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"What's up next?" Sam Holt asked, glancing down at his datapad.

"We've received communications from Enniter," Allura said. She stood up, resting her hands on the meeting table as she spoke. "They've agreed to an alliance."

"That's excellent news!" Sam said, and similar exclamations could be heard around the room. Keith nodded. Enniter was a key location between resources they desperately needed and the Galra-occupied territory they'd been chipping away at.

"We will meet with their envoys in person to work out the details of the alliance," Allura said. "I recommend we send the Black Lion to fetch them."

Keith's head jerked up. "Black's not a passenger ship."

"No, but they'll need to travel through the edge of Galra territory so we have to send a warship," Allura said. "Black's the fastest and the toughest."

"You want Enniter's finest to camp out in a cargo hold?" Keith asked in disbelief, dropping his datapad on the table.  "It's at least a week there and back."

"We could put in bunks. Maybe a viewscreen," Allura suggested. "It won't be luxury, but the prestige of riding in a Lion of Voltron should make up for it."

"Keith shouldn't go alone," Shiro said.

Keith perked up. He hadn't had much time to spend with his best friend lately, especially since Shiro's duties on the Atlas kept him busy for long hours. "Sure," Keith said. "Shiro can join me."

"I'm sorry, but I'm going to need Shiro's assistance," Sam said. He didn't sound all that sorry to Keith's ears. "We've completed the upgrade to the Atlas's navigation system and I'll need Shiro here for calibrations. Unless this is urgent?" He looked at Shiro.

Shiro shook his head. "The Atlas takes priority over the Enniter mission." He shot Keith an apologetic look.

"Shiro's right, though. Keith shouldn't go alone," Allura said.

"I'll go," said a familiar voice. "I don't have anything that can't wait." Keith turned to look at James in disbelief. Oh, no.

"Great!" Allura said, making a note on her datapad. "Pack your dress uniforms. You're the first of the Voltron Coalition that they'll meet in person. I'll prepare some notes on their culture. Remember they haven't signed anything yet. We don't want to take any risk of them changing their minds." She gave Keith a significant look.

"You screw up one diplomatic meeting," Keith muttered.

"We'll be on our very best behavior," James said, with a respectful dip of his head. Keith hated this mission more each minute.

---

Keith caught up with Shiro  after the meeting. "You sure you can't come with me?"

Shiro sighed. "Trust me, I would much rather go flying with you than doing another upgrade with Sam," he said, as they walked briskly down the hallway.

Keith frowned. "If he's hurting you -" Shiro had had enough of medical experimentation for several lifetimes.

"He's not," Shiro assured him. "There's just a lot of technobabble. Half the time he assumes I know something that makes no sense and the other half he's explaining things I know perfectly well." He grimaced. "Which leaves me feeling like I'm two steps behind him about 100% of the time."

"He's a Holt," Keith said wryly, remembering a few of his conversations with Pidge.

"Yeah," Shiro said, with a fond smile.

"And I'm stuck with James," Keith said glumly. "What's he going to do when he's got no one to suck up to?"

"Maybe he'll suck up to you." Shiro grinned.

Keith rolled his eyes. "That'll be the day."

"I thought you guys were getting along," Shiro said.

Keith shrugged. "I haven't wanted to punch him for a while, but being civil in a crowded room is different from being stuck alone together in space."

Shiro patted him on the shoulder. "You might have fun." Keith gave him an extremely skeptical look and Shiro laughed. "It's only a few days. You'll survive."

Keith sighed. "I'll try. Next time you come along."

"Next time we both blow it off and go racing in the canyons," Shiro said. "Matt and Pidge are planning a hoverbike building competition. I told him we'd race the finished products."

Keith remembered Pidge's booster rocket exploding, leaving him and Allura stranded in open space. "Oh, no!" he said.

"Oh, yeah." Shiro grinned. "You in?"

"Definitely!" Keith said.

“Keith!”

Keith glanced back to see James jogging up to meet him. “Um. Hey,” he said. “What’s up?”

James brushed his chestnut-brown hair out of his eyes. “Hello, Captain Shirogane,” he said to Shiro.

“Officer Griffin.” Shiro acknowledged him with a small nod.

Jame turned back to Keith. “Listen, do you want to get together after dinner and go over what we need for this mission?” He smiled, and Keith thought for a moment that maybe he could put up with spending a few days alone with a guy that smiled like that.

Sucking up to me, Keith remembered, which halted that train of thought. That’s how it had been in school. Girls, boys, teachers; James could smile and say a few pretty words and they loved him. Keith wasn’t going to fall for it. “I don’t think there’s much to go over,” Keith said. He shifted his datapad from one hand to the other. “We just need to read the notes Allura gives us and we can do that alone.”

James’s smiled faded. “Okay. Let me know if there’s anything you need. My schedule’s pretty light right now.”

“Sure,” Keith said. “I’ll call you.”

James nodded at Keith and Shiro and turned to walk away. Keith wondered idly how James got his Garrison-issued uniform to fit him so nicely. Did he have it tailored? “You were right,” Keith said, turning back to Shiro. “He’s sucking up to me.”

His best friend looked amused, and Keith frowned. He didn’t see anything funny. “Is that what’s happening?” Shiro asked.

“Obviously,” Keith said. “You got time to come to the garage with me? The right thermal lift on my bike is rattling and I can’t figure out why. I’ve done every scan I can think of and nothing’s loose.”

“I’ve got a meeting at three, but I should have time to take a look,” Shiro said.

“Thanks.” Keith glanced down at his uniform. “I’ll change and meet you there in fifteen.”

Shiro nodded. “See you soon.”

---

The Black Lion was redecorated for passengers and launched without ceremony two days later. Keith had secretly hoped that the Lion herself would object to the bunks and other furnishings, but she was eager to fly and didn’t care about the changes. She even seemed to like James, who greeted her politely when he boarded. Traitor, Keith thought at her, but he only felt amusement in return.

James refused to stay in the cargo hold. "There's nothing to do down there." He leaned against the arm of the pilot's seat and looked out at the stars.

"There are three thousand movies loaded into the viewscreen, and more than a hundred video games," Keith said, exasperated. He nudged James off the pilot's seat with his elbow.

"There's no windows!" James said. He walked over to the console and traced the lighted buttons with a finger. Keith was glad James was experienced enough in a cockpit not to start pressing anything. Probably.

"There's nothing to see!" Keith exclaimed.

"There's everything to see!" James swept his arm towards the stars.

"It's nothing special," Keith said.

"It's the entire universe!" James said, then muttered. "And no one will let me see it." He balled his hands into fists and rested his knuckles on the console.

Keith frowned at him. "Is this your first time off-planet?" A number of Garrison people had been traveling to Coalition planets, but Keith hadn't paid attention to who.

"Yeah," James said. "The MFEs aren't designed for deep space and they've been keeping us close in case of attack."

"Is that why you volunteered?" Keith asked, feeling a little guilty. If he'd been trapped planetside with everyone else getting to travel, he would've been clawing at anything to escape.

James hesitated for a moment, then said, "Yeah. Mostly."

"Okay." Keith sighed. "I guess you can stay. Don't touch anything," he added sharply.

"I won't," James said. "Thanks." He slid to the ground with his back against the side of the pilot's seat, pulled his legs up, and rested his arms on his knees. He tilted his head back and looked out at the stars.

They flew like that for about an hour. Keith didn't mind having company in the cockpit when he didn't have to make mindless small talk. He was starting to think that James wasn't such a bad travel companion when he looked down and realized that his passenger had dozed off. Keith could have let James sleep. James had his feet propped against the base of the console, his back against the pilot's seat and his head on his knees. He looked comfortable. He looked peaceful.

Keith considered his options, then slammed Black into high gear, putting on a burst of speed, and shifted again, throwing Black forward into a somersault.

"What the fuck?" James jerked awake and threw his arms out to brace himself. The Lion's gravity generator pulled them towards the floor no matter what Black did in the air, but the human body knows when it's being tossed upside down.

Keith grinned and rested his elbow on the arm rest. "Figured things were getting a little boring."

"I was just resting my eyes," James said defensively.

"Don't worry," Keith said, setting Black back at travel speed. "There's better scenery in other parts of the universe."

James grimaced. "At this rate, I'll never see it."

"You will once the Atlas mission launches," Keith pointed out. He offered James a hand up, then frowned. "But maybe..." He leaned forward and typed on the console.

"What are you doing?" James asked.

"There," Keith said. He touched a point on a star map and it lit up.

"What's there?" James leaned forward to look.

"You'll see," Keith said. He shifted abruptly, kicking Black up into racing speed, and made an abrupt left turn, throwing James around the cockpit. "Hold on!" Keith yelled, belatedly.

"Asshole," James muttered, and Keith grinned. James grabbed the arm of the pilot seat and gripped it with both hands.

Pushing Black's speed tapped into his quintessence, so for long distance travel, he kept to a speed which would only use his Lion's energy. But a short run wouldn't take much out of him and it was nice to do something. Around him, Black hummed agreement. Keith threw in a few flips along the way. He wasn't showing off, not really. He didn't need to impress James. Still, seeing his old rival wide-eyed and speechless was a treat.

It took less than an hour to get to Keith's target location. He dropped Black back to cruising speed.

"That's incredible," James said. "I knew the Lions were fast, but it's one thing to know it and another to feel it."

Keith nodded. "They can go faster, but I should save my energy. Anyway, I didn't fly out here to show off Black's speed." He steered the Lion to the right. James's jaw dropped, and he rested his hands on the edge of the console, leaning as close as he could to the glass. Keith got out of his seat and stood next to James. The cockpit was small enough that their shoulders touched.

"Are they colliding?" James asked. They looked out at the two swirling masses of stars, planets, moons, asteroids and all kinds of life. The edge of one galaxy overlapped and blended with the other.

"Yeah," Keith said, hyper aware of where his shoulder met James's. There wasn't enough room on his side to move away. "They'll merge eventually, but it'll take a few billion years."

“A few billion, huh?” James asked. “I guess they’ve got the time. The rest of us will have to move faster.” He flashed a smile at Keith and looked back at the celestial display. “They’re gorgeous. Thank you.”

"You're going to see so much more," Keith said.

James turned sideways and rested his hands on Keith's hips. "Will you show me the universe?" he asked.

Keith started, and his eyes widened, but he didn't pull away. "Maybe," he said, his throat dry. James tugged him close until their hips touched. He brought up a hand to cup Keith's chin and kissed him. Keith didn't have much kissing experience, and most of it was with Blade of Marmora agents, all of whom were Galra, and all who towered over him. Kissing someone close to his own height was a novelty. He liked it. He liked draping his arms over James's shoulders and linking his fingers loosely together. He liked James's slightly chapped lips and the taste of an oversweet electrolyte drink on his tongue. He liked the way James's fingers pressed at his waist as he held Keith. He liked kissing James.

Shit.

Keith pulled back. "What are you-"

"Trust me," James said softly, his breath warm against Keith's lips. He guided Keith back to the pilot's seat and Keith went along with it, brow furrowed in confusion. "Just tell me if you want me to stop," James said, and dropped to his knees.

Oh. Keith's mouth fell open. Oh.

James rested a hand on Keith's knee. "You okay?"

"Yeah," Keith said. It came out as a croak. Yeah. Of course. Of course he was okay. With James.

"Good." James slid a hand up Keith's leg to his waist and stared at the Paladin armor in puzzlement. "How do I open this?"

"Oh," Keith said. With two flicks of his finger, he unlatched the seal connecting the upper part of the armor to the lower. He pinched and slid fasteners to unclasp the armor and dropped it to the side of the chair. James slid his fingers under the waistband of his under leggings.

"Must be a pain when you have to pee," James chuckled.

"Actually, for long journeys, the suit has a recycling-" Keith stopped when he saw James looking at him. "Uh, it's easy when you're used to it." James smiled. He tugged Keith's waistband down and Keith lifted his hips to let James slide the leggings off, along with his briefs. He was naked from the waist down in the cockpit of the Black Lion. Keith lifted his head and said to the ceiling, "I hope you're not watching."

"What?" James asked.

"Nothing," Keith said. "Private jo-o-" He gasped as James ran his tongue down his cock and closed his eyes as James took him into his mouth and sucked lightly, dragging his lips up and down with just the right amount of pressure. James, it turned out, was really good at giving head. Keith wasn't surprised, not really. James had always driven himself to be the best at whatever he did. He wondered if James had practiced on someone. Someone at the Garrison? Ryan, maybe? Why did Keith feel a twinge in his chest thinking about James blowing someone else?

"Hey," James said. He brushed his thumb against Keith's cheek. "Not getting bored, are you?"

Keith opened his eyes. "No!" he said. "Just thinking that you're really good at thi-is-" James took hold of Keith's dick and stroked it with a firm grip, rubbing his thumb over the tip.

"Natural talent," James grinned. Keith let his eye close again. "No," James said. "Watch me." It sounded like an order. Keith locked eyes with James as James bobbed his head up and down, swirling the tip with his tongue.

Keith tangled his fingers in James's hair and closed his eyes. His cock strained against James’s lips and he whispered, "Please.”

"Please what?" James whispered, his breath tickling Keith's cock.

"Don't stop," Keith panted. James grinned, bent his head, and used his tongue, his lips, and the slick warmth of his mouth to make Keith come, gasping, fingers digging at the armrest of the pilot's seat.

James wiped his mouth and gently untangled Keith's fingers from his hair as he pulled himself up to straddle Keith's lap. He grinned at Keith. "Hi."

Keith grabbed the front of James's flight suit and pulled him close for a kiss. He fumbled around with his free hand at James's waist and managed to pop open the lower half of the flight suit.

James's lips parted from Keith's long enough for him to whisper, "Yes, please," as Keith slid his hand under the waistband of his briefs. His cock was thick and warm and very hard. Pre-come leaked from the tip and Keith ran his thumb over it in slow circles. James groaned. "Hey, can you do what you did before?"

Keith frowned. "What did I do before?"

"You flew fast," James said.

"Really?" Keith asked. "You're into that?"

"Aren't you?" James asked.

Keith considered, and nodded. He pulled his hand out of James's briefs. "I need both hands for a minute." James shifted aside so that Keith could lean forward and program in the instructions. Keith gave the console a light tap. “You don’t mind if we have some fun, do you?” he asked the Lion.

“You’re a little weird, Kogane,” James murmured.

James stripped off the lower half of his flight suit and his briefs, sat on Keith's lap, and leaned back against Keith's chest. Keith inhaled the clean citrus scent of James's shampoo. "Okay," Keith said softly. He took ahold of James's cock and gave it a few strokes. It had softened a little as they'd moved around, but at Keith's touch, it hardened again. Keith let go, leaned forward, and shifted the Black Lion into high gear. The burst of speed threw Keith against the pilot's seat and James against Keith. Keith grabbed James's cock and stroked it. James’s breathing increased with the Lion’s speed. His head fell back and his face was flushed.

“Faster,” James moaned.

The Lion leapt forward, somersaulting through open space in a move of grace and power. The speed of Keith's strokes increased.

"I'm coming," James gasped, arching his back. "I'm coming - shit, Keith!"  Keith clamped one arm around James's chest and held him close while he stroked James through his orgasm. James fell back against Keith.

Keith could feel smugness around him. "Showoff," he muttered.

"What?" James asked, turning to him.

"Not you," Keith said. He leaned forward and shifted the Lion's gears back to a cruising speed. "Where did my pants go? This seat is cold."

James laughed and got up to look. He found Keith's underwear and leggings and pulled on his own briefs. He stripped off the top of his flight suit, leaving him in only an undershirt. "Take off the rest of your armor," he said.

Keith touched the red V on his chest. "What if there's an attack?"

"I can get in my flight suit in six point three seconds. How about you?" James asked.

"I never timed it," Keith said, but added, "Probably faster." He resolved to add it to their drills when he got home.

"See? We're good," James said. "You got any blankets?"

"Um-" Keith ran through a mental inventory of the cockpit. "Yeah, bottom right cabinet." He pointed. "Don't you want to sleep in a bunk?"

"There's no windows," James reminded him. "Come on." He held out his hand to Keith. "Sleep with me under the stars."

Keith turned his gaze to the view outside the windows. Once, he'd spent hours at a time staring up at the stars and dreaming of flying. Now he'd spent so much time in space that he barely noticed them. "Yeah." Keith smiled at James. "Okay." They rolled out a couple of blankets behind the pilot's seat and James grabbed pillows from the cargo hold. They made a little bed in the cockpit and fell asleep with arms entwined and legs draped over each other.

---

Keith woke up first. He was sticky and smelled of sweat and sex. Cold seeped through the blanket from the cockpit floor and his old scars ached. His heart pounded as he tried to free himself without waking up James. James. Shit. "This was stupid," he muttered. James stirred. Keith yanked his leg free and stood up.

James opened his eyes. "Hey," he said, with a sleepy smile.

"This was a mistake," Keith blurted out.

James's smile disappeared. "If you say so." He pushed himself up into a sitting position.

"I mean-" Keith swallowed, and tried to start over. "It was good. You must have practiced-" Shit. No. "Sorry." He shook his head and let out a long breath. "I just - I liked it. But it's not happening again. It's a bad idea."

"Message received," James said. His voice was colder than that damn floor. "You're taking the first shower?"

Keith was the only one of them on his feet. "I could wait.”

"It's your ship," James said. "You do what you want." He dropped his head back on the pillow.

--

Keith showered, dressed, and returned to the cockpit. James had already moved back to the cargo hold. Keith did a quick wipe-down of the pilot's seat and sat down. He stared out at the stars. Two more days like this. Unless there was an emergency and they had to abort the mission. Maybe there was a robeast and the team was about to call him back. He should check with Lance to be sure.

"Hey, Keith, what's up?" Lance asked. He was shirtless and holding a cup of something purple that bubbled and steamed. It didn't look like an attack was imminent, but it didn't hurt to ask.

"Anything going on?" Keith asked. "Incoming robeast? Galra fleet?" He looked over Lance, who had a heart drawn on his shoulder in blue marker. "If you're being mind-controlled, blink three times and I'll turn the ship around."

Lance laughed. "Bored already?"

Not exactly. "Yeah," Keith said. He slouched in his seat.

"Hey, maybe you'll meet some hot alien guy! About time you got laid." Lance said. “How long has it been?”

"Uh...," Keith said.

"Do these guys have tentacles?" Lance asked. "You should try tentacles."

"I don't know if that's my thing." Keith frowned. "Lance, have you tried tentacles?"

Lance grinned. "That's right, you weren't around when we met-" Someone behind Lance laughed and called out his name. They sounded like Allura.

Keith reevaluated Lance's lack of shirt. "I'm interrupting something. I should go."

"No, no, it's cool," Lance said. "Romelle taught us an Altean game called Flackermoodle. It's like strip poker, strip chess, and strip basketball rolled into one."

"And you're losing."

Lance glanced down at his chest. "I'm playing the long game."

Keith rubbed his palm along the armrest of his chair. "Do you think James has slept with anyone at the Garrison?"

Lance blinked in surprise. "Dunno. I can ask."

"No," Keith said quickly. "Don't. I was just wondering." But Lance had already turned around.

"Hey, Rizavi, you ever hook up with James?"

Keith heard Rizavi snort. "Never happening," she said.

"Lance, no!" Keith protested.

"Ryan, you ever slept with James?" Lance called out.

"No. Why, should I?" Kinkade's voice. "Who's asking?"

"Lance, no, don't say anything!" Keith pleaded.

"Keith," Lance called back.

Keith slouched lower in his chair. "I hate you."

Lance turned back to the communicator and lowered his voice. "Why, you like James? Want me to ask Rizavi to find out if he likes you?"

"Come on, Lance, we're adults," Keith said. "Besides, I already-" He snapped his mouth shut.

Lance's eyes lit up. "You already what?"

"Nothing. Doesn't matter. I did something stupid."

"How stupid, Keith?" Lance asked, grinning.

"I should go," Keith said quickly.

"C'mon, I promise not to tell," Lance said. "How stupid?"

"There's an asteroid field," Keith improvised. "Gotta concentrate or we'll die. Nice talking to you." He disconnected the call. A moment later, a text message popped up.

HOW STUPID?

Keith groaned and banged his head against the arm rest.

---

Keith stayed in the cockpit as much as possible. Pidge had installed game systems in each of the Lions, so Keith decided to finally give Killbot Phantasm a try. At bedtime, he waited until James was asleep before going to his own bunk. (He used the Black Lion's sensors to see when the heat signature in the cargo bay stopped moving around. But he wasn't creepy about it.)

He didn't plan on food, though, and by the late afternoon the next day, he knew he was either going to have to break into the Lion's emergency rations (they were like cardboard if it had the flavor sucked out of it) or go back into the cargo hold for one of the sandwiches Hunk had prepared.

Fine. A few moments of awkwardness was a small price for real food. Keith walked to the hold. James was on the bunk that had been pressed into service as a couch, playing a video game on the viewscreen. He paused the game when Keith came in.

"Hi," James said.

Shit. "Hi," Keith said. "I'm just getting a sandwich."

"The jalapeño ones are really good," James said.

"I'll try one," Keith said. He knelt in front of the little fridge and opened it to look at the contents. Maybe they could just muddle through this with small talk and then not see each other when they got home.

"Why do you care if I slept with someone at the Garrison?" James asked. He was still on the couch, facing the viewscreen, with the controller in his hands.

FuckFuck. Fuck. So much for small talk. "I don't," Keith said, keeping his voice even. He examined the sandwiches closely so he didn't have to look at James.

"But you asked," James said, turning to face him.

"Um, yeah," Keith said. He grabbed a sandwich at random. Strategic retreat was probably his best option. "It came up in conversation." He closed the fridge and stood up.

"Really?" James asked. "What were you and Lance discussing?"

Keith grasped for something. "Flackermoodle," he said.

"... what?" Whatever James had expected, it wasn't that.

"It's an Altean party game," Keith said. "I'm going to go eat, okay?" He waved his sandwich at James and started walking towards the cockpit.

"Keith," James said, and if he had sounded angry or demanding, Keith would have kept walking. He didn't. He sounded plaintive. Keith stopped.

"What?" he asked.

James took a breath, like he was searching for the right words. "What the fuck."

"What?" Keith frowned in confusion.

"If you feel like I pressured you-"

"You didn't," Keith said firmly.

James lifted his hands. "Then why are you being such a fucking dick?"

Keith felt heat building in his chest. "Making up for lost time," he snapped.

James shook his head. "I thought you'd changed, but you're the same arrogant, self-centered asshole you've always been."

"And you're the same sanctimonious, ass-kissing prick," Keith said furiously.

"You're the one that came into seventh grade with your nose in the air like you were too good for any of us!" James said.

"Sorry, I didn't feel like groveling in front of the Coyote Prince of Monument Junior High," Keith said sarcastically.

"You could have put your name in for the dance court just like anyone else," James said.

"Nobody would have voted for me!"

"I'm the bad guy because I was nice to other kids? People liked me. So sorry. Please forgive me," James said, with heavy sarcasm.

Keith folded his arms over his chest, squishing his sandwich in one hand. "I went through three schools and three families in four years," he said quietly. "I didn't want to get attached."

"Well, that sucks," James said He gave Keith a sympathetic look, which just annoyed him more. "But it's not like we could know that. You never talked to anyone."

Keith frowned. "Greta came up to me once and wanted to know if I liked you."

James looked interested. "What did you say?"

"I just shrugged and mumbled 'I don't know' or something," Keith said. "So she went over to you and asked if you liked me, loud enough for everyone to hear, and you looked at me, and you said," He scrunched his nose in imitation of James, scoffed, and said, "No."

"Oh," James said. He let his arms fall to his side. "Sorry. I guess. I don't remember that."

"I do," Keith said fiercely. He hugged himself. His sandwich was now mush in the center.

"I'm sorry," James repeated. "But come on, that was middle school!"

"It wasn't just that," Keith said. He had years' worth of little slights and cruelties from other children tucked away in his head. He couldn't dredge up every little detail, but he couldn't forget the feeling of being excluded and unwanted or that James had been a part of that.

"Fine," James said. "What about the Garrison? Every time you decided to show off, you screwed the rest of us over."

"I didn't show off!" Keith protested. "I was just better than you."

"No, you showed off." James tossed the controller on the couch with enough force that it bounced onto the floor. "One time we were doing a big simulation in front of like half the instructors-"

"That's definitely an exaggeration."

"- and you decided to break formation and fly off on your own, which ruined the entire exercise," James said. "And then you punched me when I yelled at you!"

"You were making fun of my parents!"

"That simulation was supposed to be part of the exam that determined if we'd go into fighter or cargo class," James said. “It was a low blow, and I’m sorry, but you were being a dick!”

"Come on," Keith scoffed. "If everyone had to redo it, it was still fair."

"We got three weeks of drills right before midterms!" James said. "I was tutoring two people on top of my own work, but you didn't care, did you? You figured if it was easy for you, it'd be easy for everyone."

Keith shifted uncomfortably. "I didn't think about it," he admitted.

"See?" James said, with grim satisfaction. He knelt down to pick up the game controller.

"I was right," Keith said quietly.

James glared at him. "About what?"

"You and me," Keith said. "We're a bad idea." James didn't have an argument for that, so Keith stalked off to the cockpit to eat his mangled sandwich.

---

Neither of them tried to talk to the other after that. Keith hailed ground control when they entered Enniter's atmosphere, and it said something about the last few days that Keith was looking forward to diplomatic conversations. An orange-haired woman with glittery orange scales greeted them, with a purple-haired assistant beside her. They both wore long robes with sweeping, draped sleeves. The orange-haired women introduced herself as K'rkara but did not introduce the assistant. Keith, as the ranking officer, introduced himself and James.

"We know you've had a long journey," K'rakara said. "We have sleeping quarters for you and we will talk in the morning." She lead them up a tower that overlooked the sea and opened the door to the room. "We have prepared it for all Earthling needs according to the specifications provided. Please let us know if you require anything else."

Keith looked into the room. "Um. We're supposed to share this?"

K'rkara's brow furrowed in concern. "Yes. Do you need separate nests? Is one of you brooding? I was told Earthlings do not lay eggs." She turned her frown on the assistant to her right, who pulled out a datapad and frantically tapped at the screen.

"We don't," James said quickly. "It looks very comfortable." He smiled at K'rkara and the assistant relaxed.

"Good," K'rkara said. "There are glph'e on the center table if you would like a snack."

"'Thank you for allowing us shelter in your nest'," Keith said, quoting the traditional guest greeting from Allura's notes.

"May your eggs be-" K'rkara frowned, and the assistant whispered in her ear. "May your babies," she corrected, "be warm under your bottoms and the sky above you be dry." Keith kept his expression neutral. "Rest well," K'rkara said. She and her assistant left, closing the door behind them.

"You should have let me handle the room issue," Keith said. He picked up a cookie from the center table and considered their current problem. The room didn't have a bed. The room had a nest - one nest - built with wide branches, with a thick blanket and a long pillow placed in the center of it.

"Yes, sir," James said. He took a cookie and leaned his hip against the table, watching Keith. "Next time it's all yours."

Keith knelt down and touched a branch of the nest. It was spongy and soft, like mattress foam, but organic. He wondered if they had foam trees on this planet. The branches were woven into a round bowl. Two full-grown adult humans would fit in it nicely, if they curled up together. "You take the nest," Keith told James.

"Okay, if that's what you want."

“It is." Keith grabbed the blanket and pillow. "I'll sleep on the floor." He stuffed the cookie in his mouth and carried his bedding as far from the nest as possible. He finished the cookie and cocooned himself in the blanket.

James stared at the bare nest. "Yes, sir," he muttered. He got an emergency silver blanket from his pack and settled down.

---

Keith woke to the faint sound of his datapad chiming the morning alarm. He tugged the blanket away from his face and said, "Snooze." It quieted. He burrowed back into the blanket. He hated diplomatic discussions, he hated making small talk, and he really didn't want to see James at all. On top of that, he was too cold, his eyes ached, and his skin was buzzing, so he was probably coming down with something. Diplomacy didn't get sick days, but he could at least squeeze an extra ten minutes of sleep.

"Keith." James was standing over him. If he tries to touch me with his foot, I'm taking it off at the ankle. "Hey, you getting up?"

Keith's datapad chimed again. "Yes," he grumbled. "End alarm," he told the datapad. The chiming stopped. Keith pushed the blanket away and stood up. He blinked, then blinked rapidly, trying to clear his eyesight. Everything looked wrong. It was way too bright and all the colors had shifted. Maybe he really was sick.

"Holy shit," James whispered.

"What?" Keith asked. He rubbed his eyes with the heels of his hands. They still ached.

"Um," James said. "Uh. Hold on."

"What?" Keith asked irritably. "What are you doing?"

James ran over to his pack and got his datapad. He came back, switched on the front camera and handed it to Keith. "Does this happen to you a lot?"

Keith held the datapad at arms' length. The image of himself on the screen stared at him through slit-pupil purple eyes. Keith tilted his head back, pulled back his lips and tongued the tip of a sharp fang. Turning his head revealed a long, pointed, purple ear sticking out through waves of black hair. "No," Keith said, the word catching in his throat. His lavender hands thrust the datapad back at James and he closed his eyes, trying to calm the pounding of his heart. He wrapped his arms across his chest, hugging himself, trying to keep himself from falling apart. "Never. I never-"

"Maybe you should sit down," James said softly.

"I'm fine," Keith snapped. A counselor had once told him that if you said something enough, you could convince yourself. It had never worked for him, but maybe today was the day. He brushed a hand over his ear and jerked it back. He had fur. "We- we've got that meeting," Keith said. "I need to get ready."

"Me too," James said, but he didn't move. He thumbed the datapad off. "Keith, do they know about you being half-Galra?"

"I don't know," Keith admitted. "It's not a secret, but we're not putting it in the preparation packet, either." He swallowed. "You think this is going to cause trouble."

"One of their new allies turns out to secretly be one of their enemies? Yeah, likely," James said.

"I'm not an enemy!" Keith snapped. His vision flashed yellow.

"I know," James said calmly. "But we've got to assume they'll think the worst, and figure out how to deal with it." He put his datapad away. "Do you think they did this somehow?" He looked around the room and his gaze landed on the cookies. It was the only thing they'd ingested that hadn't come from Earth.

"I don't know," Keith said. He squeezed his eyes shut, hoping to ease the aching. "We need this alliance. A base at this key juncture could save thousands, maybe millions of lives. It could be the key to defeating the Empire for once and for all."

"Then we'll make it happen," James said, with confidence. "We just have to get them safely to Earth and hand them over to Allura. She'll do the heavy lifting."

Keith nodded. "Okay." He cupped his hands over his nose and mouth and took a deep breath. "Okay."

They were ready in their dress uniforms when K'rkara knocked on the door. James opened it. "Bright Day!" K'rkara said cheerfully. "Are you ready to go? I'll escort you to the morning meal, and then we'll gather in the third-level hosting room." Her smile disappeared when she saw Keith. "Is this a joke?" she demanded.

"Definitely not," Keith said. "Did you put something in the cookies?"

"They're glph'e," K'rkara said. "The same glph'e that we traditionally give visitors."

James frowned. "Is there anything special in the glph'e?"

"There is an herb that reveals lies," K'rkara said primly. "But anyone familiar with our people would know that."

There had been something in Allura's notes like that, but Keith had assumed it was metaphorical. Maybe Allura thought it was. Look, we're gaining new cultural understanding of these people, he thought, a little hysterically. "This," he said, pointing at his face, "isn't a lie. I'm half-human and my mother is Galra."

"Oh, I'm sorry," K'rkara said, her voice thick with pity. "Did your father survive the attack?"

James clamped his hand around Keith's wrist before Keith even realized he'd tried to take a swing. "Cancel the morning meal and the meeting," James ordered. "We're going to need some time. I'll let you know when we're ready." He shut the door and dropped the latch. Keith yanked himself free of James and staggered back until his back hit a wall. "Keith?" James asked, alarmed. "Are you okay?"

"I'm fine," Keith said. He wrapped his arms over his head, covering his ears, and slowly sank down until he was crouched on the floor. "Fine," he echoed.

"No, you're not," James said. He crouched next to Keith. "What is it?"

Keith shook his head and squeezed his eyes shut. "Everything's too bright, and too loud, and the colors are wrong." He cracked open one eye to glare at James. "Grab me like that again and I'll stab you."

"You'll thank me later when we still have an alliance," James said. He touched the back of his hand to Keith's forehead. "Your temperature is low."

"I run cool," Keith muttered, but he was shivering.

"I think you're cooler than usual," James said. He stretched out and grabbed the blanket from where Keith had discarded it earlier. He wrapped it around Keith and sat down beside him. Keith clutched the blanket closed with one hand. Following an instinct he couldn't identify, he grasped James's hand and linked their fingers together. "You really are in bad shape," James said wryly. He gave Keith's hand a light squeeze and reached over to push Keith's hair out of his face. It fell back in place immediately. James moved his hand and it brushed the tip of Keith's ear. Keith jerked back and the sudden sensation from the touch left him breathing hard. "Sorry!" James said. "Did I hurt you?"

"Uh, no-o," Keith said. His voice broke on the last syllable and his cheeks flushed.

James's mouth dropped open and his face colored. "Oh," he said.

"Yeah," Keith said. He released the blanket and cupped a hand around one ear. "That's new."

"Maybe this is normal," James said. "Have you talked to any other half-Galra people about stuff like this?"

"It's not like there's a lot of us," Keith pointed out.

"Yeah, but you hang out with Acxa," James said. "What do you talk about?"

"Mostly? How to kill people." Keith gave James a meaningful look.

James sighed, let go of Keith's hand, and rested his back against the wall. "I don't get how you're single."

"You're going to have to deal with them," Keith said miserably, glancing towards the door. He pulled his blanket closed in front. "Get them in the cargo hold. I'll stay in the cockpit." And he'd thought it couldn't get worse than the flight here.

"They poisoned you," James pointed out.

"We've got Hunk's sandwiches and we've got travel rations. That'll get us home. Both of us; I don't think we can trust what they feed you, either. Just because the glph'e didn't affect you doesn't mean their food's safe."

"I agree, but that's not what I meant," James said.

"We need this alliance," Keith reminded him. He moved his head back and forth, watching the colors shift.

"I know," James said. "But we can't trust them." He frowned. "What are you doing?"

"Looking at things. Do my eyes look different to you?" Keith turned to James.

James leaned in and lifted Keith's chin with two fingers. Keith's heart sped up. "Different from yesterday or different from half an hour ago?" James asked.

"Half an hour ago," Keith said.

"They look the same, I think," James said. "Do they feel different?"

"The colors keep shifting," Keith said. James didn't look away and he didn't move his hand. Keith swallowed and his pupils widened. "James," he said softly.

James lowered his hand and glanced away. "Sorry."

"What do you want?" Keith asked.

James shrugged. "To go home, sleep in my own bed, get some really good tacos, and not start an intergalactic incident. Not necessarily in that order. You?"

"You know what I mean," Keith said.

James sighed and dropped the back of his head against the wall. "I like you, okay? Even in school when you were this scrawny, annoying, loner-"

"Wow," Keith said faintly. "How are you still single?"

"You're asking, I'm answering," James said.

Keith gave a weak wave of his hand. "Go on."

"You were attractive," James said. "Even then. Weird and unapproachable-"

"Wow." Keith said.

James ignored him. "But attractive. Then you came back, all buffed out, leading your own team and just deadly competent, and man, I'm only human." He glanced at Keith's eyes. "Um. No offense."

Keith looked down. "I might not be 'only human', but I've seen you in action." He shrugged. "I'd trust you to watch my back in battle without a second thought, but-" he hesitated. "I don't know how to say this without sounding like a character in one of Lance's romance novels."

James lifted his eyebrows. "Lance reads romance novels?"

"Lance writes romance novels," Keith said.

"You think I'm going to break your heart?" James smiled.

Keith scowled. "No!" Then he shrugged. "Maybe. We don't have a great history."

"We could have a great future," James suggested. He winced at Keith's expression. "Bad line?"

Keith nodded.

"Forget I said it." James said. He slid his hand back into Keith's and Keith linked their fingers again. "You're willing to make a suicide run into the shield of a Galra battleship, but you won't go on a date?"

Keith sucked in his breath. "How'd you find out about that?"

"I've been studying all the major Coalition battles and there were some gaps in the official report about Noxella. I did some digging, and then I bought Matt some drinks."

"Matt needs to keep his mouth shut," Keith muttered.

"I also learned more than I ever needed to know about Rexatalus 5," James said.

"Who fought in that battle?" Keith asked, frowning. He'd studied up on all the major Coalition battles as well, especially the ones he hadn't been around for.

"It's not a battle. It's a bar," James said. "Matt told me some stories, which he made me swear never to tell Pidge. We should go sometime. You drive, I'll buy the drinks."

Keith adjusted the blanket, pulling it tighter around his shoulders. "Not really my scene."

"Not usually mine, either," James admitted. "The place is a legend, though. I'd like to see it just once."

Keith shifted slightly to look at James. "I know something you'd like better."

"Oh?"

"The Library of Marmora," Keith said.

"As in 'The Blade of'?" James asked.

Keith nodded. "The Blade of Marmora have records of every major Galra and Blade of Marmora action for the last ten thousand years and most are first-person accounts. People have died for the information in that Library. And killed for it."

James's eyes grew huge. "Can you take me there, or are you just teasing me, Keith, because I swear to God-"

Keith smirked. "Kolivan would have to grant permission."

"He likes you, though? You can ask for me?"

"You'd only be able to see a fraction of the material stored in the Library. There are records there that even senior members of the Blade aren't allowed to read."

"That's okay," James said.

"Also, you might have to fight all the members of the Blade of Marmora," Keith said, with a sly grin.

"To get into the library?"

"It's the Blade of Marmora," Keith said. "'Knowledge or Death.'"

"Did you have to fight all of them?" James asked.

"Just the ones that were on the base when I showed up the first time," Keith said.

"Seriously?" James asked. "How many? For real."

Keith shook his head. "I don't know. I lost count after the first twenty or so. Shiro might remember."

"Damn," James said, and considered it. "If you could do it, I could do it." He smiled and bumped his shoulder against Keith's.

Keith rolled his eyes. "Asshole." He adjusted the blanket again. He was still shivering. "I'll send Kolivan a message when we get back. I'm at least sixty percent sure he won't make you fight anyone."

"Here," James said. He tugged the blanket out of Keith's hands, then put his arm around Keith and maneuvered them until Keith's back was against James's front and James's legs were on either side of Keith. Keith didn't object, but he kept his back rigid. "Just until you get warm," James said softly. Keith nodded and slowly let himself relax against James. James pulled the blanket over both of them.

Keith felt James's heart beat steadily against his back. His own heartbeat calmed, slowed, in response, and James's body heat warmed him until the shivering faded. Keith let his eyes close, just for a moment, to ease the strain of his altered vision on his eyes. He jerked awake a moment later, when he realized he was dozing off.

"It's okay if you want to sleep," James said.

Keith shook his head. "There's too much to do." He pushed himself upright and turned around to face James. "Thanks," he said.

"You feeling better?" James asked.

Keith nodded. "I just needed time to adjust. I'm fine." Probably.

James touched the back of his hand to Keith's cheek. "You feel warmer." Keith didn't answer. He had an odd feeling in his chest, but he didn't think it was from his Galra side. He looked at James thoughtfully. James frowned, but before he could ask what was wrong, Keith closed the distance between them and kissed him. Surprised, James dropped his hand from Keith's cheek and leaned into the kiss. Keith pressed against him, his tongue exploring James's mouth. James pushed back. His hands gripped Keith's waist and his teeth tugged at Keith's lower lip. Keith retaliated by dragging his teeth along James's neck, just below the ear.

Not teeth. Fangs. Keith lifted his mouth and saw two red lines marking James's neck. James sucked in air. "Are you going to regret this later?" he asked, breathing heavily.

Keith stopped and drew back. "I don't know," he said honestly. He was still pretty sure he and James were a bad idea, but right at the moment, he couldn't remember why. "Do you want me to stop?"

"No," James said firmly. He pushed Keith's shoulders. Keith fell back on the blanket, took a handful of James's shirt and pulled James down on top of him. James got his hands on either side of Keith just in time to prevent himself from faceplanting on Keith's chest.

"Is this what you want?" Keith asked, his voice rough.

James braced himself on his forearms and held himself above Keith, his face just above Keith's "Yes," he said. He kissed Keith, his tongue prodding at one of Keith's fangs. "I want you to bite me," he said.

"Not the first time you've said that," Keith grinned.

"Mm, but now I mean it," James said. He sat back, straddling Keith, and helped Keith wriggle out of his shirt. "You never could take orders, Kogane."

"I'm better at giving them," Keith said. "Following them's your thing."

"Yeah?" James grinned. He stripped off his own shirt. "What are your orders, sir?"

"Fuck me," Keith commanded. James froze and his eyes went dark. Keith swallowed. "Or we could do something else."

"No," James said, his voice low and rough. "If that's your order, I'll obey." He bent down to kiss Keith again. "Get your pants off," he said softly. He rolled off Keith and went over to their packs.

"Insubordination," Keith said. "I thought I was giving the orders." But he was already unbuckling his belt. "There's a med kit in my pack."

"Mine, too," James said. He unzipped his own pack and dug around in it.

"Garrison-issue, right?" Keith asked. "Get the lubricant from mine. It's better."

James gave him a skeptical look. "Some special space lube?"

"It's less sticky than the Garrison medical lubricant. I discovered it when I was running missions with the Blades." Keith said. James turned and gave him a look, eyebrows raised. "What? Some missions have a lot of downtime."

"Galra space lube it is," James said. He zipped up his pack, got the med kit from Keith's and returned to Keith with a tube of lube in his hand. "You're still wearing underwear." Keith's pants la crumpled to the side.

"You only said pants," Keith reminded him. "And you're still dressed."

"Fine," James said. He tossed Keith the lube - Keith caught it easily - and took off his pants. He dropped them on top of Keith's pants and stretched out next to the other man, propping himself up on his side with one arm. "Is everything you own red?" he asked. He ran his fingers along the waistband of Keith's briefs.

"Most of it's black, actually," Keith said. He lifted his butt and wriggled his hips as he pulled his underwear off. He was half-hard and already breathing heavily. "Take off your briefs, Cadet," he said.

"Oh, no, you're not demoting me," James said. "It took me two years of active combat to become an officer."

"Fine," Keith said. "Take it all off, Lieutenant."

"Much better," James said. He tugged off his underwear and threw it on the pile of clothing next to them. He settled back next to Keith. "Can I touch your ears?" he asked softly.

Keith shivered. "Yes."

James kept his hand flat on Keith's stomach and bent down to kiss him just below his earlobe. Keith closed his eyes. James ran his tongue along the edge of his ear and Keith's breathing sped up. James worked his tongue up the soft fringe of purple fur until he reached the pointed tip, and them James took the tip between his lips and flicked it with his tongue. Keith let out a soft cry and his back arched.

"Wow," James whispered, with a quiet laugh.

"Shut up," Keith said, his cheeks heated. His breath came in gasps. "And don't stop."

"Can I make you come like this?" James asked. He pressed a kiss behind Keith's ear.

"I d-don't know." Keith let out a soft exhalation that was almost a purr.

"Let's see," James said. He slid his hand over Keith's chest and up to the other ear. He took the edge of the ear between his thumb and forefinger and rubbed it up and down in smooth, even strokes. Keith gasped. James sucked on the tip of the other ear. Keith closed his eyes. He ignored the little voice saying this is a little weird and focused on the feel of James's fingers, his tongue, his warm breath. He lifted his hips without thinking, straining towards something that wasn't there.

Or maybe it was. James dropped his hand back down to Keith's stomach and slowly slid it lower as he tongued the edge of Keith's ear. James took a grip on Keith's cock and Keith thrust into his hand.

"James," Keith whispered, and the sound sent a shudder through James's body. James moaned softly and pressed his cock against Keith's bare hip, but he didn't thrust. Not yet. James swirled his thumb in the pre-come at the tip of Keith's cock and Keith thrust again.

"Hold still," James murmured. "I've got this." He sucked on the tip of Keith's ear again and stroked his cock in smooth, efficient strokes, until Keith cried out.

"James. James." Everything in Keith's body tensed. His back arched, his head strained back and his fingers dug into the blanket beneath him. Then, with a great exhalation, he went limp.

James gently brushed Keith's sweat-dampened hair out of his eyes. "Put that on a vid chip and I'd watch it every night."

Keith snorted weakly. "I'm sure you would." He lifted his head to look at James, eyes wide and purple and strange. James kissed him without hesitation. Keith curled his fingers around the back of James's neck and, without breaking the kiss, he rolled over and pushed James onto his back to straddle him.

James grinned. "I thought you wanted-"

"I do." Keith took hold of both of James's wrists, pinned them to the floor, then kissed him again.

James groaned and closed his eyes. "You're going to kill me, Kogane."

"Mm," Keith said smugly. "You like this?"

"You know, I might have something in my pack we could use," James suggested.

"No," Keith said regretfully. "We shouldn't do that today, but-" He snapped his mouth shut.

"Today?" James asked, opening his eyes.

"We shouldn't put each other in restraints in potentially hostile territory," Keith said. "That's all I meant." He looked away from James and picked up the lube.

James sat up, putting his hands on Keith's hips to hold him still. "Okay," he said softly. He kissed Keith and slowly stroked his thumbs over Keith's hipbones, then tugged the tube of lube from Keith's hand.

"Space lube," James murmured, and squeezed a dollop of it into his hand.

"Earth is in space, too," Keith pointed out. "Everything's in space. So, really, ohh-" James pressed one well-lubed finger on Keith's asshole and slowly worked it in.

"Tell me if you want to stop," James said softly. He pumped his finger in and out, keeping his eyes on Keith's face.

"This is good," Keith gasped. He curled his fingers around James's cock and stroked it. He was rock hard, straining against Keith's hand at his touch. James sucked in two gasping breaths, then pushed another finger into Keith, curling his fingers slightly with every stroke. Then he scissored them and Keith let out a low purr, his eyes half-closed. "More," Keith whispered. James withdrew his hand and Keith's eyes flew open. "What are you doing?"

"Space lube," James reminded him. He squirted more on his fingers, then handed Keith the tube. Keith poured some into his hand and stroked it over James's cock. "Keith," James said breathlessly. "Space boy, I am going to fuck you until you see stars." He pushed three fingers into Keith and Keith let out soft, low cries as James thrust in and out of Keith, spreading his fingers a little more each time. "Are you ready?" James asked finally. Keith's cock was hard again, jutting out next to where Keith was stroking James.

"Yes," Keith said, eyes half-closed with arousal. He lifted his hips, but James grabbed his wrist.

"Look at me," James said.

Keith opened his eyes and his slit-pupil, purple eyes met James's round, hazel ones. Holding his breath, Keith positioned himself over James's cock and slowly lowered himself onto it.

"Keith," James whispered. "Keith, I-" and then he groaned, breaking eye contact as Keith sank all the way down.

"Do you want me to ride you?" Keith asked.

"Yes," James whispered.

"Okay," Keith said. He braced his knees to hold himself up and rode James, rising and falling with each stroke. James's hand wrapped around Keith's cock, but he didn't move it, just held on as if he need a grip on something. Keith sped up as James's moans got louder.

"Bite me," James gasped.

"Could... hurt... you," Keith said between strokes.

"Said you would," James reminded him. "I'll suck your ear."

Keith swallowed. "Okay." He paused mid-stroke to lower himself onto James's chest, propping himself up on his elbows so there was still room between them for James to hold Keith's cock. Keith lowered his head and James took the tip of his ear in his mouth. Keith's cry spurred James on and he lifted his hips, taking over the job of thrusting into Keith and matching each thrust with a stroke of his tongue along Keith's ear. They rode the pleasure, the desire to stay like this, pulling comfort and bliss from each other. But the growing, desperate need to achieve completion grew greater with each stroke.

"Please," James whispered. "Please, Keith, please." His hand moved on Keith's cock.

"James," Keith groaned. "James, I'm gonna-" and then James raked his teeth over Keith's ear and Keith cried out. He pressed his mouth to the base of James's neck and sank his fangs in, tasting blood as his cock spilled onto James's stomach. James cried out in response. He grabbed Keith's hips and held them in place as he thrust deep into Keith and came, calling out his name.

James gently slid out of Keith and they sprawled together on the blanket; loose-limbed and sweaty. Keith was still half-draped over James when they brought their lips together for a kiss; slow, and warm, and tasting slightly of blood.

"Sorry," Keith said, looking at the small puncture wounds. He rested his head against James's shoulder.

"Don't be. It was amazing," James said. He ran his fingers through Keith's hair, careful to avoid his ears.

"I'll get the med kit." Keith started to get up, but James stopped him with a hand on his arm.

"Not yet," James said. He kissed Keith again.

"You're bleeding," Keith said, when he got the chance to speak.

"I've had worse," James said.

"You're getting blood on me," Keith said. He had smudges on the arm draped over James.

"You've had worse," James reminded him. He wriggled around until he had his front to Keith's back, then pulled Keith close with one arm.

"I didn't figure you for a cuddler," Keith said. He leaned back into James's warmth and let his eyes drift closed. James pulled the side of the blanket over them and tucked his chin between Keith's neck and shoulder.

"I didn't think you'd let me be the big spoon," James said. He pressed a kiss against Keith's cheek and closed his eyes.

"Today's full of surprises," Keith said.

"What are you doing when we get home?" James asked.

"Gotta hand these guys over to Allura," Keith said sleepily.

"Okay, but after," James said.

"I gotta go to Medical," Keith said. "I should bring some of those cookies as samples."

"Yeah, but will you be busy after that?" James asked. "Maybe the next day?"

"I'll probably have to write up a report on this trip." Keith made a face. "And get the bunks out of Black."

"Keith," James said patiently. "Is there any chance you'll have an evening free sometime in the near future?"

Keith mentally ran through his schedule. "Yeah, this weekend. Why?" He cracked his eyes open to look at James.

James looked back at him, took a deep breath, then said, "Maybe you're right. Maybe we're a bad idea. But I've known you a long time and you have never taken the easy route. You can puss out now, or you can grow some balls and let me cook you dinner on Saturday."

Keith snorted. "I am naked on top of you right now."

"I noticed," James said.

"I mean, if you want to know if I have balls-"

"Metaphorical balls." James sighed. "Never mind. We'll go home and forget about this."

They were both quiet for a moment, and then Keith said. "I didn't say no."

"You didn't say yes."

"I'm saying yes," Keith said. "If the offer's still open."

James looked at him, and a slow smile spread across his face. "Yeah." He rested his hand at the back of Keith's neck and pulled him in for a kiss. "We're on." He gently slid out from under Keith.

"What? Where are you going?" Keith asked.

"We need to eat, which means I need to go get food from Black. Unless you want to go out there...?" James asked.

"I'm not sure if that's a good idea," Keith said.

"Yeah," James said. "Okay, I'll get food and come back and then you, team leader, will decide what we do next." Keith groaned. James smirked. "Or we can work it out together." He cleaned up, got dressed, and left the room.

---

By the time James returned, Keith had washed up, dressed, and even (cautiously) groomed the fur on his ears. He’d cleaned up all evidence of sex and settled into the foam nest, reading a novel on his datapad. "Finally!" Keith said. James gave him a big grin and tossed him a sandwich. Keith unwrapped it and took a huge bite. Then he frowned at James and gave him a questioning look.

"I found something out," James said, his eyes bright with amusement. "I was in the hangar. You know they have all those shiny new jets in there?"

Keith nodded, his mouth full of sandwich.

"I heard some guys talking, and I asked a couple of questions, and it turns out, their great big fleet is totally useless. They don't have pilots!"

Keith's eyes widened. He swallowed quickly, choked on the crumbs, and had to get a drink of water from the bottle in his pack. "How is that possible?"

"They never fought in anything before the war came to this system," James said. "They've been building planes from the plans they got from the Coalition, but they don't have anyone with the experience to fly them. They're counting on the Coalition to provide them with teachers."

Keith frowned. "If the Galra attack, they're dead. They need more than teachers. They need pilots that can defend them until their own people are trained. They-" He grinned. "They need us more than we need them."

James nodded, eyes on Keith's face.

Keith jumped to his feet. "Good," he said. "We're getting out of here."

James's grin changed to a look of alarm. "We can't abandon them."

"We're not," Keith said. "Call in K'rkara." James went to send a message. Keith swiped through his datapad until he came to the information he needed. "Vilva 6-B is nearby and they've been providing the Coalition with forces in this area. They can get defenders here in less than a quintant."

"Can they defeat a Galra fleet?" James asked doubtfully.

"Probably not, but they could buy time," Keith said. He scowled. "These Enniterians have been playing roulette with their people's lives."

"Maybe they don't realize how much danger they're in," James said quietly, and Keith remembered stories about Earth just before Sendak's attack.

"Maybe not," Keith said grimly. There was a knock on the door and James opened it to find K'rkara's assistant.

"Hello," James said.

"Hello," she said, holding her datapad firmly. "I am T'risa. K'rkara has been reassigned to the nesting patch and I will assist you from now on."

Keith raised his eyebrows, but just said, "Good. We will be departing in two vargas. I want your delegation on my ship at that time."

"But-" T'risa looked at Keith, then at James. "We have several meetings scheduled, and then a meal celebrating the joining of our peoples."

"We will not be eating here," Keith said. "There are many things to discuss and it is best if your people do it directly with the Coalition leaders. Be sure that at least one of your delegates is an expert on your defenses." She stared at him, then lifted her datapad and tapped on it rapidly. "Two vargas," Keith repeated. "Be prompt." He closed the door in her face.

Keith looked over to see James watching him. "What?"

"That was incredibly hot," James said.

Keith frowned. "What did I do?"

James went over to him and pulled Keith in his arms. Keith, still confused, didn't resist. "You were competent." He kissed Keith.

"I'm always competent," Keith said, when they parted. "Well, usually," he added, with honesty.

"Maybe that's why I'm so into you," James said. He kissed Keith again.

"Okay," Keith said finally, with a smile. "We need to go."

---

The Enniterian delegates showed up on time, though they looked rumpled and a bit flustered. They didn't show any open hostility to Keith, but they kept giving him sidelong glances. He stayed in the cockpit as much as he could. James spent as much time with Keith as possible, though he did have to do some diplomatic wrangling, and he and Keith slept in shifts. Neither of them thought there was any immediate threats from the delegates, but neither of them was willing to take chances, either.

Keith hailed the Garrison once they were in range of Earth, and when they landed, James escorted them to a meeting room where Allura was waiting. Keith waited until they had left, then snuck out, intending to head to Medical without drawing any attention along the way. He wasn't sure how people would react to his new look. He wanted to know if it was permanent or not before he had to face a bunch of questions.

"Keith!" Shiro spotted him in the hallway and jogged over to meet him. His eyebrows shot up when he got a good look at Keith.

"It's been a very weird trip," Keith grumbled, walking briskly in the direction of the medical office.

"Yeah, I can see that," Shiro said. "What happened? Are you okay?" He peered at Keith's mouth. “Do you have fangs?"

"Yeah," Keith said. "The Enniterians poisoned me and turned me Galra. That's not what's weird."

"That's not weird?" Shiro reached a hand towards Keith's ears. Keith ducked quickly. Shiro pulled his hand back.

"No," Keith said, frowning. He took a left turn. The medical office was at the end of the hallway.

"Okay," Shiro said patiently. "What's the weird thing?"

"I'm dating James," Keith said. "There was..." he paused, searching for words he didn't find. "I mean, we..." No, he knew the words. He just couldn't get them out.

"Oh," Shiro said, understanding.

"Yeah," Keith said, relieved that he didn't have to explain. "And he invited me over for dinner."

"You're going?" Shiro asked.

"Yeah," Keith said. "I am." He frowned, puzzled. "I never would have thought I'd fall for James."

"Well," Shiro said. He used his alien space tech floating hand to open the door of the medical office for Keith. "It's not the weirdest thing that's happened."

Keith absently touched the edge of his furry purple ear. "But it's up there," he said.

---