When Coran had been a child, he’d spent hours with Pop-Pop looking after his nest of dan-dee-dozies, playing beautiful melodies on his argator to encourage them. Left in the wild they would only mate with one another once a year, if Altea’s sun was in exactly the right position relative to both moons, the humidity was below 20%, and the wind chill factor was fifteen or lower. Even then, they would sometimes fall out of the nest and not be able to climb back up, or they would get to the first stage of singing sweetly and longingly to each other and then fall asleep, or they would try to make love to their nestmates’ right flimbles instead of their central partle.
Despite their best efforts and those of other animal enthusiasts, the dan-dee-dozy had become extinct on Altea before Coran was in his hundredth year. Oh, how Pop-Pop had wept!
Watching Shiro and Keith get together was a lot like that, except Shiro and Keith were slower than dan-dee-dozies, and even more stupid.
Shiro liked to hold his briefings on the bridge, the paladins circled around him (Keith always next to him, providing a united front as the Black Paladin of Voltron and the Commander of Earth’s forces), the MFE pilots on an outer circle around them, and the Atlas’s crew turned around in their seats and listening, screens open to the engineers working elsewhere on the ship. Even Atlas herself seemed to perk up and pay attention, if Coran was any judge.
Coran himself had stopped listening about five minutes ago, when Shiro had finished outlining the facts of the mission, mopping up Galra in sector beta-four-nine, and started in on teamwork, honour, and sticking together: the usual.
The briefing over, Shiro sent the pilots down to their ships and lions. The doors slid open smoothly and they all headed down to the hangars in a clatter of boots and staticky hissing of comms. There was an unusual quality to the silence on the bridge that followed and Coran peered round to check what was going on.
“Is he…” Veronica said in a hushed voice somewhere between doubt and amazement, as they all took in the sight of their captain’s gaze fixed wistfully on the pert shape of Keith’s rear in the formfitting paladin armour, in the manner of a drowning man who’d glimpsed a paradise island but couldn’t find the beach.
“Yes,” Coran said, and turned back to the helm. He’d seen it all before.
Coran attended the gymnasium in the Garrison on a daily - all right, weekly - basis. It paid to stay limber: you never knew when your life and the lives of everyone you cared about would depend on swinging your way around a teludav chamber, after all.
The Earth machines were strange, though. Altean equipment manipulated the body directly, and Coran had always found his exercise allocation rather pleasant and relaxing. Here on Earth you had to do everything yourself, with your own muscles. It seemed to be a very sweaty way of doing things.
“Walk me through it again,” he asked.
Iverson grit his teeth. “You lift it up.”
Coran nodded knowledgeably. “Right, right. Then what?”
“You put it down,” Iverson said.
“I think I’m ready to try!” Coran said.
It was very dull.
“Now what?” he said.
“You do it again,” Iverson said. “My usual routine for the benchpress is five sets of ten reps each.”
“How many ‘reps’ did I do?” Coran said.
“And I can feel them doing me good!” Coran said. “Which one comes next?”
“Usually the free weights are… oh.”
“Hmm,” Coran said. Shiro and Keith were at the next area of the gym Iverson was taking him to. Shiro was wearing a tanktop, laughing as he effortlessly lifted something that looked very heavy, his biceps bulging, his pecs rippling, his thighs flexing, his temple gleaming with healthy perspiration. Keith was smiling at him softly, laughing along, but when Shiro turned away to choose another weight his lips parted, his eyes round and so full of desire it felt impolite just to be in the same room.
Coran looked at Iverson. Iverson looked at him.
“I think there’s a buns of steel class on Wednesdays?” Iverson said.
“... testing new ways of exploiting the capacity of Voltron and Atlas to work together …” Shiro was saying, Keith sitting next to him as always and nodding, the Garrison admirals on the other side of the table looking eager to agree with whatever Shiro wanted. They loved Shiro now, apparently under the impression that turning ordinary spaceships into enormous planet-saving robots was simply one of his many skills, like leadership, or hand-to-hand-combat, or maintaining that peculiar fringe in perfect condition no matter how many unfortunate things befell him.
Not that Coran was criticising: he appreciated serious commitment to a look. He reached up to tweak the ends of his mustache in silent solidarity and accidentally knocked his pen off the table.
He briefly considered just leaving it there: it seemed that they’d got off the practical portion of the meeting and into the abstract, and when Shiro got onto that he could go on for quite a long time and absolutely nothing he said would be worth writing today, because anything you missed would be coming along again in the next meeting, sure as cobby-winziks farted in vacuum. However, he knew from experience there were another twenty doboshes at least where the last ten had come from, and he’d only half-finished his drawing of Atlas carrying the black lion around by the scruff like an angry kitten.
He tried reaching out for it with his boot and only managed to kick Keith in the shin. Keith glared at him before going straight back to gazing at Shiro as if he hadn’t heard all this before, which - because Coran knew that Keith very much enjoyed listening to Shiro’s voice and looking at Shiro’s face, both of which Coran himself had cultivated a resistance to almost as soon as Shiro had heroed his way onto the Castle - he knew Keith had.
Allura was looking at him inquisitively now and Coran ducked under the table to retrieve his pen. It felt like this ought to be a straightforward mission, unlikely to end with casualties, but he made the terrible mistake of looking across the table as he tried to grab it, and his gaze was drawn to Keith’s hand resting on Shiro’s powerful thigh, only about halfway up but resting gently and familiarly on the inner seam, like matter was drawn to a black hole: inescapably and destructively. Right in a meeting with all of Garrison’s most senior people! If he’d thought it was deliberate, he’d have admired it.
He gave up on the pen. “Are you okay?” Veronica mouthed, sitting opposite him.
He nodded and pointed below the table as unobtrusively as possible, only two or three people looking round at him with their eyebrows raised. She glanced around her and furtively pushed her own pen off the table. A moment later she reappeared with a hollow look in her eyes, and at least Coran could rejoice in a problem shared being a problem multiplied by the existing assumptions and flawed methodologies of everyone involved, as his Nan-Nan had liked to say.
Coran and Veronica stepped over to chat with the paladins after the meeting. Keith and Shiro were the only ones left at the table by then, bending over some quick sketches Shiro had made during the meeting of battle tactics. Shiro was playing with Keith’s hair as they did so, apparently unconsciously. His hand cupped the nape of Keith’s neck, Keith biting his lip when he thought Shiro wasn’t looking, while the other paladins looked on with various levels of dismay.
“They’re getting worse,” Lance said . “You wouldn’t think it could get worse than cuddling the person who’s come back to life just because you asked them nicely right in front of your mom and everyone, but somehow they’re doing it.”
“They’re not doing it,” Pidge said, pushing her glasses up. “That’s the whole problem.”
“And now they’ve made me listen to Pidge say doing it,” Lance said. “What a great day.”
Coran walked into the Atlas lounge straight to the drinks machine and pressed the button for hot cocoa, making sure to instruct the machine to make it with water and not milk: he hadn’t forgotten The Unpleasantness with Lance and Madam Kaltenecker (although it seemed that Allura had, he’d seen her eating ice cream the other day and enjoying it so much he’d hated to remind her where it came from). It had been a very long day.
“This is a wonderful drink you have here,” he informed Keith, who’d taken over a whole couch and was lying on it prone. He hadn’t even taken his boots off. Everywhere else was full, the whole crew exhausted by the unexpected arrival of one of the new-generation robeasts while they were searching for the dozen or so battle-class Balmeran crystals they needed for the new fleet of Earth ships. The black lion had taken the brunt of the hits on Voltron, but Coran still needed somewhere to sit, so he cheerfully kicked Keith’s feet off the seat and took it over.
“It reminds me of a drink we used to have on Altea,” he said. “Now, it was made of the powdered snot of the wopgizzler, so it wasn’t exactly the same, and in fact I always preferred to have it cold, and it didn’t really taste anything like this, but other than that the resemblance is very strong!”
Keith groaned faintly and pulled a cushion over his head.
Coran settled back to enjoy his cocoa, feeling the strain of the day finally start to fade. Things weren’t as bad now as they’d been since… well, any time since waking up ten thousand years after the destruction of his planet, frankly, but there was still plenty of stress to go around and he wasn’t as young as he used to be. He’d perked up a bit by the time Shiro came in. He looked exhausted, but he nodded back at the smiles and acknowledgements from his crewmembers and Coran watched fondly as he stopped to speak to several people, exchanging private words that left them pleased and proud.
“Oh dear, Shiro, there’s nowhere left to sit,” he said loudly, and Keith shot up so fast Coran bounced slightly.
“There’s room here,” he said.
“Thanks, Keith,” Shiro said. “Hi, Coran. Cocoa, good choice! I’m gonna get some. You guys want anything?”
“Not after hearing how Altean cocoa is made of powdered snot,” Keith muttered.
“What?” Shiro said, waving at Pidge and Commander Holt across the room.
“Nothing,” Keith said. He stared at Shiro dopily as he went and got his cocoa, giving out more praise on the way: you could track his progress by the little path of happiness he left behind him.
His smile faded as he got back to Keith, though. He sat down heavily and said, quietly enough for it to have been meant for Keith’s ears only, “Hell of a fight. We wouldn’t have made it without you, out there.”
“You think we’d’ve made it without you?” Keith murmured back, his tone low, intimate, so full of love Coran didn’t know how Shiro wasn’t hearing it. It reminded him of working quietly at the control area of the Castle of Lions, Before, so as not to intrude on the King and Queen talking to each other with their beautiful child playing at their feet. Keith and Shiro had that same sense of whole-hearted union: they stared into each other’s eyes for a minute, as if nobody else was in the room, and then Shiro’s started to droop closed.
Keith took his mug of cocoa away and handed it to Coran without looking, busy gently guiding Shiro down to lean on him, head on his chest, his arm protectively around Shiro’s shoulders. Shiro sighed and snuggled in, already mostly asleep.
Quiet murmuring ran around the room as people noticed. There was some staring, initially, from those who weren’t stationed on the bridge and didn’t get a show of it every day, and then people started to head out, leaving their captain in peace and quiet to rest. Pidge rolled her eyes at Coran as she left and he gave her a smile.
Coran finished Shiro’s cocoa and then sneaked away, leaving them curled asleep together on the couch.
There were a lot of bets on the Atlas about when Shiro and Keith would finally work out that they were basically a couple already and get around to being a couple in actual reality.
Coran had spent almost all of his life living on a ship, in a closed community, in deep space. He’d made a private bet all his own: which member of the crew would snap first.
“What are you all looking at?” Keith said, shouldering Coran out of the way to check out the view of the sundrenched beauty of Bloxia, newly liberated by the Blade of Marmora. “Who’s that Shiro’s talking to?”
“One of your erstwhile colleagues, isn’t it?” Coran said. “He certainly makes the suit look good.”
Keith’s eyes narrowed. “I’m sure they’re talking business,” he said.
“I’m not sure,” Iverson said. “I don’t think that one was involved in the fighting.”
“I think he just likes Shiro,” Coran said. “Oh isn’t that nice.” The Blade had offered Shiro a warrior’s clasp, forearm to forearm, and now they were looking at Shiro’s Altean arm, Shiro blushing a little as he held it up and demonstrated how he could use it to join battle from afar, the Blade looking impressed and stepping closer, stroking Shiro’s shoulder to make some point as the arm flew back.
“Don’t we need to leave?” Keith said. “Get back to Earth? Coran, where’s Allura?”
“She’s flown Blue over to the planet’s other continent to check their supply lines,” Coran said. “She’ll be back before nightfall, though!”
“I don’t think we’re in any particular rush, are we?” Iverson said.
“Especially not with the captain having such a lovely time,” Veronica said innocently.
“Sure,” Keith said, choking on it. Then he muttered something about checking on things with Black and all but ran off the bridge.
A few minutes later the three of them clustered back around the screen to watch him interrupt Shiro’s conversation. Shiro turned to him as a blossoming flower to the sun, and the attractive Blade slunk off, utterly forgotten.
“How did that save the universe?” Veronica said, softly bewildered, to no-one in particular.
Krolia came back with them, to spend some quality time with her son and update the Coalition on the Blades’ latest activities. Coran liked to get his news early and often, so he brought her up to the officers’ mess to sit with himself and the bridge crew for lunch.
Keith was there too, talking to Shiro about some schematic they were poring over, his hand in its familiar spot on Shiro’s shoulder, their heads bent companionably together. Keith grinned at something Shiro had said, Shiro brushed a stray lock of hair out of Keith’s eyes, and then Keith’s comms chimed and he got up to leave.
He paused at the door and waved goodbye to Krolia, and then his gaze shifted irresistibly back over to Shiro, who was looking back at the tablet they’d been working on. Keith’s face took on a familiar bittersweet expression.
“Is that -” Krolia said, as he shook it off and left.
“Keith staring ridiculously and longingly at Shiro?” Iverson said. “Yes.”
“Really,” Krolia said. She looked thoughtful and at her hip her blade started to glow a dim purple. She stood up. “Maybe I’ll go and have a little chat to Shiro about my son.”
There was nothing like a protective Galran mother. It warmed Coran’s heart, really. So much of this war was loss and terror and pain: he was glad she and Keith had found each other, given that little bit of hope to them all.
“Wait for it,” Veronica said dully.
Krolia paused. Across the room, Shiro was unconsciously touching the place where Keith’s hand had rested, looking dreamily at the door through which Keith had just departed. “Is he…?” she said.
“Staring longingly and ridiculously after Keith?” Iverson said. “Oh, yes.”
She sat back down. “Maybe I won’t mention anything to either of them,” she said.
“Probably for the best,” Coran said.
“You’ve done a great job, paladins!” Shiro called over the comms and Coran winced at Allura’s growl. Shiro looked momentarily crestfallen before rallying and saying, “The new settlement is looking great!”
Even Yellow turned what Coran felt was a disappointed muzzle up to them before the lions jumped into the air to fly back to the Atlas, disappearing into their hangars.
Shiro stared into space for a moment. “I’m going to go down there and check on them,” he said.
Coran stood up, despite his own better judgement: the things he did for duty and love. “I’m coming to see Allura.”
“And I’ll come make sure Lance is okay,” Veronica said.
“- is this?” Lance was screaming as they approached the paladins’ private rest quarters. “It’s inside my armour! It’s tickling me!”
“Don’t hurt it!” Hunk cried plaintively. “I wanna see if it’s edible!”
“It thinks I’m edible!” Lance shrieked. “It’s biting!”
“Are they okay?” Veronica said, looking worried, and Coran smiled at her reassuringly.
“They’re fine,” he said, patting her on the shoulder. “It’s when they’re not making a big fuss you need to worry.” He did enjoy having young people about him: Allura didn’t really need him anymore, with the Castle destroyed, her own Voltron Lion (and her friendship with one of her fellow paladins in particular) and her important role in the Coalition, and he missed it. It was a pleasure to have Veronica and her colleagues around, actually being interested in the many parts of the universe Coran had seen and the engineering expertise he’d developed there.
“It was only a minor capsize,” Shiro said weakly. “They barely got wet.”
Allura chose that moment to appear in the doorway. She fixed Shiro with her most forbidding expression and then, maintaining eye contact, took off each of her boots in turn and emptied what seemed like quite a lot of water out of them.
“All right, there, Princess?” Coran said.
“Keith,” Shiro said in a small, strangled voice and Coran peered behind Allura into the lounge.
Keith glanced up from where he was taking off the chest pieces of his paladin armour, piling them dripping onto the table, his undersuit wet and clinging, his hair pulled back damp from his face.
“Hi, Shiro,” he said, reached down, and stripped off the shirt, leaving him half-naked, a couple of strips of purple seaweed draping fetchingly over his broad shoulders and pale, muscled chest.
Coran pushed Shiro the rest of the way into the room. He was staring at Keith, spellbound. As they all watched he took off his uniform jacket and draped it carefully over Keith.
“Here,” he said sweetly. “This is dry.”
He was wearing a very tight t-shirt underneath. Now Keith was gazing at his chest, smiling too, clutching Shiro’s jacket around his shoulders. “Thanks,” he said.
Lance shook a crab off his finger and said, “Anyone else wishing they’d drowned?”
Iverson taught Coran to play Go. Veronica taught him to play poker. He taught them to play Monsters and Mana.
“What was Allura like as a little girl?” Veronica asked. Is she good enough for my brother?
“Hungry to learn. What was Lance like as a child?” he countered. Is he good enough for my Princess?
“Wanted everyone to be his friend. What was Keith like as a cadet?” Veronica asked Iverson.
He tapped his finger against his character card and grinned, brief and warm as winter sun. “Good pilot. Weird about Shiro.”
Coran was quite a mover, if he did say so himself, especially once he’d abandoned his cape on the side of the dancefloor, guarded by Pidge who had refused to be parted from the programme she was running. Luckily the rebel leadership hadn’t been offended by one of the paladins of Voltron ignoring them even through the ceremonial dinner to gaze lovingly at her laptop. It probably helped that one of them was her brother.
“I think I need a break,” Allura said, fanning herself gamely, and Coran bowed and escorted her off the dancefloor to Lance, who was still looking a little bit overwhelmed by the sight of Allura back in her fancy dress. “I didn’t know you were such a good dancer, Coran.”
“I learned to cut a rug in my younger days, Princess,” he said modestly. Why, people had given him practically the whole floor to himself when he’d strutted out this evening. There had also been a flattering number of people watching his dance with Allura just now, Romelle at their side bullying some unfortunate young cadet through the graceful steps of an Altean Castle quadrette: with the last days of the war as they had been, it had been a very long time even before their cryosleep since Coran had had the chance to indulge in formal dancing.
It had filled up again quickly and stayed that way all evening. Even Keith and Shiro were out there, dapper and handsome in their grey dress uniforms. Not that it stopped them dancing like a pair of faunatonium-drunk yalmores. Coran would have been happy to give them some lessons; if only they’d asked!
“Take anyone for a spin?” he said, fetching up at a table full of the Atlas’s bridge crew.
“Oh, I’m not sure, Coran,” Veronica said. “It’s finishing now and they usually end with a… slow… dance…”
He knew what he would see before he turned around. The music had indeed turned to something emotional: everyone on the dancefloor seemed to be couples, holding one another in their arms and swaying to the music in lazy, vaguely indecent rhythm.
“Are they -”
“Yeah,” Veronica said and Coran found them in the crowd. Shiro said something to Keith, smiling ruefully and gesturing to the people around them. Keith looked awkward but nodded, and then they were dancing, moving in slow circles together, their arms linked loosely around each other’s waists, hands resting very close to what Coran would term the personal area. Keith laid his head on Shiro’s shoulder, the bit of his face they could see peaceful; Shiro had his eyes closed and was smelling Keith’s hair with a contented expression.
Iverson peered into his empty glass and said, “Do you think that means the bar’s already closed?”
Voltron had just taken them down in an extremely long training match full of playful comms oneupmanship between Keith and Shiro, neither of them appearing to notice that nobody else on either mech was talking at all.
Coran was having a little lie-down on the nice cold floor of the bridge when Keith came up from the black lion, still breathing hard.
“Good work out there,” Shiro said, and gestured Keith to join him on the captain’s station as he rewound the tape of the battle. “What you did here - amazing, Keith. This was a little slow, though, Allura and Hunk could be better timed on the thrusters.”
“Yes sir,” Keith said, in a voice that was both teasing and very much not, and they all heard Shiro’s breath catch.
The moment drew out. Coran thought about Kosmo. Maybe if he just wished hard enough, the wolf would also develop telepathy and come to teleport him away.
Veronica broke the silence.
“Would you two JUST FUCK,” she screamed. “FOR THE LOVE OF GOD.” She put her head down on her battlestation and Coran heard her mumble, “I just can’t take it anymore.”
Shiro was staring at her open-mouthed. Then, as Coran watched, his gaze slid inevitably to Keith. Keith was already looking back at him.
Coran climbed back into his chair, scooted it over to Veronica, and put his arm around her shoulders. “There, there,” he said.
The comms issued Lance’s voice, tinny and indignant. “Was that my sister telling Shiro and Keith to fuck just now?”
Coran was in his room when his comm skittered in his ear and Shiro said, “Coran, would you have a moment to come to my quarters?”
Coran looked sadly at the hot bath he’d just finished running, with lots of bubbles, a work of classic Earth literature (Jilly Cooper’s ‘Riders’), and a glass of his latest nunville: the still he’d set up in an out-of-the-way storage closet was doing really well. “Of course, Captain,” he said.
“Thank you for coming,” Shiro said awkwardly.
Then they sat on the couch in his quarters and Shiro stared helplessly at Coran until Coran said, “Was there something in particular you wanted to discuss, Shiro?”
“What Veronica said, on the bridge,” Shiro said. “Was that - that was - what was that?”
Coran considered this. He said, “Sorry, what bit wasn’t clear?”
Shiro went scarlet. It was actually very fetching against the pure white of his hair, although it didn’t go at all with the orange accents on his uniform.
“If my… feelings… have made people uncomfortable then I’m very sorry,” Shiro said. He clearly meant it, and Coran softened. “Coran. Do you think Keith knows?”
“I don’t think Keith knows anything,” Coran said, truthfully.
Shiro leaned back and sighed and rubbed his flesh hand over his face. He looked suddenly very young. He was so very capable almost all the time: Coran so often forgot that humans had barely any time at all, that Shiro had only lived as many years as it took an Altean child to be old enough for their first day of school, and that the paladins were even younger.
“Do you know about Keith?” he said. For a moment he thought nostalgically of the argator he’d played to the dan-dee-dozies to help them feel more romantic. There was an Earth instrument that was similar; perhaps he could take it up, and play soothing lullabies to Shiro and Keith. He thought it was called a trombone.
“Know what about Keith?” Shiro said blankly.
“Well, that he wants to...” Coran said, with what he thought was an illuminating gesture. Ancients, but humans had some tiresome ways of doing things: none of them seemed to think in straight lines about anything.
“What?” Shiro said, looking even more confused.
“I believe the Earth phrase is bang you like a barn door in a hurricane,” Coran said kindly.
“He doesn’t,” Shiro said in a wavering, hopeful voice. “... Does he?”
There was a knock on the door.
“I’ll get that,” Coran said. “Oh, hello, Keith! Fancy seeing you here.”
“Am I interrupting?” Keith said, looking over Coran’s shoulder
“Not at all,” Coran said. He could see the way Keith was staring at Shiro, hot and finally - finally! - intent on doing something about it; he didn’t have to see Shiro to know that he was reciprocating lavishly. “I was just leaving.”
He watched out of the corner of his eye as Keith pressed Shiro against the screens on the captain’s station and kissed him deeply. It was only a brief kiss, but Keith stayed wrapped comfortably in Shiro’s arms afterwards, their faces close, the two of them murmuring and smiling together.
It was rather sweet, but someone would have to polish those screens. Paladins never thought about the little things like that.
Veronica and Iverson rolled their chairs over to his under the pretense of looking at his display.
“How long do you think the honeymoon period’s going to last?” Veronica muttered.
“Well, the courtship lasted decapheebs,” Coran pointed out.
They all sighed.