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Beast Inside of Me

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Keith BioM art

It was hard for Keith to adjust to life back on Earth. The other paladins seemed to settle back into the swing of things; Lance, Pidge, and Hunk all reunited with their families; Allura, along with Coran, became engrossed with the 'wonders' of Earth and human technology; even Shiro managed to fall into a pattern, resuming his place as a commander.

Only Keith was unable to put it all behind him.

Earth held no connection to him, his only tie being that it was the planet he was born on. But he'd spent five years of his life in space, now, and he found himself longing for the star-filled expanse, the smells and sights of various alien cultures, the freedom that came with flight and exploration throughout the universe. He missed the adrenaline rushes from the heat of battle, the thrill of his Blade missions, even the serene moments of simply gliding through space in Black.

He hadn't thought much about what would happen when they returned to Earth, besides reunions for his team and the assembly of the Castle of Lions, but of course that had not been the case. In a slightly perverted way, he was glad things had been so tumultuous. Focusing on battles, on war, meant he didn't have to focus on how alien his home planet seemed to him. But now, as he rested and slowly healed, his mind was far too free to wander and examine this planet. Whereas years before he'd compared other planets to Earth, he now found himself comparing Earth to other planets they'd visited. How the caverns reminded him of the Balmera. How the grass and blue skies brought visions of the mock Altea they'd found in the cosmic abyss.

Try as he might, he could not think of this blue and green planet as home.

 

When he was fully recovered, Keith was obliged to join the rest of his team in various media appearances. They were well prepared for it, after Coran's grand tour, but Keith had been - well, absent for that - and he was never one for the spotlight anyway, preferring to hide and strike from the shadows. But he went along, for the sake of his team, relieved that Shiro and Allura had taken the main speaking roles despite Keith being their leader. That was partly down to Shiro, of course. Shiro knew how much Keith hated public speaking, and so he found himself with only a few necessary lines.

It all went relatively smoothly- as smoothly as possible for the young Paladins, anyway- until one journalist got a little too eager and enquired after Keith's peculiar 'scar'. He froze, his body completely unresponsive, searching for the words to say without causing a 'panic', as one officer at the Garrison had cautioned.

The scar was not a scar, but a galra marking, his heritage plain for all to see though thankfully not recognised. Only a select few humans were aware of Keith's bloodline, as he had been warned to not make people aware that the leader of the team who'd rescued them from the galra was, in fact, part galra himself.

Krolia, Kolivan and the rest of the Blades had distanced themselves from Keith in public, though he still saw them often in private- not that there was much private for him anymore, what with all the crazed journalists desperate for information, or the paparazzi gleaning for a photograph. He hated that he had to hide himself, hated that, after accepting his heritage and coming to terms with it, he was starting to suppress it again. Krolia was not so comfortable with the concealment, and Keith wanted so bad to publicly call her "Mom", but Shiro wouldn't allow it.

That was the crunch point, for him. He would've continued to protest and resist if just the Garrison officers had commanded him. But the last order had come from Shiro himself, and Keith didn't want to disappoint his brother.

So he remained silent.

But under the journalist's scrutinising gaze, he felt himself begin to crumble, every memory connected with the forming of the mark far too painful for him to stand.

Lance, thankfully, came to Keith's rescue, with some sort of thrown-together response about Keith obtaining it in a fight against Zarkon himself, a lie that Keith bristled at, but was in no state of mind to correct.

Better for the world to think him a scarred hero than a marked enemy.

 

Three weeks since his full recovery, and Keith was restless. He couldn't go anywhere without being accosted, couldn't even go for a flight in Black because he 'didn't have the clearance'. Bullcrap, that was. He was the leader of Voltron, the Black Paladin. Why couldn't the stuck up leaders of Earth accept that?

Then relief came to him in a midnight visit from Kolivan, clothed in full Blade gear with a small bundle in his hands.

"Thought you might appreciate this," the leader of the Blades said gruffly, passing it to a bleary-eyed Keith.

His body jerked fully awake when he examined the bundle, finding it to be his Blade armour. Completely restored, and adjusted to better fit his taller form.

Keith didn't hesitate. He changed into the gear right away, not even self conscious that Kolivan was in the room with him, too engrossed with the feel of the armour hugging his body, soft yet strong, the caress of the hood as it slipped over his hair, the ripple of the mask covering his face...

Keith took his blade from the drawer in which it hid, and activated it for the first time in months. He beamed up at Kolivan, forgetting momentarily that his face was concealed, then breathed a gentle "thank you."

"I don't expect you to resume your missions," Kolivan started, "but I thought at least-"

"No!" Keith interrupted, elated for the first time in weeks, "No, please, I would love to go on a mission. Even if it's minor, like scouting. I can't stay cooped up here much longer."

Patience yields focus. Shiro's words echoed in Keith's mind, and for once, he dismissed them. He was tired of being patient. Two years stuck in the abyss with only Krolia and Kosmo for company had honed his skills, but on Earth there was no real reason for him to be sitting around. Patience, perhaps, but passivity?

No, that was not Keith. It was not what the leader of Voltron should do. It was not what a Blade of Marmora should do.

Kolivan's stoic form did not falter, but he nodded slowly. "I was headed on a scout with a few other Blades. Ground based, to gain better understanding of this territory."

Keith was glad for the mask that hid the childish excitement spreading across his face.

"I'll join."

 

It was a thrill for Keith, being with the Blades again. Whereas before he had used it as distraction, and later a focus for his existence, he now used it to shake up the otherwise mundane life that he'd been thrown back into. It was a form of escapism too, something that he would not admit openly. But he loved walking around in his Blade armour, sometimes in shadow, sometimes just casually traversing the streets in broad daylight, where no-one recognised him. Not even Shiro was aware that Keith had resumed some of his Blade duties, a small fact that left the Black Paladin feeling slight guilt, but that did not hold him down.

Pidge had her robots, Hunk had his cooking, Shiro and Coran had the Garrison, Lance and Allura had each other.

This was Keith's thing, his way of passing the time.

He didn't flinch under the gazes of the humans, some enthusiastic, but the majority regarded the Blades with fear or disdain. They had not hidden the fact that they were galra from anyone, and so were met with a very mixed response. Some people welcomed the Blades as the allies they were. Others distrusted them because of their blood.

Keith knew all too well how that felt, but he brushed it off. His humanity was hidden behind the mask. He would be safe.

 

He managed to balance his Voltron duties with his Blade ones, like he had done what felt like decades ago, with the sacrifice of sleep. Hunk picked up first on the growing bags under Keith's eyes, but did not press into why, though Keith did return to his room one evening and find two new pillows lying on the bed, along with a box of cookies. The cookies he shared with Krolia; the pillows he left untouched. They were far too soft for him, anyway, and it wasn't like Keith slept in his room much. More often than not, he slept out with the other Blades, or in Black, if he bothered to weasle his way past the limited security. Why the lions were secured in the first place, he wasn't sure. They longed to fly, especially Red, but the paladins had only flown a few times since their battle, and not once all together.

Keith hadn't been able to fly at all; Black was the most guarded, and she was as grounded as he.

He suspected the few that knew of his ancestry were the cause of those restrictions.

 

Pidge was the second to enquire about his health, after a run-in with a particularly aggressive group of humans when on patrol with two other Blades. He'd tried his best not to harm them, but that had cost his defences, resulting in a nasty cut to his left tricep from a dagger. That was when one of the Blades with him had snapped, almost killing the human responsible before Shiro had miraculously happened upon them and intervened. Keith had kept his hand pressed on the wound, praying that Shiro - or the other humans - wouldn't notice the red blood trickling between his fingers. Thankfully, both groups had been dismissed with little more than a lecture and the threat of future repercussions, so Keith headed back to the Blade's base for immediate medical attention with no suspicions from Shiro.

As the medic tended to his arm, Keith flinched under the growing weight of guilt that he was hiding this from his team.

What team? the cynic in him commented. Voltron had disbanded. Temporarily, but it had disbanded all the same. The threads tying him to his team were thinning with every Blade mission he undertook, but he no longer had the time or energy to attempt to repair them.

"Keith? Are you alright?"

He glanced up at the Blade who'd almost killed the human, and managed a nod.

"I will be."

"You have to be more careful," the Blade chided, and before Keith could respond, they deactivated their mask and he found himself looking at a very familiar blue face.

"... Acxa?"

These last few weeks, he'd been working alongside Acxa?

He ducked his head, hoping blood didn't rush to his cheeks. "How did you...?"

"Krolia sought me out, and asked me to join. And how could I refuse? The Blades are even more open to half-breeds than Lotor ever was. The Galra Empire holds nothing for me," she explained.

"Why didn't you tell me it was you?" Keith asked.

Acxa shifted uncomfortably. "Kolivan advised me not to, incase your emotions got in the way. But it was mine that did today. I'm sorry for reacting in that way."

Keith was certain his cheeks were doing their best tomato impression by now. "It's alright, I mean, no one died," he fumbled with the words, blaming his slowness on fatigue. It wasn't anything to do with the fact that Acxa was here, that she had reacted to his injury, that she cared about him as-

He stopped the thought abruptly.

Acxa was soon called off to a mission briefing, so Keith donned his casual clothes and headed back to the Paladins' temporary home, reaching his room with no complications.

He didn't expect to see Pidge waiting there for him.

"Keith." She said his name quite firmly, and he froze, clutching the bag with his Blade uniform closer to his chest.

"Hello, Pidge, what are you doing here?" he asked, trying to keep his voice from shaking.

She peered at him through her glasses as he shoved the bag into his closet, then turned back to face her, crossing his arms and grimacing when the motion aggravated his wound.

"We're worried about you," Pidge started, "Hunk noticed you're not sleeping well. And you're hurt, aren't you?"

Keith shook his head in protest, and Pidge's brow furrowed.

"Don't lie to me, Keith."

He sighed. "Fine. I was training with Krolia, and she just nicked me, that's all."

Pidge tilted her head, considering, then forced a smile. "You've got to be careful, Keith. Can't have our leader getting hurt."

"Mhmm."

"Anyway," she stood, not bothering to smooth out the creases she'd left on his bed, "I didn't just come here to say that. We're having a movie night together, all the team. Wanna join?"

Keith hesitated, but shook his head. "I'm sorry, Pidge. I just... I really need to catch up on sleep. Like you said."

That was an understatement, really. Keith hadn't caught a full night's sleep for weeks. He was lucky if he managed to get four hours.

"Oh, okay. Maybe next time." Pidge smiled, but it didn't quite reach her eyes, and the disappointment was evident in the entirety of her body. Keith swallowed the guilt as he watched her leave, closing the door behind her, and sank to the floor, his head in his hands.

It would've been the perfect opportunity to reconcile with his team, but he was too much of a coward. An exhausted, screw-up coward.

Chapter Text

When Shiro came to check on him in the morning, Keith was unconscious on the floor in front of his closet, his right arm curled under his head to form a pillow. Pidge, Hunk, and Lance all joined him, the original team staring down at their leader. Keith's skin was dark under his eyes, but paler everywhere else. His fists clenched and unclenched with fitful dreams, and ever so often he would wince when his left arm made involuntary movements.

"It's worse than I thought," Hunk commented.

"He's working himself to exhaustion. How didn't we notice?" Lance hissed.

"Well, you were too busy making goo-goo eyes with Allura," Pidge pointed out.

Lance bit back a retort, and sighed instead. "I should've been there for Keith."

"All of us should've been there," Hunk amended.

"Yes," Shiro agreed, "We've all been caught up with our families and new roles, and this team has suffered. I know you needed the time, but now we have to get Voltron back together. And I don't mean the lions."

"How long until Earth's defences are complete?"

"Another week or two," Pidge answered. Lance's expression grew strangely determined.

"Right. So that's two weeks for us to fix this team. We've got to shift priorities. It's time for a team bonding session."

"Well said, Lance," Shiro commended, and the Red Paladin grinned.

Beside them, Keith shifted in his sleep and groaned, slowly drawing back to consciousness. The other paladins backed up quickly.

"Shiro," Pidge whispered as soon as they were out of the room, "Wasn't Krolia with you yesterday?"

"Yes."

"Keith told me he'd injured his arm training with her yesterday. He lied." Her voice rose a pitch, and Hunk gestured for Pidge to quieten down, but she ignored him.

Shiro's eyes flashed, thinking back to the scrawl between three Blades and a group of teens with extreme attitude, one of whom had managed to land a cut on a Blade.

On their left tricep.

"I'm going to talk to Kolivan," Shiro said abruptly, then left.

Keith stirred fully, and Pidge and Hunk scrambled to leave, but Lance stayed behind, watching as Keith sat up and rubbed his eyes sleepily.

"Hey, Keith," he said, and his friend jumped.

"Oh, uh, hi, Lance," Keith stumbled over the words as he got to his feet, rubbing the small of his back. Lance stared at the floor with much contempt. It was very hard, and he doubted Keith would've slept well there, so why hadn't he simply got into bed?

"We're having a team meeting in a varga. Erm, an hour. Coming?"

Keith's eyes flickered, and Lance could've sworn that his sclera yellowed for a second, but the colour was gone as quickly as it had appeared.

"I need a shower," Keith said gruffly, grabbing a tattered bag from his closet. He moved to leave, but Lance stopped him.

"Aren't you forgetting something?"

Keith stared at him blankly.

"A towel?"

"I've got one in here," Keith answered quickly, gesturing to the bag, then squirmed past Lance and jogged down the corridor.

In the opposite direction of the showers.

 

Keith's head swam as he ran and he blinked rapidly, still sluggish from sleep. He'd awoken to a short conversation between Shiro and Pidge, which pounded through his brain faster than his heartbeat.

Keith told me he'd injured his arm training with her yesterday. He lied.

I'm going to talk to Kolivan.

There was no time. He had to warn Krolia, warn Kolivan if Shiro didn't get there first, and then, and then...

And then what?

Keith's pace slowed as to not arouse suspicion. What would he do then? Why couldn't he just tell the team? This was another perfect opportunity, and he was running?

Why was he running again?

"I thought I was over this," he muttered under his breath, darting into a nearby storage closet. Off came his crumpled, comfortable clothing, replaced with the Blade armour that concealed his face and race from the world. He shoved his jacket and boots back into the bag, then hid it underneath some medical supplies, mentally clocking the closet's location before sneaking out of the building and running towards the Blade's base of operations.

In hindsight, running full-pelt in his Blade uniform probably wasn't the best idea, but Keith was far too desperate to come up with anything else, completely forgetting Kolivan's warning that no Blade should travel alone.

Even on their simple scout missions, they had to at least be in pairs.

And Keith was solo.

He ducked into alleyways, using the shadows of urbanisation as cover, but trying to race through the streets at 8am was certainly not ideal. There were far too many humans, and Keith fought to not get swept up in the crowd, sticking to the shadows as much as he could in a rush to just get to the Blades as soon as he could. Shiro was likely to take the main road, but Keith knew shortcuts, so that was why-

Something slammed into his back and he tumbled forwards, his thoughts lost in the wind as he thrust his hands out, unable to prevent a cry from escaping his lips as his left arm took the brunt of the fall. Grimacing, Keith rolled over and moved to stand, but a human intercepted, placing a booted foot on Keith's chest.

"Filthy galra spy," the man- no, boy, Keith corrected, noting the youthfulness of his attacker- spat at him, pressing down harder on Keith. A little more, and it was likely a rib would give in, something Keith couldn't afford.

"I'm not a spy," Keith snapped, "I work with Voltron."

"Your kind attacked us!" a second teen exclaimed from behind Keith. His gaze flickered around, counting three others displaying hostile behaviour.

Great.

He was on his own with this, but that was okay. Keith was a survivor. He'd figure something out.

Keith relaxed his body, then bucked his hips, the force throwing the leader off-balance. He rolled away and stood, his blade transforming from dagger to sword in an instance.

"I don't want to hurt you," he pleaded, backing up, then stopping when he realised the wall was far too close behind him.

"My brother's injured because of you," a girl snapped. She couldn't have been any older than 16, and Keith recognised the blond hair, green eyes combination from the teen who Acxa had fought- the teen who'd injured Keith.

"And I was hurt because of him. But, please, we don't have to fight. We're on the same side."

Part of Keith really, really wanted to quit the passifying and just attack, to give them the fight they wanted. But if he did, then he'd end up with five severely injured humans.

It wasn't something he wanted to do. He already had galra blood on his hands; he didn't want to add humans to it.

The youths turned as if to leave, and Keith tensed to run, but something suddenly hit him in the face, sending him backwards with a surge of energy. Shock overcame pain, leaving him gasping for breath as copper trickled down his throat. The blade fell from his hands, returning to dagger form, and he grasped at his now-bloodied nose, certain that it was broken.

What had hit him?

One of the boys gasped, his hand still raised from throwing that thing at Keith. Their eyes met, and Keith realised his vision was slightly dimmer.

Oh, quiznak.

His mask was gone.

Chapter Text

Pidge paced back and forth, much to Matt's irritation, her mind whirring too fast to let her body stay still.

"Why didn't I say something sooner?" she muttered, "I knew something was wrong, but did I talk to Keith? No!"

"You did, though," Matt pointed out.

Pidge huffed. "Yes, but by then it was too late, wasn't it? He wouldn't tell me anything. He lied to me!"

"Pidge-"

"No! We're supposed to be a team, but we fell apart again!"

Matt sighed. "You saved Earth, and got injured in the process. Cut yourself some slack."

Pidge's scowl deepened. "That was six months ago, Matt. Six. Months. It's not an excuse anymore."

Matt opened his mouth to argue, but was interrupted by a loud duck noise coming from Pidge's watch.

"What-!" Matt yelped, almost jumping out of his skin.

"Oh, that's my notification," Pidge said casually, swiping up to look at it. Her smile quickly faded.

"Quiznak," she cussed, "There's a galra loose."

Matt paled. "One of the Blades?"

"I don't know. Only that there's a rough galra in sector three." Pidge darted over to her computer, fingers flying over the keys with a speed Matt could only dream to match.

"Shiro's closest, I'm sending him an alert now," she said, tapping a few more buttons on-screen before pivoting and grabbing her paladin armour.

"Uh, where are you going?" Matt asked.

Pidge shot her brother an are you kidding me dumbass look. "To help, of course."

"But-"

"You can put your protective brother instincts away," she snapped, "I'm fully recovered from the last battle, and this is only one galra. Nothing I haven't seen before." As she ranted, Pidge shoved on her armour, activating her bayard as she shot Matt a sassy grin, her eyes screaming don't stop me.

He sighed, and didn't move from his seat by the computer.

Pidge sprinted through the corridors, ignoring every human and balmeran and other species that were milling around her new home.

"Shiro!" she yelled into her com, "Are you on route?"

"Yes," he responded sharply.

"What do we do?"

"I'll fight them if I have to. No doubt there's others who have been altered, too. You're backup," Shiro commanded.

Pidge suppressed a sigh. "Fine, but, save some of the action for me."

Shiro only grunted in response, and Pidge's head spun further, drawing up connections between Keith's increasing absences and the sudden appearance of a rogue galra.

Impossible, she chided herself, Keith's not rogue. He's not even fully galra.

This has nothing to do with him.

But she wasn't fully convinced.

 

Keith's hands scrambled to cover his face, and stop the stream of blood cascading into his mouth from his broken nose, blood that tasted slightly off. Though why he was even taking the time to register the taste of his blood, he wasn't sure.

"You... You're that Paladin," the boy gasped, bringing Keith back to reality, "you're galra?"

Keith struggled to hide his face, fingers twitching towards his mark, feeling his cheeks burn under their gazes.

"Not fully," he said, though it came out as more of a growl. The stinging of his broken nose was spreading across his face, like ants crawling over his skin, and one of the youths cried out in alarm. She raised a device in her hand - a camera - and something within Keith snapped.

He yelled and surged forward, seizing his blade from the ground, slashing towards the camera before it could expose him. His sword was met with flesh rather than metal, though, as one of the foolish teen boys threw himself between the girl and Keith, and the teen let out a cry of pain, crumpling to the ground in a rapidly increasing pool of crimson. The girl screamed; hatred ignited in the other boys' eyes; Keith stared at the human blood staining his weapon.

No. Oh, quiznak, no...

All the adrenaline faded from him, replaced with the increasingly irritating itch spreading across his skin. It was on his arms, now, but the pain on his face had become more of a burning. He hissed, a hand reaching to stop the fires he was certain were eating his skin, but stopped short at the bloodied state of his hand.

It wasn't his blood.

His gaze darted to the fallen teen, and he willed his muscles to move in that direction, to see if the boy was alright, but a spark of agony ripped through his eyes. Keith cried out, his vision blurring, free hand scratching desperately at the painful itch on his left cheek.

"He really is a galra," someone spat, and he winced, cringing back, because suddenly the voices were too loud, their pitches stinging his ears- his ears, which had started to hurt as well, though that made no sense as he'd only been hit in the nose...

A hand grabbed at his arm, and he blindly stabbed in that direction, shying away from it. His skin stung, and blood splattered on his  blade, though he couldn't tell if it belonged to him or his attacker. Only one thought dared to cross his mind, echoing before it morphed into a mantra. He had to get to Krolia, get to Kolivan, get to Krolia, get to Krolia...

Keith tried to run, but his vision was progressively worsening, and the pains had spread to his legs as well. He gripped his blade tighter in his hand, feeling it shift back into a knife, as he stumbled away from where he guessed the teenage lay fallen- he guessed, because he could only just make out shapes, and not in any detail.

"Krolia!" Keith yelled as he staggered forward, or at least he thought he yelled it; his ears were ringing too badly.

Something hit his arm, then, right where he'd been grabbed, and he screamed, coming to the realisation that he'd blindly stabbed himself. Suddenly there were more hands on him, more voices, trying to pin him down, tearing his knife away, restraining his arms so he couldn't fight back, and Keith let out another panicked scream, because he couldn't focus on anything, his eyes hurt, his nose hurt, his cheeks hurt, his ears hurt, his arm hurt...

His knees hit the ground, then the whole of his upper body pitched forward as well, his cheek smacking into the gravel mercilessly. A groan of pain escaped his lips, and his hands were forced together behind his back, something cold and metallic clamping them together. He tried to move, tried to focus on what was happening, but he was blind, and his muscles refused to function.

"Keith!" a familiar voice yelled, and he blinked frantically, trying to force his burning eyes to see, to no avail.

"Shi...ro..." he croaked, before finally succumbing to the drowsiness plunging through his veins.

 

Shiro was almost at the Blade's headquarters when the distress signal came in. Rogue galra in sector 3, it reported, and Shiro immediately changed direction. A minute later, Pidge called, and he was later ashamed to admit that he was rather snappy with her. His head was just spinning too much, consumed by his worry and guilt over Keith. Worry for everything that Keith was going through, and not telling him. Guilt that he hadn't picked up on it sooner.

Keith was his brother, for goodness sake. If he didn't even have the support or listening ear of his brother- which, in recent months, he hadn't- where did that leave Keith?

Would it be enough to turn him 'rogue'?

Shiro sped up, running towards the signal's source in a desperate bid to get to the galra before the government-deployed forces could. They were the modern version of SWAT teams, heavily armoured and heavily armed, to deal with any threats. The thought that one of those 'threats' may actually be his dearest friend made Shiro's blood boil hotter.

He reached for the taser gun at his side in a somewhat reluctant preparation, pushing through the gathering crowds, then froze and swore loudly.

"Quiznak," Shiro groaned, surveying the scene.

Three officers were pinning down a figure in Blade armour, while a fourth clamped magnetised cuffs around his wrists and ankles in an attempt to prevent the rogue from thrashing and dealing any more damage. Not that he could move much, anyway; the scent of sedative was thick in the air. A few metres away, a teenage boy lay in a pool of his own blood, with a girl sobbing over him. Shiro didn't need a degree in medicine to see that the boy was dead, likely killed at the hands of the rogue galra.

The galra who was not actually a galra at all- or at least, only part.

Shiro's veins froze over. He'd recognise that black mullet anywhere.

It was Keith who was sedated, Keith who was cuffed and manhandled like a criminal, Keith who had taken that boy's life-

But Keith wouldn't do that. Would he?

Shiro's heart leapt into his mouth, and he yelled out his brother's name without thinking. Keith's blue-grey eyes darted towards him, the irises misty and unseeing, the sclera a sickly cream. He looked blind, Shiro realised with horror.

Keith's lips twitched, and he croaked out a heartbreaking "Shi...ro..." before falling limp.

The officers moved in to take him, but Shiro was faster.

"No," he growled, intercepting one officer, "You're not taking him. I will."

"Commander Shirogane-"

"I'm taking him with me. Bring it up with your superiors later," Shiro snapped, roughly shoving an officer aside. The remaining men scooted out of his way, and he covered the last distance to Keith in the blink of an eye, immediately kneeling down and rolling his brother onto his side.

The state of him made Shiro sick to his core.

There was so much blood, covering almost the entirety of Keith's face, the majority of it stemming from the mess that was his nose. A few small lacerations decorated his cheek, from where he'd been slammed to the ground, Shiro guessed, and the left cheek looked especially raw. Where his face was not marked crimson, blotches of purple bruising declared themselves, collecting around Keith's jaw in such a way that Shiro feared it may be broken. His lips were turning blue, though his skin was feverish to touch, and Shiro knew he was completely out of his element here. He couldn't help but long for the Castle of Lions, with its cyropods. That was what Keith needed.

If he didn't get medical attention, he could die.

Shiro wasted no more time. He scooped up Keith as gently as he could, storming towards one of the officer's vans.

"I need a ride back to the Garrison. Now," Shiro commanded.

"But sir, the sedative only last twenty minutes," someone dared to protest.

"It won't take us twenty minutes to get there! Besides, I'm not sure he'll last that long!" Shiro snapped, "Am I the commanding officer here, or not?"

The officer paled. "Yes, sir, sorry," she muttered, jumping into the front seat of the van.

"Send word to Krolia and Kolivan to meet me in the med bay," Shiro told the remaining officers before climbing into the back, carefully positioning Keith so he would not be jostled too much by the journey. Even the smallest motion induced a moan of pain, and Shiro suddenly became aware of the stab wound in Keith's left arm. None of the officers carried knives, he was pretty sure. Was it self-inflicted, then?

He shuddered, gently shifting himself so that he wouldn't further aggravate the wound, then tilted Keith's head so that the blood from his nose wouldn't run into his lungs.

"I'm so sorry, Keith," Shiro whispered, guilt clenching its fist around his heart. He'd known something was wrong with Keith, so why had he not acted upon his suspicions sooner?

How much would his inaction cost Keith?

He didn't want to find out.

Chapter Text

Krolia ran as if her life depended on it, which in a way, it did. The centre of her universe was injured, he had been attacked and detained by these quiznaking humans...!

Kolivan ran alongside her, gently resting his hand on her shoulder, as if he could see the fury on her face despite the mask which concealed it. Usually she was an expert at controlling emotion, but the thought of her son, her baby, being manhandled in such a way...

Krolia knew Keith was tough. She'd seen it all in the abyss, and in the battles that had followed. But this seemingly unprovoked attack, resulting in his sedation? That was a step too far.

They couldn't reach the medical bay fast enough. Krolia pushed past the guards - why were there armed guards in a medical bay, her son was not that dangerous - skidding to an abrupt halt where she saw Shiro sitting by a bed.

A bed which held her son.

Krolia deactivated her mask, kneeling by Keith's side, staring into his face. His eyes were closed, bruises shadowing them, and there was just so much blood on his face. She'd seen worse, of course, but never on her own family.

"Why haven't they cleaned him up?" Krolia snapped, glancing around frantically for a cloth and some water.

Shiro's expression drew tighter. "They did," he answered tensly, and Krolia took a closer look at her son's face. The human was right, what she thought at first to be blood was actually discolouration, purplish-red spreading in ugly patches across Keith's skin.

"What happened?"

She shouldn't be so cold with Shiro, the man was clearly as worried as she was, but the tight cap she usually kept on her emotions had blasted off somewhere.

"I don't know," Shiro answered slowly, his voice shaking, "I got there too late, they'd already sedated him... They said he killed a boy," he added, his voice dropping to a whisper as his eyes flickered downwards. Krolia followed his gaze, and a low growl escaped her throat. Her injured, comatose son was in restraints, magnetised bands of metal around his wrists and ankles, securing his limbs to the bed. Immediately Krolia scanned the room for any device that would unlock them, and Shiro sighed, as if he knew her intent.

"I tried to stop them, but he's under arrest. It was all I could do to get them to leave," Shiro explained rather dejectedly.

Kolivan, silent since the incident, muttered a few galran curses under his breath. "The kit fights in a war, saves their world, and they think it just to arrest him?"

"It's stupid," Krolia agreed, unable to put the entirety of her feelings into words.

"Like I said. They think he killed someone."

"So? I've killed people, we all have," Krolia snapped, "But Keith is the best of us. He would never do that on purpose. You know this, Shiro!"

"But they don't," Shiro sighed, then slumped further in the chair, exhaustion and concern plain on his features.

Krolia pulled up a chair on the other side of Keith, gently touching his face, then frowning as her hand came away far too hot.

"He's burning up," she commented, and within a dobosh Kolivan was handing her a cool cloth which she pressed against her son's forehead.

He didn't respond.

Krolia used her free hand to caress the bruising skin below his eyes, finding it to be much firmer than she expected. Heart pounding, she squinted at the discolouration, her gaze settling on the mark on his left cheek.

Wait. Didn't Keith only share one of her markings?

That wasn't the case anymore.

Krolia enhaled sharply, suddenly absorbing all the various details. How Keith's discolourations were spreading with every tick, how the shape and position of his ears were distorted, how his lips were indigo in colour, how his facial marking spread down to his neck, and he now had two of them...

Quiznak.

 

Everything hurt.

He willed his limbs into response, but they refused to obey, remaining frozen. His eyes he tried next, but they would not open- and, quiznak, the attempt was agony. It felt like his eyes were still burning. His left cheek stung, too, as did his ears, now he became aware of them. The entirety of his body felt scorched, but the pain was stronger in some areas than others, especially sore in his lower back. And his hands, oh gosh, his hands! He couldn't feel his fingertips.

Voices sounded around him, and something cool pressed against his forehead, but he was in no state to move, let alone speak. He tried to focus on the voices, determine who was there, but the noises blurred together and the attempt made his head spin further. Exhausted, Keith succumbed to the confusing darkness, letting it wash away the pain.

 

When he awoke again, the pain was less, but the charred feeling his skin possessed was still present. His ears, eyes and back hurt the most, though after a few strained moments, he managed to identify the words being exchanged.

"-asking about him."

Shiro, Keith cried out silently, his brother's voice loud in his still-ringing ears.

"Improving, but I'm not sure how well he'll be able to function."

If Keith could frown, he would be doing so at Kolivan's words. Function? What... what happened to me? He wracked his brain for any memory of an explosion- it must've been an explosion, that would explain the burning feeling- but he was drawing a blank. He could remember the paladins checking on him in the morning, but after that... Nothing.

"And the... changes?" Shiro enquired gently, unable to conceal the concern in his voice.

"Permanent, we think," a third person answered. Mom.

The ringing in Keith's ears stopped, replaced by the sound of Shiro's breath hissing sharply past his teeth, and Keith heard his fist clenching- something which confused him. He could hear the small gears in his brother's metal hand. How was that possible?

"He should wake soon," Krolia continued, and a hand caressed his cheek. Part of him wanted to flinch away, but the soft touch and his unresponsive muscles lured him back to sleep.

 

The third time he awoke, the difference in his body was instant. Someone pressed something cool against his forehead, but it was a little too cold, and he squirmed, a low moan escaping his mouth, the uncomfortable feeling suddenly replaced with relief that his muscles were responsive again.

"Keith?" Shiro asked anxiously, his hand tensing, if Keith's hearing was that accurate.

He tried to respond, but only another moan came out, his tongue feeling like lead in his dry throat.

"Shh, Keith, it's okay," Krolia whispered, stroking his hair, "Don't push yourself."

She slipped a straw between his lips- at least he assumed it was her, he couldn't quite open his eyes yet- and he sipped the water gently at first, then more ravenously, as the liquid soothed his throat.

"Steady, Keith," Shiro urged, as Keith's chest shook with coughs.

"You need more rest," Kolivan stated gruffly, and Keith wondered how long the trio had been waiting for him to wake.

But he didn't want to rest, he had to know what had happened to him, he wanted to see, but his eyes just wouldn't open.

"Mom," he croaked, his vocal cords finally responding.

"Keith, rest."

"I... I can't see," he groaned, pouring the rest of his energy into forcing his damn eyelids open, to no avail.

"Is it because-?" Shiro stopped midsentence, and Keith suspected that one of the Blades had silenced him.

"How do you feel?" Kolivan asked rather bluntly.

"Like I've been through a fire," Keith mumbled, "What happened?"

"You don't remember?" Shiro exclaimed.

"Enough," Kolivan huffed, "You called us here, Shiro. Keith is awake. You can go now."

"I'm not leaving him."

But I was going to leave you, Keith realised then, recalling the finer details of why exactly he'd been in a rush that morning. Shiro found out about his role in the Blades, and he'd left, then...

"Quiznak," Keith cussed, as the rest of his memory returned. The humans. Fighting. His sword, cutting not through a camera, but human flesh...

Oh crap oh crap oh crap.

"Keith?"

"G-get away from me!" he yelled, trying to move backwards, and though his muscles were fully responsive this time, something was restricting him, stopping him from achieving that. The strain on his wrists and ankles increased with his struggling, and he growled as he figured out the source of his immobility.

"You put me in restraints."

His tone was accusing, and pained.

"Keith, I'm sorry, I told them not to-"

"Shiro, I can't see!" Keith exclaimed, his voice breaking slightly, "I can't see, and now I can't move!" He tried his best not to panic, but the rush of blood in his ears was doing nothing to help.  The pain in his lower back increased with every second he was forced to lie on it, and he struggled against the restraints again.

"I won't let anyone hurt you, Keith."

"They broke my nose!" he growled, "And that... that stuff got in my face... It burned me, Shiro! And now I can't see!"

"Keith," Kolivan asked, his tone suddenly much more gentle, "What is this 'stuff'?"

"I..." Keith frowned, his anger fading as he struggled to recall. "It was in some sort of capsule, I think. It broke my nose, and then this shock of energy or something burst out."

"Was that when you started to feel wrong?"

"I think so."

"Quiznak," Krolia cursed, her hand slamming down on the- table? bed? surface- that Keith was cuffed to, "It was quintessence. You were hit with quintessence."

Chapter Text

Pidge paced the floor outside the medical bay, ignoring the irritated glares that the other paladins were giving her. She'd been too late to the scene- Shiro had already gone, taking Keith with him- and now she wasn't even allowed to see the supposed 'rogue galra'. Why Keith was suddenly being called 'galra', she wasn't sure. After all, he'd worked so hard to keep his heritage a secret, something which she only understood in part. Sure, half his race was supposedly evil, but his mother- the actual alien- was one of the good guys. If Keith had been related to Zarkon or Sendak or one of the other evil galra, then she'd understand. But he'd come to accept his bloodlines, hadn't he?

Why had he hidden it from everyone on Earth?

Sure, it wasn't something to announce to the world, but Pidge didn't think he really needed the extreme measures he'd taken to concealing his heritage.

Looked like the secret was out now, though.

It was all over the news; reports of the black paladin actually being a member of the Blades- a galra-only organisation. Speculations dominated social media, and Pidge was glad that Keith was supposedly unconscious, so he didn't have to deal with all the media attention.

She wished she could at least see him, though.

Shiro had left the room a varga ago, not speaking to anyone, and the guards at the door wouldn't let her or Lance or even Allura in. We're Keith's family too, she wanted to protest, but she kept silent, resorting to just waiting.

And pacing.

And annoying the other paladins.

 

Lance ran a hand through his hair, almost tempted to join Pidge in her incessant pacing. The guilt he felt at not paying more attention to Keith was ever-present, because honestly, how stupid was he? Clearly Keith wasn't having a shower that morning, he was running away to the Blades but Lance was too slow to see it.

He sighed loudly, and Allura snuggled more into his chest, as if sensing his distress and trying to offer comfort. It helped a little, but he couldn't feel relaxed when his team leader was badly hurt. At least, he assumed Keith was badly hurt.

No news often meant bad news.

Hunk broke the silence with a rather awkward cough. "I've got to go to the kitchens," he said, "Let me know as...as soon as there's news, okay?" His voice shook, and the frustration in his eyes at having to leave when they still knew nothing was evident.

"Sure." Pidge paused her pacing long enough to reply, then resumed it as soon as the yellow paladin had left.

Allura stood five doboshes later, shooting Lance an apologetic smile. "Coran needs me. We have to continue working on the Altean."

Lance sighed. "I'll let you know when there's news."

"Thanks, Lance." The way she said his name always sent his guts into a whirlwind, and he grinned stupidly when she kissed him lightly before leaving. Lance rubbed his cheek dreamily, and Pidge huffed unnecessarily loudly, plonking herself in the seat beside him. The spunky little paladin locked gazes with him in some sort of challenge.

"I'm not leaving," Pidge stated firmly.

"Well neither am I," Lance retorted, trying to stare her down.

He failed, and Pidge let out a cackle of glee, then immediately sobered when her gaze landed on the guards outside Keith's room.

"How long has it been?" Lance asked.

Pidge shrugged. "Maybe six vargas? I'm not keeping count."

"Six vargas?" Lance spluttered. No wonder he felt rather stiff. And bored. Quiznak, he was bored. But he wasn't going to leave, not until they had news...or Pidge left first. Her brother would need her help with something soon, right?

Lance sighed again. He was being silly; Pidge wouldn't leave, she cared too much. The same reason he wouldn't leave: he cared too much, too.

Keith was going to be alright. He had to be.

 

Quintessence. Of all the quiznaking substances in this damn universe, it had been quintessence.

He knew what it did to him; the memory of his first druid battle was forever etched in his mind, the burn as his skin peeled away to reveal purple, the growing thought that there was something very wrong with him. His second major encounter with quintessence was one he tried to forget. It had been in the void, the very field of quintessence, and he could still recall the energy flooding through him, making him feel stronger than he ever had before, as his fingernails hardened and his canines extended-

No. He wasn't going to think of that now.

Keith's tongue brushed against his teeth, brought on by his reminiscing, and he stiffened as he felt the points that were a little too sharp. The hitch in his breathing must've alerted one of his companions, because a hand wrapped around his- Krolia, he guessed, from the touch. She hadn't said a word since shouting out that revelation, and shortly after, Shiro had stormed from the room. Keith knew it had something to do with the changes in him, though no one was giving him details, and he still couldn't see.

"Mom," he whispered, his voice grating, "I... I need my hands free. Please." The last word was accompanied by the slight undertone of a whine, and Kolivan inhaled sharply as Keith's cheeks flushed with embarrassment. At least, it felt like they were turning red. He couldn't be certain.

One positive was that most of his body had stopped aching. His arm throbbed with a stab wound, from the feel of it, his nose ached, the pain in his back wouldn't relent and his eyes were sore as well as not functioning, but the itching sensation and the pain in his ears and digits had stopped.

They felt different, though, and if he couldn't see, then he at least wanted to feel.

"I'll see what I can do," Kolivan said gruffly after a few doboshes of silence, the creak of the floorboards and groan of the door on its hinges the only sign that he was leaving the room. For some reason, another small whine escaped Keith's throat, and he turned his head away from where he guessed the door was, scared and embarrassed at the noise.

"It's okay, Keith," Krolia soothed, stroking his hair gently, "You're going to be okay."

"Mom... I'm scared," he whimpered, all his initial anger and panic at the violent crime he'd committed gone, replaced with guilt and fear.

"I won't leave you," she promised, kissing his cheek softly, then resumed caressing his hair. He leaned into the touch as best as he could, with his limited range of movement, and a funny rumble sounded in his chest, one which he quickly suppressed.

What is happening to me?

Kolivan entered the room almost twenty doboshes later, accompanied by another person- human, Keith guessed from their heavy footfalls, though how he could tell from sound alone, he wasn't entirely sure.

"He's stable," Kolivan said, "And neither of us will leave him. Remove the restraints."

"I will release his wrists, but he must remain secured to the bed," the human- female- answered firmly.

Keith sighed, but even that was better than nothing. "Please," he whispered, and from Krolia's muted snicker, his response had startled the human.

Oh quiznak. He was thinking of humans as separate to himself, now.

The cuffs were removed from his wrists, and he sat up with the help of Krolia, wincing as his spine pulled, his lower back flaring up again. He flexed his arms, registering their stiffness, then immediately brought his hands up to his face. It felt normal at first, but then he touched his ears, and stiffened.

His ears weren't there.

Trying not to panic, he let his sore fingers trace his cheekbones, reaching up past his hair- which felt softer than usual- to touch something fluffy that twitched under his touch. Hands trembling, he traced the triangular outline of the appendage, immediately flinching when it flickered and swivelled. Nausea grew within him as Keith realised that he could feel the appendages- one either side of his skull- he could feel them move, and feel the touch of his fingers on them.

Oh quiznak.

He had the ears of a galra. And not ears like his mother- no, that would make too much sense, wouldn't it? From the feel of them, they were the quiznaking feline ears.

He was never going to live it down with his team-

Quiznak, his team. Voltron. What did they think of him? Did they know?

What else had changed about him?

He stretched his hands out in front of him, and tilted his head so he would be staring at them, willing for his eyes to work, for the blindness to go, because he hated being this vulnerable.

"Mom," he murmured, his voice shaking too much for his liking, "What colour is my skin?"

Krolia tensed up, but he didn't need to hear the answer; his stupid eyes finally decided to grant him some vision, and though blurred, he could make out the colour of his hands.

Purple.

Chapter Text

Kolivan glared at the human female lingering in the doorway, frustrated that she hadn't got the hint to leave already. If she was waiting to put his the kit in restrains again, she'd be waiting forever, because he was not going to let that happen to Keith.

Keith, whose transformation was almost complete.

He'd always wondered why Keith didn't shown any physical galra traits, deciding it was because his human genes were dominant in terms of appearance, but it seemed like his DNA had shifted. Keith's skin was purple, not quite as deep as Krolia's, but unmistakably purple all the same. A second marking decorated his left cheek, and both were a dark violet. Despite the change in colour, his face still retained its chiselled, furless shape. His hair had taken on a thicker, fur-like texture, with the last couple of inches turning crimson, like the tips of Krolia's. His ears had morphed in their shape and position, a process which had looked very painful to Kolivan, and now rested on the top of Keith's head in a manner similar to the Earth creatures called 'cats'. They were deep purple, the hairs inside them a lighter shade, and were quite possibly some of the fluffiest ears Kolivan had seen. Why his ears had not changed to those of his mother, Kolivan wasn't certain, but he suspected it was because of Keith's other galran heritage- his extended family that the kit had yet to be made aware of.  Keith's fingernails were gone, replaced with claws as purple as his skin, and a quick glance at the kit's feet confirmed that the same had happened with his toes. He still had five on each foot, though; Kolivan didn't think Keith would cope with having his feet change into the three-toed format of most galra. His back, particularly in the lower areas, seemed to curve in an unnatural way, but Kolivan deemed that to simply be the folded fabric of the large hospital gown. The most shocking change, though, was his eyes. At first they were completely yellow, glowing slightly in the dimly lit room, but as Keith grew more alert his irises slowly started to reform, the blue-grey orbs smaller than they had been, but still present amongst the yellow sclera. Still, there was no mistaking the kit's heritage now, and Kolivan worried about what that would do to Keith's mental health.

Keith had been reluctant to accept his genetics at first, but with the help of the Blades, he'd grown confident and comfortable in himself. Returning to Earth had shattered that confidence, forcing Keith to hide part of himself again, out of fear.

As he mused, Keith's eyes seemed to focus fully, pupils expanding as he examined his hands and let out a low whine, one that could only belong to a galra kit.

It seemed the quintessence had brought out even more of the galra within him.

Keith's cheeks darkened into more of a reddish-purple, and he clamped a hand over his mouth- he had fangs too, Kolivan noted- ducking his head as if he'd done something wrong.

"Keith?" Krolia asked gently.

"Why do I keep making those noises?" Keith mumbled, but Kolivan's sensitive ears could still pick up his words.

Krolia glanced at Kolivan, and he stepped forward, placing a hand on Keith's shoulder.

"It's a natural thing for a kit to do," Kolivan explained, "We think the quintessence made your galran genes more prominent."

Keith slowly removed his hand from his mouth, and rubbed his forefinger against his thumb. "The noises are a galra thing?"

"Yes, kit," Kolivan affirmed, and Keith relaxed instantly.

"I used to make weird noises, when I was little," he confessed, "But I stopped them because I'd get into trouble at the foster homes."

Krolia's face drew tighter. "You should never have had to suppress your kit instincts," she half-growled, hugging Keith to her chest. He stiffened at the contact, but relaxed after a few ticks.

"So the quintessence revived those...instincts?" he enquired.

Kolivan rumbled his agreement, then nodded as well, for a more obvious confirmation.

Keith let out a little 'hmm' sound, inspecting his new claws with what appeared to be relative calm, though Kolivan could see the kit's fear in the slight tremble of his hands and the flickering of his large ears.

"Kolivan, sir?"

He glanced up at the human female, and his eyes narrowed. "What is it?"

"Well, he is awake and comprehensive now, so the officers need to come in and speak with him," she stated.

"I have a name," Keith hissed, then stiffened when he realised what he'd done, letting out a frightened whine.

"The officers aren't coming in with my son in this state," Krolia growled, and Kolivan knew she was referring to Keith's vulnerability. Not only was he physically weak, but his ankles were still restrained, and the thin hospital gown would do nothing to protect him from the rough handling of the human officers. No, Kolivan wouldn't allow that either.

"He won't be released until they talk to him," the female argued.

"Unchain his ankles, bring him some clothes, and maybe we'll let them see him," Kolivan countered before Krolia could, and the human sighed.

"Wait here," she said, and left the room. Kolivan crossed his arms, and Krolia rolled her eyes, their thoughts on the same line- why wouldn't they wait with Keith?

Humans. So stupid, sometimes.

But they were still capable of harming the kit.

 

Pidge perked up at the increased activity in the med bay, trying to listen in on the strained conversations between officers, but they were just too far out of range. She huffed, and Lance raised an eyebrow, but before he could open his loud mouth, one of the officers- a woman named Joanne- approached them.

"We need clothes for... Keith," she said, seeming to struggle over his name.

Pidge folded her arms. "And you want us to get them."

"Yes."

"No," the green paladin answered firmly, and Joanne's eyes flashed in surprise.

"Excuse me?"

"I said no. I'm waiting to see my friend, I won't go to fetch his clothes like a damn servant," she snapped, meeting the older woman's gaze despite the fact that she had to look up a lot to do so.

Joanne huffed, and stormed back over to the other officers, exchanging more strained words with them. Pidge turned back to Lance, grinning.

"What was that about?" he asked, "We could just get Keith's clothes-"

"Trust me," Pidge smirked, "We will get his clothes. But on our own terms."

Joanne returned to them after five doboshes, her expression strained. "If you get his clothes, then you may see him," she said, and Pidge barely suppressed a grin.

"Both of us?" Lance piped up.

"Yes," Joanne sighed, "But just the two of you. No more."

"Deal." Pidge slammed the lid of her laptop down, then strode out of the room, not even waiting for Lance to catch up to her. He soon did, muttering something about how ridiculous it was for someone so short to be able to move that quick, but she was too pleased with herself to take offense at comments about her height. Joanne had walked right into her little trap, and now she'd got what she'd been wanting the last...however many vargas it had been, Pidge hadn't bothered to keep count. Long enough that she'd dozed off at one point, as had Lance, waking up to feel strangely refreshed- though she doubted it had been more than a varga or two's nap.

The two paladins made their way to Keith's room without any issues, though his usual red jacket was missing from the small closet. Instead they picked out a red and white hoodie, along with a plain t-shirt and a pair of black jeans. Pidge point-blank refused to delve into Keith's underwear drawer, but Lance grabbed some clean items from there and kept them from Pidge's view, much to her relief.

"It looks empty in here," Lance noted as they were about to leave.

"Yeah. It's as if he didn't really live here," Pidge mused. Her room was so lived-in, there was hardly any space not covered by posters or tech or discarded clothes. Lance's was equally as full, but nowhere near as messy, and she knew Hunk's followed the same pattern. But Keith's room was bland, like it had been on the castle, lacking any real sense of personalisation.

It was as if he never expected to stay anywhere permanently.

The thought stung her heart, and she made a note then to never make Keith feel that way. Something was wrong with him, something to do with his galra heritage, but she wasn't going to let that get in the way of their friendship. She'd accepted him years ago for what he was.

Even if he'd changed, he was still Keith, still her friend, and nothing he did was going to change that.

With that thought firm in her mind, she hugged Keith's hoodie closer to her chest, and set out to the medical bay with Lance hot on her heels.

No matter what, Keith is still my friend.

No matter what.

No matter what.

It was easier said than done.

Chapter Text

Keith remained sitting, resting against his mother as best he could with his ankles still tied. He was tired, so tired, and sore all over, though he now knew it was because he looked like a galra.

Oh gosh, he looked like a galra.

His breathing sped up, and Krolia rubbed his new ears, which just seemed to relax him, and he leaned into the touch, a funny noise rising in his chest.

"What...what's that?" he asked, the vibration distorting his voice slightly.

Krolia chuckled softly. "You're purring."

I am never going to live this down. If I can even face the other paladins...

There was a knock at the door, and Keith stiffened. Kolivan grumbled under his breath but opened it a crack.

"What?" he grunted, then slipped outside to talk with whoever was there. A dobosh later, he returned with the woman from earlier hot on his heels. She didn't look at Keith as she removed his ankle cuffs, muttering something to Kolivan before leaving again.

Keith leaned forward to rub his sore ankles, but stopped, gasping as the ache in his spine intensified.

"Kit?" Kolivan asked, concerned.

"M'okay," Keith gasped, "Just a little sore."

"Two of the paladins have brought you clothes, and wish to see you," Kolivan said, and Keith stiffened.

They want to... No, I can't let them see me like this, I can't...!

He must've been breathing heavier, because Krolia was soon rubbing his ears and head again, trying to soothe him.

"Keith, you should change into the clothes," she murmured, "I'll help you."

Keith nodded slowly, trying to hide how even that simple action sent a shot of pain down his spine. There was no way he could easily dress himself, much to his shame.

Kolivan stepped outside, returning a tick later with familiar clothing, and Krolia gestured for the older galra to wait outside. He did so without question, and Keith was relieved that his mother knew what he wanted before he had to awkwardly request it. Krolia wasted no time in helping Keith out of the thin hospital gown, and he stifled his pride when she helped him into the clothes, his leg muscles especially stiff and non-compliant. It was an effort to even lift his arms enough to slip the red and white hoodie on, and he whined in frustration, almost freezing up at the stupid noise, but relaxing instinctively when Krolia purred soothingly in response.

"I feel so pathetic," Keith grumbled, sitting back down on the bed with a wince, his strange new ears pinning against his head.

"Keith, you're far from pathetic. You recovered quicker than we all expected," Krolia responded.

He sighed, staring at the funny claws on his now-purple feet. They were certainly going to make shoes a challenge.

Krolia hummed gently for a few doboshes, then nudged Keith's shoulder when he made no comments.

"We should let your friends in."

"No," he answered abruptly.

"Keith, they won't think any different of you-"

"Shiro does," Keith muttered, and Krolia's humming stopped. He knew it. His closest friend, his brother, was concerned at first, but as soon as he realised Keith was 'changing', he didn't want a part of it. Shiro had left, and he didn't come back.

Keith couldn't stand it if the other paladins did the same.

"He-"

"He looks at me and sees the enemy!" Keith yelled, interrupting her again, "He still sees galra and thinks a threat! And now I, I'm purple and my eyes- oh gosh, are my eyes yellow? Mom do I...?"

"You still have your iris and pupils, but your sclera are yellow," she said, and some of Keith's panic faded.

At least his eyes weren't the monochrome, lifeless ones of his enemies.

"I still can't face them," he murmured.

"Too late for that," a familiar voice quipped, and Keith's blood froze.

 

Lance folded his arms and scowled at the closed door, separating them from Keith. A masked guard stood outside, something which both he and Pidge thought was ridiculous, but they didn't dare argue in case the jerks made them wait even longer. Sure, he could understand that Keith would want to change without them in the room, but did it really take twenty doboshes to put on clothes?

"Right, that's it," Pidge huffed, "I'm going in." She put her hands on her hips and glared up at the guard through her glasses. "Open the door."

"The Blade's leader will-"

Pidge's bayard appeared in her hand, and she gestured angrily with it at the guard. "Open the quiznaking door," she growled, and Lance didn't blame the guard for flinching and quickly unlocking the door. Pidge could be really scary sometimes.

Like dwarves. Dwarves in fantasy franchises were terrifying.

Maybe that was why Pidge was a dwarf in Monsters and Mana- and he was getting off-track now, because the door was open and Pidge was strolling in, just in time to hear Keith mumble something.

"Too late for that," Pidge quipped, passing her bayard to Kolivan. The galra male simply blinked and stood firmly by the door. Lance awkwardly manoeuvred past him, then froze as he took in the two purple forms on the bed. One was obviously Krolia, curled defensively around the second, smaller one, clad in a red and white hoodie that clashed horrible with the colour of his skin.

Lance swallowed, his gut clenching. Oh, quiznak.

Keith was purple.

"Keith?" Pidge asked uncertainly, the cocky confidence from earlier dissipating. The small galra- Keith, he noted, it was Keith- glanced up slowly, reluctant to meet their gazes. His irises were still their unique blue-grey colour, thank the universe for that, but Lance's attention was arrested by the top of Keith's head. Somehow the mullet had avoided the transformation, its only change being a slight crimson hue around the bottom two inches or so, making it look like Keith had dip-dyed his hair. No, what had Lance fascinated were the ears.

Keith had fuzzy, purple, kitty ears.

"You're a space cat," he blurted out then, instantly cursing his stupid blabbermouth. Those kitty ears twitched slightly, then to his surprise, Keith's mouth turned up in a small smile.

"Guess you guys were right," he whispered, and Lance grinned in response, taking a small step closer. Keith's eyes widened, and he cringed back against his mother.

"Don't... I don't want to hurt you," he cried, extending a hand to wave them off, claws glinting on the ends of his fingers.

"Keith, I trust you. You wouldn't hurt me," Lance said, walking forward another step.

"I trust you too," Pidge added, "You're our friend, Keith. It doesn't matter that you're purple now, okay?"

Keith mumbled something, and Krolia nodded, removing her hands from his shoulders and slipping off the bed, to stand by Kolivan. He looked up at them, the pain in his eyes evident, and Lance was crossing the rest of the distance before he could even think. Lance sat on one side of Keith, Pidge on the other side, and both of them embraced him gently, no words needing to be said. Keith stiffened up but melted into the embrace a tick later, one clawed hand snaking around Lance's arm, his purple head resting against Pidge's shoulder.

"I hurt a human," he mumbled, "He... I think he died."

Pidge's muscles locked up, but Lance's posture didn't change. "It wasn't your fault, Keith," he murmured.

"They attacked me," Keith continued brokenly, "They attacked me for being part-galra, and now I look the part."

"It wasn't your fault," Lance repeated, glancing up to look at Pidge, silently conveying a message.

"Like I said, we don't care that you're purple, and we don't care what you did," Pidge said firmly, "You're still our friend."

"A best friend," Lance noted- not thinking, again.

Pidge nodded. "Yeah. A best friend. And that won't change." She hugged Keith with a little more force, eliciting a slightly pained gasp from their friend, which she promptly apologised for.

"S'okay," Keith muttered stubbornly, "Just a little sore, still." His kitty ears twitched, and Lance felt the rest of his self-control crumble.

"Can I...?" he asked, gesturing with his free hand to the feline wonders. Keith groaned.

"Sure," he grumbled, but his eyes sparkled slightly, and Lance let out a delighted squeal as he caressed the soft, fluffy, space cat ears. Keith's eyes closed and he hummed in contentment- just like a cat- and Lance couldn't stop the stupid grin taking up the whole of his face.

Keith was different, but he was okay. They'd all be okay. Right?

 

Outside Keith's room, Joanne watched with narrowed eyes, turning to her superior. "They've accepted him," she murmured, "You said that wouldn't happen."

The masked man shrugged. "They might have, but the world won't."

"The one-armed man didn't," the guard piped up, earning him a glare from the other two.

"That's true though," Joanne mused, "Shirogane left when the transformation advanced. And the other paladins may be less forgiving."

"Like I said, it doesn't matter. The world will never accept him now," the masked man stated gruffly, "And then we will strike."

Chapter Text

Shiro stormed down the corridors of the Garrison, his thoughts buzzing around in a undetermined mess, other than one image: Keith, lying scared and injured and purple.

He had to get out of the room before he hurt someone.

The Blades weren't at fault, he knew it, and he was over the whole galra thing. Sure, his PTSD still liked to make itself known, but he'd learned to see purple and not immediately associate it with the enemy.

If someone thought that forcing Keith to be more galra would make Shiro hate him, then they had no concept of their relationship.

Keith was his brother. His hot-headed, half-galra brother, who he was so proud of. Keith was so much more than the angry foster-kid he'd first encountered, growing into a leader stronger than Shiro could ever be. Him turning purple wasn't going to change that.

No, Shiro wasn't mad at Keith. He was mad for Keith.

Someone had deliberately targeted Keith, and he was going to find them.

"Iverson!" he yelled, bursting into the commander's office.

The man looked up from his desk. "Shiro, I heard about-"

"Cut the crap," Shiro growled, "I want surveillance footage, details of the attackers, anything you have on this. Someone got a hold of an alien substance and used it on Keith. That's illegal."

"Keith killed a teenage. That's also illegal," Iverson pointed out, far too calmly.

Shiro clenched his fists and focused on breathing, glad he didn't have his crazy galra arm anymore. "We don't know the circumstances. It's likely to have been in self-defense. Which is why," his human hand slammed on the desk, "I need footage. Witnesses."

"Shiro. You're a captain and a commander, but you are not qualified to take on an investigation like this. It's legal. Keith needs a lawyer-"

"Are they taking him to court?" Shiro exclaimed.

Iverson nodded. "He's under arrest."

Shiro's fists clenched even tighter. "Without Keith, there wouldn't be courts, or lawyers, or people to arrest him. The people of Earth owe him their lives. Thousands, millions of people in the universe owe him their lives. He has saved so many, and yet you're treating him as a criminal?"

Iverson was silent.

"That's what I thought," Shiro snapped, "Now either call this whole damn thing off, or help me get the evidence."

"Fine," Iverson grunted, "But you can't represent him in court."

"I wasn't planning to." Shiro glared darkly then turned and left the room, deliberately slamming the door behind him. He stormed through a few corridors, desperate to get away from the Garrison, from the humans that were hurting Keith and treating him like he was still the 'discipline case' that was only there because of his incredible piloting skills.

Keith was so much more than a 'discipline case', he always had been but no one took a close enough look to see the sweet, hurting boy beneath the angry front that Shiro knew had been purely defensive. And Keith had grown so, so much, rising to be the leader of Voltron - the very head of the universe's defenders - and yet people disregarded him still. Keith was finally secure in who he was, and Shiro was determined to not let that been taken from him.

He needed a plan to save Keith. A plan, and a team.

 

Matt hummed a few sci-fi theme tunes as he fiddled with some Garrison files, hacking for the pure fun of it. He'd missed so much time on Earth, he was curious to see how the Garrison had developed. Plus, he was bored, his little sister had been gone for hours now and he wasn't worried, she was totally capable and the Green Lion was still in the hangar so it wasn't as if she'd run off but still he hadn't heard from her in ages-

"Breathe, Matt," he commanded himself, then felt instantly silly. Quiznak, he should be used to it by now, but not knowing his sister's fate for three years had really shaken him.

A knock at the door sounded then, and Matt bolted up, hoping to look down and see his sister. Instead, he looked up into the paler-than-usual face of Shiro.

"Matt, I need your help," the man said, his voice shaking.

Instantly Matt sidestepped to let Shiro in. "What's wrong? Is it Keith?"

Shiro nodded, then took a deep breath and explained the situation. Matt was aware of himself becoming paler too, for what had happened to Keith, but then he was angry. Angry at the Garrison, angry at the teenagers, angry at humanity in general.

"Iverson's not going to give you all the files," Matt warned, "You'll be lucky to get the teenager's names."

"I know," Shiro replied, "and that's why I need you."

Matt grinned. This was his element. Hacking with a purpose. "It'll take me a day or two, but I can get Pidge on board to speed it up-"

"No!" Shiro exclaimed, then coughed awkwardly, "Um, I mean, two days is fine."

Matt raised an eyebrow. "Why don't you want Pidge to help?"

"I need her to stay with Keith. I need all the paladins to stay with Keith, he needs to know that all this," Shiro flapped his human hand, "doesn't affect what they - what we - think of him. It's taken him so long to get this far, Matt. I can't let it be taken from him."

Matt nodded slowly, his mood more solemn. "Okay, I get it. Hacking solo. Which is cool, 'cause, I've been doing it solo the last three years," he grinned, "I'm Solo. Matt Solo."

Shiro facepalmed. "Really?"

"Sorry not sorry," Matt retorted, standing to grab a few cables. "You know, me getting evidence won't be enough. If they take it to court, we'll need a lawyer. And as far as I'm aware, none of us are qualified."

Shiro frowned, then a wide smile split his face. "I might know a guy," was all he said before exiting the room.

"Well then," Matt commented, suppressing a grumble at people who leave rooms but don't bother to close the door, "Time to get hacking."

 

To most people, the corridors of the Garrison were a total maze, but Shiro knew this place well. He also had happened to take the time to see where every member of his team was situated, in case he needed them urgently.

He just never thought he'd be urgently seeking Coran, of all people.

The altean advisor had continued to help integrate various alien technologies with Earth tech, but according to his schedule he was currently taking a break. Shiro rounded the corner, purpose in his stride.

"Coran!" he yelled, and the altean's ginger mop poked up from behind the sofa in one of the lounges.

"Ah, Number One!" he called out, "Just a tick!" He disappeared from view, reappearing again with a pencil in his hand, "I dropped this!"

"I need your help," Shiro stated rather firmly.

"Is this about Number Four? Though I suppose I might have to call him Number Three now, he's taller than Lance, yes?"

Shiro just gave Coran a Look.

"Ah, sorry," Coran said quickly, sitting down on the sofa, "What is it that you need help with, exactly?"

Shiro remained standing. "You're aware of the situation with Keith, yes?" A nod was the only response he took, quickly continuing before Coran could start, "The family of the boy who was accidentally killed want to take Keith to court. And he needs a lawyer." Shiro looked very pointedly at Coran.

"Ah, you see, I'm not actually qualified-"

"Yes, you are," Shiro hissed, leaning in closer. Coran's eyes widened, and the former paladin blushed, collecting himself. "Sorry," he sighed, "I just... I need you to be the lawyer for Keith. This whole thing is ridiculous, but they won't release Keith until-"

"Why don't we just break him out?" Coran suggested.

Shiro blinked. "Uh, because that would ruin things with Earth...?"

"But not all of Earth," Coran supplied, "Humans aren't quite that stupid. Yes, you'll upset a few people. But you can't let them do this to Keith."

"I know," Shiro ground out, "I just want to try and resolve this. What if they come after Keith?"

"Considering that the only people who have access to decent space tech are friends or allies of Keith, I doubt that will be the case," Coran answered smoothly.

Shiro groaned and ran a hand through the tuft of his hair. "What do I do, then?"

"That is something you and the paladins must decide. But if you decide to take the diplomatic route, then of course I'll help you," Coran replied, smiling slightly.

"Thanks." Shiro stood and left, his mind buzzing. Breaking Keith out... wasn't actually a bad idea, and they could easily bypass the Garrison tech. But then they'd have to leave Earth, and he wasn't sure if the paladins were quite ready to head back into the fight. Not just yet.

 

Unbeknownst to Shiro and Coran, a slim figure perched in the vents above the lounge, listening to the entirety of the conversation.

"They might try to break the boy out," he whispered into a concealed comm.

A low chuckle came through the speaker. "Then we'll just have to get him first."

Chapter Text

Keith paced the small hospital room, trying to get used to his changed body. His limbs didn't feel much different, but his skin still ached all over, and the new, constantly flickering ears were getting on his nerves- something which only made them flicker more. Seeing Lance and Pidge had brought some comfort, but he still wasn't allowed out of the room, and none of the others had come to visit. Hunk and Allura were probably busy, but Shiro...

Where was Shiro?

Shiro had been there, but then he'd left, probably because he saw Keith as a mon-

No. Don't finish that thought.

He sighed, running a clawed hand through his hair- hair which felt so much softer now- the stoic figure of Kolivan offering no advice or comfort. His mom had left, for what reason she didn't say, so Keith was basically alone, his thoughts his primary company.

And it wasn't good company.

He kept thinking back to the humans who'd attacked him. Did they know that he was a paladin of Voltron? Was that why they'd singled him out? He supposed he was the shortest blade, and his brown belt did make him stand out a little more, but had someone really been paying that much attention to him? The thought creeped him out.

But what was worse was that the humans had somehow got their hands on quintessence. How? Why? Did they mean to make him change? Or had it just been chance?

A knock at the door startled him from his thoughts, and Kolivan moved to open it. A doctor stood there, an expression of fear spreading across his dark features as soon as he caught sight of Keith.

"Why... Why aren't you in restraints?" he exclaimed.

Keith shifted into a defensive position, and a growl made its way up his throat before he realised it. Instantly he stiffened and clamped a hand over his mouth, cringing at the fangs brushing against his palm.

"I asked them to be removed," Kolivan replied in a smooth monotone.

The doctor frowned. "He is unstable," he hissed, "And under arrest. He should be restrained." He took a step towards Keith, who backed away faster than was humanly possible, squeezing himself into the corner between the wall and the bed, a small whimper escaping him. Kolivan tensed even further at the noise.

"He is frightened and unused to the changes in his body. I will not have him chained down," Kolivan said sternly, glaring at the doctor.

The two had a staring match, but the doctor quickly lost to the galra's impassive yellow eyes. "Fine," he relented, "But I need to draw blood, so you will have to hold him down."

Keith hissed, his hand moving away from his mouth to clench at his side, claws digging in to his palms. No. He was not going to let them take his blood. No no no no no-

"Kit," Kolivan rumbled, stepping between the doctor and Keith, "Calm down. It won't hurt you."

"Don't want them taking my blood!" Keith growled, his ears pinned flat against his skull, pupils wide. If they took his blood they'd see how wrong he was, how he'd been wrong even before this incident, how he never was completely human in the first place...

"Keith." Kolivan was right by him then, and Keith tensed up, realising his mistake at backing up into a corner. He was trapped, with no way out.

Actually...

His eyes flickered to the bed, and his feet shifted, muscles coiling ready to go.

"Fine," he mumbled submissively, and the older galra stepped back, relieved. Instantly Keith jumped sideways, grabbing the rail of the bed and hauling himself onto it, launching into a nimble roll off the thin mattress. As soon as he hit the ground he was running, easily dodging the startled doctor and slipping out of the door. Two guards yelped in surprise, but he quickly avoided them, keeping his eyes peeled for an escape route. The corridor was thin, and there were more guards at the end, but a vent grille hung above him, conveniently below a couple of chairs. Grinning, Keith jumped onto said chairs and removed the grill with practised skill, ignoring the pain in his arms as he hauled himself up and into the vents. It was tight, the first time he'd done that since his growth spurt in the abyss, but he still managed to crawl along. Shouts sounded below, but he just kept crawling, not in any particular direction, just away from the nurses and doctors and guards that all just wanted to hurt him. Guilt flickered through him for tricking Kolivan like that, but it was quickly replaced by a sharp pain in his spine. Keith gritted his teeth, wincing as a fang pierced his lip, trying desperately to not let any noise escape him. His back had been sore for a while, and he'd got used to the ache, but now it was on fire, and Keith could barely pull himself forwards. He let out a whimper as his left leg seized up, slamming against the sides of the vents and sending more waves of agony through him. Staying in the vents was no longer an option, not with the rising pain that was making his limbs seize, so he hit the next vent cover, wincing as the metal grill clattered onto the tiled floor.

He only hoped that he was far enough away from the enemy, as another shot of pain ripped through his spine and his world went black.

 

Hunk was busying himself cooking, unable to hide his delight at being able to use normal ingredients again. But he couldn't focus completely, not when he knew that Keith was not okay. Pidge hadn't said anything, and Lance didn't even to stop by, which only worried Hunk further.

A loud bang in the ceiling startled him, and he accidentally poured too much spice into the mixture.

"Quiznak," Hunk muttered, freezing as a small whimper came from the ceiling, accompanied by another thump.

Oh gosh oh gosh oh gosh.

There was something in the ceiling.

Hunk took a few steps back, suddenly wishing he wasn't the only one in the kitchen, then stopped, mentally chiding himself. What was he doing? He was a paladin of Voltron! Small things like noises in the ceiling didn't scare him!

A vent grill clattered to the ground suddenly, and Hunk yelped. Okay, maybe he was a little scared of noises in the vents.

Then a purple shape fell onto the floor, and his fear changed.

The person- it was a person, despite being purple they had arms and legs and head like a human- let out a low moan but didn't move, and Hunk gasped at the sight of blood trickling down near their spine.

Don't be sick don't be sick don't be sick, he chanted, slowly edging closer. Then the person looked up at him and his heart ached.

"Hunk?" Keith whispered, his voice hoarse, blue-gray eyes set in yellow sclera clouded and distant. Hunk closed the distance between them, kneeling by his friend's head, ignoring all the strange new galran features.

Because all that mattered was that Keith was hurt, he was bleeding, and he needed help.

"Shh,Keith, it's okay. I, uh, I'll just get help, you're bleeding, man..."

"No," Keith hissed, "No doc...doc..." He struggled with the word, but Hunk caught the gist of it. No doctors.

Come to think of it, why was Keith in the vents in the first place? Had he ran from someone?

Knowing Keith, that was very likely.

"Okay, no doctors," Hunk soothed, "But Keith, buddy, we gotta move."

"No," Keith whined, then he suddenly went rigid, his body arching as his eyes rolled back, the rest of his body shaking.

No, not just shaking. Seizing.

"Quiznak!" Hunk yelled, quickly grabbing his phone whilst trying to hold Keith's head steady, dialling the first number he could find.

"Hunk? What is it?" Lance asked rather sleepily.

"Get Shiro! And get to the kitchens, now!" Hunk exclaimed.

"Why?"

"Keith's here and he's seizing!" Hunk shouted, and on the other end Lance swore loudly.

Hunk set the phone aside as Keith went limp again, his left leg still twitching slightly. He realised he hadn't counted how long Keith had seized, and muttered a curse under his breath.

"Keith? Can you hear me?" he asked.

No reply.

"Quiznak, Keith, you gotta be okay," Hunk cried, reaching for a cloth to wipe the sweat off Keith's now-purple face. Then the pool of blood on the floor caught his attention, and he barely stopped himself from wretching. That was a lot of blood. But where was it even coming from?

The stain was darkest at the base of Keith's spine, and Hunk gingerly reached to peal back the hoodie before stopping himself. If it was some sort of brutal, gory wound, he'd lose the contents of his stomach, and the last thing Keith needed was for him to panic and throw up.

So instead Hunk continued to wipe the sweat away, cradling Keith's head in his lap, running his hand over the damp hair and flickering, feline ears.

"You're gonna be okay, Keith," he whispered, "you're gonna be okay."

He only hoped help would come before it was too late.

Chapter Text

Lance ran as fast as he could, smacking the buttons on his wrist comm in desperation.

"C'mon, Shiro! Answer me!" he yelled, startling a Garrison officer.

"Lance? What is it?" Shiro eventually said.

"Oh thank goodness!" Lance exclaimed, "It's Keith! We've got to get to the kitchens!"

"I'm on my way." Shiro's voice came through loud and firm, but Lance could sense the undertone of concern, which only made him run faster. Quiznak, why did his room have to be so far from the kitchens where Hunk worked?

Finally, Lance rounded the corner, and burst through the doors, skidding to a halt as he took in the sight of Hunk and Keith surrounded by a pool of blood. Keith was pale, his new purple skin faded to a light lavender, and his face was curled tight in a grimace.

"Quiznak," Lance swore, alerting Hunk to his presence.

"I don't know what to do," the yellow paladin fretted, "He just fell through the vents and started bleeding everywhere! A-and then he fainted and started seizing and I panicked because I don't know anything medical I mean I can fix machines but people? I have no idea how to fix people I only know how to cook and-"

"Hunk, breathe," Lance commanded, crossing the distance between them. He wasn't a medical expert either, but the many injuries him and the team had sustained in space must've taught them something, right?

Wrong. Keith's wound was like nothing he'd ever seen before.

Lance knelt down and gently peeled away Keith's top, muttering a quick warning to Hunk beforehand, and almost gagged at the scent of blood that assaulted his nostrils. The hoodie was soaked and stained, almost clinging to the wound, though to Lance's relief the skin had sealed over. It was red and raw, still, but not the gory, gaping wound he'd envisioned from the state of the floor and Keith's clothes.

But what was most disconcerting was the new addition to Keith's body. Because there, in the centre of the bloodstained skin, was none other than a tail.

In any other situation Lance would've be delighted. Cat ears and a tail? Amazing! But obviously the growth of this tail had caused his friend to pass out and have a seizure, which was, of course, not something to be smiling about.

At that moment, Shiro burst in, eyes widening with panic at the bloodstains. "Keith!" he gasped out, rushing over.

"It's okay, he's stopped bleeding now," Lance said, and gestured wordlessly to the tail. Shiro gaped, blinking in disbelief.

"How...?" he muttered, and Lance shrugged.

"Galra biology is weird. Maybe Keith's grandparents have kitty ears and tails?" he suggested.

"Lance, that's not important right now," Hunk frowned, looking at them out of the corner of his eye, "We need to get Keith medical attention. But he doesn't want doctors."

"I'll get one of the Blade's doctors," Shiro offered, moving to stand, but Lance shocked them both by grabbing his arm.

"No, I'll go. Veronica gave me the keys to her car. Besides, you need to be there for Keith," he said quite firmly.

Shiro sighed, but nodded. "You're right. Go, then-" He broke off at a flash of blue light, and Kosmo appeared, the wolf whining at Keith's injured state.

"Actually," Lance grinned, "I've got a better idea. Kosmo? You want to help me out?"

 

Lance and the space wolf disappeared in another flash that left Shiro blinking to clear the dots from his eyes, his mind buzzing with anxiety.

"What now?" Hunk asked nervously.

"You can go and get cleaned up," Shiro suggested, "I'll take Keith."

The yellow paladin nodded, relief settling over his face, and he quickly passed Keith over, grimacing at the ruined state of his cooking apron and casual clothing. Shiro doubted the bloodstains would wash out, though if they had any of Coran's altean washing powder left, that may do the trick.

Keith stirred in his arms then, letting out a low moan as he pressed his face into Shiro's chest, his tail flickering ever so slightly.

"Keith? Buddy, can you hear me?" Shiro asked gently.

"Sh'ro?" Keith slurred, tilting his head to look at Shiro with glazed eyes.

"Yes, it's me. I'm here, you're okay," Shiro soothed, gently rubbing Keith's head with his human hand. Keith's peculiar new ears flickered, and Shiro barely resisted the urge to stroke them.

Keith mumbled something so incoherent that Shiro couldn't make anything of it. "I'm sorry bud, you'll have to repeat that."

"Though' yu lef'," Keith said a little louder, the words still slurring together.

Shiro stiffened. "No Keith, I just went to get some help."

"Yu don' hay me?"

Shiro stared down at Keith, his brain struggling to decipher the words, and Keith's brow furrowed.

"Sh'ro? 'o yu?"

The meaning clicked into place. "Keith, no! Why would I hate you?" Shiro exclaimed.

Keith shrugged. "M'pur'le?"

"Keith, when we first found out you were part galra, that didn't change anything between us, okay? And you look more galra now. So what? You're still my younger brother, Keith. I care for you. The colour of your skin won't change that," Shiro said firmly, hugging Keith as tight as he dared. Keith's mouth still twitched into a frown.

"Bu' I kill-"

"No. It wasn't your fault, okay?" Shiro interjected, "Don't worry, Matt and I are sorting it out."

Keith let out a small hum before letting his head rest again, exhaustion clear in his eyes.

"M'tir'd," he complained.

"I know, Keith. But you can't sleep, okay?" Shiro urged, "Stay with me, bud."

"'Kay," Keith mumbled, and Shiro resumed stroking his head. Please, Lance, hurry up.

 

Krolia checked over the medical supplies again, her brow furrowing.

"Nothing? We have nothing to cure quintessence poisoning?" she growled.

Valta, one of the Blade's best doctors, merely raised an eyebrow. "Our supplies have been heavily depleted due to our forces being largely scattered and killed. What did you expect?"

Krolia sighed, running a hand through her hair. "I don't know. Something more, I guess. I... I really want to help Keith."

"I know you do. But Keith's a survivor. Trust me, I've seen him with all sorts of injuries. The kit isn't a quitter," Valta recounted with a slight smirk.

Krolia opened her mouth to respond, but a sudden flash illuminated the room, making both females yelp in shock, blinking rapidly to clear the spots from their vision. When Krolia's eyes refocused, she gasped at the familiar shapes.

"Lance? Kosmo? What's wrong?"

"Keith's injured," Lance said, his words striking daggers in Krolia's heart, "Shiro said we need a galran doctor."

"Well you've got one here," Valta piped up, "I've treated the kit many times before."

Lance looked her up and down, the former quite difficult considering the doctor's height.

"Okay," the paladin breathed, "I don't know how many Kosmo can take though."

Kosmo whined and nudged Krolia's hand, his eyes telling.

"He can handle the three of us," Krolia deduced, her tone firm. There was no way she'd be left behind when her son was hurt. She gripped Kosmo's smooth fur, Valta grabbing a medical kit before echoing the movement, and with another flash they were in one of the Garrison's kitchens.

Krolia somehow ignored the puddle of blood, her sole focus on the figure cradled in Shiro's arms.

"Keith," she gasped out, running over with Valta hot on her heels.

"Mom," he whispered brokenly, slowly turning his head to look at her. She knelt down and touched his cheek, cold and clammy to touch, the purple skin much paler than she recalled it being.

"What happened?" Valta asked, in her down-to-business doctor's tone.

"Keith was in the vents, for some reason, and he fell through and passed out when Hunk was here. I got a phone call when Keith was seizing," Lance explained, and Krolia looked at her son with horror.

"How long for?" Valta prompted, somehow keeping her voice calm.

"I'm not sure. Hunk didn't count the seconds- ah, ticks. But when it was over, Keith had... Well, that." Lance gestured awkwardly towards Keith's back, and Krolia's eyes widened at the slender tail extending from his spine. It was deep purple in colour, slightly darker than his skin, with a wider, fluffy tip in a soft lilac. The tail moved slightly, its erratic twitches like those of a kit. Which, Krolia supposed, Keith was.

A kit unfamiliar with his tail.

But how? Of course her mother- Keith's grandmother- had a tail, as did her eldest brother, but could something like that skip a generation? Apparently so, she thought dryly, looking at Keith's ears which resembled her father's more than they did her own. Still, at least he had her markings, and the other features he'd retained from his human form.

A loud crackle sounded from the speakers fitted to the kitchen's ceiling, jolting Krolia out of her thoughts.

"Attention all, Prisoner K-Y-K has escaped from the medical bay. All units on high alert. Civilians, do not engage," a woman's cold voice announced.

Shiro and Krolia both looked down at Keith, who frowned, his eyes showing he fully understood what was said.

"Surely they don't mean Keith?" Shiro whispered.

"K-Y-K," Krolia murmured, "Keith Yorak Kogane."

"His middle name is Yorak?" Lance gasped.

"Mom wuz gonna call me tha'," Keith answered for her, his words slurring, then he met her gaze. "Am I... pri'ner?"

"No, kit," she soothed, pulling him closer to her, "You're not a prisoner." She looked up at Valta and whispered in their native Galran, "We need to get him back to the Blades. He is not safe here with these humans, not when they refer to him as such."

"I agree," Valta said in the same language, "The kit has done nothing wrong."

Keith exhaled loudly and leaned back against Shiro, still exhausted from the whole ordeal. Krolia turned to the two humans, adopting English again.

"Prep a transport. We're taking him back to our base, and if any of those humans try to stop us..." her sclera flashed, "there will be blood."

Chapter Text

Keith rested against Shiro, multiple emotions crowding his mind, but he focused solely on the sense of comfort at having some of his closest friends- family, really- there with him. His back still ached, but it was in an odd way, as if there was something stuck to it. Frowning, he tried to move to look, but none of his muscles responded.

Then something fluffy and purple settled in his lap, and he couldn't stop the low screech from escaping his throat.

His mother and Valta both turned from where they'd been discussing, turning back to look at him with alarmed expressions.

"Keith? What is it?" Krolia asked.

"What," was all he managed to say, weakly pointing at the fluffy thing twitching in his lap. The tip of his finger brushed against it, and he hissed as he somehow felt the sensation.

Oh, please, no.

Krolia swallowed, and Valta stepped forward, the doctor's tail swaying rhythmically behind her.

"Kit, that is your tail," she said, and Keith stared at it in disbelief.

"... How?" he squeaked, glancing wearily back at his mother, who very clearly did not have a tail.

"I'm not sure," Krolia confessed, "But once we get you back to base, we might be able to uncover more."

"Mmm," he grunted in response, a sudden weariness settling into his bones again. The fluffy thing- his tail, he'd never get used to that- twitched again of its own account, and then he was moving, cradled in Shiro's strong arms. Usually he would protest, but he was far too exhausted, and he trusted that his mom wouldn't take him back to those horrible doctors.

Though, where was Kolivan?

"Mom?" he whispered, struggling to focus his eyes. She entered his field of vision then.

"Yes, kit?"

"Where's Kolivan?" he asked, the words feeling strange on his tongue.

Krolia frowned, and he wondered if he was slurring again. "I'm not sure, I assumed he helped you get out the room?"

"No, I got out myself," he answered, feeling Shiro stiffen beneath him. Confused, he twisted his head to look at his brother. "What's wrong?"

Shiro stared at him blankly. "Uh, Keith, what are you saying?"

Keith frowned. "I... Am I slurring?" he asked his mom, suddenly feeling more awake.

"No, kit. You're speaking Galran."

"...what?"

"We are conversing in Galran, not Basic, or 'English' as the humans call it," Krolia explained, and Keith gasped, both excited and horrified all at once. He'd secretly been longing to learn the galran language, especially as many of the Blades didn't know Basic, but the language was difficult to grasp, and he hadn't had much time to spare with all his paladin and blade duties. Krolia had taught him a few key phrases when in the quantum abyss, but their focus then had been on getting to know each other, not on his education.

But the fact that he was now conversing in it fluently scared him, because what if he could no longer speak his original language? What if he stopped being able to understand his friends?

"Mom, why can't I stop speaking in this tongue?" he enquired. Her eyes grew even more troubled.

"I don't know, and I'm sorry but you need to be quiet now. Most of the cameras have been disabled, but we have to hurry."

Keith nodded, aware that Lance and Valta weren't currently with them, and that he was currently putting Shiro in danger as well as being horribly vulnerable himself. He glanced around, his vision a little clearer, but was unable to identify their location. Surely they were close to the exit by now? Freedom was so close, he could almost taste it.

Alas, the universe was not quite that kind.

"Stop! Hands in the air!"

 

Pidge tapped furiously on her computer, irritation at Matt concealing a 'secret mission' from her combining with her concern for Keith to form an absolute trainwreck. The stupid nurses hadn't let her and Lance into the medbay since their one and only visit to see Keith, and she was getting restless. Sure, that hadn't been too long ago, but she couldn't shake the feeling in her gut that told her something was wrong.

"Attention all," a woman's voice blared through the overhead speakers, "Prisoner K-Y-K has escaped from the medical bay. All units on high alert. Civilians, do not engage."

Pidge froze, her gaze darting across the room to meet Matt's.

"Keith," they both whispered at the same time. Petty frustrations forgotten, Pidge swiftly pulled on her paladin armour, wasting no time in readying her bayard.

"We've got to find him before they do," she declared firmly, and Matt nodded.

"Searching for his signature now," her brother replied, quickly typing on her laptop. Pidge bounced on her heels, nervous energy making her more jittery than her usual caffeine-fuelled state. After a few painful doboshes, Matt let out a victory 'whoop' and punched the air.

"Got it! He's with Shiro, and a galra, from the looks of it. Lance isn't too far away, he's with another galra- oh, quiznak!" All the initial elation faded.

"What? What is it?" Pidge darted over to look at the screen, but Matt had already closed it, transferring the tracking data to his smartwatch.

"The officers are almost upon them. We've got to go help Keith!" he exclaimed.

Pidge nodded and shoved on her helmet. "Then what are we waiting for? Tell me where to go!"

Matt smirked. "Follow me," he instructed, setting off at a brisk jog that Pidge easily matched, her heart pounding rapidly from exertion and worry.

What if we don't get there in time? What if the guards take Keith, and actually lock him away somewhere?

"Stop! Hands in the air!" she heard an officer yell, and rounded the corner to see a dozen heavily armed humans, all pointing their guns at Krolia and Shiro, the latter of whom was cradling Keith and clearly unable to adhere to the officer's command.

Pidge activated her bayard without a second thought, instantly electrocuting the first two officers, and Matt pulled out a blaster, firing with the stun setting activated. Their sudden appearance spurred Krolia into action, the elegant galra activating Keith's blade and using it to take down the officers closest to them.

"Go! Get Keith away from here!" Pidge exclaimed, ducking to avoid a shot from an officer. Shiro nodded and bolted down the corridors, then Krolia followed at another pointed look from Pidge. She and Matt fought their way through, both pivoting to block the corridor that the others took Keith down.

"You're not going anywhere near my friend," Pidge hissed.

"I understand your loyalty, but he's a murderer," a female officer said coolly.

"Pretty sure we all are," Pidge snarked back, unable to stop the sassy grin that appeared when the officer's eyes widened, "Well, we have been fighting in an intergalactic war for years. Plenty of casualties. But we've also saved billions of lives, including those of most people on this planet. Keith led us to victory. He has the strongest heart of everyone I know, and I won't have you treat him like a damn criminal."

"But he's part galra," another officer protested.

"So?" Matt responded, "Being galra doesn't make you evil, like being human doesn't make you good. It's not just black and white."

"And Keith is anything but evil," Pidge affirmed, standing her ground. She glanced over at Matt's  wristwatch, noting that Keith was now safely outside, and barely suppressed a grin. Stupid officers.

The ones they'd stunned were starting to wake up, groaning and clutching their heads.

"I'm sorry, Miss, but we have our orders," the lead officer said, stepping forwards. Pidge gripped her bayard tighter.

"And I have mine. You are not getting past- aahhh!" She cried out as stun-shot hit her stomach, sending a surge through her body before her eyes dimmed and her legs gave way.

The last thing she saw was Matt collapsing beside her, and the officers racing past.

Chapter Text

Lance paced up and down by Veronica's car, nervously waiting for Shiro, Keith, and Krolia. The scary galran doctor glared at him, one hand on her hip, the other stroking Kosmo's soft fur.

"Stop pacing, and get the vehicle ready," she commanded, and Lance sighed, but obeyed, jumping into the driver's seat. He'd passed his test only a month before swept up into space, and hadn't driven anything since- but he was a pilot, so compared to that, a car was nothing. Right?

Suddenly there was a flash, and Kosmo disappeared , only to reappear a second later on the backseat with Shiro, Krolia, and Keith, the latter unconscious in the former's arms. The doctor leapt into the seat beside Lance, practically screaming at him to go, and he hit the gas, almost stalling in his hurry.

The car screamed down the damaged road, the suspension taking a beating with the uneven ground, but Lance didn't slow, only half-aware of where they were going, his only focus on that they had to get away from the Garrison.

"How is the kit?" the doctor asked, over the roar of the engine.

"He's sleeping now, but you need to check his brain. He started speaking in galran, and was completely unaware of that," Krolia answered softly, and Lance's chest tightened. These changes in Keith... they were more than just physical? What if Keith became entirely like a galra on the inside, too?

Would he recognise them?

Would they recognise him?

Lance pushed those worries from his mind, trying to focus more on the road, though that was increasingly difficult with the fear pulsing through him, threatening to clamp its twisted hands around his neck.

Keith is going to be fine.

How he wished he could believe that.

 

Keith opened his eyes groggily, blinking as he found himself staring at a familiar blue face. "Acxa?" he whispered, his voice still sounding wrong.

"Valta, he's awake," Acxa called out, then turned back to look at him. "How are you feeling?"

"Sore," he admitted, "My throat hurts, so does my back."

Acxa's brow furrowed just as Valta approached. "Does he know...?"

The doctor simply shook her head, and Acxa's eyes grew unreadable. "Rest up, Keith," she said, before leaving, and Valta took her place.

"What's going on? What don't I know?" Keith asked.

"You're still speaking in galran," she sighed, and Keith froze, hands flying to his mouth. "No," he breathed, "How? Why? I... I won't be able to speak to my friends like this, you have to fix this, please," he cried, and Valta ducked her head, avoiding his gaze.

"You need rest," she said, pushing gently on his shoulders, and it was only then that Keith realised he'd sat upright.

"No," he protested, hating how the word sounded wrong on his tongue.

"I have a temporary solution whilst we try and work this out, okay?"

Keith frowned at her. "What is it?"

Valta turned to the counter beside her, and picked up a small metallic chip. "It's a translator, but it works a little differently to the ones your Blade and paladin armours have. Instead of translating what you hear, it translates what you say, so that your friends will still be able to understand you," she explained, "You can still understand me, yes?"

He nodded.

"Good," she smiled, "I am speaking English, you see. Now," her voice adopted a slightly gruffer tone, and Keith realised she'd switched languages, "You just need to place the chip in your mouth, usually fixed to a tooth, and it will work until we can source the issue, okay?"

Keith stared at the metallic chip, his fists curling, claws digging into his palms as a strange feeling gathered within him, but he nodded all the same. "Okay," he answered, uncurling one hand long enough to take the chip and press it against one of his molars, all of which were now sharper than they used to be. It clipped into place, and when he pushed his tongue against it, it did not move, so the small fear that he'd accidentally swallow it was quickly gone.

"How do I know if it works?" he asked, and the words still tasted wrong, but they sounded right, and Valta grinned.

"It works," she confirmed, "Now, you need to get some more rest, okay? Your friends went back to the Garrison, and your mother has gone to find Kolivan, but you're safe here, I promise."

Keith nodded slowly, ignoring the pain in his chest that everyone had left him. "Tell me when they're back?" he asked, barely able to keep the emotion from creeping into his tone.

Valta nodded. "Of course," she smiled, then the door closed, and he was alone.

He sighed and sank back into the pillows, then jumped as something fluffy brushed against his hand.

Oh. My tail.

He was never going to get used to it.

His eyes darted across the room, setting on a small piece of paper caught in the window. Ignoring Valta's instructions, he pushed back the blankets and slipped out of bed, shuffling over to the window. A cool breeze slipped through the gaps, and he shuddered, suddenly conscious of the thin, dress-like clothing he was dressed in. It was better than the hospital gown he'd been in at the Garrison, with a closed back and fabric that fell below his knees, though the latter was probably just because he was very short for a galra.

Shivering, Keith took the paper, quickly identifying it to be a letter as he shut the window and shuffled back into bed. He opened it, apprehension churning in his gut, increasing as he stared at the cruelly curved words on the paper.

I have the Holt boy. If you galra scum ever want to see him again, get your wolf. It knows where to go.

You have until sunset, or he dies.

Keith's breath caught in his chest, and he glanced out the window, noticing the darkening of the sky.

"Quiznak," he swore, panic spending his heart into furious palpitations. Somebody had Matt, they were going to kill him, unless he did something about it.

Keith forced himself out of bed again, glad to see his usual jacket, jeans, and boots over in the corner of the room. He slipped the jeans and boots on, ignoring how his head was spinning, and his body felt weak, unbalanced. He wasn't stupid; he was in no state to fight, and whoever wrote the letter knew it.

But he couldn't let them take Pidge's brother, Shiro's friend, his friend.

"Kosmo," Keith whispered, calling in his mind as well, hoping the strange, slightly-telepathic nature of his cosmic wolf would bring him running. Sure enough, there was a flash, and Kosmo appeared, a low whine building in his throat.

"Shh," Keith soothed, grabbing his Blade, "You know where Matt is, right?"

Kosmo nodded, his eyes clouded with concern, as if to say shouldn't you tell someone?

Keith glanced outside to where the sun was beginning to set. "There's no time," he said firmly, "Kosmo, take me to Matt."

Chapter Text

Krolia marched up to Iverson's office, barging right in with a fury. The man jumped and glared at her, startled.

Her eyes narrowed.

"Where is Kolivan?" she half-growled, struggling to keep her tone civil.

Iverson shrugged. "Wasn't he with you and your son?"

"Don't lie to me, Iverson. Where is he?"

Iverson sighed and folded his arms. "We had to take him in to custody. Only temporarily, of course. You can't ignore the fact that your son mur-"

Krolia didn't stop to listen anymore, slamming the door with such a force that it nearly came off the hinges. Now she understood why Keith had punched that quiznaking idiot.

Keith.

Her heart clenched, and more than anything she wanted to be sitting by his bedside, but she had a job to do. She needed to find Kolivan. Besides, Keith was safe. Valta and the other Blades would make sure of that.

She brought up the screen from the device on her watch, quickly scanning for galra lifeforms. Locking onto the target she presumed was Kolivan, Krolia wasted no time, sprinting through the corridors and easily taking out the few officers standing in her way, even though she was physically unarmed. The two stood in front of the door paled when they saw her, exchanging fearful looks.

She played that to her advantage.

"I'll give you once chance to release my friend," she said calmly, clicking her claws together, "Or I stop playing so nice."

The man on the left squeaked and nodded frantically, his companion quickly typing in a code that opened the door. Kolivan sat calmly on a metal stool, but stood as soon as he saw Krolia, his usually impassive face furrowing in concern. She was confused to note that he wasn't even handcuffed, but chose not to dwell on it.

She just had to get Kolivan out.

"Where is your kit?" he asked, once they were safely out of the humans' earshot, both slipping through the corridors of the Garrison with ease.

"Valta is taking care of him," Krolia whispered back, "He grew a tail."

Kolivan winced in sympathy, saying no more as they slipped out the back door of the Garrison to where Shiro was waiting. The man was very worried about her kit- all the paladins were- and they had permitted him a visit, as she knew it would do Keith good. Besides, they needed a getaway driver, and Shiro was happy to cooperate.

Just as they boarded the car, Krolia's wristwatch flashed, demanding immediate attention. She opened the call and was surprised to see Valta's concerned face dominating the hologram.

"Krolia, you need to find Keith. He's gone," the doctor told them, wasting no time in getting straight to the point.

A knife twisted in Krolia's chest. "Gone?" she echoed, noticing how Shiro's knuckles around the steering wheel turned white.

"Yes, and Kosmo too. He took his Blade and his jacket... There's only a note. Something about a guy called Matt?"

Shiro enabled sharply, and the car swerved dangerously, almost coming off the road.

"Matt?" he exclaimed, "What about Matt? Is he okay?"

Valta's eyes narrowed. "I don't know. The note asked for Keith to meet in exchange for Matt."

"Of course he did," Shiro and Krolia muttered in unison. The latter clenched her fists, fear spiking into adrenaline.

"Shiro, change course. We're not going back to the Blades; we're going to find my son," she commanded. Everyone ignored the unspoken before it's too late.

 

The sparks faded, and Keith found himself in a what he guessed had once been an office block, but the walls were blackened and crumbled, a painful reminder of the damage that the galra had brought upon Earth. It was dark, but he could still see clearly, his eyes easily adapting to make up for the loss of light.

Beside him, Kosmo whined, obviously agitated, and for some weird reason Keith was reminded of his encounter with Macidus. Ignoring the ache in his body, he activated his blade, struggling to keep his balance as he edged forward, one hand fisted in Kosmo's fur.

"So you came." The voice was cold, and it came from behind him. Keith spun on his heel, and almost fell over, his newest appendage curling uselessly around his leg in a motion that nearly had him on the floor. A figure stood there- female, he guessed, from the curve of her body- arms folded, a cruel smirk on her face. The features were familiar, but he couldn't quite place them.

"Where's Matt?" Keith asked, extremely thankful for the translator.

"Drop your weapon and step away from the wolf. Then I'll get him," she replied firmly.

"I'll step away from Kosmo and sheath my knife," Keith countered.

The woman's eyes narrowed. "Fine," she hissed, so he did as he'd said, suddenly feeling very exposed without Kosmo pressing against him and the familiar weight of his blade in his hand. She then motioned with her hands, and from the shadows two figures emerged, clad in full-face masks and pale jumpsuits, with a third held between them.

Keith inhaled sharply; that ponytail was unmistakable.

"Matt!" he called out without thinking, taking a few clumsy steps forward.

"Ah-ah," the woman said, "You're not getting him back until we've had a little talk."

A low growl grew in his chest, but he quickly cut it off, ears flattening in embarrassment and fear at the instincts coming to light in him. The woman just laughed, and walked towards him, her features suddenly becoming more clear.

She was one of the nurses who'd seen to him.

Joanne, was it?

"Look at you," she commented, "The leader of Voltron. I expected more than, well, this." She gestured at him and one of the people holding Matt laughed.

Keith's eyes narrowed, but he kept his anger at bay, subtly tapping his fingers against his side in a pattern that he hoped Kosmo would notice and understand. Over and over: get Matt. Leave.

"What is it that you want?" Keith asked sharply, still tapping out the message.

Joanne smiled darkly. "I need something from you," she hissed, then lunged at him. Keith barely ducked out of the way before the sound of a blaster loading reached his flickering ears, and he half-dropped, half-fell to the ground, activating his blade in a manner less fluid than normal. In his peripheral he saw Kosmo run to Matt and teleport him away in a flash, just before something sharp and cold brushed against his face. Yelping in surprise, Keith rolled and stood, bringing his blade up to block the dagger aimed at his face, desperately trying to take in his surroundings. There were eight masked individuals, plus Joanne; an easy fight on a good day, but he was exhausted and injured, still weak from blood loss, and they knew it.

"I'm giving you one chance to surrender," Joanne declared, as Keith stumbled, his tail completely messing up his footing.

"Never," he growled, waiting for Kosmo to return, as he let the adrenaline of the fight take over, fuelling his body to intercept the blades and blasters aimed at him.

But there were just too many.

Two flashes exploded before Keith's eyes, one from Kosmo's re-emergence, another from the fist that had just connected with his face, snapping his head back violently. The blade was pulled from his hands, reverting to its knife form as it landed on the ground, and he was soon to follow. Pain blossomed on the back of his head as something hard smacked into him, pushing him onto his knees, and he couldn't help but cry out as his hands were forcibly pulled together in front of him, metal closing around the wrists.

Kosmo whined, sensing Keith's distress, but he managed to shake his head.

"No, Kosmo, go-!" he choked out, before white lights danced across his vision again, and everything faded away.

Chapter Text

Keith blinked slowly, suddenly becoming aware of the pain in his head, and the throbbing pulsing through his arms. There were masked figures surrounding him - they look like scientists, he thought dimly - and the most recent events came flooding back to him. From the look on Joanne's face, and the proximity of the other humans, he guessed he hadn't been out for long.

"What do you want with me?" Keith asked, his voice cracking as he struggled against the cuffs binding his wrists.

Joanne's expression darkened. "Oh, it's not what I want with you," she purred, caressing his cheek, "Though these samples will useful for my research." In her other hand she waved a collection of glass tubes, each filled with the burgundy blood that Keith knew to be his.

The sickness in his stomach wouldn't relent, and he cringed away from her sadistic caress.

They must want me for tests, they're scientists, I can't let that happen I can't I can't-

Joanne laughed, and he dimly realised that he was hyperventilating, panic charging through his body.

"Oh, you silly. I'm not going to hurt you. That much," she amended almost as an afterthought, "My client doesn't want her new property damaged."

Keith froze, all the blood draining from his face. She... she was going to sell him?

"No," he growled, straining harder against the hands holding him down, turning his fear into anger, because there was no way he was going to let that happen, his friends would come for him, they would come...

"Ah-ah," Joanne chided, "Stop struggling, now. Or I'll take your precious little friend with me."
Keith's eyes narrowed. "You already released Matt," he argued.

"I didn't just take Matthew." She gestured, and Keith's blood ran cold as one of the masked scientists brought forward a small figure sporting a familiar mop of golden-brown hair. Pidge.

"No," he breathed, "No, not Pidge! Let her go!"

The green paladin's eyes were closed, and she was limp in the scientist's grip, clearly drugged. Keith clenched his fists, glaring at Joanne with renewed anger. They could hurt him, he could take it.

But not Pidge. Not Pidge.

She was like a sister to him- and maybe more, not that he'd ever admit it.

"Let her go," he said again, firmer this time, his struggles ceasing.

"Or what? You're in no position to make threats, mutt," she sneered.

Keith grit his teeth. He knew exactly what she wanted, and he'd had no intentions of giving it to her, no matter the pain it cost him.

But if the pain were to come to Pidge instead...

"Fine," he spat, "I'll come with you, just don't hurt Pidge."

Joanne grinned, the expression sending chills down Keith's spine. "Good boy," she murmured, her hand caressing the sensitive tips of his new ears, trailing down the side of his face to trace the mark on his right cheek, and he shivered at the touches, unable to stop a small whimper escaping him.

"Now now, no noises, hmm? Or the girl gets hurt," she threatened, the hand moving down his neck, resting momentarily against his collarbone. Keith prayed it would stay that, but to his horror it continued its descent, slipping down his arm to pull at his now-trembling fingers.

"Look at you, such a beautifully crafted monster. I can see why she wants you," Joanne whispered, her breath warm against his ear, "But I can't have you trying to use those claws on us. As soon as I release the girl, you'll fight back, won't you?"

Keith tried to lie, tried to say no, but other scientists were already moving, the blank masks concealing their faces in a way that was extremely disturbing. His limbs locked up as the handcuffs were removed, tensing in preparation to fight, but before he could move something much heavier was shoved over his hands. He gasped as metal made contact with his fingers, forcing them to curl in, and stared down in horror at the new bonds. They were shaped almost like mittens, round and curved with the end closed, thicker than most cuffs. Panic threaded through him as they clicked in place, weighing his arms down and trapping his fingers in the metal casing, effectively rendering his hands useless. The cuffs were not chained together, but there was no need, as their rounded tips ensured he wouldn't be able to deliver any damage to an opponent. Furthermore, they were so heavy that as soon as the scientists released his hands, he lurched forward, gravity pulling his hands to the floor and making the muscles in his arms scream in protest.

Keith whimpered, his fingers already cramping up. Joanne simply moved forward again and tilted her head, as if surveying her handiwork.

"A little better, but it needs more," she commented sadistically.

"Let Pidge go!" Keith gasped out as her hand settled around his neck.

"Not quite yet, mutt. You're missing a leash."

"No," Keith choked out as a metal collar was clamped on, pressing tight against his skin, and his eyes burned as a short chain was fixed to it, the other end in Joanne's gloved hands.

"Can't have you running away, can I?" she sneered, right in his face.

Keith refused to look at her, his eyes instead locking on Pidge, who was still unconscious and in the scientist's hold. "Please, just let Pidge go," he ground out, fighting to keep his voice from shaking, and losing.

Joanne took a step back, jaw tightening. "Oh, another fault. It's too noisy."

She turned to another masked human, who passed her a contraption, and Keith flinched away when he saw what it was.

Oh gosh oh gosh oh gosh... No, please, not that...

He shook his head, eyes wide, his body paralysed with fear. But before he could muster a scream something hard was shoved in his mouth, pressing down on the bridge of his nose, locking his jaw shut, thick straps securing it to the back of his head...

Keith bent forward as soon as Joanne finished securing the device, his lungs burning as he struggled to breathe enough through his nose, on the verge of a complete meltdown.

They'd muzzled him. Like he was some sort of animal.

He crumpled over entirely, his body shaking, tears streaming down his cheeks as he tried to open his mouth, tried to wriggle his fingers, met with metal and pain at both attempts.

"Perfect," she crooned, then tugged harshly on the chain, momentarily winding Keith as the collar restricted his airway. "Get up, mutt."

He obeyed, every fibre in his body hating that fact, and stood shakily, trying to ignore the pain in his arms from the strain of the added weight.

"Listen to me," she hissed, tugging him closer, "You're a monster, an abomination, a murderer. You shouldn't even exist. And you certainly didn't deserve to walk amongst us, as if you were just a normal human."

Keith was shaking, his tears blurring his vision, and Joanne slapped his cheek, forcing him to focus on her.

"At least you can never deceive us again," she sneered, "Though my son had to pay the price for your revelation. You murdered him."

Keith shook his head, another tear falling. I'm sorry, he wanted to say, I didn't mean to, it was an accident, I never meant to hurt him...

"Yes, yes you did," she snapped, "And you know what murderers deserve? Death. But fortunately for you," the look in her eyes made his stomach churn vigorously, "There's someone who has promised something different."

Joanne started walking then, but Keith dug his heels in, ignoring the pain in his neck as he desperately looked towards Pidge. A low whine made its way out of the muzzle, and he caught his captor's eye, nodding weakly at the green paladin.

"Leave her," the woman huffed, "The others might find her."

Keith was about to protest, but he realised that the other option would be for Pidge to be taken with them- and that wasn't something he wanted. It wasn't as if he could protest anyway, with the humiliating contraption on his face.

Joanne tugged harder then, and Keith stumbled forward, his eyes easily adjusting to the dimming light.

Just another reminder that I'm not human.

His heartbeat sped up as he noticed the vehicle they were leading him towards. It was a small ship, more of a pod, and very clearly galran in design. But how...? Didn't all the galra leave Earth?

Joanne seemed to sense his panic, and revelled in it. "Oh, yes. We decided to return you to your own people, as an exchange. You see, the galra took some prisoners off-planet, but my client has promised their return. All for your pathetic little life. You must mean a lot to her."

The ship drew ever closer, and Keith took one last desperate look around for anything, anyone, that could help him, but he was surrounded by scientists, weakened from the blood loss, and restrained like a savage beast.

There was nothing he could do but pray that his friends found Pidge and noticed his absence soon.

Blinking to clear the tears from his eyes, Keith tried to focus on the galran ship, his throat tightening as he noticed a dozen sentries, and a cloaked figure standing in the centre of them.

"I see you have brought my new pet," the figure said, and Keith froze.

Oh, no. No, no, no, quiznak, no...

He recognised that voice.

Haggar

Captured Keith

Chapter Text

Pidge's eyes fluttered open, greeted with the sight of cold grey walls and her brother lying a couple of metres away. She groaned, a hand fluttering to her abdomen, where the blast had hit her.

Was she... stunned?

"The girl's awake," someone hissed, and Pidge froze, heartbeat pounding faster in her ears.

"Hmm, do we use her instead?" another asked.

"We already mentioned the boy on the letter. She's just for security," the first answered, and Pidge's eyes drifted to Matt's unconscious form.

"Don't hurt him," she growled, the words slurring slightly.

The first speaker bent down, their face concealed by a dark mask. "That all depends on your monstrous leader. Keith, was it?"

Her face paled. "Keith's not a monster!" she protested.

"Oh, that's good to know. He'll probably meet our terms then. If he doesn't then, well, no more Matthew Holt." They said it so casually that Pidge wanted to scream, blood boiling in her veins. They wanted Keith and they were threatening to kill her brother...!

With a yell she launched herself at the person, only to slump forward as something hit her neck- a dart, she thought dimly - and her body completely crumpled as the sedative took effect.

 

When she next awoke, her body was even more sluggish, failing at first to determine that someone was holding her in a rather uncomfortable manner.

Voices drifted over to her next, and she fought the urge to tense up at what the woman was saying.

"You know what murderers deserve?" she purred, "Death. But fortunately for you, there's someone who has promised something different."

Pidge's stomach churned as she tried desperately to figure out who was speaking, who was being spoken to, and what exactly was her part to play in all of this? Her eyes wouldn't yet open and her body didn't fully respond, so she resorted to waiting.

Strong footsteps echoed, accompanied by the sound of dragging feet and rustling chains, signalling that someone was being taken against their will.

Pidge's blood ran cold. Please not Matt, please please please not Matt...

But a low whine made her insides freeze up further, and she swore mentally.

Quiznak, quiznak, quiznak!

There was only one species whose children made that noise; there was only one galra on Earth young enough to do so.

Keith.

The sound of his whine was muffled and with sickening dread she deduced that he was likely muzzled, as no other sounds escaped him.

"Leave her," the woman said then, "The others might find her."

Pidge was dumped on the ground then, barely holding back a cry as the hard landing jolted her left arm. Her captors walked away and, from the sound of chains getting increasingly distant, they took Keith with them.

I have to do something.

Pidge grit her teeth as her limbs finally responded, snapping her eyes open and awkwardly getting to her feet, noting how stiff she felt.

Quickly she activated her communicator, annoyed she hadn't thought to do so sooner.

"Pidge? Are you okay?" Hunk's worried voice filtered through, and she sighed in relief.

"I'm alright, but Keith's not. Some people took him," she said hurriedly.

"What do you mean, took him?"

"I'm not certain, I couldn't see, but it sounded like he was taken captive," she explained rather lamely.

She could almost hear Hunk's frown. "But that's impossible, right? The Blades are super ninjas, you can't sneak into their base-"

"Hunk, I'm not at the Blades," Pidge interjected, "This is somewhere else. Matt and I were knocked out when you were getting Keith out the Garrison, and we both woke up here. Matt's gone now, it's just me."

"Matt's here with me," Lance said, joining the conversation, and Pidge relaxed, relief flooding through her.

But it was only momentary as she remembered that they had Keith.

"How did he get to you?"

"Kosmo," Lance explained, "he just teleported in with Matt. He still hasn't woken up though. We were so confused."

Pidge bit her lip. "Where's Kosmo now?"

A pause. "Not with us," Hunk finally said.

"Alright. I'm sending you my coordinates now," Pidge announced, "If you can, track any ships that leave the Earth, okay? I'll help once I'm back, but honestly I'm not sure how far I am."

Lance whistled. "You're about forty miles out from the Garrison. How did you get there?"

"No clue, I was unconscious. Just come get me?"

"Sure," Lance replied, "I'll get your father to track-" He paused, "Wait, did you say to track ships leaving Earth?"

"Yes."

"But we don't know who took Keith. They might've been humans," Hunk pointed out.

She sighed. "I know, but I just...have this feeling, okay? I don't think his captors intend on keeping him on the planet. Just track anyone leaving!" she exclaimed, frustrated at trying to justify.

"Okay. Just stay where you are, Pidge. Lance is coming to get you."

 

Hunk ended the call with Pidge, his heart pounding in his ears. Someone had Keith. His friend was injured, but he doubted Keith would've gone down without a fight.

How badly was he hurt now?

Hunk desperately wanted to stress-bake, but he really needed to alert someone.

Shiro.

Hunk called him, hands shaking more with every second that Shiro didn't answer.

"Come on, come on," Hunk muttered. Finally Shiro's voice filtered through.

"Hunk? What is it?"

He took a deep breath. "Pidge just called she was kidnapped and so was Matt but Matt's back now and Lance is getting Pidge she says she's fine but that Keith was captured but I thought Keith was at the Blades and Pidge thinks he might be taken off planet and-" He sucked in another breath, half expecting Shiro to reprimand him, but that response never came.

"Quiznak," Shiro swore, "We might be too late... Hunk can you send me Pidge's coordinates?"

"Yes," he answered, doing just that, confused at Shiro's response.

"We're almost there, we have to get there before he's taken away," another person said, and Hunk took a few seconds to recognise the voice. Ah, Keith's mom.

"Wait, you knew Keith was missing?" Hunk exclaimed.

"Yes, one of the Blades alerted us. Stay alert, Hunk. We might need you as backup." Shiro abruptly ended the call, leaving Hunk in a stifling silence.

"Oh no," the yellow paladin whispered, "Keith, buddy, you have to be okay. Don't let anyone take you off planet, please..."

He knew his words were pointless, shared with an empty room, but he couldn't help but hope.

No. Hunk grit his teeth, staring at where his bayard and armour lay. Hope isn't enough.

I need to take action.

Chapter Text

Lance drummed his fingers against the dash, watching anxiously as the miles ticked by at a slower pace than he'd like.

"Can't you go any faster?" he exclaimed.

Veronica sighed, but sped up a little. "It was you who decided to take a car instead of your super-fast, completely awesome mechanical lions," his sister pointed out.

Lance groaned. "The lions are far too obvious! Besides, I can't exactly get to Red easily. They're all holed up in the Garrison, remember?"

Veronica snorted. "Yeah. The mighty lions of Voltron, stopped by a few walls and security codes. Seriously, Lance." She turned to look at him, eyes blazing. "Don't you think you're doing this wrong? From what I've heard, you guys were out in space kicking ass. You come back home and you're letting the authorities walk over you."

"Watch the road!" Lance yelped as they narrowly missed a speed limit sign.

Veronica obeyed but pursed her lips. "Lance, listen. Keith's hurt and now Pidge is hurt, and you're stuck in a car with me because you don't want to offend someone by flying your lion? Seriously? Keith could be taken off planet by a bunch of psychopaths and you're not-"

"I know, I know!" Lance shouted, cutting her off, "I know, we've all been so stupid. I've been so stupid. And now Keith is paying for it," he groaned.

Veronica's brow furrowed. "There's still a chance to save him, Lance, but that's not our job. We've got to get Pidge."

"I know," he said again, suppressing the guilt  building up. Of course Pidge was important to him- she was his sister in all but blood- yet he couldn't help but wish that he was in that car with the Blades.

 

Shiro slammed the pedal to the floor, disregarding all the laws of the road as he sped towards the coordinates they'd been given. Krolia furiously typed code into her wristwatch, trying to create a scanner that could locate Keith. So far, it wasn't working.

"His quintessence has changed," she hissed, "I don't think I can track him, we've got to-"

A sudden flash cut her off, and even Kolivan jumped as Kosmo materialised in the back seat beside him.

"Kosmo!" Krolia exclaimed, "Where's Keith? Can you take us to him?"

Kosmo whined, as if to say not all of you.

"Can you track me?" Krolia asked Kolivan quickly.

He fiddled with the tech on his gauntlet and nodded.

"Good." Krolia grasped Kosmo's fur and with another flash, they were both gone, leaving Shiro and Kolivan in a high speeding car that the former was struggling a little to control.

Kolivan's gauntlet beeped as it received Krolia's signal. "She's not far from the green paladin's location. Setting new course now." The coordinates were transferred to the car's navigation system, a shortcut immediately identified, and Shiro pulled harshly on the wheel to take them down the quicker path, hoping and praying that they would get to Keith in time.

He couldn't stand losing his brother.

 

Keith tensed up as Joanne handed the chain she held over to Haggar, fists clenching within their metal prisons, brows furrowing with all the anger he could muster. Sure, he was exhausted and terrified, but he wouldn't let the witch see that. He couldn't.

"Our deal is complete. Where are the prisoners?" Joanne demanded.

Haggar's lips turned up in a crooked smile. "Over here. Your payment, of course."

Keith could do nothing but watch as some of the sentries parted, allowing a group of two dozen people through, maybe more. He closed his eyes, a tear slipping down his cheek at the realisation that his captivity was the ticket to those people's freedom. It was okay, he told himself, better him than them. At least he wasn't just being taken for a monetary reward.

It didn't make his situation hurt any less.

"Thank you," Joanne said, her tone sincere.

Keith opened his eyes again as Haggar smiled, far too polite.

"I'll make sure this one never bothers you again. The galra are scum that deserve to be wiped from this universe." She pulled harshly on the chain and he stumbled forwards, his tail flickering unsteadily, barely able to keep his footing. Still he glared at her, ignoring the low growl that rose in his throat.

How could she be such a hypocrite? Yes, she wasn't actually galra, but she'd disguised as one for years, and she even had a child with one. Haggar had been a pivotal part of the Empire.

He suspected she was lying just to please Joanne.

As the two continued their small talk, Keith glanced around for any chance of escape. Seeing Haggar again, face to face, only served to reignite his desire to run and get away from them. But his chances were so very slim, exhaustion and the horrible hand cuffs both weighing him down.

He shifted forward slightly, so the chain slackened, then abruptly pulled back, hoping to tear the metal links from Haggar's hand. To his surprise, it actually worked, and he stumbled back, swiftly pivoting and preparing to run.

But the sentries barred his way and Haggar laughed coldly behind him, the sound disappearing only to reappear again with her in front of him.

"Trying to run, are you? There's nowhere to go. Your friends won't come for you, not when they see what I turn you in to." Her hand reached up to touch his face, still clawed despite its altean form, and he recoiled back only to be stopped by a pull on the humiliating chain. A low whine escaped the muzzle and his ears pinned against his head, unable to hide the fear that caused his heartbeat to spike.

It was stupid. He'd faced off against many sentries, many galra, fought battles with seemingly unstoppable foes, and won. But Haggar?

If he was at his full strength and free, he might have a chance. Her very presence smothered the fires within him, replacing them with a fear that was only amplified by his current inability to fight back.

Though he hated to admit it, the whole situation terrified him.

Haggar succeeded in caressing his cheek, her touch lighter than Joanne's, yet colder somehow. He swallowed down the bile rising in his throat, knowing it had nowhere to go.

"The humans did good. It's surprising how motivated by hatred they can be. Of course, you made it easier by killing one of them, but what else could someone expect from a feral half-breed like yourself?" she purred.

Keith's breathing hitched and he shook his head. I'm not feral! he wanted to protest, but the muzzle continued to restrict him.

Haggar's altean eyes gained a horrifying darkness. "Enough delays," she whispered, "I think it's time for you to get acquainted to your new home, don't you?"

She tugged on his chain and started walking up the ramp onto the ship, and in one last act of defiance Keith dug his heels in. Haggar's eyes narrowed and, with a twitch of her fingers, electricity surged down the chain to the collar around his neck, delivering a painful shock that had him falling to his knees, muzzle stopping his screams, struggling to get enough air through his nose.

"Get up," she growled, all the pretenses gone, and he struggled to his feet, fear snaking its tendrils around his throat.

She's taking me she's taking me I can't I can't I can't...

Patience yields focus. The memory of Shiro's voice cut through his internal panic, and he wished with all his being that Shiro would turn up and save him. Or his mom, or Lance, or anyone.

As he crossed over onto Haggar's ship, Keith let out one last desperate mental cry, to someone who'd been silent for weeks that he should never have ignored.

Black, please, I'm sorry. I... I need you. Please. Come to me.

Chapter Text

Krolia ducked down behind a panel on the galran ship, one hand still fisted in Kosmo's fur. The sound of marching sentries greeted her ears, followed by the softer footfalls of a flesh-and-blood being, then the harder sound of someone being pulled against their will.

That must be Keith, Krolia deduced, readying her stolen gun. Now more than ever she wished for her blade- now Keith's blade- but it wasn't with him; in fact, she had no clue where it could be.

All she had to focus on now was getting to her son, before it was too late.

"Come on, mutt," a woman hissed, her cold words followed by the jangling of chains. Krolia peeked out from her hiding place just in time to see the Altean witch - Honerva - walk by, a leash of metal chain held tightly in one twisted hand. On the other end of the chain was a collar secured around her son's neck, and it took all of Krolia's self control to not jump out in that instance. Keith had been muzzled and heavily restrained like a dangerous beast; as his mother, she could not bear the sight. She would've attacked in that moment if it wasn't for the low whine of disapproval from Kosmo, forcing her to properly assess the situation.

Honerva wasn't the only druid on the ship. Krolia couldn't get Keith out on her own.

She could only hope that the others would come quickly.

 

"Excuse me! Excuse me!" Hunk exclaimed, running through the Garrison corridors, "Sorry! Coming through!" As soon as he reached the elevator, he slammed his hand on the level required, panting for breath. No one else was around as he descended, deep into the hangars where the Garrison had insisted they store the Lions.

Well, not for any longer.

Hunk strolled out of the elevator, dressed in his paladin armour, bayard in hand. Yellow's eyes lit up as soon as she saw him, the Lion growling lowly in delight. Yellow was the leg, the strength of Voltron.

The head and arm were hurting; she could not ignore that.

"What are you doing?" someone yelled. Hunk ignored them, continuing on the path to his Lion.

"Come on, buddy," he whispered, and Yellow immediately lowered her head, letting her paladin in.

It has been too long, she rumbled in his mind.

Hunk sat down in the pilot's seat. I know, and I'm sorry. But listen. We have to get to Keith.

Black knows, Yellow told him as she prepared to take off.

"Then why isn't she doing anything?" Hunk exclaimed.

Yellow seemed to shrug, if the conscience of a mechanical lion could even achieve such an action. I don't know. Prepare for flight.

Hunk gripped the controls, unable to stop the grin as Yellow fully came to life, roaring as she flew out of the hangar, speeding towards Pidge's last known location.

Yellow was the slowest of the Lions, but she was still incredibly fast.

And with their friends' lives on the line, she certainly had more reason to pick up speed.

As they flew, Hunk reached out through his bond with Yellow towards the vast consciousness of Black.

Black? Please, listen. Your paladin is in danger. You... We've got to help him. Please. Listen to me!

 

Black sat in the hangar, cold and aloof, feeling empty since her third paladin had started to push away.

She'd lost the first, and nearly the second, if she hadn't made the move to absorb his soul. But now he was gone from her, leaving her colder than she'd ever been. She had tried so hard to connect with Red's former paladin; she did love him, even if he still struggled to bond with her. She thought they'd been starting to get somewhere, after he returned and kicked out the impostor, and they then journeyed to Earth together.

But he'd pulled away from her as well as the rest of his team.

Red was very irritated, Black could sense that, though at what, exactly, she wasn't certain.

Green was in pain, an echo of her paladin's hurt, frustrated that she couldn't go to her. She wanted to break out of the hangar and fly straight to her precious girl, but Blue's soothing calm reminded them all that tearing up the centre of Earth's defences would not be a wise move. It will only make the situation worse, Blue added.

Confusion flooded into Black. What situation? she asked, just as she felt a familiar, red-tinted quintessence brush against her mind.

Black, please, I'm sorry. I... I need you. Please. Come to me, her paladin cried out.

She froze, shock coursing through her. What was happening with her paladin? Why did his quintessence feel... different, tainted?

Another presence touched her mind, much more cautious, full of the heart of Yellow.

Black? Please, listen. Your paladin is in danger, the yellow paladin urged, You... We've got to help him. Please. Listen to me!

Yellow was speeding towards a target with a passion that Black didn't realise her sister possessed, stemming from her paladin's pure heart. Black cast out her own mind, reaching past Yellow to meet with the consciousness of her own paladin.

He was in pain, so much pain, and guilt and shame and self-hatred.

Black growled, furious. How had she not seen it? How did she not know that her paladin was in danger?

What sorcery had torn them apart?

Another desperate plea reached her and Black roared as she finally reconnected with her paladin, their quintessence surging together, allowing her to reach into the abyss of his mind.

He had forgotten who he was. Fear had crept in, partly caused by his return to Earth, and the attack had only served to amplify that fear.

His quintessence had changed; he was forgetting himself.

Black knew she had to remind him.

 

Keith gasped as he felt the presence of his Lion, charging into his mind and tearing through it with such destruction that he cried out, the sound muffled, barely able to keep himself from falling.

MY PALADIN, Black roared, her fury cutting into him, Remember who you are!

I know who I am, he responded in confusion.

No, she growled, You have forgotten.

Her presence darted through his head, picking up memories and opening them with no restraint. He drifted automatically towards the hurts: his father wasn't coming home, the foster family could never be called family, they hurt him, the kids at school beat him up, he was a failure, he'd never amount to anything, even when he thought he had family he still managed to lose them...

NO! Black shoved him away from those and into another cluster. Meeting Red, the admiration she felt for the kit... His fighting spirit, so in tune with Red's quintessence... The potential that both Black and Shiro could see in him... His determination to never give up... His strength in re-discovering his identity... The leadership qualities that Black loved... The selfless, sacrificial heart beating in his chest...

"Stop," Keith whimpered, the words unable to leave his mouth, but the noise brought Haggar's attention back to him. She pulled so hard on the chain that he lost his balance, falling hard on the ground, wincing as his barely-healed nose slammed into the cold metal.

"Pathetic," the witch hissed, "Take him to my chambers."

Keith blearily raised his head in time to see two more druids step forward, each taking an arm, roughly in their clawed hands.

I am pathetic, I can't fight, she's got me and I can't I can't I can't-

PALADIN, Black screamed, YOU ARE MY PALADIN! STRONG! LEADER! REMEMBER WHO YOU ARE!

Her last words shattered his mind, and he fell into the darkness.