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the dog days are over

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Shiro first hears about it from Pidge, of all people.

He's walking through the halls of the Atlas on his way to yet another meeting when he walks by the dining hall and hears his name coming from a familiar voice.

"...thought it was Shiro."

It's Pidge, he recognizes. He knew she came back from her off-planet trip with Matt the day before, but between both of their busy schedules, he hadn’t had time to check up on her. He stops mid-step and decides to turn and say a quick 'hello', but he hears another voice.

"Shiro? But he’s here." - also familiar. Hunk.

Pidge huffs. "I know! He’s just the first person that came to mind. I just thought, what has two legs and is naked in Keith's room? Can you blame me?"

Shiro freezes. What-?

He hears Hunk voice out his exact thoughts: "Wait- Wait wait wait- What? Naked? You didn’t tell me anything about- You just said there was a guy! The guy was naked?!"

"Yeah! So. There's Keith, right, he's got clothes on. But he looks tired so I didn’t ask to come in. I'm talking to him, and someone sneaks up behind him and just… clings… and the dude is obviously naked although thank God I didn't see... parts... but Keith pushed him away and told him to put some clothes on. Then he talks to me like nothing happened! And I thought it was Shiro, except I knew that Shiro was here, and I saw a flesh-and-bone right arm in there, and also Shiro is not... pinkish, you know?"

"P-Pinkish?"

"The guy’s skin. Pinkish. With markings. Like, Galra markings but glowy? And the hair is, uh... bright blue."

They fall into silence.

Shiro is frozen on the spot.

After a while, Hunk speaks, voice aghast. "You're telling me... Keith has an alien boyfriend?"

Pidge lets out a thoughtful hum. "I don't know if it's a boyfriend, but. Keith had a naked and handsy alien dude in his bedroom, yes."

"Ohhhh..."

"Yeah. Oh."

Shiro stands there, shock still until he is jolted back to reality by a chime from his data-pad.

Right. The meeting.

He has a meeting.

Yeah. Okay.

Shiro goes to the meeting.

Shiro listens and talks during the meeting.

Shiro goes to the captain's quarters after the meeting.

Shiro slumps on his bed and sighs and finally - finally, he turns off the autopilot on his brain.

He recalls the conversation earlier. About Keith. Keith is not on Earth at the moment. He left a week ago for a mission with the Blades. The day before, he sent Shiro a message informing him there’s another mission that needs his skills and he’ll be in space for a bit longer.

Shiro is fine with that. He understands, really. He knows the Blade of Marmora are short-staffed. Yes, there had been recruits, but only few are as skilled or experienced as Keith, Krolia and other seasoned Blades.

He also knows that Pidge and Matt made a stopover in one of the bases before continuing their trip back to Earth. It’s just a given that Pidge and Keith found time to check on each other while on the same ship.

What he’s surprised about is the news that Keith has a-

No. If Keith had a... someone… he would have told Shiro, his best friend.

Right?

Shiro tries to recall the last time he saw - actually saw - Keith. Lance and the MFE pilots had dragged them to go drinking with them. A ‘Take-Care-On-Your-Space-Ninja-Mission’ party, Lance had claimed. They stayed up late, and Shiro remembers with embarrassment that he got a bit drunk and Keith had to take him back to his quarters. Keith slept over, he thinks, because he remembers waking up and seeing that the other side of his bed looked slept in and still felt warm. There had been hangover medicine and a glass of water in his bedside table, plus a note. 

had to go and i didn’t want to wake you.
drink lots of water. don’t overwork yourself.
i’ll be back soon. - k

He remembers practically breaking down in hangover tears because of how sweet that was.

Nothing had seemed off with Keith then. But then again… Pidge said that Keith’s… companion… is alien. Maybe Keith met him after that first mission? He had been able to talk to Keith then… they exchanged some messages... What did they say to each other then? Maybe Keith mentioned something and Shiro just missed it?

He grabs his data-pad to check their last messages.

     

our comms will be very limited so don't worry so much if you don't get anything from me for a week ok?

Okay. Best of luck to you guys. Even though I know you don't need it. 

shiro

I mean it! You're their best agent!

no their best agent is my mom so shut up

FIne... I know you'll do great anyway. Still. Take care out there.

yup don't worry so much. i'll be back before you know it.

You better. I miss you already.
I mean
We
We do
We all miss you
The others here on Earth
Earth misses you 

ok
sure
it's just another week
i miss you too shiro
get some rest

 

Yeah. That... that was normal, right? Except the part where Shiro messed up and had to quickly fix said mess. Keith probably noticed that, and it's just Shiro's luck that Keith didn't call him out on it. Keith is even nice enough to reply. Other people probably would've thought it was weird for their completely platonic best friend to suddenly say 'I miss you already' after barely a week of being away from each other. But Keith is not other people. Keith just said 'I miss you too'.

Shiro stares longingly at the messages. Should he send one to Keith, and subtly ask about his... new alien friend?

Heaving a long sigh, Shiro puts away the data-pad. Keith is probably still on his mission. Shiro shouldn't bother him. He'll just wait for Keith to tell him. He knows Keith. Keith will tell him when he's ready.

.


.

During the next few days, Shiro manages to check up on Pidge for a grand total of ten minutes before Pidge is off to the other side of Earth to help calibrate some new satellite towers. Matt goes with her, as usual, only this time with N-7 in tow. He barely gets a word in with Hunk before Hunk too is flying to a coalition planet for diplomacy reasons. Still no word from Keith, but he had a touchpoint meeting with the Blades and Kolivan had assured that the mission is going well and on track with the timeline.

For his part, Shiro drowns in his own meetings and public appearances.

That's their life, these days. It's almost busier than during the war.

But Shiro won't complain. Rebuilding means there are things still left to rebuild, that there's a future to look forward to.

He is so preoccupied with preparing for an upcoming visit by some new coalition planet leaders that he misses the reminder that Lance and Allura were headed back from New Altea that day.

He's only informed of the fact when the Red Lion hailed the Atlas, stating their arrival and requesting permission to dock. Veronica doesn't wait for Shiro's confirmation, knowing that her captain is busy, and simply welcomes her brother and the princess back.

Shiro considers his work for a full minute before grabbing the convenient excuse to take a break. He announces to the bridge that he'll meet the Blue Paladins in the hangar.

After all, he promised Keith that he won't overwork.

Shiro gets to the hangar just as Lance and Allura disembark from their lion. They look very engaged in their conversation, and Shiro raises a hand to wave, but stops himself when he notes their frowns and furrowed brows.

It didn't look like a fight, but it still looked serious.

They don't notice him, eyes only for each other all this time.

"I'm just saying, it's so... so weird! It’s… It's just not him, you know?"

Allura lets out a sigh. "Lance, Keith is an adult-"

"Yeah, but-! Still! He coulda told me, his right hand man, about his new boyfriend-"

Huh.

“-so I don’t get caught off guard when some random dude I don’t know answers his comms!”

“To be fair, you should have messaged him first before calling. Or checked the time.”

“I did! How was I supposed to know he wasn’t on Earth and he’s on some ship somewhere and that his alien boyfriend with creepy-ass glow-in-the-dark eyes is gonna answer because he was asleep-”

He’s cut short when Allura raises one imploring eyebrow.

Lance throws his hands up, appeasing. “Okay. Okay, yeah, I should feel bad for waking him up. He did sound tired from his mission.”

“See? Next time we see him, you should apologize-”

“Oh, quiznak.”

“What?”

“What if he was not tired from the mission? What if he was tired from something else , I mean, they were in bed and together and it was dark-”

“Don’t finish that sentence.”

“But Allura! This is the worst! Did I just see Keith post-”

“No. Nooooo… ” Allura moans, hands covering her face. “Please, stop, I don’t want to think about it!”

“Right, I’m sorry, that’s weird. But-!” Lance starts, index finger raised to make his point when he finally notices that they have an audience. “Shiro!”

Allura peeks from between her fingers. “Shiro?”

“Welcome back.” Shiro says.

“Shiro!” his friends cry, quickly straightening up, facing him, both wearing guilty smiles.

“H-Hey, man!” Lance greets back, shaky. “I… uhhhh... Hey!”

“Hey.” Shiro replies, smiling. “Lance. Allura.” he says their names slowly, deliberately, watching the hand-caught-in-jar expressions on their faces. “How was Altea?”

“Good.” Allura answers, clearing her throat. “Everything’s going swimmingly. How… How is Earth?”

“It’s good too.” Shiro says. “As you can see.”

Allura smiles and nods. “Ah.”

They all stand there in awkward silence.

Of course, Lance only lasts five seconds before he gives. “Did you know about it?”

Shiro blinks, too innocently. “Did I know about what, Lance?”

Lance stares at Shiro’s pleasant, obviously fake smile and pales. “Oh. You didn’t.”

“I didn’t what , Lance?”

“Know about Keith’s boyf-”

The rest of what he’s about to say gets cut off as Allura slaps a hand to his mouth and whips out her data-pad with the other. She doesn’t even bother pretending to look at it as she laughs and very dramatically announces, “Oh, look at the time! Dear me, we promised your mother that we’d join everyone for lunch, didn’t we, Lance, darling?”

Shiro stares. Is she… getting bigger…?

“It’s so nice to see you, Shiro, it’s been a while! But you know Lance’s family... can't make them wait! We’ll catch up with you soon! Bye~!”

Then she picks Lance up and tucks him under her arm like a child - yep, she was getting bigger, for this sole purpose - and bolts out the hangar doors.

Shiro doesn’t follow.

Shiro only takes his own data-pad out and stares at his message history with Keith, as if that would magically conjure an update from his best friend.

So. Lance and Allura know, too. It sounded like it had been an accident. He doubted Keith would tell Lance anything he wouldn’t tell Shiro. They’ve gotten closer during the past year, but… not that close? Maybe?

Shiro is not sure of anything anymore. He’s been perpetually shaken since the idea of Keith potentially dating an alien guy in space has been introduced to his tired overworked lizard brain.

For some reason, he had never thought of that happening. Ever. Not because he thinks no one would notice Keith that way - he’d actually be pretty offended if that was the case because Keith is… Keith. Beautiful, brave and sweet, force-of-nature Keith. It’s just… Keith himself had never shown interest in these things.

But now that the idea as been introduced to him, Shiro finds it stuck in his head.

He’s happy for Keith, really. He’s happy that Keith finally found someone and let them in, let them know him and… and… be intimate… with... him.

His brain short-circuits.

‘Takashi, you’re an adult. Thinking about your friend, who is also an adult. Surely you can wrap your head around that idea and accept it.’

He sighs.

He just wishes… he wishes Keith would just tell him. It’s not like they never talked about relationships before.

Keith had been there for him after Adam. Keith had told him about how his parents met. Keith had been the one to tell him when Lance and Allura went on their first date. Keith had gone to Shiro to ask for relationship advice because Hunk asked Pidge who asked Keith for relationship advice and Keith didn’t know what to say. A few weeks ago, Keith had barged in the captain’s quarters saying he doesn’t feel so good and Shiro found himself with Keith curled up in his lap, face buried on his chest and, after a full hour of silence, Keith finally said, “Shiro, I think my mom and Kolivan are a thing.”

All that considering, Keith had been pretty open with Shiro about… about everything , really.

Shiro looks at his data-pad again. If he messages Keith saying he misses him again, will Keith think he’s a clingy best friend? Shiro is not a clingy best friend. It’s just this one time. Because everyone apparently knows that Keith is out there having romantic escapades with some alien guy while Shiro had to hear it from other people.

And then, as if by some miracle, as if he was able to broadcast his Clingy Best Friend energy from Earth all the way to some Top Secret Blade of Marmora base several star systems away, his data-pad chimes.

It’s a call.

From Keith.

He answers right away.

Keith’s face pops up in his screen. Behind him is a view of stars and the vastness of space. It’s quiet where he is, none of the usual background noise from other crew. He must be in a viewing deck of some sort. He catches Keith in a yawn.

“Keith.” he says, smiling. “Hey, you look tired.”

Keith grunts. “Yeah, just woke up from my post-mission nap.” he says, absently running his fingers through his hair. “You don’t look so fresh yourself, captain.”

“Ouch. Really?”

“Your hair floof is… extra floofy. Don’t pull on it so much.”

“I wasn’t!” he insists, but he couldn’t help but reach out to fix said floofiness anyway. “Okay, maybe I was. In my defense, we’re all hair-pulling here. We’re welcoming some potential coalition members in two days and there’s a lot of preparations to be done.”

“Isn’t that just… two people?”

“We thought so too, but then they decided to bring some friends with them. Then it looks like the whole quadrant decided to tag along.”

“Yikes.” Keith says, then squints at something behind him. “Is that Red?”

Shiro glances behind him before nodding. “Yep. Lance and Allura just arrived.”

“So Allura’s there. Then there’s no need to worry, she’ll get all those aliens in line.”

“I know. They’re having lunch with the McClain’s now. But still. We’re all just trying to make sure we accommodate all guests.”

Keith blinks, and his eyes stray to some other part of his data-pad as he taps. “Lunch? Isn’t it like early evening in there?”

Shiro pauses. Wow, he can’t believe he let Allura get away with that . “Oh. Yeah. Yeah, it is! I meant dinner. Sorry. Lost track of time, you know me.”

“Does this mean you haven’t had lunch?” Keith asks, his brows furrowing and his lips twisting into a scolding frown. “Shiro-”

“I’ve eaten!” Shiro quickly says. “I’ve had lunch, Keith. I promise. You can ask Veronica.”

Keith stares at him for a while more before deciding to let it go. “Okay.”

“Why… uh… why did you call?”

A shrug. “Just wanted to check up on you, I guess.”

Shiro does everything in his power to hold back a soft, fond sigh. “Keith… you don’t have to do that.” Keith just stares back. “But thank you. I appreciate it.”

“Also, Lance.”

“Lance?”

“Have you talked to Lance?”

“A bit, yes.”

“Did he tell you… anything… um. Anything? About me?”

Anything? Oh . Shiro thinks he knows where this is going. Finally . “It’s Lance. Care to be more specific?”

Keith rolls his eyes before nodding. “That’s fair.” he lets out a breath, looking warily around him before continuing. “Look. Something… happened.”

This is it. He knew it - Keith would tell him when he’s ready. “Something?”

“It’s pretty damn weird, so… Promise you won’t laugh.”

Shiro takes a breath. “Keith-”

“Who am I kidding, you can laugh, it’s kinda funny.”

Shiro frowns. Why would he laugh? Keith really should stop being so self-deprecating. He deserves this! But, this is Keith’s moment. Shiro simply nods and says, “I’ll try my best to react as appropriate.”

“Wow.” Keith sends him a small, appreciative smile. “Fine. Here I go. So, after my last mission, we stopped over this one planet for food and supplies. They’ve got this… huge fruit market, and I mean huge because apparently that’s their primary food source or something. I’ve never seen. So much fruit. In my life.”

Shiro grins, nodding along. “Fruit planet. Got it.”

“I was walking around with the wolf and then there’s this one guy, he just comes up to me and-”

An alert pops up on Shiro’s data-pad, the chime loud and making Keith pause. Iverson’s name flashes in his data-pad, with a flashing yellow exclamation point icon indicating its urgency.

Shiro closes his eyes and tries to summon some patience. “Sorry. Just-... It’s Iverson.” Another chime. “And also Veronica?”

Keith nods in understanding. “You should probably get that.”

“Yeah. I-... I will. But- You were going to tell me something-”

Keith shakes his head. “It can wait. It’s not that big a deal anyway.”

Shiro frowns. “Are you sure?”

“Dead sure.” Keith answers. “Go on and… do your captain stuff.”

Shiro sends Keith his most apologetic look and asks, “Call again?”

“I’ll try.” Keith says. “I’ll be back soon, anyway. We’re just finishing up some stuff here in the base and then I’m coming home. I can tell you all about it then.”

Keith hangs up, and Shiro grudgingly answers Iverson’s call.

.


.

Keith doesn’t call again, but Shiro doesn’t hold that against him. It’s late by the time he’s free from his duties. Apparently a whole new batch of information about their guests had arrived courtesy of Coran and a lot of details about the meeting-turned-mini-summit had to be adjusted to accommodate each individual specie in attendance.

He has a newfound appreciation for the Alteans of Coran’s time, for consistently avoiding conflict while welcoming different alien species all with different cultures and traditions.

Shiro had only been able to escape event prep and PR hell when Allura arrived well-rested after dinner with the McClains and promptly took everything from his hands.

He manages to grab some cold dinner from the mess hall before heading to his quarters. He’s on his way back when he hears voices as he rounds a corner.

“So, I really don’t believe you-”

“Well, you should. Because- Captain!

He stops when two familiar pilots salute him. Shiro chuckles and waves dismissively. “At ease, Griffin, Rizavi. I’m just on my way back to my quarters, calling it a day.”

He sees James glance at Rizavi before raising a hand. “Actually, Captain.” he starts, stilted but determined. “Um… if you don’t mind… I think you can clear something up real quick for Rizavi here.”

Shiro blinks, but faces them to acknowledge the request. “I’ll do my best. What is it?”

Before James can speak, Rizavi raises her hand, high enough to cover James’ face. Then she asks with an excited grin, “Are you Kogane’s boyfriend?”

Shiro stares.

Why is everyone talking about Keith these days?

Griffin swipes Rizavi’s hand away from his face with a groan. “Nadia! That’s not what we’re supposed to be asking!”

Rizavi looks at him, surprised. “It’s not?

“No!” he scolds her, then looks apologetically at their CO. “Captain, I’m so sorry. That was rude. Please forget she ever asked that.”

Shiro nods, shaky. “S-Sure…”

“What’re we supposed to ask him then?” Rizavi whines.

Shiro joins Rizavi in raising their eyebrows at James, who sighs. “Err, okay, you see. I told Nadia something - a fact , with a reliable source - and she won’t believe me. I think you can confirm this, but if you think it’s too personal-”

Rizavi seems to come to a realization with that and she perks up again, like a student who figured out the right answer on the second try. “Oh! Captain, is Kogane single?”

Shiro stares. Again.

So it’s still about Keith after all. Have they always talked about Keith this much? Or is it only because Keith’s not in the Atlas? What is even happening?

He eyes Rizavi, then Griffin. The latter sighs, but nods. “Yes… That… that is the question.”

Shiro takes a long inhale as his last brain cell flexes and tries to produce an answer.

It comes up with a simple, “Huh.”

“We’re very sorry. It’s too personal- It’s just… I know we can take your word for it because you two are… close. But, feel free not to answer that-”

Tired, stressed and very much confused, Shiro is unable to stop himself from blurting out, “Why are you asking?”

Griffin looks uncomfortable, but Rizavi only hums as she grins. “Get this, James dumped a guy. For Keith.”

“He… what ?”

James looks at his teammate, looking utterly betrayed. “Hey! You made it sound like-! Just stop talking. Please.”

Shiro shakes his head, now completely lost. “Wait, let’s just… I’m confused.”

“Okay. Okay, I’ll just tell you everything.” James says, resigned and panicking at the same time. “It’s not what she makes it sound like. Shut up, Nadia .”

Rizavi huffs, but only crosses her arms across her chest.

James looks Shiro in the eyes for a second before starting his explanation. “Some… crew member… approached me. He knows Keith and I were in the same class, back when we were cadets. I guess he thought we’d be… friends? Or close? Like that? So he asked me if I can… uh… help him? Or like, just- Uh. He was interested in Keith. And I… it was really awkward, I couldn’t say no? So I told him I’ll… think about it.”

Shiro tries to absorb this. Okay. This… this is new but fairly normal information so far. He knows Keith and James got along nicely these days. He even caught them laughing together at some joke once, last time the paladins and the MFE squad went out drinking. Someone going to James about Keith? That's… fair.

“Very well.” he prompts. “Continue.”

“And… I didn’t really know what to do, you know. So I just. Uh. I called Keith. To ask. If he’s… available, or interested in something like that.”

Shiro blinks. “You just… called him and asked ?”

“Yes.”

“And he answered?”

“...Yes?” James says, as if confused about why Shiro is confused. “It’s Keith. He answered.”

“He’s a broody mysterious ninja assassin!” Rizavi whines. “I don’t believe that he answered! Or that you called! You just said it yourself, you’re not that close.”

“Well, we don’t probably call each other every night like he and the captain do, but… we talk , okay? I can call him and he’ll answer! We’re not close enough that I can wingman some stranger into landing a date with him, but we’re… friends, sorta!”

Rizavi doesn’t look the least bit convinced.

Shiro is seeing James Griffin in a new light. He couldn’t help but ask, “You are?”

Keith hadn’t told him about this new sorta-friendship - I-can-call-and-he’ll-answer-and-we-talk relationship he has with Griffin. But... it's nice, he supposes.

James looks away as he grumbles. “We exchange piloting tips. And… team strategies.”

Huh. You learn something new everyday.

Then Shiro backtracks and realizes another thing. “We… We don’t call each other every night. Just… so you know.”

At this point, James just shrugs. “Yeah, okay.”

Rizavi scoffs. “I still don’t believe you called him.”

Shiro tries to sound as casual as possible when he says, “What did… what did he tell you, when you called?”

“He just said he has a boyfriend.” James answers, and Shiro tries his best to keep his expression neutral. “Well. He said they’re not actually boyfriends yet , but they agreed to talk about it soon. The mission comes first. He’s waiting to come back home here and then they’ll talk things out. That’s what he told me.”

“Sounds fake.” Rizavi says.

But it sounds… like Keith , after all, Shiro has to admit. The mission comes first. It’s very Blade of Marmora. And it explains why Keith has been holding off from telling Shiro or the others anything. Maybe he wants to be clear with his partner about their relationship first before he introduced them to his friends and family. It’s a smart and mature choice.

“I took his word for it. Like a good friend should.” James says, side-eyeing his teammate. Then he looks to Shiro. “It’s Keith, you know him. He answers if you ask him straight out! So I told the other guy that Keith is already technically in a relationship, or, on the way there at least. He was sad, but he took it pretty well, considering. That’s it. I did not dump anyone. Or anything like that. I hope we’ve cleared any misunderstanding caused by someone’s poor word choice.”

“It still sounds fake.” Rizavi insists. “You so didn’t call him. You just dumped the guy because you have a crush on Keith. That , I took your word for. Like a good friend should!”

James blushes a bright red before glaring. “T-There was no dumping. The guy gave up on his own! And that… that crush… was when we were, like, fifteen, and I’m very much over that!”

“Dude, he’s hotter now, how do I believe you’ve moved on?”

Shiro is ashamed to find himself nodding. How does one just not have a crush on Keith as he is now?

“I have a boyfriend!” James grits out.

Ah. That one works.

Rizavi’s gasp could probably be heard throughout the entirety of the Atlas. “Oh my God, is it Keith? Are you Keith’s boyfriend?”

“God, no, it’s Ryan!”

“Whaaaat?!” Rizavi squeals, then whirls around to fully face her team leader. “Noooooooo!” She shoves his shoulder, disbelieving. “Really?!”

“And this is why we haven’t told you.” James throws his hands up and rolls his eyes. Yep, Shiro could now tell how he and Keith could be very good friends once that teenage rivalry’s been set aside.

Also, Shiro feels like he just watched some elaborate teen drama movie. He coughs to remind the younger two that he’s still there and could hear everything, thank you very much.

Rizavi actually grips his sleeve. “Captain, do you hear this?!”

Shiro lets out a short breath. “Yes, Rizavi. I hear all of it.”

Griffin looks at him with utter shame, horror and apology. Shiro feels bad for him. “Captain, we’re sorry. This has gone totally off the rails.” he says, carefully extricating his friend’s hand from their CO’s uniform. “Really. So sorry for bothering you. I think we’ll just… go now.”

“I… Uh. Sure.” is all Shiro is able to reply. What else could he say at this point? “Have a good evening, the both of you.”

“You too, sir. Sorry again.” Griffin says, very eager to flee from the scene.

Rizavi allows her friend to drag her away, still visibly processing. “Wait- Wait! So, Captain, is James saying the truth? Kogane- Keith is not single?”

Shiro only smiles a tight little smile. He hopes Rizavi couldn’t read him well enough to see through it. “I believe you should take his word for it. Like a good friend should.”

He turns towards his quarters, all the while listening to the fading bickering from the two younger pilots.

“James. James, does Ina know about you and Ryan?”

“Eh. I didn’t tell her, but she probably does.”

“Whaaaaaat? Wait, does Keith know? Your Friend Keith? Did you tell him before you told me? I’m hurt, James. I’m really, really hurt-”

.


.

Pidge returns the next day. Hunk, too.

Shiro is thankful that they don’t so much as complain when they get roped into the mini-summit preparations. Pidge immediately gets to work on streamlining the translators on everyone’s comms while Hunk assembles his very own hand-picked squad and takes charge of food and catering. Allura briefs everyone on the do’s and don’ts during the event.

Lance, the real trooper, runs from one fellow Paladin to another checking up on them and offering whatever assistance he can provide. It ranged from cutting Pidge off from caffeine after her seventh mug, to driving Romelle to the market to get some extra ingredients for Hunk and his crew, to glowering at anyone who was about to laugh whenever Allura used an Earth expression wrong during her lecture.

The day had been easier on Shiro, but at the end of it, he still finds himself joining the other Paladins in the common room as they all slump down in separate couches and corners of the room and heave a collective sigh.

Shiro sits up, clearing his throat. “So… uh, guys…?”

Lance waves him off easily from where he’s lying face down on at least five pillows. “We know, Shiro. We all did a good job and you want to thank us. It’s fine, no need for the pep talk, we know you’re tired. We’re all tired. ‘Cause we all did great today. You’re welcome.”

Shiro thinks of anything to add to that and, surprisingly, he has none. He simply sighs and nods obligingly at the Blue Paladin. “Thank you, Lance.”

“Love you too, Captain Man.” Lance replies, giving him a lazy grin. “Speaking of… D’you know when Team Leader’s coming home?”

Before Shiro could answer, the rest of their group suddenly perk up.

“Oh, I talked to him, last night?” Romelle says, voice curious but focus remaining on her task of painting Allura’s nails. Gotta look good for the guests tomorrow, after all. “It was so strange to just see that creature slobbering all over his face. And it’s very touchy, too.”

Shiro blinks. Slobbering-? Touchy?

Allura giggles. “I think it’s quite sweet that Keith allows that. I didn’t know he can be so... cuddly.”

Huh. What. Oh. The not-actually-but-soon-to-be boyfriend. Wow. Keith is cuddly? Wait, Shiro knew that, but Keith is cuddly to selected people only. Like… Shiro, his mom, his wolf… Romelle, sometimes. Matt to an extent-

“Uh, Allura, my queen, my love - no.” Lance interjects. “It’s super weird. That dog is all over him, like that. Like… weird .”

Pidge lets out a low hysterical laugh and then just says, “Dog.”

“What? He’s a dog!” Lance argues.

Shiro suppresses a sigh. Lance should really re-examine his personal biases. Keith won’t like him talking about his boyfriend like this… Should Shiro tell him off before Keith finds out by himself?

Hunk sniggers and says, “Alien dog man.”

“Alien dog man, still a dog.” Lance deadpans. “I don’t know how Keith deals with it. Everytime I talk to him, they’re wrestling half-dressed. I’m so tired.”

“Hey, I always said Keith should get a leash.” Hunk says.

Pidge just laughs harder.

Now Shiro thinks there’s something he’s missing.

“I think he’s just being affectionate.” Allura pouts. “I stand by it, it might be strange, but sweet.” Then she turns to Shiro and smiles. “What do you think, Shiro?”

Shiro blinks, hardly keeping up with all that information at once, and at the tail end of a long day. “Yes?”

“What is your opinion on Keith’s…” Pidge pauses, snorts, and then, giggling, says, “...b-boyfriend?”

“Boyfriend.” Hunk repeats. They laugh and then high five.

Shiro frowns. Why are they laughing? He feels a flare of that familiar urge to defend Keith from anyone who dared question his honor. It’s become second nature from before Kerberos, and only persisted during their time as defenders of the universe.

“I think,” he says, slowly. “That this is no laughing matter. Keith’s got a lot on his plate. I’m sure juggling his duties and personal relationships at the same time is a struggle. We’re a team. We should support him.”

Pidge and Hunk look chastised, not having expected such a serious response.

“Sorry.” Hunk says. “We understand, man, really. Oh! In fact-” he turns to Pidge. “I read the specs he sent us.”

“Yeah?” Pidge perks up. “I got some ideas. Run it by me tomorrow, after the mini-summit?”

“Sure, sure. You think we can consult with your mom? Bio is so not our forte…”

Lance heaves a long, heavy sigh. It allows Shiro to drown out the science talk. His head aches enough as it is.

Then Lance asks, “So yeah, when’s he coming home?”

Shiro shakes his head. “He hasn’t told me, but I know he’s done with that last mission.”

“He should be back soon.” Romelle chimes in. She grins at Shiro, eyes bright, and Shiro doesn’t know where that came from. Is she trying to tell him something? “Soon!”

“Vague.” Lance remarks. Allura and Shiro send him a look, so he adds, “But okay.”

.


.

Keith comes home the next day.

He makes a grand entrance as he does. Typical Keith.

It happens like this:

The mini-summit had more attendees than they had expected, but they managed. The two dozen or so different alien species took some getting used to, but like Keith had said, they saw Allura and Shiro, and they got in line. It had taken a while until everyone was comfortable enough and they could start, but they eventually got the ball rolling.

That is, until some particularly demanding guests remarked about Voltron being missing.

“Voltron is right here.” Allura says. “Lance here is the Paladin of the Red Lion. Pidge is… over there, the Paladin of the Green Lion. Hunk, the Paladin of the Yellow Lion is busy preparing food for everyone. I myself am the Paladin of the Blue Lion-”

“And Where is this Blue Lion?”

Allura glances at the three lions they could see from their location: Red, Green and Yellow. She smiles graciously at their guests. “It’s in Altea, as I stay in there most of the time.”

“Aren’t there five lions?”

“Yes, you’re right. The Black Lion is with her Paladin.” Allura says.

She exchanges a look with Shiro beside her, who is quick to assist. “The current Black Paladin is also a member of the Blade of Marmora and as you know, the Blades are a busy group.”

There are murmurs of concern among their guests. Leaders doubting the reliability of the coalition, of Voltron without a leader. Shiro holds back a sigh. Not this again. Besides, what do they want the entirety of Voltron for? The reign of the Galra Empire is over. And the team doesn’t even hold it against Keith to be more involved with the Blades these days - they all know that the Blades are the ones doing the heavy lifting in tracking down Empire loyalists and rogue warlords.

But these are people from far-off places in the galaxy. They are those who had not seen Voltron or the lions fight first hand against the Empire.

Pidge sidles up to join them, a frown on her face. Allura raises her hands to appease. “Rest assured, the coalition has Voltron on its side, and the Paladins are very much involved with our rebuilding and diplomatic efforts. Not just on Earth, but anywhere they are needed.”

“Can we rely on a defender without the head?”

“The Black Paladin doesn’t seem interested in meeting new allies for your coalition!”

To Allura’s other side, Lance bristles. “Listen here, you-”

Pidge and Allura both move to grab each of his arms, but what stops him is the crisp new voice that interjects his.

“The Black Paladin is right here.”

They turn to see none other than Keith, still in his Blade uniform, walking towards the front of the room to join his fellow Paladins. He stops right beside Shiro and crosses his arms across his chest, eyeing the demanding guests, who freeze under his sharp gaze.

“But if you really needed two in attendance, I guess I’m here as well.”

Right as he says that, the ground shakes as the Black Lion moves to join her sisters outside.

That shuts them all up. Keith spares Shiro a glance and a smirk, and Shiro couldn’t help but chuckle. He ignores any looks they might get as he puts a hand on his best friend’s shoulder and leans sideways to whisper, “Welcome home, spitfire.”

Keith just smiles and nudges him on the side. “Missed you too, captain.”

He looks down at the other and notices something else. “Is that a new uniform?”

Keith shrugs. “I sorta got a promotion.”

Lance leans over to say, “Show-off.”

Keith gives him an unimpressed look, then nods at Pidge. “Thanks for the heads-up, Pidge.”

Pidge shrugs. “They were pissing me off.”

Then the doors open again and a panting Hunk comes in. “Okay, I’m here! I’m here, what’s up? I was cooking, guys, what do you need that’s more important?

Shiro, Lance and Allura look to Pidge, who just shrugs again.

It’s Keith who looks back at their guests and raises an eyebrow. “So. Voltron’s here. All six paladins. Any other requests? Maybe you want Princess Allura to call the Blue Lion from Altea? Or will you finally let her discuss what you all came here for?”

The guests pipe down. Allura gives Keith a grateful look, then steps forward and resumes her speech.

The other Paladins take their seats as they let Allura take center stage.

While their audience is occupied, Shiro takes the chance to look at Keith. There are braids on either side of his head, a bit like Romelle’s, only it’s gathered into a small bun at the back of his head. His expression is a bit pinched, and what to others would amount to a glare, Shiro knows is something else.

“Hey." He leans over slightly, cupping the back of his best friend’s elbow to get his attention. "Are you okay?”

Keith eyes him and nods, smiling lightly. “Yeah, just a bit winded. I was barely out from Black when Pidge messaged me. Then I ran here.”

“You know you can go in a bit. Allura’s got them distracted, and they’re probably too scared of you now to say anything.” Shiro says. Keith chuckles. “You should rest.”

Keith shakes his head. His other hand moves to cover Shiro’s fingers on his elbow softly. “You guys worked hard on this. I’ll stay.”

Shiro knows better than to argue. “Alright, but if you start dozing off, I’m sending you out myself.”

“Yes, sir.” Keith says with a roll of his eyes.

Shiro looks around briefly. The audience are all focused on Allura now, and there’s nothing amiss with the security detail and staff milling around. He looks at Keith again. “Uh… I heard you were bringing... your friend?”

Keith blinks. “Hm?”

Shiro stares back. He contemplates explaining, remembering that disaster of a conversation with Griffin and the one lesson he got from it. Keith is straightforward. If you ask him, he’ll answer.

But Keith blinks again and seems to realize what he’s trying to say. “ Ah. Oh. I, uh… convinced him to stay in my quarters for the meantime. I can’t really bring him here, he won’t put a shirt on. Or shoes. It took lots of time to even get pants on him.”

“Huh...”

“And he’s a handful. Just keeps… pawing at me.”

Shiro frowns. “That’s-... You’re not uncomfortable, are you?”

Keith shrugs. “Me? Not really. He’s just really clingy when he knows he can’t get to me whenever he wants.”

Okay, Shiro feels called out at that. He hates that he can’t judge.

“He can’t teleport in this form. It makes him antsy, I guess.”

“Oh.” Wait, what? Teleport? Form? Wha-

Allura then claps her hands, smiling brilliantly. “Thank you again, for coming all the way from your planets to join our cause. We hope that this opens up friendships with our planets in the name of peace. Finally, if you have any questions, we will now be entertaining them. One by one, please!”

.


.

The mini-summit finishes late, but it finishes peacefully. The Paladins and the Atlas crew are all tuckered out by the time clean up starts. Shiro assures everyone that once they’ve cleaned up the worst, they can just resume early the next day. After all, sleep and rest are important.

Shiro watches Allura and Lance trudge off together, leaning on each other. Hunk says goodbye with a sleeping Pidge on his back. Keith is barely awake but he is gentle as he ushers Romelle to her quarters, her arms around his neck and her face tucked on his shoulder. Even Veronica is quick to bow out as soon as Shiro dismisses her.

He takes his time walking to his quarters, savoring the sudden quiet in the halls after days of constant prep and event noise.

It's so quiet that he promptly forgets that he shares the same hallway as the Paladins' quarters. When he looks up, he sees Keith pressing his hand to the panel beside his door. The door swishes open and Shiro opens his mouth to say something, anything - thanks for the save today, good to have you back, congratulations on that promotion, good night, I missed you-

He abruptly stops when Keith gets attacked by a growling blue blur. He raises his arm on instinct, ready to help Keith, when he hears Keith chuckle.

"Whoa! Hey, buddy. Sorry, I know that took forever." he says, gentle and fond. "Hey, at least I left you some food, right? Or are you still hungry?"

Shiro finally gets his first look at Keith's... friend (it's friend, still, until Keith says otherwise) . The man is tall, broad-shouldered and long-limbed. Pidge is right, he had inhuman pink-gray skin, a long mane of bright blue hair. He had cyan markings in his torso, shoulders and face that all seem to glow faintly. But besides those, his features were pretty much human, though there’s something wild about his posture in general. He's wearing nothing but a pair of sweatpants that must be Keith's, judging from the way it ends high above his ankles.

Keith’s friend is growling lowly as he noses Keith's neck, then his cheeks and his forehead. Wait. Is he also sniffing? Keith is caged tightly around his arms, but Keith doesn't seem to care, only moving one hand to rub his back, while the other reaches up to stroke blue hair.

When Keith's hand goes to scratch behind an ear, the man lets out a groan and nuzzles closer and then he lifts his head and opens his mouth and-

He just.

Licks.

One clean stripe up Keith's face.

Okay, so. When Shiro heard from Romelle that the guy slobbers all over Keith's face, he just thought that maybe they make out a lot. The Alteans mixed expressions up sometimes. But maybe not this time? This one seems to be... literal.

Keith cringes for a second but sighs, as if he's resigned to his fate. He only pulls the man's face back and frowns. "Gross."

Tall-Blue-and-Handsy - Shiro heard that from Lance, of course it was Lance, okay - blinks golden eyes at Keith.

Then he sticks out his tongue and licks the tip of Keith's nose.

"Urrrggghhh..." Keith face scrunches up in disgust before he pouts and says, "You're so lucky I love you."

The man just whines, then resumes sniffing at Keith's neck. Keith laughs because it tickles, and something twists in Shiro's chest and he hears a crack.

It's his heart.

Okay, no.

It's his data-pad.

Oh, shit. It's his data-pad!

"Shiro?"

He looks up to see that Keith and Tall-Blue-and-Handsy have finally noticed him.

There’s a belated realization that everyone seems to not notice him these days, and he’s a little hurt by that, but he’ll deal with that later.

"Uh, hey." Shiro says, doing his best to muster up a smile. Keith's friend withdraws from Keith and wordlessly starts walking - actually he looks like he's trotting, how does he do that? - towards Shiro. Shiro moves his hand from ready-to-punch to go instead for a cordial handshake as he tries to come up with something to say.

"H-Hello? It's nice to meet y-hyaaaahhhWHAAAAAT?"

Did he just-

Did this guy just-

Lick his face?!

Shiro stumbles back, hands up in defense. He sees Keith hurriedly hauling his alien friend back.

"Hey! We talked about this! No licking other people!"

The man whines, but he moves to stand behind Keith. He keeps his arms around Keith's torso though, and is nosing at Keith's hair all the while.

Keith looks at his best friend in concern. "Shiro, are you okay?"

Shiro shakily wipes the trail of saliva from his cheek. "I... I will be? What was that? Is that some kind of alien greeting?"

"No. It's not." Keith says, looking pointedly at the man behind him, who doesn't really look all that sorry, but Keith doesn't do anything to shove him off. "Sorry. I know it's weird. I'm used to it, and it still feels weird."

The man leans down and nips at Keith's shoulder and Keith only gently pats at his head until he backs away and settles for nosing again instead.

"It... It is." Shiro agrees, for once. "Uh. So. Care to introduce me to your friend?"

Keith stares at Shiro, confused, before realization hits him. He whirls around. He grabs his friend's face and he... he beams?

"Hey!I just realized! You can finally tell me your name!"

Tall-Blue-and-Handsy lets out a confused sound.

Shiro starts to wonder. Maybe he can’t talk? But Keith answers that question right away.

"C'mon, those vocal chords are human. You can talk. I heard you say 'please' to mom. I know you can talk. You just don't want to." Keith says, determined. "So what's your name?"

Shiro stares.

Okay. Okay- No. What?

This makes no sense.

Keith is letting this... this stranger... neck him and sniff at him and lick him... letting him into his bed... and he doesn't even know his name?

No. This is wrong.

"Keith..." he calls, all concern. "Keith?"

Keith turns to him, eyes wide and shiny. Shiro is weak. "Yeah?"

Shiro furrows his brows as he says in his most gentle voice, "You're dating someone who won't even tell you his name?"

Keith just... stares at him.

Shiro shakes his head. "This isn't right, Keith-"

"Shiro." Keith cuts him off, face blank. "Shiro. What?"

Shiro eyes Tall-Blue-and-Handsy while he places a hand on Keith's shoulder, preparing to pry his precious best friend away from this strange alien who may or may not have inappropriately seduced him or something, because there was no way Keith would be in this kind of relationship. "Hey, man. I think you should-"

"Shiro." Keith calls to him, more firmly this time. "Why would I date my wolf?"

"-let Keith and I have a moment- Wolf. What. Wolf? What did you say?"

Keith blinks up at him, bewildered. "Are you okay?"

"...Yeah?" Shiro nods, looking back at him. "Are you okay?"

" Yeah. What are you talking- Do you think I'm- Shiro, I'm not dating my wolf ."

"Your- Your wolf? I'm not talking about-" He stops abruptly, then looks at Tall-Blue-and-Handsy. He takes in the gold eyes, the bright blue hair that he had seen before - that exact same shade… and the markings. That... that adorable head tilt followed by a blink.

No way.

"Shiro?" Keith starts, slow and careful, turning to fully face Shiro and bringing his hands to his best friend's shoulders. "Shiro, who do you think this is?"

"I'm dreaming. I passed out sometime after that meeting or something."

"You're not." Keith says. "I mean, we're all tired. But I'm pretty sure you're not dreaming."

Shakily, Shiro raises a hand and extends it to Tall-Blue-and-Handsy, who sniffs it.

Then licks his fingers.

Shiro jerks away.

"No." he whispers in disbelief.

Keith... giggles.

Shiro looks down at him.

"Oh my God." Keith says, shaky, hand flying to muffle the laugh that escapes him. "You didn't know?"

Shiro's voice hitches up a full octave as he cries, "Keith!"

Keith breaks. Shiro watches as Keith dissolves into fits of laughter. "Y-You didn't know!" he manages, barely. "All this-... All this time, you didn't know?"

Shiro tries his best to look offended. "How would I- How would I know?! And why is he like this, anyway?!" he demands.

"He ate... he ate some weird fruit from that weird fruit planet and when I woke up, he was like this." Keith says, catching his breath. "Seriously? Wait, you asked me about him earlier. Who did you think it was I brought with me?"

At this, Shiro looks down, guilty. "I... Uh. The others... The others have been talking about your new alien boyfriend all week..."

Keith wheezes. The space wolf-... man-... space wolf-man... sniffs curiously at him, looking miffed that he was moving so much.

“Kill me. Kill me now.” Shiro looks up at the ceiling, refusing to acknowledge this whole disaster.

"Come on." Keith says, tugging at his sleeve. "I'm tired, let's at least do this inside."

.


.

They all drop on the couch in Keith’s quarters, Keith and Shiro taking either end as the wolf curls up in the middle and lays his head on Keith's lap, paying no heed to Shiro's presence. It's a tight fit but Shiro decides not to complain.

After a while, Keith says, "Those jerks."

Shiro looks at him, watching him stroke space wolf's hair. Looking at them now, Shiro wonders how he could have missed it. "Did... did they all know?"

"Of course." Keith shrugs. "Well, Pidge walked in on us but we were both so busy I didn't have time to explain. Lance too, when he first called. But after days, the researchers in the Blades base couldn't find anything on how to... reverse this... so I decided to contact Pidge and Hunk, maybe they'd have an idea. Then Lance called again to update me on what's happening here and I told him. When I called you last time, I was going to tell you, but you were so busy. And I figured, they're all here, one of them's bound to tell you at some point, if they hadn't already. They really didn't?"

Shiro thinks about it. "They really didn't."

"And they made you think I have an alien boyfriend?"

" That, they did."

Keith rolls his eyes, but he looks amused. "Jerks." He leans his head against the back of the couch, and when he looks at Shiro, he smiles. "You looked really worried for me, though. Thanks, Shiro. That was sweet."

Shiro looks down, fiddling with his the hem of his already rumpled uniform. "Anytime, Keith." he replies, just as softly. "I just... I care about you. So... I just didn't want you rushing into things."

He startles when he feels fingers in his forehead, but he realizes it's only Keith, so he bows his head and leans back against the couch as Keith brushes his hair back from his face..

He catches the space wolf looking at him, expression smug.

'Yeah, okay.' Shiro thinks as he looks back at those wolf eyes. 'We're not that different. Sure.'

"So... what's the plan?" he asks after a while. "For... space wolf?"

"We're finishing off this summit business and then Pidge and Hunk will try and work out how to turn him back.” Then he leans down to coo at his wolf. “'Cause you hate this, don't you, buddy?"

The wolf only cuddles closer and lets out a low growl.

"He hates that he can't teleport." Keith explains for Shiro's benefit. He withdraws his hand from Shiro's hair, and Shiro feels the loss. "Also, let me tell you, it was not fun when Mom came in and saw me in bed with a naked man hovering over me."

That makes Shiro laugh, and the wolf idly kicks at him, annoyed at the shaking. Keith tells him that it's rude. His sentence is punctuated with a yawn.

Shiro takes that as his cue. "It's really late. We should get some sleep." He stands up, straightening his uniform to no avail out of lack of anything else to do.

Keith sits up and smiles at him. "Good night, Shiro."

He smiles back. "Good night, Keith."

"Sleep well with the knowledge that I don't have an alien boyfriend."

Shiro shakes his head. "Will you ever let me live that down?"

"Nope." Keith says, with a pop of his lips.

Shiro adores him like this, lazy and playful and open, just for him.

Suddenly all is right again in the world. Keith is back. Keith has no surprise alien boyfriend. Keith thinks he’s sweet. Keith is smiling at him. Shiro reaches out to ruffle his best friend's hair and he gets a little sleepy laugh of it.

It makes his day.

.


.

He falls asleep to a dream about Keith. In the dream, they're talking, though he couldn’t remember what it was about. But he knows that he tells Keith that he loves him. So much. More than anything. And Keith...

Keith says he's drunk.

Huh. This dream is mean.

He hears something about a promise, but he can't decipher the rest of the words. It's dark and hazy, and he feels the ghost of lips on his forehead-

"Shiro." Keith's voice. His bed is... bouncing? "Shiro, wake up. You gotta see this."

"Mm. Keith?" he grumbles, frowning. Why does his dream about Keith have to involve being woken up? Who does that? "Sweetheart, wha-? Whatisit...?"

There's a pause that lasts three seconds before the bouncing returns. "Shiroooo... Shiro, look."

Wait. Wait, there's someone's hand on his shoulder. That's not a dream thing. His eyes snap open and he sits up. "W-Wha-? Keith?"

Keith is on his bed, eyes bright, hair tousled, wearing a worn Garrison sweater he'd stolen from Shiro years ago.

Shiro loves him more than life itself.

"Good morning, captain." Keith says, a tiny smirk on his lips. "C'mon, look."

"Look? Whu-?" Shiro looks around and spots Tall-Blue-and-Handsy-But-Not-Keith's-Boyfriend-Just-His-Wolf perched at the foot of his bed. "Uh... Space Wolf?"

"Yeah. Look at him!" Keith says, ever-so kindly encouraging his best friend's slow morning potato brain to function. Gods, Shiro loves him so much. Wait. Brain, priorities.

Shiro looks at Space Wolf. And it takes him a few seconds before he blinks, rubs his eyes just to confirm, and then he blinks repeatedly again.

"Is that... Is that a tail?"

It looks like a tail. It's wagging like a tail. And it thumped against Shiro's feet like a very unimpressed tail.

"Yes! His tail is back!" Keith rejoices. It's a pure and wholesome unbridled joy of a boy for his dog and it’s beautiful and ugh, Shiro is waxing poetic more than usual. Something about waking up to a happy, cheerful Keith on his bed is doing things to him. "He's a bit bluer too. That must mean the weird fruit is wearing off, right?"

"Y-Yeah..." Shiro says, smiling. His sleep-addled, love-struck brain is not functioning enough to debate actions and consequences and he lets his fingers drift towards Keith's bed hair, attempting to smooth it. It probably won't work, but hey, it's the journey, not the destination. "This is good. Maybe we don't even need Pidge or Hunk to reverse it. Maybe it will all just wear off."

"Maybe." Keith says, thoughtful. He doesn't draw away from Shiro's fingers on his hair. He looks at Shiro then and lets out an apologetic laugh. "Sorry, uh. Sorry for waking you up. I just got... really excited. I don't know what came over me. I’ve been really stressing out about him the past few days, so…"

"No, it's fine. There are worse things to wake up to." he assures Keith, who looks sheepish now that the initial excitement had worn off. He's fiddling with the sleeves of Shiro's sweater that he's wearing. "What time is it? We've got a long day today, we can start early."

“It's almost five.” Keith says. "I'll let you get dressed up, see you at the mess hall for breakfast?"

"Sounds great." It's a task to withdraw his hand from Keith. "See you, Keith."

Keith slides off his bed and heads for the door, gesturing the space wolf to him in the process. The wolf latches on to Keith right away, and Keith just gives a little wave goodbye to Shiro before disappearing out the door.

Shiro takes a deep breath. "What a day." he says.

He's only been awake for five minutes, but. What a day.

.


.

Hunk looks horrified. Pidge almost drops her bowl of cereal.

“We thought you knew!”

Shiro gapes at them. “How would I know?!”

“We thought Keith told you!”

“I thought you told him.” Keith interjects, calmer than the rest of his friends. “You guys were here .”

“In our defense, we were all busy.” Hunk says, finally gathering himself. “And we honestly thought you told Shiro. You guys talk all the time!”

“Right.” Keith rolls his eyes, and only plucks some food from his plate and offers it to space wolf sitting by his feet and pawing lazily at his leg.

“So… that’s it? I didn’t know because no one bothered to tell me?” Shiro asks.

“It’s not that no one bothered to tell you…” Hunk corrects mildly. “It’s just we all thought someone already told you.”

“Anyway, let’s just observe Kosmo for a while.” Pidge says. She extends a bacon strip towards the wolf experimentally, and he takes it from her with his mouth, not bothering to act human at all. “His tail grew back, he looks bluer, he sounds more wolf-ish… yeah, maybe it’ll just wear off after all. We’ll still consult with mom, though.”

“Thanks, Pidge. And that’s not his name. He hasn’t told us his name.”

“He hasn’t told us that it’s not his name either. What if it is ?”

Space wolf ducks under the table to press his face to Pidge’s lap. Pidge squawks, but awkwardly scratches at his hair. His tail starts wagging happily.

“He really won’t wear a shirt, though?” Hunk asks.

Keith shrugs. “Honestly, he’s only wearing pants now more for your comfort than ours. He’s a wolf. He doesn’t wear clothes.”

Hunk laughs at that. Joking, he says, “So he sleeps naked?”

“Yeah.”

Shiro chokes on his sandwich. Keith is quick to rub his back and offer him a glass of water.

Pidge whistles. “Keith, you weird desert child. Sleeping with your naked dog.”

Keith pouts. “I’m older than you.” He looks at Shiro, who had just finished drinking his glass of water bottoms up. “Are you okay? Take your time eating. Lance and Allura can handle seeing all those stuffy aliens off by themselves.”

“I’m okay, Keith. Thank you.” Shiro says, mustering up a smile, which fades when he notices that the wolf is looking at him again. He blinks, and the wolf blinks back. He frowns. The wolf huffs.

“What are you two doing?” Keith demands, looking between his best friend and his dog-in-human-form.

“He’s staring at me.” Shiro says. He feels a bit like a child complaining to the teacher, but what can he do?

“You’re making Shiro uncomfortable.” Keith tells his wolf. The wolf whines. “No, I’m not mad. But you have to stop soon or I will be.”

Keith never really told any of them how he’s so in sync with his wolf, but there are times, like this time, when Shiro can't help but think that they have a psychic link. He’s certain no one just goes ahead and guesses what their non-verbal mysterious cosmic space wolf friend is thinking that precisely.

The wolf transfers from Pidge to Keith. But instead of plopping his head on Keith’s lap for scratches, he rears up, hands on Keith’s knees and face dangerously close to Keith’s face. Keith leans back. “What?”

The wolf whines again and then they both look towards Shiro.

“What?” Shiro asks, uncomfortable. Are they mentally talking about him or something? This is so weird .

Keith looks at his wolf and glares. “Shut up.”

The wolf grins .

“Don’t.” Keith warns.

The wolf ignores whatever that warning is for. He looks directly at Shiro as he licks a clean stripe up Keith’s cheek.

Keith groans in disgust. “Ugh, why?

Shiro doesn’t know what he’s looking at. He just knows that he is horrified and yet he can’t look away.

Because Space Wolf is looking at him smugly again and his brows are raised petulantly, like he’s saying “I licked Keith’s face. What are you gonna do about it?”

Pidge and Hunk are wheezing. They must be on to something here, Shiro just doesn’t know what.

“I hate you.” Keith grits out, wiping his cheek. The wolf noses his hair before standing straight and trotting away. “I told you not to do that, that was so unnecessary - Hey, where do you think you’re going?”

He shrugs, then says, “Melle.”

That’s the first time the others heard him speak, and the first time he talked directly to Keith.

Keith blinks once to clear away his surprise before demanding, “And why ? Do you even know where she is?”

The wolf shrugs again, and then runs out the door, tail wagging.

He’s very, very fast.

Keith shakes his head. “I should’ve gotten a leash.”

Hunk snaps before raising fingers guns at him. “Hah! I told you so!”

That’s when Pidge’s data-pad chimed and she taps it to bring up a holo-vid of Lance, legitimately panicking.

“Hi team! Sorry to interrupt breakfast, but if you could come over and uhhh, provide backup? Allura’s like 8 feet tall now and about to throw down with some aliens ‘cause they were being very racist about the Galra and ay madre de dios my sister just joined her- Griffin! Griffin, hold her back! What- Did she just say her girlfriend is Galra?! When did that happen!?”

Hunk and Pidge look at each other, then at Shiro, who looks at Keith.

Keith looks like he just had an epiphany. “So that’s why Acxa’s been asking me about human courting rituals...”

Hunk hands Pidge a ten-dollar bill.

Lance shrieks. “Who?!”

Shiro sighs. “Hold on, Lance. We’re coming.”

.


.

It’s afternoon by the time they are finally able to see all their guests off.

In some ways, it’s more tiring than day one. But no one died, or was punched or kicked. Some were chastised and glared at, but eventually everything had settled down, the coalition is still intact, and there’s no new war.

Captain Shirogane issued an inspiring, grateful pep talk to the crew of the Atlas for a job well done after a harrowing, almost entirely unplanned event. After that, everyone had been eager to just call it a day.

It’s while the crowd was dispersing when there’s a quick flash of light. He looks up from his data-pad (new, courtesy of a smirking Pidge) just in time to see space wolf’s bright blue blur attempting to tackle Keith again.

“Hey!” Keith greets, laughing as he hugs back. “You can teleport again!”

He’s so happy he doesn’t even complain when he gets licked. Or when several people gawk at the display.

“Not long now, huh?” Keith says, scratching at the wolf’s head. He’s definitely less pink and more blue-gray now.

Shiro smiles, and is about to return to his work when he sees James break off from his team to approach Keith.

“So…” James starts, drawing out the syllable as Keith turns to him. “Please tell me this isn’t your boyfriend.”

Keith chuckles. “No, man. It’s my wolf. He ate a weird alien fruit but he’ll be back to normal soon.”

“Right. Of course. Because that's a thing that just happens.” James nods. Surprisingly, he lifts a hand and scratches under space wolf’s chin. Space wolf happily tips his head and leans in, then noses James’ forehead briefly. James blinks the surprise back. “Wow, that is so weird.”

“Believe me, I know.”

“Your wolf. A hot guy.”

Keith looks affronted. “Dude!”

“What?”

“You’re saying that about my child . It’s creepy.”

“God.” James says. “Of course your fur baby is a giant space wolf. Of course it is.”

“I raised him.” Keith growls, arms tightening around his space wolf, which is ridiculous, as said space wolf is currently a man one head taller and broader than him.

Shiro feels slightly guilty for listening in, but that was too good to pass up. He barely stops himself from laughing.

“Hey, it wasn’t me! That was Rizavi! And Leif, actually, if you can believe it. I can’t believe it. But they sent me over here to ask about him.”

Keith sends a glare to the aforementioned pilots over his shoulder. Rizavi whistles and looks away while Leifsdottir simply gives him an unapologetic shrug. Meanwhile, Kinkade is holding his camera and gestures for Keith to wave.

Keith does, grudgingly.

He turns to James again. “Tell them he’s three years old and very much unavailable.”

“Noted.” James nods. He backs away before the wolf can lick him. “So… who-?”

“Who what?”

“Who’s your boyfriend person?”

Oh. Right. James couldn’t have known about the wolf, but he actually talked to Keith about a potential boyfriend.

That... that's still on?

Last night, Keith told Shiro he didn’t have an alien boyfriend.

Shiro mentally backtracks. Keith does have a boyfriend and the boyfriend is a human? Who?

Keith raises an eyebrow at James. “Are you kidding me? I’m not exactly subtle.”

It didn’t even take James a second. “I knew it.” Shiro frowns. Who is it, then ? “Hey, we still on for that sim session?”

“Tomorrow.” Keith promises.

“Got it.” James pats space wolf’s head one last time before walking away. “Rizavi! You owe me! Oh, and give up on the hot alien, he’s a three year old only child and has a strict parent.”

“Whaaaaat?” Rizavi whines as James leads their group out the hangar.

Leifsdottir heaves an expressionless-sounding sigh. “Aliens.”

Shiro is busy looking at them in amusement and is not prepared when the next flash of light comes up right in front of him, and next thing he knows, he's yelping as he tries to steady himself and Keith and the space wolf.

Keith, face smushed against his chest, growls.

“M’gonna get you for this, you little-"

.


.

Shiro doesn’t know whether or not he should thank the wolf.

Because now he’s lying on his bed, on his quarters, staring up at the ceiling.

And Keith is right on top of him.

The wolf had blinked out, though. So Shiro can’t exactly do anything else now.

Keith groans, sending vibrations against his chest. Then he lifts his head to peer up at Shiro. “I want to say I don’t know why he did that, but I’d be lying.”

Shiro’s gaze falls on him. “Is that so? Care to share?”

Keith doesn’t move to roll off him, and instead shifts to lie more comfortably on his chest, tangling their legs together. Their uniforms are rumpled and uncomfortable between them, but Keith doesn’t seem to mind that. “I have a question first.”

“What is it?” he asks, voice going soft.

“That last night before I left for the Blades. Do you remember what happened?”

Shiro sighs, closes his eyes in embarrassment. “I was drunk. I didn’t know that drink you were having isn’t really for humans.”

Keith snorts. “Well, to be fair, it  can be for humans, if the humans want to get drunk after one shot. We really should’ve labeled our glasses or something.”

Shiro rolls his eyes before replying. “I’m sorry you had to drag my drunk ass home and take care of me the night before you had to pilot and take on a mission.”

Keith shakes his head. “It’s nothing. So… is that all you can remember? You got drunk?”

“Yes. Then I woke up and its morning.”

“You don’t remember what we talked about?”

“Uh… not much… I think you were telling me to at least take off my shoes?”

“Not that." Keith says with a chuckle. "You were crying about me going to space because I might get kidnapped by an evil alien empire. Remember that?”

“Oh, God.” he whispers. “That was really dumb, wasn’t it.”

He shrugs. “It’s kinda cute.”

“Keith…”

“So you don’t remember that you were calling me ‘baby’?”

Shiro freezes. “W-What?”

“And telling me how much you love me.”

“A-As a-”

“Don’t start with that.” Keith snaps at him, stern but amused. “You said a lot of stuff, Shiro.”

“I… I did?”

“Yep. And-”

“I was drunk.”

“You said that too. Actually, I said it first… I told you you’re just drunk, and you said yes, you are, and that’s all the more reason to believe you because-”

“-I’m an... honest drunk.” he finishes.

“Yep.” Keith nods, grinning slightly as he props his head on his hands and looks down at his best friend.

“Oh.”

“By the way, you were really happy when I said I love you too.”

Shiro stares blankly at him.

Okay.

This is not how he thought this day would go.

And things are... starting to make sense now.

“Drunk-you made me promise to tell sober-you that all of that happened. That’s why I’m telling you now.”

He bolts upright, and if Keith’s reflexes weren’t so fast, he would have fallen off the bed. Thankfully, he just ends up straddling Shiro’s lap.

Which might be worse.

Or better. Shiro is hopeful right now.

“Keith! That was real?! I thought it was a dream!”

Keith raises an eyebrow at him. “So you do remember. You just thought it wasn’t real?”

“It was too good to be true!” Shiro despairs, then he realizes something else. “Oh- Oh no. Keith- I-... I’m sorry!”

“For what?”

“You don’t deserve a drunk first kiss. And I was touching you all over, it must have been really creepy of me-”

Keith blinks, then laughs, disbelieving. “Whoa! Okay, slow down, captain. I think that is the dream part.”

Shiro stops, and finally he blushes bright red. “O-Oh? So… that didn’t...  Okay. N-nothing happened, then?”

“You booped my nose and said we’re boyfriends now, then you passed out.” Keith says, eyes so soft Shiro couldn’t help but smile. When Keith sees this, he grins. “Very steamy, if you ask me.”

Shiro lets out a breathless laugh of his own as he bows his head and leans forward. He wraps his arms around Keith and buries his face in the other man’s shoulder. “God. That was a whole mess. This is a whole mess.”

Keith laughs with him, letting himself be held, wrapping his own arms around Shiro’s neck, one hand stroking through his hair. “It’s not as bad as it sounds, Shiro.”

Shiro groans. “I drunk confessed and I didn’t even remember. It’s the most anti-climatic, non-romantic thing I’ve ever done in my life. I had to learn that you had a boyfriend... from Griffin .”

“What?” Keith sounds so confused.

“And I didn’t even know that boyfriend was me .” he whines, holding Keith tighter. “I was upset. I was supposed to be happy for you but I couldn’t do it. You’re so wonderful. I love you so much. And you actually love me too? You deserve the universe. I have a point here, I swear. I... I lost it.”

Keith hums. “Don’t worry. I get it.”

Shiro draws away so he can look at Keith’s face. “You do? You’re so calm.”

“I’m actually internally screaming right now.” Keith replies.

And only now that Shiro knows to look and feel , he finally notices the small quiver to Keith’s lips, how his usually steady hands were trembling a bit on Shiro’s shoulders, how tense his muscles feel under Shiro’s hands. Shiro moves his hands, tracing circles when they rest on Keith's waist, trying to comfort him.

“You know, I already talked my mom’s ears off about you. And when she bowed out, I vented on space wolf. It’s why he’s so done with us he just teleported us together in your room the first chance he got.”

“Is that why he keeps glaring at me while licking your face?”

“Yes.”

“Your fur baby is a handful.”

Keith huffs. “Maybe he just needs another dad.”

Shiro grins, “Are you proposing?”

Keith narrows his eyes at him, obviously trying his best not to grin back. “Am I?”

Shiro shakes his head, unable to stop grinning now. He brings a hand to cup the other’s cheek, and closes his eyes, takes a deep breath as he presses their foreheads together. “If you won’t, I will.”

“Wow.” he hears Keith whisper, relaxing considerably against him. “Yeah, I like you better sober.”

Shiro opens his eyes just slightly, looking at the other’s lips, before meeting Keith’s eyes. Keith’s cheeks are tinged pink now, and his fingers curl into Shiro’s uniform, gripping.

“Did... did you really dream about kissing me?”

“Every night.” Shiro confesses, stroking Keith’s cheek with his thumb.

"Oh."

Finally, he leans in, his lips finally brushing against-

Keith’s cheek.

Huh.

Because Keith had turned to the flash of light beside them, and-

Space wolf stands there, in all his furry, wolf, non-human glory.

“You’re back!”

Keith cries, scrambling off Shiro’s lap and throwing himself at his wolf.

The wolf yips, nuzzling Keith, who buries his face in his fur.

“I missed you, buddy. This you. Never eat weird alien fruit again, okay?”

Shiro sits in his bed, arms still outstretched, watching them with a heart filled with both joy and emptiness.

Couldn’t this oversized alien hellhound have waited like maybe five seconds?!

No. No. Keith loves space wolf. Therefore Shiro also loves space wolf.

He almost accepts this fact until space wolf looks directly at him.

Again, smug . How does he do that?

Shiro throws his hands up and mouths, ‘I thought you wanted us to get together?!’

The wolf huffs, and then starts slobbering all over Keith’s face for good measure.

Shiro drops backwards into his bed and goes back to staring at the ceiling.

They're gonna kill him.

.


.

Shiro has never felt more satisfied and at ease. He’s warm in bed, tucked in soft sheets, Keith sleeping peacefully in his arms. His quarters are illuminated only by the bright moon and the starry desert sky. Space wolf is curled up at the foot of his bed.

He slowly drifts off to sleep, staring at Keith’s beautiful face, fingers tracing gentle circles on Keith’s hand that rests over his heart.

But he gets pulled back when Keith stirs, trying in vain to disentangle from him, sleepily attempting to sit up and failing, slumping back down on his chest.

“Keith?” he calls, gentle, rubbing Keith’s arm because Keith is apparently still asleep. Or mostly asleep. Is Keith a sleepwalker?

“Shiro.” Keith whimpers, grabbing at the other's night shirt. “Dammit, I messed up.”

“What?” Shiro frowns. He strokes the other’s hair soothingly. He knows nightmares can be tough. “Keith, it’s okay… You’re fine… You’re with me.”

“No. S’not fine.” Keith grits out. His eyes are still closed. “Ugh. Dammit. I should’ve… I didn’t...” He sighs, frustrated, against Shiro’s shirt.

“Keith?” he tries again. “Baby, talk to me. I’m here for you.”

Keith sniffs . Oh, no. How bad could it be?

“Shiro... I forgot to ask space wolf’s name.”

Shiro stops.

“Was gonna ask his name before he turned back… Stupid... Dumb.”

Okay.

This is beyond ridiculous.

Shiro should laugh.

He doesn’t. He couldn’t.

Instead, he just stares at this man, this beautiful man, with the smushed cheeks and the petulant, scrunched up, frustrated sleeping face, and the messy, messy hair.

And he says, breathless, with all his heart and soul, “I love you so much.”

Keith finally manages to open his eyes. Halfway. “Love you too.”

He leans down, but stops when Keith shakes his head.

“No.”

“Keith?”

Keith pouts the most adorable sleepy pout in the universe. “Don’t want our first kiss to be sleepy.”

This time Shiro does laugh. “Baby, that’s the best kind of first kiss.”

“It is?”

“Yeah.”

Keith seems to think about it for a few seconds, then he shrugs. “Okay.”

Finally - god - finally, Shiro swoops down and catches Keith’s lips in his.

It’s not a fiery, passionate, heated kiss. Those could come later, he thinks.

This one is sweet, gentle, fleeting, soft and very, very lazy. Almost like an afterthought. Like a punctuation. Not a period, though. A semicolon, perhaps, something that doesn’t quite end what came before it, but still continues into a new beginning.

It's everything.

When they break apart, Keith pushes up to cuddle against him again, tucking his face in the other’s shoulder. Shiro wraps his arms around him tight, sighing deeply into his hair.

Keith’s breathing starts to even out again.

Shiro closes his eyes.

“I think his name is Kosmo.” Keith whispers against his neck.

Shiro exhales. “You think?”

“With a K.”

“Mm.”

“Like me and mom.”

“Okay, sweetheart.”

From the foot of the bed, they hear a huff.

“Likes it.”

“Of course he does.”

.

.

.fin.