“All right, Paladins!”
Coran stood with his hands folded behind his back. The Paladins all sat cross-legged in front of him, heads swiveling as he paced circles around them to keep him in their line of sight. Coran began handing out the headbands they used during mind-melding practices, each Paladin regarding it with a certain level of apprehension.
“For today’s training exercise, we’re going to be thinking a lot of your motivations,” Coran said. “What allows you to form Voltron. What helps you…” He clicked his tongue. “Reach out to your fellow Paladins on the astral plane.”
“Why?” Pidge inspected her headband with a certain amount of disdain. It was no secret she hated mind-melding sessions. She was hardly able to cope with so many heads rummaging around in her own, and while the Paladin bond continued outside of mend-melding, at least she could throw up a wall to keep them from digging in too deep to her personal business. Here, the headbands blocked anything that would allow you to keep people out.
Keith looked equally as uncomfortable, his arms crossed and his shoulders hunched over in his paladin armor. “Yeah. I don’t understand what motivation has to do with forming Voltron.”
“In order to work together, you must understand each other.” Coran moved to stand in front of the assembled Paladins. “And to do that, we must start at the basics! Motivations! Biggest fears! Weaknesses! That sort of fun stuff!”
“Doesn’t sound very fun to me,” Hunk mumbled. “Sounds like the opposite of fun.”
“Guys, come on,” Shiro, ever the voice of reason, spoke up. He already had his headband on; fitting it over of his white streak of hair and flattening it to his forehead. “If we want to get better, this is how we do it. Okay?”
There was a chorus of muttered affirmations. Pidge and Keith, in particular, pulled faces. Neither of them really wanted someone rummaging around in their ‘head holes’ - as Coran so eloquently put it - for longer than they had to.
Allura, who had been observing rather than speaking, took a few steps forward to stand by Coran. “Let’s begin. Hunk, why don’t you start us off?”
Hunk looked like he would rather not start them off, but swallowed, nodding anyways. “S-Sure.” He closed his eyes, a screen flickering to life in front of him. They held their breath, watching Hunk sift through memories, each one disappearing as fast as it had appeared.
Finally, Hunk settled on an image. A single image of Earth and its green, green surface, speckled with clouds and tiny dots that had to be satellites. The Paladin’s throats all constricted strangely at the sight of it.
“Earth,” Allura said.
“Yeah,” Hunk opened his eyes and the image dissipated. “I...just wanna protect them, y’know? Everyone there. M-My...my family, especially. I...I miss them...” He turned his head away, dabbing furiously at his eyes. Lance reached over to place a reassuring hand on his shoulder.
“I know,” he murmured. “I know, hermano. Me too.”
Hunk gave Lance a small, grateful smile.
“Pidge,” Allura turned to her. “You next.” Pidge swallowed, prepared herself for the influx of minds about to be inside her own, and started searching.
Several images popped up on her own screen. A laptop, an image of a beautiful starscape, her brother sitting next to her on the rooftops. But it all stopped on an image everyone was familiar with. Pidge standing with Matt, his arm around her shoulders as the rocket headed for Kerberos loomed behind them.
“Matt,” Shiro said, his tone broken. Lost in the way it only got when he talked about the Kerberos Mission. “Your family.”
Pidge nodded miserably, the image flickering out of existence. Keith hesitated for a moment, before reaching over and placing a reassuring hand on Shiro’s knee. The moment was inexplicably tender.
“I…” Pidge’s voice was congested. She tilted her head so the light reflected off of her glasses, hiding her eyes. “I just...miss them, you know? A-And every time we form Voltron I just think...I think about how this is what’s going to save Matt and my dad. What’s going to keep Mom and Bae Bae safe too.”
“Bae Bae?” Lance sounded almost hesitant to ask.
Pidge smiled a little. “My dog. We were going to name her Gunther, but…” She shrugged. “Mom didn’t like that.”
Shiro snorted. “I remember Bae Bae. She liked stealing my table scraps.”
“You always gave them to her!” Pidge retorted. Shiro smiled ruefully.
“Yeah. Could never say no to her.”
Allura cut across them. “Shiro. You next.”
Keith glanced at Shiro, almost worriedly. Shiro gave him a reassuring smile and closed his eyes. The screen appeared, and Shiro began pulling apart his memories to find his own motivation. His forehead creased as an image of yellow eyes and a leering grin appeared more than once. Everyone unconsciously drew themselves closer to him.
Finally, it stopped. The image on the screen was an elderly couple standing with a Garrison officer with sandy hair and mocha skin like Lance's, only a few shades lighter. He also wore glasses. Keith’s breath hitched at the sight.
“Your family as well, Shiro?” Allura asked.
“Yeah,” Shiro said. “My obaasan and ojisan. They took care of me after my parents passed.”
“Who's the dude?” Hunk asked. "He doesn't look like you at all."
Shiro smiled, coloring at the cheeks, but didn’t reply. Keith snorted as the team exchanged confused looks.
“Adam,” Keith said, deciding to clarify if Shiro wouldn’t. “His boyfriend. Shiro’s parents met him once and absolutely adored him. Told Shiro they’d adopt Adam themselves if he didn’t end up marrying him.”
“Keith!” Shiro’s cheeks turned scarlet as the team all let out collective chuckles.
“So you’re…?” Lance left the question hanging.
“Yeah,” Shiro said. “Yeah...I uh...I miss him. We had a fight before I left and...I never got to apologize.” He began to blink furiously, chasing away tears. “I miss him so much.”
Keith set a careful hand on Shiro’s back, supporting him silently. Allura cleared her throat, clearly wanting to continue.
“Keith, you next.”
Keith looked a bit wary, folding his legs underneath him and hunching in on himself. He glanced at Shiro, who, in turn, gave him a smile through red-rimmed eyes.
“You’ll be okay,” he promised.
Keith nodded, seemingly believing him. While the rest of the Paladins exchanged looks as to why Keith was so agitated about searching through his memories for what motivated him, they soon got their answer as soon as he started looking.
Almost none of Keith’s memories were happy.
However, the farther back Keith went, the lighter they seemed to grow. Finally, they stopped on the same cabin that all of this had started in. A man was standing out front, seemingly waiting, with light black hair and amethyst eyes matching Keith’s own. Stubble dotted his chin, and he wore a crooked, yet somehow genuine, smile.
Keith opened his eyes, letting the image hang there. Shiro’s mouth twisted to one side.
Lance and Hunk exchanged looks. None of them knew much about Keith’s past other than his father had died and his mother had left him when he was very young. Seeing the man Keith had grown up with was surreal. Lance was almost half convinced he didn’t really exist.
“Not just him,” Keith whispered. “My whole family. He said my mom was up here….and Voltron’s the key to unlocking where she is. She...she can tell me who I am.”
They all nodded, gazes lingering on the images. Keith held onto it for a moment, letting them all stare. As uncomfortable as it was, he couldn’t deny it felt good letting the people he had grown to trust in.
“That cabin,” Pidge realized. “That’s the same one we all hid out in after we found Shiro.”
“That’s right,” Hunk breathed. “I recognize the rusting metal pipe on the side there.”
“Oh yeah,” Lance dragged out the word, sounding like he’d had an epiphany. “You lived there before you spent a year in the desert?”
“Yeah,” Keith nodded shortly. “My dad built it. It felt right to go back there after...after...what happened.” He wasn’t looking at Shiro as he spoke and Shiro reached out to place his hand reassuringly on Keith’s shoulder, guilt swimming in his stomach. Keith looked up to give him a small smile.
“Do you wish you could go back?” Pidge blurted out the question, then instantly looked like she wanted to take it and cram it back down her throat. Keith looked a bit surprised as he mulled the question over, but he still nodded all the same.
“Yeah,” he said. “It was quiet there. Nice. I...miss it. A lot.”
He leaned a little bit closer to Shiro, who did not hesitate to put Keith’s head on his shoulder. Keith was trembling just the slightest. Shiro took his hand and began rubbing Keith’s arm reassuringly to help calm him after going through the whirlwind of memories.
“Lance,” Allura locked gazes with him. “Your turn.”
Lance visibly winced. He’d been dreading this. It was no secret that out of all the Paladins, he missed home the most. He missed his family. He missed his mother’s garlic knots. Most all…
The image of a beach appeared without him having to even search.
Lance’s throat suddenly felt tight. He knew that beach. With the jungle of palm trees on the right side, straw umbrellas shading plastic chairs and glass tables...
“Home,” he whispered.
Hunk put Lance’s head into his shoulder, pressing his face into Lance’s head. “Oh hermano,” he whispered into Lance’s hair.
“We...used to go there every summer,” Lance said, his voice just above a whisper. “E-Even after we moved to the States, we went back just to visit my abuela... she used to go the market every Sunday. Veronica and Mamá would go with her while I’d watch Marco and Luis and-” He choked on his own sob gathering in his throat.
He missed them so, so much.
Coran and Allura exchanged looks, clearly unprepared for such a heartfelt moment.
“I want…” Lance almost blubbered, tears wetting the armor on Hunk’s shoulder. “I want to see them. I...I know that if I keep doing this whole Paladin thing-” (He rolled his wrist for emphasis) “-I’ll get to see them again. And they’ll be safe.”
“Is your mom nice?” Pide asked.
Lance’s face crinkled into a sad smile. “She’s the best. She made really good garlic knots. I...I miss her so much…” He held in a quiet sob, putting his hand over his mouth to stifle it. He hadn’t ever broken down in front of his teammates like this, and while it made him feel weak, it helped him feel just the slightest bit better, too.
Pidge scooted closer to them and Hunk did not hesitate to bring her into the embrace. She wrapped her small arms around Lance’s midsection, burying her face into his chestplate.
“I miss it too,” she said quietly. “I miss my mom’s peanut butter cookies, I miss Bae Bae waking me up every morning. I miss home.”
“Yeah,” Shiro said, pressing himself into Lance’s side and managing to wrap his arms around both him and Hunk. “My obaasan made great food and my ojisan told the best stories. Adam was great, too. A worrywart, but still...the best.”
“Me too,” Keith, to everyone’s surprise, wriggled his way into Shiro’s side and into the hugs. “I miss going to the zoo with my dad. I miss waking up to it raining outside.”
“You Earthlings seem to have a very different version of rain from Altea,” Coran flung his arms around Shiro and Hunk’s shoulders, circling behind them. “But I understand your heartache. Altea was a magnificent planet.”
“Beautiful walkways, a healthy trade system,” Allura paused for a breath, blinking back tears out of her jeweled eyes. “I miss it as well. I’ll see to it...that you all get to go home.” She knelt next to Keith, who scooted over to give her more room. She ended up wrapping most of her arm around Pidge, nestled in the middle of their little group hug.
“Things are hard right now,” Shiro murmured. “Things will keep being hard. But...we have each other. We have each other, and that’s enough.”
“Yeah,” Lance sniffled into Hunk's suit. “That’s perfect. I wouldn’t have anyone other than you guys stuck up here in space with me.” That earned him chuckles from everyone - even Keith.
“Yeah,” Keith whispered, barely even loud for the others to hear. “No one else.”