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the love you left behind

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He leaves the same way he came.

Slowly at first, like dipping your toes into the water and gradually wading in until you just start to get comfortable—and then all at once, unexpected and overwhelming in all the best and worst ways.

The only difference is, he leaves something behind that wasn't there before. 

It should make him feel empty, but instead, it leaves him bursting at the seams with unchecked emotion that's begging to be let out.

Because that's how love works, isn't it? It comes and goes in waves; either you fight against it until your heart aches with the effort, or let it wash over you until you're drowning in it.

The irony lies in how it all ends the same, anyway: everything goes down in flames.

 

He still sees him, sometimes. Chatting in the hallways, laughing at something from across the lounge, smiling at him in the mirror while he's getting ready for the day.

He's everywhere.

Everywhere, but here.

I love you, Adam.

Famous last words. He almost wishes he hadn't said them.

 

The pain never lessens, exactly; more like he becomes desensitized to it, after being exposed to it for so long.

Eventually, it gets better. At the very least, it becomes manageable. Coexistence is the concept that comes to mind. He knows he's not the only one dealing with it.

Sometimes he'll catch Keith staring at the old, beat-up leather armchair that he always used to sit in to read, before he left. 

"What are you thinking about?" he always asks.

And Keith always looks at him, and says: "Nothing," and then pretends to work on his homework, even though his mouth turns down and his brow creases and his eyes never leave the same spot on the page. 

He doesn't say anything when Keith climbs into the backseat of the car every morning, even though he's seventeen years old, and the front passenger seat is empty.

Keith doesn't say anything, either, when Adam absent-mindedly touches the ring hanging around his neck that he keeps tucked underneath his collar, or finds himself staring distractedly at the old picture frames on their bookshelves.

Because they both understand. They're both familiar with the feeling of missing something that's become so much a part of them that they feel lost without it.

   

He comes home late one night to find Keith passed out on the couch, pages of flight equations and physics calculations scattered across his lap and the coffee table. Adam shakes his head with a quiet sigh as he collects the papers and stacks them into a neat pile on the table. He finds a blanket in the hall closet and carefully lays it over him before going to the kitchen to make himself a cup of coffee, despite it being nearly midnight and the fact that the caffeine will probably keep him up for at least an hour more than he'd like. Keith wanders in soon after with the blanket draped over his shoulders and climbs onto one of the stools at the counter, rubbing his eyes.

"You're back late," he notes, watching as Adam pours the coffee into a mug.

"Had to finish up a few things at work." Adam explains patiently. He glances over his shoulder. "Want some hot chocolate?"

"I'm not twelve," Keith mutters, although Adam notes the hopeful look in his eyes when he reaches for the empty kettle on the stove. 

So Adam starts some anyway, smiling to himself when Keith doesn't say anything as he pulls the milk from the fridge and fills the kettle. He puts it to warm on the stove before pulling out another stool and sitting down beside Keith with his coffee. "Looks like you've been studying pretty hard."

Keith glances over at the stack of papers in the living room. "I guess."

Adam takes his coffee in his hands and twists in his chair to press his back to the counter, looking out at the stars through the window. "Your scores for last week's flight simulations came in. You're doing really well." He blows into the coffee, frowning when it fogs up his glasses and Keith stifles an amused huff. "Still have quite a lead on Griffin, too."

The expression on Keith's face sours, and he drops his chin into his hand. "I could care less."

"That implies that you do, in fact, care."

He rolls his eyes. "Let me rephrase, then. I don't care."

"Not even a little?"

Keith groans in exasperation and buries his face in his arms, and Adam laughs a little as he gets back up to take the kettle off the stove, pouring the milk into a mug and stirring in the chocolate mix from the cabinet. "Whipped cream?"

"What kind of dumb question is that?" Keith's muffled voice comes from behind him. Adam finds the can stuffed in the back of the fridge and piles a generous amount into the mug, then slides it across the counter into Keith's waiting hands. "Thanks," he mumbles. 

Adam sits back down, crossing one leg over the other. "Anything interesting happen today?"

He glances at Keith out of the corner of his eye when he doesn't respond right away, the relaxed smile on his face fading when he realizes Keith is just staring down at the mound of whipped cream, instead of digging into it like he usually does. In other words: he's distracted. Adam slowly sets his own mug down onto the counter, watching Keith carefully. He hesitates—and then, quietly: "What are you thinking about?"

Keith shifts a little as he starts absent-mindedly tracing his finger around the rim of his mug. "Shiro always made fun of me for eating so much whipped cream," he says softly.

It's the first time Adam thinks Keith has answered his question honestly. And, the first time he's heard Keith actually talk about him in months. He studies him for a moment, before looking back down at his coffee. "I know."

Keith reaches up to rub his eyes again, and Adam doesn't say anything, but he thinks maybe this time it's not just because he's tired. "I keep thinking I'll wake up and he'll just—" he breaks off to find the right words, then shakes his head slightly. "I don't know. Be here."

Adam takes his glasses off and folds them on the counter, scrubbing a hand down his face. He tries not to think about all the mornings he's woken up and rolled over expectantly, only to find a cold, empty space next to him. "Yeah."

"I just—" Keith pushes the hair out of his face, then lets it fall back into his eyes with a sigh. "—want things to go back to normal."

"They will," Adam murmurs, even though he's not sure that's true. "Eventually."

They're quiet, for a while. Keith still doesn't drink any of the hot chocolate, only tugs the blanket tighter around his shoulders and wraps his hands around the mug for warmth. Adam thinks his coffee has probably gone cold, but he's too distracted to care all that much. He wishes he had more to say, but the fact of the matter is that he's in the same boat as Keith. It's easier to wish for what used to be instead of accepting what is.

Keith's next question is a little unexpected.

"Do you still love him?" he asks quietly.

Adam laughs softly. "Of course I do." He takes his glasses from the counter and pushes them back onto his nose. "Don't get me wrong, I'm still pissed as hell." Keith snorts, and Adam instinctively brings his hand up to the chain around his neck as he looks back out the window, at the stars. "But, yeah. I still love him. That much hasn't changed." That much will never change.

Keith smiles a little, and finally takes a sip of the hot chocolate. Adam refrains from pointing out his new whipped cream mustache. "Speaking of change, will you move the astrophysics test back to next week?"

"Not a chance."

Adam is a little too tired to bother scolding Keith for swearing under his breath.

Despite a few stifled yawns and stubbornly insisting that he isn't tired, Keith falls asleep again a few minutes later, arms sprawled across the counter and cheek pressed to the cool marble surface. Adam doesn't want to risk waking him, so he just readjusts the blanket, turns out the lights (he leaves one on in the hallway, in case Keith wakes up later and needs to get to his room), and retreats into his own bedroom, closing the door quietly.

When he finally climbs into bed for the night, the empty space beside him is just a little bit more noticeable than it usually is.

 

Adam looks up from his lecture notes when Keith walks into class at the end of the week, his head ducked down with one of his classmates' as they whisper conspiratorially to one another. He watches in quiet amusement as the other boy—Lance McClain, as pictured on the class roster—says something; Keith snickers, and Adam smiles to himself before they part ways, Keith heading toward his desk near the back of the room, Lance toward his near the front. 

This has been something of a regular occurrence for a while now, even before the crew left for the Kerberos mission. They have an interesting dynamic, to say the least. Keith is relatively quiet, reserved, and generally (outwardly) disinterested. Lance, on the other hand, is loud, lively, and exceedingly energetic. Put them together, and somehow it all evens out. The two of them seem inseparable, walking to and from class, eating in the commissary, waiting for their turn on the flight simulator—always together. Keith would never admit it, but Adam thinks this McClain kid might be the only person he's ever seen Keith willingly smile at. Which Adam sees firsthand, because Keith's eyes will trail toward the front of the classroom and his lips will quirk up just so every time Lance raises his hand to ask a question—and he asks a lot of questions.

Like today. Keith’s been staring out the window for the entirety of Adam’s lecture, chin propped in his hand. He likes to pretend he's not paying attention, but Adam knows that he's actually absorbing everything he says like a sponge, if his grades are any indication of that. Then Lance raises his hand, and Keith's eyes flick to the front of the room when Adam pauses mid-sentence to call on him.

"Okay," Lance starts, as if he's got an entire monologue planned. ”You know how we've only explored, like, less than five percent of the ocean to date?"

Adam sticks his pen behind his ear and folds his arms. He's not sure where Lance is going with this, but he knows from experience that it'll go—somewhere. "Not sure what this has to do with dark energy, but go on."

"Well, it got me thinking.”

Adam tries not to smile when, out of the corner of his eye, he sees Keith fully turn away from the window to watch Lance curiously.

”So you're saying that the majority of the universe is made out of dark matter, which is all the stuff we can't see. Right?"

"Right," Adam agrees slowly.

"And we've barely even explored a twentieth of our own planet's oceans. Here, on Earth, where we all live and breathe every day. So how much of space have we actually explored?"

He considers Lance for a moment, mouth quirking up as the class collectively turns to await his response. "Interestingly enough, less than five percent to date."

Lance squints a little as he processes. "I need some kind of comparison."

Adam sits at the corner of his desk and crosses one leg over the other. "In theory, the entire diameter of the universe is estimated to be about ninety-three billion light-years long."

There's a brief pause, and then Lance just gives him a deadpan look. "I have no idea what to do with that information." There are a few giggles and slight nods of agreement from the class.

"Okay then," Adam allows, tapping his finger on his arm. "What do you want to use for reference?"

"How many oceans could fit in it?" Lance asks immediately, and Keith actually smiles, although he seems to duck his head down slightly as if to hide it. 

Just to humor him, Adam returns to the large screen on the wall behind him and opens an empty page. "First thing's first, we have to translate the light-years into miles." He writes out the conversions with his finger as a few other students call out the necessary numbers and units, then completes the calculation. "So if the universe is about five point five times ten to the twenty-third power miles—"

Lance's hand shoots into the air again. "Divide it by eleven thousand nine hundred!"

Adam glances over his shoulder. "Interesting you should know the collective distance of Earth's oceans off the top of your head, McClain."

"I'm very intelligent," he allows, grinning as he leans back in his seat with his hands behind his head. There are a few muffled groans among his classmates. "Or maybe I googled it before class. I'll never tell."

Adam just shakes his head and continues the calculation, stepping back from the screen after circling the final number and turning to measure Lance's reaction.

"Four point six two times ten to the nineteenth power," Lance reads slowly. "Oceans." Adam can practically see the gears turning in his head. 

“The universe is a big place,” he says, smiling a little. “That’s why we need people like you to get out there and see it.” 

Lance looks a little starstruck. “Dude,” he breathes. “Imagine how many whales we could fit into the universe—" 

"Okay, back to the lecture," Adam interrupts, earning another few quiet giggles from the class when Lance sinks back into his seat with a dramatic pout. Keith's gaze returns to the window. 

When Adam lets class out, Lance slips out of his seat and marches up to the front of the room and plants his hands on the desk. "I have another question."

"Shoot," Adam responds, amused. 

"Dark energy acts like the opposite of gravity and is probably what's causing the universe to continuously expand."

Keith joins them as the rest of the students empty the room and hoists himself onto the desk, ignoring Adam's annoyed look. Lance just stares at him expectantly. He raises an eyebrow. "...Is that your question?"

Lance sticks his arms straight up in the air, earning an irritated huff when he almost thwacks Keith in the side of the head. "What happens when you get to the end of the universe?"

"There isn't an end, technically speaking," Adam explains patiently. "Our best guess so far is that it's expanding like a balloon." 

"Very scientific," Keith says dryly. 

Lance lets out a squawk of disbelief. "Keith! This is serious! I cannot, with a good conscience, tell the future love of my life that I would go the ends of the universe for them if there is no end!" 

Keith rolls his eyes, but Adam notes the way one corner of his mouth barely turns up, the way it does when he's trying not to smile. "It's just an expression, Lance."

"Oh, Keith," Adam pats his arm sympathetically, receiving a half-hearted scowl in return. "Where's your sense of romance?"

"We're leaving," Keith announces, sliding off the desk and pulling Lance along with him toward the door. 

Lance waves as Keith practically drags him out of the room. "Bye Dr. Wajdi!"

"Call me Adam," he calls back. 

"Bye Adam!" 

"Bye Dr. Wajdi," Keith's sarcastic voice floats back from further down the hallway.

Adam rolls his eyes and smiles.

 

"So," Adam says in the car later, after they've left the Garrison. 

"Don't," Keith says from the backseat. 

Adam does. "You seem to be getting along pretty well with—" 

"Adam," Keith groans and sinks lower in his seat. "I don't want to do this right now."

"Do what?" Adam glances at Keith's irritated reflection in the rearview mirror, resisting the urge to smirk.

"Oh my god," Keith mutters. 

"It's just nice seeing you really connect with someone," Adam clarifies. 

"Gee, thanks."

"He's very," he pauses, searching for the right word. "Expressive."

"I guess," Keith allows. 

"Pretty passionate, too," Adam continues, watching him carefully.

Keith folds his arms and kicks lightly at something in the floor of the car. "Mhm."

"He makes you smile a lot."

Adam expects some kind of protest, but instead Keith just turns and glances out the window, chewing on his lip. He watches him for a moment, glancing back and forth between the road and the rearview mirror, but he doesn't press any further. He realizes he doesn't need to, anyway. Keith's silence says enough.

 

He's grading papers in the living room the next afternoon when Keith tries to duck out the front door without him noticing. "Where do you think you're going?"

Keith's shoulders visibly slump as he slowly turns, his hand still on the doorknob. "I was just gonna take the bike out for a little bit."

Adam slowly sets his pen down, and Keith shifts uncomfortably. He hasn't even touched the bike since the crew left for Kerberos. "Really?" is all Adam asks, even though he suspects he's not getting the full story.

"Yes?" Keith tries.

He attempts a small, hopeful smile when Adam narrows his eyes at him. Just to add to the suspense, he lets the silence stretch for a bit longer than is strictly necessary before returning to his papers. "I'd better not get a call from the police telling me I have to come pick you up later."

Keith's eyes light up and he swings the door open with a big smile. "You won't," he assures him, maybe a little too excitedly. "Promise. Bye!" And then the door closes and Adam watches through the window as he practically leaps down the front steps and quickly starts for the bike shed.

Adam just shuffles the papers in his lap and smiles to himself. “There it is.”

 

Keith comes home late that night, discarding his jacket into a crumpled pile on the floor and sinking down onto the other end of the couch. He slumps down until his knees bump the coffee table and closes his eyes with an exhausted sigh.

"You're back late," Adam observes, setting his book down.

"Didn't realize I had a curfew," Keith mutters tiredly.

Adam eyes him for a moment, considering. "When are you going to invite him over?"

Keith opens his eyes and turns his head to squint at him. "What?"

"That's what you've been doing all day, isn't it? Hanging out with that kid from class."

"I—wh—no," he stammers.

"What's his name again?" Adam asks casually. "Landon?"

"His name is Lance—" Keith catches himself, but his face flushes when Adam just smiles knowingly. He scowls and turns away, crossing his arms over his chest. "It's not—he's just—" Adam can't help but laugh as he snatches the blanket draped over the couch and hides underneath it with a muffled groan. "Whatever, Adam. He just wanted help studying for your dumb test next week."

Adam considers this, taking a sip of coffee to hide his smile, since Lance has one of the highest grades in the class. "Hm. Interesting."

Keith peeks out from underneath the blanket and shoots him an annoyed look. "What are you reading?" he asks, in a clear attempt to change the subject rather than out of genuine curiosity.

"The Connection Between Space Exploration and the Ocean," Adam reads off the cover.

"Nerd."

He gives Keith a sidelong glance. "I bet Lance would like it."

Keith splutters as Adam just smiles again. "I hate you," he mutters, disappearing back underneath the blanket.

When he doesn't reemerge, Adam picks his book back up and continues reading. After a while, Keith finally lets the blanket fall into a bunch on his lap and he rubs his eyes. "I'm going to sleep," he announces. 

"Thank you for the information," Adam says without looking up. Then Keith just slumps over, his bangs spilling over the cushions with the momentum as he pulls his knees up onto the couch and lets the blanket settle over him. Adam lowers his book. "Oh. You mean, right here."

"Yep." Keith's voice is muffled by the fleece tucked underneath his chin.

"You're sure you don't want to sleep in—you know, an actual bed?"

Keith opens his eyes to glance at Adam, slowly. Adam raises an eyebrow. Then Keith closes his eyes again and seems to tuck a little tighter into himself. "Jus' don't wanna be by myself," he says quietly.

The honesty of it catches Adam a little off guard. His gaze lingers for a moment on the bundle, that is Keith, lying on the couch beside him, watching the way his body rises and falls and listening to the sound of his soft breathing. It makes his heart ache just a little, remembering all the times Keith had fallen asleep on the couch just like this. Only before, there'd been at least one other person in the room.

"Watching me sleep is weird," Keith mumbles sleepily, without opening his eyes. 

Adam lets out a huff of laughter, and returns to his book.

(He falls asleep about an hour later, the book lying open on his chest, arm resting across Keith's back.)

 

Keith hangs back after Adam ends class a few days later, letting Lance go ahead of him into the hallway and pausing with one hand on the doorframe.

"Hey, Adam?"

Adam looks up from his tablet. "Yes?"

Keith glances back over his shoulder uncertainly before looking back at Adam, although he seems to be avoiding direct eye contact. "Can, um." He shifts a little. "Can Lance come over after classes today?"

Adam smiles, but he decides not to make this any harder for Keith than it probably already is. "Sure. He can come home with us and we'll just bring him back before his curfew tonight."

Keith tries but fails not to smile back. "Okay."

"Hey!" Lance's voice can be heard down the hallway, and Keith turns to look. "Hurry up Mullet, we're gonna be late for the flight simulation!"

"I'm coming!" Keith calls. 

"Mullet?" Adam teases, raising an eyebrow.

"Not a word," Keith points a vaguely threatening finger in Adam's direction before disappearing from the doorway. He reappears just a few seconds later and clears his throat. "Please," he adds. 

Adam laughs. "Bye, Keith."

Keith bites his lip to conceal another small smile. "Thanks," he says quickly, and then jogs back out into the hallway.

 

It's on the way home that afternoon, that Adam finally solves at least part of the mystery of how Keith and Lance get along so well. Lance pretty much never stops talking the entire way there, filling Keith in on whatever parts of his day that he missed, telling stories about his family, going on and on about what he would do if he ever got stranded somewhere out in the middle of space. Keith seems content to just sit and listen. Adam keeps quiet, occasionally glancing discreetly in the rearview mirror. The smile on Keith's face is still there every time he looks.

Adam lets them have the living room to themselves for a while, although he leaves his bedroom door cracked open out of innocent curiosity so he can still hear them. 

It sounds like they do homework for a while. Adam learns that Lance tends to study everything out loud, reading quietly and muttering under his breath as he solves calculations. When he comes out into the kitchen to make some coffee, Lance calls out an enthusiastic 'hello,' and Keith offers a shy smile before ducking his head. And at some point, he hears Keith start laughing, although he missed what Lance said that was so funny. Eventually, the noise sort of fades comfortably into the background. Adam is reading his own book when something Lance says catches his attention again. 

"Hey, when do we get to go for another ride on your bike thing again?"

Keith sounds like he was caught off guard. "Oh—I mean—do you want to? Again?"

"Uh, duh. It's only like, the coolest thing ever. Where'd you get it, anyway?"

"It was my dad's," Keith answers. 

"That's cool," Lance says, and Adam can't help but admire how easily he says it, without the implied pity he knows Keith hates so much. Then it occurs to him that the way Keith answered Lance's question so quickly, and so willingly, suggests that he's talked to him about his dad before. Lance continues. "Who taught you how to ride it and stuff?"

Adam stills then, listening intently. It's become quiet outside his door. 

"Oh," Lance speaks again, realization in  his voice. "Sorry, I didn't—"

"No, it's okay," Keith says, although he sounds suddenly subdued. He doesn't say anything else, and Adam has to resist the urge to go outside.

It's quiet again, for a moment. Then: "You miss him." Lance says it more like an observation than a question. 

There's a bit of shuffling. "Yeah," Keith answers softly. 

Curiosity gets the better of him, and Adam silently gets up and moves to the door, leaning against the wall to listen. 

When Lance talks again, his voice is hushed. "Do you ever talk to Adam about him? I'm sure he understands."

Adam pushes the door open slightly and peeks out into the living room. They're both sitting on the floor with their backs to him, books and papers scattered across the coffee table in front of them. Keith is shaking his head slowly.

"Sometimes." He pauses. "Not really."

"Why not?" Lance asks, like he's genuinely trying to understand.

Keith pushes his hair back, and Adam can tell he's frustrated. "Because. That wouldn't be fair." 

Lance shifts so that he's facing Keith completely. He's frowning now, which Adam has quickly realized seems to be a rare occurrence for Lance. "What do you mean?"

"Well—" Keith's hand falls back into his lap, and he starts to pick at the cuff of his jacket. "He misses him too. More than me. And I miss him a lot, so—" His voice cracks, and Adam feels something tug at his heart. "I can't imagine how bad it must be for Adam already. I don't talk about him because I don't want Adam to feel worse just so I can feel better."

Adam watches as Lance bites his lip, then looks down at his hands, his voice growing impossibly softer. "You know you can talk to me about it."

Keith's head turns slightly as if to look at Lance, who looks back up. "I know," Keith says quietly, and Lance offers him a small smile. 

That seems to end the conversation. Keith looks away, and Adam notes the way that Lance's smile seems to fade, his expression replaced with a kind of uncertainty, before they both slowly return to whatever work they were doing before they started talking. Adam watches for a moment longer, then retreats back into his room, sinking down onto the bed. Something suddenly seems to be weighing heavily on his chest. Either that, or he's suddenly aware of what was already there. He lets his head fall back and shakes his head at the ceiling, before closing his eyes and letting out a quiet sigh.

Adam had thought—hoped—that maybe Keith was starting to get comfortable with sharing his feelings, that they were making progress. And he'd especially hoped he'd made it clear that it was welcome, even encouraged. Apparently, he hasn't communicated that well enough. 

He tries to read for a while longer, although his mind is too distracted now. He ends up re-reading the same sentence or paragraph over and over again because once he starts it, by the time he reaches the end he doesn't remember half of what he's read. His mind is caught up replaying the boys' conversation in his head, and the reason Keith gave for keeping all of this to himself—how he doesn't want Adam to feel worse just so he can feel better. Adam works his jaw, frustrated. That wouldn't be fair. He closes his eyes and shakes his head. What isn't fair, is Keith making himself go through this alone. That's what makes Adam feel worse.

If he weren't worried that Keith would realize Adam had been eavesdropping, he would bring it up later, after Lance is gone. Maybe not even tonight, but soon. He can't let Keith go on like that. 

Adam goes out into the living room an hour or two later, after it's gotten dark outside.  

"It's probably time we take you back, Lance."

Keith and Lance both look up from the book they're hunched over. Keith blinks, confused, and Lance turns to look out the window. "Wait, already?"

Adam laughs a little. "Yeah, already. You need to be back before curfew."

"But you're a professor. Couldn't you like, write me a note or something? So I can stay a little longer? You know, bend the rules?"

"As a professor, I'm probably supposed to enforce the rules," Adam says. 

"You do look really tired," Keith allows, looking at Lance, even though he sounds a little disappointed.

"I'm not tired!" Lance protests, although the yawn he stifles immediately after says otherwise. 

Keith closes the book and shoves it into Lance's bag for him. "You tried."

Adam goes back into his room to get the keys while the boys start packing up Lance's things. Keith passes him when he comes back into the hallway. 

"I'm coming," he promises. "Lance wanted to borrow one of my flight manuals."

"Be quick," Adam agrees, before Keith disappears into his room.

But when Adam comes back out into the living room, Lance is standing at the bookshelf, his bag lying on the ground near his feet. He's staring distractedly at the picture frames on the shelf just below his line of vision, his brow creased thoughtfully. Adam slowly sits down on the armrest of the couch, watching for a moment. He doesn't think Lance realizes he isn't alone anymore, and the longer he stares at the pictures, the deeper his frown seems to become. When Adam finally clears his throat, Lance jumps and whips around, looking like he's been caught. 

"Oh! Sorry, I was just looking at—" His eyes flick from Adam back to the shelf behind him uncertainly. "Uh—"

"Relax, Lance," Adam laughs, holding his hands out placatingly. "It's fine. That's what they're there for."

Lance's shoulders deflate a little, and he turns a little to look again at the pictures. A brief moment of silence passes between them before he speaks again. "How much longer will he be gone?" he asks tentatively. 

"If everything goes according to schedule?" Adam bites back a sigh. "A year. Maybe longer." Lance doesn't say anything after that, but the crease in his brow has reappeared. Adam folds his arms, drumming his fingers. This could be his chance to find out what else Keith has said about all this, if anything. "Does Keith ever talk about him?" he asks carefully.  

He's not particularly surprised when Lance shakes his head slowly. "No." He seems to hesitate, then: "Sometimes I think he only lets me talk as much as I do because it helps distract him from hurting so much."

Adam can't help but stare a little, after that. Because he's suddenly realizing that there is much more to this boy than meets the eye. He only ever sees the loud, enthusiastic side of him; never the sensitive, subdued side—the side that sees when people are hurting and actively tries to help in any way he can. No wonder Keith seems drawn to him, after all that's happened in his life. Adam opens his mouth to respond, but then Keith comes back into the room, and Lance jumps away from the bookshelf. 

"I found it—" Keith slows to a stop when he looks up from the book in his hand and sees both Adam and Lance staring at him. "What?"

Lance quickly recovers. "Thanks, Keith!" He hoists his bag onto his shoulder and crosses the room toward him, giving him a somewhat forced smile before taking the book out of Keith's hands and slipping it into his bag. Keith shoots a questioning look at Adam, who just shrugs and gets up from the couch, doing his best to feign nonchalance. 

"Ready to go?" 

"Ready." Lance shoots Keith another smile, pulling him along as they follow Adam to the door and down the steps to the car parked out front. 

The ride back to the Garrison is much quieter than the ride to the house had been. Not that that's a bad thing. When Adam peeks in the rearview mirror, Lance has fallen asleep with his head on Keith's shoulder. 

Keith is looking out the window, a faint smile tugging at his lips. For the first time in a long time, he looks content. 

So Adam is too. 

 

Lance starts coming over a bit more frequently after that—about once a week, especially when they both have a big test to study for. Adam has to shoo Lance away on multiple occasions when he starts trying to (mostly jokingly) convince him to give them the answers on their homework assignments. And at the Garrison, Keith and Lance regularly stay for a minute or two after class to talk with Adam.

So far, Adam has learned three important things about Lance:

One, he can seem loud and obnoxious at times, but he's actually incredibly sensitive to everyone around him.
Two, he doesn't like whipped cream in his hot chocolate, only marshmallows.
And three, he seems to make Keith really, really happy.

Adam tries to keep his teasing to a minimum, mostly for Keith's sake, but also because he's genuinely glad to see Keith smiling again. 

He ends class early one day, and doesn't even blink when Keith and Lance both wind up at his desk. 

"Can you show us that picture of the white hole again?" Lance asks excitedly as Keith takes his regular seat at the edge of the desk, swinging his legs.

Adam hums, picking up his tablet and pulling up the picture Lance is talking about. "Remember, I said it's not a real white hole. Just what it would look like, in theory. We're still not sure they actually exist."

"Didn't they use to say that about black holes?" Keith points out, looking over Lance's shoulder as Adam places the tablet back down onto the desk.

"Yes, but just because white holes could exist doesn't necessarily mean that they actually do."

"Today, I make a vow," Lance says, holding a hand to his heart, although he's still peering curiously at the picture. "I will be among the first to discover an actual real-life white hole. You guys are my witnesses."

"I'm holding you to that," Adam says very seriously as Keith rolls his eyes, even though he smiles when Lance laughs. 

They're interrupted by the sound of someone clearing their throat. "Dr. Wajdi."

The three of them look up from where they're hunched around Adam's tablet to see Iverson in the doorway, hands clasped behind his back. Keith and Lance both immediately snap to attention, but Iverson quickly waves them off. "At ease, cadets."

Adam straightens slowly, measuring Iverson's body language. He looks tense—that's the norm, generally speaking—but even more so than usual. And his expression is unusually unreadable. "Everything alright?" 

Iverson's eyes sweep across the three of them, like he's considering. He steps back out into the hallway. "You'd better come with me." Then he fixes his gaze on Keith. "You too, Kogane." 

Adam sees Lance frown, and Keith's eyes widen slightly and his shoulders go stiff. He tries to stay relaxed. "Of course." 

Lance watches them go, a befuddled expression on his face, and then Iverson is leading them toward the offices.

He can't help it. Adam can't help but worry. He takes a quiet breath in an effort to calm his nerves and push down the panic already trying to climb up his throat. There are only so many reasons that Iverson would seek both Adam and Keith out during scheduled class hours to meet with them privately. The way Keith is staying close to Adam's side and stares straight ahead, a slight crease in his brow, tells him he's probably thinking the same thing. Adam feels unsettled and off-center, his heartbeat quickening slightly the longer they walk on in silence. They must draw the curious gaze of every single cadet they pass, but he sets his jaw and maintains his composure. This must look bad, probably suggests that something is very wrong, but maybe everything is fine. Maybe they just have a status report, or they've received some kind of special transmission. Maybe there's no reason to worry.

When they arrive, Iverson steps aside to let them into his office, where two other supervising officers—Walker and Lovell—are already waiting. And Adam does not like the looks on their faces. The door shuts and Iverson moves toward his desk, motioning toward the two chairs in front of it. "Have a seat."

Neither of them move. Adam sees Keith glance at him out of the corner of his eye, his expression uneasy. "What's this about, Iverson?" Adam asks as calmly as he can. 

For better or worse, Iverson cuts right to the chase. "The team on the Kerberos mission."

Adam's blood freezes, and he feels Keith stiffen beside him. His hand unconsciously goes to the ring tucked underneath his collar, and he has to force his mind to go quiet after a rush of horrible thoughts and assumptions flood in. "What about the team?" 

The look on Iverson's face says it all. Adam feels the blood draining from his own. 

"No," Keith whispers beside him. Then, louder: "No. No—"

Adam puts a calming hand on Keith's shoulder, which is hard to do when his entire body is so numb he can hardly feel it and it's taking all his strength to keep his voice level. "Iverson."

"They've missed the past two check-ins," Iverson continues, and Adam is trying to decide if he appreciates or resents the way he seems to be intentionally keeping any emotion out of his voice. "Nothing is showing up on the satellite feed, and we've lost all contact with them." 

The tension in the room is almost unbearable. Adam tries to think logically, fighting down the rising panic in his chest. "Can't you get a read on their location? Their spacecraft should be sending regular transmissions—"

"Those transmissions stopped coming in about a week ago," Walker cuts in, shaking his head. 

There's a second of silence. A week ago. Radio silence from the Kerberos mission for an entire week. Seven days, with no contact. Adam can't believe his ears.

Keith recovers before Adam does. "And you're just now telling us?" he asks suddenly, his tone sharp. 

"Keith," Adam warns, tightening his hand on his shoulder despite how much he's struggling to keep his own composure. Keith reluctantly backs down and Adam looks back at Iverson. "There must be some way to reach them."

Iverson clears his throat. "We've done all we can to make contact, with no results. They're officially MIA."

"Then we have to send out another crew to look for them," Keith says immediately. "That's what you're doing. Right?" 

Walker and Lovell glance at one another, and Iverson just looks at him. "No."

"What do you—" Keith's eyes narrow dangerously. "What do you mean no—"

"Keith," Adam warns again, but Keith angrily shrugs his hand off his shoulder and steps forward, his fists clenched.

"No, this is—there should already be people out there looking for them—"

"We've already done all we can," Iverson repeats, fixing a hardened gaze on Keith. "We have to assume the worst."

Both Keith and Adam freeze at that. It's getting increasingly difficult for Adam to even breathe. "Iverson—" 

"Adam," Lovell starts gently, which only makes the feeling worse. "It's the only explanation."

"What is?" Keith demands, and Adam doesn't reprimand him this time. He holds his breath. 

"They're dead," Iverson says flatly, and Adam feels like something just snapped in his chest. "Most likely crashed, due to pilot error."

There's a moment of awful, deadly silence. Adam feels completely detached, Iverson's words echoing mercilessly in his mind so loudly he can hardly process it. This can't—they're wrong. They have to be wrong. There has to be some kind of mistake. There has to be. But before he can voice anything, Keith snaps.

"Pilot error?" he spits. 

The only reason Adam manages to keep himself together is so he can try to diffuse the situation before Keith does something he regrets. "Don't, Keith—" he tries, but Keith won't be interrupted, only raises his voice to make sure he's heard. 

"Shiro is the best damn pilot the Garrison has ever seen and you're going to stand here and tell me the entire crew is dead because of pilot error?" 

"Stand down, cadet," Iverson orders, a dangerous glint in his eyes.

"You're just giving up that easily?" Keith is near shouting now, his fists still clenched and his face twisted into a scowl. "You don't even know what happened, they could still be out there!"

"This is your final warning, Kogane—"

Then Keith lunges forward and Adam isn't fast enough to stop his fist from connecting with Iverson's face.

"Keith!" Adam cries, reaching out and grabbing his other arm before he can get in another punch—Walker and Lovell both leap to their feet as Iverson staggers backward into the desk, holding a hand to his face. All of Adam's feelings are momentarily forgotten as he struggles to hold Keith back, who's still trying to get back at Iverson. "Keith, stop—" 

"Let go of me!" Keith nearly succeeds in ripping his arm out of Adam's grasp, but Walker manages to grab hold of his other as Lovell steadies Iverson, her expression frantic. "You aren't even trying to find them—"

"Get him out of here," Iverson growls, his voice deadly calm given the circumstances. 

Adam's heart is beating uncontrollably in his chest as he and Walker start to wrestle a shouting Keith out the door and back into the hallway. "No! No, they're still out there!" He tries to wrench his wrist out of Walker's hand, kicking at their feet. "Get off me—" He's drawing the attention of every cadet who happens to be in the hallway, until a small crowd is gathering to watch the commotion. Keith keeps thrashing, pushing against Adam's chest in an effort to free himself. "You can't just leave them out there!" he yells, his voice echoing through the hallways as everyone starts muttering amongst themselves, eyes wide. Adam hears someone ask what's going on, but he doesn't have time for explanations.

"Parking lot," he manages to say over Keith's shouting, and Walker nods. They've managed to drag Keith halfway to Adam's car before he finally seems to give up and lets them lead him the rest of the way, although his breathing is heavy and his shoulders are shaking.

"Oh my god," he starts muttering, his eyes wide and panicky. Adam can't tell if he's finally realizing what he just did, or if he's still stuck on what Iverson said. "Oh my god, oh my god—"

Adam wrenches the passenger door open and they have to half-guide Keith into the seat before Adam shuts the door again, taking in a deep breath. He can't seem to form any coherent thoughts, his mind is too dazed and frazzled and his body feels too numb and absolutely nothing seems to make sense right now. Right now, all he knows is that he needs to get Keith home. Getting Keith home is his primary focus.

Walker puts a hand on his arm. "Adam, I'm so sorry. Lovell and I wanted to tell you sooner—" 

Adam shakes his head, waving him off. "Just—I'll be back, later. But I've got to—" He takes another deep breath, glancing through the window at Keith, who's got one hand clutching at the collar of his uniform, the other clamped over his mouth as he stares straight ahead, his entire body still visibly shaking. 

Walker's hand pulls away. "I'll find someone to sub for your afternoon classes."

He just nods distractedly, already making his way around to the driver's side. "Thank you." 

Walker watches as he climbs into the car and starts the engine, looking once at Keith. Now he has his head between his knees, his fingers digging into his scalp in a clear attempt not to break down, and it physically pains Adam to see him like this, but his mind is so blank, he doesn't know what to do, or say. He reaches out, then thinks better of it and pulls away, staring ahead and peeling out of the parking lot.

All he remembers about the drive back home is that it was deafeningly silent; other than that, his body goes on auto-pilot, making the usual twists and turns like he has so many times before without a second thought. Keith doesn't move once, his hair twisted in his fingers so tightly Adam knows it has to be hurting him. When they pull up to the house, Adam lets the car sit idly for a moment, staring at nothing in particular. He lets out a breath and kills the engine, looking over at the hunched body in the seat next to him. 

"Keith."

He still doesn't move, so Adam climbs out of the car and goes around to the passenger side and opens the door.

Keith does look up then, clamping his hands on his knees, and Adam almost gasps at the near-literal fire in his eyes. "You're not just gonna sit back and let this happen, are you?"

Adam rests his hand on the door, his heart sinking. "Keith—I just don't know if there's anything I can do—"

"Were you even listening back there?" Keith snaps, unfolding completely and forcing Adam to move back a few steps as he clambers out of the car and onto the ground, his fists clenched. "Adam—"

"I know, Keith," Adam interrupts. "I know. Just—" He falters, rubbing his forehead in an attempt to clear his head. This is all so messed up, he doesn't know where to start. "I don't know what you want me to say. We don't know everything yet, okay? The best thing we can do is just wait—"

"Bullshit!" Keith shouts, shoving Adam in the chest so that he staggers slightly. Adam's a little too taken aback to immediately address it—he's never, in all the years he's known him, seen Keith this angry. "What if they're stuck out there and they need our help, what if they—" He rakes a hand through his hair, gritting his teeth, his chest heaving. "You don't even care, do you?" 

Adam's mouth actually drops open at that, and his gaze hardens, everything else forgotten. That was low. Even for Keith. He's let him off the hook for plenty of insensitive comments, but this one? "Excuse me?"

"You don't care," Keith repeats furiously, moving to push at Adam again, who catches his wrist this time. "You don't even care about—"

"I'd be really careful with your next words if I were you," Adam finally snaps, glaring. "You're already on thin ice after what you pulled back there. You'll be lucky if you're not expelled."

"Good riddance," Keith hisses, ripping himself out of Adam's grasp and shoving past him to climb the front steps and let himself into the house. 

"Keith," Adam says sharply as he swings the door open. "Don't you dare—" 

"You're just as bad as they are!" Keith yells at him, whipping around in the doorway. His voice sounds strained from so much shouting, but that doesn't seem to keep him from stopping. "You're all cowards. And liars—"

"Come back, Keith," Adam orders, but Keith doesn't listen. He turns on his heel and storms into the house, and a moment later, Adam hears a door slam.

Adam lets out an exasperated growl and pushes the passenger door closed, leaning against it and letting his head fall back to look up at the sky. Which turns out to be a mistake, because it suddenly brings the awful reality of everything crashing back down. All of his anger and frustration melts away, replaced by an overwhelming wave of pure dread. He inhales sharply as a sudden pang of panic shoots through his chest, and he brings a hand to his mouth.

We've lost all contact. They're officially MIA. 

But they couldn't have just disappeared, they couldn't have just—Most likely crashed—pilot error. 

"Stop, what am I doing," Adam mutters to himself, taking calming breaths. "What am I doing. Keith. Keith, I have to be here for Keith. I have to be."

He closes his eyes, takes a final deep breath, and shoves himself away from the car, climbing the steps into the house and closing the door behind him. There's nothing but the sound of his footsteps and his heart beating in his chest as he goes down the hallway to Keith's room. He stands at the door for a moment, trying to collect himself. There's no sign of movement on the other side, and when he tries to twist the doorknob, he's unsurprised to find that it's locked. He sighs, pressing his forehead against the wood.

"Keith. C'mon. Open up." There's no response. Adam pulls away, lifting his glasses and pinching the bridge of his nose. "Keith, I know—I know you're angry. And scared, and upset." He shakes his head. Keith isn't even listening for all he knows. He could be burrowed underneath his sheets with his pillows shoved over his head to purposely block him out. Adam goes on anyway, although he tries to keep it short. There's no use wasting his breath when he knows Keith wants to be left alone. "I am too, Keith. But you can't shut me out now. Don't you dare shut me out." He inhales slowly. "I have to go back to the Garrison and get all of this sorted out. I'll be back." He waits for another moment to give Keith a chance to come to the door, just in case. He doesn't.

Adam wanders back out into the living room, slowing to a stop beside the bookshelf and letting his gaze sweep across the room. He gets that same odd, detached feeling from before. The logical part of his brain tells him he's in denial. The other part doesn't care. 

Until his gaze falls on one of the pictures on the shelf behind him.

His hand seems to reach out without him really thinking about it, lifting the frame from where it sits on the dusty shelf so he can look more closely. He sees himself standing in one of the hangars at the Garrison wearing his flight suit, helmet tucked by his hip. He'd been trying to act annoyed, arms crossed and expression disinterested—only, he'd failed spectacularly, thanks to the man beside him, his arm slung casually around Adam's shoulders, an enormous smile on his face and two thumbs up that made him look so happy you'd think he just won the lottery. Adam stares at him, tries to ignore the numbness spreading across his entire body as he holds his breath and lightly traces a finger across the figure.

Iverson's gruff, flat, emotionless voice rings through his mind: They're dead.

Adam finally has time to actually process. And the gravity of it finally hits him, and he's completely and utterly blindsided by the pain it brings, so much that he almost can't breathe. He sinks to his knees on the floor, his eyes wide and unblinking, his breath coming in ragged gasps as he clutches the picture in his hands and the tears start spilling down his face, his shoulders shaking.

"Takashi," he whispers.  

Chapter Text

Adam wonders if it’s possible to feel nothing and everything all at the same time.

Then he thinks it has to be. Because that’s exactly what this feels like.

It’s like he’s standing in the middle of a frozen lake, staring down at the cracks spreading slowly across its surface underneath him, threatening to shatter and plunge him into the freezing depths below at any moment. And yet it hangs over him, thick and heavy and suffocating like smoke from a fire he can feel but can’t see, filling his lungs and his throat and burning and scorching until he can’t see anything at all.

So he doesn’t move. He doesn’t dare breathe.

He holds his breath and hopes it’s enough to keep the ice from breaking, and the fire from growing; holds his breath until he’s drowning in the feeling of it all, until everything fades and he goes numb and suddenly there’s no feeling at all.

It’s sitting there on the horizon, everywhere he turns: a storm brewing, dark and silent, but not quite ready to break, because there’s still a part of him that says it’s not real. Hopes it’s not real.  

Some sick part of him wants to be angry—and so he is, briefly. It leaks through his ribs and claws at his chest and pounds in his skull until he’s brimming with it. He’s angry at Shiro; angry, that he stubbornly insisted on spending the rest of whatever short time he had left on a space rock. Angry, that he chose his own pride and ego over the people he claimed were his family. Angry, that he left despite having every reason not to.

He’s angry; angry, until he realizes with an awful sense of finality that he can’t be angry at someone who isn’t there anymore, and all he’s left with is a splitting headache and blurry vision. He can't be angry with a dead man. So really, he’s angry with himself, for not trying harder to make him stay. He’s angry until he can’t be anymore, and he’s left wondering if maybe he just wasn’t worth staying for in the first place.

The guilt is what keeps everything at bay. The locked bedroom door at the end of the hallway that hasn’t opened since Adam dragged Keith out of the Garrison and drove him straight home is what everything seems to hide behind.

But there are times when the fatigue and exhaustion catch up and his resistance comes crumbling down and there’s nothing left to protect him from the overwhelming force of it all. His breath comes in ragged gasps and his entire body shakes and he cries, bites back the desperate screams clawing at his throat because there’s no one to hear it. And he’s torn between the pain of not knowing and the pain of acceptance, even though it’s like a knife in his chest either way.

The next few days go by in a blur. Even then, they somehow manage to be slow and torturous all the same. Adam feels like his body is operating completely on auto-pilot most of the time, his mind gradually numbing to the pain the longer he goes on, enough that he can’t feel himself being stripped raw of emotion entirely.

Part of him wishes desperately that the Garrison didn’t have to make a public announcement about the Kerberos crew, mostly because that makes it much more real, and he’s not sure he’s fully realized that yet. Besides, he’d rather be spared from all of the murmured apologies and sympathetic looks and half-hearted offers of comfort from his colleagues.

Im so sorry, Adam.”

Just tell me if theres anything you need; anything at all.”

Let me know if theres anything I can do.”

As if there’s anything anyone can do. As if there's anything anyone can say to make any part of this okay.

And not to mention, all of the not-so-subtle whispers and glances from every cadet that passes by every time he sets foot in the hallway.

I saw him dragging that Kogane kid out of the Garrison the other day.”

Werent he and Dr. Shirogane dating?”

I heard they were engaged before he left.”

Adam keeps his head up and his eyes forward and pretends not to hear any of it. There’s nothing they can say that he hasn’t already painfully reminded himself of.

There’s a sub teaching his classes for him, but that doesn’t keep him away from the Garrison. He still spends a lot of time—too much time—going back and forth between there and home. Part of it is to keep tabs on the situation, make sure they’re absolutely certain that there’s nothing else they can do before they stop trying to make contact with the crew. Adam insists that Walker keep the communication channel open and send out regular transmissions, just in case. He checks and double checks the flight logs, the transmissions, the satellite images, every possible piece of data related to the Kerberos mission, regardless of Lovell’s constant assurance that there’s nothing left to find. It’s more of a distraction than anything, he knows. But the small piece of him that's still hopeful, however foolish, tells him to keep trying anyway.

The other part of it is to sort out Keith’s academic standing after his scene with Iverson. He knows things aren’t looking good for Keith when Iverson comes back two days later with bandages taped over his eye and a permanent scowl on his face. He does his best, but his best only manages to get Keith off on a suspension.

“It was a tense situation,” Adam says to the officer in charge. “He took the news really hard. He still is.”

“He physically assaulted his commanding officer,” she responds with a sigh, leaning back in her seat behind her desk. “We can’t just overlook that.”

“I’m not asking you to,” Adam assures her quickly. “Just that you give him another chance." 

Her brow crinkles in a way that makes Adam want to reach across the desk and forcefully smooth it out, because he knows a skeptic when he sees one. “He’s already had several discipline issues before—”

“And Dr. Shirogane wouldn’t have fought so hard to keep him here if he weren’t sure he could do this,” Adam snaps, and the name is foreign and heavy on his tongue, because it feels so wrong referring to him that way, and he hates sitting here and pretending to be okay for all of the people who are pretending to care. “He's a good kid. He believed in him. So do I.”

She only gives him a look somewhere right in between sympathy and flat-out pity. He wishes she would just commit to one instead of making him try to guess which she’s really going for. “I’ll see what I can do, but he is suspended.”

“For how long?”

“Indefinitely,” is all she says, which is just another way of saying he might as well be officially expelled.

Which apparently doesn’t matter either way, because Keith still won’t even come out of his bedroom. Adam ends up having to pick the lock just to make sure that Keith is even in the house. All he can really do is check on him every time he comes home, because no matter how hard he tries, Keith won’t speak a single word to him, and it’s tearing Adam apart because he doesn’t know what else to do, and the one person who would know what to do is the person causing it, and that person is gone.

He feels like he’s in a constant state of anxiety, right on the verge of a breakdown. Sitting in the offices at the Garrison hoping that it’s all a mistake, waiting in the living room hoping that Keith will come out, lying awake at night hoping that it’s all just a dream. But it’s becoming clear to him that this is all a living nightmare.

Walker sends him home late one night after finding him in the lounge with a stack of files and tells him not to come back until he’s slept a minimum of ten hours. Adam doesn’t argue.

When he pulls up to the house, he lets the car idle for a moment, staring up at the darkened windows. An uncomfortable feeling of dread and foreboding settles in his stomach when he realizes that all of the lights are still off even though it’s dark outside, which means that Keith probably still hasn’t left his room. Adam cuts the engine and leans forward with a sigh, closing his eyes as he presses his forehead against the steering wheel.

He probably blames me for this, he thinks miserably. If I had just tried harder, if I had justmaybe I could have convinced him to stay. For us. For Keith. He shakes his head and frowns, as if closing his eyes any harder could block out his thoughts. He lifts his head and fixes his gaze on the dark window where Keith’s room should be.

Keith has already had so much taken away from him. Adam imagines this must be like reopening an old scar, rubbing salt in an already gaping wound, and he has no idea what he can possibly do to fix it or make it better. He didn’t imagine he would ever have to deal with something like this. Because it was never supposed to happen.

“I want custody,” Shiro had said one day, after he’d marched into the kitchen and smacked his hands on the counter and spilled some of Adam’s coffee.

Adam had just sighed. “Takashi, he stole your car.”

“He needs a mentor,” Shiro insisted. “Someone he can look up to.”

“And you really think we’re the best people for the job?” Adam huffed. “You burned ramen in the microwave yesterday. Ramen, Takashi.”

“Adam.”

Adam had picked up on the urgency then, on the way Shiro’s jaw was set and his brow was creased the way it was when he was completely and absolutely serious. He pushed his coffee away and leaned back in his chair to really look at him, searching his expression for any sort of uncertainty. “You’re sure about this?”

Shiro nodded.

Adam frowned. “This is a really big responsibility you’re talking about.”

“We can handle it.”

Adam made a face.

“It would be good for him,” Shiro pressed. “He’s a good kid. You should’ve seen him on the flight simulator, Adam. He’s a natural. And he makes good scores—he just needs a little push in the right direction, that’s all. Something constant in his life.”

There was a sharp pang in Adam’s chest as Shiro said that, but he tried not to let it show. He took his glasses off and folded them slowly, setting them on the counter and rubbing the bridge of his nose before lying his hand on the counter. “You’re sick, Takashi,” he said softly.

Shiro had ignored him, like he always did when the subject came up. “I called the home about him earlier, you know what they told me?”

Adam looked at him for a moment longer, and then sighed again. “What did they tell you?”

“His mom left when he was just a baby,” Shiro said, drawing away from the counter to pace on the kitchen floor. “His dad died in a fire when he was eight—he’s been bouncing around in the system ever since, from one foster family to another.”

“So what you’re saying is,” Adam tapped his fingers on the counter, his eyes following Shiro back and forth across the room. “You want to give him a home.”

And Shiro had frozen in place, fixed his eyes on him and said, very seriously: “Yes. I do.”

Now that Adam thinks about it, home was only ever really home when he was here. He doesn’t know what it’s supposed to be now. Because in a way, nothing has really changed—Shiro is still gone. The only difference now is that he’s not coming back.

He’s not sure why he feels disappointed when he flicks the light on to illuminate the empty living room, as if he were expecting Keith to be sitting there waiting for him. A quick glance in the kitchen tells him that no one’s been inside it recently other than him, and his heart sinks because that means that Keith hasn't even left his room to eat. He tosses his jacket over the edge of the couch and steps into the hallway, his heart sinking even further when he sees that Keith’s bedroom door is still closed, though he’s not at all surprised.

The door is locked again. Adam presses his lips into a thin line when the knob doesn’t give, standing there for a moment and debating whether or not it’s worth it to pick again. On one hand, it would show Keith that locking the door is pointless, because it won’t keep Adam from coming to his room. On the other hand, Keith would probably just lock it again anyway, just to be stubborn. Adam decides to save them both the trouble and reluctantly settles for a quiet knock.

“Keith,” he calls softly. “I’m home.”

He isn’t expecting a response, but that doesn’t lessen the disappointment he feels when he receives none. He folds his arms and leans against the door, trying to keep the frustration out of his voice. “I know you’re not asleep. Will you please come open the door?”

He waits for another moment. Still nothing. The previous feeling of dread is quickly morphing into something a bit more desperate, twisting unpleasantly in his stomach. He sighs quietly. “Look, Keith. You can’t hide in there forever. We have to talk eventually, and you and I both know we’d rather just get it over with rather than drag it out. So, just—” He taps his fingers against his arms and swallows down the sudden yet persistent heartache climbing up his throat. “Whenever you’re ready.” He unfolds his arms and lightly presses his fingertips to the door. “I’ll be here.”

Then his hand slips from the door, and he stares at it for a moment longer as if there’s even the slightest chance that it will open, but it doesn’t. He slowly retreats back into the living room and sinks down onto the couch in defeat, pulling his glasses off and letting them clatter on the coffee table.

He’s exhausted. All of the fatigue and weariness from the constant work and sleepless nights finally catches up to his body, and he deflates. The walls come crumbling down. And suddenly the nothing he’s been feeling turns into everything, and he finds himself fighting back tears as his gaze drifts unwillingly toward the pictures on the bookshelf that stare mockingly back at him; then he takes a shaky breath before dropping his head into his hands.

“I don’t know what I’m doing,” he mutters aloud. To himself, to Shiro—maybe both. “This was always your thing. You’re the one who always knew what to do, what to say—” He shakes his head. “That was always you.”

He lifts his head and glances back into the hallway, blinking back the water in his eyes when he wonders what Keith is doing, what he’s thinking. If he’s really curled up in bed asleep or if he’s lying awake thinking about nothing or everything. Adam bites his lip. “Keith still needs you. We still need you. I don’t—” He feels a hot tear slip down his cheek and he reaches up to wipe at it. “I can’t do this without you,” he whispers, and the irony is sick because he’s being forced to deal with the loss of the person he needs most, without that same person he needs most to get through it.

Eventually despair gives way to exhaustion, and he finally manages to fall asleep there on the couch.

And so it goes, for the next three days.

Until he’s leaving the Garrison offices one afternoon, and there’s someone sitting outside waiting for him, slumped down in one of the chairs in the hallway with their arms folded and leg bouncing impatiently up and down on the floor.

Adam does a double take. “Lance?”

Lance’s leg stops bouncing and his head snaps up so fast Adam feels like he very nearly got whiplash just from watching him. He pitches forward out of the chair and onto his feet, eyes wide. “Adam!”

They just stand and stare at each other for a moment before Adam recovers. “Shouldn’t you be in class?”

Lance pulls at the cuff of his jacket, shifting his weight uncomfortably. “I—well, yeah, but—” Adam raises an eyebrow and Lance’s face flushes a little. “I just wanted to make sure I caught you before you left,” he finishes in a rush.

Adam frowns, confused. “Is something wrong?”

He doesn't think he's ever seen Lance look quite so uneasy. He's always been kind of fidgety, constantly releasing all of his nervous energy in some small way like drumming his fingers or tapping his pencil on his cheek, but now he just seems downright edgy. “No. Well—kind of? I just wanted to—I mean—” He clears his throat and looks down at the ground, and that’s when Adam realizes with a start that he hasn’t seen Lance since Iverson walked into his classroom, and that the last Lance saw of either of them was probably when Adam was wrestling a screaming Keith out of the Garrison. And then Adam wonders how he he could’ve possibly forgotten about Lance at all.  

He softens. “If you’re wondering about—”

“Is Keith okay?” Lance blurts, before Adam can finish his thought. “Is he—relatively speaking, I mean—they wouldn’t tell us what happened at first and I didn't know what was going on but then they did and he hasn’t been in class obviously, plus you didn’t show up to teach after everything so I’ve just been really worried—”

“Lance,” Adam interrupts, and under any other circumstances he might have been amused by the way Lance’s mouth snaps shut. “Breathe." Lance obediently takes a deep breath and exhales, his shoulders slumping.

They both jump slightly at the sound of the door to the offices sliding open behind them and an officer walks out, casting them a curious glance as he passes by. Adam takes Lance’s arm and pulls him a little further down the hallway in the opposite direction, glancing over his shoulder before returning his attention to Lance and lowering his voice. “He’s been suspended.”

Lance grimaces, like he’d been expecting it but hoped it wouldn't happen anyway. He wraps his arms around himself and keeps his eyes on the ground. “That’s not really what I meant.”

Adam feels a pang of sympathy, and maybe a little bit of guilt. He has no idea why he didn’t think about Lance sooner and about how Keith’s absence must be affecting him, considering everything Lance has and hasn’t been told. Adam has already seen for himself how close they are—how did he forget so easily? Maybe he’s been too caught up in his own head, even more so than he thought. He slowly reaches up and pulls his glasses off to clean them with the hem of his jacket, even though he knows he’s only stalling and delaying the inevitable. A long moment of silence stretches between them before he finally answers.

He lets out a breath as he shoves his glasses back onto his nose. “I can’t even get him to come out of his bedroom,” he admits, and saying it out loud only seems to increase the guilt weighing heavily on his chest.

The expression on Lance’s face is so pained, Adam swears he can almost feel it himself. His voice wavers a little when he speaks. “Not at all? Not even—he’s not eating? Or sleeping?”

Adam just shakes his head, trying not to look as miserable as he feels, because suddenly there's yet one more person that he’s managed to let down.

Lance swallows. “And he won’t talk to you.”

“I’m working on it,” Adam mutters, sighing. “He’s just—he’s taking it really hard.” He gives Lance a sympathetic look before stepping away from the wall, and Lance’s arms fall back to his sides as he does, looking a little confused. “Speaking of, I have to get going. You should go back to class. Just tell your professor that you were talking to me.”

He doesn’t quite register the panic that flashes across Lance’s face as he starts to walk away until suddenly Lance is reaching out to grab his sleeve, stopping him in his tracks. “Wait, Adam—” His eyes widen when Adam looks back in surprise and he realizes what he’s doing, and he immediately withdraws his hand. “Sorry! Sorry, I—” Adam stares at him as he tries to regain his balance, and he takes a deep breath. “I want to see him.”

Adam blinks at him. “What?”

Lance presses his lips into a thin line. “Keith. I want to go see him. Let me come with you.”

“Oh—” Adam falters, an apprehensive sort of feeling settling over him. He’s not sure why the prospect of bringing Lance home makes him so suddenly uneasy. Maybe because Keith would probably kill him. “Lance, I don’t know if that’s a good idea.”

“Please, Adam—” Lance looks almost desperate. “Just for a minute, that’s all. I’ll try to talk to him, and if he still won’t come out then you can just bring me right back. I promise.”

Adam hesitates. Bringing Lance could be a huge mistake. Keith might not appreciate the sentiment. Or would he? Part of him can’t shake the feeling that it’s a bad idea, but there’s another tiny part of him that hopes, maybe, Lance could get through to Keith if he tried. And then Adam wonders if he’s only worried that relying on someone else to deal with this would feel too much like admitting defeat. He wants to be there for Keith—but maybe, the best way to do that is to let someone else be there first, as much as it hurts.

He thinks about what he heard Keith say only a few weeks ago in the living room: I dont want Adam to feel worse just so I can feel better.

The sound of other cadets’ voices floating toward him snaps Adam out of his thoughts and back into the present as the hallway starts to fill with people, indicating that class has just ended. It’s the look on Lance’s face when he looks back that finally makes up his mind.

“Fine,” he mutters. And then again, in case Lance didn’t hear the first time: “Fine. Just one minute.”

Lance’s entire face lights up with relief, and it makes Adam feel a little less like he’s just made a terrible decision. “Okay. Okay—right now? We’re going right now?”

Adam just turns and gestures over his shoulder for Lance to follow, disregarding the nervous, sympathetic glances he’s already starting to receive from all of the passersby.

“Does this mean I’m not in trouble for skipping class?” Lance asks as he’s climbing into the passenger seat.

Adam allows himself an amused huff. “Just don’t make it a habit.” Then he starts the car, and before he can change his mind, peels out of the parking lot and onto the road.

They both fall into silence for a bit after that, as if they can both feel the urgency of the situation—as if there’s a lot riding on this. Lance has his feet pulled up onto the seat, arms wrapped around his legs and chin resting on his knees. Adam drums his fingers idly against the steering wheel, trying his best to ignore the anxious feeling gnawing at his stomach. He tries not to feel too hopeful, but he can’t really help it. He’s already tried and failed to get to Keith, and he’s quickly running out of options. Maybe Lance will have better luck.

“Are you nervous?”

Adam stops drumming his fingers and glances over at Lance. “What?”

Lance lies his cheek on his knee and blinks at him. “You’re doing that thing.”

“What thing?”

“That thing where you glare at stuff when you’re thinking,” Lance clarifies, lifting his head and leaning slightly as Adam makes a turn. “I’ve seen you do it when you’re reading.”

“You watch me when I’m reading?” Adam raises an eyebrow.

“I don’t watch, Adam,” Lance sniffs. “I observe.”

Adam snorts. “Alright, McClain.”

“Why are you nervous?” Lance asks again, more directly.

“I’m not,” Adam insists. He glances over again. “Don’t tell me youre nervous.”

Lance plops his cheek back down, his brow furrowed. “M’not nervous,” he mutters. Adam gives him an unconvinced look, and he sighs. “I just—don’t wanna say the wrong thing, you know? I don’t want to make things worse.” He taps his fingers on his legs, his expression changing into something more uncertain. “And I’m just worried about him.”

Adam hums softly, turning to look back out at the road. “You and me both,” he murmurs.

There’s another moment of quiet, and then, a little tentatively: “Are you okay?”

The question takes Adam by surprise for some reason and he huffs a laugh, but it’s a little too bitter and he kind of wishes he could take it back. Maybe it’s because no one else has thought to actually ask instead of simply assume. “I’m—” he gestures vaguely in the air with one hand. He couldn't possibly hope to explain exactly how he's feeling, so he settles for the cop-out answer. “I’m fine.”

Lance frowns at him. “No one ever really means that.”

Adam opens his mouth to respond. Closes it, because he realizes he can’t argue, and nothing gets past this kid, does it? 

He thinks about changing the subject, or even just dropping the conversation entirely, but something tells him that Lance won’t give up that easily. He focuses intently on the road for a long moment, turning the answer over in his mind a few times before speaking. “I’ve never had to do something like this on my own before.”

Lance is quiet. Adam can still feel his gaze on him, watching—observing. He finally looks down, after a moment. “I’m sorry. I know that’s probably a really sucky thing to say and that's what everyone says, but—I’m sorry.”

And maybe from everyone else it had been a really sucky thing to say, but for some reason when Lance says it, Adam believes him. He shakes his head. “Don’t be. There’s nothing you could’ve done.”

The rest of the ride is silent, but it seems a little less heavy. That doesn’t keep the anxious feeling from returning when Adam finally pulls up to the house and cuts the engine. Lance sits up a little abruptly, kicking his feet back onto the floor as he stares up at it.

Adam fiddles with the keys in his hands. “You know you don’t have to do this.”

Lance just pushes the door open and clambers out of the car in response.

Apparently they've made a silent agreement to keep quiet, because neither of them say anything as Adam unlocks the door. Lance keeps fidgeting behind him as he waits, hesitating when Adam pushes the door open to let them inside. Adam scolds himself for the slight pang of disappointment that still stabs his chest when the living room is empty, and he quickly shoves it aside as he leads Lance into the hallway and they find themselves standing outside of Keith's bedroom. 

Adam doesn’t even try the doorknob. He already knows it’ll be locked.

If Lance had seemed at all nervous before, he definitely does now. He watches as Adam steps aside and leans back against the wall, folding his arms and looking at Lance expectantly. Lance bites his lip and takes a careful step closer to the door, his eyes fixed on it like he's both hopeful and terrified that it'll fly open if he gets close enough. He slowly raises a fist to knock and hesitates, glancing uncertainly back at Adam, who nods encouragingly. Then he takes a deep breath, and knocks quietly.

“Keith?” he calls tentatively. “It’s Lance.”

They both stand perfectly still as they wait for a response. Adam holds his breath, listening for any sign of movement within the room. Lance turns and presses his ear to the door, his eyes flicking back to Adam and shaking his head. He pulls away and bites his lip again. “Will you let me in? I want to talk to you.”

Adam leans closer to the door. Still nothing. Lance’s face falls a little, and he opens his mouth to say something else when there’s suddenly the softest thump on the other side of the door, and Adam’s eyes widen the slightest bit. He imagines Keith with his back to the door, arms crossed over his chest, staring at the floor. His muffled voice comes through after another moment.

“I know you’re only here because Adam brought you.” His voice sounds a little hoarse and raspy, maybe from overuse earlier in the week, or from disuse since then. Even then, just the sound of it still sends a wave of relief over Adam, because this is more progress than he's been able to make in almost a week.

Lance frowns at the door. “I’m here because I told him to bring me.” Silence again, on the other side. Adam stays quiet, watching as Lance places his palm flat against the door. “Keith, c'mon.” When there’s still no answer, Lance sighs and closes his eyes, pressing his forehead against the door. “I’m here because I miss you,” he says softly, and Adam suddenly feels like he’s eavesdropping again on a conversation meant only for them, but he remains rooted in place. “I wanted to see you. You're making me worry. I know you tell me not to do that, but I can’t help it. You make it too easy for me to worry about you.” He opens his eyes, swallowing. “And I know there’s nothing I can say that will make any of this better, but I’m here. I’m just—here.”

Quiet. Lance lifts his head, his expression bordering on desperation as he stares at the door, like if he stares hard enough he’ll be able to see through it. “Keith,” he murmurs. “Please.”  There’s a slight shifting noise on the other side, and Adam foolishly lets himself hope for that one split second that Keith might be about to open the door.

“You should go, Lance.”

Lance looks like he just had the breath knocked out of his lungs. His hand slips from the door and he steps away like he’s been burned, his expression pained, and Adam feels a jab of sympathy. He pulls away from the wall and lets his arms fall to his sides, unsure what he’s planning on doing, but it doesn’t matter because before he can do anything at all, Lance’s jaw sets and his hands curl into fists.

His voice shakes when he speaks. “Fine.” He shakes his head angrily, and it’s not until he reaches up to wipe at one of the tears slipping down his cheek that Adam realizes with a start that he’s crying. Fine.”

And then he turns on his heel and stomps away, leaving Adam standing frozen in the hallway.

Okay. So bringing Lance had been a bad idea, everything just got ten times more complicated, and Adam is way in over his head.

Adam pushes his glasses up and scrubs a hand down his face, scowling at Keith’s door even though it’s directed more toward himself than anyone else. How has he let everything fall apart so quickly? He should've known better than to let someone else try to solve his problems. 

He only stands there for a moment longer, wondering if he should try to say anything else, but quickly decides against it. Nothing he’s said this far has worked, anyway, and right now he has another fire to put out. So as hard as it is to walk past Keith’s bedroom door, he does. He follows in Lance’s direction out of the hallway and back into the living room.

Lance is slumped back on the couch, arms crossed over his chest and glaring at the coffee table. His eyes are a little red, but other than that he’s already stopped crying. He doesn’t look up when Adam enters the room, so he just carefully sits down on the edge of the couch and folds his hands over each other. The quiet feels a little awkward, but Adam assumes it’s only because he’s not sure what to say without setting him off somehow. He didn’t imagine everything going this way, so he feels stuck, and maybe a little guilty because he never would have agreed to let Lance come if he knew this would happen.

He taps his fingers against his knuckles, glancing down at the floor. “Lance—”

“He’s so stubborn!” Lance cries suddenly, throwing his hands in the air as Adam looks up in surprise. “He just has to do everything on his own—like it would kill him to ask for help every once in a while. Because he thinks that would make him weak, or something stupid like that. And so what if it would, anyway? What's he trying to prove?” He’s on his feet now, pacing back and forth behind the coffee table while Adam sits and watches in a bit of a stunned silence. “He never listens! I’ve told him a thousand times not to close himself off like this. ‘You can talk to me,’ I tell him. ‘I know,’ he always says. And then he never does! But then he gets mad when I don't tell him when something's bothering me, because god forbid I keep my problems to myself every once in a while so he doesn't have to worry about me."

Adam rubs his forehead, a little flustered by Lance's outburst. He's starting to think there's still a lot more to his and Keith's relationship than he realized. “He just needs more time, Lance—”

“No he doesn’t!” Lance bursts, turning on Adam so quickly that his words die on his tongue. “That’s the last thing he needs! What he needs is to grow up and stop acting like it would be the end of the world to let people be there for him." He starts waving his hands for emphasis, pointing. "What he needs is you, and me—” He falters, his expression melting from annoyance into something more like doubt. Adam frowns a little as his shoulders deflate and he drops his gaze to the floor. “Or at least, I thought he needed me, but—” Lance's voice grows quiet. “Maybe he doesn’t.”

He sinks down where he’s standing and lets himself flop over onto the floor, his limbs splayed out on either side of him as he stares forlornly at the ceiling. Honestly, it would've been funny if it weren't for how it makes Adam's stomach turn unhappily. He's seen the effect that Lance has on Keith. Sure, he's a little hot-headed and rough around the edges most of the time, but whenever Lance is around he seems softer, maybe even gentler. And Adam has refrained from pointing it out, but Keith seems to have a certain smile reserved only for Lance that can only be described as fond. He hardly even remembers the last time Keith smiled when Lance wasn't in the near vicinity. Adam's been quietly relieved to see him that way after so long, after everything that's happened to him. It's made him happy just to see Keith happy, and he can't let either of them lose that. 

Adam breathes out through his nose and moves to sit on the edge of the coffee table, looking down at Lance. “McClain.”

“I know, I know,” Lance sighs. “I said you could take me right back to the Garrison.”

“Lance,” Adam tries again. “I don’t think that’s true.”

Lance turns his head to face him, his brow furrowed. “What?”

Adam taps a finger on his knee. “Keith does need you, whether he knows it or not.”

There’s a brief pause, as Lance slowly sits back up on his hands, his eyes searching Adam’s face. “What makes you say that?”

“Trust me,” Adam lets out a small breath. “I know.”

Lance looks a little unconvinced, but after another quiet moment, he bites his lip and lets his eyes fall to the floor. “You have to keep trying.”

“I know,” Adam repeats.

“I mean it.” Lance frowns a little when he looks back up. “Kick his door down if you have to. Promise me you will.”

The corner of Adam’s mouth turns up into a small smile. “Only if I can blame it on you.”

“Fine,” Lance allows. “But technically it’ll be his own fault.” 

“Then it’s a deal,” Adam nods. He glances back at one of the time displays in the kitchen. “Now I really do need get you back to the Garrison. You’ll at least make it in time for flight simulations.”

Lance still seems a bit reluctant, but he obediently climbs to his feet as Adam stands and goes to grab the keys from the counter. “You won’t tell Iverson I skipped class, will you?”

“He gives you any trouble, tell him he can take it up with me.” Adam opens the door. “Let’s go.” 

He glances over his shoulder into the hallway one more time before following Lance outside and shutting the door behind him.

 

Adam stops Lance after he’s climbed out of the car only a little while later in front of the Garrison, rolling down the passenger side window to call his name. “Hey, McClain!”

Lance skids to a stop and reroutes, jogging up the window and resting his arms on the door. “Yeah?”

“Thank you,” Adam starts. “For trying. I’m sorry things didn’t go as well as we’d hoped, but I appreciate it.”

A funny look passes over Lance’s face as he studies Adam for a moment. “Yeah, well.” He shuffles a little, glancing down and back up. “You should know that you don’t have to do this on your own, either.” Then he pushes himself away from the door, and Adam watches as he runs across the pavement and back into the Garrison without waiting for a response.

Adam blinks as he disappears through the doors and then breathes out slowly, leaning back in his seat. Why is it that he always seems to find Lance trying to help carry everyone else’s weight? Does he ever take the time to worry about himself? “That kid is something else,” he murmurs, and then pulls away from the entrance.

The sun has started to set when he makes it back out onto the road. The drive back is about fifteen minutes, which is plenty of time for him to think about his recent conversation with Lance and put together a decent plan of action. Lance is right, he has to keep trying—and there’s no time like the present. The worry that’s been eating at him for the past few days is about ready to consume him, but he’s not ready to let it. Not unless he’s really done everything he can. Otherwise, he’s just as bad as Keith probably thinks he is. So if Keith won’t come out, fine. Adam will just go in.

The same anxious feeling from before starts to curl in Adam’s stomach as he pulls back up to the house, but he doesn’t let it slow him down this time. Before he can lose the nerve he's been working up since he left the Garrison, he forces himself out of the car, up the steps, through the door, and down the hallway. His footsteps slow as he reaches Keith's bedroom once again, and he finds himself frowning a little. He's really tired of seeing this side of the door.

But he's completely thrown off when he tries the doorknob one last time, assuming that he'll have to pick the lock again, and it actually turns. He stands very still, staring down at his fingers wrapped around the cool metal. I guess this is it, he thinks, and then takes a deep breath and slowly pushes the door open, cautiously scanning the room.

The window blinds are closed and the light off, so what little light there is coming from the living room is the only thing that really allows Adam to see. Keith’s uniform jacket is lying strewn across the floor on the opposite end of the room, like it’s been thrown against the wall. There are books and papers scattered at the foot of the bed, and an empty space on the wall where there used to be a space exploration poster. The said poster lies in a torn, crinkled heap in the middle of the floor. And Keith is sitting at the edge of the bed, back turned, legs tucked up to his chest and arms wrapped around his knees.

Adam lingers in the doorway for a moment, quiet. He can't tell exactly where it's coming from, but he can literally feel the tension in the room, like electricity crackling through the air and making the hair on the back of his neck stand on end. But he’s spent too long agonizing over what he needs to say and do to back down now. 

He steps into the room and carefully picks his way over the mess of books and papers to Keith’s side of the bed. Keith doesn’t acknowledge him. Adam folds his arms and taps his fingers, carefully considering what to say. “You unlocked the door.”

“Only because I knew you’d force your way in here when you got back,” Keith mutters.

At least he's speaking to Adam. That has to count for something. Adam studies one of the wrinkled papers full of equations lying on the floor for a second, then looks back at Keith. “Does this mean you’re ready to talk?”

Keith’s fingers dig into his arms, but he doesn’t respond.

Adam sighs quietly and steps around to crouch down in front of Keith and really look at him, his heart clenching when he does. His face is dull and pale, his hair is a mess and there are awful, dark circles under his eyes like he hasn’t slept in days. Adam is afraid that’s because he literally hasn’t, and suddenly the familiar wave of mixed sympathy and guilt is back full force. “Keith,” he says softly. Keith continues to ignore him. Adam rests an arm on the bed beside him. “If you still won’t talk, will you at least come eat something?”

Keith keeps his eyes down, his brow furrowing as he turns his head away. “Just go away, Adam.” Adam doesn’t move, just frowns a little as Keith lies his head down on his knees and closes his eyes as if that’ll make Adam disappear. He already knew this was going to be difficult. Now it looks like it might be almost impossible.

Almost.

“You can’t stay in here forever,” he says as gently as he can. He’d prefer not to let this turn into another screaming match.

“Yeah? Says who?” Keith answers, his voice muffled.

Adam stifles another sigh. “C’mon, Keith. I don’t want to fight with you on this.”

“Then don’t,” Keith retorts.

Adam tries to bite back his irritation when Keith only seems to wrap tighter around his knees, make himself smaller. He’s being stubborn, but two can play at this game. “I’m not going anywhere until you get up.” Adam drums his fingers on the bed and waits. “Keith.”

He almost jumps when Keith’s head snaps up and he glares at him. “I said go away, Adam. I don’t want to be anywhere near you.”

Adam lets out an exasperated breath. “You’re going to have to be if you keep up like this.” Keith just clenches his jaw in defiance, and Adam frowns. “You’re not taking care of yourself.”

“I don’t need to be taken care of,” Keith snaps, uncurling from his previous position and planting his feet on the ground, crossing his arms and looking away. “And I definitely don’t need you.”

That hits Adam like a punch to the gut. Maybe he shouldn’t take it personally, but it still hurts all the same, forcing an involuntary, sharp intake of breath. He reaches out to lay a hand on Keith’s arm. “Hey—”

“Don’t touch me!” Keith shrugs Adam’s hand away and then suddenly they’re both rising quickly to their feet, Keith’s jaw and fists clenched as Adam looks at him in alarm, a little panicked. His control over the conversation is already dissipating, slipping through his fingers. He’d been hoping that Keith would’ve cooled down after being isolated for so long, but clearly the time only had the opposite effect. “You shouldn’t even be here,” Keith says angrily, his voice rising steadily. “You should be at the Garrison, looking for the team, for—” He growls in frustration. “Just go away.”

Adam’s gaze hardens. “I’m not going anywhere,” he repeats firmly. “This isn’t a negotiation, Keith. This has gone on long enough. I can’t just let you sit in here and—”

“And what else am I supposed to do?” Keith snaps again. “It’s not like I can go straight back to the Garrison. I wouldn’t go back even if I could.”

“That’s not the point,” Adam argues, folding his arms again and pinching the bridge of his nose. “Look at yourself, Keith. You haven’t eaten or slept or hardly even spoken to anyone in days. You have to snap out of it.”

Keith’s mouth drops open. “Snap out of what?”

“This!” Adam cries, waving a hand around the room. “There’s nothing helpful about sitting in the dark and being angry and ignoring everyone outside your bedroom door. What are you even trying to accomplish, anyway?” And then his next words tumble out of his mouth before he has the chance to stop them. “You know it won’t bring him back.”

The room goes deadly silent. Keith’s entire body stiffens, and Adam’s arms fall slowly back to his sides as they stare at each other, his words hanging heavily in the air. Adam feels like they’re in some sort of standoff, and he hates it because they’re both supposed to be on the same side. 

Keith’s fists are trembling. “Get out.” His voice shakes when he finally speaks. “Get out, Adam—”

“No.” Adam stands his ground. “I told you not to shut me out, Keith. Not now.”

“Why shouldn’t I?” Keith hisses. “What difference does it make?”

Keith’s words from his overheard conversation with Lance echo again in Adam’s mind. I don’t want Adam to feel worse just so I can feel better. He shakes his head. “The difference is that you don’t have to deal with all this on your own. I know you think that bottling everything up and hiding it from everyone is doing them a favor, but it’s not, trust me. Going through this by yourself is the last thing that you need.”

Keith scoffs. “How would you know what I need?”

That sets Adam off for some reason. Maybe because he’s frustrated with himself, for not being able to have this conversation sooner. Or maybe because he’s tired of feeling helpless. Keith’s eyes widen slightly as Adam sets his jaw and steps forward. “In case you haven’t noticed,” he says sharply, “You’re not the only one who’s been affected by all this. You’re not the only one who’s lost something, and you’re definitely not the only one who’s hurting.” Keith’s expression wavers, but he keeps glaring, refusing to break eye contact. “So yeah,” Adam snaps. “I think I might know a little something about what you need. And what you need is help, Keith.”

“I don’t want your help,” he scowls.

Adam lets out a frustrated huff, pushing a hand through his hair. “Would you just listen to me for one second—” His words fall on deaf ears as Keith angrily pushes past him to get out from behind the bed. Adam sighs and drops his arms, turning to call after him. “Keith, wait—”

Keith whips around, his eyes fiery. “Unless you can tell me you’re actually doing something about all this, then I don’t want to hear anything else you have to say.”

“Wha—” Adam stares at him in disbelief. “What do you think I’ve been doing? Where do you think I’ve been going—I am doing something about it. I’m trying, but it’s hard to focus on anything when I have you to worry about.”

“I don’t want you to worry about me,” Keith growls.

Adam presses his lips into a thin line. “That’s not your choice to make.” Keith makes a frustrated noise and glares at the ground, but before he can open his mouth to make another retort, Adam keeps going in a desperate last attempt to get through to him. “Lance has been worried sick about you too, you know.”

That gets Keith’s attention. His head snaps up and his eyes narrow dangerously, and if looks could kill? Adam would drop dead on the spot. “Don’t you dare,” he says through gritted teeth. “Don’t you dare, Adam. Keep him out of this. I can’t believe you even brought him here in the first place—”

“This is not about me, Keith,” Adam cuts in pointedly. “This is about you and your insistence on pushing people away when they’re only trying to help you. I know that you’re hurting, but closing yourself off to everyone only hurts them, too. Is that really what you want?”

Keith clenches his fists in his hair. “What I want, is for you to get out of my room and leave me alone.”

Adam still doesn’t move. “Keith,” he starts again, speaking softly in an effort to calm the room. “I can’t do anything for you unless you talk to me.”

“How many times do I have to tell you, I don’t want—”

So much for calming the room. “It doesn’t matter what you want!” Adam bursts, throwing his hands in the air. “You don't get to call the shots here. You have to tell me what’s going on with you, what you’re feeling—”

“I—” Keith seems to falter slightly, breathing out and pressing his fists to his temples as he stares down at the ground. “I can’t.”

Adam lets out a breath. “Why not?”

“Because—” Keith’s expression is suddenly conflicted. He doesn’t seem to know what to do with his hands, raking them through his hair and digging his fingers into his scalp. “I just can’t. You don’t get it.”

“What, Keith?” Adam takes a step forward. “What don’t I get? I know you’re angry with Iverson and everything happening at the Garrison, but—”

Keith growls. “I don’t care about the Garrison!”

Adam stares at him, incredulous. “Then what? What is it you’re so afraid of, why are you so hell-bent on pushing everyone away—”

“Because he’s gone, Adam!” Keith shouts.

The room goes quiet. Adam feels like the breath was just ripped from his chest. Keith’s fists shake at his sides, his face twisted, breathing as if every breath is a burden and maybe that's because it is.

“Why don’t you understand that?” Keith shouts again. “Shiro is gone, he’s—he’s—”

And then it’s like Keith is only just now understanding himself the reality of what he’s just said. His voice falters, his face pales, his eyes widen and his fists unclench at his sides. Adam keeps completely still until Keith actually meets his gaze—and the look in his eyes is so desperate, so hopeless and so full of pain and grief that Adam’s heart breaks, because it’s an exact reflection of everything he’s been feeling up to this point.

“Shiro’s gone,” Keith chokes out, inhaling sharply. “He’s really—”

He wraps his arms around himself and sinks to his knees, his gaze unfocused, and Adam rushes forward to meet him.

"Keith," he starts, crouching down and taking him by the shoulders, and then there are tears spilling down Keith's cheeks and just like that, he relents in Adam's hold. He squeezes his eyes shut and slumps against Adam's chest and clutches to the front of his shirt like he'll physically fall apart if he lets go. Adam slips his fingers through his hair and wraps his arm around his shoulders as they start to shake.

“He—promised,” Keith manages through a broken sob, gasping for air. “He promised he’d come back and now—now he’s—” His entire body shudders, and Adam tightens his arm around him. Every time Keith takes a breath, it’s only ripped away by yet another sob, each one hard enough that Adam can’t imagine it’s not physically hurting him. "He's not coming back." 

“It’s okay, Keith,” Adam murmurs into Keith’s hair, and his heart aches, because as much as he wants it to be, he knows it’s not enough. It’s not nearly enough to make up for the gaping loss looming over them. “I know. I’ve got you.”

Keith's breath stutters, and he seems to cling tighter to Adam's shirt as if he's afraid he'll disappear. "Everyone k-keeps—leaving. They never stay—" He hiccups. "I'm scared because I don't—" Another gasp for air. "I don't wanna be alone again, Adam."

"And you're not going to be," Adam says firmly. He pulls back and brings his hands up to either side of Keith's face. "Hey, look at me." Keith looks up at him, his face red and splotchy, cheeks wet and eyes still full of unshed tears. Adam wipes one of his tears away with his thumb. "You've got me, alright? I'm not leaving you. We're going to get through this together." Keith squeezes his eyes shut and nods, and then Adam pulls him back in and Keith buries his face in his chest. 

After that, Keith either doesn't have anything else to say or can't manage to say it through all of his tears. All Adam can do is hold on, his heart breaking right alongside him. They sit like that for a while, until Keith's breathing starts to even out, until the sun has fully set outside and they're left in a bundled mess of limbs on Keith's bedroom floor.

“I’m sorry,” Keith mumbles after a while. “I’m sorry I said you don’t care. I didn’t mean it.” His breath catches, and his voice wobbles. “I’m sorry.”

Adam closes his eyes. “I know, Keith,” he says quietly, and Keith starts crying again.

That's how he knows. He knows how much this hurts, how much it's tearing Keith apart inside to imagine a life without Shiro in it, because the fear of it is paralyzing and yet that's what they both face now.

It takes a long time for Keith's breathing to slow again, for the tears to stop flowing and his shoulders to stop shaking. And maybe it's only because he's emotionally incapacitated, but once Keith is finally able to move, he doesn't protest when Adam takes his hand, pulls him to his feet, and leads him out into the living room. He sits him down on the couch and wraps a blanket around his shoulders before turning on the television just for background noise and heading into the kitchen. He doesn't think now is the best time to try to get Keith to eat something, so Adam settles for fixing a mug of hot chocolate, even if only to give Keith something to hold. 

When he puts the mug into Keith's hands and sits down next to him, Keith leans into his side, his nose red and eyes puffy. To Adam's relief, he drains the mug in nearly one go, and when he takes it from him to put it into the kitchen sink, Keith panics and shoots his hand out to clutch at his shirt. 

"Relax, Keith," Adam says gently. He sets the mug onto the coffee table instead and sits all the way back onto the couch. "I'm not going anywhere." 

"Sorry," Keith mumbles, his grip loosening a little. It's funny how hardly half an hour ago, Keith had wanted nothing but to be completely and utterly alone, and now he seems scared to even let Adam out of his sight. He lets Adam wrap an arm around him, resting his head on his shoulder as his eyelids start to droop, and Adam thinks he's probably much too tired to be embarrassed. "I got expelled, didn't I?" he asks quietly.

Adam shakes his head. "Suspended. But we can talk about that later, okay? Right now you need to rest." 

Keith bites his lip, his shoulders tensing. “I punched Iverson.”

“Yeah,” Adam lets out a breathy laugh. “You did.”

His heart clenches when Keith screws his eyes shut and reaches up to press his palms against them, his voice trembling. “Shiro would be so mad at me."

“Maybe,” Adam agrees. “But I’m actually kind of proud of you. You were just trying to stand up for us.” He pulls Keith’s hands away from his face and carefully wipes underneath his eyes. “Just go to sleep,” he murmurs, brushing his fingers through Keith’s hair once. “I’ll be here when you wake up.”

Keith relaxes against Adam’s side in response, fingers still twisted in Adam's shirt, and not a minute later, he’s asleep.

Adam watches him for a long time, feeling a fresh wave of relief wash over him with every slow rise and fall of Keith’s chest. He feels like an enormous weight has been lifted from his shoulders, like the fire has died down a little and the ice isn’t quite as unstable and maybe it's safe to breathe again, even if only for a little while. For the first time since they heard the news, he feels hopeful.

“We’ll be okay,” he says softly, mostly for Keith but also for himself. He brushes the bangs from Keith’s face, reveling in how peaceful he looks, wishing that he could just sleep forever if it means he doesn’t have to feel the heartache again when he wakes. He closes his eyes and sighs.

“Everything’s going to be okay.” 

Chapter Text

Adam’s entire arm is numb when he wakes up. 

It’s almost comfortable, in a strange sort of way. Even as he’s still drifting under the heavy haze of sleep, the feeling reminds him of late nights spent crammed together on a couch watching television until someone fell asleep, and those left awake couldn’t be bothered to move. It reminds him of long trips in the car, and slipping awake long enough to feel a crick in the neck from leaning against the window and hear the radio playing softly, and an even softer voice humming along to the music.

It reminds him of, and feels like, home. And that makes his chest ache, in a way that’s become just as familiar, when it forces him to remember why he has to be reminded now of what home feels like. Why now, he has to be reminded of something that used to be, rather than what is. 

There’s sunlight filtering through the windows on the other side of the room when Adam finally manages to crack his eyes open, bathing everything in a muted, orange glow. Some TV show that he doesn’t recognize is playing quietly in the background, interrupted by soft, intermittent bursts of laughter. He reaches up for his glasses as he suppresses a yawn, pulling them away from where they were perched precariously on his nose while he rubs his eyes. 

For just a split second, nothing seems particularly unusual or out of place. Everything feels normal, almost, the way it does when he’s just woken up and he’s still floating in a dream state—a precious few seconds in the morning where he can just be, without the constant threat of a breakdown.

He’s drawn back to reality when his gaze falls back down to the source of warmth against his side: Keith, curled up beside him with his head on his shoulder, fingers still twisted loosely in the fabric of Adam’s shirt. Adam takes a deep breath and exhales slowly, shifting slightly to glance over the back of the couch at the clock in the kitchen. Keith stirs the slightest bit, bangs falling into his face, but he remains asleep.

Putting up with a numb limb to make Keith comfortable is totally worth it, in Adam’s humble opinion.

He sighs quietly, reaching up with his free arm to smooth the hair out of Keith’s face, studying it carefully as the memories of last night slowly resurface. There’s a bit more color to his cheeks now, at least. The dark circles under his eyes are still there, although much less pronounced, and his lips are chapped, but Keith did always have a habit of chewing on them too much. Which reminds him: Keith hasn’t eaten in at least three days, and Adam’s not about to let that number grow. 

“Let’s get you something to eat, bud,” Adam murmurs, brushing his fingers through Keith’s hair one more time. He shifts on the couch and moves carefully to get up, but the second he does, Keith’s grip on his shirt tightens and he wakes with a start. 

“Adam—”

“Right here,” Adam assures him quickly, leaning back a little and touching his shoulder. “It’s okay.” 

Keith lets out a small breath of relief and relaxes, although he still seems reluctant to let go when Adam pulls his arm out from behind his shoulders. “What time’s it?” he slurs, scrubbing at his eyes. 

“Go back to sleep,” Adam says, leaning over to pick up the blanket that’s fallen to the ground overnight. “I’m just going to the kitchen to make breakfast.” 

Keith’s eyelids are already drooping again as Adam pushes himself up from the couch, searching for the corners of the blanket to place back over Keith. “Are you going back to the Garrison?” he asks sleepily, as Adam crouches down to settle the blanket around Keith’s shoulders. 

Adam hesitates, fussing with the corners to stall for time. He’s already made his decision—now that he has Keith to take care of, and since he’s already done all that he can on the Garrison’s end, there’s no reason for him to go back anytime soon, really. Whether or not Keith agrees is a whole other story.

“Actually,” Adam starts, and then pauses. He releases the blanket and taps his fingers on his knees. “I thought maybe I’d stay home today.”

Keith yawns, leaning over to rest his head on the arm of the couch and closing his eyes again. “Okay,” he mumbles, apparently satisfied. 

“Okay,” Adam repeats softly. He pats Keith’s knee. “Get some rest.”

The contents in the kitchen are scarce, to say the least. Adam makes a mental note to go grocery shopping soon as he starts some coffee for himself, then gets to work making breakfast with whatever he can find. 

Cooking is sort of a bittersweet distraction, he realizes. It’s almost surprising how many memories are associated with the kitchen alone, considering how Shiro had all but been banned from stepping foot into it. Adam doesn’t think he can remember a time that he didn’t fret and call home when he wasn’t there to make dinner because he was sure that either Shiro would burn the house down or Keith would starve. Possibly both.

“Don’t forget to turn the oven off if you use it.” 

“Okay, Adam.” 

“And for once in your life, please use cooking spray on any of the pans that you use. We don’t want a repeat of the last time you tried to—“ 

“You know that wasn’t my fault!” 

“And don’t let Keith touch the toaster or you’re both grounded.” 

“Adam, just—you know what, forget it. We’ll order pizza. Happy?” 

“Thank god.” 

“The things I do for you.”

“Don’t pretend you’re not excited to eat pizza. Also, you do these things because you love me.” 

“Maybe too much.”

“I love you too.”  

Adam steals little sips of coffee as he goes about the kitchen, making sure to check on the biscuits he’s put in the oven every couple of minutes while he manages the sausage on the stove. He accidentally causes a ruckus when he pulls out another pan for eggs, but as far as Adam can tell, it doesn’t wake Keith. By the time the biscuits are finished, he still hasn’t appeared, so Adam figures he’s pretty much dead to the world at this point. He makes some more coffee and starts the eggs. 

It’s the smell of food that probably does the trick. Adam is plating an enormous pile of sausage when Keith finally wanders in, T-shirt wrinkled and hair disheveled. He glances over his shoulder at him as he turns off the stove. “You weren’t supposed to wake up until I was ready.” 

Keith rubs his eyes and squints at him. “Sorry?” 

Adam just chuckles, and Keith lingers by the counter and watches as Adam continues moving about the kitchen, pulling the orange juice out of the fridge and setting it in front of Keith before returning to the food.

“I hope you’re hungry, because I made plenty of everything.” Adam slides the food he’s made onto the counter and then goes back for some clean plates and glasses. “You need to drink some water, too. Do you want ice?” 

It’s not until he doesn’t receive a response that he realizes Keith has been oddly quiet this entire time. When he turns, Keith is still standing in the same place as before next to the counter, staring at him with a strange sort of look on his face. 

The look. Adam knows that look. 

He sets the glasses down and takes a small, slow step toward him. “Keith,” he says carefully. 

Keith’s shoulders stiffen and he bites his lip, eyes falling to the floor. “M’sorry,” he mumbles. 

Adam shakes his head. “Keith.” 

“Sorry,” Keith repeats, like he’s worried Adam didn’t hear him the first time, but his voice wobbles and he quickly reaches up to swipe at his eyes. He ducks his head as Adam closes the little distance left between them and pulls him in, wrapping his arms around his shoulders.

“Please stop apologizing,” he sighs, but there’s no bite behind it. “It makes me uncomfortable. I don’t know what to do with you when you’re like this.” 

“Sorry,” Keith sniffles into his shirt, and Adam huffs an exasperated laugh. “I feel like a jerk.” 

“Can you feel like a jerk later? I’m trying to be nice to you.” 

“I know, that’s why I feel like a jerk.” 

Adam shakes his head again, pulling away but leaving a hand on Keith’s shoulder. “Just eat the breakfast I made you and maybe then I’ll think about accepting your apology.” 

Keith rolls his eyes, but Adam can tell he doesn’t really mean it. He steps away and drops himself onto one of the stools behind the counter while Adam goes back to fill their glasses with water. Keith seems to be considering the food when Adam comes back, but he hasn’t really shown any sign of putting any on his plate, so Adam takes the liberty of doing that for him.

“You’ll feel better after you eat,” he promises, shoveling a heap of food onto his plate before sitting down beside him. He watches out the corner of his eye as Keith reluctantly picks up his fork and pokes at the eggs for a moment, and then finally decides to take a small bite.

The second that he does, his eyes light up and his shoulders sink. “Ugh.” 

Adam snorts. “Is that a good or a bad ‘ugh’?” 

“Good,” Keith responds, although the entire sausage patty that he shoves into his mouth after that would have been a clear enough indication on its own. 

“Almost as if you need food to live or something,” Adam sighs, and Keith kicks him under the counter. Adam kicks back. “I gave you that food and I can take it away,” he threatens, picking up his fork and pointing at him for emphasis. Keith squints at him and takes another enormous bite of sausage, as if daring him to make a move. 

Adam doesn’t take his food away. Instead he starts more coffee even though he’s still finishing his last cup, and lets Keith steal the biscuit from his plate despite the fact that there are at least a dozen sitting in the pan just an arm’s length away. Then he finishes his coffee and ignores Keith when he asks what cup he’s on.

“I think you have an addiction.” 

“Says you. You’re going to turn into an orange if you drink much more juice.” 

Keith pointedly drinks the rest of his juice and eats two more biscuits.

Adam is content to let them sit quietly for a while, as Keith eats enough food to make up for an entire day. There’s still something else that he wants to ask about; he’s been thinking about it all morning, but he’d rather not bring it up until Keith has had the chance to relax, even if only to get some actual food into his stomach. 

He continues to watch for a moment as Keith refills his glass, tapping his fingers against his own half-empty coffee mug thoughtfully. Keith glances up at him. “What?” 

Adam shrugs. “I was just thinking—” 

“That’s dangerous,” Keith says around his most recent mouthful of eggs. Adam kicks him again.

“I was thinking,” Adam continues. “I know I said I’m not going to the Garrison today, but…” He pauses, setting his mug down onto the counter. Keith swallows his food, brow furrowing as he waits for Adam to finish his thought. Adam clears his throat. “Should I bring Lance back over?” 

Confusion flashes briefly across Keith’s face, like he doesn’t quite understand the question or why Adam is asking. “What do you—” And then he freezes, face paling and eyes widening like he’s just remembering all of yesterday’s events. “Shit.” 

“Keith,” Adam sighs. 

“Oh my god.” Keith stares down at the countertop, his entire body having gone stiff and rigid, the rest of his meal lying forgotten on his plate. “Lance.” 

Adam frowns, pushing his mug aside. “What’s wrong?” 

“I—yesterday, he was here, and I just—did I really tell him to leave?” Adam doesn’t even have the chance to reply, startled by the sound of Keith’s fork hitting the counter’s marble surface and his stool scraping across the floor as he stumbles to his feet. “God, I think I’m gonna be sick—” 

“Whoa, hey,” Adam soothes, reaching for him before he’s even stood from his seat. “Keith, calm down, there’s no reason to panic.” 

“I can’t believe… why am I so stupid,” Keith groans, shoving his fingers through his hair. “Why did I—” He lets out a sharp breath as Adam lays a hand on his shoulder, his face screwing up into something so pained and desperate that Adam’s worried he’ll start crying again. Instead he looks up, one hand still holding his hair back. “How upset was he?” 

Adam opens his mouth to answer and immediately hesitates when he remembers the near-devastated look on Lance’s face when Keith told him to go. Keith raises his eyebrows, his mouth already twisted into half a grimace as if he’s expecting the worst.

“Well, he was—pretty upset,” Adam admits, and Keith promptly buries his face in his hands.

“I messed up so bad,” he moans. 

“You are so very clearly sleep-deprived right now,” Adam mutters to himself, carefully guiding Keith back into his seat. “You still haven’t answered my question.” 

Keith lifts his head and drops his hands into his lap, staring down at them. “I—I don’t know. What if—even if I say yes, what if he doesn’t want to see me?” 

“Why wouldn’t he?” Adam asks incredulously. “The entire reason he was here in the first place was because he wanted to see you.” 

This is evidently lost on Keith, who props his elbows against the counter and presses his fingers to his temples. “I probably just screwed everything up. He’s not gonna wanna talk to me, and he’ll start ignoring me in class if I ever even get to go back to class, and god, he probably hates me—” 

“Ooo-kay,” Adam interrupts before Keith can start spiraling again. Keith stares miserably at his half-empty glass of orange juice as Adam returns a hand to his shoulder. “How about this? I have to go out today anyway and get some food, or we’re both going to starve. So why don’t you go get cleaned up while I’m gone, and then we can see how you’re feeling about it when I get back?”

Keith glances over at him uncertainly, but after a moment of seemingly genuine consideration he sighs, rubbing his eyes a little. “Okay,” he mumbles. 

“Alright.” Adam pats his shoulder. “Finish your orange juice so I can clean up the kitchen.”

“I thought you said I was gonna turn into an orange,” Keith mutters. 

Adam takes his orange juice; Keith squawks at him and tells him to give it back.

。·:*:·゚★。·:*:·゚☆

Adam wonders if he’s a bad person for going straight to the Garrison.

“I need McClain.” 

Every single head in the room must turn toward him to stare when he suddenly appears in the doorway of Lance’s classroom at the Garrison, one hand resting on the doorframe as he leans into the room. The entire class practically erupts into a wave of curious whispers as Lovell blinks in surprise at him from where she’s standing beside her desk.

“Oh. Um…” Adam sees Lance shoot straight up in his chair out the corner of his eye, and Lovell glances at him before returning her gaze to Adam, brow furrowed in confusion. “What—” 

“It’s important,” Adam adds quickly, albeit vaguely. He only feels a little bad for taking advantage of the fact that no one would dare say no to him during a time like this.

Lovell still looks lost, but she turns to look at Lance again, who’s already slowly reaching for his bag on the floor, gaze flicking between Lovell and Adam. “Well then, uh—McClain?”

Adam sees Lance snatch his bag up and scoop his unopened textbook into his arms just before he steps back into the hallway to wait, leaving behind a flustered-looking Lovell and a classroom full of bewildered students. In hindsight, he probably could’ve worked out a way to get Lance from the Garrison a bit more inconspicuously, but at this point he genuinely couldn’t care any less. He’s already plenty used to the conspiratorial whispers every time he so much as sets foot into the hallways. 

“I thought you said not to make skipping class a habit,” Lance says, the moment he rushes out into the hallway and the door slides closed behind him. 

“And I stand by that,” Adam responds, then promptly turns around and heads straight back toward the parking lot. 

Lance scrambles to follow, hitching his backpack further onto his shoulder and hugging his textbook to his chest. “Wait, what’s—where are we going?” 

“I’ll explain in a minute,” Adam says over his shoulder. “Are you up for a little bit of grocery shopping?” 

“Wh—you pulled me out of class to go grocery shopping—” 

“You’ll thank me later,” Adam interrupts, pushing the front doors open and waving Lance through before following after him. “Just get in the car.” 

“Okay, A, you’re lucky I trust you or I’d be totally convinced you’re trying to kidnap me right now,” Lance mutters, and Adam only barely manages to disguise his amused huff of laughter as a cough. “And B, does this have anything to do with Keith?”

“I told you I’ll explain in a minute.” 

“It has been a minute,” Lance whines, but his complaint is quickly drowned out by the sound of Adam jingling his keys and unlocking his car, climbing into the driver’s seat while Lance shoves his backpack into the floor on the passenger side and clambers in. “Okay, we’re in the car and it’s been at least three minutes now,” he declares as soon as they’ve both pulled their doors shut. “Spill.” 

Adam props his wrist against the steering wheel with a sigh and turns to look at him, pausing briefly. “Seatbelt.” 

“Are you—fine.” Lance all but throws his seatbelt on and immediately looks back to Adam, raising his eyebrows expectantly.

Adam resists the urge to find another reason to stall just to see Lance’s reaction, because that would probably just be cruel. Also, this is important. “I talked to Keith.” 

Lance blinks at him, slowly, before his expression morphs into concern. “You did?” Adam nods, and for a moment Lance is quiet, dropping his gaze toward his hands with his brow creased in thought. He looks much more cautious when he looks back up. “And how is he?” he asks quietly.

Adam considers this. “Sleep-deprived,” he answers honestly, and Lance grimaces. “Clingy. Easily brought to tears.” 

“Apologizes for everything?”

“Everything. He even apologized for apologizing.”

Lance goes quiet again, chewing at his lower lip as Adam starts the car and peels out of the parking lot onto the road. “Does he know I’m coming?” 

Adam’s chest tightens guiltily, but he keeps his eyes on the road. “No,” he admits. “He freaked out when I asked if I should bring you back and I figured he would flake when I asked him again, so I made the decision for him.” 

“Why is he the way that he is,” Lance mutters, and Adam glances over at him. 

“Are you still mad at him?” 

“I’m not—” Lance huffs frustratedly, folding his arms over his chest and slumping down in his seat. “I was never mad at him, I’m just—” He gestures vaguely in the air with one hand.

“Annoyed?” Adam tries.

“Irritated,” Lance allows, glaring ahead at the dash. Adam shoots him an unconvinced look and he tosses his hands into the air. “Okay! So maybe I’m a little bit mad. But I should think I have the right to be.” 

Adam doesn’t say anything for a while, drumming his fingers against the steering wheel as he makes a turn. “You do,” he answers eventually, fully aware of Lance peering curiously over at him. “I understand why you’re upset, and you’re allowed to be. But Keith is hurting.” He lets out a small breath, not meaning for it to be as unsteady as it is. “He’s really, really hurting.” 

Lance watches him for a bit longer, and then his gaze falls again before he turns away to look out the window, arms still crossed loosely over his chest. “I know,” he mumbles, and he sounds just as unsteady as Adam feels. He reaches up to massage his temples, breathing in and exhaling quietly. “I… can’t even imagine what it’s like.” 

I can, Adam thinks. And even though he doesn’t say it out loud, he knows Lance must understand, anyway. 

Between the two of them, their trip to the store is quick enough. Lance helps Adam pick out a few things they know Keith likes and pretty much ransacks the candy aisle while Adam goes through the produce section. He doesn’t talk very much, just does whatever Adam asks without question and helps check off Adam’s list as they go. It’s the most quiet Adam has ever seen him, although he still seems full of his usual nervous energy, restlessly teetering up and down on his feet as they’re checking out and pushing the cart toward the exit before the grocer has even managed to put the last bag into it.

Adam doesn’t say anything about it. He’s just as eager to get home. 

By the time they pull up to the house, Adam is sure that Lance must have worn a hole into the floor of the car from bouncing his foot for so long. There are few enough grocery bags that he and Lance are able to gather them all in one trip, so Adam locks the car and Lance follows him up the steps to their front door. It’s when Adam slides his key into the lock that Lance finally speaks.

“Wait,” he blurts, and Adam nearly drops the bag in his other hand in surprise. Lance is focused on the handle of the door when Adam turns to look at him questioningly over his shoulder. “Are you sure about this?” 

Adam experiences a brief moment of panic, standing frozen in place as he blinks at Lance. Now that he thinks about it, he never actually considered that Lance… might not actually have wanted to come in the first place? He opens his mouth, pauses. “I—thought you’d want to see him.” 

Lance looks up at that, confusion evident on his face. “What? No, yeah, of course I want to see him, it’s just—” He glances down at his feet, shifting uncomfortably. “What if he doesn’t want to see me?” 

Adam stares at him. Then he turns back to the door and shakes his head at the ceiling, letting out an enormous breath. “You’re both ridiculous,” he mutters, and turns the key and pushes the door open. 

Lance almost looks relieved when Keith isn’t in the living room, although Adam doesn’t miss the way his eyes keep darting every which way as they empty their load of groceries onto the kitchen counter. Still no sign of Keith, though, even after they’ve put half the food away and Lance has had ample time fidget, enough that it starts to stress Adam out. 

“Keith?” Adam calls. Lance follows him into the living room, tugging nervously at the sleeves of his jacket. “I’m back!” No answer. Adam and Lance glance at each other.

From the look on Lance’s face, Adam realizes distantly that Lance hasn’t seen Keith since the day they heard the news hardly a week ago. It feels like it’s been infinitely longer, something that Adam doesn’t even want to think about right now because he imagines it can only get worse.

When there’s still nothing after a minute, Adam sighs. “He’s probably just in his room,” he tells Lance over his shoulder, and takes a step toward the hallway with the intention to go check—just as Keith is walking out, dressed in a wrinkled T-shirt and shorts, water dripping onto the carpet as he towels off his hair. 

“Adam, have you seen my—” He looks up and instantly freezes, dropping his towel to the floor with a muffled thump. 

Under any other circumstances, it might have been funny: Keith, hair a disheveled mess and shirt sticking to his chest in odd places where it’s still wet, towel lying in a rumpled heap on the floor in front of him—and Lance, still looking fresh and pristine in his Garrison uniform, hands curled loosely into fists at his sides as they stare at one another from across the room, both of them seemingly stunned into silence. Only it’s not funny at all, because Keith looks genuinely horrified, Lance looks like he can’t quite decide how to feel, and both reactions make Adam’s heart twist so unhappily in his chest that he wonders—only for a split second—if maybe this was really a horrible, awful idea. 

The room is so silent, Adam can hear the clock ticking from where it hangs on the far wall. He’s managed to inch just out of their paths, waiting quietly and hoping desperately that one of them will say something soon, because he doubts there’s anything left for him to say that wouldn’t further complicate things. 

It feels like an eternity before anything actually happens. Lance is perfectly still, a frighteningly unreadable expression creeping over his face the longer the silence stretches on, while Keith’s only grows more uncertain and unsettled. It makes Adam wonder just how much he doesn’t understand yet about their relationship, and why there suddenly feels to be so much tension in the air that it could snap at any second.

And then, it does.

Keith finally opens his mouth to speak, and immediately closes it with an audible click when Lance interrupts whatever he was going to say. 

“You had me worried, you know.” 

The guilt that flashes across Keith’s face is instantaneous, but he remains silent. Which Adam thinks might be for his own good, because then Lance folds his arms and furrows his brow, and altogether he looks so intimidating that even Adam wouldn’t want to be on the receiving end of whatever he’s about to say. 

“You know how I get when I worry,” he continues, Keith’s shoulders tensing slightly in response. “And I was so—I had no idea what was happening, and then you were gone, and I didn’t—” He huffs a frustrated breath, reaching up to push his fingers through his hair. “I was so worried about you, Keith. Hunk made me cookies and I ate the entire batch in one night. One night!” 

Keith bites down on his lower lip, maybe to stop its trembling as Lance looks at him from across the room. “And I know that I can’t understand exactly how you’re feeling, I get that. But yesterday, the fact that you—” He falters and swallows visibly, voice sounding a bit thicker than before when he speaks again. “I just wanted— want, to be there for you, and you wouldn’t let me. And that hurt, because I thought… after everything, I thought—” 

Adam glances at him as he presses his lips into a thin line, looking down at the floor. “Just. Don’t do anything like that ever again, okay?” 

“Okay,” Keith answers weakly, eyes watering. 

Lance glares up at him for a moment longer, until his entire steely composure crumbles and he drops his arms back down to his sides with a sigh halfway between exasperation and relief. “You’re lucky I can’t stay mad at you for more than two seconds,” he mutters, and he hardly has to move before Keith is reaching out to meet him, gripping the back of Lance’s jacket so tightly that it stretches as Lance wraps his arms around him.

Keith practically dissolves in his hold, and it’s easily the most relieving and yet the most difficult thing that Adam has ever watched. It’s hard seeing him cry so much in such a short amount of time, more than Adam has ever seen him cry in his entire lifetime. He buries his face in Lance’s shoulder just in time to muffle a sob, although from the way his own shoulders are shaking, it’s clear how hard he’s trying to keep any semblance of himself together. Lance might be crying too, but Adam doesn’t stay long enough to find out, slipping away into the kitchen to give them some space.

Maybe they stay there like that for a while, maybe they don’t. Adam doesn’t know, since he busies himself with the groceries, taking his time to put the rest of them away. A small part of him still wonders if this was really the right choice, bringing Lance back into things—part of him wonders if maybe, he only did so as a cop out, or a way to lessen his own burden. It’s perfectly clear to him that his doubt is misplaced though, when he finally comes out of the kitchen to find that they’ve moved to the couch, but not away from each other.

Lance is perched on the edge of the couch, one arm wrapped fully around Keith’s shoulders while Keith leans heavily into him, knees tucked up into his chest as he wipes at his eyes. Adam folds his arms and leans against the wall, watching quietly. The worst of Keith’s breakdown seems to be over, the only signs of it being Keith’s leftover sniffles and tear-stained cheeks. Lance’s other hand rests on one of Keith’s knees, his own body folded toward Keith almost protectively. 

“M’sorry,” Keith mumbles, scrubbing at one side of his face with the heel of his palm. 

Lance shakes his head, speaking softly. “Keith, you don’t have to—” 

“No, I’m—” Lance shuts his mouth as Keith sniffs, pulling up his collar to wipe at his chin. “About yesterday, I didn’t mean—I didn’t want you to go.” 

It’s silent for a moment, and then, quietly: “Yeah, well… I didn’t want to go, either.” 

The look on Lance’s face as he watches Keith, teary-eyed, gaze trained determinedly on his feet, biting down on his lower lip as he struggles to hold back a fresh wave of tears—Adam isn’t even sure there are words to sufficiently describe it. 

There’s a difference between sympathy and empathy, something Adam has had plenty of discussions about with plenty of people, whether out of boredom or genuine curiosity. If Adam had to explain it, he’d say it all boils down to personal experience, or general emotional capacity. Some people don’t experience empathy , and that doesn’t make them a bad person—sometimes, they simply don’t have the ability. But others feel so deeply, and so intensely that they’re empathetic just by nature.

That’s Lance, Adam realizes. Because the look on his face isn’t just sympathy, or pity, or any of the things that Adam knows Keith hates. He looks fully, properly, genuinely heartbroken. 

Something must alert Keith to Adam’s presence in the room, because his gaze flicks in Adam’s direction and he immediately shifts away from Lance, clearing his throat and ducking his head to swipe at his eyes. Lance pulls back too when he sees Adam, but not far enough that he can’t leave a gentle hand on Keith’s back. Adam is gracious enough to pretend he doesn’t notice the sudden change and bends down to pick up Keith’s towel still lying on the floor where it’d been dropped. 

“Keith, you were looking for something?” 

Keith looks up and blinks, once. Adam hates that he can’t quite remember the last time his eyes weren’t red and puffy. “Oh. Um. I just, couldn’t find my brush.” 

“Must be why your hair looks so bad,” Lance quips, and laughs when it earns him a well-aimed smack to the shoulder from Keith, whose mouth is already twitching up into a small smile despite himself. “It’s probably buried somewhere in your mess of a bathroom. I bet I can find it.” 

“Good luck,” Adam snorts, as Lance pushes himself up from the couch and plucks the towel out of Adam’s hands on his way past.

“Don’t need any,” Lance calls over his shoulder as he exits the living room. “I share a bathroom with four siblings back home, Keith’s is nothing compared to what I’ve seen!”

Adam can’t help but chuckle, shaking his head as Lance disappears down the hallway to begin his search for Keith’s brush. His gaze inevitably drifts back to Keith, who’s sitting quietly on the couch with both feet on the floor now that he’s finally unfolded himself. Adam hovers there in the middle of the room for a moment as Keith wipes at the last of the wetness on his cheeks, and keeps his gaze resolutely on the ground when Adam slowly sinks into the closest armchair.

Keith eventually lowers his hands to his knees, slightly bunching up the fabric of his shorts in his fingers as he studies the carpet. Adam keeps silent, but he’d be lying if he said he’s not surprised when Keith speaks up almost right away. 

“Um. Thanks.”

The corners of Adam’s mouth tilt up into a smile, maybe a bit incredulous. “You’re not mad at me?”

“I’m trying to be,” Keith mutters, and Adam allows himself a single, genuine huff of laughter. “But it’s not really working.”

Adam hesitates, considering. “I wasn’t sure you’d say yes when I asked you again.” 

Keith picks at the hems of his shorts. “I… probably wasn’t going to. So.” He bites his lip, clamping his hands over his knees, and for a moment Adam thinks there’s something else he wants to say but maybe he doesn’t know how. “It’s just—” He falters, brow furrowing in clear frustration and knuckles whitening as he clutches tighter at his knees. “I just—”

“Found it!” Both Adam and Keith look up at the sound of Lance’s voice announcing his return. He marches back into the living room with a bright smile, triumphantly waving Keith’s brush in the air. “Told you guys I could.” 

Lance tosses it his way and Keith scoffs, letting it fall harmlessly into his lap. “Humble, as always.” 

“Thank you. Now please brush your hair, you look like David Bowie and Bigfoot’s lovechild.”

Keith flings the brush back in retaliation and Lance easily catches it with another laugh, and Adam watches all of it with a strange sense of comfort settling in his chest, because he’s already seen Keith smile at least three times in the span of the mere twenty minutes that Lance has been here, more than Adam has been able to make him smile in days. He wonders if it’s selfish to feel as relieved as he does, if he should be worried now that he’ll take advantage of it to lessen his own responsibility, but somehow he knows that’s not the case. This was definitely the right choice. 

Lance is behind the couch now trying to wrestle Keith into letting him brush his hair, and Adam watches for an amused few seconds before intervening. “Keep that up and you’re both sleeping outside tonight.” Lance’s head snaps up and Keith immediately takes the opportunity to knock the brush out of his grasp, and it topples to the floor. 

“Wait—tonight? As in, like—you mean I can stay?”

Adam glances at Keith, who seems to have just realized the topic of conversation and finally releases his hold on one of Lance’s wrists. “As long as Keith is okay with it.”

“I don’t mind,” Keith answers, absolutely zero hesitation. Adam doesn’t say anything about it. Neither does Lance, although his face falls almost as quickly as it had brightened. 

“I didn’t bring any clothes with me.” 

Keith’s eyes flick back to Adam briefly, and if his cheeks seem a tiny bit pinker than usual, Adam doesn’t say anything about that, either. “You can just borrow some of mine,” he mumbles. 

Lance’s eyebrows shoot up toward his hairline. “With these things?” He lifts his arms and flexes, glancing over at one of them with an expression of faux admiration. “I’d rip all your shirts.”

“Ugh,” Keith scoffs, shoving himself up off the couch and stalking across the living room while Lance bursts into laughter and scrambles around the edge of the couch to follow. 

“I’m kidding, please let me borrow some of your clothes, I don’t want to sleep in this uniform, you know how uncomfortable these jackets are please let me borrow a T-shirt at least I promise I’ll stop teasing you and your noodle arms.”

Adam remains in his seat long enough to hear Keith make a retort, because I do not have noodle arms, Lance, and shakes his head with a small smile as their voices fade and eventually disappear completely down the hallway. 

He really did intend to get up after that, he thinks, but instead he finds himself rather abruptly fighting off sleep, the fatigue and exhaustion from the past few days (weeks, even) finally catching up to him. Now that he has help looking after Keith, just a few short minutes of shut-eye couldn’t possibly hurt; he has a lot of sleepless nights to make up for. So he closes his eyes, lets himself sink a bit further into his chair, and quickly drifts off into a dreamless sleep. 

。·:*:·゚★。·:*:·゚☆

He wakes to the sound of rustling and hushed murmurs from the kitchen, although it takes him a good bit to realize it. 

There’s a distinct thick, heavy feeling in his mouth that he has to smack away, the one that always seems to result from a nap but never after sleeping the whole night through. A blanket has been laid carefully over him, which he certainly doesn’t remember doing himself when he blinks down at it. There’s some more rustling from the kitchen, so he twists around to look, lifting one arm to readjust his glasses.

Keith and Lance are standing together over the counter, Lance busy mixing something that Adam can’t quite see from the living room while Keith works to open up a bag of chips, hence the rustling. Lance has changed out of his Garrison uniform, dressed in one of Keith’s old T-shirts and a pair of sweats Adam can only just see around the corner. He wonders if Keith gave him those on purpose. Lance mutters something, and Keith rolls his eyes despite the immediate smile that whatever comment Lance had made brings to his face, dumping the chips out into a bowl. Adam shifts, the blanket falling from his shoulders as he does. “What are you two doing?”

Both heads snap up and they freeze, almost comically so. Lance recovers almost immediately, only smiling before returning to whatever he’s working on. “Making dinner.” 

Adam squints a little. “But it’s only—” His words die on his tongue the moment that his eyes fall on the darkening sky through the blinds of the window between Keith and Lance’s heads. The clock reads a quarter past six when he glances at it, and he supposes he must look as bewildered as he feels because Keith pipes up before he can say anything else.

“You slept through the afternoon,” he explains, something quiet in his voice that draws Adam’s gaze back toward him. He meets it for only a brief moment before returning to the bowl of chips, but Adam understands anyway. Equal exchange, he supposes. An odd, bittersweet version of karma.

He peels the blanket away and leaves it on the chair as he rises and goes to join them, peering curiously over the counter to see what Lance is making. “Is that—salsa?”

“My mamá’s recipe,” Lance says proudly, measuring out a small portion and slurping it off the spoon. He seems to consider, and Adam lifts both eyebrows when he reaches for the carton of orange juice beside Keith’s bowl of chips and pours a small amount into his own bowl of salsa. Keith doesn’t question it, so Adam decides that neither should he. “We eat it with everything.” 

He takes another taste of the salsa and makes a small noise of agreement, seemingly satisfied as he scoops the bowl into his arms and moves it to the dining table. Adam watches him set it down, and only then notices the plates of sandwiches and fruit and glasses of water already prepared. Keith follows with his bowl of chips, and Lance beams at him as he finds a place for it on the table.

“Dinner is served,” Lance announces, picking a chip and dunking it in the salsa before he’s even pulled a chair out. 

Adam stays where he is at the counter for a moment longer until Keith glances over at him, and Adam knows him well enough to recognize the subtle, hopeful look on his face. He smiles, and Keith’s shoulders slump the slightest fraction as if in relief when he comes to join them at the table. 

“I should hope this goes without saying,” Lance begins, and takes an enormous bite of his sandwich. “But no double dipping.” 

“Good thing you said it anyway, because Keith’s the worst about that,” Adam hums, pulling out his own chair. 

Keith makes an affronted noise. “I am not!” 

Adam ignores him, plucking a chip from the bowl and dipping. He takes a bite and chews thoughtfully. “This is really good, Lance.” 

“Of course it is,” Lance agrees proudly, reaching for another chip of his own. 

“I helped a little,” Keith mumbles. 

“I’m sure you did,” Adam allows, ruffling Keith’s hair and smiling when he scowls but doesn’t lean away. 

Lance talks through most of dinner, which neither Adam nor Keith minds. He spends most of it talking about Cuba, and his family, and how he misses having his own room sometimes but doesn’t miss sharing a bathroom with four siblings. Adam learns more than he ever thought he’d know about Lance’s niece and nephew, and his relatively new sister-in-law, and his grandparents, enough that Adam almost feels like he knows all of them himself. 

As much as he enjoys Lance’s stories, Adam shoos both him and Keith away when they’re finished eating, turning down their offers to help clean up. They don’t go far though, only disappearing for a minute or two before they return to the living room with a board game they dug out of the hall closet. Adam imagines that Lance was the one to suggest it; he has a suspicion that he’s been doing whatever he can to keep Keith’s mind off—things. 

It’s fully dark outside by the time that Adam finishes up in the kitchen and comes out to join them as a spectator. They’re sprawled out on the floor playing Battleship, and Lance is losing spectacularly from what Adam can tell. He’s already lost two ships and is halfway to losing another, while he hasn’t hit Keith a single time.

“Okay, um… F4.” 

“Miss,” Keith deadpans, and snorts when Lance thumps his elbows against the carpet and pushes his hands through his hair in frustration. 

“Dude, how?” Where the heck are your ships, there’s like—zero logic to your placement, apparently—” 

“Since when is there any logic in Battleship?”

Lance squawks, and Adam can’t help but chuckle. “Since always! All of my ships are very strategically placed, I have this game down to a science.” 

“And yet,” Keith shrugs, smiling smugly over his board as Lance narrows his eyes at him.

“You just have to get into his head,” Adam suggests, peering over at Keith’s side and pouting when Keith glares at him and turns it away. 

Lance scoffs. “Are you kidding? I’m always in Keith’s head, I know exactly what he’s thinking at any given moment.” 

“Doubtful,” Keith retorts. “D7.” 

Lance glances down at his board and groans. “Hit. But seriously, I know Keith better than anyone.” 

“Not better than me,” Keith points out, sticking a little red piece onto his own board where he’s just hit Lance’s ship. 

“Better than Adam,” Lance challenges, grinning up at Adam. Although the way he says it is more of a question than anything, like he doesn’t actually believe what he’s just said, and rather is using it as a disguise for Adam to give him some inside dirt on Keith. 

Adam’s mouth pulls up at the corners and he drums his fingers against the arm of his chair. “Oh, I think I know a few things about him that you don’t.” 

Keith rolls his eyes, folding his arms in front of him. “I’m pretty sure there’s a lot that neither of you—” 

Adam knows for a fact that Keith will later vehemently deny the literal squeak that comes out of his mouth when he leans down and pokes him in the side. 

Lance understands instantly. “You’re ticklish!” He yells, shoving his board aside. 

“No I’m not!” Keith denies, and squeaks again and rolls to his feet when Adam leaps up from his armchair and steps toward him. “Adam, don’t—Adam no, stop—” 

The only reason Adam catches him so quick is because Lance blocks his escape, and also helps tackle him onto the couch. Keith manages to squeak maybe one more time before his frantic protests become breathless laughter, and all he can do is try his best to curl up on his side to protect his stomach, which Adam would tell Lance later was a ridiculous thing to do because everyone knows that Keith’s sides are the most ticklish part of him.

Hearing Keith laugh like this is the best part of the day thus far, Adam quickly decides. Now that he thinks about it, he hasn’t heard laughter from Keith like this—pure, genuine, almost contagious laughter—probably since before Shiro left for the Kerberos mission in the first place. Adam would’ve been distracted just long enough by that thought for Keith to get away if Lance hadn’t already been holding him down. 

They do let him go eventually, after he accidentally elbows Lance in the nose. Lance doesn’t really seem to mind all that much though, laughing when Keith promptly wraps himself up in a thick blanket and claims that he won’t be coming out of it for the rest of the night. But that doesn’t stop him from leaning into Lance’s side later while they watch some cheesy rom-com that Lance picked out, one that Adam didn’t even know they had. 

Keith falls asleep on Lance’s shoulder halfway through, and from the tiny smile on Lance’s face when he glances over at him, Adam suspects that this was his plan all along. He scoots forward to sit on the edge of the armchair, and Lance looks up as he reaches for the remote to turn down the volume. 

“Want to move him to his bedroom?” Adam asks quietly. 

Lance seems thoughtful, blinking and looking back down at Keith once more as Adam moves to stand. “No,” he answers finally. “I can just stay here, so we don’t have to wake him up. I don’t mind.” 

Adam knew that already, but he keeps it to himself. “Okay. I’ll leave the TV on. You can come get me if either of you need anything.” Lance nods in acknowledgment, smiling again when Adam unfolds another blanket from their collection and puts it over him, since Lance can’t currently do much of anything with Keith attached to his side. “Goodnight, Lance.” 

“Goodnight. Thanks for letting me stay.” 

Adam just smiles, even though he doesn’t think he’s the one Lance should be thanking. 

The last thing that he sees before slipping into his own room for the night is Lance, resting his head on Keith’s, eyes slowly falling shut as he lets himself drift off to sleep to the sound of quiet televised laughter, and Keith breathing softly beside him.

。·:*:·゚★。·:*:·゚☆

The first thing that he sees when he wakes up again is—well, black. Blurry black, if that’s even possible, since it’s still dark out and his glasses are folded neatly on his nightstand. He’s managed to kick the covers a little in his sleep so that they’re hanging heavily over the edge of the bed, leaving the entire upper half of his body uncovered. 

The only explanation he can think of in his drowsy state for having woken up in the middle of the night is that he took a very long nap earlier, and his body’s internal clock has been thrown off even worse than before. Other than that he feels very comfortable, so he’s not sure what else to think. There’s a light, brief pressure on his shoulder, but he’s still too out of it to bother checking what it is.

“Adam?” Adam shifts slightly, closing his eyes once again as he settles himself against the mattress. Another quick, timid nudge to his shoulder. “Adam.”

Distantly, Adam registers the sound of what he thinks is Lance’s voice saying his name. Which is strange, because he does seem to remember leaving Lance in the living room on the couch with Keith with the instructions of coming to get him if they needed anything, so why would Lance be in here? 

Wait.

Everything clicks and suddenly Adam is wide awake, quickly sitting up at the same moment that Lance starts to reach again for his shoulder. “Lance?” Lance snatches his hand back and blinks, startled, but even without his glasses Adam can see how worried he looks. Adam fumbles a little for his glasses, shoving them onto his nose. “What’s wrong?”

“I—it’s Keith,” Lance stammers, stepping away as Adam swings his legs over the side of the bed. His hair is ruffled from sleep, eyes wide and unnerved as Adam stares at him.

“What?”

“I think he’s having a bad dream,” Lance clarifies, but his voice wavers a little and Adam recognizes with a start that he’s scared. “And I tried, but—he’s shaking really bad and I—I couldn’t wake him up and I don’t know what to do.” 

Adam doesn’t need to hear anything else. He’s up off the bed and stumbling into the hallway before he can so much as blink, Lance following close behind. Even from halfway down the hall, Adam can see him: Keith, curled up on his side, one hand pressed to his face, body trembling and blanket in a fallen heap on the floor instead of around his shoulders. 

Adam is calling his name before he’s even crossed the room, and again after he’s pushed the blanket aside and knelt down beside the couch. “Keith,” he tries, again, his chest already constricting with an overwhelming sense of panic that he does his best to stamp down, because now definitely isn’t the time. Keith isn’t breathing properly, each breath coming too fast or too short, sometimes both. Adam reaches forward and gently pries Keith’s hand away from his face. “Keith, wake up.” 

Keith’s eyes are clamped shut, face damp with silent tears, and he only whimpers as Adam moves his hand away. Adam can feel Lance hovering nearby on his other side, clueless as to what he should do but ready to jump in at any moment. “Hey,” he murmurs, wiping at some of the tears on Keith’s cheek and shaking his shoulder slightly. “C’mon, wake up.” Keith just whimpers again, his face twisting into a grimace and body tensing as Adam brushes the hair from his forehead. He shakes his shoulder one more time, a bit harder, just for good measure. “Keith—” 

Then Keith is crying out, loud enough that suddenly he’s jolting awake and jerking up with a gasp, forcing Adam to lean back to avoid a collision. “Shiro—” he chokes out, scrambling to take hold of something only to find that Adam already has already taken hold of him. Adam hears a sharp intake of breath from Lance and he swears he feels something physically pierce his heart at the realization of what Keith may have been dreaming about.

Adam shifts forward on his knees and grabs Keith’s shoulders to steady him. “Whoa, hey, look at me, Keith.” Keith’s chest is still heaving, breathing labored as he tries to take in a decent amount of air, but he finally goes still as his gaze focuses on Adam’s, eyes wide and frantic. “You were just dreaming,” Adam continues firmly, although he loosens his grip slightly. “It’s alright. You’re okay.” 

Keith’s eyelids flutter, like he needs to blink but he’s already afraid if he closes his eyes he’ll slip right back into his dream. “Shit,” he exhales, then lets his eyes squeeze shut and takes a deep, shaky breath. Lance presses one knee into the couch beside him, laying a careful hand on his back. “Shit. I’m sorry, I—” The rest of his sentence is broken off by a sob, and Adam pulls him in before he can continue trying to apologize for something that couldn’t be any less his fault. He presses his forehead against Adam’s shoulder and cries, tears already dripping down his cheeks and onto his knees as Adam wraps his arms around him and holds on. 

Adam tries not to think about it for too long, but he hates that he’s lost track of just how much Keith has cried since the night of his first breakdown, when it used to be he couldn’t remember the last time he’d seen him cry at all.

He holds onto Keith and lets him cry into his shoulder, lets him cry until his desperate sobs subside into nothing more than the silent yet unrelenting shaking of his shoulders as he tries to keep himself quiet. Keith cries until Adam’s knees hurt from pressing into the floor for so long, and long after he moves to sit on the couch beside him. 

Lance doesn’t speak for the rest of the night. He sits motionless on Keith’s other side, gaze fixed on the floor between his feet, saying nothing even after Keith’s breathing has steadied and tears dwindled. But when Adam looks, he can make out the shape of their linked hands in the dark, where Lance is letting Keith cling to his hand like it’s the only thing keeping him together.

Adam wonders if maybe, that’s because it is.

。·:*:·゚★。·:*:·゚☆

The sky is just starting to break and soften into morning when Adam wakes up.

Again. 

But he wakes up quickly this time, because something feels—wrong, the instant that he does. He pulls his glasses away long enough to rub the sleep from his eyes and then replaces them, blinking into focus. Then he realizes that with the way Keith had been pressed against his side last night (whether or not he slept again, Adam doesn’t know), he shouldn’t be able to be using both of his arms quite so freely right now. 

Adam immediately sits upright, his heart stuttering in his chest before his thoughts even catch up to why that might be. Lance is curled up against the arm of the couch when Adam looks over, eyes closed, breaths quiet.

And Keith is nowhere to be seen. 

It’s irrational to panic as much as he does in that moment, Adam knows, but he can’t help it. His gaze flicks around the room one more time and then he’s standing from the couch, sparing the kitchen a single glance only to make sure Keith isn’t there before hurrying out of the living room. His heart is pounding as he makes the short trip down the hall to Keith’s room, and his mind is racing furiously, replaying all the events of yesterday and of last night. 

Keith had a history of running from foster homes. It was one of the first things they’d been told, when they were preparing to officially take him in as their own. Too many times he’d been left, until he learned to be the first to leave.

He wouldn’t do that, Adam thinks fiercely, pushing his way through the door to Keith’s room. His confidence falters though at the sight of a closed window, blinds drawn, and an empty bed. He can feel himself growing frantic after checking the bathroom and again, finding no one. There’s nowhere else in the house Keith would be, but Adam keeps looking anyway, peering down the hallway into the living room again as if he’ll suddenly reappear on the couch, and finally stumbling into his own bedroom, chest tight, pulse quickening—

Keith is there, standing at the other end of the room. 

Adam feels a tidal wave of relief in its purest form crash over him, gripping the edge of the door and taking a deep breath just to steady his nerves. It’s enough to momentarily distract him from wondering why Keith is in here in the first place, rummaging through one of the drawers of his dresser. 

“Keith?” 

He freezes, whipping around and swearing loudly when he thumps his elbow against the drawer. Adam blinks, brow furrowing as Keith’s gaze finally settles on him and his eyes widen. “Adam! I—” He glances at the dresser behind him and then back, looking very much like a deer caught in the headlights, although why that is Adam has yet to figure out. “You weren’t supposed to—er, I was just… um, looking for. Something.” 

His voice trails off at the end like he’s realizing just how vague his explanation is, wincing slightly when Adam only continues to stare at him. He tugs at the hem of his shirt as Adam’s eyes flit over to the open drawer behind him, but when Adam sees one of many familiar sweaters peeking just over the edge, he instantly understands why Keith has been digging through it. Adam suddenly feels remarkably guilty for ever assuming that he had just up and run off.

There’s no mistaking the faint surprise on his face, but Keith quietly steps aside when Adam moves to join him at the dresser. It only takes a moment of careful searching before he finds what he’s looking for, buried somewhere near the bottom. Keith’s eyes widen again slightly when Adam pulls it out of the drawer and holds it toward him.

It’s nothing special. Just an average, everyday sweatshirt, a dark navy blue that’s starting to look more gray than it used to. The sleeves are a bit worn, and colors a bit faded, and on Keith it’s at least a size and a half too big. But it was also the same sweatshirt that Shiro used to let Keith wear to sleep in, any time he had nightmares. Because he’d always been good like that.

Takashi always knew just what to do.

Adam’s heart sinks a little as Keith looks down at it, hands held close to his chest like he’s still not sure he has permission to take it. “You could’ve just asked,” he says softly. 

Keith presses his lips together and keeps his eyes down, hesitant. Adam waits patiently, until at last Keith tentatively reaches out and curls his fingers into the fabric, taking hold and glancing up at Adam briefly before looking away again. “Thanks,” he mumbles. 

He doesn’t leave yet, even though he’s been given what he came for. Adam takes the opportunity to study him, slowly pushing the drawer shut and leaning against it. If he had to guess from the darkening circles underneath his eyes once again, Keith probably didn’t go back to sleep last night. He can’t really blame him.

Keith shuffles in place, bunching up the sweatshirt in his arms. “Adam… can I ask you something?” 

Adam hums, lifting one eyebrow. “What’s up?” 

There’s a tense pause as Keith seems to gather his thoughts. He swallows, and then, so quietly that Adam almost misses it: “Do you—really think he’s gone?” 

Adam closes his eyes with a short, pained sigh, already looking for a way out of this very conversation, because they’ve already been over this and he’s not eager to dwell on it. Distantly he wonders if really, he’s just not ready for it himself. “Keith—”

“It’s just—Adam, I can’t be the only one who thinks this whole thing is wrong!” Keith blurts, as if he already knew exactly what Adam’s reaction would be and is fully prepared for it. “Losing an entire flight crew because of pilot error? Shiro? It doesn’t make any sense.” Adam opens his mouth to reply, but Keith barrels on before he can get a word in. “He was your flight partner, you know how good he is. He’s the best pilot the program has ever seen, he never made mistakes—there has to at least be some other explanation.”

“They don’t know for sure that it was pilot error,” Adam allows cautiously, folding his arms over his chest. “They only have guesses. And…” He pauses, taking a deep breath as Keith stares expectantly up at him. “We might never know what actually happened, Keith. That’s something we’ll both just have to accept.” 

“Right,” Keith retorts bitterly. “Because you’ve definitely accepted that.” 

Adam frowns, but he can’t bring himself to argue. Maybe because Keith is right. Maybe because deep down, there’s that part of him that still has a flicker of hope, that stubbornly believes he could still be out there. Somewhere. Somehow.

“I don’t want to spend the rest of my life thinking that he’s dead based on someone else’s guess,” Keith continues stubbornly, but the slight tremor in his voice betrays him. “I’m tired of feeling helpless . And I know you say the Garrison has done all they can, but the Garrison isn’t us.” He ends on a harsh exhale, raking one hand through his hair before it falls away and then his gaze locks in on Adam, eyes dark and pleading. “They might have given up on him, but not me. We have to keep looking for him, Adam, please.”

His words sound like a plea, but there’s a challenge in his tone. Adam can see it in the set of his jaw, the tension in his shoulders, the spark in his eye that’s just daring Adam to say no. 

They might have given up on him, but not me—have you?

We have to keep looking for him, Adam, please—help me find him.

Help me find him, or get out of the way. 

Keith isn’t taking no for an answer. Neither is Adam.

“Fine,” Adam says, after what feels like an eternity’s worth of silence. Keith’s entire body visibly loosens, something incredulous but altogether hopeful and thrilled shifting over his expression as Adam straightens, one corner of his mouth pulling up into the smallest smile he can allow despite the overwhelming uncertainty of it all.

“Let’s find Takashi.”