Shiro was trapped. Unable to move. He had nearly given up hope for rescue when help finally arrived. "Keith!" Shiro called out, when his husband opened the door.
"No, no, no, no, no!" Their son Yorak ran at the apartment door, hands outstretched.
Keith, still wearing his flight suit and carrying his travel bag, knelt to Yorak's height. "What's wrong?" he asked. "Where's your Dad?"
"I'm here," Shiro said wearily, lifting a hand to get Keith's attention. The kitchen was an open design, separated from the living room by a half wall and a few carved wooden posts and Shiro was sitting on the kitchen counter between two long pieces of red tape. He had a sticky note on his forehead that said "Dad”, he wore one red sock and one black sock, and he really needed to pee. "I wasn’t sure if you’d make it back in time."
Keith frowned. "I wasn’t going to miss Firewatch Night." There were faint shadows below his eyes; signs that he'd been working too hard and getting too little sleep. The Blade of Marmora was transitioning from a military organization to a humanitarian one, but the change wasn't always a smooth one and Keith spent a lot of time bartering with planetary governments that were afraid of letting a Galra organization onto their territory.
“I’m glad you made it,” Shiro said softly. “It wouldn’t feel right if you weren’t here.”
Keith smiled at Shiro and took a step forward. Yorak cried out.
"No, no, no! You can't walk over the red tape!" Yorak pointed at the floor. "This side is okay, but if you step there , then this is the reality where bad things happen.”
Keith gave Shiro a questioning look and Shiro groaned, the weight of great regret on his shoulders. "You weren’t back, and I had to go into a meeting, so I asked Slav to look after Yorak for a few hours."
The corner of Keith's mouth twitched. "Is Slav coming to the party?"
"No, he said there was a 82.431 percent chance that he would experience airway compression if he showed up," Shiro said. His knee was cramping up, so he decided to risk it and get down from the kitchen counter. Before his feet touched the floor, Yorak ran at him, screaming.
"Daddy, no! There's a sixty eight point two chance that this is the reality where-” The rest of the words were lost in sobs. Shiro couldn't stand to be the cause of that unhappiness, so he sighed, and settled back on the counter, resolving to have a long talk with Slav later - or a short one. Yorak's tears stopped.
"Slav thinks he's going to get strangled?" Keith asked Shiro.
"Yeah," Shiro said, flexing his fingers. "Don't know why."
"It’s a shame he’ll miss the party," Keith said. He crouched down. "Yorak, may I go into the kitchen?"
Yorak surveyed the area and nodded. "Stay in the red tape," he said. He picked up a roll of red tape and continued marking a path in the living room.
Keith carefully picked his steps into the kitchen and up to Shiro. When he got close, Shiro floated out his right hand, grabbed the front of Keith's flight suit, and tugged Keith forward until he was flush against the counter with Shiro's knees on either side of him.
"I missed you," Shiro said softly. He touched his forehead to Keith's and breathed in Keith’s sweat and the metal-rubber scent of his flight suit.
"I missed you, too," Keith said. He draped his arms around Shiro's waist and kissed him, slow and slow. Keith had barely been gone for a week this time, but Shiro wanted to cling to him and beg him never to leave again.
But they couldn't take it further, not now, not with a child in the house and guests on the way. Shiro drew back.
"How's party prep going?" Keith asked.
"Done," Shiro said. "All but the fire. I set out the wood by the firepit. I thought you'd want to build the fire yourself." He lowered his voice. "Also, can you distract Yorak for a few minutes? I really need to pee."
"Well..." Keith said.
"Come on," Shiro pleaded, shifting uncomfortably in his seat.
"It's just - I know he's annoying, but Slav's right a lot of the time." Keith said. He lowered his eyes guiltily.
"I know. I'm sorry. I just want everything to go right tonight," Keith said. "How much longer do you have to be there?"
Shiro checked his wristlink. "Seventeen minutes."
"You'll survive. Sorry," Keith said again, and kissed Shiro gently. "I need to talk to you about something later."
Those were words of foreboding. "Everything okay?"
"Yeah. It's not a big deal."
Sure. "Okay," Shiro said, pushing that aside to deal with later. "You've got a package from James." He nodded at a box on the opposite counter.
"Oh, good," Keith said. He lifted a foot and Yorak yelled,
"Pop! The red tape!"
Keith pivoted just before his foot touched the floor and stepped back into the "safe" zone. He took two sideways steps, hopped across a blank spot near the stove and retrieved the box. Then he did the same in reverse and made his way back to Shiro.
"What is it?" Shiro asked. He leaned forward to look as Keith cut the box open.
"Veltine nuts," Keith said. "My mom used to roast these at Firewatch Nights when she was a kid. When I found out there were veltine trees on the planet where James is stationed, I asked if he could send me some."
"Is he still stationed on Edfora?" Shiro asked. He took a nut from the box and cracked the shell between two artificial fingers.
"Yeah, he's really happy there. He's put in a request to stay," Keith said. "He's flying a lot and the place is gorgeous. Ryan's applied to join him."
"We should visit sometime," Shiro suggested. He popped one of the nuts in his mouth. It was crunchy and very, very sweet.
"That'd be nice. James hasn't even met Yorak yet." Keith frowned at the expression on Shiro's face. "Are they bad?"
"They're sweet," Shiro said. "A little too sweet for my taste."
"Really?" Keith said, disappointed. Shiro cracked him a nut and Keith tried it. He made a face. "I see what you mean."
"Pop! Dad! Let me try?" Yorak dashed over to them, hopping easily through the pattern of red tape. Shiro cracked another nut and offered it to Yorak. "Thank you," Yorak said politely. He took a bite of the nut and made a face. "Bleh," he said.
Keith sighed. "I hope they're the right nuts. You all done with the tape?" he asked Yorak.
"Yes," Yorak said.
"Can Dad get off the counter now?" Keith asked.
Yorak stretched up on his toes to see Shiro's wristlink. Shiro held it out so he could get a better view. "It's not time yet."
Shiro glanced at Keith who shrugged helplessly. "All right," Shiro said to Yorak, resigned. He'd clearly lost this battle. "Why don't you go put on your party clothes?"
"Okay!" Yorak chirped. He hopscotched through the tape, out of the kitchen and down the hallway.
“I should shower and change, too,” Keith said.
Shiro tugged the front of Keith's shirt and pulled him in for a long kiss, savoring the shape of his husband's body in his arms. "I missed you," he said softly.
"Missed you, too," Keith said. He rested his head against Shiro's shoulder and for a moment, Shiro felt Keith let go and allow Shiro to take the weight of his travel weariness. Eventually Keith drew back and said, "Okay, I’ll get dressed, then build the fire. Anything I can do for you?"
"Get me my datapad?" Shiro asked.
Keith got it from the living room and handed it to Shiro. "Yell if you need anything else. I love you."
"Love you, too." They shared a quick kiss and Keith left to clean up. Shiro dangled his feet uselessly, got as comfortable as possible, and opened up the book he was currently reading.
Hunk arrived right on schedule. Shiro had finally been permitted to get off the counter and remove the sticky note, though Yorak ordered him to keep the socks on. Shiro decided it wasn't worth the fight and conceded the battle to his son.
"What's the deal with this holiday?" Hunk asked, as he unloaded two trays of rolled hors d'oeuvres from a cart. "I mean, there's family, there's friends, there's food, I'm all in favor. But what's it all about?"
Keith held a tray of small puddings carefully as he hopped through the red tape on the floor. "It's a Galra tradition. It's about light surviving through the darkness. Every year on the longest night, the eldest in the family - that's my mom - lights the fire at sunset and we stay up all night making sure it doesn't go out. Then the youngest - Yorak, obviously - lights a candle from the fire and we use that candle to light the fire next year."
“You keep the candle lit all year?” Hunk asked.
“No,” Keith said. “Well, some families do, usually using a stasis cube, but traditionally, no. We just relight last year’s candle and carry it over symbolically.”
"And you invite everyone over to eat and party," Hunk said.
Keith deposited the puddings in the refrigerator and leaned against the counter. He reached toward a dish of fried fruit, but Hunk swatted him away from it. "Yeah. Everyone shares responsibility for keeping the fire lit. It shouldn't be a problem here, not in peacetime, with clear skies, and plenty of fuel, but we still need to have someone by the fire until sunrise."
“It’s the first time we’ve had enough space to host it,” Shiro said. When Hunk turned to unload a cake, Shiro snagged two pieces of the fried fruit and tossed one to Keith with a wink. Keith grinned at him and popped the fruit in his mouth. He swallowed quickly when Hunk turned around. Shiro palmed his own snack.
“Check this out.” Hunk whipped the cover off of a round, golden cake. The glaze had a caramel tint and it was garnished with sprigs of golden leaves.
“Is that blega cake?” Keith exclaimed.
“It is,” Hunk said proudly. “Sal said it was traditional, so I made it happen. I had to go through his friend’s cousin’s grocer's aunt's bookie to get the blega leaves.”
“How did you get the mira bark?” Keith asked. “I heard it’s impossible to find this time of year.”
“It is,” Hunk said, deflating slightly. “I used cinnamon.”
“You’re a miracle worker, Hunk,” Keith said, and Hunk perked up again. “Kolivan said it was his favorite part of Firewatch Nights as a kid. I want Yorak to have that. You know?”
"Oh, yeah," Hunk said. "For me, it's not Christmas without pineapple pie."
Shiro leaned forward, resting his hands on the counter. “My grandfather got us a strawberry cake from the bakery every year. I still think of him when I have strawberry cake.”
"Yeah," Keith said, a little wistfully. “Like that. I can’t wait to try it.” He snuck a finger towards a bit of frosting that had dripped on the plate, but Hunk blocked him with an arm chop. Shiro snuck a nibble on the piece of fruit.
“No,” he said firmly. “It’s not done yet. It needs to be served right out of the oven, so I’ll pop it in later tonight. Now both of you -” he turned on Shiro so quickly that Shiro took a step back, “need to get out of my kitchen while we still have snacks left for the party.” Shiro swallowed guiltily. “Oh yeah, I saw you. The Garrison’s best tactics teacher and a super space ninja and neither of you could figure out that your glass cabinets show your reflections!” Shiro and Keith both looked over to see their own guilty faces. “Get out,” Hunk said, making a shooing motion. Both men hastily retreated to the living room.
There was a knock at the door. Shiro wove through the red tape and welcomed Lance, Allura and Azure into the house. He and Keith greeted Lance and Allura with hugs, and Azure threw herself at their legs. She wore a long, purple dress with draped sleeves, and with her flowing white hair and pointed ears, she looked remarkably like her mother. She hugged Keith, then looked up at Shiro. "Hey, Uncle Shiro?" Shiro crouched down to be at her level. "Is the gravity low in here?"
"I don't think so." He gave Allura a questioning look, but she just smiled and shook her head. "Why?" he asked Azure.
"Because you're sweeping me off my feet," Azure said. "Boom!" She pointed finger guns at him.
"Am I?" Shiro grinned. He grabbed her under her arms, stood up and swung her over his head until she nearly touched the ceiling. She laughed with delight.
"Really?" Keith asked Lance. " Really?"
Lance grinned proudly. "That's my girl." Shiro set her down and Azure ran to her father. Lance gave her a high five.
"Keith, I read your post about Atoinsur-" Allura began, and Lance jumped between her and Keith.
"Nope!" he said. "Nope, no politics, not tonight." He waved his hands to block the remaining space between his wife and his friend.
"You're being ridiculous, Lance," Allura said, leaning sideways to look at Keith.
"I'm with Lance," Shiro said, resting his hand on Keith's shoulder. "The last time you two talked politics at a party, you sat in a corner for an hour and a half arguing about mineral rights."
"The Alteans terraformed that planet. They have the right to-" Allura began, at the same time Keith said, "We can't start a new society by favoring one heritage over-"
Shiro looped his right arm around Keith's waist and covered Keith's mouth with his left, at the same time that Lance put his finger to Allura’s lips and shook his head.
"Oh, all right," Allura pushed Lance's hand away with a smile and tugged him over so she could put his arm around him. He kissed the side of her head.
Keith nipped Shiro's fingers. Shiro swapped arms and covered Keith's mouth with the artificial one. He grinned and murmured, "Do you yield? Or shall we take this to the mats?" Keith's hair tickled his cheek, so Shiro nuzzled his ear in revenge.
Keith pulled Shiro's hand away from his mouth. "I just showered," he reminded Shiro. "Besides, we don't have time to spar."
"'Spar'?" Lance grinned. Allura elbowed him. "What?"
Yorak ran into the living room, wearing fresh black slacks and an unbuttoned red shirt. The shirt fluttered out behind him. "Hi, hi, be careful!" he yelled.
"Inside voice!" Shiro reminded him.
"Careful of what?" Lance asked.
Yorak pointed at the floor. "Stay inside the red tape!"
"Slav babysat," Keith explained. Lance and Allura both winced.
"Look!" Azure bounced on her toes. "Look what I can do!" She took a shriveled brown seed from her pocket and cupped it in her hands. She closed her eyes and frowned in intense concentration. A soft glow leaked out between her fingers. She opened her eyes and grinned. "Look!" She opened her hands and the seed had sprouted a long, green stem with a budding flower at the tip.
Allura rested her hand on her daughter's shoulder. "She's been doing very well at her magic lessons."
"I want to try!" Yorak exclaimed.
"I'm afraid it won't work," Shiro said gently. "Azure and Allura share a very rare gift."
"But I want to do magic!" Yorak's face crumpled. "I promise to focus really hard!"
Keith took him by the hand and led him over to the couch, where they sat down. Keith tugged the front of Yorak's shirt together and started buttoning it. "Yorak, everyone has different talents. I can't build a robot, like Aunt Pidge, or bake a cookie like Uncle Hunk, but there's lots of other things I'm good at."
"But people can learn to bake cookies!" Yorak protested.
"Not Keith," Hunk said, with the voice of weary experience.
Keith ignored him. "You do have a kind of magic, Yorak," he said. "You remember when I showed you the knife that belonged to your other father and I told you it would be yours one day?" Yorak nodded. "Well, when you're big, you can do the Trials of Marmora and your knife will become a sword. That's our magic."
"Can I do the Trials now?" Yorak asked.
"No," both his parents said at once. Shiro's voice had bite in it. Keith glanced over at Shiro, whose face was grim.
"You have to train a whole lot, first," Keith said. "You'll have to work really hard." He brushed his son's black bangs away from his violet eyes. Yorak wore his hair short on the side and long in the front.
"I can do it!" Yorak said.
"I know you can," Keith said. He buttoned the last button. Yorak hugged him.
"Thanks, Pop," he said into Keith's shoulder.
Azure came over to the couch and handed Yorak the small flower. "I can do magic for you if you need it."
Yorak heaved a great sigh. "I guess ."
"Yorak," Shiro said sternly.
"I mean, thank you," Yorak said. He cupped the flower in his hands.
Keith tugged his collar straight. "Why don't you show Azure the new video game system Aunt Pidge sent us?"
"Okay!" Yorak bounced up and grabbed Azure's hand. "Come see!" He pulled her down the hallway.
Shiro joined Keith on the couch. "I don't like the idea of him doing the Trials of Marmora."
"It's years away," Keith said.
"Still," Shiro said. He rested his hand on Keith's knee. "It was tough enough watching you go through them. I can't even imagine what it'll be like with Yorak."
"You don't have to be there," Keith pointed out.
"Yeah, cause that's better," Shiro said, his voice tinged with sarcasm.
"It's his heritage, Shiro." Keith pulled away from Shiro and stood up, crossing his arms over his chest.
"How many people have died in the Trials?" Shiro demanded.
"Not many," Keith protested. "Candidates usually surrender before it gets that far. If they're unable to surrender, forfeit is assumed."
"Keith. Are you hearing yourself? Is this what you want to put our son through?"
"No, but it's his father's blade , Shiro," Keith said. "He has the right try to awaken it."
"He's our son. " Shiro stood up as well. He gave Keith his space but sent his right hand to rest on Keith's shoulder.
"I know," Keith said. "It has to be his choice. But I won't let him do it if he's not ready." His eyes darted to Allura and Lance and back. "Can we talk about this later?" He brushed Shiro's hand off his shoulder.
"Yeah," Shiro said. He turned to look at Lance and Allura, who had made their way to the kitchen and were intently studying a pie.
"And that one's made with apples," Hunk said, in an unnaturally loud voice. He noticed Keith and Shiro, and Lance and Allura turned.
"Terribly sorry," Allura said. "Hunk's baking is so fascinating that I'm afraid I didn't hear anything you said in the last few minutes."
"Same," Lance said.
"I'm Hunk," Hunk agreed. "So, same."
"You didn't miss anything," Keith said, arms still folded over his chest.
The awkward moment broke when there was a knock on the door. Keith opened it to let Krolia and Kolivan in. "Mom! Hi!" Keith said, letting his arms fall to his sides. He hugged his mother and clasped arms with Kolivan. The others greeted the new guests as well, and the children came running full speed into the living room.
"Grandma! Grandma!" Yorak called out.
"Inside voice!" Shiro reminded him.
Yorak threw himself into his grandmother's arms and Krolia hugged him tightly. "You've grown so much!" she exclaimed.
"I'm going to be taller than Pop, soon!" he said.
"Not like that's hard," Lance muttered.
“You’re one to talk,” Keith said. He held his hand about an inch above his head.
"Hey, I'm still taller," Lance said.
Yorak hugged Kolivan, who said. "I have gifts for both the children." He took out a wide, flat box and opened it to reveal two toy bayards, one black and one red. "The black takes the form of a Galran war blade and the red takes the form of an Altean battle sword."
Azure's hand shot up. "I want the black one!"
"Azure!" Allura chided.
Azure lowered her hand. "I mean, may I please have the black one?"
Kolivan knelt so he was at Yorak's level. "Which one would you choose?"
"Red!" Yorak said firmly, nodding his head.
Kolivan nodded. "Then it is decided." He held out the box so the children could take their new toys. "They will strike, but not wound," he told their parents. Azure found the switch that activated hers and she gleefully waved her bayard about. Yorak powered his on and slashed at Azure's blade. When the weapons met, the energy blades flashed and sent vibrations down to the handle. Shiro caught Yorak's second strike in his bare left hand.
"They may not wound, but they’ll knock things over," he said. "Power them down, guys. No weapons in the living room."
"If you like, I could teach the children some elementary footing drills," Kolivan offered. "I believe we have some time before sundown."
"That'd be great," Shiro said. He turned to his son and Azure. "Want Grandpa Kolivan to teach you some sword stuff?" The kids nodded enthusiastically. "They're all yours, Kolivan," Shiro said.
Guests continued to arrive over the next hour. Veronica and Acxa showed up with their daughter, a solemn, blue toddler who silently sucked her thumb and watched everything with wide, unblinking eyes. Coran arrived waving a couple of bottles of nunvill and accompanied by Romelle. Nadia and Ina came with several others from the Garrison. The Holts arrived in full force. Sam and Colleen came in first, followed by Matt and his wife and three children with tousled ginger hair. The oldest wore glasses. Pidge carried the youngest children and after the appropriate greetings were shared, she joyfully herded the whole clan out to the patio.
Keith checked his wristlink. "It's getting close. I'll get the kids. You get the candle."
"Got it," Shiro said. Last year’s Firewatch candle was stored in a small wooden coffer, about the length of a finger. He retrieved it from a locked cabinet in the living room and took it past the patio full of food and out to the firepit in the backyard. He'd set up chairs and benches around the pit in a half-circle and the guests were now filling the seats. Kosmo popped into the space behind the circle in a flash of light, startling the people in front of him and eliciting stares from the guests who weren't used to teleporting space wolves. Iverson leaned over to give Kosmo a scratch behind the ear.
Keith came out with Kolivan, Azure, and Yorak. He sent Azure to her parents and he, Yorak, and Kolivan joined Shiro and Krolia at the open side of the circle. Shiro gave Krolia the candle and tucked the coffer into his pocket. Nadia and Romelle were the last to take their seats. Krolia waited as the sun dipped low in the sky. The guests fell silent. "The sun falls and the darkness strikes," she said. "But we carry the light and wield the light until the day returns." She lit the candle and held it out in front of her. "Who will stand with me against the dark until the day returns?"
"I will," Shiro said, and heard Keith say it, strong and sure, and Yorak say it, youthful and defiant. And all around him, their family and friends echoed the words.
"Who will guard the light and our companions until the day returns?"
"I will," they said. Keith's hand found Shiro's. Shiro gave his husband a soft, gentle smile and received one in return.
Krolia's voice was low, but strong, and it carried out over the quiet crowd. "Who will keep the light and remember the light upon the day's return?"
"I will," Shiro said, as the words surrounded him in voices young and old.
Krolia knelt and set the candle under the wood that Keith had laid for the fire. Shiro held his breath. If a heavy wind blew in from the desert, the fire might go out before it started and that would be an ill omen. But the flames licked the kindling, curled around, and spread, dancing along the woodand biting into the hardwood logs. They watched the fire grow as the sun sank below the rocky hills.
Keith took half a step forward, carrying Shiro's hand with him, took a deep breath and said, "We guard the light tonight, but it is also a night of celebration. Friends and family, you are welcome to our home." There was a moment of uncertain silence, and Keith added, "That means you can eat now." There was scattered laughter and the guests got up to go to the food tables on the patio.
After the ceremony, Keith brought a roasting pan and a nutcracker out to the fire. Shiro and Yorak sat on the ground and shelled the veltine nuts so Krolia could roast them. Yorak struggled a little with the nutcracker, but he refused to let anyone help him. Cooking brought out a rich, buttery flavor and the nuts cracked and oozed a golden juice that caramelized beautifully.
"These are amazing!" Shiro said in surprise, after trying one.
"I can see why they're your favorite," Keith said, popping another one in his mouth.
"Only when they're roasted," Krolia said. "I find them to be too sweet when they're raw. Please give your friend my thanks."
"I will," Keith said. "Do you want to try one, Yorak?" He leaned over to offer a nut to his son. "These are Grandma's special Firewatch treats."
Yorak took it, eyed it suspiciously, licked it once, then put it back in Keith's hand. "No, thank you," he said politely. Keith eyed the nut and dropped it in the bowl with the shells.
Coran came over, carrying two bottles by the neck in one hand and a stack of cups in the other. "Who would like some nunvill?" he asked cheerfully, brandishing the bottles.
"Me!" Yorak thrust his hand in the air.
"Excellent. Who else?" Coran asked. He set the bottles on a bench and picked up a cup.
"He's too young for nunvill," Shiro said. "Wait until he's about-"
"Thirty," Keith said.
"Fifty," Shiro said.
"Oh, don't worry about it," Coran said. "I brought children's nunvill. See?" He showed them the label of one bottle, which was labeled with a bubbly orange Altean logo. "All the flavor and none of the kick!"
Keith and Shiro shared a look. "Let me taste it," Shiro said.
"Gladly," Coran said. He poured a generous amount of the children's nunvill into a cup.
Shiro sipped it carefully. It did, indeed, have all of the flavor of nunvill and he tried not to grimace. He swallowed it down. Regular nunvill usually gave you a boot to the back of the neck, hit your esophagus like an Altean hailstorm and did a few flips in your stomach as a finale. Shiro waited for the attack, but only felt a light tingle, like the fizzle of a soda. "Okay," he said finally, and handed it to Yorak.
"Yes!" Yorak said, and pumped his fist.
Azure ran over. "I want some!"
Lance followed his daughter, while Allura continued a conversation with Acxa behind them. "What do you want, sweetie?"
"I don't know!" Azure said. "But Yorak got some."
"Drinks all around!" Coran said. He filled another cup with the children's nunvill and handed it to Azure.
"What about you, Richie?" Shiro asked. Matt's oldest was sprawled on a bench near the fire, tapping on a data pad. He didn't look up.
"No, thanks," Richie said.
"Would you like some veltine nuts?" Krolia asked.
"Nope, I'm good," Richie said.
"All right," Shiro said. "Let us know if you change your mind."
"Uh-huh," Richie said. He swiped something on his screen and scowled. "Quiznak!" He yelled in the direction of the food tables, "Aunt Pidge! What's the fifty-sixth digit of pi?"
"I'm not doing your work for you!" she called back, and returned to talking to Hunk.
"It's nine, moron," Alan Holt said. The middle Holt child plopped down on one of the benches and tore into his plate of snack rolls.
Richie entered it into his datapad and seemed satisfied with the results. "I know," he said. "I was just testing you. You passed. Good job."
Yorak took a sip of the children's nunvill and his eyes bugged out. Azure shrieked with laughter. "Your face is funny!"
Yorak frowned and leaned in so his face was right in front of hers. " Your face is funny." She laughed and pushed him away. "Bet you can't drink the whole cup," Yorak said.
"Bet you can't drink the whole cup," Azure said. She held her cup in front of her and Yorak mirrored her pose. "Three. Two. One." She threw back her head and gulped down the drink.
"Oh, good, the drinking contests are starting young," Lance said as he munched on a couple of veltine nuts. Both children coughed and spit out the nunvill, then pointed at each other and giggled.
"Ah, yes," Coran said. "I believe I reacted to my first glass of nunvill in a similar fashion."
Keith laughed suddenly. "So did I."
"Ooh, what's here?" Nadia asked. She leaned over the nut bowl with her hands clasped behind her back.
"Those are veltine nuts," Keith said. "Help yourself." She picked one and tasted it, then grabbed a few more.
"We're drinking nunvill," Coran said. "Would you like some?"
"The famous nunvill? Absolutely!" Nadia said. "Ina! Veronica!" she called to her friends. "We're drinking!"
Veronica came over, carrying her baby on her hip. "What, nunvill? I'll try some." Ina came over as well.
"If intoxication is the goal, Commander Iverson brought a single-malt whiskey which is strong and has a much more pleasant flavor," Ina said.
"Whiskey!" Coran snorted. "Pop-pop always said nunvill would put scales on your toes!" Keith, Shiro and Lance looked down at their shoes.
"I think that's metaphorical," Lance said, wiggling his toes.
Azure leaned over to Yorak and whispered loudly, "I have a secret."
"What is it?" Yorak whispered back.
"I can't tell you. It's a secret!" she grinned.
"I think we should get you guys in dry clothes before it gets cold," Keith said.
"Do you have something Azure could borrow?" Lance asked. "I'd rather not go back to the apartment."
"Yorak doesn't have any dresses, but I'm sure I could find something," Keith said.
"I don't need a dress," Azure declared. "I'm a warrior!" She mimed striking with a sword.
"All right, my warrior princess," Lance said. He took Azure's hand and pulled her to her feet. "Let's get you cleaned up." Keith took Yorak's hand and they went to Yorak's room to change.
"I wouldn't mind a bit of whiskey," Krolia said. She was still quietly roasting nuts.
"I can take over for you," Shiro said. "We've nearly go them all cracked, anyway." Krolia showed him how to toss the nuts in the pan and then she and Ina went to find Iverson.
Keith and Lance brought the children back wearing Yorak's button-down shirts and slacks. Yorak wore silver-grey, now, and Azure wore blue. Their fathers set them loose in the backyard, where they were joined by Alan Holt. All three pestered Kosmo for rides, who feigned indifference until the children had all climbed on his back, then blinked out of existence in a flash of white light.
"Uh, is that bad?" Nadia asked, pointing to the now-empty spot in the backyard, at the same time that Matt ran over and said, "What just happened to my son?"
"It's fine," Keith said. "He won't take them far without a two-legged adult along. We've discussed it."
"Sure," Matt said, running a hand through his shaggy hair, dislodging part of it from his ponytail. "You've discussed it."
"He plays with Yorak all the time, Matt," Shiro said, as he shook the roasting pan over the fire. "Alan will be fine."
A moment later, Kosmo popped back into the yard and all three children on his back yelled, "Again! Again!" Kosmo popped out again.
"You have the weirdest pet," Matt grumbled. He took a few of the nuts.
"You have a yupper ," Lance pointed out.
"He's a baby, and he's just a foster," Matt said defensively. "We're not keeping him."
"Yup," Lance snickered.
Shiro sent his right hand to grab Keith's waistband and guide his husband to his side while continuing to cook with the other hand. Keith smiled and sat down. Lance and Matt sat down and Matt sniffed the nunvill carefully, then jerked back, eyes watering.
"Did I miss anything while I was gone?" Keith asked.
"House talk," Shiro said, nodding at the building behind them. "Just talking about what we want to do now that we have our own place. We don't have to comply with Garrison standards anymore! It's pretty exciting."
"'Exciting'," Nadia snickered. Matt sniffed the nunvill more carefully and then poured himself a cup.
"I've had enough of the other kind of 'exciting' for multiple lifetimes," Shiro said dryly. "I used to think that I could have the stars or a home of my own, but not both. I've never been so glad to be wrong." He smiled at Keith, but when Keith smiled back, there was something sad behind his eyes. "Keith wants to remodel the rec room," Shiro said.
"I want to put in a holo training deck," Keith said. He picked up the bowl of unshelled nuts and the nutcracker and set to work. "It'd be good to have one at home and I could customize one for Yorak's training."
Shiro frowned at that, but said, "I'd like to upgrade the kitchen appliances, too. They haven't been replaced since before the war."
Keith shrugged. "They work fine. Neither of us are very good cooks, anyway."
"Hey," Shiro protested.
"Shiro, you once set the kitchen on fire making sashimi ," Keith said. He gave his husband an affectionate smile.
"Hang on, you burned down the kitchen making raw fish ?" Veronica asked.
"I didn't 'burn it down'," Shiro said. "It was just a little scorched." He sighed. "It was when Keith and I first moved in together," he explained to the others. "I wanted to do something special, so I got some sake and tuna and made my grandfather's dipping sauce. I needed to chop the fish, but it wasn't a big kitchen and we had stuff all over the counters, so I figured I would utilize the space efficiently. I took the cutting board and laid it over the burners."
"Oh, no," Veronica said.
"Yeah," Shiro said ruefully. "I didn't realize the ignition switches on the new stove were so sensitive."
"And then he knocked over the sake when he was trying to find the fire extinguisher," Keith said. "I went to the training deck for an hour and I came back to find the fire alarm blaring. Everything reeked of smoke and Shiro was covered in white foam and missing his eyebrows."
"That could have gone better, I admit, but it's not a reflection of my cooking skills as a whole," Shiro said.
There was a shriek behind them and everyone whirled around. Kosmo had returned and this time Yorak was crying hysterically and Azure was yelling something at him. Alan just looked bewildered.
"Yorak!" Keith yelled and ran for his son. Shiro abandoned the nut pan by the side of the fire and ran after him.
"Papa! Daddy!" Yorak cried. He flung himself at Keith, who hugged him tightly.
Shiro crouched beside Yorak and rubbed his back in soothing circles. "What happened?" he asked.
Lance ran over to Azure and a moment later word of the chaos reached Allura and she ran out of the house to see her husband and daughter.
Keith and Shiro finally got Yorak calm enough to speak through his tears. "What is it?" Shiro urged.
"Azure," Yorak sobbed, "is wearing blue socks. And she won't take them off!"
"I. Like. Blue!" Azure yelled, and stamped her foot with each word.
"What's wrong with blue socks?" Shiro asked. " You wear blue socks all the time."
Yorak shook his head, smearing tears and snot on Keith's red shirt. "Not tonight. Slav said if anyone wore blue socks, the worst thing ever would happen!"
Shiro sat back on his heels and bit back a very bad word. Airway compression indeed.
"Shh," Keith said. "I'll talk to Azure-"
"No," Shiro said. The little girl in question had her fists clenched and fury building around her like a stormcloud. "No more catering to Slav's nonsense. Yorak just needs a nap."
"Shiro, it's a harmless bit of superstition," Keith said. "Let's just indulge him and move on."
"You can't just brush things off," Shiro said. On a peripheral level, he was aware of the guests around them, but at the moment, it didn't matter. “I'll have to deal with this later, after you leave again."
"I'm not leaving!" Keith tapped his own chest. "I'm right here!" Yorak clung to him tighter and his sobs grew louder.
"You leave," Shiro repeated. "You're gone all the time and when you're home, you're space lagged and exhausted and Keith, I hate seeing you like this. You're running yourself ragged, and you don't have to. The war is over." He took a step towards Keith and rested his hand on Keith's shoulder.
Keith looked at his son. "Yorak, what did Slav say would happen if someone wore blue socks?"
Yorak looked up at him through tear-soaked lashes. "He said this would be the reality where you get div-orced." His voice cracked on the last word and he started sobbing again.
The absurdity hit him hard enough that Shiro barked out a laugh without thinking. He looked at Keith, expecting the same, but Keith looked serious and thoughtful. "We should talk," he said to Shiro.
The words squeezed Shiro's heart. He nodded.
Keith looked down at Yorak. "Can you stay with Grandma for a few minutes while Dad and I talk about adult stuff?"
Yorak looked over at Shiro. "Noooo," he said weakly.
And then Krolia was there, lifting him onto her hip. He didn't resist as she pulled him away from Keith. "Go talk," she told Keith and Shiro sternly.
They walked silently back to their bedroom while their guests resumed their conversations and pretended not to watch.
"What's going on?" Shiro asked, closing the bedroom door behind him. His heart was pounding a little too fast.
"I talked to the Council today," Keith said. The new Galra Republic was run by an interim Council while the Republic went through the slow process of ratifying a constitution. Several candidates, including Krolia, had been nominated as the new Emperor, but the election would not be held until the powers and limitations of the Emperor's office had been established.
"Is something wrong?" Shiro asked. Trouble brewing in the new Republic could reverberate across the universe.
Keith shook his head. He studied his hands for a moment, then looked up at Shiro. "They offered me a job."
"A job?" Shiro sank down in the desk chair across from the bed. The grip on his heart tightened. Would he lose Keith to the Galra? "What about the Blades?"
"Kolivan has a couple of candidates. I'm not irreplaceable," Keith said.
"That's a matter of perspective," Shiro said grimly. That got a small smile from Keith, though Shiro couldn't bring a smile to his own lips. "What does the Council want you to do?"
"Ambassador," Keith said. "To Earth."
Shiro's eyes widened and the grip on his heart loosened. He found that he was breathing easier. " Earth? You'd be able to stay home?"
"Mostly," Keith said. "I'd still have to spend at least a pheob at the Capitol every deca-pheob, and it's the galactic calendar, so it won't line up with the Earth calendar." He lowered his chin. "I'm sorry. I know you want me here full-time."
Shiro let out a long breath and transferred to the spot on the bed next to Keith. He took one of his husband's hands in his. "I do," he admitted. "But I know how much your work means to you. Ambassador to Earth. That's big ."
"I know," Keith said.
"Who would have thought our little backwater planet would become so important?" Shiro mused. He squeezed Keith's hand lightly. "Can we visit you at the Capitol? Is that allowed?"
"Sure," Keith said. "But you have classes and Yorak has school."
"I set my own schedule," Shiro reminded him. "I'd need to plan a semester in advance, but I can arrange to have the time off. As for Yorak, we'd have to talk to his teachers, but I think we could arrange at least a partial visit. It's educational, after all."
"I do want him to know his heritage," Keith said. He leaned so his shoulder was touching Shiro's shoulder.
"See?" Shiro said. "We'll make it work. And if we don't, at least we get more of you than before. We wouldn't have to cancel plans all the time."
"We could finally go camping in the spring, when all the flowers bloom," Keith said, smiling at Shiro.
"And take Yorak rock climbing on the real thing, not just a holo," Shiro said, smiling back.
Violet eyes looked at him through dark lashes. "Are we good?"
"I am. Are you?" Shiro asked.
Shiro let out a relieved breath. "Here I was about to beg you not to leave me."
"Leave you?" Keith gave him a puzzled look. "Shiro, I will never give up on us, no matter what color socks Azure wears."
"'Til death do us part," Shiro quoted.
Keith smiled. "I've never let death keep me from you." He kissed Shiro.
"I guess there's just one more thing to do," Shiro said. He got up and went to the closet.
Shiro and Keith returned to the party, smiling and holding hands. Shiro carried a bag in his free hand. Concerned faces relaxed when they saw the couple. Yorak broke free from Krolia and ran to his parents when they came through the sliding glass doors onto the patio.
"Daddy! Papa!" he sniffled.
Keith let go of Shiro and picked up his son. "It's okay," he said, in a soft, soothing voice. "Dad and I talked and we're not mad anymore."
"So we won't have to move to Venus?" Yorak asked in a small voice.
Shiro and Keith exchanged confused looks. "Venus?" Keith asked.
"Rajit's parents got divorced and he had to move to Venus," Yorak said.
Understanding dawned on Shiro. "Venice," he corrected. "Rajit and his dad moved to Venice."
"None of us are going anywhere," Keith assured his son.
Shiro opened the bag he was carrying and took out a pair of brand new socks. He turned to his guests. "Okay, if anyone's wearing blue socks, could you take them off? I offer a new pair of high quality athletic socks as a personal gift." Yorak forgot his tears as he took on the task of checking the guests to see who was wearing blue socks. Shiro approached Azure himself. She had her arms folded across her chest and glared furiously as he approached. He crouched in front of her. "Princess Azure of New Altea, may I offer you a gift?" He held out a pair of socks with purple and black stripes.
"I want to keep the blue ones," Azure said, planting her feet wide.
"You can," Shiro said. "You can take them home and wear them whenever you like."
"Oh, hey, that's a good deal," Lance said. "Another pair of cool socks, for free?"
"All right," Azure sighed. She took the socks from Shiro's hand and stomped over to a bench to change.
"Thanks," Shiro said to Lance.
"Anything to save your marriage, big guy," Lance said. "You guys cool?"
Shiro nodded. "Always."
When Azure had changed her socks, she joined Yorak in examining the guests' ankles. Alan pitched in to help as well, and Marie, Matt's youngest, toddled along after him, though she called everything blue, so she wasn't much help. There was a debate as to whether Romelle's blue ribbed stockings counted as socks and whether Iverson's teal socks counted as blue. In the end, it was decided that it was better safe than sorry, and both got a pair of Shiro's socks.
"Are we good now?" Shiro picked up Yorak once the socks had been distributed. The boy rested his head on Shiro's shoulder and nodded.
"I think it may be time for the children to take a nap," Allura said. Azure leaned against her, clutching her skirt.
Keith nodded. "We've got cots set up in Yorak's room."
"No nap," Yorak muttered sleepily.
"We will wake you in plenty of time for sunrise, little one," Allura said.
KA-BOOM ! An explosion shook the ground, and through the sliding glass doors, they saw a flame erupt from the kitchen. Shiro pushed Yorak into Krolia's arms and he and Keith ran for the kitchen. Kolivan, Lance, Acxa, and Matt were hot on their heels. Keith summoned his bayard to his hand and brought his sword up to strike when they all skidded to the stop at the sight of Hunk waving his arms at them.
"It's okay!" Hunk called out. He grabbed the fire extinguisher off the wall. "It's not an attack! It's a cooking malfunction."
"That's a hell of a malfunction, Hunk!" Lance yelled.
"Is anyone hurt?" Shiro asked, looking around. Keith still held his sword ready to strike.
"I don't think so," Hunk said. "Lucky I wasn't standing in front of the oven. I've been hopping around all night, because of..." he looked down at the floor, and so did everyone else. Hunk stood behind one of Yorak's red tape markings, just to the left of the oven. The rubble (including part of the kitchen counter) and scorch marks extended by more than ten feet into the living room, and was entirely contained by the red tape. "Huh." He shrugged and started putting out the flames.
Keith banished his sword. "Wow," he said. He looked up from the tape to catch Shiro's eyes.
Shiro just shook his head. "I guess I owe Slav a drink."
"More than one," Lance said. He prodded a bit of smoking rubble with his toe. A flame shot up and Hunk sprayed it with the fire extinguisher.
"A six-pack at least," Hunk agreed.
Kolivan knelt to inspect a pan of scorched cake that had been thrown on the floor. "Was this blega cake?"
"It was supposed to be," Hunk said.
"What did you use in place of mira bark?" Kolivan asked.
"Cinnamon," Hunk said.
"Ah," Kolivan replied. "That is not recommended."
" Now you tell me," Hunk said. "I'll know for next time."
"Next time, use someone else's oven," Keith said. "I guess we are remodeling."
There wasn't much chance of getting the kids down for a nap after that excitement, but as dawn approached, several of the children and a couple of adults had dozed off near the fire. Shiro and Keith brought out blankets for all of them and Keith added a little more wood to the fire. Lance and Pidge had tried to teach Azure and Alan the right way to toast marshmallows, but they couldn't decided if toasting (Pidge) or burning (Lance) was the better approach. The children fell asleep while the adults were still arguing.
Just before sunrise, Shiro and Keith and their family, Krolia, Kolivan and Yorak, herded everyone out to the firepit again. Some staggered sleepily, others bounced with the brittle brightness of overdue rest, and others just joined them normally, used to late nights and intergalactic time zones.
Once everyone was gathered, Yorak and the other children passed out candles to all the guests. The Shirogane family gathered, standing, at the open side of the circle again, and Keith stepped to the front, holding an unlit candle in both hands. "The first time I celebrated Firewatch night, I was on a mission. Two of us were trapped in a burned-out building, waiting for an extraction that I honestly didn't think was coming. We didn't have blega cake or veltine nuts or anything, just a single candle that my companion, Jarak, scrounged from the wreckage. Firewatch Night on that planet was twenty-three vargas long and we had to keep moving. We couldn't sleep, we couldn't rest, and we barely had time to eat, but Jarak kept that candle burning all night." He swallowed and lowered his chin. The guests stayed silent, and finally he spoke again. "I thought we were done. I wanted to go down fighting." Shiro sucked in a breath. "Jarak held me back. He reminded me I had people to live for." He gave Shiro an apologetic smile. "He promised that help would come. And a varga after sunrise, it did." Now Keith looked over at Kolivan, who gave him a slight, solemn nod. Keith looked down at his candle again, and wrapped his fingers tightly around it. "Jarak didn't make it out of the war, but he lived long enough to pass on his light to many, many people. To me. To his friends. To his wife. To his son." Keith put his hand on his son's head. "Jarak said the light's not just the flame. The light is in you, and you must keep it alive until the day returns. But it will return." He spoke to everyone now. "Whether it's ten hours or ten thousand years, it will return. Always." He ducked his head and Shiro could see that his lashes were damp.
"Now?" Yorak whispered loudly.
Keith smiled "Yes, now." He knelt by the fire and helped Yorak light the candle he carried. Yorak then lit (with a little help) Krolia's, Kolivan's, Shiro's, and Keith's candles, and then the Shirogane family spread out amongst their friends until all the candles were lit.
The sun crested the hills and red-gold light spilled over the rocky desert. Yorak stood at the front of the fire, holding his candle in front of him with both hands gripped tightly around it. He stared, wide-eyed, at everyone watching him. "Pop?" he asked, his voice trembling. Keith smiled and knelt beside him to whisper in his ear. "Thank you for keeping watch with us," he recited. "Please keep the light, watch the light, remember the light, and share your light," he hesitated, " What? " he whispered to Keith, who whispered in his ear again. "Oh! So that others may keep warm. Thank you!" He grinned, proudly, and bowed. A few people applauded.
Shiro stepped forward. "Thank you, everyone! We've got a lot of leftover food, so if you want to take anything home, feel free. We also have a lot of crash space, so if you want to stay, you're welcome to do so. We'll probably have a breakfast of leftovers around noon."
“We’ve got boxes if anyone wants something to carry their candles home in,” Keith added.
Shiro put out his candle and others followed suit. Keith carefully extinguished Yorak's candle and put it in the little coffer for the next year's ceremony.
"Wait!" Azure yelled, waving both arms. She had an old Garrison-orange blanket draped around her. "We have an announcement!" She looked at Lance and Allura. "Can I say? Please?"
Allura laughed and nodded.
"Go ahead," Lance told her, tucking a strand of Azure's white hair behind a pointed ear.
"I'm going to have a sister!" Azure yelled. She thrust both fists in the air. "Aw yeah!"
"Congratulations!" Shiro called out.
"Thank you!" Lance called back.
There was a bit of gentle chaos as the guests extinguished their candles and made their way either to congratulate the expectant family or to have first chance at the last of the food.
Yorak spun around to look at his parents. "Can I have a sister, too?"
"No," Shiro and Keith said immediately.
Yorak's lower lip poked out. "Please?"
Shiro picked him up and carried him on his hip. "No. Sorry, kid, you're a solo act."
Yorak looked as though he were about to cry again. "Do you want a story before bed?" Krolia asked Yorak, then added, to his parents, "If you don't mind."
"Yes!" Yorak said.
"That'd be great," Shiro said. He set Yorak down.
"That was a beautiful ceremony," Krolia said. She pulled Keith into a tight hug.
"Thanks, Mom," he said softly. She gave Shiro a hug also, then she and Kolivan and Yorak went off to Yorak's room.
Keith looped his arms around Shiro's neck and Shiro rested his hands on Keith's waist. "You are my light," Keith said softly. "My first Firewatch Night, it was the thought of seeing you again that kept me going."
"You are mine," Shiro said. "Even as Zarkon's prisoner, I had some hope of escape, but when I was in Black, I never thought it was possible. My best hope was that I could get a message to you before I was gone... but you found me." His voice dropped to a rough whisper. "You are my light, and my love, and my hope, always."
"You too," Keith whispered back. He kissed Shiro, long, and slow, ignoring the people around them, as though they were the only two people in the world.
"And now we have a family," Shiro said, when they parted. He looked at the house. "We were just a couple of scrappy orphans."
“I don’t really remember the holidays with my dad,” Keith confessed. “I just remember holidays at the foster homes. I got the leftover gifts that the other kids didn’t want, clothes that didn’t fit, and it was a new home every year.” Keith grinned at Shiro. “Look at us now,” he said. “Making our own holiday memories.” He paused. “One of those is an explosion, but, uh, we’ll remember it.”
“Yeah, let’s not make that one a tradition,” Shiro said. He kissed Keith again.
Keith grinned. "What do you think, should we get Yorak a sister?"
Shiro laughed. "Nah. Not now."
"But not never?" Keith asked.
"I've given up trying to predict the future," Shiro said. He slung an arm around Keith's shoulders and they walked side-by-side back to the house.
"We could ask Slav-"