Keith doesn’t know how long, exactly, he’s spent by Shiro’s side.
He just knows that, since Allura had magically restored Shiro’s soul into the clone body, he hasn’t left. And if it’s up to him, he won’t be, ever again. He won’t repeat his mistakes.
As soon as Shiro had woken up, collapsing against Keith’s sturdy chest and whispering a weak you found me, he’d passed out again. Probably due to exhaustion and pain from the wounds Kuron had suffered. Wounds that I gave him, Keith sniffles, as he cradles Shiro to his chest. He brushes the now white hair away from Shiro’s face and looks up at his team again.
Allura clears her throat and behind her, Hunk dries his eyes. Somewhere in the background, he hears someone blow their noes. Probably Coran. He knows they’re all relieved and more than a little emotional at getting Shiro back.
“As much as we’d all like to rest and replenish our energy, I’m afraid we must get moving. The journey to Earth will be a long one, Paladins.”
Keith nods at Allura, “You’re right Princess. Everyone, I know we’re all exhausted, but we should hurry and load the Lions quickly. We’ll figure out a place we can stop to rest at once we’re off this planet.”
“Yeah,” Hunk agrees, “I feel like we’re sitting ducks here.”
“Alright, everyone,” says Allura as she turns to face the rest of the team, Romelle, and Krolia, “Let’s get into the Lions.”
Once the team has gotten everything packed, they split off to get into their lions.
“Romelle, you’re welcome to join Coran and me in the Blue Lion,” Allura shoots her fellow Altean a small smile, “I’m sure you’ve got a lot to tell us.”
“Hey, how come the pretty girls never ride with me?” Lance grumbles to Hunk and Pidge as they all head to their respective Lions. Keith hears them begin to bicker and smiles. It’s good to be back with the others.
Once everyone is relatively settled in, they’re off.
No one had uttered a word when Keith had gathered Shiro in his arms and made for Black.
Krolia hadn’t followed her son, either. Instead, she’d followed Hunk, who she’d grown somewhat fond of in the last few doboshes, only looking back to nod at her son with a faint smile.
“If you need me, I’m only a Lion away.”
Now, they’re flying through space at a relatively quick pace, though he doesn’t know for how long they’ve been cooped up. Keith sighs when he thinks of how quick this journey would have been if they’d still had the Castle. He still feels a pang of pain at the loss of their former home.
It doesn’t matter, he thinks as he glances at Shiro’s figure lying peacefully in the cot behind him, accompanied by Blink on the floor at his side, Shiro’s safe and that’s more than good enough for me.
To be fair, it wasn’t like anyone was diligently keeping track of time. The comms had been on for the first little while, but once Hunk and Lance had started arguing about the best pizza place back home, with Krolia inputting her own opinion, recalling her time spent on Earth, Keith had rubbed his temples and shut them off.
Then, all he’d had to keep himself occupied was the silence and his thoughts.
Now, he hears the rustling of fabric and a low groan, and Keith whips his head around to watch as Shiro shifts on the cot, his face scrunched up in pain.
He quickly moves to Shiro’s side and places his hand on his best friend’s forehead. It’s a bit warmer than normal and he sighs. He can’t wait till they’re back on Earth so that Shiro can get proper medical attention.
“You’re okay, Shiro. I got you.”
“Keith.” Shiro mumbles, eyes still closed shut. At least he’s not shifting around anymore, Keith thinks. Then, Shiro’s eyes snap open, and Keith finds himself staring into their depths.
All of a sudden, it hits him that this is Shiro, his Shiro.
Shiro, who had taken a young, impulsive Keith under his wing and taught him to be a better person, to be patient and think things through, and to learn from his mistakes and grow from them. Shiro, who’d never given up on Keith, even when he was difficult and let his anger get the best of him. Shiro, who’d brought Keith with him to the Kerberos launch in what seems like a lifetime ago, placed his hand on Keith’s shoulder, pointed at the sky and said with a proud smile, you’ll be up there with me, someday.
Shiro, who’d returned to Keith a broken man, but still had the strength to jump right into a war against the same people who’d hurt him, all with a soft smile and supportive hand on his shoulder. Shiro, who’d led their team through all their first battles, and was ready to sacrifice everything in order to save the cosmos.
Shiro, who had died in the battle with Zarkon ages ago, who’d been missing for months until someone with the same face but different aura had appeared to take his place. Shiro, who, after countless battles and even more scars, both physical and not, had finally been returned to Keith.
His Shiro, Keith finds his eyes watering at the thought. Still, he brushes a few stray strands for Shiro’s hair away from his eyes and smiles softly.
Shiro blinks again, almost as if he doesn’t totally believe what his eyes are seeing, and Keith’s smile grows wider at this. I’m really here, and so are you.
“How’s your head? You passed out pretty much right after you woke up, yesterday. I was worried.”
Shiro clears his throat and it occurs to Keith that he’s probably in need of some water.
"Hold on, don’t try to speak,” and with that, Keith jogs across Black’s cockpit to retrieve a bottle of water from their supply pile. He returns to Shiro and gently lifts his head.
“Here, drink this, first."
Shiro moves to sip from the bottle in Keith’s hand, and Keith carefully tips the water into his mouth. Once Shiro’s had enough, he taps Keith’s wrist and Keith moves the bottle away. He recaps it and sets it to the side, and gently lowers Shiro’s head back onto his pillow.
Shiro grimaces, “It’s.. getting there. Still a mess, if I’m being honest.”
Keith signs as he absentmindedly combs through Shiro’s hair.
“Yeah, I bet..”
Keith thinks of Kuron, then. He wonders if his memories are now in Shiro’s head, or if they disappeared when Allura brought Shiro back. He can’t decide which would be worse if he’s honest.
"Shiro, your memories..” Keith begins but then stops himself. Now’s not the time, he thinks. Shiro’s still healing. No point in making him worry about something that’s not really relevant at the moment.
He must be easy to read, though, because Shiro answers his unasked question.
“I have them, you know. Kuron’s memories, I mean. They’re all there. Blurry, mixed up, and out of order, but there. I’m still trying to–”
“Shiro, it’s okay,“ Keith cuts him off, "I don’t need an explanation. I just want you to heal.”
Shiro looks at him then, almost as if he’s seeing him but not, and it’s long enough for Keith to begin to worry.
"Shiro? Are you okay?”
Shiro snaps out of his daze and smiles, though there’s something different about it now.
“Shiro..” Keith frowns, having known him long enough to know that something was off.
“I’m sorry, I’m fine. Something just.. came to me. It’s nothing.”
Keith sighs yet again but decides to let it go. Shiro will tell him when he’s ready, Keith’s sure of that. He smiles down at Shiro again, but it dims a little when he notices Shiro’s eyes beginning to droop closed.
“Okay, well. You still look exhausted. We’re set on a course to earth, and for the moment, won’t be stopping anywhere. You should get some more sleep. God knows how much you need it.”
Shiro shifts his head towards Keith, eyes closed and lips turned upwards in a tender smile.
“Heh, When did you get all grown up, huh?” he murmurs as Keith continues carding his hand through Shiro’s white locks.
Keith chuckles at that.
“The two years Mom and I spent on a space whale travelling through a strange rift in space-time helped, I’m sure.”
Shiro hums, and his smile grows.
“You’ll have to tell me more, soon, yeah?” he drifts off as he leans into Keith’s touch and settles into his cot.
Keith can’t help the sudden surge of fondness that courses through him, and he feels the tension slip from his muscles. Shiro looks so serene at that moment, that Keith can’t help but lean down and press a small kiss to his forehead.