And the countdown began.
The controls beneath his hands were slick with sweat and blood. His heavy panting had long since blocked out the voices of the others, leaving him to fight on instinct alone. Blue’s fear probed at the edge of his consciousness and he swerved. Beams of scalding energy grazed his lion’s armor, sending Lance’s mind into disarray as she screamed.
He yanked the joystick to the side in an attempt to regain control. His thoughts spun with a pain that wasn’t his own and he struggled to remain focused. Another canon blazed, throwing him back into his seat as he gasped for breath.
Lance blinked through the tears and slammed his fist down on the dashboard, lighting up the ships around him. It resonated in his bones when Blue’s body shifted so that she could fire at their attackers.
She jolted as another beam struck her side and Lance could feel the blood running down the side of his face. It was a sticky warmth that nauseated him, one that made him shake desperately.
It wasn’t about the violence. It wasn’t about the fear that filled him with adrenaline. It was the reality that he was facing. The very realistic fact that they might loose this battle.
So he fired.
The gladiator came at him again, and again.
Keith sprinted through the narrow halls with his bayard in hand. The floor glistened with blood, forcing him to skirt around puddles as he made his way to his lion. Zarkon’s shouts echoed off the walls, commands to soldiers that would never respond. The threat at Keith’s back only urged him forward.
The aching in his arms increased to a sharp burn and he reinforced his grip on his weapon with a clenched jaw. Pain blurred his vision as well as the rest of his senses. His eyes traced the patterns on the walls that acted as a guide, leading him back to the hanger
His comlink crackled in bursts of static and it concerned him to wonder what had become of the others. Last he heard, they were taking on an oncoming galran fleet. The explosions rocking the ship beneath him contested to that but he had no way of knowing who was winning.
A sharp pain in his shoulder sent him stumbling around another corner and he leaned up against the wall as his head spun. He coughed harshly in an attempt to clear the tang of blood from his sinuses.
The wound in his shoulder stung with a fierce intensity. If he could get to Red he’d be fine, but to face enemy fire again would be a death sentence.
He pushed himself off of the wall and ran.
The apathetic voice ringing in his ears, he pounded on the glass, shouting for someone to help him.
Blue whirred a symphony of fear as she maneuvered around galran ships. The other lions weren’t anywhere near him and Blue’s concern only magnified his. He cursed under his breath and fired at his attackers before diving underneath Zarkon’s ship. Blue hovered in the shadows as the other ships flew past them, guns blazing.
As he watched them leave, Lance gasped for air and pressed a hand to his chest. The burning in his lungs only worsened the longer they were out here. His vision blurred when he blinked, head pounding. Peering past the blood on his visor, he stared up at Zarkon’s base.
Keith was in there, that much was certain. They wouldn’t be able to leave until he made it out with the information. Swallowing the lump of anxiety in his throat, Lance eyed the surface of the ship. There hadn’t been any sign of Red and with the coms out he was left to assume the worst. Blue rumbled her agreement and she turned towards the hanger Keith had used as an entrance.
A shaky grin crossed his face as Lance steered Blue into the hanger. She dropped to the floor and prowled behind an abandoned ship where she crouched down. Lance wiped the blood and sweat from visor and patted the dashboard. He cleared his throat, “You good girl?”
Blue buzzed with a loud purring and Lance laughed, “Alright, wait for me. I won’t be long.” She stilled as he stood from his seat and stretched his legs. Even though every step sent small arcs of pain shooting through his spine, he was still able to walk. He made his way out of Blue and landed on the floor with a pained hiss.
Tapping Blue’s muzzle, he watched as her maw closed and her eyes dimmed. Lance turned and crept out from behind the ship, scanning the hanger for any movement. A crumpled body by the exit was the only sign that Keith had been here but it was a sign nonetheless. He crept forward along the wall, using it for balance.
He jumped at a loud mechanical whirring and spun until he came face-to-face with Red. Eyes glowing, she tilted her head. Lance pressed a hand to her muzzle, “Keith hasn’t come back yet?” His shoulders slumped when she rumbled in acknowledgment and he leaned his head against her.
Mouth dry, Lance couldn’t help the chills that overcame him. He knew Keith was capable. Hell, they were on the same level when it came to skill. But Zarkon was far stronger than any of them and if he found Keith… Lance wasn’t so sure he wanted to think about that. Either way he needed to find him, and fast.
“I’ll find him girl,” he said, eyes meeting hers, “I swear I will.”
Red purred and he smiled at her one last time before continuing down the length of the hanger. Now that the noise of battle had faded, he could hear the static in his helmet. Every once in a while he swore he could make out a word or two but he knew they were just patterns in the noise.
His head shot up at a shouting in the distance, coming from a hallway at the end of the room. Heart leaping in his chest, he sped up despite the pain. He rushed passed fallen guards and puddles of blood. Towards the voice at the end of the hall. Towards Keith.
Sword slashing the air, he heard him.
He could hear the clashing of armor as Zarkon came for him. Slow and steady, each step filled with an unmatched confidence.
Keith could feel his chest tighten, breath coming in short gasps. His shoulder burned as he ran but he couldn’t afford to stop. Instead, he allowed his bayard to dissipate and pressed his free hand on the wound. Although leaving himself open was risky, the injury bleeding out had become a real concern.
His heart rate spiked when he noticed that another pair of footsteps had overlapped the first. These steps were faster, however, and they were coming from the hanger. Keith willed his shield to fabricate and turned the corner.
He almost cried out in relief when he recognized the figure approaching him. Despite a heavy limp and a few splatters of blood on his armor and helmet, Lance seemed to be doing alright. Not that he could say the same for himself.
Lance rushed forward and hugged him without warning only to step back at Keith’s protests. “I was so worried about you Keith, and then the coms went down and I- I didn’t know what to think and-” his voice broke off as he glanced down, “You’re hurt!”
“I noticed.” Keith watched as Lance fussed over his injury, bombarding him with questions. He brushed him off, “We don’t have time for this Lance, we have to go. Now.”
“What do you mean? We-” Lance froze and his eyes scanned the hallway behind Keith. Another shout rang out and he wrapped an arm around Keith’s back. “Okay, you’re right, let’s get out of here.”
They ambled further down the hall but neither of them were in any condition to run. It was only when Zarkon’s commands became clear that Keith dragged Lance through a side corridor and further away from their lions. Lance dropped his arm and grabbed Keith’s hand.
Lance pulled him through an open door and pushed it shut with his shoulder. They leaned back against the door, chests heaving. Keith glanced down at their intertwined fingers. He rested his good arm against Lance and closed his eyes.
“You alright Keith?” Lance said, voice hushed. He tightened his grip and rested his head on Keith’s.
Humming, Keith slid down the door and pulled Lance to the ground with him. “Yeah, just tired.”
“We’ll be fine, we just have to get to our lions and then we’ll be out of here.”
Keith laughed, “If we can get past Zarkon that is. Which is, should I mention, highly unlikely.” He turned to look at Lance, lifting their joined hands off the ground, “But hey, we still make a good team don’t we?”
Lance shifted so that he was facing him, his face contorted into an unfamiliar expression, “Don’t do this to me. We’ll be fine. We’ve gotten through shit like this before.”
Pressing his back to the door, Keith let his head fall back against the metal. “We’re in no shape to fight Lance… even if we try the odds of us making it out are slim.”
Dropping his hand, Lance grabbed the sides of Keith’s face and pressed their foreheads together. Breath mingling in the dry air, Keith was reminded that even a year ago he would have never allowed anyone to be this close to him.
“Look at me Keith."
Keith steadied his gaze on Lance, “You haven’t seen what he can do. He can kill us without breaking a sweat and it’s not like he won’t."
“Keith. Listen to me.” Lance said, “We can’t stay here. We are going to walk out there and we are going to make it to our lions. I swear I won’t let anything happen to you. Don’t you trust me?”
His hands shaking, Keith kept quiet.
“Do you trust me Keith?”
Inhaling, he grabbed one of Lance’s hands in his own, “More than anyone else.”
The emptiness of space tugged at him as the bay doors opened.
They lingered for a moment before Lance shifted back and pulled Keith up with him. Both of them were struggling, Keith had been right about that. His body ached with every step, not to mention the dizziness. It was obvious Keith’s shoulder was only getting worse as well.
He gripped Keith’s hand in reassurance before motioning to the door. “You ready to go?”
“Yeah, yeah let’s go.” Keith smiled and released his hand so that he could summon his bayard.
Lance followed his example and held his blaster up to the door. “Let’s kick some galran ass.”
They walked out into the silence of the hallway and turned back towards the hanger. A clattering of weapons and armor echoed off the walls and both Keith and Lance held up their shields as they turned the corner to gunfire.
Both of them surged forward, slashing and firing at the soldiers. Lance knocked galrans off balance with well-aimed shots while Keith swung at the ones at his back. His shield up, Lance knocked away the shots aimed at Keith and got some hits of his own in.
He could feel it in his gut, how well they were working together. Their movements were fluid as they danced around each other in the midst of battle; when he spun to take on a second attacker the first fell to the floor seconds later.
Soon, they were left heaving for air amongst the bodies, leaning against each other. Lance grinned at Keith when he stepped back to stand at his side. “Told you we’d be fine.”
Keith laughed despite the way his breath trembled, “You were right. Though I never thought I’d have to say it.”
Lance opened his mouth to retort but he was cut off by the sword at his throat.
“How thoughtful of you paladins to come to me.”
The bay doors opened and he threw himself at the gladiator. He wouldn’t loose someone he cared about, never again.
His body went cold. The pair of swords at both of their throats kept him from moving, but even if they weren’t there he didn’t think he’d be able to.
Zarkon strode around them, eyes glowing with a fierce intensity as he stared them down. He paused in front of them, before motioning at the two soldiers to lower their weapons. The bayard in his hand shifted into a sword, sharp and jagged at the edge. “My soldiers tell me of the destruction you’ve brought to this ship.”
Keith’s fingers brushed against Lance’s and he was taken with an overwhelming desire to grab his hand and run. Instead, he squared his chest and lifted his jaw to stare Zarkon in the eyes. He kept quiet however, pleading to any and all forces that Lance would do the same.
“Don’t act like anything more than a coward paladin,” Zarkon said, narrowing his eyes at Keith, “You would rather run than stay and fight and that just goes to show how weak the both of you are.”
Besides him Lance bristled but he kept quiet. Keith wasn’t all that shocked— Lance was loud, not stupid— but his tenacity never failed to impress him.
Zarkon lunged forward and pressed the tip of his sword to Keith’s chest.
Lance’s voice was filled with a tortured anguish but Keith didn’t dare turn his head to look at the expression on his face.
“Silence.” Zarkon waved at his guards and they brought their swords back up to Lance’s throat. He sneered down at Keith, expression distasteful. “Disarmed so easily.”
Glancing over, Keith froze. Lance was making subtle signals with his hand where none of the galran could see them. Keith caught his eye and Lance nodded, his expression firm, holding up a count of three.
Keith swung his sword up to push Zarkon’s weapon to the side and he leapt back as the Galran roared. To his right, Lance knocked both soldiers to the ground and shot them swiftly before wheeling around to stand at Keith’s side.
The galran growled, adjusting his grip on his bayard. “Parasites,” he spat the word from his mouth as it it was venom, “The lions must be decrepit, selecting creatures like you to be a part of Voltron.”
Lance inched closer to Keith and they stood their ground, facing Zarkon as he approached. He raised his sword over his head and shouted, “Imbeciles!”
They jumped apart as the sword shattered the floor where they had been standing. Zarkon pulled it from the metal and swung it around. Blaster raised, Lance shot Zarkon in the back before dodging the weapon coming his way. Keith slashed at the galran’s shoulder, grimacing at the pain in his own.
The battle became a blur as he attacked, every strike wearing him down more and more. His shoulder burned with an excruciating pain. Lance was a welcome presence at his side but neither of them could hold out forever. They attacked Zarkon, fighting a battle they knew they couldn’t really win.
Then Keith stumbled.
He reached for the doors, for Keith, every part of him screaming for things to be alright.
The chaos in Lance’s mind came to a still. All he could see was the sword sticking out of Keith’s chest.
His lungs burned, he hadn’t even realized he’d been yelling. He aimed his gun at Zarkon and fired. Again, and again, and again. Until the galran turned away and left, satisfied.
Lance abandoned his weapon and ran to Keith, dropping to his knees at his side. He pressed his hands over the wound and searched for something, anything that could help him.
“L-Lance” Keith’s voice was distorted, the blood already welling up in his throat.
Moving one hand to Keith’s face, Lance could feel himself trembling. “No, no, no. Hang in there, you’ll be alright Keith, I’ve got you."
Keith gasped for air, grabbing Lance’s bloody hand with his own. “I don’t want to- to die.” His words slurred together.
“Oh god, I know you don’t. I’ve got you, you’re here with me.” He glanced down at the wound, where the blood had pooled over his hand and spilled into a puddle on the floor. “Just hold on."
A horrendous cough shook Keith’s body and blood spurted from his mouth. His hand grasped at Lance, mouth moving as he tried to speak until his body lurched, eyes rolling back into his head, throat gurgling. Then he went slack, red fingers leaving a trail down Lance’s cheek as they fell to the floor.
“Keith!” Lance pushed down on his chest, too detached to keep a steady count. He shifted to exhale into Keith’s mouth before repeating the routine. Every few seconds he would search for a pulse only to bite back a sob and continue.
He had sworn to Keith that this wouldn’t happen. They had to get back to the castle together. There was so much they still hadn’t done, so much they still hadn’t talked about.
He had promised him just this morning that they would sneak around the castle that night and find the room where the stars shone the brightest. Lance had told him about how they could watch the stars and create constellations of their own. Keith had laughed, lips curling up in amusement as he told him he wouldn’t miss it for the world.
He had planned to tell him everything.
Lance brushed the matted hair from Keith’s eyes and pressed their lips together, the sharp tang of blood on his tongue. He jerked back, shivering, to vomit on the floor. After everything he still couldn’t find it in himself to cry.
“Don’t die Keith.” He murmured, “I love you, so much. Oh my god I don’t want you to leave.”
Cradling Keith’s head to his chest, Lance pleaded with the dead. He screamed his sorrow and the anguish wracked at his chest.
The others found him huddled over Keith, unable to let go. Unable to believe that he had let him down.
And he screamed Keith’s name as they pulled him away.
But there wasn’t anyone there to pull him in.