Shiro tells Keith sometimes that a galaxy will never be enough to contain their love. He says it with such confidence, such conviction, that Keith has no choice but to believe his broken parts will embraced without a second thought. He’ll always have someone to come home to--someone whose own brokenness complements his, tangling together in a haze of trauma and residual anger that somehow, against all odds, comes together to make something like love.
Their years together blur together under the cosmos, slipping into the whirling vortex of Keith’s mind as he struggles to remember the reasons he has to live.
“It’s good to have you back.”
“Stay with me, Shiro.”
“I don’t know what’s wrong...let me help you.”
“I died, Keith.”
Switches flip and screens whir to life as Keith’s breath rushes from his lungs, fingers tightening painfully on his thigh as he remembers the painful sound of acceptance in Shiro’s voice as he told Keith the worst news of his life.
He extends a hand to brush his fingers against the photo of them he keeps pinned to the dash. It’s black and white, Shiro’s head thrown back in laughter and Keith’s face buried in his hands after the atrocious joke Shiro had told. That’s gone with time, too, and as his fingers trace the line of Shiro’s jaw, the comm link crackles to life.
“You feeling all right, Keith?”
Keith sighs, light enough that he hopes Krolia doesn’t hear it. “I’m fine,” he says, but is he ever these days?
He should be happy about this mission. It’s a just one, peace accords between two warring planets that will solve the war over an asteroid belt for mining. It might not be the fighting he’s accustomed to and desperately misses, but it’s worthy. It’s good, he tells himself, but good ceased to be enough back when he watched Lotor kill himself for what he thought was a just cause.
All the shoulds rattle around his skull as he completes his pre-flight checks. He should be happy. He should be excited. He should be proud the Blades have made a name for themselves. He should be grateful he has these opportunities, he can hear Kolivan say.
He should come home soon, Shiro said from his seat safely aboard the Atlas.
Keith thinks he should go to sleep so the thoughts whirling through him can still, if only for a few minutes.
Black roars to life under his hands as they lift off, rocketing towards the wormhole to take him far away from one of the only people who understands how to make his mind quiet and his soul calm. He thinks, as he always does in the wormhole, about the way it could collapse and crush him at any given moment. It won’t, likely, but it eases the pressure building inside to consider that this could be his final journey.
After all, it’s not as though bickering among diplomats comes with the same risks liberating planets did.
Keith misses that. He misses being out of range of everyone and everything monitoring him, blade biting through oppressors’ armor as blood warms his skin. Sometimes he shakes with the desires while he’s sat around tables he’d rather be tipping. That’s another should, he thinks--he should make good on those desires sometime, ask Kolivan and Shiro to send him to some far-off planet where he can sate himself.
It never used to be like this.
Sure, he’s always been a fighter. He prefers a few solid hits to running with his tail between his legs, because growing up as he had, he learned quickly it’s often not better to be a coward. His instincts have always screamed fight in place of flight and for that, he’s paid the price.
He wonders if that’s the reason Black has all but stopped talking to him, along with what seems like the rest of the universe.
The universe, for all its glory, which has become simple. Dull. Grey, even with color sprays from passing planets and nebulas.
The same, just as always.
Today, he’d woken up, kissed Shiro goodbye, suited up, and launched because even though everything is the same blur of grey, he knows at some point when he’s away, he’ll be able to cut through it with bright flashes of red-hot pain. Shiro can’t ever know, of course--that’s something Keith will take to his grave. He’s got plenty of old wounds he’s passed off as nothing but scratches left after scuffles.
His teeth dig into his lip as he bites back a whimper. The wormhole flashes by in the viewscreen as he hurtles through it, hands tightening on Black’s controls as he wills back the desire to unsheath his blade and mark himself up before he even gets to Qidel. He can’t, but feels an aching hunger low in his guts that comes only from ones soul being incompatible with the rest of reality.
The same one he’d fought so hard to save, and he can’t face it without wanting to leave it.
The wormhole deposits him plenty far away from Earth, Shiro, and everything familiar. It’s not quite close enough to the Golarian system, however, and he knows he’s got at least a day’s worth of journeying ahead of him. His back scrapes against the pilot’s chair as he sinks down, spreading his legs and scrubbing his hands over his face.
Krolia contacts him after a few minutes, rattling off information about the mission she could simply send over via pad. He’s heard it a dozen times, after all--they make him listen over and over and over until they’re satisfied that he won’t go off the script and ruin their negotiations.
He wonders why they even send him at all, and then he remembers that it’s Shiro they want back on Earth, because Shiro is the Garrison golden boy and the one that the denizens of the planet look up to. Keith’s just the man he goes home to at night.
Not that he minds.
He really doesn’t.
It’s not as though he really cares, because caring about it would be stupid, because there’s nothing he can do about it and it would only mean wasting the energy he could be using on Shiro.
Peace, Krolia drones on about. Diplomacy. Weapons at the door, Keith, please don’t offend them this time.
Keith swallows down a snappy remark about that, and Krolia seems to get the hint and hangs up with a promise to contact him once he reaches Qidel. All he wants to do is hear Shiro’s voice. He thinks that maybe that would help with the frustration, but all that greets him as his fingers twitch toward the comm pad are the ghost of Shiro’s voice and the knowledge that he’s probably busy anyway.
Keith, he can hear, ever so fondly. I’ll call you when I get home, okay? Hey--I know you’re frowning. I promise, baby. I love you.
His hand smacks against his thigh before he decides to get up and retreat to the cabin, sitting down in bed and wrapping the blanket he took from the back of the couch around him. Shiro uses it for his afternoon naps on the days he and Keith are alone together, his head in Keith’s lap as Keith cards his fingers through the softest white hair. It’s one of the places that truly feels like he’s home.
If only Shiro knew the true stories behind the nicks and marks on the thighs he loves using as pillows.
He’d he ashamed, angry, hurt. Ashamed probably hurts Keith the most, because he knows Shiro will take the blame onto himself. He’ll look at Keith with puppy-dog eyes and ask why he wasn’t good enough, and he won’t believe when Keith tells him it’s not his fault. He’ll carry that deep inside and won’t know peace because of Keith, and Keith refuses to be the reason Shiro is anything but happy.
He’s beginning to run out of lies for the larger cuts, the ones that don’t heal even with his accelerated Galran healing abilities.
Acxa got me sparring.
Took a sword to the forearm, Shiro, why is that such a shock? Not every planet has developed weapons like the one the Galra put in you.
He’d gotten a deep, black look for that stupid remark, and the resulting fight had been brutal in its intensity. Keith knows better than to bring that up. He knows better than to remind Shiro about that day, that moon, the scar that cuts across his cheek. Shiro still has days he can barely face it, and other days he can’t stop staring as he traverses the same dark paths Keith’s made his home on.
The thought of Shiro falling so far from the light renews the want for trails of fire along his skin. What will his excuse be this time? Will it be something simple, or some lie formulated deep in the vast emptiness of space as Keith rocks back and forth on the bed? He yearns for the pressure inside of him to break, leak out in beautiful crimson tears that are so incredibly warm as they drip down his thighs.
The want is almost unbearable, but he promised Shiro he’d be good on this mission. Even though Shiro doesn’t know, hasn’t guessed, Keith made a promise, and he doesn’t want to disappoint the man who loves him enough to marry him.
Much to his relief, Acxa is on Qidel already. Their last mission together it was him on Alera stuck with the news that she’d be held up for several days, and after several days of the stiff formalities forced upon him, he’d opened up three wounds deeper than what his body could take care of before going home.
“Cat scratch fever,” he’d joked when Shiro saw, but the words had been so hollow on their porch overlooking the desert that he’d wanted to break down in tears. “Better keep me and my short shorts away from Pidge’s beast.”
Shiro, true to form, had bandaged and taken care of him with a devotion that make Keith nearly sick with its intensity.
He doesn’t deserve that sort of love.
By the time he remembers to look at the clock, he realizes that nearly five hours have gone by. Five hours of nothing but a vague unease in his veins. Five hours of staring sightlessly at the one small divot in the cabin floor as the world outside ceased to exist. He wishes Black would’ve said something, attempted to steer him back into the pilot’s seat, because now it’s nearly time to sleep, and he feels like there’s so much he has to do yet.
Study the mission again.
Another three hours pass, and the only reason that he wakes from his stupor is the light of Shiro’s face smiling up from his data pad. With a heavy hand, Keith opens a window and is greeted by Shiro’s kind eyes. “Shiro,” he says, and his voice is rough. He’s not sure whether it’s with exhaustion or upset, but Shiro picks up on it, as Keith knew he would.
“You okay, baby?”
Keith nods as his eyes slip shut. He gives it a second before opening them and putting on a smile. “Just tired. Bored. Missing you.”
“Aww, Keith. I miss you too, already. Wondered if you’d forgotten me already when you didn’t get in touch last night.” He’s teasing, but a pang of guilt stabs through Keith just the same.
“Fuck,” he sighs. “I’m sorry. I got out of the wormhole, and then Krolia was lecturing me on things again, and--”
“Just as long as you’re safe,” Shiro says with a smile. “Nothing’s going horribly wrong, is it?”
Just my mind, Keith wants to say, but assures Shiro he’s only tired. “A bed’ll be a welcome change from the chair,” he says. “Isn’t it almost time for you to get ready for work?”
“Yeah, but me and Kosmo missed you.”
“His name’s not Kosmo,” Keith says automatically.
“Well, it’s not Space Wolf either,” Shiro says, accepting the enormous bulk of the animal with a low groan as he’s bowled over on the bed. “Say hi to daddy, buddy, hmm?” He points at the screen. “Say we miss him.”
Keith fights to keep his lip straight during their goodbye, and he hates himself for the weakness. Shiro’s so happy with him and yet it seems all he can do when faced with that exhaustive positivity is push it away or let it sear into him so deep that it forces out tears.
He’s vowed to stop pushing it away, but it is hard, especially on these days where he can barely remember his own name past the blur of everything else.
Sleep claims him shortly after he ends the call and when he wakes up, the Golarian system is in his sensor range, Qidel a mere hour away. When he arrives, Acxa meets him on the landing pad, takes one look at him, and asks he be shown to his quarters. The Strix in charge of their trip guides them up the Spire to a room that feels more like a roost, and then they’re left alone with instructions to call if they need anything.
“You look like hell,” Acxa says.
“Slept like shit,” Keith parries.
Acxa gives him a long look up and down, arms crossed. “You’re still prepared, right? I don’t particularly want to come all the way out here again because we fucked it up the first time.”
“I’m fine, Acxa,” Keith says. “Just need a few minutes to adjust, okay?”
“Sure,” she says, and leaves him when he asks.
He falls back onto the bed and stares at the ceiling, fingers knit behind his head as one knee rests on the other. The tiles on the ceiling blend together, hazy and unfocused as he struggles to calm his racing pulse. Liar, weakling, worthless it says, and he slams his hands over his ears as he shakes his head against the thoughts.
He’s fine, because in this new world, that’s what he has to be to survive.
Day one of negotiations brings ruffled feathers and raised hackles as the Strix and Talaxian ambassadors verbally spar over petty things that don’t matter.
Day two brings a splitting headache for Keith, and no short amount of irritated sighing from Acxa as she’s forced to mediate.
Day three breaks Keith, and he’s got his blade about to drag across his thigh when Acxa knocks on the door and asks him to spar with her. “I know you’re in there,” she calls. “I can practically see the dark cloud. Get up and fight with me. I know you want to.”
Keith yanks up his pants and pulls the door open, not bothering to wrap his wrists or put his hair up before brushing past her and down the hall. Red blurs into the grey now, his lust for adrenaline and anger overpowering the thick clouds that plague him day in and day out.
When they get to the training grounds that produce some of the best assassins the galaxy knows, he lays into her with the force of a solar storm. She meets him blow for blow until both stand on opposite sides of the ring, chests heaving as they stare at each other.
“Again,” he barks, and she’s on him in the next second.
Sparring with her always makes the clouds dissipate, if only for a bit. The aches and yellowing bruises on his skin the next morning are easier to hide than deeper wounds, and the pain grounds him as he shuffles in his chair on day four of the peace talks.
Eventually, the two sides reach an agreement, but Keith’s too busy picking at the skin around his nails to remember the exact details. Acxa can help him with the report when they get back to Earth, anyway. Shoulds resonate through him again. He should be happy. He should be grateful it’s over.
All he can think about the itch in his veins that threatens to burn him from the inside out, and it’s all he can do to keep his hands from the hilt of his knife as he screams, alone in Black and raging against a world that’s brought him nothing but trouble.
He gets home, fucks Shiro into oblivion, and does it again before his next mission. It’s the same sort--diplomacy instead of dead bodies, bullshitting instead of burying.
The next is the same.
And the next.
And the next.
And the next would have been, if Black wasn’t nearly blown to pieces by a brutal cosmic storm. Keith escapes with a broken arm, three cracked ribs, and enough lacerations that any new ones won’t be suspicious. He limps back to Earth and straight into a Garrison hospital room, Shiro by his side at the earliest possible moment.
When Shiro brings him home, sets him up with everything he could want, he waits until Shiro’s gone on a short trip to curl up alone in the bathroom and re-open some of his wounds. Breath halts in his chest at the way he feels so weightless, so open. He lets pain and tension and the crushing weight of failure bleed out of him and onto the white floor of the tub, and he is at peace.
That peace doesn’t last as long when Shiro comes back and chides him for not being careful enough.
On a particularly bad day, Shiro refuses to leave his side. When he asks for a smile, Keith can’t find it in himself to muster one. He tells Shiro that that’s energy he could be using to heal, and Shiro doesn’t find it funny. Instead, he redoubles his efforts to make sure Keith doesn’t have to hurt anymore.
He loves Keith more than anything in the universe, he says, and Keith does his best to ignore the voices hissing he’s not worth nearly as much as Shiro thinks he is.
When the remainder of his casts and bandages come off, Keith plants himself on the ground in the garage with the objective of working on an antique hoverbike he’s been restoring. He’s under orders to stay on-planet and out of trouble, and this presents him with the perfect opportunity to do this thing for himself. He’s holding an assortment of odd parts, and has been for…
Well, he doesn’t know how long.
The sun’s come and gone in the time he’s been out here, dipping below the horizon and reaching to caress his face with blood red fingers of light as he stares out into the desert. He doesn’t know which is preferable--this dissociation or the deadly urges. Sometimes he’s afraid they’ll harmonize and someone will find him dead on the floor, but he won’t mind at that point.
He knows he should fight it. He always has. Time and time again he’s gotten in scraps over things much less important than his life, ever since he was a young child. Sometimes it wasn’t even over something at all--he remembers clearly how his father had once startled him and earned himself a solid whack in the shins before Keith’s entire being seized up with anxiety.
Somehow, his father had managed to pick him up and soothe him to sleep with the TV and a warm hug.
Keith wishes either James or Acxa were available to spar tonight. He knows he shouldn’t, that he should remain focused on healing, but there’s only so many wedding-related conversations he can have before he goes fully mad and does something he’ll regret. He loves that Shiro is so invested in this, and in his well-being, but his body aches with the need to release the excess energy in him.
There’s much better ways to do that than making decisions about flowers and food.
One by one, parts drop to the concrete floor as he shuts his eyes and lets himself sink into the fantasy of flying fists and vicious kicks. The larger world fades away until he’s fully immersed in the fight, allowing the memory of the feelings wash over him under the moonlit sky.
The touch on his shoulder is whisper quiet, but it pulls him so violently back to the waking world that instinct takes over and before he knows it, he’s looking up at Shiro stumbling backwards with a hand on his jaw. Dread breaks over him, then, icy cold as he brings a grease-smeared hand to his lips. “Shiro,” he gasps.
“Hey, baby, it’s just me,” Shiro rasps. He lets out a small huff as he massages his face, and tears spring to Keith’s eyes at the way Shiro looks at him like he’s a wild animal. “It’s just me, okay?”
The way he holds his hands up as he steps forward doesn’t help, either.
“Keith…” Shiro lowers his arms, stepping forward until he’s close enough to crouch down and reach for Keith’s cheek. “What’s wrong?”
Keith bites his lip, but remains silent.
“You can tell me, you know.” Shiro’s eyes hold the earnestness of someone entirely too trusting, and the eagerness to please. He looks up at Keith like Keith’s all the stars in the sky and he wants to make sure they burn bright, night after night. “You always can.”
Keith only shakes his head, hanging it in shame as his knuckles sting from where they connected with Shiro’s jaw. His eyes sting with the shameful knowledge that he can save the galaxy, but he cannot save himself, and he cannot save the ones he loves from what he does to other people. “It’s nothing,” he breathes, and as the words make their way into the world, they’re not a lie.
His insides are hollowed out and he can’t begin to fathom feeling anything other than the deep, unending nothingness he feels as he looks down at where Shiro’s hand is laid on his knee.
“I don’t think it is,” Shiro says, hesitant. Keith thinks he’s going to press harder, but he simply sits there. He learned long ago, way back before Kerberos, that pushing meant pain. Keith had hit him then, too, but it was full of anger and fifteen-year-old fury that didn’t even come close to making him stagger backwards like today. Instead, Shiro nods quietly. “Stay here,” he says, like Keith could do anything else.
He barely responds, only pushes his head closer to Shiro as Shiro’s lips skirt over his forehead when he gets up and disappears into the cabin. He’s up much later than usual, Keith realizes when he looks to the clock, and he feels guilty about the fact that it’s his fault. Shiro needs his sleep.
Shiro is important.
He sits, head in his hands and bike parts strewn about the garage, until Shiro comes back with a soft hand to guide him to his feet. “Do you need to be distracted tonight, baby?” he asks quietly, eyes flicking over Keith’s face in the dark as he searches for an answer. “Or do you just need some sleep?”
“I need…” So much, Keith wants to say. He needs Shiro, he needs rest, he needs something other than the dull, hollow ache that’s taken up residence where his heart is supposed to be. His breath shudders out over Shiro’s arm as he leans forward, brow knitting and hands coming up to cradle Shiro’s jaw as he does. “You.”
“How, baby?” Shiro whispers.
In every way possible.
Keith presses up on the balls of his feet to marry their lips in the sort of kiss that promises everything. Shiro leans into it, wincing slightly when Keith’s lips drag over the redness from where he’d hit him, and parts his lips with a soft gasp when Keith’s teeth dig in. “Distract me,” Keith mumbles. “You can help.”
“I always will.” Shiro makes sure there’s no hiss of pain as he takes Keith into his arms, anchoring Keith against his hips as he begins forward into the house. Keith’s wrapped around him so tight that he hopes Shiro understands that he doesn’t ever want to let him go, and finds himself unwilling to even when they get to the bedroom.
There comes a point when Shiro decides that Keith’s not going to let go, and he sits on the bed so he’s being nearly crushed by Keith’s weight as Keith fights the shaking that’s threatening to consume him.
“You can’t keep pushing yourself like this,” Shiro whispers, just loud enough for Keith to hear it. His fingers flex on Keith’s hips, mouth brushing against Keith’s shoulder as he speaks. “I actually fell asleep before I realized you didn’t ever come back in, baby. You need rest.”
Keith needs clarity.
He needs the fog to dissipate, the hopelessness to abate, the fevered frustration in his veins to stop threatening to claw its way out of his body. He needs something more than this monotonous thing they’ve cultivated on newly freed planets, and he needs it now.
He leans close to Shiro’s ear and whispers, “Isn’t that what we have coffee for?”
Shiro’s metal hand comes up to caress the nape of Keith’s neck, fingers brushing against the soft hair there before he winds them higher and gives a tug. Keith arches back into the touch, because it grounds him.
He needs this.
“You need to take care of yourself,” Shiro says. “I can’t have you dying before our wedding, right?” His lips curve up in a weak smile. “I couldn’t eat all that food by myself.”
Keith debates whether to choke out a laugh or a sob and in the time it takes to decide, the time for either has come and gone and Shiro’s smile’s long faded.
“Tell me you’ll be okay,” Shiro whispers, his brow knitting as he fits his forehead into the crook of Keith’s shoulder. “I can’t lose you. I love you, so…” He takes a shuddering breath, and Keith feels the weight of Shiro’s expectations and adoration crashing down on him during the pause.
“I love you so much.” Shiro’s voice is soft but rough, laced with desperation as he holds Keith closer. “You know that, right? I really do.”
There’s never been any doubt in Keith’s mind, and it pains Keith further that Shiro thinks there might be. Of all his years of constant devotion to the man who’s taken hold of his life, that has remained constant. Keith’s love flickers warm even on the darkest days, through the numbness and fog and everything else.
He’s always known.
He finds himself unable to just open his fucking mouth and confirm it.
He doesn’t sleep that night.
He doesn’t sleep the night after that, either, but fakes it until Shiro’s dead to the world and he can go outside to stare at the cold light of stars that no longer comfort him. He dozes a bit, sure, wrapped in a blanket as he sits on the porch steps, but mostly he focuses on the metronomic beat of his heart and allows it to lull him into a quiet trance.
Shiro’s upset when he finds Keith the next morning.
Keith wishes he could bring himself to care.
He departs for his first mission after the accident a little over two months after he was caught in the storm. The Garrison and Blades don’t hold back--it’s nearly three weeks long. Three weeks away from Shiro. Three weeks away from everyone as he helps rebuild a city razed by the Galra years ago. He wonders if Shiro had any say in it and figures that he didn’t, because when he calculates the time he’ll be back, it’s a little over five days from their wedding.
Though perhaps that’s why it’s so long.
Maybe Shiro’s got plans for afterwards.
Keith hopes he’ll be lucid enough to understand something other than live through the next ten minutes.
The ache in his muscles feels like purpose when he’s done with his days. He holds himself to a rigorous work schedule so all he has the energy to do at the end of the day is collapse into bed and contact Shiro to check in for a few minutes. Shiro retains the same puppy-ish energy, and when he asks Keith for a smile, Keith manages one.
It’s easier when he’s not stuck in meetings all day.
There’s several days where his soul feels clear as a cloudless summer day, free and unrestrained for the first time in god knows how long. He tells Shiro as much when he calls him those nights, and Shiro is happier than the space wolf with a bone as he tells Keith he’s so proud of him.
“When you get home, I’m going to give you the biggest hug,” he says, and Keith tells him he’s ridiculous.
Shiro laughs and tells him that he is as well.
It’s a good week.
The third is not. Keith finds himself faced with a small resistance cell that hates him solely for the blood that runs through his veins, and he’s pushed back into the dark by their cries of murderer.
He is, isn’t he? He’s killed countless people, all in the name of peace, but does that make him better than his heritage?
He skips calling Shiro that night in favor of ripping away his clothes and sinking deep into the scent of iron as he atones for his sins.
He skips calling Shiro the next night because he’s afraid he won’t be able to hold back from telling him what he’s done.
He skips calling Shiro the night after that because he’s so low, he can’t even manage to get up and bandage where his wounds have split open and are soaking into his under armor.
He doesn’t have an excuse the next, because Shiro calls and Keith answers. He struggles to breathe, let alone think or interact, but he sees the worry written plain on every inch of Shiro. “I’m bringing you back early,” he says, and Keith begs no, because he doubts he’ll heal in time.
“I can make it,” he rasps.
“I’m not asking, Keith,” Shiro says, mouth set in a definitive line. “That’s an order. You’re coming home. We need to talk, because you need a break.”
We need to talk is never good.
We need to talk means things aren’t what they need to be.
We need to talk means that Keith hasn’t done all he can to keep up the illusion that he thinks he’ll get through this, that things will be okay in the end.
We need to talk, he thinks on the way back, are the cruelest four words to ever come out of his almost-husband’s mouth.
Keith can’t look at Shiro when he gets back to Earth. There’s no way to muster a smile and the energy for a hug when Shiro looks at him with such concern, and truth be told, he doesn’t want to. He doesn’t want to be held, to be cared for, to be loved, because he’s unworthy of it. He’s a mess that’ll only seep through Shiro’s arms and puddle on the floor, a swirling pool of black and hurt and somehow nothing at all.
He doesn’t want to sit in Shiro’s office to do his reports, but Shiro wants him there, so he acquiesces.
He should do something for him, after all.
Shiro’s worried, and Keith needs him to keep strong for himself, the Garrison, and the rest of the world. Keith’s issues are not his issues, and he can’t be expected to pick Keith back up when he’s busy with his own work.
Keith’s jaw sets, fingers tapping impatiently on the desk as he writes his report. His lips seal around the chain he wears around his neck and he begins to chew, taking out some of the excess energy on the metal so he doesn’t get up and run somewhere no one will find him.
“Keith?” Shiro asks softly.
“You look like you’re hurting,” he continues. “Do you want to go to the hospital?”
“What?” Keith snips, wishing only to finish this and crawl into bed.
Shiro takes a deep breath before putting down the pad he’s working from, standing, and pulling Keith into a hug that promises forever. His cheek smooths over the crown of Keith’s head, his hands across the small of Keith’s back, and Keith allows himself a small noise as his face presses into Shiro’s chest.
“I’m sorry,” he mumbles. “I’m just…”
“You need some time away,” Shiro says. “Why don’t we take the rest of the day off? I’ll see if we can get more time this week. I can probably pass it off to Iverson as wedding stuff.”
“Don’t put your life on hold for me,” Keith says.
“You are my life,” Shiro says, and it’s so simple that it’s the only thing Keith ever wants to hear again.
“Shiro,” he whispers.
“Don’t make me order you,” Shiro says, teasing gently, and Keith nods. “Let’s get you home.” He guides him away from the computer, takes a second to log out and lock everything down before pushing Keith toward the door. “I thought maybe we could go flying,” he continues. “Just you and me in the desert, no one around to tell us no when you want to fly off a cliff.”
Keith’s pulse leaps at the words and at Shiro’s lips brushing over his neck, and his breath hitches.
“Do you want to?”
More than Shiro knows, Keith wants to. He wants to fall and fall without stopping, crash to the ground and become part of the unending cycle of life and death, but he’ll settle for the way his heart jumps into his throat during those moments of weightlessness. “Okay,” he says, paired with a curt nod.
The lights of the Garrison hallway flicker as they walk down, hand in hand and ignoring the rest of the world. Keith tries, he really does, to remain present at Shiro’s side, but even the cool weight of his hand isn’t enough to keep him from drifting as they make their way into the fading Arizona sun.
Riding with Shiro is, as always, a treasure. The weight of the world doesn’t press as heavily as he zips along canyon walls, others’ words pushed from his mind. His wounds don’t matter, or even register, as he falls under the spell of the sky above. Wind ruffles through his braid and when he looks back, Shiro’s eyes are set firmly on him and the way he smiles for the first time in a while.
A real smile, not the ones he pastes on for other people’s ease.
Riding high on the fleeting rush, Keith thinks maybe his next mission won’t be as bad. He hopes these few days before the wedding fly as smoothly as he does over the sand, and that the wedding itself isn’t tarnished by anything worse than the heat of the sun and the grit of the earth.
Keith hopes, and that’s the least he can promise Shiro.
“We should go again,” he says breathlessly when they stop outside their home.
Shiro hugs him close and promises they can again tomorrow, because he’s grounded Keith until after they get back from their honeymoon. “Besides,” he says. “You need food, and I have some of those cookies you like. Hunk brought them over for when you got back, and I have been very--” He leans forward to kiss the tip of Keith’s nose. “Very good about not eating all of them.”
“All of them?”
“You can’t expect me to be around a plate of Hunk’s cookies and not eat some,” Shiro says, faking offense. A flush rises in his cheeks as he swings his arm around Keith’s shoulder and guides him in the door. “Besides, there’ll be plenty more soon, hmm?”
“Yeah!” Keith says. It’s got a little too much force behind it, brought on by the realization that already, the joy is beginning to fade. He knows Shiro notices, and clears his throat before trying again. “Yeah,” he says, remnants of his smile still on his lips. “Excited?”
“Sure am, Mr. Shirogane,” Shiro says softly, capturing Keith’s lips in a tender, split-second kiss before he pushes him onto the couch. “Here,” he says, poling a blanket on. It’s cool, autumn chill making itself known, and Keith huddles below the fabric as he’s surrounded by the feeling of home. When Shiro busies himself in the kitchen with coffee and something that smells suspiciously like mac and cheese, Keith shakes his head.
“You don’t have to make me food.”
Shiro pauses. “You’re not hungry?”
Keith waits a second before staring at the floor and shaking his head again. “I…” He doesn’t know what to say, because he is, but what he’s hungry for can’t be sated by food or friend alone. It’s a desperate gnawing in his belly that can only be eased by something…
Something he can’t even put a name to, which frustrates him to no end.
Why can’t it be easy?
He swallows and leans into Shiro’s side when Shiro sits, arm warm around his shoulders as they stare out the window at the endless stretch of stars above. “You should eat,” Shiro says, “but I’m not going to force you.”
Keith laughs. “Have you ever forced me to do anything I don’t want to?”
“Baby, you know that’s impossible.”
Nodding, Keith shuts his eyes and tucks his legs under himself as he rests his face on Shiro’s chest.
“I love you,” Shiro says, and Keith hums in acknowledgement. “Are you going to sleep, at least? You could use some rest.”
“At least take care of yourself if you won’t let me do it for you,” Shiro asks, tipping Keith’s face to his for an earnest look. “Can you go get ready? I need to clean up the kitchen and then I’ll come with you.”
“Sure,” Keith whispers. He breaks Shiro’s gaze and goes to the bathroom, undressing and brushing his teeth to the sound of Shiro banging about while he cleans. All the while he curses because Shiro shouldn’t have to tell him to take care of himself--he already takes care of an ungodly amount of people every day, and Keith sees the stress written on every inch of him when he comes home from those duties.
He shouldn’t have to take care of Keith that way.
The sheets are cool against his skin as he lays down and curls into the fetal position, Shiro crawling in behind him minutes later with a low groan. “Kiss me?” he asks around a yawn, and Keith does. He puts all he can muster into it, causing Shiro’s lips to curve up in a smile before he breaks away. “Tell me you love me?”
“I do,” Keith murmurs in the dark. “I always do. Always will.”
Even when I decide this life isn’t worth living, you will be everything to me.
“Good.” Shiro spoons up behind him and before Keith knows it, has slipped into sleep.
Keith isn’t so lucky. Every second is an eternity as he lays there, trapped under Shiro’s arm and staring at the moonlight dappling on the floor. His mind races with every word he’s left unspoken and before too long, he decides that it’s not worth wasting time anymore. Shiro stirs when Keith sits up but doesn’t wake, not even when Keith grabs his knife and pads out onto the porch in nothing but his underwear. The cold threatens to overtake him, but he doesn’t mind.
Perhaps that will be better than what he’s considering.
Easier, for sure, just to lay down and wait for death to take him.
The stars are silent as he wanders out from the safety of the house. Rocks and dirt scratch at the soles of his feet, but he doesn’t mind. The environment that raised him can do what it likes, because he’s stronger. It’s just another thing he’s conquered--another accomplishment that’s done nothing to ease the pain inside.
The hilt of his blade weighs heavy in his palm, nearly slipping to the ground as he stops short in front of a large boulder. Animals chitter and howl in the far distance, just more noise to add to the static of die, Galra scum that fuzzes his head and makes sense impossible. Why shouldn’t he?
The universe doesn’t care who lives or dies, that’s been made painfully obvious through his travels.
If there’s one thing he’s learned, things will go on regardless of who lives or dies in the fight for survival. It’s just the way things work--sometimes people are so important they’re called back to life, and others die to pave the way to greatness.
Metal is cool where it rests against his wrist, pulse thudding quicker at the thought that all it would take is angling the blade. He could end it all here, bleed out under the stars as he looks up and curses them for not being the freedom he wished for. A bitter sigh ricochets off the rock as he presses harder, then lets up.
He can’t, not when he’s so close to giving Shiro the happiness he deserves.
He wants to, though, so fucking badly. The desire flows through him as easily as breath flows into his lungs, and as the sky’s empty promises ring in his ears, he shuts his eyes and gives himself up to the grey.
It’s easier to be a blank slate than one littered with scars that won’t ever fade.
Keith doesn’t know how long he stands in the cold, only that when the sound of a slamming door brings him back to reality, he can’t feel his limbs. Shiro’s voice winds into him and when Keith registers the worry, somehow he can’t find the strength to turn around and look toward him.
“Keith, put it down. Put it down,” Shiro says, not unlike Keith’s a dog. There’s blatant panic now, the blade embedding itself inches from Keith’s foot when Shiro grabs his wrist and Keith lets go. “No, no, no, no.” Arms wind around Keith’s shoulders, then, as Shiro’s breath sounds loud in Keith’s ear. “Baby,” Shiro says, and it’s so pained that it makes Keith’s knees crumple. “What are you doing?”
“I didn’t,” Keith mumbles.
“Keith.” Shiro’s hands are everywhere, seeking out injury as they bring warmth back into Keith’s body. He lifts Keith in his arms, as he will when they marry, and Keith whispers as much as Shiro carries him to the couch.
“I’m sorry,” he mumbles into Shiro’s neck. “I know I can do better. I promise I can be happier.”
His name rumbling through Shiro’s chest seems to rattle every part of him, body and soul, and he grinds his teeth against the sensation as Shiro pours out his heart. He tells Keith of the way he’s been where Keith was, and how he desperately hoped that Keith would never feel the same. He’s gone through so much, more than Keith thinks he ever could, and hearing it spelled out for him makes him want to crumble away into dust.
Shiro should be the one receiving support like this.
Shiro needs it.
Shiro deserves it, for all he’s done. Keith doesn’t deserve to feel the way he does--he’s not nearly as accomplished, hasn’t seen nearly as much.
His eyes are wet now, but he slides down Shiro’s side and buries his face in Shiro’s thigh so he doesn’t have to look up.
Shiro doesn’t need to take care of that, too.
“When I came back…” Shiro trails off, petting Keith’s mess of hair aimlessly as he lets out a long, wavering sigh. “There’s a special sort of hell that comes with knowing everything goes on without you when you’re dead. Voltron didn’t need me anymore, and that realization was one of the hardest I’ve ever come to.”
“We always needed you,” Keith whispers, voice thick with unshed tears.
“Not in the way you did before I died.” Shiro’s bluntness hits Keith like a fist to the gut, twisting and curling deeper until Keith can’t breathe around the weight of it. “Even before Voltron, I was a person people relied on. And seeing the way I wasn’t...needed...like that…” He takes a shuddering breath in, and Keith looks up to see his face pinched and eyes screwed shut against the memories. “I can’t claim to know exactly what you’re going through, but I know what that pain feels like, and I just wanted to be there to help you through it.”
“You do help,” Keith says.
“I’m a glorified band-aid, Keith,” Shiro mumbles. "I should've known." He scrubs his palm against the back of his eyes before pulling Keith against his chest and holding him tight enough to hurt. “I can soothe, but I don’t know how to make it better. I don’t know how to show you how much I want to, how much I need to. You need to survive this. Please, baby.”
Keith’s jaw opens and closes, but he can’t find the strength to assure Shiro this time. Every phrase that comes to mind sounds so hollow, so untrue now that he’s been caught-- I’m fine, it’ll be okay, and we’ll get through this together are all nice platitudes. They sound good on the surface but Keith knows. He knows Shiro will call him on it because it’s Shiro, and Keith knows better than to try and bullshit when he’s been caught like this.
“I’m trying,” he says instead.
“You need something more than what I can be,” Shiro says, and there’s heartbreak dripping from every syllable. “Keith, I...you need to see someone.”
He’s right. He usually is about these things.
That doesn’t mean Keith wants to hear it.
His heart leaps into his throat, stopping the snarl of no that so desperately wants to break free from his chest. He freezes, feels Shiro freeze as well, and waits until Shiro’s arms fall away before he moves to the other side of the couch.
“I’m sorry,” Shiro whispers. “I will do everything-- everything-- to help you live with me until your hair’s grey and we can’t remember the constellations anymore, but I can’t do it all. And you can’t just push through this, not like you usually can. I know that with absolute certainty.”
“No one knows what I--what we-- went through,” Keith says, curled in on himself because yet again, the world is too big. “No one can fix that. I’m strong. I can get through it. I just...messed up.”
Shiro’s voice is barely audible, but it rings true across the space between them with the force of a blast from the Atlas. “You can’t. Not by yourself. Trust me.”
Keith should be able to. He should be able to lean into the warmth of Shiro’s kindness and care and be vulnerable, open, but in this moment, the walls Shiro’s dismantled come slamming down and Keith’s face falls to a carefully neutral expression.
“We can look after the wedding,” Keith says. “If that’s what you want.”
Shiro shakes his head. “It can’t be what I want.”
“If you say so.” The cavern is back in Keith’s chest, filled with an endless lake of apathy as he stands. He feels a little betrayed, if he’s being honest, because he doesn’t need help. He doesn’t need someone prying into his past and present and telling him what he’s doing wrong--he just needs something to patch up the battle-formed hole in his soul.
Keith needs a quick fix, because there’s not time to sit and talk about feelings.
Shiro’s fingers brush against his hip as he brushes past on his way to the bathroom, words trailing after him. “Keith, baby, I’m sorry.” His footsteps come next until he’s staring at Keith with wide, anxious eyes. “Just talk to me.”
Just talk, he says, like it’s the easiest thing in the world. Like it’s simple. Like talking, spilling what’s left of his heart to another person, even Shiro, won’t end with him so broken he’s nigh on unrecognizable.
As he stares at Shiro, backlit by the hallway light, Keith can only manage two words. Even the two shock him, and as they shove up past the lump in his throat to dance on his tongue, his mind is washed clean by a stunning clarity.
“I’m angry, Shiro.”
“At... the world.” Fragments of memory and emotion begin to puzzle together until minutes have passed and Keith’s faced with something that should have been clear from the very beginning. Everything from being passed around foster homes to the way other species hate him for simply existing is laid out in front of him and as he blinks, once, he realizes he can’t breathe. “I’m so angry,” he chokes out. “I’m fucking mad.”
“Cool it,” Shiro soothes, holding his hands out. “It’s okay, baby, you’re safe here. Why are you angry?”
“Because I should be.” Keith’s head swings back and forth in the suddenly too-small space, and he catches a glimpse of slitted, yellowed eyes when he looks in the mirror. He looks back to Shiro. “Everything I’ve done, everything I’ve made of myself, and it still isn’t enough. You know they always said shoot for the stars? I didn’t just shoot, Shiro, I helped save those stars. Where is there to go from there? There’s no coming back down to Earth after you’ve seen realities collapse around you. There’s no normal.”
“It doesn’t need to be normal,” Shiro says.
“I WANT normal!” Keith’s chest heaves, throat raw with the force of his insistence as his truth is birthed into the world. Twenty-five years’ worth of longing shake themselves loose from inside him and when they bleed out, so does his energy. He sinks to his knees, shaking as he repeats the words again and again. “I want normal. I want to be normal, Shiro, why can’t I be normal?”
Shiro falls to rest in front of him and his hands burn when they pull Keith into another fierce hug. He says nothing, but as Keith continues to tremble, he thinks that’s what he needs. There’s no useless sentiments or false positivity, only the presence of one who’s promised to love him even through these dark times.
“I just want it,” Keith mumbles into Shiro’s shoulder. Shiro’s sweatshirt is wet with tears he doesn’t remember shedding, and it rasps against Keith’s cheek as Shiro picks him up and cradles him to his chest. “I don’t want to be angry anymore.” He sniffs. “I don’t...I just... why?” His voice breaks on the word, the crack traveling down into him and rifling through his innermost thoughts until he’s left with an unending want for simple.
For a life.
His hands fist in Shiro’s sweatshirt to keep him close when Shiro lays him on the bed. “Why did it have to be us?” he whimpers. “Why did you have to die? Why did I have to fight for every fucking bit of good I have?”
Shiro remains silent, letting Keith break down in the middle of their bed as he holds him. Time ceases to exist and when Keith comes back to himself, he realizes it’s pushing sunrise and Shiro’s yawning can’t be hidden anymore.
“I’m sorry,” he says softly. Every inch of him feels like an exposed nerve, and all he wants to do is hide, but he is sorry. For a lot of things, really, but mostly for putting this much on Shiro all at once. “You’re exhausted.”
“And you’re not all right,” Shiro says. He sounds just as ripped apart as Keith feels, but his voice is still soothing as it washes quietly over Keith’s broken parts. “I don’t rest until you do. Not now.”
“I won’t.” Shiro’s fingers tighten on Keith’s shoulders as he yawns again, burying his face in the crook of Keith’s neck. “Not until I know you’re out of danger.”
“Shiro, sleep,” Keith says. “You need it.”
“You need me,” Shiro says quietly. “I’m not leaving you.”
Keith pulls the blanket over them and smooths his hand over Shiro’s spine, touch soft as anything. “I don’t want you to leave me.”
Shiro hiccups out a laugh, just as bitter as it is loving, and presses his lips to Keith’s pulse. “For better or worse, and in sickness or in health,” he breathes. “I don’t know what I’d do without you, Keith, please. Please.” He’s crying now, tears rolling gently onto Keith’s skin as he clings tighter. “Please get help. Don’t do that again. I can-I can take you, we can go to a ho-hospital--”
“In sickness or health,” Keith repeats, because he is sick. He tips Shiro’s forehead to his, knowing no amount of I’m sorry will make this any better. There’s no promise he can make until Shiro’s calmed down enough to think past the immediate danger, so he, like Shiro, remains silent as his partner falls to pieces.
When they’ve both calmed enough to look each other in the eye, sunlight streams through the window to light Shiro in gold. “Please,” Shiro whispers one more time, and Keith nods. “I want to find you someone today.”
“Shiro, they’re probably all book--”
“All right,” Keith murmurs. “All right.”
“I’ll be with you every step of the way,” Shiro says. “No matter how it feels, you’re not going through this alone. I’d put the entire universe on hold for that. I promise you’re always worth it.”