Actions

Work Header

if you stop staring straight through me

Work Text:

"To Allura.”

“To Allura.” “To Allura…” “To Allura.”

Their dinner ends on a bittersweet note, as Keith suspects it always… always will. For a long few moments he stands there, looking up at her and her visage, forever memorialized in gleaming stone. He wonders what she’d say to him. If she’d be proud, if she’d draw him into a tight embrace again. He wonders if she’d grab his hand, hold it tight, and tell him everything's alright, that this madness was worth it.

He thinks about the meal they’d just enjoyed together; the picture they’d all taken together in front of her statue. Smiling easy, laughing with big grins and crinkled eyes, like it’s even a tiny bit less difficult to move on without her. Their friend. Their family.

“Pretty bittersweet, isn’t it?”

The voice suddenly beside him is one Keith both expects and doesn’t. He starts a little and looks; Lance stands beside him, the same weary smile on his face that he’s been wearing all day. His voice is still raspy from laughing so much at the dinner table, like he’d been forcing it out of cobweb-strung lungs. Almost naturally, almost automatically, Keith places his hand upon Lance’s shoulder and gives it a firm squeeze.

“Is it getting easier?” It’s really not the right thing to say, but Keith has never been known for politeness or anything less than his brash and blunt self. Lance, where at one time he may have tried to start a throwdown, just gives Keith a small half-smirk, and a nudge with his elbow.

“You know it isn’t, man.”

“Yeah. I know. Sorry.”

“It’s alright. Just wish I--we. Could. You know.” Lance shrugs. He heaves a sigh and with it, exhales his emotion. His voice comes out thick. “I miss her, Keith.”

“Yeah,” Keith says. And he almost tacks on ‘we all do’, but he knows the pain Lance feels is greater than any pain anyone else is feeling. Perhaps Coran would be a better candidate for this. As Lance swallows audibly, and squints up at the statue of his universe with wetness gathering at his lashes, Keith searches for the closest exit route. Which, of course, is anywhere. He could run in any direction and get the hell away from this, but he’s rooted in place. So instead of running, Keith just slings an arm around Lance’s shoulders. Awkwardly pats his opposite shoulder. Rubs a little. Friendly comfort? He releases the breath he didn’t know he’d been holding when he feels Lance’s arm come around to rest on Keith’s opposite shoulder, too.

Lance clears his throat. “Thanks for coming. I know you’re busy. It means a lot that you could make it out.”

“I wouldn’t miss it for the world.”

“What about the universe?”

“Ha. Shut up.”

The red and blue paladins gaze up at her statue together, lingering smiles on their faces even as the sadness bleeds back into their eyes. Subconsciously, they squeeze each other a little tighter.

“Hey. Remember our bonding moment?”

Keith sputters on the air and whips his head towards Lance at the sudden question. He points one shaking, accusatory finger at him.

“You admit it! You do remember!”

“Uh. Duh. C’mon. You totally cradled me in your arms.”

Keith lifts his hand from Lance’s shoulder to instead shove at the back of his head and push him off. Laughing, Lance coils his arm tighter around Keith’s neck and tries to ruffle his perfectly tousled hair, which earns him a punch to the shoulder and a bark.

“Yes. I remember our bonding moment . Why bring that up now? It’s been years,” Keith scoffs. He manages to push Lance back enough so he can fix his hair, glaring at him from underneath his… stylishly unkempt bangs. “You got something to say about it?”

“Kinda. Look. I kinda… want to have another. Bonding moment.”

Whoa. Keith jerks his head back, and the face he makes must’ve been absolutely revolted, because Lance throws his head back and laughs up at the stars.

“Not like that! I just. Wanted to have a heart to heart with you. Just. Real quick. Is that cool?”

“...Uh-huh?”

“So… I just. The days I spent with Allura, I… they were really great. And… and I couldn’t have done it, if you hadn’t given me that pep talk. You know, back before we went to space to end… all this.” Lance gestures vaguely around him; the palace, the stars, the statue. “And… when the wounds were still fresh, I was mad, and bent out of shape… that I didn’t get enough time to be with her, before… she left us.”

Lance isn’t looking at Keith anymore, and instead keeps his hands stuffed in his pockets as he stares blankly up at Allura’s cold, stone face. He has that weary, haunted look in his eye again.

“Lance?”

“But. This past year, I’ve… been trying to remember all of the good times, and what we had. How special every little thing she said was, or every time we… k-kissed, or. You know. Held hands. It just has a special place in my heart, you know?”

“Yeah,” Keith murmurs. Again, without thinking about it, his hand gravitates to Lance’s shoulder in a hollow echo of something he used to take great, great comfort in, himself. “I know.”

Do you? I mean. Keith, you--do you know what I’d give to go back in time, and convince myself to become a better man for her just a day sooner? An hour?”

Now Lance turns his head, and Keith is a little floored by the pain he sees there. Nervous, he drops his hand, letting it hang loosely at his side as he rubs the pad of his thumb over his index finger.

“I don’t know what this is about,” Keith mumbles. “What are you trying to say?”

“I’m trying to say that… I spent a lot of time… thinking about everything that could go wrong. So long, that it kept me from a chance to do something great,” Lance rehearses familiar lines. With a start, and perhaps a little flip of his heart, Keith grips his shirt in front of his belly.

“Oh.”

“You… never know when someone’s gonna be gone, Keith. And… how much you’ll look back on it, wishing you had done something sooner. You just don’t know when it’s going to be too late. Even while we’re all at peace like this.”

Keith pinches the bridge of his nose. “Lance. I don’t do cryptic, okay? What are you talking about?”

“You know what I’m talking about. When’s the last time you talked to Shiro?”

Keith feels his blood freeze over, and his stomach give an uncomfortable lurch. He tries not to take too long to answer, but by the time he does, he knows the damage has already been done.

“...We talked at dinner.”

“I mean really talked. Talk talked. You know, sit down. Actually communicate.” Lance gestures between the two of them with one hand, and Keith tracks the movement in an attempt to focus on anything but the words coming at him.

He doesn’t answer. Lance sighs.

“For all the stuff you and Shiro are total opposites about--you share one big thing in common.”

“...What.”

“You don’t talk about stuff. You just shove it all down and pretend everything’s okay, when it’s not. You’re just bad at hiding it.”

“Hey--!”

“It’s true. And trust me. Everyone felt the tension at the dinner table. Since when do you and Shiro talk like cadet and C.O.? Don’t tell me you guys haven’t spoken the entire year?”

“Th-That’s--” Keith begins, huffing. His ears feel warm all of a sudden, and he crosses his arms as if it’ll defend him against Lance’s callout. He bunches his shoulders up around his ears. “We talked during that time.”

“About something other than work?”

Silence.

With a little sigh and a shake of his head, Lance’s hands go back in his pockets and his eyes go back to the statue of Allura. Ever calm, ever peaceful. Keith can hear her voice now, scolding them for bickering.

“Keith.”

“What.”

“Take it… from someone who’s thought of a million things he’d do differently if he could go back in time,” Lance murmurs. Keith swallows as Lance’s uncharacteristically stern gaze lands on him again. “...The only thing you can do is get up and try to do things right, before you lose your chance for good.”

-*-

Much later, and after an unnecessary jog around the perimeter, Keith returns to the palace with jelly legs and a stitch in his side. He’s long since shucked his jacket, which now hangs tied around his waist.

Lance’s words haunt him.

On one hand, Keith wants to shrivel up. Get defensive, back himself into a corner, and hiss and scratch at anyone who dares come close to the sensitive underbelly of his emotions. On the other, he can see a valid point. He hates it. But even more, he hates that Lance is right.

They’ve barely addressed anything--anything at all. And it’s not just things that have happened in the past year. It’s the fight at the cloning facility. Keith’s scar. Shiro’s disease--magically gone, which is a little detail Keith had to learn from a conversation between doctors he’d happened to eavesdrop on. It’s Keith’s confession. And even further; it’s Naxzela. Leaving for the Blades of Marmora.

It’s the Kerberos mission and it kills me when you’re away and pilot error.

Keith doesn’t want to touch it. Like a bomb waiting to go off, the bottle he keeps inside himself is cracked and straining at the seams. It’s raw emotion locked inside of him; at first, for safekeeping until it could be addressed at the right time. Now, to keep it locked away so Shiro will never have to see the ugliness Keith carries like twin barbells dangling from a rope around his neck.

There’s so much to say, but what’s the use? They’re like strangers now, and they have been for some time. Commander and subordinate, even if they are both of equal standing in their respective stations. At one moment in time--it feels like lifetimes ago, now--Keith had thought his feelings had reached him. He remembers the look on the clone’s face. Shocked, perplexed. Maybe a flash of desperate longing, too. And then he remembers scooping Shiro out of the transport pod, eyes lingering on pale, cool lips just coming back from the threshold to oblivion. You saved me. We saved each other. He’d wanted to kiss those lips at that moment, but the time wasn’t right.

It never seems to be just right enough.

Keith doesn’t realize he’d unconsciously walked to the wrong suite until he puts his hand up on the panel to the side. The door hisses and slides open, only to reveal Shiro reclined in his bed, propped up on half a dozen pillows with a tablet in his hands. When Keith looks at the back of the transparent device, he sees… a chat. Instant messages from someone--someone Keith doesn’t know. A pair of glasses even sits low on his handsome nose--when had he gotten glasses? Had he ever needed glasses to read?

Just the sight of the glasses alone has Keith’s throat tightening and his blood roaring in his ears. This is the man he loves--the man he’d fall into the endless void of the universe with, rather than let him die alone. This is that man--and he never even noticed he had glasses.

As Keith silently gapes, Shiro continues to stare at him in open surprise, lips slightly parted. He looks cozy there in his throne of pillows, legs crossed at the ankles. Bare-footed, dressed in sweatpants and a black tanktop that shouldn’t look as devastatingly handsome as it does. Like a rush, the feelings Keith had violently cut down inside of him when Shiro had failed to ever sit and talk to him about the fight at the clone facility--they come rushing back, like a typhoon.

“K-Keith!” Shiro is the first one to break the silence, tone incredulous. As if Keith had never, ever visited his room in the middle of a sleepless night before. He stammers on the words and Keith’s chest squeezes tighter. “Hey--hello. What do you--is everything alright?”

There’s that clipped tone again. Shiro’s turning off his tablet and taking off his glasses, already moving to get up. There’s a hot rush inside of Keith, an urge to tell Shiro no, it’s okay, I just came to the wrong room. Get cozy. Go back to texting whoever managed to slip into your life and turn your head away from me.

But Keith says nothing. Can’t say anything. He stands there, silent, as Shiro pushes himself up from the bed with a little grunt from the exertion. He stands there, silent, as Shiro comes a little closer.

He makes no move to put his hand on Keith’s shoulder. With a start, Keith realizes he hasn’t felt that achingly familiar, warm touch in over a goddamn year.

“Keith? Is there trouble? I can--”

“...I want to sleep here.”

“I’m--what.”

“Here. I want to sleep here tonight,” Keith announces again, a little more firmly. Taken aback, Shiro blinks at him and looks around, as if trying to hunt down a second bed. When he doesn’t find one, he just looks… resigned.

“It’s been... a long day, Keith. Maybe you should just go to--”

“Please,” Keith interrupts him. He tries to keep his voice steady, but it breaks. “Don’t do this.”

“Don’t do--? Keith, what are you talking abou--”

“Don’t keep pushing me away.”

The room goes dead silent, save for the ever-present hum of Shiro’s prosthetic arm. Allura’s crystal in there, living on even when she isn’t. Keith swallows thickly, and tries not to think of losing Shiro the way Lance lost Allura--even when they’re distant. Even when they’re so cold.

“Keith,” Shiro says. His voice dips, borderline authoritative. Nothing like his best friend--his best friend, his brother--no, the man he loves. And has loved, and loved , for so long. Keith clenches his fists at his sides and dares to look up at Shiro--only Shiro’s not looking back at him.

“You can’t do this to me anymore.”

“I would--I would never push you away,” Shiro mumbles. He still doesn’t look at Keith. He’s focusing on something on the wall over Keith’s shoulder.

“But you have. You are.”

“I’m--”

“What do I have to do to get you to look at me?

Now Shiro snaps his eyes to Keith, sucking in a breath like he’s been socked in the gut. His eyes are full of hesitation, maybe remorse. It feels like needles; every swallow sits sharp and uncomfortable in his throat. Every breath, he feels like he could choke on it. It hurts. It has been hurting--but Lance’s words had cut the careful stitching Keith had sewn over his flayed heart, reopening wounds he’d thought he’d already closed up tight.

“Tell me what I did wrong,” Keith demands. His voice doesn’t break, but it wavers. He’s toeing dangerous waters. When Shiro doesn’t answer right away, Keith inhales sharply, “ Tell me.”

“Keith. Keith. Calm down,” Shiro whispers. Now he reaches for Keith, and finally he settles his flesh hand on Keith’s shoulder where it belongs, warm and heavy. And Keith, not knowing how badly he’d needed to be touched, comforted, anything --nearly falls to his knees on the spot. Instead, he bows his head, and he puts his hand over his eyes in preparation for tears that never, ever come. Above him, Shiro sighs. “You didn’t do anything wrong, bud. I--you can sleep here. It’s fine. It’ll be like old times, yeah?”

Instead of responding, Keith throws his jacket down on the floor. He’ll sleep in his jogging clothes; a red t-shirt. Plain black sweatpants. He doesn’t care. Shiro looks shocked as Keith toes off his running shoes and makes a beeline for his bed.

“You’re--no pajamas?”

“Nope.”

“Straight into bed?”

Keith flops down, facefirst, into the mattress. “Yep.”

Shiro chuckles--chuckles! And Keith can’t remember the last time Shiro’s laughter--or even his smile--was directed towards him alone. Feeling sick, Keith scoots up the bed, pulls the blankets over himself, and lies there facing the wall. Silent.

“Never change, Keith.”

Needles. Needles and daggers and knives; they stick out of his ribs and heart and back like porcupine quills. Every breath hurts. Every inhale, like ice against raw flesh. Every exhale, like burning fire.

Keith feels the bed dip behind him, feels the blankets shift. He especially feels Shiro, who puts about a foot of purposeful space between them. Keith doesn’t have to look to know Shiro’s back is to him. With that, the light goes out, and the room is cast into darkness, save for the faint glow of the moon shining through the window.

And then… nothing.

He can hear the familiar hum, the sound of their shared breathing. But Shiro’s breath never evens out, never slows down. For a fleeting moment, Keith wonders if Shiro is just as wound up as he is. The uncomfortable silence stretches on for the better part of an hour, with neither of them moving. Neither of them sleeping. Even after all this time, Keith knows intimately when Shiro drifts to sleep. This is not it.

I spent a lot of time thinking about everything that could go wrong. So long, that it kept me from the chance to do something great.

“Shiro.”

Silence.

Shiro. I know you’re awake.”

The bed shifts. Keith hears Shiro slip his arm underneath his pillow, then let out a little sigh.

“Yeah? What's wrong?”

“If you're not going to talk, I will. When you left for Kerberos, I didn’t want you to go. You were my first and only friend--you believed in me. But I believed in you, and I wanted you to follow your dreams to the ends of the universe.”

“Whoa, wha--...Kei--?”

“When the news report said it was a pilot error, I didn’t know what to do. I was… lost. And hurting. I attacked Iverson. I got expelled. Adam came looking for me, because he knew we were close. I pushed him away.”

“Wai--”

“I didn’t know what to think when I saw you again. I never gave up the search--you came back. Different, but the same. And I knew--you know I knew you were sick. And you kept saying things like you wanted me to lead Voltron. I didn’t want that. I didn’t want to think about you leaving me again.”

This time, Shiro doesn’t try to interrupt. Keith takes a low, shuddering breath.

“You didn’t care that I was Galra. You just wanted to keep me safe. You almost blew the alliance with the Blades of Marmora just to keep me safe. And all I could think about, when the fighting and the hallucinating was said and done, was you. You, and realizing that who I was in the past didn’t matter.

“And I still blame myself, by the way. For not knowing it was a clone. I was too blinded. Stupid, because all I could think about was you suddenly not working with me. I thought you wanted me gone. Like I was a pest. I’ve always thought that. That you secretly thought of me as a pest.”

Behind him, the bed shifts. While Keith takes deep breaths between shovelfuls of feelings he’s digging out from the bowels of his heart, Shiro turns on the bed to face him. At least, that’s what Keith imagines he’s doing. He doesn’t dare look, because he’s sure he will lose confidence in himself if he does.

“I thought everyone wanted me gone. I was so angry, all the time. Making mistakes left and right. But still, I wanted to… I. Shiro. I tried to fly a ship into a shield to disarm it. Over Naxzela. I was ready to die for--the team. For you.”

Keith squeezes his eyes shut as he hears Shiro take in a sharp, ragged breath. He feels a touch at his back. Two fingers, right on the knobs of his spine. They trail down from just below his shoulderblades to the small of his back, then up again. Keith feels the warm, steady pressure of Shiro’s flesh palm, pressing into his back through his clothes. It only pushes the knives deeper.

“In the Quantum Abyss. I saw you. I saw you attack me at the cloning facility. Mom trained me to be stronger. I had to be stronger, so I could save you. Always you. I went after you because I wanted to save you. I didn’t let you go. You put a scar on my face and still I didn’t let you go. I didn’t let you go, I didn’t give up on you, not even on your deathbed. Never.”

“Keith… I… I don’t really. Know what to say.”

“You can start,” Keith whispers. He curls up into a tighter ball. Shies away from the hand at his back, as if its very presence offends him somehow. “...By telling me why you treat me like a stranger.”

“...What?”

“Like a stranger. Like you don’t know me. What, because I’m not your little cadet anymore, it’s just over? Like that? Everything?”

“Keith, of course no--”

“Then why? What did I do to make you start looking right through me? You said you kept the clone’s memories, right?”

“I--”

“Right?”

“...Yes.”

“Then you remember what I said.”

“You... said I’m your brother.”

“That I love you , Shiro!”

Now, Keith flips around in the bed so fast that he nearly breaks Shiro’s nose with the sharp point of his elbow. In his turmoil, in his roiling fury, he grabs the front of Shiro’s tanktop as hard as he can and yanks as if it’ll physically drag Shiro closer to him. All it does is stretch the material so dramatically that all he has to do is look down to see his bare chest. But he’s too pent up right now, too livid, to care. His lip curls; he bares his teeth.

“How dare you put this scar on my face and not even give me the decency of a conversation .”

Well.

This is probably not how Lance imagined a conversation would go, honestly. Keith’s anger had gotten away from him; the bottle popped, the seals split and broken and shattered. It gushes from him like infection from a wound, putrid and foul, rage and bitterness. All poor Shiro can do is stare, wide-eyed, at Keith’s little display. He’d be embarrassed, if he weren’t trembling so hard.

“I love you,” Keith whispers. His voice breaks, and something shifts in Shiro’s frozen expression. “So stop staring straight through me.”

“Keith,” Shiro breathes. As Keith squeezes his eyes shut, he feels Shiro’s flesh hand come to rest on his cheek, specifically his right cheek, where the angry red scar remains as a remnant and painful reminder. Keith flinches against the touch, barely suppressing the urge to shove him away. He feels Shiro’s breath fan over his nose and lips. “I am looking. I’m looking at you, Keith.”

“Then tell me why.”

Keith hates that his eyes are wet when he opens them. He manages to level a glower at Shiro, even though his chin is wobbling. And, shit, when he blinks his eyes clear, he finds Shiro with wet eyes and tear tracks on the bridge of his nose, highlighted by silver moonlight. Shiro sniffs, shakes his head.

“I… didn’t know how to handle it.”

“What?”

“I knew you liked me when we were younger. When you were just starting at the Garrison,” Shiro explains. He strokes his thumb along the crescent shadow hanging under Keith’s eye. “And it was inappropriate then, to reciprocate. I was with Adam. More importantly, you were… too young. And then--you grew up. And I was already… well--and then, the Quantum Abyss, you came back looking like that--

“Is that why you stuttered?” Keith asks. He means it to sound teasing, but his voice breaks in a million different ways, and he ends up just sounding throaty and tearful. He sniffs, and so does Shiro. They’re both a mess; weary, emotionally drained, on the verge of passing out mid-sentence.

“Yeah,” Shiro breathes. “I wanted to… address my feelings, and then. I put this on your face.” Shiro’s fingertips trace along Keith’s scar; ugly, pink, mottled flesh. For the first time, Shiro’s touch against it makes Keith feel beautiful. He leans into the touch. “Then… Keith, it never felt appropriate after that. Everything you’ve done, everything you put on the line for a guy who just doesn’t know how to stay dead--my feelings felt selfish. Th-That’s…”

“That’s why you were distant?”

“Yes. And I thought it’s what you needed. You were always so willing to split up--whether me in the Green Lion on our way back to earth, or splitting Atlas from Voltron. Not having me with you. I thought you didn’t need me anymore. And you don’t--you really don’t. I just thought… I just. Wanted to respect the man you’ve become. But all I did, it seems, was push you away.”

"I... didn't know."

"How would you? I never said anything, and I should've."

“I would follow you anywhere.”

“Keith--”

“Across the universe. Across realities. You--you’re someone I could never walk away from, Shiro.”

Shiro’s breath hitches, and without warning, his hand is on Keith’s hip, pulling them closer together. The foot between them becomes six inches, then four, then none. Shiro slots a leg between Keith’s, their lips dangerously close. Their hearts pound, thudding against their chests like an unsynchronized drumbeat, heavy and loud like they want to burst through their sternums and finally join together.

“Is this too sudden?” Shiro whispers, urgent. “After a year? Keith? Talk to me.”

“I don’t care,” Keith hisses back. “I’ve already waited years. I just… want to know how you feel. About me.”

“I--” Shiro starts. His expression darkens, and he presses his forehead to Keith’s. “The way I want to love you isn’t brotherly. It has never been brotherly.”

Keith huffs, tilting his head back as Shiro presses dry kisses along the underside of his jaw. “O-Okay.”

“Just okay?” Shiro laughs. His chuckling vibrates against Keith’s throat. Sweet and warm. He feels Shiro’s eyelashes against his skin; they’re wet.

“I don’t know how to do this. I’ve never done this.”

“I’ll teach you everything. Anything you want.”

Oh.”

Keith doesn’t know what to do with his hands, legs, or his entire body, really, as Shiro pushes himself upwards and leans over Keith, hands planted on either side of his head. Feeling a little helpless, Keith just lies there with his eyes squeezed shut, his arms stretched out straight at his sides, like he’s a soldier. Shiro, unlike him, is graceful as he hovers overhead, peppering kisses along Keith’s chin and cheeks and neck.

“Love you, baby. I’m so sorry. M’sorry. Have always loved you,” he murmurs against Keith’s skin. Shuddering, Keith’s head snaps back as Shiro’s prosthetic hand slides slowly, sensually, up his taut belly. It tickles along the dips of his abs, and the V of his hips, and then slowly up towards his chest. Unable to bite it down, Keith moans. That prosthetic hand is nearly large enough to cover his entire belly.

“Prove it,” Keith whispers with words that entirely don’t match the level of confidence he actually feels. Above him, Shiro groans.

“Always thought of you. Watched you, from the astral plane. Watched you thrive and succeed. Adjusted the heating unit in the cockpit… whenever you looked cold.” As he speaks, Shiro pushes himself up and grins down at Keith. “I kept myself sane in there, by imagining all the things I would do to you--the things I would say to you, if I had another chance.”

“But you never said anything, you--”

“Blew it. Yes. I know. I’m bad at this, Keith. If you couldn’t tell.”

“Well, you have time to get better at it. Because I’m not going anywhere.”

Shiro’s smile becomes soft and fond. Bathed in moonlight, he’s almost angelic.

“As many times as it takes,” Keith reminds him. Shiro lowers himself over Keith, laying his full weight on top of him.

“Yeah. As many times as it takes, and more,” Shiro agrees. He slips his arms under Keith’s shoulders, cradling the back of his head in his interlocked fingers as he presses kisses to his chin and cheek. “...Have you ever been kissed?”

“Well. I. Uh. N-No.”

“I’ll teach you. Open your mouth, Keith.”

And of course Shiro leads with his tongue, licking effortlessly between Keith’s timidly parted lips. Shiro’s talented, and Keith’s eyes fly wide open with the intensity of Shiro’s kisses. All he can do is lie there, helpless, as Shiro tilts his head and explores. And when Shiro sucks his tongue into his mouth--

A sudden whoosh ing noise has both of them freezing in place and snapping their heads up to listen. Whoosh?

“What’s that?” Keith huffs, still a little breathless. Shiro pushes off of him, moving with the urgency of a man ready to jump into action. And in a moment, in a split moment, Keith feels panic spike sharply in his gut. A terror floods him, terror that this is it. This is all he’ll get--and Shiro will be distant again. “Shiro!”

Without thinking, he grabs Shiro’s hand, halting him from rushing to the door. Shiro hesitates, and turns to face Keith again with widened, concerned eyes.

“Keith?”

“I… uh. Nevermind.” He’s acting like a petulant child all over again. He hears his own words from long ago echo in his head; By myself? He reminds himself that he’s an adult, a warrior, and not a lovesick teenager getting half-hard in his sweatpants.

Together, they break into a sprint down the hallway, heading towards the front entrance. The whooshing and whirring is getting louder; it sounds like the lions. The mere sound of it has Keith’s chest tightening--what is it? Another war? Another threat?

Yet another thing to rip him and Shiro apart again?

“Keith,” Shiro calls over his shoulder, mid-step. His prosthetic zooms backwards and gathers up Keith’s hand, tugging him along as they run. Shiro pants, “Keith. No matter what--no matter what happens. I love you.”

The prosthetic squeezes around Keith’s hand.

“I always-- haa . I always have. Always, haa , will. Ten years, fifty years, a hundred years from now. You-- you . Are my universe. Always.”

Shiro looks over his shoulder with a grin.

“I’ll never make you, haa , doubt, again. And--we'll, haa, talk about this. Everything. Let's... haa... talk about everything!”

Keith bites his lip and squeezes Shiro’s prosthetic tight, before he lets it go in favor of charging forward--side by side.

The others arrive at the same time as him and Shiro, skidding to a halt in the courtyard, only to see their lions there, lined up all in a row. They stare in disbelief at the great machines--their companions, beloved partners for the past few years. The lions gaze back at them, ever wise, ever graceful. Keith’s heart flips in his chest. He knows, without a shadow of a doubt, that this is truly goodbye this time.

Blue sits before the others, her eyes shining. To Keith’s right, Lance shoulders past the other paladins, the Altean markings on his cheeks glowing a gentle blue. His eyes widen as he stumbles forward, reaching for the bright light that washes over him. Slowly, Blue leans forward, lowering her great head to put her chin at ground level. The hatch opens with a hiss, and a brilliant flash of white light that has everyone squinting. Through the blinding light, Keith swears he sees a figure stepping forth. Tall, regal, beautiful. Lance stiffens. It’s too bright to see, but the voice that pierces through the light is unmistakable.

“Lonce?”