“Shiro! You’re back!” Lance said brightly into the monitor the moment a connection was made. “That’s great!”
“Uh, yeah. Hey, Lance.” Shiro glanced at Coran. He frowned, watching the screen. “Is something-” he paused as a loud yelp came from somewhere outside the narrow field of the room - one of the libraries - visible around Lance.
“Got to go please get down here fast.” Lance said in one quick rush, then threw out one hand to turn off the comm connection as he darted out of sight. “Oh crap, he got loose!” he said, faintly, just before the comm shut down.
Shiro’s spine stiffened and Coran took in a quick breath that hissed between his teeth. Shiro brought Black into the hangar as quickly as he dared and they both ran out into the Castle at top speed, Coran trying to get a connection to any of the others in turn along the way to the library Lance had been in. None of them answered and Shiro’s stomach twisted into cold knots.
Something slammed into Shiro’s back and he reacted fast, not thinking, twisting and throwing his attacker forwards and down to the floor in one fluid motion, bracing his right forearm across their throat and- “Keith?” Shiro’s grip loosened immediately and he pulled back.
Keith rolled gracefully forwards and climbed back to his feet, shaking himself like a dog.
“Keith, what are you doing? Are you okay?” Shiro asked, reaching out for Keith’s shoulder. He watched Shiro’s hand approach, tilting his head, then shoved himself bodily into it, smiling faintly and half closing his eyes.
Shiro’s eyebrows rose. Keith chuffed and moved closer, but still didn’t say anything.
“What has gotten into you?” Shiro asked him, not quite expecting a response this time.
“This is . . . not normal for humans, correct?” Coran asked, and Shiro shook his head. “Just checking!”
“No, no it’s not, not at all he’s acting like-” Shiro cut himself off as Keith leaned up and got right in his face, dark eyes wide behind messy hair. Keith sniffed him. “An animal.” he finished faintly. Keith’s nose bumped along his cheek delicately as Keith sniffed and made little humming noises, pressing his body close against Shiro’s, rubbing . . . affectionately? along his chest. “A cat.” Shiro added distractedly as Keith gave a low sound not unlike a mew and rested his pointy chin on Shiro’s shoulder.
“Coran! Shiro! Be careful!” Allura’s voice carried down the corridor to them, sharp with alarm, and Shiro startled.
“Careful!” Pidge shouted at almost the same time. “He’s- Keith’s not himself!”
That, Shiro thought, is obvious, and wondered worriedly what was wrong with him. “I can see that.” Shiro said as calmly as he could. Pidge and Allura were still running towards them, the Princess’ long legs outpacing Pidge easily though she kept not too far ahead.
More footsteps and more yelling came from the other end of the corridor - Hunk and Lance were heading this way as well.
“He does seem somewhat. . .” Coran trailed off, eyeing Keith rather warily.
Shiro couldn’t exactly blame him, though it hurt to see that look directed at one of his dearest friends. Keith huffed and shoved his cheek against Shiro’s before twisting to look sideways at the rest of their team.
“Shiro you should really,” Lance panted as he approached, “be careful - put a little more space between you before he,” he paused, “does something.”
Shiro eyed Lance confusedly, one eyebrow climbing. His shirt was torn, as was one of the cuffs of his jacket, and there was a new hole at the left knee of his jeans. “Lance, what are you-”
Keith made a low sound a little like a yowl and slid his arms up over Shiro’s shoulder, using it to pull himself up. His whole body pressed snugly close and braced against Shiro’s as he hauled himself higher, his thighs bracing on Shiro’s hips, closing tight to support himself.
“Keith, stop that.” Shiro scolded automatically, pushing gently at Keith’s shoulder. He whined and sank back down to the ground, bowing his head sulkily. Shiro stroked his tousled hair soothingly before resting a hand on his shoulder. He butted his head against Shiro’s jaw and leaned heavily against his shoulder.
“He’s . . . not . . . attacking you.” Allura said slowly, her eyes wide. She was a mess, her normally fluffy hair even wilder than usual and . . . one of her earrings caught in it, rather than in its proper place, and she appeared to have removed the wrap that settled around her shoulders, though her dress itself was fine.
“No. . .” Shiro said slowly, brushing his thumb over Keith’s cheek as he eyed her. “What’s wrong with him?” he asked, rather than questioning why that was worthy of remark.
“He and Red took a laser blast in a battle a few days ago,” Pidge said, frowning; she looked almost as ruffled as Keith, and her glasses were nowhere to be seen, but her clothes were intact, “he went unresponsive, but they were still moving, and ever since then he’s been . . . like this. We think Red flew herself back in after.”
“He just went feral.” Hunk said, looking fretful. “He tackled me as soon as we found him in the Red Lion. Snarling.” One of the pads on the shoulders of Hunk’s vest was missing, and there were a few small - fingertip-sized, it looked like - holes in his shirt.
“I had to drag him off!” Lance said, waving his arms.
Pidge gave him a flat look. “Allura had to come and drag him off. And he bit Lance.” Her lips twitched, the corners curling upwards, then pressed flat again as her gaze drifted back over Keith. Her eyes darkened.
“You bit Lance.” Shiro repeated, shifting away just enough to look down at Keith. Keith tilted his head and mrowed, nuzzling his head against Shiro’s shoulder again.
“There’s still a mark.” Hunk said, pointing at Lance. He slouched, tugging his jacket more snugly around himself. “Keith bites hard.” Hunk winced, rubbing his side. “And hits hard.”
“I didn’t realise how much he was holding back when he spars with me.” Pidge said, tugging at a lock of her hair.
“He has proven quite difficult to control.” Allura said with a sigh. “Even for me.”
“And Allura’s been the only one who really can.” Pidge added, biting her lip. “We all help, or try, but he’s . . . too strong and too fast. He can beat me pretty easily when he’s actually playing nice; he knows me too well. And we don’t want to hurt him.” Her eyes were on Keith, not Shiro.
“He does not seem to have forgotten anything that he knew about how we move, or strike,” Allura continued, pursing her lips, “nor has he lost any of his ability to strategise in battle, evidently. Although seemingly he categorises us as a threat, he has also . . . not severely injured any one of us.”
“Has he had the chance to hurt you?” Shiro asked, though he didn’t want to. Keith made a grumbly sound and pushed his chin tighter against Shiro’s shoulder. It couldn’t be comfortable against his armour, even the slightly more flexible shoulder pieces.
“He trapped Pidge alone in a corridor just outside the kitchen two days ago.” Hunk said, glancing at her apologetically. “I lost him. He just- I don’t want to hurt him and he won’t stop even when we get a grip on him - I just can’t hold him.”
“Even I cannot hold him for long.” Allura agreed. “. . .he has also managed to pin Lance, several times, yet he remains unhurt. Keith may be far more aggressive and he may not trust us - outside of you, Shiro, it seems now - but he does not seem to think of us as enemies, either.”
“Unhurt?” Lance yelped. “I have bruises, and bite marks - I have marks from Keith’s freaking fangs does no one care about that?” he demanded.
“He does seem to trust you, though.” Pidge said, tipping her head and looking at them. She ignored Lance, though Hunk reached out and patted him comfortingly. “Really trust you.”
Shiro flushed slightly. Keith was still snug against his chest, one hand, Shiro now realised, curled through his belt.
“It’s great, though!” Hunk said cheerfully.
Pidge nodded. “You can keep an eye on him and we can maybe get some sleep.” She shivered and rubbed one eye. “It’s been exhausting, I can barely focus on the tests I’ve been running. Trying to figure out. . .” she added, with a gesture towards Keith.
Shiro blinked. “You know,” he said mildly, “I just got back from a mission, I’d like to rest too.”
“So take him to bed with you.” Pidge yawned hugely and stumbled sideways, falling against Allura’s side. Allura nudged her upright without reacting. “It looks like he’d probably behave, for you. Man, I don’t think I’ve slept more than twenty minutes at once since that battle.”
Keith made a little chirruping noise and snuggled his cheek against Shiro’s jaw.
“Are you crazy? Probably he’ll suddenly snap out of this and rip Shiro’s throat out while he sleeps!” Lance flailed a little, and Shiro eyed him.
“I doubt it.” Shiro said, although, in fairness, he hadn’t been here for their more difficult experiences with Keith. He didn’t exactly seem very threatening at the moment. “He didn’t try to hurt me even when I threw him.” He rubbed at the nape of Keith’s neck, then pulled him away a little - he protested, but didn’t struggle - looking him over again. “And he looks tired, too.”
“I have no doubt that he is.” Allura said with a sigh. “Regrettably, the training deck cannot have been very comfortable to rest in, and he has been resting little to begin with.”
“He snaps awake and prowls around every time something makes a noise and sometimes just because.” Pidge said, rubbing her face. “At least, we can’t see any reason why.”
“The training deck?” Shiro’s brows rose.
“It is the only place we have been able to contain him successfully for long.” Allura said, her mouth twisting. “And it can be configured to at least somewhat occupy him, rather than leaving him to claw at the door.”
Shiro cringed at the thought.
“That’s what he was doing when we tried to lock him up in one of the empty bedrooms.” Hunk said, frowning.
“And we couldn’t watch him in there anyway. The training deck has that observation room . . . although we do have to go through the training deck to get to it.” Lance added, wincing. He rubbed his side again.
“He got the bedroom door open eventually, we’re not even sure how.” Hunk said, wincing. “We had to catch him again.”
“We’ve had to catch him a lot. He’s too fast.” Pidge sighed. “He darts out or bowls us over to get out when we open the training deck door to bring him food, or go in and out of the observation room, or anything.”
“He bowls you over. He punched me in the throat.” Lance sulked, rubbing his throat with one hand.
“And he elbowed me hard enough he gave me a concussion, but you don’t see me whining about it!” Pidge yelled at him, fists clenched. “He’s not trying to hurt you! And he’s not himself!”
“He seems to actually be calm with you,” Allura said, not without sympathy, “perhaps he will stay with you and we can all actually rest. Keith included.”
Shiro sighed, nodding reluctant assent. “Do you. . . Have you been able to figure out what happened?” he asked quietly. Allura gave him a sympathetic look.
“Pidge has been running some tests on the Red Lion. We attempted to get him in one of the cryo-replenishers, either to heal him or at least, perhaps, to tell us what is wrong with him, but. . .” Allura trailed off, wincing. “It . . . did not go well.”
“Keith doesn’t like to be locked in a small space, evidently.” Lance said dryly.
Keith cocked his head and snarled over his shoulder, but Shiro rested a hand on his back, encouraging him to stay put, and he didn’t pull any further away. “I don’t know that I’ll be much help with that, either.” Shiro admitted. “Keith . . . doesn’t like that idea even when he’s not . . . like this.”
“. . .I did not know that.” Pidge said, frowning. “That . . . probably didn’t help, then.”
“What happened?” Shiro asked warily.
“It’s all right. Nothing that is not repairable.” Allura waved a hand. “But why don’t we discuss this after we have all had a rest. Including you, Pidge. You can resume your work tomorrow.” She rested a hand on Pidge’s shoulder. “Nothing has grown any worse over the past days, I cannot imagine it will now. Shiro, do you think you will be able to manage him, or shall we try and get him to the training deck again?”
“No.” Shiro said immediately, voice firm. “I,” he actually had no idea if he’d have any trouble with Keith, but he couldn’t face locking Keith in alone to pace and try and break out, “can manage. If he’ll rest with me, then. . .”
“I’ll come and set your door so that at least from the inside, it’ll only open for you.” Pidge said, rubbing her eyes. “Or do you want to go to an empty room?”
“My room is fine.” Shiro said without pausing to think. It wasn’t as though there was much in his room, anyway.
“And I can take care of the door.” Coran interjected. “You go on to bed, gentlelady.” He smiled slightly at Pidge, and she nodded reluctantly and let Allura steer her away.
Shortly after that, they all parted ways, Coran promising to set Shiro’s door and hurrying off ahead of him. Shiro contemplated how to get Keith off him and moving. Pushing him made him pout and whine, but he only fought a little, and with no real vehemence, and once Shiro rested a hand on his nape again to guide him he quieted.
Once in Shiro’s room, however, he livened up and darted away from Shiro’s reach. He was nearly bouncing around the room - in a few cases he did bounce, high enough to rebound feet-first off the walls - touching and sniffing everything. Shiro shed his armour and then just watched Keith for a few minutes, letting him do as he pleased.
“Aren’t you tired, Keith?” Shiro asked gently, and Keith’s focus arrowed back to him. He trotted over easily, cocking his head as he met Shiro’s gaze. He didn’t seem to have actually comprehended the question. “You must be. You’ve been fighting our friends for days.” he said, and Keith whined softly, huffing. “And apparently not sleeping.”
Shiro shook his head, nudging Keith towards the bed. “Let’s at least get your boots off, hm?” he asked, having to shove Keith to get him to sit down, and grab wildly to keep hold of his feet. He struck Shiro a glancing blow across the shoulder and then whined, his eyes wide, flopping weakly in Shiro’s grip rather than struggling.
Shiro snorted, surprised and amused, and wrestled Keith’s boots and socks off, wrinkling his nose. Keith’s toes wriggled and he rolled his ankles, stretching. He made a considering sound as he tucked his legs up beneath himself. Shiro decided to take the win and stop there.
But for himself. . . Shiro ran a hand idly over the bodysuit that fit beneath the Paladin armour. Normally he would bathe before bed, but he wasn’t sure he wanted to leave Keith unsupervised for that long - nor try and force Keith into the bathroom with him, and lock him there.
Shiro hesitated, then stripped out of the bodysuit and hurried to don his loose, comfortable pyjamas. Keith’s gaze was fixed on him, and he felt the back of his neck warming.
Keith climbed up onto his knees, then slid off the bed again, stalking towards Shiro and ignoring the outstretched hand meant to stop him. He rested light hands on Shiro’s chest and leaned close, breathing deeply, his hair brushing Shiro’s chest and shoulder as his nose brushed closer to Shiro’s neck.
“Okay,” Shiro said uncomfortably, pushing Keith away only for him to squirm around Shiro’s hands and press even closer, “okay, Keith, come on . . . bedtime.”
Keith yowled with displeasure, but Shiro managed to get enough space to himself to pull his shirt on too, even as Keith butted his head into Shiro’s space.
“You have no concept of personal space right now, have you?” Shiro asked wryly, and Keith responded by giving a quiet mewl and pawing at the neck of Shiro’s shirt. “All right. I can see you’re tired, Keith,” he said, gently pushing Keith back and towards the bed, “so why don’t you lie down with me and we can both rest, aa?”
Keith mumbled, sounding confused, and refused to be pushed to the bed again. Shiro let go, yawning, and sat down himself. A moment later Keith pounced onto the bed beside him, nearly tipping him backwards, and Shiro laughed, startled.
Keith froze, then braced his hands on Shiro’s shoulders, leaning close and peering at his mouth. Shiro leaned his head back, out of immediate range, but Keith only followed him, and they both overbalanced, Keith sprawling on top of him.
Keith yelped at the sudden shift, body stiffening, but after a moment with Shiro remaining still beneath him he relaxed again. He yawned, then frowned, rubbing his face clumsily.
“Don’t you want to sleep, kitten?” Shiro asked, failing to stifle another yawn of his own. He realised what he’d said a moment too late to stop himself and winced slightly, but . . . he supposed it didn’t really matter, especially as Keith hardly seemed to care or realise.
Keith cocked his head and didn’t move to lie down on his own, but a gentle tug brought him down with little resistance. He curled on his side, eyes fixed on Shiro’s face, still not quite fully relaxed.
Shiro stroked his shoulder and down his side over his ribs and waist, and slowly Keith went lax beneath the strokes, just like a stubborn cat. “Relax, kitten.” he soothed sleepily, rubbing Keith’s side.
Keith gave a muffled yowling sound, rubbing his face again, then pushed himself up on his hands, and Shiro sighed, preparing to get up to chase him. Keith crawled closer, though, bracing his elbow on Shiro’s chest for a moment, then curled up sideways, his knees against Shiro’s outstretched left arm and his upper body resting across Shiro’s chest. He mrowled quietly and snuggled against Shiro, closing his eyes with a reluctant flutter.
Shiro gently stroked his hair, and he made a soft purring sound but did not open his eyes.
Shiro hadn’t pulled the blanket up around himself, but he was warm enough with Keith curled up on top of him not to worry about it, and he didn’t want to disturb him. Shiro smiled and lightly stroked down the back of Keith’s neck, watching his breathing slow and his face go more lax.
Eventually he thought Keith was truly asleep, and he stopped fighting it himself.
Keith was a heavy, warm . . . comforting weight draped over him, and Shiro slept calmly, fingers curled into his hair.
When Shiro woke, it was to find Keith was still using him as a pillow, and . . . that it was morning and he had suffered no nightmares. He sighed, rubbing his fingers together, Keith’s hair still caught between them.
Keith had shifted during the night and was now in a slightly lazier curl, one arm draped over Shiro’s shoulder and up past his head, the other tucked close to his own chest, and his legs stretched out a little further along Shiro’s arm. One of his knees was pressing against Shiro’s triceps.
He stretched a little - his legs, at least, which were unencumbered by Keith’s weight - and then lay still, watching Keith sleep. He looked peaceful, though Shiro suspected his neck would hurt when he woke - his head was tipped down over his left arm.
Shiro carefully disentangled his fingers from Keith’s hair, humming soothingly as he smoothed a hand up Keith’s outstretched arm and folded it down beside his shoulders instead. Keith drew a deep breath and sighed, stirring formlessly but not waking.
Shiro waited a few minutes before he moved again, trying to gently move Keith off himself so he could rise. Keith whined pitifully, but he calmed when Shiro stroked him lightly, cupping his cheek and resting a hand on his neck for a few long moments.
When Keith stayed still and peaceful, Shiro decided to risk leaving him alone - besides, he hadn’t caused any real trouble in Shiro’s room the night before, even with his energetic running around. The door to the rest of the Castle wouldn’t open for him and Shiro wasn’t leaving him.
Shiro gathered his clothes and slipped into the bathroom. He laid out a towel and shed his pyjamas, then started the shower. He stuck his head out to peek at Keith again. He was still asleep, sprawled slightly less collectedly in Shiro’s bed now, but peaceful enough. Shiro smiled and left him there.
Shiro stretched and climbed into the shower, groaning softly as the hot water flowed over him. He pushed his forelock back, tilting his head back and letting the water flow over his face and down his body. He stepped back a bit, and-
Shiro yelped, skidding back on his heel as a dark blur darted in front of him and nearly falling.
“Keith!” Shiro shouted, startled. Keith was- Keith was standing between him and the flow of water, fully dressed, and he was . . . hissing. “Keith, what do you think you’re doing?” He braced a hand against the side of the shower and pushed himself fully upright again.
Keith growled, low and wavering, and Shiro reached for his shoulder. “Keith.”
Keith whined, allowing himself to be pulled back and turning towards Shiro. He bowed his head, his thoroughly wet hair plastered around his face, and whined again, looking truly miserable and forlorn, his eyes huge beneath his sodden fringe.
Shiro sighed. “You’re fine.” he told Keith, tugging him closer. He whimpered and stepped back, hit more of the shower spray, and froze, his eyes showing his distress. Shiro reached around him, and he shoved Shiro’s hand back, whining again. Shiro blinked. “I’m fine.” he added gently.
Keith whined tentatively, and Shiro made a soft chiding noise, rubbing Keith’s shoulder comfortingly and flinching as his hand crossed the thick scar there.
“Well, as long as you’re here,” Shiro said, suppressing a flare of self-consciousness, “you need a bath too, come here.” He tugged gently and Keith came close, shivering like the water was cold.
Shiro tsked and pushed Keith’s sodden hair back. “You’re all right, it’s just water.” he soothed, then looked down at Keith’s equally-sodden clothes and groaned. “Okay, those need to come off until they’re dry.” he said, wincing at the thought.
It was easier than he’d thought it would be, though wrestling the wet denim down and off Keith’s slender, muscular legs was difficult, especially stuck in the slick shower - Keith was apparently half-tranquilised by being under the shower spray. While Shiro worked on pulling his clothes off he simply stood there and shuddered, whimpering occasionally and looking tortured. Shiro frowned, feeling guilty, and moved to block the spray from him, even though he knew Keith wasn’t being hurt.
With Shiro’s body now sheltering him from the water, Keith relaxed a little, and when Shiro carefully poured shampoo into his hair and started scrubbing, he purred under Shiro’s hands, slouching.
“Stay upright!” Shiro said, laughing, as Keith slumped a little more and began to wavere on his feet.
Shiro pulled his hands away and Keith mrowled in protest. “I need you to stand up, kitten.” he scolded gently, pulling Keith more upright. “Come on. Or I can’t wash your hair.” he pointed out
Keith sighed, clinging to Shiro’s arm and dragging it back to his head, shooting Shiro a hopeful look. He didn’t even seem to care as much when some of the shower’s spray fell on his arm in the process. Shiro shook his head, but gently started pushing his fingers through Keith’s thick hair again, trying to keep the soap from slipping down his face.
He also kept having to stop and carefully free his fingers from Keith’s tangled hair, which shouldn’t have surprised him. Keith didn’t seem to care, beyond an idle curl of his lip, baring one canine, when Shiro accidentally pulled his hair; he didn’t even growl.
Coaxing Keith under the spray of the shower to wash the shampoo out of his hair, on the other hand, was . . . much more difficult. Keith slipped as he struggled against Shiro’s attempts to push him, and Shiro had to catch him and hold him up, getting shampoo in his own face in the process.
He coughed, cringing at the sting and the taste, and Keith made a curious noise, pushing close. Shiro leaned his head back and pulled Keith along with him under the spray instead, shielding Keith’s eyes with one hand. Keith fussed and shoved at his arm, but Shiro kept it stubbornly in place as he ruffled Keith’s hair with the other hand, letting the water flow through it more freely.
Keith grumbled when Shiro finally pulled him away from the water again, dropping his hand. Keith curled a hand around Shiro’s forearm, and he glanced down Keith’s body then away again, lips twisting. In the end, Shiro only attempted to finish his own ablutions, somewhat more cursorily than usual, which somehow got soap on Keith as well, as he would not stay out of Shiro’s space - he was surprised Keith hadn’t jumped out of the shower, actually - and made sure they were at least both rinsed clean of suds.
He brushed a hand over Keith’s shoulder, then pulled away and turned the water off. Keith’s eyes widened and he looked up at the source of the spray, sliding past Shiro - pressing full-length against him for a moment, and Shiro’s breath caught as he tried to pull out of his way - going to that wall and pawing at it. Shiro shook his head again.
“All right, next up,” he stepped out of the shower and over the sopping wet clothes he’d dropped just outside of it as he peeled them off Keith, “dry us, then dry clothes.”
Keith followed him out of the shower after a moment, though he stopped just outside it, standing on his own discarded clothes. His shoulders twitched a little, and his face scrunched up. Shiro eyed him worriedly.
Keith took a deep breath and shook his head, then his whole body, moving downwards in sections, yowling long and loud. Shiro squinted against the water droplets flying from Keith’s hair, which were moving fast enough they stung a little as they hit his face.
“Right. Wait there.” Shiro said, and grabbed the towel off the counter, tucking it around his waist as he fetched another one from the almost invisible cupboard just outside the door. He paused, considering getting dressed before he tried to dry Keith - he’d rather not try and wrestle with him again in just a towel, but he’d probably get wet again in the process anyway.
A thump from the bathroom made him jump, running back and slipping just a little on the water puddled on the floor. Keith was in the shower again, angled down on one knee, and he was-
“Keith! Do-” Shiro covered his face with one hand. “Do not lick the wall, Keith.” he said, exasperated. Keith had paused, mouth still open and tongue against the wall, and was looking at Shiro sideways. “No.” he said firmly, but Keith didn’t really move until Shiro started towards him.
Then he rocked back on his heels, tilting his head to one side. Half a moment, then he leaned closer to the wall again, and Shiro caught him by the arm and pulled him out of the shower. “No. We’ll get you a drink if you want, but . . . don’t lick the wall. Come here, let’s get you dried off, you must be getting cold.”
Keith made a curious sound, not quite a protest, and let Shiro drag him a little further from the shower. Then Shiro picked up the towel, and Keith’s semi-agreeableness came to an abrupt end.
He fought the towel being wrapped around him, fought to get back to the shower, lashed out at the towel - and thus at Shiro’s arms and hands through it, though Shiro doubted he realised - when it came close to him, fought to get out into Shiro’s bedroom, and yowled piercingly loud when Shiro put the towel over his head. Despite Keith’s resistance and displeasure, eventually Shiro got him mostly dry and let him go.
He bounded immediately out of the bathroom.
Shiro felt a little like he needed another shower now, but he knew mostly he was just still wet. He followed Keith out into the bedroom to keep an eye on him, bringing his own towel and clothes. Keith was scratching at his wet hair and perched on the chair by Shiro’s desk, which was empty. Fine.
Shiro draped his towel over his head to start scrubbing his own hair dry, then froze almost immediately.
Something warm had just dragged over his chest. Warm and soft and-
Shiro pushed his towel back and looked down, and Keith licked up his chest again, making a little purring noise.
“Keith!” Shiro shouted, and Keith jumped, but didn’t back away, repeating the little noise and licking his way a little higher, one side of his tongue sliding right alongside Shiro’s nipple. “Okay, no.” Shiro grabbed hold of Keith and pushed him firmly away. “No.” he said again, flushed and mortified.
Keith gave a grumbly little mew, and Shiro kept an eye on him when he let go of Keith. He was pouting sulkily. Shiro had never seen Keith pout. It was- Well, actually, it was adorable. Shiro bit his lip and went back to drying his hair.
He kept an eye on Keith’s feet, which he could actually see with the towel on his head. After a moment they moved, and Shiro stiffened nervously, but Keith was walking around him, and he relaxed, squeezing the water out of his forelock.
Until he felt Keith’s tongue sliding over his arm instead, crossing the line from metal to scarred skin. Shiro stifled a whining noise of his own and yanked the towel off, turning to look at Keith. “No, Keith.” he said as firmly as he could, pushing Keith’s face away. “That’s- Don’t lick me. Please don’t lick me.”
Keith sighed, pouting against Shiro’s hand, then went to loll over Shiro’s bed, sprawled out on his back and still very naked and slightly damp. Shiro coughed and turned away as Keith tipped his head backwards over the edge of the bed, watching him, still pouting a little.
Shiro dressed quickly, then glanced at Keith, who was . . . far too slender and short to wear any of Shiro’s clothes. His own clothes were soaked and needed to be washed anyway, at least . . . the ones he’d been wearing. Clean clothes would be nice for him even if those hadn’t been soaked, though, really, especially now he was a little cleaner.
Shiro looked at Keith, then glanced around the room. Probably Keith would be all right here for the few minutes it would take Shiro to go down to Keith’s room, grab a set of dry clothes, and come back. He’d hardly hurt himself - or anything else - thus far and he seemed comfortable where he was now anyway.
Then he opened the door and Keith slammed into his side. For a moment Shiro thought Keith was trying to get out past him, but no, he just . . . refused to let Shiro go. “I’ll be right back.” Shiro promised, peeling Keith off with difficulty, pushing him away.
Keith whined and scratched at him, struggling to get close while Shiro held him at arm’s length.
Shiro sighed and closed the door, grabbed a fresh towel, and began working on coaxing Keith to submit to being wrapped in it before letting Keith follow him out into the corridor. Keith plucked at the towel around his hips with one hand, tugging at it, and it began to slip as he walked.
“No no no,” Shiro said hurriedly, wrapping the towel around Keith again snugly, “keep that on. Okay? We’ll get your clothes in just a few minutes.”
Keith obligingly dropped his hands, but the towel wasn’t going to do a lot to stay up on its own, and Shiro sighed in relief as he led Keith into his own room. It was almost as sparse as Shiro’s, though he’d somehow contrived to pin up an array of sketches and maps on one wall, and there were a few books and some assorted clutter on the desk.
Shiro rummaged for dry clothes in the chest by the wall, finding that Keith’s belt and knife had been put into it and quickly pushing them deeper before he could see them. He didn’t know if Keith would want his knife now, but he wasn’t going to let Keith have it and he’d rather not risk it and have Keith potentially upset over not being allowed to keep the knife.
Keith didn’t seem thrilled with the idea of the clothes, and Shiro collected a few more bruises, most likely, getting him into his tight jeans. Once they were on, Keith pulled away, rolling on the floor and then bouncing to his feet. Shiro let him, figuring he’d tackle the shirt issue after a break. Keith jumped to the top of the now-closed chest, then over onto his desk, where he slid upon landing, knocking books off and into the floor, along with a hairbrush and a miniature tablet. Shiro caught him as he jumped down.
Keith looked surprised, chuffing softly, but he settled in Shiro’s arms easily. Shiro put him down and wrung out his hair again - he hadn’t realised it was still dripping until Keith was up close - then tugged the tee shirt over his head, which was much easier, although Keith was not pleased at all with having it go in front of his face.
“Just a second, it will only take a moment.” Shiro told him, fighting Keith to get his arms down and tugging the shirt down past his nose at the same time. Keith froze as it popped down, still around his face but now beneath his eyes, and Shiro couldn’t help a laugh even as he tried to get the shirt the rest of the way on. “There. You’re fine.” he said, squeezing Keith’s shoulder.
He rolled his shoulders, squirming, then got to his feet and stretched. Shiro got up, grabbing Keith’s discarded towel, and went to the desk to put things back. After a moment he took Keith’s hairbrush.
He had to dart over to stop Keith peeling things off his own wall. “Come on, back to my room and then we’ll go see if there’s breakfast, all right?” he coaxed, pulling Keith’s fingers open and dragging him away from the wall. “And something for you to drink.” he added, flushing.
“Morning, Shiro!” Pidge said, sliding off the table and trotting towards them. “Hi Keith.” she added, leaning sideways a little to peek at him around Shiro’s shoulder. Keith made a low, bored yowling noise and butted his cheek against Shiro’s shoulder. “How did it go last night?”
“We slept.” Shiro reported, and cleared his throat. “And he jumped in the shower this morning, which. . .” he trailed off, shaking his head.
Pidge eyed Keith, smiling slightly. “Tricky.” she said. “Hungry?” she asked, and he nodded fervently. He’d been too tired to care the night before - and he had eaten not long before they returned to the Castle - but especially after a morning spent wrangling Keith, he was now starving.
“So . . . how does it work for meals with Keith?” Shiro asked, frowning slightly.
Pidge shrugged, moving to the counter where someone - Hunk; it actually looked good - had left food out on trays and making up a plate. “He doesn’t really get utensils at the moment, but he’s fine to eat on his own - fortunately, since he won’t let any of us help - as long as it’s nothing too complicated. Cups are a bit tricky, but,” she darted sideways, putting the plate down and climbing onto the counter to reach a higher cupboard, “he does better with straws.” She pulled a packet out of the cupboard and jumped down.
“Ah.” Shiro blinked, and Pidge returned to the table, putting the plate and drink down on the opposite side of the table from where, he now realised, there was a half-filled plate.
“You must be hungry, Keith?” Pidge asked, nudging the plate over and backing away. Keith shifted, making a considering noise, and Shiro nudged him towards the table. He backed away again as soon as Shiro let go, and followed him when he moved towards the food on the counter.
Pidge sighed quietly, but tucked herself into a chair this time and pulled her plate off the table into her lap. Keith trailed along beside Shiro as he served himself breakfast, then back to the table, and hesitated, hovering behind Shiro’s shoulder.
Shiro looked up at him. He leaned forwards and picked at the plate Pidge had made for him, then, at a gentle tug from Shiro, settled into the chair beside him, one knee folded up. “Thank you, Pidge.” Shiro said warmly, and she smiled at him, then went back to watching Keith.
As they ate Pidge told Shiro what she’d found out from Keith’s Lion, and what had happened in more detail, not that there was much to go on. She was visibly frustrated and upset as she explained their inability to fix Keith, and Shiro frowned and eventually rose and moved around the table - Keith startled and watched his progress sharply - to wrap Pidge in a reassuring hug.
“I know you’ve all been doing your best.” Shiro said quietly, holding her a little tighter. “Keith is safe, at least, and healthy, and I’m sure we’ll figure it out soon.” He had no idea how, but he hoped that was true. His stomach twisted.
“Thanks, Shiro.” Pidge wrapped her arms around his neck and clung for a minute. “I’ve been trying but. . .” She rubbed her face. “Biologicals aren’t my strong suit at all, and Keith hasn’t been . . . making it easy for any of us. And we can’t get this wrong.”
Shiro nodded understanding as he backed away again. Keith made a curious sound, peeling a piece of fruit - vegetable? - into shreds on his plate.
“You’re difficult to work around, when you’re not being easy for Shiro.” Pidge told him, voice slightly wet, and propped her chin in her hand, fingers covering her mouth.
Keith cocked his head, and Shiro patted it as he moved past - his hair was still wet. Wet enough that Shiro’s hand was wet now. He flexed his fingers and rubbed his palm dry on his pants. Once he finished eating, Shiro would try again to get it dry properly.
Keith was almost finished working through most of what Pidge had put on his plate already, although he kept watching Shiro and Pidge as he ate. Shiro finished his juice and waited, which he supposed was what Pidge was doing, just watching Keith.
“Usually we’ve been having to take food to him, since he won’t . . . let us just take him around the Castle.” Pidge said with a sigh. “It took us almost a whole day to catch him again after we got him into my lab to scan him for the same resonance Red had. And we haven’t been able to do it again.”
“The same resonance as his Lion?” Shiro said, concerned.
“It’s new, must be from the laser blast. I don’t think it’s causing any harm,” Pidge said, shaking her head, “just . . . whatever did that.” She frowned. “It doesn’t seem to still be doing anything, but it was still in effect, obviously, so it may be that until that resonance is counteracted or wears off . . . feral Keith. Although I’d like another scan of him that’s been . . . impractical.”
“Hey, that’s a starting point!” Shiro said optimistically, glancing at Keith. “Are you done?” he asked, noticing that Keith’s plate now only held systematically shredded pieces of blue vegetable. Keith didn’t particularly answer, but Shiro stole one of them off his plate and he only watched, nose wrinkled, then looked at the plate.
Shiro laughed and picked up both their dishes to clear away.
“I’m going to go get back to work in my lab.” Pidge said, with a strange look, as Shiro collected hers too. “Oh, thanks.” She rose and took a couple of tentative steps as Shiro took the dishes away. “I’m glad you’re back, Shiro. And-” Her voice had gone softer. “I’m glad you’re not so angry and scared all the time with him here.”
Shiro looked around and saw Pidge standing a couple of paces from Keith, hand extended slightly but not approaching. Before he could say anything, she darted off
Shiro watched her go, then looked at Keith, who was staring at the door she’d just left through. Shiro wondered how hard they had all been fretting over Keith, and wished he’d been here - wished he’d been here for the battle, maybe if he had. . .
Shiro sighed, returning to Keith’s side and running a hand over his shoulder. “Come on, let’s go and see if we can’t get your hair actually dry.”
Keith chuffed and rose under Shiro’s hand when he pulled gently, but darted off when they reached the door and Shiro had to run after him. When he caught up they had a brief struggle - Shiro had never sparred with Keith in such an enclosed space, which gave Keith the opportunity to bounce off the walls as Shiro tried to catch hold of him, that was a new challenge - and Keith stopped running away.
Keith kept tapping Shiro in odd places - his back between his shoulder blades; the outside of his left thigh; the palm of his right hand, like a taunt for Shiro’s inability to get hold of him. Finally Shiro caught him around the waist and just dragged him to the floor, trusting his own weight advantage to keep Keith down, at least for a minute.
Keith laughed as he fell, pinned, and squirmed without really struggling. Shiro panted in his ear. “Did you just want to play? What was that?” he asked breathlessly, and Keith tilted his head, still smiling slightly, and nuzzled Shiro’s face, crooning. He was breathing hard too, but didn’t seem to care, even now that he was partially squashed.
Shiro shook his head, a grin tugging at his lips. “Dry hair and let your breakfast - and mine - settle a bit, and then . . . we’ll play, okay?” he said, pulling back onto his haunches and not letting go of Keith’s arm this time.
Keith huffed a little but let Shiro take him back down the corridor without attempting to make another break for it . . . although Shiro still didn’t let him go, this time.
Keith’s hair proved to be more of a challenge than Shiro had really anticipated, even though Keith himself was once more a model of sweetness and cooperation. He happily sat on the floor beside Shiro’s bunk and let Shiro wring his hair out with a towel, and run his fingers through it - he purred and melted against Shiro’s thigh, in fact - but it was a knotted, tangled mess and Shiro was reduced to carefully unpicking knots from around the fingers of one hand with the fingertips of the other.
He had attempted to comb it out, but the comb had become hopelessly snarled and it was all Shiro could do to pull it out again without yanking any of Keith’s hair out or breaking the comb. He scowled at the problem before him.
Well, it was worth a shot. Shiro retrieved the brush he’d brought from Keith’s room, though he didn’t expect it to be much more use - surely not, when Keith’s hair was still wet - and cautiously tried it at the ends. To his surprise, while he had to pull firmly enough he winced at it, the brush pulled through the knots much better.
As long, he discovered a few minutes later, as he took it in very tiny sections. Shiro gave a mental shrug and gently pieced out locks of hair with his fingers to run through with the brush, slowly working his way up from the nape of Keith’s neck.
Although he’d had some concerns about it, Keith was . . . apparently content to lounge against Shiro’s knee, curled on the floor at his feet, and let Shiro mess with and pull at his hair for as long as he wanted. The occasional idle stirring was easily soothed, he found, by a long stroke of Shiro’s hand running from the crown of Keith’s head down to his nape.
Keith fussed a little when Shiro tried to get him to turn, and just flopped his head backwards over Shiro’s thigh, with a little purring mew. Shiro bit his lip, fighting a smile, and Keith stretched, shoulders flexing against Shiro’s thigh, watching him through half-lidded, slightly hazy eyes.
Shiro shook his head and nudged his fringe off his brow before picking at the knots in it with fingers and brush. Keith’s face scrunched up and his shoulders tensed, but he didn’t move away, just closed his eyes. Shiro worked even more carefully, so close to his face, but the shorter hair was fortunately slightly less of a struggle, and it was soon done.
Shiro ran his fingers through the cool weight of Keith’s hair when he finished, surprised even after all the time he’d spent brushing the knots out at how smooth it felt. Keith purred, and Shiro did it again, stroking down the back of his neck.
Keith wrapped an arm around his calf and slouched against him, rubbing his cheek against Shiro’s knee.
“You look more like you’re ready to take a nap than to run out and play.” Shiro said, scratching gently through Keith’s hair. He suspected that was unlikely, though, and he edged out from behind Keith and rose, stretching. “Shall we see about that?” he asked, and Keith stretched out on the floor, then bounced to his feet as Shiro moved towards the door. “Please don’t get lost.” he said, hoping not to have to look for Keith more than chase him, and tugged Keith out into the corridor with him.
Keith cocked his head, eyeing Shiro’s hand on his arm, and Shiro let go. Keith bounded away a couple of steps, looked around, tipping his head up and sniffing the air, then darted back to Shiro, circling him, one shoulder rubbing against his back as Keith cut it very close.
Shiro watched him curiously, confused. He dragged an open hand up Keith’s spine as he passed, and Keith hummed, looking over his shoulder at Shiro.
Then he took off running, with a chirrupy yowl, and Shiro ran after him. Keith bounced of a corner, rebounded and leapt over Shiro - he didn’t think he could catch hold of Keith without throwing him to the floor in the process, probably causing injury - and Shiro skidded as he tried to change directions as quickly as Keith had.
Keith was waiting for him when he did get turned around, though, and Shiro smiled.
Keith mewled, cocking his head, and took a few steps backwards. Shiro made a playful grr face at him and he laughed as he hopped backwards again, then twisted and darted away, Shiro once more at his heels. Shiro let him go wherever he liked, catching him or outpacing him a few times, and getting hung up on quick turns a few more - Keith always paused, out of reach but patient, for Shiro to sort himself out and follow once more.
Somewhere near the pod hangars - Shiro had spent numerous nights pacing the Castle and still he thought over the past few hours he had run through parts of it he’d never seen before - Keith terrified Shiro when, still at a dead run, he leapt straight off the balustrade.
“Keith!” Shiro ran to the edge, heart in his throat, and saw Keith looking back up at him, obviously puzzled. Shiro closed his eyes, letting out a harsh breath. “Good.” he breathed.
“You scared me.” he told Keith, looking for a way down that wouldn’t possibly break his ankle. There wasn’t one in sight, unfortunately. He debated leaving Keith unsupervised to find the stairs or lift down, versus the chance that he would hurt himself if he tried Keith’s method.
Shiro continued down the corridor and looked for the stairs. It was a big drop, and he was tiring; it was a wonder Keith hadn’t hurt himself and Shiro didn’t want to risk it. Nor risk Keith trying to pounce on him or come too close while he jumped and Shiro then landing on him.
A few minutes later and no stairs in sight, Shiro was reconsidering his choice when a sudden weight on his shoulders alerted him to Keith’s reappearance. Shiro let the pounce carry him down to his knees and looked over his shoulder to find Keith grinning down at him, one knee braced on his shoulder and the other digging into his back.
“Good job.” Shiro said, shaking his head fondly, and Keith chuffed, looking very self-satisfied.
He slipped back down off Shiro and waited patiently. Shiro climbed to his feet and Keith paced around him, tipping his head to one side and looking expectant.
Shiro frowned. “What do you want?” he asked softly, and Keith lunged. Shiro startled, but caught him by the shoulders, and he yowled, looking pouty and disappointed.
Shiro’s eyes narrowed. He hummed thoughtfully, then pushed Keith gently a few paces back - he pouted a little more - and ran past him.
Keith yelped, and when Shiro glanced back, was running after him. Keith was quiet enough already, being barefoot was only making him quieter - Shiro hadn’t been able to track him by footsteps when he was out of sight more than three times today.
Shiro had to keep glancing behind him to see how close Keith was - and to be sure Keith was still chasing him, and hadn’t darted off to do who knows what - and he chose paths at random as he led Keith through the Castle.
Shiro ducked to one side as Hunk stepped out into the corridor, avoiding a collision, and suddenly Keith was right there, snarling.
“Whoa, hey!” Shiro scolded breathlessly as Hunk yelped and dropped the tray he held, flailing backwards. Shiro grabbed hold of Keith carelessly. Keith’s snarl quieted and he glanced back at Shiro, then bared his teeth at Hunk.
“Keith.” Shiro snapped, and Keith slouched, whining a little and then growling quietly, his eyes sharp. “It’s Hunk, calm down!”
“It’s okay!” Hunk said nervously, bending and picking up his tray, though some of its contents had spilled. “I’ll just . . . go.” He sidled away and backwards, towards the door he’d just come through. “I don’t want to upset anything. . .”
Keith snarled, straining against the limits of Shiro’s grip, and Hunk dropped his tray again and ducked through the door.
“Keith, there was no need for that.” Shiro said, frowning, and shook Keith gently by the nape of his neck. Keith whined pitifully, looking confused, and Shiro sighed, letting him go with a gentle nudge down the corridor, hoping to get him back into the unoccupied parts of the Castle to play, if he was going to be so touchy - it was certainly big enough.
“Keith, come on, just for a little while.” Shiro caught hold of Keith as he flailed and tried to run off again. “You’re panting, kitten, come and take a little time to rest and have something to drink.” He urged Keith down towards the lounge. He’d learned yesterday that Keith would not necessarily stop running around when his body began to show signs of fatigue, much less to get a drink if he needed one, and was trying to do better and stop him before he overtired himself today.
Keith sulked and forced Shiro to drag him rather than following his lead. Shiro sighed, turning back towards Keith. He made a face at Shiro, and Shiro raised an eyebrow and scooped him up. Keith stilled, startled, then huffed and cuddled into Shiro’s chest, looping an arm around his shoulders.
Hunk and Coran were arguing over a tray Coran held, and Shiro hesitated, considering turning around and leaving them to it when they noticed him. Hunk’s eyes widened. “Uh, is Keith okay?”
Keith lifted his head, mewling lazily, and then rested it back on Shiro’s shoulder.
“Fine.” Shiro echoed wryly. “Just came to get a drink and sit down for a while.”
Hunk stared at them, eyes wide.
“Of course!” Coran said, tugging at his moustache. “Well, I’ve made up some refreshments that I’m sure will have him rejuvenated in no time!” he said proudly, heading towards them, and Shiro leaned back, trying not to use Keith as a shield but sorely tempted to hide behind him.
Keith obligingly hissed at Coran, though he didn’t even bother lifting his head to do so.
Shiro stifled a laugh, trying to keep a straight face as he looked at Coran. “I think we’ll just have some water, thank you.” he said evenly.
Coran looked a little downcast, and while Shiro was sorry to disappoint him, not sorry enough to try whatever . . . mess he’d put together today. Shiro’s nose wrinkled at the thought, and he eyed the tray Coran held dubiously.
Shiro jolted from his half-doze when Keith suddenly stiffened and let out a low rumble. He had been reading, but evidently at some point had drifted off, the dry book of history - or perhaps a work of fiction, he couldn’t tell - from a far-distant planet and Keith’s presence warm and close at his side combining to lull him.
“What is it, kitten?” Shiro asked softly, resting a hand on Keith’s neck.
He didn’t rise from his place stretched out with his head in Shiro’s lap, but his wary rumble worked up into a steady growl even as Shiro stroked his hair soothingly.
“I’m afraid it may be me.” Allura said, stepping into view.
Keith’s growl ratcheted up as if in answer. Confirmation, certainly.
“Why. . .” Shiro trailed off. Keith shifted under his hand, muscles tight, and began to draw his legs up under him. Shiro hurriedly pushed him down and Keith yowled quietly in protest but stayed there, still growling.
“I will leave you alone again.” Allura said, a sad twist to her mouth. “I merely wanted to ask . . . you are both all right? You returned from a long mission only to find,” she paused, inclining her head, “and I’m afraid it seems to have . . . pulled you in immediately and has been rather demanding of your time.”
“We’re doing all right.” Shiro confirmed, nodding. “The trip was long, but it wasn’t especially taxing, once we got through the difficulties with the terrain on . . . the planet,” he swore Coran had said the planet’s name differently every time he said it, and had given up saying it himself after the sixth time Coran had burst into laughter at his attempts, “and, well. Keith needs me.”
Allura smiled. “We all do. Though Keith perhaps especially at the moment.” she admitted with a soft laugh.
Keith’s growl got louder again, and Shiro shushed him to no avail.
“I’ll leave.” Allura said again, shaking her head and turning towards the door. Keith bared one canine in a half-snarl and kept growling until she was out of sight. He kept watching the door even when she was gone, and Shiro frowned, stroking Keith’s hair soothingly.
“Good grief, kitten, what is wrong with Allura?” Shiro asked, stroking down his back. He was still so tense his muscles felt like steel under his thin shirt, and Shiro kneaded at them gently, hoping to coax him to relax and prepared to catch hold of him if he tried to bound up and run after her instead.
He got the strong feeling that if Keith chased after Allura right now it wouldn’t be the way he had playfully chased and pounced with Shiro, or even the way he’d reacted with a snarl when Pidge and Lance startled him coming around a corner as he led Shiro on a merry chase earlier.
Keith grumbled, finally relaxing after a long few minutes of coaxing, and stretched out again, one arm falling off the edge of the couch. Shiro shook his head, gently petting down Keith’s shoulder as he curled his arm around Shiro’s leg just below the knee.
He clung tightly, rubbing his cheek along Shiro’s thigh, slowly moving to stretch his legs out again. He sighed heavily, and Shiro scritched lightly at the nape of his neck.
After a few moments the caress pulled a softer, contented rumble from his throat, and Keith released Shiro’s leg and rolled over, putting his back to the room and snuggling his nose into Shiro’s belly. Shiro tensed, surprised, but Keith only hummed quietly, a little happy mumble, and relaxed again.
Shiro petted his hair automatically, and he started to purr again, quiet little half breaths.
“Why Allura?” Shiro asked quietly. Keith was wary of all of the others to different degrees, especially if he wasn’t expecting their presence, but that had been . . . startling.
Keith didn’t answer, of course, just snuggled contentedly into Shiro and curled his fingers into Shiro’s vest over his hip.
“At least you’re calm again.” Shiro said wryly, and kneaded the nape of his neck absently. Keith mumbled sleepily and fidgeted, then went still again, one knee pulled up.
“So, uh, how’s it going?” Pidge asked as Shiro slid down the doorframe a little, still holding onto Keith’s shirt collar, which he’d had to grab for to keep Keith from rushing headlong into Pidge’s lab area. Bad idea - he could easily break or disrupt something, hurt himself, or both.
“Kind of tired.” Shiro admitted, smiling weakly. “I knew Keith had a lot of energy before, chasing him all around the Castle has brought it home to me.” Pidge gave him a sympathetic look. “Don’t worry, though, I’ve got it.” he promised. Keith bounced back from where he’d been testing the end of his ‘tether’ with Shiro holding him and pressed against Shiro instead, making a quiet mrr sound and rubbing his cheek on Shiro’s shoulder.
“He is definitely a lot calmer now, with you.” Pidge said, then set down her laptop, getting up. “You know, I programmed some simulations into the training deck that Keith can interact - play - with that won’t hurt him, before you got back. We had to come up with something to keep him occupied, poor guy.” she frowned, mouth pulling crookedly.
“Yes, that’s great that you managed that, at least for a while.” Shiro agreed, nodding.
“I mean,” Pidge said, coming closer, “I can set it up for that now and he might burn off some energy without you having to keep up with him. You’ve been chasing him practically alone for like three days now, Shiro, you’ve got to be getting tired.”
“I won’t lock him up as long as I can keep him - and everyone - safe if I just stay with him.” Shiro said firmly, setting his jaw. “He’s happy, or at least . . . not upset. That’s the least I can do. Especially since I can’t exactly help with. . .” He waved a hand. He was less than no help with either Red or Keith when it came to figuring out what had happened to cause this.
“Well, you could stay with him.” Pidge suggested. “I mean, I always watched him - or, we always made sure someone was there to keep an eye on him, be sure he was safe, from the control room, but you could stay in the training deck with him and just let him work off some energy while you take a break.”
Shiro hesitated. He hadn’t considered that - and he hadn’t been able to countenance locking Keith up if there was any other alternative, even without Hunk telling him more stories about how Keith had clawed and beaten against the doors when locked into a bedroom alone. Shiro could take a few days of near-constant exertion, when it came down to it, he’d gone through much worse.
“All right. Show me how to set it up?” Shiro asked, promising himself he’d call it off and go back to letting Keith roam the Castle if he seemed upset to be locked in the training deck, even if he wasn’t alone. Pidge grinned and nodded, leading the way out.
Keith fidgeted uncomfortably as they approached the training deck, but he didn’t resist going inside, and when Pidge fiddled with something and made a ball of pink and red swirled light appear, his eyes fixed on it, his body suddenly tense.
Pidge tossed it to Shiro, and he caught it - it was warm and soft, but felt solid - and threw it without thinking.
Keith ran after it, but it rebounded with more power than any bouncy ball Shiro had ever seen, even the tiny rubber ones. Pidge smiled, looking rather pleased, and Shiro let himself slide down the wall to sit on the floor, watching Keith chase after the ball, catch it, and have it somehow pour through his fingers a few moments later only to reform with a powerful bounce off the floor. Shiro’s brows rose.
“It’s configured to destabilise when it’s held for more than ten ticks, for five ticks, then it restabilises again with a bit of added momentum behind it.” Pidge explained, tapping on a little screen. “Lets him actually catch it without the ‘game’ stopping. And. . .”
Three drones dropped from the ceiling, like the ones used for most of the shield drills, and Shiro stiffened, sitting up.
“Don’t worry, these won’t shoot at him.” Pidge said reassuringly. “They just make things a little more challenging.”
The drones scanned the room, then began going after the ball, shooting blue or pink or green beams at it and making it change directions at random, speed up, or go invisible for a short time, depending on which colour hit it. “Keith gets bored pretty easily, so I’ve been spending some of my time configuring new ways to make it more complex while my analyses run and I can’t do any more scans on Red, or a lot of my work, while I’m in here anyway.” She nodded towards the control room. “Watching over him.”
Keith darted back to Shiro, startling him. “Hi, kitten.” Shiro said fondly, and accepted the ball Keith shoved at him. “Having fun?” he asked, and tossed the ball in the air before it could start to destabilise, then catching it again.
Keith chuffed, leaning close and nuzzling Shiro’s shoulder. “I’m staying here, but you play.” Shiro encouraged, tossing the ball up towards one of the drones.
Keith mewled and darted off again as Pidge tapped at her screen again.
“He’s really different, since you got back.” Pidge said quietly, settling beside Shiro. She sounded sad, and he wrapped an arm around her comfortingly. “I don’t think you know how- how bad it was.” Her voice wobbled. “Keith was. . . It was. . .”
Shiro hugged her a little tighter. “I’m sorry.” he said softly, and Pidge shook her head.
“It was scary, seeing him like that, but worse, he just. . .” Pidge took a breath. “He was so scared, and angry, and upset all the time. We tried to calm him but he wouldn’t listen to any of us and it just seemed like it made it worse. Being left alone made him . . . crazy. The best we could do was distract him with something, like in here.” She nodded towards the other end of the room, where Keith was running through and bounding off of the slopes, drops, and pillars the training deck had manifested. “And hope he’d eat what we brought him, and maybe rest sometimes.”
“You did your best.” Shiro said firmly. “No, I didn’t see him like that,” and he was glad, he felt a little sick just hearing the others talk about it, “but I know you did your best. And I know you’re doing your best still, Pidge, to find out what happened and how to help him.”
A tentative mew startled Shiro and he looked up to find Keith crouched barely a pace away from them. Pidge sniffed and smiled weakly. “Bored already?” she asked Keith, and he inched closer, putting one hand down, eyes darting from Shiro to Pidge. “I’ll see what I can-” she broke off as Keith moved closer and tentatively nuzzled her cheek, her eyes wide.
Shiro smiled, squeezing her around the shoulders again. “I don’t think he’s bored.” he said gently. “I think he’s worried.”
Keith cocked his head, and Pidge held out a hand to him. Keith hummed, trailing his knuckles along her wrist, then pulled back and rolled the ball of light towards her, watching her face.
“Um.” Pidge took the ball, rolling it between her hands, then threw it for him. Keith darted after it, only to throw it back when he had it again - it nearly smashed into Pidge’s face before she caught it, startled, but Shiro thought that had been an accident. Pidge rose, bouncing the ball off the floor, then kicking it.
Keith intercepted it and threw it at the floor, sending it bouncing up to rebound off one of the drones - not quite quick enough to evade - and then towards them. Shiro threw up one arm, kind of impressed at the speed of Keith’s calculations even in this state, and it bounced off him as well.
“He’s never played with any of us.” Pidge said softly. “I didn’t think- The resonance seems a little weaker in the results from yesterday - not much,” she sighed, “but I didn’t expect. . .”
“It’s weakening?” Shiro asked, hopeful. “So it might be wearing off?”
“Maybe. Or. . . I don’t know.” Pidge huffed, rubbing her temples. “We don’t know anything about this kind of effect, it’s impossible to guess, and this is too important to just-” she broke off with a sound of frustration.
Shiro hurriedly moved to her side and caught the ball before it could hit her while her eyes were closed. Pidge looked up at him, surprised.
“I know you’re doing all you can.” he told her again. “And maybe it is weakening.” He glanced at Keith. “I’ve been playing with him all day,” he said slyly, “why don’t you try?” He took a step back and tossed the ball at Pidge.
She caught it, and Keith came closer, poised, watching her. Pidge hesitated, and the ball began to destabilise, but she lashed out with one hand as it dropped towards the floor at her feet and sent it bouncing sideways. “You- You think?” she asked as she watched Keith start running again.
“Give your brain a break.” Shiro suggested, and groaned as he slid down the wall. “I’m going to give my body a break, but you have fun.” he said wryly.
Keith yowled happily when Pidge ran towards him, although he didn’t let her get too close, and Shiro smiled, watching the ball rebound between Keith and Pidge and the walls and floor - and once the ceiling, impressively - and the drones’ beams.
Eventually Shiro got dragged into the game as well, but he’d had long enough to rest that he was up for it again. Although he hadn’t expected to become almost as much part of the ‘terrain’ as a player, as Keith and Pidge both climbed to his shoulders to extend their reach, or used him to block each other.
Shiro couldn’t help but laugh, but the next time someone jumped on him - Keith, he realised mid-movement - he threw them off and through the air. Lightly.
Keith yowled a protest, but rolled as he hit the floor and lunged instantly back to his feet, grinning. Pidge looked shocked, but it faded a moment later and she threw the ball of light directly at Keith’s face while he was distracted.
Shiro laughed, calculating the ball’s angle as Keith warded it off and moving to intercept it.
Shiro woke to the sound of quiet but deeply distressed whimpering cries, and shook off the fog of sleep quickly. “What- Keith?” he asked, concern lancing through him.
Keith wasn’t warm against his side and draped over his body as usual, and Shiro sat up without encumbrance, his heart racing. The lights came up a little in response to the large movement, and Shiro saw Keith curled up near his calves.
Keith cringed back as Shiro reached for him, and hurt and worry lanced through Shiro’s chest.
“Kitten, what is it?” Shiro asked softly, concerned, though he pulled his hand back.
Keith whimpered, curling into a tighter ball.
“Keith, kitten. . .” Shiro coaxed, settling back but opening his arms in invitation. “I’m sorry. I’m here.” he offered soothingly. “What’s wrong?”
Keith lowered his legs a fraction, lifting his head, his shaggy hair slipping away from his face. His eyes were wide and dark, his mouth pinched, and he looked warily at Shiro. It made his heart ache.
A tiny mewl made the ache worse, and Shiro bit his lip hard, resisting the urge to go to Keith or try and pull him in closer when he clearly now wasn’t sure of Shiro. He just didn’t know why, since Keith had curled up beside him, head and shoulders draped over his chest, with every appearance of happiness only a few hours before when they had gone to bed. The same way he had the night before, and before that.
Keith whined and inched towards Shiro; he held carefully still. Keith hesitated, and Shiro suppressed a wince and held one hand out just slightly. Keith bowed his head, inspecting it, taking a couple of shaky breaths, then grabbing hold of it firmly enough to hurt.
Shiro didn’t react, and tried not to tense. “It’s all right, kitten.” he murmured, and Keith inched closer again, hesitating and then moving jerkily towards Shiro. He curled up on his knees and pressed against Shiro’s chest, Shiro’s hand still held tight in his and Shiro’s arm pulled to wrap around him.
Shiro hummed soothingly, as soft as he could, and hugged Keith gently. He whimpered and moved one hand from its clasp on Shiro’s to cling to his shirt instead.
“Whatever it is, it’s all right.” Shiro said, feeling helpless. He rocked Keith gently against him, and Keith whimpered softly, nuzzling against Shiro’s jaw as though hiding there. “I wish I knew what scared you.” Shiro said, frowning, glancing around the silent room.
The lights were starting to dim again, and Shiro let them, raising a hand to run through Keith’s hair, ruffling it lightly. Keith whined and dipped his head, curling tighter though he didn’t pull away, and Shiro wrapped his arm around Keith’s back again instead.
Shiro thought of his own nightmares, though they’d been sparser than usual over the past few days - he’d woken up once, sweaty and with his heart racing, to Keith nuzzling his face and whining worriedly, but Keith had woken him before the worst really hit. He’d even managed to go back to sleep, once Keith was calm and had returned to his usual curl at Shiro’s side, solid and comforting.
He wondered if Keith had been woken by a nightmare, and that was what had so frightened him. Shiro sighed, stroking Keith’s back and squeezing him a little tighter.
At the same time, a bemused smile tugged at his lips. Keith had a usual for curling at Shiro’s side in bed.
Keith relaxed a little more, slumping against his shoulder, and Shiro shushed him softly, an absent murmur. He stroked Keith’s back again, holding him close, and thought he could feel Keith’s breathing slowing to something more normal.
“Good.” Shiro breathed, resting his cheek against Keith’s head, rocking him just a little and stroking up and down his back in a steady rhythm, feeling the tension slowly bleed out of Keith’s body. Shiro thought he could even feel Keith beginning to drift back to sleep, and gentled his movements a little further, supporting Keith as he slid down.
Shiro stayed awake the rest of the night, holding Keith where he’d curled nearly into Shiro’s lap and still leaned against his chest, watching over Keith’s now-peaceful sleep.
“So where’s Keith?” Lance asked warily, looking around the room. “Did you get him in the training deck by yourself? I mean, I guess you probably could. . .” he said sulkily.
Shiro raised his eyebrows. “No, I didn’t lock him up.” he said mildly. He had played with Keith in the training deck for a while earlier, as he had yesterday, but he still wasn’t going to leave Keith there. Lance froze, halfway to sitting down across the table from Shiro, a full bowl in one hand.
“Wait, you what? Then where is- Aah!” he yelped as Keith dropped down from - at first glance - out of nowhere, landing on the table in a compact crouch. He leaned closer to Lance, sniffing, and Shiro rose from his chair, reaching across the table to snag Keith by his shirt and pull him away.
“Leave Lance be.” Shiro said gently. “If you’re hungry, come over here with me.” he coaxed, and Keith made a grumbling noise low in his throat, eyeing Lance. He bared his teeth and growled, but let Shiro pull him away and down off the table, though he wouldn’t quite sit in the chair beside Shiro. “Are you hungry?” Shiro asked, holding up a sporkful of some kind of vegetable he didn’t recognise. As with most of the food they ate on the Castle, despite Hunk’s efforts.
Keith eyed it dubiously, then went back to staring at Lance. Fortunately he didn’t keep growling, but even so he seemed to be unsettling Lance.
“Come on.” Shiro encouraged, tugging at the shoulder of Keith’s shirt. He sighed and leaned sideways against the table, still watching Lance out of the corner of his eye, but he picked a piece of tuber from Shiro’s bowl and ate it contemplatively. He wrinkled his nose, and Shiro stifled a laugh, handing him a piece of fruit instead.
Keith sniffed it, inspecting, and then dug his nails into it, peeling off a strip. Shiro winced, but he showed no discomfort at prying the tough, fibrous flesh apart with his nails and he ate the strip before it even dripped too much, so Shiro left him to it.
Across the table, Lance had cautiously started eating, watching them. “Have you really been okay managing him on your own?” he asked, poking his spork into his bowl. “It’s been . . . days, and you stay with him all the time, it seems like.”
“I do.” Shiro agreed, and glanced at Keith. “I hope he gets back to normal soon,” he said, probably needlessly, “but . . . no, Keith hasn’t been,” he paused, “too much trouble.” He was tired, but more he was worried for his friend. He didn’t mind looking after Keith, either playing with him or keeping him close at night.
Keith had cuddled just as happily into him every night after the first, and while the days were more strenuous, he rarely seriously tried to escape Shiro’s reach then, either. “And he seems,” he hesitated, “more comfortable with me.”
Lance snorted. “I’ll say!” He shook his head. “Man, I thought he hated me before.” he joked, but it fell a little flat. “Little did I know.” Shiro frowned. “Hey, it’s all right.” Lance smiled, a little wavery. “I’m just glad someone can handle him, and better than Allura and Hunk constantly having to fight him.” That sounded honest, and Shiro nodded.
“He’s just . . . uneasy.” Shiro said, and Lance sighed.
“I know. I just. . . I thought he trusted us, I guess.” Lance said with a restrained shrug, swallowing hard.
Shiro reached out and clasped his wrist across the table. Keith paused, hands full of fruit, and eyed Lance suspiciously. “He does, Lance.” Shiro said gently. “We’re a great team. The two of you are a great team when you’re working together. He’s just . . . not really himself right now, that’s all.”
Lance smiled weakly, and Shiro released his hand. “That’s what Pidge says. I just hope he-” he broke off, shaking his head. “Nothing. I’m glad he’s at least okay with you.”
Shiro nodded, but before he could say anything else, Keith interrupted with a yowl, tugging at the shoulder of Shiro’s vest with one slightly sticky hand. Shiro raised his eyebrows, and Keith climbed to his feet, the fruit abandoned on the table - in a slowly-growing pool of its own bright green juice - and pulled again.
Shiro rose obligingly, but Keith only pulled harder, trying to get him away from the table, apparently. “Keith, what are you doing?” Shiro asked, catching Keith’s wrist and glancing back at the table. “We can go play in a few minutes if you want, all right?” he coaxed, countering Keith’s pull with one of his own.
“I got it, you go.” Lance said, and Shiro looked at him. He nodded to the mess on the table. “I got it, I’ll clean up. Go with him.”
“. . .all right. Thank you, Lance.” Shiro said sincerely, giving him a smile.
“No problem.” Lance grinned back, giving a thumb’s up. “Keep mullet-head from scaring the quiznak out of anyone else today, all right?”
Shiro laughed as he let Keith drag him towards the door. “I’ll try.” he promised.
“Do you mind if I join you?” Allura asked from the doorway, and Shiro looked around, surprised.
He gestured in welcome. “Of course not.” he said, and Allura smiled, coming fully inside and moving towards the table. Keith snarled, eyes narrowing, and Shiro patted him quellingly. At the touch he huffed and went silent, though his sharp gaze was still fixed on Allura.
“Hello.” Allura said quietly, seating herself opposite them at the table and taking a piece of bread - or what passed for it - from the basket in the middle of the table, though she only picked at it.
“Is there any news?” Shiro asked, since Allura didn’t seem to have come here to eat.
“Pidge has had little luck, I’m afraid,” Allura said, sighing, giving up on the bread and propping one hand in her palm, “though she’s still trying, and the Red Lion has been amazingly cooperative with her efforts on that end of things.”
“We all want Keith back.” Shiro said, pulling his stolen spoon out of Keith’s grip and handing him a cup of soup instead. Allura offered him a piece of bread and Keith eyed her and growled quietly, pulling the cup to himself and glaring over it.
He leaned sideways against Shiro and sipped the soup Shiro had given him.
“Indeed.” Allura agreed with a small smile. “In fact, I wished to speak of that very thing.”
Shiro raised his eyebrows slightly and waited.
“He is so much calmer with you,” Allura looked at Keith, and he growled a little louder, lowering his soup and baring his teeth, “perhaps now we can get him into a cryo-replenisher for a full medical scan.” She looked so hopeful. “Perhaps it can even fix this.”
Shiro thought about the full-body shudder that had run through Keith when Shiro suggested he might benefit from one of the cryo-replenishers after a battle that had left him battered - and Shiro had worried perhaps with cracked ribs. He looked down at Keith, still leaning against his shoulder, soup cradled in his hands, as Allura explained why she was so sure it would help, that even if it couldn’t fix him perhaps it could tell them what was wrong with Keith exactly, that-
“All right.” Shiro said reluctantly. “We’ll . . . see if we can get him into one, between us.”
Keith made an inquisitive noise, eyes bright as they focused on Shiro again.
“Just-” Shiro’s voice wavered. “Something to help you, kitten.” he said softly, and Keith gave a thoughtful mrr and sipped his soup again, not bothered.
Allura was eager and Shiro didn’t want to put this off now he had decided to do it, so almost as soon as Shiro and Keith had finished eating, Allura led the way to the cryo-replenishers. Keith was already unhappy, though Shiro reminded himself it was likely just at the prospect of following Allura, who he eyed suspiciously at all times.
Allura called up one of the pods and Keith didn’t really react, to Shiro’s relief, just watching her and looking around the room by turns.
“Now, Keith.” Allura said with a small smile. “We are trying to help you, so please, let us do this.” she told him, and nodded to Shiro. He flinched, but wrapped an arm around Keith’s shoulders and walked him towards the cryo-replenisher.
Keith allowed himself to be moved, but the moment Allura reached for him, the pod opening beside her, he hissed and recoiled. Shiro tightened his grip and forced Keith to continue forwards and he grabbed at Shiro’s chest, yowling in confused distress.
“It’ll be okay, Keith,” Shiro promised as Allura took hold of one of Keith’s arms and they pushed Keith towards the open pod, “I promise,” the words were painful to spit out, “it’s to help you, kitten, I promise.” he repeated, darting out of the way of a kick and pushing Keith’s hand down, shoving him backwards.
He keened, painfully loud, frightened more than angry even as Allura caught him around the throat to try and restrain his struggles. Shiro winced and tried to help, but even between the two of them it was difficult to get him into the small space and get it shut, Keith was wild and he was determined not to be forced into it, fighting like a mad thing.
Shiro caught his breath and took hold of one of Keith’s extended arms, trying to force it down and behind him to restrain his movements somewhat. Keith squirmed free, his nails scraping over the soft skin of Shiro’s curled fingers, and Shiro stumbled back a little as one of Keith’s heels caught him just under the ribs, knocking the breath from him.
Shiro straightened again with some effort, then froze, his heart aching. “Allura. Allura, stop!” he yelled breathlessly, forcing the words out, shaking his head. Keith was crying, tears slipping down the sharp planes of his face as he yowled and struggled against them. And still he held back from anything that would seriously hurt either of them. “Let go!” Shiro told Allura, and, startled, she did, taking half a step back.
Keith keened again and flung himself at Shiro, crawling up his body and making little rough not-quite-sobbing noises as he clawed at Shiro’s shoulder for support.
“I’m sorry, Keith.” Shiro said with feeling, cringing, not trying to force Keith to let go or get down. “I’m so sorry, kitten, it’s all right, I’m sorry.” He hugged Keith tight without moving him, arms falling just above his hips, and Keith whimpered and closed his thighs firmly around Shiro’s ribs, his breath coming quick against Shiro’s ear.
Shiro looked past Keith’s body to meet Allura’s eyes. “I’m sorry, I just- I can’t.” he said, wincing. “Not if- Not unless he really needs it, not just for a test. I can’t.”
Allura’s eyes softened. “I understand. I’m sorry, Shiro. And Keith.” She stepped closer and Keith turned his head and yowled, the loud, sharp sound underpinned as it faded with the low rumble of a snarl. Allura stilled, then stepped back again. A gesture had the cryo-replenisher pod sinking back into the floor, but even as the echo of Keith’s warning yowl died away, the snarl stayed, and his eyes remained fixed on Allura.
“I apologise.” Allura said softly, her hands raised, and moved away. Keith’s warning snarl rose and fell, softer now, but he didn’t go fully quiet. “I’ll . . . leave you alone.”
Shiro shook his head and took Keith towards the open corridor, away from the cryo-replenishers as well as Allura herself. Keith clung to him desperately even as he put some distance between them and the pods, Allura remaining behind. Shiro rubbed Keith’s back comfortingly and headed towards his own room, thinking perhaps being in the quiet and assuredly alone with Shiro would be best right now.
Keith wouldn’t let him go even once they got there, but that was all right. Shiro sat on his bed, then leaned slowly and carefully back, just letting Keith shift with him until he was mostly prone and Keith was lying on him. Keith whimpered softly, but slowly relaxed, going from a desperate, harsh grip to a needy but snuggly cling.
Shiro stroked him gently, murmuring apologies and comfort and trying not to cry himself as he remembered the utter panic on Keith’s face. He silently promised not to try such a thing again unless Keith was in immediate danger, running his fingers through Keith’s hair and hugging him. Keith mumbled softly and eventually, under Shiro’s soft words and touches, fell asleep with his head resting on Shiro’s shoulder. His face was still wet in places from his tears, and Shiro felt awful.
Shiro sighed and gently rubbed his upper back, cradling Keith against his side, glad he had relaxed enough to be comfortable sleeping. Glad he was still comfortable with Shiro, even after he had tried. . .
Shiro cringed, guilt stinging him, and hugged Keith a little tighter. He mumbled in his sleep, curling into Shiro’s arms.
Shiro glanced up occasionally from his tablet to check on Keith as he paced the room, kicking around pillows, jumping onto tables and between them, and hovering curiously around Coran - although he darted away if Coran ever seemed like he was shifting from cleaning too much towards even focusing on Keith.
He was too tired to keep running around on the training deck, but too restless to settle for a nap or even just curl next to Shiro on the couch, so Shiro was just trying to keep an eye on him. Coran was easy around him in ways most of the other inhabitants of the Castle were not at the moment, and Keith wasn’t bothered by his presence as long as he was doing something else, not focused on Keith - or Shiro.
Eventually Keith’s movements slowed, and he paused from time to time, rubbing at his face and leaning against the nearest wall or piece of furniture. After several rounds of that, and his pace slowing all the more, Shiro put away his tablet and rose, going to Keith. He clasped Keith’s wrist, tugging him away from the wall.
He whined, but followed Shiro without protest, slightly clumsy.
“Perhaps he’ll take a rest now, eh?” Coran suggested, and Shiro nodded. Hopefully.
“See you later.” Shiro nodded at Coran and urged Keith out of the room and down the corridor towards his room. “Why don’t we go lie down for a nap, mm?” he urged softly, and Keith sighed heavily, leaning on his shoulder.
Shiro smiled, fighting the temptation to just pick Keith up and carry him the rest of the way to the bedroom. Perhaps if the walk reminded him of how tired he was he would actually lie still until he fell asleep, restlessness aside.
“Come on, sit still kitten, please?” Shiro coaxed, pushing Keith back onto the empty table - the only one in Pidge’s temporary lab space that wasn’t covered with machinery, screens, and tools. Keith hissed grouchily, pouting, and pushed at Shiro’s hands.
Shiro put them back, nudging him down and clasping his wrists to still his hands. “Just for a few minutes, sit here and let Pidge scan you, please?”
Keith growled and kicked out, but he wasn’t even trying to hit Shiro, just fussing.
A much louder growl rumbled from above them, and Shiro froze for a moment. Red lowered her head, eyes gleaming, and rumbled more softly. Keith was frozen too, even when Shiro hastily released his wrists, but he looked awed, not frightened.
Red brought her muzzle down close, and Keith stretched up, yowling. Red . . . purred?
Keith rested a hand on her muzzle, and Pidge made some sort of excited sound behind Shiro. “Get out of the way! Shiro!”
Shiro moved hurriedly away, eyes fixed on Keith. Pidge was muttering to herself, but Shiro couldn’t drag his gaze away. Red’s eyes flashed and Keith rose up onto his knees on the table, trying to get closer perhaps, but she didn’t move.
No one moved for a short time, and the only sounds were the occasional quiet mechanical hums behind Shiro.
A quieter rumble again, and then Red lifted her head, pulling back, and Keith mewled disconsolately. Red’s softer purr returned, and he sighed, slouching into a heap on the table. Shiro held himself back from going to Keith as Pidge muttered some more, and Keith remained where he was.
“Done!” Pidge said triumphantly after a few minutes. “That . . . actually might really help, seeing the resonance when they’re in contact with each other!”
Shiro was already moving to Keith’s side again, and Keith whined as Shiro reached him, turning to look at him. Shiro gave a wordless questioning sound, and Keith slipped off the table and into his arms as Shiro instinctively wrapped him up in a comforting embrace. He rubbed between Keith’s shoulder blades, humming to him, and caught just the slightest edge of a gleam from Red’s eyes again.
The Lion didn’t move again, however, and she remained quiet. Shiro focused on Keith, tuning out Pidge’s excited and unintelligible - at least to Shiro - talk behind him. She was talking to herself in any case, and Shiro knew there was only half a chance she would have a sensible answer if interrupted with a question or comment.
“It’ll take a while for me to process everything,” Pidge said after a few minutes, startling Shiro, “but . . . it looks like the resonance coming off Keith may be a little weaker than it was last time. I haven’t got enough points of reference to tell if it’s wearing off evenly or even if it just ebbs and increases again regularly, but. . .” she trailed off into muttering.
Shiro waited a bit, turning enough to look at her. “Yes?” he prompted after a little while.
“Hm? Oh.” Pidge blinked at him, hands full of some kind of purple conduit. “You and Keith can . . . go, if you want.” she said. “It’ll take me a while to work through this.”
Shiro looked at Keith, who blinked back, then dipped his head and mumbled vaguely against Shiro’s chest. “All right. Thank you, Pidge.”
Pidge made a non-committal noise in answer and Shiro figured she might or might not have actually registered what he said. He urged Keith out of the hangar, and he sighed but lifted his head and moved well enough on his own after a few steps.
He paused just outside the door, mewing softly, and Shiro cupped the nape of his neck, humming encouragingly and waiting.
Keith gave a soft sound in response, dragging it out for almost a full breath, then tugged Shiro down the corridor. He followed willingly, though he wasn’t sure where Keith wanted to go or if Keith even knew himself.
“Come on, Keith,” Shiro urged gently, “we can go play in a bit, all right?”
Keith sighed heavily, but followed Shiro’s tug at his arm, going through into the lounge instead of continuing down the corridors towards the training deck. Since Shiro had returned and he had not been shut into the deck, Keith had come to like it as much - or more - than he normally did, and dragged Shiro with him there to play when not taken on his own.
Keith trailed after Shiro willingly enough now, though, and accepted a juice packet as he curled on the couch beside Shiro. Shiro stroked his back, and he lifted his head from the straw, grinning, wriggling his shoulders into the touch.
Shiro laughed quietly and squeezed his shoulder. “Quiet time is good too, remember?” he said with a crooked smile.
Keith mewled, putting the juice packet down on the floor behind the couch. Shiro tilted his head to one side, then hurriedly pulled his arms out of the way as Keith climbed into his lap. He squirmed, legs sliding on either side of Shiro’s, and nuzzled his cheek before settling back again, meeting his eyes.
Shiro sighed, smoothing Keith’s hair back from his face. Keith purred and pushed his cheek into Shiro’s palm.
“I do love you like this, kitten, I admit,” Shiro said very softly, “but I miss you, Keith.”
Keith whined, his bright eyes confused.
Shiro petted him soothingly. “I miss you the way you normally are. You’re very sweet, but you’re not quite yourself right now, kitten. And I miss . . . my Keith.” he said, although . . . he supposed this Keith was more ‘Shiro’s’ than he was usually.
Keith shivered, and Shiro made an absent soothing sound, stroking his hair. Keith shifted in his lap, moving a little closer and leaning against the arm braced across Shiro’s collarbone, and Shiro hummed quietly.
“Your Keith?” Keith said softly, and Shiro froze, eyes wide. He hadn’t heard Keith’s voice, not speaking, since before he and Coran left two weeks ago.
“Keith?” Shiro said, his voice breaking.
Keith smiled, rubbing his curled fingers against Shiro’s jaw. “Hey, Shiro.”
“You’re- You’re you again!” Shiro pulled him close, wrapping him in a tight hug. Keith’s arms curled around his shoulders, and he bowed his head to rest on Shiro’s. It wasn’t the same way Keith had gone lax and cuddly when stroked or held for the past week but Shiro was happy even for that.
“I guess I am.” Keith said as he sat back, and they both simultaneously realised that he was still in Shiro’s lap.
Keith scrambled up and sideways, apparently wasn’t prepared to be barefoot, and stumbled when his feet hit the floor. Shiro caught him and he collapsed onto the couch beside Shiro instead of the floor, and took a moment to sort himself out, ducking his head. “Thank you.” he said abruptly, and rose to his feet with another little nod, turning to leave Shiro behind, and suddenly Shiro couldn’t-
“Keith, wait-” Shiro lunged halfway to his feet, one hand outstretched to catch hold of Keith, though he was already moving too fast and out of reach.
“Shiro?” Keith said, guarded, turning his head as he stopped obligingly, and it was an arrow to Shiro’s heart - Keith hadn’t been guarded like this with him in years.
“I just- I’m sorry, you must want to,” he waved a hand, “but I . . . can we talk? I think we need to.”
“Do we?” Keith said almost coolly.
Shiro frowned. “Are you . . . upset with me?” he asked, and Keith’s expression cracked.
“No.” he admitted quickly, an aching look in his eyes, then shook his head, looking away. “What- What do we need to talk about?” he asked.
“You- Do you remember. . .” Shiro trailed off. “We don’t . . . have to talk now.” he said apologetically.
“Yes. I remember.” Keith said shortly. “We- We got hit,” he flinched, “it hurt, and Red was roaring in my head, and I was trying to correct for it but everything went blurry at once - light and sound and smell and it was all wound together with screaming and Red trying to make it stop and then someone tried to get at me. I didn’t realise it was Hunk, then.” he added, mouth twisting. “It’s kind of a blur, but I remember.”
“I wasn’t here for that, but you. . .” Shiro trailed off. “Are you sure you don’t want-”
“It’s fine.” Keith said, shaking his head. “It’s not like I really need recovery time. I’m not even tired, just-” He rubbed his brow.
“Okay. . .” Shiro bit his lip. “I think we need to talk because . . . you were,” he paused, “different, with me. We’re close, but. . . More different than I would have expected.” Keith’s expression sharpened, going still. “You tackled Hunk when he tried to help you out of Red, you . . . attacked Lance. . . You wrestled and fought with Allura and snarled when she got close, you threw Pidge and even concussed her once, although she thinks it was an accident.”
Keith winced, closing his eyes.
“And then I came back and . . . you pounced on me but you were gentle. You tucked yourself under my chin and purred. You obeyed when I asked you to do things.” Shiro said uncomfortably. “I know you like the others, you trust them, but. . . You were different with me, when you were. . .”
“An animal?” Keith said sharply.
“When you were not quite yourself, locked deep down to instincts.” Shiro corrected.
Keith’s frown softened, and he eyed Shiro. “You called me ‘kitten’,” he said, and Shiro pressed his lips together, eyes widening, “you took me to bed with you, and washed and brushed my hair.” Shiro ducked his head, shifting uncomfortably. “You told me, instinctive me - feral me - or whatever, that you missed me. Missed your Keith.”
Shiro opened his mouth, then closed it, licking his lips.
“So you tell me, I suppose, Shiro . . . do we need to talk?” Keith said, his voice soft.
Shiro thought of Keith’s wide eyes looking down at him as Keith leaned over his chest, of the warm and comforting weight of Keith curled up on him. Of Keith cuddly and affectionate and needy, pushing into Shiro’s space when he tried to sleep or shower or anything. Of Keith standing at his shoulder, bracing his sword to protect Shiro, of Keith not only rescuing him but accepting what he said immediately no matter how crazy. Of Keith welcoming him back and never pushing for more than Shiro could explain, or even wanted to try.
Of the nightmares that had only come a few times in the past week, and been soothed away by confused purrs, distressed whines, and protective snarls - of the nightmares that had plagued him and driven him from his bed, only to find soft words, hands, promises offered to soothe him in the dark when Keith inevitably, somehow, found him in the night as he wandered the Castle.
“I think we do.” Shiro said thickly, his heart a choking presence in his throat.
Keith looked at him carefully and inched closer, almost within reach now. Shiro didn’t try to close the distance, but held out a hand hopefully. Keith cocked his head and smiled slightly. “I’m not a wild thing any more, Shiro.” he said, sliding his hand into Shiro’s. “You don’t have to be so careful.”
“You’ve always been a wild thing, kitten.” Shiro said without thinking, then paled. “I-”
Keith laughed, and let himself come closer, slinking gracefully. “They thought I was quite tame for you.” he said, eyes narrowing slightly.
“I would never expect that.” Shiro said quietly, meeting Keith’s eyes, squeezing his hand. “I- care about you, as you are, Keith, always.”
Keith smiled slightly. “I would be that, for you.” he said, his voice soft.
Shiro’s eyes widened. “Keith, I-” his voice faltered.
“Just for you.” Keith said, not quite warningly. “If you would want.”
Shiro cupped his face, and Keith tentatively nudged his jaw into Shiro’s palm - a strange-familiar touch, now. “Keith, I just want you.” he said, his voice wavering. “All of you.”
Keith’s lashes fluttered shut, then opened again slowly as he smiled, tiny and warm. “All of me,” he said softly, and brushed light fingertips over Shiro’s face, “for all of you.”
Shiro’s heart tightened. “Keith- I. . .”
“Please, Shiro.” he said, swallowing, his eyes bright under the shaggy fringe Shiro had combed his fingers through that morning as he purred. Shiro had been playing with it, really; Keith’s shaggy hair was soft and silky, and Shiro liked feeling it run through his fingers almost as much has he liked the sounds and faces Keith made when he did. Almost as much as Keith seemed to enjoy it when Shiro brushed and stroked his hair.
Shiro cupped Keith’s jaw, then pushed back the lock of hair beside his face. “Whatever you want.” he said finally, honest, and Keith’s smile was brilliant. “You can have whatever you want of me, if you’ll only have me.”
Keith took another almost slinking step and pressed himself against Shiro’s chest, leaning up and pressing a kiss to his lips. Shiro’s eyes widened, and Keith’s hands slid up and twined behind Shiro’s neck, holding himself close. “All of you, Shiro,” Keith said, barely more than a breath against his mouth, “and I am never letting go.”
Shiro let his hands slide down Keith’s sides - familiar slide of soft fabric over sleek muscles - and clasp his hips. He returned the kiss tentatively, but Keith would have none of it, pulling him in tighter and arching to press close against his body.
Shiro slid one hand up his back, nuzzling Keith fondly as the kiss broke. Keith smiled, his eyes half-lidded and warm, trailing a caress over Shiro’s cheek again.
“I really did miss you.” Shiro said, feeling a lump in his throat.
Keith’s smile softened. “I was right here with you.” he said gently, giving Shiro a soft kiss. “I’ll never leave you without a fight, Shiro.” he added, and Shiro closed his eyes, resting his brow against Keith’s.
Shiro hummed quietly to himself, content, and idly ran a hand over Keith’s ribs and side or through his hair from time to time as he read and Keith dozed, head in his lap. He heard footsteps entering, but didn’t glance up immediately.
“Hey Shiro.” Lance said, and Shiro heard him drop down into the sunken lounge area.
“Hello Lance.” Shiro glanced up at him with a smile, but he was looking at Keith. He sighed and came a little closer, and Shiro raised an eyebrow curiously.
“Man, I even miss you, buddy.” Lance said, looking down at Keith with a sad little shake of his head.
Shiro blinked, looking up. “Ah, Lance. . .” he said slowly.
“Shut up.” Lance said, fidgeting. “I know we’re . . . rivals, and he’s . . . Keith, and he’s aggravating and tetchy and I hate that he always shows me up,” he said, frowning, “but- but we’re friends, too, and I miss him.”
Keith opened one eye, giving Shiro a startled look. He smiled slightly and shrugged. “He does like you, kitten.” he said, a little amused. He had known that, and he suspected most of the others did too, but Lance’s loud rebuffs when Keith drew attention to the way they worked together, or just . . . spoke to him, sometimes, had mostly convinced Keith otherwise.
“Of course I like him,” Lance frowned, “skinny, stupid mullet-head.”
Keith rolled over and sat up a bit, propping himself on one elbow. He looked at Lance, who held his ground, but warily. “I like you, too, most of the time.” he said, and Lance looked floored, his jaw dropping. “And I don’t know where this ‘rivals’ thing comes from anyway.” Keith added, brows drawing together. “Or why you hate my hair so much.”
Shiro stifled the urge to giggle as Keith cocked his head, nodded, apparently satisfied, and stretched out again, making himself comfortable with his head resting in Shiro’s lap once more. He made a prompting sound and Shiro obligingly stroked his hair. He purred under the caresses.
“He- Keit- Keith is a person again!” Lance yelped, jumping up and pointing.
“Keith was always a person, Lance.” Shiro said, frowning at him.
“You know what I mean! What- When did this happen?” Lance asked, his voice a little higher pitched than usual. Keith winced. Maybe a lot higher than usual, Shiro thought, brushing his thumb over the top of Keith’s ear. He snorted.
“Yesterday.” Keith said lazily. “Apparently you missed it.”
“Apparently! What happened?” Lance asked, collapsing onto the couch near Keith’s feet. “Why didn’t anyone tell me? What was it that affected you?”
“We don’t know.” Shiro said, shaking his head. “Pidge is still analysing it.”
“It just . . . wore off.” Keith said, glancing up at Shiro. “You missed it as in you apparently didn’t notice,” he added, tipping his head and looking at Lance, “there wasn’t a procedure or announcement.” He snorted.
“Well, I- I’m glad you’re back to normal, man.” Lance said, patting Keith’s ankle. He jumped. “Or whatever passes for it in your shaggy head.” he teased.
Keith’s lips twitched. “Keith, don’t-” Shiro began, but Keith had already shifted and kicked out with one foot, shoving Lance sideways and tumbling to the floor. Shiro frowned at him, and he smirked. It had been a gentle kick, Lance had toppled more than flown, but really.
“What was that for?” Lance said, but scrambled back up to the couch and flicked Keith’s ankle in retaliation without seeming too bothered beyond his huffy pout. “And, uh . . . you’re still. . .” he trailed off, looking Shiro and Keith up and down.
“What?” Keith asked blankly. “Barefoot?” He looked down at his own feet.
“Uh, no, dude. You’re . . . still all up on Shiro.” Lance said leadingly. Shiro cleared his throat quietly and looked down at Keith.
He rolled his shoulders and settled in even more comfortably. “I like it here.” Keith said pointedly, and Shiro shook his head, not sure why he was surprised. “Shiro likes me here.” he added, with a glance at Shiro, waiting, eyebrows raised. He nodded, and Keith smiled, expression smoothing out. “So I’m staying.” He yawned and stretched, back arching, and Shiro carded an affectionate hand through his hair as he settled again.
Lance looked lost for words, to Shiro’s surprise and mild concern.
“I- Ah- Oh?” Lance said faintly.
Keith reached up and wove his fingers through Shiro’s, giving a soft purr as he snuggled in against Shiro’s belly. And, well, maybe Lance not realising Keith was back to himself had startled Shiro, but Keith . . . was maybe not so very different in either state, Shiro thought, surprised and fond.