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a fire that won't go out

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Like angels falling from heaven, the Lions plummet towards Earth. It would have been beautiful, a rainbow meteor shower lighting up the sky if it wasn’t for the people he loved being trapped inside.

“MFE pilots, launch now!” Shiro ordered. “Each take one of the lions! Atlas has Black.”

The Black Lion hurtled straight towards them, impacting into one of the Garrison’s runways.

“Send a ground unit out, quick!” Shiro ordered. “Atlas, prepare to go back into orbit, we need to reconfigure so we can land.”

It was painful to say those words. To rise further and further away from Keith. He wanted to be out there with the ground team, but he had to guide Atlas back into its ship form.

He’s buzzing with impatience. As soon as Atlas was back, he rushed from the bridge to one of the smaller fighter jets, heading back down to Earth’s surface.

The Black Lion made a huge crater on the runway, partially burying the Lion in the rubble. They’re still trying to dig out an entrance to the Black Lion when Shiro lands.

Something’s not right - he can feel it in his bones. The Atlas was in his sights now through the clouds, and in an instant a glowing blue wolf landed at his side, looking just as worried as Shiro.

Good boy.

Shiro grabbed onto his fur, and then all the light went out around him.

It was dark in the Black Lion’s cargo hold, but despite the bond with Black being broken, Shiro knew the Lion like the back of his hand.

As he rushed to the cockpit, all he could think about was how that was where he had died. And that that was where Keith was now.

There’s a sliver of light coming through the windows, and it’s enough for Shiro to see red. The red of Keith’s armor, the cracked helmet on the ground, the pool of blood, Keith’s face, covered in it.

He and Kosmo rushed to Keith’s side, and before Shiro could even properly assess Keith, Kosmo teleported them out of there.

It scared the crew, but they snapped into action, taking Keith away from him and onto a stretcher.

Shiro didn’t even get the chance to make sure Keith was alive.

Miraculously, all the Paladins were alive. Concussions all around. Bruised ribs for Lance, Allura, and Pidge, and a gash on Hunk’s head. Those four are resting in their rooms, sleeping for the second day straight.

All their families are hovering over their beds, watching them with awe and anticipation. Here they were alive, here they were looking like they were dead.

Shiro wished he had that luxury.

Keith’s still in the ICU, and even with Shiro’s new rank, he still can’t see him.

Sam reminded him that there was work to be done and that Keith wouldn’t want Shiro to worry.

Well, he was going to worry. But he could at least put his nervous energy into something other than thinking about how to break into a secure ward of the hospital.

By the end of the week, they’ve managed to get a message to Olkarion and the Coalition. Forces to help rebuild and regroup will be there soon. He got to talk to Matt for a little bit - reassure him that his family was fine, that Pidge was still at the hospital but was awake and free to roam about.

Allura, Hunk, and Lance were awake as well, but they were more than content to stay in their beds with their families around them. They’d be sore for a long while.


“They let him out of the ICU two days ago,” Shiro told Matt. “He’s in worse shape than the others. He hasn’t woken up yet.”

“He didn’t do anything reckless martyr stuff again, did he?” Matt asked, worry not at all masked by his exasperation.

“Again? Matt what are you-?”

“Shiro, I gotta go,” Matt said. “I’ll- we’ll talk when I’m back on Earth.”

Matt cut the line, and Shiro’s left with more uneasiness than before.

Keith’s been out of the ICU for two weeks now, and he hasn’t woken up yet.

He looks gaunt and limp, with bandages around his head and an IV drip in his arm. The scar on his cheek is a stark contrast to his pale skin. He’s never in his life seen Keith look so fragile .

Everyone - Shiro, the paladins, Coran, Romelle, Pidge’s parents - convenes in Hunk’s room, since it’s the biggest and Hunk still gets a little dizzy walking too much.

“Do they know why Keith hasn’t woken yet?” Allura asked. She was next to Lance on a bench, leaning against him as he hugged her knees to her chest.

It’s Iverson that’s giving them the update, not a doctor, and that’s worrying. Like they need a familiar face to break the news.

“At first the doctors thought that Keith received the brunt of the explosion, or perhaps had the hardest landing,” Iverson said, weariness in his one eye. “But once they had him on the operating table -” And Shiro sees Keith, tied down like Shiro once was, his chest ripped open, blood everywhere “-they concluded that the extent of his injuries was due previous injuries that had been recently obtained, and hadn’t been treated properly.”

“Keith did get a little roughed up when we fought the druid,” Pidge said, leaning into her mother’s side. “But he was on his feet again...”

“Keith’s always been a bit more resilient than us too, thanks to his Galra lineage.”

“Wait- his Galra WHAT ?”

“Oops. See…”

The rest of the conversation travels off into the distance as Shiro is transported back to the facility. Pushing Keith back, kicking him, tackling him down levels and levels, holding a sword to his throat-

“This is my fault.” Shiro scrubbed his face with his hand. “This is all my fault.”

“Shiro…” Allura said, the first one to speak in the now quiet room. “It’s not your fault, we all chose-”

“Iverson,” Shiro cut in. “What were the injuries? The older ones?”

Iverson looked uncomfortable. Whether from just learning that Keith was part Galra or from the tension in the room, Shiro was unsure. Iverson opened the folder.

“He had several broken ribs from the crash, but the doctors determined that some of his ribs had been broken recently, and were in the process of healing,” Iverson said.

And Shiro could recall the feeling of his fist colliding with Keith. The sound of the crack and of Keith’s scream. He can recall the desire to kill-

“He has a cracked skull and a lot of swelling in his brain. That and along with his collapsed lung and blood loss, it’s honestly a miracle that he’s alive.” Iverson said. “He’s healing just fine. The doctors said that he could be awake now.

Iverson excused himself, but Shiro barely registers all that’s going on around him.

If Keith had been in good shape before the fight, he wouldn’t be this bad. If Keith had told them about his injuries even, they could have helped. But Keith was too busy worrying about him, too busy worrying about everyone else. He always was putting everyone else first, even when he shouldn’t.

“Shiro?” Shiro looked up at the hand on his shoulder. Hunk’s eyes were worried and warm. “Keith’s strong - he’ll get through this like everything else. When he wakes there’s no way he’s blaming it on you, so you shouldn’t either.”

“But he should,” Shiro said, and his hands clenched into fists. They didn’t know - they needed to know. They needed to know he was dangerous in case this ever happened again. “The clone’s memories are my own. It’s like I lived them.” Shiro sucked in a sharp breath. “I remember kicking Keith in the chest. I remember twisting his arm, wanting it to break. I remember telling him he’s worthless and pushing him off a ledge, I remember wanting to kill him, my arm a sword against his throat-”

“Shiro, that wasn’t you-”

“I gave him that scar!” Shiro stood abruptly. “I held him down. I told him to let go because I had already killed all of you. I held him down and he- he-”

“Shiro, please.” Keith choked out. “You’re my brother.”

Shiro only pressed harder.

“I love you.”

And for a moment, Shiro froze, a flicker - and then the urge to kill was back.

It wasn’t until his knees were giving out that he realized that Lance and Coran had made it over to his side, holding him up.

“I did this to him.” Shiro’s voice cracked.

He hurt Keith. He had wanted to kill him. But that wasn’t all. Shiro was the reason he was the Black Paladin at all.

“If it wasn’t for you, my life would have been a whole lot different.”

He doesn’t deserve Keith. He doesn’t deserve his friendship or his devotion or his love-

Shiro’s robotic arm shot out, punching the wall and embedding itself there. He was so full of conflict that when he ran out of the room, the arm stayed there.

Shiro fell asleep at Keith’s bedside. His head on the edge of the bed and his face sticky from tears.

When he woke, his arm was back. Keith wasn’t.

Despite constant reassurances from the team, Shiro still blamed himself. He had blamed himself before, too, but with all that’s happened, he’d been a bit distracted. Now, all the evidence of his wrongdoing was as bright as day.

“We saved each other.”

Shiro doesn’t feel like he’s done his part.

Despite all their time traveling through space, Shiro never got the chance to talk to Keith alone. Krolia was there too, or Keith was busy piloting Black, then Pidge asked Shiro to ride with her so they could discuss communications.

Shiro would be lying to himself if he said he wasn’t avoiding it, though. He had no idea what to say, how to start.

Now he’s worried he’ll never get the chance.

“Today is a solemn day.”

That’s an understatement, but Shiro had to be put together when addressing not only the entire population of Earth, but all of the Coalition forces as well.

He was tired, down to his bones. He’d been up all night at Keith’s bedside trying to write the speech. He filled an entire basket with crumpled up papers by the time the sun had rose.

(Keith didn’t wake).

The words he’d come up with stale scribbles on a wrinkled page. He thought of Adam, who had died during the invasion. He felt more guilty than anything. Shiro was the one who was supposed to die young, not Adam. Never Adam.

And not Keith either. But he wasn’t giving up hope. He had never given up on Keith and he wasn’t about to now. He’d stay by Keith’s bedside as long as he’d need too. All the Paladins would - they were family now.

It’s not until the crowd roars in applause that he realized he was finished speaking. Judging from the crowd reaction, and Iverson’s expression, he must have done something right.

It took way longer than it should for Shiro to make his way off the stage, but everyone wanted to shake his hand, to personally thank him and - that’s great and all. But that’s not what he wants or needs.

Iverson grabbed his attention, and Shiro’s thankful to-

“Keith’s awake.”

It’s a bolt of electricity to his system, and he can’t contain himself. All the decorum a Captain should have flied out the window as Shiro began to sprint to the medical facility.

He barely registered who he was passing as he made it to Keith’s room. People were calling his name but he just he had to keep going he had to keep-

Shiro skidded to a halt in the doorway to Keith’s room.

Krolia was sitting on the edge of the bed, Kolivan standing next to her, they were looking at him now but they had been talking to-

Keith. Keith, awake. Keith, sitting up. Keith, with a little color in his cheeks. Keith, alive.

Shiro felt like he was going through jelly. It was as if an eternity had passed from the time it took him to get to the door to Keith’s bedside.

With his human arm, he pulled Keith into a hug, careful of his injuries but still pulling him in as close as possible. Keith grabbed back, his arms around Shiro, his face in the crook of his neck. He couldn’t tell who was shaking, or if it was both of them.

“Shiro,” Keith said, and Shiro’s heart soared. It had been so long since he heard his name from those lips. “You’re okay.”

Shiro barked out a laugh. Of course, Keith would be the one to reassure him, to protect him, to save him.

“As many times as it takes.”

Shiro pulled back just enough so he could see Keith’s face. Vaguely, he realized that Kolivan and Krolia had left and he silently thanked them for it. His robot hand came up, but Shiro couldn’t bring himself to touch Keith’s scar.

“You’ve been in a coma for almost a month now,” Shiro said, a lump hard in his throat. “They- the doctors weren’t sure when you’d wake up -  if you’d wake up.”

Keith brought one of his hands to the back of Shiro’s head, through his hair. “I’m not going anywhere. You’re never getting away from me ever again, remember?”

It’s too much. It’s all too much. Shiro doesn’t deserve it, but he’s only human and he’s selfish.

“I love you.” The words cannot be contained any longer. And before Keith could even react, Shiro burst and kissed him.

He wanted to be gentle, to be chaste - but Keith kept his head there, and he’s eager, he’s opening himself to Shiro-

The sound of Keith’s heart rate monitor spiking has Shiro jolting back.

There’s pink in Keith’s cheeks, and he’s beautiful and breathing, and alive .

“You need to take it easy,” Shiro said, and he’s pretty sure he’s flushing red himself. “You’re still on bedrest.”

“Then get in bed,” Keith said, and Shiro’s brain came to an abrupt halt.

When it restarted, Keith had scooted over, to give Shiro room to sit on the bed with him.

Shiro slid next to Keith, his arm around Keith’s shoulders, one of Keith’s hands on his thigh, playing with the bottom of his jacket.

“I heard your speech,” Keith said. “Very moving, Captain.”

Shiro felt a little heat at Keith’s voice wrapped around Captain , but he shook that away. “Honestly? I don’t even remember what I said.”

“I was busy thinking about how I’d rather be here.” Shiro continued. “How after all the loss we and the world face I wasn’t going to let you be added to that list.”

Keith squeezed his hand. They sat in silence for a while, just the sound of breathing and heartbeats, and for the first time in a while, it wasn’t deafening.

“How are the others?” Keith asked.

“They’ll all be getting out of here tomorrow. They’re eager to help rebuild the city.” Shiro said. “Keith. You’ve been in a coma for over three weeks now.”

Keith snorted next to him. “If I’ve been asleep that long, why don’t I feel rested?”

“Keith.” And Keith said he made bad jokes. Shiro ran his other hand gently in Keith’s hair, careful to avoid the bandage. “You had a lot of swelling in your brain. And… you were worse than the others because you were already roughed up. By me.”

Keith stilled next to him. “Shiro."

“Our fight… you’d never got the proper medical attention you needed. Your ribs were weak. I remember-”

“You may have his memories,” Keith said, pushing himself up so that he could face Shiro. “But that wasn’t you.”

“I remember the feeling, Keith. I remember wanting to hurt you.”

“And I remember you bailing me out of juvie,” Keith said with such force that it surprised Shiro. “I remember you never giving up on me when I was a cadet, no matter how many times I screwed up. I remember you supporting me through the Trails of Marmora and all that came after. I remember you reaching out through the Black Lion to help me save everyone, Shiro.”

Keith’s angry, up in Shiro’s face so close he can feel the hot panting of Keith’s breath on his face. Keith’s heart rate monitor has spiked.

“I remember everything about you,” Keith said. “I remember everything, and I love you.”

Shiro doesn’t realize that there were tears running down his face until Keith wiped one away.

“I love you, too,” Shiro said, not at all embarrassed by the cracking of his voice.

Keith pulled him close then, his arms around him, pressing Shiro’s face into his neck. Somehow, always, Keith would be the one comforting him, despite being chained to a hospital bed. Keith had told him the truth, like always: he’d save him, as many times as it takes.

A knock on the door made them pull apart just enough to see who was at the door.

“There’s kind of a crowd out here that wants to see you.” It was Krolia, her head sticking through the doorway. They could hear the clatter of voices behind her. Lance and Hunk and Pidge and Allura and Coran and Romelle and was that Matt too?

Keith let out a small laugh, a laugh that could light up a room. “Send them in.”

Krolia didn’t even have time to when the crowd pushed passed her. It was chaotic - the nurses telling them to calm down, all the paladins talking at once, trying to hug Keith, making sure he was okay.

Shiro stayed pressed to Keith’s side the whole time. He watched as Keith laughed and smiled, teased Lance and checked on Hunk. His scar was bright against his skin, but his smile was brighter.

That’s what mattered.