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You Will Be My Death (And I Am Your Captive)

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“Hey, cadet! Eyes over here!”

The cadet in question ruefully tore his eyes away from the senior officer he had been watching, and looked back to his tour guide: the Princess of Altea herself. Although that very fact was enough for most cadets it wasn’t enough to cast him under her spell. Likewise, Princess Allura would have been pleased that the newest recruit didn’t immediately fall on his knees and ask her to marry him on the spot. As much as she enjoyed dances and the occasional gift, especially things that sparkled, it was hardly ever appropriate timing for such things.

Especially now. They were fighting a war and the new recruit was distracted, even if he wasn’t being distracted by her, it was still inopportune.

“Sorry,” Keith apologized with a little huff.

Allura placed her hands on her hips.

“Repeat what I just told you!”

She didn’t want to go so hard on him, but the Galaxy Garrison was running a little thin on fighters after last week’s disastrous battle. The alliance with the Blades could only keep them afloat for so long lest they had to turn to the UK Division of the Garrison for aid. Humans and aliens, such as Princess Allura herself, who had sought refuge on Planet Earth, were waiting on proper food, clean water, and medical supplies to be brought by the agile Blades.

Keith Koh happened to be the son of a Blade general, but the young man had been living alone for years. First under the care of his human father then alone after his father’s death, before Lieutenant Shirogane found him by chance. He then recruited him after being impressed with his flying skills.

“He nearly cleaved your neck off with your own hover-bike, that he stole! And you recruited him?!” Allura had said, exasperated.

“He missed my head!” Shiro had said brightly. “Princess, I’ve never seen anyone pilot like that before!”

Keith sighed heavily. Then without skipping a beat, he regurgitated every word perfectly back at her.

Allura began to feel bad for her tone.

The man Keith had been distracted by was none other than Lieutenant Takashi Shirogane. Or Shiro, as Keith and Shiro’s other friends knew him as. What a pity it wasn’t Shiro giving Keith the tour of the Garrison. The man was seated a ways off, tucking into his bowl of mac and cheese and occasionally laughing at something someone else was saying.

Keith sighed, envying that bowl of mac. Shiro had bragged about the Garrison’s mac and cheese to him from the very moment he had brought Keith here. The Garrisons brand was perfect for those both intolerant to lactose, and those suffering with Celiac: the creamy texture of the cheese and the integrity of the elbow noodles, which did not dissolve into mush no matter how long they were kept in boiling water.

Hearing Shiro wax poetically over the dish sparked the first of many desires inside Keith: He would do his damned best to win Shiro’s attention away from the Garrison’s prized entree.

“I read the curriculum a dozen times,” Keith snapped once he was done recounting her words. He didn't care that he was being rude to the Princess of Altea, who was seeking refuge and alliance with the human race on Earth. “I don’t need an orientation!”

The princess sighed, either in defeat, or from guilt of having Keith repeat what he already knew.

“You were paying attention after all…”

Stealing another glance towards Shiro, Keith caught sight of him laughing at something a fellow Garrison crew member was saying. Was that Veronica Álvarez from their pilot unit and Matt Holt from engineering?

“I’m hungry,” Keith said. “I’ll be back.”

“You just had breakfast an hour ago!” Allura argued. “A late breakfast!” she quickly added, reminding him that he had slept late. “You’ll be shadowing Lieutenant Romelle today.”

Keith didn’t even bother holding back the groan. Couldn’t it have been Shiro?

Lieutenant Romelle, also an Altean, turned out to be dating Shiro’s younger brother Ryou. She hopped from being bubbly one moment to emulating Allura’s hard-ass persona the next. Pulling Keith by the elbow, she led him towards a jeep and pushed him to take a seat on the passenger side. He noticed a soft teddy bear with purple fur sitting on the driver’s seat. It was immediately squished once Romelle sat on it. The bear’s head and arms stuck out, flailing towards Keith, as if begging for deliverance from the gluteus torment.

“Um, you’re sitting on a doll,” Keith mumbled.

“It’s for back support!” Romelle said and wiggled against the bear. The tormented teddy pitifully regarded Keith. Its clawless paws reached for mercy as its wide glassy eyes popped from its soft skull. Snorting, Keith glanced away before a hard coughing fit suddenly seized him.

Weird, he thought as he rubbed his chest. The cough felt like it came from his chest, but his lungs didn’t appear to be filled with phlegm, and no amount of coughing seemed to clear them up.

Romelle regarded him from the corner of her eye but said nothing.

“Hello, Keith,” Shiro said as he jogged up to him. “Heard that you and Romelle went scouting.”

“Yeah,” Keith said grumpily. “Part of my orientation. I thought I was already done!”

Shiro laughed. “They’ll always find something to teach the new recruits. Besides, you’ve shown promise to join Princess Allura’s Voltron Coalition as one of her paladins, like myself and Pidge. So, she’s going to want to mold you into the very best.”

“Well, I’m honored,” Keith said hollowly.

Shiro chuckled. “Say, would you like to go to the movies? My Mom Married Jack the Ripper Part Three is out.”

“You like that sort of thing?” Keith raised his eyebrows. He would have never taken Shiro as the sort…

Shiro chuckled sheepishly. “Ryou and I loved to scare ourselves with them! Of course, I was never scared.”

“Uh huh, I believe you.” Keith smirked and tried not to laugh at the mental image of a younger Shiro hiding behind his brother who was much smaller, rounder, and could pack a mean punch if provoked. Not that Keith had ever witnessed it himself, but Ryou had always been the lesser phlegmatic of the two Shiroganes.

“Will Ryou be coming along?”

“No,” Shiro said with a frown. “He’s doing overtime at the shop. Upgrading the jet engines takes a lot of work, so he’ll be busy for some time. And Adam…of course, Adam and I have been over for…for four months now! Wow, ha ha! I don’t know why I’m surprised by that. How time flies…

“So it’ll just be the two of us.”

A date. Keith chased the thought out of his head, but his heart was far more rebellious.

“Oh!” was all he managed as his cheeks flushed bright and his damned heart thumped its way to his throat.

Shiro beamed at him. He couldn’t have known what Keith was thinking, could he?

The movie turned out to be as cheesy as the previous two in the series, but the experience of being in the dark theater with Shiro more than made up for it. Getting to be with Shiro, and learning just how much of a horror genre dork he was—really, his love for the macabre was oddly adorable. He wasn’t some weird creep, but some dork who laughed at the movie’s bizarre take on slasher horror. And he was a wimp. A total wimp who flinched at the cheesiest moments. Priceless and adorable.

Keith pretended he got scared at the couple of jump scares, which earned him an arm around his shoulders. If the movie could be praised for anything, it was that it sure built the suspense well. Grinning in the dark, he leaned as close as he dared, rewarding himself with a whiff of Shiro’s cologne and his leather jacket.

He couldn’t make too much use of Shiro’s arm, though, as his body ended up getting a spasm or two and he had to readjust his sitting position. Frowning, Keith watched from the corner of his eye as Shiro gave himself electrical pulses through his wrist device. He wondered how Shiro normally slept and if his back hurt from remaining in the same spot the whole night.

“Had a good time?” Shiro asked afterwards as they left. A bright flash greeted them just as they stepped out in the dark, and both were startled by the thunder moments before getting drenched under the pouring rain. Looking at one another, they laughed.

“You were scared!” they accused each other at the same time and laughed until Keith went into another coughing fit. Then taking Keith’s hand, Shiro made a dash for his car.

A year passed and Keith was promoted to a paladin, along with cadets Hunk and Lance. Shiro was the one to fit the medal to his new paladin uniform. The ribbon’s color was the same as the stripes of his new paladin armor. Both Keith and Shiro had agreed that red was a very suitable color for him.

“You look wonderful,” Shiro said with a beaming, a proud smile on his face.

But Keith wasn’t smiling. Before he spoke, he had to clear his throat. There was always something scratching in his throat these days, and it felt like he was congested in his chest.

“Can’t I be assigned on this mission with you? Or the rest of us? I thought the Paladins of Voltron were some sort of Musketeers for the Garrison or something.”

Shiro smiled. “We could be like that, yes. Which is why I must infiltrate the military base alone first. Should anything happen to me, I’ve got five amazing paladins who’ll have my back.

“Although I think only one will suffice.”

He winked at Keith, and the congested pain in Keith’s chest cracked. He bit his lip to stop the pain from showing on his face. There was no reason to keep Shiro, his best friend, with him other than selfishness. Keith wanted to grab him, hold him, and tell him how much he loved him, but…

He kept still.

“What of your illness?” he asked in a tiny voice, but by then Shiro had left his side to congratulate Hunk. Keith shivered from the sudden feeling of being alone.

Coran rounded on Keith. Holding a device over him, Keith eyed it warily. Shiro was well out of earshot, called away by Dr. Sam Holt when the device suddenly went off.

“Well, bless the tinglies in my jinglies! To the infirmary with you, Number Four!”

“What?” Keith turned to call for Shiro, but he was already being whisked off by an insisting Coran and Romelle, who had seen the device go off and must have known what it entailed.

“What’s going on?” Keith demanded, eyeing the Altean gadget. “Why are you taking me away?”

“This is a serious matter, Keith!” Romelle said. “As serious as my back pain!”

“That can’t be so bad!” Keith said. “You use a teddy bear for your back!”

“This is different, Keith, I assure you!” Coran said. “We have to verify you’re sick!”

“I’m not sick!”

But nothing could persuade them to let him go.

He was taken to the medical ward, where he was stripped of his new paladin armor and fitted into a flimsy green robe that opened at the back. Scan after scan were taken, and blood tests drawn. He thought he heard Princess Allura come in, so he pushed himself up on his elbows to get a better look.

“What’s going on in here? Where’s my red paladin?” she demanded.

“Princess, I’m afraid we have a sick paladin on our hands!” Coran cried out.

Allura snatched the reports from the radiologist’s hands and gasped.

“Keith!”

He had never heard her so enraged.

“What did I do?” Keith glared at her.

What the hell? Was she blaming him for dying or something?

“Keith, why didn’t you inform us you have Hanahaki Disease?”

What Disease?”

She sighed heavily. “The Galra get this. Your mother never warned you about this—of course not! It’s rare. Rare but very dangerous.”

“I don’t understand,” Keith sat up. “I have a rare Galra disease?”

“Haven’t you been coughing a lot?” Romelle asked.

“No,” Keith lied, just as his body betrayed him. In truth, his coughing had been getting worse. A couple times he had lost his meal because his body couldn't stop the damn coughing.

“Do you feel like your chest is congested, but no expectorant seems to solve the problem?” Coran asked.

“Um…yeah.” And the need to cough something up, that scratchy sensation was always there.

“Are you in love with someone?” Allura asked.

Keith looked away. He wasn’t going to answer such a personal question, and that, she thankfully realized, was something she didn’t prod on.

“I’ve seen Hanahaki a couple times before,” Coran said. “All from previous Galaxy Garrison personnel. If not treated, the Galra dies.”

“What happens to them?” Keith asked. “Do they just keep coughing until they die?”

“Well, you’ll be coughing up flowers soon enough,” Coran said.

Coming from Coran, Keith wasn’t sure whether to take that seriously.

“Is there any treatment? A cure?”

“Yes,” Allura said. “Since Hanahaki comes about when you’re deeply pining for someone, you must let the object of your affection know.”

“And tell him soon, because Shiro will be leaving tomorrow,” Romelle added. Keith flinched. “What? Keith, it’s that obvious!”

“I can’t let Shiro know!” Keith said, wide-eyed. “You don’t understand!”

“Don’t understand what?” Coran asked, cocking his head to one side in earnest. Keith sighed; at least Coran was ready to listen.

“Shiro is my best friend. I can’t risk our friendship like that, and not with him about to go on that dangerous mission tomorrow!” He looked at Allura as if it was her fault for sending Shiro to go infiltrate that base alone. “What if it distracts him and he gets killed? What then?”

“But, Keith—”

“It’s been over a year that I’ve felt this way,” Keith went on, not letting Allura get a word in. “I can tell him when he returns. I can try to squash my feelings for him, so I don’t end up killing myself. It’ll work out.”

But none of the Alteans looked convinced.

The day of Shiro’s departure arrived. He embraced Keith for a long while, and Keith’s heart clenched at the thought of not being able to tell him how he felt.

“I’ll be back before you know it, all right?” Shiro said.

“Or I’ll come get you,” Keith said.

Shiro grinned. “I’m betting on it!”

Later that day, the first of the flowers came up. It plopped in front of him on the cafe table, smelling like a mouse. The stem was a bit tall, and the flowers themselves so tiny that he was almost disappointed by their appearance. Given how deep his love went for Shiro, he was expecting something much more grand, like a rose.

“Oh my! Hemlock!” Coran said as he picked up the bloodied florett and studied it.

“Is that how they look?”

“The type of flower that comes up depends on the afflicted,” Coran said. “I’m very sorry, Keith.”

“Why?”

“Well, if you know what a hemlock stood for…”

“Keith!” Allura’s gasp made him jump. She ran to their side and grabbed for the hemlock.

“Keith, if you’re already at the expectoration stage then you must consider surgery!”

“Remove Shiro from my memory? No way!”

“It’s the only way if you wish to see another day!”

But Keith refused. There had to be another way. Shiro would be back soon, he had promised! Keith had two options then: tell him when he returns or get over his feelings on his own.

But fate had other plans.

“Come on, we’re paladins!” Keith cried out. “It’s our duty to go get him!”

“Easy, man!” Lance begged, hands held up as he slowly backed away from Keith.

“I know he’s your buddy and all,” Hunk added, “but…”

“He’s not dead!” Keith roared.

Pidge flinched and returned to her screen. Her whole body trembled as she navigated through the satellite footage. “Allura, we’re not locating him or his ship. He’s completely gone.”

“What do you think it was?” Allura asked. “Asteroids or an enemy attack?”

Hearing Allura talk about Shiro’s demise so casually made him clench his fists. How could she be so flippant about this?

“He’s not dead!”

“Keith, I know what he means to you, but now’s not the time for feelings—”

“No, you don’t understand!” He made to leave, shoving Coran and Hunk aside when they tried to block the way.

“Keith! Where are you going?!”

“I’m not waiting around any longer! He’s still out there, and I’m going to find him!”

“We work as a team, Keith!”

Keith paused as he reached the doors. “Then you should have let us all go with him in the first place!”

In the end, Keith didn’t go. He was ordered to stay back on account of his emotional outburst. Keith was forced to remain behind, while the others worked out, far too slowly for Keith’s liking, where Shiro was likely located. And then again, they moved too slowly as they attempted the rescue mission.

Keith was unsurprised when they didn’t find Shiro or any sign of his ship.

Keith wept for days. For weeks he refused to eat or talk to anyone. He never left the medical bay. If they thought he was sick and crazy for being in love, then so be it. He gave up fighting. Let the oppressive Galra Empire devour them. He wouldn’t even trust himself not to divulge secret information out of spite.

Hemlock littered the floor.

“Hey, I made you some treats,” Hunk said behind the door. “I looked up some Galra desserts. I had to contact some Blade members to see what I could use to substitute for toromberry jam. Acxa helped me find the best substitute in a neighboring solar system; she’s really helpful. I think I got it right.”

“Go away,” Keith, pale-faced and sunken-eyed, gargled through the mouthful of hemlock.

“He doesn’t sound good.” Pidge’s whispers were loud enough to be heard through the door.

“Should we tell Allura?” Lance said. “And his mom?!” For all his jibes and teasing that Keith found annoying rather than light-hearted, he sounded genuinely concerned at that moment.

“His mom’s stationed far off at the end of the known universe!” Pidge snapped. “You want her freaking out over what’s happening here?!”

“Hey! If it were me, I’d want my mom near me! He’s dying, Pidge!”

“Hush it, will you!” Hunk hissed. “No telling Keith’s mom, but maybe we should get Allura…”

Later, Allura dropped by. This time, instead of the rue-like state he was familiar seeing her in, she stood against the wall, embracing herself. The sight of him clearly pained her. Even in his weakened state, Keith understood why. For all the battles the Galaxy Garrison had fought against the empire, Allura always succeeded in protecting her crew. She had lost so much before reaching Earth that she was extra adamant to see that everyone from her own squad make it. Losing one comrade was bad enough, losing two was going to devastate her. As much as Keith was sorry for doing this to her, he could not fight the illness.

“Keith, I know how much this must hurt you,” she said, “but you have to move on. Shiro’s gone, and…”

“Then I’ll follow him,” Keith said and coughed up another bunch of hemlock. “Wherever he goes…”

Allura squeezed her eyes shut. “Please, we can’t lose two paladins! We need you! Shiro would not have wanted this!”

That night, nothing hurt.

Hemlock surrounded him like a bed of flowers. Hemlock grew and twisted out of his lungs, through his nostrils, but they didn’t bother Keith. His mind was filled with memories of being in the theater, resting his head against Shiro’s chest as Shiro cuddled him snuggly against him. The scent of his cologne and his leather jacket was all around Keith.

“Great movie, wasn’t it?” Shiro laughed later on and Keith shook his head.

“You and your weird horror flicks,” he replied as they then soared off on Shiro’s hover-bike.

“SHIRO!”

The crystal bowl full of cranberry juice in Coran’s hands dropped at the sight of the Black Paladin, shattering into a million pieces. The Garrison cadet nearby groaned at the prospects of cleaning up the mess, completely impervious to the more shocking sight just a few feet away.

“Sorry, Coran,” Shiro said, frowning at the broken bowl. “I didn’t mean to startle y—”

Before he could get another word out, Coran yanked him away and began a series of scans while throwing a million questions at him, barely able to focus on the readings of the scans or anything. Shiro held back a cough, nervous, at how much Coran was flailing like a bird frightened out of its wits.

“How are you still alive?! Are you a clone of the real Shiro?! Why are you robotic?! Why do you have a scar?! Do you have more scars?! Why’s your hair partially white?! Answer me?!

“Whoa, whoa, whoa! Calm down, Coran!” Shiro laughed.

A tall Galra popped his head into the examination room, eyebrows furrowed with concern. The rising panic quickly subsided when he noticed the Blade uniform he wore.

“I’m not a clone or a robot. My entire ship was compromised early on in my mission. I wasn’t traceable. I hope you didn’t go looking for me, because I was worried they’d track and kill you.”

“Of course we searched for you!” Coran said. “But we didn’t find anything. We didn’t stay long. What happened?”

“I was taken prisoner. Tortured. Made to amuse the Galra in the arena. Every part of my body seared with pain because of my disease. Then, Zarkon’s witch changed out my arm for a robotic prosthetic to make me stronger—it’s a long story, really. But I guess it made me…part-Galra or something? I don’t know how to explain it; it’s complicated, really. I wouldn’t have been alive had Ulaz not rescued me.”

Shiro waved his hand towards the Galra who then bowed slowly to Coran.

“Well, good heavens!” Coran said. “You’ve been gone for nearly a year! Come, everyone will want to see you!”

Shiro retold his tale to the table, and answered as many questions as he could. Questions were thrown at him by Allura, Lance, Hunk, Pidge, Matt, Veronica, Acxa, Romelle, and Ryou—Ryou! Shiro’s silly little brother! He had engulfed Shiro in the world’s biggest bear hug when he saw him, and he wasted no time informing him that he and Romelle were now engaged!

“That’s great!” Shiro had choked out, feeling as though his lungs were about to burst.

Shiro sat at the head of the table with Ryou nearest to him. Coran bounced on his heels off to the side, while Ulaz stood stock still as he curiously watched the Voltron Paladins and the Garrison officers.

“What do you mean you’re partially Galra?” Lance snapped, and tugged on his short hair. Every three words out of Shiro’s mouth was setting him off and it was rather amusing.

“What awesome things can you do with that arm?” Hunk asked. “Can you shoot lasers?”

“Create a plasma shield?” Pidge theorized hopefully.

“Cure an aching back?” Romelle added brightly.

Shiro raised his hand and chuckled. “Settle down, everyone.”

“Yes, thank you, Shiro,” Allura said, looking on edge. “I’m sure Shiro would like to rest after his long ordeal.”

“Oh, no, I’m fine!” Shiro said and cleared his throat. “Ulaz piloted our escape pod while I rested!”

Allura visibly deflated, and tensed as the next words fell from Shiro’s lips:

“I notice a very special person is missing from the table. Where’s Keith?”

At that, the entire table became dead silent. A few awkward glances went around the room. Lance and Hunk studied a very interesting spot on the table, not meeting his eyes. Matt closed his eyes, shook his head, and turned his back. Veronica bit her lip, and shared a look with Romelle, both frowning, before striking up a conversation with Acxa about the weather. Not even Ryou would look at him.

“Uh, guys?” Shiro glanced from one face to another. He tried to catch Ryou’s gaze to no avail. Come on, man, you’re my brother!

Pidge was the one to finally speak up. “Shiro…Keith passed away.”

Shiro shot up from his chair. “What? How?! When did this happen?”

Allura drew in a deep breath. “It was shortly after we heard of your presumed passing, Shiro. He was adamant that he get to you immediately. But we held him back because we—” another deep sigh “—no, I, thought he was being too irrational, too emotional, over losing you. I wanted us to use a studied and meticulous method towards finding you. He couldn’t wait and made a bit of a scene. In the end, I had him held back while we searched for you. When we couldn’t find you, Keith refused to eat or see any of us. We tried to talk to him, brought him meals that he never touched. In the end he died.”

“It wasn’t just from lack of eating,” Hunk said.

“He was already sick,” Romelle added.

“That too,” Allura agreed.

“What do you mean?” Shiro asked quietly. Tears twinkled in his eyes.

“There is a rare Galra illness,” Allura said. “A pining love’s disease called Hanahaki. It manifests as a respiratory disorder. If the pining love is not reciprocated, then the victim dies. We implored Keith to tell you of his feelings before you left on the mission, but he didn’t want to risk your friendship or your safety. He tried to hold back his feelings for you until you returned so he could tell you then, but the disease got worse the moment you left.

“After your assumed passing, I begged him to have surgery. It would have removed the flowers and the spores from his lungs. It would also have removed his memory of you, but again he refused.”

“Ah…”

Shiro and Ulaz shared a long look before Shiro turned back to Allura. Everyone was studying Shiro, and the atmosphere could not have been any more different than moments before. Somber and quiet, a few of them wept as they recalled the day Keith had passed away.

“Darkest morning of my life,” Hunk muttered to Pidge. “I never heard Coran wail like that. He was always so jovial, even while trying to help Keith.”

Shiro met Allura’s wet gaze.

“May I see Keith’s grave?”

The burial ground for Garrison officers was serene, beautiful, and full of green. Keith had been buried under a large willow tree up on a hill. It overlooked the road they always took to the movies, and other places Shiro loved to take him. The miniature golf court near Ryou’s favorite strip mall (favorite because they contained stores of all the new gadgets and video games), the arcade with the cool virtual reality set, the highway that led up to their favorite racing spot in the canyons and where they could just sit back and stargaze together.

Shiro sucked in a deep breath.

Do you enjoy the view here, Keith?

“Hey there, buddy,” Shiro said softly. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to hurt you.”

Hemlock grew all around and over the grave, obscuring the small black gravestone. He gently parted the flowers to read the name and dates etched into the stone:


Keith Koh


October 23, 3012 - March 10, 3032

“You didn’t last too long after you thought I was gone,” Shiro continued and choked back a sob. “Were you trying to come after me?”

A sniffle behind him alerted him that he wasn’t alone, but Shiro didn’t mind the total lack of privacy. His hands shook so badly over his dear friend’s grave, he scarcely thought he could take it. He’d need Ryou or Hunk or Allura—anyone—to hold him after this.

“All this hemlock kept growing after we buried him,” Romelle said solemnly behind Shiro. “We didn’t plant them. Those were the flowers he kept coughing up until his death.”

Coran blew into his handkerchief.

“Hemlock…” Shiro said under his breath. “‘You will be my death’. Oh, Keith…”

“Is that normal?” Ryou asked Ulaz, who furrowed his eyebrows in concentration.

“Truthfully, I have never heard of this phenomenon before…” he said, gesturing at the growth of hemlock around them.

He gave Shiro a look that knocked him out of his reverie. The strangest sign of hope flickered on his face, before he wiped away the tears and the glimmer of hope along with them.

“He’s never given up on his feelings for me.” Shiro chuckled, before dissolving into a coughing fit. “That sounds like Keith. I imagine that most people would come to regret how much their feelings have destroyed them in the end. But Keith isn’t one to live with regrets. I can learn from that.

“Hemlock. ‘You will be my death’.

“Wait—how do you know what hemlocks stand for?” Lance asked.

Shiro chuckled bitterly.

“Because I spent a lot of time researching flowers while I was imprisoned,” Shiro said. “The Galra don’t keep their prisoners locked up until each arena match. We trained under hawked-eyed supervision. They also had a small library just for inmates so we could keep our brains sharp. Nothing was in there that could give us ideas on how to escape or override the codes that sealed our doors. Just books on poetry, gardening, a book on the language of flowers. Useless things. To the empire, anyway. To me, they were a fountain of knowledge. Things I needed to know.”

Reaching into his pocket he produced a single beautiful peach blossom, dotted with dried blood.

Allura gasped as realization hit her. “But, how?

“Remember when I said I’m now partially Galra?” Shiro said with a weary smile. “When Haggar noticed I was sick, she sought to make me strong. And she did it the only way she knew how. She made me into what she considered the strongest race in the universe. By cutting off the weakest part of me and replacing it with a bionic arm, she reworked a part of my body so that a tiny fraction of my DNA would become Galra. It was enough to offset the old disease, only for it to be replaced with a new disease. She didn’t anticipate that, trading one illness for another. She had no idea I harbored such an intense yearning for Keith.

“But thoughts of him, of Keith, kept me alive. He was the reason why I tried so hard to survive in the arena until Ulaz worked out a way to get me out of there.

“Do you know what I’ve learned about my new illness? The flowers we cough up have meaning, a sort of prophetic message towards the object of our desire. To Keith, I was the reason for his passing. And the peach blossom? ‘I am your captive’. And I was Keith’s captive in every way. I was never the Galra’s. That thought kept me going.

“By the time I got to the escape pod, I was coughing up entire bouquets of flowers. I tried to hold it back, but I imagine my own grave will be just as luscious as Keith’s. You should see the inside of the pod Ulaz and I arrived on.”

By now Shiro was weeping and wiping the tears from his eyes. “I was—I was hoping I could see him and tell him how I feel. That there would be a happy end to all this, and—”

Ryou screamed and fell to his knees beside him.

“What are you telling us? Am I still going to lose you?” he yelled. He punched the ground and bellowed out a string of curses. “I can’t go through this again!”

“I’m sorry!” Shiro wept.

Allura closed her eyes and shook her head. “This is all my fault!”

Coran wailed.

Shiro leaned over the headstone as if he could embrace Keith. What he would give to be with him. Perhaps it was madness, unable to endure the many sounds of mourning around him, but he found himself digging in the earth, pulling out fistfuls of hemlock.

“Um…Shiro?” Hunk’s voice reached him over the din of grief. “What are you doing?”

“I just want to hold him again,” Shiro said. He didn’t notice the uneasy silence that followed. The crowd around gave him a wide berth, as he dug deeper into the earth until his hands hit against something solid. The coffin was slick black and painted with the Paladin insignia in red: Keith’s color. Hemlock grew and wrapped around it.

To his surprise Keith was still exceptionally well-preserved for someone who had been dead for months; he looked as though he was merely sleeping. The scent around him was aromatic and sweet.

Everyone around him gasped as Shiro pulled Keith into his arms. Ryou scooted away, his eyes wide. Shiro thought in amusement that this was too much for him, despite his love for the grotesque and B-rated horror films.

But there was nothing wrong with this, Shiro rationalized. It was only Keith. He just wanted to hold the man who was not only his best friend, but also the dearest to his heart. Someone he would have loved to spend his entire life with.

Maybe in another life. Maybe after this life, in the afterlife? Maybe it was always meant to be me chasing you.

His tears dripped onto Keith as he thought it.

“I love you,” he whispered. “I’m sorry it took me so long.”

He watched, as a single tear splashed onto Keith’s cold lips. He closed his eyes and leaned closer, shocked gasps wavered around him, and kissed Keith’s lips.

Odd.

The lips were cold, but suddenly he felt them grow warm, warm and soft. There were more gasps and then Coran, Hunk and Lance screamed. Shiro opened his eyes to peer into Keith’s gaze.

Even Ulaz was stunned. “I thought that this was only a fairy tale…”

Blinking a few times, Keith looked about himself, dazed, confused. Then he turned back to Shiro with a smile. Shiro grinned and then got a shock of his own. Suddenly the congested feeling in his chest cleared up for the first time in a year. He drew in a deep breath, his first true, deep, deep breath in many months.

Keith was studying him. “Shiro…”

“Hey there, Keith,” Shiro said and chuckled at the confused look on Keith’s face. “Sorry to inform you this isn’t the afterlife.”