damage, galaxy destruct
endless, celestial a bit corrupt
Keith’s legs are—
Shiro is laughing again. Singing, too. “Run, run, as fast as you can… Oh, I’m sorry. It slipped my mind. You can’t.”
—not where they should be. Detached, maybe, or evaporated. It’s not like Keith can get up and go look. It’s not like it would matter if he could.
The smell of charred flesh twists his stomach. He wants to scream, but his voice is gone, broken early in the fight by Shiro's hand around his throat. He scrabbles for his knife—he’s so close, but he can barely move his arms—and miraculously, his fingers wrap around the handle. Salvation is in his grasp, but it’s not the kind that will save their lives. It may help save the universe, though. Keith is going to die here, and the only thing—the only thing—that would make it less awful is if he takes Shiro with him when he goes. Because Shiro isn’t going to come back to him; he’s certain of that now. And Shiro wouldn't want to be left like this. As many times as it takes, right?
“You look just like a broken doll. A pretty thing, but useless now.” Shiro approaches him like the end of the world.
Like the end of Keith’s world. He keeps on looking at Shiro; keeps looking disaster in the face, fighting the urge to close his eyes and let the apocalypse go on without him. Patience, he tells himself.
Shiro stares at the blade and tsks. “You think that little pocketknife will protect you? I took your legs off from eight meters away. I can take your hands, too.” He kneels at Keith’s side, almost reverently, and then he lights up his arm.
Keith needs him to come just a little bit closer. If he does, then—
Shiro leans over him. “Goodbye, Keith.” It’s with a weird sort of gentleness that he thrusts his red-hot hand into Keith’s chest. Shiro has always burned Keith’s heart. It’s somewhat poetic, but Keith has never been a big fan of poetry.
The blade awakens in a flash of purple light. With the last of his strength, Keith cuts Shiro open. The flood of wet heat gushing onto Keith’s belly tells him he’s done it right. Shiro won’t suffer for long.
Shiro falls, slumping onto Keith’s chest. “Keith,” he whispers, just like he used to, and then he says nothing more. They lie there together, bodies pressed close one final time, as the icy gleam fades from Shiro’s eyes.
It’s time to let go. Warmth is waiting for them both, and love, and light. Maybe even the other paladins—maybe—
* * *
Flat. Cold. Dark. Empty. An endless plane stretching out on all sides. Not how Keith pictured the afterlife, not that he’d spent much time picturing it. He pulls himself up to his knees—
—Knees? The afterlife means he gets his legs back, so that’s one thing going for it. But he’s alone, no Shiro in his arms. He slaps the—floor? ground?—and lets out the scream that’s been building inside him since Shiro first lunged at him with murder on his mind. He is alone, alone for eternity. After everything he’s done, the universe still believes this is what he deserves. He should have guessed.
It’s only a whisper, a breath. Nothing so concrete as a real voice. This must be how the madness begins: imagining his loved ones speaking to him.
“Be quiet,” Keith moans.
Keith hunches forward, pressing his hands to his ears. “No—I can’t—”
“Keith, it’s me.”
Keith’s voice shatters. “Don’t,” he sobs. “Please don’t do this to me.” Knowing he’ll see nothing, knowing his hopes will only destroy him, he shuffles around on hands and knees so he can look in the direction of the voice. There will be nothing there, he reminds himself. Nothing, no one—
“It’s me, baby,” Shiro says, tall and proud and beautiful and real. “I’m here.” He takes a step toward Keith, but Keith scrambles back from him.
“You were trying to—you killed me! The others—you said you—” Keith can’t finish it; can’t imagine his friends lifeless and floating in space. He doesn’t know what it means that they’re not here with him.
“I won’t hurt you, Keith. Everyone else is safe, and so are you. The man you fought out there was a copy of me, created by Haggar. He never wanted to hurt you, but…” Shiro’s eyes are full of grief. “She doesn’t care if she breaks her toys.”
“Where were you?” Keith asks. “If that wasn’t you?”
Shiro closes his eyes, as if he can’t bear to look Keith in the eye. “When I fought Zarkon, he won. I died, Keith. The Black Lion couldn’t save my body, but she kept my spirit within her mind. Baby, I’ve been with you this whole time. I’m so sorry I couldn’t tell you sooner.”
“It’s okay,” Keith says. “It’s gonna be okay. Just tell me how we can get out of here, and I’ll—”
But Shiro is shaking his head.
“Ah,” Keith says softly. “We’re not getting out of here. Are we?”
“The clone-factory planet broke apart,” Shiro explains, voice flat. “You…fell, and my body was destroyed a long time ago. Even if we had a way to leave, we would die. Completely. Permanently.”
“And if we stay here?”
“I don’t know. But I think we would just go on forever in this place.”
Keith manages a scrap of a smile. “There are worse things.”
“Worse than dying?” Shiro asks.
Keith gets to his feet and walks forward, into Shiro’s open arms, right where he belongs. “Every time I lost you, that was worse.” He kisses Shiro, teasing open his mouth, tasting starlight and moonbeams. Eternity doesn’t sound so bad anymore. “This time, I found you.”