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But He Didn’t

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Shiro reached him first, the Paladin face-down in the mud.

Shiro had seen the white and red armor shine through the mud that had coated him, seen the black-turned-brown mullet pressed to the back of his neck.

He had seen it all first.

How had this happened?

The sentries laid in heaps around him, every single one broken beyond repair.

How had they gotten the best of him? He always seemed indestructible, but now…

(:)

It had been the planet of Vapronz. It was a swampy, murky, tree-filled planet, and the lions stayed behind on Olkarion for repairs.

After all, this would be a quick mission, a mission where the lions were not a necessity.

But the Galra drones had somehow known they were coming, and had ambushed them, dividing the five of them.

Keith had caught Shiro's attention, easily taking out five sentries with a single swipe of a his sword.

"'ll lead them away!" Keith's voice echoes across the battle field, his amethyst eyes sparkling with a fire that he always carried within. "You guys get the information!"

"Keith, wait!" Shiro had screamed, reaching a hand towards him defensively, but the Red Paladin had already jumped into the underbrush, leading the hundred sentries after him.

"He'll be fine." Pidge's voice had drawn his attention, and he had turned to her, gazing into her honey-colored eyes. "Com'n, we need to collect information."

Shiro forcefully assured himself that Keith would be fine, that Pidge was right, and allowed Pidge to lead him into the base, Hunk and Lance catching up to them and taking the rear, ready to take care of any remaining robots.

(:)

Keith had taken out all the sentries; all one-hundred twelve. All of them. Of course, he knew they had gotten some lucky shots in, he could feel it. The lasers had burned through his armor and had melted his skin; one on his arm, another right beside his heart, one on either leg, and several more that had already numbed.

He hadn't been able to stand anymore, collapsing into the mud, just wanting to end the pain, just wanting to end it all…

Unfortunately or fortunately, the mud had been thin enough and so full of air bubbles that he kept on breathing, kept on living, kept on feeling the lasers as they numbed where they had hit.

He wasn't sure how long he laid there, waiting for death to overtake him when he heard a voice filtering from his helmet a hundred feet away. A sentry had ripped it off his head a second before Keith had sliced him to bits, not even bothering to shove his helmet back on.

He could hear Pidge, so close he could understand it through the mud, ask if he was okay.

He still didn't move, laying face-down in the mud.

Then Lance asked.

Hunk.

Shiro.

After a few rounds, all four began to plead, begging him to be alright, to just respond.

But he didn't.

He didn't.

He didn't.

He just lay there, unmoving, face buried in mud.

Shiro found him three Vargas later, still laying there, and the older man dropped to his knees beside him, sinking several inches into the mud. "Keith? Keith! Answer me!"

But he didn't.

Shiro reached down and grabbing his armpits, pulling him up.

But the mud didn't want to let Keith go, clutching him even tighter, even harder as it squashed with every movement.

"Keith, please, try to help me, buddy."

But he didn't.

He was too tired.

Shiro called for help, and everyone else arrived, Pidge using her Bayard to pull away the mud and roots that had wrapped itself around Keith.

Hunk helped Shiro pull, and Lance pushed.

With everyone, it took ten minutes to pry him free of the devil mud, and finally Keith breathed the clean air, he did.

Keith blinked at Shiro, trying to get the mud from his eyelids.

He groaned at them, sagging into the other four Paladins' arms.

"Keith's say something. Please." Shiro begged.

But he didn't.

All he did was stare lifelessly at them.

"Keith, please." Lance begged, for once somber. "Just talk to us, buddy. I'll never make fun of you again, just talk, okay?

But he didn't.

"Keith?" Hunk wailed, tightening his grip on Keith. "Dude, please."

"Keith, just respond!" Pidge choked out, grabbing his wrist and shaking it. "Respond, please!"

"Sssstop crowdin' me." Keith finally grumbled, closing his eyes.

But they all pressed closer, laughing, sobbing, wailing.

"Jerkssss." Keith muttered, his normal grouchy-ness shining through.

That's how they knew.

They were still five. They were. Now, and forever.