Somehow it made sense that Keith would elope. He never did strike James as the pompous wedding with three hundred guests kind of guy. And not just because he didn't used to have that many people to invite to in his life.
Yet there James was, sipping dry, bubbly prosecco from a dainty crystal flute, watching Keith mouth something undoubtedly sweet against his husband's smiling lips, blatantly happy and in love. He may not have wanted that fancy party or those three hundred guests, but he did have a small army of loyal friends now, who took good-natured offence to the off-planet wedding attended by Krolia and the wolf only. Even if no one had actually been surprised.
Lance in particular had been vocal about being robbed of festivities, and took all of twenty minutes to start planning a party for "family and friends, who all deserved to raise at least one glass of champagne and say Finally! with however much suffering was appropriate". When said family included half of the most important people in the Galaxy Garrison and the ranks of what used to be a secret intergalactic spy organisation, things were bound to get big. But Lance did have a point: they all did have to watch Keith and Shiro's epic love story, watch them save each other, and cross the universe for each other, time and time again. A little suffering was definitely warranted.
James looked away before he could witness another besotted kiss.
He wished he could say they were disgusting and shameless in their PDA. He wished he could make a face at them. But the truth was, even now, at their own post-wedding not-reception, surrounded by people who loved and accepted them, they shied away from the spotlight, content in their own little world. As they always have.
Sure, they were both drunk on happiness and champagne—Shirogane more than Keith, because alien genes did come through when least expected—and sure, Shirogane was one kiss away from simply falling into Keith's arms knowing Keith would always catch him, but they were also laughing, and dancing with their friends, and still existing in that same impenetrable Keith and Shiro bubble. Gravitating towards each other like the moon and the tides. Impossible to pull apart.
And James didn't know how to stop looking at them.
"You think they're gonna last?" someone asked to his left. James didn't turn—couldn't, because some things simply didn't change and his razor-sharp attention to Keith was just one of those things—but from the corner of his eyes, he recognized the man as one of the bridge crew members on Atlas, though James couldn't quite remember his name. He clearly wasn't close enough to either of the grooms, but Shirogane was clearly polite and considerate enough to invite everyone he worked with on daily basis. Given his recent shocking announcement of his upcoming indefinite leave, it maybe made sense.
It maybe also explained why James had been invited too.
"Global divorce rate has lowered down to 45% in the years since the Galra invasion on Earth," Leifsdottir supplied dutifully, which was neither here nor there. What did Keith and Shirogane care about the numbers?
Across from them, sitting at the same pretty table decorated with dark burgundy accents and bright Altean flowers because Lance was both royalty and a farmer now, Acxa said, "That would be impossible. Keith is not human."
The bridge man frowned. "Galra don't allow divorce?"
Acxa shook her head. "We mate for life."
Ever-curious, Rizavi leaned closer. "Well, by law, Kogane's still a citizen of Earth. Even if his family isn't. How would that work?" She ended up half-sprawled across both Veronica's and Ryan's laps, who didn't even sigh, though Veronica did look regretful at having to put down her glass.
The sitting arrangement had been a bit awkward at first—despite months and months of working together on the same space ship, many of them still didn't know each other beyond their names and duties, if even that. But the few Olkarian engineers at their table, endlessly polite, made a valiant effort at conversation. Things went easier from there. To the point of comfortably discussing their superiors' love lives, apparently.
"It has nothing to do with law. It's in the genes." If the blank faces made Acxa want to roll her eyes, she certainly didn't show it. "I believe your planet has creatures that bond similarly? Once we choose a mate, that's it for us. Keith may be only half-Galra, but he has displayed qualities that would suggest that in this aspect, he's more Galra than human." She paused, and James could've sworn he saw amusement in her unreadable dark eyes. "Though of course, that could be just his personality. It's rather… intense."
James stifled back a snort. Intense was one way to describe what Keith was. Another would be loyal to a fault, and in love. Of course he would go that extra mile. It was his Shiro, after all. James didn't know why anyone at the table was even surprised.
"Well, damn," the bridge man whistled after a moment of silence. "Guess the Admiral's stuck forever, huh?"
As one, they all turned to look at Shirogane. The paladins' table was naturally the rowdiest of them all—when wasn't it? It looked like Queen Allura was in the middle of giving another toast, and Lance was once again providing commentary that was meant to no doubt embarrass Keith but instead caused him to smirk in that devastating, deadly way of his. He said something back, then took his husband's hand in his and kissed it, right on the gleaming wedding ring. Lance threw his arms towards the ceiling.
Shirogane though, was looking at Keith like he was the moon and the stars and his whole damn universe. Or like he wouldn't mind leaving this party right there and then.
Keith was looking right back at him, in the exact same way.
"If that's what being stuck looks like," Rizavi said, "sign me up."
The Shiroganes did leave before anyone else, long before the party was over. From the way they couldn't quite stop touching each other, sometimes just by the tips of their pinkies, and the possessive hand far too low on Keith's back, it didn't take a genius to figure out where and why they were going.
James honestly didn't expect to see them again, not for a long, long while. Not after Shirogane announced less than a month ago that he would be leaving the Garrison, indefinitely, to join Keith's ragtag Blades squad and help those still in need on the outskirts of faraway galaxies. Nobody said it out loud, but everyone had their suspicions that the only reason he wasn't retiring officially was because Commander Iverson had asked him not to. Shirogane was a hero. He could leave the politics and the paperwork, but he could never erase his legacy or his influence.
But James knew. Once they left—once they tasted that dream life of theirs, that would be their point of no return. Neither of them was ever meant for the mundane.
James had seen Keith come back from one of his missions, full of life and energy and wonder. Seen him sitting on top of Atlas's main console, in his brand new robed uniform and his long dark hair in a messy bun, talking to Shirogane about the things he had seen, the people he'd met. Seen the same sense of wonder mirrored on Shirogane's face, the same deep longing for adventure.
So he knew. And fully expected to see the Black Lion gone in the morning. Maybe even catch a glimpse of its glowing wings when he couldn't fall asleep that night and after hours and hours of tossing in bed, went up to the hangar roof for a breath of fresh air. It helped him clear his head, back when Commander Holt had just returned from presumed death and put James in charge of the newly forged MFE squad. He was the one who had given James the keys, too. With a face that told James he knew something about needing to just breathe.
Tonight, instead of the usual quiet, he found both Shiro and Keith.
Maybe James was simply cursed.
Or maybe it'd been foolish of him to hope that he would be able to escape Keith while they were both on the same planet, under the same roof, when he hadn't been able to even when Keith was simply gone.
"We could still go to the desert," Keith grumbled, closing the old metal hatch that squeaked if you didn't know where to push. Keith clearly did. "I've seen a couple of hoverbikes down in the hangar."
"Mm, we could," Shirogane agreed, offering his hand to Keith and leading him away from the entrance, closer to the edge on the opposite side of the building. "But this is where you first kissed me. Call me a romantic."
Keith, of course, followed. Shirogane never had to worry about that. "Are you feeling nostalgic about our first date, Takashi? They say it's a sign of old age."
And James realised they hadn't seen him yet. He hadn't been hiding, had no reason to, but the massive exhaust fans James was standing next to must've kept him from being spotted. He didn't know if that was a good thing or a very bad thing, only that he had no way to exit unnoticed. Even as they moved farther away, the hatch remained in their line of vision.
James backed around a corner, and sighed. At least now he couldn't see them. Even if he could still hear their every word.
"You were the one who felt the need to sneak out here despite having permission to be anywhere on the base, remember?"
"Speak for yourself, Admiral," Keith said in a tone James had never heard him use before—teasing, he realised, Keith was teasing.
It shouldn't have been surprising; they were married, after all. Had been dating ever since that first big battle on Earth, the one that had landed Keith in ICU for an entire week. But the Keith James knew—the Keith that haunted him, day after day, with his talent and his disregard—that Keith was brash, and arrogant, and sullen, even when he was being a leader worth following. This Keith? This Keith set a storm in the pit of James's stomach.
"Not all of us are beloved golden boys with keys to every room in every building."
"Right," Shirogane drawled, "you only have keys to cramped storage rooms and other dark, hidden places."
"I don't remember you complaining the last time we had to use on of those. Or any time before that."
"Not true, there was that one time when Lance almost walked in..."
Keith voice went a little deeper, a tad darker. "You weren't complaining about the space, you were complaining about having to be quiet."
But before James could seriously consider jumping off the roof, terrified of where this conversation was going and where it could potentially end, both Keith and Shirogane fell quiet.
It felt, somehow, even more intimate than the flirting. And James wanted to leave.
Now that there were no words, he could hear the movements—the tentative footsteps, the soft rustle of clothes, the deep inhale, half-muffled. He didn't need to see to imagine the two of the standing right there at the edge, tangled in each other and unafraid. Could just picture Shirogane's bulkier frame no longer dwarfing Keith's yet still as protective as always. And Keith leaning into that embrace with everything that he was and has, warm and unrestricted.
They had always made such a pretty picture.
James didn't want to feel or sound as bitter as he did just then, but he couldn't help it—Keith always managed to bring out the uglier side of him. Yet another thing that didn't seem to change no matter the time and the distance.
"Are you sure about this?" Keith said quietly against the only warmth he ever seemed to need.
"About chasing the dream with the love of my life? Mm, pretty sure."
Silence again. It covered the empty spaces between the neat rows of solar panels like a blanket, no longer teasing and light. Not heavy either, but still pinning James to the wall he was backed up against.
"Hey, baby, look at me," Shirogane whispered after too many heartbeats. James could only guess what kind of face he was making to match the heartbreakingly soft tone of his voice. "I want this. I've always wanted this. I just never thought I'd get to have it. And now I get to have it with you."
"Shiro…" James had long ago lost count of how many times he's heard Keith sat that name—lovingly, longingly, terrifyingly. He's even heard Keith break down with it still on his lips—just once, after Kerberos—but he's never heard it sound quite like this. "I know that, I do. I just…"
"Worry. You're worried that I will have regrets. That the nightmares will get worse. That maybe you inadvertently have made me choose."
Keith said nothing, but even James knew he didn't have to. And James didn't know Keith nearly as well as Shirogane did.
It was so easy to imagine him cradling Keith in his arms just then, petting his long hair, fingers curling the strands that had loosened from the braid. And murmur right into his ear, "I can't tell you, or even myself, with absolute certainty, that I won't think about the responsibilities I'm leaving behind. That would be a lie. But the rest? I miss you Keith. I miss you all the time. And I'm selfish enough to go after you. Go on adventures with you. Live with you. And I'm not foolish enough to think there isn't someone far more capable to handle the inner affairs of this place."
"You are the best, though," Keith said too brokenly yet adamantly. "You're Shiro the Hero." There was a deep, exasperated groan, but Keith paid it no mind. "And I love you. So much, Shiro. So much."
Whatever confession Shirogane was about to give in return was drowned in the quiet, hushed sounds of tender kisses, bestowed again and again.
"I love you too," Shirogane said with a smile clear as day. "But we came here for a reason. And it's almost time."
When James finally dared to look, he saw them watching the first rays of sunlight rise over Earth's horizon. And as he quietly slipped away, he thought he would remember them just like this: cuddled together on an old blanket, Shirogane's head on Keith's lap, their hands entwined.
They left the Earth in much the same fashion they got married: quietly and without fanfare. Without even goodbyes, though of course that didn't quite work as they'd planned it to.
While they did choose the quietest hour when everyone would normally be asleep at their desks, the paladins somehow found out. Naturally, so did everyone else.
James was there too, standing in the shadows of his fighter—watching, still watching.
For one last time, he told himself.
Keith would be back, some day. For friends, and memorials, and simply visiting. Maybe one day he and Shirogane would even return to settle back where they first started. And Keith would no doubt still make heads turn, fiery and handsome. And he wouldn't even notice, because he wouldn't even care.
But it would be different, next time.
"They make you believe in true love, don't they?" Rizavi said quietly.
Yeah they did.