Routine Maintenance

Part six of a fan fiction by Velkyn Karma

Warning: This would be the chapter my fic intro warned about. There's blood and a few pretty bad injuries; some parts might not be for the squeamish. Plenty of hurt/comfort…heavy on the 'hurt.'

Disclaimer: I do not own, or pretend to own, Voltron: Legendary Defender or any of its subsequent characters, plots or other ideas. That right belongs to Dreamworks and associated parties.

"Shiro? Shiro…oh please don't be dead, Shiro, please, c'mon, please…"

Shiro's awareness comes to him gradually. He hears the pleading voice first, catches his own name repeated with an edge of terror and desperation, and comes to the realization that something is terribly, terribly wrong. His mind still wavers, unsure, confused. But he forces himself to focus, and manages to wrench himself out of that dazed place in between unconsciousness and wakefulness with sheer force of will alone.

It takes him a second, but he registers that the voice is Hunk's. It sounds strained and hoarse, like Hunk has been yelling for so long that he's lost his voice. It also sounds further away than Shiro initially realized. The yellow paladin is talking to him—begging him to not be dead—but it doesn't sound like he's right there next to him.

Shiro manages to register next that there's a heavy weight on top of him, pinning him down. For a moment his brain panics, conjuring memories of cold metal tables and heavy straps holding him in place, and his breath comes faster as he feels the first edges of terror creeping into the back of his mind. But he realizes a moment later that this doesn't feel like that. It's not that he's been forcibly strapped down; there's something heavy pinning him in place, but it doesn't feel like it's with any degree of intent. The pressure on his body is too random for that.

He wrenches his eyes open. His vision isn't filled with bright spotlights and masked faces. Instead, he sees sheared metal walls, crushed computer consoles, and broken ship structure. To his far left he can see a massive hole ripped in the nearest crumpled metal wall, letting warm yellow sunlight pour through into the otherwise gloomy interior of…of wherever he is.

There's more of the debris piled on top of him, pinning him awkwardly to the metal floor at his back on most of his left side. He wiggles his fingers and toes on his left arm and leg, and is relieved to find that while stuck, he can feel them and they respond to his command. That's good, at least. He's already lost one limb, he's not exactly thrilled at the prospect of losing another.

What happened? He asks himself.

It's hard to remember at first, but gradually it comes back to him. The team had been infiltrating a Galra warship, he remembers. Pidge had managed to hack Galra communications and get word that this ship was transporting an extremely important weapon to Zarkon himself—something reportedly strong enough to disable Voltron from the inside. They'd managed to locate the ship and sneak aboard, using the Green Lion's cloaking ability to get them all in close undetected. They'd made it to the bridge easily, disabling or avoiding sentries as they went, only to find it completely unmanned.

Something about that had sent a spike of alarm through Shiro—even if Galra warships were ninety percent operated and maintained by sentries, there were always at least a few flesh and blood Galra officers on board to take direct orders from higher ups and authorize decisions. The fact that there weren't any here at all was a red flag. And when the ship had locked down minutes later and prepared for hyperspeed, they knew the trap for what it was.

With the help of Shiro's arm, Pidge had hacked the ship, enough to discover it was headed straight for the center of Zarkon's empire. The trap had been a perfect way to gift-wrap all five Voltron paladins for Zarkon and deliver them straight to their opponent. Pidge had managed to randomize the destination coordinates just as the warship jumped into hyperspeed, but with the lockdown in effect—and Shiro's arm tagged as an escaped prisoner—she hadn't been able to do more than that, or even determine where they were actually heading. The ship had burst out of hyperspeed aimed directly at a planet, and with all systems locked and Pidge unable to break the codes fast enough, they'd taken a nose dive straight into the planet's surface.

We're still in the Galra crash, Shiro realizes.

He wonders what happened to Allura and Coran, or the Green Lion. If it had been a trap, there were probably Galra fighters waiting on the nearby moons. He hopes they were able to get away, and to recover the Lion after the warship it had been attached to went into hyperspeed. But he has no idea if Allura can find where they went without the Lions to track, and isn't sure if they'll be able to get a rescue anytime soon.

"Shiro, please, please, wake up, don't be dead, d-don't leave me alone here, I c-can't…you can't be…"

Hunk. Shiro forces himself to quit speculating on the maybes and focus on the now. Hunk is behind him, it sounds like, and he sounds terrified. Shiro turns his head, wincing slightly at the sharp stab of pain behind his eyes, and realizes his helmet is gone when his skull rubs against cold metal.

He spots Hunk across the chamber. The yellow paladin is pinned beneath just as much rubble as Shiro is, which explains why he's been begging Shiro to wake up rather than trying to assist. He has one arm partially free and stretched out as far as he can towards the black paladin, and Shiro can see a bit of one yellow shoulder guard and a little bit of black and white armor, but the rest of him is completely buried. Even as he watches, Hunk struggles valiantly to try and shove some of the debris off of himself, but he whimpers in pain a moment later and sinks back weakly.

"I'm okay, Hunk," Shiro says. His voice sounds hoarse and his throat feels raw, and he swallows a few times to try and remedy it. His mouth tastes like dust. "Stop struggling. You'll hurt yourself more."

"Shiro!" Hunk's eyes go wide. He's a little too far away for Shiro to make out the details of his face, especially in this gloom and through the visor of Hunk's helmet. But he can hear how choked the yellow paladin's voice sounds, and knows he's near tears. "Shiro, thank God, I wasn't sure…I was so scared that you were…y-you weren't moving and you didn't answer when I called and I d-didn't know if you were—"

"Easy, Hunk," Shiro says, as calmly as he can. Hunk's on the edge of hysteria, and already prone to panicking the most out of any of the teens under his command. He needs to keep him as calm as possible to get them both out of this mess. "I'm okay. I'm alive, and it's going to be okay, alright? Give me a minute, I'm going to get you out of there. Just sit tight and stay still so you don't hurt yourself any further, okay?"

"Okay…okay…but can you really get out?" Hunk sounds anxious, still scared. "You're pinned too, there's no way—"

"Relax, Hunk," Shiro says. "I'm going to come get you out. I promise."

Hunk quiets, and Shiro turns his attention to his first task, extricating himself from this mess. His left side is pinned, and his right leg is trapped at an awkward angle that means it won't be much use at kicking all the debris off of him. His Galra arm is more difficult to assess given he can't actually feel anything with it, but an experimental wiggle of his fingers tells him it's working at least, somewhere above his head where his arm was flung out in the crash. He'll need it the most anyway to free himself, so after another experimental test flex with his fingers and wrist, he lifts it.

It doesn't budge.

His right arm screams in protest right at the connection point as it strains to shift and the metal arm goes nowhere, and he grunts in surprise. It felt like everything was in working order—what the hell was going on?

He manages to awkwardly strain his head up to look above him, and realizes that his Galra arm is pinned like an insect to the metal floor he's laying on, courtesy of what appears to be the Galra equivalent to a piece of rebar. The metal shaft juts out of the shattered remnants of the Galra ship's internal structure, and slams through his prosthetic right between what would have been his radius and ulna on a human arm, close to his wrist.

Shiro stares at it with bemusement and mounting frustration. It's funny, he notes idly after a moment, if that were my real arm, I'd probably end up losing part of it from that degree of damage. But he's already taken care of that, he supposes.

He attributes the vague snort he makes to stress and shock more than anything else.

Fortunately, the prosthetic is working in his favor for once. Another experimental flex shows his fingers and wrist still responding perfectly—he's just stuck. And he can't even feel the alien rebar rammed through his arm since he lacks any kind of touch in it. Actually, the Galra arm is holding up pretty well, all things considered—the metal is punched in slightly where the bar slammed through it, but otherwise there aren't any cracks or breakage, and the fact that his fingers are still responding means the inner workings and the nerve connections haven't been destroyed. It's not even disturbing to look at; it's not his arm impaled, it's just a metal tool that happens to be attached to him.

Getting free will be tricky, though. His left arm is pinned, which means he can't use it to work the rebar free. Shiro tests the sturdiness of the bar experimentally with a few careful tugs on his arm. It's pretty solidly embedded into the metal floor beneath his arm, but the bar itself is thin enough that he might be able to snap it with the right pressure.

This is going to hurt, he thinks to himself. But he can feel Hunk's terrified eyes on him, and reminds himself that he did make a promise. He' got to free that kid, and he's got to find the others, too—who knows what kind of situation they might be in.

So he grits his teeth, braces himself, and wrenches his Galra wrist up with all the strength he can muster.

The stump of his right arm screams in pain again, and for a moment spots dance in front of his eyes. Shiro keeps his jaw clamped shut to keep from screaming—don't freak Hunk out, he's barely holding it together as it is, come on, come on—and focuses on breathing. In through the nose, out through the mouth. Come on, get it together. He needs you. They all need you.

It hurts like hell, but it works. When the pain in what's left of his arm reduces to a dull, continual throbbing, Shiro glances at his metal arm—now held straight up in the air above him. The rebar is still stabbing through his prosthetic's forearm, but only about three feet of it. There's still a piece buried in the metal above his head where the strength of the Galra arm snapped it clean off.

I can work with this, he thinks. He has to be careful as he moves the Galra arm so that he doesn't crack himself in the head with the rebar still impaling it, but he's able to use the prosthetic to shove the debris off of himself. The arm has no difficulty with the weight, and he's free in just a few minutes, levering himself up into a sit awkwardly with his bruised natural arm. He's sore all over, and as he sits up he can feel a painful tenderness in his side that means he's at least bruised a few ribs, if not cracked them. His head throbs, and he can feel a trickle of blood running down the left side of his head, but an experimental touch at the injury with his left hand indicates the wound is merely superficial. He'll live.

He gets to his feet, staggering slightly as he shifts his weight too quickly. The last order of business is to trudge over to the closest part of the Galra hull, and slam his metal arm against it. The rebar embedded in his forearm is knocked free with a little difficulty and clatters to the metal ground, leaving a quarter-sized hole that he can see straight through. Shiro catches a glance of a few gears and wires on the inside, but nothing seems to be having difficulty and his fingers and wrist still move on command.

It's funny, he thinks, how a little bit of sand and grit in exactly the wrong places can lock his arm down so quickly he can't even move it, but a sharp metal shaft rammed through the middle of his forearm doesn't slow it down for a second. But as long as it's working and he can use it to help the others, he really doesn't care.

Hunk is staring at him, looking both impressed and shocked, and Shiro makes his way over to him. "Let's get you out, okay? And give me a status report. How are you feeling?"

He starts digging the debris off the yellow paladin as Hunk starts to babble, voice tight and stressed. "Arm h-hurts," he gasps. "Really, really bad. I think it's broken maybe. Side hurts too. Everything hurts but those hurt the most." His expression becomes more anxious. "I don't know about the others. I don't know, I…I can't remember the last time I saw them when we were crashing. I haven't heard or seen any of them since…I don't know if they're okay, Shiro, or hurt, or a-alive, they could be dying and I haven't been able t-to do anything to help them and—"

"Woah! Hunk, calm down," Shiro orders. "I need you to calm down. Remember the breathing exercise we use during the meditation training for Voltron? I need you to try that, okay? Breathe in through your nose, out through your mouth. That's it." He heaves the last of the crumpled mainframe consoles off of Hunk easily with his prosthetic, and crouches in front of him. Hunk's attempts to use the breathing exercise are shallower than they should be; he's got rib damage for sure, probably passed bruised into broken.

"Now listen," Shiro says, with as much confidence and command as he can muster, "You've already helped a lot, okay, Hunk? You were able to wake me up. I heard you talking to me and that helped. Now I'm going to help you get out of this wreck, and then I'm going to look for the others. So you've done your part, okay?"

Hunk doesn't look like he believes it, but he lets Shiro help him sit up. Hunk's left arm hangs awkwardly to one side, and Shiro can tell it's badly broken within seconds. Between that and the ribs, the kid has to be suffering, and Shiro wants to get him out of this dangerous wreck as soon as he can.

He reaches forward to slip his arm under Hunk's right one to help him stand, but Hunk freezes and stares at the metal plating in shock. "Your arm," he says after a moment, looking horrified. "Oh geez, there's a hole through it, it's broken—"

"It's fine, Hunk," Shiro reassures. "I can't feel the damage and it's still working. It's going to be fine." He levers Hunk into a stand, doing most of the lifting and slinging Hunk's good arm over his shoulder. Shiro's own ribs seem to whine in protest, but he ignores them, supporting the yellow paladin as best he can. Hunk does what he can to help, limping awkwardly next to him, and doing his best to choke his whimpers back.

Shiro talks gently to him as he guides Hunk towards the massive hole torn in one side of the ship, and the sunlight beyond. The world outside has thankfully breathable atmosphere, or they'd all have died before ever reaching consciousness. There's soft lavender grass outside, ringed by trees that are maybe four stories tall with deep blue leaves; they must have crash landed in some kind of field. The sky is yellow and there's what looks like a bright green lake in the distance. The colors are definitely unusual, but otherwise the place reminds Shiro a bit of Earth. It would be a nice place to relax if it weren't for the imminent threat to his team.

He steers Hunk towards a tree far enough from the wreckage that he won't be in danger if the ship starts to fall apart, speaking softly to Hunk as he goes. "It's going to be okay, Hunk," he promises. "We're going to get through this. But I need you to try and hang on and to stay calm, okay? After all, I'm going to need you to be my mechanic after this, right? You told me yourself, that's your job. You promised you'd help me out with this arm, and I'm definitely going to need your help with it once we're back on the Castle of Lions. So we've got to stay calm, and make it through this, okay?"

"I…okay," Hunk acknowledges meekly. He does eventually calm, although it seems to be half out of fatigue and pain, like he just doesn't have the energy to be near hysterical anymore.

"That's it," Shiro encourages. He gets Hunk to the tree and helps him sit back against it, using the trunk to support him. Hunk settles down on the soft grass and cradles his broken arm in his lap, expression a mask of exhaustion and pain. Shiro sympathizes with him, and wishes he could ease his pain somehow. But there's not much he can do without first aid supplies, and he doesn't have time when he needs to try and find Lance, Pidge and Keith before it's too late.

He's just about to turn back towards the wreckage, when there's a crackle of static from Hunk's helmet, and they hear Allura's voice. It's tinny and faint, and the connection is obviously weak, but it's there. "Hello? Paladins? Can you hear me?"

Shiro nods to Hunk even as he leans closer to hear. Hunk looks like he's struggling to focus, but manages to speak with only a little pained bite to his voice. "Allura? I'm here with Shiro. Where are you?"

There's another crackle, but Allura's voice makes it through again. "Hunk! Shiro! Thank goodness. We're in another sector of space from the one we found the warship in. When it went into hyperspeed, the Castle was attacked by a fleet of Galra fighters. We barely managed to keep them from stealing the Green Lion, but we were able to recover it. We had to make a wormhole jump to escape the attack, and the Castle took some damage, but Coran and I are fine. Where are you? What of the rest of the paladins?"

Shiro is relieved to hear that the two of them managed to escape the trap, at least—and recover the Green Lion, too. "We don't know," Shiro says, loudly enough that Hunk's helm mic will pick up his voice. "The original coordinates were for the center of Zarkon's empire. Pidge managed to scramble those coordinates, but I have no idea where we were sent. I'm about to search for the others."

Allura makes a frustrated sound over the comms. "We will do what we can to locate you," she says after a moment. "This communications signal is very weak, which means you're too far to travel to directly, but we'll do what we can to find you. Unfortunately, the Castle was damaged and our systems were weakened in the firefight when we recovered the Green Lion. We must recharge our systems before we can generate a wormhole to come find you, even when we do locate your position."

There's a sinking feeling in Shiro's gut at that. Hunk is hurting and in shock; he doesn't want to leave the kid in this state any longer than he has to. The kid needs a cryo-pod, sooner rather than later. And what if the others are in just as bad a state? Or worse? "How long is the ETA on that recharge, princess?" he asks, keeping his voice carefully neutral, because Hunk is watching him and he doesn't want to worry the yellow paladin further.

"We're still evaluating the systems. Coran is looking as we speak. If we can maintain this connection I can keep you updated on progress."

Shiro presses his lips together at that, but then nods. When he speaks next, it's to Hunk. "Okay, buddy, here's what we're going to do. I'm going to leave you out here where it's safer. I need you to man the communications. Keep in contact with Allura for me and keep her updated on our status, and I'll go back in and find the others. If you see any Galra patrols or get word from Allura that they're coming, I need you to give us a warning. Yell, shoot your bayard, whatever it takes, okay? Can you do that for me?"

Hunk is still shaken, and still seems to be having trouble focusing, but after a moment he nods. "I got it, Shiro," he says. "I can manage that much." In fact, having a job assigned to him, even one as simple as 'stay on the radio,' seems to give him a little more resolve. He doesn't seem to feel quite as useless as before, now that he has something he can do to contribute, and having a task to focus on keeps him distracted from his panic over the situation and his friends.

"Okay. Great. I'm going to go look for the others. Stay safe." He rests his hand on Hunk's good shoulder for a moment, and then gets up and heads back into the dark interior of the crashed Glara warship.

The chamber he and Hunk had woken in has no other paladins. It takes Shiro a minute or two to orient himself on where he is in the ship's layout, since it's tilted on its side and quite smashed up, but he thinks he and Hunk must have been flung into a side chamber off of the main bridge. He spots a section of the chamber that he thinks is the door, though it too is listing sideways, and blocked with some debris. He is able to push it aside easily and pry open the stuck metal door with his cybernetic arm, cutting it off its hinges so it won't interfere with any return progress.

On the other side of the door is the main bridge, just as he'd guessed, though it's a wreck of its former self. Half of the exterior hull has crumpled inward and is laying along what had been the floor, which in turn has been broken and tamped down in a number of places. Computer consoles and equipment are strewn everywhere, and it's much darker, with the sunlight unable to reach into the deeper crevices of the ruined deck.

It's actually the darkness that helps him find the next paladin. Shiro almost misses it, but underneath the wide, crumpled sheet of metal hull, he just barely spots a faint glow of teal. It's a color Alteans favor—any Galra equipment or lights will be in sickly purple or blood red. But the thought of one of the others being trapped under that massive stretch of metal…

Shiro hurries forward and crouches, trying to peer underneath the heavy metal hull. It doesn't appear to be completely flat against the deck's flooring. There's a slight gap where Shiro can see the lights, and the hull is crumpled in so many places it creates some pockets of space. In one of those pockets, Shiro can see the teal indicator strips on someone's paladin armor. It's enough to light up Lance's face in the darkness. The teen's eyes are closed, and he's flat on his stomach, pinned down by the metal hull; only the bubbles of space have kept him from being completely crushed. Shiro can only see his head, shoulders and arms, and the rest of him is hidden by crumpled metal. He's completely silent.

"Lance?" Shiro calls loudly. "Lance, c'mon, buddy. I need you to wake up."

He doesn't stir. Shiro feels the first spike of alarm run through him. It's too far away, and he can't tell if Lance is just unconscious or if he's…

No. He refuses to believe it. Shiro sprawls out flat on his own stomach, and inches his left arm under the gap, stretching it out as far as he can to try and reach out for Lance. He's just barely able to crawl his fingers forward to Lance's jawline, and and sighs in relief when he finds the beat of a pulse at his fingertips.

"C'mon, Lance, I need you to wake up," he tries again, this time reaching around to stroke his thumb carefully over Lance's cheekbone, just underneath the helmet visor. "C'mon, Lance, I'm going to need your help to get you out of this…"

Lance stirs slightly, and his eyelids start to flutter.

"That's it, buddy. You're doing great. Just open your eyes…"

Lance does, groaning softly. His eyes are half lidded and disoriented, and he doesn't seem to understand where he is at first. Shiro knows the exact moment it all jolts back to him, though, because his eyes suddenly fly open wide, and he twitches like he's trying to thrash himself free but can't get the leverage to move. A soft whine escapes him a moment later when he realizes he's trapped, and Shiro can hear his breath start coming in rapid, shallow pants.

Shiro reaches out hastily and presses his hand to the side of Lance's helmet, holding him still. "Easy! Easy, Lance. Breathe."

"Sh…shiro?" Lance's head jerks slightly, like he's trying to look up to see. Shiro realizes that his helmet wrenched in between the floor and metal sheet on top of him makes it almost impossible for him to move his head. He's probably not as visible to Lance as Lance is to him.

"Yeah, it's me. I'm right here, Lance. Take it easy and try to breathe for me, okay?" He shifts his hand to rest just underneath the teen's jaw, the only part of him he can really reach. It's not much in the way of comfort, but at least Lance will be able to feel that he's there.

Lance tries to do what Shiro says, but Shiro can tell in just a few seconds that he's having trouble breathing when flattened underneath such a heavy object. His breaths slow a little, but remain too shallow, like he can't get enough air.

Just when he thinks Lance is calming enough to try and figure out how to free him, though, the blue paladin jerks again in a panic, and he rasps, "Shiro! Shiro, I can't—"

"Woah, easy, Lance," Shiro says, alarmed at the new fear in Lance's voice. "Tell me what's wrong."

"I c-can't feel my leg, Shiro," Lance gasps. "I can't feel anything. Oh God, what if I lost it? What if it's not there anymore? I can't—I c-can't—"

"Easy, Lance," Shiro says, wishing he could reach just a little better so he could put his hand on the kid's shoulder or something. He settles for keeping his hand resting just underneath Lance's jaw, just in case he needs to stop him from thrashing in a panic again. He can feel the poor kid shaking, and keeps his voice as soothing as he can for Lance's benefit. "Easy. Sssh. It's going to be okay, Lance, I promise."

Lance's shaking doesn't lessen. He does wiggle a little, and at first Shiro's worried he's going to start thrashing in a panic anyway. But he realizes a moment later that Lance is actually working one of his arms, down by his sides, up through the tightly crumpled metal around him. His hand latches on to Shiro's by his throat, and he grips Shiro's fingers desperately, like he's some kind of lifeline.

"I can't feel it, Shiro," he rasps thickly. "It doesn't feel there."

He feels for the kid. He knows that edge of terror all too well, and squeezes Lance's fingers back gently. "Let's not jump to conclusions, Lance. We haven't even seen the damage yet. It's going to be okay. And whatever happens, I'll help you through it. I promise."

Lance shudders at the words, and his hand tightens on Shiro's. "But if…if it isn't—I can't—I can't be a paladin without—I can't even go home like this—"

"Shhh. Lance, calm down. Listen, even if it does come to that, and I'm not saying it has, it's going to be okay. There's no way in hell any of us would leave the leg of Voltron without a leg to stand on, okay?"

Lance's lips actually twitch slightly at the wordplay that he might have enjoyed more in any other circumstance. Shiro suspects it's a shock-fueled, scared smile more than anything else. "R…right."

"Good. So just try to relax and focus on breathing as best as you can, and I'm going to figure this out, okay?"

"Okay…" Lance's hand squeezes Shiro's again, and Shiro can feel his fingers trembling. He's obviously scared to death, dazed, and in shock, but he's trying his best. Shiro couldn't be more proud of him.

That means he has to do his part to keep his promise. Shiro rubs his thumb absently over the back of Lance's fingers to try and keep him calm, even as his eyes scan the rest of the wreckage underneath the metal hull with Lance. Maybe there's a way out, or some way he can direct Lance to wiggle free, or a better angle he can reach in at to try and assist.

He doesn't spot a convenient tunnel or miracle solution, but as his eyes adjust to the gloom beneath the wreckage, he does spot something else. Behind Lance and farther in under the warped metal hull, he can see a tuft of hair that he recognizes after a moment as Pidge's. All he can make out is the top of her head, and a few shattered remains of her helmet, broken around her like a cracked halo. She's deeply hidden in the shadows, and her indicator lights on the paladin armor don't illuminate her, which means it's badly damaged. She isn't moving, and she's too far in for Shiro to reach to even check for a pulse.

Shiro can feel an edge of very real fear at the thought of any of his team so clearly in danger and so frustratingly out of reach, but he forces it back down with sheer willpower. Lance is still conscious and is relying on Shiro to stay focused and keep him calm; he can't do that, or help Pidge, if he's in a panic himself. Be scared later. Get them out now.

"Lance," he says, slowly and calmly, "Pidge is behind you. I know you can't turn your head to see her, but she's on your left side."

Lance blinks dazedly, and then rasps, "I…right. Yeah, I…I remember now. I…I tried to…to push her out of the way when the…the wall started caving in…I don't know if…I didn't think—"

"Shhhh, that's good, Lance," Shiro praises softly. "You did a good job protecting her, I'm proud of you. Has she talked to you at all? Has she been conscious?"

"I…I don't think so. No. I've been in and out…few times…never heard anything."

"Alright. Can you try and reach her? Stretch out your left arm if you can. A little farther down. That's it, Lance."

Shiro watches with barely contained anxiousness as Lance's hand creeps agonizingly closer to Pidge's head. It stops short with his fingers just barely brushing her hair, though, and although Lance makes a valiant attempt to reach farther back and stretch as far as he can, his pinned torso and head leave him unable to move. Lance groans slightly in pain, and then his breath starts to speed up again as new fear takes over. "Sh-shiro, I can't…I can't reach…I don't know if she's still…I c-can't hear her breathing, Shiro, I—"

Not good. Shiro just got him calmer; he can't let Lance start to panic again, not in his situation. He squeezes Lance's hand again, and says, "Okay, calm down, Lance. Stay calm. We're going to take care of her, okay? But I'm going to need your help with that, so I need you to calm down, and focus, okay? Are you focusing? Just like we do with Voltron."

Lance shudders and squeezes his eyes shut. Shiro can practically hear him trying to focus, and it's a clear struggle when he's still in shock and so much pain. But his breathing eventually slows again, and he rasps softly, "Okay. Okay, I can…what do I do?"

Even despite the awful situation, Shiro finds himself smiling just slightly at the kid's resolve. Injured, mentally drained, trapped, and scared for his teammates' lives, and he's still willing to do what he can to help. The Lions picked well with this kid.

"Here's what we're going to do," Shiro says, confidently as he can. "I'm going to lift this metal piece up off of you. When I do that, Lance, I need you to grab Pidge, and pull her out with you."

Lance's eyes go wide in shock, and he struggles to try and see Shiro's face. "Y-you can't do that, Shiro," he gasps. "It's too heavy. It's t-too heavy for…for any human to lift."

Shiro can hear him starting to get worked up again. And truth be told, Lance isn't wrong, exactly. No human could lift this thing on their own for certain. Shiro's not even entirely sure he can do it himself. But he's not exactly a normal human anymore. Normal humans don't come equipped with highly advanced cybernetic prosthetics that can trade punch for punch unflinchingly with a seasoned well-armed soldier that outweighs him twice over.

And Shiro doesn't exactly have any other options. He could try cutting them free by activating his arm's ability. But that could take forever and could easily crush Lance or Pidge when the hull's weight shifts…assuming they even had that kind of time. Lance is struggling to breathe and may have a severed leg, meaning suffocation or blood loss are very real threats, and Pidge's unresponsiveness could have dire consequences. Shiro can't afford to waste any more of their time.

So he just repeats, with far more confidence than he feels, "Lance, I'm going to lift this metal piece off of you, and you're going to grab Pidge and get out of there. Okay? Tell me what your job is."

Lance is still wide-eyed, and looks disbelieving and dazed. But after a moment he manages to stammer, "Get Pidge…get out."

"Good. Now I'm going to stand up, so I need to move. But I'm still here and I'm not leaving you or Pidge behind. Okay?"


Shiro squeezes his hand reassuringly one last time, and scoots back awkwardly from the gap under the metal, withdrawing his arm and getting to his feet. Viewed from this angle, his task is daunting. There isn't anything he can really use as a solid handhold; the metal is crumpled and bent but doesn't really have an edge he can feasibly grip. Shiro's not about to let something like that stop him from saving his team, however, so after a moment of consideration he lights up his Galra prosthetic and rams it into a piece of the hull he thinks he can maintain a good pivot point on. The metal sizzles and screeches loudly as he drives the violet-white fingers through it, but it's not made of the same superior material as his arm, and his arm wins. He's able to carve out a small handhold before deactivating it, and braces his metal wrist with his left hand.

"Ready, Lance?" he calls.

"Yes…hurry, Shiro…please…"

Shiro doesn't think he's ever heard Lance sound so young before. It's not something he wants to hear again. "Okay, buddy, on the count of three. One…two…three!"

Shiro's metal fingers dig in hard and he lifts, flexing the metal arm and pulling upward. He leaves most of the work to the limb, but strains with his left arm as well, feels it through his chest and his legs. His ribs protest badly and his right upper arm throbs, but he ignores them. Lift. Do it. Go.

The hefty metal sheet of the hull tremors slightly, and he feels it move up a fraction of an inch, but it doesn't go further. Shiro shifts his stance and his grip and puts more force into it, teeth grinding with the effort, and it raises another half inch, but doesn't budge past that.

He feels hyperaware of little details as he struggles. He can hear Lance's rasping breath, and the whir of the gears in his arm as they fight the weight of the metal hull. He can feel warm metal beneath the fingers of his left hand, and feel the vibrations on his prosthetic as the hull trembles and grinds. He can smell dust and smoke and the iron tang of metal and blood.

He can feel the way the metal sheet starts to sink again, and hear Lance's terrified whine in response. And suddenly, he also feels fury. He is not going to lose to a piece of metal, not when his crew is on the line. He refuses to take a loss in this fight and he doesn't care what the costs are. He snarls in determination and shoves with every last bit of willpower and strength he has.

The Galra arm responds.

Shiro's not sure why it seems to jump to life then and there, but it feels familiar, so this can't be the first time. Maybe it's wired to respond to something in his brain chemically—a surge of adrenaline, an emotional impulse, an instinct for survival. Maybe it's been enhanced somehow with the druids' strange magics that always seem to favor the strongest of fighters. Whatever the case, the arm is uniquely Galra in its design as an incredibly powerful weapon, and it's equally uniquely Galra in its enthusiastic response to victory or death. And maybe it's not a battle in the arena, but to Shiro it's a battle all the same, and one neither he nor his prosthetic intends to accept defeat on.

So as he shoves hard on the metal hull, he can hear the mechanics in his arm start to whine louder as it amps up the power, and he can see something in the quarter-sized hole through his forearm spark an angry white-violet. He yells as he pulls with everything he has, mentally and physically, and the metal hull starts to rise. Two inches, six, a foot—it keeps going, slow but steady. A little higher and he's able to twist his metal wrist and shift his arm for better leverage, and a little after that he's able to lock the metal arm in place, holding the piece of hull steady.

His view of the underside is somewhat limited, but he can manage to see Lance sprawled out on the cracked metal of the flooring. The blue paladin's leg is, thankfully, still attached, albeit extremely mangled and broken in at least three places, while the other is twisted awkwardly. Pidge is a little further behind him, curled on her side in the shattered remnants of her armor. She still hasn't moved, and her face is scarily devoid of any expression. Lance's is not; he's staring up at Shiro in shock and awe, apparently stunned into stillness over the feat Shiro is even now still performing.

"Lance," he reminds through grit teeth, trying to still sound as calm as he can, "Get Pidge. Get out."

Lance jerks like he's been smacked, but gasps, "Right. Right. Pidge, out," and turns weakly to attend to his one assigned task. He's got about three feet of clearance now in which to move, which is enough for him at least to crawl, dragging himself by his arms—his left leg, the mangled one, doesn't respond at all, and his right one doesn't provide much assistance in propelling him. It means he moves agonizingly slowly, even if Shiro can tell he's putting every bit of effort he has into moving.

The lack of speed is frustrating, because Shiro knows he's on a time limit. His Galra arm is louder than it's ever been, whirring and clicking continually like an overheating computer. It feels vaguely familiar but also fills Shiro with a sense of unease, because he's not sure how long it can hold up and under what circumstances. Still, the prosthetic will probably fare better than the rest of him, and he knows the real time limit is how long the rest of his body can hold out before it collapses. Even with the Galra arm doing most of the work, he can feel the strain on the rest of his muscles as he's forced to bear the weight. His ribs are screaming in protest, now, and what's left of his right arm throbs with increased intensity the longer he holds the hull up. There's only so long that he can last before he drops the metal, and the fact that he's managing even now is practically a miracle. A normal human would have been crushed under the weight already.

But if he fails, Lance and Pidge die. That's absolutely unacceptable. So he continues to hold the metal hull up despite everything, using his determination and absolute refusal to accept anything short of victory to fuel himself and the alien prosthetic grafted to his side.

Lance reaches Pidge, and wearily hooks one of his arms underneath her shoulders. He twists to try and drag her free, but pulling an additional person along with only one free limb is a daunting task. He tries to compensate with his twisted but still semi-usable right leg, and gasps in pain every time he puts pressure on it to try and propel them. Shiro can all but see the energy draining out of him.

"Keep it up, Lance," he hisses through clenched teeth, struggling against the weight but needing to help his teammate any way he can. "You're doing great. C'mon, buddy, it's just five more feet and you're both safe. You can do five more feet, Lance. I know you can."

Lance looks exhausted, but the words seem to help. With renewed determination and what's clearly the last of his strength, he drags himself forward again, tugging Pidge along after him. He's wearing the same expression he wore the night he woke from his coma just long enough to shoot Sendak in the back, and Shiro knows then that the kid won't be giving up.

"That's it, Lance," he encourages. "I know it's hard, but we've got to protect Pidge and the others. Just two more feet, Lance, you're almost there."

With excruciating effort, Lance manages to haul himself the last bit of distance to what's left of the empty bridge deck, still clutching Pidge close to his side as he collapses on his stomach again. Shiro can feel his whole body starting to tremble with the exertion of holding up the metal, but before he drops it, he glances underneath one last time. If Lance and Pidge had been together, maybe Keith was there…

But he's not, and Shiro is actually grateful for that. He knows Lance wouldn't be able to get in and out again, not in his condition. He'd barely managed to drag Pidge, and Keith would have outweighed her significantly.

Satisfied he's not crushing the last member of his crew, Shiro takes a step back and finally, finally, wrenches his metal arm free from the hull and lets it drop. It collapses to the metal deck with a teeth-jarring thud and a screech of metal. Lance yelps in pain and surprise as it jars his leg, too, and curls further inward on himself.

"Sorry, Lance," Shiro says, even as he rushes to them. His whole body aches, especially his side and right arm, but he forces himself to disregard them. The prosthetic, at least, has quieted again, the angry whirring reducing once more to a quiet hum of activity.

"S'fine," Lance half-slurs, half-moans. "Pidge…is she…?"

Shiro gently untangles Pidge from Lance's arm and shifts her onto her back, running his left hand over her throat as he searches for a pulse. He finds it with a sigh of relief, weak but there, and she appears to be breathing too, if shallowly.

"She's alive," he says. "She's alive, Lance. You did a great job."

Lance groans in relief, and then curls up even further on himself, hands slipping down to clutch at his broken leg. Shiro can tell he's trying to choke back noises of pain, but the poor kid's not really succeeding well.

"Hang on, Lance," Shiro says urgently. "I'll help you as soon as I can, okay?" He's already examining Pidge for injuries, running his hands carefully through her matted, bloodstained hair, scattering little shards of white and green helmet. There's a deep gash on the left side of her head that cuts down to bone. At the very least she has to have a concussion, and possibly a skull fracture, which might explain why she's not waking. That's worrisome—head injuries can be fatal if not treated immediately, and Shiro still has no idea when Allura and Coran will arrive with the Castle and the cryo-pods they desperately need.

The rest of Pidge is no better. Most of her left side has taken nasty injuries as well. Her left arm and leg both look broken and her left side is bruised heavily where she, too, is undoubtedly sporting broken ribs. Most of her armor has shattered, and Shiro realizes without it she would almost certainly be dead. His only consolation is that, despite feeling very carefully along her neck and back, he doesn't think she has any spinal damage. If she had, he would have been scared to move her, but it isn't safe to leave her in here either.

He scoots around her to check on Lance next, easing the blue paladin on to his back as gently as he can. Lance groans as he's moved, and his expression is dazed and pained. Shiro is relieved to hear that his breathing, at least, has improved, now that he's no longer being flattened; they're still harsh gasps of pain, but no longer forcibly shallow, at least. But other than that, Lance isn't doing much better. Neither leg has been severed, and Shiro figures Lance had lost feeling due to cut off circulation, though he appears to be getting it back now based on his pained moans. His left leg is badly broken in three places, and Shiro's stomach turns when he sees bone edging out next to the blue knee guard. The other leg isn't broken, but does appeared to be badly twisted and severely banged up. His armor is cracked everywhere, and from the waist down, the indicator lights are no longer working.

"You're gonna be fine, Lance," Shiro says confidently, and hopes the cryo-pods can fix damage this bad. "You've still got both legs. See? I told you not to worry."

Lance just blinks at him wearily and groans. The poor kid's so worn out…it had probably cost him his last reserves to drag himself and Pidge free.

Shiro frowns. He needs to get them out of here now. Back to Hunk, and Allura's signal, out of this oppressive metal shell and somewhere a little less likely to completely fall apart on them.

"Lance," he says softly, leaning into the blue paladin's line of sight, "I'm going to get you both out of here, okay? But I can't carry you both. I need to take Pidge first, so Hunk can watch her. I'm going to take her to Hunk, and then I'm going to come right back and get you out of here, okay? I'm coming right back. I promise."

Lance blinks at him blearily again. After a moment, he says, "Hunk?"

"That's right. Hunk's outside and he's safe." If injured. "I'll take you to him in just a few minutes, okay?"

"Kay…." Apparently spent, Lance's head sags to the side, and his eyes slide half shut. He's not quite unconscious, but he's definitely exhausted.

"I'll be right back," Shiro repeats, as he slides his hands under Pidge's body as gently as possible and lifts her in his arms. She doesn't stir, or moan, or give any sign that she's alive at all. Shiro has to remind himself repeatedly that she is, and she'll be fine.

Hunk is anxious when Shiro arrives with Pidge, and shoots straight to terrified when he sees the extent of the damage. He promises repeatedly to take care of her and make sure she's settled as best as possible, valiantly ignoring his broken arm as best he can, as Shiro gently lays her down in the lavender grass next to Hunk's tree. The yellow paladin is already yammering over his headset and reporting the latest news to Allura—connection must still be open—when Shiro turns and bolts back towards the warship.

Lance is still in that dazed, exhausted state when Shiro gets back to him, but when Shiro touches his shoulder he does stir a little, blinking wearily. "Time to get out of here, buddy," Shiro says. "This is going to hurt, but we'll go as careful as possible, okay?"

He lifts Lance as gently as he can, but even the smoothest of his efforts jar the blue paladin's broken leg, and he whines softly in pain. Shiro suspects he lacks the strength to do anything more, at this point. Shiro does what he can to make the journey as easy as possible, but Lance is clearly in agony by the time he crouches to set the teenager on the grass near Pidge and Hunk. The poor kid is trembling, and looks close to passing out.

"What's the status, Hunk?" Shiro asks, as he helps Lance lay down, supporting his head carefully.

"Allura's still got over an hour before she can get here," Hunk answers. His voice is tight with pain, but he seems to be fighting to control it as best he can, especially after seeing his friends in so much agony. "They're trying to fix the systems but the Castle's still gotta recharge…"

He looks worried as he stares down at Pidge. In the time it took Shiro to recover Lance, Hunk had rearranged her so her head is resting in his lap, turned at an angle to keep the pressure off her damaged skull. It seems to be helping her breathing a little, which is shallow and gasping from the broken ribs, but she is still by far the worst off of the current group.

"Pidge can make it," Shiro says, once again finding himself faking more confidence than he actually feels. "All of us can. Just keep in contact with Allura and keep an eye out for enemies, Hunk. It's on you to protect these two until I come back with Keith, okay? I'm not sure Lance can help fight. With his armor damaged he can't summon his bayard."

This is something Hunk understands well, as the yellow paladin. His Lion is built for defense and protecting the rest of the team, and it's absolutely a trait he carries over to non-piloting missions. "Okay," he says, eyes narrowing in determination. "I got it, Shiro. Find Keith." And a little less determined, much smaller, he whispers, "Please."

"You know I will," Shiro answers. And he turns back to the warship once again.

The main bridge is empty when he returns to it. Despite overturning every lose piece of metal and peeking under more caved in sections of the outer hull, he sees no trace of Keith. It's the same in the half dozen side rooms and hallways attached to it, and after ten minutes of searching Shiro starts getting very worried. Keith can't have gotten far; he was with them when they crashed. He tries to remember where the red paladin had been in relation to the others, and vaguely recalls Keith trying to cut open an airlock with his bayard for them to jump from, with the plan of using the jetpacks to slow their decent. He'd barely made any progress before the whole ship started shaking badly and everything descended into chaos.

He'd been closer to the starboard side of the warship, though. Shiro changes tactics and tries focusing on that side, and almost immediately finds a hallway so caved in it's impassable. Shiro isn't about to let that stop him, and squeezes out through another narrow gap in the hull, planning to circle around the ship on the outside and enter from another angle.

That's when he spots the crumpled red, white, and black form, standing out starkly in a bed of lavender grass.

Shiro's eyes widen and he stumbles forward, picking his way carefully around the wreckage scattered all around the field. They're on the opposite side of the ship from Hunk, Lance and Pidge, closer to a fringe of trees, completely blocked from view. The ground is covered in shards of metal and the glass-like material the Galra warships use for the large observation windows on the ships' various decks.

There's a very high volume of shattered pieces in a trail leading to Keith, and it takes Shiro all of five seconds to realize the red paladin had been ejected through the already weak material in the crash and out into the field. Shiro is immediately alarmed. Most people ejected in car crashes end up severely injured or dead; he's scared to find out what kind of damage Keith has sustained from a crashed warship.

Shiro crouches next to Keith, and is immediately struck by how the lavender grass is stained a dark red-purple beneath his boots, saturated and slippery. It's frightening how much blood the teenager has already lost, and Shiro doesn't even know the source of it yet. Keith is crumpled on his side in an awkward heap where he landed after being thrown, helmet gone and hair in his face. His armor is no longer white or whole, but blood-stained and shattered, and none of the indicator lights are on. The black undersuit of the paladin uniform is sliced and frayed in a number of places from mental and glass shards, some of which are still loosely embedded in his body. There are several burns on his freshly exposed skin, though whether from an explosion or encountering superheated metal shrapnel, Shiro isn't sure.

"Keith?" Shiro calls loudly, barely keeping a panicked edge from his voice. Keith doesn't look like he could have lived through this. There's so much blood, and the chances of surviving when thrown from a wreck are so low…

Keith doesn't respond, but when Shiro slips his fingers beneath the red paladin's jaw, he's relieved to feel a pulse. But it's so weak and thready, weaker even than Pidge's had been. He hasn't even seen all the damage yet and he knows Keith is in bad shape.

"Keith, buddy…hang on," Shiro says urgently, as he starts to inspect for spine or head injuries. He needs to find the source of all that blood, but he can't until he knows it's safe to shift Keith. In what is perhaps the greatest miracle Shiro has found so far, he doesn't feel any sort of break or serious damage when he runs his hands over the teen's spine and neck. His armor might be broken, but it had at least protected him that much before shattering. He runs his hands carefully over Keith's skull next, and finds a bloody lump that's got to hurt, but isn't immediately life threatening as far as he can tell.

When he finishes and brushes the hair out of Keith's face, he's shocked to find the red paladin's gray eyes are open. They're glassy and unfocused, staring dully ahead, and he doesn't react to Shiro brushing his hair away, but he's awake.

"Keith?" Shiro says, placing his left hand on the side of the red paladin's face as gently as he can, avoiding the burns and bruises. "Keith, can you hear me?"

For a long moment there's no reaction, and Shiro starts to get scared that maybe Keith's taken a worse head injury than he thought. But Keith's eyes flicker for a moment, shifting up to stare at him briefly. He only manages to for a second or two before his eyes slide away, unfocused, back to staring dully ahead. But it's clear that on some level, at least, he's aware that Shiro is there.

Shiro hates seeing him this way. Keith has never been as antsy or outwardly energetic as Lance, but he's always had an inner tension to him, a kind of restless energy that Shiro can always see in him somewhere. Much like the element he and his Lion are bonded to, Keith is like fire, always burning bright on the inside even if he outwardly appears calm or disinterested. But that energy is gone now; it's like someone snuffed the fire out and left only a few exhausted trails of smoke. It scares Shiro in a way he can't really describe.

He's not going to lose Keith now. "I'm going to move you, okay, buddy?" Shiro says. He's not sure if Keith can fully understand him, but he's not going to go completely silent on the kid if he is awake. "It might hurt a little, but I need to stop this bleeding."

Keith says nothing, but Shiro is sure he's not imagining the slight tremble of his head that looks an awful lot like a nod.

Taking that as an okay, Shiro carefully eases Keith onto his back. Keith makes a soft noise of distress somewhere between a whimper and a groan as he's moved, a noise Shiro doesn't think he's ever heard from Keith before. He wants to tell him it's going to be okay…but then he finds the source of the bleeding, and for the first time he's not sure it will be.

One of the glass-like shards from the window Keith had been thrown through is embedded deeply in his stomach. The black undersuit of the paladin armor is shredded around it, and saturated with blood, which oozes around the shard. It drips over Keith's sides and onto the no longer lavender grass, dark and sticky. And despite the foreign object still being lodged in his body, it doesn't appear to have slowed or stopped the bleeding any.

Other details seem to become almost painfully obvious, now that Shiro can see the full picture. The way Keith's breathing is shallow and rapid, the way his skin is too pale. His inability to focus, his glassy eyes. And when Shiro feels Keith's fingers, they're too cool. It all indicates blood loss in a bad way, and Keith's body is already shutting down blood flow to his extremities in a desperate attempt to survive just a little longer.

Allura's ETA was still over an hour out. But Shiro realizes, with a frightening sort of certainty, that Keith's not going to make it that long. Not bleeding this badly. Not wounded this much.

No, Shiro insists. No, I'm not losing any of my crew. Never again. Not if I can do anything to stop it.

He has to stop the bleeding. The biggest threat to Keith is blood loss. If Shiro can slow it or stop it even temporarily, just long enough for Allura to arrive and get Keith into a cryo-pod, he'll live. He just has to stall, just long enough to give Keith even a chance.

But he has no way to do that. The first aid kits are on the Lions, back in the Castle, and he has no first aid supplies on hand. He could try cutting up the black undersuits of the armor into strips to use as temporary bandages. But while that might work for some of the smaller gashes Keith has, Shiro knows he doesn't have enough material to deal with that impaled stomach…and even if he did, he knows bandages alone won't stop an injury that severe from getting worse.

Keith's breath hitches in obvious pain, and Shiro runs his left thumb over the teen's knuckles on one hand, trying to offer comfort. He can't do much else; there's very little skin left unmarred by injury, and Shiro is afraid to hurt him by touching any of the gashes or bruises or burns…

Shiro freezes, and stares at the burn along one of Keith's arms. Then, very slowly, he lifts his right hand to stare at it, like he's only just now seeing it before for the first time.

It can weld metal doors shut. If he activates it, it'll almost certainly be hot enough to cauterize human skin.

Shiro swallows, hesitant. Cauterization is…not pretty, and not painless. The thought of using his Galra prosthetic to cause a teammate immeasurable amounts of pain is not one that sits well with him. He's used it to cause enough pain as it is, and he's not sure he could forgive himself for it in any other circumstance. But if he doesn't do this, Keith will die within the hour. And Shiro would never forgive himself for letting anyone on his crew die when he could have taken an action, however unpleasant and distasteful, to save him. Keith's life is worth far more than his own guilt.

He takes a deep breath, closes his eyes for a moment, and focuses. Breathe out the nervousness, the unease, the fear. Let only confidence and strength remain. Keith will need it. He can't afford to be anything less than strong and in control right now.

When he opens his eyes, Shiro feels resolve and determination. His mouth is set in a grim line as he leans forward and gently brushes Keith's hair back from his eyes again, setting his real hand along the side of the teen's face. "Keith? Can you focus on me? I know it's hard, but try. Just for a little bit."

It's an obvious struggle, but Keith does his best, eyes flickering to meet Shiro's again. Shiro can practically see the effort it's taking for Keith to maintain even that level of concentration, but the kid has always been a fighter, and too stubborn to know when to quit. That might be what saves him today.

"Keith," Shiro says, slowly and carefully so he's sure the teen will understand, "I'm going to do something to try and help you make it until we can get you in a cryo-pod. But I'm not gonna lie to you, buddy, it's…it's gonna hurt. A lot. Okay? Can you bear with me?"

Keith stares at him for a long time, and Shiro's afraid maybe his attention has wavered again, or he's zoned out somehow. But after a long moment he nods slowly. That action alone seems to exhaust him, and his eyes slide away again, unfocused.

"Thank you, Keith. For trusting me," Shiro says. He means it, every single word.

He moves quickly after that. Keith doesn't have much time left, and Shiro doesn't intend to waste a second more of it than he has to. He uses his left arm to pin Keith's shoulders to the ground, and straddles his legs to keep them pinned as well, careful to not put too much of his own weight on Keith so he doesn't injure him further. Once he's safely pinned, Shiro flexes his metal fingers and grips the large shard buried in Keith's abdomen, extracting it carefully so he doesn't cause further injury.

Keith's eyes open wide, and his expression grows sharper from pain. He tries to instinctually pull away, but he's too weak to fight or flee in his state. His less damaged right hand shoots up to wrap around Shiro's real arm and grip tight, and Shiro doesn't dislodge him. The poor kid's going to need something to hold onto by the time this is all over.

The shard comes free, and Shiro flings it aside in disgust. Then comes the part he dreads most. "Bear with me, buddy," he says, as he activates the Galra prosthetic. It lights up a bright violet-white with a thrum of power, and Shiro can hear it faintly crackling with energy. He grits his teeth, breathes out through his nose one last time, and presses it to the gaping wound in Keith's stomach.

The sizzle of flesh burning and the scent of charred meat hits almost immediately, and for a moment Shiro wavers at the frighteningly familiar scent and sound. Something dark scratches at the back of his mind, trying to force its way forward, reaching out to take him away.

But before he can slide too far, in the fraction of a second it takes, Keith arches beneath him and screams, eyes wide in shock and pain. It's a horrifying reality to return to, but it does wrench Shiro back into the present. Keith is hurting, is dying, and he has to focus to give him a chance. He forces every scrap of willpower and focus he has on the task at hand, and as gruesome and upsetting as it is, it does keep him going.

He pins Keith back down to the ground as the poor kid tries to thrash away, still crying out in agony. "It's okay, Keith, it's okay buddy, this won't take long, you're doing great," he reassures, over and over, repeating the same things in as gentle a voice as he can manage while exerting his strength to hold the paladin down. The hand Keith has on his left arm tightens painfully, but Shiro can hardly complain, especially when Keith's agonized scream turns into a choked sob. Shiro just bears the pain. It's only a fraction of what Keith is dealing with.

His glowing prosthetic works methodically but quickly. Shiro doesn't want to cause Keith more pain than is necessary, but he's not going to screw up the job and cost Keith his life, either. As it turns out, cauterization is much easier when one's own fingers can super heat. The Galra prosthetic is dexterous enough to let him fold the gash together and pinch it closed section by section, and the energy produced burns the wound shut as soon as he does. It's much cleaner and more efficient than using a heated knife, and lets him at least minimize the burn damage.

Keith lets out another agonized cry that chokes off halfway through, and his fingers dig so tightly into Shiro's arm he's almost sure he feels the paladin armor crack. "It's okay, buddy," he reassures. "It's okay. It's okay. It's almost over. You're doing so good, just a little more…"

The last open part of the wound closes with a hiss, and Shiro immediately deactivates his prosthetic, pulling it away and shifting back to Keith's side. Keith's stomach is still slick with lost blood, and the burn scars are ugly and painful looking, but the bleeding has stopped. It will still be rough, but hopefully he'll be able to last long enough to get to help, and the cryo-pod should erase the damage.

Shiro moves just in time. The teen lurches awkwardly, and Shiro recognizes it for what it is, rolling him on his side just in time for him to vomit into the grass. Keith gags and whimpers, shaking badly from the aftershock of the cauterization and the pain it gives him.

Shiro rubs his back sympathetically until he's done heaving, and then shifts him again, cradling the wounded teenager against his chest to offer what comfort he can. He wraps both arms around him—carefully, so as not to put pressure on any injuries, cybernetic arm supporting Keith's body and his real hand supporting Keith's head. Keith sags bonelessly against him, out of strength and clearly suffering, and even the choked noises of distress coming from somewhere deep in his throat sound exhausted and muted.

"It's okay, Keith," he says soothingly. "Sssh, it's okay. I'm so sorry we had to do that, but you did an amazing job. You held out so well, you've shown so much strength today. It's okay. It's gonna be okay. It's gonna stop hurting as soon as Allura can get to us, sssh, it's alright…"

Keith shudders, and Shiro can feel the slightest pressure on his armor as the paladin presses his face into it, like he's trying to just hide from his pain. Shiro wishes it were that easy, but he lets Keith take what comfort he can get, continuing to murmur soothing nonsense to him and holding him close. It takes a while, but eventually Keith's shuddering subsides, and his body slumps further, spent. The pained noises begin to quiet, and the sharp clarity of pain in his eyes dulls again to the same glassy, barely focused stare as before.

Shiro lays him down carefully in the grass again when Keith finally calms. Keith makes a soft sound of protest mixed with fear, but Shiro continues to make soothing little shushes as he uses his prosthetic to tear strips from his own paladin undersuit. Keith's other wounds aren't nearly as bad as the stomach injury and shouldn't require cauterization—Shiro will not put him through that agony again if he doesn't have to—but they still need to be at least bound before Shiro dares to move him far. He picks the glass and metal shards out of Keith's arms and legs and wraps them carefully. Keith twitches and and groans occasionally, but seems to have fallen into some kind of shock after the cauterization, and the pain of these injuries must hardly compare.

Shiro finishes quickly, grim but determined. When he's done, Keith is…not okay, not by a long shot. His breathing is still shallow and harsh, hitching in pain. He's still far too pale, and he's covered in so many injuries it's difficult to find a patch of unmarred skin. He's still in danger, and if Allura doesn't find them soon, he's at risk for infection from the cauterization, if he doesn't die from his injuries first. But he's alive, and has a chance to make it long enough to a cryo-pod. Shiro has at least bought him that chance to live where he previously had none at all.

Now he just has to get Keith back to the others, so Allura can find them. Shiro gathers Keith into his arms again, this time to carry, and lifts him from the blood-drenched ground. Keith makes a soft groan of pain and sags limply against him, clearly spent. Shiro opts to circle around the outside of the warship back to the others this time—less obstacles to potentially injure Keith on the way. The kid is suffering enough as it is just from being moved.

Even taking the more careful path, and with Shiro trying to ease him through the journey as painlessly as possible, Keith still passes out somewhere between his crash point and the rest of the team. Shiro is frankly shocked that Keith managed to stay conscious as long as he did.

When Shiro reaches the rest of the paladins, he finds Pidge still unconscious, while Lance and Hunk are both still awake. Hunk remains upright and as vigilant as possible, with Pidge's head still in his lap. Lance is still stretched out on the grass, but has managed to not pass out, and is even maintaining some degree of alertness. Both look terrified when they spot Shiro, and the limp form he carries in his arms.

"Oh God," Hunk rasps, eyes wide. "Is he…he's not…"

"He's alive," Shiro promises. "He'll be fine." He's not sure Keith will be fine, but he's certainly not about to say it out loud, not with Hunk and Lance staring at him with a mix of horror and desperation. They need confidence, and they need to know their teammate is going to be okay.

"Keith is strong. He just needs a cryo-pod and he'll be good as new," he adds, when their expressions change to something unsure. He crouches to carefully settle Keith down into the soft lavender grass, supporting his head, and mindful of his abdominal injuries.

"I've never seen him that bad before. Not even after the fight against Zarkon," Hunk says, fixated on Keith's prone form.

Lance, too, does not look reassured. "I'll never argue with him ever again as long as he actually wakes up," he swears, looking deeply shaken and worn out.

"Don't make promises you can't keep, Lance," Shiro says, doing his best to keep the tone lighthearted. "He'll be fine and you two will be back to bickering in a couple of days. I promise."

They look so worn down and helpless, so desperate to believe him but so clearly unsure that they can. Shiro's never seen any of them this way before, so exhausted and broken. And he realizes for the first time since this entire mess began, now that he's not scrambling frantically to find his crew and get them to safety, that this whole thing is their first real defeat. Until now they've had small victory after small victory, or managed to at least come to a standstill. Even the terrifying battle against Zarkon, when he'd split all of them up, had at least ended in some ways as a victory for them. They'd been thrown across the universe and soundly beaten in combat, but even then they'd at least managed to snatch Allura back from Galra jaws, and no one had been killed or even terribly injured. It hadn't been a win, but it hadn't been a total loss, either.

But this…this is an undisputed, violent loss with significant consequences, and not a shred of positivity to show for it. They avoided capture, but it had cost them severely; they've been separated from their only support, and every single one of them has sustained severe injury, some to the point of being potentially life threatening. Never before have they been so soundly thrashed, had so many of their friends injured so badly, or all at once. Never before has the entire team been so vulnerable all a the same time, so helpless to protect each other. No wonder they're all in a state of disbelieving shock, badly shaken and damaged both physically and mentally. All things now in perspective, Shiro is frankly amazed they've even held it together as long as they have.

He's never been more proud of any of them.

And he's not going to let them down, not now. As frayed and on edge and exhausted and in pain as he is for all the same reasons, they're looking to him now more than ever for stability and support. Their entire world has just been violently smashed into the ground and thrown upside down like the shipwreck that had taken them there, and Shiro is just about the only thing they have left to cling to so they can try and stay standing. He'll hold on for their sakes until they've regained their own footing. He owes them that much.

So he stands guard over them, in a very literal sense. What's left of his right arm his throbbing, his ribs protest, his head hurts, and his whole body aches with soreness and fatigue, but he refuses to sit, not even when Hunk begs him to take a break. He stands guard over his fallen crew members, ever vigilant, keeping an eye on the odd colored trees and the Galra wreckage. If an enemy comes he is their only real line of defense, and he does not intend to let anything hurt his crew further than they've already been hurt.

Most important of all, no matter how scared he is for all of them, he maintains his outwardly calm and controlled appearance. He talks as normally as possible to Hunk and Lance, repeatedly reassuring them every time they start to look more nervous or afraid. He checks on Keith and Pidge regularly, and despite his growing concerns when neither wakes, and when Keith grows steadily paler, he keeps his expression neutral. And inwardly, the entire time, he begs, please let them live. Please let them all make it out of here okay. Please don't let me lose one of them again.

In the end it takes almost an hour and twenty minutes before Hunk's headset crackles to life, and Allura says over the comms, "We are fully charged and have identified your coordinates. We are on our way, paladins. Find a secure location where the Castle of Lions can meet you."

"Already taken care of, Allura," Hunk says, with the first look of hope and relief he's had since Shiro first woke up in the wreckage. "Shiro found us a place near a giant field. Should be enough room for you to land."

"Excellent. Generating wormhole now."

The sight of the Castle of Lions above them a few minutes later, first as a glowing spark like a shooting star, then with its sleek white body and four hangar-engines, is possibly the most beautiful thing Shiro's seen in a long time. The Castle shifts in midair and touches down on the lavender grass, and the engines have barely finished going silent before the massive double doors to the ship's main entrance open. Both Allura and Coran come hurrying out to meet them. Both Alteans look like they've seen better days—Allura's hair is disheveled and Coran's usually impeccable clothing is rumpled and stained from what Shiro guesses is the Altean equivalent of engine oil. They've clearly been working non stop to try and get the ship ready so they could retrieve their paladins.

"We must hurry," Allura says urgently, as she reaches the group. "I'm afraid a Galra patrol may have tagged us when we exited the wormhole. We need to escape as soon as we can."

Coran is already collecting the unconscious Pidge from Hunk, looking unusually grim. Hunk had informed the Alteans of the extent of their injuries, and Coran had already been preparing medical assistance for each of the paladins, but Shiro suspects hearing about the damage is a far cry from seeing it in person. Still, Coran lifts Pidge with great care and surprising gentleness, and nods to Shiro. "Let's get them to the cryo-pods, hurry!"

Shiro nods, already crouching next to Keith to lift him again. Keith is scarily pale, and in the last fifteen minutes his lips have started turning blue. He doesn't react at all when Shiro lifts him, not even with a sound of pain or protest, and Shiro knows he's in very real danger. Shiro goes from his crouch to a dead run, following after Coran as fast as he can.

Allura stays behind, standing watch over the two remaining paladins with a grimly determined look on her face. At that moment, Shiro wouldn't put all the money on Earth on a bet against her, not when her paladins are in danger.

In the infirmary Coran has already prepared a number of medical tables to prep the paladins before placing them in the cryo-pods. "Set him down there," he says urgently, nodding to one of the tables, even as he attends to Pidge. Shiro does as told, setting Keith carefully down on the table. Keith's head lolls to the side bonelessly, and he looks so…lifeless.

But Shiro trusts Coran to take care of him, and he in turn needs to care for the others. He bolts back outside, where Allura is watching the sky with an expression that is both determined and full of dread, at the first pinpricks of light in the distant sky. When she hears Shiro approach, she crouches next to Hunk and slings his good arm over her shoulders, lifting him as easily as if he were a toy. She helps him walk to the doors, with Hunk leaning heavily on her—she's adjusted her size to assist him better—and Hunk limps with her, pained but clearly determined.

Shiro skids to a stop next to Lance and scoops the last paladin up into his arms. Lance gasps at the quick movements, and trembles with obvious pain, but he doesn't complain when Shiro runs them back to the ship entrance. He's had trouble staying aware for the past half hour or so, but he seems to understand the urgency of the situation, that they need to run and fast.

As soon as they're in Allura touches a panel by the doors, and they snap closed, hissing softly as they seal for the journey into space. She settles Hunk's arm more firmly around her shoulders and helps him to the infirmary, and Shiro keeps pace, going slower now that they're safely in the ship for Lance's comfort. Allura takes just enough time to help Hunk settle onto one of the medical tables, and then she bolts out the door, no doubt heading for the bridge and the controls.

Shiro keeps an ear out for the intercoms as he settles Lance onto another one of the tables. If those pinpricks of incoming light were fighters, Allura might need support in the air, and Shiro's the only pilot capable of providing it. But the ship rumbles comfortingly around them as it takes off, with no blaring alarms or warnings, and Allura's only announcement is that as soon as they break the planet's orbit she's opening a wormhole with the last of their recharged power.

So Shiro helps Coran with the rest of the paladins, which mostly consists of keeping them calm until Coran can get to them. Pidge is already safely in a pod, and Keith is placed in one just before the wormhole jump. Coran resets Lance's broken leg enough that it will heal right in the pod while Shiro keeps him as distracted as possible, and then he, too, is carefully stored away in a cryogenic chamber to heal. Hunk is last, waiting stoically until the rest of his friends are cared for. His last words before Coran helps him into a pod are, "I promise I'll take care of that as soon as I'm out, Shiro."

He stares wearily at Shiro's impaled metal arm. Shiro looks down at it in surprise—he'd completely forgotten it was so damaged, especially when he couldn't feel it. When he glances up again, the freezing process has begun, and Hunk's eyes are closed, already settled deep into the healing sleep.

"Let's get you taken care of next," Coran says, turning on him. The Altean looks exhausted but absolutely determined to care for every one of them, and Shiro is a little touched by his obvious concern.

But he declines. "I can't. Not the pod, anyway."

Coran frowns deeply. "Your injuries—"

"Are things that can be dealt with, for now," Shiro says. "We're already down four paladins. Voltron isn't an option to us and we don't even have most of the Lions. If I get in a pod, who knows when I'll be able to come out again, and we can't afford to leave ourselves completely defenseless. One Lion is better than none at all in an emergency."

Coran does not look pleased by this argument, but Shiro needs him to understand how important this is, and needs him to understand that he can handle it until then. "Look, Coran. On Earth you can't do anything for cracked or broken ribs other than take it easy and let them heal, and the rest of my injuries are pretty minor compared to what the rest of these guys have suffered. I can deal for a day or two until at least one of them gets out of a pod. I'll take it easy unless we're in danger, but I won't leave us vulnerable, not when the ship needs to recharge and we don't have any other support."

Coran still does not look happy, but Shiro knows he also has at least some military background and understands the extent of the danger. He finally sighs and nods. "Fine then," he agrees curtly, "but only if you allow me to take a look at those injuries for non-cryo treatment. And you'll be doing an emergency session of massage therapy tonight, as soon as the princess can be spared from the controls and we've thrown off any trails."

Shiro knows Coran is worried when the Altean starts giving orders. As some sort of Altean combination of adviser, caretaker, and royal servant, Coran has a tendency to ask or suggest rather than demand, maintaining an edge of protocol at all times. The fact that he's abandoning it now is a sure sign that he's just as rattled by the whole mess as the rest of them.

"That's fair," Shiro agrees. "Hopefully we'll shake them and it won't matter. But I don't want to be caught unprepared."

Coran nods and motions for Shiro to sit on one of the medical tables so he can get to work. In the end, he's able to use some sort of Altean painkillers to help with the ribs, and confirms the head injury hasn't caused a concussion. He treats the bruises with some sort of medical crystal and binds the smaller cuts with an air of practiced ease. He also wraps the hole in the metal arm carefully with bandages, mostly to prevent the punched edges of metal from catching on anything, or exposing the internal wiring to the elements, until Hunk can take a look.

It isn't until hours later, when Allura has safely shaken pursuit and settled the Castle on an island-strewn planet to replenish its energy, that Shiro gets his right arm treated. It throbs and stabs at him painfully until then, reminding him repeatedly of just how much he's exerted himself that day, how much he pushed himself and his prosthetic to their limits. It takes Allura and the mice far longer than usual to soothe out the pains, even with the experience they've since gained. Coran stares at his medical scanner the whole time, and gently admonishes Shiro about knowing his limits regarding the prosthetic.

Shiro listens, but he'd absolutely do it all again in a heartbeat to save even a single member of his crew.

The therapy does help in the end, at least. The agony in his arm fades, and while it takes longer than usual, Shiro does eventually reach that trance-like state when he's floating and comfortable and warm. And he must be more tired than he realizes, because the next thing he knows he's waking up hours later, still propped against the pillows of the couch with his metal arm resting on the armrest, covered in a blanket.

It's the last time he sleeps for a long while.

Shiro doesn't really even start to feel at ease until Hunk emerges from his cryo-pod first, eighteen hours after the wreck. Other than his brief rest on the couch, he's too on edge, too worried about a potential Galra attack. If he'd thought they were sitting ducks on Arus, they were wounded ones on this planet, and he feels that he must be vigilant until they've got more support. Hunk emerging safe and fully healed from his pod eases him a little, but the three sleeping faces still in their pods remind Shiro that the danger isn't over, not yet.

Hunk barely wolfs down some food goo before examining Shiro's Galra arm, jotting down notes and taking reference photographs, muttering to himself about different parts and equations. He's barely done before Coran corners them both and absolutely insists that now that one paladin is on hand for defense, that Shiro must permit himself to be cared for. Shiro's not happy about the pod, but Coran has been watching him like a hawk since the rescue, and has no doubt spotted Shiro's clear discomfort.

So Shiro grudgingly submits, allowing himself to be placed in a pod, trying hard to ignore how enclosed it feels, how trapped he'll be. It helps that Coran and Hunk both stay with him until the cryo-process puts him under; it barely feels like he blinks before he's stepping out again, ribs and head much better.

Shiro's relieved to find both Lance and Pidge greeting him alongside Hunk and Coran when he exits. He listens to their relieved chatter as Coran does some frostbite-prevention treatments on his right arm at the prosthetic's connection point to combat the cryo-chill that's seeped into the metal. Pidge had only emerged a few hours before him, it seems, and Lance six hours before that. Keith is the only one still in a pod, but he looks much better than before, and Coran confidently assures them he'll be fine.

Hunk has a fix for his Galra arm, by then, and Pidge assists in his workshop. They double-check its interior and patch the plating, and while it looks a little less uniform compared to before, it holds up as sturdily as it did previously. Hunk adds his usual maintenance, cleaning and oiling the prosthetic to ensure it's in perfect working order again, and the routine activity actually helps to calm Shiro's nerves a little.

But it's not until Keith emerges from his pod a full day later that Shiro relaxes for the first time since the Galra trap and the awful crash. Keith is fully healed, with all the gashes and bruises melted away, and even the awful burn scar Shiro had been forced to inflict is gone. Shiro feels some measure of guilt over that wound even now, and relief that Keith doesn't have to carry it forever.

But Keith seems to pick up on this, because as soon as he's had a chance to rest and eat, he finds Shiro. "I don't really remember much of what happened," he says without preamble, "but I know you saved my life and I know it wasn't easy for either of us. Thanks." His absolute trust in Shiro is evident in his words, and for the first time Shiro actually believes that maybe Keith doesn't hate him for using the Galra arm against him.

And finally, since the moment Shiro woke up in that wreck, he allows himself to relax, now that he knows for sure all of his crew members are safe.

And it hits him, now that he has a chance to release all that tension and finally look back and think about everything that happened…that they're all safe because of him. And, more shocking still, they're all largely safe because of this thing attached to his arm. He stares at his metal palm contemplatively, and realizes that everything he'd done to protect he never could have done without this thing. Ignoring what would have been a severe impalement injury, unburying Hunk, lifting an enormously heavy weight off of Lance and Pidge, cauterizing Keith's wound…they were all incredible feats he'd never have been able to pull off as a common soldier, as an ordinary human.

He realizes, with a pang of shock, that it's the first time he's ever been able to use the Galra arm to preserve. Fully preserve, with the intention of saving and protecting lives. Oh, he's used in in the past to fight the Galra, using their own weapon against them, and certainly it's helped to do some good in the universe. But ultimately that is simply using the weapon in a way it was made for—causing destruction or stealing secrets from the enemy—and Shiro just aimed it back at its creators rather than helpless opponents in the ring.

But this is the first time he's saved lives with it. He hadn't destroyed the enemy, hadn't wrecked the Galra attackers and sentries so significantly they backed off of his fellow paladins. He'd preserved lives with it, in ways completely unrelated to battle. He'd found a way to use the awful thing's destructive abilities and incredible strength for something good, and he'd protected life with it when it was only meant to end lives.

It feels…good. Very good. Not only has he turned the Galra weapon against them in a wholly new way, he's undermined everything it—and Galra itself—stand for. He doesn't feel tied down to the fate Galra so eagerly wants to force him towards. He isn't the monster Sendak claims he is, because monsters don't preserve life. He has proof, for the first time, that he can make himself—and this unwanted arm—whatever he chooses, use it as he desires. He's the one in control, not this thing.

And he chooses, above all else, to be a protector. He'll remember this. He'll use it to keep saving lives, keep preserving them. He'll fight too, where it's needed, use the strength it offers and the abilities it grants him to do his part in this war. But he'll use it with purpose now, one that he chooses, and that nobody else chooses for him.

Shiro smiles, and flexes his metal fingers, listening to the whir of gears that's so unnatural and at the same time has become so familiar. And, for the first time in a very long time, he feels surprisingly at peace.

Thank you to everyone who left a review, or faved or followed the fic. Your encouragement was a gift. I had a lot of fun writing this story, but you guys made it even better :)

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