Keith had thought that Hunk had been kidding when he said that you never wanted to anger Lance.
Both he and Pidge had stared at him, incredulous.
"'Don't make Lance angry'?" Pidge had repeated, raising an eyebrow. "You're joking, right? This is Lance. How bad could he be?" She had snorted at the thought.
"Besides, doesn't he get angry all the time?" Keith added his two cents, thinking of the way Lance would blow up when their bickering got out of hand.
"You've seen Lance get mad." Hunk had said that as if the two words weren't synonyms. "You really haven't seen him angry. I mean, even I've only seen him angry three times." A shudder ripped through him.
Pidge and Keith had glanced at each other and then back at him, intrigued despite themselves. "Why was he angry?" Pidge was the one to ask.
Hunk had pursed his lips, and Keith had seen the wheels turning. However, he seemed to come to the conclusion that forewarned is forearmed. "The first time was because of me." He admitted.
They'd blinked in shock before Hunk elaborated.
"I was cornered by some guys, and it's not that I couldn't get rid of them myself..." He explained. His downward glance showed just how much it still affected him. "Some of their comments were…" His fingers curled into a fist. "Anyway, Lance doesn't like bullies."
"No kidding." Pidge snorted, obviously remembering something from before Voltron, and leaned in. "What happened?"
"A verbal slaughtering, that's what." Hunk dryly said, with a fond chuckle. At Pidge's surprised look, he continued. "He doesn't always go with his distract and redirect method." He smiled. "Anyway, that's actually how we became friends. The moment they were gone, he turned to me, and well, you know Lance."
They did. Probably within moments, Lance had washed away any lingering effects from the bullies. With a wink and grin, Lance and Hunk had become best friends.
"The second time was because of his nephew." Hunk had moved on. "I saw this one when Lance was video chatting with his family. Apparently, his nephew did something really stupid and he didn't get why people were mad at him. He thought good old Tío Lance would take his side."
Hunk shook his head. "He was wrong, of course. Lance explained exactly what he had done wrong and why people were angry. He was angry, too. But this helped his nephew realize it, and once he apologized sincerely, all was forgiven."
"So it seems like while it's bad when it happens, it's over fast and then done." Keith surmised. He had tilted his head as he tried to picture it. "So, what exactly is bad about it?" Usually when Lance got "mad" as Hunk put it, it was like a splash in the water but over relatively quickly. This didn't seem that different at all.
Hunk was silent for a moment. Something had felt different, and it drew Pidge and Keith in.
"I suppose it can be like that." He finally had said. "When it's with people who ultimately don't matter like bullies or people he loves and cares about and therefore is willing to forgive."
The trepidation in Hunk's voice had sent a chill down Keith's spine.
"Hunk." He had asked. "What was the third time you saw him angry?"
This time Hunk really hesitated. "You know, Lance is as protective of his family as he is us." As in quite protective. "Well, one time when I was visiting his place, his sister's ex-boyfriend showed up at the front door. He wasn't… he wasn't a very good boyfriend." He started wringing his hands. "I think that's all you really need to know. It was scary."
Pidge and Keith shared another look, Pidge even raising an eyebrow at Hunk's words, but neither of them asked any further. Whatever Hunk had seen had apparently left its mark.
Still, Keith didn't think it could be that bad. It was still Lance.
Lance lived up to his element, changing as needed but more like gentle rain and contemplative snow, playful rivers and sparkling oceans. When he was mad, it passed like ripples and waves and he returned to normal.
Keith had forgotten that that wasn't all that water was.
He'd forgotten that water could also be blistering blizzards or roaring hurricanes. He'd forgotten that it could be overwhelming floods or crushing depths or ever-approaching glaciers.
In other words, Keith had forgotten that water could be every bit as destructive as the wildest of fires.
Things were bad. Really bad.
Lotor had betrayed them. And the Shiro who had convinced them to give him a shot, despite everyone on the team feeling otherwise, wasn't even actually Shiro. Keith had no idea where the real Shiro could be but he ignored the ache for now as he had bigger problems on his hands.
Pidge was unconscious, crumpled on the floor across from him. Lotor had overwhelmed her with pure brute strength and slammed her against the wall. Despite her armor, Keith could see a trickle of blood falling down her face. Even from over here, he could hear Hunk and Allura's shouts coming through the comms, panicked but unintelligible. Not for the first time, Keith wished that he had gone back to Voltron. If he had, he'd be in his Paladin armor and he'd have a clue what was going on outside besides knowing that the two were obviously becoming overwhelmed.
And no one knew where Lance had gone. The last thing they'd heard from him was the confirmation that the Shiro they'd been working with wasn't actually Shiro. Considering that Lance was supposed to be with Shiro, Keith didn't want to know how he found that out.
He didn't answer their calls after that.
This was supposed to be a simple mission with some cooperation between the Blade, Voltron, and Lotor as they tried to figure out how to fix the former empire. Though it turned out to not be so former.
Keith worked up a glare and sent it at Lotor. His hand clutched his side where Lotor had nicked him with his sword when he turned on them. It wasn't too deep from what he could tell, but it was still bleeding a lot. And he hated it but he could see his blade in his left-hand trembling from the effort it took to stay upright. He couldn't back down now. He had to protect Pidge.
Lotor chuckled as he sauntered over to him. "Look at you." He smirked. "For a brief while, I thought you might actually be useful as a pawn." He easily dodged Keith's swing, bringing his sword around to smack him right above his wound. "You know, one half Galra to another."
Keith growled, shoving down the pain. He had never been tempted to join Lotor's side. "Oh, yeah?" He went in for another blow, but between his wound and worry for the others, he was having a hard time keeping balance.
"Yes, but as you can see," Lotor met him, their blades clashing, "your human part has obviously made you weak."
They broke apart. Keith desperately held himself together, despite how light-headed he was getting. Don't let him into your head. He ordered himself. No good would come of listening to Lotor.
"You tremble like a newborn, barely able to stand." Lotor taunted. "So weak, so easy to manipulate. No wonder you fell for that imposter." He rushed in before Keith was ready and it was all he could do to hold his ground. "And not just you."
He pushed Keith back and pressed forward. "All of you are so ready to believe. So willing to place your trust in someone just because they seemed like a friend. And you even trusted me." Lotor laughed. "Look where that got you."
"And look where being a manipulative jerk got you." Keith could help but retort. No one insulted his friends nor took advantage of them like this. "What exactly happened when you betrayed the generals who had been willing to give everything for you?"
Keith really should have learned when to shut his mouth.
Lotor's eyes widened with rage and with a cry, he stopped messing around. He came in a surge of power, blow after blow after blow. Keith could hardly keep up and he found he couldn't block everything. Cuts sliced into his arm, small but quickly building.
And then Keith discovered his back was to the wall. He spared a glance behind him, feeling panic begin to build. There wasn't anywhere he could go.
Lotor smirked. "Well, at least I'm not dead." He lifted his sword for the final blow, and Keith just knew that even if he blocked, it wouldn't be enough. "Be glad that you are the first to die. Now you won't see your friends' demise." He lunged forward.
Keith braced himself. If he was going down, he was going down swinging.
The sword never met him.
Just as the blade swung down, a blast appeared from nowhere, striking Lotor's hand.
He yelled in pain as he dropped the sword, clutching his hand close to his chest. He whirled around to find his attacker, grabbing his sword quickly, but more shots rained down on him, forcing him to retreat.
Keith followed the trajectory of the blasts and grinned.
He should have known.
Lance fell through the air, jets flaring to slow his descent. He rolled as he hit the ground, switching his bayard from sniper rifle to assault rifle seamlessly as he continued to shoot at Lotor. He slowly advanced, keeping Lotor at a respectful distance.
Keith took the reprieve and worked to catch his breath. As he did so, he gave Lance a quick once over.
Lance seemed to be relatively alright. His helmet was missing and at some point, he had hit his head as blood matted his hair at his hairline on one side. His armor was scuffed and there were some flecks of blood that Keith couldn't tell the origin of from where he was. He didn't even give either Keith or Pidge a glance as he focused entirely on Lotor.
Something was off.
There was a hardness to Lance's stance. It was rigid, unyielding, so unlike Lance's loose and fluid style. There was no trace of emotion on his face, which was the most startling of all. Lance was never blank like this.
There was a chill in the air and as a shiver ran down Keith's spine, he wasn't quite sure it was from the blood loss.
Finally, Lance's assault ended, placing Lotor on the other side of the room. Lance didn't lower his gun at all though.
Lotor looked a bit harried, heaving large breaths, but he quickly recovered. He straightened, brushing back some loose locks, and chuckled. A sleazy smile appeared on his face. "Well, it isn't the Blue Paladin. Or is it the Red Paladin?"
Keith darted a look at Lance, begging him to not take the bait. After all, Lance had a hard time keeping his mouth shut when it came to antagonistic comments like this.
But to his shock, Lance didn't make a sound. Instead, his eyes seemed to narrow further.
"The only one who never trusted me a bit." Lotor continued, drawing his sword up. "How does it feel to have been right all along, but no one listened to you? Or defended you when that imposter would shout at you?"
Keith's eyes widened. What was Lotor talking about?
Lance still wasn't talking. And if he wasn't mistaken, it felt like the temperature dropped a couple more degrees.
"Then again," Lotor's smile turned into a full-fledged smirk, "you're just the seventh wheel. A little boy from, what was it, Cuba? That got caught up in all of this with people more skilled and important than you."
"What?" Keith asked out loud, eyes darting between the two. He couldn't even begin to explain why what Lotor said was wrong. He wondered where he was even getting this crap from.
His gaze landed on Lance and finally saw movement as Lance clutched his gun tighter.
"What?" Keith knew he sounded a bit breathless, but apparently Lance actually was buying this.
"Oh yes, I know all about that." Lotor had seen the reaction, his smirk growing wider. "You know, I thought you would be the first to trust me since you were willing to trust a mere yupper within seconds of meeting."
He stalked forward. "When it became clear that Voltron was a threat to me and I would face you, I used all my resources to learn about you. Including security footage." Lotor continued. "So really, the fact that I had to use the clone to gain an in and make each of your pathetic friends - "
Lotor froze, his eyes drifting down to silver locks on the ground. They had been shot off in a single instant.
"You done?" Lance asked, and Keith shivered again, eyes widening. He had never heard Lance sound so cold, so emotionless, his voice as deep as the ocean.
Lotor looked back up. "What?"
"I said, are you done?" Lance finally lowered his gun, giving Keith the first clear look at his eyes and he reeled back in shock.
They were as cold and unforgiving as ice.
Suddenly, Hunk's words from way back in the beginning came to him.
"Now listen to me, you waste of space." Lance said, and he stepped forward making Lotor actually step back. "You are a complete and utter bastard, not even worth the time and energy it takes me to even say this. No matter what you say, no one fully trusted you and even if they did fall for it, you can't blame them."
Keith actually flinched at Lance's words, even though they weren't directed at him. Lance never swore, too much in the habit since he first became an uncle to ever really let a swear word in English or Spanish to pass his lips. But now...
"I'll admit you're good." Lance's pace was steady, not even hesitating a moment. This time, he was the one stalking vulnerable prey. "But quite frankly, you never showed me a reason to trust you."
A step forward.
"You've been manipulating and playing games with us since we first encountered you."
"You hurt my friends."
"You used the trust we had in Shiro as Haggar planted a clone that both of you ended up taking advantage of."
Lotor's back was against the wall, but he still pressed further against it, eyes obviously wide with shock, not that Keith could blame him. He had never thought that Lance could be so intimidating either.
"You used us all to become emperor, to gain all the information that we have, and for what?" Lance lifted his gun and aimed right at Lotor's face. "You aren't even really leading. Hell, you didn't even lead when it was handed to you on a silver platter when we took out Zarkon."
"I - " Whatever Lotor was about to say was cut off.
"Shut it." Lance bit out, and it was then that Keith realized that Lance hadn't raised his voice. He hadn't had to for the entire exchange. "I'm talking, you're not, you son of a bitch. You did all of this to get more power and more planets, and while you claim to be different, letting people 'control' themselves, well."
He leaned in close and Keith held his breath. "You know, you're just like your father."
Lance always knew what got to people. When teasing, though he may push people's buttons, he knew what was too far, what was pure maliciousness, and he never, ever went there. Lance was too nice to seriously try to hurt someone with the way he could read people and his gift with words.
This was the first time Keith had seen Lance use his people skills against someone.
Lance's words were a final straw. Rage seemed to surge through Lotor, and he rushed forward, quickly getting too close for Lance's assault rifle to be much help -
Except Lance's bayard shifted and changed, forming a sword that he used to meet Lotor's slash, much to the other's surprise. "An…an Altean broadsword?" He managed to sputter before their blades unlocked and the fight began.
Keith stared in shock as well as Lance kept up, using his flexibility and agility to his advantage.
"You're right." Lance said between blows, surprisingly calm despite the ferocity of the fight, "I'm just a boy from Cuba.
"But that doesn't mean I can't wreck your shit."
And then Lance managed to slip behind Lotor and his bayard changed again, this time to a pistol. "Nighty-night, discount Kylo Ren." Using all his strength, he brought down the gun, knocking Lotor out cold.
Lotor slumped to the ground. It was over.
For a moment, all was still. Then Lance turned and began walking over to Keith. Keith's chest seized up for a moment, not knowing how to deal with Lance like -
"You okay, mullet?"
Keith gazed up into Lance's eyes, startled.
The ice had melted and it was once again the Lance he knew standing before him. A furrow formed between his brows as he looked over Keith's wounds. He crouched down and reached out a gentle hand to lightly touch at the slash in his side. He quickly removed it at Keith's hiss from the pressure.
"Sorry." Lance reached into his pouch to pull out a pressure bandage. "Here, put this on. It should last until we get back to the castle." He handed it over. "I'm gonna check on Pidge."
As Lance walked over to their fallen friend, Keith couldn't help but stare. "Lance?" He tentatively asked as he applied the bandage. The turnaround was so quick that he could hardly believe it.
"Yeah?" Lance didn't look up from where he was removing Pidge's helmet. He cautiously prodded her injury and went to grab another bandage for the worse part.
"Are… are you okay?" Keith couldn't help but ask.
Lance blinked, and slowly looked up, confusion painting his face. "Me?" He asked, incredulous. "You're asking if I'm okay?"
"Uh, yeah. You…" Keith didn't really know how to put it. He couldn't exactly come out and say, Lance, you were terrifying and I literally thought you were a different person for a second there.
Lance blinked again and seemed to realize what he was getting at. "Oh." His cheeks colored a bit. "Uh, yeah, sorry about that. I just - " He looked back down at Pidge. "Ugh."
"No. I - I get it." Keith could understand. He'd been angry too. He just - didn't express it as intensely as Lance did when he was truly pissed off.
Seriously, Hunk had not been kidding about Lance about being scary when angered. He just hadn't mentioned how dangerous he felt. Seeing Lance angry was like being dangled over a pool of ravenous sharks, praying to escape before the counter runs down and you get ripped to pieces. And that was when the anger was directed at someone else.
Though at least Keith felt reassured, from what Hunk had said about Lance's nephew, that even if Lance ever got angry with any of them, he would never hurt them. He'd be more blunt than usual, which Keith hadn't really thought was possible, and lay everything out, but Keith just knew that he wouldn't have to face the sheer precision of Lance's barbed tongue.
That didn't mean Keith ever wanted to be on the receiving end though.
Lance hummed in response, obviously still a bit anxious about Keith's reaction, and began tapping the side of Pidge's face instead of continuing the conversation. "Hey, Pidgey-Widgey. Time to wake up, okay? Wake up for Lancey Lance."
His persistence paid off when Pidge groaned. "Five more minutes, Mom." She managed to slur out.
"There you are." Lance smiled in relief. He held up two fingers. "How many fingers am I holding up?"
Pidge cracked an eye open and glared. "You lead with that?" She gave an annoyed huff as Lance's face turned serious. This time, she opened both eyes and peered at Lance's fingers. "Two."
"Okay, good." Lance sighed, dropping his hand to better support her. "But you were still out for a while, so I'm pretty sure you've earned a trip to the cryopod."
Pidge grumbled at that, but she sat up, so that was a good sign.
At that moment, Hunk and Allura burst into the room. Keith stiffened as he noticed the… Not-Shiro slung over Allura's shoulder. He was tied up and… was that a piece of cloth blindfolding him?
"Is everyone alright?" Allura shouted, her eyes darting around the room.
"We're alive." Pidge muttered darkly, and Keith couldn't tell if her mood was from her injuries or all that had gone down.
Hunk looked a bit puzzled as he glanced around. "Where's Lotor? I thought he was in here fighting you guys."
Keith and Lance both whipped around to where Lotor had been lying. There were a few small puddles of blood from his injuries, but he was nowhere to be seen.
Lance cursed under his breath. "I knew I should have tied him up." For a moment, Keith saw that cold anger return, but in a blink, it was gone and Lance was passing Pidge to Hunk. "We should get out of here. Unless Keith wants to take another stab at Black, we can probably pick them up with Blue and Yellow."
Keith certainly did not want to try flying back right now. Luckily, Hunk and Allura went ahead to attempt picking up Black and drop off Pidge. If Pidge could at least get in Green, her lion could help handle the rest. Lance hung back and let Keith sling his arm over his shoulders.
"Upsy-daisy." Lance helped Keith up and they made their way towards the Lions.
Keith found himself studying Lance's face as they walked along. He seemed totally normal now. If he hadn't seen it for himself, he never would have believed that Lance went cold when he was angry. Heck, Hunk had even warned him and he hadn't been able to even imagine it.
"You can stop staring at me, you know." Lance commented, startling Keith from his staring. He met Lance's eyes and he looked almost resigned. "Sorry for freaking you out, but I'm not that mad anymore." He paused. "Or at least not mad at anyone I can actually get to right now."
"Why did Lotor in particular piss you off?" Keith asked, genuinely curious. After all, it wasn't the first time that they'd been betrayed.
Lance huffed, an annoyed expression on his face. "It's just – we knew he was a bad egg from the get-go. And he took every advantage he had over us and used it to the fullest. I hate guys like that, considering how much he just – manipulated us."
Keith could understand all that.
"Besides, unlike most people we've met, as I said, he never gave us a reason to trust him, especially seeing how many times he tried to kill us before. Even with all the information he gave us, it was obviously just a way to help himself." Lance's face scrunched up. "And what was even his final goal? I mean, when he had the empire before all of this, he didn't really do anything, and even now he's just obsessed with quintessence. What's up with that?"
Lance continued, but Keith wasn't really paying attention anymore. As he watched Lance get into all the reasons why Lotor was a traitorous snake that they never should have let out of his cell, he couldn't help but smile.
Everything was back to normal.
Sure, they had no clue where the real Shiro was, but Keith just knew that between them all, they would figure things out.
"You know," Keith interrupted Lance mid-tirade as they climbed into Red, "I didn't believe Hunk when he said not to make you angry."
Lance gave him a strange look. "Hunk? Hunk said that?" He settled Keith on a bench that popped out of the wall, and Keith could feel Red pressing at his mind as if to reassure himself that he was still with them.
Lance snorted as he went up to the pilot seat. "As if Hunk has any right to talk about being scary when angry."
Keith had been trying to get comfortable, but that sentence made him freeze. "What?"
"Yeah, I mean, you guys have seen little glimpses of it before or seen him annoyed, but you have not seen Hunk well and truly angry." Lance didn't notice Keith's purposefully blank expression as he started to head back to the castle. "Seriously, when angry, it will hit you like a ton of bricks."
Keith was silent for a moment, just taking that in. "I see." That was all he found that he could say.
"Yeah, I mean, I'm usually more of a forgive and forget kind of guy, except for snakes like Lotor. But Hunk? He may forgive, but he never forgets." Lance was talking again, but it was slowly fading out as what he was saying really hit Keith. "Like there was this one time when I got pretty beat up and – "
Hunk and Lance were by and far friendliest of Paladins. However, both of them considered the other being angry to be the scariest thing ever.
There was a lot that needed to be addressed: Lotor had gotten away, Shiro was still missing, and they had a clone/spy on their hands. However, if there was one thing Keith had learned from all of this, it was that he would never, ever get on Hunk or Lance's bad side.
Out of everything he had seen in this war, Keith didn't think he could survive that.