“Where does it hurt?”
Shiro hadn’t realised Keith was awake, bare chest pressed to and draped across his bare side in the bed they’ve taken to sharing. At this point it feels disingenuous to refer to it as his and not theirs. He tilts his head on the pillow to peer down at him in the dim, the whole warm living length of him.
He’s staring blankly up at Shiro through fringe and eyelashes. Passively aware of the tears on Shiro’s cheeks that he had no intention of shedding, and resigned to let fall until whatever point they chose to stop.
Keith doesn’t elaborate, and Shiro doesn’t ask him to. Just raises his prosthetic hand in a loose fist and lets it fall sluggishly on his own chest where he guesses his heart is hidden.
Two times. Here. It hurts here.
Keith doesn’t say anything. He doesn’t reach up to wipe the tears from his face. He props himself up on an elbow and leans down to first lay a dry kiss to Shiro’s chest, and then lay his soft, heavy head. His ear pressed over Shiro’s plaintive heart where it slowly beats on through the night.
Happiness is a state in flux.
He is happy. They’re back on Earth. They’re back at the Garrison. The suffocating need to not screw up is still present, but somewhat eased by a chain of command in which Shiro isn’t perched on the top and desperately trying not to fall.
He’s in love.
Keith is a wellspring of more joy than he feels worthy of possessing.
Shiro watches him.
Keith reacts to being referred to as ‘Sir’ with a kind of quiet, bemused alarm. The honorific isn’t accurate by Garrison hierarchy, but cadets seem incapable of coming face to face with the Black Paladin without standing to attention. It fills Shiro with a pride he didn’t know his body had room for. There’s no zenith, it just rises every day.
It’s a novelty to more often witness Keith in a state of calm and quiet. Fewer situations in which his input is needed, fewer reasons for him to raise his hackles and raise his voice, fewer life-or-death stakes necessary for him to kick and scream his way out of. Fewer people in uniforms treating him like he’s a fist waiting to fly.
He likes Keith’s voice quiet and low. He likes unimportant things said off hand, and fearless things whispered in Shiro’s ear, just for them.
Last week they took a nap. In the middle of the day. Not even any fooling around, just sleep, and Keith’s drool on the shoulder of Shiro’s t-shirt. Yesterday he’d silently plopped down next to Shiro where he’d been reading reports, and methodically peeled a banana which he’d held under Shiro’s nose until he’d taken it with a puzzled grin and pointedly eaten it. Then he’d left. He asks Shiro mundane questions, like they’ve only just occurred to him and are suddenly of extreme importance. Have you been on a rollercoaster? Did you pass your driving test first time? Are oysters as gross as they look?
No. Yes. They absolutely are.
He holds Shiro’s hand a lot. He doesn’t seem to have any particular aversion to where or when. Picks it up off the table, plays with his fingers, traces along his palm. Like he’s studying his body inch by inch with every intention of knowing it by heart. A model student. He’ll move on eventually, he just isn't done with the hands.
His hands. His body. This body Shiro finds himself in. This plagiarism. Stolen from him and then stolen back.
This body honoured with the chance to finally hold Keith, and trusted by Keith to be held by.
He’s happy. Except when he isn’t.
It’s easier to speak in the dark.
“I’ve killed people from planets I’ll never know the names of.”
To his credit, Keith’s breath doesn’t change, but his arm does tighten around Shiro’s waist. “You survived.”
“Did I deserve to?” It isn’t self-pity. It’s an infection, and he’s ignored it too long. Keith doesn’t know the extent of the things Shiro made himself do in the arena, but he knows enough.
Keith doesn’t answer right away, thinks about it instead of appeasing Shiro, like this is something that could ever be appeased. It means everything.
“I don't know,” he murmurs, lips brushing Shiro’s shoulder, another point of anchor. “There was nothing fair about what they did to you. I don’t know how to quantify that.”
“No,” they weaponised him, and he became a weapon. “Neither do I.”
“If they could have killed you, they would have.”
“Or they needed me. They used me.”
“And they still didn’t break you. You stayed you.”
He doesn’t think, because he’s thought about it too often already. “I could have let them kill me.”
“They wouldn’t have cared,” Keith’s voice doesn’t change, even and unwavering. Clinical. “Your death would’ve meant nothing to them. If you’re going to do something stupidly selfless, at least do it for a good fucking reason.”
He reaches over and grabs Shiro’s prosthetic, and he lets Keith tug and guide it to the back of his neck, over the curled ends of his hair. Keith squeezes firmly until Shiro relents and holds the back of his head in his huge, metal palm.
“You’re important,” he hisses, fierce now. “You always have been. They had no fucking idea.”
“Do you remember your mom?”
Keith’s sitting propped against the arm of opposite end of the sofa, his legs up and his bare feet resting on Shiro’s uniform pants. His soles are a little dusty, tough and stained a darker shade than the rest of his feet, and Shiro doesn’t care.
His legs are long. They got so long while Shiro was dead. He spills onto surfaces, limbs folding up under or in front of him in ways that shouldn’t look so effortless. Shiro looks across at him, wraps a hand around Keith’s ankle just to touch some bare, warm part of him. His Altean fingers go all the way around.
“A little,” Shiro sifts back through his memory, clinging onto images of a small woman with short hair and a generous smile. “Mostly from photos.”
Keith rests his temple on the back of the sofa, peaceful. “Can you show me?”
When Shiro left for Kerberos he’d packed all of his belongings into boxes, physical and digital. Everything he thought he’d still need or want when he returned, and now they feel like they belong to another man. His whole life before the mission, compact enough to leave neglected in a storage crate in the Garrison. For all he knows, it was requisitioned in the war.
“I’ll see if I can find one when there’s time,” Shiro promises. “I’ll get one printed, maybe.”
Keith nudges Shiro’s thigh with his toe, and Shiro moves his hand up his calf a little, bunching his sweatpants, short hair dragging under his palm. Up, then back down.
“There’s this one memory,” Shiro says quietly, eyes fixed on his metal fingers on Keith’s ankle. “She had these big glasses. They were massive, they must have been in style. I remember reaching up,” he brushes his nose with his left fingers, lets his hand drop. “And pulling them off her face, and putting them in my mouth. I can’t remember if she pulled them away.”
“How old were you?”
“I dunno. I would have been so young, if she was around. I don’t know how memory works, maybe –” he laughs once, short, breathless. “Maybe I made it up,” he inhales deeply, lets it out through his nose. “And then sometimes. Sometimes when I smell oranges, all I can see is her face.”
Shiro shrugs. “I have no idea. I don’t like eating them. It makes me sad.”
Keith, lethally earnest, promises. “No oranges.”
Shiro laughs quietly, contemplative but not melancholy. Her being gone is sad, and he was too young to mourn her, or miss her as anything other than the mother who didn’t get to raise him. She gave him the shape of his nose and the colour of the hair he was born with, and he’ll never know how much more she had to offer. He’s mourned the loss of experiences more than her as an individual, and as an adult he knows there’s nothing for him to gain there. His nose is divided by a scar and his hair is the colour of shadowed snow.
That he remembers her at all is beauty, regardless what emotion it stirs.
He slides his hand up Keith’s calf and tucks it under his left knee, gently knocking it off the right. “Did you remember Krolia at all?”
“Nope,” Keith looks tired, head angled forward just slightly, looking at Shiro through his eyelashes. “I missed her, but I didn’t know who to miss. When I met her, it’s like her face filled in the blanks.”
Everyone is privy to Keith’s passion. But there are things he’s always kept close to his heart, tucked away and private, like sharing might fracture and dilute them. Lately Shiro’s felt like he’s been slotted in safe next to them, all these neat little stacks in Keith’s core, both painful and beloved.
“Has she told you anything about her time on Earth?”
“Yeah, pieces. I saw things in the Quantum Abyss. Her and my dad. Me,” Keith stretches one leg out across Shiro’s lap, wiggles his toes. “She says I was small. I think she meant small for a Galra. I thought I just looked like a baby. She says I was quiet. She said she could put me down for hours and I wouldn’t cry,” he rubs an eye, lifts one shoulder in a loose half-shrug. “I saw her leave.”
There’s some justice in the universe, Shiro thinks, that it could be cruel enough to make Keith feel so alone for so long, only for it to put him in the exact place he needed to be to get one whole piece of his family back. Life’s too punishing for him to let himself believe in fate, or that anyone’s wounds are preordained, but sometimes the universe feels like it recognises its guilt. Sometimes it feels like it’s at least trying to atone.
Somehow Keith found the Blue Lion. Somehow Keith found his mom. Somehow, he found Shiro again and again and again. Shiro can’t believe in fate. The very concept doesn’t give Keith any of the credit he deserves.
Shiro stretches his hand out to Keith, and he takes it, allows himself to be pulled forward while Shiro swings his legs up onto the sofa and settles Keith between them, settles Keith’s chest to his chest and loops his arms around him.
“I hope she knows,” Keith mumbles into Shiro’s collar.
“That I don’t hold it against her.”
He doesn’t think it’s important to reply. Just to listen. To validate the very human fear that we’ll never be enough for the people who devote themselves to us without condition.
It becomes a ritual.
Shiro’s walls dismantle themselves at night when Keith’s naked skin is against him. Things that until this point he’s told himself should stay locked away behind the jail of his teeth spill out. Ugly things that shouldn’t be shared.
Keith’s always honest, and Shiro knows it would only take a little carelessness to hurt him with the things he could ask him to confess. Part of him wants Keith to move away. To spit at him to fuck off and distance himself from the ways Shiro could wear against him, the same way he’d distanced himself from the dangerous splintered edges of the world when Shiro first met him.
“Have I ever scared you?” Shiro knows the answer, but he asks anyway.
He hears Keith swallow. “Yes.”
Keith doesn’t pause. “You disappear.”
Shiro’s heart flattens itself in his chest, contrite. “That’s not what I meant.”
“I know,” Keith sighs, and doesn’t move away. “It’s hard for me. I’ll tell you. Just – give me time.”
Shiro folds him up, presses his face to the crown of Keith’s shaggy head, feels Keith’s long arms snake around him. “It’s okay. You don’t owe me anything.”
“I don’t need to,” he sounds forceful, but not angry. “And I’m not afraid of you. Not any part of you.”
They’re tucked away behind a stack of crates in the Atlas hanger, backs against the wall and legs stretched out in front of them. People tend to search for them, and where lunch is concerned it’s sometimes easier to make themselves hard to be found. Shiro unwraps a sandwich in his lap and waits for Keith to take his half, pulls two apples out of the paper bag between them, cracks a bottle of water for them to share.
Keith takes a bite, chews and swallows and frowns down at his turkey and salad, a little knot between his brows. “Do you ever get used to telling people what to do?”
Shiro raises an eyebrow. “You mean the team?”
“On my way here, I saw Iverson ordering a cadet to roll their sleeves down,” his nose wrinkles. It’s cute. “I tried to imagine myself doing that and I kind of wanted to puke.”
Shiro snorts. “Maybe don’t try that one with the Paladins.”
“It all feels so normal when we’re in Voltron, but the rest of the time –” he’s watching his hands and his food as he speaks, and Shiro watches him. “It’s weird. I still kind of feel like I’m playing pretend. I still feel like I’m just – filling in. I’m pretty sure everyone else sees it too.”
“It’s not weird,” Shiro puts his sandwich down, sinks down the wall a little lower than Keith. “I always feel like someone’s about to ask me to leave the room. I keep waiting for them to realise they left a kid in command of a ship the size of God.”
Keith cuts an amused glance at him, lip quirked. “At which point you’d politely leave.”
“Apologising all the way.” He grins back, and he has no control over the size of it.
Shiro takes a minute to eat, getting through his sandwich and balling up the wrapper before speaking again.
“You’ve been doing well,” he bumps Keith’s shoulder with his own, dips his head to peer up under his fringe. “The Paladins listen to you. You listen to them. Why are you questioning yourself now?”
“I don’t know,” Keith almost sounds sheepish, looking down at his knees. “Maybe it’s all the people around me in uniforms with actual rank and actual credentials.”
“And not one of them can fly a Lion. So, what do you think is missing?” Shiro never did get used to telling people what to do. Questions are easier, kinder, more productive. “What feels wrong?”
Keith lets out a sigh that sounds like it empties his lungs, lifts his eyebrows, and lifts his hands in an exaggerated shrug. “I flunked out of a cadet pilot program? I spent two years of my adult life on a space whale inside a time anomaly? I didn’t train to be a leader. I struggled to take that shit seriously even before you left for Kerberos. I’ve always been good at figuring out how to do things myself because it was just me, and it didn’t matter if I fucked up,” his gaze has been down while he speaks, but he finally looks across, meets Shiro’s eye, and holds it. “Shiro, if we fuck up now the consequences are so huge that I don’t know if I’d want to survive to see them.”
Shiro doesn’t think he’s serious, but he can’t fault Keith for thoughts he’s had himself. Responsibility and guilt go hand in hand, and Shiro’s well aware it’s a tricky scale to balance. Accepting command is accepting that those lost were lost by you. Shiro would go down with his ship to save one life, and command is being cruel enough not to. It’s a bitter pill to recognise that even the smallest part of that is motivated by the desperate urge to not have to face a grieving family on the other end. Command is realising you’re a coward and having to face yourself in the mirror, hoping no one else can see it too. Or worse, that they will, and that they’ll take it away and set you free.
He hopes, ardently, frantically, that command can mean something less punishing for Keith. He hopes that the Paladins can lighten the weight for Keith the way they did for him.
Shiro’s voice comes out quieter when he asks. “Is it that you didn’t want to lead, or you think you don’t deserve it?”
“Both! Obviously!” Keith sinks down the wall, level with Shiro again, leaning into his side.
“Keith. You aren’t unworthy of leadership just because you didn’t ask for it,” it’s easy to mask melancholy when it’s Keith’s confidence at stake. “You’ve worked for this. You get better every day. The Lions have seen it, the team’s seen it. I’ve seen it.”
Keith turns his head, screwing it into Shiro’s shoulder, his face partly hidden. Shiro both hears and feels his deep sigh, hot breath skimming his arm and leaving it cold.
“Did you tell Black to choose me?” it comes out in a murmur, like Keith knows it’ll be hard to hear.
“Keith,” Shiro breathes, hates that he recoils, and he compensates by leaning in further, his nose meeting Keith’s fringe. “Would it bother you if I did?”
Keith puts his hand palm up on Shiro’s knee, an invitation that Shiro immediately takes, lacing his metal fingers with Keith’s. “I dunno. Did you?”
A helpless sound grinds out of Shiro’s throat, sifting through the actions of a dead man who’d found himself sharing his consciousness with ancient sentience. “I don’t think so.”
“You were in her,” Keith shakes Shiro’s hand a little, comforting, distracting, like he needs Shiro to know this isn’t an attack. “No one’s ever believed in me as much as you. You’ve always said I have potential.”
“I mean, Black and I. We kind of saw eye to eye,” he murmurs, jostling Keith’s hand in return. “She knew I wanted you to lead long before I died. I think she just took the time to find out why.”
Keith laughs, soothes Shiro’s helpless heart with the simple cascade of it. “Sounds familiar.”
He wishes he could say with certainty that he wouldn’t have nudged Black in Keith’s direction if she hadn’t curved to Keith herself. He’s wanted to support Keith from the moment he met him, angry and independent and viciously competent. But he never wants a shred of ambiguity in whether Keith’s own accomplishments are discrete from Shiro’s belief in him. That everything Keith has wasn’t always his to possess. He doesn’t want to take credit for the privilege of already being safely through doors that Keith couldn’t get a foot in. All he wanted was the chance for Keith to make decisions for himself. To find infinite paths stretched out in front of him, and choose which ones to take, right or wrong. Cadet, Red Paladin, Blade of Marmora, Leader of Voltron, whatever comes next, however he chooses to flourish. He flourished. He will flourish.
He wants Keith to believe he’s not just filling in. “Want some actual advice?”
Keith hums, and Shiro feels his mouth quirk against his shoulder. “Maybe. Is it good?”
Shiro laughs, untangles his fingers from Keith’s to sling his arm around his neck and drag him close, pressing a messy kiss to his temple to hear him laugh.
“Black knows you don’t have to throw your weight around to earn loyalty. The Paladins need to know someone’s in charge, but you need them too.” Shiro remembers his strengths filling their weaknesses, their strengths filling his, and the humbling vulnerability of it. “All you have to do is guide them. Lift them up. Tell them you’re proud of them.”
“I am,” Keith says, firm and meant, and then softer, intimate, his palm falling onto and pressing into Shiro’s chest. “I’m proud of you.”
It cracks inside him, trickles throughout him, clings to his bones to be held so dear. “They want you here as much as they need you here,” he speaks the words into Keith’s skin, lowers his voice to a tone reserved for them. “Do I need to tell you what I want?”
Keith’s breath whispers out, head tilting expectantly up. “Uh huh.”
Keith’s body swells in a sigh, and it’s no less satisfying knowing Keith already knew what Shiro was going to say, or that Shiro knows how Keith will reply. “You have me.”
It never feels less. This. The keening race of his heart is never less manic or grateful or full.
Keith’s sure fingers find his chin, craning up and angling Shiro to his unavoidable orbit, kissing him once, hungry and sweet.
He makes him feel like he’s in bloom.
When Keith draws away he keeps his hand on Shiro’s cheek, and Shiro sees nothing uncertain in the bullseye beam of his smile. “Need reassuring that you were born to singlehandedly pilot a sexy big robot?”
“Not singlehandedly,” Shiro takes Keith’s hand from his face, places an apple in his palm instead, their precious stolen minutes running out. “But if I do, you’ll be the first to know.”
Keith climbs onto his chest, pulls his bony knees in tight to Shiro’s ribs and picks Shiro’s arms up by the wrists, stretching them above his head and pinning them to the pillow. Shiro watches calmly, flexes his hands in Keith’s grip. He could escape. Not easily, but he could if he wanted to.
Keith is naked, and beautiful. His hair hanging in his eyes where he hovers over Shiro, bright in the dim glow of his prosthetic, pupils huge in the dark. The skin between his legs is warm and soft where he sits against Shiro’s chest. Shiro lets his eyes linger on his lean sides, the hair on his underarms, the rise and fall of his ribs.
Keith licks his lips and pushes down harder against Shiro’s wrists.
“I thought you were gonna kill me.”
Purple light and falling platforms and pain through thick fog.
Shiro doesn’t say anything. Doesn’t move. Doesn’t want to disturb whatever Keith’s found the courage to screw out of his guts.
“There was a second when I wanted to kill you. Kill him,” Keith shifts a little, his knees sinking wider on the mattress as he leans down further. “He felt like you. Except when he didn’t. Everything you’ve been through, I just thought – I still just wanted to be close to him. I wanted to support him. He was still good. I thought he was you.”
It doesn’t hurt. The clone didn’t steal Shiro’s life. Haggar did. Both of them victims of her abuse. Shiro remembers what the clone remembers. He understands how it feels to be drawn to Keith’s light and his spark, helpless in proximity to a heavenly body.
He filled a life Shiro wanted to be living, but Shiro can’t begrudge him this. “He fell in love with you.”
Keith’s breath hitches sharply, his chin sinking to his chest. “I loved him too. I don’t want to apologise for that.”
Shiro tips his head, can’t reach Keith’s forearm with his mouth, but breathes hot towards his skin. “Don’t.”
“I’d have saved him if I could.”
“I know,” Shiro doesn’t strain against Keith’s hold, just shifts the tiniest amount. A gentle query that he’s happy to go ignored if Keith wants to. “Don’t apologise.”
Keith lets him go, planting his hands on either side of Shiro’s head and letting his breath out in a gust. Shiro brings his hands up, frames Keith’s face with his fingers and pulls him down for a hard, slow kiss that Keith gives and gives and gives in to.
When it breaks, Keith presses his nose to Shiro’s temple, bumps their foreheads together, breathes loud and heavy in his ear. With his thumb, Shiro traces the sharp shape of the scar painting Keith’s cheek.
It’s Keith’s, so it’s perfect, but he still whispers, “I’m sorry.”
Keith sighs, presses his lips to Shiro’s brow. “We all have scars, Shiro.”
Keith’s shorts are short and his socks are thick and his boots are sturdy, and Shiro sincerely hopes he’s aware of all the ways it’s doing it for him.
They’ve been blessed with a day of leave, so naturally instead of resting they’re hiking.
Keith knows this area. It’s in the way he bounds up rocks, the two gallons of water split between their two day-packs, the path he confidently leads through the canyon that hugs the narrow river and dapples their progress in the shade of the precious little vegetation in the area that’s neither sharp or prickly. Being out of the Garrison and out of immediate shouting range does bother Shiro with an itch of nerves, but he knows if she needs Keith, Black will come running.
It’s quiet. It’s easier to ignore the vast rubble of a toppled spire of rock or a scorched stump where a tree once stood when faced with evidence of life that endured in spite of the war. Keith stops him to point out a lizard he spots stretched lazily in the sun on the path ahead, small birds scatter from tree to tree, plucking bugs from the air with erratic aerobatics, like little feathered Lions.
The landscape is pockmarked and forever changed, and it never stopped growing. It heals around its holes.
At a point where the path flattens and widens Keith drops back and falls into step with Shiro, catching his hand in his own and shooting him a smile.
A while ago Shiro stopped wondering if everything between them would ever stop feeling so new. If being loved by Keith would ever reach a level of routine that it ceases to stir up such a sparkling current of anticipation in the depths of him.
Keith’s hair is bunched in a ponytail high at the back of his head, sweat beading at his temples and curling the short lengths at the base of his skull. He’s wearing sunglasses, but underneath them his cheeks are flushed red – a shade Shiro’s come to associate with Keith excelling. Training, piloting, sparring, sex. A glow and a spark in his eyes and the sound of him catching his breath as he revels in something he’s worked hard to be good at.
“Hey,” Shiro swings their arms between them, smiles back at Keith and says, “You’re hot.”
Keith’s smile notches up and his head dips down as he laughs, and Shiro almost wishes he wasn’t already blushing so he could see the pink spray across his nose.
Keith’s lips twist a little cunning when he looks back up. “Lucky we’re almost there, then.”
‘There’ is a wide curve in the canyon where the river opens up into a small waterhole butted up against the high cliff. Flat sand worn rocks line its edges, and the water is glassy and dark. Shiro stops to take it in in as they approach, and Keith continues forward, shrugging off his pack under the first gnarled tree he comes to and bending to pluck at his laces.
“I’ve never brought anyone here,” his sunglasses have slipped down to the tip of his nose, and Shiro can see Keith’s eyes on him. “I didn’t think I’d ever see it again.”
Shiro sheds his own pack as he catches up. “It’s incredible.”
“I always liked swimming but I never liked the crowds,” Keith toes his boots and socks off, grips the hem of his sweat damp t-shirt and peels it over his head in one fluid movement. “I couldn’t help how scrawny I was. I hated the way the other parents all stared at me like I was some fucking stray no one bothered to feed.”
He’s galaxies away from scrawny now. Solid round shoulders, broad chest, smooth angles and planes of muscles waxing and waning in his arms and back and stomach. While Shiro is watching Keith pushes down his shorts and underwear together, letting them pool at his feet and kicking them carelessly behind himself.
There’s eloquence in the tilt of his hip and confidence in the set of his jaw and Shiro’s mouth is drier than the red dust clinging to Keith’s bare calves. Keith’s safe here with his private places. A secret waterhole and a man whose heart he possesses.
“Shiro,” he takes two steps forward and tugs at the waistband of Shiro’s shorts. “Get your clothes off so I have something to stare at too.”
He turns away slowly, his body then his head, and plucks his sunglasses off to drop carelessly on his pile of neglected clothes. It instantly enters the list of most erotic things Shiro’s ever witnessed, and Keith tip-toes into the shallows, shoulders hiking up as the water swallows his legs, facing Shiro again when it’s reached his waist.
Shiro waits until Keith’s watching to undress. He’s half hard and he wants Keith to see. Wants him to feel pride in his efforts before the cold water steals visible evidence of them. Once he’s naked, Keith looks more hungry than proud, and Shiro resists the urge to wrap a hand around himself and beg Keith’s cool wet body back to shore.
The change in temperature steals his breath as well as he follows Keith in, letting out a joyful yelp as he wades towards him. Keith backs away as Shiro gets near. Shakes his head slowly with his tongue between his teeth, and doesn’t let Shiro reach him, his fingers dragging ripples through the water in his wake.
Shiro knows he’s being lured and he aches to be caught.
Keith’s treading water by the time Shiro’s shoulder deep, and he feels a rush of excitement when Keith barks laughter at the clear sky and disappears underwater, leaving ripples lapping at Shiro’s throat. Shiro plants his feet on the sandy floor, takes a deep breath, and waits.
Keith, a gentleman, doesn’t dunk Shiro, but he does swim around and surge up behind him, wrapping his arms around his neck and legs around his waist, laughing hard in his ear. The sound reverberates around them, bouncing off the canyon walls, carefree and unabashed, and just ridiculously charming.
He’s never had sex outside before.
On the shore water rolls down Shiro’s inner thighs, and Keith crowds in behind him as Shiro spreads a blanket out on a slab of warm, shaded rock. He lets Keith press him back into the stone, brings his knees up to feel Keith’s moving body between them as he covers Shiro’s with it.
It’s playful. Shiro growls low as he grabs and squeezes a handful of Keith’s ass, and Keith licks a line up Shiro’s neck and meets his mouth in an open kiss that Shiro arches his back to chase. His mouth is just as giving when it closes around the head of Shiro’s dick, his tongue feeling him out before sinking down as Shiro gasps to the heavens and keeps his eyes open to see the crosshatch of branches and endless blue above him.
Keith takes his time, but doesn’t tease. Hums, licks and sucks at his tip, pulls off and grazes his lips down the smooth veined sides, clearly enjoying the act of pulling Shiro apart and putting him back together again, reborn. When Shiro comes it’s with a peal of helpless laughter that shatters out of him in blissful tremors as his hips buck against Keith’s hands where they force his sharp bones into the rock beneath.
When their positions are flipped, Keith props himself up on his elbows to watch Shiro through the damp strands of his fringe, and Shiro feels compelled to hold his eager gaze. It simmers low in his stomach, rolling and hot. He doesn’t look away when he grabs a thigh in each hand and noses at Keith’s short curls of hair. When he licks once at the base of Keith’s shaft, Keith whispers lower, and Shiro obeys.
He licks light over Keith’s entrance, feels his muscles jump, sucks over it and dips his tongue in, and tugs Keith’s hips forward to get closer, deeper, wetter. When Keith expels a thready moan and tangles a hand in Shiro’s hair, he moves back up. He takes Keith’s cock in one hand and swallows him down until his lips meet his fingers and Keith starts to pant and squirm. His skin is silk against the inside of Shiro’s cheek and throat, lips closing around him and almost pulling off entirely just to feel the solid weight and length of him. When Keith bucks and begins to crack and give, Shiro pulls off and finishes him with his hand and a thumb pressed firm behind Keith’s balls to watch as Keith trembles and empties on his own stomach in thick white splashes.
“Yes,” Keith breathes as he drags Shiro back up and wraps his legs around him. “Yes, yes, yes.”
They kiss, hands roaming and trapping and pulling free and petting, and once Shiro finds himself still with his eyes peacefully closed, it’s with a leg thrown high over Keith’s waist and his face buried in his throat against the slowing rhythm of his pulse.
Keith’s hand stirs him some time later with a gentle shake to his shoulder.
“Come on,” his palm smooths down Shiro’s back and he bends into it like a cat. “Get on the other side of me. The sun’s catching up to you. You’ll burn your perfect ass.”
Shiro groans and makes a bratty act of rolling over him, crushing Keith’s body so he practically giggles and swats harmlessly at the ass in question. He settles on his back beside him and reaches down to blindly find Keith’s hand between them, bringing it up to kiss him just above his wrist.
Keith rolls onto his side and pillows his head on their hands where they’re linked together. His hair’s a stunning mess and his eyes are sleepy and calm. They’ll have to head into the water again soon to clean and wake themselves up before heading back out into the world.
“We should take a vacation,” Keith’s voice is a quiet rumble that travels up Shiro’s arm and raises the hairs in its wake. “You know, when there’s less peril and world saving to do. Somewhere warm.”
Shiro hums and reaches over to brush a few strands of hair behind Keith’s ear. “As opposed to here.”
“I like the heat,” he stretches his legs out straight, muscles shivering, and then curls them back up. “Clothing optional.”
It’s like Keith transforms to liquid when it’s hot. Instead of turning sluggish, his movements just grow easier and more fluent, like every one of them pours exactly where they’re supposed to go.
“I like that you like it.”
Keith’s smile is beatific.
Shiro doesn’t mind the heat. He can take it or leave it. He knows he can make a comfortable space for himself anywhere. He was willing to leave this world and the inflexibly slackening hands of warping love and a long-term relationship to travel to a moon on the edge of the Solar System just to see what was there. But space shared with Keith exists beyond comfort. It’s an urgent need that expands into something outside of desire. Shiro will follow him anywhere for any length of time and his home will be assured.
Keith’s eyes sink closed, and he’s silent for long enough that Shiro thinks he may have drifted off, until he speaks again, wistful.
“I wonder what the climate was like on Daibazaal.”
Before Shiro can even begin to formulate a response to that, Keith adds, “Don’t let me be sad here.”
Shiro thinks fast and not smart, and verbalises his first flippant thought. “Want me to carry you back to base on my shoulders?”
“No,” Keith snorts, eyes snapping open, and then immediately amends, “Yes.”
“Okay,” Shiro shouldn’t feel so sheepish admitting something so obvious. “I don’t think I can.”
Keith laughs, success, and howls, “Liar.”
Shiro pokes him in the bicep with a sharp finger. “You’re big!”
Keith aims a kick at Shiro’s thigh that’s more of a harmless push with the flat of his foot, and Shiro retaliates by trying and failing to pin Keith’s shoulder, then wrist, deflected deftly with elbow and palm. Before the situation can devolve into full on wrestling, Shiro scrambles back and to his feet, and offers both hands to Keith where he’s sprawled out beneath him.
“Ready to go back in?” Shiro asks as Keith hauls himself upright with his grasp on Shiro’s wrists. “I’m gonna put my head under this time.”
Keith coos teasingly and runs his hands up then back down Shiro’s arms. “You’re so brave.”
Shiro lifts his chin and grins broadly, all teeth. “Like a lion?”
“Yeah,” Keith swipes a finger at the tip of Shiro’s nose, then lightly drags his nails across his stomach and around his side as he steps past him for the water. “Sure, kitten.”
Shiro knows what Keith’s doing.
And it’s working. Slowly.
One night Keith stands beside the bed, fully clothed between Shiro’s naked knees where he’s seated on the edge, and firmly places Shiro’s hands over his hips.
“Take my clothes off.”
Shiro starts with his gloves.
Keith stands passively still as he works, lifting his arms when required, wriggling his hips, letting Shiro guide his legs up and out of his pants with a reverent grip on one ankle, then the other.
Keith’s breathing grows louder and harsher with every new patch of skin revealed, and Shiro feels it too, reciprocal. He can see the hard shape of Keith at eye level through the cotton of his underwear as he neatly folds Keith’s thin t-shirt, and he feels like his skin is too tight. His own cock heavy and all too present between his thighs. This turns Keith on, and what lights a fire in Keith feeds a bonfire in Shiro. The reality that he can do this to him. Make him feel this.
Keith’s trying to make Shiro trust his hands again. A relationship that’s been wary at best since he woke up in a Galra prison with an arm that glowed bright purple and seared like molten metal, and made him more powerful than he wanted to be and sick to his stomach.
Another night Keith perches on Shiro’s lap and holds Shiro’s Altean prosthetic up between them, studiously dripping lube down his metal fingers and spreading it slowly, chewing on the inside of his cheek.
“Finger me open. Make me come. Don’t touch my dick.”
So, he does. One finger, then two, then three, then back to two when Keith whines and rises up at the stretch, too difficult for Shiro to get as deep as he wants to. He’s been given an order, and he intends to submit. Keith moans in a way that Shiro knows he does when he’s barely coherent, loose and low and punched out from somewhere deep inside. Nothing performative, nothing held back, because he’s lost control of his tailspin and he’s reduced to letting everything show.
Shiro presses their slick foreheads together and breathes smoky in his ear, emboldened. “Want me to fuck you?”
“No,” Keith growls, fingers squeezing vice tight on Shiro’s shoulder, rim tightening around Shiro’s fingers. “Don’t you dare.”
He pets Keith’s shuddering stomach, doubles his efforts. Crooks and rubs inside of him, splitting his gaze between Keith's slack radiant face and his rosy cock where it rests hard so close to Shiro’s own.
The turn comes when Shiro hikes Keith up by a hand under his thigh, changes the angle, squeezes that hand firmly up to cover a cheek and spread his ass.
“Oh. Touch me, touch me, Shiro, fuck,” Keith pleads, staccato and wild. “Please.”
When Keith comes he collapses with a whine that stretches on, bites Shiro’s neck, paints his chest and strums a chord in him that rattles through his bones.
Shiro feels a black and secret guilt, that he doesn’t trust this new hand. He plays and replays how Allura would react if he told her that Altean alchemy is as unfamiliar to him as Haggar’s vast atrocities. He plays and replays his clone’s bland cognisance of the fact that he’d doomed his friends and left them to die on the Castle of Lions. His family. Shiro’s family. He remembers the clone’s arm transformed into a glassy blade that he’d actively tried to slit Keith’s throat with. The things that Keith was forced to do in response, and the trust that Keith was forced to question.
He’s afraid that one day he’ll be obliged to regret the choice that he made to accept this new untested prosthetic in place of his other. It’s irrational to be as suspicious of it as he is, which is exactly why he has no control over the dread he tries daily to allay.
Another night Keith tells him to touch himself while Keith fingers him open. He lays beside Shiro with his cheek propped on the heel of his hand, the other working inside Shiro, deft slim pilot’s fingers. Shiro strokes himself slowly, squeezing at the root and twisting at the tip as Keith watches, murmuring a constant stream of words.
“Tell me how you feel.”
Shiro’s mind is blank, a horizon stretching on indefinitely. “I can’t.”
“Do you feel good, baby?”
“Are you gonna make yourself come for me?” he brushes swollen softness inside of Shiro, hums in approval as Shiro chirps at the spark. “Gonna make yourself feel as good as I want you to?”
“I make you feel good?”
“What about you?” Keith shifts beside him, brings his other hand down to wrap around his prosthetic fist, no part of Keith contacting Shiro’s cock.
Shiro grinds down on Keith’s attentive fingers, babbles, “It’s you, you. You do it. You make me –”
Keith squeezes Shiro’s hand around his shaft. “This is you.”
Shiro whines, a liberating sob bursting free from his lips, his eyes squeezed shut.
You’re allowed to want this, I do. You’re allowed to love this, I do.
“You’re gonna make yourself come, baby. All by yourself,” Keith urges, lips pressed to Shiro’s temple. “Do you want me to fuck you after?”
Keith slips his fingers out of Shiro, and Shiro barely resists the urge to plead them back, jerking himself faster, stripping his nerves bare, and finding Keith’s mouth on his own when he finally cries his release.
“You’re so good,” Keith murmurs into his mouth, kissing him and kissing him. “Look at you. You’re so good to yourself.”
He brushes Shiro’s sweaty hair back off his forehead, strokes his cheeks, presses kisses beside his nose, and seems satisfied when Shiro’s boneless arms come up to fold themselves around his neck.
Shiro nods lazily. “Yeah.”
There’s lube and a condom and Keith settling himself above Shiro, his sun in his sky.
Keith kisses his forehead. “I love you. All of you.”
Then he slides into Shiro’s open body, and his voice shakes. “More than anything in the universe.”
The prosthetic’s glow in the room isn’t purple. There’s no falling rock, or twisted metal, or endless, anonymous space for the two of them to plunge into together and vanish.
It’s mid-afternoon, and they’ve excused themselves away to Shiro’s quarters (their quarters) for their second ever day nap.
Keith’s been hard to reach all morning. Not quite distant, just a little quiet and still. Distracted. Once they’d escaped to the refuge of privacy, they’d stripped off their jackets and boots, and climbed on over the sheets of their neatly made bed. Keith had laid flat on his back, and Shiro settled between his legs, pressed his torso to Keith’s, and pillowed his head over his collarbone to brush his chin with the tips of his hair.
If he’s too heavy, Keith doesn’t seem to mind. Shiro knows he isn’t asleep. He swells with every breath Keith takes, and they aren’t peaceful.
Keith’s hand wanders across Shiro’s shoulders, plucks absently at his shirt, settles on the back of his neck for a moment before trailing up into his hair. When he speaks, Shiro feels the hum of it vibrate through his jaw.
“I feel so lonely today,” Keith’s voice is flat and inflectionless, and it sounds like it’s taking some effort to keep it that way. “I don’t know why.”
Shiro lifts his head to see Keith staring straight up at the ceiling, and even when Shiro places a hand to Keith’s cheek, he won’t catch his eye. “Can I do anything?”
“It’ll pass,” his voice wavers just the smallest amount. He peels Shiro’s hand off his face, and his other lands on the crown of Shiro’s head, pushing him gently but insistently back down to his chest. “I think I’m gonna cry.”
Shiro settles obediently where he’s guided, asks quietly, “Do you want me here?”
“Yeah,” Keith whispers, unsteady, and his throat sounds tight. “Talk to me. Please. Tell me something.”
Keith’s chest gives a few jagged jumps and then seizes, like he’s holding his breath in an attempt to sandbag whatever huge unbidden emotion is cresting to break inside of him.
“Happy something, or sad something?”
No voice left behind it now, just hisses shaped into words. “Doesn’t matter.”
Shiro stares across at his desk on the other side of the room, a little less neat and orderly than he’s used to with the addition of a selection of Keith’s belongings. Keith’s boots next to his underneath. Keith’s jacket draped over the chair. An elastic with a long black hair snagged around it. A little speaker Keith plays music through in the mornings, singing along as he rolls his socks on or humming as he brushes his teeth.
Shiro doesn’t know how to cure the kind of insidious loneliness that settles sour and thick in your stomach and travels up your throat to choke you without warning or provocation. If he did he’d have one less thorn in his own side. If all he can do is remind Keith that at the least he isn’t alone, then he’s committed to that for life.
He says, “I saw the Holt’s dog loose in the mess hall this morning. She got in a trash can. Griffin and Rizavi had her cornered, but I don’t think it was going well. Lance was filming.”
Keith stays silent, trembling through whatever this is.
“When I was little,” he licks his lips, hesitates when he feels another shotgun round of pulses in Keith’s ribs, continues when Keith’s hand rests heavy on the back of his neck. “When I had to stay in the hospital for longer stretches, my grandparents would always step out of the room to speak to the doctors.” He swallows. “Hearing voices on the other side of closed doors still makes me anxious.”
Keith’s hand tightens to a loose fist, bunches in Shiro’s hair and holds firm. He doesn’t know if it’s an assurance or a request, but he swerves course for something lighter.
“Hunk’s going to teach me how to make cherry pie. It was going to be a surprise, but mostly just so I had an out if my pie came out looking like a crime scene.”
Keith draws a sharp breath, then lets it out long and slow. Repeats it, slightly less sharp, then whispers, “I’d eat it anyway.”
“Hunk can teach you too, if you want?” Shiro’s lips quirk into a small smile. “I’ll still make you pie.”
Keith’s breathing comes far more even now, like he’s clasped his fingers around the staticky edges of it, forced it into a shape he can contain.
His fingers pet softly through Shiro’s short hairs, and Shiro asks, “Did you ever make up your own constellations when you were a kid?”
He leaves silence for Keith to reply, but when all he gets back is a quiet sniff, he continues.
“I used to sit in bed and stare up at the sky after lights out and connect the dots. Like eighty percent of them were wonky robots, though.”
Keith makes a sound, something small and high, but there’s body behind it, not just breath.
“You used to imagine robots in the sky?” he deadpans. “Shiro.”
Shiro laughs, shocked and loud, making the connection for the first time. “Oh. Yeah.”
Keith sniffs again. “Unbelievable.”
Shiro chuckles, and rubs his cheek against Keith’s chest. “The other twenty percent were all just sharks. I had a very short and very passionate shark phase.”
“I think that’s why I liked them. They creeped me out,” Shiro hums, closing his eyes as Keith’s fingers steal further up his scalp. “I’m glad the whole space thing stuck instead. Could you make yourself love a shark man?”
Keith’s voice is thick, but dry. “No.”
“Not even a little? We’d be star crossed.”
“Those always end with someone dead.”
“Mm. True,” Shiro agrees. “You’re too pretty to be mauled by a shark.”
Keith’s chest shivers again, this time with a frail laugh, and his hand tugs in Shiro’s hair. “You can come back up now.”
He does. Rolls carefully off Keith and nestles beside him as Keith curls to face him, their heads sharing one pillow, close enough to trade breath.
Keith’s pale behind his slightly pink nose, face rubbed dry and eyes dull but clear. He’s a beautiful you look away from or drown in, and Shiro wants to drown.
Keith hooks two fingers in Shiro’s collar and shakes gently. “Thank you.”
Shiro smiles, wraps a hand around Keith’s narrow wrist.
Shiro hums, sleepy. “Yeah?”
“I’m scared all the time.”
Shiro’s chest deflates in a massive sigh, the sanctity of confession. “Me too.”
“We’re doing okay, though?” he rasps, a tinge of pleading in his tone. “At this? All of this?”
Shiro cups Keith’s jaw, grazes his cheekbone with his metal thumb. “I think so.”
“Sometimes I feel like I’m falling apart,” Keith tugs harder at Shiro’s shirt, watching his own fingers as they close in a fist and stretch it. “I think I would if I lost you now.”
If Shiro lost Keith he’d be a scuttled ship, willingly sinking. All Keith’s done all these years to stop him from slipping away and, help him, he’s weak, Shiro doesn’t ever want to have to find out if he’d be able to repay the favour and not just close his eyes and let his lungs fill.
He doesn’t know how Keith does it, and it’s maybe because he’s been blessed enough to never have to endure it.
He wants to tell Keith that he’ll never leave, never again, but he won’t make a liar of himself. He disappears and he dies and he can’t control anything and he needs his promises to mean something to Keith.
His thumb moves to Keith’s mouth, pulls gently at his full bottom lip. “Can I kiss you?”
Keith nods, eyes already drifting shut and chin tilting up. “Yes.”
He wants to stay. He wants Keith to be allowed to be weak around him without reason to remain poised to protect. He wants Keith's fears to be the small kind that feel big, and not the big kind that feel numb. He pours it into him, pulls him closer, holds himself down to this world.
“You’re braver than me,” Shiro speaks softly into his mouth, and he can’t control anything. “You’ve always been the bravest.”
Keith’s hands are crushing on his shoulders. “Like a lion.”
“Yeah,” Shiro nods, buries his fingers in his mane. “You’re a lion, baby.”