You are Keith Kogane and your superior officer is sprawled out on the ground in front of you, clutching his bleeding nose. Someone is screaming, and you’re thinking that maybe you should have thought this through more.
(Or maybe you shouldn’t have. Maybe it’s a good thing you didn’t, because this is the first time you’ve let yourself feel since Pilot Error, and isn’t that a kick in the gut? That they’ve tamed you down that far?)
Run. Run away, the way you always have when things get hard. Try not to think of all the different ways that makes you a coward.
There are two crashes: One that they tell you about and one that you watch. Except now you’re not Keith Kogane: Garrison Prodigy. (You’re not even Keith Kogane: Garrison Washout, because it doesn’t matter what the cargo pilot says, you didn’t fail .)
No. Now you’re Keith Kogane: Red Paladin. Defender of the Universe.
You’re Keith Kogane and you’re running from an alien ship in a blue lion that’s full of brilliant kids and you don’t know it yet but you’ll love them. (You’ll love them all, love them the only way you know how: sharp and fast and bracing for the end from the very beginning.)
(They’ll love you too, and you’ll hate them for it.)
You are not Keith. You’re the Lion. You’re the ship.
You’re the crash, and all you bring is ruin .
There are two boys: One from the crash you hear and one from the crash you see. Both of them are beautiful, but only one is smiling. You pick up your mother’s knife and plunge it into the first one’s arm as you paint your armor with his blood.
You are Keith, and up ahead of you stands the ghost of the Red Paladin with his red sword.
(And behind him stands a figure with a knife and-)
You meet a god and you meet a devil. One glows blue and the other purple. One controls the Castle, and one the Lion. (You wish they’d sorted this out on their own, ten thousand years ago when they started it. But then you wouldn’t be here, would you?)
(It doesn’t matter, you won’t be for long. You’ve read enough stories to know that those favored by gods never live.)
You are Keith, and a god’s daughter tells you that you will be the warrior, the crash, the Red Paladin. Tells you that you will be Voltron and its sword.
You are Keith Kogane when you walk onto the training deck. You are Keith, and you get hit. (Hit back, that is what you have always done.) Kick. It dodges. It is made of light and energy and its staff cuts into your skin. Hit it again. You are Keith Kogane and it swings its weapon into your ribs and puts you on the floor as easy as breathing. You are the bruised and bloody shell of Keith Kogane, and you swipe its legs out from under it.
You are the one to knock it down, but the Red Paladin is the one that stands back up.
The boy that was smiling kisses you like a memory with a mouthful of euphoria and the same dark blood that drips down his shirt. You kiss another boy (the same boy) (a different boy) under the light of unfamiliar stars, and his eyes are spilling over with tears. His eyes are full and empty, flooded and dust dry, and the time between the crashes took something from him that you cannot replace.
(Try anyway. You’d try anything for this boy, if only he would stop disappearing and then coming back doubled, if only he would sta-)
You are Keith. Stand where the Lions are docked in the Castleship and think about falling asleep, falling a-dream, falling a-death.
The metal of the hull gleams, and standing next to you is a figure in Red.
(It has yellow eyes.)
(It raises its knife and-)
You attack Central Command.
It does not go well.
(Ignore the voice in your head saying you were right, because now you need to focus on fixing the other’s mistakes. Ignore the wormhole turning purple around you as your Lion is pulled from the hanger. Ignore how sick you are of the color.)
The ground rushes to meet you, and then you are crashing onto a planet with a wounded boy that you love. The Lions are down and the monsters are out, prowling ever closer to your bloodstained, full and empty boy, so you take a deep breath and you jump a canyon, and then you do the impossible.
You pilot the Lion to save him.
(It is the first time, but it will not be the last. This boy that you love is marked by the universe and he is not yours to keep.)
(But of course, you don’t know that yet.)
This time when the intruder alarm goes off you are inside the Castle.
You are ready. (Let’s pretend you are ready.) Let’s pretend that isn’t doubt that’s festering between your ribs and choking you. Let’s pretend you don’t kick much harder than someone your size should.
There is a tall figure in purple and he tears through you like you’re nothing. He turns to Shiro, and you see two boys standing side by side and shoulder to shoulder, one bleeding and one crying.
He surrenders, but it’s too late to pretend you didn’t see his knife.
Your world crumbles. Your wrappings fall to the floor. Your knife glows like a dying star. Quick, make a wish. Quick, pray that it doesn’t mean what you think it does.
Quick, remember that you’ve never once had a prayer answered in a way that saved you grief.
There is a trial, and at the trial there are two boys. One of them is real and one of them is not. Both of them love you, but only one of them will remember that in a few minutes. Give up your knife, and watch as it hangs there in the air like that same dying star. The boy that is real smiles, his face bathed in purple light, but you don’t know if he remembers you.
(You never know if he remembers you.)
There are two boys: the smiling one that you lost and the empty one you got back. They are the same boy. (They are different boys.)
It doesn’t matter. You will not be able to keep either of them.
(But if you could-)
But you can’t, and you run towards the downed Lion with that knowledge in your chest.
( But, the voice in your head whispers, if you could? )
Your knees hit the ground, and the cockpit is empty.
( Either of them, you sob. Whichever one would stay. )
You are Keith Kogane, the Red Paladin and first defense. You are Keith Kogane, the weapon and the right hand.
Now: There is only one Lion that will have you and it’s not yours. Now: All of them have lost something but none of them have lost everything.
Now: Retreat to a hanger that isn’t yours and beg for something back that you never deserved in the first place.
(Remember: The Black Lion is the only one to have three Paladins. Two of them kill each other, so she tries to fill the absence with something Red. Does that make her greedy or does it make her lonely?)
(Does that make the first two disposable?)
Let’s say that an almost-god and a not-yet-devil are having dinner one night when the ground shakes. Let’s say they find something. (Let’s say it’s the Lions.) One of them will be the head and one the sword. One of them will betray the other, but it will not be the one you think.
(The Lions scatter, but don’t worry. You’re not getting out of this that easily. Soon (in 10,000 years) one of them will be yours and another will want to be.)
(Which one is which? Do you know? Have you ever?)
(Don’t choose yet, it’s not time.)
There are three boys: two with short hair and one with long. (They are the same boy.) (They are different boys.) The two with short hair leave you. The one with long hair comes back. He is tired but he smiles, and the Lion is silent when he collapses in your arms.
( Did you even miss him , you shout at her still form, or are all of us replaceable? )
The boy with the shortest hair lays a hand on your shoulder, but it’s the wrong one.
( Yes, the Lion says, but you don’t know which question she is answering.)
You argue with a beautiful boy and he isn’t beautiful and he’s one of three. (He’s the boy from the first crash, smiling, covered in blood.) (He’s the boy from the second crash, filled with tears and empty.) (He’s the boy that you found, silent and wrong .)
You love him. You don’t recognize him anymore. Is he the boy that you met or the boys that followed? Do you love him? Do you know him?
He’s turning away now, and something like hatred twists in your gut.
(You never wanted to hate the first boy or the second. You can’t bring yourself to hate the third. It makes sense: they are the same boy.)
(The Lion remains silent.)
(They are different boys.)
You’re out on a mission and you’re falling through space for a fourth time.
(Consider: The first three times that you fell something came for you.)
(Consider: The one that came for you isn’t yours anymore.)
You’re on a mission, and between you and your ship there is a debris field composed of all the mistakes you’ve made trying to mold yourself into something better. Now there is only one way across. Grit your teeth and raise your knife and throw yourself at the problem, because if that doesn’t work you don’t know what else would.
Remember: a desert, and a boy telling you that one day a problem will be too big for you to survive hitting.
(What did you say back to him? It doesn’t matter. The board is set and now you’re playing.)
Assume for a moment that a heart can be undecided, can be torn between doing what is expected and what is needed. Assume that when you walk into the room he will look at you like he used to look at the people that doubted him.
Question: Do you stay here knowing that you have six Paladins for five Lions and that you will always be the spare? Be the worst that Voltron has to offer? (Voltron was built on honor after all, and there is little honor to be found in a silent knife in the dark.)
Question: Do you leave knowing that without them to keep you grounded you will likely be dead within the month? (Do you think they would care?)
(Was there ever really a choice?)
When you leave you will get a hug from a boy.
Don’t think about the twinging in your chest screaming that something is wrong.
Leave the Castle. It is not a home anymore, and it does not want you. Arrive at the base, and see it as a rest stop. This is what it has always been: a liminal space to pause before continuing home. Now this is your home. Now one of the Blades hands you a blanket and pulls you down into a pile of sleeping aliens. Now they wrap around you without hesitance, and their limbs tangle like carvings around a cave, like dust around a shack, like rumors around a military academy that never wanted you anyway.
(Think about the Paladins and the chasm between you.)
Now fall asleep and dream of finding home.
Put on your armor; it is not white. Put on your armor; it is black and purple and all the things you hated when you came to space. There’s a mask that hides your face, and putting it on will feel like freedom right up until the moment that it smothers you.
This is what Paladins were made for: the spotlight, the crowds, the glory. Standing in front of a mob of victims and turning them into warriors with nothing but words.
This is what the Paladins have become: a symbol held aloft and admired, an aspiration of honor, a hope for the universe.
Consider your choices: blade over bayard, purple over blue, pack over family. You were never suited to the spotlight, even on the days you broke records as easy as breathing.
These are the things that you are suited to: a mission to steal plans for a warship, to destroy a weapon depot, to assassinate a commander.
Take assignments that soak your hands in blood for the sake of your cause. Return to the base and scrub the guilt from your skin. Watch the Paladins perform on stage, on ice, on command. Their armor is clean. Yours will never be clean again.
Ask yourself: Is there room for regret?
(You still have time to make a decision.)
There is a cannon and there is a mission, and you are the one doing the job, but you are not Keith.
You are a Blade of Marmora, faceless and efficient in the violence you unleash.
The cannon shuts down. The comms go silent. The feeling in your gut that means Shiro turns over, tugging in your chest and making you sick. Take that feeling and go . Take that feeling, and an abandoned fighter, and join the rebels attacking the shield.
Look at it this way: You are not a Paladin anymore. You are a Blade in a war where spies are dropping and bleeding and dying left and right.
Look at it this way: The planet is going to blow if you don’t take down this ship. It’s you or Voltron, and a knife is a hell of a lot easier to replace than the hope of an entire universe and a third of its freedom fighters.
(Look at it this way: You were chosen by a god’s daughter, and you’ve always known exactly how this would end.)
The red light bleeds into the cockpit like a mockery of what you were when this whole thing started, bleeds into your eyes and your brain and your memory, tinting everything with its glow and joining the Red still inside you.
Hold it in your mind when you aim for the barrier, next to the boy telling you that there are some hits you don’t survive.
(And when you miss (and you will miss) you’ll have to let him go. Like always, you’ll have to let him go.)
You are sent on a mission and told to interrupt a ceremony.
You are sent on a mission and then there is a boy, and when he is a choice you have never failed to pick it.
So, time is running out and you still have a decision to make: the boy or the bombs?
(In your head the Lion is silent and the wrong hand is on the wrong shoulder.)
(Pick the boy anyway, and watch the world explode around you.)
You are sent on an ordinary mission to retrieve an ordinary agent that knows too much about you and your knife.
She’ll tell you she’s sorry. She’ll tell you she won’t ever leave you again.
She’ll tell you she’s your mother.
Don’t dream. (You used to have dreams: a woman in purple, sitting in the shack like she never left. Your father, untouched by the fire. Shiro, unharmed and unhaunted.)
You’ve never had a mother. You’ve always had a mission. Settle into the pilot’s seat and remind yourself that you aren’t a Paladin anymore.
Settle into the pilot’s seat, and remind yourself that family has only ever gotten you hurt in the end.
You don’t dream anymore.
(You haven’t for a long, long time. That’s going to change now that one of your dreams is standing in front of you.)
(But, like other things, you don’t know that yet.)
Here are the things you see in the Abyss: Your parents coming together and your parents falling apart. Your bleeding boy, smiling and golden. Your crying boy, tall and strong. Your silent boy, possessed and driven mad.
Your silent boy and the ways he’ll betray you.
There are things you’ll ask yourself, between flashes of the future and visions of the past: Is it really him? Was it ever?
In the light of the Abyss there is a Fall and there is a Fight.
You don’t see who will win.
(For the first time in your life you don’t think you want to.)
At the center of the Abyss there’s a planet, and on that planet, there’s a girl.
There’s a girl: Her parents are gone. Her family is missing. Her village calls her a liar.
(Does this sound familiar yet?)
(You’re alone in your desert. Your mother was never real, your father is ash and smoke. Your boy is lost to stardust, and the people he believed in never believed in you. )
It’s like this: The trip out of the abyss isn’t as long as the trip in, but it’s long enough to know each other. It’s long enough that when you wrap an arm around her shoulders she leans her head against yours without hesitation.
(Remember: Before there was a boy and a bike and a desert there was a foster home. There was a little girl with bright blue eyes who looked to you with wonder and awe and a feeling you’d missed with a name you wouldn’t speak. You could have stayed and she could have kept you. You could have stayed, but you were born the patron saint of lost causes and the stars were telling you go .)
It’s like this: The trip out of the Abyss isn’t long at all, but it’s long enough to wrap an arm around her, and it’s long enough to be some kind of brother again.
Step out of the shuttle and watch them stutter to see you, stutter over your face and your height and a name they haven’t spoken in months.
To them, you haven’t been gone long at all. To you, you haven’t been Keith for much longer.
Look at Shiro: for the first time there’s a distinct space between the boys. In it is all the time you’ve spent trying to put them back together. Here’s where you lost your Golden Boy, here your Paladin, and here your Impostor. Here are all of the boys you love, stretching back in time and space to the moment you met them and before.
They are all the same boy, Shiro and Shiro and Shiro, standing in the shuttle bay and guiding you home. (They’re not the same boy at all.)
His knees hit the deck. You won’t see him again until he’s getting into a shuttle and leaving you.
( It does not matter which one you pick, says the voice that asked you to choose.)
You are Keith Kogane and the Paladin armor doesn’t fit the way it used to, because it’s been two years and you’ve grown into it.
( It does not matter. He will never stay for long. )
You are Keith. You are Red in your bones and your brain and your blood, but when you slam yourself into a Pilot seat it’s the Black Lion saying Welcome Home .
You haven’t been Keith for a long time. Does it feel good, wearing your own name again?
Follow him: there is a lonely planet and an abandoned station and a cave. Follow him: there are footsteps and a tunnel and an elevator descending down into the earth. (You were young the first time you read about Orpheus and Eurydice. So very young, and innocent, and sitting on your father’s knee you saw stars in his eyes as he remembered your mother, and you thought that it must ache to be so full of love.)
You are Keith. Close your eyes and grit your teeth and follow Shiro down into Hell the way you always knew you would. Find out if love hurts just as much as you hoped.
Follow him into down into Hell. (Oh, how you love him.) Follow him down into Hell, and when you get to the bottom he’s there, he’s waiting for you, and behind him the light shines down like a sign from the Heavens.
Here is your boy: haloed in all of his golden glory. Here is your boy: drenched in blood and called Champion.
Here is your boy: he’s waiting for you, but he isn’t, really. He’s here to welcome you home. He’s here to make you fight and to make you hurt and to make you bleed for your cause.
(You will, because you are Keith Kogane, and no matter what happens in the middle you know how this will end.)
There was a crash and then there were three boys and all of them were different. (You know each of them entirely, even better than the curve of your blade.)
There was a crash and then there were three boys and all of them were the same. (You tore yourself apart, and you did it to put them back together.)
(Surrounding you there are hundreds of boys, suspended in pods and unaware of their sleeping, dreaming, dying.)
There is one boy. He’s the only one left. He’s killed the others, he’s halfway to killing himself, and now he’s going to try to kill you.
You’re lying on your back. There’s no desert sand below you and there are no stars above. He’s bearing down on you with a sword, and you’re going to tell him you love him. Do it. Tell him. Let him sear it into your skin the way he burned it into your heart long ago.
(Time’s up. Are you ready?)
You are Keith. Your life has been defined by losses and all the things you cannot keep.
Decide: Will your boy be one of them?
You stand on a collapsing station and before you on his knees there is a boy. His eyes are not purple.
In each of your hands there is a sword. Neither of them are Red.
You are Keith Kogane reborn, and you’ve known how this was going to end since the very beginning: with a boy and a choice and the knife in your hand.
(It’s time to choose now, but it’s him. It’s Shiro, who you went to Hell for. It’s Shiro, and that means there’s only one option. That there’s only ever been one option.)
Together, the two of you fall.
Remember: Close your eyes before the light can catch you.
(You don’t see the Lion coming. You don’t turn back to look. You know better than to turn back and look.)
(Just this once Orpheus walks out of the Land of the Dead and Eurydice is right behind him.)
(But you don’t know that yet, do you?)
Wake up. The stars are out. The floor is glass. You are alone with the weapon you stole from the version of your boy you just maimed.
You scream into the void and this time it replies. In front of you stands a boy, and he glows. He’ll tell you he died. He’ll tell you he’s sorry. He’ll tell you to go home without him.
(Consider the choice you’ve just made.)
You draped yourself in red for this boy long before you knew what it was to bleed for him, back when your only reward was an empty house and a voice in the desert.
Wake up. You are in the Lion and lying next to you is the body of a boy you stole back from the stars. Is it the right boy?
(Will it matter to you if it isn’t?)
When you settle back into your bones you and the Black Lion are of one mind concerning the thing that unites you: Takashi Shirogane is going to live.
Now hit the thrusters, and let the Lion fly.
There is a battle that drags you through the planes between realities, and afterwards you will kneel on the surface of a planet and you will cradle your world in your arms.
There’s only one boy left now. He’s all of the ones that came before him and none of them at all. He’s something new. He’s starlight, and he rises from sleep like he rose from death.
He thinks that you saved him.
(Here is something to think about: A boy in military grays. He bails you out of juvie after you steal his car.)
(Here is something to think about: A boy scared of dying who’s already more than halfway there. You look him in the eyes and send him into space to chase his dream.)
You and your starlit boy have spent years saving each other, and the gasp he lets out as his eyes open sounds like a shuttle landing, sounds like a Lion roaring, sounds like a deep breath into the lungs that fixes your sorrows.
(You are not Orpheus and Eurydice. You are Keith and Shiro. Death was never going to stop you anyway.)
Wake up. You’re stranded on a planet with five Lions and no Castle and a trip through space that’s going to take too long.
There’s a choice. Load up your Lions and send off your Paladins. Pull Shiro back from the brink of death and get off this planet so you can do your job.
(Find out that you’ve been missing for three years.)
Think about time, starting with 10,000 year long naps and ending with 2 year long missions.
(Don’t think about Shiro and his body’s expiration date, now long past.)
Think about miracles, shaped like ships and Lions.
(Now stop thinking and go do your fucking job.)
You’re traveling through space with your mother and you’re alone, two Blades among Paladins and the one knife between you.
There is a signal. (You’re traveling through an Abyss with a wolf and your mother, and you haven’t told her that you love her, but you love her.)
There are ruins. (You have a mother, and that’s as alien to you as she is.)
There is a druid. (There’s a flash, and a memory, and then you’re on the back of a Space Whale and the woman that gave you life asks you how you aren’t dead.)
There’s a druid that you can’t see and a man that hasn’t seen you for three years. Close your eyes and watch them through the purple haze. You’ve never fought a druid. (You’ve fought this druid exactly, years ago during a mission that shouldn’t have happened.)
He’s ranting. He’s fighting. He’s blaming you for the way he was abandoned.
He tells you about a Witch: Her name is Honerva or Haggar depending what day it is, and you are the reason she’s left him. You are her greatest success and her crowning failure.
She is a Witch, and the reason you’re a Paladin.
You are a Paladin, and the reason she’s lost her son.
(You’re the reason she remembers her son.)
You are Keith, son of Krolia, and it’s not in your blood or your nature to leave a fight un-won, and the druid learns that at the end of your Blade.
(Your mother will leave again, and this time she will take her knife.)
(Lotor is dead, but if he wasn’t he’d be laughing. He was always a fan of irony.)
Things are going well. (Pretend things are going well.) No one is dying. The piece of you that is Keith Kogane is not falling apart.
You are not allowed to fall apart.
Think: The worst is behind you. Now wake up. You’re dreaming and you’re wrong.
You’re just tired. (Pretend you’re just tired.)
Wake up. Don’t sleep, don’t let go. Don’t let yourself drift away from the others.
You drifted away from them years ago, and they never asked for you back.
( Do you remember that? The voice is back, and the endless void of space just makes it louder. Do you remember how they never asked for you back? )
Don’t worry, a god’s daughter will remind you of all the ways that you’ve failed. Don’t worry, someone else is here to fix your mistakes. Don’t worry, it will all be over soon anyway.
In the end, you will apologize for what you said. They will not.
Take that knowledge, and pull it inside yourself like a blessing and a curse.
Step out of your ship and onto the Earth for the first time in years. You are Keith, but you are not the same Keith that left.
(Question: How many versions of Shiro have you met? Answer: One for each Keith that’s lived and died and been born again.)
(Question: How much can you change before you’re someone else? Answer: The Shiro and Keith that left the Garrison both died before they came back to the place that forgot them.)
(But they still came back ...eventually.)
The Garrison will drag you in and the Garrison will drag you down. Its people’s gazes will stick to your skin and your scar. Tip up your chin and wear it proudly. Tip up your chin and ignore the whispers.
You’re not the only one on this planet that’s lost something to this war, but you are the only one here that was born of it. There is more power in that than you know.
(The others stir and twitter when his arm falls across your shoulders. Sink back into it, and smell the stars and void on his skin.)
Now stand up to Griffin, and do your fucking job.
When it’s time to go they will force him to lead them. Don’t be surprised when he does the impossible.
(Don’t be surprised when he does it for you.)
This is what you do during the final battle: blow up a ship and save a boy and drive your sword through the monster that’s been hunting him.
Send him back to his command and don’t worry about him. Your boy will not die. Your boy will come back from the dead for you.
(These do not mean the same thing.) (These are not mutually exclusive.) (These are things that have happened before.)
This is what you’ll remember from the final battle: Voltron and a robeast and the aching pain of being at the heart of a weapon that drains your life. Hurtling into space with a bomb in your hands and the world on your shoulders.
You won’t remember falling.
(Your boy? Won’t be able to forget.)
(But you knew that already, didn’t you? You’ve known that since the very beginning.)
Wake up. Fall back into your body to the sound of a voice that you know better than you know your own.
He’s talking about hope, and mourning, and all the things you’ve given up to have this. He’s talking about the stars and the Earth and all the things you would have died to protect that you get to live for now. He’s talking, and you lay in your hospital bed and wait because as soon as he’s done he’ll be back here with you and everything will be alright again.
You’ve bled for endings happier than this, but that doesn’t matter. Now you are ready. Now you get to take the starlight festering within you, and you get to let it go.
There are the Lions in the back of your mind and the Atlas below your feet and the hand entwined in yours.
(There is only one boy now, the boy that will stay forever.)
You are Keith Kogane, and you’ve known how this was going to end since you fell from that station: with a Lion and a ship and a boy at your side, guiding you home to the stars.