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These Nightmares Always Hang On Past The Dream

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"Shiro? Are you in there?"

It's time for breakfast, but when Keith went down to the dining hall, Shiro wasn't there. Shiro's been an early riser for as long as Keith has known him, and if anything, he's only been getting up earlier since they've gone out into space. Their current routine may be new, but still, Shiro being late to breakfast is a strange enough occurrence that Keith thinks it warrants some investigation. He might be being a bit paranoid, but he's only just gotten Shiro back, and he'll be damned if he lets anything happen to him ever again.

Shiro's door is closed, and there's no reaction when Keith knocks on it, but if he strains his ears he thinks he can hear a noise from inside. "Shiro?" he asks again. "Are you okay?"

Again, there's no response, but Keith hears a faint noise that sounds almost... hurt? Or distressed? Any ideas of giving Shiro his privacy and not entering without permission fly out of Keith's head immediately, and he opens the door as quickly as he can.

There's no one but Shiro in the room, which at least dismisses a few fears, but it doesn't explain where the noises were coming from. Nor does it explain why, to Keith's surprise, Shiro is still asleep.

As Keith takes a step forward, he notices that the sleep looks far from peaceful. Shiro's brow is furrowed, and his blankets are disturbed in a way that Keith knows means he's been tossing and turning. Of the two of them, Shiro was never the one who was prone to nightmares, but given everything that happened with his year as a Galra prisoner, Keith's not entirely surprised to see that's changed.

Shiro always woke Keith up from his nightmares, and as Shiro lets out another pained noise, Keith figures he owes it to him to repay the favor.

"Shiro?" he says, taking another step closer. "Shiro, it's okay. You're in the Castle of Lions, on Arus. We're all safe."

There's no response, and Shiro looks no closer to waking, so Keith puts a hand on Shiro's shoulder and shakes lightly.

In retrospect, that was a horrible idea.

Pain explodes across Keith's left cheekbone. It's agony, and for a moment, all Keith can think of is the time when he was thirteen and he talked back to his foster father and got punched in the face for it. His foster father's ring had broken the skin across his cheekbone, and his fist had left a bruise that lasted for weeks.

This is even worse.

Shiro's Galra fist is stronger than any human's could be. Keith thinks his cheekbone might be fractured, and it hurts almost too much to think. Despite that, Keith finds himself scanning the room to figure out the best way out that keeps him out of Shiro's reach the whole time. He doesn't need to do this, he tells himself firmly, Shiro's not going to hurt him, but his heart is pounding and his fight-or-flight response has picked flight.

"Keith?" Shiro says after a moment. His voice is confused and small, but it's enough to send Keith's already pounding heart into overdrive, and before he has the chance to tell himself to calm down already, he's fled the room.

He doesn't get far before his legs give out and he crumples to his knees, pressing his fist against his mouth. Stay quiet, a part of his mind whispers, don't let him hear you, get out of here so he can't find you-

Keith shakes his head like it'll dislodge the thoughts. It doesn't, but it does send a fresh wave of pain through his cheek. He touches his cheekbone lightly and immediately bites down on his knuckle to prevent from making a pained noise. If his cheekbone really is fractured, which seems likely, Keith thinks this is probably more than he can deal with on his own. Normally, he'd try anyway, but he's not going to be able to hide the bruise, and it hurts. Any other time, he'd go to Shiro for something like this, but no matter how many times he tells himself Shiro didn't mean it, the memory of Shiro's fist slamming into his face is still too fresh. Anyway, Shiro's first aid skills are about as basic as Keith's, so a fractured cheekbone is probably above his pay grade.

He'll go to Coran, Keith decides after a moment. He doesn't know the eccentric alien very well, but he hasn't done anything to make Keith uncomfortable so far, and he was the one who tended to the Galra prisoners that Shiro and Pidge rescued. If anyone would know about the medical treatment available in this weird castle, it would be him.

Now, it's just a matter of finding Coran, preferably without running into any of the others. Keith forces himself to stand, then slowly starts towards the bridge. It seems as good a place to start as any. If Coran's not there, he might be in the engine room, but Keith's not entirely certain he remembers where that is, so the bridge will have to be first.

For once, Keith is lucky; he doesn't run into anyone else on his way to the bridge, and Coran is there when he steps through the doors.

"Ah!" Coran cries, turning around. "Number Four, what do you- By the ancients!"

Keith's hand raises to his cheek self-consciously. It's already swelling a bit, and he's sure it's red.

"Keith, my boy, what happened?" Coran demands, rushing forward. Keith takes an automatic step backwards and Coran stops immediately. "Can I take a look?" he asks, his voice suddenly much gentler.

"I- I tripped," Keith stammers. "I- It was an accident." He probably doesn't have to lie, he can probably tell the truth, but his instincts scream at him to come up with a story, and come up with one fast.

"It's alright," Coran says soothingly. "Can I take a look at it?"

Keith nods. Coran walks up to him slowly, his gloved fingers gingerly brushing against Keith's swollen cheekbone. Keith flinches, and Coran pulls his hands away immediately.

"It looks like the bone is fractured," Coran tells him softly. "Let me take you down to the infirmary to get it all sorted."

Keith nods once, sharply. He follows Coran to the infirmary in silence. Coran doesn't speak either, and Keith may not have known him for very long, but he gets the feeling that's unusual.

"Alright," Coran says when they reach the infirmary. "How long does it normally take for human bones to heal?"

"Six weeks or so," Keith replies, then winces. Moving any part of his face hurts.

"Hmm," Coran replies. "Well, I'm not sure how long a week is, but I've got some cream that should get this healed in about a movement. I would normally pop you into one of the pods, but they're, ah, not at their best, I'm afraid. I guess that's what happens when a castle like this is left alone for ten thousand years!"

Keith isn't quite sure what a movement is, but anything to help heal his cheekbone sounds good. "Okay."

"Now, let me find you something for the pain," Coran says, digging around in a cabinet. "Just got to make sure it's not too strong for you. Hmm, maybe this will work."

"I-" Keith winces again. He's not altogether fond of the idea of trying weird alien painkillers that may or may not be too strong for him, but his cheekbone really hurts.

"Here we are," Coran says, pulling out a small bottle. "This shouldn't be too strong. Let's give it a try, shall we?"

Keith takes the pill that Coran hands him, then looks down at it blankly. It looks too big to swallow, but he's not going to make any assumptions with aliens.

"Just pop it in your mouth and chew!" Coran says, so that answers that question. "Should start working in a dobosh or two!"

Keith puts the pill in his mouth and carefully bites down on it. It makes his mouth tingle a little, and within a minute, the pain is gone.

"Is it working, then?" Coran asks.

"Yeah," Keith says, inwardly marveling. The painkiller erased the pain entirely, so not even a single trace of it remains.

"Good," Coran says. He pulls out a small tub of cream. "This is for your cheek. You need to put it on twice a quintant, and you should be better in about a movement!"

"Quintant?" Keith repeats.

Coran frowns. "Hmm. Put it on when you wake up, and before you go to sleep."

"Twice a day," Keith says, nodding.

"Day? Is that what they say on Earth?" Coran asks. "Well, we call it a quintant. And a movement is five quintants."

Keith nods again. "Thanks."

"Can I show you how to put the cream on?" Coran asks. "You need to massage it in a little. It's easier to demonstrate than explain."

"Okay," Keith says, although he feels his heartbeat speed up a little.

Coran pulls off one of his gloves and opens the tub. He smears some cream on two of his fingers, then slowly and gently massages it onto Keith's cheek. "Hopefully catching it this early will keep you from bruising too badly," he says. "Do Earthlings bruise?"

"Yeah," Keith says, watching Coran as he continues to gently rub the cream onto Keith's skin.

"Well, that should do it," Coran says, pulling his hand back and wiping the cream off his fingers. "Remember, twice a quintant. And take these" - he hands Keith the bottle of painkillers - "once a quintant for as long as it keeps hurting. If they're not enough, you can find me and we'll figure something else out, alright?"

"Okay," Keith says, taking the pot of cream and the painkillers. "Uh, thanks."

"My pleasure!" Coran replies. Keith turns to leave when Coran adds, "Ah, and Number Four, one last thing."

Keith turns, trying to push his paranoia down into submission. Coran isn't going to do anything to him, he's fine, he doesn't need to worry.

"Yeah?"

"That bruise," Coran says carefully. "It doesn't look like something you'd get from tripping."

Keith's heart goes into double time. "I-"

"No one here is hurting you, are they?" Coran asks gently.

"He- It was my fault. Shiro- He was having a nightmare, and I woke him up, and-"

"I understand," Coran says, taking a slow step forward. "I just wanted to make sure you were safe, my boy. Nothing to worry about."

Keith nods jerkily. "I- I'm gonna-"

He flees.

He just needs a minute to sit and calm himself down. He's fine, he knows he's safe here, he needs to get it together already.

Keith goes to his bedroom and shuts the door, then locks it for good measure. He leans against the door and slides down until he's sitting on the floor, the tub of cream still in one hand and the painkillers still in the other. His breaths are ragged and his heart is pounding. The pills rattle in their bottle as his hand shakes.

He's fine. He's fine. He's fine.


The Galra throws Shiro across the arena and he hits the ground with a grunt. He gets up quickly, circling, waiting for his opponent to make another move. The huge Galra is stronger than him, even with his new prosthetic, but Shiro is faster and smarter. He can win this-

"Shiro-" someone says, and since when do they know his name?

Something grabs his shoulder and Shiro swings automatically, his fist slamming into the Galra's face. Except, wait, the Galra is in front of him, and that didn't feel like punching a Galra, it felt like-

It felt like punching a human.

Shiro's eyes fly open. He's in his room in the Castle of Lions, he's not in the arena, and the person he punched is-

"Keith?"

Keith looks at him, eyes huge and terrified, then he runs out of the room.

Shiro almost runs after him, but he stops himself at the last second, running a hand through his hair. Being followed is the last thing Keith will want. Shiro remembers how skittish he used to be, how skittish he still can be, no matter how much he covers it with anger and bravado. Keith has too much experience being hit by people he should be able to trust, and if Shiro pursues him now, he's just going to look like another one of those people.

He is another one of those people.

He didn't mean to hit Keith, he never would have done it if he weren't in the midst of a nightmare, but that doesn't change what happened. Shiro punched him, right in the face, with his Galra arm. He hit hard enough to break bone. He hit Keith hard enough to break bone.

If Keith's not off having a panic attack somewhere, Shiro would be very surprised.

And it's all his fault.

Miserable, Shiro gets up and gets dressed in his Paladin armor. He's sure he's missed most of breakfast, given what time it is, but that's alright. He's not really in the mood to talk to people right now. And he should give Keith his space, so he doesn't make him uncomfortable. Keith probably won't want to be anywhere near him, and Shiro doesn't blame him in the least.

He goes down to the dining hall and slinks into the kitchen. "Shiro!" Lance calls when he sees him. "Hey, what's up? And, uh, where's Keith? I think he went to find you or something."

"I'm not sure where Keith is," Shiro says, which isn't technically a lie. "I just overslept."

"Ah, cool," Lance replies. "I mean, we've all been there, am I right?"

Shiro nods as he gets himself a bowl of food goo. He doesn't go out into the dining hall, but nor does Lance.

"So," Lance says, leaning against the counter. Shiro bites back a sigh. Normally, he doesn't mind Lance's blatant hero-worship, but normally he doesn't feel so wretchedly undeserving of it. "What's the plan for training today?"

Shiro had forgotten all about training. He and Keith won't be able to avoid each other after all. For a moment, he considers leaving Allura in charge of training and taking the day off, but Allura being in charge of training only makes everyone (including Allura, although she won't admit it) miserable. It's not a very good apology to Keith.

Then again, maybe Keith will take training off. Shiro hit him hard. Even thinking about it is nauseating, but Shiro's pretty sure he could have broken Keith's cheekbone. It's a solid excuse to skip training.

Lance is still babbling something about training, and Shiro makes an effort to pay attention to what he's saying. He refocuses as Lance announces, "And I'd like to work on my sharpshooting more. Ya know, I'm pretty good with balloon darts. I mean, I won my little sister a big stuffed lion once. Huh, lion, that's kinda ironic. Anyway, I'm good with balloon darts, but I've never fired a gun before in my life, so I should probably practice with my bayard a bit."

"Bayard practice sounds like a good idea," Shiro says. "Good thinking, Lance."

Lance's face lights up. "Really?"

Shiro can't help but give him a small smile. "Really."

"Cool! I'll, ah-" Lance jerks his thumb towards the doorway. "Gotta get in my armor for training! I'll tell the others too, if I see them."

"Thanks," Shiro replies. "I'll head to the training room once I'm done eating."

"Cool," Lance says again, aiming finger guns at Shiro. "See you then, fearless leader!"

Shiro's smile falls the second Lance leaves the room. He picks at his food goo, which he normally doesn't even want to eat at the best of times, and forces himself, mouthful by mouthful, to eat it. Then, once he's finished the bowl and put it in the weird space dishwasher that only Coran and Hunk can make work, he heads to the training deck.

Lance is there in his armor, along with Hunk and Pidge. "Shiro!" he calls brightly. "We're all ready!"

"Except Keith hasn't shown up yet," Pidge mutters.

"I told him it was time for training," Lance says, crossing his arms over his chest. "Not my fault if he decides to blow it off."

"We'll get started without him, then," Shiro says. "He can join us when he gets here."

Shiro's just setting up some target boards for Lance, Pidge, and Hunk when Keith enters the training room. He's not even the one to notice. Lance is, with a loud exclamation.

"Mullet, what happened to your face?"

Shiro turns around, guilt roiling in his gut. Keith is standing in the doorway, his posture screaming defensive, and there's a fist-sized bruise forming on his cheekbone.

"I tripped," Keith says, his expression daring someone to comment.

Lance takes the dare.

"You tripped? How the hell did you manage-"

"Lay off, Lance," Shiro says, noticing how Keith is bristling and tensing like he's ready for a fight. He turns to Keith, but he's not quite able to meet his eyes. "Are you alright for training?"

I'm sorry I'm sorry I'm sorry I'm sorry I'm-

"I'm fine," Keith says, crossing his arms over his chest tightly.

"Are you sure?" Hunk asks. "Cause, uh, that looks pretty bad."

"I'm sure," Keith retorts. "Coran gave me stuff for it. I'm fine." He looks at Shiro, who focuses on the breastplate of Keith's armor, still unable to look him in the eye. "What are we doing for training today?"

"Bayard training," Shiro replies. "Are you sure you're up for it?" Keith's sword is a much more hands-on weapon than the other bayards, so he'll need to actually fight someone. Given everything, Shiro wouldn't blame him one bit if he didn't feel comfortable with that.

"I'll spar with the Gladiator," Keith says. He gives Shiro a sideways look, then adds, his voice a bit gentler, "I'm okay, really."

"Well, keep over to that side of the room," Lance says, gesturing at the far side, away from where Shiro set up the targets. "We're training over here."

"You three should probably train with the Gladiator too," Shiro says. "But for now, you can just do target practice."

Keith goes over to the other side of the training deck and calls down the Gladiator while Shiro coaches the others with their bayards. Honestly, he's not much of a shot himself, but he knows the basics of firing a gun, so he figures that's as good a place to start as any.

He tries his best to focus, but he keeps glancing over at Keith. He seems okay, thankfully, but that doesn't stop the guilt.


Keith has been suspecting it all day, but dinner finally confirms it: Shiro is avoiding him.

He spent the entire training period focusing on the others, which Keith wondered at a little, but ultimately dismissed. Keith has been training more than the others, and he already knows some self-defense. It would make sense that Shiro would save his teaching for the people who need it more.

But then at lunch, Shiro disappeared to go "check on something," and after that, he declared that they were going to take some time to bond with their Lions and holed himself up in the Black Lion's hangar. He's barely so much as looked at Keith all day. And then at dinner, he sits as far away from Keith as possible, shovels his food in his mouth as quickly as he can, and flees when Keith tries to ask him about training tomorrow.

Definitely avoiding him.

And Keith has a pretty good guess as to why.

"Whoa," Lance says, looking at Shiro's now-empty spot, then at Keith. "Are you two having a fight or something?"

"No," Keith groans. "Shiro's just being stupid."

"Is something wrong?" Allura asks, her brow wrinkled. "This doesn't seem like normal behavior for him."

"I'll deal with it," Keith says with a sigh. He eats the last spoonful of food goo, brings his bowl to the kitchen, and then heads off to find Shiro.

He's not in his room, or in the Black Lion's hangar, or on the training deck. Clearly, he's not going to make this easy. Keith grits his teeth and keeps looking.

After checking the bridge, the infirmary, and the lounge, he's still no closer to finding Shiro. Keith groans. What the hell is he supposed to do now?

He hears squeaking and whirls around. It's one of the space mice, the fat yellow one. Keith's pretty sure Allura introduced all of them to the mice - and since when do mice give themselves names? - but he has no idea what this one is called. He's about to turn away when an idea occurs to him. It's ridiculous, and he'll probably just end up making a fool out of himself, but he's running too low on options to be picky.

"Uh, hey, mouse?"

The mouse turns and looks at him. It's a little unsettling. Keith's not afraid of mice, but he's always ignored them, and they've ignored him. He never dreamed he'd be talking to one, especially one who seems to be able to understand him.

"Uh, do you know where Shiro is?"

The mouse squeaks and tilts its head to the side. It looks confused.

Keith, unable to believe this is his life, raises one hand above his head. "The tall one? He's got black hair with the white bit in the front? There's a scar on his nose? Uh, he's the Black Paladin?"

The mouse's face brightens. It squeaks eagerly, then starts running down the hall.

"Uh..."

The mouse turns back to him, waves at him to follow, and then takes off running again. This is definitely the most surreal thing that has ever happened to Keith, and that's including the giant flying robotic lion. But again, he's out of options, so he heaves a sigh and follows the mouse down the hall, hopefully towards Shiro.

To his surprise, the mouse actually comes through. It leads him down the halls to a closed door, and when Keith opens it, he sees Shiro sitting on the floor, staring out at the stars.

"Thanks," he whispers to the mouse, patting its head tentatively. He'll have to ask Allura what the mice like. Do they like cheese, or is that just an Earth mice thing? Is cheese even a thing in space?

Keith is probably overthinking this.

The mouse squeaks, sounding proud (and Keith is honestly not even questioning the fact that he can judge the mouse's emotions based on its squeaks), and runs off. Keith sighs, then he steps into the room.

"Shiro?"

Shiro whirls around, eyes wide. "Keith! Did you want to be in here? I can go."

"I was looking for you," Keith says.

Shiro's face goes blank. "Oh. Is something wrong?"

"You've been avoiding me," Keith says bluntly, sitting crosslegged next to Shiro.

"Keith-"

"And I know it's probably because you feel guilty or something, but you don't have to. It's not your fault."

"Keith, I punched you," Shiro says, sounding horrified. "That- Did it break your cheekbone?"

"Fractured it," Keith replies. Shiro looks sick. "But Coran gave me a cream that should heal it in less than a week, and some painkillers so it doesn't hurt. It's fine."

"It's not fine!" Shiro cries. "Keith, I did that to you!"

"Shiro..." This is going to require talking about emotions, which has never been Keith's forte. But if he were going to try it for anyone, it would be Shiro, and he thinks it's the only way he'll get through to him.

"Look," Keith says. "You know I've had... bad experiences with people." It's vague, but Shiro knows Keith better than any other living person, so he understands.

"I know."

"There were people who... who hurt me, even though they shouldn't have."

Shiro looks miserable. "I know."

"But you're not like them."

Shiro blinks. "Keith, I-"

"You were having a nightmare," Keith says. "I woke you up. I should have been more careful. That's my fault."

"You were trying to help."

"I'm pretty sure I've hit you a couple of times when you woke me up from a nightmare."

"You never broke my cheekbone."

"I also don't have a super strong alien prosthetic," Keith counters. "I did give you a black eye once, remember?"

"You did," Shiro agrees hesitantly. "But Keith, it's not the same."

Shiro's always has a bit of a guilt complex, but normally not this bad. Keith is just going to be blunt and hope for the best.

"Did you mean to hit me?"

Shiro looks horrified. "What? Keith, of course not!"

"Would you do it in your right mind?"

"I would never!"

"There we go," Keith says, leaning back on his hands. "You didn't mean to. It was an accident. Don't need to worry about it anymore."

"It's not that simple," Shiro protests.

Keith shrugs. "It is for me."

Shiro shoots him a look out of the corner of his eye. "How?"

"You didn't mean it," Keith says. "And you felt bad about it. No one else ever felt bad about it."

There's a pause for a moment. "You're sure your cheek is okay?"

"The stuff Coran gave me is amazing. I can't feel any pain at all. And he said the cream should heal it in a 'movement,' which is apparently about five days."

"There's some perks to being on an advanced alien ship, I guess," Shiro remarks.

Keith shrugs. "A lot better than where I've been living for the past year. And it's got you."

Shiro looks over at him, actually turning his head and looking Keith in the eye. "I'm so sorry about what happened."

"It was an accident," Keith says. "I should have been more careful. Next time you have a nightmare, I'll wake you up from across the room."

Shiro grins a little. "You're the best brother anyone could ask for."

Keith grins back. "Technically, we're not brothers, so-"

"Best. Brother." Shiro pulls Keith against his side, and Keith, laughing, tries to pull away. He manages to escape, but not before Shiro thoroughly musses up his hair.

"We're good?" Keith asks, leaning against Shiro's side and looking out at the stars.

Keith can only see Shiro in dimly-lit profile, but he knows he's smiling. "We're good."