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The Reasons I Scream at Night

Chapter Text

Keith stood behind the counter blowing bubbles foam his gum and popping them with a loud smack. It was a Sunday, a lazy, bundle-up-because-its-cold-outside-but-the-sun-is-out-at least autumn day. It was the week after the local community college let out. The students were still sleeping off the semester, that, or nursing hangovers from the various celebratory drinking fests that were parties post-finals. This left the café empty.

Keith was leant up against the counter. One hip was cocked to the side and resting against the surface. He mused about what it would be like to go to the college. Maybe, he thought, I could study astronomy. It be interesting to see the human’s perception on space, as well as learn about the local solar system. There wasn’t time to study for him. As soon as his mom had died, leaving only her knife, he’d been taken in by the Blade of Marmora. He’d been only a few taucūrel old (about 8 Earth ”years”, if he translated that right). The Blades kept him mostly at base; he was only half human, but that seemed to be all his physicality had expressed. No matter how worthy Keith proved himself, Kolivan was always worried sending him out to the field.

At least Kolivan let him work the café. As if Keith wouldn’t have let up until Kolivan allowed it.

Keith spat his chewing gum (a candy that was made to only do that) into the trash and began to wipe down the counters. It was nearing 2pm and he was ready to make himself a latte and study his book for 15minutes. He tossed the dirtied rag into a basket and gave a fully body stretch. It came complete with obnoxious noises and balancing on the tips of his toes.

He removed the can of pumpkin purée from the shelves. He’d taken to the seasonal favorite, Pumpkin Spice. It was made out of a pumpkin, which was a type of vegetable, and some spices called cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg. It was a rich drink and a great comfort to fight against the chill of the autumn.

The soft tinkling of the bell above their door rang. Keith contemplated, for a second, lifting his head to investigate (and greet, Thace would later reprimand him for his cultural mistake), but the pumpkin wasn’t spiced yet. The guest would have to wait until the ginger was shaken out.

”Excuse me.” That was a new voice, Keith thought. There were never new voices in this sleepy town.

”Just gimme a moment,” Keith thumbed opened the tops of the two other spices and quickly shook them into his mug. He bent down to smell the beverage and hummed in satisfaction, ”Ok. Done. What can I star-”

Keith had, finally, looked up.

Woah, was all his brain supplied him. The man standing on the other side of the counter was something else. He was built like much larger than most humans he’d seen so far and, thankfully (or, perhaps, unthankfully), was wearing a revealing type of shirt called a tanktop. His skin was stretched tight over muscles.

”Uh.” At least Keith wasn’t the only one looking dumbly. ”Any recommendations? What’s that?” The man pointed at the pumpkin spice latte he had just finished making.

Keith looked down at it as if it would supply him with an answer. Apparently, the beverage was having an identity crisis. All it did was billow off steam.

”Oh, this. Sure. It’s- good?”

”I’ll take one order of goo-That. One order of that.” Damn. The man chuckled and his cheeks pushed his eyes into a smile. A reddish-pink glowed beneath his skin. The man was folded in on himself. His posture made Keith curious, so he filed the information away to ask another human later.

Keith nodded and turned towards the machine. He dumped out the grounds from his own latte and scooped in fresh ones. His hands worked quickly as he made it, pouring in the water, brewing the espresso, steaming the milk, and garnishing the drink in less than a minute.

”Whipped cream?” Keith asked. He looked up long enough to see the man nod.

Cup all assembled, and heat sleeve slipped around it, he handed the cup over.

He took a testing sip. Keith watched his protruding adam’s apple bob against the tightly muscled throat. He offered an appreciative hum when he brought the cup down.

”Lives up to its name.”
Oh, Keith realized, he was making a joke. He turned from Keith and began walking towards the door.

”Wait!” Keith called out and rushed from behind the counter. ”You haven’t paid for that!”

The man had looked large where Keith had stood to take his order. But being directly in front of him made Keith feel very, very small. At 5”2’ (a measurement of height in American metrics. He was .2122 desgens) This man, well, he was ridiculously beyond average, from the humans he had seen. Keith estimated that he was .75 desgens.

Over .75 desgens (6’), or not, Keith was not intimidated. The man was still far smaller than the average Galra. If he had planned to use his size to bully, he had ”another thing coming”. So he held his hand out towards the man, palm open and waiting to receive money. There would be no ’”dine and dashing” on his watch.

The man turned back around and it seemed like he, too, was just realizing their size difference. He blinked down at Keith’s waiting hand. Then his eyes flicked up to make eye contact. Keith bristled. With a grimace, that said he really had just forgotten, he reached into his pocket for some dollar bills. The hand not holding the cash wrapped around Keith’s wrist. Keith startled a bit at the contact, but otherwise held the eye contact. The man’s other hand cupped the money into his palm. His eyebrows were furrowed, pushing up the skin between them. It was a gentle and disarming expression, if Keith was correct.

”Sorry about that. Keep the change.”

Just like that, the contact was gone and the man was making his way out of the door.

Keith rang it up on the register and dumped the change (which was a few bills and some coins) into the tip jar.

”My pumpkin spice is cold. Damnit.” He sighed and slumped over. He was glad to be the only one in the shop, because he popped the mug into the microwave. Not exactly a ”kosher” thing to do in a café. But it worked for Keith, and he saw no sense in throwing out his perfectly good drink.

Looking around the room, he was still the only one there. It wasn8t something he worried about, being a small town meant most people all went to work and left it at the same time. Their café was usually either busy or else dead. Keith took his mug and gingerly picked up his book and notebook from underneath the counter. Most people hadn’t seen a physical book in quite some time, if the humans’ stares and questions were anything to go by. The book in question had a spine bent in several places. The pages were yellow and fragile. He was as careful as he could be with it, because it was the last souvenir his mom had brought home. The time after she didn’t even bring herself home.

Learning written Old Standard Terran (English is what they had called it) had been a task in itself. But it had kept him busy. At least, it was something he’d done when he had free time. When his mother passed away, a group called the Blade of Marmora had been the one to both deliver the news and the knife that she had kept strapped to her belt. His mom hadn’t told him what her line of work was, and it was them who told him everything. At least, as soon as he completed their trial and entered their ranks.

Keith was young and he was the smallest Galra they’d ever seen. His father had come from the stars, Earth, as he now knew. But whatever he lacked in size, Keith had copious amounts in strength, perseverance, and tenacity. The Blades were quick to welcome him once he’d demonstrated this.

This book was his connection to the past; to his late mother and his Terran father, who, he hoped, was out there somewhere.

He spread out his armful on the table before him and lost himself in his studies of ”Learn Swedish”.

Keith was lost in his book when he heard a voice next to him. He stiffened and glanced from the courner of his eye.

”Keith, you didn’t hear me come in. What if I had been a customer? You would have made me wait around while you slacked off?”

”Sorry, Kolivan.” Keith slumped over the table and stretched his arms in front of him.

”It is of no consequence this time. But, pray tell, what allies you, kit?” The chair next to him squeaked as Kolivan pulled it out. He dropped into it and sighed. His normally stiff posture broke as his shoulders slumped. Keith made clawing motions at the wood beneath his fingers.

”Nothing. What’s wrong, did Iverson ’give you crap’ today?”

Kolivan ducked his head and regarded him with a raised brow. Keith responded with an equally raised brow, and he let out a short chuckle.

”It was far easier a war of battle than this one of diplomacy. During the meeting one officer had left the room without excuse. I was pulled aside and asked to ”brush up” on Earth’s customs.”

”What happened to Princess Allura? Wasn’t she supposed to give us lessons?” Keith huffed. If they wanted the Blades to act like them, they needed to send a teacher.

”Yes, well, we are not priority at this moment. The Princess is busy as you would imagine the Intergalactic Relations Diplomat would be at this time. I am inclined to agree with your sentiment, though, kit. This world is still undeveloped by galactic terms. There is much we need taught in.”

Keith nodded and hummed. His arms folded on the table and he rest his cheek against them. Kolivan reached his hand out and stroked Keith’s hair. It was large and engulfed his whole head. He could feel the vibrations of purring through the contact. He sighed. It was a point of shame and alienation for him, to be unable to hear much of sounds his fellow species made. His entire physicality was human. Yet, he was Galra in every way. Keith purred at the soothing pets of his head fur, albeit in a human frequency.

”We will understand them, and they us, in time, Keith. Do not despair.”

Kolivan scooted his chair out and stood up with a stretch. He bent nearly in half and brushed his cheek against Keith’s, whom smiled and returned the gesture.

”Let us see you back behind the counter, and I back to business. Antok prepares the meal for tonight, so there is that to look forward to.”

Keith collected his things in his arms and said goodbyes. He felt much better already. Antok made the best comfort food, and, despite mostly Terran ingredients, the closest to actual Galran taste of all the members. It was also not his turn to wash dishes. There was still hope for a good day.

About an hour later people started to trickle in. Keith recognized just about everyone at this point, a few months working there and it was still uncommon to see new faces. It had taken them awhile, though, before the humans trusted them enough to patron their café. Even still, the occasional person came in to voice their disgust at having aliens on Earth. It was about the only thing positive of looking human, Keith had realized, was that people felt safer to come in. It made him angry, of course, but they needed Earth money, to pay for Earth things, while they lived here, on Earth. Keith would make the sacrifice to support his family.

Finally, 5pm came around. Keith had been watching the clock that hung over the door. He smiled as the little bell on the door rang at 5:03. In walked a group of three people. One of them was a mature man, with skin that crinklednat the courners of his eyes. The other was a young man, maybe a little older than Keith (if Keith’s body had physically aged the same as humans) with a sharp smile and scar at the bottom of his chin. The last was a girl, a little younger than Keith, with big, round glasses and a small gap in her two front-teeth. The Holt family had been coming in everyday after work since it opened. It had been an endless stream of questions and sparkling eyes for Keith. No other humans had been as keenly curious about the universe, aliens, and himself, as them. It had become mutual swappings of stories as time went on. Matt, the boy, had especially taken to Keith. For a human, he was easy to talk to.

”Hey, Keith!” Matt rushed up to the counter and balanced the weight of impact on th heels of his palms against the edge of it. He was out of breath, as if he’d just ran, but managed a goofy grin anyways. Pidge, his sister came up much slower. Sam was at the rear.

”Wow, Matt, rude,” she reached up and tugged at Matt’s ear, earning her a look, ”Excuse him. We’ve just had an interesting day. We’ll have the usual, thanks!” She dug a hand into her pocket and pulled out a few bills. It was always more than the cost of the order, but Keith knew by now that the excess was a ”tip”. It’s what people did when they got good service, in the United States, anyways. He tapped the order on the register and divided the money between it and the tip jar.

Matt came over as Keith was making the drinks.

”Keith, hey. How’s it going?”

”Hey. You’re sure excited today.” Keith set the first finished drink in front of Matt.

”I’m not -technically- supposed to say. You know how it goes. Don’t think I didn’t notice that subject change there, though. You ok?” Matt spoke the last part in a near whisper.

Keith rolled his neck and put his hands in the pocket on the front of his apron.

”Yeah. Just. Rough day? No, I mean the day wasn’t bad. I just. It’s me? I-” he clucked his tongue as he finished up the next drink, ”I miss home. Wherever that is.”

Matt took a long sip from his mug. He’d been hit on the head just right once, and he barely felt temperature, or much of anything in his mouth. Keith scolded him on waiting, but Matt just waved him off. He was stalling his response, Keith realized.

”Y’know, I missed home a lot too. The only human company I had when we were captured was Shiro. And that only lasted until they put us in the gladiator ring.” Matt drummed his nails against the mug, causing a soft tink from it. He needed space to talk, so Keith was quiet as he finished up their order.

”It’s normal to miss home. I know it’s not what you’d like to hear but, sometimes you need to just allow it. Shutting down is just going to make it harder to deal with. If you’re afraid to talk with your people, maybe you don’t want to cause them hurt, then find someone. It can be anyone. Just someone, that you can talk to.”

Keith wiped his hands along his pants.

”Thanks, Matt.”

Matt smiled and gathered up the mugs to head over to his dad and sister.

The store filled with the sound of their laughter and chatter.

These humans gave Keith hope that one day the others would accept him and his people.

Chapter Text

Shirogane Takashi would like to think that he had most of his life together. That is not to say his life was together, but his own part in it sure was. When the sky chose to rain, he always managed to procure an umbrella. When days seemed dark, he lit the metaphorical candles (probably some practical scent like clean breeze or linen). When things were cold, he wrapped in blankets, of which he kept many spares. That was just who him. He didn’t ask for precipitation, but it keep plants watered. He missed the brightness of the sun, but aromatherapy was a welcome practice. And chilly air meant sweater weather and cozy days in his bed.


Practical.
Patient.
Pro-active.
Prepared.
Positive.


That was Shirogane Takashi.


Well, ok. Relatively positive. Sort of.
When it counted.
Possibly.


His life could be described as a minimalist’s bedroom. With so little inside it, there was only so much mess that could be made of it. It was neat, it was orderly, and it was manageable. Having bare minimum in life was what made enlisting in the military so easy. It was what made him as transposeable as stardust that scattered lightyears away from its source, managing to still thrive. Any wind meant he was swept away, but he planted himself just as easily. He could be anywhere and have everything with him and that made him, well, him.
Portable. He’d add to his list.

 

 

 

He trodded down the stairs, one foot thudding each step at a time, and pondered this.
When both feet hit the ground, one admittedly stomping down as if there were one more step, he realized that he couldn’t recall waking up. He didn’t remember ever getting out of bed, either. Yet he found himself staring at the back of his friend, clearly having changed locations.

He chuckled to himself and ran a hand through his tuft of white hair.


”Mornin’, Matt.” Shiro claps the man on the back.


”Hey, you, uh, sleep ok? There’s coffee.” Matt says and raises up the mug in greeting.


”First night off the streets. Not sure. I kinda miss the cool, winter breeze creeping beneath my thin cardboard.”


”If I pretend to laugh will you pretend that doesn’t make me feel like utter shit? But seriously, man. I- it’s good to see you.” Matt gingerly reaches for Shiro’s shoulder and gives a quick squeeze.


”It’s good to see you too. The Garrison have you working on any projects?”

He grabs a mug out of the cabinet, grateful they haven’t moved around since the last time he’d been here. The Holts weren’t much for change. At least, not in the smaller, unimportant areas of life. Don’t fix what isn’t broken, right? He scoops in half a spoon of sugar and pours in coffee.


Matt beats him to the fridge and hands him the jug of milk.


”You remember how I take my coffee?” He says with a smile on his face and in his voice.


”Yes, sir, Officer Shirogane!” Matt pulls his body rigid and salutes but his eyes sparkle with mischief.


”At ease, cadet.” Shiro laughs and shakes his head. He pours a splash of milk into his mug and hands it back.

Matt puts it back into the fridge and returns the gesture.


”As for your question earlier, yes. We’ve had some recent arrivals from the rebel group called the Blade of Marmora. They’re Galran, but they worked in the background against the Empire. Anyways, Lieutenant has been discussing their technology with one of the members. The Garrison wants to start those of us in reserve working on replicating some of it. Rather than just have them build it for us, he wants us to be able to produce it ourselves. With full understanding of it.”


Shiro whistles.


”Thems the breaks. But you know Iverson, so. This shouldn’t be too unexpected.”


”Good, ’ol Ivs.” Shiro raises his mug towards Matt, in much the same way the other did earlier.


”Pidge and I made some breakfast. We saved you some. It’s Chorizo con huevos. It’s in the blue tupperwear on the topshelf in the fridge. I have work today. Pidge left about an hour ago with dad, and they’re with Iverson.” Matt paused and looked carefully at him before continuing, in a soft and hesitant voice. ”Are you gonna be ok here by yourself?”


”Matt, I’m fine. I have some errands to run and I’ll do some stuff around here to help mom out.”


Matt doesn’t look entirely convinced but he makes sure to write down his, and the rest of the family’s numbers, on a paper. He watches intently as Shiro puts it in his pocket. He already has all of them in his phone, and Matt knows that, but it makes him feel better.


On his way out, Shiro pulls him into a hug. If it lasts a little too long to be appropriate, Matt doesn’t say.


The house is quiet when Matt leaves.

 

 


Shiro pats his stomach and finds his way to the tupperware. He pops it into the microwave, but doesn’t give it too long, since it was still fairly warm. The smell hits him and his stomach clenches.


”Didn’t realize I was so hungry...”


Food was such a luxury, he’d grown accustomed to navigating through hunger. But the smell of food, especially good food, was enough to break his resolve.


The food is gone minutes after leaving the microwave.

 

With a sigh, he takes a deep breath. There’s a whole day ahead of him. He doesn’t want to waste time. Not when time is so precious. A gift. His fingers tap a rhythm on the table. First order of business, he decides, is to find a notepad. The Holts, being who they are, probably have several laying around in every room. He scoots his chair back and places the empty tupperware in the sink. He begins his search in the kitchen. First he looks on the top of the counters. Nothing immediately jumps out at him, so he starts to open drawers. The drawer nearest the sink contains the silverware and makes a horrible clanging noise when opened and closed. The next drawer to the left has odds-and-ends, such as tea balls, chopsticks, and corn-on-the-cob holders. He paws through it briefly, but it appears to be all for eating. 

 

”Bingo!”


The drawer by the fridge is stocked with several notepads, in various sizes and shapes. Five pens roll between the pads as he opens it up all the way. It’s a hard choice between the plain, light-blue rectangle and the one shaped like a mouse. He settles on the mousepad and grabs one of the pens.


Shiro goes over the list in his head before writing it down. He showered... when? He can’t remember and adds it to his list, along with shaving and trimming his hair. It had grown long since he’d come back; access to a barber was out-of-the-question, and survival mattered more than his looks. After he was clean, he could do the dishes. Then maybe vaccuum? It looked fairly picked up in the Holts’ home. That would be a good start.
After showering and shaving, he felt much better. The weight of the past few months had overtaken his back the second he had been able to breath. Coming to the Holt’s had been the first time he felt (somewhat) safe in awhile. Being a prisoner of war by aliens did little for his sense of security.

 

The dishes were too quick for his liking. He just loaded the few cups from the sink into the washer and close the door. Vaccuuming consisted of a few rugs here and there that he went over. The rooms were carpet, but it felt like an invasion of privacy to go in there. At the end of no more than an hour found Shiro back at the kitchen table. Nothing more to add to his list. He began to tap his fingers against the table. Unconciously, he was tapping the same rhythm he had memorized and used to be able to escape the imprisonment. He had nothing to do, now. His fingers tapped harder.


He moved his chair back with a screech as the legs skipped against the tile. He winced, having not meant to be so forceful.


I have to get out of here, he thought with a tug to his white tuft of bangs.


Armed with the cellphone Matt had got him, which he promised to repay as soon as he found some income, and the note with numbers, he grabbed his coat from the rack and headed out. Matt had told him he wouldn’t need to lock the door, it was such a small town, with large amounts of space between people. He still felt an itch to lock it with the spare set of keys in his coat’s pocket.

 


The air nipped at his face but it was a welcome draw back to reality. The sky was a hazy, glowing white. It was a toss-up whether it would snow or not, but the temperatures were just right for it. He said a quick thank you for having spent the night in a warm home.
He made the walk to the bus station go by trying to remember things back in the Garrison. Such as the holiday dances or occassional parties. It wasn’t something that often took place, so when they did, it was a huge event. When those memories ran out, he occupied his mind with thoughts of cute boys, passionate kisses, and late-night kitchen discussions. He hadn’t yet found a boy who would sit on the counter, hot cocoa in hand, as they talked about life well into the early morning. There was not a clear picture in his head of what he would look like, but he could imagine the boy wearing Shiro’s too-big shirt. Shiro had seen things with his own eyes now that he never would have dreamed possible. He’d seen the universe, or parts of it at least. Now he yearned to gaze into the universe that would no doubt be in his partner’s eyes.


Billions of miles away from Earth, and he had found that stars couldn’t fill in the holes inside.


He patted his face and took a deep breath. The station was within sight now. He figured he’d go into town, get an idea of what was around. His time in New Mexico was mostly spent in the bunker. The Garrison was easily an hours drive away.


When the bus came, he flashed his military id and took a seat towards the middle of the bus. There were three other passangers. One was a mother with a fold-out cart, likely headed to get groceries, and her kid wiggling in the seat beside her. The other was an elderly man who looked to be asleep.


”Yer a new face.” The driver called back to him. His accent was thick. He likely came over from Texas.


”Yes, sir. I am.” Shiro smiled warmly at the driver, hoping he could be seen from the mirror directed into the bus.


”Y’ headed into town, young man?” He sounded more like he was making small talk than actually curious.

Shiro figured he’d indulge him. He told him that he’d just arrived in and was wanting to see the area.


”Not much to see out here, y’ must be working at the Garrison.”


Shiro sighed internally, Americans were friendly, but with that came a sort of nosiness.
”Just returned from deployment, sir.”


”Ah, well, thank you for your service, son. If there’s anythin’ you need, lemme know. That war out there was harsh. I’m glad you made it back.”


He thanked him but was glad for the conversation to be over. At least the man had enough tact to not ask about his prosthetic.


Shiro hadn’t been in town much during his days at the garrison. The only times he’d come this far out was grocery runs during holidays at the Holts. He’d moved in with his grandfather while attending the Garrison. During the week he’d been in the dorms, with Matt, but spent his weekends at home. After his grandfather died, Shiro preferred to stay in the guest room they let him occupy. But the Holts, being the Italians they are, were usually able to coax him out a few times during the winter holidays when his grandfather was still alive.


The town hadn’t changed much since he last came, he realized. Some stores had changed names; the flower shop had become a burger joint, and the ice cream parlor was a video game store. Overall, there were few new buildings. The larger corporations didn’t have much return on investment entering the town. People knew people here, and their money went to support the families they knew. A Starbucks had tried coming in once, but they shut down just a few months later, when there were fewer than five regular patrons. Or so Sam had told him over dinner one time.


Shiro had wondered if the Holts ever missed the big city, and he asked as much. Though there were certain conveniences they wished to have, they wouldn’t go back. They loved their work. The kids grew up there. There wasn’t anything to go back to.
Shiro knew that one all too well.


He strolled leisurely through the gathering of buildings. The wind was cold, but it was blocked once he entered the plaza.

”That’s new... The Marmora Café?” Shiro tapped his chin with his pointer finger. The metal in his arm clicked as the digit articulated. ”Marmora? Now why does that sound- Oh. Oh!” The Marmora, the Blade of Marmora, they’d saved him from the ring. Had they all come to Earth, then? Curiosity winning him over, he shuffled quickly to the door. He peeked through the window, but all he saw a lone man who seemed around his age. Except, much, much smaller than him.


It’s not Ulaz, he felt a bit crestfallen, but realized that hadn’t meant Ulaz wasn’t here.
He opened the door and noted the soft clanking of a bell. The man behind the counter didn’t flinch at the sound. He was focused on the machine in front of him.


Shiro stepped closer and all thoughts to ask of Ulaz were quickly discarded. The man was breathtaking. From his silky black hair, pulled back into a ponytail, to his round eyes. If eyes themselves could pout, his were doing so. They were titled ever-so-slightly downward, it was far too charming for Shiro to handle. Then there were the long-but-slender fingers that tugged at knobs, tapped on surfaces, and brushed hair off cheeks. And he was short.

By God, was he short.


This boy was just his type.


Except, Shiro was not a good flirt. Cute boys made his brain shut down. He’d sooner get them to fall into embarassment, than in love with him.
He was dead-on-sight.

 

 

 

 

”How’d today go? Mom says you went into town.” Matt collapsed on the couch beside Shiro. He made a soft oof as he settled into the cushion.


”Yeah. I got some fresh air.” Shiro raised his head from where it was bent over his tablet. He was reading a book on it. He smiled weakly at Matt. Matt seemed to catch that it wasn’t genuine, because his expression fell slightly.


”That’s good. Sorry I didn’t... I wasn’t quite thinking. I remember how you got during Ker- Tomorrow do you want to go with me to meet a friend? I have the morning off. There was a meeting today that didn’t go as planned. So, Iverson gave everyone the night to regroup.”


”Sounds good to me.” This smile did reach his eyes. Matt was looking out for him.


”Cool, cool. You’re gonna love Keith! He looks human but actually he’s half Galra. The café h-”


”Wait. Keith? A little over 5 feet tall, black hair, and stiff posture?” He didn’t know why he was so surprised. It was a small place, where, likely, everyone knew each other.


”Hey, is that where you were today? The Marmora café?” Matt waited for Shiro to nod before continuing. ”That’s him, then. Though, if you met him without me, you might find him... a bit reserved.” He seemed to have chosen those words carefully.


”He was alright. If he’s part Galra, that explains some things.”


”So, are you still wanting to go? Even knowing he’s Galra?”

Matt’s question didn’t have any bite to it. He knew it wouldn’t change Shiro’s opinion. There were good and bad in every species. A small barista in a local café was probably just trying to get by, anyways, and he didn’t need any extra speciesism to add to that struggle.


”That doesn’t change anything. Of course I’ll go.”


They exchanged a little more talk about their days. Matt told him as much as he could about the project, without giving away the actual content. Shiro was glad that he didn’t know. He had wanted away from that life when he got back. He’d been young, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, and dreaming of bigger things, when he joined the military. He’d worked hard to earn the spot on the Kerberos mission. He had no idea the mission would lead to his capture.
The high of the honor was gone the second he’d become a prisoned. But it was eradicated in full by the time he came back to Earth. He’d not gotten so much as a cent.


What good was a medal if he needed to feed himself? Or find housing? Counseling? Medical care?


Shiro was just a series of numbers to the military now that he was no longer useful.


Matt admonished him as he started to fall asleep. Eventually he gave in and headed to his room to sleep.


As he slept, he dreamt of Keith, of capture, and the quietness of space.

Chapter Text

Matthew Holt was having a terrible, no good, very bad-
Oh. That’s copyrighted?
Mmm.

Matthew Holt experienced a crumby, good-could-not-possibly-exist, incredibly intolerable day. By the power of God, and animé, which existed on his side, he was ready to go back to bed. It was just one of those days where your younger sister had replaced the sugar for the salt (discovered only after a large sip of coffee), your work called to postpone your day until much, much later, and your dog lost his bowels on your floor.

It
Was
A
Day.

Now, listen. Matthew Holt was doing his best. McScuse anyone who claimed otherwise. He was doing amazing, sweetie.

”Shiro. Shiro, help. I am about to sell pills to raise money to escape Iverson. I need to be at least one (1) galaxy removed from him.”

Shiro pursed and popped his lips. He sighed and pressed fingers into the bridge of his nose.

”Matthew Holt, did you just ”meme” me outloud? I- you really. I heard that correctly?”

Matt snorted and took a long sip of his (new, and filled with real sugar. Thanks, Pidge. You’re the real MVP) coffee.

”Cadet, I am ordering you to never do that again.” He turned his head toward Matt. The exasperation was painted over every detail of his face. From the tight lips, to the raised eyebrows, and slightly-widened eyes, Shiro was Done.

”Yeah, ok. Well. I’m a rebel now. I do what I want. Including dealing rare and dank memes. Especially if they’ve been unearthed from stash, buried deep down and long forgotten. I, unlike most youth, can appreciate a well-aged meme. No chaser, thank you.”

”It’s 5 in the morning.” Matt could read the internal monologue of some meditative phrase going through Shiro’s mind from his eyes.

”Oh, ok. I understand when I’m not being appreciated. When I am annoying. And it appears, at this moment in time, judging by the context clues clear on your lovely fac-”

”Matthew!” He hissed.

”I give, I give. Just messin’,” Matt smiled, ”Are you ready to go to the café today? I figured we could spend a few hours there. I have a boardgame that I told Keith I'd bring one day. Let's stop by the gas station and load up on junk food. I want to see his reaction as he tries it."

He'd been waiting for awhile to do anything other than strictly talk to Keith. He'd spent enough time around Galra, both good and bad, to know that it was common for them to give the cold shoulder to outsiders. The Blade of Marmora had said as much, when they'd first spoken to the people at the Garrison.

"Ours is an organization built on secrecy and trust." Kolivan had said.

Keith was deathly curious of humans, of Matt, his family, how families worked, how society worked. Endless questions and still he knew Keith had kept refrained from asking everything. It had made him easier to get to open up than the other Marmora. Matt was just as fascinated with Keith, with Galra, and so he answered every question, and gave many in turn.

They finished breakfast in relative quiet from there. Shiro was working on setting up the tablet he bought him. While reluctant to accept it, he'd insisted. There wasn't much to do in this town, nor many towns over. It would give Shiro something. What he didn't mention was that he worried for Shiro. That the man was keen on isolating, and that would be the worst thing for his PTSD. The tablet made sure he'd have some form of human contact available at all times.

Matt was mentally picking which boardgame he wanted to bring and which candies and trash food would make the biggest reactions from Keith. He'd yet to have any Galran cuisine, so their tastes were largely a mystery. The only thing he knew was that Keith liked Pumpkin Spice Lattes. That lead him to want to pick up as many sour candies as possible.

If Keith was naturally a cute (handsome) face, then, he figured, he'd be even cuter with wide eyes and a puckered face.

Yeah, he was grabbing the most sour thing he could find. He snickered.

 

The café was much different during the mid-morning. It caught the traffic of many types of people. There were those who were waiting for the bus, some headed to the Garrison, senior enough that their hours started early afternoon, some headed from the Garrison, the staff who had to work while everyone slept, and people from the town. Without a Starbucks, the Marmora Café had quickly become the stop for coffee and pastries.

They entered only to not make it far past the door. A line of twelve people stood between them and the counter.

”Listen, sir,” Keith’s was shouting, ”I just sold the last cream cake. I can’t make any more right now!”

”I come here every morning, wanting one damn thing, and you never have it!” The customer, a large pale man, who looked no younger than 40, threw his hands in sweeping gestures.

”I just told y- Look. It’s a popular item! It always sells out at 8am, when the woman from the bank comes ands buys all we have of them!” Keith had his palms slapped down on the counter. His back arched as tall as it would let him be to look up at the customer,

”I don’t know what backwater planet you came from, but here our mother’s teach us manners. I’d ask to speak to the manager but he’s even filthier than you. I’m taking my business elsewhere!” The man snapped and snatched his coffee off the counter. He grumbled about Galra as he left.

Matt gave Shiro a look and nodded his head toward Keith.

He walked wide around the line and pushed open the door to the counter.

”Sorry about that,” he turned to the muttering customers and gently nudged Keith away from the counter. He ran a hand through his hair in a comforting gesture and winked. ”I’ll go ahead and take your order, m’am. What may I get started for you today?”

Matt took their orders and delivered them to the tables. He let Keith work on them quietly. A few of people had words to say, either about Keith’s reaction, or the blatant display of racism (as in, species race). He fielded their concerns and managed to talk down each one to calmness. It may have taken his best smile, and some over-indulging, but if it kept heat off Keith, the café, and his family, then he didn’t mind the half-hour of it.

Shiro had settled into the bar that wrapped around where the machines were. The tablet was absolutely a great idea, Matt thought, as he watched Shiro try to hold in laughter at some video.

When the line was gone, Matt took the moment to close his eyes. The buzz of chatter was calming. People. There were people and they were here, making noise, in front of him. He smelled the mixture of roasted coffee beans and buttery pasteries. The soft clatter of a porcelain plate on the marble counter brought him out from his meditation.

”Thanks.”

”No big. But, are you ok? Uh- we don’t all think like that. I hope you know that.” Matt turned towards him, but Keith kept his body facing the machines. He was making their order now.

The only noise in response was the air whirring out from the whipped cream can. Matt chuckled inside. He doubted the Marmora understood how out-of-place Ready Whip was in a formal café. He realized that cultural norms were complicated. Keith, and the other Galra, had much to learn.

”C’mon, you need a break! We can play the game when it clears out, but at least try some candies.” He smirked and reached underneath the counter for the tri-folded sign that read ”The staff is on break”, and placed it where customers went to give their orders. Keith sighed dramatically. But he gathered their three drinks by the handles and placed them in front of Shiro.

”Yo! Hook us up with some video recording! This is going on the vlog!” Matt nudged his shoulder. Shiro looked to Keith.

”You didn’t even ask him if he’s ok- Keith, are you ok with him filming you? Don’t let him bully you.” Matt just shrugged when Shiro shot him a look.

”Put that away.” Keith glared at the tablet.

”Buuuuut-”
”No.”

Well, he tried.

”Ok, first, you have got to try sour worms.” Matt motioned for the grocery bag in front of Shiro.

”I thought you don’t usually eat insects.” Keith’s arms were crossed over his chest but he leaned forward to try and peek at the contents of the bag.

”Ah man,” he reached over and smacked Shiro’s shoulder, ”we shoulda got those pops with the scorpions.”

”Ok, that I know. Why would anyone put a poisonous insect in a.. pop? Is this worm toxic? I don’t have your immunity yet.” He frowned and Matt realized that he really thought the candy was dangerous.

”You’re kinda right that it’s terrible for you, but it’s just artifical coloring and corn syrup. At worst you’ll get a stomach ache, if you eat too much.” He ripped open the bag and drew out a single, curvy worm, in all its highlighter yellow glory. Keith’s eyes flicked from it and back up to him. He could see the internal conflict of curiosity battling self-preservation. Which, if Matt were honest, was probably the same reaction he gave when he first tried sour worms.

Keith plucked it from his fingers between his pointer and thumb. He stuck his tongue out at tapped it briefly against the tip. He seemed like he was waiting for it to start squirming. When the tasting seemed to go ok, he plopped it into his mouth.

The reaction was near immediate.

His eyes squeezed shut and his nose wrinkled.

Bingo, Matt thought, the Galra must not have sour.

Keith’s face was funny, until he rushed over to a trashcan and lost more than just the worm in it.

”Matt!” Shiro smacked the back of his head and rushed over to Keith. Shit, this was not the reaction he expected. He followed after Shiro, trying to hold down the creeping guilt.

”Hng...” Keith was clutching the can with whitened knuckles. He burped again and emptied more.

”I’m fine! Get away from me!” He growled between vomitting.

Shit has hit the fan.

”Woah, should we call Kolivan? You don’t think we actually poisoned him, do you? Oh fuck, what if he actually is allergic? Oh no. We need to call. We have to. Shit. Wait, should we just drive him over?” Matt rubbed a hand gently along Keith’s back. ”Shiro, get my keys, you take him there. I’ll, uh, I’ll.. stay here and finish the shift.”

”DON’T YOU DA-” dry-heave, ”RE!”

Shiro nods and grabs the keys. He apologizes to Keith. Matt is grateful he agrees; the doctors here don’t yet know how to treat the Galra. He just hopes it’s something they can fix. If it’s caused by the human half of him, or worse, something inbetween, there’s a chance-

No.
Matt wasn’t going there.

He gathered the bag and tablet and made his way behind the counter to store them. The break sign went back to it’s holding spot. He dug his phone out of his pocket and opened up a message to send to Iverson, explaining the situation. He sent duplicates to his dad and sister. He hoped they’d be able to share it with Kolivan, so they”d be prepared when Shiro and Keith came in. If Shiro was allowed in base. It was possible the two would need to wait off-base and have Kolivan come to them.

He sighed and brought out the box from the candy. He wanted to note down the ingredients and Keith’s reaction to it. It had been near instant, which made Matt wonder just how quickly Galran digestion took. Perhaps their gag reflex was far faster? Was it an allergy? Did some ingredient cause a reaction within him? It was quite volitile for one small worm.

Maybe, Matt thought, he’d ask to change topics. They’d been so focused on tech when, if Galra were going to live among them, they really should consider health and biology. Their genes were similar enough that a human reproduced with one. How long before illness adapted and went cross-species?

Thinking gave him something to do. He didn’t want to worry about Keith. And he sure as hell didn’t want to spend his day staring around the café, as he waited for more customers. Having something to show Iverson would at least take away some of the heat from not showing up.

 

 

 

About the last thing Matthew Holt expected when he opened their front door at 2am was a handful of Galra. Even less did he expect to see Kolivan, straight-faced Kolivan, with worry on his face, as he held tightly to a bundle of blankets. No, not blankets-

”It’s my so- it’s Keith. He’s sweating and shivering and I- he was fine earlier. Ulaz went to get him, it was his turn for dishes-” He continued to babble on and Matt, barely awake, caught about none of it. He reached his arms forward to signal for Kolivan to hand off the sick boy. There was a moment of hesitation. Matt heard Shiro pad over to the door.

”Champion. No, Shiro. Please.” Keith was gently let down into Matt’s arms. Even he understood the unspoken between them. Ulaz had rescued him, jeoprozied their entire organization, to see Shiro out safetly. Now they needed Shiro, and any other capable, to see Keith through this safetly.

”Sir,” Matt cleared his throat, ”I think he has a cold. This is a common virus this time of year. It usually clears up in a few days.”

The worry didn’t seem to leave his face.

”The Galra have long eliminated illness. We do not know how to care for him.” There was desperation in his words, as there could only be for him to admit helplessness.

Shiro rested a hand on Matt’s shoulder. He was grateful to not have to handle this alone.

”I know this may be difficult but if you leave him with us, we’ll look after him. If this is entirely a human illness, then we can care for him.”

That seemed to be enough for him because he bent over, nearly in half, to rub cheeks with Keith. He whispered something to the bundled boy, making it by-pass their translators. A soft and high-pitched sound came from Keith. He must have also been speaking Galran. Whatever it was caused the briefest flash over wetness in Kolivan’s eyes.

”The blade is- I am in your debt.”

Matt watched them pile into their jeep. If there weren’t a burrito of an ill boy in his arms, he’d have laughed. Even with the top removed, they barely fit inside.

”Hey Shiro. Did I just see the Blade of Marmora drive away in a topless-jeep?” Matt blinked, looking down at Keith-burrito in his arms.

But Shiro was already in the kitchen and, from the sounds of it, starting on making some coffee.

Matt hoisted Keith up higher by balancing on one leg. It was a good thing Keith was feverish, because Matt seriously doubted he would like being carried around. So they (and by they, it was Matt) moved into the kitchen. Shiro had just finished making them mugs of coffee.

”Dude, not gonna lie, I’m still not over their get-away vehicle.” Matt side-eyed his mug. He couldn’t drink it without freeing up his hands. And he had at least some respect for Keith’s dignity; he was not going to play pass-the-blanket-boy. No. His coffee could wait.

”Let’s wait until the morning, er, a decent hour of, before we bring your parents into this. You wait here, I’ll grab my tablet and take first watch. Move to the couch but don’t settle just yet. Galra are touchy, so I think he’ll do best if he lays over my lap.”

As much as Matt wanted to protest, Shiro was the only one in the house capable of clear-thinking at this hour. A born leader, or made so by trial through fire, he wasn’t sure which.

Shiro came back with his own blankets and pillows, his tablet nestled over them, along with a box of tissues balanced on top. He made quick work of making himself a nest. He reclined the seat and sighed as his back pressed into the cushions. He made a motion for Matt to bring Keith over. Matt gingerly lowered him onto Shiro’s lap. Shiro peeled the blankets from around Keith’s head and rest it against a pillow balanced on the armrest. His brows worried as he lay the back of his hand to Keith’s forehead.

”Can you bring me some tylonol and a thermometer? He’s a bit clammy.”

Matt hoped that human medication wouldn’t interact badly with him, but he trusted Shiro. And Shiro seemed confident in his decision. So he quickly dug through the pantry to procure the items.

”Do we even know if his basal temperature will be in the human range? His internal organs and makeup might be more Galra than his appearance.” Matt placed the thermometer under his tongue. His mouth had already been open from having to breathe so heavy.

”We don’t really know anything, do we?” Matt eyed the rising numbers on the digital display.

”Matthew.” Shiro said with exhasperation.

Oops. Not helping.

”Well, it’s reading at him having a fever, if we assume his basal temp is like ours,” He went to reach for the tylenol but stopped, ”I’m not sure he’s gonna swallow these. If the Galra don’t get sick, he wouldn’t know what pills are. He seems pretty confused and out of right now. Let me get the liquid. I don’t want him choking or getting scared of what we’re doing.”

”Keith, buddy. Hey. It’s Shiro. Can you understand me?” He paused but no changes flashed across Keith’s face. ”I got you buddy. You’re sick, it’s a human thing. Matt went to get something for you to drink to feel better.”

Shiro wiped the bangs away from Keith’s face. They were drenched from his sweating. When Matt took his turn, he would go wet a washcloth and wipe Keith down as best he could.

He untucked the blanket from around Keith, wanting to switch it out for one of his dry ones. He nearly choked on his own spit.

”Matt, help! He’s naked!”

”Oh. They probably took his clothes off when he started sweating.” Matt tapped a finger to his tablet. He was sitting in the recliner next to the couch.

”But they didn’t think to dress him again?” He tried to look away as he untucked the rest of the blanket and nudged it to the floor. He reached over and grabbed a thick comforter from the pile next to him. He laid it over Keith and scooped the edges underneath him.

”Dude, nudity is no big deal to them.”

Shiro tossed one of the small, decorative pillows at Matt.

”When his fever breaks he’s gonna be soooo pissed that he was swaddled. Yikes.”

Yeah, yikes

Chapter Text

Shiro was jolted out of a sleep he didn’t mean to fall into. It had been a risk to give Keith the medicine, but Matt had decided it was better that than him get brain damage from a high, sustained fever. The Galra were similar enough to produce offspring, so it was a good enough chance they could metabolize tylonal without issue. At least, that was the conclusion Matt reached. For the stress of the day, all Shiro could do was nod and utter occassional phrases of agreement. If Matt could tell he was being responded to on autopilot, then he was kind enough to let Shiro think otherwise.

He blinked through the semi-full darkness of the house, grateful for the soft light of a nightlight at the bottom of the wall opposite him. Rather than click his tablet on, he stared into the darkest corner he could find, to let his eyes adjust. He’d argued for Matt to go to sleep; Shiro didn’t have work in the morning, and Iverson would not be pleased if his employee was absent consecutively. With a scoff and waving around of hands, Matt yielded. But not without a promise to take Shiro out for a relaxing adventure on the weekend. That had been at 4am. If the Holts weren’t up, he estimated the time to be somewhere between 4:30 and 5:00.

He really hadn’t meant to sleep.

Though, as he started to make out shapes, he glanced down to the warm bundle across his lap. Keith seemed to be resting without fit.

With only a little more time of quiet and being left to his thoughts, he decided to meditate. If he were being honest with himself, the reason be couldn’t allow sleep was because his mind and body were still activated as if he were on the streets. Deep sleep, or a tiredness that forced any amount of it, was the wide opening anyone looking to steal watched out for. Shiro had earned near identical reputations in both the gladiator arena he’d been forced to fight in, and the dangerous streets of nighttime Albuquerque. It pained him to find that was his survival response. He learned things he didn’t want to know about himself from those places.

In,
He drew air through his nose, keeping focus on the movement of it across the skin of his upperlip.
Out,
He released it slowly through his mouth, taking long enough for a headiness to cloud him.

In,
His thoughts were messy. He hadn’t realized that his was buzzing.
Out,
The muscles that were taught in his chest released a little.

In,
Oh. His shoulders were tugged nearly to his ears.
Out,
Thoughts slipped by, but swam past him like fish headed towards other streams.

In,
Out,

In. Out.

 

There was a sharp intake of breath, but he still gave himself a few seconds to come back to the world gently.

Colleen stood in front of him in green, flannel pjs. She was looking back and forth between him and Keith.

He cleared his throat, not quite ready to speak, but wanting to sate her curiosity before she hammered him with questions.

”This is Keith. He’s sick. We,” Shiro paused because he wasn’t sure he had the energy, or will, say the rest, ”We gave him a sour gummiworm.”

She must have felt the earliness of the morning, too, because she nodded her head with a slack expression.

”You gave him a sour gummiworm.” She repeated, continuing to nod as if that made any sense.

”We gave him a sour gummiworm.”

She rubbed the heels of her palms into her eyes and let out a gentle laugh.

”I’m gonna start on coffee and breakfast. Do you have any requests?” She headed for the kitchen, her slippers making soft thumps as she went.

”Oh, wait. Can I help?” He was already easing himself from under Keith and settling him on the pillow that he had used for his back.

”You’ve never been one to not help. Here, why don’t you get out the carton of eggs for me? I was thinking fried eggs on toast.”

Only because you’ve always helped me, he thought. But he knew better than to say it outloud. So, he started on gathering the ingredients and warming up the pan. Colleen weaved around him as she set out their mugs and various creamers.

”Mornin’,” Pidge spoke through a yawn, ”Who’s that on our couch?”

Shiro opened his mouth to reply, but, thankfully, he was beaten to it.

”I think we should wait until your father and brother are here. It apparently involves sour gummiworms.”

Pidge was definetly her daughter. Her face adopted the same look he’d been given earlier. She even nodded. Though he was glad he would only have to say it once. At least with Matt, he might also get some help in telling it.

Hearing the butter sizzle, he turned back to the pan and started crackings eggs. The sound of idle chatter coming from the others filled him with a warm that he hadn’t felt in a long time.

When Sam came in, it was nearly a third replay of the scene. Only, this time, it was Pidge excitedly sharing the small clip of the story. Shiro turned around long enough to greet him and let them know that the eggs were almost done. Matt came in just as he was laying the plates on the table.

”He’s still out cold and he doesn’t feel as clammy, at least.” Had Shiro looked concerned? Oh. He didn’t realize that he was even going to ask the question.

Matt smirked as the rest of the family turned towards him. He rested his elbows on the table and steepled his fingers together.

Shiro sighed. Matt was about to add dramatics to the situation and he wasn’t sure whether to just watch it happen or intervene before it got too wild. The deciding factor ending up being his rumbling stomach and desperate need for coffee. It was 5 something in the morning. Shiro could just do damage control as necessary.

”The guy out there is Keith.” Matt says, laying the statement down like a package for the rest of them to investigate. Shiro stuffed a forkfull of eggs into his mouth to keep from groaning.

”Keith?! As in, Keith-Keith?” Pidge threw back the rest of the coffee into her mouth. She wiggled in her seat and seemed to be buzzing with questions.

Had Matt done a minor in theater? Shiro stared down at his now empty plate, not quite sure how to escape the situation now.

”Matt, sto-”
”Ok! Shiro, shh. Ok. I’m going. So, anyways, yes. Keith. Well, yesterday we stopped by the café with some candy. I wanted him to try some of the weirder stuff you only find at gas stations, you know tbe kind,” Matt shushed Shiro just as he opened his mouth to speak, ”So anyways, I gave him a sour worm and he started to throw up. But, the more I thought about it, well, we can’t just make correlation equal to causation. So, I want to get some opinions from Kolivan and Iverson.”

Matt held up the palm of his hand for a pause sign, and caught his breath, followed by a sip from his mug.

”I would bring Keith in, but I think he’d be better staying here and resting. The Blades dropped him off just a few hours ago. They were panicing. They haven’t really dealt with humans so, they wanted us to look out for him. As they were pretty certain nothing Galra-related is going on.”

Shiro took the moment to let them know he would be taking care of Keith. But the thought of just staying in for a lazy day had made him feel he was disrespecting their hospitality, so made sure to ask if it was ok for them to be here. The Holts were never anything but welcoming to him, and they agreed instantly. Sam had read him like a book. He told Shiro that they understood it would take him a little while to get back on his feet, but it was alright, it was ok to take his time and Keith was just as welcome to the space.

The family parted to get ready for their days and Shiro was left with a warmth settled deep inside his chest.

He glanced at Keith, whom was still resting. Now that the sun had started to rise, he could see slow, rhythmic swell and fall of his chest as he breathed. As strange as it were, the scene felt gentle. Shiro held no ill feelings toward the Galra of the Mamora, which extended to Keith, but his experiences with the Empire made the bundle snuggled on the couch almost feel like a strange dream. Though his bite would eventually return, and sharp it was with Keith, for now he was just as much a threat as any human under the weather and knocked out by fever.

Shiro asked for a list of chores that needed doing. Keith seemed like he would be sleeping most of the day, so, he’d need to keep busy somehow. He mused, as he looked over the list, that he could probably switch on the television for some of the tasks. He hadn’t watched one in nearing two years. He wanted to watch one of those dramatic soap operas. He could use a really good laugh.

The house cleared out one-by-one. Today, at least, he felt a little easier about it. While he wouldn’t be much company, Keith was still a physical, living and breathing being. It was something he focused on to ground himself. He also had a list of things to do, and they were things that would make him being there a help more than burden. The day had shaped up with promise of being gentler to him.

The first thing he did was get a washcloth from the towel drawer in the kitchen. He ran the faucet until the water warmed, and he held the cloth under the stream. He shut the faucet off, and rang out the towel to make sure it wasn’t going to soak the pillow when Shiro wiped Keith’s face clean. He was grateful that, at least, there hadn’t been any more vomitting. Yet.

Shiro took the opportunity to really look at his face. It was long and angular, a sharp bone structure carved out cheeks and a pointed chin. His skin was a soft yellow, like Shiro’s own. He mused, looking at Keith’s eyes, that his human parent had likely been East Asian. A faint dusting of golden brown freckles cross from cheek to cheek, over the bridge of his nose. His lips were a stricking softness compared to the rest of his face, they looked soft and kissa- Shiro turned and placed the cloth on the edge of the end table.

There really were no physical indications, that he could see, that Keith were anything but full-blooded human. Not that he wanted to check, but he was starting to get uncomfortable thinking of how Keith would wake up, naked. He’d probably be disoriented and jump right out of the blankets, if he was as cagey as Matt said. That left his only option to go into Matt’s room and hunt down some clothes. Shiro’s would be too big. Even Matt’s was likely to hang loose. But he had shared quarters with Matt on their mission to Kerberos, and so it felt like less of an invasion of privacy. Pidge might have been the same size, but Shiro respected her space.

The anime posters on Matt’s wall made him both groan and smile. He hadn’t seen his room in awhile. It was good to know some things never change. (Except maybe which series he was into at the moment.)

 

His phone chirped in his pocket and he nearly drops his glass of water. He wasn’t expecting it and the noise was loud over the quiet voices from the tv.

Matt:
Hey dude, forgot to tell u that Princess Allura wants 2 talk w/ u about what happened. She’s gathering info on Galra n their culture. Tried 2 tell her not 2 but she says it’s ”integral 4 integration n communication w/ them”. Big Yikes. Wouldn’t let me not giv her ur #. Extra Big Yikes. Understnd if im ur #1 top ten anime betrayal. Make it up 2 dude.

He sighed. People weren’t going to let it go. He was home now. He was safe. The war was over. Yet there always seemed to be someone who brought it up. If there wasn’t, then the reminder was there in the mirror. It was the hair that turned white. It was the clanking of metal when he flexed his right hand. It was the scar across his nose. He’d felt handsome once. Perhaps he’d been a little cocky, but he’d been young. He’d been full of sharp wit, passion, stubborness, and drive. His vivacity had caused him to rise to the top of his troop; certainely it had gained the attention of commanding officers. Until he had gone all the way to being selected for the Kerberos mission. That was the man, the young man, Shiro missed seeing in the mirror.

To: Matt
#1? Getting cocky there. More like a solid #3. ; )

 

He could imagine the hand drape across Matt’s chest as he read it.

 

Matt:
*gasp* Now that’s #1. Senpai y wont u notice me?

 

Matt almost never failed to get Shiro to smile. He sent off another winky face, which earned him one back, and felt a bit lighter as he replaced the phone in his pocket. It was hard for him to imagine how Matt had kept his humor through it all. He had been captured alongside Shiro. Saved from fighting in arena, only because Shiro had wounded him as he was being chosen to fight. He hadn’t asked Matt how he’d escaped and joined the rebel group that he ended up leading. For as upbeat as he was, Matt had probably had his own secrets. Shiro could relate.

 

”Hello, Mr. Shirogane, um, sir, I’m Hunk Garett. I’m calling from the Office of Intergalatic Relations. How are you?” The man on the other side of the phone, Hunk, sounded to be in his early twenties. With the slight hesitation in words, he seemed to be wanting to make the call as much as Shiro wanted to receive it. Hunk was probably an intern, fresh out of college.

”I’m well, Hunk. But, please, it’s just Shiro.” That sounds like I’m my dad, he groaned internally. He was only 27, after all.

”Right... Ok, Shiro. So, Princess Allura of Altea,” Hunk launched into a speech about universal peace, the impact of the Galran Empire’s rule, and the Terran effort to bring diplomacy among the planets formerly part of the Empire. It sounded like a good one, if a bit like it were being read from cue cards. He largely tuned it out, grateful for Matt’s warning earlier.

As Hunk droned on, a rustling of sheets made him turn towards the couch.

Oh no, he stared wide-eyed at the stirring figure.

”Uh, Hunk, sorry to interupt, but I’m gonna have to c-” he didn’t get to finish his statement before the phone was ripped from his hand. It had happened so fast that he barely blinked.

Keith, dressed in one of Matt’s green shirts and cotton pj pants, looked at the screen of the phone and pressed the end call button, judging from the cutting out of Hunk’s voice. He threw the phone on the blankets behind him. He looked like the human equivalent of a cat whose hackles were raised.

”Who were you hailing? What do you want?” He raised his fists and crouched into a fighting stance. His eyes searched around the room, clear in their confusion. Keith looked disoriented.

”Woah, hey. I’m a friend of Matt’s, Shiro, remember? Kolivan brought you here last night because you were sick.” Shiro kept his voice even and soft. He held his hands stretched out before him, hoping it was a universal sign of ”I’m unarmed and not looking for trouble”.

The sudden movements caught up to Keith and swayed.

”I am highly trained in combat, if you have any plan to harm, I will gut you.”

”I don’t doubt it. But please sit down. You might still have a fever.” He didn’t doubt that Keith could disembowel him with his bare fists. It read on his expression because Keith shoved the blankets over to make a spot for himself.

The air in the room was thick. Shiro’s heart beat heavy against his chest. He walked over to the lazy-chair to the right of Keith and settled into it. Keith stared intently and made no move to talk. It was all on Shiro and the thought made him rub his hands across his face. The day wasn’t over and it was already too much.

”I guess you’re wondering-”
”I am.”
”- what I mean by the fever.”

He took an exaggerated breath. Keith scooped up the phone and was tapping his fingers along the backside.

Patience yields focus. I can manage this.

”Yesterday Matt gave you some food to try. I don’t know if you remember, but you threw it up afterwards. I drove you to Kolivan, at the Garrison. Then, late yesterday, he came to our door with you. You were sick and muttering unintelligebly. So we’ve been taking care of you.”

”Impossible. The Galra do not get sick. You poisoned me.” He spoke with a bite to his voice.

”Well, maybe the Galra don’t. But you’re not-”
”I. Am. Galra.”

Keith shot up off the couch, but then sucked in a hissed breath and squeezed his eyes shut. With gritted teeth, he sank back down onto the couch.

”I- My apologies. I just meant... well. Matt is on assignment with your family today to figure out what happened. We’re hoping it’s something that will go away on its own. Like a huma- Like a cold. But in the mean time, we want to keep you here and resting.”

”I am fine.”

Shiro wanted to laugh. As equally as he wanted to throw his hands up and leave the room.

”If you hand me my phone, I can call Matt and have him put Kolivan on the phone.” If anyone would know how to deal with Keith, or at least had his trust enough to make him believe Shiro, it would be Kolivan. On any other day, Shiro would have handled the situation with patience. He would have breathed and kept his mental space clear and calm. But the stresses were just piling up. Only two days removed from the street, a panic attack the day before, and less than half-an-hour of sleep, made his skin thin.

Keith turned the phone over and over in his hands and watched down at it. Whatever was running through his mind, Shiro had no way of knowing. After some minute or so of discomfort, Keith surrounded the phone. He reached over to grab it, but not without noticing the difference in size between their hands. It flustered him and he tripped over words as he called up Matt. Keith was turned away from him, inspecting some spot on the wall, while clearly still listening to their conversation.

Kolivan came on the phone and the two spoke in untranslated Galran. Shiro couldn’t get himself to look at Keith anymore. The sound of his own heart beating was loud in his ears. He cursed the inappropriateness of the situation. Keith had been sick, had rested on his lap nake- Had been vulnerable. The last thing he needed was to feel... feelings.. for Keith. This time he did laugh out loud. He needed a nap.

Keith hung up the phone and ordered to be returned. Shiro sent off a quick text to Matt, who confirmed that it was ok to drop him by, and that they’d found the cause. Matt could tell him in person. So he turned off the tv, replaced the half-folded laundry to the basket, and loaded Keith into the car. The radio played the whole way, and Shiro thanked it for breaking the silence.

Chapter Text

"We're here." Keith snapped his head towards Shiro. He had been watching the scenery as they drove. Desert may not have been his preferred terrain or climate, but with the tall rock formations and mountains somewhere far, far in the distance, he could appreciate why people saw beauty in it. There weren't trees or any tall plants to obstruct the view. All that could be seen was endless blue sky and orange, yellow, and brown landscape.

In front of them was the towering wall that wrapped it's way around the entirety of the military facility. Knowing what Keith did about their history, other species had made contact well before they sent three men to Kerberos and received back involvement in an intergalatic war a year and a half later. The humans who had been in contact with "other life" had needed to keep themselves hidden away, as with any evidence as well. The Galaxy Garrison was one such place of housing those secrets.

Keith had laughed to learn that it would (and did, as he intimately knew) cause panic in the humans if they had known about the worlds outside their own teeming with life. How often had he been the subject of distrustful looks when people found out? Enough for him to understand the need for hiding.

Shiro pulled up to a checkpoint and rolled down his window, flashing his id. The woman who inspected it spent a moment in idle chatter with him. The man had earned himself a name, Keith thought. He blinked slowly and pressed his forehead to the window. It was cool, chilled from the air outside. It made the burning in his body feel marginally better. He sighed. It became a tad easier to focus through the fog that was settled into his mind.

He'd awoke to a straining headache and the worrying feeling that accompanied waking up somewhere you didn't remember falling asleep. He felt bad about lashing out at Shiro. He had run on instinct when he snatched the phone. His first thought, if he tried to reason out what it was, was he had been captured. He'd not expected to wake up near a human, so his brain hadn't switched on translation. His Terran was decent was enough, but that not enough yet for the language to feel natural in his ears or on his tongue. Not understanding the words had frayed his nerves, nerves that were already burning with panic. Whomever was on the other end of the phone was cut off as soon as he'd located the red icon. Which was a good guess using the cultural significance of the color.

So much of navigating humans had been a leap into a pile of guesses with well-wishes and private conversation with a diety.

Shiro put the car in park, causing them to jerk forward as inertia took over, and Keith wondered why he couldn't remember how they'd got there. He sucked the inside of his cheek through his teeth and nibbled the soft skin of the built-up scar tissue here.

"We're here." Shiro said softly. He turned to look at him. Humans must have been growing on his taste, because all he could think about was how handsome the man looked. Shiro had a strong jaw and shapely face. The shadows that fell below his cheekbones provided accent to just how defined his face was. He had a prominent browridge, too. But the expression he was giving Keith was one of the kindest, softest looks he had ever received. While his gut recoiled from being gazed at in concern, a concern that was unwarranted, his heart ached and stomach fluttered.

Wow.

Shiro reached over and pressed the button to release his seatbelt buckle. His fingers slipped a little and brushed against Keith's thigh. A tingle against the edges of his skin lit a firey ache where previously there were nerves.

"You ok? You look like the fever is back."

And maybe it was.
No, it was.
Definetly.
Even if a little part of the flush had nothing to do with illness.

"Yeah." he turned his head away and the moment was gone.

He remembered from yesterday that the facility they were headed for was to the immediate right of the parking garage. Shiro himself didn't have direct access to the labs where Matt worked. Like the day before, he had to call and have Matt meet them. While Keith doubted the security, because Matt had to only let them in, he couldn't complain about getting to see into a human galactic-military base. It was a good thing Earth was so far from where the Empire had ruled. Keith knew that humans, alone, would have stood no chance.

"Hey Keith!" Matt waved enthusiastically at him. He was one of the few humans to be happy to see him. Which had made the first few months bareable. It was nice having a friend. "I'm working with Kolivan today, so let's just head to my office. I was actually getting ready to go pick up lunch. So, I'll grab some for you two. Should be back in about 10."

Matt walked them down the hallway. Each side was lined with several rooms. Though their doors were a frosted glass and there was a keypad outside each one. The building was shaped like an "L". Matt's room was around the corner and the last on the right. The room at very end of the hall was a conference and break room.

When they reached it, Matt held his id to the keypad. It beeped once and then he placed a hand in front of it. A red laser scanned down it. It beeped again. He crouched down to be at eye-level and the laser returned. Finally it gave another beep and the sound of locks disengaging echoed through the hall.

Keith had been too out of his head to notice that yesterday.

Earth might have survived longer than he'd originally estimated.

 

”You look much better, kit.” Kolivan addressed him in Galran. If he was going to start the conversation there, then Keith was going to finish it.

”Yes, I am fine. I am glad you noticed.” He hissed back. He cursed his body. He wasn’t large enough for his Galran to sound as smooth and deep as the others. Barring using translation, which made his skin burn to think he’d need it for his native tongue, he was stuck with the voice of a Galran child. Though it was good that human and Galran physique was so similar, or else he wouldn’t be able to speak it at all. There were a few sounds that he’d had to make approximations for. His family respected him, nonetheless. He was the only one to take himself less seriously for his pitch.

”We were merely concerned for your wellbeing. What fell through you was unlike anything we had seen before. It was a measure of precaution.”

He hadn’t yet turned to face Keith. He was hunched over the low table, various scientific instruments were spread out beneath him. In his hands were delicately clutched too-small tongs. He picked up a bright, neon worm (Keith scrunched his nose at the sight) and dropped it into a beaker filled with dark green liquid. It produced a high-pitched whine and dissolved. Kolivan hummed and marked notes with his other hand.

”Precaution? No. You dropped me off at these human’s house and left me to wake up there. I had no idea where I was!” And, I was alone, went unspoken.

”We would never abandon you, kit.”

”But you did!” Keith closed the distance to Kolivan and knocked his fists on the table. Various glass and metal jostled and tinked. His voice shook just the same. ”Y-you left me.”

Kolivan tilted his head toward Shiro. We’ll talk later, it said.

”I trust Matthew has spotted you both on your way in,” Shiro nodded,”Good. I am just now finishing up the reports on our testing. We can discuss our findings over meal.”

Kolivan began to pack up.

Shiro looked uncomfortable. He rubbed his left arm absently. Keith tried to think of what to say, but nothing came to him. The anger had shoved him over like a tidalwave, and he’d got swept in the current. He wasn’t sure why he couldn’t control his temper, or much of any display of emotion. With nothing to provide for conversation, he walked over to the tall bookshelf in the corner of the room. Only some of the words on the spines could be understood. He’d studied conversational Terran, and these books were well beyond that level.

”Those books are probably laughable to you, huh?”

”What?” He hadn’t expected Shiro to speak.

Keith turned and watched Shiro shuffle towards him. He swept his prosthetic hand in a gesture to the books.

”I studied for years to understand these. But you probably learned this stuff when you were small. Or maybe humans have just had the wrong idea. We’re missing so much information. I used to stay up late at night thinking about all of the mysteries out there, I could only make guesses to if there was life beyond our small solar system.”

Was he trying to open up? Keith watched him but remained quiet.

”I suppose though,” he chuckled and ruffled the short hair on the back of his head, ”That sounds entirely ridiculous. We couldn’t all agree on life beyond our neighborhood, and there you were, out there, fighting a war.”

What was funny about that?

”I.. yeah, it is kind of,” Keith drummed his fingers on the spine of a book, ”...primitive.”

”We have a lot to learn, and I’m glad you’re teaching us.” Shiro reached over and gently squeezed his shoulder. Keith nearly jumped away, but the shock had overwhelmed him. For being metal, the hand was warm. And large. Shiro was trying. Which was something he had so far only seen in Matt. That was a big hand, too. Another human friend might be nice. He could learn even more of the local culture, from another perspective. Oh, the hand swallowed up his shoulder.

Huh.

 

The four of them sat around one of the tables in the breakroom. Matt had picked up some dishes that Keith hadn’t try yet.

”You should ask Shiro, this is more his area than mine.” He pulled apart two wooden sticks and fitted them inbetween thumb and forefinger.

Shiro snorted.

”I’ve been in your room, Matt. I know you’re a weeb and know exactly what this is.”

”I just didn’t want to steal your thunder?” But Shiro looked unimpressed. ”Ok, ok, fiiiiine. It’s just you always laugh at my pronunciation. Oh, Keith, sorry. You’re probably lost. So, this is Japanese food. Shiro, here? He’s Japanese.”

”Oh.” He saw Shiro take a pair of those sticks and repeat the same action as Matt. He grabbed hold of pair and carefully mimicked them. He held the ends and pried them apart until they separated with a snap. His hands fumbled when he tried to find where to rest them.

”Those are chopsticks. Japanese people usually use them in place of forks and knives.” Shiro set down his chopsticks and moved to Keith’s right side. He tenatively plucked them from his hands and replaced them in the correct position. ”There’s a learning curve, I’ve noticed. Don’t feel bad if you don’t get it right away.”

He reached over Keith and took hold of his own pair. Watching with rapture, Keith noted how his pointer finger moved so that the chopsticks touched at their ends. He moved slow and repeated the gesture a few times, before he went towards the food in the middle of the table, and plucked something between them. He stuffed it in his mouth and then tilted his head toward the food while maintaining eye-contact. Keith put the chopsticks back in his hands and moved them together like Shiro did. He didn’t feel quite ready to try picking up food yet. Meaning, he reached over and worked them until he successfully brought away food.

Oh.
stripe
It was chewy, he thought. That was unexpected. The outer stripe of black was chewy. The white grains were sticky. And, it tasted like fish? Was that what the pink ,eat had been? Keith liked fish. Of all the meats he’d tried up to then, fish was his favorite.

”Ok, Shiro. He’s got it. You can give the guy some space now.” Matt scoffed. ”If you’re done, let’s talk research. Completely off-the-record, of course.”

”Keep this as light-on-detail as possible. If they interigate us, the less we know the better.” Shiro said between bites.

”The short of it is Keith has the human flu. We don’t know how long he’ll have it. The strong flavor of the candy probably triggered the vomitting, but he was going to do it anyways. But, since he hasn’t built up his immune system from birth, well, of what would harm him here, well, it might be intense.”

Kolivan shifted in his seat. Keith felt his cheeks warming, realizing he had forgotten the man (well, Galra, technically) was there. He was far too patient, observant, and slow to speak. They all became quiet, waiting for him to talk.

”However, his Galra immune system is working up to par. It may yet attack this virus before it can become too severe. The ki- Keith, may fall ill with many virus and disease. But there exists the possibility that it disappears swiftly.”

”Buuuuuut, I have to step in and remind us that this is all guess-work. Keith seems to be doing fine right now,” Matt nodded to him, ”but the virus may not display the same patterns as we see in humans.”

What Keith took away was that they had only proven that it couldn’t be proven. Not yet, at least. Though he felt a question as an itch and he needed it scratched.

”How could you test all this if I wasn’t here?” He didn’t know human’s process for science. He did know their’s. Kolivan would never work with a blindfold on.

”You were delirious at the time. We could not understand your speech, and so it is not a suprise you do not remember. Ulaz took samples of your blood, saliva, and urine yesterday. Of which we used to run today’s tests.”

Matt choked on his spit.
Shiro coughed and pounded a fist against his chest,

”On that note, let’s discuss this feast before you. I believe we became distracted while telling you.” Matt laughed.

The three fell into easy conversation. Matt attempted to explain each food. Shiro would cut in with a chuckle and corection of pronunciation. They asked Keith, and Kolivan, about Galran dishes. Which left both scrambling to describe some in a way humans would understand; some ingredients just didn’t exist on Earth. That lead to Matt begging to be invited for dinner, after hearing that they made-do with what was available. It would the closest thing to understanding the Galran palette, at least. Not taking ”no” for an answer, Keith and Kolivan discussed the best day. In Galran of course. And as lunch winded down, Shiro said his goodbyes. Keith was well enough that he convinced Kolivan to let him come home.

He watched Shiro leave.
He couldn’t remember the last time he’d had so much fun.

”Kit.”

Keith had immediately started in on chores when they arrived home. The car ride had done little to quell the anxiety that jumped under his skin. When he saw their shack coming up in the distance, he felt the urge to take the red hoverbike and take it to top speeds. But he was being watched so carefully. It was evident that they would not soon forget the night before. He would have to sneak away when everyone was asleep.

The kitchen still had dishes from yesterday. He wondered how long they had tried to get him through the illness. What all had they tried? He shifted the plates and bowls to one side of the sink. There needed to be room for him to wash underneath the faucet. He turned the hot water on and tested it with his wrist. When it was hot, he started from the top of the pile.

”Keith. You do not have to face me, but please nod to let me know you are listening.”

He had hung his head forward. Black bangs fell into his vision. He blew them away. Kolivan, though, was nothing but patient. Keith finished scrubbing at the plate in his hands and rinsed the bubbles down. When it was dried and set on the counter, he gave a curt nod.

”Your mother-” Kolivan began. His voice was soft with pain.

”Don’t.” Keith snapped and turned the faucet so the rush of water would drown his voice. Not now, please. I can’t he begged internally.

”I’m sorry I snapped at you earlier. You didn’t mean anything by it. I get that. I just woke up thinking I was in danger.”

Keith felt a strong hand stroke his hair. Kolivan would leave it at that.

 

It’s late before he’s able to account for everyone by their breathing. Even when he mentally ticks off every name, Keith still finds himself waiting. If any of the others wake up before he’s settled on the bike, they’ll make sure to have the keys on one of them at all times. Especially while they sleep. He needs this. It’s worth the extra minutes of careful listening.

”I know you can’t help it but, please, if you could just be quiet... just this once,” Keith pats an open palm against the dashboard. The bike had been a gift from his mom when they moved to Solvein. She had been relocated to the planet over to establish Empire presence. He grit his teeth as he stuck the key in ignition. She was a sturdy machine, but had definetly seen her better days. Her engine would sometimes rattle. It wasn’t wise to take her too high up, either. But that was his baby. He’d vowed that one day he would make enough money to fix her up.

With a deep breath he cranked the key.

Kolivan would be waiting for him when he returned. But it couldn’t be said he hadn’t tried to keep quiet.

He reached forward and flicked the switch that started his acension. Just the wind that tossed his braid was enough for calm to settle over him. The air was biting cold. He loved the sensation of numbing skin.

The area around the shack was endless desert. He pressed a button that marked his current position inside the navigation system. He wasn’t looking to keep track of where he went tonight; he merely wanted to wander. He took off in the diretion the wind was blowing and rode until he chased the sun beginning its rise in the sky

Chapter Text

"I promised you a weekend out, get ready to relax." Matt had his hands on his hips. If there were any two (technically three) words that didn't go together, they would be "Shirogane Takashi" and "relax". The guy was embodiment of "This is fine" whilst flames burned the house around him to ash. His friend didn't have an off switch. He had long ago broke of the lever and taped up the gaping hole it left.

"We're at a spa." Apparently said friend was also ungrateful.

"He says with great incredulousness. Was that a statement or a question? Because I dragged your ass into my car and drove you all the way up to Albuquerque. No, beyond Albuquerque. Wrong turn and all. We're up in the foothills of the majestic Sandia Mountains, and you have the gal to give me lip? Man. You think you know a guy..."
Shiro rubbed his lips together.

"Hey," he says softly and Shiro startles when his hand squeezes his arm, "Sorry, didn't mean to scare you. You seemed spaced out there. Is it- is it the scars?"

"I don't want to freak them out. Bet they aren't expecting Frankenstein's monster. It could shock them." he chuckles.

Matt doesn't find it funny.

"We don't have to. We could go catch a movie or something." For all his scientific insight, he hadn't expected that type of reaction. Machines were so much easier to read than people.

"It's fine. I was joking. C'mon, let's go." Shiro claped him on the shoulder.

The reception area is an open room. The theme of the decorations are a mix and mash of East Asian motifs and designs. He cringes along with Shiro as they both spot the Chinese double happy symbol as a wall sticker next to a scroll of non-sensical Japanese. Clearly someone had just requested they find anything vaguely East Asian. If he so much as heard the word "feng shui" he was stuffing Shiro in the car and making good on the movie date.

The receptionist was pretty, at least. She had curly brown hair and dark skin, and one of the whitest smiles he had ever seen.

"Hello, I was told this place accepts walk-ins. We're looking to get an hour of massages" Matt slid up to the counter and lent his arm on it.

"Welcome! We certainly do, sir. Do you have any preferences?" Her voice was as sweet as her face.

"Sure do. But looks like she's not a masseuse," he winked and it earned him a giggle, "I'll take whoever. My friend here, though, he'd definetly like a man."

Shiro shot him a look as his cheeks turned pink. With any luck he'd forget his ire after the massage. Matt prayed the man would be handsome enough to be forgiven.

He’s lead to a room off to the side. The masseuse is a mature woman. Her long, silver hair is pulled back into a french braid. There a creases at the corners of her eyes and mouth. He’s relieved to not have gotten a woman his age. Matthew Holt talks big game, but, if he’s honest, he’s not always prepared to back it up.

She excuses herself so he can get undressed and lay down on the table. He unfolded the towel on the table and placed it over backside. When she comes back in shes asks what scents he likes and lights the according incense. Soft instrumental music played as she began working at his back. Like Shiro, Matt has his fair share of scars. He had gotten captured alongside his friend. The only reason he was able to escape was the other’s quick thinking. Shiro injured him, making him unable to fight in the Galra’s arena. He was shipped off to a labor camp a galaxy over. It was there he planned and executed a rebellion. He united the people and the Galra had not expected it when they revolted. He commandered a ship from their small fleet, none had survived to stop him.

The communications systems had been left intact. The ship had built-in translation chips, likely to aide in hailings, and Matt listened to the transmissions as he flew with no particular destination. He had learned just enough from the Garrison about piloting. Their three-man-but-only-one-official-pilot mission meant he needed to at least know basics, should the pilot become indisposed. His attention had been caught when he heard talk of a rebellion uprising that spanned an entire system. When they gave location, Matt held on to the name.

He’d navigated at hyperspeed for a few days. It was a relief to finally come upon a planet.

The planet had been teeming with life. He was quick to figure out how to hunt. A few weeks (or so he’d guessed by feeling) went by before he ran into intelligent life. They looked, from an Earthling’s perspective, to be dog people. Bipedal, dog people.

The universe sure recycled designs that had worked.

Luck-upon-luck would have it that they were against the Empire. A young woman named Olia expressed to him her feelings of wanting to join the rebellion. From there, the two decided they would head out to the system the Galra had mentioned over radio.

”How are you feeling?” The voice shook him from his thinking.

He didn’t suffer PTSD as bad as Shiro, but he’d still been a prisoner of war and unwilling soldier on the front lines. His mind could wonder away at times.

The scent of warm vanilla and sounds of a flute made his descent back to reality easier.

He thanked her as she ended the massage and blew out the inscence. She instructed him to drink lots of water. The toxins that had built up in his muscles would work its way into and out of his system. Water would help it leave quicker. He accepted it without question; it was always a good idea to drink water.

Shiro didn’t look as boneless as Matt felt, but his face and posture were more relaxed. Matt could accept that.

”Was he cute?” Matt snickered as he backed the car out of the parking spot.

”Matt.” Shiro warned. But his cheeks were red and the scar over the bridge of his nose stood out pale.

Yeah, he’d definetly been cute.

”Next on our adventure, we’re going to get some lunch. There’s a restaurant 15 minutes away that is top rated. It’s owned and run by a family from Cuba. Real authentic. They have both Cuban and New Mexican food there.”

Shiro hummed but kept his gaze outside the window.

Matt couldn’t fix the things wrong with his friend. No matter how much he wanted to. But he could support him and keep him from falling into his thoughts too deeply. Shiro needed a type of healing that Matt couldn’t foster in him.

 

There’s always something jarring about being recognized, he thinks as he watches the waitress’ eyes widen. It’s not something he minds, persé, but he knows it makes Shiro uncomfortable. The Kerberos mission had been a huge step for humanity; the three crew members were the first humans to travel as far out as the mission was set to go. Everyone knew their faces. But they spent so much time surrounded by people who had, mostly, gotten used to their presence. It was easy to forget what it was like to meet new people.

”Oh my word, Mr. Shirogane, Mr. Holt. I wish my nephew were here, he looks up to you. Our Lancito has wanted to be a pilot since he was young. He enlisted but didn’t quite make the cut. He’s gonna be so upset when I tell him you were here. Can I give you his number? Oh, he asks soooo many questions, just all the time. None of us can answer, obviously, we’ve never been to space. But his mouth keeps runn-” she finally took a breath, ”ing. No idea where he gets that from.” She laughed genuinely and uttered an apology, acknowleding that the two ”probably were really hungry and just wanted to order”. Though the intial wave of electric energy had smashed against them like a tidal wave, her earnestness and the joy in her expression made it feel warm. She chatted at them as if they were long-time friends. At the end of the meal, Matt accepted the number, scribbled on a small, yellow paper turn from her ordering pad. He knew it was more meant for Shiro, but the man would never take it, if left up to him. Matt saw an opportunity there for Shiro to talk about what’s happened. If he could convince him to make the call, it might yet be one more avenue for Shiro to find healing.

 

Their next stop is an arcade. It’s a virtual reality one that his friends have raved about. They had the newest JRPG in. It boasted an open-world while still having a solid, linear storyline. Though, Matt wondered how much money he’d have to sink into it in order to play the story-mode at the arcade. He selected the mech campaign from the ones specifically designed for arcade play; they allowed you to pay for that, rather than an hourly fee, which may or may not see completion.

Matt paid and they followed the worker back to the room.

It was spacious. That made Matt wonder about the game mechanics, and how they’d integrated environment reaction with real-world movements. They could only walk so far forward, even if it was, indeed, far, so the game would have to compensate somehow. He mentally noted to stay aware for information that he could later analyze.

With their helmets on, the opening credits rolled. He couldn’t see Shiro, and tried to talk, but they must have muted outside sounds from the headset.

And that’s where things went terribly, terribly wrong.

Chapter Text

He was a broken man.

 

Once upon a time, Shirogane Takashi had been a man who had become everything that same boy had dreamed of.

He was born and raised in Tokyo, Japan. Born to Miyu and Hiroto Shirogane. He was their second child. His older brother Ryou was pride of the family. He was everything that Japanese parents would want. Where he had been wild, stubborn, and risk-taking, Ryou was yielding, obedient, and reserved. Ryou studied seriously. He was often awake well into the night, studying after a day filled with school, cram school, and extracurricular activities. Shiro knew because he'd been up watching space videos when his brother would turn-in for the night.

When Shiro had first brought up his dreams of becoming an astronaut, his dad had went in his room and tore all his space posters off the wall.

Ryou had been accepted into the University of Tokyo, and their parents could not have been more thrilled. He was placed into the prestigious medical program track straight out of high school. It was there he met and started dating his girlfriend, Suki. She was a sweet and gentle woman, also studying medicine.

Shiro brought his first boyfriend home. His mother wept for days. His father refused to speak about it.

His grades fell from there on.

He got into fights, saw the principles office many times.

There was nothing of himself that made his parents proud. So, he stopped trying. He graduated with decent marks. A mediocre college took him in. He stopped dating, or meeting people at all, or even leaving the house beyond school and a part-time job. He had never had his parent's approval, so he didn't know what to miss. But that didn't mean it hadn't still hurt.

When he learned about the Galaxy Garrison in America, he saw a way to make his dreams come true. There would first be the distance from his parents over the ocean. 19 years under his parent's household was enough to make him take any opportunity continents away. But the Garrison had promised space-travel to those willing to work hard enough to get there.

He didn't tell his parents until the day he was to be at the airport. He had packed during the night, but he had never owned much and it had been quick. He stayed up the whole night reading again and again all of the pamphlets and orientation material from the Garrison. The weeks leading up had been torture. He found himself going for longer jogs. He spent more time in the gym, and lifted heavier and heavier weights. He couldn't sit still for the nervous energy that sparked around inside him. He became unable to think of anything else. When he wasn't trying to physically force the energy from his body, he was tucked away over his tablet, browsing forums and blog posts. Anything having to do with the Garrison, being an astronaut, or adapting to American culture was quickly devoured by him. The entire 2 hours on the plane was jitters, twitching, and failed attempts at meditation. He was often unsure if it was turbulence or his own body shaking. He never did well with just sitting still through nerves. He was a man of action.
From his stop in California, he collected his bags and boarded the train bound for Albuquerque. That was more sitting, but he'd at least got to watch the landscape. As California faded away, he saw landscapes that could not be found anywhere in Japan. Land, all shades of yellows, oranges, and browns, stretched out before him. Where it took most modes of transportation little time to reach their destinations, New Mexico had not been a priority, and so he soaked in the view on the old-style train, as it took hours to reach Albuquerque.

From there he met up with the rest of that semester's hopefuls, as they stood waiting for the shuttle buses to arrive. Though he'd practiced his English from the day he'd sent his application, it had still felt clumsy on his tongue, and registered slow in his ears. There were a variety of people there, but no one else had been Japanese. It caused as many stares as it did questions. While it had overwhelmed him, the full engagement of his brain help helped quell his fried nerves. Americans were as friendly to strangers as he'd read. He had conversation the entire trip down.

Pride found it's company in him when the Galaxy Garrison's tall gates came into view. For the years he craved validation from his parents. But as he stepped out of the bus and stood at the entrance to the place that would make him, he could find it in himself to give that, where he'd just desperately wished to receive it.

He worked hard. Hard. Harder still.

And then, one day, he looked beneath his feet to find himself standing at the top.

That was when his shoulder had been tapped for piloting the Kerberos mission.

 

But sometimes dreams back-fire.

You want something so bad, you give everything to get it, but when it enters your hands? It's the powder-keg to all the fire burning in you from passion. Life explodes in your face.

It was a blur to go from farming ice on one of the furthest moons in the solar system, to a captured prisoner-of-war on a ship being piloted by the kind of other life he'd went out to search for.

He'd seen and commited many atrocities on that ship.

No matter how safe or far away he'd gotten, he could never escape it. The now scars that had sewn together his then ripped-open flesh ran deep into his skin, in his blood, and deeper still than bone.

 

Matt had nothing but good intention when he'd brought them to the spa. A massage sounded good. Shiro had not properly relaxed in two years, maybe more. His muscles did ache, especially the hardened tissue surrounding his scars. But laying on that table, bare, for the man was trying. If he'd refused intimacy before, then he'd decided to shun it after he returned to Earth mutilated.

Then they went to the arcade. Placed in an empty room with a helmet on his head that blocked out senses from the real world, Shiro found something begin to creep up on him.

He was losing it, and he could do nothing but free fall into the pit of his mind.

 

He tried to scream at Matt, but the game had them locked out of their mics. The credit text hovered, holographic as the game took him through various landscapes. Vertigo washed over him as hills, trees, mountains, shot past him, without him ever moving. From snowy tundra, to humid rainforest, environments faded into one another. The visual movement was meant to be immersive. Instead it made him feel like he’d walked into a 360°, high res hallucination.

Panic mounted and he questioned every plant or rock formation; what was the game and what was an actual hallucination? There was no way of knowing.

Finally, he reached the class selection screen. A tall, elf-like woman began to run through her speech on the different classes he could select. But, now that the images were static, he was re-orienting to his body. As soon as his brain connected back with his hands, he reached up and ripped the helmet from his head.

The real world wasn’t any better, though.

The room was empty, white walls. There was no furniture, nothing besides the two men, actually. Before he could locate the door, his vision became clouded with static. He swiped his hand through the air at where he thought Matt was, but it just fell back to his side. It took four more tries before fingers caught a grip on Matt’s shirt. The man responded fast, with the type of reflexes won only from battle and the maddening need to always be vigilant. His helmet was ripped off and fell down with a clatter. The small part of Shiro’s mind that was still cognizent had to wince at seeing the expensive tech tossed carelessly; he’d learned to value things from being a prisoner and then spending time on the streets. He stared at the helmet, barely registering that Matt was speaking.

”...bad. Let’s get out....”

Shiro nodded. He didn’t trust his voice, nor did he trust his brain to understand what Matt was saying. But he did trust Matt. So he used the last of his brainpower on controlling his body, getting it to move where he was led.

The employee was saying something to Matt. Shiro tried to focus his eyes but everything stayed a blur. It would turn out to be better that he didn’t recall the details. There were many wounds already, and, with being led to the car by the hand, his pride didn’t need to be included.

 

He stared out the windowshield. The open land was calming, but it was just a tiny scoop of salve on a grave wound; it was useless to try and heal pain whilst he was bleeding out. The relief to not be trapped in four-walls was minor. The panic had already sunk through his skin, extending out hooks that penetrated bone.

Shiro weaved in and out of both conciousness and clarity,

 

When he came-to, he was on the couch. His head was resting on his own pillow, and the blanket tangled around his torso and twisted through legs was also his. He blinked, thinking the darkness was a carry-over from earlier, but realized if was night as his eyes adjusted. Groaning, exhaustion making his body heavy, he pushed himself up on his elbows. Movement came slow to him.

The light from Matt’s tablet was soft and blue. It illuminated his face and reflected through his reading glasses. His expression was one of calm. A quiet voice spoke from the device, talking about wildlife from a star called Hensus. It felt like one of the nights during their Garrison days, where they’d be up studying so late, that one of them fell asleep. For all the self-talk Shiro did, it was really Matt who had things, more-or-less together. Matt didn’t need mentras or mindfullness or meditation. He just naturally was optimistic. This positive thinking lead him to be cool-headed. There was an ease about him, a laziness, almost, that Shiro appreciated.

He tried to speak but his mouth was dry, his tongue curled and stuck to itself.

”What happened?” He finally managed after a few swallows.

”Oh, you’re awake.” Matt perked up. He set the tablet on the table in front of the chair, leaving it on so they wouldn’t be speaking in total darkness. The voice from th documentary kept the room from feeling empty,”You might want to stay there. We had- I had to, well, you were bad. Dude, you were saying some things. So I had to give you a sedative shot. You were gonna claw yourself bloody. Uh,” He tripped over words, which wasn’t something he often did, ”I, look. I’m sorry. I thought the whole spa thing was gonna be good. Get you a cute guy to massage you. You’d... you’d relax. Especially after, after the past couple of months back.”

”It’s not your fault. You couldn’t have predicted it. It’s my fa-”

”No. See, I’m gonna have to stop you right there. This is exactly what-” He snapped his mouth shut and his face fell. The seriousness startled him. This was not the Matt he knew. This was the Matt who was just captured, slated to be sent into the arena to fight. This was the Matt that Shiro had to injure to save his life. He seemed to realize as much, because he took his time before speaking. His face went through several expressions. His deep breath was both visible and audible. Matt had been rattled. He wondered then, just how much he really knew what was going on in Matt’s head.

He winced when Matt’s face settled into a stern expression.

”Shiro. None of this is your fault. Not Kerberos, not what happened in the arena, and not today. I know you’ve been skirting around this. I know you like to be strong, like to think you have to have a handle on everything. But even leaders sometimes need to step back. They can’t lead anyone if they’re lost themselves. You’re not weak for this, for any of this. If anything, you’ve been so strong to come out the other side. But you’re never getting better if you’re gonna let yourself stay in blame.”

The light from the screen started to flicker off. Matt bent at the waist to reach it and tapped twice. It sprung back to life.

This was usually where Shiro fell into his head. Except, his head had got him into this mess. There were no pep talks, no pre-packaged phrases, for him to give himself. All that was going on in his mind was white noise.

He listened to the soft hum of the heater. Thankful Matt was giving him the space to think and respond.

”You went through the same things, many people have. We all lost things in this war.”

”But I didn’t. I didn’t lose a limb. I wasn’t experimented on. Shiro, Shiro, please. Let yourself mourn. Grieve what happened, or it’s gonna follow you. Look, hey, ok, I’ll use your logic. I went through things too. But here I am. I struggle, so much more than anyone knows, but you wanna know why I’m doing as good as I am? Because I’ve learned how to not blame myself. And I- I’m not saying it’s easy, or that you have to do it my way, or, any of that. Well, maybe I am. I’m not sure. I’m better with science, ok. I just. I want to help you.”

Shiro took a pause. What did he need? What could possibly help him?

”I need something to do, something to take my mind off.. this.” I feel like I’ve been swept in by the currents and I’m drowning. I need air. Please, I’m sinking faster and further. Soon I won’t be able to see the light at the surface.

”I was thinking, and I wasn’t gonna bring it up yet, not without asking them first but, what if you worked at the café?” You’d have income, you’d have something to do, and maybe you’d make some more friends. ”I’m sure they could use help. And Keith, he’s- he’s a nice man. Well, half-man. Y-you know what I mean. He’s just. He’s nice.”

There was something more there, but he wasn’t sure if it was the time (or if it would ever be the time, really) to look into it. Whatever it was, it unsettled him a bit.

”I suppose we can ask.” Shiro wasn’t entirely sold on the idea. He needed time to think about it. But, if his estimates of the Blades were correct, they would need just ask much time to think about the proposition.

It felt like a weight had been lifted off him.
As equally as it felt one had just been placed on him.

Chapter Text

Keith had been betting on a lecture, which was why he’d come home when most of the house was gone. He’d wanted to avoid everyone, but doing so would make him late to work. Kolivan would had enough to say to him without adding to it that he’d skipped his shift. He parked the bike and prepared himself to see Ulaz. There was no hiding the rumble of the engine or the smacking of wind against their windows. He’d been inside the house enough times when the hoverbike landed. He knew how the glass shook against the aged wood of their shack.

The door creaked as he opened it. He tapped the excess dirt off his boots and placed them in the shoe cabinet by the door.

”You are home. Would you like breakfast?” Ulaz was soft for a Galra. Where Kolivan was rules and regulations, he was willing to compromise if it meant the safety or wellbeing of someone he cared for. When Keith needed a sympathetic ear, this was where he went.

”Did you wait for me?”

”I haven’t been called to field yet. My first appointment in the book is not until midday.” Ulaz was a doctor to the local xeno species. When a few humans had been taken by the Empire, they returned unable to keep the ”secret” of life beyond the small, blue planet. This allowed the xenos whom had already settled to come out of hiding. And new species, displaced by the war, arrived near-daily. The human were not equipped to handle their medical needs. They need Galrans, whom had worked with the species, by virtue of being their conquerers, knowledge. Ulaz had worked for the Empire, tending to the wounded species who fought in the arena. However, he was forced to leave when his identity as a Blade was compromised. He had aided in the escape of a champion of the arena, without the Marmora’s consent. Keith could tell it had weighed heavy on him. So he was relieved to see a quiet happiness and fulfillment in Ulaz, since he’d been able to resume helping people, this time not on the Empire’s terms or restrictions.

”I could use some food.”

He settled down on a chair by the kitchen table. They had learned to eat on the elevated surface, as was custom in the local region, but Keith, and the rest of them, preferred their meals on the floor. Galran tables didn’t have the same height. In lieu of hard, wooden chairs, soft, plush cushions were set around it. Dishes rest in the middle, and they’d serve themselves as desired; rather than setting a fixed-portion onto the plate. Most food was eaten with hands. But Keith lacked sharp claws or fangs, so he’d had to rely on someone tearing bits smaller for him. When he’d learned that this was something humans did for young, he took keenly to knives and forks. If he ever made it back, or traditional ingredients and livestock were more readily available, he would still insist on this Terran-style of eating. ”

Ulaz took from their fridge a carton of chicken eggs, a loaf of bread, and a bag of the deer meat left over from a hunt a few nights prior.

”Would you like some ”eggs in a basket”?” The phrase sounded like it was uncomfortable on his tongue. The words and concepts existed to them. The dish, however, did not.

Keith hummed in affirmation. The texture of fried eggs was gummy. If not cooked right, the white part could be too liquidy; it had taken them all a few tries before making it correctly. Which did improve the experience of eating it. Still, it had been a curve for him to get used to it. Meat should be chewy. After-meats should be crunchy. The sweet meal should be soft. Eggs were strange and crossed from meat directly into sweet meal, all while tasting of after-meat dishes.

”For being the doctor, you haven’t asked me yet how I am.” He smiled and got up to make coffee. By nature of running the café, Keith made a mean cup, and the others considered it a treat. Not that they’d say it out loud. But he knew it was so because the level of beans never went down between the times he would touch them.

”My healing inclinations make me more apt to recognize when it is time to ask, and when it is not.”

”I appreciate it. So, I’ll tell you. ONLY you,” he spoke as he measured the beans and poured them into the hand grinder, ”I’m mostly alright. I do feel a bit dizzy and sweaty though.”

Ulaz flipped over the egg, settled inside the bread, and turned the heat of the flame down.

”I wanted to let you know that I recognized those humans we took you to.”

Keith knew if he had proper Galran ears, they would have twitched. Sometimes he’d forget himself and feel his body react as if it were the right one. But there was too much the human form didn’t have or couldn’t do, and it left him feeling disoriented for what wasn’t there.

”The tall one was the one who became the Champion, and the other was the one who’d been brought in with him.” There was a tightness to his voice. Keith pictured Shiro in his head. He’d seen the prosthetic and the scars that were visible from his tanktop. For the first time, he realized how much it must have hurt Ulaz to not be able to heal his patients back then. The Empire was cruel, that much was clear from the concept of the gladiator arena, but crueler still, in that their healers were only allowed to keep fighters alive. Scars didn’t matter. Lose of limbs didn’t matter. If the being was alive and able to fight was all that mattered.

Worse was that Keith was starting to remember all the stories he had heard about the arena and the Champion. He hadn’t thought before on who the Champion was. It was painful and not something he wanted to connect with a real, living being. Still, linking that face to the horrors, it wasn’t what he expected when he was told of the Champion. That man had handled him with a gentleness, so gentle as to be too much, that Keith almost bristled at. Even if it felt.. strange... for the large human to do. Maybe it wasn’t a bad strange. Whatever type is was, it made him feel ever more lost and confused on the planet so many, many galaxies away from his home.

 

Ulaz offered him a ride to the café. He wouldn’t come out and say it, but there was lingering concern over Keith’s health. Keith obliged him. There weren’t many opportunities to repay him for his kindness.

 

”I shall help you.”

Keith wanted to groan. He wanted to wave Ulaz away an hour ago. He was fine; he was capable of handling the café. The flu had weakened his muscles a bit, though, causing him to drop a shipment he was going to restock. The other had hung around in claims that it would be easier for him to get to his first appointment from there. Which, alright, Keith could give him that. But, even sat over his tablet, he would occassionally look up when he thought Keith wasn’t watching. It was nerve-wracking. So, when he dropped the box, it felt like the very last of his patience was snapping.

He grabbed at his apron and tore it off, throwing it to the floor.

”I need some air.” He grit through his teeth, if just to contain his mouth from running off.

He slunk off to the space between their buildings and the next. It was quiet and the sun’s light didn’t quite reach it. Back hitting the wall, he dug the heels of his palms into his eyes. He growled from his chest, in the way his human vocal chords had accommadated for the Galran noise. Being unable to express his anguish in his native tongue was further fuel to his meltdown. He kicked at the wall in front of him. Hot tears of frustration blurred his vision. His fists leave his sides and before he knows it, knuckles rake across the rough edges of brick. Over, and over, and over, his hands strick. His body moves on its own. There’s a brilliant red that reaches through tear-clouded vision.

It’s blood.

Wait,
That’s... his blood?

But why is he bleeding?
Oh.

His eyes shift to his hands, that tremble as they strike.

What am I doing! I don’t remember telling my hands to move. Oh. There they go again.

They, they just keep going.

Why won’t they stop?

What’s wrong with me?

My brain is... fuzzy.

Is that Ulaz?

 

”Breathe.”

Keith grit his teeth hard. The hand at the back of his neck was meant as comfort, but it just left his skin feeling like it’d been electrocuted. It was, at least, enough to drag him from his head.

”I-i don’t- I’m not sure- I’m sorry. I- I’m not sure.” He was babbling. He knew he was babbling. But he couldn’t seem to stop, anyway. Ulaz hummed a quiet melody. It reminded him of a song his mother used to sing to him. She loved to sing and dance. A fierce protector, and not someone you wanted to be on the end of her blade with, she still managed to be soft. Keith admired her and built himself off what he could remember. A tremendous warrior and a tender mother. Neither part of her had been contradictory. She was balanced and Keith fought hard to be like that.

”You had not cried since we arrived. I was worried that you had forsaken the ability.” Keith appreciated hearing Ulaz’s voice. He had been the one to coach him through the grief of losing his mom. ”I remember that your mother used to find herself in much the same situation. She balanced a lot, as a Blade member, as a worker in the Empire, but, especially, as a parent. She feared she could never do enough for you. You were, for her, the brightest star amongst all.”

”Do you think- I wonder if she knew...that I knew that.” Keith inspected the blood that was crusting on his knuckles. Human skin was so delicate. His veins weeped as easily as his eyes.

”I suspect she did.”

Keith swallowed around a sob.

”I miss her.” He drew in a shaky breath and let his head fall on Ulaz’s chest. The touch didn’t hurt, likely because he initiated it. He stayed there as long as could, the other respecting his needs and not touching him.

 

He returned to work after wetting a paper towel and wiping his face clean. His eyes remained a little bit red, and puffy, but there was only so much he could do. Ulaz was off to his appointment, and Keith needed to handle being behind the counter.

He gazed into the mirror, which was not something he did often. It was starting to become less shoking for him. He’d been around humans for a few months. It was shocking at first. Even though they looked more like him than his family, it was disconcerting to see people.

He felt so in-between.

Culturally Galra but physically human.

He wondered if he would ever find his place.

He tossed the dirty towel into the wastebin and headed back into the main room. The shift went by normally. He was happy when that irate customer who’d yelled at him didn’t show up. He’d either felt too embarassed at his outburst, or else had decided to take his patronage elsewhere. Which was fine by Keith, if people could just come in, order coffee, and drink it, then his work was easy.

A tall man with deep red-brown skin paced outside the front. Keith stared, feeling a sense of dread come over him at seeing his nerves. After what looked like a bit of talking to himself, he pushed open the door. The ringing of the bell made his shoulders twitch. But otherwise his face held more resolve than the display he’d made outside. He locked gazes with Keith and approached. The smile was warm.

”Uh, hello there. Are you, by chance, Keith?”

Oh. How’d he know? Did he read the nametag from far away? Keith figured even if he hadn’t, there would be no denying the name. The man only had to look down and read. He nodded.

”Oh, cool. Nice to meet you, then. I’m Hunk. I actually work for Allura. Have you heard of her? I mean, who hasn’t. True. Well, wait. I mean, no offense if you haven’t. Do you, uh.. you guys... yknow,” Hunk gestured at Keith, ”Well, she’s the diplomat for you and the others, she wanted me to stop on by. Apparently there’s been a help ticket in for two months now. And that was before yesterday. Sorry about that. But I’m here now.”

”Us... guys?” Keith’s eyebrows scrunched together.

”You know. Aliens. Er, well. To us, you’re aliens. But I guess it might be the other way arou-”
”Don’t. Ok, just. Why are you here exactly?” Hunk seemed nice enough, but if he didn’t get to his point soon, Keith was gonna need some more time outside.

”Right. Sorry. I got a call yesterday about an incident of discrimination. I wanted to check in with you, see if you’re alright, and if you are looking to pursue legal action. Also,” He stuffed a hand into his pocket and placed a bill on the counter, ”I hear your lemon tart is to die for. That, and a small coffee, whatever the blend-of-the-moment is, please.”

Keith wasn’t sure why, but he gave a small chuckle. The man had gone from a serious expression to such an earnest one. He looked excited for the pastry. Good, Keith thought, I worked hard on those.

Hunk leaned over to get a better look at the display case. He seemed to be scrutinizing each pastry. His eyes darted back and forth between the ingredients listed on the little stands, and the actual food. Keith felt self-concious as he took hold of the tongs and plated up a tart. He placed it on the counter and turned to make the coffee. Hunk was still looking at the case when he was done.

”Here you go.”

Hunk thanked him and moved the plate and mug to a seat at the wrap-around bar.

”Ooooh, yeah, definetly. Yes. This is definetly the best lemon tart I’ve ever had. They weren’t kidding.” He muttered to himself. It made him wonder just who ”they” were. Hunk finished the tart with gusto. Keith had never seen someone eat so fast. And Terrans were big enthusiasts of the ”fast” meal.

”Dude, let me just say, I need that recipe. I will do anything for it. But, back to you. How are you adjusting?”

He was tempted to say ”fine”, but Hunk had not relented the question. He wasn’t likely to relent with the answer.

”It’s... difficult.” That didn’t mean Keith had to let him know he’d cried a few hours ago.

”Mm, I can imagine. One minute, you’re in a secret, ninja Alien organization, and then, bam! You come to Earth. Where many of us hadn’t known there was life outside our solar system. It’s not a surprise that there’s going to be difficulty for both sides.” He paused and inhaled the smell of his coffee. Humming in satisfaction, he took a drink. ”Not to say discrimination is justified. So. If you decide you do want to press charges, you can reach me here.” He slid a card out from his shirt pocket. It had his picture in a square next to name. Underneath was his contact info. Keith deposited it into his pocket.

”Well, I have to get back to the office. We’re preparing documents for some more immigrants from the 34th quadrant in the Virgo-system. But, seriously, call me. Even if it’s just to ask about our culture. Maybe there’s a question about how or why we do something. Yeah, anything at all. That’s what the office and I are here for.”

Chapter Text

The Office of Veteran’s Affairs is a small office, remniscent of the Motor Vehicle Department. There is a ticketing system, and Pidge grabs one for the two of them before sitting down.

Shiro has to quash his nerves at the few other people sat on plastic chairs. A trip to the office is never quick, which is why he had so far avoided it. He’d been able to work with a case manager remotely, whom had helped him through the process of filing for benefits and disability. The latter had been at the suggestion of the other. Being indoors, even if he could see out windows, was a great source of anxiety. The streets had been harsh, but at least he had fresh, open air and the stars. Houses, buildings, walls, they smelled stale. Air stagnated in it, and consequently his lungs felt like they were filling up with mold.

This was going to be a long day, and it had only begun.

Shiro didn’t spend as much time with Pidge. He’d met the Holts through Matt, who he met at the Garrison. Their years at the academy had not lent themselves to ample free time. Besides that, Pidge was working on finishing high school. She had been just as busy as the other two. But she was much like the rest of her family: kind, a little too-smart-for-her-own-good, and loyal.

Matt had been unable to get the day off. Iverson had little tolerance for absence, not unless it was an emergency. So, it was Pidge who had decided to take Shiro there.

”What do you mean they’ve cut my payments?! How am I supposed to live off pennies? I fought for this country, came back broken, and you’re giving me the shaft?!”

Shiro winced and tried to concentrate on his breathing. It was hard not to agree with the sentiment. But he loathed the day he would. That would mean his heart had hardened, and he’d become bitter.

He brought his tablet out from the inside pocket of his jacket. He played some games, trying to be anywhere but where he was. Pidge was tinkering away at some small device, Shiro couldn’t figure out what it was. He thought about asking her, but figured it might interupt some mental equation. For a brief minute, he let his mind ease into thoughts about Keith. He wanted to see Keith’s hair outside its usual braid. It looked soft and his fingers longed to feel it. Then there was his size. Shiro had tried to keep professional when he’d taken care of the other. But it couldn’t escape his notice that Shiro could cover the span of his back with one hand. Tiny, but mighty. That is, if the hard muscles were anything to go by. His frame may have been small, but he’d filled it out with muscle.

Shiro smiled, feeling warmed from the inside out. He hadn’t felt these types of feelings in so long. He didn’t realize he was still capable of- Wait. Was he... Did he have a crush?

”Hey Pidge, how’s work been going?” Please, he silently begged, let this start some conversation. He wasn’t going to let his mind wander into that territory. She didn’t seem to hear him. So, he went back to his tablet. He opened apps and webpages, then closed out, only to open them again. To which, he scolded himself for being unable to focus. So much for having patience.

Finally, their number was called. It felt like it had been an hour. Though, Shiro reasoned that his anxiety had made it seem slower than it had actually been.

”Hello, there. How may I help you today?”

Shiro looked back at Pidge, whom had not left her seat, nor shown any sign to have recognized he had left his. She had been the one to suggest he come. Now that he was there, he wasn’t even sure why.

”Uh, well. I’m having a rough time?” He said it like a question. The woman was patient. ”Yeah. I had a panic attack yesterday.” The words felt stuck to his mouth. The only driving force for speaking them was the thought of slipping even further than he had yesterday.

”Ok, let’s see who is available. Since your chart says you’d be a new patient, it could take a few months. We have a shortage of doctors.”

A few months? He wanted to scream that there’s no way he could wait that long. He was already at the end of his rope; the fact that he was there meant it was dire. But he swallowed tapped his fingers along his thigh, instead.

”Alright, how does March 20th sound?” Shiro nodded and waited as she typed into the computer. She wrote the appointment down on a card and placed it on the counter. He made a mental note to put a reminder in his phone, and let Matt or Pidge know, as it went into his pocket. She smiled and asked if he needed anything else.

”Well, I was also wondering about those dogs?” His pride wanted to stalk to the courner and nurse its wounds. He didn’t used to be so bad with people. But he also didn’t used to wake up some nights screaming. So, it was better to fumble social contact than wake up the entire Holt-household. Again.

She printed out a piece of paper with the information. As it turned out, service dogs were an incredibly expensive thing. The dogs needed to have the right temperament for it. From there, it would need to be trained since youth, until, finally, it got matched up with an owner. Then, the dog would need to get trained with the owner, for their specific needs. As well as the owner needing to know how command the dog. There were charities to help raise all or part of the fund, but they couldn’t give everyone a dog that needed one.

He thanked her and felt his head buzzing as he went over to Pidge. Sometime during his talk, she had completed whatever it was she was working on. She was laughing at something on her phone. Her carefree nature was a comfort to him.

 

They went to a burger joint for lunch.

”So, how’re the studies going?” Shiro dragged a fry through ketchup. For all he looked like the type to eat granola bars and spinach, he liked to actually enjoy his life, thanks. Any fat or grease would just be worked off at the gym. Or, that’s how it had been. He made a mental note to ask Matt about joining a gym. He knew some of them offerred free membership to veterans or active duty military.

”Iverson is... Iverson, but he’s letting me work on a project to build- oh,” she looked around, as if the other patrons were taking notes of their conversation, ready to report back to the man himself, ”It’s going well. I’m on team with that guy who called you the other day, actually. His name is Hunk. One of the best engineers the academy has seen. Real sweet guy, too. Which, by the way, you might want to call him back. I told him it wasn’t my business, so this will be the only time I bring it up.”

He appreciated her enthusiasm. Matt and her had both almost blown top-secret, government information to him. All because of their excitement.

”How about you? Are you just itching to come back?” Her voice was light with sarcasm, but it was to soften the real question. ’Don’t you want something to do?’, ’Are you bored?’, ’I want to help you’. She was an intelligent woman. What appeared at first glance to be social awkwardness, was more just impulsive passion. She got absorbed in projects easy. It was hard for her to imagine someone not being as excited about the discoveries she learned. Young in age, but nothing else. Shiro sometimes wondered how much of that was innate, and what part was learned. It wasn’t easy entering the Garrison at 15, as she had.

”Matt was talking about getting me a job at the Marmora café.” He swirled the icecubes in his cup of soda, staring at them as the clacked against another.

”You sound unsure.”

”I’m... not, actually. I haven’t been doing so hot with people. I might as well become a hermit and live in your basement.”

Pidge scoffed and then snorted in laughter.

”Shiro, we don’t even have a basement.”

He put on his most serious expression.

”Yet.”

The two of them lost it. There was no coming back from that. Pidge curled over and banged her fist on the table, as if trying to pound the air into her lungs. Shiro, he would like to think, was not quite so roudy. But his sides did begin to hurt.

”Oh- oh,.. ff... pfft... I- phew, I cannot believe you.” She managed through her slowly fading laughter.

The rest of the meal was spent in poorly traded jokes. Fries may have left his plate and ended up in her hair. It’s possible. And, just as possibly, a few may have been launched directly at his nose. If ketchup splattered down his cheeks, he wouldn’t say.

 

With lifted spirits, he sat outside on the bench in front of their porch. He rubbed his gloved hands together. His breathe was visible through the cold air. But, as snow was falling, there was a warmth to it. He’d dialed a number on his phone and was waiting, listening to the quiet ring. The air smelt of burning firewood; both from the Holt’s house, and others along the street.

”Mr. Shirogane?”

”Please, just Shiro. Hello, Hunk. I wanted to apologize for the other day. We had a guest over and well, I’m sure you heard.” He chuckled. Keith had fire.

”Yeah, man. You ok? That sounded bad. Oh, uhm. So, I was just wondering if you’d be willing to meet in-person with me. I know some memories are rough, but it would help a lot of people out if you shared.”

I can only heal if I talk about it. He inhaled slowly through his nose. If I don’t make changes, life won’t change for me.

”Sure. When are you free?”

They set a date for next Friday. Hunk was busy handling an immigration case, as well as a backlog on personal visits. That worked for Shiro, though. It gave him time to work through what he would say. He decided he would write things down, and then take the notes with him to the appointment. The things he coudn’t share out loud, he could just hand over in writing.

He remained outside for a little while after the call, content to watch the snow fall and practice being present in his body.

Pidge was the one that called him inside. She lead him over the table, where cups of hot cocoa were set, steam billowing off the top of them.

”I know it’s a long drive, but if we leave now we can make it to the café a little before the usual time. C’mon, let’s go see what Keith is up to.”

The snow was even prettier on the drive there. With the heater cranked up, Shiro couldn’t tell if the warmth came from the car, or the gentle thrum of nervous, excited, anticipation.

Chapter Text

If there were any reason to be thankful for a breakdown, it would definetly come through the café doors at over 6’ feet tall, unrealistically handsome, and looking mildly sheepish. So, as the man, over 6’ feet tall, unrealistically handsome, and looking mildly sheepish stepped into the café, Keith’s heartrate only jumped a little. There just wasn’t enough energy for it to match the fire burning through his veins. But his heart sure gave it it’s best shot. He barely noticed Pidge; seeing her only as his eyes traced down Shiro. Her head reached his chest, which was a good thing. Keith would hardly be able to live with himself if his eyes had kept going.

”Keith!” Pidge waved energetically.

”Hey,” he gave her a smile, and his gaze slipped over to the clock, ”You’re here early.”

”I played hookie today with Shiro.”
Oh no, he thought, now I have to acknowledge him.

”Oh, that sounds like fun.” Hookie? He’d look it up later. Shiro didn’t seem the type to like games, but maybe Keith could learn how to play. It would make an easy excuse to get to know him. ”Hey Shiro.”

Shiro replied with a quiet ”hello”. Pidge snickered. It must have been especially fun, then.

”So, I’ll take a latte and whatever Shiro wants.” She waved her thumb towards him.

His shoulders jumped and when Keith looked up into Shiro’s eyes, there was an expression he couldn’t recognize.

”Uh, can I get the same as last time?”

Pidge placed down more money than the order and led the man over to the table in front of the window. It was a nice spot, and the one Keith often chose for his breaks. It gave a view of the trees and park, as well as being directly under an air vent. He hummed as he deposited the money between the register and tip jar. The water to wash his hands was cold. It was good for breaking him from his thoughts. Loading the beans into a grinder, he breathed in the crisp aroma of the espresso blend. If he went home, he would need to bring pounds and pounds of the stuff. He wondered where the nearest swap moon that stocked it would be. Maybe he could smuggle some plants in; given that he first ran the analytics of how it would affect the local biome.

Milk.
That was another luxury he wouldn’t part easy with.

Drinks ready, Keith walked the order over to the table. Pidge shared a look with Shiro, only hers included a raised eyebrow.

”Hey, Keith. Hold on a second.” Keith looked around the room, a man sat with a paper newspaper over his lap, and the other two customers, young women, were engaged in heated whispers and gestures toward the table. Not that he could blame them. Shiro was quite handsome.

”So, Matt’s probably gonna bring it up, too. But, since it’s pretty quiet, thought I’d ask now. See, we were thinking that Shiro here could help you out. Why don’t we try right now?” It sounded like a question. But the thing about Pidge, he’d learned, was that there was no arguing with her.

 

Keith stood in a wide stance, back straight, and palms settled on his hips. Shiro from afar? Big. Shiro right in front of him? Extra big. He’s personally stared down larger. The man wasn’t the first to take Keith’s size (erraneously) as an easy challenge. He was not expecting him to be the last, either.

”So, what do you know?”

”Uh?” His eyes squinted and scrubbed a hand across his chin. ”What?”

”Coffee?” Keith swept an arm towards the equiptment stationed behind him.

”I usually just scoop out grounds from a can.” Keith almost scoffed, offended. This man had been born on this planet, though. He figured Shiro just didn’t share the same gratitude for a beverage that had always been available. That only made him wonder which dishes from home he hadn’t paid attention to. He supposed he’d figure it out once cravings for the food kicked in.

It was maybe, maybe, a bit endearing.

Keith tightened the tie of his apron. His hair had started to fall out of its braid, so he removed the band and placed it between his lips for holding as he un-pleated it. He decided to twist it into a loose bun.

Shiro ducked his head into an apron. It looked much, much smaller on him. Which was more than fair, they had ordered small, being that Keith was the only one behind the counter. He tried to twist his arms behind to secure the apron, but his arms were too big with muscle, and the straps too high. Keith couldn’t help a quiet chuckle. He waved the man to turn around and tied it. Not much fabric was left hanging once it was.

Ok, it was endearing. Definetly.

He lead the man around the small area, running him through the process of each machine. The biggest challenge, he realized, was going to be teaching him the recipes.

”How is your memory?” Keith asked, hands busy with wiping down the espresso machine.

”It’s... oh. A customer.” He sounded nervous. Keith decided to take their order.

”Alright, so. A latte. Go ahead and grab the red bag of beans.” he watched Shiro, his hand just hovering in the air. ”It’s ok. Don’t be nervous.” He whispered and guided Shiro’s metal hand, which was large beneath his, onto the correct bag. Shiro muttered a thank you and Keith let go.

Shiro closed his eyes and his chest rose with a deep breath.

He poured the beans out and into the grinder. Keith talked him through the rest of the process. His hands shook and two more times Keith had to gently reassure him. He breathed a sigh of relief when Keith handed it over.

”My first day was a mess.” Keith hoped that his expression brought Shiro comfort. ”We had been here barely an Earth week.”

”That must’ve been something.” He leaned back against the counter.

”That’s one way to put it.” Keith replied.

”How’d you end up here?”

Keith paused and regarded Shiro. Knowledge was only to be given in trust, the voice of Ulaz spoke in his mind. A far cry from what Kolivan said of knowledge. Ulaz had trusted Shiro, too. He’d almost forgot this man was the Champion. Keith brushed his bangs behind his ear. Or, he tried to, but they just swept right back into his face,

”I’m not sure, really. One day, Kolivan, our leader, just told me we’d be relocating. My dad came from this planet, so. I suppose they figured humans couldn’t be too different.”

”And? Are we?” The questions didn’t sound demanding. Shiro, he figured, was trying to get to know him.

”In some ways? Yeah. I don’t understand you. But not in all.” Sometimes the worst misunderstandings came from how close, but not the same, they were. It was more trouble recognizing what went wrong in those cases.

Keith took a pause. The sudden rush of questions he had for Shiro became overwhelming. It was too easy to talk with him. He wanted to know what brought the other out to space. For such a soft man, why had he joined the military? What did he do now? What were his dreams? His hopes? Fears? Did he have a mate? Was anyone courting him? There was too much to ask, and so he didn’t ask anything. He just looked at Shiro.

For some reason, Shiro was smiling. His cheeks pushed up the skin at the corner of his eyes. It was soft. He’d seen the same look come from Matt. He knew it was friendly, but, there was something there that he just hadn’t gained the ability to read yet. His instincts told him that drawing attention to it would break whatever was there. Worse yet, he could feel his own face mirroring it.

Keith marveled over their shared expressions. Whatever he’d communicated back, it put Shiro at ease. There was something indescribably warm about it,

 

”Here comes Matt.” Keith told Shiro.

”Keith, darling, how are yo- Shiro?” Matt took long strides up to the counter. Keith snorted. Matt had caught him off-guard the first time he’d met him. Matt had fallen onto one knee and extended his hand toward Keith. Keith, whom had watched old Terran movies as a crash-course on culture, had been thrown by the gesture. Surely a man he had just met would not be engaging in courtship with him? Thankfully, at seeing the confusion on his face, Matt had explained that he was just ”kidding”.

That was his first experience with strange Earth humor.

”Hey, dumbass.” They all turned towards her. Keith felt a bit embarrassed to have forgotten she was there. Somehow, the space around Shiro had become gravitational. He was pulled in the second he’d guided the man’s hand with his own. Pidge gathered her laptop between her arm and chest and headed towards them.

”Well, look who the car dragged in. It looks like a pidgeon. Isn’t it a healthcode violation to have birds in here?” Matt crossed his arms and a smug smile turned his mouth upwards. Pidge brought a fist into his shoulder.

”Figured we’d beat you here. Steal some Keith time for ourselves.”

”I can see that. You look good with your apron, Shiro. We’ll take the usual. Keith can help you make it, I’m sure.” There was an airy sarcasm to his words. Keith got the feeling Shiro would repeat Pidge’s action if he were closer. Which was good. He wasn’t looking to break up a fight.

Keith nodded, which was satisfactory for Matt, because he headed over to the table his father had grabbed. He turned to Shiro. Once more a laugh was drawn from him by the man. His lips were taught in a thin line. He looked, as Matt would say, done.

”Ok, big guy, coffee first. Then if you still want to hit him, take it outside.” He chuckled.

”Big guy?”

Oh. No. Where- When had- oh gosh. Keith felt heat beneath his cheeks. He directed Shiro to start grinding.

 

”Soooo, I’ve been thinking-”
”That’s a first.” Shiro snarked.
”Shut up. As I was saying. Well, this week? Yeah. Utter shit. There’s no redeeming this week. Our souls are weary. Right? So, then I thought to myself, ”Matt?”, ”Yes Matt?”, ”What if we did something this weekend?” And of course, I agreed. Great suggestion, amirite? So, I decided that we’re going camping. Nothing is more healing than nature. Also, yes, Keith, you’re coming too.”

Keith’s eyes went wide and he swiveled towards Shiro. Help me, he tried to convey. Shiro, to Keith’s dismay, had the same look.

”I’m bringing Hunk, then. Of course, he’ll probably want to bring Lance. Oh, maybe Allura too!” Pidge smacked a hand down on the counter. Her laptop still cradled against her, like it was her child.

”That’s a great idea! We can all bring a lot of junk food, err, minus sour worms,” Matt ducked his head a bit as he looked at Keith, ”Hunk can be in charge of the bbq and campfire.”

Keith watched the siblings exchange a task-list, having no clue who the people he mentioned were. Of course, if Matt managed to drag him along, he would meet them soon enough.

”Oh, Shiro. I’ll tell Hunk to keep business and leisure separate. He’s good about that, but a reminder won’t hurt.” Pidge said to Shiro.

”Good, then we’re settled. Keith, why don’t you come home with us after your shift on Friday? That way no one has to drive you over. So just bring your stuff with you.”

Yeah, Matt would drag him along. Even if Keith purposefully left his things at the house, Matt would carry him (these damn humans being bigger than him) into the car, drive them to Keith’s shack, and make him pack a bag. It would be much easier, and less stressful, if he just stuck to Matt’s plan.

If his day with Shiro was something to go by, then maybe, just maybe, it would be nice to open himself up for once.

He smiled, a warmth spread inside.

Camping with them might prove to be fun.

Chapter Text

Hunk turned out to be as kind as he sounded on the phone. The greeting had been a bit awkward between him and Shiro. He had expected as much though, if the anxiousness on the phone had been anything to go by. Lance was rowdy and eager to be the center of attention. But still charming. Allura, the princess of Altea, was everything he would imagine of a princess. She was poised, graceful, and strikingly beautiful. Coran seemed to take life easy and had a fatherly presence to him.

With all eight of them piled into one van, which Allura had borrowed from work, in the name of getting away as self-care, they began the road trip. It was a 3 hour drive up to Albuquerque, where they’d get some drive-thru dinner, and then another 3 hours up to Jemez Springs. There was a selection of four different official camp grounds in that area, but they had opted to find a place in the wild. Lance had family in the area, and spent much of childhood navigating the wilderness there. But, for peace of mind, Pidge had brought her satelite GPS phone. If they got lost, she could not only track where they were, but also send a call for help. Lance had insisted it wouldn’t be necessary, but Pidge just rolled her eyes and waved the phone in his face.

Matt was taking the first shift of driving. Coran was in the passenger’s seat. The car had a sound vaccuum, and Shiro couldn’t hear what they were saying. But Coran was animated, both with his hands and expressions. It struck Shiro then, that Coran, Allura, and Keith were all new arrivals to the planet. The three of them had only been around for about three months, having came roughly the same time the Blades, with Shiro, had landed. The thought made him turn toward Keith.

Keith had his hair in its signature braid. It cascaded over his right shoulder in shiny, black waves. He had his elbow resting on the ledge beneath the window, cheek craded in his palm. His eyes were fixed outside the window. No doubt he was taking in the sights. Shiro was glad for it. He’d been slowly easing into the idea of having feelings for the other. At first he believed it to be a purely physical attraction. Keith was, well, a babe. It wouldn’t be hard to find people who would go wild over him. But, as he had begun to open up, Shiro found there was something else there.

Keith was prickly on the outside. But inside, he was soft. He was a man that cared for his found family, having been orphaned, and he would do anything for them. He ran the café because he wanted to return their kindness. He was fiercely independent, too. Despite orders otherwise, Keith would often sneak his way on to missions with fellow Blades. He was proud, in that he wouldn’t allow anyone to judge him for his small size. He was always ready to prove his worth. Perhaps most enchanting was Keith’s ability to read him. The tenderness he had shown on Shiro’s first day hadn’t let up. When panic began to crawl through him, Keith read it on him and comforted him with words and reassuring touch.

It was curious, it was contrary. Keith mostly wore a scowl and spoke in short sentences. His voice, which sounded both like his throat had been dragged theough gravel, and like honey flowed down it, was just another point of attraction for Shiro.

Keith shifted in his seat and Shiro heard the shuffle in the fabric of his clothing. He gulped, realizing just how much Keith was garnering his attention. When the man turned his head toward him, a soft, thoughtful pout, he looked away. Shiro had watched too long, he scolded himself, no one could stare that long and not catch the person’s attention. Still, he looked from the corner of his eye. Keith was gazing at him, blinking slowly.

 

”Ninety-ni-,” Lance began singing.
”Lance!” Shiro had had enough of the songs. And games. And Lance in general, really. It’s not bad for the first hour. Shiro had even joined in. Ninety-nine bottles of beer on the wall? Well, there had been more than ninety-nine and Shiro was well into the territory of snatching one off that wall.

”I will second that, dude. Like, it’s been 6 hours. Please, no more beers. No more spying with your little eye-”
”How can you have a little eye? That doesn’t even make sense!” Keith huffed.
”Yeah, I’m also with Keith on this. How about we turn on some music and just bask in the ambiance?”

Shiro could see why Hunk had become a diplomat. He was at once non-threatening but still able to command.

”Fine, whatever. At least no one was bored.” Lance fell back against his seat and huffed as he crossed his arms.

”So, Shiro,” Hunk turned around and looped his arms around the headrest, ”Do you miss it up there? Y’know, space?”

The question caught him off-guard. It should have been a clearly sensitive topic, but there Hunk was, face both eager and sincere, asking about it. Inside himself, Shiro was gritting teeth and spitting that no, he didn’t miss being in captivity on a ship where he was forced the maim and slaughter, as well as being the subject of experimentation.

”It was different out there. Now, how about you and Lance, what drew you to the Garrison?”

Lance perked up, but didn’t turn around right away. He seemed to be pretending that he didn’t want to jump at answering something about himself. Hunk, at least, looked humble.

”My family comes from the Samoas. Out where they’re from, you can see the stars so clearly. I grew up hearing a lot of traditional stories. I was big on science, because I was inspired to question how things came to be. Engineering stemmed from that. My people, and many indigenous peoples, actually, figured out a lot of science, and they hadn’t even flown nor driven a car. So, little me could only imagine what sorts of things humanity could learn, once we left our nest, so to speak.”

Shiro had spent so long trying to run from his heritage, his home, that he’d long forgotten the myths. The further away from his origins he went, the more he found himself wanting to go back.

Hunk let the weight of his head press a cheek to seatback. The look in his eyes said he had left the conversation. Whether he’d gone to out to space, or perhaps a home on an island, Shiro didn’t know.

Lance drummed his fingers on the leather, his arms flopped over the top of the backseat. He was itching to speak, but, for whatever unknown reason, slow to talk.

”Ok. So the thing is... I have a huge family. Love them. Lots of nieces and nephews always running around. It’s crazy! You should see how long it takes to round them all up come Sunday mass. Aye, it’s a mess. And well, being the youngest is great and all...” he winced like he’d just bit down on an unexpectedly sour orange, ”But. It’s kind of not. Space was gonna my way of standing out. Finally being someone. I, wow, sorry, man. It’s just. I still can’t believe I’m talking to you. You’re a legend.”

Shiro smiled despite the discomfort spreading over him. Suddenly, the attention from the two felt overwhelming. He was just a normal man. He’d had a dream, and the luck to follow it, so he did, and it brought him beyond the solar system. But he’d still been captured. He’d still hurt people. He’d come back broken, physically disfigured, and mentally shattered, and was living with a friend because he couldn’t support himself. Hearing the praise was like dropping vinegar into gaping wounds; agonizing, and a reminder of the ways he was still bleeding.

”Hey, mullet.” Lance tried to reach out and poke Keith on the forehead. Keith was quicker though, and retreated as far back into his seat as he could. Lance kept his hand hovered inches from Keith’s face. Keith slapped it away.

”My name is Keith.” He hissed.

”Yeah, well, do you even know what a mullet is?” He went in for the poke again, and, again, had his hand smacked away.

”No. And it’s a shame I know nothing about popular hair trends during Terran 1980.”

Lance smirked at that.

”You’re right, it is a sh- Hey!” Lance’s fingers twitched and Keith preemptively reached out and dug his nails into the man’s hand. ”Ouch, down kitty! Sheesh. How come you know that but not, like, other things?”

Shiro started to laugh, but covered it up by turning it into a cough.

”Well, Lance,” He interjected, sensing Keith was not up for another round of almost-poking, ”Cultural education is challenging. You pick up some things, but not others.”

”Oh, he’s right though. You’d be surprised what they come here knowing, and what they need to learn.” Hunk popped back into the conversation.

The car settled down again as Hunk launched into tales about misunderstandings surrounding lunch for the Yurp people. Shiro looked over to Keith, whom was then brushing his fingers across the metal where the window meet the sil. His foot rocked back and forth from toes to heels in his boots. The urge to talk to him came much faster than the ability to do it.

”You ok? Did Lance get to you?”

His movements stilled immediately and he turned to faced Shiro. His eyebrows were scrunched almost together. His bottom lip slid in and out beneath the top. There was clear hesitation to him, which was a far cry from the instinctive, reactive movements when Lance had reached for him. Shiro knew he needed to prepare for what Keith would say, when he finally spoke, but he also knew that no amount of preparation was going to soften things.

”Why did you want to go to space?” His voice was raspy and pained. He’d read Shiro fast, without even really knowing him. Or maybe he did know him, more than Shiro realized. Keith was sharper than the edge of a blade, and had a depth that ran beyond what the physical universe could contain. What he said ran short of what he meant, Shiro could tell. What Keith was really asking was why he gave up his life here? Why, when, going out there had lead to what it had? Did you regret it? I regret it for you. I’m so, so sorry. Maybe I could have saved you.

As if Keith could have marched into the throne room and beheaded the emperor where he sat. All because he’d now seen a man that had been on the bad end of the war. A man he only just met.

”It’s not as if we can know the future when we venture out into the unknown.” He chuckled, more to diffuse tension than to bring humor.

He watched Keith bite on the inside of his cheek.

”One day something good will come along that I’ll be glad for everything.” The words were more what he thought he should say. Future him may be able to handle the present difficulties. Maybe future him does find something that made every struggle worth it. Shiro says it because he wants to believe, not because he already does.

 

”Oh man, my legs were to-o-otally falling asleep back there. A few more minutes and you would have had to carry me to camp.” Hunk kicked out each leg alternatively and shook them.

”That wouldn’t have been me, I’m practically jello.” Lance groaned as he wobbled a few steps from the car.

”Ah, come now, you are, as I understand it, still in your youth. You Earthlings are quite an exaggerative bunch.” Coran chuckled from behind them; unloading the trunk of their supplies and bags. Shiro walked over to help.

”Easy for you to say! You had the whole front seat to stretch out!” Lance replied exasperated.

”How was the ride, number 1?” Coran turned to Shiro, handing him the bag of pans to set down.

”Number 1?”

”I’ve ranked you all by height! It’s quite a sight easier to identify you each that way.” He twirled his moustache.

Shiro snorted. That was the most eloquent way he’d ever heard ”I’m bad at remembering names” put.

”Forgive me, I have been far away this whole time,” Allura piped in, pink dusting the skin of her cheeks, ”I do hope it went well. I have just been overloaded with work.”

Shiro smiled and let her know it was ok. She had fallen asleep against the window soon after they had got dinner. It was one thing to adjust to living on a new planet, but something else to do that while helping others do the same. She, and Coran, had needed to learn at the same time they taught. It was no easy task. If her looks and the way she held herself in grace were not enough to speak of her lineage, than her handling of the situation was what crowned her.

 

They set up the tent not far from the van. It was dark and late into the night when they had arrived. Coran had set down the lamp, which, fully-charged, illuminated the whole area around them. The plan was to sleep and then, in the morning, they would pack up and hike their gear to where they would spend the next night and following day. The further from civilization, the better. That’s what Coran had said, anyways. Keith was the first one to agree, and he did so with passion.

 

It made Shiro wonder what his home planet had been like.

”Shiro and I call dibs on Keith!” Matt roped an arm around Keith’s neck. Shiro had to laugh. Hunk and Lance would obviously share a tent. If Keith went with them, there would be no guarantee that Lance wouldn’t insitigate a fight. Shiro had never seen someone ruffle Keith’s fur so much.

Keith looked down at the hand that draped over his chest, but didn’t move it.

 

Shiro didn’t get much sleep. Between thinking about the past, and the softly breathing man next to him, he ended up staring up at the fabric roof of the tent. It was hard to realize how loud city-life was, even in a small town. Out there, the only sound was the barely-there rustle of wind through the leaves. In the summer time, there would be a symphony of crickets chirping. But, as he snuggled into the thick sleeping bag, he was starkly aware of the season.

 

Shiro woke up from the barest veil of sleep, confused as to what roused him. It was a few seconds before he registered the quiet shuffle of feet outside the tent. He used his arms to push himself half-way up. The spot next to him, the one previously occupied by Keith, was empty. A pile of clothing was left on top of the unzipped sleeping bag. His heart sprang quickly to life. The least hazy clouds of sleep were suddenly cleared away. Keith was out there, for some reason, naked. Two forces pulled at his lower half. One required he leave the tent and find a spot away from the camp. The other told him that he could follow after Keith and find a spot from there.

He found a bush not far from camp where he relieved himself. But, instead of heading back to the warmth of the tent, kept walking to where the tracks of boots led.

Now, Shiro had seen the man’s body before. He had needed to cradle Keith against him whilst the man slept out his fever. His family had stripped him of clothes, worried that the sweat would soak them and then make him cold as it retained the moisture against his skin. That had no prepared him for what he saw when he found Keith.

Keith was bare, save for the clunky snow boots that rose a little way up his calves. His hair was loose from its characteristic pleats, and swept against his lower back. He was facing away from Shiro, whom used that fact to stare. Keith’s back was strong, wide for his frame, and muscled. He watched those muscles working as Keith poured a bucket of water high over his head. Shiro dazzedly wondered how the other could manage the cold water, which was likely melted snow. There was steam coming from a small pocket in the snow next to him, which explained the bucket; Keith must have found it, that mini hot spring, and loaded his bucket with snow for it to melt into water. Resourceful.

The part that held Shiro most entranced was the ample, swelling curve of his buttocks, held up by thick and solid thighs. That other force from earlier, the one that had driven Shiro to follow after Keith, like a loyal dog to its master, without thought to how the situation may look or be, had started to return. Shiro wished to have a mantra play inside his head. But there was only static; he had never needed to prepare anything to combat against the gravitational pull of another being like this.

Keith hummed, or, well, it appeared to be so, as Galran sounds strung together as music, and the snow absorbed it, all but the immediate area was silent. It felt like an intimate song played for only their ears. His small hands scooped up snow and scrubbed it against his body, the water washing off with the dirt.

The sun was pink with its breaking into dawn. The light bounced off the snow and Keith was illuminated by a soft glow of it. There was something far too natural, too at home, despite the freezing and snow, about the man. Shed to nearly all but what was nature, there was a quiet vulnerability to him. A vulnerability that made him stronger in Shiro’s eyes. Keith was too terribly secure in ways, that, even naked, both physically and emotionally, made him a solid foundation in an increasingly shifting world. The man was small, and that fact awoke instincts and desires in Shiro that he didn’t know he had, but this man had traveled from galaxies away and was making a life for himself still. Shiro was sure he’d never meet anyone tougher.

As shameful as it felt to stand in the hiding of trees, watching the man bathe, causing stirrings within his own body, he was more ashamed that find himself analyzing Keith like that. Keith was babe; anyone with attraction to men would have impure thoughts. But not everyone would dream of telling secrets and holding hands.

He left before Keith finished his bath. The singing from that raspy voice replayed in his mind as he settled into better sleep. If only a few hours of it.

 

He awoke to Keith’s spot empty again; at least there was no pile of clothing this time. He could heard voices, muffled by the thick canvas of their tent, and the clinking of metal pots and pans. Shiro concluded that Keith was an early riser, and one who put stock in the importance of the first meal.

Matt snored loudly from behind Shiro. He’d always been a heavy sleeper. Shiro remembered all the pranks he would play while the other had just slept through it. The best one he’d done, which had been days before the Kerberos launch, had been building a set that made it look like they were on the ship, with the stars outside the window. It was put together about as well as he could get it, for the garrison not necessarily teaching them crafting, and it spooked Matt for a good few minutes. The first clue had been their lack of spacesuits. Shiro smiled down at him. Not today, but maybe soon, he thought, the two of them would find their humour again.

Chapter Text

Shiro stepped over the sleeping Matt and joined the others outside.

The sun had finally risen all the way into the sky. Though its shine didn’t reach them too well, as it was both behind clouds and had to find its way through gaps in tree branches. The few winter birds, who hadn’t migrated yet, or weren’t going to, tweeted their songs from above.

In a clearing a short distance from their tents, Keith, Coran, and Hunk were preparing breakfast. Keith had his hair thrown up into a bun and was tending to a fire they made in their portable pit. Shiro had to remind himself to breathe as he watched the light of the fire fall upon Keith. He was resting with the weight of himself on his heels, knees bent. As he dropped another log on and leaned forward to breathe into the spaces, Shiro thought he looked content. He looked in his element.

He walked over to them, ignoring the guilt that welled up in his stomach from what happened earlier.

”Oh, good morning, Number 1! We were just about to wake everyone up. Got a long day ahead of us, gotta get your bellies all full of the protein and nutrients we’ll need for our hike up.” Coran sounded like he’d been awake for hours. Shiro could only hope the man hadn’t seen him slip away after one very, very naked Keith.

”Sounds good, Coran. Do you want me to do it, since you made the food?”

”Ah man, that’d be a total help. Thanks!” Hunk called without turning away from the dish he was plating. For a simple eggs, bacon, and pancakes dish, he was taking care with its presentation. Shiro thought it must have been a remnint from his engineering; everything in its place, everything tidy, or else the machine may blownup on you. For all the kindness he radiated, Shiro could feel a perfectionist hanging beneath the surface. Well, he thought, I can relate to that.

 

Allura and Pidge were the easiest to wake. Which was good, because Shiro was not about to go into their tent. For one, he’d just about had his fill of seeing things he shouldn’t. That made him wish he were Catholic, if just so he could beg for forgiveness for spying on Keith. Then, two, he respected that he was a man, and that was a girls-only tent. So, he called out to them from the outside. Allura mumbled a polite thank you, and Pidge just groaned. But at least they were awake.

Shiro was not quite expecting to see Lance with an eyemask over his eyes and large headphones that leaked out the sound of a softly playing violin. Though it made sense. Shiro could tell there was going to be some clashing with Lance on the trip. The car ride had been enough of an introduction to make Shiro weary. Lance was young, and he didn’t seem to understand that there existed other people. While it wasn’t malicious in intent, it did cause a Keith to withdraw a few times.

Waking him up consisted of carefully peeling off the afore mentioned items. Lance groaned and curled on his side, burying his face into the pillow. It took five tries of both shaking his shoulder and calling his name before he opened his eyes.

Shiro tickled Matt’s neck until he awoke with a screech. That was just like old times.

With everyone awake, or at least outside their tents, Shiro made his way to one of the fold-out chairs that had been set up, after grabbing a plate and silverware.

”Hey.” He regarded Keith softly.

”Hi.” Keith paused, fork clutched in his entire hand, prongs facing down, as if it were a knife. It had been halfway to his mouth, a section of pancake speared on the end.

”How’d you sleep?” Shiro asked casually, as if he hadn’t just seen the man naked. As if he hadn’t watched him very closely as his hands slid dow-

”Fine. I like the cold.”

Shiro gulped. Keith sounded none-the-wiser.

”Really? Did you get a lot of snow back home?”

Keith looked down at the fist that still hung in the air and then returned the bite to his plate. His tongue moved in his cheek as he stared forward in contemplation. Shiro had asked a big question, realizing it only too late.

How could this one man get Shiro to disregard all his social graces?

”Mm,” Keith hummed, ”No. It was... hot. Sunny. I lived in a forest, so there was at least water there. But the rest of the planet, where... where the enslaved peoples were, they. They had desert. The Empire was there to drain the planet of its quintessence. I lived in the last area of what was once one of the quadrants most lush, and teeming-with-life planet.”

”I like the Terran country of Sweden.” He said after a pause.

Shiro let him get back to under-hand stabbing at his food, digging into his own plate, if with a bit more socially-accepted table manners.

”Alright, alright everyone. I’m gonna talk while you finish eating. So, your boy Lance here, has got the perfect plan for the day. I am the man with the plan,” he added rhythm to the last statement, ”So. First things first. Nose goes for breakfast duty.”

Hunk, Pidge, and Matt raised their pointer fingers to their noses with lightning speed. Allura and Coran shared a look, before following. Shiro sighed and looked at Keith. His head was tucked low on his chin, and he watched the others with confusion written on his brows.

”Lance.” Shiro scolded. He reached over and closed Keith’s hand into a fist, save the pointer finger, and gently guided it to his nose. That just left Shiro.

”Awww, come on, man. That’s no fair.” Lance whined.

”And choosing a game where you know that three of us aren’t going to get it is fair?”

Lance opened his mouth, like he was ready to retort, but must have realized there was no defense.

”You can let go of my hand now.” Keith spoke quietly, reminding Shiro that, yeah, he still had his hand around the other’s fist. He dropped it as if it had been set on fire. Keith blinked at him, putting down the hand, and rubbing it inside his other. Something was passing through his mind. Shiro just didn’t know what.

”Now that dish duty is figured out, Hunk, Pidge, and I will take care of rounding up our supplies. Allura,” he winked and blew a kiss at her, earning him a scoff, ”Babe, how about you divide up who carries what. Use your awesome diplomatic skills and all. Matt and Coran, you take down the tents.”

”Hey, what about me?” Keith sounded prepared for a fight.

”You, mullet, can do the dishes with Shiro. You didn’t technically win.”

But, he didn’t rise to it.
Shiro was actually glad that Keith would join him. He’d just opened up about his planet. Maybe Shiro could get a conversation going that was more than a few sentences.

 

"What was it called? Your planet." Shiro scooped up a handful of snow and dropped it on the plate. Friction would take care of it once he started scrubbing.

"Solvein. I wasn't born there though. My mom got relocated." Keith busied his hands with washing.

If Keith was going to offer more information than he asked for, he figured it might be safe to try more questions. Shiro felt out of his element but Keith was a welcomed risk.

"Was she a Blade?"

He watched Keith tense up and was just about to apologize when he replied.

"Yeah. We, uh, might have lost her on a mission. They took me in after. They didn't have to. I was really more of a liability. Being... Well. How I look. Uh, so. I owe them a lot."

"You're more valuable than you're giving yourself credit for."

The sound of glass hitting on glass made Shiro look over. Keith scrambled to catch the plate that slipped off the pile. His eyes were wide, he looked confused and in disbelief.

"I was top student at the Garrison. From there they made me something of a leader. I graduated and became an officer. Out of all the pilots, I was the one chosen for the Kerberos mission. Keith," he placed down the items in his hands and came up beside the other, "I know talent when I see it. You would have been one of the greatest assests on our team. Don't sell yourself short."

Keith took an audibly shaky breath and turned towards him.

Shiro took a greater risk.

He drew Keith into his arms and cradled the back of his head in a hand. Keith had never looked smaller to Shiro, whose hand was the size of Keith's head. He expected Keith to shove him off. He didn't expect for those arms to wrap their way around him. Or for Keith to bury his face against his chest.

Everything stopped around him.

The strong smell of dish soap evaporated in favor of the scent of pine trees and fire. Shiro's vision acted like a camera that had focused itself around the small man in his arms; all else was blurry at best. His fingers moved before he could make a concious decision to not, and the hair beneath was smoother than the finest silk, and impossibly soft. The sweet songs of the birds played soundtrack to the moment. The only thing missing was the taste of Keith on his tongue. He could only muse what that would be like.

Their embrace lasted until they could hear voices approaching. The untangling was slow though, and Shiro could see that Keith was loathe for the moment to end. His eyes, their striking shade of violet, held gaze with his. They communicated things beyond language.

"'Sup, slackers! Everyone else is done, so we're gonna help you. Seems Mullet doesn't even know how to clean."

"It's Keith." he hissed.

But, to his suprise, they all rolled up their sleeves and helped them finish. Shiro tried too, but he couldn't make his way outside of his head. This time, it was in joy.

 

"Yes, yes, good. We seem to be making splendid time, despite a small lapse in productivity," Coran sent an obvious wink at Keith, who snorted at the banter, and the sparkle in his eye held mirth, "Number 3 here tells me there's a clearing a few miles upwards. Number 5 will handle the Global Positioning Device, just in case we find ourselves meandering from our intended route."

They left the folding chairs in the van. Hunk and Shiro had been given most of the weight of their supplies. Though, Keith became adamant to take more. Shiro laughed as Keith shocked everyone by lifting him clean off the ground and over his head. He didn’t know what to expect when it came to Keith, but that certainely was a Keith move. Strength settled, they re-divided the weight. Keith took the dishes in his sack, Shiro took two fold-out tents, and Hunk carried the self-sealing, vaccuum seal bags with their sleeping bags. Lance was designated food and snack holder. The other three took the odds-and-ends, like matches and solar-powered chargers and stations.

The first half hour was spent in chatter. Hunk talked about an initiative within the Ambassador’s agency to have human families host their clients for a week or so. This way, they could get a feel for life on Earth, have an immersion in the culture of day-to-day living, and make new contacts that they could hang out with and ask questions of. It was barely beyond the planning stages, though, so he said that he couldn’t say more.

”I’m not looking for specifics, but how do you manage working both your jobs?” Shiro asked.

”Someone’s been hanging around the Holts-” Hunk chuckled when Pidge landed a punch on his arm, ”But thank you, yknow, for respecting that. Uh, well, let’s see. I’m usually able to get work done when I’m at the Garrison. Perks of being the lead engineer is that I’m more of the design guy. I look over everyone’s work, though. But there’s usually gaps between when the team needs me, so I use that time to handle what Allura needs. Most of the species who make it here are familiar with tech, so, I communicate by phone and e-mail. Except when the situation requires a presence out in the field.”

The various people in the group all traded off who talked to whom. Shiro learned that Allura felt strange on Earth, that she missed her father and her home planet, Altea, but she felt purpose in helping others settle. She sent sideways glances towards Keith, stating that not she didn’t necessarily feel like everyone belonged. He took it to mean that she didn’t like Galra. Though he defended them by telling her about Ulaz, who rescued him from captivity. She kept stubborn, but gave the impression she would consider the information.

Pidge, Hunk, and Lance joked around and chatted, their laughter was loud against the otherwise quiet caused by the snow’s sound insulation. Matt ocassionally joined them, though mostly it was to add tidbits that would embarass his sister. More than once the siblings wrestled each other into snowbanks. Unfortunately for Pidge, who was not so blessed in height, it meant Shiro, the tallest, had to wade over and scoop her out. She got soaked all over and had to activate the heating system in her jacket. Shiro was awed by that addittion, and she cited having just made it last week.

Keith remained quiet as he trailed after the others. When Coran noticed, he passed on the leading to Pidge, and fell behind to talk with Keith. They spoke hushedly and Shiro couldn’t make anything out.

When they fell into silence, each going into their own minds as the physical exhaustion from hours of hiking and gaining elevation, Pidge called for them to stop.

Her eyes must have been really good, Shiro thought, because she let them know there was a cabin in the clearing to their right. There were a few logs already there and Shiro and Keith could chop some more. She’d come get them when they found and settled into camp.

Shiro looked at Pidge. Her eyes were bright with determination and certainty. That she would be able to find them again, and navigate back to the camp, was quite a feat. But if she believed herself capable, he would also.

The two split from the group. They looked at each other and then to the scenery around them.

From out here, Shiro could appreciate the sky. It was interesting how the stars shown brightly once more, now that he was grounded. After Keith’s display of superhuman strength, it was decided he would accompany Shiro in gathering wood for the fire. Which meant that Shiro was mostly just watching Keith thwack the axe into the tree. There was, after all, only one axe. It would follow that one of the would have to just collect up the stray twigs and kindling.

Of course, that wasn’t the only thing following. Shiro’s eyes watched Keith from the corner of his vision. The man had worked up a sweat and shed his jacket and upper layers. Citing that sweating would let to hypothermia, he chose to keep to task shirtless. Shiro, sad as he was to admit it, was content with that conclusion.

The muscles underneath skin displayed their contractions and release as Keith commanded their shift to swing the axe. It was elegant to watch from behind; no muscle worked in isolation, and Shiro stared as the system of Keith’s body displayed its work before him.

He was beginning to abandon shame for his admirations. The entirety of Keith was an alluring song that he was helpless to scream against. There was an inevitability to the pull of his attention toward the man. Rather than fight it, he began to ask himself if he should try and reach the singularity that was Keith before the slow orbit drove him mad.

He lost himself to thinking, disturbed only when Keith wiped the sweat from his forehead with his arm, and set down the axe.

”Keith.” The sounding of the name was slow, as if it were flowing through the same honey that coated Keith’s voice.

Keith? Now, he was an alien. Whatever parts of him were human, seemed to be just flesh. But, and he couldn’t be sure why, his voice must have communicated something. Keith lowered the axe to the ground.

”You’ve been staring at me all day.” There it was, that rasp that made Shiro want to drop to his knees and-

”Yeah, I- I guess I have.”

Keith ran a hand absently over his stomach, as if just now feeling exposed. More likely, Shiro thought, the air was cooling his sweat. His ribcage expanded to its full width as he drew in a breath. Shiro’s eyes made a careful glance at the twin nubs of brown. They were pebbled. The culprit could have equally been heat as it could have been cold. Shiro had an obvious preference.

Keith was confident. He was the quiet sort of confident that didn’t need establishing. One look from the violet eyes and it was clear who dominated the situation. Men went to war of people like Keith.

For every bit of independence and confidence, Keith, messing with the braid that had fallen over his shoulder, looked shy. For the first time, Shiro saw an uncertainty there. He realized how little he knew of this man. But, as he walked the man backwards, until his back came against a tree, he threw out that voice of reason.

Chapter Text

Keith scrambled to retrieve his clothes from where they’d been discarded in the debacle. He’d been able to hear the crunching of snow, before the light from her lamp had reflected across the field of snow and reached into the cabin. The whole thing had been a quick decision to not make decisions; he trusted Shiro enough to give in to instincts. Keith barely knew the man, but something about him put the otherwise cautious-to-trust Keith at ease,

”Uhm. We should talk about this, later. When the others are asleep.” It was comforting to hear Shiro sound just as overtaken as him. There was nothing accusatory in the tone, no hints of regret, that Keith could read, but instead it sounded like an honest desire to talk. After feeling how one kiss had seared away all the aches inside him, Keith was inclined to agree that there was a conversation to be had there.

In the mean time, Shiro and him fumbled their way into the many layers of clothing. Keith hopped on one leg, trying to pull up the thick, crinckling fabric of his snow pants. Shiro had put his jacket on only to realize it was inside out.

Keith was thankful for having lots of practice with braiding, and his fingers flew through reweaving his hair into something neat.

Nothing could be done about the undoubtible fire blazing beneath his cheeks, nor the too-fast expansion and contraction of his chest, but he could convince himself, and hopefully, then, Pidge, that it was simple exhaustion from chopping the wood.

”Keith? Shiro?” She called out to them.

Their gazes fell into each others. Shiro brushed back a stray lock of hair from Keith’s face, letting his knuckles drag slowly along a cheek as it did so. Keith’s breath hitched.

”You look beautiful.” And Shiro never looked softer.

”We’re in here.” Shiro called back.

Pidge greeted them with a wide smile on her face, nearly breathless in disbelieving laughter.

”I did it you guys. Look, I found you!”

Keith raised his closed fist so she could ”pound it”, as she had put it when he was introduced to the gesture.

”Well done Pidge! Glad to have you on the team out here.” Shiro also reached out a fist.

She buzzed with energy that came out in the form of rambling, as she navigated them back to the camp. Keith admired how she could be so energetic, after having made the treck to get them and back to the camp again. The sun was completely set at that point. The moon was not shining in the sky. It left a perfect view of the stars through tree tops. Keith noticed that Shiro would often slow down, lost in whatever thoughts the stars brought him. Keith, admired the view too, still not familiar with all the stars from this side of the universe.

He lost track of what Pidge said, catching only pieces here and there about unknown tech and machinery.

 

The others were gathered around a fire pit, which had some smaller pieces of wood and sprinklings of kindle. Keith and Shiro set their earnings down next to the pit. Allura and Coran greeted them, but Matt, Hunk, and Lance were engaged in some squabble over starting the fire. Lance struck match after match against the matchbox. The flame erupted but blew out the second he moved it.

”Ok, who put these in the snow? These have to be wet. Guys.” Lance whined and tossed the empty box on top of the pile of used matches.

”Hey, uh, don’t look at me. I handled the food.” Hunk had both palms raised in front of himself, defending from the fight building in Lance’s demeanor.

”Oh, hey look, it’s Keith. Keith darling,” Matt hopped up from the log he’d been sitting on and put a pack of matches into Keith’s hand, ”Please save us from this ineptitude.”

Keith chuckled and knelt down in front of the pit. He slid the box open and plucked out a single match, drawing it quick against the brown strip of the strike on the box. The small tip sparked to life. He cupped a hand around the flame, lowering it slowly to the loose kindle, and released it. It caught instantly and burst the pile to life.

Lance stammered out about it not being fair, and that his matchbox has to have gotten wet, but Keith ignored it in favor of warming his hands by the fire. Matt scooted the log to tap against the backs of Keith’s heels, prompting him to sit down. He muttered a quiet thanks. Another weight sank onto the log beside him. He knew it was Shiro.

”Alright then, well done number 4! Looks like we just needed your touch.”

”Ok Mullet, you made the fire, big deal. Bet you can’t make a good s’more.”

”I don’t even know what that is.” Keith sighed. Lance wouldn’t hear anything more of it. It was a competition, he’d decided and nothing would sway him. Keith would have to make a ”sh-more”

The treat was suprisingly easy to make. He knew just where to hold his marshmallow over the fire, and how long to keep it on. That made Lance scream and demand they make another one. The same thing happened again. Keith rose to the challenge five more times, until Shiro stepped in and called it off. He had to agree though, because Lance was losing every time. In fact, everyone else joined in the last few times, but Keith still won. His marshmallows always came out a nice, light brown, and hot enough to be gooey, and melt the chocolate, but not burnt.

They tasked him with cooking the hotdogs, while the rest of them set up for dinner. When they finished eating, Coran declared they needed to have a bonding activity. Lance volunteered immediately.

”I was camp counselor for like, the past 7 years. Trust me, I know what I’m doing.”

Keith didn’t trust him.

But, as it turned out, he did know what he was doing. Lance led them in a song. It was silly to Keith’s ears, but from the laughter it brought the others, he figured it was meant to. He must have looked and sounded as confused as he was, because Shiro helped him with pronunciation.

 

Pidge led them around, Hunk identified some species, of what lived through the winter anyway, and Lance goaded Keith into an ice water swim, after which they retreated to a natural hot spring, which Lance had found. Coran kept sending him looks, thinking something that Keith didn’t understand.

It went unspoken that Shiro amd he would talk when they were home.

 

Perhaps the hardest part of everything for Keith, was acting like nothing was different as he settled into the tent that night. He tried to vanish thoughts of warmth and connection with the man resting a few feet away from him. They hadn’t talked about it, but when Pidge had come for them, and they’d collected themselves in haste, an unspoken ”we need to hold this off” was communicated. There would be time enough to speak about it, in the comfort of being in a place where either could run away. Or, Keith, at least. The last thing he wanted was to try pretending he wasn’t rejected on top of getting intimate with Shiro, not while he was stuck up on the mountain.

When he’d tossed in his sleep, enough to frustrate even himself, he threw off the top of the sleeping bag and left the tent. When the cold air greeted his face, caressing his cheek, he felt a need swallow his throat closed. Fingers worked down zippers and buttons, shedding the clothing that had begun to suffocate him. The night felt great against his skin.

He draped the clothing on one of the logs they’d used for sitting on. Keith realized that his heat was not far off then.

”Excuse me, number 4. I have it on good authority that bothering you in this state will not bring apprehenshion, but, to be cautious, I would like to ask if I may have your company?”

There was a small part of him that expected the interaction.

”Thanks, Coran. I- yeah. That sounds nice.” Keith felt many things. Many things required his body to move and do things. But all he could manage was a soft chuckle. ”You’ve done your research.”

”I knew a galra, back in the day. He was a great man. Maybe a bit misguided, and prone to blinding by the light of love. But great,” he stroked the edges of his moustache, the corners of his mouth lifting up gently, ”I’d attended many a’ bathing ceremony back then. You must excuse me though, I don’t have any oils nor grooming tools. If it’s quite alright with you, I’d like to remain clothed. We Alteans are a bit different in that regard.”

”Sure, whatever makes you comfortable.” Keith set down next to his clothes.

Coran sat down besides him. He reached out and stroked a hand from the top of his head to the base.

”Why don’t you tell me what’s happened while I fix your hair?” His hand hovered over Keith’s shoulder, his body turned towards him but his face away. Keith was really impressed; the man had not been making light of his cultural knowledge. Keith extended his left hand over his chest and brought Coran’s hand down to his shoulder. The man hummed, waiting for Keith to release his hand, whom did so a few seconds later, and then moved to untie the thick braid.

”You can smell it, huh?”

Coran hummed his ascent.

”I- well... it wasn’t- he just... Shiro. He was staring. I just felt like maybe. But then, also there was no way, so why not? So, I asked him. And,” Keith tapped an eyebrow with pointer and middle finger, ”Well, you can smell it.”

”Aye, number 4. I can. So, I need to ask-”

”It was consentual! I didn’t go into heat, Coran.” He huffed. He wasn’t frustrated with the other, nor did he detect ill-intent. But the thought that either he or Shiro had done something like... that... was enough to bring him to snip.

”I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to imply otherwise,” Coran nuzzled his nose against his cheek in apology, ”I just wanted to check-in.”

”Thanks, Coran. I’m... happy? I think. Maybe. I’m gonna talk with him when we get back. I don’t think either of us want to get into it up here. It’s.. a lot to go through. I have a lot to think over.”

The feeling of fingers twining his hair was grounding. Silence took over them but it felt like an opportunity to allow him to think, rather than lack of conversation. The interaction was comforting for Keith; he’d been out of his element since he’d left home on Friday morning for work. Coran wasn’t exactly Galra, but he’d done enough to be a comfort to him. From the touches to the body language, the man was implementing a typical display of tending to one who was vulnerable. It was something like, ... almost like... definetly not unlike... a father.

”Do you ever feel... out of place here?” Keith had gotten back in his clothing, the cold going from pleasent to numbing. The thing about being numb was that it still felt just as nice, but he wouldn’t notice his body shutting down. He was half-Galra, not half-Invulnerable.

”I’ll tell you a secret. All the time.”

Keith took a moment to consider.

”What would they do about it on Altea?”

”Well, number 4, a hug might not be out-of-place.”

They hugged. They hugged longer than humans would. They hugged longer than Galra would. Keith had a feeling the hug lasted beyond what even Alteans felt comfortable with. But they were two beings, surrounded by nothing but aliens. And for that? The hug was just the right amount of time.

 

The first morning he woke up back at home, Keith was confused. His eyes opened but lazily rolled from section to section of the room. His vision was blurry, and the magnetic pull of his eyelids was hard to fight. To counter this, he threw his eyes open as wide as they would get. This was in the hopes that each lid would forget about the other; maybe they’d gain their independence, and would soon find each on a dating page on tbe net. The right side would be harder to separate, he mused, as the very things were drawing ever more closed. His eyebrows bunched and raised the skin between them.

”Keith.”

He knew that voice. As the person, the man, came into his struggling vision, Keith noticed that he knew the man, too.

”Your eyes are rolling in their sockets and you appear to be lathargic, I am concerned. Will you please respond to me?”

Keith must not have, because a few more blinks, (possibly longer than blinks, maybe he’d closed his eyes and drifted back to sleep), and there were suddenly more men in his vision. One of them was poking and pawing at him, the first one that had spoke, and he seemed to be checking something.

Thoughts came to him slow, traveling through the medium of water.

”Ulaz?” His throat scraped itself, it was raw from dryness, to make the name.

”Keith, what happened?” Ulaz looked calmer than he sounded.

”I’m not sure, I just feel. Mm... funny. Tired.”

He rubbed his face in his hands. Sitting up was difficult, the fabric of his duvet tangled between his legs. Someone’s hands went to support his back. Another placed a cup of water to his lips. Keith wanted to scoff and shoo away his impromptu attendants but he lacked the energy. So he tilted his head back and drank.

”I’m fine. Please stop now.”

Everyone but Ulaz and Kolivan left.

”Kit, we believe you are about to go into heat. We have tried to build you your nest in your sleep, but you were still fitfull.”

Oh. He was now the only bearer. The members that had come with were mostly seed-producing, though there were two non-propogaters. There were going to be some things that Keith would have to deal with himself. He hoped his family knew more about heats than most seed-producers. It was getting rarer for his type to be born. The concerns of living as a bearer, and the experiences of heats, were usually far from others minds; at least, until their own ruts drove them to coupling. It was difficult being a bearer, and only made him feel that much more separate, of an other.

”Thanks. I appreciate it. But- Shiro, I- you wouldn’t know. I’ll need something from him.” Keith ran his fingers along the blanket covering his lap, his eyes fixed on the pattern. He wasn’t ready to have that conversation just yet.

They gave him the day off from work. Keith was glad to stay inside and rest up. He re-arranged the short wall of blankets, towels, and clothing around him. During his heats, he was a big nester. The rest of his family would likely come home to a re-decorated house. Once he started, there was little to stop him. But he still took his time, letting the scents in the fabrics fill him up with comfort and the feeling of protection.

Keith wished desperately for something of Shiro’s, and mentally berated himself for not asking.

He patted around the floor for his phone, figuring he could always text him. That would be better than nothing.

Hey, he typed and sent it off with a text smiley face.

Shiro responded quickly. That made Keith smile. They hadn’t had a talk yet about what happened in that cabin, and it did worry him that things would change (for the worse). Though they’d only just met, something about Shiro made Keith feel like they’d been friends for a very long time.

Shiro asked if Keith wanted to meet up later that day. Keith sucked in a breath, because that was both the best and worst suggestion. The fog of his heat was breathing on his skin and in his head. Gone were the days he would have lost control, being the fully-matured Galra that he was, but it still made it hard to not listen to instinct over reason. Shiro was gorgeous, and Keith had already given his body once.

He made a closed-mouth scream and bent forward to scrub his face through the sheets.

He needed to smell Shiro right now.

He’d been so foolish to get intimate during pre-heat, because the sounds, the smells, the sights, were screaming through all of his senses to be replayed.

His stomach made a noise and he figured breakfast couldn’t be so bad. He sent the suggestion off to Shiro along with asking for him to bring an extra sweater or hoodie for Keith to borrow. No Terran clothing was more comfortable than the ”hoodie”. Keith felt giddiness build up in his chest at the thought of bundling up in one of Shiro’s.

Keith opened his phone.

That’s a great idea, K. I’m getting dressed and heading over. See you in an hour. -Shiro

: D Cool. See you soon. -Keith

 

Looking in the mirror, Keith was grateful to have the time to get ready. He hadn’t been able to wash away the forest yet. He’d come home too exhausted, with too much to process, and the beginnings of heat washing over him, so he’d went straight to sleep. His hair was rumpled from tossing in his sleep. If there were any doubts on his heat, they quickly disolved when he stripped down. Pink had spread underneath his skin, some parts flushing red.

The stream felt much warmer now that he had experienced snow. The water was comforting around him. He hummed a traditional song he had learned from the mother who had helped him through his first heat. The words were a prayer for fertility and celebration of birth. It was something to meditate on, the woman had told him, whilst the pain curved our bodies around themselves. The meaning had been long lost on Keith, but he still sang it whenever he went into heat. Now that he was so far away, he treasured every bit of culture, tradition, and practice that made him the Galra he was. Nobody would take his heritage from him, he would make sure of that.

He cleaned himself with the water, lathering up a bar of soap that he made last week. He’d put some mint plant into it, enjoying the refreshing smell of the herb. The oils he used for his hair were the ones specifically reserved for heat. Their perfumes were more earthy and subtle, so as to let his natural scent be more prominent. He blushed beneath his cheeks, wondering how Shiro was going to react to smelling him in full heat. Keith might not be the only one needing reigning in.

Waiting for Shiro, Keith ended up tidying up the kitchen. There were some stray bowls on the counter from breakfast. He smiled softly, knowing they had only been left because it gave Keith something to do that eased things. After they were cleaned and put away, he went about the house to survey it. Shiro would arrive sooner than he’d be able to do anything, but having a plan was a good way to occupy himself. Just as with the bowls, there were small bits of messes about, of things that normally everyone took care of before leaving to work or bed time. Each one was so obviously placed on purpose, it was all concious decision. Their love for him made his chest ache.

Shiro pulled up to the shack. Keith was waiting outside, having received the text that told him the other was almost there. His throat felt dry. The man left the car and walked up to him. Shiro’s jaw, which was strong and square, saw stubble growing there. Keith must have been caught staring because Shiro rubbed it with his hand.

”Sorry, I, uh. Just woke up when I got your message. Kind of forgot to shave until I was half-way here.”

Keith had to swallow a few times before his voice would work.

”No! I mean, it looks gre- it looks good. Good. I mean, it’s alright. You didn’t have to sha- let’s go. To the restaurant.” If his feet stumbled the same he’d just done over words, he’d fall flat on his face. But Shiro, ever patient, just smiled at him. It was the soft type of smile that was accompanied by a tender look in the eyes. A large hand came slowly down on his shoulder. He reached up to squeeze it.

”So, I bet you’re sick of the places around the cafe,” Keith groaned and nodded, ”Then, I’m gonna take you somewhere else. Matt showed me a place the other day, it’s right off the highway. Best crépes in the whole area.”

”Sounds good.”

They loaded into the car. Shiro’s shoulder jumped up a bit and he apologized to Keith. Reaching behind the seat, his arm came back with a black hoodie around it. He handed it to Keith, whose eyes had gone wide. Keith snatched it off, with more gusto than he was proud to admit, and buried it around the lower half of his face. Inhaling deeply, a soft groan escaped him. He could feel his lids drooping over his eyes. Beside him, Shiro laughed lowly in his chest.

Keith unbuckled himself and slipped the hoodie on, bringing his arms up to his face, so he could still drown in the scent.

”Well thanks, I’m flattered you feel that way. Now, let’s go get some food.”

 

The restaurant was made from all wood, a rarity for most buildings Keith had seen. The inside was comfortable, hosting both table and booth seating. He was relieved when Shiro scooted into a booth. The lighting over it was dim. A fireplace held a burning fire in the corner. The smell of cinammon and sugar hung in the air. They were sitting by the window and Keith could see his breath when he brought his forehead to the cool glads. Though he was surrounded by nothing but comforts, he did remember their need to talk.

”How are you feeling?” Shiro’s voice was quiet and almost soft enough that Keith missed it.

”I’m ok. A little sleepy. You?”

”About the same. I just sort of crashed when I got home.”

The waitress came over and greeted them. She handed them their menus, all the while going over the specials of the day. She was peppy but genuine as she took their orders.

Keith was starving and glad there was only one other couple there. By the looks of their table, they had been there awhile. Their food should come fast then, he reasoned. He couldn’t wait to devour those waffles.

”So... Keith,” whom stiffened at hearing his name, ”I was wondering if we could talk about.. what happened this weekend. If you feel comfortable enough right now.”

”Sure.” He said because it felt like the thing that he should say.

”I don’t regret it. It was good. You were good. I just didn’t mean to go that far without talking to you first.”

”Yeah, I wasn’t really thinking either.”

”Well, since the cats out of the- uh. You know now. How I feel, now. I was kind of hoping...” his fingers took hold of a packet of sugar and began to turn it over, ”Keith, I. You’re pretty special. I was hoping that we could date.”

Keith pursed his lips. He liked Shiro. A lot. But he wasn’t understanding.

”Date what?”

He chuckled nervously before clarifying.

”Oh, you are asking to court me?” His stomach felt as bubbly as the fizz in a soda beverage. ”Shiro, yes. I- yeah. I accept.”

”Oh.” He looked like that answer was unexpected. ”Cool.”

”Cool.” Keith repeated, tucking back a strand of hair that fell as he ducked his head.

They were silent until their food came out. It wasn’t uncomfortable, rather, the quiet was contemplative. The build up of nerves in Keith had set him on edge. The energy was no longer nervous, but it was still welled inside him. Glancing at Shiro, he could see the same; from the fidgeting of fingers, to the fight against a stupid grin. The later stirred up feelings in Keith, ones that had nothing to do with lust or heats.

The waffles were fantastic. Keith said as much. Which prompted Shiro to ask ifthis was his first time having any. When he affirmed, Shiro took to his phone to find a recipe that he could use or share with his family. Waffles were simple enough to make. Though they required a special type of iron. Shiro told him he could borrow the Holt’s, when he was ready to try making them.

Their plates were long emptied and stacked in between them at the table, before they realized they were in the way. Shiro left a tip of 50%, utterly embarassed that they had lost themselves in talking. Keith learned how Shiro lost his arm. He told Shiro more of life on Solvein. How Keith wanted to go back and help the people there. He wanted to see how they faired, now that the Empire had fallen. He hoped to work with scientists to rebuild the ecosystem. Shiro asked him about schooling, and if Keith would have studied anything like they have on Earth. Keith gave a sad smile, saying he read whenever he couldn’t sneak out on a mission. There wasn’t much for him to do from the base. So, he read. He liked nature, and the stars.

 

Shiro returned him home when the sun had already set. He had drove Keith around, showing him more of the area. Keith hadn’t ventured out much that way; he’d found expansive desert landscapes and that was where he took the hoverbike when he went. They parted with an innocent kiss, having decided earlier that they would take things slow. Shiro cradled his face in a large palm, eyes gleeming with emotions that had no business being there, not for how short they’d known each other. Keith tried not to think on it, knowing that his body language was communicating that same tenderness.

He walked through the door, greeting the buzzing crowd in their kitchen. He was questioned if he was alright. Kolivan looked down at the hoodie he had swimming around him and sent a look. They would talk later.

Keith felt something turn in his stomach and ran to their wastebin, and threw up.

Chapter Text

It had been a full week, and his heat hadn’t come. The sweats and disorientation had, however, and waking up had become something of a journey through several dimensions. Keith tripped on his own footing, crashing into the wall, on several occassions. Regris had joked that they should pad him in cushions, or perhaps the Terran thing known as bubbled wraps. Keith had responded that he only wanted that so that the bubbles would pop as he fell. Even he had to laugh at the mental image of himself, popping the wrapping as he went about the shack.

The humor aside, Keith’s heats were never so bad, much less pre-heats. He had already been deep in pre-heat when they went camping. Coran had confirmed as much by identifying the scent he was giving off.

The idea hit him with little mercy.

”Ulaz, I think the condom broke.”

Ulaz choked on the sip of coffee he’d just taken.

”Good morning to you as well, Keith.” He pounded his fist against his chest, still giving the occassional cough.

”Sorry, I just.. thought of it now.” Keith pressed cheeks with him. He was glad Kolivan was at the Garrison already. Of any of them, Ulaz would be the most understanding and supportive. If the suspiscion proved to be true, then that was exactly what he’d be needing.

Ulaz finished the rest of his coffee in two, large gulps. Keith felt bad for interupting his breakfast. But, when he said as much, Ulaz waved him off. He was glad to have another lead on what was ailing Keith, and the thought had not occurred to him before. He told Keith to wait in the kitchen while he collected his medical supplies. He was going to examine Keith.

Keith plopped onto the chair like gravity had suddenly increased tenfold. His upperbody draped over the table. His heart was frantic in his chest, but he tried to control it with slow, deep breaths. Things had been going well Shiro. Better than any other relationship he’d had before. But they were still new to it, and to each other. The thought of carrying his child right then was daunting. There was no way, Keith argued with himself, that could be the case. He was worrying for nothing. There were so many human diseases and illnesses that he might have caught along the way. As they had discovered before, his reactions would be different. So, as Ulaz came in and set down a bag, he concluded that the man would find something Terran.

Ulaz ran through the vitals.

Keith couldn’t help but muse that even though he’d had his body his entire life, that he’d been through so many heats, he had no idea how pregnancy worked. Why, he questioned, had no one pulled him aside? Why hadn’t someone explained it to him? Did they not know? Did they not care? What if Ulaz only knew because he was practiced medicine, and so he had to know? That thought made his blood feel cold. Bearers may be rare, but the whole population should know how their species births.

”Ulaz, how does it work?”

”Kit?”

”I know nothing about...,” he pressed a palm to the swell of his womb, ”this.”

”Well, first we must establish that ’this’ is the source of your ailement. But, as we wait for the read-out, feel free to ask questions. I must say I am suprised there is mystery.”

Keith searched his face for any signs of sarcasm or joking. But there was nothing to say the other was taking him lightly. If Ulaz believed he would have already learned about his body, then the others would have to. Perhaps everyone had thought the same thing; why teach him what he already knew? But if that thought was held by everyone, then no one would take the time to explain.

If he did end up being pregnant, then he had a lot of catching up to do when it came to his body.

 

 

Their quaint little shack was about to become the cleanest it had ever been.

Agitation buzzed it’s way all throughout Keith’s body. His toes tapped and curled when he stopped moving. He shifted weight from hip-to-hip. The scar tissue built up within his cheeks was becoming tender under his teething. His legs ached with the need to walk; anywhere, nowhere, just go. Keep going. He’d walk into a room and promptly the thoughts dropped as if they’d been left at the doorway. But he didn’t mind. It was good for him, actually. Forgetting his task made for an excuse to wander to another room, in the name of trying to remember. He’d washed his hands about three times then, putting away some dishes, only to be pulled away to something else to do in another room, to return again. The energy he left about was manic. It permeated the room, so thick in its intensity that it would choke anyone else besides him. Counter were wiped. He took several trips to and from the stream, to wash clothing and then bring it back to by hung on their clothing ropes.

If he stopped to cry here and there, if the verbal confirmation of his pregnancy, which had been a wild guess to start with, were indulged in, then the full weight of it would drop on him. So didn’t stop. Not to cry. Not to think.

He cleaned.

And he cleaned.

And then he cleaned.

Until there was no more left to clean, at which point, he buried himself inside the bedding on his spot on the floor. Though he hadn’t removed Shiro’s hoodie, the scent had long since lost itself to the pungent lemon of wood oils and dish soap. He fell asleep, all too ready for a blank mind.

 

Keith dreamed of touch, of hands that were gentle and hands that weren’t. He awoke marginally better than he had the day prior, but still there was a sense of being lost. There was dizziness, and he wasn’t even upright. He’d been blinking away sleep when a roll of his stomach caused him roll sideways, pulling himself up on shaky arms, if just for the vomit not to choke him.

He’d only been... pregnant... a week a day. Hot, frustrated tears burned trails down cheeks, and he could almost imagine them singing the wooden floorboards. How could sickness take him on so fast? He shook as another heave ripped through him. Was it stress? Was there something else? There were no mothers around with Galran blood to ask.

The dream hadn’t helped, that he knew. It had been so long that those scars had healed over, so long that he had forgotten they were there.

Breathing was difficult, as was pulling himself to his feet, but the only other option was to rest his head in his own vomit, so he gritted his teeth and eased his weight up. He stumbled close to the wall, to be able to use that support himself, and shuffled to the kitchen for a glass of water,

Pregnant. He tested out the thought a few times.

”I-i’m pregnant.” He spoke lowly to the empty shack. It didn’t feel real.

He looked down at his stomach, with its smooth curve around his womb. Tenatively, he brought his palm to the spot.

”It’s gonna be ok, ok? I- we- your father and I will figure it out. It’s ok.” He whispered but the words felt more for himself. Fuck, he cursed, realizing he’d have to tell Shiro. He could only imagine how that was going to play out; ’Oh, hi, Shiro. I know you just started courting me but remember the other weekend? Yeah, the cabin. Right. Great times. So, uh, turns out, and this is funny because who would expect it, right? Ha, well, so, Ulaz ran some tests and wow, man, I’m fertile. Would you believe that? So, the cabin. Yeah. Well, the condom broke. And, did I mention Ulaz’s tests said I’m fertile? Suprise, I’m pregnant. It’s yours. Uh. I’m pregnant with your child. I don’t really know you but uh, well, part of you is growing in me now. And it’s a baby. We’re having a baby.

We’r- I’m having a baby.

He thunked his forehead on the table.

Fuck.
I’m having a baby.

 

He woke up to the kitchen filling with voices. A warm palm cupped his shoulder. He groaned, feeling the creases caused by the table on his head as he lifted it.

”Have you eaten?” The voice was Kolivan’s.

Keith groaned again, clicking his tongue between his bottom lip and teeth.

Behind him was the sound of a cabinet opening and items shifted around. A soft gasp overtook him as something was placed beside him. He spoke, it warranted as much, even if his throat was raw.

”A crystal fruit? Where? How?”

”That friend of yours, the diplomat, was gifted this. Who, in turn, gifted it to us. Whomever those people are, they know much about us.”

Keith hummed. He had nearly mistaken the Terran fruit called pomegranate for a crystal fruit when he had first seen one. But, when he had ripped one open in haste, the seeds of their fruit was a deep red. Crystal fruit had gotten their name for the translucent seeds beneath the brownish-red skin on the outside. The taste was negligeble, but the fruit caused the consumer feelings of comfort. Due to this it was often baked into pies and other pastries alongside a more tasteful fruit.

”My mom used to make pies with these.” He turned the fruit inside his palms.

”My sister did, didn’t she?” Ulaz wore a soft and longing expression.

”Mmm, yeah, she- wait! Ulaz, you’re...” The sharpness of his turn made his head swim.

The other regarded him gently, with his pointer finger swiping the fullness of his bottom lip. Later, the gesture said.

 

The first talking to came from Kolivan. He began the conversation with concern, asking after Keith’s well-being, and the nature of the encounter that led to his condition. But it was quick to become a lecture. It wasn’t one of anger, it was worse, it was of disappointment.

”Little Kit,” and Keith was prompted enough to know to keep silent, ”I am concerned for your recklesness. This planet is new, the species here are new. Ulaz may have seen some things in the Champion, but what do we really know about him? What if he turned out to be untrustworthy? What if you had found out as you lay benea-”

”Stop, ok. I get it. But it turned out fine. Look, I’m in one piece, alright? I made a mistake.”

”A mistake? No, a mistake is forgetting to clear your plate of dinner. What you did was put your life on the line-”

”Kolivan, it was sex. We had sex. That’s it.”

”One of your stature-”

”Seriously, enough,” he shouted and shot up from his chair, the legs screaming against the wood, ”I am not some delicate flower that needs protection. I didn’t need it back then, and I don’t need it now. I can handle myself. Look, I messed up. I have to deal with the consequences. But it’s done with. There’s no reversing what happened. Stop treating me like I’m incapable!”

”...Keith...”

Keith tried to unset his jaw. Getting worked up was going to make him sick again, and he just wanted to keep down the small bites of dinner he’d manage to eat.

”Listen to me, Keith. You are my son. You may not be my blood, but you are my kin. We are all your kin. I worry because I cannot lose you. I have lost too many already. I carry every death, every one of my fallen men, with me. You may be capable, and you have more than proven yourself as such, but being able to win a fight doesn’t justify seeking one out, nor jumping in to finish one.”

Keith realized that there was far more to the talk than a scolding for mating. But he was exhausted and there was no energy left in him to wait for Kolivan to reach his point. Not then at least. So Keith stepped into Kolivan’s space and let his forehead drop onto the man’s chest. The arms that came around him were so large, he had a brief understanding of how Kolivan could still see him as just a kit. The rumbling of purrs vibrated against Keith’s body, and buried himself into it. Maybe, Keith thought, he was just worried about losing his son. Not physically, but emotionally. Kolivan must feel like he was going to run off with Shiro, and start their family without a look backwards. Somewhere along the way, tears came out, for the third time that day. He wept and wept into the broad chest of what was essentially his father. Keith wasn’t ready to start a family. He was terrified.

 

Ulaz approached him after, as if they had all coordinated their timings on talking with Keith. But he took one look at Keith and told him he would brew up a tea to ease his nausea and nerves. They could speak another day about their relation. He didn’t have the energy to fight it, either.

He blinked in and out of consciousness a few times. He came to for a solid minute, to the lights of evening having all faded, and the blankets he was tucked under smelling of Kolivan. His clothes were exchanged for bed clothes, which were soft against his skin. Snuggling against a warm body, Kolivan, he thought in haze, he let himself go back to sleep for the final time that day.

Sometimes, it was ok to leave things for tomorrow.

Chapter Text

The problem with ”tomorrow” is that it’s usually more of a concept than an actual measurement of time. Though, in this case, it wasn’t for lack of trying. Keith insisted to return to the café. It was one of the few things that brouht him a sense of normalcy. It was routine, and that was comforting.

Ulaz mixed up some herbs to settle his stomach, and he drank the tea every hour. He’d yet to throw up at work, which was good, bcause customers would not be happy to have their barista vomitting.

He noticed it more when kids came through.

It reminded him of what he was facing, and that he had no idea how to tell Shiro.

Keith looked down at his cup of tea. He hadn’t taken people seriously when they told him caffeine was a drug. But, as he stirred honey into his mug, he was aware of his dependency. Ulaz had warned him, that his baby was not developed enough to process the coffee as quickly as him. The humans had not concluded on what amount was safe, so, in the interest of Keith’s baby, he had to stay away from the beverage. He grumbled and took a long sip of his tea.

Regris had stopped by to drop off pamphlets for Keith to read through. Even if the other Galra knew anything about pregnancy, there as no guarantee it would apply to him. His body was mostly human. His baby, the microscopic collection of growing cells at this point, would develop to be still more human than him. He mentally tapped off his translator, practicing reading Terran gave him some distance from the content on the paper.

He compared notes to the files Ulaz sent on Galran pregnancy.

He translates the unit of time into Terran and wants to shove a pastry in his mouth to keep from screaming. A typical, healthy human pregnancy lasts roughly 9 months, but a Galran one is about 18 months. Assuming the baby will be healthy, Keith can expect to go into labor at any point between those two.

He places that one to the side as a customer approaches and orders. It’s hard for him to pass off the latte, the warm aroma of the beans are torture.

The next one has a list of foods to avoid. There’s an entire column about fish, which doesn’t make him happy. All types of meat need to be thoroughly cooked. That’s extra work he thinks. No raw milk. No alcohol. Both of those aren’t a problem. He doesn’t look over the file for the Galran equivalent; either the foods aren’t found there, which is most of them, or else the others wouldn’t let him go anywhere near it.

He poured more hot water into his mug and scooped the tea mixture into the ball and got it started on brewing. It was time to take his break. In one more hour the Holts would be there. Shiro was Matt’s close friend, and Keith was glad to have the hour to decide whether to tell him or not. He’d been able to trust Matt with everything so far. The timer went off and he removed the tea ball. He poured in some honey; Terrans touted the sweet, thick substance as having anti-bacterial properties. They were all grasping at straws for understanding Keith’s biology. Keith would take whatever he could get to keep the baby healthy.

Which, to his irritation, included telling Shiro. The stress of keeping something like that from him would slowly roast Keith alive. So, at least, he’d have a trial run with Matt. If it went poorly then his friend would give him advice on how to improve.

Keith huffed. Matt knew more about that man than he did. Yet Keith was the one who was going to carry his child. His inner Kolivan looked sternly on him, muttering about trust and risk. Even as he’d dismissed the lecture, Keith knew every word was true. Kolivan, in truth, had been far easier on him given the magnitude of the situation.

 

”Hey, hey, how’s our Firecracker?”

Keith laughed softly and greeted Matt. The other two Holts exchanged hellos and headed to sit down at their table. Matt turned to Keith when they’d left. He looked puzzled, which, Keith knew from experience, meant he was about to find out whatever it was he was curious about.

”Chamomile tea? Wait, I also smell-” he scooped Keith’s mug into his hands and inhaled deeply with it under his nose, ”Are you sick?”

It was then he knew there would be no getting out of telling him.

”I’m pregnant.”

”Wait, wait, waaaait,” he held up one hand vertically and capped it with the other horizontally, ”You wanna run that by me again, sweetheart?”

”I’m... pregnant?” Keith gestured towards his abdomin as if the baby had started to show in the last few minutes.

Matt took a second, his head turning away and his eyes going back and forth between the wall and Keith. He smacked his lips before speaking.

”Oh.”

”Oh?”

Oh.

The thing about assumptions, Keith was learning, is that you don’t know what it is you’ve just assumed. Matt launched into an entire explanation about human biology. Apparently, humans were sexually dimorphic. There were no distinctions beyond male and female. At least, not anatomically. He said there was a whole other conversation to be had about gender and labels, but he would keep it simple for then.

Keith felt his hands shake, so he gripped onto his emptied mug. Shiro had not mated him over the scent of his pre-heat. Shiro knew nothing about heats. In Shiro’s eyes, Keith was, to put it in Galran terms, a seed-producer.

Oh.

Oh no.
”How do I tell Shiro I’m pregnant?”

Keith was only expecting the usual talk when someone has an accidental pregnancy.

”Wow, ok. I am so sorry fam.” Matt ran a hand through his hair, ”Well, I can.. ease him into it? Maybe I can drop some hints about Galran biology being different. I can’t tell him the news, but I can prepare him. He’s smart, really smart. I wouldn’t be suprised if he asks you when he figures out that you are a- uh,... bearer.”

The word seemed to choke Matt.

”Man, Keith. One time though, huh? His sperm must be powerful.”

”Matt.” Keith warned and was grateful when he backed down, open palms up and facing toward him. ”I’ll bring your drinks. Go ahead and sit.”

”Oh but I couldn’t let you, not in your conditi-”

”I’m pregnant, not fragile, but your bones sure are. So. Sit. Down.”

It was hard for Keith to keep himself acting normal as he spoke to the Holts. Though Matt would help him when he seemed to verbally trip. Keith appreciated having a friend like that. He had agreed to introduce Shiro to Galran biology, which was a relief. That meant one less thing that Keith had to confess.

The café was closed as usual. He bid farewell to the Holt’s, whom invited him to come over for dinner the next week. Keith felt a gentle fire inside his heart. Things were hard, but they would be ok. So he smiled and told them he’d love to. Dinner was no affair either. It was Keith’s turn to cook, and the others sensed his need for normalcy, so they acted as per usual. Minus a few comments about cooking the food well enough. So he went to sleep that night full of both hope and despair.

No matter what happened, Keith thought, I have people that love me.

Keith was pregnant.
He was terrified.
Shiro might run away screaming.
But he had a family here.
And he was starting to feel like home.

No matter what happened, Keith was loved.

It would all be ok.

Chapter Text

Shiro’s day began with a phone call from Kolivan.

His work schedule had been decided as tenative. He was to begin that week as coming in for the full week to learn the ropes. He’d have to wait a few days though, because Kolivan had called to push back his start date.

He smacked his cheek lightly with his metal hand. This threw a wrench in his plans. Now what would he do?

If he stayed home, he’d only replay things in his mind. The weekend had brought him a peace he hadn’t found in a long time. The nature was centering, grounding. He wasn’t just on Earth, he had been in it. The sky and stars had trouble finding him beneath the trees.

Friday had been challenging for him. He’d spent the past few montbs trying to not think about what had happened in space. But he’d been asked to put himself back into that place. And, as he thought about the meeting with Hunk, he slipped back there once more.

 

The night was dark and cool. The light from the street lamps reflected off the tiny flakes that were drifting down. The air that left his lips made visible clouds that spread out in front of him. He passed by alleyways, hit by questionable smells and sounds. The moon was not out, and all were safe to dig deep into instinctual living. Society had abandoned them all to their survival mode.

He passed by a store that had been boarded up. From the corner of his vision he saw himself. His hair was long, far longer than near buzz-cut he’d kept it in during his military days. His chin and cheeks had stubble. He was a typical Japanese man of his day, and kept a clean-shaven face since hair had started growing in. Now, his skin was sallow and his eyebrows unkempt.

He had on too-big pants that were held up by two shoelaces tied to each other once for length and then again as a belt. He had on three pairs of shirts. The bottom layer was a worn-out tank that had once been black, but now was gray. The middle shirt was one from an eating-competition the state over, found in a bin at a donation center. The top as a long-sleeve with the number 6 on it.

A knife, sheathed haphazardly in cloth that was ripped from a cotton t-shirt lined his pocket. He had found it in a dumpster behind a restaurant. It was dull and rusted around the handle. It had likely been discarded in favor of a new model. But regardless, it was his gain.

He knew how to fight with his hands, arms, and legs, but out there people had guns and knives. There was neither honor nor skill.

The walk was long. Gentrification pushed their area further and further away from the city’s centre; the place they would all wake up and journey to during the daylight. It left them with an increasingly smaller area, while more people found themselves without roof. It was like the neutron star; so much mass condensced into a much too small amount of area. The result of a supernoval explosion of the economic system and the gravitational collapse of their physical space, the people who find themselves on the street are a volitile and terrifying phenomenon of the human experience and expression. To those with wealth, at least.

He would know, that was once himself.

He’s headed towards the camp he had staked out the other night. There was a hotel that had been boarded up, but it had a broken window in the back. It provided good insulation from the cold, being that it was otherwise so tightly sealed. He’d battled a couple for it. Their blood had congealed along the knife and caused the make-shift sheath to be glued to the blade. Among their belongings was a cheap, plastic bottle of vodka. He’d used that to disinfect the stab wound he’d taken on the leg.

Rest was fitfull as it always was out there; one could never get too comfortable or fall too deep into sleep. But even still, the couple had seemed to fight off any others who had attempted, and would attempt, to claim the building. To which, he laughed wryly, as he continued his legacy as Champion.

Except that night, a squatter were present as he returned to his not-quite-home.

A woman, young, light brown skin lit up by flashlight of a cell phone. It was dim, but he could still make out the needle in her arm. Her face was gaunt and flesh draped down off bones. She looked like she’d been beautiful before that very thing she injected into her veins had first touched her.

Eyes slipped lower down her. What had been eaten away by drugs and likely starvation stood stark against the very solid raise in her lower abdomen. She was pregnant.

He hesitated at the doorway. If he spooked her, she could pull out a weapon. Then there was the question of what just went into her; was it an upper, would she have inhuman strength, or was it a downer, and she’d be too carefree to argue his presence? Her hand made a gentle sweep over the swell. The action seemed sluggish, which he took to mean it was the latter. He wasn’t looking for a fight, but, he was more than twice her size. He decided to engage her.

”Excuse me?”

The woman shrieked and knocked over her supplies. The bottle of water poured its contents on the floor, soaking the boards beneath them. He raised his hands with the palms facing her.

”Sorry to bother you, I was here last night and not expecting company. Figured I’d let you know I’m here, rather than suprise you.”

”You stay away from me! I-i have a gun, I can shoot- I’ll shoot you. Stay away.” Her voice trembled and she made no move for the alleged gun. He let his breath go, she was unarmed.

It only then occured to him of how terrifying he looked, and that she was a woman, alone, pregnant, and on some type of drug.

”Woah there, I’m gay. Don’t worry. I can just collect my stuff and let you have this.” He was homeless, not a monster, he sneered at the imaginary man he was arguing with. His old self? His father? He could and would give up the shelter.

” ’s not many out here with that kinda attitude.”

”No, I suppose not, m’am. Uh, can I sit?” He motioned toward the bricks next to her.

”If I said no?”

”You’d have every right. I’d collect my bag, if there’s anything left in there, and leave. It’s early enough in the night, I’m not too tired. I could find another spot.”

”You seem an honest man, if a sodomite. Go ahead, but know I won’t hesitate to shoot if you so much as breath on me, much less try anything.”

The hand returned to her stomach and his own soured. He understood what ”anything” had meant.

With his hands still raised, he lowered himself without hurry. His knees cracked as he did so, and he felt much older than his 23 years. Being a prisoner of war had aged his body.

They sat in silence for a few minutes.

”Y’know sir, it’s terrifying.”

’Hm?”

”Jus’ bein’ pregnant. It’s...,” she paused and he finally looked at her face, her brows were furrowed, ”scary. You’re lucky to be a man.”

”Yeah. Yeah, I am.” He chuckled softly to diffuse tension.

”S’ppose it’s better than trying to find pads out here. Imagine bleedin’ from your ’gina every month. Clothes ’r hard enough to find, ya?”

”I can’t imagine.”

”Damn, right, sir. You can’t.”

He hummed in agreement. If she needed someone to vent to, he was there.

”Sir? Do you want a family? I don’t know if your kind do that. I hear some of y’all adopt though.”

Now there was a question. He’d left Japan so many years ago. Just researched a school, applied, and packed up when he was accepted. He hadn’t seen nor heard from his family since the day before he left. He somehow doubted they’d miss him. He was a stain on the family name.

”I-maybe. If I find the right man to settle down with.”

”Y’all settle?”

He chuckled again.

”Fair enough. I guess the only image of us out there is partying and promiscuous. But yeah, I mean, I want to. Find a nice man. Don’t take this wrong way but, I’d like to provide for him. We’re not straight, so please no ”who is the woman?” questions; we’re both men. It’s probably my culture. I’ve been raised to just assume I’d one day take care of a woman.” He took a deep breath, almost ready to stop, but he’d come too far with her anyways, ”I just want him to feel safe. To not have to worry about things like... like a roof over his head, or food in his belly.”

”Well, I could see how we’d all wan’ that for our partner. I’ve always been the bread-winner for my relationships, too. S’ maybe I get that more than you’d think. If I’m still a woman, and bring home a paycheck, then... I guess a man could stay home and still be one.”

He had to admit he was suprised. He hadn’t realized he’d been assuming things of her, just as she had of him. He hadn’t thought of it so plain before, but it made a lot of sense to be said that way. As a man, there was a lot of the world he didn’t experience. He thought about her pregnancy, and how it was likely something forced on her. He hadn’t considered periods, much less keeping clean on one, while on the streets. Being a woman out there, that meant she had to be all that more fierce. He admired her strength.

”If I may ask, and I’m just curious, because you’re right that I don’t know, what’s it like being pregnant?”

”Why can’t more men be like you? All the good ones’re gay,” being on the streets was not the time nor place to correct the sentiment, so he let it be, ”Well. It’s hard to tell some days, because I’m strung out on drugs. Or else, I’m lookin’ to get strung out. They’ll tell ya it’s wonderful ’n a miracle. Maybe it is. But it’s hard. There’s pain, an’ sometimes throwin’ up. You’re fuckin’ tired as shit. And the pee? Dear Lord, might as well not leave a bathroom. If ya can get in one that is. Then ya gotta figure that I’m out here. It cert’inly draws the wrong kind of attention. I jus’ pray this small one turns out healthy. Despite... despite everythin’, y’know?”

Her voice wavered but there was a sense she wasn’t done. So, he waited patiently, digesting her words and committing them into a place of his brain he could access later.

”Ya know how I said it’s only maybe a miracle?”

”Yeah?”

”It.. it absolutely is. I jus’ said that ’cus I was upset. At everythin’. All I want is a healthy kid. I want to get a job and raise them. I don’t want them to know the streets, or drugs. Maybe I c’n meet a nice man, too. I was just upset.”

They spoke for a little while longer. She gave gruesome details of pregnancy, and he, in turn, detailed how intimacy worked for two men. He laughed a genuine laugh, for the first time that night, when she made a face at what he said. But, by the end of the night, she apologized for calling him a sodomite. She confessed that just hadn’t known anyone. He was not at all what she was expecting. Which, to be fair, he’d said, she wasn’t either. They both laughed that time. When it came that she was nodding off, she told him he could stay. He helped ease her down to the floor. He’d had a beaten yoga mat in his pack. He laid the mat down so she could roll onto it. The remaining change of clothes he had was used to make a pillow for her neck, and one for her knees. She’d told him how it was uncomfortable to sleep.

Even without any of his padding, he still fell asleep fast and deep. For the first time in awhile, he slept well.

He woke up first. The woman looked so peaceful. The gauntness of her face was softer, as if letting out her frustrations had let out the tension from the way her skin stretched across bone. He placed a soft kiss to her forehead. Leaving his bag, and everything in it, or that was pulled outside it, to her, he quietly padded across the floor. He wasn’t religious, but he sent out a prayer for her and the baby. With one last look, he turned, and left for his daily treck into the city.

 

 

 

”..ro.. Shiro.. Shiro!”

It was Pidge.

”Pidge?”

”Hey, oh my God, you’re... you’re back. Thank you, thank you. I was so worried. Shiro, I came home early to grab my laptop, I left it- but you were just- I kept calling you.”

”Woah, hey, it’s ok. I’m ok. Take a deep breath.”

Pidge stayed for another half hour to make sure he would be ok. Shiro appreciated that she’d use her lunch time for him. When she suggested he come with her to the Garrison, he quickly agreed. Staying in the house, alone, with nothing to do, would just keep him in his mind.

He went to the school area of the Garrison and walked around the hallways. He had a thought about bringing Keith some time. He might like to attend school. It had seemed like a sore spot that the man hadn’t been able to get an education. But war had waited for no man, something Shiro understood.

He wondered what type of date he should take Keith on. Neither had much money, so it would need to be cheap. He passed by the campus library and had an idea.

Keith loved books and reading. Shiro had liked it too, he’d just become too busy in the days leading up to Kerberos, and, for obvious reasons, hadn’t picked it up since. Keith might enjoy the opportunity to read other human books, and he could check some out as well. He wondered if Keith had read the classics. He had learned ”Standard Terran” by himself. Which made Shiro wonder how.

He felt his face smiling absently, but unavoidably. The thought of Keith buried in a pile of books, finding a stack too tall for him to carry and see over, warmed him. The library in Albuquerque would have more selection, though he doubted they’d be able to find anything about Swedish or Sweden. Maybe Keith likes romance?

That thought made his cheeks warm.

 

He told Pidge about their updated status on the way to the café. He was sure he’d see Keith and instantly feel compelled to kiss him, even if just on the cheek.

Shiro wasn’t wrong.

The moment he stepped into the café, his vision fixated on the man that had taken over his thoughts of late. Keith looked radiant. His skin was dewy, the light catching it and causing it to glow. He made a mental note to ask Matt about the day’s humidity later. It wasn’t particularly hot inside. But Keith made eye-contact with him, those gorgeous violets widening and then turning soft. Wow, he breathed.

”Heya, stranger. What’s a cutie like you doing in here?”

Keith chuckled into his fist and then pulled up the straps of his apron.

”I work here?”

”It’s a good thing I already got you. That was kind of a fail, huh?”

”You gave it an honest effort, that counts for something?”

He didn’t care if the whole café was staring, he leaned over the counter and brushed their lips. He was tall enough that the bending put them on eye-level. Keith’s breath hitched and Shiro wrapped a hand behind his head, pressing him closer to swallow up that breath. Keith moaned quietly into his mouth as Shiro worked their lips against each other. They broke only when Matt gave a loud clearing of his throat. They both stared at the strand of saliva that connected them as they parted.

”Wow.” Keith rasped.

”Yeah...” He rested their foreheads together and closed his eyes.

Wow.

”Ok, ok, jeez. You’re in public, fam.” Matt whined.

”Ok, ok,” Shiro mocked, ”You’re acknowledged, fam.”

He asked Keith on that library date. Keith was enthusiastic in agreeing, and it warmed Shiro from head-to-toe. When he had to return to the table, the grin could not be wiped off his face. Matt kept side-eyeing him, but Shiro didn’t care. He was dating a man beyond what he could ever dream. Nothing was going to erase his giddiness.

Chapter Text

Oh No.

Oh ™ No ™, he ”fam’d” me back.
Fam, fam what do I do?

Matt was screaming in his head. Kill Bill sirens were blaring. He was Taxidermy Fox.

Matthew Holt, what exactly have you gotten yourself into? Stuck between your childhood bestfriend and classmate, and the man, your newest friend, he got pregnant. How the hell was gonna keep this secret? But also give hints enough that Shiro would be (as) prepped (as he could be) for the bomb Keith was going to drop. ’Oh, hey, Shiro. You know how you had sex with a man? Well, a half-alien one? Funny that. Wouldn’t you know, he has a womb. Oh? You used protection? Uhm, ok. Cool. Well, condoms are 99.9% effective. But, yknow, only if they stay in-tact. Good talk! I’m gonna give you a minute to call Keith.’ All according to Keikaku (keikaku means plan).

See, Matt had probed Keith. Er, no. Not- wait. Back up. Aliens. Sex. Probing. Yeah, no. Start over.

Matt asked Keith if he had any ideas, but Keith had nothing to say. Which was unsurprising, he looked terrified and lost. Which, if Matt had just found out he’d been impregnated on the first try, when there had, technically, been protection? Yeah. He’d be a little lost too.

He huffed loudly and draped his arm over his eyes. His bed was soft under him, but his insides were far too heavy. It ended up yielding a net 0 value of comfort. There was another huff for good measure. A knock at the door was welcome.

”Hey, you up?” It was Pidge. He invited her in. Shiro and Keith were a shitshow, but he could at least count on his sister for a breath of normality.

”Keith told me about his relationship. Yikes, right?”

Yeah, ’yikes’, if that could cover it. Yikes with a capital ’y’? Marginally better. Still not enough, but it would make due.

”Yeah. Yikes. I almost regret introducing them.”

The squeak of wheels rolling told him that Pidge had sunk down into his desk chair. He lifted his arm up. She had her arm draped over her eyes.

”Not that I’m not happy to see you but, to what do I owe the pleasure?”

”Oh yuck, don’t pretend you didn’t leave your dirty socks on my pillow this morning-”

”Listen, ok. Listen. Ok. You finished the milk- FINISHED IT- and put back the empty carton. Who does that? Pidge. Please, please I’m dying here, scoob. Who. Does. That?”

”Let the past be the past, man. Nothing else to do but move forward.”

He snorted. Yeah, she was backed into the corner with that one. But fine, he’d scratch the score for this one.

”Truce, fam. So, really, what’s up?”

”Me, dear brother. I am up. I cannot unsee them kissing. And you didn’t have to drive Shiro. Matt. Matthew. I had to drive him home. He was sighing. Looking out the window and s i g h i n g. What- what even? How do I respond to that? I can’t take this.”

Matt could just imagine Shiro then. He’s probably on the couch, laying on his back, and staring up at the ceiling, sighing. The type of sigh from teen romance movies, where the girl hugs her pillow and dreams of being asked to prom. He’s probably caught up in an imaginary scenario; much the same that Matt himself was. A dream of a dream. Matt was stuck in imaginary-scenario-ception hell. Pidge, please, he begged in his mind, throw him a life jacket out there. Matt imagined that Shiro was thinking of kissing Keith’s (too damned full) lips. Matt massaged his temples.

Does Shiro think of those violet eyes, glimmering softly in the dim afternoon lighting of the café? Is his skin glowing? Can he see that soft, silky hair, neatly swept inside its usual braid, cascading over his shoulder? Is Keith laughing softly behind a small hand?

That was the Keith that played out in Matt’s head.

There’s a smile only for him, there.

He reaches out to that Keith, and they share a soft kiss.

Just one last time, he thinks, before he gives the imagery away. Keith was a valuable friend. He was a stunning babe, but also a friend. Seeing Shiro interact with him åut into perspective his own feelings. The crush he’d harboured on Keith was only a small bit of what Shiro felt for him. Even if there weren’t a child on the way, which, yikes, don’t remind him, thanks, he still would have stepped down.

He wasn’t about to get caught in the crossfire of the inevitability that cupid’s arrow would be shot their way.

”How are you holding up?” Nothing escaped his sister, especially not him brooding. He could only shrug vaguely. He would be ok, eventually. A few days and he’d be right as rain.

”Eh. How’s your end of Iverson’s project coming? He’s kept you late most of last week.”

”It’s... going? Hunk’s been a bit busy with diplomatics, so it put us down our Head Engineer. I’m not running much data by hand because of it. He had me overseeing the outputs and reworking the occassional equation, when it didn’t match up to the reality of what’s actually in front of us. Hunk and I have our theories, but nothing’s really taken shape yet. They’ve kept the parts too separate to tell.”

”That’s about where my department is at. We’re testing all sorts of things in Galra DNA, but the spectrum is so broad that there’s no narrowing it down.”

A sudden knock at the door had them both jumping.

”Now I know my two children aren’t trading government secrets while you’re meant to be sleeping.”

”Dad,” Matt snorted, ”Ah but, something’s kept you awake to catch us awake. Do tell what keeps up our paternal parental figure.”

”A father can’t just check-in on his children?”

Matt shared a look with Pidge. Holts never ”just” did anything.

A sadness spread over their dad’s face. That happened sometimes, since Matt had returned. Their dad had selected him for his crew to Kerberos. That made for a guilt towards Matt, that he could never quite get over. Or, at least, 3 months hadn’t been long enough.

Pidge sensed the same thing, Matt thought, because she let their dad go back to bed with a quick-witted retort. All three of them shared a laugh. Some parts of them were broken, but at least they were all there, home. Sleep came easier after that.

 

Uh..., his brain groaned at him. Coffee.

”Oh, Keith...” I’d pour one out for you, but that’s a waste, and you just might kick my butt for it. He chuckled.

For once, Matt was the first one awake. As deep as he’d slept, it hadn’t been a long sleep. There was still the matter of bringing up Keith’s biology to Shiro. It was tempting to put off, as he was prone to do with most things, but it was too sensitive and urgent. Shiro deserved to know that he had... fathered a child. Which was absolutely another thing he needed. But it was out of his hands. He could only support those two idiots as they stumbled around through it.

He decided to make grilled cheese. Not the best breakfast food, but Shiro loved cheese, and that might set the tone for the day. Dinner, he thought, I only have to make it until then.

The sound of bread crisping and sweet smell of butter filled the kitchen. A quick peek at the clock told him the rest of the family would be shuffling in.

His mom and dad were first. They commented their suprise for his early rising. Then came Pidge. Her long hair fell half-way of its ponytail and the bangs clung to her forehead like they’d been pasted. She was not a morning person. Finally came Shiro. He was a morning person. His face was smooth and washed. He must have already shaved and cleaned up. Matt was almost annoyed by how chipper his aura was. The man had probably fallen asleep to thoughts of sucking face with Keith.

They were all sat down and tucked into breakfast when the first hit was taken.

”Hey Matt,” to which he would mockingly recall later as the beginning of his doom, ”Was there high humidity yesterday?”

Only present Matt would know where that one went.

”Do I look like the weather- no. It’s winter. There’s been no precipitation nor snow down here in the last few days. Why?”

He just had to be curious, huh? Matthew Holt just couldn’t stay in his lane, huh?

”Oh. Huh. I wonder if Keith is sick,” he choked on his bite of grilled cheese, ”He seemed kinda.. flushed and glo- Matt are you ok?”

No, you fool. He thought as he pounded his fist against his chest, the other one reaching for his mug. I am not ok. He gulped some coffee, pretending to still be choking after, to buy him time.

Well, fuck.
Here goes...

”Oh, he’s probably just on his heat, or something.” Or something. He got up to get more coffee.

”Heats? So he is sick.” Matt could feel Shiro frowning from behind his back.

”Uh, no. No, he’s not- that’s. Heats are like... Cats.”

”Cats?”

”You know how cats, when they, you know. Meow, I need some cat dic- oh sorry mom. When female cats go into mating season, they get heats. Y’know.”

”Wait, you’re saying Keith-,” the sound of Shiro choking made him turn around. Pidge was thumping his back with her fist. She handed over a glass of water for him. Which he gulped down entirely. He coughed before continuing, ”Keith, gets heats? But then...”

Matt didn’t want to do it. He wanted to do anything but, yet he nodded.

At least it was Shiro who said it outloud.

”Keith can get pregnant.”

Chapter Text

”So... Pregnant? A-and you’re sure?”

”Positive.”

Shiro was thankful that he was suspicious. The news was still a shock, but it wasn’t entirely a suckerpunch to the gut. At least, not as much as it could have been.

”I-I thought the condom felt.. strange. I was just so wrapped up in- uh. I was...,” he scrubbed at the nape of his neck with calloused fingertips, ”You, I wasn’t thinking, I just was so caught up with you. I’m sorry.”

Wednesday nights were quiet at the mall. A few groups of teenagers had passed since they sat down, but it was otherwise fairly empty. On their table sat two smoothies. Peach-mango was his, and Strawberry-rhubarb was Keith’s. There was far too much sugar in it, and not enough fruit, but it still tasted a bit sour,

Keith played with the condenscation with a finger. Chasing the droplets of water, he drew out designs. When he spoke it was soft, unsure.

”Matt told me about your human anatomy. I can’t imagine, now, that you would expect something like this. I- I’m sorry, if I had known I-,” his eyes left the cup and they were shinning.

”No, it’s not your fault. It’s mine. I spoke with Matt and he’d asked me about... protection. I told him I had. But he was curious how I found a condom up there, so I told him. And it turns out that keeping a condom in your wallet is not good for it. Something about the heat wearing it down, I don’t really remember. I tuned him out when I realized...”

”You knew?”

”Sort of? I didn’t know for sure. I just had a feeling.”

”So, what now?”

”Keith,” Shiro reached across the table to cradle those trembling hands in his, ”If you think I’m leaving you, then I’m sorry for all the pain I’ve caused. I’m here. I’m terrified, as I’m sure you are, too, but I’m here. This isn’t something for you to carry alone. Please, never think that.”

Keith’s shoulders began to shake. Tears splashed onto the table as he broke into sobs. Shiro brushed his thumbs along the soft skin of the other’s hands. Words didn’t seem to have a place at the moment, and he was fine communicating with touch. He hummed quietly to what he hoped would be a soothing melody.

When Keith lost steam, he grabbed some napkins and, tilting Keith’s face up from under the chin, he dabbed at and gently swiped away the tears and snot. Even with puffy, tear-reddened eyes, the man was still so beautiful. It was almost painful.

Getting up to toss out the soaked napkins, he took the opportunity to stretch and walked slowly. There was a way to walk meditatively, which was slow, to keep the heart-rate down, and he employed it. As much as his mind was swimming in thoughts and ”what if,”s, he wasn’t the one who would carry the child. His stomach wouldn’t grow. His hormones wouldn’t spike at will. He thought back to the woman he’d met in that hotel when he was on the streets.

When he sat back down, it seemed Keith had also taken the time to compose himself. Breaths were more even, eyes looked like they’d been scrubbed, and he slurped at his smoothie with gusto.

”Are you hungry?”

A look of mild shame came to his face.

”Hey, it’s ok. You’re- I’m sure it’s natural. Come on, let’s get you something, ok?” The food wasn’t the best nutritionally, but Keith had drummed his fingers along the table at the mention of hunger. Far be it from him to deny his boyfriend. Especially not his pregnant boyfriend.

Instincts wanted Shiro to reach out a hand, or else come behind the man and hoist him up. But his stomach was still flat, and his pride would flay Shiro alive and serve him to Keith for the currently required nourishment. So, he kept his hands to himself.

Looking through the food court, Shiro decided he’d spend a little extra to take Keith to the Chinese restaurant downstairs. Keith had little idea of what the food was, and he was not about to introduce him to places like the Weenie Hut. Even if the workers wore silly hats with propellers. Which was so ridiculous, it reminded him of Matt, and that fact alone tempted him. But the other was eating for two and so he controlled himself.

Panda, as it was called, was a nice enough restaurant. The lighting was low, they played various East Asian string instrumentals in the background, and brilliant red lanterns were hung around from the ceiling. It was on the cusp of being discount Asian, but the workers looked to be Asian or Asian-American. Sometimes it was about serving the culture in the way people wanted, or thought of it, in the business of making a livelihood. Not many people around there even knew General Tso’s chicken was an American born dish.

Keith looked intrigued. When they sat down, he asked about the lanterns. Shiro told him what he knew, which wasn’t much.

”Where I come from, we’re sort of close to China. There’s some crossing of cultures, but we are still very distinct.”

With Keith, it wasn’t a question of racism. He had learned that the other had only begun to study the geography of Earth. He was proud when someone had mentioned Texas, and he knew they were neighboors to New Mexico.

Looking through the menu, Keith had asked Shiro several questions, whom then approximated the dishes to things the man had had before. Galra, thankfully, enjoyed spice. They ordered some extra spicey orange chicken and sides of egg drop soup.

”So, Keith, uh. Hope it’s ok to ask but, how long is the pregnancy?” He asked before diving into the soup as an excuse to not keep talking.

”This again. ”Gee-zuh”,” Shiro never knew that word could be cute, until he’d heard it with Keith’s small hesitation and accent,”I don’t know, ok? I just. I don’t know. Anything. It’s- I wasn’t expecting it. My family is seed-producers and non-props; they have no clue.”

”When you find out, can you tell me?”

”You really want to be a part of this?”

Placing down his fork, he reached a hand forward. An indent appeared in Keith’s cheek, from what he’d come to find out was him chewing on the inside of it. He looked down at Shiro’s hand, contemplating things that only he would know. But he took the offered hand.

”I was a part of this since the cabin up on the mountain.”

All the tension drained from his face. Shiro had calmed whatever storm was brewing in the other’s mind.

”Hey Shiro, where’s Earth Sweden?”

They continued the conversation with light topics. Keith was crestfallen to learn that Earth Sweden was far, far away from New Mexico, and expensive to get to. Shiro promised they’d go together some day. He’d never been there either. It prompted other questions of what Keith knew of Earth. It was funny, and fun, to see an outsider’s concept of their planet. There were half-truths and down right falsities there, alongside some things that were so niché, it was fascinating he would know them.

”I miss coffee.” He poked around at his lychee ice cream, spoon held under-handed like a knife (that was too cute to correct, Shiro hoped Keith never caught on that he was doing it wrong). ”I work at a café... I have to smell it. It’s more intense now.”

”None at all?”

”No, can you believe it? They’re smothering me with their attempts to make this a healthy pregnancy. I don’t need their help. I appreciate it but I’m doing fine.”

Shiro had to note mentally that, despite his protest, Keith was still listening to their guidance.

They finished up their meal, making sure to stack their dishes together in a pile that would be easier to take at once. He had an extra $5, so he neatly tucked it beneath the stack. He made a bow on the way out, which was such a refreshingly familiar gesture for him. Keith repeated the motion, his head titled toward Shiro as if asking if he’d done ok.

The nightime air was crisp and it tingled against his skin. He appreciated how many stars could be seen out there.

”Can I take you somewhere, before home?”

It could have scared Keith, Shiro driving them into emptiness, but it seemed he trusted Shiro.

Pulling up to an empty sprawling of dirt, far away from the lights of the city, or the noise from houses, he parked the car. They both climbed out and Shiro clicked the trunk open from his remote. He paused when stood before the contents.

”I haven’t done this since before I left.”

A telescope rest on top a small pile of blankets.

They sat outside looking at the stars well into the night. He taught Keith about the stars they could see through the telescope. None of them were familiar to him, and it warmed Shiro to orient him to their current spot in the universe.

 

At the end of the night, when they stood outside Keith’s shack, there was a moment of hesitation. Shiro raised his right hand, leaving it hovered just in front of his chest. Looking to Keith for permission, whom closed his eyes and nodded, reaching to hold Shiro’s right hand, and he laid the palm over the still-flat abdomen. Under my hand, he thought, is a womb, and in there... m- our baby is growing. I’m having a baby. With Keith. Keith and I are having a baby.

They shared a kiss beneath the blanket of stars.

Chapter Text

One month.

Keith looked into the mirror.

Ulaz said the baby is about the size of a single grain of rice. That’s tiny, right? He pushed his index finger into his abdomen. I don’t remember what rice is, he thinks and makes a mental note to ask Shiro. He had just finished his appointment with Ulaz, and was waiting for the Garrison’s doctor to check him over.

When they had learned that Keith had conceived, they pestered him to become a research subject. At first, he was adamantly against it. He hated the thought of being watched and kept tabs on, especially by people he didn’t know very well. But they offered a stipend in turn. It eased the burden on the family, allowing some to quit their jobs in favor of running the café. Which made Kolivan pleased, as he wanted Keith to take it easy. But Keith, not one to ”sit on his hands” had used the freed up time to attend classes at the Garrison’s university. Which he’d bartered for as the final part of the compensation package.

Yawning, he looked back in the mirror. Ulaz had left him with a list of questions to ask. Should he be so tired already was near the top.

The doctor was a kind woman, with decades of experience in regular medical practice, and research in genetics and biology. She didn’t give him a funny look like others had when they learned he was pregnant. She tooks his vitals, asked questions, and wrote things down on her chart. It was a sight more hands-on than Galra doctors, but he swallowed the nervousness when she smiled and chatted with him.

”Well,, Keith, everything looks good. From our end, you have all the signs of being in full-health. Are you ready for the ultrasound?”

”Ultra...sound?” Was she about to play music?

”Oh, you don’t- An ultrasound will let us take a look at your baby, or babies. It’s a bit early for you, only having been 4 weeks since conception, officially 6 weeks pregnant by human calculations, which, ovulation is much different for us, but they ordered one from you. Don’t worry, it doesn’t hurt.”

There were two types of ultrasounds, she explained, one where they inserted a wand into the vaginal canal (though she corrected herself and said birthing canal. She might have thought he’d get offended), and the other was over the abdomen. The first type was better for providing the image, but his birthing slit wasn’t made for insertion, having only opened up at the baby’s conception. So, to spare him pain, she chose to the second. The gel that was slathered over him was cold but the thought of what he was just spared made the minor discomfort bareable.

On the screen, he’d seen a fuzzy image of what was his growing baby. It felt surreal for him.

”Normally people don’t request copies of these early ones,” she tapped the monitor with a pointer finger, ”But, you seem like you’d want one.”

”A copy?”

”Yeah, we can print out the image you see here on the monitor. Would you like that?”

A flutter tickled at his stomach. Would he like one? It was just an image of static, and he couldn’t make anything out. That would be silly, he thought.

 

When they released him, signing off on his good health, he clutched the copies in their envelope tightly to his chest.

 

”When will I need to apply this? Does it really matter if the graph of sine is even or odd?” It’s not that he didn’t understand what he was doing. Keith had taken quickly to academia. That still didn’t stop him from walking over to the counter and asking Shiro a question every few minutes. This time, Shiro had made his way over to Keith. He had placed down a mug next to Keith’s notebooks. It was a special blend of coffee called decaf, short for de-caffenated, so it would be safe for him to drink. The cravings were still there, but it helped abate it some.

”Wait until calculus, that’s where everything comes together.”

”Yeah, I guess.”

Underneath his notebook, the courners of the yellow envelope were peeking out. He hadn’t shown them to Shiro yet. A flutter in his stomach tickled him from inside. The skin across his throat felt like it was constricting his airways. But Shiro had wanted to be part of it, he told himself, he promised not to leave.

”Hey, uh, wait. You know that appointment earlier?”

”Did something happen?”

It freaked Keith out that Shiro could already read him so well.

”Yes- no. I mean, not- It’s not bad. Just- Here, look.” He wiggled the envelope out from the heavy weight of the pile, careful not to bend it. He couldn’t make himself watch Shiro’s reaction, so he held it out in the other’s general direction. The motion that took it from his hands was gentle. It was the same reverance that Keith had regarded the envelope with.

The response was a sharp intake of breath. It was a sharp jolt of lighting, in one ear and through the other. The hand that wrapped over his shoulder was a surprise. Shiro wasn’t running,

”Keith, look, you can kind of... uh, if you squint...,” he looked up at Shiro, the hand was steadily providing him courage, and saw Shiro was turning the ultrasound all kinds of ways, ”uh, hm. Ok. So. Maybe not. But hey, that’s uh. A sac. That’s something.”

They both burst into laughter.

When Keith recovered enough to breath, he told Shiro that it would be another few weeks before anything really shows up on the image.

”The baby is gonna be tiny for awhile. No bigger than a ”grain of rice”.”

”Do you think they’ll be small like y-”

”I can deadlift you and Matt in one go. Finish that sentence.”

”Sorry, K.”

”Yeah well, everyone’s small to you. Hopefully they’re not going to be so big. I can only take so much craning of my neck.” That was a lie. Shiro’s size had Keith enamoured.

”Mmm, s’ppose I can start making it easier for you.”

Shiro leaned down, gingerly placing the photo back on the table, and used that hand to tilt Keith’s chin up. The meeting of lips was agonizingly slow. Electricity tingled Keith’s mouth in seconds Shiro took to hover. He was breathing the other’s air. The warm breath cascaded over his cheeks.

”Shiro..” he whispered just before their mouths met.

The kiss made him ache.

”Listen to me, I’m not going anywhere, ok?”

”Ok.”

They kissed once more, interupted only by the bell at the front door. Which was lucky, because Keith was panting and drool had dripped from the courner of his mouth by the time Shiro pulled away. The same feelings that had gotten them in the mess were burning their way up and down him. They’d agreed to take it slow, and Keith was intent to sticking to that.

He tucked away into his coursework once more, after replacing the ultrasound inside the envelope.

Slav, his professor for both astronomy and physics, had assigned a lot of work. It was uncomfortable being in his class. He kept calling on Keith to answer things related to his heritage and the universe at large, and was subsequentlaly disappointed when Keith revealed his lack of knowledge on the latter. He felt put on the spot.

That attention from the professor had brought the other students to resent him. He didn’t want to tell Shiro, but some of his classmates had stopped him after class to remind him he wasn’t special just because he’s an alien. The shove against the door having sold it home. Keith didn’t want to fight them, knowing how much stronger he was. The last thing his family needed was more reasons to be feared or hated.

He finished up the last of the trigonometry homework and decided to ”call it a day”. Kolivan was going to pick him up within the hour. His family had to prepare the house and meal, as they were having Shiro and the Holt family over that night.

When Kolivan arrived, Keith bid farewell with a quick kiss to Shiro, whom looked tense to see the man. Keith noted to himself to ask Shiro what Kolivan had said to invoke such tension in him.

 

”You are smiling.”

Keith stopped, potato in one hand and peeler in the other.

”I am?”

”Kit, you haven’t stopped since we left the café.”

Oh. He tested moving his cheeks and did feel sore.

”Your mother used to have the same look on her face.”

”Yeah, and look how that turned out.” He scowled and went back to peeling. His dad abandoned him and his mother. He feared the same would happen to him and his child. No matter how good Shiro was.

”Your father was human and would not have been an asset to have with. In truth, we would not have allowed him. Krolia knew this and did not ask. He would have been one more thing to slow her down. We had advised she leave you with him, to keep you safe from the war, and allow her to her mission.”

That was supposed to make him feel better? They didn’t want him. Keith was... he was just... a liability.

”Kit.” Kolivan’s tone was demanding. He reached out to still Keith’s hands as they were working on peeling. ”Do not misunderstand me. We- I love you. You are valuable. But it was wartime, and that is no place for an infant. Krolia was one of our biggest assets, and as such she stood to lose much more, with a higher probabilitt of likelihood to it happening.”

”I know that.”

”Why so you think I have not a child of my own blood?”

The thought had occured to him every now and then. Kolivan had taken to fathering Keith so well for someone who liked to protest that notion. He lead the Blades with care and concern for each individual member. Every lose weighed heavy on him. He was in every way a father, to the Blades, and to Keith. He was quiet, knowing Kolivan would take his silence as permission to continue.

”It was well before your time. But, I did have a child. His name was Roselier,” he paused, emotions uncharacteristically clouding his voice, ”He was small, accompanying me on a mission, because his mother was out on another. We- I didn’t see them in time and- next thing I knew, there were explosions- I didn’t think it could, but, it did. R-roselier... he...”

”I-I get it. I’m sorry.”

”The frontlines are not places for children.”

Kolivan excused himself. Keith tried to not hear the sobs coming from down the hall.

 

”Here, the potatoes are finished.” Everyone was gathered outside. Thace was tending to the fire and waved Keith over.

”Set them down there. Can you help with this? The fire seems to take to you.”

Keith snorted but took over anyways.

”See? Every time. Might as well not try,” he laughed and clapped Keith’s shoulder, ”Now, tell me, how’s your kit been?”

”Oh it’s great. I’m emotional. I want to steal all your laundry and laze around in the resulting nest. I wake up feeling sick. Y’know.”

Thace nudged his shoulder and they both laughed. All Keith wanted, especially after talking with Kolivan, was to have a nice dinner and forget everything for awhile. He’d been trapped in his head since he found out about the pregnancy. Part of his emotions were the constant edge of the anxiety over being pregnant. He hoped to win Colleen Holt’s approval that night, if just to have another mother to talk to. He had so many questions, and he didn’t want the clinical answers from the human doctor he was seeing.

Morning sickness was what they called him waking up and promptly puking. It was a strange concept, that his body hadn’t adjusted to being with child. One morning he woke up and nearly sobbed at himself, ”You wanted a baby, you got one on the first try, and now you’re wanting it out?” But he was emptying his stomach and his mouth, thankfully, hadn’t had the energy to make words. The doctor had explained that during his appointment earlier that day. She said the sickness would go away during the second trimester in humans, but it was a mystery with him.

He poked the logs to keep the fire roaring.

”I, for one, am excited to meet this Shiro. I’ve never seen our kit so enamoured.” Regris’ tail flicked Keith’s braid up and let it fall back down over his shoulder. He swatted but Regris moved too fast for it to connect.

”Guys, please, don’t do this.” He said, knowing that, absolutely, they were going to do it. They were going to embarass him by harassing Shiro. It would start with a threat against his life, should he hurt Keith. Then, when it was clear that Shiro would enrage highly trained special agents of a war resistance group, whom had all the capacity to maim and murder him, leaving no trace, they would swap stories of Keith.

”You know full well we’re going to.”

Yeah.
And they knew he knew.

”I have so many questions for them. I hear the Holt dad is a scientist, I hope he can tell me all about Earth and humans. Don’t see them much when I’m cleaning for work.”

Regris was a janitor at a hotel. Keith had heard stories about the job, and was upset about the conditions and his treatment. ”But,” Regris had argued, ”There are not many places that would take me as I look.” He ground his teeth to keep from snapping. That truth had just made him angrier.

 

As it became closer to time, Keith found his stomach was tight with nerves. He fluttered about the living room, straightening the wall decorations, arranging the food, then rearranging it when it wasn’t to his satisfaction. He worried that they wouldn’t feel comfortable sitting on the floor to eat. Which then made him look around for someting that could be used as a table. The closest thing ended up being a dresser from their storage bedroom.

He emptied the contents in a mad rush, knowing the guests would arrive soon, and pushed it into the living room.

Only to realize they didn’t have chairs.

With a huff he shoved it to the courner, telling it he would, ”deal with you later”. His family gave him questioning looks, but his scowl kept them, thankfully, silent.

 

”Hewwo?” Keith nearly dropped the plate of bread (that he was moving for the third time).

Stopping in front of the door, he brushed the fabric of his shirt down and flicked his braid behind his shoulder. It would make its way back, and quick, but fussing with his appearance calmed something primal in him.

”Hey. Uh. Welcome.” The five of them were smiling at him, seemingly in reassurance, and he cursed how easy he was to read.

”Thank you for inviting us.” Sam moved first, handing Keith several boxes of pre-packaged chocolates. ”We also brought some wine. I’m not sure if you know about a country called Italy, it’s far from here, but that’s our lineage, and these are our specialty.”

He uttered a thank you and set the choclates down on the kithen counter. His family watched the guests, some of them waved and said hello.

”So. This is, uh. Yeah. Welcome to our home. I’ll show around. You can put those bottles down on the table.” He’d checked out a book on (human) etiquette from the university’s library. It said to walk guests through the house, so that’s what he did.

Keith gave them a quick tour of their shack. First was their sleep room, cushions strewn about the floor, and Sam expressed his surprise of how Galra sleep. He asked about blankets, which puzzled Keith. Matt explained their purpose, and reminded Keith that humans didn’t have fur. It made sense, and he realized he had never wondered how other (half and more) humans got by without fur. They also didn’t all share sleeping space. Humans, Keith decided, were strange.

He nervously explained why there was a mess of clothing in their clothing room. Matt burst into laughter and Pidge barely managed to not. Sam thanked him for trying, but reassured him they wouldn’t mind eating on the floor. Colleen watched him with a soft expression.

The kitchen and living room were basically one, save for the wall that spliced them, which only rose half-way up.

Everyone was gathered around the table when they finished the tour. Introductions took awhile, with interjections and questions firing off from both sides. He snorted when Matt whispered to him that he retained none of it, and would absolutely be asking everyone, no less than three times, who they were.

Shiro had been mostly silent, fidgeting with his pockets, it was obvious he was nervous. Keith wanted to hold his hand, or hug him, or kiss him, anything, but it seemed they both wanted to wait until they were alone. Their families hadn’t officially approved of their relationship yet.

Keith brushed his finger tips along Shiro’s forearm.

They sat down to begin the meal.

”We were unsure of which flavors and meats were suitable to your palates, so Keith had researched what we have made. We hope you enjoy this comfortable food.”

They mostly hunted for their meats, but they scraped their savings jar and bought roast beef. Yrpet had made the gravy from some butter and flour. Keith peeled the potatoes. They cooked it over the fire, wanting to take care with preparing the meat just right, for the expense.

As they tucked into their meals, the guests complimented it. Keith released the breath he kept in, waiting for them let him know he’d made it wrong.

”Our Keith here tended the roasted beef meat over the fire.”

Keith shot a look at Regris and then turned to Shiro. As if he could help.

”He also did the arranging in here. He’s quite the homemake-”

”Ok, thanks, Regris. Didn’t you tell me you had questions for Sam?”

Regris took the bait, and soon enough the conversation forgot Keith, in lieu of discussing Earth culture and Galran culture. Thace complimented human genius of making silerware to compensate for their dull teeth. Sam laughed at that, and Matt nudged Keith with an elbow. Yeah, Keith was happy with his new-found meal-time independence via small metallic utensils. He winked at Matt, cutting into his meat with his knife.

 

”Hey.” Shiro bumped his shoulder. They had finally managed to sneak off by themselves. Despite Keith’s attempts at repeated redirection, questions dod come their way about the relatioship. Keith’s family wanted to know more about Shiro. Likewise, the Holts wanted to know about Keith, their queries much different having then seen him in his home, with fellow Galra. The mood stayed light, as they weren’t entirely strangers to the other’s family. It still had been nerve-wracking for them. The subject of the baby was danced around but it’s prescence lingered in the background. They were kids still, by many means, and their relationship was new, but Keith was pregnant, and pretense of taking it slow was rapidly crumbling.

”Hey.”

Keith was looking up at the stars when he felt the large hand take his.

How many times would Shiro allow Keith to tell him he was scared, before he well and truly was done with him?

They stayed in silence, both watching the unobstructed view of the nightsky, until Regris came over and called them back in.

The parting kiss was sweet, sweetened even more by the wine that coated their lips. Keith licked up what he could from Shiro’s mouth. Clearing of throats made them separate. Which was just as well, Keith’s lungs ached at him.

He licked at his lips the whole rest of the night, long after everyone had gone to bed, and the gentle sound of sleep breathing played lullaby.

 

His shift at the café was steady that day. Beneath the counter his books were tucked, so that he was able to read in-between customers, without going on offical breaks. It wasn’t ideal; neither for the studying, nor his ability to stay mentally present in the café, but life’s responsibilities had piled up, and he was managing the best he knew how to. Slav wouldn’t revoke their first test just because Keith was ailed by morning sickness and increasingly changing hormone levels. Not that Keith had or would tell him. There was hope he wouldn’t begin showing as pregnant during the current semester. With luck, he’d take online courses for the remainder of the pregnancy, if to avoid telling anyone.

As it was, just about every human in his life had warned him about how others would take finding out a man was pregnant.

Keith fiddled with a straw, unwrapping only one end, and twirling it inside the other.

Humans were strange for what did and didn’t bother them. Their males general disregard for those with wombs was another point of tension for him. Life givers were revered, and rightfully so, with his people. His ability to bear children had made him separate, for its increasing rarity, but it had made him a blessing unto his family’s lineage. There were few branches of it that dead-ended; They were largely bearers. A pride to his people, amongst his people, Keith was a shameful being to the native Terrans.

He huffed and disposed of the straw into the bin. What his mom had ever seen in these primitive peoples had all but eluded him.

Of all the ones to fall for, Keith just had to get enamoured with a human.

He smacked his lips. Damnit, he was his mom’s son.

The bell on the door rang and it shocked him to attention. He was glad for the contraption, or else the man might have stood in front of Keith for another 5 minutes, as he mused.

”Hello, welcome to the Marmo-”

Crash. The ceramic mug the man had brought in with him fell to the floor.

”Keith?”

He blinked at the man, feeling something strange. Something, famili-

”Dad?”

Chapter Text

The bell over the door rang again and he saw a woman with a young child enter. She made a wide circle around the shattered mug on the floor, leading the child by the hand. Keith bit the inside of his cheek, which had become sore lately.

”I would like a latte and my son will have a hot chocolate.”

It took every bit of self-control for him to keep a neutral face. He couldn’t smile but at least it wasn’t a frown. He collected the money and dropped it in the register.

”There’s a broom by the bathroom.” He called out without looking to the man. His hands were shaking as they ground the coffee beans and readied the milk. If he had the correct anatomy his ears would be folded back and tail would be tucked and looped around his leg. It was good to no be so, if only because the tail would trip him as he milled around behind the coffee bar, preparing the drinks.

”Son, it’s been so long. I saw the name of the café and-”

”Yeah, you thought of mom. That must have been the first time in years.” He yanked the filter holder from the machine and banged it upside down into the wastebin. The grounds fell out in globs. He tapped it harder.

”That’s not true, but I understand why you’d say that.” The man’s voice was infuriatingly calm.

His jaw tightened and he was grateful that the timer went off to let him know the water had reached temperature. He scooped in the powdered chocolate and stirred.

”I’ve got to walk these over.” He grabbed the handles of the mugs and walked out from behind the counter and to the table. The woman and son thanked him. Once he waa behind the counter again, he grabbed a straw and tapped it onto the palm of the other hand.

”I never wanted to leave,” he pulled out a stool at the bar and sat down, placing his clasped hands on the counter in front of him, ”I fought hard to come with. But your mom was called back to the war. As it was, she smuggled you with her.”

”Kolivan’s told me already. I wasn’t meant to come with. I was a burden.” The words tasted as good as a cup of straight black coffee, and did just as well to light energy in his veins.

”Keith-”

”No. Don’t you- don’t say my name. I’m at work, or I would shove you out this door. Get out.”

”Alright, just,” he reached into his pocket and pulled a card out from his wallet, ”Please, call me. I want to talk. I- I didn’t think I’d see you again.”

Keith kept his hands busy with the straw, looking at the outstretched hand with the card. His dad sighed and let the card drop to the counter. With one last look, which was strikingly sincere with pleading and pain, he emptied the broom bucket into the trash, left it by the door, and walked out.

It might have been easier if the man had thrown a fit. Maybe Keith wanted him to lose himself to emotion, to yell, or cry, just something. Instead, his dad had stood there calmly. Sorrow was written all over his face, from the turned in eyebrows, to lines at the courners of the mouth. He looked haggard, too, face unshaven, hair unkempt. Maybe he had thought he would never see Keith again. Maybe he had searched. Maybe he’d spent all the years mourning his lost wife and son. But also just as possible was that he’d felt relieved when the pair had taken off for the stars. In truth, it hurt to think about his dad, and so he usually didn’t.

It had occured to him, a few times since landing on Earth, to go look for his dad. But the thought of finding him dead was as painful as the thought of finding him alive. Reason, and Kolivan, and now his dad, had told him he was left with his mom to keep safe. That still didn’t stop him from feeling abandoned.

He took the card into his fingers and looked it over.

Kenneth Kogane. So, Keith thought, I have a human family name.
Beneath that was an address to somewhere Roswell, New Mexico.
A phone number was listed.
But what concerned Keith was realizing he was reading without translation. The card was written in the Standard Intergalactic language. His father was human, right?

He tucked it into his back pocket.

What a time for his dad to come back. With a baby on the way, that was one more complication.

 

The Holt’s daily arrival was welcomed with desperation. Matt barely walked through the door before Keith was calling him over. He scream whispered, wanting to get Matt’s opinion and advice before anyone else.

”My dad came in today. I don’t- I never thought- Look, this is what he gave me,” he reached into his pocket and handed over the card. Matt squinted at it.

”Holy fuck dude, I can’t read this.”

”I know!” He waved his arms in emphasis. ”It’s in Standard Intergalatic. That language hasn’t reached any systems remotely this far over, yet.”

”Listen, you, me, and Shiro. On Friday night, sleepover. Bring this, ok? We were just gonna do video games and Webflix, but we can also play detective.”

Matt handed it back over and he stowed it back into hiding quickly; if Pidge suspected anything was up, she would join them immediately. Which would clue Sam in. Keith loved the Holts, but he didn’t want it to become a big deal, not yet anyway.

”Hey Pidge, Sam.”

”Hey dude. Your family is wild. What an evening.” She snorted and clapped her hands together. She must have been remembering something that happened.

”Yeah, well, you Holts are something, too.”

The sarcasm just made her roar into more laughter. It was infectious, because he found himself chuckling along.

”Thank you Keith, we appreciated seeing your home and will be glad to host you all sometime at ours.”

Sam was sweet. He could see where Pidge and Matt had got their caring and charm. Colleen had a good deal more fire to her. Where Sam was mellow and quiet, she had been loud and outgoing. Her wit was quick and sharp, reminding him so much of Pidge. Keith had shared many jokes and remarks with Colleen throughout the evening. Their humor was refreshingly similar.

”It’ll be a tight squeeze, but I look forward to it.”

They fell into their routine, sitting at the same table, Matt at the bar, and Keith making their drinks.

”Mysterious alien language notwithstanding, how are you doing?”

Keith had made Matt’s drink first, so he was sipping on it as he waited.

”Well...,” he wasn’t sure, actually, ”I’m just sinking into being comfortable with being pregnant, and this feels like it’s just something else to worry about. I’d made my peace with it. He didn’t want me, and that’s ok. That’s fine.”

”Are you sure he didn’t want you? He gave you the card, so, he definetly wants to catch up.”

Argh, he huffed, ”I don’t know, I guess. Maybe. I have to think about this. Hey, can I- I’m not supposed to but... can I have a sip of your drink?”

It had been a day, and he figured he’d earned at least a little caffeine.

”If you don’t tell Kolidad, then sure.”

Snort.
”Kolidad?”

”Yeah, man. I mean- ok, well, maybe that’s not so tactful, given the current circumstances. But you can’t deny he wouldn’t come gut me with one of those ceremonial blades, should he ever get wind that I allowed this.”

”You’d swear he’s the one pregnant.”

They chuckled and shared some more banter as Keith finished making their order. He asked about ”sleepovers”; From what he knew, they were for young humans whom were still in their primary or secondary education. Matt waved his hand, saying ”age is for losers”, so Keith, assumed, they were not ”losers”. There would be some beer, which Matt told him was alcoholic just like the wine they’d had.

”Isn’t it funny how every civilization has some type of poisonous beverage that its people consume for recreation?” Matt did have a point.

”There’s scheduled to be another influx of Galrans soon. They’ve been asked to bring some foods and the like. I’ll have Kolivan ask them to get some bridé. I think you’ll enjoy it. It’s sweet and spicey.”

”Oh, just how I like it.” He winked at Keith. Which earned him a laugh.

 

No other customers came in, so Keith sat down with his friend’s, drinking his chamomile tea. Shiro had driven into Albuquerque to pick him up some from the best tea house in the state. He forgot what all was in it, but it was smooth and comforted both his nerves and stomach. They chatted about the dinner. To his happy suprise, Colleen loved him and wanted to have him over for tea and biscuits. The company made him feel warm and he gave a few rubs to his abdomen.

Kolivan’s arrival startled the group. They were so deep in conversation, they’d lost track of time. The Holts offered to help him clean up and close up. He refused them, insisting it was his responsibility, at least, until Kolivan let him know they were headed to the night market. Three extra hands would make it faster, as they didn’t want to be late and miss the fresher picks, so he accepted.

”Thank you for your assistance, Holt family.”

”Oh, no need for formalities. We are glad to help. Colleen and I would like to have you over dinner sometime, by the way. Please get my contact info from Keith. There are things I would like to chat about, as well.”

Keith watched Kolivan’s face. Though he had made fast friends with the family, Kolivan hadn’t really talked with them. Humans were weary of them, especially one as imposing as Kolivan. Sam reaching out would have been a shock. He hoped they would get to bond. Not all humans were so deep in prejudgice.

 

”Alright, Kit. We’re going to meet the others there.”

Keith hummed. The car window rattled against his forehead as he watched the scenery. It was so open, he realized. The land stretched on and on, ending only where there were mountains. The sun set so early in the winter months, as had been explained to him, and so the drive was beneath the night sky.

Stars painted the sky like freckles. Their lights flickered. Keith spotted some constallations, having taken to learning them from Shiro and his classes. It made for a quiet sky, that there were no passing by ships. At least, none that were visible. With no light to interupt from either the Earth, nor celestial vehicles, the view was breathtaking and clear.

Watching the stars, Keith understood what would have drawn Shiro out to them. Living on Earth for the past few months, it was easy to grasp the drive.

”Did you ever think I’d have a baby?” It was a random thought, but the otherwise silence allowed itself for being filled with anything. ”Uhm, well. You know... Like this?”

He was acknowledged with a sound of pondering. Kolivan was never one to speak quickly.

”I knew that a day would come. Kit, your nose may be unable to smell it, but to me, us, your scent is strong. There was no doubt you would attract more suitors than you could possibly desire. But even so, I felt I could deny those facts. There was always a sense of putting the thought off. Yet, and as it has come to pass, I knew it would come quicker than I would be prepared for.”

”Are you mad?”

”I have no ire toward you, nor Shiro, and especially not for your yet born child. Keith, I am proud of you. I trust you to make the right decisions for your life, and that of the one growing inside you. If I fear, it’s not out of your competency, but rather, my own ability to not bend life around you that everything may keep you safe.”

”Thank you. That means a lot to me.”

”As you do to me.”

What had Matt said? Kolidad?

The stars seemed to be blurry now, twinkling much faster. But that could have also been the tears.

 

The night market was a few towns over and was an hours drive away. It was closer to Texas, and was much more abundant in plant life than the middle and southern parts of New Mexico. As they approached there were short lampposts marking the way into town. It reminded Keith of human fairytales.

They parked in a makeshift lot. Judging by the amount of cars, it was likely already busy. Continuing on foot, the ground became bricked. Through a line of houses, there was a large center, where all manners of stalls and carts were set up. It was all illuminated by stringed lights looped into the branches of trees that made a canopy around the edges of the center. It was easy to spot the rest of their party, as Galra towered over most humans.

Khli, a tall but smaller-framed Galra, with stripes running from forehead to neck, waved at Keith. He waved back and motioned at Kolivan to follow.

”We had just arrived, worry not.” She addressed Keith, running the length of his braid through her hands. It was a calming gesture.

”I look worried?”

”As water when a stone’s been cast in. Here, have a honeypop. We acquired these from the booth behind us. They are sweet.”

He hummed a thanks and took the pop in hand. It was shaped like a Terran insect. It had wings and stout abdomen, with six little legs poking out from beneath. Popping it into his mouth, he realized he had tasted something like it before. It had been on toasted bread. He handed it to Kolivan to try, whom agreed it was familiar, and pleasent.

”Let us seek something savory, the sweet shall spoil your appetite, young one.”

She handed him some plastic wrapping, likely what the pop had come in, and re-sheathed it.

The sounds of grilling pulled Keith towards a stall at the middle. Various meats were being cooked and the smell was a mixture of them, as well as a tanginess. He wondered after the types of spices, as they were so fragrant.

Digging into his pocket, he pulled out the tips he’d received for the day. Kolivan had allowed him to bring it for the occassion. He turned around to ask Khli is she wanted anything.

”I will take one, thank you, kitten.” It was refreshing to hear Galran.

”Excuse me, I’ll take t-”

”We don’t serve your kind here. Move along.” The man behind the stall punctuated his statement with a jab of the tongs his was using to flip the meat.

”My.. kind?”

”You weird space cat things need to take a hike.”

Oh. That ”kind”.

Keith was quick to shoot forward, but Khli was quicker.

”Keith,” she spoke pointedly in Standard Terran, ”He isn’t worth it. Not one so uncultured.”

”You come here and leech of my taxes, and think you’re better, huh?” The man hung the tongs on the side of the grill and reached for the knife.

It was likely any empty threat, but Keith couldn’t rationalize in that moment. He ducked out of Khli’s hold and sprung himself beside the man. In one swift move, he threw the man to the ground and had him held down by the arms folded behind him.

”You want to say that again?” Keith growled into the man’s ear.

”Keith! Keith! Get off him, people are starting to stare! You’ll get us kicked out!”

He snapped his head up. Sure enough, people were looking his way, and starting to whisper. The last thing he wanted was to get his family kicked out. He jumped off the man, whom groaned as he got back to his feet.

”See? This is why we don’t want your kind.”

Keith’s teeth were snapped tightly against each other. His fists itched to be thrown, but he breathed deep, instead, and fell to Khli’s side. She murmered comforting words to him. It hurt, but Keith allowed her to steer him away from the stall. They decided to go find the others and ask where they had eaten.

 

”Kit, you jeopradized us. You cannot be ruled by your emotions.”

Keith grumbled as he bit into his buttered corn on a stick. Kolivan was right, and he hadn’t meant to lash out.

”But we can’t just let them talk like that about us.” He spoke around the corn he shoved into his cheeks so he could talk.

”We can and we must. When you physically assault a human in defense of us being peaceful, it speaks the wrong message.”

This time he bit off enough corn to keep himself from speaking. The adrenaline hadn’t quite worn off yet and he was ready for a fight, whether he wanted to be or not. It wouldn’t be wise to engage Kolivan, especially not in public. Ultimately, Keith respected him, and so he busied himself with filling his stomach.

”Someone’s got fluctuating hormones.” Regris sing-songed.

All Keith could do was shoot him a glare. There would be time enough at home to spar. That is, if Kolivan and Ulaz allowed him.

That thought made Keith deflate.

When he finished his corn, along with two others, because he’d felt suddenly ravenous, Ulaz took him aside. They walked over to a bench that was out of the way. There were no people there and it felt good for Keith to have some space.

Ulaz had purchased a hair brooch for Keith, which made him smile. His braid was undone with the gentle, precise hands of the doctor, whom was trained to touch with care. A slight purr vibrated through him as Ulaz finger-combed his hair.

”Now, what is it that is really bothering you?”

”Hm,” Keith closed his eyes, feeling relaxed as Ulaz reworked his hair back into style, after clipping in the brooch, ”Well, I. My dad, my human dad, he came in today.”

Ulaz hummed to let him know to continue.

”I wasn’t expecting it, is all. I thought- I didn’t think- He’s alive. He’s here. And.. I don’t know what to do about that.”

”I trust your judgement, kit. Whatever you feel is best.”

They shared companionable silence for a few minutes longer before rejoining the others.

The night was winding down, and they had acquired much fresh produce. Stalls were closing down and packing up. He barely made it to the car, where he promptly fell asleep against the window. He didn’t remember waking up between then, nor making his way into their sleep room, but he woke up there just the same. Beside his pillow were various trinkets and teas. It made him smile.

Chapter Text

There's rain outside the window. Matt watches Shiro watch it. Like some type of emo brooding train, Hello Darkness My Old Friend sings softly in the background of it all. The days of cloud and inclimate weather are so few and far inbetween that this is for all manner of purpose, a day of desert sunshine. The usually bright sky and empty canopy makes them feel like they’re back on the Galra ship, where the lights were blinding, and they couldn’t take a step without being watched. The sun feels like a stalker, and that thought makes him chuckle.

”I’m afraid to ask, but what’s got you amused?”

It’s not quite genuine, because the grin on his face says he’s anticipating a Matt Holt Classic. Who is he to not deliver?

”Oh, just wondering if it’s reasonible to get a restraining order on the sun, and where I’d file it.”

”Space court.” He doesn’t miss a beat.

”You can’t just- ok, fine. Well, how’s the space boyfriend? He ready to have our space sleepover? Oh, speaking of, we gotta get some Supplies.”

”I don’t think Kolivan is gonna go for our usual snacks.”

”Shiro. Blease. It’s not a sleepover without trash food. I’m sorry, I don’t make the rules.”

”Except, you literally do. This is your house.”

”Blease.”

”Oh my- ok, fine, I’ll allow it this once.”

Yanking Shiro forward by the shirt, he leaves a kiss on his cheek.

”Matt, if you do that one more time-”

”I won’t. Now come on, let’s get you out of the sweatpants. And no whining ok? We are not leaving the house looking like this.”

 

Matt was glad that Shiro would accept directions like that. He was an intelligent and patient man, that seemed to know Matt said it for as much his own benefit. Sometimes it was just helpful to have someone going through the same things. He kept motivated by motivating Shiro. He was sure that when Shiro healed a little more, he would provide the same for Matt. Until then, Matt could be enough for two.

The drive in to the town, where the large warehouse Doormart was located, was much more stressful than heading to the Garrison. Where the roads to the base were open, wide, and less-traveled, they were stuck at traffic lights, sandwiched between cars on the way to the store.

”Beep beep, it’s green, motherfu-”

”Matt.”

He held his hands up in surrender.

”Hands back on the wheel.” Shiro grabbed on to the handle above the door.

”Sorry, sorry. And yes I’ll watch my mouth, dad.”

That earned him a incredulous sigh. Shiro was far more dramatic than people gave him credit for. You just had to know him long enough that he dropped the tight, leader persona. Matt was opposite in that way. The more you got to know Matt, the more likely you were to see that he was playing at being calm and goofy. Fake-it-till-you-make-it.

Yikes, his angst needed a vacation.

”Beep beep, motherfucker.” He whispered under his breath.

”Matt!”

Had to get his fun where he could.

 

Matt won the game to not steer the cart. Well, ok. To be fair, it more went like, ”Nose goes,” and, naturally, he was the first to touch his nose. What, with being the prompter of the game. Poor Shiro could barely comprehend what had happened before the cart’s handles were directed into his hands. To which the man just slumped forward, which was a sight, considering how broad his chest and shoulders were, and steered the cart along behind Matt with a pinched expression.

I can’t imagine how tightly Keith has you wrapped around his (damned, stupid ass, adorable, loveable) little fingers, buddy, he thought, I’m nothing compared to that pretty face. RIP Shiro. Good knowing you.

 

”Shiro, no, listen. Blease.”

”If you ’blease’ me one more to-”

”No, c’mon. Listen ok, just. Ok. Look, look,” he pointed at the label, ”See? The Hint of Lime chips have milk. Milk is good for you. That’s not nothing. And anyways, I’m sure he could use some good, ’ol vitamin D-”

”Matt, I swear to god.”

”Dude, bun-in-the-oven. Don’t play blushing virgin now. Bro, ok, focus. We’re getting the sweet, sweet Hint of Lime chips. If you want the Hot Cheetos, that’s your call.”

They get load the cart up with each.

”Shiiiiiro-”

”No.”

”Shi. Ro.”

”Nope.”

”Blea-”

”Matthew Holt, put it in the cart if it’ll shut you up.”

Enter one (1) kettle korn (”The ’k’ is so heavy handed.”, ”No bro. Aesthetic.”) into their cart.

 

”Do you think Keith is taking his vitamins?” Matt wants to gag at how /whistful/ Shiro sounds. It’s too tender, much too tender for his ears. Save those moony eyes for the bedroom.

They do get a couple of yoghurts, a packet of blueberries, a sweet potato to roast, and some fancy chia seed drink for Keith. He’s the first one to make fun of Shiro for doting, but he can’t help but feel just as fiercly protective as Shiro does. Though there’s a silent agreement that they can never let Keith know that.

”I’m gonna pop some tag-”
”Matthew, we are in a chain store, don’t sing Thrift Shop. Please.”

But Matt did only have $20 in his pocket. How was he supposed to hunt, now? To find come-ups?

They (Matt) stopped by the frozen foods and put in a pint of ice cream. He mused aloud when Keith would start wanting pickles to go with it. Shiro threatened to put back the Hint of Lime chips, and Matt shut his mouth. Their cart looked like they were teenagers packing for a roadtrip, complete with s’mores makings (they’d toast them over the oven) and bratwurst. Shiro had a small section of the cart with a few snacks for the week. He couldn’t afford to keep eating from their café.

Heading up to the line, Matt unloaded their food for tonight, and chatted up the cashier as his items were rung up.

When it was Shiro’s turn, he dug into his wallet for his benefits card. It was an older style card, before they had put chips into them, so the cashier would have to enter the numbers in manually. He told her as much, and she scoffed.

”Are you sure? Why don’t you try it?”

Matt watched him take the card with a shakey hand and slid it through he reader. It beeped and the cashier told him to try again. After the next beep she huffed and snatched the card from Shiro’s hand. She grumbled about freeloaders leeching off her parents’ taxes. Matt figured she wasn’t working there because she needed money. Shiro’s face was pale and he could see nerves from his trembling hands to his taut shoulders.

The trip home was silent save for the radio. Matt had it on the local Christian station, if only because the other options didn’t suit his tastes. At least the music was positive. From the side of his vision he could see staring down at his hands.

”It really isn’t fair,” he told Shiro as deposited the groceries on the kitchen counter, ”We go to war, fight, lose a part of ourselves, in so many capacities, and we get back here to.. to this.” He gestured at the air as if it somehow contained the ”this”. It was everything though. There would be too much to try and point out.

 

”What types of shows do you think Keith’ll like?”

”Well. He’s seen a few of our works. It’s hard to say.”

He paused in thought. They were about 10 minutes out from the shack.

”I wonder if he’s seen anim-”
”Are you serious?”

The both busted out into obnoxious laughter.

”Never thought I’d actually meet aliens, much less get to have a movie night with one.”

”Never thought I’d get a male pregnant.”

”Wow man, life sure is weird.”

He hummed his agreement as they pulled into the shack’s dirt lot.

As they spoke with Kolivan, whom handed over a schedule or dietary list, as well as emergency contact numbers, Matt could imagine how much more protective they’d get of Keith as time went by. The thought of Keith, waddling up to the front door, the baby bump huge and making it hard for him to balance, made him sigh. He wasn’t sure how he would handle things then. Keith would not take kindly to coddling.

But, thankfully, the Keih that met them had all the graceful movement and flat stomach of the Keith he met.

Matt thought, once more, life sure was weird.

Chapter Text

Shiro watched Keith take in the house as he stepped through the door. It occured to him this was the first time for Keith. The Holt home was every bit the American Dream. From the white, wooden banner of the staircase, to the spralling living room, it could have (and occassionally had) been used to film movies. He could understand his companion’s awe.

”Welcome to zeh humble abode.” Matt bowed deeply with one arm tucked into his chest.

Keith’s brows scrunched together and he repeated the same bow he’d learned at the Chinese restaurant. Shiro wasn’t sure if he wanted to correct him, so he just bowed too.

”Wow, Matt. This.. This is- wow. I like your house.”

”Thanks, I got it from my momma.”

He groaned. Matt was such a shitpost.

”Matt, you’re such a shitpost.”

”Thanks, fam.”

They stopped into the kitchen to say hi to Colleen. She was chopping some vegetables and had a pot heating on the stove. Her smile was warm, as it usually was, but specifically so, as she looked at Keith. He bowed to her and she looked to Shiro, whom nodded, and bowed back.

”Hey there, it’s great to see you, Keith. I’m making a soup for dinner, it was my mother’s recipe from her mother’s mother, back in Italy.”

”I don’t know where that is.”

”Keith, my man, I’m gonna force you to study a map. Dude.” Matt hooked an arm around Keith’s neck and dragged him away. Shiro laughed and bid Colleen bye. She grinned and muttered about her ”boys”.

 

”This...” Keith turned about his heel in a circle, looking from wall to wall, poster to poster.

Shiro could only imagine what his thoughts were at seeing the ”I believe” poster. Matt, no, all humanity, had no idea what had been beyond their little star system. One look at Matt and he knew they were both thinking the same thing.

It was different, getting to see all the mundane aspects of human life through the eyes of someone else. He’d learned more about himself, his culture, and his home planet from being around Keith, than when he’d left for space. Not for the first time, Shiro wanted to know what things were like for the other. Were they really so similar that Keith had been able to transition into their life so quickly? How much of his blending in had been carefully crafted behavior, built well before he touched down to Earth? How come it was, that with Keith, things seemed to be more question than answer? Worst of all, would Shiro ever find answers?

”...Did you really think we looked like this?” He sounded open and curious.

Matt snorted and patted the bed.

”Sit down, my friend. I believe you’ve just helped select our first film of the night.”

They piled onto the bed. Matt lay on his stomach and had a pillow tucked beneath his chest. Shiro questioned Keith if it was alright for a pregnant person to be on their stomach, when the man joined Matt, but Keith just sighed and pinched his calf. Keith asked them to agree to hold the pregnancy conversation until at least after dinner.

Matt turned the webflix on to the Alien movie.

”Listen, ground rules. This is webflix, not webflix and chill. I will initiate a pillow fight if I hear any smacking of lips, giggles, or see any wandering hands.”

Keith looked Matt dead in the face and reached a hand behind him to squeeze Shiro’s thigh.

”K-keith!” He sputtered and swept the hand off.

”Try me, Holt.”

Shiro took the pillow that was behind him and wedged it between the two.

”Alright, kids. Let’s watch the movie.”

Grumbling, they settled into place and watched the screen.

Shiro hadn’t seen the movie, it wasn’t his genre, really, and, unfortunately, he wasn’t about to either. Keith was next to him, shuffling his feet and swaying his head as he watched. They put on the subtitles for him, after he expressed desire to practice. Shiro asked how the chip worked. All he got was a shrug and the explanation that Keith hadn’t gone to school.

Behind his ear was the small scar of where it was implanted. Looking over to Matt, to make sure the other wasn’t watching him, thankfully he was absorbed in tv, Shiro stroked a gentle finger along it. Keith sighed contentedly, but otherwise kept focused on the screen. Shiro kept making little touches, until he ended up being able to finger comb and braid Keith’s hair. He could feel the gentle rumble of purring. Matt looked over once, seemed to want to say something, but didn’t.

The hair between his fingers felt like the finest strung silk. Shiro loved his hair, it seemed to be part of his identity; hair having been fashioned after Kolivan’s.

 

”Boys, dinner!” The voice startled them all.

”You know, I have to say, watching that movie makes me question whatever we wrre thinking when we imagined aliens.”

Matt turned to Keith and gave him a scrutinizing look.

”I never thought they’d be so handsome-” Keith scoffed but the corner of his mouth pulled up into a smirk, ”or humanoid. Hey, actually. How come most of us are bi-pedal? I hesitate to actually label it as humanoid, because that feels... human-centric.” Matt turned his head this way and that, analyzing Keith as if he could answer. ”It seemed like all the species we’ve seen so far, have the same basic body composition.”

”Small universe, I guess.” Keith didn’t sound sure.

”Hm. I guess.”

 

They set the table as Colleen did last-minute touches to their meal. Shiro felt warmed to bring another chair to their table, it was looking full. Pidge walked Keith through setting out the silverware; he looked surprised to learn there was a particular set up, and even questioned needing the different types of forks and spoons. Shiro could read on Pidge’s face that she had only just wondered about it. She left Keith promise that she would research it. Matt helped him to change and lay out the tablecloth. Sam finished pouring the glasses of sparkling water.

Colleen announced her approval of the scene and they all sat down.

”Now Keith, dear, I don’t know what you have tried or liked, so don’t feel shy taking a bit of everything and then more later.”

 

”So, let me get this right. Your dad just walks into the café, tries to talk to you, then leaves this card?”

Shiro held the card up between his fore and middle finger. He couldn’t make out the writing. It was in a nonhuman language.

”Yeah, man. That is pretty suspect. I mean, I haven’t even run into that language, and I’m part of the governm- Oops. Not that I’d snoop around or anything.” Matt stuffed some Hint of Lime chips into his mouth.

Keith’s lips were sucked together and pressed tightly.

”He has a point. Where would your dad have even seen it? And his card is written in it? What type of business is he doing?”

”Well, his dad did boink-”

”Matt!”

”... I’m right, but I guess I shouldn’t say it. Ok. Still. That leaves us with question of how they’ve met.” Matt looked over to Keith, who was staring at the bag of chips.

”I don’t know. Mom never said. And now she’s gone, so. The only person to know is that man.”

Shiro looked over at Matt. Matt seemed to think the same thought. But the problem was that Keith didn’t want anything to do with his dad. He’d said as much.

”Keith, you don’t have to contact him. This is your decision and I support you.”

”Shiro, that’s Keith’s family-”

”Excuse me, I’m right here and guess what that man left me. I have a family and they’re back at the shack right now. I don’t need some deadbeat dad to act like he suddenly cares.”

”But Keith, you were in space! How was he supposed to-”

”He obviously has some connections,” Keith snatched the card from Shiro and waved it in front of Matt, ”If he’d really wanted to, he could’ve sent a message!”

”That’s the thing! We have no idea where he learned the language or what he’s even doing!”

”Ok you two, let’s take a breather.” Shiro got in-between their line of sight.

Keith tossed the card to the floor and stepped on it.

”K-keith, please. I’m sorry, I lost my temper. Please, let’s just- let’s change the subject. I’m sorry.”

That impressed Shiro. Matt was great but he could be pig-headed. He gestured discretely to his abdomen and mouthed the word ”pregnant”. Shiro muttered a soundless thank you and put a gentle hand on Keith’s shoulder.

”I.. I’m sorry, sometimes I... I just well, sorry. I don’t know why I’m this way.”

”Hey dude no big, let’s just put on another show. Man, oh man, you need to check out animé.”

Matt. Oh Matt. Shiro chuckled.

 

”Matt, I see you keep glancing down. Ask what it is and get it over with.”

”Dear, you wound me with your harsh tone. I just wanna ask... well. How’s it going? Y’know, uh. That.” Matt’s eyes flicked down.

”I have a feeling you aren’t going to let this go. So, fine, I’ll talk about it.”

The three of them were on the floor. Shiro sat beside Keith, as he reated his back against the bed. Matt was in front of them, his back against the dresser. They were in the middle of a card game, but Matt kept staring at Keith. Shiro sighed, the two could be so stubborn and single minded.

”So it’s... I’m getting used to it, I think. When we have kids come into the café, I kind of... feel maybe a bit excited? I mean, they’re cute.” He let his head fall back against the mattress. ”But I think the hormones are starting to get to me. I feel different, more emotional. Then, with my da- Kenneth coming back, it’s hard. I’m still so early along though, that not too much has changed.”

”And you, Shiro? That’s your kid cookin’ in that there oven. You’ve been pretty quiet all evening. Is it dad-to-be nerves?”

”Oh Matt, no need to hold back. Tell us what you’re really thinking.” He chuckled. ”I, uh, guess I have been spaced out though. Sorry guys.”

Keith rested a hand on high thigh and gave a gentle squeeze. He was grateful for all the gesture spoke without speaking.

”I’m happy to hear you’re excited, Keith. I have to admit that I feel the same when I see kids. I’ve always wanted a family. I figured I’d be in my thirties, but, that’s really not so far away, I guess. I’m.. Well, Keith, I’m happy it’s you. I think we’re gonna start such a wonderful family.”

”Oh yuck, you two. Get a room.”

”We have one.”

”One that I’m not currently occupying.”

Their laughter carried them far and away from the seriousness of the conversation. Getting older was strange, Shiro realized. You felt the same way, the same thoughts and feelings, as when you were a teen. Only, you handled them with greater poise. He was going to be a father, they both were. So they laughed, and laughed, and played games into the night. It was still ok, he reasoned, to be a kid, of just for a little while longer.

 

Matt was the first to fall asleep.

 

”Shiro?” Keith’s voice was small where he lay on the other side of Matt.

”Yeah?”

”Did you mean what you said earlier? About.. about being happy it’s with me? And, being excited to be a father?”

”Every word.”

There was a slight pause, and Shiro thought it meant Keith was falling asleep.

”Shiro, can I kiss you?”

With Matt sleeping? He chuckled under his breath, asking Keith to come to him. Matt slept like the dead, so he figured a little bit of kissing wouldn’t be so bad.

Shiro had to express things that words couldn’t, and all he could think to do that was to give to Keith the same thing that had gotten them into this. Talking wouldn’t tell Keith the things he really needed to express. So he began with a tender kiss. And, after a little adventure outside, ended with their bodies entwined. Keith cried out, over and over, and the tears that tracked down his cheeks told Shiro that Keith understood.

 

”I’m afraid to let you in because everyone’s left me. Some have meant to, some haven’t. But they’ve all left. I can’t do it anymore. I can’t have anyone else leave.”

Shiro feels the warmth of the man wrapped behind him, his arm circling him. He’s not sure that it shouldn’t be Keith being held, but there’s much too much comfort in it for him to change that. He also realizes, rather vaguely, that he can’t shift away if Keith’s gripping him like this. Keith must not know he’s doing it, either. There’s a sad vulnerability in it, one that Shiro figures Keith isn’t ready to display. Not yet, anyways.

He knows to pick his words with care. Keith is as much a spooked prey-animal as he is a solid predator. In the moment, he’s more the rabbit than the wolf. Shiro turns beneath the arm draped over him, pulling the man so their chests expand and fall against each other.

”I love you. I’m in love with you, Keith.”

Saying he’d never leave would be a betrayal in itself; there were things, like death, that could sweep him away, and that would leave Keith all the more gutted.

”And I haven’t them yet, but I love the baby, our baby, growing inside you.”

Keith never seems his size until he’s against him. Shiro never understands how such a fire, the origin of life and heat and lights, could be housed inside such a small body. Much the same way, he figures, as per Keith’s own sleepy musings, such gentleness and wistfulness, like a warm breeze, or the comforting blanket of stars scrolled across the nightsky, resided inside all 6 feet and 5 inches of solid muscle that was him.

The flames of him set him ablaze and destroyed him faster than he could blink.

The culmination of energy of the universe, and it was home inside such a small man.

”You’re my family, Keith. I- Will you- Please. Keith, please marry me. Maybe not today. But please, I-i want to be your husband. Let me cherish you and provide for you, for us, our child.”

It was so simple.

”Shiro, do you mean that?”

”I do.”

”O-of course I will. Shiro, I love you.”

The two snuck back ouside. Keith seared every inch of him as Shiro made love him to again and again that night. He let nothing more than ash and smoke by the time they collapsed in exhaustion, and headed back to their respective sleeping bags inside.

Chapter Text

”If I talk to my dad, do you think this will all stop?”

Keith is outside with Ulaz, tending to the flowers and plants nestled into their plastic homes. The Uhlmara flower, a tender flower, lilac petals are layered in a fan around the middle. His mom had loved the flower, often tucking one into his hair by the stem.

”There,” she”d say, ”It matches your eyes.”

It was a hardy flower, able to grow in environments both hot and cold, arid and humid. When it’s first blooming, leaves tipped with sharp thorns cradle it until it’s ready to open.

The seeds were a gift from the Embassy, who had finally helped them in settling. Hunk had visited after they found out about the incident at the market. So far the stand worker had no pressed charges, but, as per protocol, they took down the scene from Keith and the other’s perspective. It had been exhausting and Keith hoped to never work with beauracracy again.

”Kit, I am assuming by ”this” you mean the difficulties you are facing with attatching to your mate. Though, without regards to the meaning of ”this”, things will never be simply fixed by one conversation or meeting.”

Keith waters the Uhlmara carefully, so as not to drown it.

”However, do I believe that establishing a relationship with him will be one step towards long-term healing? Then, yes, kit. That is what I believe.”

With a tender pat to the soil, he moved on to the next plant to tend to.

”Did mom ever talk about him, Kenneth?”

”You and she are one and the same in this. She kept her feelings to herself, until she could no longer hold them. Our mission gave her purpose, and she used that hold thoughts at bay. But, when it became too great, she would hole up in her room and sob.”

”Did he ever try to contact her?”

”Ah, I suspected this was building up to that question. Once. Kenneth was able to reach our communication’s system once. Our dear Krolia took the call long enough to end it. We had to change our security measures, displayed for their weakness that an earthling could breech them. That had been a few months after she left. Then she was reassigned to Solvein by the Empire, as you know, and we lost contact over personal affairs.”


Keith sat on the porch swing, rocking, staring out at the sunset. His phone was in hand, but the decision on whom to contact wasn’t. Shiro wanted to set up another date soon. The semester was halfway over now, and he hadn’t much time for his boyfriend. Slav had piled on the homework, especially for Keith, he must have hated him, because he had Keith working on independent research projects. Keith had far too much pride to reject the work. Should he contact this Kenneth Kogane? What would happen if they didn’t get along? What if they did? Could he ever forgive the man for walking out?

”Here, ride.” A key was placed onto his leg.

”Oh. Uh?” Keith hadn’t heard the other’s approach. It was Temurr, a tall, sturdy, and wide Galra. He was of few words, and fewer appearances. Temurr maintained their hoverbike, as well as did work on any other appliance that needed it. When he worked for the Empire, he was one of their mechanics. ”Thanks.”

Temurr nodded.

If even he noticed Keith’s wispiness, then a ride through the night was a good idea; he needed to clear his head. The stars, a vastly reaching blanket, were a comfort. Skies, blue, gray, or otherwise, were always a beckoning for him. They whispered his name, swept it through the breezes that blew past, weaving it through leaves on trees, brushing up the dust of terrain, and cresting it against the waves of the oceans. Going up, into the sky, felt like coming home.

”They are inside making merry. Go.” They are drunk, playing games of sort, and will not hear you, Keith finished in his head.

With a nod, he slipped his phone into pocket. He rushes toward the bike with fervor and sparks the engine. It comes alive beneath him, vibrations trilling through his body, especially when his legs make contact with the metal. Its roars a gentle purr. Laughter works it way up from his stomach and spills from his cold-chapped lips. The air that rushes around him nibbles more than it bites. He ascends high, as high as the birds fly. He wants to see the landscape sprawl beneath him.

The glow of lights way under his feet are streaks of moving starlight. He’s been riding for a few hours and was just passing a city. His fingers had numbed long ago and he’d lost sensation in his face. He wants to take a minute to breath, so he brings the bike to a slow, easy descent.

The sky glowed lightly of the hour. Less stars could be seen from where he’d set down, as he hadn’t been much far away from the city. The engine hummed still, the hours of flight not ready to leave it. He hopped off and set down in a small patch of grass at the base of a tree. The area he had landed in was green.

He lay down with his head resting on hands folded behind. It was quiet, especially as the bike began to cool down.

”Hey, mom.” His voice shook but he was alone, only him and a memory. ”I met the man you- My .. dad. I met him. He came to the café.”

A breeze lifted the sweat-matted hair from his forehead.

”Did you love him?” He squeezed his eyes shut, ”M..mom, I met someone. I didn’t mean- It just- he’s- I’m pregnant now. I’m lost and I don’t know what to do. Were you terrified? Was I planned? Mom what if, what if I can’t be a good parent. I-we’ve only known war. I don’t know what to do now. Not just with the child but, in general I’m lost. I’m so lost.”

”I’m scared to love. I don’t know how. I’m... me. He’s. His name is Shiro. He’s amazing. He’s... wow.”

I’m scared to open up to him, he spoke only in his head, there’s just so much rough about me.

What does love even mean? Or look like?

 

 

He fell asleep without answers, but at least he felt lighter.

He wakes along with the sun. His phone battery is dead, but his tablet would do no good. The time mechanism in it is set to link to information on the sun, or suns, that orbit the planet, and it displays it’s position, along with a readout in local time. Earth is too far away to have been catalogued, at least for the current version of his tablet. It was used when he’d gotten as a gift for his birthday, anyways. With no service for it, Earth towers millennia behind the technology for its reception, it’s only useful for applications, when away from the shack.

The family is going to lecture him something fierce. Keith groans, patting away the grogginess from his face, and collects himself enough to board the bike and begin the journey back. Nighttime feels limitless and free, done away with the harsh exposition of daytime sunlight. But night always yeilds to day, which yields to night, then to day, in a cycle. If he had his choice, the sun would shine but an hour or so each day.

He rides home with the sun burning at his back, passing canyons that crest and trouph steeply, and the occassional patch of plant life.

He’s sure now that he’s going to call Kenneth. If for nothing else then, to learn the secrets behind the card, behind his meeting of Krolia, And choice to leave.

 

 

Kolivan is fuming.
In that he isn’t. He’s stoic and stiff and standing straight. He doesn’t speak, as if the words are too toxic, that he fears opening his mouth will but posion the vicinity. Given Keith’s stunt, the words earned in reprimand would be vile enough to do so. But his father (figure) is nothing if not merciful and with soft spot for him. Kolivan knows Keith well enough that, Keith thinks, he might be trying to get Keith to punish himself. The berating from the other would never be as cutting as what he’d do himself. It was a curse having a resistance group leader for a dad (figure).

Keith felt small.

Well,
Smaller.

Smaller than usual. Because, unfortunately, he was small, just in general, when it came to Galra (and human males his age but he will throw a punch at anyone willing to point this out).

”Can I ground myself? Because you’re just... staring, and it’s. I get it, ok? I messed up.”

”You messed up.” It’s such a hollow echo that it makes Keith wince.

”I’m sorry?” Keith isn’t questioning his regret moreso that he’s unsure of what Kolivan wants to hear.

”That would be a start, Keith. You know, the last time I had a son go off alone, without any farewell, nor indication of his departure, I was made to bury an empty box.”

Ouch, ok. Well, at least it was finally coming out.

”Kolivan, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to worry you. I forgot to charge my phone. I just, I wasn’t thinking-”
”No, Keith, you were not thinking.”

Harsh, but fair.

”Keith, I don’t know how many times we go through this. When will you respect the pain I’ve been through. I have lost one son, already. Please. Value yourself more, and value those around you who care about you. You ran off by yourself, with no means of contacting us. You were away all night. You are with child-”
”But, I’m not-”
”-Even if the child is not displayed yet. Listen to me, my son. I am worried about you. We all are.”

”Please, I’m so sorry.”

Kolivan pressed his cheek against Keith’s.

”We can work on this later. For now, you must be weary. In your condition, this must be ever the more strenuous. Sleep. I shall prepare breakfast when you wake, kit.”

 

 

The two rest on the floor with their backs against the wall. Keith had a pillow settled onto his lap. Some of the family had come together to get a cat, which currently lounged on the cushion. Keith brushed fingers along its fur, calmed by the purring against his palm.

”You have been looking my way a lot, what is it that you wish to ask?”

His hand stilled on the cat.

”What’s love?”

The look on Kolivan’s face was neutral, if a little softer than usual.

”I am unsure why you would ask me, but I can try to answer.”

Keith closed his eyes and took the breaths needed to ground himself. The lingering smell of french toast and warmth from heating the stovetop was comforting. His legs were beginning to tingle and he rearranged the pillow, with cat, as he flexed each one.

”It’s like,” Kolivan paused, as if he hadn’t collected his thoughts enough even then, ”Having a helper, someone to share with. You share your pasts, work together in the present, and plan the shared future.”

Kolivan’s face was normally tight and gave the impression that he didn’t feel. Keith witnessed so many who exclaim their surprise when they find out Kolivan has emotions. It’s more upsetting to him than funny. Because there have also been times which Kolivan was accused of not caring about his members. They accuse him, not knowing whom raised Keith. Keith, a half human child, whose very prescence in the headquarters was against the rules, whom should have been left with his father on Earth. How many nights had little Keith gone into Kolivan’s room, in tears, sobbing for his mother? Surely more than anyone who didn’t know him could imagine.

”I am sure you have noticed by now, kit, that life can feel as if it is shoving against you,” He looked to Keith, who nodded, ”Then, yes, it is like a helper.”

It was a broad answer. Keith asked for more, and he explained about how his wife and him would do small things to make life easier. Back when he wasn’t the leader of the Blades, and his greatest concern was caring for their infant son, while his wife worked, it was the dinner occassionally cooked by her. It was the lunches he’d put together for, while their baby was cradled to his hip. It was the naps he’d get to take when she’d care for their child. And when he’d lay out her clothes for the day’s work.

Keith felt a warmth that couldn’t help but also have sorrow. Kolivan had loved his wife. He had loved their child. At some point, he was talking to Keith more for himself, being lost in memories, transported to a time and place Keith had not been around for, but Keith kept listening. He let Kolivan tell about an experience at the shopping center, where their baby had knocked some cans off a shelf. He even listened to a story that was so bogged down in detail, he couldn’t retain much of anything.

Whatever Kolivan needed to get off his chest, Keith was there to recieve it. He could do that much.

”Ah, it appears I have gotten off topic. To return to your question, love takes time, kit. Just give it time. Do not chase this man just because of the circumstance. You will always have our support. Your kit shall not need for anything.”

Keith chuckled warmly, overwhelmed.

”Thank you. But I think... I mean, I hope, that it doesn’t come to that. Mostly? I’m afraid that I am actually falling for him.”

”Ah, the far more terrifying outcome.”

Keith snorted.

”Oh, kit. There is a matter I wish to bring to you. This evening, the Embassy is scheduled to welcome some emigrates. A number of them are galra, and so diplomat Garrett wishes to send one of us to meet them. If you wish to bring young Shiro with you, then I do not mind covering the last of his shift.”

 

How do I share myself with him? Talk. The speed of answer that had come from Kolivan made Keith feel like groaning.

Keith felt like backflipping off the roof and getting embeded in the sand. The answer was so obvious, it had been screaming deep into his ears, and he’d only not heard it because he was screaming back at it.

Kolivan was the best.

 

 

Spaceport America is an airport of sorts, built long ago, was originally for commercial use. Since the influx of ”extraterrestrials”, as Hunk had called them, the government needed a port that was equipped for receiving the sheer size of the ships coming through. The military bases could only handle so many without encrouching on secret areas. The port had been hastily extended within the past few months, and Keith barely recognized it. The main receiving area had remained the same, which brought feelings up within him.

”Keith, you ok?” Shiro bumped his shoulder lightly.

”Yeah, I’m good, I just,” it’s about sharing, the voice of Kolivan came to him, it’s about having a helper, ”Well. It reminds me of when I came here. How... scared I was, unsure. We were the first wave to arrive here on this planet, at least, publically, and we had no idea what to expect. All I knew was that my mother was stationed her e.”

”Yeah? Is it still scary?”

”Sometimes. There’s still so much I don’t know. I’m making mistakes all the time. But there’s also a lot of nice things here. I’ve never lived outside the war. It’s so peaceful. Well, compared to what I know. We just got a cat, too. I can’t imagine anyone owning a pet that wasn’t from the upper parts of the Empire.”

Hunk waved them to keep moving.

”Ok, so, good, I’m glad one of you came. I mean, it was just so last minute, yknow? But that’s just how it goes when you’re dealing with Space communication. Turns out messages take much longer to send and receive. I mean, who would figure, right? Definetly not me. And I definetly wouldn’t have told the communications department, nope. Because I wouldn’t have foreseen this. So-”

”Hunk, please. Didn’t you say they arrived soon?”

Hunk glanced down to his tablet, likely checking the time.

”Oh, right. Sorry, Shiro. So, anyway, glad you’re here.” He said, already walking off to, no doubt, do the final logistics.

 


”This is like a regular airport. Man, it’s been awhile.”

Keith found a section of benches, where a few other species were lounging on, probably also waiting for their kin.

”Shiro?”

”The last time I was in one, a civillian one, I was coming over from Japan.”

Keith waited for him to continue, but he made no move to keep speaking. If Keith had walls up, Shiro had a stone fortress. Keith could try and force his way in, but he’d rather wait for Shiro to lower the proverbial draw bridge. He could be patient, for Shiro’s sake.

”So, I spoke with Kolivan, today. I realized that I should try talking to you more. I’ve just been... reluctant.”

Shiro, thankfully, was showing up as much patience in turn.

”I agreed to marry you, and I- it’s something I want. But I just have... it’s hard to believe or trust. After all that’s happened in my life, suddenly a man, who’s about everything I’ve hoped for, comes in and.. wants me? Wants to have a life together? Make a family? It’s, that’s a lot. So, it’s going to take me some time.”

Shiro reached for his hand and squeezed it.

”Keith, look at me, please,” at the pleading, Keith turned his head and gaze, ”I’m willng to wait, as much as I’m willing to work at this. It’s not easy, love and marriage are never going to be easy. But there’s something in you that draws me in. I can’t help but feel life be brighter with you. It’s ok that it’s not immediate. I’m sorry if I pressured you. I hope that we can keep talking about this. This, and anything that comes up.”

Keith watched him close his mouth just as he opened it. If he took a guess, it would be that Shiro was saying ”I love you”. He spoke it to Shiro through his eyes. It was scary to say aloud, and Shiro respected that. In time, Keith thought, he’d learn to trust Shiro.

 

A soothing male voice came over the speakers, announcing that the ship from star system 2234b was arriving.

”Alright, people, here we go! I need my greeters, now.” Hunk yelled as he rushed by the benches and towards the port.

The group got up from their seats and made their way behind him. A nervous and excited chattering buzzed through them. Keith was feeling his own type of nerves. He had come to distrust any galra not with the Blades. All he knew was that the pack arriving was from a peaceful planet, one not affected by the Empire. Still, he reigned in hopes that these galra would not be loyal to the fallen emperor, or his ideals.

The door opened and beings filed out one-by-one, their proceeding slow as they went through the makeshift customs and planetary border patrol stations that set up immediately by the door. Hunk was the last stop they had to make. As the first being, a green and scaled bi-ped, made it to him, Hunk called out to the group. Someone who looked similar made their way over. This repeated for about a dozen times before Keith saw the first galra.


He gasped, making his way over before Hunk could call him. The man was gorgeous, and there was something about him, something Keith couldn’t quite place, that drew him in. There was a kinship already, one he had no words or ideas on which to explain.

The galra is light purple, with violet, dreadlocked hair, and a white middle that is clipped back from his forehead. He’s of a delicate build for a galra, shorter than most, but still taller than Keith.

He makes his way to over, and the closer he gets, the calmer Keith feels.

His eyebrows raise as he faces Keith.

”I am so pleased to meet you, little brother. I feared there would be no others.” The galra leans down until their foreheads touch. Keith blinks, overwhelmed by the desire to curl up and nap. ”I am Kiree, of planet Sweden.”

 

 

 

Chapter Text

”Sweden? But why would you be here?”

”Come now, little one. There is much to discuss, in due time. What is your name?”

”Oh, sorry, I’m not- I’m kinda... My name is Keith. I was raised on Solvein. My mother hailed from Djuklap.”

”Djuklap? A fine place, that.”

Keith noticed that even his voice had a lulling effect. It mid-range, gentle, and slow to finish words. There really did feel the sense of time abundance for discussion.

”Ah, see, I knew it would be good to bring you, Keith. Like, you’re totally already getting along. Which is good, because him and the others will be temporarily housed with you guys. Isn’t that great?”

Keith blinked and snapped his head in Hunk’s direction.

”Oh. Yeah, that’s- it’s good.”

The rest of them, whom were 7 others, did not affect him as Kiree did. Keith’s first theory was that it was their planet of origin. Sweden had so long been removed from the war, and Empire, that it was possible there was a difference between them and other galra Keith had met. But, unfortunately, the theory was shot down when the next galra provided nothing peculiar about themselves. It was the same for all 7.

They studied him as intently, too. Keith, being half human, was used to getting looked at. He knew from experience that the only thing giving him away as galra, aside from language and culture, was his scent. He knew this poigniontly, as he’d so many times mourned his lack sufficient smelling capacity. They navigated by their noses. In that sense, Keith felt blind.

”Ah, you. You’re gonna make Ki very happy then.” Said a musclar galra, with large ears and a scar underneath his lip.

In due time, Keith told himself.

 

The group launched into speedy chatter, and Keith couldn’t help but chime in, feeling at ease to hear and speak his own language. The translation chip implanted behind his ear used the electricity of his brainwaves to route the thoughts through it. It could get tiring, having to spend so much mental energy in diverting the pathways. His head would sometimes still be buzzing when it hit the pillow. Giving it rest was giving himself rest. It was a steadily released breath.

 

”Not to cut in, but, uh, Keith, it’s geting kind of late and, I know you have class tomorrow.” Shiro was quiet, speaking only so Keith could hear.

Oh, he thought, this whole time we’ve been speaking...

”Sorry, Shiro. I didn’t mean to exclude you. It’s just... We’re just excited, I guess.”

The new arrivals got on board the shuttle, which was taking them to the shack. They all touched foreheads with Keith, as if they weren’t going to the same destination, wouldn’t see him just as soon as they arrived, and they’d known him long enough to forge a bond that called for repeated forehead touching. Keith laughed mirthfully. What a crowd.

 

Keith drove Shiro home. His passenger kept him entertained with tales of his own cultural adventures. He recounted how good it had felt to meet the first other Japanese person he’d run into since coming to America. There was an instant sense of belonging. Despite them being two very different people, the other was a young woman on a study abroad program, here because she’d heard of American college party life, there was a thread that connected them. They conversed easily and comfortably in Japanese, about all the differences and frustrations they faced being away from home.

Shiro said that encounter reminded him of Keith, and the way he’d seen the group interact. Only, unlike with Japan and America, a few hours plane ride couldn’t take back home.

To which Keith groaned at the memory of the two-ish weeks spent coming to Earth. Warp travel could only get one so far, and their ship hadn’t carried the capacity for worm hole traveling.

”So, ”Earth” Sweden wasn’t a language quirk?”

”A langu- Shiro, are you poking fun at me?”

”Only ’cus I care.”

”You think you’re hilarious, huh?”

The snicker in response told him all.

”Ok, so, Sweden, the planet that is, is a popular vacation and retirement destination. It’s far outside the borders of the former Empire, and that kept is neutral and safe. I really should have recognized from the cloth he wore. They’re known for their tapestry, fabrics, and textiles. The planet is lush. There’s forest and beaches. Many of the dyes traded around in raw form and in clothing amongst upper-class are sourced from there.”

”I’m sensing a ”but” here.”

”Exactly. Why would they leave a veritabel paradise, to come millions of lightyears away, to a planet with virtually no ammenities, not like what they’d be used to, to settle on an unknown planet?”

”Fair point. Do you have any ideas what their reasons could be?”

”No, but I intend to find out.”

 

It was reliving to see the Holt residence in view. Keith could not get his mind to pry away from the topic. Shiro, thankfully, tucked into his own thoughts the rest of the way.

 

”You’ll probably be busy tomorrow, so don’t feel bad about not texting me much. Just drop a line whenever you get the time, ok?”

Keith grabbed the front of Shiro’s jacket and used the leverage to pull him down while he got on his tiptoes. He kissed Shiro with all the passion that the man had inspired in him that day. All of the promise, and all of the patience, was more than Keith would dare even ask inside his dreams. He kissed until drool made its way down his chin and moans were beginning to slip from his theoat.

Breathless, and satisfied, he bid Shiro goodnight, and only returned to the car when the door was shut and the lock slotted.

Keith was nothing if not an aspiring human gentle man.

 

The shack wasn’t meant to accommodate so many, Keith realized as he walked into a house filled with all 21 galra. Well, 22, including him. The bulk of their numbers were sat cross-legged crowded around their low table. On it was a few bottles of wine, two plates stacked with cookies and brownies, and another plate with traditional sweet bread squares. Galra bread had thicker crust and a much chewier meat. It was made of the jumbi plant, which gave it a rich, earthy flavor with a sweet aftertaste. The jumbi plant was hardy, and had been exported and grown to just about every planet they had conquered. Ulaz had an entire plant-box dedicated to the stalks.

Kiree and the other new arrivals turned attention to Keith as he walked in.

”What?” He couldn’t help but feel pressured by their stares.

”I apologize, little one. We are not yet accustomed to the scent of another barer, less one with child.”

Oh.

”Wait, another? So then, you’re-”

”Also, yes. I am a barer. There are not many of us, as you well know. I was not expecting to find another here. Though, it appears they have not taken proper care. There is yet much to teach you.”

His mother had been raised culturally a seed. There was a reason Keith hadn’t run into other barers. They were far too rare to see the frontlines of the war. She had survived only by medical suppression of heat and scent, and conducting herself like a seed. Keith had no idea how he was meant to act. It bristled him that he was being asked to change, but his curiosity on both that and finding out about Sweden was enough to keep his mouth shut. He didn’t want to damage the relationship before he got answers.

Keith removed his shoes and set them in the cubby by the door. He made his way to sit down by Thace. He reached for a square of the sweet bread and let the act of chewing keep himself occupied; the nostalgia at the taste was comforting.

”Now that we are all here, I would like to discuss the matter of my planet, if that finds you well.” Kiree spoke, and Keith realized he must have some position of leadership within the group.

That was hardly what Keith had expected of a barer. It was not the treatment he had received. Though, circumstances were different, as far as his relation to his family.

Kiree looked to Keith for answer. His analysis had been correct.

Keith looked to Kolivan.

”It does. Proceed.”

Kiree blinked and tenitively nodded.

”As you may know, my planet was a peaceful one. We weaved, we created, and we prospered in the forests and by the oceans. Sweden was neutral. But, recently, a swarm of Empire soldiers came and overtook our lands,” he paused, his face drawing serious, ”We barely escaped as they were taking us as prisoners. The stars blessed us that one of your agents was amongst them.”

So, a Blade had helped them?

”Yurtra was her name. She wished to come along, but needed to stay and gather the intelligence. Something is going on there.”

”But, you don’t know what.” Kolivan leaned slightly forward.

”Not a clue.” Kiree shook his head.

Keith didn’t have theories, not yet. So, as conversation turned away from lack of anything beyond pure speculation, he tucked away into his own head to procure answers and possibilities.

Topics changed and some of them bowed in and out of it. It wasn’t until Keith heard his name that the room he occupied came into focus again.

”Hm?”

”My, my, I have called after you two times now. Are you feeling well?” Kiree was turned to face Keith, a hand reached out and let his braid cascade through it. ”Kolivan, I’m going to step outside with our young one here. We have things to discuss, so if you could refrain from any disturbances, that would be best.”

That snapped Keith out from the last of the fog that had settled into his head. He had never heard anyone speak to Kolivan that way. Non-Galra were fearful of him, for his stature and stone cold expression. The Galra who weren’t Blades only saw him just before their death. The Blades did not fear him as much as they respected him. He was their leader and they trusted his discretions. Kiree, whom was bigger than Keith, but still small for a Galra, was the first to take tone like that. Something about their leader, or the situation, had bothered Kiree, and Keith hoped to find out what.

 

”You know, we are so few in numbers, little one.”

They had settled down on the swinging loveseat on porch. It was insisted upon that Keith take a seat. He’d tried to fight against Kiree, who seemed to be attending to him like the baby was about to be delivered, but the concern felt less patronizing and more empathizing. After all, the other was a fellow barer, and as weird as the thought felt to Keith, he would know most of what Keith was going through, whether he had a child or not.

Kiree switched between pacing and sitting down. His hands were constantly finding something about Keith, somewhere on Keith, to touch or smooth or fix something. What should have been anxious energy was actually calming for Keith.

”I am not used to such blatant disregard for one of us,” he finally relaxed next to Keith, pulling the other to curve around his side, ”I did not mean to get caught up in ire. I sense that he, and the rest of your pack means well. But their treatment of you is not the natural way of things.”

Keith hummed. Both because his head was being pet, and it was soothing, and also to buy himself some space before responding. If he’d learned anything from his training and, more recently, his time on Earth, approaching deeply-held cultural values and customs was to be taken with hesitant steps.

”An organization built around infiltrating the Empire of our own species isn’t very natural.”

The laugh that came was soft, but it vibrated against his cheek, where it rest against Kiree.

”No, I suppose not.”

”Kiree, have you been... pregnant before?”

”I suspect you’ve held that question this whole time, since learning of my status. Don’t be afraid to ask anything, it has always been that the elder barer passes their experience to the younger, and I have waited quite some time to find another. Please indulge me in these instincts, little one. As for your question, I have not.”

”Oh.”

”That doesn’t mean I have not experienced others’ pregnancies. Yours is not the first. Though I cannot say I have helped a half-human through one before.”

Keith blinked. It was easy to forget his lineage now. Their family had come to adapt to many large areas of human culture, and the shock of living amongst them had well worn off by then. They moved around Keith with much more grace, much more respect to his purely human phenotype. And he, himself, gained a better sense of ease around his body.

The air was quiet. He could imagine how full of song the land would be come summer, when the crickets would chirp they nightly tunes, and birds would twitter in the mornings. Shiro had told him stories about missing the sounds of nature while he was in captivity. Keith was starting to recognize constellations. He traced their outlines with his eyes, mind filling in with pictures. A gentle, cooling breeze whispered along his skin, so he cuddled into the Galra further.

Keith falls asleep twice; once, is to the vibrations of Kiree’s purring, the second time is to collective body heat of a packed with twenty-some other Galra.

He wakes up refreshed, earlier than usual, and digs into the extra work from Professor Slav. It’s on something about a cat in a box. It’s likely a thinly-veiled dig at him being Galra. Which, if Keith is honest, is not the first time he’s witnessed his race be compared to the Terran species. His mood is too good for him to get angry.

He texts Shiro to let the other know he’s awake.

 

Shiro: Have a good day at school, babe <3

Keith: Thanks : ) talk tyl. I’ll meet you after school.

 

Slav calls him as he’s headed out the door.

”Your paper is much too bare. Schrödinger’s work goes further than this. Expand on this. Your next assignment is the anomalies surrounding the planet Sweden.”

The sigh that escapes him is as long as he suffering is. Which is to say, incredibly long. He’s going to spend most of his time studying at the café.

Chapter Text

”Father?” Allura blinks down at the small, holographic projection coming from her tablet. The week had not been kind to her. Their communications had been messaged near hourly, each hailing from a different planet and system. The arrival of Galra from planet Sweden had been a harbringer of questions and work for their team to do. The days of little sleep were weighing heavy on her eyelids and functioning.

”Allura, my dear daughter, has rest evaded you? Given the news I have received, I am unable to feign shock.”

His was always a welcome face in times of trouble.

”Then I do not have to speak false. It is good to hear from you.”

”We share the sentiment, then. Unfortunately, as I have aluded just now, this call reaches you with urgency more than catching up. I am afraid I must speak quicker than polite. The former emperor, our good friend, has reasons to believe the recent insurgence of forces is not a dying light, but the sparking of flames yet to burn.”

”I had understood it that the Empire had fallen. Sendak was found slein upon the throne. The Blade of Marmora had an agent amongst his close hand, whom struck months ago.”

She looks about her office, a quaint room with barely the furniture it needed to function as such. The only nice piece was a cushioned chair that they acquired to make clients feel comfortable. It allowed a lax in posture that she could never allow herself into. With a hard release of breath, she collapsed down on it.

”As we see it now, Sendak had been a pawn. Something remained when he was de-throned. Whatever it was, it’s taking it’s first living breaths this moment. Which brings me to the matter of this call. Zarkon wishes to send his son to you. Having a pair of Altean alchemists is a far better sight than just one.”

”Father, am I to believe you think me incapable?”

”I would never dream such a thought in any lifetime. But the threat is growing, so, too, is your burden. It is a means of lightening it for you. The time for the hour which required your sending ticks by ever sooner.”

”I understand. Thank you, father.” Her fingers twitched at their hold around the device. She ached to hold her father’s cheek, even if only in a projection.

”I love you, my daughter. Please, get some rest.”

She said her love to him and a gave a smile to the fading projection.

A knock at the door sends her back straightening, and she hastely folds her hands over her lap.

”Princess?”

”Oh, it’s you. Come in, Coran.”

Even in her father’s abscense, she never feels wanting for a paternal figure. Coran looks as overwhelmed as she, but manages the calm smile and softness of expression that she, herself, is unable to do in that moment.

”I heard King Alfor’s voice as I was filing some papers. Is everything alright?”

”You never fail to know when I need company. Thank you, Coran.”

He walks over to their electric kettle and presses the button on. Mid-day tea was always her favorite activity of the day back on Altea. While the table and chairs are lacking in grandeur, the spirit of taking the daily break, to converse with friends and allies, burns inside them both.

She chooses an Earth favorite, chai, and Coran has a lemon herbal.

”I know it is no time for such thoughts, but I can’t help but feel like they are sending Lotor to make further on his courting. Father knows I would do anything for duty as princess...”

”Except marrying him?”

”Yes. He is a charming man, of whom I greatly enjoy company, but we’re perhaps too alike. Besides which, we are still in the middle of war. It is not appropriate for romance.”

”King Alfor never could force your hand in anything before, princess. Perhaps this is as he says. At any rate, we have the time it takes for him to get here, before any worrying. At least, any more.”

She chuckles into her mug and it causes the steam to curl around her cheeks. The cold air of the office makes the warm cup all the more relaxing.

”Coran, is that your way of telling me to nap?”

”I said nothing of the sorts.” He twists his moustache through pointer and middle finger. Mischeviousness gleams in his eyes.

”Of course not, a princess proper would never nap. Which is why I shall make my way to the couch in the back and run through our strategy alone.”

”Right, princess. What a wonderful idea! I will relieve you of the present diplomatic duties, so you can strategize.”

She places a kiss to his temple as she heads to the back room to ”strategize”.

 

”Ugh.” Naps are better in theory. Her long, silver hair is a puff ball in some places, and tangled in others. The sleep must have been fitful, she realizes. It’s hard to get up. She had dreamed of being on Altea again. Earth wasn’t entirely different in customs and culture. She was brought up as a diplomat, so adapting to and picking up those things were as natural and easy as breathing. It was the climate that was taking the most getting used to. Her hair had to agree.

She grabs the bottle of her hair oil and spritzes some in. Her fingers weave it through until her hair behaves, and she braids it.

 

”Coran, pause communications for the afternoon, I think it time to visit the Marmora Café.”

 

The café itself is innoculous. The lighting is gentle, coming from lamps that hang from the ceiling, as well as the daytime sun shining through to large floor-to-ceiling windows. The music that plays overhead is a genre she quite likes, called soft rock. The soft tinking of silverware against plate rings out as people enjoy their pastries. The Blades hide behind this image, even going so far as to have Keith, whom is decievingly human-appearing, and, recently, Shiro, to work the counter. It’s enough to make her want to spit.

But she’s a princess, and it’s Shiro at the register today, and the urge goes away.

”Princess?”

”Shiro, it is good to see you. I am afraid we have been much too busy for a visit. Tell me, how have these past few weeks faired?”

”They’ve been, uh, weeks. I don’t doubt you’ve heard already what’s happened.”

He rubs the back of his neck as a nervous chuckle bubbles out.

”As a friend, it is my obligation to remind you that a baby is serious, Shiro. You are under no obligation to become a father, no matter what sort of tactics he throws at you. You are not at fault that he did not disclose his status. After all you’ve been through-”

”I wouldn’t abandon Keith. This really isn’t your business, but there was not trickery. Accidents happen, and this particular one is between Keith and I.”

”I suppose you are right. I apologize for speaking out of my place.”

Allura pulls out a stool by the wrap-around bar and neatly folds herself on it. Shiro’s face holds a flash of danger, that, quite honestly, reminds her that the man had been Champion. She knows to step forth more carefully.

After another apology, frustrated to have upset him, she orders a shot of espresso. Coffee had become a fast favorite of hers since arriving on Earth.

Shiro asks about her day, how the weeks have gone for her, and work.

The conversation becomes more comfortable, and she talks about the various races to have settled here. She has story upon story to tell, but for confidentiality, she keeps them light on detail. The two end up laughing about a particular misconception involving a bicycle helmet and a tin can. By the end of it, they’re both full of smiles.

”Well, I am so glad to have stopped by. I must say, we could really use your spirit and leadership at the office. I understand if things are still much too painful, but if you ever feel comfortable enough, please consider a position.”

He thanks her and smiles at her with all of his face, the courners of his eyes turning up.

 

She arrives back at the office to find Coran working away his tablet.

”I am going to turn in for the night. Thank you Coran.”

”Ah, of course princess. How’d it go?”

”It went well. He’s not quite ready, but it seems like it will be soon. I just hope we have the time. If they are sending Lotor, then things have run away. We may be far closer than prepared for.”

”But we can leave that for tomorrow. Please, get some rest.”

She kisses his temple and heads to their living quarters that are above the office.

She dreams of a lush planet, slowly eaten away by Empire soldiers.

Chapter Text

”Shiro?”

He turns his head toward Keith. They’re laying down on a blanket, in the middle of nowhere. Keith had driven them by hoverbike, Shiro holding onto his waist as the other man steered them far away from any city. In the storage compartment beneath where they sat, they had packed a blanket, some snacks, and portable telescope. Shiro had finally caught his breath. Keith had made love to him, topping for the first time. He was wrapped around Shiro, spooning him, and littering kitten kisses along the back of his neck.

”Yeah?” He still feels breathless and giddy.

”I know where you should take me for our next date.”

Keith had become bolder with him, feeling ever more comfortable asking for what he wanted, or speaking about what he needed. He was a fire that melting everything inside of Shiro. But he couldn’t care less. Shiro would stoke those fires, let the flames burn brighter, hotter, and longer. If he was going to burn, then let it be at Keith’s gentle hands.

He turns over to face the man. His face is tiny, skin soft, and hair cascading over his shoulder, loose from its signature braid. Shiro’s own hand is the size of Keith’s face. A warm sigh curls up from his toes and out his mouth. He’s lucky that Keith is a kind man, because Shiro would do just about anything the other asked of him.

Keith, the moonlight scattering off the sheen on his cheeks, looks none-the-wiser to the power he holds over Shiro.

They make love again. They laugh at how ridiculous they are. They devolve into heated kisses. They can’t help it if they make love for a third time that night.

 

”Shiro, seriously,” Keith’s cheek is smashed against his shoulder, he sounds ridiculous trying to speak around it, ”I want to go to a drive-in movie.”

”Oh, Keith, baby, those... those happened a long time ago. I’m sorry.”

There’s a light to Keith’s eyes that dulls. His hand, curled into a loose fist tightens where it’s resting on his chest. The hormones from the pregnancy have been making things harder for him, Shiro can tell. It’s the swallowing of his throat and rapid blinking that does Shiro in.

”Wait, uh, don’t- don’t cry. It’s ok. Uh. We’ll figure something- Maybe Matt and Pidge could rig something up... Yeah. And we can make popcorn on the stove. I’ll get you some of that tea you really like, that’s much better for the baby than soda.” He kisses the top of Keith’s head.

Keith hums and stretches out. His fingers open not unlike stretching cats. The only thing missing is toe-beans. The purring begins and he melts.

 

”Shiro?” Keith repeats his name.

Shiro realizes he does that a lot. The word feels like some type of anchor, and Keith is so tenative as he releases it. Like he isn’t sure it’s going to ground him. He waits. He gives Keith time to realize that the ship won’t sail off.

”I complain about it a lot but, all the homework Slav has me doing, it’s got me thinking. Thinking about how much we really don’t know about life. There’s a lot of uncertaintety, even for scientists. It’s... comforting. If that- does that make sense?”

”Do you mean that it’s comforting to not know?”

”Maybe? I mean. It’s just. We don’t have to have everything figured out. Not if they don’t. So maybe it’s just something we discover together. Something that doesn’t need answers right away.”

He hums his agreement. He loves this side of Keith. Keith is always thinking, whether or not he says what’s on his mind. It makes hearing his thoughts special. Though, the thoughts themselves always bring intrigue.

”Y’know, if things had gone different,” he slides a hand along Keith’s forearm, ”I think you would have made a great scientist.”

”What about you? If Kerberos had gone according to plan, what would you be doing now, you think?”

Shiro can’t even talk Kerberos to Matt.

”I guess there’s a lot of parts in play there,” his hand works lower until it cradling Keith’s, ”I don’t think the government was ready to share about life being out there. So they’d probably have kept on doing missions within the system. We may not have needed the answer to if we were alone, as I know now, but there was still value in what we would have learned from taking those ice samples.”

Keith rolls slightly, so that his chin rests on Shiro’s sternum. His gaze in intense as the moonlight crests against the violet of his irises. He notices small flecks of blue in them.

”I liked piloting. I liked exploration. I dreamed so long of getting to that point, where I was finally going into space, that it feels surreal, even now. I don’t think I would have given it up. I- ... I didn’t want to give it up.”

The tears are hard to blink through.

”I don’t know how I’m supposed to go from doing great things like that to working in a café and crashing on my friend’s couch. I don’t know what to do anymore.”

He’s grateful that Keith understands what he means. The café is the lifeblood to his family here. His words were not a slide at it.

A slim pointer finger presses gentle into his lips.

”We can’t remain on the mountain top forever.”

It’s ok, it’s expected that we find ourselves lower. We’ve climbed down the mountain. We’ve climbed down for our reprieve, to collect supplies, to rest our lungs, and scout out the next mountain we wish to tackle.

He kisses the finger, whispering words of love against it.

”Shiro, I love you.”

He could not think of, nor imagine, anyone better to have his baby and start a family with.

 

”Matthew.”

”Matt.”

”Matt Holt.”

”Matt, blea-”

”Oh gosh, ok, sheesh. Don’t you dare ”blease” me, Shiro. What is it?” Matt hissed, hitting the lock screen on his tablet. The two were at the kitchen table, both absorbed in their tablets.

”Ok so, listen. You’re gonna need a permission slip for this fee-”
”If you’re about to say ”feels trip” memes are canceled forever, end of discussion. Don’t ruin this for me, man. I’ve done nothing but love you.”
”... Honey nut fe-”
”-elios. How dare you. After everything.”
”Here com dat boi?”
”Oh shit, I’m up.” To his credit, Matt stands up. Until he looks at Shiro. Really looks at Shiro. ”Ok, look. On record? I’m doing this to shut you up. Off record, you look like you’re gonna cry if I don’t help you, and so I’ll do whatever you need. I have a feeling this is Keith related.”
Matt sits back down.

 

”So, all that drama, and you’re telling me it’s only because you need help setting up a drive-through movie? Fam, you need to chill.” He takes a big sip of the Mexican hot chocolate and smacks his lips. Shiro notes he must have made it extra spicy.

”Yeah. I just- You should’ve seen the look on his face when I told him they don’t happen anymore. This seems important to him.”

”I probably got in his head from a classic, and he became attatched to the idea. At any rate, let me phone over to Hunk later, him and Pidge can set up the equipment. I’ll go cash in some favors at the art department.” He pauses, no doubt noticing the look forming on Shiro’s face. ”Don’t ask, because I’m not gonna tell. Just know that I know a guy who knows a guy.”

Shiro is content to leave it at that.

 

”Do you think he’ll like silent films? Or should play one with sound?”

Matt is sitting at the wrap-around bar, his flat-white nestled in his hands. Pidge is downing her latte next to him. Sam is looking at him with unreadable expression.

”Ah, young love.”

They all turn to Sam.

”When I tried to woo your mother, things ended up being a disaster. See, your problem here, if I may, is that you’re asking us. You’re outsourcing, in this case, a question that should be fielded by woo-ee. You don’t know how many times I could have wow’d her, if I’d only asked the questions when I should have.”

”Ugh, dad.” Pidge groans and slides a ten to Shiro, whom starts on another latte.

”That’s... surprisingly helpful.” Matt taps his mug with his pointer finger, staring at some point behind Shiro.

”You two say that now, but I’ve been happily married to Colleen since our days at the Garrison.”

”Sam, I think it’s sweet. You’re right, I need to just ask him.”

”Don’t be afraid of him, my son. I see so much here that you will realize in time.”

 

He sends a text off to Keith, asking him. It comes back with both an answer, and a smiley face.

 

”Dude, hey. So, logistically, there wasn’t many places I could get so quickly. But,” Hunk hums on the word, ”I was able to convince the school to let us use an empty studio, with Matt’s help. Now, the obvious caveat there is that the best we can do for a car is a cardboard rigged up to look like one. Which, I know, let me finish, sounds ridiculous. However, Lance, you met Lance right? He just so happens to have minored in theater and set design. Happy coincidence, yeah. So operation Drive-Thru is a go.”

 

Shiro figures if he’s going to do it, then he’s going to do it all the way. He shows up to the shack with his hair combed and (lightly, because it’s rather uncomfortable) gelled back. He’s wearing a button down with the sleeves rolled up and a pair of black slacks. In his hand is clutched a bouquet of red roses, and a small box of (the) fine(st) chocolates (he could buy).

To his surprise, the door opens to Keith, whom also has an arrangement of flowers in hand. They blink at each other before bursting into laughter and exchanging the gifts.

”These are tulgamates, one of the most popular flower in the system nearest here. It’s not fully bloomed yet, but if you put it in water at the house, it should in a few days.” They come from the small garden they’ve started in the back. Shiro remembers seeing all the plant and flower boxes from when he had dinner there.

He plays music that would suit the era of diners and shiny American Dreams. Keith smiles as he watches the desert pass by from the window.

 

He’d explained earlier that they made ”slight” adjustments. It hadn’t deterred the bubbling of excitement that boiled forth from Keith. Shiro could relate in that he remembered there were places he wanted to see, things he wanted to do, for when he first came to America. It was quite a sight different to come all the way from space.

Wonder sparks in the other man’s eyes. They search all around the room, taking in the sights and atmosphere. The space isn’t huge, but it’s enough to fit the two of them, and Pidge, who had agreed to stay and handle the technical details. The car makes them laugh, from all its cardboard glory. For short notice, it looks nice. There are two computer chairs, with thick cushions, set inside and a rope keeps them tied by their armrests. A small collapsable table rests in front of them, two sodas and a bucket of homemade popcorn on top.

”Alright you two, I don’t want to hear any sucking face in there.” Pidge grumbles at them and gets the movie started.

 

Shiro’s already lost attention by the time the lights are turned off and the movie begins to play, projected on a smooth bedsheet draped over a moving whiteboard. It hits him that this is Keith’s first time seeing a human film on Earth. The quality of films that had made it to his area of space had been minimal. The Earth was still an underdeveloped and unknown planet, Keith had said, and without demand for supply, it left him having to acquire goods from shadey sources.

The light from the picture sweeps across his skin. It catches on eyelashes and folds across cheekbones. The man next to him expresses so much through his face. Eyebrows raise and fall and scrunch together the skin between them. Shiro is busy with holding his hand, but he turns to the screen long enough to see the couple fall into a desperate embrace. A thin layer of wetness collects on lower eyelids, and he marvels at the other’s ability to feel so intensely.

They both seem to enjoy it, if in different ways and for different reasons.

And yeah, they suck face.

 

Shiro is no stranger to communal baths. He would sometimes go to the public bath houses when he was in Japan.

This was different.

”You’ve been invited to bathe with us.” Keith had said like he being asked to attend a Sunday baseball game, possibly get some beers afterwards.

But, no, he was joining the family in bathing in the river around the shack. While he couldn’t help but be curious, mostly at Matt’s prompting, about other differences between humans and galra, it was more a passing curiosity. About the last thing he wanted was to see Keith’s family naked.

Can’t always get what you want, he supposes.

That’s how he ends up where he is, as clothed as the day he was born, covered to his waist by slowly running water, and chatting with Keith’s family.

It turns out that there is a rich tradition behind baths in galran culture, not too dissimilar from where he comes from. The galra place great importance on cleanliness. Furred galra take care and pride in grooming themselves. Many oils are applied to keep it shiny and healthy. There are different oils for different occassions. Often times, the scents of the oils mixed specifically to a person, and the smell becomes unanimous with them. For a species that communicates much through scent, these oils are like personal signatures.

”Hey, come here. I have to put some on you.” Keith waves him over, hair still tucked neatly into its braid.

”I don’t really have much hair though...”

”I know. That’s not really the point.”

The chuckle is filled to the brim with the same energy as the warm rays of sun kissing his shoulders. He wades over, no thought.

”So you said that oils are individual. What’s this one?” He closes his eyes and feels the slicked hands massage through his hair. The pads of fingers work it on his scalp. It smells floral, likely some of the ingredients being something unavailable on Earth, but he approximates it to the feeling of spring. It’s light, like a flower you can only smell upclose, and clean, like laundry and linen, and comforting like a sea breeze.

”That’s from us,” Antok cuts in, ”It uses some of the most rare flowers and plants. All of us collected them ourselves, then commissioned a fragrance-mixer on Tryggus.”

”It is my ceremonial oil.”

Oh.

”Can I oil your hair?”

Keith walks him through it verbally while Shiro loosens the braid. He’s handed the bottle, the glass is surprisingly cool, definetly made of a foreign material that keeps temperature, and he pours some into his palm. He’s careful in warming it up, applying on the gentlest of pressure, so as not to break up the mixture and ruin its scent. Starting from the ends, he works it into the thick, black strands. It takes a lot of oil, because Keith has a lot of hair, and falls to his hips.

He learns that the Keith braids his hair because in galran tradition, you wear your hair as your father does. Kolivan wears his hair in a braid, and so, then, does Keith.

”He’s basically my father, given that he was all I had for so long.” Keith tells him.

When he’s finished, the hair is soft and luminous.

Keith hands him the hairtie. Antok shows him how to braid. By the look in both their eyes, he has a feeling this was another part of the tradition, whatever it was that was happening. Keith doesn’t explain it, but Shiro knows he’ll find out in time.

 

The day draws to close with them lying next to each other on the porch swing. They don’t exchange words, comfortable in their own heads. Keith falls asleep with his head on Shiro’s shoulder.

The stars are twinkling bright overhead.

Life is messy, he thinks, not for the first time. They may have worked a little backwards, getting physically intimate before emotionally. But, here he was, falling head over just about everything else, in love with Keith.

He falls asleep, the stars somehow brighter for the thought.

Chapter Text


”Where is it?’”

Keith hears Kiree ask from the kitchen. He wants to shoot up and out of the pile of blankets on him, but his motor skills are slower to wake than his head. Which is also still beneath the fog of sleep. He stretches his legs out, spreading his toes, and rolling his feet about the ankles. His arms lift above his head, flat against the bed. He grumbles sleepy noises for the sake of warming his voice.

”Keith?” Kiree must have heard him from the kitchen. He’d been tuned to Keith since they met. He’d started to think it was an instinctual thing, where Kiree was some type of protector.

Nothing annoyed Keith more than having independence taken away. But Kiree meant well, and he still hadn’t gotten over the shock of meeting another like him. There was an automatic kinship that he couldn’t deny.

”Morning. I didn’t mean to sleep so long.” He calls out from under the blanket. His body still not convinced it should shed the bedding.

Kiree popped his head out from behind the wall of the kitchen. His smile was warm and tender.

”Your body is going through many a change. It is expected that you should be fatigued. When you are ready, please come join us. We were just discussing the nesting room.”

The nes-
”The nesting room?”

”Oh, little one, I ache for all that you have missed over the years.”

The curiosity (and mild irritation at feeling once more inadequite) is what gets him to smooth the blankets away from him. He sends a quite peek down at his stomach, as has become routine, but notices no difference. He has a long while to go.

The wooden floorboards are chilled, he notices as his hand slips beneath pillows, the collective heat from the large group having long risen and left. He notes himself to be the only one still asleep. Which accounts for the fortress of everyone’s blankets and pillows set neat around him. His feet step carefully through the layers.

”I shall heat you up some water for tea. Kolivan can plate up this morning’s food.”

He makes it to the kitchen, greeting both of them.

”Kolivan, why aren’t you at work?”

”Well, kit, I was informed that I had more pressing matters to attend to here.” He turns toward Kiree as he says this.

Keith almost laughs because it’s rare to see him grumpy.

A plate of eggs and hashed browneds is placed in front of him. He digs in right away, barely able to huff a small sigh of pleasure through his bites. His appetite was another thing to increase since becoming pregnant.

”He’s correct. There is not even a nesting room in here. Pray tell, little one, what have you been doing all this time? How have you handled your heats?”

”Kiree, look, calm down. I’m happy that I’ve finally gotten to meet another barer, but, please. I’ve come this far and I’m doing alright. If you want to tell me about traditions, then fine. But I’ve adapted to not having whatever it is that I have supposedly missed.”

Kiree steps slowly before Keith, leaning down to place their foreheads together.

”I am sorry for the trouble. I had not meant to step over boundaries. My concern seems to have gotten the best of me.”

Keith hums, letting his eyes draw closed, and breathes in the air around them.

They’ve settled into more comfortable conversation after. Kiree asks about Shiro, and if they plan on having a ceremonial bond. He points out that Shiro had already been welcomed into the family when they had bathed. Keith is honest, though, he doesn’t really know. But, with child on the way, and his own upbringing, it’s something he wants to decide sooner rather than later.


With a tightening of will, he excuses himself to make the call he’s been dreading.

Keith and Kenneth set up to meet later that afternoon.

 


 

They meet in a café in Albuquerque.

Keith took the greyhound bus that left from in front of his work. The ticket was pricey, but he didn’t want to ask any of the others to drive him. There was also something about bus rides, he’d found, that were soothing. Or, at least, gave him thinking time. So, he’d watched outside the window and let thrum of the engine and bumps from the uneven road lull him into meditative thinking.

He knew how hard it was to grow up without a dad. He had spent so much time cursing the man, feeling utterly abandoned. It was hard to trust. Now that Keith was going to be a parent, baby tucked inside his womb, growing by the day, he couldn’t help but want to be what his couldn’t. He wanted the baby to know they were loved and treasured. No matter the circumstances that created them. From the looks and touches that Shiro gave him, Keith is starting to believe he isn’t the only one feeling this way.

Shiro can barely keeps his hand away from Keith’s abdomen.

No, Keith can’t and won’t do that to their child. He won’t abandon them.

But does that mean marriage?

He mulled the question over the entire trip.

Keith steps into the café, its name printed in front of a flying saucer on its sign. He snorts. The little bell on the door alerts the people behind the counter to him. It’s a strange feeling, being on the other side of it. He orders a small decafe coffee and looks around for Kenneth.

Kenneth is sitting in a booth at the back of the place, laptop open in front him, and coffee beside it. He’s typing away. Keith is tempted to turn back and walk out, if only because he feels bitter. He feels bitter that the man is there, transfixed by whatever it is on the screen, and there his son is, still having to chase after his attention.

Spite gets his legs to move and he announces himself by slamming his cup down on the small table and sliding into the seat in front. Kenneth jumps.

”I wasn’t sure you’d come.” Kenneth’s voice is scratchy. Keith realizes that’s where he gets it from.

”I almost didn’t. It’s like you know me already.” He takes a sip of his decafe, hoping the words burn more than the coffee does. His tongue hurts.

Kenneth shuts the lid of his computer. ”I would like to say that hurts, but I think you’ve more than earned the right to roast me.” He drinks some of his own coffee. He’s trying to bide time, distract himself, Keith thinks. That’s where he gets that from.

Keith stares down at his cup.

”I’m assuming you have some questions for me?”

”You’re assuming a lot of things. But, ya, fine, whatever,” Keith jerks his head away and composes himself, ”Why’d you leave me? Mom, she- she didn’t show it much but I could tell it hurt her. And- What was I supposed to think? Feel? My dad didn’t want me. He made me a.. a halfbreed, and didn’t even have the decency to stick around. I could never fit in with the others. Not looking like this- like you.”

The man is patient. There are crinkles at the courners of his eyelids, suggesting years of smiles and laughter. There is also a droop to his face, frown lines, as if he’d expressed sadness as often as joy. Thick eyebrows hold soft above eyes shining tender. There’s love and loss all at once upon his face.

Keith wants to hate this man.

”I tried to contact your mother, Keith. Do you know how hard it was to break the codes in the security of the Marmora base? Surely by now you’ve seen some things. From what Krolia told me, there are blades in every level within the Empire. You don’t get that way with your passcodes being ”12345”.”

Keith wants to hate this man.

”Keith, I- I wanted nothing more than to see you grow up, to.. be your father. A real father. But, what could I do from here? How could I reach you? Even with our best technology here, we’ve only gotten as far as Pluto. The nearest star would take lifetimes to get to. I’d be dead on the ship- You’d be dead, by the time I reached you. You were all the way out on Solvei-”

”How do you know where I was?” Keith digs into his pocket and procures the card he was given, ”It has something to do with this, doesn’t it? Again, why? You had contacts outside of Earth, there’s no other way. So why didn’t you have someone else take you? Answer, you didn’t want to find me, or mom.”

”Son, it’s not that simple-”

”Then explain!” He shouts.

Kenneth winces.

Keith hadn’t realized he’d stood out from his seat, or that he was yelling in an otherwise quiet café. Shame burned under the skin of his cheeks as he turned around and apologized to the other patrons. The workers behind the counter looked like they were deciphering whether to allow them to stay. He sees motion from his periphriels. Kenneth is waving the baristas, they nod and return to whatever they were doing.

”You’re right. That card has a lot to do with it. But, and I know it’s meaningless to ask now, but I have to try- Keith, I can’t tell you yet. Please trust me. If you do nothing else, trust me. You can’t know about this now, but you’ll come to know in time. When you do? Call me. I want to keep talking to you regardless, but that is up to you. But there approaches a time when you’ll have to talk to me, whether either of us want to, and that’s the moment to call.”

”I’m only listening because something doesn’t add up,” he pockets the card and swigs his coffee, wishing desperately it had caffeine, ”Did you love mom?”

”I did. With all my heart, son.”

”One last question, did you ever think of marrying her?”

”To this day.”

Keith finishes his coffee, chucks it into the bin, and walks out the door with a short, lingering glance at Kenneth.

He sleeps on the way home. The driver kind is enough to wake him at his stop.

 


 

He makes a second phone call, desperate, and in spite of the hour.

”Shiro, you know how you said you wanted to marry me?” He waits for Shiro to confirm. ”Is next week ok?”

 

 

Chapter Text


Shiro meditates. He feels the tickle of air draw through his nostrils. He pauses as the breathe reaches its zenith, and then releases it slowly. He’s up to his ears, drowning, in the water of the river that is getting married. His head works to swim through, to find something to hold on to, that he not be swept by the current.

One week.

He appreciates his (soon to be) husband’s conviction and fire. It’s normally the trait that attracts him most. Only, weddings and marriage aren’t meant to be planned in a week. Not when there are guests and traditions and ceremonies and

He breathes again.

The rings had come in that day. His was a white gold, Keith’s a rose gold; both a simple band, though Keith’s more delicate to suit his hands. Wedding rings, as it turns out, are more a human thing. But Shiro explained that it meant a lot to him, even if the history behind it wasn’t so tender. It was a tradition he wouldn’t be able to shake.

Another breath eases through him.

Princess Allura had deigned the first human-galran wedding needed celebration. It marked, what was hopefully, a turning point in human acceptance of extraterrestrials. As such, the guest list would include none other than her own family, and a royal family from the Galran species. Shiro had watched the tension creep up on Keith to hear that. Afterwards, Keith pulled him aside to tell him it meant the wedding would be very traditional. Meaning, it would be long, and, on Shiro’s end, ardorous.

Hunk, upon hearing about the wedding, lit up and clasped his hands together. As if engineering and diplomacy was not enough, the man was also a chef, when he got the time. He volunteered to handle the catering. Allura gave him the time off.

Word then got to Lance, who, allegidly, rushed to grab his tablet to start the planning. Somehow he’d managed to get Pidge to sign on to helping him.

As it was technically a military wedding, Iverson would be present, facillitating those aspects.

He opens his eyes and grounds himself into the space around him. He’s inside Matt’s car, the man is next to him, scrolling away at something on his phone. The shack is before them, various members of Keith’s family are filing in and out. Thace is hanging plants from the edges of the roofing. He waves at Shiro.

The only thing Shiro has to worry about is showing up.

But all he can think about is how all eyes will be on him, and Keith. It makes his fingers drum quickly along his thighs.

”Y’ ready, dude? You look naseous.”

No and true.

”Yeah, let’s- let’s go.”

They head inside. Shiro steals a glance back at the car, wondering if he can make a run for it, if need be.

It’s a wave of pleasentries with about 15 Galra before he makes it down the hall and to the newly installed ”nesting” room. That one had been an explanation for Shiro. It made him realize why Keith would bundle up in his worn hoodies.

Keith is upright in his nest, a pile of blankets and pillows stacked around him, the side of his head resting on the wall. Kiree sat before him, inside the nest. They’re chatting quietly, on what Shiro assumes is ”barer” only talk. Keith looks tired.

”Hey sorry to interupt, but we’re here.” Shiro knocks gently at the door frame that might have housed a door at one point, long before.

”Shiro.” Keith perks up and waves him over.

Kiree nods at him, getting up and directing him to take the spot. Matt, who was briefed earlier on nest ettiquette, sits down cross-legged with Kiree outside of the bedding fort.

Shiro brushes his knuckles along Keith’s cheeks before setting his back against the wall, turning to Kiree.

”I was just discussing with the little one the ceremonies. The pack shall be formed tonight, of which only new blood may be brought together. Keith tells me of your culture and so I shall leave the details for him to explain. What you and I consider natural would appear to be separate.”

That’s hardly the words of encouragement he needs to hear.

”Beyond that, tomorrow begins your rite. Kolivan is standing as Keith’s paternal figure to conduct the trial. It is him who will decide if the bonding is to proceed.”

”Wait, hold on. Trial? Proceed? How is this Kolivan’s decision? Keith is capable of making his own choices.” Do barers face sexism like human women? The thought sets his jaw tight.

”I apologize if it seems I have doubted the capability of Keith. Please, do not misunderstand. The trial is to test your merit. Barers are rare, they are treasured. In our tradition, to bond with one is the highest honor. While the decision ultimately rests with them, the barer’s respect for the one who challenges the mate means there is not often deviatiance from the challenger’s say.”

Keith’s fingers draw soft up and down his arms, recognizing the panic starting in him.

”Due to the nature of the trial, I can provide no more information on it. Should it go well, and Keith chooses to bond, you both will come with me into the forest. The current pack has no barer, as usually it falls to them, but I will take up that place for Keith. The ceremony concludes with you two alone, and I suspect you know what that means. The day after is when your human ceremonies will take place.”

Shiro’s thoughts are filled with questions. He doesn’t deal well with lack of control or unknowns. Kiree laid down more mysteries than he solved.

”Matthew and I will now take our leave. You have much to discuss.”

He doesn’t register them leaving the room, or that he, mentally, has also left the room. It’s when Keith places a kisses to his forehead that he notices.

”That’s... a lot to take in.”

Keith chuckles.

”So, uh. The ceremony for tonight...”

Keith stops, and moves to chewing on his lip. When he finally speaks, and tells the ceremony in whole, Shiro decides it was right of Kiree to assume he’d be shy about it. Keith assures him that they don’t have to do anything Shiro isn’t comfortable with. He says he’ll keep it in mind, but he wants Keith to have the marriage proper to his own culture.

”And the trial?”

”I’m sorry Shiro, I- No one ever got married around me. I have no idea. Kolivan won’t tell me, either.”


”Shiro?”

”Mm?”

”You ok? I- Do- I didn’t mean to rush this. Are you thinking of backing out? I wouldn’t blame you.”

”Oh, Keith... Babe. I love you. Please, stop. Stop doing this to yourself. I’m not going to leave, ok?”

”Ok.”

 


 


The pack ceremony is awkward, but he focuses on Keith, and they’re able to complete it.


He’s tired by the time he makes it to the spaceport. Keith is no better. They’re thankful that Matt was the driver

”I see you three have arrived.” Kolivan, ”Matthew, you must remain here. We shall retrieve you when the trial has ended.”

Matt claps him on the shoulder, whispering ”good luck”. Kolivan leads them to a glowing symbol on the ground. Keith whispers that it’s hooked up to the ship, and will be much faster than taking a rocket. The Galran technology never stops surprising him.

Keith grasps tightly on to his hand, leading them into the circle.


”Here is where you part. Keith shall remain by my side. Shiro, you shall be taken to suit up. May your heart bare.”

Keith stands on tip toe to brush their lips. Shiro memorizes the feeling, knowing it will be all he has to get through this.

They must have been waiting for him because two Galra are waiting for him. He doesn’t recognize them, so he assumes they must have come with Master Zarkon. Their faces are tight and betray none of their thoughts. He breathes deep, reminding himself that those are not bad Galra, and he is not going back to the arena.

He hopes.

He’s taken to a room that looks to be a medical bay. There’s tables and equiptment hanging on the wall. A suit is laying on one of the tables.

Shiro squeezes his eyes shut as he peels off his clothing. The Galra do not look away from him. Perhaps because nudity is not shameful to them, and perhaps also to make sure he doesn’t cheat. The suit is tight, clinging to him like skin. It’s black and has bioluminescemt stripes that flicker to life when he has it on. There are nodes in a few places, one specifically at the back of his neck. A small zap of electricity against his skin, and those, too, begin to glow.

The entrance to the room is a door opposite the one he walked in from. It slides open when one of the Galra places their hands kn the panel next to it.

Shiro expects some type of colosseum. Instead, he gets what looks like a training room. The two Galra who led him, now stand before him. He hadn’t noticed it before, but he sees that their suits, which are like his in design, have a hood. They pull theirs up and a mask materializes over their whole face.

”In the trials of Marmora, we have one saying,” Kolivan’s voice echoes from seemingly everywhere in the room, ”Knowledge or death. Today I shall learn of your mettle, or your pursuance of my son shall cease. Prepare yourself champion.”

One of the steps forward and passes a knife into his hands.

Shiro has barely a second to judge its weight, for the man to step back, before he lunges forward and draws his own knife. The blade extends long and the surprise of watching it takes away the precious second he needed to dodge away. Thankfully his reflexes work better than his mind, because his parries the blow away with the small knife in his hands. The momentum doesn’t transfer to Shiro, so the Galra stumbles forward. Shiro raises the knife to slash at his arm, but the Galra used the forward motion to fall and tuck himself into a roll.

The second one must have seen his distraction because Shiro hears a blade slice through the air, the wind stirred up from the movement roars against his ears. He drops a knee and swivels on his other foot. Tossing the knife in the air, Shiro throws his weight into a one-handed sommersault and grips the blade by the handle mere millimeters from the ground.

They go back and forth like that. Shiro’s main tactic is to redirect the force they put his way. They’re larger than him by far, and he hopes to tire them out.

Eventually, he catches himself between the two, both poised to strike him from either side. When they lunge forward, he ducks down. Their blades slide along each other and fly off in opposite directions. He’s ready to take the chance with then being unarmed, but they bow and return to their place.

”You are not meant to go through that door.”

But he refuses to be intimidated. He pushes past them and through the door.

There are three more waiting for him.

 


 


The cup of his ear is sliced and bleeding. Breathing had become an exercise in weight lifting for his chest. He’s five waves in and one his last leg. Literally, his left calf is torn open.

He’s about to be hit with a blade when he realizes what he needs to do.

He lets the blade come at him, holding the knife out to catch the blow. When it lands he throws back the arm with the knife. The energy of the collision is the propellant he needs to mid-air flip. He lands by the platform that is sinking into the floor, and tucks himself into it before it closes off.

He’s back, seemingly where he started, except it’s empty. He puts a hand on a wall to steady himself, but even still, he’s lowering to the floor. His head thunks back and he takes the moment to rest his eyes.

”Keith,” he speaks around blood, has to swallow, ”I love you.”

”Yeah?”

The voice startles him and he scrambles as far away from the wall as his body lets him.

”Shiro, it’s ok, why don’t you rest.”

Shiro didn’t notice, but he is leaning on the wall again. It’s a struggle to keep his eyes open, but he does it anyway, to look at Keith.

”You’re.. You’re so beautiful.” He holds a hand out and Keith takes it.

He moves to sit beside Shiro, bringing Shiro’s head to rest on his shoulder. Not caring for the grime and blood that was sullying him.

They stay like that, peaceful, for a few minutes. All the panic that had come over him was quelled.

”You know, back there, I felt like I was in the arena, again. The scenery was different, but I was still fighting,” he’s glad there were no deaths, but he won’t say that, ”And it’s been you that got me through it.”

”Keith, I remember meeting you in the café. I’d forgot to pay for that coffee. I was just so nervous. For barely over 5 feet, you can be very intimidating.”

That earns him a sweet laugh.

”But I felt drawn to you. By some... invisible force. Almost like a string was tied to both of us and it was gradually being tightened. And... I don’t for one minute regret that you got pregnant. We’ll... we’ll manage it together. I know we will.”


”...In here!” An unfamiliar voice yells, accompanied by the stampeeding of feet. The voice is distant, but, whoever they are, they’re fast approaching.

”Shiro. Shiro. Shiro!” Keith shakes his shoulders frantically. ”Shiro wake up, we’ve got to go. They found us.”

”Who?” He lifts his head up and it droops down towards his chest.

”Shiro, the Empire. They’ve- they’re- They found out I’m here. They know we’re here. They’re going to kill us.”

That gets his attention.

”Keith, can you help me up? I can manage once I’m to my feet.”

He winces when Keith lifts him and his weight falls to his own legs. Keith keeps a steadying hand on his chest.

”I’m fine, come on.”

But Keith holds still.

”Keith, there isn’t time-”
”You’re right. Shiro, there isn’t- and your leg- I... They’re not after you. Shiro if I go, you can esca-”
”NO! Keith, I can’t let you do that. That’s... That’s not how this works.”

”Shiro, you’ll die here. We’ll both- all, we’ll all die here. If I go, then you can live.”

It happens before any concious thought can cross his mind.
The door is ripped open, heavily uniformed Galra file in, and their guns train on Keith.

Bam.

The sound ricochettes off the walls, and screams over anything else that would try to make noise.

The blast is headed for Keith.

This is it, Shiro thinks.

Given more time, he’d kiss the man. He’d hug him. He’d hold him, and rock him in his arms. He’d keep his palm against Keith’s abdomen until their baby grew, and grew, and grew. They’d have a house together.

But there isn’t more time.

His body moves to shield Keith.
His last thought being that he could smell the ceremonial oil in Keith’s hair.

 


 


”You did it.”

There’s something cool resting against his cheek. He realizes it’s a hand.

”You would be in my heaven. I just hope you’re not here because you died too.”

”Open your eyes.”

Keith asked and so he does.

They’re back at the part of the ship where they teleported to. Keith is holding Shiro’s head in his lap, cradling his cheeks with cool palms.

”Well done.” Kolivan is standing over them. ”You have earned my approval.”

”Takashi, I saw the whole thing. It was..”

”Wait, what was the whole thing, exactly?”

Kolivan explains that the dueling was real, but the suit he was placed into held special properties. The part where the Empire had tracked down the Blades, had been a scene made from his mind.

”You never gave up on me.” There are tears in Keith’s voice. ”Not here, nor snything before. I.. I would travel across lifetimes and dimensions to find you, Shiro. As many times as it takes, I would always be the one to bring you back home.”

”And in my mind, I knew that.”

”Yeah. You did.”

The kiss that follows is passionate, all else forgotten. They part only because Kolivan clears his throat and reminds him he has wounds to tend to.

”We have a medical pod waiting for you back on Earth. I trust that Keith will not leave your side, so I shall show you two there. Hunk will monitor you until Ulaz and the garrison doctors can run check ups.”

 


 


He’d fallen asleep when Kiree gets them, woken by Keith gently shaking his shoulders.

Kiree leans down and presses his forehead to Shiro’s. He doesn’t say anything, but Shiro had watched him do this to Keith before. He closes his eyes and presses back, breathing in to try and smell the scents that the Galra use to communicate. He only smells a mixture of herbs. Kiree smells like the forest. Shiro wonders what Kiree smells.

”It is time to go. Congratulations, little one.” Kiree repeats the gesture to Keith.

There’s a small exchange in Galran. Keith’s voice is sweet, a higher pitch than Kiree’s,

 


 

The bonding involves taking a basket and collecting fallen brush and branches. They make a small fire. Kiree says it symbolizes burning away the unneccesary to make warmth.

”Fire is a sacred, life-giving thing in Galran tradition.” Kiree informs him.

Kiree leaves, the last part of the ceremony being spreading the ash on each others’ bodies, culminating in them joining together.


 


”We’re gonna be exhausted tomorrow.” Keith chuckles, his head resting on Shiro’s chest.

”You may have to pick me up from the floor of the aisle.” Shiro kisses his forehead. ”This is so ridiculous. Getting married in a week.”

Shiro places all the warmth he has into his laugh.

”You wouldn’t have had me or this any other way.”

”No, I wouldn’t change you for the world.”

They get their clothes back on and fall asleep. Matt will pick them up in the morning.

 

Chapter Text

The Terran ceremony, ”exchanging of vows”, is much less pressure and intimacy than the Galran ceremonies they completed the day prior.

The venue is small, two outdoor areas on opposite ends on a building. One housed the setup for the wedding, and the other the reception area. The latter has a roof over the it, with large, wooden pillars holding it up. Vines from the plants growing outside are weaved around the pillars.

Keith stands by Shiro, side-by-side.

Keith can’t help the smile that stretches his cheeks as far as they go. He’s eyeing the rose-gold ring that Shiro had put on his finger.

”You ready?” Shiro nudges him, knife poised to cut the cake.

”Oh no, I don’t know how I’ll handle this. Please, guide me through, oh, dear husband.”

Shiro snorts.

Keith lays his hand on Shiro’s and they slice it.

Why they cut the cake before being served dinner, he’s not sure. But they do it, and find their seats. They’re sat by Matt, Pidge, Hunk, and Lance. Keith tried complaining to Allura, who had arranged the seating, but she had said something about it being good to get to know the others. After the hectic week, Keith has little energy to argue.

Hunk is friendly enough, quick to ease the tension in Keith with humor.

Lance not so much.

”Hey, Mullet. How come Shiro didn’t walk your little princess butt down the aisle?” He shovels cake into his mouth.

”I’m not a princess.” Keith takes a sip of the sparkling cider, remise that he couldn’t reach for the champagne.

”Could’ve fooled me. Long flowing locks? Check. Tiny? Super check. A royal pain in the-”
”Lance, please. This is Keith and I’s big day. Why don’t you go have some more of the cake?”

Lance huffs and storms off to the dessert table.

”What’s his problem with me?”

”That’s just Lance,” Pidge chimes in, waving her fork that has a mini sausage stabbed on the prongs, ”He’s so dramatic. He’ll rile anyone up that’s willing to take bait. But, between you and me? He’s just cheesed off ’cus you’re an alien. Has it in his head that it somehow makes you special.”

”Yeah, man. Lance, he’s... Well, yeah. Pidge is kinda right. He’s jealous of you. Also, like, maybe marrying his hero might have made him upset. He’s afraid you’ll take Shiro away from everyone. Uh, no offense, Shiro.”

”None taken? I don’t know what he’s hoping to accomplish by picking fights with my husband.”

”Right? But, go off I guess.” Matt sweeps his hand dramatically back and forth.

 


 


They’re tucked into their meals when a loud crash of plates and scraping of chairs sounds.

”S-sam?” Colleen cries out.

Keith whips himself around and out of his seat. Where the two had sat, along with Allura, Coran, a Galra named Zarkon, and an Altean named Honerva, the table is flipped on its side.

Allura sprints over to Keith’s table, her heels discarded. She has a purse slung over his chest. She shimmies it to the front, and digs things out from it. She shoves something at each them.

Keith gets what looks to be an Earth lighter. Shiro is handed a plain, fold-out fan. Hunk is given a rock. Pidge gets a twig. Lance has a waterbottle.

”There’s no time to explain, they’re already here. Take these, they contain concentrated quintessence. Let the element speak to you. We need to grab Sam first, and put him in a cryopod.”

”B-but, wait, what about me? Dad? Princess?” Matt is frantic as he searches the table for a discarded steak knife.

The sound of a charging particle gun cries above the commotion.

”I am sorry, but there’s really no time now.”

The others disperse from the table and rush their way toward Sam.

Keith is just on his feet when a hand falls heavy on his shoulder.

”Keith. You must be careful. You are untamed and stand to pose more damage than good.” Her stare is unwielding. She’s waiting for him to nod, so he does. Then she’s rushing off somewhere away from the reception.

He wishes he had pockets.


”Keith! To your left!” Shiro calls out.

Whipping around, Keith sees one of his pack members unlock his blade. It’s long and hooked at the end. And aimed right at him.

”Dyrner, what are you doing?” Keith pats around for his own blade on instinct, but it’s back with his clothes in the dressing room.

”It’s nothing personal, kit. I’m just ordered to bring you back.”

”Ordered? You mean- You’re with the Empire? But-”

”But what? I’m a Blade? What better place to serve the Emperor than as a spy infiltrated into the very same group that has poisoned his own ranks?”

His plan to keep Dryner talking until his had an actual plan was shot in the foot when the blade is swung at him.

Keith tucks low. The blow was aimed high, given their height difference, and the move yields the blade missing him by several feet. He glances quickly around the room, the crowd had cleared, leaving only Keith’s table. He has an idea.

Keith shifts his weight hard from a vertical center to the left, then quickly snaps right. It’s enough to gain him the momentum he needs to swing out his leg straight, the step into a bend. It puts him upright and with his back to the group.

The lighter seems to spark in his hands and the surprise of it makes him drop it. He wasn’t going to use it anyways.

Dryner lunges again, this time Keith is prepared. He steps into the swing, bringing himself chest-to-chest with Dryner. The blade swipes at the empty air, knocking Dryner off balance. Keith draws back his knee and swings it upward. Dryner stumbles onto it, the blow knocking the wind from him, and Keith maneuvers out before the other falls.

It leaves Dryner dazed.

Perfect, Keith thinks, as he sprints off toward the changing rooms. He just needs to get his knife.

The roar behind him tells him that the blow hadn’t knocked the galra out for long.

He weaves through the tables and slams the door to the banquet hall shut behind him. It won’t distract for long, but it will buy him some time.

The thunk of what’s likely the blade being struck against the wood reverberates through the building.

The dressing room is all the way down the hall.

Keith jerks the door open and dashes inside.

”Where did it go?” He searches around where he knew he left it, but the knife is nowhere to be seen. The footsteps echoing down the hall are getting louder.

If Dryner comes in before he’s found the knife, he’s in trouble.

”You’re not going to find it, kit.”

He freezes.

Dryner is at the door now. Keith can’t go anywhere with him in the door way.

”He needs you alive, but there’s nothing about not tossing you around first.”

He raises the blade high enough to swing it down in an arc. Keith is calculating how to dodge it when the blade suddenly clatters to the floor.

”Kolivan!” He cries out, seeing the man behind Dryner, blade in hand.

Keith is fast to dive for the the discarded knife.

”Keith, leave him. We must go help the others.”

 


 


Sam, as it turns out, was easy to apprehend.

Lance’s water bottle is knocked on its side on the ground. The contents have expanded and weaved around Sam in ropes. Lance’s hands hover steady, his face tight in concentration.

Hunk’s crouched on the ground, hands flat against the tile. Beneath Sam’s feet is the Earth, crushed through the concrete, and wrapped up to his calves like boots.

Pidge is in tears.

”Where’s Shiro?” Keith is paniced, not seeing the man anywhere.

”Oh, Keith. Hey, man. He’s at the perimeters. Whoever these people are, they brought reinforcements. He’s keeping a wind barrier around us.”

”Fuck. I’m going after him.”

A hand on his shoulder stops him.

”Keith, we need you to stay here. We can’t lose you.”

That gets him to grit his teeth.

”Oh but Shiro is collateral damage?”

”No, kit. You do not understand. They are after you. Here is not the place to explain, but I need you to keep your emotions in check. Trust that your partner has this.”

Keith would’ve have ran if not for the implication that running to him meant he didn’t trust Shiro.


 

Things happen nearly in one moment.

Dryner shows up from the entrance to the hall. He throws his blade, which travels like a boomerang, on the path to Keith. Kolivan notices it and raises his own blade. Dryner’s hooks around it and tossed it back toward him. Quicker than blinking, Dryner catches it and hurdles it directy at Kolivan.

It strikes him in the chest.

Keith sees the disposed lighter, inches from Dryner’s heel.

He closes his eyes, letting the rage consume him. He feels it spark to life and hears the anguished scream. When he opens his eyes, Dryner is on fire. Keith concentrates and the flames grow bluer, hotter. He keeps working the intensity up until not even bone is left behind.

”Kolivan.” He cries and drops to his knees where the man is crumpled on the floor.

Kolivan reaches his hands to Keith’s face.

”Better I than you, my son.”

The palms that hold his face envelope his whole head.

Keith knows that without taking stock of their size as they hold him. He knows because he’s always found comfort in them. He was a troubled child, and Kolivan had come to learn that pressing on his head was a calming mechanism. It helped during outbursts.

”You knew, didn’t you?” It takes a will to speak that uses every last measure of strength he has to give. ”Everything. That we had spies- And they were after me. that’s why we’re here- Why you- we left the war. You knew we needed to be here. I don’t know how- I-”

”Be still, kit. I know you would regret our final moments to be chasing questions that I cannot answer. Once more you must find yourself waiting. But that is... Not to trouble you now.”

Keith leans down to bring their foreheads together.

”You’ve always been my dad. I- Thank you. For everything.” Tears gather at his eyelids. Filled already to the brim, the drops make their way down lashes, until they meet soft, lavendar cheeks.

”I loved you as my own, ki- Keith. I... I regret that my time has run out so soon. I would have- If only I had- Keith.. Keith, my son. I love you.”

”A-are you in pain?” He asks because he’s delaying.

”I could not ask of y-”

”Are you?”

Kolivan coughs and it’s gurgle of liquid, blood, Keith thinks.

The silence speaks the answer.

”I will carry your blade to the end of this.”

He closes his eyes. There’s no way he can watch the life leave Kolivan’s body. Not the man who helped him when his mother left. Not the man who taught him how to fight, how to defend himself. Not the man who indulged him in seeking out his culture, no matter how far-flung the species that held it were. Keith could not watch Kolivan die, and so he closes his eyes.

His fingers take hold of the hilt, the hilt of Kolivan’s own blade, shortened to its knife form, and protruding from his chest. Keith grasps hold of it.

He rips it out.

It had missed the heart by inches.

He thrusts it back in, this time proper.

Electricity tingles at his fingertips. Static noise buzzes through his skull. The burning of tears is only feeling to keep him in his body. There’s gasping and choking. Until there isn’t.

 


 


Keith draws his fingers along the glass of the display case. They leave prints along it. But the lights are off, and the sunset’s rays don’t reach far enough in. It’s still clean. As long as the light doesn’t touch the glass, it’s clean. He glides fingers all the way to the end of it, and then traces the countertop.

Which leads him to the wraparound bar.

He can just about see the ghosts of Matt and Pidge, in the middle of a shoving match. He can hear the scraping of stool along the ground as one of them falls over.

He works his back to the case and around it.

The phantom scent of pumpkin spice and bitter coffee beans is stale in the air.

His work apron is folded neatly beneath the counter, on top of his notebook and the Learn Swedish book from his mom. Shiro’s apron sits large beside the pile.

Opening the fridge, he takes out a carton of milk. Shakey hands trace over the surface of a variety of mugs, searching. The one he chooses is the one with rough paint. He pours himself a glass and gulps it down. It’s thick in his throat.

His eyes draw instinctively to the courner where the Holts would always be. 5pm, and they shuffle through that door. The courner looks dreary, but the dying light of the sun gives it a few more minutes of view.

He puts the carton away.

The bell on the door rings.

”I wish I could grant you more time, Keith. But the longer we remain here, the longer the presence of the Empire does as well.” He knows she’s trying to be reassuring, but her voice is just too soft, words too right, too diplomatic. It’s insincere.

He digs his book and notes from underneath the apron. For a moment he thinks about taking that too, but instead folds it neatly and stacks it on top of Shiro’s.

”I’m as ready as I’ll ever be.”

”Follow me, then. There’s much to discuss.”

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

                                       The Reasons I Scream at Night

                                                   Arc: Cosine

Chapter Text

The Caste of Lions is where he’s lead.

Keith looks around the main room, he’s the last to have arrived.

What he’s seen of it so far is light blue strips of luminescence glowing alongside sleek, gray metal. The designs are similar to Galran ships, he notes, but then their civilizations grew up together, so it’s not a large surprise.

Hunk, Pidge, Shiro, and Lance are standing together, talking rapidly. Keith blinks at the headache that spawns from his translation chip going into overdrive.

Matt is huddled with Coran over the holographic projection of a map.

Allura stops just in front of the group of four. Keith continues on to his husband’s side.

”Allura, hey, great, uh princess. Do you mind explaining? Like, not to rush you or anything but, my friend’s dad just wigged out and galra crashed the wedding and- and I am rambling. Sorry. I ramble when I’m nervous. And uh, yeah this, this certainely counts as that right now.”

Coran and Matt join them.

”Alright, I believe it is most prudent that we sit. Please, let us make our way over to the couches.”

Coran walks over to the wall and presses a button. Part of the floor turns over, red couches afixed to the bottom end that is righting itself up. There’s another button, and moves the couches to face the wall.

”Princess, allow me.”

They all find seating on the two couches.

”You doing ok?” Shiro whispers. His arm is slung around Keith’s shoulders, hand massaging gently where it can reach.

”Yeah, I’m good.” His voice is raspy and he knows by the look on Shiro’s face that he’s convinced no one. But Shiro knows when to give him space, so he accepts the answer. He places a gentle kiss to Keith’s temple.

On the wall, Coran puts up a projection of a planet that Keith recognizes as the Galran’s origin planet.

”Daibazaal.” Keith speaks without realizing he’s done so.

”That is correct. This is planet Daibazaal. For those of you who don’t know, this is the Galran home world.” He waves his hand over the orb that’s projecting, the scene moves. ”This is the heart of the Empire, the throne room. We had believed,” he changes it to a picture of Sendak, ”That this man, Emperor Sendak, had fallen a few moons ago.”

”However, within the past few weeks, we have seen a recent spike in the Empire’s activity. Now, we were aware that an entire Empire does not just fall with its emperor, but the panic and confusion should have kept their operations from functioning for awhile to come,”

Shiro cuts in. ”But, there must have been either a plan for his death, or, it was staged somehow.”

”Very good, number one. That is precisely our thoughts on the matter.”

Coran waves rapidly over the orb, the pictures blinking make Keith feel naseous.

”Our best bet, for a beginning reconassence mission, is to come here. Planet Sweden.”

”Wait, wait, ok time out. First, can we please hear about why this pebble,” he holds up the rock that Allura had given him, ”allowed me to pull the ground up through concerete. I mean, that clean up is going to be a nightmare.”

”Yeah, how come I was all ’whoooosh’ and the water was like ’swish’ and junk?”

”Let her talk.” Keith barks at Lance.

Shiro waves a hand between the two, sensing the impending fight. Lance mutters something about Shiro keeping his husband in check in a language different from the ones he’s heard before.

”Hey, asshole, I can understand you.” He points a stiff finger to the his ear, the reply being in the language that was just spoken.

Allura claps her hands together. ”Everyone, please. I need you to focus. I can’t tell you anything if we’re all going to sit around bickering.”

That’s fine by Keith.

”Is everyone familiar with quintessence?”

They look around at each other.

”Quintessence is life itself. Those items I gave you? They were charged with it by Lotor and I. You have yet to meet him, as he is making sure the last of the invaders are cleared down there. But each one of them were chosen specifically for their properties. Keith, you have a lighter because-”

”Fire.”

”Oh, man, so. The rock is earth, then huh?”

”My twig represents plant life.”

”Uhm, I’m wind?”

”Actually, Shiro. Your element is space, which contains air and gravity. But yes, you are all correct. You are the guardians of these elements, they spirit of each lives within you. Which is why I am here on Earth. I was sent to facillitate the manifestation of these powers. The universe needs you. The war we thought was over is well alive still.”

Shiro’s face pulls tight in concentration. ”Princess, what can we do for the universe? What now?”

”Well, first, those items were only temporary. You each must find your own motif for utilizing your element, and it will be using your own quintessence. So, Shiro, to answer your question, that is what’s next.” She pauses. ”You must go and collect it. Then it’s off to planet Sweden.”

Chapter Text

”Oh sure. You all get to have wicked elemental powers.”

Shiro sighs. That’s not the first time he’s heard Matt mutter about it since they split up. Though he’ll take a complaining friend over a mourning husband. Shiro wants to do right by Keith, he really does, but all the walls he’d carefully moved down, brick by brick, had been built back, and reenforced by another layer. Keith watched out the window of their ship the whole way there.

If Shiro is honest, he hasn’t had anything sort of footing since the wedding. One moment he’s exchanging vows, then, seemingly the next, he’s raising a wind barrier around the wedding pavellion.

Patience yields focus, he reminds himself, trying to focus on location the intermediary object for his newfound magic.

The hits keep coming.

”Matt, there are plenty of reasons for you to be here. We don’t all need these... whatever it is the five of us have. You were one of the Garrison’s best. Have more faith in yourself.”

Matt grumbles, but at least it’s (mostly) no longer in an intelligble hearing range.

Or, at least, Shiro’s hearing range.

”Stop it. I didn’t ask for this. Shiro didn’t ask for this. Kolivan is dead because of whatever the fuck this is. So shut up.”

Unsurprisingly, Matt dows, infact, shut up.

 


 


Keith leads the way through a dense forest. The environment looks mostly Earth-like, except that some of the shrubbery is blue, and the flowers are shaped different.
They decided to head to the planet Solvein, the one he was raised on. Keith had cited having a feeling that whatever it was they were looking for, it would be there. So far they were wading through trees, but the sounds and smells indicated that they were close to civilization. The vegetation was thinning, trees cut to leave stumps, and the ground cleared of leaves, in a way that could have only been done by intelligent life forms.

”We’re here.”

Shiro wasn’t prepared for seeing the city.
It’s large, sprawling, and each building is made of some type of brick. The rather than pave the floor, though, it’s a seemingly carefully maintained section of the grounds beneath. Many of the galra he sees milling about aren’t wearing shoes or socks.

There are galra in military uniform, though it’s look is different from what Shiro had seen as his time on the ship. As Keith had explained, the colony here was mining resources from the planet, and they were too far removed from the heart of the Empire to warrant combatant soldiers. The local beings were held under oppression for far too long to even think of uprising.


Keith walks out from the cover of the trees and one of the military galra calls something out, seemingly in alarm. But Keith responds quickly in the tongue, gesturing to where Shiro and Matt are, still hidden by the trees. Shiro is no good at reading Galran body language, Keith had adapted so quickly and easily, that Shito had no clue the body language would be different.

He and Matt come to Keith’s side as they’re waved over.

They’re scrutinized with cold eyes, before something is said to Keith, whom starts to nod, only to stop midway.

They follow the man.

”So uh, Keith, babe, darling, my guy, you wanna uh, yknow, fill us in?” Matt squeaks

More Galran.

”Keep quiet.” Is all Keith says. But he’s put every ounce of his knowledge of humans to make dread creep up into them. Whatever is happening, Keith is on guard. Whatever it is he has to just trust his husband.


They’re lead to a building that seems military and official. There are bars in the window, and it’s guarded by two uniformed galra with laser weapons held vertical in their hands. The two are stiff and unmoving as the group pass by them and inside.

It’s remniscent of a courthouse. There’s a large desk that greets them right away. The wall behind it has some writing on, in neat and even handwriting, but it’s in Galran, so Shiro can’t dicipher anything.

The galra leading them speaks to the employee behind the desk, whom then turns to Keith. The employee chuckles as soon as he hears Keith speak. Even without knowledge of the language, Shiro can hear that the pitch is higher, and the quality of the voice more human. Keith’s fist clenches by his side.

The room they end up in has no windows. There’s two chairs on either side of a small, but tall, table. Shiro recognizes it for what it is, an interrigation room. Sweat beads at the back of his neck and he’s glad for the humidity of the area being something to blame it on. The galra says something and then closes and locks the door.

Matt falls into one of the chairs.

”Keith, why don’t you sit down? You shouldn’t be stand-”
”What, because I’m pregnant?” It’s biting.

Shiro takes the other.

”Soooo... Keith, my man. You uh, mind translating?”

”I got this. Both of you calm down. We just stand out because we look how we do. It’s just precautions.”

Shiro licks his lips, somehow they’d dried.

”H-how long do you- uh- how long do you think we’re gonna be in here?” He leans his elbows onto the table. He presses his forehead to the table. The surface is cool and it provides a small amount of relief.

”Shiro, are you ok?”

He hears Keith, knowing he must be beside him, because his voice is in his ear.

”Hey, hey, it’s ok. You’re ok. Stay with us, Takashi. I’m here.”

Small but strong hands massage his shoulders.

”Come on, ’Kashi. It’s ok. Breathe.”

Keith instructs him in breathing. Shiro can’t move his head or body, but he can follow Keith. It’s a slow drawn in of air, and even slower release of breath. He concentrates on the pressure from Keith’s hands and breathes into the feeling.

Keith smells sweet beside him. The man’s braid tickles at Shiro’s neck, forehead pressed into the side of Shiro’s. The scent is a mixture of Keith’s hair oil, the one made on Earth of roses and a few other types of flowers, and sweat.

Shiro raises his head and turns into Keith, pressing lips firmly against the others.

”You smell good.”

Keith snorts.

”I”m sweaty.”

Keith swoops in for another kiss.

”Ugh gross, you two. Get a room. And not this one. Seriously.”

They chuckle.

 


 

The lock clicks and the handle turns. All three of them look at each other, unsure on if they need to be braced for a fight.

”Keith? Oh, I thought it was you, when Ghrom described you three. But, it’s been so many years.”

”Tulose?”

”Wha- Keith, you know him? Wait, I know what he’s saying.” Matt turns toward the man. ”You speak English?”

”Matt, translation chips.”

”Oh, yeah.”

”But yes, I know him. He worked with my mom.”

The man’s expression falls. Sorrow, it appears, is universal on faces.

”Krolia... May she shine yet as another star. I would have taken you in, but you were gone before the news reached me.”

Keith is up from Shiro’s side and standing in front of Tulose.

”Kit, that’s what Kolivan calls you, yes?”

”May he shine yet as another star.”

”Kolivan is- he’s gone, too? My condolences. But we must do this in haste. The longer we stay here, the more suspicious this will be. Hold out your hand.”

Tulose digs into his pocket and places something in Keith’s hand.

”A bullet? How very...”
”Human? I thought as much. It’s fitting.”

Keith pockets the bullet and pulls the man’s forehead to his. The man chuckles warmly.

”Keith, take care ok? Come find me when this is over. I’d like to hear about everything. Not just whispers about ”the kit”.”

”See you later, Tulose.”

 

Chapter Text

They’re back at the castle again.

Shiro tries to get Keith alone, but his husband immediately makes for their room. Shiro knows be could enter, Keith didn’t lock it, and it is half his, but the other needs space.

Before they’d left the town, Keith had been stopped by a towering Galra woman. She sniffed the air around him and said something in Galran. Keith snarled, his chin snapping down to his chest. Her hand went to reach for his abdomen but Keith slapped it away and pointed at Shiro. The Galra’s ears flattened and she stomped over to Shiro, spitting at the ground before his feet.

When Shiro had tried to ask him about it when they were on the ship heading home, Keith hissed and left the flight deck.

He supposes now is as good a time as any to go exploring the castle.

The design is similar to that of the Galra. Shiro notes that he should ask Coran or Allura about it later. More likely it will be Coran. Allura has left a bad taste in his mouth ever since she insinuated terrible things about Keith’s pregnancy.

He passes by Hunk, Lance, and Pidge’s rooms, and he hopes their magic item quest is going better than their’s had.

The sound of gaming is leaking into the hall from Matt’s quarters, and it’s a small relief that there’s at least one person to remain unchanged.

Wandering from their living area, he follows the hall down to the main part of the ship, where the navigation controls and crew’s seating are. Coran, Allura, and someone else are hunched over a tablet. They are heated in their discussion, especially Allura and the one Shiro hasn’t met yet. The man is tall, taller than anyone else on the ship. His skin is lavender, and his hair white and long, much like the princesses’.

Shiro is just about to leave when the man waves him over.

It’s almost concerning that the man didn’t need to look up, or make any signs that he was aware of Shiro.

He hates the feeling of being watched or monitored. Especially when he doesn’t know it’s happening.

”Champion, I am honored to meet you face-to-face.”

”Please, call me Shiro.” He feels they’re both holding up an air of diplomatic politeness. But he was never one to like keep appearance. He’d done plenty of that in the PR campaigns surrounding his mission to Kerberos. It made Keith all the more refreshing, being a presence Shiro could be himself in.

”Pleasure to make your acquaintance, Shiro. I am Lotor.”

The name sounds familiar enough.

He must have heard it during his time in captivity.

”I see my reputation preceeds my introduction. My position wihin the Marmora was invaluable to taking down Emperor Sendak. But being privvy to level of clearance I had meant an equally invaluable position within the Empire.” Lotor turns his gaze away for a moment, perhaps to give himself time to word his next dubious grab for peace. ”It is with hubris I ask for the opportunity to prove myself to you. Hubris and regret.”

The thing that concerns Shiro the most is how convincing Lotor is, and how willing Shiro is to believe him.

He sits down at the seat next to Coran, who claps him heartily on the back.

”Number 1, it’s good to see you. We were actually just reviewing our intel to see if there are any leads on your medium of power.”

Allura leans over the tablet on the table between them all. Her eyebrows scrunch and one long, elegant fingers slides the page up and down.

”I am not sure if it is ready. It may take some time. I am sorry to say Shiro, but it could be awhile before we locate it. In the mean time, Zarkan, Lotor’s father, has agreed to keep the fan charged with his quintessence.”

”It’s no problem, princess.” He chuckles, it’s going to be quite a sight for him to be using the fan.

”Actually, while you are here, I do have something I would like to discuss.”

The laughter cuts immediately. He has a feeling on what it is she’s going to say, and if it is, he is not going to be happy.

”Please understand that I mean no harm by any of this, but I am a princess and diplomat first, and as such, I must voice my concerns.”

”Princess, I mean no disrespect by this but I would like to remind you, before you continue, that you are speaking about my husband and our growing child.”

She pauses, at least.

Shiro knows he can be fierce when he wants to be. It is thankful that is not often.

”I am just wondering if it is the best proceeding that Keith leave the castle during missions. With his... condition... There is a high probability of an objective being compromised. Surely you have had the same feelings. It cannot be healthy to your child if its incubator remains so active.”

He would bite his tongue or his cheek, but he didn’t want to choke on the blood.

”The incubator,” he emphasizes the word, ”is a flesh and blood being and I am sure he will be more than capable for awhile to come. When the day comes that he is too heavy with our child, then, and only then, will you bring this up with him. Now, excuse me princess, but I have an incubator to go check-in with.”

He let’s the chair screech against the smooth tiles of the ship.

 


 

He doesn’t go to Keith, not like this, not so wound up.

Instead, he ends up in the recreation room, or what he supposes is such. Paying no real mind to anything in there, he drags a chair in front of the large windows that display the what”s outside.

It’s breathtaking.

Shiro is reminded of a time when he had only viewed such scenes through the lens of a telescope, or images transmitted back to Earth from satelittes.

He allows his forehead to thunk gently against the glass. It’s cool and the feeling helps to drain him of the heat from earlier.

Guardian of space? He thinks. Is that why he’s always felt called by the stars? Did they know? Did they know well before he did?

He’s just tired enough that he falls asleep there, head pressed to the window. The thrum of the engine a calm vibration and soundscape, lulling him into sleep.

 


 


The sky above him is purple, if it can be called a sky. It’s more like an infinite nothingness, where, somewhere, there’s a glowing haze. His own form seems wispy. He stretches his prosthetic arm before him. It almost blinks in and out of existence, but too rapidly for him to physically notice its absence.

Looking around him, he sees a man who looks like his husband. Except this man is taller, broader, and his hair is shorter. He wears a formfitting black suit with luminescent stripes on the chest.

Shiro blinks and the nothingness is gone, replaced by the furnishings of a bedroom. The man is settled into a chair, elbows resting on a desk, across from a bed. He’s tapping on his tablet.

”Keith?” Shiro tries the name, unable to shake the idea of this man being his husband.

The man’s eyebrows draw together.

”Shiro?” He says to the tablet in his hands, moving it all kinds of directions.

”Keith? I- I’m over here.”

The man curses as his drops the tablet, the device bangs heavy against the wood of the desk. He spins around in his chair to face Shiro.

”Shiro?”

The last thing Shiro sees are the same, beautiful violet eyes of his husband.

”Shiro? Hey, you’re awake. I’m- Listen, I’m sorry for earlier. I just.. It’s- Shiro?”

Shiro has to blink to get his vision focused. He looks around the room; there’s no bed or desk. He flexes his fingers, there’s no more blinking in and out either. Finally he brings his gaze to his husband. Concern is heavy set into his face. But still Keith is beautiful, almost ethereal.

”Sorry, baby. I- I was just sleeping. It’s ok. It’s been a rough few days.”

Keith’s face softens and he reaches hands out to cradle Shiro’s face.

”I love you.”

Shiro brings his own hands on top of Keith’s. Have you always been this tiny? he thinks. Keith doesn’t need to bend much to bring their foreheads together.

They breath each other’s air.

”I love you too, baby.” Shiro brings their lips together hard. He’s not sure why, but there’s an ache inside. The man in his dream looked so lost, and then, when he’d seen Shiro, he seemed to have found himself. It was painful to witness. It left something weighty inside Shiro’s chest. He hoped to never make Keith, this Keith, the real Keith, look that way.

Keith straddles his lap.

”What’s gotten into you?” His voice is that smooth, honeyed rasp as Shiro peppers kisses down Keith’s jaw and to his neck. He nurses a mark there with teeth, tongue, and suction.

Shiro doesn’t answer him. He coaxes Keith’s legs around his waist and lifts him up. He carries the man to their bedroom where he buried inside him as far as he can. He never wants to see that look on Keith’s face. He tries to replace that memory with the image of Keith losing himself to Shiro’s passion.

 

 

Chapter Text

Keith had never been to planet Sweden before.

But he’s surely heard about it.

Kiree voice is over the comms of the ship, guiding them on where to land. He directs them to the emergency hangar where he’d escaped from. It’s still open, as they had no time to close it on their exit.

Shiro lands them smoothly.

Hunk had been sick twice on the way there, but Pidge had figured out the location of the first aid and rations. She had Keith get the anti-nausea medication, being the only one equipped to read the language on the labels. Hunk was grateful for the pouch of juice that contained the medicine.

”Alright, everyone. Sound off. Pidge?”

”Pidge Holt, sounding off.”

”Hunk Garette?”

”Hunk Garette, here and accounted for.”

”Lance McClain?”

”That’s ’Sharpshooter’ to you.” Lance made finger guns and clicked his tongue.

”Lance McClain?” Shiro was not impressed.

”Ugh, you military guys. Lance McClain, sounding off.”

Shiro’s voice softens by measures. ”Keith Shirogane?” He says with the same awe and subtle giddiness that explodes in Keith every time he’s called it.

”Keith Shirogane, sounding off.”


They hear Allura through the communication systems in their helmets. She warns them to keep to the forests as much as possible, as it will boost Hunk, Lance, and Pidge’s elements.

Keith smirks at hearing Lance grumble something. The man was regarding the princess with such adoration, Keith figured Lance didn’t like her pointing his weakness.

”Most of these trees are burnt. There must have been a fire.” Keith recoils as he touches a blackened lead, which crumbles beneath his fingers.

Lance stares hard at Keith.

They keep moving.


The base is a few hours deep into the forest. It borders the city and the protected lands. With their target in sight, they take a break to dip into their rations.

”Man, I am parched.” Pidge accepts a juice pouch and slurps it with gusto.

”Here you go, Keith. You look flushed. Don’t overdo it ok?” Shiro lays a pouch gently on Keith’s lap. He’s crouched on feet and at eye-level. He reaches his flesh-and-blood hand out to Keith’s forehead, whom wants to swat it away, remark that he doesn’t need coddling, but they’re in company, and he does feel a bit whoozy.


 

”Man, ok, listen. I know they’re the bad guys but check out that base. How they built that in the span of a week or two is an engineering marvel. I wonder if I we could get the schema-”

”Hunk.” Pidge hisses. ”Focus. We’re here to get data on what happened to my da- to this planet.”

Shiro warns them to keep it down or they’ll be caught.

”Ok so here’s the plan. Keith, you’re gonna stay with Hunk and Pidge to keep watch, and clear out any sentries or soldiers in the way. Lance and I will patrol the outside of the tech rooms to keep you safe while you’re in there. Remember, we don’t know what level of security or importance this base has, so we have to be careful.”

”But Shiro-”
”No ’but’s, Keith.”

He grits his teeth but accepts the orders.


The base is a large, metal encampment build in layers. The innermost layer houses the energy supply, second from that is the tech, where the computers and communications are. There’s two layers out from that which house the sentries and guards. Allura’s team is able to scan into it by a device Pidge placed down. There doesn’t appear to be live Galra, and the gaps in he sentries provides a full three minutes of clearance for them to navigate from section to section.

They move quickly to their areas.

Keith is reluctant to part from Shiro, but he knows there isn’t time enough to argue.

He moves first into the room, his blade drawn and at full length. Head whips side to side and, finding nothing, he waves the other two in.

Pidge takes her laptop out of her backpack and calls Keith over to read the script on the control panel. He locates for her the connection jack and she tugs it from its spot inside the base’s computer and links it to her own. With fast fingers on her keyboard, she types and it echoes around the room.

”And, download is a go.” She hits one last key and then sets the laptop down to watch the images loading through the screen.

Hunk is fixated on all of the cords that run up from the ground, to the ceiling, and into the power room.

Keith waits by the door, arms folded over his chest, blade pointing downward.

”Hey uh, Keith. About earlier. Y’know, with Lance? Well. For my people, the men are the ones who do the cooking. Food is kind of a big deal for us, too. So, it’s actually honorable to be able to feed people. And I’m not sure if you’ve noticed yet but, in America, mainland America that is, women do the cooking. It’s sort of thought of as...”

Hunk pauses, seeming to test out the words in his head before speaking.

”Demure? Anything considered female is really.. not recieved well either. So well, what I’m trying to say is. I get what it’s like, being male and. Anyways, congratulations. I’m happy for you and your baby. It doesn’t change who you are just because you can get pregnant.”

Pidge’s eyes and attention are on the screen.

”Thanks, Hunk.” Keith smiles soft.


 


Keith hears a curse from outside the door and a screeching sound rattles through his head. His blade slips from his hands so he can raise them to cover his ears. He hisses.

Hunk and Pidge turn to him with confusion set in brow.

”Don’t you hear that?” Keith is yelling to get his voice to carry over the noise.

They share a look and say something to each other, but he can’t hear them. Keith figures they can’t hear it.

The air of the door opening behind him lets him know they’ve called in the other two.

Keith knows he’s screaming by now, the piercing sound causing pressure in his eardrums.

Hunk and Pidge rush over to the control panel and pull out every plug. Everything except the lights, which must be on a back-up generator, dies down.

The ringing lingers in his ears. He hears their voices as if through cotton.

All he hears is ”sentries” and ”Shiro.... Keith.”

His senses all cut out.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

”There were no Galra on this ba- There were never any on this base. They must have fled soon after setting it up. Whatever is here, for whatever reason it is, it’s been fully automated”

Shiro watches Pidge crumble piece-by-piece. She’s burning away in the stoked fire that’s quickly devolving into an all-consuming roar.

”But the- It’s not finished. We can’t-” She looks at Keith, dead-weight in his arms, then up to Shiro. The plead in her eyes is brief, them falling down to the glistening silver of his wedding ring, and dies even faster. It’s replaced by something dark. She goes quiet.

”Sorry, I was just- I touched the wall. It had a handprint. I was just- I thought ”Hey, Lance?”, ”Yes, Lance?”, ”What if we put our hand there?” So naturally-”

Pidge cuts him off. ”Not helping. Let’s just get out of here.”

There’s a banging on the door outside them.

”Shit! Lance must have activated an alarm that alerted the sentries. It would’ve been in Galran range of hearing, that’s why only Keith could hear it. But...,” Pidge taps her finger to her chin, ”That means they expected Blade members, because-”

The bangs are getting louder and more frequent.

”Ok, sorry, so when we cut the power, the automated doors stopped working. The good news, we have some time to collect ourselves. The bad news, they have time to all pile up outside the doors.”

Shiro looks down at Keith, adjusting him so his head isn’t lulled over the side.

”I.. I’m gonna have to put you down, buddy. We’re-” he pauses and then directs his voice to the whole group, ”I’m going to cut a path, everyone follow behind me. We’ll, uh, we’ll come back for Keith.”

”Shiro, wait, no. I mean, no offense dude. We can’t just leave your husband. I mean, I get it and all but. No doubt a signal is being broadcasted to the Empire that the base has been infiltrated. Who knows how fast they’ll get here.”

Hunk volunteers to carry to Keith.

Shiro lays Keith against Hunk’s back, looping his legs around Hunk’s middle. He leaves a kiss into the soft braid. As the most experienced fighter, save for Keith, he needs to lead.


 


”Stand back!” Shiro yells as he reaches out his hands and pulls the air leaking out from the bottom of the door into his fists. It’s a metal facility and not much air gets in and out. He reasons if he can create a vaccuum, the door will pop off its frame, crushed and compacted.

There’s a hiss as the metal bursts from the frame. Shiro uses the air built up in the room to shove it forward. It knocks through a few waves of sentries, causing a domino effect.

The group springs into action.

Shiro pulls coloumns of air back and forth to toss sentries to the side of them.

”Look out!” Lance yells from behind and a ball of water shoots over Shiro’s shoulder and into a rogue sentry, causing it to electrocute itself and fall into a heap on the floor.

Shiro calls out his thanks.

The area is large, so the sentries that weren’t already nearby don’t make it in time for them to battle the team.

”Everyone, don’t stop running. Follow me. We only have to get away. Then we can contact Allura and have them direct us back.”


 


Running for about half an hour, Shiro calls it time to settle down. They’re somewhere in the trees, and the only thing to be heard is the nature going about itself quietly. Whatever types of birds on the planet are chirping, and the sound and pitch is remniscent of Earth birds.

Shiro rests down at the base of a tree. He contacted Allura while on the run, and she sent out Lotor to meet them with a transport device. They are all grateful to not have to make the trek back to the hangar on foot.

He removes his helmet and pats his lap when Hunk looks like he’s scouting a place to set Keith down.

”Thank you, Hunk.”

Hunk bends down and Shiro gathers Keith into his arms, resting his back to Shiro’s chest.

Sweat rolls down Shiro’s forehead, and he’s only just catching his breath. He closes his eyes and concentrates on feeling the small movements Keith is making with breathing.

The click-clacking of keys moves his mind back to the group.

”What did we get, Pidge?”

”Well, it’s not looking like a whole lot so far. Mostly it’s instructions for the sentries. Oh, there’s some communication here... but it’s encripted. I’ll have to crack the code later. Hm. Yeah, sorry. Other than that, nothing is popping up. I- I think this was a bust.”

She sounds almost in tears.

”Don’t worry, Pidge. We’ll find what we need. Both the info on your father and on the Empire.”


Lance collapses onto the ground with a sigh, his arms folding behind his head. ”There’s a stream nearby.” He says but makes no moves to get up.

”I wonder how these powers work. I do feel much better out here, with the Earth- err, terrain, around us.” Hunk scoops up soil with both hands and watches it cascade through the gaps in his fingers.

”I’ve always been in-tune with the land. My mom used to joke that I should just live outside, for all that I’d loved being in the dirt. One time, I told her that the ground was shaking. She sort of waved it off. Until my aunt called, she lives in Guam, and said that an earthquake had just happened. My mom was pretty spooked after that so, I ddin’t tell her about those things again.”

”Yeah, well, I hate nature. I’d rather be inside and on my computer.”

”I spent my childhood in Cuba, and then, when we moved to New Mexico, I loved visiting anywhere with streams or rivers. It never compared to the ocean but, water is water I guess.”

Shiro considers for a moment.

I went up to space, he thinks.

The others chatter along.

 


 

At the castle, Shiro takes Keith into a healingpod.

Allura tries to get him to come away from the pod, saying that they need to have a debriefing, but he refuses. ”Either we have it here, by Keith’s side, or I’ll join you when he wakes up.”

She stares up at him, challenging. He crossed his arms, leans back against the pod, and slides to the floor, sitting at Keith’s feet. Her expression much darker and overwhelming from the new angle. After a few more seconds, she sighs and tells Coran to call in the rest of the crew.


 


”I see. So there was nothing but sentries there? Curious.” Allura paces, her hands clasped behind her back. ”Kiree, you are certain that what you have told us is correct?”

”Yes, princess. We were taken hostage by live Galra.”

”Perhaps, then,” she stops in her circular path, ”They were looking for something, but then abandoned the planet when they didn’t find it. Were there any mines there? From what you describe, it was the singular base.”

”No, there were definetly no mines. It was so empty. It was spooky.” Lance says.

”What could they have possibly been looking for?”


 

She ends the meeting, citing that they all need their rest. Tomorrow, she explained, their training would begin. Then turned to Shiro, continuing with, ”Keith, or not.”

 

 

Chapter Text

Hunk, Pidge, Lance, and Shiro are sitting in a circle, their legs crossed at the ankles and folded under their knees.

To Shiro’s dismay, Keith had not been ready in time. When he’d approached Allura about getting him out, she scanned the pod. If Keith were let out early, his eardrums would not fully heal. Shiro was not willing to risk that they’d recover on their own, so he left, reluctantly, to the training room.

Patience yields focus. He breathes in. There’s an aggitation in his legs, an itch to get up and- He doesn’t know, actually. But he needs to do something. As much as he is assured Keith is doing well, he can’t help but jump to the worse scenarios in his head. His time in the arena had not lent well to optimism.

”Dude, if you need to pee, go pee.” Lance knocks what is probably a shoulder into Shiro’s.

Patience yields focus.

He forget where he was in his breathing.

Shit.

He breathes out and starts over.

”Uh, Shiro. Buddy, no offense but, maybe just get up and go? You’re kinda making me anxious.”

Patienc-

”Lance quit poking me!”
”Ugh, Pidge, that so wasn’t me.”
”Yes it was, come on, Hunk is waaaay over there.”
”He can reach over here.”
”No, Lance, he ca-”

”Enough. Ok, everyone, stop. Please.” Shiro sighs deep and opens his eyes.

Their instructions were to try and conjure a small bit of their element through their medium. Shiro has the cheap, foldout fan resting on the floor in front of him. Lance’s seashell was woven into a bracelet. Pidge’s and Hunk’s haven’t been recovered yet. Which makes Shiro feel marginally better to see Hunk with his rock and Pidge with her plant.

”I need everyone to focus, ok?”

He says it equally to himself, but if he lets any of them know that, their trust in him may wane.

He closes his eyes, telling himself that getting riled up now won’t help Keith heal. The better he gets at using his powers, the sooner they can win the war (and whatever else happens in between. Allura hasn’t briefed him on her plans, exactly). The quicker it ends, the quicker he can get Keith back to Earth, where Keith can live out his pregnancy in safety.

This time, Shiro calls up a soft breeze, and, as his breathes, he can feel himself disperse into the air. He’s both in his spot where his body is, and in the wave that moves gently against the others. Their own breathing disturbs the air and it’s palpable for him. He’s the oxygen in their lungs.

Lance breathes steady, deep breaths, Hunk breathes shallow as if he’s holding most of his breath, and Pidge is quick with excitement.

He lets the air lick against the metal surfaces around the room.

Wherever the wind blows, Shiro feels, he senses.

He calls it back only as he hears the others, one by one, move out of the exercise.

Shiro wonders if he’ll ever be able to put himself in gravity. But, for now, he’s satisfied with the connection he made in the session.


 


They break for a lunch, and then decide to take an hour to themselves before trying again.

 


Things are a lot quieter without Keith.

He returns to the place by the window and watches outside.

Has it always been so... empty? He wonders. Not about space, but about himself, his mind. There are vague memories of laughter, of times when he could control a room with humor. He thinks about all the people he’s met, the buddies from the Garrison that he would go drinking with at the bar a few miles out. He’s loathe to admit it but, he missed the attention. He wouldn’t acquire it using any means necessary, but he’d just fallen into the role of being a poster child, being beloved, and it still left a hole inside him.

It was maybe the least of his problems, and that made it somehow easier to swallow and digest.

He turns away from the window and gently bangs his head against it.

Maybe, he thinks, I have a hero complex.

But that line of thinking turns quick to his time in arena.

He may have been named Champion, but he was no champion, not really. He’d clawed his way through fights because he had to. There could be only one winner and he fought to make sure it was him. Though it was more survival than a conscious decision, as the environment didn’t provide for introspection.

No.
Introspection and mindfullness is a luxury afforded only in a place safe from harm. Thinking was a privledge.

And he does think.

He thinks himself in circles, maddened that every thought seems to hold the same basic content. He’s stuck in a void, life cut of from advancing the minute he left capture, and he has only the happenstances prior to mull over.

The ring on his finger is heavy.

If he can’t move on, if life doesn’t change, if this is it, he’s almost hysteric in his thoughts, then he’s dragging Keith down with him. Not just Keith but their child. The innocent child who had no say in their fathers or conception. If Shiro goes down, his own family comes with him.

A weight upon the weight already pushing on his back.


”Get it together, Shiro.” He speaks aloud. There isn’t time to waste laying around feeling sorry for himself.

He decides to meet with Allura to see what her plans are.

Except he runs into Coran on the way to the bridge.

”Number 1! There you are. I was just coming to find you.”

”Hey, Coran.” Shiro smiles.

”I wanted to see how you were holding up. I watched your training earlier and I just wanted you to know that he’ll be alright. Allura and I believe that our Keith is just stressed from all that’s been happening. It’s not easy carrying a baby.”

Coran rests a hand on Shiro’s shoulder, and he can’t help but feel a little shocked to be on the recieving end of what’s usually his gesture of comfort.

”It’ll be alright, Shiro. Keith would hate to wake up to find you worrying.”

”Thanks, Coran.”

”Now, you looked like you were headed somewhere. Mind if I walk with you?”

Coran chats him up, some story about the Flydorian Flud Worm, and how he once had to place an egg in an incubator, because it’s mother hadn’t come back for it in the hibernation. It had left defending the nest, only to be unable to return to its progeny.

Just before they entered the room where Allura was, Coran stopped him.

”If you have any question about anything, please feel free to come to me. I understand it can be quite embarassing to ask things of you partner, and I’m familiar enough with Galra as to be of some help.”

There’s something more there, something unspoken. But Shiro appreciates it. He appreciates Coran, and thinks he will take the other up on it. Most of all, he appreciates Coran’s care of his husband.

”Alright, space dad.” Shiro says with a chuckle, clapping Coran’s shoulder and heading before him into the room.

 

 

Chapter Text

”Penny for your thoughts?”

Keith turns from where he’s sat in front of the open window. The rain is coming down heavy, but it’s broken up by spattering on the large surfaces of the leaves outside. The nature is dense surrounding their bungalow. Keith has been watching the rain fall, enchanted, and safe from contact by the porch and roof in front.

Shiro is stepping with leisure towards him, two mugs in one hand, and the other a plate with sliced fruit. He’s fresh fro the shower and wrapped neatly in fluffy purple bathrobe. The soap and shampoo he used fills the air with the scent of sweet fruits not unlike the type hanging from the trees around them.

”Here, baby. Why don’t you eat? It’s been a long day.” He places the plate down on the windowsill. ”Oh, and look, they have this tea, I think you’ll like it. I asked around for something safe for a pregnant Galran and the woman pointed me to this. It’s not too unlike how coffee tastes.”

He takes the mug in both hands, kissing Shiro’s as it moves on its way to take a slice of the fruit.

”What’s a penny?” He sniffs the tea and lets the steam fill his nostrils and warm his face. It does remind him of coffee.

”Oh, it’s just a saying. You seemed deep in thought and- It’s something to say when we want to know what about.”

Keith hums and taps his finger nails along the ceramic of the mug. The clinking it produces is a strange comfort. It reminds him of the café back home.

”Kolivan.” He starts softly.

Shiro takes the wide, satelite dish chair by the couch and moves it next to Keith. He’s quiet, letting Keith think on what to say, how to say it, and Keith knows he couldn’t have married a better man.

”I miss him. I- He was more of a father than- than that man I’ve only just met. And I miss him. Shiro, I miss him.”

Shiro sets his mug down on the sil, Keith follows suit, and burrows his forehead into Shiro’s chest. He bites around the tears that pool fire-hot from his eyes. His hands grab mercilessly into the soft and plentiful fabric of Shiro’s robe. It’s a sob that moves into a scream. A scream of a wounded animal, pained beyond capability for cognition. It’s not loud, but it’s deep and guttural and wrenches his heart up through his esophagus and falls out through clenched teeth.

He closes his fists so tightly he can feel the tips of his fingers even through the fabric. He snarls through his sobbing.

Keith doesn’t really know where Shiro goes, mentally, or what he does, physically, because sorrow beyond his capacity to hold is drowning all else out. But for being stuck at sea, Shiro is, at he very least, the boat that keeps him from falling in the waters, and sinking to bottom.

”It’s.. It’s like something,” He pushes words through, but only just barely, ”like something’s gone away and I can never get it back. Shiro it’s- he’s gone. I can never, I can never go back. Shiro. He’s gone. And he died protecting me and I can’t help but feel it should have been-”

”Keith, no. Don’t you- don’t you dare finish that sentence.”

Keith’s grounded because Shiro is speaking through his own tears now.

”Keith, listen to me. Baby, please. Don’t ever- Don’t you dare ever...” Shiro’s hands roughly grab hold of his hair and he’s pulled out from the chair he’s sitting in, until he settles onto Shiro’s lap. It’s desperate. It’s lacking decorum and the usual gentleness with which Shiro handles him. But that’s how Keith knows that this time he’s the boat. There’s a storm raging wherever it is Shiro’s mind is, and Keith won’t let him fall in the water.

”I’m so glad you’re here, so glad you’re alive. You could have- I heard the story. They told me that he was going to kill you. Oh, baby, please. Please. Don’t. We love you. I- I love you.” Keith’s head is brought into the crook of Shiro’s neck as the man cries into Keith’s now messed up braid.

”Hey, Shiro. It’s ok. Don’t cry. I’m sorry. Just, please don’t cry.” He peppers kisses in staccato on Shiro’s neck, whereever he can reach within the tight grip of Shiro.

Shiro mutters things, unintelligebly, and with fervor.

Keith wants to breakdown even more, knowing his husband is gone. Gone far away from him in that moment. He’s gone to the parts of his mind plagued by the illness his capture wrought upon him.

Keith steadies himself.

If a storm wants to toss them in the waves, fine. But he won’t let a single drop of water so much as brush Shiro.

”I’m here.” He whispers and it causes Shiro to still. ”That’s it, it’s ok. I’m here. You have your hand in my hair. You always like my hair. You say it’s soft. Is it soft right now, Shiro?”

Keith feels the bob of Shiro’s adam’s apple as he swallows heavy.

His voice doesn’t come easy. ”Y..yes, it’s,” he clears his throat and loosens his grip around the hair, moving to pet it gently instead, ”it’s soft. I love your hair, baby.”

Baby.

That word is a lifeline. Keith knows it’s amongst the collection of other orienting and grounding words that remind Shiro of what he has.

Baby.
Husband.
Keith.

”I’m glad.” Keith chuckles small. ”Does it smell good? I used the hair oils you like so much. What exactly are the smells, again?” He asks, as if he hasn’t memorized it both in aroma and the words.

Shiro chuckles too.

”Coconut, and lime, that’s the little green sour fruit, and, uh- oh. Yeah. Lavendar. Remember? That plant that reminds me of your eyes? And a hint of cinammon, cus you’re my little spicy boy.”

”Shiro?”

”Hm?”

”I love you.”

”Keith?”

”Yeah?”

Shiro gently pushes Keith back and smiles, gazing soft into his eyes.

”I love you too.”

 


 

 

Keith had woken up that morning feeling disoriented. He started off speaking Swedish, which had been about am every few day occurance since waking up in the pod.

”My translation chip is fried.”

He’d told Shiro, when he finally directed it back to a language Shiro understood.

The fix was simple, but costly. It also meant he needed to have the proper currency, and no Earth doctors would be able to perform the surgery to replace it. The chips were a lifelong piece of medical equiptment, so the price reflected the durability required.

Through a combination of needing to gather intel, and Keith having to replace his chip, Allura had tasked them with heading back to Planet Sweden. Only, this time, they were amongst the population.

Keith and Shiro are living and working at an upscale resort.

Landing the jobs was no easy feat, as they didn’t really have many qualifications. At least, not ones they could put on paper. Keith was a Blade for most of his life, his only hospitality experience had been the two months working at the café. Shiro went straight to the Garrison. He’d joked that he could put down ”adaptable, familiar with Galran culture, and dedicated to the task” from his time being a prisoner of war.

Keith hadn’t laughed.

It grated on Keith to have to use his barer status, and pregnancy, as a guilting mechanism. A few well timed rubs at the baby bump, along with his story of ”needing money for their child”, and they’d taken both in.

Their interviewer had been Galran.
Keith read from their body language and word choice that they were under the influence of the Empire’s culture. Unlike with Kiree and his pack, who kept alive traditions old, and revered the childbearing, regarding them as strong and resilient, Empire Galra viewed bearers as weak, defenseless, and needing protection.

Keith was at the front desk, to keep him off his feet. Which made his body burn and itch with the need to move. Keith was not made to be docile nor pampered. But they needed to integrate into the local community, and he needed the money.

He felt bad to be sitting all day, whilst Shiro was put to work as a room attendant. Though it had been a few weeks, Keith still felt guilt to come to their room with unspent energy, while Shiro was yawning and fighting to keep awake.

 


 

”Have you heard anything?” Keith wraps a blanket around Shiro’s shoulders and heads into the kitchen to bring him the mug of tea Keith had made him. After he finishes drinking it, Keith resolves to give Shiro a backrub.

”Unfortunately no. The other staff just don’t trust me yet. I hope they don’t recognize me.” Shiro looks down at the mug in his hands.

”Hey, it’s ok. I don’t think any of them would have been watching the arena. They’re probably too busy or tired. Besides, it’s neutral territory here.”

Shiro hums. ”How’s it going for your, babe?”

”It’s going well for your baby Terran pig.” They both snort. ”No, uh, it’s.. ok? I feel kind of... watched.”

”You’re gorgeous, of course they’re gonna stare.”

”I guess? I mean. Sometimes I’m just typing on a pad, handling some messages, and I’ll look up and see someone looking at me. If I’m out from the side of the counter, they’re looking down.” He gestures to his abdomen.

”Well, when humans get pregnant, a lot of people have this reaction where they want to touch the baby bump. It’s.. Ok, yeah, now that I think about it, it is creepy and invasive. I’m not sure how other species view pregnancy, but they could just be curious or something. Besides, you said bearers are rare, right?”

”Yeah. Well, I hope it stops, but it’s probably just going to get worse.”

”Sorry, my little, what did you say?, baby Terran pig?” Shiro laughs.

”Oh come here, you. I want to give you a backrub.”


 


Keith spins around in the stool he’s sitting on. It’s midday and most of the visitors are off around the resort getting lunch. It’s good, because it’s a welcome break from the morning’s rush. The day was a holiday for a species from a planet in the nearby system, and the upper crust were celebrating by visiting Sweden, which, from what he’d garnered, had fairer weather.

Whatever the species were, they had a disdain for pregnant people, as they had told him as much. ”On our planet, your kind are kept away until the child comes.”

Keith was just at the edge of putting them away, until his child came, but his coworker, Vapro, a smart Galra with short fur, and the markings of an Earth tiger, stepped in.

Keith had gone to break, fuming as soon as he entered the break room. He took the little square packets of sugar that rest near the kettle and threw them to the ground. Which accomplished little more than him needing to sweep up some broken packs.

He settled into a bag of crispy fruits, which had been dried and baked, satisfied as they crunched beneath his teeth.

It had been a wild morning.

”Hey, Keith.” Vapro scoots her stool closer to him.

”Hey.” He wants to say more, be friendly, even just thank her for earlier, but he’s tired.

”Where’s your mate? I don’t smell your bond but,” she gestures to his stomach.

Keith bristles until he sees the earnestness in her face. He knows that anyone who can smell like the Galra do think the same thought. It’s refreshing he has to chuckle to himself to finally be just asked. Even if the question isn’t exactly polite smalltalk. Though, he supposes, he might be too adapted to human culture at this point to be able to tell what’s rude and what isn’t.

”Ah. Well, my husb- mate, he’s not Galra.” I’m only half anyways, he thinks, but realizes she probably already smelled that.

”Oh. Does he look like you?”

”Is that your way of asking me what my other half is?” Er. Well, his genetic other half, that is.

The other half of his genetics.

Whatever.

”Ok, fine. Yeah. I’ve never seen someone like you before, and I’ve been here, like, uh, almost my whole life? Like, right after school, I was like, ”mom, dad, I’m leaving to go to Sweden.” They were totally shook, but then also? Not really. I mean, they kind of saw it coming. An-y-way, this is about you.” She looks at him with hopeful eyes. Her ears, which perch atop her head like a cat’s, fold over as she clasps her hands into front of her mouth.

Keith looks around the room.

He spots a sign that points to the cafeteria. ’Braquo natipon’ is the name of the hub. He nixes some letters and, ”Quation. Uh, I- we’re quations. From qua...tipon. It’s a far off system, barely developed. I only came here because my mother, a Galra, was from here.”

”That’s so cute. Like, if you have any questions, come to me ok? Not to throw off your game but I could so tell you weren’t from here, y’know?” She chuckles and nuzzles his cheek. ”Oh don’t look so shocked, hon. Don’t worry your pretty little head, that’s not Sweden culture, that’s just Vapro.”

He wasn’t worrying. He hadn’t seen anyone else getting so physically friendly.

”Oh hon, hey. So, no offence, but you look exhausted. I can totally cover for you, so like. Take the rest of the day.”

He is tired, tired enough not to argue. She has the kind of energy of a person who won’t take no for an answer, even if it’s wrapped up in a sweet, sugary package.

”Uh, thanks, Vapro. See you tomorrow?”

She grins and waves him off.


 


The walk back to their quarters in long. They live on the edge of the property, surrounded by the forest. The wealthier guests stay on the side closer to the beach front.

He must get lost in thought, because the next thing he knows he’s bumped into someone.

Keith curses. ”Sor-” he reaches a hand down to help the person up, but they stare at it, ”ry.” And then at him. Their eyes are wide, and it makes him sigh. He’s so close to their room, all he wants to do is nap before Shiro gets home and it’s milk time. He knows bearers are rare, but do people have to keep losing their minds over him?

”Ah, no problem. I am sorry. I did not mean- In your condition- Please, forgive me for startling you. Have I injured you?” He pulls to his knees, and then upright, with no assistance from his arms.

”I’m fine.” No, I just want to sleep, and right now you’re bothering me, when my room is mere feet away.

”If you are certain... Then I shall continue on.”

Keith nods.

The man bows and with a final glance to Keith’s abdomen, he’s on his way again.

Keith scrambles into the bungalo, wincing that he had forgotten to lock it, and falls right into the couch.

He naps hard.