Keith silently latched the front door to the apartment, letting his free hand type in the security code on the wall panel to his left.
It was early, around 4 or 5 am and the crisp morning air on his walk back from the Garrison had let a little bit of color linger on his cheeks. He removed his orange and white jacket, threw it on the sofa in the living room and vigorously rubbed his hands together to warm them up. The cold desert air had settled into his bones.
He spied the coffee machine on the counter, made a mental note to put on a pot and turned the opposite way. As he quietly made his way down the hallway, he noticed the door to the bedroom was cracked open. He took a peek inside.
Shiro was sound asleep, his face buried in a pillow and the comforter tangled up at his feet with Kosmo curled up in one of the room’s corners. Keith smiled a bit at his soft snores, grateful that Shiro was actually getting some rest for once. He heard Kosmo shift to raise his head. He motioned to the wolf to stay put, fought the intense urge to climb in next to Shiro and turned his attention back to the kitchen. A fresh pot of coffee would be a welcome sight and smell when his husband woke up in a couple hours.
Keith sauntered to the counter, grabbed the bag of grounds, scooped out what he needed for a full pot and set it to brew.
Keith only had a few hours of free time before he had to head back and regroup with the other Paladins to continue their reconstruction work. Today they were helping rebuild another outpost in Australia, which would be one of the final projects the team would complete as part of the Garrison’s campaign to bolster Earth’s defenses against any remaining Galra insurgents.
He stripped down, leaving his uniform in a pile on the white and lush carpeted floor in the living room and walked over to the guest bathroom. He didn’t want to disturb Shiro, so he stepped into their extra shower, turned the faucet and let the nearly scalding water melt away the exhaustion and soreness from his body.
It had only been six months since their home planet had been liberated from the Galra. Peace had been secured momentarily and Team Voltron had survived, but things would never be the same.
Shiro would never be the same.
He’d been gravely wounded in their final fight with Haggar, her dark magic knocking him into a dream dimension of sorts. Keith had been able to snap him out of it with the help of the Black Lion, but he knew Shiro had been deeply affected by what he had seen. He knew because their connection to each other had intensified when Keith frantically searched for Shiro on the astral plane. When he called to Shiro and reached in to pull him out of Hagger’s nightmarish world, the pain he felt in Shiro’s heart and the things he saw flash in his own mind were all too real.
Fortunately, Shiro came to, after hearing Keith plead again and again for him to wake up. Keith’s dark brows and glistening tears were the first things Shiro saw, but his carefully constructed calm that Keith had admired for as long as he could remember was gone in an instant. Shiro had just clung to him, sobbing.
And Keith could do nothing else but hold him close.
For weeks after, Shiro seemed okay and things began to progress with a sense of normalcy. He’d been given an honorable discharge from the Garrison and was officially retired. He was considered an internal military advisor and helped whenever they requested his insight, but Shiro spent most of his time tinkering in the Garrison’s hanger choosing to hone his skills as a mechanic. He told Keith that putting engines back together and testing new ships for space exploration seemed like a useful way to spend his days while Keith continued his work as leader of Voltron.
Keith didn’t disagree, but rather than wait for another catastrophe to take Voltron to the other side of the universe, as battles against Galran forces always did, Keith proposed the idea of marriage to Shiro. Not wasting any time, Shiro said yes and they eloped the next day.
It had been the happiest Keith had ever felt in his life.
The entire team was elated, even Kosmo, who immediately latched onto Shiro, now preferring the older man’s company to that of his original partner. But Keith knew Kosmo was only looking out for him.
Soon after they moved into one of the Garrison’s apartments, a temporary location while they were still on Earth, Keith started to feel the briefest moments of pain, sadness, despair, as if they were his own, but he knew they weren’t. They started out small, simply echoes in his consciousness, and then steadily became longer and grew to be increasingly debilitating. He fought through them. But finally, one day, he’d realized what the source had been all along.
It was Shiro, reliving and battling against Haggar’s dream world over and over and over. The connection strengthened by the Black Lion had allowed Keith to feel whatever Shiro was experiencing.
And whenever he attempted to bring it up with Shiro, his husband brushed it off as if it was nothing.
Discomfort suddenly flitted through Keith’s mind, it’s tendrils drifting in and out, a vivid reminder of how fresh Shiro’s trauma still was. It was only a few seconds, but the nightmare must’ve been agonizing.
Keith gritted his teeth and flexed and unflexed his fingers underneath the spraying water as the pain subsided. He had been hoping today would be a good day. He turned off the showerhead, wrapped a towel around his waist and grabbed some spare clothes in the closet before heading back out into the living room.
Keith, hair tousled and now sporting a pair of sleep pants and a red tank top, sensed Shiro before he appeared. Shiro cautiously walked down the hallway, stopping for just a beat when he saw the outline of his husband’s back in the kitchen. His heartbeat had slowed, a temporary calm, but Keith could tell that the nightmare was still fresh in his mind.
Shiro crossed the distance between them and stepped up behind Keith, who was pouring the steaming coffee into two mugs. He slid his natural arm around his husband’s lean waist, moving the tank top just a bit so he could rest his hand on Keith’s stomach. His robotic hand settled on the counter in front of him.
Keith shivered at the intimate touch.
“Mmmm…” Shiro purred, nuzzling Keith’s dark hair at the nape of his neck. “You made coffee… thank you...”
“You’re welcome. Your mug is on the counter by the way… not under my shirt.”
“You’re sure?” Shiro’s tone was teasing, sexy, seductive. Keith shuddered again, trying to fight against what that deep voice did to him.
He made a face. “Yes, Shiro, it’s right here.”
“What do you think will wake me up faster, babe… you or the coffee?” The low growl rumbled in Shiro’s chest as he started to leave a trail of kisses down the side of Keith’s neck. Keith felt a chill skim along his skin, immediately noticing the warmth blooming below his stomach. With a simple brush of his lips, Keith started to surrender to the desire and leaned his head into the crook of his husband’s neck.
A small groan escaped from Keith’s throat. Shiro smirked and turned hungry, passion overriding his senses. For a brief moment, he gently nosed further into Keith’s hair, breathing in his scent, letting his smell calm his frayed nerves. He then continued to kiss his neck, then his cheek, until he finally found his mouth. It amazed Keith how he still never tired of the taste of Shiro on his tongue, his lips a balance between eagerness and forcefulness as he waited for his husband to go faster, be fiercer.
Shiro tended to want to take his time. Whether it was to savor the moment or to tease him, Keith wasn’t sure.
He sighed into Shiro’s kiss, opening his mouth more, letting him explore and re-explore his taste with countless swirls of his tongue, yearning for more. It wasn’t long before Keith felt Shiro’s length pressing against his back. His own warmth was beginning to tighten the muscles around his belly and thighs. He turned his body to envelop himself fully into Shiro’s arms, knowing they would both need a release and soon.
Suddenly, a sharp dagger of pain pierced behind Keith’s eyelids. He saw himself, a few years younger, buckling under the pressure of clone Shiro’s Galra arm until his body went still. Shiro’s metal hand was soaked with his blood, his eyes tinted with a magic shade of purple.
Keith opened his eyes and moved away from Shiro’s mouth, taking a moment to gather himself. He let his hands rest on his husband’s chest and glanced up at him through heavy eyelids.
“Are you okay?” Keith whispered, anxious. His breath hitched on the question, hoping for once that Shiro would take the opportunity to be completely honest with him. When he stared into Shiro’s eyes, the pain he had just experienced clearly reflected back at him. The wrinkles around Shiro’s eyebrows had appeared and it was obvious that he was flushed from the mental exertion.
“I’m fine, babe.”
Keith fought back the angry tears threatening to slide down his face and stepped away from Shiro, giving him a slight push to separate their bodies. He had heard those three words too often the last several months.
“Babe, what is it?”
Shiro’s voice was miles away.
Keith slipped his hands into his coffee mug’s handle and moved to the sink. He sensed so many repressed feelings, emotions, needs that were beginning to bubble up. His face twisted into a snarl and his eyes briefly narrowed and glimmered a shade of yellow. His Galra heritage usually reappeared when he couldn’t keep his emotions in check, especially anger.
The bubbles broke through his carefully constructed surface.
“No,” Keith threw the mug into the sink, shattering it, the coffee splattering across the perfectly white counter. Kosmo suddenly appeared, a starry blue and black puff at Keith’s side. He whimpered, sensing the tension in the air. Keith traced his hand along Kosmo’s head, stopping to give him a quick scratch behind one of his ears. It was more to calm himself than to reassure the wolf. Keith’s temper had reared its ugly head and that was the last thing he had wanted.
He turned to Shiro, eyes blazing with a fiery mix of irritation and concern. The yellow tint had subsided for the moment. “You’re not fine, Shiro. You haven’t been fine in a long time.”
Shiro looked calm on the outside, nearly picture-perfect, but Keith could feel the nervous energy coming off of him in waves. He was scared, uncertain, un-Shiro-like. Shiro leaned back against the counter, letting both of his hands grip it for support.
He swallowed, trying to keep his face blank, and looked up at Keith. He didn’t say a word.
“I can feel it, Shiro,” Keith whispered, his voice ragged, exhausted. He was desperately wanting Shiro to let him in, let him help. “The Black Lion connected us when I pulled you out… I know you’re still hurting, that she still haunts you.”
Keith didn’t know how long they stood there, waiting for the other person to say something.
“I trust you, Keith. With my life…” Shiro finally replied. He paused, though, his jaw clenching and unclenching as he worked through what he wanted to say. “But you can’t help me. You can’t save me from this. No one can.”
The snarl returned to Keith’s face.
“Then what are we doing this for?!” He shouted, his voice reaching a fever pitch. “Why are we here, together, if you don’t let me in?”
Shiro averted his gaze.
Keith knew he shouldn’t say anything. He was hurt, angry, defeated, but he let his emotions win.
“Fuck you, Shiro.” It came out as a venomous hiss. If Shiro was hurt by it, he didn’t show it.
“I’m sorry, Keith.”
The apology was monotone, but it wasn’t necessarily hollow. Still, Shiro wouldn’t look at him.
“I love you, Shiro,” Keith sighed after a moment, the heaviness in the air between them causing his shoulders to sag. “I just don’t think you realize how much.”
Kosmo whined again.
Keith shook his head as he grabbed his Garrison uniform off the floor and his jacket off the sofa and headed to the front door. Shiro was still standing in the kitchen, his hands gripping the counter, eyes looking down as Keith walked out.
Team Voltron’s day in Australia was productive, but Keith had been out of it. For the first few hours, he channeled his anger and sadness at Shiro into the day’s reconstruction project. The Paladins responded the usual way. Lance got on his nerves more than usual, asking why there was trouble in paradise, but Keith kept his sarcastic retorts to a minimum. Hunk offered an ear and his trademark blueberry cake donuts that Keith loved. Pidge awkwardly avoided any mention of Shiro while Allura simply said that Shiro had been through a lot and needed more time.
Mid-way through their efforts, Keith requested they keep the chatter about his private life to a minimum, his guilt about what had happened early that morning zapping any anger that remained. He also noticed that Shiro’s end of their connection echoed of sadness, but beyond that, it was quiet. It was probably because Shiro was trying to protect him from feeling anything from his side.
He sighed. The ache in his heart throbbed.
He was sorry for blowing up at Shiro, but he just didn't know what to do anymore. He had even tried calling home, but after not hearing Shiro’s voice after the fifth time, he decided against leaving a voicemail. It was clear they needed to talk in person and find a way forward together.
Even if that meant Keith needed to be more patient with Shiro.
Patience yields focus.
Keith briefly wondered if Shiro had forgotten his own little mantra when he finally arrived home.
It was late. The sun was already behind the horizon and temperatures in the desert were dropping.
When Keith stepped into their apartment, he was a little surprised everything was dark. They’d only had a couple of arguments so far as a married couple, and in those situations, Shiro usually waited up for him. It was mainly so that they could apologize to each other and move onto the part where they made up, which they both thoroughly enjoyed.
This time, though, Keith already started to feel a little anxious.
“Shiro?” His voice cut through the dark air.
No answer. Keith moved from the kitchen to the guest room to the bedroom, turning on lights, expecting Shiro to answer like he typically did with “babe” or “honey” or “Keith, that you?”
He ran a hand through his hair, pulling a little on the small ponytail that sat at the nape of his neck. He didn’t want to admit he was scared for Shiro, but he was. Shiro wasn’t here and he wasn’t in a stable state of mind.
Where would he be?
Keith pondered for a brief second and decided to flick on the light that shone on their front patio.
Then he noticed it. His old speeder bike was missing. The realization hit him.
Shiro could only be in one place.
Keith bolted for the front door but stopped when he saw a familiar flash of blue and black fur in his periphery.
“Do you know where he is?” Keith asked, quiet concern creeping into his voice.
Kosmo growled softly, cautious.
“Does he need me?”
The wolf yipped once. Wrong question.
“Does he want me to come to him?” It was a question Keith knew he needed to ask even though he felt this pull to be wherever Shiro was. If his husband needed space, and he was okay for the time being, Keith would respect that.
Kosmo trotted over to him and nuzzled his hand with his nose. Keith bent down to scratch his head.
“Can you take me to him?” Kosmo knew where Shiro was. Keith knew Kosmo hadn’t left Shiro’s side since this morning after he had stormed out.
He also knew Kosmo would respect Shiro’s wishes and only transport them there if that’s what Shiro wanted.
They disappeared from the apartment and in a millisecond, they reappeared in the desert, at the top of a plateau looking over a vast expanse of rock and sand below. It had been a favorite spot during their time in the Garrison, the many times Shiro snuck them out to practice piloting or to have a little fun racing. It was the spot where Keith first saw Shiro soar and gracefully drop to the ground below. It was the first time Keith confirmed what he had already known for a while.
That Shiro was special and extremely important to him.
The moon and stars were bright and full above them and the air was frigid. Keith was a bit disoriented, but as soon as his eyes adjusted to the darkness he noticed an outline of two black shadows, the speeder and his husband. Both he was all too familiar with, and it didn’t matter where he was, Keith knew Shiro. He’d memorized every single part of him, inside and out, over their years together.
His husband was sitting on the ground, his long legs hanging over the edge of the cliff. His head was down and his hair was a moonkissed beam of silvery white. His hands were clasped together between his legs.
Keith approached cautiously even though he knew Shiro had sensed that he was there. When he was only a few steps away, Shiro turned to look at him and Keith noticed his cheeks were glistening in the moonlight. He’d been crying.
His heart shattered, both from seeing how much Shiro had been suffering and from feeling it firsthand. Shiro couldn’t keep squashing down his side of their connection. His focus was on the person in front of him, on his husband, the one who was his own personal moon in a sea of never-ending desert and darkness.
Keith sat down beside him. On his other side, Kosmo curled into a ball.
“I’m sorry I got angry,” Keith began.
“I’m sorry I’ve been acting as if everything’s okay,” Shiro said. He looked up at the moon. His face was marked with pain and Keith’s immediate desire was to wipe it all away, all of it, everything that had caused Shiro’s suffering.
He loved him and he’d do anything for him.
“It’s okay,” Keith replied, tenderly letting his left hand fall onto Shiro’s.
“No, I-” Shiro stumbled with his words. Keith didn’t try to rush him. He focused on being patient, letting Shiro drive their conversation.
“I-I’m afraid this is all a dream, Keith,” Shiro’s voice quivered. “That it’s not real, that I killed you… that I’m still just a clone to do her bidding.”
He gave Shiro’s hands a small squeeze of reassurance.
“It’s hard to know what’s real,” Shiro said, swallowing hard. “It’s like she’s still here, in my head, all the time.”
Keith saw fresh tears begin to slide down Shiro’s cheeks.
“Let me in, Takashi Shirogane,” Keith whispered. Shiro turned his head to look at him and Keith heard his breath quicken at hearing his full name. “I can help. We can figure it out, but we have to do it together.”
“It’s all about timing and patience,” Keith continued, letting his right hand stroke Shiro’s cheek. “Sometimes, we all need a hand.”
The grim line that was plastered on Shiro’s face upturned slightly into a knowing smirk. “I guess I need to try and take my own advice for a change…”
Shiro paused to look down at him for a moment before letting his lips lightly brush Keith’s scar that traveled down his right cheek. Keith returned the gesture and let his lips lightly rest on the bridge of Shiro’s nose, the kiss landing tenderly just on his scar.
“I know it’s hard,” Keith said, shifting so that he was kneeling and facing Shiro. He wrapped his arms around Shiro’s neck, letting his forehead rest against his, their mix of white and black hair beautifully tangled in the moonlight. Shiro instinctively leaned into Keith’s embrace as he slid his hands behind his husband’s back to pull him closer.
“I know how easy it seems to bottle everything inside to protect the ones you love, but we’re in this together. I’m your husband. I want all of you or none of you, Takashi.”
Shiro breathed deeply before responding, relishing in Keith’s scent, closing his eyes as a new sense of calm washed through him.
“Still saving me, huh?”
Keith nodded, brushing his knuckles along Shiro’s jawline as he let himself kiss Shiro’s scar again.
“As many times as it takes.”