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What The World Misses

Chapter Text

Fresh clouds of dust spread through the air as the squadron slumped along in formation, long weary bodies exhausted as they trudged along the dirt road. The air was heavy with despair, the weight of their suffering crushing Lance’s lungs.

The brunette shuffled, his shoes clapping against the cobblestone path leading down to the city. Their temple stood high on the hill, a brilliant marble structure that stood out from the rest of the buildings, blue fire ever burning outside the stained glass windows, open and inviting down the winding road. Guards lined this road, standing tall and unmoving as Lance and his peers were lead from the safety of their home, their bodyguards forming an unbreakable line around them, think armour and painted crests marking each and every one of them as a knight of Altea.

Blue eyes attempted to peer past those guards, trying to catch a glimpse of the incoming company of soldiers. Not a lot of news had been heard about the latest battle, all he knew was that they’d won. Still, even won battles tended to take their toll, and soldiers were always thick with horror and self-hate after. He could feel even even here, when he was deep within the city and the company was barely a dot on the horizon.

It felt particularly bad this time though, even worse than others. Soldiers always tended to be overwhelming even under controlled circumstances like the ones they were setting up now, but this felt worse somehow, deeper even. The battle must have been a lot more horrible than he’d heard. No doubt  people would be giving it a bloody name once word spread more and people started dropping names.

Lance bit his tongue, chewing nervously for a bit. He’d heard that this was the legendary Shiro’s company that had been involved in the battle. If Shiro, one of the generals himself and easily a walking legend in the making, was part of such a horrible battle than it spelled bad things for what had happened. He’d heard about Shiro’s skill in battle, about how effortlessly he lead his troop, and how he always kept it together and kept level headed no matter the situation. If a leader like that was part of such a bad situation then describing the battle as “horrible” was probably an understatement.

This was going to be a very rough day.

“This feels bad.” Hunk, his best friend and fellow Empath, chuckled nervously. “I can feel it all the way here. This one was really, really, bad. We’re not even close yet and I already feel like I’m going to suffocate.”

“I know.” Lance winced a bit, eyes on the distant shape. It was becoming a bit more difficult to make them out as the sun rose over the horizon, the golden light glaring in his eyes as it peeked over the distant mountain tops. He didn’t need his eyes to make them out though, the weight of their frazzled emotions made it very clear where they were. The rest of the city was barely waking, most not even having risen from their beds yet, and already he was beginning to choke on the the overwhelming power of their emotions. “It was a good idea to get such a large group of us, there's no way the normal number would have worked out.”

Soldiers were always hard for Empaths to work with. The lifestyle and emotional toils of life in the army was too much for even regular folk, and the people who managed to come home always came back changed. There was always something a little broken in them, something even Empaths couldn’t quite fix no matter how much healing they tried. It was more like treating a wound that would one day leave a huge scar across the skin. It was much harder than dealing with a local heartbreak or helping a grieving widow. Sure, those left scars too, but there was a haunting sort of suffering to soldiers that made it seem like they didn’t even want the wounds to be healed.

“I love helping people…” Hunk breathed, letting out a small wave of nervousness that had the others gravitating towards them, “...but I’m not looking forward to this. I mean, I’m happy to do it, but I’m going to need a lot of wind down and recovery time after this.”

Lance let out a sympathetic noise, reaching out to pat Hunk’s shoulder in a show of companionship, the bell-like hem of his blue robe pooling around his elbow as he raised the hand upward, “I know buddy, I’m going to need a lot of wind-down time too. I swear I’m going to soak in the baths for hours tonight. I’m going to use my good creams too.”

His creams and masks were pricey and he prefered to save them. Sure, the temple had no shortage of money, and each Empath was given more than enough, but import costs alone could burn through monthly coin. So he saved his nice products for days like this, when he knew he would need the extra help to wind down more the toil of the day’s labors.

Hunk fidgeted again, a wave of anxiety rolling from him. Lance felt the instinctual pull Empaths shared with one another compel him closer, as it did for the others, and they huddled together.

“You need to calm down.” Lance reminded gently, “We’re all going to be busy enough today.”

“I know.” Hunk sighed, and Lance could feel him trying to roll the anxiety back. “I’m trying. Sorry bud, its just...that looks like a small company...and they feel so much more suffocating than normal companies.”

He was right. Their group was off the temple pathway now, making their way down the empty streets now, well on their way to the meeting point. The few early risers that were about bowed away, leaving the paths open for them. Every step drew them closer to the meeting point outside the city, and ever step closer made the miasma of misery grow thicker and thicker. The sheer dread and weariness was enough to make Lance’s knees shake. It was bad, it was very bad. What had happened?

“Hey.” He felt Hunk pat his back gently. Blue eyes turned upward, meeting the gentle brown orbs of his best friend, “We’ll just have to work through it as best we can. We’ll tell the guards we need to shift out if it gets too much.”

Lance nodded, knowing that Hunk was right. There were others in the temple, and if they took shifts than it would give them all time to recover before they had to continue. They’d get through this, even if it was going to be a bit harder than most. Still, it wasn’t going to be fun at all. Just walking to the meeting point was already wearing him down, he couldn’t imagine what it was going to be like working through the soldiers.

It would be worth it when he got to meet Shiro though, that guy was his hero.

The thought of meeting Champion Shiro cheered him a bit, momentarily distracting him from the heavy atmosphere. His step had a small skip to it as he let himself imagine meeting the man who survived an entire year in Galra captivity before escaping all on his own, and then he returned to battle without even needing to see an Empath! He was so strong and so cool! Pulling through things that most men wouldn’t be able to even with an Empath’s help. It was amazing!

Hunk chucked, clinging to the sudden burst of cheeriness that bubbled from within Lance, “Thinking about meeting Shiro?”

“You know it!” Lance beamed, “It would be an honor to help someone like Shiro.”

Hunk continued to chuckled a bit, lingering onto the cheer and letting himself be lost in it rather than the despair, “I doubt you’ll get to. He’ll probably want use to focus on the more emotional soldiers. You know the ones.”

Lance frowned a bit. Yeah, yeah he did know the ones. The ones who stare ahead blankly, like they couldn’t see anything happening around them, their minds still trapped on the battlefield even as their feet marched them hundreds of miles away. Those are the ones they’re here to help, the ones who couldn’t get better without an Empath’s help.

That dampered his mood a little bit.

Hunk felt it too. The larger man let out a tired sigh, turning to look ahead a bit, “We’re almost here.”  

Lance looked up, his eyes locking with the barracks set up just outside the city wall, between the first and second defensive walls. They usually met up with company of soldiers in the courtyard just outside the rooms, which were built into the stone walls, leaving everyone with plenty of space to move about and get to where they were needed.

They were at the inner wall now, the massive gate parting just enough to allow their company through. The instant they were inside the gate closed behind them, and Lance felt the heavy despair sink over him like a sudden and unwelcome wave.

The soldiers had already been let in, and they all huddled into the courtyard. The weren’t doing well at all. Many of them had lost the strength in their legs, having fallen to the ground from sheer exhaustion. The soldiers lined up the walls, huddled together as they tried to fight off the lingering fear. Men and women ran about, trying to set up the camp. Wounded soldiers were carried off waggons, bloodied bandages sagging against their bodies as they were carried off towards the building that acted as their medicine room. More soldiers line up the walls of that building, monks and alchemists both forced to work outside from the sheer number of wounded soldiers crowding them.

Even then, there were far less soldiers in this company than Lance had seen in any other.

The air was so heavy that his knees nearly gave out right there, the heavy smog of dread washed through him, knocking the very breath from his lungs. It took a lot of effort to say on his feet, and he found himself aimlessly walking forward, aimlessly trying to figure out where he should even start.

It was only then Lance realized what he was witnessing. This wasn't just survivors of a battle, these were the survivors of a slaughter. Blue eye roamed over the soldiers, not even finding one that wasn’t wounded in some way.

The other Empaths flocked, each one moving towards a huddled mass of soldiers and setting out to work, trying to smooth the pains of the pittiable masses. Even Hunk broke from his side to tend a particularly shaken man whose arm was wrapped in a bloodied sling.

Lance could only wonder forward mindlessly, mind torn as he tried to gure out where to even begin. He choked more on the heavy despair, the thick miasma a heavy shroud on his shoulders. His eyes roamed over the soldiers mindlessly, searching letting the emotions cloud him, each pain just a severe as the last.

Until it wasn’t.

He hadn’t thought that something worse could wash over him than the miasma, but then a dagger sharp pain pierced his heart, twisting it painfully as he cried out and clenched his hands over his chest, the pain far more physical than anything he’d felt from a soldiers camp before. Blue eyes snapped open, frantically searching for the source of the pain.

He found it coming from a bench of sorts, nestled under a worn tree. There were three men there, two soldiers and an apothecarist. The younger soldier was only his age, but already he seemed aged by the horrors. The apothecarist was tending to wound on the soldier, wrapping their shoulder in thick bandages. The same wounded soldier was kneeling, on of his hands spread of the older soldier’s knee.

The wounded soldier was small. He was a slight, pale, thing with too-long black hair sticking to his sweat drenched forehead. He was trembling in his armour, body giving the smallest bit of shake as he spoke slowly to the older soldier. The older soldier, covered in clean bandages, tilted his ear towards the boy, letting the other’s words wash over him. It took Lance a moment to realize that the crest painted across the armour marked the man as the General Shirogane, because the overwhelming presence of the younger boy distracted him so much.

The boy, the pain was coming from him.

He hurried over, determined to ease away the hurt now, because it was so painful, stabbing and bleeding through like someone had really struck him with a dagger, only to come to a stop once he became close enough for the boy’s pain to really wash over him.

Then he felt it. The draw.

It was the draw every Empath felt for one of their own kind, an instinctual thing that comforted them and drew them to one another. The boy must have felt it too, because he paused his conversation with the general, head jerking back. He tilted his head for a moment, violet eyes turning to meet Lance. They stared at one another for a long moment, the connection between them clear as day to Lance, but it was nearly drawn out by the fear and uncertainty, the bone deep chill of self-hate and raw hurt bare before him as Lance soaked it all up.

Then, all at once, the boy’s eyes widened as he tried to pull back his emotions in waves, trying fo file them away and out of sight. It was too late though, Lance had seen, he’d felt it, and he rushed forward to meet his fellow Empath.

“What are you doing here?” Lance asked as he approached the table, causing the other two men to look up. The brown haired apothecarist blinked at him, seemingly confused for a moment, before moving to speak, “I’m sorry, I’m healing these soldiers now. Thank you for your concern, Ser, but we are doing as well as can be expected. An Empath’s help would be better used elsewhere today.”

Lance blinked, confusion overriding him as he paused. He looked at the boy, whose face had become guarded. He studied his fellow Empath, wondering about the bone deep chill he felt from the other. He didn’t recognize the other boy from the temple, he certainly hadn’t been with the group he’d come with, and the armour...why was he wearing armour? Who would put an Empath in armour?

Who had hurt an Empath? It was illegal to do so, an automatic death sentence. Yet here the boy was, with a deep wound along his shoulder indicative of assault.

Had they...had they rescued him from the Galra?

Lance felt a new wave of horror wash over him and shivered. No, no surely even the Galra weren’t savage enough to send an Empath out into battle. Even they weren’t so stupid. The madness it would induce in them…

But it was beginning to look like that might be the case for this boy.

Gods, how did he survive? Had he traveled with them in all this thick despair by himself? The entire way home from the battlefield? What did the Garla do to him?

“Then I’ll take him.” Lance stated, reaching for his fellow Empath. The boy only flinched back though, seeming startled, the other two made a noise a well, like they were equally started by Lance’s proclamation.

“Why?” The boys snapped, “You heard him, I don’t need your help. Go away.”

“What? No.” Lance insisted, reaching out for the other Empath, wanting to pull him into a hug and ease away the waves of mistrust and fear he felt leaking through the thick walls the boy had set up. He tried to hide it, oh, he tried, but they were both Empaths and the connection between them let his muted pain through. He could hide from others, but not his own kind. And if the pain he felt was any indication of the way the Galra treated their Empaths than Lance swore, then and there, that he would personally march Diabazaal and resecure every Empath in their capital. But first he had to start with the one right here. He brushed his fingers against the others’ arm, wrapping the digits lightly around a stray sleeve as he tugged the boy, “I promise I won’t hurt you. Please, just come back to the temple with us. I swear it is safe.”

The boy gave a startled look, like he couldn’t believe the words leaving Lance’s mouth, “I’m fine. I don’t need to go anywhere.”

“Keith?” The other soldier, the Takashi Shirogane, spoke. And suddenly Lance was lost somewhere between the awe of seeing his hero and the overwhelming concern he had for his fellow Empath.

Now the senior soldier was looking between the two of them, his face twisting in concern. Lance felt a fresh wave of worry wash over him, the warm love and concern familiar in a way that made him want to march back into the city and visit his family’s house. The man reached over, his hand squeezing the younger boy’s knee, “Keith...are you sure you’re okay? I...Keith, please don’t pretend you’re alright if you’re not.”

“I’m fine.” Keith snapped, pulling back a bit, waving his injured hand towards a mass of huddled soldiers. “I’m no worse than I ever am after battle, I don’t know why he’s so fixated on me when there are guys over there doing a lot worse.”

By some some of his fellow Empaths had strayed close enough to feel the raw hurt leaking off the boy, the others also reeling in horror as they slowly came to the same conclusions he had. They were gathering now, slowly trying to reach for him. This wasn’t lost on the apothecarist, who eyed the lingering figures warrily, his eyes sharp as he studied them. But Lance didn’t pay attention to any of them, no, it was the boy...Keith...that he set his attention on, trying to reach out a goad the other into relaxing.

“I’m not here to hurt you.” Lance tried, trying to reach his arms around him, only to be rejected as the other hissed and snapped away. It was alright, though, Lance didn’t blame him, not after all this. What the Galra did was too cruel, forcing an Empath to travel with soldiers to a battle, more akin to torture than serves. So he tried again, more slowly this time, “I promise, our temple is good, we can help you there. We won’t make you travel the battlefield like the Galra did.”

What?” Keith pulled make further, his outrage rolling over Lance is a rush of intoxicating anger, “I have never served the Galra. How dare you…?”

“Keith.” The apothecarist grabbed the boy’s uninjured shoulder, his face set in a firm frown. A cold wash of horror was slowly working through the man, creeping through his veins like ice slowly forcing through his blood, “I don’t think he’s accusing you of being a traitor.”

“Obviously he is, Adam.” Keith shrugged off the man’s hand, “Why the fuck else would he say that? How dare you. I may not be the most disciplined soldier in the army, but you can never question my loyalty.”

A heavy quite passed between the, the weight of the boy’s words settling into Lance’s stomach. Now if felt his own frozen fear, the same slow creeping he felt from the apothecarist. No, no, this wasn’t right. His distress brought the other Empaths closer, and he could fel Hunk’s own nagging concern as his friend stood from his place where he’d been helping a group, his brown eyes moving over them and locking onto Keith.

“Please...” Lance found his words after a minute, slow and uneasy as he spoke, “Please tell me you’re not really a soldier.”

“He is…” The older man stood up,his voice uneasily, fear crawling through his body like an uncoiling snake. “This is my right hand, Keith Kogane of the the Shirogane company.”

It was too much for Lance, the pure, fucked up, horror of those words running through his head over and over, never stopping. It was so fucked up, too fucked up. He cried, throwing himself at the Empath, because what else could he do? A soldier, he was a soldier. How? How was he even alive?

His cry brought the others, a flood of robed bodies joining him as they let out their own gasps and cries. His loss of control caused chaos, his fellow Empaths forcing their way over. Keith panicked beneath him, squirming as he tried to escape Lance’s hold, but he refused to let go, not after finding out what he just had. Not after learning the torture he’d gone through.

How had this happened? How had the army not noticed? An Empath in their own ranks. They’d made him fight. They’d made him stand in the battlefields. Oh gods, they made kill.

“How did this happen?” He’s not sure who is asking, it could have been him, but the chaos and rapid panic and outrage were slowly taking over even the heavy weight of fear. “How did an Empath become a soldier!”

Shiro’s eyes widened, snapping towards the younger soldier, a mix of horror and confusion filling him. By now the panic had drawn the attention of everyone else in the camp. Hunk had barreled through the others, being the largest of them, and their team of knights were demanding answers as they approached.

“What are you talking about?” The noiret demand, pushing Lance away and backing up, fear and confusion coursing through him like a raging river, “What Empath? What’s going on?”

“You don’t know?” Lance demanded, “How do you not know?”

Adam moved, grabbing Keith’s uninjured shoulder again, eyes wide and dread spilling from him as he spoke, “Keith...Keith I think you need to go with them.”

“No.” Keith shouted, balling his fists as he backed away, cornering himself against a tree as he was slowly surrounded by cooing Empaths trying to ease him into calmness. He was frantic now, eyes wild and flickering and hands twitching, “I’m not leaving Shiro. I’m not going anywhere. I’m fine!”

“Keith.” Shiro tried to ease the boy, reaching out for him. Keith snapped his head towards him, a flicker of hope filling him as he faced the older man, but it was dashed by the man’s next words, “I think you should go with them Keith.”

“Shiro, no.” The pale boy shook his head, his walls crumbling down as fresh, raw, pain physically tore through Lance’s body, causing him and several others to let out pained cries. The knights had moved in now, the heavily armoured men moving to wrestle Keith way from the tree, physically carrying the boy. Keith didn’t go easily though, kicking and clawing as he was lifted up, letting out an devastating cry that had the others trying harder to ease away the pain. It was useless though, the boy refusing to be calmed as he continued to kick and scream while the knights worked to carry him away.

“Shiro, Shiro! No! Shiro, Shiro please!” The boy cried out, still kicking as the knights carried him away. The Senior Knight, Sir Kolivan, stayed, watching the boy fight against the others as he was carried away, only turning to face Shiro well after they were out of sight and the screams were muted by distance. He was angry, unbearably angry, the heat of it rolling of him even as he keeps a straight face, “Care to tell me how and why you were harboring an undiscovered Empath in the army soldier?”

Shiro, hurt, horrified, devastated Shiro, only spoke a single, broken, sentence, “I didn’t know.”

Chapter Text

The Temple of Hands was, perhaps, the second finest building within the capital. Second only to the palace, the temple was built out of a rare stone that stood out elegantly from the surrounding buildings, soft gray and shining under the lights of blue fire, stained glass windows standing out in stark contrast with the grey. A cobblestone path spiraled up the hill leading to the large double doors, carved into strong mahogany and with large iron handles. In front of the entrance stood a statue of a woman, barely clothed in a loose dress as she stood holding two objects in her hands, a star and a chalice, and a crown resting on her head.

Keith had never seen the famous temple up close before, had never even met an empath before today, preferring to avoid anyone who could read him so easily. Many people flocked the temple day in and day out, bringing tributes and sacrifices to pay the empaths inside for their services. But he’d avoided the temple, never once allowing himself to even stare at it too long for fear of drawing attention from those who lived inside. He learned young not to show weakness, that the only way to survive was to hide your thoughts in the furthest part of your mind.

He never once let an empath see him, preferring to deal with his issues on his own. If growing up in an orphanage taught him anything, it was that hiding his emotions was the best way to survive. The older kids ganged up on you if weakness was show, targeting the weaker children to take the things they needed to survive for themselves. If you weren't careful you could lose your food, or end up someone’s punching bag, and that was for the lucky ones.

So, yeah, he learned a long time ago not to show off his emotions, so the idea of going near people that could see into his head never sat well with him. Once he’d joined the military and learned that empaths were regular guests that came to treat returning soldiers he’d hid himself in the barracks for the most part, putting up familiar walls to hide from them. He could deal with his own issues without some stranger poking around.

Besides, Iverson had been pretty adamant about what he thought of Keith’s emotional outbursts when he’d first joined the army. It had been drilled into his head over and over that he didn’t have it any worse than anyone else in the army, and he should stop acting like he was somehow entitled to better. That acting out of control and losing his temper was unacceptable, and that he’d have the attitude beaten out of him if he couldn’t keep in line. It was a tough pill to swallow, but he did, because Iverson was right and there were men out there giving much more than Keith was. He wasn’t suffering more than anyone else in the army.

So he swallowed his pride, sucked up the anger and the tears, and forced himself to learn how to remain stone faced even when the misery seemed all consuming. It became a mantra in his head, that everyone else had it worse, and he put on his stone face and forced himself to step forward even when there were nothing but screams in his head and knives under his skin.

He thinks he may have died if it weren’t for Shiro. Shiro who had taken him in even after the orphanage had given up on him and put him on the street, Shiro who had vouched for him to join the army, Shiro who had stuck with him after hard won battles and hurts. Shiro was the only one that took the time to break through the walls Keith had built around his heart and try to heal hurts that were long buried. Keith returned the favor in kind, and they took comfort in each other after battles, creating patchwork out of their torn and beaten bodies, Adam working with them to wrap bandages around them with professional precision. They didn’t need the empaths like the others, they just needed to help each other.

Right now he didn’t have Shiro anymore, he didn’t have anyone.

He struggled furiously against his captors, screaming angrily as he squirmed and kicked, commanding the to let go. They wouldn’t though, and two more knights were forced to join the ones holding him, grabbing his feet so he couldn’t kick against them anymore. It did nothing to deter him, and he cried out with renewed frustration and only kicked against them harder, squirming and jerking, willing their grips to loosen even just a bit.

Behind them some of the empaths had followed. Others had stayed behind to help the still downed soldiers, but it seemed that a good chunk of the empaths that had come to camp that morning had deemed him more important somehow, which was infuriating because he was pretty damned sure this was all a terrible mistake.

“Let me go.” Keith demanded, yanking his legs as hard as he could. He was stronger than he looked, incredibly so some would say, and one of the more acrobatic men in the army. That said even he couldn’t take on four fully grown and trained knights holding down his limbs in vice like and deadlocked grips.

The knights all ignored him in favor of charting up the hill. Several of the empaths flocked around them, they cooed, reaching out their hands to him, and he could feel them trying to sooth his fear and frustration. He growled, trying to shut them out, but he could feel them trying to smooth over his rough edges.

“Stop!” He snapped, growling and struggling even harder, “I don’t want your help! I want to go home!”

They didn’t stop, they just tried harder, but Keith was determined to stay angry. He wasn’t going to let them take the fight out of him after he’d basically been kidnapped by these people. He continued his struggles, wriggling until the knights were forced to ask the empaths to back off just to get him to calm down a bit more. It was the smallest bit of victory among a terrible situation, but one he let himself thrive with.

Two other knights flanked the temple doors, watching them approach with a weary eye. The two didn’t seem to question what was happening, at least not verbally, and between his struggling and the position he was being held there wasn’t a good way to see their expressions. The two knights bow their heads and pull open the doors without words, letting the group inside.

He’d never seen the inside of the temple before, never wanted to, but he could see why people would adore coming here outside of even visiting the empaths. The main hall was gorgeous, lined with marble and lit by blue fire. The stain glass windows shown beautifully, with long drapes with Altea’s sigil embroidered into the cloth. In the center of the main hall, surrounded by soft carpet, was a pool wherein hundreds of lit candles floated delicately, a statue of a veiled woman helping a kneeling man sat in the center.

There were knights standing at every pillar and column in the room, their armor brilliant and fine, cloaks with the sigil marking them as guards of the temple hung over their shoulders, coming to fold over their non dominant arm when at rest. This was a very high position, Keith recalled, on par with guarding the royal family to some, very coveted. Keith never understood it himself.

One of those knights set away from their position against the pillars, approaching the group, “What madness is this?”

“Sir Thace.” The knights bow their heads in respect, though they don’t let him go or loosen their grip at all. Keith can feel the empaths trying to prod at him again, trying to smooth down his rightfully frayed temper. He growls, leveling a hateful glare towards them, willing the poisonous resentment to be the only thing they felt from him. They flinched back, like his resentment was painful, maybe it was, but right now he couldn’t find it in himself to care.

“We have an...unusual situation.” One of the knights stated hesitantly. They lifted Keith up a bit, letting the pale boy meet eye to eye with the bearded knight that moved to address them. The man raised an eyebrow when their eyes met, taking on the full force of Keith’s glare with a neutral face. He turned towards the other nights with that raised brow, stare silently asking for confirmation.

“This soldier...” The knight holding down Keith’s right arm shifted it a bit, unintentionally shaking his entire entire body along with the motion, “...was discovered to be a hidden Empath by one of ours. We don’t know how long he’s been in the army, but he was certainly at the battle yesterday.”

Thace’s eyes widened, the sheer look of horror was one he knew well, it was the same kind he’d seen on his fellow soldiers face’s before every battle. It came rolling off him in waves, heavy in the air, but Keith was more than used to that feeling by now, used to much stronger waves of fear and horror than this, so he didn’t have any pity as he renewed his struggles, “I’m not an empath. You’ve all obviously made a mistake.”

The twisting horror on the man’s face increased, and it was becoming pretty clear that the other knights in the room were equally uneasy. Keith could practically smell it on them. He didn’t like it, because it was cracking through his walls pretty well, but he was blocking it out, stacking up those cobblestone one by one, forcing himself to remain stone faced. He can hear the other empaths fussing around him, but he’s not about to let them close.

“How?” Thace’s voice has taken a sharp edge. It’s cold, and harsh, a cutting thing like a knife through the skin. “Who was his commanding officer?”

“Hey! Listen to me, this is a mistake.” Keith insists, trying to correct all of this before it goes too far and someone really gets in trouble because of this shit, “I’m not an empath, that guy got it mixed up or something. Now let me go.”

“He was a part of Commander Iverson’s league, under Shirogane’s unit.” The knights ignore him, they’re determined to ignore him, which is ridiculous considering he was the one they were talking about. He was the one who knew himself best. He would know best whether or not he was an empath.

“Has Sir Kolivan given orders for an investigation?” Thace asks, his shoulders squaring now, a wave of protectiveness washing over him. Keith isn’t used to seeing people act protective over him. Only Shiro and Adam had ever really given a shit about him before this, because he was worth giving a shit about before Shiro picked him up out of the gutter. It makes his heart twist painfully, a longing, stinging thing that makes it hard to breath. The empaths in the room are trying to reach for him again, and the knights seem hyper aware of him where before.

“I want to go home.” Keith bites, trying to fold back the emotions threatening to spill through his walls. This is too much right now. He doesn’t want to be here. All he wants is to go home, back to his humble home shared with Shiro and Adam, the apothecary shop Adam runs taking up the whole of the down stairs and their rooms at the top. His bare room, just comfortable enough with his merger belongings, wonderfully warm from the fire in the halls. He wants the familiar presence of his brother, tall and broad and familiar, safer than any walls in the city, full of genuine belief in him. He wants Adam’s silent warmth, small and companionable, like the flickering flame of a candle in a dark room.

He just got home. He just got home from the battle. That awful battle that was so much worse than any other he’d taken part it. He can still see that blood on his hands, the mountain of corpse behind him. He can hear the screams, the terrible scream, still see the men dying all around him. He could practically feel it when they died, like he was the one dying in their stead. Even with his walls up, even knowing what would happen and what he had to do, even sucking on his teeth and biting down the bile and pain to fight on, he can still smell the blood in the air. There are screams all around him, and every man his slashes or stabs hits him back even when they don’t have a blade in their hands.

Battles aren’t glorious. Battles aren’t fun. This one was still somehow worse than any other. They’d been trapped like rats, backed up against a wall of corpses that the Galra soldiers had built, some of them not even fully dead yet, some of them  Keith knew. He can hear them screaming even now, begging for help even as their insides spilled out and they desperately tried to hold them in. Everything was fear and confusion, as shields and spears started closing in. He remembers choking on it, his screams drowned out by the the cries of others. They’re trampling him trying to escape, but it’s impossible. He’s desperately trying to reach Shiro, but he’s alone, and everyone is screaming all around him. All he can do is crawl past the corpses threatening to drown him, the taste of blood and rot in his mouth, the pain stinging every part of his body, choking him again. He’s dead, he decides even as his hands crawl on top another corpse, desperately dragging his body towards survival, because he can’t breathe, because no one can survive this much pain.

He’s dragged from the horrific memories gently, and he snaps back to reality only to realize the knights must dropped him on the stone floor. His back hurts, probably from a sudden drop, but he’s been dragged to his knees. The empaths are surrounding him, some of them touching his shoulders or brushing back his hair, waves of calm and promises of comfort chipping away at his walls. He doesn’t give in though, the smell of blood still clogging his throat, still suffocating him. He can’t breath. He can’t breath.

Some flinch back, empaths and guards alike, and Keith bends down, forehead nearly touching the cold stone floor, and vomits. He hasn’t actually eaten since before the battle, and there is hardly anything left in his stomach to spill onto the ground. Still, the acidic taste is almost a relief compared to the choking fear and the cries of the dead. He can still feel it, the pain beneath his skin, like maggots tearing him apart from the inside.

“We need to contain him.” He hears Thace command, “Get him to one of the private chambers. Strip him, bath him, tend to his wounds, and gather as many available Empaths as you can. These orders are priority right now, we cannot have an unstable Empath on our hands.”

“I’m not…” Keith tries to reach for the man, his hands groping blindly for something to hold on to that wasn’t the vomit covered floor beneath him, “...I want Shiro.”

“Get him to the chamber.” Thace commanded again, kneeling on one knee near Keith, reaching out a hand to brush away some hair. The pale boy hisses, flinching away from the knight because he didn’t like being touched by strangers. He didn’t want this, he hated this, he hated being here. Thace is worried, it’s obvious to him, and he can recognize the protectiveness growing in the man’s eyes. It’s a look he often sees in Shiro’s eyes. This is sharper, though, and there is a promise of something in them.

Thace stands up again, his cloak billowing as he turns and spits orders, “Get him to that chamber now. I want Sir Ulaz seeing to him. I’ll send a crow to inform the Queen.”

“Sir Thace.” One of the knights steps forward, bowing his head, “Sir Kolivan stated that he would personally be delivering the news to her highness.”

Thace actually winced at that, “Very well, am I to assume he also wishes to lead the investigation?”

“He expressed such an obvious oversight needed to be given the utmost attention.” The knights bowed their heads further.

“There shouldn’t be an investigation.” Keith insists, forcing himself to stand up, righting himself and shoving the dark memories to the back of his mind, letting anger and frustration cover the pain instead. Anger was easy, anger was familiar, anger kept him from the horrific pain. The adrenaline his anger brings gets him back on his feet, his face settling into stone as he backs away. “I’m not an empath. There’s nothing wrong. I’m going home now before this goes any further.”

The surge of protectiveness that fills the room like a storm passing through, leaving Keith in it’s eye and barely standing as the knights surge forward and seize his arms. They yank him back, not letting him walk away. He growls, reflexively elbowing the knight in the side, only for his bone to hit hard steel, the plate armor protecting the man from Keith’s assault. Unfortunately, Keith had shed his own pitiful chain mail a while ago to tend to his damaged shoulder, leaving nothing but a bruised elbow and a flash of pain shooting through him as he hissed. Then he was being fussed over again, this time by the very knight he’d attempted to assault. Normally he’d be put in chains for such a stupid move, but now he had the knight trying to gather him up while the empaths tried to reach for him again.

“Stop it! Just stop it! Stay out of my head!” Keith snaps, trying to pull away from the knight. He’s jerking wildly now, his shoulder throbbing now, but he just wants to get away, to go home already where Shiro and Adam were waiting and they could just forget about the nightmares for a while. Because it was just the three of them working through this mess, and that was all he’d ever needed.  “Just let me go! I want to go back!”

The knights and empaths didn’t seem to think so at all. His tantrum didn’t even seem to be throwing them off at all, it only seemed to reinforce the fierce protectiveness in the room. The knight that caught him is pulling him back into his arms now, holding Keith as gently in place as he can when the young soldiers is struggling. Thace, the bastard, steps up and tries to be comforting, kneeling down and putting a hand on his non injured shoulder, trying to smile, “I’m sorry, but we can’t do that now. I’m afraid you don’t seem to understand what’s going on, but I promise you we’re not here to hurt you, we only want to help.”

“I don't need your help.” Keith spits again, glaring dangers into the other man, trying to sink as much of his bitter rage into the look as possible.

The man flinches back a bit, but otherwise stands his ground. He sighs, and there’s a tiredness that blooms in his eyes when he turns to his fellow knight, “He’s in denial. Take him.”

And then he’s seized again, the knights taking hold of his limbs again and lifting him as he hisses and struggles all over again. His mouth tastes like vomit, his shoulder is painful, he’s alone with barely repressed thoughts of drowning in corpses, and there are people who want in his head. This is hell, he decides as the knights chart him off, ignoring his protests as they exit the main hall, dragging him down a series of twisting corridors, their protectiveness downing out his words.

People are starting to poke their heads out of various doors, empaths all of them, their eyes locking onto him. They’re trying to reach for him, to calm him and smooth down his rocky temper, ease his frayed mind, but he shoots them back with poisonous resentment. He hears them crying out, can practically feel their distress from here, their worried whispering and confusion following him down the corridor. He doesn’t get a good look at the rooms they pass by, too distracted by keeping all the empaths away from him, trying to let them all know that they’re not welcome. The journey to their destination feels long, unbearable, and all his senses are overloaded by the time he’s settled onto a bed.

He looks up, trying to orient himself. The knights are moving around the windowless room, moving around to set things down and more comfortable he guesses. His boots are off, and there is an attempted to peel off his clothes that proves fruitless to the knight once Keith realizes what’s going on. He hisses, curling away from knight as he backs against the wall.

“This is a silent room.” The knight is frowning at him, his hand still extended like he wanted to touch Keith, “We bring Empaths that are overwhelmed here to recover privately. Your situation however is...delicate...so we’ll have to rotate regular visitation from others I imagine.”

Keith glares at him, hating that he wouldn’t listen. He’d thinks he would damn well know if he was an empath or not, but no, these knights were determined that they were right. He turns to glare at the ceiling, pointedly ignoring the concern from the man.

Damn, that’s a high ceiling. He certainly won’t be schaling the walls anytime soon. How did the hang the drapes from that high?

One of the knights has gotten a fire going. It’s a real fire, non magical and simple, with red flames and warmth. He didn’t know he would miss such a simple thing in the mist of this madness, but seeing the familiar flickers from the corner of his eye does a lot more for him than any of these people trying to comfort him. He kept his eyes on it, thinking back to the nights spent sat around the camp with Shiro, the most peaceful part of army life, the most comfortable part.

Not like the battles.

He swallows down the pain, curling into himself on the bed. The knights are still moving around the room, gathering things and readying supplies. One had brought a wash bin into the room and set it on a small bedside table, a washcloth hanging off the side, a potion sitting next to it. Another was holding some clothes in his hands, the robes empaths wore from the look of it. Keith thought for a moment that they were going to force him into them, but the night merely set it in a nearby chair. Another knight was pulling what looked like a blanket from the cupboards.

“We need to remove your boots.” The knight that sat down the wash bin stated, his voice pleasant, full of well intention, “The council will be debating about how best to help you right now, but that doesn’t mean we can’t do something.”

“Don’t touch my boots.” Keith hissed, venom leaking from every word, scooting against the wall. He doesn’t want to be touched, he doesn’t want a room full of strangers deciding what to do with him, he doesn’t want to be here. The knight is hurt my his words, it’s obvious, and Keith feels guilty about it. He hates that he does, because he knows he’s in the right and still feels guilty. He hates this feeling, and he hates how hurt it makes him feel.

His shoulder is throbbing horrifically, and even Adam’s stitches and the medicine he rubbed over it did little for it, but it was nothing compared to the twisting insides, from his guts to the painful sting of his heart. It’s all sharp, a stabbing thing, with a twisted knife. Then there are maggots. And the screams still ringing in his ear like church bells, loud reminders of dead men.

The pangs of concern he feels from the other knights annoy him. He hates how fixated they are on him. They should be doing this with actual empaths, people who actually needed this, not guys like him. He wasn’t special, he didn’t have it worse than any other soldier. Hell, there were soldiers on the field that were much worse off than him. Why weren’t they here.

He’s no empath, he’s just bad at functioning like a grown human being. There were people with actual problems out there, ones who needed this level of concern, but here he was. Entitled Keith Kogane, crying again because he couldn’t handle himself. Even his stone face couldn’t hide it. He was a mess, yeah, but he never thought he’d be such an entitled prick that they’d mistake him for an empath.

Looks like it hadn’t been beaten out of him after all.

The knights are still twitter about the room, unsure of what they should do. It’s clear to him they still have things to do before they can leave him and his lack of cooperation is preventing them from doing it. He wishes they would just leave already, damn their procedure. It’s not like he could escape; there wasn’t a window in this room and the whole building was full of knights and empaths that would stop him.

“Leave.” He decides to try instead, “I want to be by myself.”

“We need to get you ready for Sir Ulaz.” One knight explained, “He’s a doctor and…”

“It’s not like I can run away.” Keith interrupted, “So I’ll stay right here until this madness is straightened out and you all realize I’m not an empath.”

The clear, unconditional, unyielding concern they shared for him was too much. The underlining twinge of horror they all felt was worse somehow.

“Isn’t this an supposed to be where people left alone?” He asks. He’s already confused enough, already hates himself enough without all this, and he just wants to be left alone to sleep. “I just...I just want to sleep and I don’t like people watching me.”

They’re stiff, unsure, and Keith reads people well enough to know that they want to protest. He can taste their reluctance as easily as he can taste the blood on his lips. They do leave though, their metal shoes clanking as they walked.  He feels his body ease a bit as they leave, and his frayed nerves settling just a little. Now that the concern was gone he could focus on bottling up the raw pain the battle left behind.

He kicked off his boots himself, stripping himself of heavy armor and letting his body melt against the bed as he dropped them over the side of the bed, uncaring where they feel. He wouldn’t be here long, he was sure of it no that he calmed down from his rage and thought about it. Now he could focus on treating the pain inside of him


 

“How was this allowed to happen?” Ryner spoke, stroking her chin. As the senior council woman for the temple she was the one required to start the meeting between the gathered Empaths and the knights, and in the absence of Kolivan she found little else to start with. The situation was as perplexing as it was impossible, many of the seniors still fraught with disbelief.

The round council room meant for a round council table, making it easy for Ryner to keep an eye on her fellow councilors. She could already feel the contained horror like a bubbling heat, waiting to over spill. It was a significant thing that she could feel it. All the counsel’s Empaths were older, with years of experience masking their own emotions best the could. They could never completely cage the wild emotions around them, but there was a sage like calm and certain control they gained over the years...well...as close as people with their particular abilities could get.

The nervous energy in the room was overwhelming as well, with several people shifting in their seats or tapping their fingers nervously against the table. Both Empaths and knights were gathered, all members present within the temple assembled to discuss their new and terrifying situation.

Sir Ulaz, who was tapping his fingers rhythmically against the wooden table, straightened his back and spoke first, “I would like to see him. Reports say he is wounded. I would like to see to the patchwork myself. Just to be sure his stitches weren’t done by another soldier.”

“He is psychologically damaged.” Ser Ilak, a fellow Empath, spoke, “He is volatile and in a far too delicate state to let you near.”

“Is he really denying he’s an Empath?” Ulaz asked, leaning fully against the table now.

“I witnessed it myself.” Ilak spoke, the wrinkles around her eyes deepening. The woman touched her large necklace, eyes set firmly on the surface of the table. Her lips were set in a firm line, stern expression hard as stone. Ilak was generally a serious person, but Ryner could feel the air of defeat radiating off her. She was the only one in the room who had been at the scene today, being one of the two seniors to escort the group to the soldiers. She was the only one to feel the sheer pain that radiated from the boy. Something in Ilak was broken by it, and Ryner dreaded to think of what it must have done to the others.

“Do you believe there is a way to fix this?” Sir Thace asked, stroking his beard, “We most certainly can’t leave him as is.”

“I do not know how he has survived so long.” Ilak spoke, her eyes flickering upwards and moving over the room. She’s still trying to keep the pain and worry in, behind a mask of sternness, but even the knights could feel the distress born from her. “He has been ripped apart from the inside. Stabbed, trampled, drowned, he’s felt it all. He was there, in the slaughter, and he was in the middle, surrounded by death. I would not have survived. He is lucky madness is all that has befallen him.”

There was a general cold that washed over the room, the horrific reality weighing on all of them. Reyner didn’t know if it was the strength of the boy’s character or sheer chance that he was here today. Another member, and older man by the sound of it, spoke out, “And he refuses help?”

“He was lost in anger, pain, and denial.” Ilak informed, dropping her hand from her necklace to place gently against the table, “He lashed out at all attempts to soothe him. I cannot reach him as is.”

“How are we supposed to go about healing the damage then?” Ulaz demanded, his frustration filling the room in thick waves, “There has to be a way if he is coherent as he seemed.”

“Kolivan will be investigating everything the boy has been involved with.” Thace informed with false lightness, waving a hand vaguely in the direction of the palace, “All I know so far aside from that is there is apparently a close relationship between he and Takashi Shirogane.”

Ilak remained stone faced, though her disapproval was felt, “Shirogane was also shocked by the revelation.”

“He asked for “Shiro.” Is that not the common nickname?” Thace hummed thoughtfully, “Perhaps he can convince the boy to accept help?”

“I do not know if I approve.” Ilak commented, “The man should have noticed there was an Empath in his care. Such ignorance reeks of neglect.”

“No one else in the army noticed either.” Ser Holt commented from his spot at the table, his robes hanging loosely around him, dwarfing his form. He’d hurried here from a visit from his wife and children, the disappointment or leaving them mixing well with his own horror at the situation, his fatherly instincts fueling him. He adjusted his glasses, his lips set in a firm line, “There may be a flaw within the system. Or, perhaps, the boy simply became very good at hiding his nature. He was still somehow overlooked before he was old enough to join the army.”

“So it’s not simply neglect from the army.” Thace drawled, “It was neglect within the household as well.”

“My point is…” Ulaz cut back into the conversation, his eyes flickering over towards Reyner, “...he will not accept help as is. Even if you all do not like it contacting Shirogane may be the best way to convince him to accept aid.”

Reyner pondered this, rolling the information around in her mind, carefully considering, “Perhaps you are correct, Sir Ulaz, there will be no helping him at all if we cannot convince him to accept aid in the first place.”

There was some general grumpling from some members of the council, most having remained silent through the short debate, none really protested however. Ilak still looked disapproving, as well as Thace, but the lack of other ideas that would work as quickly kept them silent.

“I suppose we must discuss what will be done once he is convinced to accept aid then?” Holt spoke, adjusted the lenses around his eyes, “I would recommend that the case be handled by members of the council itself. We are the most practiced Empaths, and the knights are the most well trained, it would minimize the stress and damage for both healers and the boy.”

“We are all rather busy.” Another Empath spoke, stroking his long beard, “We have duties to attend to, documents to sort, the younger folk to teach, visitors to see.”

“We will have to make a schedule, of course.” Holt spoke, nodded his head, “But this is, perhaps, the most delicate situation we’ve encountered, as well as possible evidence of flaws in the system. We cannot afford to simply leave this in the hands of the younger knights and Empaths. This boy could be permanently damaged already.”

“Ser Holt is right.” Ulaz nodded, “Even when our skills the boy may never fully recover from this. We need to leave it to the most experienced help we have. Assess the damage, judge the skill range of his abilities, see how he’s coped with his experiences and managed to stay alive, then dismantle his denial. This may be a process that could kill him and harm us if we’re not careful.”

Reyner held up her hand, silencing the room. He stood, having come to a decision for all of them, “There is no other choice for it then. Ser Holt, I’ll leave you and Sir Ulaz to met the boy and give a rough estimate of the work required to treat him. Work out a schedule from there. Until then I will aid Sir Kolivan in the investigation efforts. If the fates be merciful than the Queen will be able to fix whatever happened and temper rumors before other nations hear of this.”

“Gods willing.” Thace sighed, standing now that the meeting was essentially over, “This is going to be messy once word spreads. There is no one more gossip driven than noble ladies and soldiers.”

“I imagine that there will be a lot of finger pointing as well.” Holt stood from his seat, brushing off his robes as he gathered his supplies and started walking, “Scapegoating is the game of nobility they say. Those fights will certainly be messy in of themselves.”

“I foresee disaster.” Ilak spoke for everyone at last, “And it’s coming right for our doorstep.”

Chapter Text

Every council member of the Arye Alliance is a damned fool.

Allura rubs her temple for the umpteenth time. Around her, seated within the wooden chairs, sat the other princes and princesses that made up their council. Each member ready to verbally tear each other apart. The meeting hadn’t even started yet, but she could already feel the pounding headache brewing.

This was going to be a long day.

Coran, her most trusted adviser and constant companion in the dangers that were the council meetings, pulled out a chair for her. She took her seat at the head of the table, as befitted the leader of the alliance. She folded her hands, eyes flickering over each and every person in the room, from the seated leaders of the principalities to their guards. She coughed in her hand to call their attention, an unnecessary move, as the councilmen were on the edge of their seats, eager to pounce, but a habit she’d developed from previous, less tense, meetings.

“Now that we have all gathered...” she spoke, already dreading what came next. “Let us begin.”

“I call for an arrest!” Prince Lubo of Olkari shouted, his hands slamming against the table, his usual goblet of wine missing, there hadn’t been time to prepare refreshments beforehand. “Every member of that entire troop and their leaders should be thrown into the dungeon for extreme neglect.”

“That solution is what’s extreme.” Ser Kolivan spoke, one of the few here not in charge of a principality, but very important to the situation and thus present. “We cannot arrest an entire troop.”

“It would be more prudent to arrest the supervising Generals.” Lucia of Nalquod spoke, folding her hands, “Perhaps even the whole chain of command. The Commander, the Captains in charge, anyone whose duty it was to notice such things.”

“If we do something like that we may very well end up arresting everyone.”  Rax of the Balmerans argued. He was still new to the council, only taking his grandmother’s place this year. He glared angrily at the center of the table, arms crossed, grip dangerously tight on his forearms. Out of all of them, he was easily the angriest. Allura couldn’t blame him, as he had a personal reason to be this way. Ever since his Empathic younger sister had been kidnapped in a surprise attack by the Unilu allying themselves with the Galra Empire, he had become more protective.. The attack had devastated the Balmeran people in a way not seen since the Empire slaughtered High Priestess Merla and the Drule. Princess Shay, a mere child at the time, had not been seen since. 

It was said Prince Rax was left severely traumatized by the attack, and out of the entire alliance, he was the one that was the most fervently protective of Empaths. Allura had never seen evidence of the rumor until now, but from the way he acted now, it looked to be true.

“We cannot arrest that many people.” Allura tries to reason, throwing herself into the fire. From here on it will be a dangerous game, because she, as the current leader of the alliance, will be eventually be brought into question as well. She’s anticipated this ever since she received the news, and she’s prepared to defend herself as need be.

The attack doesn’t come right away. Instead the council continues to throw around solutions.

“We should arrest the General at the very least.” Lubo comments, staring longingly at where his cup of wine would normally be, “We must be seen doing something . Put on a show before the peasants rebel, let them know we don’t think this is acceptable.”

“We could cripple ourselves if we arrest the general.” Luxia reminded him gently. It was rather brave of her, considering the general in question wasn’t the head of her own division.  “Besides, a general cannot be expected to know every single member of their army. It’d be more practical to arrest the captain of his squad.”

Princess Colleen of Terra, who had thus far stayed silent throughout the whole situation, finally spoke. “The captain in question is Takashi Shirogane.”

The room sucked in a collective breath, the sound sharp and hissing through their teeth. Even Allura felt a twinge of dread at the knowledge. Captain Shirogane was a hero of the people, and there was no doubt in her mind that news that he’d been harboring an Empath in his company would cause shock and outrage. 

“Oh dear.” Luxia hid her mouth behind her hand, “What an awkward situation.”

“If he’s guilty of neglect than he deserves what he gets.” Rax argued, huffing as he leaned forward, “We cannot make an exception, or it sends a message that this is acceptable behavior under certain circumstances.”

Colleen looked distinctly uncomfortable as she spoke again, “We’re not saying it is acceptable, but perhaps we shouldn’t act hastily. General Sanda has informed me that a full investigation has already been launched-”

“And we can, of course, trust you to be completely honest with your reports.”  Lubo challenged, slamming his fist against the table. “Covering up your own neglect no doubt! I can assure you that such a thing would never happen in Olkarian.”

“How dare you.” Colleen hissed, glaring as she stood, chair tipping backwards to the floor with a loud smack. Her hand clenched over her chest, using the other for support while she leaned over the table to send a heated glare at the man, “My own husband, the father of my children , is an Empath in the temple, and if you think for one moment that I would neglect any Empath in my care then you have nothing but my contempt.”

“Then how was this allowed to happen in the first place?” Rax joined the argument, turning his own glare on the woman. “It was your army, and your principality. You are the one responsible for everything they do, and every neglect. Maybe you too, should take responsibility for this.”

“Are you suggesting I be arrested?” Colleen glared at the young man.

“Exactly.” Rax challenged. “If your army is engaging in such neglect then we can only assume that it is due to poor or corrupt leadership. During war we require neither. I motion that we arrest Princess Colleen of Terra and place one of her children as regent until we investigate the entire situation.”

“How dar-”

“That’s enough.” Allura snapped, silencing the room. She rubbed her temple, the headache forming already. She had expected that the council would use this to attack her, challenge her position as leader of the alliance and vote her out, but it seems that they were taking advantage to play a much slower game, replacing a Princess with the hope of having someone more pliable take her place. It made her tired just thinking about it. “We are at war, and we cannot afford to turn on each other now. The army in question just survived a massacre.”

“A massacre the Empath in question was present for.” Rax spat, looking outraged by the very words spilling from him. They silenced the room, leaving the air sick around them.

Ser Kolivan, who had remained silent and observing since he last spoke, broke through the tense air with more information, “We have secured the Empath, a boy by the name Keith Kogane, and placed him within the temple.”

“That’s good at least.” Luxia hummed, “And how is he adjusting?”

“He isn’t.” Kolivan stated bluntly, “He is volatile, traumatized, and uncooperative. He has thus far lashed out against all attempts to help him. He is angry, wounded, and insists that he is not, in fact, an Empath. He is, at the same time, unconsciously using his abilities to attack others with the fear, rage, and confusion brought about by the situation.”

“Good lord.” Coran couldn’t help but speak.

“Is he refusing help?” Luxia frowned.

“He is.” Kolivan nodded. “We have set Elders to the task, but he refuses to see them, and he projects too much pain and anger when they try to use their abilities to ease him. He refuses any food given by Empaths, and instead only accepts from knights, and he constantly demands to be released.”

“We can’t release him like that.” Rax looked outraged by the very idea, “He could destroy his own mind!”

“We’re very aware.” Colleen spoke, sinking back to her seat, hands clenched, “But what can we do?”

“We’ll simply have to trust the Elders will find a way.” Luxia spoke evenly. “He cannot remain uncooperative forever. We’ll let time become his healer. In the meantime, we will do what we must.”

“And what would that be, exactly?” Lubo rubbed his temples, finally becoming fed up with the meeting.

“I think it’s rather unavoidable that arrests must be made.” Luxia folded her hands, scales shining beneath the light as she suddenly took command of everyone’s attention, though her own eyes found Allura’s, “It seems to me that it is more a matter of who to arrest, so I have a proposal, if the council leader doesn’t mind.”

“You may present it.” Allura waved off, hoping that she, at least, made a sensible suggestion. Luxia was, perhaps, the only of the council that was unbiased right now, and thus Allura’s only other hope that something would be done.

“I suggest a series of investigative arrests.” Luxia proposed, “Not permanent arrest, but temporary ones until investigations by Ser Kolivan’s unbiased men have been completed. This way we’re seen to be doing something by the public, and if we have some more...high profile arrests...then we can keep them under the mild punishment of house arrest until we’ve determined guilt.”

All was silent for a moment, before Colleen spoke once again, “Luxia, are you...are you agreeing with Rax’s proposal?”

“I am.” Luxia nodded, turning to stare into Colleen’s brown eyes, “But only temporary, and much less strict than the dungeons. Meanwhile, those that should have been responsible can also be held in temporary custody until we can determine how this happened. Everyone from the General, to the Commander, to the Captain, all the way down the apothecarist responsible for his health. This way we look unbiased and can simply release any important parties later.”

Luxia turned to stare Allura in the eyes as she spoke, expectant. The suggestion left a sour taste in Allura’s mouth, especially with the betrayed look Colleen shot her fellow Princess. Allura wished, she desperately wished, that the suggestion didn’t make so much sense, but it did. It was the only option that would leave the rest of the council happy, and the people satisfied. It was unbiased, left room for pardon, and didn’t guarantee that important pieces of their army were permanently taken out of the situation. It even left them with room to think of replacement generals and such if some of them happened to be found guilty.

It wasn’t ideal, and Colleen wouldn’t be happy, but Allura didn’t see a more sensible choice. She nodded her approval, “You proposal makes sense, I approve and put it to a vote among the council, all in favor?

“Princess Allura!” Colleen gasped, the betrayal painted across her face, “You cannot be serious!”

“I second the motion.” Rax glared at the woman.

“Third.” Lubo announced, waving off the glare Colleen sent him, “It’s only temporary, you’re getting off easy.”

“Fourth.” Luxia nodded solemnly, looking not at all pleased with her idea coming into fruition. 

“Then the majority has decided.” Allura announced just as solemnly, folding her hands, “I move for the investigative arrests of  Princess Colleen of Terra, sentenced to be confined to her home, General Sanda of Terra, sentenced to be confined to her home, Commander Iverson of Terra, sentenced to the dungeons, Captain Shirogane of Terra, sentenced to the dungeon, and all potential associated parties until such a time as the investigations against them has been completed and guilt has been determined.”

“You cannot be serious.” Colleen hissed.

“It’s only temporary.” Allura folded her hands, “Guards, if you would.”

The guards moved to escort Princess Colleen out. For her part, the older woman didn’t fight them, she glared at them, unhappy, but she didn’t resist, so there was no need to shackle her. She left the room without another word, though the unhappiness was clear on her face, and Allura knew very well she’d lost an ally in the long run. But such were the sacrifices of rulers.

“Ser Kolivan.” Allura spoke, “I give you leave to investigate. If there is no other matters to discuss, then I declare this meeting adjourned. 

No one spoke. Rax unhappily pushed his chair back and left the room, his guards flanking him as he went, not another word spoken. Lubo left next, grumbling about the lack of food in the meeting, rubbing his stomach as he slithered out the door.

Only Luxia remind behind, staring down at her scaled hands, “Did we do the right thing?”

“It’s hard to say.” Allura commented as she stood, Coran stepping into place behind her, “We can only do what we can.” 

She left the room, leaving Luxia to stare at her hands, hoping that they’d done the best.


 

Noise in the Common Room was normal. It was something of a lounge area for the Empaths, a place for them to gather with each other and socialize casually. There were other places that tended to have groups hanging around them, of course, but the Common Room was the place specifically meant for it. Normally, Lance would be in the middle of the crowd, grinning, trying to wheedle the latest gossip, or flirt with the pretty girls, generally just being the life of the party. Or so he liked to think anyway. 

Today though, Lance wasn’t really in the mood.

Tanned fingers tapped at the wooden table rhythmically. It helped to get rid of a bit of anxiety, but it wasn’t enough. He could feel it rolling in his belly, reaching up his throat to strangle and take hold of him.

“Dude, you need to stop.” Hunk nervously tapped his glass, the wine inside swirling. The larger boy bit his lip, brown eyes staring down at him, “Your anxiety is making everyone nervous.”

“I can’t calm down, Hunk.” Lance snapped, quietly, because people were already throwing him looks and he didn’t want to give them an excuse to fully look at him right now. Not today. He wasn’t in the mood for attention, not after this morning. “I don’t know how you can be after that.”

Hunk clicked his tongue, gently placing his cup down before reaching his hands up to rub his temples. The exhaustion rolled off his friend in waves, no matter how much the larger boy tried to fold it back behind layers of calm. Normally, food was all it took for him to calm down. Baking and cooking and all matter of such activity served as a sort of meditative anchor for the noirette, but even that wasn’t enough. It was probably unfair for Lance to bask in his own anxiety when Hunk was trying so hard to find that delicate sweet sanity, but the brunette couldn’t find the strength to stop today. 

“I’m not calm.” Hunk breathed, “No one is. And I don’t think anyone is going to be for a while after that lash out, but we have to try to find a way to cope. Sitting here and stewing in anxiety isn’t going to help, it’s just making everyone else even more nervous.”

Lance grits his teeth, trying to keep the bitter resentment down, a useless task in a room full of Empaths that could feel it. Hunk frowned at it, but only let his own waves of soothing calm roll off him, trying to brush away that poison emotion. Lance let it happen, let the compassion wash away the bitterness, leaning his head against his friend’s shoulder as it was swept away. “I can’t get over it. I keep...I keep seeing him. His face. The betrayal he felt... the fear , the pain . I can’t...I can’t stop thinking about it.” 

He breathed, trying to bathe in Hunk’s soothing comfort, but it was nothing in the face of even just the memory of the Empath, the soldier , from the massacre. Empaths weren’t measured by strength, their abilities were never stronger than another’s, it just didn’t work like that, emotions didn’t work like that. But that soldier, Keith , he overpowered them all. Lance can remember it, that choking pain, lashing out knife sharp and strong as whips. And none of them, not a whole crowd of Empaths reaching out in compassion and soothing comfort, could stop it. He was too overpowering, too hurt , and it swept away everything that reached for it.

Lance had been there, had followed them back to the temple when they took Keith. He couldn’t help himself, it was entrancing, like a siren call of agony. He was hypnotized by pain, enthralled by it. And, if he was being honest with himself, he kinda felt responsible for that sad little soldier with the wounded shoulder. He’d been the one that found him, he’d been the one to notice that pain, he’d been the one to call attention to it. And, worst of all, he’d been the one responsible for the look on the soldier's face when they took him away.

A spike of guilt shot through him. He felt Hunk shift next to him, that smooth calm brushing over the spike, rubbing it away with soft words, “Lance, you couldn’t have left him there. He would have died.”

Blue eyes shut as Lance pinches his brow. He knows that. Gods, does he know that. There was no way, no way , an Empath could possibly survive out there like that. He can remember what it was like to live out there, when he was young and no one knew the difference between someone like him and a regular crying child. He can remember his brothers and sisters, and that time they took him to catch frogs for the first time, and when they got back an old lady in the next house over had died. Lance hadn’t even been there, but everyone had hurt so much that even sweet milk and his mother’s lullabies couldn’t stop his tears and they’d had to take him to the Temple.

He hadn’t even been in the same house as that lady. Just the grief her death caused her loved ones had been enough to overwhelm him. His too little body and his too immature emotions were so hurt he couldn’t breathe, and he didn’t understand what was going on, or why he was so sad, and it felt like he was trapped beneath cold river water and he’d never escape, but at the same time he was so thirsty his throat itched. All he knew was that it was too much and too fast and it would never be better again.

And he’d been one of the lucky ones. He hadn’t felt anyone, not that young. He’d felt hurt dogs, and tired horses, and scared frogs, but he hadn’t felt anything die . He was too little; too young to fish like his brothers, too small to fight with the older kids, too new to have a relative die yet. And when he’d been taken to the Temple, Death didn’t come to him until later, much later, when he was older and knew what was happening, old enough to go to help the soldiers, and he was a little too close to the apothecary tents. He felt it, the wounded soldiers, their pain, and one was slipping away…

The Knights had grabbed him up and taken him away, ever the protective guards. But it had been too late by then, and he had been drowning in pain and loss. The wounded hurt the most, and a group of them was too much. He shouldn’t have gone that close, and to this day the bone deep pain haunted him. It crushed him, like a stone laying on his chest, slowly collapsing his lungs.

He can’t even begin to imagine what the battlefield felt like.

How had Keith survived that?

“That’s the thing, Hunk, I think he did.” The tanned boy mutters, closing his eyes and leaning into his friend. He meant those words. Obviously Keith died somewhere in between the start of the war and the battle. The boy, the soldier, died and his body just kept going on and on and on, because it didn’t know how to stop anymore. And Keith’s soul must have flown far, far, away, somewhere no one could reach him. Somewhere in the clouds, away from all the pain and the sting of sword sharp metal. And what Lance found was a corpse, a walking, talking, corpse that echoed long forgotten pain it’s soul could no longer feel.

Hunk’s anxiety spiked beside him, quick and sharp, like a nail breaching the skin over his chest, one quick blow sinking the whole thing in. “Come on, don’t say things like that. I know he’s bad off, but he’ll get better. We’ll help him get better. All of us, together, that’s what we do.

The larger boy really believed those words, Lance could feel it. Hope sank into them, like honey into a warm cup of tea, sweetening the comfort. It sank all the way to the belly, soft and sweet. It made his eyes haze, dropping as the warm washed over him. 

 “Normally I’d believe that.” Lance blinked away the warmth, nudging it back just enough from lulling him into a nap. “But I don’t think he wants help.” 

Everyone had already tried to help, to reach for that hurt and soothe it into something manageable, but that only turned his pain into rage . Keith’s rage burned like a forest fire, consuming everything in its wake. It came well after despair, washing away the icy cold from his suffering and leaving biting blisters behind. The whiplash alone would have knocked the wind from his chest, but the burn  left him choking on itching, scratching at his neck with blunted fingernails.

Hunk frowned, thick smile falling, “Well...maybe not now , he’s scared, but after he’s calmed down a bit he’ll have to realize that…”

The taller boy trailed off, realizing that he didn’t know what Keith would realize, much less whether or not he’d actually realize it. That the Empaths around him wanted to help was always pretty obvious, but it didn’t mean he would want it. And neither boy knew what to do if the former soldier insisted on lashing out, because they couldn’t handle that rage, and they couldn’t just let him go like that. Empaths...there was a reason they were kept in the Temple, and it was for more than just their own safety. It was the biggest reason, yeah, because Emapths were sacred and gifts from the gods and whatnot, but the unspoken other reason was that an unstable Empath was dangerous to everyone around them.

It’s just another reason that everyone is so confused about how Keith had slipped by everyone’s notice. It should have been impossible. An Empath in pain is something everyone felt. Their emotions were like a storm...no...not a storm, a hurricane. They dragged everyone in and there was no escape. It wasn’t something they did on purpose, it was just a part of them, like breathing. So there should have been no way they missed one on the battlefield. How could anyone miss that much pain and rage when…

...oh…

Because it was a battlefield. Because it was already filled with so much despair and hate that it didn’t matter what, and it didn’t matter where it came from. It wasn’t an excuse for why no one noticed before, when he was training or when he was conscripted, but it at least made sense for why he was lost in the killing fields. His presence there would have only added to the pressure, not have been the only source of it. Thinking about it, it would be much easier to spot a suffering Empath in the market than in a war. Still, him actually being there didn’t help, and probably only massively contributed to how horrific the latest battle had been. 

Lance doesn’t want to say it out loud...but Keith was probably half the reason the Red Slaughter, as the others started calling it, turned out to be as devastating as it had. What had already been a terrifying and haunting experience would have only been amplified by Keith’s experiences of dying and redying. 

If Keith refused to accept help, well, Lance really couldn’t think of anything they could do for him other than keeping him locked up in the Quiet Chambers. 

The thought made him sick.

“Hey.” Hunk nudged him, a shaky smile stitching across his lips. “It’s going to be okay, the Seniors are all going to help him. They’ve been doing this longer than we’ve been alive . He’ll get better, he will . It’ll...it’ll probably just take a bit of time. These kinds of things aren’t just fixed in a day you know.”

Hunk said that, but the doubt was heavy in his soul, and weighed down the words. The whole room felt that way, and it was starting to grate on Lance’s nerves. It’s not like he wanted to have this anxiety.  He huffs, forcing himself to his feet and letting sourness take place of worry, glaring down at the stone floor as he moved, “No offense buddy, but I think I wanna go back to my room. It’s starting to get stuffy in here.”

“Yeah…” Brown eyes flickered over the area. His friend tried, but he couldn’t hide the sudden spike of concern. The tanned boy frowned, huffing and placed his hands on his hips. It’s not really uncalled for, Lance was a social butterfly, so yeah, he gets why Hunk is worried that he’s not putting on his game face and sweet talking the ladies. But he likes to think that the situation is extreme enough to give him a pass today.

“Don’t worry about me buddy.” Lance shook his head, stepping away from their seat, “I’m...I just want to get over this. I just can’t today, You get it, right?”

“Yeah.” Hunk exhaled, nodding tiredly. He’s exhausted, and he doesn’t want to be here any more than Lance does right now. His friend doesn’t fight him as he leaves, too caught up in his own exhaustion, standing up to follow Lance’s example and get out of there to find his own way to settle down. If he knew the big guy half as well as he thinks he does, then he would guess he was heading for the kitchen to indulge in his favorite stress relief hobby.

Leather boots scuffed the stone floor as Lance entered one of the many winding hallways. The temple was large and circular, so it was so, so, soooo easy to get lost in the long halls. He’s lived here for years, though, and he knows his way around.

So there’s really no excuse for him to not immediately head for his room.

But...he couldn’t. He started out heading that way, but he couldn’t let go. So, yeah, he had every intention of going straight to his room and calming down. But being alone in the halls, with everyone else gathered into groups and trying to lick the wounds their new guest had given them, left him to stew in his own thoughts. And it was when Lance was alone that he was most impulsive. 

See, the issue was, Lance knew where Keith was right now.

Everyone knows where the Quiet Chambers are, because that’s where they send the Empaths that are having especially low days when they just couldn’t get a handle on themselves. Learning where these rooms are is one of the first things they learned after coming to live here. The thing is, though, that knowing where they were, and knowing that’s where Keith was, made it very tempting to just...conveniently get lost in the halls. And if Lance just so happened to find himself heading towards the Quiet Chambers...well, that was his business. 

Okay, he was definitely not lost and heading there on purpose, but could you blame him? He couldn’t just sit around and do nothing when Keith was right there

The brunette knelt down, trying to blend into the walls, as if that would even work when his dark robes stuck out like a sore thumb against the stark white stone walls. Still, it made Lance feel less paranoid, and the less he felt like someone was going to spot him, the more likely it was that no one would notice him when he got close to the chambers. So he crept along, hand pressed firmly against the stone as he inched closer and closer towards Keith.

The closer he got, the more he realized he may be making a mistake.

Quiet Chambers were named that way for a reason. The halls with those rooms were made of a special luminescent stone that dampened the impact of an Empath’s abilities somewhat. It wasn’t a solution that really worked outside of constructing a room, as wearing the stone as a ring or amulet did nothing to stop the spread of their emotions, but if they were enclosed into a room made of the material then it muted the emotions outside, and made it harder for the emotions inside to break out and affect others. It wasn’t a perfect solution; the Empath inside was still bound to their own distress, and the stone itself was so rare that they were almost exclusive to Temples, which had very limited rooms themselves. Before, those had seemed like the only drawback, major drawbacks, but the only ones.

Now Lance was also learning that “dampening” emotional reach wasn’t the same as “preventing”.

Blue eyes settled on the furthest most door in the hall, tucked away into the back corner, and leaking the smallest bit of disgust and resentment. It wasn’t strong, no more than something he’d feel from a particularly posh noble lady looking at an insect, or an artist looking at a color they didn’t like. But the fact he felt it at all was...a bad sign.

Tan fingers clutched over his chest, wrinkling the material of the robe. His heart thudded against his chest as he inched closer, steps almost soundless with how slow moving he was. He took a calming breath.

 

Breathe in.

 

Breathe out.

 

Breathe in.

 

Breathe out.

 

Taking a step closer, Lance leaned fully against the wall, practically pressing his cheek against it as he moved nearer to the door. Keith was so close now, Lance could practically taste the bitterness leaking beneath the stone door. He stopped just outside the archway, tanned fingers reaching for the knob shakily. The stone was cold beneath his fingers, pulsing the slightest bit at contact. He swallowed the lump in his throat, trying to work up the courage to open it.

With a last break, Lance cracked it open just the smallest bit.

“-told you I don’t want anything if I can’t go home.” Keith’s smooth voice leaked through the smallest of cracks. Lance’s tongue felt like he swallowed a whole mouthful of bad cider. The words were so sour he had to wrinkle his nose and stop breathing for a moment just to get rid of the taste. For a moment, Lance thinks someone else must be in there with him, but he realizes he doesn't feel anyone else in the room. He wondered if Keith’s emotions were just so strong that they just drowned out whoever else was there. It wouldn’t have been the first time they did that, because he’d been hurt enough to overpower even all the other soldiers when they found him. But no one answers Keith’s comment.

“Well, are you coming in or not?” The boy spits, all white hot venom and resentment burning like acid over the skin. “Don’t stand at the door like a creep.”

Lance tsked, feeling a bit of irritation swell in him. He’s not sure if it’s Keith or his, and he doesn’t care right now either. Keith challenged him, and he’s not going to back down from that attitude. Lance McClain was anything but a creep!

Throwing open the door, Lance was swept by a fresh onslaught of resentment. He grits his teeth, hissing as blue eyes studied the room.

Keith had his back to the door, arms crossed over his chest as he faced the back wall. His armor was long stripped away, leaving nothing but a few yards of bandages covering his otherwise bare back. The soldier sat, shoulders slightly hunched and head bowed, one bare foot hanging off the edge of the designated bed. He looked...vulnerable.

Swallowing the lump in his throat, Lance took a step into the room, pulling the door closed behind him as he slipped inside. He took a moment to study the room, taking in both the familiar details and the slight changes. What little Keith had on him before was pushed to the corner, although the weapons were gone.  It was actually a pretty sad sight. Even he had been able to bring more to the Temple his first day, and he’d been a child. Now he had his own room filled to the brim with possessions and personal nicknacks.

He’ll have time, Lance reminds himself. Keith will get his own room later, when he’s not so...dangerous to be around.

Blue eyes landed back on the former soldier, studying him more closely now. He really did look terrible, not as terrible as he felt, but terrible. The bandages didn’t do much to stop the sharp pain in his shoulder, a fresh throbbing sword wound beneath the skin. Lance let himself try to feel for the other’s emotions, ready to take in that rage and despair and do what he could to make it better.

But there was nothing.

“Wha-” Lance’s brow furrowed. His hand reached out, almost on its own, automatically taking a confused step towards the other boy. He tried to feel for him again, reach out and tug at the hurt he knew was there, but all he found was a wall.

“Nice try.” Keith spoke, his voice stone cold. And for a moment that wall cracked, the hurt and resentment leaking through again, but then it was like a door was slammed shut, cutting Lance off from all of them and leaving him to face that wall again. “But I’m not letting you into my head.”

Lance honestly didn’t know what to say. So, of course, he let his mouth run away from him, “That’s a neat trick.”

The walls wavered a bit, ready to crumble. Keith didn’t turn to face him, or move, but he felt the slightest slip of recognition from him, something deep and sour tasting there and gone in a moment. Lance clicked his tongue, wondering how Keith was doing this. It was really, really, really, impressive. Not healthy at all, and definitely not stable. He doubted that Keith could keep this up for too long before those walls tumbled down, but having them at all was...wow. People like them, people who feel the way they do, normally couldn’t do that. They took in too much and gave too much for walls to be built.

It only struck Lance how horrifying it was that Keith could build those walls after he realized that he shouldn’t have been able to.

“Keeps you bastards from getting into my head.” Keith snorted, those walls shaky and the amusement untrue. “I’ve had enough of that today.”

“We’re not in your head .” Lance scoffs at the blatant ignorance. “We’re Empaths , we feel emotions and pain. We don’t, like, read your thoughts or anything stupid like that. We’re not blood mages.”

“I don’t see much of a difference.” Keith shrugged. Lance winced at the razor sharp pain that shot through him, but it didn’t even look like Keith twitched. “Anyone who’s smart enough can just see how someone feels about an issue and put two and two together on what their thoughts are.”

That was...okay. Lance honestly hadn’t thought of that before. He’s always been good at picking up what people were probably thinking based on their emotions, but he never thought of it as borderline mind reading. It made sense, he guessed, kinda. It wasn’t accurate, but he could see where the other boy was coming from.

“That’s not how it works.” Lance tried again, taking a brave step forward in his opinion. He reached out, wanting to touch the other boy’s shoulder and ease the pain. “We just...y’know...try to help.”

“Yeah, I know.” Keith hissed, the walls cracking as a sea of bitter hatred leaked through. Lance flinched back, hissing himself as the pain spread. The soldier finally turned to face him, turning his head to look over that wounded shoulder, training wary eyes on the tan boy. “It’s all I’ve heard all day.”

It stuck Lance that those eyes were violet .

Lance had never seen anyone with eyes that color before. He swallowed, staring at them. Had he noticed the color before? He doesn’t think so, he had been pretty distracted before. His clenched his fists against the too loose fabric of his robe, trying to find words again.

Those eyes narrowed suspiciously, “Stop staring at me and tell me what you want.”

“I want to help you.” Lance snapped back into reality, risking another step forward. He straightens himself out, squaring his shoulders as he puts on his serious game face. “It’s what I do.”

“You want to help me.” Keith snorts again as he rolls those violet eyes, venom dripping from his lips, “And the knights want to help me, and the old guys want to help me, and everyone everywhere wants to help me.”

Lance frowned, “Well...yeah.”

“You and every empath in the building want to help me.” The pure contempt in Keith’s words felt like a real slap. He stood up slowly, rising like a dangerous animal ready to pounce, and Lance felt very, very, small when he did. 

Backed into a corner, Lance fell back to his default defense, getting angry, “No shit . Have you seen yourself? Do you even realize how bad this situation is? You need help.”

“I don’t need anything from you, least of all your help.” Keith snapped back, those walls finally crumbling down, a tidewave of fresh, hot, anger rolling like magma over Lance. It burned, boiling the very blood in his veins. “And I don’t want it.”

Lance squared himself, “Well then, what do you want?”

“I’ve told you what I want!” Keith snaps, slamming his fist against the wall. His shoulder flared in agony, easily overpowering the pain in his knuckles, “Every last one of you wants to help, but none of you want to listen to me.” 

The brunette closed his eyes, sucking in a breath. Okay, okay, this...wasn’t good. But he came here knowing that things wouldn’t be easy, and he couldn’t back out now just because he was getting what he expected. Gritting his teeth, Lance cracked open his eyes, turning them to meet Keith, who was still sized up like a lion ready to tear him apart. White knuckled fists curled inward, ready to strike if he said the wrong thing.

Right, okay, he could do this. Not everyone who needed help welcomed it at first, this was fine.

Except he’s used to reaching out with calm and compassion to try and ease their frazzled nerves first, calming them down with his natural abilities. He never ran into someone that outright didn’t want to be helped on some level. Those types normally quit the field long before Empaths made their way to the barracks, and anyone actively visiting the temple were outright seeking it. He wasn’t overly experienced in difficult cases, people like madmen or knights that were forced to seek help by orders, that was for the seniors. Lance honestly didn’t know what he was supposed to do here if he couldn’t reach out and soothe the pain. 

“Alright.” Lance licked his lips. He had to do this with just what he knew already, without prying where Keith didn’t want him. Right, okay, calm down and breathe in, he could do this. Even with his heart thudding against his chest like a hammer and Keith’s white hot anger burning against him, “Alright, you want someone to listen, then I’ll listen.”

“Really?” Keith gave a bitter laugh, “So now you’re going to listen? After you already dragged me here against my will and locked me up?”

“We had to, Keith.” Lanced tried gently, blue eyes trained on violet, “You’re...really, really, bad off. The worst off I can imagine...and an Empat-”

“I’m not an empath!” Keith snaps again, frustration breaking something in him. He’s near hysterical with it, his pale hands reaching up to tug at long strands of inky black hair, shoulder flaring again as pinpricks tugged at the skull. Lance wanted to reach out, to make him stop , to make it all stop.

“Keith!” Lance hissed, barely stopping himself from grabbing the other’s wrist, “Stop!”

“Let me go .” The hysteria finally broke through the pale boy’s voice, “I want to go home .”

“I know! I know!” Lance couldn’t stop himself anymore, grabbing the other’s hands and trying to force them away from his head. Keith flinched at the sudden movement, a real stab of terror shooting through him, causing him to instinctively swing his fist back and let it fly. It met the brunette’s cheek with an explosion of fresh pain and sound like a piece of wood smacking a tree.

Lance landed on the stone floor with an oof, hand flying up to cradle his throbbing cheek. He wasn’t weak by any means, spending a lot of his free time swimming in the pools or running in the gardens, but that hurt . If there was any doubt Keith was a soldier before then it was gone now.

“Oh gods.” Lance glanced up-words to meet Keith’s newly horrified face, a single, shaking, fist still raised. Violet eyes were blown wide as Keith stared down at him, pale and numb. Then a deep, overwhelming guilt spread through his stomach. The soldier dropped his hands, the only part of him he could even move anymore, letting the numbness spread. Self disgust was thick in his blood, but no part of Keith moved to help.

Time felt frozen between them, Keith towering above him, empty eyes trained on the newly bruised cheek, tanned fingers playing at the edge of the blooming darkness. They could've been trapped in that moment forever, for all the outside world mattered right then.

It was Keith who broke first, turning away as he finally let the shame overtake him, “I’m...sorry. I shouldn’t have…” The noirette couldn’t finish his sentence, trailing off as he looked away, guilt eating away at him from the inside. Keith swallowed down a lump in his throat, refusing to look up. 

Lance felt white hot anger burn up his throat, an anger all his own, muted by the power of Keith’s overwhelming guilt, but still there. He stood up hastily, hand still cradling his cheek ready to tear into the pale soldier. Keith flinched back, instinctively tensing at the anger, a spike of fear shooting through him. Because of course Keith could feel it, he was an Empath, after-all, no matter how much he wanted to deny it. 

The brunette opened his mouth, ready to tear into the other boy. Fate must have been working against him today, because the distinct sound of the stone door sliding open sounded through the room. Lance tensed, anger freezing as someone entered the room, “I got you some-”

Ser Thace’s voice trailed off right along with his feelings of success and satisfaction, replaced by confusion, and then worry. “What are you doing here?”

Lance gulped, turning to face the knight. Thace stood in the open doorway, a tray of food in hand, a goblet balanced on the edge. The man scratched at his beard, eyes trained on the tanned Empath, suspicion building, “I don’t recall hearing that they were sending someone again.”

He didn’t know Ser Thace very well, sure, he kinda recognized the guy, but he wasn’t confident the older man would let it slide if Lance told the truth. It was the knight’s job to protect Empaths, all of them, and this wasn’t exactly what someone would call a safe adventure.

“You must have missed the message.” Lance grinned, swallowing down his nervousness and hoping the knight didn’t notice. Thank the gods he wasn’t a fellow Empath, because there was no way he was getting out of this without getting into some kind of trouble. What had he been thinking coming here? He’d put himself in danger, real danger, and hadn’t even managed anything useful. 

“Really?” Thace quirked an eyebrow, “Where’s your guard then?”

“...guard?” Lance barely held back a nervous chuckle. He risked feeling for Thace’s mood, only to find that the man was definitely not amused. His fingers dug into his robes, overly long sleeves not doing anything to hide them like he hoped, “Are they not still out there?”

Thace didn’t even crack a smile, “Young Ser, forgive my boldness, but this Empath is delicate and volatile. This is an extremely dangerous situation and I cannot in good conscious allow either of you to continue this interaction.” 

There was a sudden snap in his head, sharp and skull splitting, and not his own at all. Then a rage like a storm paralyzed him as Keith charged past, throwing his wounded body at Thace. The knight let out a startled gasp, body flying backwards and food flying from his hands as the pale soldier threw his entire weight against the older man. They landed with a loud clang on the stone floor, metal scraping loudly. Keith’s shoulder flared in agony, but the boy barely winced before he was on his feet and running, bare feet slapping the floor as he bolted down the hallway.

“Wait! Stop!” Thace winced, a single hand clutching his head. He scrambled to his feet, the metal armor clanking loudly as he chased down the wayward Empath. Maybe if Keith wasn’t so heavily wounded, so terrified , he might have gotten away. He was fast enough, and nimble enough from the looks of it, but he was throbbing with pain and blind with a strange mix of panic and anger. So Thace, who was healthy, if a bit slowed down by Keith’s accidental mental assault, caught the smaller boy soon enough. The younger soldier wasn’t done fighting though, beating his fists against Thace’s side and kicking wildly. He’s feral, out of control, all screaming pain and burning rage and cold fear all at one.

It’s too much to take in at once, so Lance bails. He slips away while Thace is distracted, making his own run for it. The knight is too busy fighting Keith to notice him slip by, trying to summon other guards to help, and Lance gets away without even a glance shot in his direction.

He doesn’t stop running until long after the screaming has stopped, brushing off calls of concern as he passes by his fellow Empaths, ignoring their calm outreaches and startled gazes. He just speeds past it all, skipping past the kitchens and through the gardens, not slowing for even a second. He doesn’t stop until he’s in the privacy of his room, too far away from Keith to feel the overwhelming range of emotions. He slams the door closed, leaning his back against it, finally able to breathe a sigh of relief once he’s alone at last.

Sliding to the floor, he leans his head back again the wooden door, gulping in a breath of air. Finally, he can process his own emotions without others reaching out and influencing him with theirs. Then he lets out a laugh, first one of disbelief, because there was no way his luck was that good and he’d gotten away. Then, viciously, one of satisfaction once he remembers how angry and wild Keith had been, because damn well right Keith should have been scared. How dare that bastard punch him when all Lance had been trying to do was help. Serves him right, he should be scared. If he doesn’t want help then, fine, he doesn’t deserve it anyway. Asshole.

It doesn’t even take a minute for the thought to pass before guilt eats at Lance. Maybe if he were still with Keith, he could stay angry longer, lay into him, because Keith would be right there to be mad at and the brunette could really tear him down. But Keith isn’t here, and Lance can only berate the memory, going over what he would have said in head, rehearsing for the next time they were alone together.

...Except it’s hard to stay angry when he replays it all over and over again, when he remembers how downright terrified Keith had been when Lance grabbed him, how thoughtless the action had been. Every part of Keith had been scared, deep and bone chilling. And then the jerk had the balls to feel guilty and remorseful and...and... apologized. Where did he get off doing that? Lance didn’t want to forgive him, not when he was going to have a bruise on his face all week, but it was hard to stay mad when he looks back at how vulnerable Keith had really been. 

Lance goes over the whole encounter in his head two, three, four, a dozen times. Every word that was said and every emotion that he felt radiating off the pale boy. The tanned boy may not have accomplished what he’d wanted going there, but looking back, he doesn’t think it was the huge failure he thought it was either. It definitely wasn’t a good encounter, but if he stops and thinks about it for a moment, he learned a lot more about the situation than he’d known before. 

Before Keith had been an unknown, a mythical figure. All Lance had known was that rage and pain, that he’d somehow survived war and...and killing, that he’d somehow kept from losing his mind in the sea of slaughter. Now Lance has more details, things to fill in the gaps between knowledge, things that took this half formed sketch in his mind and started painting in a full picture.

Keith was scared.

That’s when it all clicks into place for Lance.

Yeah, Keith is scared. He’s been scared for a long, long, time. He’s scared, and broken, and trying to pretend he’s not. All that anger was just to cover it so no one, not even himself, would notice. He’s scared, and he just wants to go home because that’s where people go when they’re scared, they go home, where they’re safe and their walls are up. Home is like his mama’s warm hugs, or rain leaving puddles in the cobblestones. It’s where you’re safe, and that’s what Keith needs right now, to be safe. But he isn’t, or, well, he doesn’t feel like he’s safe. Maybe he hasn’t been safe for a long time.

Lance swallows a lump of guilt that formed in his throat, heart twisting at the thought. Keith had been scared the whole time he’d been in the room, and it was pure fear that motivated that punch. That pale boy with black hair and violet eyes had been scared of him , had flinched instinctively when he reached to grab him.

He flinched when Lance tried to grab him.

That’s why Lance got punched , he’d tried to grab him.

It feels like he’s so close to the answers, but Lance just can’t reach it. Did Keith not like being grabbed? Was there a reason? Did he hate being touched in general or was it something trained in him from his time on the field? Was he so used to being punched and kicked on the training grounds that he just reacted that way? Did he ever feel it when he fought back, his defense hurting him as they traded blows? Or was his the result of endless battles? When men cut him with their sharp panic and sharper swords. Did he think Lance was going to attack him the same way? The more he thinks about it, the angrier he becomes. This was why Keith should have never been allowed near the field. They ruined him. 

He never should have gotten to this point. Fighting back shouldn’t ever be something so instinctively part of an Empath that it becomes their first instinct against panic. He should've never been this scared, he should never...never…

Lance buries his face in his knees and lets out a muffled scream of frustration. He hates them, he hates all of them, the army, the soldiers, the commander, everyone that didn’t notice Keith was suffering. How didn’t they notice? Where they all idiots or did they just not care? It’s so obvious, so fucking obvious, that Keith was an Empath. He felt too much and reacted too intensely to be anything else. Even without the instinctual connection that Empaths shared with each other it should have been very obvious that Keith was one of them. There was no excuse for this, no reason they shouldn’t have noticed. It was neglect, pure and simple, neglect that destroyed him. 

And what could Lance do about it right now? Nothing. There was nothing he could do right now but hate them. And he does, he hates them all, every single one, with a bitterness that surprises him. Before, it had been a general blame, not personal, but just an obvious reaction to knowing someone had been so terribly treated. Now he feels it in his soul, deep and personal. Keith would have never been in this position if not for them, and he would’ve been safe to grow up here, in the temple, safe from the war. As far as he’s concerned, they may as well have been the ones to punch him, and that’s the least of a long list of sins.

Blunt nails dig into the overflowing fabric of his robe, tugging at the silken strands until they were pulled taunt against his skin. He thinks over everyone he saw with Keith in that courtyard, everyone who should have known.

...Shiro…

Takashi Shirogane, Champion and Hero of the Kerberos Disaster, someone he had looked up to, someone he had wanted to be . He’d been right there, with Keith, heads bowed and whispering while Keith stewed in his new trauma. They knew each other, Shiro was his Captain , there was no way, no way the man hadn’t noticed.

The truth leaves a bitter taste in his mouth. 

Captain Shirogane was legendary for being able to keep himself together even during the worst missions. His heroics were responsible for saving dozens of troops, earning him the fame and respect someone like that deserved. He was even put together enough to have never been in need of an Empath afterwords, despite some of those missions being infamously bloody.

It wasn’t like he was any less a hero, because he really did amazing things, but they were soured by the fact that he was only able to do those things because there was an Empath in his troop. The captain had been taking advantage of a vulnerable Empath, put him and everyone else in danger, and for what? Fame? The mission? It was disgusting either way. 

He gnaws at his bottom lip, bitter disappointment spreading through his belly. It’s not fun realizing his hero was such a bastard, that’s for sure. He clenches his fists until his knuckles are white and his robes are in danger of ripping.

Once it’s safe, and he’s sure things have quieted down with Keith, he’ll visit the soldier again, try again at easing him. This time he won’t let it devolve like it had before. Hopefully he and his fellow Empath can find some common ground and get on better than they had this time.

But first...he needed to have words with Takashi Shirogane.