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T-182

“Can you hear me okay?” Shiro’s voice is a little tinny out of the shuttle speakers, but it’s not terrible, considering his audio and video are being transmitted millions of light years across space using Galra communication systems retrofitted onto an Altean-Earth ship.

“Yeah, you’re good,” Keith says. He’s just glad to hear Shiro’s voice again, tinny or not. It’s been too long. “How are you doing?”

“Good,” Shiro says. “Excited that I finally get to talk to someone.” He rolls his neck and shoulders a bit at the last sentence, which is basically an eyeroll in Shiro-speak—he’s just too polite to actually do it.

Due to bandwidth constraints during their six-month journey to and from New Altea, each crew member of the IGF-ATLAS was allowed one personal call per movement to an individual on a pre-approved list. Shiro’s first request for Keith to be approved for his list was returned with an angry red LEGAL FAMILY ONLY.

Keith was already off-planet with the Blades, but that didn’t stop him from calling the direct line to the Garrison admiralty to ask them what the fuck they thought they were doing, sending the captain of their billion-dollar alien hybrid spaceship out there without being able to talk to a single person off that ship, just because he didn’t have family left.

What a shitty way to be reminded that you’re alone.

After Keith’s tongue-lashing, the Garrison amended the requirement to allow individuals who weren’t part of the legal family, as long as they went through all the checks to be granted the requisite security clearances. It still seemed like bullshit to Keith—it’s not like being family guaranteed the same thing as a security clearance did—but at least it made things easier for him, seeing as he was already up to his cowlick in security clearances.

Shiro submitted the request again, and it was approved immediately.

Now they’re here. Shiro’s image is flickering every few seconds, an artifact of the imperfect transmission and a reminder that he isn’t even close to actually being in the same room, but it doesn’t stop Keith from wanting to reach out to touch his face.

“How are things going?” Shiro’s unfastening the collar of his jacket, settling into his chair. Keith can see the corner of a bed in the background, which means Shiro’s taking the call in his quarters. “Feels like forever since I’ve talked to you.”

“Only a few movements,” Keith says, as though he isn’t feeling the distance, too. “Hasn’t even been a phoeb yet.”

“Right, and when was the last time we went a day without talking before that?” Shiro says.

Keith smiles wryly. “Fair. But now we can talk every movement, at least. Unless there’s someone else I’m sharing this slot with?”

“I’m all yours for the next six phoebs.” Shiro’s face is solemn, but there’s the ghost of a smile pulling at his lips. “You’re my only connection to the outside world, Keith. I’m trusting you to keep me informed.”

“Don’t act like you still can’t send messages,” Keith says, and Shiro hushes him. Keith rolls his eyes. “Besides, what makes you think I’m even informed?”

“We don’t have the bandwidth to watch Voltron: Defenders of the Universe,” Shiro says, maintaining his straight face. “I expect a full report on every episode.”

Keith will actually die if he has to watch a show about them. “Shiro, no.”

“Every episode,” Shiro repeats, and then they’re staring at each other to see who will crack first.

It’s Keith. Keith cracks first. He puts a hand over his eyes. “Why do I do these things for you.”

“Because you love me,” Shiro sings. He’s grinning now.

And Keith would do anything to keep that smile on his face.

----

T-176

Keith settles himself on the cushions in front of the screen in the media room of the Blades base. It’s the quintant before his call with Shiro, and he still hasn’t seen any of that Paladins show. He probably won’t get confused by skipping to the latest episode. It’s not like he doesn’t know what went on in his own life.

If only he had written down what the show was called.

He types in Voltron and gets a very, very long list of program names. Voltron: Lives of the Paladins sounds like a documentary. Voltron: Down and Dirty sounds X-rated. He scrolls back up and sorts by popularity. At the top by a considerable margin is Voltron: The Star Connection, which sounds appropriately dramatic. He selects it.

“And speaking of stars,” an alien of a species Keith doesn’t recognize is saying, "we have here a romance written in the stars!” A picture of Keith from his address on New Daibazaal pops up by the alien’s head.

This is definitely the wrong show.

Keith pulls up the list of programs again, but the show keeps playing in the top right corner of the screen. “As we all know, after Voltron’s disappearance, the Red Paladin's been working as a Senior Blade, alongside this unexpected face!”

An image of Axca appears beside the image of Keith, and Keith stares in horror. Hadn’t they said the word romance earlier?

“Yes, that’s right! Insiders say that there’s romance blossoming between these two unlikely allies! Some of these details are too steamy for the air, so be sure to check out our holomag, with new information published daily! For now, let’s hear from an anonymous source—”

Keith turns off the media system.

This is why he doesn’t watch TV.

----

T-175

“So,” Kenxar says, leaning against the doorframe. “You and Axca, huh?”

Keith stares blankly at him. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

Kenxar holds up a datapad, showing the header Voltron: The Star Connection and the same pictures that Keith saw on the show the quintant before. Half cut off is a headline: Blade Insiders Tell All! Red Paladin and his General—

“No,” Keith says.

Kenxar flips the datapad around and scrolls a bit. “They spend many late nights together on the bridge. It’s an open secret around the headquarters that they’re together.”

“No,” Keith says again, and tries to decide if someone on base is having too much fun or if this publication is lying out of its ass.

“Are you calling this incredibly informative holomag a liar?” Kenxar says.

“Yes,” Keith says.

“Too bad.” Kenxar taps the screen. “Pretty much everyone in the universe buys into this as the most reputable source for all news Paladin, you know.”

Keith can feel his eye twitching. “You’re joking.”

“I’m really not,” Kenxar says. He scrolls down further. “It says here that you eloped four decaphoebs ago, while we were on the trader moon. You can't deny the truth.”

Keith shakes his head and doesn’t even dignify that with a response. At least he can be assured that no one on base will buy into it.

And they don’t. But Keith had forgotten that the Blades love information as a tool of both subterfuge and bonding.

He realizes his mistake when he goes to dinner that night. He sits with Axca, Zethrid, and Ezor—they’re still figuring out their place with the other Blades and Keith’s open acceptance of them helps the others feel less wary.

His mom sits down across from him and immediately turns to Axca. “Given our close relationship, I believe it would be prudent for you to begin referring to me as Mother.”

Fucking seriously?

Mom.

Axca spears her food with her fork. “Perhaps that should wait until after our public ceremony.” Her voice betrays no emotion. “We wouldn’t want people getting the wrong impression.”

Keith makes a strangled noise in the back of his throat and moves one table over to where Kolivan is sitting with some recently-promoted Senior Blades. He should’ve known his mom wouldn’t be able to resist poking fun. She has years of teasing to make up for.

Kolivan eyes Keith as he sits down, then looks back at the table where everyone is undeniably smirking.

Keith’s hackles rise.

Kolivan turns back to him, face impassive. “Lovers’ tiff?”

Keith stares at him for a long moment.

Kolivan’s face doesn’t change.

Keith stands up again.

Fuck it. He’s calling Shiro.

“Keith!” Shiro says when he picks up the call, and he looks surprised, but pleasantly so. “You’re early tonight.”

“The Blades were being...” He trails off and makes a vague motion with his hand. It explains nothing, but Shiro makes a noise of understanding anyway. "Because of the news.”

“What news?” Shiro says, and Keith could cry.

The ATLAS doesn’t have the bandwidth to let anyone watch any of the space programs, and of course Shiro’s too good to end up anywhere on the holonet where he’d run across trashy space gossip mags. Which means he knows nothing, and will know nothing.

Keith’s life is fucking blessed.

“Fake news,” Keith says. “It’s dumb, and I’m glad you don’t know it. Also, don’t ever read or watch Voltron: The Star Connection. It’s garbage.”

“Uh, we can’t watch anything here anyway, but I’ll keep that in mind.”

“You’re my best friend,” Keith says sincerely. “My best friend in the entire universe. Don’t ever change.”

“Okay?” Shiro says, eyes confused, but he’s smiling. “I’m glad I’m your best friend?”

“I am, too.” Keith wants to cringe at how fondly it comes out, but—it’s Shiro. He won’t hold back. He can’t. He smiles and settles in for the night. “But just so you know, I am never watching TV again.”

----

T-160

The “news” about Keith and Axca finally dies down, not because it’s been disproven, but because there’s a new item of interest.

Keith’s been keeping an eye on their lies out of mainly morbid curiosity, which is why he’s lucky (or unlucky) enough to see the new hot story before anyone else can try to talk to him about it.

It’s Shiro.

Shiro and a man alone behind the wing of a shuttle late at night, heads turned towards each other, kissing.

It hurts.

It hurts in a way that Keith can’t describe, and he tells himself to be reasonable, to consider the source, but even then it doesn’t help.

Voltron: The Star Connection might lie, but pictures don’t.

----

T-158

“It’s very common for people to fake images,” Axca says on their way back from a rescue mission. It’s without context, but they all know what she’s talking about because Keith has snapped at everyone who’s brought it up.

Keith turns to Kenxar, who’s fiddling with his datapad in the backseat. “Was it faked?”

Kenxar glances between them. “Didn’t look like it,” he says slowly. “But I didn’t look that closely.”

Keith turns back, giving Axca a see? look. “It’s fine if he’s found someone. You don’t have to pity me.”

He won’t say he’s not upset, because he is. But maybe if he says it’s fine enough times, that will become true, too.

----

T-156

Keith’s communication with the other Paladins is much less regular, but it isn’t infrequent, and it mostly comes in the form of longer messages back and forth because no one else can be bothered trying to coordinate schedules.

While Keith’s replying to a message from Pidge, he thinks about asking her to take a look at the picture. Then he decides against it.

He doesn’t need the pity.

----

T-154

“Hey, Shiro,” Keith says.

Shiro hums in question.

The words are on the tip of Keith’s tongue, but they refuse to be asked. He wants Shiro to say it himself. To trust Keith as a friend enough to tell him about this new person in Shiro’s life.

Maybe Shiro’s not ready to talk about it yet. Maybe it’s supposed to be a secret still. Maybe Shiro’s not sure if it’s serious, yet, so he doesn’t want to say. (Keith feels terrible about it, but he’s hoping for the last one.)

“Nevermind,” Keith says.

This is Shiro’s private life, and Keith has never pried needlessly. He’s not going to start now.

He’ll wait for Shiro to tell Keith himself.

----

T-147

There’s been an accident.

That’s what Veronica tells him when she calls Keith during his and Shiro’s regular timeslot. 

“It was just supposed to be a routine meet and greet on Pularis,” she says, “but there was something in the planet’s atmosphere that does not play well with humans at all, and we didn’t catch it when we did the atmospheric scan. Shiro was in the landing party. He’s doing better than the others, but they’re all recovering in the medbay and under quarantine, so he probably won’t be able to call you until next movement.”

Keith’s crawling out of his skin at the thought of Shiro hurt and in danger, and him being millions of light years away. If something happened, if something really went wrong, would he be able to get there in time?

It’s too terrifying to think about for long.

“Thanks, Veronica,” he says. “Let me know if anything changes? Use the emergency comms if you have to.”

“Of course,” Veronica says. “He says he’s really sorry he can’t make it.”

Keith rolls his eyes. It’s almost funny that it’s Shiro’s apology that makes him worry less. “Tell that idiot to take care of himself first.”

Veronica laughs. “You got it. But he says he’ll call you next movement, for sure.”

“I’m looking forward to it.”

----

T-142

Pictures are released on Voltron: The Star Connection from the incident, taken by what must have been a member of the Pularisan delegation.

The first shows the backs of the ATLAS crew as they head back to their shuttle. Shiro has an arm slung around someone’s shoulders, helping them walk. From the hair, it looks like the same man from the kissing photo.

Then there’s another picture taken through the glass of the ATLAS medbay. The same man is lying on a bed, eyes closed. Keith recognizes him now as one of the bridge crew of the ATLAS, though he can’t remember the guy’s name at all. Shiro’s standing by his bedside, talking with a doctor. His eyes are red-rimmed, and he looks miserable.

Captain ATLAS’s lover injured! the headline proclaims.

Keith stares at the pictures for a long time.

Then he shuts off the datapad.

----

T-140

“You look good,” Keith says, studying Shiro through the screen. His face and eyes look normal. His breathing seems regular. He’s not showing any signs of pain or weakness.

Shiro laughs. “I feel good. Don’t worry, Keith. It was basically a really bad allergy attack. They just needed us to get it all out of our systems before they were willing to set us loose on the rest of the ship.”

“Good,” Keith says. Then, because he sees no reason why Shiro shouldn’t know, he adds, “I was really worried about you.”

“I know,” Shiro says softly. “I’m sorry. Sometimes it feels like all I do is make you worry about me.”

“Someone has to,” Keith says, but gently. “Is everyone else okay?” he says, when really he means to ask, Is your new boyfriend okay?

“Yeah,” Shiro says, looking down at his hands. For a moment, his mind is somewhere else—Keith fills in the blanks with his boyfriend. Shiro lets out an exhale and looks up. “Yeah, everyone’s fine. And we’ll be more careful next time. Helmets and everything, even if the atmospheric scan says it’s okay.”

“Good,” Keith says around the lump in his throat.

“That goes for you, too,” Shiro says, pointing a finger at Keith. “Don’t make the same mistakes I did.”

Keith smiles lightly. “No promises.”

For the second time, Keith’s fallen hopelessly in love with his best friend, who happens to be in love with someone else.

Forget trying to learn from Shiro’s mistakes. Keith still hasn’t even been able to learn from his own.

----

T-110

Time passes.

Shiro and the mystery man’s relationship continues to grow. Keith continues to pretend not to be overly affected while saving every screenshot and piece of photographic evidence he comes across for reasons he doesn’t want to think about.

And now there’s a compilation video of their “best moments.”

Multiple shots of the man standing at Shiro’s shoulder as they visit different planets, leaning down and whispering in his ear while Shiro listens attentively. Shiro, putting a hand on the man’s shoulder and smiling. Another view of the incident on Pularis, showing the man coughing and falling over, and Shiro immediately catching him by the waist. The video rewinds and zooms in on Shiro’s arm reaching out in slow motion, accompanied by a crescendo of violins.

Every week, they talk, and every week, Shiro doesn’t say a word about any of it.

Keith can’t decide if he wants him to or not.

----

T-98

The end comes quickly.

“Hey, Keith.” Shiro’s voice is hesitant, which—Keith hasn’t seen Shiro hesitate to tell him something in ages. Not since it’d all ended. Not after what they’d been through.

The dread chills him. “What’s up?”

Shiro stares at his lap for a moment. Then he looks up, but not completely. He’s nervous. “I need some advice.”

“Okay,” Keith says slowly. The advice-giving is usually the other way around. “I’m not sure how helpful I’ll be, but I’ll try.”.

“Would you say you’re a romantic?” Shiro says, and Keith nearly sputters in confusion. He didn’t think he had any expectations for what Shiro was going to say, but he definitely didn’t expect that.

“Um,” Keith says, images of Shiro and his maybe-boyfriend flipping through his mind. He pushes them away. Don’t think about it. Be a supportive best friend. Answer the question. “I guess, with the right person? Wait.” He puts his hands on his head. “Just to get things straight, you want romantic advice? From me?”

“Nothing straight about it,” Shiro says with a dopey smile, and Keith only has himself to blame for that one.

He wants to groan, so badly. But he holds it in because he is a good friend. The best friend.

“Is it really so weird to ask you for advice?” Shiro says.

Keith would not label himself as giving good dating advice. What’s even considered good dating advice? What’s even considered dating?

Shiro has to know that Keith’s about as good as romance as he is at identifying when a conversation with Lance is about to go off the rails and he should abandon it before it’s too late—that is, he sucks at it.

So Shiro must be coming to Keith not for his expertise in the realm of dating, but because of his status as Certified Best Friend given their extensive history. This mystery man who entered Shiro’s life in the past few phoebs is clearly important to Shiro, which means Keith needs to stop moping over what could have been and instead needs to be the best fucking Certified Best Friend that Shiro’s ever had in his entire life.

“I really don’t think I’m gonna be very helpful,” Keith says. “But what do you need?”

Shiro laughs softly. “You’re the most helpful, trust me. So. In your opinion, what goes into an ideal date?”

Keith trips over the word ideal. Trust Shiro to go all-out in his romantic life. “You don’t need to have an ideal date.”

“You do if it’s a special occasion,” Shiro says with a fond smile. He’s probably picturing his anniversary or something—Voltron: The Star Connection claims their relationship started back on Earth, and their half-decaphoeb is coming up soon (not that Keith believes everything that Voltron: The Star Connection says, but it’s hard to argue against their bevy of photographic evidence).

“Right,” Keith says. He withholds his judgment at The Boyfriend for making Shiro think he has to make things special in any way. Shiro's existence is special. His very love is a fucking gift.

But he needs to be supportive, which means no overt judgment, no matter how much he wants to. He needs to be helpful, which means thinking of date ideas.

He can do that. He’s seen romcoms with Romelle.

“Fancy dinner,” he suggests.

Shiro’s eyebrows shoot up. “Really? Your ideal date is a fancy dinner?”

Keith frowns. Shiro asked for an ideal date, not Keith’s ideal date. But still— “What, I don’t look like I want to be wined and dined or whatever?”

“I think the or whatever answers that question for me,” Shiro says wryly. His lips are puckered like he’s trying not to laugh.

Keith rolls his eyes. “You should probably ask someone else,” he says. “You know I’m not good at this kind of stuff.”

“Who else would I ask?” Shiro says. 

Keith hesitates. He’s the only one off the ship that Shiro can really talk to (thanks, Garrison). And Keith understands why Shiro wouldn’t want to talk about this within the crew—no such thing as a secret on a ship.

Even more reason for Keith to get his shit together.

“C’mon Keith,” Shiro says. “Indulge me? There’s no right answer. I just want your opinion.”

Of course he does. Keith blows out a breath and thinks. “I guess… if I’m having an ideal date with someone, I’d really enjoy just being with them, you know? So probably something more private. Just the two of us.”

“That makes sense,” Shiro says, chin on his fist and eyes blinking past the screen in thought. “What about for something more public?”

Keith wrinkles his nose without thinking about it. “Why would a date have to be public?”

Shiro isn’t getting photographed intentionally, is he? He wouldn’t.

“Not like public public,” Shiro says, waving his hands frantically like he’s batting the idea away. His cheeks are tinted pink. “Just—you know, if you wanted your friends and family to be there, or—or something.”

Keith may have limited knowledge of romance rituals of any kind, but he can still figure out the one scenario that Shiro’s talking about. His heart feels trapped in quicksand. “Shiro, are you—are you proposing?”

The steady blush rising to Shio’s cheeks flushes his face red in a breath, and that’s as much of an answer as anything. The quicksand clears, and Keith’s heart plummets to his stomach. His mind tries to splinter in a hundred directions at once; he narrows it all down to one thought: be a good friend, don’t let Shiro know.

He clears his throat and scrambles for some semblance of normalcy. “It’s—if you’re gonna do it publicly, it’s polite to give the guy a heads up first.”

Shiro laughs, and there’s some relief there that Keith is gratified to hear. “Noted.”

“And you better make sure he’ll say yes, or it’ll be really embarrassing for you,” Keith goes on.

Shiro’s still grinning. “He wouldn’t embarrass me like that.”

“You sure about that,” Keith mutters.

“Keith.”

Right. Be supportive. Supportive.

How would he want a proposal to look? He’s never thought about it, really. He lets himself fantasize for a minute that he’s the one Shiro’s proposing to. Where would it be? What would he say?

“Look,” Keith says. “If you want your friends to be there, it’s because you want to share a special moment with them. I know people always do it at a fancy restaurant or whatever, but strangers don’t need to be a part of it. It should be more… I don’t know. Intimate? Like at home. Or somewhere else there isn’t a lot of people.”

“Got it,” Shiro says, tapping his chin. “How many people do you think is right for an audience? I guess there shouldn’t be too many, if you don’t want to make a spectacle of it?”

Keith shrugs. “That depends on you. I guess I’d only want the people closest to me. My mom and Kolivan, if they could be there. The Paladins. Allura, Coran, Romelle. How many people is that, nine?”

“With the space wolf…” Shiro looks lost in thought again. “That helps,” he says. “Thank you.”

“Hey.” Keith wants to reassure him, to ease the worry from his brows, even if it hurts him to do it. He sighs. "Look, Shiro. Don’t worry too much, all right? I’m sure it’ll be perfect, no matter what you do.”

“Yeah?” Shiro’s got a little hopeful smile on his face. Keith’s always been a sucker for that smile. “So you approve?”

“Of course,” Keith says, and he’s struck again by that urge to reach out and touch Shiro through the screen. To feel his smile and know that his happiness is real. “Always.”

----

T-91

Keith spends a miserable movement pretending nothing’s wrong and failing miserably at it, judging from the number of people who look like they want to give him hugs. The only one he caves to is his mom, and even then, he doesn’t tell her everything.

He suspects she knows anyway.

He expects Shiro to mention something about it during their next call, but he doesn’t, and it’s all conversation as usual. 

Keith almost wants Shiro to talk about it. That way, he can’t pretend it never happened.

----

T-77

Keith didn’t have to worry. Shiro starts talking about it again, but in random spurts.

“I was thinking about what you said,” Shiro says. “Should the proposal be in front of everyone? Maybe it makes sense to do that in private, too?”

“I think it’d feel more personal if it were private,” Keith agrees. Also, he’s pretty sure he’d be invited to said proposal to celebrate with Shiro, and selfishly he doesn’t want to have to see Shiro’s declaration of eternal love to someone else happen live.

“Yeah,” Shiro says, thankfully, “Yeah, you’re right.” He hums thoughtfully, then says, “So, tell me about the mission you were just on?”

----

T-70

“What do you think about cake?”

“What?”

“Like for dessert afterward. Cake is celebratory, right?”

“Isn't the cake part for the wedding?"

"It could be both?"

"Do people even like cake enough for that?"

"Keith! Do you not like cake?"

"No, I don't. Why, do you like cake?"

"...not really."

"So then why are we talking about cake?"

“...so that's a no to the cake?”

“That's a no to the cake.”

----

T-56

“Okay, serious question,” Shiro says. “Engagement ring designs.”

“Do guys even wear engagement rings?” Keith says.

Shiro rolls his neck and shoulders.

“You can just roll your eyes at me,” Keith says. “You won’t hurt my feelings.”

“Stop,” Shiro says, but he’s smiling. “Come on, what do you want me to propose with, a Ring Pop?”

“Fine,” Keith says. “What kinds of designs are you looking at?”

“Let me send you a message.” Shiro picks up his datapad from off-screen and taps at it a few times. “Okay, here’s a list of some of the ones I was looking at.”

Keith’s datapad pings from next to him. He opens the link Shiro sent him. It opens to a page on the holonet, showing different ring styles in a grid. There are some nice, practical ones—solid silver or charcoal bands, with simple designs and engravings. There’s one that reminds him of the Blade, charcoal with a glowing purple stone running down the centerline. Then there’s the gaudy set—mainly gold or silver, bejeweled and ostentatious. They make him cringe on sight.

“What do you think?” Shiro says.

Tell him the truth, the reasonable part of him says.

An ugly ring is still a ring, the petty part of him says.

Keith’s ashamed to admit it, but the petty part of him wins. “What do you think about I9?”

There’s a pause as Shiro scrolls to it. “Huh,” he says. “Really?”

“Yeah,” Keith says, keeping his tone casual. “Why, what’s wrong?”

“No, nothing,” Shiro says. “Just didn’t think you’d pick this one, that’s all.”

It’s not hideous—not that Shiro would’ve chosen anything hideous as a candidate. But it is ridiculous. It’s gold with a giant, heart-shaped diamond in the center and studded with smaller diamonds all the way around. It’s not something Keith would ever want to wear on his own finger, and if he did, he’d definitely be teased to death about it.

He’s a little sorry for inflicting it on Shiro’s boyfriend.

But mostly he’s not.

----

T-42

“You’re really sure about that ring?”

“Yes! Oh my god, Shiro, are you ever gonna stop asking me about it?”

“I just wanted to double check.”

“And triple check, and quadruple check?”

“It’s just… I didn’t expect it.”

“I told you I was bad at this. You can ask someone else if you don’t trust me.”

“Keith…” A laugh. “There’s no one that I trust more.”

----

T-28

“When are you thinking of doing it?” Keith says, fiddling with his datapad. The screen’s off. He just needs something to do with his hands.

But of course his fiddling wakes it up, and of course, it opens right up to Voltron: The Star Connection, with Shiro and his boyfriend standing across from a merchant, inspecting what is clearly a display of rings.

Captain Atlas settling down! the headline screams.

The worst part is that they’re not even wrong.

“I was thinking as soon as everyone’s back on Earth.” Shiro’s got his cheek propped in his hand. His shoulder port isn’t glowing, so Keith guesses he’s turned off the prosthetic for the night. “What do you think? Too soon?”

“No, that sounds good,” Keith says, even though it sounds anything but good. He sets the datapad down and decides to make it worse for himself. “Have you—when do you think the ceremony will be?”

Shiro curls his fingers over his mouth in thought. “Well, Coran and Romelle are going to be visiting the week after we get back, then two weeks later the New Altean group will be heading out. It'd probably be easiest for everyone, scheduling-wise, to do it when everyone’s here.”

“That is,” Keith says, mouth dry, “a very short engagement.”

Shiro smiles wryly. “Too tacky?”

“No, it's not,” Keith says quickly. It really isn't. He just wasn't prepared. He'd thought he'd have a few months of coming to terms with it, at least. “That's just... going to be a lot of planning in a really short time.”

“True,” Shiro says, but his smile turns unbothered. “You'll help me, right?”

“Of course,” Keith says, even though he's been struggling just to help plan this proposal—and he’s purposefully sabotaged a key part of it, which he still can’t bring himself to feel guilty about. He can't imagine that helping to plan the actual wedding will go well for him at all.

“I don't think it has to be anything big,” Shiro says, then winces. “Well, I guess we’ll probably be under pressure to make it big, Garrison and all.”

Keith believes it. The Garrison is all about boosting morale recently. What better way than to encourage a public spectacle of a marriage between the Captain of the ATLAS and one of his bridge crew?

But Shiro doesn't deserve the rest of his life being a spectacle.

“Tell them to fuck off,” Keith says, and Shiro laughs, startled. “I'm serious. There's nothing wrong with having a private ceremony. If they want a show, they can plan it themselves.”

“You're right,” Shiro says thoughtfully. “What do you think, too petty to show them the marriage license after the fact? Oh, maybe have them figure it out when we submit name change forms!”

“Perfect amount of petty,” Keith says, forcing a smile. His stomach lurches at the thought of Shiro’s name changing. It's so stupid because he knows that Shiro as a person won't change with it, but he also knows that seeing the permanence of someone else's name attached to Shiro's is going to hurt in a way he'll never be able to put into words.

“Hey, Keith.” Shiro's frowning at him now. “You okay? You look tired.”

“M’fine,” Keith says. His hands itch to mess with the datapad, but he doesn’t want to see that article popping up on the screen again. He fiddles with his hands instead. “Sorry, it's been a long mission. Not a lot of rest.”

“I know the feeling,” Shiro says softly. “You'll be back soon.”

“We’ll be back soon,” Keith corrects. He manages a real smile. “It'll be good to see you again, and not through a screen.”

“Yeah.” Shiro smiles back. “It will. Sure you won't want to just sleep all day after you land?”

“Nah.” Keith's going to be the last one of the group back on Earth, nearly a full day after the ATLAS’s return, due to a solo trip he’s taking to a trader moon for Balmera crystals. Even his mom and Kolivan will be back first. And he knows they'll all be waiting for him to have their big reunion dinner. “It'll be good to see everyone again.”

Shiro’s smile is gentle when he says, “It’ll be good to see you too.”

----

T-27

It’s a little over a phoeb until Keith’s return to Earth. Pidge is already back there; Lance and Hunk are on the way. Their schedules had somehow aligned perfectly for all of them to get on a group transmission, though they hadn’t been able to make it work with Keith’s regular timeslot with Shiro.

Keith promised to keep Shiro in the loop.

“Okay cool that’s awesome great,” Lance says as Keith wraps up his recount of his latest Blades mission. “But what we really want to know is, has Shiro talked to you about it yet?”

“About what?” Keith says, then the implication of Lance’s statement fully sinks in. “Wait, they let you talk to Shiro?”

Lance waves his hand impatiently. “We talk through Veronica. Come on, dude, I mean the thing.”

Keith stares at him blankly.

“Ugh.” When Lance rolls his eyes, he does it with his entire body, flopping back in his seat and flailing his arms like it’s so painful he might die. “If you don't know what I'm talking about, that means he hasn't.”

“Or Keith just doesn't know what you're talking about,” Pidge says. Keith could hug her. “He’s asking if Shiro’s—”

“Wait, you guys,” Hunk butts in. “What if it's supposed to be a surprise?”

“I understand that it is traditional for humans to handle these conversations in a face-to-face encounter,” Allura chimes in.

“Well then why would Veronica ask us if we could—” Lance cuts himself off and frowns.

“She didn't tell you to tell Keith, did she,” Pidge says.

“Well, she didn't tell me to not tell Keith!” Lance says, pointing at the screen. Keith thinks he’s trying to point at Pidge, but it doesn’t really work in a group transmission.

“It was probably implied,” Hunk says.

“Keith is sitting right here,” Keith reminds them all.

“Perhaps it is best we wait for Keith to tell us when he wishes to discuss this.” Allura’s smile is apologetic. “You really should hear this from Shiro first.”

Shiro's disease is gone, Keith knows. They'd both cried when he got the news. But fuck if the thought of something he should hear from Shiro first doesn't send dread flooding down his spine.

“Oh, no,” Allura says, and there's horror and apology in her voice and eyes. “It isn't anything bad, truly. We would tell you if that were the case.”

“Right,” Keith says. His voice comes out as a croak. He takes a drink of water, trying to cool his racing heart.

“You okay, man?” Hunk says, and he looks guilty. “Sorry, we shouldn’t have brought it up like that.” He elbows Lance.

“You didn't know,” Keith says, and tries to think if there's something he's missing, some big news that Shiro's told him lately—

Big news.

“Are you—” He swallows. He doesn't want to talk about this. He knows talking about it with other people will make it real in a way that talking about it with Shiro hasn't. Will give it life and power over him that it hasn’t quite achieved yet.

But Keith's never been one to deny the reality in front of his eyes.

“Are you talking about the proposal?” he says.

There's complete silence for a moment, then the entire chat erupts into chaos. Everyone’s eyes are on fire, and they’re all talking at once, and Keith can't understand anything that a single one of them is saying.

“Guys!” Hunk shouts over everyone. “Guys guys guys guys guys.” He repeats the word until everyone settles down and he’s the only one left speaking. “Let Keith talk.” He waits a moment, then says, “So?”

Keith waits, but it sounds like Hunk’s talking to him. “So… what?”

“So it's really happening?” Lance says.

“I guess so,” Keith says.

I guess so,” Pidge scoffs.

Allura’s staring at the screen, something careful and assessing in her gaze. “How are you feeling about it all?”

Like it's the end of an era. Like he’ll be numb for eternity.

“Huh,” Hunk says, and he’s leaning forward, squinting at the screen. “Yeah, dude, are you even happy about this?”

Keith feels far, far too transparent.

“What? Of course he's happy,” Lance says. “He’s—“

“He’s Keith,” Pidge says, and Keith wants to bristle at that, but it's not unfair for her to say.

He’s faked being fine, but he’s never faked being happy.

“Shiro just mentioned yesterday that he wants to do it as soon as we all get back,” Keith says. “I guess it all hasn't really sunk in yet.”

“Hm yeah, that makes sense,” Hunk says, rubbing his chin.

Allura’s smile is warm and comforting. “Take your time. And we're all here for you if you'd ever like someone to speak to.”

“Thank you,” Keith says, meaning it. “I don't really have a lot to say right now, though.”

“Do you ever?” Lance says, but it's without heat.

“Wait wait wait I gotta know,” Hunk says. “Are you gonna help him plan the wedding?”

Keith shrugs and crosses his arms. “I mean, I’ll help when he asks, but it's mostly on him. He’s the one proposing.”

Pidge lets out a surprised bark of laughter. “Damn, Keith. That's brutal, even for you.”

Keith doesn’t see why. Being Certified Best Friend doesn’t actually mean he’s supposed to be running Shiro’s whole romantic life, does it?

He refuses to ask.

He'll support Shiro to the best of his ability, but he doesn't think he can actively plan the celebration in which the person he loves most in the entire world will be loudly declaring his public love for someone else.

He just shrugs again. He really doesn’t want to talk about it anymore. “Allura, how’s Coran doing?”

It’s not a subtle move, but no one calls him out on it before Allura launches into an explanation of what Coran and Romelle have been up to on New Altea.

Their eyes are far too knowing, though, and Keith knows he’ll be ambushed when he gets back to Earth. He’s got a quintant to figure out what he should say as a good, supportive best friend. What he should feel.

But when he thinks of Shiro, and Shiro spending his life with someone else, Keith’s heart squeezes. His throat clogs. His stomach grows unpleasantly hot. It hurts in a way that feels like it’ll hurt forever.

He thinks of Shiro and knows he won’t be able to think of anyone else for a long, long time.

----

T-7

“One more movement,” Shiro says, grinning at Keith through the screen.

“One more movement,” Keith says softly.

“You sure you’re gonna be okay?” Shiro says. “Not too late to call it off, do it another day.”

“I’ll be fine,” Keith says. “Don’t wanna make everyone wait for me.” It’s been over half a year since they’ve all seen each other, and he doesn’t want to delay their reunion any longer.

They need to take advantage of their moments together, before they all start a new chapter of their lives apart.

The beginning is the end. The end is the beginning.

The relationship between him and Shiro hasn’t changed. If anything, it’s stronger than ever. There’s nothing to mourn here, he knows, now or in the future.

It doesn’t stop him from feeling the loss of what could have been.

----

T-0

There’s a rush of emotions when Keith sees Shiro waiting to greet him in front of the hangar, and Keith doesn’t even bother trying to untangle and process it all. He just needs to know that he has Shiro, and Shiro has him.

Shiro laughs when Keith wordlessly buries himself in his embrace. “Whoa.” Shiro laughs, squeezing Keith tight. “Missed me?”

“Don't ask dumb questions,” Keith mumbles into Shiro’s sweater. Keith’s arms can’t fully wrap around the broad expanse of Shiro’s back, but he makes up for it by hugging him for all he's worth.

He doesn’t want to let go. How many more times will he get to do this before it gets weird? How long until all of Shiro’s affection is directed somewhere else?

If he doesn’t let go, he’ll never have to find out.

There's a light pressure on top of his head, like Shiro’s pressing his face against it, then it's gone, and Shiro is pulling back. Keith reluctantly loosens his hold.

“You feel like you're about to fall over,” Shiro says, looking Keith up and down. “You sure you’re okay? Not too late to just go to sleep.”

It's tempting, it really is, but Keith is hungry. Also, this is his only social obligation in the near term, so if he makes it through this dinner, nothing will be stopping him from sleeping for the next three days.

He doesn't know why Shiro's basically encouraging him to skip out, though. This is probably the third or fourth time he’s suggested it. Keith squints up at him in suspicion. “It sounds like you're the one who wants the rain check.”

“Wha—“ Shiro coughs. “No, I'm—Okay, maybe I'm a little nervous.”

“Why?” Keith likes to think he's in tune with what Shiro’s feeling and why, but he can't think of a single reason Shiro should be worried about a dinner with friends.

But Shiro just huffs out "why” on a laugh and says, “No, I'm just being silly. You're right. Here, let me—” He takes Keith's bag from him and tosses it into the back of a Garrison vehicle.

Keith glances at the plate before climbing into the car. “This the one I stole?” he says as he buckles himself into the passenger seat.

“Yeah, it is,” Shiro says with a grin that says his choice of vehicle was completely intentional. He pulls the car out of the hangar, heading towards the Holts’ where they're having their reunion dinner. “Did you know that was years ago today?”

“Really?” Keith checks the display on the car’s control panel. “Huh. You're right.” It's not a day he’s paid a lot of special attention to—it doesn't affect him the same way as noticing when it's the day his dad died, or when the Kerberos mission launched, or when Shiro had crash-landed back in the desert—but it's an important day that he remembers all the same.

The day his life completely changed.

It'd been a mess. Keith had taken the car, but he didn't actually have anywhere to take it to, so he just drove aimlessly as his frustration at everyone and everything boiled over. When it passed, all that was left was frustration at himself for making a mess out of Shiro’s life. Out of everyone there, Shiro probably deserved it the least.

So he drove to the police station and told them to call the school and ask for Shiro. He’d expected Shiro to just pick up the car and leave Keith to the system. He’s glad that wasn’t what happened.

“You get in a lot of trouble for letting a high schooler steal your car?” Keith says, because he realizes that he'd never actually asked. For a long time, he hadn’t really wanted to know, hadn’t really wanted it feeding his guilt. Then, after that had passed, he'd been too distracted by too many other things to ask.

“Eh,” Shiro says with a shrug. “What the Garrison doesn't know won't hurt them, right?”

Keith frowns. “You didn't tell them? What were you gonna do if I skipped town with it?”

“You weren't really a troublemaker,” Shiro says. He slants a smile at Keith. “I visited a lot of high schools. I know what troublemakers look like. I knew at most I'd have to wait until school got in the next day for you to give it back. I was more worried about how I'd explain it if I had to stay in a hotel for the night.”

“Oh.” Keith shifts uncomfortably. “Sorry for stressing you out.”

“No, Keith,” Shiro says. “God, maybe the car wasn't a good idea. This is why you shouldn't let me decide things.” He takes a deep breath in and out. “Keith, that was one of the most exciting days of my life. I wasn't even stressed about the car, I was more stressed trying to figure out how to get you to come to the Garrison.”

“You were?” Keith's memories of the time are inaccurately rosy, but he remembers Shiro as effortlessly cool and by far the kindest person he’d ever met. Keith doesn't even remember exactly why he’d shown up at the Garrison—it had all seemed too good to be true, and by that point, Keith had already known that there was always, always a catch. But he’d gone there and talked to Shiro, really talked to him, and he can’t imagine what his life would be like now if he hadn’t.

“You were the best pilot I'd ever seen,” Shiro says earnestly. “Have ever seen. It's still true now. It takes cadets at least their whole first year to get as good as you flying that sim for the first time. That kind of natural piloting—it's out of this world.”

“I mean, I am—“

“—literally an alien,” Shiro finishes with him. He smiles, fond. “Well, we know that now. Looking back on it now… god, you have no idea how stressed out I was when you actually showed up. I was sweating out of my skin, trying to impress you.”

Keith stares at him. “You're joking.”

“I'm serious!” Shiro’s grinning. “I figured if you thought I was cool and the ships were cool, I could convince you to come. I was ready to spend the next year pestering you if I had to.”

“Why try so hard for me?” Keith says. He'd always thought he'd just been another of Shiro’s recruits, one that'd clung so hard that he eventually grew on Shiro enough that they became friends. He doesn't think he was worth all this special effort from the get-go.

“You mean aside from the fact that you were amazing?”

Keith rolls his eyes, but his heart is warm and pleased. “Yeah.”

Shiro's quiet for a moment, the silence of their voices filled by the crunch of gravel under tires. “When other people give up on you enough times,” he finally says, “when they tell you enough times that you don't deserve a chance, you start to believe it. You start to self-sabotage. You ruin it for yourself before someone else can take it from you, because you think it'll hurt less that way. I saw that happening with you, and, well, I wanted to stop it. I was a total stranger to you. I didn't know if I'd be able to make a difference. But I had to try.”

The way Shiro’s talking about it sounds like he’s speaking from experience, from a place of empathy that’s hard to fake. “Did that happen to you too?”

“Kind of,” Shiro says, finger tapping the steering wheel. “No one else thought I'd make it, but my family always supported me. That gave me the strength to believe in myself, but it would've been amazing if someone who was doing exactly what I wanted to do had seen me and validated me and told me that I had what it took to get there. So when I saw you… I don't know, all I could think was that I wanted to give you the kind of support I'd always wanted for myself.”

“Oh,” Keith says. “I—Thank you,” he says, knowing those two words aren't nearly enough to encompass all that he feels, knowing that Shiro thought he was worth all that before they even really knew each other. “You're—“ he swallows. “I wouldn't be who I am today without you.”

“I could say the same,” Shiro says warmly. He parks the car on the curb in front of the Holts’ home. “I wouldn't even be here today if it wasn't for you. Thank you, Keith.”

Shiro’s hand is resting on the gear shift, and Keith reaches out to touch it briefly, gratitude and reassurance and love all in one. Then he turns and climbs out of the car and heads up the driveway to the Holts’.

He’s just up the porch steps when Shiro stops him with a hand on his arm. Keith turns and comes face-to-face with Shiro’s chin. He blinks, then realizes Shiro’s still at the bottom of the steps. “What’s up?”

“Keith,” Shiro says. He takes a deep breath, and his next words come out sounding rehearsed. “When we first met, on this day all those years ago, I couldn't have imagined everything you'd come to mean to me. Love can't even begin to describe it, but it's the best word we have. I love you. I can't imagine the rest of my life without you in it. I don't want to. Keith.” Shiro drops to one knee, and he has a ring box open in his hand with that horrible, ridiculous ring inside it. Keith’s soul escapes him. “Will you marry me?”

The silence drags on, and on, and on. Keith can't figure out what the fuck is happening.

Shiro's smile wavers. “Keith?”

“Stand up,” Keith says quietly.

Shiro climbs to his feet. “Keith, what’s wrong?”

The door bursts open, and Shiro makes a frantic stop stop stop motion as triumphant music blasts through invisible speakers and people come pouring out the door, cheering, “Congratulations!”

It’s all the Holts and all the Paladins and Allura and Coran and Kolivan and his mom with an apologetic smile on her face and Kosmo in her arms.

Lance blasts a kazoo in their faces.

“Guys,” Keith says over the cacophony of noise. “Guys! I need to—” The music cuts out, Pidge having controlled it with her watch, and now there's too much silence, and too many eyes on him. “I need to talk to Shiro. Privately.”

It takes some awkward shuffling, but they switch spaces, all their friends and family outside the house and them inside. Shiro's quiet, waiting for him to speak.

Keith tries to figure out what the hell is going on. What the hell he wants to say. Shiro was proposing to him. He understands that much. What he doesn't understand is—

“Why?”

“I'm sorry?”

“Why did you—we're not even dating!”

Shiro’s arms are crossed, and he has a confused furrow in his brow. “I mean, I think we're a bit past that point, aren't we? People date to figure out whether or not they want to spend the rest of their life with someone. I already know I want to spend the rest of my life with you. I already know there's no one else I'd rather spend my life with but you.”

“I mean, it's the same for me,” Keith says, caught off guard by Shiro’s sincerity.

“Oh, good.” Shiro’s beatific smile is back. “You had me worried for a second there.”

“Stop smiling, I'm still confused,” Keith says, and Shiro's mouth pulls neutral, but his eyes are still undeniably pleased. “What happened to your boyfriend?”

“Boyfriend?”

The genuine confusion in Shiro's tone is all Keith needs to know that he’s said the wrong thing and the stupid holomag has it all wrong.

He knew it was garbage. He knew it.

“Never mind,” he mumbles.

“No, wait,” Shiro says. “The whole time you thought I was proposing to some other guy?”

Keith shifts and crosses his arms defensively. It's not so unbelievable. Shiro’s a fucking catch. “Maybe.”

Keith.” Shiro's voice is, for once, more exasperated than fond. “Who would it even be?”

“People were saying it was your comms officer.”

“My—Keith, no,” Shiro says. “Not even close. And who are people?”

Keith mumbles the name of the cursed holomag under his breath. Shiro waits patiently. “Voltron: The Star Connection,” he relents.

“Didn't you tell me not to pay attention to that junk?”

“They had pictures,” Keith argues.

Shiro’s lips purse. “Show me.”

“I can't show you, they're in like a hundred different articles.” The words come out before Keith realizes how much it reveals of his obsession, and he cringes.

Shiro just sighs. “C'mon Keith, I know you have them all saved.”

“You do not.”

“Do you?”

Keith looks away. “Maybe.”

Shiro makes a beckoning motion with his fingers. “Gimme.”

Keith stares, unimpressed.

Shiro’s fingers beckon more insistently. “Keith.”

“Geez,” Keith mutters, pulling out his datapad and opening up his folder of shame. “Act your age already.”

“I'm six, thanks,” Shiro says as he takes the datapad.

Keith watches his face as he flicks through the images—some confusion, some flashes of recollection. Nothing fond, though. Nothing like how Shiro'd ever looked when he'd shown Keith pictures of him and Adam on his phone.

“I'm sure you've figured it out,” Shiro says, lowering the device, “but these are all completely out of context.”

“It was compelling at the time,” Keith says.

“They do know how to spin a story, I'll give them that,” Shiro says as he hands the datapad back. “But you really believed it? Even after you told me not to?”

“It’s not like they had pictures of me and Axca.”

Shiro raises his eyebrows. “What about you and Axca?”

“Nothing,” Keith says. It comes out maybe too defensively, but he's had to put up with enough on that front for a lifetime. “You're the only person I've ever loved, all right? Oh my god, Shiro, stop doing that with your face.”

Shiro is straight up preening, his smile so wide it could burst. “Sorry, sorry,” he says, but it seems no matter how hard he tries, he can't wipe the smile from his face this time. “I love you, too. It’s always been you.”

It all makes so much more sense. Why Shiro never mentioned his boyfriend. Why Shiro kept asking him for his opinion on the whole proposal. Why his friends were confused that Keith wasn’t happier.

Shiro clears his throat. He has the ring box in his hands again, open in front of Keith. “So, now that all that’s cleared up… is that a yes?”

Keith sighs, and smiles. “That's a yes.”

Shiro pulls the ring out of the box and takes Keith's hand with a gentle grip. He slides the ring onto his finger where it wraps snug against his skin.

“How’d you know my ring size?”

Shiro scratches his chin. “I, uh, may have snuck measurements when we were all back on Earth last time. I thought I wanted to make it more of a surprise then.”

“Uh-huh,” Keith says, and he thinks maybe he should find that creepy, but he’s still distracted by the thing on his finger.

Somehow the horror of a ring looks even worse against a finger. The heart is nearly the size of Keith’s knuckle. The little diamonds sparkle ostentatiously. It’s the gaudiest thing Keith’s ever seen.

“You don’t actually like the ring, do you,” Shiro says.

Keith can’t bring himself to lie about it. “It was a moment of weakness.”

Shiro huffs, and this time it’s back to being more fond than exasperated. “That’s what you get for sabotaging my proposal.”

Keith glares at him, but it’s not like he can argue against that. He just has to shut Shiro up instead. "I’m going to kiss you now,” he says.

“Oh!” Shiro’s eyes brighten. “Please do.”

Keith reaches up in response, drawing Shiro down until their lips meet in a soft kiss. When they pull back, Shiro’s smile is so dopey it makes Keith embarrassed to see it. He puts a hand in Shiro’s face. “Stop.”

“Never,” Shiro says, kissing Keith’s hand, then using it to drag Keith into Shiro’s arms. “You’ve made me the happiest man in the entire universe.”

“I think we’re gonna have to share that title,” Keith says.

Shiro’s smile gets dopier. “Yeah?”

“Yeah.”

And Keith pulls him down and kisses him again.

And again.

And again.