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Easy to Love

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After the end of the war, there’s a lot of triage to do on Earth. Governments fell, infrastructures crumbled, and the human population was decimated by the Galra. There’s a lot of work to be done, but one of the top priorities is reuniting families. After all, it’s hard to convince people to help get power and water utilities working when they’re preoccupied with finding which, if any, surviving relatives they might have. People are invited to register as survivors, and families start to come together as pieces fall into place.

There’s a lot of focus put on children. Publicly, of course, it’s because children should be with family. Logistically, it’s also because the sheer number of war orphans are straining the haphazard systems slapped in place by various local governments. Lots of people end up adopting distant relatives. Both Hunk and Lance’s immediate families grow by at least one, and they both delight in spoiling their new siblings.

Even so, the call still takes Shiro by surprise.

"I’m sorry, what?"

"Your cousin Aya," the voice on the other end of the line repeats patiently, "had a child before she was killed. A girl, Mika. You’re the only surviving relative we have on record." The woman pauses, then adds gently, "I understand that your position may not allow for—"

"I’ll make it work," Shiro says before he even fully processes what he's saying. "Don’t worry about it. She can—I’ll take her," he says, stumbling over the words. "I mean, if that’s okay."

"Of course it is," the woman replies, delighted. "Reuniting families is our top priority!"

The full magnitude of what he’s done doesn’t hit Shiro until after he hangs up, at which point he stares at the wall for exactly five minutes before picking up his holopad and dialing Keith. It rings twice before Keith’s face appears.

"Hey, everything okay?" he asks.

It’s a valid question; Shiro tends to text instead of calling.

"I, uh."

Keith’s face takes on an expression of genuine concern. "Shiro? What’s wrong?"

"...I think I just became a father."

There's a long pause as Keith goes very still. "I’ll be right there."

True to his word, Keith materializes in Shiro’s living room just moments later, then sends Kosmo away with a jerk of his head.

"Okay, so... what the hell?"

Shiro can’t help but smile; Keith has never been one for beating around the bush, and right now he really needs that.

"I got a call from the Bureau of Family Unification," Shiro explains, "because they were contacted by their counterpart in Japan. My cousin apparently had a baby girl, then died in the invasion. I’m her only living relative."

Shiro finds that it helps, a little, to lay the facts out like a mission report, to distance himself from the immediate panic of oh my god I just agreed to adopt a kid.

Keith nods slowly. "Okay. And you said you’d take her in."

"Yeah." Shiro swallows, all the nerves he’d pushed to the side rushing back. "God, Keith, I can’t do this, can I? My job is dangerous, and I travel so much, and I don’t have any family to—"

"You have us," Keith says firmly. "The Paladins, Mom, Coran. You know we’ll all help. I’ll help." He pauses, then carefully adds, "But no one will blame you if you decide it’s too much. You already have so much on your shoulders."

Shiro can see how much it costs Keith to say that, can see him envisioning this little girl they’ve never met bring bounced around in whatever passes for a foster system these days. It’s that, more than anything, that makes up his mind.

"She needs me," Shiro says quietly. "She doesn’t have anyone else."

Keith smiles, then reaches out to squeeze Shiro’s shoulder. "She does now."

After that, everything seems to happen way too fast.

Shiro’s been living on the Atlas; it just makes sense, what with the housing shortage and the influx of refugees. He considers finding an apartment now that he's going to have a child living with him, but wakes the next morning to find a second bedroom added to his quarters, and that's that.

Atlas isn’t the only one eager to help; as soon as the Paladins hear the news, they set to work preparing Mika’s welcome. Lance and Allura get started on decorating her room, a task Shiro is happy to hand over. Coran says something about preparing an educational curriculum. Pidge sets to work creating a child-friendly holopad, while Hunk grills Shiro about traditional Japanese meals that might help Mika feel more at home, then sets about perfecting them.

Keith is there to quietly ground Shiro every time he starts to doubt that he can do this. When he overhears Shiro on the phone trying to arrange transportation for Mika, he speaks up.

"Why don’t we just go get her in Black?"

Shiro pauses, unsure. "That seems like overkill, doesn’t it?"

Keith shrugs. "We can be there in minutes. Makes more sense than the two of you being stuck on a plane for hours, right? Unless you wanted the time with her to yourself," he adds, "which I’d totally understand."

"...I was actually going to ask if you'd be willing to come with me anyway," Shiro admits a bit sheepishly.

Keith blinks in surprise before a small, pleased smile appears on his face. "Just let me know when, and I’ll be there."

Two days later, Shiro is pacing across the cockpit nervously as Keith pilots Black to the airport in Osaka where they’re scheduled to meet Mika.

"This is insane," Shiro says. "I’m not even good with kids. They’re so small and messy and loud. I don’t know how to talk to them."

Keith raises his shoulder in a shrug. "They’re still people," he points out. "Just people with smaller vocabularies. You're good with people. You'll be fine."

"She spent time in a Galra work camp, and she’s only four," Shiro replies. "She’s got to be traumatized. I’m not equipped to deal with that."

"Shiro," Keith says, looking over his shoulder at him pointedly. "If anyone’s equipped to deal with that, its you."

Shiro’s frown only deepens, so Keith turns back to the controls with a sigh and prepares to set down. Once the lion’s on the ground, Keith turns to Shiro. "Do you want me to wait here?"

"No," Shiro replies quickly. Maybe too quickly. "I mean, if you don’t mind. I’m feeling a little out of my depth, here."

Keith huffs out a laugh. "You and me both, man," he agrees. "But I’m with you. Whatever you need."

He says it so easily, as if he hasn’t already given Shiro everything, over and over and over again.
When they step out of the lion together, shoulder to shoulder, Shiro can almost believe Keith is here with him in another capacity. More than just his friend lending a hand.

He pushes that thought away, because it’s too much and not enough, and not fair to either of them.

There is a small group of people standing off to the side of the airfield in the shade of what’s left of a storage building, one side blown away to expose an interior that's been picked clean of anything useful. As they approach, Shiro straightens his shoulders and puts more confidence in his step than he feels.

"Ohayo gozaimasu, Shirogane-san," says one of the women.

"Ohayo," Shiro greets clumsily, then adds with an apologetic grimace, "I’m sorry, my Japanese is not very good."

"That is okay," the second woman replies. "That’s why I am here—and Mika knows some English," she adds, giving the small girl with them an encouraging look.

The girl, dressed in a lime green raincoat, looks between Shiro and Keith, her eyes catching on his metal arm, then darts a glance at the woman before saying, very quietly but with careful enunciation, "Hello, Mr. Shirogane."

She doesn’t quite meet his eyes as she speaks, but Shiro is impressed anyway. He bends over a bit to try to catch her eye.

"Hello, Mika. You can call me Shiro, if you want to." She glances up at him, then nods, wide-eyed and serious. She darts a glance at Keith, who has fallen back a bit, but doesn’t ask the question plain on her face.

"This is my friend Keith," Shiro adds. "He’s going to fly us back to the States in his lion."

Her eyes flicker to Black and her lip wobbles a little before she clamps it down. She’s obviously daunted and trying not to show it, and Shiro finds himself helplessly charmed by her stubborn bravery.

"They said you fly," she says after a moment.

One of the women grimaces and starts to speak up, but Keith beats her to it.

"He does," Keith says, stepping forward a little. "If you think my lion’s cool, wait ‘til you see his ship. It was a little too big to land here, is all."

Mika’s ponytail sways as she looks between Keith and Shiro.

"He flies, too?" she finally asks Shiro, eyeing Keith suspiciously.

Shiro nods seriously.

"Keith is the best pilot I know," he replies. "Better than me."

Keith shifts, but doesn’t argue the way Shiro knows he wants to.

There’s a rumble of thunder in the distance and Mika goes completely still, eyes trained on the sky.

"Tada no arashidesu," one of the women murmurs, kneeling by Mika’s side. "Uchūsende wanai."**

Mika nods, but huddles in close to her.

Over the next few minutes, Shiro signs some papers, Mika’s former guardian says goodbye with a brief hug and gentle smile, and Mika’s small bag of belongings is transferred to Shiro. She stares at the bag’s strap held in Shiro’s metal grip, but doesn’t say a word.

"Cool, huh?" Keith asks, kneeling by her. "He can do some cool tricks with it, too."

"Keith," Shiro starts, but Mika’s eyes have already narrowed in interest.


Keith grins, then starts walking backwards toward Black. "Hey Shiro, why don’t I stow that bag for you?"

Shiro sighs good-naturedly, then sends the arm floating away from himself, past a wide-eyed Mika, and about 30 feet away to Keith, who hoists it over his shoulder and grins at Mika. "See?"

The smile on her face is small, as if she’s fighting it, but Shiro treasures it anyway.

When Shiro offers Mika his left hand to lead her into the lion, she looks at him suspiciously, then crooks two fingers around his pointer finger. Shiro takes this as a good compromise and leads her into Black.

Mika is wide-eyed and awed as Keith navigates a smooth takeoff, and gasps audibly when the stars come into view above them. Keith explains that it’s faster to break atmo and come back down where they want to be than flying across land and seas, and she nods, eyes distant.

Noticing her wide-eyed stare, Shiro speaks up. "Do you like them? The stars?" To his surprise, she shakes her head immediately and vigorously.

"No! That’s where the scary aliens come from!"

Keith glances back, meeting Shiro’s eyes with a sad look over Mika’s head.

"That is true," Shiro agrees slowly. "But it’s also where some really nice aliens come from."

"Like our friend Allura," Keith adds. "She’s an alien princess."

"...a real princess?" Mika asks, looking to Shiro with a wrinkled brow.

"A real princess," he confirms. "She’s very nice, and can’t wait to meet you." Mika doesn’t reply, but seems to be considering the idea.

Within minutes, Keith’s setting Black down next to the Atlas. It’s late afternoon here, and Mika blinks in the hot desert sun as they emerge.

As excited as everyone is to meet Mika, Shiro had thought it’d be best to let her ease into things, so it’s quiet as Shiro explains to a quiet Mika that she’ll be living on the Atlas with him.

"Do you live there, too?" she asks Keith, who seems surprised to be addressed.

"I do," he replies. "I travel around some, but when I’m here, I live right next door to you and Shiro."

"Allura does too, and a bunch of other people," Shiro explains. "It’s kind of like a small city that can fly sometimes."

"I think I’m gonna go check on the Paladins, if you guys don’t need me for anything," Keith says, glancing over to meet Shiro’s eyes. Shiro is briefly overcome with the desire to beg Keith to stay, to not leave him alone with this small, scared person, but instead he smiles.

"Yeah, I think Mika and I have got this handled for now. See you later?" Shiro can’t help but add hopefully.

"I’ll bring some dinner by in a little bit so you guys don’t have to deal with the mess hall," Keith offers.

"That’s... yeah," Shiro says, relaxing a bit. "Thanks." He watches Keith jog up the gangplank, momentarily distracted by the view.

"I need to pee." Mika’s announcement snaps him out of it, and he looks down at her in surprise.

"Oh. Yeah, ok, let’s head inside, then."

"I need to pee now," she insists, her voice going high and whiny with panic.

In the end, Shiro scoops her up and jogs her to the closest bathroom on the ship, much to the amusement of the crew members he passes along the way.

Crisis averted, he walks Mika to his quarters and introduces her to her room, which Lance and Allura have decorated in a rainbow of jewel tones with a mishmash of things they found at the local market. She steps inside hesitantly, stopping to look back only two steps in.

"This whole room is mine?" she asks, her voice small. Shiro feels something clench in his chest at that; if anything, he’d worried the room would be far too small for her liking.

"All yours, Mika," he assures her, smiling.

Her eyes go big as she turns back to the room, looking around as if she can’t decide which part to check out first. She finally heads for the bed, staring for a long moment before flopping over and rubbing her face against the pink duvet.

"It's soft," she says, wonder in her voice, and Shiro feels his heart break a bit at how little softness she's had in her life up to now.

Shiro spends the next few hours slowly showing Mika around the small apartment and answering the few questions she has. She’s mostly quiet, but seems excited about the TV and holopad, and is perfectly happy to watch cartoons once Shiro turns them on for her. Around 8pm — a little late to account for Mika’s probable jet lag — Keith arrives with a stack of pizza boxes.

"Thought I’d get a variety since I wasn’t sure what toppings she might like," he says a little sheepishly as he hands the boxes over.

Shiro can’t help but be warmed by the thought Keith put into something as simple as a pizza dinner.

"Thanks," he says warmly.

"No problem," Keith replies with a smile. Shiro watches on in confusion as Keith turns to leave, raising a hand in a wave. "I’ll send you a message tomorrow morning to see if you need anything."

"You aren’t eating with us?" Shiro asks, surprised. Keith turns back, looking uncertain.

"I thought you might want... you know. Some family time, to get to know each other, or something."

It takes a second for Shiro to realize why that sounds so ridiculous. "Keith, you are family."

Keith freezes, and Shiro wonders briefly if he’s pushed too hard.

"I mean, obviously there’s no pressure, if you have other plans or something," he adds quickly, giving him an out. "But you’re welcome to join us. Especially considering how much pizza there is," he says, laughing a little. "It'll take us days to finish this on our own.

Keith’s smile softens his face in a way that makes Shiro’s heart ache to see that more often.

"Yeah, sure," he agrees. "I can stay and eat."

Neither of them plan it that way, but somehow, it becomes their new routine.
Keith brings (or, occasionally, cooks) dinner, then cleans up while Shiro bathes Mika and puts her to bed. Shiro takes the first week off of work to help Mika acclimate, and after that she spends time with whoever is available while Shiro works.

Most often, she spends a few hours with Keith. He does his best to arrange his Paladin and Blades duties around Shiro's schedule so that he can watch Mika when Shiro's on duty. It's not anything they ever discuss, but he makes himself available far too often for Shiro to pretend it's coincidence. When Keith has to work, she stays with Sam and Colleen, or Coran, or Veronica, or one of the Paladins. Occasionally she even hangs out on the bridge or in Shiro’s office. It’s a little hectic, but they make it work.

Mika is quiet and withdrawn the first few days, but as she gets to know everyone and relaxes a little, she starts to open up, charming Shiro a little more each day with her personality. She’s curious and bold and Keith laughs about how stubbornness must run in the family. Granted, she’s perfectly agreeable about most things, but once she makes up her mind about something, that’s it. She loves all the clothes that were waiting for her (mostly courtesy of hand-me-downs collected around the Garrison), and is happy to hang up the lime green raincoat when it's not wet out, but she won’t wear any shoes but the matching green rain boots.

Shiro gets up early and stays up late to do paperwork while she sleeps so that he can keep his work hours to just his duty shift while she's awake. He reads parenting books and tucks her in every night and tries his best to engage with her.

He’s exhausted, but he kind of loves it.

The thing is, he thought it would be harder. Sure, she’s had a couple meltdowns, has thrown a few temper tantrums, but overall the transition has been shockingly easy.

The fact that they get to eat dinner with Keith every night is a nice side benefit, too. It’s the type of domestic life he’d once thought he could never have, and now he’s living it. Most nights, if he squints, he can even imagine he’s living it with Keith, which he tries not to think about too hard because it makes him want to say things he’s not sure he should.

Three weeks in, he’s happy. Mika seems happy. He feels like he might be getting a grasp on this parenting thing, and lets himself feel a little pride about that.

Then one night, he’s woken from sleep by a piercing, bloodcurdling scream.

The two seconds it takes Shiro to disentangle himself from his sheets and scramble out of bed feels like an eternity. Keith and Kosmo flash into the living room just as Shiro bursts out of his room, Keith gripping his knife and wearing nothing but his boxers, obviously sleep-rumpled and wide-eyed with worry from the scream he heard through the wall his quarters share with Shiro's.

The screams have stopped but they can still hear muffled crying coming from Mika’s room. They hurry in to see her curled up in the fetal position, arms held protectively over her head. When the door opens she startles, then curls up even tighter, crying and babbling in Japanese.

"Mika, it’s okay. You’re okay. It’s just us," Shiro says, perching on the edge of her bed and placing a gentle hand on one of her arms. "You had a bad dream, but you’re okay. You’re safe."

Mika peeks out from behind her arms, sees Shiro and Keith, and seems to relax a bit. She says something in Japanese, her voice small and trembling. Shiro reaches out, smoothing the tangle of messy hair away from her face.

"I’m sorry, sweetheart, but I need you to speak English," he says apologetically. He’s been working on his Japanese, but can only do so much. She takes a gulping breath and tries again with halting, stumbling words.

"They took you. The bad aliens. The Gall'a." Shiro hears Keith suck in a breath behind him, but he keeps his eyes firmly on Mika.

"That was just a dream. A nightmare. They're scary, but not real. I’m here, with you, right?"

"But I saw them," she insists. "Not in the dream. The bad aliens were on Atlas today!"

Shiro frowns, trying to remember what she might have seen.

"The Blades," Keith says quietly. He hasn’t stepped any closer. "Kolivan was giving some new Blades arrivals a tour of the ship."

"Mika," Shiro says gently, "remember, we talked about how not all Galra are bad. Those were friends."

"No," she says stubbornly. "They’ll hurt us. They hurt Mommy."

"The ones that hurt your mom were bad aliens," Shiro agrees. "But these are not."

Shiro glances back at Keith, a question in his expression. Keith’s eyes are wide as he shakes his head ever so slightly in an emphatic no, his eyes pleading as he shifts his arm to hide his Blade knife behind his back.

Shiro spends a few more minutes calming Mika down. Kosmo pads into the room and curls up behind her back, and Keith slips out to the living room while Shiro sits with her until she falls asleep again, her hand fisted securely in Kosmo’s fur. When Shiro steps back out into the living room, Keith is sitting on the couch, his head bowed.

"I’m sorry," Keith says quietly. "That wasn’t fair of me. She’s scared, and you should be able to tell her if you think it’ll help. I just..."

"Keith, it’s fine," Shiro says. He comes to sit by Keith on the couch, and they sit in comfortable silence for a moment.

"I expected you to hate me," Keith finally says. "When we found out what I was. I was braced for it, but you never even flinched."

"Why would I hate you?" Shiro asks, baffled.

"Because you might logically know that not all Galra are bad, but... well, look at how careful Kolivan and Mom have to be when they’re on Earth. Trauma often overrides logic. All I could think about was how you’d look at me and see the ones who hurt you, the ones that took your arm."

"Keith," Shiro breathes, horrified that he hadn’t realized at the time, hadn’t thought to reach out or reassure him. "I could never hate you, especially not because of something like that."

Keith looks up, his smile a little sad. "Yeah, I know that now. But she could."

Shiro opens his mouth to object — Mika loves Keith — but realizes Keith has a point. It’s different for one so young.

"I know she’ll find out eventually," Keith says quietly. "So it’s okay if you want to tell her. I just... don’t think I want to be here to see it."

Shiro reaches out, squeezing Keith’s shoulder.

"She’ll come around eventually," he says with confidence. "It can wait." Keith looks up, eyes filled with gratitude, and Shiro can only smile helplessly as the knowledge of how hard he’s fallen in love lodges firmly in his chest.

The next day, Keith leaves on a last-minute Blades mission. It doesn’t go well.

That is, the mission goes fine. Shiro and Mika, however, struggle. Shiro hadn’t realized how much he’s come to rely on Keith until he is no longer there.

Suddenly it’s harder to find child care, because Keith had been taking her whenever he could. Dinner is a nightmare; he tries to take her to the mess hall the first night, and she has a meltdown and pitches a fit right there in line.

The second night he settles for heating up frozen dinners. Mika wrinkles her nose at the corn but eats everything else, so Shiro calls it a win. Their nighttime routine is a lost cause without Keith there, anyway, so Shiro lets Mika play for a bit after dinner while he texts Keith.

‘Safe to call?’

Shiro feels a rush of relief when the response is the ring of a vidcall. He knows Keith is capable, but he can’t help but worry when he’s away on missions. He smiles when Keith’s face appears on the screen.

"Hey, Keith," he says, all too aware of how soft his voice sounds. "How’s it going? You’re safe?"

"I’m fine," Keith assures him. "This is just recon." Shiro wonders why it was so urgent that they sent the black Paladin on a recon mission, but he shrugs it off. "You guys doing okay there?"

By now Mika recognizes Keith’s voice, though, so Shiro doesn’t get a chance to reply.

"Keith!" she screeches happily, jumping up onto the couch beside Shiro. "Look what I made!" She practically clambers into Shiro’s lap in her haste to shove her Lego creations in front of the pad’s camera. "It’s you and Shiro!"

They’re mostly blocky blobs, but Shiro has the single white block for hair, and she’s used what appears to be a tiny black tire for Keith’s hair.

Keith’s laugh is tinny but delighted through the long-distance connection. "They look great, kiddo. You should make a Kosmo."

"I don’t have enough blue blocks for him," she says.

"Well, I guess I’ll have to find some, then," Keith replies. Mika’s eyes go wide, as if that hadn’t even occurred to her.

"More white too? So I can make a Princess ‘Lura?" As they'd suspected, Mika and Allura had become fast friends when they'd met. Mika was convinced Allura was an actual Disney princess, and kept asking Shiro when she could watch the movie about Altea.

"I’ll see what I can do," Keith promises.

"We miss you," Shiro says, shamelessly hiding behind that ‘we’.

"You miss my cooking," Keith says with a wry grin.

"That too," Shiro agrees easily. "When should you be back?"

"No later than Thursday," Keith promises, and Shiro catches himself wishing that the softness in Keith's gaze was as much for him as it obviously is for Mika.

After they hang up, Shiro helps Mika find Thursday on the calendar, and they mark it with a big star in red marker. Over the next few days, marking off the day on the calendar is the most important part of Mika’s evening. Secretly, it is for Shiro, too.

Wednesday night, Shiro gets a text during dinner.

Just got in. I assume I’m too late to bring dinner by?

He can’t help but smile as he responds. We’re already eating, but there’s plenty if you want some frozen lasagna.

You didn’t even cook it first?

Shiro snorts at the jab, but Mika is too distracted with her dinner to notice. He’s grateful for that a moment later, as it means he gets to witness her delighted squeal as she drops her fork and launches herself at Keith when he walks in.

Keith catches her easily, hoisting her up and giving her a squeeze before setting her back down in her chair.

"Aww, you’re acting like you missed me or something," Keith teases.

"I did!" she insists, but is quickly distracted by the lasagna again.

"She’s not the only one," Shiro says quietly, meeting Keith’s surprised look with a smile before handing him a plate.

After dinner, they briefly fall into their usual routine — Keith cleans up while Shiro bathes Mika — but when Shiro tries to put her to bed, they hit a snag.

"She wants you to tuck her in," Shiro says apologetically. "I tried to tell her you’re probably exhausted, but-"

"Keith!" Mika’s plaintive call from the bedroom makes Keith laugh, his expression soft with obvious affection.

"It’s fine, Shiro," he promises. He heads into the room to find Mika on her bed, book in hand.
Keith sits on the edge of the bed and takes the book. "The Velveteen Rabbit, huh? I used to love this one as a kid."

Keith reads the book, even doing voices, as Shiro leans in the doorway watching, his chest aching with how much he wants this.

He feels selfish for it — Keith has already given them so much, and he wants more. He wants to curl up on the couch with him after Mika’s in bed. He wants to annoy him with kisses while he cooks, and sleep in with him on weekends until Mika wakes them to make breakfast.

He wants a lot more, yes, things that he won’t let himself think about with Mika right here, but mostly... he just wants Keith here. He’s starting to feel like he and Mika could be a family, but he can’t help but think it’ll be open-ended and incomplete without Keith.

By the time Keith’s done with the book, Mika’s half asleep. Shiro’s heart melts as he watches Keith lean in and press a kiss to her temple.

Mika blinks slowly up at him. "Thank you for coming back," she says. "They never did, before."
Shiro’s heart aches for what she’s been through, and he can see that echoed on Keith’s face, with a bit more understanding.

"Adults aren’t always good at that," he agrees. "I think I’m pretty okay at it, though, and Shiro’s an expert," he adds, shooting Shiro a grin.

Mika smiles sleepily in return and reaches up to poke Keith in his cheek.

"Purple’s the Galla color so I don’t like it," she says, obviously struggling to stay awake as she blinks up at Keith. "But your eyes are pretty anyway."

Keith goes very still for a brief moment, then smiles down at her.

"Thanks, Mika. Maybe someday they’ll be as pretty as yours. Now, go to sleep so you’ll have plenty of energy to drive Lance crazy tomorrow."

Mika snuggles down under her blanket, and Keith and Shiro slip out of the room. There’s an almost tense silence, their eyes meeting for a long moment before Keith looks down.

"She’s right, you know," Shiro says, his tone casual despite the way his heart feels like it might thud right out of his chest. "You do have pretty eyes."

Keith’s gaze snaps back up to Shiro’s, a flush rising on his cheeks. "Um, thanks, I think. You too?"

Shiro huffs out a laugh and takes a step back, letting the moment pass as he moves to sit on the couch. Keith follows, folding his legs gracefully underneath him. "I, um. I’ve been meaning to thank you for a while," Shiro says, fingers plucking at the hem of his shirt, "but after this week... well, it was so obvious. You do so much for us."

"You don’t have to thank me," Keith says. "I’m lucky you let me invade your space so much," he says, glancing down. "Speaking of which, if you ever want me to back off, please say something. I don’t ever want to try to... I don’t know, wear out my welcome or push too far."

Shiro doesn’t know how to reply to that without spilling the fact that he wants Keith more involved, wants him here all the time. Wants him to be more than a helpful friend.

"Trust me, that’s not possible," he says simply. "You’re... you’re family," he settles on.

A few emotions flicker across Keith’s face, but he settles on a small smile, then glances back toward Mika’s room. "I know it was unexpected, but you’ve got a great kid. She’s lucky to have you. I should know," he adds, turning back to Shiro with a grin.

"She’s amazing," Shiro agrees. "And she loves you."

Keith’s smile turns a little sad. "Yeah, she does. Maybe..." He hesitates, swallows hard. "Maybe she shouldn’t. Maybe I shouldn’t come around as much."

"What? Why?" Shiro asks instantly, unable to hide his stricken expression. "I mean, I know you didn't ask for this," Shiro scrambles to add, "and she's not your responsibility. I don't want you to feel obligated, it's not like we're-" He cuts himself off, snaps his mouth shut, and closes his eyes against the flash of confusion that crosses Keith's face.

"Shiro, I'm here because I want to be. There's nowhere I'd rather be than here," he says. "That was true even before Mika," he admits, eyes darting up to Shiro's, "but it's even more true now."

"Then... why do you want to pull back?" Shiro asks, confused. "She likes it when you're here." He hesitates, ever so briefly, then reaches out to catch Keith's fingers ever so lightly in his own. "I like it when you're here."

Keith's staring down at their fingers. He's silent, which is terrifying, but he doesn't pull away, and that's enough to fan the ember of hope in Shiro's chest into a small flame.

"I don't want to pull back," Keith finally says, and his fingers tighten on Shiro's. "I just wonder if it might be better for her. She'll learn what I am eventually, and... I don't want to hurt her," he admits.

"And you think backing off won't hurt her, even now?" Shiro asks. "Let's not borrow trouble. She might handle it better than you think. We can cross that bridge when we come to it."

Keith raises their joined hands. "We?" he repeats, raising an eyebrow in question.

And really, Shiro should have seen that coming. Keith's never met a challenge he didn't want to face head-on.

"It could be we," Shiro says, running his thumb over Keith's knuckles as he swallows hard. This is the last thing he'd planned on doing tonight, but now that Keith is asking, anything less than complete honesty seems unthinkable. "If you wanted. I know things are complicated now, with our jobs and Mika, and-"

"Shiro," Keith says evenly, interrupting his babbling, "shut up."

He then very effectively ensures Shiro does so by fisting both hands in Shiro's shirt and dragging him down into a kiss.

Keith kisses with purpose, as if his entire goal is to press his every emotion into Shiro’s mouth with the press of his tongue and sweet slide of his lips. It’s soft and sweet and hot all at once and Shiro knows immediately that he’s addicted. Shiro does his best to give as good as he gets, and judging by the way Keith hums happily against Shiro’s mouth, he must be doing something right.

When they finally part, Shiro presses his forehead to Keith’s, unwilling to move any farther away than he has to.

"So... you’re okay with ‘we’?" he finally asks. Keith shakes against him as he breaks out into a surprised laugh, and Shiro decides then and there that he wants to feel that every day for the rest of forever.

"Yeah, I guess ‘okay with’ is one way to put it," Keith agrees, grinning.

"How would you put it?" Shiro asks, almost giddy with joy. His hands are on Keith’s hips, his thumbs rubbing under the hem of his shirt where the top of his pants meets warm skin. It’s almost as intoxicating as being close enough to see all the shades of blue and purple in his eyes.

"Well," Keith says slowly, "if I were worried about scaring you away, I might say I’ve wanted you for a long time, so I’m excited to give ‘we’ a try."

"And if you weren’t worried?" Shiro asks, leaning in to brush their noses together. "Because you really, really shouldn’t be."

Keith swallows hard, his eyes dropping before coming back up to meet Shiro’s. "Then I might tell you I’ve been in love with you for years, and too scared of losing you to even dream of ‘we’ being an actual thing."

Shiro’s chest aches as he pulls Keith in for another kiss.

One kiss turns into several, which turns into Keith's fingers slipping under the bottom of Shiro's shirt. Somehow Keith has ended up practically splayed on top of him, which is not a thing Shiro is inclined to complain about, at least not until Keith plants a hand on Shiro's chest to push himself up.

Shiro lets his head fall back to the arm of the couch, stunned for a moment by how beautiful Keith is, flushed with slightly swollen lips.

"Sorry," Shiro says, swallowing hard as he tries to drag back some semblance of control. "Too fast?"

"God, no," Keith says, laughing a little as he leans in, brushing his lips over Shiro's again. He shifts, rolling his hips down against Shiro's thigh and showing him exactly how into this he is. Shiro's next breath is a quiet moan -- he did that, Keith is hard for him. "I was just thinking, you've got a bedroom with a perfectly good bed in it, and more importantly, a locking door," he says, his eyes flicking up to Mika's door.

"Shit," Shiro says, eyes wide. The need for that sort of privacy hadn't been a consideration for him since his freshman year at the Garrison -- after that he had his own room, then he and Adam had their own place. Even on the Castle when he needed alone time, his room was his own. "Yes. Bedroom. Good."

Keith laughs a little at Shiro's one-word answers, and he can hardly blame him. He stands, tugging Shiro up with him, and heads for the bedroom, never letting go of Shiro's hand. The second the door slides shut behind them, Keith's pushing him up against it and kissing him again, deep and hot, with a new edge of hunger Shiro is definitely on board with.

Shiro's fingers tighten on Keith's hips as Keith kisses his way down Shiro's jaw, then down his neck, pausing to bite lightly, almost experimentally at the juncture of neck and shoulder. At Shiro's slight intake of breath, Keith pulls back, grinning.

"Was that a good gasp?" he asks, reaching up to drag a finger over the barely-there impression of teeth.

Shiro's nodding almost before Keith's done speaking. "Yes. Very good. I can't think of much you could do with your mouth I wouldn't like," he adds.

"Oh?" Keith replies, chuckling a little. "Is that a hint?" he asks, letting his hand drift down Shiro's chest, down past the hem of his shirt, brushing over the bulge in Shiro's pants.

Even as light as the touch is, it makes Shiro gasp, and he has to hold himself back from jerking his hips forward, chasing that sensation. "No," he says instantly. "I mean, not an on-purpose hint," he adds sheepishly. He reaches out, catching one of Keith's hands. "Honestly, whatever you want -- or don't want -- is great. I'm just… god, Keith, I'm so happy," he says, and he knows his grin has to be absolutely dopey, but Keith's expression goes soft at the sight of it anyway.

"Me too," Keith says, dropping a light kiss on Shiro's lips before stepping backwards, tugging him back toward the bed. "As far as what I want?" He lets his gaze drift down Shiro's body, not bothering to be even a little bit subtle about it. "I've been thinking about sucking your cock for years," he says, "so that would be a literal dream come true. Then, if you wanted, you could fuck me," he offers as he sits on the edge of the bed, hooking his fingers in the waistband of Shiro's pants to pull him closer. "Or I could fuck you. I promise I'm very okay with either option."

"Yeah," Shiro agrees faintly. He's enjoyed a bit of dirty talk in bed in his past, but somehow Keith's blunt laying out of what he wants has immediately outranked all of that. "Yes. All of it, any of it. Keith-"

He cuts himself off with a groan as Keith's lips find the sensitive skin just above the button to his pants. It's warm and wet, and his tongue swirls over the skin there in a promise Shiro is all too eager to follow up on. Shiro tugs his shirt out of Keith's grip, then pulls it off, tossing it somewhere into the corner of the room to be dealt with later as Keith deftly unbuttons Shiro's pants.

As soon as Keith has Shiro's pants and underwear pulled partway down his thighs, he stands up. "Sit," he directs, and Shiro frowns a bit in confusion but obeys without question.

"I don't mind standing," he protests when he realizes Keith is sinking to his knees in front of him. They'd been almost perfectly positioned before, with Shiro standing and Keith sitting on the bed, and that had to have been more comfortable for Keith.

Keith smiles as he lifts Shiro's hand to press a kiss to his palm. "This is how I always imagined it," he admits. "You sitting, me kneeling. I don't know why. Indulge me?"

The thought of Keith imagining this, thinking about what it would be like to suck Shiro off, probably getting himself off to it again and again -- it's almost too much, and Shiro has to stop thinking about that before this ends way too soon. "Of course, baby," he replies out loud, and oh, the way Keith's eyes widen at the pet name makes him want to say it again and again.

Instead, he quickly finds himself at a loss for any words as Keith's warm mouth descends on Shiro's dick.

Shiro isn't sure if Keith has done this a lot, or if he's just really good at reading Shiro's reactions, but either way the end result is the same -- it's really, really good. He swirls his tongue around the tip, seems to savor the taste of Shiro's precome, and hums happily before taking him all the way in.

It's all so much, the heat of Keith's mouth, the pressure of his fingers on Shiro's thighs, the sight of his lips stretched around Shiro's cock. Those things alone would be enough to make Shiro come far too fast for his liking, but when Keith looks up at Shiro through his lashes only a few minutes later, Shiro feels himself slipping dangerously close to that tempting edge.

"Keith," he says, the word barely a groan, then more urgently, "Keith, please, wait, I'm-"

Keith's already pulling off as soon as the word 'wait' is out of Shiro's mouth. He falls back against the bed, catching his breath as Keith stands, then curls up on the bed beside him, one hand rubbing soothingly over Shiro's belly.

"Sorry," he says quietly. "Too much?"

"No," Shiro says, laughing a little. "No, just too fast. I want to take my time and enjoy you," he explains, turning on his side so he can lean in to kiss Keith. Keith's lips are warm and wet and when Shiro dips his tongue in to brush over Keith's, he tastes vaguely salty from Shiro's own precome. The realization is enough to make Shiro let out a helpless sound into the kiss.

"What do you want?" Keith asks when he pulls away, just far enough to brush their noses together, their breath mingling. Shiro takes a moment to gather his thoughts as he skims one hand down Keith's hip, then around to press lightly against the bulge in Keith's pants. Keith's breath hitches as his hips jerk forward, and Shiro wants to hear that sound over and over again.

"I want you to fuck me," he settles on, and the way Keith shudders against him is enough to tell Shiro he likes that idea.

"Yes," Keith says, pausing to kiss Shiro, quick but deep and hungry. "God, yes."

Within just a few minutes, they've both lost all of their clothes and Shiro is moaning into his pillow as Keith fingers him open because his bedroom shares a wall with Mika's and if they get interrupted he might actually die.

"Keith, please," he finally says, and Keith relents, leaning in to press a warm kiss to the small of Shiro's back as he pulls his fingers out. Shiro fights the urge to whimper at the loss, because he knows something so much better is coming.

"Can you, can we--" Keith cuts himself off, and it's a little validating to hear that he's as affected by this as Shiro is. He taps Shiro's hip lightly. "Can you roll over? I, uh. I wanna see your face," he says quietly.

Shiro is helplessly endeared that Keith can state so bluntly that he wants to suck Shiro's cock, but saying that he wants to see his face leaves him mumbling and, as Shiro confirms once he turns over, blushing. He leans up, smiling against Keith's lips as he kisses him. "You're so cute."

Keith pulls back with something between a scowl and a pout on his face. "I just had two fingers in your ass and cute is what you're gonna go with?"

Shiro nods, grinning unapologetically. "Very cute," he confirms. "Also incredibly sexy, especially if that'll get your dick in me any faster," he adds. He reaches down, wrapping a hand around Keith's erection and giving it a few strokes. He almost gets lost in that, in the silky-smooth hardness of it, the perfect weight of it in his hand, the way Keith's eyes flutter closed, but the sound of Keith's breath hitching brings him back out of it. He lets go, choosing instead to lie back, hooking the heel of his foot around the back of Keith's thigh to tug him closer. "Come on. Please?"

Keith hums, considering, as he settles himself on top of Shiro, his weight grounding and reassuring. "Please what, Takashi?"

The sound of his given name on Keith's lips makes Shiro suck in a breath, and the weighted authority behind the question is more of a turn-on than Shiro ever would have thought. "Please fuck me," he says, rolling his hips up into Keith's. "Fuck, please, Keith, I've wanted this, wanted you for so long."

Keith's eyes darken at that, and he's swooping in to kiss Shiro with all the passion he can convey with tongue and teeth and groans against his lips. Seconds later, he's pressing in, slowly, trying to give Shiro time to adjust, but Shiro relishes the slight burn of it. The hints of pain remind him this is real, this is happening -- this is something he's going to feel tomorrow and remember this.

They're both trying to pace themselves, trying to draw it out, but it all feels so good it's impossible for it to last too long. Keith's moving against him, strong and sinuous and unstoppable, and it's all Shiro can do to keep up, fingers pressing into Keith's hips and feet planted on the bed for leverage so he can meet every thrust.

It's overwhelming, everything Shiro ever dreamed of and more. Keith's hair is falling in his face, and the sheets underneath Shiro is tacky with sweat, and his left calf is cramping up a little but it's still perfect because it's Keith. He reaches up, pushing his fingers through Keith's messy hair to get his hand around the back of his head to pull him down for a kiss, wet and messy and more panting into each others' mouths than anything by the end, but still. It's perfect.

It's not long before Keith's thrusts start to come a little harder, and he's reaching down between them to wrap a hand around Shiro's dick. Shiro groans at the contact, his hips jerking up into the tight circle of Keith's fist.

"Yes, Keith, please," Shiro says, a low and ongoing chant of the only three words he can think of right now.

"Come on, Shiro," Keith encourages him, his voice strained. "Come for me, please, please, I want to see."

Shiro comes hard with Keith's name on his lips, though barely any of it escapes before it's muffled by Keith kissing him. Keith thrusts a few more times, his movements going uneven and jerky as he moans into Shiro's mouth through his own release.

The air in the room feels warm and close, and Shiro's skin is sticky and damp, but as they shudder against each other and slowly come down from the high of orgasm, it never once occurs to him to ask Keith to move. He never wants Keith to be anywhere other than pressed against him in this bed, pliant and loose-limbed with pleasure.

Later that week, they’re sitting on the couch after Mika's in bed. Shiro is tapping away on his pad, attempting to get some work done with his feet in Keith’s lap because now that he has permission he can’t seem to stop touching him, even when he needs both hands free for typing.

"It’s somehow even scarier now than it was before," Keith admits.

Shiro looks up, frowning. "What is?"

"This," Keith says, gesturing between them. "Us."

"Why?" Shiro asks, confused, and almost a little hurt.

Keith tilts his head toward Mika’s door. "Dude, you have a kid now. That’s a lot of pressure."

"She already loves you," Shiro points out. "It’s not like you have to win her over." Keith’s hand settles on Shiro’s ankle, warm and solid.

"Right," Keith agrees. "It's just… before, I’d have been risking losing my best friend if we tried this and it didn’t work out, and that seemed like the scariest fucking thing. Still does," he admits. "But now I have to worry about hurting her on top of that."

"You’re not going to lose me," Shiro says instantly. "We’re adults, and we’ve always been good at communicating, so even if… if it came to that, if we couldn't make this work, we’d be okay. And I know you’d never hurt Mika." He shifts, scooting closer so he can take Keith’s hand, pressing a kiss to his palm. "Besides," Shiro continues, in between pressing kisses to each of Keith’s knuckles, "I have faith in us. I’ve never believed in anything more."

"We haven’t even been on a date," Keith points out, though a smile is playing around his lips.

He’s right, of course, and with their busy schedules it’s another three weeks before they are able to find time to actually go on a date. It hardly matters, though, because it all comes together so easily.

They have dinner together every night just like before, except now Shiro can hold Keith’s hand at the table and slip greedy hands under his shirt when Keith’s doing dishes. He can pull him away, soapy hands and all, and distract him with kisses on the couch after Mika’s in bed.

Mika hardly seems to notice the difference. The first time Keith stays overnight, he’s a little nervous about how she’ll react, but she only sleepily asks him for a strawberry Pop-Tart when she stumbles sleepily into Shiro’s room the next morning.

Without ever discussing it, they fall into a perfect rhythm; they take turns tucking Mika in, work together to calm her when she wakes with a nightmare, and occasionally even take days off together to go somewhere fun with her.

Shiro feels like his heart grows every time he sees them together, like it can’t hold the amount of love he feels. From Keith emerging from the bathroom, soaked and carrying a freshly-cleaned Mika, to him covered in flour after trying to help her bake a cake, it’s perfect.

...okay, maybe perfect is a bit of an exaggeration. There are still days where they’re both tired from work and end up snapping at each other, or when Mika’s in a mood and throws a tantrum. There are nights when her nightmares are so bad she can’t sleep at all.

One night Keith uses a sharp tone with her when she won’t eat her dinner. Her eyes go wide, then her lip trembles, and Keith’s apologizing and picking her up into a hug before the tears even start.

"I’m sorry," he tells Shiro later, after she’s in bed. "It’s not my place to scold her like that. I never should have said anything."

Shiro considers his response for a moment before speaking.

"As much as I hate it, I have to discipline her sometimes. It’s part of making sure she grows up to be a good adult," he says. "And that’s not your responsibility, so don't feel like you have to, but you’re an important part of her life, and I trust you. I know you’re not going to hit her, or yell for the sake of yelling, or be too hard on her. So if you need to talk to her or enact some kind of discipline, you can do that," he says, squeezing his hand.

"I have no idea what I’m doing," Keith says, smiling ruefully. "Most of the foster homes were hardly the best parenting examples."

"We’ll figure it out together," Shiro promises.

"Did you want kids?" Keith asks later that night as they’re lying in bed together. Keith’s been restless all evening, and his fingers are playing with Shiro’s dogtags on his chest. "Before, I mean."

"It wasn’t something I let myself think about, when I was sick," Shiro admits. Keith goes still at the reminder, then shifts to press his lips to Shiro’s shoulder. "So I never actively wanted kids," Shiro continues, "but now I can’t imagine not wanting her."

Keith smiles softly. "She’s easy to love," he says. "Must run in the family."

A few days later, the on-base daycare Shiro’s been using his influence to push for - because he’s hardly the only one with kids on base - finally opens, and he puts Keith as her secondary emergency contact with full permissions without a moment’s thought.

Keith goes wide-eyed and soft when Shiro mentions it over dinner.

"Is... sorry, I should have asked. Was that okay?" Shiro asks when Keith doesn’t respond for a moment. "I can change it if-"

"No!" Keith interrupts. "No, it’s... yeah. Thank you," he says quietly.

"Interrup’ing is rude, Keith," Mika says primly from the end of the table, echoing something Shiro’s been telling her a lot recently.

"Yeah, kiddo, it is," Keith agrees, laughing. "Good catch."

The weeks turn into months, and Shiro can’t believe how lucky he is. Keith has practically moved in, and Mika seems to be making friends and thriving at daycare. Her nightmares don’t happen as often, and she continues to amaze him at how quickly she learns things.

The first time she gets sick — an ear infection, as it turns out — he and Keith both take two days off to take care of and pamper her. She sleeps in the bed with them and they wake up to check her temperature every couple of hours. By day two she’s her normal cheerful self again.

A week after she’s returned to daycare after being sick, she drops a bomb at the dinner table.

"Luciano says it’s weird that I call you Shiro," she says in between bites of spaghetti. "He says I should call you dad."

Shiro and Keith share a wide-eyed look before Shiro replies. She’s been living with Shiro for almost a year at this point, but it just hasn’t come up, and now he’s scrambling to say the right thing.

"Is that what you want?" he asks, watching her closely.

She shifts in her chair, eyes fixed on her plate.

"I do," she finally says. "But Rayna said you’re not my real dad so I shouldn’t."

"Oh, sweetheart," Shiro breathes, standing up and coming around the table to crouch by her chair. "I may not be your birth father, but if you want to call me dad, that would make me very happy."

"It’s okay?" she asks, looking up at him, her expression nervous but so, so very trusting. It makes Shiro feel warm to know he's earned that from her, despite everything she's been through.

"Sweetie, I’m going to take care of you until you’re old enough that it annoys you," Shiro says with a teasing smile. "It’s very okay with me to be your dad."

He tugs her into a hug, burying his face in her silky hair.

When she draws back from the hug with a toothy smile, she manages to shock him yet again. "So if I call you dad, what should I call Keith?"

Shiro’s eyes instantly fly to Keith, who’s sitting across from them looking a little shell-shocked.

"What?" Keith says, wide-eyed.

Not wanting her to think she’d asked something wrong, Shiro jumps in. "That’s probably something the two of you should talk about," he says slowly, glancing over at Keith again. "There are other options, but he has to be okay with it too, okay?"

"What other options?" she asks.

"Um, well," Shiro says, audibly stumbling. "There’s daddy, or papa," he suggests. "But he may just want to be Keith for now." He looks over at Keith, who finally manages to respond.

"If it’s okay with you," he says, looking pointedly at Shiro, "then whatever she wants is fine."

"Of course it’s okay with me," Shiro says, and he can feel his eyes burning with the threat of happy tears. "I just don’t want you to feel pressured."

"No pressure here," Keith promises, then smiles at Mika. "Whatever you want, kiddo."

Mika squints, considering, then nods.

"Papa," she says decisively. "Dad and Papa."

Her smile lights up the room, and Shiro and Keith shamelessly let her have a scoop of ice cream after dinner and stay up a little later than usual, just to hear her use their new names a few more times.

In the end, it’s a simple miscommunication that brings it all crashing down.

Shiro knows Krolia is coming to visit for the first time in over a year; she’s busy helping establish the government on New Daibazaal, but she is determined to be here for Keith’s birthday this year.

He texts Keith the day before his birthday, a simple Where are you? He’s picked Mika up from daycare a bit early and thinks they might drag him away from work and surprise him with an early birthday dinner.

The hangar text he gets in response is oddly short, but he doesn’t think much of it. He hoists Mika up on his hip and carries her that direction, smiling as she babbles about the birthday card she made Keith at daycare today. She drew Kosmo on it, and she’s very proud.

The moment he steps into Atlas’ hangar and sees the sleek Galra transport ship, he realizes his mistake. By the way Mika’s arms tighten around his neck, she’s seen the ship. By the way she whimpers "Daddy..." into his ear, she’s also seen Krolia herself, stepping toward Keith.

The hangar is a wide, open expanse of metal, so every sound in there echoes. That means when Keith happily says "Mom" in greeting as he steps into Krolia’s open arms, there’s no way Mika doesn’t hear it.

She goes very, very still in Shiro’s arms.

"Mika," he says quietly.

Shiro’s voice catches Keith’s attention. He turns to see them, smiling instinctively, before his brain catches up with his emotions and he realizes what Mika is seeing. All the blood drains from his face as he takes a step forward.

"Mika, sweetie-"

"No," she says, eyes wide.

"Mika," Shiro says, his tone a little sharper than he intends thanks to the low-level panic thrumming through him. "Don’t-"

"He lied," she says, lower lip trembling. "Right, Papa? You lied. The mean Gal’a alien isn’t your mama. Lying isn’t nice," she adds, her voice shaking.

Keith looks striken, torn, as if he’d rather tear out his own heart than answer Mika’s question, but he reaches out to grab Krolia’s arm when she tries to take a step back. Shiro’s mind is racing as he tries to think of how to diffuse this, but he’s coming up blank.

"Mika, honey, I wasn’t lying," Keith says slowly, tugging on Krolia’s arm to bring her up next to him. "This is my mom. Her name is Krolia."

And Krolia tries her best, she really does. Her smile is warm, her voice kind as she says, "Hello, Mika. It’s nice to meet you."

"No," Mika says again. "No, you can’t be— Papa isn’t a Gal’a," she says, her voice going high and thready with panic.

"Mika-" Keith takes a step forward, hands outstretched, and Mika flinches back, burying her face in Shiro’s neck.

"No, no, please Daddy no, please no, Dad-"

"Mika, it’s Keith," Shiro says, trying to break through her muffled litany of pleas, but it’s no use. Her tiny body is shaking with sobs now, his neck wet with her tears as she begs.

"Please no, wanna go home, Daddy please, I’m scared, please..."

Shiro looks up at Keith, at the heartache written plain on his face. The few feet between them may as well be lightyears.

"Go," Keith says, his voice breaking over the single word. When Shiro hesitates, Keith’s expression hardens. "Shiro, go."

He goes.

Mika doesn’t leave Shiro’s side all night. She barely eats any dinner, and insists on sleeping with him, curled up against his side.

Keith never comes home.

Shiro is lying awake at 3am when he receives a single text from him.

I’m sorry

Shiro replies immediately, asking if he’s okay, where he’s at, but Keith doesn’t reply.

Mika begs to stay with Shiro the next day, but he has incoming diplomats to greet and he can’t take the day off. She stays with Colleen instead, and he can tell by her expression when he drops Mika off that she’s heard what happened.

When Shiro makes it home that afternoon, bone-tired, with Mika clinging to his hand, something seems wrong. It takes a moment of poking around to realize that Keith’s uniforms and clothes have all been removed from the bedroom. His toothbrush is gone from the bathroom. Even the dirty laundry he'd kicked aside in the bathroom floor is missing.

Shiro sends Mika to play in her room as he scrambles for his phone. He tries calling first, but it goes straight to voicemail. He tries again, then texts when there’s no answer.

What are you doing?

She’s just confused, we can fix this.

Keith, please. I love you.

When he goes an hour without a response, without the messages even registering as read, he panics and calls Krolia.

"He took an off-world Blade mission," she explains. "He left a few hours ago." She hesitates. "I think he thought it might be easier for you and Mika."

"What could he possibly think would be easier with him gone?" Shiro asks. He can hear her sigh through the line.

"I don't know, Shiro. This is hardly the first time he's taken a mission to give you two some space, so-"

"Wait, what?" Shiro's barely got the words out when it hits him. "That mission a few months ago. It was right after Mika had a nightmare about some Galra after she saw some Blades on Atlas. He said it had just come up last minute."

"Nothing came up," Krolia says, exasperated. "He requested a mission to get off planet for a little while. All we had was a survey mission. I tried to talk him out of it, but you know how he is."

"Krolia," Shiro says as a terrifying thought occurs to him, "he took all of his clothes, everything he had here. Is he coming back?" Her hesitation is enough to send a shiver of fear down his spine.

"You need to talk to him," she says firmly. "But Shiro- I’ve never seen him as upset as he was last night," she adds quietly. "He loves you, and he loves that little girl. He’ll do anything to protect her, even if it’s protecting her from the idea of what he is. Even if that means leaving," she adds, smiling sadly. "I have to admit he gets that one from me."

After they hang up, Shiro sends Keith a message over their modified long-distance comms.

Please stay safe. I miss you. I love you.

Six hours later, Shiro gets a reply.

I love you too. I wish I knew how to fix this.

It breaks Shiro’s heart to think of Keith out there, alone and hurting. What if his mission is a dangerous one? What if watching Keith’s world shatter was the last time Shiro ever saw him? The thought sends a spike of terror through him as he sends his reply.

Come home. Please. We can figure it out.

I can’t do that to her. I’m sorry. This is my fault, I should have never gotten so close.

Shiro scowls in frustration at the message and hits the vidcall button. Keith doesn’t answer. Shiro didn’t really expect him to. But he /can/ leave a message.

"Keith," he says once the pad beeps, "I know you’re upset, and hurt, and you have every right to be. I’m so sorry, having Mika there was my fault. But I guess we both knew this would happen sooner or later, didn’t we?" Shiro sighs, dragging a hand down his face, then leans in closer to the camera; he needs Keith to see how much he means every word. "Listen — this sucks. It isn’t easy. And it’s not fair. It’s not fair to Mika, because she didn’t choose her trauma. And it’s not fair to you, because you should be proud of who you are. I am," he adds impulsively, smiling a little at the screen. "I love you, and I’m so proud of you, baby, and I wouldn’t change a thing about you."

He looks down, takes a breath, then looks up to the camera again. "Anyway, I know it’s not fair, but it’s what we have, and I’m not willing to let it go. This is our family, Keith. Our... our daughter needs you, even if she doesn’t understand that right now." He pauses. He feels like he can’t find the right words, but the words for how much he needs Keith don’t actually exist.

"I love you," he says, simply. "Be safe, please. Come home to me. To us. We need you." He presses a kiss to his fingertips, then touches the screen.

When he hangs up the call, he lays his head down and cries. He doesn’t realize it’s time for Mika to wake until he feels a small hand in his. He startles, then sits up, quickly trying to wipe his tears away and compose himself. She silently crawls up in his lap, then touches his cheeks, which he knows are blotchy and pale.

"You were crying," she finally says, her small hands rubbing over his face, carefully wiping away any residual tears.

"I was," he agrees. Trying to deny it just seems silly.

She hesitates, watching Shiro’s face for a moment before speaking.

"I cried too, last night," she admits. Shiro makes a pained noise and wraps his arms around her.

"You should have come to me, sweetheart. Why were you crying?"

She rubs the fabric of Shiro’s shirt between her fingers, staring hard at it. "I think because of Papa."

Shiro’s heart stutters in his chest. "Because you’re scared of him?"

She nods slowly. "Yes. And because I miss him."

It’s hard to avoid the flare of hope, at that, despite the seeming contradiction there. "That’s... I know he misses you too, Mika. Papa loves you very much."

"I don’t want to be scared of him," she says, eyes filling. "I miss him."

"I know, sweetie," Shiro says. "I miss him, too."

The next few days are the hardest. Shiro and Mika both miss Keith, but she rarely wants to talk about him. Shiro pushes, though, dropping his name casually throughout the day. He’s not willing to give up.

They eventually find a new rhythm, but it’s one that feels empty. Shiro messages Keith daily, updating him on the minutiae of his and Mika’s daily lives and sending him pictures of the things she draws or her latest cute outfit.

Keith rarely responds, usually only when Shiro breaks down and asks for some kind of update to know he’s safe. Shiro clings to those responses as a sign that he hasn’t lost Keith completely.

Skirmish today. No major injuries.

Tired but safe.

Slow few days. I’m fine.

Food on this planet is shit, but I’m okay.

Every once in a while, Shiro tries to call. Keith never picks up. The third time it goes straight to message, Keith responds with a text.

I’m sorry. It’s too hard. I can’t see how to fix things, and I’m not ready to speak with you when I can’t be with you. I know we said we'd be adults, and we'd still be friends if the worst happened, and I still want that. I’ll work on it.

It hurts, to see that Keith seems to have given up, despite the confirmation that he still wants to talk… eventually. Shiro debates his reply for about an hour before he finally sends it.

I'm not ready to give up yet, but never, ever doubt that you're my best friend, no matter what else happens. I love you.

Stubbornly, Shiro keeps working on Mika. He finds her a therapist, something he knows he should have done as soon as he brought her home, and now regrets waiting on. It’s a little brutal for the now-five-year old, but with her therapist's blessing, he also starts talking with her about some of Earth’s history. Showing her toned-down versions of how evil humans could be.

He slowly begins exposing her to more Galra, as well.

That’s harder. At first, she’s completely resistant, breaking down and pitching a fit if she so much as sees a photo of a Galra.

Shiro persists. He tells her stories of Ulaz, who helped Shiro escape his imprisonment. Of Kolivan, who led the rebels that helped bring Zarkon down. He tells her of Krolia, who came to Earth and fell in love with a human man and had a child with him, how she loved them enough to leave in order to protect them.

Mika’s quiet for a minute when he finishes that story.

"That’s Papa’s mommy?"

Shiro nods. "Yes. She’s very brave, and very nice. Papa loves her very much, and I admire her a lot." He pauses. "Would you like to see a picture of her? She and Papa look a lot alike." He knew she hadn’t had time to see much of her in the hangar.

Mika nods silently.

Shiro pulls up one of the few pictures he has of Krolia; it’s her and Keith, taken before she left for New Daibazaal a couple of years ago. They have their arms slung around each other’s shoulders as they smile at the camera, and their resemblance is as undeniable as their ease with each other. Mika tenses when he first shows her the photo, but she studies it closely for a few minutes, then looks up at Shiro.

"Did Papa leave because of me?"

It takes Shiro a minute to figure out how to answer that. He knows better than to even try lying or deflecting — he’s learned that lesson.

"Papa knew you were scared, and he didn’t want to continue scaring you. He loves you very, very much, so he left so he wouldn’t scare you."

"I only want to be scared of the bad Gal-ra," she says, for the first time putting real effort into enunciating the word properly. "But it happens anyway."

Shiro nods. "Sometimes our brains work against us that way. It happens to me, too."

"Can I fix it?" she asks.

"It can get better, but it takes a lot of work," Shiro says. He hesitates, then asks, "Do you think you could try talking to Papa on the holopad, since he doesn’t look like most Galra?"

"Please," she says instantly, then curls in on herself a little. "I miss him."

Shiro leans in and presses a kiss to the top of her head. "I know, Mika. Me too. I’ll see when he’s available to talk, okay?"

Mika smiles a little. "Thank you, Dad. Can I go draw Papa a picture?"

"Of course, sweetheart." She heads for her bedroom as Shiro watches on.

As soon as she’s engrossed in coloring, Shiro sends off a message. He hasn’t told Keith how he’s been working with her, in an attempt to avoid hurt feelings in case it didn’t seem to be working, but now he can barely contain his excitement.

Mika and I have been talking a lot about good Galra. I think it’s helping. She said tonight she’d like to speak to you. I know you’re busy, but if you’re willing, it may help.

I said I wouldn’t give up, and I meant it. Give us a chance?

I love you. Stay safe.

Keith replies within minutes. She said that? You’re sure?

I’m sure. She says she misses you. I do too.’

His response is an incoming vidcall. Shiro takes a deep breath before hitting accept — it’s been almost a month since they’ve spoken over more than texts. He can’t help but smile when Keith’s face appears on the screen. He looks tired, a little worn thin, but he’s here and he’s willing to talk.

"Hey, baby," Shiro says quietly. "God, I’ve missed you. Are you okay?"

"Shiro," Keith says, something like hope in his tone. Keith always says his name like it’s everything, and Shiro has missed hearing it. "I’m alright. Lots of fighting in this sector still, but it’s quiet for the moment."

"Where are you?"

"The Kazon system," Keith replies.

Shiro’s eyes widen. "I thought the Coalition had decided that area was still too hot to send anyone into." There had been several Galra pirates and loyalists in the region that still had enough power to put up a good fight. The general consensus has been to let them batter each other into weakness before going in.

"That was before they started raiding planets in the neighboring system," Keith says grimly. "It’s fine—we’re not facing them head-on, just sneak attack runs and sabotage at the moment." His expression softens a bit, barely visible in the dim light of whatever quiet room he’s found on the Blade ship. "I miss you, too."

"Come home," Shiro encourages him. "Mika’s getting better, and I bet she’ll improve even faster with you here. She misses you, too."

"I wish I could," Keith says. "I took some bullshit mission I wasn’t really needed for at first, just to get away, but they really need me here right now. I’d have probably been called out here regardless."

"Is Voltron needed?" Shiro asks, worried.

Keith shakes his head. "No, we’re managing. Besides, Allura shouldn’t be flying right now." Shiro cringes at the thought of what /Allura/ would say if she heard that, but Keith’s probably right. At six months pregnant, she’s starting to get a little unwieldy.

"Well, you know backup is here if you need it," Shiro says pointedly, knowing Keith understands—Coalition and Garrison orders be damned, if Keith and the Blades need his help, Shiro will deploy Atlas to provide assistance.

"I know," Keith says, grinning.

They spend the next few minutes with Shiro catching Keith up on how he’s been easing Mika into the idea of not all Galra being bad.

"She’s made progress," Shiro says. "Baby steps, but steps nonetheless. She started seeing a therapist last week, too."

"And she said she wants to talk to me?" Keith asks uncertainly. Shiro nods.

"I asked her tonight and she said yes, no hesitation. Actually, she went to draw you somethi-"

"Is that Papa?" Mika’s small voice breaks in from the doorway. Shiro can see Keith go very still on screen.

"It is," Shiro says, shifting to make room for her on the bed. "Want to come say hello?"

She nods and approaches the bed, a piece of red construction paper clutched to her chest. She clambers up next to Shiro and he tilts the screen so that she and Keith can see each other.
There’s a beat of tense silence before Keith speaks.

"Hey, Mika," he says quietly, offering a small smile. "What have you been up to?"

Mika darts a glance at Shiro, then scoots in closer. "I’ve been drawing a lot," she says. "And Dad’s been telling me stories."

"What kind of stories?" Keith asks. "More about the Voltron show?"

Mika giggles a little as Shiro scowls reflexively. "No, only you will tell me those! He told me about Ulaz and Caravan-"

"Kolivan," Shiro corrects her gently.

"Yeah, Kolivan. And your mommy."

Keith sucks in a sharp breath, audible even through the distant connection. "That’s... that’s great, kiddo."

Mika nods. "She’s still kind of scary, but... but your mom sounds like a nice lady. And she’s pretty, even if she’s purple. I couldn’t make the purple work, though."

"Make it work?" Shiro repeats, confused.

"Yeah. I saw Miss Colleen make purple paint for me by mixing red and blue, but I tried using a blue crayon on the red paper and it didn’t work," she says, huffing in frustration. She holds out her drawing— scribbled versions of Shiro, Keith, Mika, Kosmo, and a little bit off to the side, a blue scribble that looked like it might be Krolia. Shiro helps her hold it steady in front of the camera, and Keith’s eyes widen when he realizes what he’s seeing.

Keith’s smile is a small, tremulous thing, and Shiro can tell he’s fighting a waver in his voice.

"I love it, Mika. That may be my favorite thing you’ve ever drawn." She pulls it back, pursing her lips.

"Better than the one I drew of Mr. Slav?"

Keith laughs out loud, no doubt recalling Shiro’s pained but proud reaction to that particular artistic endeavor, and Shiro feels something relax in his chest. For the first time in weeks, he starts to believe that everything might be okay.

"Papa, when are you coming home?"

"I’m... not sure that’s a good idea just yet, kiddo," Keith says slowly.

"Why not?" she demands.

Shiro wants nothing more than to jump in, to try to mediate and make Keith agree to come home as soon as possible, but he can feel that this is something Keith and Mika need to talk about.

"Sweetheart," Keith says gently, "I’m so, so glad you wanted to talk to me on the holopad, but I’m still Galra. I’d never, ever hurt you, I hope you know that, but you’re scared of Galra, and I don’t want to scare you, either."

Mika scowls, obviously not accepting that argument. "You’re not just a Galra," she says stubbornly. "You’re my Papa, and I miss you. Dad misses you, too," she adds, looking over at Shiro as if daring him to contradict her.

"She's right, I do," he agrees quietly.

Keith swallows hard and nods. "...okay. Yeah. If you’re sure, I’ll try to come home as soon as I can. It may still be a bit, though," he warns. "There are people here who need my help."

"Miss Torres at daycare says helping people is important," Mika says seriously.

"It is," Shiro agrees. "And Papa is very good at it."

Keith laughs a little. "Well, I-" He stops suddenly as the lighting around him suddenly turns red. "Shit," he says, wincing when he remembers Mika’s presence. "Sorry, I’ve got to go." He shifts, reaching past the camera and coming back with his knife, which he sheathes on his belt.

"Check in when you can, please," Shiro says, fighting a swell of nerves. "Be safe."

"I will," Keith says, eyes flicking up at the sound of a distant explosion. "I love you both." He offers one last quick smile before the feed cuts out.

Shiro takes a deep breath, ready for any number of difficult questions from Mika about what she just saw.

"Dad, what’s shit?"

Shiro gets a message hours later, around 4am local time.

Sorry about that. All good now, no injuries. Will be home when I can. Love you.

That ‘home’ warms Shiro’s chest.

Love you too. Stay safe, call when you can.

It’s the last time Shiro hears anything from Keith for two days.

It’s not an unusual break, really, based on their communications over the last two months, but considering how well their last conversation went, the silence leaves Shiro feeling itchy and nervous. Mika asks Shiro when Keith will be home, and Shiro can only show her Keith’s message and promise her he’s okay.

Until he hears from Krolia.

"They reported that the pirates had banded together for a head-on attack before they fell out of contact," she says, her face grim. "We could use some backup," she adds. "I realize Voltron isn’t exactly active right now, but Atlas-"

"We’ll be there," Shiro says firmly, already reaching for his flight suit.

Within an hour, Mika is whisked away to emergency accommodations and Atlas is disembarking.
Allura creates a wormhole for them, only after extracting a promise from Shiro to call them if Voltron was needed, because she is still perfectly capable of piloting, thankyouverymuch.

It all ends up being a bit anticlimactic. As soon as they arrive in the Kazon system, they receive the Blade’s distress signal. They’d managed to fend off the pirates, but not before taking significant damage and loss of communications. It’s still good that Atlas came, as it is large enough to carry all the Blades from the damaged ships — and because it has a larger medical bay than any of the Blade ships, and they have quite a few injured. One of whom, of course, is Keith.

Shiro leaves the bridge to Coran as soon as he hears, hurrying to Keith’s side. He’s assured that Keith will make a full recovery once they get back to proper surgeons on Earth, but for now he’s been sedated.

In the end, Atlas is only away from Earth for about 12 hours. Keith, along with the other injured Blades, are transferred to the on-base hospital as soon as they arrive. Shiro goes to pick up Mika while Keith is in surgery and tries to explain what has happened.

"So he’ll be okay?" she asks, walking hand-in-hand with Shiro.

"He will," Shiro confirms, "but he may be in the hospital for a little while."

"I want to visit," Mika says.

"I’m not sure that’s a good idea," Shiro replies apologetically.

"I got to visit Rayna after her ‘pendix surgery," Mika insists. "I want to see Papa!"

"Mika, sweetheart," Shiro says, stopping to crouch by her, "because Papa is part Galra, he’s got human and Galra doctors, and there are probably a lot of Blades around. I’m not sure-"

"I don’t care!" Mika glares at Shiro, and for a moment he gets a glimpse at what his parents must have seen when he had pushed himself despite his disease. "I want to see Papa!"

Shiro sighs. It’s not as if he doesn’t want to be at Keith’s side, too. "Okay, baby. If you’re sure."

She is, as it turns out, very sure. She marches into the hospital by his side, hesitating only a moment at the sight of the six Blades in the waiting room.

While they’re waiting, she tugs on Shiro’s sleeve and points at a Blade across the room.

"Does Papa have a suit like that?"

"He does," Shiro replies, smiling a little. "He looks very handsome in it."

She seems to consider this, staring across at the Blade for a long time. He endures it admirably, giving her a small smile and wave, but otherwise letting her look. When they’re finally called back, she hesitates a moment when she sees the Galra doctor in the room, but the second her eyes land on Keith, she’s blind to all else.

"Papa!" She dashes into the room, darting around the large Galra doctor’s tail to get to the bedside.

"Mika?" Keith looks pleased, if a bit dazed. "Hey, kiddo."

Shiro catches up just in time to stop her from climbing up on Keith’s bed. "Careful, sweetheart," he warns. "He’s still healing." He looks up to smile at Keith. "It’s good to see you awake," he says.
He reaches out to take Keith’s hand. "It’s good to see you home," he adds.

Keith smiles and gives Shiro’s hand a squeeze. "Glad to be home. Sorry I never called back."

Shiro huffs out a laugh. "I think it can be forgiven, considering the circumstances."

"I drew you more pictures," Mika says, leaning on the edge of the bed. "But they’re on Atlas."

"I can’t wait to see them," Keith says. He hesitates a moment, then pulls his hand out of Shiro’s to brush his fingers over Mika’s hair.

She never so much as flinches, instead leaning into the touch. "My hair’s boring right now," she says. "Dad can’t braid it the way you can."

"Well I guess I’ll have to hurry and get out of here so I can get back to work, huh?"

Mika opens her mouth to reply, but is interrupted but the sound of the door. Krolia pauses in the doorway when she sees the small crowd around the bed. Her eyes go to Keith, and she relaxes a bit to see him awake, but her lips thin at the sight of Mika.

"I’ll come back later," she says, and starts to back away.

Every eye in the room goes to Mika as Shiro tries to take stock of the sudden tension in the air, trying to decide whether he and Mika should leave, or if he should ask Krolia to stay. Mika goes very still, then seems to come to a decision and stands up straight. She marches across the room to Krolia and takes her by the hand.

"You’re Papa’s mommy, right?"

"I am," Krolia agrees, a bit warily.

"Then you should be here. My mommy always made me feel better when I was hurt."

Shiro looks back at Keith to see him watching the scene in nothing short of awe.

"Turns out our kid’s as brave as her Papa," Shiro says quietly.

"Let’s hope she has her Dad’s common sense to help balance that out," Keith replies, and Shiro decides not to call him out on his wet eyes on account of all the painkillers he’s probably on, instead just taking his hand again and bringing it to his lips.

Krolia keeps glancing across at Keith, but within moments she’s deep in conversation with Mika, who seems to be telling her about how blue crayons on red paper don’t make purple.

"Well, one thing’s for sure," Shiro says quietly. "She’ll make a better flower girl than I did ring bearer."

"Well that’s a low bar, you swallowed your uncle’s ring," Keith replies. Then his brain catches up with what he just heard. "Wait, what?"

"She’ll be a great flower girl," Shiro says, pressing his lips to Keith’s knuckles. "You know, at our wedding. If you’ll marry me."

Keith gapes at Shiro for a long moment before he tugs his hand free to hook it around the back of Shiro’s neck, pulling him in for a kiss.

"Yes," he gasps when they part. "I mean, obviously. Yes."

When the wedding rolls around six months later, Mika is more than happy to spend the morning with Gramma Krolia while her dads get ready. It’s a small ceremony — just close friends and family, including all the Paladins’ families, down to baby Melenor, babbling happily in Lance’s arms.

Mika is delighted to be pulling double duty as both flower girl and ring bearer. As expected, she does better than Shiro did - no ring swallowing at all - and she looks lovely in her beautiful purple dress as she’s escorted down the aisle by Kosmo.

Keith signs the adoption papers alongside the marriage certificate after the ceremony, after which he and Shiro happily scoop Mika up into a hug, pressing kisses to her cheeks as she wrinkles her nose. The picture Pidge snaps of that moment never leaves Shiro’s desk.