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Keith has barely three years of life on his cells, has barely grown up to his Father’s knees and into his Mother’s laugh when he’s thrown into the first sense of flying, of fleeing, of his Father solemnly reading through the coordinates Keith doesn’t understand, that Keith thinks are just a pretty game of lights, lights that remind him of his Mom’s knife.

He’s holding it, holding onto it, tries to find the connection between the numbers and the faintest of glows, illuminating the insides of his fingers, misses how his Dad flinches when he asks: “When will Mom catch up to us?” already sleepy, already curling up beneath the safety straps of his seat.

Gently, his Father’s jacket is tucked around him and the scent is the lullaby that sings him into dazed, motionless dreams, the remnants of home, the flickers of the unknown.

(He sleeps through the harsh descent, the crib of his Father’s arms, the hushed ambush, the quietest of heists.)

He sleeps through it all.

---

“Who has told you about this place?” Kolivan asks; his group watches all of their angles, tensely, and Keith hides against the unyielding, firm tower of his Father’s leg and he’s scared to look, he’s scared to look away, his shoulder is anchored by his Father’s palm.

“His Mother has sent us here. She gave us the coordinates,” Keith’s Father says, spots the scarce movement, the shiver of talk. “Is someone named Ulaz here? She told us to find him.”

“The boy seems to have one of our blades,” Kolivan points out, instead, and Keith’s Father stands against his gaze, unafraid.

“It belonged to his Mother.”

“Where is she?” a second voice asks, approaches them the closest, of them all, his words dipped in melodies that ache inside of Keith’s bones, and he clutches the blade, like it’s his heart, his lungs, his whole being, metallic and sharp.

Ulaz turns off the mechanism concealing his face, sweeps his gaze across the both of them, and Keith’s Father replies, with something that battles itself between fear and anger and desperate helplessness, something that melts into an emotion beyond any, beyond them all.

“She’s still on Earth,” he says, like it hurts his throat, ignites the air within and Keith looks up at him, the fingers on his shoulder not a harbor anymore but a weight that drowns, that aches, that kills. “She said our son would be safe here. That he’d be safe here only.” He doesn’t feel Keith strain against the pressure of his wrist, doesn’t feel him carefully, bravely watch every minute movement, every blurring glow.

“You both have to leave,” Kolivan says, shaking his head in rejection, in cool stubbornness, set into his teeth. “This is no place for outsiders, especially not children. We are no babysitters. His Mother knew that.”

“She also considered you her family! Aren’t you her brother?” Keith’s Father retorts, faces Ulaz, who crouches down, to look closely between Keith’s fists.

(Keith braces himself, crushing the hilt of the blade to his ribs, his knuckles, his shirt.)

“Could I borrow your blade, little one?”Ulaz asks, his fingers reaching out, to touch, to take, but Keith shakes his head fervently, cradles the blade.

“It’s Mommy’s. She told me to protect it for her.”

“Perhaps we could just have a look at it then? We won’t try take it away,” offers Thace, unmasked, too, standing between Ulaz and the formations of the others, a sincere, kind honesty warming his face, the curl of his mouth.

Slowly, doubtfully, Keith opens his arms, unlocks his elbows and lets them study the purple glow of the symbol, the promise inside of it, the familiar curves, the unfamiliar wrappings to ease the push, the drag.

“It is hers,” Ulaz confirms; stands up against the heaviness of grief.

“Thank you.” Thace smiles into Keith’s trembling silhoulette, but it doesn’t lighten the gravity Keith feels in his belly, as he hides the blade, once more.

“They still can’t stay.”

“Leader --” 

“I’m not planning to stay,” Keith’s Father interrupts, firmly, as if no other reality could be possible, as if nothing else could solve this conflict of missing; the crowd around them starts. “I’m going back to Earth. I’m going to find her,” he states.

“Dad?” Keith feels his panic slowly numb his feet, his shaken shoulders, as he hopelessly stares up his Father’s immovable self, his blurring smile.

He can’t stay either,” Kolivan says, but Keith’s Father kneels in front of Keith, with undiluted affection, touches his forehead to his sons’.

“You have to be brave for me now, Keith. You have to be the bravest of them all. Can you do that?” he asks of him and the tears dip under Keith’s chin, soak up his shirt, a memory of the sea, of a cloudy, humid day at the beach, and Keith nods against his Dad’s shoulder, leaving an imprint, a little of his own earth, on his Dad’s clothes.   

“We didn’t settle this, earthling,” Kolivan informs his Father, but Thace kindly offers his hand to Keith, who’s wiping his nose into his sleeve, scrubbing at his tears, uncertainly dividing his gaze between the stranger, talking about a warm soup and a quiet, soothing bed, and his Dad, staring intently at the leader of the Blades.

Ulaz moves so he stands behind Keith, a gesture, of opposing opinions, of the simple need to care, to support, to be there, when no one else can.   

 “He is her son,” he says, borrows Keith’s shoulders, closes his arms around the borders of them, shields his entire being, tiredly lost, hungry and small.

“This discussion isn’t over,” Kolivan reminds them, as Ulaz and Thace form wings at each side of Keith, leading him away, and in this unraveled, raw movement, Keith sees his Father leave, too, walking the opposite way.

It’s the last time he ever sees his Dad.

(He wishes he’d remember it more.)

---

“You are supposed to be asleep, little one,” Kolivan says as he spots him in his sneak by, the fuzzy, soft fabric of his sleep clothes ratting out his hiding pillar, in the tiniest noises and Keith can’t be here, in the control room, the pilot room -- and Keith knows this, but he hoped to find Kolivan, hoped he’d want to be found, too.

“I was asleep. But the nightmare bug is under my bed again.” Keith steps out into the glowing shimmer of the lights, fights with the fidget rising in his knees, the base of his wrist.

“Is that so.” Kolivan’s face softens, and he’s fought this vulnerable fondness, this conflicting affection for two years, but it’s been a war, futile, since the first months. (Antok never misses to point this out, as he scrubs Keith’s hair dry, carefully untangling the stubborn knots, pining Keith’s hair out of his face, laughing when Keith’s eyes follow the curl.

“Everything about this boy is stubborn,” he points out, too, but he’s the one to volunteer his time, the most, he’s the one that speaks with Keith, every night, when Ulaz and Thace are gone.)

Kolivan offers his hand. “Want me to scare it away, little blade?”

Keith nods, but hesitates as if there’s a wound, holding back his fingers, and he knots them together, instead.

“I’m supposed to be brave,” he says, eyebrows a tangle of worries, of promises, unfulfilled.

Kolivan scoops him up, wordlessly nodding to one of the guards, to guide the control room, for as long as it takes, and slowly gathers Keith’s slump, the drowsy, disappointed pout.

“Admitting ones fears is the bravest thing you can do,” he tells him, soothingly, carries him through the dim halls.

“Like when Uncle Thace told me he’s scared of the cluster of Weblum worms?” Keith asks and Kolivan laughs, a short, surprising sound.

“Yes. Kind of like that,” he answers.

(Together, they shoo the nightmare bug away.)

---

Keith is younger, when he first notices, when it stands out, staying with him for hours, until he’d forget, but it’s not until he’s five that he asks, sat on the pilot’s seat in front of Thace, pretending he’s flying, leading the adjustment maneuver, Thace’s hands under his own, a sense of home gasping through the shaken stars, the scattered galaxies.

He asks because -- Keith’s clothes are different. His blade is the smallest one and he doesn’t look similar to anyone he’s ever seen, not in any of the files he isn’t supposed to look at when they are being screened, rebels and prisoners and the conquered ones, not within the face of any other blade, within their build or eyes or skin.

“Why am I the only little one here?” he asks, as if he’s tiptoeing around his teeth, careful not to startle Thace’s presence, careful not to startle the answer out of him; he’d hate to scare it away, to let it slip past his reach.

Thace’s surprise colours it anyway, his fingers tense. “Because we chose it so. It’s too dangerous of a place for children,” he says, a memory resonates through his words. “Only order members are allowed to be here.”

“But I’m here.” Keith turns, strains his neck in angles that have to hurt, have to pull at muscles, unused, and Thace’s smile is a soothing, kind warmth.

“You are.”

“Was there nowhere else for me to go?” Keith asks, quietly, as the universe surrounds them like early summer mist and it’s the loneliest Thace has felt for this boy, the loneliest he’s felt for the shipwrecked history of his own home.

Ulaz approaches their backs, Thace feels it the second his footsteps land, and Ulaz places a palm on Keith’s shoulder, a gesture he remembers, he looks for, when he’s feeling the weight of the world.

“Your parents entrusted you to us. We promised to protect you,” Ulaz answers, and Thace finds comfort in it, too, finds comfort in having someone to protect, right at his fingertips, at the places, times, where he needs to be strong.

“Will they come back for me?” Keith asks, as if he’s scared of the answer, and Thace and Ulaz find themselves sharing a moment of consideration, a moment of unspoken talk.

“I don’t know, Keith,” Ulaz tells him, tells his slumping shoulders, his stubborn pout. “I don’t know.”

“If they won’t, I will,” Keith looks up at them, and it grows into a promise, blooms into a threat.

“If they won’t come back, I’ll find them, instead” he repeats.

(If they won’t find him, he’ll search for them, instead.)

((If they don’t find him, he’ll be their hope.))

---

His training starts when he’s seven, when he’s grown enough to reach up to the simulation panel and sneak into the training pod on early mornings, Antok bringing him to the infirmary after he (unsuccessfully) hides a bloody nose and it’s better for them to correct his stance, to show him the quirks of his smaller blade, to teach him how to be a fighter, self sufficient, in charge.

He sways his routine into synchronization, until he wakes up when the Blades do, eats with them, holding onto the heavy tray, gulping down the syrupy water, following them through their guard routes, napping in between the study sessions, teaching himself to win against Kolivan in his favourite board game.

He keeps hoping to find someone that would resemble him, keeps hoping the answers will be written away in a confidential code, keeps rearranging the image of home he has, keeps smudging the purple into his dreams.

He is home, he has a family, but something in him yearns, wants, unfocused and antsy, something that pushes him into the borders of this place, this solar system, this star.

(He thinks it’s the unknown.)

((He thinks it’s the war.))

---

The Blades leave every week, they won’t return for months, or ever, but it’s not until Keith is thirteen and awkwardly, intensely trying to say his goodbye to Ulaz, that he feels the war touch his world.

It’s like a wound he’d never had to tend to, never had to live through, but now it’s digging its way through his insides, to his bones, bare, brittle, exposed.

“Be careful out there,” he hears himself say and Ulaz reassures him, silently, for one more moment, before he disappears.

Keith looks out until he’s gone, at the heels of the empire, and he wants to follow him, wants to go, too, doesn’t want to be left abandoned, again.

It becomes the night he steals his first battleship, behind the shoulders of a changing guard shift and he just wants to be out there, wants to prove he can be, that he’s the danger, not the black holes and the burning out suns, not the Galra that have been at everyone’s throats; he just wants this panic of being stagnant inside of him to dissipate, to be gone.

Antok waits for him when he lands, hours later, and the only satisfaction Keith gets is that he lands perfectly, without a trace of any unsteady nervousness, any miscoordination, and he wishes he could force his smug smirk to last, farther than the first steps off the plane.

“The Leader wants to see you,” Antok tells him, tersely, leading him ahead, and Keith didn’t think he wouldn’t be in trouble, but his defiance made it so easy to forget to be afraid, to forget how strict and immovable the Blades can be in their loving, in the effort of raising him safely, raising him for peace.

“Were you trying to prove something by going out there?” Kolivan asks him, unusually cold, as stoic as he tends to be but it only allows a stubborn sting to solidify in Keith’s fists, trapping his muscles against each other, trapping them in a fight.

“What if I was?” he retorts, guards his ribs, crosses his arms.

“Was it to prove your complete lack of discipline and respect towards all of us?”

“I -- no.” He frowns, conscious of the anger, watches a distant glow of lights, outside. “It was to prove that you should allow me out of the base, too.”

“It proves nothing but the exact opposite to me.”

“I can help!” Keith steps forwards, opening his opposition, his honesty, to Kolivan’s stare. “I can protect others! I can do cargo travels and guard duties and --”

“You are not an equal to any of us, Keith. You haven’t awakened your blade. You know that.”

“I can still fight with it.”

“You are not a part of the order. Those are the rules. You’d just endanger us all,” Kolivan finishes, turning away from Keith’s stormy walk, his frustrated complaint.

Antok steps up to his side, a question in the tilt of his head but Kolivan stops him, with a sigh.

“He had to be told,” he says, firmly.

(Antok hopes he’s right.)

---

“I feel like I’ve tried everything. Everything. It just won’t awaken.”

“Kolivan would not allow you to go with me, even if you had awoken your blade. Nor would I, for that matter,” Thace says, his promotion slipping between them, a separation, that will divide them, same as the light years will, from tomorrow on, and Keith has never felt more useless, has never felt more like a child, like he’s not who they all thought he was, all at once.

“But I could do something at least!”

“You will. You just haven’t grown into your role yet.”

“What if I never do?”

“Of course you will. You’re Antok’s assistant already.”

“Just on every even weekend. And I just file stuff! I just -- I don’t want to be left alone here,” Keith admits, voice a soft melody of a hollow worry, a bruising echo of his thoughts.

Thace covers his fingers laid on the blade, a reassurance, and it’s one of the nights Keith remembers most vividly, Thace hugging his shoulders, placing a kiss onto his forehead, which he hasn’t done since Keith stopped being tucked in before sleep, leaving to be another part of Keith that gets swallowed by Zarkon’s empire, by its unending military needs, Thace a connection, a hope, a way to accelerate its descent.

It isn’t until years later, sat on a seat in the control room, sifting through the data Ulaz and Thace have been sending every month, that Keith starts believing what Thace has told him, starts to believe there is a place for him in all of this, something only he can do.

(Something strange and exhilarating flutters inside of him, all through his lungs, at the tips of his toes.)

There is a person -- a prisoner, a gladiator -- and he looks -- he looks like Keith. His ears, his skin, the build of his spine and the numbers of his fingers and toes, the movement of his hands, the shape of his teeth. They’re not identical but they look so similar, so threateningly familiar -- Keith memorizes all of the lines.

ID: Prisoner 117-9875 retrieved from S/2011 134340 1 with two other prisoners of the same species

Status: severe injury recovery; alive

Gladiator rank: The champion

Keith memorizes all of it.

(Keith needs to know more.)

---

An explosion hits the heels of his pursuers, the unknown hinges of the guards’ uniform digging into his joints but the distraction is what they needed, there is no need to cloak his presence anymore as he leads them away, lures them into the depths of their own ship, wrecked with bitten into holes and chunks of their own guns, battling against them, and Keith’s afraid but he’s thrilled too, he’s at the center of it all, even if their main mission is to retrieve the Lion, a Lion of Voltron, something Zarkon’s been looking for, and when it was found they’re here, stealing it from under his nose, keeping it the safest it could be, and Keith can’t wait to see it, to stand in front of it, a feeling of kinship spreading through him, of them both being stolen away, from their planets, their homes, taken in by the Blades of Marmora, taken in to be, to be hidden from Zarkon, the war.

Keith kicks in one of the robot’s wire throats, places an explosive to the wall of the turn and it caves in behind him, a fabric of debris; he’s given a signal under his suit.

He has to weave his way back and his heart beats at the possibility of the Champion being here as well, so close, being freed because Keith knows the prisoners were being rescued, too, sent to their outpost, and even though it’s merely a wish, a need to confirm The Champion is real, that he exists, it motivates him through the breathlessness, through the dizzying oxygen increase.

The Blades wait for him at the docking area, as the ship around them collapses and shifts, as he throws away the Galra helmet, left to roll against the wreck, and he’d run to the pilot cabin, any other time, fascinated with the flight, but there’s another corridor that calls for him now, a particle barrier sculpting a sphere in their storage, symmetrical, royal, beautiful.

The Lion doesn’t move, the barrier vibrates faintly through his fingertips, and Keith has never felt more reverent, more in awe, of anything, besides his blade.

“Incredible,” he murmurs, palm flat against the particles, the geometry on his skin crossing the seams, a shiver stuck at the base of his neck.

He signs up for the Lion guard duty, every third day, every third night, restlessly watches the Lion not communicate with any of them; the Lion won’t fly or active or shine but it’s the most beautiful creature he’s even seen, and he talks to her, about her Paladin, about the Blades, about his blade, asleep in its potential, about the stories he’s heard of Voltron, about the Champion, the trace of humanity he has found, about the doubt.

“We won’t let anyone treat you with disrespect,” Keith tells Red, weeks into her rescue, he promises, placing his fingers to the curve of the barrier, like he does every time when he comes in and when he leaves, turning away at the end of his shift, wishing her goodnight, but halfway through, halfway on his route out of the dome, the Lion roars, from behind of him, the barrier gone, the Lion on its feet. Keith tenses when Red’s mouth closes around him, the Lion lunging for his form, but the inside is lit up, shining in words, in thoughts the Lion presses into his skull, and he calms the patrol that has ran to the ramp, to the opening dock.

“It’s me, I’m -- Red let me in,” he laughs into the comms, trying to grasp how unbelievably this feels, as Kolivan tells him to report, to stop for consideration but stopping is the last thing Keith wants to do, the last thing he intends to do, the Lion spreading its power through his bones.

Keith flies Red, with incredible speed, incredible agility, with loops and surges of power but then -- he loses control, at the tips of the sun’s orbit, a portal opens, right in front of Red’s paws.

Kolivan’s worryingly distant questions are swept aside and Keith knows, recognizes what is happening.

The Lion is trying to teleport.

Red is trying to teleport away.

“No, no, stop, Red, please!” He pulls at the controls, tries to slow Red’s flight, to turn her trajectory and with a frustrated reluctance, the Lion slows, a demand rising through Keith’s head.

Go through the Portal.

“Where does it go?” he asks; Red strains against his palms.

Voltron.

“Vol -- Voltron? Are the other Lions there?”

Voltron. Red repeats.

“I -- I --,” Keith freezes, helplessness seeping through, trapping his fingers, inside of his mind. “We can’t just leave like this, Red. Whatever you’re feeling, it might be Zarkon’s doing. We’d be trapped. I’d endanger my family. I -- I can’t do that.” Keith’s grip slips, loose and beaten, from the handles; he’s washed into the impossibility of control. “I’m sorry,” he says and he thinks he’s going to get abandoned, left at the borders of the black holes’ reach, but Red hums, around him, the Portal closes, everything stills.

“You’ll wait with me?” Keith asks, reverently, and Red flips her tail.

Wait.

They’ll wait.

---

“Leader, there is a vessel approaching the base. It seems to be of Altean origin,” Antok announces, most of them on standby immediately, Keith running in from his study room, as Kolivan regards the visual calmly, emotionlessly nodding at Antok’s unspoken queries, his resolute role.

Identify yourself,” a mechanical voice asks, a copy of what the Altean ship receives, seconds later, and there’s a message incoming, before Keith’s pulse manages to drop.

“We are the Paladins of Voltron, sent here by Ulaz,” is the response, firm and confident, and Keith desperately searches for any sign of Ulaz himself, within the sounds.

Two may enter. Come unarmed.

Keith grabs Kolivan’s arm, as Antok sends in their recommended fly route, a tricky, dangerous slope. “I’m going with you.”

“This isn’t the time, little blade.”

“This is exactly the time. That was the Champion’s voice,” Keith insists, fierce, until Kolivan surrenders, slowly, gives in to his quiet, unending relentless demand.

“Very well. Just remember: we cannot trust them yet. Not until they prove us wrong,” Kolivan warns him, and Keith knows this, too.

(But he trusts them, already, all the same.)

---

It isn’t easy to stay as composed, as neutral and stern as Kolivan and Antok are, greeting the two Paladins -- black and blue -- at the divide between their base and the disguise of it, a Blue Lion looming behind the Paladins’ backs and in front of The Blades, and through the slight blur of the helmet he sees the Blue Paladin, his face and neck -- he’s human, too.

He follows at the heels of the group, a guard for any retreat, any secret weapons, drinking in the similarities in movement, the size of their feet and hips and chests, the crafted uniforms, a balance of utility and grace.

He waits to ask his questions, impatiently, until they stop, stepping in front of them, at the same entry room his Father has brought him to, waits until Kolivan has his first words.

“I am Kolivan, leader of the Blades of Marmora,” he starts, with unsettling peace, with unyielding calm.

“I am Shiro and this is Lance. We’re the Paladins of Voltron,” Shiro -- the Champion -- replies, a mimicry of the Blades, polite, brief. “We’ve been led here by a signal we received from Voltron’s missing Lion. We would like to retrieve it, as soon as we can.”

“The Lion has led you here?”

“Yes.”

“What about Ulaz? You’ve said he told you about this place. Is he on your ship?” Keith steps in, cannot hold onto all of his curiosity, all of his need to know. The Paladins look at him, and Shiro shakes his head, like it’s heavy, with regret, with shame.

“Ulaz isn’t with us. We fought one of Zarkon’s beasts at the outpost he was stationed at and Ulaz has saved us. We do not know if he’s alive,” Shiro answers, and Antok’s hand drags Keith backwards -- he’s ordered not to speak anymore.

“We know of the Paladins of Voltron. And we can confirm we have one of the Lions at our base. A Lion very similar to your beast,” Kolivan answers, a sharp presence, like the snap of a blade.

“So you’ll give it to us?” Lance asks, an uneasiness stubbornly showing through his words, his voice. He seems reluctant, to trust them, to follow them any deeper into their home.

It’s smart.

(It would be futile, in any case.)

“We will let the Lion decide,” Kolivan answers, letting a door at their right open, the uncovered corridor narrow, easy to defend, easy to trap enemies within.

(They are smart, as well.)

“Do you pilot the Blue Lion?” Keith asks Shiro, after a moment of leading them through, but it’s the second Paladin that rushes ahead, with answers on his teeth.

“Excuse me? I’m the one wearing blue armor! Clearly I pilot Blue!”    

“Why would the colour of your armor be important? It’s just an uniform,” Keith retorts, an implication of confusion, of finding the concept funny, something unknown.

(It annoys Lance, even more.)

“Uh, duh, it’s called being colour-coded? And what’s up with your uniform anyway? It’s different from everybody else’s.”

“It’s different for a reason.”

“Oh yeah, what’s that? Is it because you have a mullet?”

“I don’t -- I don’t have a mullet! And why should I tell you!”

“Because I asked!”

“I still don’t have to --”

“Keith, no more,” Kolivan warns, with a frown hidden underneath his mask, heard enough through his tone, so Keith walks on in silence, a frown of his own spilled across his face, aware of the look exchanged between the Paladins at his name, aware of his own tense shoulders, his anxious mood.

Yet there’s a smile growing on his lips when he spots Red, barrier lowering upon his touch, as he greets her warmly, intimately, with all of his affection, curled into his words.

“Keith, you are the only one so far able to communicate with the Lion.” Kolivan holds a spot beside him, within a distance of respect, of trust, close to the Lion, closer to Keith.

(Keith offers him a nod.)

“Tell us if the Lion agrees to come with the Paladins or not.”

“What do you say, Red? Is it safe?” Keith asks and the Lion roars, deep inside of his mind.

Voltron. We go.

Red’s mouth lowers, opens, Keith touches her snout. “Good kitty.”

“Wait, you can -- you can talk to the Lion?” Shiro interrupts, a mixture of awe and surprise; Lance just as wide eyed, just as off guard.

“Yes. I am able to pilot the Lion, as well,” Keith answers, withholding the details of their talks, the guard duties spoken through until Keith’s throat turned hoarse and dry, the hours off duty spent sat across from Red, either way, withholds how much he resonates with Red, with her story, her loneliest days.

(The Paladins share another glance, another moment of surprise.)

“Does this mean what I think it means?” Lance tries out, the question slanted, something he’s not sure he wants to hear the confirmation of, but Shiro smiles, a soft, worn out laugh on his mouth.

“Looks like we found the Paladin along with the Lion,” he says and there’s a rush, a swipe of movement, Kolivan a shield of Keith’s, Keith’s own insides feeling like they’ve melted, are melting, electricity coursing through, a storm; Antok grasps his blade.

“You will have to find another. Take the Lion and go,” Kolivan orders, forcefully, and Keith doesn’t fully understand, doesn’t fully comprehend why he’s protecting him, against this revelation, this duty he has to face.

(Why is he being stopped, once again?)

“There isn’t anyone else. The Lion chooses its Paladin. One Paladin. Without Keith, we cannot form Voltron. We need your help,” Shiro urges, searches out Keith as he steps away from Kolivan, from the rejection on his face.

“Kolivan, I have to do this,” Keith says, finding his way through to the Lion, one footstep at a time, one heartbeat after the other; all of the Blades have been raised, at once. “You have to let me do this!”

“You haven’t gone through the Trials. You cannot leave here.”

“Then I’ll do them now! Right now!” He unsheats his blade, as known to his body as his fingers, as his own blood, as all of the sensations of aching and warmth and freezing for hours, as known to him as his own name, on every one of their mouths.

“No. You cannot.”

Why not?”

“This is not how the Trials are done. You are not ready.”

“I am ready! Knowledge or death!”

“Little one--”

“Antok,” Kolivan stops him, narrows his eyes.

“You are not a member of The Blades of Marmora, Keith. Not until you have awoken your blade. If you truly wish to leave, you have to choose. You leave with the Lion, or you stay with the Blade.” Those are the rules. Keith hears, as a distant promise, a never ending threat.

“Are you saying I can’t take my blade with me?”Keith asks, a treacherous, suffocation tremble taking apart his tongue, the echo against his teeth, the grip on his fears. “That I have to choose between you -- between my family -- and Red?” He looks into the glowing silhoulettes of Kolivan’s eyes, into Antok’s strangely stiff, cold response to his glance.

“Yes. That is the decision you have to face,” Kolivan confirms and the world could collapse around Keith, gravity could crush him into iron and brittle bones, but he thinks he wouldn’t notice, wouldn’t care, wouldn’t try to run, because nothing feels as numbing as being abandoned, again, being left to give up, give away something he already loves as his own, something he believed, hoped he’d get to keep, something he wouldn’t have to cut away.

He swallows it all.

(He offers his blade to Kolivan, he gives up his hopes.)

“If that’s what I have to do, then there really isn’t a choice, at all.” He raises the blade, lowers his voice. “I have to help. I have to try defeat Zarkon. So just take the knife,” he yields, an aching pressure pulling into the cradle of his ribs, into the center of his palm, the soles of his feet.

There’s a gasp and the blade glows, illuminates the structure of his fingers, solidifies under his knuckles, stretches, grows, from the tips of his fingers to the top of his knee; the light fades.

“You’ve awoken the blade,” Antok says, a proud, quiet sound, so different from Red’s, from her alien, fiery, reverberating melody, from her roar.

Voltron. We go. she orders.

(Keith thinks he might just laugh.)

Keith thinks: will his uniform be red?