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They get Hunk and Lance because, during the interviews, Hunk had talked about his best friend Lance and Lance had talked about his best friend Hunk. Shiro and Keith had looked at each other and, without any words spoken, they had known that they wanted to adopt both.

They get Pidge because, around that same time, Shiro's best friend Matt and his wife are killed in a hit and run.

So instead of the much anticipated bliss, their first few months of living together as a family are overshadowed by Pidge being unresponsive and nearly catatonic, only reacting to Shiro who is now no longer just her godfather. Hunk and Lance, in turn, are circumspect of how to behave in front of the adults, instead sticking closer together than ever before. They know the pain of losing your family, but they do not understand Pidge's occasional manic tantrums nor why Shiro sometimes cries right along with her.

Between all that, Keith desperately tries to navigate through what feels like a mine field.

They had agreed that, for the time being, Shiro would take some time off work so that the children could acclimate. And Keith loves his job, he does, but now he finds that the time he spends away from home every day makes a crucial difference to how close the kids allow him to get.

When things finally calm down, when Pidge doesn't wet the bed anymore and Hunk and Lance start calling Shiro 'daddy', only to giggle and run away on socked feet, when Shiro falls asleep as soon as his head hits the pillow because he is exhausted from taking care of the house and the kids all day, Keith lies awake in bed for hours after midnight, realizing that he knows this feeling.

He knows what living at the sidelines of a family is like. He knows the difference between being tolerated and being welcomed. He knows rejection, intimately, intimidatingly.

He knows how to keep going in spite of it.

“How about pancakes?” Shiro asks on Saturday morning, even though he is already mixing the batter.

“Yes!!” Pidge, Lance and Hunk jubilate, excitedly rocking on their chairs.

“Perfect,” Shiro says and then sends Keith a smile, “Can you get the pans out?”

“Sure,” Keith says, already pulling the drawer open.

“Noo,” Lance complains, “Keith always burns the pancakes.”

“He doesn't,” Hunk pipes up.

“Does so!”

“They still taste good!”

“No, they don't,” Lance claims and elbows Hunk in the side. Hunk pulls a face and doesn't object.

Keith surrenders the pan to Shiro.

“Okay, okay,” Shiro chuckles when the kids begin to cheer, and Keith busies himself with unloading the dishwasher, concentrating on the cacophony of the tableware clinking together instead of on the laughter that does not include him.

Shiro makes great pancakes. Shiro knows the best bedtime stories. Shiro can carry all three children at once. Shiro has his own big family, and that involves doting grandparents and loving aunts and cool older cousins for the kids.

Keith doesn't have anything like that to offer.

So he gets it, he really does. He agrees that Shiro is the absolute best, he wouldn't have married him otherwise.

It's just that, wholly unexpectedly, he is once more trying to measure himself against Shiro, just like during the time before their wedding, while Keith had been wondering how to tell his fiancé that he was probably making a giant mistake. Shiro had talked him out of that, and quite effectively, too, but it is still difficult to silence old doubts.

“You need to put sunscreen on,” he tells Pidge because she is fair-skinnned and burns too easily, even in the early sun of May.

“Noo!” Pidge screeches and wriggles away when he tries to hold her still. She's tiny and three years old, but surprisingly strong, and Keith doesn't dare to really grab her.

“Katie,” Shiro admonishes gently, for only he is allowed to call her by her given name. She looks up at him with big doleful and Shiro sighs.

“Sunscreen is important,” he tells her, “See? I'm using some as well.”

And he daps a smudge of sunscreen right onto the tip of his nose.

Pidge giggles, mouth hidden behind her fingers.

“I want sunscreen, too!” Lance yells and throws himself at Shiro.

“No!” Pidge objects, “No, me first!”

So they all spread sunscreen over each other's faces until they are white and sticky and honestly somewhat gross.

“Do you want sunscreen, too, Keith?” Hunk asks, rubbing his palm over his painted forehead.

“Keith can get a sunburn for all I care,” Lance announces grandly and then sticks his tongue out at Keith.

“Now, now, that's not very nice,” Shiro chides and, with Pidge in the crook of his arm, stands up to nuzzle Keith's cheek. “There,” he says when he has rubbed a sufficient amount of excess sunscreen onto Keith's skin, “All good.”

“All good,” Keith murmurs, even though it really isn't.

“Blegh,” Lance says and makes gagging noises.

 

It's all good, Keith tells himself. He's not so petty as to be jealous that the kids love Shiro so much or that Shiro loves the kids.

He's just... still getting used to everything, getting used to how reality differs from his daydreams.

Shiro had brought it up first, back when Pidge had been born, when Matt had been delirious with happiness and Shiro got to hold her for the first time and she was so fragile and tiny and all kinds of wonderful.

“You know,” he had told Keith afterwards, on their way back home, with the streets dark and too many lights flashing by to make out anything but the oddly thoughtful note in his voice, “I've been thinking about it for a while now and... I really think that I want children, too.”

Keith had almost had a heart attack right then and there. Keith had thought Shiro was breaking him up him. Keith had thought that a-fucking-gain everything he had to offer still wasn't good enough.

But then Shiro had turned towards him, hands easy on the steering wheel, and with a smile he had asked, “What do you think of adoption?”

 

Sometimes, Keith is scared of how little he is without Shiro. His friends are actually Shiro's friends, his family is Shiro's family. He even got his job because Shiro recommended him to an old boss.

The kids, though, the kids had been supposed to be the first thing that was truly theirs.

Keith should have known that life was never quite that easy.

“I'm going to marry Allura,” Lance announces with all the conviction of a six-year-old.

“Who is Allura?” Keith asks.

“Their Little League coach,” Shiro explains, “Her uncle is their homeroom teacher. She's still in law school, but she coaches on the side.”

Keith cocks an eyebrow, “She has time for that in spite of law school?”

“Allura is amazing,” Hunk tells him, “She sometimes makes us brownies, too, and muffins.”

“And she's really pretty and smart and cool and I'm gonna marry her,” Lance reiterates.

“Have you told her about your plans yet?” Shiro asks and Lance frowns. “No?”

“Maybe you should get her to agree first,” Shiro says, “So there aren't any misunderstandings.”

“I'm going to ask or on Friday,” Lance decides and in that way it's settled.

 

On Friday, Lance proposes.

Allura, unfortunately, has to turn him down because she wants to concentrate on her career for now, but she does promise Lance that they can still 'hang out and stuff', so Lance takes the rejection in stride.

Keith goes to fill up his water bottle at a drinking fountain, but when he returns he is struck by a curious sight.

The late afternoon sunlight is draping itself across the baseball field just so, at just the right angle that everything looks soft and warm and golden, the sky vibrant and the shadows long. Shiro has a sleepy Pidge cradled against his shoulder, while Allura is using Lance and Hunk as dumbbells, simultaneously lifting them, her biceps bulging and determination etched onto her face. The boys are laughing, of course, and Shiro is laughing, too. In this light, his bleached hair and Allura's are almost the same color.

Keith clenches his fingers around his bottle and scuffs his toes against the grass until Hunk finally notices him and comes running over, asking for a sip of water.

“Can you lift me, too, Keith?” Hunk asks because now Lance is proudly perched on Allura's shoulders.

“I don't think I'm quite as strong as Allura,” Keith admits wryly and Hunk seems to contemplate that for a moment.

“I don't think anyone's as strong as Allura,” he muses at length and Keith ruffles his hair.

 

“You know what?” Shiro asks that night when they are getting ready for bed.

“What?” Keith asks, pulling his shirt over his head and tossing it into the hamper.

“Today is a special day.”

“Why?”

“Well, for one,” Shiro says, stepping out of his own pants, “The kids completely exhausted themselves at the park today.”

Keith frowns, “How is that special?”

“Because,” Shiro explains, “For once, they did not exhaust me in the process.” He gives a slow grin, “Which means... that I finally get to exhaust you for a change.”

And then he is already upon Keith, lifting him up and throwing him onto the bed.

“Shiro,” Keith yelps, quietly because the kids are sleeping down the hall, but Shiro is already climbing on top of him, engulfing him fully.

“I didn't think,” Shiro says, his face pressed against the side of his neck, “That I could ever miss someone when they are directly in front of me.”

“What?”

“We're married,” Shiro moans, “We sleep in the same bed every night. But it feels like I haven't touched you in ages.”

And he promptly begins mouthing along Keith's skin.

“Hey,” Keith objects, half-heartedly pushing against his shoulder.

“Seeing you interact with the kids is so maddening because it's the most adorable thing I've ever seen, but at the same time I just want to fuck you silly,” Shiro says and gives a little bite, “You'll be the death of me.”

In his arms, Keith freezes.

“Don't- don't lie,” he says, doesn't order, doesn't beg, but he just cannot do this, not now, not after this day.

Immediately, Shiro pulls back, a surprised expression on his face, “What do you mean?”

“Don't lie to me about that,” Keith insists stubbornly, “I know you're better with them, I know Allura is better and your sisters are better, everyone is better, so you don't need to mollycoddle me or whatever you're-”

“What one earth are you talking about?” Shiro asks, blinking wide eyes at him, and Keith takes the opportunity to wriggle out of his arms, scoot up along the mattress and to the headboard, crossing his arms in front of his chest.

“I know I'm doing a shit job,” he shudders out, “And that the kids don't like me.”

“What?” Shiro looks alarmed, “Of course they like you.”

Keith only glares at him. “Half of the time, Pidge doesn't even talk to me. And when Lance does it's just to insult me.”

He's not feeling hurt about a first-grader calling him names. He's not.

“Give them time,” Shiro says, and he's all gentle now as though talking to a spooked animal, while still keeping to the end of the bed, “They'll warm up to you.”

“They warmed up to you within the first week just fine,” Keith snaps, “They just don't like me.”

He purses his lips, bites his tongue.

“I- I mean I get it,” he adds spitefully, “I never wanted anything to do with my foster families either, so this is just karma really, I don't get to complain-”

“Keith,” Shiro says imploringly, “Half of those families treated you like crap. You don't owe them anything.”

That had been the point of this really, hadn't it? Adopting children who might otherwise end up in shitty foster homes. Children who would stay in the system until they came of age. Children who were all alone.

Children like Keith.

“Then- then maybe it's that,” Keith tries, “Maybe I can't be a good parent, I don't even know how-”

“Of course you are a good parent,” Shiro insists, “You're doing wonderful.”

“I'm not-,” Keith tries to argue, but Shiro isn't having any of it.

“Do you beat them?”

“What?!” Keith's head rears up, “Of course not!”

“Do you yell at them?”

“... I yelled at Lance the other day,” Keith admits, pulling his knees closer to his chest.

“Because he was running around with scissors,” Shiro reminds him, “If you hadn't yelled first, I would have.” He is silent for a moment, contemplative. “Keith, you're not perfect,” he says, “No parent is.”

“You are.”

“I'm really not,” Shiro huffs, shaking his head, “I get frustrated, too. I get tired and short-tempered and petty. The other day, Hunk kept beating me at UNO and I was pissed.”

In spite of himself, a small breath of laughter escapes Keith, “He's really good at UNO.”

“And you make a point of telling him that,” Shiro says, “You are patient and loving and you put the blame on yourself instead of on them. Would a bad parent do that?”

“I- I don't know,” Keith says, shifting uncomfortably, “I still feel like I should be doing more.”

“You listen to Lance re-tell every single episode of Sailor Moon and even ask him about details,” Shiro points out, “Which is frankly impressive because God knows I am mostly tuning him out. And you know what? He knows that. He always comes to you to talk about his shows.”

“Because I'm a big fucking nerd who has watched too much anime,” Keith mutters.

“Then be a big fucking nerd for him,” Shiro insists, “Be a big fucking nerd with him. The other day, I mixed up the names of his favorite characters and he was mortally offended. And he went to you to rant about it.”

He had, hadn't he? He had also made a snide remark about Keith's hair, but he had still sat on the kitchen counter and chattered away like a machine gun.

“He likes Sailor Moon best because she is silly and not afraid of crying, but he also likes Sailor Mars because she is fierce and gets stuff done,” Keith knows and rubs the back of his hand over his eyes.

“Now would you believe,” Shiro asks, “That he told me he likes Sailor Mars because she reminds him of you?”

Keith stares.

“Oh,” he says and doesn't quite know why he voice is so small.

“He loves you,” Shiro explains, “All of them do. They are just still figuring out how to show it.”

“Oh,” Keith says again, “Should I-”

“All you need to do,” Shiro says, “Is to love them just as much. And you are already doing a wonderful job of that.

“However,” he adds and now a sly grin is sneaking onto his face, “Considering that I am currently the only person in this household who feels comfortable broadcasting their feeling for you, how about I show you just how much I love you?”

“I just had an emotional breakdown over our children and you are using that as an opportunity to hit on me?” Keith asks, somewhat disbelievingly.

“What can I say,” Shiro shrugs, “Child rearing does not leave much room for romance.”

But then he kisses him, and for once Keith finds that he has to disagree.

The romance is still very much alive.