The First Night (to be a son again)
Krolia sighed lightly, leaning against the rock face. All around them, the murky sea of stars spiralled in the sky, all drawn into the distortion that lay at the center of the Quantum Abyss. Washes of yellows, oranges and purples painted the whole area, provided a stunning backdrop for their voyage. "We'll have to wait it out. Whenever this creature reaches the distortion, we'll be able to slip through- but until then, this is probably the safest place."
After their long journey thus far, Keith was exhausted. The fatigue was taking its toll, and he needed to rest. If she said this cave was safe, then he'd be alright with it. "What you're saying is, we should set this up as our camp."
He took a step outside, examining it. There weren't any thin points in the outer layer, meaning that they'd be relatively safe if more hostile creatures tried to break through it. "It has good cover- this will definitely work."
The cosmic wolf they had picked up along the way howled softly, almost in agreement. Krolia raised an eyebrow as it showed no intentions of leaving them, the creature comfortably scratching its chin with a lazy paw, already completely relaxed around the two of them. "I suppose it's staying," she commented, motioning to the creature.
Keith grinned, scratching behind its ears as if it were any other dog. "Why not? It might be good to have around."
She rolled her eyes slightly, but didn't respond- and so, the pair got to work. Wood was collected, and with some quick thinking on Krolia's part, the pair gathered the carcasses of the insect-like creatures they had fought earlier. Soon, they had a comfortable fire set up in the small cave, the tantalizing smell of meat roasting on the crude spit they fashioned from the remaining exoskeletons filling the air. The cosmic wolf sat patiently until Keith fed it some cooked meat, the creature nuzzling his hand in thanks.
The Blades ate in silence, ravenous from the long journey through the Abyss. Jumping between the floating debris had taken its toll on both of them, and it was clear that they very much needed the respite. After they were able to locate some drinking water, the two of them headed back to the cave, finally satiated.
However, although he was finally able to physically rest after returning to their shelter, his thoughts were anything but still. There was one question which had been on his mind from the moment she had first revealed her identity, and it had only grown in intensity with every flashback, every snippet of her past that he was shown. Now, it had become so powerful that he couldn't think of anything else- it just didn't feel right to continue their conversations without clarifying this.
At last, he took the plunge. "So… what should I call you?"
She was taken aback for a moment. "What do you mean? You know my name."
"Well, yes… but…" He bit his lip, unsure how to proceed.
Krolia frowned, crossing her arms as she watched him settle down across from her, on the other side of the fire. "Is something the matter, Keith?"
"It's just… I saw how you met my dad. He was all I ever had- well, until Shiro took me under his wing."
Keith smiled sadly as Shiro's face flashed into his mind, followed by the faces of everyone else in the Castle of Lions. "The leader of Team Voltron- well… it's complicated."
The woman immediately backtracked, "You don't have to tell me-"
"No, I'd like to tell you, if that's okay," Keith interrupted.
She paused. "Really?"
He blushed lightly, suddenly unsure of what to do. "If you'd listen," he mumbled, feeling childish, embarrassed.
Completely serious, she announced, "I'll listen to whatever you have to say."
He chuckled, leaning back against the wall of the cave. "We kind of have a lot of history to make up for, huh?"
"And look at this. It'll take quite a while to reach the distortion. All we've got now is time on our hands. I'll listen to whatever it is you have to say," she repeated, gentler this time.
The cosmic wolf yawned sleepily after it finished the last few scraps they had left out for it, trotting over from Keith to a surprised Krolia. It sat on its haunches and licked its lips, lying down to watch the flames flicker idly before them. Keith followed its movements, eventually bringing his own gaze to the fire. The whole situation felt surreal to him, still- only a few days earlier, he had been talking to the Blades about his next mission. Now, he was flying on the back of a giant whale-like creature through the Quantum Abyss alongside his long-lost mother, and now, a space wolf. It was a lot to take in.
Suddenly, Krolia hummed, "Keith? You never explained."
"Explained what?" he asked, startled out of his reverie.
"What you meant by 'what to call me'."
Keith started, shocked by her words. Somehow, amidst the tangents, he had forgotten to ask his original question. "Oh. Yeah. I just…" Her eyes were expectant- too much so. He let out a heavy sigh. "I don't know."
She didn't speak.
Finally, Keith asked, "Would you rather I call you 'mom' or 'Krolia'?" Hastily, he added, "Or is there something else I should use? Something the Galra say? I'm not sure, I don't want to overstep-"
"You're not overstepping at all," she murmured, eyes wide as she took in this new information.
He felt weak, vulnerable, under her watch- like his heart was simultaneously being crushed and exposed, untouched, for all the world to see. It felt wrong, unnatural. He almost hated it. He didn't ever like talking about his feelings, he usually didn't like to talk about anything remotely emotional- and yet, for some reason, he couldn't stop.
He eventually continued, "It's just that, I've never really had a mom. I don't know how this dynamic should be. I don't really get what to do in this situation, to be honest- I never dreamed that a mission with the Blades would end up leading me to you."
Another long drone from the creature below them shook the ground, giving them a moment to both collect themselves.
When the noise died down, Krolia quietly requested, "Would you… call me your mother? Call me 'mom'?"
His breath caught in his throat for a moment. "Oh. Okay. Thanks." Awkwardly, Keith looked away- but when he heard the slight sob she quickly muffled with her arm, he snapped back to Krolia, eyes wide in surprise. "Wait- are you… crying?"
She sniffed, brushing her eyes on her sleeve. "Ignore me. Emotions are unnecessary."
Keith shook his head, unsure of how to react. The woman had been nothing but the picture of professional and calm the entire journey there- to see her suddenly break down was almost unnerving. "Our mission is at a standstill. I'm sure it's fine."
She insisted, "No, I'm not-"
"It's okay," he pressed. "I don't mind."
The wolf picked up its head and leaned it against Krolia's leg, scooting its body closer to lie next to her. It mewled lightly, then went back to watching the fire.
"Keith," Krolia began.
"You look so much like your father," she murmured. "I can't believe you grew up so fast." Her eyes glazed over, lost in thought. "You have no idea how long these many years have been- on one hand, I was so deeply entrenched in the Blades' work that I was able to occupy my mind. The missions were enough to bury any fleeting thoughts I had of Earth. But on the other hand… every time I closed my eyes, whenever I went to sleep…"
He frowned, leaning forward, urging her on. "What is it?"
Her eyes were still tinged pink with unshed tears, barely held in check by her Galran taciturnity. "I saw you." She snorted softly, lips pursing into a small smile. "You were so tiny, you know. When I first held you, I was terrified- I never thought I'd want children, since I had already been with the Blades for so long, but when I met your father, something changed. And when your father saw us together, and he cried-" she actually chuckled, and the sound filled their makeshift shelter, along with a little bit of Keith's heart- "I'd never seen anything like it. It made me feel safe. It made me feel like I had finally found a home."
Keith melted a little. "I know what you mean. When I found a family in Team Voltron…"
"No, it's not the same." His expression must've been a bit confused and hurt, for she held up a hand in a peace offering. "It's not that they're not important to you, Keith. They are. And I'm so, so thankful for them, that you have them. But- you're a part of me, Keith." She smiled ruefully, staring up at the stars above. "How many times did I dream of your face? Wondering how you'd grow up, how you'd look- whether you'd look more Galra or human?"
"I looked human even when I was a kid- why would I suddenly look like the Galra?"
"I know, but… I couldn't help it. It's a mother's duty to worry about their children, to think of them."
Keith mulled this all in his mind. It was so much information- too much for just a short period of time. He whispered, "I was angry at you, for a long, long time. But now, I understand why you left. I know you did it to protect me."
"I had to. If the Empire found Earth, then they'd find the Blue Lion, destroy the planet… and they'd hurt you. I couldn't let that happen." She nodded, almost as if proving her resolve to herself more than to him. "You're all I've ever wanted in my life."
"Well, I'm here. I guess it's your lucky day, huh?" he muttered quietly.
She just smiled.
There was a long pause between the two. The long, deep groan of the creature below their feet resonated in the air, disturbing the wolf as it nestled into Krolia's lap like a pet. Now that the sunlight was beginning to wane and its belly was full from the insect-like creatures, the wolf was exhausted- Krolia watched it with vague amusement, but didn't move to push it off her lap.
Keith suddenly stood from where he sat on the other side of the fire. He clenched his fists, feeling sweat begin to bead up on his forehead from the heat of the flame.
"What is it?" Krolia asked, nonchalantly stroking the wolf's fur.
The boy let out a long, shaky breath, mustering up the courage to finally say what had been plaguing him ever since he had learned the truth. This woman had shown so much devotion to an infant- but she didn't know who he was today. Was that devotion misplaced? "Am I what you wanted?"
"Hm?" she grunted, eyes snapping up to look at him in surprise.
"Did I turn out how you wanted me to?" he insisted. "You gave up… everything for me. You said it yourself! You found a home on Earth, and it was the best thing that ever happened to you. Dad was the best thing that ever happened." He bit his lip, furrowing his brow as he struggled to get the words out. "You've suffered, working undercover, going from one battlefield to the next to protect Earth's secret ever since. It can't have been easy!" He sighed, running his fingers through his hair wearily, defeated. Much quieter, he said, "Now that you've seen me, seen what I've turned out to be… do you regret it?"
Krolia didn't reply, and Keith's heart sank into his boots. I knew it, he laughed bitterly inside. I knew it, she doesn't want me, I'm not what she was hoping I'd become, she's going to leave-
"You grew up to be a skilled pilot, a strong fighter," Krolia began, cutting off his internal tirade. Her words were slow, measured. "You have enough resolve and loyalty to have held ties with both Voltron as a Paladin, and in the Blades. You activated my knife, and you protected those you cared about, along with countless others." She paused, meeting his gaze. "You have your father's smile."
Although he had already come to accept the truth about her disappearance, the sadness and nostalgia and love in her eyes brought Keith's mind back to his father- his idol, his hero, his role model. The man he'd always wanted to be, the man who had left him too soon.
Keith could still remember his father smiling in that exact same way, every time he had looked at Krolia's blade when Keith was a child. And then, it hit him- this woman before him was his mother, the woman he'd never had in his life. All those years of hatred directed towards her absence had been for naught, because she had always loved him more than anything else in the universe.
This woman was his mother.
Keith cleared his throat, opening his mouth slowly. His lips trembled, his clenched tightly into fists, clammy inside his Blade suit- but still, as nervous as he was, he took a deep breath and whispered, "Mom…"
Krolia paused, taking a moment to process the word that had just left his mouth. Then, her face split into the widest smile, the normally stoic Galran practically beaming as she looked up at him in wonder. From her seat on the ground of their makeshift shelter, Keith felt like she was practically glowing, emitting more radiance than their campfire ever could.
She murmured, "How I've dreamt of having you here with me, calling me that."
The sheer love in her voice went straight to his knees, and before he knew it, Keith had collapsed onto the ground before her. Gone was all of his bravado, his anger, his bitterness. He blinked rapidly as the pinprick of tears began to sting his eyes, his voice cracking as he choked out, "No, Mom, I'm not good enough-"
"You're more than enough," she butted in. "You're perfect." The cosmic wolf shifted in her lap and mewled in its sleep, and she gently rubbed its head, smiling softly at the dreaming creature. "And I'm here now. We're here." Krolia raised her eyes to meet his, gripping his shoulder firmly with one hand. "We're together, and this time, I know you can defend yourself. You're no longer what I need to protect- you're who I need to stand beside."
"I-I," Keith whispered, unable to find his words, vision blurring with the tears welling up without restraint as he watched her expression find peace.
Her violet eyes glinted in the firelight, determination and resolve oozing from every pore. "That means we'll never be apart again, even on the battlefield. I'm staying by your side. I promise you, I will never leave you again. I mean it."
A shuddering sob hitched in his throat, finally allowing the tears to spill forth. Normally, he'd hide his emotions- but for some reason, he wasn't embarrassed about it anymore. Not in front of Krolia.
I'm not alone anymore.
She looked at him, the tenderest smile crossing her lips, alighting in her eyes. She stood up, gently shooing the wolf to the side as she circled the fire and knelt in front of him. Slowly, Krolia reached out a warm hand, caressing his cheek- not as soft and chubby as she remembered, but hers all the same. "I love you, my Keith. My son. Never forget that."
The sun finally set on the creature's back, the last glimmers of light streaming across the expanse of space, and finally, everything was perfect. It was all they'd ever wanted.