Keith sighed, again, and glared at Shiro when he put a sympathetic hand on his shoulder, the effect of which was somewhat dampened by the amused smile on the older man's face.
"Only a couple more hours, Keith," Shiro said quietly, "then you can go beat up the training bots to your heart's content." Keith only grunted, and rolled his eyes as he watched Lance clumsily flirt with an alien couple across the room.
"At this rate we'll probably get kicked out," he replied to Shiro, gesturing at the Blue Paladin and smirking when he heard Shiro's bemused sigh. "How much has Lance had to drink at this point?"
"Too much," Shiro answered. "Definitely too much."
"Oh, yeah," Pidge piped up as she slumped into a chair beside them, Hunk close behind her with a plate of food in his hand. "I'm pretty sure Lance started drinking before we even landed for the party. He's pretty wasted at this point."
"Shouln' we stop 'im?" Hunk asked around a mouthful of the strange pastries piled on his plate. Keith took one for himself, curiosity getting the better of him. It tasted rather like cinnamon.
"Yeah," Shiro said slowly, as Lance reached for one of the alien's hands and clasped it between his own. "Yeah, we really should." Pidge snorted as they watched Shiro approach their drunken teammate and gently coax him away from the couple, who seemed just as amused at Lance's antics as they were. Shiro led Lance over to the food table, and ignored his animated whining as he forced pastries and water into his hands.
"Serves him right for breaking into Coran's liquor stash," Pidge said.
"I didn't even realise Coran has a liquor stash," Hunk said, handing Keith the last pastry and setting the empty plate aside on the table next to them. "Just think of all the ways to use alcohol in cooking. So many missed opportunities..."
Keith sighed again, and looked around at the party around him. How did he ever end up here? In space, fighting a war, a guest of honour at some alien peace treaty celebration? Sometimes the strangeness of his life now, in comparison with only a year ago, struck him suddenly, and he would wonder again just how it had all happened.
"Keith?" He lifted his head from where it had been cradled in his palm, and looked up to see Pidge and Hunk looking at him expectantly. He blinked.
"Uh, what?" Pidge snorted again.
"We were asking if you wanted to get some more food? Maybe a drink?" Keith barely managed to stop himself from frowning.
"No, thanks. I, uh, I don't really drink," Hunk's eyebrows rose sharply at that, and Pidge examined him thoughtfullly. "What?"
"No-nothing," Hunk said quickly, raising his hands in a placating gesture. "Just, uh, kinda surprised." Keith folded his arms and frowned at him.
"What, do I come across as a heavy drinker to you, or something?" Hunk only looked confused.
"No, you don't. I don't know why I'm so surprised actually..." Then a glint came into his eyes that Keith was growing quite familiar with, and he wearily prepared himself. "Is it a Galra thing?"
"No, Hunk. It's not a damn Galra thing-"
"Well," said Pidge in a thoughtful voice, and Keith frowned at her because seriously? He had expected better from her, at least. "Maybe it is, though. Maybe your taste buds react differently to alcohol than normal humans, and that's why-"
"I never said I didn't like the taste. I just said I don't drink. It's my choice, it's not because I'm-" he stopped. He couldn't even say it.
"If you say so," Hunk said, though he seemed unconvinced. Keith sighed again and stood.
"Whatever," Keith said, not liking the pensive look on Pidge's face. "I'm going to find a toilet. There's bound to be one somewhere in this place."
"I'm pretty sure I heard someone say there was one on the second floor," Hunk said, slightly wide-eyed at the conversation's turn. "Hey-"
"I'll catch up with you guys again later." Keith walked away before anything else could be said. Side-stepping several rather tipsy aliens and ignoring what he was pretty sure was Shiro calling on him, Keith finally made it into one of the long corridors. He took a moment to breathe, to take in the relative quiet and the lack of people, to try to expel Hunk and Pidge from his mind, before setting off in search of some stairs.
He absolutely did not get lost, and after only ten minutes or so he found it; a large, elaborate staircase in a large, elaborate hall, full of doors likely leading to more large, elaborate rooms. Keith sighed, feeling distinctly out of place, and began to climb.
It took him just as long to find the actual toilet, and by the time he did he was just about ready to burst. He was washing his hands with some rather strongly perfumed soap when a sharp knock came at the door. Keith barely managed to bite back the sharp retort on the tip of his tongue.
"Yeah, just a sec- uh, just a tick." Whoever was outside knocked again, harder, and Keith growled quietly as he wiped his hands dry on his trousers. "Yeah, okay-"
He unlocked the door, and jumped back as it swung open forcefully. A group of three aliens crowded in quickly, forcing Keith to back up until he was pressed against the sink. He took only a short second to recover from his shock, then clenched his fists, raising them slightly. He made towards the door, and one of the aliens moved in front of him.
"Excuse me," Keith said through gritted teeth. He tried push past, but the alien placed a hand on his chest and pushed roughly. Keith grabbed his wrist and twisted it, pushing back against the alien, who let out a quiet grunt of pain and began to raise his other hand to strike. He didn't need to, however, as the other two took advantage of Keith's preoccupation and quickly grabbed his other arm, pried the hand twisting the alien's wrist away and folded his arms painfully behind his back.
"What the hell?" Keith growled angrily, Allura's stern warnings to stay out of trouble ringing loudly through his head. "What do you want? Why are you-"
"Where are they?" Keith shook his head in confusion at the alien's quiet question. "Where are the Galra?"
"Wha - what Galra? What are you even talking about?" He received a punch in the face, and, blinking away stars, began struggling against the steel grip on his arms. He kicked his feet out, and his legs were kicked out from under him in return. His knees connected painfully with the hard floor, and the alien in front of him crouched down.
"Where are the Galra?" He asked again, in that same quiet voice. Calm, eerily calm. Keith began to feel uneasy, and, not for the first time, silently cursed Allura's firm 'no weapons at parties' policy.
"Look," he growled, glaring at the man in front of him. "Clearly, there's been some kind of misunderstanding on your part. I'm not with the Galra, I'm with Voltron. I'm a Paladin of Voltron. I'm on your side-"
"We do not side with Galra. Not even a mere half-breed." Keith swallowed thickly.
"Th-that's not - I'm not-" The alien smirked cruelly, the first emotion Keith had seen from him, and stood. He moved to the large bathtub by the wall, and turned on the tap. Kieth shifted uneasily as the sound of running water filled the silence. "Look," he tried again as the alien removed his coat, "I am a half-breed, okay? That's true. But I'm not with the Galra. I didn't even know I was a half-breed until a few movements ago." The alien was rolling up his sleeves, and paying Keith no attention. "I'm telling you, you've got the wrong idea." The alien crouched again in front of him, still sporting that unsettling smirk, and placed his hand on Keith's head, twisting his fingers through his hair.
"I'm afraid I just don't believe you."
That was all the warning Keith got before the grip on his hair tightened painfully, and his head was yanked down forcefully. His face connected with the alien's knee, and Keith heard more than felt his nose break, the crack loud and nauseating. Blood filled his mouth and spilled over his chin, and he was still struggling to swallow it down without choking as he was dragged in front of the bathtub. He was given no time to take a breath before his head was forced down into icy water. The cold of it shocked him, left him dazed for a short moment, then he was thrashing.
The water was shallow enough that he was able to turn his head and draw a quick breath, but he knew that soon it wouldn't be, and the hold on his hair was merciless. He couldn't get free. He tried to kick out behind him, tried to shake off the unyielding holds on his arms, but it was useless. Whoever these people were, they were strong, stronger than Keith, in terms of strength. If he had had his knife with him they wouldn't stand a chance. But he didn't have it. He didn't have any weapons. It was his physical strength against theirs, and he was losing. It was as he fully realised this that true panic began to set in. His head was pulled up, and he coughed wetly.
"Anything to say?" Keith looked at his interrogator where he was crouched next to him, face blank again, watching him closely. Keith swallowed a mouthful of blood and bathwater.
"The other Paladins will-" He was pushed down again, the alien moving faster than Keith could keep track of. His broken nose hit painfully against the bottom of the tub, and Keith couldn't stop himself from crying out. Water filled his mouth, and he choked - and kept choking, and choking, and choking. He was panicking now - he wasn't being pulled up, he couldn't breathe, the icy water was sending spikes of pain through his skull, he could feel the water rushing up his nose and down his throat - his chest was aching - he was drowning -
He couldn't breathe even when he was brought back up, coughing and weakly thrashing. He was allowed a few seconds of painful hacking, and when he was finally, finally able to draw one short, raspy breath, the hand in his hair pulled until his head was tilted back, his neck straining at the unnatural angle. He squinted his eyes against the harsh white light above him and the incessant pounding in his head.
"Wh-wh-" he was shaking, whether from the cold of the water or the terror coursing through him or a mixture of both, he couldn't tell. "What m-makes you think - that the G-Galra are here anyw-way?"
"Why wouldn't they be?" Was the reply. Keith was aware of the alien's face next to his again, always too close, always too expressionless. He swallowed again, the taste of blood making him nauseous. "This is a peace treaty. The most powerful people on the planet are here, and even the mighty Voltron has its guard lowered. And then, of course, there's you." A sharp tug accompanied the word, spat out with sudden venom, and Keith grunted as his neck popped. "This is the perfect opportunity for you and your kind to infiltrate us, to attack us, to destroy us. Did you really think we would let you? That we wouldn't stop you? That we wouldn't even suspect anything?" The alien was also trembling, Keith could feel it. And with every word he spoke his calm mask was slipping further, revealing the fury and loathing and utter lack of reason underneath it all.
God, I'm so screwed, was Keith's first thought through the haze of pain and fear. His next was, I really fucking hate these parties.
Pidge was getting concerned. It had been almost half an hour since Keith had abruptly excused himself and left in search of a restroom, and while Pidge had expected him to take a while - she had gotten lost twice in her own search earlier - she hadn't quite anticipated this.
"Do you think we should go look for him?" She asked Hunk, who was looking rather concerned himself. He bit his lip.
"Maybe," he said, uncertainty plain in his voice. "I don't know. Maybe he's just avoiding us. I think we kinda made him uncomfortable, earlier."
"Yeah," Pidge agreed reluctantly, "but I still have a bad feeling. Usually he'd go to Shiro when he's feeling nervous or whatever, but Shiro's still over there making sure Lance doesn't swallow his own tongue."
"Well, maybe we should let Shiro know, then," Hunk suggested, shrugging.
"Yeah," Pidge nodded, already standing. "Yeah, that's a good plan." They made their way over to the table where Shiro was seated with a now barely conscious Lance. He greeted them with a fondly exasperated eye-roll.
"Whatever you do, don't let Allura see him like this," he warned them, jerking his head in Lance's direction. "She'll lose it."
Hunk snorted, "We'll help you with your Lance problem if you help us with our Keith problem." Shiro sobered up immediately at that, and Hunk quickly elaborated. "He - uh, we think we made him a bit uncomfortable earlier. We offered him a drink and he told us he doesn't drink and we were a bit surprised and asked him if it was a Galra thing and he ran off and he hasn't come back." Shiro furrowed his brow, and his expression turned dangerous for a brief moment before worry crept in and set up camp.
"That was over half an hour ago," Pidge helpfully provided, and felt a bit more justified in her unease when Shiro stood and his eyes quickly began scanning the crowd.
"Did Keith say where he was going?" He asked them, in a hard tone similar to the one he used on missions.
"Uh, just to the toilet," Hunk said, becoming nervous himself.
"It's quite difficult to find," Pidge explained, "but it still shouldn't have taken him this long. We just - figured he would've come back by now, normally." Shiro nodded, and brought his gaze back to them.
"Pidge, you know where the toilets are?" She nodded. "Okay, take me there. I have a bad feeling about this. Hunk, would you mind watching Lance?"
"Yeah. Yeah, sure. Of course."
"Thank you. Remember what I said about Allura. We'll let you know if something is up. Be prepared." And with that, he was on the move. Pidge followed him at a jog, shoving through the crowd until they were in the corridor. Pidge led him quickly down the passageways and up the stairs until, only a few minutes later, they were standing at the door to the toilet. Shiro didn't waste another second before knocking sharply.
There was a grunt, and then, "Occupied." Shiro and Pidge shared a look, frowning at each other. Shiro knocked again.
"Could you open the door, please? We just want to ask you a couple of questions about... something..." Shiro trailed off as more muffled sounds came from inside - and Pidge had been doing this Paladin thing long enough by now to recognise the sounds of a struggle. She tried the handle and found it locked. She looked at Shiro and waited for him to nod before getting to work, pulling one of the hair pins holing her hair back - Allura had relentlessly pestered her until she'd agreed to use them - and inserting it into the lock mechanism.
She had never thought she would be so grateful to Matt for teaching her how to pick locks the old fashioned way.
It only took her a few seconds to unlock the door, but those few seconds still seemed far too many when Shiro pushed it open to reveal the scene inside. Keith was still struggling, despite the blood dripping from his obviously broken nose and the water - freezing, if the bluish tinge to his lips was anything to go by - plastering his hair to his skull. The aliens holding him were relentless, though, holding him tightly and even now trying to force his head back towards the bathtub. There was another alien crouched next to them, watching it all with a vaguely interested look on his face, similar to the face Lance wore when he watched Hunk cook.
None of them had noticed the two Paladins break into the room, and it was perhaps that alone that allowed Shiro to quickly incapacitate the crouching one, delivering a sharp blow to the back of his head with his mechanical arm that sent him sprawling, unconscious. The other two spun around at that, shock barely registering on their faces before Shiro was on them, as well. Pidge would have gladly joined in, if Keith hadn't slumped limply to the ground, the fight leaving him immediately upon being released. She made straight for him, sidestepping Shiro as he dragged the other two assholes out into the corridor. She hissed as she knelt in front of Keith, taking in his condition.
He was shaking, badly. She laid a hand on his shoulder, wincing as her suspicions about the cold water were confirmed, and immediately removed it when he flinched harshly away from the contact. She swallowed thickly.
"Keith?" He breathing was ragged, too shallow and too quick, and Pidge had to stop herself from reaching out to him again. She had helped people through panic attacks before, but that had been the likes of Hunk and Matt, two of the most physically affectionate people she knew. She was used to hugging, and rubbing shoulders, and holding hands. Confronted with this, with Keith's absolute avoidance of touch, Pidge wasn't sure what the right move was. She didn't have long to have to figure it out, as Shiro quickly made his reappearance, barely a hair out of place but his face full of barely contained rage. Pidge quickly shuffled back and let him take her place in front of the Red Paladin.
"Keith," Shiro said, in a voice so soft, so contradictory to the harsh expression he wore, that if they were in any other situation Pidge might have laughed. As it was, she only felt the stinging behind her eyes intensify. "Keith, hey. It's me, it's Shiro." Keith looked up, wide, red-rimmed eyes peering at them from under his dripping bangs. Pidge saw Shiro try to smile. "I took care of them, okay? They're gone. You're safe. Pidge," she jolted as she was suddenly addressed, Shiro still not turning away from Keith, "contact the others and let them know what happened. Tell Allura that I'm taking Keith back to the Castle. And tell her that it's not up for debate."
"R-right." Pidge stepped outside, ignoring the two bodies lying in bloody heaps at either side of the door. She tried not to notice if they were alive or not. If they were still alive, she might just be tempted to kill them herself. She took a moment to listen to Shiro's quiet, soothing voice drifting into the corridor from behind her, and only when she heard Keith reply, hoarsely and shakily, did she pull her communicator out from her pocket with trembling fingers.
"Hunk," she whispered when he picked up.
"Pidge, hey - shut up, Lance. Hey, did you guys find Keith?" Pidge could feel the tears coming on strong, and swallowed thickly around the painful lump in her throat. Her voice shook when she spoke.
"Y-yeah. Yeah, we found him."
"Pidge? What's wrong? I-is Keith-"
"He was attacked. T-tell Allura - tell her Shi- we're taking him back to the Castle. Not up for debate."
"Whoa, whoa, whoa, wait. What? Hold up, Keith was attacked? Is he okay? Pidge, what the hell-"
"Hunk, please. Just - let Allura know. Keith is - he's really shaken up, but I don't think he'll need a pod or anything. Just - we're taking him back, so tell Allura, okay? I promise I'll fill you in on everything when you guys get back."
"I - yeah. Yeah, okay. Just - tell him..."
"Yeah. I know." Pidge hung up, and took a steadying breath before heading back into the small room where Shiro was still crouched in front of Keith, slowly but surely talking him down from his panic. Keith flinched when Pidge reappeared, and she almost walked right back out again, but Shiro reached his arm out towards her and she crouched down next to him to take his hand.
"I told Hunk to tell the others we're heading back to the Castle and that we'll explain everything when we see them."
"Thank you, Pidge," Shiro replied, squeezing her hand gently and then releasing it in favour of reaching out slowly to grip Keith's shoulders. "Keith, did you hear that? Let's get you back to the Castle, okay? Back home." It took a few long seconds for Keith to nod his head, with the air of someone who doesn't really know what they were nodding to, and allow Shiro to gently pull him up until they were standing. Keith swayed slightly, blood still dripping from his chin and breath sounding raspy in his throat. Pidge hesitantly made her way to his side and put his arm around her shoulders. She told herself that his shaking was due to the cold water and not any residual terror he was sure to be feeling.
They made their way out of the bathroom and back through the winding corridors of the mansion they were in. Shiro was on edge, and quickened their pace as much as he could manage without over-exerting Keith. They were by the entrance in hardly any time at all, and were just about to leave when Coran's voice rang through the room.
"There you are! Paladins!" Shiro growled slightly, as he turned towards the harried looking advisor.
"Coran, we're taking Keith back to the Castle, okay? The treaty can wait-"
"That's what I want to clarify, before you all head back," Coran interjected smoothly, face solemn as he looked at the Red Paladin. "I want to know if there should even be a peace treaty at all, after this. Keith, my boy, I know that this must have been a somewhat traumatising experience for you. But if you could possibly tell us what the motivation was-"
"They-" Keith's raspy voice drew both Coran and Shiro up short, and they all turned to look at him. He coughed painfully before he could continue. "They knew I was G-Galra. Thought I was a spy, sent to attack the party. I - I think they were acting alone, hoping to win some favour by catching me before anyone else. I don't think anyone else knew." He kept his eyes trained on the floor, and Pidge squeezed his hand tightly where it was hanging over her shoulder. Coran grit his teeth, and he and Shiro shared a tense look.
"I see," he finally said. "Well, I'll let Allura know. I'm sure there's going to be a lot to discuss. Go home and rest, lad." He shared one last look with Shiro, gave Pidge a quick smile, then turned and hurried back towards the room where the festivities were continuing, everyone completely unaware of the events that had transpired.
Pidge felt Keith start to turn, and the three of them continued on their way, eager to get out of there.
When they got back, Keith pulled away from both of them and, without another word, retreated to his room. Pidge watched Shiro hesitate several times before finally following him, quietly asking Pidge to prepare some tea. Pidge had nodded mutely, and then she was left alone.
She was in the kitchen now, three cups of the strange, alien tea that Hunk had found at a marketplace a few weeks ago cooling on the table in front of her. Neither Keith nor Shiro had made another reappearance, though she hadn't really expected them to. She had been content to wait here, for Keith to calm down enough to come and talk to both of them about whatever the fuck had happened. But she was wondering now if he would come to her, even if he was feeling better. Keith had never been particularly forthcoming, and Pidge somewhat shared his introversion. But the more she thought about it, the more she realised just how much he had retreated into himself in the past few weeks.
The past few weeks since he had found out and shared the truth about his Galra heritage.
Pidge blinked past the stinging in her eyes as she thought about it, guilt making her stomach churn. She had been aware, on some subconscious level, of how they had been acting - all of them, herself included. All of Keith's so-called 'friends'. All of them, except Shiro, had taken a metaphorical step back from Keith when they had learned the truth. She knew that it couldn't be helped - they were fighting a war against the Galra, Allura and Coran had lost everything to them, Pidge's own family was...
It only made sense that there would have to be some sort of adjustment period after finding out the truth. But the more she thought about it, the more she realised how unfair they had been treating Keith - all the 'Galra Keith' jokes that first Hunk, and then Lance had been making; the uneasiness that Pidge felt whenever she was alone with him, that prompted her to find some kind of excuse to leave; the nervousness of Coran and the outright cruelty from Allura. All of it. All of them, they had been so harsh to Keith lately, and over something that they all knew was out of his control.
"Fuck," Pidge whispered, pressing the heels of her hands into her eyes. She stood from the table and started to make her way to Keith's room. She didn't know if Keith would welcome her company, wouldn't blame him if he wanted nothing to do with her - but she also knew that she needed to apologise, now, or she would never forgive herself. She stopped when she was standing outside his door, and knocked quietly. She waited, and after a few moments raised her hand to knock again, then the door opened. Shiro stood in front of her, looking pale and drawn. He gave her a weary smile.
"Shiro, can I - can I see him? Please?" He hesitated, and turned to look over his shoulder. She guessed that Keith must have signaled to him or something, as a moment later he stepped back to let her through.
She squinted slightly at the dim lighting in the room, and after a few seconds could make out Keith sitting on the edge of his bed. He had changed out of the uncomfortable formal-wear that Allura had insisted on them all wearing, and had donned his usual t-shirt and jeans instead, his fingerless gloves back where they belonged. He had some colour back in his cheeks, and his hair was drawn back from his face in a messy bun that took her by surprise. It seemed that Shiro had applied traditional first aid, as his nose was bandaged. His eyes were bruised and bloodshot.
"Hey," he said, quiet and hoarse.
"Hey," she whispered back, "I, uh, made tea. But it's pretty cold by now, so... I guess Hunk'll make some more when they all get back."
"I'm sure his will taste better, too," Shiro teased from behind her, and she turned to glare at him. Keith huffed a small laugh, though, so she guessed she could let him off with it.
"Keith," she began, turning back to him. He stiffened at her tone, she small smile Shiro had achieved sliding off his face in an instant. "Are you okay?" He blinked.
"Uh, yeah. Yeah I - I will be. It was just... unexpected." Pidge hummed and nodded. She took a small step forward, and stopped herself when she saw Keith tense.
"Keith, I - I want to apologise."
"Wh-what? What for?" She looked away from his bruised and confused face, and began fiddling with the cuffs on her coat sleeve.
"I - we've all been - we've been shitty friends. To you. Recently. The whole Galra thing-"
"- it's out of your control, and we know that, but we've still been so-"
"No, Keith. We've been terrible, just admit it. We just - we learned that you were part Galra and we immediately made assumptions and we - hell, that's racism. We were being racist. We've been horrible to you, Keith. We've been no better than the assholes who attacked you-"
"Pidge, seriously, stop," Keith had stood at some point, hands clenched at his side, a pained look on his face. He was glaring at her now, eyes full of a complicated mixture of emotions that Pidge couldn't quite identify. "Look, this - this whole Galra thing is - it's been hard. For me, and you - for everyone. I knew that it would take a lot of getting used to - for you and Allura and Coran most of all. I - it has been pretty shitty, I won't deny that. But - I can tell you've been trying. Some of you more than others, sure, but... for now, it's enough."
"It's not enough, Keith. It's nowhere near enough."
"You're here apologising," he said, looking at her with strange, misplaced gratitude in his eyes, "and for me, that is enough. It's far more than most people have ever done for me. So don't worry about it, Pidge. Seriously. Just - it'll take time. For me, too."
"Pidge is right, though, Keith," Shiro said. Pidge jumped slightly when he put his hand on her shoulder, as she had almost forgotten he was there. "The way that everyone has been acting, Allura particularly, has been unacceptable. You're right, too," he continued quickly when Keith opened his mouth to protest further, "this is going to take time. And there was no way that everyone was going to come to terms with it immediately. But like Pidge said, that doesn't excuse the way the team has been acting. I - I'm sorry, too. For not stepping in sooner." Keith shook his head helplessly, looking lost. They fell silent for a moment, the air heavy with fear and regret and relief.
"This kind of thing," Kieth said, so quietly he was almost whispering, "it's going to keep happening, isn't it?"
"No," Pidge said forcefully. Keith's eyes widened slightly at the ferocity in her tone. "It won't happen again, Keith. We aren't going to let it happen again. I promise. We're going to do better, as a team. As your friends."
She felt Shiro squeeze her shoulder, and when she looked at him found him smiling warmly. When she turned back to Keith, he was searching her face for any trace of a lie. She set her jaw and stared back at him, unwavering. And when he smiled at her, she took it as a victory.