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True North

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Keith is so screwed. He hugs himself in the predawn stillness of Atlas’s deserted Officer’s Mess and shivers inside Shiro’s oversized hoodie. He’s not cold, just tired. Something to do with circadian rhythms, the Chief Medical Officer told them when they first came back to Earth. They’ve spent so much time in deep space, their bodies need time to acclimate to a twenty-four hour solar cycle again.

Keith’s been having a harder time re-adjusting than the others because he technically spent two more years living inside a starless void than they did. Or maybe that’s what it was at first, but he’s barely slept a wink since his alien DNA decided to fuck him up the ass again, the same way it’s been fucking him up the ass since he was a kid. Now he’s not sure if it’s stress, or a symptom of his... condition that’s keeping him awake.

He sighs, raking his fingers through his unruly hair. Oddly, it’s gotten thicker in the weeks since it happened. It’s growing faster too. It’s nearly past his shoulder blades now. He’s taken to tying it back in a loose ponytail just to keep it off his face and neck. Shiro doesn’t seem to mind.

Keith rubs his burning eyes. Dodging Shiro’s starting to become a problem. And it isn’t as if Keith is helping matters by sneaking out of Shiro’s bed to wander the deserted corridors of the Atlas at all hours like some sort of sleep-deprived zombie. Trouble is, he doesn’t know what else to do. He needs time to think, but no amount of thinking is going to change his situation, or make it any less complicated.

It’s been six-months since Keith woke up in the garrison hospital and Shiro quietly confessed his feelings to him. Six-months since Shiro told him the disease that put his life on hold was gone. Six-months since Keith moved into the Captain’s quarters and almost started to believe they could have a future together after the war. What an idiot he was. He should’ve known it would just be a matter of time before his stupid hybrid biology would ruin it all.

He stares at his slightly swollen hands in the darkness, or grayness really. Truth be told, Keith’s always been able to see in the dark. Ever since he was a kid. There’s never been a pitch black for him, just a sort of gauzy monochrome gray made up of pale silhouettes and opaque shadows.

It took him a while to figure out it wasn’t the same for everyone else. When he was growing up in the Home, he used to watch the other kids stumbling around the barracks after lights out, giggling and tripping over each other until the supervisor yelled for quiet and they bounced around like pinballs in their haste to escape beneath the covers before she came stomping up the stairs.

Keith was too quiet though, and as sure-footed in the dark as he was in the daylight. It became a source of contention between him and the other kids, just another weird creepy thing that set emo-kid apart. An incident his dad would’ve calmly weathered with a baffled shrug and a knowing smile if he’d been there. Except, his dad wasn't there and Keith’s oddities made him an object of mistrust to everyone around him. He was this foreign thing that was too… much. No one could deal with him. After a while, no one even tried.

And Keith couldn’t blame them, not really. There was something about him that made everyone leave. Something alien. He was a freak. Everyone stayed away for fear of catching whatever he had, whatever made his mom leave, whatever made his dad run into that burning building just to get away from him. Keith made it easy for them. He shoved them away before they could get close enough to hurt him, and he shoved them away hard.

He swallows and lifts his head. Shit! He’s gonna be sick. He closes his eyes and takes several deep breaths, clutching the smooth edge of the resin tabletop. Nope, still gonna be sick. He bolts out of his seat. Hard molded plastic and polished chrome crash to the floor as he vomits the contents of his mostly empty stomach into the steel sink by the coffee machine.

“Fuck,” he mutters, sagging against the counter, hanging his heavy head. He feels like shit, exhausted and nauseous pretty much all the time, and his clothes are getting tight, like really tight. Even Shiro’s hoodie isn’t as roomie as it used to be. He can’t button his jeans anymore, because that’s a thing now. His abs fled along with his virginity and it’s just a matter of time before everyone knows just how alien he really is, including Shiro.

Keith rubs his burning forehead. He wonders how hard he needs to shove to make Shiro leave for good. Harder than the day they met. He stole Shiro’s car, but Shiro didn’t bat an eye. He bailed Keith out of juvie and brought him to the garrison. He saw talent where everyone else saw trouble. Keith shoved again. He got into fights. Shiro told Keith he was better than that. He told Keith he wanted more for him. He told Keith he believed in him and for a hot minute Keith even dared to take his word for it.

For the first time since his dad died, Keith seemed to matter to someone. Shiro was like a light in the darkness. The first one Keith had seen in years, but there was a catch. Of course there was. Shiro was living on borrowed time. Letting him in meant opening himself up to being hurt again. Keith did it anyway. Shiro was worth the pain.

It happened sooner than he expected. Shiro disappeared from Kerberos and suddenly it was Keith who was living on borrowed time. No one else expected him to succeed; not Iverson, not the other cadets, not even him. Eventually, he’d mess everything up. It’s what he always did. He drove people away. He was too… much. If Shiro had stayed, he’d have figured it out too.

Keith sighs and rinses his mouth out with water from the faucet. He doesn’t know what he’s going to do when the Atlas takes off for deep space in two weeks. Though squeezing back into his garrison fatigues seems like the least of his problems when his entire future with the Voltron coalition is on the line.

Keith’s mom and the other Blades have been searching for Haggar and the rest of the Alteans since the wreckage from the robeast 2.0 was recovered. They contacted the garrison with credible intel on a possible location a few days ago. Earth is going to war, whether Keith is ready for it or not. He needs to be there, to see it through to the end, but he can’t exactly go on the way he always has, not for much longer anyway. If the senior officers discover his physical abilities have been compromised, he’ll be grounded for sure. Shiro will probably do it himself.

Keith doesn’t know how much longer he can keep it from him anyway. Aside from the sleeplessness and the mood swings and the morning sickness that refuses to limit itself to mornings, there have been physical changes to his body that even the baggiest clothes won’t be able to hide for much longer. Shiro isn’t stupid. If Keith were a woman, he’d have figured it out by now, but knocking up your weird alien freak of a boyfriend isn’t something normal people worry about.

Keith splashes water on his face and swallows again. Bitter heartburn crawls up the back of his throat. He’s had it for five-weeks straight, but he’s afraid to take anything for it, because it’s not just him he has to worry about anymore. He rights his upended chair and slumps into it, letting his heavy head sink onto the table in front of him. He’s so tired. He wishes he could sleep, really sleep, instead of dozing off in fits and starts, only to be jolted awake by nightmares moments later.

He listens to the Atlas, humming in peaceful slumber, or that’s what Shiro calls it anyway. Keith is only tangentially aware of her presence, like soft white noise in the back of his mind that he tunes out without thinking. She’s running on a skeleton crew at the moment. Besides Shiro and Keith, Allura, Coran and Romelle are aboard as well. All the orphans without homes of their own to return to.

The table is cool beneath his burning forehead. He’s not really sure what the deal is, but his sinuses are killing him. His face is hot, and throbbing in time to the beating of his heart. He closes his eyes with a soft groan. Blue purrs contentedly at the edge of his consciousness. She doesn’t get what his problem is. The former black paladin and the current black paladin love each other so much, they created life together. Surely it’s cause for celebration not heartache.

Keith doesn’t know how to explain it to her. He just knows that even now, after everything that’s happened between them, he’s always been waiting for the other shoe to drop. He’s always lived in terror of the day that he would drive Shiro away for good and he’s pretty sure this will just about do it.

Black seems to understand. She whispers small encouragements to him and Keith can feel himself starting to drift beneath her quiet ministrations. He sighs as some of the tension leaves his body, but it’s short-lived. He startles and opens his eyes. He’s back on the clone base.

He’s falling through space with his fingers wrapped tightly around Shiro’s wrist. Shiro is glaring up at him, his eyes alight with violet flame.

“You love me,” he says snidely. “Is a creature as broken as you even capable of feeling love?”

Keith swallows. “You’re not real,” he whispers. “This isn’t real.”

“Oh, I’m as real as you are,” Shiro says, grinning maliciously, “and I will always be a part of him now, thanks to you. The part that’s seen you for what you really are.”

“Wake up,” Keith tells himself, even as his stomach bottoms out and his lungs begin to burn from lack of oxygen.

“Your own parents couldn’t get away from you fast enough,” Shiro says, his voice all hot oil and burning gravel. “You know why. There’s a monster hidden inside you.”

Keith closes his eyes.

“You’ll pass it on you know,” Shiro says. “They’ll be freaks like you. Too broken to be loved. How could you possibly think I would ever want any of you?”

“Keith!” Lance snaps, standing over him. Keith startles awake, sitting bolt upright in his seat and blinking sleep from his eyes as the muted gray darkness suddenly flares to blinding white light around him. Hunk and Pidge are there too, squinting down at him. “Didn’t you hear me calling you?”

“No,” Keith says, “sorry.” He exhales and swallows, the fading images of the nightmare threatening to turn his unsettled stomach again.

“Why are you sitting alone in the dark?” Hunk asks, his finger poised over the environmental systems trackpad by the door.

“I just… needed a quiet place to think,” Keith says, though really he’s been too exhausted to continue wandering aimlessly around the ship since Black banned him from barfing inside her flight compartment. He can hear her chuffing somewhat indignantly at the thought.

“Still can’t sleep huh,” Hunk says softly. Keith shakes his head, rubbing the sand from his eyes,

The others exchange a troubled glance. Keith can guess why. They haven’t seen him in weeks and he knows he looks like shit, exhausted and bloated. He shrinks a bit in his seat, self-consciously tugging on Shiro’s oversized hoodie.

“Are… are you okay?” Hunk asks, and to Keith’s dismay, he pulls out a chair and takes the seat across from him, followed a moment later by Lance and Pidge. Keith leans back from the table. Okay, it’s not dismay exactly, but he’d rather not engage in some long tiring conversation just now.

“I’m fine,” he says. “What are you guys doing here anyway? You’re not due to report back in for another week.” Just past the pounding in his head, Keith can hear their lions whispering to each other, or whispering isn’t exactly the right word. It’s more like an instantaneous exchange of information. Black’s a lot more subtle than Red used to be, sometimes it’s hard to tell which thoughts belong to her and which are Keith’s, but he gets the gist of the exchange.

All three of them look suddenly uncomfortable. Hunk actually blushes and Lance turns shifty. “Can't we just drop by for a visit with our fearless lead-”

“Save it,” Keith snaps, cutting him off. “I know Shiro called you.”

To their credit, no one tries to deny it. “He’s just worried about you,” Hunk says, softly. “Now that we’re here, we can kind of see why.”

Keith can’t help the blush coloring his cheeks.

“Shiro told us you’ve been sick and super stressed out, and that you’re refusing to talk to him about it,” Pidge adds.

“I’m not either of those things,” Keith says unconvincingly. His stomach heaves and he swallows bile, annoyed at the almost comical timing of his body’s inevitable betrayal.

“Really?” Lance says, raising an eyebrow. “Because you look like you’re about to boot all over the table… just give us enough warning to make it out of the splash zone.”

Keith glares at him and closes his eyes. He takes several deep breaths until his stomach returns to a quieter state of unsettled. It’s not like Shiro to share their personal business with anyone, even the other paladins. He must really be at the end of his rope.

“It’s... nothing,” Keith says, consumed with sudden guilt at the thought. “I’m sorry Shiro made you guys come all the way out here for no reason.”

“Shiro didn’t make us do anything. He told us you were upset and we wanted to make sure you were okay.” Oddly it’s Lance who says it, which seems… suspect. Keith just stares at him and tries to figure out what his angle is.

“Right, because we’re such great friends,” he says flatly.

“Dude!” Lance snaps defensively. “What’s your problem? We’re trying to hel-“

“Oh come on man, don’t be like that,” Hunk says, cutting Lance off with a look. “Not when we've been through so much together. We saved the earth from a Galra invasion remember?”

“I never said we weren’t a good team when we had to be,” Keith says sullenly, “just that it doesn’t make us friends.”

“No,” Hunk says, “but we could’ve been. We were almost friends, you and me. We shared a moment. We survived a star bomb together. That’s gotta count for something right?” He says it so earnestly, Keith instantly regrets his tone.

“Nope, not a real thing,” Pidge says dryly.

“Zaiforge bomb, whatever. You know what I mean,” Hunk says, his eyes momentarily flicking to her before returning to Keith’s burning face. “We fought in a war together. That should’ve brought us closer. Maybe it would’ve if you hadn’t pulled away, but we haven’t heard from you in weeks. It’s like you disappeared man.” Keith averts his eyes and Hunk sighs. “Look, I get that we weren’t always there for you the way we could’ve been,” he says, “but we wanna be now. We wanna have your back, all you have to do is, you know, let us.”

Keith scrubs his face, mostly so no one will see the tears welling up in his eyes. He’s having a really hard time keeping his emotions in check lately. Tears always seem to be lingering just below the surface. He feels like he’s trapped on a runaway roller-coaster, like he’s always right on the verge of screaming… or barfing.

“Look, I appreciate the sentiment,” he’s says awkwardly, hugging himself, “but this is something I have to figure out for myself. You guys can’t help me.”

“How do you know unless you tell us what’s bothering you,” Lance says.

Keith sighs in exasperation. “I just know,” he says.

“Okay, well even if that’s true and we can’t help,” Hunk says not unkindly, “just talking about it might make you feel better.”

“I can’t…” Keith falters, his voice suddenly breaking. He drops his clammy forehead into his hand. He’s sweating, because that whole “glowing” thing is a bunch of bullshit, at least in his case. He doesn’t glow. He just sweats, a lot. “Everything is so messed up,” he whispers plaintively. “I messed everything up.”

“You didn’t,” Pidge tells him, her voice soft and reassuring. She slides her hand across the table, but Keith just shivers and pulls away and hugs himself more tightly. “The coalition is stronger than ever,” Pidge continues undisturbed, “and now that the lions are fully charged again we’ll-”

“With Shiro, I meant,” Keith interjects softly, “I messed everything up with Shiro,” although, he’s not surprised Pidge thought he was talking about the mission. It’s not as if he actually talks about anything else with them. Come to think of it Hunk might have a point about his trust issues. “We’ve sort of been together since I was released from the hospital.”

“Yeah, that tracks,” Hunk says firmly.

“Kinda’ figured,” Pidge agrees.

“No duh,” Lance quips.

“So, you all knew then,” Keith says flatly. He can’t say he’s even all that surprised, well, maybe about Lance.

“Kinda hard not to notice that the longer you stayed unconscious, the more unhinged Shiro became.” Hunk shrugs. “He obviously cares a lot about you.”

Keith’s not exactly sure what to make of that. Shiro was there when he woke up, before the garrison could establish contact with his mom and Kolivan, but if Shiro was anxious, he didn’t let on. He was just the same as he’s always been with Keith, patient and a little self-deprecating.

“If you guys had some sort of falling out, I’m sure you’ll work through it,” Hunk says.

“No, it’s not that,” Keith says, self-consciously chewing his bottom lip. “Well, not yet anyway.” Even before it happened, things had grown awkward between them. Once easy conversations have become increasingly stilted and uncomfortable. Some days they don’t talk at all, they just fall into bed like a couple of sex-starved teenagers. Probably not the healthiest relationship now that Keith is thinking about it. “It’s something else. Something… unexpected happened.”

“Unexpected, huh,” Lance snorts. “What’re you pregnant?”

It’s meant as a joke, and everyone laughs except Keith of course. His face burns with embarrassment as he swallows past the bitter lump in his throat. “Yeah,” he says thickly. “I am.”

No one can figure out if he’s joking or not, but eventually the words sink in and the laughter fades to awkward silence.

Lance scowls at him. “Ha, Ha, very funny,” he says flatly.

Hunk looks uncertain. “Yeah, good one,” he says, while Pidge’s awkward giggles fade to thoughtful silence.

“You really had us going there for a second,” Lance says, glancing around the otherwise empty room. “Wait don’t tell me, any minute now Matt’s gonna pop out from behind one of these chairs holding a cam-”

Keith abruptly stands. The table shifts a few inches with the rasp of metal against metal as he lifts Shiro’s hoodie and shows them the evidence written in the changes in his body; the soft round curve of his expanding belly and the dusky swell in his breast.

It’s stunned silence this time, and it’s deafening. Keith covers himself and self-consciously averts his eyes. His knees are suddenly weak. He falls into his seat, leaning over the table, and immediately drops his head into his hands.

“Holy shit,” Pidge whispers incredulously.

“How, how, how, is this even possible?” Lance stammers. “I mean, you’re a guy. Wait, you are a guy right? This isn’t another stealth Pidge situation is it?”

“I’m a guy, okay!” Keith snaps. “A half-galra guy.” He swallows, feeling as if he’s going to be sick again. “And… I never really thought about it before, but I guess I have all the necessary parts for… making babies, or whatever.”

He can feel them staring at each other, even if he’s too distracted by all the lions buzzing inside his head at once to look up. They seem particularly attracted to the new source of quintessence growing inside him, almost as if his increase in life energy is energizing them as well. He wonders if that’s why they’ve gotten so loud. Even the Atlas’ slumbering background hum is practically making his teeth rattle in his mouth. It’s not doing much for his headache either.

“So when you say all the necessary parts, do you mean like all of them all of them, or-“

Lance!” Pidge snaps, shutting him up.

“I’m guessing Shiro doesn’t know,” Hunk says softly. “It is Shiro’s right?”

“They,” Keith says.

“Huh?”

They’re Shiro’s,” he says, his bottom lip trembling. “It’s… twins. Guess that’s a Galra thing too.”

He breaks down then. He drops his head into his hand and starts sobbing like an idiot. This isn’t him. He’s not that guy. He’s not the crying guy, but he’s scared. He doesn’t do scared. When you grow up in a Group Home you learn pretty quickly not to cry out in the middle of the night, because no one’s coming. Keith took the lesson to heart. He locked his fears away so that no one could ever use them against him. Until Shiro strolled into his life and made his heart vulnerable, until he made Keith fall in love with him and live with the constant fear of losing him again and again. He’s terrified of becoming a father at twenty-one, but even more terrified of doing it alone.

“Oh hey, whoah,” Hunk says. Keith hears his chair shift and suddenly finds himself wrapped up in Hunk’s big caring arms. “It’s gonna be okay.”

Pidge’s light footsteps circle around him and she throws her arms around his neck, her shaggy head pressed fiercely to his chest, then Lance drapes his warm hands over Keith’s shaking shoulders from behind. Keith groans in embarrassment and tries to pull away, but they hold him fast, preventing his escape. “I’m sorry you guys,” he gasps brokenly. “I don't know what the hell is wrong with me.”

“It’s hormones,” Lance shrugs.

Three sets of eyes shift to his face. “What?” he demands, turning defensive. “I come from a big family, and I’m an uncle. When my sister-in-law Lisa was pregnant with my nephew Silvio, she was like a mania-...” he falters, swallowing nervously when Pidge’s expression suddenly darkens.

“I double-dog-dare you to finish that sentence,” she says dangerously.

“She was… slightly… more emotional than usual,” he says, flashing Pidge a meek smile, “which… is totally understandable given the whole, um… creating... life... thing?”

Pidge huffs and Keith sniffs and wipes the last of the tears from his eyes. Objectively, he feels a little better, relieved of some of the stress that’s been building up over the last few months, but he’s also completely drained. He feels like he could sleep for a week, nightmares be damned.

The lions have settled down as well, lingering in the corners of his mind with soft comforting whispers instead of loud excited rambling. He wonders if he has Black to thank for that, even as the image of a fiercely protective mother lioness pops into his head and he knows it’s true.

The hug continues and Keith doesn’t fight it. He just sits there, slowly breathing in and out, his eyes threatening to close with exhaustion.

“You don’t have to go through with it you know,” Pidge tells him softly. “No one would judge you if you decided not to.”

Hunk and Lance murmur in agreement, but Keith just shakes his head. “You’re gonna think this is weird,” he says.

“Dude, you’re pregnant,” Lance says, as if Keith needs reminding. “Weirdness is kinda relative at this point, don’t ya think?”

Keith winces, but doesn’t argue. “I knew when it happened,” he tells them, “or, I knew something had changed anyway. It took me a few weeks to figure out what, but by then I could feel them… feel their energy growing inside me.”

“Because of that thing you have with quintessence,” Pidge says. It isn’t a question.

Keith scrubs his face and shrugs. “I guess,” he says. “Whatever it is, I can’t just… abandon them the way I was abandoned. I won’t.”

“No one’s telling you to do that,” Hunk murmurs reassuringly. “We just want you to know that whatever happens, we’re here for you man.”

Keith sniffs and swipes tears from his eyes. “Thanks,” he says. They let him pull away then, so he can pull himself together. He rubs his eyes and sniffs as they gather their chairs around him. Keith is both mortified and touched by their concern. Hunk grabs a napkin from the silver container on the table and Keith blows his nose.

“Does your mom know?” Lance asks him.

Keith nods. “She wants me to stay with the Blade once we rendezvous with them.” He shrugs. “I guess they have experience with this sort of thing.”

“Wait… What?” Lance cries. “You can’t just leave again! We can’t form Voltron without you! Who’s gonna fly the black lion if you’re gone?”

“I think what Lance is trying to say is that we’d miss you,” Pidge says flatly, glaring at him.

“Right,” Lance says swallowing awkwardly, “also… that… too...”

“You think I wanna leave?” Keith demands. He’s still consumed with guilt over leaving the first time, and he knows the others still resent him for it. He’s just never been able to articulate how useless he felt once Shir… the clone joined the team. It was as if Keith couldn’t do anything right with him watching. Maybe if he’d stayed he’d have figured out Shiro had been replaced, but he didn’t and he can’t change that. He kept himself closed off from the black lion and ran out on the team and Shiro spent eighteen months trapped in limbo as a result, and Keith will never be able to make up for any of it, to any of them. “You think I wanna go into confinement like some character from a Jane Austen novel?”

“So don’t,” Lance says.

“What choice do I have?” Keith says, licking his lips as relentless heartburn crawls up the back of his throat. “It’s not like I’m of any use like this. I don’t sleep. I have to pee like all the time, and everything smells funny, and tastes funny, and makes me wanna barf.”

“That’s just first-trimester stuff,” Lance says, with a dismissive wave. “Wait, when exactly did this happen?”

“A little over three months ago,” Keith says, self-consciously averting his eyes. It was fourteen-weeks ago to be precise, the night he woke with a start tangled in Shiro’s sheets, with Shiro’s arms wrapped around him and Shiro’s babies unexpectedly growing inside him.

“Thought so,” Lance says nodding sagely. “Everyone feels like shit during the first trimester, but just hang in there a little longer, you’ll be back to your old self soon. Well not exactly your old self, but… you know what I mean. It gets better.”

“Great,” Keith says, squinting skeptically, “but I can’t just pretend none of this is happening either. I mean, look at me,” he says, grasping his swollen belly, “how am I supposed to fly the black lion when I’m too big to fit in the pilot’s seat?”

“I mean, can’t Shiro do it?” Hunk asks.

Keith sighs. “Shiro’s bond with the black lion is gone,” he says wearily.

“Okay, but none of us had ties to any of the lions before we found them right?” Hunk says. “Can’t Shiro just you know, re-establish his.”

“Assuming he even wants to,” Pidge says. “You guys know why Shiro switched to Green on the way back home right? He told me being inside Black made him feel claustrophobic.”

“Oh well, that makes perfect sense,” Lance says sarcastically. “She’s only the biggest lion.”

“I don’t think it was that kind of claustrophobia,” Pidge says.

“Well, I mean he did spend like two years trapped inside the thing,” Hunk says. “Something like that’s gotta stay with you.”

“He needs time to remember who he used to be separate from her,” Keith says softly, he can hear Black chuffing with regret inside his head. She’d never meant to trap Shiro’s consciousness, but the self-destruct device Haggar planted inside his arm had taken her by surprise. “It’s why I agreed to keep piloting her,” Keith says, sending reassuring thoughts her way, “because, for now at least, Shiro doesn’t want to.”

“What about James,” Lance says suddenly.

“What about him,” Hunk asks.

“He’s a good pilot,” Lance says, “maybe even as good as Keith. Plus he’s you know… pretty heroic, or whatever, maybe he could pilot Black.”

Despite himself, Keith winces slightly at the suggestion. It’s stupid, because Lance isn’t wrong. James is everything Keith isn’t; a straight-A-student who’s well-liked by his peers, a disciplined soldier and a confident, respected squadron leader. He’s the first person Keith would consider to replace himself as black paladin, and yet he was Keith’s chief tormentor at school. Every time they’re in the same room together, Keith finds himself bracing for an attack. And he feels like that scared little kid whose parents abandoned him all over again.

“I don’t think it works like-” Pidge murmurs.

“No way, am I taking orders from that guy,” Hunk says tartly, cutting her off.

“Why not?” Lance demands.

“Uh, because he’s a giant douche,” Hunk says. “Don’t you remember what he said to Keith that time?”

Lance shrugs. “I remember Keith taking him out with one fucking punch like fucking One-Punch-Man,” he says.

“Trust me, he deserved it,” Hunk mutters darkly.

“I’m lost,” Pidge says, glancing around in confusion. “When was this?”

“Before you joined the garrison,” Hunk says absently.

Keith licks his lips as the room turns suddenly stifling. “Can we just… stop talking about this...,” he gasps, tugging at his shirt collar when it inexplicably becomes harder to breathe, “...it’s ancient history.”

“See?” Lance says smugly, “Keith’s totally cool with it.”

“You are badly misreading the situation,” Hunk murmurs, glancing at Keith with some concern.

“Guys. Guys. Guys!” Pidge snaps. “You can’t just start throwing rando pilots at the black lion and hope one of them sticks. It doesn’t work like-”

“Stop. STOP!” Keith cries, he’s not even really sure who he’s talking to, the bickering paladins or the lions. They seem particularly agitated at the thought of their paladins being shuffled around again without their consent. Black and Red refuse to accept a new black paladin who fills the current black paladin with dread, and the twin pools of quintessence growing inside him are somehow feeding off the lions anxiety, squeezing his chest with apprehension and making his unsettled stomach churn.

Everyone stops talking at once and Keith clamps his hand over his mouth in the sudden deafening silence. His stomach heaves. “Fuck,” he squawks, and bolts for the sink. Cold sweat springs out on his face and neck, but nothing much comes up. he sighs and splashes water on his face, then he washes out the sink and turns around just in time to see a scowling Hunk smack Lance upside the head.

“Hey!” Lance cries, immediately rubbing his head. “What was that for?”

“Insensitive much?”

“I’m not insensitive, you’re insensitive!” Lance cries, and Hunk rolls his eyes.

“Guys,” Keith says wearily, blotting his face and neck with a paper towel. Lance isn’t inconsiderate exactly, it’s just that he takes nothing anyone says to heart, so he can’t imagine anyone else would either.

Keith sighs, but he doesn’t return to his seat. He stands there hugging himself by the counter. Black is just being stubborn, but she won’t allow anyone to be forced on her either, not after what Zarkon did to her. “Pidge is right,” Keith says. “No one can fly the black lion unless she wants them to. Doesn’t matter how good a pilot they are.”

“Fine,” Lance huffs, throwing his hands up in resignation. “Then, it has to be you! You can’t leave!”

Keith scrubs his face. “I told you, I don’t want to, but it isn’t just me I have to worry about anymore. I can’t fight in a war if it means putting them at risk.” Because that’s the bottom line isn’t it, the thing he’s been trying to get around, only there’s no getting around it. He’s going to be a father and that means his priorities have to shift. He has to put his kids needs before his own desires.

“Look, no one’s denying your extremely impressive space-ninja skills,” Pidge wryly says, “but there’s more than one way to fight a war you know. You don’t have to fling yourself head-first at every Galra soldier who happens to cross your path.”

“Good note,” Keith deadpans.

“I’m serious!” Pidge insists. “We’re a team remember? We can do the heavy lifting until you… um,” she hesitates. “What exactly happens when you… do you… can… can you… give… birth?”

“I don’t know,” Keith admits, worrying his bottom lip. “I’ve kinda been trying not to think about it to tell the truth.”

“Sure, sure,” Pidge says, nodding rapidly. They all exchange an awkward glance. “Anyway, we can protect you until you’re… back in fighting condition.”

Lance and Hunk murmur in agreement.

“Pidge… I appreciate that,” Keith says softly, “but even if I agreed, the senior officers never would. As soon as they find out, I’ll be grounded for sure.”

“Not if they want Voltron to keep flying,” Lance mutters softly.

Black weighs in with a smug rumble of agreement and Keith pulls a face. It seems a lot like extortion, even if it is the truth.

“Is that why you haven’t told Shiro?” Hunk quietly asks, “because he’d ground you if he knew?” Keith swallows, his mouth suddenly dry.

He could lie. He could nod, or shrug, but they’d just see through him. His eyes always give him away. That’s what his dad used to say. Keith’s eyes are incapable of lying. Honestly, the rest of him ain’t that great at it either. “If I tell Shiro,” he says, “he’ll feel obligated to stay, even if it’s not what he wants.”

“What makes you think it’s not?” Hunk asks.

“Because he’s got plans,” Keith says. “After the war. He wants to explore the universe.” Watery tears fill Keith’s eyes even as he smiles, thinking about it. “He wants to camp on unknown worlds, sleep under foreign stars, be the first person to hike up an alien mountain and watch the sunset. Now that he’s finally…” cured he’d been about to say, but there’s no point in revealing that secret now that Shiro’s illness is gone. “...free, or will be once he’s discharged, he’ll finally get to do what he’s always wanted to do. Ever since Kerberos. I won’t let this be the thing that stops him. I won’t... derail his life like that.”

“What about your life?” Pidge asks, and Keith just looks at her, because he hasn’t really thought about anything beyond leaving. “Seems to me this is gonna derail your life a whole lot more than Shiro’s.”

“I can’t hold Shiro responsible for something he didn’t know could happen,” Keith says, hugging himself even more tightly.

“Did you?” Pidge asks, but they already know the answer. Keith’s hybrid physiology is as much a mystery to himself as anyone else. “You keep talking about this as if it’s all on you, but the last time I looked, it takes two people to make a baby and Shiro isn’t the kind of person who would just turn his back on that.”

“I know,” Keith says softly, “which is why I can’t tell him.”

“Did his plans include you?” Hunk abruptly asks. “Was Shiro planning on wandering the universe alone, or was he planning on doing it with you?”

“What’s it matter,” Keith says, his eyes dropping to his feet.

“Keith, it’s the only thing that matters,” Hunk says.

“Hunk’s right,” Pidge says. “Shiro clearly loves you. I mean, even Lance figured it out. What does that tell you.”

“Hey!” Lance cries indignantly.

Keith can’t quite bring himself to muster a smile. “Don’t you guys get it,” he says. “We’ve only been together for six-months. Even if you guys are right, even if Shiro does love me, he loved Adam too once. What if…” he falters, self-consciously swiping tears from his eyes.

Hunk gets up and joins him by the sink. “What if what?” he asks, laying a comforting hand on Keith’s trembling shoulder.

Keith sighs. “What if I was just supposed to be the guy that Shiro slept with until he found the man he was supposed to spend the rest of his life with?” Wobbly tears start rolling down Keith’s face. He does nothing to stop them. “Some tall, well-muscled specimen who isn’t a junkyard mutt like me. Doesn’t Shiro deserve to be with someone less… complicated? Someone who won’t fill his life with so much baggage.”

“No,” Hunk says firmly, and Keith nearly chuckles through his tears. “In another universe maybe,” Hunk continues, “but not in this one. In this one, you guys are supposed to be together.”

“Yes,” Lance nods.

“Definitely,” Pidge agrees.

This time Keith does laugh, though he’s still crying. God, he misses the good old days when hormones just made him horny.

“And I’d be willing to bet Shiro feels the same way,” Hunk says.

Keith sniffs and manages a watery smile, though he lacks Hunk’s conviction. He can’t imagine a scenario in which Shiro doesn’t come to resent the way Keith’s alien nature upends his life. They’ll be monsters, just like you, he hears Clone-Shiro’s voice whispering in his ear and his head suddenly starts to swim. He stumbles, his legs nearly going out from under him before Hunk springs forward and grabs him under the arms.

“Whoah, whoah,” Hunk yelps, as Keith’s head lolls and his eyelids flutter on the verge of passing out.

“I’ll get some water,” Lance cries, springing to his feet. Hunk lifts Keith off his feet and carries him back to his seat.

“Should I get Shiro?” Pidge anxiously asks.

“No,” Keith murmurs groggily, “I’m… I’m okay.” He sags in his chair. Hunk kneels in front of him and keeps him from sliding out of it. “It’s just… low blood sugar, or something.”

Lance appears out of nowhere holding a glass of water and Hunk presses it into his hand. “Drink this,” he says, then he lays the back of his hand on Keith’s forehead. “You’re warm.”

“It’s nothing,” Keith says, sipping fitfully from the glass in his hand, “just a sinus headache.”

“If it were nothing, you wouldn’t be almost passing out,” Hunk says, his jaw clenching in concern.

Keith sighs and scrubs his face. He’s feeling a little more solid now. “I just need some sleep,” he says.

“I think you need to tell Shiro,” Hunk says. “Keeping this secret from him is stressing you out. It’s not good Keith, for you or the babies.”

Black agrees. She’s been low-key broadcasting her displeasure for weeks, as if Keith needs another disappointed mother laying on the guilt. As the guardian of the black paladins, she considers herself their protector and the longer Keith shuts Shiro out the more his turbulent emotions unsettle her bond with both of them.

“I already told you-”

“I know, I know,” Hunk nods, “Shiro’s got plans, but if you just up and leave without a word he’ll always wonder what he did to drive you away.”

Keith swallows past the lump in his throat. “I just… really need him not to hate me right now,” he mumbles.

“Yeah, we get that,” Hunk says squeezing his hand. “We get that things have been kind of weird between you two since shit went down with the clone.”

Shit. Is it that obvious? “What makes you think something went down,” Keith mutters, averting his eyes.

“Besides the fact that when you came back Clone-Shiro was missing an arm and you had a ginormous welt on your face?” Pidge asks. “Besides that you mean?”

Keith blinks. “Yeah,” he says flatly. “Is it… it's not that big,” he says, self-consciously fingering the still slightly raised scar blemishing his cheek, “is it?” He’s not a vain person generally. He doesn’t spend much time in front of the mirror looking at himself. He doesn’t even own a comb, but he is keenly aware of how much harder it is for Shiro to look at him now that his face is no longer perfect.

“It doesn’t lower your overall level of hotness, if that’s what you’re asking,” Lance says absently, and everyone looks at him as if he’d just been replaced by a pod-person. “What?” He demands indignantly. “I’m comfortable enough with my own masculinity to compliment another man on his looks.”

Are you though,” Hunk says, his eyes narrowing suspiciously.

“You do realize Allura isn’t here right?” Pidge says wryly. “There’s literally no one you need to impress.”

“Shut up,” Lance says. “It’s called personal growth, and Keith’s scar makes him look like a badass. There I said it.” There’s a beat while everyone waits for the other shoe to drop. “Also, Allura digs sensitive guys.”

“Whoop there it is,” Pidge says smiling wryly.

The three of them almost laugh then. They might’ve if it had been the right moment. They could’ve bonded over some good-natured ribbing and that same sense of camaraderie that’s been bringing them together since they were assigned to the same flight crew at the garrison… If Keith wasn’t there, sucking all the oxygen out of the room.

“Seriously though,” Hunk continues, awkwardly clearing his throat. Keith sighs, feeling utterly alone despite their company. “I just don’t wanna see you do something you may regret. I mean, maybe Shiro will be okay without you. Maybe he’ll even find someone else one day like you said, but he’ll never be as happy with them as he could’ve been with you. Is that really something you can live with?”

Is it? Keith’s life will be spent fiercely loving Shiro’s children, but it will be spent alone. Of this, he has no doubt, because there will never be anyone but Shiro for him. His… attraction software, or whatever is broken. In twenty-one years Shiro was the only blip on his radar screen, the only constant Keith can never escape, his true North. He was willing to accept his own fate as long as Shiro was happy, but it seems that any decision he makes now will cause Shiro pain as well.

“I just think you’re exhausted from lack of sleep, so you’re not exactly thinking clearly right now,” Hunk tells him softly. “I mean, I know I have no right to tell you what to do, but just… promise me you’ll at least think about telling him before you take off.”

Keith exhales and rubs his eyes. “Okay,” he says softly.

“We can be there for moral support, if it helps,” Lance says and Keith nearly smiles.

“I’m good, thanks,” he says. He attempts to get up then, but Hunk has other plans and wraps him up in a fierce embrace instead. Pidge and Lance pile on as well, holding him fast and Keith can feel his cheeks starting to burn again. “Uh… guys,” he says awkwardly.

“Nope, you’re getting hugged,” Lance says firmly. “Shut up and take it.”

Keith closes his eyes and tries to appreciate the warmth surrounding him while the lions whisper soft encouragements inside his head. He does his best to send back grateful thoughts, but he still has no idea what he’s going to do.

Chapter Text

The Captain’s quarters are dark and still when Keith finally returns to them an hour or so later. The others refused to let him leave until his headache went away. It never did, but it faded far enough into the background for Keith to lie convincingly about it, and make his escape. Not that he wasn’t grateful for the concern, he’s just gotten used to more subtle displays of affection over the years. Shiro’s quiet strength and his mom’s stoic warmth. Even now, after everything they’ve been through, Lance, Pidge and Hunk all together in one room can be a little overwhelming.

He stands in the open doorway for a moment, trying to work up the nerve to go in. The lack of light doesn’t bother him of course. He can still see everything in the room standing out in stark gray detail, and the wolf waiting for him by the door. It quietly pads over and starts softly snuffling at his hand with its velvet nose, looking for scratches.

Keith smiles despite himself. “Hey,” he whispers, crouching down in front of the big blue creature as the door slides shut behind him. He sighs and starts methodically pulling his fingers through the thick fur surrounding its face and neck. He finds it calming, his problems momentarily fading in the handfuls of thick soft fur and warm puppy breath bathing his face.

He worries his bottom lip and surreptitiously glances at the the other occupant of the room. Shiro is snoring softly on the couch, his head precariously balanced on his artificial hand as if he’d been trying to wait up for Keith before finally succumbing to sleep.

Keith looks away with a sharp pang of guilt. Once upon a time, Shiro might have gone looking for him, but they spend too much time running away from each other now. Too afraid to bring up subjects that might expose the cracks in their armor, weakened by time and the infinite void between them.

The wolf whines softly and turns its head, sensitive to Keith’s mood as it thoughtfully eyes Shiro in the darkness. The other’s made fun of him for expecting it to tell him its name, but they don’t understand how intuitive the creature actually is. Keith can’t even say what makes it so good at anticipating his thoughts. He just knows that he never trained it to teleport him anywhere. He’s not even sure how he’d go about doing something like that with any sort of accuracy, but given the wolf’s uncanny ability to teleport him to places neither one of them has ever been, he figures it must have some sort of mental connection to him. He doesn’t get what’s so weird about expecting it to tell him its name as well.

Shiro stirs and Keith abruptly stands with a short huff of protest from the wolf. He involuntarily backs up a few steps and self-consciously tugs at his oversized hoodie as Shiro’s eyes open and he slowly lifts his head, massaging away a kink in his neck while he squints into the darkness.

“Lights,” he mutters groggily and Keith averts his eyes when the room momentarily flares with harsh white light. Shiro blinks at Keith and rubs his eyes. “What time is it?” he asks.

“I dunno,” Keith shrugs noncommittally. “Around five, I guess.”

Shiro doesn’t say anything. He just stares at Keith with a tight lipped frown. Long enough for Keith to look away in embarrassment. He feels so ugly in Shiro’s eyes. It’s not just his belly that’s bigger. He’s put on like thirteen pounds despite the morning sickness. He knows the others noticed and were just too kind to mention it, even though he’s gross and has a big moon face now.

“You’ve been gone all night,” Shiro says finally.

“Couldn’t sleep,” Keith says sullenly, shrinking a bit as he pulls his arms to his chest.

“A trip to the Chief Medical Officer might help with that,” Shiro suggests.

Keith pulls a face. “I’m good,” he says flatly.

Shiro stops just short of rolling his eyes. He sighs and leans forward, scrubbing his face. “I wish you’d talk to me,” he says softly.

“Because you’re so good at that,” Keith says without thinking and immediately regrets it. Even if Shiro is the most aggravating person in the world to argue with, or rather not argue with, and literally flees the room to avoid talking about the things that keep them both up at night.

“This isn’t about me,” Shiro says tersely, his cheeks flushing pink with growing irritation.

“No,” Keith says, looking away. “It never is, is it.” Maybe if he pushes hard enough, Shiro will throw him out before he’s forced to leave. You just can’t help yourself can you, Clone-Shiro’s voice whispers in his ear, the part of Shiro that will always despise him, keeping everyone at arm’s length so they never figure out just how broken you really are. Keith grits his teeth, staggering slightly as his headache returns with a vengeance.

Shiro abruptly stands and Keith flinches and takes an involuntary step back, rattled by the voices in his head. Shiro looks suddenly guilty. He draws in a deep breath and slowly exhales as if trying to calm himself. “Look, I’m not stupid okay,” he says softly, resigned. “I know you’ve been unhappy. Just… just tell me the truth Keith. Is there someone else?”

“What?” Keith gasps, his stomach churning. “Someone what? Someone else?”

“Is it James?” Shiro quietly asks, refusing to look at him.

James? Keith sputters, nearly choking on the heartburn crawling up the back of his throat. “James who? James Griffin?”

Shiro stops just short of rolling his eyes again. “I’ve seen the way you two look at each other,” he says bitterly.

“What? With open hostility?” Keith cries, incredulous. “I’m not sleeping with fucking James Griffin Shiro! How could you think I would even do something like that?”

“Well, what am I supposed to think?” Shiro cries. He starts pacing, short agitated steps pounding the floor. “You’re moody and secretive. You stay out until all hours and you haven’t let me touch you in weeks!” He comes to an abrupt halt and levels Keith with a gaze that’s equal parts suspicion and sadness. “If it’s not someone else, then what is it? Just tell me. What… What did I do?”

“Nothing!” Keith falters, swallowing bile. He can’t stand the hurt look on Shiro’s face. His eyes shift to the wolf sitting between them like some sort of arbiter. The look on its face is almost comical, as if it’s contemplating teleporting them both into a locked closet until they work it out. Shit, and now that it’s crossed Keith’s mind that’s exactly what it’s thinking.“Look it’s not... It isn’t you okay,” he stammers. “It’s…me. I… can’t... I’m… I’m not…”

“Not what?” Shiro demands anxiously. “Keith, you’re not what?”

“Human!” Keith shrieks. “I’m not human Shiro,” he says miserably, hanging his head. “Did you ever once stop to think what that would mean for us?” He massages the aching space between his eyes. Come to think of it he can’t breathe either. His nose is all stopped up. Is that a pregnancy thing? How the hell do women even do this without losing their minds? It’s like his entire body has gone haywire all at once. “Because I sure as hell never did.”

“Does this have something to do with what I said to you on the clone base?” Shiro asks quietly and Keith freezes, his mouth suddenly dry. “Because it wasn’t true,” Shiro insists. “It was just a tactic Keith. A way to keep you off balance.”

“It... it’s not... this isn’t about that,” Keith stammers licking his lips. Cold fear twists his stomach into knots and bathes him in clammy sweat. “It wasn’t even you.”

“It was though,” Shiro says ruefully, “in every way that matters.” He takes a tentative step closer, only to back off at the look of panic on Keith’s face. He raises his hands, palms up and Keith swallows and looks down at his own hands, defensively balled into fists in front of him. For some reason he’s shaking. “Just hear me out,” Shiro says softly, as if Keith were a skittish faun that might flee the room at any moment. Come to think of it he might if he thought he could get his legs to work. “You thought he was me. You trusted him, and he betrayed you. We have the same memories Keith. We shared the same body. I know what you went through. It doesn’t matter who was driving at the time. It doesn’t change the things that were said to you, or the scars you were left with.”

That’s just his guilt talking, Clone-Shiro’s voice smugly whispers in Keith’s ear. I just said what he’s always wanted to say. What he would’ve said a long time ago if he wasn’t such a coward.

Keith can’t breathe. His legs go out from under him and he hears himself pitch forward onto his hands and knees though he doesn’t feel it. He’s vaguely aware of Shiro’s alarmed voice calling his name, but he can barely hear him over the ringing inside his own head. The world has faded to ghost images of the lions whispering to him from inside a gray static sea. His unsettled stomach heaves and he nearly chokes on the hot vomit that comes up, but once it does his vision immediately begins to clear and the ringing in his ears subsides with a sudden rush of air.

Shiro’s holding him.

Keith is on his knees and Shiro’s arms are wrapped around him, the real one and the artificial one. Both are really warm. They’re close enough for Keith to hear Shiro’s anxious heart hammering like a piston in his chest. He’s strong and warm and smells like Shiro. The clone didn’t. Keith didn’t even realize it until the real Shiro’s essence was poured into its body. How fucked up is that? That Keith could tell the difference, even if it didn’t occur to him until after it was too late.

Maybe if he’d stayed he’d have figured it out sooner and spared everyone months of heartache, but he didn’t. He ran, because that’s what he does. True, he thought he’d been running towards something this time, a place with the Blade and an answer to the mystery of dark-quintessence. Instead all he found was a hidden planet full of abused people that he inadvertently delivered right into the hands of Haggar’s clone spy.

“Get off me!” he grunts, extricating himself from Shiro’s embrace in a panic at the thought of having him so close. Close enough to realize just how worthless he really is. Shiro snatches his hands away as if burned and Keith crawls away on his hands and knees and unsteadily climbs to his feet.

Shiro stares up at him from the floor. “Keith this is… it’s PTSD,” he says. “You’re making yourself sick refusing to talk about it.”

Keith hugs himself and just stares at him for a moment. “Are you fucking kidding me right now?” he demands. This from the original closed book. Mr. Remember that time I was trapped inside the infinite void of the black lion’s consciousness and nearly went insane? No? Me neither. The man he barely knows any better today than the day they first met. “I can’t… I can’t do this anymore,” he says, scrubbing his face. He’s not even sure what he means. Can’t lie anymore. Can’t hide anymore. Can’t live in fear of the day Shiro finally leaves him for good anymore. “I need to go.”

“Go?” Shiro yelps, scrambling to his feet as Keith teeters into the bedroom with the wolf hot on his heels. “Go where?”

“I dunno,” Keith mutters, retrieving his duffel from the closet and throwing it on the bed, “away from here, away from you.

“Keith please,” Shiro pleads, helplessly watching him from the doorway as Keith unzips the duffel and starts throwing his meager possessions into it. “I know I’m not the easiest person to live with.”

“I already told you this isn’t about you,” Keith says, avoiding eye contact by busying himself with packing. “It’s me. I’m… not relationship material.”

“So you’re just gonna run,” Shiro says flatly.

It’s what you do best, Clone-Shiro’s voice whispers sarcastically. “Guess so,” Keith says, gritting his teeth against the relentless pounding in his head.

“How far this time?” Shiro demands angrily, his broad shoulders filling the doorway as he crosses his arms over his chest. “The other end of the earth? The other end of the universe? No matter how far you go, you’ll never be able to outrun yourself.”

Keith throws the last of his things into the duffel and slings it over his shoulder. It makes him nauseous, or more nauseous. He hiccups, an embarrassingly loud hiccup, and vomit burps into his mouth. “Get out of the way Shiro,” he growls red-faced, swallowing the spew back down.

Shiro squares his shoulders and stubbornly plants his feet. “Aren’t you the one who told me how much you regretted leaving the first time.”

“This isn’t the same thing,” Keith insists. “I’m leav… I’m doing this for you! So you’ll have a life!”

You’re my life!” Shiro yells in exasperation.

Keith sighs and scrubs his hot face, minutes away from breaking down again. He’s beginning to concede that he may be coming down with something, which is weird because he never gets sick. Not since he was a kid and seemed immune to all the usual childhood illnesses. He supposes he has his hybrid DNA to thank for that, or he did before his immune system was hijacked by a pair of zygotes. As if being exhausted and getting fat wasn’t enough to deal with, now he has to worry about every virus that crosses his path making him its bitch as well? Jesus, these kids haven’t even been born yet and they’re already starting to piss him off.

“Move Shiro, before I move you,” he says, trying to sound intimidating even though it’s a completely empty threat and space-ninja officially left the building three months ago.

Shiro raises his ridiculously chiseled chin defiantly. “Bring it,” he says, because of course he can see right through Keith. He always could.

Keith’s eyes flicker to the space-wolf at his feet. Its ears immediately perk up as if listening intently to something no one else can hear.

“Don’t you dare,” Shiro murmurs sullenly and Keith scowls at him, then back at the wolf. It knows exactly what he wants. “Keith…” Shiro warns.

The creature huffs, looking extremely put upon. It abruptly springs to its feet, its huge shaggy head slowly wavering between Keith and Shiro for a moment before it suddenly disappears in an implosion of violet cosmic energy. Keith glares at the newly vacated space at his feet. Message received: You’re on your own.

“Traitor,” he grumbles.

“So what now?” Shiro demands. “You gonna hunt down Haggar alone? Keep hurling yourself at her in some sort of psychic deathmatch until she poisons you with her magic? From personal experience I can tell you it’s a fun way to die.”

“This isn’t… It’s not like that!” Keith snaps defensively.

“What’s it like then?” Shiro demands, “because we both know it wouldn’t be the first time you tried to sacrifice yourself for a lost cause!”

Keith falters a bit at that.

“Yeah,” Shiro mutters sullenly, “didn’t think I knew about that did you, but the black lion sees everything.”

For once, she’s completely silent inside his head. All the lions are. It would seem he’s on his own. “Then you know I had no other choice,” he says.

“Of course you did,” Shiro says flatly. “You could’ve chosen not to throw your life away. When are you gonna get it through that thick head of yours that you’re not expendable!”

“What was I supposed to do?” Keith cries. “There was no time! Voltron was about to be destroyed!”

“Oh that is such bullshit!” Shiro growls angrily. “We both know you were never trying to kill yourself over a fucking robot!”

“Everyone was about to die!” Keith shrieks. “You were about to die! I couldn’t…”

“Couldn’t what?” Shiro demands. “Couldn’t stop it? Couldn’t accept it? Couldn’t what Keith?”

“Couldn’t lose you again!” Keith yells. “I couldn’t live in a universe that didn’t have you in it! Okay? Is that what you wanna hear?”

“You think I wanted that for you?” Shiro cries. “You think I wanted you to throw yourself on my funeral pyre like the widow at a goddamn Viking funeral? I want you to live Keith. I want you to have a good life! The life you deserve! It’s all I’ve ever wanted for you! And what’s more, you know that! And yet you remain hellbent on throwing it away! Why?”

“You know why!”

“I don’t!” Shiro insists. “Not when you refuse to talk to me! Not when you’ve had one foot out the door practically since you got here! Just tell me the truth! And don’t give me that bullshit about not being relationship material! Just tell me why you’re so determined to keep running away!”

“Because I love you! You tremendous asshole!” Keith screams, finally breaking down. “And the last thing I wanna do is leave! But I have to! I have to leave you! You’ll wind up hating me if I don’t!”

His knees buckle and he slides to the floor landing heavily on his ass at the foot of the bed. “Keith!” Shiro cries in alarm, his anger all but forgotten. He rushes over and falls to his knees at Keith’s side.

Keith just sits there, his tailbone throbbing. “It wasn’t even you,” he says, staring at the floor.

“What?” Shiro asks, his brow knitting in confusion.

“All those months I spent looking for you, and you weren’t even…” He swallows thickly and closes his eyes as sluggish tears start rolling down his aching face. “And I just… I wanted him to be you so badly, I… ignored…” he falters and fitfully swipes tears from his eyes. “He… brought Voltron and the coalition to Naxzela and led Haggar to the Alteans and I… I played right into her hands. It’s my fault… All of it… Every decision I’ve ever made has come to nothing.”

“That’s not true,” Shiro says softly.

Keith sniffs and pulls his knees to his chest. He looks into Shiro’s sad gray eyes, somehow even sadder after his prolonged stay in the infinite void. “The clone was created to be Haggar’s pawn,” he says ruefully. “What’s my excuse?”

Shiro sighs and scrubs his face. “Can I sit?” he asks. Keith sniffs and averts his eyes, but he doesn’t say no. Shiro treats it like an invitation. He takes a seat on the floor next to him, far enough away that they’re not touching, but close enough for Keith to close the gap between them if he wants to. “For the record, I could never, not in a million years, ever hate you,” he says.

Keith sniffs and lays his aching forehead on his knees. “You say that now, but I’ve got powers.”

Shiro sighs. “Keith, look at me,” he says.

Keith listlessly lifts his head.

“There’s a reason there was no body,” Shiro says.

Keith pulls a face. “Huh?”

“In the Black Lion,” Shiro clarifies. “There’s a reason my body… my original body was completely destroyed. It was to create doubt about my death and keep you looking for me.”

Except, Keith was the only one who even had doubts. The longer the months dragged on with no sign, the more the others became convinced that Shiro was gone for good. Coran even conducted several scans of the black lion’s cockpit, looking for evidence, a thumbprint, a fingernail, a scrap of DNA, anything that might prove Shiro was still out there somewhere, but there was nothing, no trace. It was as if Shiro was a dream only Keith remembered. “How could she possibly know I would do that?”

“How do you think?” Shiro sheepishly asks.

Keith just stares at him.

“She had access to all my memories Keith,” Shiro says. “She knew how much you meant to me.”

“So why didn’t she just use you against us then? Program you the same way she programmed the virus in your arm?”

“I think that was her original plan,” Shiro shrugs. “Trouble was, I broke her programming… pretty early on actually.”

Keith blinks, confused. “How?”

“Okay, you’re gonna think this is… cheesy,” Shiro says, color rising in his cheeks, “but I’m pretty sure it was my feelings for you that did it.”

Keith raises a skeptical eyebrow. “So what, Galra mind-control is no match for the power of human love,” he says flatly.

Shiro’s lips quirk slightly. “Yeah… cheesy, but when she realized she couldn’t control me she was forced to… create someone she could, someone she knew you’d trust implicitly.”

He couldn’t have though, or he wouldn’t have left the others alone to deal with the monster he was responsible for bringing into their midst. “I knew he was different,” he finally admits.

“Of course he was,” Shiro says softly. “How could he not be? He had all of my memories, but none of my emotional attachments to them.”

Keith thought it was depression, the unpredictable behavior and sudden fits of temper. Maybe it was. He keeps thinking about how it was at first, how numb he must’ve felt. No wonder it took him a week to get out of bed. “I let you down,” Keith murmurs wanly, “all of you,” even him, especially him.

“Why, because you thought I’d changed and your mind didn’t immediately go to evil clone?” Shiro sighs. “You’re not responsible for Haggar’s actions Keith. She manipulated all of us.”

There are so many things Keith would do differently if he could. He knew what Shiro wanted when they were stranded on that dying planet. He could’ve honored his wishes. He could’ve let Shiro go and fully bonded with the black lion. At least then he would’ve known the truth instead of torturing himself and everyone else for months with false hope. She was counting on you to be too selfish to do that, Clone-Shiro whispers in his ear. Guess she was right.

Keith‘s unsettled stomach flips. “How do you not hate me,” he murmurs ashamed. “I know he did.”

“Is that what you think?” Shiro asks, “that he hated you?”

Keith swallows, his fingers covering his swollen belly. “He said I was broken and… he was right.”

“He was the one who was broken, Keith,” Shiro says, softly. “He remembered loving you even if he couldn’t feel it, and he blamed the Galra for stealing you away from him. The day you left, he wanted nothing more than to tell you to stay, but he knew he’d never be able to make you happy, so he let you go.”

“Is that… true?” Keith asks plaintively, or is Shiro just trying to spare his feelings by telling him what he thinks he wants to hear.

“It’s true,” Shiro says emphatically, “I swear to God it is, and… I’m sorry, because I should’ve told you all of this a long time ago. I’ve been so angry at you for shutting me out that it never occurred to me that maybe you only did that, because I shut you out first.”

Keith exhales a long tremulous sigh. He’s so tired and his head is splitting. “It’s because of this…” he says, tentatively fingering the livid scar covering his cheek, “isn’t it.”

Shiro’s eyes widen slightly, before he sheepishly looks away. “Not in the way you think,” he says, awkwardly staring at the floor. “All that’s left of him now are regrets, and every time I see that scar on your face they become mine.” He sighs and scrubs his face. “I never want to hurt you like that again. I think I pushed you away because on some level I was trying to protect you.”

Keith licks his lips, fighting back a wave of nausea. They’ve gotten so used to protecting themselves from each other, they somehow lost sight of the distance growing between them. Maybe Hunk is right. The truth couldn’t possibly do more damage to their relationship than keeping secrets has. And anyway, does he really have the right to deny his kids their father… or… one of their... fathers… whatever. His brain hurts.

“It wouldn’t be the first time,” Shiro admits, his eyes downcast. “I did the same thing to Adam. I was so determined to shield him from my illness, I wound up completely shutting him out of my life, and it… it broke us.”

Keith sags against the foot of the bed, clammy with cold sweat. Now that he’s made up his mind to come clean, it’s as if all the strength has drained out of him at once. He thinks he may need to lie down.

“In case you haven’t noticed, I’m not very good at… communicating sometimes.” Shiro says, smiling wanly. It’s kind of the understatement of the century, but it’s not like Keith is exactly ready to sponsor a TED Talk on the subject himself so... “but, I don’t want that to be us,” Shiro says. That’s the last thing I want. I don’t wanna lose you Keith. So if I’ve made you feel like you can’t trust me to be there that’s… that’s on me, and I’m sorry.”

“I’m pregnant,” Keith says softly.

“But you gotta meet me halfway,” Shiro continues oblivious. “I can’t do anything if you won’t tell me what the problem is. Communication is a two-way street. You’ve gotta stop running sometime Babe…” he falters and looks up, blinking rapidly as Keith’s words belatedly sink in. “Wait… he hesitates… “What?”

“I’m... pregnant,” Keith says again, swallowing thickly. It sounds so insane when he says it out loud.

Shiro seems to think so as well. He just sits there for a moment, staring at Keith as if he’s suddenly sprouted a second head. “Alright,” he mutters, his brow knitting in concern as he presses the back of his flesh and blood hand to Keith’s forehead.

“No, I’m not delirious Shiro!” Keith cries testily, slapping his hand away. “Look at me!” He takes Shiro’s face in both his clammy hands and forces him to really see him for the first time in weeks. “Look at me.” Keith lowers his legs and caresses his swollen belly. “I’m not making this up. I’m not human. I’m pregnant.”

Shiro’s eyes widen and he abruptly rocks back onto his heels. All the color drains from his face as he stares open-mouthed at Keith, looking like he’s about to pass out. Keith’s resolve wavers. His head is ringing again. “It… it happened three-months ago,” he says meekly, dread robbing him of his voice, “and I… I kept it from you, because I knew it would be too much. I’m… too much.” Still Shiro just sits there, staring at him in silent disbelief. “You… You wanted the truth. The guy you’re sleeping with is a half-alien hermaphrodite freak-show… that’s the truth. Pretty soon everyone else is gonna know it too.” Shiro’s wide eyes slowly track a line from Keith’s belly to his flushed face and Keith fears he’s made a horrible mistake. His vision begins to disintegrate around the edges. “Say… say something,” he gasps, his eyes filling with tears. “Please...”

Shiro’s mouth snaps shut with an audible click. He swallows and slowly breathes in and out, in and out. He leans forward and Keith flinches despite himself, but Shiro just rocks forward onto his knees and takes Keith in his strong warm arms. “Are you okay?” he asks.

Keith is caught off guard by the question. “I’m… yeah,” he says, though he’s not really sure which one of them he’s trying to convince.

“I’m so sorry Keith,” Shiro says ruefully. “If I’d known something like this could happen I would’ve…”

“What?” Keith mutters. “Worn a thicker condom? You didn’t do anything wrong.”

Shiro leans back a bit and takes Keith’s burning face in both his hands. “Neither did you,” he says firmly.

“Everything about me is wrong,” Keith murmurs tearfully.

“Not true,” Shiro says, shaking his head. He thumbs the tears from Keith’s eyes and plants a kiss on his forehead. “It’s okay,” he soothes softly. “Everything’s gonna be okay.”

Keith doesn’t see how. Everything he touches, he ruins. “You and your stupid heartfelt speeches,” he murmurs, his tear-filled eyes practically closing with exhaustion. “Why couldn’t you just let me go?”

“You know why,” Shiro says. He anxiously presses his lips together and lifts Keith into his arms.

“What are you doing?” Keith demands weakly.

“Putting you to bed,” Shiro says, as if daring Keith to argue with him.

Of course Keith takes him up on it. “I don’t... need your help,” he says struggling to release himself from Shiro’s grip. This is precisely what he didn’t want, Shiro feeling obligated to take care of him. He needs to leave, for both their sakes, but he’s just so tired. His limbs have turned to lead and there’s a weird tickle in the back of his throat. He grabs a fistful of Shiro’s tee-shirt and pitches forward in a sudden fit of coughing.

“You’re right. What was I thinking,” Shiro deadpans.

“I don’t need you to handle me Shiro,” Keith insists. He attempts to draw oxygen in through his blocked nose, but quickly gives up and tries to clear his scratchy throat instead. It’s really starting to hurt. “Being pregnant doesn’t automatically turn me into an invalid, you know.”

“No, but having a raging fever kinda does,” Shiro says flatly.

That might explain why everything is spinning. “I’m… fine,” Keith stubbornly insists.

“Uh-huh.” Shiro rolls his eyes and stands up. Keith sags in his arms and groans when the change in equilibrium turns his stomach. “Okay?” Shiro grimaces, eyeing the distance to the bathroom as if half-worried that Keith is going to barf on him before he can get him to it.

Keith swallows and nods. “It’s just... morning sickness,” he says.

Shiro seems to consider that for a moment, though judging by the extremely uncomfortable look on his face he seems less than reassured by the idea. “You sure about that?” he finally asks.

“Not really, no,” Keith admits with a half-hearted shrug and an overwhelming sense of guilt. “I’m still kinda new at this to tell the truth.”

“That makes two of us,” Shiro murmurs, because yeah, they are knee deep in some weird-ass Area-51 science fiction shit now. And Shiro even seems to be taking it well, but that’s what he does. He takes the whole overwhelming mess that is the big picture and dismantles it into smaller pieces that he then sorts into categories; the things he can deal with and the things he can’t. Keith is fairly certain knocking up your weirdo alien-hybrid boyfriend falls squarely into the can’t category.

Shiro lays Keith on the bed and starts helping him out of his hoodie. “I can do it!” Keith snaps, impatiently slapping Shiro’s hands away.

“Is this how it’s gonna be for the next six-months?” Shiro demands, recoiling in exasperation.

“It doesn’t matter,” Keith says tartly, struggling to tug the oversized hoodie over his head. “I’ll be leaving as soon as I’m feeling better.”

“My God, you’re infuriating,” Shiro mutters.

He rubs his eyes and helps Keith pull the hoodie the rest of the way off despite his foul mood. Keith is still wearing the tee-shirt and sweats he wears to bed underneath, which is convenient, but the truth is nothing else fits, and his sweats are almost too tight even after he let the drawstrings all the way out.

Shiro catches himself awkwardly staring at Keith’s belly and Keith tugs at his too-tight shirt before burying himself beneath the covers. He tosses and turns, attempting to find a comfortable position that doesn’t hurt his back, or cause heartburn to light a fire in his chest, and Shiro self-consciously clears his throat before straightening up and turning to leave.

“Where are you going?” Keith sighs in exasperation, all but giving up on resting comfortably, pretty much ever again.

“To find you some aspirin,” Shiro says.

Keith has to fight to keep his eyes open. “I can’t take anything,” he mumbles groggily.

Shiro freezes and turns around. “You can’t what now?” he asks, obviously forcing himself to remain patient.

“It might hurt the babies,” Keith mutters into his pillow.

Shiro pulls a face. “That cannot possibly be a thing in this day and wait did you just say babies plural?”

“Yes,” Keith murmurs, his face turning red.

“Okay,” Shiro says, visibly paling. He takes a deep breath and thoughtfully rubs his chin. “Okay… Well… how many kids are we talking here?”

“Two,” Keith says flatly. “I’m not a cat Shiro.”

Shiro’s eyes stray heavenward for a moment. Keith winces and watches him retreat into the bathroom. It’s not his fault. Shiro never signed up for any of this. He’s probably in there right now picturing all his plans for the future slowly circling the drain. Keith wearily swipes tears from his eyes and stares at his fully packed duffel sitting on the floor by the edge of the bed. He should’ve followed his instincts and fled when he had the chance instead of listening to stupid Hunk’s stupid advice. Shiro might’ve hated him for leaving, but he’ll only end up hating him more if he stays… God, he’s tired. His entire body aches and his head is pounding. His eyes drift closed and open again on the clone base.

He's no longer falling. He’s standing. He looks down to find a blade in each hand, his BOM weapon and the black bayard. At his feet, Shiro’s clone trembles on his knees. The clone looks up, the manic violet light burning behind his eyes all but extinguished. This was the moment, he says softly. Keith’s brow knits in confusion, but before he can ask the clone what he means, he wakes with a start.

“A-hundred-and-two-point-three,” Shiro says accusingly, holding up the digital thermometer in his hand. Keith just lays there, squinting at it and shivers when Shiro lays a cool washcloth on his aching forehead. Shiro’s mouth draws into a tight grim line as he caresses Keith’s clammy cheek with his flesh and blood hand. “If the flu doesn’t kill you, I will,” he says flatly.

Keith swallows painfully and groans. Shiro lays another washcloth on his neck and Keith’s eyes slowly drift shut again.

This time there’s only darkness.

Chapter Text

There are things Keith’s forgotten about his childhood, or maybe he just put them out of his mind after his dad died because it made accepting his new life at the Home easier. He’d forgotten how quiet the desert can be at night. How peaceful it is listening to the cicadas chirping from his sleeping bag as he stares up at a crystal clear sky painted with stars. Stars that were nothing but tiny points of light to him until Shiro came along and made him believe he could travel among them. Then again, he didn’t need much convincing. Maybe he’d already harbored a secret desire to escape the planet that hadn’t felt like a true home to him since his dad died.

Anyway, you can’t go home again. Someone said that once. Literally in Keith’s case since there’s nothing left of his childhood home now but bits of crumbling foundation and an old tree stump. He did try. Jamie, one of the guys from his dad’s old engine house gave him a ride when the Garrison shut down for summer break, though technically Keith was still a ward of the state and was supposed to return to the Home until his paperwork was filed with the court.

Turns out getting accepted into the Garrison space program counts as active military service, which got Keith sprung from foster care a year early, or was supposed to, once all the red tape was unraveled. They’d have to drag him away in handcuffs before he’d ever go back to that place though, so the state of New Mexico could get its shit together or it could fuck right off.

“You do realize you’re technically trespassing right?” That’s what Jamie said when she’d dropped him off. Because yeah, they’d both obviously been thinking the same thing as they sat there like idiots eyeing the fallen GenCorp sign they’d run over on the way in, but Keith had read up on the company that bought his father’s land at auction. He knew about the legal troubles it was having with the other residents in the area. Construction was abandoned a year ago, pending a formal decision by the court. All that was left behind was an empty worksite with a broken down fence and the utility shed the foreman was using as onsite housing.

“Are you planning on turning me in?” Keith asked with a shy smile. He hadn’t planned to stay long at first. Just a quick trip to the fallout shelter buried in what used to be the backyard to retrieve his dad’s bike, only once he got down there he found other things as well, things he couldn’t really explain hidden in the dirt.

A padded envelope with the words ‘For Keith,’ written in his father’s hand; inside he found a double edged knife with a weird glowing symbol on the hilt. He also found three emergency go bags. Two were full of survival gear, and the third was filled with cash. More cash than Keith had ever seen, almost as if his father had been preparing for… what he can’t even begin to guess. Finally there was a strong box with bank notes and papers including the deed to the property, which oddly was in Keith’s name.

Jamie rolled her eyes and tousled his hair, “helping” him out of the truck with a playful shove. “Just watch your ass kid,” she laughed.

Keith’s smile blossomed into a grin as he backed away, slinging his Garrison issue kit bag over his shoulder. It held everything he owned in the world.

“Hey Keith,” Jamie called after him and Keith paused for a moment to regard her. “We were all really glad to hear that you’re doing better.” Translation: We’re relieved you didn’t end up in jail. “Astronaut training huh,” she murmured, as if she couldn’t quite believe it herself, “your old-man would be really proud.”

Keith’s smile had faltered a bit at that. He wasn’t sure how proud his dad would be if he knew Keith was only accepted into the program on Shiro’s charity, or that he always seemed to be one misstep away from losing it all. “Thanks,” he murmured, his face burning as he watched her drive away.

That was a little over a month ago. Keith’s head is currently buried deep inside the broken anti-grav drive of a mach-2 hoverbike. A passing tremor broke the concrete cap on the fallout shelter, covering everything inside in a thick layer of grit. The engine is frozen from neglect and packed with dirt. Keith was able to get it running, more or less, but the tortured sputtering is a painful assault on his sensitive ears. It’s a good thing his closest neighbor lives ten miles away, or the cops probably would’ve shown up days ago.

A warm hand suddenly grips his shoulder and Keith nearly jumps out of his skin. “Jesus!” he yelps, stumbling forward and nearly falling into the still running engine before a big hand pulls him back upright and he turns to find himself staring into familiar gray eyes.

“Sorry, sorry!” Shiro shouts ruefully over the noise. He drops his hand from Keith’s slender arm with a chagrined smile, “didn’t mean to startle you!”

“Shiro?” Keith frowns, eyeing Shiro’s ridiculous Humvee parked a few feet away. He’d never even heard it pull up. Shiro’s always fussing over it, polishing the grill, touching up the detailing, referring to it as “My baby.” Keith’s genuinely surprised he didn’t just slap an even bigger satellite dish on the thing so he could take it with him to Kerberos.

He frowns and slaps the off switch on the bike’s sputtering anti-grav drive so they can both hear themselves think. “Aren’t you supposed to be on leave?” The entire Kerberos crew is supposed to be spending the week before the launch with their loved ones, according to the official NASA press release anyway.

“Yes,” Shiro shrugs, staring so intently at Keith, Keith can feel his cheeks beginning to awkwardly burn.

“What?!” he finally snaps.

“Look at you,” Shiro grins. “You must’ve grown six-inches since I last saw you.”

”Three,” Keith says flatly. “I grew three inches.” He knows because the guys at his dad’s engine house insisted on measuring him against the barracks door frame like his dad used to when he was a kid. He’s five-foot-seven now. He may have even been excited about it at first, until he realized his fellow cadets haven’t exactly been spending the summer in stasis and were almost all taller than him to begin with.

“Really? You’re sure it’s not six?” Shiro asks, squinting at him.

Keith frowns, not quite sure if Shiro is mocking him or not. “Don’t you have somewhere to be?” he grumbles.

“Is this where you grew up?” Shiro asks, avoiding the question. His eyes land on the utility shed. There was a padlock on the door when Keith first arrived, but it must’ve been defective or something because it broke right off in his hand when he tugged on it.

“Sort of,” Keith sighs, already exhausted by a conversation he can see is gonna be like pulling teeth. “There used to be a house over there.”

“What happened to it?” Shiro asks, squinting at the crumbling bits of torn down foundation.

“It… I mean, my dad died without a will,” Keith hesitates. His fellow cadets only ask about his family when they’re fishing for something to use against him. He knows that’s not Shiro though, or his head does anyway. He swallows anxiously and continues. “The new owner bulldozed the house so he could build a factory in its place.”

“What kind of factory?”

“Umm… paper,” Keith says, though it’s clearly a deflection and not at all relevant to anything.

“Huh,” Shiro considers for a moment. “Seems like a lot of trouble for a place without any trees.”

That’s exactly what Keith thought. Then again when have corporations ever been known for efficiency. “Maybe there was supposed to be some sort of tax incentive for “creating jobs,” or whatever,” Keith shrugs. “The project’s dead anyway.”

“Because of you,” Shiro says a little too knowingly

“You heard,” Keith mutters.

“That you handled those pencil pushers down at the county clerk’s office like a boss? Yeah I heard.”

“It wasn’t nearly that dramatic,” Keith says self-consciously. True, walking into the county clerk’s office with undeniable proof that he was the rightful owner of his father’s land was pretty satisfying, even if some insecure part of him was sure they’d take one look at him and laugh him out of the office. They didn’t though. They saw his Garrison uniform and immediately recognized his name from the news; Keith Kogane, astronaut in training and hand-picked protege of the great Takashi Shirogane himself. “All I did was fill out some paperwork.”

“You did a lot more than that,” Shiro says. “You made a positive change from inside the system. You righted a long-standing wrong and became an advocate for the people living out here, and you did it all legally. I’m… proud of you Keith.”

“Whatever,” Keith mumbles, color rising in his cheeks because Shiro’s approval means everything to him, but the only reason it even worked out was because GenCorp was trying to avoid the negative publicity that would come from a lengthy legal battle with the most famous pilot in the world’s protege. If Keith Kogane, the bastard son of an obscure firefighter and absentee mom had walked into that office without the benefit of Shiro’s coattails, he would’ve been treated exactly like the fraud he is.

“So I guess you’re on your own now,” Shiro says thoughtfully, or maybe it’s concern. Maybe he’s worried Keith will fuck everything up when he’s gone just like everyone else is. Maybe he should be.

“Afraid I’ll go off the deep end?” Keith says tartly.

“What? No,” Shiro says patiently, somehow rolling his eyes without actually rolling his eyes. “Look, a lot of things have changed for you in a very short time and I just wanted to make sure you were okay.”

“Well, when you put it like that it sounds…” nice, and thoughtful and like something a genuinely good person who doesn’t see an ulterior motive in every single fucking thing would say. Keith averts his eyes, suddenly very interested in the ground at his feet.

“I’m guessing that’s your dad’s bike,” Shiro says. He’s really good at knowing when to change the subject, thus saving Keith the trouble of hurling himself at the earth like goddamn Rumpelstiltskin. “Looks like you could use some help getting her running.”

“Seriously,” Keith mutters, looking up. “You wanna waste your leave helping me fix my dad’s bike?”

“I wanna spend my leave helping a friend I care about,” Shiro says firmly. “Is that okay?”

“I guess,” Keith mumbles. He just… doesn’t get it. He probably should at this point. He knows Shiro sees something in him, some sort of potential. Trouble is no matter how hard Shiro tries, he can’t seem to make Keith see it in himself. “I mean… wouldn’t you rather be spending your last week before the launch with Adam?”

Shiro slowly exhales. “Adam and I... are... no longer together,” he says softly.

Ohhhhh, nevermind. Keith gets it now. Shiro needs a project to keep himself out of his own head and Keith is it. Considering everything Shiro’s done for him, Keith figures it’s the least he can do. “I’m... sorry,” he says.
There’s nothing else to say really. He has no experience with relationships, but he does know how hard it is to suddenly lose someone you thought would always be there. There are no words to take away that kind of hurt.

“So am I,” Shiro says. He flashes one of those wan self-deprecating smiles he wears when he’s about to make a joke at his own expense, then doesn’t. Maybe his heart isn’t in it. “Anyway,” he shrugs, “we should get to work.”

He makes a cursory inspection of the grit choked drive, as Keith stands beside him worrying his bottom lip. “The good news is I don’t think anything is actually broken, just frozen with dirt,” Shiro says thoughtfully, removing one of the air seals from the turbine and blowing the dust from it. “Which means we’re gonna have to take her apart, soak all the parts in an oil bath and put her back together again.”

“I was afraid you were gonna say that,” Keith murmurs anxiously. “I’ve never rebuilt an entire anti-grav drive before.”

“Don’t worry,” Shiro says, squeezing his shoulder. “I’ll talk you through it.” He smiles and Keith watches him grab a tool kit from the truck.

“You always travel with your own tools?” Keith asks, even though he already knew the answer as soon as the words left his mouth. When he’s not running flight simulations with the rest of the Kerberos crew, Shiro is puttering around the hangar bay with a wrench in his hand.

“Hey any pilot worth their salt knows you can’t always rely on your flight crew to save your ass,” Shiro tells him. “Things happen up there, unforeseen consequences. A good pilot has enough basic knowledge of the bird they’re flying to get it back up in the air again.”

“I suppose that includes hoverbikes,” Keith says wryly.

“Yep,” Shiro confirms with a nod, and rolls up his sleeves.

It doesn’t take that long to fix, relatively speaking. They have all the parts cleaned and laid out on a tarp by midday and back together by dusk thanks to Shiro. Ever the teacher, he calmly and patiently explains everything in detail as he guides Keith through completing most of the work himself. That’s just Shiro though, generous with knowledge that others might stingily keep for themselves.

“Where’d you learn so much about engines?” Keith asks him, while tightening the last combuster coupling. He doesn’t think he’ll ever have to rebuild an entire anti-grav drive from scratch again, but he has to admit there’s a certain satisfaction in knowing he can.

Shiro shrugs. “The usual places,” he says cagily, wiping his hands on an oil-soaked rag and clapping Keith on the shoulder. “Let’s start her up.”

Keith flicks the ignition switch and the hoverbike jumps to life, purring like a kitten as it slowly rises off the ground on a shimmering cushion of air.

Keith grins and Shiro squeezes his shoulder. “I don’t suppose you’ve got anything to drink around here?” he asks.

“Water,” Keith says. He’s seventeen and on probation at the Garrison, what else would he have.

“Do I have to drink it out of a hose, or...?” Shiro asks, looking around.

“No. Wiseass,” Keith says flatly. “There are bottles in the shed.”

“Perfect.” Shiro says, helping himself. He eyes the broken padlock hanging from the door for a moment, then grabs two bottles from one of the plastic wrapped cases inside without comment. He hands one to Keith and makes himself comfortable on the porch. Keith joins him after a moment.

Shiro downs half the bottle in one go then he sighs and leans back on his arms, and looks up. “Must be nice out here at night,” he murmurs, squinting at the few stars already visible in the growing twilight. “Too many lights at the Garrison right now for stargazing.”

“It is,” Keith says softly. “My dad… He used to sit out on the porch every night after I went to bed. He’d spend hours just looking up at the stars. It was almost like he was looking for something.”

“Maybe he was,” Shiro says thoughtfully.

“Like what?” Keith asks.

“I dunno,” Shiro murmurs, taking another pull from the water bottle, “meaning maybe?”

“Is that what you see up there?” Keith wonders aloud, eyeing him curiously in the waning light.

Shiro purses his lips in thought. “I see purpose,” he says firmly, then his eyes shift to Keith’s face. “I’d like you to come to the launch Keith.”

Keith bites back the automatic protest that forms on his lips. It’s supposed to be Adam, but he’s no longer in the picture and anyone who’s read Shiro’s official NASA bio knows he had no family except the grandfather who passed away his first year at the Garrison. “Okay,” he says reluctantly.

Shiro smiles and grips his shoulder. “Next time it’ll be you in the pilot’s seat,” he says, then he sighs and downs the rest of the water, staring wanly at the few stars sprinkling the horizon like an artist committing a painting to memory.

“This is your last mission isn’t it,” Keith says softly. It’s not a question.

Shiro slowly exhales, though his attention never shifts from the pale horizon. “You know what the worst thing about being the sick kid was growing up?” he finally asks softly, almost as if talking to himself. Keith assumes it’s a hypothetical question. “The waiting,” Shiro says. “Waiting for your real life to begin.” His eyes shift to Keith’s face. “Don’t wait for anyone’s permission to follow your dreams Keith. Very few people will give it to you.”

“What if no one thinks you can do it?”

“Prove them wrong,” Shiro says flatly. He turns to look Keith in the eye. “Look, it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks,” he says firmly. “It only matters what you think, and you earned your place at the Garrison just like everyone else. Or am I wrong in thinking that’s what you told James?”

“You know about that?” Keith asks. Shiro didn’t hear it from him. Keith wouldn’t use their friendship to throw someone else under the bus like that, no matter what James may think of him.

“Hunk told me,” Shiro admits.

“Who?”

Shiro frowns slightly. “It’s been a year Keith. Don’t you think it’s about time you learned the names of some of the other cadets in your class?”

But they’re not in his class, not really. After basic training, they were all divided up into their own separate specialty programs. “Why, so we can all weave friendship bracelets and go on a picnic together,” Keith says sardonically.

Shiro scrubs his face in exasperation. “I get it you know,” he says flatly. “When I first joined the Garrison, I was just like you.”

“Like me,” Keith says sullenly. The golden boy of the Garrison. Yeah right.

“On my own,” Shiro says. “When the Garrison shut down for summer break, I didn’t have anywhere to go either.” Keith bites his lip, consumed with sudden guilt for feeling sorry for himself. “And it’s not as if the other cadets were exactly lining up to be friends with the gay asian kid who kept beating their asses on the sim.”

“You’re saying I shouldn’t take it personally,” Keith says flatly.

“I’m saying, pilots are competitive by nature,” Shiro tells him. “They all wanna be the best. They all wanna be noticed, and the ones like James Griffin tend to get what they want, because they look the way the all-American-astronaut is supposed to look.”

And Keith doesn’t. He feels liquid running down his hand and realizes he’s crushed the water bottle. He hates that even in this day and age Shiro isn’t wrong.

“Guys like that will always be given the benefit of the doubt over guys like us,” Shiro says resigned, extricating the mangled bottle from Keith’s white knuckled hand and pouring it out over a random patch of weeds. “It sucks, but that’s the way it is, so you have to be the bigger man.”

“Worst pep talk ever,” Keith grumbles bitterly.

“I’m serious Keith,” Shiro insists. “I don’t wanna hear that you were getting into fights while I was gone, or I’ll come back here and kick your ass myself.”

Keith mutters something uncharitable under his breath.

“Sorry, I didn’t quite catch that,” Shiro says, scowling at him

“I said I’m pretty sure I can take you,” Keith says, his mouth quirking slyly despite his resentment towards an unfair world.

“Yeah, in your dreams maybe,” Shiro scoffs. Keith finds himself laughing, but it quickly fades to awkward silence when he realizes how hard it’s gonna be without Shiro around to talk to.

“I’m... really gonna miss you,” he reluctantly admits, because it scares him how much he’s come to depend on Shiro being there. He knew going in their friendship could only end one way. Eventually Shiro’s illness would catch up to him and Keith’s heart would be broken, and yet the alternative would’ve meant never knowing the best person he’s ever known.

“I’m gonna miss you too,” Shiro says, smiling wanly, “but hey, it’s not like I won’t be coming back. Until then don’t forget...”

“I know, I know,” Keith cuts him off, “patience yields focus,” he says, rolling his eyes.

“...to have fun, I was gonna say,” Shiro says softly, “maybe even allow yourself to be happy. You know just every once in a while,” he says wryly. “You don’t have to make a habit of it, or anything.”

For some reason, tears suddenly spring to Keith’s eyes. He turns away and awkwardly swipes at them, but Shiro just puts his arm around him and draws him closer. Keith sniffs and buries his face in Shiro’s shoulder so Shiro can’t see how ridiculous he’s being.

“Kerberos may be the end of my story, but yours is just beginning Keith,” Shiro says softly, rubbing Keith’s quivering back. “You’re gonna do amazing things. I knew it the moment I saw you in that sim.”

Keith pulls away, self-consciously knuckling tears from his eyes and Shiro flashes him a reassuring smile.

“Go,” he says. “Be great.”

The ground shifts beneath Keith’s feet and he closes his eyes feeling suddenly nauseous. The acrid smell of ozone crawls up the back of his throat like an oily snake and he lifts his head to find himself back on the clone base. His Marmora blade glows violet in his right hand and in his left he holds the Black bayard sword. Shiro’s clone kneels slumped at his feet.

Keith licks his lips, bracing himself for an attack, but Shiro’s clone just chuckles softly to himself. “Funny,” he says, looking up and leveling Keith with Shiro’s sad gray eyes. “I didn’t remember any of that until this moment.”

Kind of a weird thing to say considering this is all happening inside Keith’s head. The metal beneath his feet shifts, on the verge of collapse, and Keith stumbles. The Black bayard dissolves and Keith steadies himself against a groaning pylon. “Is this a dream?” he asks, worrying his bottom lip as bits of burning debris rain down around him.

“Does it matter,” Shiro’s clone says softly. “You keep coming back here for a reason. Don’t you think it’s about time you faced it?”

Keith bites his lip, momentarily overwhelmed with guilt. He drops to his knees in front of the clone who just sits there eyeing him in silent contemplation as the world burns down around them. “I let you down,” he says finally.

Shiro’s clone just sighs. “I thought it was some kind of mistake,” he says with a wan smile. “Those things in the tanks, they weren’t me. I was real. I was a person. I actually believed it right up until this moment.”

The moment Keith killed him. “You were a person,” Keith murmurs ruefully.

Shiro’s clone shakes his head. “I was just the reflection of one,” he says.

“You were a person,” Keith insists, even if he knew exactly what Shiro’s clone was the moment he stepped into that incubation chamber. “I know you were, because I loved you.” But he killed him anyway. He hadn’t meant for it to happen. He didn’t know that removing the clone’s arm would shatter his mind as well. Not that it changes what he did, or makes it any easier to live with. He swipes a few errant tears from his eyes. “I’m sorry... I should’ve…”

“Let me kill you instead?” Shiro’s clone asks, raising a wry eyebrow though his tone is not unkind. “I would’ve you know. Without a shred of remorse.” He almost smiles then, Shiro’s self-deprecating smile. “It’s what I was made for.”

Keith just shakes his head. He keeps going over it in his mind; Shiro’s eyes full of hate and violet fire, and a white-hot blade at his throat. Death or the maiden. Keith was prepared to choose both, until the black lion revealed the real Shiro’s quintessence to him. “I traded your life for his,” he says, his face burning with shame.

“There was nothing left to trade,” Shiro’s clone tells him. “Deep down you know it too, or we wouldn’t be having this conversation.” Keith just looks at him, unwilling to let himself off the hook on a technicality. Shiro’s clone does that thing Shiro does when he rolls his eyes without actually rolling his eyes. “Still blaming yourself for the things you have no control over.”

The entire base shudders and drops several feet as it begins to shear free of the damaged tower. Keith buries his blade in the warping metal for traction and grabs the clone’s only remaining hand. “I tried to fight it you know,” Shiro’s clone says, staring at Keith’s white-knuckled fingers wrapped in his, “Haggar’s programming. I fought it with everything I had, but I wasn’t built to resist. I was nothing but a puppet that couldn’t cut its own strings.” He smiles then, soft and genuine, Shiro’s smile only sadder. “Thank you Keith, for doing what I couldn’t.”

“Don’t,” Keith sputters. He never asked for Shiro’s forgiveness. He doesn’t want to be forgiven. He can’t forgive himself, and that’s what this is really all about isn’t it. He keeps coming back here. He keeps projecting his own self-loathing onto the voice of a deadman spewing venom inside his head because he can’t come to terms with the choices he made to survive. “Don’t... thank me. I killed you.”

“You set me free,” Shiro’s clone says. “Everything I was, ceased to exist when Haggar took control. I… died Keith, until you severed her connection and it all came rushing back. All of it. I remembered everything. I felt everything. I was alive, truly alive for the first time. You know it’s true. You felt it too.”

Keith almost denies it out of guilt, but he still remembers the intense flare of life energy that washed over him like a rogue wave when he took the clone’s arm. It was as if he’d borne witness to the fleeting life of a star, exploding with utter clarity and beauty for one perfect moment before winking out of existence in the next.

“I died a free man because of you,” Shiro’s clone tells him, “I remembered I loved you.” His lips quirk into the shadow of a smile. “If only for a moment.”

Keith breaks down then, suddenly choking on a rush of salty tears that have been trapped inside him since it happened. Shiro’s clone unclasps Keith’s hand and caresses his face, gently running his thumb over the scar marring his cheek and something eases in Keith’s chest, a weight he hadn’t even realized he’d been carrying.

“This is where I live,” Shiro’s clone says gently, “but not you. You have a life waiting for you out there.” His hand moves to Keith’s belly. “I know you’re afraid. It’s okay to be afraid, but don’t let fear steal your chance at happiness. Make peace with the past Keith, and move forward into the future with the people you love.”

Keith pulls himself together. He takes a moment to wipe the tears from his eyes and draws Shiro’s clone into a fierce one-armed embrace. “I’m sorry I abandoned you,” he says.

“I’m sorry I drove you away.” Shiro’s clone confesses softly.

The listing base shivers and groans, and shears free of the tower with a shriek of twisting steel. The clone rocks back onto his heels, holding Keith at arms length with a melancholy smile full of regret. “Time to wake up.”

Keith opens his eyes in the infirmary aboard the Atlas with the lions whispering softly inside his head. The room is gray and quiet and smells of antiseptic. Oddly it doesn’t make Keith sick. His stomach seems to have finally settled, though he’s afraid to risk pushing his luck by moving around too much.

As far as he can tell, the twin pools of quintessence he’s been tasked with protecting are still growing warm and safe inside him. He’s surprised by how relieved he is by that, not because he thought he didn’t care, but because he hadn’t realized how attached to the idea of them he’s already become. The black lion chuffs her support and Keith sighs and lifts his head.

He’s dressed in medical issue clothes, light beige with the Atlas insignia on the collar. They’re loose and shapeless and make him feel as big as a house. There's a pulse monitor covering his finger and a bandage in the crook of his arm. He peels up the corner and finds a slightly bruised needle stick underneath.

“You were pretty dehydrated,” Shiro says from the doorway. He’s holding a book and a small paper bag. He puts the book down on the bed tray as he enters the room. “How’re you feeling now?”

“Better,” Keith says. Tired, and his head and nose are still a bit tangled with cotton, but the world’s stopped spinning. “How long was I out?”

“Eighteen hours,” Shiro says absently. “Give or take. You needed the rest.” He seems distracted, like he’d rather be anywhere else. His eyes happen on the bag still clutched in his artificial hand. “Oh… uh… Hunk made these for you,” he says awkwardly, and abruptly hands it to Keith.

Keith frowns slightly and peers inside. It’s full of small orange chunks of something. They smell good, fresh and pungent, like citrus. “What is it?” Keith asks.

“Ginger chews,” Shiro says. He drags a chair to the side of the bed and sits down. “They’re supposed to help with morning sickness.” He looks uncomfortable, as if the very last thing he wants to talk about right now is Keith’s condition. Not that Keith can blame him. Eighteen hours isn’t much time to come to terms with having your entire life turned upside down. Judging by the look on Shiro’s face, there may never be enough time for that.

“I should… go,” Keith says softly. He isn’t upset. Just the opposite. An eerie sense of calm settles over him, silencing all his doubts. Maybe it’s because he’s finally managed to put the demons of his past to rest, or maybe he’s just done fighting what he is. Regardless, he’s prepared to live his life and raise his children, with or without Shiro by his side.

“Go?” Shiro says sharply, intercepting Keith’s hand as he’s about to lower the handrail on the bed. “The only place you’re going is back to bed. You’re out of commission for the next three weeks. Doctor Holt’s orders.”

Keith’s assuming he’s talking about Colleen, since Sam is a physicist and they don't generally hand out prescriptions. “Isn’t she a botanist?”

“She’s a geneticist and an MD,” Shiro says with an exasperated sigh. “The CMO wasn’t available, so I promoted her.”

Which means the senior officers must know. Doctor-patient privilege isn’t really a thing when the state of your health could put those under your command in danger. “I’m fine. I’ll handle it,” Keith mutters as Shiro physically blocks him from leaving the bed. He makes it look easy, which just goes to show how off his game Keith really is.

“You’re not,” Shiro insists. “You’ve got an upper respiratory infection, you’re anemic and your blood pressure is higher than it’s supposed to be.”

“Thanks for the concern,” Keith says, “but I’ve got it from here.”

“What’s that supposed to mean,” Shiro demands.

“We both know you don’t wanna be here Shiro,” Keith says flatly. Shiro doesn’t try to deny it, he just pales and slumps back against his seat. “It’s okay,” Keith says. “I get it.” His bottom lip starts to tremble as tears slowly slip from his eyes. “You had a plan, and this wasn’t part of it,” he says, caressing his swelling belly.

“God,” Shiro groans, dropping his head into his hands. He looks like he’s going to be sick.

Keith swallows past the lump in his throat and rubs his aching head. The lions are practically shouting their disapproval of him right now. “I’ll tell the others it was my decision to go. No one will think any less of you.”

Shiro lifts his head, tight lipped and angry. “Oh well, just so long as nobody thinks any less of me,” he says tartly. Then he sighs and runs his flesh and blood fingers through his pale hair. “You think you’ve got everything all figured out don’t you,” he says finally. “You’ve convinced yourself that leaving is the noble thing to do because I want to be absolved of all responsibility, but you’re wrong. That’s not how this works. You don’t get to decide my love is conditional.”

“Don’t I?” Keith demands tearfully. “Be honest Shiro. On a scale from one to ten, how freaked out are you right now?”

“I’m not…” Shiro falters. “Okay, yes, I’ll admit that when you first told me, I may have been a little flustered. My pregnant boyfriend isn’t a phrase I ever thought I’d hear myself saying, but I’m not anymore.”

“You’re lying,” Keith stubbornly insists. “Look at you. You can’t wait to get away.”

“I’m…” Shiro groans in exasperation and scrubs his face. “Keith please, you can’t keep working yourself up like this.”

“And you can’t hide how disgusted you are!” Keith cries. “Not from me! You’ve been wishing you were somewhere else from the moment you got here. Just admit it!”

“God,” Shiro groans. “Why must you insist on seeing the absolute worst in everyone including me!”

“Because the worst is what they give me!” Keith shrieks. He falls back against the raised head of the bed, utterly exhausted. “And because I can’t let this be the only reason we stay together,” he says, averting his eyes and angrily swiping away tears.

Shiro glowers at him. “You’re unbelievable,” he mutters. “You know what, you’re right,” he says, digging around in the back pocket of his trousers for a moment. “I don’t wanna be here, but not for the reason you think. I’m not planning my getaway, or whatever,” he finds what he’s looking for, something small and black obscured by his oversized artificial hand, “I just knew you were gonna make this as difficult as possible that’s all.” He tosses it on the bed. “Here!”

It’s a box. One of those black velvet jewelry boxes. Small enough to hold a ring. “What the fuck is that?” Keith demands, recoiling from the thing as if it were made of plutonium.

“Open it,” Shiro snaps.

Keith pulls a face and Shiro does that non-eye rolling, eye rolling thing. Keith scowls at him. Shiro scowls back until finally Keith snatches the box up with an annoyed grunt. Inside he finds exactly what he was dreading, a ring, a simple black band gilded in rose at the edges. “What did I just say?” he growls.

“Six-months ago,” Shiro says flatly.

“What?”

“That’s when I bought the ring,” Shiro says. “The day you woke up. I wanted to propose to you then and there, but Coran thought that might be pushing it seeing as how you and I had never even, you know, kissed.”

Keith just lies there, trying to wrap his head around the words coming out of Shiro’s mouth. The crazy thing is, he would’ve said yes six-months ago. In a heartbeat. But now… Things are so much more complicated now. “Wait, did you just say you made Coran your wingman?”

“He got me a good deal at the Roswell swap meet,” Shiro shrugs.

Keith pulls a face. Hunk told him all about the brain parasite Coran picked up at the last swap meet he attended.

“What?” Shiro innocently asks.

“What about your plan?” Keith says. The one where he travels the galaxy with nothing but a backpack and a dream.

You’re my plan Keith,” Shiro says as if it should be obvious. He retrieves the ring from Keith’s anxious death grip while the box is still in one piece. “You have been ever since Allura released me from the black lion.”

Keith just stares at him, waiting for the other shoe to drop. The lions have gone silent too, as if they’re waiting as well.

Shiro sighs. “The point is, my feelings for you haven’t changed. Not even a little bit. I’m in. I’m all in; marriage, kids, a giant cosmic-wolf eating me out of house and home and in-laws who can snap me in half if I screw up… No offense.”

“No, that’s fair,” Keith says automatically.

“You don’t scare me Galra-boy.”

Keith scowls at him. Great, a nickname he hates. They’re practically married already. “But I’m so… wrong,” he insists.

“You’re not,” Shiro says, caressing his cheek. “You’re just you.” Keith averts his eyes, his cheeks burning, but Shiro just lifts his chin with a touch of his artificial fingers. “And yeah, this… this was unexpected,” he says with a wry smile, “but it’s not unwelcome.”

“Wait you’re…” Keith stammers. “Are you… happy about this?”

“I suppose I am,” Shiro admits, as if he can’t quite believe it himself. He leans forward and takes Keith’s hands in his. “But I know you’re not, and I’m not about to force you to do something you don’t want to do. So just say the word and we’ll put an end to it.” Keith looks sheepish, but Shiro just flashes him a reassuring smile and pretends his heart isn’t breaking even though Keith can clearly see it is.

“It’s not that… exactly,” he says, worrying his bottom lip. “I mean, I guess I always pictured us having kids one day.”

“You did?” Shiro asks, his eyebrows lifting in surprise.

Keith nods, because he did. He thought they’d adopt one day. One day far in the future when he knew what the hell he was doing. Before his hybrid genes took over and his stupid nonsense brain decided to eat him alive with fear and self-doubt. “I just… didn’t think I’d be this personally involved in the process.”

Shiro chuckles a bit at that. “Yeah,” he says. “I get that.”

“I don’t wanna give them up though.” How could he. They’re Shiro’s.

“You’re sure?”

Keith loves him for asking. “I’m sure,” he says. “Are you?”

Shiro smiles and takes Keith’s face in his hands. “Keith, you’re the best friend I’ve ever had and the love of my life,” he says. “I couldn’t be more sure.”

Then he kisses him, tentatively at first, since Keith’s been keeping him at arm’s length for the past several weeks. Keith hadn’t even realized how much he’d missed Shiro’s touch until he runs his hands up Shiro’s chest and Shiro’s mouth closes over his and suddenly there’s just the tenderness of his touch and the heat between them and the way Shiro smells and the mint on his breath and the lions purring in his head.

Their lips part and Shiro runs his flesh and blood fingers through Keith’s long loose hair. Keith closes his eyes and leans into his touch with a contented sigh. “You really have no idea how amazing you are,” Shiro tells him softly.

“Remember you said that a few months from now when I’m really fat,” Keith says wearily. Shiro just laughs and kisses the top of his head.

Keith opens his eyes and leans back against the bed. He’s tired and his back is kind of killing him, but at least the heartburn is gone. “We’re at war.”

“I know,” Shiro says softly.

“You’re the Captain of the Atlas, and I’m the Black Paladin.”

“I know.”

“We’re both on the frontlines.”

“I know.”

“The timing really sucks...” Not to mention wars are dangerous. People die in wars all the time. And Keith’s completely lost his taste for it, the kill or be killed and the constant struggling to survive. He did what he had to do to get Shiro back, but now he’s tired of fighting in a pointless war that’s been raging for ten-thousand years. He wants his kids to grow up in a better universe than that.

“...and we’ll figure it out, all of it. I promise,” Shiro says with as much reassurance as he can muster, probably to keep Keith from winding himself up again. “But hey,” he says, precariously tilting his chair back on two legs and snatching the book he came in with from the tray table attached to the bed. “Look at what I found.”

It’s not a book. It’s a catalogue. “Swap Meet Magazine,” Keith reads aloud, side-eyeing Shiro as he eyes the grinning Unilu trader modeling four shiny gold watches on the cover. “Best simulated diamond jewelry in the galaxy... Spacesuit headquarters.”

“Yeah alright Phil Keoghan,” Shiro deadpans, and flips through the pages until he reaches one in particular. “I meant this,” he says, pointing at the folded over magazine page in Keith’s hand.

“Baby Backpack,” Keith reads, next to the picture of a rugged looking Olkarian family dressed in brightly colored outerwear.

“Ryner turned me onto it,” Shiro grins. “See it’s got room for all our gear plus a little harness at the top for the kids.”

Keith can’t help but laugh at Shiro’s ingenuity. Half-alien boyfriend throws a monkey wrench into your travel plans. No problem, just find yourself a handy life-hack to deal with it. Even if he did skip a few fairly important steps to get there. “So we’re just gonna ignore the elephant in the room then,” Keith says.

“No more waiting Keith. I’m done putting my life on hold,” Shiro tells him softly. “Even a ten-thousand year war’s gotta end sometime. Besides,” Shiro smiles and lays his hand on Keith’s swelling belly. “It’s not like these guys are gonna ask anyone’s permission before they start changing everything.”

“True,” Keith says, covering Shiro’s hand with his, only he keeps thinking about his parents, torn apart by war and duty. Maybe they thought they’d be able to reunite one day too, before fate stepped in.

“I’m not planning on going anywhere you know,” Shiro says, as if reading his mind, or maybe just the expression on his face. “Not for a very long time anyway. How about you.”

If anyone can make it through the war on determination and sheer stubbornness alone, it’s Shiro. Keith slowly shakes his head, nearly smiling at the thought.

“Well alright then,” Shiro says and tears spring to Keith’s eyes as he laughs, because hormones or whatever. But also Shiro’s optimism is infectious and somehow Keith just knows that eventually everything’s gonna be okay, not easy, or painless, but okay.

Shiro smiles and caresses Keith’s face and thumbs away the tears slipping down his cheeks. “You know Slav told me there’s a ninety-six-point-four percent chance you and I end up together in almost every universe,” he says softly.

“What about this universe,” Keith sniffs, covering Shiro’s hands with his.

“I suppose that depends on us,” Shiro says.

He pulls away for a moment to retrieve the now slightly crushed ring box. Keith swallows and silently eyes the glimmering ring inside. “Marry me?” Shiro tentatively asks and Keith feels himself smiling. “Marry me,” Shiro says with more confidence, “my… amazing friend.”

Keith licks his lips, momentarily at a loss for words, but Shiro just waits patiently for Keith to find his voice again. He’s not the only one. Even the lions seem to be waiting with bated breath.

“Yes,” Keith finally nods.

“Yes?” Shiro confirms.

“Yes, yes of course it’s a yes,” Keith smiles. The lions are literally roaring in their flight bays as Shiro exhales in relief. He slips the ring onto Keith’s finger. It’s tight, almost too tight and Keith has to bite his lip to keep himself from tearing up again. “On one condition.”

“Okay,” Shiro hesitates. “Wait, I wasn’t supposed to ask your mom’s permission first was I? Or Kolivan’s?”

“What? No,” Keith says. “Maybe. I dunno.” Technically Kolivan is the head of Keith’s family, because he's Keith's grandfather. Though no one knows that but Shiro. “What is this 1950? No.”

“What then?”

Keith takes a breath. “I’ll marry you, but only after I’ve…” he breaks off with an exaggerated grimace.

Shiro just sits there staring at him, completely at a loss. Keith leans forward a bit with an even more constipated look on his face and Shiro suddenly lights up with understanding. “Given… birth?”

“I guess,” Keith huffs dramatically, rolling his eyes. “Really looking forward to that by the way.” He sighs and rubs his tired eyes. “I’d just rather not look like that kid who turned into a blueberry on my wedding day that’s all.”

Shiro chuckles softly. “I think I can live with that.”

So can Keith. But then that’s kind of the point isn’t it. Embracing whatever the future throws at you and finding joy wherever you can. Like getting a second chance at living the life you thought you lost, or discovering your alien hybrid body is capable of creating life.

“I really do love you, you know,” Shiro says, caressing Keith’s cheek.

“I love you too,” Keith says, and he does, more than anything.

Until death do they part.