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Into the Night

Chapter Text

Keith could barely remember something his pops always used to tell him. Something said long before the fire that took his dad. It was whispered among the sacred words that ranked with his mom, the weird knife, and other strange things. His dad talked about it much more often than the first two subjects, but Keith couldn't quite remember what it was. Years being in foster homes tore through some of his memories, replacing them with pained cries as bruises formed on pale skin and gut-wrenching sobs as he begged for his dad back. For his unknown mother to come save him, sweeping him up in her strong arms.

No one came.

Keith stared out the window. There was nothing interesting to pay attention to in his classroom. Just some random guy talking to the class about the Galaxy Garrison. Keith had no interest in the place. He just wanted to get away from the Home and go back to his dad's old shack. It was a broken and beaten up little cabin out in the middle of nowhere, but Keith craved that. He couldn't deal with all these people so close every day. He felt restless and nervous and anxious whenever someone came near him. It rattled his chest to be near anyone for any reason.

Maybe he'd go live his life as his pops had. Alone in the desert, taking the night shifts of the nearest fire station and sleeping out his days kind of like an owl. Or he could work on hoverbikes or something. He had the skills to do it, and he loved messing with the large machines. He could do it anyway. His energy was at its peak in the middle of the night and gone when the sun peeked its beams of light out.

But damn it. He had to age out of the Home and foster system before that ever had a chance of happening. He still had two and a half years. He was nearing sixteen in about five months. It was actually one of the few days left in this school year, not that Keith really cared.

He'd be shipped off somewhere else in a few weeks. That's just how it always worked. Another family didn't want him, he'd have to leave. The Home couldn't bear to keep him because he was too much trouble. A real handful. He heard the whispers of the other kids who hated him and the scolding tones of the adults who always shook their heads. No one believed in him. He'd be somewhere new before the end of the summer. Didn't matter what he did or didn't do.

His stomach gave a sharp contrast as he gritted his teeth. He couldn't decide if it was hunger pains or from his thoughts. Either was plausible.

He glanced out the window into the desert. The desert was his favorite place to be. The warmth, the brown sand whipping up into the air, the little lizards rushing around, snakes slithering about, roadrunners dashing away. He could watch it all day if he was allowed. In fact, he did so every so often. Took his dad's hoverbike out to the cliffs for a whole day.

Nobody ever missed him or asked where he'd been when he got back.

Keith narrowed his eyes as the sunlight made them burn a bit. That was another thing his dad always warned him about.

“Keith, son, make sure you don't get too much sun. It's not good for you.”

Of course too much sun wasn't good. Too much sun caused sunburns and heat strokes and lots of problems. But the sun felt good. People needed the sun to live. He didn't know why his pops had insisted he be careful. It really didn't bother him besides giving him a headache, burning eyes, and a light sunburn if he was in the sunlight too long. That happened to everyone, right?

“Hey,” a voice interrupted his thoughts as he plunged back to the classroom, “You want to join us?”

Keith wanted to snap that he didn't. He had no plans of going to the stars. Did he want to? Yeah, he had dreamed of it when he was younger. He had told his dad he was going to be an astronaut. He dreamed of the day he'd explore the stars. He even had thought he'd find his mom out in a faraway galaxy. Go and bring her back to Earth on his way home.

At that time, he’d also believed in soulmates.

But that wasn't happening. His mom left them. She didn't want him. His dad was dead, burned alive in a house fire saving someone else. His time with neglectful home after neglectful home taught him that he wasn't going anywhere. Especially not to outer space.

And just maybe the person who asked could sense this.

“I get it if you don't want to,” the voice spoke on, sounding all gentle yet firm in a way Keith wasn't used to, “Space isn't everyone's interest. Sometimes, I think some people hype it up and pretend they like it just to be able to see our newest sims.”

Keith looked up at the person. Actually gazed at the person this time.

It was the man introduced to the class. Takashi Shirogane, youngest pilot of his generation, first to fly out of Earth at the age of nineteen.

He knew of the man. He'd have to be blind and dumb not to. The man's image was almost everywhere a Galaxy Garrison ad was. Keith knew the undercut with that floof of dark hair brushing his face. He knew those grey eyes that gazed determinedly at whatever they looked at. The pale yet healthy skin the man had. The grey jacket he wore of an officer, also youngest to become.

A spike shot through his stomach again, making him wince. He carefully bit on his bottom lip as he waited it out. Seconds later, it quit.

And Takashi Shirogane was still there, patiently waiting with a hand stretched out. He didn't look angry that Keith was taking so long to decide. He only stood there with a small grin as he waited. Something tickled Keith's chest, but he ignored it as he stood up.

He didn't acknowledge the man's hand, but he did move forward towards the door. Risking a glance, he was surprised to see that the man was...smiling at him. Smiling like he wasn't mad at Keith's rudeness. Like he wasn’t pissed off that Keith hadn’t returned the handshake.

Hmmm...that was new.

Keith narrowed his eyes as they left the classroom. The sunshine beamed down on them, temporarily bothering his sensitive eyes. As he blinked, he took in the sight of a large machine that hadn’t been there before class. It took up a good part of the parking lot, bulky and big. Beside it sat a car that Keith assumed had to be the officer’s car. The rowdy crowd of students stood just before the machine in awe.

“Alright, alright,” Shirogane laughed softly as the rest of Keith’s classmates inspected the machine with shouts of wonder. Keith nearly snorted as he eyed his classmates, some of who had stars in their eyes. Drifting to the back of the group, Keith peered into the opening sims. It was a simple machine with a pilot seat in the middle, some sticks and gears, a big screen in front of that, and lots of room on each side, “This game isn’t that bad. Just use the controls,” the older demonstrated by pushing the yoke and tapping a few buttons, turning the screen on, “Like this. Your goal is to fly through an asteroid field without getting any damage. Each time you do, the level and difficulty will increase.”

A moment of silence raced among the young teens. Keith could see some of them looking nervous, and others with wide eyes.

“It’s more fun than it sounds. I promise,” the man smiled. Keith noted it was a different grin than the one he’d given Keith in the class, less warm but no less sincere, “Who wants to try first?”

Keith moved back as the others shouted in excitement. Something within Keith thrummed uncomfortably at all the energy of the group. His stomach gave another sharp burst of slight pain before dying down. Not bothering to even watch, Keith sat on the steps of the machine's platform. What was the point? He’d never get to go to the Galaxy Garrison anyway. As much as he secretly wished to explore space and fly, he was too much of a hotshot who couldn’t get along with others. He wasn't good with people. It also cost way too much to get into. No one would help him pay for it, and he couldn’t get a job yet, so that was out of the question. His last foster family had barely even been willing to feed him, much less-

Some shouts of joy rang through the air. Someone had to have passed the level.

Keith rested his head on his knees. Why had he even come outside? He had always enjoyed the outdoors a lot. The sun’s rays warmed him up in ways he would never get over. Keith was okay with suffering a sunburn later if it meant feeling like this. Good thing he had put a light layer of sunblock on today. Maybe he could go for a ride on his hoverbike later? He was technically of age and allowed t-

The ugly sound of his classmates whining and the buzz of the fail on the sims echoed around the air.

That’s what Keith didn’t like. Nature was quiet and nice. Nature reminded him of his pops...He missed him.

More cries of elation rang through the air. Keith gritted his teeth.

Maybe he should just leave. By the time everyone gets through, he’ll be skipped over anyway. Someone who has already gone will go again. Besides, the Home had a strict schedule of curfews. Not that he listened to it, but it was good to be on time once in a while.

More noise in the background as someone else failed the simulator.

Yeah. He should leave. His bike wasn’t here, but he could hike back. It wasn’t more than twenty miles away. That was nothing compared to some of the trips he took into the desert without any vehicles. The school day was over almost as it was.

No one would notice. And if they did, it would just go on his already damaged record and reputation. Nothing new. Just the "problematic kid" getting all worked up again, trying to get attention.

Another ring of a failed level went off.

“Looks like you’re the only one left,” a voice spoke up. Keith broke out of his thoughts when he realized the words were directed at him, “Wanna give it a try?”

Keith peeked to the side, sure that it was a trick. Officer Shirogane. The man was smiling as he had before. Keith stared at him, momentarily stunned. People rarely included him activities much less asked him if he wanted to do something.

Nodding his head, he stood slowly before moving his eyes over to the pilot seat. He ignored the stares he received from his classmates as he moved forward. He could practically feel the teacher glare at his back as he stepped into the device. Stepping forward, he settled into the seat. His gaze swept across the controls.

A little confusing but not that difficult to use. He had never messed with anything like this, but he understood it loosely. Some instinct was guiding him on how to use it. He went with it because he never doubted his instincts.

Grabbing the joystick into hand, he waited for the screen to load.

He also lost his breath as the settings faded in. It was in the middle of a scarlet covered sky filled with twinkling stars. The sims drifted in empty space for a few seconds, but Keith could see the far off dots of dark rock chunks as they raced towards his ship. Soon enough they were on him, ready to collide with him.

He thrust his hand out, pushing the stick forward. A burst of speed rocketed him out of the way of three projectiles. Tapping a few buttons, the ship dipped suddenly, avoiding another two. Straining to pull up, Keith adjusted the ship just in time for him to clear the level.

The screen automatically pulled up the next level, and Keith was surprised to say that he got into it. The levels didn’t seem to be getting too much harder to get through. He twisted, turned, and even did a few desperate tricks to get through. Before he knew it, he could feel his arms straining as a thin layer of sweat covered his forehead. He almost broke out a grin as he passed level five. Not even James exclaiming that the sims was broken could get him down as he rushed to fly into the next asteroid field.

“Is this guy on there?” Keith actually did grin at that. Everyone else always called him a kid or boy or child. Shirogane wasn't. In fact, the older sounded impressed, “He looks about ready to fly the real thing.”

“Keith?” He heard the teacher speak incredulously in the far background, feeling his blood turn to ice as the woman scoffed as she talked with Shirogane, “He’s a disciplinary case. He’ll never truly fit into the rigid system of the Garrison. I recomm-”

Keith scowled as he grit his teeth. He clenched the controls loosely as he felt his disappointment grow. Of course. He had walked right into this. He had hoped. And the man was going to listen to her. After all, who would listen to an orphan kid whose own mom didn’t want him and got into too many fights? A boy who had nothing but scraped knuckles and a bizarre knife he knew nothing about?

Glancing to the side, his eyes honed onto the car. It was sitting there innocently, and Keith could bet it wasn’t locked. He knew how to get it up and running. He could get away.

At least then, it’ll have been his choice on why he was rejected from the Garrison. Why Shirogane wouldn’t even think to look his way for a spot on the list.

Despite the warning from his pops long ago, Keith took off in a flash, jumping out of the seat faster than what was possible. He raced over to the door and was proven correct as it slid open. Leaping inside, Keith pulled two wires out from the bottom, barely struggling to make the ends meet. Hearing the engine rev up under his touch, he didn’t waste a moment.

He launched forward, pushing the vehicle to its limit. Dust flew behind him as he raced out into the desert. The further he could get, the better. It meant being more in trouble, and no one would want to let him into the space school after this. Not even with how nice Officer Shirogane seemed to be.

The hunger in his tummy hit him again for a moment, not any worse than it had been all day. But a small zap ran through his body, centering in on his chest as he pushed onward in the car. Keith ignored it as he booked it out into the isolated desert flats. The only thing to greet him as he rushed by was a few cacti and orange rocks. Pushing forward for another half an hour, Keith pulled the stolen car up to a stop on a cliffside.

Stepping out, he felt the breeze ruffle his hair. Sitting down on the edge, he sighed as he stared out at the setting sun. His dad would have loved the view. Their shack was off in the distance, unable to be seen. But Keith could find it anywhere. Knew its location like the back of his hand. Taking a deep breath in, he huddled up with his arms around his legs. Feeling fear settling into his body, Keith brought his hand to his mouth.

His stomach flared again softly.

He carefully bit the base of his thumb. It had always been a comfort thing to him since the first time someone had told him nobody wanted him. He had socked the kid right in the face, only to be the only one punished later on.

They had insisted that he had attacked without being provoked. The broken nose, faceful of bruises, and sprained wrist didn't help his case any.

That night, he had curled up on his bed, belly feeling all kinds of sick. Before he was aware of it, he automatically brought his fist to his mouth, biting on his hand. It had calmed him down, settled his upset stomach. He ended up leaving that orphanage that next day.

A soft taste of something hit his tongue now. His stomach settled down too like it had then, feeling perfectly content for the first time in a while. Minutes later, Keith rubbed his hand on his pants, getting the saliva off it. Standing, he gazed out at the vanishing sun. Energy flashed through his vein as the night snuck its way into the sky. The air became chilled, but Keith didn't notice as he went back to the car.

He'd stay in the car for a bit and watch the stars. Then...then he'd have to return the vehicle where it belonged.

Chapter Text

Shiro was still stunned. Three days since his car was stolen, and he was still thinking over how quickly Keith had taken off with it. He stared at the paperwork in front of him, not really seeing it as his thoughts roamed back to the younger.

How had he stolen it? How did he know how to steal it? How had he gotten to the vehicle so quickly? So many questions raced through his mind.

But most importantly, why had he taken off with it? Had he heard his teacher? How? They had been quite a ways away from him. Shiro didn’t approve of what the woman had said. But he didn’t say anything. Maybe he should have. Maybe Keith wouldn’t have felt like he needed to take off. Maybe-

“Officer Takashi Shirogane?”

Shiro glanced up from his paperwork he'd been staring at unknowingly. In front of him stood a police officer, looking a little nervous. Shiro smiled calmly at him, hoping to settle him down. Must be new on the job.

“That's me,” he responded as he stood up from the desk he was using, shaking hands with the other, “What can I do for you, officer?”

“We found your vehicle that was reported missing,” Shiro blinked before he remembered that he'd filed the report the night that it was stolen, “And the suspect who stole it.”

“Oh, thanks,” Shiro nodded as he piled his papers into the center of the desk, “Where are they at?”

“Your car is outside,” the officer told him, clearly gonna stop there. Shiro frowned as he waited a few seconds, disguising his pausing as putting the stack of papers away. When the other man said nothing more, he turned to him.

“What about the guy who stole it?”

“He won't be a problem,” the officer started, thinking that Shiro was probably mad at the younger for stealing his car. Shiro wasn't, “He's locked up in juvie. Will be for a long time. Caught him out heading towards town. Kid didn't seem too smart if he got caught a few hours after he took the vehicle.”

Shiro froze. They had taken Keith in the first day, but they were only telling him now? He knew the legal system had lots of delays, but that was ridiculous. Shiro suspected that Keith wasn't a bad person.

He had noticed the teen that school day. How could he not when he was the only student not cheering and getting excited? The smaller sat off beside the window, staring outside. He looked a bit younger than the rest of his classmates, just too skinny in his red and white jacket. Shiro hadn't been so sure that the other didn't want to fly the sims. And his belief was cemented by the fact that Keith reacted to what was said. It was unnoticeable to anyone but Shiro, who was watching him every so often.

A small twitch of his fingers. The glances he sent. The tiny grin on his face that appeared now and again.

When the rest rushed from the room to the simulator, Shiro had gone over to the teen.

Having watched Keith's reactions and interactions made Shiro's heart break. The teen clearly wasn't treated very well. He seemed ready for Shiro to be angry at any moment. He stood far from the group. He didn't bother even looking over at the sims, instead sunbathing by the steps.

Most would call that being lazy. Shiro thought otherwise.

So now he was going to get Keith out and back on his feet. Then he'd help the younger get into the Garrison. He had the skills and talents to do it. The smaller was smart. His grades didn't show it, but Shiro knew his flying wasn't all instinct. Especially him stealing his car. That took some know how.

Shiro also got the feeling that he had brought the car back. The younger seemed to love the desert, and if he had fled there, the police wouldn't have caught him so soon. He probably knew the desert like the back of his hand. No, Keith went to town on purpose.

“May I speak with him?”

“Uh, you don't need to,” the younger officer only shrugged, “But I'll lead you to the center if you want to.”

“Alright,” the Garrison officer nodded as he grabbed up his jacket, “I'll drive my car in with.”

They both exited the building. Neither said a word as Shiro got into the vehicle. The wires Keith used were back in place. Shiro frowned as he inspected it. The wires he had used were ones that were almost impossible to move. Shiro knew because he had hotwired the same type of car back when he was first a cadet. He had to use some pliers to do so. Maybe he couldn’t get them there though. His muscles were...

Shiro heard some beeping and grabbed his wrist. His muscles in his arm tightened, twitching uncomfortably under his skin. Shiro pressed the watch's button, releasing the electrodes to loosen his muscles. A moment passed before he sighed and relaxed slightly. The spasms didn’t completely settle down, but they did calm enough to no longer cause him problems. Shiro could drive with his left arm anyway.

The police car light in front of him flashed, indicating that the man was starting to pull forward. Shiro pulled the steering wheel over before driving out of the Garrison parking lot. Trailing behind the man for about an hour, he stopped the car just outside the door to the juvenile detention center. Nodding over to the officer in thanks, he left his car and walked into the building.

He had to pass two doors, one of which he had to press a button on. Inside was a plain room with some chairs in the corners, and Shiro didn't spend much time looking it over as his gaze fell on an employee standing by the counter.

“Excuse me,” Shiro walked forward as the woman raised a brow, “I'm here to see Keith.”

“Who are you, sir?”

“Takashi Shirogane,” he answered and she seemed to stare him down as if making sure he was telling the truth. Seconds moved by before she only nodded, inspecting a paper before pressing a few buttons.

“Over here, sir,” she spoke as she walked to a door over in the corner, “You'll have to follow procedure and place your excess objects in the tray. You'll also be scanned for anything else.”

“Thank you?” Shiro blinked as he moved to the tray, placing in his phone, the bracelet Adam had gotten him, his keys, and his electrode watch. Then he stepped through a scanner and got the clear.

“Can I have my watch back, please?” Shiro asked to the man who had been scanning him, smiling apologetically at him, “Medical purposes.”

The man must have seen enough watches like his because he nodded and Shiro grabbed it. Slipping it on, he entered another door which slid open.

Inside the room were a few tables and chairs, all bolted down to the floor. Shiro sat down near the door, folding his hands together. It was quiet in the room, only to be cut off a minute later as the door opened behind him. He heard some shuffling.

“Inside,” a voice spoke as Shiro glanced toward the door, “Someone is here to see you.”

And there stood Keith. He was dressed in a pair of blue pants and t-shirt, white long-sleeved shirt underneath that, and white tennis shoes. Shiro noted that the clothes were big on him in a way that didn't look right.

The younger had yet to look at him, turned back to the door with a scowl on his face. When he finally looked ahead, he froze. A look of surprise lit up his face.

“It's okay, Keith,” Shiro reassured after a moment, “It would probably be a good idea to sit down though.”

Keith stared at him before slowly sitting down across from him, eyeing him the whole time like he didn't expect to see Shiro there. The younger was tense as he more or less hunched in on himself.

“Look,” Keith spoke up seconds later, voice quiet, “I'm sorry about taking off with your car, Mr. Shirogane. Won't happen again.”

Shiro studied the other who didn't fidget. He just sat there, avoiding Shiro's eyes. But nothing about him screamed insincere. He didn't make up any excuses to get out of the blame. The younger did seem truly sorry and Shiro made up his mind.

“Shiro.”

“What?” Keith asked as his head shot up in shock and confusion, eyes staring at him, an odd shade of violet. Like deep space.

“Call me Shiro,” he repeated as he smiled to the teen who looked lost, “How about we get you out of here?”

“I...what?”

“I think you will be able to enter the Garrison,” Keith stared at him, “You've got the potential, but what you do with it is up to you.”

“W-why?” Keith's eyes were wide once again, gaping at him.

“Because I want to help you reach your dreams,” Shiro answered honestly, thinking of his own that he wanted to accomplish, “And I think you need someone in your corner.”

“I…” Keith's eyes narrowed after a moment, but he didn't do anything else. Shiro got the feeling that Keith thought he wasn't going to go through with his word. Well, it made the older man all the more determined to help. He would help Keith.

“I'll see you shortly, Keith,” Shiro sent him a small smile, which Keith frowned at before he stood up. Walking to the door, he glanced back to see Keith was still watching him, any trace of animosity gone and confusion and fear on his face. Shiro knew he had definitely made up his mind at that.

Soon enough, Shiro collected all his stuff back before signing some papers and paying some money to the lady at the front. Normally, Shiro would have to go through other outlets and places to do this, but Keith had been cooperative with the authorities and had been into town before the night was even over. In fact, Shiro got everything signed just in time for the younger to walk out, wearing his outfit from that day in school.

“S-shiro?”

“Hey,” Shiro smiled as he led the other out, “Told you I’d see you shortly.”

Keith didn’t say anything as they both left through the double doors. Stepping out into the sunshine, Shiro blinked curiously as the younger shielded his eyes for a moment. It wasn't that bright out.

Keith must have noticed him looking because he froze up, staring at him like he was waiting for something to happen. Shiro only smiled reassuringly back at him as they walked back towards his car. As Shiro got into the vehicle, he heard Keith exclaim incredulously.

“Wait, I steal your car and you decide to help me out? Why?”

“Yeah,” Shiro turned to him with a smile, “This is your second chance, Keith. But if I do this, I need one thing.”

“What?” Keith asked guardedly as he raised a brow.

“To take you somewhere to eat,” he nearly laughed at the look the younger sent him, “You look like you could use a cheeseburger or something.”

“I…” Keith's voice broke off for a second before he blinked and tilted his head, confused, “Lunch?”

“Yeah,” Shiro nodded as he glanced to the seat beside him and back, “But you don't have to. If you'd rather not-”

“Um…” Keith still hesitated, seeming to be debating in his head.

“Keith,” Shiro spoke after a minute, getting the smaller's attention, “I will never make you do something you don't want to do. If you're uncomfortable, I'll understand. Don't feel obligated to hang out with me just because I'm helping you, okay? I really am doing this just because I want to. If you don't want to, I get that.”

Keith opened his mouth but stopped at the last second, brows moving down. A few more seconds and he let out a breath, nodding as he started for the car's other door.

“Okay.”

As soon as he was inside and buckled up, Shiro drove out of there. He hoped Keith would never have a reason to go back here ever again.

It was a twenty-minute drive to his favorite restaurant, a small little place that had some very good food that Shiro missed from home. There were other things on the menu such as ice creams and American food, but Shiro always came back for the authentic Japanese food. Keith was stiff in the car right away, but every minute that ticked by caused him to relax until he was leaning against the door about to fall asleep. As Shiro pulled up to the front door of the restaurant, he grinned as he glanced at Keith who was almost asleep.

The younger had his head mashed to the glass window, eyes cloudy but still open a bit as he twitched the slightest. His mouth was slightly open, just enough to see his teeth as he breathed slowly. Shiro would have freaked out at how he swore the other only took a breath in or out every fifteen seconds, but he knew some people just slept like that. Maybe he was counting wrong.

“We're here, Keith,” Shiro gently shook the tired teen who looked over at him with momentary confusion, before his eyes looked out the window and remembered where he was. The younger wiped his arm over his face as he yawned softly, still tired. Shiro only smiled as he led the other into the room. Both were led to a small table and given menus.

“Have you ever tried sukiyaki?” Shiro asked as they looked at their menus, “It's good.”

“No,” Keith stared at him before his eyes fell to the tough electronic menu in front of him, reading it. A few seconds went by before he looked up again with another tilt of his head, “It doesn't have garlic, right?”

“Sometimes,” Shiro stated honestly, and raised a curious brow at Keith's sour look, “But this one doesn't.”

“Good,” the raven-haired teen nodded as he sat the menu down, “Garlic bothers me.”

Shiro filed that away for a later time, in case he ever brought back some food for the other.

“It's got some beef and vegetables,” Shiro explained as he looked at the picture of it, “And it's a bit spicy.”

Keith blinked as he glanced at the menu again. Before too long, the waitress was back to get their orders and drinks. Keith ordered the same thing Shiro did (sukiyaki and some tea) before they both relaxed slightly.

“So,” Shiro began as Keith stared at him, “You've lived out here all your life, right?”

“Yeah,” the younger nodded as he stared out the window which did have a view of the desert, “Just me and my pops.”

“He,” Shiro trailed off, unsure if he should bring it up. He had seen Keith's file, but hadn't really bothered to look through it much. He knew there was no record of his mom, his dad was dead, and that he had nothing illegal on his file if you took off the car theft, “He was a fireman, right?”

“Yeah,” Keith shrugged before sighing softly, staring off into the distance, “Everyone told him not to run back into that building, but you couldn't tell him anything. A real hero.

“Sounds like someone I know,” Shiro smiled as Keith grinned just the slightest, understanding just who he was talking about. Shiro smiled back before he frowned down at his arm. The muscles clenched tightly, temporarily stealing his breath as his skin rolled slightly. Pressing the button, he let out a breath as the device loosened the muscles. It didn’t completely stop it, but his muscles did feel better.

“What's that for?” Keith asked curiously, worry clear on his face as he inspected the watch. Shiro pushed his sleeve up, hiding the machine with a small nervous tug. He didn't like telling people about his disease. Once they knew, they treated him like he was fragile and couldn't make his own decisions. Plus, it was classified information. Only certain people knew like Adam, Sam Holt and his family, Iverson, and the higher-ups of the Garrison. Shiro would rather keep it that way for now.

“It's nothing,” Shiro coughed softly before catching the scent of their food almost to them, “Food's here.”

Keith didn't seem convinced as he continued to stare at him even after the dishes of food were placed in front of them, but the younger soon just settled down and grabbed a fork. Shiro waited a moment before grabbing a pair of chopsticks. Expertly picking up some of the meat, he took a bite and watched as Keith basically devoured his meal. The younger must have really been hungrier than Shiro had thought. Shiro finished his meal just as the waitress came by their table again. When she asked if they wanted desert, Shiro ordered some cherry pie. He didn't have to wait long as the woman returned with the snack.

Shiro almost laughed as Keith inspected the pie.

“Everything okay over there?” Shiro asked as Keith stared at the cherries with a strange look on his face, “I should have asked before I got it-”

Keith only stared at it with a weird fascination. He didn't even twitch as Shiro raised a brow.

“Ummm...Keith?”

Nothing.

“Keith?”

“Huh?” Keith blinked as he pulled his gaze from the dessert, “What?”

“Do you not like cherry pie?” Shiro wondered gently as he nodded towards the food.

“What? Why would you ask that?” Keith asked with a head tilt, “I'm fine with cherries. They're good.”

“I...hm…” Shiro watched as the other took a bite of the red food, “Maybe you're still tired.”

Keith shrugged distractedly as he munched on the sweets. Shiro gazed at him warily before taking a bite of his own dish. It was good. Not as tasty as anything Matt's mom made, but still good. Eventually, they were both done. Shiro smiled at Keith who looked ready to fall asleep again, trying not to sag onto the table.

“Come on, buddy,” Shiro shook his shoulder, “Need a ride back?”

Keith nodded as he let out a loud yawn, stretching as he stood up. He marched out the door as Shiro paid for the food, and the older followed moments later. It didn't take long to get to the Home as Keith directed him where to go. As he parked the car, Keith gazed at the building, not seeming like he wanted to go back in.

“Hey, meet me at eight hundred hours tomorrow at this address,” Shiro smiled as he handed over the small card, “I'll see you soon, Keith.”

Keith stared at the card in his hand for a moment before taking it into hand. He glanced up at Shiro before nodding. Opening the door, he got out and trudged to the front door. With a look back over his shoulder, he disappeared as the door closed behind him.

Shiro gazed at the spot Keith had just been at for a whole minute before he turned back to his car. Time to get back to the Garrison. Adam was bound to wonder where he was. And don't even get him started on Iverson if the man found out he wasn't on campus.

Shiro pulled away from the Home. He was looking forward to tomorrow. Hopefully, Keith was too.

Chapter Text

Keith didn't understand what had happened. This guy - Shiro - wanted to help him get into the Garrison. Had bailed him out of juvie. Had gotten him a full meal and dessert. He didn't know if something was up, but he didn't exactly dislike it. Shiro seemed to believe...or maybe see something in him which other people didn't. That was more than most people did.

Or he was playing Keith to hurt him later…

The charity case. Take in the little orphan boy to get bonus points. Everyone loves a guy who helps others. Strong, handsome, oh look! what a guy! He had heard it way too many times now, from the first foster parent to the last person who had tried to “help” him.

Keith shook his head as he read the card. It was for him to meet just outside the Garrison. He didn't know why they were meeting out there, but he didn't care.

It got him out of the Home, so he was gonna take it. His hoverbike was about three miles away, so Keith could get there if he left at about six-thirty. Nobody was up at that time anyway, so he was safe.

Rolling over on his bed, he tucked his knees up to his head. He always slept better curled up in a ball. It was one of those weird things everyone else thought was unusual. That along with his supposed strange almost nonexistent breathing during his sleep made him a target.

The strange child with a demon inside. Or the kid with behavioral issues. Or the bothersome boy.

Keith thumped his head down on the bed. He wasn't tired, he could feel his energy throbbing in his chest. Looks like another semi-sleepless night. He sighed silently at that as he pulled his blanket up. He just had insomnia. Tonight it decided to flare up more. Letting out a sigh, he covered his head, soaking up the heat under the blanket. Gazing at the detail of his pants, his mind wandered.

Where was he going to end up in a week? He had been all over the state of Arizona, to California, Nevada, Utah, New Mexico. He would be sent off somewhere new, especially after the stunt he pulled. He was shocked no one had confronted him when he walked through the door earlier, but in a way, their silence hurt more.

Not that he wasn't used to it.

But he was always led back to this area for all the time he could remember. He had always came back here at some point or another.

It was home. Where his dad had lived his life. Where he and his mom had met. Where Keith had been raised, and where Keith planned to stay. It was where he felt his best, out among the plants and dust of the desert. It was the feeling of something gentle calling to him, and something sweet tugging him forward. He could never explain it, but it felt like something...maybe someone wanted him out here somewhere. He smiled softly as he nuzzled into his knees, another strange habit of his. He loved brushing his face against the stuff around him. It calmed him when he was upset. It also worked this time as he relaxed, keeping his face where it was. Sleep tugged on him as he slowly fell asleep.

…..

When he woke up, he peeked out from under his blanket. The room was still fairly dark, but it wouldn’t be for long. Keith had snuck out enough to know that. Summer brought earlier sunrises, and that meant more light. Glancing about the room, he sat up silently so that the others in the room wouldn’t know he was up. Tracing the outline of where he always kept his knife under his pillow in his sleep, he quickly picked it up before relocating it. He didn’t want one of the last things of both his parents to disappear. Plus, it wasn’t exactly the common dagger. He kept it wrapped up in the old cloth his dad had always used, but he could never be sure if anyone would see the glowing insignia on it. What knife glowed like this?

Keith had yet to run across one that did.

Normally, he’d take it with him wherever he went. It had saved him a time or two when he had been adventuring the desert, finding his way back to his pop's home. But he couldn’t do that now because he didn’t want it getting taken away by security. He also never took it to class. He was pretty sure nobody even knew about it. Not his roommates, his social worker, his foster parents. He wouldn’t probably be able to keep it if they knew.

Grabbing up his jacket, Keith snuck out of the room. He didn’t need a key for the bike, it ran off of his DNA signature his dad had programmed in years ago. Closing the door behind him silently, he crept his way down the dull, squeaky stairs without a sound. He had been down the stairs so many times now that he could leave undetected in his sleep. This was the Home he always came back to, so he remembered it after all the years. Heh...it didn't help the older couple running the place remember his name, but Keith couldn't say he was surprised at all.

Sneaking his way over to the door, he slipped into the chilly air outside. The sky was purple with golden hues as the sun began its ascent into the air. Keith covered his eyes as the light filtered out of the sky, blinding him momentarily.

Shrugging, Keith took off in the direction of his bike. It was to the southeast, hidden inside an old abandoned building that nobody ever checked out anymore. It was on the far edge of the city, so Keith was lucky if he saw only a few passing cars. Running at a fairly slow rate, Keith passed dull house after dull house, an aggressive rottweiler who always snarled and jumped at the fence, and the boring gas station he sometimes went into, if he had any money. Rushing by the place, he took off down a sand and dust road that split off to the south. A mile down, Keith could make out the shed.

It was an older-styled building, made from rusted copper, bright green in the corners. Some of the tiles had managed to stay brown, but overall, it looked like a giant metal bush or an emerald boulder. He had no idea why the owner had made it from copper, but he took advantage of it right away as soon as he knew of the spot. Keith quickly leapt forward as he tapped on the corner of the large door. It stayed shut so he kicked it harder. With a loud crackle, the door lurched upward.

Keith strolled into the tiny building. Just a foot from the door was a big lump covered in a tarnished tarp. Brushing a hand against it, some dust flew off as Keith ripped it away.

Underneath was a blood red hoverbike.

It wasn't in bad condition. Some of the paint was coming off, mostly on the hood and near the tail. A few old nicks and bumps littered the machine, half of which Keith recognized from his own memories of learning to drive with his dad. The small bend in the right wing when he had accidentally dropped a large rock on it. The minuscule windshield that had a large crack through the glass, accidentally smashed into by a tiny rock. The DNA scanner that had seen better days.

But it worked just fine.

There was nothing wrong as he pressed his thumb to the scanner. With a small whine, the hoverbike started up. Keith grinned as he launched himself onto the bike. It was big for him, but all vehicles were. Heck, Shiro's car had been pretty big compared to him too.

Keith knew he was small for his age. Other kids always told him so, often followed by other cruel words and sometimes a few threats. And the adults sometimes mentioned it when they thought he couldn't hear it. They thought he was throwing out his food they gave him, or making himself get sick and throw it up on purpose. Honestly, Keith ate everything he could get. Meats filled him up the best, but anything helped.

There was just something wrong with him.

Revving up the engine, Keith pushed the hoverbike out of the shed. On the way out, Keith yanked on a corner of the door, causing it to fall down with a clang. Shooting forward like a meteor across the night sky, Keith let out a small laugh as the wind blew through his hair, tossing ebony strands into his face. He took in the deep desert dust as he raced on. The gauge just below the windshield showed that he was going as fast as he always went, possibly faster. Keith revelled in the feeling of sand pattering against his skin. Taking a left, Keith leaned just right to avoid running into the large boulder hidden behind the turn. Letting out a whoop at the thrill of the twist, he glanced back at the rock, seeing a small roadrunner perched on top.

It felt like too soon, but eventually Keith landed where he was supposed to go. He was just out the big Garrison gates, red bike parked in the visitor parking lot. Stepping down from it, Keith felt something tug at him, practically telling him to turn around. Trusting it, Keith twisted around to see Shiro walking up to the parking lot. He was a dot in the distance, just strolling past the gate now. Keith rubbed the cold out of his limbs as he moved forward.

“Hey,” Shiro greeted him with a soft smile, not at all looking like he was surprised Keith showed up, “You ready?”

“Uh…” Keith glanced around, “What are we doing exactly?”

“I'm going to show you something,” Shiro answered as he glanced back behind Keith, “Woah, nice bike. Yours?”

If anyone else had asked that, Keith would have snapped out an angry answer. Most people believed he stole it when they asked.

But something about Shiro's tone had him pausing. The man didn't seem to be asking for mean purposes. He just seemed like he really wanted to know.

“Yeah,” Keith held his breath, ready to put his guard up when all Shiro did was grin widely.

“It looks like one of the older models,” the older smiled and Keith's stomach flipped just the slightest...maybe he was hungry again, “It's in really good condition, except for the paint.”

Shiro paused as a deep look of thought came over his face. Keith glanced at the machine, and when he gazed back, the other looked back to normal. He was still grinning.

“Uh,” Keith tilted his head, waiting for Shiro to take them where they were going, “Where are we going?”

“It's on the campus, so not far,” Shiro nodded towards the gate, “Closer to the airfield, so I hope you don't mind walking.”

Keith shrugged. He didn't mind at all. Shiro let out a tiny laugh before he led the way to the gates.

“Hey, Shiro,” an older man greeted the other with a nod, “This must be the one you said you wanted to show around.”

“Yes,” Shiro nodded as he placed a hand on Keith's shoulder, warmth flooding to the younger, “This is Keith. I thought I'd show him the display hangar.”

“Ah,” the man grinned, grey moustache shaking slightly, “He'll love the hangar, Shiro. You have a good time, young man.”

It took Keith a moment to realize that statement was directed at him. Blinking, he glanced at the man who gave him a small gesture, a weird wave. As they moved past the gate, Keith glanced at Shiro who snickered.

“That's Dan,” he explained with a shrug, rubbing his neck, “He's a nice guy. That's just his way of saying to have a good time.”

Keith glanced back at the man who waved again. Keith sent him a hesitant wave of his own before he followed Shiro.

Keith really didn't get people.

“I think you'll like what I'm going to show you,” Shiro spoke after a moment of them walking, “I get the feeling that you love space.”

Keith suddenly heard a noise. Whipping his head up, he just caught a silver plane spiral through the air overhead. It soared through the sky at an amazing speed, going so fast that Keith would have missed it if not for the sound. A thin trail of vapor clung to the end, leaving a white line behind it, the only evidence it had been there as the noise faded again.

“What was that?” Keith asked as he tried to keep the excitement out of his voice. That plane was fast.

Shiro just snickered softly back at him as he placed his hands on his hips.

“It’s the newest model of the Garrison’s fighter pilot planes,” the older explained as he looked up at the sky, bangs flying around in the wind. The light caught his face just right, making him look even more awed and at peace than before, “This one can reach the speed of sound in seconds. Plus, it doesn’t break the sound barrier the way other planes do, so it’s safer to fly closer to the ground. This plane is used more for stealth missions and sometimes time-sensitive rescues. Still makes some noise though.”

“And you guys get to fly those?” Keith wondered with wide eyes, staring up at the sky this time, “Aren’t they...expensive or something?”

“Yeah,” Shiro laughed with closed eyes before turning back to him, “But it’s worth the cost. Just being up in the upper atmosphere...it’s amazing.”

Something in Shiro’s voice made Keith stare at the older. He sounded passionate about space. He obviously loved it, and that must have been why he went to space so early. Why he continued to go to space.

Keith wanted that.

He wanted to go see the stars. He wanted to fly at the speeds that plane had, and he wished he could see the sights Shiro had. The man probably had seen so much that Keith only saw in textbooks and the internet. Things he has only heard of from his dad. Maybe his mother had whispered these things into his ear when he was younger.

Stars. Nebulas. Supernovas. Black Holes. Moons. The sun.

Keith wanted to see them all.

“We’re here,” Shiro called out as Keith blinked out of his thoughts. They were standing in front of an open hangar. Inside was a very familiar ship, one he knew well even though he had never seen it in real life, “This is the Kalypso. First ship to carry astronauts to the moons of Jupiter.”

“Longest voyage of its kind,” Keith interrupted as he stared up at the huge plane, “Took three years to get there.”

“That's right,” Keith glanced over at the other who gazed back with a warm look, “Reading about the mission was what made me want to be a pilot. Those astronauts braved the unknown. People can accomplish amazing things when they put in the time and effort.”

Keith glanced from the man to the parked machine and back. Was he...talking about him? Because Keith had never accomplished anything in his life. Most would say he didn't even put in the effort. Others would say he had too much time.

“I wasn't kidding when I said I want to help you,” Keith met grey eyes and a small smile as Shiro continued, “I know you have potential. You're going to get far. But what you do is up to you.”

Keith glanced about. The plane sat there innocently, just as awe-inspiring as before. Keith could feel something stir in his chest. Another glance at the plane made him realize that maybe his dreams were possible. Maybe someone was on his side for once.

“So,” Shiro smiled as he waved a hand around, “Want to join the Garrison?”

“Sure,” Keith nodded as he glanced at Shiro who looked happy. If the older was just using him for the points, he'll forget Keith even exists after he got in. That's how Keith would know. He prepared for it as the older grinned and placed his hand on Keith's shoulder again, light and warm.

What was with that anyway?

“Now,” he spoke as they turned away from the plane, “Let's get some lunch from the cafeteria. Don't tell anyone I said this, but the food is...questionable. Hope you like mac-n-cheese.”

Keith raised a brow. No, mac-n-cheese was not his favorite, but he'd eat it. Wait...they were going to the cafeteria?

“Uh…” Keith glanced around before tilting his head at Shiro, “Okay?”

Shiro simply laughed at Keith's uncertainty. They headed back towards the gates, but when they could finally see them, Shiro instead headed the other direction. There was a large building off to the side right behind the gates. It must have been the Garrison's main campus building. Keith glanced around, but only saw a few people. He expected more.

“Most are in classes,” Shiro answered as if he could read Keith's thoughts, “And other people are gone for missions and at lunch. Also, it's summer time, so a lot of the cadets and teachers are gone back home.”

“Why aren't you?” Keith asked cautiously. Shiro's face fell slightly at the question. Keith felt like an idiot for asking. He wouldn't have wanted someone to ask that to him, “I...sorry. You don't have...I don't need to know.”

“No,” Shiro shook his head as they walked on into the building, “It's okay. It's just that all I have is here. My grandpa was the last one I had in my family, and it's been years since he died.”

“Oh,” Keith frowned, knowing the exact feeling of losing someone close. His dad died when he was six, “I shouldn't have asked.”

“No,” Shiro paused, twisting to Keith and resting his hand on his shoulder, “You can ask me anything you want, Keith. Anytime, anything. I'm over it now.”

Something told Keith he wasn't over it like he claimed. Maybe it was the sad gleam to the older's eyes. Or the smile that wasn't as bright as the ones Shiro usually gave him. Or that the man was gazing to the side in thought, distracted. That feeling pulsed, telling him that Shiro shouldn't be sad like this. Keith didn't understand why he was feeling this way.

But he agreed. Shiro shouldn't be down like this.

“So mac-n-cheese,” Keith shrugged as they moved on through some halls, “What else is there? Any meat?”

“There's plenty of meat,” Shiro chuckled as the happy gleam came back to his eyes, “And other food. Can't guarantee the quality of it though. Oh, some dishes have garlic. I'll tell you which ones do.”

Keith blinked. Keith was surprised Shiro remembered. They entered a ginormous communal room at that moment. Keith could smell some food drifting around and heard some people shuffling about, talking softly to their friends. There weren't many in the room either, but the amount still bothered Keith. His stomach growled.

“Well, good thing we came here,” Shiro snickered loudly, “Let's get some food.”

They both grabbed a tray, going to the food line. Shiro guided him around each food item, asking the lunch employees when he didn't know. Soon enough, Keith's plate was full, and his mouth watering at the smell. They settled down at a table in the corner of the room. Keith quickly ate his meal, silently scarfing down whatever was on his plate like he’d never eat again.

Last time he ate was lunch the day before. His stomach had bothered him too much to eat the night before.

“Slow down,” Shiro warned him as he glanced up from his food, “Don't want you to get a stomach ache.”

“Was hungry,” Keith smiled sheepishly as he took a bite of some peas before grimacing, “Ugh. Peas.”

“I know,” Shiro frowned a bit, “Sam Holt has this obsession with frozen peas. Eats them all the time. I can't stand them, especially not frozen.”

Keith snickered as he stabbed it with his fork. The pea scooted around the prongs of the fork. Keith hissed softly as he stabbed at it again. He didn't notice Shiro watching him with a raised brow and smirk until something called his attention back up to the man. Keith hunched in on himself as he tilted his head.

“What?”

“Nothing,” Shiro frowned softly as his floof flopped to the side. He seemed ready to say something else when they both tossed their heads to the side. Someone was rushing toward them, blond hair flying out everywhere in a way that really defied gravity. Glasses gleamed as he called out the officer's name.

“Shiro!” He shouted as he all but basically hugged Shiro's side before settling down on the bench by him, “Where have you been? You've been impossible to find! I wanted to show yo-”

He paused as his golden eyes found Keith. A grin lit up his face, even as Keith bristled at the attention.

“Who is this?” He asked curiously as he moved his glasses up and settled his tray down before his elbows, “A new recruit?”

“This is Keith, I'm showing him around a little bit,” Shiro smiled fondly at him before nodding to the other, “Keith, this is Matt, one of my friends from the science department.”

“Oh!” Matt grinned as he ate a bit of his...Keith squinted. He had no idea what he was placing in his mouth. The man spoke with his mouth full, “Thaskx sjsj ejejjj ebbebd edn?”

“I can't understand anything you're saying,” Shiro rolled his eyes playfully as he raised a brow, grey eyes shining. He took a bite of his own food before speaking, “This is one of the students I met at the local high school.”

“Oh my god!” Matt laughed and stared right at Keith, causing him to squirm in his seat, “You're the one who stole Shiro's car! No wonder you're here! Shiro doesn't usually bring in people he recruits. Why didn't you tell me, Shiro?”

Shiro opened his mouth to protest when Matt leaned forward, almost in Keith's face. Keith frowned as he narrowed his eyes, waiting for something to happen. He was two seconds from rushing out of there. The guy was way too close, and had apparently never heard of personal space. Keith’s stomach throbbed in a way that it shouldn’t have.

He didn't like that.

“Oh my god!” He shouted as Keith's brows scrunched down, “He's cute! You're recruiting a cutie! He looks like...man, I'm not you, but I could totally hug him right now. Think he’s into science? Because if he’s not...I can do something to get him interested. What do I need to do? Will showing him the lab work? Do I have to make something explode?”

Keith blushed softly, glancing to the side. What the hell? What...was going on?

“I won't if you don't want me to,” Matt shrugged after Keith didn’t say anything as he scooped up some of his own peas, calming down, “But it's nice to meet you. I got lots to teach you.”

He laughed as Shiro shook his head.

“No,” Shiro spoke with a mock flat look, “It's bad enough you taught your sister what you have.”

“Hey,” Matt grinned, shoving Shiro's arm, “I showed her one thing and that was nothing illegal. She took it further.”

“Very funny,” Shiro rolled his eyes before shaking his head, “I want to show Keith around a bit more. I'll see you later. Movie night?”

“Of course,” the other scoffed, “Dad's staying the night, so I was wondering…”

“You can crash at my place after the movie,” Shiro nodded as he grinned, “We watching I, Robot?”

“Yeah,” Matt rolled his eyes as Keith looked back and forth between them, “It’s old, but I like it. Robots take over. Seriously...We aren’t learning very much from these movies.”

“Says the guy who wants to use AI software more often,” Shiro teased as he shook his head, “I’ll see you, Matt.”

“See ya, Shiro!”

And then the man was gone. So was his tray except for a brownie that still sat there on a napkin.

“Uh…” Keith glanced about, not seeing the older anywhere, “Should we…”

“Hmmm?” Shiro glanced at him before staring at the treat, “Oh, no. You can have it.”

“But-”

“He left it on purpose,” Shiro shrugged casually as he stood up, “It’s his way of saying welcome.”

“Oh,” Keith stared at the snack before he grabbed it, munching on it a bit. It was actually pretty good, all chocolatey and not too sweet. Keith didn’t like sweet things too much, “Hm...good.”

“It better be,” Shiro grinned as he led them out from the cafeteria, “His mom made it. Colleen’s not the best at most food, but she sure does make some very good brownies. But if you wanted peanut butter cookies, you’d have to ask Sam for them.”

Keith only nodded as he ate the rest of his dessert. Shiro led him around for two hours more before he led him back to his bike. Dan said goodbye to him on the way out, and Keith blinked in surprise as he parked the machine back in his tiny shed.

Maybe...maybe the Garrison was a possibility.

Maybe he could do it.

And maybe Shiro would help him get there.

Chapter Text

Shiro made sure to hang out with Keith at least twice a week after he took him to the Garrison. The younger needed the company, and so did Shiro himself. He took the other to that first restaurant he loved so much. He went out into the desert with the younger, watching him drive the cherry red hoverbike.

Keith was good at driving. He had precise control of the machine, able to lean the correct way to balance himself. There were a few times where Shiro thought he'd fall off, but the younger didn't. He was agile enough to stay on the machine.

One time, Shiro met up with Keith during the night. That night there was supposed to be a meteor shower. It was chilly in the desert so he had brought two blankets. They had talked a bit. About space and the most important people in their lives.

Keith told him how his dad used to love watching the night sky. Shiro told him how his grandpa had been the one to teach him all the constellations he knew. Keith mentioned that his mom supposedly loved (or lived among, Shiro didn't quite catch what the younger had muttered) the stars. Shiro explained that he had heard his own mom had loved it too.

When the meteors began streaking through the dark sky, Shiro heard a small gasp of awe from the other. Keith had stars in his eyes as he watched the rocks fly through the atmosphere. Shiro smiled fondly. He wished that Keith could be like this all the time. More innocent. Less tested by the world. No walls surrounding his heart.

Shiro grinned as his thoughts focused on those times. He was ready to head out the door, going to meet Keith again. They were going to some place Keith wanted to show him. From what little he knew about the younger, it would be in the middle of nowhere, free of all people. A different part of the desert than anything Shiro ever visited. Maybe closer to where his dad had lived.

Shiro grimaced as his arm throbbed. The muscles jumped beneath his skin, making the limb shake a bit. Shiro gritted his teeth as he pressed the button on his watch. The device released the electrodes like usual, helping his muscles to settle down some.

Shiro rubbed his forehead. He was tired of this, and it wasn't like there was a cure for it or anything. He just had to pull through. It would be fine. He had been through this before. He could handle it.

A sharp pain spiked into the arm, feeling like someone stabbed a pencil into his wrist and held it there. The rest of the muscles in the area screamed in pain as they cramped. Shiro clenched his fist in his lap as he grabbed the spot with his other arm. Gritting his teeth, Shiro stumbled back into the couch, legs feeling weak suddenly. Collapsing onto the small sofa, he tried to relax.

It wasn't helping much.

His arm twitched wildly. His body ached. Shiro tried to push himself up, but his muscles strangely turned to jello. He fell back onto the soft couch, head plopping onto the arm rest. Shiro tried again, bracing himself as he gritted his teeth.

He had to meet with Keith. This wouldn’t stop him.

Except when he got onto his elbows, his body gave up again, and he laid back. Letting out a pained sigh, Shiro glared to the side at the table nearby. His tablet and phone were both in his bag, where he couldn’t reach.

He couldn't contact anyone.

Shiro frowned deeply as he settled back. At least he didn't have any meetings or recruitment sessions to attend. He would be fine. He just had to wait this out...all day long probably.

And he had no way of telling Keith he couldn't show up to their meet up. He never got a number from the younger, and he hadn't felt so much like asking. In fact, it hadn't even entered his mind until now. Did Keith even have a phone?

Would Keith think he stood him up?

Shiro never would. But Keith didn't know that. Keith didn't even really know Shiro. He'd probably heard about him from the Galaxy Garrison advertising. But other than that, no one truly knew about Shiro.

None of them knew how Shiro constantly felt overwhelmed from both the expectations placed upon him and his disease. None of them knew that he'd rather drive recklessly on a hoverbike just like his mom had done before the accident. None of them knew that Shiro did take days off from work, mostly because of his disease attacking him, to just have a good time. Or that he ate way too much mac-n-cheese to be healthy.

Footsteps pulled him from his thoughts. Shiro relaxed a bit more as they came closer, but a streak of shame filled his chest.

He didn't want to ruin Adam's morning because his body was too weak.

“Takashi?” Adam asked softly, not yet around the comfy sofa, “I thought you were meeting up with that kid you've been helping lately. You should be going if you want to make it on ti-”

Shiro could hear the moment the other froze at the sight of him. He could bet he looked pathetic. Spread out on the couch, pale and exhausted, clenching his arm. A warm hand landed on his chest.

“Takashi!” Adam huffed with some fear splashing his tone, dark eyes filled with worry, “It happened again, didn't it?”

“It's been months since the last one,” Shiro reassured him. The tiredness was creeping in, making Shiro feel like he had missed out on a week of sleep. His arm jerked slightly as he settled back more.

“That's still not good, Takashi,” Adam sighed softly as he moved away, probably to grab Shiro's special weighted blanket. He was proven correct when Adam came three seconds later with a purple lump in his arms, “I know you don't like seeing her, but maybe you should check in with your doctor again. It's been awhile.”

“She can't help me, Adam,” Shiro stared at the fabric of the blanket. Pain shot through his arm again, “She said there wasn't much we can do.”

“But we can get you better medicine,” Adam stared at him with sad eyes, glasses gleaming a little, “Something that will help you relax better.”

“I don't want more medicine, Adam,” Shiro almost whined as he huffed, “The medicine I take right now has side effects I hate.”

“I know,” Adam frowned softly, and Shiro felt himself go cold. Damn it, he was worrying the other who was only trying to help, “I just...I don't like seeing you in pain, Takashi.”

“I know,” Shiro answered back just as softly. He strained to move his arm. The left one was able to move better, but it was still a lot of effort to get it up to where he wanted. Adam gripped said hand as he carefully placed the blanket over Shiro, getting every part covered up to his chest and right arm, “I'll take some.”

“I'm going to have to give you the injection,” Adam warned as he looked the ebony-haired man over, “I don't think you can swallow any pills right now.”

“Okay,” Shiro nodded before he relaxed more. Closing his eyes, he listened as Adam walked over to the cabinet holding his medication. The man shuffled through some supplies before he walked back to Shiro's side. A small prick stung him before the pain started to recede. The darkness closed in on Shiro, making him fall asleep.

“Love you, Tak…”

Everything faded.

…..

Shiro dreamt.

He dreamt of glistening white fangs and glowing red eyes. Of soft ebony hair beneath his fingers. Of a quiet snicker. A cry of anguish. The echoing clicks of what Shiro figured was a bat.

A scarlet light flickered like a flame in the corner of his eye, making him twist around. The red eyes were still there, but this time, they had an animalistic shine to them. Shiro could make out tiny broken slits for irises and the normal glow was as dark as blood. A hiss and a booming, angry snarl ripped through him. Razor sharp teeth flashed in the darkness as something slashed at his throat. Shiro threw up his hand with a cry, bracing himself for the impac-

Only to wake up on the floor. Panting with terror in his heart, Shiro carefully got up on his knees, looking around. He was by the couch, his weighted blanket piled on the floor with him. The table was on his other side, bag and everything where he had last left them. The small window showed that it was lighter than before.

The man rubbed his face tiredly as he stretched his right arm out. He absolutely hated his medication. It caused those...strange dreams. The ones that always started with calm and ended with him being scared and trembling.

Bracing himself on the table, he pulled on it, rising to his feet. Groaning silently, Shiro looked as a paper shuffled under his grip.

Takashi,

You were still sleeping when I left for work. The medication knocked you out for a full day. Luckily, I know today is also your free day. Hope you feel better. Will be back after classes.

P.S. Rest, Takashi. You need it. And don't forget your other medication.

Love you, Adam.

Shiro smiled softly. He was glad his boyfriend had left a note. Shiro was a bit old-fashioned. He loved physical notes. Adam had adapted that into their everyday schedule. He'd leave notes around for Shiro to find.

His tablet pinged.

On the screen was an email.

To faculty and staff;

We'd like to remind you that the chosen recruits will be coming to the school to take their exams. We expect a turnout of about three hundred students. Only the top ten percent will get in to the Garrison; however, the school will be packed that day. You may want to change any of your plans for that day.

Thank you, Administration Office.

Oh. Right...the exams.

Shiro rubbed his head. That was one of the reasons he had wanted to spend time with Keith yesterday. He wanted to make sure Keith knew when to come out for his exams.

“Well,” Shiro whispered under his breath, “I can tell him now. It's a week away.”

Shiro quickly grabbed a pen from nearby, writing down a small smile and message on the note laying there. Grabbing up his bag, and not feeling bad about not changing his clothes, Shiro rushed out the door. It was about eight in the morning.

Hopefully, Keith was still around the Home.

…..

The Garrison was packed to the brim with students trying to enter the space academy. The office wasn't joking when they said to replan stuff. There were so many teens that Shiro could barely make out any faces in the crowd. Colors mashed along with loud and soft voices. Shiro recognized a few of them from his recruiting sessions. There was Idina, the bright-eyed brunette chatting with another girl walking by. Chad, with his dark brown eyes staring about with curiosity. James Griffin, the one who had been pretty supportive of his classmates while in the sims…

Shiro paused for a moment. It was the same James from Keith's high school. He glanced around. Sadly, Shiro didn't see Keith in the crowd. And he had the distinct feeling that he wouldn't be seeing him until he was required to. Keith really wasn't one for crowds.

And this was more than a crowd.

At least they had talked it out. Shiro had arrived at the Home just as Keith was walking by. Snagging him into the nearby park, he had explained why he couldn't make it. Sadly, he didn't tell Keith the real reason, other than he was too ill. Keith had been closed off at the start, but as time went on, he softened up. Shiro was excited when he got the younger to laugh once. They had traded phone numbers while there.

Shiro glanced down at his phone. Nothing. No texts from the younger to say he'd be late or not show.

He'd be there.

“Shiro!” A voice in the crowd had him looking back at the person calling him. In the crowd, he saw a bustle of blonde hair and a girl in a dress. Up she ran to his side, way too young to be recruited to the school. But Shiro smiled as she got to him.

“Hey, Katie,” he snickered as the girl huffed and leaned forward, out of breath, “What brings you around here on one of the busiest days? I thought you left the people stuff to Matt.”

“Both Matt and dad are here, so I came along,” she shrugged as she glanced over at the sea of teens, “Geez...I know only thirty get accepted in this round, but do they have to put so many people in here?”

“That's why we do it during the summer,” Shiro laughed as he glanced around. Still no Keith.

“What's up?” She asked as Shiro looked around more. The older looked back at her before shrugging.

“I'm planning on meeting someone.”

“Oh,” Katie raised a brow before she smirked...Shiro frowned inwardly. Damn it, this was Matt's sister. Of course she would tease him. They were way too alike. Shiro scoffed. If not for the age difference, he’d have thought they were twins, “Must be that new recruit you recommended. Keith.”

“I should have figured that Matt would tell you,” Shiro shook his head playfully as he sat back in the chair behind him, tossing his bag just below him, “But yes, I'm waiting for Keith.”

“Hey, I'm not judging,” she raised her hand, “I was actually trying to find dad.”

“I think he’s helping out with the subject tests,” Shiro responded as he gazed down at his phone. Nothing, “He gets to give out the tests for math, english, science, and so on.”

“That sounds boring,” the blonde rolled her eyes, “Dad’s bound to love that.”

“Hey, you just wait until you have to go through with this,” the older laughed as Katie glared at him, “And your dad finds the work good. He loves teaching and being around the cadets.”

“This is why I’ll just hack my way in,” she grinned and Shiro sighed softly, “Then I won’t have to come for that. Besides, I know everything they want to quiz me on.”

“You’re twelve, Katie,” Shiro shook his head, bangs fluttering against his face.

“So?” She asked before she shrugged, grabbing her tablet, “I’m twelve. Doesn’t mean I can’t be smart. I think I’m much more mature than most people I’ve met.”

As if to prove her point, a group of students paused to point at him. A few calls and lots of waving rang through the air before the students moved on to where they needed to be. Shiro blushed just slightly, not quite understanding the hype and why people seemed so excited to meet him. Like he was a celebrity

“What are you helping out with?” Katie’s voice pulled him back to their table.

“What makes you think I’m helping out with anything?” Shiro teased her with a smirk, “It’d probably be too boring anyway.”

“Uh...Because you are addicted to your work,” Katie smiled innocently as Shiro stared at her with a flat look, “And you like helping others learn.”

“Okay,” Shiro admitted with a shrug, “You got me. I’m helping out with the sims, and observing the obstacle course.”

“Oh...yeah, that’s boring,” Katie tapped on the device a few times, “Watching people run around. I’ll pass.”

“There’s actually some pretty amazing and amusing things new recruits do on those,” Shiro smiled as he remembered his own. How one student on it crashed accidentally tripping over their feet, while another reached the finish in record time. It was a free-for-all in that room. Everyone rushing around to get through the obstacles first. Shiro couldn’t wait to see what would go down this time.

“Nah,” Katie’s golden eyes found his before she turned back to the tablet that had her undivided attention, “I’m more into computers.”

“Exercise is still good for you regardless.”

“I know,” she frowned slightly before lighting up, “Hey, I think I see him.”

Shiro’s head whipped up towards the crowd, looking for an ebony-haired teen. Staring around, he didn’t see him. Glancing back, he groaned as Katie disappeared around the corner. All her stuff was gone, and she sent him a quick smile as she turned down the hall.

“Of course she did,” Shiro muttered to himself as he rolled his eyes. A smile still reached his lips though.

“‘Of course she did’ what?” A quiet voice behind him startled the young man who twisted around. Keith stood right behind him, staring at him with his head tilted, face curious. He was dressed in the same outfit he always wore, hair ruffled by the wind, goggles still on his forehead. Shiro snickered as he gestured to them, and the younger gave him a flat look before removing them, “I know, Old Timer. I know.”

“Keith,” Shiro mock frowned before he ended up laughing. That nickname, “I was just talking about Katie, who was just here three seconds before you came along.”

“The blonde carrying the tablet and in a dress who rushed off when she saw me?”

Shiro blinked as he sat there. Wait, Katie had really seen Keith? And Keith had seen her? How had he seen all those details that far away? Shiro’s eyes were failing him.

“Uh…” He trailed off, “Yeah, that’s her. She’s Matt’s younger sister.”

“Oh,” Keith glanced back towards where the girl had disappeared to, “She’s fast.”

“She is,” he nodded before he turned fully towards Keith, “Did you eat anything?”

“Yeah,” the smaller frowned at him. Shiro questioned his honesty as he noticed the younger rubbing his thumb along his fingers. It seemed like a tiny habit that Keith did when he was upset. So that was a no.

“It’s okay,” Shiro placed his right hand on Keith’s shoulder as he grabbed up stuff in his other, “We have some time before the exams. You’re going to want to eat though. The first exam is over school stuff. But yours isn’t until an hour from now, right?”

“Yeah,” Keith relaxed slightly, but kept up the motion in his hand, “Okay.”

“Okay,” Shiro nodded, “I’m free for an hour anyway. Let’s go get some food. Maybe they have strawberries.”

Shiro,” Keith groaned as he walked beside him, “I don’t love all fruits just because I stared at a cherry pie.”

“Doesn’t hurt to find out,” Shiro shrugged nonchalantly, “And fruits are healthy for you.”

“Just give me bacon or something,” Keith grumbled, which caused Shiro to laugh, “What?”

“Just you,” Shiro shook his head as he strolled on. Luckily, they avoided the huge crowd until they entered the cafeteria. It was going to be an interesting day.

…..

Shiro was correct.

It was shaping up to be an interesting day.

He had gotten some breakfast for Keith, bacon and all. The younger had gobbled it down like he he had the first time he came over. It was surprising as the food usually was pretty tasteless. Eventually, he ushered the other down the halls to where he needed to be in the math classroom. Each ‘class’ of students would be divided up into groups of twenty, and they sticked with each other through each exam. Each set of students were using different rooms at different times, so that other groups could do the other tests at the same time.

But Shiro didn’t have to worry about not seeing Keith since his group would have to come through his sections.

Four hours later, after having tested eight groups, Shiro noticed that Keith’s group was the next in line. Both the gym and the sims were right next to each other, so they’d test both while they were there.

“Group Omega,” Iverson called out as Shiro watched the older man, “Line up.”

All twenty got into line, backs straight and at attention. Shiro nearly chuckled at some of the expressions on the teens’ faces. One teen looked downright nervous, chubby face scared and a bit pale. Others were excited, bouncing around on their heels. And others looked competitive, ready smirks on their faces.

“In this test,” the older man gazed at them with a serious stare. His way of intimidating ‘the weaker students’ as he says sometimes, ‘They’ll either shape up or dropout.’ Shiro scoffed softly, knowing the man meant well, “You’ll run through the obstacles. The ones through to the other side with the best time will be ranked higher. Now start.”

“Don’t we get more instructions than that?” One student asked with a raised brow.

“No,” Iverson shouted as the teenagers glanced from each other and back to the man, “Now roll out!”

The students took off, rushing to climb over the first wall. Each managed to use the ropes to get to the top, jumping down to the other side. A few sets of tires sat in rows for them to run through. Everyone seemed to be doing okay, even those lagging behind a bit. A few burst up to the front of the group, but Shiro kept his eyes on one person.

Keith was purposely holding back. Why? Shiro had no clue, as the teen hung back in the middle of the group. He seemed to have good speed, strength, and agility, as seen when he ducked around one of the dummies that shot up into the air.

This went on for a minute or two. Shiro glanced at the top students who were racing by. The first three included James. He was moving along, giving it his all as he rushed through obstacle after obstacle

Suddenly, a frightened shout run through the room. The teen from earlier, bandana on his forehead, accidentally fell backwards off the second wall. Shiro cursed in his head as he stood frozen, staring at the scene before him. He knew they shouldn't have had the wall so high. When he lands, he'd be hurt.

Everyone in the control room with him doesn't seem to be paying any attention to the teen. Nor do any of the other teens notice. Shiro means to call the adults’ eyes to the scene when Keith pauses, glancing back. A look of surprise flutters across his face before his eyes shine with a small gleam. Racing back, he barely grips the falling teenager's hand in time to stop his fall. He pulls the other up before taking off again.

When it's over, Shiro talks to the student. His name was Hunk, and he was extremely nervous. But he seemed to settle down some after Shiro talked to him. Even was super thankful that Keith had helped him.

“Good job, and some of you...not so much,” Iverson speaks up, staring to the middle, right where Keith stands. The younger doesn't acknowledge him, “Now, I'll turn you over to Takashi Shirogane for the next exam.”

“Thank you, sir,” Shiro states respectfully as he nods to the man who also nods back. He faces the twenty students with a smile, “Alright. As some of you know, I fly for the Galaxy Garrison as a fighter pilot. So today, I'll be testing you on the sims. No matter what specialty you go into, you’ll need to be able to operate a ship. Some will know how to more than others, but if you’re dealing with the plane, you have to know it inside and outside. Now, this sim isn't like the ones you flew before at school.”

He paused to let it settle in. Everyone looked on the edge of their metaphorical seats, as Shiro grinned.

“This one's almost like the real deal,” Shiro nodded his head towards the machine, “Even recreates g-forces. Now you'll split up into groups who we'll test together. Teamwork is an important part of anything in life, and the Garrison values it. We’ll see how you do. Good luck, guys. And have fun.”

Each group went in. They all seemed okay, some panicking at first but most adapting to their roles inside the sim. But when they get to Keith's group, it turns into a disaster. Keith is terrible with a group, seemingly unwilling to listen to his shipmates. But the team does just as much as Keith, ignoring him and going around his commands. They don't make it very long.

Shiro frowns as he hears the inspectors marking them down last. That wasn't fair. He knew they were all skilled more than this display.

“Have them fly individually,” Shiro tells Iverson who stares at him with narrowed eyes, “If they are working badly as a team, let's see what they can do alone.”

Iverson nods slightly before pulling the three from the sims. The first two go in without too much of an impact. They score just above average, which Shiro nods at.

The real showstopper is Keith who looks ready to possibly flee at the moment. Shiro catches his eye and smiles reassuringly and Keith smiles back slightly. The younger climbs into the bulky machine, closing the door after him. The screens up top turn on to show both Keith sitting in the pilot's seat and the screen inside.

“Come on, Keith,” Shiro whispers under his breath as the younger begins, “You got this.”

The older was proven correct when a second later, Keith dodged a meteor almost on top of his ship. Blasting forward, he pushes the machine to speed up. More meteors appear in a cluster that would have made even the most skilled beginner back down, but Keith just narrowed his eyes before smirking. He blasted forward, narrowly dodging each humongous rock. When three appear side-by-side, making it impossible to fly around, Keith quickly drops below them and squeezes past the lower meteor behind it.

It goes on like that as the sims get harder and harder. But Shiro watches Keith's face as he pilots. He can see himself in the younger. He knew the feeling of pure exhilaration when flying. He knew the wonderful feeling of your stomach flipping when the g-forces changed suddenly. He knew that shine Keith had in his dark eyes because he got that himself.

And then a blast skimmed the side of Keith's ship, clipping the wing. The teen gritted his teeth as he gripped his yokes tighter. Before another hit could land, he slammed his ship to the side, momentum taking him out of the laser beam's path. Flipping the plane around, Keith glared at the enemy ships firing down on him. Shiro knew his ship didn't have weapons, and even if it did, it would have been a job for another person on the ride.

So Keith took off, going fast once again. However, the three enemy ships were even faster, catching up without a problem. More lasers flew at Keith who was having issues stirring around them as time went on. Just as another landed on the younger's vehicle, Keith spotted something in the distance. Shiro noticed the moment when his thoughts shifted. Looking out, he saw that a big planet was approaching in their flight pattern. The enemy ships were almost on Keith's tail. Keith was going almost as fast as he could go.

Everyone held their breath. Somebody muttered about how Keith wouldn't make it. Some students glared, jealous of the teen. Shiro just gazed on, knowing Keith had it under control...mostly.

As the planet got closer, Keith pulled out a risky move, one that even seasoned pilots would hesitate to do. Pushing forward all the way, Keith stirred the machine to shoot along the outer edge of the planet, creating drag on his plane. At the same time, he shifted the plane sideways, whipping around the planet. The gravity of it shot him back out with g-forces higher than what most people could stand, going much faster than what it could cover on its own. The enemy planes shook with the effort, one colliding with another and taking out the last one.

Suddenly, fire rained from the sky. Shiro frowned as Keith froze up a bit. The ship continued in a straight line, heading towards a fireball. Keith continued to stare at it with fear on his face, clearly shaken and unfocused. Shiro stared in worry as the fireball approached.

Why was Keith…

And then it hit him. His dad! Keith's dad died in a fire trying to rescue someone. The fire must have triggered some bad memories.

Keith jerked up on the machine in the last second, but it wasn't enough. His ship crashed into the fire, exploding with a loud bang. The screen flashed ‘mission failed’ as someone opened the door. The screens cut off their feed.

Keith climbed out, sweating and breathing like he just came from a marathon. Everyone clapped their hands, some more enthusiastically than others. Keith looked surprised at the attention but soon shrunk back into the crowd.

“What in sam hill?” Shiro heard Iverson utter as he stared at the tablet in his hand, brows all the way down, “There is no way this score is correct. 235. I don't care how the kid did on his exams, he's in. Just hope I don’t live to regret this.”

Shiro's own brows went up in shock. 235. That beat the top record of 228. His old record.

“Sir,” Shiro called out as he moved forward, knowing Keith was already accepted, “I'd like to request something…”

Chapter Text

Keith tucked his bag into his side, stepping out of the way of another older cadet in the hall. He glanced around, not seeing anyone he knew, no Shiro or even Matt. He hadn't seen the other man since the first day. He hadn't seen Shiro since the day after the entrance exams. That was a week ago.

Keith glanced at the paper in his folder that had come with his other school supply list. He needed pencils, paper, a tablet, and some other stuff. He didn't know how he was going to pay for anything. He didn't have money, and his dad left a small amount behind along with the shack. It was just enough to pay for the lowest phone plan and a few items to sneak in like chips or clothes.

Not enough for this.

And he had no clue where his room was. It was room 229, off towards the middle of the school. At least he didn’t have to worry about the sunlight getting to him. But he most likely would have to worry about a roommate or maybe two. He dreaded that. His past roommates were always jerks, either spreading lies about him and talking shit to him. Or they ended up stealing his stuff, hence why he hid everything, or at least, what little he had. His blade hung heavy in the bottom of his backpack, safely hidden away where no one could find it. Interestingly, it hadn’t been caught by the security when he came in. So either the security was total crap or the metal in his knife wasn’t reco-

“Watch out, kid,” someone called as he glanced up. He ducked out of the way of a darker-skinned man who glanced him over behind his glasses. He was decked out in an officer’s jacket like Shiro wore, one stripe on each shoulder. Keith had no idea what that meant, but he was pulled out of his thoughts when the man tucked the books back into his arms. He took off down the hall with a few mutters that Keith couldn’t quite make out. Something about diseases and a takash or something.

Keith blinked as he went on with his search. There were lots of people around, most just talking with what seemed to be old friends. Or maybe they were new friends, Keith didn’t know. He wasn’t any good with people. Maybe they weren’t friends at all. People tended to group up, especially when it was against him.

Peeking around the corner, Keith’s gaze went right to a door down the hall. In small writing were the numbers 229, and Keith slunked towards it, moving somewhat cautiously. He didn’t want any surprises like the one time his foster sister had jumped out at him with a squeal of excitement. That had scared the life out of both of them, and Keith was weary ever since when it came to surprise things that could hide around corners.

Standing outside the door, Keith looked around. The door was a sliding one, obviously activated by a DNA scanner in the corner. Keith would bet that the officers and higher-ranked people had automatic right to these scanners if they needed (or wanted) it. Pressing his hand against it, the thing beeped before flashing green.

The door opened.

Keith gripped his backpack strap better as he moved into the room. The place was empty, only a few common place objects there like a bed, dresser, and desk. Everything was grey with orange accents as if to say that it was part of the Garrison. The room was small, just able to hold said things. But it was better than some he'd had.

It took him a moment to fully realize that there was only one bed. Twisting his head around, Keith looked about. One bed, one dresser, one desk. He was bunking in his own room, by himself. Relief flooded through him at the thought of not having to sleep near other people.

And then he tensed.

What if...would they want more than one person to share the room...maybe he had the wrong room. Maybe they were messing with him and they'd-

Keith shook his head.

He had to stop thinking that. Not everyone was going to be mean to him.

Letting out a small sigh, Keith began unpacking. He had a few pairs of clothing, mostly grey t-shirts and black jeans. He also had a scarlet and white jacket with yellow stripes on the front. It was a crop top, and Keith couldn't even fit it since he was too small, but he kept it. It had been important to his dad, so it was just as important to him.

Last to go was his knife, which he stared at, brow twisted in wonder and apprehension. It wasn't often he got to stare at it without people peering over his back. He held on to the black handle, smooth and sturdy under his touch. Rubbing his thumb over the almost soft, purple-tinted grey metal of the blade, he could see his reflection, a too young kid, hair ebony and ruffled, eyes too big, face pale. The wrap on it was falling apart, old and dirty.

A knock pulled him from his observation. Tossing the dagger under his pillow, Keith opened the door to see Shiro standing there. The older man smiled at him before looking past him. Keith bristled a bit.

“Got everything settled?”

Keith blinked as the man’s gaze settled back on him.

“Uhhh…” Keith nodded as he walked up to the older, “Yeah. I don't have much to put away. Why?”

“I wanted to show you something,” Shiro responded as he nodded to the door, “It's not far.”

Keith nodded as he followed the older out into the hall. The door closed behind them, probably locking itself. Keith walked beside Shiro, looking around at the hallway. He wasn't sure where they were going, but he went along. A few halls down, they came to a stop in front of a few vending machines. Keith looked in one window and saw a line of snacks. Some made him crinkle his nose and others made him drool. He could vaguely see some type of jerky in there and he suddenly wanted it.

“I figured there were times when you couldn't get a snack from the cafeteria, so this was the next best option.”

Keith turned to the other who pointed back at the machine.

“You can get the jerky you were looking at,” he nodded to it as Keith felt himself tense, “It's nothing too costly.”

“I don't…” Keith paused long enough to look over at the man who seemed worried, “I don't have any money to pay for it.”

Both knew he wasn't just talking about the snacks. Shiro glanced at him before his eyes widened.

“Son of a,” he broke off the sentence as he glared at the wall, “I thought they'd tell you.”

“Tell me what?” Keith asked cautiously as he stared straight at the older man, “What?”

“You don't have to worry about what money you'll need here at the Garrison,” Shiro responded after a moment of silence, soft smile on his face as Keith raised a brow, “You got into the school on a full-ride scholarship that pays for your tuition, board, and food.”

“I…” Keith paused, making sure this wasn't a prank like the last time a foster family had told him he could keep something only to rip it away. He was never going to be that stupid again, “What?”

“Granted you keep your grades up,” Shiro reassured him with a hand through his hair, which Keith surprisingly didn't mind, a calming zap running through him wherever he was touched. That sweet something sang to him at the contact, “And that you keep on top of your studies.”

“But...I…” Keith glanced away in shame, “What about my supplies? I still can't afford to buy a tablet or the textbooks or anything.”

“That's no problem, buddy,” Shiro laughed gently as he pulled out his wallet, “We can get you some more scholarships. They'll be for supplies and you'll have a bit for spending money.”

Keith was stunned. Those supplies weren't cheap. He'd need at least one per class and with the other stuff-

“You're thinking too hard,” Shiro ripped him from his thoughts as a small packet was placed in his hands. His eyes widened at the jerky now in his palms, “I think you needed this.”

“Thanks,” Keith nodded as he opened it, taking out a chunk and stuffing it into his mouth. Meat always made him feel better, appealed to some inside instinct of his. Shiro chuckled as a warm hand landed on his back, making Keith glance over at him with a raised brow.

“Let's see your schedule,” the man smiled softly as he ordered Doritos from the machine. Keith tilted his head at him questioningly which earned him a snicker, “Hey, don't tell anyone. I'm supposed to be on a “strict and healthy” diet. Astronaut stuff...”

Keith blinked as his nose scrunched and another laugh left the other.

“I know,” he shrugged softly as he ate another chip with a crackle, “You train to go to space, and you're stuck with a crappy sea of disgusting food. Real motivating, huh?”

Keith wasn't sure what to say so he mimicked the older, shrugging too.

“But seriously,” Shiro held out a Dorito dust-covered hand before thinking better of it with a wince and dropping it to his side, “I know where all your classes will be. I'm willing to help you get to know the place. I know how hard it is going somewhere new like this.”

By now, Keith was getting the feeling that Shiro would help with anything anyone needed. And that where others exaggerated and lied, Shiro told the truth. Somehow, he did know somewhat of how Keith was feeling.

Lonely. Scared. Tired. Hurt...hungry.

“Okay,” he nodded as a tiny smile pulled at his lip, “It's in my room. We can grab it.”

…..

It surprises Keith that it takes a whole week for a fight to break out.

It’s a record really.

Usually it happened the day after he arrived. People hated Keith. Didn't matter what he did. They seemed to automatically notice how messed up he was because most avoided him like the plague. Even here at the Garrison, they would move away from him nervously like he'd mug them or something. If they didn't avoid him, they were aggressively going after him. There was already a few instances that almost had turned into full-out fights. The usual bullies who had nothing better to do than start a fist fight with him. He ignored them as they taunted him. It wasn’t anything he hadn’t heard a million times over.

He wasn't going to fuck up his only chance he had here.

Not for some assholes who didn't even get to know him before targeting him. Not for some jealous jerks who thought he didn’t work for what he got.

“Thanks a lot,” Keith glanced over at James who hissed the words sarcastically at him with narrowed eyes and a leer. Oh, right. He just got the whole “team” into trouble for pulling that move. He honestly could care less if they were pissed. They already made their minds up the moment his name was connected to him. Keith, the cheater. Keith, the creepy kid in the corner by himself. What a arrogant hothead. For all he knew, they were calling him a murderer behind his back. Didn't matter.

“You're welcome,” Keith stared forward, feeling the bristle of anger from the brunette beside him. Any teachers or Iverson were off in the distance where they couldn’t hear this. Where they couldn’t tell who did what.

“We all know why you're here,” the other began, and Keith sighed silently in resignation, “The only reason you're here is because of Shiro.”

Keith nearly growled. He didn't like where this was going. Shiro had no part in this and he didn't deserve this type of attention. Keith took a deep breath in, knowing the other teen just wanted to get him to fight. It wasn’t going to work. Keith wouldn’t let it.

“I can outfly anyone in this building,” Keith glared back as he huffed softly, fist clenching and hoping without hope that the idiot would drop it, “Shiro has nothing to do with it.”

“Maybe he helps you cheat,” the other grinned as Keith felt his anger grow in his chest like thorns scraping against his flesh, “There's no way you're as good as your scores. There's no way you beat his record without some cheating.”

“Shiro doesn’t cheat,” Keith defended the older friend as James raised a brow.

“I wasn’t talking about Shirogane cheating,” he narrowed his eyes with a twisted smirk that made Keith clench his fists harder, “You get so defensive over him. I was talking about you cheating.”

“Well, I didn't,” Keith frowned as he itched to bite his thumb in habit. Anything to calm him down and not throw a punch, “I'm not a cheater. I got here on the skills I have.”

“Oh, is that what your mommy and daddy told you when y-”

Keith actually growled this time as hatred flowed through his veins. Shiro was a sensitive subject, but his parents were something else. No one fucking insulted the only person who had ever loved and cared for him. He could care less what people said about his mother. She was a thing of his past - actually, never had been part of his past - so he didn’t really mind that. No, he was pissed that his pops was being badmouthed like that. The only one who taught him about the stars and what a soulmate was. The only one who tucked him in at night and laughed with him when he accidentally smashed a jar or fell face first into the only puddle in the desert. The only one who hadn’t gotten mad at him when he couldn’t sleep in the night, instead pulling him into his side with a grin and hair ruffle. The one who let him wander around on his own whenever he got that feeling to go to something only to pick him up when he got lost.

Keith threw the first punch without any thought. His fist connected to pale skin as the other teen fell flat on his back, gripping his face in a shocked grip. Keith hissed at him as he dove for him. The asshole had no fucking right to act surprised after saying that shit about his parents and Shiro an-

Someone grabbed him tightly around the middle and Keith panicked as the grip tightened painfully, memories swirling on the edge of his mind as he freaked out. He didn’t like being touched suddenly, especially out of nowhere when he wasn’t prepared. His anger quickly transformed into confusion and fear as he fought whatever was holding him. Thrashing wildly, he could feel his hands bump against something, most likely fabric. After a few moments, he panicked more as something else joined in at grabbing him. He didn’t make a sound as he kicked back at the thing holding him. He fought harder, doing whatever he could to get away. And then he finally focused enough to notice that the whole room went completely silent as the talking and excited whispers and shouts had stopped. Whatever had a hold on him dropped him and Keith glanced back.

It was Shiro.

Of course it had to be Shiro. Keith’s stomach dropped like a stone as he took a step back.

The man was on his butt, holding his cheek in what Keith knew from personal experience to be pain. His face was already turning red right where Keith had accidentally hit him right on the cheekbone.

Fuck.

There went his chance. No one would fucking believe him now. They’d say he meant to smack the older. That he was a risk and they couldn’t let him stay around anymore. That he needed to leave.

A stray. A mutt.

Keith lowered his eyes as they burned intensely. He wouldn’t...he wasn’t going to cry! He wouldn’t. Not here where everyone could see it. Not here. Not now. Not where anyone could use it against him. How had he been so stupid? How had he let James fucking goad him into a fight. He didn’t...shouldn’t have…

“It’s okay, Keith,” Shiro’s voice pulled him out of his darkening thoughts as he placed his hand on his shoulder. Keith tensed a bit, but the older seemed to not notice, or he pretended not to. One way or the other, “Let’s go get this fixed up. Griffin, you should come with too. I’m sure both of you will need to speak with Professor Montgomery.”

Keith winced as he took in the mark on Shiro’s face. It was already bruising, a light shade of purple just under his eye. It was also beginning to swell up, and Keith’s guilt crashed into him as he avoided the older’s eyes. He hadn’t...he didn’t think he had hit the older that hard. He didn’t know he had even hit him. He didn’t even think...He hadn’t known someone was...

Fuck. They were going to send him back. Just like every other fight that broke out. They’d say it was his fault and that he did it unprovoked. No one would say otherwise because they would all be pissed and angry about his actions earlier and getting them all in trouble.

Fuck.

This is why he didn’t want to get interested in a place like this.

He wasn’t going to be able to stay.

They wouldn’t let him stay. He must as well as repack to go back to the Home because that’s what was going to happen anyway.

Tears gathered in his eyes, but he bit his lip until he could taste blood. Sighing quietly, Keith followed them down the halls as the two walked on to the professor’s office. James was marching further up, not happy with this. He’d shot Keith a nasty glare every so often, but Keith didn’t feel anything at them as he worried too much with his own problems.

Before he was aware of it, they were in front of an office. Shiro told them both to sit down in the seats in front of the window to the office as he entered the room. The disappointed look he shot Keith only made him sink further into his seat as he stared down at his pants.

Even with the door shut, Keith could hear what the two were doing. He could hear Shiro sit down in the chair in front of the woman who just huffed.

“I don’t get what you see in that kid, Shirogane,” the teacher scolded as Keith bunched his hands into his jacket, ignoring whatever glares James gave him, “First he takes off with your car and then he punches you. He’s a liability, and you shouldn’t have taken this kid under your wing.”

“Elbowed,” Shiro interrupts softly before the woman can say more.

“Excuse me?”

“Keith didn’t punch me,” Shiro responded back evenly as he paused, “It was partially my fault. I grabbed him in a way that startled him. He just reacted any way any of us would have if someone grabbed us from behind without warning. Isn’t that what we teach in the self-defense class?”

The teacher sighed in a way Keith had heard every time someone thought he was telling a lie. That pitying sigh that just screamed that they shouldn’t even have brought up the lie in the first place. Keith bite his lip as he gazed down at the split skin on his left fist. The hand he’d punched James with and the same arm he’d hit Shiro with.

“If you keep defending him,” the woman warned as her voice softened, “Your career could be on the line, Shiro. You can’t keep protecting him. You’re responsible for this boy’s actions.”

“I know,” Shiro responded softly.

“Is this boy worth getting demoted from being a officer?” She asked as Keith’s hands shook, “From being able to go on missions?”

Shiro said nothing.

“What will Adam think when he sees the bruise?” She asked after a moment of silence. Keith didn’t know who this ‘Adam’ was but he must have important to the other. Maybe his family member. Or a close friend. Although Shiro did say he didn’t have anyone...

“It doesn’t matter,” Shiro’s tone darkened for the first time in the whole conversation, “Keith didn’t hurt me on purpose, and Adam doesn’t need to worry. I know what price I pay for helping Keith out, and I’m not backing out of it. Not when he needs me.”

“Very well,” the woman sighed again, “But if he does anything like this again, I can’t do anything about getting you out of trouble. As it is, you’re in hot water for this, as is the kid.”

“I understand,” Shiro acknowledged as he began to get up. A small ping stopped them both in their seats as Keith frowned.

“Why are they sending me this?” Professor Montgomery wondered as she tapped on something a few times, “Hmmm…”

Shiro didn't say anything.

“Just go tell the kid the news,” she responded after a second later, and Keith's heart sank, already knowing what it'd be, “I'll speak with Cadet Griffin.”

A few more sounds filled the room before the chair scooted back. Keith didn't pay attention as his heartbeat slammed painful in his chest. This was it. This was why he'd regret ever starting to even warm up to Shiro. He was gonna be kicked out.

And he was starting to like Shiro as a friend. The past week had been one of the best he had experienced. The older had spent time with him even though they were both so busy. Shiro didn’t act like Keith was a burden, and never treated him like a troublesome kid. Keith liked it, and in turn, he was beginning to see that Shiro had a lot of pressures. Maybe...maybe Shiro had been just as happy to spend time with him the last week?

And it was going to all be ruined.

Because he ruined it.

He could feel Shiro's presence beside him as James walked off into the room. A moment of silence echoed around them before Keith began, not giving the older a chance to speak.

“Look, you should just send me back to the Home already,” Keith stared straight forward, saying this like he had so many times before. To all the people who eventually gave up on him and those that he pushed away, “I messed up. This place isn't for me.”

“Keith,” Shiro began but Keith snapped as his hurt and anguish burst through him in a wave. He was sick and tired of this. Of people always sending him away. Of people leaving. It was going to happen again.

“I'm not worth it,” Keith spoke as he glared down at the floor, pretending not to see the blur of salty water in his eyes, “Your job isn't worth this. I'm only going to get you into trouble. Just send me back!”

“I…” Shiro paused, moving closer before continuing, “Keith, what makes you think that?”

Keith was ready to rip his hair out of his head. Shiro had to know. It wasn’t like it was hard to figure out.

“I'm not stupid, Shiro,” Keith frowned as he brought his legs up to place his chin against his knees, “I heard everything you guys said in there. Your career is on the line because I messed up. You're gonna get in trouble because I got into a fight when I shouldn't have. Just send me back to the Home already.”

Shiro didn’t say anything, so Keith continued sitting there as he watched the wall. Keith waited for that moment of rejection. It always happened sooner or later, and this was the prime time as any for it. He wondered what the others would say when they saw him back at the Home. That he only lasted a week at the Galaxy Garrison. What a waste-

“Actually, they know you didn't do anything unwarranted,” Shiro smiled at him as he tilted his head after a moment of silence, “One of the cadets in your group told us what went down.”

Keith couldn't stop himself from throwing his head back to look directly at Shiro with wide eyes. He had to be lying. No one…who would have told them the truth? Everyone despised him. He didn't have any friends in his class, and he knew for certain it wasn't James who told them what happened.

Keith didn't understand what was happening.

“But...I…” Keith glanced to his fist and back up at the older man. This had never happened to Keith before. No one else ever stood up for him. Against him, yeah. But never for him, “I...what?”

“They know you didn’t fight without a reason,” Shiro reassured him as he placed his hand on the others shoulder, “And while I agree that you shouldn’t have fought, I do understand...I would have done the same if anyone said stuff about them too.”

Shiro’s parents. Keith glanced up at the other who looked a bit sad, eyes downcast. The other didn’t talk about his parents. Keith told Shiro a few things about his pops here and there, but Keith never heard Shiro say anything except a few things about his grandpa.

That the older man had passed away a long time ago, about the time Shiro became an officer. That the man had flared his interest in the stars and gave him the hope to become an astronaut.

Keith couldn’t help but think that maybe...just maybe Shiro understood him more than he gave him credit.

“You sure do have a wicked elbow punch,” Shiro teased out of the blue as Keith was ripped from his thoughts, “You gotta teach me how to do that sometime.”

“Okay,” Keith almost laughed as the other pulled him close, hugging him to his chest loosely enough that Keith could break away. Keith didn't.

“It’ll be okay,” Shiro spoke softly as Keith leaned closer, feeling something shift within him, that feeling he got around Shiro, “Now, I think we should go get some lunch from our favorite spot.”

“I get into a fight and you reward me with a meal?” Keith teased back, but genuinely meant it as a question, “Aren’t you supposed to...be a good role model or something?”

“Yeah, I’m supposed to,” Shiro laughed softly as he pulled away from the younger, making him wish he was still close to the other, “But what the Garrison doesn’t know won’t hurt them. I was a teen not too long ago.”

“Sure, Old Timer,” Keith snickered as Shiro placed his hands over his chest with a mocking gasp.

“You know I’m not that old, Cherry Pie,” Shiro exclaimed back before they both froze at the nickname, “I...is...if you don’t want me t-”

“It’s fine,” Keith stated after a moment as he placed his hand on the other’s shoulder hesitantly, “Better than most I’ve gotten before.”

“Keith-”

“So,” Keith interrupted as he moved away. Anything to get that look off of Shiro’s face, “Are we going to be eating any cherry pie? Because if you’re going to be calling me that, I must as well as eat it.”

Shiro looked ready to protest for a moment, mouth opening before closing again. His eyes softened as he nodded, pointing his head towards the hall that led to the hangar.

“I’ll get us a pass to leave the base,” he smiled softly at Keith before looking at his clothes and back, “You’ll probably want to get changed though.”

“I will,” Keith promised as the other walked away, heading for the hall for the main office. Keith watched him disappear around the corner before he started for his room.

Maybe. Maybe he could stay.

Chapter Text

Shiro watched as cadets trickled into the room.

He was helping out with the combat/training class, like he did quite often on his free time. He hadn't been in the class before this year because of being busy with some stuff. But he was here now to help teach and show the class what they needed to learn.

Shiro could see and hear the excited expressions the students would get as they saw him closer up front. It always amused the officer that so many people got that way over him. He knew very well that plenty of people liked him in the way that they liked their favorite celebrity. Shiro was the poster boy of the Garrison, so it was no surprise.

"Thanks for helping me out, Shiro," a voice interrupted his thoughts as he turned with a smile, "You know how these kids get cocky after winning a few spars. It's time I show them a professional."

"I'm no professional, sir," Shiro blushed lightly at the compliment and went on before the middle-aged man could stop him, "But I like doing this. It's not a problem."

"I can see that," the man smiled with dark eyes soft, "Thank you for doing this so often for me. I think the students like it just as much."

"I think they do," Shiro snickered as one cadet nearly tripped as he went to take a spot along the wall. The man could practically see stars in the younger's dark blue eyes as he poked at a familiar friend nearby, face openly ecstatic. Shiro waved at the other who smiled sheepishly before dragging his friend to another corner further away. At the same time, a head of midnight hair from the corner pulled his attention to Keith who had just walked into the room.

Their eyes instantly met as if they could feel the other there. Shiro stared at the younger whose lips turned up in the corner before he tilted his head, lost on why Shiro was in a class he didn't take and had not been in before. Shiro just smiled reassuringly as Professor Michaelson called out to the class as the last student lazed through the door.

"Hello, class," he greeted as he stood on the padded area in the middle of the room. All the whispers died down as the cadets tuned into the man's speech, "Now, we've been going over our sparring moves for a few weeks now, so I decided that I wanted to bring in someone special to work with you guys and show you the ropes. Fighting isn't all about glory and beating up others, and maybe he can make you realize it. Come on, Shiro."

Shiro stepped forward as he grinned, waving a hand in greeting.

"I'm helping out Professor Michaelson today," he explained as the class began to whisper, “He told me that you guys need to work on your forms. Maybe we could demonstrate some, and have you try them out? Is there something you haven’t done yet?”

The cadets all exclaimed some stuff that Shiro couldn’t understand through the haze of it all. He caught a few words here and there, but nothing to point him in any specific direction. Waiting a moment for the rowdy crowd to calm down, Shiro smiled as he improvised.

“Let’s just get you out here to test out what you can do,” Shiro stated as he glanced around, seeing the smug face on one cadet in the front of the crowd, “You willing to spar with me?”

The student seemed shocked for a moment to be the one picked before he smirked widely. Shiro wanted to snicker at the false bravo the younger held, as if he figured he had to match already won. Interesting, since everyone knew Shiro could pull his punches. Anymore, cadets pretty much gave up on fighting with him after hearing previous fights the older had had before. Adam always teased him about that, saying he got too into the matches. Shiro scoffed mockingly as he tapped his boyfriend’s shoulder, both laughing. Both knew Shiro wasn’t as focused as he could be when sparring alone on the machines and equipment.

“Both of you will be allowed to attack each other when I say three,” the oldest man in the room stated as he stood off to the side of the room, where he could easily interfere with the match if needed, but far enough away to let the other cadets see it all, “You will use whatever moves you can think of, and whoever pins the other for five seconds wins.”

Shiro nodded at him as the other student grinned back, dark brown eyes staring right at him. Shiro nearly rolled his eyes as they both got into position, crouching as he waited for the countdown. The cadet was standing all wrong, in a way that Shiro could easily knock him off his feet.

“One.”

Shiro watched as the younger leaned too far forward, most of his weight on the balls of his feet.

“Two.”

His hands were in the wrong place, not in front of his chest loosely, but out to the sides in a way that left him open to an attack on his front from multiple locations. Shiro couldn’t help but sigh inwardly at the carelessness. In a real fight, this would probably kill the guy.

“Three.”

Shiro wasted no time as he lunged forward, the cadet not even paying attention. Twisting his foot out behind the other, he shoved at his chest before making him crash to the ground. The cadet laid there in startled silence, face going pale as Shiro barely pinned him.

“...Four, five!” Michaelson shouted out to the class before Shiro let the younger up, “Can anyone tell us what went wrong?”

“He got too confident in his skills!” One student waved her hand about, “And left himself open!”

“He wasn’t paying attention to Shirogane,” another stated as Shiro patted the cadet’s shoulder, hoping he wouldn’t take it too hard. Multiple other statements went up for evaluation before Shiro told the other to go back to the crowd. The boy kept his head down, possibly not as pompous as the older first thought. It looked like he might learn from this.

“Who else can we…” Michaelson trailed off, staring at something. Shiro turned to where he was looking to, and saw Keith standing in the corner, fairly far away from everyone else, but where he could also see well enough, “Why don’t you go against Shiro, cadet Kogane?”

Kogane? Shiro blinked as he saw Keith’s look of hesitation. He didn’t know Keith’s last name was Kogane. It wasn’t in his file, and no one seemed to know what his last name actually was. It wasn’t surprising really since there was no record of past family members. No records from his mom to her side. No records of his dad’s family except that a couple lived out in the desert by themselves, hardly seen by the public. No one knew what they looked like or what their names had been or even were in the desert they had lived. They must have been Keith’s grandparents.

It was a surprise to him because Kogane was a Japanese surname.

Silver and gold. Shirogane and Kogane.

Maybe his grandparents had been of Japanese descent and lived in the desert as a way to escape the prejudice of the time against them? Even though the feelings from World War Two were the main ones, even a century later some people still had issues with Japanese people. Shiro was lucky to live in the present where that didn’t really happen, nor did discrimination against gender, race, or sexual orientation...or at least, rarely did it.

It could be an foster home family name though.

Shiro shrugged it off as he smiled at Keith who finally nodded back before taking the mat. The younger stood defensively in the corner of the black mat, not leaving himself open at all. Shiro could see that the younger was cautious of those at his back too.

"Same rules as before," the man stated as both stared at each other, "Whoever takes out the other for five seconds wins. One!"

Keith eyed him, likely sizing him up and thinking of what he'd do. Shiro did the same, thinking Keith would rely on speed. Keith was all lean muscle, even with the small size.

"Two!"

Both crouched with their arms up defensively. Keith’s stance was defensive, but strong enough that Shiro probably wouldn’t be knocking him over any time soon. He could also react quickly enough to block Shiro in that position.

“Three!”

Both lunged at each other after a few seconds. Shiro dove down to the floor as Keith zoomed by. Trying to grab at the younger’s arm, Keith flipped around in mid-air, pulling both wrists back as if he knew what Shiro was going to do. Something on his senses prickled, so Shiro jumped inches to the right, nearly avoiding an elbow to the ribs. Keith didn’t give up as he rushed forward, much quicker than Shiro had thought him to be. The younger kicked at Shiro, and the older yanked up his arm just in time to catch the blow.

There’d be bruises there later with the force Keith put behind it, stronger than he looked for all his wiry muscle and thin body. But Shiro could tell he was holding back on what he could do. There was a wild gleam under all the fighting that told him that the younger had done this before and had to fight to survive. Protocols were useful in a fair fight, but street smarts and unwarranted moves were the ones that saved you in a real life-or-death fight.

If Keith wasn’t going to start using them, Shiro would modify his fighting to get him to show what he could do.

Shiro faked a thrust of his hand to the left, but at the last second, tried to hit Keith’s unprotected side with his right. The younger glared at him as the hit landed, tossing him back a foot or two. For a moment, Shiro worried he had used too much force, but the next, Keith lunged at him with more fire in his eyes than he had seen so far. Before Shiro could blink, Keith jumped into the air and slammed his foot down at the other in a way that seemed impossible, going for the joint between Shiro’s shoulder and neck. The older barely dropped out of the way, but his back became open as the smaller tackled him down, heavy at his back.

Holding onto Shiro, he tightened his hold in his shoulders, but the man could tell that the younger wasn’t holding them the correct way. His form was too tense, and Shiro could break out of it easily.

“One!”

He did. Yanking both hands away from his sides, he caught Keith off balance with a tiny gasp. Kicking out, he landed a rough hit to the smaller’s stomach. Keith slid back before rubbing the spot, watching him cautiously. Shiro stood up, also rubbing on his back where keith had gotten the drop on him. Looking for weaknesses, they circled each other for a minute, just breathing in and catching their breath. Shiro pretended to leave his side open, and Keith took the bait. Barely slow enough to keep track of, Shiro saw him rush forward. Just as the other threw a punch there, he snatched up his arm before yanking straight downward. Keith smashed into the mat in a small daze as Shiro held his left arm over his throat and the other over his side.

“One!”

Keith glared at him unhappily.

“Two!”

He pouted for a second, lips pulling down.

“Three!”

The flames reappeared as Keith got an idea. Shiro could see him thinking of a way to get free.

“Four!”

And then Shiro was flipped over, a bit disoriented at the change of motion. Suddenly, Keith pressed down on him the same way, mimicking his earlier move of one hand on his throat and the other on his ribs, kneeling with one knee on the floor and the other to brace him. But this time, Keith held down harder, never enough to hurt that much, but enough that Shiro couldn’t get free even if he wanted to, unless he really tried.

“One!”

Shiro stared up at the other who seemed ready to growl at him, watching him intensely like a predator would its trapped prey. Shiro wasn’t worried though.

“Two!”

Keith’s gaze softened as he tilted his head just the slightest, enough that only Shiro noticed it.

“Three!”

Shiro smiled reassuringly before resigning to his fate, relaxing into the mat all the way and giving Keith no resistance. The younger didn’t let down his guard any, but he did grin back.

“Four!”

The whispers echoed around the room as stunned students watched. Shiro nearly laughed at them as they gazed at them like what Keith did was impossible. Shiro wasn’t invincible, and had never been. He had just been best of his class and those he fought against until Keith. And he made mistakes along the way, ones that would have gotten him killed in a real fight, so he couldn’t say anything.

“Five! Cadet Kogane wins!” The older man shouted as he stepped toward them, “Those were quite the moves you two threw out there.”

Keith didn’t say anything, but he did grab Shiro’s hand on the way back up, pulling him to his feet with a strained pull. Shiro placed his hand on the other’s shoulder as the evaluations went on, saying what they did right, where they went wrong, how they could fix it. Although Keith didn’t seem to be listening, Shiro could tell he was taking it all in and would strengthen his fighting next time.

Maybe Shiro could learn a few things from Keith.

Or that could at least be another reason to set some time aside for the younger.

“Alright,” Shiro was broken out of this thoughts as he glanced back at his once-was teacher, “Now we’ll split you into pairs of two to spar. Keep your hits light enough to not injure your opponent and go at it. We’ll switch pairs every five minutes. Pick a partner and get sparring.”

Shiro was approached by quite a few cadets who buzzed excitedly, waving their hands and wanting to be his sparring opponent. Shiro noticed Keith slunking in the outer bounds of his vision, sneaking off to the back of the room. Just as he began to worry that Keith would have no one to spar with, Shiro noticed that the one cadet - Hunk - timidly asked him something which Keith nodded to hesitantly. Both got into a defensive position an-

“Hey, can I spar against you?” Shiro was pulled back to the cadet in front of him. It was the one who had almost face planted into the floor earlier. He was just as excited as before, but a little more calm about it this time, “It’s just...I really want to.”

“What’s your name?” Shiro chuckled at the younger who perked up, “Then we’ll see about sparring.”

“Lance,” Lance introduced himself with a smirk before his face settled down, “Uh...I mean, cadet-”

“Alright, Lance,” Shiro interrupted, not really liking using the cadet title. It made him feel like he was way older than them and also created too much distance, in his opinion. It always confused him that Adam was perfectly fine with the titles, “Let’s see what you can do.”

In the end, Lance did pretty well for being a first-year cadet. He was a bit overconfident, but he gave it his all, and most importantly, changed his fighting into what he needed it to be to improve. Like water, flowing and changing. Shiro had snickered at the thought in the middle of their fight, dodging a left hook from the teen.

Over the next hour, they switched partners often. Shiro ended up always asking for his partner’s name and then he tried to give them tips as they went. There were about thirty cadets in the class, so there was no way he could spar them all. One the last round, Shiro looked over to see Keith was in front of him, probably ready for a rematch. Shiro smiled before getting into position.

And then they sparred. Dodge the kick to his right side, retaliate with a punch to Keith’s. Jump up at the leg sweep Keith tried, send a kick his way. It went on for awhile, all moments Shiro deeply enjoyed.

But Keith suddenly stopped, head shooting up with narrowed eyes which Shiro could see were heavily dilated. About to ask what was wrong, someone a few feet from them shouted in pain before grabbing their nose. Shiro turned his attention to them to see that one of the cadets was dripping blood from between their fingers. The liquid dripped onto the floor as they gripped their nose. Shiro glanced over at the sparring partner who seemed scared, so they most likely hadn’t meant to hit them there. Michaelson took control of the situation, snatching up a towel from nearby before passing it to the shaky cadet who hurried to put it under his gushing nose.

“Oh my god,” one cadet whispered to another near Shiro’s ear, “That’s a lot of blood. Think he’ll bleed out?”

“I don’t know,” another answered back as the blood smeared across the floor, “But if this is what happens in here from now on, I wanna take this class again!”

Shiro could hear all the younger teens whispering something, although he didn’t catch all that each said. But...He hadn’t heard Keith at all in all of this. Turning to the other, he blinked.

Keith was staring at the scene, not blinking or moving. Just staring. If Shiro thought he was seeing correctly, he looked a little pale and was really focused on the bl-

“Keith,” Shiro quickly placed his hand on Keith’s shoulder, but got no reaction, “Are you afraid of blood?”

“No,” Keith kept staring, not even glancing his way, “Why?”

“Maybe we should get out of here,” Shiro began pulling him away, ignoring any strange looks he got for doing so, “Class is finished anyway.”

“But-” Keith tried to protest as he continued to stare. Shiro restrained himself from yanking him out of the room. Some people got freaked out at the sight of blood, and he did not want Keith passing out on him. Keith didn’t really put up a fight as he pulled him from the room. As soon as the door shut behind them, Keith snapped out of it, eyes moving from the door to Shiro.

“What?” Keith asked curiously as Shiro raised a brow, “Shiro?”

“I…” He blinked before deciding to drop the weird behavior, “I was wondering if you want to go into town with me and Matt tonight. There’s an arcade in town that I think you might have a good time at.”

Plus, he needed to look around for a birthday gift for Keith. It was in a month or so, but Shiro didn’t want to forget. Just something simple for the younger who didn’t seem to have anyone to get him something this time.

“Huh?” Keith blinked before nodding, “Sounds good. When we leaving?”

“Now, I guess,” Shiro shrugged before he glanced at his phone from his bag he had grabbed on the way out, Keith’s stuff piled within it hastily, “After we grab Matt from the chemistry lab.”

Keith snickered softly before he nodded. They both started for the science department.

Chapter Text

Town had been fun.

Matt had been weird. He was ecstatic about everything, making terrible puns and trying to flirt smoothly with the ladies they ran across. Keith had rolled his eyes before watching Shiro who was laughing at Matt failing spectacularly.

Keith had watched as the older played a game or two in the arcade. Matt was way better than them both at the games, but Keith liked seeing Shiro playing the rocketship game. Even the simple motions of flying had Shiro's eyes lighting up and grin on his face. Between the three of them, they had won enough tickets to get a tiny stuffed plushie, a cute little vampire person.

"It looks kind of like you," Shiro smiled before he handed it to Keith who raised a brow, "Got the whole cherry thing going on, Cherry Pie."

It did. It was about the size of his hand with round limbs. It's "skin" was light peach with black longer hair. A darker red slash was on its cheek like a scar or a precise stain of cherry juice. It was dressed in a black jacket that looked surprisingly like Shiro's that the older was wearing now. It was holding what seemed to be a cherry in its hand, and its eyes were bright red. Tiny soft fangs hung out of its mouth.

"Awww," Matt grinned after poking his head in between their shoulders, "That's cute but ugly. Already connecting it to Keith?"

Matt was giving Shiro a sly grin Keith didn't quite understand. At the same time, Shiro gave Matt a flat look, left eye twitching.

"I don't know why I'm friends with you, Holt," Shiro joked before he spied something else up on the rack of prizes, "Know what we should do?"

"What?" Matt raised a brow before gazing over the cute little green lion plushie, "What?"

"We should win that for your sister," Shiro grinned as he started pulling them back to the games, "Your sister will love it."

"Oh, wow," he rolled his eyes playfully before plopping down in the seat of a two-person race car game, "Here you are asking why we're friends but you wanna give Katie a plushie lion. Oh man, I feel the love."

"Heh," Keith snickered quietly as he took the other seat awkwardly, "He's providing the money, you know, right?"

"Because I want to," Shiro laughed before leaning his head closer to them, eyes on the screen, "Now, kick Matt's butt, Keith."

"Hey!" Matt frowned as Shiro quickly entered in the racetrack settings before dropping in some cash. The race began as Keith pulled out in front of Matt, bumping the front of the car. Five laps later, Keith was in first place, getting them a handful of tickets, "Okay. We found something you're good at in this place. Seriously, Katie would have a heart attack if she knew how bad you are at video games."

Keith had shrugged, not saying anything as they tried another time. With the rest of their time and money, they got enough tickets to get the lion for his sister. Keith laughed more that night then he had in years, and it seemed the same for Shiro who had been grinning the whole time, shoulders less tense.

It was now a month passed then. He and Shiro still went out to nearby towns, and to the restaurant they liked. They hung out, any opportunity they could.

So Keith had been a little thrown when Shiro had asked to have his bike for a day. Usually, he was hesitant to let anyone touch the few things he owned. The blade, he never showed even when he had the urge to keep it on him at all turns, the itch to get it out and feel it in his hands. The jacket, he hardly wore because it was too long on the sleeves and he really didn't have a reason to do so. His hoverbike...his hoverbike was one of the most important parts of his life. It had been his dad's, something he said he had bought years upon years ago and had modified to be a bit more powerful than a regular hoverbike.

But he trusted Shiro with it. He was a bit anxious knowing it wasn't where he usually kept it, but he kept himself busy. He did homework by himself in his room, going over formulas and sparring forms. When he got done with that, he pulled out an old sketch pad of his, one he always carried around. It was no bigger than his jacket pocket, easily hidden so no one could find it. Each page was filled with doodles and tiny drawings, back and front of each page. He'd gotten it from one of the nicer foster families, one who had thought drawing was a good outlet to take out his frustration and pass the time.

Sketching absentmindedly, Keith peered at the vampire plushie sitting in front of him. He had kept it, unable to leave it anywhere inside his bag, due to the fact that he had gotten it from Matt and Shiro. It was kind of cute, but Keith had to agree...it looked a little too much like him.

Running the pencil around the page some more, he thought to other things. It was October 22nd, a Saturday. He had no plans for the rest of the day nor the next day. Shiro had said something about hanging out with him tomorrow, a special treat. Keith didn't know what that was about. Shiro always treated him to a special treat from cherry pie to hoverbike races and more. What more could he do? And why tomorrow? Why not today? The older seemed busy anyway today, so he was looking forward to the next day.

Glancing at the sketch, he blinked as he saw Shiro. It was of the older sitting against his hoverbike, explaining about when to pull up on a dive to create enough momentum. His hand was up in a flat line with the palm down, a small smile on his lips, a shine in his eyes. Keith remembered that moment as if it were an hour ago. The older had jumped right off a cliff, something Keith had yet to do. Keith had taken the long way down and met up with him just as the sun had set, casting the sky and them aglow.

It had been pretty.

Keith colored in Shiro's hair, making some of it curl out of his bangs slightly, just a strand or two. He did Shiro's leather jacket next, adding shading to it as he filled it in lighter than before. After that, he colored in his hoverbike, for some reason imagining his own cherry red one. Before he knew it, he was adding the details of that: The crack in the windshield, the chipping paint on the sides, the latch that didn't quite shut on the storage compartment.

So engrossed by his doodling, he almost jumped when his stomach growled loudly. Glancing at the time, he noticed it was supper time. If he got everything in place, he could go to the lunch room and grab some food.

Cleaning up took no time as he shoved everything back where it belonged, his tummy panged again to remind him he hadn't eaten since breakfast. Slinking out of his room, he went down to the mess hall and gathered a plate of food. Turning to sit at his usual corner, he was surprised to see Matt sitting there. The older saw him before waving to him, eating some cooked broccoli at the same time.

"Keith!" He spoke as Keith sat down, "Remember that lion Shiro picked out for my sis?"

That was out of nowhere. Keith nodded as he took a bite of his mystery meat.

"Well, Shiro has taste," he snickered as he ate some of his peas, "Katie packs the thing everywhere. Can't get her to let go of it for nothing. Geez, he's out brothering me. Now what I'm I supposed to get her?"

The older man said it all good-heartedly, probably joking like he always was. Keith ate some of his own broccoli before answering.

"You could hang out with her for her gift," Keith stared at the other before glancing down at his dish. He shouldn't have brought it up, "I mean...uhhh...family time, right?"

"Keith," Matt spoke, and he looked at the other who was grinning, "You're a genius, you know that? I didn't think of that. I could play video games with her. She always likes that...maybe sneak in some ice cream. Maybe go up to the roof and watch the stars. Who knows."

Keith's heart panged at that. He didn't know what it was like to have a sibling. Did they usually do stuff like that? It sounded nice. Keith missed his dad still. Before his chest burned anymore, he turned the conversation around.

"So...uhh…" Keith cleared his throat before gazing at Matt, "Any idea where Shiro is?"

"Hmmm…" Matt sat in silence for a moment, brows down before he smiled suddenly, "No. I haven't seen him since this morning. He said something about being busy today."

"Oh," Keith took a drink of water before eating the rest of his food, "Then I'll see him tomorrow, I guess."

"If he told you that was when he's gonna hang out, he'll be there," the man shrugged before smiling, like it was a given fact, "Now, I need to figure out a good time to set this up. I'm pretty busy with stuff here, and Katie's in school so…"

Keith listened to the other talk.

…..

Keith had no clue where Shiro was taking him.

The older had his hands over his eyes, guiding him to some place "close." Normally, Keith would be fighting his way out of the hold, but it didn't freak him out this time. Probably because Shiro was keeping a loose hold over his eyes and only his eyes. That and he kept talking to Keith the whole time, curbing any fear that could have popped up. Keith could feel the warm hands over his eyes as they walked forward.

This stroll felt longer and shorter than it should have been. Longer because they walked on and on with no sense of direction or time. Shorter because he liked hearing Shiro's voice.

"We're here," Shiro stated as he slowly removed his hands. Keith blinked as his eyes adjusted to the light, which wasn't quite as bright as it had been outside. Keith almost sighed with happiness, "It's in front of us."

Keith blinked before his gaze trailed a few feet away. A gasp left his throat as he stared.

It was his hoverbike, freshly parked in the middle-sized shed they were in. The windshield was completely repaired, no crack in the glass. From this angle, Keith could tell the storage compartment had been fixed too, now sealing shut at the way. To the sides sat two buckets and some brushes.

"I…" Keith glanced from the bike to Shiro back to the bike before settling on looking at the older, "What?"

"Your hoverbike looked like it has seen better days," Shiro chuckled softly as he walked to the vehicle's side, "So I figured we could repair it. Of course, I had to take it in for the ones we couldn't do like the windshield but I figu-"

"Why?" Keith asked as Shiro trailed off, raising his brow, "Why did you spend all this money and time to fix my bike?"

Shiro seemed confused before he suddenly understood. The older placed his hand on Keith's shoulder, making sure he looked at him before continuing.

"Because we're friends, and I know this bike is important to you," Shiro smiled reassuringly before looking him over with a tad bit of worry in his eyes, "Because it's worth it to see you happy. I'm not demanding anything in return, except your company. I thought we could work together on the bike."

Keith gazed at his bike again, taking in the repairs again before nodding. Shiro laughed quietly before patting him. He knelt down on the covered floor, popping the lid off of a paint can. Mixing the liquid up, he did the same to the bucket of clear shiny liquid. Keith peeked around his shoulder as he grabbed a paintbrush and handed it to the younger.

"I was lucky enough to find paint that matches the color of your bike," Shiro took up his own brush, dipping it into the liquid and then carefully beginning to apply it to the chipped areas, "It's a hard color to find. Your dad must have liked red a lot."

"Uhhh...yeah," Keith shrugged as a small smile tugged his lips. He pressed the brush to the other end of the bike, "He did. He always said that the firetrucks were the coolest part of his job. His inner kid came out when he talked about riding in them. He took me to the station one time, middle of the day, just to show me around, you know? That's how enthusiastic he was. Pops hardly went out during the day, taking the night shifts."

"That had to be conflicting," Shiro paused for a moment before getting more paint, "Didn't he have to sleep during the day while you were awake?"

"Kind of?" Keith wiped his sleeve on his head, rubbing away some sweat, "We both slept during the day. A lot of the time, I had problems sleeping at night. Insomnia, I guess. Dad and I didn't need a lot of sleep, so we hung out a lot. It was...it was fun."

Keith blinked away any tears that threatened to fall. Now was not the time to be getting sad over his dad. Shiro was trying to do something nice for Keith.

"I get that," Shiro smiled fondly at him before his gaze shifted to the bike. He brushed the paint onto another spot, "This used to be a tradition among my family. We'd fix up our hoverbike every eight months or so. I looked forward to it every time, wanting to do it with my family. Spend time with them. It was always my dad and grandpa with me, making sure things were running correctly."

A moment of silence echoed around the shed, only broken by the paintbrushes scraping against metal.

"Our hoverbike was a lot like this one, but black instead of red, my mom's favorite color," Shiro smiled, but there was a sad look to it, "She's the one who used to always ride it."

Keith stayed silent. Maybe Shiro needed this as much did. To reminisce about the past and sad times.

"So we'd set aside a day every time to get together and do it. I was a kid at the time, but I had a lot of fun," Shiro frowned as he paused. Keith glanced over at him, getting it as he continued painting, "And then when I was eight, my dad passed away. He had been...sick for a long time, a few years. We knew it was coming, but it still hit hard. It was hard not having him there, but luckily, I had my grandpa. We continued fixing up the bike, in honor of my parents."

"What happened to the bike?" Keith asked curiously as he peered at Shiro who shrugged, "Do you…"

"No," he shook his head before beginning to paint again, "When Grandpa died, I didn't have enough money to keep the bike. I lived at the Garrison full-time, visiting him when I could. I had nowhere to put it, still wouldn't even if I had it. So it got sold to someone. I haven't seen it since."

Keith narrowed his eyes as he splashed another plain area with color. Shiro was really on his own. He understood most of what Keith had been through, and Keith understood him. It hurt having both of your parents out of your life like that. He wondered whether it would be better to have a parent just suddenly never come back one day or knowing that you were slowly losing them instead. With his dad, he knew his job was dangerous. He could die at any time, but there was no sure end. To a kid like Keith, his dad had been invincible, but now he knew that he wasn't. But to Shiro, that had to hurt worse...watching his dad die painstakingly slowly, probably wasting away.

Keith blinked back tears, this time for his friend. Glancing at Shiro, he saw the man looking close to crying too, a downtrodden scowl on the corner of his lip as he stared at his right arm intensely, lost in memories. Keith got a sudden idea as he splattered his brush's bristles, making red paint plop onto Shiro's face. With a small yelp, Shiro faced him with wide eyes.

"Come on, Old Timer," Keith teased softly as he flicked the brush again, "You're really getting slow. I'm almost already done."

"Okay, okay," Shiro snickered before he lightened up, tossing Keith a smirk before painting again, "I'll catch up to you."

"Not if you sit there like that," Keith threw back, and was happy to see Shiro grin widely, "Sometimes I think you're secretly a turtle inside. I mean, 'Patience yields focus?' 'Slow down, Keith.' Heh…"

"Oh, so now I'm old and slow," Shiro asked playfully, bumping his shoulder, "What next? Gray-haired?"

"You never know," Keith shrugged back just as playfully, "You'd pull it off though."

"Then you'll really be calling me old," the man snickered before he grabbed the clear stuff, "Now, we have to get your bike shining to help prevent these chippings and scratches."

"Got it," Keith nodded before putting it on the dried paint they had applied, "So what's so special about today that we had to wait?"

Shiro stopped brushing and turned to him, some look Keith didn't understand. Keith squirmed before distractedly putting another coat of the clear paint on a patch he already did. Shiro continued to watch him, face confused and concerned.

"What?" Keith wondered as he waited for the older to say something, "Why are you staring at me like that?"

"You forgot," Shiro shook his head, hair floof spraying around, "It's your birthday today."

Oh. Yeah…

October 23rd.

It was.

"Oh," Keith spoke with a small frown, brows twisted down, "Oh, huh."

He hadn't really celebrated his birthday in a long time. Maybe one or two years with foster families. Once or twice in the Home. But those had been little gifts, like a small cupcake or a new coat. That's where his red jacket came from, the one he still wore when he could.

His birthday was often forgotten in favor of other things. Sometimes there were too many kids together in the Home, and they forgot. Other times, they didn't have the money. And other times, they didn't get him anything anyway. When he was younger, he had celebrated it with his pops. They'd have homemade cake, and his dad would let him drink some of his coffee. They'd spend the day relaxing at home, and the night exploring nearby caves, filled with cold water and glowing lights.

Keith probably dreamt up the glowing cave part, but he definitely remembered the rest. His chest throbbed with homesickness, a place he'd never get back. His dad.

"Oh, hey," Shiro was in front of him now, hand on his shoulder. By now, Keith could feel a tear or two run down his cheek. Great, he was crying, "It's okay. We can...finish this up and then just go race or something. Normal stuff."

"No," Keith cleared his throat before wiping his eyes, "It wasn't you. I...thanks. It means a lot to me, that you want to do this."

"Any time," Shiro grinned before silently asking for a hug, arms out. Keith nodded as the older hugged him, "I'm here for you, buddy."

Keith pressed his face into Shiro's jacket. It was warm and smelt like Shiro, something Keith found calming. Something about the smell of honey and desert air and maybe vanilla. They stayed that way for a few moments before something wet smeared across his left cheek. Keith jolted, staring right at Shiro who was smirking, red paint on his right hand.

“Now we both have to clean our faces,” he laughed as Keith rolled his eyes, smile reaching his lips. Keith reached up quickly and smeared the drops that were drying on the other’s face, getting a lighter-pitched chuckle before taking off out of the shed. The bike was done anyway, as proven when he could hear footsteps chasing after him.

Keith tipped his head back, enjoying the sunlight before peeking out of the corner of his eye to see Shiro trying to chase him, behind him by quite a bit.

“You are becoming a turtle!” Keith shouted as he raced forward, not even winded, “Catch up, Old Timer!”

“I will!” Shiro shouted right before he tripped over his own feet, falling lightly onto the ground on his back. Keith rushed up to him, seeing him playing there, huffing in deep breaths.

“You are too fast,” Shiro chuckled up at him as he patted the sandy ground next to his side, “Saved you a spot.”

“Yeah, and every other spot around here,” Keith stated sarcastically, but sat down by the older’s side, arm lightly brushing his, “Thanks, today’s been good.”

“You’re welcome, Keith,” Shiro grinned before relaxing back into the sand, “Glad you had a good time.”

They stayed like that for a while before returning back to the shed and cleaning up.

Chapter Text

Shiro glanced up at the knock on his office door. As he got up to open it, he noticed that Keith was standing there, looking uncomfortable in every way, seeming to shrink in on himself. He still looked small in the orange cadet jacket even though it had been a few months, now November, since he joined. Shiro hadn’t brought it up yet, but he was beginning to become worried at that. He knew Keith ate enough, especially since he had been sneaking in food for the younger wherever he can.

Keith just didn't seem to be growing much.

Standing up, he greeted the other with a smile as he opened the door. Keith seemed somewhat surprised to see him like he hadn't known he was in front of Shiro's office, but he soon lost the look. Shiro moved back as he let Keith into the room. The younger paused at the doorway as if waiting for something to happen. But a moment later, he must have been fine because he stepped in.

“You okay, Keith?” Shiro questioned after a second of Keith spacing out. Keith glanced at him with his dark eyes before nodding his head. Before either could blink, he let out a large yawn. Shiro raised a brow as he glanced at the clock.

12:30 p.m.

Keith was tired. Maybe he had trouble sleeping again. Shiro knew how that felt whenever his anxieties or disease kicked up and he was left with a sleepless night.

“Come on, Keith,” Shiro gently guided the other to the small couch in his office. He usually used it on the rough days, and looked like his newest friend could use it now. Settling the other down on the dark grey surface, he went back to his desk. He sighed softly as he grabbed up his tablet, getting back to work on some papers. They were mostly ones to fill out for any missions he was going to take or thought of taking. A small trip to Mars, a little longer one to Jupiter, one just outside of Earth's orbit. Some papers were for his physicals to make sure he was healthy enough for said missions. His checkups came back clear, but his muscles were just above the line. Any lower, and he'd be kicked off missions.

Shiro could feel those dark eyes watching him as he worked. Normally, Shiro would be a little annoyed by that because people didn't need to watch what he was filling out. What he was doing was nothing exciting.

But Keith staring at him doing work wasn't really nerve wracking at all. He didn't feel nervous or anything. He was absolutely fine with it as he signed another letter. Waiting a few minutes, Shiro glanced up to see Keith staring intently at him. Shiro blinked as he watched the other. Keith didn’t seem to be staring at him specifically. Following his sightline, Shiro raised a brow when he saw Keith gazing at his pen. His red pen.

“Keith?”

Nothing.

“Keith,” the younger seemed to still stare, “Keith, buddy.”

Keith blinked before looking up at him. A moment later, he glanced away tiredly with a slow blink. There was a glaze to his eyes, but Shiro figured it was the haze from half-sleep. Getting lost in the rhythm of the papers again, Shiro finally glanced up at the clock.

1:15 p.m.

Blinking, he rubbed his eyes before turning his tablet off. He had gotten all of his work done for the day. He had to go out to Sam's lab to meet up with Matt in about fifteen minutes. Glancing to the couch, he almost laughed on the spot at the sight.

Keith was curled up on the couch, sleeping quietly. His face was tucked into his knees and his hands were hidden behind his legs, buried in front of his stomach. Shiro listened closely and swore he could hear a tiny rumble every few seconds, almost like a purr. Shaking his head with a fond grin, he gently grasped the other's shoulder. Keith relaxed more at the touch, seeming to slip deeper into sleep. Shiro carefully shook him, but he only released a small sigh before sleeping even harder. Shiro tilted his head as he peered down at the smaller.

He must have been really tired. Must have been the insomnia.

Shiro quickly pulled out a blanket he had stored under the couch for late nights. He carefully placed it over the younger who nuzzled his way into the soft surface more. Shiro actually did chuckle at that as he grabbed his bag. Slipping the tablet onto the small table in front of the couch, he set it to his contacts in case if Keith needed him when he awoke. Shiro knew that Keith had no other classes that day. His algebra class had been canceled, as the older had heard from the other students rushing by his office earlier.

Knowing he shouldn’t do this, but knowing he could trust Keith, he left his office to get to Matt. At the doorway, he glanced back at Keith who was still very much asleep, the noise still happening as if by a heartbeat. Shiro smiled as he shook his head, leaving the room as the door opened and then shut behind him.

Walking down multiple hallways, Shiro didn’t need to think to know where the science department was. He had been down this path so many times in his years as a cadet and many more as an officer. It was in the central wing of the Garrison, tucked right at the core of the enormous building. You could tell you were in the right building because the whole layout switched from a military dark green-grey to a minimalist white. Shiro always loved coming into the building.

He may have become a fighter pilot, but he was still a science nerd at heart.

Turning the corner, he nearly ran right into Sam. Both almost fell backwards as Shiro grabbed onto the wall.

“Oh, hello, Shiro!” The older man grabbed onto his arm and laughed as they both stopped in the hallway, “I’d ask what brings you this way, but you practically live here, so I won’t. Must be meeting with Matt?”

“Hah,” Shiro laughed warmly as he stood there, “I think you two live here way more than I do, and you have a house to go back to.”

“Don’t get me wrong,” Sam waved a finger as he smiled happily, “I love my home. But the lab is our home away from home. All these samples! Someday yet we’ll find something extraordinary. Perhaps even aliens.”

“Still going off about the aliens thing?” Shiro asked curiously, still on the fence about the subject. He didn’t doubt that there were other life forces in the universe, but if so, why hadn’t they met any? People thought they saw aliens all the time, only for almost all accounts to be proven incorrect with science. Shiro was skeptical.

“Of course, Shiro,” the commander laughed as he patted the younger’s shoulder fondly, “We can’t be the only ones, right? You should hear Katie. She’s been rambling off of how she wants to build some tech to get in touch with some aliens. Something about picking up on alien chatter.”

“If anyone can figure that out,” Shiro grinned as he thought of the little spitfire he knew named Katie, or Matt’s sister, “It will be her. She’s going to get it done. Someday.”

“Don’t I know it,” Sam nodded seriously, but he cracked a smile, “And you know Colleen. Why, she’s just as bad as us when it comes to the science department. She wonders what plant life grows in outer space. Ever the botanist.”

“That is very true, Sam,” Shiro snickered at that, letting out a grin, “Any new plants in the house since I last came over?”

“No,” Sam stroked his chin before his eyes widened, “But she did say something about growing some new yeast samples.”

“That’s definitely Colleen for you,” Shiro laughed before he cringed. The older woman sure knew her yeasts, which was okay with Shiro. Just not when she almost throws some in his face because of her enthusiasm. Shiro had never known that there were so many yeast strains until he had gone over to the Holts the fourth time.

“Oh, Shiro?” Sam’s tone turned serious again as he watched Shiro, “How’s Keith liking his room? I remember you saying that the boy is uneasy around others. When you requested a single room for him, I wanted to help. Especially after I saw his test scores. He may just be flying us up to space someday.”

“I think it’s working for him,” Shiro grinned as he remembered Keith being more calm after he came out from his room, “I have no doubt that he will. And I want to introduce the two of you. Maybe even take him over to your place?”

“Never need to ask, Shiro,” the older reassured as he grinned, “And I’m sure Katie will love to meet him. You know she’s been getting picked on at school for her interests. She could use a new friend. And I’m sure Matt would like to meet this new friend you talk about-”

“Actually,” Shiro started to explain that Matt had already met Keith awhile ago. They must have both forgotten to mention it. He was just about to say something when someone interrupted him.

“I’d like to meet who?” Matt asked curiously as he peeked out of the door, “Better not be another boring guy who controls the budget. The last three never got interested in what we show.”

“Because you guys are on your own level with your love and knowledge of all things scientific,” Shiro snickered as both of them gave him identical looks of exasperation and pride, “Sometimes you guys even lose me.”

“At least you pretend to be interested,” Matt laughed back as Shiro gasped in mock hurt, pressing his hands to his chest.

“I am very interested in what you guys do,” Shiro laughed out loud as they raised a brow, “I love science! But I became a pilot for a reason.”

“So you could fly fancy planes that cost billions of dollars?” Matt asked with a grin.

“No,” he rolled his eyes playfully, heart light as he grinned widely, “So I could explore the stars.”

“That’s right,” Sam spoke up as he too smiled, “And I don’t know what I would have done without you as my pilot, Shiro. You’ve saved me and my crew many times. Especially during the Phobos mission.”

“It was nothing,” Shiro shrugged as he looked them both over, “I’m just happy I got you guys back in one piece.”

“Pfff,” Matt frowned as he raised a brow, glasses gleaming, “‘It was nothing?’ Your first real mission.”

“Second,” Shiro answered automatically, “Space station was the first.”

“The space station doesn’t count.”

“Says the guy who hasn’t even left the ground yet,” Shiro teased.

“I will next time,” Matt laughed as he glanced at his dad, to whom Shiro looked too, “There’s been rumors of a mission to Kerberos, right, dad?”

“Matthew,” Sam stared at Matt sternly before sighing, “How do you-You and your sister.”

“We have our ways,” Matt smirked before turning serious, “So is there?”

“A mission to Kerberos?” Sam asked before glancing around the halls. No one was around to eavesdrop, so he nodded, “In about two years. The applications are going out soon, and the news will be out in two weeks. I was wondering if you’d like to pilot us, Shiro? There will be three aboard the ship, and it’ll take nearly a year to travel there and back.”

It took a moment for Shiro’s brain to catch up to all words spoken. When he did, he nearly twisted back in surprise. Shiro felt a spike of fear run through his body along with phantom whispers of his muscles acting up. Clenching his right fist, Shiro scowled at the window to the lab. His disease...they...the doctors didn’t think he would be strong enough at that point. They didn’t think he’d last another year. Even his personal doctor thought so too.

It had been three years since his diagnosis. Few made it past the five-year mark, even with the advances in medicine. Muscle diseases were being cured and more thoroughly researched than in the past, but his disease hadn't had much advancement. They still didn't understand much about it, even now. Especially since it was a hereditary and genetic disease. It's what took his dad from him at an early age.

To see him slowly dying like that, muscles wasting away until he could no longer move and function on his own, no longer able to live as he had wanted? Later dying from it? It scared Shiro. No, it terrified him.

“I want to,” Shiro spoke, voice hard as ice, “It would be an amazing mission. The furthest anyone has gone in our solar system, but...I’m not sure I’ll make it there.”

“Shiro,” Sam stared at him with a look. Not one of pity or sympathy, but of understanding. Shiro smiled back weakly, “You can do this. Remember, if you get too worried about what could go wrong, you might miss a chance to do something great. Your disease can’t limit you.”

“Not if Admiral Sanda or Iverson has anything to say about it,” Shiro frowned under his breath before smiling more sincerely at the older, “Thanks, Sam.”

“You know I’m always here for you, Shiro,” Sam stated back with a grin, “Well, I better be on my way before the Admiral and Iverson find out I’m slacking. I’ll look forward to meeting Keith, Shiro.”

“You won’t regret it,” Shiro smiled back as he crossed his arms, “He’s got a tough shell, but he’s a really good guy. I think Katie and he will get along great.”

“I’m sure they will,” Sam snickered as he strolled down the hall. Shiro watched him go before he glanced over at Matt who was staring at him.

“What?”

“Nothing…” Matt trailed off before he smirked, hiking up his glasses, “So, ready to watch my experiment I was going to show you?”

“Of course,” Shiro smiled as they both stepped into the sterilized room, back to where they had the extra protective gear, “As long as you don’t blow something up again.”

“That was one time!” Matt shouted as he pulled on a glove, “And it wasn’t my fault. Justin put the wrong chemical into the mix. He was supposed to use nitrogen.”

“Oh, sure,” Shiro laughed as Matt glared at him, and the older raised his hands, “Okay. But this time, don’t blow anything up.”

“Me? Nah, I won’t do that,” the blond shook his head as Shiro pulling on some goggles, “I can make computers from scratch and know my chemicals with my eyes closed. I can do this.”

“Hmmm...I thought it was Katie who made the computers,” Shiro snickered at Matt’s mock shout of rage, “I know you can. I trust you guys. Let’s get going.”

Shiro watched as Matt took his place. Shiro stood a little ways away. The younger started up a device, and Shiro ended up watching him. It was interesting work alright.

Chapter Text

Keith was falling asleep. The lower energy always hit him at this time of the day. He would usually go somewhere to sleep it off in a corner, but he didn’t have anywhere to go. His room - although roommate-free - was not an option. They weren’t allowed to stay in their rooms in the middle of the day unless it was a free day. It wasn’t.

Keith had just gotten done with his first aid class, which they were all required to take no matter the track they chose. Someone could get injured at any time, and they had to be prepared to deal with it, maybe even on themselves. They had worked on how to patch up bleeding that day by bandaging people.

Keith was exhausted. He had done well in the class. Not the best, but not the worst either. Keith frowned as he glanced around the halls. He didn't trust anyone in the Garrison enough to go to sleep somewhere in the corner. And any of the other spots he could hide were off limits. He could easily sneak out onto the roof, but it was becoming the hottest part of the day, and he didn't feel like catching some sleep and becoming a fried Keith.

Now his feet had led him here. This one office, which he wasn't all that acquainted with. Energy thrummed through his veins, telling him he was safe here. That he could get a quick nap in peace. Letting himself knock on the door, he waited as it opened slowly.

“Keith?” Shiro's voice asked softly as Keith blinked at looked up at him, “Come on in. Is there something I can help you with?”

Keith stayed at the door for a moment. The weird feeling he normally got when he entered someone's private room wasn't there. That was good. Keith glanced about as he stepped in. The room was pretty bare of anything of personal value. Shiro had a plaque here and there in the room, but only a few. Keith knew he had way more than that.

Hmmm...modest.

Shiro stated something, but Keith didn’t quite hear it as he glanced at the older who looked worried.

A small pang of hunger raced through his stomach, but he ignored it as a yawn ripped out of his mouth.

Shiro chuckled just slightly, just loud enough that Keith heard. Letting out a huff, Keith crossed his arms as he stepped closer to the man for some reason. The feeling pulsed a bit as if to tell him that he was okay in Shiro’s office. Keith didn’t mind as Shiro guided him to the nearby couch. Keith was too tired to think anything, so he plopped right where Shiro took him. Sitting on the couch, he watched as Shiro sat down in his own desk.

Keith watched the other. Every brush of the pen on the tablet. Every small sound Shiro made as he considered something. Every time the older bit his lip at something. Every time he shifted. Every time he scoffed or snorted or snickered.

Keith drifted off slightly, in a weird haze between being awake and asleep. He wasn't sure what he was staring at, but it pleased him. Calmed him. Made him a bit hungrier. A little more spacey. He couldn't feel anything but the thrum of his heartbeat and his breathing, slow and steady. He continued to stare well past what was normal. And he didn't care.

“Buddy,” a voice spoke as Keith shook his head, pulled out of his sleep. Glancing up a bit, he noticed that he was staring at Shiro's pen.

Gazing away, he glanced at a picture of Shiro on the wall. It was one of a younger Shiro, who was grinning widely, looking happy as Keith had ever seen anyone. The edge of the picture dated it to four years ago, so it had to have been from Shiro's first mission.

Space station.

Keith didn't notice himself falling asleep after that. One second, he was staring at the small medallion attached to the photo, the next he was surrounded in darkness.

Keith tried to move or talk. It seemed like he could do it, but it was difficult. He couldn't see a thing, which unsettled him a lot. He always saw in the dark. When he talked, the air seemed to silence his calls.

About to freak out, Keith watched as a small violet ball lit up the air, making it easier to breathe. Glancing around, he waited.

Nothing happened.

The light flickered like a flame. Seconds later, another just like it flicked into existence just beyond it. Another popped up, joining the two before it, leading away from him. Something tingled in his chest, tugging him forward as if leading him to something. Before his very eyes, a light purple light grew in strands, just inches from his sternum. It grew and grew and grew until it was about the size of Keith's fist. Shooting forward, it darted through each of the dots of different purple-colored flames.

Keith stepped forward to the flame closest to his feet. It flickered before disappearing into nothing. The next one twinkled just as brightly, calling Keith's attention. Keith stepped forward slowly.

Something was pulling him forward. Some force. Something sweet. Something he had felt countless times in his life.

Keith followed it as the string of light floated on. Letting it take the lead, he walked through the darkness. As he came upon each flame, it died out and was replaced with another later on in the path. Keith strolled for what felt like hours before something tickled across his shoulder. Keith let out a small laugh at the warm feeling. It felt right.

Stars littered the air in an explosion with their bright lights. The darkness faded into an eternal night sky, purple sky offset with scarlet light. Keith's eyes took it all in as red and white stars danced in the distance. The ground was a deeper shade of the colors, almost like the rough desert rocks but with a glassy reflection of the sky.

The tingle felt like it was supposed to be there. Like the touch was reconnecting with a lost force. Like two souls meeting each other after being absent from each other. Keith really liked it.

But then it stopped.

Keith glanced about. The stars slowly faded from the air, but the purple hues stayed. Keith moved forward, following the lights. The trail of light from his chest pulled him forward. He marched on. And on and on. He walked more, but the stars didn't come back. Glancing around, he still saw nothing but the flames and thread. He continued on without growing tired at all. He had to...for some reason. His instincts were screaming that it was the right thing to do.

Keith woke up curled in a blanket he didn't know, on a couch he didn't know, in a room he didn't really know. He wasn't complaining though. He was used to that from all the places he had been and the times he had gone to a new foster home. At least this one was soft and plushy and smelt good. Keith snuggled deeper into the cloth, face buried in the softness.

A ping went off, causing Keith to peek out of the comfy blanket.

On the table sat a tablet, innocently sitting there. A small message was flashing across the screen as Keith glanced around the room. No one was inside with him.

Oh yeah. It was Shiro's office.

Keith yanked the blanket back and yawned loudly. Stretching, Keith got up and stared at the device. Why Shiro left it was beyond him. People usually weren't that trustful of Keith.

Another tiny ping filled the air.

Keith glanced at the tablet. On the screen was a message from the Garrison.

To Takashi Shirogane;

It has come to our attention that you have been recommended to pilot for the upcoming mission to Kerberos. Inside is an attached file explaining more about the procedures, processes, and what you need to do. The mission will be launched eighteen months from now. We look forward to hearing from you.

Keep this information confidential.

And then there was a signature and seal on the bottom, in the shape of the Garrison symbol.

Keith blinked. Kerberos? He knew it was a moon by Pluto. He knew no manned spacecraft had ever gone that far. It had always been robots to make it there and past. And it took said robots months to make it there.

He glanced at the clock.

3:13 p.m.

He was so tempted to open the files and look. He did want to learn about the mission, even if he wouldn't have anything to do with it. What was the mission for? How many were going? Would Shiro be accepted to be the pilot? Would...would Shiro accept? He just barely reached out to tap the screen when he stopped himself.

No. He didn't need to look at it. This was for Shiro alone. He had already seen too much as it was. He wasn't supposed to know about it. Shiro probably didn't even know about it.

A noise startled him as he twisted around to the door as it slid open. Keith saw grey and was about to greet Shiro when he froze. It wasn't Shiro at the door, it was Iverson.

The man scowled at him, arms crossed as he came closer to Keith. Keith moved back slightly, almost tripping over the arm of the couch.

"What are you doing in here, cadet?" The man asked as his eye glared at Keith, "Cadets are not allowed in officers' offices without explicit permission."

"I…" Keith's breath stuck in his throat. Shiro had let him in. Shiro had put a blanket on him and set up the tablet. He did have permission, "Shiro…"

"Has not requested or sent in any kind of permission for you to be in here," the older man spoke as he tried to carefully grab Keith's arm to lead him out. Keith shied away, "Come on, cadet. Technically, this is your second offence. Cadets found sneaking into the offices get heavy detention and a mark. I have to report this."

Keith's mind was numb. But Shiro...the older friend had given him the right to be there. If he didn't want him to be there, he'd have said something, right? He'd have kicked Keith out...right? But…

But...was he playing some type of game? Did Shiro...Keith shook his head. The other wouldn't do that. He wouldn't set Keith up to take the fall for being in his room. He probably just forgot to notify anyone. He had been nice the whole time so far.

But maybe he was tired of him. Maybe he wanted Keith to stop being in his life? Without telling him so? He had better things to do. Better people to hang out with than the little orphan boy who was still a problem. Who had so many issues. Whose mom abandoned him. Whose dad died. Who couldn’t get along with others.

"Let's go, cadet," the older man pulled him towards the door, "Roll out."

"What's going on in here?" A familiar voice called out from the door, but Keith didn't look up. Couldn’t. It was Shiro, "Iverson?"

"I found this cadet in your office, Shiro," the man spoke before he sighed, "Did you forget the paperwork again?"

"Yes, sir," Shiro chuckled nervously as he rubbed his undercut, "I'll get right on that. Keith has permission to be in my office, sir."

"Shirogane," the oldest scowled before shaking his head, grumbling just loud enough that Keith could hear, "What am I going to do with you? If not for your track record...cadet...hmfff…"

And like that, he left the room. Keith glanced up at the other in shock. Shiro was saying something, but Keith missed it all as the older paused, finally paying attention to his face.

“You okay, Keith?”

“Yeah,” Keith looked off to the side before his eyes drifted to Shiro’s, “I...um...Thought that maybe you didn’t want me here…”

“What?” Shiro asked incredulously before he shook his head, “No. I do. I just forgot the paperwork. It’s a hassle, but I’m okay doing more signing and stuff if it means you get somewhere to hang out. It’s hard to make friends around here.”

“Okay,” Keith nodded as he took a deep breath out, closing his eyes for a moment, repeating Shiro’s favorite phrase in his head. Something warm blossomed in his chest at that moment. Keith ignored it as he nodded, “So do you take a lot of naps, Old Timer? Your age’s showing.”

“Keith,” Shiro groaned playfully before he grabbed the blanket up, “I’ll have you know that people my age need more naps. It’s tiring being an adult, you know? Or you’ll find out, someday. Besides, you were the one just sleeping on it in the middle of the day.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Keith waved him off as he plopped into the couch, resting his head on the arm of the sofa, “Blame the insomnia. Couldn’t sleep last night.”

He also ignored the concerned look Shiro shot him. Grabbing his bag that he had dropped earlier, Keith pulled out his astrophysics book.

“I had a question on one of my problems,” Keith squinted at the page before glancing at Shiro who sat down by his side, “Nebulae can have stars or can be gas?”

“Yep,” Shiro smiled before pointing at a picture on the page, “Then they figured out those were actually separate galaxies, outside our own. See…”

…..

Keith sighed as he curled up tighter on his bed. It was night now, the quiet thrum of the vents and other parts of the Garrison working. Every little sound pulled him back from any bit of sleep he was beginning to fall into. Energy coursed through his veins, making him restless.

“Of course,” Keith huffed as threw the blankets off, reaching for his sketchbook nearby. It was dark in the room, but Keith’s eyes had adjusted enough for him to make out everything without any problems. Snatching up his pencil, Keith flipped through the book. He had a few pages left in the book, so he went to his newest drawing of Matt and Shiro at the lunch table, sitting next to each other. Mac-n-cheese was spread all over Shiro who was laughing, tray spilt all over the table. Some of the pasta was in an irritated Matt’s hair, one stuck to his glasses. Keith snickered quietly at the memory as he began a new sketch. This one was of Shiro sitting with the astrophysics book on his lap, pointing to something on the page with a smile. An hour later, Keith yawned as he pushed the book away to its hiding place.

He drifted to sleep.

…..

Keith dreamt.

He dreamt of silver-honey eyes shining at him and a glistening white smile. Of silky hair in his hand, threading through his fingers as his palm brushed warm skin. Of a content chuckle. A scream of pain. Of small clicks that Keith assumed was some type of machine.

Everything around him was pitch black. He moved, but nothing happened as the shadows lengthened, twisting until they reached out to him, trying to hook his limbs. Keith curled them closer as the shadows screeked lowly, hissing filling the air.

“Don’t tell him.” A voice whispered into his ear, wind brushing his hair onto his jaw as he whipped around, looking for the source of it.

“Who are you!” Keith screamed as he faced forward again. Only darkness greeted him as he stood there, “What do you want!”

“Don’t tell him.” The voice whispered into his other ear, something brushing against his neck. Keith nearly growled as he threw his hand out at whatever was trying to touch him. It met nothing but inky air.

“Don’t tell who what!” He demanded as he glared forward again. The shadows moved again, latching onto his feet. Keith kicked out, using all of his strength, but it made no difference as he felt himself being held in place, “Leave me alone!”

“Don’t tell him.” The voice whispered all around him as the shadows gripped harder, in what felt like a bruising-hold. Keith grunted as he glanced up at razor-sharp teeth, “He shall not know. No one can know.”

“What are you talking about!” Keith shouted as he lashed out at one shadow which let out a screech of pain as it retreated, another taking its place, “What does that mean!”

“We will not be found.” The voice echoed around, loud in Keith’s ears as he tried to shield them, “Outsiders are not to be trusted with our lives. Only we know.”

“What the hell do you mean!” Keith shouted at the fangs which only let out a small hiss, “I don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about!”

“Do not tell anyone.” The voice boomed around him as he winced, shadows bursting. Keith covered his face as everything fell silent. Glancing up after a moment, the teeth were gone along with the shadows. Something bright violet-red caught his attention from the corner of his eye as he quickly turned around. A pair of dead, cold purple-glowing eyes stared him down like they were going to murder him. A bright sword of the same color popped into existence as the thing came closer. Keith backed up in slight fear, eyes going wide as the thing smirked at him.

“Neither of us are leaving!” The voice echoed around the blackness, just as the thing raced at him, sword aimed for his face, “You don’t have to fight anymore…”

Keith jerked to the left as the blade missed him by a centimeter. Whipping around, he didn’t have time to dodge as the blade flew straight at his cheek, heat flaring through his skin at the close distance. Keith braced himself as the weapon slid closer, a burst of even more chilling laughter following it. Keith tossed up his hand, knowing it wouldn’t help as the blade skidded right by and buried itself into his fa-

Keith shoot up out of bed, panting and gasping as his face burned. It felt like the blade was pressed to his face still, fear spiking in his chest. Keith couldn’t think correctly as he tried to breathe. What if the shadows came back? What if that thing came back! He didn’t even notice himself rushing from his room in a panic. Everything was too tight, he couldn’t breathe. It felt like the heat was still there, slowly suffocating him. Next thing he knew, he was banging on a familiar door, ready to break it down to get inside. On his fourth pounding, it opened as Keith almost fell over.

“Keith?” A familiar voice called out, but Keith was still freaking out. He swore he could feel something ruffle his hair on his neck. The wicked chuckle was still in his mind, making him shiver violently as he latched into whatever he was holding. Anything to ground him and remind himself it was probably a dream. A nightmare? Maybe?

“Whoa, buddy, buddy,” a calming hand rested on his shoulder, but Keith still jumped at the touch, “I need you to breathe. I know it’s hard, but you really need to. I’ll be here to help.”

Keith tried to listen. Slowly, he began to breathe the way he needed to. Something warm brushed his back, rubbing circles into his body. Waiting a moment before he looked, Keith turned to see Shiro standing right in front of him, rubbing his hand on his back. Keith blinked as he leaned against the older who was concerned.

“Sh-Shiro?” He asked timidly as he rested his head on Shiro’s shoulder, drained from all of his running and stuff, “What?”

“I think you had a nightmare,” the older hugged him close, brushing a hand through his hair in a soothing manner, “Come on, I think you can go back to bed now.”

“No!” Keith would have blushed at any other time for bursting out like that, like a little kid, but right now, he was too scared to go back to sleep alone. What if the nightmare happened again? What if he got attacked again? He couldn’t do that again. He could still feel the streak of hot burning his skin on his right jaw, “I...can I stay for the night? I don’t...I can’t…”

“I get it,” Shiro nodded as he began to lead Keith back to his bedroom, carefully helping him slide into the sheets, “It must have been a frightening nightmare.”

Keith nodded in agreement. It was.

“I’ll go take the couc-” More fear slammed into Keith’s chest as he grabbed Shiro’s wrist, halting him from saying anything else or moving away.

“Please,” Keith begged as he pulled on the other’s arm, which really got a worried look, “Don’t want to be alone.”

Shiro stood there for a moment, just staring at him with an almost unreadable look to his face before he nodded. Keith was reluctant to let go of him, which Shiro noticed.

“It’s okay, Cherry Pie,” he whispered with a tiny smile, “I’m just going to turn the light off and I’ll be right back. I’ll talk the whole time, to reassure you I’m still here. You good?”

Keith nodded slowly as he finally released Shiro’s limb from his hold. Like the older promised, he muttered quietly the whole time to the door and back before getting into the bed. Keith curled up as Shiro pulled the blankets all the way over them. The younger snuggled into the sheets, feeling better now that he knew his friend was nearby.

Before he was aware of it, he was already sleeping.

Chapter Text

Shiro eventually fell asleep.

He was staring at Keith one moment, making sure he was sleeping peacefully and then he was surrounded in darkness. He could move, but calling out was pointless since it was absorbed by the darkness around him. Before his very eyes, a single scarlet flame lit up the blackness around him. Another joined it, just beyond it as Shiro tilted his head.

What was going on?

Taking a step forward, a ball of light developed just above his chest. It shot out, bright purple, before connecting to each flame. Shiro was reminded of the tales of the kitsunebi. Of tiny balls of flames connecting to each other for as far as the eye could see, disappearing as someone came closer. Kind of like the will-o'-the-wisp.

Shiro was somewhat weary of coming closer. The stories he heard told of people following these flames to their deaths, led to a pack of hungry foxes who devoured the wandering souls. Old Japanese tales his dad and grandpa spoke of with high reverence, originally both from Japan themselves. They used to joke, saying that with Shiro's recklessness, he was bound to find some someday.

If only they knew.

Shiro tried to speak, but changed his mind at the last second. It was quiet here in a calming way, one that Shiro hardly ever had the chance to experience. It wasn't dead silent, but it was like...like…

Like being alone in the desert. Like none of his responsibilities followed him here. Like he had no need to put up a front, for there was really no one watching. Shiro let out a small sigh of relief before strolling forward. If he was being led to his death, at least he had nothing to fear. He was already getting there as it was.

It felt like hours passed by, just the darkness around him and the balls of fire there, flickering gently in and out. A few times, Shiro had tried touching the flames. They actually didn't quite disappear when he did that. The warm orbs seemed to curl into his fingers like a cat twisting its body around a person's legs. They didn't burn at all, so he petted them softly.

Each time he touched the flames, something...someone whispered something in his ear. Most often, he couldn't catch what they were saying. The voice was oh so familiar, but Shiro couldn't place it. He swore he heard his own name in there somewhere, a time or two. And then something was tugging him forward, as if telling him he was needed somewhere. And he didn't question it. It felt right.

Walking on, Shiro was surprised when something brushed up against his chest. It was small, like one of the flames was gently curling up to his chest. Shiro chuckled softly at the feeling before stars exploded around him, lighting up the darkness, twinkling purple and white. Scarlet light shone through the stars, painting the sky in a shade so red it could have been rose petals or blood. Some violet sprinkled in there, making it even more breathtaking. The ground looked like a reflection of the sky, only darker and like the rocks of the desert.

The touch on his chest stayed there, not at all feeling discomforting. It felt good, like meeting up with something he'd been missing most of his life. Like reconnecting to a vital life force. Shiro really liked it.

He decided to stroll forward again after that. The stars and the sky didn't disappear again nor did the feeling on his chest.

Shiro woke softly, feeling pretty rested. Something warm was against his chest and Shiro could feel something tickling his chin if he moved it. Peeling open his eyes, he glanced down at the black threads of hair against his neck. Shiro almost laughed at the sight of Keith pressed to his chest, sleeping quietly with his head on Shiro's sternum. He must have slid over closer to Shiro in his sleep. . Shiro could feel his breath every so often against his neck. It was kind of adorable, the way Keith was leaning against him like that.

"What's going on in here?" Someone asked quietly from the doorway. Shiro glanced up to see Adam standing there, his bag in hand. There was no judgement on his face as he stared at the little bit of black hair he could probably see. Keith was curled up tightly like he tended to, hands pressed to his own chest.

"Keith had a really rough night," Shiro whispered back as he slid out of the bed, making sure not to awaken the younger. Luckily, Keith just let out a tiny sigh before sleeping on, even as his head shifted enough to rest on the spot Shiro had last been sleeping, "So I let him stay over. It was a bad one."

"Nightmares?" Adam wondered as he stared at Keith with an understanding gleam, having dealt with some of his own and Shiro's when they popped up. Shiro felt a little guilty, knowing that they were mainly caused by the effects of his disease. After all, it wasn’t just Shiro who was bothered by it and his limited time, "Well, I'm glad he could get back to sleep. You're pretty good at helping others with their nightmares."

"Just with you," Shiro smiled softly before glancing back at Keith, worry flaring, "I don't know what it was about, and I don't know if I should ask? I mean, he probably wouldn't tell me anyway."

"Just let him know that you'll hear him out if he wants to talk," the other man strolled over to the dresser, pulling out a set of clothes, "I'd hang around, but I have to go grade some papers soon. You know how the professor is."

"Super strict," Shiro answered back with a snicker, eyeing the white t-shirt Adam took out, "She has a soft spot for you, Adam. We all know it."

"Oh, yeah," Adam rolled his eyes behind his glasses as sarcasm dripped from his mouth. He looked around for a moment before grabbing his officer outfit, "Definitely a soft spot. That's why she has me grade all the quizzes. It's not like I don't also teach the class or anything."

"I'm sure you do a great job at it," Shiro laughed quietly as he ushered his boyfriend out of the room, giving him a small peck on the lips as he laughed gently, "I think I'll take Keith out on a hoverbike race today. Help him clear his head. I know I said it was bad, but he came in the middle of the night, about ready to bust our door down and in a panic. He looked like someone was after him or something."

"Well," Adam frowned before gazing back at the bedroom, "Hopefully he doesn't have any more...But uh…"

"Yeah?"

Adam was giving Shiro that look. The one with one brow raised up a little more than the other. A smirk was painted on his lips as he huffed.

"I think he has a crush on you," Adam practically sang as Shiro blinked, "Oh, come on, Takashi. He came to you…"

Shiro blinked again.

"In the middle of the night," Adam teased good-naturedly, "And had you stay with him."

"He doesn't have a crush," Shiro rolled his eyes, not at all seeing it. Keith didn't have a crush on him. He never blushed around Shiro, he never stuttered, and he hardly even stared. Besides, they hardly knew each other long enough for that, "He just came to me because he had no one else he could go to."

“If you say so,” Adam chuckled before he started for the bathroom to change into his clothes. Shiro watched him for a moment before calling out. The other paused, looking back at him with a raised brow.

“You want to meet Keith later?” Shiro asked with a bit of a grin on his face, “I was thinking...after the hoverbike racing? You know how long the grading will take. You should be free by that time, a bit after sundown.”

“If the professor lets me go soon enough,” Adam responded before he rolled his eyes. A grin lit up his face as he blinked, “Of course, Takashi. You talked about him enough, but it would be nice to meet him in person.”

“Thanks,” Shiro grinned before grabbing his tablet and shooting off a couple of emails and texts to some people. By the time he was done, Adam was finished with his shower and already dressed in his outfit. Shiro smiled happily as he walked with Adam to the door, giving a kiss before the door closed. Walking across to the kitchen, he peeked into the fridge, finding some leftovers he could take them for lunch. Packing it up, he finally decided to get Keith up.

Keith was still asleep, curled up just where Shiro had last left him. His forehead was pressed to his knees in a way that looked uncomfortable but probably wasn’t since it was Keith. About ready to shake Keith awake gently, Shiro tilted his head. Strangely, Keith seemed to be biting at the base of his thumb kind of like how some younger kids sucked on their fingers. It was a comfort thing, apparently.

Maybe…

“Time to get up, Keith,” Shiro laughed softly as the other only twitched, snuggling more into the blankets beneath him. The older blinked before rolling the younger over. Keith let out a huff before something close to a whine left his throat. Before Shiro could think anything of it, the smaller opened his eyes slowly. The dark orbs took in the room with a hazy gleam of sleep in them before they settled on the older.

“Sh’ro?” He asked before a big yawn flew from his mouth. The younger stretched out on the bed, body not making a sound as he pushed his leg back, covering his mouth as he finished yawning.

“Hey, buddy,” Shiro smiled as he raised a brow, “Sleep okay?”

“Yeah,” he nodded before yawning again, tossing the blanket to the side. Shiro watched as he rubbed his face before he snickered. Keith glanced up at him, confused.

“You’re reminding me of a cat,” Shiro shrugged sheepishly as he began to shift off of the bed completely, “Except that you don’t lick yourself...you don’t, right?”

“Uhhh…” Keith stared with both brows up, in a way that was kind of cute on him, “No? That would be weird. Why?”

“No reason,” Shiro shrugged, not bringing up some of the strange behaviors Keith had. Instead, he pulled the other to his feet, “So, I was wondering if you wanted to go on another hoverbike ride today. Neither of us has anything to do, and I think it would be a good break.”

“Yeah, sure,” Keith nodded as he stretched again, shaking out his arm before yawning, “What time is it?”

“About nine,” Shiro stated after glancing at the clock. It wasn’t too surprising, as they had a tough night. Shiro had been woken up by Keith at about three in the morning, and he hadn’t gotten to sleep for at least an hour, making sure Keith was actually sleeping, “We can spend all day out there. I got food packed away.”

“Okay,” Keith grinned as he stepped out of the doorway towards the living room, “But I’m going to change. Can I bring my bag with?”

“Of course,” the older nodded, “We probably won’t be racing the whole time.”

“Okay,” Keith stepped out of view before ducking his head back into the room, “Thanks, Shiro. I’ll meet you in ten?”

“Meet you in ten,” Shiro agreed as he watched the younger leave.

…..

“What are you drawing?” Shiro asked curiously as he sat beside the younger who had a small sketchpad out, doodling away as they chilled against one of the hoverbikes. They had stopped at a cave a fair distance away from the Garrison. It was warm out, but the shadow of the landmark fell on them, making it tolerable. When the occasional breeze rushed by, it felt even better. More like fall in the desert.

“I don’t know,” Keith spoke while still drawing, putting a line on the paper Shiro couldn’t quite see. A few seconds passed before he paused, staring out into the desert, “Do you...do you ever get a feeling?”

“Huh?” Shiro raised a brow in confusion, wondering what Keith was talking about, “What are you talking about?”

“Do you ever get a feeling?” Keith repeated before his brows scrunched down, “Like something’s telling you to...do something?”

“Well, that depends,” Shiro glanced out at the golden brown plateaus, “If we’re talking about intuition, then yeah. Part of being a pilot involves listening to what you feel. I mean, sometimes you have to make quick decisions and just trust yourself. It’s not easily explained.”

“Hm,” Keith stared down at his book for a long moment before drawing again. Shiro watched as the younger drew as if he had completely forgotten that the older was there. At least ten minutes went by before Keith glanced up at Shiro, “Is that how art is too?”

“It can be,” Shiro watched Keith closely as he shaded something in, “Why do you ask?”

“Because when I come out into the desert, I get a...an urge? I guess...to draw,” Keith explained before he scowled at the paper, erasing something, “I’ve been doodling since before pops passed, but didn’t really pick it up ‘til one of the foster homes. Even back then...there was a weird urge to draw...something.”

His face twisted in confusion at the last word. Shiro frowned as he stayed quiet, letting Keith talk it out.

“But I don’t even understand what I’m drawing,” he huffed before shading something in, “It’s kind of like it just...comes to my hand or something...I don’t know. It’s weird.”

“Well, what have you been drawing when you get the feeling?” Shiro asked as Keith stared at him, “Maybe it has a common theme, like the desert or your dad.”

“Um…” Keith shrugged before he carefully handed the book to Shiro, as if afraid that the book would disappear once it left his hands. Knowing Keith’s life, Shiro wasn’t shocked by the reaction. It was reasonable that he had lost some of his possessions because of a quick move or others stealing it. Shiro gently took a hold of the book, looking at the page. Keith had drawn it landscape. Looking at the image, Shiro almost whistled at the skills he could clearly see there.

It was a lion, standing tall and proud at the top of a rock. All around it swirled what Shiro guessed to be water, a burst of sea rushing to the lion’s side. There were even spots where the water turned into beaten mist, spraying the lion with thick dews of water. The lion oddly looked happy to be in the waves, as if in its element. It looked a little different from any Earth lion he had ever seen; the eyes too sharp, the whole thing somewhat transparent like it was glowing, no noticeable distinction on whether it was a lioness or lion.

“It’s amazing, Keith,” Shiro breathed out as he glanced over it again, wanting to follow the lines with his finger, but not daring to in case he smear the lead, “You drew that just now?”

“Yeah,” Keith shrugged as if it were nothing, and Shiro silently chuckled. Where others would see arrogance in the gesture, Shiro knew Keith really didn’t think much of it, “I’ve been drawing for awhile now. Usually do when my insomnia kicks up like last night.”

Shiro glanced down at the drawing and noted that there were plenty of other pages filled with art.

“Can I look at these?” Shiro asked, handling the book like a treasure that could be easily broken, “I want to see what you’ve drawn.”

“Yeah, sure,” the other shrugged again before grabbing the leftover jerky from the bag in the seat and plopping down again, munching on the dry snack, “Knock yourself out.”

Shiro almost rolled his eyes. He’d blame Matt for Keith saying those phrases, but it wasn’t nerdy enough, so it couldn’t have been taught from their friend. Maybe his dad had said stuff like that, always so blunt and nonchalant. Shiro snorted softly before he opened the book on the front. The cover looked generic with no name or decoration on it. It was a small sketchbook, about that size of Shiro’s hands. Inside was a lot of drawings, packed full on the pages, back and front. The beginning ones were well-worn with pencil smearing about and the corners a bit damaged from being held so much. As Shiro turned the pages, he could see how Keith progressed with his art. His lines got smoother, his shapes better, more perspectives.

There were a lot of things within the book. For one, there was a man in the pages every so often with shorter wild hair and a scar above his right brow, a smile upon his lips. Shiro could see the resemblance so he knew it had to be Keith’s dad. Some details were scratched out or smeared like Keith wasn’t sure about the features. That made sense since he was only six when his dad died. It was hard for even Shiro to remember his own dad at the age of eight. On one of the earlier photos, someone stood beside the guy, mainly seen as a shadow with twin tiger stripes on the cheeks, ears sharp, and with claws. While the person was mysterious, he or she didn’t really seem that scary. More like a guardian of some sort.

Then there were pictures of lions. Each was just as detailed as the one with water. Each lion was different slightly from the rest. One of the smallest was surrounded in plants that seemed to curl around it, hugging its legs and weaving through it’s short fur and somewhat mane. Another was quite a bit bigger with lots of rocks around in the foreground and back, the lion built sturdy with dust in its fur. Another was almost the size of the first, and seemed to be drawn in much more detail. The lion was fierce, walking through flames that seemed to twist and turn on page, a protective gleam in its eyes as it inspected something off the page. The next one had Shiro staring in awe for some reason. It was an even bigger lion, seemingly the leader of the five if they were a group. It’s fur swirled around in an invisible breeze as it flew in the air, sharp paw reaching out. On its back were a pair of wings, cutting through the air like steel. Stars could clearly be seen in the background as it roared proudly.

“Did you draw the lions like you did with the other one just today?” Shiro wondered, gazing over at Keith how nodding without saying anything, “Got any idea what they’re about? Looks like they have elements.”

“I don’t really know,” Keith looked over at the book before his eyes softened at the lion with fire, “I spent the most time on Red.”

“Red?” Shiro snickered as he glanced back at the lion, “You named the lion Red?”

“Maybe,” Keith grumbled before waving Shiro off, laying down with his head resting near Shiro’s thigh, “It felt like the right thing to call her.”

“Why Red? It could be a Blue,” Shiro teased playfully as Keith raised a brow, a small tug on his lip, “Her?”

“Because fire is red,” Keith stated with an exaggerated eye roll, “And red is one of my favorite colors. And they all seem like lionnesses. So...”

“So her, got it,” Shiro nodded as he smiled fondly at the picture of said lions lounging around on one another. Red and the plant one rested near the largest's shoulders. The other one was in the back near the other's leg, and there seemed to be a spot open on the other side. Red was leaning against the lion Shiro liked best as said lion rested it - her - head on the fire lion.

"So do the rest have names too?" Shiro asked as he saw another drawing of Red, this time as she shot flames from her mouth like a dragon.

"I think so," Keith pointed at each of them, still laying down on the ground, "The one with plants is named Green. The bigger one with rocks and dust is Yellow. You already saw Blue, and...that one is Black.”

“Well,” Shiro looked over them, impressed, “Black is definitely my favorite.”

“She’s cool,” Keith stated as he took a bite of his jerky, “Kinda reminds me of you.”

“Of me?” Shiro laughed softly.

“Yeah,” Keith shrugged as he glanced at the older, “A leader, strong, kind.”

“Thanks, Keith,” Shiro smiled, voice soft, “That means a lot to me.”

Flipping through the rest, Shiro paused as he got close to the end. On the last few pages, Shiro could see drawings of himself. One was when they had been hoverbike racing, the sun off in the background as Shiro explained about when to pull up the bike to Keith. Another was when they were in the lunchroom, where Shiro had accidentally spilled mac-n-cheese all over Matt and himself. He snickered as he saw the noodle clinging to Matt’s glasses. The last picture has him pausing.

It was clearly from yesterday, when he explained about nebulas. He must have been drawn from Keith’s point of view because the angle was tipped enough to make Shiro higher. He was sitting, pointing to something in the book, a shine in his eyes. Shiro doubted he looked as good as the drawing made him out to be...Or that he looked that young either, what with the stress he was under often and being tired sometimes. His bangs were even hanging around his face in a way they never really did, making it look even better.

"I think he has a crush on you," Adam’s voice echoed in his mind, "Oh, come on, Takashi…”

Shiro ignored said voice as he stared at the drawings. They were really good.

“Well, if you weren’t becoming a pilot,” Shiro glanced over at Keith who stared up at him with sleepy eyes, “You could definitely become an artist. These all look so amazing, Keith.”

The older swore he could practically see pink flare along Keith’s cheeks and ears at the praise, as Keith looks away with a tiny smile on his lips. Shiro isn’t sure if it’s because of him unashamedly giving Keith compliments or that Keith is getting too hot in the autumn desert sun. Either way, they should probably be getting back to the campus.

“Want to race back?”

Keith seemed to snap out of his sleepy mode at those words, practically perking up as he carefully took the sketchbook back when Shiro held it out. The younger quickly stuffed everything back in place where it needed to go inside the bag before hopping onto his borrowed bike.

“Come on, Old Timer,” he smirked before revving the engine loudly, lifting the bike up a bit as sand swirled around, “You’re getting slower all the time.”

“Sounds about right,” Shiro snorted as he rushed to his bike, jumping on and turning it on as his feet barely touched the machine, “But I’ll catch up.”

Keith just laughed before gunning it, racing off into the warm desert landscape. Shiro shook his head happily before pushing on the handle, making the car go even faster.

…..

“Hey, Keith,” Shiro spoke up as Keith began to walk off. They were both standing by the bike Shiro had driven, just having parked their vehicles. Both of their hair was wind-whipped and all over in a messy bunch, but Shiro was still feeling the buzz of the ride, “I wanted you to meet someone.”

“Uhhh…” Keith glanced off to the side before raising a brow, “Okay. Who?”

“He should be out here somewhere…” Shiro searched around the hangar, not seeing Adam. Glancing around, Shiro’s attention was pulled to Keith who was staring behind him, head tilted. Shiro twisted around to see Adam strolling up to them, a gentle smile on his face as he walked up to Shiro’s other side, “Here he is. Glad you could make it.”

“Well,” the man spoke before snorting softly, staring at Shiro, “It’s kind of hard to miss you two coming into the hangar. Plenty of noise.”

“Heh…” Shiro scratched his undercut sheepishly, “We didn’t disturb anyone, right?”

“No,” Adam rolled his eyes playfully before linking his hand up to Shiro’s, “But I doubt you could disturb anyone here, Takashi. You were quite the troublemaker, remember?”

“Wait, Shiro was a troublemaker?” Keith asked curiously from the side

“Adam,” Shiro whined as he placed his hands over his chest in mock hurt, “You’re ruining my image. What is Keith gonna think with all you’re gonna say?”

“Sure am, Takashi,” Adam smirked at him before he held out his hand to Keith who just blinked, “Since he won’t introduce us like he said he wanted to…”

Shiro winced slightly. Whoops…

“I’m Adam Wyatt, and I’m this idiot’s boyfriend,” Adam introduced himself, taking his hand back when he noticed Keith probably wasn’t going to shake it. In fact, Keith was staring at him in a strange way, not judging or disapprovingly, but something that Shiro couldn’t place like he was seeing into the other’s soul or something. A moment passed before he nodded back just a bit, sobering up.

“Keith. Kogane,” Keith answered back as he clenched his bag softly. Shiro hated to see the younger retreat into his shell like this, but he wasn’t going to say anything. It just took Keith awhile to warm up to others, and Shiro did spring this upon him suddenly without warning, “I...uh...we ran into each other close to the first day of class.”

“Oh, that’s right,” Adam nodded as he looked Keith over, seeming to remember something, “Neither of us were watching where we were going. You were probably finding your room.”

“Yeah,” Keith agreed as he stared at the older. Shiro just watched them, not aware that either had seen the other, but not really shocked that they had, “Found it after.”

“That’s good,” Adam spoke before he sent Shiro a look as if to say that he had no idea where to take the conversation now before his eyes went back to Keith, “So how was the bike ride?”

Keith merely shrugged. Shiro could see that Adam was really at a loss on what to say to Keith’s reactions, which was strange in itself...His boyfriend was normally great with others. He wasn’t full-out with people, but he could always keep up a steady conversation, even when the others were less than willing to contribute anything to the talk…

Until now…

“It turned out pretty good,” Shiro spoke up as he rubbed his hand over his head, sweeping his bangs up, “It’s warm, but when is Arizona not? We had a good time.”

“That’s good,” Adam trailed off awkwardly. Shiro sent him a raised brow in question to which Adam just shrugged. Clearly he had no idea why he was having such a difficult time with this now. Keith sent them both confused glances, seeing their own interaction.

This was getting a bit weird…

“I…” Keith narrowed his eyes for a moment before he stepped back, looking a bit paler than before, “I’m going to go to bed.”

“At six in the night?” Adam asked curiously to which Keith scowled at as the older held his hands up, “I’m not judging. Just seems early.”

“Insomnia,” Keith stated shortly before he gazed back at Shiro, gaze softening just a bit before he smiled a bit, “Thanks, Shiro. It was fun.”

“Any time,” Shiro nodded as the younger turned, walking off. A few moments passed before Shiro turned to Adam with a surprised look, “What happened?”

“I don’t know,” his boyfriend frowned as he watched Keith disappear into the building, “I’m not being mean, Takashi.”

“I know,” Shiro nodded, agreeing with the other as he popped the bag out of the holding compartment on the bike, “I’m just as lost as you are. You’ve never been that lost in a conversation.”

“First time for everything, I guess,” Adam shrugged as he grabbed up the bag, taking Shiro’s hand in his, “Now...I’m thinking a movie night is in need…”

Shiro smiled as the other led them back to their apartment. A movie sounded like something he could relax at right now. Maybe they’d watch something with aliens in it again...

Chapter Text

Keith walked away from Shiro and Adam in a semi-daze. His stomach was feeling hungry all over again like he hadn’t eaten at all that day. It hadn’t really kicked up until he noticed the other man coming to them from the other side of the parking lot.

Shiro had a boyfriend.

That’s who Adam was. Not a close friend or a family member...but his boyfriend.

Keith stepped through the door, ignoring two cadets who rushed by with an excited and a nervous laugh, muttering something about sneaking out to go to town. Walking on, he got lost in thought…

He didn’t understand why his thoughts circled back to the fact that Shiro had a boyfriend. It wasn’t like Keith was jealous...He knew what that felt like such as one time when one of the foster parents had gotten everything for their own kid but hadn’t shared anything with him. That was years ago, but Keith could still remember the feeling. He wasn’t jealous of the two...he really wasn’t.

It was more like...he was protective over Shiro? That was weird. He never got attached to people like this. Sure, he had with his pops...but that was his dad. And he had loved one dog at one of the homes, enough that he made sure it got plenty of food and water when others forgot to take care of it, even though the dog hadn’t liked him much. Or another time when he had protected one of kids at the Home despite being younger all because another group was picking on her.

But this...felt different. Like he was insanely protective over Shiro. He didn’t want the other to get hurt, and maybe that had seeped into their conversation with Adam...Even Keith could tell the conversation was awkward. It usually was when Keith was around. People seemed to change their behavior around him for some reason. It wasn’t anything noticeable, but by now, Keith knew the signs.

People either got aggressive when he showed up or deathly scared of him.

He didn’t know why.

Was there something wrong with him?

He had to go on like normal though. It didn’t change anything. Shiro was still his friend, and…

He was still hungry. Keith opened his door, locking it behind him. Not even bothering to undress, he fell face first into the sheets of his bed. Maybe if he slept, it would stop feeling like his stomach was trying to eat itself up. Slipping the thin blanket over his chest, he fell asleep quickly despite the energy that began to soak into his body.

…..

For the next week, Keith hung out with Shiro any moment he could. Sure, things were a little tense, but Keith hadn’t really paid attention due to the fact that he wasn’t feeling so good. He was exhausted all the time that going to a class had him sneaking into Shiro’s office to take a nap. Shiro was there whenever he did that, always doing some type of paperwork for something. Keith just...felt better with the other near.

More times than not, Shiro ended up waking him from his sleep.

“You doing okay?” He’d ask worriedly, brows down as Keith nodded.

“Yeah, why?” Keith would wonder as he yawned loudly, ready to slip back into sleep again.

“Well, you look a little pale,” he’d respond back with a frown, placing his hand on his forehead, warmth making Keith relax more. The frown only got deeper, “And you’re a little cold.”

“I’m always a little cold,” Keith would roll his eyes before curling up again, wanting to sleep more, “The Garrison exam said I’m good. Temps just a little lower than some peoples’. I’m fine.”

“Says the guy who’s been sleeping all day long,” Shiro teased before his tone turned serious, “Are you overworking yourself?”

“Asks the guy who literally doesn’t know the definition of overworking,” Keith teased back before yawning, burying his face in the blanket, “Yeah. I’m okay.”

“Are you sure you’re not getting sick?” Shiro asked after a moment as Keith peeked out of the blanket, narrowing his eyes to adjust to the brightness of the lights, “You are looking a little ill, buddy.”

“Maybe I’m getting a flu?” Keith asked with a shrug, feeling that it wasn’t that, “Those go around at this time of the year.”

Except…

Except that Keith never got sick with colds and flus. Hell, he’s never really been to the doctor before either. His pops always knew just what to do when he did get sick. That hardly ever happened. And then after that, he just wasn’t ever sick enough to have to see one. The medical examiner for the Garrison entrance exam was the only medical person he had ever visited. And they couldn’t see anything wrong with Keith, so he had to be fine, right?

“I’m probably just getting sick,” Keith reassured the older who still frowned, “Geez...Old Timer, you that worried about me? I’ll be okay. Just a cold or something…”

“It could be,” Shiro nodded after a long moment of clearly being unconvinced, “I just want to make sure it’s nothing serious.”

“I’m okay,” Keith responded as he rested his hand on Shiro’s shoulder, “And I’ll be better after we get some food…”

“Are you suggesting we sneak out for food at the restaurant?” Shiro teased back with a small laugh, making something inside Keith burst with warmth of a different kind at the sound, “We could get into trouble…”

“Sure, Mr. Troublemaker,” Keith teased back, recalling what Adam had said about Shiro, “I don’t think you’re worried about getting caught.”

“Well, you got me there,” Shiro grinned back before peeling the blanket away from Keith, which he groaned at as cooler air rushed over him, “So if we want to go...we better get going.”

Keith groaned again as he curled up. He wanted to sleep...but he wanted to go get some food...but bed…

“Come on, buddy,” Shiro pushed him to his feet, tucking the blanket back into the cushion, “I’ll get your favorite.”

“Fine,” Keith grumbled in mock annoyance before he rested his still-tired head against Shiro’s shoulder, “Then I can sleep?”

“Then you can sleep,” Shiro agreed quietly as they both made their way out of the room.

…..

Keith woke up hungry.

It had been one whole week since he had shown Shiro his art...since he had met Shiro’s boyfriend...he was still stuck on that still. He didn’t know why...

Every few minutes, his stomach spiked with pain. He had forced himself to eat some breakfast, but the pain didn't stop. He went to his first class, but didn't pay attention to anything. Being near anyone made it worse, so Keith took great care to avoid the crowds at all costs. Every time he was close to anyone, his heart thrummed wildly in his chest. His tummy felt like he was getting stabbed. His eyes hurt a little. His teeth ached fiercely as if he was gritting them tightly. It was like he was constantly eating freezing cold ice, and his teeth were sensitive.

Maybe he should see the nurse....

Something within him whispered that it wouldn’t help. The nurse wouldn’t know what was wrong with him. He needed to go to...Shiro?

Keith shook his head. That made no sense. He literally only knew Shiro for about seven months now. Did he trust the other for something like this? Yeah, but he didn't want to bother the older man. He had plenty to do, and apparently, someone to be spending time with.

Keith paused as he leaned against the wall. His stomach rebelled, feeling like a hammer slammed into it.

Keith didn’t know how to feel. He knew the other had his own life, but he had been spending so much time with Keith that the younger didn’t really think of if the older was seeing anyone. He hadn’t really even thought of what Shiro did outside of the time they spent together. It just felt weird to remember that there was other stuff he did like eat on his own or hang out with others or-

Something inside his chest tightened as he shoved off from the wall. He was glad Shiro was happy, which was strange. He hadn’t felt like this in forever, maybe since before his dad died? Even then, he didn’t remember feeling like this around his pops. Or maybe he had? Maybe he just didn’t remember it enough to put the feeling down as the same? He had no one to compare to. No siblings, no mother, no...anybody.

Keith almost folded in half as his arms gripped his stomach. He bit his lip to prevent himself from crying out. Luckily, there was no one in the hallway, so he had no need to worry. But it was a habit by now to be as silent as he possibly could be.

Standing up straight, Keith took a few steps forward, but his tummy threatened to stab him more. He was beginning to feel dizzy, and he had to stop again. He rested his shoulder against the dull wall, feeling ill. His face probably went ten shades lighter right at that moment.

The energy tugged at him, curling around his chest and weaving around his throat. It demanded that he go down the right hallway, the one Keith knew would take him to his only real friend. But he resisted. He didn’t think Shiro could help either. He’d just worry and try to get him to the doctor. Keith couldn’t do that to the other.

Before he was aware of it, Keith was biting on his thumb again. He could taste something sweet, but bitter on his tongue, but unlike usual, it didn’t calm his stomach. If anything, his abdomen hurt more, throbbing at a quick pace. Keith bit harder on accident, concealing another cry.

It hurt. It hurt a lot.

There had to be something wrong.

It felt like his insides were being shredded to pieces. Like his stomach was getting torn violently with sharp claws. Like his skin was the wrong size and crawling.

“Keith?” A voice called out to him, one he knew but didn’t easily recognize, “Are you okay? You look ill. You should see the nurse, or I’m sure Takashi woul-Are you bleeding?”

Keith blinked as he released the hold on his hand. Sure enough, when he pulled the limb away, he was surprised to see bright red spring up from two, deep puncture wounds that went all the way through the muscles. The wounds didn’t look like they came from his teeth, and he didn’t feel it at all with the other pains. He cupped his hand, preventing the blood from dripping onto the floor.

Then he glanced up.

Everything felt strange. He could smell better, the strong scent of copper and iron greeted his nose. Other distinct scents were there, but he ignored it in favor of the blood closest to him. His vision was sharp enough that he could see every little dent in the walls. He could see where the paint was coming off in the corner in the room. He could see where the sign for his biology teacher’s office was all the way down the hall. The first letter was rubbed off and the next three part way gone.

And he felt hungry.

Pain ripped through him.

“Kei-” Keith looked up at that as the person broke off.

It was Adam. The man was standing there, dumb-struck as he paled. His eyes were large, and Keith was sure he didn’t usually have them that open. Keith himself could see the darker specks of black in his brown eyes.

“Keith?” The man asked as Keith pressed forward, bracing himself against the wall with one hand still, “What’s going on? This better not be a prank or something.”

Keith didn’t know what he was talking about, but he didn’t care. His head was pounding, he was starving. He felt really sick, and he wanted to get out of here. Energy pulsed wildly around him, telling him to go forward. Keith listened without any hesitation.

“Kei-”

Keith tackled the older man to the ground as he chose the perfect spot. He settled by the other’s side, holding him down carefully. He could feel a deep pulse through the Garrison officer, right on the right side of his neck. It called to him like a sweet calming song. Like his dad’s voice. Like Shiro’s warm touch. Like racing in the desert on his bike, hair flipping against the wind. Like the two gentle pulls he felt, one cool and one pleasing.

Keith bent his head forward quickly before biting down into warm flesh. Sweet liquid hit his tongue as he hung onto the other’s jacket, holding him in place. He dug his teeth in further, feeling his teeth slid through skin. For a few seconds, the older acted like he was going to push him off, but the next second, he turned to jelly underneath him.

Keith lapped up the sweet liquid. Every little bit seemed to help him feel better. His stomach no longer rebelled. His head only ached softly. His teeth felt stronger and less sensitive. He was most likely gaining his color back rapidly. He was beginning to feel full for the first time in...a long time. Slowly, his energy rose before settling down as he drank.

Cinnamon. It tasted kind of like...dull cinnamon.

After what felt like a few seconds, but what was probably minutes, Keith felt fuller than he had in a long time. His instincts told him to clean up the spot his teeth had been clinging to, so he licked a strip along soft skin. The younger watched as the wound healed itself up a little more each time he brushed his tongue over it. The puncture wounds quickly scabbed over before sealing themselves shut in super speed motion. Keith licked at it until the skin was clean and spotless, nothing left behind to show anything had happened except for his full stomach and-

And then it hit him.

He was at Adam's side, pressing him down onto the floor of the Garrison. The other was completely still, eyes open in a daze. Keith choked on his breath as he shoved himself away from the man. Rubbing his palm across his mouth, he stared at the man who stayed still.

Fuck.

Did he…

He killed Adam.

He killed Shiro's boyfriend.

How was Shiro going to react? Would Shiro get mad? Would he get kicked out? What if...what if he became a science experiment? What if they locked him up somewhere and did stuff to him? What if-

Keith was midway into a panic attack when he froze at the small groan that left Adam. Turning his head, he watched as the older stumbled to his feet. It kind of looked like he was drunk at first, a bit tipsy and swaying, but he soon stood straight before walking past Keith without a single glance as if the younger wasn't there. Keith sat hunched in on himself as he watched the other walk away from there.

What had he done? What just happened? Why had...he hadn’t killed Adam, but he was acting weird? Was...was there something in the bite? He had some type of poison in there?

Snakes...Keith was reminded of...they had venom. Did his teeth-

Keith felt his tooth. It was sharper than normal, longer than normal as he ran his thumb over it. Glancing down, he was surprised to see some type of watery liquid on in...the stuff looked like it was tinted purple, so it couldn’t be saliva. Smelling it, it didn’t have a distinguishable smell. Pressing the teeth to his palm, he felt nothing as the fangs - he had fangs - dug into his skin, leaving behind too welling pools of scarlet blood that quickly sealed themselves shut as if they had never been there. Only two tiny beads of blood stayed in place as he stared in shock.

What the fuck was he? What the fuck was wrong with him?

Out of the corner of his ear, he could hear footsteps coming closer. Not sure how to get back to normal - or if he even looked anything like normal currently - he rushed out of the hall. Ducking behind a corner, he waited as he listened, heart beating so quickly he thought it would fall out of his chest. Or that the person coming closer would hear it.

“Hmmm…” Someone spoke up. Keith peeked around the corner, seeing someone standing where he had been seconds ago, glancing about with confused brows. The darker-skinned man blinked before he shrugged, dressed in an officer jacket as his darker brown hair brushed into his face. Keith could hear the other perfectly from here as he muttered under his breath, “I thought I heard someone over here. Probably not…”

And then he walked away. Keith blinked before he gazed at the spot...it was silent now...and maybe…

Keith shook his head. His stomach rumbled, but with normal hunger this time...he assumed. But...He was going to wait to eat.

…..

It was the next following lunch when Keith thought about eating again. All he could think of was that maybe what had happened had been a dream...Maybe he had just been sick enough to make that all up in his head? Because he couldn’t handle it if he was really some type of monster. His foster families had called him that enough that it was stuck in his head...had they known? Is that why they said those things? Is that why they did what they did? Returned him back to the homes all the time?

Keith took a deep breath out as he focused.

“Patience yields focus,” he muttered softly under his breath before almost jumping into the air as something clanged in the middle of the lunch room. Glancing around, he noticed that Adam was sitting at a table in the officer section, talking away with a group of friends. He was grinning about something as he pointed to something before him, likely a book. One moment his eyes were on the paper, the next he was staring up at Keith. Before Keith could look away, the older nodded over at him before going back to his paper, as if nothing had happened the day before.

Frowning, Keith kept watching. Had he been imagining it? Was everything that happened a dream? Or...did his venom have some type of amnesiac liquid in it? Is that why Adam didn’t remember it?

Keith needed to test it out. Maybe Adam did remember but just...didn’t want to say anything?

Standing up to put his finished tray away, Keith moved over the trash can just beside the table. Dumping it in and putting the tray on the rest for collecting later, he stood closer to their table. Unsure of how to get the older’s attention, one of the others at the table got it for him.

“Hey, man,” the woman at the table raised a brow as she gazed at Keith then over to Adam, “I think a newbie wants your attention. Geez...this is what happens when you take up tutoring with these guys. Always demanding your time.”

“It’s fine, Caren,” Adam responded before he turned to Keith, blinking in surprise, “Oh, hey, Keith.”

“Uhhh…” Keith gazed from the lady and back to Adam, “Can I...I need to talk to you.”

“Okay,” the other nodded before he glanced at the others, “I’ll be right back, guys. And Tom...my cookie better be here when I get back.”

“Yeah, yeah,” the other man rolled his silver-brown eyes, “I told you that wasn’t me, dude.”

“Yeah, not buying that,” Adam snickered before he got out of his seat, leading Keith to a secluded spot in the room. Noise cluttered in the background as people chatted, just loud enough to sound like they were next to them...or maybe Keith’s hearing was just that sensitive still, “What’s up?”

“I was wondering what you did yesterday,” Keith winced as it all came out, too bluntly if the narrowed eyes staring back at him meant anything, “I mean…”

“Keith, if you’re asking about this so you can know what Takashi did yesterday, please go ask him,” Adam stared at him, not unkindly but definitely not happy, before sighing, “If you’re really that curious, did my regular stuff yesterday, teaching classes, lunch, and so on.”

“I...didn’t mean it like that,” Keith sighed as he rubbed his eyes, “I just meant…”

“Anything unusual?”

Keith jerked his head up, gazing at the other who only blinked.

“If you want to know, just ask,” Adam responded before he paused, “Although there is a blank spot in my day...A few minutes of nothing…”

Keith winced. Oh, fuck...his venom did do something…

“But it could be tiredness,” Adam shrugged as he gazed off to the side in thought, “I’m sure it’s nothing to worry about. Is there anything else you need?”

“Uhhh.” Keith shook his head before staring down at Adam’s neck which was perfectly clean and unbitten, “No. I’m good.”

“Okay,” Adam stared at him for a long moment before going back to his table, laughing at something at the table. Keith stood there for a few seconds, staring long at his hands before leaving the room. Rushing off to his next class, he sat down in his seat with plenty of time to spare.

His mind began to wander…

What if...What if he was dangerous? What if he took too much blood next time? Would there be another time? Could it be a one-time thing…

Shiro…

Keith stared at his desk.

He didn’t want to hurt Shiro...Maybe if he avoided the other and made sure to not bite anyone ever again...maybe he could get through this okay. Maybe everyone would be fine…

...He just had to avoid his only friend…

Shit...

Chapter Text

Shiro knew he had to locate Keith. He hadn’t seen the other in days, thinking it was because they were both too busy. Between doing his regular duties, spending time with Adam, doing reports, dealing with the flares of his disease, and making sure to actually get enough water and food, Shiro was stretched thin some weeks. This week happened to be one of those.

So it was a disturbing surprise when he realized he hadn’t talked to the younger in six days. He hadn’t even seen him in that time. Not in the halls, not in the lunchroom, not in his office. Not since the week before.

That within itself was very strange. Keith had made it clear that he trusted Shiro enough to seek him out whenever he needed or wished to spend some time with him, which was often enough in the past seven months. Didn’t matter if Shiro was working on reports, Keith seemed to settle down just by being near him. At times he did his homework, other times he watched Shiro work on his papers. Sometimes, he ended up falling asleep in his office just like that first time. The week before this had been completely fine for both of them.

Shiro always laughed thinking about it. He often found Keith curled up somewhere like a cat.

Something...some feeling tugged on him, making him stroll faster down the halls of the military school. Officers and cadets greeted him and tried to approach him, but he waved them off politely as he rushed to the younger’s room.

He had seen the teen just six days before, happy and excited, although he did seem like he might have had a sore stomach. Shiro had noticed him hunching in on himself as each day drug on. He had also noticed the younger had grown paler as time went on.

Maybe Keith was really sick.

Hopefully it wasn't anything serious. He should have insisted that the other get medical attention as soon as he noticed it in his office that day.

The feeling beckoned him forward. He almost ran into the cadet dorm hallways as he took the multiple twists and turns to get to his friend’s room. After what felt like hours, Shiro came up to the door which he rapped his knuckles on.

“Keith?”

No answer. The door didn’t move.

“Keith,” Shiro frowned...Maybe he was overreacting? Maybe Keith was fine and roaming out in one of his other frequented spots, “Keith, come on. I need to know if you're okay. I haven't seen you in awhile.”

Maybe he was mad that Shiro dropped it on him that he had a boyfriend in the middle of nowhere, right after their ride. He hadn't really mentioned Adam before to the younger, and it was bound to be a big surprise. It wasn't like he meant to not say anything about him. He just never...Maybe he shouldn't have had Adam and Keith meet like he did.

Time to focus.

For a second there was no sound. Shiro listened carefully, almost holding his breath. A small noise drifted to his ears, one that anyone else would have thought to be one they misheard. But the feeling within Shiro spiked, as if telling him Keith was in there and he needed him.

Shiro made his decision right after that. Tapping on the scanner, he was about to override the commands when the scanner beeped and accepted his DNA signature. Eyes widening in surprise that Keith had somehow entered it into the scanner, he completely forgot about it as he entered the room.

It was pitch black inside, absolutely no light inside. It made sense because Keith's room had no window to it. Shiro couldn't see anything and he squinted as his eyes slowly adjusted.

He could see the lump on the only bed in the room. The room was stuffed with barely enough room for the bed, dresser, and a small desk. Shiro moved forward, unease growing as he got closer. He could now see Keith was curled up under the blanket, everything covered. Every few seconds, the blanket moved just slightly as he breathed.

“Keith,” Shiro paused and continued when Keith didn't say anything. The younger didn't even move, “Keith. I'm going to turn the lights on.”

The lump shuffled just the slightest. Shiro took that as his cue to flip the light switch. Light flared around the room, momentarily blinding Shiro. The older moved to Keith's side, hoping he'd talk or something.

“Come on, Keith,” he settled his hand to the other's back, gently rubbing it, “Are you sick?”

“Mhhhhmmm…” The younger groaned weakly, curling up more. Shiro frowned as another spike tore through his gut.

Save him.

“I'm going to uncover your head, okay, buddy?”

Keith didn't respond beyond nodding just the slightest. Shiro carefully leaned over, grabbing the corner of the dull orange blanket. Pulling it back, he was not prepared for what he found.

He expected Keith to have a cold or really horrible flu. Maybe even an uncommon serious disease like chicken pox or measles or something.

What he got instead-

“Keith!”

Keith was pale white like his skin had been bleached bone. He was shaking a little, like he was cold. Shiro could see the sweat slide from his skin. Keith's face was screwed up tightly in pain as he hunched up in a ball, knees to his face. Keith's breathing was all wrong, too quick and fast to be safe.

Shiro brushed his hand over damp bangs and quickly withdrew the appendage before putting his fingers to Keith's neck.

Bah bump bah bump bump. Bah bump bump bah bump.

Shiro's eyes widened in shock as he counted heartbeats. He knew Keith's heart rate was always weird, but this was way too quick, even skipping once in a while. Grabbing a limp hand, he nearly shouted as he felt ice-cold skin. Risking a glance, he glanced down to see said skin was slightly shaded a strange purple tint.

“Keith,” he shook the younger who finally looked at him a moment later, eyes blurry and confused, “Let's get you to the infirmary.”

He started to place his hands under Keith's neck and knees before Keith blinked at him. The younger flinched away from him, scooting backward. He brought his knees up further somehow and buried his head further down towards his belly. One eye gazed at him through sticky bangs.

“Sh-Sh'ro?”

He turned his head enough for Shiro to see both his violet eyes. They seemed a bit glazed, obviously lost and not seeing him very clearly. The teen stared at him, breathing the only thing heard in the room.

“Shiro?” He asked again, clearer than last time but more weakly, “Wh-what?”

Before Shiro could mutter a word, Keith coiled up more as he let out a loud whimper, holding his stomach more. Shiro was pushed into action as the feeling rushed over his whole body from his toes to his head. Energy thrummed through his chest before buzzing to his hands and feet. Throwing the blanket away from the other's whole body, he checked the injured friend.

Save him.

There were no visible wounds. Shiro looked almost everywhere and besides the sweat, that was the only liquid from him. No blood.

“Buddy, I need to check something,” Shiro gently rested his hands on the bottom of Keith's shirt, “If what I think is happening is happening, we need to get to the hospital right away.”

Without waiting, Shiro pulled the shirt up to the other's chest. Keith tried to fight him momentarily, too afraid and disoriented to let him move the shirt, but he soon gave up as he let out a cry. Pulling Keith's arms away from his chest and moving his legs, Shiro cursed.

There were strange bruises all over his ribs and stomach area. They were so dark that they looked like a swirl of maroon, mauve, and ebony, as if paint had been mixed together hastily. Keith shivered more, letting out a deeper groan as his head plopped down on the bed.

“Keith,” Shiro felt himself freeze for a second before he shook his head, “I...you're bleeding internally. Come on. I'm going to get you medical attention.”

Save him.

Keith grimaced before he closed his eyes. Shiro began to try picking him up, but Keith pushed at him feebly, not getting far.

“Sorry, Sh-shiro.”

Shiro was about to ask what he was sorry about. He also was about ready to reassure Keith, hand moving forward when Keith's eyes snapped open. Violet bled to glowing scarlet as Keith's canine teeth lengthened into sharp fangs, about twice the length they normally were. Before Shiro could blink, a force hit him and he was sliding backward, suddenly staring up at the ceiling. Something settled on top of him, holding him down gently as the same thing sniffed at the left side of his neck. Something wet licked up a patch just below his jaw quickly before two small stings made Shiro cringe.

Shiro didn't fight. He may have been in shock still. Seconds raced by as he blinked. Glancing down, he could see ebony hair as he looked in the corner of his eye. Smaller hands gripped his biceps, holding him in place but not hard enough to hurt. Shiro debated attempting to break free from the hold when something came over him.

Sweet warmth settled into his body, starting at his neck. It flooded his system like waves lolling on a beach, spreading out to his limbs. Shiro could feel it diffuse into the rest of his body, flowing to his fingers and toes pleasantly. Shiro relaxed slowly as his muscles loosened, tension fading out until he was just aware of the floor at his back, the warming lump on top of him, and the tickle of something on his neck. A content sigh escaped Shiro’s mouth as he settled down, all stress vanishing at once. His mind slipped to happy places as he glanced up again.

His dad’s stories about his mom. His grandpa’s Japanese flutters in his ears. The spicy taste of traditional ramen on his tongue. Adam’s firm touch between his shoulder blades. The dusty smell of blazing desert sand settles in his nose. Keith’s happy grin as he glances back at him. The warm feeling of getting accepted on a mission. The high of leaving the atmosphere and taking off to new places.

Shiro almost didn’t notice the tingling on his neck stop. One last lick from his collarbone to jaw, the lump on him shifted. Shiro blinked slowly as he glanced to the side.

Keith stood over him, fangs still out and eyes glowing brightly. A bit of red slipped off his fangs, but his tongue caught it in time before it fell.

Shiro should have been freaked out. But he couldn't be scared at the startled and ashamed look on Keith's face. The younger's teeth sheathed back to normal as his eyes faded back to the violet shade Shiro was used to.

Shiro got up on his elbows, watching as Keith scooted back off of him to the edge of the bed. The older brushed his hand against where he remembered the bite to be, but was shocked when his hand came back clean, no blood on it and no bite wound. If not for the feeling humming through him and the gentle hold of whatever coursing through his veins, he would have thought he had really gone crazy. Or that his disease had added hallucinations as a symptom.

“What just happened?” He asked curiously as he watched Keith who seemed even more guilt-ridden than before. The younger sat there with his hands gripping his hair, “Keith?”

“You-you re-remember?” Keith blurted out as he gazed up at Shiro in surprise, and Shiro felt himself blink.

“Yeah, you bit me,” Shiro facepalmed in his head as he watched Keith flinch. He hadn't meant it like that...he wasn't mad, “You...uh...make it sound like you've bitten someone before.”

“I…” Keith stared at him before looking away in shame. Shiro sighed softly as he stood up slowly. Shaking out his limbs, he was shocked to feel them limber but strong. He couldn't remember a time when he had last felt that way. Maybe before his diagnosis.

Or when he was on the highest-powered drugs available.

Getting up, he carefully moved to Keith's side. Settling down on the floor right next to him, he watched the younger who avoided his eyes. Shiro could see he was stiff as could be, afraid of what Shiro would think. The older man only settled his knees in front of him as he curled his arms around himself, mimicking Keith. A small snicker left his mouth, one that caused Keith to look at him quickly.

“Well, that explains why I didn't see you for a while,” Shiro spoke as the other frowned at him, “I was beginning to think you were avoiding me after I introduced you to Adam.”

“What?” Keith asked with some distress as his eyes widened, brows down, “I wouldn't do that.”

“I know,” Shiro responded with a slight smile, looking right at the younger, “And I'm not mad. You obviously needed to...drink from me? What is this even called?”

“I don't know,” Keith frowned as he looked down at his hand with an expression Shiro didn’t like, “I don't know anything about this. I didn't even know I was like this until a week ag-”

Keith froze, not saying a word. Shiro frowned as he didn't finish the sentence. He knew now that whatever had Keith avoiding him happened the week after they had their last race. If it wasn't meeting Adam, Shiro had no idea besides it had to do with this...feeding.

“We'll figure this out,” Shiro placed a hand on Keith's shoulder, glad to feel warmth in the flesh beneath his hand, “I'm always here to help.”

Keith stared at him before he melted. His eyes turned soft as they sat there. Minutes passed by as Shiro watched Keith's face. The younger looked like he was thinking hard. More time went by before Shiro glanced at the wall. If Keith needed time to sort things out in his mind, Shiro would give him it. A small voice interrupted the air seconds later. Shiro almost didn't hear it.

“Adam…”

“What about Adam?” Shiro asked as he glanced at Keith who frowned.

“It was Adam,” Keith spoke quietly before hesitating, dark eyes watching him wearily, “You asked if I've bitten anyone else. I...bit Adam....a week ago.”

“And that's why you were avoiding me.”

“He's your boyfriend,” Keith stared at the wall, voice small and dead, “I didn't want to hurt him. Just...felt hungry. He was there in the hall, and I didn't know that it was going to happen...And he doesn't remember it for some reason.”

Keith's eyes hardened as he gazed downward.

“But I was avoiding you,” Keith spoke slowly like he was weighing every word before saying it, “Because I didn't want to harm you. But I ended up attacking you anyway.”

Shiro sat there, dumbfounded as he gaped at Keith. Keith, who was talking like he had done something unforgivable. Keith, who looked ready to cry and wouldn't look at him. Keith, who thought he'd be sent back to the Home again because of this. Keith, who had a heart of gold even though he came off as prickly. Keith, who had not wanted to harm his boyfriend even though he barely knew him.

“You're talking like you hurt me,” Shiro laughed softly as pressed closer to the other who watched him with lost and pained eyes, “I feel fine. You didn't hurt me, Keith. You would never do that.”

“But-”

“You didn't kill me,” Shiro spoke bluntly as he looked over at a now confused Keith who had gone a bit pale, “You warned me ahead of time. You gave me the opportunity to push you away. I could have left at any time, but honestly, I didn't because I didn't want to. You think you hurt me, but you didn't. Strangely, I feel great. Better than I have in a long time.”

“But I…” Keith's voice cracked as his eyes watered, “Aren't you...you're not...you don't think I'm…”

“You're what?”

“A monster,” Keith let it out as Shiro felt his heart break into pieces ever-so-slowly at every fear-filled uttered word that left the younger's lips, “That there's something wrong with me. That I'm...broken and not worth-”

Shiro couldn't let him go on. He knew where this was going. He grabbed the other into a hug, pressing him right to his chest. He made sure the other had lots of contact with him and that he was wrapped up in Shiro's arms. Keith was tense and stiff at first, unyielding in his fear. But soon, he gave in with a tiny wail as he pressed his face to the older's neck, right where he had fed from five minutes before. Shiro felt tears slid across his skin onto his collarbone to pool into his shirt. Shiro's own eyes were blurring.

They were blurring at the unfairness of all this. At the fact that Keith had never known his mother. That the world took his dad from him so young, in a stage where he needed the support and stability the most. That the homes he had been forced into were not good to him. That Keith didn't even know about whatever had happened, having to figure this out all on his own.

The fact that he believed himself so horrible and broken that he thought he wasn't worth any love. That he deserved the neglect and the bruises and the cutting words and the heartbreaking pain of people leaving him behind because he wasn't good enough.

Shiro felt himself cry as he held the other tighter. Keith needed a friend by his side, and Shiro was going to be that friend. As long as it took.

“No, Keith,” Shiro reassured him with a wet laugh, “You're not broken. You're not a monster. You're not unlovable. Forget about what anyone else says. I've seen you, buddy. And I know you are one of the most loyal and generous people I've ever met. You are recklessly brave to a fault, and you go your own way whether it matches with those around you or not. You are clever and you've earned your spot at the top. Wanna know something?”

“What?” Keith asked from near his ear, voice quiet and breaking from the tears.

“I'm never ever giving up on you,” he spoke sternly as glimmering eyes stared up at him through ebony hair, “I will always be here for you. Doesn't matter if you're a vampire or human. Doesn't matter if you're scared or lonely or down or mad at the world. It wouldn't matter even if you were half-alien. I will not give up on you. Don't give up on yourself.”

Shiro could hear that Keith had stopped crying. With his right hand, Shiro rubbed his own eyes, drying them on his sleeve.

"We'll figure this out," Shiro snickered softly as they pulled apart, violet eyes staring at him with a tilted head, "You and I."

"And if we can't?" Keith asked as he frowned softly, fists clenched tightly.

"If we can't," Shiro smiled back before he rested his hand on the younger's shoulder, "We'll find our own way. I want to help you understand yourself, even if neither of us knows what is happening."

"Thanks, Shiro," Keith grinned back as he leaned against Shiro's shoulder, yawning into his jacket, "I'm glad you're here."

"Glad to be here," Shiro hugged the other closer, feeling content. They'd figure this out.

Chapter Text

Keith noticed that he got hungry a few days later. He really didn’t want to bite Shiro again. As much as the older kept reminding him that he wasn’t...that there was nothing wrong with this...Keith just...wasn’t comfortable with it all.

What if he got hungry and bit someone else again? What if he attacked Adam again? What if he drank from Shiro and it was too much? He could accidentally kill Shiro. What if-

“Keith,” Shiro’s voice brought him out of his thoughts as he gazed over at the other who frowned, moving closer. Keith’s stomach panged with hunger, but he ignored it as he went back to working on his homework. He wasn’t hungry, “What do you have in your mouth?”

“Nufin,” Keith muttered before going silent. Crap…

“You clearly do have something in there,” Shiro sat by his side, warmth flowing out of his body and over Keith’s side. The younger tried to ignore that too as his tummy growled again, a tiny bit louder than before. He wasn't hungry, “Keith…”

Keith glanced away. His paper about physics was no more exciting than it had been moments before, but he continued to stare at it.

“Keith,” Shiro sighed as he rested his hand on the table, staring at Keith was worried eyes...or at least, Keith guessed that since he wasn’t looking at him, “Do you have your mouth guard in?”

Keith only winced. Shiro sighed even more before he fell silent. A long moment passed before his larger hand held onto Keith’s shoulder, making him snap his head up towards the other. Shiro smiled sheepishly before placing his hands in front of himself, knowing that he startled Keith.

“Sorry about that,” the older smiled softly before he stared at the younger, “Keith, you don’t have to use that.”

Keith stayed silent, staring at him in a way that he hoped Shiro understood meant that he felt he had to.

“We’ll figure this out,” the man spoke up after a few minutes, “Maybe the more we feed you, the less hungry you’ll feel? That’s usually how it works with people. Unless...unless you’re scared of hurting me still?”

Keith could lie...he could say it was because he didn’t want them to pop out at anytime. How would he explain that? He wouldn’t be able to. He was a terrible liar anyway, but if he didn’t have to speak, he usually could get away with it...but he couldn’t lie to Shiro. Not for this...not when Shiro only wanted to help him…

So he nodded.

“Oh, Keith,” Shiro gently touched his wrists, making him glance up at the other man, "Let's get you fed. If you take too much or if it starts to bother me, I'll have you stop. I think you need this, Cherry Pie. Let me help you?"

Keith watched him for a long moment, weighing up his options. He was kind of hungry and if he fed from Shiro...maybe he wouldn't attack anyone else...but if he took too much and Shiro didn't - or couldn't - tell him to quit…

Keith nodded. Luckily, they were already in Shiro’s office, and he knew no one would be likely to walk in on them. Scooting closer to Shiro, he leaned against his side hesitantly. The older let him make the moves as he carefully peeled the mouth guard from his teeth. Letting the feeling of his vampire senses take over, Keith watched as everything shifted. The smell of honey and sweet and home and vanilla hit his nose, turning his throbbing stomach a bit calmer. He could feel his teeth elongate as he clenched the other’s shirt. And the whole time, Shiro stayed still...never looking at him like anything was wrong with him, just a small smile on the corner of his lips.

Keith leaned closer to the warm pulse that he could feel just below the skin on Shiro’s neck. The older was dressed in a tight white tank top and black pants, his officer jacket thrown to the couch's arm. Keith held onto the front on the neck of the shirt before slowly moving closer, making sure Shiro could pull away. But the older didn’t, only watching him softly the whole way. Brushing a tooth against Shiro’s neck, not even enough to break the skin, Keith paused when the other tensed the slightest. About to say something, he suddenly felt Shiro relax against the couch.

“You okay?”

Shiro only chuckled quietly before placing his hand on Keith’s shoulder. Keith took that as a good sign. Before long, he brought his teeth down onto warm flesh, digging into it carefully. Shiro didn't acknowledge the fangs digging in, so Keith pressed a little harder than before.

He still wasn't prepared when the first few droplets splashed into his mouth. The smell from earlier intensified as if all around him now. The taste was...well, Keith would describe it as heavenly. It was a perfect mix of all the things he liked like his pop's coffee and some type of vanilla flavor and just...home. The taste was feathery on his tongue but so so real.

Groaning softly, he drank more. Pressing to the other's slow-breathing chest, Keith lapped up more of the liquid. A large warm hand brushed against his ribs, making him smile back before licking at the wound. Amazingly, he healed just like the one on Adam's neck...only faster. With a couple of quick licks, the skin was resealed and clean. A strange feeling pooled in his chest, but Keith couldn’t quite pin it down...something like...like he wanted to leave the bite marks there...

"How many times are you going to have to feed me before this is over?" Keith asked softly as he pulled back from Shiro's neck, still enjoying the rush from the blood, fresh guilt in his stomach. But Shiro didn't seem hurt...only smiling back at him. With his senses more alert now, he noticed that Shiro's left hand was brushing his shirt.

"As many times as it takes," he responded back softly before brushing at hand through Keith's hair quickly, "Maybe we can research about vampires."

"Why would that help?"

"Well, some of the information has to hold some truth," Shiro rolled his eyes before playfully poking Keith's nose, "I mean, vampires of legend may very well be based off of, you know...you."

"Oh," Keith stared at his finger before glancing back at him, "How will we know though?"

"We can test some things in here and some in the gym," Shiro shrugged before he pulled out his special access card, "I'll make sure we get a private section so no one will see us."

Keith nodded before he watched Shiro place his tablet on the table. The older scrolled over something with a frown on his face, brows scrunched down in thought. A moment passed before he gazed up at Keith.

"What?" Keith asked cautiously as he watched the other.

"You're still in vampire mode," Shiro blinked before glancing back at the screen, "Your eyes are red not black or yellow or anything I see here. Some say that red is normal for vampires...from drinking human blood, but I'm not so su-"

Shiro broke off as Keith stared, perplexed.

"I have red eyes?" Keith wheezed softly as he raised a brow, "What?"

"Yeah, the irises are bright glowing red," Shiro nodded before he raised his brow, "You really didn't know?"

"No," Keith shook his head as he glanced towards the sound of the air vent kicking on, "I was a little busy with the other parts of it...I can't see my eyes when it happens. I knew about the teeth, the venom, and the blood-drinking…"

"Venom?" Shiro asked curiously before staring at him. A moment later, he patted the spot next to him. Keith ignored the different flare of warmth in his chest as he scooted closer. The older went back to typing on his device, "It says that vampires have venom. Its purpose is to lure in victims and to trap them, making the people they drink from less likely to fight."

Cold dread and fear stabbed through his chest. What if that had been why people were around him at those times? What if he called Adam? What if he was doing the same thing to Shiro?

"Keith," Shiro's voice interrupted his thoughts as grey eyes focused on him, "We don't know how much of this is true. And I for one can tell you that it didn't hurt. If anything...your venom is more like a vampire bat's. It must have some kind of anesthetic in it. I still feel good for awhile after you use it."

"But...what about the forgetting part?" Keith asked as he glanced over the words on the screen before his eyes landed on something, “What if...what if biting people turns them? I don’t want to turn you into a vampire, Shiro.”

“You won’t...I think,” Shiro gazed at the screen before his silvery grey eyes slid to him, “I’m not a vampire yet. I think I’d know if I were.”

“But A-”

“He looked fine this morning,” Shiro reassured him before glancing up at something. It took Keith a long moment to see what he was looking at. On the shelf sat an old mirror by the rest of his photos, “They say vampires don’t have souls and that they can’t see their reflection. Wanna test that out?”

Keith shrugged, not wanting to really see, but wanting it to be over. They moved to the mirror, which Shiro let him step in front of. A warm hand rested on his shoulder, grounding him as he gazed at his own reflection.

Which he did have. He looked like himself, more healthy than he had noticed in awhile. His skin was no longer so pale, and his baby fat was melting away rapidly, making his chin and other sharp points become even more sharp. His dark black hair fell into his face the way he had always remembered it to. But the glowing scarlet eyes were new along with the two fangs hanging out of his mouth. Each was pearly white right now, much longer than the flat teeth in his mouth otherwise. As if knowing they were being thought about, the teeth stung and burned slightly. Keith hissed softly as Shiro turned him around.

“You okay?”

“Yeah,” Keith nodded before poking one tooth, some watery lavender stuff pooling to the palm of his hand, “My teeth are bothering me slightly, like when they get sensitive to the cold.”

“Well, I hope that’s nothing ba-” Shiro paused, making Keith blink at him in surprise. The older glanced down at him before his eyes roamed up with worry in them, “Uh...Keith?”

“Yeah?”

“You’re uh...you’re biting on my tablet.”

Keith gazed down, stopping as he felt the hard metal shift against his teeth. He was biting into the slim device, snapping the corner of the screen with his teeth. A loud crack filled the air as the clear screen shattered along the edge. Keith flinched as he let go of the tablet, almost tossing it across the room in his fright. Shiro glanced at him for a moment before picking up the machine.

When had he picked it up? Keith didn't know, and he didn't remember grabbing it.

“It’s fine,” Shiro showed Keith this by making it power on, “Well...mostly. It’s got a large crack along the screen but it’s still usable and I can get a new one.”

“But that will cost you money,” Keith frowned as he glanced at the device, “And you'll get in trouble."

"I won't get in trouble," Shiro reassured him with a grin, still holding the damaged device, "And even if I did, you're worth it. I want to help you figure this out. I know if the situation was reversed, I'd want to understand myself better."

"But-"

"Besides, Iverson has a soft spot for me," the older man snickered as he typed something on the tablet, "And, despite my recklessness at times, this tablet is old. I've had it for years, so another one is a good idea."

"Oh," is all Keith could respond with. His teeth still ached, but not as intensely as before.

"Want to test out anything else?" Shiro asked worriedly a moment later, "We can stop-"

"No," Keith shook his head before leaning closer to read what was on the screen, "I want to know. I think me teeth are doing something. They just started aching and biting helped?”

“Hm…” Shiro glanced at him before turning back to the screen, “Maybe you’re teething?”

“But my teeth are all here,” Keith poked at his right fang, which again dripped a small amount of venom, “That’s not teething…”

“Well, we can call it that,” Shiro shrugged before he blinked, “I can’t find anything on it here, but we can get something for you to bite on later. I’d rather you not bite yourself on accident.”

“Okay,” Keith nodded before something caught his eye, “Sunlight is bad for vampires...that explains why I get sunburns, I think…”

“It could,” Shiro nodded before he stared at something, “Well, that makes sense now.”

“What?” Keith gazed up at the other, lost on what he was saying, “What makes sense now?”

“Why garlic doesn’t like you,” Shiro frowned softly, brows shifting down, “Garlic is apparently lethal to vampires.”

“But I’m not dead,” Keith stared at the picture of garlic on the screen, already feeling ill from past memories of the stuff, “I just get really sick for a few days.”

“Okay. Making extra sure you stay away from that,” Shiro swiped the picture away, making a bottle of clear liquid appear, “Have you ever messed with holy water?”

“Uhhh...no?” Keith tilted his head before shaking it, “Do I want to?”

“Uhhh…” Shiro frowns before his eyes widen a little and he swipes the screen, “Nope. No, you don’t...So...silver?”

“What about it?” Keith arches a brow in confusion as a bracelet made from silver pops up. It’s pretty intricate, silver carved up in the design of curls with a silver-blue gem in the middle of it.

“It may be bad for vampires,” Shiro shrugged as he glanced at Keith, “We’ll find out someday, I guess. Do we want to test in the gym now?”

“Yeah,” Keith nodded before he glanced at the time. It wasn’t that late, there were bound to be some spot at the gym open. Nodding, he watches as Shiro grabs up his bag, putting the tablet and some other stuff inside that he can’t quite see. Before Keith is aware of it, his senses dull slightly.

“Ready?” Shiro asks before he pauses, “Back to non-vampire? Probably a good idea.”

Keith nodded as he walked beside the older. It was a good idea to not let others know about this. He didn’t want to become an experiment or anything. He happy Shiro knew, but he wasn’t okay with anyone else knowing. Out the door, Keith walked with Shiro there. It only took them minutes to get to the gym, which was not that busy. Keith gazed around as Shiro got them a private room. To the side, he could see James with three other cadets. All four were talking and doing exercises, two girls and two guys. Keith didn’t know the other three. He didn’t remember them being in his classes or his group at anytime. All of them seemed like pilots, but Keith wasn’t completely sure from watching.

The dark-haired girl picked up a large weight, saying something as she moved it with shaking limbs. At the same time, James and the blonde said something while rolling their eyes. The other stayed quiet, leaning against the bench nearby, but he was clearly watching with interested eyes. A moment passed before James snapped his eyes back at Keith, meeting them. Keith stood frozen as the other stared back, eyes narrowing as a frown pulled at his lips. Keith froze there, wondering why the other seemed to hate him more than people normally did.

A hand on his shoulder almost made him jump as he looked back to his side. Shiro stood there with a sheepish smile, grinning with his eyes closed before he opened them again.

“I asked if you were okay, but I don’t think you heard me,” he chuckled softly before gazing off to the side to the group of four, “James is here.”

“Yeah, it’s fine,” Keith shrugged as he glanced over to see all four seemingly sneaking gazes at them as they pretended to workout again, “I can handle him.”

“I know,” Shiro nodded as he started to lead Keith to the small training room to the side, “I’m here for you if something comes up though. I mean, don’t go punching him or something on purpose, but I got your back, buddy.”

“Thanks,” Keith felt warmth spread through his chest at the sentence before he took in the room, the door closing behind them. The room didn’t have much decoration, decked out in the standard white walls and blank floor, only a few patches of orange here and there that looked a lot like the DNA scanners. Before Keith could say anything, Shiro swept his card to one, making it flash green before he tapped something. Behind them, the clear windows to the main gym grow dark and tinted. The door locked with a tiny click as the lights dimmed just a bit, making his eyes sting a little less. In front of them, a treadmill popped up from the floor.

If this were any other time, Keith would be worried about being locked in here. But this was Shiro, and he...he was beginning to really trust the other. The other wasn’t like he first thought. He was still helping him, and finding out he was a vampire would have been the best time to turn on him. Keith wouldn’t have blamed if he had.

“You okay?” Shiro’s voice brought him back as he blinked, “If you don’t want to, we can do it lat-”

“I’m okay,” Keith interrupted before he wandered up to the machine, sending Shiro a confused look, “What’s the treadmill for?”

“Well, I’ve noticed that you seem to have a lot of speed,” Shiro pressed some of the buttons on the machine, “And I think you can do more.”

“They tested me for my physical,” Keith raised a brow which Shiro only snickered at, “What?”

“They did test you, but you’ve been holding back,” Shiro watched him for a moment before frowning, “You don’t have to hold back around me, Keith. Superstength, speed, whatever.”

“I…” Keith paused before gazing at his hand absentmindedly, “It’s just something I’m used to, you know? Pops always told me not to push myself like that.”

“I’m glad he did,” Shiro nodded as he pressed his hand to Keith’s shoulder, making him look up into silvery eyes, “And any time you want to stop, just let me know. I’m not here to make you comfortable.”

“Okay,” Keith stared at the machine before marching forward, stepping onto the dark, thin treadmill, “I’m ready.”

Shiro grinned back before pressing a button. The tread started to go, slowly enough for Keith to walk. Every minute, it picked up speed. Keith went from walking to jogging to running in little time. As he ran, he kept his eyes on the wall. What felt like hours, he finally felt his breath come out with a little bit of exhaustion, muscles straining. The machine stopped, allowing Keith to take a few deep breaths as he slowed down.

“That was awesome,” Shiro grinned back at him before carefully patting his back. Keith grinned softly at the playful contact, “That’s why I’m slow. It’s not age!”

“I’m not giving up calling you Old Timer,” Keith grinned before he glanced at the screen on the treadmill. Eyes widening in shock, he glanced over at Shiro, “How?”

“You ran fast,” the older pointed at the screen, “Thirty-four miles per hour. Faster than normal adult runners. Granted that they think people can run up to forty miles per hour, but that’s not bad.”

Thirty-four? That was fast.

The treadmill disappeared into the floor, a bench press station popping up in its place. Keith didn’t question it as he tried to wrap his mind around his speed. He knew he was always fast, but he hadn’t known he was that quick. Sitting on the bench, Keith settled down on his back, waiting for Shiro to adjust the weights. A few moments later, the older sent him a smile back. Keith lifted the weight without much problem. He did so many presses before Shiro added more weight. By the time he was beginning to strain and his arms wobble, Shiro called off the weights with an impressed look.

“About three hundred pounds,” Shiro snickered as he helped pull Keith up, “Considering your height and weight, that’s quite a bit.”

“No, duh,” Keith rolled his eyes before smirking back, “I could lift you.”

Shiro let out a weird coughing noise before fiddling with the controls, making the bench disappear. The lights dimmed a bit, but not enough that Keith couldn’t see the other’s face. Tilting his head in confusion, he glanced at the other. Maybe Shiro was embarrassed about being lifted?

“If I can lift three hundred pounds, I could lift you,” Keith went on before blinking, “You’re like...two hundred pounds.”

“One-eighty seven,” Shiro spoke up softly as his face dropped into a sad expression that Keith couldn’t understand, “But...Maybe someday…”

Keith watched the other who pressed his fingers into his right wrist, rubbing there with a deep grimace. The low lighting did nothing to hide the pain on Shiro’s face as his brows moved down and a frown tugged on his lip. Before Keith could think, he was already in front of Shiro. The older didn’t jump, probably too focused on his arm. Glancing around, Keith saw the bench nearby. Guiding the other to it, he pressed up to the other, making him sit down.

Protect him.

An urge came over him. Somehow...something was hurting Shiro. He needed to do something to help him. Maybe there was something he could take...some ibuprofen or Advil or something? About to ask the other, Keith paused for a second, remembering what Shiro has said earlier about his venom...It could work.

Protect him.

Leaning in, Keith let his senses take over. As soon as his fangs came out, he carefully dragged them across Shiro’s skin on his neck, making sure that he didn’t sink them in. He was full enough that he didn’t have the urge to bite harder. Waiting for a moment, he felt Shiro relax like he had a good two or three hours ago. The other stopped clenching his wrist, letting both arms drop onto the bench as his face softened.

“Just a cramp,” Shiro stated softly as he stared at the wall behind Keith. The younger could feel that there was something the older wasn’t saying, but he didn’t say anything about it. Shiro would give him time to sort these things out and tell him, so Keith could do the same for him.

“You okay?”

“Better,” Shiro grinned after a few seconds, now squinting at Keith who raised a brow, “It’s dark in here.”

“Uh...no, it isn’t,” Keith frowned as he looked the other over, “Did the cramp take your vision too, or are you just really getting old, Old Timer?”

“Oh my God, Keith,” Shiro pressed his hands over his face, not hiding the blush in time as he laughed. Keith’s chest burst with warmth at the sound of Shiro being happy again, “You’re going to keep saying that, aren’t you?”

“Someone’s got to,” he shrugged before laughing too, pressing his face to the other’s shoulder, “Can’t take things too seriously or people are going to start thinking you’re like...three times my age.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Shiro rolled his eyes before elbowing his side, “I’m only seven years older than you, not forty-eight.”

“Exactly,” Keith nodded before staring at him, “Seriously though, is your vision failing?”

“No,” Shiro scoffed before he placed his hand on Keith’s shoulder after a moment of looking, “It’s pitch black in here.”

“It is?” Keith glanced around again. It only looked like the lights were on low...but then he noticed that everything was dull. Granted that the room was dull anyway, but none of the screens were on. Everything looked almost colorless but perfectly sharp. He glanced down at his arm, seeing the fabric of what normally was his orange Garrison cadet jacket, but it looked more orange-grey like a dying pumpkin. Still, he could make out each ruffle and his hands well enough. He could see the stripes on Shiro’s shoulders and his expression and how he was resting back against the wall. He could see each indent in the walls and the locked door if he turned his head far enough to his left, “Oh, interesting.”

“Bet that can come in handy,” Shiro spoke up with a grin as he stumbled to get up. Keith held onto his shoulder, preventing him from tipping over as the other pressed a screen on the wall, “Might want to close your eyes.”

Keith did. He waited a few seconds before opening them to a fully lit room. Gazing around, it didn’t look any different from when it had been dark.

“Let’s go get some watermelon,” Shiro stated out of nowhere suddenly. Keith blinked before staring at him.

“Red fruit thing again? Just because it’s red doesn’t mean I’ll like it.”

“We gotta try,” Shiro snickered as he pressed his card to the scanner, which reset the room. The door slid open slowly before the windows went back to normal. Keith’s senses faded as his teeth slid back to their normal position, “Also, I’m going to spar with you sometime.”

“Okay,” Keith laughed at the pose the older struck. The man was standing with his hands on his hips, a confident look on his face as he gazed at the wall all serious before turning to him with a grin that oddly looked just like a puppy, “You’re a dork.”

“I am,” he nodded before he rested his hand to Keith’s shoulder, “Just don’t let Matt know, he’ll never let me forget it.”

“That sounds like him,” Keith huffed contentedly before turning to the door, “Maybe he’s at the cafeteria. Maybe...I’ll tell him.”

“Don’t you dare,” Shiro laughed before Keith ducked out of the way, slipping into the main gym with a smirk, “I’ll get you.”

“No, you won’t, Ol-”

“Don’t.”

“Timer,” Keith went on as if he hadn’t heard the other. Dodging the playful swipe Shiro made at his arm, Keith rushed out of the gym, a light laugh on his tongue as he darted out of there, ignoring the no-running-in-the-halls rule. Shiro ran right after him with a laugh too as they both ran around. Cadets and officers alike stared at them, but Keith didn’t care as he rushed to the lunchroom.

They were there too soon as Keith threw open the door before spotting the head of blonde hair. Smirking back at Shiro, he just avoided tripping over someone’s foot that just got shoved in his way as he got to the other faster.

“Matt! Guess what!”

Chapter Text

“Matt! Guess what!”

Shiro rushed forward, knowing it was a lost cause. Keith was way too fast. Dodging around a startled cadet carrying a tray of food, he scurried to the table as the blonde looked back at them, brow raised in confusion. Wondering why, Shiro remembered that Matt hasn't ever seen Keith like this, playful and young. To be honest, Shiro didn't really see it often either. The younger usually was more mature than his age, something that made Shiro sad and proud at the same time.

"Keith!" Shiro shouted just as loudly, "Nooo! You can’t tell him!”

“I’m gonna!” Keith laughed right back at him before sitting on the opposite bench, straight across from a very confused Matt, “Shiro’s a d-”

Shiro pressed his hand to Keith’s mouth, making the rest of the sentence come out as a muffle. The older leaned over his friend before placing his chin on his head, a picture of pure innocence as he shot Matt a grin. Keith huffed underneath him before he began pushing the older’s hands away. Shiro knew he wasn’t using his strength because he easily kept his hand in place.

“He’s not telling you,” Shiro laughed softly as he plopped into the seat beside Keith who sent him a playful glare, once again like a predator getting their prey...huh...that made more sense now too, “Can’t let him.”

Teeth scraped over his flesh, making his hand tingle. Shiro held onto his smile as he raised a brow at the younger who merely smirked back. Gulping, Shiro shook his head as Keith narrowed his eyes. Before he could think, Keith closed his eyes before something brushed against his hand, almost making him jump in surprise as something tickled his palm. As it was, he did let go of the other quickly, pulling back his hand to see some saliva there. When Keith opened his eyes again, they were normal and he was staring at Shiro smugly.

“You licked me!” Shiro snickered as he wiped his hand off onto his black pants, “Keith.”

“Don’t ‘Keith’ me,” the younger laughed back before he rested his forehead to the cool metal table, glancing up at him from under ebony tuffs of hair, “You knew it was coming.”

“Oh yeah,” he asked curiously before he jabbed the other lightly in the side, “Sure. With my powers of premonition.”

“Premonition?” Keith asked his nose scrunched, “You couldn’t eve-”

“Okay, what’s going on?” A voice interrupted them as they both glanced to their front...Oh yeah, Matt was here. Shiro smiled sheepishly while rubbing his neck. Glancing to the side, he saw that Keith was indifferent, just sitting there with a poker face, which was clearly fake as any Shiro had seen on him. In front of them, Matt sat slouched over with a fork of peas still halfway to his mouth. He was staring at them with a raised brow, “You guys on drugs?”

Shiro blinked.

“Because if so,” he glanced from him over to Keith and back before grinning, “I want some! My tests are killing me.”

“Tests?” Keith asked curiously, tilting his head in a way that Shiro felt some type of feeling come up. He really shouldn’t think so...but it was really cute the way the gesture looked like a cat, “What tests? It’s not even mid-term?”

“Yeah,” Matt nodded as he took a bite of his peas before pushing his book at them. Shiro glanced at it before wincing, “But I’m getting my graduate to be able to travel into space sooner. Technically, I’m already graduated, but if I want to get off the ground, I have to pass those tests.”

“Why aren’t you an officer?” Keith asked with both brows down in confusion, looking between them, “Shiro is. Are there tests for that too?”

“What?” Matt frowned before he busted out laughing, banging his fist on the table as some cadets and officers shot them looks, “No. No! Hahahhh...Oh my god…”

“What?” Keith asked with a frown, glancing over to Shiro with a lost look. The older just shrugged.

“I’m not an officer because too much responsibility!” The blond stated after a moment more, wiping away tears, “Stick me in the lab, and I’m good. Seriously. Officers have to do everything. I’m just here for the science and the cool gadgets.”

“Hey,” Shiro scowled as he stared at Matt who only laughed more, “I resent that. Besides, you’ve damaged too much Garrison property to be handed anything that has officer access.”

“Shiro! It wasn’t my fault,” Matt dramatically grabbed at his heart, “Besides, I don’t know how you actually got accepted as an officer.”

“I take it seriously.”

“Pffftt,” Matt rolled his eyes before smirking at Keith. Oh great...The other leaned over like he was going to tell a secret but then spoke at regular volume, “This is the guy who used his pass to sneak in time to the sims. The same guy who stayed out all night one time, coming back drunk off his ass-”

“Matt,” Shiro whined as he hid his burning face from them, “Stoppp.”

“And that other time when he dyed all of his classmates’ hair bright pink,” Shiro suddenly wanted to sink into his chair and disappear. It was embarrassing when Matt said it like that, “I’m shocked Adam even decided to continue dating him after that. His hair took forever to get back to the color it is now...Heck, I think it still had a tint when he became an officer.”

“It wasn’t that bad,” Shiro scowled as he waved the other off, face still pressed to the table, “And Adam loves me, so duh.”

“Shirooo,” Matt sighed this time before staring at him, “Don’t go all lovey dovey on me, okay? We get that you like romance. Get yourself a strong handsome guy to come pick you up and carry you into the sunset! That type of stuff.”

“Now you’re making it cheesy,” Shiro groaned as he rubbed his forehead, sitting up more, “Besides, it’s more like a strong handsome guy to come pick me up on a hoverbike and drive off into the sunset.”

“Oh, yeah,” Matt rubbed his chin before glancing at him from head to toe and back, “You and your weird hoverbike obsession.”

“It’s not an obsession,” Shiro protested with a laugh, “Besides, I’m not the only one. Keith loves riding the hoverbikes, right, buddy?”

When he turned to Keith, he could see Keith staring with a confused look on his face.

“Why pink?” The younger asked with furrowed brows as Shiro sent his own confused look, “Uh...pink hair dye?”

“Oh,” Shiro glanced at the dull grey table before looking back up, “I wanted red but that backfired. Got pink instead.”

“Hey, I think Jacob liked it,” Shiro groaned as he pushed his head into his arms. Matt went on, “He still colors it hot pink. Literally, you can’t not see him in a crowd.”

“Oh my god, why did I come here again?”

“To get picked on by your friends?” Matt guessed with a grin before he ate some type of meat on his plate, “And to geek out about the you-know-what mission.”

“The what now?” Shiro asked with a raised brow, lost.

“The mission,” Matt stared at him before slapping his hand to his forehead, “Oh my fucking...Shiro...you didn’t even look at the email, did you?”

“Email?” He blinked before thinking back...no emails recently about any missions, although he did see one about the small mission to Mars heading out soon. It was too late to apply to that one, “What?”

“The Kerberos mission,” Matt whispered this time as his golden eyes glared at Shiro before they slid to Keith and back, “Shiro…We told you the day the emails were sent out...”

“Huh?” Shiro squinted his eyes, still lost. For some reason unknown to him, he began whispering too, “The day you showed me your experiment?”

“Duh,” Matt scoffed lowly before raising a brow, “We literally mentioned it.”

“Why are you whispering?” Keith wondered as they both glanced at him, remembering he was there, “I know about that already.”

“How?” Matt glanced at him before his eyes slid to Shiro, “Shiro, are you faking? You really had me there. ‘The what now?’ ‘Huh?’ You know, don’t you?”

“I didn’t know anything besides what you told me,” he shrugged as Keith nodded.

“I saw it on his tablet,” Keith stated as he glanced over at the older with a sheepish grin, “But I thought Shiro saw it by now.”

“Holy!” Matt scowled before his last peas jumped from his plate, rolling across the table and onto the floor, “Shiro! What the hell? It’s been two weeks since the email went out.”

“Oh,” Shiro stared at one of the unfortunate peas that came to a stop before him, “Heh...whoops.”

"No," Matt shoved his plate to the side, grabbing Shiro's wrist with one hand and the tray with the other, "How are you going to be our pilot if you don't apply? Where's your tablet? We're entering the thing now. Applications are only open for three weeks. You know how much paperwork it is."

Matt must have been really into this. This was the most serious Shiro had ever seen the younger, and that was saying something since he could be serious when it came to stuff like his little sister’s safety and his experiments. Shiro exchanged a look with Keith, now also remembering his tablet was damaged. If ever anyone could be an anime character with a sweat drop on the side of their face, Shiro was sure both of them would look it. And of course Matt caught onto it.

"What?" He asked with a raised brow, staring back and forth between them, "Why are you looking at each other like that? Guys...you're kinda being weird."

"Uhhh...my office," Shiro answered back with a small shrug that probably wasn't as casual as he hoped it was, "I've been busy lately."

“Busy,” Matt scowled before rolling his eyes, “Busy busy busy. Sure. I’ll take that excuse.”

“Excuse?” Keith asked weakly as Matt began dragging the both of them from the room. Neither resisted as he trudged down the halls straight to the oldest’s office. As soon as they entered the doorway, Matt slapped his hand to the scanner and strolled through as the automatic lights flickered on. Shiro could see Keith shielding his eyes for a long moment out of the side of his vision, and the older almost face-palmed. No wonder Keith always squinted when he came out into the sunlight. His eyes needed to adjust from seeing in the dark to seeing in the light, especially since he could see well in the dark.

“Shit, Shiro,” Matt spoke up, knocking the man out of his thoughts as he gazed over at the other who raised his cracked tablet, “What happened to your tablet? Did you let an alien bite it or something?”

Shiro shared a sheepish glance with Keith who was blushing just slightly, a tad bit of peachy pink in those paler cheeks of his. Placing his hand on the other’s shoulder, he snickered softly as the younger blinked and tilted his head. He didn't think Keith being a vampire qualified as being an alien...maybe...

“Oh my god,” Matt gasped loudly, making Shiro spin over to him with raised brows, “You broke it on purpose. Fucking finally. We’ve all been telling you to get a new tablet for five years now. You and your old-fashioned grandpa self.”

“It wasn’t that old,” Shiro stated absentmindedly before he registered what Matt had said, “Hey...I am not that old. Seriously, what is with you guys and calling me old?”

“It’s fun to do so,” Matt smirked before he quickly marched up to their side, poking his elbow into Keith’s side, “Isn’t it, Keithy?”

“Keithy,” Keith stared at him with an unimpressed glare, “Don't call me that."

"Keithyyy," Matt teased him with another poke to the ribs, quickly ducking back when Keith frowned darkly, "Okay. Okay. Don't call you that. Got it."

"Good," the younger nodded, becoming less threatening in two seconds fast. If Shiro didn't know about Keith's vampire side, he'd be scared at the mood shift, "I'll still be your friend even though you are, Old Timer."

“Gasp!” Shiro shouted in mock hurt as he covered his chest, “I thought you were on my side, Keithy.”

“Not now,” Keith scowled at him with crossed arms before he smirked playfully, “Matt was right. You’re an old grandpa. You're just missing the grey hair.”

“Keithhh,” Shiro groaned as he plopped onto the couch dramatically, covering his eyes woefully, "Come on, buddy...Cherry Pie…Keith..."

"Nope," Keith shook his head before taking a seat next to him, "Now I'm going to do it to annoy you."

"You guys are crazy," Matt interrupted them with a grin before sitting by Shiro's other side, "Just get the application done."

"Whiney," Shiro smiled at his friend.

"Bossy," Keith stated at the same moment, and Matt huffed at both of them with exasperation on his face.

"Well this whiney bossy guy is gonna get you to sign up for the mission," he raised a brow as he turned the tablet's screen on, "It works fine...seriously, how'd this giant crack happen?"

"Dropped it."

"Dropped it," Matt gave them both an incredulous stare, “What did it hit when it fell?”

“The floor?” Shiro winced as his voice tampered off, “I think...It kinda slid off the table.”

“Okayyy,” Matt stared a little longer before shrugging and tapping the tablet, “Here you go. Geez, clean out your mail.”

Shiro rolled his eyes before peeking at the first letter.

To Takashi Shirogane;

It has come to our attention that you have been recommended to pilot for the upcoming mission to Kerberos. Inside is an attached file explaining more about the procedures, processes, and what you need to do. The mission will be launched eighteen months from now. We look forward to hearing from you.

Keep this information confidential.

Clicking, he skimmed over the info. It was full of the standard stuff, about the ship and what he would need to do as a pilot for the mission. It would take about a year like Sam had said, an estimated five months there, one month on the planet, and five month return. And also like Matt said, it was due in one week, which was Thanksgiving time.

Speaking of Thanksgiving...Shiro glanced over at Keith who was beginning to fall asleep in his spot, hand resting on his chin as he used the blanket he must have gotten out when Shiro was reading through the papers. The Garrison always let their students and staff (officers too) have that Thursday, Friday, and the weekend off. It was a holiday, a time to spend with family and friends. But Keith…

Admittedly, some people did stay at that time because they lived too far away or didn’t want to go away for that short of time. But Shiro knew Keith would be spending it alone, and he hated the thought. If he hadn’t had his grandpa and then the Holts for this period...well, he was glad he had them to be his family. He could invite Keith along to their home when he went and then to hang out with him. They could watch movies or go for a hoverbike ride again. Besides, Adam was going back home to see his own family, and they had already decided that Shiro would be staying back. He’d only missed one Thanksgiving with the Holts as long as he has known them, and he’d rather not repeat it.

Shiro tapped on the screen, groaning when the next part popped up.

“What?” Keith asked suddenly as he glanced at Shiro, half asleep and groggy, “What happened?”

“The fun stuff,” Shiro groaned again, dropping the tablet onto his lap, “Filling out the paper for myself.”

Neither of the two with him said anything, so he just continued on after a moment.

“First name, Takashi,” Shiro listed off under his breath...these things always took so long to fill out but he had it memorized by heart now, “Last name, Shirogane. Age, 22.”

He shot a glare at the two who both snickered. In his time reading, Matt had also sat down closer to Keith so now that they could both watch him. Shiro stared for another second before going back to the application.

“Weight, one hundred eighty-seven,” Shiro pretended not to see the concerned look Matt was sending him. That’s why he had been sad when Keith said about lifting him earlier...With his disease, he was losing muscle no matter what he tried. Drugs didn’t work, the exercises only helped so much, the diets did nothing. And losing muscle meant losing weight which was what was slowly happening. A year from now, Shiro could lose more, maybe twenty pounds if not more. And…

And eventually he was going to need to have someone carrying him around, especially when he couldn’t get around himself. Hell, there was going to be a day when he couldn’t do anything by himself and he didn’t want that day to come. He didn’t want Adam or whoever he was with or around to have to see that. He didn’t want to be a burden them like this. And he hoped it stayed a long way away from hi-

“Hey, Shiro?” A concerned voice cut him off mid-rant inside his head as someone pressed against his side, not enough to jostle him but to ground him as arms wrapped around him loosely, “You okay?”

 

“Huh?” Shiro asked as he glanced to his two friends who stared back with worried expressions. Keith was the one by his side, pressing his warm body to the older’s side as he breathed. It was Matt who had asked the question as he sat on the table in front of him, “I’m fine.”

“Yeah,” Matt stated like he didn’t believe him at all, “You’re fine. You just starting having a panic attack. That qualifies as being ‘fine’.”

“I will be,” Shiro sighed tiredly before he pressed his hand to his face, “I’m sorry I worried you. Let’s get this done.”

“Height,” Keith stated as Matt just stared at him. Shiro sent the younger a grateful smile before typing it in.

“Six feet, two inches,” he stated with a lighter tone, “Medical conditions…”

Great. It’s not like he was trying to forget he had one.

“Hey, you don’t have to tell me if you have a STD or something,” Keith shrugged after a moment, probably picking up on his silent stare meaning that he was uncomfortable sharing this part. Matt shot him an analyzing stare, likely figuring out that he hadn’t told Keith about his disease yet. Fuck...The older shrugged when he was sure Keith wasn’t looking before typing it in quickly and finishing up the information. He had to sign a few things and check through the stuff he just entered before he sent it off to the main office where the letters came in.

The closing letter said that they would be told who was selected by that Friday after Thanksgiving. Shiro closed it out before turning the device off. The room was starting to feel stuffy all of a sudden, and he wanted out into the wind.

“How about we hit the town?” He asked the two who raised a brow, “We can get drinks.”

Matt sent him a shit-eating grin, one that Shiro stopped in its tracks.

“Soft drinks,” Shiro interrupted with a stare, “You’re both underage.”

“Dude,” Matt scowled as he sighed sadly, “I’m only like two years younger than you.”

“Actually three,” Shiro pointed out as Keith rolled his eyes, grinning behind Matt, “And I don’t think either of us want to be caught with anything like that if we’re going to do the mission.”

“You’re probably right,” Matt nodded before he glanced at Keith, eyes excited, “Hey, Keith could get us back. You said he’s a great driver.”

“You’re trusting...me?” Keith asked with an untrusting stare, brow raised, “Me?”

“Uhhh...yeah,” Matt blinked before he glanced at Shiro for help and then back, “Why wouldn’t we?”

“I don’t know,” Keith frowned before it turned into a pout, one that was not unlike a puppy...damn, Shiro had to stop comparing Keith to adorable animals, “No one else ever does.”

“Well, then we will,” Matt nodded before marching over to a wary Keith who blinked at him like a...Shiro forced his thoughts to stop there, “You, me, Shiro...we’re all trusting each other. And that means you can drive us to get drinks.”

“Oh my god, Matt,” Shiro scowled as he face palmed, “No. We are sticking to soft drinks. Don’t think I don’t know how your mind works.”

“Maybe you do...maybe you don’t,” Matt laughed as he bumped against Keith, “Maybe Keith will be my bestest friend.”

“Hey,” Shiro frowned playfully before practically tackling the younger into a headlock, “He’s my bestest friend.”

“Rude,” Matt stated flatly from under his arm, not even pretending to fight, “I thought we were bestest friends.”

“Matttt…”

“Keith,” Matt turned to Keith who merely tilted his head in confusion, “Please be my bestest friend. I need to unfriend Shiro.”

“Hey,” Shiro pushed the other who squawked, falling to the floor, “You can not unfriend me. You’re one of my only friends I’d keep forever.”

“Awww,” Matt grinned up at him from the floor, eyes shining with fake tears, “Love you too, man.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Shiro rolled his eyes before a smirk lit up his lips, “So about those drinks…”

“Yes!” Matt cheered before jumping up and fist-pumping the air, “Thank you.”

“Don’t thank me so fast,” Shiro grinned as he started for the door, “I get some, you two have to have soft drinks.”

“Awww…” Matt pouted this time as Keith gave them lost looks, obviously not quite following their playful teasing. Shiro hoped that he would join someday with their banter, when he was comfortable enough for that. Chuckling, he left his office along with the two, heading for his car.