When Keith had joined Starfleet, years ago, he had done so with almost nothing to his name but a deep knowledge that Earth was too small for him. He had no family left and the stars had looked like a promise, a siren call. Keith had been angry and he had just wished to leave as soon as possible.
He had chosen carefully, a part of him had wanted to be a pilot, but the idea of command didn’t interest him. The one thing Keith had always done good, after all, was fighting and while StarFleet liked to throw around the idea of peaceful organization everyone knew that security personnel was always needed.
Operations had seemed like a good option when he had put down his choice. He would have been able to explore most, if not all, the planets they would travel to, and a little bit of danger had never really bothered him.
That is, until he met Shiro.
Takashi Shirogane, who will become be the youngest person to complete the command track in hundreds of years, was Starfleet most promising recruit two years before Keith signed up. When Keith had entered the Starfleet program, Shiro had been in his third year, and it looked like it would be his last one.
Shiro was built for command. A strategic mind, lightspeed ahead of his peers, and a charisma that was clear in his every move.
In any normal universe, his and Keith’s road would have never crossed. They were in completely different tracks, and Shiro was the golden boy of Starfleet—metaphorically or not, considering the signature command gold—while Keith was going through the Operation track without attiring too much attention.
In this universe, their Emergency Maintenance 3 module—how to act during a red alert—had decided to liven up the final simulation by asking Shirogane to play the part of the ship’s captain. Most would have said that asking one of the actual captains would have been a better incentive, but Shirogane’s reputation preceded him.
He was a hero and an inspiration for most cadets, who dreamed to serve one day on his ship. Keith… he remained kind of neutral, if he had to be honest. Shirogane’s achievement were impressive, sure, but Keith had found Starfleet difficult courses entirely too easy.
The Operation course focused more on technical problems and hand to hand combat, and until the second year they wouldn’t be able to specify their chosen field, and while Keith liked the practical stuff enough, the linguistic side was, while more stimulating, not interesting. Sometimes he regretted not having gone for helmsman, but then he remembered the required diplomacy courses for all Command tracks and he was glad for his choice.
All in all, after almost five month till the start of his career at Starfleet, Keith thought that the infamous Starfleet difficulty had been greatly exaggerated. So why would he admire Shirogane?
During the simulation with him, Keith was on security detail. He liked the position and got along with Shirogane’s commands. Shirogane was precise with his orders, but he deferred to everyone expertise in a crisis. Still, when shit hit the fan, Shirogane gave him a wrong order. Keith knew in his bones.
He saw everyone else in his position follow it, but he stayed rooted to the spot.
“Cadet,” the clear voice of Shirogane came, addressing him, “I believe I gave you an order.” Keith knew he should have joined the order, and follow his captain’s order—even if it was just a simulation.
Instead Keith squared his shoulders and said, as clearly as he could, “I would if I didn’t think it would kill us all. If there is really someone who has boarded the ship and infiltrated the security system, sending all the personnel to a single room would make no sense.”
The moment those words leave his mouth, he already knows that he’s in trouble. His classmates look at him like he’s crazy, while he can see the face of his professor, slightly angry. He was probably fuming. Look at him, inviting the most popular cadet in the history of their entire institution, and here Keith went and pissed him off.
What he doesn’t expect is Shirogane’s laugh. “Good, good. I had hoped someone would have figured it out. Cadet, you’re promoted to Chief Security Officer, I’ll leave any executive decision to you.”
Keith blinked still confused and barely managed to contain the what the fuck . He saw everyone else’s looks turning from startled to impressed and he didn’t know what to do about that. Still… “Yes, Sir.”
Shirogane waits for him once the simulation is over and he smiles at him. “Cadet, can I have a moment?”
Keith doesn’t really know what to do about that, but he knows he can’t really refuse. He nods and watches as his classmates try their best to look at them while not looking at them. It’s an art they haven’t mastered very well.
“Do you mind if we go somewhere a little more private?” Shirogane continues, noticing the increasing baffled stares they are attracting. Keith nods again and lets the other lead him to a secluded part of the park. It’s too far away from the mess hall to be a good place to eat, and not close enough to any of the recreational areas to make it an appealing place to hang out.
Keith commits it to memory for when he wants to be alone.
“I’m sorry about what happened in the simulation,” Shirogane starts. He seems to be truly apologetic, but there is something strange in his smile, a little mischievous.
“No other classes got it, did they?” Keith says and the other nods, approvingly.
“Four classes, and yet you were the only one to question my orders,” Shirogane says it with an inflection in his voice, almost as if Keith made him proud . Considering they don’t even know each other, he doesn’t know why that might be. “I sometimes wonder if Operation doesn’t push you guys enough to think critically about things. Especially security and engineering.”
Keith bits his own lips for a second, but for what he has seen of Shirogane, he seems to be someone who appreciates honesty. “They don’t,” Keith confirms, shrugging, “it’s all very practical. Not much thinking.”
Shirogane nods, and then his eyes turn calculating. “Which is why I don’t understand why you decided to join that track. You know you have until the end of the year to switch, right?”
That is a surprising turn of events. Keith stays silent, shocked for a second, before he turns defensive. Who is this man to question Keith’s choices? “I don’t want to switch. I like where I am.”
“Yeah, no,” Shirogane says immediately, shaking his head. “You’re probably bored out of your mind. If you were going for engineering maybe, but security? I saw your scores at the entrance exam.”
“What?” Keith says, feeling anger side inside of him. He doesn’t appreciate being taken to a private location for the golden boy of the Garrison to judge Keith’s life and decisions. And now he can add spying on the list? Celebrity or not, he’s ready to deck this asshole.
Shirogane just shrugs. “A friend of mine helped grade them. And he said you had the second highest aptitude score for command in a long time."
Keith bristles at the idea and looks at the man with a frown. "You still had no right."
Shirogane doesn't seem that concerned with Keith's anger, he just shrugs. "Probably, but once I did know, I got curious. I saw the way you were acting in the sim. You're bored."
That is a fair assessment, but Keith doesn't want to tell him he's right. He just shrugs, because he knows he's a terrible liar. And in this case saying nothing is probably the best strategy.
"You were," Shirogane pushes, with a smile, "and I find that interesting enough. I just don't understand why you didn't choose command in the first place."
Keith just shrugs. "Not everyone wants to captain a ship. I don't want to do that. I prefer Operations."
Shirogane looks at him, and he doesn't seem convinced by Keith's admission. It's like the man can't see past what he thinks Keith's path should be. It's annoying, in a way, but in another it's the most someone has believed in him in all his life, probably.
"Okay," Shirogane relents, in the end, "I can see you're stubborn and that a part of you means that." A part of him? Keith doesn't have the time to ask before the other continues, "However, I have a solution. Next year you'll have to take your specialization, but if you request it early enough, you can also take a minor course, not a full specialization, just something to make your experience more complete. Pick command. I'll tutor you until I can."
Keith stops for a second, wondering how arrogant this man must be to keep going without relenting, even faced with Keith's dismissal. Keith's words doesn't seem to have affected his plan at all.
"Why?" Keith wonders again, frowning. Honestly... this could be a good possibility. If he could take a minor in piloting, it would be fun if nothing else.
"Because I have never met someone who was bored and still excelling," Shiro admits, with a smile, "and I want a second in command who will be better than me."
Keith, who had started to get lost on the idea of maybe taking this damn course, widens his eyes and looks back at Shirogane. This entire conversation has been giving him whiplash since the beginning, and he finds himself unable to get a grip.
"Second in command? You have already decided my entire future?" Keith asks, absolutely appalled. Shirogane smiles, almost as if he realizes that he has crossed a line, but he isn't that sorry to have done it.
"I will have my own ship in three years max," Shirogane explains, "enough for you and some other cadets to graduate and get a bit of experience. I want to form a crew, the best one. They have all but promised me the new ship in construction, the USS Voltron. Allura, I don't know if you know her, she's an Altean, will be my First Officer for the first year or two to keep an eye on me, but she's going to be given a ship of her own. So I need someone else."
"And what?" Keith asks, confused beyond belief, "you're basing all of this on an aptitude test?"
Shiro laughs, shrugging. "Not really, I've also watched you." He admits with a smile.
Keith blinks and he doesn't know why he's surprised at this point. It fits the rest of this crazy talk.
"So, you practically have a command promised to you, and you want me to train as your second in command," Keith summarizes, watching him, "did anyone ever told you, you're kind of arrogant?"
Shirogane stops, finally surprised for the first time in this entire conversation and then shrugs nervously. "I... might have insisted a little too much, okay. But I really do think that you have potential and you're wasting it here. You're in StarFleet, one of the biggest and most advanced academies on earth and you're bored ."
When Shirogane puts it like that, Keith can see the problem and he just crosses his arm, shrugging. "I... I just want to be up there," he admits, in the end.
He's not ready to tell him about how lonely he feels on earth, how much this planet doesn't feel like home anymore. Takashi Shirogane hasn't earned his trust, just his curiosity.
"Yeah," the other replies, a far away smile on his face. It's like he's already imagining it, commanding his own ship, traveling millions of light years away from their little planet, where no one has gone before. "But don't you want to be in the best ship? In the one that goes the furthest? I study every day so that I can be up there and do what I want.There is so much to explore, and I want to do it."
It sounds exactly like what Keith wants. He can almost imagine it, the way Shirogane explains it, with a faraway look and a burning fire in his eyes. What would it feel like to be the first person to set foot on a planet? And if he wants that, if he wants to be assigned to a ship that will reach that far, then he needs to pet his a-game.
"Fine then," he says in the end, nodding, "but if I do this, you have to get that ship. Or I will come for your head."
Shirogane seems surprised for a second that he has actually convinced Keith, and he starts to think that his arrogance and confidence before had been a little bit of a farce. Maybe a way to make his case look more compelling.
In a way, it worked.
"I will do my best," Shirogane confirms with a satisfied smile. "And we start tutoring next week. If you want to complete a double course in three years, you'll need it."
"What do you know, you didn't do it," Keith reminds him, with some satisfaction. But Shiro just nods unperturbed.
"Exactly, and I want you to be better than me," Shirogane simply tells him, with finality, like he knows Keith will do it.
They make plans, organize two study sessions per week, and Shirogane confirms that he's probably going to say on campus for a couple of months after graduation, since his commission won't come immediately.
In the end, Shirogane starts to walk away with a sprint in its step, and only then Keith remembers. "Wait! Who was the one that got an aptitude test higher than mine?"
Shiro looks back at him and smiles, shrugging, "You almost beated me. It's why I was interested. See you next week, Keith!"
Training with Shirogane was much different than studying on his own. It almost seemed like Shirogane put more thoughts on their tutoring session than his teachers in their curriculum.
Even if Keith is more interested in piloting than actual diplomacy or Starfleet directives, Shiro's tutoring covers everything , with so much details that sometimes it seems to go even deeper than the actual courses. It also seems that Shiro models the lessons on Keith's interest.
He notices the first week that Keith learns better by doing, and he creates imaginary scenarios to teach him most of the diplomatic mumbo-jumbo that Keith would have forgotten under a minute.
Keith starts to realize exactly why Starfleet is so eager to get the guy his command. Shiro is the perfect example of what Starfleet likes to promote. He's a born leader and he seems to be quick on the uptake. He knows every single rule in the Academy textbooks by heart, and seems capable enough to create realistic scenarios.
Shirogane will be an incredible captain and Keith starts to marvel at the idea that the other boy had chosen him . It makes him wonder what exactly Shirogane had saw beside the test scores.
He had said that he had watched Keith for months before asking him, and sometimes Keith tries and think what exactly he had done for those months to impress the other cadet. Nothing ever comes to mind.
Soon the study session are not the only occasions he gets to see Shirogane, Shiro as he likes to be called. It happens when both he and Shiro stay on campus during the holidays, having nowhere to go to and Shiro asks, with a nonchalance that seems forced: "Do you want to eat chinese and maybe do something on christmas?"
And Keith accepts, because there is nothing but a barren room waiting for him.
By the end of the week they are inseparable, and Keith starts to discover that as much as Shiro is popular on the surface, there aren't many people willing to spend time with him.
Some are intimidated by the idea surrounding him, thinking he's some kind of superhuman; some others are jealous of his scores and think he cheats.
Keith knows that both of those things are wrong.
Shiro is exactly as amazing as the school makes him sound, but he also has no patience. He gets too passionate whenever someone talks about his ship, and he has this tendency to just steamroll people into his plans. He sometimes can sound arrogant, but gets nervous when he realizes it.
His only friend beside Keith is Matt, the one that had graded the aptitude test. He's on the Science track, and he spends all his time in the lab or bragging about his sister. Keith spends a lot of time with Matt, waiting for Shiro. And soon it's the three of them, eating lunch together and making fun of Shiro and his tardiness.
Not even six months after having met Shiro, and Keith can't remember what boredom feels like.
Keith discovers Shiro new posting from Matt. He and Shiro haven't been able to meet in two days, since Shiro has been busy with work, and Keith and Matt are just sitting in the mess hall in comfortable silence, each working on their project.
It's not that he and Matt don't get along, quite the opposite really, but their connection has always been Shiro, and while they enjoy each other's company, they tend to be quiet when they are on their own.
Which is why it's a little surprising when Matt calls his name, looking serious and a little worried. Keith looks at him, surprised and now on edge.
"I know you haven't talked to Shiro, and he wanted to tell you himself, but it looks like he won't be able to and..." Matt sighs, and just shrugs, "we've received our postings. We're to join my father's ship. It's a scientific ship."
They had all known that the day was coming, and yet it still takes Keith by surprise. He and Shiro have covered up three years of curriculum in under a year for this exact reason, but when they had discusses it, it had only been a pact between cadets. Now, Keith is losing his only two friends at the Garrison.
He's losing Shiro .
Keith looks back at his food and swallows down every single emotion he knows he can't express. This was always temporary, until the day they'll get the Voltron and then...
If Keith manages to be the best, Shiro will pick him and he won't have to say goodbye anymore.
Matt is still watching him so Keith makes sure his expression stays as neutral as possible. "Well, they sure took their time." The other smiles, but it's a little sad, like he knows something Keith doesn't.
"Yeah. It will probably be three years or less, we're setting off to explore some planets on the border of Galra space, there have been some planets with interesting fauna that have been discovered recently. Also, ice ."
Keith smiles at that, amused despite the still too real gut twisting feeling of loneliness. "You sure get excited about ice."
That night, he's not all that surprised to receive a comm message from Shiro, asking Keith to join him on their spot.
Keith knows exactly what he's talking about and he dressed quickly, reaching that isolated space in the park where they had talked the first time. At night the academy is completely deserted, and Keith can sneak quietly without being noticed.
When he arrives Shiro is already there, sitting under a tree. He looks tired, but happy. There is no mistaking the glow and the manic green. It reminds Keith of the Shiro he had met that day after the simulation.
The guy who had been dreaming of captaining the best ship in the whole galaxy. He should be happy for him, to see that he had gotten closer to his objective, but there is no denying the sadness he's feeling.
Shiro looks up at him the moment he hears Keith's footsteps and smiles in his direction, patting the grass beside him. Keith smiles and sits there, looking up at the stars.
"I hear congratulations are in order," he says and he sees Shiro's soft expression shining with joy. It's everything Shiro ever wanted and Keith wanted this for him, he really did.
But three years were a lot of time.
"Yeah," Shiro's voice is warm, happy, "I was starting to think they were going to forget it. It would have put a damper in my plan."
"After everything you made me study?" Keith joked, with a little grin, "I would have killed you."
Shiro laughs, a crystalline sound that makes Keith relax completely.
He can survive three years, he thinks, and after that? After that he's going to be exploring space with Shiro. Discovering new stars and planets, possibly making some first contacts.
The idea excites him beyond belief, enough to make him forget the sadness.
"Don't forget your crew here on earth, captain," Keith says, poking Shiro's side to make his point. Shiro just smiles at him and goes back to watch the stars.
"This is going to be the last time we're both cadets, isn't it?" Shiro wonders out loud and Keith shrugs.
"Shiro, you graduated three months ago," Keith reminds him with a little smirk, "you haven't been a cadet in a whi-" but before he can say anything else, Shiro turns and kisses him. It's quick and not exactly the best kiss Keith ever had.
It still changes Keith's entire world.
When Shiro backs away a little, their faces mere inches from each other, his eyes look a little worried. Almost as if he wasn't sure about what he just did.
"Next time we meet, I will be your superior officer. I don't think I would have been able, so," Shiro says, shrugging and starting to back away completely. Keith's hands grip his jacket and force him to stay put.
"We can ask the CMO," Keith recites, remembering one of the stupidest command rule in the whole handbook. "If the captain wants to date a member of the crew, they need to fill a report and ask the assessment of the chief medical officer. It's rule 345 subsection 3b. Study more, Shiro."
"You really studied that," Shiro says, his voice a little rough, and Keith wants to kiss him again. Lick his lip one more time and wreck him.
"It was the first one I memorized," Keith informs him, trembling a little with the admission. "I found it... interesting and very informative."
It takes a moment for Shiro to start laughing uncontrollably at Keith's admission and he joins in, a little embarrassed. Still, Shiro is laughing after they have just kissed , Keith doesn't care about a little bit of embarrassment.
When their laughter subside, they look into each other eyes, and gravitate one towards another. Their second kiss is definitely better than the first, mostly because Keith is an active participant in this one.
So much so that Keith arches under Shiro's touch, franticly needing to get closer to the other. To touch.
He won't have this for another three years and he needs to commit every single detail into his memory. Keith will use it to keep himself motivated, to remember what expects him at the end of the waiting period.
Three years will fly, right?
After a year, Shiro and Matt have left earth, their communication starts to become more sparse. For what Keith knows they are finally traversing a part of galaxy that has been hardly explored by other Starfleet vessels and communications aren’t as easy as before.
Ion storms and the sheer massive distance makes normal messages practically impossible to send, but every once in a while a couple sneak through.
Keith, finding himself prived of any form of company he had before, takes to studying with all his focus. He thinks about the USS Voltron, that is finally starting to look like a real ship, and he tries to remember what will await them at the end of these three years.
Even if he and Shiro can’t talk that much anymore, he still has something to keep him going.
After two years, their communications come separated by weeks if not months. The last Keith had hears, Shiro and Matt were passing through a delicate portion of the border and every communication had been cut off to avoid any trouble.
The real difference is that Pidge, Matt’s sister, has been accepted into the academy, fresh of the junior program. She’s an engineer with a side focus in science, just like Keith has a side focus on command.
They gravitate towards each other out of worry for both Shiro and Matt, and because it seems not many people understand the amount of work than taking two courses puts on their shoulders.
Pidge is smart and a little devious and she tells him that she’s trying to figure out a way to build a transmitting machine to send her brother messages.
Maybe they wouldn’t be able to respond, but they would be encrypted enough that they could send it to them without worrying too much about revealing their position.
When she finishes building it, they are starting to enter the year three since he and Shiro had last seen each other, and they have been unable to communicate for six months now.
Keith doesn’t know what to say; doesn’t even know if there is still someone out there to receive the message, but he just says, “You promised me a ship, Takashi. And the stars. And I want them both.”
Keith graduates exactly three year after Shiro leaves. And he worries that he will be sent to another ship, but they tell him that he will do one year of training on a space station near earth, and Keith gladly accepts.
There hasn’t been any news, not even on Pidge’s front. So they hadn’t given up hope.
Starfleet hadn’t issued a statement, and even if he had Pidge had asked more than once about updates, they had never told them anything.
They aren’t sure how to interpret that.
Still, life continued on. And they have almost reached the fourth year since the USS Kerberos has left earth when Keith receives a convocation to return back on earth.
He had expected it, after all his one year had been coming up, and he knew he couldn’t avoid a posting another time. He will be sent to another ship, and Shiro’s dream will be shattered.
Keith almost resents Shiro for making it into Keith’s dream as well.
He reaches Iverson office, ready to ask for just a little more time, but when he enters he freezes. Shiro is there, dressed in command gold, and shining more than a star.
“Good, you’re here. We were talking with Captain Shirogane about the maiden voyage of the USS Voltron, and he insisted on having you on his crew,” Iverson says, but Keith’s eyes are stuck on Shiro.
The other notices and there is something soft in his expression. They will have to talk after this, but now Shiro is back and their dream is coming true.
He salutes. “It would be an honor, Captain.”