Notes: Takes place during season two, prior to forming an alliance with the Blades of Marmora and the subsequent events that follow. No pairings, all team-bonding, platonic relationships and family. This story will be dark and violent at times, so please consider that before reading. Violence warnings include: physical violence and at times graphic imagery, emotional and mental torture. The story is being kept at a T-rating for now, but some chapters/sections could border on M. Thank you for reading and enjoy!

As Color Fades Away

Chapter One

"I need the Black Lion," Zarkon growled, standing on the platform's edge and staring into the deep abyss of space. "And these parlor tricks," he gestured at the exhausted druids collapsed around him, "are wasting my time."

He had not been able to make contact with the Black Lion for days now, no matter how much energy the druids conjured for his search. He'd carried on relentlessly and only the fall of one weak druid had stopped him now. A smoking crater remained of where that creature had once stood.

"Perhaps we need a new plan," Haggar advised from above and Zarkon rounded on her, purple eyes flashing dangerously.

"I will not cease my search for the Black Lion!"

She raised her hands placatingly. "I meant no such thing, my Lord. Merely a suggestion on how to bring the Black Lion to us, rather than this ceaseless chase across the galaxy."

He gave the slightest inclination of his head for her to continue.

"We set a trap to capture one of the Paladins," she said. "And then use them as bait to lure the Black Lion to us."

"They are no fools," Zarkon countered. "They will see it is a trap."

"Yes," Haggar agreed. "But we give them no choice. Either the Black Lion surrenders itself to us, or we kill the bait in the most painful way possible. They would not so easily abandon one of their own. And should the ploy fail…" she gave a shrug. "Then we have at the very least weakened them as they will no longer be able to form Voltron without their fifth Paladin."

"And you believe you can accomplish such a feat?"

Haggar gave a cruel smile. "Absolutely, my Lord. You will have a Paladin in your possession by the end of the week and the Black Lion soon after."

"Then do it," Zarkon commanded. "And do not fail me."

xxx

"Good morning my fellow Paladins!" Lance greeted cheerily as he strode into the kitchen. And what was there not to be cheerful about? The sun was shining (somewhere he was sure; it was a little hard to tell this deep in space), he'd had a lovely hot shower and Coran had done the laundry yesterday so his favorite jacket was nice and clean.

Pidge looked blearily up at him from her tablet as he sauntered over. "Why are you such a morning person?" she groused. "Tone it down."

"Aww, did my little buddy have a long night?" Lance asked, sliding in right next to her and draping an arm around her shoulders. With the ease of practice he ignored the ticking above her eyebrow. "You know what I say; rest before work!"

"Of course you do," muttered Keith, hunched over his food goo. "It's why you never do anything."

Lance gasped in mock surprise. "Keith! What a cruel thing to say! Of course I do things. Why, yesterday I had a very relaxing nap and then a chat with Blue, and then the mice and I designed a new game for them with the pillows in the main room."

"So, nothing important."

"Hey!" Lance brushed aside the tiny tick of real hurt at Keith's statement. Just because he didn't dedicate all of his free time to training did not make it unimportant.

"Would you two cut it out?" Pidge snapped, shrugging Lance's arm off of her. "I don't care what you have or haven't done. I have been tracking a Galra supply ship for the better part of the night and just want to eat my breakfast in peace!"

"Ooh, what for?" Lance asked, excitement kicking back into gear as tried to get a look at her tablet, but the resulting lines of text and code meant nothing to him. "Are we going on a mission?"

"Up to Allura and Shiro," she replied, back to typing while her food goo remained untouched. So much for eating breakfast, Lance thought. But when she was this focused on something Pidge found it hard to concentrate on the normal things humans needed to function. Like eating and sleeping. He just sighed inwardly and hoped Shiro could break her out of her work and get her to eat. He'd tried himself, but it always resulted in being yelled at or food goo being chucked at him. And getting that stuff out of his hair was ridiculously hard.

"What's up to me?" Shiro asked, strolling into the room with a towel about his neck having clearly come from the training deck.

"Pidge found a Galra supply ship," Lance said.

He felt his smallest teammate glare at him, made all the more scary with the light reflecting off her glasses. "Lance…"

"Oh? You wanted to tell him. Lo siento, my bad."

Shiro gave a soft huff of laughter and turned his attention to Pidge. "I'm assuming you have some more information?"

She nodded, wrenching her gaze away from burning holes into Lance. "My tracking systems went off around 0200 that picked up a Galra signal. I traced it back to a supply ship coming in from the sixth quadrant. It's moving slowly and its shields don't seem to be up. It almost seems like it may have been attacked."

"Attacked?" Lance and Keith both asked at the same time.

"Jinx!" Lance cried, pointing a finger at Keith. "You owe me a soda!"

"What are you on abo-?"

"No talking! That's two sodas!"

"The two of you, please," Shiro said, rubbing at his head. "Lance, no jinxing games. Pidge, what makes you think that?"

"I've never seen a Galra ship moving like this before," she said. "It's practically limping along. It is heading though towards Galra's main headquarters though and nothing seems to be impeding it right now. If it is as defenseless as it seems it could be a great opportunity to plug into their systems and find out more information."

"Or it could be a trap!" Lance shouted.

"Really?" Keith snarked. "Never would have crossed my mind."

"Does it appear to be manned?" Shiro asked, ignoring them.

"I don't see any tell-tale Galra heat signatures, but it likely still has sentries if it's moving towards Galra. Otherwise it'd be dead in the water."

"We'll see what the Princess says," Shiro said after a moment. "It could be a good lead if we approach cautiously, but I don't want to take any undue risks."

They hadn't had a Galra sighting though in several days nor any distress signals that the Castle of Lions had been able to pick up. It was a little disconcerting and as of now they were just traveling about without any real direction. The only planets they'd recently encountered were uninhabited and other than providing a training ground for the Lions they hadn't even been able to make any new alliances.

If there was someone else out there attacking Galran ships it could explain why they'd not experienced any attacks themselves. But who would have the ability to go toe-to-toe with Galra? They knew there were freedom fighters out there (if the bounty hunters could be believed) but enough to take on a Galra ship?

Allura though thought it was an excellent idea when Shiro told her about it on the bridge, so long as all necessary precautions were taken. It was decided they would go down in the Green Lion thanks to Pidge's cloaking technology (and Lance whined not for the first time when his Lion would get cloaking technology too and had his foot stamped on painfully by Pidge) and they would infiltrate the building.

Shiro would stay with Pidge so she could use his arm to access the Galran tech and the rest would provide security in the case there were rogue drones or this was indeed a trap. Allura and Coran would be standing by with the castle ready to dive in should they need firepower until the Paladins could get back to their Lions in the hangars.

And the first part of the mission had gone without a hitch. They'd docked the Green Lion on a landing deck and had encountered no resistance as Shiro opened the bay door for them. There were signs of damage on the outside of the ship, but nothing severe enough that seemed to indicate why anyone would have abandoned the vessel. It set everyone on edge.

Pidge had practically dragged their leader down a hallway, eyes fixated on her screen, and found the server room within minutes with still no enemy activity.

"This shouldn't take too long," she said, directing Shiro to place his hand on the access panel while she activated the system, already completely focused on the primary goal.

"Stay on alert, Paladins," Shiro cautioned as was tethered to the machine. "This seems too easy."

The remaining three paladins exited the server room (which had only one entry door) and set up a perimeter down the hallway. Keith was the picture of seriousness while Lance leaned against the wall with a bored sigh, his bayard held loosely in one hand.

Hunk, who had been down in the engine room with Coran all morning working on a filtration system upgrade, placed himself between the two with an internal sigh. The two had bickered the entire short ride over and ended with Shiro snapping at them to stop arguing like children and focus on the mission.

He'd known Lance since they were kids and he could tell that despite the appearance of aloofness, his best friend was bothered by something and he'd bet it had something to do with Shiro's reprimand. Whereas the scolding had Keith straightening up and resolutely ignoring Lance, it had seemed to make the Blue Paladin droop.

"What's up?" he asked quietly, mimicking Lance's pose although he kept his own bayard firmly gripped and his eyes on the passageway.

"Shiro's mad at me," Lance muttered, idly kicking his leg back and forth.

"He's not mad," Hunk said. "Just a little frustrated, I think."

Lance's eyes widened behind his visor. "You're taking his side?"

"I'm just looking at things from his perspective," Hunk said soothingly, reaching his free arm out to give Lance's shoulder a quick squeeze. "He's been under a lot of stress the past few days."

"What stress?" Lance asked, clearly puzzled. "We haven't had to fight or do anything for almost a week!"

"And that's why he's on edge," Hunk explained. "It's not the usual pattern with the Galra. He's just overly worried now with this mission and you and Keith sniping at one another is just…"

"He starts it," Lance grumbled. "I'm just trying to be friendly." He just wanted everyone to get along like one big happy family and it wasn't his fault that Keith was so uptight about everything and seemed to take it as a personal offence that Lance was so carefree.

"I know," Hunk said, giving Lance's shoulder another comforting squeeze. "We all know. But you need to give Keith some space. Being a part of a group like this is new for him and he's still getting used to the dynamic."

Lance sighed, but did not look quite as glum as he had before. "You're right. I'll try. But," and his voice turned to a whine that had Hunk smiling, "he's just so… Keith-like. You know? It's like he doesn't know how to have fun."

"Hey," Keith said lowly as he peered into the dark hall beyond. "Stop yammering. Something's coming."

Lance shut his mouth right away and both he and Hunk turned to look in Keith's direction.

First mistake, Lance realized as he heard the whine of a gun powering up from the opposite hall he was supposed to be watching.

He whirled around but was a second too late as a purple ray shot forward and struck his armor straight in the chest. It hurt, but the armor held and Lance fired a return strike and cheered when it collided dead-center with the sentry and it collapsed.

His relief was short-lived though as his own blast revealed there were quite a large number of sentries all hurrying straight for him. Hunk had left his side to give Keith long-distance support before they were overwhelmed and he had no other choice but to set up and pick them off one by one.

He had excellent aim, if he did say so himself. He proclaimed it on a daily basis to normally eye rolls from Keith and Pidge as they took it as him showing off (again), but he was glad that one of the talents he loudly claimed was actually legit. Because as they all knew, Lance really wasn't that great of a pilot, cook, fighter or anything else he boasted about. But he could shoot.

So he did. He set up each shot, not wasting a single pull of the trigger as he fired into the oncoming ranks. But they were moving too fast and he couldn't take them all down.

"Uh, guys?" he called, activating his shield and thrusting one sentry away. "A little help?"

But both Hunk and Keith found themselves with their hands full as a ceiling vent in the middle of the hall burst open and sentries came pouring down. Keith was in the thick of it, his sword slashing with every turn and Hunk was firing into the horde of metal, careful to aim his bayard away from his teammates.

"Paladins, what is your status?" Shiro crackled in their headset.

"It was a trap!" Lance shouted, dodging under a sentry's arm and ramming his shield under its chin and dislocating its head. "We're being overrun!"

"Just another minute," came Pidge's voice, higher than normal as she tended to sound when she was worried. "Can you hold them?"

"We will hold," Keith said, not sounding out of breath in the slightest and Lance felt jealous in the face of that calm while he was starting to feel a little overwhelmed and hysterical.

"Speak for yourself," he snapped back instead, taking another blaster hit to his armor.

Close combat had never been his strength. Shiro and Allura had been pushing him to improve on hand-to-hand, but no matter how hard he tried he just lacked the ability to be any good at it. He really was quite pathetic next to the other Paladins, he thought morosely.

He hadn't even been able to conjure up a good bayard backup for close range fighting. He figured if he at least had a sword like Keith he'd be able to do something, but his bayard stubbornly refused to be anything but a large, powerful gun and he did not have the strength like Hunk to clobber people with it. He wished he did though. Hunk looked so cool when he did it.

So he did what he could now that he was boxed in, blocking the blasts as best as he could with his shield and using it as a battering ram when he found a window to do so. Another shot bypassed his shield and struck him sharply in the leg, right where the armor bent behind the knee and was most vulnerable.

He cried out in pain as he actually felt the burn and his leg buckled beneath him. The sentries wasted no time, continuing their relentless onslaught and Lance felt more and more hits smashing into his armor. He wasn't such much as even fighting back now as he was trying to keep the shield between his body and their blasters.

And then in a swoop of Galra purple and Altean teal, Shiro was there, arm glowing and forcibly slicing down all of the sentries that Lance had been unable to defeat and Hunk was crouching next to him and pulling him to his feet, forcing him to run even as each step sent agony racing up his injured leg.

Lance made out that all of the sentries Hunk and Keith had been fighting were bits of mangled metal and he felt the all too familiar feeling of shame wash over him that he had not been able to do the same.

They were running faster now to the point where Lance felt like he was being dragged and Pidge yelled at them to go even quicker as the self-destruct sequence she'd initiated would be going off in thirty seconds.

Hunk hefted Lance over his shoulder with all the grace of a sack of potatoes, but Lance found he couldn't even care at the immediate stabbing relief from not putting weight on his limb. They made it to the Green Lion with seconds to spare, cramming in and Pidge throwing the thrusters into gear as explosions sounded from inside the ship.

The Green Lion blasted away from the Galran ship with all the speed her form carried, and even then they still felt the shockwave as the ship imploded behind them.

"Everyone all right?" Shiro asked as they made their way to the castle.

"We're fine," Keith answered for them. But then his eyes flicked to the Blue Paladin, who Hunk had gently settled on the floor behind the pilot's chair. "Except Lance, who forgot how a shield is supposed to work."

"Yeah?" Lance retorted, voice high with pain. "Well maybe if you'd come when I said I needed backup—"

"You shouldn't need backup for a mission like this," Keith said. "We were able to fend them off. Why couldn't you?"

"Enough, Keith," Shiro said, crouching down next to Lance. More gently he said, "Are you all right, buddy? Do you think you need a healing pod?"

"Dunno," Lance said. "They got my leg pretty good." He whimpered as Shiro moved his hand down to examine it and hissed out through clenched teeth, "Dios mío Shiro! Don't touch it!"

"Sorry, sorry," the Black Paladin said, pulling his hand back. "If it's that bad though I think you do need a pod. Coran?"

"Already on it," came the chipper voice of the royal advisor. "We'll have you fixed up in a jiffy, Paladin!"

"And the mission?" Allura asked over the com. "Was it successful?"

"Not sure yet, Princess," Pidge said. "We need to go over the data I downloaded. But it looks like this ship was supposed to be carrying some pretty valuable cargo and it was removed following the earlier attack. If I can track down the coordinates of the drone ships that took it, it could be valuable."

"It seems to be sound," Shiro said, having been present to Pidge's mumbling as the data downloaded. "The sentries remaining on the ship were likely not activated during the initial battle and came online when Pidge started hacking the system."

"That is most excellent news then," Allura said. "Great work, Paladins. I'll see you soon on the bridge."

They arrived a minute later and landed without incident in the Green Lion's hangar. Shiro instructed everyone to disarm and report to the bridge, save for Lance and Hunk to report to the infirmary.

"I can walk," Lance protested as Hunk made to sling him over his shoulder again. He could feel Keith's judgmental stare on him, likely along the lines of how such an injury wouldn't bother him at all, and only allowed Hunk to loop his arm and assist him with getting down the ramp.

Once the other Paladins had branched off towards the living quarters though, Lance slumped bonelessly and Hunk gave him a sympathetic smile, scooping him into his arms and allowing Lance to tuck his head beneath his chin.

"I'm sorry I couldn't help you," Hunk said softly as Lance's breath warmed his chin.

""s my own fault," Lance mumbled. "Keith was right. I should have been able to fight them off."

"And I should have been there to assist you," Hunk said, tighting his arms around his friend. "Your weapon isn't good for close-up fighting and we know that. It won't happen again."

"No," Lance said nearly inaudible. "It won't."

And Hunk could only sigh and hold Lance a little closer.

Coran was waiting for them next to a cryo-pod and clucked his tongue sympathetically as they came into view. "That does indeed look painful," he said as Hunk settled Lance onto the nearby bench. "Let's just get his armor off you and into the pod you go."

That was easier said than done. Coran expertly knew where all of the latches were, but the blast to the leg had melted the connector and they'd needed to physically pry him out of the leg guard with what appeared to be the Altean version of a crowbar.

Lance had been unable to hold back a cry as the armor was finally pulled free and blinked back the hot tears that had sprung up.

Coran winced at the sight of burned flesh and patted Lance on the shoulder. "That was a pretty lucky shot by those sentries," he said. "I'll see what I can do about enforcing the armor there a bit."

"Thanks," Lance said breathlessly as Hunk picked him up once more and sent a lancing pain down his leg that seemed to hurt even worse than before. His chest and arms were littered with small bruises too from the sentries' guns and although they were nothing like the pain in his leg they were throbbing with a dull hurt now.

"I'd say about two hours," Coran advised as Lance was placed into the pod and secured. "You'll be feeling right as ravioli once you're finished."

"It's right as rain," Hunk corrected as the lid began to close.

"Such a strange saying," Coran said shaking his head. "On Altea rain is a very nasty acid that can burn the hair right off of you."

"On Earth it's actually very pleasant," Hunk said. "Although I could really go for some ravioli now. I wonder if we have any of that Kersphek cheese left from our last supply."

Lance managed a smile as the window fogged up and his friends' voices became muffled even as he felt the slightly familiar sense of panic as he was sealed in. He hated being put into the pods while he was awake. He loved the results, sure, but ever since the Castle had tried to kill him in one he was not all that fond of the cramped space.

Happier thoughts, he told himself. Ravioli they'd been talking about? He would really like some ravioli now too. Maybe Hunk would have some ready when he came out of the pod.

And with that in mind, Lance succumbed to the healing powers of the chamber.

xxx

"They have taken the first bite," Haggar informed Zarkon, who was stationary in his throne room and not out on the platform pointlessly seeking the Black Lion that was avoiding his grasp. "We will commence the next phase shortly."

"I grow impatient, Haggar. It has been four days since you proposed this plan and I have yet to see results."

"They are coming soon, my Lord. By tomorrow's end we will have a Paladin in our custody and the Black Lion to shortly follow."

"Good. Then you are dismissed."

She bowed low and disappeared in a whirl of smoke.

Zarkon smiled darkly across the throne room, his gaze being drawn to the abyss of space in the windows. Soon he would be in possession of the Black Lion.

And then none would stand in his way.

xxx

Author's Notes: Hello there! This is my first foray into the Voltron fandom after binge-watching it all in one day. Yup, that addicted and now crying with the rest of you that I'm out of episodes till September. Agony, I tell you.

Lance is my favorite character, which means for whatever reason I must put him through the wringer. Sorry, sweetie. I'm a huge fan of the Paladins all being a family, so no pairings or romance here; just brotherly (and sisterly) love with lots of team bonding.

I hope I do the fandom justice with my story, especially as I've only just watched it. xD I'd love to hear what your thoughts are on the story so far; they'll let me know if I should be continuing this. Hope you enjoy and please do drop a review below!