Keith was a master at deflecting conversations and never talking about himself. It took the others a while to realize that for all their deep heart-to-heart conversations, they still knew nothing about Keith. It only came to light after the Wormhole Incident, once they’d all been reunited and were recovering from their individual ordeals.
They celebrated the first night, breaking open the nunvil and sharing their adventures. (Coran, regrettably, was still working on repairs for the castle and had to bow out early). Lance gleefully reenacted his time on a jungle planet, swinging through the trees while monkey-like creatures chased him.
(Keith mentioned he’d also been on a jungle planet, and then Lance continued his adventure)
Shiro described his weeks on a city planet with technology so advanced he’d had no idea how to use any of it. But he’d gotten lucky that the locals were sympathetic to Voltron, so he’d had a roof over his head and a reliable source of food until his rescue.
(Keith, along with Pidge, moaned about not finding the locals friendly)
Pidge then went on to describe the tundra planet she’d been on. When trying not to freeze to death, she’d been fending off the definitely not friendly wildlife. At the very least, the strange tundra beasts had provided food.
(Keith and Hunk grimaced, Keith stating he’d been lucky the jungle planet had so much food to just pick off a tree)
Then it was Hunk’s turn to relate his time on the savannah like planet and the people he’d met there. They hadn’t known what Voltron was, and they’d been wary of him at first until he fixed up some of their ramshackle huts. After that they were more than willing to welcome him in their village.
“So what about you, Keith?” Hunk asked.
“Yes,” Allura said. “What was your experience?”
Keith shrugged. “Jungle planet like Lance, though distinct lack of monkeys. I spent the month running away from the locals trying not to die. The end.”
“Oh come on, you don’t have one good story?” Lance asked.
“There was this fruit kind of like a pineapple?” Keith offered. “I don’t know, I was mostly concerned with avoiding the locals. Seriously, they did not like me. They were actively hunting me, actually.”
Lance snickered. “Must be that charming personality of yours.”
“At least I didn’t attract monkeys,” Keith said.
“Hey! Those things were vicious! I’m gonna have a monkey bite scar for the rest of my life!” Lance yelled, brandishing his arm to prove it. They’d all spent a few hours in the pods upon their return, but since the bite had happened at the start of their separation it had already been mostly healed and there wasn’t much the pods could do.
“And we almost made it a full night without them fighting,” Pidge moaned.
Hunk laughed next to her. “I don’t know, makes everything feel normal again, at least a little bit.”
“Still, I’d rather not jump right back into this,” Shiro said, rubbing his forehead.
“We’re not starting anything,” Keith complained, leaning back against the couches and crossing his arms.
“In any case, I think I’ll take my leave,” Allura said. She stood up and smoothed out her dress. “Coran still needs help, even if he won’t admit it. I’m very glad you’re all back safe and sound. Please get some rest soon.”
Pidge and Hunk were quick to follow her. “We’re not that tired, we can help for a while,” Pidge said.
Allura immediately launched into a list of things they were working on, her voice fading as they walked out the door.
“And then there were three,” Lance said, tilting his cup in his hand.
“Well, if we’re not going to do anything productive, we should probably go rest,” Shiro said. “It’s been a long few weeks. We need it. Especially when Allura probably expects us to get right back into training tomorrow.”
All three of them paled and shivered.
“You make a good point,” Lance said, setting the still full cup of nunvil down. “Man it’s going to feel great sleeping in a real bed again.”
Keith sighed at the thought. “Alright, I’m convinced to go to bed early.”
The three made their way to their rooms, going their own ways and falling into silence.
That first night should have been a clue that something was wrong, for everyone. Coran found Keith training at four in the morning, and when asked Keith just shrugged and said he’d been too restless to sleep, so he thought he’d burn off some energy.
Coran let it go, putting it down as first night back jitters. There was bound to be an adjustment period.
Shiro found him the next night, but the nonchalant shrug and insistence he was fine from Keith convinced Shiro to do the same.
The next few nights Keith wasn’t in the training room when Coran looked, so Coran assumed the paladin was asleep like he was supposed to be.
The dark circles under Keith’s eyes proved that theory wrong, but every time Coran asked Keith insisted he was fine and turned the conversation around. And he was keeping up in training and still argued with Lance, so Coran trusted Keith knew what he was doing and that the boy really was fine.
After a week, almost everyone had picked up on it. He still kept up with training and he wasn’t anything less than perfect in their first mission back, but any other time he just looked exhausted.
Shiro approached him first after dinner one night. “Hey, everything okay?” They hadn’t made it to the lounge with everyone else yet, stopping just a corridor away.
“Yeah, fine,” Keith said.
“You sure? You don’t look like you’re sleeping well,” Shiro said.
Keith shrugged. “Just harder to get back to normal than I thought it’d be. I’m fine. What about you? Are you having nightmares?”
Shiro rubbed the back of his head and looked away. “Yeah.”
“You want to talk about them?” Keith offered.
“I appreciate that, but maybe some other time,” Shiro said. He had meant to redirect the conversation back to Keith, to focus on his problems, but Keith interjected before he could.
“Probably for the better…we’re already late to ‘family bonding’ and Lance is going to be pissed as it is,” Keith said, starting to walk off. Shiro was quick to follow.
While that was true, this was a fairly important issue and Shiro knew that Lance would understand. But Keith spoke up again before Shiro could try and pry.
“What was it Lance said we were doing tonight? Some kind of game?”
And just like that, Shiro was distracted long enough for them to join the others, and he didn’t get another chance for the rest of the night. Keith was one of the first ones to call it a night and go to bed, though, so Shiro let himself think that maybe Keith was right, and he was just trying to adjust back to their schedules.
The next attempt was a combined effort from Hunk, Lance, and Pidge. All five of them had been training when Allura pulled Shiro away to go over some negotiations with a planet they’d made contact with, with strict instructions that the remaining four were to keep training.
They’d all promptly declared it was break time and sat back with their space juice pouches.
“So what’s up with you, Keith?” Lance asked. “You’re losing your touch.”
“You’re delusional,” Keith stated, leaning back against the wall.
“No,” Hunk said slowly. “You did actually seem off your game today. Not much, just…noticeably.”
Keith considered Hunk’s words a little more than Lance’s, but still shrugged. “Guess I’m just having an off day then.”
“Probably because you’re so tired,” Pidge said. “Because you’ve apparently decided you don’t need sleep.”
“We’re not blind, Keith,” Pidge said. “We see the circles under your eyes.”
He tensed up a little, but he was quick to relax again. “It’s not a big deal.”
“Oh yeah?” Lance asked. “What happens when you’re too slow to cover me?”
“You saying you need me to protect you?” Keith asked, raising a brow.
“What? No! I totally don’t need you saving me! I can take care of myself just fine! I could protect the whole team! With my eyes closed!”
“Lance,” Hunk groaned.
“With your eyes closed, huh?” Keith asked. “Let’s see that then. You and me sparring, with you blindfolded.”
“You’re on!” Lance agreed.
He borrowed Hunk’s headband to tie around his eyes, and Keith just smiled.
“Try not to beat him up too badly!” Pidge called.
“Thanks for the vote of confidence!” Lance complained.
“Whenever you’re ready,” Keith said.
The fight was more entertaining than anything else, and it quickly devolved into a twisted version of Marco Polo.
Shiro and Allura were equally disappointed and exasperated when they came back to the scene of a wildly flailing Lance twenty feet away from a grinning Keith.
The trio didn’t even realize how well Keith had turned the conversation away from himself until dinner, when he was propping his head up on his fist and barely able to stay awake.
Lance reevaluated his opinion of Keith’s social skills.
Keith skipped out on team bonding after dinner that night, supposedly to go to bed, but the others couldn’t focus on anything else.
“He is okay, right?” Hunk asked. “I mean, he hasn’t complained about nightmares or anything, but he still looks like he’s barely sleeping.”
“I honestly don’t know,” Shiro said. “Every time I ask he switches the conversation around to my nightmares.”
“Yeah he’s actually really good at doing that,” Lance complained, crossing his arms and sinking lower into the couch.
“Has he ever had insomnia before?” Pidge asked.
“Not that I know of,” Shiro said. “But I don’t think that’s something he would have told me anyway.”
“Why is he so frustrating? Why can’t he just tell us what’s wrong with him?” Lance moaned.
“C’mon, he wouldn’t be Keith if he did that,” Hunk said. “He doesn’t seem to like bothering people with his problems.”
“Well too bad, we’re already bothered,” Lance said.
“I didn’t say he was right,” Hunk said.
“Regardless, one thing is still bothering me,” Pidge said, catching everyone’s attention. “As much as Keith doesn’t seem to be sleeping, he’s not trying to hide that he’s tired either, and he is actively trying to get sleep, like right now. You’d think he’d be avoiding sleep and trying to pretend that he’s fine if he were having nightmares.”
“We can’t rule nightmares out though, either,” Shiro said, which unfortunately put them all back at square one.
“So basically we need to tie Keith down and make him tell us what’s going on,” Lance summarized.
“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” Hunk said.
“But it might actually be the only way,” Pidge said.
“We’re not tying him up,” Shiro stated. “We just need to remind Keith that we’re here if he wants to talk. He’ll tell us when he’s ready.”
The idea was met with frowns from the other three, but there was nothing else they could do.
Keith wasn’t an idiot. He knew he wasn’t as fine as he kept telling everyone. The lack of sleep was getting to him, and it was starting to show in his training. It had to be, if even Lance noticed.
It’s not like he didn’t want to sleep. He did. He really, really did. He just…couldn’t. Every time he tried he kept thinking he was back on that jungle planet, about to be attacked at any moment. It didn’t matter that he was exhausted and running on fumes, or that he knew he was safe in the castle; the second he tried to let himself relax and fall asleep, panic seized him and had him jolting awake.
Eventually, after a few hours of stubborn determination, he was usually able to get two hours of sleep, three if he was lucky. He didn’t always have the patience to try that long though.
He’d tried going to the training room at first, thinking he would just wear himself out and then sleep. That was when he discovered it didn’t matter how exhausted he was, he’d keep having this problem either way.
The others knew something was wrong. Everyone kept trying to ask him about it, but there was nothing they could do. He brushed them off and asked after them instead, always diverting the conversation away from himself. They didn’t need to worry about him. He’d figure it out.
After two weeks of barely any sleep though, he was getting desperate. Humans weren’t meant to be awake so long. On the few missions they’d had, adrenaline was the only thing that kept him going. Coming down from the rush was usually enough to let him pass out for a few hours, and he relished those times.
It was like putting a bandaid on a crack in a dam, but it was all he had.
Two weeks turned to three. The concerned glances and attempts at asking what was wrong only grew worse. He was close to snapping at everyone to just leave him alone. There was nothing they could do to fix it, he just needed to get his body out of the defensive mode it developed when he was alone.
Easier said than done.
After another night where he skipped out of team bonding to go to bed early, he thought he might actually be tired enough to fall asleep quickly. He was sore from a terrible day of training, his reactions slow thanks to exhaustion, and all day he’d wanted nothing more than to curl up on his bed and fall unconscious.
Shiro didn’t give any grief about skipping again, patting him on the shoulder and telling to sleep well. Keith had just smiled and stumbled to his room, thinking that maybe for once he would.
An hour later and he was cursing everything in the universe.
He rolled onto his back, glaring into the dark. I’m perfectly safe here. No one is going to attack me. Please just let me sleep. Who, exactly, he was talking to, he wasn’t sure. He didn’t want to think about it too much.
He took a deep breath and focused on slowing his breathing, reveling in the silence around him. The jungle had been loud, weird creatures singing and howling all day. But here it was quiet, and nothing was hunting him. He could just relax….and sleep….
The air filtration system kicked on, a dull buzzing sound breaking the quiet.
Keith’s eyes were wide and he had a hand around his bayard, half sitting up before he’d even registered the sound.
The second he realized what it was, he cursed loudly and threw his bayard at the opposite wall, flopping back down onto his bed. He’d been so close to falling asleep. So close.
If he didn’t get real sleep soon he was going to scream. It was getting ridiculous, and if his new bruises were anything to go by then he could admit it was reaching dangerous levels.
He shoved his pillow over his ears and started the process over again. It took a while, and he heard the others walking in the hall and almost jumped out with his knife ready to defend himself before he finally managed to fall asleep.
Not that that lasted long. The air filtration system kicking on again jolted him awake, and he was out of bed and reaching for his bayard before he even realized he was awake.
“Damn it,” he muttered, sinking back to the edge of his bed. A glance at the clock showed it was only two thirty in the morning, and he’d barely managed two hours of sleep. He’d reached the point where the thought of staying in this room any longer was unbearable though, so he pulled on his shoes, grabbed his jacket, and went for a walk around the castle.
Soon enough he found himself at the top of one of the towers, at one of the large bay windows. He sat sideways on the window seat, leaning back against the wall and pulling one knee up against his chest. He kept his other foot on the floor.
It could have been minutes or hours when he heard footsteps, but a quick glance showed it was just Shiro. The look on his face was unreadable, a cross between analytical and sympathetic, and he sat down next to Keith.
“Can’t sleep?” he opened.
Keith just snorted and shook his head, keeping his gaze out the window.
“What do you dream about?” Shiro asked.
That earned him a frown. “Keith, it’s clearly bothering you. Please tell me.” His voice was nothing but gentle.
Keith sighed and leaned his head back against the wall. “I’m not having nightmares. I can’t stay asleep long enough for that, if I even fall asleep at all.”
Shiro looked at him for a minute, expression carefully schooled to keep any pity out of his gaze. “How come?”
Keith shrugged and crossed his arms. “If I knew that I don’t think I’d be sitting here right now.”
“Humor me,” Shiro said. “Your mattress okay?”
“What? Yeah, it’s fine.”
“Your room too dark? Or too light?”
This was not where Keith thought this conversation would go when he caved and had it. He was too tired for these kinds of questions. “My room is fine.”
“Hmm.” Shiro put his hand to his chin, eyes narrowing in thought. “Noise then?”
Keith opened his mouth to retort that it was fine he just needed to get over it, but then he shut it again. Noises did startle him awake more often than not. “Actually…maybe.”
Shiro brightened considerably.
“It’s not like it’s overall too loud or too quiet, but whenever something changes, that wakes me up. Like the air filtration systems or you all walking in the hall.”
“Okay, we can work with that. Maybe if we got you earplugs or maybe even headphones like Lance….”
Keith appreciated how much Shiro wanted to help, he really did, but he had a feeling playing music wasn’t the answer. But at this point, he was willing to try anything. He dragged his other leg up onto the window seat and wrapped his arms around his knees, cheek resting on his kneecap. “Think Lance would actually be willing to let me borrow his?”
“We’ll ask him tomorrow. Er, later today, I guess,” Shiro said. “And if it works, we can probably make a second pair somehow. I’m sure Pidge or Hunk would be able to figure it out. Or maybe Alteans had something similar and Coran could find something for you.”
Keith felt himself relaxing, listening to Shiro like this. He let his eyes slip closed. “Thanks…Shiro.”
Shiro smiled. “Anytime. And if this doesn’t work we’ll figure something else out, okay?”
He looked over at Keith when there was no response, and he couldn’t help the fond smile that spread over his face. The position didn’t look particularly comfortable, but Keith had still managed to fall asleep.
“Sleep well, kiddo.”
Shiro hadn’t been planning on waking Keith up for breakfast. He obviously needed the rest, and one missed meal wouldn’t hurt.
He didn’t take the morning breakfast announcement into consideration. Coran usually shouted over the speakers that breakfast would be ready in ten minutes. It was the quickest way to tell everyone and some days the only way to find everyone.
Coran’s bright and cheery voice startled him, but that said nothing for how Keith reacted. He had jumped to his feet and unsheathed his knife in one motion, looking around for something to fight until his eyes landed on Shiro.
Shiro raised a brow. “You always wake up ready to fight?”
Keith blushed and put the knife away, and Shiro frowned. That wasn’t a no.
“Sorry,” Keith muttered.
“It’s alright,” Shiro said. He slung an arm around Keith’s shoulders and started leading them to the dining room. “Can’t say I’ve never woken from a nightmare in the same mindset.”
“Yeah, but that’s different. I’m not even dreaming when I wake up.”
“You’re just prepared for anything,” Shiro said. “There’s nothing wrong with that.”
Keith didn’t have anything to say to that, and they walked the rest of the way in comfortable silence.
Shiro made good on his promise to get Lance’s headphones for Keith. It had been an idea that Keith had already forgotten, so he was more than surprised when Lance showed up at his door with them.
“Uh…hi?” Keith said.
Lance rocked back and forth on his heels, headphones held loosely in his hands. “Hey. Um, Shiro said you wanted to borrow these?”
It took Keith a moment to remember the conversation. “Oh, yeah, if you don’t mind. If you need them it’s fine, we’re not even sure it’ll work.”
Lance shoved the headphones into Keith’s chest. “Dude, I can handle a night of possibly terrible sleep if it means you actually get a good night’s sleep. You’re actually starting to worry me.”
Keith hoped his face wasn’t as red as it felt. He took the headphones, an Ipod dangling from the cord.
“Sorry if my music’s not what you like…but we don’t have a lot of compatible tech for these and we’re sort of stuck with what we’ve got.”
“No, it’s fine. As long as it’s not like, Weird Al or anything,” Keith said.
“First of all,” Lance said, voice rising. “Weird Al is a treasure and shall be treated as such. Second of all, I will concede his music is terrible to fall asleep to. I’ve got some playlists specifically for sleeping, so don’t worry.”
“Oh,” Keith said.
“Yeah.” Lance nodded his head. “Well…I’m just…I’ll just go now.” He turned and started walking off, shoving his hands in his pockets.
Keith looked at the headphones for a moment before leaning out his doorway. “Lance! Thank you.”
Lance turned back with a broad smile. “You’re welcome. Sleep tight!”
Keith retreated into his room and got ready for bed, settling on his back with the headphones on. He browsed through the playlists, hardly recognizing any of the songs, before picking one at random and pressing play.
It was some sort of techno beat, but there weren’t any words to it. Slowing his breaths, he relaxed and let the music do its job, listening to the entire first song and most of the second.
Something in his room clicked. Keith’s eyes shot open and he jackknifed, staring out into the darkness. What had that noise been?
He tapped the ipod and used the light to look around his room, but nothing was out of the ordinary.
He forced himself to lay down again, taking deep breaths to calm down. It was probably part of the ship. It was just a normal noise. Stop panicking. You’re safe here. It’s not like Galra could have snuck on board…the alarms would have gone off.
Unless they somehow disabled them?
No, no they couldn’t do that.
No. He needed to stop that train of thought. He rolled over and glared at his door, almost daring an enemy to walk through.
Get a grip, Kogane. There are no enemies on board this ship. Just go the fuck to sleep.
He told himself that a dozen times, but he couldn’t stop staring at his door. With the music on, he couldn’t hear if anyone was walking in the hall, couldn’t keep himself alert so he could protect himself if he needed to.
You won’t need to protect yourself.
But there was always the chance…
No. Shut up and go to sleep.
Groaning, Keith turned his back to the door and faced the wall instead. It was slightly uncomfortable with the headphones on, but he would make it work. Then he focused on relaxing and slowing his breathing, turning his attention to the music.
The problem with the music was the way it stopped and started. He could be drifting off to sleep, but then the song would end and the sudden silence always jolted him awake. Or there’d be a sudden loud beat or a change in tempo, and it was enough to startle him.
He rolled over again an hour later, exhaustion heavy in his limbs. Please, whatever gods exist in space, please just let me sleep. He wasn’t going to be attacked just because he closed his eyes. This wasn’t the jungle planet. No one was hunting him right now.
The next song that came on was Free Bird, one Keith actually knew. Hopefully, since it was a longer song, he could fall asleep before it was over.
He almost did. But then he heard that clicking noise again and his eyes shot open, looking for the source.
When he realized it was just the air filtration system kicking on and it wasn’t a clicking sound just the normal humming that he only barely heard because of the music, he was ready to activate his bayard and stab himself. At least then he’d fall unconscious, and he wanted nothing else more at the moment.
Free Bird ended and a classical song came on. Keith laid back down and restarted the process of trying to fall asleep, losing himself in the gentle beats of the music. The back of his mind thought about the similarities between the flutes in the song and the cry of a bird back on the jungle planet.
Don’t think of the jungle planet. You’re not there anymore. This is Mozart or Bach or something, not a bird. You’re on the castle ship.
His thoughts slowed, soft bird song surrounding him. Them being there was good…if anyone came they’d stop singing and that would let him know he needed to move. Hopefully that wouldn’t be for a while; this was the most comfortable patch of dirt he’d ever found and he was in no mood to move.
For a few minutes at least, everything was peaceful. Then the birds stopped singing. Keith had his sword in his hands and had jumped up, swinging out in a wide arc for immediate defense. He hit a tree with the blade, stopping his swing and….
That wasn’t a tree, it was a wall. He wasn’t in a jungle, he was in his room on the castle ship.
He yelled and tore the headphones off, throwing it and the Ipod at the wall before collapsing to his knees on the floor and burying his face in his hands.
Keith was the last one to arrive for breakfast the next morning. He dropped the headphones and Ipod in Lance’s lap as he passed.
“What the—Hey!” Lance said, fumbling to catch them.
“Did it work?” Shiro asked.
Keith snorted and took his seat. “Not at all.”
Lance’s shoulders fell. “Really?”
“It was too inconsistent. Every time the song changed it woke me up.”
Shiro frowned. “Guess I should have considered that from what you said the other night.”
“It’s fine,” Keith shrugged. “I’ll figure something else out.”
“Is it just noise that’s keeping you up?” Pidge asked.
“It’s certainly not helping,” Keith grumbled. He sank in his chair and poked at his goo.
“We could make earplugs,” Hunk said. “That shouldn’t be too hard.”
The thought of being in complete silence was somehow worse than not sleeping, and his heart rate spiked at the idea. “I don’t think that will work. Thanks anyway.”
“Are you sure it’s not your mattress?” Shiro asked.
“Yes,” Keith insisted. His only bed in the desert had been a lumpy couch. His mattress now was like a cloud.
The others glanced around at each other helplessly, and an uncomfortable feeling settled in Keith’s gut.
“Look, I appreciate the concern. I’m just screwed up from that month in the jungle, I’ll get it over eventually.”
“Yeah, but when?” Hunk asked. “It’s already been over three weeks.”
“What were your sleeping conditions like on that planet?” Pidge asked.
“Any semi-safe spot I could find,” Keith said. He kept playing with his spoon. The food goo wasn’t normally appetizing, but today it was even less so.
“Semi-safe?” Shiro repeated.
“I was being actively hunted. Staying in one place for any length of time was dangerous. You know how many times I woke up with a knife at my neck or rope around my hands?”
“Quiznack,” Lance muttered. “What did you do to piss them off so much?”
“May or may not have crashed into their sacred mountain or something. And somehow their culture demanded I be sacrificed as retribution for the deity.”
“Well there you go. You shouldn’t have crashed into their mountain,” Lance said.
Keith spluttered. “It was either that or their town and I’m pretty sure they would have hated that even more!”
Lance shrugged. “I’m just saying.”
“Alright, enough you two,” Shiro intervened when he saw Keith open his mouth. Thankfully the boys had reached a point where him simply saying enough worked to shut them both up without further prompting.
“Sooo what’s on the schedule for today?” Hunk asked.
Shiro explained that the paladins would be training all morning while Allura and Coran worked out a strategy for their next supply run. There was silent relief around the table that Allura would not be monitoring their training; they might not add any new bruises to their collection then.
They didn’t see much of Allura or Coran throughout the day, not until after dinner when they were all lounging on the couches. They came in carrying trays of steaming tea.
“What’s this?” Shiro asked as Allura handed him a mug.
“Boiled Gospin,” the princess replied.
Coran handed out his mugs while he explained. “It’s a small plant found in the Riqua system. You steep it in hot water and add a sweetening agent to it.”
“Oh, so it’s tea.”
The Alteans paused and looked at each other. “No,” Allura said slowly. “It’s Gospin.”
Coran hesitated before handing Keith his mug, but the red paladin didn’t notice.
“Earth has a similar drink,” Pidge explained. “We call it tea.”
“Wonderful, then you’ll love this!” Allura said. “Gospin helps one to relax, and we thought you could all use some. So drink up!”
The paladins glanced from the steaming mugs to each other. Lance just shrugged and took a sip, prompting the others to do the same.
“Huh, it’s sweeter than I thought it’d be. Almost more like hot chocolate,” Pidge said.
“Really? It tastes kind of bitter to me,” Keith said.
Coran and Allura glanced at each other.
“Nope, definitely sweet,” Hunk said after taking another sip.
“It’s delicious,” Lance said, eagerly taking another sip. “And not bitter at all. Are you so exhausted your taste buds are screwed up?”
“I don’t think that’s possible,” Keith said.
Coran pulled at his mustache. “His cup might have been the first one, the Gospin might have steeped too long.”
“Yes, exactly,” Allura said.
Keith just shrugged. “Tastes fine, just not as sweet as everyone else’s I guess.”
Hunk held his mug out. “Well here, why don’t you try mine then? Just so you know what we’re talking about.”
He took the offered mug and sipped, eyes widening. “Wow. That is a lot sweeter.”
Allura and Coran shared panicked looks.
Lance burst out laughing. “Ha! Keith’s so bitter even his alien tea matches.”
Shiro groaned. “Please. Not tonight Lance.” He had both hands wrapped around the warm mug and looked like he was melting into the couch.
“Right, well then,” Allura spoke up. “Everyone drink up before it gets cold!”
Keith made a point of glaring at Lance while he sipped at his Gospin until the whole mug was empty.
Lance did his best to ignore the look.
There wasn’t much conversation while they drank, everyone just calmly enjoying the drink. Allura and Coran collected the empty mugs and then shooed everyone off to bed, promising to let them sleep in a little the next morning.
Keith had scoffed at the notion, but as he stumbled to his room and collapsed on his bed, he actually felt like he could sleep. His limbs felt like lead and opening his eyes was a herculean labor, so he skipped his normal bedtime routine and just curled up on top of the sheets.
He was asleep in minutes.
Waking up was not as pleasant of an experience.
The alarms pierced his foggy mind, dragging him inch by inch back to consciousness. As soon as he realized it was the alarm, his eyes snapped open and he jumped up, reaching for his flight suit.
A wave of dizziness nearly sent him to the floor, and he had to hold himself steady for a moment before pressing on. The dizziness didn’t go away, but the waves were at least a little smaller.
His eyes tried to slip closed, so he forced them to stay open while he put on his armor one piece at a time. Was it always this difficult? His fingers couldn’t seem to secure the clasps with his usual dexterity, and for the life of him he couldn’t keep his balance.
Meanwhile the alarm kept blaring, driving spikes through his head with every peal. He had to get moving, Allura was going to be pissed if he took any longer, and if this wasn’t a drill and there were actual Galra out there then the team needed him so they could form Voltron. He had to move faster.
Finally, his armor on, he charged out his door…
…and nearly crashed into the wall. Come on Kogane you know how to freaking walk now move. He couldn’t tell if the ship was swaying because of his headache or because they were under attack. Either way, he kept a hand against the wall and made his way to the control room.
Allura was going to murder him.
Allura was indeed not happy, but she wasn’t angry. Anxious was a better word for it. She had rushed into the control room with Coran to find out what had triggered the alarm. Just as he was pulling up the answer, Shiro, Pidge, and Hunk ran in, all in uniform and ready to go.
“What’s happening?” Shiro asked.
“Looks like we crossed into a Galra patrol path. It’s a small fleet, so it shouldn’t be too tough,” Coran said.
Allura relaxed a little. Just a small patrol fleet, hardly worth worrying about at all. Just why tonight of all nights?
Lance finally ran in, and his face brightened when he saw he wasn’t the last one. “Oh yes! I actually beat Keith!”
“Where is he anyway?” Pidge asked. “He’s usually one of the first ones here.”
Allura glanced at Coran. He had the same worried look in his eyes as she did. “Well, since this is a small fleet you shouldn’t even need Voltron. There’s no use waiting for Keith. Get to your lions.”
The paladins glanced at each other, and their hesitance was long enough that Keith finally stumbled in clutching his head.
Allura’s mildly worried look grew to very worried. He shouldn’t even be awake right now! How is he moving?!
“Keith? You okay?” Shiro asked.
“Yeah, dizzy,” he slurred.
“Well Keith is clearly in no condition to fly, so the rest of you get out there!” Coran said.
Allura shook her head and composed herself. “Coran’s right. This is just a patrol, you should be fine without him.”
“’m not staying behind,” Keith protested.
“Uh, dude, you look like you’ll fall if I just breathe on you,” Lance said. “Go sit down. We’ve got this.”
“Just go, now,” Allura said. She strode over to Keith and wrapped a hand around his arm. “I’ll make sure he stays here.”
The others didn’t need telling twice. They were gone in moments, off to their hangers. Allura led Keith over to a chair.
“Could have gone,” Keith mumbled.
Allura looked at him sadly. “I’m sorry, Keith. This is all my fault.”
“Huh?” he asked. He was fighting to keep his eyes open.
Allura had to give him credit; it couldn’t be easy struggling against the sleeping aid he’d had in his Gospin.
“Princess?” Coran called. “The paladins just left the hangers.”
She steeled herself and went back to the viewing screens. Keith would be fine; she could deal with her guilt later.
Shiro was happy they were able to clean up the patrol unit so quickly, allowing them to return to the castle ship before his worry for Keith could eat him alive.
Judging by the quick pace the others were using, he guessed they felt the same. It was always weird whenever one of them wasn’t out there in their lion, and it only made them acutely aware of their missing presence which then made them think of why they weren’t there, and the worry only kept growing. So it wasn’t really surprising that all of them made a beeline for the control room once they were back on board.
Allura was leaning over Keith, who had slouched in a chair and possibly passed out.
“Is he okay?” Shiro asked.
“Oh, yes, he’ll be fine. He’s just sleeping,” Allura said.
“Well that’s good, right?” Hunk said. “He seriously needs sleep these days, so…”
“Yes, he does,” Allura said, a hard look covering her eyes. She stood up straight. “But I’m afraid I owe everyone an apology.”
“What? Why?” Lance asked.
Allura took a deep breath. “I acted in the best interest of Keith and ultimately the team, but I did not confer with any of you before doing so. And in the end I put us all in danger.”
All her statement did was make Shiro even more confused. What had she done, exactly?
“Now, now,” Coran said. “You didn’t know we’d run into a patrol.”
“Yes, but we’re lucky it was only a patrol,” Allura said. “If it had been anything larger we would have been in trouble.”
“Wait, what exactly are you apologizing for?” Lance asked. “It’s not your fault Keith got sick.”
The quick downward glance of her eyes and the way she bit her lip spoke for itself.
“What did you do to Keith?” Shiro demanded. If she hurt him…well, he didn’t know what he’d do, but it wouldn’t be pretty.
“I put a sleeping aid in his Gospin last night,” she admitted. “Nothing else seemed to be working for him, and he desperately needed a good night’s sleep.”
Silence fell over the rest of the paladins. Shiro felt a horrible feeling sinking into his gut.
“You…you drugged his space tea?” Hunk asked in a quiet voice. “That’s just…that’s not cool.”
“I thought it was for the best,” Allura said. “Coran and I set a course for an uninhabited system, and we were going to give you all tomorrow off so he could rest. We didn’t account for an attack.”
“Yeah, that’s all well and good,” Hunk said. “But you seriously drugged his space tea? Do you do that a lot? Have you been drugging our food this whole time?”
And that, Shiro thought, was the real problem with this situation. If they’d known Keith would be…incapacitated due to a sleeping aid, none of them would have an issue with this situation. And part of Shiro was glad Keith was actually sleeping right now; the kid needed it. But the fact that Allura had done this without Keith’s permission…that was a chilling fact.
“Of course not!” Allura responded, face heating up at the indignation.
“But you…why didn’t you ask Keith first?” Pidge asked.
Allura bit her lip again, and Coran stepped up to speak. “We thought it best not to tell him, and to let him think he had slept just fine on his own. Then, hopefully his mind would get the idea that he can sleep and adjust on its own.”
“Hold on, you’re making it sound like you were going to do this again,” Lance said.
“If we had to, yes,” Allura said.
That calm admission was where Shiro drew the line. He clenched his fists. “Maybe things were different on Altea,” he said, his voice low. It had been a long time since he’d been this mad. “But on Earth we don’t go around drugging people without their permission. So I’m going to ask that you never do something like this to my team again.”
He didn’t take his glare off Allura, but he could sense the other paladins backing away from him. Coran took a step closer to the princess.
She met his gaze with her diplomatic mask. “As you wish.”
He nodded, once, and stepped over to Keith so he could pick up him. “When he wakes up, you’re going to explain to him what you did and apologize.”
“Of course,” Allura responded.
Shiro carried Keith out of the room without a backwards glance at any of them.
When everything was explained to Keith the following morning, he couldn’t figure out how he felt about it. It was a bit of a relief to know that his stumbling around had only been the result of a sleeping aid, but it was also disconcerting that’d he’d been drugged so easily, and by people he trusted. He understood why the paladins were currently giving the Alteans the cold shoulder.
But he also felt more rested than he had in a long time, and that was a sensation he was going to cherish for as long as it lasted. He didn’t know whether he’d willingly let himself be drugged again though. The thought that an attack could happen when he was like that was unnerving. It made him feel entirely too vulnerable.
Needless to say, breakfast was an awkward affair. Allura and Coran were extra polite, but the rest of the paladins weren’t having any of that. Especially Shiro, who almost physically had his back to them while eating.
The rest of the day was just as awkward, and it took until after dinner before any semblance of getting along started to happen. Even then it was strained, and everyone ran off to bed early.
A few hours of tossing and turning later, Keith was tempted to go ask Coran to drug him again. Clearly, one night of good sleep wasn’t going to magically fix his problem.
What a letdown.
Grabbing his bayard, he made his way for the training deck to pass away the hours.
He wasn’t that surprised to find someone else there. He was surprised that that someone was Hunk.
Hunk was in his casual clothes fighting the gladiator in hand to hand. He glanced at Keith when he came in, but otherwise didn’t pay him any mind. A few minutes later, after the level two robot was beaten, he smiled and waved at Keith.
“Still can’t sleep, huh?” Hunk asked.
“I don’t even know why I’m surprised,” Keith admitted. “What about you? Don’t usually see you up in the middle of the night.”
Hunk shrugged. “It’s nothing. Just a nightmare. Not like I’m the only one who gets those, and honestly I don’t even get as many as everyone else, just when I do…” He didn’t need to finish.
“What was it about?” Keith asked.
Sighing, Hunk walked over to the stock of water pouches and picked one up before answering. “It’s just…we’re in war, man. Anything can happen. And I’m worried I’m not good enough, and if you guys need me to cover you I don’t know if I actually can. What if that happens and I can’t, and then you all…you guys…” He started tearing up, and Keith was quick to put a hand on his shoulder.
“So that’s why you came to train?”
Hunk wiped his eyes and nodded. “Everyone else is at least on level three of the gladiator, but I’m only on level two.”
“That’s not that bad,” Keith said. “And didn’t Lance only just get to level three like…last week?”
Hunk smiled. “Two weeks, but yeah, it was recent.”
“See? You got nothing to worry about. Or maybe the universe should be more concerned with its fated heroes.”
“I mean, it definitely should be anyway,” Hunk said.
Keith smiled back. “Can’t argue with you there.”
Hunk offered another smile and sat down against the wall, patting the ground next to him. “So, you’re turn.”
Keith raised a brow and sat down next to him. “My turn?”
“You can’t sleep either, so tell Ol’ Hunkie all about it.”
Keith snorted. “There’s nothing to tell. I literally can’t sleep.”
Hunk took a few minutes to respond. Keith played with his bayard in the meantime, running his hand over the surface.
“What do you think about when you’re trying to sleep?” Hunk finally asked.
“Usually something along the lines of ‘relax and sleep god damn it.’”
“Huh. You can’t relax enough to sleep?”
Keith shrugged. “I guess not. And every time I’m slightly relaxed some random sound wakes me up.”
“So we need to figure out why you can’t relax in the first place,” Hunk said. “Any ideas?”
Keith hadn’t really put much thought into it before, too desperate to just forget his anxieties and sleep. But reflecting on it now, he realized one thought circled his head every night. “I’m always worried we’re going to be attacked.”
“That’s fair, an attack could happen at any time,” Hunk said. “But that’s what the alarm system is for. We have more than enough time to prepare and get to the lions.”
“I know,” Keith said. “Logically, I know I’m perfectly safe and that nothing is going to happen. I just…can’t get my head around that, especially after that stupid jungle planet.”
Hunk’s brow rose. “What do you mean?”
Keith ran a hand through his hair. “I didn’t get any good sleep there. Every time I tried I was attacked. The locals were always too close for me to really rest, no matter what I did. But I couldn’t just run forever, you know? And there were too many to fight. So any time I thought I had enough distance, I tried to get some sleep. But every time I woke up it was because they were either about to attack me or currently trying to tie me up. I can’t even tell you how many times I woke up with a knife in my face.”
“Wait, so like every single time you went to sleep?”
“Holy Quiznak no wonder you can’t sleep,” Hunk muttered. “I don’t think I’d be able to either after a month of being attacked every time I tried.”
“But that’s over,” Keith spat, frustration lining his words. “I know it is, and I know I’m safe, so why can’t my body just accept that and move on?”
“It’s a defense mechanism your body created,” Hunk said. “And probably the more tired you are, the more you’re subconsciously fighting off sleep. Your body doesn’t want to fall into a deep sleep in case a threat comes along.”
Knowing why he couldn’t sleep wasn’t actually that exciting. He honestly hadn’t particularly cared, he just wanted to fix it and sleep again.
“Although this means the sleep aid idea is definitely a terrible one,” Hunk went on, “since that slows your brain down more without fixing the problem. And it’ll only make you more anxious the nights you don’t take it.”
“Great,” Keith muttered. “Since you seem to have all the answers, how do I tell my brain to get over it and go to sleep?”
Hunk laughed. “I doubt it’s going to be that simple. And to be honest I don’t really know. If you could get any sleep, your body would probably adjust back to the idea that sleeping is safe, but I don’t know how to get you to that point in the first place.”
Keith buried his face in his knees. “I’m never sleeping again, am I?”
Hunk patted his shoulder. “We’ll figure something out. Now that we know it’s a matter of getting you to relax, we have something to work with.”
Keith wished he was that optimistic about it.
“Now, I don’t know about you, but I’ve worked up an appetite!” Hunk surged to his feet and held a hand out to Keith. “How about a three a.m. snack?”
Keith took the offered hand. “Sounds great.”
In an effort to stay on the paladins' good side, Allura granted them a second day off from training. She herself still went over records of the planets she remembered that might be potential allies, locking herself away from the others and giving them space.
Pidge and Hunk spent the day tinkering with the lions, outfitting all of them with the cloaking ability Pidge had given Green. Lance popped in periodically, but he had a tendency to make things worse, as he was doing right now.
Hunk, already distracted with trying to brainstorm ways to help Keith, just didn't have the mental capacity left to hold a full conversation while also rewiring the power cells. So when Lance came in, plopping down next to him and chattering away, he spared enough brain power to give generic responses any time Lance grew quiet for more than two seconds.
Lance, of course, picked up on this.
"What's this do?" He asked, picking up one of the strange altean tools. It most closely resembled a screwdriver, but he had yet to see anything resembling screws.
"That's right," Hunk said, twisting a pink wire into place.
Lance raised a brow. "No telling me to put it down? No 'Don't touch that Lance you'll break it' speech?"
"Exactly." Hunk reached for a tool behind him.
Lance handed it to him and grew quiet, still looking at the not-screwdriver in his hand. A small button on the handle caught his attention.
It should surprise no one that he immediately pushed it.
A small energy beam shot out and latched onto the metal panel Hunk had set aside, and then the beam retracted, bringing the panel right to Lance.
The shriek and resulting crash caused Hunk to tear the wire he'd been attempting to reattach and Pidge to lose her balance on top of the blue lion. The Lion, thankfully, shifted to catch her so she didn’t slide off, but she let out a stream of curses all the same.
“Heh heh…sorry,” Lance muttered. He put the panel and the definitely-not-a-screwdriver down and pushed it away a little.
“Can’t you find something else to do?” Pidge demanded.
“But I’m so bored,” Lance whined, flopping onto his back.
“You could train,” Hunk suggested. “Or see if Coran needs help with anything.”
“Those are terrible ideas,” Lance declared. “That’s not what you’re supposed to do on a day off. This isn’t even what you should be doing! You’re supposed to relax on days off! This is not relaxing.”
“Not with you here it’s not,” Pidge muttered.
His words had triggered something in Hunk’s mind though. “Actually, Lance, I have a mission for you.”
Lance lifted his head and stared at Hunk, who turned to give Lance his full attention.
“I was talking with Keith last night, and we figured out why he can’t sleep.”
“Seriously?” Pidge asked. “You figured it out?”
“Yeah.” Hunk went on to explain how Keith couldn’t relax enough to sleep, no matter how tired he was. “So, Lance, you’re mission is to find Keith and force him to relax, and hopefully then he’ll sleep.”
Lance had sat up and was now nodding. “Okay, yeah, I’ve got a few ideas. Mullet-boy is going to be SO relaxed when I’m done with him.”
“Good, now go,” Pidge said.
Lance didn’t need to be told twice, and Pidge and Hunk gratefully went back to work.
Keith was predictably on the training deck, but at least he was there with Shiro. Lance grinned to himself, thinking he could try and kill two birds with one stone and help both of his teammates sleep.
“Why are you training? It’s a day off! Does no one know what that means?” Lance said, startling both of them into freezing where they were.
Keith’s leg was up, resting against Shiro’s forearm where he blocked the kick. They glanced at Lance, and Keith brought his foot down to the floor.
“Seriously Lance? What the hell,” Keith said. He wiped his arm over his sweaty forehead.
“It’s our day off, you’re supposed to relax,” Lance stated, staring at Keith.
Keith tensed and let out a breath. “You talked to Hunk, didn’t you.” It wasn’t a question.
Shiro glanced between the two of them.
“Yes, I did. And since I’m the only one on this ship who knows what relaxing means, it is now my duty to teach you,” Lance said. “Shiro, you could probably benefit from this too.”
“Uh, okay? What exactly are we talking about?” Shiro asked.
Running a hand through his hair, Keith explained what he and Hunk had figured out.
“That makes sense,” Shiro said. “So what’d you have in mind Lance?”
Lance beamed, and Keith felt a rock settling in his stomach. He had the distinct impression that whatever Lance counted as ‘relaxing’ would be the exact opposite for Keith.
“First,” Lance said, “you’re going to take a hot bath and change into pajamas, and then –stop making that face and trust me- then you’re going to experience a Grade A certified Lance McClain Massage.”
Keith still looked dubious, but Lance sprung forward and grabbed his wrist, dragging him out of the room with a backwards glance at Shiro. “You too, fearless leader!”
Shiro followed willingly, an amused smile on his face.
Lance led them to their rooms. “Shiro, I’m going to trust you to handle a bath yourself. We’ll meet in the lounge afterwards, okay?”
“Wait, what do you mean you’re trusting him? You don’t think you’re giving me a bath, do you?” Keith asked, slightly panicked.
“Dude, why would I want to? No, I’m just gonna get it set up for you, because I don’t trust you know what a good bath is like.”
Shiro choked back a laugh. “He’s got a point, Keith.”
The look of betrayal on Keith’s face almost had both men rolling in laughter.
“Just go along with it, okay?” Shiro said. “I kind of want to see if it works.”
Keith huffed, but he did go without a fight.
Lance was quick to set the bath up, using a variety of altean products stocked in each bathroom that Keith hadn’t bothered to even look at.
“There we go,” he said. “Now, you’re going to get in and soak for at least twenty minutes, got it?”
“I think I can handle a bath, Lance,” Keith said.
“I’m covering all my bases here,” Lance replied, making his way out. “Also, in case you’re following my instructions exactly, you can stay in longer than that if you want, but you are under no circumstances allowed to get out before then, capiche?”
“Yeah, I got it.” Sometimes it was just easier to play along.
Lance finally left him alone, and Keith stripped and stepped into the tub. The water was the perfect temperature; hot, but not overwhelmingly so. Just warm enough to sooth his muscles and keep the chill out. He sank down in the water, taking deep breaths and settling in to wait. Twenty minutes was going to take forever.
But, he had to admit, the warm water was doing wonders on his tense muscles. He hadn’t even realized how tense he was. Maybe he should do this more often…
Before he knew it, Lance was knocking on the door. “Hey, did you actually fall asleep in there?”
“Uh…I don’t think so? How long has it been?”
“Almost forty minutes. I know I said you could stay in there as long as you wanted, but…”
“No, it’s fine, I’m getting out now.” He drained the tub and stepped out, grabbing a towel to dry off.
“Alright, cool. Your pj’s are on the bed. I’m going to go meet Shiro in the lounge, okay?”
“Yeah, sounds good.” Footsteps retreated, and he heard the sound of his main door opening and closing.
He was surprised how much better he felt just from the bath. Maybe Lance was actually on to something with all this. He felt like curling up on his bed and trying to take a nap, but trying would only undo all the good the hot water had just done, and Lance and Shiro were waiting anyway.
The red pajamas were folded neatly on his sheets. He slipped into the pants, but then he grabbed his usual black t-shirt instead of the pajama shirt. Lance would just have to deal with it.
Said paladin did indeed purse his lips when Keith walked into the lounge, but he didn’t comment on it. Shiro was in his all black pajamas, a cup of Gospin in his hand.
“Oh, hey! Just in time!” Lance said, arranging a few pillows and blankets on the couches. “Do you want any non-drugged Gospin? It actually is a pretty relaxing drink on its own.”
Lance nodded. “Yeah, I figured you might. Alright, you’re going to lie down on your stomach then, right here.” He gestured to the spot he’d made up with pillows and blankets.
While Keith situated himself, Lance took an extra blanket and tucked it around Shiro, much to the amusement of the older man.
“Comfy?” Lance asked.
“Yeah, thanks,” Shiro replied, just barely keeping back a laugh.
“Good.” Lance turned his attention to Keith. “Ready for the massage of your life?”
Keith eyed him warily. “I guess.” The whole situation was starting to make him uncomfortable, especially when Lance joined him on the couch and straddled him, practically sitting on Keith’s ass. “You sure this is supposed to relax someone?”
“Trust me, I’ll have you so relaxed you’ll sleep for days,” Lance said. He leaned forward and reached for Keith’s shoulders first, fingers digging into the muscle. “Holy Quiznak why are you so tense? You did actually get in the bath, right?”
“Yes,” Keith growled.
“Go easy on him Lance,” Shiro said. “This is probably a little out of his comfort zone.”
“Oh, right, sorry,” Lance said. “We’ll just have to work on that then, because you have so many knots I’m not sure you have any muscle left.”
Keith frowned and glared up at Lance.
“Seriously, dude, just take a deep breath and trust me.”
“You keep saying that,” Keith said.
“Then maybe you should believe me,” Lance said.
Any retort Keith might have had was ripped out of his mouth when Lance dug into a particular spot, and instead of words coming out of his mouth he let out a yelp.
“Sorry, sorry.” Lance didn’t move from that spot, but the pressure lightened as he slowly worked it free.
“Where’d you learn how to do this anyway?” Keith asked. He was getting used to the fingers digging into his muscles, and little by little he was getting back to the state he’d been in after the bath.
“I used to do it for my family all the time,” Lance said. “My dad is a painter, so he comes home with a sore back a lot. When I was little he would have me or my siblings walk on him, but as we grew up that obviously had to stop. He still came home sore though, so I started giving him real massages, learning as I went. Eventually I was doing it for everyone else.”
His fingers hit another pressure point against Keith’s neck, but he didn’t dig in like he had before. He went slowly, taking his time to work it free. Keith angled his face into the pillow to give Lance better access.
“You have a big family, right?” Shiro asked.
Lance nodded and started talking about all his siblings and parents and aunts and uncles and cousins. He kept his voice quiet and soft, and Keith found himself accidentally tuning him out. He hadn’t meant to, but most of his attention was focused on the wonderful feeling of his muscles actually relaxing.
It was…nice, laying here with Lance talking and rubbing his shoulders and back, the occasional question or comment from Shiro. He didn’t know the last time he’d been so content.
Lance was only halfway down Keith’s back when he noticed Keith’s breathing even out. He let out a low chuckle and shook his head.
“What?” Shiro asked.
“I thought it would be a lot more challenging to get him to relax,” Lance said. “And he’s already fallen asleep before I’m even done the massage.”
Shiro bit back his own laugh. “Guess your relaxation plans really work.”
“My new challenge is to make you fall asleep during your massage too,” Lance stated. “But I’m still finishing up this idiot’s back. He’ll thank me later.”
“Let’s hope he doesn’t wake up once you’re done.”
“He better not,” Lance said. “I have put in too much work for him to only take a twenty minute nap.”
Shiro chuckled. It wasn’t often that the red and blue paladins got along like this or showed such open care and affection for each other, and he was enjoying the moment all on its own.
When Lance did finally finish with Keith, he slowly and carefully picked himself up and moved over to Shiro. Keith didn’t even flinch at the slight jostling, much to their pleasure. Shiro lain down in the same position without complaint, and Lance set to work.
Not too much longer, the black paladin was snoring away and Lance considered this day a major success.
The only reason Keith woke up before dinner was because he tried to roll over and fell on the floor. Blinking several times, it took him a few minutes to remember where he was.
On the other couch, Shiro’s snores faltered and he cracked open an eye. “Keith?”
A sleepy smile spread over Shiro’s face, though it was quickly swallowed by a yawn. He pushed himself up and stretched. “Man, I didn’t realize how badly I needed that.”
Heart rate returning to normal, Keith nodded. He did feel more well rested, even though he didn’t sleep as long as he could have. Quality over quantity, he supposed. “What time is it anyway?”
“Good question. Hopefully close to dinner,” Shiro said.
Both of them stood up and went to go find everyone else, starting with the kitchen. Much to their delight, Hunk and Lance were working on dinner.
“Aw, you’re up already?” Lance said.
They shrugged. “I rolled off the couch, and it woke Shiro up.”
Hunk stifled a laugh while Lance frowned. “So next time we’re not doing it on the couch.”
Shiro and Keith perked up at the promise of next time, though it went unnoticed by the other two.
“I’m glad you two got some sleep, at any rate,” Hunk said. He added some kind of spice to their usual goo and stirred it around.
“Yeah, um, thanks, Lance,” Keith said, glancing at the floor.
Lance beamed. “What was that? I didn’t hear you.”
The awkwardness in Keith’s face was gone instantaneously, replaced with the more familiar scowl.
Shiro just sighed. “Please don’t.”
The boys settled, and Hunk went back to work on dinner.
By the time everyone sat down to eat and Allura and Coran joined them, the tension between humans and Alteans was still high. Both sides were nothing more than polite to each other, and it made for a very awkward meal.
Finally, Allura had had enough. “Alright. I understand you all are mad at me, and I do understand your reasoning. But I’ve already apologized and promised never to do anything of the sort again, so I don’t understand why you’re still hostile.”
The paladins glanced at each other. Surprisingly, it was Lance who sighed and spoke up. “Look, we’re not…mad, exactly. I mean, we are, but it’s more than that.”
“You broke our trust,” Pidge said. “We don’t know anything about what’s out here in space, and we’ve been blindly trusting you to keep us safe. And then you turned around and used that trust to drug one of us.”
“I suppose looking at it from your point of view, I can see why you’re still mad,” Coran said sadly. “But we really did just want to help.”
Keith’s gut twisted. If they hadn’t stumbled into a patrol by accident, no one would have even known what had happened. He would have had the best night’s sleep he’d had in months, and none of this fighting would be going on.
“Maybe we are overreacting,” Keith said quietly. All heads turned to him. “They weren’t trying to hurt me, and they’ve apologized and promised not to do it again to any of us. What more do you want?”
Allura beamed at him. The others were a bit more skeptical.
Shiro finally sighed and rubbed a hand over his face. “I guess we can try and tone down the hostility, right guys?”
The answering mumbles weren’t that encouraging, but it was the best they were going to get.
Keith didn’t know why he bothered to be surprised when he couldn’t sleep that night. After tossing and turning for a few hours, he grabbed his bayard and made for the training deck.
Allura had a list of diplomatic missions lined up for them in the morning. They were all planets Altea had been friendly with in the past, and these were ones she’d looked into and made sure were still friendly planets. These were planets that, for one reason or another, were not under Galra control. Allura was hopeful that they could use them to build their alliance.
The paladins had no issue with building their alliance, but the meeting was dreadfully boring. All five of them struggled to keep their eyes open and at least pretend they were paying attention.
Keith thought it was cruel irony that the one time he was tired enough to sleep he wasn’t allowed to. Allura would kill him if he fell asleep here.
Negotiations were done by the middle of the afternoon, and the planet offered them a feast for dinner, which Allura accepted. It was fairly low key, but the paladins were still anxious to leave and get back to the ship. When Allura finally deemed it appropriate to move on, they practically ran.
They congregated briefly in the lounge before turning in for the night, all five of them going to bed early. Or at least attempting to, as the case may be.
I should have asked Lance for another massage, Keith thought while staring up at his ceiling. That had gotten him to sleep faster than the sleeping aid had.
Sighing, he rolled out of bed. He didn’t feel like training, but he didn’t want to just sit still either, so he wandered the halls.
He found Hunk in the kitchen an hour later, a plate of goo in front of him. Without thinking about it, he sat down next to him.
“Hey,” Hunk said. “You hungry too?”
“Not really,” Keith said. The company was nice though. On the nights he spent hours tossing and turning, he always felt isolated, cut off from everyone else.
Hunk shrugged and spooned up some goo. “I know this stuff is super bland, but after the rainbow of flavor today it’s kind of nice.”
Keith couldn’t argue with that.
Pidge knew she was supposed to be asleep; they had a diplomatic mission in the morning and she needed to be well-rested. But she also had an idea on how to improve the flight stabilizer in her lion and how could she sleep before she tested it out? It would only take two or three hours to code. Hopefully.
She sat in her nest in Green’s hanger; there was an alcove that sealed itself when the doors opened so her equipment wouldn’t get sucked into space, and she’d brought a plethora of blankets and pillows down here over the weeks. It was honestly a pretty cozy set up.
Green nudged her mind, reminding her once again that it was late.
“I know, I know, but I just have a few more lines,” Pidge muttered.
Footsteps echoed down the hall. She froze and debated her chances of feigning sleep. That was probably Shiro, and he was going to be pissed if he found her.
Before she’d made a decision, Keith rounded the corner.
She blinked and narrowed her eyes. “What are you doing here?”
He shrugged and came over to sit next to her, sliding down against the wall. “Couldn’t sleep, as usual. I’m pretty sick of my room at this point, so I thought I’d take a walk. Ended up down here.”
Pidge snorted. “Well, if you don’t want to sleep this is the place to be.”
He smiled. “Do you ever actually sleep? Or are you part robot now?”
“Part robot?” she repeated. “Are you nuts? I am all robot.”
He gave a startled laugh.
Pidge grinned too and added a few bits of code.
“What are you working on?” He leaned over to get a view of her laptop.
She angled it slightly so he could see. “Green’s flight stabilizer; it tends to wobble a bit before righting itself and it’s a little disconcerting.”
“Huh. Is it oversensitive?”
“I was thinking not sensitive enough,” Pidge said. “But if this doesn’t work I’ll try coding it for that instead.”
Keith nodded, and they fell into silence. Pidge threw herself into the rest of the code, trying to ignore the growing sense of awkwardness. If he didn’t want to talk why was he still here? Was he just watching her? That was creepy.
Oh well, at least she was almost done.
He shifted away from her, clearing his throat a few times. He must have felt just as awkward as she did. They were both fairly introverted people, so she had to wonder again why he’d shown up. But she’d never had insomnia as bad as him, either, so she wouldn’t understand the train of thought.
She decided to ignore him and see if he would just go away. Her focus needed to be on her coding, anyway, not on her sleep-deprived teammate.
And in the morning she’d review her priorities.
The next several minutes was filled only with the sound of her fingers on the keyboards, and then silence while she looked over everything to double-check her work. She wouldn’t be able to test the coding until the following day when they ran flight drills, but if there was something obvious she could catch now it would save her an hour or two the following night.
She spared Keith a glance when she was about a quarter of the way through. He was completely passed out on the floor behind her, cheek pressed against the metal floor and mouth slack.
“Are you serious right now?” she demanded. “You spend hours tossing and turning in your bed, but then you fall asleep in fifteen minutes on the hanger floor?”
Keith did not reply, or show any signs that her voice had disturbed him in the slightest. She supposed that was a good thing, but it irked her nonetheless. Now she had to figure out whether she should wake him up or just let him sleep here.
She grumbled through the rest of her coding, half-hoping she’d accidentally wake him up and resolve the problem without her having to do anything. Nothing of the sort happened, and she glared at him while saving her work.
“What the hell am I supposed to do with you?” Pidge muttered. If she were taller and twice as strong, she’d just carry him to his room. But since that wasn’t an option, she was left with few options.
If she wanted to let him sleep, that meant leaving him where he was. But just leaving him on the floor of the hanger felt wrong, somehow.
She would have to stay with him, then. She threw her head back and groaned. It wasn’t the first night she’d spent in the hanger, but she’d been looking forward to her bed tonight. At least a few blankets and pillows were stocked nearby for nights like this.
She grumbled about dumb sleeping habits and stupid trauma problems while collecting the bedding. For herself she laid a folded blanket down and then laid on top of that with another blanket and a pillow. She threw a blanket over Keith and put a pillow near his head.
“You so owe me for this,” Pidge grumbled, taking off her glasses and settling down. She glared at him until she fell asleep twenty minutes later.
Neither one of them woke up until the call for breakfast four hours later.
Keith had forgotten what it felt like to function on so much sleep. He had so much energy; he felt like he could take on the whole empire by himself. And he actually understood Coran’s explanation about the old Yugrurts government. He never understood Coran’s lectures.
Training went well; he and the others seemed to be more in sync than usual, and it was one of their fastest times forming Voltron.
It was one of the better days the team had had in weeks, even if Pidge did keep glaring at him throughout the day. He needed to ask what that was about, but he was a little scared to find out. He knew they’d both slept in the hanger last night, so the only thing he could think of was that Pidge was annoyed about that. But she’d chosen to stay; he hadn’t asked. (He hadn’t meant to fall asleep either, but that was an issue for another time). So really, she had no reason to be so bitter.
By bedtime, Keith still didn’t feel tired, so it wasn’t too surprising when he couldn’t fall asleep. He gave up on the endeavor and went to work off some energy training. Maybe this would be the night this strategy worked and he’d be able to pass out in his own bed for once afterwards. Seems like the only time he slept anymore was when he wasn’t in bed.
Huh. Maybe Shiro had a point about the issue being his bed…
Coran found him around three in the morning, still training. He’d stopped sparring against the gladiator, at least, and was doing an old strength training workout he used to do at the Garrison.
“Can’t sleep again?” Coran asked.
Keith glanced over while doing sit-ups. “Nah, too much energy from all the sleep I have been getting.”
“Do all humans work that way?” Coran asked. “The others seemed to require far more sleep. I would think you did too.”
“Um…I think it depends,” Keith said. He stopped his sit-ups and leaned back on his hands. “Some people are useless if they get less than eight hours a night, but I’ve known people to function better on closer to four.”
“And you’re in that last category?” Coran asked. He brought over a water pouch.
Keith accepted it gratefully and took a long sip. “Not usually. I guess my sleeping habits have always been a little screwed up, but usually it’s a pattern of getting too little followed by too much or something. I guess I’m just taking it to extremes now.”
“Well, that is your yelling paper, as they say.”
“My…what?” Keith asked.
“Your yelling paper. Lance said that was an earthling expression for when someone has a specific habit.”
It took Keith a few moments to work out what Coran was trying to say. “Oh. No, the phrase is ‘calling card.’”
“Really? Well that just doesn’t make any sense.”
Keith gave up and drank the rest of his water.
“In any case, it’s probably time for you to try and get some more sleep before the day starts.”
Keith shrugged. “I’m honestly not that tired. I’d rather skip the aggravation of tossing and turning and do something productive.”
Coran frowned. “I could always whip up a small sleeping aid for you.”
He grimaced. “I’ll pass. Got anything you need help with?”
“No, I was just about to head to bed myself. Even I need my beauty sleep.” He ran a palm over his hair and posed much like Lance would.
Those two have been spending way too much time together, Keith mused.
“But, if you really want something to do, Number Five and I have been working on Altean-English translator. We could use some help, if you’re able. We’re both pulled away to other tasks a lot, so it’s slow going.”
“Yeah, I can help. What do I need to do?”
Coran walked him to the lounge where the project was set up in a corner while explaining what he and Pidge were doing. Both of them were writing out the rules of grammar for the language as best they could, and in intervals they were adding words and their definitions to a database. Pidge had already created the program, so all Keith would have to do was put in words and as much of a definition as he could, as well as what part of speech.
It wasn’t the most exciting of jobs, but it was something to make him feel useful in these quiet hours by himself.
“Now, if you start feeling tired, go straight to bed,” Coran instructed. “This isn’t some urgent project, and you need your rest. There’s no shame in only doing a few words. Truthfully, that’s about all Number Five and I can ever accomplish at one time anyway.”
“I won’t push myself, I promise,” Keith said.
Coran nodded, satisfied, and left Keith to it.
It was better than training at these ungodly hours, Keith decided, and it kept him occupied until breakfast. He was just starting to feel tired by then, but he was still more than functional so he counted that as a win. Maybe if he just tried to sleep every other night he could work out some alternate sleeping habit…
They had a diplomatic mission that day with the Yugrurt planet, which mainly consisted of the paladins standing around looking pretty while Allura negotiated with the planet leaders. It also consisted of Lance making funny faces at the rest of them in attempts to get them to laugh while trying not to get caught by Allura. It kept the day interesting, at least.
In the end, Allura procured some food, medical supplies, and military support if they happened to be nearby. It was one of the best negotiations they’d had.
There wasn’t any celebratory feast afterwards, but Keith didn’t mind. He was tired of being a pretty statue. And after a day of doing nothing, he was just plain tired.
“Man,” Lance complained once they were sprawled in the lounge after dinner. “Why is it the days we don’t do much are more exhausting than the days we spend training?”
“Don’t know. Too tired to think,” Hunk replied.
“Maybe we should call it an early night tonight,” Shiro suggested.
“But it’s like the earth equivalent of eight o’clock. That’s too early to go to bed,” Lance stated.
“So what do you want to do?” Pidge asked.
“I don’t know, something.”
The others mentally groaned. That wasn’t helpful in the slightest. They ended up talking about Earth for a while, like they usually did, before heading off to bed.
Keith tried. He really did. He tried every relaxation technique he knew, but he just could not fall asleep. “So much for getting any sort of sleeping pattern,” he grumbled to himself, throwing the covers off and sitting on the edge of his bunk.
Since it was clearly going to be another sleepless night, he made his way towards the kitchen to get some water before hitting the training deck.
Turns out he wasn’t the only with issues sleeping. Hunk was having a midnight snack when he got there.
“Oh, hey Keith.”
“Hey Hunk. You didn’t have another nightmare, did you?”
“Nah, I was just hungry. And I couldn’t fall asleep anyway, so I figured I might as well eat something.”
“You can’t sleep?” It felt almost validating to have someone else with the same issue.
“Yeah. It’s like I’m tired, but I just can’t turn off my head, you know? Well, I mean, obviously you know. How’s that going by the way? You haven’t seemed as exhausted the last few days.”
Keith sat down across from Hunk with a water pouch and shrugged. “I got a couple hours when I feel asleep in the hanger with Pidge the other night, but I haven’t been tired enough to sleep since.”
“It’s like you filled your quota for the week,” Hunk joked.
“I wish I could help you more,” Hunk said, looking down at his goo. “It seems like everything we do is only a temporary fix though.”
Keith just shrugged. “I appreciate the effort though.”
Hunk smiled and they changed the subject, talking about the different alien cultures they’d seen and imagining what future ones might be like. Hunk was still holding out for a nacho planet. Keith wanted one with sunsets like back in the desert.
After two hours, both of them were nodding off where they sat. Keith could barely keep his eyes open, and he slouched over the table. Hunk yawned and made the executive decision it was time for bed.
“Come on, off we go.” He helped Keith to his feet and let the sleepy paladin lean on him while they walked back to their rooms. Keith was practically asleep before they got there, barely muttering a thanks when Hunk tucked him into bed. “Sleep tight.”
Keith grinned. “Night.” Hunk walked back out and Keith burrowed under his blankets, ready to sleep.
At first, he figured it was because he’d just been up and walking around. But when the air filtration kicked on and he lunged for his bayard, he knew he was back at square one.
He sat on the edge of his bunk, hands buried in his hair. “Why. Why is this happening? What am I doing wrong?” It was just sleep. He’d been doing it since he was born. Why had he apparently lost the ability to sleep when he wanted to?
With a long sigh, he slipped back under his blankets and tried again. No matter what he did though, he couldn’t seem to get comfortable enough. He tried sleeping on the floor, just to see if that made a difference. All he accomplished was making his side ache by the time morning rolled around.
He dragged a hand over his face. It was going to be a long day.
His predictions for the day had been spot on. They took out a few Galra patrols and started planning a raid on a prison. It was going to take serious coordination, so they were planning to practice over the coming days before putting it into action.
Everyone was exhausted when they went to bed. Keith managed two whole hours before startling awake.
He groaned and laid back against his pillow, arm over his eyes. “I’m going to burn that air filtration system to ash and throw it out the airlock.” Clean air was overrated anyway. They could hold their breath from now on.
It took him less time than usual to give up on sleep altogether. The whole process was just frustrating at this point, and he never did have the best patience to begin with.
I wonder if Pidge is up. It wouldn’t surprise him. The little gremlin got as little sleep as he did. She was probably working on her hacking program again, making sure it was perfect for the raid.
She wouldn’t want to talk or be bothered, but maybe she wouldn’t mind if he just sat there with her again? Just having company would be nice right now. He always felt so isolated when he couldn’t sleep.
He looked at his pillow and made up his mind. They didn’t call him the impulsive one for nothing.
He took a pillow and his blanket and sought out the green paladin. Like he thought, she was still working in her workshop. She smirked at his bedding. “Came prepared this time, huh?”
“Since I apparently have no control over when I sleep, figured I might as well be prepared.” He sat down against the wall next to her, pillow behind him and blanket over his legs.
“Maybe you should be taking that spiked Gospin on a regular basis,” Pidge said.
He grimaced. “No. Waking up with that in my system was not pleasant. And if we have an emergency when I drink it then I’m useless.”
“You’re also useless if you’re too exhausted to fly,” Pidge countered.
“I’m working on it,” Keith muttered. He looked over at her screen. “How’s the hacking program?”
“Good. I’ve increased its speed by two percent already, so it should get me into the files even faster.”
Keith nodded. She explained a little more about the program, most of it going right over Keith’s head. He found himself relaxing while she talked, sinking down farther against the wall until his head was practically on her shoulder.
Eventually he noticed she’d stopped talking.
“I’m listening, I promise.”
She snorted. “Just go to sleep.”
“I don’t have that button, sorry.”
She rolled her eyes but started talking again, saying aloud what she was doing while she typed. Between her voice and the clacking keyboard, he fell asleep five minutes later, head finally dropping onto her shoulder.
Pidge startled at first, but then she smiled. “Finally, you big goof.” She would have been offended at him falling asleep during her shop talk, but she was more pleased that he was at least sleeping, especially with such a big mission coming up. If she could somehow help him accomplish the impossible, then she’d gladly talk until her throat hurt and give up her shoulder for a pillow.
It became a routine over the next several days. When Keith couldn’t sleep, he’d eventually wander into her workshop and make himself comfortable while she droned on about her current project. It never failed to put him to sleep, and quickly too. Eventually, with Hunk’s help, she moved one of the couches from a spare room into her workshop so they could sprawl on that.
Keith reddened the first time he saw it, stammering that she didn’t have to do that, he didn’t mind the floor.
Pidge told him to shut up, she minded the floor.
He offered to stop bothering her at night.
She told him to shut up again and sit on the couch.
Their prison raid went spectacularly. They didn’t get the information about Pidge’s family they were hoping for, but they rescued dozens of creatures and saw them safely home over the next few days.
These were the types of missions they all liked best, the ones were they saw the immediate benefit of their actions. These were individual people they had helped, instead of a faceless mass on a planet. There might not have been huge benefits to helping them; they didn’t secure any alliances or get any supplies, but they reunited families. They made sure this group of aliens survived.
It was what made the job worth it.
Keith had only been lying down for an hour when someone knocked on his door. The last of the former prisoners had been dropped off today; it had been a long few days keeping track of them all and accommodating them as best they could, but that was finally over. He would have thought everyone would be enjoying the peace and quiet in their beds. He wasn’t even planning on bothering Pidge that night.
Pidge was the one standing on the other side of his door when he opened it. She held her laptop under one arm, and a blanket and pillow under the other.
She marched past him. “I’m too tired to focus on any projects tonight, and I really want to sleep in an actual bed for once.” She hopped onto his and made herself comfortable against the headboard, making room for her pillow and then looking up at him. “But since you can’t seem to sleep without someone else being there, I figured I’d just come in here.”
He blinked. “What?” He couldn’t sleep without someone else being there?
Everything clicked into place at once, why he couldn’t relax when he was alone, why it was always so easy to fall asleep when he was with the others.
“Your mind is still fucked up from that jungle planet, and you keep expecting an attack at any second, right?” Pidge said. “Your body is refusing to lower your guard, even in a place your mind knows is safe. But when you have other people there, it’s like your mind is accepting this is safe enough. There’s someone else keeping watch to let you know if anything happens.”
“Yes, I’m a genius. Now shut the door and get over here.”
He did as told, mind still blown from the revelation. “So if you’re not working on a project, what are you doing with your laptop?”
“I was thinking of starting a log to record our adventures. Something to document our time out here, you know?”
“That sounds like a project.” He stretched out on his stomach next to her, head turned to look up at her. The bed was just large enough to fit both of them comfortably.
“It is, but it’s not as intense as a coding project. And I’ll be more willing to put this down unfinished. Now shush and go to sleep.”
Her fingers started clacking against the keys. He just smiled and shook his head, turning his head the other way. “Thanks for doing this Pidge. You’re a really great friend.”
“You’re welcome. Now sleep.”
He didn’t say anything else, just let the rhythmic sound of her typing lull him to sleep. At least now he knew why sleeping was so hard for him, and what he could do about it.
Well, he sort of knew what to do about it. He couldn’t expect Pidge to come work on a project in his room until he fell asleep every night. He still needed to learn how to sleep on his own again. He could possibly room with one of the others, but the thought of giving up his private room didn’t appeal to him very much, and he didn’t want to ask one of the others to give up their room either.
For now, he was content right where he was. Pidge’s presence and the silent promise of watching over him was a welcome feeling. They’d figure out a more long-term solution eventually. If the others had taught him anything over the last few months, it was that they weren’t going to let him suffer alone. They’d be there for him. And he’d do his best to show his gratitude and return the favor any way he could.
This whole having a team thing…he decided he liked it. He liked it a lot.