The mission, as always, wasn’t going to plan. And Keith, as he sprinted through the corridors of Central Command, wondered to himself why they even bothered with plans.
The plan had been for Shiro to distract Zarkon in Black while Red and Green tried to retrieve Allura as stealthily as possible. But stealth had been tossed to the wind a while ago.
His comms crackled in his ear, making him wince and almost stumble in his mad dash.
“Keith, I’ve got Allura!” Pidge exclaimed. “Get back to Red.”
He grunted a quick, “Ten-four,” then whirled on his heel to face off with the sentries pursuing him. He’d had to lure them away from Pidge, and now stood against upwards of twenty of the machines. And as far as he knew, the only way back to Red was back the way he came.
He summoned his bayard.
He cut down two on his first charge, then summoned his shield to block a shot from the left while he attacked on the right. On and on he went until his shoulder ached from the clang of metal against metal and there were several warm spots on his armor from shots he hadn’t been able to block. All the while there was a constant stream of chatter coming in from his comms, not much of which made it through the roaring in his ears.
Some did, like the order for Shiro to pull back and something about a witch, but otherwise he was battle-blind.
Finally he decapitated the last drone. He stood for a long moment, trying to catch his breath. When the stitch in his side no longer felt like an actual stab wound, he took off.
“Keith, where are you?” Lance snapped over the comms. “We can’t stay here much longer!”
“I’m coming.” The words came out in a gasp. “Go… Red can… catch up.”
Before he processed Lance’s response he darted into the hangar, Red waiting expectantly on the other side for him.
He heard footsteps in the hall behind, but he ignored them. He just had to beat them to Red and then he’d be home free. Just a little further.
Then a voice echoed through the vast metal room; a gnarled, ancient voice. “Run, run, little paladin. You can’t run far enough.”
And, at the moment, Keith’s only thought was an incredulous what the fuck?
It didn’t really matter. He was ten yards from Red now, and she’d already dropped to the floor and opened her mouth for him. Just a few more seconds. Just a few more feet.
Right was he was leaping into her great metal jaw, something hit his foot, and he cried out in surprise. Red’s jaw closed around him and plunged him into a darkness that was broken a moment later by the emergency lights, but he didn’t even notice, because whatever he’d been hit with, it wasn’t a laser.
It wasn’t hot-- it was cold, and it was spreading, winding up his lig, twining through the fibers of his muscles and turning his blood to slush in his veins.
Then the pain hit and he hissed a curse between his teeth. It felt like someone was taking a scalpel between the strands of his DNA. It felt like he was being torn apart.
“Keith?” came Shiro’s voice through the comms. “What’s wrong? What’s happening?”
He didn’t realize until then that at some point he’d transitioned from hissing to screaming.
Red rolled underneath him. Keith managed to acknowledge that fact for exactly one second before the cold reached his abdomen and a black tunnel began to enclose his vision.
The comms were alive with the worried voices of his teammates. The last thing he heard before the darkness engulfed him was Shiro’s voice, calling his name.
The castle was chaos. Somehow they’d managed to escape Central Command. Coran was fussing over the rescued Allura, who repeatedly insisted she was fine. Shiro still had a hand pressed to the wound in his side, which was concernedly glowing an eerie purple, and every shadow had him flinching. But still he continued on towards the Lions’ hangars.
Coran said Red had landed. But Shiro could still hear Keith, screaming in pain.
By the time he limped all the way to the hangar the other paladins had already gathered around the Red Lion, trying and failing to get her jaw open. But when Shiro staggered over, Red opened right up, her head lolling sideways on the metal floor. Shiro pushed past the other paladins.
“Woah, Shiro, what the heck happened to you?”
He ignored Lance’s question. His side didn’t even hurt anymore-- the adrenaline rush was back with a vengeance, and he was going to let it carry him as far as it could.
He stepped over Red’s lower jaw, mentally preparing himself for whatever bloody scene may be awaiting him.
But then he came to a puzzled stop. Of all the things he’d been imagining that could’ve made Keith scream like that, he hadn’t been expecting to see the shapes of multiple people lying prone on the floor of Red’s jaw.
Where he’d been expecting to see one shape, Shiro instead saw three.
Not one. Not two.
“What the fuck?” muttered Lance from behind; apparently the other paladins had followed him in.
“How is this possible?” Pidge asked in amazement.
“Why are there three Keiths?” tittered Hunk. “We only had one Keith before, right? Or am I missing something?”
Shiro couldn’t answer. He could only stare.
Because he was right; the three shapes on the floor all, somehow, had Keith’s face.
On the left was one who looked the most like Keith-- the same dark hair and pale face, but dressed in his street clothes, not his armor. The one in the middle wore the armor, but his hair was stark white, and a red scar ran from underneath his right eye all the way to his jaw. And finally, the one on the right, the one that had Shiro’s heart beating faster, looked Galra.
He was dressed in the garb of a Galra prisoner, revealing little of his pinkish-purple skin. A deeper lavender colored the marks on his cheeks, similar to the white-haired Keith’s scar, and large fluffy ears peeked out from his black hair.
A caught breath drew his attention-- Allura had come to investigate, and when Shiro looked, her face was twisted with protective rage.
“A Galra,” she hissed, and took a step towards the Galra version of Keith. Shiro threw his arm out to stop her.
“Wait,” he heard himself say. “We don’t know what’s going on yet.”
Allura frowned, but obligingly halted. Shiro felt someone jostle by his shoulder, and then Coran appeared in his line of sight, bustling to perform a cursory examination of the three unconscious forms.
“He,” he began, then faltered. “Or, er, they, I suppose, seem unhurt, but I would suggest the pods, just to be safe.”
“Shiro needs a pod too,” Lance chimed in. Shiro tried not to show his frustration on his face.
“That’s not important right now. What’s important is figuring out what happened to Keith.”
Pidge scoffed at him. “We are capable of caring about more than one thing, you know.”
Shiro scowled. It was to no avail. Eventually he had to fold, and he was shuffled off to the med bay along with the three strange bodies, all who were Keith and not Keith at the same time.
Allura prided herself on her problem solving skills. Very rarely in her life had she ever been completely without a clue.
But now, she had to admit, she was completely baffled.
The Princess stood before the cryopods, focusing on the three figures of Keith and not on Shiro, healing in another pod off to the side.
According to the pod data, which Pidge had found a way to connect to her strange little computer device, all three were perfectly functioning sentient beings.
But, of course, that couldn’t be. There was only one Keith.
And that wasn’t all.
“His quintessence has been split.” Even to her ears her voice sounded awed. Coran looked properly alarmed, but the Paladins just exchanged confused glances.
“What does that mean?” Lance asked, and Allura bit her lip.
It shouldn't have been possible. But here they were.
“No one has only one type of quintessence,” she explained, beginning to pace. “Everyone has a dominant type, but everyone has smaller amounts of other colors, as well. When you all first arrived in the Castle I read those combinations to assign the Lions. Keith’s dominant color was red, but he also had small amounts of black and blue.”
She stopped, once again before the trio of pods, feeling everyone’s eyes fastened to her intently.
“But these… they all only have one type of quintessence. He,” she pointed to the most normal looking Keith, “has only blue quintessence. He,” to the one with white hair, “has only black, and he,” to the Galra, “has only red.”
Allura turned on her heel to meet the astonished gazes of the paladins.
“The only way this is possible is if someone manipulated his quintessence and separated it.”
“But who?” asked Lance, hands shoved deep in his pockets to disguise his anxious fidgeting.
“And why?” demanded Pidge from before her small computer.
“And how do we turn him back?” said Hunk with a wring of his wrists.
Coran stroked his mustache contemplatively. “Shiro did mention a witch, did he not? Perhaps she was the one who did this, in an attempt to cause confusion amongst us and give Zarkon the upper hand.”
Pidge frowned at her screen for a moment, then shut it with a decisive snick, saying, “Ok, that answers two questions, but leaves one. How do we fix it?”
All eyes turned back to Allura. She clasped her hands before her, apprehension rising in her chest. She was knowledgeable with quintessence, of course, but she’d never been trained to manipulate it.
Coran sensed her thoughts and went to her side.
“It’s alright, Princess,” he murmured to her with a light hand on her shoulder. “You are more than capable. We’ll get it all fixed up in no time.”
The Princess sighed, leaning just a bit into Coran’s comforting touch.
“I can try,” she said, then straightened. “I think we should wait until Shiro is awake. No one knows Keith like he does, and we may need his help.”
Lance, with a great exaggerated groan, plopped to the floor, sitting on the stair that ran around the room.
“Can’t we have just one normal day?” he griped, burying his face in his hands. “Just one?”
“In space? Not likely,” quipped Pidge bitterly.
Allura ignored their banter. She had preparations to see to.
Confusion was Shiro’s first companion upon emerging from the pod. Allura explained the deal about the quintessence to him, but most of it went in one ear and out the other. What he was concerned with was the witch. If Haggar really was behind this, there was no guarantee Keith would be alright after, even if Allura got his quintessence back together again.
But for the moment he had to put his fears aside. They were about to let the (clones? Splits? He had no idea what to call them) out of the cryopods. He needed to be on guard for anything.
They elected to open the pod for the most normal looking version of Keith first; the pod hissed and let free some fog as it slid open.
The clones eyes opened-- they were their normal color, thankfully-- and he blinked a couple of times. He took a single, staggering step forward, but Shiro held himself back from offering support. For now he would just wait and watch.
Silence cloaked the room. Shiro watched carefully as the clone’s eyes hopped from person to person, not yet revealing anything. Then they landed on Shiro.
His lips stretched into a wide grin, one Shiro had only seen a few times before, and he cried, “Shiro!” in a joyful tone before rushing at him.
Shiro stiffened, but it wasn’t an attack. Keith (not-Keith?) only threw his arms around Shiro’s middle and clung like an octopus.
“Uh…” All of the others looked just as surprised as he-- their gazes not giving him any clue of how to respond.
So he went with his gut instinct-- this was the split with blue quintessence, right? So he ran his fingers through the split’s hair, and he made a content noise and pressed into it. All things Keith would do normally, but much more obviously. This was Keith with no walls, Keith with vulnerability cranked up to eleven rather than negative three.
“Hey,” Shiro muttered, more than a little awkwardly. The split didn’t seem to notice. “How are you feeling?”
“Great!” he chirped in reply. Over his head Shiro and Allura met eyes, and she gave a little gesture towards the pods.
“So, uh, do you remember what happened?”
The split pulled back and gave him an openly inquisitive look.
“What do you mean?”
“On the mission,” Shiro clarified, but the expression on the splits face didn’t change.
Shiro looked to Allura again for help, and she twirled her finger in a circle. So, bracing himself for whatever reactions the split would have, he gently took his shoulders and spun him around to face the pods.
A moment of silence. Then: “Huh. That’s weird.”
“You don’t remember anything about that?” asked Pidge, and the split shook his head.
“What do you remember?” That question came from the Princess, making him think for a second before speaking.
“I guess the last thing would be going to Red’s hangar. She was happy to see me.” He shrugged loosely. “Don’t remember the clones, though, or any mission.”
So he had current memories of the Castle and seemed to know them, which removed some of the worries curdling in Shiro’s gut.
“Let’s move on to the next one, then,” said the Princess, her voice trembling just slightly as she moved to another pod.
The one she went to next wasn’t the one in the middle with the white hair, but instead the last. The Galra one.
Shiro squared his shoulders, but the effect was a bit belied by the first split slipping his hand into Shiro’s.
The next meeting didn’t go nearly as well. The Galra split did the same blinking and stumbling as the first one, but the moment the haze from the pod wore off he froze entirely, hunching his shoulders around his fluffy ears and his lips peeled back from his teeth.
After a moment of stillness where no one spoke, Shiro swallowed hard and opened his mouth.
“Keith?” The golden eyes locked onto him, and Shiro shuddered all the way down his spine. “Are you ok?” No answer. “Do you remember me?”
He dared a step forward. In an instant the Galra split’s hair poofed up, a hiss escaped from between his pointed teeth, and he darted back behind the pod to hide.
“Well he’s grumpy,” said the first split. Lance gave a choked, surprised chuckle. Shiro’s head was starting to hurt.
“Uh, so, do we go on?” Pidge asked.
Hunk shifted from foot to foot. “Shouldn’t we deal with that one first? He might attack or something.”
“He won’t,” Shiro reassured, though he kept an eye on the pod the Galra was using as a shield. “I think that he’s just scared.”
“Alright then,” said Coran, though his cheer sounded forced. “Two down and one to go.”
The last pod opened, and all of them held their breaths as the white haired split emerged. He paused to gather his bearings, as the other two had, but then he didn’t immediately move or speak.
He just stood there for a beat, then murmured, “Oh.”
Once again, Shiro stepped up to bat.
“Keith? You with us?”
The split looked at him, his eyes darting to the first split for only a moment before returning, not seeming surprised in the least.
“Do you remember what happened?”
He nodded, slowly, and reached up to run a hand through his hair.
“It was… Haggar,” he said, like he was hauling his memories out of a thick mud. “She attacked on the way back to Red. She… split our quintessence.”
Allura’s eyebrows rose, and she wasn’t the only one.
“You know what she did?”
He nodded again, this time his hand clutching at the fabric of the pod suit over his chest.
“I can feel it.”
Shiro frowned and looked down at the first split.
“Do you feel anything?”
He shook his head.
“Not yet,” said the one with white hair, and if that hadn’t been foreboding enough already, all Shiro had to do was look at his solemn face, the frown enhanced by the scar.
“We should begin at once,” Allura proclaimed as she threw her shoulders back. “The sooner we resolve this, the less of an advantage the Galra will have. The three of you follow me to the lounge, please.”
“Uh, what about him?” Pidge pointed to the third pod, where they could just barely make out the shape of the Galra split through the layers of glass.
“Yeah, he doesn’t look very co-operative,” added Lance.
Shiro took a breath, readying himself to try and coax the split out of his hiding place, but to his surprise the white haired split moved first. His stride was confident as he circled around and disappeared from view, and when he spoke he kept his voice low enough that none of the others could catch the words. After a minute or two of tense silence, during which the others exchanged confused, worried looks, he re-emerged, with the Galra split slinking cautiously along behind him, ears twitching at every sound.
Lance’s expression was nothing short of amazed, and he probably would’ve asked about it if Allura hadn’t spoken first.
“Very good. Come along, please.”
The Princess led the way, followed by the first split who had gone without hesitation. Next came the one with white hair, leading the Galra by one clawed hand, and then the rest of the team followed in a pack at the rear of the procession. At least until Shiro noticed how the Galra’s fur was bristling on the back of his neck and moved up to walk alongside instead. The others caught on quickly and copied him, and while the Galra’s shoulders lowered an inch or so, he still watched Shiro warily from the corners of his golden eyes.
Shiro shivered. He still had nightmares about eyes like that, hovering over him as he was strapped to a table or peering out at him from the shadowed halls or gleaming across the arena sand; seeing them set in a face he knew almost as well as his own was making something in his stomach twist.
Finally they reached the lounge. Coran quietly excused himself to go monitor the Castle’s sensors, to make sure they weren’t ambushed during the confusion, and the other paladins hung back along the rooms edges while Allura brought the three figures to the middle. Shiro lingered a few steps closer.
Allura, as elegantly as ever, dropped to a seated position on the lounge floor. The splits followed her example with varying levels of enthusiasm. The first sat cross-legged, hands grasping his shins, utterly at ease. The one with white hair sat the same but laid his hands in his lap and kept his back painfully straight. The Galra fidgeted for a moment, but after a second or two reluctantly sank to his knees.
“Join hands, please.”
The first split grasped Allura’s left hand without hesitation, holding his other out for the white-haired split to take. Again the Galra balked at the hands coming toward him, flinching just the tiniest bit at the movement, but Allura and the split were patient and eventually he accepted their hands, though gingerly, being wary of his claws. For a moment he looked so much like Keith that Shiro’s breath froze in his throat, but then he blinked and the alien markings and the golden eyes reappeared, and Shiro didn’t recognize him anymore.
His eyes burned as he gulped back the sudden surge of fear.
Allura closed her eyes, and the room descended into heavy silence.
A silence Lance could only stand for about two minutes.
“How long do you think this is gonna take?” he asked Hunk in a stage whisper. Shiro shot him a disapproving glare, but Allura didn’t twitch, and none of the splits appeared to have acknowledged the interruption either.
“Probably a while,” Hunk answered, though thankfully a bit more softly. “Allura isn’t exactly a master at this.”
Lance grunted unhappily in reply. “Well I’m gonna go check up on Blue. It’s not like I’m being any help here.”
Shiro turned his attention back to the Princess. He heard the door to the lounge swish a few times as it opened and shut, and then the silence returned.
Another half an hour passed. Shiro thought he could see a faint white glow in the air around Allura, but he couldn’t be sure. Besides that nothing else had changed, and Pidge straightened up from the wall and stretched.
“I’m gonna go help Coran,” she said to no one in particular before she too abandoned the room.
Another twenty minutes later Hunk begged off too, muttering something about making food for everyone when they were done. That left only Shiro to stand vigil over the little gathering.
Allura’s brow was furrowed in concentration. The splits sat still and silent, even the Galra, as though Allura had put them into a trance while she explored their quintessence. But no matter how much he stared, if there was a difference Shiro couldn’t detect it.
It had been an hour, and Shiro was still standing in the same spot when Allura’s eyes flickered open. She heaved in a deep breath; the splits stirred and pulled their hands away from each other as Allura’s arms fell limply to her sides. Shiro started forward, apprehensive at the look of exhaustion on her face, and as he helped the Princess to her feet the first split spoke.
“I don’t feel any different,” he said, gazing sharply at his hands as though he expected them to have changed. The one with white hair didn’t speak, and the Galra merely shifted his position until he could pull his knees to his chest.
“Princess?” Shiro murmured, and Allura finally lifted her head to meet his eye. Only at this proximity did Shiro notice the sweat heading her brow.
“It’s…” she began, only to pause for another breath. “Very slow going.”
Shiro experimentally loosened his grip, but the Princess teetered on her feet and he tightened it again. She continued speaking as though she hadn’t almost collapsed.
“She didn’t just separate the quintessence, it’s not clean, it’s-- it feels like it’s been torn, in a way, and I’m struggling to find where it’s meant to fit together.”
“Why don’t you sit for a minute, Princess?” Shiro suggested, gently leading her to the sofa. She slumped into the cushions, and Shiro felt his worry kick up a notch. “I’ll ping Coran and ask him to bring you something to drink.”
“Thank you, Shiro.”
He bustled over to the console beside the door to send the message. When he returned Allura was sitting up a little straighter, had a little more color in her cheeks, and was directing an intense look at the white haired split, who met it steadily.
“You felt the difference before, didn’t you?” she asked.
The split nodded.
“Are you sensitive to quintessence?”
Another solemn bob of the head.
“Is Keith?” At the look of confusion on the splits face, she clarified, “Before the split, were you quintessence sensitive?”
The split frowned, tugging the scar on his cheek in a way that made Shiro’s skin crawl. Did his scar do that too? He hoped not.
“I’m not sure,” the split said in his usual monotone, so unlike the Keith that Shiro knew. “I think so, but it’s muddled under everything else.”
Shiro wanted to ask what “everything else” was supposed to mean, but for the moment held his tongue, letting Allura work through whatever thought was in her head.
“Is there anything you can tell me that could help? About what the witch did?”
He paused to mull over what he was going to say before he said it. The first split watched him with wide, curious eyes, and the Galra sat still behind the wall of his knees.
Eventually, he opened his mouth. “I don’t think she just pulled the quintessence apart by itself. I don’t think she knows how. But she knows something else that might’ve done it.”
Allura and Shiro both raised their eyebrows and snuck a quick glance at each other. They turned back to the split, and Allura spoke just as the lounge door opened, drowning out the soft sound.
“What did she do?”
The split clenched his jaw. “I think… she used memories. She tore the memories apart and the quintessence went with them. She’s done it before,” and his eyes flicked to Shiro.
It took him a second, but when he realized what the split was hinting at his stomach dropped to his feet.
“Shiro?” asked Allura, and only then did he realize she was looking at him with concern. “Are you alright? You went pale just now.”
He forced himself to take a breath. He wasn’t sure what to say, or think, or feel. Was the split telling the truth? Were his memory gaps not because of trauma, but because a space witch had pulled them out of his head? What the actual hell?
“How do you know?” he heard his shaky voice ask from far away. “How can you tell that’s what she did?”
The split’s flat expression didn’t change. “I can feel it. There are still echoes of her quintessence on you.”
Shiro felt sick, and clenched his fists to hide the shaking of his hands. Thankfully, he was saved from responding when Coran’s voice spoke up from behind him.
“Well now, we’re all rather dreary in here, aren’t we?”
The Galra split flinched and hissed at the unexpected voice. The first split jumped and coughed a bit after inhaling too quickly, and Allura straightened to peer over the back of the couch at the advisor.
“Here you are, Princess,” he said cheerfully, handing her one of the pouches of juice that he gave the paladins when they trained. She traded him a grateful smile. “Now, what’s all this about memories?”
Allura was busy drinking from her pouch, and Shiro hadn’t found his voice yet, but the split answered for both of them.
“Haggar used our memories to split our quintessence. He,” he pointed to the first split, “has all the good ones, and he,” a jab in the Galra’s direction, “has all the bad ones.”
Shiro blinked and took a moment to process the information. It certainly explained why the first split was a positive ray of sunshine compared to the normal Keith, and why the Galra version of him was practically feral, but it didn’t answer everything.
“What about you?” asked Allura, setting aside her drained juice pouch. “Which ones do you have?”
His frown changed into a small grimace, the first echoes of real emotion that had yet crossed his face. “I have all of them, I think, but they’re distant. Like they belong to someone else.”
Allura leaned forward, more than a bit eagerly. “Could you assist me? If I know where the proper memories go, it could help me link the quintessence back together.”
“Maybe,” he said, but he didn’t look convinced. “I don’t think it’ll be that easy, though.”
“We won’t know until we try,” Allura responded, resolutely pushing herself back to her feet. “Let’s get back to it.”
As she settled back into her position and the group re-joined hands, taking a moment to coax the Galra back out of his ball, Coran put his hand on Shiro’s shoulder.
“I’ll go inform everyone how things are progressing,” he murmured. In Shiro’s opinion there wasn’t much to report, but he didn’t say anything as the Altean left the room. He took a seat on the sofa, and this time noticed the difference when Allura began to glow after only a minute or two. Now both her and the white haired split wore expressions of concentration as they worked, and Shiro settled down for a long time of waiting and trying to think through this new revelation about his memories.
But after only five minutes, the first split winced, his hands jerking as though trying to pull them away from the others. They held fast, and he subsided for a few more minutes before it happened again. This time his eyes sprang open, wide and terrified, and he yanked away from Allura, shattering their trance.
“No!” he cried as Shiro leapt to his feet in alarm. “What-- why-- that hurt! Why are you hurting me?”
The Galra split blinked a few times, dazed, but the one with white hair replied calmly, “We aren’t hurting you, it’s just a memory.”
The first shook his head violently. He was holding one hand close to his chest while he leaned his weight on the other, leaning away from the group as much as he could, and it was with a jolt that Shiro noticed him rubbing his thumb over his clenched fingers. The way his Keith did when he was nervous or upset.
“Not mine. They’re not my memories.”
“Yes, they are,” said Allura in a stern tone, making the Galra split press his ears flat to his skull. “You three are meant to be one person. Those memories belong to you as much as the good ones.”
The first split withdrew even more, unshed tears turning his eyes glassy, and Shiro’s chest ached as his heart squeezed.
“I don’t want them. Why do we have to go back? I’m happy this way, why can’t we stay? Why can’t we just leave it alone?”
Allura opened her mouth to answer, only to be cut off by the split’s breath catching in his throat and making him cough again. Or at least, that’s what Shiro thought, until he lowered his hand from his mouth and it was streaked with red. Both he and the split stared in horror at the sudden appearance of crimson.
“That’s why,” said the one with white hair, grimly. “She hurt our quintessence when she pulled us apart, and now it’s unravelling. We’re unravelling, and if we don’t go back, all three of us will die.”
The first split shook his head again, though this time more in dazed denial than actual rejection.
“No,” he whispered to himself, blood dripping from the corners of his lips, “I don’t… I don’t want…”
Shiro moved on an impulse. He didn’t know if this was going to work, if the memory he was going for was even in this split’s memory bank, but he could still try. He knelt beside him, wrapping an arm gingerly around his shoulders. The split leaned into the embrace.
“Hey, Keith, you remember the first time you tried the cliff trick?”
He sniffled a bit, and croaked in a small voice, “Yeah.”
“And you remember how you broke your wrist and the nurse had to set it?”
Shiro felt him nod against his chest. Allura and the other two splits were both staring, but he tried to ignore them and focus on helping Keith. Well, this part of Keith.
“The setting hurt, right?”
“But it had to be done, to make sure you healed. Yeah?”
This time he didn’t answer, probably seeing where Shiro was going with this, but that didn’t stop Shiro.
“Getting your bad memories back is going to hurt. But you need them, to be whole again.”
The split made a small sound of discontent, but after a second more pulled away from the embrace, and when he wiped the tears from his cheeks with the backs of his hands his expression was determined.
“Ok… ok. I can do this.” His hand was still smeared with blood, but the white haired split took it when it was offered without hesitation, and Allura gave him a grateful smile before returning to her work.
Shiro sat back against the sofa, pleased and hopeful, and not at all concerned about the possible blood stains on his shirt.
The pleased and hopeful bit didn’t last long. The split was still coughing, and every so often blood would fall from his lips and splatter on the white floor. The Galra split fidgeted in his spot, and the expression on the white haired splits face had turned from one of concentration to a pained grimace.
The first split was struggling with the memories. He cried off and on as the memories were spotted into place, and many times he would cry out and thrash against the hands holding him in place. Once Shiro had to hold him still while he shouted for them to stop, begged them to, and by the time the memory was gone and he calmed down again Shiro was shaking.
But when Coran offered to swap with him so he could take a break, he refused. He couldn’t leave. He just couldn’t.
This session lasted two hours before Coran insisted they stop for another break. Allura was exhausted past the point of speaking and focused purely on draining the juice pouch Coran had brought for her. He supplied some for the others as well, but only the white haired split partook. The Galra one returned to his previous ball, and the other simply sat, staring at the floor with glassy eyes.
Shiro knew better than to try to touch him, but still knelt beside him with a juice pouch while Coran tried to coax the Galra to drink too.
“You should have something,” he said in a low, comforting voice as he offered the pouch. “Keep your strength up.”
The split didn’t so much as look up. “I can’t,” he whispered hoarsely. “I won’t… keep it down.”
Shiro cringed. Carefully, he set the pouch down next to his leg.
“Well if you feel like trying, it’ll be right here.”
“How much longer?” He finally directed his gaze at Shiro, though he seemed to be looking through him rather than at him. “How many more do we have to do?”
“I’m not sure.” Shiro glanced at the one with white hair, who was just finishing his juice pouch. “What do you think?”
The split stared at him for a second, then flicked his eyes down and away, setting the empty pouch aside. “We’re almost to Kerberos.”
Again, Shiro flinched. God, this was going to suck.
Allura sighed and pushed her hands through her hair. “I suppose we should resume. The hard part is almost over.”
But before any of them could move there came a knock on the lounge door. It made Shiro raise an eyebrow before Lance’s voice floated through it.
“Uh, are we allowed in? Or is this like… surgery or something? No distractions allowed?”
“You may enter, Paladins,” Allura called back, tiredly leaning her chin in her hand. The door slid open, and one by one the remaining three paladins entered the room. All of them stepped cautiously, like they were walking on a frozen lake, and when Lance looked at the gathering of splits he had to blink hard and shake his head.
“I’m never going to get used to seeing three mullets,” he said; an uneasy joke that tried and failed to lighten the mood.
The white haired split merely rolled his eyes at the comment. The Galra one had retreated further into his knees, wary about all the extra people, and the first’s attention was fixed on the juice pouch, still considering whether he was going to drink any of it. And so awkward silence reigned.
“So how’s it going?” Pidge asked, climbing over the back of the sofa to sit beside Allura. “You look exhausted.”
“It is rather slow going,” admitted Allura, “But we are making progress. We’re almost done lining up the bad memories, then we can do the good, and hopefully that way I can stitch the quintessence back together.”
Hunk walked around the couch to stand before the whole group, though his gaze lingered on Shiro.
“Are you guys hungry? I can make something-- there isn’t a lot in the kitchen right now but I could figure it out.”
Allura shook her head, though none of the splits looked like they were disappointed by that. Personally, Shiro thought that if he had to try to choke down food goo right now it wouldn’t go well for anyone involved.
“No, thank you, Hunk. I want to get this done as quickly as possible.” In the middle of her sentence the Galra split winced, curling in on himself ever tighter, hiding his face in his knees, and the Princess’ expression gentled. “The longer we wait, the more pain we put Keith through.”
“You can say that again,” griped the normal looking split in a grumpy tone. “Feels like someone’s cutting my lungs open.”
During their conversation Lance had sidled over to where the Galra split sat on the floor. Standing over him, he gave the split a thoughtful look, then gingerly reached down to touch one of his fluffy ears.
The split tensed before he made contact and the ear flicked irritably, so much like an Earth cat that it made Lance smile. Shiro let him do it once more before speaking up.
“Lance, don’t do that. I doubt he likes it when people play with his ears.”
Lance shot Shiro his trademark pout. “Aw, you’re no fun.” In defiance he reached down to do it again, only for the split to let out a deep, throaty growl, and all of them went still.
Shiro couldn’t help the way his muscles froze. He’d heard that same sound so many times while he was a prisoner, both in the arena and in the cell block, and his brain fully paired that sound with incoming pain. But he wasn’t the first one to freak out.
After a moment of dead, tense silence, the Galra split stumbled to his feet. If he’d been lucid Shiro would’ve noticed how wide his eyes were, how his fur bristled, the defensive hunch of his shoulders. As it was he only saw bared teeth and yellow eyes.
He threw up his hands, bracing for an attack that never came. Instead Shiro opened his eyes to see the split dashing right past him. He leapt over the sofa and headed for the door, clipping his shoulder against the frame as he darted out of the lounge and into the hall.
“Where is he going?” Hunk cried as Shiro tried to remember how his lungs were supposed to work.
“Goddamnit Lance,” snarled the white haired split as he got up. Lance immediately looked offended and ready to argue, but the split had already followed the other out of the room. Pidge was next through the door, followed by a sluggish Allura and a chagrined Lance.
The normal looking split was still stunned where he sat, probably a side effect of the recently regained memories that had made the Galra one flee to begin with. Hunk was beside him, though the conflict on his face showed how he felt about the situation.
Shiro almost automatically began to follow, only for Coran to catch his shoulder.
“Number two,” he murmured solemnly, “Perhaps you’d better take a breather.”
He shook his head. “No, I’m fine.” A lie, but it didn’t really matter. What mattered was keeping Keith, and everyone else, safe. Coran, with an understanding nod, let him go.
Following the raised voices he could still hear, Shiro made his way through the halls. He wound up outside the Lion hangar, and when he entered, he wasn’t surprised to see Red’s eyes glowing and her particle barrier up. What did surprise him was that even the white haired split had been locked out along with the others.
Then again, Allura had said he didn’t have any red quintessence. Might be why.
“Is he in there?” he asked as he approached the group. Allura looked at him with fatigue, heavy bags under her eyes.
“Yes. It would appear that he can still communicate with the Red Lion, even in this state, and he went to her for protection. Though what is was that made him flee to begin with, I don’t know.”
“I can,” said the other split in a grim tone. “He was taught not to react if he was bothered. But he did this time, and now he expects to be punished.”
Shiro gnawed on the inside of his lip. His Keith had a similar problem-- though he often lost his temper, every time it happened he expected to receive retaliation.
“So we just need to tell him that we aren’t mad, right?” offered Pidge as she stared at the particle barrier with considering eyes. “Then he’ll come out?”
“He probably can’t hear us on the other side of the particle barrier,” said a new voice from the door. When Shiro turned he found Lance walking in first, followed by Hunk towing the first split behind him, as well as Coran. “Those things muffle noise pretty well.”
“Then what are we supposed to do?” asked Hunk. He released the other split and joined the group, awkwardly playing with his fingers where they crossed over his chest. “We can’t just leave him in there.”
Shiro looked to Allura and Coran (maybe they had some sort of magic ‘Particle Barrier Off’ button for the lions) but found they were just as befuddled as the rest of them. He certainly didn’t have any ideas. He was ready to tear his hair out-- this situation just got worse and worse.
Lance’s loud exclamation pulled him out of his mind. The Blue Paladin was facing away from the group and towards his own lion, hands on his hips in an accusing position. For a minute Shiro was confused, until he walked over and saw what he was mad about: the normal looking split had wandered over to the Blue Lion and was staring up at her, unmoving.
Black rumbled at the back of his mind. When he turned to look he saw the split with white hair doing the same as the other, only with the Black Lion instead. What’s more, Black was looking back down at him, her eyes aglow.
“I think,” he said, then paused and cleared his throat. “I think the lions want to help us.”
The sound of Allura’s heels echoed in the massive room as she joined Shiro. After a moment's consideration, she nodded to herself.
“Yes, I think… they could be useful, if they could stabilize the quintessence enough for me to repair it.”
As though she heard Allura’s words, Black let out a growl. A growl that became two as Blue joined in, then three with the addition of Red. The particle barrier flickered out, and Red raised her head from the ground to reveal the tiny purple shape tucked between her paws.
Beside him, Allura took a deep breath in and out.
“Well… back to work it would seem.”
Shiro swallowed hard. He wanted to be calming, wanted to reassure her in some way, but his mouth was too dry. More than anything he just wanted this whole nightmare to be over.
He wanted his Keith back.
The white haired split returned to the group when he was called, though Shiro had to go collect the other, gently tugging him away from the Blue Lion and back to the circle Allura was recreating on the hangar floor. Surprisingly enough the Galra split returned on his own, and though his eyes flickered all around and he kept glancing back at Red, he eventually settled back down in his original position and let his hands be taken again. With Red looming up behind him, perhaps he was feeling more confident.
Allura closed her eyes, and under the watchful gaze of the lions, the work began anew.
Another hour passed, surprisingly calmly. The other Paladins stuck around, Pidge perching herself on her lion’s paw and tapping away on her laptop. Hunk flitted anxiously around the room, though his orbit seemed to center around the split with blue quintessence, compulsively tidying up as he continued to cough up blood.
In the last few minutes the Galra split had begun to cough too. No blood yet, but he sat hunched over, like there was pain in his torso. Whenever he started to get too distressed Red would let out a purr and he’d settle again.
Lance leaned up against his lion and just watched. Shiro found his interest strange, until the split with white hair clenched his jaw to repress a wince and he felt Black brush up against his mind. Lance could probably feel it when Blue comforted the split, which considering that they were supposed to be going over Kerberos and the split hadn’t freaked out yet, was probably happening a lot.
Eventually Allura opened her eyes, at the same moment as the white haired split, and for the first time Shiro saw her slouch in pure exhaustion.
“I think that’s all of them,” she murmured, “The bad ones, at least.”
He turned to find the blue split watching him. He looked unbearably tired, and his bloodshot eyes welled with tears that didn’t seem inclined to fall. His expression sent an icicle through Shiro’s heart.
Wordlessly the split held out his arms. Once again he was reminded of the differences-- his Keith never asked for affection so easily, if at all-- but he beat back the dissonance as best he could and went to him, giving the split the embrace he’d asked for.
“Promise me,” the split said into Shiro’s shoulder. He could feel him shaking minutely in his arms. “Promise me you won’t disappear again.”
His throat tightened. He knew he couldn’t promise any such thing, especially not in the middle of a war like this, but what else could he say? He couldn’t refuse, not when Keith got like this.
“I promise,” Shiro lied. His Keith would’ve been able to see through it right away, but the split merely sagged into the hug with a relieved sigh.
Footsteps tapped on the floor, and Coran’s voice pierced the heavy air.
“Princess, I insist you rest before the next phase.”
The split with white hair spoke before Allura did. “We don’t have time.”
Coran turned to him with an affronted look, but the split met his gaze evenly, unwavering despite the exhaustion that showed in the shadows under his eyes.
“The longer this takes, the more unstable our quintessence becomes, and the harder it will be for the Princess to put us back together. If we stop now we risk failure.” His eyes cut to the Princess, where she sat at Coran’s feet, and his glare gentled, just a little. “I’m sorry, Princess.”
Allura shook herself and straightened up. She still looked tired and ragged, but there was a familiar determined shine in her eyes that Shiro knew meant she wouldn’t be giving up anytime soon.
“He’s right, Coran. The worst is over now-- we should press on.” Again she held out her hands to the splits, and Shiro retreated from the circle to let them resume.
He thought it would be a longer wait this time. Surely the happy memories wouldn’t have so many pauses and breaks, right? But clearly there was something he was missing, because less than five minutes into the next session the Galra split went rigid and, with a noise somewhere between a growl and a hiss, yanked himself out of the circle.
“Oh Jesus, not again,” Lance groaned in the background.
“What’s wrong now?” asked Hunk.
“He’s running away,” answered the one with white hair. His brow furrowed in the direction of the Galra, who had once again retreated into his coiled ball. “As far as he knows he’s never known good things to happen. He doesn’t trust it.”
Everyone looked astonished… except for Shiro. This was a part of Keith that he was all too familiar with, but this time he couldn’t help. This split didn’t recognize him, and Shiro thought that his heart had already ached as much as it could, but apparently he’d been wrong.
A low mechanical growl filled the air. The Red Lion lowered her head again, her nose resting just behind the split, her eyes glowing, and let out another growl/purr. The split made a noise back, this time a kind of whine, and Red shifted forward just enough to nudge him with her nose.
In any other circumstances, it would’ve been illegal levels of adorable.
The split seemed reluctant despite Red’s assurances, but even so scooted back into the circle, ever-so cautiously accepting Allura’s outstretched hand.
“It’s alright,” she murmured, and the split’s ear twitched in her direction. “We’re almost there.”
Shiro really, really hoped she would be right this time.
Their quintessence surgery was working.
Well, he couldn’t say that for sure. At the very least, though, it was doing something.
The changes had been subtle at first. A bit of a shadow on one of the splits’ faces, a streak of hair that seemed to be lightening. By now they were obvious.
The split that sat before the Blue Lion had splotches of purple covering his skin, one such spot slowly crawling up his jaw towards his cheekbones. His black hair now had some white streaks, and when he opened his eyes he revealed how one of them had adopted a yellow glow.
The Galra split was much the same, only opposite. Patches of white adorned his purple skin, a few of his clawed fingertips had shortened into normal human nails, and his ears had ceased to move in response to sound.
On the white haired one the changes were less dramatic. His hair had begun to return to black, settling on a middling shade somewhat like ash, and his scar was fading away.
All in all they kinda looked like a weird, experimental painting, but Shiro wasn’t so much worried about that as he was about them in general. As it had become more and more obvious that their quintessence was rejoining, it had also become plainer that it was unraveling, just like the one with white hair had predicted.
Right at that moment, as Allura prepared for the last attempt, the blue split was doubled over on the floor, hacking up a lung. With the coughs came blood, so much blood that Hunk couldn’t handle it anymore and shuffled off cleaning duty to Lance.
He was pale and solemn as he did so, for once not making any jokes or snarky remarks, and that was probably for the best. Behind him the Galra split laid on his side, curled up with his knees to his chest and his teeth bared in a grimace at the pain that seemed to be devouring him from the inside out.
The one with white haired seemed calm-- on the surface, at least. But there was a furrow to his brow and an angle to his jaw that Shiro recognized. It was the same look Keith got when he had a headache, or when he’d taken a hit in training, or when he hadn’t slept well the night before. It was the face he made when he was in pain or struggling but didn’t want anyone else to know.
Shiro was antsy. He paced back and forth and around the circle. He wanted to comfort them, all three of them, but he couldn’t be sure that they’d react the way he expected, or if his usual strategies would even work with them all pulled apart like this. More than anything he wished he could make it all go away as easily as Haggar had done it to them.
“Enough, Coran,” said Allura, drawing everyone’s attention back to her as she set aside another juice pouch. “It’s time to finish this. Time runs short.”
“As you say, Princess,” he answered, but his gaze was concerned.
“How is all this going to work?” Pidge asked in an anxious voice. She tapped her heels against her Lion’s paw from where she sat atop it, and the sound radiated around the room, like a suspenseful drum beat. “Is it going to be some sort of horror movie situation? With blood and guts and all that?”
“Oh god.” That whimper was from Hunk, who had turned almost as green as Pidge’s Lion.
“I don’t think so.” Allura’s face was grim.
The white haired split sighed, reaching up to wipe cold sweat from his forehead. “I can’t help you anymore, Princess. You’re going to have to do this part alone. I’m sorry.” He definitely looked sorry, but Allura just gave him the best smile she could muster.
“It’s alright, you were indispensable.”
“How much of this will Keith remember?” questioned Lance.
“There’s no way to know,” Coran said quietly from the back of the group. “Maybe nothing, maybe everything.”
“If he survives.”
That particular sentence from Allura made Shiro jolt and the other Paladins grimace, but before Shiro could think of anything to say with a million protests and questions roiling around in his brain, Allura had already retaken her position in the circle. She didn’t flinch away from the blue split’s bloodstained hands, nor did she comment on the seconds it took the Galra to pull himself upright.
“You may want to take a step back, Paladins.”
With that, her eyes closed for the final time.
The room went dead silent, as though the very air was holding its breath. Shiro was holding his, his lungs burning as he waited, waited, waited; for something, anything, to happen.
Then Allura’s back straightened, and she let out a sharp gasp, and that was all the warning they got before light exploded from the circle.
Shiro instinctively threw an arm over his eyes, sunspots dancing behind the closed lids. He heard the others cry out in surprise as they did the same, but heard nothing from any of the splits or Allura. Dread curled in his belly and he tried to peek, but the light was still blinding, forcing him back behind his makeshift shield. His heart pounded wildly in his chest.
Then the Lions let out a deafening roar.
With all five of them together the noise was so great Shiro felt the metal floor tremble underneath him. His ears ringing, he tried once again to see past the white glow, and maybe it was just wishful thinking but it looked to him like it was starting to fade.
The first thing to come into view was Allura’s blue dress. Then her hair, and her hands, hanging empty at her sides. Then the floor, revealing blank spaces where two of the splits had sat. And then…
“Oh, fuuuuuuck, my head.”
There was Keith.
Just one of him.
“Keith!” multiple voices shouted, and the floor rumbled again as people began running.
Shiro beat them all there. He crashed down upon his knees, automatically pulling Keith up and into his embrace. He was alive, clearly-- Shiro could feel his breath on his shoulder and the clunky way his armor moved when he raised a hand to his temple.
“Ow,” he muttered. Shiro could’ve jumped for joy, but with the utmost self control managed to contain it. “Shiro? Wha’s happening?”
Finally he pulled back, enough to see Keith’s face. The other Paladins had gathered around, all wearing relieved, happy expressions, even Lance, but Shiro could only see Keith.
Pale skin, but not abnormally pale, and no patches of purple that he could detect. Hair black, all the way through, which Shiro tested by running a hand through it and watching the strands as they fell back into place. The look in his eyes was a bit dazed, but they were the right color again. No scar on his cheek.
While he’d been evaluating all of this, Keith had been getting his bearings, and now asked, “How’d we get in the hangar? I thought we were…”
His voice trailed off, his gaze growing distant. Concern bubbled up in Shiro’s chest.
“Keith?” He looked back at Shiro, but still he seemed confused. “What do you remember?”
Keith frowned, his hand rubbing at his temple like he did when he had a headache. It hit Shiro like a wave then-- Keith was back, his Keith, the Keith he knew. Where everything fit together like a jigsaw puzzle instead of being strewn about without rhyme or reason.
“I was trying to get back to Red, but something…” He shook his head, then winced. “Not something. Someone. Someone shot me with something. There was a lot of pain, and then… I-- I don’t know, it’s all… confused, mixed up, like it’s not happening in order--” He cringed again, clearly in pain, and Shiro patted his shoulder reassuringly.
“It’s alright, Keith. You don’t have to figure it out right now.”
Keith looked back up at him, then around the room, at all the other faces peering down. His mouth scrunched up in confusion.
“What happened?” he asked again. “Why are you all looking at me like that?”
Shiro opened his mouth to explain. Coran, pushing his way through the crowd of Paladins, beat him to it.
“We’ll discuss that on the way to the med bay if you don’t mind, Number Four.” His tone was brisk, but the solemn look he leveled at Shiro told him not to take it as a request. “Just to make sure everything’s on the up and up.”
Shiro got to his feet first and pulled Keith up after. He staggered and swayed, but even so tried to pull away, until Shiro drew him back into his side.
“It’s ok,” he whispered to Keith. “Let me help.”
Keith’s expression turned baffled, but thankfully for Shiro, went along with it. They followed Coran out of the hangar, and when he glanced back over his shoulder Shiro found the other Paladins already following, Lance letting an exhausted and rumpled Allura lean on him as they went.
Coran, walking at a quick pace, reached the med bay before the rest of them. By the time he and Keith had caught up Coran already had two pods open and his medical scanner in hand, ready to begin his examinations. His face was still so serious that Shiro felt a bit of unease crawling in.
“Keith first,” said Allura as they entered the room, waving Lance off when he tried to protest. Keith looked like he was going to try it, too, but Coran was already advancing.
“What’s wrong with Allura?” he asked over Coran’s shoulder as he ran the scanner over his body. “Did Zarkon hurt her?”
Shiro was thrown. After all of that, he’d entirely forgotten why they were at Central Command in the first place. It made him give a hollow chuckle.
“No, she’s ok. Just tired.”
“When are you gonna tell me what’s going on?” Keith whined, which made him laugh again.
“Soon. Just let Coran check you out, ok?”
Keith huffed, but stood still all the same until Coran’s scanner beeped. The Altean stepped back and darted his eyes quickly over the screen. For a moment that breathless feeling came back, just for a moment, before Coran’s lips returned to their usual smile.
“You’ll be alright, lad,” he said to Keith, clapping him on the shoulder. “Just have a bit of a headache for a while.”
Shiro heard Hunk heave a sigh of relief, and Pidge murmured something that sounded an awful lot like, “Thank fuck,” but Lance still sounded worried when he spoke.
“What about Allura?”
“I’m getting to it, I’m getting to it.” The words were testy, but his true concern was visible to all as he made his way back to the Princess. She didn’t even try to dissuade him from his task, speaking to the exhaustion that weighed her down.
Keith leaned against him. It was a small comfort, but after everything he’d just seen, it nearly made tears spring to his eyes. Shiro tried his best to blink them back before anyone noticed.
Coran was the one to sigh this time when the scanner finished it’s work. “Nothing serious,” he said, though much quieter and softer, for Allura’s ears only. “But you’ll need your rest, Princess.”
Allura nodded, her eyelids sagging. “For once I agree with you.”
Lance finally seemed appeased-- until a huge yawn nearly cracked his jaw. Only then did Shiro come back to reality enough to consider everyone’s condition.
They were all exhausted. Allura was already being led out by Coran, presumably to be taken back to her room. Pidge was leaning on Hunk, who was rubbing his eyes, and Lance looked dead on his feet.
“Alright, guys,” he said, finally putting his leader hat back on. “We’ve all had a long day. Let’s all go get some rest.”
“Are you sure it was just a day?” Pidge asked wryly, even as the whole group turned towards the infirmary doors. “Felt longer than that.”
“I don’t know,” Hunk grumbled, “I stopped paying attention once we got to the hangar. Alteans don’t have enough clocks around.”
“Man, that was wild,” said Lance.
“What was?” Keith was beginning to get frustrated, Shiro could tell. “What happened? What am I missing?”
“I’ll explain it to you in a bit.” Shiro, as odd as it sounds, was actually relieved by this little flare of irritation. None of the splits would have done this-- the blue one was too laid back, the black too controlled, the red too scared. The thought made something in his chest ache, so for now he put it away in the back of his mind. Now wasn’t for existential debates about human nature. Now was for celebrating-- and being with his brother.
One by one their group dwindled as they passed various bedrooms. Pidge split off first, then Hunk, followed lastly by Lance. Keith, walking on his own now, shot Shiro a strange look when they walked past his door and he didn’t go in, but at least for now didn’t argue about him escorting Keith to his room.
The reason for his compliance soon became clear: the second they reached Keith’s bunk he went to the bed, flopping face-first into the mattress without regard for the armor that was still on his body. Shiro smothered his laugh into his hand.
Keith turned his head and gave him a look that said are you kidding me?
Shiro held up his hands in surrender. “Ok, ok. Let’s just get you out of your armor first, alright?”
Keith grumbled into his pillow, but after a moment managed to lever himself upright, and held out his arm when Shiro gestured for him to. He began to pull off the gauntlet while Keith watched him with a furrowed brow.
“What happened, Shiro?” he asked yet again. “Why is everybody treating me like glass?”
Shiro pulled the gauntlet off and set it aside, starting work on the next one before formulating his answer. How was he supposed to explain all of this? Especially the part about one of the splits being Galra-- that was sure to cause some panic. And he’d have to remember to talk to Allura first, about all the memories she’d seen, just to make sure she didn’t try to bring it up with Keith and accidentally start a fight.
Realizing his fingers had stopped moving, Shiro shook his head and went back to the clasps on the gauntlet.
“This is gonna sound really weird,” he said as he removed the second one, then bent closer to tend to the shoulder pads. Normally by this point Keith would be shoving him away, insisting he could do it on his own, but this time he seemed aware that getting his answers was conditional on letting Shiro fuss over him.
“We’re already flying magic space lions, Shiro.”
Still he didn’t say anything more until he’d removed both pieces of shoulder armor. He could’ve waited longer, but Keith’s squirming indicated he probably wouldn’t tolerate it.
“Alright, so. When the Red Lion landed…”