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Quarantine

Chapter Text

Monday, 1112 hours

The loud gasps drew their attention first.

Then the whistling screech of a ship descending without engaging any type of landing protocol.

“Holy crow,” Lance breathed as the spacecraft — not one of theirs, not one of the Garrison’s — hurtled down in the direction of the town he, Hunk and a Garrison team had deployed to just that morning to provide aid now that Sendak’s forces had been taken out.

It was going to hit them.

Dios.

“Everyone, get down!” Lance shouted even knowing it would do little good and his voice barely audible over the sounds of people screaming and the ship’s failing engines.

They were all going to be flattened within the minute.

“Lance!” Hunk yelped as Lance ran past him, feet pounding on the hard-baked dirt as he headed for the Red Lion, parked on the outskirts of the town.

He wasn’t going to make it.

Not in time.

Dios.

All these people…

Red’s roar cut through the other sounds and then she was there, landing with a thump and squashing two low-lying buildings — please don’t let anyone have been in there, please, Lance prayed — and opening up her mouth.

Lance catapulted himself in and he was dimly aware of a blur of orange and cream landing with an oof next to him as well and normally Lance would offer Hunk a hand up but he scrambled to his feet and sprinted for the cockpit.

“Go go go!” he shouted as he reached the chair, flipping himself over the armrest, and Red leapt into the air towards the incoming ship.

“It’s not… not responding,” Hunk panted, appearing in the cockpit a moment later and gripping the back of the seat as the compartment shook. Hunk and Pidge had interfaced the Paladin armor technology with Earth’s attempts to create a long-range portable transmitter that could intercept pretty much any signal, including ones from space. They had brought it with to reach the Garrison if needed as cell service was still down and Hunk had taken charge of it, headpiece affixed on his head and the transmitter clipped to his belt.

“We’ll just have to stop it then,” Lance said grimly.

Red wasn’t the best Lion for this job; the smallest next to the Green Lion and the ship too large for her to bodycheck like Yellow or Black could and definitely too large for her to grip her in claws.

He could blast it but, his stomach clenched, it wasn’t a Galra ship and the idea of shooting down an ally over something like engine failure and killing everyone on board… not to mention the debris would still rain down on the town and there would be casualties.

He had to redirect it.

Somehow.

“Hold on,” he told Hunk.

“Already doing so,” came Hunk’s higher pitched answer.

Lance grit his teeth and angled Red straight for it.

His Lion felt what he wanted done without saying so and just as they were about to hit it, only a couple hundred feet above the town, a quarter mile out, she released a barrage of flames that lacked in their normal fiery heat but gusted and offered a buffer to the incoming ship.

It still didn’t do much.

Lance felt his brain rattle as Red crashed against the ship nearly three times her size and he heard Hunk screaming about cheeseballs behind him.

There was no time though to think.

Just react.

He pushed with all his might on the thrusters, gritting his teeth, and willed the spaceship to turn.

It did.

Not as much as he’d like but it turned east, away from the town, and Lance kept the Red Lion braced alongside it, pushing it further, digging her claws into its side to try and control it even somewhat from its freefall.

Not even ten ticks later they impacted the ground and Lance somehow managed to stay in the seat even as the front console dug into his stomach as he jolted forward as metal screeched and dirt and sand and rocks filled the window as they tore up the ground around them.

A ringing sort of silence followed as they came to a stop, a few miles outside the town now from its skidding, and Lance weakly shook his head to try and get it to cease.

“H-Hunk?” he gasped, hands trembling on the controls and he couldn’t seem to lift them free yet.

The sound of vomiting answered him and Lance let out a shaky sigh of relief. Hunk vomiting meant he was okay.

“Here,” Hunk said weakly a moment later. “Man, my stomach hasn’t flipped like that in… in forever.”

“Tell me about it.”

“Well, the last time—”

“Hunk,” Lance cut off with a breathless laugh. “Not now, hermano.”

“Oh, right.” Hunk shuffled into view then, looking as winded as Lance felt. As one they looked out the window, now billowing with dust, but the shape of the intact and not on-fire ship still visible.

“We need to get over there,” Lance said, standing and commanding his legs to stop shaking from the adrenaline mixed with fear. “Check… check for survivors.”

The ship hadn’t blown up so there was a chance, a good one.

Still…

With an impact like that Lance knew it wasn’t going to be pretty. But time was of the essence and they couldn’t afford to wait for backup. Medical had never been his strong suit and Hunk’s weak stomach often prevented him from seeing the gore, but… but they were Paladins of Voltron and these were people in need of help.

“I’ll grab the med kit,” Hunk said in response, already making his way to the emergency one stored aboard Red.

“You okay girl?” Lance asked the Lion softly as he patted her console.

He received a low groan in the back of his mind; banged up but okay.

“Great job, beautiful,” he murmured.

And while Red wasn’t like Blue where she liked all of the preening he could still feel her pleasure, mixed with a bit of arrogance because of course she did a great job, and despite the situation he let out a low chuckle.

While Hunk was securing the kit Lance tapped on the comms in the console for the Galaxy Garrison. “Red Lion to Garrison,” he called.

“Lance? ” Veronica crackled across the system. “Why are you—?”

“We’re gonna need some backup,” he interrupted her, already picturing Veronica’s flared nostrils at it as she hated to be cut off but he didn’t have time to waste. “Unknown spaceship crashed down outside of town. Hunk and I are going to investigate but…”

He didn’t need to say what he was afraid they would find.

“I’m contacting the team you came with now,” Veronica said, voice as calm and even as always and Lance drew comfort from it. “Alerting Garrison personnel and sending another team, Green Lion leading.”

“Thanks, Veronica,” Lance rose to his feet as Hunk nodded at him. “We’re heading over now.”

“Be careful.”

“Always am.”

He could hear her eye roll.

Lance ended the transmission and within a few ticks he and Hunk were exiting Red, who had righted herself after the crash and was crouched next to the fallen ship, and making their way towards a door a few feet off the ground.

Hunk was already whipping out a datapad and hooking up a wire between it and a panel he’d pulled off by the door, fortunately within reach.

“Hmm, strange,” he muttered. “The ship still has power.”

“Maybe… maybe the engines just shorted out? Or they ran out of fuel?” Lance suggested.

“Their communications should still have been up though,” Hunk said. “Why didn’t anyone respond?”

“Because they were crashing and too busy screaming?” Lance put forth dryly and Hunk let out a chuckle and a nod.

Still…

There was an odd prickle making its way down his back as Hunk overrode the doors and they hissed open to reveal an airlock before the next door lit by steady white-colored lights. Lance flipped himself inside and Hunk with slightly less grace scrambled up after him.

The door shut with a deafening clang behind them.

Hunk though was already going to the other door and coding it to open as well and Lance reassured himself that it was fine, there was plenty of oxygen in here and breathable atmosphere outside and this was nothing like the airlock when the castle tried to kill him.

Still he almost dove forward when Hunk got the interior door open to get out of the small space.

He entered into a hallway, lit as brightly as the airlock, without any signs of people.

“Hello?” he called. “Anyone here?”

Silence.

“We’re Paladins of Voltron,” Lance announced, stepping down the hall with Hunk at his back. “We’re here to help.”

Still silence.

Dios, he wished he had his bayard.

But this had been a humanitarian aid mission. They’d gone down in just cadet uniforms, no bayards, no armor and only the Red Lion as a transport (one of few still working ships large enough for their needs) and she would not be of any help while they were inside of another ship.

“Where is everyone?” Hunk whispered as they continued deeper in.

Lance wished he knew.

This was like a ghost ship.

It even had dust, a fine floating grain that rose with their footfalls and were illuminated in the bright lights, which Lance half expected to start flickering. He coughed as a particularly dense plume rose up as he crossed a threshold and waved his hand at it. Hunk had been smarter and had his arm over his nose and mouth to block the particles with his sleeve and Lance glared at him as he could feel Hunk’s smirk even hidden.

How did a spaceship even get dust?

He shook his head. Focus.

“Hello?” he called again. “Can anyone hear me?”

Still nothing.

“Okay, this is creepy,” Lance said it aloud, the word echoing. “Is… is there a chance it was abandoned? And it just… fell to Earth?”

Hunk shook his head. “The thrusters were on, I saw them. Someone is here.”

Lance could see maybe the pilot having been knocked out in the crash. But everyone else? There was no way a ship this large was manned by only one person.

Where were they?

The prickling feeling increased.

Lance pushed onward.

They made it one more hallway before individual rooms began to crop up and Lance realized a second later what this ship was.

A trade vessel. Boxes upon boxes were both still stacked or otherwise scattered across the floor in numerous cargo holds.

In the third room there was a body.

“Holy—!” Lance broke off as he sprinted towards the figure. Miraculously they weren’t under any boxes, lying nearly in the doorway.

They…

They might be okay.

Lance dropped to his knees, hands going to the alien’s shoulders that were obscured beneath a thick brown shirt, and rolled them gently to their side to free their face from the floor.

Hunk gasped behind him and Lance yanked his hand away as though burned.

He was no expert in the many types of aliens but he was pretty sure this one was dead.

Their eyes were dull gold, staring straight past Lance. Their jaw was clenched, rigor mortis Lance heard Hunk whisper, and their hands, dark flesh clenched into fists, the same.

Dried blood, or what Lance could only assume, covered the bottom half of the alien’s face and looked to have dripped out of their nose and mouth and there was a cloying stench hanging about now that he was closer.

This alien had not died from the crash.

It had been dead for a long, long while.

Something else had killed it.

“L-Lance,” Hunk stuttered. “L-look.”

Lance glanced up from the body in the direction of Hunk’s shaking finger.

There was another body.

This one was part way beneath a bevy of boxes, likely just toppled, but as Lance approached he was met with the same dead stare and bloodied face.

The alien’s face was shuttered, eyes squeezed shut tight, and its hand was outstretched as though reaching for something.

Lance shuddered and turned in that direction.

There was a crate, still bolted down, along the wall.

Lance tentatively peeked in.

There were traces of what looked almost like fine purple sand, caught in the seams of the metal box.

Lance had a very bad feeling.

A studden thrumming had him jumping and Hunk shrieking and he whipped around, hand instinctively going for his bayard but it wasn’t there.

“Wh-what—?”

Hunk cut off as there was a whoosh and what seemed to be a ventilation shaft, no doubt pumping oxygen through the ship, hissed to their left.

Right above the box with the sand.

Lance realized with a sickening clench of his stomach that the dust they had been kicking up hadn’t been dust at all.

It had been this sand stuff.

Which was…

Which was…

“Poison,” Hunk choked out. “L-Lance, it’s…”

Oh Dios.

And they’d already inhaled it.

A…

A lot of it.

Not only that but Lance could see it clinging to his clothes now, little purple speckles dark against the cream of his cadet uniform.

They…

They needed to get out of here.

But they couldn’t.

Not without potentially endangering all of Earth.

Hunk had called it a poison but they didn’t know for sure. It could be a type of gas byproduct or some other type of chemical or… or maybe even something biological — Lance shuddered at the remembrance of some of the more humanoid robobeasts and knew experimentation was not outside the realm of possible — and clearly it was deadly.

If this stuff got loose...

They could literally invite an epidemic to Earth. It could be the next black plague. Smallpox. An anthrax scare. The Earth was already in a state of ruin with most areas lacking even bare necessities like running water and even moreso medical supplies.

It would be a death sentence.

Ocean eyes met honey, both sets blown wide.

“We have to block the door,” Lance said and Hunk paled even further. “We… we can’t let anyone else…”

Rescue teams were incoming and would no doubt, especially with Pidge, be able to open the doors. They’d expose themselves to whatever deadly toxin this was.

They would die.

So the solution…

The solution was to lock themselves in.

Dios.

“With what?” Hunk asked, voice cracking.

“I, I don’t know,” Lance fluttered his hands at his side.

The motion sent a puff of what he was going to just call poison wafting.

He backed away from it, crashing back against Hunk, even though at this point it probably wasn’t going to mean much.

Although was he experiencing symptoms yet? What should he be looking for? He felt fine, all things considered, although his heart was pounding and he felt shaky.

That was fear, he thought. Nerves.

Not poison.

He was fine.

Perfectly fine.

“The crates?” Hunk suggested. “Maybe from another room?”

Where the poison hadn’t originated from?

“Good idea,” Lance said.

He sounded far more confident than he felt.

His hands were trembling.

Just nerves. Not a symptom.

He was fine.

They retreated out of the room and to the first cargohold they’d come across, boxes and crates toppled all about. Hunk went over to one and clicked open the lid.

Bolts of fabric stared back.

All of the crates seemed to be of the same, just different patterns and materials. Lance faintly wondered how a textile caravan ship had wound up with a box full of poison.

So much for the dust being a wandering useless thought to ponder later.

But he still had to push it to the back of his mind. They didn’t have time to waste.

He and Hunk pushed the crates down the hall to where the interior door to the airlock chamber was. Hunk then began piling them, grunting at the weight, and Lance helped as best he could even though every crate was a stark reminder that they were literally boxing themselves in.

Like a grave.

Oh Dios.

Hunk waved him off as he began a lower row again with a harsh rasp of, “Contact the Garrison,” and Lance had nodded, arms jelly-like from the exertion and took the transmitter from Hunk.

What…

What did he say?

“Red… Red Paladin to Garrison,” he swallowed.

Garrison copies,” came Iverson’s bark and Lance wasn’t sure if he was relieved or upset it wasn’t Veronica. “What’s the status on the ship, Red Paladin?

“Um…” Lance licked his lips. Did they taste funny? No. Just in his head. “Um, we… we have a problem.”

Hunk let out a humorless breathy laugh that was almost a sob.

“A problem?” Iverson repeated and it lacked his usual bark.

“The ship… There’s some type of poison dust. All over. And… and bodies.”

Silence echoed on the line.

“Hunk and I are barricading the door,” Lance said when there was no answer. “We… we don’t know if it’s harmful to humans yet and um,” he swallowed again. “We don’t want it to get out.”

He paled then.

The ship had just been in a crash.

It was possible there were holes elsewhere, poison leaking out even now.

Pidge was headed this way.

Other Garrison personnel..

“Iverson,” and his voice hitched ever so, “set up a perimeter. Don’t let anyone close. There… there might be gaps. We, we have to check.”

“...Initiating a two mile perimeter and emergency alert,” Iverson said, voice even and Lance could hear people talking behind him and the faint sound of an alarm blaring. “Remain in contact, Paladin. Updates every five minutes.”

“Yes, Sir,” Lance responded.

He keyed off and looked to Hunk, who had hefted nearly all of the crates up minus the top row, and underneath the sweat on his brow was looking faintly green.

The reality of what they were doing was starting to set in.

“It’s going to be okay,” Lance said, reaching a hand out and squeezing Hunk’s shoulder. “It will be, hermano. We’re going to be okay. Are, are you even feeling sick?”

Hunk mutely shook his head.

“Me neither,” Lance managed a small smile. “Maybe it is just harmless dust now. Or, or it’s not poisonous to humans. Might as well think positive, right?”

“Right,” Hunk agreed, the tinge leaving his face.

“Right,” Lance echoed.

They still took precautions for all they were worth now. All of their skin was already nearly covered by their cadet uniforms but they pulled on rubber gloves from the medical kit and then wrapped bandages about their necks and lighter gauze was bunched in a makeshift mask over their nose and mouth after Hunk reported there were no actual masks in the kit.

Lance tried not to think about the situation outside of steps.

Step one: protect themselves.

Step two: conduct sweep of the ship looking for both holes and survivors.

Step three: don’t panic don’t panic don’t panic.

They went room by room, steps quick and light as possible to avoid spreading more of the dust. Some parts of the ship were clearer than others, the powder likely having run out in its path along the vent system.

But there was no escaping it.

That stark fact was proven as they found bodies.

“These are children,” Hunk whispered as they came across their third set of figures, these ones huddled in a small maintenance bay, blankets and empty wrappers and clearly some form of attempted care scattered about, but it hadn’t been enough as like all the others they’d found dried blood, smeared in places this time though, cold skin and stiff limbs of two smaller aliens in the arms of what had to have been their parents.

Lance hadn’t even been able to correct him, were children, staring instead in silent horror.

The smallest one, with dark brown skin and short black fur coating the top of its head, looked like an alien version of Sylvio.

They reported their findings every few minutes to the Garrison in barely there whispers as though speaking louder would break something in this already broken ship.

There were a total of twenty-six bodies, all in various stages of decay.

The last one had been the pilot, its corpse still warm (hot, actually, fever Hunk had murmured as a possibility unless this alien species had run at a higher temperature) but its eyes had been blank as it slumped over the seatbelt, fresh blood trickling from its nose.

Which meant…

Meant that the poison or whatever it was took time to kill its victims.

It meant that… that they might be...

“It’s… it’s probably not just a poison,” Hunk said, voice loud and quick in the dead cockpit even though it was barely above a whisper. “Poison, it would, would kill quicker. Not normally fevers either or nosebleeds, maybe internal though if it burned through the lungs.”

“Hunk—” Lance tried to interject, his stomach turning.

 “Maybe, maybe some of chemical compound, like mustard gas. Or, maybe, maybe it’s a virus.”

“Hunk—”

“Or a bacterium. It could be spread in a powder form, inhaled. Definitely inhaled. The nosebleeds—”

“Hunk!”

Hunk startled and turned wide, guilty eyes to Lance.

“Sorry,” Hunk murmured. “Sorry, I just…”

“I know,” Lance placed a gloved hand on Hunk’s shoulder. “I know. I just… just let’s… calm down and not… not think the worst, okay?”

He couldn’t think the worst.

The worst meant...

“‘Kay,” Hunk breathed.

Paladins, report,” Iverson sounded over the transmitter and both of them jumped that time. Lance realized it had been nearly seven minutes.

Lance took a steadying breath and keyed in.

“Sweep completed,” he said. “No breaches found.” A miracle, really. Not even Red’s claws had pierced through the thick outer plating and at least if there had to be a ship riddled with a potential deadly poison virus thing it wasn’t going to escape into Earth’s air.

There was the softest sigh of relief on the other end.

“Twenty-six bodies total,” Lance continued. “Including the pilot who… who is recently deceased. Hunk saw thrusters so, so they were alive before the crash, but… but the crash I don’t think is what killed them.”

He didn’t need to say what did.

Your status?” Iverson’s voice was steady but Lance could still hear the concern behind it.

The inkling of fear.

“We’re fine,” Lance said, meeting Hunk’s eyes and getting a nod of agreement.

For now.

He tried to suppress the shiver.

Current location?”

“In the cockpit. Large front window, facing…” — Hunk mouthed the direction to him and Lance nodded, “northeast from the town. There doesn’t seem to be any of the dust here.”

And even with the body still slumped in the chair it was where Lance knew they were going to set up to wait as it was the main hub of the ship and the only spot with exterior windows.

“Can you get ship communications running? Cameras?”

“Hunk can work on it,” Lance offered and Hunk nodded his understanding.

“We’ll need a sample of that dust. Carefully, Iverson stressed the word. “Do you have containment vials?”

“I can empty the aspirin bottle and use that,” Lance said, having memorized its (still Altean) contents: six hydration pouches, four cubes of condensed food goo, a bottle of glornack (aspirin) seeds, one blanket, two rolls of bandages left, half a roll of gauze, a bottle of antiseptic, a jar of burn ointment and another jar of topical pain reliever.

The infirmary they’d found on the ship had been ransacked, some rolls of bandages left behind and some bottles in writing neither he or Hunk could read. But the entire room had been coated in a fine dusting of powder and both had agreed that it was too dangerous to use any of the supplies inside due to the exposure.

That will work. Red Paladin, you are in charge of collecting a sample. Yellow Paladin, get us a visual.”

“Ten four,” Lance answered, feeling calmed by the orders and a plan. A plan was good. Somehow they’d get the sample to the Garrison, they’d analyze it, proclaim it harmless to humans and all of this would be over.

Well…

Lance’s gaze cut to the dead pilot and felt his heart ache.

People had still died. Something had still happened to bring a deadly compound onto this trade ship and hopefully, maybe, they could find answers and be able to give these aliens some closure.

It was all they could do.

Check in every thirty minutes until otherwise noted,” Iverson said. “Copy?”

“Copy,” Lance said.

There wasn’t much else to say.

He looked back to Hunk, whose hands were shaking at his sides and while he couldn’t see them he knew Hunk’s lips were a thin line as he tried not to puke out his nerves.

“We’re gonna be okay,” Lance said gently, placing a hand on Hunk’s arm.

If he said it enough times he might believe it himself.

Hunk gave a jerky nod.

“Come on, let’s see a smile,” Lance tugged down his gauze to pool about his neck and offer up what he hoped was a comforting one. He could spare a moment for that.

Hunk’s eyes widened with horror.

Lance felt his stomach lurch. That… that wasn’t a good reaction.

“Wh-what?”

“L-Lance. You… your…” Hunk lifted his fingers up to his own face by his nose.

Lance mimicked him.

His hand came away wet.

Sticky.

Warm.

No. This…

This wasn’t…

This couldn’t be...

Lance stared, disbelieving.

His hand wavered.

He blinked, willing the image away.

The blood smeared on his fingers remained.

Chapter Text

Monday, 1245 hours

“It’s, it’s just dry air,” Lance reasoned even as his pulse pounded loudly in his ears and he swore his heart was skipping beats as images of blood-crusted aliens filled his mind. “It’s fine. Just dry air. I’m not… not…”

Not sick.

Not infected.

Not poisoned.

He was fine. Perfectly fine.

He looked back down to his bloodied fingers. The red shone against his tan skin.

He could feel it now in his nose, like a barely there itch. He sniffled, trying to suck it back in and immediately coughed as the tang of metal hit the back of his throat.

And he couldn’t stop.

He was vaguely aware of his knees buckling beneath him as his lungs seized and his head spun but there was no harsh impact as strong arms wrapped about his chest and caught him, lowering him gently instead.

“I’m… I’m oh-okay,” Lance wheezed a few moments later, breath returning as he swallowed down the blood and gagged at the taste.

“Okay?” Hunk repeated, voice high and bordering on shrill. “Lance, you’re bleeding.”

“It’s stopped,” Lance reported, the tickle gone. “It stopped, it’s okay. It’s fine.”

Hunk’s arms only tightened around him.

Lance reached up and patted them, trying to reassure both of them. “I promise. It stopped. I’m fine. Estoy bien,” he pressed. “Just dry air, hermano. And, and then snorting it down the wrong pipe.”

Hunk let out a weak, shaky laugh and his arms withdrew, only for Lance to find his chin being gently tugged up and Hunk’s searching eyes tracing his face.

“Okay,” Hunk breathed. “Okay. God, Lance, you scared me.”

Lo siento,” Lance tilted his cheek into Hunk’s hand.

They both knew he hadn’t meant to.

A minute passed and during it Lance convinced himself that his nose had stopped its attempted leakage and nothing else felt off and so he was fine.

“Hunk, buddy, I gotta go,” he tapped the hand still resting on his face. “And you need to get us into the system. See if there’s a pilot log.”

And pray if there was one it had both answers and they could read it.

“You’re right,” Hunk agreed and he lumbered to his feet, offering Lance a hand down.

The world tilted for the barest second and Lance blinked against the sudden vertigo.

He’d just been sitting down and got up too fast. That was it.

“I’m okay,” Lance assured as Hunk hovered. “Promise.”

He blotted away the blood with the gauze and then tore himself a new wrap, putting the bloodied linen in an out of the way corner of the cockpit as they didn’t have any sort of trash bag. The glornack seeds were carefully put into a compartment on the med kit and Lance stepped away with the empty bottle.

“Heading for the storage room just down the hall. Be back soon,” he smiled at Hunk even though it wasn’t visible and a part of him was too scared to pull the gauze away again even though everything was fine.

“Please be careful,” Hunk whispered.

Lance gave a sloppy salute which drew a chortle and departed.

His feet felt heavy as he walked.

Just tension.

There was an ache building behind his eyes.

Stress.

He was fine.

He moved slowly down the hall into the mentioned chamber where a decent amount of the powder had gathered as the door had been closed and there was a ventilation chamber inside. Lance took a deep breath and then hit the door release, wincing as a scattering of dust snuck out.

He proceeded in, stepping over torn open boxes of what had once been dry foods now empty wrappers and crumbs and completely looted.

Drops of something brown were dried in patches and Lance tried hard not to think on them.

He uncapped the bottle and began to sweep the dust from the top of some of the collapsed boxes into it.

About two minute in he had nearly half of the bottle filled and his lungs were starting to burn. He knew he didn’t have to technically hold his breath but it made him feel better and he figured this ought to be enough. He capped it, shook it to try and remove any loose powder from the rim, and backed out of the room, door sliding shut behind him.

As soon as he was clear he took a gasping breath, hunching over with hands on his knees.

Done.

All good.

No issues here.

And if there were a few black spots blinking in his eyes and his head was aching with renewed pain and his hands felt jittery it was all from holding his breath, all from just the stress of this situation.

Nothing wrong.

He repeated it to himself as he spent a minute regaining his breath before returning to the cockpit where he found Hunk crouched and muttering by the main console, his datapad hooked up.

“Any luck?”

Hunk yelped and jumped, smacking his head on the panel and Lance winced. “Oops.”

“Oops,” Hunk muttered, rubbing his head and leveling a deadpan stare at Lance. He brightened a tick later. “Yeah, almost. This datapad isn’t like our Altean ones so it’s running a little slow but—”

A beep sounded and Hunk whirled back to the front. A second later lights flashed all across the consoles and Hunk gave a little shout of joy. “We’re in! Just a sec, I’ll…” he broke off into a muttered string of numbers and Lance allowed himself a smile.

At least one thing was going right.

A moment later the video screen mounted above the center of the main console was glowing and then Iverson’s face was filling it with Shiro and Veronica coming up behind him.

“Hey,” Hunk held up a hand in a wave.

“I thought I told you to be careful!” Veronica snapped immediately at the screen although behind the harsh tone there was heavy relief in her face as Lance watched her eyes trace over him and then Hunk.

“It’s not my fault!” Lance clapped back. “I attract trouble, okay?”

“Are you two all right?” Shiro asked, looking to be performing his own visual check, voice firm but soft at the same time.

“Yeah,” Lance said before Hunk could say otherwise.

Perfectly fine.

“Good,” Shiro visibly untensed. “Good.” His expression turned more serious and Lance felt himself straightening in response. Shiro wasn’t just Shiro now; he was the captain of the Atlas and also one of the Garrison’s top officers.

“Effective immediately the two of you are on quarantine protocol. That includes mandatory check-ins at all hours and reports on your current status and health in which you will be honest,” his gaze fixed on Lance and Lance forced himself to hold it even as his stomach rolled. Would not telling him about the nosebleed already count?

No, no, it was just dry air.

“Refrain from leaving your current location to prevent spreading the dust. The… the pilot,” and Shiro’s eyes cut to the slumped figure in the chair next to them, “however will need to be removed from the area before you enter lockdown in the cockpit.”

“Got it,” Lance’s voice was steadier than he felt.

“All bodily fluids should be contained in one area to prevent contamination and collected for possible examination later.”

Lance could feel his cheeks heating as the cockpit wasn’t overly large and every action would be caught on the transmission and he really, really didn’t need to have a bunch of Garrison officers ( Veronica?)  watching him pee, right? but he understood the necessity of it and forced himself to nod and saw Hunk do the same

“Continue as you are with limiting skin and lung exposure until we can analyze the test sample. And on that, Lance?”

Lance held it up, hoping his hand wasn’t shaking, and Shiro nodded.

“Good job. A drone is en route to scout out the schematics of the ship and determine how best to create an access portal to send the sample through. We will be enacting a particle barrier around both the ship and the Red Lion for containment purposes and only drones and select authorized personnel will be allowed in.”

Shiro turned then to Hunk. “How are the systems looking for extended use?”

“Power isn’t at full but I can shut off lights and oxygen in unused sectors. We should have enough for about a w-week.”

Hunk’s voice wavered on the last word and Shiro’s expression softened.

“We’ll get you home before then, Hunk. But make sure you keep this feed running full time; all right?” They both nodded in tandem and Lance resisted asking if they could momentarily shut it off for bathroom breaks because he knew how serious this was and it was not the time to be an child. “How are rations looking though?”

Lance rattled off the small contents of the med kit and added, “No food or water flow in the kitchen and all supplies on board are looted or covered in the powder.”

Shiro’s lips pursed slightly at the small counts but nodded. There was nothing to be done for it and as he’d said, he didn’t anticipate them being there (hopefully) for long.

“We’ll have our best team analyzing the sample once we get it here, but in the meantime I’m going to need the two of you to dig up whatever you can as to the possible source and reason that this poison is onboard the ship. What can you tell me of the crew and cargo?”

Lance and Hunk relayed their observations again in more detail. Coran came on the Garrison bridge during it and while he didn’t say anything, as Hunk was busy describing the cloths and crates in their blockade, he’d met Lance’s eyes with a gentle smile and Lance had felt something in his chest loosen.

Coran wasn’t afraid.

There was no need for him to be.

Everything was fine.

Coran had been the one to tell them, looking at the dead pilot, that the species aboard the ship were Dewians, a very androgynous species that primarily engaged in trade. Also, Coran had frowned, the Dewian sitting in the chair was not the ship’s pilot.

Pilots were identified by a circular tattoo on their forehead and this alien had instead two lines which indicated a merchant. The other symbol of note would be two wavy lines that indicated medical personnel.

It meant, and Lance had gotten unexplainable goosebumps, that this crewmember, who had no piloting skills, had attempted to bring the ship to ground, to find help, as the ship’s inhabitants died around them and they themselves fell sick to the poison.

They must have been so scared.

Lance hadn’t been able to suppress the shiver then and he’d felt both Veronica and Coran’s eyes sharpen on him but neither said anything.

Hunk had searched the mainframe for any type of pilot log and had what he thought might be one, but the symbols were foreign to him and Coran had squinted when Hunk had sent it through the connection, brow furrowed. He recognized it, he’d said slowly, but he was not familiar with this script at all.

But before Lance could feel his stomach sink too far Coran said there was bound to be some alien who had arrived to Earth that was fluent as Dewians were universal travelers, it just was not a script he was familiar with and his frustration was clear. They would find someone to translate it post haste and Shiro had barked out orders for Garrison personnel to begin searching for such a translator.

Shiro had then, face sad, asked them to remove the body and Hunk had quietly offered to do it himself even if his pallor was a little green. He’d managed to lift the Dewian over his shoulder as Lance unbuckled them and got the door leading outside of the cockpit.

He and Hunk had exchanged a look as they entered the corridor and without any words both had turned towards the dormitories they’d found a hall over where a few beds remained open. Hunk gently laid the figure down and Lance reached out, pulling down now cold eyelids and arranging the alien’s large hands over their stomach.

Minus the blood drying to their face they could almost be asleep.

“This isn’t fair,” Lance said softly as they gazed down at the figure.

Hunk just gave his shoulder a squeeze.

“Come on,” he said after a moment. “Let’s go back.”

Lance took note of the other aliens in the dormitory room first; two more merchants and one with the squiggly lines of a doctor. All of them had been dead for at least a little while, the stench strong and flesh discoloring.

He wondered if the doctors had been some of the first to go.

He wondered if they’d felt hopeless and scared, trying to treat something they didn’t understand.

He hoped they hadn’t suffered long.

His feet felt heavy.

The pressure behind his eyes was building.

Grief, he told himself.

Everything was still fine.

They returned to the cockpit and secured the door tight behind them.

It was heavier than Lance remembered. He saw Hunk eyeing him as they wedged a few strips of bandages into the cracks but Lance pointedly kept looking forward.

Everything was fine.

When they finished and turned back to the camera Shiro had slid into Iverson’s spot and it was just him and Coran, the latter leaning over the back of the chair.

Shiro opened his mouth to say something and Hunk butted in.

“Lance had a bloody nose.”

“Hunk!” Lance yelped, feeling betrayed.

He’d said it was nothing.

It was nothing.

Why was Hunk bringing it up?

Hunk wasn’t done.

“He’s moving slower, a little shaky too. He almost fell over earlier.”

“It’s not like that,” Lance said quickly, glancing between Hunk’s resolute eyes and the open worry on Shiro and Coran’s faces. “I promise. It was just dry air and some vertigo and—”

“Lance,” Shiro’s cut him off. “You need to be honest with me, buddy. I mean it.”

“I… I am,” Lance protested. “I’m fine. Really. I—”

The world shifted sideways as he stepped towards the console. He caught himself roughly on the back of the pilot’s chair and a tick later Hunk was wrapping an arm about his side.

Lance couldn’t feel it though.

It was like watching a movie, everything moving about him. There was a strange ringing in his ears and his vision was graying around the edges.

He blinked and the sound returned with a blast.

“—what I’m talking about,” Hunk’s voice was shrill.

“‘m fine,” Lance moved a hand to pat Hunk’s arm, the dizziness receding as quickly as it had come on and he felt a flush stealing over his cheeks.

He’d just practically fainted. In front of Shiro.

“You are not!” Hunk retorted and Lance winced at the volume.

“I agree with Number Two, lad,” Coran sounded from the screen. “This is more than a case of dry air or vertigo. Number Two, could you bring him closer please?”

“W-wait, Hunk,” Lance’s protest fell on deaf ears as Hunk scooped him up, cradled tightly to his chest, before he was lowered into the pilot’s chair.

Hunk pulled the gauze from his mouth and nose as Coran asked and Lance licked suddenly dry lips as Coran’s searching eyes wandered over his face.

“I’m, I’m just… dehydrated,” he said, and now that he said that yes, his throat did feel incredibly dry. When was the last time he’d had a drink? He’d been running the resource tent for over two hours in the dry Arizona heat and then they’d gone into the ship and it had been go go go. “I didn’t have breakfast either,” he admitted quietly as he’d overslept and had figured he’d just eat lunch later.

Coran let out a soft hum.

“Number Two, are you experiencing any of the same?”

“...no,” Hunk said slowly and Lance could feel him untensing next to him.

Lance relaxed too.

Not sick.

Just tired and dehydrated.

“I am still concerned over the cause of a sudden nosebleed,” Coran said after a moment. “But perhaps it was just brought on by the stagnant air and we will monitor for further.”

Lance wondered if one could get sympathy nosebleeds.

“I know your supplies are low but it is important you stay hydrated,” Coran continued. “We will see what we can do about sending additional supplies”  — Shiro nodded at that even as his lips were a thin line that made Lance’s stomach do a flip-flop — “when the sample procurement begins.”

“Lance,” Shiro met his eyes and Lance fought to hold the intense look. “I will be blunt. It may have been nothing this time but purposefully withholding information like that is at best irresponsible and at worst deadly in these circumstances. I gave you a direct command to report any symptoms and you disobeyed it.”

Lance felt lower than low and he ducked his head.

“I’m sorry,” he whispered, licking still dry lips. “I… I just…I didn’t think it was anything and I… I didn’t want anyone to worry.”

Dios, he’d disappointed Shiro. He just… he really was fine.

He had to be.

Shiro let out a soft huff and Lance uncurled slightly. “Lance, buddy, all we’re going to do is worry over here until you two are back home safe. But to do that I need your help, okay? You can’t keep things like that to yourself.”

“Okay,” Lance agreed quietly. “And… and I’m sorry.”

“Do you have any other symptoms to report?” Shiro answered with.

Lance swallowed.

He had to be honest.

“My, my head hurts,” he admitted quietly. “And I do feel a little dizzy. But,” he jerked his head up, regretting it as the ache flared and he winced and it’d be too much to hope no one had seen it, “that’s just from dehydration, right? Hunk is fine.”

“We’ll keep an eye on it,” Shiro said. “I know this is tough, but it’d be best if the two of you maintained a distance from one another as much as you can. No sharing the water pouches either. Not until we find out how this thing spreads and if humans can fall to it.”

Lance felt a pang in his chest at that. It’s not that he needed to be in physical contact with Hunk but knowing there’d be no hugs in this, no gentle shoulder squeezes or being able to slide even gloved hands into Hunk’s larger ones for a moment of comfort hurt.

He understood though and nodded.

“Good. The drone should be arriving in about an hour to begin processing. On this end we will have a rotating staff for twenty-four hour surveillance. If you’re tired, please, sleep, and the officer will take note of observances but upon waking you will need to inform them of your status. Understood?”

Lance gave a short bob of his head and Hunk gave a verbal, “understood.”

“I have to go now,” Shiro said, standing up from the seat, “and Coran, I need your assistance as well.” Shiro turned slightly to address someone out of sight of the camera. “Medical Officer Fuery, you’re on first rotation.” He looked back at them with a tiny smile on his face. “Play nice, all right?”

Lance gave a salute. “Scout’s honor.”

Shiro did not look reassured but his smile became more natural.

“I’ll check in with you guys a little later. And Lance? Drink something.”

Lance’s expression sobered some and he nodded, extricating himself from the chair and moving for the medical kit where the six hydration pouches were, relieved when although his steps were a little heavier than he’d like they were steady and the ache behind his eyes didn’t increase.

Water would help, he knew it, already opening the pouch and taking a deep sip through the straw. He grabbed a glornack seed too and made his way back to the chair, trying to offer it to Hunk but the larger boy shook his head and settled down on the floor instead.

A Garrison officer, around Veronica’s age Lance would guess, shuffled onto the screen and took a seat in the chair. He looked a tad nervous but determined and he gave a soft “hello ,” that Lance and Hunk both echoed.

“So, Officer Fuery,” Lance leaned forward, displaying the glornack seed that he knew they’d have to document in their logs and trying to keep things light, keep things normal.

Everything was going to be fine.

“Want to learn about weird space medicine?”

“Cain,” the man leaned forward as well. “And absolutely yes.”

“Well,” Lance grinned at his attentive audience even though it was hidden once more behind gauze and he heard Hunk give a chuckle. “My first experience was with something called a cryo-pod…”

And as Lance spun the story of the fight with Sendak, Hunk chiming in as well (as well as asking with a snort how this was about the cryo-pod and both Lance and Cain had shushed him) he felt himself calming down.

This was actually fun.

Everything was fine.

And they’d be home soon.

Chapter Text

Monday, 2030 hours

They passed the afternoon in relative peace despite the circumstances, chatting first with Cain and then First Officer Maria Ross and then a bit with Shiro again and then Lieutenant Miles Briggs in three-hour rotations.

Lance’s throat had started to ache persistently while with Ross and he’d been cautioned to stop talking as they didn’t have water to spare yet. Ross had instead volunteered to play a movie on her datapad and after some arguing over what was appropriate to play in a recorded feed at the Garrison they’d settled on the Lord of the Rings.

They finished the first movie while with Briggs and started the second and Lance fell asleep to Sam and Frodo navigating the marshes.

He’d woken up to quiet voices and placed them as Hunk conversing with Keith on screen.

He’d gone to say hello, but all that had emerged was a garbled sort of gasp.

Then a cough.

And he hadn’t been able to stop.

There’d been shouting then both in the cockpit and on the feed and Hunk had disobeyed Shiro’s orders of no contact as he’d been lifted out of the chair and lowered to the ground and Hunk had sat behind him, rubbing and patting his back and the sound of pleas on his lips.

He tasted blood.

He felt it in his nose, draining down the back of his throat.

He couldn’t breathe.

He couldn’t breathe he couldn’t breathe he couldn’t brea—

Hunk’s hand slammed against his back and Lance gasped, choking out a wad of blood-tinged saliva but he could breathe again and he hunched over, trembling, as Hunk moved back to the more gentle circles.

His head felt so heavy.

Something was wrong.

Something more than could be attributed to dehydration (which shouldn’t be an issue now) and lack of food (he’d eaten half of a food goo cube).

Lance would admit it.

He was starting to get a little scared.

“—ance, Lance, c’mon hermano, another breath, you can do it.”

Lance tuned back into Hunk’s voice right over his ear and the background noise of many other people talking.

He focused on Hunk and sucked in a harsh inhale.

“Lance? Oh thank God. C’mon hermano, you’ve got this. Another breath. Come on.”

Lance repeated it, his chest tightening and then loosening. His vision stopped graying on the edges, the blurred brown of his cadet uniform pants swimming into view. He drew another and then another and the voices started to quiet down.

He could still sense the fear and worry.

He should fix that.

He was fi—

No.

No he…

He didn’t think he was.

Still, Lance tilted his head up towards where he thought the transmission screen was, Hunk warm against his back.

Startled gasps met him even though the figures were still blurry to tear-lined eyes from the coughing.

“Hunk, his nose,” and that was Shiro and someone else was cursing — Keith, maybe? — and Lance’s vision was obscured then as a piece of gauze descended across his lower face.

He could feel the blood smearing above his lips.

“Hunk?” he managed, voice a rasp.

“Shh, shh,” Hunk soothed. “It’s… it’s okay.”

He didn’t sound like he believed it.

Lance didn’t either.

“Lance, buddy,” and that was Shiro again. “You with us?”

Lance gave a weak nod and hoped they could see it as Hunk’s arm now was blocking his view and a hand — no glove, where was Hunk’s glove? — was moving onto his forehead. Lance tried to lean away — something was wrong, something was wrong, Hunk shouldn’t be touching him — but the hand followed.

“He’s warm,” Hunk said and Lance could feel him shaking. “Maybe, maybe a little above ninety-nine?”

“Hunk, put your glove back on,” came Coran’s voice, no-nonsense tone that could not hide the concern.

Lance’s brain latched onto the lack of the height moniker.

“Coran—-”

Now,” came the sharp reply.

Hunk’s hand vanished from his head and he could feel him shifting, the squeak of latex.

“Hunk,” he whispered again.

What was wrong with him?

He already knew the answer to that.

Dead eyes, blood-crusted faces, reaching hands...

He just…

Twisted faces, huddled children, so cold…

Just didn’t want to believe it.

“Lance,” Shiro called his attention and Lance dragged his eyes up to the screen where he could make out people now. Shiro. Keith. Coran. Allura now too and some white-jacketed medical officer he didn’t recognize.

They all looked so worried.

It was wrong.

He wondered where Veronica was.

What time was it even? How long had they been here?

“Hey buddy,” Shiro murmured again.

“H-hey,” Lance croaked, all he was capable of at the moment.

His throat felt like sandpaper and he swallowed thickly. It just sent the bitter taste of metal down and he fought not to gag. Hunk made a soothing noise behind him.

“Coran and Dr. Rockbell are going to ask you some questions. Do your best to answer them, all right?”

Lance nodded.

The action sent a new ache through his head and he did his best to ignore it.

Coran and apparently Dr. Rockbell alternated in asking questions.

On a scale of one to ten, what was his pain?

A two, although his throat was a five and his head… his head maybe a seven.

Did he feel cold?

No. He felt too warm, actually.

The told him no removing any of his clothes.

Did he feel nauseated?

No. He… he wasn’t hungry at all.

Dizzy?

Not right now.

Was he breathing all right?

Sort of? The gauze kept clinging to his mouth and as light as it was it made it harder. Hunk had gently removed it and Lance figured there wasn’t much harm in it now.

He was already infected after all.

Was he experiencing any numbness or tingling in his limbs?

Just his left leg but he’d been sitting on it and he thought it was just sleeping, so...

They’d asked Hunk if he could carefully massage it and Lance had found himself being manhandled so his back went from Hunk’s chest to lean against the co-pilot’s chair and his legs across Hunk’s lap, the resulting touch both painful and soothing. He had to angle his head to keep seeing the screen.

He looked tired; on a scale of one to ten how would he rate his exhaustion?

Seven, Lance whispered. Everything felt heavy, but the more he spoke the better it was getting. They’d looked at least a little relieved at that.

Other than his nose was he bleeding anywhere else?

No, he didn’t feel so. And his nose had stopped again, thankfully.

Medical history?

Nothing of note, to Lance’s knowledge. Ask Veronica?

Did he know why he might be having such symptoms while Hunk seemed to be okay?

Lance had shaken his head.

Hunk chimed in then that Lance had been in the lead when they entered and had kicked up more of the dust and inhaled a large puff of it while Hunk had covered his mouth and nose. He’d also been the first to touch one of the dead Dewians, flipping them over in the doorway, and was the only one to have direct skin contact; where Hunk had, to his best knowledge, only touched clothes.

Coran and the doctor took down notes.

They had yet to obtain a sample, Lance learned, as they were still figuring out how to safely compromise the alien ship’s metal to create a pass-through after their scans had come back inconclusive. Pidge was working on it though, Shiro had said, and Veronica was assisting and at that Lance had managed a small smile. With those two powerhouses working on it they’d be done in no time, he knew it.

So with that they still didn’t know what it was they were dealing with; if it was a poison or a bacteria. They didn’t know how it was spreading (the guess was air given the quality of the powder) but it could also be contact with other carriers or bodily fluids and Coran pressed again to Hunk that he needed to keep his gloves and gauze mask on.

It was important Lance stayed hydrated, Coran said, and he knew supplies were low but they were going to do their best to replenish some of those. Also, and Coran’s face grew grim, they would be sending over syringes and would need a blood sample from both of them.

Hunk had whimpered and Lance did his best to awkwardly pat Hunk’s knee in comfort. Hunk hated needles.

They had Hunk take both of their pulses; Lance at about ninety-five beats per minute and Hunk at almost one hundred twenty. They’d had both of them do some breathing exercises and redo them. Lance dropped to only eighty-nine while Hunk fell to just under ninety-five. Acceptable, they’d said, although, it was still above their typical resting heart rates on file.

Rest, Coran and Rockbell advised, no extra movement. Limit their contact—

“No,” Hunk interrupted that order and his hands tightened around Lance’s leg.

“Hunk—” Shiro tried.

“No,” Hunk said again. “I’ll be careful, I promise, but…” Hunk looked at Lance, saw the tight brow and lock of his jaw and the very beginnings of a pink to warm Lance’s cheeks and the fear that no matter how hard Lance tried to hide shone from his eyes.

“Hunk, no,” Lance whispered and he tried to pull back but Hunk’s grip tightened and he wrapped an arm about Lance’s shoulders, pulling him from the chair rest and back into his arms as if daring anyone to say otherwise.

He felt Lance tense and then sink into the hold with a barely audible sigh and gloved fingers dug tight into his shirt sleeve.

Yes.

This was right.

Hunk was scared. Terrified, really. Lance had somehow managed to contract a deadly… something, Hunk knew he could very well be next, there was no cure, they were stuck on a ship turned graveyard and he knew that Lance was likely only going to grow worse and there wasn’t much he could do.

But he could comfort him. He could hug him and pet his hair and make sure Lance knew he wasn’t alone in all this. It wasn’t much, it wouldn’t cure him, but it was all Hunk could offer and Shiro could not order him to stop.

Allura tried that time. “Hunk—”

“I said no,” Hunk snapped, surprised at his own vehemence and it was clear the others were too as eyes widened across the screen.

And that’s when he felt it.

A tickle.

In his nose.

He reached a shaking hand up to the gauze, scared to pull it down.

He couldn’t see it himself, no two-way view on this older system’s transmission system, but based on the sharp inhales his hunch was right.

His nose was bleeding.

He…

He was sick too.

Silence echoed.

A soft “fuck,” from Keith broke it and Hunk had to swallow down the almost hysterical giggle that was threatening to sound.

Yes.

That.

That summed this up perfectly.

“Hunk, you’re…” Lance’s hand wavered in front of his face and Hunk managed to intercept it, closing his own about the slender wrist and halting its movement. Guilt filled Lance’s face.

“No, no, this isn’t your fault,” Hunk nipped that in the bud before it could start. “No, hermano. It… it was only a matter of time.”

Especially if it was airborne. Hunk may have protected himself better but he knew he had to have inhaled something when they first boarded, when they’d been moving the crates and he hadn’t yet covered his mouth.

He pressed the gauze back to his nose to prevent the blood from dripping past, knowing if Lance was anything to go by it would stop momentarily.

His hand was still shaking even though he felt strangely calm in that moment.

Shock, his brain provided happily. They’d thought they had evaded the disease, believed maybe humans were immune to it, and now this. He’d just been telling Keith that things weren’t so bad and not to worry as try as he might Keith couldn’t hide it and that Keith should enjoy the peace and quiet while it lasted.

Keith had huffed out a laugh at that even though something had flickered across his face but before Hunk could analyze it anymore Lance had started coughing and well, here they were.

“This doesn’t change anything,” Shiro said although Hunk knew it did. In the course of a few minutes he’d gone from fellow quarantined healthy human to caregiver to now infected himself. “We’re still going to get those samples,” Shiro continued and his gaze met Hunk’s steadily, “and we’re going to get you both home safe. Nothing about our objective has changed.”

And although Shiro couldn’t know anything for sure Hunk felt bolstered by the confidence in his voice.

“Perhaps,” Allura spoke then, having remained quiet and Hunk felt Lance perk up. He felt a smile tug at his face despite the circumstances. “Perhaps I might be able to assist. I have learned much since Oriande and—”

“No,” Coran interjected and the word was heavy and sad. “I’m sorry, Princess, but the risk of exposure is too great. We do not know yet what we are dealing with and…”

Coran didn’t have to say it but Hunk could see it.

Coran couldn’t lose Allura. He couldn’t have her in danger too.

“‘s okay, Allura,” Lance said softly. “We’ll be all right.”

Hunk did chuckle then because there was nothing like trying to impress Allura to push Lance’s immediate fear back. Coran’s lips quirked up too and he caught Hunk’s eye.

They would take it.

“It’s important both of you do all you can to stay hydrated,” Rockbell said into the silence. “If Esposito is already displaying signs of a fever this is likely some type of bacterium or virus. We’ll treat it like a flu for the moment which means rest and fluids because your body needs to stay hydrated to prevent overheating. Take one of the alien aspirins every four hours to try and keep it at bay.” His voice softened. “I know this will be hard as your body heats up but you cannot give into any additional exposure except for necessary actions. Keep everything on, gloves included. Just until we know what we’re dealing with.”

Which could be a few hours, could be a few days.

Lance was already starting to perspire, droplets beading on his forehead beneath his bangs.

Still Hunk nodded and he felt Lance do the same, hair brushing against his now exposed chin as keeping a gauze wrap there seemed pointless now and the doctor hadn’t insisted.

“That’s about all for now,” Shiro said. “Any… any questions?”

None that there were answers to and Hunk shook his head in the negative and Lance gave a quiet, “no.”

“Get some rest,” Shiro said gently. “Glornack seed too and some more water.”

“We only have three pouches left,” Hunk said quietly; Lance having drained two and he’d been sipping on one.

“We’ll get you more,” Shiro said with a confidence Hunk severely envied. His gaze met Hunk’s. “I promise.”

Hunk tried for a smile although he knew it fell flat.

“All right everyone, back to work,” Shiro said as silence reined again. “We don’t have any time to waste.”

Dr. Rockbell left but everyone else, including Shiro, remained clustered at the screen and Lance gave a dry chuckle at Shiro’s expression.

“There’s a saying for that, Shiro,” Lance said, still chuckling. “Pot, meet kettle.”

Shiro let out a weak laugh of his own, flesh hand reaching up to run through his hair. “I know, I know. I just…”

“We are worried,” Allura said quietly, her eyes meeting Hunk’s and then shifting to Lance’s.

“We’ll be okay,” Lance said just as quietly, a strength in those words. “Besides,” and Hunk could hear the grin, “we’re Paladins of Voltron. One little virus poison bacteria thing isn’t going to take us down.”

Allura’s expression turned resolute. “No, it will not.” She straightened. “I am going to check in with the translation progress; we found someone but it is taking time.”

“I’ll report down to the lab,” Coran said, “and assist Number Five. We’ll have you home soon, Paladins.”

“I need to go too,” Shiro said. “The council is meeting and I need to provide an update.” He grimaced at that and Hunk couldn’t blame him. The council, made up of the commanders, two vice-admirals and several captains, were a bunch of stuffy bureaucrats other than Sam Holt and Shiro. Shiro had told them one time, a rare moment of peace as they sat in the Alteans’ quarters the Garrison had provided, that if he didn’t already have gray hair he would have gained a full head of it by now dealing with the politics of it all.

“I’ll stay,” Keith volunteered.

“Lieutenant Breda will relieve you in an hour,” Shiro said by way of agreement. “And no complaints,” Shiro’s hand glowed as Keith opened his mouth. “You need to rest, just as Lance and Hunk do.”

“Fine,” was the curt response.

“I’ll see you guys in the morning,” Shiro said and Hunk realized then it was nearly twenty-two hundred. “Stay… stay safe.”

Allura and Coran echoed the same and then it was just Keith at the monitor although a few other Garrison personnel were visible in the background.

Lance had sat up more in Hunk’s embrace, throat still aching but his head a little better now that he’d gotten his bearings, and with that came clarity.

And he could see that behind the thin lips and narrowed eyes that Keith was…

Keith was scared.

“You’re really worried, huh, mullet?” Lance asked gently, hoping the moniker would lessen the perception of the inquiry.

As he predicted Keith’s still cheeks flushed red.

“Of course,” Keith muttered, eyes averted to the side. “We all are.”

Lance hummed in acknowledgement but he knew that wasn’t all of it.

Keith looked up with a glare. “What does that mean?”

“What does what mean?”

“What you just did!”

“What did I just do?”

“Guys,” Hunk bemoaned.

Lance could tell he wasn’t actually upset and he knew Keith wasn’t actually angry.

He welcomed this small break of normal.

“That, that noise.”

Lance whistled.

“That wasn’t it and you know it.”

Lance smacked his lips.

Ugh, still dry.

“Lance!”

“What noise did I make then?” he asked, tilting his head.

Keith glowered and what followed was the angriest hum Lance had ever heard, almost like a hornet’s nest.

“Needs work,” Lance told him, “but good job for effort.”

“Lance,” somehow Keith made his name sound like a curse.

“What’s wrong?” Lance asked it more bluntly than he normally would and Keith’s cheeks sucked in. “Other than, you know, the obvious.”

Keith glared at him again but then sighed, posture deflating.

“I feel useless,” he muttered. “Everyone else is doing something to help and I… I can’t do anything.”

Ah.

Lance knew that feeling well.

“There’s nothing to fight, nothing to fly,” Keith continued, quieter. “Even though I’m the Black Paladin it means nothing to the council, not for things like this. Two members of my team are hurt and I can’t do anything to help them. Like I said. Useless.”

“You’re keeping us company,” Hunk piped up.

“Anyone can do th—”

“No,” Lance interrupted. “Well, I mean, yeah. But those Garrison officers? They’re not our friends, mullet. You are. And, well… it’s nice to have a friend on the other side.”

Keith’s entire expression softened.

“And with that,” Lance stretched his legs out in front of him, bracing his feet. “I have to pee.”

Keith snorted and shook his head but the shadow of before was gone.

Lance determined to keep it that way. Shiro had said they were all going to worry no matter what but if he could keep it together so they didn’t have to worry so much… that would make him feel better.

He didn’t like seeing them that scared.

“Here, let me help,” Hunk wriggled out from behind him and Lance gratefully accepted the hand up as his legs felt a tad shaky and upon standing he was hit with vertigo all over again.

“‘m okay,” he gasped even as the cockpit spun in a lazy circle and if Hunk hadn’t wrapped an arm around his waist he’d have toppled over.

“Lance…”

“Just dizzy,” he promised. “It’s getting better.”

Hunk still walked over with him to the far corner by the pilot’s chair where Lance had originally  dumped the bloodied gauze. While Lance had been sleeping Hunk had been busy. They didn’t have much in terms of receptacles so Hunk had pulled off a thin piece of paneling to the console and had bent it using his sheer strength — Lance was awed every time — into a sort of bucket.

After assuring Hunk he was fine to stand on his own, the dizziness receded, and yelling at Keith to give him privacy to indignant sputters, Lance tested out their new toilet. At the very least he didn’t have much in his stomach and food goo, as they’d learned up in space, didn’t process the way normal food did so if he was lucky there’d be no awkward squatting for him.

He prayed it was so.

At least Veronica hadn’t been there, or the pretty Maria Ross.

He was half tempted to leave his pants off, the stagnant air of the cockpit feeling comfortably cool on his bare legs, but orders were orders and he hooked them back up over his shorts.

Hunk in the meantime had shaken out the med kit blanket on the floor and was lying down on it. He wasn’t flushed at all, no sign other than a few flecks of semi-dry blood he’d missed when wiping it off with the gauze.

Lance made for the blanket and Hunk clucked his tongue. “Chair,” he pointed.

“We should take t—”

“Chair.”

Lance shuffled to it instead knowing the futility of arguing with Hunk once he’d decided on something. He’d barely sat down, legs scrunched up next to him as he didn’t like them dangling, when Hunk was handing him a water pouch and a glornack seed.

“So bossy,” Lance muttered but he took them.

Swallowing hurt.

He must have made a face as Hunk was hovering then and he was aware of Keith leaning forward in the commandeered chair and he desperately tried not to choke on the aspirin as it went down.

The easy banter had almost made him forget he was sick.

Almost.

Now it was back and he was aware of how tired he was even though he’d been sitting all day.

“You should sleep,” Hunk said softly, rubbing his back as Lance hunched over. “I… I might lie down too. Sorry, Keith.”

Keith waved the apology away. “It’s fine. You need the rest.”

As if sleep could fight an alien disease. But it would keep their bodies strong(er) and, as evidenced by the fact the Dewians had died at different times, doing so could mean holding on until a cure was available.

“Hey, Keith?” Lance asked, head tipped sideways so he could see both the screen and Hunk settling down on the floor after dimming the lights; not dark at all but easier.

“Yeah?”

Lance’s lips quirked up. “Sing us a lullaby?”

“What? No!”

Keith looked terrified and Lance couldn’t help but laugh, which devolved into a light cough that he managed to tamp down after a few seconds and flashed a weak thumbs up.

“So… a song?” he rasped.

“The pity appeal is not going to work,” Keith told him bluntly although concern was etched into his eyes still.

“Darn.”

“Do you have some music you could play though?” Hunk asked and Lance let out what he hoped wasn’t too loud a sigh of relief. He’d never liked the quiet and this ship was…

Was dead silent.

Like a grave.

It was too fitting an analogy.

His skin prickled with goosebumps even though he felt warm.

“Yeah,” Keith agreed quietly. “Hang on.”

A few moments later some type of soundtrack music started up — not quite a soothing lullaby but Lance would take it, and he murmured a soft “gracias.”

He fell asleep to crashing violins and worried voices.

 

 

Chapter Text

Tuesday, 0436 hours

Harsh whirring jolted Lance from sleep…

What the…?

It took him a moment to remember where he was, strange cockpit greeting him, but Commander Iverson’s face staring back at him on the screen was familiar.

Except for the fact he’d never seen Iverson look so… soft. 

He could feel a flush creeping up his neck that didn’t have anything to do with the low-grade fever he knew he was running.

Had he been talking in his sleep again? What had Iverson heard him say?

The shuddering sound came again and Lance turned towards it, grateful for the distraction.

A drone was outside the cockpit and looked to be drilling in.

“Esposito,” Iverson called his attention. “Status report?”

“Um,” Lance swallowed thickly, throat gummy and dry at the same time as he took inventory.

Throat still sore, a little dizzy but getting better again, very thirsty (but only one water pouch left and it should be for Hunk (who was snoring away on the floor and Lance felt something in him untense)), not hungry, feeling a little warm and clammy, his head was still hurting, and what was going on?

“Drink the pouch and another one of those seeds,” Iverson told him. “And we’re making a pass-through. Should be done by 0800.”

Lance stumbled to his feet, catching himself on the chair as the world tilted for a moment, before making his way to the one remaining water pouch in the med kit and the medicine. 

He hesitated.

“Drink,” Iverson ordered. “We’ll get you more. If you can go back to sleep.”

“With that racket?” Lance asked dryly before he stiffened.

He wasn’t normally casual with Iverson unless he was complaining about him.

He hadn’t been saying something like that in his sleep, had he?

Dios. 

Stupid fever. Stupid sickness. Stupid quarantine.

“I’ll put on Beethoven,” Iverson said, face still that soft version, if a tick amused. 

Feeling oddly comforted by the offer and even Iverson’s steady eyes on him, Lance somehow did.

 

Tuesday, 0830 hours

“Pidge, I love you,” Lance gushed and that was no exaggeration. 

They’d successfully made a pass-through portal. It was protected on the outside by three separate particle barriers that led into a sort of large globe sphere that was shut and opened from the outside through a series of little gates. 

They had to stick their hand into it to retrieve the items that had been pushed through and then once they were done the entire globe would be decontaminated and repeat. 

The Paladin armor was the only thing they’d deemed at this point likely safe to exposure and so only the Paladins were being allowed close. Allura though had given hers up to Colleen Holt, who would be conducting the analysis on the samples.

“Yeah yeah,” Pidge muttered and her visor couldn’t hide her blush. “Just take them.”

Lance gratefully did so, Hunk at his back and steadying him as he leaned forward, his hand bypassing the confines of the ship. The dizziness had gotten more intense and he’d had one nose bleed, but otherwise he was doing all right, all things considered.

Except for his throat. It was like sandpaper and Hunk had been coughing lightly too and had to keep telling Lance, feeling guilty for drinking so much water, that he was fine.

The first pass through yielded six more water pouches. Then two sets of needles and vials that Hunk had shuddered at. Then packets of liquidized food goo that Hunk had outright gagged at but the outside team had decided it was safest to keep a very bland diet and food goo was full of nutrients.

Still…

Gross. 

“You don’t look so great,” Pidge said quietly, peering through the cockpit window after she’d sealed the portal and the decontamination process was in effect. 

“Geez, Pidge, you’ve really got that bedside manner down.”

Only worried eyes stared back.

Lance did not like that look on Pidge. 

“We’re gonna be fine, Pidgeon,” he said softly. 

He didn’t say promise.

He couldn’t do that to her if…

“You better be. I just got the next edition of Mer— Hunk!”

Lance whirled around, head spinning at the action and heart leaping into his throat, just in time to see Hunk, face white, teter and slump over.

“¡Dios mío! Hunk!” 

Oh Dios. Dios Dios Dios—

“Lance, Lance, it’s okay!” 

Cain’s voice filtered in over Lance’s panic as he knelt down next to Hunk, and he flicked his eyes to the screen.

“He saw the needle.”

He saw the…?

Oh.

Oh. 

Lance felt a laugh bubbling up along with an overwhelming feeling of relief.

Just the needle for the blood draw. 

It was fine.

It was—

He tasted metal on the back of his tongue and heard Cain call out his name again, but this time without the comforting words.

He faintly heard Pidge shout, felt blood warm and thick dripping out of his nose. 

He choked.

His throat constricted.

He couldn’t breathe.

His vision blurred over with gray and he sensed more than saw he was falling.

Lance was unconscious before he hit the ground.

 

Tuesday, 0837 hours

Someone was patting his cheek. 

Even in gloves Lance knew that hand and forced open heavy eyelids.

“H-Hunk?” he rasped, wincing.

His mouth tasted like blood.

“Oh thank God. Oh God, Lance. C’mere, let’s get you up.”

And before Lance could protest he was being lifted from horizontal to vertical and he groaned as the movement sent his head spinning.

“Here, drink,” and a straw was pressed against his lips. Lance dutifully took a sip, gagged as iron-tainted water filled his mouth, somehow swallowed it down and then took another.

He tilted his head back against Hunk’s shoulder, seeking honey eyes.

“You… you fainted,” he slurred.

He remembered that.

“And you passed out,” Hunk said. “Oh God, Lance. I thought…”

He’d come to to yelling for him to wake up as Lance was choking on blood and what followed was one of the scariest few minutes of Hunk’s life as he lifted Lance, slammed hands on his back and prayed that his fear of needles and weak constitution hadn’t just gotten Lance killed. 

“‘m okay,” Lance patted a weak hand on Hunk’s arm. 

It meant little but Hunk appreciated the gesture.

“Hunk, we need those samples now, buddy,” Shiro spoke, having appeared on screen along with Coran and Dr. Rockbell.

Hunk blanched.

He felt faint again.

“I can… I can do it,” Lance said, struggling to more of a sit in Hunk’s arms. “Just… just a prick, right?”

“Well, a little more than that, but yes,” Rockbell said. “Let me show you.”

Hunk felt sick watching as Rockbell explained how to feel out a vein, to inject the needle and then how to properly seal the vial using his own arm as a test model. Lance though was nodding and said he could do it for both of them.

Hunk felt a sick flare of guilt. Lance was the one who was really sick, who didn’t feel well and yet it was he stepping up to do this while Hunk, who still only had a bit of a sore throat and a building headache, was useless.

“I’m sorry,” he whispered as Lance went about prepping the vial with Hunk’s name on it..

“It’s okay, hermano,” Lance patted his knee, somehow sounding comforting even with still smeared blood all about his nose and face. “Don’t look, okay?”

“Kay,” came his breathless answer.

Hunk ended up rolling up his own sleeve and holding the strip of rubber to act as a minor tourniquet steady as Lance’s hands were trembling slightly. 

Estoy bien, estoy bien,” Lance murmured under his breath like mantra as he held the needle aloft on the inside of his forearm. Hunk rolled his eyes up to look at the ceiling. 

A second later there was a sharp prick and he winced but hearing Rockbell go, “Excellent job, Esposito,” was comforting and Lance gently rubbed a gloved thumb on Hunk’s arm. 

Not even a minute later there was a squick and Hunk felt the needle leave and Lance was offering him a piece of gauze to press against the puncture.

“It’s over?” Hunk asked faintly.

“It’s over,” Lance patted his arm. “You did great, hermano.” 

“Looks like you’re a natural phlebotomist, Lance,” Cain said. “I’m a little jealous, actually.”

“I have no idea what that means,” Lance admitted as he began rolling up his own arm sleeve.

Hunk chuckled weakly. “It’s a medic who draws blood.”

“There’s a job for that?”

The question though was a tad too high-pitched to be casual. 

Sensing that Lance was looking for some sort of distraction, his hand trembling even more than before, Hunk looked to the screen with a silent plea for help. 

“Oh, absolutely,” Cain said. “But medical discussions are boring,” and Rockbell’s indignant “hey!” had Lance’s lips quirking up for a second. “Let’s talk about… puppies!”

“Puppies?” 

“Yeah. Let me tell you what that darn Bae-Bae did the other week…”

A few minutes later there were two vials of blood properly sealed being put into the decontamination chamber along with the powder sample and Pidge was promising that she’d get them to her mom ASAP and they were going to be home soon and they both owed her multiple favors for stressing her out like this and she couldn’t wait to collect, especially on the hugs and they better be good ones.

Hunk couldn’t wait.

He really, really couldn’t.

 

Tuesday, 1513 hours

The log had been translated. 

It wasn’t good.

Allura had summarized, eyes darting from the translation to Hunk and Lance, and then to the other audience with her of Shiro, Keith and Dr. Rockbell,  that the Dewians had set course for Earth just over a movement ago. They had an inventory of six hundred and fourteen crates.

But an inventory check two quintants into the journey (aided by a version of a tela duv, which is how the Dewians traversed the galaxy as they did) showed one more. A cargo check had been requested and…

And the merchant sent to the hold where an unregistered code had tracked to had not come back. 

They’d been found several hours later the log wrote, collapsed inside the hold with blood on their face and hot to the touch.

They had died later that evening.

Their only clue had been a thick powder that had begun to waft out of the ventilation systems and that they tracked to the unregistered crate.

They had attempted to seal off areas of the ship to prevent the spread but at that point it was too late.  Dewians began to fall ill with fevers and bloodied noses. Many began to retreat into areas of the ship where the powder had not been as strong but there was no escaping it.

They didn’t know what the powder was, who had loaded it upon the ship, who it was intended for, although, the pilot had logged, they feared Earth, the headquarters of the new Coalition, may have been the target.

All they knew for certain was that it was deadly, their medicine ineffective. 

They had reached out for help, the pilot had wrote, but no one had answered their distress signal. Dead space, Allura had whispered in explanation, the area between galaxies that very few entered. 

The pilot made the decision then to go down with the ship, to keep them in dead space. It would be their sacrifice, they wrote, for should this sickness making poison reach Earth they feared for its inhabitants. 

Hunk had felt more than seen everyone’s eyes turn to Lance and he’d squirmed a bit at the attention. But Hunk couldn’t blame this one on Lance’s tendencies to jump into the line of fire; he too knew the danger of something like this being exposed. Lance had made the right call to barricade them in.

It just…

It just wasn’t fair that it was always somehow Lance. And while Hunk was sick figuratively and literally that he’d been caught up in it… he was glad Lance wasn’t here alone. 

There’d been a different signature on the log then, Allura relayed quietly. A merchant reporting that the pilot had died and… and they were taking charge of the ship and heading for Earth to seek help. 

It was dated two quintants ago.

That was all there was. 

“So… so five days,” Hunk said into the silence. “We have five days before…”

“No,” Rockbell shook his head, voice heavy. “Garrett, you may have five days — four now — given your mass and less severe initial exposure. Esposito…”

Hunk looked down to where Lance was in his arms, head resting against his shoulder and pink flush now unmistakable across his cheeks, feeling him stiffen at the diagnosis but not say anything.

A thermometer had been sent over earlier and Lance’s temperature had read just shy of one hundred. 

It was now slightly over one hundred and one not even two hours later.

Not just that but Lance, capable of drawing blood and joking around earlier that morning, was now quiet, breath heavy and Hunk had to keep blotting away blood that trickled from his nose. He was too dizzy to stand on his own (despite insisting he was could do it and then crashing into the chair before admitting quietly that no, maybe he couldn’t, and hearing that despair had hurt Hunk more than anything) and he’d spent most of the afternoon in and out of restless sleep broken up by their observers playing movies for them to at least make it feel less like they were trapped and dying on an alien ship.

Hunk though had to ask them to turn off Monty Python as Lance had requested as the “bring out your dead,” plague bell had sent Lance into a coughing fit from laughing and he’d whispered, “I’m not dead...yet,” and it had been too much for Hunk to hear. Gallows humor did not suit Lance one bit and Hunk didn’t want to hear any more.

Hunk could feel himself getting worse, his headache persistent even with the aspirin and a little more effort needed to stand and move about than before. But his temperature was still at a low ninety-nine and had been there all day and although his throat was sore it was mostly resolved with drinking water, of which more had also been sent so at least dehydration was no longer an issue.

Rockbell had tried telling Hunk he would be best off not having extended contact with Lance but Hunk had fixed him with such a glare that the doctor had shrank back.

He was not letting Lance suffer through this alone.

Never.

Lance shuddered in his arms and Hunk let out a soft murmur.

“How long?” Shiro asked, attention on the doctor.

“It’s hard to say, but looking at his trajectory in just over twenty-four hours so far… maybe two more days. And that would,” he let out a soft sigh, “that would be optimistic. With high fever comes organ failure and that may ultimately be what… what kills him.”

“No,” Hunk growled. “No. He’s going to be fine. Right, Lance?”

“Gonna try,” was the quiet, tired, reply.

A complete opposite to the optimism he’d relayed to Allura last night.

He was fading and he was fading fast.

“Lance,” Allura’s voice was sharp and Lance twitched. 

Hunk shot Allura a grateful look although her eyes were focused solely the other boy. “You will be all right. I will accept no other outcome. Consider it an order from the princess.” 

“Allura,” her name was almost a slur. “You can’t—”

“Same,” Keith interrupted, voice hard. “As leader of Voltron — your leader — I’m also ordering both of you not to die.”

“And as a captain of Galaxy Garrison, of which you both are still technically students and therefore I am your commanding officer, I issue the same,” Shiro said. 

Hunk broke into a salute before he could stop himself and giving a weak chuckle Lance raised his hand up as well. 

“Sir, yes Sir,” he rasped. 

Hunk felt the stirrings of hope once more.

 

Tuesday, 1742 hours

“I have never seen anything like it.”

Shiro did not like the start of Collen Holt’s report. 

He wasn’t the only one as Keith twitched next to him and across the room the gathered council members frowned.

“I’m still examining it,” Colleen said, “but from what I’ve gathered the powder itself is the micro-particles of dead, infected tissue. There are… layers,” and her voice hitched, “of infection and disease, many of which our tests cannot even begin to identify and the Alteans’,” a nod to Coran standing next to her, “are also unable to find in their databases aboard the Atlas.

“It is a virus,” she continued, “masked in the spores of the tissue, similar to Anthrax although it is not a bacterium. It looks to be transmitted via inhalation but I’m not ruling out contact due to the viral markers as well. It,” she looked up with reddened, tired eyes, “is in layman’s terms a near combination of Anthrax crossed with the Ebola virus and the properties of a chemical warfare agent, like Mustard Gas. Looking at the blood samples it is attacking the immune system and is causing a significant number of blood clotting cells to drop, known as hemorrhagic fevers. This leads to internal bleeding, of what we’re seeing right now of burst capillaries in the nose, and eventually…”

She didn’t need to say it.

“Is there a vaccine in progress?” asked Commander Raven. 

Colleen shook her head. “We can’t begin to do so until we can unravel what the main properties are to the external damaging and weakening layers of the spore. It… it will take time.”

“How much time?” Shiro asked, the question coming out more desperate than he wanted but… but…

She bowed her head. “Something like this… weeks, months… years even.”

“No,” Keith’s voice was sharp. “Not acceptable.”

“Watch your tongue,” snapped Vice-Admiral Klemin.

Shiro put a steadying hand on Keith’s shoulder as he felt him bristle. Now was not the time. 

“I will do all I can,” Colleen said, her eyes landing on Keith. “I swear to you.”

He gave a stiff nod.

“How potent is this virus?” Klemin asked then. “Are we in danger having it on base here?”

He looked a little sick around the collar and Shiro resisted the urge to glare.

Coward.

“It is contained,” Colleen assured, “but a single spore is a fully realized virus and there must be… Quinvigintillions if not more aboard that ship, as there are several billion in just the sample.”

“How many is that?” Raven asked with a frown.

“Too many,” Collen said simply. “Heat has had no impact on it, nor cold, in our tests. If this were to get out… it would spread and,” her voice lowered. “There will be no stopping it.”

Shiro did not like the look that crossed Klemin’s face at that.

“So if you are unable to create a vaccine within what, a few days, a near impossible feat then…” Klemin let it hang.

“Then two brave young men will die,” Colleen said softly.

“But the virus would be contained to the ship,” Klemin said slowly. “Which is compromised and it will only become moreso due to the breach that has been made. Perhaps our resources should be focused less on preventive measures and more on containment and then eradication.” 

It took a moment for the words to register.

“Fuck you,” Keith snarled, lunging at the most senior member of the Garrison and Shiro barely caught him by his collar although part of him wished he hadn’t. “You would let them die?” 

“It is numbers, boy,” Klemin said, spreading his hands. Shiro almost released Keith as something dark and sick churned in his gut and he was glad Veronica, currently at the transmission, was not here to hear these words more poisonous than the virus.

This…

This was not the Garrison he served.

“I have to look out for the greater good of humanity,” Klemin continued. “A vaccine is unlikely to be found in such a short timeframe and—”

“You’re a coward,” Keith growled.

“I am trying to protect Earth,” Klemin fired back. 

“Sanda tried sacrificing us too and look where it got her.” 

Scandalized gasps worked their way through the room.

Shiro darkly relished them. 

“Your opinion is not needed here,” Raven growled, stepping in front of Klemin. “You are not a member of the Garrison council—”

“They are my team—”

“And they made a choice,” Klemin interjected. “Just as we all must.”

“Then it’s a good thing,” Shiro spoke, his voice a low thrum, “that the council is not just one person’s call anymore, isn’t that right Vice -Admiral?”

An admiral on her own had near condemned Earth. She had killed brave pilots and soldiers by ignoring advice and instigating her own plans. 

Something like that would never happen again.

But as Shiro looked across the room to the other council members he saw that most couldn’t meet his gaze.

They…

They agreed with Klemin.

“I stand by Black Paladin Keith,” Sam stepped forward. “We will not abandon these young men, who saved us might I remind you not just during the battle but now with their actions, when hope still exists. I trust in them. I trust in my wife,” he sent a soft smile to Colleen that she returned, “and I trust that all of you would not be so stupid as to do anything but support our efforts to save their lives.”

The council shifted uncomfortably then and there was a general murmur of consensus with Sam. Shiro almost wilted with relief. 

Klemin’s mouth turned down. “I want to see those boys—”

“Paladins,” Shiro interjected, “Young men. Heroes. They are not children, Sir, and you will respect that.”

“I want to see those young men returned to us safely, but you must be being realistic, Shirogane. The odds are not in their favor.”

“Then it’s a good thing,” Keith parroted Shiro’s words in a growl, “that we beat them all the time.”

Klemin inclined his head. “So be it.”

“Let’s get back to work,” Coran said, something steely in his eyes and even moreso in his voice. “We have not a moment to lose.”