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Not Alone

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Keith hadn’t exactly lied to Lance earlier - he was tired, and he thought he could sleep solidly, feeling accomplished, as soon as he lay down - but he wasn’t . . . ready to let himself rest. There was something he had to do first.

Instead, he silently paced the halls of the Castle - it was dim, the clear blue lights lowered for the ‘night’ cycle he guessed. There was an open door down the hall ahead of him, but no more light spilled from within it than already lit the hallway.

And the door was being held open by a Paladin helmet - the black one, of course - placed precisely between the halves of the door. There was a dull red light edging the doorway, possibly in protest at being wedged open.

Keith approached a little more quickly, peeking through the gap at Shiro. He was in bed, but he was still wearing all of his armour except the helmet, and he was not asleep.

Keith sighed and slipped through the gap in the doors without actually trying to open them, turning sideways. They didn’t slide open any further as he came through. Shiro jolted up, then stopped as he saw Keith, mostly sitting upright but sagging back a little.

“Not sleeping.” Keith observed, not really asking, and Shiro pulled one knee up.

“You either.” Shiro smiled slightly, the expression not quite reaching his eyes. “Is something wrong?”

“You’re not sleeping.” Keith said flatly, and Shiro looked confused. “That’s what’s wrong.” he said more gently, explaining. “I don’t need anything, you do.”

Shiro shifted, glancing at the door, and Keith crossed his arms, waiting quietly.

“I’m all right, Keith. You can go to bed. I know you’re tired.” Shiro said with another little smile. “You need your rest.”

“So do you.” Keith countered immediately. Shiro had responded to the alarms too fast - Keith had been awake too, and even with taking no time to dress he had not been as fast as Shiro, who had shown up in full armour. He hadn’t been asleep and he hadn’t seemed to have slept, sluggish at times and his eyes shadowed.

“I’ll be fine.” Shiro said, though then he rubbed his face and it took him a good thirty seconds to pry his eyes open again when he lowered his hand. “It’s just. . .”

“Hard to relax?” Keith asked, and flicked a glance at the door. Shiro tensed. There was a button to set the door to stay open - Keith had wanted to know everything that the door control panel did before he trusted it and had spent some time figuring it out - but he didn’t mention that to Shiro. It likely wouldn’t be as solidly reassuring as knowing there was something physically blocking it from closing anyway, and at least the door wasn’t beeping in protest along with the red light.

“It’s been a hell of a few days.” Shiro said with a faint sad smile.

“It has.” Keith nodded, and moved a little closer to the bed. “But you came back. And we’re all safe - as safe as we can be when we’re planning to take on a ten thousand year strong empire.” he added wryly, aware, as he wondered a little if the others - with their seeming obliviousness - were, what kind of monumental task they were undertaking.

“I know.” Shiro said wanly, but it didn’t look like it had sunk in. Keith frowned, curling his toes in his boots as he tried to think. He looked at the door, then back at Shiro, still clad in his full armour - and it was comfortable stuff, far more than the Galaxy Garrison EVA suits for sure, but not that comfortable. And he’d been wearing it all day, through training all day.

Keith licked his lips, running his fingers through his hair and approaching Shiro’s bed. “It might be easier to rest without this on.” he said carefully, lightly gripping the collar part of Shiro’s chest plate. Shiro swallowed. “The Castle is pretty safe I think. And you’re not alone.” he added, struggling to find the right things to say to reassure Shiro.

He just . . . wanted to help his friend.

Shiro ducked his head, nodding, but there had been a flicker of hesitation. “Shiro?” Keith coaxed softly, reaching out to rest a hand on Shiro’s shoulder.

“It feels. . .” Shiro clasped his hands together, dangling them between his knees. “I’ve spent . . . a lot of time, over the past year, sealed in . . . little rooms, alone, on alien spaceships.” he said very slowly, voice shaking. “Mostly alone. And they were different, but they. . . I can’t. . .” He lifted his head, meeting Keith’s eyes.

He wanted to squeeze Shiro’s shoulder, but he wouldn’t feel it through the armour. Keith moved closer instead, sliding his arm across Shiro’s shoulder. “I- I’m sorry.” he said, knowing it was weak and having nothing else. He didn’t think the fire of rage and protective aggression curdling his stomach would make Shiro feel any better.

“It’s not- I’ll get over it.” Shiro said, smiling, and Keith wanted to tear it off his face - it wasn’t a real smile, it was Shiro trying to shove down what he felt to help someone else. It had been common with the younger cadets that had landed under his supervision at the Garrison - including Keith, once - and bad enough then, when it had only been the pressure of exams and expectations troubling him, but now. . .

“Shiro.” Keith said, a little too harshly, and Shiro jumped. Keith stroked the back of his head lightly - it was perhaps too-intimate, he realised belatedly, but it was the only non-armoured part of Shiro he could reach, and Shiro had done the same for him, though . . . not in more than a year. “Shiro, you don’t have to get over it, it’s not-” He took a shallow breath. “You’re important for you, you don’t have to just . . . deal with it. Please.”

Shiro looked up at him, blinking rapidly, his brows furrowed with confusion, and Keith sighed. “I care about you,” he said, with difficulty, his voice shaking a little, “and I wish you were okay . . . I wish none of this had happened to you. And it’s okay if you are not okay.” he said, lightly touching Shiro’s cheek. “It’s okay if you need-”

He broke off as Shiro choked on a shallow breath, closing his eyes and dipping his head again, catching Keith’s hand in his - the cybernetic one; the metal was warm and hummed very, very quietly under his palm, a barely-tangible vibration.

“I, uh.” Shiro said, and Keith swallowed as he felt a brush of wet across the backs of his fingers. “I’m . . . maybe not okay.” he admitted painfully.

Keith squeezed his hand hard, then wondered if Shiro could even feel it with that hand - although he had used that hand to clasp Keith’s, so . . . maybe?

Ignoring that, he moved closer and curled his other hand behind Shiro’s head, guiding him into leaning close. He rested against Keith’s chest tentatively, and Keith stroked the short, velvety hair at the back of his head comfortingly. “That’s okay, Shiro.” Keith said gently. “Takashi. It’s okay. And I’m here for you, even if you’re not. If you need me. If you need anything.”

“I. . .” Shiro faltered.

“It doesn’t have to be right now.” Keith tried, figuring Shiro had probably freaked out enough at admitting he might possibly not be okay - and Keith understood the drive to convince yourself you were fine, because you had to be fine, but. . .

“I can’t sleep.” Shiro said, a shudder running through him. “I can’t even- The door, and the armour, and knowing where we are, but I still. . . Knowing all of you are down the hall or across the Castle, but it’s. . .”

“Do you,” Keith paused, “Takashi, do you want me to stay?” he asked tentatively, craning his head down to peer at Shiro’s face.

Shiro swallowed, breathing unsteady.

“I- I will.” Keith offered, flushing. “If you want- If that would help. It’s easier to remember you’re not alone when. . .” When you weren’t alone. Keith was reminded how clumsy he was with words, and frowned.

“You would stay with me for. . .” Shiro trailed off.

“Yes.” Keith said firmly. That was an easy question at least. And. . . “Nothing is going to happen,” he said, fingers curling at the nape of Shiro’s neck, “but I’ll be here. I can watch your back.”

Shiro looked up at him, lips pressed together, nodding a little stiffly. It looked a little like part of him very much didn’t want to say yes, but it was good enough for Keith.

“Okay. But you really need to take your armour off, Takashi.” Keith said again, starting to step back only to stop abruptly, wobbling, when Shiro clung to him. “Um.” He petted Shiro’s head and neck again, absently rubbing his thumb over Shiro’s knuckles. Metal ones, he remembered again, belatedly, as the pad of his thumb slid over the sleek surface. He really did wonder how much Shiro could feel there, but he certainly wasn’t going to ask.

“Right.” Shiro said almost vaguely, and Keith hesitated, not wanting to try and step away while Shiro was clearly still hanging on to him again. “Right, okay.”

He dropped his arm from around Keith’s waist, and Keith took a step back as he rose, using their still-linked hands to steady Shiro as he almost stumbled. “Whoa!” He caught himself, grip tightening on Keith’s hand, and then straightened.

Keith didn’t comment - Shiro had already admitted he might need rest, and that was no doubt what was leaving him weak and unsteady. He stepped forwards to help as Shiro discarded pieces of his armour, lining the pieces up neatly out of the way.

Shiro hesitated, then moved to where his clothes were lying, neatly folded, over the shelf Keith was calling a desk in the corner. He stripped out of the armour’s undersuit, and Keith grit his teeth against a gasp as he saw the scars striping Shiro’s body. He’d expected to see some of them - and already had seen some of the others, when Shiro changed in his cabin - but . . . some of them were even more awful than he’d guessed.

Shiro left his undersuit draped across the desk and moved back to the bed wearing just a pair of clingy boxer-briefs. Keith smiled at him and he sat down, pausing and putting a hand to his head, looking dizzy.

Then he pulled back, legs sliding under the light blanket - hiding away the nastiest scar, thick and gnarled and stretching up the outside of his left thigh where it disappeared under his boxer-briefs. “If I can’t sleep in my armour, you can’t sleep in your boots.” Shiro said, with an attempt at lightness, and Keith startled, looking down, then nodded.

He pulled off his boots, hesitated, then stripped out of his belt and jeans - his jacket was still hanging back in his room - and slid his dagger under Shiro’s pillow. Shiro watched but didn’t protest.

Keith climbed into the space Shiro had left in just his tee shirt and his own boxer-briefs.

“Okay?” he asked, as he plucked at the blanket, drawing it over himself as well. Shiro nodded, with a weak smile, and Keith yawned, lying down. “Good.” He groaned, turning onto his side as usual, leaving him facing the door - and maybe Shiro would relax more if he didn’t feel like Keith was staring at him.

Shiro didn’t relax behind him, though, Keith was vaguely aware. He struggled with himself, wondering what was wrong as the moments stretched out and Shiro didn’t settle. If maybe his presence wasn’t helping.

“The door- I mean, can we-” Shiro stopped, awkward. “You can close it if you want.” he said in a tiny voice.

“It’s fine.” Keith said sleepily, his body reminding him forcefully how hard he had pushed it today now that he was lying down. It was a struggle not to just pass out, but he was determined to keep himself awake until Shiro relaxed. “You feel better with a concrete way out there. Yeah?” he asked, shifting a little to get comfortable.

Shiro took in a sharp breath. “I- Yes.” he admitted quietly.

“Then it’s fine.” Keith said again, nodding. He twisted to look behind himself at Shiro in the dim light of the night-time Castle. “I can’t promise not to hit Lance if he says anything in the morning, but I can’t imagine he’ll actually be up early enough to notice anything anyway.” he added.

Shiro laughed despite himself - Keith could see the attempt to give a chiding glance in his eyes - and Keith smiled at him. Shiro settled a little more, then fidgeted, and Keith struggled to stay awake, wanting to be sure Shiro had everything he needed to actually rest.

“I’m here.” Keith tried, flushing. “You’re safe. You’re not alone.” He turned towards Shiro, though his back itched at turning it towards the open door, and clasped his friend’s hand. “It’ll be all right.” he promised.

Shiro swallowed, nodding. “Keith?” he asked after a moment, and Keith drew a deep breath.


“Can we switch?” Shiro asked, frowning apologetically. “Places, I mean. Can you take the wall?”

Keith blinked. “Of course.” He’d given Shiro the inside spot because he’d assumed it would make his friend feel more secure - he slept with his back to the wall whenever he could, felt more comfortable that way. Anything that came had to face him head-on.

“I just. . .” Shiro’s cheeks coloured. “I’ll feel better if I’m-”

“It’s fine, Shiro.” Keith said, shushing him quietly and dragging himself upright - oh man he was tired, his body screaming at him that he had been lying down, ready and beyond it for sleep - and climbing lightly over Shiro. The colour that had risen to his cheeks darkened, and Keith hummed curiously as he settled in the narrow space between Shiro’s broad back and the solid wall. “I like being by the wall anyway.”

“Oh.” Shiro gave him a little more room. “I’ll, uh, feel better between you and the door.”

“Okay.” Keith said, yawning. “Sorry.” he mumbled, and when his vision focused again Shiro was smiling at him.

“Keith?” Shiro said quietly, and Keith mumbled something meant to be a response, sliding his hand under the pillow to feel for his knife. It was now under Shiro’s head, mostly, but it was okay there. “Thank you.”

Keith opened his eyes properly again and looked at Shiro. He was red and looked uncomfortable, but he was also lying down and settled and . . . he wasn’t so tense.

“I’m here for you. Whatever you need.” Keith said, and pulled his hand from under Shiro’s pillow to cautiously rest on his ribs. “And if you need someone to talk to, or to watch your back while you sleep, or . . . or anything. I’m-” He shrugged uncomfortably, fidgeting. “I’m here for that, Takashi.”

“Thanks for that, too.” Shiro said faintly, brushing a fingertip over Keith’s chin. “For remembering. . .” he trailed off, lashes fluttering, and looked away, settling on his back.

Keith frowned a bit - for remembering what, Shiro’s name? That didn’t deserve thanks. He didn’t question it, though, only lightly patted Shiro’s chest - his hand had slid when Shiro moved, coming to rest there - and then drew his hand back, curling up a little.