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Together we make a family

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“It’s been an honor to fly with you all.”

The words echo through his head, bounce around like they’re ricocheting off the walls of a cavernous chamber.

His heart’s in his throat and he can barely breathe.

He can’t move a muscle. Every fiber of his being is focused on the image of the five Lions freefalling through Earth’s atmosphere. It feels like his stomach is dropping with them.

Those words are going to haunt him for the rest of his life.

A loud crack breaks him out of his daze. He flicks his gaze down quickly, loathe to take his attention away from the Lions for even a second, and is surprised to see that he’s been clenching the edges of his console so tightly that his new arm has broken through it. The console itself is still unresponsive.

He punches it before he can think twice about it. He wants to scream.

Keith and the others are falling to their—no, he can’t think like that. That way lies despair and hopelessness.

Still.

Keith and the others have gone quiet and they’re falling uncontrollably and ungracefully to the earth and the Atlas is so drained of power that he can’t even open up a line of communication to them. They can receive but they can’t send; and since that explosion, they haven’t even received anything.

No signs that the Paladins are still alive.

Please, he sends out along the old bond he shared with Black, please take care of him. He hasn’t tried to use it since his consciousness was extracted from her astral plane. He’d needed to reconnect with the physical world and with his team, sort through his memories and those of his clone’s. And he hadn’t wanted to intrude on Keith’s time with Black, now that he’s finally opened up to her fully. But he reaches out now, desperately. Please bring him back to me.

There’s no response. The Lions are indestructible, as far as they can tell. But how much can they protect their Paladins?

There’s a sudden ringing on the bridge and everyone jumps. They look around in confusion before they scramble as one to check their pockets for their personal mobiles. Coran looks on, bemused.

It turns out to be Iverson’s phone. “It’s Sam Holt,” he announces, checking the screen.

“Put him on speaker,” Shiro orders and then, once Iverson’s done so, he says hoarsely, “Sam? Tell me you’ve got some good news.”

“I’ve been able to calculate the projected trajectories for the Lions and I have estimates for their landing spots.”

“You have? How?” His heart rate picks up and starts to beat more regularly.

“We’re using our personal laptops. They weren’t connected to the Atlas so they weren’t affected by the power drain. We had to connect them together to get enough processing power—”

“What’s Atlas’ power situation?” he interrupts. They don't have time for a scientific explanation.

“It’s replenishing, but slowly.”

“Divert all of it to the MFEs. We’ll need them to deploy to the Lions and coordinate rescue efforts. When they’re full, power up communications.” His breathing comes a little more easily. “How much time do we have?”

“Estimated time to impact is fifteen minutes.”

“Send us the coordinates and get to the hangar. We’ll meet you there.”

“Yes, Shiro,” Sam says and hangs up. Moments later, a message pops up with the five coordinates.

“Veronica, bring me a map. We need to plot these out.” She runs over with one like she’d known what he was planning and was already prepared. They hunch over it together and mark out the five targets. “Iverson, scramble whatever’s left of the navy. Tell them we need them ready for a deep sea rescue. Coran, you’ll go with them. That’s where Allura’s going to land. Pidge is going to be in the forest so Sam will go there with the rangers.”

“Yellow’s going to land in the work encampment that Hunk’s parents were being held in,” Veronica points out, eyes hopeful. “Do you think that means—”

Shiro shakes his head. “I don’t know. But see if you can reach the camp, tell them to find shelter. We want to minimize casualties.” After she nods an affirmative, he continues, “We’ll send two of the MFEs over there after they drop off Coran and Sam. You’ll go to Red with one of the others. I’m going to Black.” Red’s headed for the part of the desert that Keith had lived in after he’d been expelled from the Garrison. Black’s going to the Garrison itself. He doesn’t quite know what to make of that. “Iverson, you have the bridge while we’re gone.”

Iverson stands and salutes him. “Yes, Captain.”

“Come on,” he tells Veronica and Coran, and the three of them run for the hangar bay.

 


 

Griffin gets him to Black while there’s still smoke and dust billowing up from the impact. Her eyes are dark and empty and she’s sprawled in an ungainly heap in the rubble of what used to be a set of cadet dorms. Her armor’s scratched and weathered and lightly scorched but besides the utter stillness, she doesn’t look like she’s just come out of the biggest battle of their lives, been in close range of a massive explosion, and then hurtled through a planet’s atmosphere.

Shiro pays no mind to the MFE lifting off again as he scrambles up her paws and legs to the hatch on her back. His mind is blank save a litany of please be okay, please be okay, please be okay. He’s steadfastly not thinking about the scene that might be waiting for him inside and he barely notices the arrival of emergency medical personnel who follow his path up the lion’s body.

When he gets to the hatch, he heaves it open and drops inside. It’s dark. The glow from the prosthetic attachment on his shoulder creates a small pool of light around him but it’s not nearly strong enough.

Someone behind him turns on a lantern and hands it to him. “Thanks,” he mutters and grasps it with his metal hand, sending it up to hover over all of them and light their way.

He cuts quickly through Black’s chambers, thankful that he’s familiar with them and doesn’t have to worry about getting lost while trying to get to Keith. It’s eerily quiet, though, and he realizes that he’s never spent much time in this part of the Lion when she’s been in hibernation. It’s unsettling.

Soft whimpering greets him when he reaches the cockpit and he can just make out Keith’s wolf sitting next to the chair, nuzzling at his side. His eyes look wide and worried when he looks over at Shiro. He’s surprised—but also not really—to see him there. He must have teleported in as soon as Black landed.

Keith himself is slumped over the darkened console, looking as limp as a ragdoll that had been thrown carelessly aside.

“Keith?” His voice comes out in a broken whisper. He swallows around what feels like a boulder in his throat and the pain makes his eyes water. He can’t tell if Keith’s breathing. He stumbles forward and catches himself with one hand on the back of the chair and one braced against the console.

Keith’s helmet is cracked in the back and the front. Through the visor, he can see blood sluggishly trailing down his temple. “Keith,” he chokes out. It comes out louder this time but there’s no response from the other man. “Please, no—please don’t be—”

He shakily reaches out with his flesh hand to look for a pulse in the gap between Keith’s helmet and the collar of his chestplate and nearly sobs in relief when he finds one. Slow and weak but there.

“He’s alive!” he tells the paramedics and they jump into action, deploying a portable stretcher and swarming around Keith. “Come on,” he tells Keith’s wolf, nudging him back with an arm. “Give them space to work.” The wolf does, stepping back with a solicitous air but continuing to watch the proceedings intently. Out of respect for Keith’s stance on letting the wolf tell them his name in his own time, he’d resolved to refer to him the way Keith and Krolia do. But he can see now why Keith’s so adamant that he has that capability.

Once they get Keith secured on the stretcher, one of the paramedics says, “Captain? We won’t be able to get this stretcher back up the way we came. Is there another way out?”

Shiro hesitates and looks around the darkened cockpit. He can’t feel anything from Black but it could just be that she’s too depleted in energy, not that she’s shutting him out. “Yeah,” he answers slowly. He has to try. What does he have to lose? If the bond is gone, it’s been gone this whole time anyway. “Let me try something.”

He gingerly takes a seat and grasps the control sticks. He breathes in deeply and lets it out, willing his heart to stop pounding so hard and so fast that he can’t hear or feel anything else. Then he sinks into his old bond with Black. Please, I just need you to wake up enough to open your jaw so they can get Keith to the hospital. Take whatever you need from me. But please, Keith needs medical attention and he needs it now.

There’s no immediate response but Shiro’s always told Keith that patience yields focus and he repeats it to himself as a reminder.

Please, he begs again. Please help me.

After what feels like an interminable amount of time, he’s rewarded with a small section of the console lighting up with a purple glow—just the lever for the Lion’s jaw. “Thank you,” he breathes out. He pushes the lever to lower the bottom jaw and a strip of lights starts to glow along the floor. “Follow the purple lights,” he tells the paramedics. “They’ll lead you to the exit.” He waits there until he feels that they’ve exited the Lion safely and then shuts everything back down. “Thank you,” he tells Black again. “You can rest now, and focus on recovering your strength. I’ll take care of Keith and make sure he’s alright.”

He’s not sure but he thinks she sends him a faintly amused mental huff. It’s probably not a good thing when a mystical mechanical Lion is humoring him about his feelings for a certain other Paladin.

“Let’s go,” he tells the wolf and he’s whisked away outside.

Coran had called it ‘zapping’ but that’s not entirely accurate. It’s an instantaneous change of scenery that’s more than a little jolting and that takes getting used to but it’s not at all painful. He knows that Keith’s incorporated it into his fighting and it’s mind-blowing to think about. His ability to adapt to lightning-quick changes in position and angles, to analyze an enemy’s movements and predict where they’re going to be, his reflexes —some of it may be due to his galra heritage, but Shiro thinks that a lot of it is just Keith himself. There’s no one else who could do the things that Keith does.

He sprints to catch up with the paramedics and keeps pace with them as they hurry towards the Garrison hospital. It looks like it’s up and running normally so Iverson must have dispatched all the hospital personnel from the Atlas as soon as he could. One of the paramedics is running a scan and sending the information on ahead.

Shiro’s interfaced a lot with medical personnel from both his disease and his work as a Garrison pilot, but he can’t follow what the paramedics are reporting to the doctors. All of his thoughts circle around Keith and whether or not he’ll be okay. The only thing that snaps him out of it is when one of the paramedics stop him before the doors to the trauma unit while the others push Keith’s stretcher onward.

“I’m sorry, Captain Shirogane. But it’s family only from this point forward.” He looks at him sympathetically but firmly. “You’ll have to wait in the general waiting room.”

“No, wait, you can’t—I have to—” His thoughts race. He can see the stretcher with Keith on it disappearing through another set of doors. His breath catches. He says the first thing he can think of: “But I am family! I’m his husband.”

“You are?” The paramedic looks only a little surprised. Shiro can’t spare the time or the energy to wonder why.

“Yeah,” he repeats, waving a hand in what he hopes is a nonchalant way. “We were married up in space. Didn’t have time to fill out the paperwork here before...well, you know. I’ll fill it out as soon as he’s awake though. Can I just go with him now? Please, I have to know if he’s going to be alright.”

The paramedic studies him for a moment and Shiro resists the urge to squirm. But all he says is, “Yeah, of course. My apologies.” He nods him through and Shiro doesn’t hesitate before tearing off down the hallway after Keith’s stretcher.

He doesn’t know who’s going to kill him more for this later, Keith himself or his mother.

 


 

Keith’s in surgery for a long time. Hunk and Pidge are brought in at some point and taken into their own operating suites. Shiro pauses in his restless pacing long enough to smile wearily at Sam and Colleen and introduce himself to Hunk’s parents.

The waiting for news is a little more bearable with company.

 


 

Hunk’s the first one brought back out, this time on a hospital bed. He’s taken to the ICU and his parents go with him with well wishes for the Holts and Shiro.

Then it’s back to waiting.

 


 

Pidge is the next one out and the Holts hug him before they leave.

He appreciates the gesture but he doesn’t want hugs right now. He just wants a doctor to come out and tell him that Keith’s going to be okay. Ideally, with Keith himself awake and alert next to him.

He sighs and slumps down into a chair, tilting his head back against the wall. The television mounted on the wall’s been turned on at some point to a local news station, which is cycling through images of the wreckage from the battle. The sound’s been muted so he can’t hear what they’re saying about it all but he can’t bring himself to care enough to turn it back on.

 


 

When the doors finally open again, Shiro jumps to his feet. A hospital bed is wheeled out and Keith lies in the middle of it. He looks small and vulnerable, with his head bandaged, a tube down his throat to help him breathe, and an IV bag on an attached stand giving him fluids. He’s also hooked up to a heart monitor which is mounted on his headboard. It beeps steadily and Shiro listens to it, lets the regular rhythm soothe his nerves.

The surgeon tells him something about ‘intracranial hemorrhaging’ and how Keith’s not fully out of the woods yet but that he’s in stable condition for now. They’re going to monitor him closely over the next couple of weeks. Shiro nods grimly.

Keith is given a room next to the others in the ICU and Shiro nods to the other families as he passes them. They look relieved to see Keith and that warms his heart. Keith had never had many friends but now he has a whole group of people, both here and in space, who care about him.

Lance and Allura are there too, he’s glad to see. They must not have sustained injuries serious enough to require surgeries but at least they had been retrieved safely. Shiro makes a note to himself to go around and check on everyone. But that’s for later.

For now, he watches as the nurses get Keith situated in the room. When they leave, he pulls up the visitor’s chair as close to the bed as he can, closes his hands around the one of Keith’s that doesn’t have an IV in it, and holds on.

 


 

Commander Iverson finds him a week later when he’s sitting with the Holts in Pidge’s room.

Keith is breathing on his own now. His recovery seems to be moving slower than the rest but he and Black had taken the brunt of the attacks as the head of Voltron. And on top of that, Black requires the most energy of her Paladin of all the Lions, especially when holding Voltron together.

Pidge and Lance are steadily making improvements and the doctors are planning to move them out into the general medical floor the next day.

Allura and Hunk had already been moved that morning. The doctors had initially thought that Allura was crashing because her vitals were so off, but they made adjustments to their equipment based on what Coran’s told them about Altean physiology and realized she’s actually doing quite well. Coran agrees, but he also keeps wistfully talking about the cryopods so much that Shiro’s pretty sure the doctors are going to try to corner him and get him to build one for them when Allura’s fully healed.

Hunk, despite needing surgery that first day, hadn’t sustained very serious injuries. Shiro chalks it up to Yellow’s heavier shielding. He suspects it’s the quintessence draining that he’s still recovering from.

None of them have woken up yet.

“We need you to make a statement to the press,” Iverson tells Shiro soberly after he’s asked about the Paladins. “We can do it in front of the hospital so you don’t have to go anywhere.”

Shiro nods. He hasn’t left the hospital since Keith and the others were brought in; none of them have. He’d set up a corner of Keith’s room as an office and has been working from there.

He keeps his statement to the press short, dressed in a fresh uniform and blinking against the bright flashing lights of multiple cameras. “The Paladins of Voltron are receiving the best medical care possible and they’re all on their way to a full recovery. Please give them and their families privacy as they are healing.”

He refuses to give out their names, though he’s sure that there are rumors floating around about who they are. He considers telling the media to give the Lions space too, but he can see them on the airstrip where they’d been towed by the rescue teams and a large perimeter’s been cordoned off around them. It looks like there are Garrison officers standing guard against a mass of curious onlookers already. He doesn’t think the Lions would care about gawkers while they’re healing so he decides to leave it be.

He retreats back to Keith’s hospital room and smiles when he sees the wolf curled up on the floor between Keith’s bed and the tray table he’s been using as a makeshift desk. The wolf’s been allowed to stay with them after a lengthy discussion among hospital staff and administration and Shiro himself. Shiro thinks that mostly they agreed to him being there because they couldn’t actually keep him from teleporting in constantly. He’d given a lot of nurses a terrible fright when they had come in to check on Keith at first. But now they know that he’s there and quite a few of them have started giving him treats.

There’s a stack of paperwork waiting for him to complete—it turns out that there’s a lot of paperwork involved when returning from being presumed dead—but they can wait another day. He takes a seat by Keith instead and gently reaches over to run his fingers through his hair before picking up his hand and threading their fingers together.

“Please wake up soon, Keith,” he murmurs. Then he furtively checks to make sure no one’s about to come in and tests out, “Keith Shirogane.” He can’t help a small smile. He’s going to be killed extra dead when Keith wakes up and his mom gets to Earth, anyway. He figures he can afford to indulge himself a little. “Takashi Kogane. Takashi Kogane-Shirogane.” He makes a face at that last one. Way too long. Also, you’re a lovesick fool, Takashi.

Of course, that’s when Iverson walks into the room with just a perfunctory knock on the open door. His raised brows make it clear he’s heard at least some of what Shiro had said.

Shiro flushes. He has the urge to bury his face in the bedsheets and pretend he’s not awake. “I—uh—”

Iverson, thankfully, holds up a hand and stops his stammering attempt at an explanation. “I actually was coming by to give you my congratulations on your marriage. Off the record, I’m happy for you, Shiro. You two are good for each other. Very good.” He says it with a completely straight face and it belatedly occurs to Shiro that somehow word got out about his lie and that somehow it’s believable enough that Iverson’s bought it. But most surprising of all is that he seems to genuinely be happy for the two of them.

Shiro’s touched.

He’s also completely screwed, because how is he ever going to dig himself out of this hole?

 


 

As if giving that statement to the press alerted the Admiralty that he’s actually okay enough to be put to work, they start sending Commanders and lower ranking officers to him with requests. It’s rather awkward for everyone involved, but Shiro doesn’t know how to fix it.

The requests are surprisingly reasonable:

He’s asked to go out to the Atlas and convert it back into a ship rather than a giant robot which no one else can move. (He does so immediately and feels embarrassed that he’d forgotten to do it sooner.)

He’s asked to meet with his doctor to get an updated physical and blood work. (He does and finds out that this new body he’s in not only doesn’t have any signs of the disease that’s been affecting his muscles for as long as he can remember but it has a few genetic anomalies which...aren’t recognizably human. He’s decided to set that aside to worry about later and has asked his doctor not to disclose that to anyone just yet.)

He’s asked to attend a formal hearing so that his battlefield promotion to Captain can be confirmed. (He does, though he wishes they’d agreed to wait until the others had woken up first.)

He’s asked to prepare a speech to give at a memorial service scheduled in a couple weeks’ time. (He grimaces about it internally but accepts that as part of the responsibilities of his new rank.)

 


 

Improbably, a wormhole opens up in the sky one sunny morning. Shiro catches sight of its black and purple swirl through the window of Keith’s ICU room and has a moment of panic. If another enemy is coming through, Earth is fucked.

Hunk and Allura have been awake for a couple of days now and Pidge had woken up the day before, but Lance has yet to come out of his coma and Keith has only just been cleared to be transferred to the general medical unit.

There’s no way they’ll be able to fight off another would-be conqueror.

Thankfully, the ship that flies out is painted a very familiar combination of green, white, and orange. It’s followed by a fleet of other ships painted the same colors. They look almost majestic gliding down through Earth’s atmosphere.

His phone rings. “Shiro, are you seeing this?” Iverson demands as soon as he answers. “Who are they? Do we need to scramble fighters?”

“No,” he answers quickly. “They’re allies. It’s the Voltron Coalition.” A weight he hadn’t realized he’s been carrying lifts off of his shoulders. He laughs lightly. “They made it. They’re okay.”

Keith’s wolf disappears from where he’d been curled up at the foot of his bed.

“I have to go,” Shiro tells Iverson, stomach sinking with dread. And sure enough, no sooner had he hung up than the wolf reappears with Krolia. Shiro gulps.

Krolia does a quick sweep of the room and gasps when she sees Keith. “Oh no. Keith!” She strides over to the bed and drops onto it, smoothing one hand down Keith’s cheek. “What happened?” she asks.

The wolf disappears again.

“He’s going to be alright,” Shiro starts off with. The wolf reappears with Kolivan who, while he doesn’t say anything, looks very concerned. “He’s fine,” Shiro repeats for his benefit. The wolf disappears again. “He—wait. Is the wolf—who’s he going back to get now? How did you even get here so quickly?”

“The rest of the Blades, I imagine,” Krolia says. “We found a small pocket of Marmoran agents at one of our oldest bases shortly after we left you. They had Slav with them. Brilliant engineer, that one is. He figured out how to open a wormhole with our very limited resources and we rendezvoused with the Coalition, who had received Earth’s distress signal and were en route to provide aid.”

The wolf returns with two Blades and leaves again. They wordlessly take up position along one wall. With their masks up, they’re nearly indistinguishable from each other.

“Oh, wow. That’s a bit of good luck.”

“Yes,” she agrees.

The wolf returns with another two Blades. One of them has a long, thin tail; the other one could be the first two’s triplet sibling. The wolf makes several more trips while Shiro launches into the story of Sendak’s invasion of Earth and their battle against first him and then that mysterious robot. By the end of it, there are twelve Blades arrayed around the room in addition to Krolia and Kolivan, all listening intently.

Shiro looks around and feels a tremendous sorrow for the group. They look like a lot when crammed into Keith’s small hospital room but it’s really just a miniscule fraction of what they used to be.

“We think there are more out there, scattered among our various hidden bases and in secure locations that they set up themselves. We halted the search to come here when we heard about Earth,” Krolia tells him.

“The story that Macidus told you,” Kolivan adds, “was not the truth. The planet had already been ravaged by war and the people decimated. We came upon it after and set up a base there. There was a small group of Blades there, myself included, when the Druids found us and attacked. I was the only survivor. Most of those other Blades who had died on that planet had been lured there with my code.” He looks regretful and sounds guilty. “They should have focused on the mission, as they were trained, and left me to die.”

“What’s done is done,” Krolia tells him, not unkindly. “And what you’ve built is a group who cares for each other like family, who would help each other even against immense odds. That’s what’s held us together against the Empire. We would have fallen apart otherwise.”

Kolivan just grunts in response.

Shiro has the sense that the rest of the Blades are studiously not paying attention while their senior leaders are hashing this out and he’s struck suddenly that this feels like a mommy-and-daddy-are-doing-the-thing-again-and-it’s-really-embarrassing-and-awkward moment. Then he blanches. Krolia and Kolivan? Are they—? He squints at them both but he can’t tell what they feel towards each other. Dear god, I hope not. He really doesn’t want the Blade of Marmora after him too, on Keith’s behalf.

A tentative knock breaks the tension in the room. “Um, hi,” a nurse says, holding a clipboard in front of her. She stares around the room in awe. She’s shorter than Shiro so she looks especially small in comparison to the Blade standing next to the door. “Are you all friends of Keith’s?”

“I’m Keith’s mother,” Krolia announces. “Krolia. This is Kolivan. He is the leader of the Blade of Marmora. The others here are Marmoran agents, of which Keith is also one.”

The nurse’s eyes widen and dart back and forth between Keith and Krolia. But all she says is, “Oh. Yes, I can see the resemblance. He takes after you a lot.”

Krolia grins widely, obviously pleased. “Thank you.”

“Well, we’re actually here to move Keith to another room.” She gestures behind her and Shiro can see a couple of other nurses gathered in the hallway. “This is the ICU—the intensive care unit—but Keith’s been doing much better and he’s stable now so we’re going to put him on the general floor with the rest of the Paladins. I can get one of the doctors to come talk with you about his condition, if you haven’t heard it all yet from Shiro. Shiro’s been such a great husband. He’s here all the time and he’s really involved.”

“Husband?” Krolia asks sharply, and Shiro swallows. She looks at him. He fights the urge to step back. The tension in the room suddenly ratchets up and he’s pretty sure he’s about to get skewered on fourteen blades.

“Oh, did you not know?” the nurse asks nervously. “I thought—I guess they...eloped?” She looks over at him and mouths ‘sorry.’

“He said he would wait,” Krolia says with a deep frown.

What?

“What is ‘eloped’?” Krolia questions.

“Uh, it’s when….” The nurse looks hesitantly at Shiro again but when she sees that he’s a completely useless mess, she squares up her shoulders and tells Krolia, “It’s when a couple runs off to get married on their own without telling any of their families or friends.”

Krolia’s eyes narrow on him. He is so dead. “Then yes, it does sound like they eloped.”

It’s not a question, but Shiro can feel that she’s waiting for him to say something in response. The nurse is still there though, not to mention the whole group outside. So what else can he do besides dig himself into a deeper hole? “Yeah,” he doesn’t quite squeak out, “I guess so. It was, uh, after we separated from you. We were talking about how we’ve been through so many things that have nearly killed one or both of us and we decided, why wait? We could die at any moment. So we got married in Black’s cargo bay. Allura officiated.”

Krolia looks unimpressed.

“The wolf was there,” he offers, like that’s consolation for him supposedly marrying Keith without her around to witness it. The wolf lifts his head up and stares at him judgmentally, probably for dragging him into this lie too.

After a heart-stopping minute, though, Krolia breaks into a wry grin. “Well, that does sound like something Keith would do. You two will just have to hold another ceremony so that the rest of your friends and families can celebrate your union with you.” He must look like a deer caught in the headlights, because she backtracks and says, “Only if both of you want to, though.”

“That would be so exciting!” the nurse chimes in, eyes bright. “The Captain of the Atlas and the Captain-Paladin of Voltron, getting married. And what a great way for Earth to be introduced to the rest of the galaxy. It would be the event of the century!”

“Captain-Paladin?” Krolia asks.

“Not a word about that to anyone,” Shiro tells the nurse firmly, before the gossip spreads like wildfire and an intergalactic wedding is planned out for them before Keith even knows that Shiro’s in love with him. Kolivan looks at him a little sympathetically, but not enough that Shiro thinks he would intervene and put a stop to all this. “They’ve been thinking about what rank to call Keith and the others,” he tells Krolia. “None of them had made it past being cadets at the Garrison so they aren’t Earth military officers. But they also aren’t civilians. Allura was against putting Voltron under Earth’s direct authority anyway, because it would be too much power to give to any one planet. She’s pushing for the creation of an intergalactic federation. But yeah, ‘Paladin’ is going to be their title, and it’ll be the equivalent of a Commander. Keith would get ‘Captain-Paladin’ because he’s the leader of Voltron and that will be the equivalent of a Captain here.”

“I see.”

The nurse clears her throat. “Sorry to have to shift gears, but we do need to move Keith now.”

“Oh, right. You probably have other things you need to do after. Sorry.” Shiro gathers up his papers from the table while the Blades file out of the room one by one, ducking to fit under the doorframe.

They all linger outside while the nurses get Keith ready for transportation. Then they all troop through the hospital hallways to the medical floor, getting curious looks from staff and other visitors alike. Shiro can just picture how they look: three nurses guiding Keith’s hospital bed while one keeps pace with his IV stand, Shiro and the head nurse walking behind them and chatting about floral arrangements of all things, then Krolia and Kolivan followed by two columns of masked, armored, and armed Marmoran agents. And of course, a massive space wolf winding through all of them.

There are too many of them to fit in an elevator so Krolia, the wolf, and two of the Blades go first with the nurses who have Keith’s bed. Shiro sees how one Blade has to bend their head to fit and the other’s head brushes the ceiling of the elevator and decides that the rest of them are better off taking the stairs. They get to the room just as the nurses are settling Keith inside.

“Do you want us to bring in more chairs...?” one of the nurses ask, even as he’s eyeing the armchair in the room and coming to the same conclusion that Shiro had: none of the Blades will be able to fit in one of those. “We might be able to find some without the arms.”

“That won’t be necessary,” Krolia says graciously. “Thank you. You can leave that one here for Shiro, but if you could just clear out everything else?”

“Yes, of course.” They set about removing as much as they can from the room as they leave.

Shiro takes the seat, feeling self-conscious as he does so, but no one else seems to mind. Krolia sits on the side of Keith’s bed and Kolivan takes the wide windowsill. The other Blades either lean against the walls or fold down to sit on the floor. One of them takes out what looks like a deck of playing cards and a group of four start up a game of some kind. Another one picks up the television remote, which looks hilariously tiny in their hand, and turns it over curiously.

“The button with the circle on it is the power button for the television,” Shiro tells them, pointing out the monitor mounted on the wall and feeling like he’s in the twilight zone. He’s never been with the Blades when they’ve had downtime, though of course they must have had some at some point. “The ones with the plus and minus signs change the station.”

The Blade presses said buttons and draws everyone’s attention when the television turns on. They find the volume button on the remote and fiddle with that until it’s at a low but audible level. There aren’t many stations available yet but he’s sure that as the cleanup and recovery efforts continue, more of them will come back online. For now, the Blade settles on the local news station.

This is going to be the new status quo that he’s going to have to get used to, Shiro realizes. When Krolia had said that they were like family, she apparently was serious. And entirely accurate. Kolivan doesn’t even look fazed by it so if he really hadn’t realized they were as much a family unit as they were an underground guerilla military group, he must have been in denial.

 


 

“Krolia,” he says one day, when Kolivan’s taken half of the Blades somewhere for training and the other six have gone off to help with relief efforts. It’s just him and Krolia and the wolf sitting around Keith’s bed, patiently waiting for him to wake up from his coma. “I have to confess something.” His prosthetic arm taps its fingers against Keith’s bedsheets nervously; he’d left the arm on the bed itself even as he had sat back in the chair because it made him feel better to have part of him next to Keith, just in case.

Krolia arches a brow at him from the windowsill. She’s been alternately staring out into the desert and watching Keith sleep.

Shiro takes a deep breath and braces himself. “Keith and I didn’t actually get married. I only told the doctors that we did so that they’d let me in to see him because it was family only.”

“Huh,” is all Krolia says in response. She studies him and he resists the urge to squirm. She doesn’t look mad, though; she looks disappointed in him.

It makes his heart sink and he turns away from her to watch Keith’s steady breathing again.

 


 

Matt stops by to see them one evening, and the sight of all the Mamoran agents scattered around the room only makes him hesitate at the entrance for a second, and it’s more from bemusement than anything else. They’ve taken to going around unmasked now, which makes them less intimidating as a group.

“It’s like a clown car in here,” Matt says in lieu of an actual greeting. At the Marmora’s shared bafflement, he explains, “It’s when an improbably high number of people appear to fit into a very small vehicle. So when the doors open, people keep coming out and everyone’s all amazed by the trick.”

“Oh,” Naari says brightly. “Using an interdimensional pocket through which people can exit hidden inside of a vehicle.”

“How impressive that humans have developed ways to contain the energy required to sustain those inside a small space. That would be really useful for infiltration,” Tranov adds, fiddling with the tail end of her long braided hair. She usually has it wrapped around in a tight bun but she likes to take it apart at the end of the day and brush it out.

Shiro wants to bury his face in his hands. “No, no, that kind of technology doesn’t exist. It’s just a bunch of people sitting on top of each other and crammed into a car.”

“Why would they do that?” Naari asks, bewildered.

Matt’s grin has turned gleeful and a little maniacal. “That’s an excellent idea, though! I bet Slav could whip up something that would allow us to do that.”

Shiro can’t. He just...can’t right now. He sighs. “Matt. Come here and sit with me. You look like you’re doing well. How have things been?”

“Better, now that I know that Earth’s okay and my family’s alive. How about you? Where were you guys?”

“Voltron and the Castle of Lions got stuck in an explosion of multiple black holes that apparently created a time warp that led to a three year difference between us and the rest of the galaxy. Or something like that. I was technically dead and on an astral plane in Black’s consciousness while all of that was going down.”

Matt’s eyes widen. “Wow. Yeah, dad told me about your evil clone. I was going to come and apologize for the weirdness between us after Pidge first found me, but then I thought you might not even remember that since it wasn’t...actually...you.” He furrows his brow. “Man, the things we’ve all been through.”

“Tell me about it,” Shiro says dryly. “But no, I do have some memories from that time but it’s pretty spotty. I don’t know how much will come back to me.”

“Okay, well, sorry for how things were between me and your clone. I was just in a really weird space and I didn’t know what we were to each other anymore. I mean, you risked your life for me in the arena. I’d be dead if it wasn’t for you. I didn’t know what to say—”

“You didn’t have to say anything,” Shiro interrupts. “And I’d do it all over again if I had to.”

“Shiro—well, thanks. Just know that if you ever need anything, you can ask me and I’ll do everything I can to make it happen.”

“That’s not necessary at all, but for the sake of putting this to rest, okay. Thanks, Matt.”

“So how’s Keith doing?” His grin turns mischievous. “I heard you two tied the knot. Congrats, man.”

“What? No, oh my god.” Now he really does bury his face in his hands. “Where’d you hear that?”

“It’s all over the Garrison. I have to tell you, I was only surprised by how long it took. He’s way better for you than Adam was, may he rest in peace.” Shiro glares at him and he raises his hands defensively. “Look, I don’t want to speak ill of the dead but Adam gave you an ultimatum and made you choose between him and your lifelong dream. That wasn’t cool of him. That’s not what you do when you love someone.”

“Matt—”

“I just don’t want that to get in between what you have with Keith.”

Shiro can practically feel the interest this is generating among the Blades and he flushes. Great. “It won’t,” he grits out. Mostly because there’s nothing currently between him and Keith. But he’d come to the conclusion years ago that Adam was a shitty boyfriend in the end and it was just as well he found that out before he went and bought a ring and actually proposed. And he was all set to tell him that to his face when he got back to Earth. But now he can’t do that. Did that throw him? Yes. But it’s not going to affect the way he is with Keith, once Keith wakes up and they have a chance to talk.

“Good,” Matt says, sounding very satisfied with himself.

“I noticed you seemed really cozy with someone yourself,” Shiro says, desperate to shift the spotlight off of himself.

Matt beams. “Oh yeah. Her name’s Beyahl. She’s amazing. I can’t wait to introduce you to her. I think she’s The One.”

“It’s that serious?”

“We’ve been together almost two years now. And you know, the last few years have been some of the most terrifying of my life. We were always on the run and we never felt completely safe. But having her there with me made it all bearable.”

“I’m glad,” Shiro says. Then he smiles. “Maybe your wedding will be the event of the century.”

Matt laughs. “Yeah, right. Who would care about two little ol’ rebels like us? If you and Keith have a public ceremony, though….”

Shiro groans.

“Well, you two are famous. Or infamous, depending on which side of the galaxy you ask.”

“That’s it. Get out,” he says around a smile.

Matt rolls his eyes. “I’ve gotta go anyway. They’re about to come around with dinner and I promised my parents I’d be back for it.”

It’s only after he leaves that Shiro realizes he never actually told Matt that he and Keith weren’t really married. Or even dating. Or even on the same page in terms of their feelings for each other.

He drops his head onto the bed with a grunt. Someone—he thinks it’s Krolia—puts a hand on his shoulder and gives it a gentle squeeze.

 


 

He goes to visit the memorial wall and stands in front of the placard with Adam’s name on it. He studies the picture; it looks like it had been taken some time after Shiro had left on the Kerberos mission. He knows that he used to love him deeply; he’d been planning to spend the rest of his life with him. But all he can feel now is regret for how things had turned out between them.

“I know that you loved me,” he says to Adam’s picture, “and I wish you would have believed in me. It was...really hurtful when I found out you didn’t. But I’ve realized that we just weren’t right for each other. Maybe we never were.

“I don’t regret going into space. It was hellish, and it was nothing like what I thought it would be. But I’ve found a really good group of people who are becoming like family to me. And we’re doing good work together.

“I wish you were still alive to see the good side of the galaxy. It’s really incredible.”

He stops, and bows his head. Takes a deep breath. “I’m a Captain now, of the IGF Atlas. I’ve got a lot of responsibilities, a lot of people who depend on me. And I’ve got Keith, if he’ll have me. I’m going to keep moving on. But I wanted to say goodbye first.” He brushes the fingers of his left hand across the inscription.

“So goodbye, Adam. I hope you rest in peace.”

 


 

As the day of the public memorial service gets closer, Shiro visits each of the Paladins to ask if they’ll be able to connect with their Lions to have them sit up properly. They’re all awake now except for Keith but the doctors say that he should wake up any day now.

“They were all airlifted to one of the airstrips,” he tells Pidge. “But since none of them were awake, they were left in a kind of messy sprawl.”

“And I guess that wouldn’t look good on television, huh.”

Shiro laughs. “No. We do want them to look their best selves. Once they’re sitting up, we’ll have people wash and buff their armors.”

“Fancy.” Pidge adjusts her glasses and sets aside the small cable box she’d been fiddling with. “What are you going to do about Black, though? Keith’s not awake to move her.”

“No. I’m going to try to do it.”

“You still have a bond with her?”

“Yeah, kind of. It’s mostly in the background, but I was able to connect with her to get Keith out. It’s just that Keith’s bond with her is now the dominant one. Like how when we first started out, Zarkon still had his bond with her and his was the stronger one until I built mine up?”

“Oh, yeah. But you won’t be fighting Keith for her.”

It’s not a question but he shakes his head anyway. “I think they’re a good fit together. Have you noticed that Voltron moves faster with Keith as the leader?”

Pidge looks thoughtful. “You mean in general? Or during battles?”

“Battles, primarily. It’s quicker and more aggressive.”

“Yeah...I can see that. It feels different too, from inside.”

“Keith has an instinct for fighting that makes him one of the best. He’s quick on his feet. And he never gives up. All he needed was to learn some patience and control and he’s finally gotten it.”

“I don’t need to hear your love letter to Keith,” Pidge tells him with a smirk.

Shiro strives to ignore the blush rising to his cheeks. It’s not a love letter; it’s an objective breakdown of Keith’s abilities. “He also prefers to be in the thick of things. He probably wouldn’t be able to say that himself, but that’s where he shines. He dives in and he takes care of what needs to be taken care of.”

“When we were infiltrating that facility with the zaiforge cannon, he and Cosmo—”

“—no, don’t—Keith doesn’t want anyone to just give the wolf a name, so we shouldn’t—”

“—okay, the wolf then—” she corrects herself with an indulgent look at him “—he and the wolf just zapped above the galra soldiers and—” she makes a slashing motion with her hand. “It happened so fast.”

Shiro wishes he could have seen that. “Wow,” he says, a little reverently.

“Yeah, it was pretty impressive. Again, don’t need to hear your love confession about him.” She holds her hand up as if to stop him which isn’t fair because he wasn’t going to start waxing poetic about Keith. He wasn’t. “But I can see what you mean. It would never have occurred to me to use the wolf’s teleporting during battle. But I’m also really not a fighter. In any sense of the word.”

Shiro gives her an encouraging smile. “I think you’ve been doing pretty good. Maybe you can spend some time training with Keith.”

“No, thank you,” she says firmly. “I don’t have a death wish.”

“You can work up to it, then.”

She shakes her head but doesn’t actually decline. “Anyway, so what about you?”

“Me?”

“Yeah, you and your fighting style?”

“Oh. I like being on the Atlas, actually. It’s frustrating sometimes because I just want to be out there doing something myself. But the Atlas lets me see the entire battle and I can move pieces around to where they’ll do the most good. I wouldn’t be able to do that in Voltron.”

“Big picture stuff.”

“Yeah. And I’m needed on the Atlas. She’s not sentient the way the Lions are but I was able to get her to transform. I think it’s because of our shared Altean technology.” He wiggles the fingers of his prosthetic. “No one else in the Garrison would be able to do it.”

“Fascinating,” Pidge says. “You’ll have to walk me through it once I’m out of here.”

“Sure,” he says, amused. “Now, can you tell Green to sit up straight please? And in line with the others. There’s going to be a lot of people watching this.”

“Oh, right,” she says and closes her eyes. Outside, there’s a distant rumble as something large and mechanical shifts. The ground trembles. When Pidge opens her eyes again, she looks a little winded. “Okay, she’s all set.”

“Great. Thanks, Pidge.”

“No problem. Oh, and Shiro? Congrats on your marriage.”

Shiro barely avoids banging his head against the doorframe on his way out. Pidge cackles behind him.

 


 

When he gets out to where the Lions are, he sees that the other four have arranged themselves on either side of Black, with Blue and Red on the right and Yellow and Green on the left. He clambers up to the hatch on Black’s back and makes his way to the the cockpit.

“Okay, Black, let’s get you standing.” He closes his eyes and prepares to be patient, because he knows it might take some time to convince Black to listen to him and do as he asks.

But she responds so quickly that he almost wonders if she was just waiting for him to come out here. She sends him a wordless sentiment of concern for him and Keith so he takes a moment to share his memories of the past few weeks with her.

She thanks him and sends him off with an admonishment to visit more often.

He leaves with a smile on his face and a lightness in his heart.

 


 

The day of the memorial service dawns clear and sunny. Shiro’s written and rewritten his speech so many times the wastebasket in Keith’s hospital room is filled with the rejected versions. Keith is still not awake.

He waits until the last possible moment to leave the room, just in case he wakes up. But he doesn’t, and they can’t delay the service any more.

So he leaves with an escort of masked Marmoran agents. Krolia, the wolf, and Kolivan stay behind to sit with Keith; all of the Paladins’ families have chosen to watch the televised ceremony from the hospital rooms rather than attend in person.

The Lions’ eyes light up when the ceremony begins. They look majestic as they tower over the proceedings.

He gives his speech and looks out into the somber crowd gathered before him, at the pictures of some of the deceased being honored.

Garrison officers and the MFE pilots are in a line at the front of the audience, in crisp cadet uniforms—he’s going to have to talk with the Admiralty about promoting them to officers—and there are reporters gathered to the side, waiting to ask questions once he finishes. The rest of the crowd is a mix of different alien species. It feels right to have everyone present like this, to have Earth be part of a wider universe.

He wraps up his speech on a positive note and there’s a burst of applause and flashes of light that he has to remind himself are from cameras and not explosions. He’s swarmed by the reporters as soon as he steps off the stage, but not before he catches sight of Keith’s wolf appearing next to one of Black’s paws.

“Excuse me,” he tells the reporters, trying to push through the crowd without hurting anyone. He uses his prosthetic to clear a path in front of him. “I’m so sorry, but I can’t stay for questions after all.” His heart pounds in his chest. “That’s my husband’s wolf and he was told to come get me if he woke up. So I have to go.” He breaks free from the group and sprints over to the wolf, throwing his arms around his neck so that he can be teleported to Keith’s side.

“Keith!” he says as soon as the room materializes around them.

“Shiro?” his voice is weak but it’s undeniably Keith’s. Shiro is not embarrassed at all about how he practically throws himself onto the bed to hug him.

“Oh my god, Keith. Thank god. I’m so relieved you’re finally awake.” He buries his nose in Keith’s hair like he didn’t just help wash it the night before. It feels so good to have Keith as a solid presence in his arms.

“Hey, Shiro, it’s okay. I’m fine.” His hands close weakly around Shiro’s hips and he gives them a soothing pat.

Shiro chokes out a laugh but all he can do is shake his head. His eyes tear up and he squeezes them shut, dries them on Keith’s hospital-issue shirt.

“Shiro?” Keith sounds alarmed. “What’s wrong? Why are you crying?”

“Nothing’s wrong,” he says, gathering himself together. “I’m just so happy to see you.” He pulls back so that he can look at him and tell himself that Keith really is awake and talking to him. He hadn’t let himself acknowledge until now just how terrified he had been that Keith might not ever wake up and now it feels like everything he’s bottled up is spilling out.

Krolia clears her throat behind him and he startles. Right, there are others in the room. He slides off of Keith but can’t quite bring himself to get off the bed completely so he shifts onto his side and makes sure Keith has plenty of room. Keith doesn’t seem to mind.

“So,” he says, eyes tired and soft, “what did I miss?”

 


 

The doctor comes in to check on Keith and Shiro has to get off the bed so he has room to do his exam. He asks Keith a series of questions about where they are and what he remembers and seems satisfied. “Given the injuries you sustained, you’re recovering quite nicely. We’ll need to monitor you for awhile and help you build up your strength again. But let us know if you have any headaches or sensitivity to light, blurry vision, ringing in your ears….” he trails off when he notices that Keith looks overwhelmed. “Well, just let us know of anything out of the ordinary.”

“Yeah, okay,” Keith agrees.

“We definitely will,” Shiro chimes in.

“Oh,” the doctor says, pulling out a set of forms from his pocket. “I’ll leave these here for you to review. If you want to make changes, you can. Otherwise, please sign them and a nurse will come by and pick it up later. It’s a form confirming that your husband—” he nods at Shiro “—is your emergency contact and healthcare proxy.”

Keith’s brows furrow and he looks over at Shiro. “My husband?”

“Yes...?” the doctor says and starts to look worried. He reaches for a penlight.

“Right, yes, my husband. Of course,” Keith says hurriedly. “Sorry, I’m just—you know, still tired.”

“If you’re sure?” At Keith’s nod, he says, “Well, try to get some sleep. The nurses will need to come in to check on you once in awhile but we’ll try to minimize interruptions.”

“Okay, thanks doc.” As soon as the door closes behind the doctor, though, Keith turns panicked eyes onto Shiro. “Husband? Oh, my god. Shiro, how much time’s passed? I don’t remember marrying you. What else have I forgotten?” He clasps both hands over his mouth in horror and he looks so distressed that Shiro just wants to stuff himself into a cannon and blast himself into Earth’s atmosphere.

“Keith, no,” he says, striding up to the bed and grasping both of his wrists. He doesn’t dare look over at Krolia and Kolivan. “You didn’t forget anything. We’re not married.”

“We’re not?” Somehow, Keith looks even more devastated.

Shiro shakes his head and pushes forward. “I told them we were because...because you were seriously injured and unconscious and they were going to make me wait outside because I wasn’t family and I panicked and I said I was your husband and they let me in. And then after, Iverson somehow heard and he was so happy for us that I didn’t have the heart to tell him the truth. And then Matt heard about it so he probably told Pidge, who probably told the others. And then I think I said something in front of a reporter earlier, so probably everyone...in the...world….stop laughing.”

Keith snorts and his eyes crinkle up in mirth.

“It’s not funny.” But Shiro bites back an involuntary grin even as he’s protesting. “Also one of the nurses might be planning an intergalactic wedding ceremony for us, since our last one was a very private one in Black’s cargo bay. She says it’ll be the event of the century.”

At that, Keith gives up the fight and laughs and laughs and laughs.

“It really isn’t funny,” Shiro says with a pout, but he won’t deny how good it feels to hear Keith laugh like that. “I’ve dug us both into a really big hole. And I’m sorry. I’ll try to get us out of it.”

Keith waves aside his apology. “We’re really not married? I didn’t miss a proposal and a wedding and all that? You’re not just saying that to make me feel better?”

“No,” Shiro says. “I wouldn’t lie to you.”

“But you’d lie to everyone else?” He looks endlessly amused even through his exhaustion.

Shiro shrugs and shifts his grip to Keith’s hands instead. “I couldn’t let them separate us, not after everything. Not until I knew you were going to be okay.”

“Kolivan, I think we should go for a walk now,” Krolia suggests loudly. Shiro freezes; he’d forgotten that they were there. Kolivan just grunts—does he sound disappointed?—but apparently goes along readily enough.

“Anyway, I’m sorry,” he says once the door’s clicked shut behind them.

“About marrying me while I was in a coma? Don’t worry about it. I don’t mind.”

“You don’t?”

“Of course not. You’re a catch.”

I'm a catch? I’ve got—” he gestures at his white hair and his Altean-made floating prosthetic arm, waves his arms vaguely to indicate all the other stuff he’s got going on (the nightmares, the spotty memory, the muscle disease that might have been eradicated by Haggar when she created his clones, the unidentified non-human genes in his DNA that might also be Haggar’s doing...).

“Yeah,” Keith says, eyes fond. “You’re a catch. You’re the strongest person I know, and the smartest and the bravest. You’ve survived so much and you’re such a good person. Whoever you marry would be the luckiest person in the universe.”

“I love you,” he blurts out. “And you’re the only one I would want to marry.” Then his eyes widen when he realizes what he’s said. “Oh, shit. I didn’t mean to just say it like that. I’m so sorry. I had a whole thing planned. Dinner, candles. Somewhere that’s not a hospital room.”

Keith’s eyes widen in shock, and wonder. Shiro feels like he could just lose himself in their violet depths forever.

“Shiro,” he breathes, “I love you too.”

“I know. That memory, I have.” It had been the first thing he remembered from the clone’s experiences—the image of Keith straining to hold back his weaponized arm, looking up at him desperately and saying, “I love you!” It’s a bittersweet memory because the rest of that battle had been horrifying. It features in his nightmares on a regular basis.

“Well, now you can think about this one instead.” Keith gestures for him to lean over and clasps one hand around the back of his neck, guiding him down for a soft kiss. “I love you,” he murmurs against his lips.

“I love you, too,” he returns. He stands when Keith lets go of him but he doesn’t go very far.

Keith yawns. “Ugh, why am I tired already? I’ve been asleep for weeks.”

“You’re still healing. You should sleep. I’ll be here when you wake up again.”

Keith nods even as he starts to drift off. “‘Night, Shiro,” he murmurs.

“Good night, Keith.”

 


 

The others are discharged from the hospital one by one.

Allura’s first and Shiro asks her and Coran to look over the Atlas since it was all built according to Altean specifications and altered to be able to utilize resources that were available on Earth.

“There’s another matter, too,” he says, taking in a deep breath. There are other people on the bridge with them, working on repairs, but they’ve been left in their own little pocket of quiet like no one wants to disturb them. Shiro’s not sure if it’s his Captain status or Allura and Coran’s alien-ness that’s giving them the space.

“Yes, Shiro? What is it?” Allura prompts.

“I need a weapon. Would you be able to make a bayard for me?”

“Hm, we might be able to construct one based off of King Alfor’s blueprints for the original,” Coran muses, “but it wouldn’t be able to change to adapt to its user the way the Paladins’ do.”

“That’s fine. I just need something.”

Coran nods. “What weapon would you prefer?”

“A blade if you can.”

“We’ll see what we can do,” Allura promises.

Hunk is the next one released and he and Yellow volunteer their services with cleanup. “I feel like we have to, you know?” he tells Keith one evening. He’d brought over a plate of freshly baked cookies which was almost immediately completely decimated by the Blades. Shiro had just managed to snatch two of them for himself and Keith. “Yellow’s so strong he can make everything go a lot faster and free up people to work on other things besides literal heavy lifting.”

“Yeah,” Keith says with a nod. He purses his lips. “I wish I could be out there, too.”

“Hey, no, you just woke up from a several-week-long coma. You just relax, get lots of sleep, follow doctor’s orders, all that jazz. We can take care of doing the rest. Oh hey, guess what? The Grand Canyon’s still standing and I’m going to take Shay there.”

“Nice.”

“You don’t think it’s too much, do you?”

“No, I think she’ll really like it.”

Hunk looks relieved. “Okay, good. I wanted to ask you because you and Shiro have your shit together, you know? Lance is so messed up over Allura that he’s tripping over his own feet.”

Keith snorts. “Yeah, it makes me wonder if he was all talk back then.”

“Oh, he was definitely all talk,” Hunk whispers, like Lance will be able to hear him from two doors down.

“Huh. Interesting.” From the glint in his eye, he’s storing that for future ammunition. Shiro shakes his head to himself.

“Anyway, do you two have any plans for after? It’s not like you’ve had time for a honeymoon.”

Shiro chokes on his bite of chocolate-y goodness. “You know we weren’t actually married, right? You would have known if we had gotten married in Black.”

Hunk looks nonplussed. “Well, you are now, right?”

They are—they had signed the papers a few days ago because they had decided it was easier to go along with Shiro’s lie since literally everyone knew than to backtrack on it now only to later potentially get married for real....

“So what are you going to do after you get out?”

“I was thinking we’d take the Blades on a safari trip,” Keith says.

Hunk stares. “Are you serious?”

“Yeah? They love Animal Planet and National Geographic and reality singing competitions and I wouldn’t have been caught dead in the audience of one of those shows even before the whole Bob thing happened. So safari it is.”

“But what about—” Hunk glances over at where a couple of Marmoran agents are sitting on the floor engrossed in an episode of said singing competition. They look young, for galra. They probably are young, compared to agents like Thace and Ulaz, Krolia and Kolivan. Most of the agents who had been killed by Macidus were the senior ones. “Never mind.”

“I think it’ll be fun. I haven’t gone on a family trip since my dad died.”

Hunk looks chagrined. “Right. Yeah.” He coughs, looking awkward. “Well, I’m sure it’ll be great.”

“Thanks, Hunk. Enjoy your trip to the Grand Canyon.”

“We will,” he says, and excuses himself to go return to the quarters the Garrison’s given him and his family to use.

The Blades have their own set of quarters too, but more often than not, they tend to sleep here in Keith’s room. Shiro doesn’t know if they’re always so close knit or if it’s because they’re still wary of Earth or if it’s because both Krolia and Kolivan tend to stay here. He adamantly does not think about how he himself has also been living out of Keith’s hospital room, still.

 


 

When Pidge is discharged from the hospital, Sam comes to pick her up with their dog and Shiro walks with them over to where the Atlas is docked.

Sam gets her caught up on what they’ve been working on and Pidge dives right in. She has an advantage over both Coran and her father in that she’s spent years working directly with Altean technology and adapting it for human use. She already has a few tricks up her sleeve that she can clean up and put to use here.

Shiro leaves her to it, happy to see her lively and energetic again, and goes to check on Allura, who’s taken over opening wormholes when she and Blue aren’t helping with cleanup. Sam had started the work in the initial build but got stuck because of the lack of teleduvs; and he didn’t know enough about them to be able to find an adequate substitute. Slav finished it after an in-depth study of all the ores and crystals that were produced on Earth.

“Shiro, how are you doing?” Allura asks, once she closes the wormhole she had been holding open for a couple of Coalition ships bringing in produce and frozen meats for trade.

“Good. How is it going with the diamond-fluorite-calcite combination?”

She frowns a little. “It’s going well. It just feels different from the teleduvs and it takes some getting used to. You may have an easier time with it since it’ll be the only one you’ve used.”

“Perhaps.” He’ll have to find some time to come and try it out.

“And how is Keith doing?”

“Better. He keeps wanting to leave the hospital, says he’s feeling fine and he’s bored. I get the sense he’s only staying to humor me.”

“He may very well be able to leave soon. The galra are a hardy group. It’s likely that he’s healing faster than what would be expected for a full human.”

“Great. So he might actually be capable of a jailbreak, is what you’re telling me.”

Allura frowns. “A jailbreak?”

“Never mind. I need to head back, anyway. He’s starting PT today.”

“Oh, by the way, I heard that I officiated at your wedding?” Her eyes sparkle in amusement.

Shiro cringes. “Yeah...about that. It’s a long story. Sorry I used your name.”

“It’s okay. I’ve never married a couple but I could technically do it. I just wanted to wish you both happiness and a long life together.”

“Thanks.”

“Also, if you end up actually having a ceremony, I’m happy to officiate ‘again.’”

He just groans and leaves before he can die of mortification.

 


 

Griffin and the rest of the MFE pilots come to visit one evening while Keith and three other Blades are playing darts with their knives. Someone had found and installed a dartboard one day; Shiro doesn’t know who or how. He had just left to go to a meeting and it was there in the room when he returned.

The pilots pause hesitantly at the doorway, and look like they’re considering leaving and coming back later.

“You should just come in now,” Shiro tells them. “Once the rest of the Blades return from training, you won’t have anywhere to sit.”

Krolia looks up from her tablet curiously to see who Shiro’s talking to. Keith glances over too and looks surprised. “James? What are you doing here?”

Griffin clears his throat and looks embarrassed. “Ah, we just wanted to come see how you were doing.”

Keith turns to him and Shiro gives him an encouraging nod. He had nothing to do with Griffin coming here, but he is glad that he’s making an effort to patch things up with Keith. “Well, come in, then,” Keith tells them with a shrug. He throws his knife while they get settled and tilts his head at the dartboard, studying it. “I think a little more fluff for the tail,” he tells the other Blades.

“I agree,” Ryvar says softly and twitches her own tail, which bears more of a resemblance to a lizard’s tail than the wolf’s fluffy one.

“What are you doing?” Kinkade asks, looking at the board in confusion.

“We got bored with the regular targets,” Keith says, pointing out the stacks of target papers they’d already gone through; all of them have holes through the center target. “So we decided to draw an outline of the wolf.” Said wolf cracks an eye open from where he’s curled up on the windowsill.

There’s no actual outline of the wolf drawn on the paper that’s been tacked onto the board. The Blades have just created a dotted one with their throws.

“I...see.”

“Your aims are incredibly accurate,” Leifsdottir comments. “The picture bears a striking resemblance to the real thing.”

“Thanks,” Keith says. He looks pleased. Art isn’t really his thing but throwing knives accurately is. “Oh, let me introduce you all. This is Ryvar, Keena, and Ulan. My wolf, on the windowsill. And Krolia, my mother.”

Krolia gives a little wave and Griffin blanches.

“Everyone, these are the MFE pilots. Griffin, Rizavi, Leifsdottir, and Kinkade.” He turns to his mom and says, “Griffin and I were in school together even before the Garrison. We didn’t get along. I was a delinquent who was always getting into trouble. Griffin was a bully. But we’ve both grown up and out of those phases.”

Krolia leans around and gives Griffin a hard look. He swallows but to his credit, his voice remains steady when he tells both Keith and his mother, “Yeah. That’s what I wanted to come talk to you about. Look, I was a stupid kid back then. I’m sorry about all the things I said to you.”

“Thanks,” Keith says. “Apology accepted.”

Griffin nods and relaxes when Krolia sits back against the wall again.

“But,” Keith continues, voice hard, “talk like that to a member of my team again the way you did to Hunk in that meeting and there will be consequences.”

Griffin grits his teeth and looks like he wants to argue but manages to hold back and just nod again.

Shiro knows what he’s thinking—that it’s improper for a cadet or a lower-ranking officer to question a commanding officer. But, he’s realized, except for Allura, all of the Voltron Paladins are people who defied authority. The very reason they were even in a position to become Paladins was because they had defied authority and done their own thing. So it’s not surprising that they don’t always follow orders. And Allura doesn’t have military training. Her diplomacy training does make her prepared to navigate military hierarchy to some extent but she wouldn’t understand the particular intricacies of military protocol. It’s something he’s going to have to talk to Keith about, how to get Voltron to function more like a proper military unit. At least in public.

“So,” Rizavi says, deliberately lighthearted, “you have a space wolf.”

“Yeah, I found him when my mom and I were stranded on a giant space whale for two years.”

“How….?”

“It was bigger than a planet and had its own ecosystem. We hitched a ride on it to a quantum abyss.”

The MFE pilots, as a group, just stare at him incredulously.

“Yeah. I wouldn’t believe it either, if I wasn’t actually there for it.”

 


 

Lance is discharged the next day and he waves a cheerful goodbye as he walks past with his family.

“Why can’t I leave too?” Keith asks him with a too-adorable pout. The wolf looks up and pouts too.

“Don’t you start,” Shiro chastises the wolf. To Keith, he says, “You know it’s not up to me.”

Keith groans. “I’ve already been cleared by PT. They’ve taken off the bandages around my head—”

“This morning. They only just took it off this morning, Keith.”

“—I feel fine. I’m sick of being in the hospital. Do you think they’ll at least let me go for a walk outside?”

“That is a great idea. Let’s call a nurse and ask.” He really hopes they’ll agree. Keith has been getting restless in the room and he keeps staring outside the window longingly. He really could just ask the wolf to teleport him out, so Shiro can appreciate that he’s making an effort to do what the doctors recommend and give himself adequate time to heal.

Their nurse gets it cleared with Keith’s doctor and even she looks a little relieved when she gives them the good news.

Keith practically cheers and hurries to get dressed in the cadet uniform they had brought to them.

“Your new uniforms aren’t ready, yet,” Shiro tells him apologetically. Keith looks at him questioningly. “They’re going to be all white and each of you will have emblems or something to represent your Lions.”

“All white? They’re going to be impossible to keep clean,” Keith protests.

“That’s why they’re not ready yet. Allura’s ordered a shipment of a special kind of fabric that’s especially stain resistant. She wasn’t happy with the options available here.”

“Great,” Keith sighs. “I foresee hours of fittings in my future.”

“Mm. Gotta show off your new shoulders after all.”

“Stop, oh my god,” Keith shoves at him lightly. Well, lightly for him and his galra strength, but it’s still enough to push Shiro a step over.

“What? Can I not revel in how hot my husband is? You know when my clone first laid eyes on you after you got back from the space whale he could barely think? He just wanted to jump you.”

Keith flushes.

“He was so tongue-tied. And then he had to pull it together so that he wouldn’t make a fool of himself in front of your mom.”

“He did pretty good,” Keith murmurs.

“That’s good. Hopefully, I’m doing better.”

“You definitely are. Now, come on. I can’t wait to get some fresh air.”

“You remember that we’ve had the window open in the room these past couple of days, right?”

“Hush, it’s not the same and you know it.” The two of them walk out, with the wolf excitedly running ahead and flashing back to their side before running ahead again.

“He seems excited,” Shiro comments.

“Yeah, you’d think he hasn’t been leaving every day for a couple of hours to hunt.” The wolf swishes his tail at Keith and Keith laughs.

“So. Where do you want to go first?” Shiro asks when they’re standing at the front steps to the hospital.

“Let’s go see Black.” They can see her chest and head where she’s towering over the Garrison buildings. Her eyes glow yellow as if she’s welcoming them. “Hey girl,” Keith greets her when they get to her, patting one forepaw. He looks up at her admiringly. “Wow, look at that shine. Someone’s given you a really thorough polishing.”

Shiro swears that she preens.

“Hopefully, I’ll be released from the hospital soon and then we can go flying and help out with relief efforts, okay? I know you’re probably as bored as I am.”

She gives a non-committal answer.

“....or I guess time doesn’t have the same meaning for you because you’re an immortal being and you were once asleep for ten thousand years. Never mind. It’s just me then.”

Shiro chuckles.

“I’ll see you later, Black. I’m going to go check out the Atlas. I want to make the most of my day of freedom.”

Shiro opens his mouth to protest, because the Atlas’ dock is on the other side of the Garrison and it’s a far longer walk than he thinks Keith should be trying, but Keith is already walking off so he closes his mouth, pats Black on the foreleg in farewell, and hurries to catch up.

“Tell me about the Atlas,” Keith requests. “What was it like to fight with her?”

“It was...different. She’s not like the Lions, she’s not sentient. I was able to reconfigure her schematics to form a robot but even in that shape, she had to be maneuvered the way a ship would be.”

“She’s very big.”

“Yeah, she’s big and powerful but not fast.”

“Makes sense. We should work on how she and Voltron can fight together. In case we need to do it again in the future.”

Shiro sighs. “With the way things have been for us, I’m pretty sure we’ll be needing to do it again in the future.”

“Well, Haggar is still out there somewhere. God only knows what she’s been up to.”

“And we’ve been getting a lot of visitors but none of them have heard anything about her.”

“I don’t like it. We need to make sure we’re ready for anything. The war’s not over yet.”

 


 

Shiro startles awake in the dead of night, the sounds of the other Paladins screaming still echoing in his mind. He rubs his eyes with his hand and sighs. So much for sleep. He stares at the ceiling and listens to the even breathing of the Marmoran agents sleeping on the floor. There’s only four of them tonight. Kolivan’s taken the rest to their assigned quarters now that Keith is nearly fully recovered.

Keith shifts against his chest and he runs his prosthetic down his side soothingly. “Shiro?” he murmurs sleepily.

“Just a dream,” he whispers. “Go back to sleep.”

Instead of doing that, though, he blinks his eyes open and moves up the bed until he’s curled on his side with Shiro’s metal shoulder cap pressed up against his chest. He’s taken to sleeping in the gap where Shiro’s upper arm would be if he had one. “What was the memory?” he asks quietly.

“One of my own. Our first fight with Zarkon.”

“Oh, that’s an old one.”

“Yeah. We had no idea what we were up against. Seeing Haggar again….” He shudders. “I felt so angry. And helpless. And then you were taking on Zarkon head on. That was terrifying.”

“Ye-eah, that probably wasn’t the best idea I’ve ever had.”

“No, it definitely wasn’t.”

“He told me I fought like a galra. Did I ever tell you?”

“No, you didn’t.”

“I wonder what he meant by that.”

“Probably that you’re a fierce fighter. You throw everything you have into a battle. The Blades do that, too. And the Galra Empire definitely did that.”

Keith just hums thoughtfully. He falls silent for a while but just when Shiro thinks he’s gone back to sleep, he says, “I was dreaming about my fight with your clone. That he had kept fighting even after I cut off his arm and I ended up stabbing him in the chest and killing him. Killing you.” His breath hitches at the end and Shiro moves his prosthetic up to cup the back of Keith’s head, threading his fingers through his hair and rubbing gentle circles into his scalp.

“We’re both okay,” he says. “We’re alive. And we’re together.”

“And we’re going to stay that way,” Keith promises.

Shiro believes him.

 


 

The day that Keith’s finally discharged from the hospital is a day for celebration. They pack up all the things that they’ve accumulated in his hospital room and move it over to the Blades’ quarters.

It’s the first time he’s gone there and Shiro’s surprised to see that they’ve been given an entire hallway to themselves. They’ve converted the largest room into a command center of sorts and a group lounge, and split up the rest of the rooms. One of them’s been saved for Keith and Shiro ( the nameplate next to the door actually says ‘Keith and Shiro’). There’s a large custom-made bed in the corner for the wolf.

“This is nice,” Keith says, glancing around. “Very spacious.” He then promptly loses interest in it and starts to change into his Paladin armor.

Shiro chokes. “What are you doing?”

“The Blades are at training. I’m going to join them,” Keith says, as if it should be obvious. “It’s been weeks. I need to get back into shape.”

“You just got discharged from the hospital.”

“Yeah, I know. I’ll take it easy, don’t worry.”

Shiro worries the whole way to the gym. Keith doesn’t know the definition of ‘take it easy.’

Kolivan welcomes Keith back with a firm squeeze of his shoulder and a three-on-one bout. Keith’s idea of taking it easy is to have his wolf teleport him around the gym as he fights off the three Blades instead of doing any running or jumping himself.

There’s a low, impressed whistle next to him thirty minutes into the match and Shiro looks over to see Griffin and his team watching the fight in awe. Then he realizes that there’s a crowd of cadets and officers gathered around the edges of the gym.

“They’re really good,” Griffin says.

“They’re supposed to be taking it easy on him,” Shiro says despairingly.

“They are,” Krolia pipes up from his other side. She radiates maternal pride. “They’re refraining from throwing their swords in case he and the wolf can’t blink out fast enough.”

“Great. So no one’s going to accidentally skewer him with a sword.”

“We won’t be doing him any favors by going too slowly. The Galra Empire wouldn’t wait.”

At least Kolivan calls an end to the bout when Keith starts to flag. They have a huddle to debrief and the crowd drifts off, chattering excitedly.

Shiro thinks about the dinner reservation he had made for them for that evening and hopes that Keith won’t be too sore to go.

 


 

Acxa appears one day, leading a group of six Blades to where Shiro and Keith are observing the work being done on the Atlas. She presents them to Keith like an offering.

“I found them on one of Kaylix’s moons,” she says. “Or rather, I was tracking a Druid who was tracking them and after we fought and killed it, I told them I knew where you were and offered to bring them to you.”

If the Blades have any opinion on being delivered to Keith as if they were prettily-wrapped gifts, they don’t say. Keith’s eyes do brighten, though. “Kolivan will be glad to see you,” he tells them and leads the group towards where the other Blades are working that day.

Shiro and Acxa trail behind them. “I served Lotor faithfully as a General for many thousands of years,” Acxa says out of nowhere. “I thought he was honorable and admirable, full of integrity and truly desiring to bring about peace to the galaxy. I thought he would make an excellent Emperor once his father was dead. But I was wrong about that.”

“We all were,” Shiro says generously, though he can’t think of why his clone supported Lotor’s bid for power.

“Keith, though. He truly is an honorable and admirable person. He repays loyalty with loyalty. He would never kill a friend just because they had been brainwashed by an evil witch.”

“No...he wouldn’t,” Shiro agrees slowly. He certainly hadn’t when it was Shiro’s clone who was possessed and Shiro is sure that he would have responded the same way had it been anyone else who was cloned and possessed.

“Has he considered having his own General? A mobile fighter, perhaps, who could be deployed from the Lion and provide support during battle.”

Shiro stops in his tracks and squints up at her. “Are you...are you applying for a job?”

Acxa stops as well and quirks a brow at him. “Is there an opening?”

“Why are you asking me?”

“I got the impression that you two worked together. And that he cares about your opinion very much.”

“I...I’ll talk it over with him.”

It’s not actually a bad idea and Black’s cargo bay is large enough to fit a single pilot fighter. He just isn’t sure he can trust Acxa in that role.

 


 

“It sounds interesting,” Keith says when Shiro shares the idea of adding mobile fighters to the Lions with him. “But once we form Voltron, those fighters are gonna be stuck outside because we won’t be able to open the cargo doors to let them back in.”

“Maybe we can try it in practice and see how it works.”

“Kolivan says that Acxa hasn’t approached him about potentially joining the Blades. Not that they’re accepting new members right now, without the ability to conduct their trials. But she hasn’t asked.”

“I got the sense that she didn’t come here to work with the Blades. I think she’s hoping to work with you.”

Keith’s brows furrow. “Why?”

“Well...she compared you to Lotor, so maybe she thinks you have the potential to one day become the ruler of the galaxy?” He can’t help it.

Keith scowls at him. And scowls harder when Shiro can’t contain his snickers any more.

“Sorry, sorry.” He’s not really.

Keith just shakes his head. “The good news is that one of the agents she brought with her is a geneticist, so he can take a look at your new DNA and see what it is that Haggar did.”

Shiro sighs. He’s more than a little worried to find out just what it is he has to deal with but it’s better to get it over with. “Yeah, I can meet with him tomorrow while you take your mom to your dad’s grave.”

“Sounds good.” He looks a little hesitant when he adds, “I want to take you there one day too, so I can introduce you.”

“I’d love that,” Shiro says wholeheartedly. Keith grins at him, and looks relieved. Then something occurs to him. “Do you want to take Acxa with you? She can serve as your bodyguard.”

“Against what? We’re on Earth.”

“It would just be a trial run. See how you two work together.”

Keith shrugs. “I guess. As long as she keeps her distance and doesn’t intrude on my mom’s time with my dad’s memory.”

“We can talk to her first and make sure she understands.”

 


 

Thevin hadn’t been able to tell Shiro exactly what the genetic changes did immediately but he had promised to study them and provide him a full report as soon as he could. And that day has come.

Shiro stares at the tablet in his hands and has second thoughts about it all. Maybe he’s better off not knowing.

“Whatever it says, we can deal with it together,” Keith says, coming up behind him and wrapping his arms around his waist. He hooks his chin over Shiro’s shoulder and hugs him tightly.

Shiro takes a deep breath and steels himself. But then he changes his mind. “Actually...Keith, do you mind if I read this first by myself? I just—whatever it says, I want some time to think about it on my own.”

“Yeah, sure. Definitely.” Keith lets go of him and comes around to face him, eyeing him with some concern. “I’ll go do some maintenance work on Black. Come find me whenever, okay?”

“Okay.”

“Do you want the wolf with you?”

Shiro bites his lip and looks down at the wolf. “Yeah, if you don’t mind.”

“Of course not.” Keith leans in and presses their lips together firmly, like he’s trying to imprint the memory of it into Shiro. “I love you.”

“Love you too.”

Keith heads off towards Black, who’s still headquartered at the airstrip with the other Lions because there isn’t any other place to put them.

Shiro decides to go to his office, because if it’s bad news, he doesn’t want it associated with their room. He closes and locks the door, pulls down the blinds, and settles in to read.

When he’s gone through it completely, he goes back and re-reads it again.

Then he calls Thevin to confirm what he thinks he understands from the report.

Then he covers his face with his hands and lets the tears fall. The wolf comes and braces himself on Shiro’s knees, leaning up to nudge comfortingly against his chin.

“It’s okay,” he chokes out. “I’m okay. It’s not bad news. Just overwhelming.” Still, he wraps his arms around the wolf and buries his face in his soft fur.

When he’s calmer, he takes a steadying breath and says, “Okay, let’s go to Keith.” And in the next moment, they’re in Black’s cockpit.

Actually, they’re sitting on Keith’s lap in the pilot seat in Black’s cockpit.

“Oof,” Keith grunts out. He reflexively grabs onto both of them to keep them from falling.

The wolf squirms out of their grip and circles around the chair.

Shiro turns until he’s seated sideways across Keith’s lap, with his legs draped over the side of the chair and his back supported by one of Keith’s arms.

Keith dabs at the dried tear tracks on his cheeks. “Hey, you okay? What is it?”

Shiro smiles, a little shaky from relief and happiness. “I’m okay.”

“Good.”

“Haggar was trying to create the perfect soldier, according to Thevin.”

“Like Captain America.”

“I guess it’s a universal desire.” He shrugs. “So she got rid of my muscle disease. Enhanced cellular regeneration, liver and kidney function, cardiac output, energy production.”

“She made your body work better.”

“More like a galra’s body, but on a smaller scale. But the really good news is that the cellular regeneration means I’m going to have a longer life. Longer than a human’s.”

Keith stills. “As long as…?”

“Thevin said it’s hard to predict exactly but that it’ll be like if a galra and a human had a child together, but maybe a little more on the human side because most of my genes are still the human ones.”

“So….”

“So there’s a good chance that I’ll live nearly as long as you. Assuming we die of old age and not in battle.”

“Shiro,” Keith breathes, eyes shining. “That’s...that’s—”

“Good news?”

Keith laughs. “The very best.”

 



 

Epilogue:

The day dawns bright and clear and sunny. A large stretch of desert sand has been covered with a thick off-white fabric. A platform has been set up at one of the short ends of the rectangular space. Seats fill the rest of the space and the seats are occupied by beings from all over the galaxy. At the back are massive cameras that are filming and televising this across the universe.

To one side of the stage, sitting lengthwise along the side of the cordoned off area is the IGF Atlas. Shiro stands before it, dressed in his formal dress uniform. Next to him are Garrison officers and the Atlas bridge crew, all in their dress uniforms as well.

Across from them, to the other side of the stage, are the five Lions of Voltron, sitting regally. Black is the first one, and the rest are lined up in order of descending height. Keith stands there, in a crisply pressed white Paladin uniform. Gold and black braids on his right shoulder designate him as the Captain of Voltron. His wolf and the rest of the Paladins—except for Allura, who’s waiting for them on the stage—stand in a line next to him. After them are the Blade of Marmora.

Music starts up and a hush falls over the crowd. Shiro and Keith start walking out towards each other and come to a stop in the middle.

Shiro reaches out for Keith’s hands and is glad that he’s wearing a glove on his flesh hand so no one can see how much he’s sweating and that his prosthetic can’t sweat.

“Nervous?” Keith asks through a slightly strained smile. Neither one of them are big on ceremony or public displays like this, but such is the burden of being two of the leaders of an intergalactic federation.

“Just a little.”

“Yeah, me too. But this is nothing, compared to everything else we’ve been through.”

“And we’ve actually already been married.”

“Right. This is just a celebration.”

“Let’s be real. This is PR.”

Keith snorts and his eyes crinkle and alright, Shiro doesn’t care if this ceremony is just for the public. He’ll marry Keith as many times and in as many ways as he can.

Allura clears her throat at them pointedly and they startle. Then they sheepishly climb up the steps to stand facing each other before her on stage. She winds a long piece of soft red fabric around their joined hands and ties it off in a loose knot.

“Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today….”