Ready to Engage?

Disclaimer: I do not own Voltron or any of its characters.

This story is meant to bridge the gap between "Retaliation" and the upcoming story, "Duchess," which doesn't deal as much with the emotional PTSD except for the very beginning. After writing "Unbroken," I realized that there needed to be more about Keith's continued journey to deal with what he went through. This story is part of that journey. It's short... just 3 chapters, but I think you'll realize the importance in several areas at the conclusion.

Rating/Setting: Rating is T. Setting is DotU about 2 months after the end of "Retaliation." I suppose this can be read without having read "Retaliation" and the stories prior, but it will make a whole heck of a lot more sense if you've read them.


Chapter 1

Keith stood in an empty Castle Control. He had asked everyone to leave for "just a little bit." He did an override from a side console to raise the dais. As it rose, he moved to stand in front of station 1. For a solid minute he stood staring at the T-bar, and he felt his pulse quicken and his heart rate accelerate. Closing his eyes, he fought to control his rising anxiety. Images and feelings from his torture sessions with Lotor from two months ago pushed from his subconscious to his consciousness so that he finally had to gasp for air as he reached out to hold the cold metal of the entrance to his station.

Keith felt, rather than heard a presence behind him. The workers had probably been concerned for him when he asked them to leave Control. There was only one person they would have called. Lance.

"How long have you been standing there?" Keith asked once he had his breathing under control.

Now that he wasn't concerned about startling his friend, Lance walked up to the entryway to stand beside Keith. "Long enough to recognize a panic attack when I see one."

Keith let go of the frame and took a step to the side. He leaned his back against the cold metal. Bad decision. Memories of how the cold steel table in the torture chamber felt to his tattered back came rushing back to him. He closed his eyes as his breathing quickened again.

Lance watched with anger as his friend and commander struggled to fight off the memories created by a blue-skinned, white-haired demon. Both Lance and a psychiatrist had certified Keith fit for duty and command… were they wrong to do so? The lieutenant's facial expression hardened as he thought about what he would like to do to Lotor, Haggar, and all those on Doom. Seeing that Keith was coming out of the panic, he worked to control his own features so that his friend wouldn't be concerned.

"Talk to me, Keith, or talk to someone… anyone. Don't try to deal with this by yourself." What he didn't add was, 'or I might have to contact Garrison and change my recommendation about being fit for duty.' Lance was pleasantly surprised when Keith nodded yes and went to the auxiliary console and lowered the dais.

Only looking at the console while he worked, Keith said, "Walk with me to Black's pedestal."

As they exited Control, Keith gave the all clear for the workers to continue and added, "If the Queen is looking for me, tell her I'm out on Black's pedestal with Lance." He knew that she would be worried if she couldn't find him and he didn't answer his com unit. But if she knew he was talking to Lance, she wouldn't be worried… except about his state of mind. However, it couldn't be helped. Lance was right. He needed to talk.

On the walk across the bridge, Keith began…

"As you know, Gorma allowed me to go back to my normal workout regimen two weeks ago when he certified me fit for Lion practice."

Lance clarified, "You were allowed to go back as long as you didn't do exercises to strain your shoulders and that you wouldn't use the T-bar."

"Exactly."

Stopping abruptly and grabbing his friend's arm, he said sternly, "Did you disobey the doctor's orders, Keith?"

Looking coldly at the hand on his arm, Keith turned his gaze to Lance. Before he could proffer something biting, Keith grimaced as the look of concern flitted over Lance's face.

Seeing that his friend had been about to explode about his tone or some other imagined break of protocol, he worked to diffuse the situation. "I'm just worried about you, Keith." Most of the time Keith was his normal self; but there were rare moments like these when he was a powder keg ready to explode.

Letting out a deep breath, Keith apologized. "Sorry, Lance. I'm just sensitive I guess about people making judgments about my physical and mental state." Shrugging his shoulders with a slight wince, he added, "The by-product of being poked, prodded, and analyzed for weeks."

They started to walk again and Lance waited for his friend to continue.

"Just so you know, I actually HAVE been following Gorma's orders. It's just that, I did a couple of chin-ups in the gym yesterday. I thought doing just a few of them would be fine. I didn't plan to overdo it." A pregnant pause followed. Keith's voice was a whisper as he continued. "I had to stop after the second one. My right shoulder was screaming in agony. I immediately took some pain meds and anti-inflammatory pills." At this point he shot Lance a rueful smile. "You'd be proud of me. I went to Gorma and told him."

Whistling, Lance returned the smile and said, "You must have been really concerned."

They reached the pedestal of Black and rode up in silence. They moved to sit with their legs hanging over the side facing the castle.

"I AM concerned Lance. There's no way I can grab that T-bar and go down without being in pretty bad pain. I'll be injured before I can even get in the Lion."

"Take the elevator down to the wagon wheel and get in the shuttle there. It's an easy solution."

Looking at Red's pilot, Keith said, "You know that time can mean lives in this war. My delay can mean deaths."

Frowning at Keith, Lance said, "You know we need you. You KNOW that you are the best man for the job. I hope you're not asking me to replace you or find you a replacement."

"I don't know what I'm asking. I just don't want to be a liability to the team."

Chuckling at this, Lance said, "No way, bro. You're the glue that holds us together. Sure we can fight and win without you, but it's easier with you."

"Thanks, Lance, I'll try to remember that…"

There was a moment of silence and then Lance asked, "What happened in Castle Control? I've never seen you have a panic attack."

Closing his eyes for a moment, Keith searched for the words to explain. Opening his eyes, he trained them on a specific spot. It was the location of the balcony that he and Allura considered theirs. It gave him something positive to dwell on while his mind took him back two months.

His voice was low and his body incredibly still. "You are one of the few who know EXACTLY what happened to me on Doom. I think my frustration and… concern… over not being able to use the T-bar triggered memories. Knowing that grabbing that T-bar will bring back the agony I felt when I hung from those chains or when my shoulders were dislocated…" His eyes closed for a very long moment before opening. "I just need to go to that station every day and work on understanding my feelings and work through them."

Lance thought it was incredible that Keith was able to work this out. He should have realized the analytic captain would have a plan to get his mental faculties back to their precision order.

"I also plan on talking to one of the counselors on staff." Seeing the look on Lance's face, Keith gave a wry smile. "I know, volunteering to go to the doctor doesn't sound like me. I hope that my saying that hasn't caused you to worry about me further."

Actually laughing at this, Lance said, "Nope. I'm very encouraged by it." Shaking his head, he continued. "I don't even pretend to know what you went through." Turning to look at the castle he added with emotion, "I'm just glad you came back."

"I'm not all the way back, but I plan on getting there." Keith's voice was determined.

Lance smiled inwardly and thought, 'And that's the attitude that's going to get you there, buddy.'