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slowly dying to make it through

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“A piece of me is slowly dying to make it through

Secretly, I pray so hard now, I bet you did too

You said it so well yourself complex, my complex

Strokes correct, pressure placed on your hips

The morning cities on the back of our necks

Are you with it now?

Can you see the pleasure in it now?”

 

- Ocean Grove, Stratosphere Love

 

 

— S U M M E R —

 

— S —

 

Shiro returns from the war, and everything rings, and everything hurts. The microwave becomes an enemy. He can't stand the beeping, because the particular frequency of it sounds too close to the warning bells of the Lion’s monitors on Coran’s control panel in the Castle. The television is too loud. The lights are too bright. In the bathroom mirror, he stares at himself and documents the lines on his forehead (stress), the scar across his nose (Galra), the bags under his eyes (insomnia).

He does not punch the glass.

He lies in the corner of his bed and closes his eyes, trying to even out his breathing, trying to focus on one thing. He can’t, though. There are flashes of the final battle, like butterflies flitting past, too fast to register properly, too slow to miss. He sees his Paladins being attacked, he sees the Galra fleets descending on Earth, he sees Voltron trying their best to hold back that last robot, he sees the Atlas transforming to save them, because he can’t listen to them all scream in pain without doing something, except he’s too late and he can’t get there in time. They all lie on the ground in a mangled mess, bleeding out, staining the earth, and it’s his fault, it’s all his fault—

And he scrambles to hold the first he can find. It’s Lance, and he’s held Lance like this before, all those moons ago, when he was hurt by Sendak’s bomb in the Castle of Lions, except he was breathing then, and he isn’t now, he’s not breathing, Lance isn’t breathing, he’s too late he’s too late he’s too late—

The knock on the door is an ion cannon firing.

It’s Pidge.

“Shiro?” she asks, rubbing her eyes. She isn’t wearing her glasses. “Are you alright? I heard you calling out.”

He’s shivering like the two of them are sitting outside on a wintry evening, except they’re in the middle of summer. “Did I wake you?”

Pidge shakes her head. “No. I was just…going for a walk. Couldn’t sleep.” The sweater she is wearing must be either Matt’s or Hunk’s. It swallows her tiny frame. “You get them too, don’t you?”

And there she is, his ridiculously brainy and insightful girl. “Yeah.”

She crosses the threshold and does not wait for an invitation to crawl onto the bed. A year living with him and the boys in space has desensitised her to most of the basic boundaries, although she still does not let any of them in as easily as Hunk or Lance do. The only one who is probably on par with her need for personal space is Keith, but then he’s always been reserved when it comes to being tactile.

Unless it’s Shiro, of course.

Shiro swallows hard at the memory of Keith holding him after killing Sendak, and how his face had brightened the first time Shiro visited him in the med bay after he’d finally woken, as if Shiro had brought the sun into his room.

But Shiro doesn’t bring the sun, because that’s Keith. Keith is the one who brings warmth, hidden in the gentleness of his eyes and the curve of his cheekbones. The slope of his smile sets Shiro on fire.

Shiro doesn’t do that. Shiro brings clouds and shadows and rain that’s so fucking cold it seeps into his bones every day and turns them to ice, and it feels like he’s always just one misstep away from shattering against the ground.

God, how he wants to shatter.

Pidge’s hair is fluffy when she winds her small arms around him and tucks her chin over his head. She smells like engine oil and grease, and upon closer inspection, Shiro finds flecks of it on her sweater where her apron failed to protect.

When did she become the comforter? He can’t think of any time where it has not been him offering reassurance.

“We all get them,” she says in a clinical voice that is far older than her sixteen years. “It’s natural. I was rereading the Garrison’s handbook on coping.”

Shiro snorts. He had read that text years earlier, when it had been part of the curriculum. He had never thought it would be so applicable to him.

“One of the best things to do is talk, though,” Pidge continues, and her hand strokes his shoulder. “Talking is the first step towards acceptance, which in turn is a step towards healing.”

“When did you grow up?” Shiro says, careful not to lean against her, lest she be crushed.

“If that’s your way of deflecting,” Pidge says, seeing right through him. “Then you need to do better.” She returns to stroking his shoulder. “But it was sometime between you leaving and Keith saving you again.”

He looks up at her. “You all saved me too.”

He needs to stop treating her like a teenager and more like the young woman she is, because she picks up on the near-patronising tone and makes a face. “Yes, but we’re not Keith. He would have torn the earth asunder had he not brought you home.”

And Shiro hates hates hates that Pidge says that, hates that Keith has a fucking heart of gold, hates that one day he’s going to realise that he doesn’t want to save Shiro as many times as it takes because Shiro is like pottery broken on the ground, like the muddy aftermath of an unwanted snowfall, like the rot of an apple, eating its way to the surface.

Pidge stays quiet, like she knows what’s Shiro is thinking. “If you ever want to talk, I’m here. It’s okay to take your time though. There’s no rush.”

They sit in silence, Shiro listening to the hum of Pidge’s breathing, until there are slivers of sunlight peeking over the horizon. Here, Pidge unfolds herself and prods him onto his back with instructions to sleep.

“Thank you,” he says, because he’s proud, he’s so proud of her.

“I hope you feel alright,” she answers.

Shiro nods, and the door clicks as she leaves, but he knows better. They are all full of unanswered hopes.

 

— K —

 

Keith’s mother and Kolivan do not stay on Earth. They’ve been on Earth for the better part of a month when Keith is cleared by the medical team to move about independently, and so the Blades inform him of their intention to leave the next day.

“I wish I could stay,” Krolia says sadly.

They both know she can’t, though. Kolivan and her have made contact with a group of Blades. It’s an opportune time to connect with them and continue to seek out others whilst the rest of the Voltron Coalition help Earth rebuild.

Keith nods in understanding, having nothing else to say to the news, and when the time comes, the Blades gather him into their arms. Of his mother, Keith expects this. Two years living on the back of a space whale stuck in a time bubble has taught him that for all her gruff attitude, she is very tactile.

“You’re so much like me,” she had told him, when he had shied away from her touch the first time. “So many walls.”

“That’s what happens when you’re alone for so long,” he had snapped.

They hadn’t known each other very well, but he had felt ashamed of his temper. Her eyes had been a whirlpool of emotion and Keith was too afraid to look into them, too afraid of what he might see, so the moment had passed in stony silence.

The next time, though, when she had instinctively reached for him, he had willed himself to stay still. Her heartbeat had been strong and steady, and it had felt right to let her arms encompass him. He had not been brave enough to return the gesture, but she had not minded, and he had to eventually step outside under the guise of looking for firewood so that she would not see him cry.

No one had seen him cry, and he was not going to let her be the first. They had miles to go before that might happen.

He doesn’t mind now, though. Now, he holds her tightly and prays for something so that his chest doesn’t feel so tight.

“I love you,” she says as she hugs him fiercely.

“I love you too,” he whispers, heart bursting. “Stay safe, Mom.”

“You too, Keith,” she says, purple skin stark against his paler human colouring.

He doesn’t want to let go, but all things come to a natural end, and she steps back for him to address Kolivan. Keith straightens up, habitually returning to his Blade persona. He has a lot of respect for Kolivan, and thinks a handshake should suffice in this instance, but his Marmorite leader does not.

He clasps Keith’s hand firmly, saying, “I’m proud of how you’ve grown, Keith.”

And then, because words have never been any of their fortes, his free arm comes around Keith’s shoulders.

“Thank you, Kolivan,” he mumbles when the Blade lets him go. “Safe travels.”

“I love you!” Krolia calls again as she’s walking away.

Keith sits with the wolf and watches the ship leave the atmosphere, a strange sensation unfurling in his chest. It teeters precariously, like a dancer walking on a tightrope for the first time. He contemplates on it long enough for the white lines in the sky to fluff out, two fingers touching it, wishing he knew what it meant.

It’s different to all the other times he’s watched people leave him—and there have been more than he’d like to acknowledge—because those times consisted of a ball of fire burning a hole in his chest. He used to scrape his nails along his sternum, like he could excavate the feeling and throw it in the trash, but all he had for his efforts was a furnace that refused to be snuffed out, and angry red scars that lasted for weeks after.

Perhaps the only time he hadn’t felt that blaze was when Shiro had left on the Kerberos mission. That time had been like ice forming over his heart, almost like a protective response to prevent it from shattering, because Keith was fairly sure it was going to. He knew deep down that nothing would have stopped Shiro—god, even Adam couldn’t, and they were engaged—but that hadn’t stopped the resentment creeping in, and the regret later on, when news of the Kerberos mission failure reached Earth.

Keith sighs. It all seems a lifetime ago. In a way, it is. None of them are who they used to be.

The lines have merged with the clouds now. He has stared at the sky for too long, so he heads inside.

The memorial is lined with the names of those who have fallen. He finds Adam’s and presses a thumb over it, closing his eyes and breathing a quiet apology.

He wishes he hadn’t left the Garrison without saying goodbye properly. Adam had been bound by his duties, but when Keith had been on the brink of expulsion, he had offered his support to Keith. He and Shiro might have cut ties before Shiro left on his ill-fated mission, but Adam had been there anyway, because he knew how much Keith meant to Shiro. Of course, Keith had said no, stubborn and hot-headed and immature, and he’d refused to acknowledge any attempts Adam made at contacting him. Now he’s gone, and there is another burned bridge that will never be mended.

A hand lands on his shoulder. When he opens his eyes, Shiro is there.

“You’re up,” he says brightly, always a leader. “I just went by your room to see you. I’ve got the afternoon to myself.”

“A rarity,” Keith comments.

He’s been holed up in the infirmary since the robeast’s defeat, but Shiro has invaded his room with daily reports of his seemingly never-ending responsibilities as Captain of the Atlas. It’s a lot of work for someone still fresh from the war, but Shiro doesn’t complain about it. Keith knows he likes the responsibility of it, the idea that he’s making a difference.

“Indeed,” Shiro says, crossing his arms. “The nurses told me you’re being discharged since you were cleared for independent mobilisation.”

Keith scoffs. “That’s just a fancy term for me being released from their prison.”

“A prison? But your bed is so much more comfortable than mine ever was.”

Keith coughs over a laugh, not sure if he should even be finding humour in Shiro’s words. But Shiro is always like this, making entertainment out of such fragile topics. Keith still remembers when they were stranded together with Black and Shiro kept joking about his wound.

“How are you feeling?” Shiro asks.

Keith holds up his crutch. He graduated from two yesterday. “Still kicking.”

Shiro’s smile is warm and calming and something Keith feels shouldn’t be directed at him. “Good. Can’t have my best man a cripple.”

Keith wants desperately to fall into Shiro and hold him. “Never,” he says instead. “The physio says I have to have a moonboot fitted later though. It’s almost funny.”

“Let’s hope your history with moons fares better than mine,” Shiro says.

Keith winces. This time, the statement skirts too close to the truth to be entirely comfortable. They look at the memorial in silence.

 

— S —

 

After so long wanting to shatter, Shiro still isn’t expecting it. And of all the things to make him shatter, it’s coffee. It could have been anything— the hallways of the Galran shipwrecks the recovery teams bring to the Garrison to scavenge for tech, or the flickering lights when the base can’t fully meet everyone’s energy demands, but it’s just coffee. A single cup of fucking coffee.

It’s almost unfair, how the week starts off as one of his better ones.

Keith is hobbling in a moonboot without his crutches, something the two of them joke about before Shiro helps with his rehab.

“I’m so fucking weak,” Keith grumbles as they do some gentle calf drop-downs, and Shiro disagrees automatically, because Keith is the total opposite.

“You’re the strongest person I know,” he says, staring intently at Keith’s leg, too open and vulnerable.

Keith regards him closely and completes his rehab with no further comment. At the end, he thanks Shiro for making time for him, which is silly, because Shiro will always make time for him, doesn’t he know?

“You’re just super busy,” Keith says. “See you at dinner.”

And he hobbles away, and Shiro has to bow to the tide of duties again.

The days are too variable to be called a routine, but the times to wake and sleep are constant enough. Sam and his team are constantly improving the IGF-Atlas and the MFEs, and they’ve done a few practice runs transforming. It takes a lot of effort though, and Shiro always ends those days shivering and wanting to collapse into a heap. He doesn’t though, because he’s Captain Shirogane of the IGF-Atlas and captains hold their team up. So he doesn’t collapse, not until he’s in the safety of his room, and then he falls and falls and falls into nightmares and prays no one hears him.

Pidge doesn’t come to his room again, so they mustn’t.

He fits in time with Allura on a morning when he isn’t required to be anywhere and when she isn't in the med bay, watching her create wormholes for the Garrison. He'll never stop being amazed at how she's able to send fleets across the universe.

“You're very quiet, Shiro,” she says, eyes trained on the latest wormhole as it closes.

If they were alone, Shiro might have told her, but then he would have to explain how sometimes he can't even breathe without thinking his lungs won't fill up, and that—he’s not ready for that, not yet.

They are leaders, both of them, so she will understand. He knows she will.

“It's good not to be the one giving orders, for once,” he says, not quite a lie, not quite the truth.

Allura makes a small chuckle. “I understand.”

She does not press. Shiro couldn't be more grateful.

The ships keep coming and going. Allura handles them in ten minute intervals, the skies constantly crowding and emptying until midday, at which point Romelle walks in and relays Pidge’s demands for them to join the others for lunch.

Allura touches his hand as they walk. “Thank you for the company, Shiro.”

“Thanks for having me,” Shiro replies, and he was wrong about earlier, he couldn't be more grateful than he is now.

The Paladins aren't supposed to be back to duty, not just yet, but he guesses none of them feel quite right if they aren’t doing something. Two years in space with the constant cycle of training and travelling and fighting was their normal, and it’s programmed them all to crave it.

So Pidge putters around her parents as they work, and then she gets her own lab to tinker in. Shiro can’t explain half the stuff she does in there, but he appreciates his brain child all the same.

Lance spends a lot of time with his family. They’re a close-knit group. They paint smiles on each other’s faces. Hunk’s family are a little like that too. They share love in the food they make, and Hunk joins the team in the commissary for most days of the week, easing his family recipes into the menu.

Shiro just stays busy, because if he doesn’t he might just collapse.

And then, on a day when he’s awfully free, and everyone is awfully busy, he makes coffee.

Adam was always the one who could make coffee perfectly. Shiro remembers being told that everyone had a little magic in them: people with insanely good memories, people who had a special bond with animals, people who could write with both hands. Adam was like that with coffee; didn't matter which brew or blend it was, because Adam could always make it perfect.

And Shiro, of course, doesn't make it perfectly. He tries, but it's coarse and bitter, sitting on his tongue like acid, and he doesn’t know why, but he loses it. He throws the mug at the wall. It breaks and falls to the ground in shards. Coffee streaks across the tiles, staining them brown.

Keith comes into the room, eyes wide. "Are you okay?" he asks, hands outstretched like he can catch Shiro from falling.

He can't though, and they sink to the ground like stones in a lake, fast and slow at the same time.

"Shiro?" Keith asks, voice wobbly, and Shiro just shakes in his arms, because he's tired, he's so fucking tired.

"I'm fine," he says, even though he's not, even though without Keith there, he fears he might just fall apart at the seams and spill out onto the tiles. "I'm fine," he says again, out of habit. "I'm just tired."

"Bullshit," Keith answers. "You're not okay, Shiro. Talk to me. I want to help."

Something ripples underneath Shiro’s skin at that; something weak and ugly. "I said I'm fine. I don't need your help."

"Shiro," Keith says in such a sorrowful voice that Shiro looks up at him. "I’m here for you. Let me do something."

Shiro doesn't even know what needs to be done though.

Keith pats his hair, runs fingers through it and untangles it. They stay like that for minutes, or hours. Shiro isn't sure. He drifts off at one point, and opens his eyes again when the hardness of the floor passes mildly uncomfortable and makes a beeline for outright painful.

“Hey,” Keith murmurs. “Do you want to try getting up?”

They do, Keith holding him once more. First Pidge, and now Keith. He’s no leader.

“I’m just tired,” Shiro says, straightening up, grasping the lapel of his uniform.

He isn’t Shiro right now, he’s Captain Shirogane of the IGF-Atlas. Shiro is broken and unmendable and Captain Shirogane is a pillar of strength.

“I’ll take you to bed, then,” Keith replies.

Captain Shirogane should say no and find some paperwork, something to keep his hands busy so he doesn’t scratch his skin until he bleeds, except, except—

Except he’s Shiro in this moment, he’s weak, shattered Shiro, and he lets himself be led.

The walk to his room stretches on and on and on, like taffy. When they do get there, he barely has the energy to toe his shoes off, but he manages to moments before landing face first on the mattress. The door hisses shut when Keith hits the button, and then the bed dips when he climbs on next to Shiro.

“It was just coffee,” Shiro mumbles. “I’ll be fine.”

“And I’m the next Green Paladin,” Keith says, sarcastic enough to rival Shiro. Why is he always so stubborn? “Would you stop being the leader for five damn seconds?”

Shiro curls deeper into the mattress. “I don’t know, Keith. It’s almost like that’s what I’ve been for the past year and a half.”

Keith sighs next to him, refusing to acknowledge Shiro’s sarcasm, and then he lies on his side, face half-hidden by the pillow. Shiro spies the scar on his cheek, so reminiscent of Krolia’s Galra markings, and follows it down.

Like Pidge, Keith is older. His face is longer, his jaw stronger. There’s a ghost of a shadow, the beginnings of stubble, and his hair is much thicker where it falls into his eyes. Shiro reaches out to brush it away and Keith blinks.

“What was it about the coffee?”

“I just…thought of Adam.” The words are sticky in his mouth. “He used to make the best coffee.”

Keith nods, thoughtful. “He did, didn’t he?”

Shiro closes his eyes, the regret too painful and raw to be held in the open like this. “I wish I had stayed.”

“Maybe,” Keith whispers. “But think of what would have happened if you had.”

Shiro has thought about it, trapped in the Galra prison and trying to keep a grasp on his humanity. He would probably have moved into a teaching position at the Garrison, and hopefully watched Keith graduate top of his class if his health permitted. He would have married Adam, too. They were engaged, after all. Adam, who was so unsupportive of him going on the Kerberos mission because he knew the risks and didn’t want Shiro dying. Love is a funny thing.

He should have stayed.

He’d spent the first year desperate to wake up, to find it was all a dream, to come home. God, he still can’t even dwell on it for too long, before the panic starts crawling up his throat again.

Bile threatens and he swallows it down. Because there are happier memories. There is finding Keith again, meeting Coran and Allura and living with his four crazy Paladins. There’s the first time he laid eyes on Black, and the soul-changing moment she’d let him in and bonded with him properly. There’s Pidge finding her groove on Olkarion, and Hunk baking them cookies, and Lance making them all do face-masks, and Keith saving him, over and over and over.

And there’s dying. Watching Kuron slice open Keith’s face, watching Keith cry and beg for help to get to the Paladins, watching Keith unlock Black’s teleportation.

Keith’s eyes are watery, but Shiro knows he won’t shed a tear. Keith doesn’t cry in front of anyone. “I know it sucks. And I know how that word doesn’t even begin to cover what you’re feeling. But—” He swallows, and he finds Shiro’s hand and holds it. “Shiro, please don’t think you have to fight this on your own. Not anymore. I’m here for you.”

Shiro looks at their joined hands. That’s the second time Keith has said it to him today. It makes him all warm inside. “I woke Pidge up the other day,” he starts, not sure why he’s saying it. “She came to my room and held me.”

The tears in Keith’s eyes don’t fall, but they’re pretty close.

“She’s an adult, now. You all are. I guess I forgot that part.”

Keith nods. “You know, we’re all going through the same stuff. I mean, you’re probably worse off, but don’t think you’re alone.”

Shiro smiles. “I don’t remember you being so candid, Keith. It looks good on you.”

Keith’s cheeks go pink from the embarrassment, and Shiro pauses. He is caught looking at the sharp angles of Keith’s face that he has grown into, thinking of how it suits him so well.

 

— K —

 

The morning after Keith is allowed to walk without a crutch, he snags Shiro away from his duties as Captain and drags him outside. Moonboot or not, he isn’t about to let it stop him from enjoying the Summer sunshine. He hasn’t ridden a hoverbike since he left Earth last year, but there are plenty languishing in the garages. The hangars are where the majority of interest lies for now, so no one bothers them.

Shiro raises a brow when Keith climbs aboard one, but he doesn’t say anything else. Instead he chooses one for himself and they speed off into the dawn.

And, Christ, Keith forgot what it was like to ride. With Red, he never had to take time to judge; it was automatic. His bond with the Black Lion is entirely different; he had been welcomed with open arms at the start, but it had still taken time to get to a level of understanding like Red. And now, he has to learn how to ride a hoverbike all over again. His time with the Lions has spoiled him.

“Careful!” Shiro calls when he has a near miss with a rocky outcrop.

“Yeah, I got it,” he shouts back, straightening up.

The hoverbike is clumsy and lethargic. It doesn’t respond as quickly as Keith is used to. He leans more into his next turn and still only narrowly avoids leaving an impression of himself on the rock walls. Shiro is even more out of practice, but he is cautious compared to Keith; he doesn’t flirt with death the way Keith likes to.

That’s fine. Each to their own. Keith likes the energy that zips up his spine, the adrenaline that lances through his chest. Shiro used to be like that—he’s the one that taught Keith how to pull out of a nosedive, after all—but they’ve been through the wringer, and Shiro has been through the worst. Keith doesn’t blame him for being hesitant.

Shiro has no problem with speeding safely though, so they zoom past an endless supply of cliff faces. Wind whips at Keith’s face, tearing at skin. His eyes are watering and his hand is aching where it is gripped tight around the throttle, urging his hoverbike on. He sucks in a lungfuls of air and laughs at the feeling. He’s flying, he’s going so fast he’ll never be able to stop. He doesn’t even know if he wants to.

When the sun is higher than the clouds, they stop to rest. Keith parks his hoverbike next to Shiro’s and they sit in the dust and breathe as one. Summer is coming to a close, and the approaching coolth promises to deliver.

“That was insane,” Shiro says, a little breathless.

Keith nods, because Shiro makes sense, even if he hasn’t said much. “Yeah. It’s good to get away from the Garrison for once.”

“Tell me about it. That place is like a rabbit warren.”

The clouds are denser today, pure white candy floss piled on the horizon like a demarcation line. Below them, the Garrison, and behind it, a city still putting itself together again. Above them, nothing but clear skies. They match the blue of Shiro’s arm.

Keith chews the inside of his cheek. “How are you feeling?”

He says it nonchalantly, but he’s talking about the other day, with the coffee, when he had to pick the pieces of Shiro up from the floor like the mug he shattered.

Shiro doesn’t look away from the candy floss. “I’m alright.” The leg of his pants glows crystal blue. “You don’t always have to look out for me, you know.”

“Of course I do,” Keith disagrees. “We’re a team. We’ve been through a lot of shit over the last year and now that we’re finally back—” He tries to say home, except the word clogs his throat, because it isn’t that anymore. “On Earth,” he settles for. “We’re sitting ducks until Professor Holt and the others figure out where that last robot came from.”

“I hate that,” Shiro says.

“I do too. But it means we have a lot of time to…to process things. To heal.”

There are oil stains on Shiro’s trousers. It’s strange, the two of them being in Garrison uniform again. Keith got used to the Paladin armour, and the sound of Allura’s commands echoing throughout the Castle, and the pale walls of the Lounge, and the echo of his footsteps in the high-ceilinged halls.

“I keep having these dreams,” Shiro says slowly, voice hoarse. “You guys…you’re dropping like flies…and I can’t save you.”

Keith shudders. He used to get dreams like those too, where the transplant failed and they were left with Kuron’s body to bury. Dreams where Hunk didn’t snap them out of their daze and they fell straight into the giant creature’s waiting mouth. Dreams where Lance wasn’t quick enough to shoot the fighters, where he didn’t wake Red in time. Dreams where Pidge didn’t succeed against the sphinx, where she didn’t make it home from the mission to find Matt.

That last one was always the hardest. They were all awful dreams, but any involving Pidge were the worst, because she’s the baby, the little sister they all adopted. She’s the smartest, and the safest, but Keith still remembers when she went head to head with the sphinx, and how small she had seemed.

Shiro’s voice cracks. “You’re dropping like flies,” he repeats. “And I never get to you in time. I never—”

He breaks off then with a strangled sound, and Keith’s heart twists. He grasps Shiro’s shoulder and squeezes. “Hey. We made it, though. Don’t forget that.”

Shiro’s eyes are glassy. “I know. I know we did. It’s hard to remember that when you’re alone at night though.”

Keith frowns, an idea planting its way inside his head. “You don’t have to be alone.”

Shiro looks at him.

Keith swallows. “You know me. I don’t sleep until pretty late. You can come hang out with me until you go sleep.”

And fuck fuck fuck that was the wrong choice of words and he shouldn’t be thinking of Shiro coming to his room at night like that, except he is. Shiro stays quiet, and Keith wants to fall off the cliff face and never pull up because of his stupid suggestion.

Shiro opens his mouth and Keith holds his breath. He expects Shiro to say no, because Shiro is the leader. He’s the older, capable, confident one. Shiro will say something about how he is supposed to protect Keith, and then he’ll laugh it off, because he always thinks Keith is too young to understand.

“Okay,” Shiro says instead, and Keith actually turns to see if he heard correctly. “Yeah, I will.” And then, slowly, so Keith is forced to listen to it: “Thanks, Keith.”

 

— S —

 

Keith’s room is bare. Granted, the Garrison rooms are small anyway, consisting of a mattress in the corner and an en suite opposite. There isn’t much space to personalise, but Pidge’s is crammed with her tech junk, and Lance’s room is decorated generously with photos of his family, and Hunk has cookbooks strewn about and his family siapo hanging on his wall.

Keith has nothing to mark the room as his, only the red paladin armour and the red Garrison uniforms hanging in the wardrobe.

“Hey,” he greets when Shiro knocks on his door.

Shiro tries for a smile, then enters when Keith steps back. Earlier, he had thought about rainchecking and feigning a headache or some Captain duties that couldn’t wait. In the end, he decided against it. Keith didn’t deserve to be lied to, especially not when he was offering to help.

Kosmo is curled on the floor, but he gets to his feet and licks Shiro’s face in greeting. Shiro accepts the affection graciously, petting the wolf’s head and rubbing his ears.

“It’s late,” he says, unsure of else to say.

Keith raises a brow, and Shiro takes that as his cue to sits on the bed beside him. “It is. What did you get up to today?”

“A lot.” Shiro says vaguely and gets to work unlacing his boots. “Usual Captain stuff.”

“Ah,” Keith nods sagely. “Hero stuff.”

“Don’t say it like that,” Shiro huffs, kicking his boots to the side. “I’m not a hero. I just did what had to be done.”

“That’s generally the criteria for heroes, but sure,” Keith says. He always knows the weak points to pick at.

Irritation prickles the back of Shiro’s neck. “Why do you have to say it like that?”

Keith frowns. “I was just joking, Shiro.”

Shiro’s ears are still hot. “You never joke.”

Silence blankets over them like a disease, and the resentment inside Shiro curdles. He contemplates putting his shoes back on and leaving. Why did he come here? He should tell Keith he’s fine dealing with the aftermath on his own; they all are, aren’t they? Pidge hasn’t come to him for help, even though she admitted to having nightmares too. Hunk hasn’t either, and he is the most nervous of all of them. He doesn’t even know about Lance. What kind of fucking leader is he?

Keith’s hand lands on his shoulder. “I’m sorry.”

It’s a simple gesture, but forgiveness floods through Shiro. Keith isn’t tactile at all, but it was the first thing he’d done when Shiro had returned to Earth. It’s an olive branch, with a side dose of hesitance, and Shiro suddenly feels regretful. He should have held his temper in check.

“I’m sorry too. That was unfair of me, snapping at you. I’m not mad at you. I’m just…frustrated.”

“I know,” Keith says, but his tone doesn’t sound convincing.

His blade is on the nightstand, and the purple accents glowing against the wall reminds Shiro of Krolia. Guilt finds him then. He should definitely have exercised more restraint, given Krolia had left the other day and Keith would be missing her.

Shiro gets rid of his socks and tosses them in the general direction of his shoes. He’s never this sloppy usually, but it’s just Keith. Keith, who is appraising him with his arms crossed in front of him like a shield.

“I’m sorry,” Shiro says again.

“Forget about it,” Keith shrugs and Shiro winces. Keith shifts up the bed to lean against the headboard. “You want to talk about it?”

Shiro hesitates. Keith’s words—so quick to sweep aside their disagreement—are a reminder of why his room is barren in the first place. When they first rode together, Keith had talked about nothing other than the hoverbike Shiro had gotten for him. As time passed, and they rode more, Keith would tell Shiro snippets about himself. They were tidbits that would seem insignificant at first glance, but Shiro knew they were evidence of Keith letting him in, trusting him. And one day, he finally told Shiro why, in all their years growing up alongside each other in the Garrison, he had not once decorated his room.

Shiro looks at Keith’s room now, the conversation playing over and over in his mind like a looping video. “Old habits die hard, huh?” he says, gesturing around them.

Keith picks up his pillow and hugs it to him, a protective response. “I guess. You know I don’t like—”

“Getting attached,” Shiro finishes, turning to fold his legs underneath him. “Yes, I know.”

The silence returns. Shiro spies a stray thread on the bedspread and resists the urge to pull it. Knowing his luck, he’ll pull the whole blanket apart. Maybe he’ll use it to stitch himself back together.

Keith doesn’t say so, but he’s waiting for Shiro to talk. Shiro’s comment about Keith’s room was not a very good deflection.

He sighs. “I’m sorry for snapping. It’s like…I just feel suffocated. Like I’m balancing too many plates at once.” He jerks his head up to stare at Keith, imploring him for some understanding. “Does that make sense?”

Keith brushes his hair from his eyes and Shiro’s hands itch, wanting to do that for him. “Yeah, I mean, you’re Captain of the Atlas, Hero of the World—”

“Keith…”

“The Garrison’s Darling,” Keith says anyway. “And then you’re still trying to be Space Dad to us Paladins and be there for Allura and Coran. It’s no wonder you’re feeling overwhelmed.”

Shiro’s mouth quirks. “Doesn’t seem like much when you put it like that.”

“No?” Keith tilts his head. “Compared to you, I’m doing nothing.”

“You’re healing,” Shiro corrects gently, because it wasn’t too long ago that the Paladins were in hospital beds.

“And you’re not,” Keith cuts in. “Can’t you see, Shiro? You’re working yourself to death taking care of us when you’re the one who needs to be taken care of.”

Shiro pauses and stares hard at the wall above Keith’s head. “I just…” He trails off. “I have to stay busy, Keith.”

“No, you don’t,” Keith says. Of course he says that. It’s what he is supposed to say.

“I do,” Shiro tries, and then stops. His throat is closing over what he wants to say, so he just repeats himself. “I need to stay busy.”

Keith rubs a hand over his face. “You can’t, Shiro. Not forever.” He says the next part gently, like he’s worried Shiro will leave. “You have to face it eventually.”

The words hit Shiro in the chest like a bullet and he coughs, blinking at the ceiling. A minute passes, and then more. Shiro counts them off in his head, trying to get his emotions and thoughts together.

“Do you remember what you told me?” he says quietly. “When you told me why you always kept your room how you found it?”

“Yeah?”

“You told me that you didn’t want to have stuff to clean up. That sometimes it was too good to be true, and so it was safer that way.” He closes his eyes and tries to breathe in slowly. “I understand that, now.”

Keith’s eyes are so sad. “Shiro…”

“I’m back on Earth after two years and I’m not who I used to be.” He huffs out a laugh. “It’s so stupid. I hear the microwave go off and I start sweating. My heart goes a mile a second and I can’t get it to stop.” He’s rambling now, like a wayward train speeding on tracks without a brake. “It’s just a microwave, but it’s like I’m on alert for the rest of the day. I keep thinking about what might have happened if we didn’t save Earth, because you’re right; it does feel too good to be true.”

“Shiro.” Keith reaches out to touch him, and that’s when Shiro realises his cheeks are wet. He says nothing else, instead pulling Shiro closer into his lap. Shiro lets himself be held. He’s exhausted suddenly.

“Keith—”

“Shh,” Keith interrupts. “Just—just don’t think, for a bit, okay?”

Keith nuzzles his hair. His breath is warm. He smells like the Garrison soap, and Keith. Keith was never one for physical affection, so the few times they did embrace, Shiro would take note. He could fall asleep surrounded by Keith’s scent.

It doesn’t seem like a bad idea, at least not for now. He lets himself close his eyes. “Okay.”

 

— K —

 

There are no dreams, because Keith never dreams, not anymore. He used to get dreams, before the rift, and then he got nightmares, when they were coming back to Earth, and now he gets nothing. Just the empty, chilling blackness.

He wakes up when Shiro cries out. It’s a broken sob of a thing, desperate and haunting. It sends chills down Keith’s spine.

“Shiro,” he says, ignoring his protesting muscles, stiff from sleeping upright, and shaking Shiro. “Hey. Shiro. Hey, wake up.”

Shiro jolts awake then, his eyes opening. They’re wild, seeking blindly until they find Keith.

“K-Keith,” Shiro stammers, and then the rest of his sentence dies in his mouth as he exhales shakily. “It’s you.”

“Just me,” Keith reassures him. “You had a bad dream.”

Shiro nods jerkily. “Yeah. Bad dream.”

“You’re okay,” Keith murmurs.

He isn’t sure when the two of them fell asleep, but the cricks in his neck suggest they’ve been out for a while. When he tilts his head to one side, he’s answered with three very satisfying but slightly concerning cracks, and that tells him enough. Shiro is still trembling in Keith’s arms, still in his uniform, and it’s dark with sweat. He makes no move to say anything as Keith smooths back his hair, wiping the moisture away.

“Do you wanna go for a shower or something?” Keith suggests, wanting to kiss Shiro’s forehead.

Shiro shudders a little longer. “Okay,” he says.

He unfolds himself from the bed and stumbles over to the bathroom. The wolf whines quietly, pushing his nose into Keith’s hand as if to ask what’s wrong.

“It’s alright,” Keith tells him, going to his wardrobe to search for a change of clothes.

Shiro’s larger, always has been, but he’ll still fit the baggy sweatpants and t-shirt Keith finds in the lesser-used end. Keith bundles them up and takes them with him to the bathroom.

He isn’t planning on doing anything other than dumping the clothes on the toilet seat and leaving, until he sees Shiro. Shiro is bracing himself against the sink countertop, head hanging down. His shirt is in a ball next to the shower, and his naked back is pale in the crude bathroom light.

There are scars, of course. They all have scars on them from their fighting, but one in particular catches Keith’s eye. It’s longer than the rest, spanning from the top knob of Shiro’s spine across to the bottom of his right shoulder blade. Keith reaches out to touch it, and Shiro goes very still.

There’s a well of emotion inside Keith that he doesn’t like to acknowledge. He never has to pay much attention to it anyway, but somehow it always comes to the surface when he’s with Shiro. If he had to name it, he’d call it hurt, but it’s more than that.

It’s filling up inside him when he asks, “What happened here?”

Shiro turns to speak over his shoulder. “Last fight with Sendak.”

Keith bites the inside of his cheek at the memory, at the sheer terror he felt when he saw Shiro about to die at Sendak’s hand. It was like chasing Shiro through the wormhole again, hoping to hell that he was going to make it, because he couldn’t lose him, not another time.

“Shiro…” he says, and then decides Shiro won’t mind when he slides his hand around Shiro’s torso, until he can press up against Shiro and hold him.

The response reminds Keith of an earthquake. Shiro bows like a tree in the wind, falling forward until his head is pressed against the mirror. He sags in Keith’s arms and Keith tightens his grip, the sadness and hurt and pain inside him overflowing.

“It’s okay,” he says into Shiro’s skin, mouth moving against the scar, tasting salt. “It’s okay. You’re okay. I’ve got you.”

Shiro cries then, loud, heaving sobs that strike at Keith like punches. Shiro’s shoulders shake and he keeps making these terrible gulping sounds, and Keith squeezes his eyes shut, repeating himself, over and over and over, like he can heal them both with words.

It goes on forever and Keith just holds on, because he knows that all things come to a natural end. When the worst of the sobbing has subsided, Shiro speaks.

“It’s the same thing.” He sounds worn out, like a threadbare blanket. “It’s always the same. I never get there in time. I never…”

Keith lifts his head from Shiro’s back. He pulls on Shiro’s shoulder until he turns, and then Keith winds an arm around Shiro’s neck and pulls him in. Shiro could be talking about Atlas, or about talking to Lance, or a number of other things, but it doesn’t matter.

“You found us,” Keith reminds him, words muffled in Shiro’s throat. “Don’t you ever forget that. You found us. You saved us.”

Shiro is nodding, but Keith can tell the words aren’t going in. He feels Shiro’s hand rest lightly in the small of his back.

“I did, didn’t I?” Shiro mumbles. “And you,” he pulls back to look at Keith. “You’re here. You’re still here.”

“I’m still here,” Keith agrees. “I’ll always be here.”

Shiro dips his head once, brow pulled together in a frown. “You’re still here,” he says again, and the hand that isn’t on Keith’s back comes up to cradle Keith’s neck. He leans his forehead against Keith’s shoulder and the air rushes out of him.

It’s just the two of them. Keith can feel the press of every fingertip against his neck, against his back. Shiro’s chest is solid and warm, rumbling with each breath.

He isn’t trembling now. Instead his heartbeat thuds against Keith’s chest. Keith still feels that well inside him overflowing, but the rush of it is no longer there. It is a gentle ebb and flow, like lying on a shoreline and letting the waves lap around him. He’s in the water, but he isn’t drowning, not anymore.

“You should go shower,” Keith whispers, afraid of breaking the spell that has fallen upon them.

“I should,” Shiro says, but he doesn’t move back.

He turns his head, tucks his face into the hollow of Keith’s throat this time, and Keith’s stomach flops over on itself in—hope? Anticipation? He isn’t sure.

But nothing else happens.

Shiro pulls away, and Keith returns to the room. He tells himself it’s to give Shiro privacy, but really it’s so he can press his hands to his cheeks. They’re burning. The shower starts and Keith scrubs at his face until the rest of it feels just as hot. He’s past the stage in his life where he would let all his emotions out with a punch to the wall. Now, he sinks to the floor like a tree being felled. He wants to cry, but he doesn’t. Instead, Kosmo rests his head in Keith’s lap and Keith just sits there. He stares blankly at the wall as the well inside him becomes a deep, pulsing ache, rotting away at his core.

He isn’t sure how much time passes. The drum of the water against the tiles stops, and Keith hears Shiro drying off, changing into the clothes Keith found for him.

The bathroom door slides open.

“What are you doing down there?” Shiro chides, like he isn’t the one who woke up with the nightmare.

Keith lets Shiro help him up. They return to bed and settle under the covers, feet bumping each other as they do so. Neither of them speak. Instead, Keith studies the scar on Shiro’s nose and listens to the progression of Shiro’s breathing.

When it evens out into a deep, steady cadence, he turns onto his back to scrutinise the ceiling instead. He thinks back to what Shiro said earlier, about being alone with his thoughts, and about needing to keep busy. The ache within him intensifies. He hadn’t meant for Shiro to sleep in his room, in his bed, but god, if Shiro is facing his demons on his own every time he goes to bed, and making those same terrible sounds, then Keith is going to force him to stay every night.

They’ve never shared a bed like this before, and yet it’s the most natural thing for Keith to curl onto his side again and inch closer into the warmth emanating from Shiro.

Sleep does not come the entire night, like it doesn’t for any of Keith’s nights. Instead he only catches two vargas, and it is mostly just him drifting in and out of consciousness. He sees pools of light, orange and yellow blending together before red bursts from them in a strange, hypnotic dance. They’re nonsensical in nature and a distant memory when he wakes.

Shiro is still slumbering when the dawn security patrol passes. Sleeping Shiro, without his nightmares, is a sight to behold. He’s always been beautiful, but in different ways; at first, like an angel in disguise, and then as close to family as Keith can think, and now this—the kind of beauty that makes Keith’s stomach writhe. His brow is relaxed, and his lashes are black smudges against his cheeks. His jaw is strong, but there’s something about the curve of his mouth, something gentle. Keith notes down the little details in his head into a list, wondering if it will help him drift off to sleep again.

When it fails, he drags himself to the shower to waste some time under the pretence of cleaning when he will probably just watch the water disappear down the drain. Which, he actually does for the first few seconds before he thinks of how much water he would waste, and he grabs the soap with a groan. Paladin status or not, he’s still environmentally aware.

“Morning,” Shiro says when Keith returns to his room to pick out a clean Garrison uniform.

He’s still in the t-shirt Keith found for him earlier, and it’s stretched tight over his broad chest. The list Keith compiled in his head suddenly seems wholly inadequate without the rest of Shiro’s physique.

Shiro gestures to the bed. “Thanks for letting me crash last night.”

Keith nods, fumbling with the wardrobe door. “Sure. Any time.” He chews his lip, then jerks a thumb in the direction of the bathroom. “You can take a shower if you like. I’m going to breakfast.”

Shiro gives him a half-smile and Keith yanks his shirt over his head. His trousers are on in the next second and he barely registers stuffing his feet into shoes before he hightails it to the mess hall.

 

— S —

 

Shiro isn’t planning to go to Keith’s room again that night, but it’s on the way to his, and he pauses. Then he keeps walking.

In the confines of his own room he bathes and changes into the clothes Keith loaned him, and then sits on his bed to meditate.

Damien, the psychologist, was specifically assigned to Shiro and the Voltron Paladins, and Shiro’s first solo session was the week before. Damien hadn’t said much, and he hadn’t asked any of the uncomfortable questions Shiro had anticipated. He had simply asked Shiro to write down his daily schedule, and then given him some homework before sending him on his way.

Shiro had left feeling like the session was pretty useless, but he likes to think everything happens for a reason, within its own time frame, so he has since viewed the interaction in a more positive light. He’s due to see Damien tomorrow, so in the meantime, he might as well follow his coping template and fit in the recommended fifteen minutes of meditating.

He closes his eyes and breathes. In, out. In, out.

Somewhere in time, the line between meditation and dreamscape blurs, and soon he’s back on Talwar Six, speeding through the labyrinths, trying to keep Black straight. Shadows rise up to meet him, latching onto Black’s wings, and this time he’s on Olkarion and those horrible cubes are upon them.

Hunk is the first to be struck by one of the cubes and he falls down, down, down into the canopy below. Lance is next, crashing into the trees. Shiro tries to call out but his voice doesn’t work, and he has to watch as shot after shot is fired at Blue. The Lion’s body spasms grotesquely with each blow and Shiro can’t say anything and where is Pidge? She’s supposed to be here, she’s supposed to be helping, she’s their brightest star—

A blast erupts from the middle cube. It’s a beam of fire, something that could only have originated from Keith, and Shiro sees it meet its maker perfectly.

Keith’s screams ring in his ears.

Shiro opens his eyes, heart racing, throat clogging, but it’s dark and it’s Earth and the only sound is a patrol passing. He hesitates for a moment, and then makes up his mind.

When he taps on Keith’s door, he isn’t expecting Keith to actually be awake. It’s almost two in the morning, after all. He shouldn’t be seeking out comfort like this. It’s so selfish of him. But Keith has saved him before, countless times, and he said it was okay to come to his room, so it’s okay to be asking for help again, it’s totally okay to be standing outside Keith’s room like some stalker after midnight because all he wants is a reminder that he isn’t alone—

“Shiro?” Keith opens his door. His hair is falling into his eyes (usual), but it’s tied back into a ponytail (not usual), and Shiro stumbles over his first sentence entirely.

He restarts. “Did I wake you?”

Keith shakes his head. He lets Shiro in, and pulls back the covers of his bed, an invitation. Shiro crawls under it gratefully, briefly wondering about the other connotations sharing a bed entails. Then Keith climbs in after him with his datapad. It’s open to a phrasebook.

“Galran?”

Keith nods. “I learnt a lot with Mom when we were in the Quantum Flux, but it’s like muscles. If you don’t use it every day, it goes pretty quickly.” He pokes Shiro’s shoulder. “But you didn’t come here to talk. Go sleep.”

Shiro burrows into his pillow for a minute, hugging it to him as his mind trips over possible topics of conversation to stall with, like Krolia and Galran and Kosmo. “Teach me some?”

Keith looks at him quizzically. “You want to learn?”

“Of course I do. It’s part of you.”

Keith looks like he doesn’t know what to say to that, and Shiro pauses, searching Keith’s face. Keith has never been good at receiving attention. Shiro will always remember how years ago, Keith had gone bright red and ducked his head when Shiro had complimented him on his continuing prowess with the flight simulator. Now is no different; his ears have gone pink.

Dude,” Keith says, and something like happiness unfurls in Shiro’s chest.

“What?” he teases, chasing after the feeling, because it’s been so long since he’s felt something other than constant vigilance. “Are you scared your pronunciation is terrible?”

“Fuck off,” Keith says without bite. “Mom said mine’s actually okay.”

Shiro sits up then, rearranging the blanket so it’s still relatively cocooned around him. “How fortunate then that I’m a willing student.”

Keith huffs around an embarrassed smile, and god, Shiro loves the way it warms his bones. “Okay fine.”

They pass the next hour, Keith walking him through the basics, and then he gets a devilish grin teaching Shiro the ‘essentials’, later confirming Shiro’s suspicions when he says they’re swear words.

Eventually Keith turns off his datapad and slides down in bed. “It was a really good two years, y’know. I wish you’d been there with us.”

“Me too,” Shiro says, throat working uncomfortably around something sharp.

Keith is staring at the wall, lost in thought. “Time in the Quantum Flux is crazy. It doesn’t make any sense. If you go through the light you see visions of the past and future.” His fingers drum against the datapad. “You know I saw my fight with Kuron?”

Shiro looks at him sharply. “Did you?”

“Yeah. Just flashes of it. I couldn’t make sense of it at the time.” His voice goes sad. “I wish I’d known.”

Shiro’s gut twists and he’s already reaching out. “You couldn’t have, Keith. Not you, or Lance, or any of the others. I don’t want you guys blaming yourselves.”

Keith’s brow is deeply furrowed. “I should have known, though. I should have known it wasn’t you.”

“Keith, we talked about this,” Shiro says, because they have.

They’d sat on top of Black on one of Saturn’s moons, watching Earth in the distance, waiting to go home. Keith had apologised over and over and over like the words were the mantra he would say for the rest of his life, and each time had broken Shiro a little more until he’d begged Keith to stop.

Keith doesn’t answer now. The circles under his eyes have gotten deeper in the last week. They are shards, mere shards of humans, shattered remnants of who they once were.

“Keith,” Shiro says in the softest voice he can muster. “Let’s go to sleep.”

Keith’s mouth purses around a thought, but he meets Shiro’s eyes. “Sure.”

Shiro pulls the blanket over them. He falls asleep like that, facing Keith. He keeps thinking of fractured people, split right down the middle like fault lines, smelling like blood, dripping through his fingers like water. He thinks of Keith, groaning loudly in his ear, breathing hard. He thinks of emptiness.

The thoughts stop, and he opens his eyes to find morning, to find a warm spot left on the mattress, an empty gaping room. He thinks of Keith, and wonders why he didn’t stay.

 

— K —

 

Healing is at once, a close friend, and a foreign concept. The former, like Keith training with his fellow Blades, cutting himself on their swords. Like Lance in the cryopod. Like Shiro after his transplant into Kuron’s body. The latter, like being unable to sleep. Like the constant hypervigilance. Like hating being alone.

Keith has never felt that last one before. He’s always been a lone wolf, always liked the idea of staying on the fringe of things. He can’t do it anymore. He thought he could, the first morning he’d left his room, and then he had seen James Griffin laughing with the other cadets, and it was like getting sucker punched. He’d gone to the first Paladin he could find—Hunk—and sat in the corner trying to catch his breath because he was so weak from the bedrest. Shay had been there, and the Balmeran had asked Keith what he preferred: the sunrise, or the sunset.

“The sunset,” he had wheezed. “It’s an ending.”

Shay had spoken of the sunrise, of the myriad of colours she could not name. Keith used to hate talking with people more than necessary, but all he could think of then was the palette Shay was describing, of the ocean inside him that he was lost in, and how being in Hunk’s room felt like seeing land on the horizon.

He avoids being alone now. The Garrison hasn’t cleared any of them for proper duty just yet, so he passes his mornings training, trying to get his weight back up. Hunk goes with him most days, and Lance drags himself along later, towards the end of their sessions. Pidge cites her allergies as a reason not to come. Lance teases her for it, but she never joins. That’s fine.

Keith sees her later anyway, when he joins her and Hunk in their lab. Pidge’s face always lights up, like she didn’t see him at breakfast, and Hunk traps him into bear hugs, like they didn’t just spend two hours training together, and then Keith loses himself to their nerdy banter for the next couple of hours. At some point, Lance wanders in and starts moaning about how much work the Alteans are doing until Hunk decides that food is more important and drags them to the commissary.

Keith doesn’t see Shiro much during the day, because Shiro’s wanted by everyone, but when he’s finished showering and getting ready for bed, there is always a knock on the door. On the second night, Keith makes Shiro bring a spare set of sleeping clothes. They talk about safe topics, like what they got up to, until eventually they go quiet so that the more dangerous topics—like Damien’s sessions—are untouched.

Here, Shiro takes the end closest to the wall and closes his eyes. Keith wastes time, sharpening his Blade, learning Galran, reading the news, watching movies on his datapad. Shiro joins him sometimes; other times, the room is quiet and they lie next to each other in the dark.

The night always goes the same though. When Shiro first sleeps, Keith does not. He stays awake for the next couple of vargas until Shiro inevitably wakens, stumbling out of the clutches of a nightmare. Keith places a hand on Shiro’s shoulder as he comes back down. On some nights, it takes forever, and so Keith murmurs little encouragements to him to help.

“It’s alright,” he says. “You’re doing so well. All you have to do is keep breathing. Don’t worry about anything else.”

On other nights, Shiro clears his head in the bathroom by himself. Keith waits for him, and then both of them try to sleep this time. Keith hasn’t slept properly since he woke up in the infirmary, but Shiro doesn’t address it. Perhaps he feels guilty for seeking out Keith’s company.

The closest he does come to asking Keith is on the third night, when he says, “You’ll feel a lot better if you don’t wait up.”

Keith says something noncommittal about not being tired, and it’s such a transparent lie, but Shiro doesn’t push. They both read the handbook Pidge downloaded onto all of their datapads. Everyone has their own timeline of healing, and it’s something that can’t be hastened.

In the morning, Keith leaves before Shiro wakes up. There’s nothing saying you’re not allowed to share rooms—Keith is pretty sure Pidge stays in Hunk’s room sometimes, anyway—and Shiro is the Garrison’s Darling, so he’s a whole rule unto himself, but Keith doesn’t know what to do in when the safety of night has left them, so he never stays. There’s something about Shiro in the softness of the morning, a vulnerability that does different things to Keith, makes his stomach coil and his throat tighten at things he shouldn’t be thinking of.

If Shiro is upset or confused by him not staying, he doesn’t address it. They don’t speak about the sleepovers during the day, and if the other Paladins know, they don’t address it. It’s just not the kind of topic to bring up at the dinner table.

And it isn’t a secret. It’s just…his and Shiro’s to know.

 

— I N T E R L U D E —

 

The last days of Summer are full of rain. It’s a welcome break from the dry heat of the desert. The Paladins are all deemed medically fit enough to train physically with their Lions, so Shiro pushes them towards it. It’s partly to benefit all of them, to get them outdoors, away from the near-stifling atmosphere of routine at the Garrison, but it also gives Allura an outlet for her stress.

The wreckage of the robot attacker has revealed an Altean pilot, and so all anyone thinks of is Lotor. There may be the chance that the Altean colony the prince cultivated has is rising up by themselves, but it’s far more likely that he survived the rift and is on his way to wreak havoc upon Earth one robot at a time.

“Leave it to Captain Holt’s team, Princess,” Shiro tells her when they hear the news. “The others need you.”

That’s always been their thing, putting the needs of the others first, and maybe Shiro is manipulating the leader inside her, but it’s good for her, for all of them. Voltron needs a training partner, and the Atlas is a developing child, so they learn together in the daily torrential downpours.

Afterwards, they gather in the common room. Hunk makes them hot chocolate and coffee and they all take turns versing each other on Pidge’s gaming console as the skies darken.

When the rain clears and the sun makes a brief appearance as it sets, they relocate to the mess hall. As a captain, Shiro is supposed to sit in a different section, but he exploits his newfound status as what Keith likes to call ‘Garrison Darling’ to stay with his team. They’re family to him.

And then, when Pidge disappears to spend time with her family, and Allura and Romelle leave for the Altean pilot’s ward, Keith looks at Shiro with that same soft expression he had when Shiro opened his eyes for the first time since being lost to Black’s mindscape.

And they walk and walk and walk to Keith’s room, and Shiro doesn’t think twice anymore as he strips off his uniform and tosses it in the direction of the laundry hamper. Keith gets his datapad out and Shiro lies next to him, and when he wakes up two or three vargas later after his nightmare, Keith is there to place a grounding hand on his shoulder.

And they go to sleep, both of them now, and Summer comes to a close on that frame: the two of them sharing a bed, curled into the shadows of each other that they leave on the mattress, too afraid of what might happen if they close the gap, terrified of what might happen if they never do.

 

— A U T U M N —

 

— K —

 

The Paladins all have their favourite seasons. Lance and Hunk adore Summer because it reminds them of their tropical homes, whilst Pidge prefers the cold. Allura likes Spring, because of the blooms. Keith likes Autumn most; it isn’t sticky and dry like Summer, or freezing like Winter. Autumn means blazing trees and ground that crunches underfoot. Autumn colours the world in a fiery palette of chestnut, amber, and vermilion.

And after a week of crispy winds and the slow decay of Summer, Autumn borrows a storm from its predecessor.

Keith watches its approach, breathing it in. Lightning cracks across the sky, splintering the clouds, thunder rolling along behind it. It smells like energy and burning.

It’s Pidge and him, sitting on top of the Garrison. Pidge is typing furiously at her laptop, pausing only to move to one of her other gadgets that are piled around her.

Keith takes note of the oversized rugby jersey she’s practically drowning in—Hunk’s, going by the pattern and ‘Samoa’ in block print. They’re rarely seen without each other these days, but tonight Hunk is with Shay and her brother.

Pidge had told him that a little petulantly, and Keith had hidden a smile in his sleeve as he sat next to her. Pidge isn’t very good at sharing. Never has been. He’d actually come up here to get some energy from the storm into him and be alone for once, wanting the space, but he always has time for her.

A sheet of lightning blankets above the mountain range, followed by a muted rumble.

Keith watches it fade as he asks, “How are you doing, Pidge?”

“I’m fine,” Pidge says quickly, far too quickly for her normal fast-paced way of talking.

Keith stalls. So he might be dealing with insomnia, sure, and Shiro is coming to his room every night to chase away the nightmares with his company, and Lance is quieter than usual, and Hunk is no longer laughing as often as he did, but Pidge—Pidge isn’t eating. She’s always been skinny, but it’s so pronounced now, the way her collarbones stick out, and how her wrists are so thin, Keith could wrap his hand around and snap them. Her thighs are the size of Keith’s arms, and the roundness of her face is gone.

“How are you?” Pidge asks, and Keith wonders if she’s talking about the dark circles around his eyes, or the tablet packet she had to pick up earlier when it fell from his pocket.

“Doing okay, I guess.”

Pidge nods, eyes glued to her screen. “Me too, then.”

Keith can already feel the conversation slipping away and he runs through a mental list of sentences that might possibly keep it going. “Pidge?”

“Keith,” Pidge smirks, because she always knows when he’s trying to be subtle.

He frowns, then ploughs forward anyway with a casual, “You need to stop stealing Hunk’s sweaters.”

“I look so much better in them though. And excuse me?” She tears her eyes from the screen to glare accusingly at him. “I don’t steal them. I borrow them. They go back to him. Eventually.”

Keith laughs a little at that. “Sure. I’m just looking out for Hunk’s wardrobe. Plus, they’re always ten times too big for you.”

Maybe it’s subconscious, the way Pidge wraps the jersey tighter and curls in on herself. “I’m just growing into them.”

Keith tries so hard to be careful. “You’re going to have to eat a whale to grow big enough then.”

“Well that’s unfair. Hunk has his giant Islander genes. All my parents gave me was a peanut allergy and aversion to sunlight.”

He’s so, so bad at this. “They gave you their Italian taste buds too.”

It’s the closest thing he can think of saying that is just neutral enough to avoid stepping on live wires. Pidge’s typing slows. The cursor on the screen blinks mockingly at the two of them.

“You know, I never thought I’d miss the food goo,” she says. “And when we were all on the Lions and Hunk used to make us food—that was nice, despite the circumstances.”

“Yeah, it was.”

She takes her glasses off to clean them. She’s always doing it because they’re perpetually dirty. “Are you sleeping alright, Keith?”

He touches the area under his eye. There isn’t much point in lying. “No, not really.” And, because her words have opened the door, he says, “Are you eating alright?”

Pidge pushes her laptop away and hugs her knees to her chest. She’s so small, this girl who he’s adopted as his little sister, who has seen so much war at only sixteen.

“Not really,” she says quietly.

Rain falls in the distance, overtaking the mountain range. He gets it, kind of. He feels like he’s always swimming, except he can’t enjoy the temperature, or the sensation of floating, or the feeling of being free. Instead, it’s like his limbs are full of lead, and he’s just trying to keep his head above water.

“Surviving is hard,” Pidge says, voice brittle, and Keith lets go of a breath he hadn’t known he was holding. She gets it too, then. "There's so much left to pick up."

Keith scratches at the concrete. Christ, he’s so fucking bad at this. He was never good at comforting, not before Kerberos, nor after Voltron, and certainly not since being Black’s pilot. He still cringes a little at his way of dealing with Lance when Shiro had returned. He tried with Hunk, before they saved Earth, and it had gone alright, but Shiro is the only person Keith feels he knows exactly what to say.

"You know,” he starts slowly. “I read somewhere that it’s a little like a shipwreck. You’re stuck at sea, clinging to driftwood, and all the grief and the sadness and anger and shit are like waves.” Pidge stays silent, so Keith figures he can’t be doing any worse. “And the waves come and all you can do is hold on. But you make it. Sometimes they’re just little splashes, sometimes they’re taller than buildings. But you know you’ll get through them.”

Pidge is still resting her chin on her knees, but she turns a little to speak, in the smallest voice, “I think this might be the biggest wave yet.”

Keith’s chest constricts. He isn’t Hunk, and he isn’t Shiro either, or even Lance, but he can be Keith. So he shuffles closer and puts an arm around her, and says, “You should try and eat.”

“I don’t want to talk about it,” Pidge says, and Keith nods, because that’s fine, and normal, and he hates talking, too, and he’d probably say the same if Pidge told him to try and sleep. “I’m so tired.”

“Me too.”

The horizon is a washout, rain hammering the earth. They won’t have long until it reaches them.

“How’s Shiro?” Pidge asks.

So nonchalantly said, and yet at the mention of him, Keith’s heartbeat picks up. He takes his eyes away from the storm to search Pidge’s face, but she’s staring at her ridiculously long sleeves. “He’s okay. Why?”

Pidge shrugs. “He had a bad nightmare a few weeks ago but he's been so busy lately I never got the chance to check in with him. I figured you’re probably the only one he makes time for.”

Small pangs of guilt bloom in Keith’s ribcage. “Sorry.”

“No, it’s okay. You two have always been super close.” She finally looks up at him, and Keith sees the approaching storm reflected in her glasses. Somehow, they’re already smudged again. “Thanks.”

Keith isn’t sure what she is thanking him for. For talking? For looking out for Shiro?

He wants to ask, but the weather has other plans. The first of the rain arrives in a smattering of droplets that are large enough to make Pidge pack up her equipment. Keith helps as the droplets quickly turn to bigger ones, and they just make it back inside for the downpour to begin.

They carry her stuff to her room. She’s such a teenager: there’s junk everywhere. Undeterred, Pidge steps through the room placing each piece of equipment in its apparent designated place amongst the mess. Keith doesn’t even try to help her, just makes himself as small as possible in the doorway.

When she’s done, he gives her a proper hug.

“Take care of yourself,” he murmurs into her hair. “Okay, Pidge?”

Her arms dig into his sides, and he can feel her ribcage. He knows she’s brushing him off when she says, “Yeah, I will.”

 

— S —

 

It may officially be Autumn, but Summer has decided to have a last hurrah and lend the cooler season one of its storms. Shiro spends the better part of an hour watching the rain sluice down the windows, wanting nothing more than to stand outside and be completely at the mercy of the elements, wanting to be taken away with the storm.

Alas, his responsibilities with organising Earth’s contribution to the Voltron Coalition don’t let him.

It’s a small meeting, comprised of Iverson, Sam Holt, and Commander Sablan. The focus is on coordinating Earth’s recovery. The Voltron Coalition forces are making headway, but there are still miles and miles to go. Sendak’s invasion left Earth bleeding out. The added fact that the much larger threat of whoever sent the Altean robeast is looming in the distance is enough to make Shiro want to dive headfirst into an unbroken lake.

“We should discuss Atlas’ role in restoring the universe,” Shiro says before he can take it back.

Sablan nods once, but says, “We need to focus on our own, for now.”

“I agree, but we should still make plans,” Shiro says firmly, because as much as he wants to help Earth, they are one planet out of countless others. “It’s been a couple of months since the last robeast; the Paladins are training almost daily with the Atlas. Sending rebel scouts around the solar system is not enough. We need to know of our surrounding star systems, something Voltron is more than capable of.”

“Earth is the priority,” Sablan soothes. “We will cross that bridge when we get to it, Captain.”

Shiro wants to scream.

He makes a beeline for Keith’s room when he’s done. “Come run with me?”

Keith shoves his datapad away without hesitation. “Fuck yes.”

In five minutes, they’re outside being battered by the storm. This was a fantastic idea, stripping down to running clothes and racing through the Garrison. Rain pelts at Shiro’s skin painfully as he sprints, stinging his eyes, blurring his vision. He’s burning up, flames beginning in the bottom of his ribcage and licking at his chest, crawling into his lungs and searing him from the inside. He wants them to scorch his organs. He wants them to devour him whole.

They have an hour before curfew and the weather isn’t letting up any time soon. Thunder claps overhead. Lilac flashes illuminate the clouds. The sky is a hulking mass above, hitting the earth. Shiro wants it to find him. He wants to be struck, to be brought to life with the force of it.

Keith runs ahead of him, and that makes Shiro reach out, makes him grab the first thing he can—Keith’s arm—because he’s always been competitive and he is not going to be bested by Keith.

“Hey!” Keith protests, breathless and slippery as a fish.

Shiro tightens his grip, before a bolt of lightning hits too close to where they are, and now Keith is the one pulling, dragging him under the nearest awning.

He’s laughing, high and carefree and beautiful, and Shiro laughs with him. They’re soaked to the bone as they duck under cover. He can’t stop laughing as he stumbles back, meeting the wall. Keith’s eyes are crinkled in mirth, and his hair is plastered to his forehead, and this look suits him too.

Shiro hooks his arm around Keith’s neck, grinning like a madman, and Keith comes so, so, so willingly that Shiro’s chest squeezes a little too hard. He hides his face in Keith’s shoulder, heart thudding a million miles a second, from the running, from the emotional high, and the rain doesn’t stop; if anything, it’s even harder now, roaring in their ears.

Keith says nothing as his arm folds over Shiro’s waist. Shiro holds that arm, wanting the closeness of it. His pulse is still going crazy, his lungs are still on fire, and the lactic acid is building in his calves, but the cacophony of the storm is the only thing on his mind. They are so insignificant. They are nothing but skin and bones and muscles.

“Shiro?” Keith says, and when Shiro looks up, he sees Galra violet. “You wanna go get warm?” Keith murmurs, and Shiro presses his nose to Keith’s wet hair, breathing him in, stalling, trying to clear his mind again.

God, he wants to kiss him. “Yeah,” he agrees instead.

They go to Shiro’s room this time. It’s closer to where they were running, and Kosmo teleports himself inside as soon as Shiro closes the door. Shiro wonders how he knew where they were. Keith is shivering now, so Shiro prods him into the shower, clothes and all.

Keith’s teeth are chattering but he frowns when Shiro turns to go. “Aren’t you coming?”

Shiro pauses. “I’ll go for one later.”

“Just get in,” Keith says in such a grumpy tone. “Waste of water otherwise.”

Shiro doesn’t comment on how they usually shower separately in Keith’s room, stepping into the cubicle and wincing at the temperature. He’s already cold. He isn’t a fan of actually dying from hypothermia.

“How do you shower in this?” he asks, clenching his teeth together. “It’s freezing.”

Keith makes a face. “It’s fine.”

“Maybe it’s the Galra in you,” Shiro says.

“Maybe.”

Keith has always run warmer than anyone else, always skirting along the top end of the normal temperature range of humans. It was a point of concern on all his physical exams, until time passed and Keith’s health remained stable, and the Garrison figured he was just an anomaly. Little did they know.

Shiro is jealous of Keith’s thermoregulation. He’s standing under the tepid spray like it’s a spa. Shiro, on the other hand, is gritting his teeth and running through a mental checklist.

Keith smirks when he sees how hard Shiro is trying to keep it together. “You can turn it up, you know.”

“Oh, thank god.”

Keith laughs again, the way he did under the awning, and Shiro watches him, heart impossibly soft.

Baby, he thinks, the endearment entering his mind and sitting on his tongue without permission. He hammers it back into submission.

Keith is the first to remove his shirt. Shiro has to blink back some sort of emotion that he’s too scared to name at the scars that line Keith’s chest, shoulders, arms.

And oh, it burns him, burns his eyes and his hands and his lungs. It makes him want to hold Keith still and kiss each and every one of those scars. How could Keith ever say he was weak? He’s the strongest person Shiro knows.

Shiro takes his own shirt off, but they don’t undress further, and the water soaks their trousers. It almost feels a little silly, having a shower still clothed, until Keith puts his head under the spray and breathes out, long and slow. Shiro swallows hard at that, suddenly grateful they're dressed, grateful he can't contemplate the muscles of Keith's thighs. Keith keeps his head under and Shiro focuses on the blue glow of his prosthetic. The water drums loudly against the tiles.

When Shiro’s skin is beginning to turn pink from the heat, they climb out.

Shiro fetches Keith clothing to wear and balls up their wet gear into the hamper. His skin is still slightly sticky from not drying himself properly, and his clothes are a little big on Keith, but it’s not nearly as bad as Pidge whenever she wears Hunk’s jumpers—which, now that Shiro thinks about it, is pretty much every day—because she always looks like she is swimming in them.

“Do you want to stay here tonight?” Keith asks quietly.

He hasn’t dried his hair properly. It drips down his neck, wetting the collar of Shiro’s (too-big) shirt.

“Yeah,” Shiro says, and he climbs into bed without another word.

Keith follows, and they lie together, just like all the other nights, except Shiro’s heart is thumping and he can’t seem to get his breathing even. It’s so loud.

He turns his head, looks to see Keith on his back, clearly trying to get to sleep but too tense. Keith never gets enough sleep these days.

Shiro shifts then, lining himself up beside Keith until their sides are pressed together, warm and comforting. When nothing changes, Shiro rolls onto his side. Carefully, he rests his arm across Keith’s stomach.

Keith’s breath leaves him again like in the shower, but this time it’s shaky and hurried. He sniffs, and holds Shiro’s wrist.

They're in the same position they were in outside in the rain, and the response is like the lions’ barriers falling. The tension bleeds out of Keith, onto the mattress, onto the floor. It washes over Shiro like a tidal wave and leaves him boneless.

“Goodnight,” he says into the silence.

“Night,” Keith says.

Shiro’s first dream is of drowning in sunlight, of being swept away by the snow. Flakes land on his lashes and make his vision hazy, colouring the world white and gold.

His second is a bottomless black, a vast expanse of ink and coolth, like shadows, except these ebb around him gently. He opens his mouth to it and obsidian enters, flooding through, reaching into every part of him.

The third begins with a memory: of Lance, flirting horribly with Allura in front of Blue, whilst the rest of the Paladins watch on in varying states of amusement. Then they’re in Voltron to fight the monster from the Balmera, except they’re on Taujeer, and Shiro is piloting Black whilst Keith stands next to him in his Blade uniform. God, he's a dream in that uniform.

Shiro knows how this one goes, where they will all fall to the ground like flakes of ash and he won’t ever get to them in time—and it does go a little like that, but it also doesn’t. The monster splits them into their Lions again, but now Shiro is in Atlas and he catches them. He catches each and every one of them.

Then he wakes, and it’s morning already. He blinks, the haze of his dreams leaving him. And he tries to catch them, like he caught his Paladins, but they don’t stay. They leave him like smoke and he’s staring up into nothing, trying to hold onto the feeling they gave him, trying to put a name to it.

The bed shifts, and all of a sudden he realises he isn’t alone. Keith is next to him, his features soft with sleep. And the feeling from the dreams intensifies, and Shiro’s eyes are stinging as it rains down on him in sheets: relief, relief, relief.

 

— K —

 

There are good days, and there are bad days, and then there are particularly shitty days that need their own category. It’s one of those days.

It starts at breakfast. Keith is jumpy, crawling out of his own skin. He wakes in the morning to an empty room, loneliness clogging his windpipe. Then he hears the tap running, the sound of Shiro brushing his teeth, and the cloying sensation changes to nerves.

Shiro is still in pyjamas when he crows a greeting, and when he settles on the bed and speaks about how he slept, he licks his lips, and Keith has to look away at the tendril of want that rises within him.

They eat breakfast in the mess hall and the ball of nerves grows larger with each passing second. His heart feels like it’s stuck in his throat and his stomach keeps clenching. Shiro keeps trying to talk and all Keith can do is shrug, pushing scrambled egg around his plate. And then he runs out of egg to pile into the top right corner, so Keith starts pulling his bacon into strips.

Shiro is talking about them returning to duty in the next fortnight. His words remind Keith of a hive of bees.

“I’m sick of waiting around,” Keith says. The buzzing doesn’t stop. He lays his palms flat on the table, trying to shut it up.

“You were only in a moonboot a couple of weeks ago, Keith,” Shiro points out. “Healing takes time.”

“I know. I spent two years on a space whale trying not to lose my mind. I got patient.”

“You got big too,” Shiro comments.

His eyes slide over Keith, over his face, shoulders, arms. Keith wants to imagine Shiro lingers at the different points. He wants to reach out and press his thumb to the swell of Shiro’s smile. He wants to curl into a corner and hide until the sun has gone down.

Shiro says nothing else, waiting for an answer. Keith has exhausted his supply of bacon now, so he tears them into squares, praying his face doesn’t betray him.

“It was all that training,” he says, the words thick like syrup in his mouth. “I’ll show you.”

So they go to one of the training rooms, and Shiro arms himself with his—their?—bayard. Keith activates his Marmorite Blade, trying to empty his mind of anything other than fighting.

“First to yield,” he smirks, despite the fluttering in his chest, and it begins.

Shiro strikes first, on the offensive from the get go as always, and Keith parries. He trained daily in the Quantum Flux with his mother, getting used to her swordsmanship. She fights a lot like him—aggressive, unpredictable—but there is a calmness to her that Keith has never managed to copy.

He sees the same patience in Shiro’s first movement, but it’s more targeted, glancing off Keith’s blade. It hits him then, the memory of the last time they were together like this, fighting amongst the collapsing facility, and he stumbles backwards.

“Keith?” Shiro asks, voice worried.

“I’m fine,” Keith grinds out, even though he definitely isn’t.

His stomach is flipping over on itself and the ball of nerves is now a gigantic pulsing mass and he’s putting all his focus into not getting carried away with the tide.

They start again, Shiro frowning as he does, and Keith realises he’s softened his blows. He lunges forward, angry suddenly, at Shiro, at himself. He’s a Blade, he knows how to wield a quiznaking sword.

“Fight properly, fuck, ” Keith snaps, thrusting out. He’s only just deflected, and his gut curdles.

Shiro is still frowning. “Keith…” he trails off, but then his bayard comes down hard, and Keith barely manages to block it before Shiro is coming at him again.

They clash together, ringing throughout the room, and Keith remembers this, struggling to keep Shiro at bay without hurting him. His hits are getting sloppy. He can’t see properly. It hurts.

He grazes the side of Shiro’s shoulder and Shiro defends with his fist, and suddenly the current from before is back, swirling around Keith’s legs, rising up and up and up. Keith swings out wildly, meeting air, but the water doesn’t stop. His legs are sinking into mud and the sky is darkening.

“Shiro?” he says, frantic as the horror creeps in.

Shiro’s eyes are Kuron purple, and the grin he wears is like a gaping wound, ugly and awful. It doesn’t belong on such a beautiful face, Keith loves that face, but the water is still coming. It laps the tanks of all those clones, so many of them, so much of Shiro.

“Oh,” Keith whispers as the water closes in over his head. He’s being dragged down, down, down, drowning in red and purple light. “Shiro?”

“Keith,” Shiro calls.

His voice is muffled underwater, and Keith can’t swim. His legs aren’t working. There’s no oxygen in his lungs anymore.

“Keith!” Shiro says again.

He’s in the water too now, he’s grasping Keith’s shoulders and pulling him up, back to the air, but it won’t work, it isn’t going to work—and everything is shaking now, bringing Keith to the surface. It isn’t crimson and violet, it’s a white so bright it’s blinding, and Keith shields his eyes in pain.

“Breathe,” Shiro says, and Keith tries but nothing goes in.

His lungs are about to burst. “Shiro,” he just about begs. “Please.”

“Hey,” Shiro says firmly.

His hands dig into the pressure points of Keith’s shoulders, sending white hot bolts directly to his head. The brightness begins to fade, like Keith isn’t staring directly at the sun anymore, and finally, the spinning of the room starts to slow down.

It’s the Garrison. And that isn’t Kuron in front of him, that’s Shiro, with white hair and dark concerned eyes.

“Keith…”

“Fuck.” Keith covers his mouth with his hand as he falls to his knees.

“Hey, hey now,” Shiro says gently, falling with him.

They are skyscrapers being demolished, the very foundations of them crumbling to ash. Keith’s muscles are locking and unlocking one by one as Shiro hauls him into his arms like a ragdoll.

In the back of his mind, he thinks oddly of Damien. The psychologist told him that during flashbacks it would help if he listed his surroundings but Keith’s eyelids are heavier than lead. He’ll open them eventually; he just needs a second to breathe.

“You’re okay,” Shiro murmurs in his ear. “It’s okay.”

“Yeah,” Keith mumbles.

Mint permeates Shiro’s clothes and Keith burrows in closer, chasing the scent and warmth. He misses his mom. And Kolivan. But they left. Everyone always leaves. Even Shiro left.

“I’m not going anywhere,” Shiro says, and that’s when Keith realises he’s been speaking out loud.

“Okay.”

“Just breathe,” Shiro reminds him, so Keith does. “It’s okay.”

Keith feels the beat of Shiro’s heart under his ear. Shiro’s chest is solid and real and dry. It rumbles with each breath, rising and falling. Keith’s eyes burn.

“I’ve got you,” Shiro says, and Keith is a lake overflowing.

He’s never cried in front of anyone. Ever. Not even Shiro, and Shiro has almost seen the entirety of Keith’s emotional spectrum. But this, this comes upon him like a storm. It’s uncontrollable, unstoppable. It takes him and he’s helpless. He can’t do anything, just lets himself be held. The tears spill over and fall down his cheeks. He’s being torn to pieces. The well inside him is a river bursting its banks.

Shiro’s arms tighten around him, strength and goodness, and Keith clings on as wave after wave washes over him. It’s breaking him, it’s healing him, pulling him apart only to put him back together. He lets it take him.

When the whirlwind dies down, when the storm passes, it might have been hours. Keith doesn’t know. His face feels sticky with salt, and his eyes are sore. He is an open wound injected with anaesthetic. Shiro’s face is pressed against his. He’s holding onto Keith as if he was the one in the storm.

A moment comes to Keith then, a memory. It’s of Shiro, opening his eyes after Keith killed Sendak. Keith held Shiro a little like this, as if with such a simple gesture, he would take the pain away.

Sitting in Shiro’s arms, Keith desperately wants it to.

 

— S —

 

Shiro takes Keith to the common room, folding him onto the couch like origami. He isn’t quite ready to attempt to make any kind of hot beverage, so he brings Keith a glass of water.

"Drink," he says. "It'll make you feel better."

The laugh Keith gives is dry, like the stale crackers Shiro once ate when he was ten and starving, the ones that made his eyes water and his throat rasp and his stomach unsatisfied.

"I’m so tired," Keith says, and god, he sounds so small.

Shiro crumples, and he pulls Keith close, wraps around those strong shoulders. "It gets better," he says.

"Please," Keith says in that same awful voice, and Shiro cradles his head, because he can’t have Keith like that.

“It gets better,” he repeats.

And Keith cries again, sobs that make him shudder and curl in on himself. Each one lances through Shiro like a hot knife.

“I’m sorry,” Shiro says, because he doesn’t know what else to say.

Keith’s hand is clasped tightly over his mouth, like he’s trying to keep the sadness in. He keeps making sounds like he’s wounded. Shiro tucks Keith’s face against his shoulder. He wraps his arms around Keith until he can hold the opposite sides of him.

“Focus on this,” Shiro murmurs to him. “Just this.”

He’s talking about the warmth of Keith’s body against his, the way their chests move together as they breathe. Maybe that’s what makes the fight leave Keith, or maybe it isn’t. Whatever it is, the crying slows, like the dregs of honey pouring from the jar.

When it eventually stops, Keith extricates himself and stands. He refills the glass and drinks quietly, and Shiro is going to hell for thinking of how attractive the sight of Keith’s throat working is.

“Thanks,” Keith says over his shoulder.

Shiro nods.

They don’t talk about it, because Keith has never liked talking, and he’s never cried in front of anyone, and a dozen more reasons that Shiro doesn’t even want to think of. They don’t talk about it that night either, lying ramrod straight in bed, not touching, waiting for sleep to claim them.

They don’t talk about it and it festers between them, curdling the air above their heads, suffocating their dreams. Sleep comes in waves. Keith doesn’t hang around in the morning. Shiro is torn between feeling hurt and angry.

He sees Damien at lunch time. They sit in his small office and all Shiro can think of is the whiteness of it.

“How are you feeling, Shiro?”

Words flit through Shiro’s mind as he studies the psychologist. Damien is not a conventionally attractive man. His face is too long, his eyes too narrow. His glasses are thick-rimmed, but his hair is the same shade as Keith’s. Jet black. Completely opposite to the colour of the room.

“Frustrated,” Shiro settles on.

Damien writes something down. The white walls seem to grow a little larger.

At dinner time, Keith doesn’t join them. He isn’t in his room, either, nor the common room. Eventually Shiro tracks him down in the boxing gym.

Keith is attacking one of the punching bags with wrapped fists. Shiro leans against the wall and crosses his arms, taking advantage of Keith’s ignorance to watch him. His movements are so sharp. They always have been.

“You gonna stand there all day or come and fight?”

He isn’t as invisible as he hoped. Shiro steps forward from the shadows, uncrossing his arms. Keith is staring at his right wrist in frustration, tugging on the end of the wrapping.

“Well?” he says.

Shiro pauses. He knows that tone. “I’m not here to fight with you, Keith.”

“Why the fuck not?” Keith snaps.

Shiro holds up his hands. “I’m not sure, Keith, maybe because last time went so spectacularly?”

Keith’s eyes narrow at him. Then he clicks his tongue, undoing the wrapping. Shiro follows the movement, trying to keep his temper in check. It’s never been this close to the surface before.

“I’m not made of porcelain.”

Shiro crosses his arms again. “You’re not made of diamond, either. Don’t be so stubborn about this.”

Keith’s laugh is humourless. “You sound like Damien.”

It’s a dig, meant to rile Shiro up, and it works momentarily. He has to stamp down on the spike of anger. “I’m serious, Keith.”

Keith begins wrapping his wrist again, more precise this time. Shiro waits for him to reach his index finger before he speaks.

“Is everything okay?”

Keith snorts. “Yeah, Shiro, just peachy.”

“Don’t do that. I’m trying to help.”

Keith has to redo the wrapping of his middle finger. Shiro thinks of yesterday, how Keith had set the glass down on the counter and stalked out without another word.

“It’s okay to cry, you know.”

Keith snaps his head up to meet Shiro’s gaze. “I know.”

“Then what’s got you so worked up?”

Keith’s mouth turns down at the corners, like he’s tasted some of Coran’s focusing food. “I’m just angry.”

“At what? You’ve held me when I cried. This isn’t any different—”

“Look,” Keith interrupts. “Sometimes I wake up in the morning and I can’t even brush my teeth. It’s that fucking pathetic. And yesterday just reminded me how much further I have to go.”

“Keith…”

“I hate this. Everything is just so hard. It’s not the crying, it’s the fact that a year ago I wasn’t this broken fucking mess. I just want it all to stop.”

Shiro doesn’t know if it’s safe to reach out. “It gets better. I promise.”

“When?” Keith says bitterly. “You’re always here being the strong one and I just want to be that person, just once.”

Shiro aches. “Don't say that.”

“Why not? Why the fuck not?”

“Because you are that person, Keith.” Shiro searches for the right words, and then decides to just blunder his way through it. “Every night you're there for me, without fail. I'm such a mess when I wake up and yet you're always there.”

And god, this is supposed to be about Keith, but Shiro feels like he’s the one about to cry now.

Keith’s brow does not soften.

Shiro keeps blabbering on. “The other day when we ran in the rain? That’s the closest I’ve been to feeling alive in forever.”

“Fractal energy,” Keith disagrees.

“You,” Shiro counters. “Fractal energy, sure, but you, running with me. And you laughing? You were so carefree, I couldn't help but join in. I haven't laughed like that in so long.”

“So? Not exactly groundbreaking.”

“You've no idea what you do for me, do you?” Shiro says softly. “No idea how much you've been there for me.”

“Shiro.”

“All these years, on Earth, in space. You've saved me so many times. You save me every time I wake up.”

“Shiro,” Keith says again, a flush slowly crawling up his neck.

Shiro's pulse sounds like thunder in his ears, because there's so much more he wants to say except every time he goes to, it sounds too much like an I love you and now is really not the fucking time.

Silence clogs the air. The seconds tick by.

Fuck fuck fuck—

“You can't imagine how much you mean to me,” Shiro confesses, in a rush and all at once, and it's too close too close too close to the truth. He feels like his heart is sitting on the ground between them, split in two, bleeding out.

Keith says nothing. He’s testing the wrapping around his hand, but Shiro knows it’s a pretence, and suddenly he wishes his hands were busy too.

“I think I might have an idea,” Keith says quietly, but that's slightly ridiculous, because he'll never know, not without Shiro telling him everything and he can't, Keith doesn't need that hanging above his head.

Shiro sighs out, trying to get his pulse under control. “You're the strongest person I know,” he says, the same words from all those weeks ago when Keith was doing his rehab. “But even you can’t rush this kind of thing. You’ve got to wait it out.” He bites his lip, then says, “Patience—”

“Yields focus,” Keith finishes with a roll of his eyes. “I know.”

He doesn’t meet Shiro’s gaze, instead staring at his hands. Shiro reaches out this time.

“Come here?” he asks, and when he pulls gently, Keith comes.

He turns his head into Shiro’s neck, and Shiro can feel a small smile against his cheek.

“Thanks.”

“Any time,” Shiro says.

Keith’s hands squeeze Shiro’s sides. His mouth moves down to Shiro’s jaw, pressing there, an almost kiss, and for a moment, Shiro wants more. He wants Keith to turn him inside out.

Except nothing happens.

Hunk enters the room, clearly there at Pidge’s bidding to bring the pair of them to the dinner table. Keith’s smile stays imprinted there, though, and later on, when they’re in bed, Keith is the one to put his hand on Shiro’s arm.

“Thank you,” he says, and they dream together.

 

— K —

 

The Garrison decides the next training block will consist of the Paladins, the IGF-Atlas, and the MFE pilots. His mother left training simulations for the Paladins, ones they never got to explore on their expedition back to Earth after the rift, and Veronica copies them over to Atlas so they can all try them out.

Shiro informs them all in a mini briefing the day before

Keith shrugs when he first hears, because it’s fine. The feud between him and Griffin is pretty resolved, even if Keith still thinks that Griffin is too pedantic, and Griffin probably thinks he’s too disrespectful.

Lance, on the other hand, groans. “More training? I’d much rather be helping the Coalition.”

“That brings me to the second part,” Shiro says, but he doesn’t continue.

Pidge raises a brow and asks what they’re all thinking: “What is it, Shiro?”

Shiro’s face is a perfect mask. “The Garrison wants us to focus on our defence, first. The Coalition will continue without us for now.”

Keith forgets entirely about working with Griffin. “What? Why?”

Shiro’s jaw ticks. “The Coalition is doing well enough, considering the circumstances, and you Paladins aren’t fully healed yet.”

Keith gestures to his bootless foot. “We’re pretty damn healed.”

Allura addresses him this time, using her painfully patient voice. “It’s not just physical health, Keith.”

Her words make Keith think of his last session with Damien. The psychologist hadn’t prompted him to say anything, but Keith had talked about his fight with Shiro.

“I couldn’t stop crying,” he had said, staring at the too-white walls. “It was weird.”

Damien had looked at his notepad with that painfully-neutral expression that Keith reckons all psychologists are taught. “Have you tried training with him since?”

“No. He probably won’t want to.”

“Have you asked?”

“No.”

The scratching of the pen against paper stuck with Keith. “Why don’t you scale it back? Try something other than sparring with swords?”

Which, Keith was going to ask Shiro to do tonight, until Shiro had ushered them all into the conference room to talk.

Lance’s brows are drawn together. “Then when the quiznak are we going to get back out there? We’ve been here for what, close to three months? The Galra are probably regrouping as we speak!”

Keith nods in agreement. They’re wasting time.

“We can’t afford to get sloppy in our defence,” Shiro says. “The Coalition will be fine. Seriously, guys, at the moment it’s only for two weeks.”

“That’s a long time, Shiro,” Hunk says tentatively. “At least, in war.”

Lance gestures vaguely at Shiro. “So you’re saying after two weeks then what? We’ll join the Coalition? Or are they going to turn around and say we have to stay here?”

“Look,” Shiro bites out and Keith raises a brow, unused to seeing Shiro lose his leader façade so quickly. “I know this is frustrating to be hearing, but I’m just the messenger. We haven’t even started talks about joining the war yet.”

Keith stares at him, wanting to stand up and scream.

Pidge does it for him. She gets to her feet and slams her small fists on the table. “That’s ridiculous. We’re the defenders of the Universe. As far as I’m concerned, we don’t have to listen to the stupid Garrison. There are people out there who need our help!”

“Pidge—” Hunk says in an attempt to soothe her but she cuts him off.

“We’re the Paladins of Voltron.” Pidge’s teeth are clenched. “The War is coming and we’re supposed to just train whilst the rest of the Universe helps us rebuild our home planet? We need to be helping them.”

Allura tries next. “Pidge, the Coalition is made of those planets we helped along the way. They’re happy to be helping—”

“Yeah, whilst we just sit here ‘training’,” Pidge interrupts. “We saved Earth and now we’re not even allowed out.”

Allura stands her ground. “It’s for our own safety, Pidge.”

“It’s because the Garrison can’t get their shit together,” Pidge corrects.

Her eyes are red with fury. She’s always been so stubborn. For a moment, Keith thinks that maybe she’ll burst into tears of frustration, but she sets her jaw.

“You know what? Fuck the Garrison.” She storms out of the room, threatening, “Either the Board starts preparations for War or I’m leaving without it.”

Pidge— ” Lance stands immediately, making to go after her.

“No, wait,” Allura stops him. “I’ll do it.”

“Let me help,” Lance snaps back, something Keith isn’t sure he’s ever seen when the sharpshooter is talking to the princess.

They both chase after her, leaving the rest of them in the room. Hunk sighs, and then he too, stands, mumbling something about making sure Pidge doesn’t kill the other two as he leaves.

Then it’s quiet. Too quiet. Irritation prickles Keith’s fingers. They’re like needles, stabbing at his skin, and he stares at the door.

He can feel Shiro’s eyes on him.

“Don’t,” he says when Shiro opens his mouth, and it clicks shut again. “I know what you’re going to say.”

Shiro walks over to him wordlessly. His Altean hand comes to rest on the table next to Keith. Keith isn’t trapped, not by a mile, but the proximity makes his heart rate pick up.

“Do you?” Shiro asks softly.

The light behind him is almost a halo. Keith used to think he missed Shiro’s black hair, but with Shiro in front of him like this, he can’t think of anything except silver.

Shiro’s left hand is tucked in the pocket of his trousers. “I know this is frustrating. But don’t forget you’re a leader. They follow your example.”

Keith scowls. “Yep, you just said what I knew you would say.”

Shiro smiles briefly but it doesn’t reach his eyes. “Would you accept it from anyone else?”

Keith knows Shiro is aware he doesn’t need to ask the question. The answer is written all over Keith’s face. Sometimes he feels it in his bones.

“No.” He lets his arms unwind, wanting Shiro to close the gap. “Sorry.”

“Don’t be,” Shiro says. “I’m frustrated too.”

Keith stares at the black panels of Shiro’s uniform. He follows the gold detailing, roams over the stretch of the shirt over Shiro’s shoulders. “You’ve always been better at hiding it.”

“Only because you never saw me at my worst.” Then he grins. It's devastating. “Although, you’ve definitely seen me now.”

Keith fixes his gaze on the line of Shiro's jaw and tries not to think of bruising it with his mouth. “Yeah, well, same to you.”

Shiro scratches the back of his neck at Keith's casual mention of the other day. “Are you feeling any better?”

Keith shrugs. “Yeah, talked to Damien about it. He actually suggested we try again.”

Shiro stiffens, imperceptibly, but Keith has been around him for too long not to notice the subtle changes. “I don’t think that’s a good idea, Keith.”

“Damien thinks it is.” Keith hugs his arms to himself again. “Doesn’t have to be long. And if we’re careful…” He trails off, almost snorting at the double entendre their conversation has.

The crinkle of Shiro’s eyes already tells Keith he’s thinking the same thing. “I’ll think about it.”

“Hey, I’ll take it.”

Shiro’s grin is contagious. “We’d better stop Pidge before she tears the whole Garrison down.”

Keith imagines it happening. He can see her standing amongst the ruins like Joan of Arc. “Yeah, we’d better.”

It feels like the right time to embrace, to kiss Shiro’s cheek, and the curve of his smile, but Keith isn’t brave enough. As they’re walking down the corridor, he wonders if he ever will be.

 

— S —

 

Shiro had been full of faux confidence and motivation when he’d told his Paladins about the upcoming two weeks, because standing before them, he had been Captain Shirogane of the IGF-Atlas; because it was the right thing to be doing; because the Coalition had done without them for two months, and another fortnight wasn’t going to make too much of a difference.

Except now he is Shiro, and the past two weeks have dragged on for so long that Shiro is wondering if they’ll ever reach the end.

At least they’re organising the return to war. Pidge had marched to Iverson’s office with the fires of Hell behind her, demanding a conference to discuss Voltron leaving Earth. She had been met with resistance. Then she’d marched to Sablan’s office with the fires of Hell and the fury of her mother, and made the same demand. Sablan had regarded her coolly. Pidge had returned the favour.

The next day there had been a conference. Krolia and Kolivan had videoed in. The rebel leaders had been there, and the Paladins and MFE pilots and Atlas crew.

“It is clear,” Iverson had started. “That despite Earth being safe, the Universe is still wartorn. Though I cannot guarantee any specific timeframes, we will be starting preparations to join the front.”

It seems like so long ago, now. Commander Holt is continually making changes and repairs, so they all have a lot to do in terms of training.

Autumn brings winds that challenge their flight patterns, sunsets that linger, and dusty golden evenings. It brings inky nights with cool undertones, nightmares that Shiro wakes up with, and Keith’s strong hands.

Shiro could die happily held by those hands.

The MFE pilots are a good crew to work with, and the days are like a slow defrosting. They all worked together when they were fighting off Sendak, but Shiro knows the heat of battle forces everyone together, so it’s good to be learning how to work as a team organically.

Rizavi and Pidge spend the first session making video game references, and then leave for Rizavi’s room to play together when it’s over. The others are more reserved, but Kinkade takes Lance to the shooting range after a few days, and Shiro sees them walking together afterwards, arguing about who won.

Keith and Griffin are too civil to each other.

Shiro asks him about it after the fourth day, and Keith shrugs, the roll of the movement making his shirt—Shiro’s shirt, the one he borrowed last night and didn’t give back—slip off his shoulder.

Shiro forgets what he was asking about as he stares at the smooth skin.

“He’s just…kind of got a stick up his ass,” Keith says, righting the shirt. “You already know this. We’ve never gotten along.”

It takes a good deal longer than it should for Shiro to find his train of thought again. “Well, you’ve both grown. He doesn’t seem that bad.”

Keith comes to bed then. “He’s not. We’ll get there, I guess.”

Shiro gives him a small smile, and Keith turns the light off. Marmorite purple glows on the nightstand as they sleep, facing each other.

The next day, Shiro sees Keith and Griffin talking together. Keith’s arms are uncrossed. His stance is relaxed, and he isn’t frowning. Griffin isn’t on the defensive either. It looks a lot like respect. It makes Shiro’s heart soft.

He leaves them to their conversation in the hangar and goes to the common room. Lance is the only one there.

He’s never sat properly in a chair since Shiro met him, and currently he’s curled into the corner of the couch, one knee pulled up as the foot on the ground bounces restlessly. He’s staring at the ground, lost in thought.

“Lance?” Shiro questions when he enters and the sharpshooter doesn’t acknowledge him as usual. “Is everything okay?”

“Huh?” Lance snaps his head up.

“Are you okay?”

“Yeah!” Lance says far too readily. “Yeah, just…thinking…”

Shiro is trying to figure out how best to open up a conversation on what it is that Lance is thinking about, when the sharpshooter does it for him.

“Can I ask you something?”

“Go ahead.”

Lance worries his thumb between his teeth for a minute. “So I’ve been thinking a lot about the robot. I mean, I guess we all have. I’m worried about Allura.”

Shiro wants to ask Lance’s opinion on the robot, but he says, “She’s stronger than we give her credit for.”

“I know,” Lance says. “But still. Lotor fooled all of us, and he basically confessed his love for her when we were all fighting him in his Sincline ships. What if it is him? What if he comes back and he harms Allura, or…I don’t know,” he lowers his voice. “What if she decides she’s still in love with him? It sounds so stupid when I say it out loud.”

Understanding blooms in Shiro. It’s the kind of conversation that should be discussed over something hot, but Hunk is not here, and Lance is too caught up in his thoughts. Shiro takes a deep breath. He’s Captain of the IGF-Atlas now. He’s the oldest. He’s always been the leader.

It’s just coffee. It isn’t anything more than grounds and water. It doesn’t have to be perfect.

Lance has not said anything further. Shiro doesn’t have much choice. He stands and goes to the kitchenette. The coffee maker blinks mockingly at him as he steels himself, then switches it on.

“It’s not stupid, Lance.”

“No?” Lance says, all grumpy. “Sometimes I catch myself staring at her and have to leave. She’s so great, you know? She’s got such a big heart and she always tries to do the right thing. She’s got the weight of restoring her entire Altean civilisation on her shoulders, but she always has time for everyone. I just want to be someone she can count on.”

Shiro smiles at that. Keith comes to mind, then, standing in the gym, angry and beautiful as he told Shiro how much he wanted to be the one to help Shiro.

“I was engaged, once,” he hears himself saying.

Lance just about shrieks. “What the quiznak?

Shiro nods. “He was killed in the Galran invasion. Now that I look back on it, we were probably too young. Too naïve. But we were together for three years.”

“What…what happened?”

The coffee begins to boil. “He didn’t want me to go to Kerberos. And I didn’t want—I couldn’t stay. So we broke up.”

He doesn’t need to turn around to know that by now, Lance’s eyes are probably bugging out of his head. Shiro’s hands are shaking. “Do you have sugar?”

Lance doesn’t answer the question. “But you guys were engaged.”

“Yes, I know.” Shiro puts a teaspoon into Lance’s cup, because the sharpshooter adores candy, so sweetened coffee makes sense. “Leaving him hurt so much. I felt like I had ripped off a limb.”

“Didn’t you love him?”

That makes Shiro pause from stirring, heart squeezing gently. “Yes. I did.” He throws the spoon in the sink. It clatters loudly. “But we couldn’t compromise without dying to ourselves. I guess what I’m trying to say is that if you two love each other enough, if you’re meant to be, you’ll figure it out because it’s what you both want.”

Lance goes a shade of red brighter than Keith’s uniform. “I just want her to be happy.”

“She probably feels the same too.” Shiro pads back over with the coffee and gives one to Lance. “Have faith in your relationship. Trust her.”

Lance takes a sip then, and Shiro breathes a little sigh of relief when he doesn’t immediately spit it back out. “Do you think you would have gotten back with him? What was his name?”

“Adam.” Shiro swirls the liquid around in his cup, not quite brave enough to drink it yet. “And no, I don’t think so. I was gone for six years in his timeline.”

“You mean you don’t think you two were meant to be?”

Shiro shakes his head. “Not necessarily. But I’m different to who I used to be. I never wanted help, or sympathy. I always wanted to do things on my own. It’s only since Keith—since you guys, that I’ve learned it’s not a bad thing to need help, or to accept it. People change, Lance. You either grow together or apart, and neither are better than the other. It’s just growth.”

Lance nods. “I feel like we’re growing, maybe. I know I was a pain when I first met her. But she makes me try to be a better person.” Lance drinks another uneventful mouthful. “I just get so frustrated when she treats me like a silly boy from Cuba. I know she doesn’t mean it—half the time she doesn’t even realise it, but it still sucks.”

Shiro watches him, wondering the extent of their relationship. They’ve never made anything official, or if they have, then he hasn’t heard. “Have you talked with her about it?”

Lance stares down into his cup. “Not really. I probably should but I don’t want her to think of me as someone who can’t figure it out on his own.”

Shiro smiles. “Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable in front of her. Relationships are all about communication. You guys must talk.”

Lance sighs. “Yeah, but we don’t talk like that. We’re not like you and Keith.”

Shiro balks, to his surprise. He hasn’t talked to anyone else about the sleepovers, even though there isn’t anything salacious about it. They’re a family. It’s not against the rules. There isn't even anything between Keith and him anyway.

“What do you mean?”

Lance waves his hand. “Well, you and Keith always seem to know how to talk together. And I know you guys have been in each other’s lives for years longer than the rest of us. I just don’t know how to get that with Allura.”

Shiro’s mouth opens and closes around nothing. He’s at a loss on what to answer. “Time helps. And trust. Just be open with her, Lance. You’re good at that.”

“Okay. Thanks, Shiro.”

“Sure thing.”

He drinks his coffee then, as Lance crosses his arms again and returns to brooding. The coffee slides down his throat, sugar and caffeine, too hot. It isn’t perfect—nowhere near—but...it’s okay.

 

— K —

 

When Shiro had said two weeks, Keith hadn’t thought they would be so damned long. And they’ve been difficult, training daily with the MFEs and Atlas. He doesn’t think he’s ever had DOMS last for over a week, but they’ve trained twice a day except Sundays, and every muscle in his body is protesting any kind of movement.

On top of training, he’s been tasked with visiting the other garrison facilities around Earth to oversee the upgrading of their defence systems. Commander Holt gives him a basic portfolio, but apart from that, he's on his own.

Pidge is in the Amazon with some of the Olkari engineers, working to find a more efficient way to harness their renewable energy sources. Hunk is hacking away at the Garrison’s commissary under the guidance of the Head Chef. Lance is teaching the latest influx of cadets in the flight simulator with Griffin, and Allura spends almost all of her time with Romelle in the med bay when she isn’t on wormhole duty.

Keith supposes it’s a good thing that they’re busy now, after so long of just waiting around, and he feels almost bad for wanting another break. No, not break. Just an afternoon off. The war to end, maybe.

He’s just so tired. His mother sent through a message to him on Monday, saying how she missed him, and how she and Kolivan had found another small Blade faction.

Keith sat outside after and watched the clouds, wondering why the hole in his chest was getting bigger with each day. Time was supposed to heal wounds, not worsen them.

He’s irritable at training that afternoon. Lance notices and asks if he’s alright, but Keith doesn’t have any patience to not snap at him. Lance fires back, understandably, until Hunk tells them to knock it off.

“I thought we were past acting like kids,” Hunk grumbles. “Lance is right, Keith. Pull your head in.”

Keith sighs. “Sorry, Lance. And guys.”

“It’s fine,” Lance says in a tone that very much suggests that everything is not fine. “Let’s just get this over with.”

They train with the MFEs for two vargas, and it’s almost a relief when they disband and store their Lions in the hangar.

He’s not hungry. The others mention dinner and he says he’ll take the night off. He sees Pidge frown and almost snaps at her too. She can’t judge him when she’s the one barely eating in the first place. Lance links arms with her though and Hunk grabs her by the other to guide her towards the mess hall, so Keith is saved from any confrontation.

“Everything okay?” Shiro asks before he heads off with the others.

Keith wants to scream until his throat bleeds. “Fine,” he says instead. “I’m just tired.”

“I’ll see you later, okay?” Shiro says and Keith nods.

Honestly, he’s beyond caring at this point if he’s going to sleep by himself or not tonight. He’s too tired.

The room is a muted brown. Keith doesn't have the energy to do anything other than crawling onto his bed, and then he lies there, in the dark, fully clothed. He's so tired. He just wants to sleep forever.

He should take his socks off, at least. He feels grimy from the day. A shower would probably do wonders, but that requires him to get up, and take his clothes off and turn on the taps and wait for the temperature to even out, and then he'll have to wash his hair and dry off and find new clothes and that’s—that’s too difficult right now. So he lies there and does nothing apart from breathe, and stare at the wall.

He has no way of knowing the time without consulting his datapad, so he just lets it tick by unchecked. He’s almost too tired to sleep.

It’s a long time of counting breaths before there's a knock on the door.

“Keith?” It's Shiro.

Keith fumbles blindly for the pad next to his bed and presses the button to unlock the door. It opens and shuts, and then Keith feels the air shift as Shiro moves through the room. He should turn over and greet him but the very thought of moving still makes him exhausted.

"Hey."

Shiro's voice is soft and warm, like an afternoon in Spring. Keith wants to turn his face up to that sunshine and let it wash over him.

Hands are on him then, and he's being pulled into his back.

"At least take your socks off," Shiro chides.

Cool air hits Keith's feet as the socks are removed. Shiro must have turned on the air conditioning. Keith shivers. He should probably tug the blanket over him.

"Come shower."

Keith makes a sort of noise that is meant to be a protest. He just wants to sleep.

"Come on. It'll make you feel better."

Shiro’s right, Keith knows that. The water will wash away the dirt and dust and it will soothe his aching muscles. But it’s a lot of effort. So much easier to just stay in bed.

“Keith,” Shiro prompts. “Come on.”

Keith groans, knowing Shiro isn’t going to let the point go, and he sits up. His circulation doesn’t work properly for the first few moments and he's left with vertigo, dazed and dizzy.

Shiro rewards him with a smile, and then enters the bathroom. Keith hears the shower being turned on and closes his eyes. He's so tired.

The warm hands are back. They tug at the hem of his shirt. His arms feel like lead as he lifts them above his head, and then the warmth is pressing against his ribs, drifting down, stopping at his hips.

Lower, Keith thinks, and then Shiro's hands squeeze and Keith shudders. Harder. Break them.

"Go shower."

Keith does as he's told. The water runs down the drain in a swirling pattern. Keith almost forgets to wash his hair, except Shiro does it for him. Keith isn’t sure when Shiro got in the shower, but Shiro’s hands are scrubbing at his scalp and Keith isn’t keen on getting shampoo in his eyes, so he closes them and lets Shiro do what he wants.

His hands are so warm. So is the water. Keith doesn’t want to leave it now, even though he knows it’s a waste to just be staring at the tiled floor and letting the showerhead rain down on his back.

Shiro kept his shirt on. It’s black and soaked. He looks amazing.

Keith closes his eyes again. He’s too tired for these trains of thought.

The shower stops, and Shiro holds out a towel for him to step into. Keith can’t remember the last time anyone has done that for him.

Shiro takes off his shirt whilst Keith is drying off, and it hits the floor with a wet slap. The trousers are next, and Keith hides his face in his towel, almost desperate with the want curling in his stomach.

Fuck.

When he returns to the room, he finds Shiro has turned on the bedside lamp. Keith’s reflection stares at him from the wardrobe mirror, and he wonders if he can blame its yellow glow for the way his cheekbones are sharper and the lines under his eyes are deeper.

Maybe.

Maybe not.

He dresses just in time for Shiro to exit the bathroom in fresh sleeping clothes. “Feeling better?”

“Yeah. Thanks.”

Shiro’s smile is a beautiful thing. “Any time.”

The sheets are like silk when Keith climbs back into bed. Shiro follows, pulling the blankets around them before he lines up against Keith's back to hold him.

Keith can barely breathe.

Shiro’s never held Keith like this, so closely, so encompassing. His heartbeat thuds against Keith’s spine. His nose presses into Keith’s hair, breaths warm. Keith feels heat creep up his neck as Shiro’s closed mouth rests against the nape. He wants Shiro to bite him there. He wants to turn around in these arms and have Shiro peel away the layers until they are skin upon skin upon skin.

It's a small blessing that Shiro is low enough to keep his hips from meeting Keith's ass. Keith isn't sure he'd survive that.

“Goodnight, Keith,” Shiro says, and suddenly he sounds as exhausted as Keith feels.

They should probably talk about Keith’s temper today. Damien encourages it, but Shiro doesn’t make a move to, and Keith has always hated talking.

So he holds the wrist wrapped around his stomach instead, and this is familiar, which comforts him amongst the unrest he feels from being spooned. “Goodnight, Shiro.”

They spend the night like that.

 

— S —

 

The memorial is set up on the west side of the Garrison so that when sunset arrives, the room is bathed in the fiery glow. Shiro is sitting in front of it at such a time, basking in the last of the light. He’s been here for the past half hour, feeling lost.

Footsteps. “Thought I might find you here.” It’s Keith.

“Hey,” Shiro says, patting the ground beside him. “Want to join?”

“Sure,” Keith says, crouching down.

They both look up then, eyes seeking out Adam’s tag. It’s on the left where the wall curves, out of direct sunlight and able to be seen at this time without causing blindness. The right side is not so kind, a wall of molten yellow that hurts to look at.

“I almost miss him,” Shiro whispers. “There’s so much I should have said to him.”

Keith’s hand is on his shoulder now. “He would have been proud of you.”

Shiro studies the plaque as memories blossom under his skin. “He would have, wouldn’t he? He always wanted the best for me.”

“He did,” Keith agrees.

Shiro’s memories with Adam sit underneath his ribcage, and he puts his hand to them. Two years ago, they bled freely, staining his thoughts and actions. A year later, they throbbed and ached. Now, they are like scar tissue, numb in places, mildly sensitive in others.

Shiro seeks Keith’s free hand out almost subconsciously, and then stops himself from holding onto it. “You’ve always been there for me.”

“I try,” Keith answers. “My life would be so different if I hadn’t met you. I’m just trying to even the score.”

Shiro thinks of Keith saving him with Black, of picking him up from the Galra fighter, of seeing him in Black’s quintessence and rescuing him, of doing what Shiro wasn’t strong enough to do and killing Sendak. His heart is impossibly soft. “You have more than evened the score, Keith.”

“Then I plan on continuing it,” Keith says stubbornly.

A memory comes to Shiro: one of Kuron’s, of his. They both belong to him now. “As many times as it takes?”

“As many times as it takes,” Keith confirms. “You know I will.” Keith’s hand is still right next to Shiro’s, and it’s what he’s looking at when he says, “Sometimes you have to forget what you think, and remember what you deserve.”

The softness within Shiro turns to a sort of ache. “And that is?”

“Patience. From yourself.”

Keith helps him to his feet, and they go riding then, into the civil twilight. Keith goes ahead, hair flying behind him, a creature of the sky. The air stings Shiro’s eyes and makes his jaw ache, but as the two of them careen out of control, something dormant shifts within him.

The horizon stretches on before them as it awakens, slowly, surely.

It’s rising inside him when they stop on a cliff. It makes Shiro tackle Keith off his bike, lungs bursting as they wrestle in the dirt. Dusk is on Keith’s face and his eyes are full of constellations when they look up at Shiro, and that’s love Shiro sees, clear as daylight, clear as the time Keith told Kuron—him—at the facility. It's love, sure as the setting sun, and it sings bone-deep, leaves Shiro gasping for air.

It’s such a precious gift being given to him—broken, disabled him— by Keith, over and over and over.

“You win,” he groans, collapsing on top.

He does it because otherwise, he's going to kiss Keith. Otherwise he's going to kiss him breathless and then Keith will reach into his ribcage and find the furnace of Shiro's love for him, and Shiro knows Keith won't think twice about holding it if Shiro asked, and he can't burn Keith like that. Shiro’s pretty sure Keith would burn alive for him.

So he stays still. He does not kiss Keith.

Be grateful for what you have, he berates himself. Don’t be so fucking selfish.

“I can’t breathe,” Keith grumbles, but his arms come up around Shiro and trap him there.

Shiro laughs into Keith’s shoulder at the hypocrisy of it before he rolls off to the side. His uniform is full of dust but he doesn’t care. Nightfall is approaching, and with it, the stars are coming out.

“Can you believe we spent a year up there?”

Keith hums. “It went so quickly, didn’t it? All those stars and they’re only the ones in our galaxy. So many planets and worlds, and we barely touched any of them.”

“Hunk would have a field day learning all those cultures.”

“Yeah, he would.”

They could talk more, but Shiro lets the conversation drift away. The humming under his skin is beginning to settle, no longer threatening to erupt out of his chest. He can't stop replaying the memory of Keith beneath him, and it's started a different feeling in him, a new sort of restlessness.

Keith—always happier being quiet—has his eyes trained on the stars, but he reaches out to lightly touch Shiro's hip. “What're you thinking about?”

You.

“Earlier,” Shiro lies.

“Adam?”

“No,” Shiro says with a shake of his head. “What you said about patience.”

“Oh that. Yeah, Damien said a few things like that to me the other day,” Keith says, screwing his nose up slightly, “and they just kind of stuck with me.”

“Oh? What were the others?”

Keith huffs then, as if he’s embarrassed. “That…healing isn’t a linear process.” When Shiro doesn’t respond, Keith says, “That slow progress is still progress.” And he reaches out and holds Shiro’s hand, as if the brush along Shiro’s hip earlier had been testing the waters.

“Slow progress is still progress,” Shiro repeats, eyes stinging.

It feels like losing something, but Shiro doesn’t know what he’s letting go of.

Keith’s fingers spread, then interlock with Shiro’s and squeeze once, a reassurance. Shiro’s heart twists. He wants to fold Keith into his arms and never let go.

What did I do to deserve you? He thinks.

Keith says nothing else, and they watch the sky purpling with moonrise. Curfew creeps up on them far quicker than Shiro wants it to, and they have to speed back to the Garrison to make it.

Later that evening, Shiro showers and changes into nightclothes, and then brushes his teeth. Keith is outside in bed already, with Kosmo curled on the floor, and the reminder is a little confidence boost.

It’s what Shiro is thinking of when he looks at his reflection, what he’s holding on to so that he doesn’t immediately look away. His mouth is full of foam, and the lines are still under his eyes. His brow is still furrowed, his arms still frail. He doesn’t look changed at all, but the feeling from the memorial hasn’t gone. As if he’s rousing from a long sleep.

 

— K —

 

Unsurprisingly, they’re not sent to join the relief force in the next week. Training continues and the board meetings are endless. Keith flies to Russia to check out the garrison base there and swears he almost freezes from the cold. His mother sends a message, mentioning something about returning to Earth in the next phoeb or so. Keith lifts weights with Lance, shoots rounds in the firing range alone, and runs laps of the Garrison with Ryan and James, and still no change in anything. He has his first proper interaction with Axca—she’s in line to get food, and it would have been rude to not say hello—and then he makes up his mind.

He goes to Shiro’s office before lunch. Thankfully it’s empty of anyone else. Usually Shiro will be with Commander Holt or Veronica, poring over Atlas plans.

“Come train with me,” Keith says, Marmorite blade in hand.

He sees the hesitance on Shiro’s face, and bites down on the surge of frustration. Shiro has every right to be cautious, but Keith figures it can’t go much worse than last time.

“Come on. It’ll be good.”

Shiro regards him warily. “Do you really think that’s a good idea?”

“I have no clue,” Keith says cheerily. “Want to find out?”

Shiro sighs as he gets to his feet. “I worry for the others under your Voltron leadership,” he says, but it’s with a smile, and Keith realises he’s joking.

“Well I couldn’t fill your shoes, could I, Captain?”

Shiro goes a little pink at that. “Shut up, Keith.”

“Ha,” Keith pokes him. “Make me, Captain.”

And, Keith never thought that would be a thing, but the pink settles high on Shiro’s cheeks and the way he’s looking at Keith isn’t something Keith has the balls to label.

Shiro shoves him away. “Let’s go.”

Keith grins like an idiot and leads the way.

“First to yield,” Keith says as Shiro activates his bayard.

For a while, nothing happens. It’s almost a dance, the way they strike and parry one another in a revolving circle. No words are spoken; it’s just the two of them and the clang of swords.

Keith almost forgets why Shiro was worried in the first place, until Shiro backs him into the corner, sword scraping the wall above Keith’s head, just like Kuron against the tanks of clones, and Keith flinches.

Shiro draws back immediately, blade held to the side. “Are you okay?”

Keith shakes his head, like he can get rid of the memories. “I’m fine.”

“We can stop.”

“I’m fine.”

He makes a ‘come here’ motion with his fingers, knowing the gesture will bring out Shiro’s competitive side, and he swallows hard when Shiro proves him right and smirks, before running at him.

Don’t think, just feel.

He falls into the strike of Shiro’s blade against his and kicks out, foot landing square in Shiro’s chest and shoving him backwards. Shiro isn’t ready for the next swing of Keith’s blade and he has to go on the defensive.

Once, twice, thrice Keith strikes, and then Shiro gets the upper hand again and knocks Keith’s blade from his hands. Keith ducks under the sweeping lunge Shiro makes, before charging forward to tackle him to the ground. Shiro lands on his back, sword skidding to the other end of the mat as he blocks Keith’s left hook.

Even after three years in space using swords, Keith much prefers using his fists. He spent most of his earlier years dealing with his problems with them, and so he surrenders himself to the ebb and flow of fighting like this. It’s muscle memory: jab, jab, right hook, left uppercut, block—

Shiro rolls with it, just lets Keith pummel at him, and for a moment Keith worries, wonders if even though he’s pulling his punches, Shiro is shutting down, except then Shiro lands a solid blow to his cheekbone that he’s pretty sure will give him whiplash.

Never mind then. He gets his legs around Shiro and uses his body weight to flip him, trapping him into a back mount. “Yield,” he pants.

“You first,” Shiro replies, and because he’s bigger and has a fucking robotic arm, he throws Keith off, sending him flying.

The ground is unforgivably hard when Keith crashes onto his back, and he doesn’t have any time to try and get up because Shiro is upon him then, grabbing his wrists. His left hand is slammed to the floor above his head, the other to the side of him, Shiro’s grip like manacles.

Shiro’s weight presses down, his chest against Keith’s. His hair is in his eyes and suddenly the stuttering of Keith’s heart has nothing to do with their sparring.

Christ, he’s beautiful. He’s so, so beautiful.

“Yield,” Shiro breathes, utterly unaware of the way Keith’s heart is doing somersaults in his ribcage. Then he shifts, and his pelvis meets Keith’s.

They freeze.

Shiro is hard.

And, because the universe is an absolute clusterfuck of happenings, so is Keith.

Shiro doesn’t speak, instead ducking his head to press their temples together. He’s breathing loudly, each ragged intake going directly into Keith’s ear and straight to his dick. Keith is too scared to say anything, too afraid of what it all means and what he might hear back.

Seconds tick by, and then minutes, and what feels like years as they lie there, panting together. Shiro lifts his head, eyes seeking Keith’s. The contact burns, but Keith tells himself to keep it, because Shiro only gets that funny determination in his eye when he’s looking for something.

Keith knows the moment when Shiro finds what he’s searching for, because he leans down and kisses him.

Whatthefuck—

For a scared second, Keith is staring at the ceiling in shock, but Shiro is still there afterwards, still pressing his closed lips against Keith’s. Keith feels the strong lines of tension in Shiro’s body. They’re in his shoulders, stretching all the way down into his hands, burning Keith’s wrists.

Keith opens his mouth without a second thought.

He always thought it would feel like a glass shattering. It doesn’t, though. It feels like those rare storms they used to get when he lived with his dad, like rain pattering on the deck, soaking his clothes, drenching his skin, a promise of better things, of healing. Kissing Shiro feels a little like that, and Keith takes and takes and takes. He’s a desert coming to life after drought and Shiro pours into him, an endless source of water and coolth.

Their mouths slide against each other, wet and insistent, and Keith shivers. He wants to be closer. His hands aren’t free from Shiro’s grip, but his legs are, and they wind themselves around Shiro’s waist like vines, urging them together. Their hips meet properly and Keith gasps out the side of his mouth. Shiro gasps too, and then he rocks against Keith, really grinds down onto him, and Keith has to stop to try and get air into his lungs. There isn’t enough oxygen. Shiro keeps rocking his hips into Keith’s, and he still isn’t close enough.

“Shiro—” Keith tries, because they’re still in the training rooms and anyone could walk in on them, but then he gets a little lost when he licks the inside of Shiro’s top lip.

Shiro groans at that, a deep, throaty sound that makes every nerve ending in Keith sing. Fuck the others.

Except, Shiro doesn’t. He stops suddenly, pulling back and saying, “Wait, wait.”

His lips are swollen and his chest is heaving and fuck, Keith can see the line of his erection from here.

“We should stop,” Shiro pants, all gravelly and Keith is so, so wound up, they can’t just stop here— so he cranes his neck up and bites Shiro’s bottom lip and the sound Shiro makes is desperate. “Keith,” Shiro admonishes, but he lets Keith kiss him, and then he answers with one of his own, and his hips slot against Keith’s again and they grind together this time.

Keith tests the grip around his wrists, but Shiro’s hands squeeze once, like a warning, and then his tongue is in Keith’s mouth, yes, good

The doors open with a hiss.

Shiro wrenches his mouth from Keith’s, head snapping to the side just in time to see Hunk and Pidge to walk in.

“Hey, guys,” Hunk waves, oblivious.

Keith swallows. Shiro is still braced above him, still pinning Keith to the ground with his hands and his hips and fuck, they’re both still hard too. It could totally pass as the two of them sparring, were it not for the fact that guilt is writ all over Shiro’s face.

Shiro recovers quicker than Keith, because he always knows what to say. “Hey, you two. Coming to spar?”

“Yeah,” Pidge beams, holding up her bayard. “There’s a bunch of yoga kids next door. Are you guys done or can we join?”

“Ooh, good idea, Pidge,” Hunk adds. “We can take turns!”

Shiro coughs delicately and Keith shakes his head. “Ah, no. We’re done, actually. Well I’m done. I’ve gotta…I told James I’d help him with…something,” he finishes lamely.

It’s so glaringly obvious that he is making excuses, because when does he ever make time for James Griffin, but he’s too far gone now to come up some other excuse. His words mean that Shiro finally moves though, and it’s like leaving the safety of a hearth. The ground is cold beneath Keith as he rolls onto his stomach and he focuses on that feeling as he gets to his feet and fetches his blade.

“Have fun,” he mumbles, tucking it into his belt, and then he flees.

 

— S —

 

Shiro isn’t expecting the knock on his door. It’s the first time he’s stayed in his own room this late—usually he would be in Keith’s bed right now, but it hadn’t felt like the most normal thing to do after their kiss in the sparring room, and so he had been procrastinating to avoid the inevitable walk and awful conversation and door slamming in his face.

Kiss, his subconscious taunts him. It wasn’t so much of a kiss as it was a full-on makeout. Shiro wonders how far it would have gone if Pidge and Hunk hadn’t walked in on them, and then he stops, because that’s a dangerous train of thought he shouldn’t be entertaining.

When he opens the door, Keith is standing there. His hair is so long now, he has to tie it up in a ponytail. Shiro loves the way his fringe falls into his eyes.

“Can I come in?”

Keith’s tone is mildly offended, making Shiro realise he’s been staring. He stands aside guiltily. “Yeah, sorry.”

Keith passes him without further comment. He’s wearing his normal pyjamas, but he has his Mamorite blade strapped to his waist. Shiro follows the movements of Keith’s hands as he undoes it and sets it on the nightstand. Then he turns to face Shiro.

“This is okay, right?”

“Of course.”

Keith nods like it makes sense, even though it kind of doesn’t. “I just figured…I mean, I didn’t think you’d come tonight, so…” and he trails off, like he thinks Shiro can read his mind, which, he absolutely can’t.

“I would have come,” he lies.

Keith sees right through him. “No you wouldn’t’ve.”

Shiro sighs. “You’re right. I just didn’t know how you’d react to…earlier...”

Instead of answering, Keith sits on the bed, fingers curling into the bedspread. Shiro kind of wants Keith to do that on all fours in front of him.

Jesus.

He rubs a hand over his face, hating the intrusive thought and chasing after it at the same time. “Did you really have to go help James?”

“You know I didn’t.”

Shiro chews on his cheek for a minute, and then two. After a third, he walks over to the bed and kneels. Keith watches him the entire time, and then they’re at eye-level with each other. He knows Keith hates eye contact with a passion, but Keith isn’t looking away now.

“I’m sorry about earlier,” he says, the words slimy as they leave him, because he’s not sorry. He’s only sorry they were interrupted.

Keith biting his lip shouldn’t be as distracting as it is. “Don’t be. I could have pushed you off.”

Keith’s words remind Shiro of the way he was pulled back in when he said they should stop, and the memory makes his stomach clench. “Well, there’s two ways to look at it,” he says softly, like speaking any louder will cause Keith to get to his feet and leave. When Keith doesn’t say anything, Shiro says, “We can keep earlier as earlier. You’re not bound by anything.”

“What’s the other way?” Keith asks. He isn’t looking at Shiro’s eyes anymore.

“You’re not bound by anything,” Shiro repeats, to stall, to avoid saying the words that might mean the beginning, or the end of everything.

Keith still doesn’t meet his gaze when he says quietly, “What if I was?”

Shiro almost laughs at the two of them; they’ve always been able to talk to each other about everything, so the stilted conversation is new territory. “I’m here for you,” he blurts out, the closest to an I love you that he can manage without feeling like it’s a coercion. “You know that, right? I’m always going to be here for you, however you want me.”

Keith’s breath comes out in one large sigh. “I feel like I talk about Kuron too much,” he says, completely in a separate direction of conversation than Shiro thought.

“What do you mean?” Shiro frowns, but Keith doesn’t keep it going immediately.

He just stares at the wall to the left of Shiro’s head. “You’ve always been there for me.”

Then he reaches out to hold Shiro’s shoulder. His other hand touches Shiro’s mouth with a slowness that makes Shiro’s breathing uneven. It runs along Shiro’s bottom lip, and then leaves to track across Shiro’s jaw. Keith shakes his fringe from his eyes, a nervous habit, and then he pulls Shiro to him.

Shiro lets himself be held, lets his own hand settle on Keith’s lumbar spine.

“I want you like this,” Keith murmurs, and Shiro’s heart kind of breaks, because it’s enough and not at the same time.

Has he really been reading it all wrong?

“Then you have me,” he says as steadily as he can manage, nose pressed to the junction of Keith’s collarbone and shoulder.

Keith is still, though, like he’s contemplating something. Shiro almost asks him what’s wrong, until Keith turns his head slightly. His mouth upon Shiro’s cheekbone feels like a brand.

Shiro sucks in a breath and holds it, anticipation churning in him as Keith draws back to look at him.

Keith’s face is red when he says, “What about this?” like Shiro isn’t humming with how very okay whatever this is. “If I want you like this?”

“Then you have me,” Shiro says, in a rush and all at once, hoping, praying

The hand on Shiro’s jaw is shaking when Keith kisses him.

Relief blooms in Shiro. He feels like the recoil of a bow after firing its arrow, like the collapse of a house of cards. Keith doesn’t open his mouth, and the kiss lasts shorter than Shiro would like, but the flush on Keith’s face is worth it.

“Yeah?” Keith breathes, checking, and when Shiro nods, Keith leans back in and they kiss in earnest, mouths opening to each other.

And fuck, this is all Shiro ever wanted, Keith’s confession—shy, sure, but very very real— hanging between them, and he surges up to cup the back of Keith’s neck, feeling Keith’s breath land in puffs on his cheek. He plants a hand on the bedspread and pushes forward further, loving the way Keith grips on his shoulders and neck to keep from falling backwards, and Keith laughs into his mouth.

“Sorry,” Shiro says with no remorse, and Keith laughs again before drawing back.

“It’s not just this,” he says, mouth wet, gorgeous. “I don’t…this isn’t the only thing I want.” He screws his nose up, and then says, “It doesn’t matter that it was Kuron. Everything I ever said—I meant it.”

Keith.” Shiro thinks of what is being implied, and then he presses his smile to the corner of Keith’s mouth. “It’s okay,” he says. “I’m here now.”

“Yeah,” Keith says, a little watery and a whole lot beautiful. “Yeah, thank fuck.”

And then they’re kissing again, and when Shiro pushes, Keith meets him, legs spreading to allow Shiro to kneel between. Shiro can feel the calluses of Keith’s hands where they touch him, on his neck, shoulders, around his biceps. It reminds him that he’s probably allowed to touch too, and so he lets a hand settle in the small of Keith’s back and pull.

Keith makes a sound in the back of his throat at that, a hungry sort of noise that makes Shiro’s stomach coil in anticipation.

“You have me,” he says again out the side of his mouth, and then Keith licks at Shiro’s lips and whatever was left of his train of thought disappears.

It’s been so long since Shiro felt anything, let alone did something like this. Keith is a firebird in his arms and Shiro can’t hold him close enough. The numbness in his bones is leaving, easing its icy grip from his ribcage, melting from his fingertips; he’s on fire, coming alive like a phoenix, and the burn of it is so terrifying he has to stop and blink and breathe.

“Shiro?” Keith asks quietly, worry in his eyes and hands and mouth.

“I’m okay,” Shiro coughs wetly, even though his eyes are stinging. “I’ll be okay, really, it’s just…”

Keith places a hand on Shiro’s shoulder. “Did I do something?”

It’s such a Keith question, wondering if he’s too much, if he’s a—god, a burden—and Shiro wants to stamp it out.

No,” he says a little too forcefully. “Keith, no—” He screws his eyes shut, wishing he wasn’t so bad with words when it matters most. “It’s just…it’s a lot, you know?”

He wants it, truly. He wants it so badly his teeth hurt. Keith’s eyes are soft, though—kind. Shiro keeps thinking of how much he’s come to rely on that Galra violet.

“I get it,” Keith says. He leans in and presses his mouth to Shiro’s temple, warm, so incredibly warm. “Let’s go to sleep?”

“I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be,” Keith repeats. “It’s fine.”

“Okay,” Shiro says, shaky, recovering. “Sleep. Sounds good.”

He climbs onto the bed then, crawling over Keith in the process, and god, he almost wants to pin Keith there and start all over again. Instead he settles to the side, and watches Keith arrange the blankets around them, aching.

They don’t talk after that, and he dreams of battle on a nameless blue planet. He’s pierced by icicles, each one thicker than the last, impaling him and holding him up to the light. Red seeps into the snow, bright crimson, like Keith’s uniform, like the stain on Keith’s cheeks as he holds Shiro in Black’s cockpit. Red like the planet he’s on now, ground shaking with the end of the universe, and Keith before him, shedding tears. A mess of blood and diamonds.

 

— K —

 

It feels like the time for things to change, like how in movies, a confession always signals the upwards turn of events—blissful mornings, sunshine and rainbows, happy families. But nothing really changes. Shiro's nightmares still come that night. Keith misses the first, because he dozes off, and he only wakes up when Shiro is returning to bed. The second time, he’s sitting against the headboard, waiting out the insomnia by replaying the day. He can’t stop thinking about it, how easily Shiro had held him down in the sparring room, how he had looked just as scared when they’d tiptoed around each other’s feelings, and how he kissed Keith like he couldn’t get enough.

Shiro's eyes snap open, chest heaving. He looks for Keith immediately, brow damp, jaw clenched. When he finds Keith, it relaxes slightly.

“Keith,” he breathes, and Keith figures he’s allowed to hold his arms out.

Shiro crawls into them, quiet, shaking. He gulps in air, one hand clamped tight around Keith’s wrist.

“It’s okay,” Keith murmurs, like the countless other times before. “I’m here. You’re safe.”

“You’re here.”

Keith lets Shiro stay like that until his arms start going to sleep, and then he prods Shiro onto his back, settling at his side.

“Keith?” Shiro asks, voice scratchy, hesitant.

“What’s up?”

“I meant what I said. You’re not bound by anything.”

Keith folds an arm across Shiro’s torso, feeling the planes of muscle. “And I meant what I said,” he says stubbornly, selfishly.

Shiro curls around him without saying anything else.

In the morning, Keith showers before Shiro and then waits for him, gums stinging from how hard he brushed them. He’d almost given Shiro a kiss to wake him up, and then—self-conscious, shy—had gone to scrub the plaque from his teeth instead. He has no idea what he’s doing.

Shiro emerges from the bathroom, already dressed as he tosses Keith one of his black uniforms.

“This is too big,” Keith says when he catches it.

He can’t turn up to breakfast in it. Not only will he look ridiculous, it’s also Shiro’s. Keith pilots Black, but Shiro will always be the Black Paladin. Keith’s colour is red.

“You planning on traipsing to breakfast in your pyjamas, then?” Shiro teases.

“I’ll just change when we pass my room.”

“Alright.”

It’s probably the quickest Keith has ever changed clothes, too aware of Shiro sitting behind him. He wants to kiss Shiro again, but last night wasn’t the best response, so he doesn’t. Instead he lets their shoulders brush together as they walk to the mess hall, and figures that will suffice as they sit with the Paladins.

Pidge is incredibly grumpy and inhuman, rubbing her eyes and sniping at Hunk for piling more food on her plate. Hunk shushes her, spouting off knowledge about a particular root extract he sourced from Morocco to use for the broth.

“What if I’m allergic?” Pidge says immediately.

“I checked already,” Hunk says, pushing the plate at her. “You’re not. Eat.”

"Brain food, Pidge," Lance says cheerily, eating his own serving, but the optimism feels hollow.

They’re all just trying to take care of each other. Keith picks at his toast in silence. He isn’t hungry, but he should eat. Shiro is next to him as usual, his thigh pressed against Keith's. He’s warm, shoulder knocking Keith’s whenever he lifts his arm to eat, and Keith leans into it a little, almost desperate for the contact.

It’s scary, how much he enjoys it. It’s even scarier now that he’s probably allowed to.

“Eat your food,” Hunk says, to Keith this time. “We’ve all got gym in ten minutes.”

“Since when?” Keith frowns.

“Since Ryan suggested it after this morning’s run, which—” Hunk points an accusatory spoon at Keith, “—you missed. You owe me. And you,” he turns to Pidge. “Are joining this time—nuh, uh, uh, none of that whining. Healthy body, healthy mind!”

Pidge groans loudly. “Can’t I sit this one out? I hate exercise.”

“It’s essential,” Hunk simpers.

“It’s torture.”

“It’ll be fun, Pidge,” Shiro encourages. “Certainly sounds like it. I’ll have to pass, though.”

Pidge lifts her head from her arms to ask blearily, “Captain stuff?”

“Captain stuff,” Shiro says, apologetic as Lance makes a face. “Next time though.”

“Sure,” Pidge mutters, snapping at Hunk when he prods her lips with a spoon of broth, and Keith snorts into his own breakfast.

When they're all leaving, Shiro catches Keith’s wrist. His Altean fingers are cool as they trace a circle on the back of Keith’s hand, almost subconsciously. Keith feels like he’s been burned.

"I'll catch up with you later," Shiro says, eyes crinkling at the corner, and oh, Keith is fucked.

It’s all he thinks about as he spots for James and Lance, and watches Nadia scream encouragement at Pidge as she tries doing chin-ups.

There aren’t any bases to visit today, so Keith spends it with Hunk, watching him work his magic in the commissary with Romelle as a dubious student. Keith lets the two of them putter around, grateful for the company and background noise. Hunk seems to know something is bothering him, but it’s nothing out of the ordinary, not these days, and he doesn’t address it. Instead he coaches Romelle in making chicken teriyaki, and when they’re eating later, Hunk gives him a hug.

“Keep your chin up, man,” Hunk says.

Keith falls into the embrace a little, wondering how Hunk manages to stay so positive all the time. “You too.”

Shiro comes to Keith’s room much later that night. Keith almost thinks he should go to Shiro’s, but Shiro had said he would see him, so he waits the anxiety out.

When he does arrive, Shiro doesn’t say anything. He just curls into the blankets.

Keith watches him, then asks, “Is everything alright?”

Shiro sighs out, long and slow, already on his way to sleep. “It will be.”

But it isn’t. Shiro’s first nightmare is a vicious thing that has him crying out, and he shudders into Keith’s shoulder, knuckles white from the force of him clenching so hard.

“I’m here,” Keith says. “You’re safe.”

“Yes,” Shiro says, almost habitually.

A long ten minutes pass, Keith counting them off in his head. Everything he thinks of saying to comfort Shiro just sounds childish and useless. He’s never been good at this. Shiro thinks Keith saves him every time he wakes up, but it couldn’t be further from the truth. He’s the fucking worst.

Shiro sits up suddenly. His hands run through his hair and Keith watches, wanting to do the same.

“I need some air.” Then he looks at Keith expectantly. “Come with me?”

“What, outside?”

Shiro looks at him likes he’s grown two heads. “Yeah.”

"But—curfew," Keith says rather feebly.

"Oh, come on," Shiro says. "Like you never snuck out when you were a cadet."

Keith thinks of the countless times he'd stolen out of his room to go riding. "True. But if we get caught, you're talking us out of it."

“Darling?” Shiro uses the nickname mockingly.

“Darling,” Keith nods, but it sounds more like an endearment when he says it, and Shiro’s cheeks redden slightly.

Then he stands and tugs Keith out the door.

Security has been ramped up considerably compared to Keith's cadet days, and it takes a lot longer than he anticipated to sneak past all the guards, but eventually they clamber onto the rooftop, Shiro sitting down on the edge. Keith doesn't follow immediately, staying behind a moment. The harvest moon is golden upon Shiro’s skin.

Icarus, Keith thinks, a little haphazardly. He wants to fly so close he burns.

"Everything okay?" Shiro asks when Keith joins him, just like Keith had said earlier in the night.

Keith nods, even though nothing feels like it is okay, and he looks down at his legs dangling off the edge. He could jump right now. There would be nothing but the sweet rush of air, and then he’d splat right onto the concrete into a tangle of bones and organs. It would be bloody and a mangled mess, knees bent the wrong way, head twisted to the side, spine curved too far, skin broken, and enough red to dye all the Garrison uniforms like Keith’s.

He could jump.

But then he thinks of the poor person who would have to clean him up. So much hassle. And Pidge’s eyes would be wide when she found out, and she’d probably scream as Hunk held her. His mom would have to hear that her baby had died, and Shiro—actually Shiro would probably do the exact same thing a moment later, because they’re always saving each other, always jumping into oblivion after one another.

So Keith does not jump. But god, it’d be so easy. So much easier than sorting out the black tar clogging his insides and clouding his thoughts. No, nothing has changed.

"Beautiful," Shiro says, and for a moment, Keith thinks he's addressing him, and he turns to grimace at Shiro, because he's anything but, especially after that particular thought process, except Shiro only has eyes for the heavens.

Unlike the other day, when they'd looked to the stars as the sun set, tonight's sky is glittering. It's awash with nebulae, helped along by the lack of light from below. Keith supposes it should be sad, since the darkness comes from the devastation caused by the Fires of Purification, but Shiro is right. It is beautiful. It's almost poetic.

"Yeah," Keith says, focusing on the white expanse to avoid sinking into reprimanding himself for being so self-centred, for thinking Shiro would ever say that about him

Shiro's hand covers his. Keith looks down at it, wondering why such a small touch instantly has him holding his breath when they've literally kissed twice now.

“You know how yesterday,” Shiro says slowly, thoughtfully. “You talked about Kuron?”

Keith’s tongue is too thick, suddenly. “I did.”

Shiro doesn’t answer immediately, which does absolutely nothing for Keith’s anxiety, and then he does with, "I love you too, you know," and he says it so fervently that Keith actually wants to leap off the building to his death.

He flattens his palms on the roof instead, feeling every part of where they touch the concrete. His anxiety feels like a hummingbird in his throat, and Shiro’s words are sitting between them like a vomited mess.

“I didn’t—I don’t mean as a brother,” he says weakly, because Shiro might have kissed him, and Keith might have done a half-assed job of telling Shiro how he wanted him, but it doesn’t mean that they’re on the same page—

“Well thank god for that,” Shiro grins, always so confident, “Because I don’t either,” and Keith hiccups over a laugh at the ridiculousness of them. Shiro pauses, contemplating, and then whispers, “Keith?”

It’s like the last keystone has just been set into place, the finality of their words ringing in Keith’s ears. “Yeah?”

“I love you.”

Keith just nods because how is this real. “Okay,” he says, voice high and pathetic.

“Can I kiss you?”

Please.

Keith barely registers agreeing, and then he almost melts when Shiro leans in to kiss him, mouth closed. It's incredibly gentle. Shiro does it again, to the very corner of Keith's mouth, and then works his way across to the other corner with three more, so softly that Keith is smiling by the time he's done, slightly hysterical at the attention.

Shiro's hand is still covering his. He should say it back. He opens his mouth to, and then Shiro kisses him again, just as softly, but more certain, and then again, and again, and another time, each one feeling like a balm.

"You don't need to say it back," Shiro says in between kisses, and God, is Keith that transparent? "I wasn't saying it for that." He licks Keith’s lip, but doesn’t pursue. "I just wanted…I needed you to know."

Keith nods like it's okay. He can feel everything at once—the rage and desperation and longing and love—but he’s not a wordsmith, and never has been, so he winds his arms around Shiro's neck, as tightly as they'll go. Shiro falls into it, as warm as the sun, and Keith has never loved anyone more. He wants to tear this feeling out of his chest.

 

— S —

 

Shiro’s flight suit is sticking to him. Mud clings to his shoes and the rain—so unforgiving yesterday—has settled into an annoyingly steady drizzle. Steam rises off the ground, as if the dampness against his back isn’t a constant reminder of how humid it is. He’s in the Philippines with Keith and a band of Olkari, in the midst of the painstaking process of clearing debris from the most recent landslide, and the weather is killing him.

One of the Olkari—Rikki—throws him a tarpaulin, and they work together clearing the latest load of mud and rocks away. Moisture beads on his top lip and he wipes it away impatiently, hoping the other Paladins are faring better than he is.

They’re finally in the relief effort, courtesy of a conference the other day.

“The universe needs Voltron now more than ever,” Shiro had said. “We need to be out helping the relief effort, at the very least.”

Commander Sablan had been all frowns. “Are you suggesting that a month of training with tech we barely understand is enough to reason Earth’s only defence to join a relief effort that has thus far been successful as is?”

Keith, who had remained silent the entire time next to Shiro with his arms crossed, had sat up at Sablan’s words.

“With all due respect, sir,” Keith had drawled, and Shiro had almost pushed him into the nearest horizontal surface and had his way with the raven because he’d never been so attractive. “Captain Shirogane saved Earth with no training.”

Sablan had narrowed his eyes at Keith. “An episode of chance.”

“And we’ve improved ever since.” Keith had stood. “There is a war coming much bigger than Earth, Commander. Atlas and Voltron are ready for it whether you like it or not.”

Allura had supported him. “Earth will not survive another invasion in its present state. We can hasten the healing process by lending our support to the Coalition. Once that is taken care of, we must meet the war, not wait for it to come to us again.”

“Allura is right,” Shiro had said. “We cannot sit here whilst multiple planets are still under Galran rule and we are perfectly capable to help. We’ve trained enough, and we need to get moving. Voltron and Atlas are more than Earth’s defence system. We’re here for the entire universe.”

Commander Sablan had regarded the table over the top of his nose. “Very well.”

And so here they are, propelling the relief effort forward. The Alteans are with Ina in Europe, whilst Pidge and Hunk took Griffin and Rizavi to the African continent. Lance and Kinkade are in the tropics with the Mer. Matt has been in Japan for the last month with some of his fellow rebels and a group of Olkari, and on Wednesday he’d forwarded Veronica some tech to integrate into Atlas, so Shiro—having nothing else to do in the interim—had joined Keith.

It’s good staying busy, but they’ve finally got a ballpark figure for the launch—a month or two at most—and Shiro’s gut won’t stop twisting itself into knots.

It’s been almost four months since they defended Earth, and Shiro knows they’re running out of time. The power vacuum left behind by Voltron’s disappearance only worsened with the downfall of Sendak’s faction, and they need to be out on the front as soon as possible before the entire universe inevitably collapses on itself. But still. He doubts he’ll ever be ready.

Black roars as Keith flies her overhead to meet one of the towers the Olkari have set up. Such brilliant engineers, those Olkari. Their technological prowess has been crucial in speeding up the recovery.

“Watch your head, Sir,” Rikki calls, and Shiro narrowly avoids getting his face sliced off.

“Thanks.”

“No problem. You seem distracted.”

Shiro feels his face grow hot. He shouldn’t be so out of it; debris needs clearing, shelters need building, and there are so many mouths to feed. It’s hard, sluggish work. The humidity is upwards of seventy percent, the rain is relentless, and all Shiro can think of is how much he wants Keith writhing underneath him.

God. He hasn’t felt this desperate in years.

Sweat drips into Shiro’s eyes and he groans inwardly. He needs a shower and ten decades of undisturbed peace. A coma, perhaps.

Is everything okay, Shiro? ” Keith’s voice crackles over the intercom.

Shiro looks up to watch Black flying, shuttling debris to the waste site. He can envisage Keith in the cockpit, red flight suit doing wonders for his figure. “Yeah, fine,” he coughs, hating himself for the imagery. “It’s just…really damn hot.”

Tell me about it,” Keith agrees, voice like silk.

“You’re in Black,” Shiro grumbles, hefting up another armful of felled logs. “At least she has working air conditioning.”

Not long to go now. We’ve got maybe two more loads and then we’ll be clear enough to let trucks through.

“Small blessings, then,” Shiro mutters.

It’s almost as if the weather hears Shiro’s hopes and prayers though, because it decides to bucket down then, making everything grind to a snail pace, and so what should have taken fifteen more minutes eats up an entire hour, and then another when one of the food convoys gets a flat tire from a stray nail.

By the time Keith lands Black, the sun is making an appearance as it makes its way towards the horizon.

Fuck you, Shiro thinks at the watery orb. He really wants that coma.

“Hey.”

Shiro looks up as Keith wanders over, taking his helmet off in the process. His hair is in his eyes and Shiro wants so badly to kiss him.

“Hey,” he says, holding his arm out until Keith steps into it.

In the two weeks since they watched the sunrise, they’ve had very little time with each other. Keith had set out immediately with the Paladins to do a sweep of the neighbouring galaxies in the Milky Way, whilst Shiro had been working with the IGF-Atlas crew ironing out protocols.

“Promise me you’ll take care of yourself,” Keith had told him before he left. “I’ll call you when I can.”

“It’ll be fine,” Shiro had assured him, the epitome of the Garrison Darling he was supposed to be. “Stay safe out there, okay?”

“I’ll see you next week,” Keith had said.

He had kissed Shiro gently then, like he was afraid of something, and the five of them had left.

It was only going to be twelve days, and yet Shiro had woken up gasping the first night, searching for Keith on instinct before seeing the empty bed and feeling like he’d been punched in the stomach. He didn’t tell Keith the next day, didn’t want him to feel like Shiro couldn’t take care of himself without him there, but Keith knew the minute he rang, and so the next night when it happened, Shiro did as Keith asked and called him.

So they’d passed the twelve days like that, and then Black had landed and Keith hadn’t cared about anyone or anything; he walked straight over to Shiro and flung his arms around him so tightly, until Shiro felt like he couldn’t breathe.

“Next time you’re coming with me,” Keith had muttered.

Shiro had nodded and clung to him, stupidly thankful they were on the same page.

That night, Keith kissed him first when they went to bed, and then he’d slanted his mouth against Shiro’s again, properly, heated this time, and then they’d made out which was—really, really good. Shiro shudders when he remembers the way Keith sighed in his ear as Shiro marked his neck. He’d wanted everything at the time, fuelled by the fact that his earlier apprehension hadn’t reared its ugly head, heady on the fact that Keith was in his arms and was letting him kiss him so fiercely, and it had been heat and heat and heat, until Keith’s fangs had made a surprise appearance. There hadn’t been any warning, just Keith grinding down on him and moaning in his arms and kissing him breathless, and then the sharpness of teeth slicing Shiro’s mouth, and blood and blood and even more blood.

Keith wouldn’t even let Shiro touch him after that.

“I hurt you,” he’d said, hand clamped over his mouth and sounding so upset that it killed the mood instantly and Shiro had wanted nothing else apart from Keith to stop looking like he’d cry.

Watching Keith now though, Shiro can’t help but wonder what might have happened if they hadn’t stopped; if Keith would have let Shiro push his shirt up and fold hands over his ribs, and if those fangs might have made Shiro’s collarbones bleed.

Keith leans his head on Shiro’s shoulder, bringing Shiro out of his thoughts. “Rough day, huh?”

Shiro presumes the ease with which he does so is due to them being relatively alone.

After watching the sunrise, they’d passed the morning in relative normalcy, except when they’d all been parting ways, Shiro had leaned over and kissed Keith’s cheek.

Keith had turned pink and looked at him like he’d had hung all the stars in the sky.

Hunk had clapped Shiro on the back and crowed, “Finally.

Romelle had raised a brow and asked why it was such a big deal for Hunk, because, as she told him, “Haven’t they been romantically involved since I met you all?”

Allura had been all smiles, and Lance had bumped fists with Shiro, and given Keith a hesitant one, as if he was afraid Keith was going to snap at him. Pidge had just rolled her eyes, as if she too thought what Hunk had said, but she’d burrowed against Shiro for a moment.

And that was that.

Keith so far hasn’t really been one for public affection though, something Shiro both hates—because he loves PDA, always has—and is grateful for—because they’re soldiers, at the end of the day—so to be welcomed as easily as this feels like a gift.

“Yeah,” Shiro agrees, turning his head to press his nose to Keith’s hair. “Rough day.”

“We should be alright to head home,” Keith hums. “Come back same time tomorrow.”

Shiro dares to kiss the top of Keith’s head, wanting to make his way down Keith’s face until he reaches his mouth, wanting Keith to gasp in his ear. “I’m really glad you’re here,” he says instead, heart pounding.

“Me too,” Keith says, oblivious. “Come on.” And he tugs on Shiro’s hand, drawing him towards Black.

The flight back to the Garrison is blissfully short, Shiro watching Keith’s hands gripping the controls. He’s thinking of Keith’s wrists as he debriefs with Sablan and Iverson, of how strong they are when he’s using a blade, and how warm they’d been when he’d kissed them last night on his way to sleep. God, he wants.

The humming under his nails doesn’t stop the entire meeting. He can’t get rid of it, or ignore it, and it only gets worse when he walks to Keith’s room, until it’s so loud he thinks it might just burst out of his skin.

Keith looks up at him in confusion, already in sleeping clothes, fresh from the shower. They haven’t quite figured out sleeping arrangements, but for the past two nights they’ve been in Shiro’s room.

“Hey?” Keith says at the abrupt entrance.

Shiro takes two strides and pushes Keith against the wall and kisses him.

 

— K —

 

Shiro’s kisses are hard and demanding and nothing like the soft ones they shared on the Garrison rooftop. They’re even more heated than the other day when Keith had made Shiro bleed, and Keith is torn between stopping Shiro before it gets too much, and chasing after Shiro’s addictive mouth.

He doesn’t feel like the first option is very feasible, considering Shiro’s hands keep moving, digging into his hips, his chest, his back. They paw at his clothes, fumbling with the buttons of his collar.

“Here, let me—” Keith tries to say, but Shiro gets them undone by himself and he seals kisses down Keith’s exposed throat.

Keith,” is all Shiro says.

His hands haven’t stopped, circling Keith’s waist and tugging his shirt up. Keith wonders for a moment where the heat came from, what happened for Shiro to be so reactive. Then the thought dissipates when Shiro gets the shirt loosened. His hands are like fire. They scorch down his chest, burn his sides. They simmer in the space between his scapulae.

Keith opens his mouth and lets Shiro take what he wants. Sheets of rain hit the Garrison roof and Keith listens, wondering what’s louder: the roar of the monsoon outside, or the rumble of Shiro’s chest against his.

“Shiro,” he mumbles when he feels his teeth begin to sharpen. Shiro ignores him, tugging Keith’s hips against his with a strength that makes Keith feel like butter. “Shiro, my teeth,” he tries again.

“I want to see them,” Shiro whispers, and then he bites down on Keith’s collarbone, hard.

Pleasure rocks through Keith at that, and he manages a breathy, “Quiznak,” before Shiro’s thigh slots between his and pushes.

Keith pauses. He’s hard and throbbing against Shiro’s leg, but Shiro says nothing, eyes almost completely black as he stares at Keith. His mouth is red and panting, and Keith’s heart is about to hammer its way through his ribcage.

In the darkness, Keith makes eye contact with Shiro and holds it. Then he deliberately presses down onto Shiro’s thigh.

Pleasure zips up his core.

Shiro breathes out shakily to match Keith, before he pushes his leg against Keith again, and Keith’s mouth parts on a quiet moan.

It’s like lighting tinder in a dry field. The response is instantaneous. Shiro wraps an arm around Keith’s shoulders and rocks his thigh up, the other coming around Keith’s waist to drag him as close as he’ll go. Keith lets him, hands finding Shiro’s neck and holding as his mouth moves against Shiro’s, and it burns Keith all the way down to his bones.

“Keith,” Shiro mutters, drawing back, and then whatever he was going to say is lost when he follows the line of Keith’s jaw with suckling kisses.

“Fuck,” Keith gasps in English this time when Shiro’s teeth scrape his windpipe, and then they kiss again, until it’s sloppy and wet and it’s less kissing and more opening their mouths to each other, struggling for air.

Keith’s tongue trails up Shiro’s throat and they move as one, lost to the pleasure of it. Shiro’s hands are still burning him. His body is a furnace, pressed against him, making Keith’s eyes water.

“Keith,” Shiro repeats, ignorant of the way Keith’s eyes are stinging as he mouths at Keith’s jaw again. “Is this—are you okay? Keith, god—can I touch you?”

“Don't stop,” Keith grits out, mortified that he’s even asking, and Shiro moans into his mouth at that.

They rut against each other; Keith has the brief thought that they must look ridiculous before Shiro's hands slip into his pants and Keith has an entirely new thing to worry about.

“It’s okay,” Shiro encourages when Keith flinches reflexively. “It’s just me. I can stop—” and he starts to withdraw his hand but Keith snatches his wrist before he can.

Don’t,” Keith actually begs this time, because he’s so hard he can’t think of anything else. “I’m fine, it’s fine—just do something, please—

“Okay.”

Shiro seals their mouths together gently, probably a little too gentle for the heat surrounding the moment, but then he reaches down again. His Altean fingers are cool when they link around Keith’s dick, and Keith's hips rock forward automatically.

“Are you okay?” Shiro asks against his lips.

Keith nods dazedly, and then Shiro begins to stroke and no, Keith is not okay, he’s going to burn alive. He’s going to die here, amongst the flames of Shiro.

“Oh,” Shiro whimpers, “Keith,” like he's the one getting jerked off, and Keith just makes a stupid noise in response.

He’s jerked off heaps of times. He’s never felt the need to make any kind of noise, and yet here he is, pressed against a wall that is digging into his shoulder blades, almost dizzy with the pleasure blazing through him.

Fuck, Shiro,” Keith groans, holding onto Shiro's shoulders and pushing his dick through Shiro's hand.

“I love you,” Shiro rambles. “You're so beautiful.” He presses his forehead to Keith's, watching his hand, and then he kisses Keith again, tongue reaching in and sweeping in a broad arc.

“Shiro,” Keith warns, hazy mind clearing long enough to remember that Shiro probably shouldn’t be so bold, before Shiro’s wrist twists on the way up and Keith’s fangs sink into his bottom lip.

Ow,” Shiro flinches, pulling back immediately.

“Fuck,” Keith apologises. “I’m sorry—”

“Hey, it’s fine,” Shiro brushes Keith’s hands away, tongue darting out to lick at the blood welling up from the cut, and that’s—it shouldn’t be—it’s not attractive. “Don’t worry about it.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Shh,” Shiro hushes him, ducking down to kiss him quickly. “I like your teeth. They’re part of you.”

“Shiro,” Keith says, embarrassed, and Shiro laughs into his neck, teeth biting the soft skin there.

“Shut up, Keith,” he says, voice low, and Keith shivers at the tone, hips bucking involuntarily. “Hang on,” Shiro murmurs, and then he sticks his tongue out and licks his palm and Keith’s knees go a bit weak. “There,” Shiro says, and he gets back to what he was doing, grinding against Keith’s thigh as he strokes and suckles on Keith’s throat.

Wildfire, Keith thinks, staring up at the ceiling, nerve endings alight. It feels like a wildfire.

“Shiro,” Keith says, embarrassingly close. “I'm gonna—it'll make a mess.”

“Do it,” Shiro grunts, not stopping once.

Keith shivers in the heat of it, so hot he feels he’s going to turn to diamond from the pressure. He’s too close now, past the point of no return, kindling in Shiro’s arms.

“Shiro, fuck—”

“Come on,” Shiro says as he keeps stroking, like it’s the only thing he’s ever wanted. “Come on, Keith, come on—oh, there you go.”

Keith's orgasm feels like a firestorm. It slams into him, roaring in his ears, singeing his fingertips, searing his skin. He shudders with the force of it, spurting into Shiro’s hand.

“Fuck,” he mumbles.

Shiro groans, and then he's reaching into his trousers with his come-stained hand and jerking himself off, face hidden in Keith's neck. It takes seconds for him to finish, and the sound he utters makes Keith shiver all over again with an aftershock from his own orgasm.

The fire leaves them then.

Shiro pants into Keith’s shoulder for a minute or two, and then he eases back. Keith becomes aware of the wall against his back now, and all the points it digs in. His shirt is stained with both his and Shiro’s come, and Shiro’s hair is ruffled beyond belief.

They look like a hot mess.

Shiro licks his lips, withdrawing his hand. He holds it to the side, even though there’s no point considering both their clothes are ruined.

“Sorry,” he says, a little sheepish.

Keith laughs a little at that. “Uh. It’s okay. Where…where did that…?”

Shiro turns a brilliant red. “Just…had been thinking about it. Was it alright?”

Keith can feel his teeth retracting, and he nods, shy. “Yeah, it was.”

He doesn’t tell Shiro that it’s exactly what he’s been dreaming of for months on end now. Shiro makes a small relieved sound, and Keith is staring at his whole heart in human form.

“Sorry,” Shiro says again, and Keith eyes where the flush has disappeared below Shiro’s collar and his dick twitches. “You just went for a shower too.”

“It’s fine,” Keith shifts as his skin prickles with the telltale sign of the fire returning. “I’ll just change.”

If it’s a little awkward between them, Shiro doesn’t seem to be aware. He strips effortlessly on his way to the bathroom and Keith bites his lip at the sight of Shiro’s back muscles working. God, he’s so fucked.

 

— S —

 

For the first time since Shiro came back from Black, he doesn’t dream. Keith curls around him like usual and it’s the tickle of his hair on Shiro’s chin that he’s thinking of, and then the sharp beep of his alarm in the morning hauls him from his sleep.

“You slept well,” Keith says, a statement.

“Yeah,” Shiro says, surprised, wondering what made the nightmares leave him alone, regretful that he slept in because now they have five minutes to be in the hangars.

Shiro would love nothing more than to hold Keith down and put his dick in his mouth for the next hour, but the relief effort is waiting. Keith is already changing, zipping up his black flight suit. He’s holding his hair up to keep it from getting caught, and Shiro can’t help it.

He leans forward and kisses the back of Keith’s neck.

Keith shivers. “Hey,” he says carefully.

It’s almost identical to the tone he’d used last night after Shiro had come in his pants, as if he isn’t quite sure why Shiro is so interested in him. Shiro is half-tempted to shove him to the bed and show him exactly why, but again. Relief effort.

“Hey,” he replies, mouthing at the spot again, and then shifting to the left to kiss the slope where shoulder meets neck.

Last night was supposed to alleviate the tension, but Shiro has a feeling he’s just opened a floodgate instead.

Keith turns and grasps Shiro’s forearms as he slots their mouths together, wet and rough and everything like last night, and now Shiro’s very much interested in acting out his earlier plans of dragging Keith back to bed.

Keith is the one to stop. “We can’t be late,” he says with a smirk, “Captain.”

Shiro coughs, already turned on by everything and hating how the word falls from Keith’s mouth like honey. “Don’t.”

Keith chuckles, and then turns to put on his armour. Shiro follows suit, the beeping of his datapad telling him they’re definitely late, and so he barely has time to brush his teeth before they jog to the hangars.

The rest of the Paladins are there, but the minute Shiro and Keith step in, Pidge and Lance get into their Lions. Allura stays to greet them, her lips pressed in a tight line.

“What’s wrong?” Shiro asks.

“There was a landslide in Indonesia about twenty minutes ago,” Allura says, a little hesitantly. “It was very severe. I think it would be advantageous if we all joined together on this one.”

Shiro’s heart hammers guiltily, because he can read between the lines. Allura isn’t the leader, but Keith and him weren’t there to make the executive decision.

“Sorry we weren’t earlier,” Shiro amends, noting how Green is already on her way out of the hangar.

Allura looks at him quizzically. And then her brow raises when she realises. “Oh! No, not at all, Shiro. I just…I thought it would be a good idea.”

“It is,” Keith says from Shiro’s side, jamming his helmet on. “Thanks, Allura.”

Allura’s cheeks go a pleasant pink. “Happy to help,” she beams, and Shiro feels like the whole conversation has given him whiplash, because now he knows why Allura looked so stressed.

She didn’t want to overstep her authority.

“See you there,” he says warmly.

They land on the island of Sumatra and the heat is even worse here than the Philippines. Keith drops him off to the ground and then joins Lance in the air. Hunk is already burrowing into the mountainside, trying to clear it.

It’s a deep-seated landslide, the natural slope of the mountain abruptly giving way to a chasm of rubble. There’s people everywhere helping, voices crying out when they find survivors.

Shiro helps where he can, falling into the steady to and fro of it, but he’s floating. He’s thinking of Keith last night, moaning in his ear and kissing him back and letting him touch and squeeze. He’s thinking of Keith’s hands tugging on his hair and Keith’s strong legs knocking against his when they were in bed, one arm slung over Shiro’s stomach, chin nestled on Shiro’s shoulder.

He isn’t thinking of anything else.

He isn’t thinking at all.

So when Allura asks if he can explore the tunnel Hunk has excavated, Shiro goes without question.

See if you can find any survivors? ” Keith asks, so sweetly and Shiro loves him, why would he refuse after that?

He gets reminded when he steps inside. It smells like earth and rubble and Shiro almost gags on it.

There might be people here though, so he continues.

It’s soil and petrichor, earthworms and fungi. The sun is lesser here, already hidden in the clouds, but the grey of it is fading. He just needs to keep his light trained ahead of him.

It’s dark and dark and darker, and the sun isn’t with him anymore.

It’s okay. He tightens his grip around his light.

Is everything okay, Shiro? ” Keith’s voice crackles.

Shiro nods, throat closing over. “Yeah, of course.”

Of course. Because it’s okay. He’s looking for survivors.

Breathe, he tells himself. It’s okay.

But his throat is so tight now he can barely do it. Sweat drips down his brow. What is he doing here again?

He counts his steps. One, two, three.

It’s so dark now, but Shiro forces himself forward, because this isn’t coffee and this isn’t Sendak and this isn’t anything other than a simple tunnel in the ground that they’re bringing people out of.

Four, five, six.

Earth and rocks and the smell of dirt so pungent Shiro actually gags.

Seven, eight, nine.

Darkness, narrowing in on him.

Find anything?

Shiro can’t even breathe now. He hates the dark.

Ten, eleven, twelve.

“Shiro?”

And then the entrance collapses.

And it wasn’t dark before, that was merely an illusion, because now it’s so dark Shiro can’t even see in front of him. The walls are caving in on him now and his light is gone where did it go where is the light—

Shiro!

Someone is yelling. Keith? Or Lance?

Dirt and more dirt, on his visor, on his hands and so much weight on his chest, pushing and pushing and pushing. It’s dark it’s dark it’s so dark where did the light go? His lungs are being crushed. It’s dark and he can’t breathe it’s dark and he can’t breathe it’s so fucking dark he’s going to die here. It’s soil and decay and he can’t breathe he’s going to die.

It’s so dark.

And then the brilliance hits him. And the weight lifts.

And a voice: “Oh, Shiro, thank fuck, Shiro.”

Light. White, white light. And arms. Red and white arms. Black gloves. A mouth, against his cheek, against his temple.

Shiro,” is said again and Shiro blinks once more.

The smell has gone. There’s no darkness. Only Keith’s scent surrounds him. His lungs aren’t in pain anymore.

Shiro curls in on himself, shaking like an earthquake. He shudders and shudders and sucks in air, gulps in the smell of Keith.

Their helmets are discarded on the ground. He’s sprawled in Keith’s arms.

Keith,” he says, exhausted.

Keith kisses his cheek again. “Shiro,” he says, voice sad. “You’re alright.”

Shiro stares blearily up at Keith, at the light haloed around him. There’s so much light. “Was it bad?”

Keith holds him a little closer instead of answering. The hum of machinery continues in the background. He can hear people moving. And then a new hand on his arm startles him. It’s Allura’s. He’s been here before, waking up from Black.

“I’m so sorry, Shiro,” she apologises. “I should never have asked you.”

“You didn’t know,” Shiro coughs. He can still taste dirt.

Her blue eyes are full of unshed tears. She held his soul within her once. He already knows what she’s going to say.

“You didn’t know,” he repeats, and when he finds her hand to hold, she squeezes it gratefully as the tears slip down her face.

Keith’s mouth is on him again, on his sweat-drenched forehead. Shiro sighs into it, the shaking minimal now.

“What happened?”

Keith winces slightly. “The tunnel collapsed on you. We got you out, and then you threw up.”

“How long was I…?”

“Minutes. Seconds. It wasn’t long. We got you straight away.” Keith says the last part like a disclaimer, like Shiro would be mad at him if he’d taken more time.

He’s such a fucking burden. “I’m sorry.”

Don’t,” Keith says forcefully. “We’re just glad you’re okay.”

“But there’s so much work to do.”

“You’re so much more important,” Keith retorts.

And yeah, Shiro’s been here before, surrounded by his Paladins, and the reminder makes him run a shaky hand down his face. It’s too fucking familiar. “I’m sorry.”

“Stop,” Keith pleads. “Don’t apologise. It’s okay.”

“I wasn’t thinking.”

“It’s okay,” Keith says again, and the words enter Shiro’s mind unbidden: as many times as it takes.

Allura shifts, and then she smiles at Shiro with teary eyes. “Do you want to go back to the Garrison?”

That makes Shiro shake his head and push himself up into sitting. “No. No, I’ll be fine. I’ll be okay in a minute.”

Keith frowns but doesn’t stop him. Allura doesn’t look happy with the decision either, but she also stays quiet.

Pidge crawls over to him then, her whole body telling Shiro that she’d been waiting for the right moment to give him a hug, and it’s so fierce that Shiro falls back a little. Keith and Allura catch him, and then Keith shuffles so he’s the one holding Shiro up.

“I'm so glad you’re okay,” Pidge cries, muffled in Shiro’s suit.

His heart aches. He’s come too close to death too many times and Pidge’s arms around his neck are a reminder of something else he’d leave behind. He’s too lucky. Lance joins them, and then Hunk, and then Shiro’s surrounded. The six of them are a tangle of limbs and snot-riddled smiles, Pidge burrowed against his chest, Keith warm against his back, Allura holding his hand and Hunk and Lance keeping them together.

He’s being crushed again, and he’s never felt so alive.

 

— K —

 

Two years in the Quantum Flux taught Keith a lot of things. It taught him patience, watching the days tick by. It taught him how to fight with his blade, watching his mother and copying her. It taught him Galran—his mother refused to speak to him in English for a week, so he’d had to pick it up pretty quickly.

He’s thinking of how it taught him about his mother. At the start, they hadn’t known how to be around each other. Keith had so many questions, and at the same time, so much resentment. How did he talk to the woman who had left him and his father so many years ago?

“I left to protect the ones I love most,” she had told him, but Keith hadn’t wanted to hear it.

How could you leave something so precious to you?

He understands now, though. Seeing the tunnel collapse had sent panic lancing through his chest. Digging through the rubble with Black just felt like desperation for a lost cause. Finding Shiro had made the panic seize up and morph into something more terrifying, because he hadn’t responded.

Keith had hauled him up and carried him away, out of the ruins. Shiro had been shaking like a damned earthquake, and when Keith set him down, he’d shoved his helmet off and retched onto the ground.

“Breathe,” Keith had told him, arm around Shiro’s shoulders. “Shiro, you’ve got to breathe.”

Shiro had just whimpered and heaved again, hearing nothing, seeing nothing, vomiting nothing because they’d skipped breakfast. Keith had been desperate, and he’d pulled Shiro into his lap and tossed his own helmet to the side to press his mouth to Shiro’s face.

It didn't matter if anyone saw. Shiro was all that mattered.

Hunk and Lance had fallen to their knees to help and Keith had just kept going, along Shiro’s temple, his forehead, as if it was therapy.

And when Shiro had finally come back to them, fucking apologising, it hit home how much Keith understood his mother leaving them.

He’d known it when he was falling with Kuron, he knew it leaping to slay Sendak.

He knows it now, all over again and it hums and throbs and hurts. Keith would tear himself into pieces to keep Shiro safe.

Shiro doesn’t let them take him home, though. He wants to stay, and Keith never wants him to feel like he doesn’t have a say in anything, so he relents.

“Will you at least take a break, then? Half an hour, max.”

Shiro acquiesces. One of the medics assesses Shiro for any injuries and then leaves them alone. They sit amongst the ruins, and Keith strokes a thumb along the scar across Shiro’s nose. He kisses Shiro’s mouth, and his cheeks, uncaring of anyone else. Let them see. Let them see how much Shiro means to him.

Shiro sighs into it. “I’m sorry.”

“Stop apologising,” Keith scolds, pulse still too fast. “I'm just glad you're safe.” He eases a kiss onto Shiro's temple. “You're safe.” He nuzzles Shiro’s cheekbone. “I’m here.”

“I love you,” Shiro says then, so softly that Keith feels as if he's bleeding out.

Shiro is so open with his heart and Keith will never be able to give him enough in return. He links their fingers and brings Shiro's hand to his mouth, unable to say anything else.

He’s lost Shiro too many times. Fuck, he watched Shiro almost die not so long ago, and today just feels like another knife in his back from the universe.

“You’re here,” he murmurs, the relief hot and sharp as it eases through him. “You’re here.”

He knows he said half an hour, but they sit there for far longer. Keith keeps pressing idle kisses to Shiro’s face, hoping the caresses can show Shiro what Keith fails to with words.

“Are you sure you don’t want to go back?” he says eventually, when his shoulders are beginning to ache from being in the same position for so long.

Shiro leans over and cups his face, and then he kisses Keith for so long that Keith begins to forget what he even asked. “I don’t, but I have to.” He turns to watch as Red and Blue cart fallen logs away. “I forgot I had a meeting with some Noxian representatives.”

“Noxia?” Keith echoes. The planet is in an outer quadrant, a place Keith barely remembers because it was so long ago, before they’d even met the Olkari.

“Yeah, I know,” Shiro says, following Keith’s train of thought. “It’s been a while. But they’re sending forces to join the Coalition.” His brow creases in annoyance then. “I want to stay with you though.”

“I’ll be back later,” Keith reassures him—both of them, really—and Shiro nods before sweeping Keith into another mind-numbing kiss.

Fuck, Keith is never going to be used to this.

Shiro leaves with Allura, as her input is needed with the Altean pilot, and then the day after that goes quickly. Pidge and Hunk combine her genius and his engineering brains to add some of the Olkari-developed solar tech, and Keith helps Lance hand out food packages.

Then sun is long down by the time they’re done, and they fly back to the Garrison in weary silence. Even Lance doesn’t pipe up. They’re all exhausted.

His mother’s ship is there when he arrives.

Keith sees her standing at the entrance and runs to her with a cry. “Mom!”

She sweeps him up into her arms with a laugh. “Hey, Kit.”

Keith doesn’t care about the nickname this time—even though he’s usually resentful of it because he’s not a baby—as he falls into the way she holds him so effortlessly. “I wasn’t expecting you,” he mumbles, trying to think if he’d missed any messages from her. “When did you get here? Are you staying?”

“About one varga ago, and yes, we are.” She studies his face. “How is Shiro?”

Keith stumbles a bit at the different direction. “Fine.” He lies. Then he scratches the back of his neck, wondering if his mother can read him so well. “Why, did you hear something?”

“No. But I can tell from the look on your face.”

Keith's face is hot all over. He might have seen how his parents met, but his mother saw his memories of Shiro too. She never asked him about it, but she had to have known. Shiro was everywhere, in Garrison uniform at the flight simulator, in civilian clothes speeding ahead of him on his bike, in a white tuxedo at what had to be a wedding. The last one had been something Keith was never brave enough to dwell on. It still is, come to think of it.

She watches him for a moment, and then changes tact again. “Are you well, Keith?”

Keith isn't sure what it is about the question. He's always being asked by everyone how he feels, and yet Krolia doing it has a different effect. It’s as if the tidal wave he’s been holding back for so long comes forth.

“Tired,” he says, trying to keep his voice from wavering. “I'm so tired, Mom.”

Her hand is steadying on his shoulder. Keith touches Shiro like this all the time. He picked it up from her.

“I know you are,” she says. “Come with me.”

She takes him to the main conference room. Kolivan is there, along with Iverson, Sablan and Shiro. He’s the picture perfect Garrison Darling, and Keith’s heart seizes up in relief to see Shiro looking put together. Darling persona or not, it means that Shiro is considerably better than his close miss this morning. Talking pauses when Krolia and Keith step inside, and it takes him a considerable amount of effort to stay by his mother’s side, but Shiro stands anyway.

“Krolia,” he greets, hand out.

It’s because they’re with their senior officers, Keith knows, but the gesture still feels odd after travelling together, and all the times Shiro and Krolia spent around each other during Keith’s hospital stay. They’re family.

Krolia regards the outstretched hand with something very close to offence before folding her arms around Shiro’s shoulders, ignorant of the others. “It’s good to see you, Shiro.”

“Likewise,” Shiro replies, obviously flustered but doing his best to remain impassive.

Darling, Keith wants to say. It sounds less and less teasing the more he says it.

“Are you alright?” Krolia asks. “I knew something happened the moment I saw Keith.”

“Mom...” Keith warns.

Shiro’s mouth stretches around an awkward smile. “Nothing major. I make him worry too much.”

“We worry most about the people we love.” His mother is blunt as ever.

Shiro’s cheeks are decidedly pretty when they’re pink. “Then I’d say I probably worry about him all the time.”

“I already know this,” his mother says and Keith wants to die.

He doesn’t get the chance to, because Kolivan comes to his side. He greets Keith the same way he said goodbye all those months ago, one hand clasped between them, the other around his shoulders.

“Keith.”

“Kolivan,” Keith returns, surprised to note that he’d missed his leader this much.

They’ve brought a band of Blades—ten of them, all of who are settling into Garrison quarters. His mother promises to introduce him in the morning when they’re not so travel-weary. Iverson asks Keith for a debrief of the day, although there isn’t a lot to say when Shiro and Allura have already covered the morning’s incident for the logs, and then the meeting is adjourned. Kolivan leans over to whisper something in Keith’s mother’s ear, and then he says he has some things to attend to.

Keith waves a hand in farewell, curious to know what was said. His mother gives nothing away.

They’re all walking towards the courtyard when Shiro says he’s going to the Paladin common room.

“You’re not coming?” Keith asks, trying and failing to hide his disappointment.

He doesn’t want to be a mother hen, but he’s a little fragile after this morning. He would prefer a close orbit to Shiro tonight.

Shiro smiles. “Not now. You two should spend some time together.” And then, as if he can’t help himself, he hauls Keith up into a hug.

Keith sinks into it, craving Shiro’s warmth. “Later then?”

Shiro snorts in his ear at that. “Of course.” He adds, in a much lower tone, “My room or yours?”

Keith hates how suggestive it sounds. “Yours, I guess,” he mutters, hoping to god his mother can’t hear them, and then he hates himself for the visual of going to Shiro’s room to see him in bed.

“Done,” Shiro says, and then he releases him to farewell Krolia.

The embrace between the two is less awkward this time, and then it’s just Keith and her. She regards him carefully, but the walk to the courtyard is short enough to keep Keith from scratching lines down his face, and they settle on the grass.

It’s been a while since he’s stargazed with anyone other than Shiro.

The moon is higher up in the clouds tonight, grey and ominous. The cover means there isn’t much to be looking at, but Keith keeps looking upwards regardless, because if he doesn’t then he’ll have to look elsewhere, like his mother, and he knows what she’s going to ask and he’s not ready.

“You look awful,” she remarks.

Keith barks out a laugh. “Feel like it.”

She laughs too, before raising her brow at him. “I see you finally got your shit together though.”

Keith decides to play dumb to stall. “About?”

She isn’t having any of it. “About Shiro.”

“Mom…”

“What? Like I didn’t know.” She punches his arm gently. “Although you could have told me.”

Keith’s ears burn hot. “It’s not—we’re not—” He doesn’t know what he’s trying to say, but it doesn’t matter, because they are, aren’t they? They told each other how they feel, they sleep together, Shiro made him come yesterday, and Keith has crossed the universe for him. He’ll always cross the universe for Shiro. “It’s pretty new,” he mumbles.

She could be meaner, but she chooses to be sympathetic. “I’m just testing. I’m glad you two are finally together though.” She looks at him pointedly. “Took you long enough.”

Keith jerks his head down in what’s supposed to be a nod, reminded of their memories from the Quantum Flux. “Yeah, I guess.”

The silence stretches out between them, Keith burning with embarrassment. He should have told her, he knows, but he was terrified of telling anyone in the first place, because what if a day later, Shiro just turned around and decided he didn’t want Keith anymore? What if it was all just a cruel joke? Not that Shiro would have been as mean as that, but more he would have opened his eyes and realised Keith wasn’t enough. Keith knows he doesn’t deserve someone as loving as Shiro, and Shiro definitely deserves so much more than him.

Then he remembers Shiro, telling him you’re not bound by anything, as if he is the undeserving one. Keith aches to tell him how wrong Shiro is, because Keith is bound. He’s tethered to Shiro, caught in his orbit, and there’s no place he’d rather be. He’ll revolve around Shiro for as long as Shiro wants.

“Keith,” his mother says gently, and Keith worries for a moment that he’s been talking out loud, bleary with exhaustion. It’s been such a fucking long day. “I have to tell you something.”

There’s something about her tone that makes Keith stop trying to stare a hole into the clouds and glance at her instead. “What is it?”

She hesitates in telling him, and that makes Keith give her his attention fully now, because his mother is always so direct. “Kolivan and I…care for each other.”

“I know.”

“More than comrades.”

“Oh.”

The news sinks in to Keith, except it isn’t really news to him, is it? He’d seen how heartbroken she’d been to find Kolivan, and how determined she’d been in rebuilding the Blades, and every communication he’s had with her since has included some mention of the Blade leader. Honestly, he should have figured it out earlier.

Lance is always teasing him on his lack of social intelligence.

“That’s cool,” he says immediately, knowing the time between her confession and his answer is already too long. Then he cringes at his wording, wishing he was more eloquent. “I mean, I’m glad? Um.”

Krolia doesn’t answer straight away either, and Keith both curses their inability to communicate properly and finds humor in it.

Her ears twitch slightly. “I love your father, Keith. That will never change.”

“I know,” Keith says, heart twisting slightly at the mention of him.

They’ll have to go visit his grave sometime soon, when the two of them aren’t caught up in their responsibilities.

His mother looks him in the eye then. “Kolivan…he makes me happy, Keith. It’s been so long and with the war, who knows what will happen? I’m scared if I don’t do anything now...”

“Hey,” Keith touches her forearm to ground her. “It’s okay, Mom. You’re allowed to love again.”

She breathes out. “I wanted your blessing first. I love you the most. I don’t want to hurt you.”

“You never could,” Keith says, because she couldn’t, not anymore. They’ve long since buried the hatchet. “And if he makes you happy, then that’s all that matters, isn’t it?”

He thinks of Shiro then, an older memory, where Shiro is smirking down at him and telling him their lives are mere blips on a timeline. The Garrison uniform is rolled up to his elbows and the day is dying behind them in a brilliance of orange and yellow, and Keith is seventeen and trying to remember what this feels like, because he’s going to miss Shiro so much.

“There’s a Latin saying for it,” Keith says, buoyed by the memory of Shiro against the sunset. “Carpe diem. It means to seize the day.”

Carpe diem,” she repeats. She tilts her head skywards then, testing the saying again soundlessly. “Thank you, Keith.”

“Don’t thank me,” Keith shakes his head. “I didn’t do anything.”

“Yes, you did,” she disagrees, reaching out to hook an arm around his neck and drag him close to ruffle his hair.

Keith protests it, feeling like a kit all over again, but his mother’s Galran strength is far superior to his diluted bloodline, and he loses. He settles against her, and she pets his hair.

“So tell me about Shiro.”

Keith is pretty sure he’s turned scarlet all over again. He wonders if he’ll ever get over it enough to talk about Shiro without dissolving into a disaster.

“Uh…we’re good? He’s good. Nice.”

She looks at him, unimpressed. “‘Nice’?”

It just drives home how much neither of them are wordsmiths. He makes a face at her hypocrisy. “I’m not about to wax lyrical.”

She regards him with calculating eyes. “Shiro loves you, you know.”

Keith feels like he’s been slapped across the face. “Y-yeah,” he stammers. “I do know.” He looks away and huffs. “He’s so…Shiro.”

He doesn’t need to glance her way to know she’s smirking at him. “He’s a good man, isn’t he?”

“Yeah.”

“You two look good together, too. I always thought you did.” She trails off for a moment, and then says, “I wondered if you’d ever tell him.”

He doesn’t miss her tone this time, the unspoken worry, and he ducks his head. “Honestly, I didn’t think I would.”

“No?”

“I just—” he fumbles for the right words, and then decides the easiest way forward is to tell the truth. “I love him, Mom. So much. But it’s not enough.”

“Oh, Keith.”

He blinks. His eyes are hot and his voice is scratchy. “I almost lost him again today. The tunnel collapsed and I—” He shuts his eyes tight. “Fuck, Mom. He just cut out. Disappeared. I didn’t think I’d get to him in time. I was so scared.”

Krolia holds him so fiercely it’s borderline painful. “Kit,” she says quietly. “I’m so sorry.”

“I never want to feel like that again,” Keith says vehemently. “I can’t, not again.”

“You have to,” Krolia says into his hair. “You’re going to have to go through it over and over.”

The time Keith cried with Shiro was the first time he had ever cried in front of anyone, and it was because he’d been breaking. Breaking and healing in an endless cycle. And this is the first time he’s cried in front of his mother, but fuck, what a reason to cry for. It’s terrifying him, how much he loves Shiro, how he’d said as many times as it takes and yet he keeps coming too fucking close to failing Shiro. He’s never going to be enough for Shiro.

“That’s the stupid thing about love, Kit,” Krolia tells him. “Sometimes it just hurts and hurts.”

“I don’t want it,” Keith cries, even though he knows within his bones that it’s a blatant lie.

“Yes you do.” Krolia sees right through him. “Because it’s the best kind of hurt. It’s what makes us Galran—or, human, in your case.”

“Both,” Keith sniffles, rubbing his eyes.

“Both,” Krolia agrees, chuckling. “Your Galran blood lets you feel your emotions so strongly. We believe in absolutes. It’s not something to fear. Try not to run from it.”

Keith nods, wordless, and she places a gentle hand on his head.

“You are the best thing to have happened to me,” she says gently. “I know you’ll be strong enough.” Then she adds in a lighter tone, “And don’t worry about Shiro’s feelings so much. He looks at you the way your father used to look at me.”

Keith peeks up at her from his fringe, hating how perceptive she is. “Yeah?”

Yeah,” she grins. “Like a crazy pilot he wouldn’t hesitate to follow to the edge of the universe.”

 

— S —

 

Shiro leaves Keith and Krolia to catch up in their own time and heads to the Paladin common room. And he walks in on Pidge and Hunk having an argument.

Well, ‘argument’ is probably the wrong word. Disagreement, maybe.

Pidge is red-faced, Hunk just as flustered, and they both snap their heads around to look at Shiro when he comes into the room.

“Hey, guys,” he says slowly, wondering if it’s too late to feign forgetting something and backtracking.

“Shiro,” Pidge grinds out.

“Hey, man,” Hunk says, just as strained.

“Um,” Shiro fumbles. “Have you seen Allura?”

They both shake their heads. Tension crackles in the air like electricity. Shiro seizes the tiny window of opportunity and bows out.

He’s still thinking about it when he goes to his room to spend some time poring over reports on his data pad. Hunk and Pidge have always been close, and despite their passionate debates over whose systems are better, Shiro can’t recall them fighting. To see them at odds with each other makes him concerned.

He almost goes to ask Lance if he knows anything, but before he can, Veronica messages him regarding this morning. When he answers, attaching one of the reports he’s approved, she fires back several exclamation marks and a worried face emoji, and then refuses to send him any work to do until the next day.

Just take care of yourself first, she writes.

Shiro can’t really argue with her after that, and when Lance sends a video to the group chat of himself with Kinkade and Griffin goofing around on the Garrison obstacle course, Shiro figures he’ll just check in with Lance later.

A night off, for once. He can afford to relax in bed, at least.

He doesn't mean to nap.

It’s a gentle nightmare. It’s of Shiro amongst a crowd of people. Champion, they call him. Champion, Champion, Champion. The name should terrify him. It always has, but it doesn’t.

He wakes to the sound of the door hissing open, and Keith walking in. The raven is decidedly quiet, bending to remove his sabatons and greaves. Shiro takes note of the silence and doesn’t open up any deep topics of conversation, choosing to watch instead.

“Hey,” Keith says absentmindedly when he’s done.

“Hi,” Shiro replies, making room for Keith to come onto the bed.

And fuck, that’s probably the sexiest thing Shiro’s seen in a while, Keith on all fours, crawling towards him. Christ. He almost slaps himself. It’s really not the time. He goes to say something—anything—to distract himself from being a horny idiot, except Keith just slithers into his lap and presses their mouths together instead.

Okay. Okay, Shiro can do this.

Keith’s knees land either side of Shiro's hips as he settles without preamble, and it’s his thighs that Shiro runs his hands along as he answers. It’s soft and slow, like drinking hot cocoa after a night in the snow, and Shiro lets it wash over him. Keith’s mouth is gentle but sure, and his hands cup Shiro's jaw to hold him there.

“Hey,” Shiro says when they part, wishing he didn't feel like he was ten seconds away from coming.

It’s like being a teenager all over again.

Keith doesn't answer him, just licks Shiro's top lip until Shiro opens his mouth, and then he fucks his tongue in, and it's definitely not soft and slow anymore.

“Keith,” Shiro pants, and Keith just shifts until his hips meet Shiro's just so. “Ah, fuck.”

“Yeah?” Keith breathes, and it takes Shiro a moment to realise he's only half teasing him.

He draws back to look at Keith. “Yeah?”

Keith doesn't answer him at first, cupping his face and leaning in to kiss him soundly for a moment. His tongue presses against Shiro's, warm and playful, and Shiro has enough presence of mind to get an arm around Keith’s waist before flipping them.

Keith makes an indignant squawk as he lands on the pillows, hair splayed out around his head, and Shiro can’t remember anyone ever looking so pretty.

“You’re wearing way too much armour,” he manages.

“Take it off, then,” Keith says.

It’s a challenge, because Keith knows how competitive Shiro is, but Shiro has to close his eyes at the spike of arousal those words send through him.

“Right,” he croaks out. “Okay.”

He figures the best place to start is where Keith left off, and so he gets rid of the cuisses. Keith’s flight suit clings to his skin in the best possible way, and Shiro gets a little lost as he stares at the ripple of the muscles in Keith’s thighs.

Christ, he’s lucky.

He takes the breastplate off and pauses again, deciding time isn’t of the essence as he gives in and leans up to capture Keith’s mouth. Keith bites at his bottom lip, runs his hands through Shiro’s hair and tugs. He holds Shiro in place by the back of his neck as his knees knock against Shiro’s waist, and Shiro almost forgets entirely about removing the rest of the armour until he nearly whacks his forehead into Keith’s right pauldron.

“Shit, sorry,” Shiro apologises, and then he hiccups over a nervous laugh.

“It’s okay.”

Keith is watching him with an expression that can only be labelled as fond when Shiro sits up to undo his pauldrons. It makes Shiro self conscious and he hides his face under the pretence of marking Keith’s neck. He’s done this enough times to know that Keith is sensitive here, and the small exhale Keith makes in his ear sends a shiver down Shiro’s spine.

So lucky.

Keith’s pulse is racehorse fast as usual, something Shiro has noted whenever they make out, and he gathers Keith into his arms.

“You’re so warm,” Shiro says.

Keith butts his head against Shiro’s shoulder, shy, and Shiro’s heart does a funny little flip. He hasn’t had a drop of alcohol in far too long, but he definitely feels a little drunk right now.

Keith stays quiet as Shiro gets his vambraces and gauntlets off, and they drop to the floor with a thunk. Shiro resolves to tidy them up later, bruising the insides of Keith’s wrists with his mouth and biting at the swell of his bicep.

“Turn over,” he mumbles, half instruction, half request, and Keith goes so readily it makes Shiro’s stomach lurch.

So, so lucky.

He unzips Keith’s flight suit with far more finesse than he thought he was capable of, skin being revealed with each catch of the zipper, and Shiro is barely thinking straight as he bends down to mouth messily at the nape of Keith’s neck.

There’s trust in the laxity of Keith’s body, the way he lets Shiro do as he pleases, and Shiro has to pause to press his forehead to Keith’s shoulder blade to try and gather himself. He’s breathing hard like they’ve been going for hours when it’s probably only been a few minutes and they haven’t even done anything.

“Well,” he says, sounding as scattered as he feels. “Your armour’s off.”

Keith speaks in a matching voice. “Yeah. It’s off.”

Shiro leans back on his haunches to appraise him. Keith is exceptionally pretty like this, body lithe underneath him and so unguarded that Shiro has a hard time believing it.

“Now what?” he asks, feeling the strength in Keith’s thighs from where he’s straddling them.

He trails a finger down the open path of Keith’s zipper, marvelling at the goosebumps that follow. Keith digs his arms further under him and buries his face in his pillow, and his voice is so muffled when he replies that Shiro has to lean over him to hear.

“Whatever you want.”

Shiro’s mouth goes dry.

“Yeah?” he says again.

Keith turns his head to the side then, face flushed. “Yeah, Shiro. Please.”

Well. Keith can have whatever he wants with that kind of request. Shiro presses his fingers to Keith’s throat, feeling the staccato heartbeat. Part of him wants to do exactly as Keith asked, and the other wants to slow down until Keith’s pulse rate doesn’t feel like it’s sending him into a panic. Shiro doesn’t want to rush things. He knows how to fuck, but this is different. He doesn’t even know if Keith has done anything like this before.

“Keith?” he asks gently.

When Keith lifts his head in confusion, Shiro gets both hands on his hips and turns him over until he can make proper eye contact with him.

“I want to make you feel good,” he says, fingers squeezing Keith’s waist when he kisses the slant of Keith’s jaw. “What do you like?”

“I don’t know.” Keith’s eyes slide closed when Shiro touches their noses together. “Your hands,” he says softly.

Shiro can work with that.

His heartbeat feels pretty close to Keith’s now and he’s surprised he even manages to get one hand into the opening of Keith’s flight suit. Warmth greets him as he smooths his palm over the curve of Keith’s shoulder blade, and then he tugs the suit down, delighting in the expanse of skin.

“Doing what?”

Keith whines into Shiro’s mouth when Shiro’s thumbs flick across his nipples.

“That?” Shiro says, and he wants to say he isn’t smug, but he most definitely is.

He does it again and Keith sounds a little breathless when he says, “Yes.”

Shiro pulls his bottom lip between his teeth then, getting the flight suit down even further until it’s bunched around Keith’s waist. The flush that starts at the base of Keith’s throat is here too, and Shiro nuzzles the smooth plane of Keith’s stomach, pressing sloppy kisses in a line from his belly button to his hip.

Keith grunts when Shiro sucks a bruise on the bone, and Shiro looks up at him to check. “Is this okay?”

“Stop asking stupid questions,” Keith says brattily, but the effect is somewhat ruined by his squirming.

His hips are in Shiro’s lap now and Shiro shakes his head in wonder as he tugs the flight suit the rest of the way off. There’s a moment of fumbling where they free Keith’s foot from being trapped, and then Shiro holds it as he kisses Keith’s calf.

“Shit,” Keith swears, and Shiro looks up.

He’s wiping blood from his mouth, tongue darting out to nurse at the cuts on his mouth his fangs have made, and Shiro doesn’t think twice as he surges up to do it for him. He never thought this would be a thing for him, really, but it’s something he isn’t reading too far into. It’s part of Keith, he reasons.

“Shiro,” Keith groans when the movement causes their pelvises to be flush against each other, and his legs wrap around Shiro’s waist almost reflexively.

He’s unabashed in his nakedness, more confident out of his flight suit than in, and Shiro takes strength from it to ease a hand down Keith’s thigh and hold the swell of his ass.

“God,” Keith pants. “Please tell me you have lube.”

The words are completely unexpected and Shiro’s brain short circuits momentarily. “Uh. Yeah, um, somewhere.”

Truthfully, Shiro isn’t totally sure that he does have lube. He’s fairly certain there was a bottle in the care packages Lance had dropped off to each of them a few weeks back, but desire had been such a foreign concept to Shiro at the time that he hadn’t touched it, and he’s wondering if his memory is playing tricks on him.

Lance is always making sure they exercise some kind of beauty regime every now and then, and he’d shoved the bag at Shiro with a plea to address the dark circles under his eyes (worse than a black hole, Shiro, he’d lamented, what the fuck) before wriggling his brows and telling Shiro it was a very comprehensive package. Shiro hadn’t given Lance the satisfaction of showing his apprehension, instead thanking him and sending him on his way. Pidge had sent a photo of her and Hunk wearing face masks from their packages, only to receive copious crying emojis and Spanish endearments from Lance, and Shiro had thought that was the extent of it.

Until now.

He smothers Keith in a kiss before getting up.

It doesn’t take him long to dig around in his bathroom drawers to find the bag, and yeah, there’s a bottle of lube. Shiro says a quiet prayer of thanks for Lance’s thoroughness.

He returns to the bed to find Keith smirking at him. “What?”

“You mean you didn’t use it?”

Shiro bites Keith’s shoulder in reprimand. “And you did?”

“Yeah,” Keith says in a meaningful tone, and Shiro almost chokes on the visual his brain supplies.

Jesus Christ.

The clothes he’s wearing are suddenly too much and he pulls his shirt over his head, groaning when Keith just sits up and sucks hard on his throat.

“About time,” Keith mumbles, hands on Shiro’s waistband, and then they’re both impatient to get his sweatpants off. “Thank fuck,” he says when Shiro finally kicks them off, and then he drags Shiro down.

Shiro stumbles his way through the kiss, uncoordinated as Keith ruts against him. It’s too much and not enough all at once, and he loses the bottle in the sheets for a bit, helpless to do anything other than let Keith take the lead.

“What else?” He eventually gets out the side of his mouth. “What else do you like my hands doing?”

Keith hooks a leg behind Shiro’s back. “For fuck’s sake,” he says without any venom. “In me, Shiro, what else?

Shiro knows how to fuck, yes, but maybe so does Keith.

“Have you done this before?” he asks quietly.

Keith stills, then shakes his head. “No.” He goes silent for a moment. “I want to though. I want to with you.”

It’s such a blatant precious offer that Shiro nearly loses himself. How is this even happening?

He grips Keith’s ribs a little tighter, feeling like he’s just won the fucking lottery. “Really?”

Keith nods. “Of course.”

Shiro closes his eyes, willing his hands to stop trembling. The crawling sensation under his skin is even more intense than yesterday and he sucks in a breath to keep from being swept away with it. It takes a moment to relocate the bottle in amongst the tangle of sheets and limbs, and then the sound of the cap clicking open sounds like a shotgun.

“You’re so hot,” he says helplessly, one hand folded over the curve of Keith’s ass again, and Keith snorts.

“Says you,” he murmurs, some of his previous shyness showing through again.

Feeling slightly less out of his depth at the reminder that this is new for both of them, Shiro hikes Keith’s leg over his forearm. The lube is slippery and cold on his fingers, and Keith flinches a little at the temperature when Shiro finally touches his rim.

“Okay?” he checks again, sticking to circling outside.

Keith nods jerkily, and then his mouth falls open when Shiro presses inside.

“God,” Shiro mumbles.

Keith is unbelievably warm and snug and Shiro is so unpracticed at this. It feels like losing his virginity all over again. Lube is everywhere, on his hand and wrist, on the sheets, and yet it doesn’t seem to matter when Keith is looking at him like that.

“Shiro.”

“It's okay,” Shiro says, wondering who the reassurance is benefitting more: him or Keith.

Whilst before had felt like it was speeding past, now Shiro forces himself to take his time. Keith deserves it to be gentle and good, and it’s grounding for Shiro too, to relearn his way around it. It helps that Keith’s previous impatience isn’t there either; his eyes go lidded as Shiro fingers him, and it’s probably too slow and gentle but Keith moans quietly all the same.

His cock is hard against his belly and Shiro isn’t wholly sure that he possesses the necessary coordination to stroke Keith, but he tries anyway.

“Fuck,” Keith hisses, arching into his hands and Shiro groans into his neck. “This is—I’m not gonna last if you do that.”

“It’s okay,” Shiro says, because there’s no need to do everything tonight. He’s with Keith until the end of time. “I want you to come like this.”

Keith just whimpers. His eyes are tinged with the faintest shade of yellow and Shiro really likes it, likes the idea of Keith’s Galra side showing through. He bites the side of Keith’s knee to keep himself focused, and then he slots in a second finger next to the first.

Shiro,” Keith gasps, and Shiro worries that even after all this time, he’s still rushing.

“Too much?”

Keith hauls him down into a kiss that’s more bite than lip, and then he keeps their foreheads against one another as he clenches his teeth together.

“Keith,” Shiro prompts, stilling his hands. “Answer me.”

“Shiro,” Keith grits out. “I swear to god if you don’t continue…”

The threat goes unfinished. Something swells in Shiro’s chest then, and he finds the confidence to crook his fingers up once more. He gets it right this time and Keith's legs shake.

“Shiro, what the fuck.”

Shiro doesn't bother trying to hide his smugness. “That's it.”

There’s the brief thought that he was smart to use his prosthetic hand, because his human hand would be absolutely dying at the angle right now, and then Keith’s mouth is on his.

“Again,” he demands.

Shiro does as he's told. He has to stop to dribble more lube on his fingers, and it's wet and kind of gross, but nothing compares to the way Keith's head is thrown back on the pillows. His throat is bared and he's whining with each thrust of Shiro's hand.

“Okay?” Shiro says, coming back in with three now, and Keith's mouth snaps shut.

Fuck.

“Sounds like it,” Shiro says, taking the rolling of Keith's hips into his hands as answer enough.

“Don’t stop,” Keith eventually says and Shiro nods dumbly, letting his thrusts go less controlled. “Please don’t stop—”

“Sure, Keith,” Shiro says, almost numb with arousal.

His fingers are curling up to rub Keith's sweet spot and there's so much damned lube that each thrust squelches loudly in Shiro's ears.

“Fuck,” Keith repeats. “Fuck, Shiro, Shiro—”

His whole body bows off the bed as he comes, and Shiro’s prosthetic hand is shoved mercilessly into the bed with the force of it. Keith was a sight to behold last night when he came, and yet today is somehow even better. He holds Keith to him with an arm around his waist and fingers Keith through it, hungry for the way Keith’s eyes are completely golden now, staring unfocused at the ceiling.

“Fuck, baby,” he says into Keith’s chest, the endearment slipping out carelessly. “Oh my god.”

Keith groans when he comes back down, muscles slowly unlocking. Shiro rocks against him, the urge to come pushing to the front of his mind now that he's taken care of Keith. His fingers are still inside, and when he flexes them, Keith snatches his wrist.

“Too much,” he says weakly.

Shiro grins, wanting to have fun with it but telling himself to wait for next time, and he withdraws his hand. Keith winces slightly, and then he pushes Shiro off him.

Shiro goes immediately, heart hammering as he asks, “What's wrong?”

“It’s your turn,” Keith says as an explanation as he climbs into Shiro’s lap, and then he’s wrapping his hand around Shiro’s dick and Shiro curses.

Keith may be inexperienced, but he more than makes up for it in enthusiasm and Shiro is shooting off into Keith’s hands moments later. Come lands on both of them, and they’re so fucking messy that Shiro wants to go shower immediately, except then Keith cradles his face and kisses him so so gently.

“I love you,” Keith says, brazenly open in a way Shiro isn’t used to from him.

Shiro answers the kisses to the best of his ability, still baffled at the fact that Keith is here. “I love you too.”

“I’m sorry.”

Shiro strokes his hand up Keith’s ribs. “For what?”

“Not talking.” Keith keeps his face hidden against Shiro’s neck. “I just, god, I was going to talk to you about today but then I got here and all I could think of was last night.”

It’s Shiro’s turn to snort. “I was definitely not complaining.”

Keith pulls back to look at him, and Shiro was so wrong. Keith isn’t just pretty, he’s fucking beautiful, hair tangled, mouth kiss-bitten, cheeks red, bruises on his shoulders.

He lays a hand on Keith’s heart then. “Thank you. For trusting me.”

The sclerae of Keith’s eyes are no longer yellow, but the overhead light makes the Galran purple more prominent. They’ll go shower in a minute, but for now, Shiro just wants to remember what Keith looks like in that moment: vulnerable and shy and just as disbelieving as him.

 

— K —

 

Keith and his mother visit his father’s grave the next day.

“It seems silly,” she says. “But I want his blessing too.”

Keith doesn’t think it’s silly in the slightest. They lay flowers at his headstone, something that Krolia has never understood but does anyway because she knows Keith was socialised as a human, and then she kneels.

“War is coming, love,” she says quietly, one hand tracing the letters. “You have been and always will be part of my heart.”

Keith watches her, heart aching. He’s lost Shiro before, as a friend, and that was devastating enough. He can’t imagine what it’s like to lose a lover. He never wants to find out.

They spend the better part of an hour there, talking to him about the happenings of the Garrison, the progress made from the Coalition. Keith tells him about Shiro, about the brilliance of his smile and the upcoming Atlas mission.

It’s therapeutic in a way, to talk so freely about it, and when they stand to head back to the Garrison, he wraps his arms around his mother. She’s taller, and far stronger, but he’s the pillar of support for her then.

“Thank you, Kit,” she whispers.

It’s a week of intensive simulation training with Atlas. Keith flies around the globe to check in on the garrison facilities, pleased to note that they’re almost ready. Shiro works himself to the bone trying to get Atlas preparations complete, and as a result he barely has time for anyone. Pidge notices him skipping meals after Tuesday and makes them all take dinner to his office.

Shiro complains half-heartedly, but it’s shallow. Keith reads his appreciation in the way he hugs Pidge and lets Lance sit in his chair with his usual dramatic pose. Keith has no clue how Allura still manages to look like a regal princess when she’s cross-legged on the floor.

The busy days mean Keith is falling asleep earlier. He isn’t sure what to think of it, but it seems like a good thing. Shiro is sleeping more too; when he stumbles to bed at night, he has enough presence of mind to kiss Keith in greeting but that’s it, and he’s asleep within minutes.

The nightmares still come, one after the other. Keith might be sleeping more, but he’s awake to hold Shiro. He’ll always hold Shiro.

His mother and Kolivan wed the following weekend.

She tells Keith that Galran weddings are usually much bigger, with a week of festivities, and up to a month for royalty, but the Blades have their own, abbreviated version. Time is a precious commodity to them, and with the scattered nature of their forces, any type of gathering is a logistical nightmare to organise. Keith is surprised that the Blade of Marmora even entertained the idea of marriage enough to create their own twist, given their emphasis on the mission over each other.

“We are still creatures with comforts,” Krolia corrects him. “There’s a greater understanding when you work together.”

He kisses the top of her head and then leaves.

He’s forming part of the guard of honor, and he doesn’t want to keep them waiting. Keith turns his mask on before joining rank with his fellow Blades, and they all murmur greetings before speeding off into the last of the sunset.

By the time they arrive, the Garrison desert is pitch black, but the area they’ve chosen for the ceremony glows violet from the lamps around them. Overhead is nothing but the stars.

Knowledge or Death, Keith reminds himself as he takes in the location.

Knowledge, vast and endless like the sky above them; Death, as sure as the end of a day. It suits perfectly.

It's to be a small gathering. The Paladins are already there in their armour, as are the MFE pilots, the Atlas bridge crew, the Alteans, the Holts, and Iverson. Keith wishes he wasn’t wearing his mask so that Shiro could see the smile he directs at him, but Shiro finds him anyway despite the Blade uniform, and his grin at Keith almost blinds him.

“Your man is so cute,” Ailak, a Blade around his age, says, and Keith doesn’t need to see behind her mask to know she’s smirking at him.

“Shut up,” he says as he pulls his blade from his sheath, and she chortles at him, following suit.

“A fine specimen, too,” Sezar, a fellow legacy member, adds. “For a human.”

“Guys,” Keith groans, embarrassment prickling the back of his neck.

He holds his blade out to Lilli, who does the same, and he almost thinks he gets away with it, until she cocks her head.

“Something tells me you’re blushing, Keith.”

They’ve only known each other for just over a week, but the camaraderie Keith experienced in his previous time with the Blades has carried over just as easily to this group. It’s the threat of death looming over their heads, he supposes, that brings them so close together so quickly. They are brethren from the uniform alone.

The teasing is to be expected then. Keith still hates and loves them for it.

There’s a hush as Kolivan and Krolia arrive. They’re dressed in full Blade regalia sans masks, and they've done each other's hair in traditional Galran betrothal braids. Keith takes note of the casual confidence they both exude as they walk through the guard to the front, and it comforts him. They're equals in this.

Krolia catches his eye as she passes him and she winks.

I love you, Keith wants to say.

He drops his blade when his mother and Kolivan are in the middle, sheathing it before standing at ease with the rest of them. It’s time.

Keith has never been to any wedding, human or alien, but he’s seen enough cheesy movies thanks to Lance to have a vague idea of what human ones are supposed to be. This isn’t anything like it.

Krolia faces Kolivan and speaks first. “Kolivan.”

He dips his head respectfully. “Krolia.”

“We swore our lives to the Blade, but I pledge my heart to you.” Her ears twitch. “I give you all which is mine to give, with our kin as witness.”

She's referring to all of them—Paladins, Alteans, humans, Blades—but Keith recognises it as his cue to come forward. The ribbon Kolivan gave him for the task is iridescent and it gleams in the moonlight as he binds Kolivan and Krolia's hands together.

They're already wearing their rings, having gifted them to each other after braiding their hair. There's a greater emphasis on the quiet intimacy of their bond than showing the world, and Keith likes it far better. It makes sense. Marriage is between the two partners, and like Kolivan told him when they met, the Blades rely on secrecy and trust.

He's lucky to be the first to see them close up. They're simple enough; matching black and gold bands. Keith thinks they're beautiful.

“Blood of my blood,” he murmurs, grateful for the distortion of his voice from the mask because he's croaky with emotion. “Vel'a stazia.”

I love you, Krolia mouths at him, looking somewhat teary too.

He squeezes her hand and falls back into rank again.

Kolivan is regarding their binding when he says his part. “As Blades, we remember that the mission is more important than the individual, but I vow to serve you in all the ways you require, in Knowledge, and in Death.”

Vel’a stazia,” the Blades chant.

Vel'a stazia, ” the two of them echo.

And that's—it. No fanfare, just short and sweet.

A collective cheer rises from the group, and Kolivan is smiling when he lifts his and Krolia's bound hands to his chest. Then she rolls her eyes and tugs him closer so they are pressed against each other temple to nose.

A renewed silence falls over the gathering then as they close their eyes and share the most important of their firsts together as a married couple: their breaths. Krolia's ears are gently pulled back, Kolivan's brow relaxed for once, and it's so simple, but Keith thinks it's the most romantic thing he's ever seen.

It's way more romantic than any interaction Keith's ever witnessed in Lance's shitty romcoms.

The Blades remove their masks then. Keith lets them go ahead to congratulate the married couple before he takes his own off. Were it not for the wedding, he’d be able to hide behind his hair, but he’s tied it back in the appropriate ceremonial braid for next of kin.

He doesn’t get the chance to hide behind anything in the end, because the Paladins and Alteans converge on him.

Stunning,” Coran sobs.

“A lovely ceremony,” Allura adds.

Lance looks just as starry-eyed as he gazes at Allura, and Keith almost rolls his eyes, anticipating the pickup line. Blessedly, none comes. Instead, Pidge tugs on Keith’s arm.

“Keith,” she frowns. “You’re all watery.”

“Hadn’t noticed,” he says, resisting the urge to press his thumb and finger to his eyes.

He’s not crying, but he isn’t far off it, either. A hand lands on his shoulder, and Keith doesn’t need to look up to know it’s Shiro. He’d know Shiro’s touch anywhere.

“Quick, huh?” Shiro says, fingers digging into the muscle there.

“Yeah,” Keith agrees, shaky as anything, and Shiro makes a noise before the hand pulls him in. “Sorry.”

“What are you apologising for?” Pidge says blithely. “Idiot.”

Matt walks up to them and swats her for Keith. “Who are we calling an idiot?”

“You,” Pidge says, whacking her brother in turn. “For obvious reasons.”

“Oi, brat,” Matt says, ruffling her hair. “Shouldn’t you be annoying Hunk with your latest exposition on quantum theory?”

Pidge goes slightly pink at the mention of him. “Uh, no. No, he’s uh, organising the feast.”

Keith tilts his head at her, but he doesn’t get the chance to talk about it, because she’s dragging her brother back to their parents. Allura excuses herself to congratulate Krolia and Kolivan, accepting the arm Lance offers, and Coran follows as a diligent chaperone.

When they’re gone, Shiro leans in to kiss Keith’s cheek. Keith can feel his Blades snickering at him.

“You look good,” Shiro says quietly, and Keith forgets all about his brethren. “Really good.”

“Thanks?” he says, gauche.

Shiro laughs lowly. “I love you.”

Keith has no idea how easily Shiro says it. “Love you too,” he says, briefly snuggling closer before stepping away. “Come sit. It’s feast time.”

The clearing is transformed and Hunk and his team from the commissary lay out the food they’ve prepared. Krolia and Kolivan sit in the middle and toast each other, and it’s getting borderline ridiculous how many times Keith is finding himself close to tearing up.

He’ll blame it on the alcohol. The fact that he hasn't had nearly enough to be somewhat tipsy is irrelevant.

Pidge is nursing a glass of wine and looking incredibly pleased with herself. Shiro's mouth had twitched around a grin when Iverson had expressed his concerns about underage drinking, but Galran customs meant maturity was the decider for when one came of age, and when Krolia and Kolivan had insisted, Pidge took full advantage.

Romelle and Veronica have stolen her to themselves for the moment, and as Keith watches the three of them giggle over their wine glasses, his heart feels a little too full, like it might burst.

“Everything okay?” Shiro checks in and Keith nods, leaning more against him.

He's plastered to Keith's side, Altean hand strong on his thigh. His thumb keeps stroking circles, and Keith would like to say that Shiro is doing it to calm him, but he’s pretty sure Shiro is just riling him up on purpose instead.

To add to his nerves, his Blade brothers and sisters are grinning conspiratorially at one another. Keith doesn’t have to wait long to find out.

Ailak takes the lead and leans in predatorily, all teeth as she says to Shiro, “So, Captain Shirogane. Will we be expecting any betrothal braids in our Keith’s hair any time soon?”

Keith chokes on his wine. Shiro goes bright red, and Keith is practically sinking under the weight of both their embarrassment.

“Uh,” Shiro says, scratching the back of his neck. “Define soon?”

Ailak laughs. “Evasive, I see.” She rounds on Keith then. “Brother, you need to lend your man some of your Galran passion.”

Keith gives her a weak thumbs up, trying and failing not to cling to Shiro’s refusal to answer directly. His mother’s wedding reception is not the place to start overthinking his relationship with Shiro again.

“Duly noted, Ailak,” he mutters, sinking a little further into his little hole of self-pity anyway.

Lilli digs her elbow into his side from where she’s sitting next to him. “Aw, little one,” she says affectionately, and Keith growls lightly at her, because she’s only two inches taller than him. “Don’t be like that.”

And Keith knows what she’s inferring, knows his Galran brothers and sisters feel everything so extremely that of course they’d be expecting courting braids at the very least, but you can’t just ask someone a question like that.

His mother’s words are bouncing around his head from the other day: Try not to run from it.

Well, Keith is half-human, and he’s reserved for one as well, so he’s kind of on a back foot here. “Absolutes,” he says. “I know.” But he doesn’t divulge anything further.

Ailak’s disappointment at Keith not rising to the challenge is almost palpable, but she decides to show mercy. It’s a wedding, after all. “I suppose I’ll have to settle for evasive then.” She holds her hand out to Lilli. “Dearest. Come pester Selak with me.”

“You’re so demanding,” Lilli retorts, accepting the outstretched hand all the same. “Especially considering you haven’t even offered to give me courting braids.”

“I’ll give you more than that,” Ailak says suggestively, and she winks at Keith before the two of them saunter away.

The silence that follows is not the comfortable one Keith usually associates with Shiro, but it doesn’t last long.

“Should...should I be braiding your hair?”

Keith cringes and buries his nose in his glass. “Uh, maybe?”

Which is actually yes, but Keith is exploiting his halfblood status. Shiro shouldn’t feel obliged to, he needs to want to, but that’s stupid, because why would Shiro want to do that for Keith

Except apparently Shiro does, because he says, “You’ll have to show me.”

He’s warm and so so earnest with the request, and honestly, where the fuck did Keith find this man? He is everything that Keith loves.

“Maybe,” he hedges.

“No, definitely,” Shiro corrects, some of his Captain Shirogane authority slipping into his tone.

Keith shivers, downing the rest of his glass. Shiro’s voice is darker now, a promise of something to come. It’s far too dangerous coupled with alcohol. It almost makes Keith blurt out a question of whether Shiro would actually give him betrothal braids.

“Yes, Captain,” he says, mouth deliberate on the formation of Shiro’s title.

He remembers the way Shiro had blushed the first time he’d said it in such a tone; they’d made out in the sparring room not long after.

It has the same effect.

Keith,” Shiro says.

His fingers dig into the skin of Keith's upper thigh, dipping down lower than what’s strictly appropriate in a public setting, and Keith shifts, already half hard.

“Tease all you want,” Shiro tells him as his fingers dance just shy of where Keith wants them. “I can do that too.”

Keith bites into a canape to muffle his frustration.

It’s much, much later when the festivities die down. Keith kisses his mother goodbye and holds her and Kolivan close, thankful for all of their abilities to interpret silence. Words are exhausting, and Keith is tired enough as it is.

They’re a sleepy faction of Paladins and Blades walking to their quarters, slowly dwindling in numbers as they pass rooms, and the sky is beginning to lighten with the promise of dawn by the time they come to Shiro’s.

Shiro waits long enough for the door to hiss shut before he gets both hands on Keith’s face and kisses him.

Knowledge or Death, Keith thinks as Shiro holds him against the wall and bruises his mouth. Poetic mirrors. The emergence of life with the new day, and the nebulous reality of it.

“Fuck,” Shiro growls as he tugs at the hood of Keith’s uniform. His Altean hand is at the base of Keith’s braid next, and he pulls it free, winding it around his fingers and using it to crush Keith to him. “Been wanting to get under this all damn night.”

“Do it,” Keith breathes, still kind of drunk, on love, on Shiro.

“Mm,” Shiro hums, pulling Keith’s head back by the braid so that he can lick his way up Keith’s neck. “Alright.”

Keith’s mouth parts on a whimper, hands carding through Shiro’s hair. It’s soft against his jaw, so different to the hot seal of Shiro’s lips where they close on Keith’s throat, and Keith grunts when Shiro bites down.

“I meant it,” Shiro says, his left hand sneaking down to grope Keith’s ass. “You look really good.”

Teeth sink into his throat and Keith groans a little. “What’s with you and walls?” he says to deflect.

It works. Shiro’s hair is sticking up in all directions when he stops to make a face at Keith, and Keith laughs into his mouth.

“Fine,” he huffs, like the bed isn’t less than a metre away.

His Altean hand leaves Keith’s hair to grip Keith’s thigh, and Keith makes a noise of surprise when he’s lifted up into Shiro’s arms.

“Right,” Keith says stupidly, as if he isn’t perfectly capable of carrying Shiro in the same fashion.

Shiro’s grin is boyish and far too attractive for Keith’s own good.

They land on the bed in a tangle of limbs, and Keith can already tell that this is going to be a lot quicker than the other day. The other day, Shiro had been so slow and careful that Keith had wanted to run and hide, because it felt like Shiro was opening his ribcage and peering inside, and it was only the care with which he did that convinced Keith to stay and let him.

I love you, Shiro had said like it weighed absolutely nothing.

His hands reach to undo Keith’s epaulets and Keith does his best to get Shiro out of his Garrison uniform, but there are so many clasps and buckles that it takes longer than either of them have the patience for. They’re hindered by Shiro anyway, who keeps pausing to kiss Keith, biting at his bottom lip and mouthing along Keith’s jaw with no care for finesse.

Keith lets him despite his impatience, because he’ll give Shiro the universe.

“Everything,” Keith says when they’re naked. He’s definitely electing to blame his forwardness on the alcohol lingering in his system. “I want everything this time.”

“Keith, baby,” Shiro says fondly, left hand settling on Keith’s thigh as his Altean one strokes Keith's dick noncommittally. “We don’t have to rush this kind of thing.”

“We’re not,” Keith retorts. “Last time was really good but—” He breaks off, really drawing on the alcoholic courage card now. “I want all of it. Now.”

Shiro had about as much wine as Keith, so maybe that’s why he doesn’t do as much of his noble protesting as usual, but he’s still gazing at Keith with a funny smile on his face. “We still have all of the time in the world.”

Shiro,” Keith says, frustration starting to creep in. He isn’t going to fucking beg. “We’re having sex. Now.”

Shiro laughs, and the kiss he plants on Keith’s mouth is more of a smile. “Okay, okay.”

Keith is still stamping down the remnants of his irritation but it doesn’t last, because the kiss turns less distracted and Shiro wraps his arms tightly around Keith’s waist. He crushes Keith to his chest, biting his way into Keith’s mouth.

“I love you,” he whispers against Keith’s cheek.

He has no idea how much the saying breaks Keith open.

They find the bottle of lube from the other day, and Keith pours far too much onto Shiro’s hand. They laugh as it gets on Shiro’s chest and on the sheets and basically everywhere except where it’s supposed to, and then Shiro smooths his palm down Keith’s back to settle on his ass.

“You’re beautiful,” he says as he presses in.

Keith holds his breath and only exhales on the first slide out. It’s a gut reaction, but Keith doesn’t know why he was so apprehensive. Shiro goes almost as slow as he did the other day, gauging Keith’s reactions and using them as a step-by-step guide. Keith’s breath leaves him shakily on the fourth—fifth, sixth, it doesn’t matter—time Shiro presses into him, and then Keith stops counting.

Shiro’s touch is reverent.

It’s splitting Keith open the same way it did the other day, maybe even worse this time, and he hides his face against Shiro’s shoulder, hating the vulnerability.

He trusts Shiro, with all his heart. It doesn’t make it any easier.

He braces himself above Shiro, thighs beginning to ache with the effort, but then Shiro presses in with two and Keith has something new to focus on.

“You okay?” Shiro asks as he licks his way into Keith's mouth, the frenzied rush from earlier dissolving with each controlled thrust of his fingers into Keith.

Keith mumbles an affirmative. Shiro’s fingers haven’t quite gotten to that spot from last time, and whilst it’s slightly disappointing, it also means Keith doesn’t feel like he’s going to come like a teenager. He wants everything this time.

Shiro manages to strike it when he’s up to three fingers later on.

Fuck,” Keith nearly shouts.

Lightning bolts of pleasure zip up his spine and Keith grits his teeth against it, wanting to last. He wants to come with Shiro’s dick inside him.

“You’re so hot,” Shiro confesses, and then he pulls Keith into a kiss that’s more tongue than anything.

His cock presses against Keith’s thigh and Keith sighs into his mouth, letting Shiro's hand move gently within him.

“Is this okay?” Shiro asks, fingers turning a little less gentle and a lot more forceful.

They rub against that spot and Keith's legs are trembling from the pleasure. He moans an answer and hopes Shiro understands. He must do, because Shiro's left hand clamps down on his waist then to hold him still and then his Altean fingers are picking up the pace.

“Shit,” Keith pants as the movements threaten to undo him. “Shit, Shiro, you gotta stop—”

“Yeah?”

Please—”

For a terrifying moment he thinks it's too late, thinks his orgasm is starting anyway, except Shiro's grip goes tight around the base of his cock and nothing comes. Keith's mouth opens on a silent scream.

Shiro lets go when Keith slumps forward. He's unsure how to feel. It's good, to not have come but at the same time, it's fucking awful, to have been so close only to be denied.

“Sorry,” Shiro says, sheepish.

He's so beautiful.

“Dick,” Keith gets out, unsure if he's insulting Shiro or asking him.

It doesn't matter, because Shiro's Altean fingers are withdrawing. Keith has enough higher brain function to help Shiro relocate the bottle, and this is familiar, squirting too much gel into Shiro's hand. They had a lot of wine.

“Fuck, sorry,” Keith laughs, and Shiro rolls his eyes, but he's answering the kisses.

His hands stroke down Keith's body, and then settle in the small of Keith's back.

“Your turn,” he says quietly, and Keith's eyes go wide with surprise.

He is supposed to be the one who's shy, not Shiro.

“Uh…okay.”

Shiro leans back against the headboard, fingers resting on Keith's ribs as he watches Keith’s every move. Self-conscious, Keith strokes Shiro's cock a few times, marvelling at how warm he is. Yeah, he's never done this before, but Shiro makes him confident enough.

When the hummingbird of his heart isn't quite in his throat anymore, Keith shifts up. It's a messy kiss that Shiro plants on his lips, one that tells Keith exactly how turned on Shiro is, and he forgets momentarily what he was doing.

“Take your time, okay?” Shiro says, sweeter than any of the desserts they ate earlier.

Keith can feel the heat of Shiro's cock against his ass and he gulps. “Yeah, sure.”

Shiro presses the tip to Keith's rim, but that's all the direction he gives, and he sits back again to let Keith take the reins.

Keith bites his lip, ears burning.

He sinks down.

And, fuck.

Shiro’s hands are on his hips the entire time, grounding in a way, but it’s Shiro’s face Keith chooses to watch. His eyes are lidded, face flushed, mouth parted, and he’s staring at Keith like he’s the best possible thing.

Keith doesn’t seat himself fully, stopping when he thinks he’s at his limit. He’s not brave enough to confirm it.

“Okay,” he mumbles, sinking forward to knock his forehead to Shiro’s.

“Jesus, Keith,” Shiro says just as breathlessly. “Are you okay?”

Keith hums a non-committal answer. He’s floating, sort of, not wholly present at the moment. “It’s big,” he gets out, high and reedy, and Shiro laughs in disbelief.

“Are you okay though?”

“Yeah,” Keith says, still in that detached plane of existence.

He can feel every throb of Shiro's dick inside him and it's both uncomfortable and pleasing. He has no idea how that's possible.

Shiro’s mouth drags along his jaw gently as he talks to Keith. “You feel so good.”

Keith nods again. The room is stifling. His hair is coming loose from his braid, plastered to his face and getting in his mouth, and Shiro’s fucking huge inside him. It’ll be a miracle if he survives this. He almost asks Shiro to pull out, to stick to using his fingers or something, but then Shiro shifts and Keith clamps down automatically.

“Sorry,” Shiro rushes to say, hands brushing Keith’s hair out of his eyes. “Sorry.”

Keith shakes his head. “I’m fine,” he says. “I’m fine, I just—”

And then he gives up trying to form a sentence that is somewhat coherent and lifts up instead. It’s easier, and Keith is grateful for all the lube as he slides down again without catching, the movement smooth.

Shiro keeps staring up at him the entire time, the only giveaway that he’s fighting for control being the way his fingers are tight on Keith’s hip bones. They’re going to bruise. God, he wants it.

“That’s it,” Shiro murmurs as Keith tries again. “There you go.”

Keith’s thighs burn. Everything feels like fire.

“Shiro,” he says. “Can you…I need…”

Shiro lifts him this time with strong hands, moving Keith on him with an ease that makes Keith’s insides feel like jelly. “What do you need?”

“Just—fuck—please—”

Shiro gets the hint.

He pulls Keith down at the same time he thrusts his hips up and Keith nearly gags.

“Holy shit,” he gasps, head lolling onto Shiro’s shoulder.

Then he gives in and lets Shiro take over.

“Talk to me,” Shiro grunts as he pushes into Keith.

It’s not fast by any means, but it’s hard and its thorough and Keith can’t do much more than hold on, hands going white where they grip the flesh of Shiro’s arms.

“I’m okay,” Keith says, and then he groans when Shiro finally brushes that spot again. “Fuck, there—”

Shiro is attentive as anything. He does as Keith directs and the result has Keith shivering in his arms. His dick is trapped between them and it’s brushing against Shiro’s chest with each thrust and Keith wants to die.

“Shiro, please,” he says, no longer caring  what he’s asking for.

“I know, baby, I know," Shiro says, and now he's thrusting more purposefully, deep and drawn out, each one sending delicious friction up Keith's spine.

He fucks Keith slowly, taking his time but making sure he hits the spot inside that sends starbursts over his skin.

Keith looks at Shiro and sees galaxies in his eyes, hears Shiro murmur something encouraging in his ear, something like how well he's doing, and then Shiro shifts again and the starbursts are a solar system bursting into existence as the direction changes.

Keith is so so full now, he's begging, "Please, please, please," like it's the only word he knows.

Shiro catches his mouth before he can plead anymore, panting against his cheek as his hips keep bucking into Keith. Keith whimpers into the kiss, dazed and disoriented and wanting to come and never wanting to stop. They are star sailors, adrift, tethered only to each other.

“Keith,” Shiro moans, “Holy fuck.

Keith manages a whine, and then Shiro fucks into him hard and stays there, whimpering. He’s gorgeous with his orgasm, a muscled god shuddering beneath him, and Keith clings to him as it washes over the two of them.

“Fuck,” Shiro says, barely giving himself time to catch his breath. “Come here.”

Altean fingers close around Keith’s dick and Shiro strokes him perfectly.

Keith comes with a cry, shaking.

It’s a while before Keith lifts his head. He’s immediately regretful. Shiro’s neck and chest is destroyed. There are cuts everywhere, blood where Keith bit deeper. He touches one cautiously, feeling the phantom of his fangs in his mouth.

“Sorry.”

He isn’t expecting Shiro to laugh. “I told you. They’re part of you.”

“I made you bleed.”

Shiro shrugs. “I kind of like it?”

Keith snorts.

Shiro’s face changes, softening around the edges. He brushes the hair from Keith’s forehead, and then places the gentlest kiss upon it. “I love you so much.”

Keith nuzzles his cheek. “I love you too.”

 

— S —

 

Shiro prepares for the war, and everything builds, and everything burns.

His nightmares are the same for a full week: of Keith, bruised and breathtaking with pure black eyes.

Shiro, he says around a bloodstained smile, and Shiro panics. Is he the reason Keith’s skin is covered in scars? They’re calling you Champion.

But it’s his Altean hand, not his Galran one, that activates. It glows turquoise and moves on its own to strike. Keith’s head snaps to the side grotesquely and he laughs.

They're calling you Champion, he says again, and then Shiro wakes up.

The real Keith holds him and kisses him and tells him to breathe.

Shiro buries himself in work.

The Atlas serves him well, passing each and every test they run her through. He follows the reports Iverson assigns him and asks for more when he reaches the end, craving the productivity. The Garrison is too busy, the days too short. He feels like he’s treading on a knife’s edge, just waiting to slip. Autumn begins to fade and everything is so fast.

And after so long waiting for the rush, the brevity of it sweeps Shiro off his feet.

Tomorrow is launch date.

Their final briefing was this morning.

“Take some time for yourselves,” he had ordered the room as Captain Shirogane, Garrison Darling. “Be with the ones you love. You’ve earned it.”

He’s following his own order as Shiro. Keith is sitting on top of Black with him, watching the inky violet sky eating away at the pearl moon sitting on the lavender horizon. The last time they sat like this was shortly after Shiro had been brought back, and the pain had been eating both of them alive.

It’s a faded bruise now, throbbing quietly under Shiro’s sternum. Keith settles more fully against him, throwing an arm across Shiro’s waist with casual possessiveness. He’s much subtler with his displays of affection than Shiro, but he’s still the one to lean up first for a kiss after training, and the way he holds Shiro now is just a reminder.

It makes Shiro smile. “What are you thinking about?” he asks, as if it’s strange for Keith to be silent.

“Tomorrow,” Keith says. “Feels like I’m staring into an abyss, waiting to fall.”

“Take me with you,” Shiro jokes, and Keith looks up at him.

“Obviously.”

The right side of his hair is still in the courting braids Shiro did this morning. They look nothing like the ones Ailak gives to Lilli. Keith had mentioned that there were different patterns depending on what type of Galra you were, so Shiro had let the notion that he wasn’t proficient enough go. Practice makes perfect. He thinks he’s getting better at them.

“Keith,” he says quietly as he looks at them, mouth moving before his brain can catch up.

“Hm?”

Too late to back out now. He presses his mouth to the top of Keith’s head to get some confidence in him. He’s Shiro, yes, but he can be as brave as Captain Shirogane, surely.

“Your hair…” he starts. “The braids.”

He reads the way Keith goes tense in his arms and strokes one hand down Keith’s shoulder, trying to coax the tension from him again.

“Would you ever teach me betrothal ones?”

Keith sits up so suddenly it knocks Shiro backwards. “What?”

“What?” Shiro says right back, heartbeat going a mile a second.

“You...you want me to teach you betrothal braids,” Keith says slowly.

Shiro fumbles. Captain Shirogane is nowhere to be found now. “Um. Yes?” He sucks in a breath through his teeth. “I mean yes. I want you…to?”

Keith looks at him like he’s insane. “Are...are you…?”

“Yeah,” Shiro says, a little breathless and a lot in love, and it’s that last feeling that he’s drawing strength from to get his next words out into the open. “Yeah, Keith. I am.” He scoots closer, knowing he’s fucking this all up but praying Keith will forgive him for it later. “We’re heading into war and I just…you’re it. You’re it for me.” He laughs, watery as anything. “I want to give you betrothal braids and hold your hand forever.”

Keith’s eyes are as violet as the sky. “Shiro,” he says brokenly. “I love you.”

Blood rushes in Shiro’s ears. He feels frantic. “I love you too. Will you teach me? It doesn’t have to be today. It can be tomorrow, or, I don’t know. Sometime. Hell, it can be in a year or two. Whenever you want.”

Keith’s cheeks are wet with tears. “Of course,” he says softly.

Of course, he says, as if Shiro is a fucking idiot for thinking otherwise. Love is a funny thing.

Shiro’s eyes are prickling with emotion at the words, and he can’t help it. He reaches out to hold Keith’s jaw as he kisses him, and Keith just melts. Shiro is so fucking lucky.

It’s kind of insane how he gets to have this, Keith, pliant and welcoming. His legs part for Shiro to settle between, and then it’s a building kind of motion, the rolling of waves on their way to shore. Their uniforms are lilac with the setting sun, and Keith sits up to help Shiro undress him, except he keeps pausing to press bruising kisses to Shiro’s lips, and so Shiro only gets his own unbuttoned halfway before he decides to forget about it and reaches for Keith’s waistband instead.

“Here?” Keith laughs out, but he’s helping Shiro anyway.

“We can go inside,” Shiro suggests, but Keith shakes his head and kisses him.

“It’s fine,” he murmurs, fingers fumbling over Shiro’s own trousers. “I want to stay here.”

Shiro agrees, because he also wants to be outside, and then he ducks his head to watch what he’s doing. Keith’s cock is warm and thick when Shiro curls his fingers around it, and Keith jolts.

“Sensitive,” Shiro teases, and he can almost feel Keith rolling his eyes.

“Shut up,” Keith grumbles, and Shiro laughs into his neck before Keith brings him up to kiss again.

They kiss languidly under the purpling sky, unhurried. Moonbeams bloom on Keith’s skin and Shiro follows them with his tongue, listening to the quickening of Keith’s breathing. It’s gentle, it’s slow. It peels at Shiro’s layers until he’s bleeding open.

“I love you,” he says as he nudges inside, breath stuttering out from him as he’s enveloped in heat.

Keith claws lines down his back and makes Shiro’s mouth bleed. His eyes are golden as he comes and Shiro holds him through it, breaking apart at the seams.

They are all full of unanswered hopes, but Shiro thinks that maybe Keith might be the exception.

 

— E N D —