The translator broke again a few vargas after the sun reached its highest point, Ko’s words turning into incomprehensible gibberish mid-sentence. Krolia covered her face when she could no longer understand him, and when he noticed her frustration he paused, a question in his tone.
She tapped the translator strapped to her wrist - she hadn’t taken it off in what felt like years, except to bathe - and smiled apologetically at him.
To Krolia’s amazement, Ko laughed, a sound erupting from deep within his belly and warming her to her core. He took her wrist, pushing her sleeve up to better inspect the translator, his fingers warm against her skin.
It was now Krolia’s turn to laugh as he stared at it, curiosity without any real understanding in his eyes. The technology was Galra, designed by Ulaz - who’d assured her it would function well - and more complex than anything from Earth. Once, she’d tried to explain how it worked to Ko, but his background was less scientific and more military.
(She still wasn’t sure why, exactly, he carved out this small haven in the desert for them, not when someone - anyone - else would’ve given her up to their people.)
“I need to fix it again,” Krolia told him.
Ko glanced up, shrugging and squeezing her wrist.
Krolia sighed, but before she could even tug her arm from his grip, a high-pitched cry interrupted.
Ko looked past her, a very slight frown on his face, and spoke a word, one that Krolia recognized without the translator’s aid:
Krolia met Ko’s eyes, and through a silent agreement, she abandoned thought of the broken translator and left in the direction of the shack’s only bedroom.
Keith cried, and cried, and cried, as only a small baby could for his mother. He calmed ever so slightly when she reached into his crib, her large hands almost swallowing his tiny body while she picked him up and cradled him to her chest.
“I’m here,” she reassured him as he cried, stroking his cheek with a fingertip. “Mama’s here, Keith.”
Krolia took him outside, sitting in the shade of an awning to protect them from the fierce heat of one of the yellowest suns she’d ever seen. Earth - or this part of it at least - was so much hotter than she was accustomed to, and despite the time she’d already spent there, the heat still affected her, made her want to crawl out of her skin if she spent longer than a few doboshes outdoors during the day.
Ko used to laugh at her when she stood under an umbrella, tease her for wearing sunglasses even around sunset, until she pointed out that she could easily survive him in below-freezing temperatures.
“We have different strengths, love,” she said, unable to help her smirk. “You can handle this awful heat, and I can survive Earth’s poles in winter.”
But now summer waned, Keith’s first birthday approaching fast, and Krolia’s time slipped through her fingers faster than the coarse desert soil. How foolish she was, when she first breached Earth’s atmosphere in a damaged shuttle, to think she’d leave as soon as she repaired it.
Too much happened after, between evading Earthlings, encountering Ko, finding that myth hidden in the canyons, and…Keith.
What was once I’ll leave as soon as the child is born became I’ll leave as soon as my son is weaned. And she couldn’t help dreading that moment, when she’d have to force Keith away from her breast and entrust him to Ko.
It was lucky he could so easily pass as human, for all he looked so much like her.
In the time she still had with him, before she would have to retrieve her blade and return to the family of her birth, Krolia spoke to her son as much as possible. He slept less than a full Galra child would, and that was a small blessing in and of itself, but he was so small, so young, that she knew he wouldn’t remember her.
Keith cooed, his tiny hand clutching her finger while he sat in her lap. A smile - the delighted smile of a child - lit up his face, and for a blissful dobosh Krolia forgot her worries…though her answering smile was short-lived as Keith’s greedy little hands grabbed for the broken translator.
“Ah, no!” she scolded him, gently grasping his wrist and tugging, but Keith’s grip was impressively strong. She feared hurting him - he was so small and delicate - so let him have his fun with it. “Just remember,” she said, “it’s not a toy. I need it to speak with Papa.”
Predictably, Keith only babbled in response, turning the translator and attempting to stick it into his mouth. Krolia rolled her eyes, wishing she’d brought a teething ring with her.
“Now I’ll never get it fixed,” she grumbled, “and Ulaz will flay me alive. Is that what you want for Mama, Keith?”
Almost as if he understood, Keith pulled the translator from his mouth, a trail of spittle sliding down his chin. Krolia grinned, amused by the sight, and wiped it away with a finger. “Tastes good, does it?”
“What tastes good?”
Krolia’s eyes widened, and she turned her head so fast her neck cracked. “Ko?” she said.
He grinned at her and said, “Ah, I forgot that the translator’s broken.”
Krolia frowned, gazing down at Keith and the hand still resting on her wrist. She raised it to her face, examining it a little more closely, and commented, “Actually, I think Keith fixed it.”
“Wait, what?” Ko crouched beside her chair, and when Krolia showed the translator, still dripping in baby drool, to him, he chuckled. “Our son is someone special, Krolia.” He ruffled Keith’s black hair, so much like her own, and leaned up to kiss her forehead.
Krolia smiled as Keith clutched his father’s hand. “Besides the fact that his parents aren’t of the same race, you mean?” she said, raising an eyebrow at him.
“Well, from what you’ve told me,” said Ko, “that’s not so uncommon to you.”
Krolia pinched her lips together, fighting a frown; he only knew as much as she told him of the universe beyond Earth. He knew of the Galra and Zarkon’s Empire, knew of the danger they might someday pose to his home, but she still kept quiet about some of the less pleasant things, about biracial Galra children shunned by their society, about the ones seen as weak or impotent because of something they had no control over.
It was why Keith had to stay, and why she had to leave him.
“Are you hungry?” Ko asked after the silence stretched for too long.
“It’s almost sunset,” Krolia observed instead. She fixed her eyes on the horizon, her grip on her son - their son - tightening, watching the sky begin to change colors.
“It is,” Ko agreed. He stood up and turned to go back inside, touching her cheek on his way in.
Krolia chuckled when she heard his stomach growl from her seat, but rather than tease him about it, she asked Keith, “And what about you, little one? Are you hungry?”
Keith stared up at her, but he didn’t tug at her shirt - Ko’s shirt, really - so she guessed he was still sated from earlier.
Krolia shifted him in her arms, humming contentedly while he spoke to her in a language only he could understand, the translator rendered useless. The Galra sang no lullabies to their children, so it was one Ko taught her not long after they met, singing to her once in the midst of a nightmare when she feared getting stranded on this strange planet and never seeing her father or any other of her family again.
Oh, how ignorant she was then.
Krolia let the first tear fall from her eyes, swallowing around the sudden lump lodged in her throat. Her chest ached in a way that had become all too familiar, and even looking at Keith and committing all his features to memory did little to soothe her.
“I hate to cry in front of you, my love,” she told him, brushing his hair away from his face with the tip of a claw. “Mothers should be strong, but…” She trailed off when she choked on a sob.
The sky darkened steadily, the brightest stars beginning to fill the sky. Though Earth and this desert was alien to Krolia, though the blanket overhead so different from any she’d seen before, the wide expanse of space above made her feel that they weren’t so far apart, these two halves of herself, these two families she loved. And perhaps Keith, in a sense, could learn to love them too, without knowing them as intimately as she did.
Keith frowned, looking so terribly worried for one so young. He extended his arms up to her, and Krolia clutched him to her chest while he held tight to her. He helped calm her, this tiny baby, and a tentative smile stretched across her mouth while she pinched her eyes shut.
“Oh, I love you so much, Keith,” she said, her tone steadier than she’d dared hope. “I love you more than you’ll ever know, my love, my son.”
“Krolia?” Her eyes shot back open at the sound of Ko’s voice, but she didn’t bother brushing the tears from her face as he approached. “What are you still doing out here?”
Krolia glanced over her shoulder at him as she turned Keith around so that he sat upright in her lap, his back to her while he faced the deep navy sky. “Love,” she said, “can you turn off the lights? I’m showing Keith the stars.”