Allura was so incredibly, intensely, infuriatingly frustrated.
“You need to start controlling your emotions, Keith,” she said, fighting not to raise her voice. “Before someone gets killed.”
Keith scowled at her. They were both still in their armor, fresh off a mission, but the other Paladins had left them alone in the hangar. This was why Keith didn’t check his own volume when he replied.
“I already said I’m sorry, Allura, what more do you want from me?”
He looked like a wreck. Tired and pale, as he hadn’t been sleeping well since Shiro disappeared. Well, tough luck. None of them had.
“I don’t want your apologies. I want you to turn them into actions.”
“We’re all trying. Unfortunately, this is war, and trying isn’t good enough.”
“You think I do this on purpose?” Keith’s eyes were flashing as the argument escalated, but there was also a certain shine to them that Allura had learned to recognize. But after nearly dying again from Keith’s rash actions, she didn’t particularly care.
“It’s not about you,” she responded, her tight tone coming out cold. “It’s about the universe. You are the leader of Voltron now, whether you like it or not, and you need to start behaving like a leader.”
Keith turned away from her, rubbing a hand over his eyes. She expected more shouting, or for Keith to stomp off in a huff, but for once he did neither.
“I really am sorry,” he murmured as he stared at his feet. “I don’t like being like this either. I wish I wasn’t, but…” he gave a limp shrug. “I don’t know how to fix it.”
Allura took a moment to compose herself. Now that the shouting had died down, the battle fervor was fading out with it, allowing her to finally think clearly.
Honestly, she had the same wish as Keith. She tried to see the Paladins in the best possible light lest she succumb to despair, but she couldn’t deny that they all had little traits that drove her to distraction.
Hunk’s fearful nature. Lance’s shameless flirting. Pidge’s lack of tact.
And Keith’s emotional maelstrom that dragged everyone down with him.
This one, however, she might just have a solution for.
“Keith,” she began, making herself ignore the tension in the air. “Back on Earth, do humans have mood stabilizing medications?”
“Uh.” He glanced in her direction with a confused, slightly wary expression. “Yeah, we do. Why?”
Allura bit her lip. She wasn’t sure that Keith would respond well to her idea, but it was worth a shot.
“What if we could have the Castle synthesize some? The formula would be Altean, so there may be some side effects, but I believe they could help you.”
Keith paused for a long moment, staring at the floor in contemplation. Then he sighed and said, “If you think they’ll help.” When he looked up all of the anger had vanished from him, leaving nothing but an empty fatigue. “Are we done?”
Allura decided to take mercy on him (and on herself). “Yes, we’re done. I’ll come by your bunk once Coran has synthesized the medication.”
He gave her a tired nod and turned to shuffle out of the hangar. As he left she felt her own exhaustion beginning to settle on her shoulders, but she stubbornly pushed it away.
If Shiro’s disappearance had taught her anything, it was that there was no time for complacency.
Three vargas later Allura made her way to Keith’s quarters, the bottle of tablets clenched in one hand. It had taken a while for Coran to locate the formula and ensure that it would be safe for someone with Galra blood, so it was now almost time for lights out.
Despite the time, Keith was still dressed when he answered her knock. The bags under his eyes had deepened, and the ends of his hair dripped water onto his jacket, indicating a recent training session and shower. Normally Allura would scold him for his overzealous training habit, but for now she kept her criticism in check.
“As we discussed,” she said, holding out the bottle of orange tablets. “Take one every night before bed. It may take some time before we see any changes, but hopefully they’ll make your emotions less intense.”
Keith took the bottle from her and looked at it for a moment. There was something in his eyes then, something she almost would have called despair if it wasn’t Keith, but before she could decipher it he nodded and stepped back.
“Thanks, Princess,” he said quietly. “Good night.”
Allura came back to herself enough to respond and watch the door close between them. She stood there for another dobosh or so, then shook it off and started away down the hall.
If the Princess felt any apprehension at that moment, she did her best to ignore it.
The next day began much the way they all did. She got up early and went to the training deck for her own workout, then washed up and got dressed to head for the dining hall.
As usual, the only person at the table at such an early hour was Keith, braced over his bowl by his elbows and mechanically shoving food goo into his mouth. Not unusual for him, so Allura merely nodded in greeting as she went about getting her own breakfast.
By the time she sat down across from him Keith was almost finished with his meal. He’d leave before the others rose for the training deck, but until then, Allura would dutifully attempt conversation.
“Good morning, Keith,” she said as cheerfully as she could muster. “Did you take the pill last night?”
Keith nodded wordlessly.
“Excellent. It may be a few movements before we see results, but hopefully they’ll be effective.”
Keith paused, just for a split second before taking his last bite.
“I don’t know if it’ll take that long,” he said in a soft, far away voice. Before she could ask what he meant he stood up and left the table, taking his bowl with him.
Allura simply shrugged to herself and continued eating.
Despite her reminders to Keith, Allura herself had to hold back disappointment that day when Keith exploded at Lance during training.
It will take time, she told herself firmly, like she would when she spoke to the Paladins. I must be patient.
Day Two on the medicine showed some promise. Keith didn’t respond when Lance whined and whinged during training, and even when the Blue Paladin tried to goad him into a race, Keith merely replied that they weren’t training with the Lions that day and went back to correcting Pidge’s stance.
Afterwards Allura shot him a proud smile, and got a bit of a curved up lip in answer.
On Day Three they encountered a Galra war ship. Keith was calm and collected as he issued orders, delegating tasks equally rather than trying to act alone. The ship began to flee towards the end, and rather than giving chase, Keith told Hunk to fire his shoulder cannon and eliminated the target from a distance.
Allura was beyond pleased. Finally she was seeing in Keith what Shiro had apparently seen: a competent, logical, balanced leader. In short, someone that actually seemed to deserve being chosen by the Black Lion.
As the first week ended, the team dynamic wasn’t the only thing improving. Keith seemed less tired now, and no longer snapped when the others got rowdy and loud. Allura had also noticed a distinct lack of any indications that he’d been crying. He didn’t drag his feet on his way to the Black Lion’s hangar, and his mood overall was more balanced, rather than wildly seesawing between rage and catatonia.
It wasn’t until Day Eight that she started seeing danger signs.
They were eating dinner together after another successful mission. For once everyone was happy and smiling, Allura included, and although Keith was quiet as he ate it was a peaceful quiet rather than a brooding one.
At some point in the meal, Pidge took a glance at her tablet and idly asked, “Hey, Keith, when are you going out to look for Shiro again? I haven’t seen you leaving for a few days.”
Sheer curiosity drew Allura’s eyes to Keith’s chair. He’d paused with his spoon halfway to his mouth, and as Allura watched, he slowly put it down again. His expression was blank, rather than the way it normally twisted when Shiro’s name was spoken.
After another moment of thought, he said simply, “Shiro is dead,” and picked up his spoon.
Shocked silence descended over the room like a ton of stones. Everyone was staring at each other with wide eyes, except for Keith; he just kept eating, apparently unaware of the impact his words had on them.
Eventually Allura cleared her throat and quietly asked, “Did you… find his body?”
The whole table was holding its breath, the effect only worsened by Keith’s uncaring shrug.
“No,” he said, not looking up. “But it’s been weeks. If he was out there he’s dead by now.”
Pidge was understandably alarmed. “So what, you’re just giving up on him?”
A few days before Keith would’ve been offended by the suggestion, but now he just shrugged.
“Voltron is more important than my feelings,” was all he said. Almost simultaneously all eyes turned to Allura, Coran’s with an anxious, knowing glint.
Allura gnawed on her lip. It was true that Keith’s sudden lack of caring was strange, but it was also true that a movement ago she would’ve praised him for that same decision.
So she merely said, “It’s your choice,” and went back to her food. For the rest of the meal she could feel Pidge’s calculating gaze on her, as well as Coran’s worried one, but ignored them as best she could.
After all, this was what she wanted from him.
It all came to a head two movements after she’d given Keith the tablets. For the last two quintants they’d been visiting a planet, negotiating an alliance. It had just been finalized when a report came in that one of their ships, full of refugees from their sister planet, was being pursued by several Galra cruisers.
Of course they went immediately to their Lions.
Keith led them to their attackers with the same composure Allura had grown to expect from him. Even when all of the Paladins were shouting out conflicted information he didn’t get overwhelmed or snap. He just listened and gave orders.
At least until the cruisers began to split up.
Two of the cruisers began to turn, slowly angling away from the battle, heading for open space. One stayed, trapping the refugee ship in its tractor beam and holding it captive.
It was a common Galra tactic; take a hostage, and make their opponent choose between innocent lives and a decisive victory. It made Allura’s blood boil whenever she saw it. She hated that they could so callously take advantage of their morals and use it as strategy, but as every time before she ground her teeth and prepared for the bitter pang that came with watching Zarkon’s troops escape.
Then Keith said, “Lance, form sword. We’re going right.”
Allura stopped and blinked in surprise, and judging how Voltron had come to a halt, she wasn’t the only one.
She must’ve misheard him. Going right would have them attack the fleeing cruisers. Surely he meant left, towards the refugees, didn’t he?
“Uh, don’t you mean left?” Hunk ventured to ask, only for Keith to shut him down.
“No, I mean right,” he said curtly. “We need to eliminate the biggest threat first.”
“But we can’t just abandon the civilians!” Pidge cried. “The Galra will kill them!”
“The Galra have killed a lot of people. If we want to weaken Zarkon’s army we need to make sacrifices.”
“What the hell, Keith?” exploded Lance, loud enough to make Allura wince. “There’s no way in hell we’re gonna leave them to die! What the fuck is wrong with you?”
Keith’s voice was still scarily even when he responded, “I’m just thinking objectively.”
Finally, Allura had heard enough. “No, we will not abandon innocent people,” she said as decisively as she could. “As Princess of Altea, I overrule your command.”
Keith didn’t even argue. He just said, “Alright, left,” and took them back into the action.
The battle ended as she’d predicted it would. They saved the refugees and destroyed the Galra cruiser, but the other two escaped.
Keith didn’t say anything about it, nor did he comment on the tension running between them all as they returned to the Castle. Allura’s mind was racing-- she couldn’t stop thinking about how calm Keith had sounded as he ordered they leave the refugees, something he never would’ve tolerated in the past. And if she was being honest, how calm he’d been since he started taking the medication. Not a controlled quiet, or a depressed quiet, but an empty one. As though he had nothing left inside to voice.
Pidge, Hunk, and Lance met her in Blue’s hangar. Without letting her speak, Lance said, “Ok, is it just me or has Keith been acting weird?”
“It’s not just you,” said Pidge as she folded her arms across her chest. “He’s been acting strange for nearly two weeks now.”
“He doesn’t get angry anymore,” added Hunk with a look of concern. “And I know he can be cold sometimes, but I’ve never seen it that bad before. And,” he said this with special emphasis, “he stopped looking for Shiro.”
Allura sighed and pulled her helmet off, running a hand over her face. There was a terrible, creeping guilt rising in her gut that she couldn’t ignore.
“I think I know what the problem is.” She could imagine the looks the other Paladins were about to give her, but it was a necessary evil. “A few weeks ago Coran and I made him some mood stabilizers. To help him control his anger.”
The looks were worse than she could have imagined.
“You medicated him?” Pidge burst out, her face a mask of anger.
“He said you did that on Earth,” Allura said, a little helplessly.
“We do,” said Hunk in a quieter voice, though his eyes were full of reproach. “But a doctor has to prescribe it, and adjust the dosage. It’s a whole process.”
Lance was still staring at her in shock. Pidge wasn’t finished.
“You just gave him Altean meds? Just because you didn’t like his temper? Did you even know what it could do to him?”
“We did ensure they would be safe for Galra,” Allura tried, only to receive a derisive snort from Pidge.
“But did you make sure they would be safe for humans?”
Allura froze. Pidge threw up her hands and turned away with a muttered, “Unbelievable,” but Allura wasn’t listening.
She hadn’t thought about it. With everything that had come with the realization of Keith’s heritage, she’d stopped seeing him as half human. This whole time, she’d been seeing him as Galra.
Ancients, what had she done?
“I’ll go speak to Coran,” she said, still feeling unsteady. “We’ll take him off of them immediately.”
“You’d better,” Pidge snarled at her back as she left. It hurt, but Allura couldn’t deny that she deserved it.
The first place she went was the Black Lion’s hangar. Keith wasn’t there, and Black was slumped in an awkward position on the floor. Even from across the room Allura felt the change in quintessence-- Black was inert. The same way she had been after Shiro.
Swallowing back tears, she hurried to find Coran.
He was in the infirmary, cleaning the healing pods. The moment he saw her face he abandoned his task and was at her side, asking what was wrong.
She told him the story through held-in sobs. Coran listened grimly, but didn’t say anything until she did.
“Pidge was right,” was what she said. “We-- I shouldn’t have done this to him.”
“You were only trying to help, Princess,” he answered, but Allura shook her head.
“No, I wasn’t.” As soon as she admitted that the words came faster, revelations building on each other as she spoke. “I didn’t care that he was mourning Shiro. I didn’t care that he was scared and overwhelmed. I didn’t want Keith; I just wanted a Black Paladin.”
Her voice broke, the tears threatening to overtake her, and Coran opened his mouth. She cut him off-- not the royal thing to do, but just this once she didn’t care.
“So I made him numb everything that wasn’t useful and forced him to be the leader I wanted.”
“You didn’t force him,” Coran said far too gently. “He agreed to take them.”
Allura couldn’t answer that. She knew it was wrong, knew that Coran was trying to make her feel better, but that wasn’t the point. She was supposed to be finding Keith, not throwing herself a pity party over her own selfish actions.
“I need to go talk to him,” she said as she pulled away from Coran. “I don’t want him to take them anymore.”
“As you say, Princess.” Coran still watched her with sad eyes, but let her go without argument. “I’ll cancel the orders on the synthesizer.”
Allura gave him a watery smile and a murmur of thanks, then re-embarked on her quest.
The training deck was empty, as well as the lounge. Eventually she checked his bunk, and barely a tick after knocking found herself staring into Keith’s placid eyes, making her repress a shudder.
“May I come in?” she asked, and wordlessly Keith stood to the side and allowed her in. Between the end of the battle and Allura’s arrival, Keith had changed out of his armor. Allura still wore hers, making her anxious fidgets extremely obvious as she pondered what to say next.
“Keith,” she began at length. “I think you should stop taking the pills.”
Keith didn’t look surprised at this. He didn’t look like anything, really, his face entirely blank.
“Why?” he asked with a tiny tilt of his head. “I’m making rational, objective decisions without letting my emotions interfere. Isn’t that what you wanted?”
Allura cringed a bit. Keith hadn’t meant it that way, she was sure, but it still felt like an accusation.
“I know, but one extreme isn’t any better than the other. As it stands now, they’re doing more harm than good.”
The question took Allura aback. She’d thought it would be obvious after the battle, but she supposed medicine wouldn’t change Keith’s struggles with social interactions.
“It’s…” she struggled with her next sentence. Her first instinct was the rationalize, to point out how abandoning civilians would point a poor picture of Voltron to their allies.
But that was what had gotten them into this situation, wasn’t it? Prioritizing Voltron over her teammate.
“It’s changing you. The pills are taking away everything that makes you who you are.”
Keith just blinked at her. “Why does that matter? No one likes who I am.” His eyes flickered away, and his voice softened. “Least of all me.”
Allura couldn’t take it. Fresh tears flowed over her cheeks as she pulled Keith into what was possibly their most awkward embrace yet. He went still, unreacting, but that didn’t stop Allura.
“I’m so sorry that’s the message I sent you,” she said in his ear as he stood motionless in her arms. “You’re not just the Black Paladin, Keith. You’re a person, too, and I’m sorry I didn’t treat you like one.”
There was silence for a moment. Keith still hadn’t responded to her hug, but after some thought, slowly began to answer her.
“I don’t want to stop,” he said. Finally he rested a hand on her shoulder, and even through her armor she could feel it shaking. “They make it easier. Things don’t… hurt so much.”
Allura pulled back, holding him at arms length. His expression was still mostly blank, but distress was hinting around the edges.
“Things like missing Shiro?”
Keith ducked his head to avoid her eyes, but she still caught his answering nod.
“Losing people hurts,” she began, keeping her voice soft, just for them. “I want to hide from it too, sometimes. But it will never heal if you don’t feel it.”
“Who cares if I heal?” he shot back. He almost sounded like his old self. “All you need me to do is help defeat Zarkon. Nothing else matters.”
Allura held her breath to avoid bursting into tears for the third time. She knew it was her fault, and that only made watching him like this even more difficult.
“That’s not true. You matter, not just as a Paladin, but as a person.” Allura paused, then added, “Will you let me prove it to you?”
This time the silence lasted a while. But Allura was patient, letting Keith work through his thoughts, and finally got a tiny, murmured, “Yes.”
She managed a smile. “Good. First thing’s first-- no more pills.”