Chapter 1: Take me to your leader
Keith can’t breathe. Or at least he feels like he can’t with the amount of ash and dust he’s breathing in as he sprints around the laser gunfire being shot at him. He’s trying to keep a lid on his panic but it’s hard when neon bullets of light are whipping past his head and he can’t see the rest of the team. He thinks he left Pidge and Shiro in the hangar but it’s been too long since he’s laid eyes on them.
Something explodes off to his left and it throws him off balance, knocking him to his knees and sending a hot rush of air at him. A little closer and he would have been burnt to a crisp. Broken branches and remains of trees lay scattered around him. He ignores the ache in his lungs and gets to his feet, the dirt from the planet’s forest floor sticking to the sweat on his face.
He can hear the Galra approaching from somewhere behind him, too close for comfort. He wills himself to just keep moving. They need to form Voltron. They have to. He still can’t find any of his friends and the thought of Hunk and Lance laying somewhere bloody and disturbingly still intrudes into his mind.
The panic is rising and he thinks he might cry, if he wasn’t so dehydrated. He’s breathing too quickly and the image of his friends’ lifeless bodies flashes like a beacon everytime he closes his eyes. He thinks he might pass out. He has to stop running. Keith comes to a wobbly stop and hunches over, hands on his knees. Sweat is running into his eyes, making them burn.
They’re okay, they’re okay, they’re okay
He repeats it to himself like a mantra, as if he can make it so by repeating it enough times.
“Keith! Where are you?,” Pidge’s far off voice calls from deep within the forest. She sounds scared and oh so young.
“Pidge!” He yells back, sprinting in the direction of her voice. Thin branches and vines whip at his face as he runs, tiny scratches left behind in their wake.
He comes to a stop, listening.
“Pidge! I’m here!” Keith screams back, desperate for any sign of the green paladin.
For a moment, it’s only tense silence. The devestation of the alien planet’s forest can be heard distantly behind him, a reminder that a battle is still being waged. He can’t see a thing, the trees are tall and thick, much bigger than any on earth, and the leaves create a canopy over head that blocks out much of the light.
The awful sound of Lance’s blood curdling scream comes from the same direction he’d heard Pidge’s voice. He doesn’t think, he just runs. He uses the last of his energy and adrenaline sprinting toward the sound of his team mates in danger. He’s suddenly thrust into a clearing covered in debris from Galra warships. There’s smoke billowing into the sky and the remains of the imposing purple and grey machinery lay haphazard in the grass. His eyes dart around, searching for a familiar mop of brown hair. He spots a blue and white helmet amongst the wreckage and he’s there in an instant.
Lance’s still body is leaning against the wreckage. All Keith can do is stand there and stare. He feels like he’s going to be sick.
No no no no NO NO NO
BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP
Keith chokes on a gasp as he flings himself upright in bed. His alarm is still blaring, loud and annoying behind him as he tries to catch his breath. He brings a hand up to his face, covering his eyes. He can still see Lance’s lifeless body, much more real than any dream should have a right to be.
He reaches his hand out to quiet his morning alarm, still unsure on how to work it and finally hits the right button that turns the noise off. He removes the hand from his eyes and is unsurprised to find he’s been crying in his sleep. It happens more often than not lately. His throat hurts and he wonders if he’s been screaming in his sleep too. He hopes not, that would be embarrassing.
He’s been having nightmares most nights for a while now. He doesn’t know how to make them stop and it’s taking a heavy toll on him. He’s exhausted down to his bones. He knows Shiro has nightmares sometimes about his time in captivity. He’s considered going to Shiro before, but the thought of adding any more stress and worry to Shiro’s already long list of things to stress and worry about has put that idea out of his mind.
Keith sighs and stands from his bed. No use in worrying about his dreams while he’s awake.
It’s easier said than done. As he starts his usual morning routine of getting dressed and brushing his teeth, the image of Lance’s dulled eyes keeps making its unwelcome appearance at the forefront of his mind. He’s almost relieved when he bumps into the leading man of his nightmares in the hall.
“Mornin’,” Lance gives him a little wave as he passes by Keith, still obviously mostly asleep despite being dressed and ready for the day. He’s carrying a cup that smells suspiciously like coffee and has the sleeves of his green jacket pulled over his hands, making sweater paws out of it.
Keith doesn’t even give a reply he’s so distracted by the sense of relief that floods him at the sight of Lance being normal and mundane on a weekday morning.
“Okay, good talk.” Lance says drily, giving Keith a look that screams ‘why are you staring at me like a freak’.
“Morning.” Keith mumbles to Lance’s back as he walks away, feeling awkward about his behavior.
Oh well, it’s not like Lance doesn’t already consider him some kind of freak. With a inward shrug and newfound sense of peace, Keith continues on with the rest of his day.
He doesn’t think about his nightmare again until after lunch.
“I swear to God Pidge, if you don’t give me that back I will sacrifice you to the space gods!” Lance is saying heatedly, almost missing the jump over the coffee table he has to do in order to maintain his pursuit after Pidge.
“Pretty sure that’s not a thing!” Pidge yells over her shoulder, sprinting for the exit Keith is currently occupying.
Keith has seen enough weirdness from these two in his life to know he just needs to get out of the way. He takes a few steps into the room and watches the show unfold, trying to understand what the hell is happening. He had just wanted a moment of peace and relaxation before hitting the training deck. He should have known these two would be in the lounge.
Pidge changes her path from the exit to make a beeline toward Keith. Before he can move, Pidge maneuovers her way behind him as if Keith is going to be willing to act as a human shield against Lance. Lance comes to a stop in front of Keith, trying to peer over his shoulder at Pidge with an angry face that he can’t quite hold, obviously trying not to laugh.
“Pidge, come on man, that’s the only one left! It’s my turn to have the last one!” Lance whines, making grabby hands at the object Pidge is currently crushing by gluing herself to Keith’s back.
Patience quickly running thin, Keith turns around to see what the gremlin has in her hands and heaves a sigh. In her hand, Pidge has what is left of a very sad, very crushed cookie left over from a batch Hunk made the day before. Typical.
He’s saved from having to watch the rest of the circus unfold by Allura’s clear voice over the intercom.
“Paladins, we need you in the control room.” The static cuts out.
Keith can’t help but feel a sense of foreboding. He stomps it down and follows the other Paladins out of the room.
They run into Hunk as they enter the control room, and Keith sees Lance give him a little wave out of the corner of his eye. Shiro looks up from where he’s standing next to Coran and Allura at the sound of the door sliding shut behind them. Nothing seems to be out of order, there’s no ships to be seen out of the main glass window and it’s eerily calm. The only thing that gives away the tension in the room is the way that Coran and Allura are whispering to each other and the tense set of Shiro’s mouth. It’s strangely silent. Keith’s stomach drops.
Allura looks up from her discussion with Coran, as if just now noticing the newcomers in the room. Shiro looks down at his feet when Keith makes eye contact with him. Huh.
“Paladins,” Allura begins, "Thank you for your haste. I suppose the best course of action would be to just come right out and say it.”
Allura looks from Coran to Shiro before heaving a sigh.
“We need to temporarily split up the team.”
Instantly, there are opinions about that.
“What?! That’s a terrible idea! How are we supposed to form Voltron like that?” Pidge gets in before anyone else.
“Yeah, and, I don’t know about you guys but I definitely feel better when we can form a giant robot. Just saying.” Hunk says in agreement.
Silently, Keith agrees.
“Now hold on a minute,” Shiro cuts in calmly in his no nonsense Dad voice, “You haven’t heard us out yet. We know it’s not the ideal situation but we think it’s necessary.”
Not the ideal situation? Keith huffs. They’re new at this. They’ve only split the team up once or twice. Plus, Hunk and Pidge are right. They all have to be together to form Voltron.
Not to mention everyone was split up in the dream.
He ignores the reminder and tries to get ahold of his patience so he can hear Shiro out. He deserves at least that much.
Shiro starts again when no one looks like they’re going to interrupt. “We just got word that the Galra are planning on attacking these two planets.” Coran pulls up a holographic map with two small spinning planets on it and Shiro directs their focus to it.
“These are the planets of Avira and Adrik. As you can see, they’re pretty close in size and shape but also in distance. We’ve detected a distress call coming from Avira that warns of the Galra’s plans to attack both planets. Now normally this wouldn’t be an issue, but while close together in terms of space, they’re still too far apart for us to form Voltron.”
Shiro pauses, scrubbing a hand over his face.
“We have to split the team up and allocate lions to each planet to defend against the Galra. If we stay together to form Voltron then that means that one planet is left defenseless and vulnerable to the Galra. Sorry guys, there’s no other way around it.”
There’s a moment of quiet while everyone thinks it over. They know Shiro’s right but it still sucks. Keith wishes they had another way. The idea of them all being separated makes him anxious.
“Well how are we going to split up?” Lance pipes up, breaking his uncharacteristic silence on the matter, “I’m not going with Keith.”
Keith rolls his eyes, trying to ignore how much that actually stung.
Since when do I care whether Lance wants to be on the same team?
Keith ignores the thought. He also ignores the look Shiro gives him. He must just be feeling antsy from the nightmare.
“You are, actually,” Allura replies, ready to argue it, “You and Keith are going to Avira while Hunk, Pidge, and Shiro are going to Adrik. We leave first thing in the morning, So I recommend going to sleep early tonight.”
For once in his life, Lance just doesn’t say anything.
Probably doesn’t want to make Allura angry.
After that, everyone slowly trickles out of the control room to go their own separate ways.
“Keith, hold on a minute.” Shiro calls. Keith walks over to where Shiro is Leaning on the main control board. Lance gives him a look as he walks out of the room. Everyone has gone but them and Keith tries not to be intimidated by it.
“Yeah?” Keith starts, unsure of what Shiro wants.
Shiro fumbles for a second, like he doesn’t know how to ask what he wants to ask.
“Are you okay? I…I heard you this morning.” Shiro looks at him with sympathy and understanding, like always.
Keith tries not to look like a deer in the headlights. “Yeah. Yeah, I’m great. I just…had a nightmare last night. It’s fine though.”
Shiro looks at him. Keith knows he knows it’s been going on for a while, can see it in the determined set of his shoulders. He wonders how long Shiro has been debating bringing this up.
“Ok, I thought I’d ask. You can talk to me, always.” Shiro reminds him. And Keith knows that, he really does. Shiro is like a brother to him and would listen to Keith no matter what.
“Or Lance. I’m sure he’d listen.” Shiro drops the bombshell on Keith.
“Uh, what?” Keith asks eloquently.
Now it’s Shiro’s turn to look uncomfortable. “You were screaming his name last night.”
Keith can feel the warmth flooding his cheeks, both from the connotation of the sentence and the reality. Keith was a private person, liked to deal with his pain and struggles by himself most of the time. It was embarrassing as well that it had to be Lance of all people. Lance.
“I’ll keep that in mind.” Keith says, voice insinuating he wouldn’t be asking Lance to listen to anything any time soon.
Shiro sighs, relenting. “Okay. As long as you’re sure. I think this mission will be good for you guys.” Shiro claps him on the shoulder, “I better go finish going over everything with Allura.” He left Keith standing in the middle of the control room.
That night laying in bed, Keiths stares up at the ceiling, Shiro’s words on repeat in his mind.
I just think that this mission will be good for you guys.
As promised, the next day the paladins depart on their separate missions. It’s a somewhat somber affair, with lots of standing around and prolonging the inevitable.
It’s not like I’ll never see them again. It’s just for this mission.
Voltron is such a large part of who they are now. Nightmares or no nightmares, Keith can’t help but feel wrong about them splitting up like this.
In the end, It’s Lance that makes the first move towards getting in his lion.
“You guys can stand around some more, mourning how you won’t see my face for the entire length of this mission if you want to. I’ll understand.” Lance smirks, climbing into Blue.
“Mourning? I think you meant appreciating.” Pidge says as she gets into her own, because she can’t not.
Hunk just shakes his head and starts getting in his lion after a small wave in Lance and Keith’s direction. “Good luck you guys.”
Then it’s just Shiro and Keith.
“You look like you haven’t slept at all.” Shiro says bluntly, crossing his arms in front of him as he gives Keith a concerned look.
“I could say the same thing to you.” And it’s true. Keith knows Shiro stays up late coming up with battle plans and whatever else with Allura and Coran. It’s a cowardly move, directing the attention back on Shiro but Keith doesn’t have the energy to talk about this again.
“Just remember what I said before. Be careful.” Shiro pulls him in for a brief hug.
“You too.” Keith says, trying to convey how much he means it. He’s always afraid to say goodbye to Shiro, the Kerberos mission too large of a scar.
“Come on Mr. Grumpy Pants, get in your lion, we have a planet to defend!” Lance says over their comm, tiny voice coming from the helmet in Keith’s hand, and he tries not to smile as he does what he’s told.
What a dork.
It’s a forty five minute flight. It’s spent mostly in silence, for which Keith is grateful. His lack of sleep paired with his worry over the mission means that his patience is even thinner than usual. He pilots the Red Lion silently, the quiet hum of machinery calms him as he watches out the window. He can see the Blue lion off to his right. Lance hasn’t said anything over the comms, which is kind of weird. Lance has a fondness for goading Keith into racing or belting out Shakira just to annoy him. He almost wants to break the silence himself, just to check on Lance. He decides against it, figuring he’ll just appreciate this one moment of peace.
Finally, Avira comes into view and they start the landing process. It’s an incredibly dry planet, and Keith has a horrible moment where he thinks it looks exactly like his little shack in the desert before he dismisses the thought. Never again. Besides, it’s obviously nothing like an Earth desert. For starters, the sand is a very light green color and there are tropical looking trees dotted throughout the landscape. It’s not a very flat planet either, with what looks like mountains in the distance.
As they get closer, Lance breaks his radio silence to comment on the architecture.
“Their houses look like tents.”
Keith thinks that tents isn’t quite right. Their buildings are all varying sizes and shapes, but they have fabric roofing, like tents you would find at a farmers market, so maybe Lance is on to something. They also appear to be stacked on top of one another, with ladders leading to the upper buildings. Keith has no idea how the buildings don’t collapse in on each other when the wind blows, it looks so delicately put together despite being made of stone.
The weird part is that Keith has yet to see anyone who would live in these buildings.
“Do you see anybody?” Keith asks, Red hovering in the air.
“No, let’s land and we’ll see if they break out the parade for us.”
They find a relatively open spot to touch down just a short walking distance away from the buildings. Keith climbs out of his lion and takes his helmet off after his suit tells him there’s enough oxygen to breathe and no toxins in the air. He takes a moment to look around the eerily quiet landscape. It puts him on edge.
“So, no parade then?” Lance asks as he wanders over, stretching.
They start walking catiously toward what appears to be the main portion of the little village. Keith has a hand on his bayard, should he need it. Lance rolls his eyes when he sees him.
“Hello? Is anyone there?” Lance calls, peering into windows.
“Be quiet! You don’t know what’s waiting for us.” Keith hisses, coming up to Lance’s side to pull him away from the side of the building. Lance pulls his arm from Keith’s grip but takes a step back.
“Sheesh, I was just trying to see if anyone was actually here or not.” Lance raises the hand not holding his helmet up in surrender.
Keith ignores the little flash of guilt from his overreaction and turns away from Lance to survery the buildings behind them. He sees one that looks to be selling clothing items and shoes, the thin fabric folded neatly on the stand out front.
“Just…be careful. You don’t know if the Avirans are the only ones here or not.” Keith turns back to Lance.
Lance looks at Keith for a moment, tilting his head. It makes Keith uncomfortable, unsure of what Lance is even looking at.
It’s a simple answer, and Keith doesn’t know what to do with it. He doesn’t get the chance to think about it further. Suddenly, there’s movement as a tall figure with what looks to be too many arms runs across the square. Keith’s relieved when it bares no resemblance to the Galra.
“Wait! We’re the paladins of Voltron. We’re here to help you.” Keith takes a quick step in its direction.
The figure stops and turns to look at them and Keith gets a better look. The figure looks male, with wide shoulders and intricate pastel clothing that only covers from the waist down. Also he, Keith is assuming he, has four arms.
“You are the paladins of Voltron?” The accent is easy on the ears, very smooth.
“Yes, we’re answering your distress call. Can you point me in the direction of your leader?” Keith suddenly has flashes of cheesy alien TV shows where a little green man says ‘Take me to your leader!’.
Lance snorts and Keith thinks he must have had the same thought. He tries not to smile.
The alien seems to be considering them closely. Eventually, he raises one of his four arms and beckons them to follow him. “This way.”
Keith makes eye contact with Lance, who just shrugs and turns to follow.
The alien leads them through the village to a more secluded section of buildings that are much larger than the ones they first saw upon arrival. Now that they’re up close, Keith can see how all of the buildings have glass molded into them. It makes them shine as the light passes through.
“What’s your name?” Lance asks, sliding up next to their guide.
“Rhaegar. What is yours?” The alien, Rhaegar, turns to look at Lance. Well, down at Lance. The Avirans are very tall.
“I’m Lance. That guy with the angry face is Keith. Where is everyone else?” Lance asks, admiring the buildings as they pass.
I don’t look that angry, Keith thinks self-consciously. He dismisses the thought. It’s not like he cares what Lance thinks he looks like.
“They are in hiding. We do not know when the Galra will attack and we did not know if Voltron would appear. They will most likely come out now that the brave paladins are here.” Rhaegar says somewhat flirtatiously, Keith notes, inexplicably annoyed.
Great, just what we need, more aliens to flirt with Lance.
The exhaustion is creeping up on Keith. He has a headache.
“Are we almost to who’s in charge?” Keith breaks in.
Lance shoots him a weird look he can’t decipher.
“Yes, that building there is where our queen resides. She was dearly hoping Voltron would come.”
The rest of the walk into the palace is made in silence. The ‘building’ ends up being more like a castle. It’s much taller than the other buildings and is more brightly colored though still pastel. He wonders how they got the buildings to be colored that way without paint.
Rhaegar leads them into the palace and down a long hall where several other villagers give them appraising looks as they pass. Keith spends the entire walk baffled by the lack of security at the entrance. They just strolled right in. His unease is interrupted by their arrival at the throne room. The large heavy doors are opened by guareds in tight fitted silver armor.
“My queen, I present the paladins of Voltron.” Rhaegar announces respectfully, bowing low.
Keith and Lance just stand there, unsure of the protocol but earnest none the less.
The queen stands from her throne and makes her way down the few steps toward them. She gives them both long looks. Keith already doesn’t like her. She’s dressed ornately, with a long flowing pink dress that matches the pastel theme of the buildings and the sand. Her hair is piled on her head without strand out of place. She’s frowning, shoulders held high. She smiles slowly.
“My, aren’t you handsome.”
What is with the aliens on this planet.
Before Keith can interrupt with a comment about how they’re here for a very important mission, Lance is answering in his usual manner.
“Thank you, your highness, but I could not possibly be as attractive as you.”
Keith rolls his eyes. Gag.
The queen turns to Keith and frowns.
“You, not so much.”
“Hey, I don’t—” Lance starts. Keith cuts him off.
“Your highness, we are the paladins of Voltron. We’re here to help.” Keith says drily, the queen’s comment hurting more than he would like. Whatever, they were here to do a job and leave. The queen’s lack of urgency toward their response to the distress call irritates him. They split the team up for this.
The queen resumes a more authoritative air.
“Ah yes. Thank you for coming to our aid, we are very grateful. We do not know when the Galra will attack but we have intel that it could be within the next couple of weeks.”
Weeks? I’m never making it back to the ship.
“For now, we just ask that you help prepare our people for the coming fight and remain on call for when the day arrives. Until then, we will show you to your room. Rhaegar, if you will.” The queen dismissed them.
Wait, room? Singular?
Lance and Keith follow Rhaegar out of the room. Keith’s still trying to wrap his mind around what the queen just said. She did say room, singular, right? That’s bad. Keith has nightmares every night. He can’t share a room with Lance. Especially not when the nightmares are about Lance.
Rhaegar leads them down a long hallway, it’s stone walls decorated with various paintings and tapestries that Keith thinks doesn’t quite match the pastel theme. His attempt at distracting himself gets thrown out the window when they arrive at a solid wooden door.
Rhaegar gives a little bow and then walks away, pastel clothing swishing as he goes.
Keith and Lance share a somewhat strained look.
Keith turns the knob on their room, yup, singular, and tries not to have a heart attack.
There’s only one bed.
It’s large and comfortable looking, with incredibly soft white blankets piled on it. It’s hard to miss as it rests against the wall opposite the door.
Keith takes another step into the room so that they’re not just awkwardly hanging out in the hallway. He tries to get a lid on his panic. He definitely cannot share this room with Lance. If he goes to sleep, he will have nightmares. If he has nightmares, he will cry and scream in his sleep and Lance does not need to know anything about that. That is a conversation he does not want to have.
He slowly walks around the bed, examining the other parts of the room as he goes. There’s a dresser against the wall to the left of the bed and small table in the corner with some books stacked on it. Keith comes across another door at the right of the room and opens it. It’s the bathroom, which is much larger than he thought it would be, almost the size of the bedroom and elegantly furnished with different types of soap on a shelf near the tub.
Lance is going to have a field day with that.
“Hey look at this! This is what I’m talking about.” He hears Lance call from the bedroom. Keith puts down the bottle of soap he was examining and leans against the bathroom doorframe to see what Lance is talking about.
He’s holding an intricate glass decanter with a dark amber liquid inside of it in one hand and two matching glasses in the other.
“Don’t break that. The last thing we need is to have to owe these people a bunch of money.” Keith says in response, folding his arms over his chest.
Lance fakes like he’s going to drop it, the alcohol sloshing in the container, but puts it back on top of the dresser when Keith gives him a look. Keith’s eyes return to the bed. It’s hard not to, it’s so big. That situation can wait until later though. He needs time to come up with a plan.
Keith walks across the room and pulls out one of the chairs at the table and sits down.
“I can’t believe they didn’t have a plan for when we got here. They want us to just remain on call? We could be helping other people right now.” Keith gripes, resting his chin on his hand. The unorganization of helping alien societies is actually pretty common, but Keith needs to think about something other than the bed.
Lance plops down on the bed, splaying out like a starfish with his feet hanging over the side. “They don’t know when they’re going to be attacked. It’s not like they have a whole lot of options.”
Keith knows this, he’s just feeling tense. He guesses that Lance can sense his uneasiness because he stands up and comes to sit with Keith at the table.
“I’m telling you man, we could drink the alcohol. Space alcohol. It could be fun.” Lance pokes him in the ribs.
Keith thinks about all of the things that could go wrong with that scenario, rubbing his side.
Lance wilts a little. “You’re no fun.”
Keith shrugs in lack of answer. He isn’t fun, he’s known that for a while now.
There’s a knock at the door that startles them both. Lance slides out of his seat to go answer it, probably eager to get away from Keith’s moodiness. Keith tilts his head to see who it is.
“I have brought clothing.” Rhaegar says in greeting, holding up a small pile of fabric.
Keith supposes that if they’re going to be here for several weeks that they’re going to have to change at some point. Rhaegar hands Lance the folded clothing and Keith gets up to take them from him, setting them on the dresser before joining him back at the door.
“Also," Rhaegar continues, “The queen requests your presence tonight in the grand hall for dinner. Please wear what you have been given. A guard will send for you. That is all.”
They close the door as Rhaegar walks away. Great, dinner with the queen. Just what they need.
Keith goes to investigate the clothing situation. He’s been given enough clothing by alien communities by now to know that there’s an incredibly loose definition for ‘clothing’ in space.
He lifts the top red piece off of the pile to find a matching blue one underneath. At least they’re not stuck wondering whose is whose. He hands Lance his, and starts to unfold his own. He’s relieved to find that there is a shirt component and that he won’t be naked from the waist up like Rhaegar. It’s a simple design with a sleeveless top made out of a nearly sheer material the color of red wine and a neckline that’s probably lower than Keith would like. The pants are a soft grey and look to be fitted in order to work with the loose flow of the top.
It could be worse.
He looks up from his spot at the dresser to find that Lance has already put his on while Keith was figuring his out. He looks nice. Attractive, even. They’ve dressed Lance somewhat similarly to Keith in terms of material and the pants situation, but the back of Lance’s shirt is only connected at the top and allows the back of his shirt to hang open, revealing the long expanse of his back. It’s a deep royal blue, sheer like Keith’s. Lance hasn’t looked up from the knick knack he’s investigating that he swiped from on top of the table.
“I’m, uh, going to go put this on.” He says lamely, holding his pile up before making the quick walk to the bathroom. He spares another glance at Lance as he passes, who’s giving him a questioning look. He shuts the door behind him with a quiet click.
He feels hot, nervous almost, and he doesn’t know why. He takes a breath and looks at himself in the mirror.
Get a grip. It’s just another mission.
Keith changes as quick as he can, feeling unlike himself in the foreign clothing. He feels put on display and too dressed up. He misses his jeans and simple black shirt.
When he re-enters the bedroom, Lance has his shoes on again. They don’t really go with his newly gained outfit, but he supposes there’s not a lot to be done about that.
“I’m going to go explore the castle. See if I can talk to some of the locals.” Lance explains, one hand on the doorknob. His gaze flicks over Keith briefly before he looks away again. Keith resists the urge to cross his arms.
“I’m going to call Shiro and update him on the mission.” Keith replies, pulling his own shoes on. It’ll be a little bit of a walk back to his lion, but he could use the fresh air.
Lance shrugs. “Suit yourself.”
Keith ends up leaving right behind him, closing the door on an empty room. Lance turns one way down the hall and Keith the other, shoes loud on the stone floor. He looks over his shoulder once to make sure Lance is still there. He is, shirt billowing behind him as he goes. Satisfied Lance won’t get into trouble, Keith heads for the Red Lion.
It’s satisfying, climbing into his lion. He can feel how she missed him and it makes him feel at home.
“Hey, Red.” He greets quietly, moving to sit in the captain’s chair.
He pulls up the visual on the comms and connects to Shiro. It holds an empty display as it alerts Shiro that someone is trying to join his comm, and it suddenly occurs to Keith that Shiro is probably busy right now. Just when he goes to turn it off, Shiro’s face appears in the display.
“Hey, how’s it going?” Shiro’s warm voice echo’s inside of the cabin.
Keith frowns. “They said we could be here for weeks.”
“Most missions aren’t done in one day.” Shiro reminds him.
Keith swivels back and forth in his chair, propping his feet up on the controls. “I know, it’s still annoying though.”
It’s quiet for a second, the static of the comm system filling the air as Shiro considers him. It makes Keith squirm.
“What?” Keith finally asks, exasperated.
“This is about Lance, isn’t it?” Shiro asks knowingly.
Keith flounders, mouth opening and closing. “What? What, no. No. It’s not about Lance.”
“Mmhm.” Shiro tilts his head at him. Damn him.
“Okay, maybe it’s a little about Lance.” Keith relents, crossing his arms.
Shiro smiles at him. Keith would hate it if he didn’t know Shiro was just trying to listen. Shiro waits quietly while Keith gathers his thoughts.
“We have to share a room.” Keith says in explanation.
“Oh.” Shiro gets it, Keith can hear it in the tone of his voice.
“Yeah.” Keith winces at how disheartened his own voice sounds.
“You could always talk to him about it. The nightmares I mean.” Shiro prompts gently.
Keith knows. They’ve already had this conversation. He’s just trying to prolong the inevitable. He just doesn’t know how Lance will react. Keith knows he won’t be mean about it, Lance isn’t that much of a dick, but Keith hates the thought of making it awkward between them when they’ve only just recently found some even ground. Keith must have been silent for too long because Shiro breaks the silence again.
“Keith, he trusts you,” Shiro’s voice is calm and encouraging, “he does. I think you trust him too. Just try it and see what happens.”
He hates it when Shiro is right. Which is always.
“Fine.” Keith admits defeat.
“So no other news about the Galra?” Shiro asks, changing the topic. Keith is grateful.
He sighs. “No. None. The Avirans have hidden their people in preparation, and they want us to train them for battle. That’s not what we signed up for Shiro, and I don’t know if we can train that many people in such a short amount of time.”
Shiro cocks his head. “It’s a similar situation here. The people seem unprepared for attack despite sending the distress signal. It’s odd. I suppose for now the best we can do is try our best to get them ready.”
Keith nods. They don’t really have any other options.
“Will do. You guys doing okay out there?” Keith asks. He tries to sound uninterested, but he’s been worrying about his teammates since they left. As much as they annoy him, they’re his family.
Shiro must be able to hear it in his voice. “They’re fine. Pidge has been working with the people on their coding skills and Hunk is having a great time raiding the castle kitchen.”
Keith smiles. “I’m glad it’s going okay.”
“Same for you. I’ll talk to you later. Remember what I said about Lance.” Shiro waves goodbye and clicks out of the comm before he can respond, Keith’s display going dark.
He sits awhile longer in his lion, appreciating the quiet and familiarity.
I think you trust him too.
Fifteen minutes later, Keith is walking back into their shared room. Lance is there at the table, reading a book. It throws Keith completely for a loop, it’s so unexpected. Lance looks up at the sound of the door closing and puts the book down. He doesn’t say anything.
“I didn’t know you could read.” Keith breaks the awkward moment.
Lance throws the book at him, the soft cover bouncing off Keith’s torso. “Asshole, I can too. Well, not this one. It’s not in English. Or Spanish. I just wanted to see what their language looks like.”
There’s another knock at the door.
What do I have to do to be left alone?
Keith turns back around and takes the few steps toward the door, pulling it open despite having just shut it. It’s a castle guard.
Probably one of the only two I saw.
“Please follow me.” Is all the guard says, stepping to the side to make room for them to exit.
Keith turns and looks at Lance who grins back at him.
“Well, this should be fun.”
The two follow the guard past several rooms and past the entrance they entered the castle by, so Keith guesses they’re heading toward the other end of the building. They stop in front of an open room large enough to hold the long table in the middle, piled high with food. The queen stands from where she is sat at the head of the table and all of the guests rise with her.
“My honored guests, please join me in welcoming these two paladins of Voltron, without whom our planet would stand no chance against the Galra.”
The room erupts into polite applause as Keith and Lance are led to their seats. Keith ends up directly to the queen’s right and Lance to her left. Everyone sits again as the applause dies down and the guests dig into the food.
Keith takes a moment to take in the room. The queen is dressed as elegantly as she was earlier that day. She’s changed into a deep purple evening gown that reaches the floor, what must be diamonds sparkling along the neckline. It’s a beautiful gown, but it seems out of place with the pastel blues and greens the guests are wearing. He supposes that if you’re the queen you can wear whatever you want.
The table itself is impossibly long, ten feet or more, and made from wood. It’s solid and sturdy. The plates and silverware are all silver etched with an intricate flower pattern. There’s several platters with all kinds of food, some he knows and some he doesn’t, piled so high it’s almost off putting. It’s extravagant and a tad wasteful. Keith thinks of his little shack in the desert with his cans of tomato soup and feels a little disgusted.
“I’m sure you must have many stories of your time as members of Voltron. I would be delighted to hear of them.”
Keith’s attention is brought back into focus by the queen’s request. She’s leaning forward in her seat, eyes on Lance.
“Uh, yeah. For sure,” Lance’s eyes flick between the queen and Keith, “one time I met some mermaids. That was pretty cool.”
For all the time Lance spends flirting, Keith thinks he seems pretty uncomfortable with the current situation. It’s unlike him and Keith starts to wonder if he’s feeling okay.
“Keith has some good stories too.” Lance adds on.
Keith eyes move from the queen to Lance, looking at him in question. Since when does Lance think any of his stories are interesting? Keith looks back at him with his own questioning look. Lance kicks him underneath the table.
“I almost got killed one time by our own ship. One of the training robots went rogue.” Keith pulls something off of the top of his head. It certainly was a memorable experience. He tilts his head at Lance in question. Lance barely shakes his head. Don’t get him wrong, it’s nice of Lance to include him in the conversation, but this isn’t like him at all.
Either the queen doesn’t see their back and forth, or she doesn’t care.
“Mermaids? How incredible,” The queen doesn’t spare Keith a glance, “I’m sure they were grateful for your help.”
“I guess.” Lance replies politely.
“Speaking of help,” Keith interrupts, “I was wondering if you could tell us more about how you would like us to train your people.”
Keith really does want to know more, but he speaks more out of a desire to get the panicked look out of Lance’s eyes. It reminds him too much of the way Lance’s voice sounds in his nightmares. Also, it stirs something protective in Keith when Lance gets uncomfortable. He doesn’t know why, it just does. He doesn’t dwell on it.
Finally, with what appears to be great difficulty, the queen moves her eyes from Lance to Keith. The smile drops off of her face and she gives him a polite upturn of her lips.
“We know the Galra are coming. We would like you both to train our people in hand to hand combat and whatever else you deem suitable. Did I answer your question?” The queen intones, sugary sweet.
“I guess,” Keith’s annoyed by her obvious pretentious behavior, “I would also like to know why your people are not already preparing for battle when you have already sent the distress call.”
The queen’s polite smile gives way for a frown. “My people are not a violent people. We do not engage in war or battle. Who would train them? We were forced to wait for our honored guests to arrive.” Her voice is still polite, but Keith can tell it’s irritating to have to hold it.
“Okay, well, I’m sure you also have some cool stories, right? You’re the queen, you have to have seen some weird things.” Lance inserts himself in the conversation, obviously trying to play peace maker.
It works. The queen abandons any grudge with Keith in order to talk to Lance.
“None that would compare to yours, I’m afraid,” The queen leans in toward Lance, into his space, “Tell me, are the missing paladins at Adrik as beautiful as you?”
The question takes Lance off guard, who flounders for a second while he registers the forthright flirting.
“Well, I mean, I guess we’re all about the same. I mean, obviously I’m handsome,” Lance says. He bounces back easily enough, “I’m sure they’re jealous.”
The queen laughs and puts her hand on Lance’s arm. Lance’s eyes flick over to Keith. He pretends not to see it, examining the pattern on his dinner plate.
This didn’t use to be so painful to watch.
“Actually, you know what? I’m not feeling so good. I think that maybe we should head back to our room.” Lance says, slipping his arm out from under the queen’s.
Keith looks up at that, catching Lance’s eye. He doesn’t know what Lance is doing, usually he’d be all over this but Keith just goes with it. Maybe Lance really isn’t feeling okay.
“Yeah, we’re pretty tired,” Keith agrees easily, “Thank you for the meal.” He’s too polite and it makes him feel good to see the queen recognize it, her mouth pulling into a thin line.
“Yes, of course,” The queen says, clearly disappointed at having lost the chance to flirt with Lance some more, “enjoy your rest.”
With that, the two paladins get up and start the trek back to their room.
In the hall, it’s just the two of them, their footsteps echoing off the floor as they walk in silence. Keith replays the dinner in his head as they go. He’s confused and irritated, both at Lance’s behavior and his own. Since when does he care who does and doesn’t flirt with Lance?
They find their room, neither of them having said a word. They open the door and Keith is reminded about the bed situation and his talk with Shiro. Keith is exhausted and the thought of having to have this talk right now with Lance makes him wish he could just sink into the floor.
“Hey, Lance?” He hates how small his voice sounds.
Lance stops from where he’d been sliding his shoes off next to the table. “Yeah?” He’s got his full attention.
Keith takes a few more steps into the room and sits at the table next to where Lance is standing. Lance takes the hint and takes a seat. Lance cocks his head at him.
“I have to tell you something.” Keith says awkwardly. He hates this.
Lance leans forward. “Okay?” He’s obviously waiting for Keith to get on with it.
“I have nightmares at night, about you. Sometimes I cry in my sleep and wake up screaming your name.” He gets it all out in one go, his face heating up. God, this is so embarrassing.
Lance seems taken aback, physically leaning back in his chair. He stares at Keith. Keith fights the urge to ask what his problem is. They need to get through this.
“Okay.” Lance says, like he thinks there’s more coming.
“That’s it? Okay?” Keith intones, a little irritated that this was so difficult for him and Lance didn’t seem to care.
“Well yeah,” Lance starts, “I don’t see what the big deal is. I have nightmares about you all the time.” He shrugs likewhat can you do.
That floors Keith. He gapes at Lance. Why was he so nonchalant? I have nightmares about you all the time. As if Lance has spared him a second thought, ever.
“You do?” Keith asks, trying to make sure he heard right.
“Yeah. All the time. Dreams about you dying, getting hurt, getting tortured. The whole nine yards,” Lance hesitates, “If it makes you feel any better, I cry in my sleep too.”
They sit there at the table for a long time. Keith processes this new information.
He trusts you. He does.
Keith doesn’t know what to do now. He hadn’t expected for Lance to share this with him. He wants to feel weird about it, but all he feels is relief that someone knows what he’s going through and a random bout of affection that Lance cares that much about him. Keith thinks about it some more and he realizes that Lance has always cared. This morning, saying goodbye to Shiro Lance had given the two of them a private moment to say goodbye when he could have hurried them along. Or at dinner, trying to include Keith in the conversation. He also realizes that he’s always cared about Lance. Keith thinks about his need to always know where Lance is at, or the protective feeling he gets when Lance is uncomfortable. The two are a lot closer than he thought, and that’s a new feeling.
“Okay.” Keith finally says with a nod, meeting Lance’s eyes.
“Okay.” Lance agrees, voice soft.
They sit for a moment or two longer, silent understanding cementing.
“I’m going to go shower.” Lance finally says, standing from his chair and heading into the bathroom. Keith doesn’t answer, just nods and gets up from his spot to go mess with whatever’s in the dresser so he doesn’t have to look at Lance anymore.
Keith waits for the shower to start running before he turns to face the bed. It doesn’t feel so claustrophobic anymore, knowing that Lance is just as likely as he is to wake up in the middle of the night. He figures out the small lamp on the night table, turning it on so Lance will be able to see when he comes out of the bathroom. He turns out the main light and crawls into bed. He’ll shower in the morning. For now, he just wants to sleep.
I cry in my sleep too.
Maybe Keith will sleep a little better tonight. Maybe Lance will too.
Chapter 2: Sharpshooter and Samurai
Keith wakes up naturally. He keeps his eyes closed, basking in the feeling of not jolting awake. He didn’t have any nightmares. It’s almost euphoric, the feeling of having slept through the night.
Eventually, he rolls over on to his back and blinks his eyes open. He turns his head to the side and sees Lance, still sleeping peacefully. He looks calm, his form relaxed. His hair is sticking up on the side and the blanket slid off of him during the night. Keith kind of feels like a creep watching him, but it’s rare he gets to see Lance when he’s not goofing around to make everyone laugh.
He’s cute like that.
Keith turns back to look at the ceiling. He thinks maybe he should be worried about himself and his feelings about Lance lately, whatever they are, but instead he just thinks it’s kind of nice to not be fighting with him all the time. Besides, it’s pretty obvious that Lance is handsome, who wouldn’t think that? Assured in the idea that his reaction to Lance’s face is a universal phenomenon, Keith feels a bit better.
Keith sits up slowly, the blanket he’d hoarded last night slipping as he does. He slides out of the bed as quietly as he can and is relieved when Lance doesn’t wake. Grabbing a new set of clothes from the dresser, Keith makes his way into the bathroom.
He showers, enjoying the hot water and the large shower. He picks up one of the bottles already in there and finds he can’t read the label. He assumes it’s some kind of soap and massages it into his hair. It smells nice, kind of earthy. Pine, maybe.
He thinks over his plans for today as he washes himself. They have to start training the Avirans today. Keith can do hand to hand combat, with or without weapons. He curses, annoyed. Weapons. If the Avirans don’t engage in battles, they have no weapons. He doesn’t know what to do about that. They have to have weapons in order to fight the Galra or it’ll be a massacre. They will have to ask the queen about it.
Great, more face time with my favorite person.
Irritated but resolved, Keith turns back to planning. If he handles the hand to hand combat, Lance can teach shooting skills. They don’t have enough time to turn the Avirans into master assassins, but it’ll be better than nothing. He washes the soap from his hair and gets out of the shower. He changes into his new set of clothes only to find they’re another pair of the same clothes from yesterday. He shrugs and towels off his hair, opening the door to the bathroom.
Lance is sitting up in bed, holding a pillow in his lap. He looks like he’s still half asleep. Keith wonders if he always wakes up so disoriented or if it’s just the current sleeping situation. Lance turns his head to look at Keith, the sound of the door opening catching his attention.
“Are you okay?” Lance asks, voice still rough from sleep.
Keith is confused for a moment before it he realizes that Lance thinks he woke up because he had a nightmare.
“Yeah, I just wanted a shower.” Keith holds up his damp towel as evidence.
Lance nods once, a smile creeping onto his face. Keith understands completely. No nightmares. It’s actually kind of sad, how happy this one little thing makes them. Just being able to sleep through the night is a luxury these days.
Keith holds the towel in his hand for a second as he looks for a hamper of some kind. He spots Lance’s towel from yesterday in a little bin next to the dresser and walks over to add his to it. It hits him how weird it is that alien societies also have bath towels. Keith mentally shrugs, depositing his dirty towel and moving to sit at the table, wishing they had a couch or something to sit on instead.
“We’re going to have to ask the queen about locating some weapons.” Keith thinks it’s probably a good idea to fill Lance in on the plan he concocted in the shower.
Lance scrubs a hand over his face before climbing out of the bed. He stands next to it stretching, his simple pajama shirt riding up. “You don’t think they have weapons?”
Keith’s eyes flicker to the little exposed portion of skin on Lance’s waist before moving back to his face. “The queen said they don’t engage in battle. If they don’t engage in battle, why would they have weapons?”
“I guess that’s true. It just seems kind of stupid to not have any, whether they’re fighters or not.” Lance’s nose scrunches up in thought, and Keith finds it kind of endearing. Lance slides his dresser drawer open, pulling out a new set of clothes.
“You don’t think it’s kind of weird that they’ve never had a need for any?” Something about this whole thing doesn’t sit right with Keith. He leans his head on his hand, sitting sideways in his chair so he can look at Lance.
Lance stops, tilting his head as he thinks it over. “I don’t know. I would like to think there are some planets capable of not fighting amongst themselves,” he holds up his pile of clothes, “I’m going to change. You think on that some more, Samurai, I’ll be right back.”
Keith rolls his eyes at the nick-name, despite the little lurch his heart gives at it. He doesthink on it while Lance is changing. Maybe Keith’s just cynical, but he doesn’t really believe a society can go its whole history without fighting amongst itself. It doesn’t seem likely that the Avirans have gone thousands of years having never had a war, or a faction, or an uprising of some kind.
“Any revelations you would like to share with the class?” Lance asks dramatically as he steps back into the room. He’s also wearing the same outfit as yesterday. His hair is laying in a more coordinated manner than the nest he woke up with.
“Yeah,” Keith replies bluntly, “I think the queen is full of shit.”
It startles a laugh out of Lance, the clear sound of it briefly filling the room. Keith smiles despite his actual belief in the statement.
“Guess we can ask her and find out.” Lance says with a shrug, smile still on his face. He joins Keith, pulling a chair out and plopping down in it. He smells good, like the pine soap in the shower.
“That’s what I thought too,” Keith agrees, “I think the first item on the agenda is asking the queen about weapons. We’ll see where we get from there. We can’t train the Avirans without them.”
Lance nods. “Sounds like a plan. I just think your plan should include breakfast,” Lance points a finger at him, “you might be able to get away with your weird ability to not ever eat, but the rest of us mortals require sustenance.”
Keith slaps the finger out of his face. “I guess you’re just at a lower level of existence than me.”
“Hey, I resent that.” Lance shoots back, the tone of his voice betraying the angry face he’s trying to hold, a smile pulling at the corner of his lips.
Keith shrugs, standing from the table. “We’ll see what we can find.”
They end up locating the kitchen and the queen at the same time. The kitchen is relatively small for a palace this size, but ornately decorated despite the staff being the only ones to see it. There’s pots and pans meticulously put away and jars of spices and things lining the shelves over the countertops. There’s things in there that Keith doesn’t even recognize but thinks Hunk would love.
“As I have told you many times, meals are to be served in a punctual manner. Please do not let this happen again, I am growing tired of having to address this issue.” The queen is standing in front of a small group of kitchen staff, reprimanding them. Keith’s thankful they only caught the end of it. The queen makes a dismissive gesture with one of her long arms and the kitchen staff scurries out of sight. Her eyes widen as she turns and finds them watching her.
“Oh, paladins, you startled me. I’m sorry you missed the morning meal.” The queen gives them a polite smile full of teeth. It seemed the queen is back to her pastel dresses, today’s a light blue color. Keith wonders if she chose it based on a certain guest of hers.
“Don’t worry about it,” Lance waves a hand, “We’ll find something ourselves. Sorry we missed it, we slept late.” Keith is reminded of just how comfortable he’d been this morning and his bad mood at having to be in the same room as the queen dissipates a little.
“It’s no matter, I’m glad you found your room comfortable.” With a little bow, the queen makes to walk away.
“Actually, your highness,” Keith cuts in before she can leave, “we wanted to ask you about Aviran weapons.” He thought it best to keep his tone as polite as he can, at least to start out with. Shiro is constantly telling him he’ll catch more flies with honey.
The queen seems bored as she makes her way back toward them, eyes on Keith. “I believe you are mistaken. The Avirans have no weapons.” She doesn’t seem surprised at the question and it doesn’t make any sense to Keith as to why she hasn’t said anything on the topic already. She had to know this discussion was coming, right?
“Yes, but if you would like us to train your people for battle, weapons will be required.” Keith responds, watching her intently.
The queen stares back at him for a moment, gaze moving to Lance before landing on him again. It looks like she’s debating something and Keith doesn’t like it.
“Your highness?” Lance prompts softly, clearly not liking her silence either.
The queen sighs heavily before speaking again. “Well, there is one thing that may be of service to you.”
“We’re all ears.” Keith wants her to get on with it.
She clasps her hands behind her back, both sets moving at the same time, as if she wants to prolong having to have this discussion. Keith wonders if it’s more about wanting them to stay hooked on her every word.
“There is a Galra armory ship that has been spotted not far from here. I believe it is small enough that two Voltron paladins would be more than enough to raid it.” The queen’s tone is even and professional, as if she’s just laying down the facts and not suggesting that they undertake an entire mission by themselves.
Keith’s stunned into silence. Let him get this straight, the queen of Avira wanted Lance and Keith to take their lions, go on a dangerous mission to raid a Galra warship for weapons, come back to Avira, and then use those very weapons to teach the Avirans to defend themselves against the very people they’d stolen the weapons from in the first place? That was fucked up. That was too much to ask of them. Sure, they were defenders of the universe but that didn’t mean they signed up for more danger than was strictly necessary.
“Your highness…,” Lance hesitates, “That’s way beyond dangerous. It’s just me and Keith. Sure, we’re paladins, but you’re talking about an entire Galra ship.” Lance keeps his tone polite but it’s strained around the edges. Keith can relate.
“I’m aware,” The queen lifts her chin, “But if weapons are needed for you to defend this planet against the Galra, then I believe Voltron has promised to provide.” The queen’s smile fades, a scowl taking its place.
She’s right, technically speaking. Their job is to do whatever has to get done in order to defend the Avirans. Keith knew they never should have split up from the very beginning. Of course something like this would happen to them when it was just him and Lance. Shiro is going to lose it when Keith tells him about this. No, he won’t tell Shiro. He’ll just tell Keith not to go and to wait for Shiro and the others to join them. The Galra could attack within that timeframe, and Keith doesn’t want to risk Adrik either. They have to have weapons to defend against the Galra, and they have to do this mission to get them.
“Okay, have it your way. We’ll return with what’s in the armory.” Keith consents, trying not to let her have a piece of his mind.
“What?” Lance gasps, “You can’t be serious, Keith.” He takes a few steps toward Keith, pulling him by the arm a little ways away from the queen. He tells himself it’s not okay to punch the ruler of an alien nation when he catches sight of the queen’s sneer as he passes her. “Are you insane? We’ll die, Keith. I like not dying.”
Keith shrugs out of Lance’s hold, taking a step back. “She’s right, we have to go. If the Galra attack and we have no weapons we’re all dead anyways.” Lance looks a little pale, and Keith feels bad about not asking him first. He can see in Lance’s face the moment he realizes Keith is right, resignation pulling the expression from his face. Keith doesn’t like that look at all.
“Hey, we’ll be okay,” He pokes Lance in the ribcage, mirroring him from yesterday, “The Galra don’t stand a chance against Sharpshooter and Samurai, right?” He asks softly, holding Lance’s gaze.
Lance gives him a weak smile for his effort. “Right.”
Later, when they actually do find some breakfast, Keith thinks Lance still doesn’t look convinced.
They make a pretense of walking a quick loop around the castle, as if they’re going to do something productive while they wait on more info from the queen, but they give up on it pretty quickly.
They’re back in their room, going stir crazy, when a knock disrupts the quiet. They get the coordinates for the Galra armory ship from one of the queen’s messengers, who apologizes and says the queen sends her regrets. Apparently, she’s currently too busy to aid them in their mission. Keith looks down at the little scrap of paper with the location written on it, thumb tracing over the writing. He thanks the Aviran at the door and shuts it behind him.
Keith sets the paper down on top of the dresser. He doesn’t want to look at it anymore. Lance hasn’t really said anything to him since breakfast, and it unsettles Keith. It has to be two or three in the afternoon, Earth time, and all they can do is wait but Keith can’t stand to look at the hollow dullness in Lance’s eyes. He isn’t sure why this particular mission is making Lance act like this. They’ve been on more dangerous missions than this.
They pass the time, mostly in silence. Keith makes a few attempts at getting Lance to talk to him by commenting on the queen’s dress today or how they haven’t seen Rhaegar in a while. He suggests that they go out and talk to the locals and gather information but Lance doesn’t even seem interested at the prospect of fresh air and a new female alien species. Eventually, Keith gives up on it figuring Lance will have to work it out on his own.
Sometime after Keith’s helmet lets him know it’s close to ten at night Earth time, Lance moves to go shower. He gathers what he needs without saying a word to Keith. He doesn’t look at him as he goes. Keith’s taken to pacing the floor as he thinks. He wants to think about how they’re going to raid the ship, but all he can think about his how much he misses the way Pidge falls asleep in the lounge with her glasses on and Shiro always carries her to bed. He misses the rest of the team.
Keith’s already in bed when Lance emerges from the bathroom, steam billowing behind him. He’s found one of two books off of the table that’s in English, Homer’s The Odyssey, and is pretending to read it so as to not stare at Lance. Keith had to read this for a literature class when he was in school. He thinks it’s kind of funny how the universe would allow this book to arrive on an alien planet he is on, years after he read it. He tries not to think too hard about it. It hurts his brain.
“Are we…going to bed?” Lance questions quietly, hair still wet and standing awkwardly next to the bed.
Keith looks up from the book he’s not reading. “Uh…yeah?” He doesn’t mean for it to be a question, but he just assumed that with how tired they always are and the upcoming fight they’re going to have they should take advantage of a safe place to sleep.
“Oh…okay.” Lance mumbles, pushing a hand through the short strands of his hair before climbing into bed next to Keith. It’s weird and kind of awkward all of a sudden and Keith doesn’t understand how tonight is different than last night. Does Lance not want to share a bed?
Keith puts the book down on the floor. He looks down at the covers, twisting them in his hands. “I can sleep on the floor?”
“No. No, that’s…you’re fine.” Lance’s voice is soft, barely audible. He turns onto his side facing away from Keith.
Keith doesn’t need any more of his time wasted on today, and so he just turns the light out without a word. He lays down and closes his eyes and hopes it’s better in the morning.
They don’t make it that far. Keith has no idea what time it is when he gets woken up. At first he’s not even sure what woke him. Then he gets hit in the arm by Lance’s rogue hand again.
“Ow, quit it.” Keith’s tired and he doesn’t appreciate the three AM wake up call.
“Keith…” Lance’s voice is barely audible.
“What?” Keith snaps, sitting up in bed so he can get a proper look at Lance and figure out what the fuck he wants.
Except Lance isn’t awake. He’s asleep. The covers he went to sleep with are thrown off, and his limbs lay haphazard on the bed. His face is scrunched up in pain and Keith can see tear tracks on his face.
“Keith…no..” A little louder this time and Lance sticks his arm out, hitting him again.
A nightmare. Lance is having a nightmare. He doesn’t know what to do. He’s never seen it from this perspective, only experienced it himself. His heart lurches as he watches Lance suffer and he doesn’t think much before he acts. He scoots closer to Lance, sitting up fully in bed now.
“It’s okay, you’re okay.” Keith soothes, reaching down to run a hand through Lance’s hair.
Lance seems to be getting more upset, his dream obviously progressing. Keith can’t stand to watch it anymore and resolves to wake him up.
“Lance?” He calls softly, shaking him by the shoulder. The touch seems to startle Lance awake, who sits up quickly.
“Keith?” Lance doesn’t wait for a reply, just throws his arms around Keith’s neck and pulls him close. Keith retains his stiff posture for a moment before he relaxes, smoothing a hand over Lance’s back. He knows how it feels to dream like that. There’s no way he could ever hold it against Lance.
“Yeah, it’s me, you’re okay. You’re okay.” Keith mumbles into his hair, rocking them a little as they sit in the dark. Lance tucks his face into Keith’s neck and Keith can feel the dampness on his cheeks from where he’d been crying. Lance is still shaking but at least the tears have stopped.
“They shot you, I couldn’t get to you in time and I thought you were going to die.” Lance speaks into his neck.
Keith knows logically that Lance has nightmares about him, but he’s never really thought about that until he’s confronted with it now. He thinks it’s awfully cruel of the universe to make them have nightmares about each other like this. He wonders why they had so many disagreements and petty fights in the past. None of that seems to matter when he’s got this blue-eyed boy tucked into him like this. Sure, it’s not a habit of theirs to cozy up to each other, but it doesn’t feel weird or wrong at all. Just comforting.
I keep thinking everything we do is supposed to feel weird and wrong and it never does.
“It was just a dream, I’m okay. We’re okay.” Keith pulls back a little to try and look at his face, but Lance doesn’t him let get very far, gluing himself to Keith’s chest. He’s surprised at the lack of protest to having Keith see him like this.
He trusts you.
“What about tomorrow, huh? Tomorrow we’re going to raid a Galra ship by ourselves and there’s a very real possibility my dream could come true,” Lance rushes out, hiccupping, “It could happen tomorrow. Don’t you see that?”
Keith finally forces some distance between them, moving to put his hands on Lance’s cheeks instead, forcing him to look at Keith. “Hey, nothing is going to happen to me,” Keith says softly, trying to calm him, “tomorrow is going to be just like any other mission. It’ll be fine. I’m going to watch your back just like you’ll watch mine. Nothing is going to happen.” Of course, Keith can’t guarantee that with their line of work, but he knows he’ll give his all protecting Lance and he knows Lance will be right there with him.
Lance nods, the soft sound of Keith’s voice having done its job. He isn’t shaking anymore either, just sitting there in front of Keith while he touches his face. He comes to the realization that Lance’s bizarre behavior from yesterday was worry. He was worried about Keith and the mission because he sees it all the time in his nightmares.
“I trust you.” Keith feels like he should return the favor. He knows that right now must be embarrassing for Lance. He’s vulnerable right now, confessing to crying over Keith’s wellbeing.
That must be what Lance needs to hear because he finally looks Keith in the eyes, cheeks a little red. Lance sits up a little straighter in their bed, some of the life returning to his eyes as if Keith’s trust is something honorable to hold. He thinks it’s no wonder Lance is a paladin.
“Thanks,” Lance mumbles, clearly embarrassed now that the worst was over, “I trust you too.”
As they try to get back to sleep, Keith thinks that none of Shiro’s bonding exercises could ever compare.
They wake up tired the next morning, of course. There’s not a lot to be done about it and Keith doesn’t hold it against Lance. Shit happens. They dress quietly, with none of their usual banter. Keith thinks Lance is still a little embarrassed about last night and doesn’t prod at him.
They eat breakfast in the kitchen like yesterday, luckily avoiding the queen this time around.
“Imagine if we died in space having an allergic reaction to alien food. What a way to go.”
]Keith rolls his eyes, inwardly glad Lance seems to have bounced back.
“If I die because of that I’m coming back to haunt you.” Keith throws one of the little grape like fruits he’s eating at Lance. It bounces off of his cheek and Lance looks affronted.
Lance throws one of his own pseudo grapes at Keith. “Great, I can’t wait to have a ghost follow me around that leaves his socks in the changing area of the shower and thinks that shampoo is acceptable face wash.”
Keith goes to throw another grape at him, but stops at the glare from one of the kitchen’s cooks.
“When we get back I’m stealing all of your face masks and hiding them in Coran’s room.” Keith warns him, narrowing his eyes.
Lance makes a face like you wouldn’t dare, and Keith raises an eyebrow in challenge.
“Good luck on your mission today. I pray it goes well.” The queen interrupts their bickering. He ponders whether it’s more likely whether the queen was looking for them or if she was here to yell at her kitchen staff again. It turns out to be the first one.
“I’m assuming you are making an immediate departure as soon as you’re finished here?” It’s clear it’s not a question. They will be leaving after breakfast. Lance’s face falls at the reminder and Keith is more annoyed by that than anything else.
“Yes, your highness.” He spits. The queen looks offended by his tone, nose turned up at him, but he can’t bring himself to care. They’ll do the job and get the hell off this planet and he’ll never see her again. The queen doesn’t lower herself to respond, instead leaving with a swoosh of her skirt.
As ordered, their lions take off for the given coordinates as soon as they finish.
It’s not a long flight. Their ETA is only thirty minutes out. He keeps in contact with Lance over the comms as they fly, both to check in and to make sure he sounds okay. He goes over the plan with him.
“In order for us to make it out with whatever weapons they have on board, we can’t just open fire on the ship. We can’t destroy the cargo and we don’t want to draw attention to ourselves. We’re outnumbered as it is.” He waits for Lance’s affirmation.
“Got it.” His voice is outlined in static where it comes through his helmet.
“Honestly, I think the best course of action will be to just wait for a ship to come out of one of the hangars and fly the lions in before the door shuts. We’ll avoid setting off alarms like that and have a better chance of making a quick exit,” He pauses considering, “from there we’ll just have to find their cargo hold and carry the crates back to the lions. It’ll be slow going but it will cause less of a fuss.”
Lance’s end is quiet.
“Lance?” He asks, unsure if he was heard.
“No, I’m here, I was just thinking. What about the guards? We can’t sneak past an armed cargo hold without raising the alarm. I’ll have to shoot them out as we go.”
Keith hadn’t even considered that. “Yeah, you’re right. That’s a good plan.”
“Thanks.” Lance sounds surprised by the compliment.
The rest of the flight is done in slowly growing anticipation. Finally, they spot the grey and purple monstrosity that is a Galra ship. Except it’s way bigger than promised. The queen had said he and Lance would be able to take it down by themselves no problem, but this ship is nowhere near their level. Judging by its size, it has to be carrying cargo for multiple port locations for the empire. Keith counts twenty hangar doors.
“No way.” Lance sounds firm over the comm.
“We have to.”
“No we don’t, call Shiro.” Lance’s voice is rising.
“Lance, you know we can’t do that. We already said we’d do it. The plan doesn’t change.” Keith fights back.
“This is a death wish, Keith. I know you don’t think much before you act, but this is a stupid idea.” Lance says harshly over the comm, angry now.
“I’m just doing what we have to,” Keith bit back, “Now you can come with me or not, I’m going.” He knew it was a low blow. Sure enough, Lance’s lion stayed right next to his.
They sit in tense silence, hovering in space while they wait at a distance for one of the Galra ships housed within the larger Cargo ship to leave. One does, eventually, and Keith makes his move. They fly in as quick as possible without causing suspicion, touching down on the empty landing pad. He exits his lion and waits for Lance to join him, checking his surroundings. Nothing seems to be out of place. Well, except them.
Lance is scowling when he meets Keith’s side. “Let’s just get this over with.”
“It’ll be okay.” Keith reminds him, pulling his bayard. Lance nods and relaxes his shoulders a little but retains his grip on his rifle. “Let’s go.”
Keith leads them out of the hangar and into the main hall. There are no guards immediately present and Keith is grateful. He does his best to decide which way the armory part of the cargo would be and goes left. He follows the hallway down, feet silent on the ground as they go. Lance’s rifle goes off, beam of light flashing in the corner of his eye, and he turns to see that Lance has shot down one of the guards who had been patrolling behind them.
“Thanks.” Keith says, a little unnerved he didn’t sense it.
“Don’t mention it.”
They continue on. Just when Keith starts to get worried they’re lost, he sees a wide door with a touchpad mounted next to it. This has to be it. It’s a cargo ship. He knows there’s going to be guards posted inside the door.
“Of course.” Lance almost sounds offended.
They hurry along and make their way up to the door. Keith puts his hand over the sensor and prays that it’ll work. It does, the door sliding open with a whoosh as the pressure system activates. Lance is inside immediately, the sound of his rifle going off. None of the other guards get a shot in. Lance smirks at him, twirling his bayard around his finger. Keith just shakes his head, hiding his grin.
The room they’re in is giant. There’s crates upon crates stacked high in the air. They’re labeled, luckily with pictures, and he spots one with a purple painted Galra weapon on the side. He beckons Lance over to him and points, and Lance heads that way. They open one of the crates, sliding the top off so they can see what’s inside. He doesn’t know what he was expecting, but he’s almost disappointed when it’s just regular foot soldier Galra weaponry, maybe ten or so guns. He slides the top back on, lifting the crate. It’s heavy, but manageable. With ten guns to a crate, this will take them a while and it makes Keith feel uneasy. He hands the crate to Lance before grabbing his own.
They start back the way they came, picking up the pace. They had to leave the first Galra guard in the hall where anyone could see him. Keith doesn’t like that in order to carry the crates, they don’t have easy access to their bayards. It goes like that for a while, them stepping over the downed guard on every trip. It’s half an hour into the mission that shit hits the fan.
They’re on their way back to the cargo hold for more crates. They get to the spot where the downed soldier is supposed to be, only to come across nothing. The guard has either gotten up or been moved. Lance is a pretty good shot, so he guesses it’s the second one.
“We need to go.” He says quickly, shoving at Lance to turn back around. A flash of light whips past his head and hits the wall next to him, scorch mark steaming in the metal wall.
That’s all the motivation they need and they take off at a run back to where they left their lions. Shots whip past their heads as they run, feet echoing off of the metal floor. The eerie purple lighting lining the ceiling and floors only aids in reminding Keith that they’re on enemy territory.
He chances a look back over his shoulder and sees what must be twenty guards with guns running after them and shooting. They’re fucked. Lance must be able to sense his panic because he takes one look at Keith before he turns, firing over his shoulder with his bayard. He hears the sound of metal hitting metal as some of the guards fall and their armor hits the floor.
They round a corner and Keith grabs onto Lance’s arm, pulling him along. They’re almost there. They come across the closed door to the hangar and it kills Keith that they have to stop so he can put his hand over the sensor. The guards only gain a few seconds on them, but it’s enough that they’re within sight. The door slides open and Lance pulls him through, running at a dead sprint. He can see their lions. Lance makes it to Blue first, a little ahead of him.
“Go! I’ll catch up!” Keith yells at Lance, motioning for him to keep going.
Suddenly, there’s a pain in his left side that needs attention and he stops. He looks down at his side putting his hand over where it hurts before looking up at Lance in confusion. He knows he needs to move, he can’t just stand here while they get shot at. Lance has turned and is sprinting toward him, eyes wide and screaming his name.
“Keith!” His yells desperately, doing his best to dodge the shots aimed at him.
Keith lifts his hand and finds that it’s covered in blood. He’s bleeding. He realizes he got shot. The idea shocks him into motion and he takes a few panicked steps toward Lance, who ducks under his arm to hold him up as soon as he’s within reach. Lance is saying something into his ear but he can’t understand what it is. Everything’s going a little fuzzy around the edges.
“I got shot.” Keith says bluntly, slurring his words a little. He doesn’t even know if Lance is listening but he thinks he should tell him anyway.
Lance half drags half carries Keith into the Blue lion, depositing him on the floor gently before booking it to the captain’s chair. He can feel it as Lance rips the door off of the ship’s hangar with Blue’s claws, it jars his side and he hisses.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry.” Lance repeats, getting them the hell out of there.
Keith’s eyelids are so heavy. He feels light headed and he can see he has blood all over his shirt. From his spot on the floor he can’t really tell where they are, but he can’t hear gunfire anymore.
“You’re okay. You’re going to be okay.” Lance tells him, turning his head to look at him every few seconds despite the fact that he’s crying, tears running down his face and dripping from his chin. It’s almost exactly what Keith said to him last night.
Keith has slumped over, unable to hold himself up anymore, and he can hear Lance calling to him in panic. He wants to stay awake and tell Lance he’s okay, but he can’t muster the energy.
He passes out before they make it back to Avira.