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We Are Rare (And So is This Love)

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Keith was worried.

No, Keith was downright scared.

He hadn’t seen his wolf for awhile. That wasn’t weird since the cosmic wolf often ran off on his own, playing around and exploring. On the space whale, Keith had gone for days without meeting up with the pup. It was normal to not see him for a while. The wolf was his own person, and he could go about as he wished.

But now that they were in the desert, Keith didn’t trust it. He didn’t like the wolf going off on his own. It wasn’t just because of new surroundings. People on Earth were new to aliens, in a sense. They had only known the Galra for so many years, and not in a good light. Now they were getting more exposure to foreign planets and people, but it didn’t put Keith at ease. For all he knew, someone could have kidnapped his companion.

“Hey,” a hand rested on his shoulder from behind as someone stepped up to his other side, pressing to his side, “You okay?”

“No,” Keith glanced over at Shiro who sent him a worried expression, silver hair swaying just a bit on the warm desert breeze, “I haven’t seen my wolf in over five hours.”

“Maybe he’s off exploring,” Shiro frowned as he glanced out at the rocky desert before them, hand held over his face to shield it from the sun, “He likes to do that, and it’s a big area to discover.”

Keith knew that. He had explored it on his own, after all, before the Blue Lion had taken them to space. There was plenty of room for the wolf to teleport without being seen, but Keith...Keith was getting a gut feeling that his cosmic wolf needed him.

“I’m going to search for him,” Keith glanced back at Shiro before moving forward, “If you don’t hear from me in three hours…”

“I’ll come find you,” Shiro reassured as he nodded, arm floating by his side, “I’d come with, but I can tell this is something you want to do on your own. I’ll just be back working on stuff on the Atlas.”

“Okay,” Keith nodded before he smiled, “See you later, Old Timer.”

“I’ll see you shortly, Keith,” Shiro breathed out his name softly before smiling at him. Keith grinned back before he started to the spot where he could use a hoverbike. It was no use taking Black because if his wolf was in a cave, the lion wouldn’t find him very well. Revving up the engine, he raced away.

It didn’t take him long to realize that the feeling was tugging on him, leading him somewhere like when Blue’s energy had called out to him. Hoping it led him to his wolf, he followed. He drove through miles of desert, weaving back and forth in canyons and clifftops. What could be an hour later, he pulled up to an empty mini canyon. He remembered a spot like this that his dad had taken him to years ago, back when he was still alive. It had been like this, a small river flowing through it, wrapping into a circle as it somehow flowed back out the same side it entered. Keith almost moved on, thinking he was just imagining the feeling when he peeked around the corner.

There was a makeshift building. It looked relatively new, and pretty big. With his hearing, Keith could hear some random noises he couldn’t quite place. Strolling forward, he stalked up to the door, cautious of an attack. Sliding the door open, he moved inside. In the hall, there were all kinds of small cages. Ones filled with exotic animals like fish and birds from Earth. Others had alien pets of some sort, all quietly perched in their cages. There were also some stray objects about like a lamp, a strange antique gun, and so on.

A sound caught his attention, making him whip around only to see that the hall continued onward. He moved on, following it and the noises which grew in volume. Keith stepped around the corner to see something that made him angry.

In the makeshift room was a large cage made from glass. In the middle of the glass was his wolf, chained and collared to the wall. Keith could see that the door was open, an alien inside. The alien raised their hand, slamming something down onto the wolf who yelped sharply in pain, whining right afterwards. Keith's anger boiled over at the treatment of his wolf, his friend. Not thinking too long, Keith rushed forward into the cell, throwing his elbow into the alien's neck with all his force. Said alien fell to the ground with a gasp. Keith raced to the cosmic wolf, hissing when he saw the dirt and blood caked into his beautiful thick fur.

"I'm going to get you out of here, boy," Keith whispered to the wolf who whimpered softly. Pulling his blade out, he started to saw on the chain, just beginning to cut through the metal when his wolf let out a warning bark. Keith didn't have any time to think before something was being wrapped around his throat, making him shout in surprise as he dropped his dagger. He knew the alien was behind him when a weight pressed against his back, big enough to lift him off of his feet. His throat tightened as he choked, unable to breathe with the long string blocking his airway. By now, the blue wolf was snarling and howling, trying to yank himself over to them. But the alien had been smart enough to back them away from the wolf.

Everything began to grow fuzzy. Keith's vision span as he gagged on nothing, growing weak. He continued to fight for both air and against the alien behind him. He could feel the string leaving a rope burn behind as the alien pressed harder, completing sealing off his throat. With wide eyes, Keith heaved for air that couldn't come, movements growing sluggish as he tried to grip the thing around his neck. Kicking out behind him, he barely tapped anything as his head began to ache, feeling like it was going to explode. The darkness grew in his eyes as his muscles gave up completely. Keith grew limp as his arm twitched. He could barely hear his wolf's screams over the static in his head. Keith's haze-filled eyes closed as he started to slip into unconsciousness.

A sharp pain to his chest brought him back to awareness as air rushed into his sore throat. Taking it in as quickly as he could, he coughed roughly, hacking until he thought a lung was going to fall out. Able to breathe again, he began to take in his surroundings exhaustedly.

He was on the floor of the cage. His wolf rested to the side, nose bleeding onto the floor, some cloth gripped in his teeth. Keith's gaze slowly slid over to the alien by his side now, leaning over him. Keith didn't have the strength to move as the other brushed a thumb right against his left cheek, chuckling at his flinch.

"I must thank your wolf, I almost made a costly mistake," the woman smirked as she caressed his face, "Cosmic wolves are hard to come by. Last one I saw was at least three...no, five decades ago. They are rare, and difficult to find, but when I do...they sell faster than the rest of my merchandise."

She tilted his head to the side, inspecting him. Keith glared at her, opening his mouth to protest when his voice cracked and gave out. The woman snickered darkly as she stared at him, teeth sharp. Her finger brushed his throat, sending a pang of pain through his throat as she touched the rope burn.

"That looks dreadful," she purred as she leaned over to the side, grabbing something Keith couldn't see, "It's a good thing your wolfie tried to take a bite out of me. You are rare. I didn't notice before, but you must be the only human-Galra hybrid in existence. You look so human...we'll have to change that if any of my clients are to believe that you are part of the enemy."

Before Keith could move, something cold wrapped around his throat. Almost panicking at the thought of being deprived of air again, he could hear the lady laughing. Glancing to the side, he saw a chain leading from him to the wall.

He had been collared.

"I have some serum," she hummed thoughtfully as she pulled out a syringe filled with scarlet liquid that closely resembled blood, "That can bring out some dormant features but I don't know if it'll make you ugly. Will your eyes go completely yellow? Will you grow fur? Will you gain a tail?"

Keith glared at her.

"I guess we'll try half the serum and go from there," she smirked before grabbing Keith's chin, holding it in a bruising grip as she injected the needle into his neck. Keith winced as the liquid spread through his veins, making his ears, head, teeth, and tailbone burn. Keith instantly ignored her as he curled up, feeling like fire was scorching his flesh and bone. His wolf whined in the distance but stopped suddenly as the woman laughed. Through one eye, Keith glanced up while gritting his teeth to see the alien had put a muzzle on the wolf. The thing stretched over the beast’s mouth, hooking up to the back of his head. His friend could no longer growl or snap his teeth at the alien who smirked, petting his side roughly which the wolf flinched at. Keith ignored her as he dragged himself to the wolf’s side, petting him carefully. The chain pulled tight for both of them, but Keith just snuggled into the bigger’s side.

Tears burned his eyes as pain shot through the areas from before. Letting out a weak shout of pain, Keith buried his face into the fur. Something warm brushed against his neck, a low half-whine. A wet nose rubbed against his cheek, helping to ground him as he grabbed the dark fur harder. Everything burned like oil on fire. It was spreading from his head and backside through his entire body. It felt like he was being cut off from air again as something ripped into the side of his cheek, the sick taste if blood on his tongue. He could feel something sharp on his tongue, threatening to slice wounds into that too. His hearing changed, going dark for a long moment, making him unable to hear anything as they burned. He swore he could feel the small of his back tearing away, liquid sliding along his skin and soaking into his clothes. He was suddenly glad he wasn’t in his armor.

It went on for what felt like hours. At some point, Keith was able to hear again, noises way too loud and making him wince every few seconds. He could hear every sound of his wolf breathing by his side, of the air vents kicking up on the other side of the glass, of the shuffle of clothing as Keith shifted his hand out a bit. Every pain was dulled to an ache now, not unlike if he had gotten too much exercise the day before. He didn’t feel so weak now, but his throat was still as sore as before, raw from the choking earlier. Keith laid there for quite some time, fading in and out of a loose sleep.

By the time he was fully awake, he was ready to check the damage. Moving his hands from his wolf’s fur to his mouth, he felt sharp fangs on his fingers, two on each side, top and bottom. Dragging the digits over his jaw, he almost had a heart attack when he brushed nothing where his ears normally lay. Before he could throw himself into a panic attack, he ran his hands up higher, stopping when he hit a pair of furry things that he could feel in two ways, both on his fingertips and his ears. These were more sensitive to touch than his human ears had been. Just as he thought that, something small tickled his nose. Glancing down, Keith stared at the tip of the tail thumping right by his face. His tail was just as furry as his ears, looking almost like a cat tail as it swayed back and forth.

"You're awake," Keith snapped his eyes up to the alien who strolled through the door, which opened automatically for her, "I must say...I'm liking the new look. I bet your ears are so soft. I just want to touch them."

Keith glared at her, not wanting her touch. She only smirked as she pressed something. Waiting for pain, Keith blinked as something whirred on her side of the cage. Before his eyes, his wolf was dragged backwards by his collar. When said wolf figured it out, he whimpered, trying to stay with Keith. Keith gripped his fur but soon had to release his grip as the wolf slipped out of his fingers. The chains stopped when he was pressed to the wall, barely able to move.

“I wouldn’t want your wolfie to interfere again,” she stated coolly as she stepped forward. Keith glared at her, scooting as far back as he could, until his back hit the glass wall. She only moved forward, bracing herself on either side of him, lifting a hand to his ear. Before Keith would do anything, her fingers rubbed over the fur there.

Keith almost purred at the sensation. It felt really really good when they were touched like that. Keith couldn’t understand why it felt so nice. And he wanted so badly to pull away, but his ears wanted to stay. At this distance, he could hear the tiny mutters she was saying...And god, she was treating him like a dog or cat. Keith growled as he yanked his ears out of her hold. She seemed to already know he was going to do it as she pinched his ears tightly, making them flare with pain. Keith gasped softly before a broken whimper left his throat.

“You’re not getting free,” she hissed as she dug her claws into his ear, making him tear up as the nails dug clear through his ear, some scarlet blood rushing down the side of his cheek, “Your ears are so fragile. I could rip them off right here. My clients will pay less, but I’ll just explain that you removed your poor ears yourself after you saw your transformation. Poor thing just couldn’t handle being a halfling...a Galra freak.”

Keith glared at her as his ears twitched. She smirked back before finally releasing the things. Keith took the time to brush his hands over the ears, making sure that they weren’t bleeding too much before turning back to her only to feel as something grabbed his tail. Keith silently yelped as she yanked on it, pain racing up the tail to the base of his tailbone. She rubbed at the fur there, not getting the response like before as said appendage flicked around, wishing to break free.

"You're tail is less fun," she pouted before she shrugged, twisting it enough that a dulled pain rushed up his spine. He glared at her, "But oh well. You do look like a kitty cat."

Keith blinked.

"Oh you poor paladin," she tugged in the collar, pushing his head closer as he pushed back, "The Alteans were always peaceful diplomats. One to blend in. Well, my people always did better. We were the spies. The ones behind the scenes. While they pranced around, we were fighting our own battle. Why, even our shapeshifting is better."

As if to prove her point, she began to shift and change before Keith's eyes, becoming shorter. Her skin turned into a smooth coco color as her hair changed to bright white. Her eyes, what were once a terrifying green, were now ice blue. Her nose sharpened as little pink marks resided on her cheeks. Only her clothes stayed the same, something Allira would never ever wear.

Keith gaped in horror.

"I do look exactly like the princess," she spoke as even her voice changed in pitch, just slightly higher-pitched than Allura, "Except for a few tiny details that no one would notice of course. The marks aren't quite the right shape, and of course, I'm missing that Altean glow in my eyes."

Keith growled as he glared, fangs bared as he moved backwards. The woman only sighed before she sent him a disgusted look, one he hadn't seen on the princess's face since she had found out he was Galra.

"Don't like this much, do you?" She tilted her head, staring at him. With a hum, she began to shift again, form settling on…

On Shiro. Keith almost choked on his breath, eyes widening as his ears moved back and his tail went straight out, thumping irritatedly. It was the man with black hair and short white puff of hair. The one he faced at the cloning facility.

Keith kicked out, taking her off guard as she slipped onto her side. Jumping up at the alien, he didn't get far as she slammed his back against the glass, making pain shoot up his tail. Before he could move, her hands were gripping his mouth tightly, making him gag. Keith tried to throw his arm out at the woman who only gripped his mouth tighter, making something click in his jaw. She pressed hard right on the hinge of his jaws, forcing his mouth to open up painfully, showing off his teeth.

"Hmmm," she spoke in his friend's voice, a disapproving look in those grey eyes, "I've seen you with this man on the screens, although he doesn't quite look like this, does he? I wonder why that is?"

"You don't have to fight anymore…"

Keith's breathe got stuck in his throat. She...no, Shiro smirked at him wickedly, teeth sharpening into points. Suddenly, Keith could see twin pricks of lights in those eyes, glowing purple as his vision narrowed into a tunnel. Keith tried to not panic as Shiro bent over him. The man pressed him to the wall as heat flared in his cheek.

It burned, it burned, it burned...

And then Keith couldn't breathe.

He could hear Shiro's voice in his head. The words echoed in his mind and ears to the point where Keith was jerking backwards violently, trying to get away from the heat and the pain and his best friend who was trying to burn him and kill him and he couldn't catch his breath and he felt like air was gone. His ears were aching and ringing even as the voice picked up and Keith couldn't take it anymore and why didn'thejustkillhimalreadyandwhywashepullingitoutand-

A loud shout pulled him out of his panic. He took a huge breath in as he watched his wolf fly through the air, bunting Shir - the woman - on the chest. She lost her form as she smashed into the wall. Before his eyes, he saw her punch out with all of her force, his wolf flying through the air and slamming into the wall with a broken, muffled cry of agony. The glass broke over the giant animal, raining sharp shards onto the cosmic beast as blood smeared across the clear surface.

"Kosmo!" Keith screamed hoarsely as he all but forgot his dislike for the name. Fear spiked through his body as he raced for his wolf, only to be yanked back, gaging as the collar dug into his neck, digging into bruises.

"I could have gotten so much for that fucking wolf," the woman scowled as she pulled on his collar, pushing him away from his wolf, even as he fought her, "The damn fucking thing just had to tackle me. Well, it can die there, bleeding out. Maybe I should put it out of its misery."

With that, she took up a long piece of glass nearby, stalking towards the wolf who whimpered softly, only moving his paw. Keith's gut flipped as she bore the glass over her head, ready to plummet it into his wolf's temple.

"No!" Keith choked out before he threw himself at her. A sharp pain spiked in his neck as the glass slid into his skin, digging into the side of his neck as the alien adjusted the angle, avoiding anything vital. Keith paid no attention as she ripped it from his throat, instead throwing a punch that knocked her off guard.

If it had been a normal time, Keith could have taken her out. He was trained to take out people in situations like this. His mother had taught him how to fight, and he had years of paladin and Garrison combat training. As it was, he was too weak right now. His head was still throbbing from the change. He was now bleeding, blood gushing from the throat wound. He was limited in his motions due to the collar and chain. And he wasn't used to fighting with his new features. The tail threw him off balance, the ears were too sensitive and distracted him, and he couldn't fight as well now.

Something pinned him down, pressing on his shoulders. Keith fought it, trying to throw his hands back at the alien. The woman growled before pain ripped through his body as she kneed him on the base of his tail. Everything went lightning white as Keith screamed mutely. Curling up in a ball, it was all he could do to not throw up on the spot. The pain coursed through his body, making him unaware of time and anything around him as shocks lit up his nerves. After enough time, he gradually could feel his pain evaporate, leaving behind aches and deep discomfort.

When he could actually look up again without getting nauseous. He didn't know where he was. They were obviously in the desert. From what he could tell, she was dragging him by his collar but he could breathe so maybe she wasn't dragging him. He was too disoriented to think straight still.

He just hoped his wolf was okay.

He just hoped Shiro came and found him.

…..

Shiro was worried.

No, Shiro was downright scared.

He hadn't seen Keith since the other said he couldn't find his wolf. It was so unlike Keith to go this long without checking in. The three hours were almost up by now, and Shiro knew something had happened. Keith would have messaged him by now.

"Have you guys seen Keith?" He asked the paladins as they all gathered for another Garrison meeting. Earth was free, but they still had a war to battle.

"No," Lance spoke up as he glanced at the leader of the Atlas, "Haven't seen him since...noon? Maybe...It's kinda hard to keep track of him."

"Odd," Allura frowned as she glanced around the mostly empty room, coming up short a paladin Shiro knew wasn't here, "He should be here by now. Keith is usually punctual."

"I think he's in trouble," Shiro scowled at the table, "We should go find him. Both he and Kosmo."

"Your love connection tell you that?" Lance teased as Shiro stared at him with blank eyes.

"My what...uhhh...connection?" He stuttered as he coughed. They all looked at him unimpressed.

"Your love connection," Pidge went on after a moment, "We dubbed it that after you came back to us. I mean, your guys love for each other got the body to accept you."

"Yeah," Hunk nodded as his eyes watered, "It's kinda sweet really. You guys always seem to sense when the other is in danger...Like...Love connection, man."

"Uhhh, okayyy," Shiro nodded before he turned their attention back to the matter at hand, "Well, my...love connection...is telling me something is seriously wrong. We need to help Keith."

"I'll check something," Pidge typed on her phone for a moment before a ping filled the air, followed by the loud error noise Shiro took as bad.

"What's wrong?" Allura asked as they all stared.

"Well," Pidge spoke as she inspected her phone, "There's good and bad news."

"What?"

"Keith's not in his armor, so tracking that won't work," the young woman squinted before she nodded, "But Kosmo has a specific trail left behind when he teleports."

"So we can track Kosmo?" Lance asked incredulously.

"Well, it tracks any cosmic wolf, really," the Green Paladin exclaimed as she pulled up a map showing dots on the area. Many of them were on the Garrison, with most at Keith or Shiro's rooms. A few were in the lions, which were all parked just outside the base. Some in random spots. But one stood out in the middle of nowhere, "But it's safe to say Kosmo is the only one on Earth, so we're good. This program I made in my spare time in the lions also tell us which area is the most fresh. It's this one."

The dot in the middle of nowhere.

"Let's go," Shiro nodded as he stood up to leave. The others paused for a moment before nodding, pushing their chairs away. Their teammate and friend came first.

It took them a little time to get to the lions. All of them seemed agitated, like they could tell something was wrong too. They took off, Black staying behind without a pilot. Racing through the air, it took them only a minute to reach the spot. It was a deep canyon, with a tiny river flowing through it.

Shiro braced himself as they entered what looked like a makeshift building on a patch of dry land. Within the first steps were cages filled with animals Shiro had never seen before. A lot of them were Earth ones, but some were alien. When they walked near them, each animal flinched back before cowering in fear. Shiro's stomach dropped at the neglect and abuse in the animals. Knowing they had to search the rest of the place, he moved on. A couple of corners came by before he saw a very familiar lump of fur.

"Kosmo!" He rushed forward, sliding onto his knees at the giant animal's side, avoiding broken glass. Gently shifting the wolf, he prayed he was alive as he saw the drying blood plastered to the wolf's hair and the glass. A muzzle was glued to Kosmo's mouth, so Shiro ripped it off. Said wolf whined faintly as he panted softly, obviously in pain. Shiro carefully rubbed his side, quickly pulling away when the other yelped weakly as his ribs were brushed.

"It's going to be okay," Shiro soothed the wolf, petting his head. Inspecting the wounds, he almost froze as he saw the scarlet droplets splashed upon the biggest glass shard. More of it littered the wall and a bit of the floor, smeared like someone had been dragged. Shiro hissed as he glanced at the opposite side of the cell, seeing a hook but no chain. Keith had been in here. Shortly ago too.

"I'll get him back," Shiro assured the wolf who whimpered softly. Yelling for someone to get Kosmo, he raced out of there. Glancing out, he stared into the desert. They could be anywhere, and Shiro didn't know if multiple people were involved. About ready to run into the desert blindly, he stopped when a roar filled the air. The Black Lion floated in the air, eyes bright as she landed at his front. Shiro could feel her familiar whispering in his mind as he gazed up.

"You know where Keith is," he bolted for the ship, taking the ramp up in big strides. Rushing to the pilot's chair, he plopped down, having missed this as the connection floated back through, "Let's go save him."

Shiro launched upwards with the lion, both letting out their own cries as they flew into the air. With muscle memory, Shiro piloted his original lion, banking left as the lion called his attention to something. A dot was dragging another through the desert. As they sped closer, Shiro could see it was an alien with another. His heart panged at the thought of Keith not being there, but he had to help. The aliens must have noticed because one looked up before hauling the other over behind a rock.

Shiro landed Black nearby, running down the ramp as he pulled up his arm, ready for anything…

Except seeing Keith walk out from behind the pillar. The younger looked a bit ruffled and beaten, a few bruises on his face and chin. Some blood dribbled from his lip which looked split. As soon as he saw Shiro, he padded closer.

"What are you doing out here, Keith?" He asked as his warning bells went off, "Where are you going?"

Keith blinked before he pointed behind him at the rock.

"I was taking the alien back to have him arrested," he turned back to Shiro, "Must have gotten lost."

"You left your wolf back there," Shiro frowned as he narrowed his eyes, "Are you okay, Keith?"

"I'm okay," he stared at Shiro with a raised brow, "Just...wanted to get help."

That alarmed Shiro. Keith never would leave Kosmo injured like that. Never. Ever. On their trip back to Earth, he had seen the care Keith had for the space pup. He had bathed him, even being patient and caring when the wolf had gotten mud caked all over the younger.

This wasn't like Keith at all.

"What do you call your wolf?"

"I...what?" Shiro swore he could hear irritation in that voice he loved. It was something that Shiro normally found adorable, but left him with chills this time, "What does it matter what I call my wolf?"

"Please," Shiro breathed out as he stepped forward only for Keith to retreat five steps, "Just tell me what you call your wolf."

"I...uhhh…" Keith swallowed before glancing around, "Kosmo?"

Shiro went cold. Keith never called his wolf Kosmo. Not so casually like that. He wanted the wolf to tell him what he wanted to be named. This wasn't Keith.

And apparently, the fake Keith realized it just as he did because the person ran behind the rock as Shiro raced forward. Before his very eyes, Keith became an alien woman, one that Shiro couldn't quite describe except for those chilling green eyes. She yanked someone up near her side, holding onto a chain.

It was Keith. Or at least, Shiro thought it was. Some things were different about him. Where his ears used to reside were a pair of cat ears up a bit higher, fluffy purple fur the shade of Krolia's hair, even bubble-gum pink hairs stuck out towards the inner ear. Shiro had never really seen any Galra with those ears before. A tail of the same shade lashed around behind him as glistening teeth poked out of his mouth, sharp and fanged.

It was Keith. He'd know him from anywhere.

"Let him go," Shiro demanded as Keith whimpered softly. Shiro grew even more upset as he took in the bruising he could see around the younger's neck, just above the collar, a sure sign he had been strangled before.

"Sh-'ro," Keith choked out as Shiro was proven correct. The younger tried to move forward, but the woman yanked on the collar, making him cough and gag was it pressed into his neck. Keith was bleeding from a poorly bandaged wound on his neck, red blood dripping into his clothes, soaking the already alarmingly blood-caked cloth. His ears and hair were matted with it along with the bits of tail he could see. There was a sharp shine of pain in his best friend's eyes.

"I'm going to get you out of here," Shiro smiled softly as Keith nodded, "You're gonna be okay."

"I wouldn't make such promises so quickly," she hissed at them as she held a syringe to Keith's neck, half filled with some red liquid, "Try anything, and I jab this into his throat. He'll die within minutes."

Shiro froze.

"So this is the one who you hang out with so much," she frowned as she gazed between them, "I can see why you're so attracted to him. He's hot...someone even I would let have his way with me."

Shiro blinked. Keith...wasn't...it wasn't like that...Keith saw him as someone to look up to. As a brother. Sure, Shiro saw Keith as more. He just adored everything about Keith from his hair to his eyes to those newly sharpened collarbones Shiro still couldn't believe were real to his fiery personality. He loved everything about Keith, was in love with him.

But Keith didn't feel the same...right?

"But you have such a fear," she ruffled his ear which got her a silent half-groan, half look of hatred, "I merely took on the look of him from the posters and you're ready to hide away, crying and halfway into a panic attack."

The ear that isn't being fondled folds back in shame. Shiro can see the regret on Keith's face. Guilt rushes through Shiro...Because it was his fault. His fault that Keith was afraid of his past self. After all, he had hurt Keith, telling him everyone he loved was dead and leaving a deep burn scar on his cheek. If that didn't send Keith into a panic then nothing would.

"Let him go."

"I think I might," she agreed with a nod, "You're going to be too distracted to go after me anyway. Doesn't matter because I will see what happens on the news."

And then she plunged the needle into Keith's skin, getting a broken cry from him as she injected all of the liquid. Before Shiro could throw his fist at her, she pushed Keith at him, taking off in the opposite direction. As soon Keith fell from her grip, he collapsed, gripping his eyes tightly, screaming silently. Shiro glanced at the escaping woman before rushing to Keith's side.

Already there was blood. It came from Keith's nose and his mouth and his left cheek and his...well, basically everywhere. Shiro cried out, grabbing onto the man with all his strength, not caring about the scarlet staining his Garrison jacket. Keith mattered more.

Pulling him into his arms, he ran for Black who growled in his head. As soon as he got inside, he rushed to the seat, sitting down while holding onto a shaking Keith. With a roar, the lion launched into the air as Shiro contacted Coran's personal device.

"Why, you're finally contacting us, Kei-" The man froze as looked at Shiro and then to Keith, "This is surely a surprise. What happened."

Shiro didn't know if he meant the fact that Shiro was piloting Black or that Keith was pressed to his chest, bleeding out. Or both.

"I need a medical team now, Coran," Shiro's heart thumped wildly in his ears as Keith began to thrash in his arms, "And contact Krolia and Kolivan. Whatever is happening is Galra. Or because of Keith's Galra side."

"Will do, Shiro!" Coran shouted something off to the side before he glanced back at them, "Just bring him back home."

"I will," Shiro nodded seriously before ending the connection. He should contact the rest of the team, but he couldn't bring himself to. Besides, they were almost to the Garrison. Shiro landed Black just outside the medical bay entrance.

"Thank you, girl," Shiro smiled fondly before he petted the control panel. Jumping up, he leaped out of the lion, meeting a group of people, aliens and humans and what he thought was a Blade not dressed in the suit. They must have been doctors as proven when they had him sit Keith down on the portable gurney. Keith only cried out hoarsely as his back pressed to the material. His chest was heaving in uneven breaths like he was having problems breathing. Blood continued to pour from places, staining the bed as the doctors began shouting back and forth, pushing the bed with them.

Shiro followed them in, staying close to Keith's side the whole way. Already, the group was placing gauze over Keith's injuries like his neck, tailbone (which was bleeding again apparently), and so on. By now, Keith's hands had fallen from his face, allowing Shiro to see his eyes. They were rapidly flickering between white and radioactive yellow, the orbs shifting in size from oval to slit and back. Those eyes found Shiro's, focusing on him with such intensity that Shiro couldn't look away.

And then Keith was wheeled through a room Shiro couldn't follow. Someone stopped him from entering, but he didn't know who. It was all a blur of motion and noise as the man was sat down on a seat somewhere.

He was too worried about Keith. His best friend. His love. He had to make it.

He had to.

Chapter Text

Keith thinks he dreams.

Everything was a blurry fuzzy mess. He can feel his body, but he can't move it. Everything is numb but still in slight pain. It centers on his throat when he tries to breathe. Other parts of him hurt too, but he's not awake enough to tell anyone about it.

At some points, he swears he hears things he shouldn't. It all sounds like it's right next to him...but it couldn't be.

"We were scheduled to leave from Earth tomorrow," an unknown voice blasts through his ears, "We should leave when we said we would. Earth's citizens deserve a maintained schedule."

"We will be staying," an oh-so-familiar voice spoke, strangely soft on his ears as Keith twitched, exhaustion crashing into him, "Keith is a Paladin of Voltron. He needs time to recover. As the Captain of the Atlas, I look out for my team's safety, including that of the lions' paladins. If we move him now, he could die."

"Well, it was his fault he got caught," another voice joined in as Keith flinched, "He should have been better prepared and figured th-"

"That there would be someone out there who would try to kill him only to turn around and do this!?!" Another voice - green, his mind spoke - he trusted interrupted the one before, "Keith is our leader. He's gotten us through a lot, and it's our turn to help him through this."

"Look," a more gentle voice he liked too spoke up as they sighed quietly, "We understand. We won't delay our departure for long. Just until Keith is stable and able to walk. We cannot send ourselves into space while one of us is too injured. And sadly, we do not have any healing pods to speed up his recovery."

“He’s crashing,” a much louder voice nearby as pain throbbed in Keith’s chest. Even louder sounds screeched in his ears, burning them as his lungs felt ready to burst, “Get the breathing tube. He needs...of...bleeding...lungs...cells rearranging themselves...changes…”

Everything faded as pressure built in his chest before dropping off. It went on like this for too long to keep track of how many times he woke in a half-slumber only to pass out in pain. So when Keith eventually wakes, it’s different than before.

Keith wakes up slowly.

First, it’s just sounds that filter into his ears. Noises he can’t even understand; The steady beeping of a machine that meant something, the clatter of footsteps, the soft whine of what he assumed was a dog, the quiet noise of someone breathing near him.

Then comes everything else. He can feel something holding his hand, something warm and big and calloused. He can notice cloth against his skin, pressed from his chest down except for an arm which is a bit colder...the one that isn’t being held. He smells the gross odor that only hospitals have, that unique one that told him he was in the Garrison. Another scent drifted into his nose, one that had him relaxing. When he opened his eyes, colors blurred around him in whites and greys. It took a minute, but slowly, the blurs cleared as he gazed at whatever was weighing his left leg down.

It was his wolf. He looked okay, fur clean and shining as if just given a bath. The wolf was sleeping on his side, back pressed right into the rail of Keith’s bed with his paws over Keith’s legs. Keith smiled happily as he watched the other. He didn’t seem to be in pain, only breathing softly in his sleep as a paw twitched softly. Maybe he was having a good dream.

That made Keith smiled even softer.

Keith trailed his eyes from the cosmic wolf over to whatever was holding his hand. Squinting his eyes as the light got too bright, he waited as they adjusted. At first he could see a shadow of someone sitting there. As the shadow gained details, he noticed the silvery bangs, the glowing arm to the side, the scar across that familiar nose.

“Sh’ro?” He breathed out, not getting the name out of his mouth. The man hadn’t heard him, as he slept on, hand pressed to his face. From this angle, Keith could see some drool sliding down his chin. Keith found himself grinning at the sight as he tried again to speak up and get Shiro’s attention. Once again, his voice completely failed him. Keith blinked, not quite remembering why he was in the hospital. Squeezing Shiro’s hand, he waited with baited breath as Shiro shifted in his seat, muttering something even Keith couldn’t quite catch under his breath. A moment moved on before the man cracked open an eye, yawning softly and rubbing his face, smearing saliva all over pale skin on accident.

“Keith?” Shiro froze when he noticed that Keith was awake. Keith just nodded back weakly, his neck throbbing as he moved it, “You’re awake!”

Keith hummed silently in agreement as he gripped Shiro’s hand once again.

“This is good,” Shiro smiled at him before he pulled out his tablet, setting it on Keith’s lap, “I’m glad you’re okay.”

What happened? Keith typed on the pad quickly with the arm that wasn’t in Shiro’s. The IV connected to it pulled a little, but Keith paid it no mind, Why can’t I talk?

“What do you remember last?” Shiro asked as he stared at the pad as Keith tilted it his way. Keith scrunched his brows in thought. He remembered being with Shiro for most of the morning. He could picture being worried because he hadn’t seen his wolf for hours...he left to find him...something about a shack in the middle of a canyon...pain...his wolf’s howls...green eyes...Shiro being there with the old look...couldn’t breathe-

“Whoa, whoa, Keith,” a gentle hand to his arm jerked him out of his head as he jolted back in fright, breathing hard. His breathing was even raspier than normal, something Keith couldn’t ignore, “It’s okay. You’re at the Garrison’s care unit. You’re with me. Your wolf is okay. You saved him, Keith. See...he’s right here.”

Keith gazed over at the lump of fur at his feet. A pair of golden eyes gazed back at him, a dark blue-pink tongue darting out of his wolf’s mouth, tail wagging. The creature didn't move any closer, but he snuggled into Keith's legs, plopping his head there with a small woof. Keith calmed enough to breathe normally before he glanced back at Shiro with a raised brow.

“You went to find your wolf,” Shiro began as he stared at Keith with a strange look, “You were gone for awhile so the team and I went to find you. You were badly injured, Keith. You can’t talk because you got strangled by the alien who caught you. Apparently, your throat is still inflamed a lot, so for now, you can’t speak.”

Oh...that explained why his throat hurt every time he swallowed or breathed. It also explained why his head felt heavy and why his neck hurt when he moved it.

Why can’t I remember?

“That’s normal,” Shiro answered back with a small frown, “The doctors said it’s from the lack of air. You might have gaps in your memory for awhile. Plus, the pain from everything else didn’t help.”

Everything else? Keith scrunched up his nose in confusion. He remembered pain, but not much else.

“Oh, you...uh…” Shiro froze for a moment, causing Keith’s worry to spike. Was something really wrong with him? Was he paralyzed or something? Keith moved his toes, quickly checking that possibility off the list. Was he severely scarred? “You might want to take a look."

Keith opened his mouth to ask when he remembered he couldn't speak anyway. Closing it, he blinked as his tongue brushed something sharp. Before he could ask, Shiro tapped the tablet, pulling up the holographic screen which showed Keith. He was laying on the bed, pushed up enough to not be laying flat out. He looked a bit sick, skin a little paler than normal and dark marks under his eyes.

That's not what grabbed his attention. No, what got him was two things sticking out of his hair. As he thought it all, one twisted to the side, conveying his confusion and worry. The fur on the ears - that's what they were - was purple like the top of his mom's hair. Little pink strands stuck up out of the catlike ears, just as fluffy. On his right cheek was the scar from the clone, but what used to be his clear left now held a mark not unlike his mother's own. A deep purple stripe sliced up, mimicking the scar.

Frowning, Keith opened his mouth, seeing his teeth. They were sharp like mini knives, two fangs on each side, top and bottom. Gaze falling downward, Keith paled at the deep bruises over his throat, a thin darker line where the rope - no, string - had dug into his flesh. Feeling himself starting to slide into another panic attack, he forced himself to breathe as he inspected himself further.

His skin looked the same peachy human color it had always been. Glancing over his fingers, he noticed that there were claws there. They looked sharp as his teeth must be. Something flicked out of the corner of his eye, so he turned his gaze to a tail that was moving around as if it had a mind of its own. It was the same texture and color as his ears, the same bubblegum pink hairs doting randomly in the furs. Said tail thumped irritatedly onto his thigh.

But...that wasn't all that was new.

Breathing felt different, like he had always been breathing too shallowly before and could now breathe correctly. And his nose twitched at the scents around him as he glanced over at door. His ear perked up, allowing him to hear the soft click of something passing through the hall. His muscles felt exhausted, but stronger somehow. His eyes seemed able to see better than before as he took in the little details he never noticed before on his wolf and Shiro. The cosmic wolf had tiny hairs of navy blue in his coat of glowing blue furs and there were a few different shades of yellow in his eyes. Shiro had a few tiny hairs out of place in his bangs and a tiny patch of dried blood he must have missed on the corner of his jaw.

I turned Galra...

"Yeah," Shiro nodded before he sat on the bed, "Some type of serum was given to you. You...uh…"

Keith tilted his head, one ear moving back and forth. Grey eyes stared at him for a long moment, glassy with tears.

"You died," Shiro spoke with a small wobble in his voice, "You died, Keith. Multiple times."

I'm fine now, Keith typed as he practically pressed the tablet into Shiro’s hands to get his full attention, I feel a bit tired and sore but okay.

“I…” Shiro looked ready to protest, but soon enough, he just stared at Keith’s ear which twitched again. The older changed the subject, and Keith was grateful for that, “Are you controlling your ears?”

He huffed as he crossed his available arm over his arm with the IV, It’s doing it on its own.

“It’s kind of…”

Keith glared at the man who smirked playfully. His tail rolled around, smacking Shiro’s hand a bit harder than Keith thought it could.

“Hey!” He laughed as the tail struck again, “I was going to say cute!”

Keith’s tail whipped him again, softer this time as Keith rolled his eyes. Leave it to Shiro to be thinking this whole situation was cute.

“Can I…” Shiro paused, glancing to the side as his cheeks flushed slightly in...shyness? Fear? Embarrassment? Keith wasn’t sure, “Can I touch them?”

Them? Keith tilted his head even further, even though the muscles pulled on his neck.

“Your ears,” Shiro spoke up like a kid, a big grin on his face as he pressed closer, bright shine in his eyes, “They look cute and like they want some attention.”

Keith blinked. It was kinda weird that Shiro was talking as if his ears were their own entity, but for all Keith knew, they could be. They didn’t seem to want to do what he wanted them to. And something about touching his ears made him feel strange, like he didn’t want that…

But...this was Shiro. His best friend. The guy he loved. As soon as another wave of calming scent hit him, he nodded. Shiro’s hand approached him slowly like he was going to bolt out of his seat at any moment. Honestly, that might not have been such a bad option. As if affected by his inner thoughts, both ears swiveled back, pressing to his head. Something in his expression must have stopped Shiro though.

“I can wait,” Shiro began to pull back, face worried as he stared at him, “I just thought...I don’t want to scare you an-”

Keith grabbed his wrist, surprising the older who gasped softly. Keith brought the man’s hand to his new ears, letting it go when Shiro seemed to get it. Keith concentrated, painstakingly moving his ears up some. They were no longer pressed to his hair, but they weren’t that far up. He growled silently in frustration before practically melting as Shiro ran his thumb up the side of his ear. If he could have made any sounds, he would have probably made a weird sighing noise. Relaxing right there, Keith grinned at the feeling of warmth scratching at his right ear. Before he knew it, his eyes had slipped shut as warmth curled around him.

It felt good.

Much better than when that other person had done it. That had only hurt...Keith would have thought more about it if the feeling didn’t multiply, sending heat to his limbs, turning him to putty. Faintly, he could feel his tail thumping back and forth lazily. Something pressed to his chest, but he ignored it as the feeling continued.

It felt really good.

Keith got lost in it, just feeling the gentle ruffle on his ears. It brushed over his ear tips to the base and even dipping closer to the inside of his ear. That spot was even more sensitive as flames flared in his veins...A good feeling. He was still in his half-hazy bliss when it stopped. The warmth didn’t stop, but it felt like something vital was missing.

Keith practically whined as he opened his eyes. Shiro was staring at him with his mouth agape, not saying a thing. Keith blinked before gazing down at himself. All he could see was Shiro’s prosthetic on his chest and his tail curling around it. Keith tilted his head in confusion.

“Keith...I…” Shiro blinked before he rubbed at Keith’s ear again, another spike of warm going up his spine and to the spot, “You were purring. Oh, Hunk’s gonna want to see it when he finds out.”

Keith was beginning to sink into that haze again when Shiro’s words rang through his mind. He was purring? But he hadn’t heard anything. And how would he have been able to make any noise anyway? His vocal cords were probably swollen.

“Oh, you weren’t making sounds,” Shiro reassured him as Keith gazed over at him, ear chasing after the man’s fingers for more of his touch, “But I could feel the vibrations in my arm.”

Okay…

This couldn't get any more weird. But he didn't have time to think about it as sleep dragged down on him. He quickly reached out his hand, capturing Shiro's in his before bringing the appendage back up to his ears. Shiro chuckled softly, saying something Keith couldn't understand as he drifted off to sleep once again.

…..

The next time Keith wakes up, his mom and the others are around him. The spot where Shiro had been is empty. Each of them looked excited and happy to see him, so he settles down once everyone greets him. He keeps sending peeks over at the empty chair by his right side, and his mom finally notices.

"He went to get some tea and an actual meal," Krolia responds with a smile, eyes knowing, "He'll be back soon."

"Yeah, Keith," Romelle nods from the other side of his bed, something in her hands, "He's been here the whole time you were sleeping. I think it's sweet."

"You think everything is sweet," Lance groaned as he stared at the Altean who raised a brow, "You even brought Keith a get-well card."

"Like you didn't do the same for Allura when you guys were in the hospital," the blonde shot back which Hunk laughed at as they both fist bumped.

"She's got you there, man," Hunk snickered before patting Lance's back, "Besides, it's Earth tradition to bring stuff in when a loved one is hurt. You know that, Lance."

Wait...Keith's brain froze on the 'loved ones' part. Is that how they saw him? Like...family? But...but they weren't even friends? They didn't seem like friends, even now. Keith remembered saying that in space and now, he still saw it that way. Before he was aware of it, something touched his cheek, making him snap his head up.

“What’s wrong?”

Keith blinked, suddenly noticing the wetness streaking down his cheeks. Brushing a hand over his eyes, he reached out for the tablet sitting nearby, knowing that was the only way he was going to be able to talk to them all. Fumbling with the device, he typed his message quickly before turning it to them. As they read it, he wiped his eyes again.

Sorry. It’s just...are we friends? Family? Hunk said about bringing gifts to people in the hospital but I don’t get what we all are?

“Oh, Keith,” Hunk frowned before his brown eyes slid to Keith’s, “Man, we really messed up, huh?”

Keith frowned, brows pinched down as he stared at the rest before shaking his head. They hadn’t messed anything up. Why would Hunk say that? Pidge seemed to agree with Hunk because a second later, she gave him a hard stare.

“We really did,” she spoke up as she kept her golden eyes on him, “We’ve never told you what you mean to us.”

“Yeah,” Hunk nodded as he scooted a bit closer to Keith, now by his left side, “You’re our family. We all fit somewhere in this weird group, even you.”

Keith tilted his head before typing on the tablet.

But what is a family? Keith scrunched his brows down, poking out his tongue in deep thought, making sure not to bite it off on accident, I've never really had one, you know?

"Wait, what?" Lance asked as the other paladins all shared glances, "You had to have one."

Not since my dad died, Keith shrugged nonchalantly, ignoring the burning pain in his chest at the memories of the older man he hadn't seen since he was a little kid, And now I have a mom. And Shiro. He's always been there for me whenever I needed him. But...I don't know anything about families...

"Then we will teach you," Allura smiled at him softly before bumping against his foot, "Trust me, Keith. I am learning about families too. I thought...I thought when we returned to Earth, I would have no one."

Her confession is quiet and shaky, something she must have been feeling for a while now and had not said yet.

"You had your own families to go back to. I was worried I'd be alone, a princess who no longer had anyone to lead and a family long gone," she blinked away tears that Keith could smell from feet away, "But I've seen that isn't true. You guys are my new family, and I'm happy about that. Coran, included."

"Yeah, Keith," Pidge grinned before wiping her face, "There's no one else we'd rather be stuck with in this huge ass war. Matt too, you know. We all care about you."

I'm starting to see that, Keith nodded before wincing, sore neck twinging, Thanks, guys.

“Of course, man,” Hunk snuffled before grinning happily, tears in his eyes, “I wanna hug. Do you wanna hug?”

Sure, big guy, Keith grinned at the slightly younger man by his side, Just careful of my neck.

And then everyone was hugging him. Keith snickered lowly, enjoying the warmth around him as the others bent over each other to hug him. Hunk was smushed to his side, Pidge closer to his head along with Allura, Lance just beyond her shoulder, Romelle was hugging his other side as her blonde hair tickled his nose, and his mom’s hand brushed through his hair. He grinned as the moment lasted for a bit, something he honestly wished he got more of.

“Hey, gu-” A voice interrupted them as they pulled out of their hug, giving Keith enough room to see Shiro standing by the doorway, sheepish look on his face as he shrugged. Keith’s wolf was beside him as he held a tray filled with small cups. Keith could smell the scent of something unknown within them along with the scent he loved from Shiro himself, “Am I interrupting something? What’s going on?”

“Group hug,” Hunk answered back as the rest moved away from him. Shiro raised a brow before his eyes softened, sliding from the others to Keith’s own. Said man settled into his bed with a tiny grin on his lips. Shiro strolled up to each person in the room, handing them each a tiny cup before coming to the chair next to Keith. He held a larger cup out to Keith, one that smelled really good.

“I thought I’d bring some drinks,” he grinned as the scar pulled on his skin, hair falling perfectly onto his forehead as he nodded to Keith’s cup that the younger was holding now, gentle steam flowing into the air. The sweet scent only spread more, “I even slipped in some honey into yours because of your sore throat. I know it’s going to be hard to swallow anything right now.”

Keith felt warmth flow through his chest at the statement. A slight vibration zapped through his chest before he took a tiny sip. It burned on the way down even though it was only lukewarm, making him wince deeply. He could see the concerned looks the others shot him at his reaction but he only shook his head before taking another sip.

“Did you make these?” One of the others asked curiously with guarded expressions. Keith peeked up from his drink, half ready to jump up and defend Shiro if he had made them. It was tasty, there was just something wrong with them.

“Yeah,” Shiro grinned sheepishly while rubbing his undercut with his mechanical arm, “I should have made them better, but I didn’t want to be away too long.”

“Oh, you wanted to get back to your boyfri-” Lance began to say when he yelped, rubbing his ribs, “Ow! What the fuck, Pidge?”

“They aren’t that, Lance,” she rolled her eyes before glancing at them with wide eyes, “You aren’t, right? I mean, I don’t want to assume, and we’ve been together as a team for long that it would be hard to miss it but maybe we did and-”

“Pidge,” Romelle pressed her hands together before making a strange motion, “Breathe.”

“Sorry.”

“No, it’s okay,” Shiro stated back before his face seemed to drop slightly, tone a bit sad in a way Keith didn’t understand, “We’re not.”

What was Shiro talking about? What were they? What? Who...why was Shiro sad about this? Keith didn’t doubt that it had something to do with his missing memories...A shiver ran down his spine as a flash of pain raced over him. Voices rushed through his head as he stiffened.

"I'm going to get you out of here," Shiro’s smile was soft as Keith nodded weakly, head feeling too heavy on his shoulders and legs weak as the alien held him tightly, "You're gonna be okay."

"I wouldn't make such promises so quickly," she hissed at them as Keith felt the syringe being poked into his neck, making him flinch, "Try anything, and I jab this into his throat. He'll die within minutes."

Shiro didn’t move at all, eyes wide with fear. Keith hated that look with all of his being.

"So this is the one who you hang out with so much," she frowned as she gazed between them, "I can see why you're so attracted to him. He's hot...someone even I would let have his way with me."

Gasping silently as the flashback ended, Keith frowned as he felt hands brushing over his hair. It was grounding him, reminding him that he was with the rest of his friends back here at the hospital. It took a bit, but by the time he was aware, Shiro was rubbing his hands through Keith’s hair, brushing over his ears.

“It’s okay,” he spoke softly before Keith relaxed into the blankets behind him, “You’re safe.”

Keith nodded before reaching out for the tablet.

Flashback, I think.

“Keith, Paladin of Voltron?” Another voice called all of their attention up to the doorway. There stood three people. Two were human doctors and one a Blade member. Keith didn’t want to do this now, but he also wanted answers. Nodding tiredly, he watched as the three padded into the room, door closing behind them.