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Of or with respect to the distant stars

 

Dreams are sugar-coated pills, easy to take on the way down, sweetened with promise, but taste acidic and bitter on the way back up. Keith has a storage can of forgotten dreams locked away in the back crevices of his mind, somewhere between the lyrics of Bohemian Rhapsody and the 600th digit of pi .

Keith used to dream all of the time – stars streaking across his frontal lobes and playing hopscotch to Jupiter's moons and back; he would stretch on top of the Galaxy Garrison’s rooftop, bring an illegal cigarette to his lips, and blow smoke rings into the sky and ask Shiro what shape he could see.

Shiro always pointed out that was a game for the daytime when the blue expanse was littered with fluffy, misshapen clouds. Keith pointed out in turn that was why they made their own. They would pass the cherry tipped cigarette back and forth until nothing but the filter and embers remained. Shiro would cough and claim Keith was killing him. Keith would roll his eyes and ask quietly if Shiro had any new mysterious scars.

It wasn’t a question Keith truly wanted to hear the answer to but he always asked anyway.

Shiro always laughed the question off and never gave a real answer.

They say everyone gets a soulmate.

Everyone, at some point over the course of their life, will experience what it is like to have a soulmate. A bond so deep and true it cannot be broken. For most people, soulmate bonds become visible through marks on the body like stains. When one half of the pair is injured or permanently marked, the other half shares the wound like a badge.

Keith doesn’t believe in soulmates. He didn’t believe in them growing up, despite witnessing soul-marks appearing for himself when a girl in his class suddenly had a black eye blossom along her face while giving a presentation on George Washington. Her soulmate had been in a fight just moments ago in the hallway.

He certainly doesn’t believe in them now.

Not even as the bridge of his nose blossoms with rose red petals and trickles downward against his lips, leaving a taste of iron on his tongue. Not when he stares at the ghost in the dirty, cracked mirror and he cannot recognize the person staring back. Not when he reaches to wipe the blood away but more comes and it pours as a crimson waterfall. The pain stings his eyes and makes tears mix in the dirty, veneer sink.

Keith Kogane doesn’t believe in soulmates but he knows, somewhere, someone is suffering as much pain as him.

 




Shiro's nose was bleeding.

Keith’s nose was bleeding, too, but he knew why his was bleeding. A spat with some kid named Jackson over an argument if girls could be pilots. Keith quickly reminded him that women had been in space longer than he’d been alive. However, knowing why he was bleeding didn’t answer why Shiro’s nose dripped red.

“You’re bleeding,” Keith said. “What happened?”

Shiro reached up to touch his nose and pulled away his fingers to stare at the crimson dabs on his fingertips as if he’d never seen blood before. “I don’t know.”  

“Did you hit your head in the simulator again?” Keith asked. The last time Shiro had been in the simulator he claimed he’d smacked his head when standing up and caused a rain of red to ruin his uniform.

“I don’t think so…” Shiro trailed off and wiped his nose on the back of his sleeve as any newly graduated senior officer would do. Keith snorted at the eloquence.

“Well, stop hurting yourself or they’ll ask me to pilot Commander Holt to Kerberos.”

Shiro rolled his eyes but a smile chased the gesture. “You’re not trained enough, Cadet ."

Keith smirked and gave Shiro a light push before they fell into step with another and started walking down the hallway. A comfortable quiet settled over them like a warm, welcome blanket.

Keith’s mind wandered to the thoughts of Shiro’s mission coming up at the beginning of the academic year. Handpicked along with Matthew and Samuel Holt, Shiro was going to be one of the first men to see Kerberos, Pluto’s moon, alive. It was the furthest man had ever traveled in space. Keith couldn’t be prouder, but knowing he only had a few more weeks with his best friend and then an entire year without him… well, it was almost too much to think about, so Keith tried not to. He only allowed himself to feel proud of Shiro in his shiny new grey senior officer uniform, decorated as only Shiro could be not even a few months out of school.

“Hey, how come you’re bleeding?” Shiro asked Keith as they walked, his face becoming concerned. One of Shiro’s strong arms came out to stop him from walking further, almost clotheslining him in the hallway.

“Shiro!” Keith sputtered as he knocked his chest into Shiro’s forearm, having no choice but to stop and turn to face him. “Are you trying to give me another nosebleed?”

“You didn’t answer my question, Keith.” Shiro’s voice turned stern. Keith called it his Officer Shirogane voice – the tone he used when he was trying to pull rank which hardly ever happened between them. Shiro liked to view them as equals, even if they weren’t.

 

“It’s nothing,” Keith said, shoving Shiro’s arm away from him when Shiro reached out to touch his face. “Some kid was being rude to some of the girls in our class. I shut him down.”

“Keith, I admire your valiancy but you’re going to get kicked out if you keep getting into fights.”

Shiro always worried about Keith’s standing in school but if he hadn’t managed to piss Iverson off enough to throw him ass over teakettle out of the Garrison’s doors yet, Keith doubted that day would come. Of course, without Shiro to reign him in, Keith supposed his time at the Garrison could end sooner than he wanted if he didn’t learn to keep his head down.

“It’s not like I’m always getting into fights,” he argued weakly and continued down the hall toward his room. He lived in a single since his last roommate had wanted a room transfer.

Keith was not good with people.

Socializing was not a strong suit of his; flying was a strong suit but not socializing. Networking, group-gathering, team-building. These were all concepts he understood and could execute but only when necessary. Keith preferred solo work or working with Shiro and sometimes Matt Holt.

“You still need to better control your emotions.” Shiro reached out and placed a comforting hand on Keith’s shoulder as they came to stand outside of Keith’s dorm room. “Remember, patience–.”

“Yields focus,” Keith finished dryly. “I know. You tell me that all of the time, Shiro.”

Shiro gave him an annoyed look and then ruffled the mop of dark hair on his head. “Get a haircut, Cadet,” Shiro said as he began to leave Keith to head to his own room.

“Shiro!” Keith called, making Shiro pause and turn around. “Are we still on for tonight?”

Shiro flashed him a thumbs up. “I’ll meet you at the usual spot.”

Keith nodded with a soft smile. “Great.”

 




The locked box of sugar-coated dreams in the back of Keith’s mind rotted away and left behind ugly realities instead.

The dream of Shiro going to Kerberos and returning home safely in one year’s time, ready to see Keith graduate from the Garrison, now twisted and mangled into a misshapen monster of what it used to be. The dream was dead in the bone-dry desert earth along with the rest of Keith’s dreams left behind. Without Shiro, Keith felt no purpose or drive.

The new wound across his face throbbed as a reminder that someone out there, in the real world, was his new purpose and drive. Keith sat up slowly from the couch he called a bed and untwisted his limbs to go to the bathroom and inspect the open slash. The cut felt deep, throbbing through every nerve contained in his face and Keith was surprised his nose wasn’t broken. He winced as he took a cloth to dab away the scab, unleashing a few gobs of fresh blood.

Soulmates don’t exist , Keith reminded himself like a mantra.

The number of times Keith remembered asking Shiro if he had any new marks on his body had an embarrassingly high tally count. Shiro had never given him a straight answer and maybe that was why Keith didn’t want to believe in soulmates. If Shiro wasn't his soulmate then what was the point?

Pilot Error flashed across Keith’s memory and he slammed his fist against the mirror, sending another dangerous crack through the thick glass. The fact that Garrison blamed Shiro for the disappearance of the scientists on the Kerberos mission boiled Keith’s blood until his ears were ringing and he couldn’t form coherent thoughts. Takashi Shirogane was the best pilot the Garrison had ever seen and Keith refused to believe it was due to pilot error the Kerberos mission had failed.

He refused to believe Shiro was dead.

Sharp pain in his shoulder made Keith gasped and he attempted to twist to see what was happening. The familiar warmth of blood had Keith pulled his shirt over his head and turning and twisting to see a new gash on his left shoulder blade. The pain was sharp and digging in deep like he’d been cut with a very sharp blade.

“Fuck,” Keith gasped. The pain made the room spin and he had to reach out to press his hand to the bathroom wall in an attempt to remain upright.

More pain flooded his ribs and Keith glanced another cut spanning from his ribcage to his hipbone but this one didn’t feel as deep. Blood freely flowed down his skin, painting the pale expanse red and pink. Keith cranked the sink on, listening to the faucet squeak before soaking his shirt and using it to clean up drying blood against his skin. His back remained bloody and shiny and Keith wasn’t sure if it would ever stop bleeding.

More cuts appeared along his chest and Keith decided to strip and go sit at the bottom of the shower, letting tepid water trickle over his tired body. He leaned his head back against the shower wall and just waited for the pain and wounds to stop. Pain made his body shake and his stomach twist. The urge to lose whatever dinner he’d had the night before was almost enough to make him pass out but Keith managed to keep everything down.

Consciousness, however, was a futile struggle.

 




Keith measured time in relation to Shiro.

And because Shiro was late to their usual meeting spot, time slipped through Keith’s fingers like grains of sand through the hourglass. Mentally, he calculated how many hours he had left with Shiro and there were not enough.

336 hours remained before Shiro left Earth for a year. 336 hours stood in the way of Shiro becoming a comet and flying away into the great expanse of space. 336 hours were not enough.

The sound of Shiro coming around the corner drew Keith’s quick gaze for a moment as he panicked thinking another officer had discovered him. He only relaxed when Shiro appeared, carrying a bag in one hand and a six-pack of something in the other.

“Sorry,” Shiro panted quietly upon approach. “I got held up.”

“With what?” Keith asked. He turned and pushed open the door to the roof, holding it so Shiro didn’t have to shoulder it for himself.

“A junior officer too eager to try and squeeze details about Kerberos out of me,” Shiro snorted. “Didn’t believe me when I said I only had brief knowledge of it myself. They don’t really tell you much until you’re down to the wire so you don’t slip up and give out classified information.”

Keith rolled his eyes to the star-spattered sky and grabbed the bag out of Shiro’s hands as they approached their usual spot on the roof. The bag’s contents contained the usual, soft, worn, red blanket they always stretched out across together, a pack of cigarettes and a lighter, a notebook Shiro liked to take notes in, and a few snacks. They usually didn’t touch the snacks but Keith’s stomach growled like it was on a timer.

“I told him that I knew very little basic information but he kept pressing for more.” Shiro set the sixpack down and unfurled the blanket, shaking crumbs and dust out of the crinkled folds. “So, anyway, that is why I am late. I’m sorry. Again.”

Once the blanket was in place, they both sat down, back to back, looking up at the stars together in silence for a while. Peaceful moments like these kept them both sane when the week was long and simulations were bad.

“You know, this is how we first met. Do you remember?” Shiro asked quietly, his voice so low Keith felt it more than heard.

“I remember.”

Shiro chuckled. “You were just some brash and annoying ass kid who needed to relax before you had a stroke.

Keith smiled softly at the memory. The first time he’d met Shiro face to face had been an accident. After a frustrating day in the simulator, he’d slammed his fist into the wall hard enough to bruise the back of his hand and make his knuckles swell. Afterward, he’d trudged to the roof and found Shiro sitting up there alone.

 

“You shouldn’t be out here,  Cadet,” Shiro said, surprised to have been interrupted.

Keith rolled his eyes and then turned his gaze to the cigarette in Shiro’s hand. “Can I have one?”

“They’ll kill you.”

“Don’t care.”

Shiro snorted and tossed him the pack. Keith caught them and slowly eased a cigarette between his fingers to roll it back and forth slowly. Takashi Shirogane, Garrison’s golden boy, a fucking smoker.

Ironic.

Shiro stood up then and pulled out a silver lighter to offer Keith. “Here.”

“Thanks.” Keith leaned forward with the cigarette between lips and fingers, letting the flame catch. A deep drag made him cough and Shiro laughed softly. The sound of Shiro laughing was more beautiful than any music Keith could listen to.

“No problem, Cadet.”

“It’s Keith.”

“I know.”

Keith felt his heart slam into his chest as Shiro said he knew his name. There were hundreds of students but Shiro knew his name. “You know?”

“Iverson says you’re one of the best pilots he’s ever seen.” Shiro winked and Keith felt his soul die. “But you didn’t hear that from me.”

“Shit…” Iverson usually hated him. The feeling was mutual. “Didn’t know he liked me.”

Shiro laughed again. “He doesn’t.”

“Okay. Fair.”

“You want to join me? You seem stressed.” Shiro returned to the blanket and sat down as he turned his gaze up to the sky. Keith paused but decided sitting by Shiro was worth the heart palpitations.

“Rough day,” he replied quietly. “Simulation didn’t… I failed it.”

“Everyone fails them,” Shiro pointed out calmly. “At least once.”

Keith glanced over at Shiro and tried to envision a younger Shiro being in his position; failing simulations because they were new to him and beyond his current skill level. The picture wasn’t easy to conjure but he supposed Shiro was right.

Shiro shifted and Keith turned his eyes to Shiro’s hand. Bruised and sore, like his, Keith wondered what he’d done to hurt himself. “You, too, huh?” Keith asked and nodded to Shiro’s bruises.

Shiro frowned and looked at his hand absentmindedly. Confusion flickered over his face. “I… must have banged it up in the simulator or maybe when I was helping Matt carry some heavy boxes.”

Keith offered up his own injured hand. “Punched a wall.”

Shiro’s frown deepened and he shoved the cigarette in his mouth so he could cradle Keith’s hand gently with his own. “Need to control yourself,” he said around his cigarette.

Keith blushed at Shiro’s touch and he wanted to pull his hand away as badly as he wanted the touch to never end. “I was frustrated.”

Shiro plucked the cigarette out of his mouth and flicked the useless butt away. “Patience yields focus,” Shiro said then and Keith realized he’d never forget that line

The first lesson from Shiro.

 

“That was the first lesson you taught me,” Keith mused.

“What?” Shiro asked and handed Keith a cigarette.

“Patience yields focus. It was the first time you taught me that.”

A soft and small smile touched Shiro’s eyes. “That’s right. I did. Wow… feels like forever ago, doesn’t it?”

“Yeah…” Keith touched the end of his cigarette to Shiro’s and watched the tip turn cherry red. Embers floated around their faces and lit up Shiro’s Grey eyes orange. Keith took a deep breath and swallowed the nicotine-infused blue smoke into his lungs and held it here until only ghosts trickled from his nose and mouth.

“Two weeks,” Shiro muttered and flicked away ash from his uniform.

“Two weeks,” Keith conceded in turn.

So much for two simple words. It was almost too much to bear.

 


 

Each new wound reminded Keith someone was suffering more than him because while he bore the aftermath, someone else remained on the receiving end. Keith sat on the edge of the couch, shirtless, breathing heavily as he recovered from a new bout of wounds lashed across his shoulders and arms. Dried blood lived under his fingernails and dirtied his skin but Keith didn’t move to shower.

Cigarette smoke burned holes into his alveoli and plastered char across pink tissue while Keith sat and stared blankly at the silver dog tags Shiro had pressed into his hand on the last day he saw Shiro alive. The day of the launch, Shiro had brought Keith with him because he had no one else to bring. They’d walked around the launch site together while Shiro pointed out different parts of the ship. Keith had stood with Shiro’s arm around his shoulders with his own arms crossed in self-defense against the building sadness in his chest.

When it was finally time , Shiro turned to face him and they’d hugged for what felt like an eternity and yet not long enough. Fleeting memories and ghosts of feelings crushed between their bodies aching for one another. For just a little longer. For just a little more time together. Keith could remember Shiro’s smell so distinctly – minty toothpaste, woodsy cologne, with an undertone of Irish Springs. His uniform smelled of leather and sweat and it all combined into a lethal concoction.

When Shiro finally pulled away first, Keith had felt his heart break, but then he’d noticed Shiro holding his hand.

 

“Remember,” Shiro said with a warm smile. “Patience yields focus. By the time I get back, you’ll be ready to graduate and I can see you walk across that stage. I promise I’ll video when I can.”

Tears burned the backs of Keith’s eyes. When Shiro pulled his hand away, Keith noticed in his palm were Shiro’s silver dog-tags, embellished with his name, blood type, and ID number. His breath caught in his throat and the wind swallowed his words away.

“Keep them,” Shiro said, placing his hand on Keith’s left shoulder.

“What if–.”

“Nothing’s going to happen to me. Just keep them to remember me by, okay?”

 

Keith stared at the dog-tags in his hand and realized too late tears were falling down his face. Nothing's going to happen to me . What a lie Shiro had uttered almost a year ago to the day. His hands began to shake and he dropped the dog-tags onto the makeshift coffee table littered with empty cans and maps.

“I hate you,” Keith whispered. “I hate you, Shiro. You lied! You said nothing was going to happen to you! But you’re not here and you’re supposed to be…. You’re supposed to be here– .” Keith’s words choked off into uncontrolled sobs. Since the moment he’d heard about Shiro’s supposed death, Keith hadn’t let himself cry. Not uninhibited and not without a forced time limit.

Tonight, Keith allowed himself to cry. The sorrow of Shiro’s missing presence in his life left Keith a heaping mess on the floor of the small desert shack his father left him. He would have given anything to trade places with Shiro, to be the one to launch into space and never return. Shiro could move on from this. Shiro was stronger than this .

“It should have been me,” he whispered brokenly against the floor.

Sharp pain made him gasp and he felt another cut trail along his ribcage like a punch to the gut. Keith remained on the floor, shaking and whimpering alone, letting the blood pool on the dusty floor.

“It should have been me… It should have been me…. It should have….”

Sleep whispered his name and Keith couldn’t fight the urge to follow.

 


 


Two weeks turned into one faster than either Keith or Shiro were quite prepared for. Summer school work and summer jobs took precedence over spending time together and the time continued to tick on the bomb sitting in the middle of the room. Down to the wire and Keith had yet to learn how to say goodbye.

“Keith!”

Keith paused on his walk back to his dorm after a session alone in the simulator. He spent his nights there, usually, but Shiro had asked to come to the roof one more time before he had to leave. The sound of Shiro’s voice made his heart soar and then watching Shiro jog to catch up lifted his mouth into a smile.

“Hey,” Keith greeted as Shiro approached. “You’re here early.”

“The meeting didn’t go as long as I expected,” Shiro said and smiled, too. “I was thinking we could do something else instead of going to the roof but only if your bike is running.”

Keith shifted his weight on his left leg. “It’s running. Did you want to take it out?”

Shiro nodded. “Yeah. Let me shower and change and then meet me back there?”

“Okay.”

Shiro’s smile widened. “Great. See you in a bit.”

Shiro rushed back down the hall and Keith chuckled. The hoverbike he’d spent last year building was finally running again after having a few hiccups. They hadn’t been on it together in almost a month but Keith supposed this was a good way to spend one of their last nights together. Keith took his time to shower and change out his uniform and dress in a black t-shirt and jeans, pulling his hair back into a ponytail.

Keith beat Shiro to the meetup place but it gave him time to start the bike and make sure it was running like he’d said earlier. Once the bike turned on, Keith relaxed but jumped when the door behind him opened. The bike was parked on the old west wing of campus behind some dumpsters so it wasn’t bothered by prying eyes. Shiro appeared in the doorway, dressed down in just a tank top and jeans, his silver dog-tags glittering along his chest, and a pair of sunglasses perched on his head to block out the setting sun.

Keith felt like dying.

“Feels good to not be in uniform,” Shiro said with a deep breath as he took in the smell of the outdoors. Of course, where they were standing, the air mostly smelled of garbage and oil.

“You look– um–.” Keith fumbled with his words and realized he had no idea what to say without accidentally telling Shiro how he felt. He wanted to say the words, to finally just put them out there, but Shiro was leaving for Kerberos soon and they weren’t soulmates. Shiro’s soulmate was out there somewhere and Keith was not about to complicate their friendship.

“Casual?” Shiro joked with a grin. “Let’s go. I want to taste the desert sun before it goes down.”

Keith nodded and hurriedly climbed onto the bike, trying to push the image Shiro presented out of his mind, but the moment Shiro slid behind him, arms around his waist, Keith felt his soul leave his body and exit through the stratosphere.

You are so fucked , Keith thought.

The hoverbike hesitated as it readjusted its systems to the added weight before Keith managed to urge it forward. They took off into the desert soon, chasing the setting sun, and leaving the Garrison in their dust. Listening to Shiro breathe and feeling his heart race, made Keith pick up the pace until they were making last minute calls to not crash, but Shiro whooped in excitement behind him. Keith didn’t slow down.

The setting sun lit the bike’s red paint on fire and they streaked across the desert like a fallen comet. Animals dashed to escape their path and as the sun disappeared behind the canyons, Keith turned his eyes skyward to watch the stars come to life. They felt so distant where they existed on this earth but soon Shiro would be among them. Keith slowed down until they were cruising with Shiro’s comforting weight along his spine reminding him he wasn’t alone.

Never alone.

Not anymore.

“Keith,” Shiro said once they were barely moving at all.

“Yeah?”

“I’m going to miss you.”

Shiro had no idea how the words tore Keith asunder and the bullet dug right into his flesh. A lump formed in Keith’s throat and he said nothing in response. If he spoke, his voice would break, and then he would cry. He couldn’t cry like this.

“I know that sounds sappy but… I don’t have family out here and… well, I’ve come to consider you family.” Shiro gave Keith’s waist a squeeze. “I appreciate everything you’ve taught me.”

Keith snorted. “I haven’t taught you anything.”

“You’ve taught me everything,” Shiro whispered.

Keith stalled the bike and they remained in one spot to finish watching the sunset together. Streaks of bleeding red, turned pale pink, and then purple, and finally inky black as the stars took over. The moon rose high in the sky. Nocturnal animals began to leave their burrows and sing into the night. Shiro rested his chin along Keith’s shoulder.

I love you , the brag of Keith’s heart whispered. I love you more than anything.

“Stay here a while?” Shiro asked.

Keith nodded. “Yeah.”

 


 

A tortured scream erupted from Keith’s throat as he tried to sit up but the pain was too great. The pain radiated down his right shoulder and through his entire arm. He turned his eyes over to the limb and slowly lifted it even though it took effort. He could move his arm but God did it hurt. He screamed again and lost control of his arm entirely, letting it fall back along the floor with a thud.

He screamed alone and into the night until he was sobbing. The pain didn’t end. Keith screamed until his voice was hoarse and all he could do was lie still and wish the pain would end. He slipped in and out of consciousness, staring up at the ceiling for a few moments, and then a dream would yank him back down. Keith remained on the floor for what felt like days, unable to move, only staring at the ceiling or dreaming.

On the third day, Keith finally managed to sit up, glancing at his arm. There was no visible damage but the pain still lingered. It wasn’t the same, though.  No, the pain felt phantom, like it would exist there only if he really thought about it. Once Keith felt he was able to move, he went to guzzle down water and tentatively shower. There were new wounds along his torso but they were both scabbed over and the pain in his arm had been so great, he hadn’t even noticed their formation.

The shower washed away some of Keith’s pain and he sat at the bottom until the water ran cold. His mind traveled back to the night before Shiro had left for Kerberos. They’d spent the night together, here, in Keith’s shack. He’d told Shiro about it before but they’d never gone. After a long ride on the hoverbike, they’d decided to stay the night here instead of going back to the Garrison. Shiro knew it would be frowned upon but he’d wanted fresh air all night instead of the stiff air within the Garrison.

 

“I guess this is the last time I’ll get to enjoy this for a while,” Shiro had said while they sat on the porch together. Shiro sat with his eyes closed, just breathing in the scent of desert flowers. “I’m going to miss this, too.”

“You won’t be gone forever,” Keith pointed out. “Just for a year.”

“It could go longer… What if the mission goes really well and they extend it?” Shiro pointed out sadly. “I mean, we don’t know…”

Keith felt his shoulders slump at the heavy reminder that he didn’t actually know when he’d see Shiro again. “I hope it goes well, Shiro.”

A warm smile softened Shiro’s handsome face. “Thanks, Keith… I’m glad I got to come here. It’s so peaceful.”

“Yeah,” Keith whispered in quiet agreement. While Shiro stared at the slowly rising moon, Keith stared at Shiro. Peace existed in this visage.

 

Icy water drew Keith back to himself and he stood on shaky limbs to turn the shower off and wander back out to rub his body with a towel and put on fresh clothes. The ache in his arm remained but Keith didn’t question it too much. If he no longer felt the pain, neither did the other person.

Your soulmate , Keith thought but then shoved the concept away.

He didn’t believe in soulmates and he didn’t want one. He didn’t need one. Whoever they were Keith felt sorry for them but he wasn’t about to put effort into finding them. The only person he wanted to find was Shiro and the evidence of him still being alive kept piling up. All of the energy readings he kept collecting and the ley lines he followed along maps. They were all pointing to something and Keith knew in his heart that something had to do with Shiro.

Anything less was simply unacceptable.

“I’m coming for you, Shiro,” Keith whispered and turned his focus on the latest finding.

 



Pilot Error .

The words dug under Keith’s skin and grated on his heart. The whole school whispered the words like a mantra and Keith couldn’t escape them. Two days after finding out the Garrison blamed Shiro for the failed Kerberos mission, Keith had barely managed to hold himself together. He’d debated on simply leaving the Garrison behind and washing his hands of the entire place but Shiro would want him to stay and continue his schooling, so he was doing his best in Shiro’s memory.

Except, Iverson wouldn’t shut his fucking mouth and Keith’s patience had already worn paper thin. Not even Shiro’s mantra could calm Keith’s anger. Especially, when Iverson began to shoot off the mouth in front of their entire class.

“Sending an inexperienced pilot on such a vital mission was a mistake,” Iverson said as he walked the line of cadets. “We will not make that mistake again. Takashi Shirogane was too proud to admit his shortcomings and because of him, two brilliant scientists are–.”

Shut up ,” Keith growled. For two days he’d held his tongue but no more.

“What was that?” Iverson asked as he wheeled around to face Keith sharply. “Speak up, Cadet, I couldn’t– oof .” Iverson grunted as Keith drove his fist into his eye hard enough to send the man crashing to the floor.

“I said shut up !” Keith screamed in rage. Everyone’s eyes turned to him as gasps ran through his class. Keith didn’t care. “You have no idea what you’re talking about, you fucking piece of shit!”

Iverson remained reeling on the floor while Keith stormed out of the room, shedding his uniform jacket along the way. He didn’t need it anymore. Students jumped out of his way as Keith stormed back to his dorm to pack what little things he had in his possession. He didn’t own much, just a few changes of clothes, his knife, and a box full of Shiro’s clothes and some pictures. He left his school books behind because they didn’t matter anymore. The only thing that mattered now was leaving the Garrison behind for good.

As the door opened, Keith paused as he caught sight of Iverson coming down the hallway. “Back for more?” he asked snidely. “ Sir ?”

Iverson’s eye was bloody and bruised but he always wanted the final word. “You need to learn to control yourself, Cadet,” he snarled. “I should expel you–.”

“Don’t worry,” Keith replied coldly. “I’m leaving.”

He wouldn’t give Iverson the satisfaction of expelling him. Keith left the man stammering in his wake and headed back to his hoverbike. The door clanged shut behind him and Keith stared at the bike and realizing he was standing around waiting for Shiro to join him. Tears choked the air from his lungs but Keith didn’t let them fall. He didn’t have time to cry. He had to leave before Iverson came after him for one final word.

Keith shoved the mourning mantel down his gullet and shouldered the bag he’d packed his and Shiro’s things inside along his back. With one final glanced up toward the Garrison’s roof, Keith left the building behind.

It was time to go home.

 




The energy readings were off the charts tonight.

Something was happening. Keith could feel it in his bones. He didn’t know what possessed him to go outside and hop onto the hoverbike and start back toward the Garrison. He didn’t know what made his aching limbs fly but he darted across the desert like he was chasing after a dream.

Dreams were sugar-coated pills, after all, and Keith was about to swallow one whole.

A red streaking comet in the sky made him stop in the middle of the desert. He watched with wide eyes as it crashed to earth. His heart sped up. Shiro .

Keith didn’t know how he knew but he knew this was the homecoming he’d been wanting for a year. Keith pulled the red scarf he’d worn around his neck up over the bottom half of his face and continued to race across the desert expanse. His heart beat in time with Shiro’s name. The Garrison creeped into the distance and Keith knew the Garrison goonies would beat him to the prize at the end of the comet’s rainbow.

Which was why he’d brought supplies.

Keith flew out a distance away from where the Garrison set up shop around the crashed ship. No time to think, Keith set up the explosives far enough away it would draw the guards but not so close he’d hurt Shiro or anyone else that might be inside with him.

Ten minutes. You have ten minutes.

The hoverbike sped back across the desert as Keith set the bombs off. The explosions in his wake drew enough guards away that Keith managed to pull up outside of the tent the Garrison had set up. With no hesitation, Keith lept from the bike and ran inside and down the hall. The doors opened and Keith was met by scientists in hazmat suits. His fists did all of the talking as he sent the men flying and crashing into equipment.

Keith leaped across a fallen body and over to the table. The adrenaline pumping through his body slid out in waves as he pulled the scarf from his face and he gently reached to turn the man’s face. “Shiro?” he whispered in shock. Shiro’s face slashed with a scar across the bridge of his nose made his own throb but there was no time for thinking or contemplating. He pulled the knife from behind his back and cut Shiro free, sliding his friend’s arm over his shoulders to ease Shiro up on his feet. “I’ve got you, buddy,” he whispered softly.

The sound of more footsteps drew Keith’s panicked gaze and he stared in surprise when three other students barged inside. He didn’t recognize any of them but the tall one seemed to have an immediate beef with him.

“No way, I’m saving, Shiro, Keith .”

Keith frowned as the guy walked up and grabbed Shiro’s other arm to slide over his shoulders. “Who are you?”

“Uh, it’s Lance . Your rival?”

Keith blinked. “Were you a mechanic?”

“No! I was a pilot! You know, Lance and Keith, neck and neck!”

Keith continued to stare at Lance as he tried to place his face and name. “Oh, right,” he said slowly. “You were a cargo pilot.”

“Well, yeah, but not anymore! Fighter pilot now, since you washed out.”

Keith rolled his eyes as they began to drag Shiro back outside. “Congratulations,” he said dryly. The other two students were hot on their heels and Keith realized in dismay he’d gathered stragglers but his top priority had to remain Shiro. As long as he was able to get Shiro to safety, he didn’t care who came for the ride.

“Can we hitch a ride with you?” the big guy asked nervously and hopped onto the hoverbike, almost sending them tipping over.

“Careful, Hunk!” Lance gasped.

Once they were all on board, Keith started the bike up.

“Can this thing even carry us all?” Lance scoffed.

“No,” Keith said but upon the approach of the Garrison’s goonies, he launched them off in the opposite direction anyway. “But we could toss off some non-essential weight.”

Lance paused as he realized Keith had made a joke. “Very funny, Keith.”

Keith smirked at his own joke and sped up, taking them through the desert he knew like the back of his hand with twists and turns. He shouted instructions for the big guy to lean left and right until they approached a cliff. Everyone panicked but Keith knew this landscape, the hoverbike, and his own piloting abilities. They launched off the cliff, leaving the final goonie behind, and Keith guided them down until they almost crashed to the bottom. At the last minute, the bike thrust downward to hover them into the correct direction.

Keith’s racing heart slowed as they approached the desert shack. Shiro was alive and Keith had found him. Everything was going to be okay again.

 


 

W hile everyone slept, Keith stood in the doorway to the bathroom and watched Shiro look himself over in the mirror. Shiro was changed drastically since the last time Keith had seen him but despite the new hair and arm, the only thing Keith had eyes for was the scars over his torso and back.

They mirrored Keith’s.

“Shiro,” he whispered. His voice shook with anticipation.

Shiro slowly turned to face him and Keith stepped into the bathroom and shut the door firmly closed. “Keith–.”

There was no denying it now. The scar across Keith’s nose matched Shiro’s and when Keith took his shirt off, letting it drop to the floor, the look of shock on Shiro’s face sealed the unspoken deal. They were soulmates, forever entwined and tangled in one another. They were always meant to find the other.

“I didn’t think I had a soulmate,” Shiro admitted slowly. “I wanted it to be you… and… I didn’t know… Oh, Keith, I’m so sorry.”

“Sorry?” Keith asked as they came to meet each other in the middle of the cramped space. Their hands groped for one another, pulling each other close. Salty tears decorated their cheeks like falling stars.

“You must have been so afraid and in so much pain.” Shiro cupped Keith’s face with his left hand.

“Weren’t you?” Keith prompted. He reached to take Shiro’s right hand, now cold and metallic against his skin, which explained the phantom pain in Keith’s right arm.

“Yes,” Shiro whispered quietly. “I don’t remember much… My memory is full of holes but I guess it’s better that way.”

“It’s good to have you back, Shiro,” Keith said.

Shiro pressed his forehead slowly against Keith’s. A soft and eager touch. “It’s good to be back.”

Keith closed the distance between them with a soft and hesitant kiss. He’d never kissed someone before but he was glad that Shiro was his first. Shiro’s lips chased his and their arms entwined around one another like the thread that kept their souls bonded.


Keith didn’t believe in soulmates but he was glad he had Shiro home to call his .