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            Shiro didn’t know where he was. He’d been in the Black Lion, they’d been fighting Zarkon’s own twisted version of Voltron, and the evil tyrant had tried to take Black away from him again. He’d fought back and suddenly…

            This wasn’t Black’s alter-space. This was something different. The “ground” – for lack of a better term – was the same, a deep, polished, glittering black, like volcanic glass with stars embedded in it. But the “sky” was… blank. Not white, blank, like someone had erased it. There was a depth to it that was almost frightening, like if he wasn’t careful, he would slip from gravity’s grasp and fall upwards into oblivion.

            Where am I?

            There were no markers, no signposts, no paths, no signs of life. He wasn’t even sure if he was alive here. He closed his eyes…

 

…the hum of machinery…

                        …the smell of the gas, like rotten air – not stale, rotten, bad for you…

            …too bright to keep his eyes open…         …and he didn’t want to see, didn’t want to know…

                                    …cold metal beneath him, around his legs, around his arms – arm? – arms…

 

 

            He opened his eyes quickly and his whole body felt like it was shaking with his thudding heartbeat. But he was still here in this strange nowhere. He was here, in his paladin uniform. He raised his right hand to look at it.

            It didn’t light up.

            He frowned and tried to activate it again. Again? Had he tried to before? He was trying to now, anyway.

            It didn’t light up, didn’t warm up, didn’t glow.

            He scrabbled out of his armor, hurriedly, casting his chest plate aside, then the arm plates. He found the seam of his under armor – where the shirt met the pants – and unsealed it so he could pull it off over his head.

            His hand. His whole arm. His whole right arm, whole again, fingers wiggling, fist opening and closing as he bade it. He turned it over and back, remembering again the lines of his palm and the small scar on his knuckles from a bad split in fight practice that had never healed right.

            I’d almost forgotten…

            It looked… unnatural. Wrong. There should be metal here, and that strange flexible… rubber? Latex? Space latex. There shouldn’t be skin and hair and fingernails. As much as he missed his right arm, as much as the Galra replacement bothered him, as much as he hated having the constant reminder of a torture he could hardly remember…

            …the techs talking in what sounded like grunts and vowels, muffled by their masks…

…the arch of his spine off the table as pain arced through his arteries…

                                    …The Witch’s Voice commanding…

 

            …having his own arm back was wrong. This wasn’t what should be here. This was an arm for a man who had never left Earth, a man who had listened to everyone telling him “no,” a man…

 

            “Are you even listening to me?”

            “Sorry?” He blinked out of his reverie and smiled sheepishly, because he’d been busted. “I was a million miles away.”

            Adam sighed. “You’re impossible sometimes.” He sat on the couch next to him.

            Takashi threw his left arm around his boyfriend’s shoulders. “You love it.”

            “I tolerate it,” Adam corrected him, snuggling in against him, “because I love you.”

            He kissed him, tasting coffee. “I appreciate your sacrifice.”

            “You’d better,” he charged, grinning. His hand reached out, questing.

            Takashi threaded the fingers of his right hand through Adam’s and squeezed gently. “I do. Part of why I love you so much.”

            Adam smiled.

            “So what were you saying?”

 

            …who would be there now if he hadn’t longed for the stars more than his own fiancé.

            That’s Adam talking. Even now, there was sometimes the voice of him in his head. Adam was cautious, careful, look at all the angles first. Shiro had gotten “Patience yields focus,” from him. Adam never did anything without research and consideration. And, on the whole, Shiro preferred knowing what he was getting into first, of course.

            But sometimes, you had to take the leap.

            Sometimes you had to just go and hope things worked out.

            Sometimes, there wasn’t time to do anything but go with your gut and hope it turned out okay.

            And sometimes you had to sacrifice for your dreams.

            Even if it meant your life, your arm, your hair and your untroubled sleep.

            “This is wrong,” he said out loud. His voice echoed back at him, as if some other him had said it somewhere far away and he was the one hearing only the echo and not the original words.

            He held his arm out as if showing it to a doctor. “This shouldn’t be here.”

            He looked around when nothing happened. Well, what did I expect?

            “I shouldn’t be here.”

            …shouldn’t be here…

            …be here…

            …here…

 

            The voice boomed and the crowd cheered, and Shiro knew his cue. Even if he didn’t, the sentries behind him pushed him out into the arena. They kept their guns trained on him. He was unarmed and the lights were bright.

            The door he’d been pushed out of shut, leaving him walled in. He looked around, peering through the lights at the roaring crowd. Well, what do they expect me to do? Tap dance? Even if he knew how, he was on sand. It was just him out here.

            Until another section of wall opened up and lines of armed people came walking into the arena, lining the walls. They snarled and sneered at him, some of them actually growled and roared like beasts. Most of them weren’t the purple ones that seemed to be in charge around here, though there were a handful of those. They acted like they were too good for this, like they were insulted and planned to take it out on him.

            And when they were all out, fully surrounding him, the voice boomed again and, from somewhere, a single sword was thrown into the middle of the ring.

            His new “friends” were all armed.

            He wasn’t.

            That sword was his only chance, and it was a good fifty feet from him.

            He knew the sound by now, even if he didn’t know what the words were exactly. For him, it was the starter’s gun, and he bolted for the sword as the attackers swarmed him.

 

            That was real.

            That happened.

            That was a memory and…

            He felt out of breath, as if he’d actually been running here, now.

            That was the last fight before they took my hand.

            He still couldn’t remember: had something happened in the fight to make cutting his hand – and a good chunk of his arm – necessary? It hadn’t escaped his notice that he always said “took.” He always said that the Galra took his hand, and it was the only clue he had because his memories had gone dark on him.

            Of course, if he’d lost it in the arena, they’d still “taken” it in a sense. But he didn’t think that was true. That wasn’t how he would have put it, wasn’t how he’d say it.

            Hell, maybe I just say ‘took’ because I’m angry about it. Maybe it doesn’t mean anything.

            His hand was still a hand.

            Shiro sat down.

            He closed his eyes and tried to reach out with something other than his unnaturally natural hand. He reached for…

 

            …that sudden sense of completion, of a roar that shook him to his core but not with fear – with elation. It wasn’t that he’d been half before and was now whole so much as… he felt… at home. For the first time in so long – longer than a year, even – he felt at home, despite being on an alien planet. He had no idea what was going on except that they were going to fight the Galra, they were going to defeat Zarkon, and now…

            Now it really felt like it was possible.

            Shiro felt strong, powerful, brave. Not quite invincible.

            He wasn’t alone.

            For the first time since he could remember, he wasn’t alone. Keith was here, of all people, and he was sure he knew Pidge from somewhere, he just couldn’t place him, and Lance and Hunk seemed like good guys, and there was Princess Allura and her advisor Coran and…

            The Black Lion.

            The feeling of home and strength and confidence had blossomed in him with the Black Lion’s roar.

            This team, the Alteans, this Lion… gave him hope.

 

 

            …and it was still there, but muted. Black’s roar in his heart was muffled, like it had been wrapped in cotton. But it was still there, she was still there, that fierce beauty of the Black Lion was still with him even though he had no idea where he was. And then a strange thought hit him…

            Is Allura okay?

            It occurred to him he didn’t know.

            Coran had said he was going to get Allura… she’d left the Castle. So, presumably, she’d been okay. But the only place to go from the Castle would have been Zarkon’s command ship. And fear spiked through his system.

 

 

            The Castle of Lions was their base of operations, the berth for the Lions, their transport into and out of battle, it was… it was their home. Everyone cared for Coran and the mice, but to his mind, the Castle was inextricably linked with one person:

            “ALLURA!”

            Watching the Castle take that hit felt like a physical blow. That he’d been unable to do anything but sit there and watch…

            The only thing keeping his tears back was the knowledge that they had to do something, and he wouldn’t be able to fight with his vision blurred by sadness. She’s alive. She has to be alive.

            Voltron was the symbol of hope to the universe. It was a truly impressive machine, part vehicle, part weapon. Voltron awed Shiro, but it didn’t symbolize hope to him.

            Allura did.

            The sleeping beauty, awoken after ten thousand years and ready to battle from the moment she opened her eyes. The lost princess of a lost people, proof that Zarkon’s best attempts at destruction had not succeeded. The ferocity of her belief, her perseverance, her strength and her grace and her beauty…

            How could he not have realized?

            Why had it taken the Castle’s near-destruction for him to know his own feelings?

            She had to be alive, she had to be, but she couldn’t help them now, regardless. Not with that sort of hit, landing where it had.

            The fear of losing Allura was harder to push away than the fear of dying in battle. He swallowed it, and when he spoke to the team again, he was also talking to himself.

            “Everybody, listen. We have to fight.”

 

 

            He looked up at the endless nothing, laying down so he wouldn’t strain his neck. He felt like he was lying on nothing. He felt disconnected from any sort of reality. Floating, in an odd way.

            He closed his eyes.

 

 

            Shiro woke up, sitting up and yawning as the covers fell to his lap. The mice chittered at him.

            “Shhh, don’t wake her,” he whispered at them.

            “I’m already awake,” she said, turned on her side away from him. “I just don’t want to get up.”

            He laughed and laid back down behind her, draping his right arm over her. He kept his voice low. “You have to eat at some point, Your Highness.”

            “I’m a queen now,” she replied, “the proper form of address is ‘Your Majesty’.”

            “I thought it was ‘Your Highness’?”

            “You’re ‘Your Highness,’ Prince-Consort.”

            He shrugged. “You’re my queen,” he whispered, kissing her cheek. “And you still need to eat at some point.” His hand slid to her belly. “For both of you.”

            She laid her hand atop his, skin on metal. “He’s asleep right now, and I want to enjoy it before he starts kicking up a fuss again.”

            He chuckled and nuzzled some giggles out of her. “How about I bring you breakfast in bed?”

            “That sounds agreeable. With some kava.”

            “You can’t have kava right now,” he reminded her. “The medscan clearly shows…”

            “I know what it shows and it’s wrong,” she grumbled. “I want kava.”

            “I’ll get you that kava-flavored sorbet Hunk made. How about that?”

            “I don’t drink kava for the taste.”

            “You’re not getting me to give in,” he warned her.

            If she hadn’t been pregnant, she’d have fought him. But she was pregnant and tired and grouchy, so she gave in. “Fine. No sorbet though. He did a marvelous job, but it just feels weird to have something cold and creamy in my mouth that tastes like kava.”

            “Understood.” He kissed her cheek again. “Close your eyes, relax. I’ll take care of you.”

            “I know you will, my love.”

 

 

            He opened his eyes again. What was that?!

            Everything else he’d experienced here had been memories. Was that the future? Was it the future or a future?

            The thought that such a thing could be possible…

            “What’s the common denominator here?” he asked the void. “What are you trying to tell me?”

            His own voice echoed back. “…tell me… tell me…”

            He thought it over. Memories of his past – even some he couldn’t usually recall – and a tease of a possible future, if he wanted to make it happen, perhaps. What did all these different pieces of his life say to him?

            He felt like a question was being posed, and not by him. He addressed the emptiness.

            “My name is Takashi Shirogane. I am the paladin of the Black Lion, leader of Voltron. I don’t know where I am, but I know I have to get back. I have to get back to the… reality or plane that I left. I need my team. I need my Lion. I need… Allura. I need to fight.”

            The unspoken question sharpened somehow. It occurred to him that he had no idea how much time had passed here. He wasn’t hungry or thirsty. He didn’t hurt anywhere. He had his arm back, and he wouldn’t have been surprised to find out that his hair was black and his face unscarred. He could stay here.

            “I could stay here,” he agreed aloud, “but I don’t want to. There’s no hunger or thirst here, no physical reminders of the painful parts of my past. But there’s nothing else here, either. There’s no hope, there’s no love, there’s no future.

            “I hate everything the Galra did to me. They tortured me, they made me a toy for their own amusement. I’m sad to have lost Adam. But I also have gained so much: new friends, new allies, a new purpose in my life. And there’s so much more to look forward to.

            “I can’t just stay here and do nothing while everyone I care about,” their faces flashed through his mind, “continues to fight. And while I’ve been through a lot, suffered so much, that’s made me who I am now. That’s brought me here, to Voltron and the Castle and the fight against Zarkon.

            “I’M NOT DONE!” he screamed. “I AM TAKASHI SHIROGANE, PALADIN OF THE BLACK LION! AND I AM…!”

           

 

            He blinked.

            He was in the Black Lion’s cockpit.

            She purred in his mind and then ROARED, and he screamed along with her, a fierce battle cry. And suddenly his comms were filled with the sound of his friends’ voices.

            “I am home,” he whispered, throat and emotions raw.

            “Welcome home,” Allura’s voice said warmly.