“I can’t believe they wanted to get rid of him!” Lance was dramatically declaring, poking the baby in its tiny bubblegum-pink nose. “Just look at you, you’re way too cute to purge in genocidal paranoia! Who’s a cute lil’ hybrid?” he cooed in a baby-talk voice that was largely baffling to Keith. “Who’s a cute widdle pink pumpkin?”
Said cute little pink pumpkin in question wrinkled his nose in the face of Lance’s finger, and promptly burst out crying once more. Which made sense, really, considering the child had done little else besides cry since the moment they’d found him. Which was also understandable, being an abandoned orphan hybrid whose very existence is a crime and all. Not a lot to be happy about right now.
Not that any of the rest of them were doing much better. They’d arrived on this planet only hours ago, hoping to break the citizenry out of their neutral stance to give aid to the coalition. And had immediately run into nothing but trouble, starting with smoking rubble filled with corpses and one live infant.
Apparently planet Disith’s neutrality policy was so severe they refused to have anything to do with anything even remotely related to the Galra. Which meant it seemed like an impossible mission to get them to be part of this coalition, but Anatoray had said they wouldn’t join if their sister planet Disith didn’t agree first, and between the two planets the resources their side of the war would gain were… enough to try.
Except for the part where two hours after they landed, they’d found a baby. A baby whom, it turned out, was half native and half Galra. Which meant that when they tried to take the baby into town to find someone to take care of it, they’d been thanked profusely, because GOODNESS what if that thing’s mother came back looking for it? Having such an unfortunate creature around was an invitation for trouble, and they were all assured it would be disposed of immediately.
Yeah, Keith reflected. That idea had not gone over well on their end. As in the end of five paladins who then had to steal back a baby they’d just found. As in the end of the paladins who now had a goddamned CHILD and no idea what to do with it. Especially since it wouldn’t. Stop. Crying.
Coran was stepping forward, cooing “There there, now,” and picking up the baby off of the table they’d set it on to hold it against his chest. “It’s all right, no need to be scared!” The baby, if anything, cried even harder. A little concerned, as everyone was at this point, Coran patted it on the back in his continued efforts to coddle the child into silence.
Which was about the moment that a set of quite unexpected thin black spines jutted violently out of top of the child’s spinal cord to pierce directly into Coran’s hand.
Everyone sort of jumped, but Coran’s reaction was only a mild, “Oh, dear,” before he tensed up and plummeted directly towards the floor.
Keith was, as he had been in the act of kidnapping the child, the fastest to react. He caught the baby before it could fall out of Coran’s paralyzed hands, preventing it, too from falling onto the castle’s cold tile flooring.
“Ah!” Coran announced with unnatural cheer and a slight stiff-jawed slur. “He’s a male, then! Female Disith don’t have the paralytic toxin on their spines, so looks like that’s settled!”
Allura was already bending down by his side to inspect the damages, gently turning Coran onto his back. “Goodness, are you alright!?”
“Oh my yes,” Coran assured. “He’s just a baby, not nearly enough poison to kill a man yet!” A visible twitch of his corpse-stiff body. “Although the pain is starting to sting a bit, could I trouble you to pop me up into a cryopod, princess?”
Considering they were still on the bridge they hardly had to go far to move him. And by the time Allura and Shiro had him safely stuffed into the painless nothing of a healing pod, everyone had time to notice that the baby had stopped crying.
Keith looked down into his arms, where the white-haired top of the baby’s head was sniffling, but no longer actively sobbing. Huh. Wait, if he had those spines, why hadn’t he stabbed Keith when they’d been running back to the podship? That would have been the scariest part of the whole day, right?
Everyone else had slowly come to crowd around Keith and the baby, leaving a ring of about two feet of space between him and the wall of his friends started. His head whipped around to look at all of them, a slight panic rising as he stuttered out a defensive, “What are you guy looking at?”
“Well it’s just that…” Hunk offered. “The only times today the baby hasn’t cried here when you were holding him?”
Keith looked back down at the child in his arms, still sniffling but otherwise quiet. That… didn’t seem like it could be right. For one thing, he was pretty sure he wasn’t even holding the damned thing safely.
“I suppose it does make sense,” reasoned Pidge as she stepped closer to curiously inspect the bundle of squirm in his arms. “I mean, you two are both half Galra, right? Out of all of us stranger-dangers, you’d be the one to smell the most familiar to him.”
Allura nodded. “Well, at least that settles the question of who’s to look after him in the meantime. The sooner we get off this planet and find a proper caretaker the better, and as such the rest of us would be best off to secure this treaty as quickly as possible.”
“Wait, what?!” Okay nevermind, now Keith was panicking. What the fuck? He was the LAST person suited to babysit! “I don’t know anything about kids!”
“Well I certainly don’t either,” Allura reasoned. “We’ll just present Shiro as the pilot of Black if anyone asks. I’m sure Coran will be better far before we actually need to form Voltron, so I don’t really see any problems. After all, who’s more suited to the care of such a creature than you?”
Shiro’s smile looked like an apology. “You guys are kind of the same, after all.”
The same? Keith adjusted the baby in his arms, so that his head was resting on Keith’s bicep and he could look into his tiny face. Look him in the eye, more like, because this was a person, wasn’t it? Eventually he’d have like, opinions to express and a life of his own. And in his life he, too would be an orphan with no clue about who he was or how he had come to be, abandoned by parents he never knew and forced to find his own identity the hard way.
The baby’s eyes were, Keith decided, a little creepy. The sclera was yellow like in any other half Galra they’d generally met, but then the iris and pupil were both a deep dark black. Did he even have irises or was that all pupil? Either way, he was looking back up at Keith too through a lazy half-lidded gaze, a curious exchange of two strangers trying to size each other up.
“Bueh,” the child said after a moment.
“Fuck,” Keith swore back.
The uh, matter was pretty much settled with that, to be honest. Damned baby just backed him into a corner on this one - not like he could claim he had no emotional investment in the situation NOW.
A hand landed on his shoulder, and to Keith’s mild surprise it was Lance who was cheerfully offering, “No one’s crazy enough to suggest you do it ALONE, dude.” He offered Keith a reassuring smile, which morphed into something overdramatically smug as he went on to declare, “AS IT HAPPENS, being the youngest in my family means I was there for the birth of every one of my nieces and nephews, and as such have a PLETHORA of child-rearing experience to aid your pathetically helpless self!”
Honestly, for as annoying as he’d phrased it Keith was actually really freaking relieved to hear this. “So, you’ve like, held and fed and changed babies before? Please tell me yes and that I’m not solely responsible for a person’s life here.”
Lance laughed, and everyone else seemed like they were probably holding back chuckles. “Bro I’m pretty sure leaving you alone with him would count as like, massive child neglect at this stage. I have SO got your back.”
Which should have sounded like Lance was making fun of Keith, but was actually pretty reassuring. For all that they hadn’t gotten along at first Lance had actually turned out to be the person Keith could rely on most when he was acting as Voltron’s Right Hand, and nearly as supportive to Keith when they were outside of battle, as well.
Lance had stepped forward, but the moment he leaned down toward the baby to look him face to face the response was an immediate distressed whimper. Lance nervously took a step back again. “Uh. I guess I’ll just… coach you from a distance, then.” The hand gesture, Keith was fairly certain, was supposed to illustrate spines poking out to stab Lance in the face.
Keith looked back down at the baby in his arms. This, he decided immediately, was going to be a very, very long mission. “Well,” he said tentatively. “As long as the baby and I don’t accidentally kill each other we should be fine, right?”
“OH GOD! OH GOD THAT’S ACID, WHY IS IT ACID?! ”
It had only been one hour since the others had left to try to make an alliance with the Disithians, and things were already definitively Not Fine.
For the most part, they’d just spent the whole hour raiding the castle’s old nurseries for anything that seemed halfway useful. A difficult task considering Altean babies apparently required complete nonsense technology that probably relied on magic to even work.
Either way they fished around for a supply of baby clothes and diapers and things that looked like they could pass for toys, and even a basket-handle baby carrier that the child would not go anywhere near without bursting into tears and spikes and was thus largely useless.
It was only when Keith was holding him that the baby would calm back down and prove he was capable of being quiet, which Keith so far greatly preferred. Which is why of course when he started crying AGAIN Keith got understandably frustrated, because for fuck’s sake what NOW? He was not cut out for this shit, damn it.
“Look,” Lance had explained reasonably. “Babies don’t cry just to be annoying, they do it because it’s the only way they have to communicate with us. When something is wrong they have no way of fixing it themselves and no way to ask someone to help, so the only thing they can do is get our attention so WE can figure it out.”
That… made a lot of sense, actually. Keith considered this, looking down at the crying baby balanced on his hip. “...When was the last time anyone tried to feed him, do you suppose?”
Lance’s jaw opened like he intended to speak, before closing again thoughtfully. “What… would you suppose he eats?”
“Babies… milk?” Keith hazarded incoherently.
Lance frowned back. “I dunno, I think anything big enough to have that much hair is probably onto solids. Let’s see if he eats food goo.”
After a brief and reasonable struggle in the kitchens. They discovered the child could indeed be coerced into eating food goo, which had taken all of the humans a full day of desperation to finally be able to choke down. So. Good on the kid.
Not that it stopped his crying for long. Fortunately Lance seemed to even know the answer to this, explaining that since he just ate they probably only needed to burp him. Alright fine, easy right?
So, since Lance couldn’t very well pat him on the back without fear of spines through his hand, he instead fetched a towel to drape over Keith’s shoulder so that he could instruct him on proper burping technique. Which, Keith supposes he must have pulled off correctly, because the child not only burped but practically projectile vomited. Onto Lance. Which is where that screaming comes in.
They, uh, got the acid washed off without incident, by the way. Like, it burned obviously, but even through Lance’s active screaming Keith could determine that there was no scarring beyond a slight redness that would surely heal, please calm down you’re gonna get the baby going again.
Needless to say, things were off to a rocky start.
“How are we supposed to pull this off?” Keith asked the baby later on, idly bouncing him on his knee. “It’s been like, an hour and I’m already half-sure we’ve fucked up your life forever.”
Lance only laughed from where he had taken to lying on the floor. “How could we have, we didn’t even drop him or anything. He’s stopped crying, hasn’t he?”
That was true, Keith considered, lifting the baby high enough to look him in the eye. He hadn’t made much of any kind of noise for a while, aside from a few nonsensical little squeaks and gurgles. “I still think I’m doing everything wrong. What am I even supposed to be DOING with him? People say babies need constant attention but he’s kind of just… chilling?”
From the corner of his eye Keith watched as Lance shrugged, sitting up. “Yeah, because they’re still people. He’ll get bored if you just leave him in a crib and hope for the best, at this point he’s barely capable of THINKING much less entertaining himself.” He rolled over to the couch Keith was sitting on without actually standing, so that he too might look the child in the face as he said, “That’s what toys and mobiles and shit are for. Oh, I bet we could make a really NIFTY mobile for you out of glowing space stuff, huh?” He couldn’t quite resist the urge to poke at one white curl, resulting in a confused whine from the baby. “I think that’s a when-Hunk’s-here kind of project, though.”
“So… what should we do with him for now?”
A pause from their resident baby expert. “I dunno, just hang out? He just needs to interact with people, it doesn’t really matter much doing WHAT. Not while he barely knows what’s going on.”
Ugh, helpful. Not like Keith could go about his daily routine, he could hardly take the damned kid into the training room with him. Not unless that bassinet came with a particle barrier, anyway.
He could probably at least still exercise though, right? That HAD to count as hanging out. “Hey, hold him for a sec,” Keith directed Lance as he passed off the baby.
Lance looked like he wanted to panic and the baby kind of did too, both of them making distressed noises while Keith got onto the floor. Palms flat underneath him, the next instruction he gave was, “Okay, now put him down on my back,” which Lance probably only followed because of a series of telling whimpers from the baby.
Big enough to sit up on his own, the baby did indeed stop making worrying sounds when Lance put him down to sit between Keith’s shoulder blades. Shit, Keith had underestimated how big this kid was, was he gonna fall off the second Keith tried this? Eh, fuck it, Lance was sitting one foot away to catch him if he got wobbly.
Slowly, so as not to jar the burden on his back too bady, Keith straightened his arms to push himself up. And then carefully lowered himself back down, and you know what this had been a good idea, that thing may only be like fifteen pounds but just trying to keep him balanced was making these push-ups a lot more difficult.
Lance seemed unimpressed by Keith’s efforts. “I don’t even know what to say right now,” he lamented, voice sounded appalled. “I say ‘hang out’ and the FIRST thing you think of is ‘I’mma see how many push ups I can do with a baby on my back?’”
He was on four, incidentally. “This is the kind of shit I normally do by myself.” Back down to the floor. “Does he look like he’s having fun?”
Keith looked over at Lance, who was squinting into the baby’s face. “I am annoyed to admit he looks pretty entertained right now.”
After a few minutes or less Lance’s annoyance was apparently too much to bear, as he was barking a disgruntled, “All right Mr. Show Off,” and lifting the kid up off Keith’s back. “You’re not the only one who can… upper body strength!”
He handed the baby to a confused Keith, who took it as Lance dropped down to take Keith’s place on the floor. “Alright, set him up,” Lance directed, which Keith saw no real reason not to comply to. He put the bemused child onto Lance’s back where, as predicted, he started his own set of push-ups for apparently no reason other than habitual competitiveness.
“How many have I done?” Lance panted after a few minutes.
“How many did YOU do?”
“Dunno, wasn’t counting then, either.”
Lance groaned defeatedly, presumably because Keith’s apathy had ruined the point of the entire exercise. “Well does it at least look like the baby is having fun?”
Keith considered this. “Well he’s not crying or trying to get down? So he must not mind, at least.” A pause. “I think we might be terrible babysitters.”
It was about that point Lance’s arms gave up under him, toppling him face-first into the floor. Which would have been pretty funny normally, but it startled the kid enough that suddenly Lance was yelping in pain, a string of incoherent garbled noises strangled out of his throat while Keith dived to grab the baby off his back.
When he picked him up however, there was a slight problem. The god damned thing stayed stuck to Lance’s jacket by the hands, and when pried him off he discovered that he hadn’t been grabbing on at all but rather using a set of slightly curved spines jutting out of his palms like freakin’ cat’s claws, and oh SHIT “STABBED VENOM STABBED OH GOD LANCE ARE YOU DEAD?!”
“nnNNNOOooOOo,” Lance gurgled, twitching on the floor. “ T-tttssssss-iiingles.”
Chingles?! What the fuck did chingles mean?! Was it like, some sort of Altean antidote Keith didn’t know about that would save Lance’s life and the fact that he didn’t know what it was meant Lance would die?!
The baby meanwhile had started up crying again full force, and Keith couldn’t even THINK right now, fucking… “Healing pod!” He remembered at last. “I gotta get you to a healing pod!”
“Nnnope,” Lance slurred into the floor. “No pain, jusss’… cannmove.” Another full body twitch. “I can feel... all of my veins right now.”
That sounded like it was bad and the baby was still crying and you know what Keith was way underqualified for ALL of this. He was trying to soothe the baby, bouncing him in one arm while he tried to flip Lance over onto his back, but holy shit the kid was so LOUD how did mothers deal with this?!
“Stahp,” Lance directed, and Keith finally noticed his twitching seemed almost deliberate, and far more than Coran had been capable of. “Calm down. Yur makinth’ babbenuts.”
Keith hadn’t even noticed he’d been swearing until then, and promptly cut off the stream of panicked expletives. “Can you move?”
One shaky hand raised. “Favor?”
Keith crouched down to meet his face. “Is the favor a healing pod, because that seems like the best idea right now.”
A minute shake of his head, hand still extended. “Snap my thumb backwards?”
...What? Okay, what the hell. Keith didn’t need to put down the baby for that, just wrapped his hand around Lance’s thumb and pulled it back towards his wrist is one clean jerk and an audible (but thankfully not broken-sounding,) crack.
Lance screamed like a Slasher heroine and sat upright in a jolt, startling Keith into falling onto his ass.
“It’s gonna be a long day,” Lance assessed weakly.
That was… an understatement.
The baby could, it turned out, indeed be quiet for long periods on end. There were just CONDITIONS that had to be met. Things like clean diapers and not being hungry were obvious of course - and adventures in and of themselves. But the main requirement, it turned out, was just there there not be any god damned strangers around.
Unfortunately even hours in, Lance didn’t count as someone who wasn’t a stranger yet, as proven when Keith needed to use the damned lavatory and left them alone for five minutes. And also all of their friends were DEFINITELY still strangers, and therefore basically just avoided the fuck out of the three of them once they were home from their in-progress diplomatic mission.
Keith and Lance didn’t really need to join them anyway. It turns out the baby had most likely not eaten for some time when they found it, meaning when the first thing they did was present him food goo he practically sucked it off the spoon. Now that he wasn’t starving however, dinner went much differently, as he’d decided that the food goo was no longer acceptable and as a result made the Fuss of All Fusses. In the curse of trying to find something the kid WOULD eat the two of them had picked at enough of the offered food variety that they’d sufficiently fed themselves before they’d come close to satisfying the baby.
He had teeth by the way. Sharp ones. Itty bitty little stupid damned fangs, which according to Lance meant he was the human equivalent of getting up to a year or so old. That… wasn’t as surprising as it should have been considering his existence was illegal on this planet. After all, when they’d found him, it had been in the arms of a dead Disithian man who had obviously invested himself in protecting the child.
It was thoughts like that that stopped Keith from flipping out with his frustration at every little problem. Keith had vague memories of someone who had loved him, too, and that empathy connected him to this baby in ways he couldn’t begin to put into words. It was kind of stupid, but… Keith didn’t know. It felt good to be needed, he guessed.
Still, it was all beyond exhausting. By the end of the first day he and Lance were as ragged as they were exiting any battle they’d ever fought, and just as desperate for sleep. Fortunately for them, the baby, too, had been too riled up to get any kind of rest today, which meant that he was likely to sleep as hard as they would.
Except that this brought up a whole new question. They had not, as of yet, managed to scrap together any kind of crib and were thus unsure of what to do with the damned kid. He was too big to be left alone, he might wake up and crawl off somewhere while everyone was passed out. Which left, what, leaving Keith alone to sleep with him? That seemed just as unsafe, somehow.
“So, the reason he’s comfortable with you is because you’re also half-galra and smell familiar, right?” Lance mused. Keith figured that wasn’t a question that needed an actual response, and as such stayed quiet as Lance went on to consider, “Do you think if I smelled more like you he’d feel safer with me?”
That… seemed logical enough. “I guess?”
“Sooo,” Lance shifted his weight from one foot to the other. “Spitballing here, but maybe I could like. Sleep in your room with you guys, and then maybe tomorrow he’ll let you leave the room?”
Oh, that was… that made sense. And was weird, because Keith wasn’t used to sleeping with anyone nearby, but. He REALLY needed to like, shower and have alone time, and having a baby attached to his hip was making that kind of basic living stuff difficult.
“It’s worth a shot,” he decided. If one thing had become obvious today, it was that he couldn’t handle this shit alone, after all.
What he had not expected was that they would end up all three sharing the bed. Mainly because he didn’t know there was ROOM for more than one person on that thing, but it turned out he had underestimated space technology and it’s ability to save space, which made sense considering this place probably used to have a shitton of Galran houseguests. They’d uh… have not fit in Keith’s bed, the way he was using it.
Fortunately Lance DID know how the beds worked, which was a better plan than Keith sleeping on the floor. Turns out the indent in his wall the bed was set in could sink further in for more bedspace or be drawn all the way out to make it into a flat wall again, and that was not a thing Keith would have guessed to be honest. But did make the entire thing even weirder, because if he wasn’t used to sleeping near anyone he was definitely not used to the idea of sharing an actual bed on top of it.
But they were all three exhausted and Lance was already crawling in to flop out near the wall and leaving Keith plenty of room to lay down closer to the door. He looked down at the baby and, almost reluctantly, climbed into bed himself, only thinking to remove his own boots at the last moment.
Not sure what else to do with him, he left the baby to lie on his chest, staring up at the darkened ceiling of his bunk. Where Lance also was. As well as an alien baby. What the fuck had today even BEEN?
He didn’t know when or how long it took him to fall asleep, but Keith knew he must have when he was jarred awake. Blearily, he reached out to try and coddle the source of a new burst of tears, patting the restless baby on the back while he sat up and tried to figure out what the fuck he was supposed to do now.
His first thought being that he didn’t want to wake up Lance, Keith slung the kid onto his hip and left the room, wandering out into the castle hallways with a yawn.
“Mmkay,” Keith muttered to the boy, heading towards the nearest bathroom with a changing table. “I’m gonna guess it’s your diaper first, and then we’ll go from there.”
It was harder to change him this time, half out of not remembering all of Lance’s step-by-step instructions and half because he was still fucking asleep on his feet. But the Altean changing station was self-cleaning so it was still less hazardous than this task would have been on Earth, although he supposed he’d have to learn the right way to wipe the baby down himself if they ever like, needed to venture out of the castle.
Whatever, for tonight he was clean again. Keith sighed heavily, leaning his weight on the table to look down at the baby sitting contentedly in front of him. “What am I gonna do with you, kid?”
The baby blinked curiously at Keith, although his expression was kind of hard to read through his creepy dead-fish eyes. He reached out one tiny hand, which he then used to grab at and uselessly tug on Keith’s bangs.
“I guess you are pretty cute, huh?” He smiled, scooping the kid up in his arms. “Kind of a weird little cookie, though, aren’t you?”
Attaching his hand to Keith’s shirt this time instead of his hair, the child looked up at him with an expression he wanted to call bored. “Ba,” he stated simply, as if to ask, ‘yeah, what of it?’ And Keith couldn’t hold back his giggle.
He was probably delirious from lack of sleep, he decided as he wandered this time towards the kitchens. But Lance had said that babies are so tiny they need food pretty much whenever they were awake, and Keith’s only job was to keep this thing alive, so.
The phrase, “I only took my eyes off him for a second” came first to Keith’s mind. He’d set the kid down on the counter while he dug around for something he’d eat, trying to decide which fruit he was most likely not to snuff. And then when he turned around, the baby was not where Keith had left him. The panic that seized him was like no other he’d ever experienced. That is, until two seconds later when he located the baby, not on the floors or counters but instead climbing up a set of cabinets like a fucking spider.
“WHAT THE SWEET MARY FUCK,” Keith lunged towards the cabinets, but his scream had already surprised the child enough for the grip of his tiny hand spines to slip, and Keith’s life flashed before his eyes as he watched the baby drop.
When he failed to catch the baby, the worst horror imaginable surged through him. He had one job how had he already killed the baby?!
There was, on the floor, a rubbery sound like a superball hitting the ground, immediately followed by a short giggle. What… the fuck?
Keith looked down. The baby looked back up at him. “That was an eight-foot drop,” he informed the child. “Your neck should have broken.”
The child grabbed onto Keith’s pant leg, unsteadily raising himself up on legs too weak to support him without holding onto something to keep him upright. And then made it immediately apparent he was not trying to stand by grabbing another fistful of pants to begin an attempt to scale his body that only ended up with his pants being tugged down.
Keith bent over to pick up the baby. And then, curiously, pinched a fingerful of the baby’s cheek, which stretched out and snapped back in place easily when he let go. “Ah,” he assessed tiredly. “That makes sense.”
Twenty minutes later when he crawled back in bed, Lance turned to him with a sleepy mumble. “Everything okay?”
Keith, no longer in fear of shaking the baby to death on accident, flung himself into the bed. “Goddamned pink rubber spider baby,” he responded from where his face was smashed into his own pillow.
“Ah,” Lance huffed without opening his eyes. “Sounds like about our luck.”
The second day the baby had gotten more comfortable in the castle, and as such saw fit to explore. But on the plus side at least the climbing thing was the last surprise he had in store, which meant that on day two they knew everything he was capable of and how to be wary of it. But not, you know, what to do to contain it.
Contain the baby, that is. He wasn’t big enough to walk but he was big enough to crawl and god damned if he couldn’t scuttle around FAST, to the point where Keith didn’t even need to go to the training deck because of all the frantic running around the baby had coerced him and Lance into.
Also, he was pretty fast at climbing, it turned out. Little sticky fingers and spikes on his palms made quick work of the castle walls, and getting him DOWN from his adventures was a feat that usually involved anti-gravity to pull off.
It barely even mattered that he would indeed allow Lance to hold him now, except for the random hours he’d pass out. And thank god for those naps, by the way, because Keith had needed that shower ridiculously badly, and needed his own nap even more.
Of course then when it was Lance’s turn to pass out for a while, lil Cookie here couldn’t be convinced to fall asleep. And as much as Keith tried to promise Lance it’d be fine to pass out by himself and leave the two of them alone, he was determined he’d never be able to fall asleep until he got the baby to rest, too.
“Sleep when the baby sleeps,” Lance insisted, pacing back and forth in Keith’s room while he bounced the baby in his arms. “He’s due for a nap and I don’t wanna see what happens when he gets cranky.”
Well they knew what happened - he cried and porcupined out. But that was still something they rather wanted to avoid at this point, so Keith didn’t answer and kept his eyes on the mess of crib parts in front of him.
There wasn’t fear of him falling off the bed and hurting himself anymore but there WAS significant threat of him crawling off, and a normal crib would only give him handlebars to grip while he climbed the hell out. But didn’t adding a lid make it a cage? Baby cages were kind of… Bad, right?
“Alright, so, uh, Goldilocks sits on the first chair,” Lance rambled on, as they still lacked the ability to read the available children’s books. “And she sinks into it because the recliner is WAY too big for her. She’s all swimming in the upholstery, it’s ridiculous. And when she manages to heave herself out of it she tries Mama Bear’s rocking chair next, but it’s too hard and too wobbly and the wood hurts her ass.”
This would be so much easier if this shit was plastic instead of stupid Altean magitechnology. Was he even building this right in the first place? “Should you be swearing in front of him?” Keith asked idly, not looking up from his engineering homework.
“Ass isn’t a swear word,” Lance scoffed, presumably rolling his eyes. “Anyway, she hops down from Mama’s chair to try Little Bear’s little wicker chair last, and she doesn’t have to jump up and hurt her butt or anything, fits right into it. But it’s not long before she realizes she’s hungry, and decides she’s not just gonna stop and rest her feet for a while but hey, since there’s all this fresh food sitting out on the table, she might as well help herself, right?”
“Well that seems messed up,” Keith decided, throwing down his tools to abandon the project until Hunk got home. “Like breaking into their house wasn’t bad enough, now she’s stealing their food? What kind of lesson is this supposed to teach kids?”
When he glanced over, Lance and the baby both looked severely unimpressed by his assessment. “Well, considering the bears come home and almost EAT her, probably the right one!”
“Where are her parents anyway?” Keith wondered, plucking the baby up off Lance’s lap to bounce him on his own hip. “Who lets a little girl wander around by herself in a forest full of bears?”
“Who knows,” Lance shrugged. “What the hell was up with Hansel and Gretel’s parents abandoning them in the woods? What happens after they eat that witch, it’s not like they can go HOME. Do they just stay there and eat her house and become diabetic incestuous forest hermits?”
Keith paused. “I feel like throwing ‘incestuous’ in there was a bit of a leap.”
Lance was undeterred, derailing off that train of thought entirely in an instant. “Hey, do you think they ever made a porn parody of fairy tales? Like, Goldicocks and the Three ‘Bears ?’”
“Oh my god dude, stop saying that kind of thing with a baby three feet away from you!”
Another epic eyeroll, and Lance was crouching down in front of the infant. “What, he can barely even understand what’s going on, much less pick up swear words.” Addressing the baby instead of Keith, he went on to coo in a sweet voice, “Isn’t that right, little guy? Can you say cock? Cocks, cocks, cocks?”
“Caa,” The baby responded back, and Keith got to watch Lance’s brow furrow as he jerked backwards.
“Uh, okay,” he conceded. “That was a little too close for comfort, you... may have a point.”
Keith scowled, pulling the baby up off his hip to rest him against his shoulder instead, here tiny fingers immediately latched onto the zipper of his jacket. “You’re supposed to be the person around here who’s GOOD with kids, Lance! We can’t both be incompetent!”
“We’re doing fine,” Lance drawled with the ease of sincerity, once again addressing the child instead of Keith, whom he reached over to tickle his chin with one finger. “Look how overprotective Mama Bear here got after just one day, huh Qu?”
A blink of confusion, before Keith gave up to ask, “Q?”
Lance’s mouth fell open like he hadn’t realized he’d spoken, and to Keith’s further confusion a light blush spread across his face as he stood up straight so as not to look at Keith or the baby. “Oh, uh. It’s just like, a nickname? It felt weird just thinking of him as ‘the baby’ all the time, but no names I could think of made sense. He’d not from Earth or Altea or really even Galra or Disith, so I kind of went with like, space name?”
That… sort of made sense. “What does Q stand for?”
Even more embarrassed. “Quasar?”
The brightest known thing in the universe. Keith snorted a laugh back up into his throat, and Lance glared at him and spat, “Well, what have YOU been calling him in your head?”
He sort of had him there. “Uh. Cookie, I guess?”
This time, both of them ended up laughing. “That’s adorable!” Lance declared with a grin.
Which of course made it Keith’s turn to blush. “Yeah, uh, Qu might be… a better name.”
When both of them descended into giggles a second time, the baby did something he had never done before. Qu smiled.
Time was… kind of starting to bleed together a little. Keith didn’t even realize the others had had enough time to leave for the day and come back again, but they informed them it was dinner time when they showed up, so. Clearly it had been all day.
Qu proved more amenable towards the rest of the crew this evening; dinner was spent plopped between Lance and Keith and no fuss was made at all (once they had Disithian food around for them to feed him.) He even let Coran take a turn at feeding him, though he was still violently opposed to being held by anyone outside his improvised parental unit. Baby steps, right?
Hunk did indeed help out with the crib, although the only solution to Qu’s climbing proclivities was indeed to add a lid to make it a baby cage. But on the plus side Qu did not seem to mind the somewhat archaic form of parental control, taking the opportunity to skitter up the side rails to hook his little claws into the top so he could hang out in the corner like a giant pink spider. That was… not creepy or anything.
Sure did make it harder to put him down for a goddamned nap, though. Qu sure had a lot of upper body strength for something that couldn’t even stand up for a full three seconds, and it seemed like every time they tried to lay him down he’d end up back on the walls in minutes. Basically, he had to be already asleep before they even went near the goddamned crib or there was no point in trying. So, another day of failure on THAT regard.
It was still only the second night, too soon to try and let the baby sleep in a room by himself. So as such back into Keith’s room all three of them went at bedtime, half because they didn’t wanna risk Qu deciding Lance didn’t smell Galra enough for comfort and half so that Keith would have someone else to force to deal with the baby crying in the middle of the night. An even split of NEITHER of them sleeping, fifty-fifty. Everyone’s a loser.
This time it was easier to fall asleep with a second person in his bed, possibly because of the removal of the small child between them, possibly because today they were both even more exhausted. If the idea of sleeping next to Lance was weird by itself then being comfortable doing so was straight-up baffling, but the warmth of another person by his side turned out to be a presence that was almost comforting instead of suffocating like it should have felt. Keith had… probably spent too much time alone, up until now.
Not that being comfortable and tired was enough to actually allow him a full night’s sleep. Keith still woke up every couple of hours with the baby, and had trouble falling back asleep even when Lance was the one who was dealing with Qu.
One of those restless dozes woke Keith up to an empty room. Tired and weirdly unable to relax with the other half of the sheets cold, Keith rolled out of bed, intent on getting a drink of water or a juice pouch or something.
It didn’t take long to run across Lance once he got up. The castle hallway carried soud and nothing else was going on this late, and Keith found himself wandering towards the source of Lance’s voice as he mumbled something to himself, or to Qu more likely. Come to think of it, it had probably been long enough that it was Keith’s turn to try and wrestle the child back to bed so Lance could try to sleep, huh?
What he found wasn’t quite what he’d expected. The muttering turned out to be not random babble but singing, and even more surprising as he approached Keith noticed the song Lance was softly serenading Qu with wasn’t in English.
Fascinated, Keith found himself stopping in the doorway before he could be noticed, watching an overworked paladin of Voltron as he rocked a sniffling child in his arms in time with his lullabye.
“Pero tú me abrazas donde estoy,” Lance’s expression was as gentle as his voice, both of them soft and sleepy and oddly... serene. Like taking care of a sleepless baby in the middle of the night wasn’t a burden, but some kind of precious opportunity to be treasured. “Y es que tú me amas tal y como soy...”
Lance really was amazing, wasn’t he? Not only was he good with children but he even enjoyed it, someone equally suited to the nursery or the battlefield. Keith would never be able to understand how he did it all, how he could be so reliable with his gun and still have time to support everyone when they were home in the castle, too. How he could be endlessly cheerful doing either one.
The gratitude welling up in him now was… not actually unfamiliar. God damn, he was lucky to have Lance around, wasn’t he? Not just for this baby shit, obviously, but out there in Voltron, too. Keith didn’t know how he’d be able to do anything without him.
At the same time though, a worrying feeling dawned as well. Keith… was probably relying on Lance a little too much lately, huh? Keith had lived his whole life being able to do everything for himself, and actively needing another person’s help like this, on a constant day-to-day basis was… probably not a good thing. Being able to do everything on his own was how he’d made it this far, wasn’t it?
He didn’t have time to dwell on the feeling, because he’d been leaning against the open doorframe long enough for Lance to notice him now. Notice and immediately get embarrassed, yelping a little and holding up the baby in his arms like Qu could protect him from potential ridicule.
Not that Keith intended to make fun of him for singing the baby to sleep. Instead he just smiled a little and strolled over, plucking Qu out of Lance’s arms to settle him against his own shoulder with a little bounce. “That was pretty,” he decided on saying. “The only songs I know are from cartoons.”
Lance’s smile was bashful. “Yeah, most of mine are, too,” he admitted as he stood up off the couch. He strolled up to look over Keith’s shoulder at Qu, so close Keith could almost feel his breath. “He stopped crying when I started singing though. I still can’t get him to sleep, but…”
But it was an idea. Lance leaned back a few inches to look Keith in the face. “What songs do you know?”
Oh… did this mean he had to sing in front of Lance? Well, crap, that was embarrassing, but Keith HAD come with the intention of taking over with Qu so he didn’t feel like he was letting Lance do everything by himself…
“When there’s trouble you know who to call,” he started hesitantly, already blushing from the audible crack in his voice as he found the tune. “From their tower they can see it all…”
He could hear Lance’s grin, very nearly a snicker. But instead of actually laughing he just quietly joined in, taking over the next verse. “When there’s evil on the attack, you can rest knowing they’ve got your back…”
Keith couldn’t help it, but he actually did laugh, short silent chuckles through his nose as he grinned.
“Cause the world needs heroes on patrol,” they both sang together, Lance standing just behind Keith as they lullabyed an alien baby with the theme song to Teen Titans.
They ran through Kim Possible, Pokemon, and three separate half-remembered songs from The Lion King before Qu finally fell asleep. And then they realized that walking back to where the god damned crib was might wake up the baby, because they’d wandered off too far away from their - from KEITH’S room.
Whatever. Either way this was easily fixable, because the Altean babycage hovered with the same technology as the plates in the kitchen, and could just be rolled in and out smoothly without jarring Qu in his sleep.
When Lance left, it was hardly the first time Keith had been alone with the baby. But something about how tired he was and the odd mood Lance had left the room in made him contemplative, and he found himself staring at Qu’s tiny sleeping face for minutes on end.
“I guess you are pretty cute, aren’t you, Cookie?” He whispered. Qu was heavy in his arms even being so small, a solid weight that felt warm and terrifyingly alive.
So small… tiny hands and tiny feet and a tiny little nose. All things that would grow bigger and bigger until he was a full-sized real person, no traces of the fragility Keith now held in his arms.
Keith wondered how big he’d get. The Galra were mostly all hugely tall, but all of the male Disith he’d seen were only about Pidge’s height. It was pretty hard to gauge where in that exorbitantly wide range he’d end up.
Qu’s mixed heritage meant that he didn’t look like any Galra or any Disith Keith had ever seen, a neutral meeting of opposing anatomies. Qu had only two arms and two eyes where most of his fatherspecies had four of each, and somehow the deep wine-like maroon of Disithian skin combined with the pale lavender of a Galra ended up a cheerful pink largely dissimilar to either color.
Oddly enough, the results of that union ended up looking oddly… human. It was unnervingly easy to think of Qu as such, even with odd colors scheme and spider-like personality; his needs and size and the sound of his little ultra-rare laugh were all... “You can’t let me get too attached to you, okay?” Keith whispered, leaning down to bury his nose in the baby’s soft soft puffy hair. “We’re still looking for a real home for you, little guy. Just because you and I have a few things in common doesn’t mean it’s a good idea for you to stick around. Neither of us can get used to this set-up, you hear me?”
Predictably, the sleeping child offered no response. Somewhere down at the end of the hallway, Keith could hear Lance’s approaching footsteps.
“And,” he whispered to Qu decisively. “Neither of us are allowed to get too attached to him, either.”
And then, what seemed like suddenly out of nowhere, negotiations were under way and they were leaving Disith. Days had passed in no time and Qu had slowly adapted to the castle and all her residents, crying less and less until he only set off when he needed something specific, and allowing the rest of the crew to touch him.
Which was good, since now that the baby wasn’t a secret from the local government they could take him out, and all together these facts added up to mean Keith was back up in his seat as Black Paladin whenever he wasn’t babysitting.
Honestly, instead of being more stress it was a relief. He had started to feel like he’d entered some weird hallucination and not real life anymore, and the daily grind of war was familiar and grounding.
And so, when they made it to Anatoray to see about the other half of the twin planets they needed in this coalition, instead of doing the reasonable thing and leaving Qu in the castle with Shiro and Coran like they genuinely did plan to for battles, Keith went ahead and just… took him with planetside. Hey, the little guy had to get used to more things than the house he’d been born in and the castle, right?
Qu did not, as it turned out, need any kind of baby sling or carrier. He’d already taken to hanging off Keith’s shoulders on his own, and all they had to do was drape Qu over his back so they were both facing the same direction and the baby would settle his little hooked claws into the paladin armor himself to cheerfully watch the new world from over Keith’s shoulder.
Alongside all that, over the last week or however long it had been Keith had taken Qu to hang out in Black multiple times, and the two had ended up spending hours in there napping together in the name of bonding. The actual idea had been for KEITH to get used to being in Black but Qu had done so as well, and the ride down from the castle to land planetside on Anatoray was entirely uneventful in all the best ways. Keith had really needed to get out and fly; he didn’t do well being cooped up like that.
Anatoray and Disith were both similar and nothing alike at the same time. They didn’t mind the presence of a half-Galra baby but wouldn’t be convinced to take him into any orphanage or foster care system, either, and it became readily apparent that finding a safe home for Qu was not going to be an easy task.
The negotiations at least went fine, since they’d gotten their sister planet first. Leaving them plenty of time to wander around the planet in the name of exploring, and plenty of opportunity to acclimate Qu to new people.
It turned out whatever had happened to leave him orphaned had been jarring but not world-shattering, because slowly Qu settled down into his new existence and proved to be, in fact, rather chill for a baby. He seemed perfectly content to hang on Keith’s shoulder and watch the goings-on of the rest of the world with interest, unbothered by the extremes and oddities he was surrounded with.
The lights didn’t bother him, the loud noises didn’t bother him, and now even the strange people coming up out of nowhere and cooing at him didn’t set him off anymore. Apparently once the entire castle proved to be safe he had figured new people must be okay after all, because the entire crowds Keith was walking them through didn’t provoke any further response than a few curious squeaks.
This was, hilariously, better than Keith himself was at dealing with people. Which he had to do. Not only as a paladin, but like also now because of Qu. Not because he had to protect or keep the kid out of trouble, but just because holding a baby apparently instantly made you SUPER popular.
“Oh, he’s so cute! You two look so much alike!” Yet another Anatoray woman was professing, leaning down to look at Qu. “It’s so sweet how you take your son with you everywhere, I’d be far too scared to take my own off planet with me!”
Keith, as he had for the other three times this had happened today, choked up with a loss of words. And Pidge, as SHE had for the other times this had happened today, found it all uproariously funny and immediately waxed poetic about his single parenthood and the long hours he’d spent caring for the infant burden by himself. She did this of course, because Keith trying to awkwardly deny all of that and backpedal out of the entire conversation was, as the other paladins agreed, universally hilarious.
What was not hilarious was in the days later on, when this exact same situation happened to Lance instead.
Or, at least Keith sure didn’t think it was fucking funny. Pidge never bothered to interfere, meaning either she agreed it was categorically unhillarious or, more likely, thought that how Lance handled things on his own was even funnier.
“Oh, he’s not my son,” Lance would answer with cheerful honesty. “I’m just helping to look after him for a little while until we find him a good home.”
At which point, of course, the alien girls that had come to fawn over a cute baby turned their attention to the handsome war hero who did not have a child. “Really? That’s so amazing!” New Girl Number Fuckin’ Fifty Or Something exclaimed, unsubtly sidling closer to Lance. “Are you taking care of him all by yourself?”
“Nah,” Lance shook his head, bouncing Qu up higher in his arms. “Everyone’s helping out, and my buddy Keith does just as much work as me.”
Which was of course, a confirmation that he was single, because god DAMN it Lance, how do you keep managing to pick up girls using a BABY?!
Keith tried, as always, to stamp down his annoyance and just shrug it off with a roll of his eyes. Admitting to himself this pissed him off would be as good as admitting he was jealous, and Keith absolutely was not, because to be jealous you had to be territorial and guess what, Lance wasn’t his boyfriend! So like, he had nothing to be mad at here, okay? Because Keith fucking knew that just because they had gotten caught up in raising Qu together didn’t mean that he had some sort of right to Lance’s time.
Even if they were, for some unspoken and unknown reason, still sharing Keith’s bed for what was a few weeks straight now.
Still, when Lance caught on to her interest and made a fumbling attempt at flirting back Keith inevitably stepped in, plucking Qu out of Lance’s arms like he had every right to do. And if he happened to give off possessive sort of vibes with his facial expression when he looked at her, that was the girl’s own fault for reading too much into things. Just Buddies, right?
Lance never seemed to actually mind when the girls skittered off anyway. Just turned that dazzling smile back on Keith and said something stupid like, “Qu sure is one suave little Casanova, isn’t he? I’m so proud I’m not even jealous.”
And Keith? Sure, yeah. Keith totally wasn’t jealous of anyone, either.
Lance, as always, kept on smiling like Keith and Qu were the only things that mattered right now, anyway.
They continued to have no luck finding anyone who could take in Qu permanently, and time just sort of… kept passing. And gradually, they all just… got used to having him around.
Routines were established, and taking care of Qu just blended in with his other responsibilities as a paladin. With all of their lives, since even split between Keith and Lance two people weren’t enough to watch a baby AND fight a space war, so it was Shiro and Coran watching him when the rest of them were out in their Lions.
Get up in the morning, only having gotten up around three times in the middle of the night to deal with an increasingly zen alien baby. Even though he was still teething so badly he needed a pacifier to prevent him from biting into his own tongue with tiny fangs he was still proving self-reliant enough that when they started paying attention to his seemingly random crying it became apparent he was actually potty training - well, did it count as training himself when it was really still a matter of whining to get attention before he soiled himself? That seemed more like he was training all of them than… anyway, it was working. And it was apparently not even all that unusual a behavior, as Coran gleefully explained that baby Allura had also hated sitting in her own waste enough to adapt a similar system.
So yeah. Get up, feed and potty-assist Qu, leaving him with Lance so Keith could go start his training early to be later joined by everyone else while Coran and Shiro took over with Qu. Which Keith imagined must be pretty fun on its own, because while Shiro had no experience with children Alteans were about five times more susceptible to Disith venom than humans because their magic catalyzed the reaction. So, you know. Back to Keith and Lance’s problem where only the panicking moron who had no idea what he was doing was really safe to actually TOUCH the baby. Except now it was funny because it wasn’t happening to Keith.
Anyway, after training was lunch, which they also all did together as a group. Unlike the period after lunch where everyone fucked off by themselves, which, since Keith had never really known what to do with himself in that time anyway involved a whole lot of playing with Qu now. Kid was starting to kick ASS at Peek-a-Boo, and never ceased to be entertained by being tossed four feet in the air like a football. Plus since he was rubber, Keith didn’t even have to worry about what would happen if he didn’t catch him.
Lance would inevitably join him and Qu after like an hour, or however long it took Lance to do whatever he did on his own every day like milking the cow or hanging out with Hunk or something. The three of them would all find something to do together after that, another game or some kind of Altean movie or Lance desperately and fruitlessly trying to teach Qu things he was still too young for like full words and standing upright. They usually had fun either way, to be honest.
Then came dinner, some kind of tactical meeting with Shiro and Allura, Keith’s turn to run off and fuck off by himself or with Pidge or Shiro, followed by some kind of potty break for Qu and his subsequent nightly bath.
This was one of the few duties he and Lance didn’t really bother trading off on, and Keith didn’t mind that one bit. It gave Lance time to go through his own excessive nightly routine while Keith and the baby quietly cleaned up in a wash basin. Or, a sink, or whatever you called this Altean claptrappery. Keith was usually fine not thinking about those kinds of semantics.
Still, as he stood there rinsing off a naked pink baby, Keith couldn’t help but think about exactly how odd his life had become.
The fact that landing in a space war was no longer the weirdest part of his life was kind of… hilarious, maybe? But turning out to be an alien himself and then picking up an alien baby definitely topped just FIGHTING aliens, that was for sure.
But the really weird part? How fast he had gotten used to it. It had been what, maybe two months since they’d found Qu and Keith was already washing a tiny alien baby dongalong without even thinking about it.
God, how had Keith adapted to this so quickly? Was it out of necessity, or just because by now he was used to the universe throwing shit at him that was objectionably unreasonable?
“Or it might just be because you’re really cool and way easier to get along with than most children,” he finished aloud to Qu as he turned off the water and pulled out a towel.
“Agmpo,” Qu said back calmly, accepting of Keith’s rants as he was of the towel vigorously rubbing through his fluffy hair.
“Yeah,” Keith agreed, wrapping Qu up in the towel and hoisting him up to move to the changing table to get some clean pants on the kid. “Lance being around to explain everything I was about to try to do wrong did go a long way in keeping you alive. He’s definitely got a lot to do with it.”
The sink and changing table were both already in the nursery, the place they’d taken to keeping Qu’s babycage once they figured out how the baby monitoring system worked and set up a feed to know when Qu woke up. He didn’t cry loudly enough for them to hear from two rooms away and they didn’t wanna just leave him to suffer in whatever misery on his own, right?
Lance still wasn’t back by the time Qu was settled in, so once Keith got to his own room he started getting ready for bed on his own. By the time Keith was changed into pajamas Lance had come in too, already starting a conversation before the door had even closed behind him.
“Maybe an entire ancient castle’s worth of moisturizer WOULD have lasted me longer if Allura didn’t keep stealing my supply! All she has to do is NOT LIE about it, it’s not like I paid for that shit to begin with, but she’s so proud she just HAS to pretend her skin looks like that naturally, which, yeah right.”
Keith smiled, biting down on his lip to stop a chuckle from escaping. “Actually, she’s not lying. I may have mentioned to Shiro that the moisturizer is how you keep healing all of your acid burns,” he admitted bashfully. “He’s only got ONE hand though, how much could he really be using?
Looking utterly betrayed, Lance groaned as he pulled off his robe to hang it up. “UGH, then that means THREE of us are using it because I know for a fact Allura’s been into it to. We need to go to a damned swap moon stat.”
Keith stood near the bed waiting for Lance, as it made no sense for him to get in bed first and make the other boy climb over him to get to his side. The second in question was kicking off his slippers and ignoring Keith’s chuckle, instead asking lightly, “Did you remember to brush your teeth?”
“Shut up, I’ve never forgotten before,” Keith lied, which was totally acceptable because he did brush his teeth tonight which was the actual accusation here.
Lance just laughed himself now, one hand landing lightly on Keith’s shoulder as Lance stepped past him to get to the bed. “Goodnight, Keith.”
And then something weird happened. So smooth it could have been choreographed, in between the moment Lance took his hand off Keith’s shoulder and the moment he climbed into the mattress he leaned in to kiss Keith on the cheek. Just one light brush of lips, half a second long before he was moving on to slip into the sheets, leaving a moment of stunned silence as Keith tried to figure out what the fuck had just happened.
Lance too, realized what he had just done at that point, because he froze mid-action, holding the blanket dumbly in the air as his head whipped around to Keith. “That wasn’t weird!” He defended loudly, eyes wide with panic. “That was a perfectly normal accident, nothing weird at all!”
Unfreezing just enough to turn bright red, Keith snapped “How do you k- do THAT on accident?!”
Flailing and blushing himself now, Lance made an attempt at looking like composed. “It’s just - I don’t know, I got too comfortable, it felt like being at home or something! I-it was like, uh, kissing my sister or little nieces before bed, you know? Family-like!”
There was no relief at the statement, just a mixture of annoyance and, Keith should probably give up and admit, disappointment. “You think of me as your sister ?”
“Oh, god, no!” Lance’s horror at the suggestion was at least gratifying, even if Keith still couldn’t help but feel his own type of horrified humiliation at the entire affair. “I said family, family could mean a lot of things! The word has a very wide definition I think you should spend some time contemplating, possibly with a dictionary while I go to bed GOODNIGHT.”
He dove under the covers and rolled to face the wall, where Keith could still see his ears and the back of his neck burning. How - how the fuck was Keith even supposed to take that?!
“...One of the definitions of family is marr-”
“IT SURE IS BED TIME, LIGHTS OFF GOOD NIGHT KEITH!” The shouted interruption activated the room’s lights, and after a few more awkward seconds of silence Keith gave up and climbed in bed, too.
The sheets were cool and Lance was too far away to feel his body heat, maybe a foot of space between them on the bed. It was the same foot of space that was always between them, and tonight it felt more like a gulf.
What the hell were they doing? Why was Lance still sleeping in his bed? Why hadn’t Keith ever said anything about it? He felt stupid and confused and indescribably lonely, no idea how to act or what he and Lance’s relationship even was at this point. God, why did Lance have to do that? Why couldn’t he have just let Keith keep pretending this was normal so they wouldn’t have to talk about it?
Both of them were laying on their sides facing the wall, where Keith could watch the blush slowly fade from the back of Lance’s neck under the blue glow of the room’s just-dim-enough-not-to-leave-you-blind lighting. After what felt like hours, he found himself scooting forward inch by inch, close enough to curl one hand into the fabric of Lance’s shirt. Close enough for Keith to press his forehead against Lance’s back.
He didn’t know when he fell asleep, but when he woke up later on towards morning Lance had flipped onto his back. One arm had somehow wormed its way under Keith’s back, where he was still on his side and now resting his head in Lance’s armpit.
It wasn’t the most comfortable way wake up tangled with someone, but. Over the next few nights they got the hang of it.
When it finally happened, it had been so many months since they’d picked up Qu that Keith had actually forgotten that was still their goal.
But then all of the sudden in the middle of a tactical meeting with the Blade, Kolivan caught sight of Qu crawling up Allura’s shoulder through the video feed.
“Is that - is that a small child?” It was hard to read his facial expression with Galra eyes, but the bafflement was clear in his voice.
Allura chuckled bashfully, pulling Qu off from where he’d been attempting to scale her hair like a rope net. “Ah, yes. He’s rather fond of getting his fingers into my hair, I’m afraid.” Keith saw the thought occur to her that that probably hadn’t been what confused him when she blinked, and she went on to explain, “We found him orphaned a few planets ago. One of his parents was a Galra, so we have been having some difficulty in locating a permanent home for him.”
“Ah,” Kolivan’s face and tone changed to one of understanding. “We should be able to provide some assistance with that, actually. This is hardly the first half-Galran child in our organization’s history, after all.”
It was in fact Keith who reacted to that, because uhhh back that thought up a bit. Like, eighteen or nineteen years , a bit. “Wait, what? You mean my mom could have just left me with you guys instead of alone on Earth?”
The comment left not only Kolivan uncomfortable, but the rest of the room on whole, as well. “Uh, Keith…” Shiro tried delicately.
“I… don’t know anything about that,” Kolivan tried.
“I could have had a family this whole time! A whole ARMY full of Galran uncles!”
“Well - we have safehouses actually, we would get in contact with one of them, rather than…”
“THAT’S STILL MORE FAMILY THAN I HAD!"
The safehouse, when they arrived, looked actually… pretty nice, Keith had to begrudgingly admit. Not that he was still bitter about his own childhood, as much as he was worried about Qu’s future. He’d gotten rather attached to the little guy after all, and he and Lance were hardly gonna agree to leave him anywhere that wasn’t gonna be a good home for him, right?
But it was in a normal city on a normal planet, with people of all different races and no reason to notice one pink baby. The house wasn’t crowded either, just a couple adults watching a handful of children, nicer than any foster home Keith had lived in during his own childhood.
It was… basically perfect. Keith certainly couldn’t think of any better qualifications in looking for a home for Qu, and so… Well. It looked like tomorrow when they all left this planet they’d be leaving Qu behind, too.
Keith… didn’t want to think about that. He just wanted to spend as much of tonight with Qu as possible, and enjoy the last few hours they were allowed together.
Lance was there for all of it as well. The three of them pretty much closed off for the night, hiding away from the others to monopolize Qu. Not that they could think of anything eventful to do - they pretty much played with Qu the entire time. Stupid things like rolling a soft ball between them for Qu to try and grab at as it passed him, and Lance dressing up Qu in all of the cutest baby outfits he could find and making Keith take pictures with his phone. It was truly time well spent, and the Red Lion onsie was definitely Keith’s favorite picture.
As nice as it would have been for it to last, the evening took no time at all to turn into night. They didn’t even bother pretending to take him to the nursery, just brought Qu straight into Keith’s room with them for bedtime. No words were spoken between them as they got ready and climbed into bed, and even Qu’s friendly babble was near nonexistent tonight.
Keith couldn’t bring himself to lie down right away. Just sat on the edge of the bed with Qu in his arms, not even self-conscious about Lance’s figure hovering behind him.
Oh, it was gonna be hard to go back after this. Nevermind just missing Quasar, Keith wasn’t even gonna know what to do with himself. So much of his day had become spending time with Qu… and with Lance.
God, and Lance! It was gonna be so weird between them from now on, Keith wasn’t even going to know how to interact with the other paladin after this, and it would get so awkward when they had finally gotten so close…
Any pretenses they had left for sleeping in the same bed would be gone. Did that mean Lance would finally go back to his own room? Not only was he gonna lose Qu but he was going to go back to being completely alone and he just… It was gonna be hard to go back to being lonely again when he’d been enjoying Qu and Lance’s company so much.
Lance’s hand landed on his shoulder, both comforting and depressing at the same time. “You know,” he started hesitantly, leaning in close enough to be talking into Keith’s hair. “You know we don’t have to give him to those people in the safehouse. Tonight doesn’t have to be goodbye.”
Keith’s body tensed, heart seizing in his chest. “Lance… you know we can’t. He… We’re in the middle of fighting a war. We can’t take care of him, can’t protect him when the castle is constantly caught up in battle.”
“We’ve been taking care of him so far,” Lance insisted, and Keith could hear the emotion straining his voice. “It’s been nearly half a year and he’s perfectly happy with us, isn’t he?”
Keith just shook his head, a shudder racking his chest. “He’s better off here, I know it. He’ll have a normal home and a…” He wasn’t gonna cry, damn it. “A family, parents and siblings and everything.”
Lance’s hand slid down from his shoulder to cover Keith’s own hand, where he hadn’t noticed he’d been digging his fingers into the bedsheets. “He’s already got a huge family right here, Keith. Yeah, we can’t give him other kids his age, but…”
After a short pause, Keith anxiously prompted, “But what, Lance? In what way could he possibly be better off here with us?”
Lance’s fingers weaved in between Keith’s, a reassuringly firm grip. “Because there’s no one in the universe who could possibly love him as much as you and I do.”
The sob racked Keith’s body, even when he managed to bite his tongue into silence. Cradled in his left arm, Qu blinked up at Keith with curious black-and-yellow eyes, looking mildly concerned. “Lance… please. This is already hard enough.”
“I’m sorry,” Lance apologized without hesitation. “If you don’t think it’s a good idea, then I’m not gonna pressure you. I promise I’ll support you no matter what happens tomorrow.”
Keith tightened his hold on he and Lance’s wound fingers. “Thank you…”
“And,” Lance let go of Keith’s hand just long enough to turn his palm around for him, re-winding their fingers into a more secure and even-sided hold. “Even after Qu is gone, the two of us will still have each other, right?”
Another dry shudder shook Keith’s body, Lance nosed Keith’s hair away from the back of his neck to press his lips to the notch above Keith’s spine.
“Yes,” Keith agreed, swallowing down a thick nothingness in his throat. “We will.”
Even lying down, they didn’t move very far out of that position. Qu, curious but sedate as Keith cradled him against his chest, and Lance pressed up against Keith’s back to wind long arms around them both at the same time.
Keith barely slept that night.
By the next morning when it was time to give Qu to the nice half-Galra fostermom, Keith had his emotions under control. He could handle this, really. It was just a baby that wasn’t even really his, it had been fun for a while but they all knew they were gonna find a real home for him eventually, right?
It was, nonetheless and no matter what Keith told himself, devastatingly difficult just to physically hand Qu over to her. It was just - they’d BONDED, okay? Keith wasn’t good at saying goodbye to people he’d gotten close to. Just look at what had happened to him both of the times Shiro had disappeared.
Unsurprisingly, Qu’s response to being handed off to a complete stranger was mild concern at best, staring with interest at the face of his new mother with a single confused, “Ueh?”
Keith not having been the only one who’d grown fond of the little guy at this point, all the others took this time to say their goodbyes. Even Pidge, who’d been vehemently opposed to the idea of being left alone with Qu for weeks, stopped to poke his cheeks and ruffle his hair before they parted.
And then all of the sudden there was just… nothing left to stall with. With one last promise they’d come by and visit him as often as they could, everyone was just… gonna leave now. Without Qu. Who they were trusting with a complete stranger they knew nothing about and whom knew nothing about taking care of him.
“He’s moving past soft food onto solids now,” Keith couldn’t stop himself from announcing. “But his teeth still hurt a lot of the time, so if he starts crying and you can’t figure out why, try cooling his pacifier to sooth his gums, okay?”
“Alright, alright,” the safehouse mother agreed warmly. “Don’t worry, I know all about teething Galra babies.”
All of the others had already started to turn around to head back towards the castle, paused by Keith’s inability to let go. Shit… okay, he had no choice, right? It was… time to go.
He turned around to join pace with the others, Lance falling back a step to grab onto Keith’s hand to give it a comforting squeeze.
It was fine. This was fine! Qu was just a baby, he’d forget all about Keith and Lance and everyone else before he could even form words, It’d be like… they never existed at all. Which was good. Because this way Qu wouldn’t be able to miss them. It would just be, you know. Keith and all of the rest of them who missed Qu.
Oh… except he probably wouldn’t keep that name, huh? They’d mentioned that’s what they called him, but it would make more sense to give him a local name so he’d blend in, right? And really, Keith would never even know what his new name was unless they managed to find time to come see him, which… How long would THAT take? Years from now?
It really was going to be better to just… let go right here and now. Keith was better off forgetting about Qu right here, like Qu was gonna… forget about him. It’s not like they could really keep him, it’s not like Keith could actually be his parent…
They had only made it maybe ten steps away when Keith heard it. A distressed whimper that made him stop dead in his tracks, and when no one turned around it escalated into full-on wailing.
Qu, calm and patient and curious, who even when he needed something only ever whined and sniffled, was full on sobbing like the first days they’d found him. Because they were walking away. Because Keith was walking away and Qu knew he was being abandoned.
“Nope,” Keith choked on the word, eyes stinging. “No, I can’t do it.”
He felt his friend’s eyes all turn to him but Keith was already whipping around, breaking off from Lance’s hand to storm back to the safehouse. “I can’t do it, give him back.”
The woman holding Qu looked beyond confused, and from behind him Keith could hear Shiro’s exasperated voice warning, “Keith…”
“Uh, excuse me?” The baffled matron asked, she and Qu both watching him storm back over to them.
“Give me back my son, damn it!” Keith demanded, all but snatching Qu from her bemused but offering arms.
Cradling the now-calming Qu to his chest and whispering apologies into his hair, Keith looked up to shoot a challenging glare at his friends, daring them to argue with him against this.
Coran and Hunk of course looked delighted, and Pidge was only rolling her eyes. Not even Shiro and Allura looked truly disapproving, just probably dreading the amount of work this was going to make their lives from now on. But there were, as it was, no actual objections to Keith’s obvious intent.
And Lance of course, was already dashing up to Keith with sparkling eyes and a dazzling grin, scooping both Keith and therefore Qu into his arms with such enthusiasm that he actually lifted them off the ground.
Keith didn’t even have the heart to scold him, just breaking out into a laugh as Lance pressed a flurry of kisses into his cheek.
This was, he knew, in no way shape or form a good idea. But Keith also knew it was one he would never regret.
“Mf,” Keith hummed, breaking off the kiss. “Are you sure we have time?”
Lance was undeterred, moving to his kiss his jawline and neck, stopping to lick at an old scar from the time a few years ago when Keith almost had his throat slit. “Yeah, I’m sure,” he promised breathily. “Qu’s down for the night, all our meetings are over, and we have an entire hour before bed where no one’s going to come looking for us. ”
Keith shivered, whole body warming under Lance’s hands. “That can’t be true. We haven’t had a full hour to ourselves since the honeymoon.”
“I’m not sure we DID get an hour to ourselves during the honeymoon,” Lance laughed, fingers squirming down the hem of Keith’s pants to tickle bare skin.
“What’s a honeymoon?” Qu asked, voice small and inquisitive over Keith’s shoulder.
Lance and Keith tripped over each other in their hurry to detach, whipping around looking for the errant four-year-old casually hanging of the high wall by the spines on his back.
“What- how did you - why aren’t you in bed?!” Lance eventually demanded, scrambling to grab the stick they used to pry their child off the wall when they couldn’t reach him.
Qu dropped down to be caught easily in Lance’s arms, already heading towards the door with him. “Were you guys kissing again? Why do you do that?”
“Because it’s how parents have fun!” Lance answered hurriedly, opening the door and plopping Qu on his feet outside it. “Okay, now run off to bed! You dads need to uh, go to sleep early tonight!”
Qu blinked curiously, sticking his thumb in his mouth and staring up at Lance as the door slammed shut in front of him.
Keith paused. “Uh, is it really okay to just put him outside like a cat?”
“He wandered over here like a cat, didn’t he? He can find his way back,” Lance assured, re-pinning Keith to the wall. “I haven’t touched you in weeks, Keith. I understand that our lives aren’t destined for teenage-style sexathons, but we didn’t get married NOT to get sexy. I want my one hour a fortnight, damn it.”
Yeah… Keith hadn’t gotten married NOT to have sex either, that was for sure. “We’ve done worse things in raising him. Lock the door and take off your pants.”
Lance did so immediately. There was a flurry of movement as the two of them disrobed, not willing to go as far away as breaking their embrace to get their clothes off. But eventually they succeeded, and then there was finally the blessed slide of bare skin on bare skin. Flushed, heated bare skin, rough under Keith’s hands in some places and so so soft in others, and it was so nice to finally have a moment to relax like this…
Which is why of course, it was exactly that moment the alarms went off.
“Oh, COME ON!” Keith groaned, head falling against Lance’s shoulder. “You’ve gotta be shitting me!”
“Why…” Lance’s voice was so thick with frustration it was practically a sob. “Why doesn’t the universe want us to get laid?”
Keith’s head thumped back against the wall, hard. “Because we chose parenthood.”
Lance sighed. “At least it’ll be faster to get our paladin suits on with no pants on.”