Chapter 1: prologue
hello! IT'S HERE. BUT NOT YET HERE. KINDA HERE!
this is just a little prologue - a moment of domestic bliss before we get things started.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Keith is having a busy afternoon.
Above the usual noise of various activity in the garage, he hears Mr. Garrett talking to a customer while they usher a vehicle inside. It's got a loud and sputtering engine, which catches his attention. From the list of problems Keith could hear, probably a hoverbike. Whatever it was, his boss assures the customer that they'd have it looked over and diagnosed by the next day.
Keith already has a list of things that could be wrong with it, just from the sound of that engine, but Mr. Garrett calls over one of the other mechanics instead.
Okay, so not his job, then. Keith refocuses. That's good. Very good, because currently, he is elbow-deep in the engine of his fifth vehicle for the day, with three more on his plate.
There are usually more than enough hands in the repair shop. That day, however, one mechanic had called in sick, and then a priority job came in that required most of the hands on deck.
Today is supposed to be Keith's day off. He should be doing laundry, and taking Kosmo out to the park. He'd been planning to send Shiro pictures of Kosmo charming the braver neighborhood kids for pets and treats, but Mr. Garrett had called, and Keith could hardly refuse the man when he asked so desperately.
It's fine, Keith thinks. He likes the work. Mr. Garrett is a good boss, and he offered Keith two extra days off. It's fair.
For now, he wipes sweat and dirt off his face with the towel draped over his shoulder, and goes back to work.
Keith looks up and around, eyes finding another mechanic, who is perched on the hood of a truck, waving a wrench at him. She uses it to point at the messy table behind him.
"That your data-pad ringing? It's been at it for a while."
Keith whirls around and yes, that is his data-pad, loud and noisy, just about to vibrate itself off the edge of the table. He wipes his hands in his coveralls as he rushes to answer it, but he freezes when he sees the display.
It's a call, audio-only, from the Galaxy Garrison.
Keith had cut ties with the Garrison, four years ago.
During those four years, they called him once-
No. That's over now.
The Garrison has no reason to call him again, except that-
He is Shiro's emergency contact.
Keith all but breaks into the Garrison premises in his hoverbike. He would, if he had to, but the guards allow him in quickly. They know who he is, and in turn Keith still knows his way around the familiar halls. He doesn't need a guide as he rushes towards the medical wing.
He brushes past the terrified junior officer supposed to usher him as soon as he gets the room assignment, and he doesn't stop until he's outside the right door.
He braces himself for whatever's waiting for him, but before he could take another step, the door slides open and he comes face to face with a familiar gray uniform, and a familiar frowning face.
"Commander." Keith says, hating the fact that he just reflexively stood straighter.
"Ca-... Kogane." Iverson replies. He looks tired, and then ruffled - by Keith's presence or the situation, Keith doesn't know. The man just shrugs and steps aside. "We called. You don't have to run off with him this time."
Keith scowls, but says nothing as he walks past his former commanding officer and into the room.
Shiro is sitting on the bed, looking exhausted as he leans his back against a tall stack of pillows. He's sporting cuts and bruises, with bandages wrapped around his forehead. No oxygen support, but he is hooked up to an IV. His prosthetic arm is missing. His eyes light up when he sees Keith.
Keith lets out a relieved sigh. His best friend is alive, awake. "Shiro."
"Hey, Keith." Shiro says, voice rough but still full of affection, like it always does, for Keith. He raises his arm, then Keith is crossing the room and sitting on the edge of the bed, clinging to him, nose buried in his neck.
Shiro smells like antiseptic and Shiro - warmth, comfort, love, home. Keith lets out a tired groan, melting against his best friend. "What the fuck , Shiro." he says, with feeling.
Despite his injuries, Shiro sighs against the comforting weight and only laughs tiredly. Clumsy fingers thread through Keith's hair, which has mostly escaped its messy braid. "I'm okay, Keith. I'm sorry for worrying you."
"No." Keith snaps, drawing back so he could look at Shiro properly. "No. I mean, what the fuck, Shiro? What happened?! You told me this was a simple job! You were just there to supervise junior officers who were escorting a delivery. Of food supplies! For some... some fancy party or whatever! Nothing remotely dangerous, so why are you-"
He stops when Shiro's thumb swipes at something in his cheek. "Did you have to leave work?"
"Don't change the subject." Keith cuts him off, fighting a blush at their close proximity.
Yes, Keith was lucky that Mr. Garrett let him go when he said that he had a very urgent family emergency. Yes, he probably still smells of sweat and gasoline. But he also knows when Shiro is deflecting.
"Why is it that whenever you leave for months on end, you end up-"
"Abducted?" Shiro grins.
"Hurt!" Keith ignores his morbid humor in an effort to keep track. "Wait- were you abducted again-"
Shiro sees the growing horror on his best friend's face and he quickly tries to undo the damage. "No! No, Keith. I-... There was just- An incident. Okay?"
"What incident?" Keith frowns. "You were just delivering food supplies- Was it pirates? That route was supposed to be safe-"
"Not pirates. The route was safe. We got to Corudeen safely, we were able to deliver the goods in time, but... there was an incident... It's... I'm sorry, Keith. It's confidential."
Keith stares at him for a long moment before saying, "Are you kidding me?" then, before Shiro could answer, he continues, "Shiro. Are you actually pulling that bullshit with me?"
Keith stands up and takes a step back. Before Shiro could reach for his hand, he crosses his arms across his chest.
Shiro takes a deep breath. He looks at Keith, imploring. "You know how these things work."
Keith just stares back, stubborn. The Galaxy Garrison is not a government organization, it’s a private military company - but sometimes he really couldn’t tell the difference with all the red tape going on. And after everything, he’s done with all that.
Shiro tries again, sounding more exhausted this time. "I promise, I would tell you if I could."
Keith falters. "Do you mean-?"
"Keith." Shiro calls again, even softer. He reaches out. "Please."
That breaks Keith, easily. He takes Shiro's hand and lets himself be pulled close again. He doesn't sit yet, but he wraps his arms around Shiro's shoulders. "You don't know what happened to you." he says in a whisper. "And they won't tell you?"
Shiro shakes his head. "They said they're still trying to sort out all the details. All I know is that the delivery was successful. We were even invited to the event- I even managed to talk to you before going, right?"
"We were on our way back. I told you that, the contract was to escort the suppliers back to their home planet after... When we landed, it was… it was chaos in the capital. There were riots. People were fighting each other. There were fighter ships attacking. It's like... like a war zone."
"What? On Puig? That's a peaceful planet, and it's just a quadrant away- Why didn't we hear about this? This should have been on the news or something-"
Shiro shakes his head again, and this time he does lean into Keith's chest. "The thing that scares me, though... is that I don’t remember much else. First, me and my team tried to fight off the ships attacking the civilians. Then... it's all just a blur. The next thing I know, I was here. Iverson asked me questions. I told him what I remember. I asked about my team, and all he said was that all of us were injured but one of us managed to contact Garrison and they sent reinforcements to bring us back. They won't tell me what really happened on Puig."
Keith holds him tighter. "Okay." he says, more to himself. "Okay. I'm sorry for snapping. I just... I freaked out a bit. The last time this happened, it was..."
"Kerberos." Shiro finishes for him. "It's okay. You were worried."
Keith tries to compose himself, for the both of them. They rarely ever talk about Kerberos. For Keith, it was 'Pilot Error' and a year-long nightmare without his best friend. For Shiro... well, he only ever opened up about that year in his lowest moments: after nightmares and during panic attacks. It's been more than a year since then. They've both started to heal, slowly. Until this - until now - the second time in Shiro's career that he's coming back injured from what was a long but supposedly simple job.
"It's good to have you back." Keith says, voice breaking.
"It's good to be back." then he leans back to look at Keith, smiling. "Hey. I have to stay here for another day. You know how it goes, tests and... debrief. After that, Iverson told me they'll allow me to recover at home. I'll be home tomorrow, okay?"
"Okay." Keith nods. He tries to smile. "Kosmo will be happy to see you."
Shiro grins. "Is the barbeque still on? You promised."
Keith rolls his eyes. "Yes. Okay. You're getting barbeque when you get home."
"With your dad's sauce recipe?"
"That's what I promised."
"Yes!" Shiro cheers, fist pumping. "I'm so glad I didn't die!"
Keith scowls. "Shiro!"
"I'm kidding!" he laughs, and when Keith tries to turn away from him, he wraps his arm around the other to keep him close, still grinning that mischievous, shit-eating grin that always makes Keith grin right back. "Hey, no, no, Keith... Keiiiith... Don't go! What did Iverson tell you when he left? I didn't hear."
Keith huffs, but lets himself be cuddled. "He said not to break you out this time."
Shiro snorts, eyes twinkling in fond amusement. "Good times, right?"
Keith can’t look at him, smiling like that, but he risks a glance. "You planning to let me go anytime soon?"
"Do you want me to?"
He shrugs. "Just asking so I know if I should sit down or not."
Shiro scoots in the bed, making more space for Keith. "C'mere."
Keith sits himself on the bed beside him and snuggles against his side. If Shiro is uncomfortable with the weight in his injured state, he doesn't show it and only pulls him close.
Like this, if Keith could forget the hospital and the IV in Shiro's arm, it's just like normal nights in their flat, Shiro relaxing after a long day of training cadets, Keith winding down from his day in the garage. He wishes Kosmo was there too, but maybe that's asking too much.
He shifts his head slightly and notices Shiro's empty sleeve again. "Your arm... do you know what happened to it?"
"Badly damaged when I got here. They said it was beyond repair, so they just had it removed."
"I can… I can get your spare from home, if you want."
Shiro shakes his head. "It can wait. I just... want to get home as soon as I can, wear comfortable clothes, cuddle Kosmo, and eat your cooking again."
"Right. Then I really have to finish laundry because I might have worn your comfiest hoodie this week. The orange and white one?"
Shiro chuckles. "Forgiven." Then he frowns. "Were you nesting? You don't always do that. Are you okay?"
Keith bites his lip. Shiro knows him too well. Keith is half-Galran, and while he's never been raised in the culture, he still has some instincts ingrained in him. And Shiro knows about them.
"Don't worry about it." Keith assures him. "It was just a couple of off-days. I had Kosmo and I called Pops. I'm okay now."
"Is it someone from work?"
"No. Work’s good. Just… someone at the grocery store gave me shit for being half-Galra. The usual." Keith shrugs. When Shiro lets out a frustrated huff, he smiles. "I told you. I'm okay now. You're the one in the medical wing, old-timer."
"Hey, ouch.” Shiro whines, pouting. “I’m injured. Be nicer to me.”
Keith makes a non-committal sound as he feels Shiro lean his head on his shoulder. He can’t help but smile. “You’re injured. You should go rest. I’ll stay until you’re asleep. How ‘bout it, you big baby?”
“M’kay.” Shiro smothers a yawn against his shoulder. “Yer’an angel.”
He dozes off like that, in a weird position, fingers still loosely tangled in Keith’s hair. Keith eases him down on the bed and tucks him snugly under the covers. He sits by the bedside for a while, stroking Shiro’s hair before his hand moves to cup the other man’s cheek. Shiro feels warm, his breathing is steady. Keith sighs. This is too familiar. He’d been here before.
But Shiro is home. Shiro is alive - that’s what matters. Shiro promised he’ll come back, and he did. That’s enough.
Keith wipes the tears siding his eyes and shakes his head. He’s fine. He’s had a bit of a scare, that’s all. For now, he has things to do. He should go home and… do laundry. Prepare that barbeque sauce. Yes. That’s what he’ll do.
Keith finally gathers himself, and after a moment of hesitation, he leans down and presses a kiss to Shiro’s forehead. “You’ll be the death of me, Shirogane.”
With a last lingering look, he turns around and leaves.
Keith always does good on his word.
“Mmmm.” Shiro moans, almost sobs, and makes sure to chew thoroughly before he swallows. He also licks his fingers, for emphasis. Then he says, to the room in general, “Keith, please, please marry me.”
Across the table filled with sumptuous warm home-cooked food, Keith snorts as he lays down a plate of steak for a very excited Kosmo. “I already cook for you everyday, what else do you want from me, Shirogane?”
“It’s so good...” Shiro whines, popping another slice of saucy meat in his mouth. His eyes widen when Keith walks over and places more barbecue on his plate. “Oh! My love…!”
“Careful, the mac ‘n cheese will get jealous.” Keith sniggers, ruffling his hair before he goes to the fridge to fetch some drinks.
Shiro gasps. “There’s mac ‘n cheese?!”
“Tomorrow.” he answers with a grin, placing a tall glass of water beside Shiro’s plate. “For breakfast.”
“Keith!!!” - Shiro screeches, without any sort of attempt at dignity whatsoever - “What’s your ring size?!”
Keith chuckles, shaking his head as he picks up Shiro’s napkin and wipes sauce off the side of his lips. “Nope. I mean, look at you. I don’t wanna marry a messy eater.”
“I’m only messy because I have just one arm. Will you marry me if I get a new one and wipe my own face?”
“Still no. You’re still messy even with two arms.” Keith huffs.
That’s when Kosmo trots up to them, carrying his plate, empty and licked clean. Keith’s jaw drops. “Already?”
Shiro sniggers, nodding approvingly at the wolf’s plate. “Mood.”
Keith shoves him and just takes the plate to fill it again. “Fine. Just for tonight, because Shiro’s back.”
Kosmo yips happily, laying his head on Shiro’s lap as he waits.
When they’ve all had their fill, Keith’s data-pad chimes and he picks it up. “Hey, Shiro, Pops wants to talk to you.”
“Really?” Shiro blinks.
“Here.” Keith taps the call button for his dad and then hands over the data-pad to his best friend and housemate. “Tell him you’re alive and well so he’ll stop bugging me about it.”
Shiro accepts it awkwardly. “Okay. Um. How do I look? Sauce on my face? Is my hair okay?”
“You look fine for someone who just got discharged from the hospital.” Keith assures him. “And you hair is not okay, it’s not going to be okay until the bandages come off. You just have to live with that.”
Shiro grumbles, but then the holo-call comes through and he sits up straight and smiles his parent-winning smile when he sees Keith’s father’s face. “Hello, good evening, Mr. Kogane!”
To the side, Keith watches his father grin widely at Shiro, even though his brows were furrowed in concern. “Shiro! Well, you look like hell, son. Keith told me what happened. How are you?”
“I’m doing much better, sir. I feel sore, mostly, but I swear Keith’s cooking healed half of my injuries.”
“Just half?” Tex clicks his tongue. “He’s losing touch.”
“He held out on the mac ‘n cheese…” Shiro fake sniffs.
“Keith, I know you’re in there, give the man his mac ‘n cheese.”
Keith rolls his eyes and pops his head beside Shiro’s in the call. “He’s getting too spoiled, Pops. Don’t encourage him.”
While Tex and Shiro are talking, Keith starts cleaning up the table. He feels much better today. It feels like Shiro had never left, like it’s just another dinner, with Tex calling to check up on them afterwards. He hears them laughing, and when looks over, he sees that Shiro is now pointing the data-pad on Kosmo, drooling and kicking in his sleep.
The call ends just as Keith is starting to wash the dishes. Shiro asks him if it’s okay to check the news on his data-pad and he agrees absentmindedly.
Not long afterwards, he hears Shiro whisper, “Oh, God.”
Keith turns to ask what’s the matter, but Shiro has already brought up a projection of a news report. He reads the headline first and freezes.
‘285 DEAD, OVER 3000 INJURED IN CONCERT RIOT’
Keith rinses his hands and dries them as he stands beside Shiro’s chair. They watch the broadcast in silence.
“-witnesses stated that the fights started outside the venue, before the concert audience also turned against each other and started getting violent for no apparent reason inside the open air stadium that has a capacity of about fifty thousand. The riot lasted for several minutes only, but damages were still severe due to the sheer number of people involved. Later accounts seem to indicate that most concert-goers were said to have a lapse in memory and have all claimed to not know what happened, nor what they had done-”
There is footage of a large sea of various species of concert-goers fighting - nobody had weapons, but they all punched, bit, kicked… Beside the footage is a photo of a famous idol-
“Renowned inter-galaxy pop star Allura Altea was able to safely leave the premises, thanks to her security unit. Neither she nor her representatives could be reached for comments at the moment.”
“All those people…” Shiro whispers. Keith reaches out to lay a hand on his shoulder, both to comfort his friend and to ground himself.
“The local officials have yet to issue an official statement. However, accounts from eyewitnesses and found footage of a group of spacecraft of unknown origin hovering over the city proper during the event are sparking theories that this may be a targeted attack.”
“Wait.” Shiro blinks, hurrying to pause the feed. He swipes at the display to zoom in at the footage. “Those… those were the same ships were tried to fight off in Puig.”
Keith’s hand on his shoulder tightens. “Shiro… are you sure?”
Shiro stares at the ship for a long moment. “Yes.”
Keith feels weak. “Those are Galra.”
“What?” Shiro turns to look at him. Keith’s eyes doesn’t leave the ship, and this time it’s Shiro’s turn to ask, “Are you sure?”
Keith’s chuckle is low, bitter. “Want me to name the model? Give you the specs? Because I can. I’ve been in one of them.”
“Before you ask - no. It’s not a Blade ship.”
Across the room, on the working table, Shiro’s data-pad rings. Keith walks over to get it, and he’s not surprised to find that it’s a call from the Garrison. He hands it to Shiro, who looks reluctant to leave the room to answer it. Keith gives him a small smile and nods. “Go.”
Shiro leaves the room. Keith closes the broadcast. After regaining himself, he goes back to washing the dishes.
When Shiro comes back, he stands beside Keith and wordlessly runs his fingers through Keith’s long hair, keeping it out of his eyes.
Keith doesn’t look up from his task. “When are you going back to work?”
Shiro sighs. “Tomorrow.”
Keith turns to him sharply. “But you just- You’ve barely recovered!”
“It’s just a meeting, Keith. A few hours. Three, four hours at most. They just need me for a meeting, and I’m going back home. Then I can work from here afterwards.”
That calms him down slightly. “Okay.” When he finally looks at Shiro, he attempts a smile. “What time? Do I have to pack the mac ‘n cheese or not?”
Shiro looks back at him, eyes wide, then softening fondly. He leans down and bumps his head against the shorter man’s. “Are you sure I can’t get you to marry me?”
His answer comes in the form of water and soap suds to his face, and after some indignant spluttering, he sticks his hand under the faucet and flicks water back at Keith.
They wake Kosmo up with their laughter as they run around the kitchen, throwing water and suds at each other. For a minute, the wolf watches them with lazy eyes, then simply huffs and goes back to sleep.
It would be a long while before they have a normal night like this again.
chapter 1 next week - shiro goes back to work, and we find out what's really happening around here.
Chapter 2: hear the universe
More riots break out in different planets. Casualties rise and the Coalition comes up with a plan of action. Meanwhile, Keith has to make a decision.
omg guys thank u all for the love, even with just a prologue. i cry.
anyways! here's where we really start!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
The news channels on Earth and across the galaxy are all abuzz with new information and activity. It has been five days since the first reports of the incident in Tarvos 5 - a sudden riot breaking out for unknown reasons during the concert of a beloved and popular inter-galactic popstar, resulting in thousands of casualties with hundreds dead. Since then, the headlines have only gotten worse.
Keith stops working when he notices his fellow mechanics crowding around someone's data-pad, listening to a news coverage. He doesn't join them, able to hear just fine from across the garage.
It’s about yet another tragic incident of the same nature: a harmless planet, a riot, citizens getting violent and turning on each other, then snapping out of their stupor after a few minutes, but the damage had been done - people severely injured, lives lost.
"Again?" Keith looks over to see one of his coworkers leaning against the side of the car that Keith is working on. "This is the fourth one, isn't it?"
"Fifth." Keith says. "Before the concert, there was also one in Puig’s capital."
"Really? Shit." the guy shakes his head, all four arms folded across his chest. From what Keith can remember, he's part-Unilu. "This is insane."
'In line with these disturbing events, we have received an official statement from Galactic Coalition Leader and Diplomat, Alfor Altea. It is as follows-
'We extend our sympathies to the victims of these tragedies. The Coalition has engaged the proper agencies to investigate the cause of these incidents and formulate plans to safeguard our allied planets. For now, our humanitarian relief operations have gone to the affected planets to provide medical aid to the victims. We would like to thank the enormous number of volunteers offering their help and services in this time.
'We are aware of the growing unrest this is causing, but we urge the public to remain calm. In case you witness anything suspicious, or have further information, please reach out to your local Galactic Coalition headquarters or representative. We will hold a press conference as soon as possible to announce our next steps.'
"Your boyfriend, he works for those guys, don't he?"
Keith starts to correct his coworker, but decides to just answer the question. "Not exactly. Shiro works for the Garrison. It's a private company. They just do a lot of jobs for the Coalition."
"Hm." a nod. "What do you think they're gonna do about this? They can't even tell us what's causin' all of it."
Keith shakes his head, turning back to his work.
"They better do it fast. People are dyin', and it's happening in different planets. Who knows where it's gonna strike next? What're we gonna do if it happens here? Geez, and I moved to this quadrant because it's far enough from Daibazaal..."
Keith stays silent as his coworker walks away.
Shiro has been working at home over the past few days. That's not new. Sometimes when he's feeling under the weather, he can opt to stay at home, grade papers and go through simulator scenarios and training plans in his home office.
But these days, Shiro is quiet. He has been quiet when he left the morning after hearing the Tarvos 5 news, and when Keith had gotten home from work, he was already deep into documents and reports from the Garrison. Keith doesn't know exactly what he's working on, but he knows it's Garrison confidential, and that Shiro is focused on it.
That day, it had taken Keith sneaking into the room and laying a cup of coffee and a plate of dinner in Shiro's table for Shiro to notice that Keith was already home. The other day, Keith had to glare for five full minutes until Shiro conceded to take a break. On another, Shiro forgot to eat the lunch Keith left for him, and Keith had to re-heat the meal and sit across the table to make sure Shiro ate it for dinner.
Yesterday, Keith had to drag Shiro to bed when he fell asleep on his desk.
Keith doesn't know what he'll do tonight if he comes home to his housemate still being a work zombie. He's running out of plans.
Maybe he'll sit on the table and say he's sad. That always works. Shiro usually scoops him up right away and cuddles him. Keith hates the idea of using Shiro's concern for him like that, but if it'll get Shiro to slow down, then he'll just have to bear it.
Yeah. That would work. If it doesn't, he'll make Kosmo sit on the table. That would definitely work.
Keith stops by a grocery store and picks up some ingredients for dinner. Then, he heads home.
When he gets there, the lights are on. An improvement from the day before, when Shiro forgot to switch them on. Shiro's office door is open, as usual, and he's still working, like he has been the past few days. Only this time, there's music blaring loudly from the room, and it's not one of Shiro's favorite songs from his grandfather's old records.
Kosmo trots up to Keith and Keith gives the wolf a few head scratches before he couldn't help it anymore and he peeks into Shiro's office.
To his surprise, Shiro actually hears him come in and smiles at him, albeit tiredly. "Keith! Welcome home!"
"Uh. Yeah." Keith blinks. Shiro reaches a hand out, so he steps inside the room. The instant he takes it, Shiro swings their linked hands to the beat of the pop dance song playing in the background, and when Keith starts to laugh, Shiro leads him to a turn. "Oh! We're. Dancing?"
"Yep!" Shiro laughs with him.
"Okay- oof." he stumbles into his best friend's chest. He looks up at Shiro, who is grinning at him. "Uh... how many cups of coffee did you drink?"
"I don't know. Two? Twenty? I'm feeling better, though." Shiro says, now swaying them as if slow dancing, which is very much not what the song he's playing is for. He eyes the bag of groceries that Keith is still carrying. "Are you gonna cook dinner? Oh, God. I'm sorry I've been useless this week. How about you save those for tomorrow, and I'll just order food tonight?"
"It's fine, Shiro. I don't mind cooking."
"But you're tired from work." Shiro frowns, then smiles sheepishly. "Also, I want pizza."
Keith rolls his eyes. "Okay. It's your money." Then the song changes, and it's... another pop song. "You're listening to Allura?"
Shiro nods. "Yes. Sam sent me a playlist.”
“Yes. For some reason. It’s weird, but nice. The songs are very good and god, they're catchy. How have I not listened to her before?"
"Because you're a workaholic old man. Even I know her songs."
"They play her all the time at work. In the mall. The grocery store. And the train. Basically everywhere."
"I only know her from her movies."
"Hm. Yes, she's a good performer." Keith says, leaning forward to rest his head on Shiro's shoulder as Shiro continues to sway them slowly. They're definitely not dancing to the beat, but he doesn't mind. He breathes in Shiro's comforting, familiar scent. "I hope she's okay. After what happened. I can't imagine how she must be feeling, all those people who supported her and came to see her show, and they got hurt, and..."
"I know." Shiro says softly, stroking his hair. After a momentary pause, he speaks again. "Hey, Keith? I want to talk to you about something."
Keith looks up. "What is it?"
Shiro takes a deep breath and smiles. "Later? When we've had dinner?"
Violet eyes narrow at him. "What's this about that you need to butter me up with pizza first?"
"Later. I promise."
"Fine." Keith concedes, only because he's tired, and he's just happy that Shiro is not a zombie anymore. He steps back. "I smell like a car engine. I'll go take a shower. And I want cheesy breadsticks."
"Cheesy breadsticks, got it." Shiro salutes, and lets him go.
Keith leaves him, nodding and humming along to the music.
"You’re asking me to what ?!"
Shiro offers him another box of breadsticks, as if that will shift his mood.
It works for a moment, because Keith is hungry. But after he takes one, he returns to scowling. "No. Shiro, I can't-... I can't go back there. Even if I want to. I was dismissed, remember? There's no way they'd let me back in."
Shiro sends him a look. "Hundreds of people are dead, Keith. I think the Garrison can overlook that one time you punched Iverson."
Keith only nibbles at the breadstick.
"Look, Keith… Investigations are slow, but we have additional footage of those spacecraft, and if they are Galra, like you say, we need all the information we can get. Plus, to be honest... I need your insight... and your help, in general. The Garrison's not that big, many teams are stil out on jobs, and Sanda is running the whole place down the ground because we're scrambling to catch up to what the client wants us to work on."
Keith leans back against Kosmo and looks up at the ceiling. "So the Garrison's really been hired by the Coalition, then? Do they know what's been causing the riots?"
"Not... exactly..." Shiro hedges.
"What does that mean?"
"Coalition researchers - well, Sam and his team - have good reason to think the events are caused by corrupted quintessence. And we all know who's been working on quintessence during these past few years."
"Fucking Zarkon." Keith grumbles, biting on a slice of pizza with feeling. "What is the Coalition doing about it?"
"The Coalition doesn't move against other planets, even the ones that are are not part of it. Besides, even if they did, the situation in Daibazaal is… volatile."
" Volatile ." Keith huffs. He takes a long breath before continuing. "You mean, the fact that Zarkon's been hoarding quintessence for almost a century doing god-knows-what experiments on my mom's home planet and everyone knows it but no one can stop him because those experiments have been turning Daibazaal into a ticking quintessence bomb for all we know and he's basically taken his own people hostage in case someone tries to interfere?"
Shiro cringes - he knows how delicate that topic is, for Keith and other part-Galra - but he nods, trying to be as honest as he can. "Yes, Keith. Exactly that. We can't attack Daibazaal. No one can, not without risking the innocent people in it."
"So..." Keith sighs, resigned. Being reminded of his mother’s home planet had instantly brought his mood down. "What's the job? The Coalition only hires for security and outreach..."
"Well… the plan is... we interfere with the attacks."
"If we had more information on those Galra spacecraft, tracing them would be possible. If we can trace them, we can follow them and stop them before they get to another planet. Sam's team is also working on a solution to the corrupt quintessence, which they’re theorizing is the root cause. There's a possibility we can... neutralize the effects. I don’t have all the details yet, but we’ll be going over them in the next meeting."
Keith considers this as he chews on his food. Shiro lets him think about it, knowing that this is a big deal for Keith. Keith still holds a grudge against the Garrison - how he stormed out and was then dismissed after the Kerberos mission failure was no secret from anyone in the company. He only came back when Shiro did, and that was to break Shiro out when he found out that the Garrison was red taping his best friend's return. Even though Iverson eventually convinced Shiro to come back and work on training junior officers and cadets, Keith had turned his back on the company and picked up odd jobs instead.
Keith picks at another slice of pizza. "We'll be working with Sam Holt?"
Keith likes Sam Holt. Keith is friends with the man’s son, Matt Holt. Shiro had always kept in touch with them even when they moved on to work for the Coalition instead of the Garrison, treating them like family. By extension, Keith had also been invited to some of their family dinners.
"Yes. We're… um, outsourcing… some people for this job. The Coalition is being very generous, offering us their resources."
Shiro chews on his lip. "Yes…?"
"You're breaking your NDA, telling me all this."
Shiro grins. "Not if you're also signing said NDA."
Keith gives him a very, very exasperated look.
Shiro smiles innocently and tries to feed him another breadstick.
"I'm not apologizing to Iverson." is all Keith says, and he bites the breadstick.
"Nobody's expecting you to." Shiro replies, looking very relieved. He tries to feed Keith pizza too, but Keith rolls his eyes and just takes the slice from him.
Keith starts to think about how to tell Mr. Garrett. Dammit. The things he does for Shiro.
"Oh, by the way, just to clear it up," Shiro starts, mouth partly stuffed full of pizza. "The Coalition is not the client. They can't get involved past providing security and medical aid, remember?"
Keith blinks. "So… who's the client, then?"
"I don't know."
"You don't know?"
"Sanda won't tell."
Keith's brows furrow, his eyes taking a glint that Shiro recognizes well.
Shiro looks at him pointedly. "Keith. I know that look."
"What look?" he asks, eyes now wide and innocent.
Shiro almost buckles, but as much as he wants to enable his best friend, he knows at least one of them should keep it together. "Your I-Trained-With-The-Blade-of-Marmora-On-The-Art-Of-Espionage look. Don't. We'll be meeting the client soon, anyway."
Keith looks disappointed, but he shrugs. "Fine. Do I have to wear the ugly orange uniform?"
Shiro frowns. "No, but… why do you think it's ugly? You look good in it… Remember the hat? That hat was so cute… You were baby..."
"And for that exact reason, I burned it."
"I'm kidding. It's with dad. Still not wearing it."
Iverson is clearly not happy.
But he takes one look at Keith, arms crossed, stubborn, and then at Shiro, smiling innocently, also stubborn but in a different and more challenging way, and he sighs.
“What the hell, we’re short-handed anyway. You-” he looks at Keith. “-are dropping by the security office so they can give you a temporary ID and can grant you the proper permissions before you go home later. And you-” he turns to Shiro. “If Sanda asks, you’re explaining.”
Keith nods. “Noted.”
Shiro beams. “Yes, sir.”
Iverson just turns to lead them down the hall. “You outrank me now, Shirogane, don’t ‘sir’ me.”
“Very funny.” the older man grumbles.
Keith leans over to whisper, “You outrank him?”
“I think?” Shiro whispers back, shrugging. “Only within the ship, though.”
“What ship? There’s a ship?”
But then they arrive in a small conference room, where Sam and Matt Holt are already waiting for them.
"Hey, it's my two favorite pilots!" Matt exclaims, hugging them both at the same time. "Kogane, you're still alive!"
Keith snorts as he hugs back. "Hi, Matt.”
Matt grins when he lets go. “How did Shiro convince you to go back?”
“Pizza and breadsticks.”
"It's good to see you both." Sam adds, also standing and reaching over to pat Shiro's back.
"You too, Sam." Shiro replies.
“Though I’d wish these were better circumstances.” the man shakes his head, smile tight. “Still. I’m glad it’s you I’ll be working with.”
They take their seats while Iverson stands at the head of the table. "Veronica should be here soon with our client. Holt, no funny business."
"Of course." Sam answers, looking alarmed.
Iverson groans into his hand. "I could not have been more clearly talking to your son."
Matt sniggers, but then Keith elbows him and a second later, the door opens.
Veronica McClain had only been a passing acquaintance in the Garrison from their time there, but they recognize her easily.
She is followed by an even more familiar face.
It's the same beautiful face that's been in the news for the past few days, in television shows and movies, in basically everything from billboards to posters to perfumes to cute tiny keychains.
Striding inside with purpose, in a simple shirt, pants and practical shoes, deep purple suit jacket draped on her shoulders shimmering like stars, and long hair flowing behind her like clouds, is Allura Altea herself.
"Good morning, gentlemen." she greets the room in general. "Apologies for the delay. I had lots of people to please before I was free to go here and really focus on this."
Iverson steps forward and holds out his hand. "Don't worry about it, Princess. Welcome to the Galaxy Garrison."
Allura shakes his hand with a smile. "Thank you! Commander Iverson, if I remember correctly?"
Iverson nods, and then turns to their companions. "Everyone, you probably recognize our client, Allura Altea, Princess of Planet Altea."
Shiro, Keith and Matt were dumbfounded for a second, but they snap out of it when Sam stands up. The younger men scramble to stand as well, and Allura is just as quick to raise her hands in a placating gesture. "Oh, dear! Please, please, sit! No need for the formalities! And please, call me Allura."
"Miss Allura, then." Iverson coughs. "You've met Officer Veronica McClain, she is in charge of people accounting in this project."
"Yes." Allura nods, smiling at Veronica, who had taken her seat along with the others.
"Samuel Holt, from the Coalition. He'll be our Senior Science Officer. I believe you've started working with him the past few days."
"Mm-hm." Allura hums, and Sam gives her a friendly nod.
"Dad! You knew?!" Matt hisses under his breath. "Why didn't you tell me?!"
Sam laughs lightly. "Your mother thought it would be funny to surprise you."
Matt closes his eyes, groaning in embarrassment. "Ugh. Mom..."
"...and that mess over there is Matthew Holt." Iverson continues. "He's a mechanic and engineer for the Coalition, and he'll be working with us for this too."
"It's nice to meet you." Allura says. "Do I call you Matthew?"
Matt smiles brightly at her, leaning forward eagerly. On either side of him, Keith and Sam pull him back. "J-Just 'Matt' for you, Miss Allura! It's an honor to meet you."
Iverson carries on. "Takashi Shirogane, Garrison's best pilot and youngest senior officer. He will be the captain of the IGF-Atlas and in charge of the mission when it launches. He was there in the first... attack... on Puig."
"Oh..." Allura's face turns serious as she locks eyes with Shiro. "You were there? You... witnessed what happened?"
"I was affected." Shiro confesses. "I was in a Garrison mission at the time. Me, my crew, and our fighters tried to help civilians being attacked, but we were affected, too. It was lucky the resulting infighting on the ship caused us to crash land and lose consciousness before we could do worse to each other. My crew was fortunate to survive."
Allura reaches out, and he accepts her hand. She gives it a sympathetic squeeze. "I'm so sorry to hear that happened to you, Officer Shirogane."
"My friends call me 'Shiro'." he says, squeezing back. "And we know what happened at your concert too. It's very brave of you to be facing this head-on."
"An attack on my fans is an attack on me. People deserve justice." she replies, finally letting go, folding her hands primly in front of her. She turns towards Keith then, the last one to be introduced.
There's an awkward pause before Iverson speaks. "Keith Kogane. He is... uh..."
"An asset." Shiro answers easily.
Allura blinks, clearly not expected such a vague description, but she nods. "I see. It's good to meet you, Keith." Her eyes rest on the man's casual attire. "You... are not Garrison?"
"I'm... a freelancer?" Keith says, turning to Shiro, who just shrugs, amused. He turns to Allura again, smile curt. "Yep. That's… what I am. Good to meet you too, Miss Allura."
Allura smiles back, and she finally takes her seat.
Iverson clears his throat. "Alright. Now that we're done with the introductions, let's start our first formal meeting for this mission. Doctor Holt, want to do the honors?"
"Right." Sam says, standing up and taking Iverson's place at the head of the table. He places his data-pad in front of him and opens up a projection of the mission profile.
He lets each of his companions take in the information first before he starts.
"Over the past few days, we have witnessed several occurrences of the same phenomenon. People of all species, peacefully going about their day, suddenly turn blindly violent and start turning on each other, with the sheer purpose of delivering harm. Until the victims seem to snap out of the haze. They return to their normal selves, but suffering a memory lapse. It is often accompanied by sightings of unknown spacecraft, which also disappears just as quickly. For that, we believe these are attacks, ones that have affect thousands just this week.
"Regardless whether they're targeted attacks or some kind of natural phenomenon, it's a new threat that has already killed hundreds and injured thousands. They're lasting longer and longer. The first attack on Puig lasted for ten minutes. Tavros 5, longer. The last one came close to an hour. The casualties are getting bigger. This job's goal is to stop those numbers from climbing higher. So, with that...
"Galaxy Garrison, under a formal contract with Allura Altea, will form a special team uniquely equipped to deal with this new threat."
The room is quiet until Keith raises a hand. "So on paper, the Coalition is not involved in this?"
"The contract is with me." Allura answers. "It's financed by my account. But, say, the costs get too much, I might just happen to use some of the inheritance money that my father, Alfor Altea, has set aside for me to use…"
Matt starts nodding. "Mm-hm… Makes sense..."
"And of course, how much that money is, exactly, is confidential. And if my father just so happens to be the Leader of the Coalition, well, that's a completely different matter now, is it?"
She winks, and Keith couldn't help but grin, impressed despite himself. He was always one for bending the rules. "Got it."
The Coalition can't make the move. Alfor Altea's hands are tied. But not his daughter's, who conveniently happens to have a personal reason to take on the challenge herself.
"So," Matt perks up, resting his chin on his hand as he squints at the mission specs. "What exactly is Tactical Sound Unit VOLTRON?"
Allura and Sam exchange a look before Allura beams and answers, "Well, to put it simply, we go where the trouble is, and then we hold a concert.”
Shiro’s brows furrow, and he exchanges equally bewildered looks with his two friends on either side of him. “I- I’m sorry-... A concert?”
“A concert, yes, Shiro.”
“Like… an Allura concert?”
Allura nods. “Yes. It's a planet-hopping impromptu tour!"
When they just stare back at her, she points a finger at Sam.
"Dr. Holt will explain."
“I’m sorry I couldn't go and visit you, Pops. We’re leaving early tomorrow.”
Tex chuckles through the holo-call, idly watching his son packing up. ‘It’s fine, kid. I just want you to take care out there. You and Shiro. Are you… gonna be flying?’
“I might be.” Keith says, stopping momentarily from folding a sweater. Orange and white, with the name ‘SHIROGANE’ printed at the back. He should return it, before Shiro finishes packing. “We’re still figuring things out. They’re bringing in people who can… do the jobs, but it’s a brand new team. There’s no guarantee that everyone can work together.”
Tex nods. ‘You just have to, huh?’
“Lives are at stake.” Keith nods back, turning back to the task at hand.
‘I’m sure you’ll pull through.’ his father assures him. ‘Keith?’
‘Bring your mother’s blade.’
Keith looks at him and smiles. “I never go anywhere without it.”
‘I love you, spitfire.’
“Love you too, Pops.”
Keith and Shiro arrive at the Garrison bright and early, parking their hoverbikes in the hangar where an Altean spacecraft is ready and waiting for its passengers. Garrison staff of various species are already milling around and loading supplies. There are Altean personnel around too, probably the ones in charge of the ship.
As they roll their luggage across the hangar, they hear someone calling out from behind them. “Keith? Keith!”
Keith turns around and smiles when he recognizes the familiar man. “Hunk!” he greets, and he chuckles when he gets squeezed into one of his friend’s famous warm bear hugs. “Hey, bud. Good to see you.”
Hunk lets him go and gasps when he sees Shiro. He quickly straightens up and salutes. “S-Senior Officer Shirogane! I mean- Commander- No- Captain? I’m not… I’m not sure-”
Shiro smiles. “At ease, Officer Garrett. We haven’t even started yet. You’re free to call me ‘Shiro’.”
Hunk nods, easing up as the three of them continue walking side by side. He turns to Keith. “I knew you were part of this job. My uncle told me you had to resign from the repair shop on short notice because of Garrison business.”
Keith looks sheepish. “I really am sorry for that. It’s just… you guys were short-handed- Wait- Am I allowed to say that? I’m allowed, right?” he asks Shiro, who shrugs. “Whatever.”
“Oh, it’s no big, man.” Hunk waves it off. “Uncle’s not angry or anything. I’m sure he understands that it’s for a cause. Those casualty numbers are no joke. So… are you back with the GG?”
Keith rolls his eyes. “I’m a freelance asset, apparently.”
“Aw, that sounds so badass!” Hunk whines. “Like… like some mysterious mercenary-for-hire deal! Meanwhile, there’s me - mechanic.”
“Engineer.” Keith corrects. “Best one I know.”
“Still not as badass as-” Hunk clears his throat, then squares his face and deepens his voice. “-a freelance asset~”
Keith just laughs and gives him a playful shove. “Shut up, man.”
Shiro watches them with a smile. Hunk and Keith were friends from when they shared several courses during cadet training, and Hunk is one of the very few people Keith genuinely got along with. Even after Keith’s return, while Keith has been looking for the next odd job, it had been Hunk who referred him to his uncle’s repair shop, knowing Keith had skills for it.
Two people intercept their crowd of three. “Captain.” Veronica greets, already tapping away at her data-pad. “Good morning.”
“Morning, Veronica.” Shiro replies. “Everything alright so far? No unexpected delays?”
“We are still on track, sir. Commander Iverson has already boarded, he's in a call with the Admiral.” the woman answers. Then she gestures to the man trailing behind her, carrying both their bags. “This is my brother, Lance. He’s one of our cargo pilots, but he’s started fighter pilot training too. He’s on this job with us, we’ve assigned him as a backup in case one of our pilots is indisposed.”
“Good to have you on the team, Lance.” Shiro nods at the younger man. “Fighter pilot, huh? Are you as good a shot as your sister?”
Lance is awfully tense as he answers. “I-... I hope so, Captain Shirogane!”
“Hey, man.” Hunk greets him first, then for Keith and Shiro’s benefit, he explains, “We trained together. Oh! Lance, you remember Keith Kogane?”
“Kogane? Top-simulator-scores Kogane?” Lance gapes, then stares at Keith, expression very different from when he looked at Shiro. This time, it seems almost grudging. “U-Uh… No. Yeah. I mean- Uh. Hi.”
“Hi.” is all Keith says, just as awkward. He eyes everything Lance is carrying. “Do you need help with those?”
“No! No, I got it. I’m good.” Lance shakes his head frantically, and makes a show of adjusting the bags he’s pulling from behind him and the ones he’s carrying in his arms.
“Hey! Excuse us, science coming through!”
They all turn towards the direction of the voice, brash and undoubtedly too young, and they see a brunette teenager with unruly hair ushering a hover-cart filled with a chaotic mix of bags, stuffed animals, pillows and miscellaneous tools, gadgets and machinery towards the ship. Another hover-cart follows, controlled by a woman who scolds the teen for being too loud.. And two more, led by the two remaining members of their family who are engaged in a conversation.
"Whoa. That's Samuel Holt." Hunk whispers. "And his wife. And his son? And his daughter?!"
"Yes, Hunk, that's them. The Holts." Keith deadpans.
"And their dog!" Hunk adds, gesturing to the dog sitting happily on Dr. Holt's cart. "All of them are in this job?"
"It was originally just Samuel and Matthew Holt." Veronica explains. "Then Colleen, she demanded to come too. She said, I quote, 'Last time my husband and son left on a long job, they got abducted by aliens. This time, I'm getting abducted with them.' "
"You should've seen Iverson's face." Keith sniggers.
"And they’re taking the daughter too?" Hunk asks.
Veronica just shrugs. "They didn't want to leave Katie alone, apparently she might destroy the house if left alone for too long. And the dog, because at this point, why not?"
"Some family vacation." Lance remarks, skeptic. "Aren't they worried that it might be dangerous? Specially for the kid?"
"That kid," Shiro starts, grinning, "-is the reason we have a mission at all. She's the one who helped Sam figure out how to potentially neutralize the attacks."
Lance gapes. "No way." He stares at the girl from across the hangar. "What… is she doing…?"
They all turn to look at Katie Holt, who has already climbed aboard her cart, cursing loudly while trying to stuff her colorful plushies back in their container.
Except some of the plushies start to float.
Some are squeaking.
Lance blinks. "Those... are not stuffed toys."
"No. They're space caterpillars." Keith tell him as he starts to break away from their group. "Hey, Pidge, need a hand?"
Katie sees him and lets out an audible groan of relief. "Shiro's boyfriend! Can you get those two little bastards, please? Thank you!"
Keith scoops down the fuzzy yellow blob and then the pink one as he heads toward the struggling teen.
Shiro turns towards his remaining companions with a wide, manic smile. "She's joking. Keith and I are just friends."
Hunk and Veronica stare at him. Lance notices their lack of response. He looks at each of them, and then at Shiro. The man looks like he's expecting a reply, so Lance obliges. "Uh. Noted, sir?"
They resume walking.
"That's the most surprising thing I've heard today…" Hunk mumbles to himself.
"Garrett." Shiro grits out, still smiling.
Hunk makes a noise that sounds like a combination of a cough and a squeak, "Captain."
They finally get to the ship, but they let the Holts and Keith board first, together with their four carts of luggage and equipment… and squirming, squeaking space caterpillars.
Lance looks up at the sleek white and gray spacecraft and its glowing accents. It's impressive, more advanced than his usual Garrison tech cargo ships.
“So… this is the Atlas?”
Hunk elbows him teasingly. "Dude. You didn't read our instructions today, didn't you?"
Lance ducks from Shiro's amused look. "Yeah, uh, in my defense, my appointment was last minute."
"Lies." Veronica chimes in, eyes not leaving her data-pad. "He discovered who the client is and he wasn't able to process anything else other than that information. He's had a crush on Miss Allura since he was, like, six."
" Vee!!! " Lance shrieks, cheeks flushed red, looking at his sister with a look of utter betrayal.
Shiro, to his credit, only chuckles before answering his question patiently. “Well, this one is just a normal passenger ship. We're going to one of the Coalition's construction facilities, that's where the Atlas is."
“I saw the specs of that ship.” Hunk adds, grinning excitedly. "I can't wait to see it."
Keith and the Holts have disappeared inside the ship.
Shiro follows them, Veronica keeping up beside him, saying relaying a message from Iverson.
Lance finally gives up and lets Hunk help him with some of his bags.
As they board together, he asks, "So where's this construction facility again? Why are we using an Altean ship instead of a Garrison one?"
“Because we’ll need to wormhole.” Hunk answers. He takes a deep breath, like he’s bracing himself, like it’s all finally sinking in. "We’re going to Arus."
what do you think of our team so far? lemme know!
(next - arus! atlas! lions! more allura! wee!)
chapter titles are named after macross series songs. this one is walkure's 'hear the universe' from macross delta!