Here it is at last, the final chapter. Will there be more from this verse in the future? Absolutely, you can count on that. There's still plenty of things that I would love to touch on, a lot of things that I couldn't touch on because I was sticking to Shiro's POV throughout. I don't know when that'll be, but one day, I'll come back to this! For now, however, the story is over, so I hope everyone enjoyed it!

Thanks for sticking with me until the end!

desert born


The first thing he noticed was that Keith was wearing the jacket he'd bought him.

The second thing was that he wasn't alone.

It took him a second to recognize Pidge- for a minute, he'd nearly mistaken her for Matt. She'd cut her hair, and was wearing his glasses, looking for all the world like a smaller version of him. Seeing it made his heart sting, even if he was relieved to see her whole and hale.

He didn't recognize the other two.

"Shiro," Keith said his name like it was a sigh of relief, "-you came back."

Giving him a faint smile, he nearly reached up with his right hand, before he thought better of it, switching to his left instead. Resting it on Keith's head, he lightly stroked it, listening to the quiet rumble of his chest. "I promised I would, didn't I?"

Without any warning, Keith took him in a tight embrace. He felt his bones protest against it, but he didn't make any move to break it, instead resting his human hand against Keith's back, rubbing the small of it. Turning his head just so, he peered over towards Pidge, who just smiled at him, relief visible in her eyes.

And pain.

It wasn't hard to guess why. He'd been the only one in that shuttle, that much he did know.

Letting his gaze drift, he fixed it on the pair he didn't know. They looked around Keith's age, if not maybe a year or so younger. The bigger one flinched under his gaze, looking more than a little nervous, while the lanky one just held it, looking at him in what could only be described as awe.

And maybe a bit of apprehension.

Finally, after what felt like an eternity, Keith drew away from him. Standing up straight, he tried to regain what composure he could, not that he was fooling anyone. He took that as a sign to get up himself, pushing himself up into a sitting position. His muscles groaned a little at the action, but otherwise cooperated.

He was in the shack, he noticed.

It looked much the same as he had left it, if not a little dirtier. Upkeep clearly hadn't been Keith's number one priority.

From the sound of it, he'd been gone for a year. A whole year, leaving Keith alone. Well, not alone- Colleen and Pidge had been with him, but still.

"Water," Keith finally said, "-you need water."

It was an echo of when they first met, and he had to wonder if Keith had chosen to say it on purpose. Then again, knowing Keith, he probably did just think he needed water.

"I could use some water." Shiro told him, watching as Keith wordlessly nodded his head, ducking into the kitchen. Watching him go with a faint smile, Shiro turned his gaze onto Pidge. "Trying out a new look?"

A playful expression danced across her face, as she adjusted Matt's glasses with one hand. "You could say that."

No sooner than she had, however, did her face fall. "Shiro, my family-"

Shaking his head, Shiro watched as her face fell all the more. He wanted nothing more than to tell her they were safe, but he couldn't lie to her. Getting her hopes up just to let them down would be the cruelest thing he could do to her. "I'm sorry, Katie. I don't remember much of what happened. Everything's all scrambled."

"Wait," it was the lanky one who piped up, causing Pidge to flinch, "-Katie? I thought your name was Pidge!"

Shrugging her shoulders, trying to act casual about it, her nervous smile gave her away. "Surprise?"

Arching a brow, Shiro's gaze flickered over towards her. There was clearly a story to be told there, but it could wait.

Finding the blue lion took top priority.

And maybe getting a change of clothes.

Eyes scanning the shack, they froze on a small, stone figure of a lion, painted black- the same one Keith had given him for Christmas what felt like ages ago. As luck would have it, Keith returned to the room around the same time, taking notice of where he was looking.

"The Galaxy Garrison declared you dead." Keith told him, passing him the cup of water, before setting down a pair of granola bars on the couch next to him. "I got it from your apartment before they cleaned it out."

Arching a brow, Shiro looked up at him. " broke into my apartment?"

Shrugging his shoulders, Keith just folded his arms in front of him. "I didn't want them to take it."

He knew Keith had been getting bold, but not that bold. Clearly, something had changed in the year he'd been away.

He could tell that much just from looking at him- when he'd left, the sleeves of his jacket had been too long for him, but now it fit him perfectly. He couldn't say for sure, seeing as he was sitting down, but if he had to guess, he'd say Keith came up to around his chin now.

"Wait so," cutting back in again, the lanky teen whose name he realized he hadn't gotten yet, spoke up, looking between them, "-you two know each other?"

Giving the pair a smile, Shiro nodded his head. "I've known Keith since I was maybe your age. Speaking of which, I don't believe I caught either of your names."

Blinking, the lanky one frowned, exchanging a look with his friend. "Well, I'm Lance, and this is Hunk. You're Shiro, right? The pilot from the Kerberos mission?"

"They're cadets." Pidge supplied, and then, with a note of annoyance- "-who followed me when they weren't supposed to."

"Hey, how were we supposed to know you were going to break the Takashi Shirogane out of Garrison quarantine?!" Lance protested. "And you never said anything about being friends with an alien! Or being named Katie!"

"Like I said, I'm not an alien." Keith said, tone exasperated like this wasn't even the second time he'd said that.

"Okay so, just to recap," Hunk finally spoke up, "-we just helped break out Takashi Shirogane from Garrison quarantine, Pidge is friends with an alien-"

"I'm not-"

"-except Pidge's name is actually Katie, and now we're all here out in the middle of the desert, in a shack, and also apparently there are aliens heading here as we speak? Did I miss anything? Because I feel like I missed something."

"No, I think you got it all, Hunk." Lance told him.

"You know what," Pidge piped up, "-why don't the three of us step outside, and I'll catch both of you up to speed."

Judging from the way she looked at Keith, it felt like she was making the offer more for his sake than theirs. Not that he didn't appreciate it- with everything that had happened, having some time alone to talk with Keith was just what he needed.

"You know," he spoke up once Pidge had escorted the two cadets outside, "-I was kind of hoping that they were your friends."

Blinking at the statement, Keith frowned. "They're Pidge's flight partners."

Flight partners. "So she did join the Garrison."

"Sort of." Keith told him. "It's a long story."

"I'm guessing it has something to do with them not knowing her name is Katie." Shiro observed, grateful to see it earned him a faint smile. "Keith, I-"

"I know what happened, Shiro." Keith told him, smile vanishing as he drew into himself. "Part of it, at least. You don't have to pretend to be nice to me still."

Alarmed by the statement, Shiro found himself on his feet before he even registered that he was standing up. It pained him, the way Keith flinched at the action, but he didn't budge.

"Keith, believe me, I'm not pretending." Shiro told him. "Nothing has changed between us."

"But you were-"

Cutting him off, Shiro rested his human hand on his shoulder, smiling at him. "I know. I was. And believe me when I say I would give almost anything to get that year of my life back."

He watched as Keith's expression faltered at that, gaze darting downwards. "But the one thing I wouldn't give up is having you as my brother, Keith."

Eyes going wide, Keith looked up at him, hesitant hope in his eyes. It should have been reassuring, but it was just painful instead. How long had he lived with that fear, that he would somehow resent him for this?

However long it had been, it was too long.

Spreading out his arms, Shiro watched as Keith took a tentative step forward- before he threw himself into them. Wrapping his arms around his frame, Shiro buried his face in his hair, marveling at how much he smelled like earth.

Like home.

"I'm sorry," Keith croaked out, "-I should have told you more. I should have-"

"It's not your fault, Keith." Shiro cut him off. "None of this is."

"I'm the one who convinced you to go." Keith told him. "How can it not be my fault?"

"Going on the Kerberos mission was my choice." Shiro told him. "You can't blame yourself for this."

Keith nodded, but said nothing. He could feel his claws prick against his skin, easily piercing the thin fabric of the prison uniform he still wore, but he didn't pay it any mind. He was home, Keith was safe, and right now, that was all that mattered.

It was Keith who ended the embrace, not as tense as he was before, but still not wholly at ease, either. "I laid out some clothes in the bedroom. You can take a shower if you want."

"Oh, so you're saying I stink." Shiro grinned.

Crinkling his nose, Keith made a show of taking a step back. "Yes."

"Alright, duly noted." Holding up his hands, Shiro's grin only grew, taking it in good humor. He couldn't remember the last time he'd had anything close to a shower, so he probably did actually stink. "Guess I'll take you up on your kind offer. But how did you know to come find me?"

Looking up at him, Keith's expression became unreadable.

"When you're done," he told him, "-there's something I need to show you."

Showing him something turned into showing them all something, as Lance refused to be left behind, and Hunk didn't want to be left alone in the shack without Lance. He didn't know what it was that Pidge had told them, but at the very least, aside from the odd suspicious glance in Keith's direction, they didn't seem to be taking to this all too badly.

Granted, they'd probably gotten the bulk of their freaking out done while he was unconscious. From the sound of it, they had followed Pidge out to where she was supposed to rendezvous with Keith, and as a result, had gotten caught up in their rescue attempt. There was yet another story there, but he'd ask about it in more detail later.

He'd showered and changed- and it was with a pang that he realized the clothes that Keith had given him belonged to his father. Even after all this time, he'd kept them. Save for the few that he used for doing laundry, he'd kept them all in good condition.

They fit perfectly.

The desert sun was blazing overhead- when he'd first come to his senses, it was still dawn. They only had two canteens between the four of them, but Keith had assured them that they wouldn't be going far, and he trusted him on that.

He recognized the cave system that Keith lead them to, but instead of taking them to the cave with the downed Galra ships in it, he instead lead them in a different direction. The cave he lead them to had also been sealed off, but Keith easily shoved the boulder blocking the entrance aside, earning him a low whistle from Lance.

"I've told Shiro this before," Keith began, not going in just yet, "-but when my mother first came to this planet, she crashed her ship, and had to be rescued by my father. That's how they met."

Nodding his head, Shiro recalled that. "I remember."

"I... never told him what she came here for." Keith admitted. "She was part of a scout team, sent out to try and pick up on any traces of a weapon known as Voltron."

Jerking his head up, Lance glanced between him and Pidge. "That's the thing Pidge mentioned, right? The one the aliens kept talking about."

Nodding his head, Keith exchanged a brief glance with Pidge, who beamed, clearly proud of herself. "I don't actually know that much about it. Just what the legends say."

"Isn't that the thing that Shiro said the aliens were looking for?" Hunk asked. "But wait- if your mom was sent to find it, shouldn't they like, already know where it is?"

"She wasn't trying to find it." Keith told him, nearly glowing with pride, the way he always did whenever he spoke of his mother. "She was trying to protect it."

He didn't know what it was, but something about that statement caused his head to hurt. He got a flash of something, but it was too faint, too quick, to make out what it was- a memory, maybe.

His memories of the past year were shaky at best, and non-existent at worst. Given what he'd gone through, it didn't entirely surprise him. While it was cause for concern, he'd worry about it later- right now, making sure this blue lion stayed out of the hands of the Galra Empire was more important.

"You said she was a rebel, right?" Shiro asked.

Nodding his head, Keith wordlessly drew his knife, either ignoring or not noticing the way it caused both Lance and Hunk to flinch. "This knife was hers. It's connected to her life force, so I know she's still out there somewhere."

Huh. That he hadn't known.

Come to think of it, Keith had never once spoken of his mother like he thought she was dead. He'd chalked it up to hope on his part, but it looked as if he'd just known all along.

Sheathing his knife, Keith jerked his head in the direction of the cave. Without another word, he turned on his heel, heading into the cave. Trusting him, Shiro followed without hesitation, Pidge coming right along behind them. The pair of cadets lingered, before hurrying to catch up, curiosity outweighing any kind of apprehension.

Either that, or they just didn't want to be left alone in the middle of the desert.

At once, it became apparent that this was no ordinary cave.

Carvings of lions, some of them looking thousands of years old, adorned the walls wherever he looked. Traces of blue pigment still clung to a few of them, reminding him of the cracked and faded pigment that still clung to the charm Keith had carved for him.

He still had it, tucked safely away in one of his belt pouches. It was a miracle that it didn't break apart when he crashed, but he guessed it was made of sturdier stuff than he thought.

"What is this place?" Hunk asked.

Turning to look back at him, Keith's eyes glowed in the dark of the cave. "This is where she's been resting."

"She?" Pidge asked. "Voltron is a she?"

Giving her a faint smile, Keith traced one of the carvings with his fingers, careful of his claws. "The blue lion is."

So Keith had known where it was, all along.

This had to be what he had wanted to show him, when he got back from Kerberos. What his parents had tried to protect, what he had been protecting, all this time.

"So wait, what exactly is this Voltron thing?" Lance asked. "Shiro said it was some kind of a weapon."

Glancing back towards him, Keith gave him a faint grin- an impish one, the kind that wouldn't look out of place on Pidge. Guess she'd rubbed off on him. "I think it's better if you see it for yourself."

Keith found his steps in the dark cave with practiced ease- even if he didn't have night vision that outshone any human's, Shiro suspected he would still be able to find where he was going. He must have come to see it countless times while living out on in the desert.

For four long years, it had likely been his only companion.

Faintly, he thought he could make out the sound of water dripping. Recalling Keith's uncanny ability to find water in the desert, he had to wonder if the blue lion had somehow been guiding him to it, all this time.

It sounded a bit silly, even in his head.

But whatever they were dealing with here, it wasn't of this world. He'd seen for himself how attuned Keith could be to things beyond his understanding, so maybe the thought wasn't so silly after all.

Without Keith to guide them, they would have gotten lost for sure. The whole cave system was like a maze. At first, he thought nature had made it that way, but looking closer, he realized that much of its twists and turns had been man-made, designed to fool anyone who wandered in into going the wrong way.

Had Keith done this?

Maybe it had been his father, or even his mother. Could even be a family effort.

"...does anyone hear anything?" Lance suddenly spoke up.

"I hear water." Hunk said. "Is that what you're hearing?"

"No, it's something- something else." Lance frowned, brows knitting together. "I can't- I can't really explain it."

Pausing, Keith turned back to look at him, studying him with curious eyes. "Like this?"

It took him a second to realize that Keith was the one producing that rumbling sound- it was different from his usual purring, deeper. Looking back towards Lance, he watched as something sparked in his eyes.

"Yeah, that's it!" Lance told him. "You hear it too?"

Keith ceased his rumbling, wordlessly reaching into one of his belt pouches. Making his way towards Lance, he took his hand without asking, pressing what he had taken out into it, curling his fingers around it.

It reminded him with a pang of something else, but he just couldn't place it.

"Uh," glancing down at the lion carving in his hand, painted a vivid blue, Lance was clearly trying to process what just happened, even as Keith was already moving on, "...thanks?"

"Oh neat!" Reaching into her pocket, Pidge dug out her own, holding up the lion carving that Keith had given her. "It matches mine!"

Not to mention his own- and Keith's.

"Aw, why don't I get a tiny lion?" Hunk complained.

Glancing back towards him, Keith tilted his head with a slight frown, before he reached into his belt pouch again, producing a matching lion carving, this one painted yellow. Tossing it Hunk's way, he had to scramble to catch it, but looked pretty darn pleased with himself once he had it.

Catching Keith's eye, he merely gave him a faint grin, before turning back on his heel. Resting a hand on his own belt pouch, where he had tucked the lion carving in with the charm, Shiro frowned, wondering if they had some kind of meaning.

Guess he'd find out.

It wasn't long before the presence of light within the dark cave drew his eyes forward. It gleamed blue, shining in the darkness. Taking a few steps forward, Shiro's breath hitched in his throat, eyes falling on the source of it.

This- this had to be it.

This was what they were looking for. What Keith had been protecting.

The blue lion of Voltron.

It stood over them, regal and proud, protected by some kind of force field, the likes of which he'd never seen before. It gave off an entirely different feeling from the pair of scout ships he'd been shown before- those had been menacing, but this? This was just beyond words.

He- and the others- could only look at it with awe.

Keith looked at it like it was an old friend.

"Is this it?" Pidge asked. "Is this the Voltron?"

Taking a few steps forward, Keith neatly leapt over what looked to be an underground river, one that divided them from the blue lion. Testing it with his foot, it looked to be shallow enough to wade through, so he did just that, proceeding with caution in the off chance he was wrong.

Catching up to Keith, he placed his left hand on his shoulder, before gazing up at the blue lion, unable to shake the feeling of awe he got from it. "I take it this is what you wanted to show me."

Nodding his head, Keith frowned. "I was planning on showing it to you when you got back from Kerberos. I thought... after everything you'd done for me, you deserved to know about it."

Smiling down at him, Shiro gave his shoulder a light squeeze. "I'm here now."

Keith's frown only deepened- from the looks of it, he hadn't been able to chase away all of his doubts. Looking back towards Pidge, she caught his eye, giving him a rueful smile. He still hadn't gotten the chance to talk to her, to get her version of events, but he definitely needed to.

How long had Keith been carrying around the knowledge that he had been taken by the Galra? If he had been holding it in all that time...

"Alright," Shiro began, pulling his hand away from Keith's shoulder and stepping forward, "-this is what they're looking for, so we can't let them get it. Keith, any ideas?"

"I don't know." Keith admitted. "She's never let me in."

"What," Lance began, his hand hovering just above the barrier, "-you never try to knock?"

They weren't alone in the castle.

Keith was fast.

But the alien was faster.

Before he could so much as react, she had him pinned to the floor, knee pressing into the small of his back. He let out a pained cry as she wrenched his arm behind his back, pinning it there with what could only be described as extreme prejudice.


Narrowing her eyes, the alien jerked her head up, locking gazes with him. It almost looked as if she expected to see someone- or something- else. Another Galra, some part of him supplied.

"You will tell me just who you are," she demanded, pressing her knee deeper into Keith's back, "-and why you have brought a Galra into my castle."

She must have knocked the wind right out of Keith, because when he finally drew in a breath next, it was unsteady. Grunting, he tried to escape from the hold she had him pinned in, but it was no use- for once, he'd met someone stronger than him. Seeing that he couldn't get free that way, he turned pleading eyes on him, visibly desperate to get free.

By his side, Pidge bristled, taking a step forward. "Let go of Keith!"

Lance and Hunk just look deeply confused, frozen to the spot. Right. Nobody had told them that Keith was Galra yet.

"I will do no such thing." The alien stated. "Not until you answer my questions. Who are you people? Allies of the Galra?"

"Hold on," holding his hands up, trying to look as harmless as possible, "-I think there's been a misunderstanding. I promise you, we're not allies of the Galra Empire."

"And yet you have a Galra amongst your numbers." The alien stated.

"I'm not," Keith gasped out, his voice raspy, "-I'm not with the Empire."

As far as he saw it, he had two options- he could either talk this alien down, or he could use force. Seeing Keith writhing in pain like that was nearly enough to make him jump straight into the second option, but he forced himself to remain diplomatic, for at least awhile longer.

He should have expected something like this.

The Galra were reviled. He knew that much from the way the other prisoners spoke of them, when their captors couldn't hear them. He didn't know who this alien was, but it was clear that she was no different from them- the moment she'd laid eyes on Keith, all she had seen was the Galra, invading her castle.

"Please," Shiro implored her, "-I'll explain everything, but let Keith go first."

"Princess," the other alien, the one who had come out of the pod beside hers, spoke up, "-I think you should listen to him."

Narrowing her eyes, the princess gave them a considering look, before finally releasing Keith's arm. The moment he was free, Keith scrambled away from her, putting some distance between the two of them. There was already a bruise forming where his forehead had slammed into the ground, his lip bleeding where he had bit it.

His hand went for his knife, and he watched as the princess tensed- but as it remained there, hovering over it, she chose to do nothing, the two of them remaining in a standoff. He wasn't going to attack, but he wasn't about to let her anywhere near him again.

"I have freed him." The princess stated. "Now answer me. Who are you? Why have you brought a Galra here with you?"

"My name is Takashi Shirogane." Shiro began. "I come from a planet called Earth. We all do. Now why don't you tell us who you are, so we can try to come to some sort of understanding?"

The princess frowned, not yet taking her eyes off Keith. "I am Princess Allura, of planet Altea. And you still have not answered my question."

"Weren't you listening?" Pidge asked. "Keith's from Earth. He's human, like the rest of us."

Out of the corner of his eye, he watched as something in Keith's shoulders eased. Taking a breath, he pulled his hand away from his knife, crossing his arms in front of him. Allura took note of this, but it only caused her frown to tighten.

"I think I know a Galra when I see one." Allura said simply.

"He could be a hybrid." The other alien pointed out. "Bit short for a Galra."

Brows furrowing, Keith gave the man a curt nod of his head. "I'm half-human, on my father's side. Like Pidge said, I was born and raised on Earth. I'm not with the empire."

Allura didn't look convinced. "So you say."

"Princess," Shiro cut in, "-I promise you, Keith isn't your enemy. He's the one who helped us find the blue lion. That's what brought us here."

At that, she just looked alarmed. "Why would you have the blue lion? What happened to its paladin?"

"Blaytz is dead." Keith told her, his words earning such a furious glare from the princess that he nearly thought she'd lunge at him again. "He died ten thousand years ago, with the rest of the original paladins."

And all at once, fury vanished.

"That cannot- that cannot be right." Allura said. "How can you be so sure?"

"I'm not." Keith admitted. "All I know is what my mother told my father."

"Coran," Allura began, "-check to see if what he says is true."

So the other alien was called Coran. Complying with the princess' request, he stopped just short of the control panel in the center of the room, bringing up a screen.

"Well?" Allura asked. "Is it true? Or is it just another Galra lie?"

"...I'm afraid it's true, princess. We've been asleep for ten thousand years."

There was unspeakable grief of the man's face when he looked back.

"Altea is gone."

"We need to talk."

Allura didn't even look at him.

She seemed to have accepted their presence on the Castle of Lions easily enough, once it became clear to her that they were not a threat. Once she'd learned that Lance had been able to fly the blue lion, her attitude towards them had transitioned from one of suspicion, to one of hope.

Except for Keith.

It was why he'd sent him along with Pidge, to claim the green lion. He didn't like the idea of leaving Keith alone with the princess, even if the other Altean- a man named Coran, didn't seem so bad.

And it wasn't that the princess was bad, not exactly- she had been deeply betrayed, and was still hurting from that. But that was still no reason to take it out on Keith, so while he could understand where the princess was coming from, he refused to let things continue as they had been.

Keith had internalized enough negativity towards the alien half of his heritage as it was already. He didn't need any other reasons to hate himself.

He hoped letting him have some time alone with Pidge would help. Even if he'd made some rather vocal protests about Lance's skill as a pilot, it had still been clear to him that Keith had enjoyed every second of their exodus from Earth. That didn't exactly come as much of a surprise to him- he'd been longing for the stars ever since they'd met, so getting the chance to actually be up in them?

He was bound to be excited.

Which was part of the reason he'd gotten so far ahead of them. Part of the reason Shiro had let him out of his sight long enough for him to be attacked, pinned down.

He tried to fight back the surge of guilt that thought brought him. He'd promised to protect Keith, and even though he knew that he was more than capable of protecting himself, he couldn't help but feel like he'd failed in that, even if Allura had eventually saw reason.

He feared it wouldn't be the only time.

"I do not know what there is to talk about." Allura said simply.

"Yes, you do." Shiro told her. "You said there was no paladin for the red lion, but I saw the way you looked at Keith."

Keith, whose lion carvings had matched each paladin exactly.

Keith, who had carved a red one for himself.

Keith, who had grown up in the shadow of the blue lion.

Keith, who told the princess himself that he knew the red lion was in Galra hands, but that he just didn't know where, or if that was even still true. It had been something his mother had told his father years ago now, so it was possible that it had changed hands during that time.

Either way, Allura was struggling to find it.

Her back stiffened at his accusation, but she turned to face it. "My father was the original paladin of the red lion. I am not about to let some Galra fly it."

"From what I saw with Lance and the blue lion, I don't think that's your choice, princess." Shiro told her, not missing the way she bristled at his comment. "I know you have every reason to hate the Galra, but Keith was raised on Earth. He's just as human as the rest of us."

Narrowing her eyes, the princess looked far from convinced. "How can you be so sure? For all you know, he could be lying to you."

"Because," locking eyes with her, Shiro stood tall- proud, even, because he was, he really, truly, was, "-I raised him."

The words carried weight.

She knew that he had been a prisoner of Zarkon's, though he'd been scant on the details. Yet he was still choosing to defend Keith, to glow with pride at the statement.

How couldn't he?

Thinking back to that skittish, awkward child he'd met in the desert... he'd grown so much since then. There wasn't a single part of Shiro that wasn't proud of him.

"Princess," Coran spoke up, "-I think you ought to give the lad a chance."

"How can you say that, Coran?" Allura asked, turning on her heel to face him. "You know how much my father trusted Zarkon, and yet he, and countless others we thought our allies, still betrayed him. The Galra are not to be trusted."

"That may be so," Coran told her, "-but the boy isn't Zarkon."

"Keith's not alone, either." Shiro told her. "His mother is a rebel, and she's Galra. I know for sure that there are others out there like her."

He... wasn't actually certain why he was so sure of that, just that he was. Based on the sting of pain thinking about it earned him, it had to do something with his scrambled memories, but he just couldn't specifically recall what.

Had a Galra helped him escape?

It was possible.

For a long time, Allura merely stared at the pair of them, tense as could be. After what felt like ages, she let out a long sigh, allowing her shoulders to slump slightly. "Fine. But just for the record, I do not like this."

It wasn't a resounding vote of acceptance, but it would have to do. In time, she'd come around- once she got the chance to actually talk to Keith, to get to know him, she'd realize what he knew- that you'd be hard pressed to find someone that was more loyal than Keith.

Keith didn't have to save him, but he did.

That was back when he had still been terrified of the outside world- a fear that had kept him in the desert, away from other people for four long years, living in isolation. He could have left him where he found him, or treated him there and then disappeared- but he'd chosen to take him back to his home, to make sure that he was safe.

He'd saved his life that day.

Judging from the way he'd reacted once he realized the risk he had taken, he hadn't even thought twice about it. He'd just done it- even though by bringing an outsider into his home, he put himself at risk.

That was the sort of person Keith was.

"As for whether or not he is truly the red paladin," Allura began, breaking off his thoughts, "-we will let the red lion decide that."

Somehow, he didn't think that would be a problem.

"Good kitty," Keith's voice was soft, fond, "-let's roll."

He found him in the red lion's hangar.

It had been a little touch and go for awhile there, but they'd managed to form Voltron in the end. Keith had connected with the red lion just as he thought he would, and though it was clear that Allura didn't like it, she accepted it.

Still in his paladin armor, Keith sat crosslegged on the floor in front of the red lion, staring up at it. There was wonder in his eyes, clear for anyone to see, his pupils visible in the climate controlled confines of the castle-ship.

He made no move to greet him, but he knew from the way his ears twitched that he knew he was here. Sitting next to him, Shiro simply looked up at the red lion himself. If Keith wanted to talk to him, he would.

Otherwise, he'd just enjoy his company.

"For a long time, all I had was the blue lion."

Turning his head, he found that Keith was looking at him now. Uncertainty was etched into his features, enough to make his heart hurt.

"Then you came along." Keith told him, brows furrowing. "At first I thought... I thought you wouldn't stay, but you kept coming back."

"I made a promise." Shiro told him. "I like to keep those."

"When I heard about the Kerberos mission, I knew it was a lie." Keith told him, looking away. "That you couldn't be dead, that it couldn't be pilot error."

"I knew." Closing his eyes, Keith's hands balled into fists where they rested on his helmet. "I knew, but I couldn't do anything about it. I tried- I tried to fix the ship, but I didn't know how. I thought if I did, I could find you. Find Matt and Mr. Holt. I thought- I thought if I did, I could bring you home, and things could go back to the way they were."

That maybe you wouldn't hate me wasn't spoken, but it ran like a thread through his words.

"I'm kind of glad you didn't." Shiro admitted, Keith's eyes snapping open in shock. "All I could think about when I was captured was that I couldn't let them know about you. I remember that much."

"Shiro, I-"

"We've gone over this before, Keith." Shiro told him. "You're family. Nothing will change that. Nothing can change that. And I'm not the only one who thinks that."

Shoulders slumping, Keith's gaze drifted downwards. "When I told Pidge and Mrs. Holt, I thought they would hate me."

"Did they?"

Shaking his head, Keith frowned. "No."

Giving him a smile, Shiro reached out, lightly ruffling his hair. "That's because they know what I know. That you're a great kid."

That earned him a slight grumble, one that he was glad to hear. "I'm eighteen, Shiro. I'm not a kid anymore."

"Nope," Shiro said simply, "-you're a kid until I say you aren't."

Looking up at him, Keith's lips pursed together in a tight frown. "When will that be?"


Now Keith did grumble, narrowing his eyes. "That doesn't sound fair."

"Sounds fair to me." Shiro told him. "That's how being the kid brother works."

For a long moment, all Keith did was glare at him- before he cracked, bursting into a fit of laughter. He felt his own grin grow, letting out a laugh in response, mercilessly attacking his hair, making a proper mess of it by the time he was done.

Visibly more at ease than he was before, Keith looked up at him. "I'm going to try and find my mom."

"Want me to help?" Shiro asked.

"No, this is something I need to do myself." Keith told him, looking down at his hands, eyes tracing his own claws. "I bet she'll be shocked to see me like this."

"She's going to be so proud of you, kiddo." Shiro said. "Trust me on that."

Looking over towards him, Keith frowned, brows knotting together in a quizzical expression. "Because I'm the red paladin?"

"That's part of it." Shiro told him. "But mostly it's because you're you."

Staring at him, Keith let his words sink in- before a smile gradually made its way onto his face. He'd been to the stars and back, but that smile, that rare, precious one that Keith rarely showed to anyone... the whole of the cosmos had nothing on it.

The head trauma, Shiro thought, had totally been worth it.