s hand. After a short tug of war, he was able to take the lead. The garrison had had mandatory dance lessons for formal occasions and Keith still remembered the steps. Shay was scandalized… and excited.

“Do you always… stand so close to each other… while dancing?” Shay whispered.

“The closer the better.” Lance said and smiled: “If you’re feeling bold, see how low you can slide your hand.”

“If that hand touches my butt, you’ll lose it.” Keith said.

“I was actually giving permission to you, but whatever.” Lance said.

People had taken notice of their quick lesson to Shay and Coran jumped the gun on the music. Traditional Altean tune filled the hall and their guests started taking it to the dance floor. Shay noticed Hunk getting out of the kitchen… and her nerves gave out. Lance ordered her a drink and Shay drowned it like a champion before heading towards Hunk.

“That was nice of you.” Keith said.

“What can I say? I’m a nice guy. Besides, what kind of a friend would I be, if I didn’t act as wingman?”

“Keith. Lance.”

Allura had dressed like a princess for the evening and stars seemed to have been woven into her blue dress. Lance did a small bow.

“Princess. You look even lovelier than usual. Did you come to ask me for a dance?”

Allura smiled.

“Maybe some other time.” Allura said and offered her hand to Keith: “Could you do me the honors?”

Keith looked at her surprised and glanced at Lance who stared despondently into his empty glass.

“Yes.”

Allura dragged him to the dancefloor and unlike him, Allura seemed to be at home there.

“I didn’t think you could dance.” Allura said.

“Learning it was mandatory in the military.”

“Is it normal back on Earth for two men to dance together?” Allura said and then smiled apologetically at his expression: “No offense meant. I just know that it gets people… uncomfortable on… less advanced planets.”

“No offense taken, and I wish it only made people uncomfortable. It makes many people angry and scared.”

Allura nodded.

“What a sad way to live one’s life. Ruled by anger and fear.”

“Yeah but it’s not that bad anymore. In some places anyway.” Keith said.

“I see.” Allura said and looked around: “I wanted to apologize and… thank you. For what happened at the dinner.”

“I… I was out of line too. You lost so much and I…” Keith said.

Allura shook her head.

“I have too many responsibilities to let my emotions get the better of me. Thank you. It is not easy to point out when… a friend is making a mistake.”

Keith smiled… and then noticed Hunk dancing with Shay. Both were clumsy and awkward and took too much space. Neither of them would have wanted to be anywhere else. The sight of him made him smile.

What Lance was up to was less heartwarming.

Somehow, he’d made it to the dancefloor with three partners. Two aliens who both looked faintly human and one over ambitious Arusian. All three of them were giggling like children while Lance led the dance. Keith tried not think why the sight of it made him so angry. Allura smiled when she noticed the look on his face.

“He has his good points too.”

“Like what?” Keith asked.

“I’m sure you know better than I do.”

Chapter Text

The assault on the Quintessence factory had been an utter failure. They’d lost Allura and failed to do any real damage. Their enemies even had… Keith wished there was a better word for it besides magic but how else could you describe someone manipulating energy with his bare hands while blinking in and out of existence at will? He’d fought a wizard.

And during the fight his hand had been splashed with Quintessence from a broken vial.

The only mark was a splash shaped scar on his hand but Shiro had been insistent that he be run through every test at the Castle’s disposal. Coran checked him for any kind of infection or poison that might have slipped through the burn. After a while Keith suspected that this was less about him and more about giving Coran something to do. Something to take his mind off Allura.

If that had been Shiro’s plan, it had failed.

The silly Coran. The outlandish Coran. The over the top Coran. The clownish Coran. Keith would not have called him any of those things now. He looked like a man whose world had just ended and in a way it had. Allura was all he had left. That was what Keith couldn’t stand. He hadn’t just failed Allura. He had failed Coran and now he was alone. A pain he knew well.

Well… not alone. Lance was sitting in the corner trying not to look concerned.

Finally, Coran told him to get up and get dressed.

“Like I suspected. There’s nothing you need to worry about.” Coran said.

“Well, that’s a relief.” Lance said.

“You don’t seem surprised.” Keith said while pulling his shirt on.

“Quintessence has healing properties. In small doses.” Coran said.

“Does it now? Maybe we should have grabbed a few vials while we were there.” Lance said.

“That… would not have been a good idea. It’s not wise to rely on something that powerful.” Coran said.

Keith nodded and then after some hesitation put his hand on Coran’s shoulder like Shiro would have done. Although unlike him, Shiro wouldn’t have felt awkward and uncertain. He would have said just the right words that made it all seem okay.

“We’ll get her back.” Keith said.

Lance’s grin was unusually dim.

“You know it. We have Voltron. Who could stand against us?”

Coran’s moustache trembled and tears started welling in his eyes.

“Thank you. Both of you Thank you.”

Lance did something Keith was not prepared for and hugged Coran. Coran even hugged him back and looked slightly better for it. Keith wondered how some people could do that. Just… get in each other’s personal space and make it seem natural. Before asking to be left alone Coran told them to get plenty of sleep.

They walked through the hallways in silence.

“So… how’s the mitt?” Lance said finally.

“The what?”

“Your hand.”

Keith stared at the scar. He wasn’t a doctor, but he was sure that scars weren’t meant to be blue.

“It feels… I don’t know. Normal but weird.”

Lance grinned without any real humor.

“You’re lucky we have free healthcare in space, you capitalist pig.”

“You want to start something, you… uh… you commie bastard?”

“Nice. Culturally insensitive without being racist.” Lance said.

They laughed. Not because it was funny but because they had to laugh at something.

“Thanks for sticking around for the entire time.” Keith said.

“You did the same for me too when my back was blown open. Sorry I wasn’t there to hold you in my arms for another bonding moment.”

“I forgive you.” Keith said and started out of the window at the emptiness of space: “This… is going to work, right?”

“What? Our genius plan to attack the enemy stronghold head on and pray that everyone who could bring the hammer down is too stunned by the stupidity to do anything about it?”

“You’re bringing the morale down.” Keith said.

Lance sighed.

“Not like we have much of a choice. If it gets out that we lost Allura, we’re done for. We can’t look weak now and… if they make Allura talk… we’re screwed.”

“She’s strong.” Keith said.

“Yeah but… no one can be strong all the time.” Lance said.

Keith agreed. As bad as they had it, Shiro had to suffer even more. He knew better than anyone how kind the Galra were to their prisoners. Not that any of them had it easy. Lance looked ready to fall over.

“You should get some rest.” Keith said.

“You think I can sleep now?” Lance said and looked away: “Keith?”

“Yeah?”

“Ever played baseball?”

“What?”

“Guess not. I’m a pretty good pitcher. At least I think I am. I’m guessing you’re more of a catcher. I wouldn’t mind playing a few rounds with you. We could even switch around if that makes you more comfortable.”

“Huh?”

Lance was quiet for a while.

“You know what? Forget it. Ask Shiro and think about it. I’m going for a swim. See if I can get my head straight.”

“Good idea.” Keith said and watched Lance go.

If Lance couldn’t sleep, he could’ve tried sleeping in his room. He didn’t ever remember sleeping as well as he had in the Blue Lion. Or if Lance wasn’t going to ask, maybe he should. It would be easy. Lance was close. All he had to do was call after him.

He didn’t and headed to the training room.

Coward, Keith thought.

He set the three training dummies to the highest difficulty and drew his Bayard. It transformed into a sword in his hand and he got ready for a match. The dummies came at him at the same time in perfect unison and Keith ran around to separate them. Then he charged at the leader.

The Bayard cut through the practice sword… and the dummy. Cleaving both in half.

“Stop!”

The session ended immediately, and the two dummies stepped back while Keith stared at the remains of the third one. What the hell was that?! He’d always been stronger than an average human but this… He’d cut through metal like it was paper. There was a tingling sensation in his hand and when he looked down… the scar had turned a darker shade of blue… and it was growing.

Sweat was running down his face when he put the Bayard away and picked the upper half of the broken dummy. He started squeezing its head. It took a great deal of effort, but he managed to crush a ball of metal in his hands like it was clay. He dropped the bent head.

“Lance!”

He ran out of the training room without cleaning up the mess he’d left behind and ran to the pool where Lance was swimming laps. When Lance noticed him, he swam to the edge of the pool.

“What’s up?”

“Could… could you come with me?” Keith pleaded.

All Lance had to do was look at him and he nodded before climbing out of the pool. No questions asked. He dried himself with a towel while following Keith back to the training room. The sight of the destroyed test dummy made him stop and Keith started filling a barbell with weights. He didn’t stop until it weighted twice as much as he did.

“Keith? What…?”

Keith picked up the barbell with little effort and Lance’s jaw fell loose. Keith turned to look at him.

“Could you… put more weight on it?”

Lance did and Keith started lifting, trying to find the upper limit of his new strength.

“More.”

“More.”

“More.”

“More.”

Finally, he had to struggle to lift the barbell and he sat breathing heavily.

“How much… was that?” Keith asked fearing the answer.

Lance was quiet.

“… Lance?”

“Four hundred kilos.”

Keith nodded. Well over twice what Hunk could lift on his best day.

“That’s a lot.” Keith said.

“Yeah. It is.” Lance agreed.

Keith stared at his hand. The scar had grown a bit bigger. Just a bit but enough for him to notice… and Lance. Or was it a scar? If he started clawing away his skin, would he find that there was another layer of hide beneath it?

“Lance… what’s happening to me?”

“I… I don’t know, Keith. I don’t know but… we have to tell the others.” Lance said.

“No!”

He grabbed Lance and it was only when Lance let out a pained howl did, he realize how little control he had of him new strength. He let go horrified at what could have happened if he had used even a little more force. Lance was rubbing his arm and a deep, dark bruise in the shape of Keith’s grip was already forming on it.

“I… Lance… I’m… I didn’t mean to…”

He expected Lance to run but not before calling him a monster. Lance didn’t run. He just grinned through the pain.

“I know.”

They stood in uneasy silence. Then Lance reached out and touched his scarred hand. He studied it and Keith didn’t pull away.

“It’s spreading and… we don’t know what else might happen. We have to tell the others.” Lance said.

“If they knew what I was… what do you think they’d do? Coran… what do you think he’d do? Or Pidge?” Keith said.

“Then we’ll tell Shiro. He’ll know what to do.”

The thought of Shiro knowing was the worst of it. If he knew part of him was the enemy… part of the race that had used him as a toy for a year… Shiro would know that he’d lied to him. They’d all know and there would be questions of what else he had lied about. There would be the whispers behind his back. There would be one less place for him to belong.

Guess Lance was right, and he was easier to read then he would have liked. He bowed his head.

“Fine. We’ll tell Shiro after this. When we’ve all had time to calm down.”

“… you promised not to tell anyone.” Keith complained.

“This is different. You could…” Lance said before drifting off and then grinning: “You won’t have to tell him alone. I’ll be there too.”

Keith nodded.

“Thanks, Lance.”

Chapter Text

In battle there was only one plan that mattered; don’t let the enemy see you sweating. Never let them know your scheme was blown to bits right out the gates and now you were winging it relying on nothing but bravado and desperation. If you were very lucky it would be enough to lead you to… not victory necessarily but somewhere that wasn’t defeat.

The original plan had been piss-poor from the start anyway.

Breaking into a heavily fortified fortress to rescue Allura was never going to be easy but Keith still wished it had carried them a bit further before it had to be cut up and stitched back together as a Frankenstein atrocity. The plan was dead and now they just had a goal. Get Allura and get out. How to do that had to be figured as they went along.

Keith acted as a distraction with the Red Lion and drew Zarkon’s fleets attention to himself. The moment he grabbed the stick he hit that calm state of mind that had made him the best pilot trainee at the Garrison. His superhuman reflexes had helped but it was this feeling that had made him a true ace. He was free of fear and anxiety. All that remained was cold, pragmatic logic as he followed a path only he could see. He knew exactly what he had to do for his enemies to die while he did not.

He’d never had the heart to tell Lance that it wasn’t something you could learn.

He was faster and better than ever. Whatever it was that had amplified his strength had done the same to his reflexes and the enemy ships might as well have been dragging themselves through mud. The exploding ships looked like blooming flowers… and he hoped that the pilots were vaporized immediately instead of dying the slow death of suffocating in space.

Then he heard a voice.

Impressive. I can see why the Red Lion thought you a worthy successor to Alfor.

Keith flinched but didn’t lose his concentration. Where was that voice coming from? It was almost like… it came from his Bayard.

Very good. The Bayard connects us, young paladin. They connect all paladins of Voltron.

The voice that echoed from his Bayard was deep and strong but smooth with unmistakable authority.

Come. You deserve a worthier opponent.

Keith didn’t need to ask questions. He just… knew where to look… and saw someone walking on the space fortress’s ramparts. Without a spacesuit or any other kind of protection. That was impossible! It should have been. No living being could survive in the void.

The monitor gave him a clear view of the figure.

He was… colossal. Even Shiro would have looked like a child next to him and the dark purple armor just made him more imposing. He’d aged like an Oaktree. The years had just made him bigger and stronger. His skin was grey and scarred but what drew Keith’s attention were the eyes. They glowed with sickly yellow light and in his hand…

“Where did you get that?!”

Despite the silence of space separated them, Zarkon raised the black Bayard like a greeting.

Face me and I might tell you.

The Red Lion let out a roar… or maybe it was Keith’s own war cry. He lunged forward with full power. Zarkon had been a fool to challenge him. Lance had been right. The man was crazy. Who else would try to fight the Red Lion on foot? He prepared to pin Zarkon down and tear him to shreds. The universe was better off without that maniac in it. When the Red Lion opened its maw, Zarkon swung the Bayard that had transformed into a claymore in his hands.

Keith blacked out.

He came back to when every monitor howled to him about damages and danger while they were thrown back. He was circling uncontrollably, and his last meal threatened to spill out. When he managed to regain control, Zarkon was on to him and a single blow from the black Bayard pierced the Red Lion’s armor. The Lion let out a scream of pain.

Confident laughter filled Keith’s head.

I am the first of the Galra, boy. I am the conqueror of worlds. I am the vanquisher of death. I am the emperor of the stars. When I order suns to die, they blacken and die. You think you can face me with one Lion?

Keith didn’t answer. He just roared and unleashed everything he had. Zarkon blocked him almost contemptuously.

Such rage but then again… you are Galra.

He hesitated. Just for a moment but it was enough for Zarkon to force him back. The strike left his ears ringing and blood started dripping down his nose. Darkness began edging his eyes.

Do your so-called friends know what you are? Do they appreciate the crime you’ve committed when you raised your hand against your emperor?

“Shut up!”

Dead! Zarkon was dead! It didn’t matter if he went down with the monster too if he just could kill him! That beast wouldn’t live for one more minute! Not after everything he’d done! He wouldn’t allow it!

Zarkon deflected everything he had.

Are you afraid what they’d do if they knew? How lonely you must be. Why are you fighting me, young Galra, when you could be fighting with me?

“I said shut up!”

He wouldn’t lose! All his life had been building up to this moment! He wouldn’t fail now! Zarkon would die!

Zarkon just laughed.

Would your father want you to die in a war you can never win?

“Don’t talk about my father!”

He accepted my rule and became my spy on Earth. And what about your mother? Don’t you want to see her? Bow to me and I’ll find her. You could have the family you’ve always wanted.

“Shut up! Shut up! Shut up!”

Coran’s face appeared on the monitor. Barely contained fear had turned him pale.

“Keith! Fall back! You…!”

Keith cut the connection and continued the fight. He emptied all the magazines on the emperor but wasn’t able to leave a scratch. Why wouldn’t the bastard die?! Why couldn’t he win?! What did he have to do to win?!

You are not a human being. Killing me won’t make you one. No matter what you do, no one will ever accept you. Except me. In my empire strength is the only virtue that matters and you are strong.

He was running on fumes. On his lonesome Zarkon had done what an entire fleet had failed and tired him out. All he could do now was go for one last desperation attack.

Yes. Come. Victory or death. You are a fine Galra.

“Keith!”

The private line between paladins was forced open and Lance’s furious face appeared on the screen.

“Fall back, damn it!” Lance yelled.

“It’s Zarkon! I can finish this now!” Keith yelled back.

“You’ll die, you idiot! Please! You promised! Fall back!”

A promise? Yes. Come back. Even if it means running. I’d rather have you be a living coward than a dead hero. There was a moment of hesitation. Yes. He had promised but… it was Zarkon! He… it could end now, and Lance wouldn’t have to fight anymore. He could go home. I’m sorry, Lance. It was a promise he had to break. Even if it meant never seeing Lance again.

“Goodbye, Lance.” Keith said.

“No! Don’t you dare! You…!”

Keith cut the feed and turned his attention back to Zarkon… who had let him finish his conversation.

Ready to continue?

Keith grabbed the stick.

“… yes.”

Make it count, young Galra, or my next opponent might be your… hmm… lover.

How dare you?! How did the bastard dare?! How did he dare to threaten Lance?! Keith pushed forward… he tried to push forward. Why wasn’t it working?!

“Red! Move!”

The Red Lion moved. It turned its tail at Zarkon and fled. Keith screamed and cried while tearing at the stick.

Very well. Run. I can find you anywhere.

“No! Turn back! We have to finish this!”

The Red Lion didn’t pay him any heed and kept flying away from the battle. Behind the tears Keith could see the other Lions running away too. When the fleet tried to make chase, Red sacrificed the last of its power to shake them off. The speed was so great that steering was impossible and when they finally came to a halt, there was barely enough power left to maintain life support… and Keith was hopelessly lost. And even if he wasn’t, he couldn’t move. All he could do was float amidst the stars.

He hit the command board weakly.

“We had him! Why did you run?!”

The Red Lion didn’t answer and just drifted through space. Keith slumped back in his chair and stared at the ceiling. Had Alsa’s uncle being staring at the ceiling of his ship like this? More annoyed then scared? At the start anyway. The panic must have come later.

“You son of a bitch!”

There wasn’t enough power for visual, but he could hear Lance’s voice. Keith shot up in his chair.

“Lance?”

“You utter bastard! What were you thinking?!”

“Lance… I… are you alright?”

“Oh, now you care if I’m alright! Yeah. I’m alive which is more than I can say for you when I get my hands on you!” Lance screamed.

“Lance… please… can we not do this now? I… I’ll send you my location. Come pick me up and then… we’ll talk.”

The line fell quiet.

“Lance?”

“… I… I was going to send my location to you. I don’t have any power left so… I’m just floating here. I don’t even know where I am and… I can’t contact the others.”

“Oh.” Keith said and for the first-time fear reared its head: “You… you shouldn’t shout so much then. We need to preserve oxygen until the Castle gets here.”

If it gets here.

He didn’t say it, but he knew they were both thinking it.

“Yeah.” Lance agreed.

Keith sat back and tried to make himself as comfortable as possible. He couldn’t waste any energy.

“Any word on Allura?” Keith said.

“We got her. She’s safe.” Lance said.

Keith hoped it was the truth and not just a comforting lie.

“Keith?”

“Yeah?”

“… do you want to die?” Lance asked.

The question could have been a needle into the heart.

“… what?”

“You… you didn’t stand a chance, but you just kept going at Zarkon.” Lance said.

“I… would have figured something out. It… would have been a fair trade.”

Lance laughed bitterly.

“You… dumb… stupid… idiot. You think the empire would have gone anywhere? There would have been just another Zarkon who also had the Red Lion. You almost cost us the war.”

“I…”

Keith tried to point out all the ways Lance was wrong… and couldn’t come up with any. If any of the Lions were lost, that was it. The Galra would win. It didn’t matter if they possessed the Red Lion or destroyed it, Voltron would be gone. Voltron couldn’t win a war on its own, but it could inspire others to fight. Without it, they were lost.

“… I’m sorry, Lance.”

“You will be when Shiro finds you.”

Keith tried to laugh.

“You think it would the first time he chewed me out?”

“I don’t think you’ve ever messed up this bad.” Lance said and sighed: “It will take me… a long, long, loooong time to forgive you. You promised to run from a hopeless fight.”

“… I thought if Zarkon died… you could go home.”

“Don’t… don’t use me as an excuse for your death wish and… we’re all going home together. What’s the point otherwise? I won’t let you die on me… or Shiro. You’re pretty much his kid.” Lance said.

Shiro… what would Shiro have done if he hadn’t… come back? Would that be what finally broke him?

“… I messed up, didn’t I?” Keith said.

“You did. It’s a pity you don’t learn from your mistakes. You’d be the smartest man alive by now. Good thing Red is smarter than you.” Lance said.

“Guess so.”

They were quiet for a while and then Lance chuckled.

“Hey, Keith. Want to have race to see whose oxygen runs out first?”

Keith smirked without any humor.

“You’re on.”

“If I win… you’ll have to… cook me breakfast every morning for a month. Wearing nothing but an apron.” Lance said.

He couldn’t help but laugh.

“And if I win?”

“You won’t. I’m the biggest waste of oxygen there’s ever been… but if you pull off that miracle, I’ll cook for you. In an apron. And nothing else.”

“Deal.” Keith said.

Talking helped keep the fear in check and he told Lance everything what had happened with Zarkon. How he’d talked to him through the Bayard. That Zarkon had the black Bayard. How he’d called himself a paladin.

“Guess… Allura hasn’t been telling us everything.” Lance said.

“Guess so… but who are we to complain about secrets?” Keith said.

“Touché.”

The hours slipped by… and the oxygen levels kept dropping. It was getting hard to breathe and it was making him drowsy.

“… we should… cut communications… and… sleep… to save… power…” Keith mumbled.

“… yeah…” Lance agreed: “… I’ll… be seeing you… on the other side…”

“… I’ll… find you first…” Keith promised.

Communications went dead and Keith closed his eyes. Goodbye, Lance. I think I loved you. With that thought he slept. He had hoped that his dreams would be peaceful as he… drifted away. Dreams of his father. Of Shiro. Of the time spent at the Castle. Of his time with Lance… but his dreams were far from comforting.

He found himself standing in a throne room built from the carcasses of dead planets and supported by slaves who’d been worked to death. Even death hadn’t released them, and their eyes glowed with yellow light from whatever power it was that animated the dead bodies.

Above them all sat Zarkon on his throne and Voltron lay broken at his feet.

“I told you there is no hiding from me.” Zarkon said.

Keith drew his Bayard and it transformed into a sword.

“Don’t bother. I didn’t order Haggar to arrange this meeting to fight. I’m here to grant you a gift.”

“A gift?” Keith said without lowering his sword.

“Yes. With this, you’ll find where you truly belong. No need for you to hide anymore. I will finish what the Quintessence in you has started.”

Zarkon just looked at him and the glow in his eyes turned into a pyre. The sword slipped from Keith’s hand. He was burning! His arm was on fire! The blue scar was boiling him alive and then it started spreading like acid running down his skin. It grew past his wrist all the way to his elbow and then beyond. He couldn’t even scream. The pain choked him while he was turned inside out.

“It is done. No need to pretend anymore.” Zarkon said.

Keith woke up in the cockpit panting and dripping with sweat. Then he saw his reflection and realized he had just woken up to another nightmare.

Chapter Text

Some of the tension in Shiro’s shoulders melted away when the Castle pulled in the Red and Blue Lion. Some of the tension. Now that they’d found Keith and Lance, he had a slew of new fears. Had they arrived too late? Had the Lions turned into coffins? Had he failed again? In the darkest corner of his mind he hoped that if one of them was dead… it wasn’t Keith.

“Coran… status report.” Shiro said.

The world held its breath while Coran scanned the Lions for signs of life. Shiro closed his eyes and nails dug into his palm. Please. Not again.

“It was a close call, but the life support systems didn’t fail.” Coran said.

Shiro almost fell on his knees. Almost. He managed to stay upright through sheer force of will. He was still the commanding officer and that meant upholding a strong front for the others.

“Thank God.” Shiro whispered and then said louder: “Get them to the sick bay with the others.”

The Blue Lion opened its jaws to show them its unconscious pilot. The Red Lion did not. Shiro looked at Coran.

“What’s going on?” He said trying not to sound alarmed.

“I… don’t know.” Coran admitted: “Maybe the Lion doesn’t have enough power to open up.”

Damn it!

“Recharge it. I’ll get Lance to the sick room.” Shiro said.

He hated himself for leaving Keith alone but at the moment he couldn’t play favorites. He lifted Lance on the stretcher and took him to the space hospital as quickly as he dared. He didn’t see anything serious, but the worst wounds could always be hiding under the skin.

Allura, Pidge and Hunk were all resting when he got the sick room. The sight of Lance made Hunk shoot up on his feet.

“Lance! Is he…?”

“He’ll be alright.” Shiro said.

Hunk fell back down on his bed on the verge of tears.

“Thank God. I… I don’t know what I’d have said to his mom if he’d…” Hunk said before trailing off.

Pidge adjusted her glasses. A nervous quirk she shared with her brother.

“Where’s Keith?”

“He’s okay too but he didn’t have enough power to open the Lion, so we are recharging it right now.” Shiro said.

A relieved sigh floated through the room. There was a crack in Allura’s queenly mask.

“You all risked so much for me. I… I don’t know what to say.” Allura said and dried her eyes: “Thank you. All of you. Thank you.”

“Don’t mention it, princess.” Shiro said.

“I will. Believe me. I’ll never let you forget what you did for me.” Allura said and got up.

She walked up to all of them and kissed them on the forehead. Her lips felt warm on Shiro’s skin and left behind a feeling like a… blessing. The sudden gesture of affection made Hunk blush while Pidge accepted it without a word or blink. Lastly Allura knelled down to kiss Lance’s forehead.

“I’m sure he’d appreciate that more if he was conscious.” Pidge said.

“Don’ make this weird, Pidge.” Allura said and then looked at them with great sadness: “If it ever comes down to choosing between me and the cause… defeating Zarkon is more important.”

“We don’t leave anyone behind!” Hunk said.

Shiro and Allura shared a look. Neither were looking forward to seeing Hunk’s idealism crumbling. War made cynics of them all.

“Yeah. Besides, we can’t fly the Castle without you.” Pidge said.

Allura smiled.

“I suppose you wouldn’t. Thank you, Pidge.”

Coran’s voice echoed through the intercom.

“Shiro… I… Keith is… gone.”

Shiro’s good mood died a screaming death.

“What?! What do you mean he’s…?!”

“I… I recharged the Red Lion and the moment it had enough power to fly… he just took off.”

Shiro’s biomechanical arm clenched into a fist. It wasn’t easy but he managed to sound calm. Hold a strong front. Don’t let your enemies or allies see you sweat.

“Contact him and prepare the Black Lion. I’m going after him.” Shiro said.

“He’s not answering, and it will take time until any of the Lions can fly.” Coran said.

Allura climbed out of her bed.

“I’ll have the Castle follow him. We won’t be able to catch him, but we should be able to follow him.” Allura said.

“You do that.” Shiro said.

When Allura was gone, Pidge and Hunk looked at him. Both were worried. Scared.

“Shiro… what’s going on?” Pidge said.

“I don’t know.” Shiro admitted and then looked at the sleeping Lance: “He might.”

Once the preparations to get the Lions back into flying shape were underway, Coran pulled Lance out of his slumber. Shiro emptied the sick room for a private word with him. Lance crawled back into consciousness slowly and Shiro let him take his time despite wanting to shake him awake.

Finally, Lance opened his eyes. They were unfocused and it looked like he could slip back into sleep at any moment.

“… Shiro?”

Shiro smiled.

“Hi, Lance.”

“… what…?”

“Everyone is okay. Partially thanks to you. Coran told me that you got Keith to retreat.”

“… my roguish charm… did it again…” Lance said and looked around: “… is he…?”

“He’s gone.”

“What?!”

Fear almost got Lance up, but he was too hurt for that and fell back down.

“He took off on his own and I think you know why. I need you to tell me what you’ve been hiding from us.” Shiro said.

“… I…”

Shiro summoned some steel into his voice.

“Lance. I’m not asking as your friend. This is an order as your commanding officer.” Shiro said before softening his tone: “You’re not the only one who’s worried about him.”

Lance lied back and closed his eyes. He took a deep breath.

“… Keith… his mom was Galra.”

Shiro sat in stunned silence waiting for Lance to laugh it off as a bad joke. He didn’t.

“… he only found out when we… got here.”

If Shiro had looked down, he would have seen that his cyborg arm had clenched the arm handle on his chair hard enough to leave dents.

“I see. And… how long have you know?”

“… Razkha. One half breed… knows another.”

“I… see. Then why? Why didn’t you tell me?”

Lance didn’t answer and just looked at his biomechanical arm. Shiro sighed and rubbed his mechanical fingers.

“Fair enough. Anything else?”

“… Zarkon… has the Black Bayard. He… was the previous Black Paladin. Keith… saw it himself. Zarkon… talked to Keith… through it…”

Shiro blinked and tried not to crumble down in front of Lance.

“I… uh… okay. This… uh… has been… very helpful. You… you should get some rest now.”

“No.” Lance shook his head: “We need to find him. I… help me up and…”

“Lance. This is an order. Rest now. I’ll get Keith back.” Shiro said and smiled: “This isn’t the first time he’s ran away from home… although the last time he did it on bike.”

“… but…”

“No buts. Sleep now. Keith will be home when you wake up.” Shiro said.

Lance’s head hit the pillow.

“… he ran away… on a bike. That’s… adorable…”

“Yeah. It was.”

Shiro managed to get out of the sick room before breaking down. Barely. It took an effort to breathe. At the back of his mind he could hear the chanting of a bloodthirsty crowd. Champion! Champion! Champion! Champion! The scar that connected flesh and blood with steel ached. It hurt more than it ever had. Had he been played for a fool? Had he given his trust to the enemy? Was Keith…? Had that little bastard…?

Keith…

Keith…

… Keith…

He stared at his arm. The constant reminder of his gladiator days. Somedays he just wanted to rip it off… and he would have if not for the thought of using it to strangle Zarkon one day. The arm reminded him who the real enemy was. Who truly deserved his ire… and it was not that sullen, lonely boy sitting at the back of the class. That angry kid who had stolen his car on the day they had first met, forcing him to bail him out.

After calming himself down, Shiro headed to the deck were everyone was waiting for him. Despite being wounded, they had all taken their posts.

“Well? What did he say?” Coran asked.

Shiro looked at them. All of them. His heart cried out when he looked at Allura. He wished he could apologize in advance for the pain he was about to cause.

“Keith’s mother was a Galra.”

Everyone fell quiet as their minds tried to process what heir ears couldn’t possibly have heard. Pidge let out a nervous chuckle.

“Is… is this a joke?”

“No. Lance has known for a while.” Shiro said.

Allura had to lean against one of the chairs to stay standing.

“If… if that is the truth… we have to find him before he takes the Red Lion to Zarkon.”

“What?! No! Keith wouldn’t do that!” Hunk said.

“And how do you know that?! He’s a Galra!”

“Allura…” Coran said softly.

“No! Don’t you start! We can’t risk the Lions!”

“Princess, I’d like to imagine that I’m a better judge of character then that. Keith is no spy.” Shiro said.

“Then why didn’t he tell us that he’s a… Galra?” Allura said.

“Keeping secrets can become a habit.” Pidge said quietly.

“I’d also imagine he was afraid how we’d react.” Shiro said and looked at Coran: “And it’s not like he’d be the first Galra to pilot a Lion.”

Allura looked like she’d been slapped and Coran’s posture quaked.

“You know?” Coran said.

“I do now.” Shiro said.

“Know what? What aren’t you telling us?” Pidge said.

“Shiro…” Allura said weakly.

Shiro hoped there had been a gentler way to do this.

“Zarkon was the Black Paladin before me.”

Before anyone could say anything, Shiro moved to the offensive.

“We have kept things from each other. Things we shouldn’t have but Pidge is right. Keeping secrets can become a habit. They’re out in the open now and we will deal them as a team. As adults. But for now, we need to get Keith back.”

“That… won’t be too difficult. He won’t get far with so little power.” Coran said.

“Then I’ll go get him.” Shiro said.

After changing into his pilot gear, Shiro headed to his Lion. The Lion bowed its head to him and Shiro climbed in. He wondered how often it had done the same for Zarkon. What did it say about the Lions that they had considered Zarkon fit to lead the pack? What did it say about him?

Coran’s voice interrupted his thoughts.

“I’m sorry.” Coran said through the intercom.

“You had your reasons.” Shiro said.

“That doesn’t’ make it right. It’s just… we didn’t want to tarnish Alfor’s memory. It was his inventions that allowed the Galra… to become what they are.”

Shiro didn’t answer and let Coran vent.

“We all trusted Zarkon and… his son was supposed to marry Allura when they came of age.”

“Wait. Zarkon was going to marry his heir to an Altean?” Shiro said.

“The Galra weren’t’ always so… obsessed with blood purity. Zarkon even married an Altean himself. Honerva. A scientist on par with Alfor.”

“Alfor must have been a great man designing and piloting something like Voltron.” Shiro said.

There was a guilty edge to Coran’s voice.

“Alfor was always a better scientist than soldier. I… advised against him piloting the Red Lion but he could be… stubborn.”

Shiro smiled sadly.

“It was supposed to be you wasn’t it? You were supposed to be the pilot of the Red Lion.”

“I was the next in line, yes, and… I was always a better pilot than Alfor but… it was not meant to be.” Coran said and Shiro could hear him rubbing his moustache: “Bring the boy home. I’ve known too may Galras to blame them all for Zarkon’s crimes.”

“I will.”

What little power Keith had been given, hadn’t carried him far and the Red Lion had landed on a forest planet. The trees stood tall as mountains and Shiro had never seen such a blue sky. The Red Lion stood abandoned in the middle of it all and curious animals that resembled rabbits were studying it curiously. There was an unguardedness to them that only came from never having known predators. Shiro rubbed a few of them affectionately with his hand made of flesh and blood before following Keith’s trail.

Keith had gotten sloppy. There was no attempt to hide his tracks. Which meant he was hoping to be found or too distraught to care.

“Keith?!” Shiro called.

He didn’t see Keith, but he could feel him. The boy was close by.

“I know you’re here. Come out. Please.”

There was no answer.

“I know about your mother. Lance told me everything. You don’t have to hide anymore.”

He didn’t get an answer, but he hadn’t expected to. Instead he heard a gasp and suddenly he knew exactly where Keith was. He looked at a tree covered by a thick layer of leaves and with a running start was able to reach the lowest branch. He pulled himself up and… reflex made him reach out for a weapon. The only thing that made him hesitate were the familiar features on the Galra’s face and the Paladin uniform.

Keith jumped down, nimbler than any human being and disappeared into the forest. He had never seen anyone run so fast. Shiro stared after him and tried to make sense of what he had seen. Once his hand had stopped shaking and he was sure he could speak without his voice cracking, he took out his radio.

“Coran.” Shiro said.

“Did you find him?!” Coran said.

“I… did. There… there has been a… mutation of some kind.”

“What… what kind of mutation?” Coran said.

Shiro told him. Coran was quiet for a very long time.

“It has to be the Quintessence. It can… change people.” Coran said and stroked his moustache: “You should… you should fall back and wait for reinforcements.”

“Keith is not some dangerous animal. I’ll go after him. He’s tired and wounded. He won’t get far.”

“Shiro… you don’t understand. Quintessence… it can twist people. Make them… something they’re not.”

“Is that what happened to Zarkon?”

Coran didn’t answer.

“Keith wouldn’t want you to get hurt because of him.” Coran said finally.

“Then it’s a good thing he won’t. I taught him everything he knows about martial arts… but not everything I know.”

“This is still too dangerous.”

“I survived the gladiator pits. I think I can handle one angsty teenager.” Shiro said and started walking after Keith: “Wake up Lance and tell him to be on standby. We might need that… roguish charm of his.”

Shiro picked up a brisk pace without running. He left the running to Keith. The more he ran, the faster he tired himself out. Shiro took out an emergency ratio and wolfed it down as he walked. It was a tasteless biscuit that he flushed down with some water. The taste left a lot to be desired, but it kept him full.

After walking for two hours, Lance contacted him.

“… Shiro?”

“How are you feeling?” Shiro said.

“… honestly? Been better.”

“Sorry that I have to ask this right now. Did Coran… explain the situation?”

“… yeah. Keith is… feeling blue.”

“That he is. I was hoping you could help me with that.”

“… you’re the boss. Just give me… my cue.”

After three more hours of walking he finally caught a sign of Keith. His body had betrayed him, and even willpower couldn’t push him forward. Shiro walked up to him.

“Keith.”

Keith growled when he noticed him and covered his face.

“Don’t look at me!”

The blue skin, feline ears and yellow eyes had made Keith look more like his mother than his father. But it was still Keith’s face. His expressions hadn’t changed nor most of his features.

“Keith. Please.”

Keith grabbed a handful of dirt and threw it at him.

“Go away!”

“Not without you.” Shiro said and reached his hand out to Keith.

Whatever mutation had caused this had also made him stronger and Keith pushed him off despite being twenty pounds lighter. It was only the grip on his biomechanical arm allowed Shiro to cling on.

Keith swung at him.

It was an angry hit without any real skill behind it and his aim was ruined by tears. Still, Shiro didn’t want to take any chances. Not when Keith had had such a drastic increase in strength. He moved around Keith, letting him spend himself. When it came hand-to-hand combat, Keith was the best after him but… Keith hadn’t survived for a year as a gladiator. The Galra empire had thrown its worst at him and he’d come out alive. Keith’s temper tantrum was nothing after that.

It didn’t take long for him to have Keith in a chokehold.

“Let me go!”

Shiro didn’t let go and instead hugged him.

“Keith. It will be alright.”

Keith… went limp before resuming his hopeless struggle. He was sobbing while trying to push him off.

“No, it won’t! Look at me!”

“I see you, Keith. I see you.” Shiro said and hugged him tighter: “Lance! You’re up.”

Shiro’s radio came alive.

“… Keith?”

Keith stiffened when he heard Lance’s voice.

“… Lance?”

“… were you really that embarrassed… about cooking me breakfast? Come on. You’d look… great in an apron.”

“… what?” Shiro said.

“Lance… I… you… Not in front of Shiro, damn it!” Keith complained.

“… you know me… poorly… if you think I’ll pass on a chance… to embarrass you. I wouldn’t have… pussied out.” Lance said before coughing: “Sorry… think I coughed out a piece of my lungs there. Now… get your blue ass back here. I… have something to say to you… that has to be said… face to face.”

“Lance… I…” Keith said.

“… you promised… don’t be a… liar twice over… please…”

Keith could only grind his teeth to that.

“… passing out now. I like my bacon… crispy… my eggs scrambled and my coffee black… like my men.” Lance said and started chuckling to himself.

The radio fell quiet and Keith’s shoulder shook while he tried not to cry.

“I’m here. Let it all out.” Shiro said.

Keith stopped fighting… and started crying like a lost child. Which Shiro suspected he was beneath it all. Good God, Keith was only nineteen. He let him cry. Some men prided themselves on not crying but there were times when you had to let the tears flow or you might drown in them. He let Keith cry out the worst of his fears and anxieties.

It took a long time but eventually Keith managed to calm down.

“We need to head back so Coran can do a check-up on you.” Shiro said.

Keith stared at his new hands.

“How can I go back… looking like this?”

“Keith… you’ve never been a coward. Don’t start now. I’m not giving up on you, so don’t give up on yourself. There are people waiting for you to come back.” Shiro said and smiled: “You’re not alone so don’t leave us hanging either.”

Keith stared at his feet. Shiro put his hand on the boy’s shoulder.

“Let’s go home.”

***

Kolivan had never cared for waiting and Kroalia rushed quickly to his quarters. When she entered, Kolivan was hunched over reports that their spies had sent from all over the empire. Kolivan was an older Galra. Scarred and powerful with a custom-made uniform to show his rank among the Blades.

“You wished to speak to me.” Kroalia said.

“Yes. Our spies have managed to uncover more about the pilots of Voltron.”

“I see.”

“They seem to be from Earth.”

An old pain twisted her chest.

“I… I see.”

“The word is that the Red Paladin is a half-Galra… named Keith.” Kolivan said.

All the training in the world and decades of combat couldn’t prepare you for some things. Kolivan didn’t reprimand her even when her knees buckled, and she had to lean against a wall.

“What were the odds that your son would join the fight someday? You could almost believe in destiny.” Kolivan said and rubbed the scar running over his eye: “I suppose the time has come for us to offer Voltron our assistance.”

Kroalia managed to regain her composure.

“I volunteer as an envoy.”

“Why do you think you’re here?” Kolivan said.