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"Thank you for helping us out," Keith said.

"No thanks needed," James said. "It was nice to get a little fresh air and exercise." He smiled ruefully at Keith. "I'm just sorry we couldn't get Hunk's parents out."

Keith frowned. "There has to be a way."

"And we'll find it," James said. "Right now, I could use a break, and I think you could, too."

"More fresh air and exercise?" Keith asked. He was in that state where he was both exhausted and wired and he knew he wouldn't be able to sleep for a few more hours.

"Something with less being shot at," James said. "You want to hang out? The officer's lounge downstairs should be open. We can watch a movie or play some pool."

Right, they were officers now. "Pool?"

"You know, big table, green felt, lots of balls?" James asked.

Keith didn’t have anything waiting for him in his room. Even the datapad with the book he'd been reading was back on the Black Lion. "Sure," Keith said.

The officer's lounge had seen better days. The old vending machines stood empty and the couches were faded and worn. But it was clean and well-lit, there was a viewscreen and a coffee table, and the bookshelves were stacked with books and games.

Keith grabbed a pool cue from a wall rack as James racked the balls. "You play a lot of pool in space?" James asked.

"Not much," Keith said.

"You may be in trouble, then," James said. "We're short on entertainment options these days, so I've been logging a lot of hours in here." James carefully lifted the rack off the table, leaving the pyramid of balls sitting neatly on the felt.

"I'll manage," Keith said. He leaned against the table.

"You want to break?" James asked. His hip brushed Keith’s as James walked past him to the cue stick rack. He hung the ball rack on a hook and selected a cue stick.

"Sure," Keith said. He bent over the table, carefully lined up his cue, and took the shot. The cue ball plowed into the rest of the balls and sent them spinning all over the table. The 7 ball sank in the far corner pocket. "Solids," he said. He shifted to the side of the table, lined up the cue ball and took another shot. He grimaced as the 2 ball bounced off the bumper and clinked against the 4 ball. He stepped back from the table.

"Good start," James said. He came forward and positioned the cue ball on the felt.

"No, it wasn't." Keith said. He picked up a piece of chalk and twisted it against the end of his cue stick.

James laughed. "Good for me, then." He lined up his cue and took the shot. The 15 ball dropped into a corner pocket. "How did you become the leader of Voltron?"

Keith shrugged. "I fly the Black Lion."

"Whoever flies the Black Lion is the leader?" James asked. He lined up his next shot.

"The Black Lion's the head of Voltron," Keith said, watching James's cue stick closely.

James sank the 10 ball. "I'm having a hard time picturing five robot lions coming together to become a giant robot man."

Keith gave him a small smile. "You don't have to. You'll see it soon."

"Wow," James said. He lined up his shot. "You must have seen some amazing things. What's it like out there?" He knocked the 9 ball into a side pocket.

"More amazing than you can imagine," Keith said. He remembered the sweet-earth scent of the Olkari forests and felt a twist of worry. What was happening out there without Voltron? He rested his hand on the edge of the table and watched James line up his shot. "There's a planet where the Galra Empire forced them out of their cities so they moved into the forest and literally hacked the vegetation. They taught their trees to grow weapons and mechs. We helped them reclaim their planet and now they're one of the primary bases for the Voltron Coalition."

“That’s really something.” James took the shot and bounced the 14 ball off the bumper. "Aw, man," he said, and stepped away from the table, gesturing for Keith to take his turn.

"That's pathetic," Keith said. "You're trying to throw the game?"

James shrugged. "Figured I'd give you a fighting chance."

"No," Keith said. "I win on my own or not at all." He took the rack off the wall and handed it to James.

James shrugged. "All right." He took the rack and started gathering the balls. "You know, some kids back in school thought the reason you had such a high flight ranking was because you were sleeping with Shiro."

Keith frowned and his jaw tightened. "Because you told them that."

James winced. "Sorry, I made a joke once and it spread. I didn't think anyone who'd seen you fly would take it seriously." He lifted the rack off the balls and passed it to Keith. "Were you?" he asked, studying the table intently.

"Beating you in every ranking?" Keith asked, a sharp edge to his voice.

"Sleeping with Shiro." James looked up at Keith.

"No.” Keith turned away from James to hang up the ball rack.

"Are you now?" James asked, still watching Keith.

Keith had always loved Shiro, but until recently, he'd thought of it as a brotherly love, one best friend to another. Recent events had stirred up those emotions, sent him swirling through mixed feelings, confusion, longing, and the fear that if he spoke any of it aloud, what they had together would be lost. "No," he said honestly. "We're not sleeping together. You break."

James placed the cue ball on the felt. He sent the balls spinning and knocked the 2 ball and the 3 ball into pockets. "Solids," he said. "You guys have beat the Galra before, then?"

"More than once," Keith said, "and we're going to do it again, and then we're going to go back out and take down the Empire for good."

James rested the back of his cue stick on the floor. "You really think we can take down a ten thousand year old empire?"

"Yes," Keith said, with certainty. At the core, he knew that they would defeat the Empire, like he'd known the Blue Lion was out there. He just didn't know what it would cost them, or if he would live to see it. "It's not just us. Every time we free a planet, we have a new ally. No one has more motivation to fight back than those who have suffered under the Empire. We'll grow as they shrink."

James bent over the table and knocked the 6 ball into a corner pocket. "They still have the numbers."

"Maybe not," Keith said. "Not all the Galra are happy with the Empire. When the tide starts to turn, we'll get defectors."

"No chance," James said. He rested his cue stick against his shoulder and looked at the layout of the balls. "Why would they fight against their own people? I wouldn't."

"Because it's the right thing to do," Keith said. "There's already a group of rebels on our side. Don't you remember from the briefing?"

"Oh, the Blades of... uh?" James asked curiously. He shot the 4 ball into a side pocket.

"Blade of Marmora," Keith corrected.

"How do you know we can trust them?" James asked. He lined up another shot.

Keith had the end of the cue stick on the floor and both hands wrapped around the shaft. He flicked his tongue over his lower lip and hesitated. But he didn't want it to be a secret, like it was something shameful. "My mother's one of them."

James's hand slipped. The cue ball smacked into the 10 ball, which bounced and flew off the table. Keith grabbed it. "Your mother - your mother was in space? Did you know that when you went out there?"

"No," Keith said. He put the 10 ball on the table and James stepped back so Keith could line up his shot.

"How did she get out there?" James asked. "Did the Garrison know where she was? I thought Shiro and the Holts were the first humans to make contact."

"She's not human," Keith said, focusing on his shot. He sent the 10 ball into a side pocket.

James's eyebrows shot up. "Wow. Then you're half-alien?"

Keith nodded. He lined up another shot.

"Why is she working with the Galra?" James asked. But James had always been a bright student and he did the math before Keith could answer. "You're half-Galra."

Keith nodded again. He sunk the 12 ball.

"You look human, though," James said. "Are there others like you? Could they be hiding among us?"

"It's not a disguise," Keith said. He thrust the cue stick into the cue ball and it bounced neatly over the 14 ball and into a side pocket. "This is who I am."

"I'm sorry," James said quietly. "I guess if you're half-Galra, maybe they aren't all bad."

Keith looked at him in surprise.

James took a deep breath and let it out. "I've been trying to find a way to say this, and I might as well just spit it out. I was an ass to you in school-"

"Agreed," Keith said. He rested the end of the pool cue against his foot.

"That's fair," James said. "I was jealous of your rankings, and - well, it doesn't matter why I said the things I did. I deserved most of the times you punched me."

"Most?" Keith asked, raising his eyebrows.

"One time you came up to me by the bike garage and punched me without any warning," James said.

"That was because you were telling people I was sleeping with Shiro," Keith said.

"Oh," James said, and considered it. "Okay, I get that."

"Sorry if I wasn't clear at the time," Keith said.

"Well, you could've said something, but I guess I could've put it together if I'd thought about it," James said. "Anyway, I'd like it if we could be friends, when you're ready to forgive me."

Keith looked James over. They were adults, with a chronologically confusing amount of time between their student years and now. What was the point of holding old grudges when there were real enemies to fight? "I've lost a lot of friends in the last few years," Keith said. "I can't afford to be picky." He winced. "I didn't mean that to be insulting."

"You've always had a way with people, huh?" James said. "I'll take it." He offered Keith his hand, and Keith shook it. James's thumb brushed over Keith's thumb before they let go. "My turn, I guess." He fished the cue ball out of the pocket. He took out the 1 and the 5 balls with a single shot, then sunk the 7 ball in a corner pocket. Keith sighed and leaned back against the wall, next to the cue stick rack. He rested his cue stick against the wall and waited for it to be over. James walked around the table holding his pool cue and examining the layout. "8 ball, left corner pocket," he said finally, and sank the shot.

"Congratulations," Keith said with a smile.

"Thanks," James said. "Seems a little unfair, though, since there's no pool tables in space."

Keith shrugged. "Gimme time to practice. We'll have a rematch."

James walked over, stood close to Keith, and put his pool cue on the rack without looking away from him. "Maybe next time we can make a wager," he said in a low voice.

Keith straightened up and stepped away from the wall. "I'm up for it if you are."

"You have some chalk on your face," James said. He lifted his hand to Keith's face and brushed the blue dust off of Keith's cheek with his thumb. He didn't lower his hand.

"Is it gone?" Keith asked quietly, watching James’s eyes.

"Yeah," James said. He cupped Keith's cheek in his hand and kissed him. Keith froze for the briefest second, then leaned into James and kissed back. James tasted sweet, like the fruit-simulated juice beverage from the cafeteria. James's other hand slid down, tracing a line along Keith's jaw and around to the back of his neck, where James gently twisted his fingers into Keith's hair. Keith grabbed handfuls of his shirt and yanked him close. Keith's back hit the wall and James's hands dropped to Keith's hips. They continued to kiss as James slid his hands under Keith's shirt and his fingertips drifted over bare skin. Keith shivered. James drew back and touched his forehead to Keith's. "Do you want to come back to my room?"

Keith closed his eyes and flicked his tongue over his lip. He’d been thinking about it all night. It could be a good time; a distraction when he needed one very badly. But James wasn't who he wanted to be with and he had never been good at pretending. "No," Keith said. "I'm sorry." He gently pushed James's hands away.

James let his hands fall to his side as he studied Keith. "Shiro," he said.

Keith grimaced. He didn't like being so transparent. "It's complicated."

"I could make you forget him for an evening," James said, his voice low and velvety.

Keith's mouth twisted up at one side and he shook his head. "No, you couldn't."

James's eyes narrowed and his jaw tightened, but he took a step back. "Okay." He nodded at the pool table and smiled. "Keep practicing. I still want that rematch." He smiled at Keith and left the room. Keith squeezed his eyes shut and let his head fall back and hit the wall. This was why he didn't have a lot of friends. He was terrible at friends. He waited until he was pretty sure the hallway would be clear and then went back to his room.

---

Lance caught up with Keith in the hallway outside the war room. "Hey," he said, keeping his voice low. People were filtering in for the meeting. An officer Keith didn't recognize gave them a curious look.

Keith nodded to Lance and they ducked into a side hallway. "What's up?" Keith asked quietly.

"James has been asking about you," Lance said, watching the mix of cadet and officer uniforms pass by. No one looked over at them.

"What about?" Keith asked. He turned his back toward the hallway, blocking Lance from view.

"If it was true you were half-Galra," Lance said. "What was up with you and the Marmorites."

"What'd you say?" Keith asked.

"Yes, it was true, and that you'd worked with them. It's not classified, so I didn't think it mattered," Lance said.

"It's fine," Keith reassured him. He rested his hand on Lance's shoulder. Lance eyed it. Keith yanked his hand back. "Trying to be a supportive leader." Keith muttered.

"It's good," Lance said encouragingly. "Room for improvement, sure, but I appreciate the effort." He patted Keith's shoulder in turn.

Keith frowned. "Was that a demonstration, or-"

Lance sighed and dropped his hand. "I think James is up to something."

Keith nodded and furrowed his brow. "Sounds like."

"You weren't the only one he picked on in school, you know," Lance said. He smoothed out his tunic at the shoulder.

"Think he's changed?" Keith asked.

Lance shrugged. "Weirder things have happened. But if not, I’ve got your back. We all do."

“Thanks.” Keith nodded. They stepped out of the side hallway and went to take their places at the table in the war room.

Shiro slipped into the seat to Keith's right. "Hey," he said, flashing a smile at them. "Enjoy your night off?"

I love you. Keith tested the feel of the words. No, Shiro knew that. He had to make it clear. I'm in love with you. Better. Doable. If he could summon the courage, find the right time and the right place. Was there a right time? Oh, he was staring. "I played some pool," Keith said. "There's a table in the old Officer's Lounge."

"Wow, that old thing survived?" Shiro asked. "I can't remember how many nights Adam and I spent bent over that table." His smile dimmed.  Oh, no. Wrong time. Wait a few weeks, give him some time to grieve for Adam. Was that enough? Could anything be enough?

"Really," Lance said, the word dripping with innuendo.

"Playing pool," Shiro said.

The meeting was called to order. It began with minutes and moved onto reports from different parts of the Garrison on how their individual projects were going. Keith wanted to fidget or tap his foot or move in some way. The information he was getting was important, but he wished he could at least stand up. But as a Paladin of Voltron, he had a seat near the head of the table. Rank and presentation affected how you were treated, and as the leader of Voltron, he would need people to listen to him. If he gave up his spot and lurked in the back of the room, he'd have people thinking they could question him or argue with him at times when mere ticks - mere seconds - could make the difference between life and death.

He realized suddenly that he'd learned that as much from Allura's lectures on diplomacy than from his days at the Garrison. Maybe he should thank her.

"... and do we have any new business?"

James lifted his hand and Keith had a sinking feeling of dread. He glanced at Lance, who looked back at him with an expression that reflected his own thoughts. "Admiral Sanda, I think we should discuss the security issues involved in having non-humans in our ranks." Eyes went to Allura. She lifted her chin.

"We have already cleared the Alteans," the Admiral said. "Is there anything else?"

"I'm not referring to the Alteans," James said, and now he had the attention of everyone in the room.

"I could punch him for you," Lance said, in a nearly-inaudible voice.

Keith gave a small shake of his head. If there was punching, he'd do it himself. He glanced over at Shiro, who was giving him a worried look.

"There are other aliens?" asked an older officer. "Here?" He looked around the room, as if he expected to see someone clinging to the walls.

Keith pushed back his chair and stood up. "I believe Officer Griffin is referring to me." Murmurs spread over the room.

"Explain yourself," Admiral Sanda said sharply.

"My mother is one of the Galran rebels fighting the Empire," Keith said, and there were gasps. "My father was human. I was born less than twenty miles from here. I grew up thinking I was full human."

"And when you found out you were Galran, you immediately abandoned your post with Voltron and joined a Galra paramilitary group," James said.

Shiro stood up now. "Admiral, he's referring to the Blade of Marmora, which we've already discussed. Officer Kogane's association with that group cemented an extremely valuable alliance in the fight against the Empire. He took leave from Voltron with the blessing of all the Paladins. His loyalty has never been in question."

"His loyalty to you, at least," James muttered in a low voice.

"Why were we not informed?" Admiral Sanda asked.

"Because we have had to give you a very large amount of information in a very short period of time and this was not deemed to be strategically relevant," Shiro told the Admiral. He sat back down.

"I'd say one of the enemy in our ranks is extremely relevant," the older officer said. He gave Keith a suspicious look.

Keith clenched his teeth. "I'm not an enemy," he ground out.

"I believe you," James said. Keith gave him a wary look. Sanda and the others turned to James as well. James addressed them. "I know Officer Kogane had a history of behavioral problems at the Garrison and so I think everyone can see why this new information would be concerning. But Keith is an extremely talented pilot and we can't afford to lose him."

Keith narrowed his eyes and waited.

"I suggest we rotate Officer Kogane to a position with a lower security clearance. I'm sure we can find a place where he'll be useful. We'll investigate his connection to the Galra and once everyone is satisfied, he can be returned to his former position," James said.

The older officer nodded. "That sounds reasonable."

"I have a counter proposal," Keith said, fingers curling against the table. "You leave me alone and you go f-" Shiro coughed, "focus on something that's actually productive."

"I like Officer Griffin's plan," Admiral Sanda said.

"No," Keith said. "If you don't have me, you don't have Voltron."

"Is that a threat?" Sanda asked.

"It's a fact," Keith said. "You can't have Voltron without the Black Lion and you don't get the Black Lion without me."

"We'll find a temporary pilot for the 'Black Lion'," Sanda said. "We have a number of excellent pilots." She looked at James and gave him a small smile.

Keith's ears rang and he remembered being fourteen, discovering flying, finally finding something he was good at, something that was his, and hearing his teacher say, This is James. He has the highest grades in class. Keith? He's a bit of a discipline case. Swiping Shiro's car and running away. But Black had chosen him. Not James.

Allura stood up and put her hands on the table. "Excuse me, but I believe there's been some confusion." She waited until she had the attention of the room. "Some of you know that my father, King Alfor, is the one that built Voltron. He used magics that have not been seen before or since. Each Lion chooses its Paladin, and they form a close bond. In addition, the Paladin must form a bond with the other Paladins in order to form Voltron. You cannot swap Paladins like you can with common military pilots."

Keith enjoyed the expression on James's face. It appeared he didn't like being called common.

"We cannot afford to lose Voltron," Commander Holt said. "And I believe we've spent enough time on this issue."

Admiral Sanda nodded. "Begin a background check on Officer Kogane and we'll revisit this if anything turns up. Do we have any other new business?"

Everyone sat back down.

---

The Paladins, Shiro, Coran, and Romelle had been assigned a group of rooms in the officer's dorms. They'd had their pick, since there were plenty of apartments free. Keith tried not to think too much about why. Shiro had suggested this section, which had two rows of single bedroom suites on either side of a common area, with a couple of couches and a small kitchen. Keith stalked back to their common area with his jaw clenched shut and his hands curled into fists so tight that his fingernails left red crescents on his palms. He was a little surprised to look back and realize that Shiro and the other Paladins were right behind him and just as furious. As soon as they were in the suit and had closed the door to the hallway, Lance spoke up.

"I'm sorry," he said. "I shouldn't have said anything."

Keith shook his head. "It's not your fault. I told him I was half-Galra."

"What's that guy's deal?" Pidge asked.

"He's a huge jerk," Hunk said. He dropped down on the left couch. "He's always been a jerk."

"I thought he'd changed," Keith said. He crossed his arms over his chest and lowered his chin. "We hung out last night. We had fun!" He spat out the last word.

Shiro's expression was like a stormcloud. "I'll talk to Commander Holt about the 'background check'," he said. "We don't have resources to waste on this nonsense."

"But he can't overrule the Admiral," Allura said.

"He can delay it," Pidge said. "Dad used to say that if you listen to the big brass too much, you'll never get anything done."

"Are you going to punch James?" Lance asked Keith. "Because I want to watch."

"No," Keith growled. "We can't afford that kind of stuff right now."

"Whoa," Hunk said. "Character growth."

"He's free game when we beat the Galra, though," Keith said grimly. "And he's not getting Black."

"He doesn't even know anything about Voltron!" Lance said.

"He knows Keith outranks him," Shiro said. "He's ambitious."

""Don't worry, Keith. If you die, we won't let him take Black," Lance said.

"Thank you, Lance," Keith said, giving him a grateful look.

"Keith's not dying," Shiro said sharply.

"Well, no," Lance said hastily. "Just in case."

Pidge's wristband beeped. "Oh, I have to go. Hunk and I are meeting with some of the Garrison techs."

"Oh, yeah," Hunk said. "We'll be there this afternoon, though."

"Definitely," Pidge said.

"Thanks," Shiro said.

"I promised my niece and nephew we'd watch a movie together. They get to pick it, so it's probably going to involve singing and cartoon animals," Lance said.

"I wish I could join you," Allura said. "But I need to help Sam prepare for Shiro's arm attachment surgery."

"You guys wanna come along?" Lance asked Shiro and Keith. Both of them shook their heads. Lance shrugged. "If it's good, we'll watch it later."

"Rest up, and don't eat or drink anything," Allura ordered Shiro.

"Of course, Princess," Shiro said. Lance and Allura left the suite and Keith and Shiro were alone together.

"Are you all right?" Shiro asked. He walked over to Keith and put his hand on his shoulder.

"Fine," Keith growled, but he didn’t pull away from Shiro’s touch. "Except how everyone thinks I'm an alien spy."

"Keith, they know you better than that," Shiro said.

"No, they don't," Keith said. "They know me as that kid who stole stuff and got into fights and started fires."

"You started fires?"

"Only one, after you left. It was an accident, but the next day everyone was saying I was a pyromaniac," Keith said.

"They might not even remember," Shiro said, though not very convincingly. Keith gave him a narrow look. The Garrison's Golden Boy knew how the gossip chain worked better than anyone.

"If they don't, James just reminded them about my 'behavioral problems'." Keith pulled away from Shiro and dropped down on the couch. He rested his elbows on his knees. "Shiro, I need these people to trust me, or I can't do my job."

Shiro sat on the couch next to Keith. "They will trust you," he said. "You are the leader of Voltron and you've earned it every way you could. You go out there and show them that and they'll learn to trust you and trust Voltron."

Keith shook his head. "Guys like James will never like me."

"Maybe not," Shiro said. "You won't win them all. There's always a few that are jealous, or hold a grudge, or think they know more than you. You'll learn to deal with them."

"Thanks," Keith’s tone softened.

"I'm always here if you need to talk," Shiro said, and hugged him. Keith clung to him for a moment.

“Same,” Keith said. “You ready for this afternoon?”

“All I have to do is lay there,” Shiro said cheerfully. “I won’t even be awake this time.”

Keith’s stomach churned and he tried to keep his expression neutral. Shiro didn’t talk much about his time as a prisoner of the Galra. Keith had guessed a few things, but having them confirmed was something else. “You’ll be fine,” he said. “Commander Holt’s team is the best and Allura put your soul in a new body, so another hand should be nothing.”

“You make me sound like Slav,” Shiro said. He leaned against Keith.

“If you want ten arms, I’m sure it can be arranged,” Keith said.

“It’d be nice to have spares ready to go,” Shiro said.

Keith put his arm around Shiro. He thought about the thing he wanted to say, but now wasn’t the right time. After the surgery, maybe. “You’re supposed to rest,” Keith said.

“I’m plenty rested,” Shiro said.

“You haven’t been sleeping much,” Keith said.

“I’ve slept enough,” Shiro said. “You don’t sleep much either.”

“I don’t need as much sleep as you,” Keith said.

“How about we just put a movie on?” Shiro suggested.

Shiro got to pick the movie, since it was his surgery day, and he choose a spy-action movie that was an old favorite of both of them. He and Keith got comfortable on the couch and called out advice to the characters on the screen. But the break from everything that was happening let the exhaustion creep in, and first Shiro, then Keith, laid down on the couch and they let their eyes close. As the movie played in the background, Keith dozed off. The last thing he remembered was leaning against Shiro for his warmth and letting his arm drape over his best friend.

He woke to the sound of a door opening. Keith lifted his head to see that Lance had returned and his uniform was completely drenched. Lance glanced at Keith and Shiro and said, "Finally."

Shiro half-opened his eyes and examined Lance. "Cartoon animals?"

"Water balloons." Lance looked ruefully down at his uniform. "Kids gotta be kids."

"Wait, 'finally'?" Keith sat up and rubbed the sleep from his eyes. "What's that mean?"

"You guys," Lance said, pointing at Keith and Shiro with two fingers. "We've been wondering when Shiro would finally get up the nerve."

"Shiro?" Keith looked at Shiro, who pulled himself upright and leaned into Keith.

"'We'?" Shiro asked.

"Pidge caught him practicing 'I love yous' on Kaltenecker a few weeks ago," Lance said.

Shiro was suddenly wide awake. “Pidge swore she wouldn't tell anyone!"

"It's true?" Keith looked at him in astonishment.

"No, she swore she wouldn't tell Keith," Lance said smugly. "Don't worry, she just told Hunk and Allura and me."

"Why didn't someone tell me?" Keith demanded. "If I'd known, I wouldn't have -" He abruptly clamped his mouth shut. Lance and Shiro both stared at him.

"Wouldn't have what?" Shiro asked.

"It doesn't matter," Keith said.

"Then there's no reason not to share," Lance said.

"Wouldn't have what?" Shiro repeated.

"Kissed James," Keith muttered at his chest.

Lance's mouth dropped open. Shiro just said, "Oh," in a quiet voice.

"He came onto me last night," Keith said, still not looking at either of them. "He kissed me, and I considered - but I didn't!"

"Oh, man," Lance said. "I can't believe he still has a thing for you."

Keith's head jerked up. "StilI?"

"Yeah, he totally had a crush on you in school. I figure that's half the reason he pulled the stuff he did with you," Lance said.

"Why doesn't anybody tell me anything?" Keith wailed. He looked at Shiro.

"I didn't know," Shiro said quietly.

Lance looked at Shiro, then at Keith, then back at Shiro. "Okay, we’re having an awkward moment. I'm going to go change. I'll see you at the hospital," he said. "And Keith? Fix your hair."

Keith tugged at his bangs. "What's wrong with it?"

"What isn't?" Lance cackled and ducked into his room.

"It's sticking out on the side," Shiro said. He combed Keith's hair with his fingers and Keith decided that was very nice and wondered if Shiro would do it again when they had more time.

“You really love-” Keith felt like his brain wasn’t processing speech correctly, because he couldn’t make it say what he wanted. “You really love Kaltenecker?”

Shiro groaned. “I wanted to tell you how I felt, but I wanted to do it right.”

“You just had to say it,” Keith said.

“It never felt like the right time,” Shiro said.

“What about now?” Keith asked.

Shiro took a deep breath. “I love you. I’m in love with you. You are the most incredible man I’ve ever met.” He took one of Keith’s hands in his and squeezed lightly.

Keith’s mouth was dry. “Same,” he said, in a rough voice.

Shiro smiled. “Same?”

“I’m in love with you, too,” Keith said. “And you’re amazing. I’ve always known that.”

“Good,” Shiro said. He grinned. Keith grinned back, and they sat there until the silence grew uncomfortable.

"So... can I kiss you?" Keith asked finally.

"Yes, that sounds like a good idea," Shiro said, and he sounded so official, so Officer Shirogane, that Keith snickered. Shiro frowned. "What?"

"When you talk like that, you make me feel like I should be saluting you," Keith said.

Shiro grinned and said, "Well, don't let me stop you."

Keith saluted. "Yes, sir," he said, and snickered again.

"Oh, come here," Shiro said. He wrapped his arm around Keith and pulled him in for a kiss. Keith's laughter faded. He draped his arms around Shiro's neck and kissed him back. Keith wasn't sure how long they sat on that couch, wrapped up in each other. He felt as though another puzzle piece in his life had snapped into place, a perfect fit. He didn’t know how long it had been when Shiro's wristband beeped. "Time to go," Shiro said regretfully.

"Okay," Keith said softly. He gave Shiro one last kiss and then said, "I love you" again, just to feel the words on his lips.

"I love you, too," Shiro said, and he and Keith walked to the hospital hand in hand.

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double kiss shot

1.  (Billiards) A situation in which a ball strikes another ball which is close to a rail and the struck ball rebounds back into the ball it was hit by.

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