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June 1st, 2147

Keith fiddled with his boutonniere in a gilded mirror, hung on the wall of a ruined castle. He looked as out of place as he felt. His suit, white and fitted cleanly to his body, contrasted against the crumbling gray of the castle stones, poorly lit with lightbulbs in faux-medieval sconces. The shadows cast his face in a gaunt light, making him appear ghoulish as he fiddled with everything in the tarnished mirror of the groomsmen’s room. His mother stood behind him with a small smile on her face, head tilted to the side. 

“You look fine, honey.”

Keith sighed as he looked at her for a moment before turning his eyes back to his reflection. He was tired, bags under his eyes now perpetual instead of incidental. 

Anxiety crept up his spine like smoke from a fire. He sipped whiskey from the glass at his right; condensation made his hands feel more clammy than they really were. Between that and how tight his throat already was, he wasn’t sure how he was going to get through the next few hours. 

He stepped over to the thin window built into the castle’s turret he was trapped in. With a shove and a shudder that made him think the window wasn’t supposed to open, he cracked the frame far enough to justify pulling a loose cigarette from his thin, faux-gold case. 

His mother rolled her eyes behind him as he flicked open his lighter and put the cigarette between his lips. 

“How I wish you had inherited a Galra’s sense of smell.” Her tone was less soothing now, more approaching a “mom-voice”, but Keith continued to lean out the window and smoke. 

Krolia’s heels clicked against the stone as she paced. Keith could hear her jewelry clink against itself as she checked her watch (in both Terran hours and Universal vargas). He didn’t have to look to see the expression on her face, but his sweat-sticky back prickled with anxiety again as he ignored her. Despite everything, he didn’t like disobeying his mother. 

The rock under his elbows turned to dust and he watched as flecks of granite and limestone shed into the bushes four stories below him. The leaves and flowers shook slightly as the rocks hit them, so Keith intentionally broke off more stone to throw downwards, just to watch, all while the burn of his cigarette lit up the back of his mouth. 

He closed his eyes and tried to enjoy the last pulls of smoke into his lungs but the summer day was too hot to smoke enjoyably in. For Keith, smoking was more of an October habit, but today was a special occasion onto which he could project his self destructive tendencies willy-nilly. 

He let the butt of the cigarette fall from his fingers just as he opened his eyes, but didn’t get to see it hit the greenery below, catching only the aftermath, the shaking of leaves after the action. 

He sighed again, fully hunched and resting his head on his arms as they hung out the tiny castle window. 

“What if I just flung myself out this window?” 

“You wouldn’t die from forty feet, Keith.” Krolia’s heels clicked away from him and the heavy oak door groaned as she pulled it. A full grown human would need two hands to wrench open the old thing, hung on rusted hinges, but Keith knew his mother opened it with one.

He turned, and paused for a single moment, trying to savor the last few moments of freedom he could muster. 

Looking over her shoulder from the doorway, her olive green dress fluttering slightly in the breeze, Krolia beckoned over to Keith to follow her. 

She stood with one foot in the hallway, and the other on the red, worn carpet in Keith’s chamber. It had probably once been magnificent and period-correct, tying the room together. Now, though it was threadbare and marred the aesthetic of the rest of the space. Dark wooden furniture decorated the circular stone room, including a lounge chair, a marble-topped desk below the hung mirror Keith had just been gazing in. Gold filigree decorated the tarnished mirror, polished only at the curves and turns as if thousands of groomsmen past had worn it down for good luck. Tapestries hung around the walls, keeping the room nearly reverent with silence. Keith knew there was a party below him, but he couldn’t hear it. 

He looked at the room, wanting to freeze the moment in time. He wished he could do anything to change the course he was about to go down, but he knew he couldn’t. 

Nothing was going to change this moment, ever. 

“Keith! Come on ,” Krolia said, stern and frowning. 

He hurried forward, crossing the carpet and catching up with his mother. She hooked her arm in his, like she knew he was about to throw a toddler tantrum in the aisle of a grocery store, mad he couldn’t have the oreos he wanted. She walked through the halls and down the stairs with purpose, Keith stumbling behind her. His feet were so clumsy all of a sudden, he was struggling to find his purchase as he walked. 

Certainly, the churning in his stomach had nothing to do with it.

As they made their way down the barren hallways of the castle ruins the noise of the wedding party grew louder and louder filling Keith’s head like the smoke of his cigarette- whispy, but dangerous. 

Pidge’s squeaking shriek cut across the courtyard, making Keith wince. Matt’s reedy laugh followed as he howled at whatever prank Pidge was in the middle of pulling. They stood off to one side surrounded by fluttering white banners and green bouquets of flowers and balloons. Pidge had her hands on her knees, bent over in laughter, and Matt was sitting on the ground in his white suit, laughing along to whatever Pidge had said. 

The party-goers swirled around and Keith only felt sturdy where he was connected with his mother. Guests milled about, already with drinks in their hands, even though the wedding hadn’t started yet. At least he wasn’t alone in his alcoholic pursuits today, he mused. 

To the left, Lance and Hunk brushed off white seats, removing pollen and leaves from where they swirled down from trees and neighboring flowers. They were pink-cheeked but smiling, talking to each other. 

All-in-all, the ceremony was set to be one for the ages. Keith knew if he were to be feeling negatively about anything, he should be superficially jealous at the splendor, wondering when his time would come, or when he would have the funds. Instead, he was left contemptuous of the whole affair, sour at the idea of watching Shiro marry another man. He had tried to keep his temper in check, but it was leaking out now, especially as he drank. 

His mother tightened her grip on his arm and steered him away from the party, into the shade of a hulking juniper tree, both of their shoes crunching fallen needles to dust. 

“Keith, you need to pull yourself together. Can you do that for me?” 

He looked up at his mother; the disappointment on her face made Keith want to hide his face. Only a mother could put so much venom in a single glance and Keith felt every bit the petulant child Krolia was treating him as. 

“Yes, Mom,” he grumbled.

“Your time will come, sweetpea. You’ll be fine. Just drink some water.” 

Her platitudes made no difference in the moment as he felt only a mixture of venom and sadness inside him still. Nothing was going to cool the fire that Shiro had lit inside him, and he knew that. 

As he stood there, looking up at his mother, the other paladins’ voices became clearer, cutting through the buzzing of the party grounds. It was time to go inside and get the man of the hour. 

Keith’s stomach dropped to ice as he reckoned with his fate. He had stared down death once or twice before, and he could do it again. He let go of his mother’s steadying arm and stepped forward to join the others. 

Across the lawn and through an old, knotted oak door was Shiro’s room. Gilded and furnished, it was full of original art, tapestries and rugs, not reproductions like those that had decorated Keith’s. Shiro sat at the far end on a rich wooden bench, bent over tying a perfectly polished black shoe. He sat in front of a stained-glass window, painting him in reds and greens and blues and yellows, dancing along the back of his white suit. The room smelled like heavy cloves and spices, a medieval perfume that leached from the walls themselves. Backlit like that, Keith’s breath was stolen from him. He knew he had no right to fawn over a person that had never rightfully been his, but he did anyway.

Shiro looked up, a slow smile filling his face. 

“Hi guys,” he said at them, sounding as if he had just been reminded he had any friends at all. 

Lance shoved in on the bench right next to Shiro, an entire head shorter even while sitting. 

“Man, this venue is amazing. This shit is beautiful. You know when we get Allura back we’re bringing her here.” Lance’s blue Altean marks shimmered as he looked around, eyes wide. The group murmured in agreement as Lance continued to chatter away about the ceremony and the location. 

Shiro had scouted the castle nearly a year ago, saying it felt fitting to have his wedding in such a place, reminiscent of the Castle of Lions in so many ways. He wanted Curtis to feel included in the paladins’ group; he wanted to feel some grandeur once again, since he rarely needed to pilot the ATLAS anymore. Keith had poked fun at him back then, but he kind of got it, too. There was a reason he kept leaving Earth, and it wasn’t to see the sights. 

Shiro stood, brushing off his pants, and started to fiddle with his cufflinks. He looked down at the floor, like he did when he had to make a hard announcement. Keith was struck by how similar an expression he was wearing when he told them a peace treaty hadn’t been signed quite yet, and things might take a little longer than expected. 

But this time he picked his head up and smiled at the room again, looking suddenly and shockingly like when he announced the war was over, and the ships could be grounded once and for all. 

“Thank you guys for being here. It’s surreal to see you all like this,” he addressed the room. Keith hated how he tracked Shiro’s face, seeing how he didn’t look at anyone in particular. 

“Yeah, man! We wouldn’t miss this for the world!” Hunk’s voice, deep and solid like rock, had the power to shake Keith nearly off his feet. His heart sped up before Keith could tell himself he needed to get his goddamned focus right. 

Through the open window of Shiro’s room, music trickled in and alerted them to the time. It was time to go, and Keith’s job as best man was about to start. He pulled away from the group to slam back the rest of his drink, wobbling as he went. The warmth filled his belly but didn’t provide any comfort, only a sickly feeling as he continued to sweat in his suit, sure that spots of damp were becoming visible on his back or under his arms. 

The group shuffled out of the room, suddenly quiet, like they were all nervous, but Keith was sure he was the only one about to make a fool of himself. He wanted to shove a fist into his mouth but figured that would really be pushing the boundaries of appropriately shameful in public. 

In the entryway that faced the garden, the groomsmen (and lady) lined up with the opposing party. The night before, at the rehearsal dinner Keith had met Curtis’s best man, or in this case, his best lady. His sister, a girl of only about twelve. (Curtis joked that his parents had had him young, and his sister was the follow-up, whom he had remained close with throughout her childhood). At the back of the line, ahead of Shiro, Keith linked arms with Curtis’s sister, feeling perhaps the most ridiculous he had ever felt in his life. 

She was tall enough that they didn’t look horrendously mismatched, but holding her thin arm was awkward to say the least. He felt like he was doing something wrong now on two counts, not just one. 

Keith swallowed dryly, trying to ignore how the girl was staring up at him, mouth slightly open in awe. 

The doors to the garden swung open. The party became bathed in heat and light, the scent and sight of green carnations and roses flooded the entryway. The music doubled in volume, and Keith blinked, overwhelmed, squinting while his eyes adjusted. 

The pairs drifted off down the aisle towards Curtis, smiling at the altar next to the officiant and nearly bouncing as he waited for his groom to descend towards him. 

Curtis’s sister tugged at Keith’s arm, jolting him out of his reverie. She hissed at them that they had to go, and off Keith went, down a white brick walkway towards an elevated altar, only to split from the girl he escorted to stand in his rightful spot at Shiro’s wedding. 

Best man. 

He watched Shiro walk, and the crowd rose for him, honoring him with their attention. He looked regal, all in white, floating Altean arm glowing softly even in the daylight. The music picked up, swelling with emotion as he stepped up to look at the man he loved, mixing with the wind that blew an incredibly-timed gust of petals around the garden, leaving sweet-smelling pollen in their hair and noses. 

The crowd hushed, finding their seats, and the ceremony began. 

The officiant, some long lost relative of Curtis’s, had a droning voice. He remained monotone throughout the whole thing, even when he attempted humor and relatability. The attendants chuckled along politely, waiting in the hot sun to get to the good stuff. Multiple women (and Coran) broke out paper fans, breezing themselves in the cloying, perfumed aired. Keith wished he had one as sweat dripped into his eyes. His mom had been right, he should have braided his bangs away from his face, but instead, here he was, sweating all over himself.

Keith had half a mind to daydream, but before he could find a suitable thread of consciousness, he was being reminded to grab the rings from his breast pocket. Shiro took them from Keith, their skin grazing in a way that made Keith sweat in an entirely new way.

Shiro slid Curtis’s ring onto his finger, and Curtis did the same. They kissed. The crowd clapped. And it was over. 

---

The party had just begun, and Keith was puking in the bathroom. He stumbled away from the stall, needing to grip the edge of the countertop to stay upright. He took a gulp of hair to calm himself down. His mouth hurt from bile against chapped lips and he just wanted- no, needed- a glass of water. 

“YO. My DUDE. What the FUCK?” The door to the bathroom crashed open, jarring Keith half out of his skin. 

Lance. Unsteady on his feet but sturdier than Keith, for sure. 

Keith flipped him off and went back to contemplating the black hole of the sink drain, wondering if maybe he held his breath he could fit inside.

“It’s like...fuckin’...only eight-thirty and you’re, like, fucking puking. What the FUCK?” Lance slid in next to Keith, crowding him, pushing him up against the wall until he was wedged in the corner of the wall and the countertop, faux-marble biting into his hip. 

“I’m the best man, I gotta party,” Keith shrugged. “Fuck off, you’re pinching me.” 

Lance put his hand on Keith’s shoulder, pulling him away from the wall in an awkward shuffle. He set (or threw) his glass onto the counter top so he had two hands free, both of which ended up on Keith’s shoulders, blocking him in so he had to stare at Lance’s slightly-unfocused eyes. 

“Keith. Keithy-Keith. You gotta get back out there. Get a hot chick for me, okay. Stop being such a light-weight.” 

Lance’s breath smelled like whiskey, and Keith could see his pores. He made a mental note to tell Lance that tomorrow, knowing it would piss him off. 

Keith rolled his shoulders, trying to get Lance to let him go. When that didn’t work, Lance still hanging on like a drunk little barnacle, Keith removed the hands from his shoulder himself, and sighed.

“Oh, I get it. I... man...I’m so sorry,” Lance sounded heart-broken all of a sudden, as if some puzzle piece had snapped into place in his alcohol-addled mind. He rubbed at his eyes, almost like he was going to cry from the thought of... whatever he was thinking. 

“This must be, like, really hard. Like, personally. I’m sorry,” he continued, patting blindly for his glass behind him.

“What are you talking about?” Keith asked, not really wanting to hear whatever the answer was. He liked to think his not-so-brotherly-love of Shiro was a well-kept secret, known only to his mother. He had said the words to Shiro, and had gone so far as to kiss him all that time ago, but he wasn’t sure Shiro even remembered either of those moments. One fueled by close-range-rage and the other by karaoke-alcohol. So, the fact was, only Keith’s mother knew. 

If Lance McClain of all people had figured it out, Keith didn’t want to hear it. His stomach lurched and Lance moved his mouth like he was finding the right words, struggling to make his phrasing as painful as possible. 

“Like...cuz you...y’know,” Lance looked away as he spoke, awkwardly fiddling with the glass he had finally found. 

Keith frowed, unanswering and unmoving. He imitated a brick wall as best he could, but still Lance talked without talking - mumbling around the subject without saying it. 

“Like! Cuz, you’re half Galra, right…?” he finally spluttered, looking ashamed of himself. 

A rush washed over Keith, almost making him lean back against the wall he had just been shoved up against. 

Lance continued, “I’m sorry! I didn’t wanna stereotype…” 

Keith rolled his eyes, finding his footing. He shoved around Lance, making sure their shoulders knocked.

“That has nothing to do with anything!” He could hear the astonishment in his own voice and their footsteps echoed in the tile bathroom as they shuffled around each other, Lance turning drunkenly to look at Keith’s face again. 

“Well, like, your mom. She’s wasted ,” Lance said, like that clarified the whole situation. 

Keith turned away from Lance again and ignored his headache as he went back out onto the dance floor, focused now on finding his mother. The dance floor, black save for the glittering lights hanging on the vaulted ceiling and artfully-exposed rafters, was packed. The wedding party was almost comically huge and Keith was feeling that now as he got crushed and jostled between dancers and drinkers. 

He nervously skated past Shiro and Curtis, slow-dancing to a fast song, and found his mother strewn almost entirely across a table, Kolivan rubbing her back in small circles. 

“Mom.” 

Keith tried his best to sound stern, but he knew he was nearly as drunk as she. 

“Mom!” 

Krolia did not move an inch from where she was laying, mumbling something that Kolivan was pretending to hear. 

Keith sighed, and sat next to her. Her eyeliner was smudged in a not-on-purpose way, and she was talking about the music to someone that certainly wasn’t him or Kolivan. He sat there for a moment, wondering if she was ever going to notice him, or if she was simply going to watch the night go on from her horizontal position at the table, when she finally started to haul herself up. Her cheek stuck to the tablecloth for a microsecond, and Keith stifled a laugh. 

“Keith.” 

“Mom.” 

“Reminds me of...you know. Your Pop.” 

Keith rubbed her hand when she reached for him, her head still tilted forward even as she tried to talk. He made eye contact with Kolivan, who shrugged, and pushed a full glass of ice water down the table so it would be resting in Krolia’s eye-line if she ever picked her head up. 

“She scolded me earlier for drinking,” Keith half-yelled, trying to get across the music to Kolivan. He offered a half smile in response but said nothing.

Krolia shifted between them, holding her head up for a moment, only to slur, “S-smoking.” 

“Whatever.” 

Kolivan nodded again, and Keith realized he probably could not hear a single thing anyone was saying over the music, but he didn’t fight it. His own head was swimming still, and he knew that if he had just two or three more drinks he would be passed out on the table alongside his mother. 

He sat back, feeling the rungs of the chair press into his spine, and tried to relax. He kept his hand on his mother’s, feeling the warmth of her skin and trying to find comfort in it. Instead, he was just annoyed, bothered by the loud music, the swirling of his stomach and the idea that he had to comfort Krolia in any way. He supposed they could perhaps bond over the idea of lost love, but it just made him uncomfortable to think about needing to listen to her stories about his father. 

He grumbled to himself. 

Krolia’s fingers, sharp nails and all, curled around Keith’s hand as she pulled herself up. If talking to Lance had been bad, talking to his mother in this state was going to be much worse. 

She furrowed her brow at him, focusing as hard as she could. He had never seen her like this, and it was hard not to laugh even in his bad mood. She stared so intently at him he thought she was going to burn a hole in his forehead. 

“Keith,” she managed, mouth forming around the word slowly. 

“Yes.” 

“Your time...will come,” she nodded sagely. Keith rolled his eyes - very much not wanting to have that conversation. 

Krolia saw, looking at her son through half-closed lids. “Don’ roll yer eyes at me, young man.” 

Keith sighed to himself but kept his face as impassive as possible. “Yes, mother.”

She knew, and he knew she knew, because he was the one that told her. He had no interest in dragging it all up and out into the open again, especially not here, at the party. He may have been miserable, but he was smart enough to be miserable in private, especially not with Kolivan pretending he wasn’t listening to every word happening between Keith and his mom. 

Keith stood, pulling himself up and out of his chair despite his body starting to ache from the alcohol, standing in the sun for the ceremony, and the alcohol, again. What food he had had at dinner wasn’t helping any longer, that was for sure. 

“Where you go?” Krolia asked, looking up at him, sadness on her face. 

“Just getting some air, mom, don’t worry.” 

She nodded and closed her eyes before leaning back so she was nearly resting against Kolivan’s chest despite them being in separate chairs. Keith chose not to investigate. 

Keith did go out to the balcony though, inspired by his own excuse for air. As he stepped outside, a rush of cool night air ran through him, making him shiver. The transition from hot banquet hall to cold outside was jarring, and Keith reflexively hugged himself. His skin was tacky from sweat, now drying, leaving him feeling like he was covered in a film of something nasty. 

Still, he tried to relax his shoulders and enjoy the moment alone. He looked up at the stars peaking through the evening sky, not quite black yet. He hadn’t been flying in a long time and missed space - especially Diabazaal - quite a bit. It had become a second home to him. He fit in with lonesome and independent Galra more than he would like to admit. He would certainly love to be there, even in the ice deserts, right now. 

Under his hands, the metal railing encircling the balcony chilled him and without his suit jacket on (left behind... somewhere …) he couldn’t help but shiver. The air stung even at his eyes, making him want to blink. 

Keith rubbed at his face, momentarily distracted by how uncomfortable he felt. But when he opened them, he stared. A flash of light blipped into his vision from down on the castle garden, momentarily illuminating the wedding altar. 

A large black and blue wolf, uncannily familiar, appeared out of the light, and even though he was too far away to truly smell it, he knew the garden would reek of ozone. 

Kosmo turned his head backwards, looking at something moving behind him. Keith’s stomach flipped inside his body, not for the first time that night. But this time, everything was different. Kosmo had walked around himself, turning to get the attention of the man he had blipped into existence alongside him. A man with long black hair, braided down his back, walked alongside Kosmo. He wore all black, even down to his fingerless gloves. 

Keith was staring down at himself from the wedding castle. 

He ran. 

His shoes slapped against the dancefloor, then the hallway, and out to the entryway he had been in hours before. He could hear himself breathing, confused, as he went out to the garden on instinct, not memory. 

The garden was nearly the same as it had been all those hours ago. The chairs were gone, their only trace small indentations in the ground. The wedding arch was still standing, but the white and green flowers that had adorned it had begun to fall to the ground, littering the grass as it fell apart under its own weight. Fairy lights still remained in the trees and bushes, but some of the bulbs had burned out. 

Kosmo lingered in the archway, the first to notice Keith. He whined, confused by his two Keith’s, standing twenty feet apart. 

Keith’s voice failed in his throat as he stared at himself. Though he had seen himself at a distance during his time on the space whale, this was so uncomfortably different. Not only was he watching himself, he was being stared at just as intently. 

His visitor spoke first. “I didn’t expect to get seen.” 

Keith huffed a laugh. “Why are you wearing my face?” 

“I’m no chameleon. I just didn’t think we would meet like this,” the double said. He was casual, almost annoyed in his tone, as if he really had no intention of talking to anyone. Maybe he was the real Keith, afterall. 

Keith stepped forward, wrenching his feet from where they were glued to the ground. He approached cautiously, deeply aware that he only had his blade on him, tucked away in his waistband. Old habits, and all that. If this visitor had anything more powerful than a knife, he was in trouble. 

Kosmo, though, lept over the raised altar and bound to Keith with happy familiarity. He was larger than Keith remembered, having been away from him for a meer day. Even Kosmo didn’t grow that fast, though. Keith pet his snout, and Kosmo sat, wagging his tail against the ground. Because he was so large, the sound was loud enough to make Keith wince. 

Keith felt as if he was looking at an old film of himself. He recognized the body language, the expressions, but he couldn’t remember the exact thoughts he might have been having at the moment. His head swam, trying to think of any explanation for what was happening. 

“Is this...a Voltron thing or a space whale thing?” 

“Space whale,” his double said, casually. “Kosmo’ll start blipping for long periods of time some day soon. Start going with him.” 

“Oh…” 

Kosmo stood back up. Keith’s version of Kosmo was about as tall as he was, but this Kosmo was almost six inches above his head. But he was still just as friendly, licking a large, disgusting stripe against Keith’s cheek. Kosmo walked back over to the other Keith, circling him, and emitting a slow whine. His marking started to glow, and the other Keith touched Kosmo’s shoulder, as if to anchor him. 

“While I’m here I should tell you - whatever you do, don’t -” 

His sentence was cut off by Kosmo, blipping himself and the other Keith solidly out of existence. Ozone lingered in their place, the only trace of them left behind. Not even the grass was bent over in their wake. 

Keith stood, open mouthed, staring at the altar. The night shifted back into its rightful place, nothing but a small breeze disrupting the air. Silence surrounded him. His own breathing was too loud to bear. 

He crept forward, scared to shift the universe any further than it had already been shifted. He sat on the raised altar and fell forward, his head hitting his hands with a soft fwap.

He sat for so long he began to shiver again, teeth clattering against each other, making his head ring and his neck ache. But still he didn’t move from his precarious seat, unsure about what to do next. Could it have been a hallucination? A drunken dream? If the person had been nefarious, Kosmo would not have stood by him. Nor would he have left without delivering what was clearly meant to be a crucial piece of advice. So...did that mean the other Keith was really, really him? And if so, what did that mean?

He sat in silence, thoughts swirling, body aching from the hard riser. He didn’t notice Shiro until he was already nearly upon him. The soft sound of footsteps alarmed him, and he whipped his head up to see who was approaching, deep embarrassment filling his belly. 

“Hey...came to find you,” his voice was soft, almost cautious. He paused in front of Keith but didn’t sit. Keith stared up at him, knowing he looked the fool. His blood rushed to his face, surely making him even redder than he already was. 

A cry hiccuped its way out of Keith, surprising both of them, as he looked up at Shiro, illuminated by the stars and fairy lights. 

“God. Sorry. You can ignore me,” Keith mumbled, hoping beyond hope Shiro would listen to him. But he knew Shiro wouldn’t, because Shiro had never left him alone when he stumbled upon Keith crying which was, horribly enough, too many times to count. 

He sat down next to Keith, smelling like sweat, deodorant, and alcohol. Their arms brushed, soft cotton on cotton, almost slippery. Keith was comforted by Shiro’s presence and, simultaneously, angry with himself. 

“Just tell me what happened,” Shiro replied, still as cool and calm as ever. 

Keith flopped backwards, gazing up at the stars through aching eyes. His chest was tight, and it kind of hurt to breathe, but he shuddered a breath anyway. 

“I…”

Shiro lay down next to him, looking upwards as well. “I miss the stars, too. We should go sometime.” 

Keith turned his head slightly, looking at Shiro’s profile. His eyes lingered on the scar on Shiro’s nose, how there was an almost imperceptible piece missing from the very top of the bridge. Keith didn’t say anything, and instead let Shiro keep talking. The low rumble of his voice was so painfully familiar. Keith had been listening to it for nearly ten years at this point and he hated how he could recognize every bump and crack in Shiro’s tone, revealing hidden messages, almost as if they were there just for Keith alone. 

Shiro hummed for a moment before he turned to meet Keith’s eyes. 

“I think you should date someone.” 

Chapter Text

July 14, 2148

“Mom? Are you busy right now? I’m in trouble…” 

Krolia’s heart jumped into her throat as Keith’s voice crackled down the phone line. He sounded like he was holding back tears - thick, punctuated words mixed with the static of horrible, Earth land-line made Krolia’s adrenaline pump like they were back at war. 

“Sweetpea, what’s wrong?”

“Just...I’ll explain when you get here.” 

“I’ll be right over.” 

---

Five years after the war’s end, Krolia was spending most of her time on Earth. She set up a home close enough to Keith to feel secure, and far enough away not to crowd. She liked Earth, especially the desert town she and her son still chose to remain in. She liked the way it smelled, like rock and clear air, and the way she could see the stars so clearly, reminding her of her birth planet. She liked how it reminded her of her perfect two years with Thomas, before she said goodbye. 

Being among the stars bouncing between planets wasn’t so bad, but saying goodbye got harder and harder each time. Sometimes Keith and her were able to travel together, which was wonderful, but more often than not she said goodbye to her son, pushed all the guilt in the universe down into her stomach, and left. 

Now, though, she was more content to direct the Blades from her position on Earth. She did outreach to the humans, building bridges between space and the still-traumatized Earthlings, suspicious of all things Outer.

In her off time, she sat on her porch and reflected on a time, twenty-five years ago, when she lived in the same town but wasn’t even able to leave the house Thomas “Tex” Kogane lived in for fear of being murdered. The feeling of missing her partner was like the feeling of being set on fire, she suspected, for how much it consumed her thoughts, and the only relief she felt was when she looked down the street and saw the twinkling lights of Keith’s living room, barely visible at such a distance were she not Galra. 

She had taken up hiking, and tried swimming, but the chlorine stuck to her body fur in very unpleasant ways. Her friend Colleen Holt made a joke about her being a cat, and Krolia pushed her in the pool. She learned how to make Earth food to feed to her son and felt most at peace when she was with him. 

So when he called, her heart stopped. 

She knew her son was reckless, pigheaded, that he had pain deep down in his heart of which she was largely the cause. He rarely asked for help. His heart just wouldn’t let him be vulnerable, even to the people he loved most. 

Krolia attempted to remain calm as she walked down the three blocks of small town street, stepping over the cracked concrete of the sidewalk where tree roots had pushed the slabs aside, reclaiming their ground. She nervously checked her pocket for her house keys three times, and hurried over. 

Keith’s house was small and rather simple. Two levels, but only two bedrooms, both which appeared equally plain even though Keith actively lived in one. The door was painted red, which Keith hated but never got around to correcting. A small, fenced-in porch guarded the entrance, think rusted metal storm door acting as a guard. There were seven locks on the front door. 

Krolia knocked on Keith’s door, and waited, holding her hands together in front of her. 

Seven deadbolts slid open, and Keith opened the door. He looked….

Keith’s hair was greasy, and there were purple bags under his eyes. He hadn’t shaved in a week. He was wearing rumpled pajamas. 

“Sweetpea…” she started, reaching to pet his head. He turned away from her and walked back into his house, letting the door close on its own. Krolia hurried inside, following. 

On the inside, Keith’s house was just as unassuming as the outside. White walls with no artwork aside from the small framed picture resting on his desk, tucked into the corner of his living room. A small gray couch sat in front of a TV, which was rarely on. She knew if she went upstairs she would see two plain bedrooms. The only difference was one had clothes in the closet, and the other didn’t. 

“Keith. Look at me?” She tried again. 

Keith fwumped down on the couch, just large enough for two adults, and picked a beer can up off the floor, drinking it down. 

Keith looked back at her, eyes aflame. 

“I did something stupid,” he mumbled, voice still thick like it was on the phone. 

Krolia sat down and put her hand on Keith’s knee, expecting him to subtly shift away from her like he did most days. Always under the guise of just fidgeting or fussing, he would make sure they were close but not touching. She respected it, even if it made her sad and worried for his mental health. 

This time, though, Keith let her hand rest on his knee, where he sat cross-legged. 

“Tell me what happened, so I can fix it for you.” Most mothers with adult children would decline to fix their children’s problems for them, but nothing about her and Keith was normal. She stuck her tongue out at the human women that made comments to her when she was around them. 

Keith swallowed the last of the beer and crushed the can in his hand. She wondered if it was a human thing, or if it was just a coincidence he shared that habit with his father. 

Keith’s face turned sour and he looked down at his hands, clenched into fists. His hair fell as his head hung, making Krolia’s heart break. He looked the same way after their first vision of Shiro in the time vortex, back when Keith choked out his explanation, hiding his feelings behind words like “admiration” and “brotherly”. 

Krolia’s throat felt like it was closing, seeing her son being reduced back to the same expression of utter loneliness and confusion. 

“I met someone.” he said, choking on his own words. 

Krolia stiffened, despising the way her son was speaking. "Yes...?" 

Keith slumped so far forward his face met the cross of his ankles, like he was trying to completely shrink away from the world. 

“I met her when I went to Diabazaal.” 

Krolia rubbed her son’s back. 

“We hung out.” 

“I assumed as much,” she kept her tone light, trying her damndest to keep the tension in the room down. 

Keith picked his head up to look at her, red cheeked and puffy. “She said...she’s pregnant.” 

“Oh...sweetpea.”

---

Krolia stayed the night. She lay in the guest bedroom but couldn’t sleep, so she looked up at the ceiling and listened to the wind rush against the sides of the house, making the old wood creak. She was reminded, again, of Tex, and the day she realized she had life inside her. He, of course, was nothing but steadfast. He took a few seconds to be shocked, but then just smiled at her, so genuine, and tears pricked at the crinkled skin on the outside of his eyes. It was a moment nothing like the scene she had experienced downstairs. 

So she looked upwards and planned all the things she could say in the morning. Her head became heavy with the thoughts swirling in her mind, and her eyes felt dry, like the sand from outside had found its way into her room. 

This week on Earth was supposed to have been her son’s vacation. Time to visit Shiro and his other paladin friends to celebrate a wedding anniversary, to listen to Lance talk about how he was this much closer to finding Allura, to eat at Hunk’s bakery, or hear about Pidge’s new inventions. 

Some vacation. 

Morning came, as it always did, and Krolia rose along with the sun. She crept downstairs and slipped into Keith’s kitchen. 

There wasn’t much in the fridge or pantry. A half-empty box of cereal, some leftovers covered with tin foil, a case of beer. She dug around until she found enough loose ingredients to make something. Eggs, cheese, half a red pepper with a soft spot cut out, milk, and black pepper. Might not be much, but it would make an omelette. 

Keith owned two pans, two plates, two bowls, two glasses, and two of each utensil. Krolia looked down at the silverware drawer, and frowned. Seeing the sparsity of Keith’s living quarters filled her with a deep sadness. Keith always waved away her comments, saying he spent most of his time in a spaceship, so who cared. Still she felt like Keith should have a home, but this was still just a house, even after all the years he had owned it. 

She clicked the gas stovetop on, the faint hint of methane hitting her nose, making her twist away for a moment. She rinsed the pan out before setting it on the burner, not quite trusting Keith to have not let it get dusty. The water hit the hot metal and sizzled for a moment, just like the butter that followed quickly after. Though she knew it may be unhealthy to live in nothing but the memories of Tex, she closed her eyes for a moment and remembered how he would do things. He cooked without looking because he was so good at it. She tried to imitate him as she opened her eyes. 

Butter greased the pan, and eggs went in after. She looked at them for a moment, knowing she had already messed up. She grabbed a bowl from Keith’s cabinet and poured the egg and butter mix into it, before beating it with a fork and pouring it back into the pan. Drips of egg-butter sludge dotted the counter, but before she cleaned it up, she sprinkled the pre-shredded cheese into the pan along with the eggs. The red pepper was sliced, and though it didn’t yield quite enough, she put that in too. 

The eggs burned a little around the edges, but they cooked, and Krolia smiled to herself. She liked feeding Keith. She could pretend it made up for lost time. 

After plating the omelettes (“omelettes”), she padded softly up the stairs again, and knocked on Keith’s bedroom door. 

“Breakfast, sweetpea.” 

“Hng.”

She opened the bedroom door to see Keith sitting up against his headboard, rubbing at his eyes. His shirt was off, and she could see the scars on his shoulders as clear as the day he got them. The one on his face had refused to fade as well, and she tried not to get sad about them, but they always surprised her, just a little bit. 

Krolia sat down on the other side of the bed and handed Keith a plate and a fork. He ate without saying anything, like his brain wasn’t awake quite yet. She watched him, neglecting her own food just to stare at her child. 

“How are you feeling this morning?” 

Keith sighed and set his plate on his bed stand, next to his blade. “Like I got hit by a train. You?” 

“I’m fine. Worried for you,” she said cooly. 

Keith frowned as picked at his eggs before he spoke again. “Why did you keep me?” 

Though Krolia generally appreciated bluntness, especially from humans, whos communication styles could be rather...tricky at times, this questions knocked her off her proverbial feet. When she didn’t answer right away, Keith continued. 

“Cuz I was, like, an accident, right?” 

Krolia’s shock softened into a bittersweetness, warming her as much as it made her want to curl up within herself. “Sweetpea, you were no accident. Your pop and I always intended on reproducing.” 

Keith turned his head away from her, blushing, and always uncomfortable with intimacy. 

“Tex and I loved each other very much. The only surprise was how fast I had to leave. I thought I would have had many more years with you before I was found. That’s the only mistake I made, back then. You certainly weren’t one.” 

Keith set his plate down on his bedside table, eggs only half-touched. The fork clattered to the ground but Keith didn’t bend to retrieve it. Instead, he curled up, putting his head on Krolia’s chest. She wrapped her arms around him, purring softly as a comfort. 

-------

January 2nd, 2148

Shiro looked across his dining room table at his husband. They ate breakfast in the quiet morning, listening only to the soft sounds of the morning news broadcast over the radio from the other room. The woman announced the famed Blade of Marmora were all leaving Earth to attend a mission across the galaxy, which meant Keith and his mother were leaving that day. 

Curtis did not look up to meet Shiro’s eyes. Instead he flicked through his data pad and ate his oatmeal with bananas, a concoction Shiro neither liked nor trusted. He ate his own breakfast, pancakes with strawberries, and listened to the hum of the house. 

The radio, the soft buzz of his Altean arm, and the flick of Curtis’s data pad blended together into a sound Shiro had come to find very comforting. It was normalcy, something he had long ago given up on. 

“Honey, are you coming with me to say goodbye to Keith and his mother?” Shiro asked, looking over at Curtis where he hunched over his plate. 

Without looking up Curtis responded, “No, I have a meeting to get to. Say bye for me.” 

“Will do.” Shiro said, an old, old feeling squirming in his belly. 

---

Shiro swiped his ID card into the lock pad at the door to the holding room, letting himself in. The door slid open with a woosh, revealing seven purple and black-clad figures sitting around a table. Even with their helmets on, Shiro’s eyes went right to Keith. His hair was long enough to start wrapping around his neck, like Kolivan did, and he was the only one with black hair. It gave him away, even when he thought he was being stealthy. Then again, stealth had never been one of Keith’s strong suits. 

The Blades greeted him with less formality than other soldiers did. A few mumbled “ Admiral” as he walked through the room, some nodded, and some did not greet him at all. The Blades recognized him as an equal to them, not as a commander. Shiro didn’t mind at all. 

Keith, of course, greeted him by name. 

“Shiro!” he said, taking off his helmet and revealing his face. He smiled up at Shiro, ever-so-slightly pointed teeth peeking through his grin. His face scar forced his smile to be slightly lopsided, where the thick skin refused to move like the rest of his face, but Shiro found it oddly charming even if he did still feel a twinge of regret in being the one to give Keith said scar. 

Shiro hugged Keith briefly, feeling a familiar twinge of relief and comfort at being in Keith’s presence. After such a long and eventful friendship, he supposed it was a natural feeling to have. 

“Here to give me orders, Admiral?” Keith teased. He flashed his grin again, and Shiro stared down at him, momentarily blindsided. 

“Uh, not exactly. Just saying goodbye to an old friend.” 

“Oh, need me to go get him…?” Keith laughed. 

Shiro laughed, too, enjoying Keith’s light-heartedness. It had been a while since he’d seen Keith so carefree, but he wasn’t surprised. Keith always looked happiest when rejoining the Blades for missions. Space, all of it, was his happy place. 

Shiro rubbed the back of his neck, looking away from the joy on Keith’s face. “When are you coming back?”

“Maybe never. But probably May. We’re going to Diabazaal for a bunch of shit the Earthside Galra need, and some political meetings. Kinda boring, actually.” 

“Seems a long time for meetings.” 

“Yeah, well, Galra live so long that everything they do takes ages. I’ll die before they finish all of it.” Keith shrugged, casual. 

Shiro decided not to respond to that one . Keith’s life expectancy was a mystery to all of them, though Keith insisted he would live an average human life. The idea of Keith outliving all the Paladins hurt Shiro in ways he couldn’t explain, so he refused to engage in the topic any more.

“Where’s your mother?”

Keith looked away for a moment. “She’s staying. Says she’s tired or something. I’m kinda worried, cuz she’s only middle-aged for a Galra…” 

“Want me to check on her while you’re gone?”

Keith looked back at Shiro, smile back in place. “Yes, please.” 

A Garrison officer wooshed through the door and announced that the runway was clear, and the Blades could go. All at once, they rose from their table, and Keith slipped his helmet back on. 

“See ya later, Shiro.”

“Bye, Keith.” 

Shiro was left with a sour feeling in his stomach after the Blades took off. He frowned into the sun, watching their ship become smaller and smaller in the sky. With his hands on his hips, he looked after them, wishing they would turn around and come back. 

That evening, Shiro and Curtis sat at their dinner table, eating, and enjoying the silence. Shiro listened to the hum of the radio from the other room, the sound of his Altean arm, and the flick of Curtis’s datapad. Shiro looked at Curtis, and felt very content. Curtis was everything he wanted - an excuse to leave the war behind, a family to come home to. He made Shiro very happy. 

Shiro glanced out the window, at the night sky and all the stars in the universe smiling back at him, and felt something very old and familiar in his heart. He closed his eyes, and returned his gaze to his husband. 

There was no use dreaming anymore. 

----

April 19th, 2148

Krolia was not expecting the knock on her door when it came. She looked up from her book, an abbreviated history of the United States, and padded over. When she opened it she was surprised to find Admiral Shirogane standing in her doorway, small paper bag in hand. 

He wasn’t wearing his Admiral’s uniform, instead a simple white t-shirt, black jacket with one sleeve missing, and black jeans. Krolia was surprised to see him looking so relaxed. Last time she interacted with the Admiral he had been tense, worried over some minor details of a minor mission, acting as if the world would end if everything wasn’t controlled down to the food in the fridge. 

“May I come in?” He smiled at her, lifting the bag as an offering. 

Krolia ushered him in, gesturing over at her small kitchen table. Shiro leaned against it and pulled a plastic container with a large slice of chocolate cake out of it. 

“He asked me to come and see you.” 

Krolia smiled, and went to get two plates and two forks. “My son is very thoughtful, then.” 

Shiro divided the cake in half, giving one side to her. “Keith seems to think you’re slowing down in your old age.” Shiro said with a smile on his face. He knew what he was doing, and it worked. Krolia laughed and threw her fork down. 

“I take back what I said about my son being thoughtful.” 

Shiro sat back in his chair, fiddling with his wedding ring but smiling still. Krolia liked Shiro a lot. She liked his subtle sass, and how he took good care of her son. She was less partial to his marriage to a man he didn’t love, but that wasn’t her place to criticize, only to listen to her son complain. 

Shiro put cake into his mouth, stifling a smile. 

“All he said was he was surprised you decided not to go back to Diabazaal. I don’t think he meant to be rude.” 

Krolia hummed, and ate the sickly sweet chocolate cake. “If you talk to him today, say hello. I sent him a message but I think he’s still asleep.” 

“Will do, ma’am.” 

---

July 13th, 2146

Five Paladins, one Matthew Holt, and Curtis were crammed into a tiny karaoke room. The table in front of Keith was covered in half-empty beer cans and glasses, dirty plates, and crumpled napkins. A laminated book at least twenty pages thick was open to the middle, where Pidge was running her finger down the list of songs, tongue sticking out in concentration. 

Pidge gripped the microphone with both hands, white-knuckling it as she swayed, unsteady on her feet. Her glasses were fogged a little, and her hair was even more mussed than normal. Her drunk breath ghosted against the microphone, hushing the crowd. 

It’s poetry in motion

She turned her tender eyes to me
As deep as the ocean

As sweet as any harmony

Keith watched the crowd laugh and sing along, belting SHE BLINDED ME WITH SCIENCE! And mumbling the rest of the words. Pidge was dancing, swinging her hips and pointing at the crowd. Her glasses slipped down her nose and she kept having to push them up with one hand, other hand holding onto the microphone for dear life. 

On the second verse Hunk joined her, belting the lyrics alongside her. Keith’s eyes tracked Pidge where she moved. His head felt like it was full of cotton; he was warm, and uncomfortable in his seat. His jacket was flung...somewhere, so his bare arms clung to the sticky faux-leather where he was sweating slightly. 

He plucked at the front of his black tank top to fan his face a little. He closed his eyes and tilted his head back, listening to his friends scream along with Pidge. 

Without thinking, he lifted his hand and touched his mouth. His lips were still tingling from where he had kissed Shiro, stupidly, selfishly, in the bathroom. His face was hot from where Shiro had cupped his cheek before pulling away, not saying anything. They left together, and Shiro had sat down on the other side of the couch, next to his boyfriend. 

Keith was stupid to feel any type of hope, but here he was, feeling it. Clouded with alcohol, he smiled to himself, hoping beyond hope. Maybe he could get what he wanted after this, maybe they would finally talk about it after all this time. 

Keith had long since accepted that he loved Shiro first , but maybe, just maybe...Shiro was finally there. 

Pidge panted into the microphone as the song ended and Keith could hear the smile on her face as she addressed the group. 

“Hah...the next victim is…,” she pointed to everyone in the crowd, even Lance, who had already gone, and Hunk even though he got on stage with every person anyway. “The next person is…..Shiro! And Curtis!” 

Keith peeked an eye open to see them get on stage, and rested his hand down on the back of the couch. Pidge tossed the mic to Shiro, who caught it with his unnaturally floating Altean arm. He slung his human one around Curtis’s hips - a surprising display of affection for those two, who were generally rather serious. Keith’s stomach dropped, knowing who exactly Shiro was showing off for. 

He watched from his tilted back position, allowing the blank space between their heads and the ceiling be a buffer zone so he didn’t have to stare. 

A soft melody began in the karaoke room. The laughter faded into a gentle beat that Keith didn’t recognize. 

We can talk all night

I'll stay up as long as you listen

Speak of what you like

Say the desires that are your deepest

Shiro and Curtis shared the mic, almost nose to nose, facing each other, breathing in each other’s beer breath. They swayed, glancing at the lyrics once in a while, but singing like they practiced before coming. Shiro’s smile was gentle, a soft gaze, and so painfully genuine Keith couldn’t help but look. His stomach turned, getting a strange sense of deja vu. He’d seen that look a long time ago, once. 

He watched, lowering his gaze from the ceiling as he lifted his head from the back of the couch. 

As the song faded out, Curtis handed the microphone to Shiro and reached into his back pocket. He made it simple. Didn’t even drop to one knee. Keith felt like his soul was escaping his body through his open mouth. 

“Will you?” Curtis asked in his quiet almost-shy voice. 

The ring glinted in the overhead lights from the karaoke room. The air was still, and hot. They were all sweating, but Keith felt cold. 

Shiro paused before whispering a quiet, voice-less “yes”. 

The world slowed down for Keith, not for the first time. He felt like he was bracing for a vision from the time vortex, but this was so much more real. He couldn’t get out of it if he tried - but still he felt as if he was watching himself watch Shiro as he slipped the ring on his finger. Curtis pulled out a matching one, and Keith’s breath was punched out of his chest. So this is it, he realized. 

When he closed his eyes, he could still see them kissing on the stage, like a bad after-image. 

Hunk hollered and Lance pulled out his camera to film the moment. Matt Holt whistled loud enough to damn-near blow out one of Keith’s eardrums. 

“I, uh, think it’s Keith’s turn to sing,” Shiro mumbled, trying to deflect. He was always like that, never enjoying the spotlight even when he deserved it. 

“Yeah, come on Keith,” Curtis agreed, smile all over his face. Keith hated him for half a second, blinded with some fury he hadn’t felt since the war was raging around them. 

He shook his head. “How am I supposed to follow that?” 

“Aw, come on Keith,” Lance pouted, sticking his bottom lip out until he looked like a fish. 

The group surrounded him, pushing him up off the couch and onto the stage. The party atmosphere had doubled in the thirty seconds that Keith’s stomach had turned to acid. He looked around - wasn’t anyone else feeling this? The world had stopped turning for half a second - didn’t that mean they were all about to -

“Keith, buddy, you gotta pick a song,” Shiro’s voice cut through the feeling in the air, straight at Keith. He was smiling and wiggling away from where Curtis was buried in the crook of Shiro’s neck. 

Keith cleared his throat, trying to re-focus himself before pressing the touch screen and picking a song. He punched at the screen without looking. His eyes were fogged over and his head was swimming. He stumbled just standing still. 

Lance snorted from behind his phone, filming. “How drunk are you?” 

Keith opened his mouth, struggling to find words. “Uh…”.

A piano played over the speakers and Keith looked at the screen where words were filling with yellow - he’d missed the cue and couldn’t manage to power through the fog to get caught up. His friends all looked up at him, curious faces in some impenetrable distance - hadn’t it just been a few feet a minute ago? 

The first verse of the song ended and switched to the chorus. Keith looked at the screen - 

To be alone with you

To be alone with you

To be alone with you

To be alone with you

His stomach lurched and he stumbled off the stage. “Gotta...bathroom…”. He pushed the door open and dragged his feet to the bathroom, dropping to the tile, where his stomach emptied itself onto the floor. 

When he hauled himself up, he turned and saw a figure leaving the bathroom. The figure - a man with long, braided black hair, had a black, leather knife holster strapped to his leg. A purple gem flickered, and Keith turned to the sink to vomit again. 

Chapter Text

June 2nd, 2147

The morning after the wedding, Keith had to peel himself out of bed. His head felt like it was full of rocks, all rattling around inside him, banging and clashing whenever he moved. His back ached, though that wasn’t surprising considering the position he fell asleep in, slumped in his bed. Though his clock read 11:47AM, his room was dark, his curtains pulled shut to block out the sun. 

He shuffled his feet to the bathroom, where the bright overhead light burned his eyes. He blinked twice before assessing himself. He looked about as good as he felt. His skin was sallow and his hair plastered to his face. 

He closed his eyes to himself, and cranked his shower up to its highest setting and stepped in, hoping the sting would burn away his hangover. Though his muscles started to relax, he left the shower more dehydrated than when he entered, too sleepy to do more than go downstairs and collapse on his couch. 

He whistled for Kosmo, who did not come when called. Keith wasn’t too surprised though, as Kosmo had been blipping in and out of the house more frequently these days. Without his master in danger, Kosmo liked to explore. Keith simply trusted him to come back each time. But without him, Keith was lonely, even when he was hungover. Kosmo was the best post-drinking buddy, because he was completely silent and more or less self sufficient. Keith didn’t even need to let him out into the yard, because he could get himself there on his own. 

Keith sighed and closed his eyes, and rested his head on the back of the couch, which dug into his skull. He didn’t move, tiredness washing over him in waves. He felt as if he could float away, caught in a gentle tide if he rested there on his couch much longer. 

Visions of Shiro filled his mind, out of habit at this point. Shiro in his tux, Shiro dancing, smiling, kissing Curtis. Shiro kissing Keith in the dank bathroom of a karaoke bar. How he smiled after. 

Keith pushed those thoughts aside with a great heave and purposefully filled his head with new visions, himself from the future (?), a great Kosmo, larger and more powerful than ever. 

Adrenaline rushed through Keith as he remembered himself, how he looked older, more tired. 

He snapped his eyes open, staring at the blank wall ahead of him. He ran. 

---

Keith pounded on the door to his mother’s home.

“Mom! Mom are you home?” He couldn’t see through the screen-covered window in her front door so when it swung open towards him he was surprised - not only because he didn’t see it coming but because the person who answered the door was not his mother. 

“Kolivan?” 

Kolivan was dressed casually, so much so Keith was doubly surprised. Kolivan was wearing a t-shirt and cargo shorts, his brain thrown around his neck in such a loose and casual manner that keith wanted to laugh. Kolivan was wearing slippers. House shoes. Keith wondered if he was dreaming. 

“Keith,” he grunted, stepping aside so Keith could get into the house. “Your mother is in bed.” 

His tone made Keith believe he was not dreaming, but that only made the situation stranger. 

Keith ignored his warning tone and ran up the steps two at a time to get to his mother’s room. He swung open the door, flinching as it hit the adjacent wall, and walked towards Krolia with urgency. 

Her room was neat and tidy, save for yesterday’s wedding attire, which was thrown over a chair in the corner. It was the only item out of place. Even her shelves of knicknacks - dancing hula girls, shining geodes, badges, framed photos - were arranged with dignity more than aesthetic. He found his mother surprisingly sentimental with how she collected items but the way in which she displayed them made him laugh. Very utilitarian. 

She was laying in bed, curled up in the middle of it, like she was sleeping. He could see her ribs and chest moving slowly and evenly under the blanket. He could hear a soft rumble coming from her throat - a strange near-purr she emitted only once before in his Keith’s life - when he stopped calling her “Krolia” and began to call her “mom”. 

Kolivan had followed Keith into the room, and placed a firm hand on his shoulder, gently pulling Keith from his mother’s bedroom. 

“She’s not feeling well. Let her sleep,” he said in his gravelly, quiet tone. 

“What’s wrong-,” Keith started, before getting steered out of his mother’s bedroom. 

“Fear not, Keith, she will be fine. What is so urgent you must disturb her?” 

Keith looked up at Kolivan and weighed his options. Telling Kolivan what he had seen the night previous would end one of two ways, he predicted. Either Keith would learn about some secret, ancient Galran power than had been hidden from him for some unknowable reason, or Kolivan would institutionalize him, saying his human half and Galra half were finally breaking Keith apart. He weighed his options all while Kolivan stared down at him, a questioning look causing a crease to form above his snub nose

Keith took a leap of faith. “What do you know about the space whale?” 

“That’s why you’re here - to ask about something that happened years ago?” 

Keith frowned, defensive. “No. It’s relevant - just tell me.” 

Kolivan didn’t respond right away. Instead, he turned from Keith and began to fiddle with Krolia’s coffee maker. It was an old machine, at least twenty years out of date, but Krolia swore by it the same way she swore by her old landline, which was so old Keith wasn’t sure how it even worked. She refused to listen to Keith when he cajoled her about being old. Keith could hear her voice now - “I’m only one hundred and thirteen!” 

The machine bubbled, the smell of percolating coffee wafting through the small home. Kolivan reached for two mugs from the cabinet, one red and chipped a little at the rim, the other big and black. 

Keith rocked from foot to foot. He hated how slow the Galra could be, always taking their damn sweet time no matter the urgency of the topic at hand. The mugs clinked gently onto the counter and Kolivan stared at the coffee machine, watching every drip into the pot. 

Keith frowned. He was about to open his mouth and say something when Kolivan moved around him, grabbing milk from the fridge. He poured the coffee slowly, carefully, and measured out the milk and sugar in perfect form, not spilling a drop. 

Keith rolled his eyes and grumbled, “It’s not rations, old man.” 

Kolivan turned again, moving around him. He walked up the stairs and Keith could hear him go into his mother’s room, which pissed him off considering how urgently he himself had been pulled out of her space. When Kolivan returned he only had the large black mug in his hand, from which he took a long sip. 

Keith glared at him before reaching for his own mug from the cabinets. The one he grabbed was faded white, 2107 NEVADA RODEO CHAMPION emblazoned across the front. He made his own coffee, black, no sugar. 

“Since I’m not good enough for you-,” he started, feeling argumentative by this point. 

Kolivan waved his hand to silence Keith, a motion long-practiced since Keith loved to argue with him.  

“The Space Whale was a myth to the Galra for a long time,” he started. He took another sip and closed his eyes, clearly enjoying the flavor of the coffee - or maybe making Keith wait. “It’s said that being on the Whale can make someone lose their faculties. Seeing the past and the present isn’t something anyone’s brain can accurately handle, human or Galra.” 

Keith frowned again, harder this time. He spoke as he poured himself some more coffee.

“Do you think one might still be able to see the past or future even when they’re off the Whale?” 

Kolivan sat on the counter - he was so tall the ledge was the perfect height for a seat for him. The tips of his slippers still grazed the floor. He seemed to chew his coffee, savoring it, while Keith counted the seconds that passed by. As Kolivan thought about his answer, Keith glanced around his mother’s house. 

A framed photo of his father looked back at him from the living room, sending a pang through Keith’s heart. 

“I do not believe anyone could gain the powers of omniscience through contact with the Space Whale.” Kolivan’s voice broke Keith out of his reverie. He looked back at Kolivan, who was back to sipping at his coffee, engrossed in it. 

“Well - okay, well, when mom and I were on the Space Whale she told me that we couldn’t interact with the visions. But what if I think now that we did somehow?” 

Kolivan placed his mug on the counter and stood up.

“Why do you think that?” 

Keith paused, not sure how to answer. “I just...have this feeling,” he said lamely. He knew Kolivan could see through him. He regarded Keith with a fierce gaze, but it wasn’t angry or suspicious. Keith couldn’t place it, completely unsure what Kolivan might be feeling. He tended to have a hard time reading Kolivan. He was an impassive man, rarely raising his voice or his fist unless necessary. Until he was mid-battle, Keith was sometimes unsure he was fighting at all. 

“Do you think you’re in trouble, Keith?” He sounded very calm, almost unbelieving. 

Keith faltered. He glanced away from Kolivan, looking instead at the portrait of his father, all the way down the hall. Caught between a rock and a hard place. “No...I don’t think so. It was just a thought.” 

Kolivan placed his hand on Keith’s shoulder. “Just tell us if you are.” 

“Yeah...What’s wrong with mom?” he said, glancing away.

Kolivan picked up his coffee again, draining the rest of it. “She’s tired. You know if it was serious she would tell you.” 

Keith wasn’t so sure about that, but he decided not to push. No point in fighting Kolivan, especially in his mother’s house. He might win a fist fight against him, but he would always lose in the authority struggle, always caving to his commanding officer, even when they disagreed. 

“Anything I can do?” 

“Just be patient,” Kolivan said with a sly smile on his face. Anyone that knew Keith knew he was an impatient person. Those that knew him well would never say something as stupid as “just be patient” without a hint of irony in their voice. 

Keith decided to take the challenge and brushed past Kolivan, taking his steps wide and quick. Kolivan turned but Keith ducked and dodged, and went upstairs two at a time, towards his mother’s room. If she wasn’t sick after all, then she would be fine to talk. Kolivan didn’t follow and Keith hoped he had realized that keeping them apart would tend towards “lost cause” territory.

Keith opened the door carefully, not wanting to startle his mother. But Krolia blinked over at him, her head peeking out from the blanket pulled over herself. Keith sat down next to her, suddenly nervous. 

Krolia pulled herself up into a sitting position and wiped at her face, trying to be subtle about smearing drool away. 

“Hi sweetpea,” she said to him, her voice rough from sleep but not unpleasant. Her eyes were bright. 

Seeing his mother gave Keith a rush of comfort. “You hungover or actually sick?” he teased. 

She smiled at him and ruffled his hair, her hand a soothing weight on Keith’s headache. Her claws scratched his head gently, equally as nice. “Could be either. Hang out with me and you’ll find out.” 

Keith smiled back at his mother and settled against the headboard so he could talk to her. 

In the past, he had been surprised to find how natural it was to speak to her. Part of him had hated it, hated how easy it was to love her and bond with her. He had thought he should hate her, that she should have to suffer through his anger as repayment for her abandoning him. He had wanted to hurt her for a long time after meeting her, but he had never been able to bring himself to do it. 

 She, even more so than Shiro, was patient. She had sat by his side on the Space Whale and allowed him to think. And once he had thought about what he wanted to say, she responded in kind. They talked about everything, and Keith felt his heart break and heal a thousand times in the two years he spent with her alone. 

She apologized every night as they slept, so often Keith had worn down a wept at her, finally able to forgive her after seeing visions of her departure and feeling deep in his soul how much she, too, had hurt when she left. He remembered her voice now, how she had said “It felt like cutting my own arm off. It was something I did only out of desperation.” 

After, things had become easier. Now, Keith might say it was easy, period. Keith was in Krolia’s house quite often, even if he didn’t always stay the night. They spoke, and separated, and came back together. It was their rhythm; their orbit. 

“I have a question.” 

“Then ask,” she said, perfunctory as ever.

Keith thought for a moment, wondering how he could ask without giving himself away. Then again, his mother was extremely adept at getting to the point of things. She was patient, yes, but she always cut Keith’s words with a knife, bringing the truth out with ease. Maybe it was a Krolia-thing, or maybe it was a mom-thing, Keith wasn’t sure. 

Keith purposefully relaxed, hoping not to give away any of the tension he was feeling. 

“Hypothetically, what would have happened if we had interacted with the visions from the Space Whale?” 

Krolia quirked a brow at him, but did not hesitate to answer. “It would have been impossible. They were just visions.” 

“But you said not to-”

“I said not to try. I didn’t want you to spend your time trying to chase down your father, not when he would never answer.” 

Keith felt a small weight settle in his stomach. That made sense, he supposed, even if it made him feel squeamish in some way. 

He tried again. “Do you know of any other instances in which someone could interact with other realities? Or other timelines?” 

Krolia tilted her head at Keith, her eyes burning something fierce. Yet her face itself remained soft, like she was holding something back, too. 

“I do not believe it will ever be possible to time travel, unless you found some quantum rift. Earth is certainly not in a rift. Is this about your father?” 

She reached out to hold Keith’s hand, the fur on her palm soft but warm. She emitted heat like a furnace but it was not an unpleasant feeling. Keith found himself, embarrassingly, wanting to curl up in his mother’s lap. Instead, he leaned against her, facing the wall opposite the bed. What he saw made him furrow his brow in confusion. 

“How long has Kolivan been sleeping over?”

“What-” 

Keith pointed to her closet, where the door was open. Next to her Blade uniform was his, much larger, dragging on the floor a little. 

Krolia cleared her throat. Keith could sense she was blushing without even looking at her, as he felt her shoulders tense ever so slightly. 

“He has been looking after me.” 

“So you’re not hungover?”

“No.” 

Keith sighed. He didn’t mind, per se, but he sure wish he had known. 

“I don’t think I’m ready for a sibling-” 

“No, Keith, it’s nothing like that.” She turned to look at him, her face even softer than before. “He is my friend.” 

Keith wasn’t sure whether or not he believed her. He got the feeling, looking at her eyes, that she doth protest too much. He decided not to push it though, not now, not when he was contemplating leaving the planet entirely. Not when he had something important to figure out, first. If she was happy, well, who was he to stop it? She had never stopped him from his impulsive joys. He could at the very least return the favor. 

He settled back against the headboard, hoping relaxing again would relax her. 

“I think I might go to Diabazaal for a while, if you want to come. I know you haven’t been in a long time.” 

Krolia hummed and did, indeed, relax again. She closed her eyes, her personal signal for thinking about what she wanted to say. She opened her mouth, long canines glinting in the Nevada sun streaming through her wide-open windows. The smell of the desert was strong in her house, as if she invited it in somehow. 

“I will continue to rest here. I should be better soon, I suspect. Lucky for you, Kolivan is going to Diabazaal soon as well. You can hitch a ride.” 

Keith hummed. “How soon is soon?” 

“January next year. About 6 decaphoebs from now.” 

“That’s not soon!” Keith protested, before reminding himself about how slow the Galra tended to move. He supposed a six-month notice was damn near spur of the moment for them. Before Krolia answered, though, he asked another question, knowing she would justify the time spent waiting for the trip to take place. 

 “You would tell me if it was serious, right?” He knew his question had two meanings, but he wasn’t sure which question he needed the answer to more. 

She patted his hand and leaned her head on Keith’s shoulder. “I would never lie to you, sweetpea. No, I don’t believe it is serious.I haven’t done that since I met your father, and even then he did like to--” 

Keith shover her playfully, emitting an “EW! ” loud enough for the neighbors to hear. 

January 2nd, 2148

Preparing for his flight was easy. He packed his usual essentials, his blades and uniforms, leggings and jackets, food, a tooth brush. A novel he had been reading for the past two years just in case. He did not have any solid lead on himself, but he knew where to start. Diabazaal, his home away from home, called to him like a siren. Some beautiful planet that had no intention other than one to kill him. Still, he went.

--

Keith bounced his leg in the hangar as he waited for Shiro to arrive. He fiddled with his things, adjusting his bag straps, picking up and putting down his helmet. Kolivan wanted to leave shortly, and was finalizing his paperwork with the Garrison to take off. Keith knew he would complain about it later - a Blade envoy should not have to receive permission to launch, or so Kolivan always said. Keith could hear him now, grumbling under his breath about the seniority of the Blades as space travelers. 

Keith trained his eyes to the doorway, waiting. He wasn’t so burnt out that he wasn’t going to say goodbye, but he might miss his chance if Shiro never showed. A sadness pooled inside him, but Keith brushed it away. He couldn’t get caught up in that right now, not when he was about to see the man in question. 

Kolivan hollered for the crew to board, breaking Keith out of his reverie. He frowned to himself, but put his helmet on, ready for takeoff in the shitty of old ship the Blades had “rescued” from the Empire.

He made one last glance at the doorway, just in time to see it open. Shiro entered, dressed in his Admiral’s uniform. Keith’s heart swelled, but for once he refused to push it down. He pulled his helmet off and smiled at Shiro as he walked over. 

“Here to give me orders, Admiral?” he teased, knowing how much Shiro hated to be addressed as such. 

“Uh, not exactly. Just saying goodbye to an old friend.” Softness glinted in Shiro’s eyes, making Keith’s heart to something stupid. 

“Oh, need me to go get him…?” he teased again, wanting to make Shiro laugh. He did, but turned serious again after a moment. 

“When are you coming back?” Shiro asked, his voice lowered, nearly authoritative, and Keith was helpless against it. He couldn’t tease any further because he would likely say something incredibly stupid if he tried to make a joke. 

“Maybe never. But probably May. We’re going to Diabazaal for a bunch of shit the Earthside Galra need, and some political meetings. Kinda boring, actually.” 

He gave his official answer, not wanting to worry Shiro at all. If he was being truthful he would say he was running away from his friends, and his Earthly responsibilities. That he needed a break from being reminded about Shiro’s marriage. Yes, he would be doing Galra business, and yes, he would be trying to track down his future-self, whatever that meant. But he would also be trying to give his heart a break, because maybe he deserved that too. 

As they spoke, Keith became more and more aware of Kolivan staring him down. He knew he had to go. He had to say goodbye, but he didn’t want to. He was selfish and self-destructive to the end, as always. 

Keith looked up at Shiro for the last time. He studied his face. His eyes had the beginnings of crow’s feet, how his hairline was near-imperceptibly thinning. Keith knew he would never mind those things on Shiro. He glanced at Shiro’s lips and broke his own heart by speaking into the momentary silence. 

“See ya later, Shiro.” 

“Bye, Keith.” 

Chapter Text

January 2nd, 2148

The ship Keith had been shoved into, formally named His Lord’s Majestic Reign, was a rust bucket. It was an old commuter ship, once stolen from the Galran Empire, and now used for long hauls between planets. Though it was perfectly safe (or so said the pilot), it didn’t feel safe to Keith, still used to the Lions even after their disappearance. 

The ship was hot and the old retro-style bucket seats were covered in cracked faux-leather that stuck to Keith’s sweaty skin. Everything was outdated by at least ten years, and nothing had a fresh coat of paint. The air was humid and stale, but Keith breathed it in like a tropical breeze. He closed his eyes and listened to the rumble of its engines and the other Blades milling about the body of the ship. The day was blazing, and the trip would be long, but Keith felt at peace as they pulled away from Earth. 

In space, certain rules were suspended. Or, more accurately, with the Blades certain rules were suspended. Many of his fellow Marmorans were walking around the ship half-dressed, fanning themselves. Those with fur became shiny with oil and panted to rid themselves of moisture. Keith, the only Blade with human or even human-like skin, sat in his seat shirtless and fanned himself. No one bothered anyone else, with the exception of small, friendly conversations between acquaintances. 

A card game started up on a table not far away, two men speaking in a language Keith did not understand. It sounded like snake slithers and buzzing, a low mumble if anything. Another man sat in the back of the ship on a floating bed, working through stretches and poses. When Keith had asked when yoga had became popular in other galaxies (and then explained what yoga was), the man had looked deeply confused at the question, yet never explained exactly what he was doing. He just continued doing it. 

There was no training, no regulation meals, no uniforms, just the Blades relaxing before the work they had to do began. Most geared up for the trip’s pit stop, but that was the only buzz aboard the ship. 

On stop-overs most of the Blades left the ship to find women, and gambling, and home-grown food. Some, like Kolivan, remained behind to do work, or to stay loyal to the partners they had left behind, but most left. No one cared what you did at a pit stop so long as you came back in one piece. 

Since the war’s ending, some had joined the Blades as an extended paid vacation. Kolivan did his best to weed those people out, but still they remained. It was dangerous territory offering meals, beds, and pay to anyone willing to swear loyalty to the Mission. Without a war, the Mission had become...a vague grouping of ideals. Even Kolivan had learned to relax a little (but certainly not too much). 

Keith’s own rules had also relaxed. Though formally he was still referred to as the Red Paladin, he didn’t answer to it. He had never wanted the diplomatic rules Shiro had so earnestly and eagerly picked up, wanting only to continue with direct action. But even still, he found himself on the receiving end of anonymous affection more than once. It did nothing to ease the continuous ache in his heart, but it didn’t feel bad. In fact, Keith would say it felt good to know he was able to walk away. He enjoyed that part. 

The trip to Diabazaal lasted two days at this ship’s pace, but the crew had petitioned for a stop-over, extending the trip to three. Unless the trips were urgent, the crews always petitioned for stop-overs. Keith wasn’t surprised to hear it would be in a certain quadrant of the galaxy, one he had been forced to visit many times before. 

Keith peeled himself away from the leather seat he was stuck to, skin sticking and sliding in the heat, and moved to gaze out the small porthole to look at the planet they were flying towards. 

The planet was red-brown, hazy and swirling. It reminded Keith a bit of Mars if it were not for the white streaks and dots littering its surface. PSR B1257+12 B, colloquially known on Earth as Poltergeist , was an abandoned desert of a planet, inhabited only by those who visited. Almost no one, save inn keeps and other service workers, stayed year-round. The largest towns reminded Keith by and large of the old parts of Las Vegas, dusty and neon, glamorously scummy. 

The largest city, founded by none other than American real estate tycoons, was Donner’s Paradise, a dump for kings. 

In Paradise, the people that ruled the streets were those with weapons, drugs, money, or looks. Though there was technically a government, a police force, and even well-respected citizens, rarely a positive story emerged from the citizenry of the capitol city. No one that lived in Paradise much minded, though. There was quite a bit of Poltergeist pride, as it was one of the few welcoming planets for anyone . Criminals, outlaws, runaways and their families settled in Paradise, knowing they would be able to escape their pasts by virtue of making a few friends with worse pasts. The community was tight-knit, was all. 

Stepping off the ship, Keith huffed a breath of air. He could smell smoke and fried food, the sickly sweet tang of garbage and dry dust commingling into a nasty, familiar bouquet. The first time he had come he had been afraid and looking over his shoulder until Regris clapped him on the back and told him this was purely a pleasure visit. Now, he was used to it. Electricity ran up his veins as he walked away from the group. 

His first stop was to Old Marie’s, a stand more than a restaurant, where he could get almost anything he wanted to eat. 

Old Marie was anything but, at least based on how she looked. She wore her hair down, flowing and blonde. Fly-aways stuck to her lip gloss, and she cooked with a cigarette in one hand. Keith loved her. 

He sat on a rickety old stool perched in the dirt and ate greasy fried foods to his heart’s content. Washed down with nunvil, Keith began to relax fully. The alcohol in nunvil wasn’t like anything they had on Earth. All the fun, none of the hangover. Keith drank his glass down happily, letting the warmth in his belly spread to his fingertips and toes. With every breath, he relaxed more, weight flying off his shoulders at record speed. 

He knew where he was going to end up, but he had no mind to rush it. Instead, he chatted with Marie, bummed her cigarettes, and ate to his heart’s content. 

-----

Though much of Donner’s Paradise was familiar to Keith, either in notion or from memory, the hotel he had ended up at was unlike any he had ever been in. The Blades had been responsible for their own housing, most sleeping on the ship in order to save their money, but Keith wanted to get away from the rust bucket for a moment, so he had booked a room in the first result for “Donner’s Paradise Hotel” that had appeared on his data pad. 

For a minor convenience fee, his room was able to be upgraded to “full service”, and, not for the first time, Keith had thought to himself, “fuck it, I’ll do it”. 

So that was how Keith had found himself face to face with a Galran woman wearing a silk robe, head cocked to the side as if to ask why he wasn’t undressing yet. 

The woman, who had not named herself before entering, was beautiful. Part Olkari, her skin was smooth ivory with a faint sheen of purple peach fuzz, making her look nearly opalescent. Her eyes were yellow like most Galra, small pupils floating without irises. Her long white hair was braided over her shoulder, and even her silk robe was ivory. She looked like a ghost standing before Keith, and he couldn’t help but stare. 

She wrapped a thin hand around the neck of a champagne bottle, pulled gently from ice, and leaned in close. “Got a knife, sweetie?” 

Keith, alight with something he hadn’t felt in a long time, obliged. He popped the cork free of its cage with one swipe of his blade, spraying the woman with champagne foam. She yelled, voice deep and rich but light somehow, full of a happiness Keith knew he was going to be chasing for the night. 

The woman pushed Keith back onto the bed with a surprising strength despite her slim frame. She smiled at him, teeth somehow even whiter than her skin and hair. Her lips, ever so slightly pink, smiled at Keith, sending a shiver through his body despite the temperature of the room. 

“You’ve made a mess, sweetie,” her voice was a low rumble, much deeper than her face would have suggested. Keith would have supposed she was putting it on had he not had so much experience with the oddities of half-Galra beings, and how they revealed their heritage in strange ways. It wasn’t always easy to tell. 

She slipped her robe from her shoulders, revealing more of her purple peach fuzz, slightly lavender and, though he had not touched her yet, he knew just how soft her down would be. He reached to touch her, to bring her to him, but she danced away from his reach, smiling down at where he lay. 

“Not so fast,” she said, dropping her robe even farther down her arms. Undoing the belt tied loosely at her waist, she stepped free of the silk, revealing herself. 

Her chest was flat, without a hint of a breast, and her hips were slim. She looked athletic, and strong, even while covered in pearly white lace and silk. The lingerie fit her perfectly, as if it were made for her, and Keith suspected it was. She didn’t wear a top, only panties and stockings, held together with garters and gold hardware. She was barefoot, but still landed a head taller than Keith when he had been standing. 

She turned and took one long stride to a cabinet in the corner of the room. From it, she pulled two champagne flutes, and pressed a button which filled the room with  soft, thrumming music. It was distinctly Galran - an ever-present drumbeat present in everything from lullabies to funeral processions and everything in between, this time turned low and slow, sensual. The drums were more of a heartbeat, a living thing itself, accentuated by strings and a low song. 

The woman poured Keith a drink. Though he had already been fuzzy from nunvil, he pounded the flute back, swallowing it all in one go. It was syrupy and strawberry flavored, an import from Earth. Though he never would have picked the drink back home, something made him immediately ask for a second glass. His eyes were already heavy, and he couldn’t help but stare at the woman as she danced for him. Warmth pooled in Keith’s stomach, and he reached for her again. 

This time, she came over to him. With a hand she pushed Keith back onto the bed all the way, his head hitting a soft pillow. Her skin was warm and oh-so-soft to the touch, small hairs brushing under his palm. She purred slightly as he felt her arms and shoulders, smiling down at him. 

“You can touch me wherever you would like, sweetie,” she said, voice still low and rumbling. She pushed his hand downwards to her chest, and Keith cupped her breast, or rather, the space where her breast would be if she had them. 

He liked what he felt, though, her chest strong and firm with muscle underneath soft skin. He continued to knead at her with both hands, feeling everything he could, and revelling in how her nipples became hard under his touch. 

For the first time that night, he found his voice. “Aren’t you going to tell me your name?” He heard his own tone, thick with champagne and lust. It would have embarrassed him if he had known the woman, but this room, anonymity was a shield. 

"You may call me Crux,” she whispered, nuzzling at his ear. 

With that, the warmth in his body turned to pure lust, hot and liquid in his veins. It had been a long time since he had found himself in this kind of situation, and god dammit, he was going to enjoy it. 

He flipped them, turning her onto her back, smirking as she blinked in surprise at the sudden change of pace. Her lips parted in a soft O, breath escaping her. She blushed, and that was enough to drive Keith to kiss her, hard, on the mouth. Their teeth clacked together, but he kept going, ignoring how their similarly sharp canines bit into each other’s skin. The coppery flavor of blood filled Keith’s mouth, but he continued, hot all over. He kissed her neck, smelling something sweet that wasn’t perfume, something more natural. He licked at her, trying to taste it. 

He didn’t just taste it, though. Instead, his mouth seemed to fill with a sweet film, as if cotton candy had stuck to his teeth and wouldn’t dissolve. He pulled back, mouth open, able to taste the air between them. 

Crux smirked up at him, thick eyelashes batting to tease him. “First time with a Galra, sweetie?” 

Keith sat up, sipping from someone’s champagne flute, and nodded. 

“Pheromones, I think you say in English. As your mother,” she said with such a harshly teasing tone, Keith kissed her again just to stop her from talking. 

The champagne hit the floor, making an even bigger mess. Somewhere in the back of his mind, Keith knew he would have to pay for that, but he pushed that thought away and bit back into Crux’s neck. Sweetness bloomed on Keith’s tongue again, but this time he did not pull away. He ground into her, feeling his own hardness between them as he thrust. 

Crux pulled him out of his jacket, then his shirt, but Keith whined when he had to pull away from the crook of her neck. She sat up and unzipped his pants, trying to push them away. 

“You need to stand up and let me get you naked,” she said softly. It was as if words oozed out of her; Keith understood her before she finished her sentence, like it reached his mind before his ears. He stood before she finished, already discarding his pants while she watched, grinning. 

Her eyes travelled up and down Keith’s body, lingering on his cock, before moving back up to his face. She smiled wider, canines flashing. He shuddered, feeling exposed, and then shuddered again, liking it. Electricity pumped through his body in time with the drumming music, and his mouth fell open again, tasting sweetness in the air. He stared at Crux, eyes sticking to the crook of her neck, wanting to dive back in. 

Instead, she stood and pushed him back away from her. Her long fingers, slim and capped with gold-painted claws, hooked beneath the straps of her garters, and flicked open the hardware, letting her stockings come free from her panties. She bent over at the hips, sliding one stocking down. She smiled up at Keith as he slid down the pair, but she did not stand back up. Instead, she bent further, falling to her knees. She beckoned him forward with a gold claw and Keith couldn’t move fast enough. 

Her mouth was warm and tight, forcing a guttural moan out of his throat. Fire burned low in his belly, and he knew that this evening was going to be over much faster than he had anticipated if he didn’t get some sort of control over himself. He screwed up his eyes and concentrated, filling his brain with inky blackness, focusing only on the sound of Crux sucking his life away from him. 

But in the back of his brain, her thoughts edged in. She poked and prodded, thoughts streaming into his, their consciousness melting together. Images flashed in his mind without his control. A woman licking melted ice cream, a beach full of nude bodies, a champagne flute pressed to his lips again. Lights flashed behind his eyelids, the spark of fire next to a neon sign for a dance club, the rub of skin on skin. 

Keith reached forward, gripping her hair, and tugged her off his cock. He panted, hot wet breaths escaping his mouth. Cool air filled his lungs but his heart continued to race. When he opened his eyes and looked down, Crux was smiling up at him, pink lips glossy and swollen. 

“How...h-how did you do that?” he panted, chest burning. 

“My Olkari side. They enjoy shared-consciousness during sex. Do you like it?” 

Keith didn’t answer. Instead he pulled her head forward, back towards his neglected cock. She opened her mouth, obliging. This time, his mind filled with waves crashing, the sun rising. His heart slowed, and he relaxed. The ebb and flow of water in a river mirrored how Crux worked his body to completion, slower this time. Gentler, but still drowning. His hips pressed forward and his breath caught in his throat. He finished in her mouth, hot all over, panting. 

She pulled off him with a slurp. It would have been disgusting if Keith wasn’t still tasting that sweetness in the air, sniffing and mouthing at the space between himself and Crux. 

He wanted her again. 

She stood with no help from him, gracefully standing to her full height. She was taller than him, letting him rest his head in her collarbone and the softness of her chest. He buried his nose, inhaling, and feeling a strange ache in his cock as he got hard again, too fast. He whined into her, and she pet his hair, soothing him. 

“Sit against the headboard, sweetness,” her voice appeared only in his mind. He wanted to ask, but she was already answering - “Yes, I can hear you, too.” 

She pushed him back to the bed, turning them, and forcing him to sit up. From his spot, he could see as she danced to the music once again. Her slim hips swung back and forth, muscle flexing as she performed for him. The dance was hypnotic and circling, her head never stopped moving, her hands spinning just as much. He barely noticed when the dance became a strip, her claws hooking her panties and sliding them down, revealing her naked body. 

He couldn’t see exactly what she looked like though, because she kept dancing even as she became naked. She undid her braid, letting her hair swirl around her face. Keith wasn’t sure if it was real or not, but it seemed the strands of her hair floated around her shoulders, never settling. She was ethereal, swirling in her own long hair, naked and dancing but making no noise against the hardwood of the room. 

Keith tried to reach for her, but she dodged him. “Enjoy,” his thoughts told him, relaxing his body enough to encourage him to stop asking. 

Her eyes flashed yellow through her hair, and her gold claws sparked like fire through the air. Keith was dumbfounded at the beauty; he had never seen anything like it before. The dull, generic room was not the appropriate stage for her, she deserved an opera house, a philharmonic orchestra, grand spotlights and high-priced ticket admittance. 

“You flatter me,” her voice came, floating into his brain. 

She moved, then, towards him. She traced one claw over his face, making the hairs on his body rise. Before she could pull away, he reached for her, grabbing her hand. He pulled, and she stumbled slightly, moving towards him. Her hair fell from where it had been suspended in the air, almost covering her face. Keith pushed her hair back, and pulled her forward again. 

Crux braced her fall but took the hint. She climbed into his lap, straddling his hips. 

“Impatient,” they both thought. She grinned though, unbothered by the change. 

Keith pressed his nose and tongue to her neck again, lapping up the sweetness that she emitted. His head clouded again, full of fog. He could only move on instinct, the lava in his stomach pushing him to touch, to grab, to take. 

He reached down between her legs, curious as to what he might find. Though he had no experience with a human woman, he did have some idea as to what it might feel like. Crux, though, defied his expectations. 

She was hard, not unlike a cock, swollen with blood. But that hardness inflamed her entire crotch, nearly making it impossible to find her hole. When his finger caught in the dip that lead to her vagina, he felt a soaking wetness, slick running down his hand immediately. Crux moaned in his lap, pushing herself towards his hand, asking for more. Keith explored, feeling the subtle bumps and ridges that surrounded her hole, noticing that each one pulled a moan from her lips. She was swollen all over, a pink blush discoloring her otherwise pale skin. The purple fur covering her body became even more fine and soft, become almost imperceptible under his hand. As slick dripped down his arm the visions in his brain changed again, changing from the gentle floating of a river in summer to wildfires in California, a desert storm kicking hot dust into his eyes. 

He needed to be inside her. 

Keith grabbed her hips, pulling her down onto his lap. He slid inside her, gasping at how tight and hot she was. If her mouth had been good, this was so much better. His hands grabbed her hips of their own accord, finger sinking into flesh, gripping her so tight he could damn near feel the crest of her pelvis as he bounced her on his cock. 

He huffed into her shoulder, fighting the urge to bite down, knowing somehow that might be too far. Her voice in his head held him back, preventing him. He clenched his jaw instead, inhaling through his nose.

She wrapped her arms around his head and neck, holding them tight together. He licked at her chest, rubbing a nipple, enjoying the sounds she made, both in his mind and out loud. 

Keith leaned forward, tipping them back onto the bed, so he was hovering above her. He pulled her legs back and apart, looking at her fully. Her hole was wet and pink, puffy and inviting. He rubbed at the bumps surrounding it, making her shudder and whine under his hand before he pushed back inside. 

It didn’t take long, not with his mind full of images he couldn’t control, thoughts and feelings coming from her, as if she had received a dossier on his preferences to study beforehand. 

The image of a candle being lit sparked into his mind, and he came inside her. He couldn’t help it, the fog in his head forcing him to finish. He cried out as he finished, and she matched him, slick leaking out around his cock. 

She panted with him, her chest heaving. He grinned, feeling satisfied and proud of himself, somehow, looking down at the mess they had created. A wet spot on the bed, and her closing her eyes to rest for a moment. 

The sweetness in the air immediately faded back to a soft reminder, like an air freshener, and Keith could breathe easy. He pulled out and sat back, drinking in the cool air and the warm dregs of champagne from the glass on the table next to the bed. The soft click of the flute on the hardwood was almost startling for its inorganic-ness. 

Crux didn’t move from her spot on the bed, an arm thrown over her eyes. But she did speak, “You want to take a shower?” coming from her lips. It sounded far away, now, not being lodged into Keith’s brain without any of his control. 

“Yes,” he answered without hesitation. 

The tub was large enough for two people and the water was warm and soothing. Keith relaxed against Crux’s chest, back to front, her hands laying on his belly. 

“Where are you going after this?” she asked, low enough that Keith could feel the vibrations in her chest. 

He closed his eyes, enjoying the heat coming from her body. “Diabazaal.” 

Her breath hitched ever so slightly and her claws flexed on his stomach, tickling him under the water. 

She cleared her throat, the first sign of any anxiety she had expressed the entire evening. “How much do I have to pay you to take me there?” 

Keith pulled away from her and turned to look her in the eye. “Why?” Something suspicious dropped into his stomach and he furrowed his brow at her. 

Crux twisted a strand of hair around her finger. “I owe someone a favor. I want to get it out of the way. I’ll leave you alone after that.” 

Keith narrowed his eyes at her, trying to reach out to her mind to see if he could sense anything at all. A wall was up between them, though, now that her scent had dissipated with the water and bubble bath liberally poured into the tub. He only had his gut to go off, but his gut had always been a finicky bitch. 

“...Sure. But I need to ask my commander,” he said, hoping Kolivan would give him an out. 

She nodded, and smiled pretty at him. “I understand.” 

In the morning, Crux was still by Keith’s side. She slept in a pale pink nightie, lace and straps that Keith didn’t think would be particularly comfortable. Her hair was piled into a bun on top of her head, small strands falling around her face, and Keith was struck by some feeling of domesticity. He wasn’t sure if this was normal behavior for sex workers on this planet, or if Crux was just different in that way, but part of him enjoyed the company. She was warm, and friendly, and he was able to sit back and watch her sleep for some time before his data pad pinged. 

Kolivan had responded to him. She can come for 1,000 GAC. Meet at 9AM. 

Keith looked at his watch, showing 8:30. His heart jumped for a moment, and he shook Crux awake. 

“We’re leaving. 1,000 GAC. You got it?” 

Crux jumped out of bed and ran to the closet, pulling out an outfit she must have stashed before the entire affair started. Keith didn’t think about it, figuring it was likely a layer of security provided for the girls that worked at the hotel - clothes, just in case. 

She rummaged through her pockets, pulling out wads of brightly-colored cash. She counted, muttering to herself. 

“I have 947 GAC…”

Something in Keith’s heart flipped over; he suddenly felt very sorry for her. She looked as if she was hiding her sadness, putting on a brave face, and damn if he didn’t relate. 

He stood, putting on his own clothes. “Don’t worry about it. I’ll cover you.” 

She smiled, her hair puffing up slightly with her joy. “I’ll pay you back!” 

Keith rolled his eyes. “Don’t worry about it.” 

---

Crux sat next to him in the rust bucket, quietly smiling to herself as she looked out the porthole as they took off. She had stolen some old novel from one of the Blades, and held it in her lap, occasionally looking down to read. But mostly, she looked out at the stars. Keith felt a kinship to her, and he wasn’t so sure it was just because of the sex. 

Kolivan gave Keith a brief, appraising look, but didn’t say anything to him. The other Blades did the same, but Keith and Crux were largely left alone. Eventually, Crux fell asleep, head nodding against her seat, the novel falling from her grasp. Her hair fell free of its tie, and Keith was overwhelmed by the desire to fix it for her.

Chapter Text

January 4th, 2147

Krolia’s neck ached when she woke. She lifted her head to glance at her clock and rolled over right into a large, purple chest. Kolivan’s snores were gentle, but enough to startle her. She didn’t remember falling asleep, nor allowing Kolivan to sleep in her bed, either. 

The red digital display from the clock on her dresser told her it was around eight thirty, but that meant very little to her, so she glanced out the window to see if the sun was still up. It was not. Purple shadows fell over the red Nevada desert, and stars twinkled along the horizon. The sight filled her with a longing she didn’t want to think about, so she turned back to her friend. 

“Get up,” she said, elbowing him in the chest. He startled, sitting up fast and flailing, hitting his hand on the headboard with a loud thwack. Krolia covered her mouth as she laughed at him. He groaned but got out of bed anyway, clearly fine. 

“Dramatic old man, I don’t remember inviting you to my bed,” she said, still laughing. 

“You did, like it or not,” he replied, bending to fetch his shirt from the floor. His sleep shorts, tight around the everything stretched thin as he moved. Krolia felt a small blush creep across her face as she watched him, surprised at herself for being embarrassed around such an old friend. 

She averted her eyes and got out of bed as well, padding over to her dresser and tugging on a sweatshirt more as something to do than out of any necessity for clothing. 

“How are you feeling?” he asked, worry tinging his voice. 

She turned to face him, leaning back on her dresser and crossed her arms as she appraised him. Her previous embarrassment came back full force - but embarrassment for what? This was not the first time they had shared a bed in the seventy-five or so years they had known each other. 

“I’m fine. Whatever it was has passed.” 

Kolivan nodded before turning to leave the room ahead of her. 

--

Krolia had met Kolivan in the dungeons of the Galra Empire, aboard one of the largest ships in Zarkon’s fleet. She was young, just fifty years old and fresh out of the military academy in which she had voluntarily enrolled. Her first assignment was as a guard for the prisoners of war taken by Galran soldiers, an assignment which she took seriously, even though it was incredibly low-ranked. She strived to be a good soldier like her Father, whom she held in strong regard. 

Her first charge was a man who would not give his name, and who had dug his identification chip out of his arm. His white hair was just barely long enough to tie back, and he had asked Krolia for a hair tie, which she passed through the bars. It earned her her first infraction, of course, but looking back on that moment she felt no regret for her kindness.  

He did not say a word to her for three days after she gave him the tie. He only spoke up when she pulled an old book out of her bag, curling the cover around to read on her lunch break. 

“You enjoy poetry?” he had asked. She had shushed him, wanting to enjoy the silence of the mostly-empty cells. Instead, the man began to recite her poems in such an even-keeled and erudite tone Krolia briefly forgot that he was a dangerous, murderous rebel. 

She had shushed him again, threatened him with violence, but he had not seemed frightened. At the time she hated him for his cocky attitude. Now, though she felt reassured by it. 

Over the span of two years Krolia learned much from Kolivan. She learned the true nature of quintessence, and how millions of lives had been claimed for its harvest. She learned Kolivan was full Galra, of a well-bred family, but how he resisted everything Zarkon had done. She learned that she, herself, had more empathy than once previously believed. 

He passed her notes with poems on them. And then messages. And then promises of far-off horizons and the virtuous peril of life as a rebel. 

In return, she unlocked his cell and joined him as he fled. 

It had been a long seventy-five years, but never once did she regret the day she stopped hushing him and started listening to him. Alone together, in her house, she couldn’t help but reminice about all of the stupid, life-risking, Universe-endangering shit they had gotten into together and how ironic it was to see him wearing cargo shorts and a t-shirt, barefoot in an Earth kitchen as he made tea. 

He nudged her hand with the mug, raising an eyebrow at her. 

“Yes?” 

“What are you daydreaming about?” 

She smiled wider, eyes scrunching a little. “Remembering that time you got stuck in a Weblum’s stomach.” 

Kolivan rolled his eyes at her, but smiled nonetheless. Krolia quite liked Kolivan’s smile, how it always looked out of practice, how he only smiled in private moments. Getting Kolivan to smile - or dare say, laugh - was an honor bestowed only on the Blades closest to him. Usually, Krolia. Sometimes Keith. Sometimes the Captain. Rarely anyone else. 

She smiled back. “How about the time you almost got stuck in a collapsing star? Or the time you were caught--,”

“Are you going to spend all day chiding me when you are the one who can barely walk on her own feet?” 

Krolia faked a gasp, throwing her hand to her chest. “My feet are fine.” 

Kolivan rolled his eyes again, but his smile got wider. 

---

Two weeks later, Krolia was in bed again. She buried her face in her pillow and tried to block out the daylight creeping through the blinds on her window. She had been awake all night, trying to sleep, and her eyes felt as dry as sandpaper. Though, the strangest thing was that Kolivan was in her bed again. 

He’d come over to her home to enjoy dinner with her and, for some reason, unbeknownst to her, never left. She hadn’t invited him to stay, but she hadn’t told him to leave either. She could not quite remember how they decided he would sleep in her bed as opposed to the guest room, but here he was, snoring again. 

With her eyes closed she could smell him, and what she smelled was soothing. Something deep and mild, steady. A bit like certain minerals found on Diabazaal, something unmoving. With care not to disturb the mattress or blankets more than absolutely necessary, she slid closer to Kolivan and closed her eyes again, close enough to nuzzle into his body but holding her head back. With just a breath of space between them, she rested. 

Though she did not sleep, she dreamt of the purple night sky of the desert, of hands touching hands, of the feeling of wind at her back. She could smell the damp caves Blue had been found in, and she opened her mouth to taste the air, but nothing hit her tongue. 

When she opened her eyes Kolivan was gone. She reached her hand over to his side of the bed and found it cold, and a sadness she hadn’t experienced in many years hit her heart. 

---

“Why don’t we go somewhere today?” Kolivan said to her, his nose buried in a newspaper. 

He was sitting across from her at her kitchen table, large black mug steaming hot enough to make the edges of the newspaper curl. She watched the steam rise and winced when Kolivan took a large gulp of the coffee in it, though he did not react to the heat. 

“Where would we go?” 

Kolivan turned a page. “I have an idea. Wear long pants and sleeves.” 

His smile made Krolia nervous, sweat prickling on the back of her neck. She touched it, hands brushing the soft fur at her nape. Generally, when Kolivan had little ideas they tended to both get into trouble. Yet, she always went along with them. All he had to do was sound confident enough in his half-baked plans and Krolia was there, packed for her next adventure. 

As they got into Krolia’s car, a small, red two-door that Keith’s friend Lance had referred to as a “MILF car” and then refused to explain the meaning of the phrase. Kolivan sat behind the wheel, hunched and cramped. At seven and a half feet tall, he was not made to fit in traditionally Earth-designed things. Krolia herself barely fit, but Kolivan looked absolutely ridiculous. 

She laughed as the car sagged ever so slightly to one side. He eyed her and frowned, attempting to keep his composure. She laughed harder. 

She was not sure where they were going at first, but she enjoyed the ride. Buildings flit passed her window just fast enough that she could not make out the purpose of them. She typically liked to sight-see, to explore human intricacies, but she quickly realized that with Kolivan driving, there was no time for views, only speed. 

He drove them to the Garrison, blowing right past the “speed limit” and arriving at the base in about half the time it would normally take Keith or herself to get there. Her car whined as Kolivan parked and Krolia made a mental note to take it to her mechanic, a kindly old woman that was small enough to wiggle into all parts of any machine. 

Kolivan stepped out of the car after reaching to the back seat to grab a backpack, and walked around to her side, offering his hand to help her. 

“I said my feet were fine, Kolivan,” she said, smiling at him. She stood, almost as tall as he, and put her hand to her eyes to block out the Sun. “Where are we going?” 

“You’ll see when we get there.” 

She rolled her eyes at him, but did not push the issue. She knew he wasn’t lying, and that the surprise was likely a very important part of the trip. Still, she wanted to know. 

Kolivan swiped his ID and entered the Garrison with his eyes forward. She followed, mirroring his posture. 

As they made their way through the base Krolia could feel eyes on them. Though it had been years they still got stares from some of the soldiers and civilians. Some of them, the new recruits, had never seen a Galra except in Earth movies - though even then, it was generally a human in purple makeup. 

They both moved through the halls silently, nodding only at those that saluted them first. She did not consider it a hardship to be unliked by many humans, but she did wish, sometimes selfishly, to be given a little bit more respect than they often received from those lower in rank. 

At the very least, she was pleased her son was no longer being bothered by anyone simply for existing. He had respect, and that could be enough for the moment. 

Kolivan led her to the very back of the base, where the hangars were. The buildings were enormous, probably some of the largest structures Krolia had ever seen on Earth. They smelled like concrete, and fuel, and open desert air. The human soldiers milled about in their flight and mechanic’s suits, all moving with an urgency Krolia wasn’t sure the cause of. There were no battles to fight, only training to be done. 

Krolia thought humans were rather far-sighted for their short lives. Always on edge for the next battle, the next problem, they prepared and practiced all day long even when peace had been won years ago. She wondered if they felt inadequate against the larger and more advanced alien ships they had been forced to work with - and against. But even those that worked on ATLAS were always striving for better. The rumor of ATLAS 2.0 has reached her ears barely six months after the original ship’s maiden voyage. Shiro had shook his head, but Krolia didn’t believe him. 

That was the human’s strength after all - always moving forward. 

Kolivan tugged on her hand, pulling her out of her thoughts. His face was intentionally expressionless but his eyes were intense. She knew he had something on his mind, that he had for weeks, but he hadn’t mentioned it yet. That was the Galra way - waiting till the time was right. 

He pulled her through the hangar, passed the spaceships and planes, passed the hulking ATLAS, somehow welcoming with her own near-sentient frequency. Keith called ATLAS a sleeping dragon and Krolia was inclined to agree. 

Kolivan took her past all the ships and to the very back corner, to an oil-stained patch of concrete where hoverbikes were chained up, and a bored-looking attendant played on his phone instead of making eye contact with them. 

Kolivan swiped his ID and pulled two bikes free, grinning at Krolia. 

“Have you ever driven one of these?” 

A rush of excitement washed over her as she realized why he had requested she dress in pants and a jacket. “Nope.” 

Kolivan grinned again and turned away from her, tucking his backpack into one of the bike’s storage compartments before swinging one leg over it. He turned the ignition, lighting up the dashboard and pulled away from the hangar, speeding through the wide open doors. Krolia barely had enough time to chase him, throwing herself over her own bike. 

The light of the Sun blinded her as she whipped out of the hangar, leaving a trail of dust behind her. She squinted, her eyes tearing up in the daylight. She could just barely pick Kolivan out along the horizon, his figure just a small dot in the distance. Krolia sped up knowing she could run him down at the max speed of the bike. The wind stung her face but she didn’t make any moves to slow down, more enthralled in the chase than she had been in anything else in what felt like decades. 

Her heart pounded in her chest and her hands were aching as she gripped the handlebars, claws digging into the rubber, sure to leave marks. Still, she kept her eyes on Kolivan, getting bigger and bigger in her field of vision the more she drove, eyes barely open against the air rushing past her face.

As she approached him he sped off again. She couldn’t be sure, but she could swear she saw him throw up a salute to her, egging her on. It worked, and she revved the engine until the needle on the speedometer hit it’s maximum. She grit her teeth and lowered her head to make the bike cut through the air like a hawk, expertly diving to catch its prey. 

When she reached him she did not slow, instead blowing right past him, hearing nothing but a muffled ‘HEY’ coming from where he was parked. She stared forward instead of responding, examining the scenery. Cliffs and mesas jutted out around her, the old bank of a long-dried river to her right, the open sky dwarfing her against the red desert. She drove straight forward, into the belly of the beast, leaving the Garrison behind her. 

Despite the heat, and the sun, and the wind, she was breathing easy, adrenaline pumping through her veins, the start to a full-body laugh threatening to overtake her. The ecstasy of leaving something behind overtook her, and she could hear herself yell into the headwind, her voice winning against the Earth’s atmosphere trying to push her breath back into her body. 

She kept moving forward, blasting past all of the rest stops the desert was offering her, driving into the great expanse ahead. 

She drove until she couldn’t anymore, her bike whining and shuddering under her. She pushed it forward anyway, squeezing her legs to the metal body till they ached, trying to correct the shaking of the bike’s body. 

It wasn’t enough. The bike’s fuel light blinked - maybe it had been blinking for a while, she couldn’t remember when it started - and the bike suddenly shuddered to a halt, the dash lights fading. She slid along the ground, tensing herself to attempt to stay upright but she fell, skidding along the Earth. She rolled, hitting rocks and bumps in the sand. When she stopped, she took a breath and sat up. 

Her ears were ringing, and she felt dizzy. But her clothes had protected her skin, and she knew she would be able to stand once her head stopped spinning. The air was cool as evening approached but she was hot all over, sitting in the desert by herself. In the distance she could hear Kolivan following behind her. The hum of his bike made her heart slow down, her breath come easier. 

She looked, and watched as his figure again got bigger against the horizon, though this time it was him doing the chasing. She smiled and waved, her laugh finally escaping her lips. It ripped itself from her throat, tearing at the edges of her mouth, making her cheeks hurt, and a breeze kicked sand into her mouth as she sat and waited for Kolivan to pick her up. 

He stopped, dust blowing into the air, and hopped off his bike. He sat in front of her, a frown on his face. 

“Are you hurt?” His tone gave away so much more than his words alone, worry for her body and concern for her mind all in one. 

“I am fine, Kolivan. How many times do I have to tell you?” Her voice came out raw, scratchy, and she knew he could tell just as much about her as she could about him. 

He leaned forward and buried his nose in her neck. His presence slowed her heart further, and she had long since stopped minding the intimate gesture when he had started doing it. He breathed in her scent,  smelling and tasting for a chemical imbalance, an immune response, anything to tip him off to her wellbeing. He breathed, one hand on her shoulder and the other on her hip, steadying himself as he rested between her legs. 

She stiffened for half a moment, realizing something. 

How could she have been so foolish? 

She pulled away, gently extricating herself from his hold. She pulled her knees to her chest, attempting some semblance of casualness. 

“Should we head back?” She said, tipping her head at him. 

Kolivan cleared his throat and rested back on his feet, still crouching like he wanted to pull her towards him. “I brought food.” 

He pulled his pack out of the small storage compartment on the bike. From it, he extracted a blanket, rolled up and tied, and two plastic containers of food. She wasn’t sure how well Kolivan could cook but her stomach was suddenly growling and her mouth was watering. He spread the gray blanket out between them, it’s edge already tinged red with dust, and sat on one side. The containers of food sat between them, and Krolia moved to join. 

The food was cold, but not bad. He had made large Earth “sand-witches”, packed with meat and cheese, which she smelled, looking for anything new. She didn’t find anything, and devoured the food without discretion. He had also provided a bag of fried, pre-prepared “potato ships”, which she found a very odd name. When she explained to Keith that they should be “sliced potatoes” he had only laughed at her. 

They ate in silence, the only sounds the cries of a bird circling above them. Krolia became uncomfortable aware of herself as they sat in silence, like she was being reintroduced to her own body. She shifted her posture, trying to remain casual but she suddenly couldn’t remember what casual looked like. How much eye contact should she make, how often should she say his name? 

When exactly had she started to fall for Kolivan?

She glanced at him and found him looking right back at her. Though her instinct was to pull away and protect her dignity she took the leap and looked him in the eye. They didn’t say anything for a long while, simply sitting and gazing at one another, but Krolia’s heart picked up and she knew Kolivan was aware. She could sense his as well, beating strong in his chest. It was if they had become attuned with each other’s frequencies, their heart pounding the same beat without even so much as a touch between them. 

She was the one to lower her gaze, breaking the look between them. She looked down at her hands where they clutched the remnants of her food and held back a sigh. A feeling of disappointment welled up in her chest. 

She placed the crust back into the container and put the lid on, the soft pop sounding loud after so much silence. 

“I am...unsure,” she started.

“We have all the time in the world, Krolia.” 

She hummed, unsure about whether she agreed. 

He stood, and offered his hand to her again. She took it, his palm warm against hers, and she stood to match him. They stood there together, chest to chest. She could smell something radiating off of him but she couldn’t place it, having never encountered this situation with a Galra. She was long out of practice at romance. 

Kolivan hooked her hoverbike up to his, declaring that hers had been improperly fueled by the lackadaisical attendant back at the Garrison. She sat behind him, clinging to his belly for balance, and rested her head on his back. He radiated a heat which cut through the cool desert wind, keeping her steady and warm. In the back of her throat the laugh she had let out came back. She clenched her jaw shut, holding it inside. 

---

January 2nd, 2148

Krolia dusted invisible lint off of Kolivan’s uniform. She searched her mind for any excuse not to let him go. The Blades didn’t need him for a low-priority meeting, she would miss him too much, there was work at the Garrison to do. She knew he could sense her tension, but she didn’t have the energy to hide it from him. 

“You can still come with us, Krolia,” he said softly to her. 

“I can’t. Someone has to mind Earth while you two are gone.” 

Kolivan hummed at her. “I will watch over Keith.” 

“I know.” 

She could not meet his eyes. They had not talked about the moment they had shared in the desert all those months ago but the feeling had yet to leave her. Kolivan had all but moved in permanently, staying by her side whether she needed it or not. It was mildly annoying to have someone double check her all the time, but there had been times she was grateful for it. 

Her mood had yet to improve permanently, and she was starting to worry about herself. 

Kolivan put the last of his belongings into his bag. Krolia watched him as he moved, feeling rooted to the spot she was standing in. She couldn’t step forward, or back, she couldn’t make any move to change what was happening around her. Kolivan moved with ease, making plans and making an effort. 

She wondered when exactly she had become a coward. 

Kolivan paused in his plans and regarded her with sharp eyes. After a moment he stepped forward and buried his nose in the crook of her neck, breathing in. A deep, rusty hum came alight in his chest as he did so, and she was helpless to stop her own to match. She grit her teeth, trying resolutely to stop tears from springing into her eyes. 

Yes, she was a coward now, it seemed, completely helpless to prevent something she didn’t want from happening. 

“I’ll be back soon, Krolia,” he said for the thousandth time. 

It did not make her feel any more secure, however. Instead, her heart clenched tight in her chest. She knew this feeling, and she hated it. The feeling of a new, precarious love, of saying goodbye, of not knowing what was happening in the future. She needed some reassurance from the Universe that things would be okay, and she wasn’t sure she was ever going to receive it again. Once, long ago, she knew exactly what she was capable. But the War had left her tired in so many more ways than one. 

“If you don’t, I’ll never forgive you.” 

“I know.” 

He closed the door quietly behind him, and Krolia made her way back to her bed.

Chapter Text

August 1st, 2148

For the second time that year, Keith was on a ship bound for Diabazaal. But, this time he would not be making any fly-overs, no pleasure stops, nothing. His ass ached from the long flight with no breaks, but his eyes couldn’t move from the controls in front of him. He white knuckled it all the way from Earth and gunned the engine of his small, personal flyer, and made his way through space as fast as humanly (Galran-ly?) possible. 

No matter how he tried to focus on anything else, Crux’s voice was still ringing in his ears. 

“You got me pregnant.” 

She hadn’t sounded angry, but Keith wasn’t sure what exactly she had sounded like. He couldn’t pinpoint that tone in her voice, so now he flew with acid in his stomach, anxious, wanting to bash his head against the control panel for how stupid he had been. He remembered his mother’s voice, how pained she had been for him, and he was sick all over again. He had never wanted to disappoint her. 

In the inky blackness of space, Keith fought the urge to shut off all the controls to the ship. He wanted to drift off, to find some peace without intrusion, to detach his head from his body and rest for a moment. He knew he couldn’t, and his body was tight with an almost familiar sense of duty, like the last time he had flown into war. 

Keith had never known something to be more certain than the fact that he would be a horrible parent. Whether he wanted a child or not was beside the point. He barely had a home planet, let alone a stable life. A child would suffer under his watch, he was sure of that. He felt it in his heart with the same absolution he had felt the burn on his face. It was just a fact of his life. 

He looked out at the stars and hated himself for what he had done - disappointed his mother, brought pain to a woman he considered a friend, and now this - making a child suffer if it were to be born. 

But duty was a long-practiced attribute of Keith, who had ventured out into the icy depths of space countless times before with little regard to personal safety. He held onto that feeling, as it was the only thing pushing him forward. Without it, he would be lost. 

---

She was perched on the counter of her apartment the next time Keith saw her. She didn’t look different. Her hair was tied up by a scarlet red ribbon, the shock of color against her pale complexion and her gauzy white dress startling Keith. Her chest was still flat, but Keith wondered if he wasn’t imagining a soft, barely-there curve to her. 

“So,’ she started, her eyes scorching Keith down to nothing. “What do you want?” 

Keit faltered, unsure of how to answer. What he wanted didn’t matter here, only what he was actually able to do concerned him. 

“I…,” 

She narrowed her eyes at him. “Don’t give me some bullshit.” 

“I...guess...I mean wanting isn’t really something that I’m thinking about right now.” 

Crux jumped off the counter and moved to her fridge, pulling out what looked to be the equivalent of an ice pop. She unwrapped it, and stared at Keith as she ate, cherry red turning her lips an unnatural, watery pink. 

“And yet I’m asking you what you want .” 

“I can’t give a kid a good life. I jump between planets - I’m still a Paladin. A kid can’t have me for a father.” 

The way she looked at Keith made him want to evaporate. Her careful disinterest turned to resentment for a moment before her expression melted back into a neutral mask. Her face reminded Keith so much of what she looked like when they first met - cool, expressionless, mysterious - that he wondered what she had really been thinking when they fucked. He wasn’t stupid enough to think she liked him, but now he felt worry claw at his insides. 

“Keith. Paladin. What do you want ?”

Keith looked around him at her apartment, searching for anything other than her face to stare at. He didn’t find much, her apartment about as bare as his own house. Something about that soothed him - like he was home, or maybe like they had something in common.

He sighed. “Having a child would be nice for most people, but-” 

She pressed her hand to his lips, shushing him. “No ‘but’. I know what I want, so you need to figure out what you want.” 

Keith faltered, shaken by her surety. He watched the gleam in her eye - steady and stable, like she had already figured the answer out for him, a teacher urging her student on. 

Her footing was soft as she walked around her apartment, making hardly any noise even to Keith’s more sensitive ears.  He moved towards her, so much louder, but hesitated for a moment before putting his hand on her shoulder, unsure if she would allow them to touch without her initiating.

“Are you scared?” 

She turned to face him, eyes burning into his face with what he suspected were her real feelings. “No. But my career has been put on hold. I actually like what I do, whatever you might think of it.”

He blinked. “I don’t judge you -” 

She shrugged his hand off her shoulder and stepping around him again. “You better not, considering the amount of GAC you’ve paid me. But I can’t work, there’s not really a market for this, at least not on Diabazaal.” 

“That’s not -” 

“And more importantly,” she said, her tone harsher by the second, “I need to know which planet to be at once it arrives. If you want it, we can go to Earth. If you don’t, I’ll stay here and send it to a home.” 

Keith’s mouth went dry. Oh. 

She walked up the stairs in her apartment, leaving Keith behind for a moment before he chased her. The white walls and white stairs made her blend in with her surroundings save for the red ribbon in her hair and the tinge of red food coloring that stained her fingertips. 

“It’s not something I ever thought about,” he said, still chasing her. 

She walked them into what he presumed was her bedroom as it was the most decorated area in the home. A few paintings hung on the walls and the closet was wide open, clothing spilling out. Most of the clothing was white, or such a pale color it was hardly discernible against all of the other pieces. Keith was amazed, briefly, to see any sign of personality in such an otherwise plain house. 

“You better figure it out fast. I’m going out tonight and no, you’re not invited,” she said, sitting at her vanity. 

Keith sat on her bed and watched her get ready. First, she undid her long hair and curled it with tools Keith was slightly afraid of. She painted her long nails and did her face in a style of makeup Keith couldn’t place. Red and pink powder went around her eyes, making it look as if she had been crying. Her mouth was so glossy it was nearly dripping, and gold flecks dotted her face like freckles. 

Most of the time, Keith wasn’t fazed by anything “alien”, but the way she decorated herself made him feel like he was a cadet in his first classes again. She was so foreign to him, he couldn’t relate to anything she was doing, or saying, or wearing. The feeling humbled him even more than he had already been humbled - or shaken, maybe. 

She waved her hand at him as she pulled on spiked high heels. “Feel free to do whatever, but don’t mess anything up.” 

She grabbed a purse and went out the door of her bedroom and down the stairs. Keith could hear the faint clinks of her heels get softer and softer until the door to her apartment slammed shut, leaving him alone again. 

---

Keith fidgeted in his seat at the restaurant table while he waited for his friends to arrive. Crux sat next to him, eating french fries like a dying woman. Keith watched her from the corner of his eye, not wanting to stare. 

The restaurant was loud, and reminded Keith a lot more of a bar than anything else. Patrons scooted past him and Crux, glancing at them both, either out of recognition or curiosity he wasn’t sure. TVs on either side of the restaurant blared sports broadcasts, which mixed with the music pumping out of an old-fashioned jukebox. The noise bothered Keith’s ears, but he knew he couldn’t change it, so he simply sat next to Crux and answered her occasional questions about Earth culture. She didn’t speak to him, instead choosing to reach out to his brain through tendrils of her own thoughts, probing at him like a very curious octopus. He didn’t like it, really, but he allowed it, understanding that he couldn’t change her habits. 

Over the past two weeks they had been together Keith had watched her change. She was every-so-slightly rounder, softer to the touch. He wasn’t sure anyone else would have noticed, but he had. They’d undressed together a few times as a way to pass the time, and Keith couldn’t even try to deny he hadn’t been waiting for any sign of change.

The first time he had awkwardly offered to pay her directly but she’d turned his hand away. They’d come to an agreement - he would take her to Earth, he would take the child, and he would take care of her in the meantime. He had no need to pay her, just entertain her and shelter her. Keith wasn’t sure which he would have preferred. 

Now, she sat beside him in a dive bar while he waited for his friends to arrive so he could share the news. He felt a little bit like he was waiting for the firing squad even after his mother had assured him that he would be fine. 

The first to arrive was Pidge, her short frame cutting through the crowd with ease. She did a double-take when she got to the table, but otherwise smiled easily at the two of them. Keith had always been jealous of the other Paladin’s ability to be diplomatic, or even friendly, but he shoved those emotions away long ago in an attempt to grow, but sometimes they leaked out anyway. His mom said it felt like an egg yolk bursting when emotions couldn’t be controlled, and Keith was oddly inclined to agree. 

“Who’s your pal, Keith?” She asked, waving the server over to order a beer. 

Keith’s egg yolk burst. 

“Are you friends with many children, Keith?” Crux said, probing his mind. 

Keith stuttered, holding a laugh down in his chest. “Pidge, this is Crux. Crux, Pidge. The Green Paladin.” 

Crux hummed her recognition and Pidge nodded politely. 

With a friend at the table Keith’s heart rate picked up, his blood pounding in his ears above the noise of the restaurant. He followed the conversation between Crux and Pidge - a discussion of Olkari culture - loosely enough to offer the occasional “yes” or “no” but otherwise he sat in a fog, thinking about what he was going to tell everyone once they arrived. 

Hunk sat with them next, followed by Lance, and Matt. 

He was frustrated with himself to say the least. He had made his decision yet he couldn’t stand by it. For the first time in his life, he wasn’t barreling ahead with whatever stupid choice he’d made, feigning confidence all the way, self aware enough to recognize his own patterns. He knew his nervousness rolled off of him like waves but he couldn’t do a single thing to stop it. 

As the others rolled in, Keith glanced over his shoulder towards the door, waiting for Shiro and Curtis to walk in, half wanting to get the whole thing over with and half hoping the Sun would explode and take care of them right then. He watched the patrons walk past, he listened to the music, and turned towards the door every minute or so, hesitating for his friend. 

While he waited, Crux made easy conversation with Matt and the Paladins; she laughed with them and explained who she was and where she was from. She said they met on a Blade mission but smiled to herself through the lie. He knew it was her profession, but she made such natural company with everyone at the table that Keith almost forgot he hadn’t really known her for that long. 

Keith tried to sit back, to force himself to relax, but his mouth had been dry for an hour now, and no matter how much beer or water he drank he couldn’t seem to take a steady breath. 

“Anyone know where Shiro is?” he asked, interrupting the conversation. The words felt clumsy in his mouth but it wasn’t from the beer he’d had. 

Matt check his datapad but shrugged at Keith, unable to provide a better answer. Keith frowned. 

“As I was saying, which Keith wasn’t paying attention to ,” Lance said, grabbing the group’s attention again, “is that Pidge and I are so close to finding Allura. We found traces of Oriande out by Hoag’s Object, like, right in the middle. So I was thinking maybe we could all go out there soon.” 

His face was animated, and not just from the alcohol. His eyes shone the same way his Altean marks did - bright and optimistic no matter the weather. Just like the Princess herself. 

“I’m down!” Hunk said, smiling at Lance and banging his fist against the table, making their plates rattle. Matt nodded as well, clearly having heard the news from Pidge already. He may not have been particularly close to Allura but he knew so many resources from his time with the rebels Keith wouldn’t be surprised if he knew about bases close to the destination. 

“When would we need to leave?” Keith asked, picking at the skin around his nails under the table. 

Lance sat back, throwing his arms across the back of his chair. He had a tiny amount of foam on the corner of his mouth from the cider he had chugged. “Hoag’s Object is about six-hundred and twelve million light years away so...in ATLAS we could go…,” he began to mumble to himself, counting on his fingers. “We could leave now and get there in a year, maybe. Depends on the weather.” 

Keith’s stomach turned, and he looked at Crux. She didn’t need to telepathically prod at his head for him to know that that timeline wouldn’t exactly line up for them. 

Lance frowned. “What, can’t go?”

Keith raised his hands, not wanting to get into a fight. “It’s - there’s something going on.” 

“What?” 

“Well...it’s…” Keith struggled to find the words for the hundredth time that week. His mouth dried out but his palms began to sweat, making him want to rub his hands on his jeans. 

Lance interrupted him, never one for waiting. “Allura gave up her entire life for you and you can’t give up two years? You’re a pretty shitty friend, Keith.” 

“Woah-,” Hunk started, putting his hands between them. 

“No, Hunk, no ‘woah’, Keith won’t do anything if Shiro doesn’t -,” 

“This isn’t about Shiro, Lance.” Keith started, angry. “I’m just trying to look before I leap, maybe you should learn to do that.” 

Lance laughed. “You’ve never been cautious about anything, but all of a sudden someone that’s not Shiro needs you and you can’t do it.” 

Face hot, Keith stood, pushing his chair out. It rattled against the floor, the grinding noise jarring. He turned, saying something about going to the bathroom, and slammed right into Shiro’s chest, hitting his face right between his pecs. 

“Hello, Keith,” Shiro smiled at him as he spoke, his hand going to the top of Keith’s head.

Keith pulled himself out, backing into the table so he could look up at Shiro’s face. He was handsome as ever, even if he hadn’t shaved in a while. His gray henley hugged his arms and chest, the smooth lines broken only by the weight of his glasses pulling at the collar ever so slightly.

Keith cleared his throat, his mouth suddenly watering. 

Instead of stepping around Shiro to run outside, as had been his plan, he sat down again, aware of how everyone else at the table was monitoring his change in action. They knew, he knew. He couldn’t do much about it other than deny anything they might subtly (or not-so subtly) accuse him of. He’d been resigned to that fate for years, since long before Shiro’s wedding. 

Shiro pulled up the seat directly to the other side of him, sandwiching Keith in between two of his largest problems to date. 

“What’s everyone talking about?” Shiro asked, clearly aware of the more than uncomfortable silence. He had always been the most skilled at defusing situations. Keith could almost feel the tension leaving the table as Shiro spoke. 

Lance cleared his throat but stared at Keith as he spoke, explaining his plan to leave Earth in search of Allura. 

“It should take about a year to get there if we use ATLAS, longer if we use a different ship. I really think she’s there. There’s so much evidence.” His voice was soft as he spoke about his plans, full of an unwavering quality Keith hadn’t felt in years. He was jealous of it in a way, envious of the fire that burned in Lance’s eyes. 

He saw it in all of his friends’ faces - Lance, sure of Allura’s presence; Crux, sure of her future without Keith or child; Shiro, sure of his support of all of their decisions.  

He looked down at his hands, curled up in his lap, and listened to Shiro and Lance discuss the details and the evidence that had been gathered over the past year, and God, Keith realized he didn’t even know this has been happening until now. That shook him like the wind, one last and final piece of evidence to the fact that he would always be left out when it came down to it. The more they spoke the more he could tell everyone was agreeing, too. Matt was already tapping away on his datapad, looking at a calendar and maps of the universe. 

Shiro spoke up, his deep voice soothing Keith’s nerves just by being familiar. “I’ll need the Garrison’s permission, of course, but I think it should be doable. I’ll speak to them - and Curtis.” 

“What if we can’t get permission?” Matt asked, not looking at Shiro. He was typing as he spoke, throwing the question out more as a hypothetical than a real concern - Shiro was still the darling of the Garrison, even if he wasn’t on their payroll anymore. 

“Then, well, we’ll ask forgiveness,” Shiro answered, grinning. 

Keith looked up from his lap and glanced around the table. “What if she’s not there?” 

“She’s there,” Lance answered, so quick and venomous he nearly cut Keith off. 

“I’m sure you think -,”

“No, she’s there. You left Voltron to find Shiro on a hunch, less than what I know about Allura. Why was that okay but this isn’t?” 

Shiro placed his hands on the table, palms up, ever the diplomat. “I think we can all agree that Keith cares about Allura. All he’s asking is what’s plan b.” 

Lance crossed his arms, leaning back. “There is no plan b at the moment. But I’m sure of it, Shiro. I’m sure.” 

Shiro looked at Keith, then at Crux. “Then everyone who wants to come can come.” 

Keith sighed, feeling the inevitable approach. The words were heavy in his mouth and he was unable to hold them back any longer. They came out without any consideration to the speech he had actually planned, just falling from his lips like he was in Confession. 

“I’m not sure I can come, not because I don’t want to,” he looked pointedly at Lance, who looked away, “but because I have something, uh, happening in about a year.” 

The group leaned in, curious. 

Keith could feel Crux reaching out to his mind, a gentle brushing of thought poking at his consciousness as if to offer help with the wording, but he shook his head, pushing her mind away from his. 

“Um. I’ll be having a child.” 

He couldn’t look up to face his friends even if he wanted to. The words that came out of his mouth made his head hang, shameful, despite his decision to move forward with everything. His cheeks burned like he’d been scalded again. His mother had told him to be proud of himself as he shared the news but he couldn’t muster up any amount of confidence as his friends stared, silent. 

The only person to speak was Shiro, offering a soft “congratulations”. He put his hand on Keith’s shoulder but for the first time in his life Keith had the urge to shrug it off. This was so beyond the realm of Keith’s past infractions and Shiro couldn’t do a single thing to get him out of it. He didn’t need the pity.

Crux stuck a french fry in her mouth, no longer attempting to reach out to Keith’s mind.

Chapter Text

October 3rd, 2148

Two months later, Keith bid goodbye to the Paladins. 

Together they got ATLAS ship-shape - Pidge and Matt ran updates and diagnostics, warming her up after being offline for so long. Hunk was in charge of not just the kitchens, but all living and communal space, as well as tracking their route through space. He managed all their stop-overs, their supply drop-offs and pick-ups using his signature diplomatic charm while Lance plotted any dangerous areas they needed to avoid, as well as coordinating with Coran who was off-world running one of the many schools he had founded in Allura’s name. Keith had tried to help, but seemingly was always turned down by the rest of the group. He tried not to think about it. 

Shiro managed the overall operations and kept busy doing so. Keith felt as if he hadn’t seen Shiro for weeks when he walked into the hangar to say goodbye. Anticipation thrummed in his veins because every time he asked if Shiro needed help, or a drink after work, he was either ignored or told he was too busy to take time off. Keith understood, but it didn’t make it hurt any less. He did receive the date and time of take off from Hunk, though, so he figured Shiro couldn’t ignore him when they were face to face.

Now, Keith stood in the cold warehouse, his boots scuffing the cement as he walked to ATLAS. She gave off an energy so close to the Lions that Keith nearly winced, sensitive as ever to quintessence. He watched as the support crew milled about while the Paladins stood by the main entry, ready to board at a moment’s notice. Nervous energy filled the room and Keith was left painfully nostalgic, his heart aching in his chest. 

Shiro turned his head as Keith approached, looking at him with a strange expression. It was somewhere between sadness and anger, but it disappeared as Keith got closer, replaced with a more neutral smile. 

“Hey guys,” Keith said, scratching the back of his neck awkwardly as he looked at his friends. He was reminded of being looked down upon by upperclassmen, or teachers, back in his Garrison days - how they all talked about him in little huddles and watched him walk by them with unknowable expressions plastered across their faces. Always the odd man out, that Keith Kogane, they would say, making no effort to include him. 

Shiro’s smile widened slightly, more natural than neutral. “Hi, Keith. Glad you could come and say goodbye to us.” His tone was almost chipper, like the overly-enthusiastic counter girl at the cafe near Keith’s house. He must be excited to fly after so long grounded, Keith surmised. Then again, no one had forced Shiro into retirement. 

“Yeah, I didn’t wanna miss it. I wish I could come, but...you know,” he replied. He hated how he sounded, even though he wasn’t making an excuse. The doctors - human, Galra, and Olkari alike could only estimate the time of arrival of Keith’s child - somewhere between ten and twelve months. Crux rightfully opposed flying, and Keith was loath to fight her on it. 

Shiro squeezed Keith’s bicep, and Keith blushed, embarrassed, reminded of the first time Shiro had given him that look - a smile, a gentle encouragement, back when he was just a kid looking for fights. Somehow, even if everything else had changed, at least Shiro still smiled at him. Keith clung to it, not looking at anyone else until they forced his attention away. 

Hunk was the one to speak first. “Do you wanna see inside? It’s a hell of a lot different now,” he said, beckoning Keith to go inside with him. His smile was genuine as ever, but maybe wider now than usual. He must have been proud of himself for taking care of ATLAS so thoroughly. 

“Ah, I dunno. I think...no thanks, Hunk. I bet it’s cool though.” Most of him couldn’t stand it, the notion that there was this adventure he was missing out on. He pulled back from them instinctively, protecting himself from the social consequences of caring. 

“Yeah…” Hunk said, clearly disappointed. Keith forced the guilt off his back though - he didn’t want to get stuck in his feelings more than he already had been the past eight weeks as he heard about the trips preparations. A lot more than just ATLAS had changed - his friends cannonballed themselves into their future with gusto while Keith was still dipping his toes into the water to see if it was cold. 

Pidge and Matt were promoted for their efforts, the new gold stripes on their uniforms blinding under the harsh, artificial light of the hangar. Hunk was running diplomatic comm lines into the most dangerous pockets of the universe, and Lance had almost become a different person entirely. 

The new lance was calm with self-assurity, blinded by his mission. He had little time for petty games (but still managed to play them once in a while). 

The most stark change was Shiro, who had needed to formally re-enlist in the Garrison in order to pilot his own ship. Everyone had joked that he was nothing but a private now, but the idea of Shiro being called off to some hypothetical, nothing land war made Keith squirm. He counted his lucky stars he had never technically graduated sometimes, using that fact to get out of nearly any formal requirement of him. He was a Blade, first and only. No army requests held him back, and they never would. But that wasn’t his concern at the moment. 

He stared at Shiro, still, and wondered if he had gotten bigger. 

Pidge cut in front of Hunk, standing so close to Keith he had to step away, momentarily startled out of his thoughts.  

“Take this,” she said, handing him what looked like a regular datapad. Before Keith could ask, she continued, “It’s got an extra long range signal. So you can ping us if or when anything happens. You better call us.” 

“Send a picture! Or better yet, let us see the little one.” Hunk chimed in, a dreamy, far-away look on his face. At least that hadn’t changed, Keith figured, smiling slightly to himself. 

“Yeah, of course.” He smiled wider but it hid his churning stomach. He wanted nothing more than to go with them - even if he had to fight Lance for his rightful spot as Shiro’s right hand. 

A siren sounded in the distance, a green light flashing throughout the hangar. It was time for ATLAS to depart, and for Keith to put his feelings aside and manage through an actual goodbye to his friends. Pidge hugged him first, and then Hunk and Matt and Shiro. He closed his eyes for a moment, enjoying the feeling of having his friends surround him. He thought for a second that maybe he would just get on the ship and say goodbye to his problems, but he knew better than that. 

“Okay guys, you have to go. Please tell her I’m sorry I couldn’t come.” He meant it from the bottom of his heart, but he knew words only went so far and didn’t begrudge the others from their private thoughts. 

Shiro hugged him sideways one last time. “Of course we will, right Lance?” Ever the diplomat. 

Lance turned to look at Keith in the eye for the first time in a long while. “Yeah. We will.” 

And that was that. Lance took the steps to ATLAS two at a time, getting inside so fast Keith barely had time to register that he was gone. Matt followed, and Pidge, then Hunk with a sad-looking wave. Shiro stood in front of Keith and smiled. 

“Call us whenever, okay?” 

“Yeah, Shiro. Bye.” 

---

Shiro settled into his seat at the helm of ATLAS, the cool leather chilling him for a moment before he was able to adjust. Where he used to stand, a more natural command center had been built, allowing Shiro to sit at his own controls while also viewing the support staff work in front of him. 

Being inside ATLAS felt like coming home. It reminded him, always, of piloting Black - the connection between he and his two ships was strong. But, where Black was noble and fierce, subtle with the way she interacted with him, save for their time together in the empty plane, ATLAS was still young and learning. She was eager to fly and mad she had been shelved for so long and she was making it known to everyone on board. Shiro could feel her semi-sentience, her energy poking at the back of his head like an intrusive thought he couldn’t get rid of, only live with. 

He smiled to himself, already having more fun than he had in ages. 

“Alright, crew,” he said, turning the intercom on. “Time to launch. All hands on deck, please.” Hearing his voice echo through the ship made him giddy, awkwardly smiling to himself while his crew watched. His stomach flipped and his palms began to sweat nearly as much as they had the very first time he flew any jet, let alone a full on spaceship. 

He watched as the crew grew synchronous, lights flashing across control panels and sirens blaring through the hull like some strange ballet performance. ATLAS rumbled to life, vibrating hard enough to send a shiver up Shiro’s spine. His teeth clattered but he smiled, and ATLAS rose off the ground, sending a painful swoosh through his stomach. 

But he smiled, he laughed, and he thanked God for this one last chance to see the stars. 

ATLAS and he shared their feelings - excitement running from one to the other like a Newton’s cradle, a wave between them of joy, curiosity, and awe. He watched as the ship approached the sky, as light blue turned to the inky blackness of space as they left Earth, and all it’s problems, behind. Though they entered dark horizons, Shiro was unafraid, the euphoria of flying still lifting him up. His smile was so large his face hurt, but he didn’t stop for anything. 

His crew cheered as they broke through the atmosphere and gunned the engines, shooting off towards their destination. The sound was loud, a sonic boom that echoed even in the vacuum of space, but the crew didn’t falter. Shiro knew he picked the right people, and sat awash in his pride. 

---

Keith closed the door behind him as quietly as he could and locked all of his locks before creeping upstairs. He suspected Crux would still be sleeping and he didn’t want to wake her and face her cranky wrath. He peeked into her room - his guest room, now full of her things - and saw her hair peeking out from underneath the light blue comforter strewn sideways across her bed. 

With ATLAS gone and Crux still months away from leaving to go back to her own home, Keith was forced to stay in an in-between place. So, he decided, he had no interest in waiting around. Not anymore. 

After coming home from the launch, Keith looked himself in the mirror and nearly destroyed it with his own self-disappointment. He was the goddamned Red Paladin - the one who accomplished the impossible, the one who found the Blades, the one who saved Shiro a thousand and one times. He could no longer recognize the bleary-eyed asshole in his reflection. 

So, riding the high of momentary self-actualization, he changed his entire life on a dime. 

Well, he thought about it. 

Electricity hummed under his skin as he ran around his house as quietly as possible, gathering things to take with him. His backpack filled quickly - a change of clothes, two knives, an instant camera, dog treats, and human snacks all thrown in with little to no organization. In the last bit of space he shoved in a water bottle and prayed it didn’t spill before throwing it over his back and stepping out the door. 

The air was cool for a desert town, but Keith was happy for it as he had picked long sleeves and pants just in case things got hairy. 

He jogged down the steps that went up to his front door and out to the back of his house, where Kosmo was rolling in the dirt. 

Keith had built an enormous shed out in the back of his house for Kosmo to hang out in when he didn’t want to be inside. It rivaled a large horse stable, but Kosmo preferred it to being fully enclosed, so Keith didn’t mind. Large inflatable beach toys littered the ground - the only things big enough to entertain a dog that was about to become taller than Keith himself, even on all fours. About once a week Keith thanked whatever gods there might be that he didn’t need to buy dog food for Kosmo - he hunted for himself, zapping to worlds unknown and coming back with a full belly and a wagging tail. 

Keith unhooked the lock to Kosmo’s yard (it’s certainly wasn’t Keith’s any longer) and stepped inside, shutting the wooden fence door behind him. The lock was more about keeping other people out than Kosmo in, but it still felt silly to build walls for an animal that could teleport. 

“Alright, boy. You have explaining to do,” he said, standing with his hands on his hips. 

Kosmo blinked slowly at him, his head cocked to one side. 

“Take me to the past.” 

Kosmo boofed.

“Let’s go time travel.” 

Kosmo rolled onto his back, offering his belly. 

“Don’t play dumb with me! I know you can travel through time. You already visited past-me.” 

Kosmo whined, wiggling for belly rubs. 

Keith sighed, grateful nobody was watching him. Kosmo’s fur was soft under his fingers and he buried his hands in it instinctively, digging deep until Kosmo’s tail was thumping against the ground, throwing dust up into the air. 

Keith used one hand to dig a treat out of his bag and tossed it into the air, knowing Kosmo would catch it without any effort, and sat down in the dirt so as to better scratch his “grade-A pupper”, to quote Pidge. 

“You’re a good boy, but there’s far more treats if you can show me how you got to the past.” 

Kosmo rolled in the dirt , flipping to his belly. His head went down to his delicately crossed front paws, and he closed his eyes, unimpressed by Keith’s pleas. 

Keith dug around in his bag, passed the treats Kosmo was attempting to nose at, and pulled out the only not-survival related item he had packed - a book, stolen from the library of Diabazaal (that he would return, eventually). 

His originally trip there was for information on the space whale, and though he left accomplishing much more than fact-gathering, he did get the only resource that might be available to him in the entire universe. 

The book was old and leather-bound, gold and purple designs embossed on the cover. It latched shut, as if to indicate it was full of secrets, but Keith had no time to wonder about where the book had come from - it took all of his effort just to read it, as his Galran was less than literate. 

Keith flipped to a page he had marked with a tiny, pink sticky note. The page, weathered yellow and torn with age, showed a small drawing of a whale. It was surprisingly accurate for it’s miniature scale - covered with flora and fauna, floating through some approximation of gamma rays or, maybe, light. Keith’s fingers brushed the drawing, hovering over the creature he was quite intent of finding again if it was his only hope of fixing his little situation. 

Keith turned the page to Kosmo and pointed, hoping he was indicating the whale. 

“Space whale! That’s where you’re from. You remember going through time?” 

Kosmo blinked. 

“The book says that creatures born of the time vortex can manipulate it. Is that true?”

Kosmo tilted his head, curious. 

Keith pressed his hands into his eyes, frustrated. Of course his wolf would be difficult today of all days. Usually Kosmo was very good about following commands - he learned fast and performed for fewer treats than regular Earth dogs. Keith wasn’t sure how intelligent Kosmo was exactly, but he knew he was smart enough to understand that Keith was trying to ask something of him. 

Keith moved from Kosmo’s side to sit down in front of him, rubbing his nose. “Kosmo, I need you to behave today. I tried to go to Diabazaal to figure out what I saw at the wedding and I only got so far. You’re my last chance.” 

Kosmo opened his eyes, staring at Keith, and huffed a little doggie sigh. 

“Tough day at the office, bud?” Keith asked, muttering to himself. 

Kosmo squinted, his blue eyebrow-like face markings furrowing like an angry little kid. 

“Okay, okay, I’m sorry. I just really need this favor.” 

Kosmo sighed again, and stood up. He shook himself, flinging dust and dirt out of his thick black and blue fur, making Keith sputter as it got into his eyes and mouth. Kosmo yipped, clearly trying to hurry Keith up. So Keith stood, rubbing at his eyes to clear them. 

Kosmo looked over his shoulder, seemingly indicating Keith should get on his back. Keith hesitated before pulling himself up, briefly wondering if he should figure out a saddle situation before the air turned electric, making his hair stand on end. 

Blipping between locations was uncomfortable enough - his skin was always left tingling for days after and sometimes he walked away with migraines big enough to force him into bed for ages, craving the dark calm of the inside of his blankets. But this was nothing so gentle - the electric buzzing made his head feel like it was about to cave in, like his skin was being pricked with needles. He held his breath instinctively, unable to suck in air even if he wanted to. Light flashed all around him, blinding white and blues seared into his retinas even with his eyelids closed. The feeling of moving forward swished through his belly and once they finally stopped Keith could all but jump off Kosmo and retch into the grass of wherever they had landed. 

Keith stumbled backwards and rubbed at his face, spitting the last of his own bile out of his mouth. But when he opened his eyes, his heart sank. 

They were in the same yard they had started in - Kosmo’s toys strewn about in the same way they had been when they left. He panted, and rubbed Kosmo on the nose while he gathered his thoughts and tried to push down the disappointment. He knew his experiments in time travel were bound to take a few (hundred) tries, but this was worse than he had anticipated.

“So, all that and we only traveled, what, a few minutes?” His voice cracked and he cringed as he listened to how pathetic he sounded. 

Kosmo shook his head, and Keith once again questioned just how smart his wolf really was. 

“If...if it had only been a few minutes, we would see ourselves. So, we need to figure out what day it is?” 

Kosmo lay down on the ground again, tail wagging gently. Keith dumped the bag of treats from his backpack on the ground for Kosmo to eat in his own time and ran out of the pen to his own front door. He shoved through the locks and stumbled in, looking for any sign of the exact day, cursing his own inability to keep a calendar pinned up somewhere. His house looked as it normally did - almost empty for its lack of decoration or any sign it was lived in. 

The sight was odd - looking for clues to the date forced him to evaluate his own home through new eyes, like some anthropologist doing the lamest research study ever imagined. H looked around and realized just how empty his walls were. Even though he stared at them every day, their stark whiteness making him feel sad for himself, like he had just noticed his life was quite possibly missing something. He didn’t have time for that, though, so he put his head down and kept digging through his possessions. 

At his desk the only clue he could gather was not by what he owned but by what he didn’t yet - there was no baby book - The Unexpected Father - placed lovingly and well intentioned-ly (but horribly embarrassingly) there by his mother yet, so he knew he was at minimum four weeks back in time. That knowledge made excitement run through him. He punched the air, relief falling out of his mouth in the form of an awkward, half-garbled laugh.  

Maybe, just maybe, it was possible to fix this mess he had fallen into.

Chapter Text

April 9th, 2149

Lance padded down the hall of ATLAS on his way to the training room. His hand flexed around air, missing his Bayard even years later, the same way he missed his family back on Earth. Though there were plenty of weapons in the gym and he could take down the sentries with his bare hands if need be, he missed the damn thing. It was yet another part of him he wasn’t ready to let go of when it was taken away too early. 

He tried to refocus, knowing that dwelling on those things weren’t going to help him, so he forced himself to think about what he most needed work on. Sniping? Sword work? He could train on it all if he so pleased, this trip was long enough. Six months in and another six to go. Though it sounded like a long time he knew every second would count, if he messed up Allura’s rescue he would never stop thinking about all the moments he wasted beforehand. No one could tell them what they were going to find at Hoag’s Object, even as they got closer and closer every day. His anxiety about it kept him up at night, making his thoughts run in circles, so instead of letting it win, he trained every moment he could. 

It was the middle of the night and the other Paladins were sleeping. Although he knew their rooms were quiet, he hesitated to make noise that could alert anyone to his midnight pretenses. If he were younger he might not have cared but how he felt some creeping anxiety at the idea of waking someone, startling them, making them see what he was doing. Everyone was on edge these days. Older, more cautious. Anything out of the ordinary made their war-worn hearts alert. 

Luckily, the trip from his room to the training gyms was a short one - left, left, right, down the elevator, and right again. He could do the trip in his sleep. Energy crept up his spine as he got closer, relieved to have made it almost all the way there without being caught. Yet he turned and found himself staring down the hall he had started in. 

Instead of deja vu , an even stranger thought crept into his mind - the feeling of needing to help someone, to comfort them. His hands no longer itched to hold a weapon, but a person. 

The crew said ATLAS liked to “help” sometimes, making rooms appear where there were none, shortening hallways, things like that. But Lance had never paid much attention to those rumors. He had his connection to Blue, and Red, and that was all he needed. He didn’t want some other metal hulk wiggling into his mind, not when he needed to stay on the mission at all times. He ignored the feeling and plowed forward, keeping his head down and laser-focused. 

He cranked the volume of his music, blasting into his ears from his data pad, and started to jog. 

The light from under Pidge’s room was off, but Hunk’s was on. The light from Allura’s was off as well, but that sight was one he tried to avoid, turning away from her door to look at Shiro’s. His light was on. 

Lance’s music stopped, jarring him with the sudden silence. He sighed and pulled his headphones off and glanced down at his data pad. The music was paused, though he was sure he wasn’t the one that had done that. Just as he began to start his music again, he heard the low rumble of Shiro’s voice as he spoke to someone inside his room. 

Lance glanced around himself and, seeing no one, slid over to Shiro’s door. 

“Of course I miss you,” he said, his tone low. If Lance had to guess, he would say Shiro sounded embarrassed more than mournful. 

The quiet hum of someone (Curtis?) spoke before Shiro replied. 

“I don’t want to end it like this. Just wait for me, please.” 

Lance’s eyes went wide as he listened to Shiro plead with his husband. His stomach sank, a cold sweat breaking out on his palms. He definitely shouldn’t have heard that. 

Lance yanked his headphones back on and cranked his music up, running away from Shiro’s room and towards the gym. 

---

Keith woke up in a start, throwing off his covers as his alarm clock blared. The first thing he noticed after slamming his alarm off is that the heat in his house must have been cranked way up and he was sweating, sticking to his sheets. A small crash from his kitchen came from beneath him, and he knew instantly Crux must have gotten up before him. She probably knocked the thermostat up. Irritation ran through Keith, knowing he couldn’t exactly complain about the heat bill to her as she didn’t understand why humans needed to pay for heat (or water, or internet, or food). 

He could hear her voice now, sing-song. “On Diabazaal all of those things are provided as rights.” 

Keith rolled his shoulders and got out of bed. In the mirror that hung above his dresser he looked at himself, hair mussed and skin glossy with sweat. He looked away, pulling himself from his own image, and threw on a black tank top and some boxers, not really caring how Crux saw him anymore - she had seen him in worse states before. He shoved those memories back and out of his mind, cringing at himself. 

With a yawn he descended the stairs and walked into his kitchen to find Crux and ask if she could spare some breakfast for him. Instead, he walked into his mother. 

“Hi, sweetpea.” 

Keith stepped back, assessing her for a moment. “Hi mom. Why are you here?” 

He was less surprised to see her, and more surprised to see her upright. 

“What, I can’t come visit my son?” she said with a smile, startling Keith with her honest and cheerful expression. The last few times they had been together, Krolia had needed to take a nap halfway through. 

Keith squinted. “Tell me the truth.” 

“In a moment, kiddo. First, breakfast!” 

Krolia pointed him to the kitchen table, where two glasses, two plates, and two sets of silverware were already laid out. Keith sat, apprehensive, and watched as Krolia cooked for them both. She moved around the kitchen with the ease of someone who hadn’t been mysteriously ill for the last eight months - going between stove and fridge with a dancer’s (or fighter’s) grace, working with three different pans, not a stream of smoke to be seen. 

With a flourish, she plopped fried eggs, bacon, sausage, and toast on his plate, Jelly and peanut butter came out of the fridge, and she peeled an orange with her talons, making quick work of the rind and tossing it out the window with little care in the world. 

“Where’s Crux?” Keith asked, realizing there was no place setting for her as Krolia sat and served herself. Still, he began to eat. 

The food was better than her usual, but still had odd undertones and left an indiscernible aftertaste in his mouth. Keith supposed his mother would probably never cook anything “normal”, but he didn’t mind too much anymore. At this point, he expected her weird combinations.

“I asked her to eat on the porch so we may speak in private.” His mother did not seem embarrassed at all to have removed a pregnant woman from her own house, and Keith made a note to dissect that piece of personality later, unsure of how to react to it now. Unease was likely the right emotion, but he would decide after breakfast. 

Whatever he was supposed to be feeling for Crux, he knew he was nervous to hear whatever his mother had to say. She was a stoic woman on the best of days, and after her months long depression, seeing her so peppy made Keith want to shrink. 

Krolia reached out her hand and placed it on Keith’s. Her hand was a comfort, but still he felt a bit like a small child looking up at his mother, wondering if he was to be sent to bed with no dinner. 

She cleared her throat. “Recently, I have been given an opportunity but I am not sure I will take it, as I wanted to talk to you first.” She didn’t sound nearly as nervous as Keith felt, which was a comfort, but he proceeded with caution anyway.

Keith frowned. “Are you going to Diabazaal…?” 

Krolia smiled, but shook her head. “It’s more personal, I suppose. As you know, I loved - and still love - your father. However...there may be someone.” Her tone changed as she spoke this time, becoming almost wistful. Keith was familiar with the way his mother spoke about his pop, but to hear the word ‘someone’ ...

Keith blanched, shocked. Never once in his life had his mother genuinely mentioned any romantic pursuits, or even the idea of one. 

“Well,” he started, thinking about what he wanted to say as he said it. “I think, you know, if you’re happy, that’s important.” 

He pulled his hand back and scratched the back of his neck, awkward. What else was he supposed to say? He had no control over his mother’s actions, even less her feelings. He immediately began the work to push down his own opinions on her personal life, knowing he had no right to attempt to change his mother’s life. His more bitter self might try, but he had vowed to himself long ago that if he wanted to forgive her her faults, he couldn’t keep bringing them up. 

“You wouldn’t feel as if I am trying to replace your father?” 

“No,” he said, unsure of his answer. “Who is it? Do I know him?” 

Krolia smiled. “Yes. And I think this will make things easier for you. Again, as you know, Kolivan and I--” 

“Kolivan.” 

“Yes.” 

“My commander.” 

“My friend, Keith. My oldest friend.” 

Outside, a cloud shifted, and sun streamed into Keith’s eyes through the window, making him close his eyes. 

Krolia’s tone changed, her next words in her usual stoic, rock-solid way of speaking. “If you don’t feel comfortable, I can readjust my plans. You come first, Keith.” 

“No mom, it’s fine, I’m just surprised, I guess,” he lied. 

Krolia stood and hugged him, her arms warm and tight. When she released him and moved back to the kitchen to clean up her mess, he felt oddly lonely watching her go, like he missed her even from such a nothing distance.

---

Outside, Keith took a breath of fresh air. To his right, Crux sat on the porch swing, gently swinging back and forth. 

“Good morning, Keith.” Her hand rested on her belly, growing larger and larger by the day. “Are you going to practice time traveling again?” 

“Yeah,” he huffed. 

“Are you happy for your mom?” 

“Yes.” 

Crux chuckled. “You don’t really seem very happy. What if time-traveling breaks them up?” she spoke with less of a smile and more of a shit-eating grin.

Keith didn’t respond, instead choosing to walk down his front steps and to go around his house to where Kosmo sat in his pen. 

Today, Keith’s bag was specifically built. In it he tucked a wrapped present, a suit, a green boutonniere, and a re-creation of a wedding invitation. He did not expect to use them, but he brought them as a plan B, should he need it. 

Kosmo stood from where he sat in the dirt, shaking himself free of debris. His tongue lolled out of his mouth as he walked over to the entrance of the gate. After so many days spent practicing, he knew what was coming when Keith walked towards him with a backpack and a satchel of dog treats, and boy did he act like it. 

His tail wagged as Keith walked towards him, his nose sticking out above the fence around the pen and he sniffed the air for the smell of treats. 

“Today’s the big day, boy. We’re fixing this whole thing, and everything can go back to normal.”

Kosmo let out a small boof as Keith opened the pen and let himself inside. He expected himself to be nervous about it, but he remained calm. Somewhere in the back of his mind he knew he was operating off autopilot, like he did back when the Paladins fought enemies across the stars. This might be significantly less glamorous that forming Voltron, but he focused himself all the same. 

With a breath, Keith cleared his mind. An empty feeling consumed him, void of all motivations accept one - the plan. 

The sound of electricity crackled through the air as Kosmo prepared himself, already well aware of what was coming. Ozone flooded Keith’s nose, making him cough as he climbed up on Kosmo’s shoulders, holding tight and bracing against what he knew was going to be the worst trip yet. 

A light flashed, enveloping both he and his dog, and they were off. 

Pressure squeezed Keith from all directions, making him feel like he was being sucked through a wormhole without a ship to protect him. The light blinded him even through his closed eyelids, turning the world red and yellow. It was impossible to move or adjust himself in order to hide from the light and the pressure and the smell; he had to endure it for what could have been hours, days, years, just seconds - he had no reference point, as if his internal clock stopped as they jumped through time. 

Stopping was like exiting the atmosphere, or swimming up to the surface of the ocean, or slamming head-first into a brick wall with no helmet. All of that pressure evaporated in a second, making him feel like he was expanding back to his original size. His ears popped, and his head rang. 

June 1st, 2147

Keith stumbled down from Kosmo’s back and retched on the ground as his head adjusted to the regular atmospheric pressure of Earth. 

They had landed in the woods that surround the castle in which Shiro and Curtis were to be wed. The forest smelled like pine and dirt, and the air was cool in the shade though he knew it would be hot in the sun. Keith looked around himself and could see the Paladins setting up chairs on the lawn through the trees. He watched himself sulk around. 

“Am I really that obvious?” he muttered to Kosmo. 

Kosmo whined. 

Keith checked his watch while ignoring the sassing he was receiving from Kosmo. There were three hours till the ceremony, and another three till he would be able to meet himself in private. Six hours between now and fixing his life. He had the patience but he wasn’t sure Kosmo did - they were farther in the past then ever, and Kosmo had never stayed anywhere longer than five and a half hours. 

His stomach churned with anxiety, and he huffed a sour laugh - he knew his other self was anxious about this day too, but for totally different reasons. What a coincidence. 

Keith sat down on the ground, leaning against a tree, and pat the ground for Kosmo to lay down next to him. He pulled out his knife and steel and began to sharpen his blade, slowly and carefully, more a reflex than a need, without taking his eyes off of the crowd forming at the base of the castle. 

He settled in. The bark of the tree scratched his back and tangled in his hair, but he leaned back into it, accepting the annoyance as something he couldn’t change. The heat of summer danced across his skin but it wasn’t irritating, not when he wasn’t in his best man suit. Birds chirped in the trees, their songs mixing with the slow slide of blade against metal. He had half a mind to drift off to sleep in the haze of June air, but he kept one eye open, anxious about being caught. Kosmo, though, snoozed next to him. 

Keith smiled. There was something nice about staying on mission, totally focused and at peace with the outcome - he knew he was going to be successful because he had to be. He needed to warn himself against himself, tell himself never to take reckless actions, to avoid seedy hotels and beautiful women, to break clean from Shiro once and for all. 

A strange calm ran over him. After this, there would be no baby, no heartbreak still lingering. He would say goodbye, and that would be that. 

Keith watched himself for most of the afternoon, occasionally standing to stretch or follow the action by moving along the treeline. He knew what he was doing, staying out of the way and avoiding even the smallest of twigs so no one heard him in the distance. He stood and watched, or sat and watched, as the sun moved through the sky and the crowd on the lawn moved with it, like some solar dance. 

Lance and Pidge chased each other while Hunk laughed, tossing flowers at them. Coran took pictures on his old camera, the type that printed physical photos immediately. The lawn was torn up as the Paladins and the guests wandered about, all with smiles on their faces. 

Keith watched himself leave the party, remembering the excruciating pain of being excluded by his own volition. If he had a flaw it was self-isolation, he thought as he stared at his own disappearing back. 

If time had been impossible to track before, as they warped, now it was excruciating. Only the lengthening shadows marked time out here as he waited. 

As the sun began to skim the tops of the trees, the ceremony began. 

Keith walked forward until he was barely concealed by the front-most tree. It’s large trunk let him hide easily, just poking his head around to watch as the guests stood for Shiro, descending down the lawn from the castle towards his future. Keith’s hands gripped the bark so hard he was half-sure he might be drawing blood, but he couldn’t stop himself. He clung for dear life. 

Shiro’s steps were sure and confident. He smiled gently towards the stone slab of an altar. Keith followed him with his eyes, eventually landing on his own face. 

Dear God, he was making it obvious, wasn’t he. Any calm he had built in the three hours he had waited was gone now, pushed out of his body as the wedding began. It was as if the music and wedding bells had awoken some beat inside him. He could no longer be calm, even when he was sure that after today his life would be as fixed as it ever could be. 

His face was a deep frown, his brows furrowed. He stood with his arms crossed, like he was waiting for someone to begin yelling at him. His face was younger, but still tired and stressed out - bags hung beneath his eyes and the creases around his mouth let on just how he was feeling. 

He felt embarrassed as he looked at himself. It was obvious what a fool he was, how stupid and pig headed. A flush of shame ran through him, making him drop his eyes to the ground. He studied the grass as he willed himself not to cry - not this time, not again, despite the burning pain in his throat as he began to listen to the vows.

For a distraction he glanced across the crowd, seeing his mother and Kolivan leaning into one another. If he hadn’t been so foolish and single-minded at the wedding the first time around he might have figured out that there was something going on between them. His mother had a ghost of a smile on her face, her head gently tilted towards Kolivan’s. She looked happy, pleasant even. 

Keith felt two things - anger, anger at his mother for moving on, and embarrassment over the fact that he was angry. 

Removed from his own bubble and being forced to watch himself he could only think one thing. 

“What a shame.”

Kosmo nosed at his hand and he scratched the dog reflexively, burying his fingers in his soft fur. This familiarity was a small comfort, but not one that could make him feel good enough to give up on his plan. 

“Just a little longer, boy.” 

Kosmo huffed and whined, pacing back and forth behind him. His paws crunched leaves and twigs, making Keith move to soothe him, not wanting someone in the wedding party to hear them. 

“Shh, shh,” he whispered, scratching Kosmo’s head.

Kosmo had never gotten them so far into the past, and Keith knew he was likely very uncomfortable based on all of their previous attempts at traveling. Kosmo was strong, but he was only so strong, and Keith was loathe to push him far enough that he got hurt. 

Despite his attention being drawn by Kosmo, Keith couldn’t help but turn and watch as Shiro walked back down the aisle, this time with Curtis at his arm. 

---

The sky darkened quickly, the moon coming out over the trees bright and powerful like it was determined to light up the castle better than the lights. Keith remained in the forest but trained his eyes on the balconies, waiting to see himself stumble through the doors and catch his breath in the cool night air. 

Kosmo continued to cry, staring down at Keith more urgently as the minutes slipped by. Ozone began to leak into the air, coming off Kosmo like a slow fog. Keith only had a few minutes left, and he needed to talk to himself. 

Sweat trickled down his neck despite the cool air and his heart picked up in his chest, its tempo frighteningly fast. 

“It’s okay, Kosmo, it’s okay. We’re gonna be just fine,” he muttered, half to his dog and half to himself. He could hear how his voice caught on his own anxiety, rough and scratched like an old record. 

Every time the doors to the balconies opened Keith’s breath hitched, but each time he was disappointed. Pretty girls came out to fan themselves or kiss their boyfriends, men went out to smoke, children snuck outside only to be grabbed by their mothers and fathers.

As he began to wonder if he should go up to the castle himself and just get the whole thing over with, the doors opened one last time. 

Keith looked up at himself and, spurred on by a brief flash of hope, began to walk across the lawn, knowing he would get his own attention. 

The time was now to change his future. He might never be able to change who loved him, or how Shiro acted, but he could change himself. That was one universal truth - he could be in charge of himself, always. 

He waited and waited and waited, petting Kosmo all the while, as his past self ran down the lawn towards them. 

This time, their conversation would be different. 

“Who are you?” his past self yelled, coming to a stumbling halt on the grass. 

“Who do you think I am?” Keith responded, unable to hide the snark. Anger flourished in his heart, angry at his past self for not being able to move on, for not changing anything about his life, for getting him to where he was now. 

“Why are you wearing my face?” his past self asked, pulling his blade from the back of his pants. 

Kosmo, stuck between the two of them, whined and barked, anxious to get back home where he could rest. 

“I’m not wearing it, I am it. You need to listen to me,” he started, talking even as he began to climb onto Kosmo’s back, signaling to him that it was time to leave. 

“I know you’re angry and hurt, but he’s never going to-” 

Kosmo burned underneath him, and they were off before Keith could finish his sentence.