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Monsters & Mana (& Mischief)

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"Alright adventurers, are we ready?"

 

Coran's voice was a bit distorted from the comms, but sounded no less loud nor enthusiastic to be their Lore Master again. It was a bit weird looking at a hologram board through the screen of the lions (while also ideally watching where they were flying so as to not slam into any asteroids or space debris), but it worked better than nothing. Before they had left the small planet where Shiro had been revived, in the time it took them to make food and move Shiro's sleeping form into Black, Pidge and Hunk had inquired with Coran about the possibility of playing Monsters & Mana from different physical locations. After all, with Allura being exhausted from her various mystical activities of late, worm holes weren't an option so they had a long flight ahead of them to the next pit stop on Olkarion. And there was no better way to pass the time than to have a much less stressful adventure in the middle of their incredibly stressful one, according to fun experts, Team Punk. 

 

They had only managed to acquire three D20s, but decided that the blue lion, black lion and red lions were the only ones that really needed them. Blue because Coran and Allura were both there. Black because Shiro and Keith were both present, awake, and interested in playing. ...and Red because Lance was a baby and didn't want anyone rolling for him. Pidge and Hunk agreed that Allura could roll for them.

 

"I don't know about you guys, but I still think Pike deserves a bit more adventuring," Lance offered, voice muffled by the straw in his mouth. He had graciously offered to make milkshakes for the others as well before they took off, but surprisingly got no takers. He suspected Allura and her new vocal distaste of milk was partially to blame.

 

Pidge nodded, scrolling through her tablet, "Yeah, I'm probably gonna keep the same character too. We only got one part of that campaign done anyway."

 

"Very well!" Coran smiled, "So only Shiro and Keith need to create new characters then?"

 

Shiro chuckled, "Pretty sure the next generation descendant of Gyro is gonna make an appearance so I don't exactly have much work to do." He and Keith made quite the interesting picture, both bundled in multiple blankets and squished together at Black's helm. Ever since he had woken, Keith had been careful to not risk anything overexerting his new, still exhausted body. That meant that if he could physically be sitting down, he would be, even if Keith had to stand. Shiro himself had advocated that they could share the space, partly because he hated inconveniencing the man who had risked life and limb to save him again, but also because, well...a year or so without a physical body made one rather desperate for some level of contact. Shiro might have felt bad about gluing himself to Keith at all times for the last few days, but he had the distinct feeling that Keith probably wasn't all that uncomfortable with it.

 

They were both made of long limbs and muscle though, so the fit was tight to say the very least. Shiro assumed the reason everyone was quiet was because they were amused by the extremely uncharacteristic way Keith was contently nestled against him, but Hunk coughed and broke the silence.

 

"Uhh, does that mean you have...his memories?"

 

He didn't need to clarify who he was talking about. Shiro's double...the clone, or as the group had gone about referring to him, Kuron, hadn't exactly vacated his body when Allura dropped Shiro's soul into it. But rather than a complex struggle or any dramatic "death of a spirit", it was more like all of Kuron's memories just sort of...inserted themselves into slots where Shiro had none. He had some doubles, the first time Kuron had successfully piloted Black, the events of Naxzela, but it was more like the images overlaid upon each other. Strange, but not overly painful. Keith, when Shiro had first found the words to describe the phenomenon, had lamented that discovery. "He must have had no reason to think he wasn't actually you. Up until Haggar turned him against us, he was you for all intents and purposes in his mind. I wonder...if he realized what she was making him do."

 

Shiro hadn't yet had the heart to confirm that Kuron was conscious for every painstaking moment of his time possessed by Haggar. It broke his heart to even think of. He also had yet to fully explain that that meant he knew everything that happened at that compound. Shiro knew he would have to talk about the fight and...what was said by both parties eventually. But he was loath to try when Keith had no way to go off on his own and decompress. The younger man had always functioned better when given time to work through things on his own. Keith had changed a lot on his two year voyage with his mom to the quantum abyss, but he doubted that much had changed.

 

Shiro nodded. "For the most part. It's hard to explain. But suffice it to say that I remember his excellent character design choices and agree with them thoroughly." He chuckled at the immediate groans of the rest of the party.

 

"What class was Gyro, exactly?" Keith pipped up, still scrolling through the list of available classes and races.

 

"A freaking paladin, of course! Because Space Dad over here doesn't get enough paladin action on a daily basis apparently," Lance grouched teasingly.

 

Allura giggled, "His backstory was very...well defined as well. A lot of thought was put into it."

 

"Something about his beloved master being slain and him vowing to avenge him or something?" Keith drawled, sounding slightly sarcastic, not looking up from his tablet. The stunned silence and Shiro tensing next to him drew his eyes to the screen. "What, really? That's it? Shiro, you absolute loser."

 

"I don't know if I'm impressed that Keith knows you that well or disappointed that you're that predictable, Shiro," Pidge chortled, wide smile stretched upon her face.

 

"Loser?" Shiro's cry was indignant. "That is one of the single most iconic back stories ever!"

 

Keith raised an eyebrow. "Yeah, it is. In every B list Kung Fu movie you ever forced me to watch at 2am."

 

Lance's excited cry was infectious. "Shiro likes trashy action flicks?! Yes! I knew you had to have some sort of weird quirk somewhere in that Golden Boy brain of yours! I so know what we are doing as soon as we get to Earth."

 

"What's Kung Fu?" Romelle questioned from behind an equally confused Allura.

 

"A noble fighting style," Shiro asserted at the same time Keith deadpanned, "A real way of fighting that's been defiled by too many awful movies to count."

 

"Do you consider Kung Fury to be an awful movie Keith?" Hunk asked jokingly.

 

Keith threw his head back a bit in a laugh. "No, it's the only good thing Shiro has ever shown me. Triceracop is my hero."

 

"You would say that, you heathen. I have never been more betrayed. And by you of all people, Keith. Hear that? That's the sound of my heart breaking."

 

Keith merely rolled his eyes at Shiro's dramatics, and turned his attention back to Coran. "Ok, so what do I need to decide here so we can get started?"

 

"Right! So, the mighty warriors left off having defeated Dakin and now search for information concerning the deadly Leviathan. They have journeyed to an inn to rest and recharge after such a strenuous battle. There, they encounter a new face!" Coran paused in his passionate spiel, motioning to Keith. "Create a character for yourself. Choose a class and then a race that best fits that class. The program will auto populate stats for you based on your race and class stats. Then introduce yourself to the group and tell me, the Lore Master, whether you will join the group willingly or need to be recruited."

 

Keith nodded. As he thought, Lance smirked at the screen. "Remember our bets, Pidge, Hunk."

 

Allura cocked her head to the side. "You placed a bet? On what?"

 

"On what character I'd make probably, since, ya know, it's Lance" Keith mentioned.

 

Pidge scratched her head, "Keith, you know I have nothing but respect for you, but you are just about as predictable as Shiro. We just disagreed on which character trait of yours would most influence your decision."

 

Keith's eyes crinkled a bit in a sinister smirk. "Oh yeah? Alright then, let's see how well you did." Inputting his choices into the tablet, he addressed Coran. "My character's name is Yorak, the halfling Bard."

 

"What?!"

 

Coran grinned, "Ah, yes, Bards. One of the most diverse character classes in the game. And yet, rarely one of the most combative. Halfings especially use their magic abilities to enhance their songs to rejuvenate their allies and weaken their foes. Do tell, Sir Yorak, how might the mighty warriors enlist your services?"

 

"I'm a Bard for hire," Keith explains, eyeing Lance and Pidge's flabbergasted faces with glee. "I go where I think I can find a good story and will lend my Lute and my voice to anyone willing to make it worth my time. I got like really high ranks on my speech skills too, full disclosure, so you probably won't be able to trick me into doing anything."

 

"Very well! The group of noble warriors notice a Bard enjoying a drink in the corner of the inn. Knowing that they would need more allies to stand a chance against the Leviathan, they attempt to devise a way to recruit the halfing musician. Which one of you will attempt to persuade him to join you?"

 

Hunk, still a bit red faced from withholding his laughter, offered, "most of our persuasion skills suck."

 

Allura nodded, looking puzzled. "We don't have any money really either. Whatever we do have still has to buy us supplies."

 

"If I may," Pidge started, looking a bit sly, "Bards do love a good story. Maybe you'd be able to enthrall him with your tale of woe and glory, Gyro."

 

Shiro sighed, grumbling "Yeah, that's what I thought you would say, you jerks." Keith grinned at him from his left side. "Fine. Gyro approaches the Bard. Hello, good Bard! My comrades and I seek companions to join us on our sacred quest to defeat the wretched Leviathan. Would you be so kind as to lend us your strength?"

 

Keith twirled a lock of hair around his finger, smile still upon his lips. "The Leviathan you say? That, my friend, is a fool's errand. No mortal as stood against it's mighty power and lived to tell the tale. Why would expect that your group would be any different?"

 

Shiro blinked, looking to his teammates for assistance. Lance whistled, taking another sip of his milkshake. "Geez, you're pretty good at this, Keith. I got nothing."

 

"I mean," Hunk reasoned, "he's gotta join us to play, so we have to be able to work something out. Just like...ask what he wants or something?"

 

"Try this: if no one has ever lived to tell the tale, then wouldn't being the first make for an excellent tale to tell? And I'm sure we would be richly rewarded for our efforts," Allura explained.

 

Shiro nodded and repeated Allura's words. Keith nodded, pretending to think. "Yes, it would certainly be an entertaining story, and any man to slay the Leviathan would end up rich. But the risk is simply too great to throw one's life away on the chance that your merry group succeeds." A collective groan made Keith smile. "But, I do find this offering to be better than most. So, I shall take this gamble on you all, on one condition."

 

Shiro grinned, "Of course, good Sir Bard. Anything that is within our power."

 

Keith looked at the screen, "Coran I just sent you a private message. Is that action possible?"

 

Coran snorted, holding a hand over his face, which turned more and more red by the moment. Shiro swallowed heavily, suddenly very afraid of what his best friend was plotting. "Coran..."

 

"Uh, yes. Yes. It is, certainly possible. You'd need to make a skill check, but it is doable."

 

Keith grinned. "Excellent." Turning to meet Shiro's weary gaze, Keith mused, "You seem a virtuous man, Sir Paladin. Likely so dedicated to your duty that you've lacked the time for more...personal pursuits?"

 

Shiro's eyes narrowed. "Y-yes..." Lance leaned closer to the screen, mouth still full of his last sip of milkshake. Pidge and Hunk bit their lips and Allura looked excited. "What do you request, Sir Bard?"

 

"You. In my bed this evening."

 

Lance spit his milkshake all over Red's dash, his wild coughing mixing perfectly with Pidge's shocked, hysterical laughter and Hunk's low groan of discomfort. Allura's jaw gaped, eyes flying to Coran to confirm that he was really letting Keith do this.

 

Shiro, on the other hand, was doing his best impression of a tomato. Suddenly, he was cursing his decision to let Keith sit anywhere near him, finding them far too close after such a blatant come on, if only fictional. Fictional or not, the very idea hit a little closer to home than Keith probably knew. He and Keith had always had an extremely easy relationship, once the original period of convincing the boy he was worthy of his time was over. Before Kerberos, they'd spent most of their free time together with no hesitation. Sure, Shiro was friendly with other people, but Keith was his only real, close friend. He and Keith were family, the closest of friends, and yes, he was also a mentor type figure in the boy's life. He had often wondered what their friendship would be like when Keith had outgrown the need for Shiro's guidance. 

 

More recently he began to find out that it wasn't that Keith never needed his help anymore, but rather that he now needed Keith's just as much. They were equals now, even if Keith had a hard time seeing it that way. Ever since they had joined Team Voltron, Shiro had been trying to categorize this new dynamic. Keith had always shined brightly, amazing Shiro constantly. But now, the light burned Shiro, just a little bit, deep down in his gut like a brand. Especially now, in the purple glow of Black's monitor, those glimmering violet eyes and a cocky smile made his heart stutter in a way he was having a hard time coming to terms with.

 

Kuron's memories of that fight whispered a phrase, three words spoken pleadingly, but very honestly, and he considered briefly that maybe he did have the words for it. Maybe he just was a bit scared to admit it. It's not the right time for this, his mind argued. The thought left him feeling somewhat unsatisfied with that answer though.

 

Coran's voice brought him out of his musing. "You need to roll for persuasion, Keith. Higher roll means higher chance of your request being successful."

 

Keith shot a look at Shiro, as if to ask if it was fine to continue. It's just a game, Shiro told himself, and nodded, smiling as honestly as he could. Keith shook the die in his hand a couple times before letting it drop onto the dashboard. Shiro couldn't help the indignant "Are you quiznaking kidding me?" he spewed and he cupped his hand over his eyes.

 

"What?! What did you roll?" Pidge's voice was far too amused.

 

Keith doubled over in silent laughter, shaking his head a bit. Shiro sighed long and hard before admitting. "He rolled a 20."

 

It was a long few moments before anyone could talk coherently. Even Shiro couldn't help but chuckle in disbelief. Coran tried several times to narrated the scene, but only got as far as "T-the Bard's haughty invitation intrigues the Paladin so much that he...he.." before breaking out into more laughter.

 

Eventually, Lance, shaking his cherry red face, managed, "They boned. All. Night. Long. And Gyro came back to us with a new friend but no V card."

 

Keith snorted loudly at that, wheezing into more laughter, which spread like wildfire again at the unflattering sound. When they managed to collect themselves for a moment, Coran suggested they take a couple minute break before starting the real mission on the campaign and everyone waved before cutting the comm connection for the moment. Keith wiped tears from the corners of his eyes, sniffling a bit, but still with a gorgeous wide smile on his face. Embarrassing as it was, Shiro had to admit that being the butt of everyone's amusement was probably fine if it meant Keith was having that much fun. It had been such a long time since anything had made Keith laugh like that.

 

Leaning back in the chair a bit, Keith met Shiro's eyes. "Sorry about that. I honestly didn't expect that to work."

 

Shiro shook his head, eyes rolling. "You just had to go and tarnish the purity of my Paladin like that, didn't you? Poor Gyro. You're such a James Bond villain, Keith."

 

Keith grinned, "at least I don't plan to stab you now that I've had my way with you?"

 

"Lies and deceit. I now wait with baited breath for you to decide to betray me at a critical moment."

 

Keith's smile vanished, eyes widening a bit. Somber looked so awful on him after half an hour or so of smiles and giggles. His voice was quiet, almost like telling a secret, when he murmured, "I would never betray you. Ever." His tone was final, serious. Shiro knew that. Of course, Shiro knew that. How many times had Keith thrown himself head first into danger, almost certain death, to protect Shiro? Too many. Far too many. 

 

Shiro reached down to grab one of Keith's hands and hold it gently with his own. His thumb traced Keith's knuckles gently as he replied, just as softly, "I know." Keith closed his eyes and turned his hand, threading his fingers through Shiro's. They fit nicely together. Keith's hands were small compared to his, but he knew better than to assume anything about their strength from their size. Those hands had carried his sleeping, battered body single-handedly onto this ship only a couple days ago, after all.

 

They sat like that, in the near silence of the cockpit, hands still locked. Shiro knew that Krolia was in the back somewhere with the space wolf, affectionately named Blink for it's ability to teleport. He wondered if she was bothered by all the noise, but rationalized that in all likelihood, she was probably just as happy as he was to hear Keith laughing so much. 

 

A light on the dashboard flickered on, indicating that another comm line had opened. Keith blinked at it lazily, making no move to join them yet. Shiro felt similarly. How long had it been since he and Keith had had enough time to just sit in the same space and just...exist? They used to spend so much time doing their own work in the same location at the Garrison. Not talking, not even doing similar activities. Just being in the same place, content to be together. Now, the concept seemed almost foreign. War had kept them busy before Shiro had died, kept Keith and Kuron apart for the most part, and would likely sweep them right back up when they arrived at their destination. Shiro longed a bit for those old times, wished to go back to when he had dreams of a bright future where he and Keith could be copilots and reach out to touch those stars they gazed at endlessly, fruitlessly from the Garrison roof before. He didn't dare dream of elaborate plans for after the war, because there was no telling when it would end or what the universe would be like at it's conclusion.

 

His eyes met Keith's again. War was no time for...personal pursuits as Keith called it. Logically he knew that. But they'd be shown time and time again that nothing was guaranteed to last. The odds were still stacked against them, so saving things for after the war felt more like giving them up. This thing between them still felt nebulous and frightening, but he'd rather have something to fight for, something to build a future on later, than hold back because he should. He was done being the ever virtuous Golden Boy.  He was a human and he wanted things just like any other human.

 

He wasn't nearly strong enough to deny himself this one.

 

A small smile crept onto his face as he mused that maybe he and Gyro were much more similar than he thought. Both were easily seduced by Keith, and both probably stood something much more important to gain from it than virtue could sustain.

 

"Hey," he started, fingers squeezing Keith's. "If we don't answer soon, they're going to assume our roleplay got a bit more live action than originally intended."

 

Keith smiled. "Should I roll the die?"

 

Shiro shook his head, untangling his hand from Keith's to read for the comm button. "Nah." Before he pressed it, he smiled sweetly back at Keith, enjoying the red across his cheeks. "You wouldn't need to persuade me much for that one."