Hunk was upset. No, he was beyond upset. He was downright miserable. He’d always thought space would be some beautiful, serene wonderland. Not some huge stupid void filled with power-hungry slavers. Of course, he should’ve known that where there was life, there would be illegal activities happening. But for some reason trafficking was never the first crime that came to mind. Theft? Sure. Murder? Unfortunate, but to be expected. Trading living people? Come on.
This wasn’t the first Hunk had ever heard of trafficking. Back on Earth, there was really no shortage of it. Drugs, people, counterfeit handbags, anything illegal to sell was pretty much fair game for traffickers.
Apparently aliens were no different.
For some reason, Hunk had never pictured himself in this situation. He may be an absolute softie, but he was also a pretty big guy. Maybe he’d relied too much on just looking scary. Too much time with Lance had him thinking appearance was everything. Well, if he ever got out of this, first thing he was doing was going to Keith and getting some hand-to-hand combat training. Hunk loved his blaster, but it wasn’t always the most practical of weapons. Probably should have started that a long time ago. Hindsight is 20/20, after all.
God, he had to get out of here. The others had to be looking for him by now. Hopefully. It had been awhile since he’d last checked in.
But he was getting anxious. Or, more anxious than usual. He couldn’t just wait around for them to rescue him. A plan. Plans always helped. Even if they didn’t work, plans always made Hunk feel better. Having something to do to take him mind off the situation at hand was a blessing.
‘Okay. I can’t panic. We could fly away any minute now, I need to get out of here. I can do this, if I just keep a straight head. I been in worse situations before. Maybe I can’t think of them now because this is really bad, but there have been worse, I’m sure of it. Like that time Allura was captured and we had to sneak into Zarkon’s base. Or when we fought that cube on Olkarion. Or when Lance and I got stuck on that ice planet with the brain-washing monster. Or when we almost got blown up those millions of times.
I got through those, and I can get through this.
I’m a Paladin of Voltron.’
The great Yellow Paladin, in all his glory. Locked in a totally empty room that was barely large enough to sit down in with some sort of stupid collar around his neck. It was too tight, and chaffed painfully against his throat. He assumed it was some sort of tracking device to keep him from running too far off. The aliens that had kidnapped him probably didn’t want to lose any money on runaways. Still, it was just plain rude that they’d made it so tight.
“Hey, can someone loosen this thing a bit? And could I maybe get a bigger cell? This one is a little cramped.”
“No talking!” A harsh voice retorted, banging on the door of Hunk’s tiny prison. “Your turn is coming up.”
Well, that sounded foreboding. And Hunk had no desire to find out what it meant. He had to get out of here. But the door had no freaking handle that he could find. In fact, he couldn’t even find any hinges, changes in material, not even cracks to indicate that there actually was a door. Had he not been conscious when he was being thrown in here, he might’ve thought he was just shut up in an exit-less hell box.
There had to be something he was missing. The wall opened somehow. He just had to figure-
It opened, and light washed through his room.
‘That was easy,’ Hunk thought before he registered the three figures standing in front of him. ‘Crap. Never mind.’
“Come on. Your turn now.”
Now or never. Hunk didn’t give himself a chance to think too hard and just charged past the three aliens in front of him. He was pleased to see that he knocked two of them over, and the third stumbled and tripped trying to chase after him. He had no idea where he was going, but his hope was that he could stall long enough to get some backup and escape. Survival was his game now.
But Hunk only made it down the hall when he was stopped dead in his tracks by the sudden, unbearable pain radiating from his neck through his entire body. He had to stop, stop moving, stop breathing, stop anything he was doing that was causing the intense burning energy coursing through his body. But his muscles wouldn’t stop moving. His couldn’t move, he couldn’t stop moving, he couldn’t stop the violent shaking throughout his body.
The thing around his neck wasn’t a tracking device. It was so much worse, something so much more demeaning- a shock collar. It turned him from a person, capable of thinking and planning an escape, to an animal, unable to understand right from wrong without a carrot and a stick.
He wasn’t aware the his hands had started clawing at his neck after the electricity stopped jolting through him. His fingers were still twitching, and when he looked down at them, Hunk found he’d apparently drawn blood in his attempt to rip the collar off. Residual tremor kept shaking through his body, and he was still gasping for air when his captors caught up with him.
Shame had turned his normally dark complexion a bright red, and for the first time in a while, Hunk wished- oh god, he wished for his mom and dad, to just be safe in their arms. Against his will, he realized he was crying, sobbing uncontrollably. Of everything he’d been through in space, this had to be the worst. It wasn’t just the pain, it was the pure degradation that he was rendered utterly useless by a fucking shock collar. He was hardly aware that he was being pulled up and prodded forward. Unaware of his hands being tied behind his back. All he could do was walk along with the guards, or whatever they were, and do what they said.
He needed his Lion’s strength. He needed Yellow. Desperately, Hunk tried to reach out for his Lion, for the warm presence that let him know he wasn’t alone.
And there he was. The Lion was far away, Hunk knew that, but he was there for his Paladin. Reassurance flooded him mind, letting Hunk know that the others were coming for him. Soon, he would be away from here. He needed to find a way to get his hands loose. His bayard wouldn’t be too much use right now- they were too close for it to be effective- but when the others got here, he would much rather have it in his hands than tucked away uselessly at his thigh.
As subtly as he could, Hunk felt around what was pinning his hands behind his back. It was hard. He was still regaining feeling in his fingers. Actually, he was still regaining feeling in many parts of his body. All of his body. Electrocution was incredibly unpleasant. But he was relieved to find that apparently it was rope that had been used to bind his hands. Rope was better than metal. He could get it untied.
Hunk nearly fell to the floor with relief when he heard shouting and blasts. Time to get the bindings off. The rope fell to the floor and Hunk was summoning his bayard just as Lance came sprinting around the corner, guns blazing. Well, blaster blazing. Hunk stopped and backtracked quickly- timing would be everything, if he was to avoid getting shocked again. He swung his bayard up and, without blinking, shot one guard in the back as Lance shot down the other two.
“Hunk! That god, buddy, are you okay?”
“I’m fine, let’s get out of here.”
“Guys, I found Hunk. We’re falling back,” Lance related to the others as he and Hunk started running.
“Good news. We stumbled on the other prisoners, we’re getting them out now,” Shiro answered. That was good news. They hadn’t even thought about freeing the other prisoners, they’d been totally focused on finding Hunk.
When they had found out that there was a syndicate of traffickers out there kidnapping innocents, the Paladins hadn’t hesitated to initiate a termination/rescue mission. But, of course, it had gone south and ended in Hunk getting captured. Saving the captured victims took a backseat.
Suddenly all the shame Hunk felt earlier returned. He had almost blown the mission. He had almost failed all those people. No, he had failed all those people. If not for his team, they would all still be trapped, and doomed to be sold into slavery or worse.
How could he call himself a Paladin? And here he was, ready to fall apart again.
‘Don’t you dare,’ Hunk thought to himself. ‘Don’t you freaking dare break down now. Focus on getting your team and the other prisoners out of here.’
Of course, Lance made that infinitely harder when he asked, “what’s around your neck?”
And Hunk was crying again.
The rest of the mission was a success.
‘No thanks to me.’
Pidge had managed to get the shock collar off of Hunk and revealed the blistered pink skin beneath it. He had claw marks where he’d tried to tear it off earlier, some of which were still bleeding. Hunk seemed to be the only one who didn’t notice. Everyone else was staring at him, worry written all over their faces. Hunk had refused to look at any of them, and the only words he spoke were raspy and sounded painful.
“Hunk? Buddy, you’re bleeding,” Lance said finally, sitting down beside him.
Hunk just shrugged. In truth, he was well aware that he was bleeding. He jerked away when Lance moved to place a hand on his back. “It’s fine.”
“Come on, let us help you.”
“I don’t need your help!” Everyone looked surprised at the outburst. Normally Hunk wasn’t the one to snap at anyone. Hell, Lance had known Hunk the longest and he could count on one hand the number of times Hunk had really snapped at him, and that was in a long line of tremendous fuck-ups. “Just… leave me alone.”
Without saying a word, everyone left the room until only Pidge and Lance were left with Hunk.
Pidge seemed to shrink under Hunk’s scowl. She had never been looked at by him like that before. Lance noticed and stepped in. “What’s going on, man? You’re clearly hurt, why aren’t you letting us do anything about it?”
“Because! I don’t- I- I don’t need- I don’t need your help, okay?!”
Both Pidge and Lance were alarmed to see tears leak out of Hunk’s eyes. His face was turning alarmingly red. His hands were fists at his sides, and he was staring straight past them through the door. It didn’t make sense- his wounds weren’t that bad. There was more to this than Hunk was telling them, Lance concluded.
“Well… we need your help,” Lance said. “We need you to tell us what’s going on. I know it’s not fun getting hurt, but we’ve seen you worse than this. What’s so different this time?”
“And don’t say nothing,” Pidge added, “we all know that’s not true.”
Hunk continued frowning at the door a second before his head dropped and his shoulders started to shake. Lance and Pidge were immediately at his side with their arms around his shoulders. “I- I- I’m supposed- I’m a- a-“
“Deep breaths, Hunk, deep breaths,” Lance said slowly. Pidge was quiet, opting to just rub his back and let Lance do the talking for now. “Take your time.”
“I- I’m supposed to be- a Paladin of Voltron,” Hunk finally got out in between hiccups. “A d-defender of the uni-verse. They put a shock collar on me and I didn’t do- anything! How can I b-be a Paladin if- if I can’t even-?”
He broke off, burying his face in his hands and dissolving into tears again. Pidge and Lance looked at each other with wide eyes. How would this be something they could fix? What happened, happened. They couldn’t change that now. Lance jerked his head at Pidge in an attempt to get her to say something.
“Well… maybe next time you get caught-“
“You made a mistake. None of us could’ve done any better,” Lance cut it quickly glaring at Pidge over Hunk’s shoulders. She just shrugged helplessly.
“You don’t know that! Shiro or Keith or Allura could’ve fought their way out! You guys wouldn’t even get caught in the first place! I just… I’m no good as a Paladin!”
“Is that what the Yellow Lion thinks?” Pidge asked quietly. “Does he not think you’re worthy anymore? Yellow chose you for a reason, Hunk. He knows more than anyone that you’ve got what it takes. So you aren’t as good a hand-to-hand fighter as Keith and Shiro. A lot of people aren’t. But you’re smarter than them by far. You can put things together faster than anyone I’ve ever seen.”
“Except you,” Hunk grumbled.
“You’re way better company than Pidge is.” Lance got a dirty look from Pidge, but he ignored her. “You’re so friendly to everyone. I haven’t met anyone who can calm people down or bring them together half as good as you can. Sure, defending the universe sometimes involves fighting. But there’s a lot more to it than that. We need people like you. I mean, just ask Allura. She’ll be the first to tell you how important diplomacy is. And Hunk, we’ve all seen you fight. You’re scary strong, okay? I know you never would, but you could totally rip Keith in half of you wanted to.”
“We’ve all kinda hoped you would at some point,” added Pidge, bumping his shoulder with a playful grin.
Hunk didn’t say anything right away, but he had stopped shaking and straightened up. Finally, he looked over at Lance, then at Pidge, and they were relieved to see he had a small smile on his face. “Thanks, guys.”
“Can we get you fixed up now, man?” Lance asked.
“I don’t really want to go in a pod.”
“Well, we should get you some antibiotic ointment or something to help with the pain at least,” Pidge said, standing up in sync with Lance. As though they’d rehearsed, Lance and Pidge held out a hand to Hunk at the same time and pulled him up into a hug. They were his best friends. And they were the best friends he could ever ask for.