Keith is in and out for the first few days he’s in the hospital. He wakes up enough to discern he’s in a hospital, sees his mother’s face a few times, and then swims back into unconsciousness.
When he’s finally lucid enough to stay awake longer than thirty seconds, he blinks his eyes open and sees Shiro there, sitting in the spot his mom usually sits. Keith blinks again to clear his vision and offers a small smile.
“Shiro,” he rasps out, his voice dry from disuse.
“Hey, you,” Shiro whispers, smiling at him with his entire face as he scoots his chair closer, hovering over him. His tone is soft, affectionate, and that grounds Keith more than anything else. He smiles back at Shiro, helpless. Shiro’s hand rests on the side of the bed, inches away from Keith’s hand. “How are you feeling?”
“Okay,” he whispers. He glances around. “Where’s Mom?”
“She went to get some food. She’ll be back soon,” Shiro promises. “She’ll be glad you’re awake.”
“They’re all fine. You’re all fine,” Shiro says, partly like he’s trying to convince himself. He blinks a little and sighs out, ducking his head. “Keith— you scared us... You scared me.”
Keith would nod, but his head still feels a lot like cotton and it’s distracting to have Shiro so close. He manages a wobbly smile, regardless.
“We won,” he decides, though. He’s alive. The others are alive. Shiro is right here in front of him, protected and safe. That’s more than anything Keith could have wished for.
Shiro huffs out a laugh, but can’t really get too mad— between the two of them, Shiro’s the more self-sacrificing one. Keith would make a joke about him stealing Shiro’s thunder but he also doesn’t want to think about Shiro in the same position, willing to sacrifice himself to save the earth, because he knows Shiro would in a heartbeat, and that’s the worst part.
Without thinking, he reaches out and takes Shiro’s hand, curls his fingers around his. He closes his eyes, collecting his thoughts for a moment, and when he opens them again, Shiro is looking at him with a thoughtful expression.
“I’m so glad you’re safe,” Shiro tells him, and his voice is quiet, hitched with an emotion Keith can’t quite place.
Keith’s smile softens as he looks at Shiro— handsome and brilliant and alive in the mid-morning light, sunshine reflecting off his hair, eyes soft and warm, hand holding his. It’s a quiet moment, but it’s perfect. Keith’s never felt so settled, and he can only cast some vague surprise it’s happening in a hospital room after a near-death experience.
“You too,” he manages in answer.
“I don’t… know what I’d do if I lost you,” Shiro says, voice sounding a bit hedged, like he’s working his way up to something. Keith blinks slowly at him and squeezes his hand.
“You never will,” he tells him, and means it. Not if he can help it, at least. Yes, he was willing to do what it took to save the Earth— the others were willing to do the same. But that’s different. Nothing in the universe, not even the universe itself, will hurt Shiro again. Not while Keith has something to say about it.
“Ha,” Shiro breathes, blinking a few times. “I’ll hold you to that, you know.”
“You have to promise, too,” Keith tells him.
Shiro’s smile quirks up, like he almost wants to make a joke. Keith knows the joke that must occur to him— even if I did, you’d come find me. But he doesn’t say it, and Keith’s grateful for that because it still feels fragile, raw and unspoken between them. He’s had to save Shiro so many times. He’ll save him as many times as it takes, but that doesn’t mean that Keith doesn't wish for Shiro’s safety every single moment.
Shiro’s expression turns more serious and he says, “I promise, Keith. You won’t lose me.”
Keith smiles at him and then glances away, taking in the room he’s seeing for the first time. It’s an average looking hospital room, but with evidence of visitors— his mom, Shiro. Others? He’s not sure. He sees a deck of playing cards sitting on the window seat. And at the foot of the bed, a furry head pops up and he recognizes the wolf.
The moment they make eye contact, the wolf bounds up onto the bed and flops down beside Keith. Normally he’d tackle Keith full-bodied, but it seems he’s aware enough of Keith’s injuries to be mindful. the wolf licks his cheek and Keith laughs.
“Hey, buddy,” he says, voice soft and fond. He doesn’t let go of Shiro’s hand and instead reaches to scratch behind his ears with his free hand. The wolf’s eyes close and he pushes his snout into Keith’s shoulder and stays there. Keith pets him slowly, scratching his ear occasionally.
“He never left your side,” Shiro says, voice fond. That warms Keith, too, not just the wolf being so close and loyal, but Shiro’s open affection towards the wolf. Somehow, that means a lot.
“I’m the one who feeds him,” Keith says, but doesn’t mean it. He buries his face into the wolf’s mane and sighs out, happily, breathing in that familiar, comforting scent of ozone and cosmic universal threads, or whatever it is that gives the wolf his powers.
“Keith,” Shiro says after a moment and Keith lifts his head to find Shiro looking at him, that same thoughtful expression on his face. “I’ve been thinking a lot, lately. I mean, ever since I— disappeared and came back, even before we got back to earth, I…”
He fumbles a little and goes quiet. Keith tilts his head, fingers curling into the wolf’s thick fur. He looks down at his and Shiro’s hand and squeezes again. Shiro sighs out and squeezes his hand back.
“You’re so important to me,” Shiro says. He looks at Keith, as if waiting for the response.
“Yeah,” Keith says. “You’re important to me, too, Shiro.”
So important. Hopelessly important. The most important. Shiro is his best friend, yes, but Keith’s long since accepted how hopelessly in love with him he is. It’s a familiar weight in his chest— not a burdensome weight, really, but a comforting one. Like a blanket draped over him in wintertime. His love for Shiro is a constant, something he knows and understands intrinsically. Keith is Keith. He’s a Paladin of Voltron. He’s half Human, half Galra. He loves piloting. He hates ketchup. He’s in love with Shiro. It’s just part of who he is now.
“Yeah?” Shiro whispers, and Keith can’t place the tone, or the reason why he should look so relieved following Keith’s statement.
“Coming back here,” Shiro says quietly, “really put everything into perspective for me. I— it’s funny. I spent so long thinking that I’d… I wouldn’t be the one left behind, you know? I guess part of me always assumed I’d be the one to leave first. Whether I wanted to or not.” He doesn’t put it in so many words but Keith knows what he’s referring to. His heart twists up in sympathy, watching as Shiro stares down at his free hand, watches it flex and unflex, the whirls of the inner technology working to make the movement seamless. Keith’s heart races the way it always does whenever Shiro alludes to his illness, that constant specter between them. Shiro says, “I don’t want to waste a single moment. I don’t… want to regret what I didn’t do.”
The air suddenly feels much thicker between them. Keith sits up a little. The wolf snuffles into his neck, disgruntled at the movement— but Keith ignores him, eyes only on Shiro now.
“Hey,” Keith whispers. “Don’t say it like that, Shiro. We just promised each other, right? We’re not going to lose each other. So don’t act like you have to… race against the clock or something.”
“Sorry,” Shiro says, his voice impossibly quiet. “It’s just how I feel.”
Keith shakes his head, shifts his hand so their fingers thread together. He squeezes his hand and waits for Shiro to squeeze back. He waits, still, for Shiro to look back up at him again before he speaks.
“Whatever you want to do, Shiro, you can. Because it’s you. And—” he pauses, afraid he’ll say too much, that he’ll betray himself, damn himself. But he pushes past that irrational fear. “And I’ll be here with you. Through all of it. Nothing’s going to change that. I’m always going to be here with you.”
Shiro sighs out, shoulders slumping. He looks so relieved in that moment that it’s almost overwhelming.
“Yeah,” Shiro says. “I know. Keith, I know… I’m sorry. This— it’s hard for me. After everything…”
He closes his eyes, seeming to steady himself. Keith feels lost for a moment, always unsure what to do in the face of Shiro’s intensity, knows he’s thinking of Adam and— what was left behind there. What was left unresolved.
“I know,” Keith tells him, gently. He looks at the way their hands look together, threaded and grasping. He lets himself imagine, for one indulgent moment, that it could stay like this for a while— and then turns his full attention to Shiro. “But, Shiro, I mean it. I’m here. I’m not going anywhere. You’ve got me, okay?”
Shiro looks up at him. Keith can’t read his expression, but Shiro seems to be studying him. “Yeah?”
“Yes,” Keith says, and doesn’t care if he’s damning himself, if he’s exposing too much to his damned feelings for Shiro. Comforting him always comes first. And Shiro is Shiro— even if Keith were to betray too much at once, Shiro would only treat him kindly when rejecting him.
“I just… don’t want to mess up,” Shiro tells him.
Keith frowns. The confession makes little sense to him. More rhetorically than anything, he asks, “How could you?”
Shiro chuckles, and some of the tension eases from his eyes. He pauses for a moment, simply looking at Keith in what Keith can only describe as wonderment.
“You really think that, huh?”
“Why wouldn’t I?” Keith asks with a frown. “Anyone with any sense would. And I’m sensible.”
Shiro laughs, softly, at the joke and Keith smiles. Shiro’s smile is genuinely sweet now, soft at the corners. He leans forward a bit and Keith blinks at him, then shifts forward, too. He moves into the hug easily, tucking his head up against Shiro’s shoulder. Shiro lets out a soft oh! like he’s surprised, but then returns the hug easily, his arm wrapping around him and holding him, their hands still joined between them. Keith could easily stay like that for a while, and they do. They don’t break apart until his mom comes back.
When Shiro leaves, he leans in and kisses Keith’s temple before drawing back with a small, shy smile. Keith’s entire face is on fire and he doesn’t stop blushing until long after Shiro leaves for the night. His mother’s smile is way too knowing and Keith buries his face into the wolf’s fur.
Shiro visits him every day after that first day. Keith’s always happy to see him, because while he’s grateful to his mom and to Kolivan for their visits, Kolivan has never been a conversationalist and he and his mom have already covered so many topics in two years on a space whale together. Conversation with Shiro never gets old. Shiro, in general, never gets old.
Shiro always brings things with him, too. The first day, some treats for the wolf— and Keith’s sure his heart’s going to burst just watching Shiro cuddle with the wolf, using his tech hand to scratch all of the wolf’s favorite hard-to-reach places while also nuzzling into his mane. The second day, he sneaks in some cookies Keith’s not supposed to eat, but anyone who thought Shiro was an upstanding citizen clearly didn’t know him.
The third day, he even brings some flowers. Keith smiles a bit as Shiro puts them in the vase beside his bed. He doesn’t know much about flowers, but they look pretty and smell nice and that’s enough for Keith.
“Not too much?” Shiro asks him, looking shy.
“No,” Keith says, and smiles at him, seeking to reassure— he doesn’t know much about hospital visits, but flowers seem to be a big staple of them. It makes sense that Shiro would be sweet enough to think about livening up his room.
The fourth day, he brings the ugliest balloon he could find, a sickeningly sweet pink balloon with a thousand pig-tailed girls smiling, complete with nearly incomprehensive cursive font of well wishes. Keith wrinkles his nose at it and Shiro laughs. The next few days are like that, and soon Keith’s hospital room looks more lived-in, which he’s grateful for because otherwise he’d be going stir crazy.
A week later, though, the end of his hospital stay is on the horizon. His wounds are healing up enough that Keith mostly only feels sore, not bedridden. Try telling that to doctors, though. Keith hates hospitals.
“Krolia was saying you’ll be released tomorrow,” Shiro says as he sits on Keith’s bed rather than in the chair beside it. He’s a comforting weight on the mattress and Keith shifts a little, tipping towards him in that space, his thigh nearly pressing to his hip.
Keith smiles up at him. “Yep. Almost a free man.”
Shiro chuckles. “So close you can almost taste it, huh?”
“Tastes like regular food and not hospital garbage,” Keith tells him with a nod.
Shiro’s smile seems to tighten a little, almost nervous. It’s strange to watch that change fall over his face. Shiro looks down for a moment, at his hands in his lap, and then back up at Keith with a small smile.
“That reminds me…” he says and trails off.
“What’s up?” Keith prompts.
“Would you maybe want to go out with me tomorrow? We could get dinner.” Shiro chews on the inside of his cheek and continues before Keith can answer him. “I mean, maybe you’d rather take it easy. Or hang out with the others— I know they’re all anxious for you to get back on your feet.”
“Hey,” Keith says, gently cutting in before Shiro can continue. “You think that old diner we used to go to is still there? I’d kill for their pancakes.”
“Pancakes for dinner?” Shiro asks, and his smile comes more easily now— soft and gentle and heart-stopping, if Keith’s being honest, and he’s not even surprised anymore that Shiro can have such a devastating effect on him simply by being himself.
“Obviously,” Keith answers. “We’ve been back on Earth for how long and I’ve barely had a chance to appreciate Earth food.”
Shiro laughs and it’s such an easy sound. It warms Keith from the inside out.
“Okay, okay,” Shiro says, grinning. “Jerry’s old diner. Tomorrow. You and me.”
“Sounds perfect, Shiro,” Keith says, and it does. It’s true he should probably take it easy, but he’s been taking this entire hospital visit easy, and all he wants to do is spend time with Shiro, relaxing. How long has it been since they’ve had a quiet moment to simply be themselves, to just hang out? Keith can’t remember. War will do that.
“Yeah?” Shiro says, and his smile is a private thing as he ducks his head. He shakes his head and looks back up at Keith, grinning. “You better appreciate I’m willingly going back to Jerry’s— that just proves how much I like you.”
Keith’s heart swoops down into his belly and he nearly chokes. Instead, he manages a weak smile and laugh. Shiro didn’t mean it like that, he reminds himself.
“There is nothing wrong with Jerry’s,” he says, and hopes his voice doesn’t sound as high as it does to his own ears.
“Easy for you to say,” Shiro answers with a grin.
Keith rolls his eyes. “Whatever. You going to take me there or not?”
“Yeah, yeah, we’ll go,” Shiro says with a grin, eyes sparkling with amusement. He’s so handsome. Keith’s so in love. Shiro tilts his head. “What time are you being released?”
“Afternoon, I think.”
Shiro nods. “Okay. I’ll meet you at your quarters at six and we can head over together?”
“Oh,” Keith says, having envisioned they’d meet there. It makes sense they’d walk over together, though. He nods. “Yeah. Sounds good, Shiro.”
“Great,” Shiro says, turning his head as Krolia and the wolf renter the room, Krolia carrying a tray of what passes for food in the hospital, the wolf trying to snap up a dinner roll. Keith holds back a groan and Shiro sends him a wobbly, boyish smile. “Well. I’ll leave you to it. I have some paperwork to fill out to get my promotion fully approved.”
“Paperwork,” Keith mutters, scathing. “You saved the universe and they make you fill out paperwork?”
“We saved the universe,” Shiro corrects him gently, and squeezes his hand with a smile. “But yeah. Can’t say I missed all the red tape while we were out in space.” He throws a smile Krolia’s way as she chuckles and he stands, stretching his back. “Anyway. I’ll get out of your hair.”
“Don’t say that like you’re a bother,” Keith says with a roll of his eyes.
Shiro grins at him. “I’ll see you tomorrow, Keith.”
“Can’t wait,” Keith says, and hates how breathless he sounds.
“Yeah,” Shiro says, strangely breathless, too. “Me neither.”
Shiro grins wider and nods, taking a step back. He nearly smacks his hip into Krolia because he hasn’t looked away from Keith, but luckily his mom is agile enough to merely lift her eyebrows over Shiro’s shoulder and duck out of his way. Shiro doesn’t even notice. He gives Keith a small wave as he backs up more and ends up hitting his shoulder against the doorframe. He doesn’t even seem to notice that, either.
Keith smiles and waves back as Shiro ducks away with one last goodbye. He glances at his mother and Krolia looks downright delighted.
“Don’t ask,” Keith asks. “I have no idea.”
When the door to Keith's quarters slide open, Keith watches Shiro fidgeting with a button of his uniform. Shiro looks up and looks relieved to see Keith’s uniform.
“Oh, good,” Shiro says. “I was afraid I was going to look stupid in this.”
Keith shrugs. “No time to go shopping for casual clothes, I guess.”
“Right,” Shiro says, fidgeting with his collar now. Keith watches him do that absently, distracted by the way Shiro’s fingertips brush against his throat, the way Shiro swallows. He seems nervous, but Keith has no idea why that would be.
“So?” Keith asks.
“Good news,” Shiro says. “Jerry’s is still there. I mean… it’s lost one wall but apparently they’re going to make it into an entrance for a patio. Like they’re a café or something.”
Keith snorts out a laugh. “And they’re open?”
“With all the Coalition coming in,” Shiro says, “business is apparently booming. Everyone wants to try authentic Earth food.”
“Those poor aliens,” Keith says with a smirk.
Shiro rolls his eyes. “You’re the one who wanted to go! By the way, we can’t tell Hunk. He’d skin us alive.”
“Got it. Secret diner pancake visit with Shiro,” Keith says, miming zipping his mouth shut. He unbuttons the top button of his coat once he decides it’s warm enough to justify it.
Shiro’s eyes skirt over the movement and then dart away. His cheeks look pink— maybe he’s warm, too.
“Ready?” Keith asks him. He puts his hands into his pockets.
“Yeah— yeah, let’s go,” Shiro says with an easy smile, hand reaching out to touch Keith’s shoulder gently and guide him along the hallways. Keith almost rolls his eyes. He was in the hospital longer than the other Paladins, it’s true, but he can still walk. He doesn’t shrug away Shiro’s touch, though, of course not. It’s sweet that Shiro’s so worried about him. He suddenly feels all the warmer, his cheeks undoubtedly flushing pink as he ducks his head, smiling to himself.
Jerry’s Diner is a quick walk from the Garrison— an old haunt for both Shiro and Keith, from well before the Kerberos mission. Greasy diner food was always a weakness for Keith, and while Shiro often wrinkled his nose at it, Keith knows for a fact that even Shiro could go for some sinfully delicious hashbrowns at almost any given moment.
“Hey,” Keith says, nudging his shoulder gently against Shiro’s as they enter the diner. “Everything okay? You’re kinda rigid.”
“Sorry. I’m just… nervous,” Shiro admits with a small smile.
“What’s to be nervous about?” Keith asks. “Afraid you’re going to get food poisoning like last time?”
“Keith,” Shiro groans. He can’t hold back a small laugh, though. “Be serious.”
“I am!” Keith protests around his own laugh. “Just don’t order anything with the hollandaise and you’ll be fine, right?”
Shiro rolls his eyes. “Keith.”
“Look, how many meals have you had that was just space goo? You can handle Jerry’s,” Keith tells him. The waitress collects two menus and leads them to an open booth and Keith slides onto one side while Shiro slides into the other. Keith snaps his menu open with a decisive wrist flick and peers at Shiro over the edge of it. “Look. No food goo in sight. We’re good.”
Shiro rolls his eyes again and then lets out a soft giggle. Keith loves it when Shiro downright giggles because it happens so rarely and it’s always, always cute.
“Geez,” Shiro laughs. “You’re impossible.”
Shiro opens his menu, too, although neither of them really need to look it over. There are a few new entries on the menu— new ingredients undoubtedly bought from the impromptu open market the Coalition members have started. A sort of intergalactic space trade right in their backyard. But otherwise, the menu is the same diner fare that Keith remembers fondly.
“If even you think that, then I’m out of luck,” Keith teases. “You’re the only one who ever can put up with me.”
“That’s not true,” Shiro says, fondly, because of course he’d take Keith’s joke and make it earnest. “People adore you, Keith. Not just me.”
Keith ducks his head behind his menu, feeling his ears turn pink. Shiro always says things like that, offers it easily like he has no idea how devastating the words can be. Of course he doesn’t know. If he did know what those words did to Keith, he’d be mortified.
Keith grumbles something behind the menu and Shiro laughs. He seems to be slowly relaxing, and when the waitress comes to take their orders, Shiro doesn’t order anything with hollandaise. Keith gets the blueberry pancakes.
“Still nervous? Think the bacon’s going to betray you?”
Shiro laughs, scrubbing a hand over the back of his neck. He’s blushing, Keith realizes. Shiro’s actually nervous and maybe his teasing isn’t helping. He frowns and leans forward.
“Hey, it’s okay,” Keith tells him, frowning at the way Shiro’s mouth quirks into an anxious little line. “You don’t have to be nervous.” He cringes a little. “Okay, I know saying that’s not helpful. But maybe if you talk me through it?”
“It’s silly,” Shiro says and tries to force himself to laugh. It’d sound fake even to someone who didn’t know Shiro as well as Keith does.
“You can talk to me, Shiro. Hey… It’s just me.” Keith turns his palm up, as if to gesture to himself— it’s just him. He’s hardly anyone to judge. He doesn’t know what could be causing Shiro the anxiety— something to do with the captaincy paperwork, perhaps, or easily a thousand other things. Shiro takes on too much. If Keith had his say, he’d make the whole Garrison grovel to get even a minute of Shiro’s time. But that’s probably why no one’s asked Keith his opinion on that.
Shiro breathes out and just as quickly as it disappeared, his smile reappears— gentler than before. “Right,” he says, his voice soft and just a touch breathless. “It’s you.”
Something seems to ease in Shiro’s expression and Keith doesn’t know what to do to interpret the way he says that, the way he smiles at him. But he looks a little less nervous. He doesn’t offer his reasons, but if Keith helped, then that’s enough.
“Keith,” Shiro says, not like he’s calling to him, but affirming that he’s here.
Keith tilts his head, lifting his eyebrows in question. But Shiro shakes his head and sighs.
“Sorry,” he says. “I’m just being stupid, huh?”
“Not at all,” Keith tells him, although he can’t begin to determine why Shiro should feel nervous. He didn’t think the food poisoning last time was too bad, although throwing up is hardly ever a great experience no matter how mild.
“Guess you’d say that,” Shiro murmurs, more to himself than to Keith. Keith lets the comment go without responding, although when their eyes meet a moment later, Keith just smiles.
Without the menus, Keith’s forced to look at Shiro. Not that he minds doing that. It’s hardly like he’s suffering. Shiro leans forward, hand on his cheek as he smiles at Keith.
“So,” Shiro asks, “Think the food’s going to be like we remembered it?”
Keith looks at Shiro, sitting there in a diner. It’s familiar and unfamiliar. This is almost like a date, he thinks absently, but it’s more than that— it’s Shiro with a scar across his nose, white hair, tech arm. Shiro looks both younger and older than he did back then. Still Shiro, but different. That same smile. That same easy posture. That same uniform.
Keith knows he must look different, too. Same wayward kid, but older now, sturdier in both stature and who he is. He hopes Shiro likes what he sees, likes what sort of person Keith’s become.
And even beyond them, the diner is different. The missing wall in the back, for one thing. But the diner seems smaller than it used to. Wearier. The regulars Keith remembers aren’t here anymore. There used to be a cranky, disgruntled man who was somehow always there, sitting at the counter and drinking coffee. Shiro used to tease Keith, saying that if he kept scowling, he’d turn out like him someday. Keith hates to think what might have happened to that regular between then and now.
“These are my first pancakes since getting back,” Keith says, instead of the more serious response he knows both he and Shiro feel, “so it better be good.”
Shiro laughs. “I’m sure it will be.”
They sit in a companionable silence for a long moment, just smiling at each other— gentle, but weighted, so much history stretched out between them.
“Hold on,” Shiro says, and gets up. Keith twists around in the booth to watch where Shiro goes and isn’t surprised when he slides up in front of an old jukebox from about thirty years ago, designed in the retro style from a few hundred years back. Shiro takes a moment to make his selection, but Keith already knows what it is, and isn’t surprised when a familiar old pop song starts playing.
Shiro used to sing along to the song obnoxiously just to annoy Keith, purposefully off-key and loud. It’d been so embarrassing.
Shiro, when he returns to his seat, doesn’t start singing, but he does smile at Keith like he knows Keith is remembering it.
“It feels so different being back here again, huh?” Shiro asks. “Earth, I mean.”
“Yeah. I mean… I never felt like I belonged before, but after everything— I mean, it’s my home. I didn’t realize I could miss it this much.”
Shiro nods, his smile small. “Yeah. When we left, I— I didn’t know if I’d get to come back here.”
That hangs heavy between them and Keith wishes, suddenly, he could reach out and take Shiro’s hand.
Shiro smiles, though, and shakes his head. “Sorry. We don’t need me to get all depressing.”
“I don’t mind,” Keith says. “I mean— I do, cause I don’t want you to be sad. But I mean… you can tell me anything, Shiro.”
“Thanks, Keith,” he says, soft.
When their food shows up, it’s just as mediocre as they remember, and they laugh over those old jokes, those memories— melancholy and bittersweet, but somehow gentled when shared. Jerry’s had always been theirs, and it still is. Keith inhales his pancakes and then steals pieces of Shiro’s bacon for good measure. Shiro pretends to stab Keith’s hand with his fork but otherwise lets him get away with it. They stay there for far too long, long after their food is demolished. Keith orders a slice of pie just for the hell of it and they talk for hours, until long after the sun sinks below the horizon. When the check finally comes, Shiro pays for the whole meal.
“It’s fine, Keith, let me,” Shiro tells him when Keith starts to protest. He drops the credits down on the table. “I got a… I guess a bonus? Once my paperwork goes through for the captaincy.” He wrinkles his nose. “Pretty sure the Garrison owes me some money since, you know, the whole being declared dead thing. No idea where my checking account went.”
Keith snorts, and accepts Shiro’s generosity. “Okay, but I’m getting it next time.”
He has no beneficial captaincy bonus, but he’ll figure something out. Shiro gives him an entirely endeared smile that makes Keith blush.
“Next time, huh?” Shiro asks, softly.
“Yeah,” Keith says, as confidently as he can manage. He feels light-headed when Shiro’s smile softens even more.
And later, as they’re walking back to their quarters in the Atlas, their hands brush a couple times and Keith thinks of how easy it would be to reach out and take his hand, to look up at Shiro, and tell him that he loves him. But he lets that moment pass and lets himself just enjoy being in Shiro’s company. Where Shiro was nervous before, now he’s perfectly at ease, teasing and joking with Keith, hand touching his back to guide him along as they navigate the familiar-unfamiliar streets— everything looking similar to what they remember but irrevocably changed from the Galra occupation.
At the door to Keith’s quarters, Keith looks up at Shiro and smiles. “This was nice.”
“Yeah? Not too boring?” Shiro asks.
Keith shakes his head. “This was exactly what I needed after being bedridden.”
Shiro’s mouth quirks into a pleased smile. “Yeah? Well, good.”
They stand there, just looking at each other. There’s a certain charge between them that Keith can’t quite place. He looks up at Shiro. Shiro’s expression is soft as he looks at Keith.
Keith glances down and away, cheeks turning pink.
“Oh,” Shiro says, very quietly. Keith has no idea what he’s responding to.
Shiro’s hands lift and touch his arms, brush down to touch his wrists. He tugs, once, a question more than a demand— but Keith steps into his space anyway and lets himself fall into an easy hug with Shiro. Shiro wraps around Keith, holding him.
“Hey,” Shiro says, softly, into Keith’s hair.
“Yeah?” Keith asks.
“We should do this again. Soon.”
Keith smiles against Shiro’s shoulder. “I knew you loved Jerry’s.”
“Right,” Shiro laughs. “Jerry’s.” He squeezes Keith tight, nosing into Keith’s hair. Keith can’t help the pleased shiver that zips down his spine. Shiro sighs and draws back, smiling at him, hands lingering on his shoulders. “You should get some rest, Keith. Pretty sure we were just waiting on you to start up those Atlas-Voltron joint trainings, you know.”
“Hope you’re ready to lose,” Keith says with a smirk, grasping onto that offering so he wouldn’t have to focus on how good it felt to be in Shiro’s arms.
Shiro rises to the bait, though, just like Keith knew he would. He smirks back. It’s absolutely devastating to Keith’s heart, which flips pathetically in his chest.
“I’d like to see you try, Black Paladin.”
And, yeah— Keith’s going to be thinking about Shiro saying that in that tone of voice for a good long while. He stares stupidly at Shiro for a moment before he manages to renew his smirking expression.
“Guess we’ll see.” He takes a step back and his door opens behind him. He smiles up at Shiro. “See you tomorrow.”
“Yeah,” Shiro says, expression softening now that he sees Keith departing. “Thanks for tonight, Keith.”
“I should be saying that,” Keith says. “Night, Shiro.”
And the training sessions really do help. Keith still feels a little weak in his body after that robeast, and despite the hospital visit. He’s tired out easily. The doctors, when he’s forced to do check-ups, assure him that with time he’ll recover fully, but in the meantime the Voltron versus Atlas training sessions help Keith to focus his mind, focus his energies, and flex the muscles he knows how to flex— namely, quick thinking, adaptability in battle, and, he’s quickly learning, command.
Atlas sweeps in a deadly arc, arm coming down close to Voltron. Voltron’s advantage is his speed, though, especially compared to the slower movements in Atlas’ bulk. Keith doesn’t even need to finish his shouting instruction before Allura and Hunk are following through, moving in tandem to execute Keith’s requested dodge. If Keith focuses, he can feel the way their minds are joined through the lions, and if Keith focuses harder, he can sometimes hear a whisper of Shiro’s mind in the back of his, connected tenuously through the Black Lion. He wonders if Shiro feels it, too, or if it’s simply because Shiro is accustomed to Keith’s fighting style now that Atlas is able to follow Voltron’s zipping movements without too much shifting in her weight. Voltron is still faster, but Shiro makes them work for that victory.
This is the fifth in a series of training exercises they’ve been working on in the past week, and it’s exhausting and exhilarating at once. Keith wishes they could spend all day doing this, but powering Voltron nonstop, when the Paladins are still recovering, is a bit much. And he knows the toll it takes on Shiro to pilot Atlas on his mind alone, even with a support team. They haven’t actually talked about Atlas that much. Keith can’t recall if he’s actually told Shiro how amazing it is, how amazing he is.
“Good job, Paladins,” Shiro says afterwards, voice tinny through the comms, and there’s a vein in his voice that betrays his frustration with himself that he wasn’t able to keep up for longer, but he sounds breathless, too. Shiro’s quick to dismiss his own abilities, Keith thinks, still at a loss even after these training sessions to consider just how powerful Shiro has to be in order to control a massive robot himself. Voltron can be demanding enough shared between five Paladins.
As the Paladins disembark their lions, though, Keith’s eyes seek out Shiro’s and Shiro grins at him, jumping down from the gangway leading off Atlas. Although there’s that edge of disappointment from before— Shiro hates to lose, Keith knows, knows intimately how competitive he can actually be— he’s also just grinning at Keith with that same level of thrilling pride that never fails to make Keith feel warm all over.
Keith changes course, skirting away from the group and heading towards Shiro instead. He stops a few feet in front of him and ignores how his heart lodges pathetically into his throat when Shiro tugs him into a warm hug— both arms wrapped around him rather than their customary half-hug. Keith sinks against him, resting his cheek against his shoulder with a little sigh. This close, he can feel the way Shiro’s arm hums with energy, the port pulsing a bright blue.
“You’re all so amazing,” Shiro tells him and his voice is warm.
Keith curls his arms around Shiro, returning the hug. He lets himself linger for a moment longer than strictly necessary and then draws back to look up at him. Shiro’s smile is soft.
“Got plans later?” Shiro asks him, pleasant and friendly and devastatingly handsome with a lock of his hair clinging to his sweaty forehead.
“No,” Keith answers, thinking about Lance’s vague plan about watching a movie later that was such a thinly veiled excuse to hang out with Allura that everyone except perhaps Lance himself recognized its obviousness. “Why?”
“If you’re up for it, I wouldn’t mind grabbing a couple hoverbikes.”
Keith snorts. “You just want to win at something today, don’t you?”
“No,” Shiro protests, and then looks contrite. “Well, maybe. But…” His smile is back just as quickly, shy and boyish and oh so very handsome. “I thought we could bring out some food with us, maybe a blanket. You know, make an evening of it. Watch the stars or something.”
Keith raises an eyebrow, a pleasant warmth zipping down his spine and pooling in his gut. God, what Shiro describes sounds like a date and he knows that’s not what it is, that Shiro’s just being friendly as he always is, and they’re still navigating a way to be friends now after all they’ve been through, with their feet solid back on earth. It’s nothing like their days at the Garrison, different— still them.
“Yeah,” Keith says, smiling. “Yeah, I… that sounds really good, Shiro.”
“Great,” Shiro says, and his shoulders seem to relax. His eyes shine a little brighter as he scrubs his hand through his hair, pushing back the sweaty bangs from his forehead. Some of his hair stays sticking up even after he drops his hand away and Keith resists the urge to smooth it back down. “Great,” Shiro says again. “Okay. I’ll take care of the food. You get the blankets?”
“Sure,” Keith says. “Just give us a couple hours to clean up and get settled?”
“Deal,” Shiro answers.
True to his word, Shiro meets up with Keith later. This time, they have what passes for casual wear and aren’t forced to race in their command uniforms— which is maybe somehow worse, if only because Keith doesn’t think he’ll ever be prepared for Shiro in a tight-fitted jacket. It was devastating when he was hormonal and teenaged, and yet it’s somehow still just as devastating now. It feels more like them, at least, to watch Shiro sling on a pair of gloves from his pocket and lead Keith towards the hoverbikes he’s procured for them.
The path into the mountains is the same as they remember, and it’s easy for them to slip into racing each other. They zig and zag back and forth between each other, a double-helix of clouding dust and whoops of surprised delight as they zing past each other. Keith is addicted to this feeling, always was, always was absolutely obsessed with the wind in his hair, the humming power under his hands, the sound of Shiro’s laugh coiled in his ears as he raced past and Keith forced himself to follow.
This time, Keith’s the first one over the cliff and he hears Shiro laughing behind him as he soars after him. Shiro gets better lift, though, and as they rocket their way down towards the ground, Shiro zips ahead, spraying dust and little pebbles as he cuts a corner sharp and leaves Keith behind, struggling to play catch-up. Keith’s just as competitive as Shiro but he can accept a loss if it means he gets to hear Shiro’s laughter reverberating over the canyon.
They don’t even need to signal to each other where to stop, their hoverbikes slowing at their usual spot, left unvisited for so long. But it feels like coming home in a way, far more than returning to the Garrison, returning even to Earth as a whole. The sun’s sinking low towards the horizon as they park their hoverbikes, Shiro just a half-step ahead of Keith. Keith remembers a time when Shiro could wait here a full half hour before Keith caught up.
It’s something else that feels achingly familiar, Shiro looking devastatingly handsome in the twilight. Keith remembers these moments perfectly. This time, though, his memories are flooded with the way the sinking sun plays off Shiro’s hair, highlighting oranges and purples. Keith knows that, tragically, there can never be a way Shiro looks that wouldn’t be heart-stopping to Keith. This is no different. Shiro’s still the most beautiful person Keith’s ever known.
Keith leans against the hoverbike, near Shiro, just like they used to. Shiro smiles at him, something lighter in his expression than Keith can remember. That, too, is different. The last time they were in a sunset like this, still breathing heavy from a race, Keith was still just a kid and Shiro was— out of his reach.
He’s still out of his reach, Keith thinks. But it’s different now, too. Everything is different ever since they first found the Blue Lion and launched themselves into space. Keith knows he’s different now, too.
Shiro turns and tugs the blanket out of the storage compartment on Keith’s hoverbike. Keith grabbed the heaviest, biggest one he could find and Shiro seems pleased with the selection, flapping it in the wind a couple times before spreading it out on the ground and plopping down onto it. He grins up at Keith and pats the spot beside him.
Keith laughs and drops down into a crouch before crawling up beside Shiro and settling in. Shiro slings an arm around him, like it’s easy, like it’s natural.
“Hungry?” Shiro asks, getting comfortable, stretching his legs out on the blanket as he looks out towards the staining colors in the sky, the sun burning the tops of the mountains.
Keith’s a little hungry— he’s always hungry, honestly— but admitting that means Shiro moving away from holding him, and he doesn’t want that at all. So he shrugs.
“In a little while,” he says. He stays sitting up straight, glancing at Shiro. Shiro smiles at him.
Keith glances down, uncertain, and then just decides to throw caution to the wind. He sinks against Shiro’s side, resting his head on Shiro’s shoulder. Shiro sighs out and doesn’t seem to mind. Far from it. His head tilts and his cheek rests on top of Keith’s head.
Keith closes his eyes, his cheeks burning and his heart thundering. This is nice. And for a moment, he can think—
They stay like that for a long while, just watching the sun sink down lower. It’s nice. Keith’s always liked this transition, the shift from day to night, how the stars slowly unfurl from the sky. It used to be a little painful for him, being stuck in his shack, watching the night sky, pointing a shitty old telescope outwards in the hopes he might see Pluto, might be able to spell out what had happened to Shiro.
But Shiro’s solid, still alive. He’s right here, on Earth, with Keith. Keith closes his eyes against the onslaught of emotions that evokes, feels the burn of ridiculous tears at the backs of his eyes. He feels Shiro shift, sensing Keith’s temporary distress, and it’s embarrassing. Shiro’s hand shifts on his shoulder, and for a painful beat Keith’s afraid he’ll pull away, but the shifting is only so Shiro can trace absent patterns along Keith’s shoulder and bicep, and somehow that’s more comforting than anything else. Slowly, he relaxes.
When Keith dares to look up at Shiro again, his expression is firm with thought. Keith almost startles, but ends up frowning up at him.
“Huh?” Shiro asks, seeming to snap out of it. And then he laughs. “Oh, sorry, no— I was concentrating.”
Keith’s about to ask what he means, but then there’s a light flickering to life near Keith’s other side. He turns his head to see Shiro’s arm hovering out there on its own, setting down a switched-on electric lantern. Beside it is the food Shiro’s presumably packed for their dinner.
Keith barks out a surprised— and if he’s honest, relieved— laugh, seeing this. “Wow. That’s convenient.”
He can practically feel Shiro’s grin radiating off him. “Didn’t want to move.”
Keith’s glad it’s dark now so Shiro can’t see the way he blushes. “Yeah.”
Shiro’s tech arm returns to his side and he grins triumphantly at Keith. He tugs on Keith’s shoulder with the arm wrapped around him and together, they flop back onto the blanket. It’s not as soft as maybe both of them expected. It is, after all, just a blanket on the ground. But it’s better than lying out on the cold dirt and when pressed up to Shiro’s side like this, Keith feels perfectly warm.
He turns a little, more towards Shiro, pillowing his cheek against Shiro’s arm. Shiro smiles at him as he turns towards him, too. The lantern light behind Keith flickers over Shiro’s face, casting him in an eerie but somehow pleasant glow, casting shadows across his face that only softens him. Shiro’s always looked a little ethereal to Keith, but up this close, he feels achingly human— graspable, obtainable.
“I really love it out here,” Keith says and watches Shiro’s expression go soft.
“Yeah,” Shiro whispers. The light makes it look like his cheeks are red but Keith can’t be sure, even this close to him. Shiro’s hand brushes against the back of Keith’s neck, pushing some of his hair out from under the lip of Keith’s jacket.
“It’s always quiet,” Keith sighs.
“Out here… it makes me think of you. All of it,” Shiro admits. Keith tilts his head, a silent indication for Shiro to elaborate. Shiro’s smile is boyish, almost shy. “I mean, aside from the fact that I only go out here with you. The stars. I don’t know. I mean… it’s quiet and beautiful and— I don’t know. It’s wild out here, sure, but I always feel safe. I just really… love it, you know?”
Keith’s heart kicks up in his chest. He stares at Shiro, as if waiting for Shiro to elaborate, to explain further so that Keith doesn’t have to sit here and possibly misinterpret those words. Something like hope twists up in his chest.
“Yeah,” he says and feels like his mouth is full of cotton. He clears his throat and glances up at the sky, the smattering of stars starting to appear. “So,” he says, hoping his voice sounds even and not as shaky as he feels. “You still think the stars are so great and mysterious now that we’ve been so far out there?”
“Yep,” Shiro says, easily, like it’s not even a question. He shrugs one shoulder when Keith casts him a look. “Maybe now that I know how far the universe goes, they feel even more mysterious to me? There’s still so much we haven’t seen. So much left to do before this is all over.”
Keith sits up a bit to push the lantern away more, to cast them in more darkness so they can see the stars better. He looks down at Shiro, finds Shiro looking back up at him. His expression is open, gentle, his smile secretive and, somehow, only for Keith. The lantern light reflects in his eyes. He looks like he’s glowing.
Ridiculously, Keith thinks to himself that he could just lean down and kiss Shiro right now. Even more absurdly, he thinks that Shiro might kiss him back. Something about the way he’s looking at him.
Shaken, Keith turns away and grabs at one of the bags of food. It’s mostly snack food, but Keith spies some wrapped wax paper that’s probably sandwiches. He scoots across the blanket enough to grab them before returning to Shiro’s side, perhaps not as close as before.
Shiro smiles at him, gentle and sweet as always. Keith unwraps one of the sandwiches and take a big bite, if only to give his hands something to do. His hands have the slightest tremble to them, but he figures Shiro won’t be able to see that in the dark.
Shiro sits up too and grabs the sandwich Keith holds out to him. Together, they eat in silence and Keith can’t decide if it’s a comfortable or uncomfortable silence.
“Hey,” Shiro says, after a time.
“Thanks for coming out here with me,” Shiro says with a small smile. “I’m sure you must be tired after today.”
“You mean after we beat you.”
Keith doesn’t need any light in order to see the way Shiro rolls his eyes. It’s mostly for show, though, theatrical, because he’s smiling at Keith around a bite of his sandwich.
“You don’t have to keep doing that, you know,” Keith says, crossing his legs and chewing around a few bites to his sandwich. He’s already demolished half of it. He clarifies when Shiro gives him a questioning hum. “Thanking me for spending time with you. I want to. I like to.”
“Oh,” Shiro says, and he sounds breathless. His smile lights up his whole face. “Oh, yeah— yeah, good.”
“You can’t honestly be surprised by that,” Keith laughs. The idea is absurd. Shiro’s his oldest and dearest friend— of course he’d willingly spend any waking moment with him. He’d want to even if he weren’t hopelessly in love with him.
“Not surprised, no,” Shiro agrees. “But… it’s still nice to hear, you know? I mean… I like being with you, too, Keith.”
Keith’s betraying heart stampedes in his chest and he smiles helplessly at Shiro. He finishes off his sandwich and balls up the wax paper. Not wanting it to blow away in the breeze, he tucks it into his jacket pocket and grabs Shiro’s for him, shoving it in, too.
“Should have brought you a second one,” Shiro teases. There are crumbs on his cheek. He’s so cute, it’s absurd.
Keith makes eye contact and brushes at his own cheek, miming the action for Shiro. Shiro takes the hint, lifting his brows and then trying to lick at the crumbs. It’s entirely too distracting. Keith can’t stop staring at Shiro’s tongue. It doesn’t even work, either, the crumbs clinging to his cheek.
Shiro looks at him. “Did I get it?”
Keith hesitates for a moment, debates, and then accepts that he’s a fool for this man— and reaches out with his thumb to brush the crumbs away for him. Shiro just smiles at him.
“Don’t mention it,” Keith answers.
They fall into another silence again, this time more comfortable, Keith thinks. Shiro’s so at ease, looks so happy, it’s impossible for Keith to not absorb that same energy. He sighs out. He could stay like this all night, just watching Shiro and the stars.
Shiro’s hand comes down over Keith’s, their fingers tangling together. Keith looks at their joined hands in surprise, shivering a little when Shiro’s thumb brushes gently across Keith’s knuckles. Shiro’s looking up at the stars but after a beat of silence, he looks back at Keith with a small, almost shy smile.
“Hey,” Shiro says. “Keith… are you happy? I mean— with how things are going.”
Keith puzzles over the question for a moment. Then he shrugs. “I’m happy.”
It’s the truth, of course. He’d be happy any time he’s somewhere with Shiro. He glances back at their hands, but skirts his eyes away, afraid that if he looks at it for too long, it’ll draw too much attention to it and Shiro will pull back.
“I’m happy, too,” Shiro offers.
“Yeah?” Keith asks. He smiles. “Good. You deserve that, Shiro.”
Shiro definitely blushes this time. Keith can tell. He looks away and Keith traces his eyes along his jaw, his strong profile.
“I’m really happy,” Shiro says, like it’s a difficult thing to admit. Maybe it is. “I don’t think I’ve ever been happier than I am right now, Keith.”
Keith’s heart warms. Shiro deserves that surety. It makes sense, at least. After everything he’s been through— being back on earth must be a relief. And he’s a captain now. Has his own ship. For a while, Keith feared that Shiro might have some lingering resentment about his position as the Black Paladin. But of course, it’s Shiro, and Shiro’s only ever been proud of Keith. Still, despite the destruction they returned to, it makes sense that Shiro would be happy now, settling in now— back home, surrounded by friends, with a renewed purpose. This was always how Shiro thrived.
“I’m really glad, Shiro,” he whispers, and means it.
Shiro looks at him, expression quietly intense when he admits, “I never thought I could be this happy.”
“Oh,” Keith whispers. Then he says again, “You deserve to be happy, Shiro.”
“I believe it when you say it,” Shiro confesses, and there’s something heavier in the words that he doesn’t express and Keith can’t quite dissect. He doesn’t push it, though, doesn’t want to dredge up old ghosts. If Shiro can be happy now, that’s all that matters.
“Shiro,” Keith says. “I want you to always be happy.”
“Then it’s a good thing we’ve promised to stick around for each other, huh?” Shiro asks around a soft, almost self-deprecating laugh.
Keith says nothing, just finds himself drifting closer to Shiro. Shiro looks down at their hands and he smiles. He looks at Keith, expression warm, and then goes back to looking up at the stars. He doesn’t pull his hand away, and so Keith doesn’t, either— terrified of making any movement that will snap Shiro back into his senses and pull his hand back.
Keith eventually leans his head back onto Shiro’s shoulder and Shiro lets him. They watch the stars.
After that, though, Shiro holds his hand all the time. Keith accepts it as an evolution of their friendship.
It’s a busy two weeks— the Paladins are pulled in several directions at once, and for the captain of the Atlas, it’s much worse. It’s a rare chance when Keith actually gets to see Shiro, and usually it’s in passing as they quickly make their way down the hallways of the Garrison or the Atlas itself.
Every time, Shiro looks thrilled to see him.
“Keith, hey!” he calls when Keith’s several meters away. Keith always waits for Shiro to break off from whatever group’s tailing him and beeline for Keith instead.
And every time, like this, he pulls Keith into a hug and takes his hand afterwards, squeezing gently before letting go.
“Long time no see,” he says, breathless and gentle.
Keith laughs and smiles up at him. “Yeah. You’re working hard.”
Shiro looks apologetic. “I was hoping we’d have a free evening this week to go out somewhere. But…”
Keith shakes his head. “It’s alright. Maybe the weekend?”
Shiro perks up. “Yeah. Maybe. That’d be good.”
“Maybe there’s a movie playing or something.”
Shiro barks out a laugh. “Oh, geez. Last I heard, there was some biopic about Voltron.” He gives a downright theatrical shudder. “I’m terrified to consider how they interpret some things.”
He says it jokingly, but there’s a shadow in his eyes when he says it, even through the smile. Keith lifts his hand, letting it rest against Shiro’s arm. His clone, he thinks. He’s thinking about the clone.
“Hey,” Keith says. “No movie, then. Maybe we can walk around the universal market. I can beat off all your adoring fans with a stick if they dare get too close.”
He was aiming for Shiro’s giggle and he’s rewarded with a quiet, cute little snort. Shiro’s expression clears, eyes soft again.
“My hero,” he sighs, and almost sounds dreamy. Keith flushes. “Pretty sure you’re the one with all the adoring fans, bud.”
“No way,” Keith says around a wrinkled nose which just makes Shiro laugh more.
“Market sounds good. Let’s aim for that. I’ll make sure we don’t get scheduled for anything.”
“And if not, I’ll just steal you away,” Keith says, determined to get one last laugh out of Shiro, to banish any lingering doubts and unhappiness from his mind. “Since I’m apparently your hero now.”
“You’ve always been my hero,” Shiro says, and Keith flushes even more. He says it too softly, too earnestly, for it to be a joke. He doesn’t laugh. Keith thought he would. Instead, he’s just smiling at him and Keith’s floundering.
“Oh,” he says, and feels stupid.
“Anyway,” Shiro says, glancing over his shoulder at the cadets waiting for him. “I gotta run. Duty calls and all that.”
“Yeah,” Keith says, thinking of the Paladins likely waiting on him. Lance will be obnoxious about it once he shows up in the meeting room. “Go on, then.”
Keith isn’t prepared when Shiro swoops in and presses a kiss to his cheek. He’s been doing that more and more, too. Hugging him. Holding his hand. Occasionally kissing his cheek or his forehead or his temple. It always leaves Keith out of sorts.
“This weekend,” Shiro whispers, softly, like it’s a secret. “You and me. The market. Sound good?”
“Yeah,” Keith murmurs back. He wants Shiro to kiss him again and blushes from embarrassment. If Shiro knew what Keith was feeling, how he reacted to Shiro’s casual touches, would he offer it as freely?
But that’s just who Shiro is. Keith tries not to think about him kissing other people, because then his gut twists up pathetically, as if he has any sort of claim over Shiro. Shiro is a kind and generous person— of course he’d offer reassurance where he can. And he deserves to be reassured, in turn, and if touching others achieves that, then so be it.
“See you soon,” Shiro says, voice soft as he takes a step back and then quickly turns on his heel and claps his hands together, calling out to the cadets to stop staring and get moving. They scramble down the hall and out of sight. Keith watches him go and isn’t surprised when Shiro glances back over his shoulder one last time and gives him a little wave before disappearing around the corner.
Every time, like this. Every time Shiro sees him, he touches Keith in some way.
Soon it feels like they’re never not touching. Every time Shiro sees him, he’s touching him. It shouldn’t be surprising to Keith, and yet.
Shiro is usually the tactile one between them. He pulls Keith into hugs, easily. Claps him on the shoulder. Brushes his hand over his arm to direct his attention. Sits close enough to him that he can feel the heat radiating off him.
This is just how Shiro is. It’s been a while since he’s seen Shiro knock his fist gently against someone’s shoulder, or sling his arm around someone, but he has memories of that happening— maybe with Adam, or with others at the Garrison. The Paladins. He’s seen Shiro hug Pidge before. Knock a hand against Lance’s back. It isn’t like Keith watches Shiro like a hawk for every movement— he’s certain that Shiro initiates touch with others that Keith isn’t aware of.
And it makes sense that he’d touch Keith, too. That’s just how Shiro is. And Keith is his oldest friend, so it stands to reason that they’d hug. That isn’t anything different. Maybe the hand-holding is. Or, in the quiet moments when they’re debriefing on the joint Atlas-Voltron training, Shiro sighs and rests his head against Keith’s shoulder while muttering I’m so tired. Or just leaning into his side at the end of the day, slinging an arm around Keith’s shoulders as they grab food together for a quick lunch, tucked away somewhere private where they can just enjoy each other’s company alone. They’re friends. That’s what friends do, especially friends with as much history as they have.
Still, their meetings feel few and far between. Between them agreeing to go to the market and the day of the actual market, Keith sees Shiro all of three times, and usually only for a few minutes besides. They haven’t had time this week for the Atlas-Voltron joint trainings, although there are several scheduled for next week.
Shiro looks devastatingly handsome when he stops by Keith’s quarters to pick him up that Saturday morning. Autumn in the desert is hardly cold during the day, but there can be a chill early on this close to the mountains, before the sun’s high enough in the sky. Shiro has a scarf on. It’s absurdly pretty and looks soft to the touch, brings out the color of his eyes.
“Hey,” Shiro asks with a grin. “Ready?”
“Yeah,” Keith says, shrugging into his jacket. Shiro reaches out and takes Keith’s hand, and keeps holding it as they start walking. Keith’s eyes lock onto their joined hands.
Once they’re outside their quarters and descending from Atlas, heading towards the market, though, their hands fall away and Keith instantly misses it. He settles for scooting closer to Shiro’s side, so their arms brush. Maybe that can be enough to convince Shiro to hold his hand in front of others.
Still, the market’s fun, interesting, and bustling with people. Keith’s only walked through it once or twice, busy schedule and all. But it’s nice to be here with Shiro. They weave their way through crowds of people, some pausing to stare at them, undoubtedly recognizing him, but mostly letting them go about their business.
They linger at some of the stalls, observing alien fruits and vegetables. Keith finds it fascinating, really, that somehow every alien culture has what they call an apple. He’s studying the golden fruits bustled together much like Earth grapes, considering buying it just to see if it tastes like any sort of apple Keith’s ever tried, when Shiro’s hand catches his and tugs.
“Keith, check this out,” Shiro says, dragging him to the next stall over.
“Woah, okay, I’m coming,” Keith laughs, setting the grape-apples down before the tentacled alien with teeth like porcupine quills can try to barter with him.
“Okay, close your eyes.”
“Are you serious?” Keith asks, already shutting his eyes despite the protest.
He waits and hears Shiro shuffling around. “Okay,” he says. “Open them.”
Keith does. Shiro’s holding up a teacup, although its handle looks designed for someone with only three fingers. The cup’s decorated with some sort of creature, round with two large nostrils and ears resembling a small fox’s. Shiro laughs, “It kind of looks like a hippo, don’t you think?”
Keith squints at the cup in an effort to hide how the blush rushes to his face. It figures that Shiro would remember something from before Kerberos— a small, throw-away line Keith said one night, about how he thought hippos were cool. Of course Shiro would remember that.
“Don’t you dare,” Keith says, although he’s smiling.
“Too late,” Shiro says, dropping coins into the vendor’s outstretched three-pronged hand, and then handing the cup to Keith. “It’s done.”
“I can’t believe you,” Keith mutters, feeling soft and warm, like he’s about to melt right there in the open market. He looks up at Shiro, smiling and blushing and not trying to hide it now. “Thanks, Shiro.”
Shiro grins at him and takes the bag the vendor offers him, holding it out to Keith. “You’re welcome.” His expression, if possible, goes entirely too tender. “Anything for you.”
Keith goes breathless, staring up at Shiro. He says things like that and Keith has no idea what to do with it. It hovers in the air between them.
Shiro’s smile turns shy.
Before Keith can say anything, though, he’s jostled. He stumbles forward and turns to look over his shoulder, expecting it’s just people passing through the busy street. Instead, it’s a couple of kids, one human and the other a species he doesn’t recognize. They’re staring up at Keith with wide eyes.
They don’t say anything, clearly shy, and Keith realizes with a quiet sort of understanding what it is they want. Keith tucks the cup into his bag and kneels down in front of the shorter one, the human girl, holding out his hand. “Okay, let me see it.”
The girl squeaks and shoves a poster of Voltron— Keith still can’t believe these exist, geez— and signs his name where the girl points. He hands it back and then takes the boy’s, signing that one, too.
“Alright,” he says. “Go. Stay out of trouble.”
He half-expects them to pounce on Shiro next, but they dart off after that, not even thanking him. Keith hadn’t expected it. He straightens up with a sigh and glances over at Shiro.
Shiro’s smile is so soft it’s almost not there. His head’s tilted, watching Keith closely. His smile widens when Keith turns back towards him.
“You’re so incredible,” Shiro says and Keith snorts, unsure what he could have possibly done to garner such a response. He ducks his head to hide his pleased smile, regardless, and Shiro chuckles. His hands reach out and touch his waist— and Keith’s cheeks flame with how intimate the gesture feels, out here in the open, from his best friend— and tug Keith in closer until they’re pressed together. Keith settles into the hug, curling his arms around him.
“I didn’t do anything,” Keith mutters, because he’s not about to let Shiro’s compliment pass without comment. He closes his eyes with a quiet hmph when Shiro only chuckles softly in his ear.
“You’re so sweet,” Shiro tells him and Keith wants to protest, but knows it’s a losing battle. He sighs and nuzzles into Shiro’s shoulder with a grumble.
“Told you there’d be too many people here,” Keith mutters. “A Paladin of Voltron’s work is never done, I guess.”
“I’m sorry it’s been so busy,” Shiro says, as if this is somehow his fault. “I wish we had more time to spend together.”
“It’s alright,” Keith answers, tilting his head up to look at him. “I know you have a lot to work to do.” His smile turns teasing. “Captain.”
Shiro’s quiet for half a second too long, long enough that Keith worries he’s said something wrong, but Shiro seems to shake himself out of whatever stuttering halt he’d fallen into, his smile tilted and cheeks pink.
“Well,” Shiro says, and Keith can’t miss the way he sounds breathless before he clears his throat. “I know you’ve been busy, too. Team Leader.”
“Yeah,” Keith says. “I don’t know how you managed it before.”
“I already told you,” Shiro says, voice gentle. “I had help.”
He says it like he did that first time, weighted and lovely, and he’s so handsome standing there in an open-street market, the licks of wind breezing through his scarf and hair, his cheeks flushed, his eyes soft. Keith, not for the first time, wishes he could just lean up and kiss him.
“Yeah,” Keith whispers. “Guess I do, too.”
“Mm,” Shiro agrees. “You’re never alone, Keith.”
“I know,” Keith says, and he does. Maybe once, he didn’t know that. Now, he has no room to doubt it. “Still. Two leaders hanging out proves difficult, huh?”
“Yeah,” Shiro says, looking apologetic again. “Hopefully this isn’t too boring.”
Keith shrugs. “Nah. Anything is good. I always have time for you.”
“Yeah?” Shiro whispers, his smile widening.
“Obviously,” Keith answers, and bumps his shoulder to his. “Always, Shiro.”
“Okay,” Shiro says, and his expression is surprisingly tender as he looks at Keith. “Okay, yeah… You’re right. I mean. You too, Keith. I always have time for you.”
“Come on,” Keith says, stepping back from the hug. There are a few people looking at him and he suddenly feels shy. “Now I need to find something to buy you. You know, as thank you for the cup.”
Shiro’s smile lights up his whole face. “Yeah. Let’s see what we can find.”
They spend the rest of the morning, and a few hours into the afternoon, at the market. When they eventually head back, it’s only after Keith’s found and bought a raw Snorgle bone for the wolf, those golden grape-apples, and a mug shaped like a rocket for Shiro, to match the hippo cup.
Most nights after training between Voltron and Atlas, Keith and Shiro pool their resources together and go over their notes on the training sessions, areas for improvement, and other strategizing. It makes the full staff debriefing all the easier later on, if they’re a united front. Plus, it helps them point out each other’s weaknesses and strengths, helps them get stronger together— Atlas and Voltron, a working team. Shiro and Keith.
Keith’s come to appreciate these debriefs, not just because it’s Shiro and the two of them just gel together, but because seeing Shiro so engrossed and dedicated is one of the best sights Keith can think of.
Right now, Shiro’s compressing their observations into a series of checklists and reports into his datapad, brow furrowed in concentration, his hair glowing in the low lighting of Shiro’s captain’s quarters.
Keith just watches him, chin resting in his hand. There’s something open and vulnerable in Shiro during these moments— moments when only Keith sees him. It’s subtle, but one that Keith understands from the amount of time he’s known Shiro. His shoulders are eased, jaw unclenched. While his brow is furrowed in concentration, his eyes are soft and alight with that same thrilling determination and delight that originally sent Shiro pursuing the Kerberos mission. Keith could watch him all night, tracing the line of his jaw, the slope of his nose.
But Shiro must feel Keith’s eyes on him because he pauses after compiling a list and looks over at Keith with a quiet, questioning, “Hmm?”
“Nothing,” Keith says, and his smile curves against his palm as he looks at Shiro. He can’t exactly say Just thinking you’re so handsome without it being awkward and embarrassing, so he bites it back. “Just staring into space.”
“I guess we’ve been at it for a while,” Shiro says, glancing over at the clock ticking on the wall. The hippo cup and rocket cup are set on the table, the coffee long since cold.
Keith shakes his head. “I’ve got nowhere else to be.”
Shiro’s mouth quirks into a quiet smile. “Still, if I’m going to force you to spend your Friday night like this, I’d at least want it to be a little more fun for you.”
“Hey,” Keith says, shrugging his shoulder. “I signed up for this just as willingly as you.” The words fall easily from him, offered easily: “Besides, I can’t think of anything better than hanging out with you, you know?”
Shiro’s expression turns downright soft, eyes crinkling in the corners with what will, someday, be wrinkles— has he always been so expressive, Keith wonders absently— and gives an embarrassed laugh.
“Wow,” he says quietly, and powers down his datapad before turning his full attention to Keith. His cheeks look pink in the low light of the lamp on the table with them.
“What?” Keith asks, definitely blushing.
“Nothing, just…” Shiro pauses, drumming his fingers against the table. Keith glances down at his hand and then back up at Shiro, wishing this were a time where Shiro would casually touch him and hold his hand for no reason. Shiro laughs, smiling to himself. “I like hanging out with you, too.”
“I know,” Keith answers, because it’s true— for all of Keith’s years of doubt, he’s never doubted that Shiro was earnest about his friendship with Keith. Even more so now, after everything they’ve been through. He’s never doubted Shiro. Keith leans forward and knocks his shoulder against Shiro’s. “And anyway, these debriefs are important. Anything to help you actually land a hit on Voltron, right?”
“Hey,” Shiro answers, and his grin turns sharp in the light. Keith’s embarrassed by how hard it hits him in his belly. Wow.
He doesn’t let it show on his face, though, instead smirking at him. “Tell me I’m wrong, old man.”
“You,” Shiro says, eyes narrowed theatrically, “are a menace.”
“I’m definitely in trouble if even you’re starting to think that,” Keith says with a grin.
“Obviously your recent good luck is going to your head.”
“Oh, it’s just good luck now, is it? But when you actually win, it’s hard work and dedication?”
“Obviously,” Shiro teases.
Keith leans in closer. “Bet you wouldn’t be talking so big if you didn’t have your big robot. Even with something that powerful you can’t catch Voltron.”
“Uh oh,” Shiro teases, smirking, “Looks like being Head of Voltron is going to your head, Keith.”
“Please,” Keith snorts.
Shiro grins more. “Bet I could still lay you out on the mat. No robots or anything.”
Keith makes a show of rolling his eyes. “You wish.”
“It has been a while since we’ve sparred, huh?” Shiro asks, casual, but his eyes are fired up as he looks at Keith. “Maybe we should settle this the old-fashioned way?”
“Right, but who has the time? Bet your schedule’s too filled up to make room for me kicking you around the gym.”
He’s expecting it when Shiro darts forward to grapple with him but he’s still not able to fully overpower Shiro right away, especially because he can’t get a good hold on his tech arm. It floats away from his grasp before sliding in again to grab at him. Shiro gets him in a headlock quickly and they’re both laughing as they tumble down off the couch and onto the floor. It’s entirely play— Keith could get away easily if he wanted to, and Shiro’s hold is hardly forceful. But they’re both laughing and squirming on the ground, and that’s simple, and a nice stress relief from hours of squinting at datapads and after weeks of taking orders from the higher-ups. Sometimes it’s so easy for Keith to forget they’re still young.
Shiro gets the upper hand eventually, pinning Keith’s hands down at his sides and hovering over him with a triumphant and entirely too attractive, “Ha.”
Keith doesn’t even bother squirming to get free and instead flexes his hands under Shiro’s. The tech hand is so large. He’s still not used to it.
“Got you,” Shiro tells him with a laugh.
“Unfair advantage,” Keith says, shaking his wrist where Shiro’s tech arm has him pinned.
“Oh, please,” Shiro says with a snort. “You have incredible strength and a teleporting wolf. I’m just evening the playing field.”
“I don’t have the wolf right now!” Keith protests, but they’re both laughing and it’s simple and easy and sweet, and Keith feels warm and floaty as he looks up at Shiro.
“Still,” Shiro insists.
“Okay, okay, you win!” Keith laughs, wrenching one hand free to shove at Shiro’s shoulder with a chuckle. They both sit up, Shiro’s hands falling easily to grasp Keith and help steady him. They both laugh again, heads ducked, and it’s easy between them. It’s always easy with Shiro.
Keith looks up the same time Shiro looks up and their eyes snag and hold. Shiro’s so close to him, Keith realizes dimly, at the same time Shiro must realize it, too, because something shifts in Shiro’s expression as he stares at Keith, soundly in his personal space. Keith tries to keep his breathing even, tries to stare straight into Shiro’s eyes and not dart down to look at his mouth, criminally close.
There’s a quiet moment between them in which the only thing Keith can hear is his own pounding heartbeat and their breathing.
His entire body feels like it’s smoldering, and he bursts into flames when it’s Shiro’s eyes that slot downwards, flickering over Keith’s mouth. Before he can think of it, Keith licks his lips and watches in a stunned silence as Shiro’s eyes darken. There’s no mistaking that look, he thinks— no way he can misinterpret that.
“Keith,” Shiro whispers and now, fuck it all, Keith is looking at Shiro’s mouth, the way he says his name, the dart of his tongue out between his teeth. He’s obsessed with the way Shiro says his name.
Keith doesn’t have a chance to respond because something in his brain short-circuits when Shiro leans forward just the slightest amount. Just a little bit more and they’d be kissing. Keith holds his breath, unsure if Shiro’s going to actually do that, if he’s even aware of what he’s doing. They’re lost in the moment, maybe, their chests still heaving with quick breathing, adrenaline between them, the shadow of their friendly teasing.
And now Shiro’s looking at him like that.
Shiro stays there like that before he looks up at him with such a quiet intensity that whatever was left frozen inside Keith melts entirely.
“Keith,” Shiro says again, bites his lip briefly in thought. There’s a long, agonizing pause, and then he whispers, “Can I?”
Keith shivers, can’t help it— and marvels at the way Shiro asks that. He watches Shiro swallow and flickers his eyes back up to meet Shiro’s. He nods, unsure and terrified and hoping for what he’s answering yes to.
But Shiro’s smile turns shy, relieved, and he whispers out a quiet, “Okay.”
And then he leans forward and kisses Keith and Keith ceases to think clearly. He ceases to think at all.
Shiro is a devastatingly good kisser— or so Keith assumes, considering it’s the first time he’s ever kissed him, or anyone. Shiro kisses him slow, almost hesitant at first, just a gentle press of his mouth to Keith’s. But then he breathes out a small sigh and presses closer, kissing him more firmly. Keith isn’t thinking, can’t process anything, his hands flying up to cup Shiro’s face and keep him close, kissing him back with a sound that’s probably, embarrassingly, a whimper. Thankfully Shiro seems to respond to that, sighing out a quiet gasp as Keith’s fingers find his hair, as he tugs Shiro in closer and kisses him and kisses him and kisses him.
Shiro licks into his mouth and Keith forgets how to breathe, mesmerized by the way Shiro kisses him, the way his hand rests first at his shoulder and then curls up into his hair, cradling the back of his head and drawing him in closer. He kisses him, slow and deep, plying every sound and breath from Keith’s lungs until he’s nothing but a quiet star longing to fall into Shiro’s orbit.
When Shiro draws back, Keith pathetically chases after him— swallows Shiro’s pleased, surprised laugh by kissing him again. Maybe he’s being too eager. Maybe he’s not thinking clearly or overthinking, but he thinks that Shiro must like this, too, if only for the soft hum and the returning kiss.
Shiro breaks the kiss again, hand slipping from his hair to cup his cheek, thumb pressing against Keith’s bottom lip when Keith moves forward to keep kissing him once more. Shiro chuckles, low and throaty and graveled out.
“Wow,” Shiro whispers, breathless against Keith’s mouth. His thumb slides along the plump of his kiss-swollen bottom lip and Keith only just manages to swallow back the pathetic noise that nearly summons up.
“Yeah,” Keith answers and his voice sounds stilted. He wants Shiro to keep kissing him. He wants to ask why Shiro’s kissing him now and what that means. If that means—
“We do need to get this report in before the end of the night, though,” Shiro says, glancing up at the wall clock as it ticks tragically closer to midnight. Shiro sounds almost downright casual, as if making out with your best friend during a debrief is perfectly normal.
“Right,” Keith answers, feeling owlish as he blinks at Shiro. It’s too casual, he thinks. Like it didn’t mean anything, but he knows Shiro wouldn’t be so cruel. But, still, kissing for the first time— he should say something more than that.
Shiro’s cheeks are flushed a pleasant pink. He smiles at Keith.
“Keith. You’re amazing,” he says, quiet, and then turns back towards the datapad, smiling to himself as he types away.
Keith gapes at him. He honestly doesn’t know what to say to that. Doesn’t know how to respond, how to ask for more and, more importantly, how to ask why now? and what does this mean? Instead, Keith bites his lip and turns back to his own datapad, finishing up the half-finished sentence he’d left abandoned when all this started. He focuses on the words so he won’t turn back towards Shiro and declare his undying affection for him— that feels like too much at once.
He doesn’t know what to do.
They fall into a silence, both of them finishing up their reports. They’re ten minutes to midnight when Shiro sighs and sends off the last report and his shoulders slump. He runs his hand down his face and sighs.
“Okay, good. That’s done,” he sighs, and then smiles over at Keith.
Shiro’s smiling at him like Keith’s the most beautiful thing he’s ever seen, or maybe Keith’s overanalyzing the look, and he thinks to himself that he just wants to keep kissing Shiro again and again. In a moment of panic he looks towards the door and says, “I should go.”
“Oh,” Shiro says, and then nods. “I guess it is late.”
Keith isn’t sure how to read his tone. He sets the datapad down next to Shiro’s and stands up. Shiro follows him.
Keith gathers up his stuff he’s left strewn around Shiro’s quarters. His jacket. Some snacks he brought over. His boots. He slips on his things and pockets the food. Shiro hovers behind him, just outside his reach. Keith wants to turn around and sink into him, sigh into a series of kisses that leave him toe-curling and happy.
Instead, Keith heads towards the door. Shiro’s still hovering.
The door whooshes open. Keith lingers in the doorway. He looks up at Shiro. He says, quiet, “Goodnight, Shiro.”
“Night, Keith,” Shiro says, hand on the doorframe. He leans forward a little, as if swaying into his space, but Keith’s already looking down and stepping back. When he glances up at Shiro again, there’s something in his expression that Keith can’t quite place.
He gives Shiro a small smile. “Get some sleep. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“Yeah,” Shiro answers, recovering, his smile warm again. “Sweet dreams, Keith.”
Keith nods and turns. His door isn’t far from Shiro’s. The Atlas is a large ship, but it suddenly feels not large enough and at once too large as he sees his own door loom at the other end of the main room. He steps across the circular main room, something not unlike one of the lounges that used to be on the Castle of Lions.
With each step, Keith feels colder. He crosses his arms over his chest and shivers, frowning down at his feet as he walks. He glances over his shoulder and finds Shiro still leaning there, watching after him. He offers a small wave and Keith, smiling, waves back before he hears the gentle whoosh of his door opening. He steps through and lets it fall shut behind him after casting one last look back over at Shiro.
In the darkness of his room, he’s left to think. And to think. And to think some more.
Shiro kissed him.
There’s a lot he can explain away about Shiro’s behavior. The gentle touch of his hand to Keith’s. The shoulder taps. The hugs. All the time they’ve been spending together as of late. He can dismiss that all as Shiro merely being Shiro.
But he knows that Shiro isn’t the type to kiss his best friend and not mean something by that. He knows Shiro. They should have talked about it.
Keith’s unbuttoning his coat when that thought occurs to him. They should have talked about it.
It feels too unresolved. He kissed Shiro. Shiro kissed him.
The way Shiro looked at him afterward, soft and gentle and—
And the way he’s been looking at him for the last several weeks. Keith looks down at his fingers, trembling a little as he works the buttons of his coat, undoes the uniform’s belt. He’s left in just his undershirt and trousers.
He takes a deep breath.
A few steps later, he’s in front of Shiro’s door. He knocks. He waits, rocking back and forth on the tips of his toes and back onto his heels. It doesn’t take long for the door to slide open and Shiro to be standing there in front of him.
“Keith?” Shiro asks, tilting his head with a confused frown. “What’s wrong? Did you forget—”
But Keith doesn’t let him finish, lifting his hands to fist in the front of Shiro’s shirt and step forward, letting the door shut behind him as he pushes Shiro all the way back against the nearest wall and leans in, catching his mouth and kissing him hard. Shiro makes a squeaking sound of surprise and then reciprocates, arms curling around Keith’s body and holding him close.
Thrilled and motivated by that response, Keith kisses him harder, drags his tongue over his bottom lip and then drags his teeth over it, too, kissing him hard and fast and desperate. He swallows every sound that Shiro makes. He shivers when Shiro’s hand curls tight into his hair and angles his face up to kiss him deeper.
Keith’s never been one to back down from what he believes in. He’s spent too long, he thinks, being silent. Shiro is right there. He thinks back to that day in the hospital— you’re so important to me. He’d said that. It didn’t feel like enough.
Shiro, he thinks, must feel it, too. Has to feel it too.
He kisses Shiro like it’s the last thing he’ll ever be able to do. He’s desperate, knows he should slow down. But somehow it’s too important and he can’t stop.
He does draw back, though, after a moment— if only because, as much as he knows he could kiss him and keep kissing him, he has to tell him.
“Wow,” Shiro whispers when they part, panting, in the dark. “Keith—”
“I love you,” Keith interrupts, staring up at him. “Shiro, I love you.”
Shiro blinks at him and then smiles at him, long and slow and desperately, painfully handsome. “Keith,” he whispers, wonder and awe in his voice. He looks so happy. “I know. I love you, too.”
He says it so easily. For one moment, Keith’s heart soars— flips all around in his chest and up into his throat. A moment later, he’s sure he’s misunderstood. He knows he’s said it before, so long ago it feels now— but they’d never talked about that.
“I’m in love with you,” he clarifies, eyes boring into Shiro’s.
“Yes,” Shiro answers, his expression openly affectionate and fond, almost dreamlike in his happiness. Keith has no idea how to handle that look. Shiro sighs, “Me too.”
Keith’s heart flips. His smile is a shaky, tentative thing— he didn’t realize he could be this happy at once, so happy that it threatens to pour out of him. He could float away right now. He must look absurd, but Shiro’s smiling at him like he’s beautiful. He called him amazing earlier.
Now that he’s here, it’s a wonder it took him this long to do this. If he’d known this would be how Shiro would respond, he’d have done it ages ago. He smiles dopily up at Shiro and hooks his arm around his shoulders and tugs him down, kissing him again. He draws it out, takes it slow, smiles a little when Shiro sighs out, when he feels Shiro shiver against him. It’s perfect.
He bites at Shiro’s lip, mirrors what Shiro did earlier, sweeps his tongue across his bottom lip until Shiro opens to him, sighs out, sinks against him. His arms curl easily around Keith. One hand slips into his hair. It’s too much and not enough at once. Shiro’s hand slips through his hair, then shifts and touches his jaw, cups his cheek. His thumb traces the scar on his cheek and that is almost enough to make Keith want to start crying. He refuses to cry into the kiss, torn between heartbreak and happiness at once. He didn’t realize he could feel both at once, not like this.
He gasps out quietly and breaks the kiss, looking up at Shiro. Shiro’s expression is soft, tender— loving, he realizes. Shiro loves him.
Emboldened, Keith says, “I want to be with you. Only you. Me and you.”
“Yeah,” Shiro sighs, besotted. “I know.”
The response makes Keith frown, just a bit. “You know?”
There must be something in his tone, something that betrays himself— Shiro stops looking quite so carefree and instead gives him a curious look, uncertain. Keith flounders internally, uncertain if he’s misspoken somehow, if he’s somehow managed to misinterpret this and has thus messed everything up. He stares at Shiro, waiting for his response.
“Keith,” Shiro says, after a long moment of them simply looking at each other. He steps away from the wall, one hand lifting from Keith’s hip to take his hand. He tugs, and Keith follows him mutely as Shiro leads him to the couch and sits down, tugging until Keith sits down, too. “What’s wrong? I want to be with you, too,” Shiro says, voice reassuring, squeezing his hand. “You know that, Keith.”
But Keith doesn’t know that and he gapes at Shiro.
There’s a long, excruciating pause in which Shiro just sits there, looking at him expectantly. But Keith can’t say anything.
Shiro shifts a little in his seat, frowning.
“I am with you,” Shiro says, slowly— and Keith freezes up, staring at him. Any thought he had ceases to function in his head, gone forever.
Shiro shifts again, his frown deepening. It’s strange to think that just a moment ago, he was looking so blissfully happy. Now he just looks confused, concerned.
“If you’re not happy with how things are going,” Shiro says, slowly, something shifting in his eyes as he presumably reaches some sort of conclusion, “you can tell me. If we’re moving too fast…”
“What?” Keith mutters, mouth twisting up.
“Or not fast enough?” Shiro asks, looking uncertain now in the face of Keith’s confusion. He kneads his hand into the back of his neck with a frown. “I know we’ve been so busy,” Shiro continues. “I wish I… I mean, you deserve so much more than what I’ve been able to give you. But, Keith… if you’re not happy—”
“Shiro,” Keith interrupts. “What are you talking about?”
Shiro scrubs his hand through his hair and settles it on the back of his neck again, fidgeting as he looks at Keith. He looks tired, suddenly. Uncertain. His shoulders hunch up.
“I like how things are going,” Shiro says, looking down at their hands. “But if you’re not happy, we can change things, you know?”
“Shiro,” Keith answers, helpless, uncertain what else to say. He’s not unhappy. It isn’t about that—
I never thought I could be this happy, he remembers Shiro saying, that soft, quiet smile he’d worn when looking at Keith.
The words make no sense. But Shiro’s expression— quiet and vulnerable— jags something in Keith’s heart. The words make no sense but the sentiment does, and all that Keith can keep hearing is I want to be with you, too.
He scrambles forward, nearly falling into Shiro’s lap, and kisses him. He fists his hand in Shiro’s hair and devours him, slightly off-center and desperate. He whimpers when Shiro nearly pulls back and then sighs when Shiro presses forward instead, kissing him back.
And then, like a light bulb flipping on, the words seem to snap into place and condense into something resembling language in Keith’s slow lizard brain. He yanks back from the kiss and Shiro blinks at him, looking utterly confused.
Keith grips his shoulders and stares at him. “Shiro,” he cries out, breathless, “Are we dating each other?”
And Shiro laughs. It’s a quiet sound, like Keith’s told a joke— and just as quickly as he laughs, his expression melts into something more concerned, taking one look at Keith’s face and all amusement drying up.
“Oh,” Shiro whispers. “You’re serious.”
Shiro’s brow furrows as he looks at him, hands hovering uselessly in the air as if wanting to touch Keith but uncertain if he should. The sudden uncertainty is jarring. That hesitation, more than anything, makes Keith want to crumble, to curl up and never show his face again.
“Yes?” Shiro finally answers, and it comes out as a question. “I mean, I thought we were.”
Keith gapes at him. Shiro seems to shrink a little.
“Keith… What?” He pauses, trying to make sense of what Keith knows is an absolutely absurd conversation they’re having. He can’t blame Shiro for his confusion. But then Shiro seems to visibly wilt in front of him, blinking at him. “Do you… Do you not want to be?” He looks at Keith, trying to make sense of things. And arrives at the wrong conclusion. “Oh— Keith. Are we breaking up? Is that— should I not have kissed you?”
There’s no accusation to the words, just a quiet heartbreak that Shiro can’t disguise. The words make no sense. As if he could ever not want to kiss Shiro. His hands are still hovering. Keith wants to yank them down so he’ll touch him. He doesn’t move, though, staring at Shiro with wide eyes.
“I didn’t know,” Keith says and his voice sounds hollow.
Shiro stares at him. The color’s creeping into his cheeks and he looks mortified. “You didn’t—?”
“I’m an idiot,” Keith says, the waves of mortification crashing down around him. Suddenly the last few weeks make sense. He’s been dating Shiro and didn't even realize it.
Shiro wilts further, but he still says, gently, “You’re not, Keith.”
Because of course that’s what he’d say. Keith stays there, frozen, trying to process everything at once and finding himself thoroughly ill-equipped to do so. His brain catches up with him.
Shiro begins to say something and then seems to lose those words. His shoulders slump and he looks, suddenly, entirely too small and uncertain, something shuttering behind his eyes. He ducks his head, hand pressing to his forehead, tugging nervously on his bangs.
His voice, when he speaks again, is reed-thin and quiet, “I’m so sorry, Keith. I thought—”
“Sorry?” Keith parrots. “Shiro—” He pauses, almost afraid of the answer, but presses on: “How long?”
“Since you got out of the hospital.”
Keith looks at him but Shiro isn’t meeting his eyes, looking somewhere off to the left of Keith. He looks defeated and Keith longs again for those looks of quiet happiness he’s seen on Shiro’s face for the last few weeks. Ever since, he realizes, Shiro thought they started dating.
“Keith, I’m sorry,” Shiro says again, and lifts his hands to press his hands to his face, sighing out shakily. “I thought you knew. I must have— if I put you in a position you weren’t comfortable with—”
Keith watches him in a stunned silence and reaches out, touching Shiro’s cheeks once Shiro drops his hands away. His fingertips fan across his cheeks, pink with embarrassment and horror. Shiro finally looks at him.
Shiro was happy. Keith was the reason for that.
Hopeless, Keith thinks to himself as he feels his heart thunder. What an incredible man he loves. What an absurd man he loves. Someone who could sit in this conversation and immediately jump to the worst possible outcome— that Keith could somehow not be into the idea of dating Shiro.
“You didn’t,” Keith says. He adds, quieter, almost desperate, “Shiro. I love you.”
Something eases in Shiro’s expression and he nods a little, looking at Keith. He leans to the side a bit, cheek cushioning against Keith’s palm. Keith keeps his hand there and Shiro stays pressed up to his touch. That, at least, is a step, although every move Shiro makes is shy, tentative.
Keith waits a moment and then sighs. “I’m messing this all up,” he mutters. He squirms closer. “Shiro,” he says. “Tell me again.”
Shiro looks at him, and Keith watches as understanding blooms in his eyes. He shifts, hand lifting to cover Keith’s hand, keeping it pressed there to his cheek. When he smiles, it’s a small thing but no less felt.
“I love you, Keith.”
And Keith closes his eyes— lets himself hear that properly, lets those words wash over him. How he’d missed this, he doesn’t know. Too used to knowing his feelings were unreturned, it seems. Or maybe he knew and wasn’t ready to acknowledge it yet.
Regardless, he wants to do it right this time.
“Shiro,” he whispers. “I love you, too. I have for such a long time.”
Shiro breathes out, a soft sound, as if it’s the first time Keith’s ever said it. Keith watches Shiro’s expression, that confusion still shimmering beneath the surface, but overshadowed by that tentative, quiet hope— that soft smile that Keith realizes now is meant just for him.
“You should have told me you love me in the hospital, you know.”
“I tried,” Shiro protests. Then blushes. “I mean… I didn’t want to be so intense so fast.”
“Is that why you didn’t try to kiss me despite dating me for an entire month?” Keith asks, trying to understand.
Shiro blushes more. “I did try! You just always looked away and I thought… I don’t know.”
The thought is absurd. Keith’s expression must look absurd because Shiro glances away again.
“I thought… I mean, it makes sense now,” Shiro says, flushing. “But I thought you were maybe— not wanting to move so fast? I know I’m the first person you’ve ever actually dated. I wanted— I wanted you to be comfortable.”
“Were you seriously fine with dating me for a month and not kissing me until tonight?” Keith asks, incredulous. It seems absurd that anyone could date Shiro and not immediately want to kiss him.
Shiro shrugs, a little helpless. “I guess… I didn’t mind taking it slow. I— you know I’m not so experienced. My… last relationship kind of blew up in my face, you know.” His voice goes quiet on that last part. He glances up at the ceiling, collecting his thoughts, sighing. “I didn’t—”
He cuts himself off, looking shaky for a moment. He stares down at his hands, twisting his fingers together as he fidgets. Something inside Keith breaks and he inches closer to him, reaches out and covers his hand over Shiro’s.
“I didn’t want to mess this up,” Shiro finally says. “If I messed up with you and ruined our friendship, or— I don’t know what I’d do if I didn’t have you in my life, Keith. I’m terrified of screwing it all up.”
“Shiro,” Keith cries, the very idea absurd to him. Utterly, completely ridiculous. Impossible. Impossible not to be hopelessly, pathetically in love with him.
“Guess I managed to screw it up, anyway, huh?” Shiro asks, self-deprecating smile and all. There’s a soft uncertainty in his eyes and Keith wants to immediately banish it.
“In the desert, I wanted to kiss you,” Keith tells him. “So badly.”
“Uh, yeah. Me too,” Shiro answers, looking embarrassed. “You didn’t even know that was a date.”
And Keith didn’t. And it feels laughable now, to not have realized. But then, all their dates felt so familiar, so natural. Dating Shiro is a lot like just being with Shiro. And maybe that’s the point. Maybe that should have been Keith’s first clue.
“Shiro, listen to yourself,” Keith says, not unkindly. He presses closer to Shiro, crowding into his space. “Listen. I wanted to kiss you in the market. At the diner. Every single moment I saw you, at any point, I wanted to kiss you. Since the very first moment I saw you, period, I wanted to kiss you.”
Maybe he went too far with that, if Shiro’s soft inhale is any indication. He blinks at Keith, eyes wide.
“You don’t have to be afraid of messing up with me, is my point,” Keith whispers. “Everything we’ve been through together? Everything we’ve seen? You wanting to kiss me is not a problem by any stretch of the imagination.”
“Wow, Keith,” Shiro whispers, soft, face red.
“And for the record,” Keith continues, feeling bold from the reaction, “If I’d known, we’d have been making out on all our dates.”
Shiro’s smile quirks up at the corner, shy but amused. “Yeah?”
“Yes,” Keith answers, emphatic.
“Seems pretty unproductive,” Shiro says with a smile, tone light and— Keith realizes with a shock, now that he knows how to place the expression and tone— flirty. Shiro’s been flirting with him for weeks. Keith is actually going to die.
“Maybe,” Keith says, unable to fully process this revelation, wondering if he’s ever actually flirted back or if he’s this much of an unresponsive fool when oblivious, too. “Still fun, though.”
“Mm,” Shiro responds, voice just a gentle hum, expression soft and open and— longing. His cheeks are flushed, smile quiet, eyes fond. It’s devastating. He thought Shiro was handsome before?
“How did I not notice this?” Keith groans to himself as he scrambles closer to Shiro, who leans back to make room for Keith. Keith pushes Shiro down onto the couch, hovering over him, hair falling into his eyes.
Shiro’s smile is gentle as he lifts his hand, brushing the hair back from his face. “Really,” he agrees, his smile turning almost a touch playful. “I thought I was… pretty obvious about how much I like hanging out with you.”
“There, see? You let me call it hanging out. Call them dates, Shiro. Say we’re dating. Call me your boyfriend!”
Shiro blinks up at him and then his expression goes absolutely moony.
“My boyfriend,” he whispers. And— oh.
“Oh,” Keith gasps.
Shiro’s fingers brush through Keith’s hair and then, gently, reverently, he tucks a longer piece back behind Keith’s ear.
“My boyfriend,” he says again, quieter, looking up into Keith’s eyes. There’s a question there.
Keith has no idea what his expression looks like in this moment, but he knows it has to look absurd as he tips forward, nose brushing against Shiro’s. He kisses him before he can think twice about it, his entire body twanging like a bowstring when Shiro kisses him back.
“Your boyfriend,” Keith agrees, muttered between kisses.
Shiro breaks the kiss with a helpless little giggle. “I can’t believe you didn’t realize, Keith.”
“Yeah, well,” Keith mutters, knows that he’s never going to live this down from Shiro, much less any of the others once they realize this stupid mistake. He sniffs. “You are bad at communicating.” He runs a hand down Shiro’s chest, pressing down at his belly. “You could stand to be clearer about what you want. I love the desert! Honestly, Shiro.”
Shiro smiles, all embarrassed and boyish. “I thought you were being shy!”
“I was oblivious!” Keith snorts. “Do you honestly think I’d get shy over you telling me something like that? You can’t think I’m shy.”
“Sometimes you are,” Shiro says, voice honeyed and devastating. His smile is sweet.
“No,” Keith says, refusing to even begin to acknowledge a reality in which he could be considered shy.
“Maybe,” Shiro says, teasing. “You’re blushing.”
“I am not,” Keith mutters, cheeks red. “This is ridiculous. Come on. Just tell me what you want.”
“I want you,” Shiro whispers, reverent. “I want to be with you for the rest of my life. Is that too intense to say?”
“No,” Keith says. “We’re doing this all backwards, anyway.”
And it’s true. He’d been ready to rip the universe apart to save Shiro a thousand times over before even thinking a date was possible. Shiro loves him. Keith had long ago devoted his life to Shiro. And they’ve only been dating (apparently) for a month. Shiro’s confession is hardly the most intense thing either of them have been through together.
The fact alone that Shiro could be planning so far into the future is enough to make Keith feel weak-kneed. He cups Shiro’s face and kisses him again, long and slow and promising. When he draws back again, Shiro is looking up at him, heavy-lidded and smile warm.
“What else do you want?” Keith asks him.
“Everything,” Shiro sighs, a thoroughly unhelpful answer.
Keith smiles at him. “Shiro.”
“I guess for starters, to take you on a date that’s romantic enough you don’t mistake it for friends just hanging out.” Shiro’s smile is definitely playful now, teasing. Keith’s definitely never living this down.
“They were romantic,” Keith mutters. “I’m just an idiot.” Keith sighs, and leans forward, pressing their foreheads together. His thumbs trace along the slope of Shiro’s cheekbones. “What else?”
“Kiss you,” Shiro says. “All the time. After training.” He frowns for a moment, thoughtful. “I don’t know how you actually feel about PDA. Again, I was assuming you were shy.”
“I don’t care what other people think,” he sniffs. “PDA’s fine.”
“Noted,” Shiro hums.
“You can kiss me after training,” Keith laughs. “But you know the others will see.”
“Uh huh,” Shiro answers, expression besotted and looking utterly unconcerned.
“They’ll probably tease us,” Keith says.
“They’ll be happy for us,” Shiro corrects.
Keith rolls his eyes. “Sure.”
“Besides,” Shiro says. “Just wait until Lance and Allura get it together. Then everyone’ll just be focused on making fun of him.”
“Well,” Keith decides around a laugh, “I guess you’re right on that front.”
“Your laugh is so pretty,” Shiro sighs, utterly distracted.
“Shiro,” Keith mutters, blushing. Shiro’s smile warms further.
Shiro sighs. He closes his eyes and seems to bask in Keith’s presence, his smile small. “This is what I want.”
“What?” Keith asks.
“Just this. Being with you,” Shiro answers, stretching out beneath Keith. “Just like this. Easy.”
“Easy,” Keith parrots. He leans in closer, his nose brushing Shiro’s.
“Yeah,” Shiro answers, soft. “Just you. Just me.”
Now that he knows to look for it, Keith marvels at the idea that he could have failed to notice Shiro’s affection like this, or misinterpret it as mere friendship. He runs his hand along the line of Shiro’s jaw.
“I didn’t realize how much you were holding back.”
“I was afraid of coming on too strong,” Shiro says.
“You can come on as strongly as you want,” Keith assures him. “You can’t scare me away, Shiro. We promised, remember? You’re never going to be without me.”
Shiro’s smile is almost teasing. “Pretty bold statement from someone who thought we were just friends.”
“I didn’t exactly mean it as a ‘just friends’ thing, admittedly,” Keith mutters. He shakes his head, hands skimming over Shiro. “But I meant it. I mean it. Never without me, Shiro.”
“Mmm… okay,” Shiro sighs, and hooks his hand into Keith’s hair before dragging him down to him.
Keith doesn’t make it back to his room that night.
The next day, Shiro and Keith walk to the morning meeting together, holding hands, their fingers intertwined. No one makes a big deal out of it, although Keith half-expected it. Maybe because everyone already assumed they were dating. Shiro’s expression is damning but Keith can’t find it him to care, not even when Lance points out at lunch that afternoon that his expression is equally as embarrassing and betraying.
He doesn’t let go of Shiro’s hand the whole morning. He’s never been happier.