We are back with a new chapter! This one is about Regris and picks up right after the first section with him from when there's stardust in your blood and bones. So if you haven't read that one, you'll probably want to!
when there's something different about you (and it's not the tail)
"You must teach me how you do the thing."
Keith just snorted in response, getting to his feet. "I can't teach you how to shift, Regris."
"No, no." Regris said. "I'm sure I can do it if I try."
"Trust me, you can't." Keith said. "It doesn't work that way."
Regris hummed, unable to deny his curiosity. "Then how does it work?"
Keith narrowed his eyes, shifting uncomfortably on his feet. "It's not something you can learn. You're either a Shifter, or you're not. I got it from my dad."
Regris tilted his head slightly, studying his training partner. Ever since they had first been introduced, he'd been curious about him. The first thing he had been struck by was how very un-Galra he looked, second only to the fact that he was apparently a Voltron paladin. It wasn't until later that he found out about his ability to transform into a creature he called a cat, which had immediately caught his interest. This ability appeared to be unique to him among the paladins- although they were all similar in appearance to Keith, it was to his surprise he learned that they were in fact, a separate species.
"Got it?" Regris asked. "Is it something you can catch?"
"Kind of?" Keith frowned, shedding his earlier discomfort somewhat as he spoke. "You can't catch it like a cold, but-"
"What's a cold?" Regris interrupted.
"It's an illness." Keith flatly responded, looking him directly in the eyes. "Look, do you want me to explain or not?"
"Oh yes." Regris grinned. "Continue."
Keith huffed, but he didn't miss the faint upward twitch of his lips. "It's transmitted through salvia, basically."
Regris brows arched, taking a keen interest. "So you're saying I could learn."
He had already seen how Keith used being able to change his form to his advantage. It was a unique talent that he knew Kolivan had begun to form plans around- small ones, given Keith's dual role as a both a Blade and a paladin, especially now that he had advanced to the role of black paladin. If he had such a talent, he was willing to bet that he could put it to just as good a use.
"I mean, I could bite you." Keith shrugged, folding his arms in front of him. "But I don't know if it would even work. Worst case scenario, you might just die."
Regris blanched. "Perhaps not, then."
He was prepared to accept death gracefully on the battlefield, not elsewhere.
There was a familiar gleam in Keith's eye, the paladin taking a step forward. Regris swore his teeth were sharper than they had been mere ticks ago. "But you might not."
"No thank you." Regris said firmly, taking a step back. He didn't want to learn how to transform that badly.
"Come on," Keith took another step forward, his teeth definitely much sharper now, "-it'll be fun."
Regris stared at the paladin for a tick longer- before he sharply turned on his heel and made a run for it. He didn't get very far- what he lacked in strength, he more than made up for in speed. He pounced on him, knocking him to the floor and pinning him there with a move that most definitely wasn't taught by the Blade. Then he leaned close, until he was practically whispering in his ear.
"Rule number one."
Groaning, Regris let his head sink to the floor. Keith never had any intention of biting him- but he had gotten him to let his guard down and had successfully earned back the points he'd just lost.
"What was that Earthling swear again?" Regris asked.
Cheeky grin still set in place on his face, Keith got off his back. "You mean fuck?"
"That's the one." Pushing himself up off the floor, Regris locked eyes with him. "Fuck you."
At his use of the Earthling swear, Keith let out a bark of laughter. "Consider it payback."
"I will." Regris told him, a grin of his own already forming. "And I'll be getting mine soon enough."
He pounced on Keith, but he simply transformed and darted away, leaving him to collide face first with the floor. Picking himself up off of it, Regris rubbed his nose, glaring at the feline that he was positive was mocking him from across the room.
"That's still not fair."
Regris had exactly two thoughts upon waking up.
The first was how he was even still alive. He had been so certain when the bomb went off that he wouldn't live to see another mission, much less the next quintant, and yet, he was indisputably not dead.
The second was why he was in the isolation ward.
"It's a precaution," was all the doctor told him, before he left to find Kolivan.
Well that didn't sound good, Regris couldn't help but think to himself. Swinging his legs off the bed, he tried to recall what had happened, but all he could remember was the mission going wrong. He narrowed his eyes at the thought, peering around the isolation ward as if he expected to see anyone else- unlikely, it was the isolation ward, after all, but he couldn't help but wonder what had happened to Keith. He'd been on the mission with them, and the doctor hadn't mentioned anything about him.
He frowned, hoping he'd made it out alright. The paladin had once said that he still had at least eight out of his nine lives left, but he was never sure if he meant that as a joke, or if he really could survive death nine times.
Any questions about his own physical state were much more easily answered. A quick check of himself showed that he was more or less intact- he felt a bit sore in places, but given what he had gone through, he'd been expecting far more damage. It didn't look at all like he'd been caught in an explosion in deep space, adding to his questions.
With no way to find those answers himself, all Regris could do was wait for Kolivan. It felt like a long time before the Blade leader finally arrived, but in reality he knew that it had only been a few doboshes. To his surprise, he entered the isolation ward without following any of the normal protocols that had been put in place to protect visitors, causing Regris to arch a brow. It wasn't like Kolivan to ignore protocol.
"You must have questions." Kolivan said.
Right to the point. That was more like Kolivan.
"Several." Regris agreed. "How long have I been out?"
"Three quintants." Kolivan calmly replied, impassive as ever.
Three quintants. Considering what should have happened, spending three quintants unconscious wasn't so bad.
"How's Keith?" Regris asked.
"Keith is well." Kolivan replied. "He was able to return to the paladins without any issues."
Regris let out a breath of relief. It might sound odd, but he couldn't help but feel concerned about the fate of the little Blade. He'd saved his life once, even if that meant acting against protocol and earning Kolivan's ire. It wouldn't sit well with him if he'd survived only for Keith to perish.
Which still left the question as to why he was in quarantine.
"So," Regris began, skipping any preamble, "-how am I not dead?"
"Ah. That." Kolivan said, with an unusual amount of dryness even for him. "You have Keith to thank for that."
"Something tells me he did more than just carry me to safety this time." Regris observed.
Kolivan's eyes narrowed, though it was impossible to decipher anything from just that. He'd hate to have to play Gorblonthian Checkers with him. "How are you feeling?"
"Fine, actually." Regris told him truthfully. "Which seems strange, given that I distinctly remember a bomb going off in my face. I should be dead."
"You should be." Kolivan agreed. "As I said, Keith saved you."
Regris opened his mouth to press exactly how he had done that, but quickly snapped it shut, everything clicking into place. Pulling back the sleeves of his medical suit, he searched for any sign of a bite wound, only to find none.
If anything, that just proved it.
"I see you're aware of the method." Kolivan said, somehow managing to sound as stoic as ever even as Regris was still trying to wrap his head around it. "It was an independent call on Keith's part, but it seems to have been successful."
"So am I...?" Regris trailed off.
"In so far as we can tell." Kolivan said. "You've yet to show any outward signs, but there was little Keith could tell us about what occurs in such a situation. I suspect he doesn't know."
Regris frowned, his brows knitting together. He didn't feel any different. If what Kolivan said was true, then he should have gained the same ability to transform as Keith had, but he didn't know how. He'd always made it look so easy, that he assumed it was just sort of second nature to him- and maybe it was. After all, he'd been born a Shifter- the first hybrid of their two peoples.
What did that make him, then?
He certainly didn't seem to be any less Galra, Regris thought, looking up at his reflection in the one-way mirror that surrounded the isolation ward. His features were virtually unchanged- he was still covered in scales, and had all the other features common in more reptilian Galra such as himself. But if Keith had bitten him, and he'd survived, then he wasn't just Galra anymore. Was he a hybrid now? The second Galra/Shifter hybrid?
(Or was he the third? Who was Keith's mother, now that he thought about it?)
"I see you require time." Kolivan said. "I'll see myself out."
"Wait." Regris stopped him. "Where's Keith?"
"I sent him a message when the doctor informed me you were regaining consciousness." Kolivan replied. "He should be here soon."
Regris said nothing to that, just nodded. Apparently satisfied, Kolivan left him to his own thoughts.
As soon as he left, Regris stood up off the bed and begun pacing the room. His soreness began to clear up as he moved, and he couldn't help but marvel at how quickly he'd healed from what had to have been a near death state if Keith had gone as far as to try biting him in order to save his life. His kind healed rapidly, and gaining it must have been what had ultimately saved him from death.
Keith's devotion touched him- he'd never had anyone go so far for him before. It just wasn't the Blade way. They were taught that the mission came before the individual, that losing one man was better than losing two. It wasn't heartless- just necessary. This wasn't a war that could be won on sentiment and kindness. But Keith hadn't been raised that way, as he'd proven by saving him not just once- but twice.
He also suspected that he simply didn't want to see anyone else die in front of him. He had been there when Ulaz and Thace had chosen to sacrifice themselves for the cause, and he didn't have to ask to know it had effected him profoundly.
Regris came to a halt, staring down at his hands. He wondered if he could shift if he tried, and if so, what he'd shift into. Would he become this cat creature that Keith transformed into? It would be very strange to have fur, he thought, but novel. Would he be as small as Keith, or did the paladin's minuscule height effect the size of his transformed self?
He had so many questions.
Turning on his heel, he spotted Keith. He was slightly out of breath, a thin sheen of sweat clinging to his brow, perhaps having run here from the docking bay. He hadn't even bothered to change out of his Earth clothes into his Blade uniform. The bright colors made him stick out even more than he usually did.
"Kolivan called and told me you'd regained consciousness." Keith said after catching his breath. "I came as fast as I could."
"I'll say." Regris said. "How did you even get here so fast? Aren't the paladins stationed on Olkarion?"
"Begged Allura to make a wormhole." Keith admitted. "She was resistant at first, but when I told her what it was for, she changed her mind."
Oh yes, he'd seen the wormholes the Altean princess was capable of making. That would cut down the time of the trip considerably. Still, he must have really been in a hurry if he'd resorted to begging- Keith rarely begged. He must really care about him, Regris thought- before he took a look at Keith's eyes, and realized that what had driven here so quickly wasn't care, it was guilt.
He couldn't fathom what he was feeling guilty about. Was it because he'd been the one to insist on planting the tracker? Did he feel guilty because his decision had lead him to nearly get killed? That was nonsense. It was his own fault for being so thick-headed that he'd tried to stay and override the computer, rather than doing the logical thing and fleeing.
Stepping fully into the isolation ward, Keith's gaze nervously darted about. It was as if he was looking at everything except for him.
"So did Kolivan tell you yet?" Keith asked.
Regris frowned, for a tick not understanding the question. "Tell me- oh. You mean about how you bit me."
Keith winced, and it suddenly dawned on him that that was what he felt guilty about. In spite of himself, Regris let out a bark of laughter, so unexpected that it caused Keith to flinch. He couldn't help it. The idea of that being something to feel guilty about was so absurd, that it wasn't even worth considering.
"You saved my life, from the sound of it." Regris said. "I should thank you."
"I didn't know if it would even work." Keith pointed out. "I could have just killed you."
"From the sound of it, I was dying anyways." Regris told him. "All you would have done was put me out of my misery a little faster."
Keith frowned, not looking entirely convinced. He must have spent these past three quintants second-guessing his decision, turning it over and over again in his head until it was all he could think about, convinced he'd made the wrong choice. Well, he was going to put a sound end to that.
"So," Regris said, planting his hands on his hips, beaming broadly, "-when are you going to teach me how to do the thing?"
Keith blinked, looking up at him in surprise- before he cracked a faint smile. "I guess I don't have much of a choice now."
Using his best impression of Kolivan, Regris wagged a finger. "Taking responsibility for one's actions is the way of the Blade."
Keith flinched, his eyes darting behind him, towards the still open door.
Regris winced, realization dawning on him. "...he's right outside, isn't he?"
Keith just gave him a hapless shrug, as the Blade leader stepped into full view, looking at him with a highly critical gaze.
Ah. Maybe dying wasn't so bad after all.
"How are you so bad at this?"
Regris grumbled, glaring rather ineffectively at Keith. "I've never done this before."
"I mean... yeah." Keith frowned. "But you should still know how to do it. It's like an instinct."
"Well apparently, it's an instinct I don't have." Regris said.
Keith had not been able to teach him immediately- he'd been called back to the Castle not long after he'd arrived to check on him, forcing him to take a rain check, as Keith called it. He'd been tempted to try transforming on his own, but Keith's warning not to had stuck with him, and he hadn't dared. They were entering uncharted territory here- it was impossible to say what might happen or what he might become.
Thankfully, he didn't have to wait long. Keith was back on base within the next two quintants, and once he'd been cleared by the doctor, they began practice. Keith had assured him that transforming- shifting, as he called it- would be simple, but thus far it had proven to be anything but. One varga had passed already, and as of yet, he'd been unsuccessful at doing anything more than giving himself a headache from concentrating too hard.
Keith huffed slightly, running a hand through his hair. "I don't understand. You should just know how."
"Are you sure I even can?" Regris questioned.
"I don't know." Keith admitted. "You should be able to. I just- we have to be missing something."
Regris frowned. He wasn't sure what it was he could be missing, and he was starting to suspect that Keith didn't either. Looking up at him from where he sat, he watched the paladin carefully as he paced the floor, clearly racking his brain for why this didn't seem to be working as it should. He'd been sort of suspecting it for awhile now, but...
"How much do you even know about your own kind?"
Keith froze, peeking over his shoulder at him. "You mean the Galra?"
"No." Regris shook his head. "I mean Shifters."
Keith winced, and he knew he had guessed correctly. "I kind of... for a long time, my dad was the only Shifter I actually knew."
"And then he died." Regris stated.
His bluntness caused Keith to bite his lip, but he still nodded in confirmation. "Yeah. After that his clan didn't want anything to do with me, so I ended up in foster care- human foster care. I didn't really meet another Shifter until after I enrolled in the Galaxy Garrison, and by then it was... kind of awkward to ask them about Shifter stuff."
Regris' brow crinkled. He wasn't certain what this foster care was, but he didn't need to understand to know that from the sound of it, Keith's family had abandoned him. That was unthinkable- if a Blade died and left behind their children, their next of kin would always take up the task of raising them. If they didn't have a next of kin, then the child was typically given to the care of a mentor or a close friend- someone with direct ties to the child, not a complete stranger, which was what this foster care sounded like.
That sounded something more like what the Galra Empire would do. The thought sat uneasily in his stomach, silently appalled at the connection he'd just drawn. Nothing should be compared to the Galra Empire.
"Why not?" Regris asked. "Do you think they would have lied?"
"It's not that." Keith sighed, taking a seat across from him. They had staked out a training room for themselves, and right now Regris suspected Keith was grateful for the privacy. He opened up about himself so rarely. "It's just... I didn't want them to think I was a stray."
"A stray?" Regris asked, tilting his head.
"A Shifter without a clan." Keith told him. "Which I guess I kind of am, but..."
"But you didn't want them to think of you as one." Regris finished.
"Pretty much." Keith said. "Clanless Shifters aren't exactly viewed all that favorably. It usually means they did something wrong, like committed a taboo or something."
His gaze fixed itself squarely on the floor as he said that. It didn't take a genius to deduce what taboo Keith was supposedly guilty of. These Shifters seemed to be a rather insular folk- it wasn't difficult to imagine that they would have taken issue with his father choosing to mate with someone who wasn't a Shifter. It was similarly unthinkable for say, a Blade to choose to partner with someone who was a member of the Empire. Both groups were trying to hide from the majority.
Of course, Keith's mother hadn't been human at all. She'd been a Blade.
He couldn't be certain of her identity. He'd never seen anyone on base that resembled Keith closely enough for him to think they could be related. Given the fact that Kolivan had not simply told him who his mother was- he had to know, he had her blade- it likely meant that she was one of their deep cover agents, one whose cover they couldn't afford to compromise.
He wondered if she could shift too. If she could, she'd clearly kept it a secret.
"Well," Regris beamed, "-you have one now."
Keith looked up at him, for a tick not understanding what he meant- before comprehension dawned across his features. At which point he looked down again, though for entirely different reasons than before, if the red tint on his cheeks was any indication.
"I'd like that." Keith mumbled, his voice so quiet that it surely would have been lost to a being of lesser hearing. "I mean, if you're sure."
"Wouldn't have suggested it otherwise." Regris shrugged. "Now all we have to do is figure out why I'm having to much trouble shifting."
"Right." Keith grimaced. "That."
They sat in silence for a few doboshes, each mulling it over. Regris reflected on what Keith had told him about shifting thus far- he'd described it both as an instinct and as second nature to him. As much as he had expressed his doubts earlier, Regris certainly felt like he could- but there was something getting in the way. Some barrier that was keeping it from being second nature, something he instinctively knew how to do.
"I'm guessing you don't know any Shifters who were bitten." Regris said.
"No." Keith winced. "It's... kind of a taboo."
Ah. Well, that explained the guilt he'd felt before.
"Well, how does it work for you?" Regris asked.
"I told you already." Keith frowned. "It's like-"
"Second nature." Regris finished. "Yes, but how does it work? What do you do?"
Keith blinked, like he'd never even considered the question before. Crossing his arms in front of him, he mulled it over. "I guess I just... let go."
"Let go?" Regris asked.
Keith nodded. "I just let go of this form, and the other comes naturally. I surrender to it, I guess? I don't know how to explain it any better than that."
Regris frowned, his brows knitting together in thought. "That might be the problem, then. Blades aren't trained to let go. We're trained to be constantly aware of our surroundings. To live in the moment and be hyper-vigilant. Rule number one."
Keith frowned, cocking his head. "Even on your own base?"
"You never know where danger might lie." Regris shrugged.
"Fair point." Keith said, his frown deepening. "But that... yeah, that could be a problem. Huh."
Regris, on the other hand, beamed. "Ah, but now that we know what the root of the problem is, it can be solved."
He usually kept his tail under strict control, but he made no attempts to disguise how eager he was. He was excited to find out what he might shift into. Despite his Galra lineage, Keith appeared to be a perfectly ordinary Earth cat, according to his own description, but his father had been a creature known as a wolf. It was his Galra blood that made him shift into something completely different. There was no telling what he, a Galra with no mixed blood and likely an entirely different subspecies than Keith's mother, might end up as.
But first, he had to learn to let go.
Learning to let go wasn't easy. It went against everything he had spent his life training for. Each time he had a practice session with Keith, he could feel himself getting closer, until the day came when it happened.
It hadn't been painful at all, like he'd half been dreading. Keith made it look so easy, but he knew that the transformation involved the rearrangement of joints, which on paper sounded like an extremely painful experience. It wasn't, and for that, Regris was grateful. He might be a Blade, trained to endure untold pain, but he'd rather not have to if it wasn't absolutely necessary.
When he opened his eyes for the first time, it was like the world had changed, but it hadn't. He was the one that had changed, standing now on four legs, as opposed to two. A quick check downwards revealed that he was still covered in scales, as opposed to fur, like he'd been half-expecting. Looking towards Keith, he realized that for once, he was looking up at him- in his transformed state, he came up to roughly about his waist. Still substantially larger than his feline form, but much smaller than his normal one.
"You did it, Regris!" Keith beamed.
In spite of himself, Regris couldn't help but preen. It had taken him a lot longer than it should have, but he'd done it. He couldn't help but feel accomplished- that, and intensely curious. What did he look like? He could only see so much of himself from this angle. He could tell he still had a tail, and a prehensile one at that, but other than that the amount of information he could glean about himself was limited.
He tried to convey this to Keith, but all that came out was an odd hissing noise. Thankfully, Keith seemed to understand.
"Curious?" Keith asked.
Regris nodded his head, stamping his front foot (paw?) somewhat impatiently.
Keith just huffed in amusement. "Hang on a second. I think I can help with that."
He watched as Keith activated his gauntlet's computer, linking it up with the base's systems. A few ticks later, a screen popped up in front of him. It turned reflective, and for the first time, Regris saw what he looked like shifted.
He most definitely was not an Earth cat.
Aside from the obvious fact that he was much larger than Keith's feline form, he really was still covered in scales. Of course he couldn't see underneath the parts still covered by his armor, which had adjusted to fit his new form, but it wasn't hard to guess that they covered most, if not all of him still. The shape and color were the same as they always were, as was his tail- in a sense, it was a bit of a letdown. He'd been secretly hoping for something more dramatic.
At this size, he wouldn't be of much use for sneaking around. Although...
Opening his mouth, he watched the light glint off his razor sharp teeth. He might not be able to sneak, but he definitely would be able to intimidate.
"Huh." Keith tilted his head. "You're like some kind of weird... lizard panther."
Regris tilted his head questioningly. What was a panther?
"It's like a big cat." Keith said, holding out his hands in what must have been an attempt to show off just how big this panther was. "I have to say, that's not what I was expecting. But I guess it makes sense."
Regris huffed. He still had been hoping for something a little more interesting, but he supposed he would settle for this.
The edges of Keith's lips twitched upwards, and not a tick later, he'd shifted himself. Regris found himself instinctively sniffing the paladin, to which Keith responded by sniffing him right back. His sense of smell appeared far better in this form than it was ordinarily- as was his sense of hearing, which was why it didn't surprise him at all when the doors to the training room opened, and Kolivan stepped in to check on the pair.
The Blade leader merely took one look at the pair of them, arched a brow, and made the diplomatic decision to leave.
Exchanging a glance with Keith, Regris couldn't help but grin. Keith returned it, a familiar glint in his eyes. Maybe he should have just let Keith bite him earlier, if he had known being a Shifter would be this much fun.
"Are you sure about this?"
Keith didn't even look up at him, just continued to stare at the shuttle floor. "It's what's best for everyone."
Regris frowned, not buying that for a second. "Keith-"
"Look," Keith cut him off, "-I don't want to talk about it."
Regris heaved a sigh, but didn't say anything more. They lapsed back into silence, as they had been since they had left the Castle. This time, Keith was leaving for good.
He had known for a long time that Keith had been struggling in his role as black paladin. He felt inferior to the one who had come before him, a feeling that had only been amplified when Shirogane returned. He'd watched as the way he spoke of the paladins and the Castle had steadily changed- from a place that he called home, to just a place where he slept at night, and sometimes not even that. He definitely noticed that he had been spending more time with the Blade lately, and although he knew he was part of the reason for that, he couldn't help but wonder if teaching him had merely been the excuse that he needed to further distance himself from the paladins.
He wished there was something more he could do. He'd tried to give Keith advice, but it either hadn't worked, or he didn't take it. He'd just kept getting more and more distant, until finally, the one thing that bonded them all together snapped.
He wasn't a paladin anymore.
"Okay," Regris said finally, "-we don't have to talk about it."
Keith finally looked up at him, a pale imitation of his usual smile on his face. It was like a light had gone out in his eyes. "Thanks. And sorry I snapped at you."
Regris merely shrugged. "I've had worse from Vrek and Ilun."
Normally, that would have earned a laugh, but Keith didn't even try. Sighing, Regris let his shoulders slump, wondering what he could do to ease the hurt his friend was feeling.
"Do you want to sit next to me?" Regris asked.
Keith frowned, and for a tick, he feared he'd just made things worse. Then slowly, Keith rose to his feet, crossing the short space to sit next to him. He didn't say anything, not for a long time. Just when Regris thought he might remain silent until they reached the main base, he finally broke the silence.
"At least I still have my clan."
Regris blinked, for a tick too surprised to respond- before he smiled, ruffling Keith's hair in a manner he knew he hated. This time, the now former paladin just smiled weakly, making no effort to shove his hand away or playfully bite him like he usually did. There was no need to hold back now that they were both Shifters.
"You do." Regris said. "And I, for one, don't plan on going anywhere."
"You can't promise that." Keith said, before finally, some of the tension that he'd been holding onto since before he'd even entered the shuttle leaving. "But... thanks."
They sat in silence for the rest of the trip, but at the very least, it was a comfortable one. He couldn't say what awaited them in this war, but at the very least, they would go through it together.
They were brothers from the same clan, after all.