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Under Your Skin

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“Would you want to design tattoos for each other?” Shiro asks out of the blue one day, arms crossed as he leans casually back against his hoverbike, eyes on the horizon.

“… What?” Keith asks, brow furrowing. “Like matching tattoos?”

Keith is unable to disguise his incredulity and he knows it. He’s sure his face must be doing funny things as he wipes his hair out of his face and stands there, one hip jutted out. He was halfway through shrugging off his leather jacket, too warm from the late afternoon sun, and Shiro’s question has definitely arrested him.

“Not matching, necessarily, no,” Shiro answers, laughing. He slumps against the hoverbike, looking effortlessly cool. “Although, it’d be pretty funny if they ended up matching, huh?” When Keith continues to stare at him, Shiro shrugs, his cheeks blazing pink. “I thought— it’d be really fun if we designed tattoos for each other.”

“Okay. But why?” Keith peers at Shiro. Despite his uncertainty over Shiro’s proposed plan, he feels a small smile pluck at the corner of his mouth, and he asks teasingly, “It’s because you can’t think of something for yourself, isn’t it?”

“No!” Shiro protests, perhaps a little overly loud. Then he wilts just slightly. “I mean… maybe a little?”

Keith laughs. “I knew it.”

He tosses his jacket up over the hoverbike’s seat and shifts to drop back against Shiro’s hoverbike. It puts him right next to Shiro.

They’d taken the bikes out for one of their typical afternoon races, streaming through the desert and looping around one another. They’ve stopped at their usual spot, resting and sun-bathing. They’ll head back again once the sun goes down. But it’s something of a tradition now to watch the sunset together.

It’s a nice freedom to be out here, a luxury they can take together— just the two of them, settling into a world of peace. Easy and simple. Keith’s grateful for it, not just for his sake, but for Shiro’s— after so many months after the war’s end, things are finally starting to settle down.

Standing beside Shiro, Keith fights the temptation to rest his head on Shiro’s shoulder. It’d be easy to do, he thinks. Just slump and feel safe. But as with all things when it comes to romantic moments with Shiro, he resists, never willing to cross that tentative line between friendship and something else.

Instead of something so overtly vulnerable, Keith aims for friendly instead: he nudges his shoulder against Shiro’s arm, his eyebrows lifting.

“I didn’t realize you were thinking of getting a tattoo,” he admits. He keeps his tone conversational, inviting Shiro to elaborate.

Shiro doesn’t, though. He just shrugs, his expression turning a bit shy. “Ah, yeah. Well. You know. Just something I’ve been tossing around… you know?”

It’s vague but Keith doesn’t push him. If Shiro wants to share with Keith, he will. Keith isn’t going to goad him into sharing something he isn’t comfortable with.

“Hey, you don’t need to justify it,” Keith assures him. “If you just wanted one cause it’d make you look even cooler, that’s totally fair.”

It makes Shiro laugh, just like Keith hoped it would. “Even cooler, huh?”

His smile is open and sweet, arresting Keith’s attention far more than the sun ever could. Longing blooms open inside Keith as he watches Shiro smile. Keith’s long since accepted that he’s always going to feel a little warm and squirmy whenever Shiro smiles.

“Yeah,” Keith croaks. “Even cooler. You’re cool and you know it. Don’t even pretend.”

Shiro snorts another laugh and his smile turns sly. Oh, he knows exactly how cool everyone thinks he is. Keith, of course, knows the truth of it: Shiro’s cool, yes, but he’s also ridiculous. But that’s the privilege of being the Best Friend, Keith supposes.

“But really,” Shiro admits. “I thought it’d be fun. I’d design something for you and you’d design something for me.” Shiro glances sidelong at Keith, meeting his eyes casually. “Seems like a nice thing to do with a friend, right?”

“Oh,” Keith answers, unsure how to respond to that. It’s not as if Keith has a wide arsenal of knowledge on what typical friendship activities are, and it’s not as if he’s ever gotten a tattoo, either. Not that he’s opposed to the idea.

“And we could even make them a surprise,” Shiro continues, perking up now that Keith’s not just shooting the idea down. As if Keith ever would. As if Keith could ever say no to Shiro. “We could give the design to the artist and only see what we’ve done once it’s on. Good chance to get creative, right?”

“Um,” Keith says. “What if you hate it, though? It’s permanent.”

“How could I hate anything you’d make, Keith?” Shiro asks gently, his eyes so big and sparkling. “It’d be a gift from you.”

Keith really isn’t sure how to respond to that either.

He feels his heart stutter to a pathetic halt in his chest before he reminds himself that Shiro doesn’t mean anything deeper from that.

Shiro must see the hesitancy in Keith’s expression, though.

Keith knows the look well, the quiet way Shiro packs away what he wants and sets it aside like it’s easy. Shiro is used to sacrifice in the end, even on small things like this— things that don’t affect the universe but only have to do with his own desires.

Shiro smiles at Keith, good-natured and sweet, and waves his hand— already dismissing his own idea. “Ah, but don’t feel like you have to. It was just an idea.”

“You’ve been thinking about this a lot,” Keith protests.

“It was just a random thought. No big deal,” Shiro dismisses and Keith knows it’s a lie. Shiro is impulsive just like Keith, even if he can rein it in, but this is something he’s clearly been thinking about, mulling over and turning over and over in his mind. The fact that he’d bring it up here, out in the desert, at their spot proves how important it actually is to Shiro.

“Maybe we can check them off with each other before we have them inked permanently into our skin?” Keith asks.

“Where’s the fun in that, though?” Shiro answers and grins. His grin turns sharp at the edges, the hints of competitiveness shining through. Competition is never far from Shiro, after all. “Where’s your sense of adventure, Keith?”

Keith snorts, unable to fight back his answering smile. “Just for that, I’m going to give you something you’ll hate. Slav surrounded by hearts.”

Shiro shudders. “Don’t you dare.”

Keith barks a laugh and Shiro answers with that same competitive grin, shoving his shoulder against Keith’s and nearly knocking him across the sand. Keith sways back into Shiro’s orbit, shoving back against him and they meet an impasse, simply leaning each other’s weights against one another.

There’s some little comfort in that, too. Keith can’t help his amused hum. He feels Shiro’s barely suppressed laughter rippling up the warm line of his body.

After a pause, Keith admits, “I just… don’t want to design something you’d hate.”

Shiro’s expression gentles when he glances at Keith. It nearly makes Keith start blushing and he’s grateful for the late afternoon sun washing everything in a golden hue, obscuring Keith’s embarrassment, he hopes.

“I told you,” Shiro answers. “If it’s from you, I could never hate it.”

Again, it’s so earnest and his eyes are so deep and so beautiful— like the sky itself— and Keith swallows again as his heart does the stupid squirmy thing in his chest. Even though he hasn’t said it outright, Keith already knows he’s going to do this for Shiro. There’s no end to the things he’d do for Shiro.

“Keith, you’re…” Shiro begins, and then hesitates. He so rarely hesitates, but he watches Keith’s face for a breath too long before he finally says, “You’re the most important person in my life. If I want anyone to design something for me, it’d obviously be you.”

Keith’s blush intensifies. No hope of blaming the sunlight and the desert heat, he thinks. But Shiro’s cheeks look a bit pinker in the wake of his words, too.

Keith would love to just sit with the feeling of it, letting those words wash over him. The most important person in my life.

He takes a deep breath. Well, he already knew he was going to do this for Shiro.

“Okay,” Keith decides— because, in the end, he can deny Shiro nothing; in the end, he’s always going to do anything he can to make Shiro happy— and it’s worth it when Shiro’s eyes light up.

“Really?”

“Yeah,” Keith answers. “Let’s do it.”

Shiro grins at him, his face a brilliant light in the desert.

 

-

 

Keith already guessed that Shiro had been thinking about this for a while, but he’s sure of it when Shiro swipes up on his PADD and shows Keith a collection of promotional photos and social media posts, all displaying other people’s tattoos. They’re examples of work from the artists he’s been researching for their tattoos. Shiro is meticulous as he swipes through each photo and explains who the artist is and what their specialties are.

By the end of the crash-course, Keith’s head is buzzing with all the different styles and ideas. When Shiro asks Keith if he had a favorite, Keith can truthfully answer that he’s not particularly picky. Maybe that should strike him as strange— maybe he should have more of an opinion on who’s going to be in charge of inking something into his skin.

But he trusts Shiro and he trusts Shiro’s decision-making. When Shiro shyly admits which of the artists is his favorite— a woman in a city a few hours away— it’s not even a question for Keith.

“We’ll go to her, then,” Keith says.

“If you want to take a few days to—”

“Her,” Keith repeats, smoothly cutting Shiro off. He pokes his finger down against the datapad for emphasis.

Shiro chuffs a laugh, his smile dimpling his cheeks. He looks excited and that’s something that Keith is always going to cherish.

“I’ve already started thinking about what to design for you, Keith,” Shiro admits.

Keith doesn’t even try to fight his blush. “Slav with a heart, right?”

Shiro snorts and shoves him playfully, his hand lingering on his bicep even after he’s finished. It slides up to his shoulder, resting there. Shiro looks lighter than he has in years, his eyes shining.

Keith wants to chase this feeling. He wants to make the world sweet and peaceful and perfect for Shiro. He wants Shiro to do all the silly, weird, strange, and exciting things he’s always wanted to do. They have time now. They can do whatever they want.

All Keith wants to do is make Shiro happy. Just like this.

“It’ll be good,” Shiro promises. “You deserve the best.”

“Ha,” Keith breathes, face turning red. “You too, you know.”

“I know,” Shiro murmurs, and that alone is a gift— that Shiro can agree to it, even if Keith knows he doesn’t quite believe it yet. At least now he doesn’t dismiss it outright or hastily change the subject whenever Keith mentions it.

Keith wants to fling himself at Shiro. He wants to hug him tight and whisper all the praises he can think of into his ear. He wants to cradle him close and swear his devotion forever. Because Shiro has always been worth it. Because Shiro has always deserved it.

Instead, he just leans into the steady hand on his shoulder. “So, you know where on me it’s going?”

“It’s a secret,” Shiro says. And then, clearly just to devastate Keith further, he winks.

 

-

 

Despite their agreement, it takes a few weeks before anything can come of it. They still need to design the tattoos themselves, after all, not to mention coordinating with their chosen artist.

She has a waiting list, given her general popularity and the fact that she’s one of the few tattoo artists in the area who’s still open after the invasion. Shiro spearheads communications with her. Keith assists by hovering over Shiro’s shoulder and frowning down at the correspondence.

“Looks like some slots are finally opening up,” Shiro tells him, tipping the datapad so Keith can read.

“Great.”

“We could get appointments at the same time…” Shiro hedges, flipping through the PADD.

“Or,” Keith prompts, because he can hear the ‘or’ Shiro’s not saying.

“… Or,” Shiro agrees, glancing at him with a shy smile, “we could do one right after the other. Then we could stay with each other for support.”

“Need someone to hold your hand?” Keith teases.

Shiro laughs and catches Keith’s hand, giving it a hearty squeeze. It makes Keith’s heart leap.

“Kind of?” Shiro says and grins, his expression just a touch shy. The schedule blinks up invitingly from the screen, willing Keith to do what Shiro so clearly wants.

As if that would ever be in question. Keith’s heart melts and he squeezes Shiro’s hand before he lets it go. “Okay. Yeah. Let’s do that.”

Shiro and Keith select their appointment times— Keith first and then Shiro.

 

-

 

Schedules firmed up, Keith starts in earnest to design the tattoo for Shiro. It needs to be perfect. That, he knows. He also knows that Shiro means it when he says he’ll like whatever Keith makes, but that doesn’t mean Keith doesn’t want to make it perfect.

He’s been mulling over the ideas ever since Shiro first suggested it, that day in the desert. Shiro’s new tattoo needs to be something that he would like, something that represents him, and that he would be happy to have on his body permanently.

Stars are the obvious choice. Anything having to do with space and the cosmos. Voltron, too, is an obvious choice— although Keith hesitates.

He’s still thinking about it as he watches Shiro laugh with Allura during the weekly Paladin Dinner, hosted at Hunk’s family’s house tonight, which means an overabundance of food. Shiro’s helping Allura find the non-cow related food, an expert in locating vegan and vegetarian options in a sea of meat dishes. Thankfully the Paladins have learned well enough to make sure such options are available ever since Allura learned that cheese comes from the same place as milk.

Keith’s barely focusing on his dinner plate, his chin in his hand, elbow on the table (which he’s surprised Lance hasn’t squawked at him for yet), just staring at Shiro as he thinks over the design he wants to give him. Keith’s already run through many, many pages of his sketchbook with discarded ideas. His wastebasket in his room on the Atlas is full of discarded, unworthy designs.

Shiro deserves perfection.

Maybe Voltron would be too sour a subject. The Lions are gone now, Voltron sacrificed to save the universe. But considering all the pain and hardship and heartbreak they’ve suffered for the sake of the universe, maybe Shiro wouldn’t be super pleased to have those reminders etched into his skin permanently.

As Keith scowls, Shiro looks up from his dinner plate to meet Keith’s eye— and Keith tries to school his expression away from something quite so thunderous. Instead of looking alarmed or concerned, though, Shiro seizes up one of the serving spoons, dishes up a hefty portion, and drops it onto Keith’s empty plate.

“Eat,” he tells Keith, smiling at him. “Don’t think so hard.”

Shiro’s always understood Keith too well. Keith blushes, ducks his head, and shovels some food into his mouth. Maybe he was a little hungry. Eating instantly makes him feel better.

Maybe Shiro’s tattoo should be the stars after all. A moon with a shooting star. The Kerberos ship, maybe, or perhaps that’d also be too painful.

Keith eats.

After dinner, when the Paladins have worn themselves out with talk-yelling and wolfing down food, all of them lounging in Hunk’s backyard, Shiro cups Keith’s elbow and pulls him aside.

“You alright? You were quiet at dinner,” Shiro says.

“I’m always quiet,” Keith teases.

It doesn’t work to distract Shiro, though. He gives him a small smile, acknowledging the joke, but just tilts his head. His hand stays on Keith’s elbow.

Keith sighs and shakes his head. “Got a lot on my mind.” He waves his hand around absently in an unspecified gesture. “Designing.”

Shiro’s brow furrows. “Oh.”

“It’s nothing bad,” Keith assures him. “I’m just… I want it to be perfect for you, Shiro.”

Shiro’s mouth quirks into a softer smile and he shakes his head. He slings his arm around Keith’s shoulders and tugs him in hard against his side. It’s hardly cold tonight but still Keith appreciates the way Shiro always radiates warmth, both literally and figuratively. Keith leans into his side, slinging his arm around Shiro’s back in a half-hug.

They stand like that, watching the others lounge around the fire Hunk’s coaxed to life in his family’s firepit. The flames lick up towards the sky, illuminating their friends. He and Shiro stand just beyond the circle of light, watching.

Keith feels overwarm, like he’s standing right in the fire. But it’s just being with Shiro.

“It means a lot to me that you care this much,” Shiro says. “But… seriously, I know you’re not about to give me a Slav tattoo. Whatever you come up with, I’ll love it.”

“So confident,” Keith mutters.

Shiro hip-checks him. Or it’s something like a hip-check; it feels more like Shiro’s just sinking into him.

“I never doubt you, Keith.”

Keith’s heart leaps. There’s no sense in feeling so stupidly pleased by the words, but he can’t help it. He smiles as he looks up at Shiro, his cheeks pink. Shiro’s eyes flicker with the fire, bathing his handsome face in the soft golden light.

“I know it’s important to you,” Keith says. “I want to make sure I don’t fuck it up.”

Shiro hums and squeezes him in closer, his arm tight around his shoulder. “Keith,” he says. “I just thought it’d be a fun thing to do together. You don’t have to think too hard.”

“As if you aren’t agonizing over what you’re designing for me,” Keith mutters.

“Guilty,” Shiro admits. He holds up his free hand in a conciliatory gesture, laughing. “I should follow my own advice, too.”

The Paladins in front of them ooo and ahhh as the firepit’s fire swells with flames, little dancing flickers through the air in a shower of sparks. Allura claps.

“I just…” Keith hesitates. “I want it to be significant. But I don’t want it to— I don’t know. Give bad memories.”

Shiro considers that. They stand in silence, watching the fire and as the Paladins settle around its roaring flame. Shiro’s hand is a warm brand against Keith’s shoulder.

Slowly, Keith leans further into Shiro’s side, head on his shoulder. Shiro hums and squeezes him close.

“Let’s sit by the fire,” Shiro says, stepping towards the firepit. There’s a stray few seats left open for the two of them.

Keith follows, dropping into an empty seat beside Shiro. Once he’s settled, Shiro leans in closer so that the other Paladins won’t overhear him. It puts his lips dangerously close to ghosting over Keith’s ear as he leans in. Keith steels himself.

“I trust you,” Shiro tells him.

Whispered against his ear, such words really are agony. Keith shivers, his gut roiling, unable to resist thinking about other contexts in which he might be with Shiro in the dark, with Shiro whispering against Keith’s ear that he trusts him.

He must shiver enough that Shiro mistakes him for being cold. His arm tightens around Keith’s shoulders, drawing him in closer. Keith grunts, pressing his face against his chest, feeling the steady beat of Shiro’s heart.

“Whatever we come up with, Keith,” Shiro tells him, his voice rumbling in his chest and up against Keith’s ear where it’s pressed securely against Shiro’s devastating vee-neck. “It’ll be good. The fact you’re thinking so much about it proves it. And I’ll make sure yours is good, too.”

“Yeah,” Keith says. “I’d take anything from you.” He coughs quickly and adds, “Even a Slav tattoo.”

“I would never,” Shiro teases, even if his voice sounds a little squeaky.

They watch the fire.

 

-

 

That night, once Keith returns to his quarters on the Atlas, he sketches out a new design. He works for hours, scraping and rescraping his pencil across the page.

By the time the sky outside dusts grey, hinting at sunrise, Keith thinks he’s done it.

He lets the design sit for a few days without looking at it, afraid of overworking it or hating it upon revisiting it. But when he looks at it again, he thinks it again— it’s exactly what Shiro needs.

He can’t wipe away his grin for the rest of the week.

 

-

 

The day of their appointment comes after their initial meetings with the tattoo artist, coordinating the tattoos with her in secret from the other, making adjustments at her suggestion for the stencil, and so on. It’s been a long enough process that by the time the day finally arrives, Keith’s nearly vibrating out of his skin.

Shiro borrows a car from the Garrison for transportation and the two of them make the hours’ long drive across the bumpy roads. Highways are still a hit-or-miss this soon after the war, but with some navigation hiccups and maneuvering through huge slabs of upheaved concrete, they make it to their first appointment time with plenty of time to spare.

“It’s nice,” Shiro says softly as they approach.

“What?”

“Even after the war, even after everything Earth’s been through…” He gestures up at the tattoo parlor’s sign. “We can still find a way to make art. That hasn’t been forgotten.”

Art. Keith’s heart gives a little quivering leap, anxiety mounting again. He just hopes Shiro ends up liking what it is he’s created for him.

“Yeah,” Keith finally says. “It’s… it’s really good.”

Shiro’s big hand closes around Keith’s shoulder, settling him. Keith looks up at his best friend, meeting his eyes. They hold one another’s gaze for perhaps just a beat too long, but Keith isn’t about to look away. He could stare at Shiro for hours, if he could get away with it, just drinking him in.

Shiro’s smile is unbearably sweet as he looks at Keith. He squeezes his shoulder. “I’m excited.”

“Yeah, me too,” Keith admits. Beneath the layers of anxiety, he’s excited. He doesn’t doubt that whatever he ends up getting tattooed from Shiro will be good. He just hopes Shiro will be able to say the same.

They get themselves situated. When the tattoo artist instructs Keith to take off his shirt and lie on his stomach, Keith can’t help a sheepish laugh.

“What?” Shiro asks as Keith shrugs out of his jacket, handing it off to Shiro before he pulls his old tee-shirt over his head.

“I picked your back, too,” Keith confesses, blushing as he hands off his shirt, too. He thinks he sees Shiro’s eyes sweep over his chest, but he’s not sure. He’s already turning away, climbing up onto the chair and getting comfortable as the tattoo artist prepares her tools and equipment. She applies the stencil to his back, revealing nothing— she’s aware of their dumb game and if she disapproves, she’s too professional to show it.

Shiro settles on the other side of where the artist sits. He holds out his hand to Keith, inviting, his smile sweet. Keith takes his hand, grinning, and has to look away.

The buzz of the tattoo gun rattles in Keith’s ears, loud enough that it eventually drones into white noise, barely noticeable. Keith flinches at the first contact, but not enough to cause any disruptions.

And he doesn’t regret this.

In its own little way, he’ll carry a piece of Shiro forever; something Shiro made just for Keith.

Shiro squeezes his hand reassuringly, even though Keith barely notices the pain. Keith’s felt much worse. He takes a few moments to consciously choose to relax, though, letting the tension and anxiety ease away from him. He focuses just on the feeling of Shiro’s hand in his, how comfortable and perfect it feels.

Keith has no means to track what’s happening on his back. He closes his eyes through what he assumes is just the linework, following the lines stenciled onto his skin. And further in, the sweeps of shading and coloring. He grits through sparks of pain but it’s, overall, not as awful as he might have expected.

Shiro never lets go of his hand during the hours it takes. At one point, when Keith tenses up through a flare of pain, his thumb sweeps across Keith’s knuckles like a promise. It’s profoundly comforting and distracting. But just having Shiro close is enough.

Keith closes his eyes, relaxing. He has a piece of Shiro on him forever. His. Only his.

Shiro suggests waiting until they’re aboard the Atlas to reveal their tattoos. Keith’s not sure if he can handle the prolonged agony of waiting but nods anyway, easing his shirt back on after the artist wraps everything up with tape and plastic, bandages secured over his skin.

 

-

 

Shiro’s appointment is similar, after the hour break between them. Shiro and Keith loiter around the main street the tattoo parlor’s on, mostly window-shopping and speaking with onlookers who recognize them. Shiro hovers protectively, making sure no one pats Keith on the back. As if that was ever an issue in a regular day, but the sentiment is nice.

When it’s Shiro’s turn to receive his tattoo, he already knows how to orient himself. He grins at Keith. This time, he’s the one to remove his jacket and his shirt, handing both off to Keith.

Keith does stare at Shiro’s chest. He can’t help it. And he knows Shiro notices it, too, for the way he ducks his head. Blushing, yes, but also smiling a little.

Shiro clears his throat as he situates himself on the chair and holds out his hand to Keith. Keith seizes it instantly and refuses to let go.

He watches like a hawk as the artist applies the stencil— Keith’s art, centered on Shiro’s back— and gets Keith’s approval for the placement before she starts the linework. Keith’s eyes follow every movement of her hand.

Shiro doesn’t tense from the pain, likely used to it the way Keith is, but Keith sees the way tension builds in his jaw. Keith squeezes Shiro’s hand a few times, drawing his attention back towards him.

Once it’s over, hours later, the artist wraps the tattoo up for Shiro.

Keith never lets go of his hand. He only does once Shiro needs to pull his shirt and jacket back on.

Keith barely listens to the instructions from the artist, letting Shiro coordinate the basic care instructions to be sent to their PADDs.

They settle with the artist, exchanging the credits necessary for the hours of work.

And as they leave the parlor, heading back towards the car, Shiro reaches out and takes Keith’s hand again. It’s casual, just a simple touch, but it jolts through Keith.

Shiro makes it seem so easy. He doesn’t acknowledge it and doesn’t let go.

Keith looks up at Shiro, but Shiro’s focusing on unlocking the car as they approach it, his hold gentle but unrelenting.

Keith swallows, loathe to let go of his hand once again to climb into the car. As they settle, this time, Keith’s the one to reach out and take Shiro’s hand.

They hold hands the entire drive home.

 

-

 

They’re silent as they return the car, park, and return to the Atlas. One of these days, Keith thinks, they’ll need to find a more permanent place to stay. For now, it’s home.

Keith doesn’t even question it when he follows Shiro to his bedroom. The door whooshes open without prompting and snicks shut behind them.

It’s clear that Shiro’s excited, nearly jittering out of his skin. He turns to Keith with a grin.

“So… who’s looking first?”

Keith feels the familiar anxiety return. It’s permanent now. He’s responsible for the tattoo on Shiro’s back. He gulps and croaks out, “Um. Me. I’ll go first.”

He turns away from Shiro, retreating towards the bathroom. Shiro follows behind him and reaches out to take Keith’s jacket for him, helping ease it off his shoulders so Keith doesn’t need to stretch and agitate his back.

Shiro is profoundly gentle as he helps ease off Keith’s shirt for him, too, lifting it carefully over his head, as if Keith is fragile. It should be condescending, but of course everything with Shiro is always sweet— gentle with him, always so gentle with him. He uses the same care with the way he removes the tape and plastic, exposing Keith’s new tattoo to the air.

“Here,” Shiro says, fumbling through the drawers until he finds a hand-mirror. Holding it, only then does Keith see the full extent of Shiro’s anxieties. He hesitates to hold it out to Keith. He swallows, his smile shy. “I… I really hope you like it, Keith.”

“Shiro,” Keith murmurs, stepping close to him. He doesn’t know what possesses him to reach up and touch Shiro’s cheek— the hand-holding, maybe, giving him adrenaline, or the endorphins from prolonged pain scratching over his skin making him delirious— but he does. He cups Shiro’s cheek.

It’s intimate, Keith knows, but Keith doesn’t let himself doubt. He doesn’t let himself pull away. Shiro’s expression, meanwhile, eases just a little— and he leans into the touch.

“I know I’ll love it,” Keith assures him. “Now give me the mirror.”

Shiro chuckles, eyes glancing down. His eyelashes fan across his cheeks as he blinks. Then, silently, he holds the mirror out.

Keith lifts it, situating himself so he can see the tattoo— and gasps.

It’s a series of geometric shapes, sharp angles and bold colors— shades of red, mostly, still difficult to see against his red, irritated skin— all the lines pointing and conjoining into something beautiful and understated, creating shapes and patterns in the subtle linework. It swells across his back, beautiful and elegant in a way Keith never would ascribe to himself— and yet, looking at this tattoo, a tattoo that Shiro designed for him, Keith can tell that it’s, fundamentally, his.

He thinks his hand is trembling. He’s not sure. He wants to trace all the lines, see all the intricate work put into it. At the center of it, there are lines that suggest hints of both the Blade’s symbol and Voltron’s symbol. Keith feels his breath steal away as he recognizes it all. It’s subtle, more stylistic, but undoubtedly beautiful.

He lowers the mirror enough to see Shiro watching him— carefully, studying him intensely, searching for any signs of hatred or distress.

But all Keith can do is smile, overwhelmed. “It’s perfect.”

Shiro laughs, eyes shining. “I’m no artist… she did most of the work. I thought something more representative would work for you and—”

Keith shakes his head, unsure how to even convey it properly. “It’s perfect.

Shiro’s expression softens, reassurance and relief radiating off him. He sighs, grateful, his shoulders lowering. “Okay. Yeah. Good.”

Keith wants to kiss him. He wants to throw himself at Shiro and whisper all his love between kisses. He manages to resist, though, setting down the mirror and reaching for him.

“Your turn,” Keith whispers, his throat tight. He helps Shiro ease off his shirt, then strips off the plastic and tape. Once he’s finished, he touches his shoulders gently, rotating him so his back is to the mirror. He picks up the hand mirror and holds it out to him.

He steps back, holding his breath. He watches Shiro’s face carefully.

Where Shiro went for geometric lines and patterns for Keith’s tattoo, Keith went more sweeping. He did go for the cosmos motif in the end— stars and planets and moons arcing over Shiro’s back. Keith designed it himself, drew it carefully so that it would sweep across Shiro’s skin, sliding down and curling into the elegant, stylized design of the Black Lion’s wing, poised in flight. It looks perfect on Shiro’s back, Keith thinks— large enough to see but not massive, encompassing, consuming. Keith originally worried it’d look cluttered— the mechanical wing with its stylized feathers, the cosmos swirling around it, and the words inked along the wing’s spine.

Shiro is silent for so long, just studying it, that Keith isn’t sure what to do. He isn’t sure how to read Shiro’s expression, eyes serious as he studies the reflection, taking in the full expanse of the tattoo. He even twists to look over his shoulder instead, gazing backwards into the mirror, studying his back.

“O- our skin’s still pretty red and irritated,” Keith mutters. “It’ll look better after—”

He loses his words as Shiro’s Altean arm floats behind him, fingertips trailing over the linework.

Keith thought it was a good idea at the time. He felt confident in the design, almost, even.

Suddenly, though, Keith isn’t so sure. He flounders, biting his lip. “Sorry, is it too obvious? Is it bad? I should have asked before—”

“No!” Shiro cuts Keith off, shaking his head, his fingers ghosting over the design. “No, Keith, it’s— it’s exactly what I was hoping for! I never could have thought of something that’d look like this.”

“Really?” Keith asks.

“Really. It’s perfect.” Shiro’s eyes follow the movement of his fingers in the mirror, following the sweeping lines of the artwork. Something changes in his expression then, something gentling, open and vulnerable in a way that Keith so rarely sees him. “It’s… perfect.”

There’s something in the way he says it, something in the way his expression turns gentler still. Keith feels his heart give a pathetic squirm in his chest before dropping down into his gut.

He takes a tentative step forward. He reaches his hand up, tracing his fingers feather-light across Shiro’s skin, tracing the permanent lines of the tattoo.

Shiro turns towards him, his smile slowly widening as he gazes down at Keith. He sets down the hand mirror on the counter and reaches for Keith, then.

His hands cup Keith’s hips easily, drawing him in closer. His smile is a gentle thing, its own gift.

“I worried it’d… upset you,” Keith finally says. “Black—”

“You have her, too,” Shiro says, shaking his head. And that much is true. The vee on his back, Voltron’s representation, is lined with thick, black lines. The Black Lion.

“I just… I wanted it to be good,” Keith mutters.

“It is,” Shiro assures him. “I knew it would be. This is exactly what I wanted. And you drew it, right?”

Keith nods, feeling shy. But Shiro doesn’t let him escape so easily. His hand lifts, fingertips touching the bottom of Keith’s chin and guiding him to look upward. Their eyes lock and hold. Keith couldn’t look away again even if he wanted to.

Even when they’re looking at each other, Shiro’s fingers don’t drop away from touching Keith’s face. They linger there, cupping his chin. Keith swallows once, eyes flickering over Shiro’s expression.

“What does it say back there?” Shiro asks him. “I can’t really read it this far away.”

Keith’s bottom lip wobbles once, uncertain, before he takes a deep breath, staring into Shiro’s eyes and whispering, “As many times as it takes.

Shiro takes a deep breath. And Keith doesn’t know what it is about Shiro’s expression that tells him he’s about to kiss him, but somehow Keith knows. He tilts his head up to meet him, letting out a soft breath when Shiro’s mouth slants against his.

It’s blissful, perfect, and over too soon. Shiro’s lips against his feels like a prayer, like finally coming home. Keith’s hands lift before he can stop to think of it, catching Shiro’s cheeks as he starts to pull away— and drawing him back down again.

Shiro hardly needs the encouragement to keep kissing him. He licks at Keith’s bottom lip and then presses closer, his hand shifting from his chin to cup his jaw, his arm curling around his waist to keep him close.

They kiss like that in Shiro’s bathroom, losing all sense of time. There’s only Shiro. There’s only kissing Shiro.

“Keith,” Shiro whispers, like a vow, when they finally draw away— barely separating, though. His forehead presses to Keith’s, his eyes still shut.

“I wanted…” Keith whispers, licking his lips and ghosting Shiro’s mouth, too. He swallows. “I wanted you to always remember it. No matter what, Shiro. As many times as it takes.”

Shiro’s hands flex on his body and draw him in closer. He kisses Keith soundly after that, robbing Keith of all words and all breath. When they break away again, Keith’s shaking.

“I wanted— I wanted this body to feel like mine,” Shiro admits. “I thought a tattoo would help. This way, because of this, it’d be… my choice.”

Keith nods, petting his fingers over the sharp cut of Shiro’s jaw.

“And I wanted…” Shiro murmurs, voice turning shy. “You’re the reason I’m here. I guess I just wanted to have you with me, always.”

Keith nods, his laugh breathless and a little wobbly. “I wanted that, too. To always have you with me. Something of you.”

Shiro laughs, too, relieved. He touches Keith’s face, his thumb ghosting over his scar, then tucking a piece of hair behind his ear. “Oh, Keith.”

“Mm,” Keith murmurs.

“I love you,” Shiro whispers, voice coming out soft and a little wavering. His eyes open to look at Keith, as if expecting that Keith would laugh, that he’d dismiss it, as if the kiss and the tattoo itself weren’t proof of Keith’s devotion.

Keith blushes, expression melting. He touches Shiro’s mouth, then sweeps his fingers back to cup the back of his neck. “I love you, Shiro.”

Shiro sighs when Keith draws him in to kiss him again. And again. And again.

“One problem, though,” Shiro murmurs between kisses.

“Mm?”

“Can’t get either of us on our backs like this,” Shiro teases, his grin blooming against Keith’s lips.

Keith barks a laugh, reeling back to give Shiro an incredulous look. He knows his competitive nature must be shining through, his eyes glinting, his smile turning predatory as he slides his hands down Shiro’s chest.

He leans up closer, whispering against his mouth just before biting his lip, “Guess we’ll have to get creative, Shiro.”

Shiro laughs, sweeping him up into his arms.