Next time, Keith thinks, he’s going to say no to his mom.
Next time Krolia sends him a message in his personal comms telling him to come home to Daibazaal for a while because she misses him, he'll say-
Ah, damn it.
Fine, that’s actually something he should come home for. He knows she means it. She missed him everyday, and he missed her, too.
Still. That doesn’t make him any less annoyed that she had ambushed him into… this.
This, is him standing in the middle of his room, being fitted for Galran formal wear by some nameless no-nonsense Galran tailors as he resignedly listens to Krolia and Allura talking about an upcoming diplomatic visit to some planet that they were recruiting for the Galactic Coalition.
A visit that they had roped Keith into attending with them, due to some… tradition... about parents and offsprings. Apparently. Allura had claimed that planet Fluv's three queens would very much appreciate if their guests made an effort to study and honor their culture. Krolia, ever efficient, decided that they must gain as much favor from their potential new allies as possible.
“If that means bringing my child with me, then so be it.”
“Even if said child is now an adult and a member of Daibazaal’s primary intelligence and defense task force, and might be doing very important work somewhere else instead?”
Keith tries for a pout. The one that works even on Antok.
It doesn't work on his mother, though. Krolia is unfazed. “Yes. If Kolivan can take time off to escort me on this trip, then so can you.”
Keith blinks. “Kolivan’s coming?”
“He is.” Krolia says, daring him to say more. “It increases our chances if we come as a unit, the three of us.”
Allura clears her throat, and Keith turns to her. She starts speaking in her ‘I Didn’t Sleep To Study Everything About This Race’s Culture’ voice. “You see, Keith... The Fluvakians value the bonds of family.”
Keith rolls his eyes. “Don’t we all?”
Allura holds up a finger, signalling for silence. “They see their offspring as their greatest treasure and are very protective of them.”
At this, Keith furrows his brows. “Don’t… we all?” He looks at his mother, at a loss. “What race doesn’t want to protect their kits?”
Allura sighs, but remains patient, ever the coalition’s finest ambassador and advocate for peace. “Keith… How do I say this... They’re very… doting about their kits...”
“They think their kits delicate.” Krolia explains. “And they believe that all kits must be raised and guided... traditionally. So to them, the family unit - parents, guardians and children - are sacred. I know many cultures share this, but the Fluvakians take it to another level. They believe there must always be several guardians for a kit.”
Allura nods at this approvingly before continuing. “It’s not uncommon that if a pair of parents… well… loses its half, for that person and their child to join a family community instead so that the child is still raised by more than one guardian.”
“Basically, no single parents?” Keith asks.
“Yes. Better many parents than only one. Also, they hold quite a firm belief that everyone is meant for someone, and young Fluvakians are taught this since a very young age. They have... a certain understanding about life-bonds and such.”
“I still don’t see how- Oh.” Keith does a double-take, but one of the tailors poking and prodding at his fancy outfit pulls him back to stand straight. “We’re coming… as a unit- What-... Are we telling them that Kolivan is my dad?”
“Not necessarily.” Krolia says. “We’re introducing him as my… other domestic partner. Which wouldn’t be a lie.”
“They're actually quite open to non-monogamous relationships.” Allura adds happily. "The fact that they would see that Krolia has one of her partners and her son openly supporting her in this advocacy mission would look very favorably on our case."
“Okay. But Kolivan's... busy. He could barely make time to talk to me and we're usually on the same ship. Why couldn’t you just get dad?”
“There’s no time. Earth is several quadrants away. Teludavs are all busy and being used for other business, and you and Kolivan happened to be in the same system. Don't worry about him, he knows how to delegate.”
Keith accepts that answer. Kolivan is a very busy person indeed, but he always made time for Krolia, on the rare times their free time actually lined up.
“Also, before you ask - yes, your father knows. He sends you his love, and also sent over some new Earth movies you've missed.” Krolia says with a fond smile, which quickly turns into a faintly annoyed frown when she remembers something “He also said, I quote, 'I love you, Kro, but better Kolivan than me.' He claims he's forgotten how to properly tie a tie.”
Keith can't even imagine his dad with a tie.
Allura lets out a little amused laugh. "Didn't he also say something about Keith and a table knife?"
Keith groans. "That was one time..."
"-that we don't want a repeat of." Krolia says, tone reprimanding. "No stabbing other guests this time, Keith. Even if they're being inappropriate. You have to learn how to extract yourself from the situation with grace."
"And that's why I'm with the Blades, not with the Coalition." Keith sighs.
"I mean it, Keith. No stabbing." Krolia says. Then with an airy sigh, she adds, "In public."
Keith raises an eyebrow, but smirks. "Okay, mom."
Allura looks from mother to son, then to mother again. "I feel like I should be worried about something... but oh, well." She claps her hands together and nods. "Now! Let's discuss your schedule once you get to Fluv..."
Keith lets the Princess and his mother go over the details of their trip. This was not his first diplomatic visit, but he still felt wary. He usually only had to trail after his mother and be civil with other guests, which is easy enough most of the time, but Keith never really enjoyed these formal gatherings. Keith is a restless soul - he much preferred to be in Blade missions, piloting and fighting.
But Krolia counted on him, and the Coalition counted on Krolia. Plus, Krolia is not only a renowned ambassador, she and Kolivan were both esteemed advisers to Emperor Lotor of Daibazaal. Keith's life always meant making public appearances, one way or another.
He had more or less learned to just... suck it up. When it happened. Besides, he could always escape to Earth and hide out at his dad's place when things got too much and he needed a break after.
Keith grunts when one of the tailors ties a sash too tight on his waist. Thankfully, they loosen it when he growls under his breath.
Oh, Allura is still talking, and did he hear his name?
“...and after the luncheon, Keith will be expected to spend the better part of a quintant with the royal children-”
Ah, the schedule. Nevermi- Wait, what.
"What was that?" Keith blinks, caught off guard. "Me? Children?"
Allura clears her throat. "The Fluvakian queens have ten children and two young wards. After the luncheon, Krolia and Kolivan would discuss matters with the queens and their council. As I said, Fluvakians dote on their offspring. You can help by gaining the royal children's favor."
"Royal... children.” Keith stares. “Are they... like.... children children?"
Allura does a quick check on her datapad. "The eldest is about eight deca-phoebs."
Keith gapes. "You want me to babysit?"
Krolia shrugs. "You're very good with kits. The ones in the Blades base adore you."
Keith didn't want to say that they adore him because they probably think Keith is just the same age as them and already a Senior Blade. They must think he's a prodigy or something. Damn Keith's human half for making him look like a Galra kit even as an adult.
Allura sends him her stunning, sparkly-eyed smile. "You're going to do great, Keith."
Keith just stares blankly at her, only snapping out of it when he notices that the tailors have backed off, putting all their equipment and fancy fabric away. He watches as Allura walks them out, discussing design options. Then Krolia's datapad alerts her of a scheduled meeting.
"I know this is a lot to ask, little love." Krolia says as she walks up to him. She cups his cheeks, brows furrowed in worry. "If it really makes you uncomfortable, I won't make you go."
Keith looks up at her and shakes his head, smiling. "No, it's fine. I know this is important for you and the Coalition, mom. I'll manage."
"Thank you for understanding." she smiles back, then drops a kiss to his temple. “I am so lucky to have you.”
Keith looks away, blushing. "Geez. It's no big deal."
"For you, I know it is." she says. “You can bring a friend, if you like.”
He scoffs, like his mother just made a joke. "Who would I bring?"
"Anyone you like. As long as they behave."
"So... not Lance." he snorts. "He's on Earth, anyway." Then he puts on his most serious expression as he asks, "Can I bring Allura?"
He wants to bring Allura. When he's with Allura, he only has to stand beside her and not frown. She was basically born for these things. Why does she have to go on a separate visit? Why are there always so many visits?
Krolia chuckles. "I'm afraid not. Allura is needed elsewhere. Someone else? How about Romelle? She’s a charmer."
"She's in Altea. Won't make it."
"Your friend in the Blade... who was it? Regris?"
"He's undercover somewhere."
"Good luck getting her to leave Lotor's side."
"How about..." she hums, trying to recall something. "Kolivan mentioned someone... that new Blade? Joined only a deca-phoeb ago, but Kolivan said he looks very promising... Skilled pilot, good fighter. He said you two spend a lot of time together."
Keith blinks. He didn't know Kolivan talked to Krolia about these things, but he thinks he's pretty sure who her mother is talking about. "You mean Shiro?"
"Yes, Shiro." Krolia nods. Then she grins expectantly. "The one courting you?"
Keith splutters. "T-The- What? Who? Court- WHAT?"
"He's courting you, isn't he? Kolivan said so. Your father disagrees, though, he said you'd have told me if that was the case."
Did... did his mom just tell him that she discusses his lovelife with her boyfriend and her husband?
"What- No. Mom, no. Shiro is- Shiro's not-... courting-? Shiro is my friend. And I'm his commanding officer. And he is not courting me. No one is courting me, mom. Why would anyone court me? I don't even look Galra! Haha… ha..."
He trails off in a faint, nervous laugh.
"Physical appearance doesn't matter in these things. But very well, if you say so. I believe you." Krolia says. It's enough to pacify Keith, until she squints at him again. "Kolivan sounded pretty sure about it, though..."
"Kolivan is overworked. Maybe it's the stress. Really. Shiro is... Shiro. Yeah. He's a very nice guy. Hard-working. Smart. Hard to hate a guy like that. I'm younger and much much smaller, but he never challenged my authority. Unlike... well, almost everyone else in the Blades. He saved my ass a couple times in the field. He's a good friend."
Krolia listens patiently, and after a moment, only nods. "Well, I'm glad you're making more friends."
Her data-pad beeps again, and she sighs.
"I have to get going now, Keith. But I mean it. You can invite this friend of yours, just for company. So you won’t feel alone."
Keith doesn't really want to bother Shiro. For all he knew, the guy is neck-deep in training. Shiro is always training, even in his free time. But to appease his mother, he answers, "Okay, mom. I'll think about it."
She drops another kiss between his brows and then she leaves.
Keith finds himself alone now, in his room, facing a full-length mirror. He frowns when he sees himself. Yep. This is Keith Kogane, Fighter Pilot and Blade of Marmora Commander, protege of Leader Kolivan, and son of Galactic Coalition Ambassador Krolia. Krolia's family has royal Galran blood as well, which makes him some cousin of Emperor Lotor's or something. And here he is in all his glory: clothes all rumpled, his hair sticking up in different directions and escaping from the messy bun on top of his head.
He lets out a wry chuckle. Who'd want to date this total mess ? Keith sighs, thoughts straying to his friend. Shiro is his opposite - all routine and organized and dignified. Keith even wonders, sometimes, how they managed to get along at all. But maybe that was all Shiro - sweet, nice, understanding, charming, plays well with others.
Still. Krolia told him to invite a friend. Keith knows he'll be fine by himself, but... well... third-wheeling his mom and her boyfriend? It doesn't sound like a great time.
Keith thinks about it, and decides. He clicks his tongue twice, and then there's the smell of ozone and a blink of light beside him. He smiles when Kosmo licks his face, and brings his hands up to scratch behind the space wolf's ears.
"Kosmo, wanna visit a friend?"
Keith had expected Shiro to turn him down gently. Maybe the Galra would say something about not wanting to intrude, or that he's bound for a mission soon, or he has other plans.
Instead, Shiro looks sheepish as he fumbles with his words. "I-... That- That's a formal event, isn't it? I... I'm afraid I won't have anything proper to wear..."
Shiro is short of breath and his lavender cheeks are dark with what Keith assumes is a blush - he must have been really into whatever training he was doing. His big Galra ears were turned down, which is a... look... on someone as huge as him. Shiro is roughly as tall as Kolivan, if not even a few inches taller. Now, Keith thinks he looks like a giant, guilty cat.
Keith's dad always said Galra are giant cats. Keith always agreed. He resists the urge to reach up and pat Shiro’s head.
He just smiles, reassuring. "No need to dress up too fancy. Or. Well. I know I'm gonna be dressed up fancy, but that's because me and mom are related to the Emperor. Kolivan's going in his formal Blade uniform. You can go in yours, too."
Shiro looks thoughtful. "The formal uniform... the one with the cape?"
"Yep. Makes everything look majestic or some shit. So. You wanna go? Free food? I asked my friend Hunk, he says Fluvakian cuisine is great."
Shiro mumbles something about never having been invited to such an exclusive event before, but eventually, Keith gets a yes.
Shiro's face is still flushed.
Keith tells him to stop training too hard. It’s his day off, after all.
Next time, Shiro thinks, he’s going to say no to Keith.
Next time Keith just turns up at his quarters wearing one of those damning Earth outfits - a too-big long-sleeved shirt that buttons up in the front, a top cropped to expose his toned midriff, pants that fit so tight Keith might as well be wearing his Blade uniform except this one... ends high on his thighs... and don't even get Shiro started on the bun of hair on top of his head... Mother of Gal. Do all Terrans dress like this? Is it just Keith? It’s cold in Daibazaal - isn’t he cold? His neck looks so smooth- ahem. Next time. Next time this all-out surprise assault to Shiro's sanity happens, Shiro is gonna tell him he’s busy.
("So, Shiro... remember two movements ago when we got into some trouble on our mission because I didn't follow the mission plan?")
("Um... yes, I do remember, Keith.")
("And remember several quintants before that, when we got into some trouble because... I, err... didn't follow the mission plan again?")
Next time Keith smiles that disarming smile, Shiro would look away.
("Good! Now remember the four other times before that?")
("Y-Yes, Keith. I remember... all those times too.")
("Well... I think I know how I can make it up to you.")
And if Keith looks at him with those big, dark eyes? Shiro would just turn around and make a run for it.
Right. That's what Shiro would do, from now on.
See, him saying yes to every whim of Keith's has led him to trouble at least six times in the past deca-phoeb alone.
(Did he regret it? Well… no. But. Six. Six times!)
In Shiro’s life, he had never been in trouble with the authorities, and now, since being friends with Keith, he’s had to endure several - six! - of Kolivan’s lengthy speeches about responsibility, accountability, following orders and not changing plans on the fly.
All six of these times, Keith had been right there, beside him, brows furrowed, looking only about thirty percent guilty, listening to the same speech. To his credit, Keith had unfailingly tried to tell Kolivan that it was on him, that Shiro was just following his orders, and that he’ll take responsibility.
It was only Shiro’s luck that Kolivan had a soft spot for his youngest Commander, that Shiro usually came out with only a minor reprimand that didn't even sound like much of a reprimand.
(“Sometimes, we should learn not to listen to our superiors. Sometimes, meaning when your superior is Keith. With me, you always listen. With Keith, trust your better judgment.”)
(Keith had fumed, then had caught Kolivan actually grinning, and called him a stuffy old man, and Shiro realized that Kolivan was kidding. Mostly. Perhaps it was an inside joke. But Kolivan never joked, so Shiro was simply left confused. And oddly endeared.)
Anyways, the point is - Shiro should take Kolivan’s advice and learn how to say no to Keith’s lovely face and seemingly innocent requests.
Because that only brings him to situations such as… this.
This, is him standing guard by the entrance of a lavish garden, watching Keith interacting with a dozen Fluvakian children. It's Keith, looking like a prince in traditional Galran formal wear, sitting on the grass - which is light blue in this planet - with casual disregard to said fancy clothes.
The Fluvakians are a bipedal, humanoid species with smooth pinkish skin and hair made of colorful feathers and plummage despite not having wings. They have only four fingers in each hand, and six round glassy eyes, granting them exceptional eyesight, seeing far beyond what a human or Galra could. They have beaks, but are somehow able to vocalize Terran and Galran words just as well. They have what Shiro heard Keith call ‘tailfeathers’, which grow longer and more elaborate as they age. Said tailfeathers stand up and flare out depending on the Fluvakian's emotions. The adults are tall, elegant creatures.
And the children?
Well, Keith had taken one look at them and… squeaked. Shiro had gone alert when he felt Keith grab at his arm, and he prepared to catch Keith because he looked faint, but then he saw Keith's eyes, wide and shining .
“Shiro.” he had whispered. “Shiro, they're so... cute. They're so cute.”
‘You're cute.’ he had wanted to say back, and that is precisely why he should have said no to Keith. Being with Keith makes him want to say things.
Right now, the royal children are gathered around Keith, their short, puffy tailfeathers all up and fluttering excitedly, curious about their guest. They had never seen a Terran before, and Keith is built small and delicate-looking enough to appear harmless to them. As for Shiro, he had stood back with the other guards, not wanting to intimidate in lieu of his size. The children ignored him anyway - they had seen a Galra before.
They seem more fascinated by Keith's Terran hair, and Keith looked relieved to have an excuse to let it down from its fancy updo. He let them run their tiny hands through his long locks and poke at his slender fingers. They ask why he is not the same color as his mother and father, and he answers them, patient and straightforward, never patronizing. One asks if he is a prince, and he only chuckles and says no, but he's friends with a princess. One of the younger ones curls up on his side, and he pats her head fondly. The eldest asks about his sword and Keith says he left it behind because there's no need for it at the moment, but Keith can show it to him later, if he's good.
Keith is great with children. Shiro had known this, he’d seen how the kits in the Blades base adore Keith. But this is a different matter altogether. The royal children are soft and sweet and cuddly, brought up like so by doting parents and guardians, and in turn Keith is gentle and affectionate with them.
Several of the children hobble away and then return with a bunch of flowers, big and brightly-colored in this planet. Keith lets the kids put them in his hair.
It's the most adorable sight Shiro has seen. It beats those holo-vids of Earth puppies and bunny rabbits that Keith likes so much.
And Shiro wants to run, because this is bad. Very bad. This is worse than those death-defying risks he had ended up taking when Keith strayed from the mission plan.
Because right now, it is taking all of his self-control not to kneel in front of Keith and ask to court him.
Which is something he shouldn't do, because. Well. Keith is his friend, and his commanding officer. Keith is the Blades’ youngest Commander, with countless other responsibilities and priorities, and Shiro is fortunate enough that Keith even paid attention to some grunt like him.
He snaps out of his thoughts at Keith's voice calling him. Keith’s head is a full crown of flowers now, but he wasn't complaining. He has one of the children in his lap.
“You're not security right now, you know.” Keith tells him with a bemused grin. “You can loosen up. Have fun.”
Shiro smiles back, but ducks his head. “Thanks, Keith. But I… uh, I'm not really familiar with… little ones.”
Keith blinks. “Oh. Right! Sorry, I dragged you into this. I should've told you I'd be stuck babysitting after the luncheon. If you want, you can go back to our suite. Or go wherever. I'm sure there's lots to see around here.”
Shiro looks at him. A kit is poking curiously at the shiny stone dangling from his ear and Keith doesn't even flinch. “But… you-”
Keith waves him off. “These guys are angels. I'll be fine.”
It's an out. Maybe Shiro should take it. He's not quite sure how much longer he can resist the sight of laughing, smiling, flower-crowned Keith having the time of his life with these little kits-
Then someone sweeps past him, and a lively, high-pitched voice chirps, “Master Keith, the queens are delighted to see that you and the children have gotten along so well! They thought you might also like to meet their youngest. This precious one is only a deca-phoeb old.”
Shiro watches Keith's eyes widen as he sees the baby in the elderly nurse's arms. He holds out his hands for the child. “Look at you...” he coos as he cradles the baby, who instinctively cuddles up against him. Keith practically melts. “Oh! You're a sweet one, aren't you?”
Shiro couldn't stop the pained noise that escapes him this time.
Yep. Shiro should have said no, because now he wants to kneel in front of Keith and tell him he's the most beautiful creature in the universe.
Keith turns to him shortly. “Really, Shiro. I'll be fine here. You can go if you want.”
The baby reaches a tiny hand to pat Keith's cheek, and Keith leans down to nuzzle the tops of its colorful fuzzy-feathered head.
Shiro is doomed.
He takes a deep breath, then says, “I think I'll stay.”
Thankfully, Keith is too distracted to notice the slight tremble in Shiro's voice. “Okay. But you don't have to just stand there. Come over here and sit. Don't worry. These kits don't bite.”
Shiro concedes, gingerly joining their little crowd on the grass. The children slide closer to Keith, alarmed. Shiro stops, but Keith quickly rests the baby against his chest so he can hold her one-armed, then reaches his free hand out to him. The kits watch as Shiro takes the hand and lets Keith tug him down to sit with them. Shiro sits with his legs crossed and his shoulders hunched, trying to look as harmless as possible, but he couldn't help but still loom over Keith and the young Fluvakians.
“It's fine, guys. It's just Shiro. He's my friend.” Keith says, raising their joint hands for emphasis. “See?”
They stare at the hands, then at Keith, and then they take a long look at Shiro, who smiles.
It's the eldest who asks, “Are you a prince?”
Shiro laughs awkwardly, shaking his head. “I'm not really anyone-”
But Keith leans down to whisper to the kit, grin mischievous. “He's a warrior.”
A good half of the kits suddenly crawl closer, one even clinging to Shiro's cape. “D’you have a sword like Master Kee?”
Shiro's brows raise at the question, but he nods. “Uh. Yes. Yes, I do. All warriors must have a sword, right?”
A kit plops down on his thigh, grinning toothily. “Can we see? Master Kee said we can see. Later if we're good.”
Shiro feels pressure in his hand, and he realizes that he still holds Keith's hand in his. His first thought is to let go, but then Keith only shifts his hand to a more comfortable hold, absently as he hums to the baby he still had cradled against him.
Shiro doesn't let go.
When one of servants had interrupted the meeting between the ambassador and the queens, saying she had urgent news about the royal children, Krolia immediately tensed. She watched with apprehension as the servant whispered to the queens' ear, now and then glancing at their alien guests.
Had Keith somehow lost his patience with the children? Did they not like him somehow?
But that feeling dissipated quickly, because the queens then turned to Krolia and Kolivan, eyes shining with delight as they relayed the news that their children were very much taken with each other. One of the queens even happily suggested to bring their youngest - a baby - to meet Keith.
Krolia and Kolivan only exchanged matching looks that pretty much said ‘I am surprised... and impressed.’
Allura wasn’t exaggerating when she said the best way to win the favor with this species is to sweet-talk their children.
The queens had been in a very good mood after that. The negotiation goes smoothly as well, the queens formally deciding to ally planet Fluv with the coalition. Krolia would have to thank Keith later.
Now, Krolia and Kolivan trail after the Fluvakian royalty and their entourage as they made their way to the palace's research laboratory. The queens are eager to show their new friends their planet’s latest technological advances.
On the way, they pass by halls overlooking the gardens, and their little party suddenly came to a halt when the queens simultaneously let out a round of elated chirps.
“Oh, Lady Krolia!” Queen Trin, who Krolia had figured out is the youngest and most excitable of the three queens, turns to her, grabbing for her hand. “Look what a sight they make! I’ve never seen our young ones so taken with a guest… Your Keith is remarkable!”
Krolia blinks, craning her head to get a better view. Yes, that is her Keith, alright. Her son is drowning in flowers, his expensive clothes are once again rumpled, but he’s clearly enjoying himself as he coos to a baby Fluvakian, four more kits clinging to him and either giggling at or trying to imitate the silly faces he makes to get the baby to laugh.
Queen Nemna, the tallest and most authoritative of the three, nods approvingly. “And it seems your son has found a fitting companion. They match up very well.”
And that’s when Krolia notices the rest of the royal children… climbing an awkward but patient Shiro like a playground attraction.
Krolia smiles back at the excited queens, who were sighing and cooing at the children in the garden. “Thank you, your highnesses. I myself had never seen my son taking to kits this much. He’s always been on the quiet, serious side, so I’m sure your young ones must have been the one to charm him like so. As for Shiro, Keith has told me that he’s a good friend and one of our best Blades. I’m glad to see he’s enjoying his time here as well.”
The third queen, who had only been cooing at the sight all this time, whirls around and blinks all six eyes at the ambassador. Queen Silla is the quiet one, and her voice is whisper-soft as she asks, “Do they plan on having little ones soon?”
Behind Krolia, Kolivan makes a sort of strangled noise that he quickly conceals into a cough.
Krolia sends him a look, before turning to the queens again, who are already chattering among themselves what beautiful children the two would make.
Allura might have had more polite words, but Krolia couldn’t help but remember Keith’s instead: ‘This planet is kid-crazy.’
She smiles her best diplomat smile and tries to come up with the best answer she can. “Well… I don’t think they’re… at that point in their relationship just yet.”
“Is that so?” Queen Nemna tilts her head curiously. “But they are bonded to each other, yes?”
Krolia raises an eyebrow. She is not used to talking about her only child’s love life, and Keith, while he kept no secrets from her, isn’t really keen on talking about these things as well.
She clears her throat. “I don’t think they are-”
Queen Trin lets out a very confused chirp, and Krolia hurries to explain.
“-but they might be on the way there. They are young and we’re… giving them time, since-”
“They’ve only known each other for a deca-phoeb.” Kolivan provides helpfully.
“-yes. It’s… a new thing.” Krolia finishes, quite proud of the safe, logical answer.
“A deca-phoeb?” Queen Nemna whispers. “That would be quite fast-”
“Exactly, we wouldn’t want to rush-”
“-but it wouldn’t be such a surprise considering they’re each other’s soul-match. A perfect match, too.”
Krolia blinks. “Pardon?”
“They’re…” Queen Trin starts, waving her long, graceful arms vaguely in the direction of Keith and Shiro in the garden. “They’re a pair.”
“Yes, a set of two? Made for each other, bound by the universe. Just look at them!”
“Ah. They do… compliment each other?” Krolia tries, quite unsure about where the conversation had even gone. Kolivan looks equally confused. This was not in Allura's research.
“Oh, of course they look good together, but I am talking about their souls . Everyone can see it, they’re quite loud .” the queen continues, humming thoughtfully, her glassy eyes squinting. “It’s the reason the young ones are so at peace with them! They think they’re a bonded pair, and here in Fluv, little ones are brought up to trust bonded pairs, because they always take care of and protect children.”
Krolia tries to absorb all of this, but it’s still a bit much. “I… am sorry, I don’t think we’re familiar with this… concept.”
“No? You don’t have soul-matches?”
Queen Nemna leans down and lays a hand on the small of her wife’s back. “My love, you may be forgetting, we can see things Galra and other species can’t.”
“Oh.” Queen Trin breathes out, then brings her hands to her face, a gesture of apology. “Oh, of course! I apologize, Lady Krolia, for confusing you! It’s just, I thought you already knew!”
“Knew about what, exactly, if I may ask her Highness?”
“That your little one and his friend are a soul-match. Do the Galra have this concept?”
“Not that I am aware of…” Krolia answers, slow and careful. She looks at Keith again. Now he’s teaching Shiro how to hold the baby - it looks ridiculous, trying to tuck such a small thing in Shiro’s arm and neck, when his size could easily have him just scooping the child up with one hand. There’s a small, amused smile in Keith’s face, while Shiro is looking at him like he hung all the stars in the universe.
Krolia exchanges another look with Kolivan and then smiles pleasantly at the queen. “But we’d like to hear more about it.”
It takes Keith a while to convince Shiro that it's absolutely okay to hold the royal baby, that he's not going to drop it, or crush its tiny head in his giant hands. He had caught Shiro's torn, longing face eyeing him and the baby since earlier. It’s cute, Keith thinks - that Shiro is so shy and careful around these much, much smaller creatures.
Finally, he is able to settle the baby in Shiro’s arm, and as soon as she’s settled, she snuggles into the Galra’s neck and makes a pleased little chirp. Shiro gasps softly. His ears perk up excitedly and Keith is unable to stop himself from letting out a small laugh.
“Yep. She likes you.” Keith nods. Shiro looks at him with a bright smile and his ears do the thing again. Keith snorts.
Shiro blinks. “Keith?”
“Don’t mind me.” Keith waves him off, absently shifting when one of the other kids cling to his neck. “It’s just. You’re ten times bigger than these guys but you’re just as cute.”
The purple on Shiro’s cheeks darken. “W-What?”
“Your ears. They do... this... thing...” Keith says. He doesn’t think too much about it when he reaches up to touch one of Shiro’s ears.
Shiro instinctively leans to the touch, and Keith moves his hand behind his ear and scratches. Then it’s a chain reaction. Shiro’s ear flattens and he purrs - low and deep. The baby in his arm chirps as if tickled. The kits on his lap and plastered to his side feel the vibration and all giggle.
Keith laughs, then scoots closer to continue scratching. It is so much like petting an actual giant cat.
Shiro lets out a pleased groan and tilts his head to give Keith a better angle. Now he reminds Keith of Kosmo, except he looks at Keith and his eyes are so soft and intent and his head moves closer. Keith raises his other hand to scratch the other ear and Shiro closes his eyes-
Keith stops when their noses brush. Shiro realizes how close they are and quickly pulls back, jostling all the kits clinging to him. Thankfully, they only laugh, entertained.
Shiro coughs, looking at anywhere but Keith.
Keith almost does likewise, except he’s also obligated to make sure that Shiro doesn’t drop the royal baby so he settles on looking at the kid instead.
“Sorry.” Keith mumbles. “If I made you uncomfortable.”
“No. No, it’s okay.” Shiro shakes his head. “It’s just… Galra are… receptive to touch.”
“Yeah. Yeah, I know. I mean, me too.”
Shiro blinks. “Really?”
Keith laughs, awkward. “I’m part-Galra, remember?”
“No- Yes. I mean, yes, I did not forget. It’s just… you don’t… you never…”
“Yeah. I’m not really the touchy-feely type.”
“I… I see.”
“But I like touch- Hugs. I… appreciate… hugs. From. Uh. Mom.” he says, then couldn’t help but groan in embarrassment. “Okay. That sounds weird. Just- Uh. Forget I ever said that part. Just think I’m cool and brooding and anti-cuddling again.”
That makes Shiro chuckle. “Anti-cuddling?”
Keith’s brows furrow. “I have a friend who says that. He believes it, but really, I’m just not into cuddling him because he’s annoying.”
“So you’re not really against cuddling, then.”
Keith squints at him. The… something… between them is back to easy , now. “Don’t you start.”
“I should have known.” Shiro hums, lightly teasing. “You do fall asleep on me during movie nights.”
“Jerk.” Keith pouts. “It’s ‘cause you’re so-... soft! Look! You purr for five seconds and the baby’s asleep!” Then he realizes what he just said and brings a hand to cover his mouth. Whispering, he repeats. “The baby’s asleep.”
Shiro blinks down at the sleeping baby and then looks at Keith. “What do I do?” he whispers back, lost.
Keith snorts, amused. “Just don’t move her too much. She’ll be fine. The nurse should pick her back up soon.”
He feels a tug at his clothes. “Master Kee?”
Keith looks down at the child in his lap. “Yeah?”
“Um. Moms say to always make many friends.”
Keith nods, smiling softly. “Your moms are right. Friends are good.”
“Are you moms’ friend?”
“Well. We’re working on it.” Keith answers, plucking petals that got stuck in between the child’s feathers. “We want to be your moms’ friends.”
“Moms say when their friends have littles, we make friends with them.”
“Littles?” Keith blinks, not quite understanding, but he nods. “...Okay?”
“Do Master Kee and Master Sheero have littles? So we can make friends with them?”
Keith stops, taking that in. Littles? What- Oh. Oh. His head shoots up to look at Shiro for backup and-
Shiro is there, alright, staring straight at Keith, frozen wide-eyed and blushing.
Yeah, okay, Shiro seems to have… stopped functioning altogether. Keith doesn’t blame him. Kits ask the craziest things.
Keith takes a deep breath. “Well… we don’t… have littles.” he answers, very slowly because he notices that the rest of the children are listening as well. “Me and Shiro are… friends.”
The child blinks. “Mates?”
“Yes, mates- Wait. What do you mean by mates?” Keith blurts out, realizing too late that he just threw a question back at a child.
“Master Kee and Master Sheero are soul-matched. You are mates.” the child answers. His siblings all nod, repeats words like “Match!” and “Very bright!” and “Strong match!” and Keith is lost now, too.
And in one of the most bizarre sights Keith has ever seen, one kit - like, the five deca-phoeb old one - actually rolls their six eyes at Keith and sighs.
Keith didn’t know that a child barely a quarter of his age could look so done .
“Master Kee, when two people love each other-”
Keith lets out an indignant noise and reels back. “What? No. No, no, no- You’ve got this wrong-”
“No!” the child pouts, absolutely determined. “We see it!”
“You’re all bright and glowy!” another child pipes up, sounding very very upset. “You’re matched!”
Keith feels so dumb as he repeats, “...Huh? We’re... not?”
The one in his lap whines. “You kiss though.”
Shiro finally snaps back to himself and shakes his head. “We- T-That wasn’t-”
“Our noses touched.” Keith points out.
Keith sighs, about to point out that that is not what a kiss is, but Shiro lets out a horrified “Oh.” so he looks at Shiro, and Shiro only mouths, “Beaks.” and- what-? OH.
For a specie with beaks... seeing two people touch noses... maybe that's a kiss to them.
Yep. They did what qualifies as a kiss in front of a dozen children. Huh. Well. That happened.
“Alright, alright. We did… kiss.” Keith sighs, stroking the child’s head because he was about to cry . “But… um. Shiro and I… are just friends. You have friends, right?”
The child nods. So do most of the others.
“We’re friends, but we’re… not mates.”
All the children gasp in horror. Keith feels like a monster. Shiro actually whimpers as if wounded.
“Why?” one of them squeaks, shaky. “Master Kee doesn’t love Master Sheero?”
They look so shaken .
Keith hurriedly raises his hands. “Of course not! I mean, I don’t not love him- Ugh. I love him. I love him very, very much.” He blindly reaches to his side, and Shiro, always a trooper, takes his hand. “Yeah, see?”
“So whyyyy?” the child asks, drawn out and very confused, and very very sad. “Master Sheero doesn’t love-”
“Oh, I love him too.” Shiro quickly remedies, nodding frantically. “Keith’s my... um. My whole world. I love him more than anything in the universe.”
Keith raises an eyebrow.
“Too much?” Shiro asks under his breath.
Keith thinks about it. “No, uh, just… unexpectedly romantic.”
He looks guilty. “You... made me watch too much Earth romance movies?”
Keith shrugs, but before he can say anything, the kids all whine again.
“Why are you not mates?”
“If you’re matched you should be mates and if you’re mates you should be bonded!”
“Are you not bonded?”
“Why are you not bonded?”
“Are you cursed? By the evil witch who eats littles if they’re bad?”
A dozen set of six big glassy eyes look up at them, all confused and somehow upset and in the verge of tears.
Keith wouldn’t know what to do with himself if they start crying. He looks at Shiro and Shiro looks like he ’s going to cry if they start crying.
“Oh, don’t- Don’t- Fine. You know what, we’re not bonded yet .” Keith tries. It’s… effective. The kits blink up, more curious than upset now. He swallows, and decides to wing it. “Because… see, we’re warriors, right? We’ve been busy. Doing… warrior stuff. We haven’t had the time. But… someday…”
Shiro squeezes his hand. “Someday, when we’re not busy anymore. We’d… like to be… bonded?”
The eldest huffs. “You should be bonded. Before you turn sad. Mates that don’t bond are sad.”
His siblings nod sagely.
“You’re not busy now. You can get bonded!”
And his siblings all cheer at that, suddenly excited and nodding and nudging each other to get moving before Master Kee and Master Sheero get busy with warrior stuff again-
It’s Shiro who splutters. “Wha- Today? ”
The children grab at him. “ Now! ”
Keith leans sideways. “Is it me, or are they telling us to get married, like, now?”
Shiro looks down at the baby slowly stirring in his arms and shakes his head. “I don’t know what’s happening anymore.”
The eldest child pulls at his siblings. “Get more flowers! Master Sheero doesn’t have flowers!”
“Alright. This is happening, I guess.” Keith says under his breath.
“It’s… fine. This is fine.” Shiro nods, and Keith can tell he’s mostly talking to himself. “It’s playtime, right? Like… like playing house, except it will be a play bonding ceremony. To… To avoid an interplanetary conflict.”
“You sure you’re alright with this? Do you want to… I don’t know, fake a call, and tell them you gotta go, for warrior stuff? We can pull that off. I think.”
Shiro looks at Keith, and Keith feels his breath stop at the fond smile his friend gives him. “I’m good, Keith.”
Keith finds himself lost in that smile, saying, “Yeah, you are.”
Then a child practically pounces on Shiro, shouting “Flowers!!!” and Shiro leans down to let her put a flower crown on his head.
It’s too small and ends up around one of his ears instead. To make up for it, another kit just… throws petals at him and considers their work done.
They’re ushered to their feet, and then they see the elderly nurse from earlier being dragged towards them by some of the kits.
The eldest is explaining the situation. “Tilla, hurry! Master Kee and Master Sheero should be bonded! It’s the only time! Before they gotta do warrior stuff!”
“O-Oh, is… is that so, my prince?” the nurse asks, uncertain. She looks up when they reach Keith and Shiro, who look at each other, assessing which one of them should explain the situation. She blinks and looks from one to the other before she straightens up, smiling in amusement. “Ah. I see…”
Shiro gingerly offers her the baby in his arms, and she takes the child. “Uh… we’re sorry, we don’t want to be a bother… You must have work to do.”
“They… they just sort of insisted?” Keith adds, absently plucking at a little flower that somehow got into his ear. “They were talking about a match and being bonded, and we couldn’t change their minds…”
Tilla laughs, good-natured. “I can see why they are so adamant. Our little ones here are still very young, very idealistic. For them, soul-matches are pure and bonds are absolute.” She inclines her head in a gracious bow. “I will be honored to officiate this ceremony, Master Keith and Master Shiro.”
“Oh.” is all they were able to say. “T-Thanks…?”
Tilla looks down at the children. “Young highnesses, you shall bear witness?”
The children happily cheer, and they hobble and form a circle around the three adults. Tilla nudges Keith and Shiro to face each other, and they awkwardly comply.
“Oh, wow.” Keith mutters, only loud enough for Shiro to hear. “It’s happening.”
“It… is.” Shiro swallows.
Tilla positions his hands and Keith’s so their palms are touching. They could only stand there and follow the instructions. Then, she lays her hand above theirs.
“In this moment, we bear witness to the bonding of two souls chosen by the universe to find each other, to grow and to thrive together, to spend the rest of their lives as one. While we are here to witness their affection and love, the only promises they make are to each other, and only to each other.”
They’re beautiful words, Keith thinks. A bit too romantic for his taste, but then romance really isn’t his thing. He appreciates it, though - two souls meant for each other, and making a promise only to each other and no one else. No gods or laws or institutions - just each other. It's... sweet. It feels, oddly, like him.
He looks at Shiro, who is already looking softly at him, lips in a small smile. Perhaps Shiro appreciated the speech as well.
Tilla coughs, catching both their attentions.
“Yes?” they ask at the same time.
“You’re supposed to say something.” she says, smiling in amusement.
She hums, thoughtful. “I believe this part is what you call your ‘vows’? It could be anything, it doesn’t have to be long, either.”
Oh. Vows . Keith cringes. Yeah, he didn’t think that part through. Of course there’ll be vows.
He and Shiro look at each other. Keith tries to recall the few traditional Earth wedding vows he can remember - to love and to cherish, in sickness and in health - it sounded… wrong, somehow, though he knew that they’re beautiful vows. Wait, why is he making such a big deal out of it? This is just for show, for the kits-
To his surprise, Shiro clears his throat. “Keith.”
Keith looks at him, alert. “...Yeah?”
Shiro stares. After a long moment and a yawn from one of the kits, he blurts out, “Hi.”
Keith snorts, but smiles. “Hi.”
He can see the moment Shiro decides to follow Keith's book and wing it.
“Keith. Huh. Um. We’re suddenly getting… bonded? I know this is very, very unexpected. But… uh. Know that I… I admire you. I treasure our friendship, I know it’s new, but I do. You’re one of the bravest, truest people I’ve ever had the privilege to know. You once told me you had walls up. So I’m grateful that you let me know you, that you let me in. Keith, you have such a good, beautiful heart. I… um. I hope we continue to nurture this… what we have between us… through the years to come.”
“Oh.” Keith says, breathless. How is he supposed to follow that?! He looks down, biting his lip before grumbling, “You jerk. That was beautiful.”
The kids around them giggle. Tilla has not stopped looking amused since all this began, and she is still rocking that half-asleep baby in her arm.
Shiro lets out a little nervous, embarrassed laugh. Keith wants to kiss him.
Nope. Not now, Keith. You’re getting married, focus on that... which… yeah, it’s the perfect time to think about kissing someone but- Stop. STOP. You gotta say something-
“Shiro.” he says, finally. “Uh. Thanks?”
Shiro smiles at him. Did he always smile like that? Keith really wants to kiss him now, dammit. But he stops himself. Patience yields focus- Wait. Shiro taught him that. Ugh. Stupid Shiro.
That’s exactly what he says. “You’re so stupid.”
Shiro blinks, hurt starting to reflect in his eyes, but Keith continues-
“I like you so much.” he says, grudgingly. “You’re not stupid. I just said that because I’m angry, because I like you so much . Okay? I… uh… I’m glad I have you? You roll with my crazy plans and you always believe in me no matter what. I’m not sure I deserve it-”
Shiro frowns. “Keith-”
Keith glares. “Nope, shut up, it’s my turn.” Shiro shuts up, and Keith takes a deep breath. “So. Yeah. You’re there for me when I need a co-pilot, when I need someone to have my back in a fight, and whenever I need someone to get me after I throw myself out of an airlock.
"You’re also there for me when I need someone to watch weird Earth movies with, you don’t complain when I sleep on you and you even make me breakfast in the morning. You’re the best friend I never knew I needed. And… what you said… I feel the same. I’m glad I let you in. I want… this… whatever it is, to last, too.”
Keith looks down after that, because he risked one glance at Shiro, and that look isn’t one he thinks he can meet right now.
Tilla sighs, wistful, before she nods in approval at the two.
“Now, you may seal your promises.”
“Seal?” Shiro asks.
“Any gesture, as long as it’s symbolic, and means something to the two of you.” she explains.
Keith looks up. “Oh. It’s the kiss part.”
Tilla laughs. “Yes. It can be the kiss part, if you want, Master Keith.”
Master Keith does want, thank you very much. He’s just not quite sure that Shiro wants it too. But when he looks to Shiro, the Galra grins and mouths, “Beaks.”
Keith blinks once before he gets it. He nods, and they move at the same time. He wraps his arms around Shiro’s neck as Shiro pulls him close by the waist. Their foreheads meet, and they couldn’t help but let out quiet, giddy laughs when their noses touch and nuzzle the other’s.
The kits cheer around them, and when they break apart, they’re attacked by tiny flowers, petals, and a dozen kits wanting to be lifted up and cuddled again.
Krolia raises both eyebrows when they turn up at the guest suite an hour before dinner.
Keith is still covered in flowers and petals, carrying a little bouquet of wildflowers. Shiro still has a flower crown hanging off an ear. Both of their fancy outfits are rumpled and grass-stained.
“Looks like you two enjoyed your afternoon.” Krolia says, voice carefully neutral.
“The kits were little angels.” Keith says. “Until they decided that we are, in fact, soul-match-mates or something like that, and made us marry each other.”
Kolivan chokes on his tea.
Krolia rubs his back but doesn’t look away from Keith and Shiro, who had plopped down on the chair that most resembled a loveseat and started plucking petals from each other’s clothes. “Married, you say? That sounds fun. Which one of the children officiated?”
Shiro sighs. “They got their nurse to do it. The old one? Tilla? It was very embarrassing, but she was really nice about it.”
Krolia stops. “An elder? An elder held a bonding ceremony for you?”
Keith nods. “Yeah. It’s not, like, an actual bonding ceremony, though. We just did it because if we didn’t, the kits would throw a fit. All of them. They were almost crying.”
“They’re precious, and adorable, and very persuasive.” Shiro adds. “It’s no wonder their people dote on them so much.”
Krolia looks at Kolivan, who stares at her for five seconds and then looks away and sips his tea.
The traitor . He’s their commanding officer . He should be the one breaking this news.
Keith notices the strange silence and turns to his mother. “What is it?”
Krolia lets out a small, fond smile at her son.
Keith furrows his brows. Something is up. “What?”
“How thoroughly did you read the information packet that Allura sent you?”
Keith shrugs. “It’s not like I can remember everything I read.”
Krolia chuckles, shaking his head. “Then you don’t realize… that here in Fluv, all you need is an elder officiating and at least one witness - of any age - to initiate a real bonding ceremony?”
The two freeze. “W-What…?” Keith asks, shaky.
“That was a real bonding ceremony. You two are officially married. Here in Fluv.”
Shiro pales . Keith stares blankly at his mother, then at Kolivan, who maybe could tell him that Krolia is only messing with them. But Kolivan pointedly turns his back to them, not wanting any involvement in this debacle.
“And… seeing as Fluv is now a part of the coalition…” Krolia continues, clearly having fun . “Your status is by default recognized legally in all coalition planets.”
“Oh.” Shiro squeaks. He withdraws his arm that had been casually wrapped around Keith’s waist.
Keith looks at him as if the move offended him. “What?”
“We got married without me asking your parents to court you!” Shiro says, dismayed.
Keith slaps a hand to his forehead. “Shit. We eloped and didn't even know about it.”
"That's your concern?" Krolia asks, chukling.
“Well,” Kolivan starts, finally deciding to weigh in. “You can always divorce.”
He received matching affronted wide-eyed looks.
“What? And make a dozen little kits cry?” Shiro asks, horrified.
Keith shakes his head. “What are we, monsters ?”
Krolia laughs, as she takes out her data-pad, covertly snapping a quick photo. “You two should get cleaned up. Dinner should be starting soon.”
Keith grumbles tiredly, but stands up and heads to his room. “I’m keeping the flowers, they’re nice.”
Shiro follows, nodding politely at Krolia and Kolivan before disappearing into his own room.
Kolivan takes a sip of his tea before asking, “You’re not telling them?”
“Hm?” Krolia hums, tapping away at her data-pad.
“That Fluvakians believe in their soul-matches because they can actually see emotional attachments and bond connections?”
Krolia sends him with an amused smile. “Don’t worry. They’re smart kits. They’ll figure it out.”
Kolivan makes a skeptic noise.
Krolia rolls her eyes. “Eventually.”
He still looks unconvinced.
She sighs. "Hopefully."
They decide that divorce is too much trouble.
Besides, the queens hear of the impromptu ceremony and instantly offer all sorts of wedding gifts to the happy couple. Keith and Shiro try to refuse, the queens insist, and Kolivan smoothly says that Keith and Shiro might appreciate a donation to one of the Blade of Marmora’s several humanitarian relief operations.
The queens are touched and were very happy to provide.
They touch down on Daibazaal and Keith finally checks his comms.
His dad had sent a video of himself dramatically fake-sobbing because he wasn’t able to walk his little boy down the aisle.
Keith's friend Hunk is sad that he didn’t get to cater and Hunk's Friend Lance is ranting about how elopement is "totally not cool, Kogane, you coward, introduce us to your Big Galra Husband!"
Katie "Pidge" Holt, the young prodigy of the coalition's Science, Technology and Research Department and one of Keith's first friends, sent a very heartwarming message: ‘nice’
Romelle is asking for details .
Lotor left a very fancily-worded message to tell him that he now has a sponsored, week-long all-expense paid honeymoon suite in an expensive hotel on Earth.
Keith complains to his mother. “Does everyone know?”
Krolia blinks. “I only told your father.”
Kolivan shrugs, helpless. “I told Allura. When she asked.”
Allura laughs, guilty. “I told… a lot of people? Was it supposed to be a secret?”
Keith tells Kosmo to take him anywhere he can hide and Kosmo, blessed Kosmo, takes him away-
He reappears right on a very startled Shiro’s lap.
Keith throws his hands up. “Really?!” he asks the room in general. When Kosmo doesn’t come back, he resigns himself to his fate and looks at Shiro.
“Hi.” Shiro smiles, lopsided, shifting so he could accommodate Keith properly on his lap.
“Hi.” Keith says, looking around as he leans against the other’s shoulder. It seems like Shiro, for once, is not training, only reading on his data-pad. “Are you busy? Can I stay here for a bit?”
Shiro shrugs his free shoulder. “What’s mine is yours.”
“Getting comfortable, huh?” Keith snorts, not bothering to get off the other's lap. “You didn’t even buy me dinner first.”
Shiro is silent for a moment before he peers down at Keith, eyes intent. “Would you like that?”
Keith straightens up so they’re face to face. “Like… a date?”
Shiro reaches up to tuck strands of hair behind the other’s ear. “Yes.”
Keith looks back into his eyes and smiles. He leans forward and nuzzles Shiro’s nose before pressing a kiss to his cheek. “Okay.”
“Okay.” Shiro echoes, wrapping an arm around Keith and pulling him close.
Keith cuddles up to him, lazily eyeing the data-pad in Shiro’s hand. “Whatcha reading?”
“A classic Galran romance.”
“You don’t have to read it.”
“Can I sleep on you?”
Shiro’s answer is soft, filled with affection. “Always.”
“Mm. You’re a dream come true.” Keith whispers, closing his eyes and taking a deep, relaxed breath. He reaches up, scratching behind the other’s ear.
He falls asleep to his husband’s contented purrs.