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***

 

The sound is not quite a sob, but it’s torn enough that it doesn’t at first register as familiar. The sound— a groaning, wet gasp— hangs in the air, between the constant hum of the ship’s power, the short, uneven breaths of Shiro behind him, and the shameless slap of skin-on-skin. It’s a moan and it echoes in his ears and Keith’s fingers curl into the sheets as he realizes that the moan, the voice, is his

 

Shiro’s sheets are pulled taut between his knees as he seeks purchase with Shiro pushing in deeper behind him. Keith breathes out, shivering and unsteady, senses so alight that it takes effort just to focus enough to do that. Fuck. Fuck, he’s. He’s—

 

“Ha-ah, Shiro, Shiro,”

 

He’s so full that he can feel it in his throat. His tongue feels thick in his mouth. Shiro’s thrusts are short, unrelenting, hitting him just right. He quickens his pace and Keith moans again. It takes effort to clamp his mouth shut. 

 

The burn is good. This is what he wants. 

 

Shiro groans. “Keith,” 

 

His breath is hot on the back of Keith’s neck. He’s draped over Keith, blanketing his back. One arm wrapped around Keith, holding him in place. Shiro’s large palm pressed against his sternum.

 

Keith wonders if Shiro can feel how hard and how fast his heart is beating. 

 

“Yeah,” he says in response, but again, his voice sounds strange to his ears. Too drawn out, too breathless. He licks his lips, tries again, “God, S-Shiro, you’re,” 

 

“So tight, Keith. Fuck,” Shiro shifts and Keith can feel every movement, every muscle. 

 

His eyes smart, not with pain, but just because it’s so much . The feel of Shiro over top of him, hips now devastatingly slow as he draws out of Keith and pushes back in. Fucking him, slow, deliberate, at the same time mouthing over Keith’s shoulders and back in uncoordinated kisses. 

 

“You’re doing great, baby,” Shiro says a moment later. Not breathless, but like the words are punched out of him, like it takes concentration to say. “Feel so good,” 

 

Keith bites down, clenching his hands into fists. His whole body feels hot— with the praise, and Shiro’s undivided focus on him, and the raw feeling of being this exposed. 

 

Exposed— the realization strikes him again and Keith squeezes his eyes shut, heart kicking fast and hard in his chest. Shiro has him in every way it’s possible to have a person, and it’s by Keith’s own design, he wants it, feels like he’s wanted it forever, but it’s terrifying—

 

Shiro kisses sloppy against his back and then Keith can feel his chest heave as he straightens up, lifting Keith’s hips with him, changing their position slightly. The new position is devastating. Keith feels himself on the edge with every thrust; his cock hanging heavy between his legs, bouncing as he’s fucked, dripping a mess of pre and lube onto the sheets. 

 

“Shi-Shiro,” 

 

He’s close. 

 

Keith almost screams when Shiro pulls out. He tenses his shoulders, jaw clenched in frustration, 

 

“Keith, relax,” Shiro soothes. He flips him over and slides back in all in one motion. Hands wrapped around one of Keith’s thighs, his hips start rocking in and out again,

 

Keith tosses his head back against Shiro’s sheets, teeth scraping his bottom lip. He squeezes his eyes shut, lifts his hips, tries to get lost there, in the feeling. But mentally he is still stuck in the way that Shiro’s gaze is trained on him, focus entirely on Keith. His throat feels tight. It’s so much. “Shiro.” 

 

“Relax,” Shiro repeats, slowing ever so slightly. Keith’s knee is pressed nearer to his chest as Shiro leans close. He exhales one shaking breath over Keith, and that’s what makes Keith open his eyes. 

 

Shiro is looking at him, grayblue almost swallowed up with the black, lust-hazed pupils, his bangs curled with perspiration from exertion and falling into his eyes. He buries his cock into the hilt, grip bruising and good. Keith is caught in his gaze, as if searching. The moment lengthens and hangs between them, until suddenly it doesn’t: Keith is shuddering out a breath as Shiro brushes Keith’s hair away from his face. Tender. 

 

“Better,” he says, hand against Keith’s cheek. Holding his gaze. “There’s my Keith. That’s better.” His Keith. Always his Keith. Please, 

 

Shiro moves now with intent, drawing back to slam his hips into Keith at a punishing pace. 

 

“Fuck!” Keith grits out, wrapping a hand around himself. He pumps hard and fast, overwhelmed— by Shiro’s thick cock splitting him completely, the heat of his skin, the intimacy of his gaze— by everything. 

 

“Beautiful,” Shiro sighs out as Keith clenches around him. 

 

Should be me telling you that, Keith thinks wildly. The auxiliary lights from the bathroom are low; the glow combined with Shiro’s pale hair, makes him look almost unreal. Chiseled jaw, broad shoulders, plush pecs, looking down at Keith as though he is something precious. Keith doesn’t say it, doesn’t say anything. Keith squeezes his eyes shut, rolls his hips, 

 

“Beautiful,” Shiro murmurs again, “Keith,” 

 

Keith rejects the compliment, muscles taut and back arching as he comes. Shiro’s hand is over his and then suddenly Keith is empty and Shiro is fucking into his own fist over top of Keith. He comes with a grunt, splatter hot over Keith’s hands and abs. 

 

And then Shiro is hanging over Keith, both of them suspended in that moment, breath ragged between them. Sticky skin, heaving chests, post-orgasm cloud where thoughts are both flitting and sluggish, difficult to connect together. Before everything comes crashing back, before Keith is scrambling to pull himself together again, to cover up this live wire that is his heart— crackling with potential, and dangerous, and delicate—

 

Shiro’s hands are bracketing either side of him, and, despite the haze that has his body thrumming still, Keith perceives the exact moment that Shiro gathers himself together, ready to sit back on his haunches. Keith doesn’t want that. He reaches up, pulling Shiro instead on top of him, kissing him. Oversensitive and artless. His arms wrap around Shiro’s chest to his back, fingertips playing at the hard edge of metal before digging into his shoulders. Dragging him down. Drawing himself into Shiro’s arms. Honest. As honest and open as he knows how to be. 

 

He kisses Shiro like he’s desperate for this not to end, to keep him close. Always his Keith. 

 

—Delicate, and so easy to break, but only like this, only for Shiro—

 

Shiro groans into his mouth. Keith swallows it greedily.

 

Keith flips them over, half on top of Shiro now, enjoying the way that Shiro runs his hands along Keith’s sides, presses into the small of Keith’s back, holding him. 

 

He kisses Shiro until Shiro is lazy with it, sated and sleepy against Keith’s mouth. “Keith,” he says, soft smile on his lips, soft like Keith can imagine the words are more than just Keith’s name. 

 

“Yeah,” Keith tells him, like his heartbeat isn’t still kicking against his ribs, like sex is sex and nothing else. 

 

The action turns slower and slower, until Shiro is nuzzling against Keith’s skin as Keith presses gentle lips against his face. Indulgent— the scar across his nose, the stubble on his cheeks, his temple, his forehead. Until finally, Shiro’s eyes stay shut, and his fingers still, and his mouth is parted just so— he’s fallen asleep. 

 

Satisfied, Keith untangles himself from Shiro. 

 

Lays on his back next to Shiro in Shiro’s bed. 

 

Wills his heart to stop racing.  

 

Curious fingertips press against kiss swollen lips. Trailing down to his neck, where Shiro mouthed praise against his skin. Down further to his chest where cum is smeared and drying. He heaves out a breath and his hand drops against the sheets at his side. If he lets himself linger... no. If he closes his eyes, he’ll fall asleep too. Or worse, he’ll talk himself into staying the night. 

 

He slides out of bed, skin pebbling in the cool room now that the sweat has dried. His clothes are on the floor— haphazardly discarded like both of their proposed evening agendas. Everything else forgotten as soon as Shiro’s bedroom door closed with Keith inside. 

 

He showers quickly in Shiro’s en suite, washes his hair and body with the wash that should smell like everyone aboard the Atlas, but really just smells like Shiro. 

 

Picks up his clothes from the floor, tugging his jeans on first, then retrieves his black shirt from the opposite side of the bed. Steps into his boots. 

 

Shiro is snoring slightly, mouth ajar. His stomach rises and falls in a soothing rhythm, utterly at peace in sleep. Keith finds his own breaths slowing to match. The space beside him is tempting. 

 

He trusts Shiro. He does. More than anyone else. But. 

 

They aren’t— 

 

They haven’t— Shiro hasn’t— 

 

Tonight was enough, he tells himself. This was enough. 

 

He is careful to lock the door to the captain’s quarters behind him as he leaves. His own room is a few paces down the hall. It’s late so no one else is there to witness him slip inside. 

 

*

 

The large monitor for the conference call will soon be separated into different screens for the various diplomats, but as of now, Allura’s face takes up the entirety of the image. Shiro gives her a wave as the image sharpens and they both settle into their respective places: he, seated at one side of a conference table aboard the Atlas, and she within her private office within the royal court of New Altea. 

 

She looks good. Rested and relaxed, content as she gathers up the materials for the meeting that is about to begin. After the war, she cut her hair. The short length is still a shock for Shiro, after seeing her with the other style for so many years, but it suits her. Curly and silver, just long enough to tuck behind her ears so that her drop earrings sparkle through the ends. She does so now, tilting her head just so; her earrings catch the light enough to shimmer. Her brand new engagement ring also catches in the light. 

 

Lance wasted no time in popping the question. Maybe just slightly anxious about holding his place in her heart after the lions were no longer around to tangibly bind them together? Maybe, after all they’ve been through, completely unable to fathom a future with anyone else? Maybe, when faced with the infinity of space and time, rebirth and decay, unimaginable loss and fullest joy, he just understood that there’s no sense in failing to pursue what you truly deem as happiness? 

 

Not that Shiro has any thoughts on the matter. He takes a bitter sip of his coffee. 

 

“What are you meditating on so seriously over there?” Allura peers down at him from the holoscreen. Chuchule (or is it Plachu? Shiro can never tell them apart) scurries up her shoulder and gives him an equally appraising look. 

 

“Ask me again in forty-five minutes when I’m actually awake,” Shiro replies, thankful that there’s not enough time before the meeting for her to press the issue. Also thankful that the twin carafes on the sideboard are full of lovingly brewed dark roast. He’ll definitely need more than just this one cup. It’s too early for thinly veiled cynicism about his own relationship status. His own romantic initiative. Or lack thereof. It’s also too early for this meeting. 

 

Allura purses her lips, smile hidden behind her pretty pink pout. “Between the two of us,” she says in a hushed tone, “In a varga’s time I’ll be less awake. The Loews tend to drone.” 

 

“Better or worse that the Ohmedep?” Shiro asks, raising his brows behind his mug. 

 

She shudders. “ Nothing could be worse than—”

 

“Hullo Princess!! Have you seen my uxleblakel? A man’s not fully dressed without his uxleblakel, that’s what my great-uncle Dor— oh! Number one! Hullo!” Coran picks up the comm in front of Allura, and Shiro gets a high-res eyeful of orange moustache and wide teeth. 

 

“Excuse my state of undress, I seem to have misplaced my uxleblakel! Right before our conference with the Loews too! Terrible luck, must admit— “ 

 

Coran looks literally identical to every other instance in which Shiro has ever seen him. 

 

“Can’t say I noticed,” Shiro says, honest. 

 

“Oh that’s because your tiny human brain can only hold just miniscule amounts of information,” Coran says cheerfully. “Not the most observant creatures, are you!” He sets the comm back down and picks up one of Allura’s file folders to check underneath it. “Tragic, really,” he murmurs. 

 

“Uh huh.” Shiro decides that he needs more coffee, sooner rather than later. “Well.” 

 

There’s a knock at the door prior to it sliding open, and a pair of Shiro’s crew file in. Soon, the other members of the meeting will be joining them, and the off-ship leaders will be pinging in. Shiro takes the window of opportunity to make himself another cup of coffee. Next to the regular and decaf, there’s a spread of not-exactly-fruit and an impressive plate of muffins, courtesy of the Atlas’ galley. 

 

On impulse, Shiro grabs a napkin and a chocolate chocolate-chip muffin to place at the seat next to his. And another mug which he fills part-way with coffee, tops with a generous amount of cream, and three heaping teaspoons of sugar. This heinous concoction he places next to the muffin. 

 

The Loews ping in right on time. Allura is now sitting up, regal and poised, with Coran just behind her and to the left. Lance will burst in at any moment to take his place at her right. There’s Hunk, collaborating from the far reaches of the M’Pravi system, and Pidge looks half asleep, Olkarian crickets humming audibly outside her bedroom. Several other diplomats join them, pinging in from all across this galaxy. 

 

“Shall we begin,” Allura addresses the council. 

 

Shiro opens the notes he and his team have prepared. He takes a breath. “Colleagues, fellow members of the Coalition,” 

 

The door opens, and Keith slips in, silent as he crosses the room. He’s in full Blade uniform, the mantle swooping across his chest. Dark hair falling across his forehead into his eyes. Dagger at his waist. Devastating in every sense of the word. He slides into the chair next to Shiro. Tilts his head to give Shiro the slightest smile. Apologetic, maybe. For being late. 

 

“...and friends,” Shiro continues, at once warm and at ease now that Keith is at his side. “On behalf of the Atlas crew, I’d like to extend my deepest gratitude to all of you, not only for your presence here today, but also your continued efforts in recovering from and dismantling the effects of tyranny. We’ve all heard amazing stories by now— from the revived climate of planet Asurac to the liberation of the Zeis. Stories that inspire. Stories that incite us to continued action. For equality. For unity. For peace. We have a lot of work ahead of us here, but let’s not forget all that we’ve accomplished together already.” 

 

At the conclusion of the opening statement, there’s a muddle of approval from their allies, but a fair share of silent dissent as well. The proceedings won’t be without difficulties. Shiro can’t be too apprehensive about it though, not when Keith is sitting next to him. And all of the other members of Voltron— who are, in all the ways that matter, Shiro’s family— gathered together. 

 

He listens to Allura as she begins the first talking points on the meeting’s agenda. They’ll be discussing a proposed timeline for the Coalition’s initiative in this sector of space. He’d like to say that he’s fully invested in the discussion— as predicted the Loewellian representatives bully their way to the floor almost immediately— but, truth be told, he has half an eye on Keith. 

 

Deft fingers unpeel the wrapper from the muffin and break off a bit to slip into his mouth. Apparently liking what he tastes, Keith then inhales the muffin in just three more bites. Once empty, he folds the wrapper into a perfect triangle, presses it down with his thumb into the table, all while nodding along as he listens to the diplomats on screen bluster on. 

 

Keith lifts the coffee to his lips and takes a hesitant first sip. Will it be too strong? Too bitter? No. He sighs out silent satisfaction, eyelashes fluttering against his cheeks as he then takes a longer drought. 

 

Shiro is abruptly reminded of how he looked gasping and undone against dove gray sheets. 

 

Shiro looks away for a moment and takes a steadying breath. Perhaps grips the arm of his chair slightly harder than he should.  

 

Keith leans to the side, pulling his comm device out of his pack. His hair falls in his face as he leans, revealing the milky white, space-pale skin of his nape. Baby hairs curl delicately against the soft looking skin. Shiro nearly chokes on air when he can see past Keith’s collar and catches a glimpse of what can only be a lovebite. A mark that he himself left. Just several hours ago. The tips of Shiro’s ears burn and he can only hope that his cheeks aren’t red to match. He turns his gaze resolutely towards the screen (though he has no idea what he’s watching). The arm of his chair cracks under the pressure. 

 

Having Keith is...everything. Everything to Shiro. Kissing Keith, Keith in his arms, Keith’s hands on him. Brilliant, impossible, relentless. Bashful, charming, sincere. Perfect. Everything. 

 

Shiro would have liked to wake up next to him. After last night. After every night. He’d like to always wake up next to him. Keith doesn’t seem to share the sentiment. For all the ways that Keith is a constant in Shiro’s life— the one person on whom he can always depend— he is also the most difficult to pin down. He’s fiercely protective, but fiercely independent. Fiercely loyal, but also, fiercely headstrong. Fiercely Keith. 

 

They haven’t put a name to their relationship yet. How do you name something that transcends realities, that binds soul deep? Keith kisses him and Shiro despairs: how do you contain an unchecked flame without tempering the fire? It must be the same answer as to how you can repay a person for saving your life. You don’t. You can’t. 

 

“...estimate on the initial wave of support?” 

 

“...Captain Shirogane?” 

 

Shiro blinks, sitting up straighter in his chair. “Correct,” he says, not entirely sure what the question was. He flicks two fingers down his datapad, searching blind for an answer. “I believe. The—” 

 

“My team has run through several probable scenarios.” Keith cuts Shiro off. “It’s long been Blade policy to be doubly prepared for any and every outcome. One of our strengths.” He smirks, not quite cocky, but close. Keith clicks on his own device, sending a complicated spreadsheet to the members of the strategizing team. “Worst case scenario, the first wave is estimated to be roughly eight movements. The major factors, if you look, are basically—” 

 

He’s smooth, making the complex probability functions seem basic and understandable. Shiro can’t help but feel proud, even though he has nothing to do with Keith’s current expertise. It’s just...he’s grown into such a capable leader. Shiro should be embarrassed by his fumble, but instead, watching Keith, he preens. 

 

Allura gives Shiro a knowing look. Behind her, Lance is sprawled out over a chair, head tilted back, mouth silently moving as he counts what Shiro can only guess are ceiling tiles. She flicks Lance in the temple without breaking eye contact with Shiro, as if to say, If I have to suffer through this, then so do both of you. Lance yelps. Sits up straight. 

 

Shiro resolves to pay attention for the rest of the meeting. 

 

“You saved me back there,” Shiro says, at their first break, leaning close enough not to be heard by anyone but Keith. He has his hand on the back of Keith’s chair, not quite his arm around Keith, but close. “I was too in my own head and lost track of the discussion. No idea what they asked.” 

 

Keith’s mouth quirks up, amusement flickering in dark eyes. “Anytime.” He bumps his shoulder into Shiro’s chest. “I owed you anyways. For the coffee. But what was so important that it had you zoning out?” 

 

Shiro shrugs, sheepish, one hand on his jaw. He lifts the hand in surrender. You? 

 

He doesn’t say it out loud. 

 

Even when he wants to, untold hours later, when just he and Keith are standing on the tarmac in Atlas’ prime hanger, under the wing of Keith’s ship. Now that the meeting is over, and the terms of the agreement have been settled, Keith is leaving to relay the info to his team. These days Keith is acting as the liaison between the now-defunct Blades of Marmora and the newly minted Coalition leadership team. It’s an ever-changing, difficult position to be in, but Shiro has every confidence that Keith can handle it. He can handle anything. 

 

Shiro always misses him when he’s with the Blades. But Keith is independent. Shiro would never ask him to stay, never hold him back. 

 

“Call me when you get settled in?” Shiro asks, brushing a thumb against the crest of Keith’s cheekbone. 

 

Keith looks up at him, solemn expression giving nothing away. “I always do,” he says. “Of course, Shiro.” 

 

He lifts his chin just slightly, mouth soft and inviting. Shiro takes it before he can doubt himself. And it must be the right thing to do, based on the way Keith’s arms come around his neck pulling him down, just slightly. ‘Til his body— long, lithe, deadly, devastating— is flush against Shiro’s. Shiro settles his hands on Keith’s hips, kissing him slow and deep. Maybe trying to memorize this feeling, save the taste of him for later. 

 

Keith lets out the slightest sound, a whisper of the moans he was trying to suppress the night before, and it’s almost too much for Shiro. Almost enough to have him pulling Keith back to his quarters, taking him apart again, better than last time. Good enough to make Keith stay.  

 

He resists. 

 

Instead Shiro pulls away, running his human hand through Keith’s hair, just to smooth it out of his face. Keith has a schedule to adhere to, afterall, and Shiro can’t keep him. 

 

“Shiro. I—uh.” Keith sucks in a breath, swiping the back of his gloved hand against his lips. “I’ll call you, okay?” 

 

Shiro nods. “Go.” He has to say it. 

 

Keith reaches up to give Shiro one final kiss on the cheek, smiling up at him— that rare, sweet, almost shy smile that Shiro knows is just for him. And then he touches the side of his neck, and the Blade mask is covering his face. And he’s walking away. 

 

“Be safe,” Shiro tells him, when Keith is too far away to hear. Keith gives Shiro a little wave after walking up the ramp to his ship. He watches Keith’s ship depart from the control room, before returning to his office and his work. 

 

*

 

The return journey to the Blade’s current base is fully charted, so Keith should be able to rest en route. 

 

He does not rest en route. 

 

He’s on edge. He tries to sleep, but the only thing less comforting than the utilitarian bench that serves as a cot aboard this vessel is the scratchy blanket that lays atop it. He considers reviewing his notes from the day’s meeting so that the briefing at the Blade’s base will go smoothly when he arrives, but after reading the same line three times over, he abandons that plan. Setting his notes aside, he kicks the blanket off his legs and rolls to his back. The light above his bed is flickering. On and off. On. And off. It’s never done that before. 

 

On. And off. On…

 

Keith reaches under his pillow and finds the hilt of his knife, cool and smooth as he wraps his fingers around it. He lies in bed, passing his knife from palm to palm, trying to understand why he feels so unsettled. 

 

Nothing went wrong at the conference today. Just the opposite actually. Since the final battle, and the end of Voltron’s role in the war, the paladins have split up. Keith has kept in touch with Shiro, obviously, but it wasn’t until he saw the others on the screen today that he realized how much he missed the others. He hasn’t seen Allura and Lance in at least a couple weeks, and Hunk and Pidge longer than that. 

 

It was several varga into the dry meeting when Pidge, exasperated, finally made a snide comment about the Loews’ weird drone. She tried to cover it up with some obviously fake ‘technical difficulty,’ but, judging by the sour looks on the aliens’ faces, failed. Hunk followed it up with a terrible pun—in response, Lance groaned, got all loud and theatrical like he used to when they were younger. Even Allura was snickering. Keith leaned forward to see Shiro’s face and, sure enough, his mouth was doing that twitchy thing that it always does when he thinks something is funny and is trying to stay serious. Keith snorted: he’s so obvious. And just like that, the meeting was derailed and the former paladins of Voltron were laughing. 

 

It hit Keith just then: how the five of them got thrown together, and lived and fought and won together. And how, maybe it means that they’ll always have this kinda stuff. Stupid jokes and easy familiarity that just comes from knowing people too well. Anniversaries and birthdays and inside jokes on intergalactic conference calls— small stuff that only happens because of big stuff like Support and Time and Togetherness. Stuff that Keith has never had before with people, but now feels easy and natural. Maybe, Keith thought, that it doesn’t matter how much time or distance comes between them, but because of their shared past, they’ll always be a family to him. 

 

Not like Shiro, no one is like Shiro, but still. 

 

Keith has left plenty of folks that could have been family but weren’t. This is the first time he’s come back to some and realized that maybe they are. Maybe they are family. The thought made Keith’s cheeks warm and he had to remind himself to stay focused for the rest of the meeting. 

 

Now, the light above him flickers one last time, before turning off. 

 

As Keith travels farther away, once again alone, that warm feeling has drained out of him. It’s weird. He feels uncomfortable with leaving in a way that he never has before. Saying goodbye to Shiro— no matter the circumstances— always leaves him restless. But this is different. 

 

There’s a quiet buzz at the back of his skull, and even though he left the Atlas just hours ago, he’s almost tempted to call Shiro to check-in. Something’s not right. 

 

Keith trusts his gut. He always has. It’s what’s gotten him this far. He’s just made the decision to contact the Atlas, when, 

 

A shipwide alarm cuts through the silence:  

 

“Emergency, 

 

Solar event detected. Centrino burst at Y984.7564.08920. Damage to portside hull imminent in 546 ticks if evasive maneuver not immediately taken. Allow override?” 

 

Keith sits up. The forecast estimate is not infallible, but a storm like this was definitely not predicted. Maybe that explains the weird feeling of unrest he’s had. Still, he should be able to fly himself to safety without much of an issue. He’s flown through worse. He pulls out his datapad, typing coordinates with one hand as he strides to the pilot’s chair, kicking the ship out of auto without a thought. 

 

She lurches under his touch. The feeling of disquiet heightens. Something’s not right. 

 

The alarm repeats, 

 

“Emergency,

 

Solar event detected. Centrino burst at Y984.7564.08920. Damage to portside hull imminent in 544 ticks if evasive maneuver not immediately taken. Allow override?” 

 

“Override.” Keith orders. The call to the Atlas, to Shiro, is not going through. He frowns, eyes scanning the screen for possible interference. The connection from Blade to Atlas is secured many times over; theoretically, there shouldn’t be any natural or technological means that can tamper with it. 

 

Something collides with the left side of his ship and Keith is slammed against one side of the pilot’s chair. Hard. Pain shoots up his arm into his shoulder. 

 

He swears, dropping the datapad to the floor, as he fights to regain control over the controls. A notification that six— no, ten— no, fifteen — ships are approaching him rises in red text over his main screen. He doesn’t recognize their signature. Unknown ships. Coming out of nowhere. They’re on all sides—

 

“Emergency,

 

Solar event detected. Centrino burst at Y984.7564.08920. Damage to portside hull imminent in 540 ticks if evasive maneuver not immediately taken. Allow override?” 

 

“Override!!” Keith shouts, hands working at the myriad of controls in front of him. Trying, at least, to hold her steady. If it’s a fight they’re coming for, it’s a fight they’ll get. “I said override!!” 

 

She’s not responding to the basic command. Keith attempts the manual override, but. The ship isn’t responding to anything. Communication is down. The navigation software is inoperable. All basic life support systems are slowing down to basically non-functional. Keith’s hands hover uselessly over the controls as, one-by-one, his screens blink off. 

 

He swallows. 

 

There’s a crack. A distant rumble; vibrations from the solar burst. The enemy must have predicted the unpredictable centrino burst and used it as cover to tail him. The reverb of the natural phenomenon hits hard and strong against the hull, knocking Keith’s failing ship off course. 

 

The ship stalls, and sinks, and the engines cut. The silence is deafening. His stomach turns. 

 

And everything goes dark. 

 

“You gotta be kidding me,” Keith grits. His ship is suddenly without power. The five control panels that surround the pilot’s seat are now off, and Keith himself is blind. 

 

There’s a heavy clunk above him. It takes a moment to place, but then there’s several lighter clunks in regular succession. Footsteps. 

 

Someone, or some thing , is standing on top of his ship. 

 

All the hair on Keith’s body stands up. He thinks to grab his knife— no sooner does he have it in his hand, than he hears the first screaming shred of metal. Whoever it is, they are cutting their way in through the hull. 

 

“Shit,” Keith dives for his helmet in the darkness. He was dressed for a nap— the arms of his suit are dangling around his waist, chest bare, helmet across the room— not prepared for the ship to fail, not prepared for the cabin to depressurize, not prepared to be jettisoned into deep space. Not prepared for combat. 

 

The floor isn’t level now and he stumbles across, shoving his arms into his suit and pulling it up to his neck. He has no weapons, except his blade. This is a small vessel, meant more for travel than enemy engagement. No escape pod or secondary engines. She’s fast but that means all of jackshit when his power is cut. Keith swears, 

 

Clunk. Clunk, clunk. 

 

Two. No, at least three more bodies drop onto the hull. The screaming of metal increases threefold as they hack away at the exterior. 

 

Keith’s helmet slides into place with a click. He doesn’t allow himself a sigh of relief as the comm lights up on the side of his viewscreen; his lips are pressed tight together, mind racing through, pulse hammering. He manages to send a distress signal to the Blade base just as he hears the thud of something drop onto the floor in front of him. Something big. 

 

He’s still at least two varga out from the Blade’s base. 

 

And the Atlas is further than that. 

 

The figure feels large. Keith can’t see it, can’t see anything beyond the faint glow of his helmet visor, but it moves in front of him and it feels large. It heaves out a sickening breath, one that rattles through the ear pieces of Keith’s helmet and sends a chill down his back. He takes a step back, soundless, tilting his wrist. 

 

His knife becomes a sword. He tightens his grip on the hilt. Breathes out through his nose. 

 

Others drop to the floor, not as large as the first intruder. Keith is standing against the wall, out of sight. They say something to each other, but it’s muffled. The rush of air out into the vacuum of space eats up the communication before Keith can even parse if it’s in a language that he understands. 

 

All of them switch on lights at once. From the complete blackout to sudden brightness, Keith is stunned. It’s by hearing alone that he’s able to dodge the first blow. 

 

The attackers— another one drops in, bringing the total to four— are Galra. Except for the big guy who is almost certainly Druid made. 

 

The ceiling is high, as the Blade vessel was made to accommodate Galran height, but the one is so large that he has a hand planted on the roof, large form bent to fit inside. It stands there, huge blank eyes, large mouth full of fangs, not moving. 

 

Keith observes this as the other three Galra soldiers begin their attack. He runs the first one through— their uniform is not exactly that of Zarkon’s empire, but the breaks are similar enough that his blade finds the fissure through pure muscle memory; it slides past armor into flesh clean and easy. Keith draws the sword out, sending an arc of blueblack Galran blood spraying across his helmet visor and his assailants. Two more Galra soldiers are trampling their dead colleague before the unfortunate is even fully collapsed to the floor. Keith parries their blows— the one is using a dual bladed bowstaff that was typical of Haggar’s inner circle, but the other has the more traditional Galran sword. Neither of them fight like the barely combat-trained, trigger-happy foot soldiers that ran rampant on the decks of Zarkon’s ships. 

 

They are vicious, cunning, fast. Keith keeps his back to the wall, doesn’t stop moving, not even when the dagger of the bowstaff catches his thigh. If anything, the sharp pain keeps his mind clear— he’s still watching the large, unmoving creature, even as a slew of additional soldiers drop in and charge him. 

 

He moves between them, dancing past the central unit that houses the core powering this small ship, and over the basic galley where he fixed himself a quick supper before lying down to rest. Another runs at him from behind and Keith flings his sword at their helmet; it transforms back into the more compact blade just before making contact with the glass. The glass shatters. Keith jumps over the table, retrieving his blade from the now-dead Galran’s skull before dropping down to escape into the lower deck. 

 

There’s very little room to move around down here, and almost no light. 

 

Keith heaves out a breath, “Agent to home. Emergency. Immediate assistance— It’s me, Keith,” he sends out a second distress call to the Base all in one rush of air. It’s impossible to know if it was able to connect successfully. Especially with his ship’s communications software fucked up. 

 

A hexagon of light appears overhead. Two soldiers drop into the narrow crawl space with Keith. Galran eyes adjust to darkness much more rapidly and with greater acuity than those of humans; still, Keith uses their split second of disorientation to attack. There will be more: he can hear ever increasing footfall on the deck above his head. 

 

He needs a plan. If their ships are close enough for them to reach his, then they are close enough for Keith to reach them. He’ll abandon this vessel, take one of the enemy’s, and pilot to the Blades. With a little luck, they’ll even be able to lift info from the enemy ship regarding who these fucks are working for. 

 

The space between the bulkheads is narrow here, but Keith knows his way around. He’s almost to the bow— where he plans to exit his ship and somehow get onto one of the enemy’s, when, 

 

The ceiling above him is torn through. The metal screams; Keith ducks, massive claws just missing him as the large creature from before slices through the deck above him. He can hear shouting as the soldiers direct it deeper to where he is crouched. 

 

Behind him, more soldiers are finding their way through the narrow hallway towards his position. Okay. New plan. He’ll fight his way through them— there will be a different way off this ship—

 

Keith gasps. The large thing— the monster— it has him by the helmet. It reached down through the gash in the floor and managed to grab him. Its huge, clawed hand is wrapped around his head, grip vice enough to whisker the glass of Keith’s visor with the pressure. It’s going to crush his head. In a panic, Keith scrambles to unfasten his helmet from his suit, it’s going to crush his head. 

 

The beast drags him up through the floor before he can manage to break free— Keith is flailing, trying to slash at its arm while also trying to dislodge the grip on his helmet. It drags him through the floor and the twisted metal of his damaged ship slices through his suit down his shoulders and arms. 

 

“Get off me!!” Keith grits out, still blindly thrashing. It’s going to crush his head. It’s going to break his neck. His suit’s system is going haywire, all the delicate tech that’s embedded into the visor split into a million pieces. The giant swings its massive arm, throwing Keith into the wall. 

 

The impact knocks all the air from his lungs and Keith whites out for a split second, pain overtaking all other senses. When he comes to, he’s on the floor across the ship, surrounded by the invading Galran crew. His visor is smashed and what’s left of his comm system is blaring oxygen depletion warnings through his ears. 

 

He still has his knife. He teeters to his feet, coughing and spitting blood out of his mouth, adjusting his grip on the hilt of his blade through the gore. He inhales one long breath; it feels like at least one of his ribs is broken. Probably more. 

 

He roars, charging at the mass of soldiers surrounding him. 

 

He’s thrown back into the wall. At first he thinks it’s because the creature has him again, but a searing pain below his left shoulder starts to spread and he realizes: he’s been shot. 

 

Keith stands up; his back is to the wall; he has one hand over the now gushing wound on his shoulder, but he manages it. He stands. The wound on his thigh was deeper than he realized. Two of the soldiers rush him again, but Keith still has his blade. He runs them through. There’s no finesse to it, but they go down. 

 

Others take their place. 

 

He is shot again, this time the pain spreads from his thigh, the one opposite the leg that was cut earlier. He stumbles, falling to one knee. The floor is wet with blood, his own red-congealing-brown mixed with the slick blueblack of Galra bodies. The smell of it burns his nostrils and that, combined with the overwhelming pain, makes his stomach roll. 

 

Keith inhales. 

 

He stands. 

 

The large creature reaches for him again but the interior of the ship is too cramped for it to move quickly. Keith dodges its outstretched arm and jumps, sending his sword across what he can only hope is the thing’s jugular.

 

Fluid— not exactly blood— erupts over Keith. It burns like acid, seeping into his many open wounds. Keith twists his blade, ignoring the pain. 

 

The creature wails, deafening, long teeth flashing in its gaping jaw. And it drops. Hard. The entire ship rattles at the impact. Keith and his attackers stumble in unison.  

 

One of them swears and Keith, wobbling to his feet, sword in hand thinks, “Yeah, and I’ll take care of you next,” 

 

And then everything goes black. 

 

*

 

Keith wakes up slowly to a dark room and a lot of pain. 

 

He moves to sit up and finds that his left arm is completely trashed. Trembling fingertips of his right hand ghost over the wound— he finds what is basically space age gauze and medical tape. It’s a utilitarian wound dressing that feels typical of a Blade combat medic. They don’t have healing pods like the Alteans, and they’re soldiers, not doctors. But they get by. Keith feels that the impact from the first shot seems to be about two fingers below his collarbone. It missed his heart and his shoulder wasn’t totally shattered, but both were a near thing. He can’t sit up without the pain making his eyes water; he does anyways. 

 

The effort sends him reeling. He gags on his own spit, eyes watering, bent over his lap. Shit. Shit. 

 

“I’d advise caution, sir,” A voice intones from the shadows. 

 

Keith swallows back angry tears and a string of curses. His chest aches with every breath. His bandaged hands curl into fists that take effort to unclench. He’s really not in the mood to be snuck up on. 

 

“Who the fuck is there?”  

 

His voice is terrible— raspy and hoarse. It hurts to speak. 

 

The Galran steps closer to Keith’s bedside. Keith has been acting leader of the Blades since Kolivan abdicated the position in lieu of managing the difficult political climate on Daibazaal following the end of the war. It’s only been about three phoebs, but Keith was under the impression that he’s met every remaining agent by this point. He doesn’t recognize this guy. 

 

“Krycek,” he says, giving his name. The Blade mask dissolves, revealing his face. Krycek smiles and it’s not at all kind. “I was the Blade who first intercepted your distress signal. Antok, Rivlat, and Jor accompanied me in following it. We found your ship just as the dissidents who captured you were about to escape.” 

 

“Who—”

 

“You fought admirably, but ultimately, it was inadequate.” Krycek explains, looking down at Keith from the end of Keith’s cot. His tail flicks at the end, punctuating the statement. “Lucky for you, I got there in time.” 

 

“Lucky,” Keith repeats, under his breath. The Galran is tall, maybe Kolivan’s height, but slim built. His arms are unnaturally long, and his fingers too. No weapons— at least none are visible from where Keith is sitting. Three small horns protrude over either eye, a clear indication that Krycek is not fully Galran. And, again, Keith has never met this agent before. Krycek steps to the side of Keith’s bed, closer, and Keith has the unsettling thought that he doesn’t currently know where his knife is. 

 

“Keith. You are awake.” Kolivan enters the room. Antok is right behind him. 

 

Krycek gives them a nod and steps aside. 

 

Antok activates a terminal near Keith’s bedside and increases the lights in the room. Kolivan takes a look at the terminal which seems to show Keith’s vitals and overall condition. He reads through the stats without comment before handing the device back to Antok. 

 

“Heard you were one of the team who got me out,” Keith says, looking up at Antok. “Thanks,” 

 

Antok has his mask over his face, as is typical for him (Keith has never seen him without it— and their bunks have been right next door to each other for years). He simply tilts his head at Keith’s statement. 

 

“We have almost no information on your attackers,” Kolivan says, brisque. “And the ship you were flying was left in ruins. No datalogs regarding their approach. The enemy casualties have since been examined but we are still unsure as to their motives or leader. What are you able to remember?” 

 

Keith closes his eyes. Not much. He gives a summary of the events of the attack with as many details as he can recall. The pain in his arm, shoulder, and chest is enough to leave him breathless, but he fights through it. The words come slow and difficult. It’s standard Blade protocol— established long before his time— that more intensive wound care and pain management will only occur after an initial debrief with a superior officer. After this he’ll be able to rest. 

 

“Early speculation would lead us to believe that this group remains loyal to Zarkon’s witch, even after her fall.” Kolivan says, when Keith has worn himself out. “It is too early to know for sure. Escalation is highly probable. I have sent Rivlat and Jor to collect more information from the site. They have orders to pursue any lead. Initial report due in two quintants.”

 

Keith nods weakly. As the leader, they’ll be reporting to him. But right now, it’s all he can do to remain upright. His head is swimming; the pain seems to be becoming more severe the longer he sits up. 

 

“Krolia sends her regards.” Kolivan looks to his vitals again. He must be able to tell that Keith is going to pass out again soon. “Medical will be here shortly.” He moves as if to leave. 

 

“Wait,” Keith says. It comes out thready. He clears his throat. It hurts, but. “Has anybody— Does the Atlas know?” 

 

Kolivan is never purposefully obtuse, but now his brow wrinkles slightly. “Our allies within the Coalition have not been informed of this attack, no. Do you believe that they would be able to elucidate any further?” 

 

Keith shakes his head, gritting his teeth. Out of the corner of his eye, he sees Krycek shift his weight, like he might say something. Neither Antok nor Kolivan make note of it. “I want to talk to Shiro,” Keith finally manages to get out. Like it’s ripped from his chest. 

 

“Very well.” Kolivan places one large hand on the end of Keith’s bed. The closest he would come to comforting. He promises to make sure there is a secure connection to contact the Atlas before medical arrives. 

 

>>my ship was attacked on the way back to the base 

 

Keith types out a message to Shiro as soon as Antok hands him a comm before slipping out of the room with Kolivan. He’s in the middle of typing a follow up message, “I’m okay,” when the incoming call from Shiro lights up his screen. 

 

“Keith,” Shiro says, searching Keith’s face as soon as the video call connects. His hair is unstyled and he’s wearing a loose muscle tee, navy blue. Keith recognizes it as one that Shiro wears around his quarters often. It’s soft and worn. For some reason the sight of it makes Keith’s throat feel watery. 

 

I wish I was there with you, he wants to say. 

 

“Oh god. Keith, ” Shiro gets up from his bed, standing up so quickly that the image on the call goes out of focus and then back in again. His brows are pinched in worry. Keith can tell from the way his jaw clenches and his shoulders square that Shiro is close to panic. “Are you okay? What happened? Who—” 

 

“I’m okay,” Keith croaks out. It’s not a lie, not really. 

 

“You’re— fuck, when you didn’t call— but, I thought. And—” Shiro is moving around his apartment, taking things out of drawers and throwing them onto the bed. He swears. “Keith. I—” 

 

“Shiro, you’re not coming here.” Keith realizes that Shiro is packing. But they don’t have any idea who it was who attacked him, or what they want, or how many there are, or anything. It’s not safe. 

 

Shiro stops. His eyes narrow. “Yes,” he says, tone carefully measured. “I am.” 

 

Keith would sigh if his chest didn’t hurt so badly. Shiro is the most stubborn person he knows, apart from himself. He’s tired. He hurts. He can’t do this. “Shiro,” Keith says, making the effort to sit up straighter. He has the comm angled so his shoulder isn’t as obviously fucked. “My flight was intercepted, we don’t know by who. They were smart enough to dodge our stealth tech. I was boarded. They were strong. I had to fight. I had to call for backup. The Blades got me out. The base here is secure. I’m fine.” Keith pauses, looking into his lap instead of Shiro’s face. “I need to rest.”

 

“You’re hurt,” Shiro says, sitting back down on his bed. “Keith. Let me—”

 

Shiro is needed by so many people on the Atlas. He does so much for the Coalition. And, more than that, Keith cannot knowingly put him in harm’s way. His arm is throbbing; he needs to sleep. “I promised to call you,” Keith tries. 

 

“I want to hold you,” Shiro whispers. 

 

Keith presses his lips together. He nods, not trusting himself with words. Not trusting himself with...that. With the meaning behind it, the emotion in Shiro’s voice, the depth of concern written on Shiro’s face. 

 

He’s exhausted. He needs to end the call before he passes out. 

 

Shiro inhales long through his nose. Holds it. “If you’re sure,” he says on the exhale. “If you don’t want me...” he pauses. “I’m just glad you’re okay, Keith. From the sounds of it, the situation could have been much worse.” 

 

“I’ll contact you soon, Shiro.” 

 

He disconnects the line. 

 

Throws the comm in the general direction of a bedside table. Buries his bruised face in his hands. 

 

“Who knew that Captain Shirogane of Atlas fame could be persuaded to change his mind so easily?” Krycek observes from the side of the room. 

 

“What,” Keith hisses. He lifts his face from his hands. He had forgotten that Krycek was in the room at all. 

 

Krycek cooly observes the comm on the floor as he steps forward, but he makes no move to pick it up. He blinks slowly at Keith, narrow eyes that are too darkly colored to be pure Galran. They give nothing away. “The situation could have been much worse,” Krycek repeats Shiro’s words, tone even, but somehow still mocking. “Pardon my observation, but it seems sufficiently bad to me.” 

 

Keith’s temper flares. “Get. The fuck. Out of my room.” he spits. 

 

Krycek is unruffled. “Of course, Commander. I’ll let medical know you’re ready. It’s obvious to anyone with eyes that you’re in a significant amount of pain.” 

 

Alone, Keith drags in one splintering, ragged breath and then another, and another, heaving them out as evenly as he can. He gingerly lays back in the bed and squeezes his eyes shut. Keith slings his uninjured forearm across his eyes and clenches his jaw tight. Like this, he’s going to hold himself together. Like this, he’ll be okay. 

 

He passes out long before medical arrives. 

 

 

Roughly half a month later, Shiro studies the screen in front of him with unwavering focus. The split lip is healing well, and the bruises around his neck have faded to a sickly green-ish yellow. Beyond that, it’s difficult to say, seeing how Keith is dressed in his Marmoran suit. But he seems better. God, that night he called, he was so pale , Shiro almost thought— 

 

Keith pulls a face. “Stop it, c’mon.” His eyes float to the side and then back to the comm, back to Shiro. He offers the slightest smile. “I’m fine. I swear.” 

 

I’ll be the judge of that, Shiro thinks, not at all convinced. He’s not so dense that he hasn’t noticed that Keith has been keeping his left shoulder conveniently out of frame. For the past two weeks. On every call. Shiro knows better than to press the subject— a surefire way for Keith to blow up or shut down— but he still can’t help asking again: 

 

“You’re sure you don’t want the Atlas to rendezvous with the Blades? You know I wouldn’t mi—”

 

“Shiro.” Keith rolls his eyes. “I’ll be fine.” He seems to hear something, but the person saying it is out of frame and Shiro doesn’t catch it. “That’s true,” Keith says in response. He turns back to Shiro. “You don’t need to hold my hand. It’s a routine flight.” 

 

“And if I wanted to hold your hand, what then?” Shiro almost says. He stops himself. He doesn’t want to undermine Keith’s leadership in front of the other members of the Blade, just because it would make himself feel better. 

 

“You know yourself best.” Shiro says instead. He trusts Keith to know his own limitations. But Shiro can’t help tacking on: “But you were ambushed less than a phoeb ago and sustained some serious injuries. It’s normal to be nervous. Just tell me if you change your mind and I’ll be there.” 

 

Keith pulls a face as if the idea of being nervous about flying is completely unfathomable to him. Shiro suppresses a smile. 

 

“But anyways, Keith, I’m just happy to see you in person again so soon.” Shiro holds up his fingers in peace-sign. “Two more,” he wiggles them with what he knows is a goofy grin, “Just two more sleeps and you’ll be back aboard!” 

 

“Yeah,” Keith ducks his head, obviously pleased and trying not to show it. His mouth works and he admits: “I’m excited about it too.” Softly: “It’ll be good to see you.” 

 

Shiro beams at him. And though the conversation naturally turns towards the more official business to which they have to attend, Shiro keeps a close eye on him. Since the accident, Keith has been subdued. Shiro has a feeling that the attack was worse than Keith is letting on. He’s spoken with Allura about it and she agrees. Lance wanted to go in to give Keith back up right away. After the attack, Hunk was so nervous, it was like he was the one attacked. And Pidge has been working endlessly to make sure their tech can’t be tampered with again. As for Shiro, he’s just  anxious to see Keith in person— If only to reassure himself that Keith’s unusual mood is simple exhaustion, and nothing more. 

 

Keith doesn’t know it yet, Shiro’s kept it a surprise, but the two of them have an official leave coming up. Nothing outrageous, just three days, but Shiro has pulled out all the stops to make it perfect: their schedules are absolutely crystal clear, the fridge in his quarters is packed with all of Keith’s favorite foods— including, real, actual chocolate ice cream (it’s not easy to come by this far out in space, but Shiro has his ways). And his datapad has all of Keith’s favorite shows preloaded— namely the first six seasons of the X-files, even though Keith insists on only ever rewatching the first three. They’ll be able to turn their comms off, sleep in...relax. Just the two of them. No diplomacy,  no meetings, no paperwork, no training, no nothing. He’s prepared the universe’s most far flung staycation. 

 

As soon as he gets Keith back in his arms, Shiro tells himself, everything else will fall into place. 

 

*

 

It is not common practice for the captain to perform his daily tasks from a portable terminal crammed in one unoccupied corner of the air traffic control room, but Shiro can’t bring himself to be any further away from the landing suites than necessary. He wants to know the moment that Keith touches down inside the Atlas. The exact moment that Keith is safely inside his ship. He leans forward to squint at the half screen— at this rate, he’ll be needing glasses soon— and rereads the same paragraph (about a newly proposed sanitation system for Ynwolr-8, scintillating stuff) for the seventh time. 

 

A notification for an incoming vessel dings and Shiro looks up from his work. 

 

“Just a delivery ship, sir,” Banks, the lead officer in this department, tells him before he can ask. She’s been patiently fielding his questions about every single incoming ship for the last four hours. Shiro settles back into his seat with disappointment, and she leans back in her chair, arm stretched across the narrow room to offer him a potato chip in consolation. 

 

Shiro accepts morosely, reaching into the crinky bag and withdrawing a single chip. Salt and Vinegar. Not his favorite. 

 

The officer gives him a knowing look, but she has work to do. A chip gets popped in her mouth while she types the code to adjust the Atlas to allow for entry, but she’s finished crunching by the time she hails the delivery driver. Now that’s talent. 

 

No sooner has the delivery vessel landed than another notification dings. 

 

“Sir, this is—” 

 

“Keith!” Shiro says, peeking at Bank’s screen, already standing up out of his chair. It falls with a clatter nearly knocking over a wastebasket in the process. Shiro hastily rights this, and straightens his uniform. He claps Banks on the shoulder in celebration. “Thanks for the chips, Banks. And everything else! Tell Liz in the commissary that your snacks are on me for the next movement.” 

 

Banks tilts her head back to look up at him, half smile on her mouth. “Sir, I most definitely will.” She rolls her chair over to hit the keypad for the access door to the landing deck. “Enjoy your time with the Black Paladin.” 

 

Shiro gives her a wink, though he’s already halfway out the door. “Yes!” 

 

The Blade ship that Keith is piloting today is significantly larger than the one in which he left. Shiro notes the dual artillery outfitted on both sides and has to squash the sour feeling that comes with Keith needing so much weaponry just to travel. But, Keith can handle himself, Shiro knows, and there’s no sense in worrying now— he’s safely aboard. 

 

Shiro steps into the landing suite just as soon as the Atlas’ outer hatch closes, soon enough for his hair to be whipped out of place by the lingering gusts of air and the settling of the eight spinning engines on Keith’s ship. 

 

The door emerges out of the black hull of Keith’s ship— arched and imposing, typical of Galran design— and sections off into three pieces as it opens. Keith’s silhouette appears out of the dark. The landing ramp unfurls.  

 

He notices when Keith walks the entirety of the landing ramp instead of jumping off halfway like he normally would. Is Shiro imagining the strain in his gait? Not exactly a limp, but. And his shoulders are tight. With stress, or pain? Or both? And when Keith touches the side of his helmet and the Blade mask dissolves, his eyes don’t light up with the eager happiness that Shiro is accustomed to seeing when he greets Keith. 

 

“Keith!” 

 

Shiro closes the distance between them, gathering Keith up in a hug. He’s careful not to jostle possible injuries, even when Keith’s arms come to rest hesitantly on Shiro’s back. Shiro smiles, kissing the top of his head, walking them across the floor, grin on his face, Keith in his arms. Keith is here and Shiro feels light. “Glad you’re back,” he mouths into Keith’s hairline, directly between his cowlick and his widow’s peak. They can finally rest. 

 

Keith mumbles something against Shiro’s neck, and Shiro attempts to pull away— both to hear him and kiss him properly— but before he can, Keith inhales deeply against his skin. He does it again, that full inhale, and then mouths along the tender skin there. Just above the starchy collar of Shiro’s admiral jacket. The contact becomes a bruising suck and then Shiro feels the prick of teeth, and that’s when he gently unwinds himself from Keith’s arms. 

 

“Keith?” He asks, looking down into Keith’s face. 

 

“You smell good,” Keith explains in a rush, before pulling Shiro down into a crushing kiss. Enthusiastic, too much teeth and tongue. He has a hand twisted in the back of Shiro’s uniform collar, holding him in place. Shiro tries to slow it down; he needs to make sure that Keith is okay, before whatever this is. 

 

“Baby,” Shiro says, soft enough that the engineering techs on the floor of the hangar can’t overhear. “Later. First I want to know that you’re okay.” 

 

“M’fine,” Keith says, mouth glossy as he breaks away from Shiro. His eyes are unfocused. It might be the lighting, but Shiro would swear he sees the slightest tinge of yellow. “Don’t want to wait. Come on,” 

 

And then Keith has him by the wrist, pulling Shiro along...down a maintenance hall, then pushing him into a storage room. 

 

His mouth is hot as he pulls Shiro into another demanding kiss. Keith has always been direct about what he wants, and normally Shiro is all too happy to go along with it— Keith is devastating and Shiro is only so strong willed— but this is different. Keith is almost desperate in the way that he’s clinging to Shiro here. 

 

“Ke—” 

 

“I said, now, Shiro. Stop thinking so hard,” Keith pants close to his ear, touch hot under Shiro’s uniform jacket. 

 

Keith has one arm looped around Shiro’s neck, kissing a scalding line from his jaw to the top of his collar, lower, teeth against Shiro’s skin. Keith’s other hand is resting possessive over the top of Shiro’s belt buckle. He pulls Shiro against him, a slow grind as he breathes Shiro in. 

 

“Fuck,” Shiro swears, cupping Keith’s ass. This isn’t how he was planning on starting their weekend off, but he doesn’t have any complaints either. He moves his human hand up under Keith’s shirt, stroking along the soft skin at the small of his back in a way that he knows will make Keith shiver. “So glad you’re here,” 

 

Keith’s breath is already labored. “Y-yeah,” he says, dragging a hand down Shiro’s chest while he continues to handle his belt buckle with the other. Shiro is half hard by this point, and when Keith unsnaps the buckle with just a flick of his thumb, he swears loud enough to echo throughout the metal walls of the storage units. 

 

“I want to suck you off, Shiro,”  Keith says, undoing Shiro’s pants and sinking to his knees. He pulls Shiro out of his boxers, wasting no time in waiting for a response. 

 

“Keith,” Shiro groans. Keith’s mouth is hot and soft and perfect— he licks a stripe from the base of Shiro’s cock to the tip, teasing along the head as Shiro gets fully hard. He looks up at Shiro, dark eyes almost predatory with want. Shiro has a hand warped around himself at the base; he drags his tip against Keith’s waiting lips. 

 

Keith’s eyes flutter closed. His face upturned, dark hair tousled from the flight, dark brows pulled in anticipation. Shoulders raise and drop as he exhales, fighting to be patient. To get what he wants. But Shiro can see that he already has a hand down his own pants, stroking himself. Fuck. Shiro swears, “Fuck,” 

 

Keith’s eyes open and he reaches up to encircle Shiro’s wrist. 

 

Keith takes Shiro’s hand and places it on top of his head, eyes flicking up to Shiro before he starts blowing him. He bobs his head, mouth hot and soft and perfect— fucking perfect— and Shiro lets his hand trail through Keith’s silky hair, tucking a bit behind his ear, then along Keith’s jaw so he can feel it work as Keith sucks. The sound bounces lewd off the metal storage units, filling the room. 

 

Shiro’s head hits the storage unit behind him with a thunk. 

 

“Your mouth, baby,” Shiro sighs. No one, no one , has ever taken him like Keith takes him. (Admittedly...he is big.) Confident, devastating, gorgeous Keith. Shiro tilts his hips, fucking into Keith’s mouth, and feels as Keith relaxes his jaw, accomodating and eager. Shiro moves his hand now to the back of Keith’s head, guiding. Keith takes control again, mouthing along the side of his cock, his balls, back to the head. “No one like you—”

 

Keith moans around Shiro’s cock, his own hips stuttering. 

 

“Did you just—”

 

Shiro’s eyes meet Keith’s, hazy and half lidded. How he manages to smirk with a mouth full of cock is impossible— but maybe it’s the uptick of his brow or the settling of his shoulders. Either way, he renews his effort with vigor, pinning Shiro’s hips to the storage unit behind him with force, taking him deep. Aggressive and unrelenting and oh god, oh fuck, 

 

Shiro’s hand tightens in Keith’s hair, knuckles of the other one shoved into his own mouth, toes curling in his boots, and then Shiro is coming down Keith’s throat, gasping out Keith’s name. 

 

Keith sucks him through it, only sitting back on his heels when Shiro is close to babbling with overstimulation. He watches through bleary eyes as Keith pants, mouth ajar. His tongue swipes between the tips of his canines before flicking out of his mouth, licking his lips in a way that can’t be conscious. Shiro has the hazy thought that he can’t wait to take his time with Keith these next three days. In the way that he deserves. Pull all that out of him, tease out every noise, tear down all the ways he restrains himself. Fuck him so good… 

 

“Fuck, Keith,” Shiro breaths a few moments later, not quite recovered. “That was...I may have gone back to the astral plane for a moment,” 

 

And then the dark look is gone and Keith is pulling a familiar face. He huffs out a laugh through his nose, rolling his eyes. “Dork. Help me up.” 

 

Shiro adjusts himself and zips up his slacks, bending forward to give Keith a hand. He grabs his forearm, helping to stabilize him while he stands. 

 

As soon as he pulls up, Keith jerks back with an obvious wince. He stands, but it’s wobbling. 

 

“Keith, what— are you alright?” Shiro moves as if to crowd him, but Keith waves him away.

 

“M’fine,” he replies, two beats too late. He has a hand on his left shoulder. “Just moved it weird, okay? Stop worrying.” 

 

Shiro pauses, not sure if he should be kicking himself for not checking Keith for injuries, or trust Keith enough to take what he says at face value. Keith’s hand is tight at his side in a fist and his shoulders are stiff in anger. Expression suddenly closed off. Like a switch has been flipped. He’s tense again. 

 

Shiro puts a hand on his shoulder, and Keith startles, almost as if he forgot Shiro was there at all. He meets Shiro’s eyes and Shiro has the uncanny feeling that he can see something shift. Like Keith is hiding something. 

 

The moment hangs and lengthens. Shiro wants to say something but he’s not sure what. Keith has never been secretive. 

 

“Really, Shiro.” Keith says, breaking the strange silence. His tone is dry, obviously noting Shiro’s hesitation. “Come on, I wanna get cleaned up.” 

 

They walk side by side down the halls of the Atlas to the lift that will take them to the deck with the sleeping quarters. Keith makes as if to go to his own room, but Shiro convinces him to clean up in the Captain’s quarters for now. (“For now,” he says, as if he doesn’t have plans to monopolize Keith’s time as much as possible for this entire leave.) 

 

Keith purses his lips, looking down the hallway in the direction of the officer’s quarters. 

 

“You do have a nicer shower…” Keith says slowly. 

 

“Dual rainfall shower heads and a heated floor,” Shiro says, casual. Perks of being mentally linked with a marvel of the universe’s finest technology. He opens the door with a touch of his Altean hand on the keypad and grins as Keith walks through. 

 

“I won’t take too long, Shiro,” Keith promises, before disappearing into the bathroom. 

 

Shiro reminds him to take as long as he likes, thinking giddily to himself about telling Keith his plans to have them take an extended break. Keith is acting a little strange, true, but it’s probably more due to exhaustion than anything else. This will be a much needed break, for both of them. They have another conference meeting in the morning tomorrow, but after that… 

 

Keith finishes his shower in just a few minutes. He joins Shiro in the living room, once again fully dressed in his Marmoran pilot suit, although now his hair is wet. 

 

They don’t have any duties for the rest of the night; Shiro opens his mouth to offer Keith a change of clothes if he needs it, but stops when he sees Keith’s expression. 

 

Something is pulled taut there. Tight enough to snap. 

 

“Keith, what is it?” 

 

Keith clicks his tongue, like he’s annoyed Shiro is asking. He holds up his comm. “I’m being summoned to Daibazaal. Just got the message.” He hands Shiro the device and crosses his arms, jaw set. “I can’t say no, Shiro.” 

 

Since the end of the war, politics on Daibazaal have been extremely volatile. Krolia and Kolivan have been doing their best as temporary magistrates, but the abrupt dissolution of the military class, along with a lack of planetary resources and general ill will towards the Galra throughout the galaxy, has led to extreme unrest in many parts of the planet. Violent uprisings are not uncommon. Mistrust, for officials especially, runs rampant. Keith’s role as the former Black Paladin, along with his successful career as a soldier, carries a great deal of weight in the power based Galran culture. 

 

It’s a culture that the coalition is working to transform, and unrest that they are hoping to resolve, but things take time, and for now they have to use the advantages they have. 

 

“You can’t say no,” Shiro agrees morosely, after reading the message a second time. His heart sinks. So much for their time off. 

 

Keith takes back the comm and nods, shoulders tight. 

 

“But I’ll go with you,” Shiro tells Keith. His schedule is clear, afterall. 

 

Keith sighs. “The Captain of the Atlas accompanying me will just be seen as a political move.” He shakes his head. “It could make things worse.” 

 

“Not as the captain then,” Shiro says. He moves to get up and get his own comm. It’ll be easy to change his plans. “Just as a friend.” 

 

It’s the wrong thing to say. 

 

“I said, I don’t need you to go with me.” Keith snaps. “I can handle things on my own, Shiro.” There’s no way it’s deliberate, but his stance shifts— from apologetic to combative. His hand moves and Shiro swears— only for a split second, but— he swears that Keith is going for his knife. It’s not true: his knife stays sheathed, but the anger sparks volatile in his eyes. 

 

Shiro pauses from where he was getting up from the sofa. This reaction...it’s unlike Keith. This kind of hostility...such an abrupt change from just a few moments ago. It makes no sense. “I know you can,” he says slowly. “It’s just, Keith, you…” Shiro tries to choose his words carefully.

 

“What?” Keith hisses. 

 

Shiro would swear that his eyes look different— yellow, almost— but that’s crazy—  

 

“How is this any different from what I’ve been doing?” Keith says, low, dangerous. Head low, like he’s sizing Shiro up. He begins pacing the wall of Shiro’s room, like he’s cornered. 

 

“It’s not. But,” 

 

“I’ve been handling things by myself for years , Shiro, in case you’ve forgotten. Do you think things are going to change now? Because suddenly it’s what you want? You think I should just stay aboard the Atlas? Play pretend military? Pretend space explorers? We’ll just pretend that since the war is over, everything is fine…”

 

“Keith.” 

 

“You think I should just stay here and lead these bullshit calls with these so-called allies that don’t actually solve anything?” 

 

Shiro swallows. The work that they’re doing together , it’s important. He thought that Keith agreed. “Where is this coming from? Keith, is that how you rea—”

 

“And we can fuck and never talk about it, and I’ll just be fine with whatever you’re willing to give me? And I’ll always just keep coming back anyways, because that’s just what I do . I always, ” 

 

Shiro is stunned. “What? I’ve never— I hope I’ve never—I just—”

 

“I’m done.” Keith says, voice deadly serious. Tone like the sharp edge of a knife. “I’m leaving for Daibazaal.” 

 

It’s final. 

 

Shiro can’t leave it at that. 

 

“You can’t seriously think that I don’t care about you,” he starts, trying to find the words. “And, of course, if you’re needed elsewhere, I support you. But Keith, you can’t leave like this, you can’t just say that and expect me to—” 

 

“I don’t expect anything from you, Shiro.” Keith spits. 

 

The words crack between them like a slap to the face. Violent and sharp.

 

Everything about this outburst is unlike Keith, but, 

 

The hurt in his voice is real. The way his thumb brushes over his knuckles— a nervous habit that Shiro has seen a million times over. The way his expression is closed— lip bitten, eyes full and dark. The way he’s carrying tension in his shoulders— ready to fight or to flee. This is Keith. It’s the same angry boy that Shiro made a promise to a long time ago. 

 

I will never give up on you.  

 

That promise still stands between them, but in this moment, Shiro wonders if it’s done Keith more harm than good. Maybe one promise shouldn’t have been enough to spawn a life of devotion— the barest show of faith was all it took for Keith to latch on to Shiro. It is unquestionable that Shiro completely, profoundly altered the course of his life. It was said with good intentions, but Shiro was young then too. 

 

Maybe this isn’t coming out of nowhere. 

 

Maybe this resentment has been simmering under the surface for a long time, and Shiro has simply been too caught up in his own feelings for Keith to notice it. 

 

“You should go,” Shiro says, quiet. He doesn’t have the words to make this right. With anyone else— against any enemy, with any other friend— Shiro would rally. He would gather his thoughts, refuse to let things end this way. He would be stubborn, or charming, or calculating, or practical, or, or anything

 

“You’re right. Just go.” 

 

Keith accepts the victory— if it is a victory in his eyes— like he accepts everything from Shiro. Like he always has. Without question. 

 

Silence hangs heavy between them while Keith makes the arrangements. He returns to his ship almost immediately. He doesn’t say goodbye. 

 

*

 

The capital city of Monaar rises out of the black cliffs of Daibazaal like jagged fangs protrude in a gaping mouth. Sharp spires sting gray clouds hundreds of clicks above the surface. The south side of the royal city descends into the Mal’altur, a gorge so deep that, even now, there are legends about what resides at the bottom. The north side of the city crawls up Mount Silex, the highest peak above the planet’s surface. 

 

The city’s structures pierce the clouds high above the surface, but even at their highest point, they are far from fragile—crafted to withstand Daibazaal’s extreme winds, bitter cold, and maelstrom lightning storms. The tallest of all these is above the Kral. The royal castle. 

 

Keith descends from the turbulent upper atmosphere just west of Monaar, where the mines— for quintessence, relics from before Zarkon’s empire, long abandoned— look like open wounds on the planet’s surface. He takes his ship north, skimming the lower cliffs of Silex, circling the spires of the city, dipping down into Mal’altur, and back towards the Kral. 

 

It’s a grandiose entrance, the type of thing that he would never do on his own, but he’s not here for himself. He’s here for his mom, and for the motives of the Coaltion, and for the Galran kids that have only known wartime and deserve so much better. He’s here because ‘peace’ isn’t just something pretty to say, but actually a goal that he is working towards. He’s here because it’s right. 

 

By the time he’s landed, the entire city should be aware that the Black Paladin has arrived. 

 

The staircase that leads to the Kral’s only entrance consists of 566 steps. One step for every battle in the ancient war that united the Galran civilization under one leader. So Keith’s been told. That was centuries before Zarkon. Keith begins the climb. 

 

His mood is foul. Hours of flight later, he’s still mulling over the fight that he had with Shiro prior to leaving. His head is drumming with pain. A headache that won’t let up, hasn’t let up for weeks now. 

 

He can still see the look on Shiro’s face: the way his gray eyes widened in cheap surprise, the way they narrowed and hardened in cold resignation. 

 

Go.” He said. 

 

Keith stumbles on the stairs, his own breath shallow in his ears. He did that. Made Shiro look that way. 

 

Head swimming, he steadies himself. Continues to climb. He’s been off lately. In a way that he can’t explain. Every emotion is amplified, but anger, fear, hurt, most of all. He can’t explain it. It doesn’t make sense. His head won’t stop pounding. 

 

Keith doesn’t know what’s wrong with him. 

 

Keith grits his teeth to hold back a sigh. He’s tired of walking up stairs. He’s still sore. All the open wounds— the two places he was shot, the deep cut on his thigh, and the lacerations down his shoulders and arms— have been slow to heal. It’s been weeks, but he’s still having to change his dressings multiple times a day. They just...won’t close. 

 

By the time he reaches the top, his calves are burning and his brow is damp with sweat. His head pounds. The air here isn’t like the non-feel of air on Earth, or the sweet sticky of Altea, or the recycled stale air aboard many ships. It feels heavy in his lungs, leaves a bad taste in his mouth. 

 

Keith swallows. This is supposed to be his home, but it feels anything but. 

 

Finally at the top, he unsheathes his blade, bearing it in front of the Kral’s arching doors. This, too, is a symbolic gesture. There’s an inscription carved into the stone above the entryway: Sa vom kra, kralt vom sa . ‘Death in victory, victory in death.’ No one comes forward to challenge him; he sheaths his knife and enters the Kral. 

 

The entryway is a long hall. Fat blue flames hang between tall pillars on either side of the walkway. Keith is only a few steps in when he hears something familiar: the soft click of claws on stone. 

 

“Kosmo!!” Keith turns, falling to one knee, opening his arms. It’s been awhile since he’s seen the space wolf. Her soft fur and happy bark are exactly the balm he needs right now. She trots up to him, but stops a few feet away, sniffing at the air. Keith frowns. 

 

“It’s me, girl,” he says, confused by her reaction. He removes his helmet. “It’s Keith.” 

 

The space wolf lowers her head, fur puffing up around her shoulders. A low growl rumbles through the long hall. 

 

“What’s wrong?” Keith asks, standing slowly as not to startle the animal. He’s known her since she was a little puppy and she’s never behaved like this. “Kosmo?” 

 

He steps closer and she pulls her lips back, baring her fangs. “I’m not gonna hurt you,” Keith tries, holding out his palms, nonthreatening, desperate. She growls, snapping her jaws as he approaches. “I-it’s me...what’s wrong?” he asks again, pain creeping into his voice, 

 

“Ah, the sting of a fickle heart,” Krycek, the Blade that Keith first met following his injury, appears from behind one of the pillars in the entry hall. “And it does sting.” 

 

“Krycek,” Keith grits out. Kosmo slinks back to the shadows before disappearing from sight. He turns to face the Blade. 

 

Krycek blinks his dark eyes, long tail flicking back and forth behind him. “Pleasure to see that you’re looking so well, Commander. Monaar will benefit from your health. Welcome home.” 

 

“Krolia—” 

 

“Magistrate Krolia and Kolivan are engaged at the moment, but I’m sure they’ll want to see you as soon as possible.” Unnaturally long fingertips gesture towards the upper wing of the castle. “Shall I escort you to them?” 

 

Keith presses his lips together, making an effort not to lose his temper again. He has to hold himself together. He has to. “I know my way around, thanks.” Pushing aside the painful rejection from Kosmo, and the ever growing ache at the base of his skull, Keith goes upstairs to speak with his mother. 

 

*

 

It’s nearly twelve hours later when he’s finally able to crawl into bed. 

 

The situation is worse than Krolia’s initial message implied. Zarkon’s reign was long and dark for the universe, but here on Daibazaal, there’s some who still see it as glorious. Nevermind the abject poverty, and militant nationalism, and homicidal dictatorship— there’s a small faction of the populace who sympathize with Zarkon’s ideals. Voltron was a curse to these types, and now that Voltron is gone, the Coalition is a weakness. 

 

This faction is growing. They were nothing but a vocal minority before, but recently, an even more hostile cult has somehow infiltrated their ranks. The few Galrans who have been vocal proponents of peace are being murdered, one-by-one. A few days ago, Yra M’hel Hallt. This morning, Revlor Yl. No one knows exactly who is behind the attacks, but the message is clear: peace involving non-Galran allies will be no peace at all. 

 

Keith feels sick. Revlor was one of the first Galrans whom he met that wasn’t involved directly in the war; she was a civilian who organized aid for vulnerable young deemed unfit for the military, regardless of their class or race. Even though she seemed like a soft-spoken individual, she marched up to him, the infamous Black Paladin, at an event here on Daibazaal, and demanded that he give consideration to those children too while he was developing his post-war plans. Keith promised her that he would. He hasn’t forgotten. 

 

The pain that began as a low ache in his head when he arrived earlier has since sharpened into a piercing throb. Keith closes his eyes and tries to sleep. 

 

*

 

The morning is no less bleak.

 

Keith’s jaw feels like it’s splintering. As a kid, he ground his teeth in his sleep and woke up with a similar pain. The grinding noise was so bad that Assigned-Social-Worker-Number-Four took him to the dentist to get a special mouthguard for it. The mouthguard worked— up until one of the other kids in the home took it as a prank. Keith never got another, but he learned to stop the habit on his own. He had to. 

 

That was….years ago. The old memory rises too clear from murky half-sleep, and Keith balks. An overwhelming wave of shame (For losing the thing? For not being able to stand up for himself? For remembering at all?) rolls over him. He finds himself curling deeper into the bed, throat watery, presses the heels of his palms into his eyes. What’s wrong with me? 

 

He manages to get out of bed, vision swimming. He feels sick. Stumbles. His right hand gripping his jaw, he makes it over to the small desk in the corner of his room and checks his comm. He has four missed transmissions from Shiro. And, later on, one from Altea— maybe Lance or Allura if Shiro mentioned that Keith left the Atlas angry. Guilt coalesces with pain, and the heavy feeling in his chest. He meant to contact Shiro yesterday. He...forgot? How could he have forgotten? Thumb on the call button, he resolves to make it right, and call him right now. Shiro deserves an apology, even if Keith doesn’t deserve the acceptance. 

 

“Sir,” 

 

The voice is hushed. Quiet, like a whisper, but it sounds like it’s just behind him. When Keith turns around, no one is there. He sets the comm down. 

 

He crosses the room. Opens the door to find Krycek and Kolivan standing just on the other side. 

 

Kolivan is stoic. He lowers his hand as if he were about to knock. “You are awake. Good. There was another attack.” 

 

He finds out the details over a simple breakfast with a few other Blades and Galran leaders. A non-Galran philanthropist who has been helping with restructuring the city after the war. His body was left mangled at the steps of the Kral. A spectacle and a warning. The news of his murder makes Keith want to overturn the glittering black stone tabletop from where it’s been resting for the past ten thousand years. 

 

Anger overtakes pain, 

 

His hands are clenched into fists and his aching jaw is set. He listens to Kolivan outline the day’s assignments— a digital meeting with their nearest planetary ally, training a defensive taskforce, appearing before the people in an attempt to provide reassurance. It all seems like too little, too late. They shouldn’t just be reacting. They should be on the offensive, they should be attacking. They should be killing —blood for blood—

 

“I trained you to be better than that,” Kolivan says. He’s standing, facing Keith. Expression steady, unimpressed— like a shovel of dirt over Keith’s inflamed temper. His expression says, sit down. 

 

Keith looks at the room of people looking back at him. He doesn’t remember standing. He doesn’t...

 

“Knowledge,” Kolivan says, directing his attention back to the rest of the room. “Or death. All of you know that this is the mantra the Blade operated under during Zarkon’s reign. The mantra we will continue to operate under. We have to gather more information regarding these attacks. We will be methodical. We will be certain. And when the time is right, we will strike and we will be victorious. But only then.” 

 

The remainder of the morning’s agenda passes over Keith as if it’s happening to another person. None of the words register as meaningful. Vaguely, Keith wonders if he’ll see Shiro soon. The thought makes him frown, but he can’t remember why. At one point, Keith swears that he sees Krycek standing at the edge of the room, but he blinks and the Galran is gone. 

 

*

 

The ‘defensive taskforce’ is left to Keith. 

 

I can do this, he tells himself, facing the small group of former soldiers later that afternoon. I have to do this. He drops his hand from his aching jaw and lets his eyes fall shut, gathering his resolve. He can do this. They have been vetted and hand selected by Krolia herself. He’s meant to give them a crash course in the Blade’s signature stealth and defensive techniques. 

 

“Commander,” A half-Galran, named Anvaa, says from the front line, as he squares up to begin. He squints, focusing through blurred vision. Anvaa...Keith has worked with her before. She’s young, but capable.

 

He’s grateful for the familiar face. “Anvaa,” he says, lifting his hand in greeting, “You—”

 

“Sir,” she says, “You’re bleeding,” 

 

It takes a moment for her words to register. Keith blinks, looks down. There’s blood on the mat. He frowns, stepping backwards, touching his chest. 

 

His hand comes away wet. 

 

Distantly he can hear Anvaa asking if he needs help. 

 

One of the new recruits appears at his side and Keith is startled. He has his knife in his hand before he realizes it. The soldier shouts, and the noise catches Keith off guard. He stumbles to the side, tripping on the slick floor. 

 

Wet with blood. 

 

The blueblack of Galran and his own red-congealing-brown. He has his knife in his hand. He’s not giving up, he won’t let them take him, 

 

“Get off me,” Keith spits, already forcing himself to stand. He doesn’t know them. He doesn’t need help. His shoulder is aching. His head is pounding. His stomach rolls. He runs. 

 

He makes it to a washroom, scrambling across the tile, head spinning as he falls to his knees. He vomits and it hurts— burns his throat, makes his chest ache. He coughs, shoulders shaking. He draws in a breath, only to begin coughing again. He retches again but this time it’s a dry heave. 

 

Finally, finally, he’s able to catch his breath. He spits, the foul taste in his mouth clearing his head. 

 

“I’m on Daibazaal.” He tells the wall, throat raw, clutching his shoulder. He wets his lips and tastes bile. The syllables echo off the tall ceilings of the narrow washroom. “Not on a ship. Not on a ship.” 

 

His shoulder is fucked. The wound must have reopened, worse than before. He needs to see the wound. His hands are shaking too bad to pull the Blade mantle over his head. And he can’t lift it well— his shoulder is fucked. The stiff, thick fabric of the mantle is made to last for a long time, as long as the wearer has the honor to hold the title, but he manages to hook his knife in it and the luxite goes through it like nothing. Good, good. Now in pieces, he leans forward to drag it off from around his shoulders. Throws the thing across the floor.  His shirt is soaked through, sweat and blood, blood, too much blood. He rips that off too. 

 

“Shit,” Keith breathes, right hand shaking as it comes up to touch the shredded skin. “Shit, shit,” 

 

He crawls over to a wash basin— there’s the Galran equivalent of a mirror close by. Pulls himself up with one hand, staggering, leans in to get as close as positive to the reflection. He doesn’t recognize the man standing there. Skin, pallid and damp with sweat. Eyes, bloodshot and shifty. Yellow where white should be. And— his teeth are wrong. Keith pulls back his lips, recoils as he sees white poking through the red of his gums. Over his canines. He tilts his head, mouth open, new teeth on the sides too. He touches them with the pad of his finger, fascinated and disgusted all at once. This isn’t him. 

 

It takes him a moment to notice his chest. The wound has reopened, angry and red and bleeding, but worse than that: the skin around it is mottled and purple. 

 

Dark, like bruises, spreading under his skin. 

 

Keith touches it, leaning so close to the mirror that his breath fogs up the glass. “What is happening?”  

 

He’s seen something like this before, but his thoughts are muddled and he can’t remember where. The purple radiates from the shot wound like debris from the epicenter of an explosion. Spreading under his skin…

 

He slides down to the floor. It feels cool against his back. 

 

*

 

“Keith.” 

 

Keith opens heavy eyes. Unmoving, he looks up. Krolia. 

 

She crouches next to him. 

 

His right hand has been pressed against the wound on his shoulder. The left still has his knife. He watches her eyes track from his wound to his hand. Back up to his face. 

 

She eases the weapon out of his hand. 

 

“Keith. Keith, why didn’t you tell me it was this bad?” 

 

Vaguely he registers the feeling of hair being pushed gently out of his face. He grabs her wrist.

 

“Give me back my knife.” 

 

She is stronger and faster than he is— in an instant, she has his wrist in her hand instead of the other way around. Her grip is rough, bruising. “You are not well. I will return it when I am sure you will not injure yourself.” 

 

Keith snarls, and fights to sit up, but Krolia is unmoved— 

 

 

He must pass out because when Keith opens his eyes next, he’s in the bedroom again. It’s dark, but the Kral— like all the buildings in the city of Monaar— is windowless. It could be hours later, or days. He has no idea. 

 

He thinks, for a moment, that he’s on the Atlas. He closes his eyes and imagines that he can hear Shiro’s steady breathing, the soft hum of the ventilation system cycling, the ship’s third shift crew walking over the decks above. The unexplainable rock of the ship as she drifts through space, cutting a new path through the stars. 

 

Movement stirs from the side of the room. 

 

Keith shifts in bed. Someone re-dressed the wound on his shoulder. He hurts a little less. Maybe... 

 

“Shiro?” 

 

“Unfortunately not. I have heard news from Magistrate Krolia that Captain Shirogane of the Atlas has given up on trying to contact you.” Krycek steps closer to Keith’s bedside, head bowed. “It seems that he is rather angry. I understand many of his messages went unanswered.” 

 

“Shiro is? What?” Keith frowns. He’s done something to make Shiro angry? He remembers a look on Shiro’s face. Confusion, anger, sadness…but not the context. 

 

Krycek gestures to the desk where Keith’s comm is sitting with a flick of his tail. “Pull up the messages yourself. I can only report what Krolia has told me, of course.” 

 

Keith sits up— too fast. The room spins. “Krolia? Krycek, can you get Krolia for me?” He has a hand over his mouth. He feels like he might be sick again. He remembers being sick when he was little, a blue and yellow quilt over his legs— it had yarn tassels that Keith would pick at, he remembers that— and his dad bringing him 7-Up soda. Green bottle, red cap. It fizzed in his nose, but combined with his pop’s arm around him, it helped. A tear rolls down his face, uncomfortably hot on his skin. Keith hasn’t thought about that in a long time. 

 

The Galran is watching him, calm. As if mildly intrigued by what’s happening. He clears his throat and responds a moment later:  

 

“Certainly, if you feel like she would be helpful.” 

 

Krycek makes no move to leave. 

 

Keith touches his own forehead with the back of his hand. He’s feverish, maybe. He blinks, willing the room to slow down. The words from his mind to his mouth are slow. “What d’you mean?”  

 

“Just an observation.” Krycek smiles, cruel. “I’ve just noticed she hasn’t provided a great amount of relief to your condition thus far.” 

 

“She’s my mom, ” Keith’s voice cracks on the first ‘M.’ He’s not used to calling her that. He’s not good at it, he knows, but...they’re both trying. “She didn’t know how bad it was,” he says softer, mostly to himself. Not sure if he means about this, or about everything. “She didn’t know.” 

 

“Maybe she’d have a greater awareness of your injury if she had been at your side after it happened,” Krycek comments. 

 

“Yeah,” Keith mutters. But that’s not right. Krolia didn’t come because Daibazaal— she’s in a difficult position, she had a mission, her people, 

 

“Of course, she’s been absent for the entirety of your life up to this point, so what can you expect?” 

 

“She’s trying,” Keith says. Something he’s told himself countless times the past few months. After every lacking message. Every curt remark. Every perfunctory embrace. On the space whale in the quantum abyss, on the journey back to Earth. At his father’s grave. Since the war ended…

 

It’s true Krolia is severe. But sometimes...the way she thinks, the way she says something, or the gestures she uses, Keith can see himself in them. Painfully clear. He can see himself in her. So he has to believe that she’s trying. That she’s making an effort to be open. To love him. To let him love her. To have a connection. Because they’re so much alike, it makes sense that if she can’t…

 

Then maybe he can’t… 

 

“She’s trying,” Keith says again. He thinks about himself with the rest of the paladins. Maybe they don’t always understand him. Maybe he’s not always with them. But, to him, they’re still family. He’s saying, I’m trying.  

 

“Is she?” Krycek tilts his head. The points of his horns catch the light. He stands up straight and the effect is gone. 

 

Before Keith can respond, Krycek continues abruptly:

 

“Because I have not been able to contact Captain Shirogane of the Atlas, I attempted to reach the other former paladins. You are in critical condition. I thought it the best course of action, sir.” 

 

“Yeah?” 

 

“Unfortunately, I apologize, my efforts were unsuccessful.” 

 

Keith draws a breath in. It hurts. “They said…” He closes his eyes, frowning. His team wouldn’t say no. His team would be there for him if he needed them…? Wouldn’t they?

 

Keith would be there for them. If they needed him. No matter what. Of course he would. Of course. 

 

“The green paladin implied she was simply too busy at this time to field any messages.” 

 

Keith laughs, bitter. It sounds wrong and hurts his chest. Pidge is always busy. That’s true. “So I’m guessing Hunk said something similar?” 

 

“The yellow paladin doesn’t understand why you would need his help. Per his remark: He and you are not that close.” 

 

That stings. Keith pushes his legs to the side of the bed. It takes effort to move. His jaw is throbbing with pain. His head is foggy. His chest is sore. “Me’n Hunk?” he slurs, searching for his knife. He can’t find it. It should be right here. He had it. 

 

He doesn’t need it. 

 

He just needs, 

 

Shiro is angry with him? What did Keith do? He did something bad. He said something wrong, didn’t he? He messed up. 

 

Where’s his knife? 

 

“Me and Hunk?” Keith repeats, sliding out of bed. Trying to put his thoughts together. He has to get out of this room. “I like Hunk,” he mutters, under his breath. “Thought we were friends.” 

 

“Oh no,” Krycek’s tail swishes behind him, delighted, as he moves out of Keith’s path to the door. “Not at all.” 

 

“But.” Krycek continues, “The red paladin truly hates you. Deeply. Fervently. He told me in exquisite detail— all the ways you’ve caused him problems.” 

 

Keith grits his teeth. They feel too big for his mouth. “Sounds like Lance.” He can remember— seems like a long time ago, but, yeah, this part is clear in his mind— he can remember when he really tried with Lance. He wanted to be friends. He tried. Didn’t go so well. 

 

“Didn’t it?” Krycek is at his side as Keith begins walking towards the entrance. 

 

He trips, flying forward against the Kral’s unforgiving stone floors. His arms catch the fall and he nearly sobs as pain shoots up his left elbow, jerking his already tender arm towards his chest. Keith bites his lip, shoulders shaking with the effort of staying quiet. 

 

He needs to escape...

 

He raises himself up on his palms, chest seeping blood again with the effort— and manages to stand. He leans heavily against the wall. Pulls in a ragged breath. 

 

“Allura’s hate is less personal,” Krycek purrs. The flames which light the entrance way reflect in his narrow, dark eyes. “Just simply because you’re Galran.” 

 

“I know.” Keith stands up. He’s light headed but he can still keep moving forward. Allura hates him? That’s old news. He’ll never forget the way she looked at him after he found out his heritage. That’s something that should be long in the past— he and Allura get along just fine now, at least, he thought they did— but he’ll never forget. 

 

He’s almost to the door. From there...the stairs. His ship. He’ll leave. He’ll…

 

He swipes cracked lips with his tongue, tastes blood now instead of bile. “I know.” 

 

The path before him seems endless. Keith blinks. If he had Kosmo to help him, but, 

 

“Keith. I’d advise haste. The dissidents are returning for you. You’re their next target. The Blades of Marmora won’t be there to save you this time. And, as for your former friends, well...” 

 

Keith takes a deep breath. It’s true. He’ll have to fight. He closes his eyes. Focuses. 

 

The way Shiro taught him. 

 

His breath catches in his chest. Shiro. 

 

Shiro isn’t here. 

 

Keith was wrong, and he pushed Shiro away, and he failed, and he fell, and he hurts, and he hurts, and, 

 

He whines, covering his ears from words he doesn’t want to hear. 

 

“Shiro isn’t coming.” 

 

Keith begins to run. 

 

*

 

Shiro answers the call from Daibazaal after the first ring. 

 

“Keith?” 

 

It’s Krolia. She’s speaking rapidly in Galran, the consonants harsh and grating as she issues what are clearly orders to several figures standing behind her. “Shiro,” she breathes when she sees that the transmission has connected. She holds up a hand indicating that she’ll be with him in a moment as she finishes speaking with the soldiers behind her. The last word is unmistakable, even though Shiro doesn’t speak much Galran: vpred! Go!  

 

“Krolia?” Shiro blinks. “Is—”

 

She cuts him off. “Keith is missing.” 

 

She’s standing over the monitor with one of the dark rooms of the imperial castle behind her. Shiro watches as she collapses into a chair in front of the screen, stoic expression crumpling. She buries her face in her hands and repeats. “Shiro. My son is missing.” 

 

The sight of Krolia— whom he has only known to be a fierce and proud pillar of strength— shaken sends a wave of dread through Shiro. 

 

“What happened?” Shiro closes the screen hovering next to the one with Krolia’s transmission. He was in the middle of a meeting, but he doesn’t give any kind of explanation for his withdrawal, just closes the application. Keith is missing. Keith is— 

 

Raising her face from her hands, she gives Shiro an account of the last 48 varga. Shiro can see the effort she exerts to keep her expression level as she tells him about Keith’s unusual behavior upon his arrival in Monaar. His worsening injuries. His sudden collapse. His fever. His confusion. The bloody marks he left— on the door, the walls, the floor— as he left the safety of the castle. 

 

Shiro’s mouth goes dry. Keith—  

 

He was sick. And now, in that vulnerable state, he’s likely lost in a place which could very well be dangerous. Or worse. Krolia gives Shiro a brief summary of the attacks that have been targeting Galran leaders. 

 

There’s a small travel bag that Shiro has packed for emergencies. He opens it, adding a few crucial things so that he can leave immediately. This time he’s not asking. 

 

“Has he contacted you?” Krolia asks him. She must already know the answer, but hope quivers in her voice.

 

“No. I— we had a fight.” Shiro confesses. He turns the charging port for the Altean arm over in his hands before adding it to his bag. Every detail that he’s agonized over for the last two days seems now both crucial and insignificant. “He was angry with me.” 

 

“He is not himself.” At Shiro’s somber expression, she continues. “No, truly, he is not himself.” 

 

Shiro pulls himself out of his thoughts. “What do you mean?” 

 

“Before Keith left unexpectedly, he had...an episode. I sedated him for his own safety. At that time, he was examined by a trustworthy physician here in Monaar. On top of his worsening physical state, we have reason to believe that he was poisoned,” 

 

His heart rises to his throat. “Poisoned?! How? When?” 

 

Krolia sends him the toxicology report. Shiro reads through it quickly, but it doesn’t provide much clarity. 

 

“Likely during the recent attack on his ship.” Krolia’s jaw is set, but Shiro recognizes the emotion on Krolia’s face. Even where others might not be able to see beyond her stern exterior, to him, the worry, the fear, the self-criticism— it’s all written plainly. Maybe because he has a lot of practice in reading Keith. 

 

“Shiro,” she says, quiet, “I shouldn’t have left him. He was asleep; I was only gone for a few doboshes, but,” she makes a hurt noise, unable to continue. 

 

Shiro leans forward as if to comfort her. “Krolia,” 

 

The door opens behind Krolia and Kolivan and Antok enter the room. “Keith’s biosignature was recorded in the lower Denar district. He has stolen a transport ship.” 

 

Even through his own fear, Shiro has to choke back a laugh. Of course he did. 

 

There’s discussion amongst them about how to split the forces between trying to find Keith and tracking the Galran dissidents. At this point it’s likely that the attackers who boarded Keith’s ship, and the perpetrators of the city’s murders are one and the same. 

 

Bag packed and heart tumultuous, Shiro tells them he is on his way. He ends the transmission with Krolia. 

 

Fuck. Shiro runs his hand through his hair. He doesn’t have the luxury to dwell on all the things he might have done differently...not now. Keith is sick, and in very real danger. The practical, logical part of Shiro’s brain informs him that it’s likely that Keith is being tracked by those other than the Blades. That he may very well be captured already. Or suffered additional injuries. 

Or dead. 

 

Shiro can’t—

 

He can’t think like that. 

 

Without Keith, he’d be—

 

Shiro swallows, closes his eyes. No. 

 

His comm vibrates in his palm. He has a message from Allura: 

 

>>>Is everything alright? 

 

Right, he exited the conference without explanation. But there’s not enough time to type everything out. Already running to the aircraft hangar, he calls her. 

 

“Shiro, you look...in a state. What is going on?” 

 

The Atlas engineers a lift where normally there would not be one, and he sends his ship a silent thanks. He catches his breath as the elevator takes him down to the smaller vessels. “Keith is missing.” 

 

Allura’s expression darkens. “Tell me everything.” 

 

The elevator door opens, and Shiro strides to the main hangar, pausing his explanation to Allura to issue orders to several crew members on deck. By the time he’s finished relaying all the information that Krolia gave him, the fastest ship to which he has access is ready to launch. 

 

It may not be fast enough. 

 

“Uh, hello, this is not a one man show.” Lance declares, after Shiro voices his doubt. He came in as Shiro was talking to Allura, listening to Shiro’s intel with his arms crossed and his mouth uncharacteristically drawn. He leans forward to reach the terminal over Allura’s shoulder. And types in the transmission codes to get Pidge and Hunk on the line. “We’re all in on this rescue mission. No ifs, ands or buts about it, buddy.” 

 

Shiro goes through the pre-flight routine by muscle memory alone. The coordinates to Daibazaal indicate a journey of at least seven varga, even if Shiro completely disregards the recommended max capacity for his ship’s engines. He needs to get there sooner—

 

“Ooooh, impromptu fun time Voltron reunion call?” Hunk settles in front of the screen, wiping the equivalent of space age motor oil from his hands onto a rag. He looks hopefully from Allura and Lance’s screen to Shiro’s. The ships behind him indicate that he’s in a garage, likely in the R&D labs on North Tol.

 

Pidge takes off her glasses to wipe them on the corner of her lab coat, lightyears away from Hunk, but in a similar lab. She slides them back on. “Yeah, don’t think so. What’s up guys?” 

 

Lance pulls the monitor on New Altea so that he’s more in the frame instead of Allura. “What’s up is that our favorite hothead team leader is wandering around Daibazaal all bleeding and mindswished and we only just found out!!” 

 

“Mind-swished? Bleeding? ” Hunk shudders out the question at the same time that Pidge asks: 

 

“Keith is?” She opens up her laptop. “Shiro, what can we do?” 

 

Shiro takes a look at the three screens hovering to the side of his control panel before his focus returns to the flight path. “I’m en route now. Krolia contacted me directly about half a varga ago. She estimated that Keith has been missing for at least two.” 

 

“More than two hours?” Hunk asks, counting on his fingers. “On Daibazaal? Uh, not good. I know you guys have been keeping up with what’s going on, but it’s, like, super hostile there right now.” 

 

Allura nods, tilting the screen back to her and away from Lance. “Certainly time is of the essence. Shiro, New Altea is closer to your current location than the Galran homeworld. Come here instead and I will open a wormhole to take us there directly. Hunk, can you make it here as well?” 

 

Hunk squints somewhere behind the holoscreen. “Uh, yeah. That’s doable. For sure.”  

 

Pidge agrees, the clacking sound of her keyboard uninterrupted as she adds: “That should shave off a significant amount of time. Do we have leads about where Keith is, exactly?” 

 

“No.” Shiro reroutes the flight path to the orbital hub above New Altea. Lance and Allura can easily rendezvous with his ship from there. He once again relays the information Krolia gave him regarding Keith’s disappearance and the events leading up to it. Every time he repeats it, the sick feeling in the pit of his stomach intensifies. Keith hurt. Wounds reopened. Poisoned. Disoriented. Alone. Likely in danger. 

 

“Oh man.” Hunk pauses in putting on his flight suit. “Reeeallly not good. Like worse than I originally thought. Way worse.” 

 

“Chop chop, man!” Lance smacks the back of his hand against his palm. “We have a Keith to save! No time for your doom and gloom!” 

 

Hunk makes a face but continues to suit up. “Okay guys, I’m on my way.” 

 

Pidge directs her attention to Shiro. “I really want a better location than ‘somewhere on Daibazaal.’Can we track him remotely somehow?” 

 

“Doubtful,” Allura responds. “If the remaining members of the Blade cannot locate him…” 

 

“Takes a space ninja to find a space ninja…” Lance agrees, stroking his chin. “Or maybe not…” 

 

“He’s not wearing his suit.” Shiro offers. “I don’t know when he last had his comm device. He wouldn’t answer my calls.” He takes a deep breath, working on keeping his voice steady for the team. “Krolia also said that he was unarmed.” 

 

At this, Pidge stops typing. The line quiets; the mood shifts. 

 

Hunk is the one who breaks the silence. “Wait. You mean you tried calling him before this and he didn’t respond? To you ?” 

 

Lance and Allura stop what they’re doing and share an obvious look. 

 

Pidge slowly pushes the glasses up the bridge of her nose. 

 

Shiro exhales, says it like a sigh: “We had an argument.” At their blank looks, he continues, “Keith was angry with me, I didn’t...take it well. I told him to leave.” 

 

Lance sucks in a breath through his teeth. 

 

Shiro takes the opportunity to adjust his headings. Holds back a bitter remark. He doesn’t need the commentary on his personal life. He just wants Keith to be safe. There is no other alternative. 

 

When no one says anything, Shiro adds, “Keith is strong willed. I know how strong he is. Injured, lost— It will take more than this to break him.” 

 

Hunk is so gentle when he shakes his head. “Not when it comes to you.” He folds his hands, and gives nervous looks to the others before he looks back to Shiro. “Not when it comes to you.” 

 

Ever the diplomat, Allura intercedes, “I understand, Shiro. I have witnessed Keith cross the universe for you alone.” She smiles. “On more than one occasion, it seems like Death itself could not stop Keith from reaching you. It makes sense that you’d believe his will is unbreakable.” The smile fades. “But I also remember Keith without you. I think perhaps you do not fully realize that you are the one person who could truly hurt him. If he believes that he no longer has you…” 

 

Shiro swallows. Of course he realizes the extent to which he’s influenced Keith’s life. All the ways in which Keith has saved him. And he’s never taken the depth of Keith’s feelings for granted. 

 

But does Shiro know, without a shadow of a doubt, that Keith understands the depth of Shiro’s feelings for him ?

 

“Man,” Lance rubs his hands up and down over his face, “He shoulda said something before it got this intense. Why didn’t he talk to us after the injury?” 

 

“He refused to talk about it.” Shiro thinks back to the calls with Keith following the attack. Keith was closed mouth about it; he clearly preferred to deal with things on his own, rather than involve Shiro. Should Shiro have pushed harder to help him? Would things have gone differently? Or was the poisoning already such that the situation would have simply escalated sooner?

 

“Well,” Pidge tilts her head. “Keith isn’t exactly the type to ask for help. With anything.” 

 

Hunk sighs, slumping back in the pilot’s seat. “Whoever pulled this off got us good. They knew exactly how to get in Keith’s head. It’s freaky.” 

 

All four of them look to Shiro: 

 

“What’s the plan?” 

 

*

 

By the time they arrive on Daibazaal, six amber moons hang across the night sky. Keith has been missing for the better part of a day. 

 

Shiro lands first. The city of Monaar is dark, but ceremonial bells gong through the air, signaling his arrival. It’s tradition, and the Galran are a proud people, but given the circumstance, it feels charged with something sinister. 

 

He meets Krolia at the steps of the Kral. 

 

It’s unexpected when she pulls him into a tight embrace. “Thank you for coming,” she says, holding Shiro against her. As if anything could have kept him away. He’s even more surprised as she presses a kiss against his temple. Like a mother would a son. 

 

“Of course. Has there been any progress?” 

 

“They found a body.” 

 

Shiro pulls away, cold and dread thrumming through his veins. “Not…” 

 

“Not Keith,” Krolia confirms. “But a colleague who was seen with him recently.” 

 

She believes that Keith managed to secure a ship. His biosignature was recorded in one of the shuttles, but it crashed just outside the city walls. Likely due to an attack. Whoever it was killed the other agent on board, and left Keith for dead. Krolia and the team with her found his blood and the corpse, but no Keith. 

 

“Where are the others?” 

 

Krolia nods. “They are pursuing a lead based on the evidence gathered at the crash site. I was with them, but I thought it best to be here in person when you landed, just in case you had any news on your end.” 

 

“Nothing,” Shiro reports. “If you rejoin your colleagues, my team and I will start with the crash site. Chances are that he’s on foot.” 

 

*

 

“Paladins,” Shiro opens the comm line again, “Lock onto my coordinates.”

 

The crash site is brutal. At the southern edge of the city, there’s a deep gorge: Mal’altur. The drop off is significant, the closest ledge is hundreds of feet down below the surface. The shuttle that Keith crashed is mangled there. 

 

Shiro jettisons down, using his flightpack. He’s reminded of a much smaller canyon, red earth and Keith’s arms around his waist, whooping in his ear. This is a greater drop, yes, but Keith could have handled it…

 

‘It makes sense that you’d believe he is unbreakable.’

 

No. Maybe he couldn’t have. 

 

The door is torn off the ship. It’s unclear if it was manually ripped from the hull— by what? — or if the destruction was a byproduct of the crash. The ground is far from even; tall pointed outcroppings of rock pierced the ship in several places on its descent. Shiro takes a look inside the cabin, although Krolia has no doubt already inspected it. 

 

There’s blood over the console. Like Keith’s hands were wet with it as he adjusted the controls. Shiro bites back tears. Closes his eyes and takes a deep breath. They’re going to find him. Keith is going to be alright. He’ll make sure of it. There is no other alternative. 

 

“Shiro!!!” Pidge’s voice is urgent. “Allura’s finally close enough to the surface for me to get a read. I think I have something!!” 

 

She sends the footage: It’s too dark to be certain, but a figure can be seen on another ledge, much deeper in the gorge. The figure dips down, staggering as if under a heavy weight, and then lurches forward. Barely managing to stay upright. 

 

“I can’t get a clearer picture, he’s too far down. Can you see anything?” 

 

It must be Keith. Shiro watches the image, only growing more sure. “He’s stumbling,” Shiro murmurs, heart breaking. Keith, who is always so strong, so determined, stumbling. 

 

Hunk groans. “Of all the places to stumble, he’s gotta pick the million miles deep giant gash in the ground, possibly filled with monsters, probably filled with monsters…” 

 

“Lance,” Shiro shouts, “Are you planetside yet?” 

 

“Half a dobash!” 

 

True to his word, Lance is soon at Shiro’s side. 

 

“We’re going down,” Shiro tells him. “You take point and cover me. Stay alert. Based on what Krolia told me, it’s very likely that Keith will attack. He will think that we are the enemy. He’s unarmed, but he’s also not in his right mind. And we don’t know what else might be down there with him.” 

 

Lance tightens his hold on the blaster he’s equipped. Their bayards are gone with the lions but he’s still the best shot on the team. “Got it.” 

 

“Hunk, you’ll stay overhead. We’re going to need extraction, possibly quickly. Allura, do you think you can find any more information on this poison? I want to get Keith treated as soon as we can.” 

 

The descent down the trench wall to the area where Keith is walking is difficult. Visibility is low, due to both the depth of the canyon, and a thick, rolling fog that seems to be rising from the bottom. The flightpacks are designed for zero grav maneuvering more so than planetary missions, but combined with some strategic footholds, Shiro manages to make it down in one piece. As for how Keith was able to do it...Shiro grits his teeth. It’s likely he fell. 

 

“It’s amazing he’s still standing after all this,” Lance comments, quiet. He must be thinking the same thing. 

 

The ledge they’re on now is fairly level, spotted with sharp croppings of rock jutting up. To their right, the wall is marred with huge vertical indentations, as if some great beast tried to climb up long ago; to their left, the open trench is wide and dark and deep. They are already too far down to make out the night sky above. 

 

“It’s too narrow there for my ship to get through,” Hunk crackles through the comm. The signal is weaker, though it can’t be purely due to distance. The air itself is charged. 

 

“Roger that,” Lance acknowledges. “I think when we were flying in, I saw that it gets wider up ahead. Try circling around and see if you can get closer that way.” 

 

“Got it.” 

 

“Keith!” Shiro calls out as he gets closer. “Keith! Can you hear me?” 

 

The figure straightens up, head cocked to the side. He heard them. 

 

Shiro can hear Lance inhale a breath. 

 

Keith runs. 

 

“He’s going to fall further down!!” Lance shouts, taking after him. “Shiro!” 

 

The black dust of the canyon clouds around Shiro’s feet as he takes off at a sprint, trying to head Keith off before he can get any closer to the drop. There may be no other ledge below them…if Keith falls here, it’s likely he will not survive this time. Lance is beside Shiro, ensuring that Keith can only head towards the wall side of the ledge.

 

But whereas Keith would normally be fast enough to outrun them, or at the very least, keep pace, soon they overtake him. They close in fast— Lance is on one side and Shiro approaches the other. The wall is behind Keith. 

 

“Keith,” Shiro says again, slightly winded from the exertion in the strangely heavy Galran air. “Please,” 

 

The Atlas flight suit that Shiro is wearing has a light mounted into the gauntlet, similar to the paladin armor. Lance’s Altean suit has the same. The two narrow beams of light find Keith at the same time. 

 

Lance swears under his breath. 

 

“Keith,” Shiro says, the name breaking from his mouth like a sob. 

 

Somehow he lost one of his boots. The foot that’s bare is lifted slightly off the ground, too cut up to fully carry his weight. He’s holding his left arm to his side, but it’s clearly mangled. His shirt is torn, but the pieces that remain are caked in blood and the black dust of the canyon. 

 

Video feed is being transmitted intermittently to the team above them. As Keith comes into focus, Allura’s sharp inhale rings through the comm. “Oh,” 

 

Keith’s mouth is open; light passes over his face, catches on the points of fangs in his mouth. Chest rising and falling, breaths quick and short. His dark hair is matted, falling into his face in clumps. 

 

“It’s quintessence,” Allura says quietly. “Quintessence poisoning. I’m sure of it.” 

 

Shiro takes a step closer, slowly, lump in his throat. Keith is in no shape to fight, but that doesn’t mean he’ll be taken easily. “Quintessence poisoning?” he asks her, keeping his voice low.

 

“It means we have the Druids to thank for this,” Allura says bitterly. 

 

“Wait, what?! Even without Haggar?” 

 

Shiro ignores Lance’s squawk and the concern of the other paladins in his ears. The only thing he can think of is getting Keith to safety. 

 

He takes another step forward. 

 

“Careful,” Lance says, tightening his grip on his blaster. 

 

“Keith. Can you answer me?” Shiro asks, voice wavering. 

 

Keith’s head jerks up. His eyes are wide, yellow as if jaundiced, pupils constricted to a slit in the light. He focus darts from Shiro to Lance, and back to Shiro. 

 

He stumbles back, but he falls, tripping over a rock. He doesn’t cry out as he falls, but Shiro can hear the whimper of pain that he bites down on, can see the way his mouth works. He scrambles back on his elbows, heels digging into the black earth. 

 

Lance swears again. Louder this time. It sounds broken. 

 

Shiro doesn’t take his eyes off Keith. “Lance. Go get Hunk. Get a ship down here.” 

 

Keith isn’t going to attack anyone. Not like this. 

 

Distantly he hears Lance acknowledge the order and run off. 

 

“Keith, baby,” Shiro chokes on the word, “I-it’s me. I’m not going to hurt you.” 

 

At Shiro’s approach, Keith manages to make it to his feet. Still clutching his arm, he lopes closer to the wall, barely able to put weight on the one foot. He turns back to face Shiro before he crouches down. He picks up a jagged piece of rock. Holds it like a weapon, as well as he can. 

 

“No,” Shiro tries to keep his voice level, “Keith, it’s me. It’s Shiro.” He gets closer, close enough to see the way a mottle of indigo and purple has spread from Keith’s chest up his neck and face. 

 

The tension in his shoulders— Keith is tightly coiled, ready to fight, ready to break. Shiro gets within arm’s length and Keith slashes with his makeshift knife. 

 

“Shhh,” Shiro tries to soothe. He catches the rock in his Altean hand, not even wincing as it smashes into his palm with as much force as Keith can muster. “You don’t need to fight me, Keith,” 

 

He tries to touch Keith’s shoulder with his opposite hand, but Keith is still fast. He knocks Shiro’s hand away, ducking under his grip before backing further away. He must calculate that he can’t get past Shiro. The wall is behind him. He drops down, lodging himself in an opening between some fallen rocks. 

 

“You may need to overpower him, and try to take him that way,” Pidge suggests softly through the comm. 

 

“No.” 

 

“Shiro, we don’t want him to hurt himself.” 

 

It’s true he’s already caused damage to himself just in the time that Shiro has been standing here. The fall over the rock from before, the jagged rock in his hand. And the quintessence poisoning...whatever that means. Keith needs help as soon as possible. 

 

But maybe the screens aren’t showing it. The way Keith’s hands are trembling, the rapid fall of his chest, how his eyes are glassy and wide. They’re darting back and forth. He is terrified. 

 

Uneven breaths come out in a whimper and he scrambles back, deeper into the space between the rock.  

 

Shiro would never forgive himself if he hurt Keith when Keith was like this. Even if it was to restrain him enough to help. 

 

He takes off his helmet — the last thing he hears in the comms is the exasperation of the other paladins telling him not to do this. 

 

Comms quieted, Shiro drops to his knees. He shuffles until he’s sitting cross legged, Keith just barely out of reach. Keith whines, shrinking back as far as he can. His face is wet with tears, scraped up and bloody. He pulls his knees up, making himself seem small. Covers his head with his uninjured hand. Trying to hide, like a child would. Like Shiro is a threat. 

 

Shiro’s hands are clenched into fists. He relaxes them. He came here ready to fight, ready to do anything to save Keith. But he didn’t expect this. 

 

At first he just steadies his breathing:  

 

A deep, mindful inhale. 

 

His eyes fall shut. 

 

He holds it. 

 

Slow, measured exhale. 

 

He repeats. 

 

He can hear a quiet rattle as Keith takes a shaky breath in time with his own. 

 

They exhale together and Shiro opens his eyes to find Keith watching him. There’s no recognition in his gaze.

 

“That’s good, Keith, keep going,” Shiro says. “Just like that, for me.” He swallows. Ignores how fast his heart is beating. Ignores how Keith flinches as Shiro shifts on the hard ground. “I didn’t get a chance to tell you, earlier. Did you know I planned a little weekend off for us? Just the two of us?” 

 

Keith tenses at the sound of Shiro’s voice, he shifts, maybe ready to fight or to run again. But his breathing is steady. 

 

“I had it all planned out,” Shiro continues, soft. His eyes never leave Keith’s face. “I know you’re busy, so I thought you might like a weekend in. I downloaded your favorite show onto my datapad. Don’t worry, we’ll stop before Mulder leaves.” He smiles, remembering how mad Keith got as a cadet when they watched the last season together. Shiro’s throat feels watery, but he keeps going. Some of the tension has drained from Keith’s shoulders. “And in my freezer, don’t tell anyone, but there’s a pint of chocolate ice cream in my freezer with your name on it.” 

 

Shiro remembers the last time they were on Earth, Keith snuck out of the hospital— despite having a head injury. His destination? The closest big box store still standing. He bought a gallon of chocolate ice cream and ate it in the parking lot before it melted in the Phoenix heat. The carton sat between his legs on the saddle of the hoverbike, but Keith managed not to drip anything down his civvies, mostly because they were borrowed from Lance and he didn’t want to get shit about it. Shiro knows because Keith told him. Because he was with him. 

 

He remembers Keith offering him the Garrison-hospital-stolen-spoon with all the gravitas of bestowing a medal of honor. Quiet, solemn eyes watched him take a bite. Sticky fingers touched his arm, face breaking into a smile. “Worth it, huh?” 

 

And Shiro thought, I want to spend the rest of my life with him. 

 

As wonderfilled and awe inspiring as knowing Keith has been— saving Shiro, growing into a leader, reaching him in the astral plane, cutting down enemy-after-enemy, winning the war — those aren’t the moments he thinks about when he thinks of loving Keith. 

 

He thinks about loving Keith the day after Keith pressed him to find out about Shiro’s illness. Way back when they were cadet and officer. Mentor and mentee. Tentative friends. Shiro remembers being worried that the knowledge would alter their relationship. Keith met him that day and first informed Shiro that it was chicken patty day in the Garrison lunch hall. And second, told him that he scored at the top of his class in the latest sim eval, and doesn’t Shiro have a promise to keep? (The promise was about taking the hoverbikes out for an extended ride. Shiro was all too happy to keep it.) 

 

He thinks about loving Keith when Keith finds Shiro late at night in the common room on the Castle of Lions, mind too hell bent on cycling through troubling memories to sleep. Keith padded into the room, barefoot and sleep mussed. He takes a seat close enough to shove his feet under Shiro’s thigh and, after Shiro told him to talk about anything, spent the next forty-five minutes teaching Shiro about the social structure of the North American gray wolf. (This lecture was pre-Kosmo, and even included diagrams.) 

 

He thinks about loving Keith the first quiet morning they spent together in the Atlas. He learned the hard way that Keith takes his coffee too sweet— all milk and sugar and hardly coffee at all. Keith hands Shiro a cup, just the two of them on the bridge. Everything about the ship’s controls is foreign and powerful and terrifying and new under Shiro’s hands. And Keith begins adjusting the headings at Shiro’s side like the Atlas was any other ship and his to fly. Shiro attempted to hide the onslaught of emotions that overtook him with a sip, only to gag on the sugary concoction that Keith made for him. “What?” Keith asked. And Shiro shook his head. 

 

He thinks about loving Keith late at night, when Keith comes to his room, awkward and fumbling in a way that isn’t him at all. When Shiro touches him and Keith melts into it, rough hands gentle as they pull at the clasps of Shiro’s uniform jacket. So in his head about Shiro that he forgets to take his gloves off. Shiro reminds him about the gloves— god he loves him— he reminds him and Keith grins, laughing at himself, laughing into Shiro’s mouth while they kiss. 

 

The moments are well worn with remembering. All stacked up and teetering in his mind— after all Shiro’s been collecting them for years now. Shiro thinks about loving Keith in a million other quiet moments. 

 

“I should have told you, Keith,” Shiro says, not about the episodes or the ice cream. He should have told him as a cadet, all those years ago. He should have told him, with sticky fingers and a spoon in hand, in the parking lot of a stalwart desert walmart. He should have told him three days ago, when Keith was coming apart at the seams, and asking for help in the only way he could. 

 

Distressed, Shiro runs a hand through his hair. Looks heavenward into the night sky too far away to see. I thought you knew. How could you not? 

 

He’s committed to collecting those moments for as long as Keith will let him. In as many places and ways that they have the opportunity. “Come back to me,” Shiro tells him, voice thick with emotion. 

 

Keith makes a hurt noise in the back of his throat. “Shiro?” 

 

Shiro is careful not to move too quickly. He nods, keeping his breathing even. He turns his palms up, opening his arms.  

 

“Keith, it’s okay, I’m here,” 

 

“Shiro?” 

 

Keith stands, tripping forward, but Shiro gathers him in his arms before he hits the ground. His shoulders are shaking. He's burning up with fever. A tear rolls down his cheek, and then another, tracking wobbly marks through the dirt on his face. 

 

“It’s okay,” Shiro repeats, brushing the tears away with his thumb. He pulls Keith into his lap. He sits cross legged, Keith in his lap, rocking him gently, “Keith, I’m here.” 

 

Keith chokes on his name, “S-Shiro, I—I think I’m sick,” 

 

The tears are coming faster now, soaking into the collar of Shiro’s suit as Keith clings to him. 

 

He’s never heard Keith cry before. Keith holds emotions tight to his chest, careful that they don’t become obvious enough to become targets. He keeps himself safe that way. He shouldn’t have to. “I’m here Keith. It’s okay. You’re safe.” 

 

“I was alone,” Keith sobs into Shiro’s chest. His voice is hoarse and cracking. Shiro holds him tighter. “I’m sorry, Shiro, I’m s-sorry, I didn’t—”

 

“We have time for apologies later,” Shiro tells him, adjusting Keith in his arms to stand. “For now, just let me take care of you.” 

 

The tears begin fresh, and Keith gives a short nod. His uninjured hand has found its way into the material of Shiro’s suit. He’s holding on so tight that his knuckles are blanched white. Like he’s afraid Shiro isn’t real. Shiro will leave. 

 

Shiro brushes matted bangs off his forehead, slow and careful. He holds Keith close enough to kiss the wetness off his cheeks. “I’m not leaving you, Keith.”

 

Shiro stands, Keith in his arms. 

 

It takes a moment to find the others without the help of the comm, but soon Lance is at Shiro’s side, ushering them into the shuttle that Hunk is piloting. Keith tenses at the noise, shrinking close to Shiro’s chest. He’s stopped crying now, jaw set to stay silent, eyes wide with unknowing fear. Shiro holds Keith closer as he sinks into a passenger seat. 

 

“It shouldn’t be long now, buddy. Don’t worry, we’re—” Lance moves as if to touch Keith, 

 

A whimper escapes Keith. He twists in Shiro’s arms, as if trying to flee. 

 

“Shh,” Shiro tries to calm him, “It’s okay. You’re safe. Just look at me. Focus on my breathing.” 

 

Keith is trembling. He does his best to follow Shiro’s directions, sucking in a hiccuping breath. His eyes dart around the cabin, clearly terrified of the unfamiliar surroundings, 

 

“Sorry,” Lance murmurs, “Sorry,” 

 

The other paladins fall quiet— no direction between Pidge and the others, no joking as Hunk readies the ship to return to the city. Like Shiro, even more so than Shiro, they’ve never seen Keith like this. Next to them, Lance has his head bowed, face turned away, head in his hands. Shiro understands why. Seeing Keith like this… it’s as if he’s seeing something he shouldn’t be. Keith would never willingly let himself be this vulnerable. He would do anything in his power to keep a weakness like this to himself. 

 

They’ve recovered Keith, but he is not yet saved. 

 

In the ship’s harsh lighting, Shiro can now see the full extent of Keith’s injuries— the way the poison has bloomed under his skin, a sickly lilac. The way his knuckles are shredded, the scrapes on his arms. The bandages on his chest are soaked through with blood. 

 

There’s a bit of turbulence as Hunk takes them into the royal city to meet Krolia and the other Blades. Keith— who has always flown as if every aircraft is an extension of himself— startles at the jostling. He blinks, new tears spilling from wide eyes. 

 

He’s quieted, but it’s not peaceful, based on the set of his jaw. He’s grinding his teeth. Shiro touches his cheek and Keith whimpers again, leaning into the touch. His mouth opens, gums red and angry from teeth that don’t belong. It must hurt. Shiro finds Keith’s hand to unwind it from where it’s gripping his clothes; there’s blood under his fingernails. Shiro lifts it to kiss his knuckles. 

 

Keith needs him, Shiro thinks, a little bit later, when he is watching Coran prepare an Altean healing pod inside of the Galran castle. Keith’s crying has quieted, but he found his way back to gripping Shiro’s flight suit. He won’t let go.  

 

Keith needs him like Shiro needs Keith. How do you contain a flame without tempering the fire? You don’t. But a flame unchecked can burn itself out, can leave nothing but ruin in its wake. And if they steady each other into a glow, they are no less bright together. 

 

As Shiro gently unwinds Keith from his arms, Keith inhales against him. His mind is muddled and his words are slurred, but Shiro understands when Keith presses his face into Shiro’s bare skin. 

 

“I love you,” Shiro tells him, just as Keith goes lax under the anesthesia. 

 

*

 

He is too warm to be in a healing pod, Keith decides, before he opens his eyes. 

 

The room is dim, but light from the blue fires ubiquitous in the Kral is dancing over the vaulted ceiling, giving it a kind of soft glow. Keith watches the shapes overhead for a moment, thoughts cottony in a way that feels more than just from a heavy sleep. He’s not quite sure how he came to be here, or what happened to make his body feel so heavy. But he feels safe. 

 

It takes him a moment to realize why: He can hear another person breathing. Keith turns his head. 

 

Shiro is in the chair next to him. He’s pursing his lips slightly, thumb slowly moving the text up the screen of a datapad. His Altean arm is absent; Shiro normally only takes it off while he sleeps, or if he is going to be alone in his quarters for an extended amount of time. Keith watches him read for a moment. His silver hair bathed in the blue light is beautiful— it catches in his eyelashes as Shiro’s eyes move across the page— but he looks tired. His shirt is rumpled in a way that Shiro normally wouldn’t allow, and there’s tension in his jaw. 

 

He stretches, setting the datapad on his lap before his arm goes over his head. The datapad slides down, and Shiro goes to catch it. But he must forget that his other arm is missing because he scrambles with a hand that isn’t there and the thing still slips to the floor. 

 

Keith huffs out a quiet laugh. 

 

“Keith?” Shiro stops mid-bend and looks at him. “Keith! You’re awake!” 

 

“Barely,” Keith allows. He goes to sit up and finds that his chest and left shoulder are very sore. 

 

Shiro gives an uncharacteristic tut, moving to Keith’s side. He helps him sit up, but then he shifts, moving the blankets to the side. He sits next to Keith in the bed, and then wraps his arm around Keith’s middle, lifting him up. To sit between Shiro’s legs, nestled against his chest. 

 

A noise escapes that Keith is not exactly proud of as Shiro moves him. He loves being close to Shiro, but they’ve seldom been this close outside of sex. And they’ve never sat like this. “Wha—”

 

“This okay?” Shiro asks. He leans against the headboard, getting comfortable with Keith in his lap. Keith can feel Shiro’s voice in his chest against his back. Shiro punctuates the words with the barest kiss, just below Keith’s ear. His arm is still around Keith’s stomach, holding him. 

 

“Yeah, but,” Keith’s hand moves over Shiro’s fingers, and he decides not to question it. He lets his head back on Shiro’s shoulder, lets his eyes fall shut again. Moments like this don’t come every day; he’ll take what he can get. 

 

Keith is content to sit like that, to be held, but. Shiro doesn’t relax. His arm is tight around Keith and, although his face is nestled into Keith’s shoulder, his breathing is short and quick. 

 

“Shiro?” 

 

“Hm?” 

 

“Look at me.” Though it’s uncomfortable, Keith twists to look into Shiro’s face. He looks worn. Stubble on his cheeks, a tender line of red rimming his eyes. His hair is soft, unstyled to fall across his forehead into his eyes. Keith reaches up to push it back. “Shiro. You haven’t slept.” 

 

Shiro’s grayblue eyes are searching as they meet Keith’s gaze. Keith is alarmed to watch them fill with tears. Shiro bends into him, burying his face against Keith. He’s crying. 

 

“Shiro?” Keith asks, turning more fully to wrap his arms around Shiro. “What’s wrong?” 

 

Shiro shakes his head without removing it from against Keith. The two of them rock a little with the movement, but it only makes Keith tighten his hug. 

 

“I don’t know what I would do if I lost you,” Shiro tells him, voice strung with emotion. “I was so worried, baby.” He holds Keith close. “I love you,” Shiro mouths against his skin. 

 

Keith freezes. 

 

Shiro clears his throat, repeats it more clear this time. “I love you.” 

 

Keith pulls away. Outside of the warm circle of Shiro’s arms. His heart rate is rapid, kicking into a fervor in his chest. Suddenly very aware of the gaps in his memories. “Wha—” he wets his lips and remembers the taste of blood. “What happened?” 

 

It comes back slowly, disjointed at first. Like wisps of a bad dream seeping into consciousness. Keith keeps his head down, doesn’t look at Shiro as he’s told he was acting strange on their calls following the attack on his ship. He closes his eyes, draws a little further away from Shiro’s warmth as Shiro reminds him— gently, so gently— of the fight they had before Keith returned to Daibazaal. 

 

“You were so angry, so fast. Out of nowhere. It wasn’t like you. I should’ve known then.” 

 

Keith huffs out self-deprecating laugh. “Yeah, angry, fast? Doesn’t sound like me at all.” Shiro has Keith’s hand in his— large, solid fingers, square nails, perfectly groomed. Keith remembers bloody knuckles, claws that shouldn’t have been there, but were. He pulls his hand away. Shiro is so good to him. Always. He shouldn’t ever blame himself. “You couldn’t have known, Shiro.” 

 

He’s alarmed to find the emotions rising in his throat, blurring his vision. Tears slip down his cheeks and Keith wipes them away furiously. “I’m sorry.” He remembers now, how lost he felt, how scared. How he lashed out. How he was alone. His face is hot with guilt and shame. And the damn tears, 

 

“Keith,” Shiro tips forward, his one hand light as it brushes the hair out of Keith’s face. Lingers, just for a second on the scar on Keith’s cheek, before he reaches down and collects Keith’s hand again. Stubborn and good. Shiro. “I love you. You know that, right?” 

 

“I know.” Keith nods. He does. Shiro has always been there for him, more than any other person. The bond they share, whatever it is exactly, is precious to him. The most precious thing in his life. 

 

“Baby, I don’t think you do.” Shiro smiles down into his lap, eyes crinkling, almost self-conscious. It’s a face he’s never made before, exactly, and Keith falls quiet at the newness of it. 

 

“I forget, sometimes.” Shiro says, squeezing Keith’s hand. “That this is possibly the first relationship you’ve been in. That’s hard, in and of itself. And we both know, I’m no expert in romance.” Shiro gives Keith a weak smile, ducking his head. He says this next part slowly, like he’s working it out as he goes along: “To me, you’ve always been independent...I failed to consider that you might be dealing with insecurities of your own. And, I fell into the habit of not planning for the distant future a long time ago. It’s a hard habit to break, but trust me, I’m trying.” Shiro takes a breath. “But just so we’re clear, Keith. I want everything with you. Exclusively you. Only ever you. As husbands, partners, whatever name you want to give it. For as long as you’ll have me.”

 

The oxygen in Keith’s lungs gets caught there. 

 

“But,” Shiro is looking at Keith now. He shakes his head. “I don’t want a love that hurts. I don’t want self-sacrificing and big and death-defying. I just want to be with you.” 

 

Keith has his jaw clenched and he swallows, but it’s like his body won’t listen. He blinks, but his vision is too blurred. He nods. 

 

The words, when he finally manages to get them out, feel like they’re scraped from the very deepest part of him. Raw and delicate and honest: “I want that too.” 

 

Shiro makes a soft noise. “Oh Keith.” 

 

And then Keith is pulled into him, and he’s got his arms around Shiro and both of them are moving to be just as close to the other as they can get. Keith is crying again, his nose pushed into Shiro’s neck, Shiro’s arm around his waist, holding him. 

 

He smells like home. Wrapping his arms around Shiro has only ever felt like coming home. Being where he’s supposed to be.

 

Shiro holds him so steady, hand under Keith’s shirt, stroking gently at the small of his back. He lets Keith cry, doesn’t say anything apart from a soothing word or two whispered into Keith’s shoulder. The rise and fall of his chest underneath Keith is even, relaxed. When he’s wrung out, Shiro is still holding him, just as steady. 

 

*

 

It feels like a long time later when Keith lifts his head from Shiro’s shoulder. His eyes are sore and his head aches, but it’s a very different kind of pain compared to the headache from earlier. He feels wrung out, but settled. His breaths are even, in time with Shiro’s. He sits back. 

 

“Do you want to go back to sleep?” Shiro’s face is serious as he looks down at Keith in his lap. 

 

Keith shakes his head no. Shiro is looking at him with so much love in his gaze. It’s overwhelming. He looks away, feels how his cheeks are hot now, not from tears. 

 

“Kinda hungry,” he admits. He feels foolish at being so doted on. 

 

“I could bring you something,” Shiro says, touch still soft and lingering on Keith’s skin. “But if you feel up to it, the others would be happy to see you.” 

 

“The others?” Keith asks. He moves to get up. 

 

The stone floor of the Kral is cold under his feet, and at first Keith is unsteady. Shiro follows him out of bed, a few paces behind. They’re in one of the guest suites, Keith notices now. The imperial castle is massive; there’s no way he’s been in this exact room before, but. It’s one of the ones meant for diplomatic parties of more than a few people. Several rooms all connected by a common room in the middle. 

 

He notices, too, a few things out of place. There’s a vase of juniperberries at the bedside table. Shades of silverpink and mulberry, artfully arranged. Flowers which are definitely not native to Daibazaal. A bowl of dog kibble and a dish for water is pushed towards the side of the room. The chair opposite the one Shiro was seated in when Keith first woke up has an abandoned handheld video game on the cushion. And two cans of energy drinks at the foot of it. 

 

There’s one of the Garrison’s lab notebooks sticking out of a dufflebag near the closet. And, 

 

“Those are Hunk’s boots?” 

 

Shiro follows Keith’s gaze. He squints. “They’re not mine,” he says. “Look too small to be Coran’s.” 

 

Keith blinks. “Hunk is halfway across the universe. He’s doing a stint on North Tol to help iron out their trade route with the closest system.” 

 

Shiro shrugs. He purses his lips and raises his eyebrows, completely failing at looking innocent. 

 

Frowning, Keith opens the door. 

 

“Oh for quiznaking sakes, Pidge, get out of here!! ” Lance's voice rings across the room. He’s waving around a stack of what cannot possibly be...Monopoly money? “If I told you once, I told you a bazillion times: I already bought the Green Lion railroad!! You can’t take it from me! And now you owe me twelve hundred GAC. So pay up, short-stuff!!” 

 

“Shut your trap, Lance,” Pidge says, from behind an unfolded pamphlet. She crinkles it, scanning the sheets. The thing is as big as she is. “I rolled doubles, twice. That has to count for something.” 

 

“You guys,” Hunk is sprawled out on his back on the ground, next to the coffee table where they are all gathered. “Please, can we call it a draw? This was boring seven varga ago.” 

 

Lance sneers, peering over the board at Hunk. “You’re just a cranky-pants because Balmera Blvd has three of my hotels on it.” 

 

Hunk releases a long suffering sigh. 

 

“Oh, I don’t know,” Coran says cheerfully, “I’m having quite the time!” 

 

“You went bankrupt three hours ago,” Pidge mutters, rustling the paper. “Ha! Okay, here! So it says,” 

 

“Nuh-no, nah-nah-nah-Not LISTENING~” Lance singsongs, reaching over the game board to take the paper from her. He holds it above her head, and notices Keith in the doorway. “Keith! Go long!” 

 

Keith has only a second to react as the impressively thick Monopoly: Voltron Edition rulebook comes hurtling towards him at the far side of the room. It zings past his shoulder, but he manages to snag it. 

 

“Niiiiiiice!” Lance approves, giving him a thumbs up. 

 

“Uh.” Keith says. He looks down at the book. Alarmingly, his face is on the cover, front and center. The other paladins’ faces are behind his. “What.” 

 

“Wait a second,” Lance shouts. “You guys! Keith!” 

 

Hunk rolls over. “Not-Mindswished-Anymore-Galra-Keith!” He proclaims. 

 

“Mindswished?” Keith mouths, frowning...

 

“You!” 

 

And the next thing he knows, Pidge is barreling into him. He drops the board game manual. She squeezes him hard enough that his back cracks, and, despite still only coming up to his chest, manages to lift him off the floor. 

 

“Pidge? You’re supposed to be on Olkari? And really busy?” Keith wheezes. 

 

She releases him from her death grip. “Obviously.” She pushes up her glasses. “But not if you need me.” 

 

“Oh.” Keith’s teeth nibble his lower lip as he works to hide a smile. “Good to know.” 

 

“Alright, that’s it, yellow paladin coming through!” 

 

When Hunk hugs him, he doesn’t lift Keith off the ground but he does cry a little bit on Keith’s shoulder. Keith pats his back, and feels awkward. “Um. There, there.” 

 

Sucking in snot, Hunk holds him tighter. “You didn’t have to see yourself, dude. You were Not Good. It was the Worst.” 

 

Keith nods. “Sorry?” 

 

“No, don’t apologize,” Hunk wails. “Just feel better!!” 

 

“I feel okay,” Keith tells him, touched. Hunk sniffles and nods, and rocks them back and forth a few times before he’s satisfied. 

 

When he finally pulls away, Keith rests a hand on his chest. The emotions are...a lot. He doesn’t usually, 

 

“Keith!” Lance scoots Hunk out of the way and marches up right into Keith’s space. He has a weird look on his face— eyes all scrunched up and mouth raisin-y, like he’s constipated. 

 

“Yes? Lance?” 

 

Lance claps him on either side of his face. His palms are sweaty. His mouth wobbles. He looks right into Keith’s eyes. 

 

“Iss mumthg wrng?” Keith asks through his squished lips. 

 

Lance blinks. And his face crumples. And he pulls Keith into a hug. He’s bone-y and his chin cuts into Keith’s shoulder. “I never want to see you like that again, man,” he says, soft. 

 

Keith gives Lance a hesitant pat on the back. “Because we’re rivals?” 

 

Lance stiffens. “Rivals?” He grabs Keith by the shoulders. Shakes him. “After all the heart-to-hearts we’ve had! The late nights, baring our souls! What are you talking about? You’re my best friend!??” 

 

At Keith’s blank look, Lance shouts, “A month ago, I asked you to be the best man at my wedding!” 

 

Shiro catches Keith’s eye over Lance’s shoulder. He’s definitely laughing at Keith’s bewildered look. 

 

“That’s just him being Galra-Keith,” Hunk says, in a consoling whisper when Lance flounces away. 

 

“Uh.” Keith clears his throat. He’s not the best at this kind of thing, but. “Guys. Shiro told me a little about what happened, and I remember some of it. Bits and pieces. So. I just wanted to say ‘thank you,’ for coming to help me. It.” Keith swallows. “It means a lot.” 

 

He doesn’t mean for it to happen, but he’s choked up again. He puts a hand across his forehead, covering his eyes. “S-sorry.” His other hand curls into a fist at his side. 

 

“Keith.” Shiro is back at his side, pulling Keith into his chest. He rests his hand heavy, grounding, on the back of Keith’s neck. “It’s okay.” 

 

“Okay, but if you think I’m not getting in on that, I’m definitely getting in on that,” Keith hears, and then Hunk is squeezing him too. And Lance is squawking and pushing, and Pidge tunnels her way in as well. 

 

Keith is warm. He breathes deep and he feels the warmth unfurl in his chest. 

 

*

 

Eight days. 

 

Eight days since the rescue. 

 

Six of them in a healing pod. 

 

Keith finds out some of the details over dinner. He also hears about: 

 

“And then,” Lance smacks the coffee table. “I said, ‘Guys, that’s not the Keith Kogane Style. Take it from an expert.’” He mimes using scissors. “The bangs were alright, but the sides of the hair? Nope. Waaaaay too long to be considered a proper homage to our favorite mullet.” The scissors become finger guns. “Don’t worry Keith, I set them straight.”

 

Pidge looks up from her screen. “Funny how I remember none of this.” 

 

Hunk titters. “It really was funny. Rivlat and Sral look like they belong in one of those big hair 80s bands now.” 

 

Keith stops mid-bite (not just any bite: A Specially Curated and Prepared by Hunk Garrett Meal. This dish tastes alarmingly similar to macaroni and cheese). He looks to Shiro for confirmation. 

 

Shiro also has a bowl of the not-exactly-mac-n-cheese, and is sitting next to Keith on the couch. His cheeks are stuffed when Keith manages to catch his eye. He chews, swallows, then gives Keith a guilty smile. “Don’t look at me, I wasn’t there.” 

 

“Yeah he was too busy dreaming of canoodling with you once you got out of deep freeze,” Lance says with a smirk. His brows do an impressive amount of waggling for being so thin. 

 

Shiro crosses his legs. “Speaking of canoodling,” he looks at his fingernails, nonchalant, “Truly inspiring how clean you’ve kept your assigned quarters while here, Lance,” 

 

Coran looks up from whatever he’s been doing, 

 

Hands clasped together as if in prayer, Lance mouths some kind of plea to Shiro, the heavens, anyone who might be listening, 

 

“Almost as if,” Shiro continues, gaze now fixed on Lance, utterly at ease, “You’ve not been sleeping in them at all.” 

 

Coran stands. 

 

“Allura,” Lance yelps. His voice cracks. “Allura is an independent woman who can do who, I mean what, she likes, shit, I didn’t mean it like that, I just mean she can makeherowndecisions ohgod Coran don’tkillme please, WE'RE ENGAGED FOR CHRISTSAKES,” 

 

Keith cackles into his macaroni. It’s the kind of laugh that starts in his chest, but then Hunk is giggling and Pidge is snorting and Shiro looks so satisfied. And Coran’s face is so red it clashes with his moustache, and Lance is completely losing it— just running his mouth, digging himself deeper. And soon the laugh is coming from Keith’s belly, and he tosses his head back and feels tears come to his eyes. The good kind of tears, and his shoulders are shaking, and he lets himself fall against Shiro on the couch. And Shiro’s laugh is all throughout him, rumbly and kind. He smiles down at Keith. 

 

It’s the kind of smile that makes Shiro’s eyes crinkle and gives him a dimple— just on the right side. He’s beautiful. 

 

Keith catches his breath enough to lean forward, put one hand on Shiro’s jaw, sit up and kiss him. Shiro curls into him in return. 

 

He can feel Shiro’s smile, soft and sweet, slide into something so tender that it steals the breath out of Keith’s lungs. Shiro pulls away, but he doesn’t go far. He tilts his head, so gentle when he takes Keith’s mouth again. 

 

Shiro said forever, Keith remembers abruptly. Shiro said everything. Always. 

 

“Is that allowed?! Why is that allowed?!” Lance’s voice is shrill in the background. 

 

The door opens— at first Keith thinks Coran is simply chasing Lance out of the room (admittedly, he is not really paying attention) — but then he hears a fake cough from Pidge that sounds suspiciously like Shiro’s name. “Shiro, Shiro, ” 

 

And Shiro is standing up so fast that it almost makes Keith dizzy. “Krolia!” 

 

Keith blinks. 

 

Shiro’s face is as red as Keith’s first lion. “So glad to see you, er, so glad you’re back. Keith is feeling better, he’s,” 

 

“I can see that,” Krolia smiles. “Thank you, Shiro,” 

 

Allura, (who has almost certainly given herself a couple extra inches of height to accompany Krolia throughout the castle), hides a very un-diplomatic laugh behind her hand. “Thank you, Shiro,” she repeats. 

 

“Mom,” Keith stands. 

 

Krolia’s smile gets thoughtful. She holds out a hand, ushering Keith in for a hug. “As your father would say, ‘Ain’t that a sight for sore eyes,’” 

 

She did the voice. His dad’s voice. She can do the voice. He didn't know. Keith chokes back something between a laugh and a sob as she encircles him in a warm embrace. “He would say that. Jus’ like that.” 

 

She brushes his hair back to kiss him on the forehead. “I know. How are you feeling, Keith?” 

 

Keith feels his cheeks get warm. He’s not used to...all this. Shiro, and his mom, and his friends. He ducks his head down, bites his lip, as he pulls away. “Good. Really good.” 

 

Though the rest of the former paladins have been at ease in the guest suites, Allura has been working alongside Krolia. Keith gets a debrief, of sorts, sandwiched in between his mom and Shiro on the couch. 

 

A public agreement has finally been made, regarding Daibazaal’s entry into the coalition. Naturally, the details still need to be worked out, and nothing is set in stone, but it’s a start. A good start. 

 

The Blade agents were able to track down the dissidents who attacked Keith’s ship and led the political uprising. It was one of Haggar’s druids, still faithful to her cause after her death. Kolivan himself led the mission to eliminate the being once and for all. Without their leader, it's unlikely the group will be able to cause any more trouble. 

 

Krolia has other news as well: “I am sorry to inform you of the death of a colleague. They were found at the crash site. I believe when the dissidents attacked your ship they were caught in the fray. You must have fought and escaped.”

 

Keith pauses. His memories are still muddled. But he can’t remember anyone with him at that time, except for one person. “Krycek,” he says. “Right. Send me his specifics and—”

 

Krolia shakes her head. Allura looks troubled. 

 

“A civilian named Anvaa was found with you.” Krolia pauses. “Who is Krycek?” 

 

“There was a Blade agent named Krycek.” At the confused frown on his mother’s face he continues. “I met him right after that first attack. He was one of the agents who extracted me, under Antok.” 

 

“Keith.” Krolia has her comm. She pulls up the report of his extraction. “There is no one named Krycek enlisted in the Blades. I have never heard of such a person.” 

 

Keith frowns. He remembers a sadistic kind of smile. The flick of a tail. Counsel and conversation that never sat well with him, for reasons he couldn’t pin down. But...

 

Keith turns to Shiro. “He was in the background on a bunch of our calls.” 

 

Shiro shakes his head. “I never heard or saw anyone but you.” 

 

Allura’s voice is gentle. “Quintessence is very powerful. It was as if you were heavily drugged.” 

 

Leaning forward in his seat, Keith tries to remember a single instance of Krycek interacting with another person. He can’t. How…?

 

“What was he like?” Shiro asks. His palm rests on Keith’s arm, comforting. 

 

“I…” Keith swallows. “He told me you wouldn’t come.” He closes his eyes. Whispers: “I believed him.” 

 

Shiro’s thumb stops where it’s been marking a soft line up and down Keith’s wrist. He slips his hand, his human hand, into Keith’s. “Do you believe him now?” 

 

“No,” Keith says, voice thick. 

 

Krolia kisses his temple. 

 

Coran speaks up, from across the room. “Fascinating. Truly. It is not surprising that Keith is especially sensitive to quintessence. I think, out of any of you, he is likely the most vulnerable.” 

 

“Me? Why?” 

 

Coran hums, moustache bobbing merrily. “Well, for one thing, your bond with both the red and black lions was profound. And the bond between paladins also makes a body in tune with one’s natural quintessence.” 

 

“But if being in Voltron makes you sensitive, then wouldn’t that be true for all of us?”  Pidge points out. 

 

“Hm. To an extent. But is it not true that Keith was able to manifest his bayard with greater ease and from greater distance? And he was also able to rise to the astral plane on more than one occasion. Perhaps it has to do with his half-Galra heritage, or it may simply be a natural aptitude.” 

 

“Superpower-Galra-Keith.” Hunk says in a hushed voice. 

 

“Lot of good it's done me recently,” Keith mutters. The idea that he was able to be manipulated because of some inherent part of him doesn’t sit well in his mind. 

 

His nose prickles. He looks up. 

 

The air in front of him buzzes with energy, 

 

And, 

 

The space wolf appears— slobbery and apparently happy to see Keith. She jumps into his lap. The fact that she’s now the size of a small hoverbike doesn’t deter her in the least. 

 

“Kosmo!!” Keith squirms under endless poofs of blue fur, “You’re crushing me!!” She snuffles his face, licking and sniffing and headbutting until Keith is grinning. Her tail is probably thwaping Shiro in the chest. 

 

It takes a moment but eventually she calms down, setting over his legs. 

 

Keith buries his hands in her thick fur, and tries to pay attention to the rest of the conversation. 

 

*

 

The quintessence sensitivity thing is still bothering him later on. The paladins have broken off into their respective rooms. Krolia and Kosmo are in other parts of the castle. He and Shiro are alone again, in the room where Keith originally woke up. 

 

Keith feels restless. His wounds are healed and his mind is clear, but he doesn’t feel settled. Before she left, his mother gave him back his knife. He meant to clean it before putting it away, but instead he’s standing with it in hand. He passes it from one palm to the next, thinking. 

 

He doesn’t realize how tense he is until Shiro comes up behind him, pulling Keith back against his chest. Shiro kisses below his ear, his jaw, his cheek. 

 

“What is it?” Shiro asks him, rocking Keith gently with a back-and-forth. 

 

Keith exhales, letting his shoulders drop under Shiro’s ministrations. As long as they’ve known each other, Shiro has always been a touchy kind of guy— always a warm hand on Keith’s shoulder or the small of his back— but now, the soft sort of intimacy that Shiro exudes when they’re alone together never fails to make Keith’s heart stumble in his chest. He never thinks he can love him more than he already does, and then Shiro’s nose smushes against his nape, and he does. 

 

Shiro deserves honesty. Before he can convince himself otherwise, Keith blurts: “You dont think I’m crazy?” 

 

The gentle rocking stops. Keith can’t see Shiro’s face at this exact moment, but he can picture it: the blink, the slight pull of his brows, the tilt downward at the edges of his mouth. The look he makes anytime someone implies something negative about Keith. 

 

“Why would I? What do you mean?” 

 

Keith pulls away. Looks up at Shiro, then back down to the knife in his own hand. “All that stuff that Coran said about the quintessence. How it affected me especially. I saw someone who wasn't even there, Shiro.” 

 

Shiro looks thoughtful. “If that is ‘crazy,’ then I think we all should be thankful that you are.” 

 

“Huh?” 

 

“Who was it who first sensed the blue lion?” 

 

It seems like a lifetime ago. Keith remembers endless stars over the desert, a restlessness to keep searching, a conviction that Shiro would be there. “Me?” 

 

Shiro sits on the bed, shucking off his socks. He wiggles his toes in satisfaction before he draws his legs up. The action makes him seem young, as young as he is. As they both are. He smiles up at Keith. “And that’s just one example.” 

 

Coran mentioned the bayards and the lions, the astral plane. But all of those were things that Keith just had to do because they were necessary actions. To keep going. To find Shiro. To keep them together. To save each other. 

 

“That sensitivity has probably saved me countless times.” Shiro muses. He has his cheek resting against his knee. “And besides, Keith. With what I’ve been through— cloning and consciousness transfer, piloting a sentient ship— how could I call anybody crazy?” 

 

Keith turns it over in his mind. Maybe this sensitivity is the universe’s way of ensuring that he and Shiro stay together? A bond that transcends time and distance, defies logic. Something intangible, unbreakable, powerful. 

 

He likes that thought. 

 

“Yeah,” Keith says, agreeing slowly. 

 

Shiro lifts his eyebrows. “Yes, I’m the crazy one?” 

 

“What? No!” Keith shakes his head. 

 

The peal of laughter from Shiro fills the room, from the high ceilings to the stone floor under Keith’s feet. “You’re exactly as you should be. Come to bed.” 

 

Like it’s simple. That’s how he says it. 

 

Maybe it is. Maybe it’s simple, like the family thing— the thing that Keith never thought that he would have, until it was staring at him in the face in a conference call. Simple like learning to be close, like with his mom. Learning to be open, like with Shiro. 

 

“I’ve been sleeping for the past eight days,” Keith reminds Shiro. He doesn’t feel tired. But he does as he’s told, setting his knife down on the bedside table, shuffling to settle in next to Shiro. 

 

Shiro leans in. He kisses Keith hot, open mouthed, with enough force that Keith’s hand flies to Shiro’s shoulder, steadying himself. It’s a searing promise of the near future. 

 

“I didn’t say anything about sleeping, Keith.” 

 

Oh. 

 

Shiro’s fingers tangle in the back of Keith’s hair. He cradles his head as he eases Keith back into the sheets. Weighty, over top of him. Keith can feel the breath of a laugh just before Shiro covers his mouth again. His hand runs along Keith’s spine to rest at the small of his back; as Shiro slips his tongue inside Keith’s mouth, hot and deep, he presses upward with his palm, bringing their hips together. 

 

“Ah, Shiro,” Keith tilts his head back, lifting his hips as Shiro grinds down. He squirms, but only to get closer. 

 

Shiro smiles against his jaw, teeth grazing the tender skin of his neck. Keith has his hands under Shiro’s shirt— the same kind of undershirt that Shiro was wearing on the call, all those weeks ago. He can feel the thick muscle under Shiro’s skin, the smooth scars that criss cross over top it. The soft fabric bunches in Keith’s hands, loose enough to pull over Shiro’s head in a single breath. 

 

Keith flips them over, seated then on top of Shiro’s hips. He pulls off his own tee shirt, ducking back down to kiss Shiro, breathless, hungry, 

 

He pauses. 

 

The blue light falls over Shiro’s starlight eyelashes, eyes bright as he looks up at Keith. 

 

“Beautiful,” Keith murmurs, brushing fingers through his forelock. 

 

Based on the rush of red that skates over the tips of his ears, Shiro must not expect the compliment, but he smiles anyways, good natured about it. “All yours.” 

 

It’s too much. 

 

Keith’s heart feels like it might burst out of his chest. He bites his lip, emotion running through him like a shot. It makes him weak, the force of it. He collapses down, not all sexy or alluring, just desperate to hug Shiro as fiercely and as tightly as he can. This feels too big to contain, too much affection for any one person to have. 

 

“Baby,” Shiro says, comforting. He sits up on his elbow, Keith in his lap. Pets Keith’s hair, slipping locks behind his ears. 

 

“Never cried like this in my damn life,” Keith mutters, voice wet. He tucks his face into the crook of Shiro’s neck. He swallows, chest tight, tries to pull himself together. 

 

Shiro has a hand on his hip; he pushes Keith back ever so slightly, ducks his face to look into Keith’s. 

 

Keith rubs the wetness out of his eyes with one hand. Shiro catches it, turns it over in his palm. He kisses the inside of Keith’s wrist. Holds it there, against his soft mouth, as he says, “You’ve been through it, Keith. Let’s stop here for now.” 

 

Keith curls his fingers against Shiro’s cheek. 

 

“I don’t want to,” he protests, taking his hand back. “It’s just…” 

 

He swallows, feeling Shiro underneath him, his eyes on Keith. Overwhelming. And Keith feels  exposed. Torn to pieces, heart flayed from the inside out with love, ready to come apart for this man, 

 

—Delicate, and so easy to break, but only like this, only for Shiro—

 

And he trusts Shiro, but, 

 

“It’s so much, Shiro,” Keith says, helpless. “I love you so much.” 

 

Shiro inhales, deep and long, enough for Keith to feel it in his whole body. He nods, too choked up to speak. Keith makes a soft noise, as if to tell him it’s okay. 

 

Shiro shakes his head, finding the words. “Me too, Keith.” He presses a chaste kiss against Keith’s mouth. Misses it by a hair, catching the edge of his mouth, his nose. “I love you too.” 

 

Keith can’t tell if it’s his face or Shiro’s that’s wet as they come together. Maybe both. 

 

The kiss is slow, charged. It’s an exchange of breath, a long-ago promise renewed. (That promise is weightier this time around, but they each know the other can bear it, wants to bear it,) 

 

The kiss stays like that: Slow, charged, 

 

Steady, 

 

Lingering, 

 

Simple.

 

As Shiro once again lays Keith against the sheets, kisses up his chest. Moisture now beaded in his lashes, smile giving and forgiving as Keith’s hands dig into his back. 

 

He dips between Keith’s legs, nipping marks into the hair on his thighs, the tender skin between. Shiro takes his cock in his mouth, presses first one finger inside Keith, then more— Keith arches off the sheets, sighs out his name. 

 

He smiles at Keith’s impatience, calls him cute. Teases, Rubs his prickly undercut on the inside of Keith’s thighs. 

 

When Keith is ready, more than ready, Shiro takes him from behind. He shudders as Keith settles into him. Both of them on their knees in bed. Shiro inside Keith, holding Keith to his chest, his large hand settled over Keith’s sternum. 

 

“Your heart is beating so fast.” Shiro ruts into him, “Keith, god, you feel,” 

 

Keith has his hands over Shiro’s hand. His mouth is dropped open in pleasure as Shiro continues to fuck him. He gasps, falls forward, but Shiro has him. Shiro hauls him back, holds him close. Tight, 

 

Shiro kisses rough against his jaw. 

 

They slow and Keith tilts his head back to kiss Shiro while Shiro is still inside him, both of them rocking together.  

 

“Wanna,” Keith moans, broken, exposed, full, whole, “S-Shiro, wanna,” 

 

“Keith, fuck, yes— whatever you— anything,” 

 

Keith changes their position, settling back into Shiro’s lap once more. Chest to chest, his legs a perfect match to fit around Shiro’s waist. He reaches behind him, holding Shiro steady as he sinks onto his cock again. 

 

Shiro moans and Keith drinks in every detail— from the soft way his mouth shapes the sound to the breath over Keith’s cheeks. He hooks an arm around Shiro’s neck, pulling him close, kissing him as Shiro thrusts into him, steady and strong. 

 

The soft noises that Shiro punches out of him— breathy and torn— Keith finds that he can’t help but make them. He lets himself. He has his arms wrapped around Shiro’s broad shoulders, and Shiro is all hot mouth against Keith’s chest. Not coordinated enough to kiss, just teeth against Keith’s collar bones, groans of Keith’s name, in time with the unrelenting pace of his hips. 

 

“Sh—”

 

“Shiro!” Keith tosses his head back, gasping for breath as he drops over the edge. The climax rushes over him unexpectedly, in a way that it never has before. Shiro holds him through it, pushes them together until Keith’s cum is smeared across both their chests, and Keith is hardly aware of the sounds he’s sobbing, only that they begin and end in Shiro’s name. 

 

Keith watches Shiro move over top of him then, breath short and thready. “Keith,” he says, mouth dropping open, 

 

Keith wraps a leg around him. “Inside,” he says, lifting his hips though it borders on too much. Oversensitive. 

 

Shiro shudders, 

 

And Keith is full and warm. 

 

And then Shiro is hanging over Keith, both of them suspended in that moment, breath ragged between them. Sticky skin, heaving chests, post-orgasm cloud where thoughts are both flitting and sluggish, difficult to connect together. 

 

Nothing comes crashing through to disrupt this quiet. There’s only the beat of Keith’s pulse slowing, and Shiro’s comforting weight over top. His arms wrap around Shiro’s chest to his back, fingertips playing at the hard edge of metal before digging into his shoulders. Dragging him down. Drawing himself into Shiro’s arms. Honest. As honest and open as he knows how to be. 

 

Honest and open enough for them. For now. For this evening, as they fall asleep together, and tomorrow as they wake up together. For all the days and all the nights that they have stretched out before them. 

 

Shiro holds him close as Keith presses kiss after kiss against his skin. 

 

***