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Do Me A Favor

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“W-w-wait a second, I don’t think I got you right – could you maybe repeat that?”

Allura sighed and rubbed her temples, refusing to look at Lance, who was gaping at her from where he had just fallen from the couch.

To be fair, he wasn't the only one gaping. Hunk and Pidge stayed silent, though, and only spared Shiro occasional concerned glances.

“No, seriously, could you please say that again? Because for a moment there I thought you said—”

“Let me get this straight.” Shiro took a deep breath, meeting Allura’s eyes as steadily as he could. It was no easy feat, considering the whirlwind of conflicted emotions and thoughts that occupied his mind at the moment. “You need me to marry a person I have never met for… what, exactly?”

“I do realize that this situation is… inconvenient,” Allura said miserably, looking around the room, simultaneously trying to find some support while avoiding his stare. “But you must understand that I would have never suggested subjecting you to it had it not been the only way for us to gain their support. It is a miracle they agreed to consider our alliance at all. I already know your ojections,” she pleaded, “And I, too, am far from pleased by the necessity of having to trust galra – but unfortunately, I have to admit that we simply cannot allow ourselves to throw away any options right now.”

“Throwing away options is not the same as throwing Shiro under the proverbial bus,” Pidge quipped.

“Yeah, I kinda second that,” Hunk agreed nervously, glancing at Shiro. “It’s just – how come you guys are so advanced when it comes to tech but still insist on marriage, of all things, to secure the alliance?! We’re literally ten thousand years behind you and still don’t do this anymore!”

“Well, technically, some countries do,” Pidge muttered, fidgeting in her seat. “But that’s frowned upon. I think? I’m not really sure, I’ve never been interested enough in these things to look them up.”

“Exactly! That’s, that’s… that’s just… wrong.” Hunk threw his hands up in despair. “How can you marry someone you don’t even know? And even if you know them, you don’t just up and marry them, you have to at least like each other, and even then…”

“We got it, Hunk,” Shiro sighed, and crossed his arms tighter, as if it could help him ground himself. “I… am really uncomfortable with this, to be honest.”

That, he thought sourly, was probably an understatement of the century.

It had all started when he got back some of his memories from his time in captivity. Said memories granted him yet another bunch of colorful nightmares, a hint on the events surrounding his escape and a frequency that allowed them to contact his savior.

Now Shiro really wished they never did. Ulaz refused to meet them, but did reveal some information that could interest Voltron – namely, that they were not alone in their fight against the galra and that there was an underground resistance among their ranks.

Understandably, they all had their doubts when it came to trusting galra, but galra, it turned out, had just as many issues and were even more mistrustful, if that was at all possible. Which, come to think of it, was pretty reasonable – one doesn’t manage to stay hidden in plain sight for ten thousand years by trusting strangers left and right.

Their idea of securing their potential alliance with Voltron, however, left… a lot to be desired.

“This is just a formality,” Allura looked at him with wide eyes, and for what seemed the thousandth time today Shiro wondered what it was, exactly, that the leader of said resistance had told the princess to make her change her mind so drastically. “It doesn’t have to mean anything, Shiro, I promise!”

“And what if Shiro meets some cute alien and falls in love in the near future? It will mean something then,” Lance pointed out, and even though Shiro had no plans to fall in love with anyone, he had to agree – all of this sounded like it was going to bite him in the ass sooner or later, cute aliens aside.

“If this is such a formality, why not make Lance marry one of the galra chicks, then?” Pidge snorted.

“Hey! I’ll have you know, I only have eyes for one girl, and she’s right here – what makes you think I would agree to marry anyone else?”

“Ohhhhh, so you would rather marry Allura ? I never knew your intentions were so serious, Lance!”

“That’s enough.” Allura, Shiro noticed with a hint of amusement, blushed, even as she tried her hardest to ignore Lance’s spluttering. “The Blade of Marmora were quite adamant on this: the leader of Voltron has to be the one to secure the alliance. We have gone through all the other options, and they refused every single one of them. I’m sorry, Shiro,” she added softly.

“Well,” Shiro sighed and squared his shoulders, managing a smile – albeit a shaky one – in return. “It’s not like we really have a choice, do we?”

..::..::..::..

In hindsight, maybe it had all started even earlier – maybe it had started when Lance, Hunk and Pidge busted him out of the Garrison’s hands back when he returned on Earth, or maybe it had started with Kerberos mission. Shiro didn’t dwell on it, though – he didn’t like to remember that mission and everything that went south with it.

In the end, none of it mattered. They were here now, the legendary defenders of the universe and its only hope to defeat the galra; who cared what the catalyst to it all was.

(Shiro kind of did.)

And yet somehow, despite fighting aliens, saving aliens from other aliens, and piloting an impossible technomagical hybrid robotic lion for nearly a year now, the idea of having to marry someone for the greater good seemed like the weirdest thing that had ever happened to him.

It’s not like—not like he had never thought of marriage before. Shiro knew he would probably want to start a family of his own one day, but it had always been too far away, and now that they were in outer space, risking their lives daily, it was perhaps as far from his goals as it could ever get. There was no guarantee they’d make it out alive from this war, let alone back to Earth.

The thought of starting a family in space had never occurred to him in the year they spent on the Castle of Lions.

Yet here he was, apparently, being given away in exchange for a powerful alliance. Really makes a man feel special, with a flavor of middle ages on top.

The preliminary date had been set in two months, the earliest time possible for both sides to reach the neutral planet where the meeting and subsequent wedding will take place. At least the Blade of Marmora were pleased to find out that the Black Paladin agreed to their terms, so that was something. Still, Shiro wasn't sure how he felt about the delay; it gave him both some kind of a false hope that it was still possible to come to some other solution and a sour taste of postponing the inevitable. Better get it over with as soon as possible and all that.

For now, however, there was nothing he could do but wait. Despite Lance trying to lighten the mood by insisting that he needed a bachelor party, an upcoming wedding didn’t mean they could take a break from saving the universe – Voltron still had a lot of work to do, and they still had to keep up on their training schedule.

That said, it also didn’t mean they couldn’t occasionally take a day to rest and recuperate at all, and Shiro desperately needed to unwind – and maybe have a drink or two. Really, he just wanted to get away, even if it was for a little bit, and have a peaceful and quiet meltdown somewhere alone, where his friends couldn’t see him.

A small swap moon close by seemed like a perfect fit for his purposes, and it wasn’t long after the end of the day cycle on the ship that Shiro found himself in a sleazy alien bar.

It wasn’t that different from the bars on Earth, at least in his experience, which, to be honest, was sparse at best – not like he had much time to go clubbing between classes at the Garrison and his duties as the junior officer. He went out for drinks with friends now and then, sure, but usually it was the same old bar in the small town near Garrison. Sometimes, if they were feeling adventurous, it was the other bar across the town, but that was it – the rest of his knowledge came mostly from movies and TV shows.

Shiro slowly made his way to the bar at the back, glancing around curiously. It wasn’t bad, and so far the only alien thing he could see were the aliens themselves. Whether or not the drinks here were suitable for humans was yet to be seen, but Hunk told them about the food court in the space mall and the delicious (and most importantly, edible) food that could be found there, so Shiro hoped that it held true for liquors as well.

None of the items on the bar list were familiar to him, and he dropped the act of trying to choose something after a few minutes of silent concentration.

The whole point of this evening was to unwind, not work himself up on something so insignificant as this. He let the list fall back on the counter and signaled the bartender he was ready to make an order.

“Do you have beer?” he asked hesitantly. The bartender, a huge hulking mass of stone, stared at him, clearly unimpressed, and Shiro felt himself fidget under his unmoving look. “Uh… Wine? No? Scotch? Whiskey? Something like that?”

“I have breinhjamen,” the bartender grumbled and slammed down a glass in front of Shiro without waiting for his reply. Shiro took a startled step back, but the bartender was already drawing a tinted bottle from under the counter. He filled the glass to the brim before pinning Shiro down with a glare. “Here.”

“Um. Thanks. I guess,” Shiro muttered, looking at the glass dubiously. He wasn’t sure if it meant they didn’t serve anything but this… thing… at all, or if it was supposed to be similar to one of the beverages he asked for, but it seemed that he had no other option but to find out – the gargoyle-esque bartender was still watching him, and it was becoming unnerving. Shiro managed a crooked smile and hastily took a small sip of the dirty-orange liquid.

It was… surprisingly nice: sugary-sweet, but strong, burning hot at the back of his throat. Definitely better than he expected. He hummed softly, taking a larger sip this time.

The bartender, seemingly pacified, nodded and went back to sorting out the bottles, all of which looked suspiciously like the one he left standing next to Shiro.

Shiro eyed it contemplatively, than looked at his glass again. He wasn’t planning to get drunk, but then again, it’s go big or go home, right? He could as well consider this his own stag party, the one Lance wanted him to have so much. Since they haven’t been actively looking for trouble, it was unlikely Voltron would be needed in the immediate future, and Shiro thought he deserved a day off.

Perhaps it was selfish of him, but hell, he was going to get married for the sake of the universe – couldn’t he allow himself this much? It’s not like he was ignoring his duties; if there was an emergency, he would know, but for now he needed to let go. It was a futile attempt to control everything, anyway – no matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t prevent the attacks, and – wow, look at this, not even a full glass and he was already feeling even more miserable and guilty than before.

He groaned and rubbed at his face furiously. It was just no use; staying on the ship made him feel trapped and anxious, but leaving left him feeling guilty and, well, apparently, even more anxious. He decided that one glass would be enough for tonight, and then he’d get back to the discreet shuttle that would take him back to the Castle of Lions – although perhaps he would take the bottle with him for later.

Shiro let his eyes wander as he sipped his drink slowly. The bar wasn't very crowded, and most customers were occupying the low tables in groups of four to five; he noticed that some of them had different glasses and from what he could see from afar, some drinks didn’t resemble his at all, so perhaps it wasn't the only one beverage in this bar. Still, he wasn’t going to experiment with other options, at least not tonight.

He had assumed that the bre-whatever-it-was was stronger than wine, though not as strong as some hard liquors, but the pleasant warmth that was slowly setting low in his stomach was making him reconsider. Shiro trailed the rim of his glass with a finger, and just as he was watching the drop of condensation slide down, he noticed a man sitting across from him on the other side of the bar .

The young man – Shiro guessed he was maybe a few years younger than himself – seemed to notice his stare immediately: he jerked his head, catching Shiro’s gaze, and narrowed his eyes dangerously.

“What are you looking at?” he snarled, and Shiro quickly threw his hands up placatingly.

That seemed to bring attention to the bottle still standing next to him on the countertop, and the hostile look on the stranger’s face quickly turned to pensive, zeroing in on the drink. Shiro huffed and arched an eyebrow, lowering his hands and taking that as an invitation to look. He wasn’t going to stare, but now that the brat snarked at him it became a matter of principle.

For a brief moment Shiro almost took him for a human: the size, the stature, the hair, everything was screaming human about him, more than alteans ever did, but then the guy leaned in, away from the shadow, and the illusion shattered. In the dim light of a lamp above the counter it became clear that his skin had a light violet hue, and his sclera was yellow, although he still had human irises, from what Shiro could see. What Shiro took for a messy hairstyle at first also turned out to be a pair of fluffy ears that perked up slightly along with his movement.

“Care for some company?”

“I thought you didn’t care for any,” Shiro mused, and the guy rolled his eyes, sliding down from his seat and striding to Shiro’s side.

“I don’t care,” he muttered, not taking his eyes from the bottle even as he plopped down on the barstool next to Shiro. Whether he was agreeing with the previous statement or brushing it off completely, Shiro didn’t know – both his voice and his expression were indiscernible. He blinked, and finally looked up, as if he remembered Shiro’s existence at the last moment. “I wouldn’t mind if you offered me a drink, though.”

“Oh?” Shiro did a double-take, and the expectant look on his face soured marginally. The scowl looked much more natural on him than a faux innocent look, which was—something.

He was pretty, Shiro noted absently. He was really, really pretty – Shiro didn’t know if he had a type, but if he did, it would probably be this guy.

Just his fucking luck that a pretty guy would come on to him here and now .

“So, are you going to?” the guy prompted impatiently, and Shiro sighed, rubbing at the back of his neck. He pushed the bottle forward in a silent offering, but knew he had to make some things clear in case this guy was not only looking for a free drink.

He didn’t know what exactly was expected of him in terms of the upcoming wedding and if he was supposed to stay celibate for all this time, but he sure as hell wasn’t going to risk it all now just because he met a pretty face in a bar.

“I’m sorry,” he said with a mirthless smile. “I’m afraid I’m drinking to my—engagement, so the drink is the only thing I can offer.”

“Oh, you too,” the guy sighed, already filling his own empty glass.

Wait, what?

“You look like you’re not happy with your arrangement, either,” he drawled absently, taking a long gulp and licking his lips with a satisfied noise.

“Huh?” Shiro asked dumbly, slightly dazed from the sight of his long, lean neck and the wet trail his tongue left across his bottom lip. The alcohol seemed to hit harder than he expected; or maybe it was a natural reaction, given that he was young, single and extremely frustrated on top of getting ready to be bound to some galra.

“I’m celebrating my engagement, too, can’t you see?” the guy sneered, downing the rest of his drink in one go and refilling his glass. “This is all of my dreams coming true,” he deadpanned, and Shiro snickered despite himself.

So he wasn’t the only one, huh.

“What happened?” he asked softly, taking the bottle from him and topping his own drink. He didn’t even notice when he managed to finish it.

“Oh, you know,” the guy wrinkled his nose and waved his hand. “The usual. My—family happened.”

Shiro winced in sympathy and quietly raised his glass to him. The guy observed him for a moment before wordlessly clicking his against it, and they drank in silence.

“What about you?” he drawled after a short pause. He sounded genuinely curious, if a bit tipsy – Shiro had no idea how long he had been at this bar and how many drinks he already had – and considering the topic at hand, it was no surprise.

He hesitated before speaking, not sure how much he could reveal. He couldn’t just up and tell some stranger that he was a Paladin of Voltron, not when he was alone – and not when it meant revealing that the leader of Voltron was getting married. It was supposed to be a secret, after all, what with the Blade of Marmora being a secret organization operating right under Zarkon’s very nose.

For a moment he panicked that he had been found and already said too much, but then the guy shrugged and turned away, watching the door instead.

“You don’t have to tell if you don’t want to. I was just being polite anyway. I have my own wedding to think of, not others' problems.”

“There’s nothing much to say,” Shiro said carefully, swirling the rest of his drink in the glass slowly and watching it with far more attention than it called for. “Like you said, you know how it is. Family, am I right?”

“Yeah,” the guy agreed quietly. “Family.”

They exchanged another short look.

“I’m—Takashi,” Shiro said, offering his hand for a handshake. The guy eyed it suspiciously, long enough that it made Shiro wonder if it was some sort of a cultural miscomprehension, but not enough for him to awkwardly drop it.

“Keith,” he said, taking his hand in a firm handshake – much firmer than Shiro expected. “Nice to meet you, Takashi.”

“Nice to meet you, too,” Shiro smiled softly, feeling a blush creeping up his face – a combination of alcohol and his name rolling from Keith’s tongue, said in his low, husky tone, making him mellow and more flustered than surely was sensible.

..::..::..::..

Shiro forgot all about his suspicions after a third – or was it fourth? It was hard to tell, and Keith was drinking like a sport – bottle of breinblehblah.

“It’s breinhjamen,” Keith repeated again, giggling and snuggling an empty bottle to his chest. They had relocated to a small table in a dark corner of the pub some hours ago and set to work on covering it with empty bottles and plates. Shiro could only hope he had enough GACs to pay for it all, because otherwise things could get really awkward. “See? Bre-inh-jam-en!” Keith poked the smudged letters on the label glued slightly askew to the bottle.

“My tongue is just not designed for this word,” Shiro mourned, stretching his arms across the table and dropping his head to one shoulder.

“Too bad,” Keith huffed and kicked his leg under the table. “You like it, don’t you? How are you going to order it again?”

“I’d just ask for ‘that niiiiice drink you have with a name no one can pronounce,'” he slurred. Keith rolled his eyes.

Everybody can pronounce breinhjamen. It’s the most popular drink on this side of the galaxy.”

“I’m pretty sure you’re saying it differently every time.”

“See if I help you get another round,” Keith taunted. Shiro arched an eyebrow, took one of the empty bottles and raised it above his head, catching the bartender’s eyes; he got a stiff nod in answer and triumphantly slammed the bottle back.

“That’s cheating,” Keith pouted, and his ears twitched adorably. Shiro told him as much and watched his cheeks turn dark purple even as he scowled – but his ears remained perked up, betraying his excitement.

“Who are you going to marry?” Shiro asked absently and immediately regretted his question as Keith visibly wilted.

“Hell if I know,” he muttered angrily, looking for a half-empty bottle on the table. When he found it, he took a long gulp, not bothering with a glass. Shiro frowned.

“You didn’t know them for long?”

“I don’t know them at all,” Keith scratched at the label with a sharp nail, ears dropping. “It’s, um. It’s… complicated.”

Shiro nodded slowly and leaned out of the way as the bartender walked to drop off their next bottle of blehblahmen.

“What about you?” Keith asked, clearly trying to change the topic. Shiro smiled, humorless, because who would have thought their stories were that much alike.

He could have made up something, he thought distantly. Come up with some story about his fiancé, about his “family” – he briefly wondered if he should just call the whole team his siblings and tearfully claim that they have lost their parents early, which wouldn’t even be that much of a lie, or be petty and cast Allura as a strict stepmother – but he had never been good at lying, and besides… he didn’t feel like lying to Keith.

Maybe it was a mistake, but he wasn’t going to reveal any sensitive information, so it was fine, right?

“Same here. We’ve never met, but, uh, our… families… kind of decided for us.” Huh, when he said it like this, it almost made him feel better and even somewhat sympathetic – who knows, perhaps the galra he’s going to be wedded to wasn’t overjoyed by the prospect, either. Seemed like it wasn’t such a rare occurrence in space, after all. “Hey, maybe we’re going to end up being married to each other,” he joked, raising his glass in a mock toast.

Keith stared at him blankly for a few unnerving seconds, and then his eyes lit up. They had a manic glint of a reckless idea, but Shiro, being drunk and a just a little enamored, felt himself responding to his brimming excitement nonetheless .

“Takashi,” Keith breathed out, leaning in to whisper across the small table, and Shiro leaned in as well, intrigued by his tone and his smile and his dark violet eyes and—his everything, to be honest. “You’re a genius.”

“Um,” Shiro said cleverly and blinked. Keith laughed, grabbed his face with both hands and kissed him right on the mouth.

Shiro felt his heart come to a screeching halt right as a warm feeling flooded him from head to toes. It was sloppy and messy and barely there; Keith dropped back on his chair, cackling like a drunk maniac, almost as soon as it happened, leaving Shiro hot and troubled and longing for more.

“Let’s get married!” Keith exclaimed and snatched the last bottle. “If we’re married to each other, we can’t marry anyone else!”

It was, Shiro had to admit, an idea as brilliant as it was stupid.

Stupid, because he knew he couldn’t do it – he didn’t know anything about Keith, but he knew that the alliance that was at stake was far too valuable for him act so recklessly.

Brilliant, because oh to hell with it all, Keith was absolutely right, and at least he liked Keith – there was no guarantee he would like the galra he’d have to marry otherwise.

Besides, they still had two months before the wedding. Anything could change in that time.

And if worst came to worst, he could always pretend nothing happened; Keith, though, who was looking at him with huge eyes filled with hope, could use it as an excuse to get out of an unwanted marriage.

Shiro was all for helping people. And Keith – Keith was a friend. They only knew each other for one evening, but he was absolutely, without a doubt, a friend. And Shiro didn’t like to let his friends down.

“Yeah,” he said and was rewarded by a brilliant smile full of sharp teeth that he kind of really wanted to feel against his skin. “Yeah, that sounds like a plan.”

And if he was thinking a little about stealing another kiss after they fake-married? Well, who could blame him. Keith’s lips had been slightly chapped, but soft against his, and he probably still tasted like a breinhjamen. It had also been Shiro’s first kiss in what seemed like – and probably was – ages and he really, really wanted more.

“I saw an—an ad for the office when I docked,” Keith said urgently, already on his feet and tugging Shiro up with him. His face was a mix of determination and barely contained glee with a hint of something dark – probably the anticipation of revenge on his family – and he was a ball of nervous energy, stumbling a little as he walked. Shiro barely managed to convince him to stop and pay, and even then he bared his teeth in a silent impatient hiss, which probably shouldn’t have been as hot as Shiro found it.

Despite clearly still being the more articulate one between the two of them, Keith could barely stand and had to lean heavily against Shiro as they went to look for the registry office.

“It has to be somewhere close by,” Keith muttered, snickering as he nuzzled Shiro’s arm and felt his bicep under the pretense of having to hold himself up. Shiro knew he was grinning like a complete idiot, but couldn’t find it in himself to mind – the streets were empty by now, and rare passersby were barely paying them any attention.

It suddenly hit Shiro that he was walking the street on a planet that was thousands of light years away from Earth, with an alien man all but hanging off his arm , about to get married to the said boy.

And to think a few years ago he believed that the only thing waiting for him in space were rocks. Cool rocks, rest assured, the rocks that were probably integral for science or something, but still remained, well, rocks. Inanimate and dull.

Kerberos had been the farthest frontier back then.

Now, looking back, it felt more like going to the neighboring town for the weekend.

It was… a heady feeling.

“Hey, you alright?” Keith asked curiously, and Shiro nodded hastily.

“Yeah. It’s just…”

“Oh, there it is!” Keith interrupted him excitedly, tugging at his hand and pointing at the bright neon sign on the building ahead of them. “I knew I saw it here!”

Shiro squinted, trying fruitlessly to read the unfamiliar letters. At least the image next to it pictured two entwined rings – apparently the symbolism of an endless circle was pretty universal.

He almost panicked that he forgot to buy a ring, but, before he could stop and run off to the nearest jewelry shop, thankfully remembered that it wasn’t necessary in their case .

The office was empty and brightly lit inside. A bored looking secretary was idly flipping through the magazines and only spared them a brief glance, her second pair of eyes never leaving the page she was looking through.

“Welcome to the Miraculous Wedding Palace,” she chirped. “How may I help you tonight?”

“We’re here to get married,” Keith explained, beaming up at Shiro. There was a wild look in his eyes, but even so Shiro found himself drowning in them. It wasn't strictly necessary to pretend to be in love, but with Keith it was surprisingly easy, and he could only nod, smiling softly back.

“Of course you are,” the secretary sighed, folded the magazine, and finally looked at them down her beak. “Will it be just you two?”

Shiro blinked.

“Yes,” Keith said smoothly, not bothered by the question in the slightest. “Just us.”

“The basic package includes one marriage certificate copy per person, four pictures and a piece of wedding cake for each person,” she said, flapping her wing in the direction of the fridge behind the counter. “For anything else you’ll have to pay extra, for the prices…”

“No, that will do,” Keith cut her off quickly.

“What kind of cake?” Shiro asked curiously at the same time and oofed when Keith elbowed him with a roll of his eyes.

“Gharghalee,” the secretary responded, nonplussed. “We’re out of mairreux, everybody wants them.”

“It’s okay,” Keith assured her, glaring at Shiro a little. “I love gharghalee.”

“I thought you were allergic,” Shiro smiled sweetly, rubbing at his bruised side.

“I’ll let you eat my piece.”

Shiro only barely managed to bit his tongue in time before he blurted out something suggestive.

The secretary giggled and bent down to get the necessary items from her desk.

“Your signatures, please.” She offered them a digital tablet and a pen, and as soon as they both signed – Shiro took a great care to scroll through the whole text, only to make sure there was not a single familiar letter in it – she sent two copies to the printer. As each one printed, it was accompanied by a short, funny melody that Keith hummed along to with a grin.

“Congratulations,” the secretary singsonged, presenting two shiny pieces of paper to them. “You’re married!”

“Wait, that’s it?” Shiro frowned, and in that moment the flash went off in rapid succession.

Keith cackled at the pictures and insisted on paying for the whole thing just because Shiro’s face, he claimed, was priceless on them. Shiro pouted, but didn’t argue and dropped the subject. He did, however, threaten to eat both pieces of cake just for that; he didn’t follow through.

After they left the office, they stopped on the threshold of the building, both looking at their certificates in awe.

“Well,” Keith said, uncharacteristically quiet and pensive. “I guess… that’s it.”

It didn’t register yet, but Shiro nodded slowly, carefully rolling his copy and hiding it in a pocket. Keith followed the motion with his eyes and then took a deep breath.

“Hey,” he whispered conspiratorially. “We’re married.”

“We’re married,” Shiro echoed, feeling himself smile.

And then Keith surged forward and pulled him into a kiss.

They stumbled blindly for a few seconds, laughing into the kiss, before Shiro managed to find leverage and press Keith into the wall. Keith gasped, ears flickering down, wrapped his legs around Shiro’s waist and raking his nails down his back – even through the cloth it left a tingling sensation on his skin, and Shiro moaned, licking into his mouth wetly.

Keith still tasted a little like breinhjamen, but more prominently like the sweet herbal cake that they shared, and Shiro tried to chase that taste. Not because he liked it that much – he didn’t really care about the cake, too weird for his liking – but because somehow on Keith it was perfect.

Keith clutched at him like he was his anchor and his last straw and Shiro kissed him like he needed him more than air. It was just as messy, if not more so, as the kiss back at the bar, and it was far from perfect – they clashed teeth and Keith nipped his lower lip a touch too hard, drawing blood, but Shiro hasn’t felt so present, so alive , since he got back from the galra.

It was amazing.

Eventually, they had to stop to take a breath, and Keith whined when Shiro pulled back, clacking his teeth warningly. Shiro laughed softly and stroked his cheek; Keith leaned into the touch, half-closing his eyes.

“So,” Shiro muttered, pressing their foreheads together. “What now?”

“I should probably get back to my jet,” Keith shrugged. “Sleep it off. Then… go home, I guess. You?”

“Same.” Shiro hummed once again and nuzzled his cheek. Keith caught his lips in another lazy kiss, licking away the drop of blood that swelled at the cut on his lip in a lewd fashion.

“I was going to run away,” Keith admitted barely audible. “But perhaps now I don’t have to.”

“You won’t get into much trouble, will you?”

“Oh, I will,” he smirked. “I will be in a huge trouble.” There was no fear in his voice, however, so he probably didn’t mean it in a bad way – or so Shiro hoped. He’d hate to know he only made it worse for Keith.

Reluctantly, Keith pushed him away and slid his legs back under himself. He still had to lean on the wall behind him, either because he was still drunk or because Shiro’s kisses made him weak in the knees – Shiro stupidly hoped that it was the latter.

“So… I know it might be too straightforward,” Keith said sheepishly, searching his pockets for something, “and I think we really should sleep it off right now – lest my family finds me at the most inopportune moment – but… I mean, we’re married, right? So if you want to stay in touch or something, here.” He finally pulled out a small comm, frowned at it, shook his head and rapidly typed at the keyboard. When it pinged twice, he thrusted it at Shiro, who had no other option but to take it. “Please don’t lose it, or I will be in a much bigger trouble,” he muttered nervously, fidgeting in place. Shiro pressed the comm to his chest, nodding, and Keith granted him a small smile.

“I’d love to,” he promised.

“It’s a clean slate right now,” Keith explained. “So you won’t accidentally call my contacts. I also changed my ID so that they won’t accidentally call you,” he grinned, and Shiro gave the thing in his hand a scandalized look, the thought only now occurring to him. “I’ll contact you later, when I get back, and if you change your mind, just, um. Destroy it.”

“Hey, we’re already married,” Shiro reminded him. “Maybe we should give it some time, but… I really want to see you again, as long as you want it, too.”

“I do,” Keith stepped in again and brushed their lips together in an almost tender kiss. “I’ll call you later.”

In the next blink, he was gone.

..::..::..::..

“You were drinking what yesterday?!”

“Please,” Shiro whispered brokenly, “Not… so loud.”

“Correct me if I’m wrong, but what you just uttered sounded suspiciously like breinhjamen,” Coran said accusingly, not bothering to lower the volume of his voice.

“Brehn… what?” Hunk muttered somewhere in the back of the room.

“I think it was brain-something,” Lance muttered back.

“No, it was braigh-something,” Pidge disagreed.

“Breinhjamen!” Coran exclaimed, and Shiro groaned, trying to turn away and pull the blanket over his head.

No such luck.

“It’s a very tricky beverage,” Allura sighed. “The effects of it are, quite frankly, unpredictable, and the morning after is notorious for severe hangover.”

“You’re not supposed to know any of this, princess!” Coran cried, scandalized. Shiro shuddered; right now even the mice seemed to scratch at Allura’s skirts too loudly, and the rest of the sounds were pure agony.

“I have never tried it myself,” Allura huffed indignantly as Coran continued to rant. “But I have heard enough stories.”

“I got it,” Shiro rasped. “I’ll never drink again. Could you please leave me to die now?”

“Just how many did you have?” Coran demanded to know.

Thinking hurt. Talking hurt. It was too much to ask of him to count anything, Shiro thought miserably.

“Three… I think. Maybe four.”

“Four glasses?! How are you even alive!”

“No, I think it was five,” Shiro added as an afterthought. “Yeah, there definitely was a fifth bottle.”

The silence that followed was a blessing, albeit a short one.

“Five bottles!..”

“Shiro, what were you thinking?..”

“Did you really drink five bottles by yourself?! Dude, you’re my fucking hero!”

“Has anyone ever told you your priorities are shit?”

“Hey, don’t try to tell me that wasn’t impressive!”

“Please,” Shiro all but whimpered. “Could you please—shut up.”

“You deserve it, you know,” Coran sneered. “What you did was extremely stupid, shortsighted, and dangerous. And a little bit impressive,” he conceded. “But stupid!”

“But impressive,” Lance stage-whispered again.

“Yes, impr—don’t get me off the track when I’m trying to scold number one!”

“We will leave you now,” Allura, bless her soul, said at last, urging everyone out. Why they felt the need to crowd his room in the first place was beyond Shiro – it’s like they’ve never seen a man nurturing a head-splitting hangover before. “Coran will bring you something to help alleviate your… condition… later.”

Shiro muttered his thanks weakly and sighed in relief when everyone left the room.

“And Shiro…”

Everyone but Allura, it seemed. He owed her, though, so he managed to turn his head and open one eye to look at her.

She was frowning, but there was concern on top of disappointment, and Shiro felt a pang of guilt.

“I hope you didn’t do anything… stupid,” she said imploringly.

When he managed a nod, she sighed again and finally left, letting the door slide shut quietly after her.

Yeah, Shiro hoped so, too. The events of the previous night were vague in his memory, mostly impressions of some sounds and shapes: the sweet taste of the drink (eurgh), the purplish tint of the skin, the husky sound of someone’s laughter.

God, it hurt . He felt too big for his skin, too gross, and he wished he had never woken up – even existing hurt. It was official: he was never drinking again. It just wasn’t worth it.

He only hoped Keith didn’t suffer as much.

Keith.

Oh, fuck, Keith!

His mind racing, he sat up so fast that the room spun around him dangerously. If he was going to get dizzy one way or another, at least now there was a tangible reason for it and not just his jumbled, panicked thoughts.

There go his hopes that he didn’t do anything stupid.

He felt around the bed nervously until he found a small comm under the pillow and breathed out slowly.

“Way to go, Shirogane,” he muttered, running his fingers over the slick metal casing.

In the history of fuck ups this one was surely in top five.

It was one thing to go out and drink away his sorrows, wishing goodbye to his bachelorhood, for the lack of better word; it was completely another to up and marry a complete stranger in a bar, ruining their chance at forming an alliance with what could as well be their only waning hope against Zarkon, all because he was an idiot who wallowed in self-pity and decided to get drunk on an alien planet.

To say he fucked up would be an understatement, truly.

Go big or go home, that's for sure.

(Should’ve gone home.)

Shiro groaned and fell back on the bed, covering his face with his hands.

Now he had to tell Allura and Coran, who will have to tell the Blade of Marmora the Black Paladin couldn’t marry anyone anymore. They will, understandably, think he’s an irresponsible leader, which would make Voltron untrustworthy as well, and then they all will be fucked.

He rolled onto his stomach, groaning, and thudded his head into the pillow. It still hurt, but Coran was right – he deserved it.

Or, a small voice whispered in his head, maybe he could keep silent on this. Maybe he shouldn’t tell anyone; after all, these Marmora guys probably weren’t secretive for nothing, so it wasn’t like they could just officiate the wedding between the leader of Voltron and one of their spies in publically accessible registry, right?

Allura did tell him it would only be a formality…

Shiro looked at the device in his hand dully, turning it around this and that way.

He could tell Allura and Coran, let Pidge work on the device, and maybe they would have a chance to undo this terrible misunderstanding before it was too late, hoping that the Blades of Marmora will never find out that it ever happened.

Or he could wait for Keith to contact him as he promised (if he remembered and still wanted to once he sobered up) and explain that it had been a terrible mistake and ask if they could… get a divorce or something.

He didn’t like the idea of betraying Keith like that, but it was either this or praying that nobody found out that his upcoming marriage would be even more of a farce than it was supposed to be.

Either way it was a disaster. He desperately wished he could go back in time and kick his own ass for even thinking of leaving the Castle.

Something rustled as he shifted on the bed, and Shiro blindly reached for the offending item.

It was the picture of him and Keith – he was drunkenly frowning at the marriage certificate with his mouth agape and Keith was snickering, watching him with great amusement.

Even outside of drunken stupor, he thought Keith was beautiful.

Now that he could actually see him – not in the dim lights of the bar and not later, when he was having double-vision – Keith looked even more beautiful, and Shiro felt his breath hitch.

And he was married to him.

He was married to this man and had to get a divorce because the fate of the universe was at stake and depended on him staying single.

How was this his life, again?

Wherever Matt was now – and Shiro fiercely believed that he was alive and well – he was probably having a fit of hysterical laughter for no visible reason. He’d probably be very confused as to what prompted such a reaction, and perhaps one day Shiro will tell him, but now...

Now he had to decide on his next best course of action.

There was still some time before they met with the Blade of Marmora; he could wait a few days before he had to take a final decision. If Keith didn’t call him, well.

Shiro really hoped he would.

..::..::..::..

“Hypothetically speaking,” Shiro asked nonchalantly after the group training next day, throwing Allura a water pocket. She caught the pocket and nodded gratefully. “What is expected of me in terms of our arrangement with the Blade of Marmora?”

Allura frowned at the question, playing with her straw thoughtfully.

“What do you mean? I thought we have discussed all there was to discuss.” She took a sip and sent Lance, who sucked his water in one gulp with a loud noise, a dirty look, but he only grinned.

“Yes, well.” Shiro stretched his arms, avoiding her piercing stare. “I mean… I don’t know much about the galra. At least when it comes to marriage traditions. Um, say, what is their… take on fidelity?”

Lance snorted so hard that he went red in the face, sputtering water everywhere.

“Oh my god,” he wheezed as Hunk clapped him on the back. “Oh my god.”

“Um…” Allura looked lost for a moment, but Lance recovered far too fast for Shiro to try and mend his slip.

“Oh my god, you got laid!”

“No I didn’t,” Shiro protested quickly.

Maybe too quickly.

“You totally did, you dog!” Lance bellowed. Pidge rolled her eyes and pinched his ear before he had a chance to stand up – he cried out, but even that didn’t stop him from blabbering excitedly. “Holy shit, man, I’m torn between being proud and jealous, I mean, seriously?! It’s bad enough you went out drinking without us, but—ow, lemme go!”

“Nope.” Pidge popped the ‘p’ and tugged Lance away. Hunk grumbled under his breath, but followed – whether to save Lance from her cruel little hands or her from Lance’s inevitable fit, no one knew.

“Shiro,” Allura narrowed her eyes at him. “Did you…?”

“No,” he promised earnestly. “No, nothing like that.”

It was true, and he was truly affronted they even had the gall to suspect him of something like that – Lance, he could get, but Allura!

He wouldn’t have slept with anyone when they were both drunk. It was irresponsible and extremely dubious.

He only got married to them, no big deal.

“So your interest is… entirely hypothetical?” Allura asked, with what sounded like both suspicion and a hint of hope.

Shiro should have definitely felt worse about lying to her. He wasn’t lying, though – not entirely.

He was only human, and his head was still fuzzy even a day later. He knew he should have taken the full brunt of responsibility for his reckless actions last night, knew that there was no waiting it out – who knew how long it could take them to find a way out of this if Keith never called? – but he so desperately wanted to hope for the best. And he was tired of being held responsible for every little thing that happened with Voltron, even if he knew that it wasn’t fair to anyone on the team to be feeling this way.

But was it fair to do any of this to him?

It was just one small concession, he told himself. After all, it was his problem, and only his. Looking for the way to resolve it himself, without alerting anyone else and stressing them out unnecessarily before he at least tried to assess the situation on his own, was the responsible way. Two days, no more, and if Keith didn’t contact him, he would tell the princess and accept all the blame. He was in the wrong, there was no sugar-coating it, but there was difference between taking ownership of his actions and painting a target on his chest.

So he squared his shoulders and nodded with a polite smile.

“Sure. Hypothetical.”

“Well.” Allura still looked doubtful– his fidgeting was perhaps not helping to convince her that the question had nothing to do with him drinking himself under the table. “From what I gathered, our customs are not entirely unlike each other. I imagine it would be frowned upon to form any dalliances while being betrothed to another,” she frowned, as if considering something, and then shrugged with a weak smile and a dust of blush across the bridge of her nose. “Anything else you will likely have to… discuss… with your spouse, but until then, I’d say it would be for the best for your interest to remain hypothetical.”

“Of course,” Shiro nodded, not quite meeting her eyes. “After all, it’s not like there is a lot of possibilities to… form dalliances here.”

Not a lot, but he still found one, it seemed.

Now he just had to hope for the best.

..::..::..::..

The following day was slow, and Shiro couldn’t decide whether that was a blessing or a curse. On the one hand, he was grateful they didn’t get any distress signals or encounter another galra fleet – with both the stress of his own stupid mistake and the remains of a headache he wasn’t sure that his mind would have been on a right course.

On the other hand, he could also use a distraction. The team was of little help – objectively, being trapped on a spaceship with only six other people and space mice left very little room for entertainment, and while there was usually no problem for any of them to find a task to their liking, Shiro’s foray to the swap moon and his following sketchy behavior made the team thirsty for gossip.

So he became the major source of entertainment for the foreseeable future. Oh joy.

It only took about half an hour of Lance trying to pump him for juicy details for Shiro to stop feeling guilty about the need to avoid the team for a little while. He really, really was not in the mood for that, and definitely did not want to slip and mention something, anything, about Keith.

Keith.

He stroked a finger over his face on the picture and smiled bitterly.

Perhaps not for long, but he was a married man. It still didn’t quite register with him; he got used to the idea of getting married for the sake of greater good, but the fact that he somehow managed to do it for his own sake – or that’s what he had probably thought back at the moment – was still foreign.

He also felt a little like he cheated himself. Not like such a rapid wedding was any worse than an arranged one, both involving strangers and having nothing to do with love, and not like he particularly cared about the sacred meaning of firsts, but—but.

It was still unfair that his wedding would be like that.

At least Keith was cute. They barely knew each other, so Shiro couldn’t really say if he would have liked him for a real husband, but he was almost certain that Keith was a better option than a faceless, nameless galra he’d have to marry soon – he was cute and from what bits of that night Shiro could remember, he was also nice to talk to and funny.

And a good kisser.

A faint trill accompanied by a buzz from under his pillow caught him off guard, and Shiro dropped the picture, immediately taking a fighting stance. It took him a moment to realize where the sound was coming from and what it meant, and then he was frantically scrambling for the comm.

It buzzed again in his hand, the small screen lighting up with what he supposed was an ID of an incoming call.

For a moment, he hesitated. It still wasn't too late to take the device to Pidge, let her work on it and track the call or whatever – he could have been risking so much more than just his own marital status by taking a piece of undefined tech on board of the Castle of Lions – but just then it buzzed again, insistent, and he hit the accept button almost reflexively.

“…Hello?”

Keith’s voice was thin through the small speaker, but it was undeniably Keith – even through the haze of drunkenness Shiro must have remembered it, and now that he heard it again, he knew why.

It was a very nice voice.

“Keith,” he breathed out, slowly lowering back to his back and clutching the device tighter. “I… it’s good to hear you. I wasn’t sure you would call,” he added, stupidly relieved that Keith did – it already made things so much easier, even if what he had to say next would be anything but.

“I wasn’t sure you would answer,” Keith retorted drily and then cleared his throat. “I’m glad you did, though, because it really makes things easier – I… we—we need to talk.”

Oh. The ultimate Talk.

Shiro really wasn’t sure if he was supposed to feel disappointed right now, or relieved that Keith was the one to address their issue.

“I guess so,” he agreed with a sigh. “We should probably talk in person, then.”

“Yeah,” there was no joy in Keith’s voice to be found, and Shiro wasn’t sure how to feel about it, either. “Look, I’m sorry—I hate to go back on my word, but that’s the thing – I really can’t… remain married,” he rambled, clearly frustrated. Now that Shiro could get behind; Keith wasn’t just breaking up with him – as stupid as it was to consider this a break-up – but doing it out of obligation as well.

“I know,” Shiro reassured him, finding the picture where it fell down to the sheets again. “Me neither. This was… a great idea,” he chuckled, but it died out quickly when he was met with silence on the other end. “But perhaps we shouldn’t have followed it through.”

“No,” Keith grumbled, “We shouldn’t have.”

There was another stretch of silence. Shiro flipped the picture absently, wondering if Keith still had his.

“Meet me on the moon in two vargas?” Keith finally said, and Shiro winced internally – the concept of new time measurements was still weird to him, especially since they generally referred to time in more familiar terms among the team. “In front of the office – hopefully it won’t take long.”

“Uh,” Shiro searched his memory for the details of their wedding and came blank. He remembered the neon letters, the bird-like secretary and the herbal taste of the cake, but the way from the bar or the way back to the shuttle? Not so much. “If you could drop me the coordinates, it would be great,” he admitted, discarding the idea of asking to meet at the bar again – no need to make things more awkward than they already were.

“Right. See you soon.”

There was another ping, signaling a new message, and then the line went dead – which, frankly, was cold, but perhaps understandable.

Two vargas left him with just enough time to get to the moon. Luckily, they were still orbiting it, having needed to resupply and take a short break to do some maintenance work. Shiro pocketed the comm, checked that his copy of the marriage license was still in his vest, and quietly slipped out of his room.

..::..::..::..

Keith was already waiting for him by the time Shiro got to the coordinates he sent, and for a moment Shiro felt his breath catch.

This—this was his husband . A guy he knew next to nothing about.

A gorgeous guy, though.

He was casually leaning on the wall next to the office in question – the wall that brought on the vague memories of a sloppy make out and fingers raking down his back – and scowling at the mostly empty street. He was dressed in the same dark leather-like pants as before, but this time had a surprisingly human-like red and white jacket on – then again, Lance and Pidge did claim that they found an Earth shop in the space mall, so maybe it wasn’t so strange to see human clothes on aliens.

(It was a little strange.)

Almost as if he could hear his thoughts, Keith’s head snapped in his direction. Even from a distance Shiro could see his eyes widen at the sight of him – whether he didn’t truly believe that Shiro would show up or was comparing him with his memories as well, Shiro wasn’t sure, but whatever it was, it was enough for Keith to uncross his arms and step forward.

“Hi,” Shiro said, approaching him. Keith ducked his head, his ears twitching, and grunted a greeting as well.

“Let’s get this over with,” he muttered, and the glare he sent the door of the office was all fire and daggers, as if it was responsible for their recklessness. Which, Shiro guessed, was somewhat true, but only to some extent – they had to blame themselves in the first place, after all.

 

Still, the intensity in those eyes was somehow both endearing and kinda hot.

He shook his head to get rid of those thoughts.

No use in lusting after his soon-to-be-ex-husband.

The bell on the door chimed cheerfully as Keith pushed the door open, and the secretary looked up from her desk – she vaguely resembled the one who had wed them, but there was no sign of recognition on her face, and Shiro was not sure if his memory could be trusted at this point.

“Hello,” the secretary chirped at them sweetly, clapping her wings together. “How can I help you two?”

“Hi,” Shiro said, just as Keith went straight to the desk and slammed his license on it.

“We need a divorce.”

Well. That was—awfully to the point.

Shiro sighed and nodded along.

“Oh,” the secretary blinked, looking at them with a pity and a small smile. “Trouble in paradise?”

From the way Keith glared at her, Shiro feared that there would be trouble right here if he didn’t get what he was asking for.

Apparently, the secretary got the same vibes, but she didn’t seem to mind, – simply shrugging and clasping her wings behind her back.

“Sorry to hear that,” she said, not sounding sorry in the slightest – it seemed more like it was a bored and rehearsed phrase. “But the good news is, you don’t have to worry about getting a divorce! You know that, right?”

Keith sent him a brief confused look, betraying that he didn’t know and making sure that Shiro didn’t know either, whatever it was that they were supposed to know; again, the secretary seemed to catch on, and her smile grew wider.

“You don‘t have to worry about a divorce because you were never been married in the first place,” she clarified. “Here,” she pointed at a line in the license, and Keith narrowed his eyes, leaning down to read through it. “See? It’s not real.”

For whatever time it was in the last few days, Shiro felt his world upend.

What ?”

He wasn’t even sure if it was him who exclaimed that or Keith.

“It’s a common occurrence for people to feel some… extra love when inebriated,” the secretary grinned. “Drunken proposals and subsequent marriages are much more common than one might think. So this is what we do here – provide a service that would satisfy the need to get married on a short notice for young lovers without any lasting consequences. If the need is still there the morning after, good for them! But if it’s not,” and she looked at them both pointedly, heedless of Keith’s heated glare, “it’s usually a nice surprise for them to realize they don’t have to worry about annulling any ill-fated decisions.”

That was—both genius and evil, Shiro supposed. A little cruel, perhaps, to do it to people genuinely in love, and to make the others feel sick with worry afterwards, sure of having done an irreparable mistake, but at the same time – well.

She was not wrong; it was good news – and he’d take two days of feeling sick and stressed if that was the cost of avoiding everything that could’ve gone wrong had they really needed to get a divorce.

“So this… is just a useless piece of paper?” Keith asked with such a disgust that Shiro had to bite back a laugh.

“It makes a good souvenir,” the secretary shrugged, completely unapologetic. “You can save it – either as embarrassing evidence, or a nice recollection.”

For a brief moment it looked like Keith was preparing to commit murder, and the secretary finally started looking concerned, but he deflated just as quickly, huffing in annoyance and stomping outside without waiting for Shiro to follow.

He took his license with him, though.

Shiro awkwardly waved his goodbye to the secretary and walked to the doors slowly. There was no reason to hurry – Keith was probably already gone, and Shiro couldn't even blame him, all things considered.

He should get back to the ship as well; the team had been suspicious – rightfully so – when he made up some excuse about yet another day off, but hadn’t tried to stop him, almost as if they felt like they owed him for what he was going to sacrifice in the near future. It worked in his favor for once, but Shiro didn’t want to take advantage of it.

Still, maybe he could make the most of his day instead of going right back. He wasn’t going to partake in solo missions after this one for a long time, that was for sure – the least he could do was make up for his previous failed attempt at taking a break, and perhaps findsome viable excuse he could bring back to the Castle.

He was still considering it as he walked out and nearly ran into Keith.

“Uh,” he said eloquently as Keith took an unsteady step back, eying him warily. “I thought you already left?”

“Well, I didn’t,” Keith replied. His ears twitched, and Shiro had to bite back the urge to stroke over the dark fur – he couldn’t remember if he had the chance to feel it against his skin when they made out, but it looked so soft and silky—

“Okay.” Shiro smiled and took a deep breath. “So… could’ve been worse, huh?”

“I guess,” Keith offered reluctantly and tugged at the sleeve of his jacket. “I wanted—to say thanks. For following through. I mean, turns out we didn’t really have to go back here, but still – thanks.”

“Hey, no problem.” He rubbed at the back of his neck and shrugged. “And–thank you, too. For showing up.”

Keith nodded stiffly and fidgeted, looking around uneasily, betraying his obvious discomfort.

It was probably their cue to say farewell and go separate ways, never to meet again, leaving the whole awkward mess of this fake drunken marriage behind; Shiro opened his mouth to say bye, but what came out instead was:

“So, since we’re both here, wanna hang out?”

The puzzled look Keith sent his way would have been almost comical had it not been a sharp reminder that Shiro was probably way over the line. His ears remained perked, however, and the look turned calculating, stopping Shiro short from apologizing profusely.

“Not like the previous time,” he clarified with a rueful smile. “Just, you know. I don’t know much about you, but last time we talked, it seemed our predicaments are quite similar in nature, and if that’s the case… I don’t suppose either of us is getting to have much fun in the foreseeable future. I just thought—maybe we could take advantage of what little time we have on our hands now, what do you think?”

“I think,” Keith said, squinting at him a little, “that you’re making too many excuses for such a simple proposition. I don’t mind,” he added with a wry smile when Shiro sputtered. “Let’s go.”

..::..::..::..

Shiro didn’t question Keith about where they were going, and Keith seemed to get the right idea that he wasn’t used to going out, since he didn’t even bother asking whether Shiro had a specific destination in mind. Either that or he was just being obstinate – it was really hard to tell.

Either way, Shiro didn’t mind.

Keith remained mostly silent as they walked, pausing contemplatively only when they reached a food stall on the outskirts of the town. Shiro wasn’t exactly hungry, but he also wasn’t going to miss the opportunity to grab some solid food – sure, Hunk did wonders with the space goo in kitchen, but there was only so much one could to improve the bland taste without any additional ingredients. The snacks Keith got them looked a bit like purplish corndogs and tasted like creamy citrus, so Shiro wasn’t sure if it was some sort of a desert or just a usual street food, but he liked it well enough.

(And maybe, just maybe, he liked the way Keith screwed up his eyes in pleasure as he nibbled on his snack even more.)

The town, as it turned out, was pretty small, and more tall than it was large – the skyscrapers that housed various establishments made up the majority of its living space, and it didn’t take long to cross it.

“It’s a swap moon,” Keith said, incredulous, when Shiro pointed it out curiously. “Nobody really lives here. How do you not know that?”

There was a lot Shiro didn’t know about swap moons – there was a lot Shiro didn’t know about life in space, period, actually, but he decided against mentioning it to Keith, and just shrugged sheepishly.

“Huh,” Keith said, one fluffy ear flinching – whether it was annoyance or curiosity, Shiro couldn’t tell. “I take it you don’t get shore leave often?”

“Well,” Shiro stumbled for a decent response and chuckled awkwardly. “Guess you could say that.”

“Are you an ambassador or something? No wonder they’re trying to wed you off, then,” Keith hummed thoughtfully and even patted his arm empathically.

He didn’t wait for Shiro to confirm or deny that assumption, though. The unspoken agreement not to let out any personal information was clearly still standing between them.

“There,” he said, and pointed out a narrow path on the rocky ground that weaved between the moon’s hills; the further from the town, the more uneven the landscape became, clearly left to its own devices without the need to flatten it down for the sake of construction sites. “This way.”

“Where are we going?” Perhaps it was a little too late to ask, and belatedly Shiro berated himself for his repeated recklessness, but Keith looked at him over his shoulder and grinned, and it—didn’t exactly make everything alright, but made him feel a little lighter.

“You’ll see.”

Well, if that wasn’t ominous. Shiro rolled his eyes, but followed without further complaints. It had been such a long time since he had an opportunity to let go of his reservations and explore the unknown just for the fun of it – not out of necessity, not checking for enemies – and it felt even longer since he had a… friend, his mind supplied cautiously, and that thought nearly made him stop in his tracks.

He had friends. The other paladins, Allura, Coran – they were friends. Hell, at this point, they were family, and it was unfair to think so little of them, and yet…

It wasn’t the same. They were friends, but the shared responsibilities, along with the weight of the war on their shoulders, took something out of it; besides, between saving the universe and training to be better at saving the universe, there really wasn’t much they could talk about in the rare free time.

Having someone else – someone who didn’t know him or what he did for living now, someone Shiro didn’t know anything about – was refreshing in a way he didn’t know he missed.

A little ironic, maybe, that he had just had a scare of being drunkenly wed to the man he was now tentatively considering a friend, of all things.

He didn't have time to dwell on it further, because they rounded the small cliff and found themselves on the secluded beach.

It wasn’t large, and was covered in rocks instead of sand, and what must have been the sea looked more purple than blue, but it still stole his breath away; he couldn’t remember the last time he’d been by the sea.

And the fact that it was on a different planet, in an entire different galaxy, made something akin to pride swell inside his chest.

He made it. He truly made it here.

When he turned to Keith after a long moment of staring at the vastness of the sea, he was startled to catch him looking back with a small smile. He schooled his face back to neutral scowl quickly, but Shiro noticed, and even though Keith ducked his head, ears flattening against his head in what could have been either embarrassment or an attempt to stave off the wind, he smiled back.

“I like it here,” he admitted softly.

 

Keith glanced at him and uncoiled, shrugging nonchalantly. “It’s nice,” he muttered in quiet agreement and hopped down a few rocks, finding one large enough to sit on, and plopped down with a huff. “Nice to be alone like this sometimes.”

“Not a big fan of loud company?” Shiro joked, carefully picking his path to another large rock beside the one Keith occupied. He could see the appeal of solitude, though – while the Castle was large enough for its habitants to carve their own spaces, they didn’t exactly have the luxury of avoiding each other entirely whenever they felt like being left alone. There were always things to do, matters to discuss, exercises to nail, and the days flew by quickly, sometimes too quickly to even realize that he could use some time away.

“Not too much privacy back… home,” Keith corrected him with a slight scowl before shaking his head, as if he wasn’t keen on thinking about it.

All things considered, Shiro felt like he knew where that was coming from. If there was anything good to be found about this arranged marriage business (apart from obtaining a valuable ally and all that, you know), it was that it finally allowed Shiro to feel just a little bit selfish about his moments of solitude – something he obviously needed.

 

Perhaps it was better to let it slide, as the whole point of hanging out in what could’ve been their last moments of calm before the storm was to take their minds off their respective weddings, but suddenly Shiro had another idea.

“So,” he drawled, leaning back on his arms and turning his face up to enjoy the light breeze. “Do you want to, I dunno—bitch about your future spouse or something?”

There was a brief pause that stretched almost long enough for Shiro to backtrack, thinking he went over the line, but then Keith snickered, and when Shiro glanced at him sheepishly, gave him the widest grin yet.

The sight did funny things to Shiro.

“How are you—who even does that,” he laughed, turning to face Shiro fully, and craned his head. “Is that—an ambassador thing? Being so polite about everything–what even is that opening!”

For a moment Shiro considered whether he should take an offense at being laughed at, but Keith was already climbing onto his rock fully, hugging his knees close to his chest and looking for all the world like a mischievous cat, and it just wasn’t worth it to waste time feigning being affronted. So Shiro grinned back and shrugged one shoulder, completely unapologetic.

“The guy I’m about to marry probably has a stick so far up his ass, you can see it when he opens his mouth,” Keith told him bluntly, and Shiro let out a surprised laugh.

“Well, seems you know more about yours that I know about mine, at least,” he pointed out, and Keith shook his head.

“As if,” he snorted, one ear twitching. “I just know that he’s probably going to be this I’m-better-than-all-of-you, you-should-be-honored, my-mission-is-bigger-than-yours dick. End of story.”

“That’s quite a lot,” Shiro chuckled and put one foot on the rock as well, draping his arm over his knee. “I don’t even know what to think of mine—I don’t have any information at all, so…”

 

“You’re the worst at trash talking,” Keith complained, and rolled his eyes. “Here, I’ll help you: whoever it is, they’re gonna be bad-tempered, rude and will boss you around. They will also second guess your every decision and criticize it.”

“How do you know that?” Shiro was laughing in earnest now, his chest somehow lighter than it had felt in weeks; the picture Keith was painting in his imagination was so ridiculous that it didn’t even matter whether or not it ended up being true – it was fun, and it helped to let go of some tension. “Maybe they would be nice. Maybe they would respect me and won’t make fun of me being, you know, considerate .”

Keith squinted at him.

“Nah,” he finally dismissed. “It doesn’t work like that. You don’t get to have good things when fate fucks you over like that. So mine will be a dick who’s all over himself, and yours will be a prissy bitch who’s never satisfied with anything you could possibly do. They will be terrible and we will regret going through with this.”

“Or not,” Shiro countered, getting into the swing of their friendly banter with more gusto than he could remember having for a long time. “Maybe they will be amazing. Maybe they will be understanding and kind, and maybe we will fall in love.”

“Your denial is so strong it’s concerning,” Keith sneered. “It can’t be healthy.”

“Your pessimism can’t be healthy.” The way Keith wrinkled his nose only made Shiro laugh harder, and not even the rock that Keith threw in his general direction, intentionally missing by mile, threw him off. “What are you gonna do when you end up hating your spouse who’s a really nice guy that falls for you the moment you start walking to the altar?”

He only really meant it as a funny jab, but the moment the words left his mouth, Shiro froze. The words felt too revealing, and his ears felt suddenly hot; before he could stutter a flimsy excuse, Keith frowned and tilted his head curiously.

“Walking where?”

“The, uh—the altar? It’s… I guess it’s a thing that you don’t have,” Shiro muttered, both relieved that Keith didn’t seem to notice his slip and faintly disappointed that he didn’t read into it. He knew it was better this way, that they couldn’t be anything other than friends, but it still stung that his unintentional flirting went unnoticed.

Keith hummed thoughtfully.

“I really don’t think that would be the case,” he said. “After all, there would be no altar for me to walk to and no reason for a complete stranger to fall for me.”

It didn’t feel right to continue this roundabout talk about strangers falling for each other at the first sight. No one fell for anyone here, and the alarming flutter in his chest must have been the forgotten feel of salty air filling his lungs, nothing else.

“Maybe not,” Shiro agreed drily. “But if I’m right, you’re buying me a drink.”

..::..::..::..

The day spent with Keith left him feeling better than Shiro could hope to feel – it probably was exactly what he had been chasing back when he decided that going out drinking by himself was a good idea.

Turned out he was right, only for all the wrong reasons.

Keith was…

Keith was off limits, and that should have been it.

But when his comm lit up during the night a few days later, Shiro knew there was more to it.

It took him several tries to operate the still unfamiliar interface, squinting at the too bright screen in the dim light of his room, but after a few minutes he managed to open the new message. It expanded in a holographic projection over the device in his hand, and—

Shiro blinked and had to pinch his thigh to make sure this wasn’t just some weird dream.

It hurt, and even as he hissed through gritted teeth with pain, the video – because apparently it was a video message – played over again.

He watched it, eyebrows climbing higher and higher with every passing second. It featured what he could only guess was a space cat of a sort – looking for all the world just like a regular earth cat, actually, only with weird fur and of slightly different proportions. It was also acting just like a regular cat would – lazing in a spot of light, twisting and turning, its tail twitching and the paws curling, eyes intently following whoever was taking the video.

Did Keith just… sent him a cat video in the middle of the night?

The device pinged again, the video pausing midair, and Shiro huffed, swiping it away to see another message.

And promptly hit the call button.

“I hope this wasn’t some intricate code to ask for help or something,” he said as soon as the line connected. “Because I couldn’t read any of that.”

“…That was a common language, how come you couldn’t read?” Keith’s voice was incredulous, and Shiro grinned, suppressing a yawn. It was too early – or maybe still too late – for him to be properly worried about being busted like this.

Besides, him not being able to read any alien alphabet didn’t really mean that much other than being embarrassing.

“Was it? Looked like a garbled nonsense to me,” he sighed, rubbing at his face and falling back onto the bed.

“Oh. The settings must have gone wiry,” Keith muttered, sounding more sheepish now. “Um… sorry that I bothered you, I guess.”

“No, you’re fine,” Shiro hastily assured him, surprising them both with his eagerness. “What did you say, anyway?”

“It’s… nothing.”

“Hey, now I just have to know,” he chuckled, already wondering if he could somehow swear Pidge to secrecy if he got her to look at the device’s settings or if he should try and find some sort of a translator by himself. “By the way, that was a cute video.”

“I basically said the same.” There was a hint of a smile in Keith’s voice, and it did funny things to Shiro’s heart. “And… uh, nevermind.”

“Come on, tell me,” Shiro teased, the sleepiness giving way to this warm feeling. “We’re already talking.”

“You’re the one who called,” Keith grumbled petulantly, as if he wasn’t the one who texted Shiro and who received the call and was yet to end it. Shiro decided not to point it out. “I… was asking if you liked it, too.”

“Yeah. I love cats,” he grinned, thinking how it’d been a long time since he last watched a silly video. It was a nice reminder of a more peaceful slice of life. Somewhere, somehow, people still made funny cat videos for other people to watch and smile despite the war going on; and as a part of Voltron, he was – hopefully – helping to make the universe a better place so that it happened more often.

He hoped Keith was among the lucky ones who didn’t feel the impact of the war too much.

He also found himself wondering what Keith has been up to – whether he was somewhere at home, curled up on a couch, watching videos on his comm, or bored out of his mind somewhere at… work, or something.

“So… what are you doing?”

“Talking to you,” Keith said, snickering at Shiro’s unimpressed silence. “Nothing much. Just… got some time to kill. You?”

“I was sleeping, actually,” Shiro admitted, because there was no reason to lie, and because he’d rather settle their possible time difference once and for all so that they could talk at more reasonable hours, should they want to. Then again, at any other time he’d probably be among the other paladins; it was probably better this way.

“Sorry I woke you up.”

“It’s okay, I don’t mind.” He really didn’t – he never expected to hear from Keith again, despite their uncertain promise to keep in touch when they had finally parted ways. Keith had left him the comm, and Shiro had laughed and said he could use a friend. Keith had tilted his head curiously and said that he could, too. Then he had said that maybe they could talk again, and that had been it – Shiro was pretty sure it had been just a polite small talk, but apparently he was wrong.

And he was glad that he was.

“I’m… on my way home,” Keith supplied awkwardly, clearly not sure if he should pay back with the same honesty, or maybe just at a loss – maybe this whole ‘let’s be friends’ business was just as unfamiliar to him as it was to Shiro. “The ship’s on autopilot. I’m taking a break.”

“You should take a nap as well,” Shiro suggested, yawning, and Keith huffed.

“You’re projecting. I should leave you to your rest; I'll be entering hyperdrive soon anyway.”

Distantly, Shiro wondered if the communication would work after Keith got home – there was no telling how long the range of it was , and while the Castle could patch in planets from other systems, the generic comm in his hand could be of a much simpler technology, not suited for… long-distance friendships.

Still, be it from the lack of sleep or the drowsiness coming over him again, or from the childish desire to hear Keith sputter, Shiro grinned.

“Call me when you get home.”

Keith did sputter, to Shiro’s delight, and finished the call without as much as a goodbye; in the end, he didn’t call, but when Shiro got up later in the morning, there was another garbled message waiting for him on the comm.

..::..::..::..

Shiro didn’t dare ask anyone on the team for help with the device, least he’d have to answer awkward questions: how he got his hands on it, why it only had one contact, and why its memory drive was now full of cat videos.

“It’s not that hard,” Keith insisted, growing agitated. “I’m literally holding the same comm in my hands right now, I know how its settings work! What is there to not understand?!”

“Oh, I dunno,” Shiro bit back a laugh, “maybe you accidentally deleted something vital? I don’t even see the tab with the settings.” He scrolled through the menu, watching unfamiliar symbols flicker in front of his eyes. He wasn’t lying – he really couldn’t find the tab Keith insisted he needed to switch the language, but most likely not because it wasn’t there, but because he couldn’t read any of it.

He probably could figure it out if he gave it a try, but aggravating Keith, as he was finding out, was incredibly amusing – Keith had very little patience, but tried his best, even if the language barrier made it essentially useless – and besides, there was no point in changing one unfamiliar language into another.

Maybe he really should have taken up some language courses.

“It’s there! It has to be there,” Keith groaned, but before he could berate Shiro for messing around, there was a harsh noise, and he cursed under his breath. “I have to go.”

The line went dead before Shiro could say goodbye, leaving him staring at the bright screen in silent confusion.

It was late, but not late enough to go to bed; the rest of the team was probably still up and around doing their own business, whatever it was that they got up to in their sparse free time at the Castle. Shiro could probably find someone else to pass the evening with – Pidge and Hunk were likely immersed in some tech project but Lance and Allura might agree to spar for a bit – but he had excused himself earlier in the evening, claiming he was feeling sleepy, so that he could talk to Keith.

Because that was a thing now – talking to Keith. They didn’t talk much, since both had their respective lives and duties to attend to – it seemed that Keith still believed him to be an ambassador of a sort, and he himself had some kind of a strenuous job, from what Shiro gathered, but whenever they had a moment, they drifted to each other. Usually Keith would send him another video and Shiro would either send back something that vaguely resembled a string of emojis whenever he got a chance to see it, leaving it up to Keith to contact him, or call straight away; while it didn’t happen all that often, it became a routine, one that Shiro treasured.

One that he would probably miss when he got… married.

He sighed and scrubbed his face, trying to distract himself from these thoughts. It was pointless to dwell on them, both because it was unavoidable and because it didn’t necessarily mean that he won’t be able to talk to Keith anymore – it was just a friendship, after all, and Keith would be a married man as well soon, so would there really be any harm done?

He hoped not.

Perhaps Shiro wouldn't go as far as to call their conversations the highlight of his day, but it was a close thing; after all was said and done, it felt good to chat about small, insignificant things, easing his mind off more important business in a way he just couldn’t achieve with the other paladins. Shiro might’ve come to consider them as close to a family as he would get, but in a way they still remained his subordinates, people he was responsible for, and that thought was ever present in the back of his mind with them.

With Keith, it was… easier.

Shiro pressed on the only label he knew, opening up a gallery, and drifted off to a video of some cute alien pet grooming another alien pet of a different species, much to the latter’s disgruntlement.

..::..::..::..

“I am afraid we must postpone the wedding.” The gruff voice of the leader of the Blades sounded grim, the displeasure clear in every word. The tone made Shiro bite back any remark he could possibly make – a month before the date they set, and he was only wishing for it to happen already so that they could be done with it and move on. The Blades, however, didn’t seem too pleased by the delay either, considering they were the ones that insisted on the whole ordeal.

“What is the matter?” Allura asked, ever the embodiment of politeness and concern. There was a small frown on her face, one that Shiro imagined he mirrored. “There must be a reason behind this decision, I believe.”

“We must lay low,” the same faceless voice grumbled, echoing from the walls of the bridge. “Until then, all our movements and communications will be restricted.”

“Is there anything we could do to help?” Allura glanced at Shiro, and he shrugged, mildly annoyed, but at the same time kind of relieved. “Voltron is…”

“Voltron will attract too much attention,” the voice interrupted her sharply. “Besides, our alliance has not yet been formed, and we cannot accept your help before then.”

The line went dead soon after, and Allura sighed, tugging at the loose lock of hair that fell out of a messy bun on top of her head. It was late, the middle of the night cycle on the ship, when the Blades contacted them; there was no real reason for Shiro to be present during the call, but he happened to be still up – the nightmares and a faint hope of Keith calling back keeping him awake – and decided to join in.

“Do we really need this alliance?” he asked as they left the room, irritated. “We’ve been playing by their rules for a month—phoeb now, and this still doesn’t make sense to me.”

“This is why they refuse our help,” Allura sighed and managed a small smile, looking his way. “They feel it would be… unfair, since they are not yet ready to offer anything back in turn.”

“They could offer something in turn, then, if it’s such a big deal.”

“Shiro, it’s not that simple.” Allura paused in her steps, but Shiro just shook his head, continuing his way to his room.

“I know. It’s just… I wish it was easier.”

They said their goodbyes and parted ways before Shiro’s room, both exhausted and more agitated than the time called for. Shiro let the door slide closed behind him and let out a breath; the comm lay hidden under his pillow, as unresponsive as it had been for the past few days.

Last he heard from Keith, it had been another unreadable message, followed by a string of emojis that he learned from Shiro – unfortunately, it was indiscernible, the weird faces (at least, Shiro hoped that it were faces) making little to no sense to him, but it was the thought that counted and all that. After several days of radio silence, Shiro gathered that it must have been a warning that Keith would be absent in the near future.

Absently, he wondered if it had been a goodbye instead. They rarely talked about their weddings and he couldn’t remember if Keith mentioned anything about the dates; what if this has been it? Had Keith got married already and been forced to drop any contact with everyone else?

Shiro reclined on the bed, still fiddling with the device absently. He was so immersed in thoughts that when the comm suddenly came to life in his hand, he jerked violently and dropped it right onto his face.

“Ow—hey?”

“Hey,” Keith sounded almost breathless and a bit suspicious; Shiro imagined him squinting and smiled, still rubbing his sore nose. “I’m not… distracting you?”

“No, no, I just—dropped the comm. On my face,” he admitted sheepishly and was rewarded by a short husky laugh.

“Careful,” Keith chided. “Is your face still in one piece?”

It was, but the grin splitting it was threatening to break it in half.

He wondered if it would be too corny to admit that he missed Keith.

“I haven’t heard from you lately,” he said instead. “Is everything alright?”

“Yeah,” Keith admitted reluctantly, and all of a sudden his voice became almost grave. “I’ve just—had things. To do.”

“Oh. Well,” Shiro frowned at the small screen, once again wondering if it was possible to make video calls through the device. “I hope those were… good things?”

Keith chuckled again, the sound making Shiro pliant with a warm feeling spreading over his insides.

“Just regular things, I guess.”

“And here I was just thinking that you already got married,” Shiro joked. The joke fell flat, however, and the silence that followed was heavy; he cleared his throat. “Sorry.”

“Don’t be,” Keith muttered quietly. “I haven’t, though. Not yet.”

So it seemed that Shiro hit a sore spot; he winced, swallowing another apology.

“Anyway, um. I just wanted to say—I’ll probably be… busy… for several more days. Just so you know. In case you still haven’t managed to find the settings on your comm and couldn’t read my message.”

“I haven’t,” Shiro smiled ruefully, closing his eyes and allowing himself to pretend that Keith was right there with him – a silly fantasy, but he felt like he needed the comfort of it right now. “I kind of figured that, but thanks for the heads up. I appreciate it.”

He really, really wanted to say that he missed Keith.

“I should probably go,” Keith sighed after another awkward pause, but didn’t finish the call. It tugged painfully at his heart, making Shiro wonder how it happened – how he managed to get attached to such an extent, only having seen Keith in person twice and with half of their communication consisting of space memes.

“Is… everything really okay?”

“Fine.” The answer was clipped, bristly, almost like Keith was acting in defense – and sure enough, a moment later he let out a shaky breath and cursed softly under his breath. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to snap, I just… got some bad news.”

“Do you want to talk about it?” Shiro prodded carefully. Keith sounded both frustrated and miserable, as if it was exactly what he wanted and at the same time the last thing that he wanted to talk about, and Shiro desperately wished he could be there for him – the same way Keith had been there, albeit unwittingly, when Shiro had nightmares and couldn’t sleep.

“I don’t know. Yes. No. Maybe? I…” And then, of all the things he could’ve said, of all the things Shiro expected he could tell, he said in a small voice, completely at odds with his previous outburst: “I really missed your voice, Takashi.”

He inhaled sharply, eyes flying open in shock and the pleasant warmth becoming almost scorchingly hot in his chest.

Somehow Shiro almost forgot that he introduced himself by his given name at their first meeting, and now it came as an unexpected blow – rolling sweet and tender from Keith’s tongue, making his heart clench and beat faster.

He only realized that he’d been silent for too long when Keith huffed, clearly embarrassed.

“Sorry, that was–”

“I missed talking to you, too, Keith,” Shiro whispered, his own voice too loud in the quiet room. “I was worried and I missed you.”

It felt like a confession; it probably was one.

Considering circumstances, he didn’t know whether he should feel happy or heartbroken that his affection turned out to be returned.

..::..::..::..

With no word from the Blades and with Keith being busy as well, the next several weeks seemed to stretch endlessly. Voltron still had things to do – people to help, planets to free from the galra occupation – and there shouldn’t have been much time for Shiro to dwell on it, but he was nothing if not resourceful. Even with what little time he had, he managed to pine over a cute guy several galaxies away like a pro.

They didn’t address the elephant in the room when they last talked to each other. It was clear that they both liked each other, but just as clear was that there was nothing they could do about it; they couldn’t act on their feelings, not with them both soon getting married to other people – cheating aside, it wouldn’t have been fair to themselves in the first place.

It was better to get over it, but nothing Shiro tried seemed to be working. He couldn’t think about getting over his childish infatuation while he was piloting Voltron or ramming through the sentries at another galra base; he couldn’t think about it when they were discussing strategies or analyzing the intel they managed to gather either.

And when he dragged himself to bed late at night and saw the comm as unresponsive as ever, his thoughts drifted. Keith never told him what kept him so busy, but considering his reaction to the offhanded mention of the wedding, it was pretty easy to take a guess, and Shiro found himself dreaming up the weirdest scenarios straight from cheesy romantic comedies. In his dreams he finally got a message from Keith he could read, and it was a solemn goodbye where Keith, for whatever reason, mentioned the date and the place of his wedding; after that the gruff faceless voice told Shiro that the true dedication to their case would be following his love and saving another poor soul from being married off to a stranger, and Shiro took Black to the cosmic church, running through the doors just as the priest, who looked like a secretary from the fake registry office, asked if there was anyone against the marriage.

The details varied, but the recurring theme remained the same: Shiro ran away and stole Keith right at the altar.

He never imagined that he'd be so eager to get married – then again, knowing that it was inevitable and that his choice didn’t really matter put things into a different perspective.

Maybe in other circumstances he wouldn’t have thought about it so soon, but Shiro didn’t have any illusions – even if they would have been much more innocent, he’d still have these dreams, be it about taking Keith out, showing him various places he’s seen during his adventures as one of Voltron Paladins, or a joyride in Black.

He was dozing off after a terribly long day, still sore after a brutal fight with the galra squadron, when a silent buzz broke into his hazy thoughts.

It took him a moment to place it , but when he did, his eyes snapped open and he scrambled for the device that came to life for the first time in weeks.

“Keith,” Shiro exhaled, looking at the bright screen with wonder. “Hi.”

“Hey,” Keith sounded almost as breathless, and Shiro rolled onto his side, smiling softly. “Are you busy?”

“Not really. I was just getting ready for bed. Why?”

“Where are you?”

Shiro blinked. It must have been the lack of sleep combined with exhaustion, but his brain was coming online far too slow;. He felt a blush creeping on his face at the thought of where this might have been going.

“Um. In my…” he bit his tongue just before the word bed could fall from his lips, choosing the more timid approach in case he was mistaken. “In my room?”

“Your coordinates,” Keith snorted, and yeah, so he was mistaken, after all. The heat was now burning his whole face. “I got some time on my hands, so if you’re… available, and if we’re not too far away—we could hang out. If you want.”

Shiro felt his breath catch. It was so, so tempting just to say yes, drop Keith his coordinates and run away for a few vargas; he knew it would have been worth it – a day off, or even just a night out, would have taken his mind off the constant stress better than sleep or a cryopod could ever do, but he had to be responsible, and that meant being cautious about sending Voltron’s coordinates.

It wasn't that he didn’t trust Keith; he probably trusted him more than the situation called for, considering they only knew each other for a little over two months. Trust aside, though, there was always the matter of the message being intercepted or their conversation overheard – and this was not something Shiro was willing to risk. It was one thing to have a secure line open from the Castle’s communication room, but a private comm was another matter – even if it was capable of covering indescribable distances, it remained to be seen how trustworthy it really was.

“…Did you fall asleep there?” Keith asked suspiciously, and Shiro yawned, chuckling softly.

“No, sorry. I just tried to remember where I am.”

“Huh. I guess ‘your room’ is really the most accurate I can get out of you right now.” There was a hint of disappointment in Keith’s voice, but it was drowned out by soft fondness that made Shiro’s heart swell with emotion. “Had a long day?”

“More like a long phoeb ,” Shiro scrubbed at his face, trying to blink sleep out of his eyes. It acted in his favor when it came to turning Keith down gently, but he was not going to allow it ruin their chance to talk. “How are you? Everything okay?”

“Yeah, I’m fine. I’ve been holed up for most of this time, it was… terribly boring. I think—I think they’re afraid I might run away,” he confided sourly, with a barest hint of mockery in his tone.

There was no need to ask what he was talking about.

“Like you just did?” Shiro mused, trying not to let the cold feeling settle over him.

Keith cleared his throat.

“Well… I mean, not that I didn’t think about it, but no, not really. I will go back. Eventually,” he conceded reluctantly, and suddenly Shiro realized that his answer might have been the deal breaker. He wasn’t going to ask, but it felt like Keith was ready to do just that run away if only he had someone to go with.

Shiro wished he could be that someone for him.

“I can’t say that I don’t get the feeling,” he admitted quietly, shifting on the bed and grunting with pain from multiple bruises – being thrown into a rock would do that to you. Injuries were unavoidable. “I really wish we could run away.” Together was left unsaid, both painstakingly clear and yet ambiguous enough, safe enough not to look too much into it.

“So you haven’t had your wedding yet, either?”

“No,” he sighed, rubbed at his eyes again, feeling the familiar irritation scratch at the back of his throat. The Blades were yet to contact them again, and whether it would be to postpone the date even further or to demand their appearance immediately was up in the air. It was constantly keeping him on edge, brimming with nervous energy and silently fuming.

“Huh,” Keith went quiet for several moments and then, hesitantly, asked: “Any chance it won’t be happening, then?”

“I don’t think so, although I wish,” he huffed, kicking at the covers piled up at the foot of his bed. “There are times when I just… want this to be over already, to be honest. At this point, I don’t suppose there could be anything worse in an arranged marriage than an excruciating wait.”

“You’re still in denial about your future spouse being terrible, then.”

The laugh that tore itself from his throat felt hollow and fake.

“I’m not,” Shiro protested. “I guess I just don’t really care.”

Technically, it wasn't a lie – with time passing so slowly and the wedding being indefinitely postponed, Shiro was quickly losing any patience he still had left and couldn’t spare the energy on worrying about his intended spouse on top of that. But the truth was, he also couldn’t care less because he already knew the truth: whoever it was, they could never compare to Keith.

Funny, cunning, slightly awkward and closed off, but at the same time really fierce and passionate about the things he loved, beautiful Keith. He swallowed hard, feeling his throat tighten against his better judgement.

“I should leave you to sleep,” Keith sighed regretfully after a moment of companionable silence. “So… If you’re still not married and I’m not grounded for good after running away, maybe—maybe some other time?”

It didn’t register right away what Keith was talking about, but when it did, Shiro inhaled sharply.

He could come up with some sort of a plan that didn’t involve revealing their coordinates and exposing Voltron, and then they could really see each other again – could talk in person, close enough to touch.

“Yeah,” he nodded with a soft smile, even though Keith could see him. “Yeah, I’d like that.”

“Goodnight, then,” Keith nearly whispered, so softly it made Shiro’s chest ache with the need to hear it in person one day. “Sleep well, Takashi.”

If this was going to be a thing, he really should temper his reaction to Keith calling him by his full name, Shiro thought, the sound of Keith’s voice reverberating in his ears long after the line went dead, making his heart beat faster.

..::..::..::..

The Blades contacted them a day before the Castle’s scheduled supply stop. It wouldn’t have mattered much time-wise had it not been coincidentally a day before Shiro made plans to meet up with Keith under the guise of testing Black's upgrades (courtesy of Pidge and Hunk) and improving their bond. The meeting point he chose made Keith sputter a bit at the distance, but suited them both just fine – he was far enough from Voltron, but not so far away that he couldn't still come back quickly should the team need him, and Keith assured him that it wasn’t a problem for him either.

Shiro felt a little dirty for keeping this a secret from the team – it wasn't something he had a reason to be ashamed of, they did nothing wrong, keeping their friendship perfectly innocent despite obvious mutual ill-fated attraction – to the point where he seriously contemplated admitting the truth, but then the Blades called, and suddenly he was not in the mood to test how the other paladins would react to his news.

They got new coordinates and a date; the wedding was set for a week from the call.

He landed Black in a secluded cove some ways off the small city and took a pod for the rest of the way; the planet was accustomed enough to visitors of all kinds to not take too much interest in his arrival, and not quite advanced enough to have noticed the Lion, so his journey went essentially unnoticed, which suited him just fine.

By the time Shiro made it to the city center, Keith was already waiting for him. At the sight of him leisurely leaning against the sun-bleached brick wall, Shiro’s heart made an embarrassing attempt to leap out of his throat. They have only met twice, and maybe—maybe he was a little worried that seeing Keith in person again after months of phone calls would be underwhelming, but it turned out he had nothing to fear; the attraction was still there, strong as ever, if not stronger than the last time they’ve seen each other.

In the bright light Keith’s purple skin looked pinkish, almost human-like, and with his ears flattened to his head, the same red and white jacket tied around his waist, leaving him only in a t-shirt, he was startlingly human—and strikingly beautiful.

It was that moment that Keith decided to lift his gaze, looking Shiro squarely in the eye.

Shiro could see his grin all the way across the small square. It made his knees weak.

Somehow, they made most of their way to each other slowly, with dignity, just like friends were supposed to, until Keith barreled the last few steps to launch himself at Shiro. A pair of arms that had no business being so strong hugged him firmly, and Shiro oofed a startled laugh that only made Keith squeeze his midriff tighter and nuzzle into his neck with a purr.

Oh god, that was adorable.

Perhaps a little too familiar for friends, but adorable.

“I… am really glad to see you, too,” he wheezed and abruptly pushed Keith away when his hot breath ghosted against the skin of his throat. Keith looked a little frazzled and maybe even slightly hurt at what must have seemed a rejection to him, but Shiro smiled softly and pulled him into a much more reasonable hug – familiarity be damned, he wasn’t ready to let Keith go just yet.

“I’m glad you made it,” Keith muttered, relaxing into embrace once more. “You must have been busy, too.”

“Not too busy to see you,” Shiro admitted quietly, marveling at how good Keith felt in his arms. “Did you come a long way?”

“Not really,” Keith finally took a step back, and Shiro reluctantly dropped his arms. “I’ve been—doing some errands in the neighboring quadrant. How much time do we have?”

Shiro considered, already following Keith as he started walking.

“Several vargas, I think,” he sighed, wishing it could have been more – they didn’t have to travel for long until their destination, the wormhole taking care of the large part of the distance, but he couldn’t just disappear like that without letting his team know. “I wish I could stay for longer, but…”

“It’s fine,” Keith interrupted him curtly, turning to smile at him over the shoulder. “I’ll have to be on my way back soon as well. It wasn’t too much of a detour to get here, but I’ll probably have to compensate for the stop anyway.”

Even if it was for the best, Shiro still felt regret tug painfully at his heart.

“So, where to?” he asked as they passed a few narrow streets, the few passersby throwing them occasional curious glances, but never pausing to gawk—which was a nice reprieve after crowds gathering to look at Voltron paladins whenever they touched down on a planet requiring their help.

“You’ll see,” Keith replied cryptically, leaving Shiro clueless and at his mercy once again. Not that Shiro minded.

Just like the previous time they’d seen each other, Keith led him outside the city, the low buildings slowly becoming sparser and giving way to the lush and vivid nature. While Shiro was slowly getting used to the vegetation that looked nothing like it did on Earth, the forms and colors all wrong and unfamiliar, it still amazed him at times; he smiled as he rubbed a heavy leaf of a fruit tree between his fingers as they passed it.

“It’s nothing like the trees at home,” he explained when Keith looked at him quizzically. “You know.”

Keith hummed and lowered his eyes, his ears flattening to his head momentarily in a sign of distress—or maybe embarrassment.

“I don’t,” he said softly. “I don’t really… have a home. At least I don’t remember it much.”

Shiro gathered as much from their talks, but Keith has never been too eager to delve into further details, and he has never asked, respecting their unspoken rule not to reveal anything too personal still firmly in place. He was curious, though, and on the next step he caught up with Keith and grasped his hand in his.

Keith looked at him, surprised for a second, and then rewarded him with his softest smile yet, squeezing his fingers back.

“Mom took me with her when she had to leave home,” he muttered quietly. “She told me stories, but… it’s hard to imagine something you have no memories of. Do you miss home? What was it like there?”

They finally reached a small clearing just at the edge of what looked like a majestic forest, and Keith motioned to the side of it, where Shiro could see a folded blanket and presumably a high-tech picnic basket by the tree trunk used as a bench; the walk there gave him just enough time to gather his thoughts and come up with an answer for Keith.

“Sometimes,” he admitted. “It was… very different? Some would say it was plain, I guess, compared to other planets, but it wasn’t, not really,” he smiled ruefully, lost in memories for a moment. “Not if you came to know it, at least.”

Keith watched him curiously, leaving his side only to spread out the blanket carelessly on the grass and drop down, hugging his knees to his chest with one hand and slapping the place beside him with another. Shiro obediently sat down, and Keith immediately leaned into him, pressing his cheek to his shoulder.

“I don’t really regret leaving, though,” Shiro mused, absently reaching up to stroke over Keith’s head. “Not… much left there for me.”

Keith purred, leaning into his touch and letting his eyes fall shut. When Shiro curiously scratched behind his fluffy ear, he shuddered and swallowed audibly.

“I wish I could go back one day,” Keith admitted, pushing away and grabbing the basket. “I would like to know what my home looks like.”

Shiro wasn’t so sure how he felt about going back to Earth, so instead of replying he just hummed, taking a sandwich Keith threw him gratefully. Before he could change the topic, however, the comfortable silence was interrupted by a shrill sound that he came to recognize as the incoming call of his comm – only this time, it was coming from Keith.

Keith groaned, throwing his head back petulantly, and dropped his own half-unwrapped sandwich in his lap.

“Maybe if I ignore it, they'll stop,” he grumbled, but he was already fishing the comm from his pocket and looking at its bright screen in despair.

“Or maybe you should take it,” Shiro prompted him softly. “What if it’s something important?”

The way Keith glared at his comm was both hilarious and heartbreaking; it was clear how much he wanted to ignore the call, but the duty seemed to come first to him as well – and finally, after letting it pierce the air with another shrill ring, he bared his teeth, hissing at it his annoyance, and answered.

He didn’t talk other than occasional curt “yes” that became darker and darker; Shiro couldn’t hear the other end of the line, but the gloom creeping over Keith’s face was speaking volumes – whatever it was, it must have been not good. He hung up without saying goodbye.

For a long moment he just glared at the dark screen, ears flattened to his skull dangerously.

“Keith?” Shiro called cautiously. “Is… everything alright?”

Keith blinked, almost as if he didn’t realize he still had company, and slowly lifted his gaze; he observed Shiro quietly, almost unnervingly intent, and then pushed both the comm and the sandwich aside.

“Are you hungry?” he asked abruptly.

“Uh… Not really?” Shiro looked from his own forgotten food to Keith, puzzled, but didn’t get to ask why – the very next moment, with only a briefest “good” in lieu of warning, he had a lapful of a very distressed and equally as desperate Keith and a mouth full of tongue.

The kiss was just as good (bad) as he remembered the last time – heated, messy and wet, uncoordinated and awkward, but at the same time passionate and eager: Keith was kissing him like it was the last time, licking into his mouth like he wanted to memorize every part of it more than he wanted to kiss.

Shiro really didn’t know what to do with it, especially when Keith’s exaggerated groan turned into a whimper.

“Hey—hey,” it took everything he had to push Keith away, especially since he could now see his mouth, lips dark and shining with spit, and his miserable eyes. “What’s gotten into you?” he asked softly, hugging him loosely. Keith turned away, fingers digging painfully into his shoulders, and Shiro had to let him go to lift his chin with his human hand.

Keith still refused to meet his eyes.

Shiro sighed and leaned forward until their foreheads touched, and he could feel Keith’s shaky inhale on his lips; it was so tempting to give in and kiss him again – but it would have been unfair, and with Keith wound up so bad everything about it screamed future regret.

“What happened?” Shiro whispered, cupping his neck with one hand and stroking the tender skin with his thumb; the innocent touch left goosebumps in its wake, and Keith’s eyes fluttered close.

He stayed silent for so long Shiro was sure he wasn’t going to answer at all – but then he let out a long breath, slumping down heavily, and rolled his shoulders.

“Nothing new. Apparently I’m getting married as soon as I get back.”

It was hard to explain why this, of all things, made dread coil up in the pit of his stomach like a cold dead weight; not even his own marriage at this point made him feel this way. He felt resignation, sure, but that was it – Keith getting married, though, felt like a punch in the face.

“Keith,” he breathed out, and Keith finally, finally looked at him again.

“I don’t want to get married knowing that I had a chance to—I don’t want to regret missing that chance,” he whispered brokenly. “Please, Takashi…”

It was so, so, so unfair, and so unfairly tempting to just go with it. Keith, trembling and desperate in his lap, looking at him with trepidation and determination both, and this most likely being the last time they talk to each other, the last time they see each other—

He wanted to take Keith up on that offer, but he knew he couldn’t. Maybe if Keith hated him enough for it later, he would have something else to occupy his mind at the wedding and one less reason to hate his future spouse.

“I’m sorry,” he whispered back, cupping Keith’s face with both hands; for just a second Keith’s face lit up as he felt the touch and fell as soon as the words registered. “I’m sorry, Keith, but—I can’t. It won’t be fair to either of us.”

“So forcing us to marry strangers is fair?” Keith growled, scowling and narrowing his eyes, but not fighting too hard to get away. Shiro ran his fingers through his hair, and he went limp once again. “Nobody will know. Neither of us is married yet, so–”

“How,” Shiro pressed his fingertips against his moving lips, making him fall silent, and smiled bitterly, “am I supposed to let you go if we do anything now? I know I won’t forget it, Keith. I don’t know about you, but I don’t think I’ll be able to live knowing exactly what I can’t have.”

“So you’d rather… not know at all?” Keith frowned at him, more upset than angry now, and nibbled on his finger petulantly – when Shiro pulled his hand away, he sighed and leaned into it, watching him sorrowfully. “I think I… really like you, Takashi.”

“I really like you, too, Keith,” Shiro said softly, pushing a lock of hair away from his face and once again scratching gently behind his ear, watching his eyes go hazy with pleasure. “And I really wish things could be different.”

“Me too,” Keith muttered and let his head drop to Shiro’s shoulder, hugging him tightly and nuzzling into his neck once more.

They didn’t talk much after that.

..::..::..::..

“Aren’t you supposed to, I dunno, be freaking out right now? Asking everyone if you look alright, worrying about your spouse being an uglie—ow!”

“Stop it, dumbass,” Pidge muttered darkly. “I don’t think freaking out at the galra base would be a good idea for anyone .”

“Uh, yeah, but it’s good galra base, right? So maybe it’s okay, maybe they’d even like it, like, see that we have emotions, because we have many, many emotions, and then they won’t be too hard on us, and–”

Please, Hunk, not you too!”

Shiro listened to the banter absently, not really paying it any mind. Strangely enough, he was oddly calm; ever since his ruined date with Keith, he felt dull and hollow inside, and couldn’t really care about anything regarding his wedding.

“Shiro, are you quite alright?” Allura asked softly, touching his shoulder to get his attention – she might have already asked a couple of times, he realized guiltily, and nodded with a faint smile.

“I just don’t really see a reason to be freaking out now, of all times,” he joked. “I believe that one time when I ran away and got drunk was enough, don’t you think?”

Perhaps it was a bad idea to remember that night.

At least now he felt sad and bitter instead of feeling nothing at all; whether it was a good thing or a bad thing, he wasn’t sure.

“Well,” Allura huffed with a roll of her eyes and patted his shoulder awkwardly. “Try not to make it a habit, and I think it will be fine. And in case you’re worried, you look great.”

She clearly meant it as a genuine reassurance, but Shiro didn’t really look any different from most days – he had his paladin armor on, both the most formal attire they could come up with that didn’t involve being dressed in a ten thousand years old altean suits (Lance mourned that idea so hard they had to promise him a costume party at some future point just to shut him up) and the most proper option, considering the Blades’ insistence on the Black Paladin being the one to get married into their secret organization.

So far it seemed that their hosts couldn’t care less about their appearance. Several galra agents met them as they arrived and led them inside a spacious base. It was an outpost, they were told, that was used specifically for negotiations with parties they couldn’t trust fully yet.

Some other time perhaps Shiro would have commented on his marriage being nothing more than a negotiation; now he just let it slide.

And then they reached a large hall and were told to wait, so wait they did.

It was, after all, the only thing they could do at this point.

“I wonder what’s taking them so long,” Lance muttered after a few moments of blessed silence. “What if they’re dressing up your bride? What if we’re underdressed? The armor is great and everything, but considering all the things we’ve done in it, it’s hardly a festive attire–”

“Lance, I swear to god–”

The doors busted open, letting in a big and quite imposing galra with what seemed to be a permanent scowl on his scarred face and two others. Shiro recognized Ulaz, who met his eyes and gave him a curt nod and even a hint of a smile as they walked closer.

“We apologize for the delay, paladins,” the voice seemed familiar, and Shiro realized that the big one must have been the leader they’ve been talking to. “There have been… some issues. We will proceed as soon as they are taken care of.”

Shiro eyed the silent masked figure that towered over the leader and for the first time in weeks realized that he was not, in fact, as indifferent towards the whole situation as he thought he was. Maybe he did care a little about who he would be married to in the end – and he hoped it wouldn’t be this giant guy.

It couldn’t be the leader himself, either, could it? Last he remembered, he was referring to his future spouse as someone else and not himself. Ulaz seemed an unlikely candidate as well, although it had never been stated that he would marry someone he didn’t know – Shiro had just presumed that it would be a complete stranger.

His nerves were getting the best of him now, at just the right time. Shiro cursed silently, praying it didn’t show on his face and trying not to ogle either of the three galra too obviously.

“We’re greatly counting on this alliance,” Allura said levelly, royally calm as ever; Shiro envied her sometimes, even if he knew that to outsider he must have seemed equally calm at almost all the times. “I hope it won’t turn out that we came all this way here for nothing.”

“Rest assured, princess; it won’t take long now to settle this. It is an honor to finally meet you in person, and once the formalities have been dealt with, we will start our negotiations.”

Just as Shiro wondered if they should initiate introductions first and if asking what exactly the issue was would be considered rude, they heard loud steps just outside the large doors, and then—then there was shouting.

“—not going there!”

The three galra winced simultaneously – well, it was hard to tell with the one who remained in his mask, but his body language mirrored the other two perfectly, so it was as good a guess as they go. The leader’s eye twitched and his scowl deepened, and Shiro found himself wondering if his ears could twitch like—

“I changed my mind! I’m not doing it, find somebody else, I don’t care, I don’t want to–!”

Whoever it was, they probably didn’t realize they could be heard inside – or, considering what their shouts entailed, didn’t care either way. Well, at least he wasn’t the only one who didn’t want to be trapped in this marriage, Shiro thought ruefully; it wasn’t really a consolation, but it did calm him down a little. And that voice–

There was another voice, and though they couldn’t quite make out the words, it wasn’t hard to guess that another person was persuading the shouting one to calm down; then there was a screech, a thud, and the doors shook with force – Shiro could just about imagine his future spouse plastering themselves against the door and refusing to be pushed inside.

Yeah. Relatable.

“Please don’t make me do it,” they whined, and—

That voice was awfully familiar. Shiro’s heart leapt to his throat; no way, there was no fucking way—

The doors finally opened, and a woman strolled inside; for the briefest moment Shiro’s heart dropped, for while her features vaguely reminded him of a certain someone, she was definitely not him—but then his eyes landed on another figure that trailed her listlessly, and he was suddenly breathless.

“We apologize for the delay,” the woman said, repeating the leader’s words from before as she came to stand in front of them. “Now that everything is settled, I believe the introductions are in order.”

Shiro didn’t listen to them. The only name he had heard, the only name that mattered, that made him lightheaded and bursting with unbelievable joy, was—

“Keith,” he breathed out alongside the leader, echoing him, right as Keith’s eyes snapped up, filled with hatred and despair – and then abruptly going wide at the sight of him.

His cheeks hurt from how wide he was smiling, but he didn’t care. Right now the way Keith gaped at him was the only thing that mattered, and he had to fight himself not to take a step closer and gently cup his chin, prompting him to close his mouth and trailing the pad of his thumb over that soft lower lip before leaning down to kiss it.

“I…” Keith searched his face, still blinking at him owlishly, as if he wasn’t sure what he was seeing. Shiro understood completely; it felt just like one of his many dreams, only those dreams could never do Keith any justice, it seemed. “I…”

“It is an honor to meet you,” Shiro echoed the words from before, taking a step forward, and Keith seemed to gravitate to him as well – if Shiro paid attention to anything else, he would have noticed the look of surprise on the woman’s face, or the looks of utter bewilderment his team was giving him.

“I—you too,” Keith muttered, flushing beautifully and giving Shiro a not-so-subtle once-over. His shocked expression was still firmly in place, but his ears were perked up, and there was a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. Shiro didn’t know if the galran tradition had the spouses kiss after being proclaimed married, but he hoped it did because he needed to feel that smile against his lips.

“It seems they like each other,” someone stage whispered behind him, and Shiro couldn’t care less who – Keith ducked his head shyly, and his heart soared.

As miraculous as it seemed, they really, really did.