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Quincy Archer Hates You

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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.

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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.

“But-”

“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?!

“Well, uh-”

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.

“...Shiro?”

“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.

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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

Message:

‘Matt is doing fine. How is Pidge?’

 

He sent a quick reply:

‘complaining about her headache but she’s okay too’

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(“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.”)

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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-”

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?”

Keith snorted.

“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.”

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Chapter Text

Lunch the next day was strangely quiet.

Well, between Keith and Shiro, anyway. Pidge and Hunk were alternating between talking, poking at Rover 2.1, and eating.

Shiro watched them with a look that to others would look like fascination, but Keith recognized as him zoning out, deep in thought. Occasionally he took a bite from his lunch, but for the most part, he was obviously distracted.

They had a lot to think about from last night. When they got home after night patrol and that surprise encounter with Lance, they tried to talk about it. But both of them were tired, and sitting on a comfortable bed and… Well, Keith wasn’t sure who fell asleep first, but he woke up to his uncle knocking on his door because apparently Keith had missed his alarm, and found himself draped over a sleeping Shiro. Thankfully, Shiro woke up when Keith practically shoved him off the bed and into his closet just in time before Thace opened the bedroom door.

So now they were at the school rooftop, sitting in contemplative silence while pretending to be interested with their friends’ robot project.

Keith couldn’t possibly know what exactly Shiro was thinking about, but he could take a guess.

Firstly, Lance had called himself a Quincy.

(“Quincy?”  Keith asked in a mix of irritation and confusion, because he was tired, goddammit, and Lance wasn’t making sense. “Isn’t that when girls turn fifteen?”)

(It was worth it just to see the look of exasperation on Lance’s face. “NOOOOOO.”)

Keith knew that his weird kinda-mentorship thing with Shiro was selective at best - they mostly discussed things about how to swing his sword so he doesn’t accidentally behead himself and how to do soul burials… Y’know, the practical stuff. Now he realized that they’ve been really distracted with hunting Hollows, school, Shiro’s recovery, and Sailor Moon. He should have asked more questions. The fine print. The… other details.

(“We’re special humans who don’t need shinigami boyfriends to get powers.” Lance said.)

(Keith stared blankly.)

(Shiro seemed to consider his words carefully before he spoke up. “Technically, my people classify you as a different species.”)

(Lance looked offended. “You’re saying we’re aliens?”)

(Keith also looked offended. “Yeah, no, Shiro. Lance can’t be an alien. Aliens are cool.”)

(Lance scowled. “Hey!”)

Keith had known Lance since, what, middle school? They weren’t exactly buddies, but Keith knew Lance was… well… normal. He was loud and silly, and condescending a lot of times maybe, but a different species? Definitely not.

(Shiro sighed before explaining. “Not alien. Just… humans who were born with high spiritual pressure so they can see spirits. They also have the ability to manipulate spirit particles around them and weaponize those, so they can fight against Hollows.”)

(Keith looked at Shiro with narrowed eyes. “And you didn’t tell me about these guys earlier because…?”)

(Shiro avoided his gaze then, but before he could answer, Lance spoke. “Because we’re not supposed to exist. His people made sure of that.”)

So… what? Were Shiro’s people fighting creatures other than Hollows all this time? Other people? Actual humans?

And then, to add another surprise on top of the other surprises, Lance had actually known what exactly Keith’s part-time job was and had legitimate concerns about the whole thing.

(Shiro met Lance’s bitter frown with a despairing one. “We didn’t want to- It’s not that. You’re not supposed to be hunting Hollows the way you do. Shinigami exist to maintain the balance, and I know you just want to help, but you are doing more harm than good and should leave the job to us-”)

(“Well, that Hollow on top of my best friend’s house earlier was about to do more harm than good, too. If you guys ran late, I wasn’t going to stand by and watch when I can do the job myself.” Lance cut him off sharply. “Look, I really don’t care about shinigami business, and why Mullet here is suddenly working on-call for you guys. Whatever. But these past few days there have been tons of Hollows popping up everywhere, much more than usual, harder to ignore, and you guys don’t even move until- what- you get the order or something-”)

(“There’s an app.” Keith provided dully.)

(“There isawhatnow- No! You shouldn’t need that!” Lance shook his head disbelievingly. “You’re supposed to feel them coming and go get rid of them! You’re slow, and I have to do your job for you-”)

(Shiro frowned. “We’re trying to respond as quickly as-”)

(“Not fast enough, and you’re leaking spiritual pressure and that got the Hollows to attack Hunk. I bet Holt’s your fault too.”)

And there it was - Lance had claimed that the attacks on both Pidge and Hunk were not by mere coincidence.

That was what nagged at Keith the most. That he started this in the first place, made an agreement with Shiro all to protect his house and his family and everyone else, but it turned out that he was endangering his friends anyway.

(“What do you mean? It’s not my fault-”)

(“Yes it is. Ask your local shinigami.” Lance said, then titled his head to address Shiro again. “If you want me to stop taking out those Hollows my way? Get your shit together. Now I’m gonna go. I was supposed to wash my face like five minutes ago.”)

They barely got another word out before Lance had turned around and stalked back to his house.

Also, Keith had to explain face creams to Shiro, who was relieved to know that Lance had a normal face underneath the bright goo.

(“I’ve never met a quincy before. I was thinking if maybe they all looked like that.”)

(“No, Shiro. That’s just Lance.”)

And that was that.

The day had been relatively peaceful so far. Keith and Shiro hadn’t needed to sneak out to go take care of a Hollow yet. There was still time before the next class. Maybe they could leave Pidge and Hunk for a while so they can talk properly-

Then Pidge groaned very loudly, snapping both Keith and Shiro out of their own thoughts. “Okay, this is too much. I can’t do it!”

Hunk looked disappointed. “Pidge…”

Pidge ignored him, and instead raised an imploring eyebrow at her other two companions. “Are you two fighting?”

“What?” Keith asked, this time almost resigned. There had to be a record for how many times he just felt plain confused over the last 24 hours alone. “Fighting? Who-... me? And Shiro?”

“Why would you think we’re fighting?” Shiro asked as well. Good , Keith thought, at least they were confused together. “We’re… fine.”

Keith nodded. “Yeah, we’re fine.”

“We’re good. We’re not fighting.”

“It’s cool.”

“Yes. Cool.”

Pidge had never looked so unimpressed. Even Hunk was looking at them in pity.

Keith sighed. They were both bad liars. Still. He and Shiro weren’t fighting, not really. There was no reason to. They were just… distant, that’s all. Preoccupied with their own thoughts. Thinking hard on what to say or what to ask the other first.

“You’re not talking.” Pidge pointed out.

“Yeah, ‘cause we’re eating. It’s lunch.” Keith reasoned.

Pidge shook her head. “Keith, you gave him apple juice without putting the straw in.”

Keith paused. He did? But he always made sure to put the straw in- Wait, why is that such a big deal? “So?” he asked, trying his best to look like he didn't care (but he did, he really did).  “Why do I need to do it? He can do it himself, look-”

“Yes, I managed.” Shiro said as he lifted his juice box and the properly-inserted straw for proof. Though, he would be lying if he said he didn’t worry just a tiny bit when Keith handed it to him earlier without the straw. He almost asked outright if Keith hated him now.

“See?” Keith said, but had to cough to cover up for his voice breaking midway a single-syllable word because holy shit, Shiro put the straw in the juice box all on his own, he is so damn proud .

Okay, yeah, he should raise the bar a bit, maybe.

“Sure, sure.” Hunk said, hands up to appease. “But you’ve also had something on your face for like ten minutes now and Shiro hasn’t done anything about it.”

Keith quickly raised his hand to rub at his cheek, and frowned when Pidge simply snorted at his efforts. He kept frowning at her even as Shiro took a tissue from the packet their group always kept ready between them during lunchbreak and proceeded to wipe at a spot beside Keith’s lips.

“Why didn’t you just tell me?” he asked Hunk through gritted teeth.

“Well, Shiro usually takes care of it-” Hunk began, but when Keith narrowed his eyes, he continued in a hurried squeak. “What? He does! ‘Cause, yknow- he’s always the one who sees it first, ‘cause, uhhhhhhhh... he’salwayskindasortalookingatyou?”

“No?” Shiro protested weakly. “I’m… not? I just- I’m- It just happens, I notice things.”

He couldn’t help but mentally backtrack, though. How often did he do that, exactly? Keith was not so much a messy eater but rather a careless one, and he never complained when Shiro pointed out the stray rice grain on his face and cleaned it up himself. Keith was pretty quiet and amazingly comfortable with him, really. He even let Shiro play with his hair when he was tired, and allowed Shiro calm him down with a hand on his shoulder or back, and laughed whenever Shiro attempts to use ridiculous human world jokes to cheer him up when he was more somber than usual and - oh, okay. Maybe he had been acting too familiar?

No, wait, he was just looking out for Keith! It just meant paying attention to Keith so Shiro could take care of him. Which meant looking at Keith, so that he would know what Keith needs.

Yes, exactly, that was what he’s been doing. Because, you know, he cared about Keith, his substitute and friend. And Keith never look bothered by it, anyway.

“Uh-huh, you two are not okay at all.” Pidge continued, pointing her chopsticks back and forth between them. “And I texted Matt that there has been no shoulder touching for the past thirty minutes and he said ‘Aw, baby’s first lover’s quarrel!’ which, to be fair, is an accurate assessment.”

“No, it isn’t.” Keith pouted. “Matt’s an ass.”

“Hey, that’s my brother!”

“You said the exact same thing just this morning.”

“I’m allowed to. You’re not.”

“Fine.” Keith sighed.  “Y’know what, I’m just tired. Not feeling my best today. That’s it. We’re not fighting. Right, Shiro?”

“Right. We’re not.” Shiro said. Then he put his hand on Keith’s shoulder and smiled brightly. “Look, shoulder touch. Our relationship is doing well.”

A beat. Then Hunk choked, and Pidge cackled.

Keith made sure his own juice box was empty before he chucked it at Shiro. “That's it. I’m breaking up with you.”

Shiro complained about the undue cruelty, but it was worth it to see Keith finally let out a real smile for the first time that day.

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From: Sailor Shiro

Message:

‘I know you want to talk about what Lance told us.
I promise we will. I just have to take care of some business tonight.
Don’t wait up for me to patrol, just continue as usual. I’ll be there if we get a hollow alert.
Be safe.’

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It was a quiet night. There were no Hollows to fight and just a few soul burials to do. Soon Keith found himself perched on top of a street post, staring out into the streets. He made sure to pick a good vantage point where he had a view of Pidge’s, Hunk’s, and his own house.

After several minutes of silence, he got bored and started playing a game in his phone.

“No boyfriend tonight?” someone said from below him.

Keith recognized the voice, so he didn’t bother to look away from his phone. “He’s not my boyfriend.”

“Well from what I hear, you always forget that. Hunk says you guys are cute.”

“Hunk’s great, but we’re not cute.”

“No, duh. I bet you guys are gross.”

Keith paused his game and finally looked down. “What do you want, Lance?”

Lance was in his casual clothes this time, and carried a grocery bag that had the logo of a nearby 24/7 convenience store. He shrugged as he answered. “Nothing, I was just passing by on my way home, had to buy something for my sister. Then I saw this weirdo sitting on top of a lamp post.”

Keith huffed, shook his head and went back to his game. “Whatever.”

“Whatever your face.”

“That doesn’t even make sense.”

“That doesn’t even make sense.” Lance repeated mockingly as he walked off again. “See you at school, weirdo.”

Keith watched his retreating back. It took only a few steps before he gave in and called out. “Hey.”

Lance didn’t stop walking. “What?”

“Your Quincy...-ness, you’re born with that, right?”

“Yeah, it’s a family thing.”

“So you’ve always been able to see spirits? All this time?”

Lance stopped in his tracks this time, but still didn’t turn to meet Keith’s eyes. “Yeah, so? What’s it to you?”

Keith opened his mouth to answer, but he was interrupted by a Hollow’s cry.

“You gonna get that, or should I?”

Keith glared. “Don’t trouble yourself.” He didn’t wait for a reply before he leapt away.

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From: Keith (ノ◕ヮ◕)ノ*:・゚✧

Message:

‘took care of the hollow so don't rush whatever you're doing
done with night patrol and going to sleep
i'll keep the window open
come home soon’

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Keith woke up the next morning to someone nudging him gently.

“Keith... Keith, wake up. Come on. I got you something.”

“It’s Saturday.” Keith whined as burrowed his face against his pillow. “If it’s not breakfast in bed, come back later.”

A laugh. “No, I got you flowers.”

That was disorienting enough to get Keith to raise his head and squint at his roommate. “You got me what?”

Shiro disguised his chuckle with a cough against his hand. “I was kidding. Do you want flowers?”

“No.” he scowled. “Where were you last night?” Belatedly he worried that he might have sounded too much like one of those demanding TV soap opera wives, but screw it, he was too sleepy to care.

“With my contact. The researcher. We discussed some things.” Shiro answered easily. “Come on, get up. I got something that could help us.”

Keith made an inhuman noise as he sat up, but scooted to allow Shiro to sit with him on the bed. “What is it?”

Shiro took his hand, flipped it palm up, and laid something on it. It was small and round, like a marble or-

“This is a soul candy.”

Keith squinted at the item. “A soul what now?”

“Candy. You put it in your mouth-”

“Oh. Candy, right.”

“-and your soul pops out and a substitute soul will occupy your body while you’re out.”

Keith looked at him blankly. “A substitute soul… for my body.”

“Yes. A lot of the time we run late because you’re in school and we have to worry about where to leave your physical body, right? This way you can go and take off as soon as you’re out of your body, and a substitute will carry on in your stead until you come back. We can get to the Hollows faster.”

Keith nodded as he rolled the soul candy around his palm, then tossed it up and caught it again. “Sounds neat. We can try it next time we’re at school and we gotta run.” He handed the item back to Shiro, who put it back in his pocket.

Shiro looked distracted, but in a way that Keith had grown to read as ‘thinking of how to say something’ rather than ‘thinking of hiding something potentially troubling’ . That was a whole different look, and Keith had a whole different tactic for getting him to open up when he had that look.

This time Keith only had to wait patiently, leaning back against his headboard as he ran a hand through his messy hair, trying to tame it despite knowing it was a lost cause.

Finally, Shiro looked at him with a subdued smile “I guess we should talk now.”

Keith raised an eyebrow. “You guess?”

His closed his eyes and sighed. “Keith, I’m sorry-”

“Hey, wait - I’m not angry.” Keith amended quickly, reaching out to lay a hand on the other’s arm. Touch always seemed to calm Shiro down, or at least reassure him. “I just- You already said - promised - that we’ll talk. Which is, you know, good. I’m good with that. I’m ready. But now you look like it’s gonna be some kind of terrible experience for you, so if you wanna take a rain check, it's fine by me.”

“Oh.” Shiro blinked, then shook his head. “No. No, I’ll be fine.” he said, awkwardly patting the hand on his arm, sounding relieved. “I was worried you were angry because I should’ve done this earlier and didn’t. Or that I kept some things from you.”

Keith considered that, and shrugged while he withdrew and crossed his arms across his chest. “Well, yeah, but you were doing that for me, weren’t you?”

That gave Shiro pause, and he found himself struggling to form a reply fast enough. But then Keith let out an awkward chuckle, pointedly avoiding any sort of eye contact. “Or- or maybe not! But- You must have your reasons, is all. I just mean... I think you kept quiet for a reason, so. I’m not mad about that. Unless the reason sucks.”

Finally, Shiro let out a short, nervous laugh as he rubbed the back of his neck. “Well, does it suck if… if you’re right? You’re the reason.”

Keith looked uneasy. “You don’t have to protect me, you’ve done enough and I owe you-”

“It’s not that.” Shiro shook his head. “It’s just… those things, I thought you didn’t really need to know. I hoped you wouldn’t need to know. I planned to just teach you the essentials, I was hoping I’d recover quickly and be out of your hair as soon as possible. I didn’t want you to be involved too much, I’ve caused enough trouble for you.”

Keith nodded. “You didn’t think you’d still be here when I’d need to know things for the slightly longer term.”

“Yes. I didn’t expect it to take this long.” Shiro said, sighing. “I don’t want to change your… routines too much.”

“Well, it’s too late." Keith said, grinning a bit. "My life’s already a lot different, thanks to you.”

The words did the opposite of what Keith wanted them to do. Shiro frowned worriedly. “I didn’t mean for that to happen-”

“I didn’t say it was a bad thing, Shiro.” Keith said, and before he could dwell on how truly cheesy that was (Dammit, was Lance right? Are they being gross? Or worse, what if Hunk was the right one, and they’re cute? What the fuck-), he just gave his companion a light nudge. “So. You’re still here. There’s stuff I need to know. Well… shoot. I’ll listen.”

“Alright.” Shiro said, this time with one of those smiles that Keith still refused to dare describe as ‘fond’ because he wouldn’t know what to do with that information. “So where should we start-”

They were interrupted by a low growl that came suspiciously from Keith’s side of the bed.

Shiro chuckled. “Did you hear that? Sounded like a Hollow.”

“Shut up.” Keith gave him a playful shove and stood up. “I’m gonna get some breakfast so my brain can process your shinigami lessons today.”

"Alright, I'll be here when you're ready." Shiro said, making himself comfortable sitting on the bed.

Keith hovered by the doorway, looking down thoughtfully before saying, "Uh... Thace should be busy in the clinic right now. Wanna come down? I'll make extra pancakes."

Shiro looked at him for a second before breaking into a smile. "I'd love that."

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Chapter Text

Between the shinigami lessons, the occasional Hollow, homework and night patrol, Keith and Shiro had a pretty busy weekend.

Keith felt exhausted. On a positive note, he felt like the work paid off when on Monday morning as he and Shiro made their way to school, Lance jogged up next to them with one of his raised eyebrow looks.

“You’ve done some work lately, huh.” he remarked, eyeing both of them up and down as if he could track the changes physically.

Keith tried to sound nonchalant as he asked, “You can tell?”

(Shiro’s lessons on spiritual pressure control was like some form of zen-yoga-meditation-ritual-inner-peace-thing that Keith absolutely sucked at. Things like ‘feeling the flow of power’ and ‘sense all those around you’ and ‘channeling it inwards’ and ‘controlling the release of your spiritual energy’ made him feel like he was some Jedi trainee, which was cool, except Keith was pretty sure he was not Force-sensitive in the slightest.)

Lance shrugged. “A bit. You feel less annoying. Long way to go ‘till you’re not attracting Hollows left and right, though.”

“We only started last Saturday.” Shiro pointed out.

(Shiro said that Keith was doing a great job, but Shiro was probably biased because Keith cooked him a delicious stack of pancakes earlier that day and the man almost cried because he loved it so much. Shiro’s smile was one of the reasons Keith was doing terribly, anyway. It was very distracting, and very hard to stop thinking about.)

(Keith made a pretty horrible padawan.)

Lance clearly thought the short time period wasn’t enough justification, though. “Better work on it quicker.” he said, then walked ahead, leaving them behind.

Shiro frowned. “It looks like there is no pleasing him.”

“I gave up halfway through the first year of middle school, you know.” Keith said.

Shiro looked curious. “You wanted to be friends?”

Keith huffed. “No. I just wanted to be civil with him, because I really like Hunk’s company, and Hunk thinks the world of him.”

“It didn’t happen then?”

“Yep. Lance completely hates me.” Keith said, and this time he almost sounded amused.

“And you’re fine with that.”

A shrug. “We stay out of each other’s lane. It works.”

“I can’t see why anyone would hate you. You’re a wonderful person.” Shiro said softly. He reached out to pluck a stray leaf from Keith’s hair.

Keith twirled the leaf between his fingers when Shiro handed it to him. “I seriously don’t know how you can say that and mean it.”

Shiro hummed, his fingers combing lightly through Keith’s windswept hair. Keith leaned in slightly. He just hoped Shiro was trying to fix the mess, not worsen it.

Belatedly, Keith realized that not even Pidge, Hunk or his uncles had done this, at least not in a while.

It’s just been Shiro, lately. Keith didn’t mind. Hadn’t really noticed, even though he should have.

This was quite simply Shiro as Keith had come to know him these past few months: all honesty and thoughtfulness and caring from the second they met. It may seem a bit too trusting, specially for someone like Keith, who had about several layers of walls up that only a select few people were allowed to get past, but he couldn't find it in himself to worry. It was a different sort of affection than what he had with Pidge (jabs, punches and friendly teasing) or with Hunk (free food and earnest well-wishes). What he had with Shiro was softer, quieter… easier.

Shiro came into his life, and didn’t bulldoze those walls so much as he simply knocked politely and Keith just let him in.

Keith didn’t want to dwell on what that meant, for now.

“Hey, that’s great! You two made up!” Pidge piped up suddenly, popping up right behind them because that’s just what she did. “Oh wow, ninja mullet, your boyfriend really likes your weird hair. You two are cute.”

Shiro quickly withdrew his hand, smiling sheepishly with a mumbled “Sorry.”

“I told you, we weren’t fighting.” Keith told Pidge with a roll of his eyes, and he watched as Shiro volunteered to carry her ginormous bag for her. Pidge looked surprised - it was usually Keith who did this - but she seemed pleased as she let Shiro take the backpack. Absently, Keith mumbled, “I should cut my hair, though.”

Pidge heard this, because Pidge had Pidge Hearing. “Aw, no! It’s your signature!” she said, pulling at Shiro’s bag until the guy relented and gave it to her. It was only fair, she claimed. “Shiro, what do you think?”

“I’m sure Keith will still look good with short hair. Even with no hair.” Shiro said with a grin, and that earned him a shove.

“God. You guys are cheesy.” Pidge grumbled.

This, Keith thought, this too was Shiro. Awkward but earnest compliments and terrible jokes. Shiro was open with his affections, and Keith appreciated that.

But he was also temporary.

This was temporary. Shiro would recover eventually and reclaim his job. Keith would owe him nothing then, and then they would part ways.

But for the moment, when Keith blew on his bangs to get them off his eyes and Shiro moved to brush them aside for him, he didn’t stop himself from stepping closer and letting out a small smile in return.

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.

And then, of course, that Monday goes to shit.

Firstly, they should have done a trial run for that Soul Candy.

Keith discovered that the thing actually came with a Pez dispenser, one with a cute mouse as its topper, and he would have questioned Shiro who the hell came up with that idea (because it was kinda genius but also WHY) if they weren’t in such a hurry. But as it stood, he simply popped the candy in his mouth and-

Whoa.

It was disconcerting for Keith, seeing his physical body standing and staring back at him. Keith- or well, Not-Keith, was quiet, and only blinked blankly at him and Shiro as they all stood in the school’s restroom.

“Okay.” Shiro said, after an awkward silence. “Uh, you’ll go back to class and proceed as normal until we come back, got it?”

Not-Keith nodded.

Keith shivered and turned to Shiro. “Man, this is weird. But he should be fine, right?”

And then Not-Keith spoke, in Keith’s voice but with a weird accent: “I would be fine, but I have to tell you, there’s a 79.35% chance that a person who is well-acquainted with you in this reality will find that you are acting strangely.”

Keith and Shiro looked at each other, before quickly coming to a conclusion.

“This isn’t gonna work if he talks like that.” Keith said, stepping back, even more weirded out than before. “Do I sound like that? Tell me I don’t talk all weird like that.”

“No, Keith, you’re fine.” Shiro assured him, before looking at Not-Keith again. “Okay, uh, new rule: no talking. Absolutely no talking. Keith is pretty quiet, so it shouldn’t be that much of a change. Just nod or shake your head if people ask anything. NO. TALKING.”

“But the odds that I would have to communicate by speaking is at 94% and-”

They heard the Hollow’s roar from outside.

Keith groaned impatiently. “Well, work with the remaining 6%, then! Just- Just don’t talk, alright? If you do anything weird, I swear I’m gonna crush that candy you’re in with my own sword.”

Not-Keith gulped and nodded. "Y-Yes, shinigami, sir."

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They were back by lunchtime, and Pidge welcomed Shiro and Actual-Keith to their usual spot in the rooftop with a look that was somehow a combination of confused, furious and terrified, her tiny hands grabbing at Keith’s uniform before shaking him back and forth. “WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT, KEITH?!”

“Wha- What? What did I do?” Keith asked, totally clueless, but with a feeling of dread growing in the back of his mind as he backtracked through what happened since he last saw his best friend.

He and Shiro went off to fight a Hollow. It went well. They came across another soul needing a soul burial. That went well, too. When they got back, Not-Keith (they really should’ve asked his name) said that his time as Keith’s substitute also went well. Now Keith was getting the feeling that maybe he had been too quick to believe the... guy? Soul? Being?

Oh, God. What did he do, indeed.

“What do you mean ‘what did i do’ ?!" Pidge looked at him in disbelief, exchanging a look with Hunk before continuing. "You were like, possessed in class, dude! Everyone was traumatized. You argued with the teacher about the physics problem, saying stuff like they’re disregarding laws of nature from multiple realities, and you were coming up with and writing a bunch of equations in the board that I couldn’t understand- Get it? I couldn’t understand them! Where were you getting those-”

Keith groaned, burying his face in his hands. Next to him, Shiro was rubbing his temples as if nursing a headache.

“Guys?” Hunk asked, genuinely worried. “Are you okay?”

“Keith, what’s happening with you?” Pidge asked, seriously. “Are you on drugs? Because that wasn’t you. So it’s either you were high, or you went insane, or that was some kind of prank I didn’t know about-”

Keith cut her off with a soft, “Everyone saw?”

“Uh. I mean, yeah-”

"Did I punch anyone?"

"No, but you looked like you were about to. At least, in defense of the science. I can respect that."

Keith shook his head, then grabbed Shiro’s arm. “You guys go have lunch without us.”

Pidge and Hunk only stared after them as Keith started dragging Shiro away.

“No, you should tell us what happened!” Pidge insisted.

“Keith, are you sure you’re okay?” Hunk asked, sounding genuinely worried.

Keith threw his free hand up in a helpless shrug. “I don’t know, maybe I’m still possessed!”

“Hey, I was kidding! Where are you going-”

Keith almost tripped, and would have fallen backwards if Shiro hadn’t steadied him. “Uh, we’re gonna make out! In a broom closet!”

This time Shiro was the one who almost fell over. Keith soldiered on and kept dragging him.

Pidge and Hunk gaped. “WHAT?”

“Yeah, we get really into it so don’t try to follow!”

A door was slammed.

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As soon as he and Shiro were alone, Keith grabbed a fistful of the taller man’s shirt and growled. “SHIROGANE. WHAT. HAPPENED.”

“My contact said that the substitute soul was intelligent!” Shiro said, also helpless. “He said it was trained to be able to deal with anything!”

Keith let out a disbelieving huff. “Really? HOW, by making it look like I was insane in front of my entire class?!” Then his expression morphed into panic as he stepped back. He started pacing. “Fuck. And I actually like Physics, you know that? That teacher was good! And as if it wasn’t enough that everyone hates me because I’m the angry ghost kid, now they think I’m even more of a freak-”

“Hey. Hey, Keith, it’s okay.” Shiro said, voice steady because someone has to keep their calm here, at least.

But Keith only shook his head. “Shiro, it’s not! Everyone in this school thinks I’m some delinquent with anger issues. Now I have to be that one kid who went crazy in Physics too-”

Shiro breathed deeply before moving to cup Keith’s face with both hands, effectively making the panicking teenager freeze. “They’re wrong. I know you, and all those things they say about you are wrong.”

Keith stared back at him, and Shiro held his gaze as he tried to ground himself.

After a few moments, Keith managed to nod. “Yeah?”

“Yeah.” Shiro moved his hands to rest on the other's shoulders instead. “Keith, this is my fault. I should have made sure-”

“No, it’s not. It's... it's done. It doesn't matter now.” Keith said, and before Shiro could withdraw, he held on to Shiro’s wrists, staying the hands on his shoulders. “Do you think we could use the memory modifier on my whole Physics class and the teacher?”

Shiro considered the idea in silence, his thumbs absently rubbing Keith’s shoulder in an effort to reassure him. “Yes, that might work. We’ll make it work, so you can calm down now, okay?”

Keith sighed, slumping his head forward until he was leaning against Shiro’s chest. He let go of the man’s wrist in favor of planting a powerless punch to his stomach. “Shit. I panicked.”

“It’s okay.”

“If you tell anyone I panicked, I’ll kick you out of my closet.”

“Cross my heart.” Shiro said softly, wrapping his arms around Keith’s shoulders and pulling him close. “Is… Is this fine? You look like you need it, but-” Keith only huffed and tilted his head to be more comfortable. “-oh. Okay, then.”

Keith just let Shiro hold him, absently picking at a stray thread on the other’s uniform.

“I don’t even know why I panicked.” he said after a while. “It’s not like I care what they think of me. I’ve been fine my whole life being the kid who talks to ghosts and punches people when they talk shit.”

“But see, you were really worried a while ago. I think you do care.” Shiro said softly, resting his chin on top of his companion’s head, one hand steady on the small of Keith’s back and the other stroking his hair, like he always did when Keith was tired after a fight.

He was answered by a long, moody groan against his chest that sounded much like a child with a tantrum, accompanied by another punch to his stomach that didn’t have any force behind it.

“Alright, alright. I’ll stop talking now.” Shiro said, laughing lightly.

Shiro fell silent again, willing to stay for as long as Keith needed him to. After a while, he felt rather than heard Keith talking, and had to tilt his head slightly to check.

“What was that?” he asked.

“I said,” Keith cleared his throat. “You’re right. I care.”

“There's nothing wrong with that.”

Keith sighed again, and Shiro frowned, seeing him look so resigned. “It’s not for myself. It’s not like I think I’m a freak just because they say it. And I don’t care that they don’t want anything to do with me. But-... For Thace, you know. They’ll say I’m crazy and have anger issues and they’ll think… that he raised me that way, or call him a bad parent when he’s not. He’s great. And there’s Pidge and she already gets teased for being smaller and younger than everyone and they’ll also say she’s friends with someone like me. And Hunk - he just doesn’t deserve people looking at him weird too because he hangs out with me.”

It was Shiro’s turn to sigh this time, and Keith let out a surprise groan when the arms around him tightened. “You should value yourself more, Keith. I can’t tell you not to be upset about this, or not to worry about people you care about... but you should know that they care about you too. Despite what everyone else says. That has to count for something.”

After a moment of silence, Keith nodded quietly.

Another moment, and Keith withdrew slightly. “You know Lance can see spirits since he was a kid?”

Shiro paused at the abrupt change, but nodded. “He’s a quincy. He was born with that ability.”

“Yeah, but. I mean. He’s normal.” Keith said, looking up to meet Shiro’s eyes. “No one ever called him crazy or angry even though he’s just like me. Back in middle school, the other kids were calling me names and looking at me weird whenever they catch me talking to someone they can’t see, and Lance was right there with them, probably seeing the same things as me. Except… except I just had to try and help some stray ghost, I can't help it. But he always just-... so he never did anything about it then? Never tried to talk to them when they needed someone? And now, apparently I have issues, while everyone thinks he’s perfectly normal.”

Shiro studied his conflicted expression before saying anything. “Do you regret it?”

Keith frowned. “No. Why would I regret caring?”

When he looked at Shiro, Keith saw something unreadable pass in the man’s expression. He didn’t know what that was, and it made him feel a mess of emotions he couldn’t properly name himself, so he looked away-

Only to feel one of Shiro’s hands cup his face again, a thumb brushing his cheek. “That’s what makes you such a good shinigami- no. A good person, Keith.”

Keith swallowed, then nodded as he laid his hand over Shiro’s and gave it a light squeeze. Keith looked down as they let their hands fall, still touching lightly. He contemplated twining their fingers together - what would that feel like?

When he noticed that Shiro was quietly watching as he traced the lines in his upturned palm, Keith realized what he was doing and quickly drew back, coughing to clear his throat.

That hadn’t felt very… platonic.

Keith coughed again, gathering his composure. Shiro looked like he was doing the same. That was when he remembered - “Fuck. I just told Pidge and Hunk that we were going to make out on a broom closet.”

Shiro laughed nervously and tried to joke. “We didn’t even get to the broom closet.”

Keith couldn’t help but grin as he shoved his companion lightly. “I just mean. It’s exactly like those rumors that went around a few weeks ago that I told them weren’t true.”

“Oh.” Shiro said, and this time he couldn’t help but feel his cheeks heat up. “So… what do we do?”

Keith sighed deeply, and let out the long moody groan again. Shiro waited. Shiro had always been good at waiting. Keith didn't know how he did it.

Then Keith blurted out, “What if we actually do it?”

Shiro spluttered. “Wha- What- uh, m-make- make out?”

Keith rolled his eyes, but he was blushing as well. “No. I mean, date! Or just. Pretend to date. Because, you know, at this point no one in this school actually believes that we’re not together. And seriously, even people who have never talked to me before come up to ask about you and when I say we’re not dating, they ask me to explain . It’s the worst.”

Shiro looked guilty. And, yeah, Keith would admit maybe it was indeed the guy’s fault - all the shoulder touching and the hair stroking and the lunch sharing and walking with Keith along the hallways… But Keith was guilty too, because he never discouraged the touching and in fact even leaned into it sometimes (it felt nice, okay?!), plus he even cooked lunch for Shiro once (or twice, wait- three times?), and also regularly dragged the guy to get to places (one of which happened to be a broom closet that one time ).

Maybe their friends were right and they were indeed the opposite of subtle, even though they literally have nothing to be subtle about.

Keith really should have known better.

Shiro, of course, a guy made up of chivalry and missed cues, took the liberty to try and remedy the situation without troubling Keith. “I can stop spending so much time with you guys and keep my distance, if you want me to.”

“No.” Keith said conclusively, sighing. “I mean, it’s just a suggestion. It’s-... It’s actually a good excuse to always be seen together. Even outside school, if we have to worry about that.”

“I understand, but won’t you be... uncomfortable with that? You already have all these people saying things about you that aren't true.”

“It’s fine. I’m okay with… them thinking… that .”

Shiro looked torn. “Are you sure?”

“If you think about it, it’s quite a step up from the usual things they say about me.” Keith said with an annoyed huff, then his eyes darted to meet Shiro’s and his voice shook a little when he asked, “The question is, are you? Okay with that?”

Keith was pretty sure he had never seen Shiro blush this much. It was a sight to behold. “It… doesn’t sound so… terrible?”

“Wow. What a stellar review.” Keith rolled his eyes, but couldn’t help the small grin that made its way to his lips. “Whatever. The point is, if you’re okay… Only if you’re okay with it, then we can… I dunno, go with it, maybe establish some ground rules and then we can act like normal people about it for once.”

Shiro nodded. “Of course.”

Keith held his gaze for several moments, then he went back to ranting against Shiro’s chest again. “I’m like catnip for spirit-eating monsters, they’re going after my friends, I get my soul knocked off my body at least five times a day, my class thinks I’m a freak, Lance McClain of all people is all up on my case-... and my worst problem is that I have a fake boyfriend.”

Shiro listened, as he always did, and he laughed when Keith eventually said, “Fucking high school.”

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Chapter Text

When Keith thought that his Monday had gone to shit when a substitute soul made everyone in his Physics class think he was either high or nuts, he was sure that was the worst of his day.

It turned out that he was wrong.

He and Shiro managed to use the memory modifier on his class and his teacher before school let out. That would be a whole class’ worth of headaches the next day, but that was the best choice they’ve got.

They received a Hollow alert just as they were packing up. Shiro hurried to say his goodbyes to Matt and his classmates, and Keith gave a confused Pidge and Hunk a quick excuse before running off.

They left Not-Keith with strict instructions to go straight home. Wait. Slav. Not-Keith said his name was Slav. Shiro didn’t even know substitute souls had names, but Keith said that that was fucked up and demanded that everyone deserved a name, so Not-Keith named himself ‘Slav’.

To be fair, Slav was sorry about the Physics class incident. He said it was his first time out and he got nervous. He was a bit of a coward and some kind of super genius. Now, Slav was intent to help so he could just hide away to safety without the many confusing variables that was other strange humans doing novice physics calculations without considering other possibilities and realities (that was how he actually said it).

They figured Slav shouldn’t be able to make too much trouble on his way home. After all, Pidge, Matt and Hunk were all staying behind for club activities and that usually left Keith (and Shiro lately) to go home alone after classes. Without his friends, no one really approached Keith. If Slav-in-Keith’s-body walked home without any distractions, it should work out fine. He’ll be safe, and Keith’s physical body will be waiting for Keith when he and Shiro got home.

The problem came to a head when Keith and Shiro arrived in an area just a few blocks away from school to find not one, not even two, but three large Hollows.

They were all at least three times Keith’s size, with huge looming masks and strong clawed limbs.

Keith stood his ground against two of the Hollows while Shiro delivered a punch that sent the last one flying several meters away.

“Whoa, did you get an upgrade?” Keith called out as he fended off the first two.

“I asked my contact to give my gigai enhanced physical strength.” Shiro answered, already forming seals in his hand. “ Bakudo #4! Hainawa! ” The same kind of spirit ropes that he had used several times before wrapped around the last Hollow. He stumbled for a bit after casting the spell. “Still a negative on my shinigami powers, though.”

Keith was still fighting the first two. They were surprisingly resilient. Usually Hollows of their size were slow, but these ones were fast and were able to dodge Keith’s swings. He was able to cut one’s limb, but to his horror they only grew back.

Then Shiro’s phone went off, and at the same time, he heard a cry from nearby. Both whirled around to see a Hollow crash against the side of their school building.

Keith cursed while Shiro looked around in alarm. Several black cracks were slowly forming in the sky. It was a matter of time before more Hollows pass through.

“Shiro, what’s happening?!” Keith asked, dodging a swipe from one of the Hollows’ clawed limbs.

Shiro shook his head. “Believe me, I’d tell you if I knew. Are there still people in the school?”

Keith growled as he pushed a Hollow off him. “Pidge, Hunk and Matt are in there!”

Shiro closed his eyes and took a breath, bracing himself.  He didn’t want to leave Keith alone in this. He was fighting two Hollows and would have to finish the other one. But there was another in the school, and innocent people were in there.

There really was no question here. “I’ll try to restrain the Hollow until you catch up.”

Keith nodded. “Go!”

Shiro didn’t need to be told twice. He leapt off the roof and sprinted towards the direction of the school.

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“Aim for the mask.” Keith mumbled, remembering Shiro’s lessons. That was the surest way to bring down a Hollow, especially ones that could regenerate.

With that in mind, he switched tactics. He changed his movements to aim for the Hollow masks instead of their bodies this time. The Hollows were still fast, but Keith was determined to finish this as soon as he could. He turned all his attention to the battle and after several swings that only narrowly missed the masks, the monsters started to get defensive. Keith took advantage of their confusion to deliver a finishing blow to the first, and then quickly defeating the other.

He didn’t notice the third and last Hollow breaking free of its restraints until he heard it roar. Keith cursed, whirling around only to be met with claws extended inches away from his face. He stepped back on instinct, but lost his footing just as the Hollow stepped forward and raised another clawed limb.

For a second, Keith found himself frozen, just like that first night with the Hollow that attacked his house. He hated it, how he had a sword in his hand now and yet he couldn’t move, and Shiro wasn’t here to save him and tell him it will all be alright-

No.

He couldn’t go out like this. He was still supposed to save Pidge and Hunk and the rest of the people in the school, he was planning to cook dinner for Thace and Ulaz tonight, and he still owed Shiro- hell, what would Shiro do if he was gone?

No. He was not going down like this. Keith gripped his sword, lifted it to meet the monster’s claws-

A flash of bright blue light streaked across his vision, and before he could make sense of what was happening, the Hollow was dissolving into nothingness.

“You’re welcome!” Lance called out from the next rooftop over. He was utilizing what looked like a bow and arrow made of the same bright blue light from earlier. It was pure, concentrated spiritual energy. This must be what Shiro meant when he said that quincy like Lance can weaponize the spirit particles from their surroundings and use it against Hollows.

Before Keith could say anything, Lance shouted, “Don’t move!”

Keith hadn’t had time to process the instruction when Lance drew another spirit arrow and released it. The arrow sailed past Keith, mere inches from his head, and struck a small Hollow that was sneaking up behind him.

Lance’s aim was impeccable, and the Hollow was gone in one shot.

“It takes me like five seconds from a good angle.”  he had bragged that first night. Keith understood what he meant by that now.

Still. Keith recalled what Shiro told him about this, and he had to stop Lance immediately. He leapt off the roof to land near Lance. “Thanks, you saved my life over there. But you can stop now-”

“Really, mullet?” Lance frowned at him. “You think you can take these guys on your own?”

Keith saw it too, several more Hollows dropping from cracks in the sky. Dammit - he hoped Shiro was at least holding his own at the school. Keith fell into his fighting stance, both hands gripping his sword. “I don’t have much of a choice, do I?”

“Well, I can take them from here.” Lance continued, already taking aim.

“Lance, no-”

But Lance ignored him, and took one breath before firing a shot that found its mark perfectly.

Lance can do this alone, Keith realized. Faster and more efficient than Keith could.

“You still want me to stop?” he challenged.

Another Hollow fell from a crack above them and Keith slashed at it as soon as it landed. The monster was weak and slow, and he was able to slay it with one quick slash. He turned to Lance again, who was already aiming for another Hollow. “Stop!” he said, reaching out to grip the other’s arm. “That’s not how you get rid of Hollows!”

Lance shoved him back. “What do you want me to do? They’re monsters, they’ll attack innocent people!”

“They deserve a second chance, and you’re taking that away!” Keith shot back.

(“Shinigami exist to maintain balance.” Shiro had said, when Keith asked him about the Quincy and how they fight Hollows. “When we defeat Hollows, either through our swords or our spells, we purify them and send them to Soul Society, where a soul spends its existence before it’s time to be reincarnated. That’s something only shinigami powers can do.”)

(“Is it different when a quincy does it?”)

(“Very different. What they do when they defeat Hollows is to completely extinguish them, including the soul inside. You remember, those Hollows were once human souls too, corrupted after death.”)

(“You mean… when a quincy kills a Hollow, the soul gets destroyed?”)

(“Yes, and it will never reach Soul Society. When a quincy kills a Hollow, not only does it upset the balance of souls between Soul Society and the Human World, it also takes away a soul’s chance to be reincarnated.”)

“There’s a human soul inside those monsters you’re killing.” Keith said now, holding his ground, standing in the way of Lance’s arrow. “My job is to purify souls and send them on. All souls. They’re all part of the balance, and I’m not going to let you ruin that.”

Lance wasn’t backing down. “You think I don’t know that? That’s just what your people kept telling us - me and family! Some of my folks believed that you shinigami will come to purify those Hollows so they stood back and waited, and now they’re dead!

“Guess what, Keith, it’s us or those corrupted souls. A while ago, my choice was to save you or spare someone who for all we know was a criminal in life who turned into a monster when they died. I chose you. The other night, I would have chosen Hunk. If I’d been there, I’d have chosen your friend Pidge. Or any living human at all!”

Keith swallowed. He didn’t know what to say to that.

Because he understood where Lance was coming from, he really did. If you can do something, why just stand back?

“You know, I thought you’d understand.” Lance continued, voice softer this time. “After what happened with your mom-”

Keith’s grip on his sword tightened involuntarily. “Stop.”

“What? It was a Hollow, wasn’t it-”

“Just- Stop!” he snapped, glaring dangerously. He had his suspicions, but his mom’s death was a subject he had always avoided, and he was not going to deal with that now. Not today, and not with Lance of all people- there was too much.

Maybe the glare worked, because Lance actually backed off. “Hey, calm down! You’re making this shit worse!”

“What?”

“I dunno what happened earlier at school, when I felt you lose control. But you’re doing it again now. You’ve got some crazy spiritual pressure, man! And Hollows love that shit, I bet they came for it, so you need to chill. Because right now, you might as well be waving around a signal flare.”

“Oh.” Keith blinked, then tried his best to calm down, because Lance was right. Again. Shiro had told him about this, too.

(“The Hollows are… after me? But I’m not dead.”)

(“A human soul, without a physical body to contain it, is made of spiritual pressure that Hollows are attracted to. This is why they usually attack ghosts. I may have given you my shinigami powers, but you had high spiritual pressure even before then, that’s how you could see spirits - and now, you have a mix of both. Hollows aren’t the brightest creatures out there, so they probably sense you as a human with a huge amount of spiritual pressure, and they go after you.”)

(“So I’m like a walking catnip for Hollows now. How do I get it to stop?”)

(“It’s simple. You learn to control your excess energy to keep it confined inside you.”)

The problem was, Keith didn’t even fully understand this spiritual pressure thing, and from their lessons that weekend, Keith had learned that his senses were pretty terrible. He learned a bit about how to control it so he wasn’t “leaking” like Lance had told them, but it required concentration. Concentration he didn’t know how to maintain all day. Concentration he completely lost just earlier.

Lance raised an eyebrow. “Oh? That’s all you have to say for yourself?”

Keith sighed. “I had a bit of a panic attack earlier.”

“Well, your panic attacks bring all the creepy spirit monsters to the yard. You’re a disaster, man.” Lance shook his head, then raised his arms to take another shot. “One of ‘em’s behind you, so either you get out of the way or I watch you get eaten.”

Keith fell into a fighting stance as well, looking past his companion. “You got one on your back, too, McClain.”

Lance groaned. “Dammit.”

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Shiro had seen his fair share of strange things, but the scene he stumbled into when he arrived at the school had got to be at one of the top spots in his list.

There was a very, very large Hollow in the school yard.

Hunk was fighting it.

Well. Not really. Hunk was running around trying to fight it, while looking very confused.

“Okay, okay ten o’clock!” came from Pidge, who was kneeling on the ground several meters away, arms protectively around an unconscious Matt. “No- Yes- Just punch! Forward, yeah!”

Hunk followed the instruction and yelped when his strike collided with his target. “Did- Did I get it? It felt like I got it! I got something, I think!”

Shiro was very confused. That punch had to be really strong to send the Hollow sprawling away that far. But Hunk couldn’t see the monster? And Pidge knew where Hunk should punch so… she could see it?

What on Earth is happening?

“Shiro!” Pidge shouted. “Shiro, run!”

Shiro snapped out of it in time to see the Hollow charging towards him instead.

“Wait, what?! It’s going for him?!” Hunk shrieked. “Shiro, dude, you gotta run!”

Shiro instinctively fell into stance and met the Hollow with a swift kick. It went down, but quickly fought back and Shiro leapt backwards to avoid a clawed swipe.

“What did- You see it?” Hunk asked as he ran to stand beside Shiro, who stuck a hand out to keep Hunk behind him.

“I need you to tell me what happened.” Shiro said, watching the Hollow slowly struggle to stand up. He should restrain it, maybe use another spirit rope - but he knew he didn’t have enough spare spiritual energy for a spell. “Is Matt okay?”

“He’s breathing. He got knocked out.” Pidge answered. “What is that thing?”

“You can see it? Clearly?” Shiro asked.

“Now, yeah, I can! It’s right there!”

Shiro didn’t know what was happening, but somehow he felt that it had something to do with the recent Hollow attacks on Pidge’s and Hunk’s houses. It was one of those things that he and Keith discussed.

(“Wait wait wait, you’re telling me - that my spiritual pressure sticks to people I hang out with?”)

(“Yes, your signature may seek out and then linger on people it’s been exposed to for a long time, maybe even trigger their own untapped abilities. It’s a very rare case, but right now it’s got a high possibility.” Shiro explained, frowning. He didn’t like where this was going either, but he had decided that he wouldn’t hold out vital information from Keith anymore. “You’ve known Hunk for years. Pidge even longer. You spend everyday with them, with your spiritual pressure unchecked. That must be what attracted lower level Hollows to seek them out.”)

(Keith stared, at a loss. “Well, that’s fucked up. Great. I have a grand total of two normal friends and now they’re Hollow bait too.”)

“We all went running out when something crashed against the building.” Hunk explained quickly. “Pidge got left behind so Matt and I came back for her, and then she started shouting about something coming for us. It just- blew us away- Matt got knocked out and by chance I happened to hit it and… it worked somehow? Pidge said it was working and I feel like my arm’s like, extra strong or something? Dude, this is crazy, do you know what’s happening?”

“Yes.” Shiro answered without hesitation. “I don’t know how Pidge can suddenly see the… monster, and why you have some sort of armor in your arm-”

“I have what in my-? OH SHIT. OH MY GOD WHAT IS THIS.” Hunk cried. His right arm was wrapped in some kind of armor, yellow lined with black and glowing faintly, and it didn’t feel like he was wearing it, but more like it grew - materialized - right on his arm. “SHIRO. DUDE. YOU’RE SEEING THIS?”

“Calm down.” Shiro said, laying a hand on the armor. It was solid to the touch, and even through his dulled senses, Shiro felt a unique spiritual signature in it. It was human but powerful, with no traces of shinigami powers or Hollowification. “You’ll be fine-”

“BUT I HAVE WEIRD ARMOR IN MY ARM-”

“It’s safe. It’s-” he paused, swallowed. This was unfamiliar territory to him, but he had a pretty good theory. “It’s your power.”

“My power? What, like a superpower? I have a superpower arm? Am I- Am I dreaming?”

“Uh. Yes, yes, and no-”

Then Hunk let out another shriek. “NO WAY! OH MAN, I CAN SEE- IT’S BIG! PIDGE YOU DIDN’T SAY IT WAS THIS BIG!”

Shiro gaped, because this time, Hunk was looking directly at the Hollow who was now looming dangerously over them.

“Well, if you can see it, then run!” Pidge shouted.

Hunk grabbed Shiro’s arm. “Shiro, dude, c’mon, we gotta-”

Shiro shook his head. “No, Pidge and Matt are right behind us. It'll go after them, we need to put some distance. On three, give it your all and punch-”

“What?”

“Trust me! We’ll do it together!” Shiro said. Hunk squeaked. The Hollow lunged at them. Shiro stepped back and braced himself, drawing an arm back. “One- Two- Three-”

Hunk shouted as he punched, and Shiro’s eyes widened in surprise as the Hollow flew back several meters.

“Dude.” Hunk breathed. “You’re like. Super strong.”

“No.” Shiro patted his arm. “That was you.”

“WHAT.”

“Come on, we have to get you guys to safety. Now.” Shiro said, running towards Pidge and Matt. He and Hunk slung Matt’s arms over their shoulders and hauled him up together. “Keith should be finishing up on his side. We just have to hold out until he gets here.”

Pidge looked up at him as they started walking away as fast as they could from the Hollow that was now growling dangerously. “Keith’s in on this?”

Shiro nodded. “He’s the one who sent me here. I left him fighting three of these monsters.”

“Three?” came Hunk’s panicked cry. “And he’s alone?!”

“He’s strong.” was all Shiro said. They were only able to take a few steps before they heard the Hollow roar out behind them again. Shiro transferred Matt’s dead weight to Hunk and pushed the others out of the way before he turned around to catch the Hollow’s strike.

An angry Hollow was a powerful one. He struggled against the monster’s clawed limbs while Pidge and Hunk called out to him worriedly.

“I’ll be fine! You have to hide!” he called out, landing a kick to the Hollow’s torso. The Hollow skid backwards, but it managed to grab hold of Shiro’s leg and send him flying to the side painfully.

Terrified, Hunk and Pidge ran out of reach of the Hollow, but it was fast now that it had zeroed in on them. When it swiped at them, Hunk raised his armored arm to block against the claws, but he failed to hold his ground.

Pidge stumbled when she saw her brother and her friend get thrown into the ground. She froze where she stood.

Then the Hollow raised its arm, sharp deadly claws extended.

Pidge stopped thinking. Faintly, she heard Shiro calling out "Pidge! Don’t-!” but she ignored him as she dashed towards Hunk and Matt, determined, a cry on her lips as she rushed to cover them both with her tiny body, closing her eyes, to shield them however useless that would be-

There was no impact.

“Pidge!” she heard Shiro shouting again. “Pidge, look!”

Pidge opened her eyes with a gasp, and turned her head to see the Hollow, striking repeatedly but never reaching them. Its attacks were bouncing weakly against some sort of… barrier. It was thin and translucent, glowing a light green color and floating right above them.

“What’s happening?” Hunk asked in wonder. “What’s that? Pidge?”

“It’s…” Pidge started, watching as the Hollow attacked over and over to no avail. She shook her head. “It’s some sort of… shield… What-” She raised a shaking hand to touch it, and the barrier seemed to move backwards, pushing the Hollow back with it. She yelped and pressed up against Hunk and Matt. “Who’s doing that? Did- Did I do that?!

Hunk let out a whoop. “You have superpowers too!”

Pidge looked at him cluelessly. “What?”

And of course Matt chose that exact time to wake up, groaning as he rubbed his head and tried to sit up. “Wasshappening-”

“Matt! You’re okay!” Pidge cried, throwing her arms around her dazed brother.

Matt weakly brought a hand to pat his sister’s back. “Pidge- What- Holy shit, WHAT IS THAT.”

“You can see it now?”

“What, the giant shadow? It’s pretty hard to miss-”

“Shadow? You mean-”

They felt Hunk grab their arms. “Pidge? Pidge, I think we gotta go-”

Pidge looked up to see the shield flickering weakly.

From a distance, they heard Shiro shout out to them. “Watch out!”

The shield disappeared. The Hollow charged towards them with a roar.

Pidge threw her arms out just as Matt pulled her against him protectively.

The Hollow crashed against another shield - glowing brighter and bigger.

“Oh my God, I think I am doing that.” Pidge said shakily. Hunk hurried to help her and Matt up, and the three of them slowly backed up huddled together. Pidge didn’t dare put her hands down, because the shield was following them and protecting them from the Hollow’s frustrated attacks.

Shiro stood dumbfounded. Hunk and Pidge can see the Hollow. Hunk has an inhumanly strong armored arm. Pidge can conjure shields. Matt can see the Hollow too, but only faint shadows.

He seriously didn’t know what was happening.

He was pretty sure he should report this.

Not now, though. They had to get out of this alive first.

Shiro heard more Hollow cries, and he turned to see Hollows flying overhead. He paled as he realized that the monsters were flying over where he had left Keith. He concentrated and faintly noted the presence of more Hollows in the area.

Keith would be busy. Shiro would have to do something about this Hollow himself.

“Shiro!” he heard Hunk call out to him. “Tell us what to do, man!”

“Please!” Pidge added. “Because I literally don’t know how I’m doing this!”

Matt looked at him and gaped. “Wait, Shiro, when did you get there?”

Shiro remained silent as he assessed the situation. A Hollow of this size and power couldn’t be held back with low-level restraints too long, and Shiro didn’t have enough power for high-level ones. They would have to slay it. He didn’t have a sword. His strength, enhanced as it was, wouldn’t be enough to crack the mask of a Hollow as big as this one. Hunk’s arm might do it, but he wasn’t going to risk Hunk getting close to the monster’s sharp claws. The only other option, then- No. It would drain what little power he had left, and his recovery would-

His recovery didn’t matter, not now. They’ve only survived this long because of Hunk’s arm and Pidge’s shield, and they weren’t supposed to even be in this fight. He had to be the one to do something.

Besides, he wouldn’t be able to face Keith if he had let anything happen to their friends.

“Pidge, stop moving!” he ordered. “Hold him in that position!”

The three looked terrified, but they stopped and held their ground. Pidge’s arms were shaking, but her shield still held fast, resisting the monster’s blows. Behind her, Matt gripped her shoulders in support, while Hunk tentatively raised his armored arm, ready to block in case the shield disappeared again.

“Good! Keep him there. I only get one shot at this.” Shiro said, sprinting across the yard to get a good vantage point.

He gathered what remained of his powers and focused, raising his hands in front of him, his fingers forming a seal.

Shiro took a deep breath. He had a clear path to the mask. He just had to make sure his attack would be strong enough to pierce through it.

His hands began to glow.

“Hado #4! Byakurai!”

A white beam of light shot out from his fingers and across the yard, straight to the Hollow’s mask.

The others watched in awe as it pierced through the monster’s head, shattering its mask. As soon as the Hollow disintegrated, Pidge and Matt clung to each other and cheered. Pidge’s shield flickered and faded out. Hunk collapsed into his knees with a relieved sigh. He made a scared noise when the armor on his arm faded slowly. Shiro smiled as he made his way towards them.

“Shiro! Man, what was that?!” Matt asked in amazement as they ran to meet up with Shiro. “You, like, shot that shadow monster thing with some kind of laser beam! From your hand! That was amazing!”

“Thanks, Matt.” Shiro said softly. He swayed on his feet, and his vision started to get hazy. “I couldn’t have done it… without you guys… Are you alright?”

“We’re fine.” Pidge said, but she laid a hand on his arm. “Are you? You look a bit pale.”

“Really pale.” Hunk corrected, peering at him. “Shiro? You with us, buddy?”

Matt decided to take charge. “I think he needs to lay down. Hunk, c’mon. Let’s get him over the bleachers. Pidge, can you get him something to drink?”

Hunk and Matt helped Shiro to lay down in one of the bleachers. Pidge came back shortly with drinks from a nearby vending machine. The four of them settled down in silence after that as they thought about what just happened.

Matt rubbed his neck. It felt sore. Pidge poked at her scraped knees. Hunk pressed his cold drink against a bruise in his arm. Shiro just tried his best to keep breathing evenly and not throw up.

After a few more minutes of silence, Matt spoke. “So.”

Shiro didn’t need further prompting as he said, “I can explain.”

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Keith and Lance considered each other for only a second before they both turned around and stood back to back. Just this once, they both decided. They had a better fighting chance this way.

Lance fired an arrow and Keith slashed at the Hollow that lunged towards them.

Two down.

Keith eyed yet another set of monsters leaping and bounding towards the two of them. Then there was a gust of wind, and both of them looked up when they heard a roar from above.

“What the hell, they can fly now too?!” Lance complained. “I’ve never seen one flying before!”

“Well. Same, I guess.” Keith said, frowning. “We gotta finish this quick, there’s another one at school and I don’t know how long Shiro can hold out in there.”

Lance froze. He didn’t know about the Hollow at the school. “Mullet, if Hunk gets hurt because of you and your boyfriend, I swear I’m turning you into a spirit pin cushion-”

“Question: How good are you with moving targets?”

Lance paused. “How- what?”

Keith was eyeing the flying Hollows critically. “You can hit those ones even if they’re flying like that, right?”

“Of course I can!” Lance said with a scoff, then he grinned proudly. “For your information, they call me ‘The Sharpshooter’ .”

That actually had Keith curious. “Really? Who?”

“Well, me and...” Lance coughed, then shook his head. “Whatever! I’m a sharpshooter, okay?”

“Isn’t that for guns, though?”

Lance spluttered. “It works for arrows too! Because, like, you shoot arrows too, right?”

Keith hacked at two Hollows attacking them. He paused for a few seconds before shrugging. “Whatever.” Then he saw Lance aim another arrow towards one of the Hollows in the sky, and rushed to grip his arm again. “Wait! I told you, you can’t do that!”

“I can and I will, I won’t just watch-”

“Oh, like you’ve never stood back and just watched before?” Keith said lowly.

Lance scowled, batting Keith’s hand away. “What?!”

“You’ve been able to see spirits since you were a kid, just like me, and I never saw you try to help them, even once. I get caught talking to some lonely ghost trying to tell them it’s gonna be fine and all the other kids laugh at me like I’m some freak and you were right there just watching .”

To his credit, Keith saw the guilt in Lance’s expression before the quincy steeled his face again and looked away. “That’s because I’m not that desperate to be noticed.”

Keith looked at him disbelievingly. “You think I do that for attention?”

“Well, yeah! You keep putting yourself out there like that, for people - dead people - that you don’t even know, and then you make a scene when others think you’re insane? Are you that naive?”

“I don’t know, maybe! If that’s what you call not letting everyone else’s stupid opinions stop me because what’s more important is helping someone who needs it!”

This time, Lance looked like he had been punched in the gut.

The next Hollow that dared to attack them got a vicious slash from Keith's sword. And then the one that came after that.

Then Lance said, “I never tried doing what you do because I saw how people treated you for it, and I didn't want to do that to myself.”

Keith froze abruptly at the admission. He didn’t know what he wanted to hear from Lance when he decided to confront him, he certainly didn't want an apology or some sort of excuse. And Lance didn’t give an apology or an excuse, he just stated his reason.

Keith wanted to tell him that he had been selfish.

He couldn’t.

They were different people. Lance came from a family that had a different history with their abilities. Keith only knew the bare minimum about them. He couldn't judge.

Besides, it didn’t matter now. What would it change? Like Shiro said, Keith already had people who cared about him despite what others think, and that- That was enough.

Still, he was so distracted that he wasn’t able to move when Lance took a quick shot at something behind him.

Keith snapped out of it. “Dammit, I told you not to-”

“I didn’t!” Lance shot back hotly.

Keith whirled around to see a Hollow struggling to crawl towards them. It roared, and Keith noticed that one of its limbs was badly injured.

“There, I didn’t kill it. Are you happy now?”

Keith moved quickly to hack at the monster's mask and he stood still as he watched the Hollow disintegrate.

“Lance.” he called, tone urgent.

“What?” Lance asked, eyeing the other Hollows warily.

“You’re a genius.”

Lance fell silent.

Keith looked up at the flying Hollows again, this time adjusting his grip on his sword.

“Wait, what? Hey. Hey, Keith! Say that again?”

“What?”

“You said I’m a- No. Nope, nope - I wanna hear it from you. Say it, come on!”

Keith just scrunched up his face in irritation before looking at his companion. “Look, I need you shoot those Hollows down, but whatever you do, don’t shoot them on their masks.”

Lance looked up too. “What? You want me to miss ?”

“No, I just want you to change your target.” Keith said with a confident grin.

Lance stepped back. “Ohmygod ninja mullet you’re smiling. Do you know you’re doing that?”

Keith waved him off. “No masks. Just the wings or the limbs or… their feet things-”

“Don't boss me around! Who put you in charge?" Lance pouted stubbornly. "And what’s the point if I don’t even hit their masks?”

Keith crossed his arms across his chest and looked unimpressed. “Huh. Maybe 'The Sharpshooter' can’t do something that simple.”

It worked, because if Keith knew anything about Lance, it was that it was ridiculously easy to rile the guy up.

People always say he’s the hot-head, but really - Lance was the one with hair-trigger reactions.

Case in point: Lance didn’t even look before he shot an arrow and grazed one of the Hollows’ wings.

“Nice!” Keith grinned again, launching off the roof and meeting the Hollow halfway as it fell.

Lance huffed. “What, like it’s hard?”

“Keep doing that! I’ll cover you!” Keith instructed as he landed again.

Lance only grunted a vague affirmative before starting to shoot down the Hollows in the sky again. As Keith leapt from building to building to finish off the falling Hollows mid-air, Lance let out a short laugh. “Ooooh. I see what’s happening. Not a bad plan, mullet!”

Keith got back to him a few moments later, because more Hollows were converging near Lance again, who was focused on the sky. He hacked at the Hollows around them. There were many, but they were weak, and Lance had slowed down the faster ones by injuring them.

“So what’s your deal, really?” Lance asked, picking his next target as Keith tried to catch his breath. “You’re human, right? How’d you end up doing this gig?”

Keith didn’t think too much about his answer. “A Hollow was gonna attack my house and I tried to fight it.”

Lance snorted, but Keith noted that it sounded more amused than anything else. “Of course you did.”

“I know, it was stupid!” Keith rolled his eyes, then slashed at a Hollow about to attack Lance from behind. “Anyway, Shiro came in, he was the shinigami assigned to this area. And uh, he was surprised that I could see him. Then he told me - like, super politely, because that’s how he is - to run, and not to worry because he’ll take care of the Hollow.”

“I bet you didn’t run.” Lance said, this time sounding like he was holding back a laugh.

“I didn’t run! I mean, they’re fighting right in front of my house!” Keith said, then glared when Lance actually started laughing. “It’s not funny! Hollow went for me, and Shiro took the blow. The guy got impaled. For me.”

Lance stopped abruptly. “Seriously?”

“Seriously. Then… well, we had to do something or we were both gonna die, so.” Keith shrugged, eyes the bunch of Hollows falling from the sky due to Lance’s work, and then leapt off the roof to finish them off.

Lance was looking at him strangely when he came back.

“He gave me his powers.” he continued. “And like you said, I’m a mess with the whole spirit control thing so I ended up taking almost all of his powers, apparently. So while he’s recovering, I’m his substitute.”

“That’s it?” Lance started. “You’re just taking over ‘cause he’s on sick leave?”

“Something like that. He saved my life, man. He didn’t know me, but he did that.” Keith sighed. “And he’s trying real hard to keep me safe even though he’s technically homeless and jobless and powerless, so. I owe him.”

Lance pouted as he shot another Hollow at the sky. “God. Even your love life’s weird. It’s so annoying ‘cause I’m a sucker for this two-different-worlds forbidden love thing.”

Keith squinted at him. “We’re not dating.”

“Uh-huh.” Another shot. When he noticed that Keith hadn’t moved, he stopped. “Wait, you’re serious?”

“I’ve been telling everyone literally everytime they ask!” Keith complained. “I remember telling you just the other day!”

Lance looked dead serious as he said, “I thought you were kidding.”

“WHY.”

“Well, the guy looks at you like you hung the moon or something- Oh, hey, last one! Think fast, mullet!”

Keith simply groaned as he watched Lance shoot the last flying Hollow down. As soon as it started falling, he moved to finish the job. The Hollow's mask shattered after a swift slash, and Keith landed on another roof as he watched the last Hollow fade.

He gave Lance a thumbs up.

Lance stuck out his tongue in reply.

All things considered, that went well.

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Chapter Text

When Keith finally arrived at the school grounds, he had a screaming Lance slung over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes.

“Wha-???” was Hunk’s very articulate reaction as Keith landed in front of them and dropped Lance ungracefully on the ground.

Lance quickly stood up, spluttering. “Never touch me again, Kogane!”

Keith shrugged. “You said you wanted to get here as fast as you can.”

He finally looked at his friends. They all looked worse for wear, and from the looks of it, they can all see him in his shinigami form now.

He looked down. “Sorry I’m late.”

To his surprise, Pidge waved him off. “Nah, me and Hunk grew superpowers and took care of the monster.”

Keith stared at her. When he looked at Hunk, the guy just gave him a thumbs up. When he turned to Matt, he got a shrug. Then he looked at Shiro.

The man sat up with visible effort. “They did.”

Lance beat Keith to a reaction. "What?!" he exclaimed. He rushed towards Hunk and cupped his best friend's face. After a second, he blinked. "Human. Oh, thank God." Lance sighed in relief, hugging Hunk's head against his chest protectively as he frowned towards Shiro. "I thought you infected him with your shinigami germs too!"

"We're not a disease." Keith pointed out, then looked at the others again. “Seriously, though. What happened here?”

“We kicked monster butt!” Hunk said, partially muffled by Lance's shirt. “Well, punched, technically.”

“Yeah. And Shiro told us everything.” Pidge continued, looking at Keith. “Or. As much as he could. I still have some questions."

"So many questions." Matt mumbled, massaging his temples.

"A whole lot of questions that really need answers because I am still freaking out right now, but..." Hunk trailed off, looking towards Shiro. "I don't think Shiro's in the right condition to answer.”

“I’m fine, guys.” Shiro reassured them.

“I’ve looked at you for two seconds and I can tell you’re not.” Keith said as he walked up to the man and placed a hand on his forehead. Shiro looked pale and felt cold. When he swayed forward, Keith caught him and let him lean against his side. “What did you do?”

“My job.” came the weak reply.

Keith looked at the others.

“He fired some kinda beam from his hand.” Matt provided. "It was super effective."

Keith turned back to Shiro with a scolding frown. “You shouldn’t be doing that.”

"Okay, maybe I'm dead on my feet." Shiro admitted. "I'm really sorry, guys..."

"Hey, it’s fine, buddy. We can wait ‘til you’re better." Hunk reached out to pat Shiro’s back, then looked at Keith. “So… uh. You look a bit worn out too? How many of those monster Hollow things did you fight?”

"A small army." Keith answered absently, busy checking on Shiro. He was quiet as Keith brushed a thumb just below a cut on the man’s cheek. “Lance helped.”

“Nope.” Lance corrected stubbornly. “Lance saved Keith’s ass from getting eaten by a Hollow, then Keith begged Lance for help.” When Hunk sent him a look, he sighed. “And then Lance helped.”

Keith assessed his friends again. It was clear they were looking to him or Shiro for directions. Even Lance seemed like he didn't have plans to go anywhere else yet.

“Alright, you’re all going to my place.” he declared. When that was met with questions, he continued. “I live in a clinic. Pidge, you should get your knees disinfected. Hunk has bruises. Lance- I don’t know what’s up with your hands.”

Lance looked at his hands and winced. His fingers looked a bit red, but he quickly hid them on his pockets. “I forgot to bring my gloves, okay?”

“I wanna make sure I don’t have a concussion.” Matt chimed in. “My head feels like hell.”

Keith gestured towards Matt and looked pointedly towards the others.

Then he played the trump card. “Also, if Thace sees that I brought friends over, he’ll get you guys to stay for dinner.”

(Thace's cooking was legendary. He was one of Hunk's life heroes.)

Effectively, that had them all standing up and agreeing that the clinic was their next destination indeed.

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Keith let Matt and Lance smooth-talk Thace and Ulaz into believing that they all simply had too much fun on some sort of extracurricular activity. Together, the two weaved a colorful tale that explained how they got their various scrapes, bruises and potential concussions. They might have sprinkled in some pretty embarrassing things Keith supposedly did, but Keith was tired enough to let it pass.

Pidge got her scrapes disinfected. Lance’s hands were looking better. Matt didn’t have a concussion. Shiro was given some kind of medicine for nausea, whatever good that might do. Then Keith put a band-aid on the cut on his cheek, handed him a chocolate bar, and insisted that Shiro eat it at once.

Meanwhile, Hunk had charmed his way into the kitchen and Thace was very happy to let him help. Lance joined them soon after while Ulaz talked to Matt and Pidge about their parents. Sometime between this, Shiro had politely escaped to use the restroom.

A few minutes later, Keith slipped away from the others as well.

They really needed some time alone.

He met Shiro on the hallway making his way back. The man smiled meekly. “Hey.”

“Hey.” Keith replied in a whisper.

Shiro let out a nervous chuckle, rubbing the back of his neck. “It’s strange how I’m not used to being in your house without having to sneak around.”

“Yeah.” Keith tried to smile back. “Are you okay?”

A nod. “Of course. Feeling better. It’s just… it’s been a long day and-” Shiro fell silent. When Keith looked at him like that , he knew pretending was useless. “I might have used whatever little power I’ve recovered against that Hollow.” he admitted with a sigh.

“That was stupid and risky.” Keith scolded. Before Shiro could say anything, he bit his lip and looked down. “But thank you. For looking out for my friends.”

Shiro nodded, and when he spoke, he sounded relieved. “They’re my friends too.”

Keith looked up at him in time to catch his eyes flutter closed for a second. Keith quickly moved to steady Shiro, one hand on his arm, the other cradling the back of the his head.

“Hey, do you need to lay down again?”

Shiro shook his head. “I’ll be fine when I eat. Just… give me a moment.”

He closed his eyes, head down, trying to steady himself. The chocolate and the medicine had helped, he wasn't swaying on his feet anymore, but he still felt very tired. When Keith pulled him close and tucked his head on his shoulder, he gave in easily and wrapped his arms around the smaller man.

Keith heard the broken whisper against his neck. "I'm so sorry, Keith."

Keith only held him tighter. He was pretty sure he was holding them both up now, but he didn’t think too much about it. He stood his ground and only asked, “What for?”

“I don’t know what’s happening.” Shiro confessed, his voice weak. “I didn’t want to make you worry, or pressure you, so I held back on teaching you about your powers because I thought this would be over quickly. But it’s not. And now… Now I got your friends involved too. If I taught you sooner, maybe your powers wouldn’t have affected them so much. I don’t even know what Soul Society would say about this and-” he stopped when his voice cracked.

Keith shook his head. “No. You have nothing to be sorry for, okay?” he said firmly. “I agreed to this. We agreed to help each other. Hey- Look at me.”

Shiro drew back, and it hurt Keith to see him look so tired and resigned. He placed a hand on the man’s cheek and brushed his thumb lightly over the band-aid he put there just moments earlier.

“I’m confused, Shiro. And worried too, yeah. But you know what? You always tell me that we’ll figure it out together. That’s what we’ll do this time too. Patience, right? You taught me that. So. For now, you’ll rest up. And you’ll get better. Then we’ll figure this shit out.”

Shiro shook his head and closed his eyes, letting out a shaky breath against the other’s touch. “I just don’t want to cause you any more trouble but it just- Things just keep happening and- I just wish I was stronger- You have your own life and doing my job already takes up too much of your time, you shouldn’t be taking care of me too-”

“But I want to.” Keith argued. “Shiro, I agreed to this because I wanted to protect you. Well- That night, at least, I wanted to save my house, and myself, and you.” he chuckled. “Doing your job gives me the power to protect people I care about, including you. I don’t see it as a burden. And I’m fine taking care of you, ‘cause - don’t argue with me on this - you take care of me too. It’s almost annoying how much.”

Shiro couldn’t help but chuckle shyly. “Really?”

“Yeah. Sometimes you’re worse than Thace and Ulaz.” Keith rolled his eyes, then grinned at his companion again. “But. I appreciate it.”

“I’m glad to hear that.” Shiro said, smiling softly.

Keith felt the hands on his waist relax. That was a good sign. He moved his hands to the man’s shoulders and gave them a short pat. “So. Enough with the self-pity, okay? You’re doing fine. We’re all alive. You haven’t fucked up.”

Shiro’s laugh had more life this time. “Thank you, Keith.”

“You’re welcome.” Keith said. He held Shiro's eyes for a few seconds before stepping back and letting go, but not without some reluctance. He hated how he immediately felt the loss of Shiro’s arms around him, and had to cross his arms across his chest if only to keep himself from holding the man again.

Shiro fiddled with his fingers a bit before tucking his hands in his pockets. “I think. We should… get back to the others?”

Keith nodded. “Yeah. They’ll be looking for us.”

"Your friends know the truth now. Are we still going to… uh... pretend?"

“Huh.” Keith blinked. “Good point.” Finally, they can stop making excuses up for running off with each other all the time-

They heard footsteps approaching, then Pidge’s voice from the staircase. “Hey, if you guys are done making out in there, dinner’s almost ready!”

It was followed by Ulaz. “Keith, remember, open door!”

They heard something drop - probably a kitchen utensil - and then an exclamation from Thace. “My Keith is dating someone?!”

Keith groaned in irritation, then glared at Shiro who snorted and hid his laugh behind his hand. "Well, I think they just made that decision for us."

“Come on.” Shiro said, drawn out and sweet, taking one of Keith’s hands and tugging him forward. “Introduce me to your parents.”

"Teach me how to do a soul burial on myself instead, I beg you." Keith complained, but he didn’t let go. "Wait, are you enjoying this?"

"It will get me free food." Shiro shrugged. "I'm really hungry, Keith."

"Ugh. Me too." Keith grumbled. "Fine. Let's do this."

.

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The next day found Keith and his usual group of friends claiming the school rooftop as usual for lunchtime. Except this time, there were a few additions.

“Okay, so. That’s just ridiculous now.” Keith mumbled.

The hand stroking his hair momentarily stopped. “Yes?”

“Look. They’re making actual graphs, Shiro.”

And it was true. Shiro could see all sorts of graphs and data on Matt’s laptop screen. In front of him, Pidge was cheering Hunk on as the guy prepared to punch her shield again using his armored arm.

The shield flickered once, but didn’t break. Hunk pouted. “That was my strongest punch!”

“Okay, but what if I move the shield and meet your punch halfway?” Pidge suggested.

"Yes!” Matt clapped once and pointed at his sister. “Right, let’s see how that goes.”

"In most realities, the human Hunk will never be able to break the little one's shield unless she falls unconscious." said the stuffed toy draped on top of Matt's head. It was Slav, the soul candy residing inside a small green plush that looked like some kind of alien penguin-otter-worm hybrid.

"Really? How can you tell?" Matt asked, then started dutifully taking notes when Slav explained.

(Apparently after Keith rushed to get back to his physical body that afternoon, he didn’t know where to put the soul candy and just tucked it on the toy that sat on his dresser.)

(It was a weird plushie he kept because Ulaz had won it for him from a crate game in the arcade when he was a kid.)

(When he got back to his room after everyone else had left, he found said plushie sitting in front of his laptop apparently doing research. Keith sat with him and answered Slav’s questions about the human world while he waited for Shiro to sneak back in through his window.)

(Shiro was absolutely horrified when he first found Keith talking to the plushie.)

(Also, Keith had no idea why Shiro always looked like he wanted to throw Slav out the window whenever the little guy made himself comfortable on top of Keith's head or draped across his shoulders. Keith had a feeling that having them both as roommates would be... eventful.)

(They brought Slav to school the next day and the walking-talking plushie was quickly recruited by Keith's friends in their latest endeavor.)

Pidge, Matt and Hunk had finished eating their lunch in five minutes flat and then proceeded to play out different scenarios and uses for Pidge’s and Hunk’s new abilities while Matt jot down the data and Slav provided his... expertise. Whatever that was.

They said it was for science. Keith didn't argue because he knew them well enough to know that yes, it was indeed for science, and they'd fight him for it if they had to.

Nerds.

As for Keith, he was just enjoying the view of his friends safe and sound, fooling around during lunchtime.

“It’s good that they’re studying their powers.” Shiro commented, sipping on his apple juice. "I guess I should take you guys to Coran now."

Keith looked up at him. "Who?"

"My contact. The researcher? He can help them learn about their powers and he can help us with yours too. Or at least, he can provide some insight."

Keith nodded. “Why haven’t I met this guy yet, anyway?”

Shiro thought about it for a while. “He’s… not exactly… an official affiliate of my employer.”

Keith stared. “Shiro. Are you telling me we’ve been using contraband this whole time? Your phone, the memory modifier- Slav?”

“They’re not illegal!” Shiro remedied. “They’re just… experimental. Like I told you before! Coran works on them and just gets me to test them for him.”

“Alright. So we’re taking everyone to meet your mad scientist friend soon and he’ll explain whatever it is that makes my spiritual pressure weird and why my two completely normal friends suddenly have powers now too. Good plan.”

“Thanks.” Shiro smiled. “A little warning, though. He might try to adopt your friends.”

“Or my friends will try to adopt him.” Keith grinned back. “Pidge, Matt and Hunk working together is a force of nature with or without powers. I fear for your friend.”

That was when Lance arrived and did a double take at the scene that greeted him. Hunk and Matt were trying to help Pidge stand on top of her shield, because they figured out that if positioned and controlled correctly it can be used for transportation a la flying carpet.

Hunk brightened up as soon as he saw his best friend. “Lance! Good timing! Try to shoot Pidge!”

“Yeah, come at me!” Pidge hopped off the shield and grinned excitedly, moving her shield to a vertical position again. It was very impressive how much control she already had over her new power.

Lance raised an eyebrow. “Uh... Why would I do that?”

He was answered with a chorus of “For science!” from the three enthusiasts.

"Ah, the Quincy human probably cannot break the shield either." Slav said.

Lance scowled. "You think?"

"I know it."

"Well, I'll show you-"

Just like that, Lance was roped in their little experiment, and after a few minutes, he and Hunk were chasing Pidge around the rooftop still trying to take down her shield while Matt and Slav shouted instructions.

Shiro looked at Keith, who was watching their friends run around shouting silly attack names at each other. “So… you and Lance... You agreed to have a truce?”

“We were never fighting, so there can't be a truce.” Keith replied. “But. Yeah, we're good. We, uh, had a bonding moment.”

Shiro accepted the answer easily. “That sounds good.”

Matt tilted his head to look at them. “Hey, Keith, why don’t we try your sword?”

Keith gave him a deadpan look. “No. I'm tired.”

“Killjoy!” Pidge said, pointing at her best friend. “Bring out the sword, ninja mullet!”

“Aw, guys, let’s leave them alone.” Hunk chastised, ever the diplomat. “They look really cozy in there.”

“Yeah, leave us alone. Be supportive of our budding relationship, since it’s your fault for making my uncles so happy about it I couldn’t tell them it wasn't true.” Keith said from his comfortable position lying on the floor and using Shiro’s lap as his pillow.

"Shiro? What about your spirit beam thing?" Matt tried.

"You saw what that does to him." Keith scolded. "He's not allowed to use it ever again."

"Sorry, Matt." Shiro shrugged helplessly, though he didn't look very upset at being 'grounded' from using kido indefinitely. In fact, he simply looked fondly at Keith and tucked stray strands of hair behind the boy's ear.

“I’m confused.” Lance said, shooting at Pidge’s shield again. He frowned in disappointment when his arrow bounced off. How strong was this little gremlin's power anyway? “Are they together for real now, are they fake dating or what?”

“Yes.” was Pidge’s answer.

“Yes, what?”

“Yes!” Matt provided cheerfully.

Lance looked lost. “Which is it? Wait, was that an inside joke? A nerd joke? Hunk, fill me in on this, man!”

Hunk shrugged. “Sorry, buddy. We don’t really try to make sense of those two. They just... do what they do. It's one of their Keith-and-Shiro things.”

"You are right." Slav added. "It does not compute. Although in another reality, they are what you would call soul mates-"

Lance rolled his eyes before turning to the source of his confusion. “Hey, ninja mullet, what’s the deal with you two?”

Keith exchanged a quick look with Shiro before grinning smugly at Lance. “We’re in love.”

Lance scoffed. “No you're not."

“What? You asked. I answered.” Keith said, blindly reaching a hand out for Shiro, who didn’t miss a beat and twined their fingers together. “He’s my true love. You love me too, right, Shiro?”

"Of course. Shiro loves you, baby." was the very enthusiastic reply.

Pidge, Hunk and Matt cheered.

"Oh God." Lance reeled, horrified by the display. "You're made for each other."

Shiro only looked flattered. "Thank you!"

"That's so kind." Keith added in monotone.

Lance only threw his hands up in surrender, turned his back to them, and declared, "This is why I hate shinigami."

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