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Not as Expected

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What Shiro is going to say is obvious. Even the footsteps towards his door draw the words to Keith’s mind, the absent minded shuffling of his belongings forgotten. He sits back on his old bunk, head bowed, hands hanging between his knees.

 

“It’s open,” he says, before the man can knock.

 

There is a brief moment of hesitation, but Shiro is in the doorway, still in his mission gear with his face pinched in concern. “Hey,” he says, casually.

 

“Hey,” answers Keith. “Sorry, I’m just, uh,” He makes a vague gesture to the bunk, strew with his things, haphazardly unpacked from where he was looking at them. He meant to come to clear it out, to commit to his space with the Malmora, but the memories stopped him. “clearing out. I won’t be long.”

 

Shiro huffs, his eyes narrowing. He closes the door, takes a seat next to Keith. “You think I came down to give you a lecture?” He huffs again, more akin to a laugh this time, then says in an exaggerated tone, “‘You get off my ship, Keith Kogane’, sorta thing?” Now he really does laugh, eyes on Keith, who hasn’t moved from where he is slouched over the side of his bunk. “No, Keith, never. You’re welcome here any time, you know that.”

 

“Thanks.” The answer feels hollow, everything does. Even Shiro’s eyes on him. He starts, “I know what you’re going to say to me. And it is a lecture, you say it isn’t, but it is. About what I did.”

 

“Keith-”

 

“No, Shiro. It’s the man or the mission, even if it’s me who’s in the middle, it’ll always be the mission. You know that. It’s - it’s - one. Or hundred. To save the thousands, the millions. Ten solar systems. I’d do it, I have to do it, I can’t just…. Sit there. And let it happen. You know me. You know our mission even better. The odds, the stakes. It’s always going to be the mission.”

 

He won’t let himself meet Shiro’s eyes, which rake up and down him now, looking to make eye contact. Instead, the Black Paladin sets a firm hand on his shoulder, beckoning for his gaze.

 

“I wasn’t going to lecture you,” he says softly.

 

Yes , you were. About recklessness, stupidity. I don’t even know what. But I don’t want to hear it, I know I was right.” It’s here he jabs an accusing finger, meeting Shiro’s eyes, his own narrowed. “ You’d have done the same, anyway.”

 

There is no falter, just a remnant of a pained smile. “I came here,” Shiro’s other hand encloses Keith’s own, setting it down on the bed. The other squeezes his shoulder, tight. Keith feels his breath fall short, his throat squeeze around the words wanting to form on his tongue. “to ask if you were alright.”

 

Keith reels; that’s not the answer he was expecting. Shiro continues, “Matt told me what happened, yes, I was alarmed. And proud.” At the questioning gaze, he clarifies quickly, “Both. Definitely both. I wouldn’t expect anything less from you, as a Paladin or a Blade. Or just Keith. I know what the mission is to you, to all of us. That it demands sacrifice, sometimes even the ultimate one. That you were prepared to make that today….”

 

His throat hurts, so he swallows it down, letting his eyes fall closed. Shiro stops, but his hand stays firm on Keith’s shoulder.

 

“Keith?”

 

Tightly, “I’m - I’m okay. Sorry.”

 

“It’s alright.” Shiro’s still peering at him when he opens his eyes again, gaze locked and firm, unyielding. Ready to help, to be leaned on. “And it’s alright you made that choice, I’m not going to get angry at you for it. You’re right, I’d have done the same thing. Any of us would, I think, in your position.”

 

That helps. Shiro always does.

 

Keith is hugging him before he squeeze out, “Thank you, Shiro,” into the man’s shoulder. Shiro wraps his arms around him, too, holding on.

 

“Always,” he replies.