Keith was not the most patient person, but he knew when to try. What he lacked in patience, he made up with understanding. So even if something was really pissing him off, if the person involved - specially a friend - was very visibly trying hard to make things work, he tried his best to be patient.
Tonight that friend was Shiro, and in the last few months, Keith had discovered that he was weak when it came to Shiro.
But Keith could only try so hard.
“Shiro,” he called out to his companion. “This is the fifth time tonight, seriously.”
Shiro looked up from his phone, brows furrowed and frown a mix of confusion and frustration. It tugged at Keith’s heartstrings (damn the guy for being so good at the kicked puppy expression) and made him sigh in resignation because he knew it wasn’t really Shiro’s fault either.
“I’m sorry, Keith. But you saw it too, didn’t you?” Shiro asked him. “There was an alert. And we heard a cry.”
“I know. I’m not-... well, I am annoyed , I guess. That we’re out here in the middle of the night for nothing when we could be sleeping. But it’s not like I’m mad at you. Maybe the Hollow just felt or saw us coming and went away?”
“It’s possible.” Shiro considered, but didn’t look convinced. “It just disappeared so suddenly, though. If it just escaped somewhere, we would be feeling some traces of the Hollow energy, but… there’s just nothing. Like it just vanished completely.”
Keith scratched his head, getting impatient. “Hey, you said it, right? Your power’s still recovering so your senses are weak. And I’m a total noob so we can’t really count on mine. Maybe it’s there and we’re just missing it.”
Shiro still looked doubtful, but he nodded, “Maybe. Still, though-” He looked over at Keith, who tried to suppress a yawn. “Nevermind. We should go home. We’re both tired.”
“Right.” Keith exhaled. “Have your phone checked too, with whoever you got it from? Maybe it’s just glitching or something.”
Shiro agreed, putting the device back in his pocket. They made their way back home.
Keith was not the most patient person, but he knew when to try. That doesn’t mean he always did - because when it came to people he cared about, his fuse always ran hot.
“Shiro,” he called out to his companion. “Explain. Why the fuck. There’s a Hollow attacking my best friend’s house.”
Shiro shook his head as they rushed towards a direction Keith knew too well. “I’m not sure-”
“They only attack souls, right? Dead people? So why- Shit. Shit! Don’t tell me- ”
Shiro didn’t miss the sudden tremble in Keith’s voice. “We can’t be sure, Keith.” he repeated firmly, hoping his calm would somehow reassure Keith, take his mind off the worst of the thoughts.
“Focus.” Shiro said. “Let’s focus on getting there first. That’s the best we can do. You know this.”
That seemed to get through to Keith. “R-Right... Okay.” he said weakly, then took a deep breath and concentrated on speeding up.
Shiro tried his best to keep calm. He was worried too. During the past few weeks, he’d become accustomed to Matt - he was a good friend and classmate. And of course, there was also Pidge. He knew how important Pidge was to Keith. Not to mention their parents, whom Keith had always said were good people. Whatever led a Hollow to attack the Holts’ residence, Shiro hoped it wasn’t what they feared.
They were just one block away when they heard the Hollow’s roar. Keith cursed, crossing the remaining distance when he saw the masked monster smash through one of the bedroom windows, shattering glass in its wake.
It was Pidge’s room.
“Pidge!” Keith cried as he and Shiro landed on the windowsill.
Pidge was lying unconscious on the floor, an arm cradling Rover 2.0 to her side. Her chair was toppled nearby, a mess of tools and parts scattered on the floor around her room.
A Hollow was looming dangerously over her form.
Shiro was the first one to react, his training kicking in. He raised his arms towards the Hollow, hands forming a quick seal. “Bakudo #4! Hainawa!” A golden spirit rope emerged from his hands and flew towards the Hollow, wrapping around its body and effectively restraining its movements. “Take it outside, I’ll look after Pidge!”
Keith moved quickly. He launched from the windowsill and kicked the Hollow away from Pidge, then sent it flying out the window again and followed to finish it off.
Shiro didn’t look back, rushing towards Pidge. He let out a relieved breath when she stirred and groaned, weakly trying to sit up.
“Pidge. Can you hear me? Are you okay?” Shiro asked, bringing one arm behind her shoulders to support her.
She tried to nod but winced in pain. “What- What happened? I was-... There was-...” she trailed off when she recognized the familiar face hovering over her. “ Shiro? Why are- Why are you in my room?”
“Hey. I-... uh, I’ll explain. In a bit.” Shiro said as he looked her over, assessing any physical injuries. Pidge was wearing a baggy shirt and pajama pants, so he couldn’t be entirely sure, but there didn’t seem to be any blood. Her hand was pressed to her side, and she groaned when she tried to move again. She must have fallen on her side when the Hollow knocked her out. “You’re hurt. Can you… We need to check it. Is that fine with you?” he asked gently, trying to coax her into letting him check the injury.
Pidge was still a bit dazed, but she nodded, shakily lifting her shirt enough to expose her bruised side. “Well, shit. Is it bad? Do you know if it’s bad?”
Shiro examined it shortly before concluding that nothing looked broken. It was probably just a harsh fall that caused bruising. “It’s fine. I got you.” he murmured as he placed a hand over the area and started a healing spell.
He and Keith agreed that Shiro should avoid fighting or using spells, to save his energy for emergencies. This should be fine. Pidge shouldn’t have been involved in the first place-
“What are you doing?” Pidge asked drowsily, then finally looked around, taking in the shards of broken glass everywhere and the mess of spare parts and tools in her room. “Shiro, what happened? Where’s-... Where’s Matt? Let’s call Matt. He knows first-aid-” and that was when her shaky voice turned into a confused shriek as she noticed what exactly he was doing. “Dude, is your hand GLOWING?! ”
He was cut off when Keith came back through the window, face panic-stricken. “What happened, how is she?!”
Both Pidge and Shiro looked up. Before Shiro could answer, Pidge beat him to it. “Keith?” she gaped. “What- How- Why are you-”
Keith froze. “You can see me?”
Pidge blinked. “You’re standing in my window, of course I can see you! What are you wearing? ”
Keith looked towards Shiro, who was just as shocked as he was.
“Someone explain what the hell’s going on.” Pidge demanded, drawing away from Shiro, then stopping abruptly when she realized that she just moved without wincing from pain. She looked down at her side and saw that the bruise was gone. “This- This was-... What did you do?”
“Pidge. Chill.” Keith stepped forward. “Listen - are you okay?”
“I’m- I’m fine. I think.” she stood up on wobbly legs, accepting Shiro’s offered hand for support.
“You’re not hurt?” Keith asked.
“My head aches. And I’m confused.” she answered, frowning. “What was that?! I was just here working on Rover and then this-... this weird wind- breeze- something crashes my window, and knocks me over and-”
The door opened then. “Look, Katie - just because mom and dad are out, it doesn’t mean you can make all the noise you want-”
Matt stopped as he took in the sight - broken window, chaos in the room, Pidge with her arms raised mid-speech and Shiro standing awkwardly beside her.
“Pidge can see me but Matt can’t?” Keith said, exchanging a quick look with Shiro.
Shiro sighed. “Sorry, Matt.” was all he said before extending a hand and casting another spell. “ Inemuri. ”
Matt’s eyes closed almost instantly, and Shiro rushed to catch him when he fell forward.
“What did you do to him?!” Pidge cried, but Keith grabbed her by her shoulders before she could lunge at them.
“He’s just asleep.” Keith said, holding her back.
“What are you doing?! Keith, let go of me!”
Keith frowned, then turned to nod towards Shiro. “I’m sorry for this, Pidge.”
Guiltily, he caught her in his arms when the sleeping spell struck.
Neither Keith nor Shiro liked the memory modifier. They used it very sparingly - only once over the past month - when a civilian got involved because a Hollow had been particularly violent. That was, until the night before.
On lunchbreak the following day, Keith and Shiro agreed that Shiro should go with his classmates for the meantime to keep an eye on Matt, while Keith would stay with Pidge and Hunk like the usual.
“So they really didn’t get to catch who did it?” Hunk asked, looking over at Pidge worriedly.
Pidge had complained about waking up that morning with a massive headache, but she powered through classes because of an important test. Besides that, she didn’t give any indication about remembering what really happened.
“No, but the cops said it’s most likely that gang of delinquents hanging around the area. They said those jerks actually throw rocks and stuff on people’s houses, though it’s not always they end up breakin’ windows. Mom was having a fit.”
“Will you… press charges or somethin’ like that?” Keith asked - both out of concern that they might get supposedly uninvolved people in trouble, and to act curious enough to prevent suspicion.
“Mom and dad want to, but… I dunno. Probably not, I think. They’re just glad I’m safe and I didn’t get hit.” Pidge shrugged. “Anyway, the cops didn’t find enough evidence, they just know something crashed and broke my window. It’s just the gang kids are common suspects.”
Hunk nodded. “Are you okay now? You still look out of it.”
Pidge groaned as she sipped on a pack of juice. “I told you, killer headache.”
Keith wasn’t too worried about the headache. Shiro had told him it was a common side-effect of the memory modifier and it would wear out through the day.
He checked his phone and found one unread message.
From: Sailor Shiro
‘Matt is doing fine. How is Pidge?’
He sent a quick reply:
‘complaining about her headache but she’s okay too’
(“You got any idea why she could see me back there?” )
(“It’s probably… an exposure to the Hollow, and partly my healing spell working on her at the time. It must have triggered a spike in her spiritual energy, so she was able to see you. As far as I know, these cases are temporary.”)
(“So is it like… those times where ghosts linger near the people close to them after they’ve died and we get stories like one of the people seeing glimpses of the dead person for a bit? They think the ghost is haunting them but really it’s just the spirit hanging around.”)
(“Yes. Exactly. Something like that.”)
(“So Pidge will be fine? She won’t start seeing spirits and Hollows and shinigami all of a sudden?”)
(“Let’s hope not.”)
Keith thought things would return to normal after that. The shitty Hollow GPS thing was still making him and Shiro run around the place all night despite Shiro saying that the “researcher” said it was working just fine. He didn’t complain too much this time. Being in some sort of wild goose chase with monsters was better than having his best friend almost killed by one.
They met several spirits needing a soul burial on their way. Keith met no resistance as he helped them pass on.
(He was pretty much used to it after a month on the job. He held on to his resolve that helping spirits pass on to the Soul Society was his favorite part of being a substitute shinigami.)
They stopped their patrol in the market district when Keith spotted the ghost of a wandering teenage girl and decided to approach her for a soul burial. He finished the ritual quickly, then leapt up to where he left Shiro waiting for him, on the roof of a random shop.
Shiro looked distracted, staring at his hand, clenching and unclenching it.
“Hey.” Keith called, sitting beside his companion. “You alright? You look out of it.”
Shiro smiled weakly. “I’m okay. It’s just… I’m starting to feel like I’m not recovering as fast as I should.”
Keith watched as Shiro stared down at his hand again, brows furrowed as if in concentration. “Why? Do you feel… faint, or something?”
“Not really. But after last night...” Shiro sighed, running a hand through his hair. “Four. Just four spells, and I can feel how much it took from me. They weren’t even high-level spells, except the healing one. It’s been a month. I should be stronger than this.”
“Don’t beat yourself up.” Keith said. “You were pretty cool back there.”
Shiro chuckled. “You think so?”
“Yeah. Makes it less annoying having to carry you around like a backpack if you pull off stuff like that.” he answered, nudging Shiro’s shoulder with his own. “You should teach me one of those sometime. D’you think I can do them?”
“Of course. You’re very talented. With a good amount of patience and focus, you could learn a lot of useful spells.”
“Good. They look handy.” Keith grinned, then nudged his companion again - this time less playful and more comforting. “And hey, maybe you’re recovering slowly ‘cause you’re tired, or something.” he paused, then teasingly added, “Must be all the late nights watching Sailor Moon.”
Shiro looked at him, indignant. “You were watching with me!”
“Because you end up talking about it after.” Keith huffed. “So I thought it’s better if I just watch with you.”
“You were singing the song in the shower, though?”
“Shut up, it’s very catchy.”
Their friendly banter was interrupted when Shiro’s phone went off, followed by a Hollow’s cry that sent chills down their spines.
It was close - no more than a street or two away. They didn’t bother checking the location in the phone because they only had to stand up and whirl around to see a Hollow perched on top of a house nearby.
Instead of immediately rushing, Keith froze as he recognized the house. “Oh, come on. Not again!”
Shiro blinked. “Keith?”
Keith gritted his teeth as he leapt off the roof and rushed towards the scene. “That’s Hunk’s place!”
Shiro only stopped in alarm for a second before following. He prepared to provide any support Keith would need as Keith charged towards the Hollow with all his strength, making it fly off the roof and into the empty street.
Shiro was always thankful that as reckless and impulsive as Keith could get in the heat of battle, his first priority was always to minimize damage and isolate the enemy to avoid casualties. He never launched into an attack without weighing in how to do it.
As Keith engaged the Hollow, Shiro checked for any other damages. Besides a few barely noticeable cracks on the roof of the house, there didn’t seem to be any damage. The curtains in the bedroom windows were drawn save for one room, and when he checked he saw Hunk in bed, sleeping peacefully. Shiro concluded that the house was safe, so he moved on to back Keith up.
He arrived just as the last of the Hollow’s roar faded into oblivion. Keith stood leaning against a lamp post, trying to catch his breath. He looked tired, but physically unharmed. Shiro approached in careful steps.
Keith didn’t let him finish. “Why?!”
Shiro stopped. “I’m sorry?”
Finally Keith raised his head, and Shiro had to step back as he caught the boy’s sharp, furious glare. “Why did that monster attack Hunk , Shiro?!”
“Keith, you need to calm down. Hunk is fine-”
“Yeah? Well, Pidge and her family were fine too!” Keith stepped forward and grabbed Shiro’s shirt collar. Shiro didn’t move and just stared back into angry deep blue eyes. “Is there something you’re not telling me? Of all people, why are these goddamn Hollows attacking my friends?!”
Finally, Shiro sighed and carefully wrapped a hand around Keith’s wrist. “Keith, please believe me. If I knew, I would tell you-”
“That’s bullshit, you must know something-”
That was when another voice chimed in. “It’s because of you, duh.”
They both turned to look at the newcomer. Shiro yelped and Keith immediately raised his sword again to attack the tall, lanky and monstrous figure standing just a few feet away from them-
He stopped when Shiro grabbed his arm.
“Wait, Keith, that’s a person!”
“A what-” Keith stopped, then squinted at the figure.
Oh, now that the adrenaline was wearing off, Keith was able to see that it was indeed a human.
It was… a man. In a bathrobe, shiny silk pajamas and blue lion indoor slippers. With a big fluffy towel wrapped on top of his head and some kind of brightly-colored cream spread generously all over his face.
No wonder Keith thought it was a Hollow. Just… kinda smaller and thinner than usual- Ugh. Fine. Keith panicked.
And now Keith was finding the person a bit familiar, somehow-
He blinked, then said, “Lance…?”
The person tilted his head in acknowledgement. “Mullet.”
“What the hell?!” Keith exclaimed, finally sheathing his sword. “What are you doing here-”
“Uh, I live here?” Lance replied, placing his hands on his waist.
Keith sighed as he recalled that Lance did live in the same street as Hunk. But more importantly- “You can see me?”
Lance rolled his eyes as he shrugged. “Yeah, unfortunately. Watched you dispatch that big noisy guy, too.”
Keith looked to Shiro for explanation, but the man was just staring at Lance in what looked like a mix of confusion and curiosity. It was, Keith thought regrettably, a common look on Shiro whenever he encountered unfamiliar modern technology or someone said something he didn’t quite understand.
“You haven’t told him about me?” Lance asked, directing the question towards Shiro.
Shiro’s brows furrowed as he looked at Keith helplessly, then at Lance. “Um… I don’t believe we’ve met?”
Lance frowned as he stepped forward to cross the remaining distance between him and the other two. “Are you kidding me right now? Dude, tell me you’re kidding me right now-”
If Keith wasn’t so tired and disoriented, he would have laughed at the way Shiro stepped behind him to hide from Lance. It was useless, since the guy was a head and a half taller than him not to mention also wider , but hey, he tried.
“Tell me you at least know what I am!” Lance said this time, exasperated. “C’mon, man!”
“A human with a strange face who can see spirits?” Shiro tried. “Keith, is he your friend?”
This time Keith actually had to keep himself from laughing as he mumbled “strange face” under his breath.
“Unbelievable.” Lance said. “You seriously don’t know? Don’t you… feel anything?”
Shiro shook his head. “Confusion?”
“Hey! Shinigami !” At the mention of the word, both Shiro and Keith froze. This time Lance snapped his fingers right in Keith’s face, making the other teen scowl and swat off the offending hand. “Both of you, whatever weirdo business you have goin’ on here- You should be able to at least feel something!”
Keith was losing his patience with this. All he wanted to do was finish night patrol and go home. It was a school night. He should be sleeping right now, not stuck with Hunk’s loud best friend who apparently can see ghosts now, and knows about Keith’s part-time job, and Shiro, and who knows what else he’s talking about-
So he snapped. “Well, I don’t feel anything except that I want you to get to the point, Lance.”
Lance looked between the two of them. “Look. I don’t know what’s going on between you two, and I don’t want to know, but-” he stopped to sigh, rubbing at his temples. “Big guy, you feel like a shinigami but your spiritual pressure is like, super weak. As in. Barely there. Can you feel others at all ?”
Shiro’s lips drew to a thin line. “Not… not so much. My senses are a bit weak, but that’s to be expected-”
“I knew it. And you, Mullet, you’re leaking .”
“I’m- what?” Keith demanded, nose and brows scrunched up.
“Not sure what you two did, swapping clothes like this, but your spiritual pressure is like, all over the place, man. It’s annoying! I can feel it across town!” Lance groaned, then threw his hands up in resignation. “You’re not even trying to control it, I’m not even sure you know how, or if you know that you have to, because obviously you don’t feel it- And your boyfriend obviously can’t, even if he wanted to, so. Great! You’re a mess. Both of you.”
Keith shook his head. “Shiro, what is he talking about? My- I have a spiritual pressure?”
“Of course you do! Everyone has one! Who trained you?” Lance was despairing now.
This time Shiro saw it fit to intervene. “Hey now, it’s only been a few weeks, and Keith’s been doing his best with what little training he has.”
“Now I know why you suck at your job so much.” Lance grumbled. “You’re both practically blind . I bet you didn’t even know I’ve been takin’ down those small Hollows these past few days-”
Then Lance had to step back because both Keith and Shiro exclaimed, “That was you?!”
“Yes, me! You’re welcome!”
“So those Hollows really were there!” Keith said, accusing, and well… a bit vindicated. “You just take them down before we could get to them! Do you know how annoying it is to run around in the middle of the night chasing after nothing?!”
“Yeah, no, ‘cause you guys are so slow, duh.” Lance said, rolling his eyes this time. “It takes me like, five seconds from a good angle.”
Shiro frowned. “Wait, who- what are you, exactly? Lance, right?”
“Right.” Lance nodded.
He looked hesitant for a moment, but grudgingly, he stuck his hand out towards the shinigami.
“Lance McClain. Quincy.”