Keith jumped off the cliff.
He jumped off the cliff without his jetpack, which was currently back on the Castle being repaired. He flung himself out into the deep, dark abyss with no way of saving himself from a messy, splattered end.
Lance might have cussed in three different languages — English, Spanish, Bi-Boh — before he launched himself after Keith, but he wasn’t aware of what his mouth was spitting out.
All he recognized was the all-consuming panic coursing through his veins. This feeling was sadly, irritatingly familiar because the Red and Black Paladin/Blade of Marmora Keith pulled this kind of shit all the damn time. The entirety of Team Voltron had told him how much this was just not cool, Keith, fucking stop it, lecturing him on the value of his life. Twice. Three times, actually, if one included that day Shiro had basically cried into Keith’s chest when the idiot had taken a freaking spiked mace to the head in Shiro’s place.
Lance was so damn tired of this.
“Lance, what the f—” Keith gasped out as Lance snatched him around the middle, and then powered his jetpack, using maximum thrust to haul them both out from the swirling pitch-black clouds. Keith had something in his arms, but Lance was more focused (and annoyed) by the indignation in Keith’s tone.
“What the fuck is right, you ridiculous asshole!” he snapped. “What the fuck were you thinking?”
“That I had a damn grappling hook? She was going to die!” Keith yelled back, and Lance finally glanced down at Keith’s arms — the bundle moved, a little noise emerging that sounded distinctly familiar to Lance, as a guy who’d grown up in a huge family.
“Keith, I think you’re holding a baby!”
“You didn’t see? Some person just … just flung her over the cliff. How could you miss that?”
“Because I was …” Lance frantically rewound the last few minutes, right before Keith jumped like a moron. A little ways from Keith, there’d been these two giant birds, and they’d sort of looked like feathered versions of the velociraptors from Jurassic Park; Lance had been wondering if maybe they could be ridden, because Lance had always wanted to ride a velociraptor …
“I was paying attention to the extremely important speech the governor—”
“You mean the King?”
“Right, that dude, who was saying very important—”
“Talking about the latest successful crop yield?”
“Yes, Keith, damn it, if there’s no food, then everyone starves to death, and we have no allies for Voltron, okay?” Lance landed back on the edge of the flowery meadow, such a stark contrast to the ominous canyon mere metres away. Seriously, no fence? No warning sign? This seemed incredibly ill-advised, and Lance would absolutely bring it up at the next alliance negotiation meeting.
Shiro and Allura rushed over, closely followed by Hunk, Pidge, and Coran. Keith cradled the grey bundle to his chest, a tiny six-fingered hand waving out, the skin a shade of lavender that Lance hadn’t seen around the planet Yil’Syluwe.
A Syluwen who’d been running towards them now screeched to a halt, her face twisted up in shock.
“Keith!” Shiro’s tone said it all, encompassing all of Lance’s frustration and ire.
“I know, but I swear, this wasn’t … She’s so little, Shiro, I couldn’t just …” Keith leaned forward, stretching out his arms just enough for the swaddled bundle to be revealed.
An unbearably small baby blinked up at them.
Her (Lance just went with Keith’s assumption) face scrunched up in discomfort. She had similar facial features to the Syluwens — long thin nose, small pert lips, wide humanoid eyes with iris and pupil of nearly the same colour (in this baby’s case, slightly different shades of a dark green), surrounded by green the same shade as that of her pupil. But unlike the rest of her people, her skin wasn’t blue or brown, or anything in-between — she was a lovely lilac colour, her infant-fine hair an oddly recognizable dark purple, and instead of flat ears, hers stuck out, rather pointedly …
“She … she looks like she’s part Galra,” Allura said quietly, taking a step closer to Keith, shielding the baby from the curious onlookers at her back … Except for that one Syluwen woman, whose expression had gone from shocked to fearful.
“Princess, you must take the child from here.” She also blocked the infant away from prying eyes, her hands shaking at her sides.
Lance stepped in closer to Keith and the baby without thinking twice, his bayard in hand, though not transformed … yet. “Why, what’s wrong?”
“The Galra ruled over us with an iron fist,” she whispered quickly, “and they did not tolerate their soldiers … intermingling with the populace. But a few did so. If the union resulted in a child, neither side took kindly to it. In the months since you helped us overthrow them, the law against Galra half-breeds continues to be upheld.”
“What is the punishment?” Shiro asked as softly as possible, guiding their group away from the crowd.
Coran ran interference, loudly redirecting attention his way. Hunk went over to help, lifting a few kids up onto his shoulders, making airplane noises as he raced around. Obvious, but helpful — the vast majority of the crowd was focused on the stage, and the few who had been watching their little drama were now completely taken in by Hunk and Coran, ignoring their group huddle.
“The Galra Empire would execute the non-Galra parent, banish the other, and the child would … disappear. We suspect the children were sold to pirates or the like.” She spoke all of this matter-of-factly, but her expression was lined in pain.
Lance had to swallow down bile, close his eyes to keep from feeling the full measure of her agony — every time he had doubts about fighting this war, a tragedy like this would bring him right back around to opposing the Galra with everything he had.
Their informant leaned in closer, speaking even more rapidly, “Since the Galra are gone, the Syluwen Court has ruled that the remaining parent be imprisoned for several deca-phoebs, and the child be banished — I believe that they are still being sold to pirates or other mercenaries. Even after the sentence is served, having a half-breed child carries a lifelong stigma.”
“So that was on purpose,” Keith said, his voice breaking over the last few words. He had covered the baby up as the Syluwen woman spoke.
Pidge split off from them to stand guard, in case anyone else approached, her fists clenching hard, her face pale.
Lance felt his eyes filling with tears as a soft, tired sound broke out from the blankets. He reached out, resting a hand ever so lightly over the bundle, whispering, “Shhh, chiquilla, shhh.”
Keith’s face went from heartbreak to anger in those moments. “How could they do this?”
“Perhaps the parent felt there was no other choice. Perhaps the parentage of the child wasn’t known until … It’s also possible a family member or close friend interceded, tried to spare the mother or father a prison sentence.” She shrugged helplessly, lifting a trembling hand to press gingerly over the baby in her swaddling. “There are many tragedies like these. Too many. There’s no place for these children, no one who would take them in. And so …”
Lance kept his hand over the shifting bunch of blankets, and he blinked back the dampness in his eyes. No, this was not acceptable. “Right, I take it back, Keith. Your insane cliff dive? Totally heroic and only a little bit stupid.” Keith managed a half-smile at that, though he still looked caught between rage and sadness.
“The child is coming with us,” Allura added on firmly. Lance had forgotten she was there, she’d been so silent. Now he glanced up to see the sparking fury in her gem-like eyes. “Keith, Lance, and Pidge — you head back to the Castle, whilst Shiro and I make excuses for you. Pidge, take point ahead of Keith, Lance, use those eyes of yours …”
“I got it. No one is going to be getting the drop on us.” Lance’s bayard formed into a pair of pistols with scope attachments. “No one is getting that baby.”
“I’ll send Coran to follow behind you in a few tics, he can check on her general health in the medical wing.” Allura glanced around them, and then faced the Syluwen. “I’m sorry, I didn’t catch your name.”
She bowed. “It’s Yuthi, Princess.”
“Yuthi, I’m going to ask for your help, and I completely understand if—”
“I will, I will help,” Yuthi cut in, her eyes wide. “I work as a teacher in the crèche. My children are all so young, and we had a few who had little brothers or sisters …” Syluwens didn’t cry the way humans did. Instead, their eyes would dim, the brightness of the colour growing dull — while the orbs did appear to gleam with added moisture, no tears fell. “What can I do?”
“You can act as a guide, and help them deflect any questions. You can say they are depositing a few samples into the Castle. Pidge, I’m sure you can add on to that tale if necessary.” Allura inhaled deeply, assuming a regal pose. “Now, off you go — the faster you get on the ship, the better. Head straight to the medical bay, Coran will meet you there. Go.”
All four of them took off immediately, as fast a walk as they could manage without drawing attention. Inevitably, a few Syluwens waved or shouted to them, but Yuthi managed to keep them from approaching by calling out, “Sorry, official Voltron business — time-sensitive scientific samples must be delivered to the Castle!”
One Syluwen took it upon himself to accompany them, claiming to be a professor at a local university — Pidge kept the man engaged, and when he expressed curiosity as to what Keith was carrying, she expertly redirected him by showing off some of her latest projects on her tablet. She sent him away with a few blueprints, which he rushed off to study.
They reached the Castle with no further interruptions; Lance breathed a sigh of relief, his bayard reforming and then disappearing as the Castle ramp closed up behind them. Keith darted ahead to the med bay.
“Dude, slow down!” Lance yelled, rushing after him. “Dangerous part is over!”
“Lance, she was thrown off a cliff!” Keith growled out. Lance hadn’t ever seen Keith so protective. “Who knows if anything … What if …”
“She’s moving around and fussing, so she’s not in dire straits, most likely,” Pidge said, pushing her glasses up her nose as they entered the medical bay.
Keith unwrapped the baby from her blanket prison — she blinked at the bright lights, making discomfited noises. She did look okay, just … unhappy.
They knew how to work the scanning equipment, and Pidge could read Altean well enough to interpret some of what was being said. “Uh, she seems okay? Coran’s going to have to see this, but nothing’s jumping out or flashing red, so …” The baby chose that moment to let out a cry, her face scrunching up. “Yeah, wow, definitely need Coran.”
Lance leaned over the tiny baby, tickling her belly, cooing at her. “All right, princesa, we’re gonna make sure you’re all good, and then we’ll feed you. Change your diapers. A bath, doesn’t a bath sound like fun?” He was speaking in a higher pitched voice, but not annoyingly high, he hoped. He didn’t descend into baby talk — Lance spoke to the kid like she was fully capable of understanding him; even if she couldn’t get the words, the tone and meaning would get across. Kids, even babies, weren’t as dumb as people liked to think.
She actually quieted down for a moment to listen, but the crying started up again when Lance stopped.
Keith nudged him. “Keep talking.”
That was an easy request to meet. Lance chattered non-stop until Coran arrived, and by the time the elder Altean bustled into the room, the little baby was a cooing, giddy mess — she drooled and grabbed at Lance’s hand with sticky fingers, and she smelled a little suspect, but there weren’t any screams, which Lance would take as a win.
“Ah, perfect! I see you’ve already finished the cursory scans,” Coran said, his smile genuine, though he seemed a little worn out, a little older than he normally appeared. “If you could just keep her happy while I administer a few more thorough tests …”
Lance had to back off a few times to give Coran room, and in those few moments, he watched Keith. This was … pretty interesting. He didn’t think he’d ever seen Keith behave this way around kids, and they’d encountered a fair few on their missions. Keith wasn’t exactly … He seemed okay with older kids — the ones who could walk, talk, and ask him questions about his Lion, about being a Paladin. Keith spoke to children much like Lance did — he treated them like reasonable beings, though Keith was less silly, more serious.
But he tended to freeze up around the teeny, tiny children who couldn’t talk, could barely walk, and just wanted cuddly affection or to play with his hair.
Keith didn’t do hugs easily, not unless he knew the person, and knew them well. It had taken him and Lance more than a year to get that close, but now Lance knew that if he wanted a hug from the prickliest Paladin, he could absolutely get one. (Granted, he tended to ask Hunk for hugs because, well, Hunk gave the best hugs. And everyone knew it. Keith probably went to Hunk for hugs, too, at this point.)
So, Keith being so immediately protective, cuddly, and comfortable with this baby was … strange. Maybe it was pure adrenaline? Maybe once that wore off, Keith would go back to widening his eyes and frantically gesturing at someone, anyone, to take the kid away?
“And, quick as a Noorish frisquet, we are all done!” Coran announced, waving his hands high in the air, which garnered him a sweet, happy shriek.
The little baby was now laid out on the table, entirely nude except for a loose cloth around her lower bits. She grabbed at her four-toed feet, blowing a raspberry at Coran. Lance had to hold back a squeal because cute. Alien and weird — her feet actually sort of looked like paws? And her pointy ears had a bit of purple fuzz on them? And she was maybe half the size of a human baby? But she was adorable. How could someone just … throw her away?
“We have ourselves a female, roughly one movement old, of prime health,” Coran told them. Pidge began taking notes while listening to Coran, and jotting down the results displayed on the screens that Coran had brought up as he went along with his examination. “As her appearance suggests, fifty percent of her genetic code is Galra. Genetic variety makes for truly spectacular combinations, and an extra robust immune system, in her case. Well done, my girl!”
Coran offered her his hand; she grabbed it and began chewing on a finger with her gums.
Lance couldn’t resist it any longer — he pressed in closer, running his fingers through that feather soft hair.
“So … what’s the plan?” Pidge asked, her brow furrowing as she kept jotting things down onto her tablet.
Yuthi had been silent since they entered the Castle; she chose this moment to finally say, “You could speak out against this heinous law, but I’m afraid that wouldn’t change the immediate reality for this little one.”
“Laws take time to go into effect, yes, but there must already be a system in place to protect children,” Coran insisted, frowning.
“If there is, I haven’t heard of it,” Yuthi said apologetically. “These little ones look so different, it’s nearly impossible to conceal them anywhere. I would hide her, if I could, but I couldn’t be sure that my neighbours wouldn’t report me for it, and what kind of life could she have? Her very existence is illegal.”
Lance could feel his back tensing up, his skin crawling with the idea of sending this little girl back out there to … to be abandoned again, or … or sold. The Galra Empire obviously didn’t have a monopoly on evil, and Lance couldn’t imagine the Voltron Alliance accepting a planet that could commit such monstrous acts against children. He trusted Allura and Shiro to make the right call and say what needed to be said, but he would definitely have words for any Syluwen who dared question their decision.
If there was one thing Lance simply would not stand for, it was people being assholes to kids.
“We will not continue discussions for alliance until we’ve made a statement about this,” Allura affirmed resolutely. Lance turned to see her and the others striding into the medical wing. “We will denounce this horrific practise at Court tomorrow, and Keith, if you … If you wouldn’t mind joining me …”
Keith nodded without hesitation. “I will. I’ll say whatever you need me to say.”
“Words from your own heart would be best,” Allura said with a smile. Then her face grew serious again. “But for more pressing concerns … Yuthi, there is truly nowhere for these children?”
“Nowhere safe,” Yuthi confirmed.
“Then she stays here,” Keith said, shocking Lance with his vehemence. “She stays here until we … figure something out.”
Shiro was smiling at Keith, his eyes bright, and Hunk seemed ready to hug him, but held back, since everything about Keith’s stance screamed tension. He was straight-backed and unbending. Lance was … impressed. And a little mad at himself for not being as quick to suggest it.
“If we don’t find a home for her, we’ll need to have a serious talk about this, Keith. It might not be viable to keep her on board.” Shiro held up his hands as Keith bristled. “We’re at war, and we’re constantly on the front line. This isn’t as simple as doing one good deed. There’s a whole host of complications that come with her …”
“We’re not there yet,” Allura cut in before Keith could go off. “She is staying with us for now. We’ll work on a statement to make before the Syluwen Court, and when we receive their response … We’ll know where we stand.” She paused, a small, gleeful expression flitting across her face. “But this Castle is very large, and … I wouldn’t be sorry to have more occupants. More … family.”
As if she knew they were talking about her, their little guest let out a happy squeal.
Lance picked her up, feeling a floating, glowing sensation in his chest when her eyes rested on him, her hands outstretched, patting his nose and his forehead as he held her before his face. “You, princesa, are going to be a member of this family whether we find you another home or not. Eh, querida? How does that sound? Oh, we need a name, guys!”
“A Syluwen name would make sense,” Allura suggested, turning to Yuthi.
She had her hands clasped, looking at Lance with a soft, grateful expression. “I don’t think it would be right for Yil’Syluwen to lay any claim to this child. Is there a Galra name you think appropriate?”
“Hm, we could name her after Thace?” Keith moved to Lance’s side, pressing his shoulder against Lance’s so he could reach out and run his own fingers through the baby’s fine hair.
Lance scrunched up his nose. “Maybe as a middle name, but, uh, she doesn’t look like a Thace to me?”
Keith rolled his eyes. “Fine, what would you say she looks like?”
That was a lot of pressure. What if this ended up being the name she carried her whole life? What if Lance came up with something that doomed her to endless mockery … But then again, she was half-Galra. Pain was a given. Even Keith, who didn’t look Galra, faced crap here and there when people found out. And Lance had seen folks on many worlds turn away from the Blade of Marmora, even though they had sacrificed more than anyone for this war effort …
Soldiers willing to lay down their lives, ridiculed but still fighting. A name from his lessons on Cuban history flashed in his mind’s eye.
“Adela. She … she was a soldier, way, way back in the eighteen hundreds? She wanted to fight, even though no one would let her. She was kickass and smart — she helped heal the wounded between battles, and she was promoted to freaking captain. So … Adela Thace?”
“That’s a strange name,” Allura said, but she was still smiling. “I like it. It’s beautifully peculiar. And I appreciate the history.”
“She is lucky, to bear the name of two honourable soldiers,” Shiro agreed.
“It’s not bad,” Keith spoke after a lengthy pause. “It … matches. So, good job, Lance.”
Lance passed the newly christened Adela to Keith. “Then introduce yourself properly. You’re the one who saved her life, dude. In fact, I think that means she gets your last name.”
“Adela Thace Kogane?” Keith seemed pretty gobsmacked by the idea. “I … I don’t know that …”
“Oh, no, I think Lance has it right,” Hunk chimed in, clapping eagerly. “Congrats, Keith! Man, this is just … Pidge, are you documenting everything?”
“You better believe it — look at Keith! Holding a baby, without trying to throw the baby at us? It’s been a day for all kinds of miracles.” Pidge held up her tablet, clearly taking a multitude of pictures.
Lance posed over Keith’s shoulder as the mullet-headed guy stared at Adela, still looking rather shocked; Lance flashed a peace sign, and then put his hand on Keith’s upper back. “C’mon, man.”
Keith opened and closed his mouth a few times before stuttering out, “Hi … Adela. You … okay with that? That being your name?”
She made a soft noise, swiping at his nose and kicking with her paw-like feet.
“Okay. We’ll negotiate the last name when … when we figure the rest of this out.” Keith passed the baby back to Lance, his ease and protectiveness seemingly spent. He was back to awkwardness and panic. It was … kind of endearing, though Lance couldn’t say why.
“In that case, I suggest we find our guest a meal, and put her down for the night in … Well, who volunteers?” Allura glanced around at each of them in turn.
“I think we need two people, in case something goes … wrong,” Lance suggested. “I’m pretty good with babies — got nieces, nephews, and plenty of young cousins. Hunk, too.”
“Yeah, Lance and I can watch her tonight. One of us will come get you, Coran, if anything weird happens. Yuthi, can you give us a rundown on Syluwen kids?”
“Oh, of course! Though, with Adela being only half, this may not all apply?”
“But we need the information regardless,” Coran said, nodding at Pidge. “Would you mind taking notes as we discuss the particulars?”
“Oh, this is all fascinating to me. ‘Infinite diversity in infinite combinations’ and all that.”
“Holy crap, you Vulcan nerd,” Lance groaned.
“Lance, you actually got the reference,” Pidge pointed out, raising one eyebrow at him.
Lance stuck out his tongue, thus winning the argument before it could begin. (Also, it was totally cool being well versed in all things connected to one of the coolest space captains to ever captain in space: Captain James. T. Kirk. Vulcans were totally nerdy, though, full stop.)
By the time the boring scientific lecture had ended, baby Adela had been fed some heavily watered down formula, been burped (which sounded more like high-pitched whistling?), bathed, wrapped up in a fresh cloth diaper, and then been placed in a small basket filled with soft blankets and pillows. Lance and Hunk had claimed an observation deck with huge couches for the three of them to sleep in …
And eventually found themselves accompanied by Coran, Allura, and Keith, who was the last to arrive, clutching his pillow and freezing in the doorway when everyone swung around to stare at him.
“What?” Keith groused, refusing to meet anyone’s eyes. “This is … new. And weird. And she’s so … tiny.”
Lance mimed zipping his lips, though it was difficult with how hard he was grinning.
Their impromptu sleepover actually involved a fair amount of sleeping. Adela, apparently, had been done for a while; she crashed almost as soon as they put her down in her blanket nest. And they all followed not long after — they’d learned to sleep whenever and wherever they could, since there were no guarantees of sleep, ever, in this war.
What felt like hours later, Lance’s eyes popped open for no discernible reason. Then he felt warmth against his side that hadn’t been there earlier …
Hunk was on the other side of the baby’s bed, snoring away. Lance had made himself a cushion bed near the bassinet, one hand outstretched, spread over Adela’s tiny tummy — and he’d woken up in that same position. The others were splayed out on couches or the floor.
However, clearly, at some point Keith had woken up and squeezed himself between Lance and Adela’s makeshift crib, careful not to disturb Lance at all. He sat with his knees up to his chin, his arms wrapped around his legs. With his back to Lance, he couldn’t quite tell what Keith was staring at, but he had no doubt his gaze was fixed on the baby.
Lance didn’t think Keith would give her up easily. And this was one fight Lance would happily fight with Keith, not against.
The small breaths he could feel beneath his palm … He’d give a whole lot to keep this baby girl breathing, and just as much to preserve that light, airy feeling in his chest. It felt important. Precious. He didn’t want it to disappear … and he knew it was tied to this little girl sleeping in their midst.