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all roads lead home to you

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The first time Shiro meets Keith is in the alley behind the convenience store, in the town near the Garrison. Shiro’s just gone round back to toss something in the dumpster, but Keith’s behind that same dumpster changing out of dust-covered jeans and a red jacket, and back into his uniform. Shiro knows two things off the bat:

One -- this boy is a cadet, and cadets aren’t allowed off Garrison grounds outside of school events or officially sanctioned business, and

Two -- this boy isn’t here for either of those reasons, and he knows that Shiro knows this.

Keith stares at Shiro like a deer caught in headlights. Shiro looks at Keith and wonders what kind of cadet had the gall to leave the Garrison when Iverson is on roll call duty tonight.

(But he has to admit, he’s pretty impressed.)

Keith books it out the other end of the alley before Shiro can ask for his name or assure this kid that he’s not going to tell. Especially since Shiro has no room to talk, not after he’d wrangled Matt into helping him switch out the sugar for salt in the officers’ break room.

 

Shiro finds the kid in one of the training gyms three days later, and this time gets to explain himself before Keith  -- Keith Kogane, that Keith, the one who’s been racking up increasingly high scores on the simulators and threatening Shiro’s personal record -- before Keith books it again or forcibly tries to give him amnesia.

Keith calms down pretty quickly after that.

It turns out that Keith had been sneaking out a few nights a month to (illegally) compete in (illegal) hoverbike races. And winning. Shiro is doubly impressed.

 

The first time Matt Holt meets Keith -- really meets him, and doesn’t just see him in passing -- is seven months after that. It’s almost immediately clear just what Shiro sees in this scrappy kid -- he’s reckless to a fault, stubborn as hell, single-minded in his determination, and terrifyingly skilled. But it’s only later that Matt learns two things that have really drawn Shiro in: that Keith has a personal creed that he abides by above all things, and that Keith has a sense of righteousness to rival Shiro’s.

Matt sees Keith, and sees the way Shiro looks at Keith, and understands.

 

 

Months, years, and millions of miles across the galaxies later -- Matt finds himself wishing to the high heavens that Keith wasn’t all the things that had made Shiro fall in love with him.

 

 

Keith rams the thrusters of his fighter up to full throttle without hesitation, trajectory dead on for the shield covering Haggar’s ship. One of his wings is almost out of commission. Matt knows this, Matt sees this, and there must be some other way to break the shield, some miracle, because no--

“Wait, Keith-- what are you doing?”

Keith shuts down the communication feed. Brings his ship around a wide curve, picking up momentum.

“Keith no--”

 

(And on Voltron, caught up in the desperation to clear the blast radius, Shiro doesn’t know--)

 

With all the crossfire and chaos around him, Matt knows it’s not possible to distinctly hear the force of impact. But when the fighter smashes into the shield, he feels the collision ricochet through him like a gunshot.

A ripple of force runs through the shield, causes a violent quake to rock the whole Galra ship. A heartbeat later, the shield shatters.

In the ensuing debris and laser fire, Matt loses sight of Keith’s ship. He screws his eyes shut, telling himself there’s still hope, there’s still a chance. Begging for a miracle.

 

The Galra ship warps out before they can take it down completely.

Naxella immediately shuts down.

The rebel force bursts into triumphant, relieved cheers. Matt can hear Shiro’s voice amid the commotion on the communications feed, congratulating everyone.

 

 

Keith’s ship is gone.

 

 

(Please, no.)

 

The return to the Altean castle feels almost like it’s on autopilot. Matt stumbles out of his ship into the too-bright lights of the hangar, feeling like someone else is moving his body. The joyful tumult of the other rebels feels surreal, like he’s hearing it all through murky water.

Then someone shouts “Voltron’s here!” and the ice crackles in his lungs.

 

The Paladins tumble out of their Lions, exhausted but jubilant. Lance has Hunk in a grip that’s more headlock than hug. Allura has her arm around Pidge and is wiping tears from her eyes. Shiro--

(How does he say this, how does he tell them, how could he tell them--)

 

 

Pidge is the first to notice. Matt is her brother, of course she notices. Matt is standing there still as stone and Pidge looks at him and -- something is wrong.

When she stops, everyone else does too.

“Pidge?” Allura asks, soft and concerned.

 

Shiro’s still half-laughing at Lance and Hunk’s antics when he follows Pidge’s line of sight and sees his friend.

“Matt!” There is a moment before Shiro processes the way Matt looks: silent and shattered. He frowns, then looks around. “Hey, where’s Keith?”

 

(How does he say this -- when he knows that that boy is the world to Shiro; when he knows that Shiro looks at Keith and sees the sun; when he knows just how hard Shiro had fought to return to Keith; what does he say?

Keith knew that if we’d kept shooting we’d never have made it, so he did the one thing he knew would work.

When he’s the only one who knows that Keith had saved a galaxy.

What does he say?)

 

Matt has been quiet too long, and the dread morphs Shiro’s expression, turns joy to horrified understanding (and pleading; Shiro doesn’t even have to say anything; Matt knows he’s thinking please no--)

Matt looks at Shiro, and sees the soft splintering of Shiro’s world, and hates everything around him.

 

All he can bring himself to say is “I’m sorry.”

 

 

Shiro is running back to his Lion before anyone else can even react.

He’s out of the castle before anyone can call his name.

 

 

Black tears through the debris field left from the battle, dodging chunks of ship and asteroid. There are splinters and ice in Shiro’s lungs as he looks and looks, desperate, terrified.

(Keith isn’t gone, it’s a lie, it’s not true, Keith is there if Shiro looks Keith will still be there--)

Shiro shuts his eyes tightly and searches the connection he knows is still there, has to still be there, but the sheer force of emptiness slams into his chest.

Where Keith should be in his head is just -- nothing.

(It’s not true, if Shiro looks Keith will still be there.)

 

The Lion finds Keith before Shiro spots him.

The mask of his suit is up, but Shiro still knows it’s him. He’s surrounded by what looks like the remains of his ship, floating amid the wreckage.

Out in space, among the debris, Keith looks so -- small.

 

(Keith under the night sky of the desert, looking up at all the stars, asking how do you not feel so small with all that universe out there? Keith’s shoulder against his, so warm.)

 

His body is frighteningly still. Shiro cannot breathe.

 

Black picks Keith up so carefully, a sharp contrast to how Shiro grips her controls so hard his knuckles are white (because he can feel the tremors under his skin, in his bones). He races back to the castle, praying to whatever gods are out there that they’ll make it in time.

Shiro carries Keith off the Lion and into the medbay himself.

(Let him still be okay, let me have been on time, please, let us still have time, please--)

 

 

Shiro’s hands shake as he places Keith into the cryopod, gently, carefully.

(He doesn’t want to let go. There is a fear sinking claws into his heart, that if he lets go then Keith will really be gone.)

The pod closes over Keith, seals him inside. Allura pulls up a screen to check Keith’s vitals.

“He’s still alive,” she says, so quietly. It echoes through Shiro like a lightning strike.

(He’s still here, he’s still here, he’s still here, he’s still here)

 

Hours turn into days and inside the pod Keith is still unmoving, still not waking up. Allura tells everyone to give it time, that Keith had been badly injured and it will take a while to heal. It does little to dissuade the impatience and distress that threatens to suffocate them.

The castle is quiet, so quiet.

The rest of the team tries to get Shiro to get some proper sleep, eat something decent. Lance offers to trade shifts keeping watch for when Keith wakes up. Hunk and Coran bring him food goo. Pidge just puts her hand on his shoulder and squeezes, red-rimmed eyes on the pod. Allura checks and rechecks Keith’s vitals, teeth worrying at her lip.

Shiro leans against the pod opposite Keith’s, and waits.

(He has to be here when Keith wakes up, because he will, he’s still here, Keith is still here. But Shiro is so scared to leave.)

 

Matt just sits with him, watching and waiting. Shiro can read Matt’s apology in the drop of his shoulders, can see the weight of Matt’s guilt (because Matt feels like he should have stopped Keith somehow, shouldn’t have let it happen.)

It’s okay, Shiro thinks; he’s too drained to say the actual words, but he trusts Matt to feel it in the way Shiro leans against him, just a little. I forgive you.

It’s not Matt’s fault.

(It’s not Shiro’s fault, either, but he feels guilty as well, anyway.)

 

 

Keith had spent over a year on his own, believing that Shiro was dead, somewhere out in space.

Shiro has spent six days sitting in the medbay, wondering if Keith will wake up.

He tries to imagine it, taking how he feels and spreading it across hundreds of days, thinking Keith would no longer come back.

 

 

At its coldest, Kerberos could fall to minus-233° Celsius.

Inside of Shiro’s heart, there is ice.

 

After nine days, Keith opens his eyes.

Shiro is there to catch him as the pod opens and he slumps out.

 

(Keith is here, Keith is alive, Keith is still here, Keith is still here -- everything he’s been telling himself over the past days to stay sane, stay hopeful.)

 

Shiro stands there, holding Keith steady, and Keith blinks the dizziness from his eyes and looks up.

“Shiro?”

(Like when he’d shown up at Keith’s dorm room to ask if Keith wanted to go for a ride out to the desert; like when they’d said goodbye before Kerberos; like when Keith had found him in a tent, crash-landed on Earth. Like every time Keith has said his name and made it sound like starlight.)

Keith is here, Keith is still here.

Shiro thinks of everything he’d thought of while waiting -- how could you do that to us (to me), you shouldn’t have done that (you almost left me), why do you always have to be so reckless (too selfless), there would have been another way (where I wouldn’t have to lose you).

He swallows it all down.

 

“Keith.”