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until our ribs get tough

Chapter Text

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It began on a stormy night, but one might also say that the wheels had been set in motion even before that.

Perhaps it began on the gray, gloomy afternoon right before that storm-hidden sun set.

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Perhaps it began when a little boy chose to secretly follow his big brother and his friends that afternoon. This boy adored his big brother, because his big brother was amazing and cool - even though he fought with jii-chan often. But it didn't matter, Takashi thought, because Ryou was always kind to him.

That afternoon though, Takashi couldn't understand why Ryou and his friends were trying to pry open another man's car, or why they were taking things from inside it. Did they know that man? They couldn't be stealing. Stealing was bad.

Then someone shouted - “Police! What’s going on over there?!” - and Ryou and his friends froze.

Takashi slid back against the alley's shadows, hiding deeper in his big brother's worn black hoodie that he always liked to borrow, even though it was too big, reaching past his knees. From the shadows, Takashi saw Ryou and his friends run from the policeman, who didn't slow down and cursed as he chased after the teenagers.

Takashi followed, but his short legs were unable to catch up, and he found himself skidding to a halt when he heard the gunshots.

“R-Ryou?” the little boy called out. But there was only silence and the beginnings of rain.

Takashi ran again, and when he rounded the corner, he saw his brother lying on the pavement. 

" Ryou! " he screamed, but Ryou didn't move.

He didn’t realize that they weren’t alone.

The policeman was there. The policeman saw him. Ryou still wasn't moving.

Takashi ran.

Takashi ran, heedless of the storm, tears mixing with the rain.

Takashi ran until the ground collapsed from under him and he fell into the water.

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Or perhaps the story began with another little boy. This boy wasn't hiding, though. He was waiting.

Everyone else in the studio had left, even the teacher. Still, Keith sat quietly on the front steps of the building, still in his tank top, leggings and white ballet shoes. When the clouds started turning gray, he went up to the nearby phone booth and made a call.

"Can someone pick me up please?" he told the woman on the other line. "You don't have to tell dad. It's okay if he's busy. Just have someone pick me up, please... I'm getting cold."

He waited again. It wasn't very long before a car pulled over and the familiar driver told him to hurry and get in, a storm is coming.

They rode to the Galra Corp factory, where Keith had been to a lot of times. He always thought it was cool, like a place out of an adventure story. A building standing in the gulf, its lower half underwater, and one had to drive across a bridge to get to.

When his father saw him, he was quickly pulled into a tight hug, but he was let go just as fast.

"Wait." Dad said. "Why are you here? Why did they bring you here?"

Keith had thought maybe he was angry at Keith for showing up at his work, but no. Dad looked scared. Keith couldn't help but feel scared too. "I asked them to. I told them not to tell you because I'll just disturb your work-"

"They're not supposed to bring you here. It's too-" Dad took a deep breath. "Keith... we're in a very critical situation-"

He didn't get to finish what he was supposed to say, because static crackled from the communicator in his belt and a voice said, "Dr. Kogane, we tried everything- It's impossible to go down there now, it's too late-"

Dad pressed a button and replied, "Get everyone out of here. I don't care what Galra Corp said. Spread the word: everyone out. Now."

Everything was too fast for Keith after that. Dad had taken him in his arms and ran out his office and into the garage. Everyone else was running around, shouting things Keith couldn’t make out. They get to their car. Dad told him to fasten his seatbelt and without even waiting, he drove out the factory.

"I can't risk anything happening to you." Dad said, driving the fastest Keith had ever seen him drive.

"Dad?" Keith asked, hands clutching his little duffel bag. "What's happening? Why is everyone scared?"

He didn’t get a reply.

Did Dad hear him? The storm was pounding so loud against the car. It was all dark except for the headlights, but Dad didn't slow down.

Then there was a noise even louder - too loud - Keith felt like his ears were bleeding. His eyes hurt. Everything was white, then red, then black.

There was a sudden heat, then freezing cold.

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Takashi tried to swim, but he couldn't get to the surface, and he couldn't breathe anymore. Keeping his eyes open hurt, but he saw something - a light - and suddenly he saw clearly. It was bright, too bright - but it didn't hurt, it didn't blind. He was so cold, but it felt warm.

He reached out, and something took his hand.

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When Keith opened his eyes, he was underwater, but everything was on fire. He grabbed Dad's arm, but Dad wasn't moving. There was red. Keith clawed at his seatbelt but he couldn't get it off. As he began to lose his breath, he felt something, and when he looked - really looked, despite the sting in his eyes - he saw something dark and misty, floating just in front of him, stark black against the fire surrounding him.

It felt cold, but it felt safe, and without options, he reached out. He latched on. He didn't let go.

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Perhaps it began even before that explosion, that storm, that gunshot, that afternoon.

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Perhaps it began that morning when Ryou fought with jii-chan again. Takashi didn't know what about, but Ryou sounded upset.

"Those bastards in their tall buildings never cared about any of us, old man." he had said. "They lie. They cheat. They steal. Everyone does. Why shouldn't I?"

Ryou left after that, and jii-chan told Takashi not to worry, and to continue doing his homework.

Takashi worried anyway. He had waited for jii-chan to take a nap, and then he snuck out.

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Perhaps it began the night before the explosion. Keith was telling his father about his day. His teacher praised his progress. His teacher said he was already a fine dancer, and he'll get even better with practice.

Dad's phone rang, and he left the room to answer it.

Keith switched the TV on to find something to watch.

But he heard Dad's voice, unfamiliar- angry-

"I'm telling you, it's too dangerous! I know we're all replaceable to you, but there's no amount of money that will convince me to risk innocent lives-"

Keith hugs his favorite hippo plushie, trying to focus on the cartoons on the TV. To forget Dad's angry voice.

"Keith?" Dad called, and Keith was slow to look back at him. "You look tired. You brush your teeth and go to bed, okay, buddy? I'll be up there in a few too."

Keith only nodded, and ducked out the room to do what he was told. Anything to not hear Dad angry anymore.

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Perhaps it all began much, much longer before all of that. Years, decades - even a century before.

Or perhaps it was difficult to pinpoint when it all began, because there were multiple beginnings. Perhaps it all simply recurs.

One thing stays the same, however - there are always two.

Light and dark.

Hope and fear.

Brought together to restore an upset balance.

There is no set time, no set period. The wheels turn when there is a need to.

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Perhaps for clarity, we can just say that this one began on a dreary morning on the beach, in the aftermath of a tragedy.

Keith woke up, coughing up sea water, shivering from the cool morning air.

There is a weight on his hand, and when he looked to his side, he gasped.

There is another boy, about his age, unconscious, hand clutching his. This boy had white hair, and there is a bleeding cut across his nose. Keith was quick to move.

"H-Hey... Hey!"

His hands grasped the boy's arm, but he immediately drew back when he felt liquid. His hands were stained red. The boy's sleeve was soaked too.

Keith wanted to scream, but he couldn't. With trembling hands, he touched the boy's shoulder instead, trying to shake him awake.

"Hey... Wake up... Please, you're-... You're bleeding-"

The boy didn't move. But he was breathing, Keith could see that. He looked around. He saw no one, but he could hear the faint sound of cars and crowds from the distance, above the ringing in his ears.

"Help!" he cries, voice cracking. "Someone's hurt! Please, help!"

Keith shivered again. It was so cold. He was on his tank top and leggings, all dirty now, still damp from the water. His fingers caught on something, and when he looked down, he saw that he and the boy were lying on a large black hoodie. He pulled at it, then hesitated, looking at the other boy, whose arm was still inside one of the sleeves. This must be his. But his shirt was long-sleeved, he should be warm enough. Keith was very cold, so he took the hoodie anyway and wrapped it around himself.

Keith stood up, feeling faint and wobbly. His cheeks were wet - when did he start crying? No. He had to look for help. He wiped his tears in the hoodie's sleeves.

"Hold on. I'll get help." he said, even though the boy still hadn't moved. With shaky legs, he ran towards the sounds of people and cars.

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Jii-chan was there when Takashi woke up. There is a soft pillow under his head, and the blanket was his favorite, the fluffy one, but he is not in his bedroom. The walls were all white. There were machines beeping around him.

He felt weak, and his body hurt all over, and-

He couldn't feel his arm.

"Takashi." Jii-chan began to say, but his voice sounded distant, like he was calling someone else.

When Takashi looked down to the side, his sleeve was empty.

"What happened?" he asked, or felt like he asked - even his own voice sounded far away.

Jii-chan was crying by then, holding the boy's hand, stroking his hair. "Takashi, oh my boy..."

"Jii-chan," he said, blinking up at his grandfather. He asked again, "What happened?"

His eyes scanned the room. He felt tears sliding down his cheeks - why was he crying?

"Jii-chan, where's Ryou?"

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The lady was nice, Keith supposed. She was very kind, and very sweet, and she kept asking if Keith was okay.

Keith was okay.

"It's okay if you don’t feel okay, Keith." she said.

"No." Keith insisted. "I'm okay."

She held his hand during the funeral.

She helped him pack his things. He asked if he can keep Hippo. She said yes, of course, he can keep Hippo.

Unlike the lady, the men were not kind, nor sweet, nor nice. They didn't even look twice at Keith.

"What are they doing?" Keith asked, watching them take things from Dad's office. "Tell them to stop. That's Dad's work!"

"They used to work with your dad, Keith." the lady told him.

"No they don't. I know the people who work with Dad."

"Well... Well, perhaps, you haven't met all of them-"

"Where are they taking Dad's papers and stuff?"

"Um... Since... since, you know, your dad wouldn't be able to... continue the work, they can continue for him. Wouldn't that be good? Wouldn't your dad like for his work to continue?"

"But Dad keeps 'em neat and tidy- They can't just put 'em into boxes all together like that! Stop it!"

She was unable to keep him from running towards one the men and pushing him aside, grabbing things from the box the man had been filling, demanding they put all those back-

"Keith, please! They know what they're doing. This is for the best, honey. This is how your dad's hard work can continue helping other people-"

He looked up at her, defiant, clutching an armful of random things to his chest. She looked sternly at him, but her face softened when his lips started to tremble. "Promise they'll take care of Dad's work?"

"Of course they would."

"Can I... Can I keep some of them...? The pictures? And... and the pen? Please, it was mom's-"

She nodded, slowly, glaring at the men when they started to complain about delays.

Keith took two picture frames. Mom's pen. A little notebook, the one Dad liked keeping in his pocket when he wasn't working.

One of the men said he couldn't keep it, but Keith was faster, running up the stairs and slamming the door of the bedroom that wasn't his anymore.

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Takashi had black hair before the "accident". After that, he had silver hair, a scar across his nose and no right arm.

The scar and the arm were easy to explain away - it was a huge explosion, causing a huge structural collapse. He was wounded by sharp, heavy debris.

The hair, however, the doctors weren't too sure about what happened there.

The most plausible reason they could come up with were chemicals. The Galra Corp factory that exploded and crumbled into the ocean was part chemical plant, after. Being in the water, with those various unknown chemicals, might have caused the hair color change.

But that wasn't important, really.

What Takashi really wanted was some sort of explanation. Justice. Closure.

He gave the police the description of the cop that he saw that night.

The one who shot Ryou. Who killed Ryou.

They don't find any records.

They don't find any of Ryou's friends, either.

The case remained unsolved and was shelved after two long years.

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The social services lady might have been nice, but the people who ran the home weren't. The other kids weren't much better either.

Keith learned those facts the hard way.

At fifteen, he put on the black hoodie - still too big, sleeves still falling past his fingers - and then he packed his few clothes, the old photos, his mom's pen, his dad's notebook, a cheap phone and an old gray and faded Hippo in one backpack.

He left in the night through the home's second-story window and he never looked back.

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Takashi was sixteen when jii-chan had to move to assisted living. He got fostered by the Holts, long-time family friends on his father's side. They already had two children, fifteen year old Matt and twelve year old Katie, and they had all welcomed him with nothing but warmth and love. He was grateful, and he quickly grew attached to his new family.

They called him Shiro, like the other kids in school did, like everyone else did. It was fine. He liked that only jii-chan called him Takashi.

School was great, too.

"You have a good future ahead of you, Takashi." Jii-chan had told him. "Ryou would have been proud of you."

Takashi heard what his grandfather didn't say: You're smart and studious. Stay in school. Stay a good boy. Get a good job someday. Something that does not risk you getting shot and dying in the pavement. Something that does not brand you undeserving of justice and closure.

So Takashi continued to be Shiro.

Shiro the model student - with straight A's and medals and debate team trophies.

Shiro who was humble and obedient. Shiro who was not Ryou. Shiro who always had to make sure that he was better than what Ryou could’ve been, who will not make the same mistakes that Ryou did.

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Keith was sixteen when he learned what he is really good at.

Smiling.

He was very very good at smiling. And laughing. And batting his lashes. And biting his lip.

He was good at running, yeah, and picking locks, too. He was good at taking thick wallets and designer purses and gold watches and diamond earrings without getting caught... but those were all just tricks up his sleeve.

The real skill, he discovered, was walking to a club or a party with confidence, coming up with a new name the second another rich boy asks, then smiling, giggling and tucking his hair behind his ear at just the right time until they both have drinks in their hand, but only one of them is getting drunk.

The real skill, by his experience, is to let himself be taken home, or somewhere, whatever, but before they so much as got a hand up his shirt, they were already too drunk and sleepy, and Keith was free to rummage through their wallet, or pocket some nice trinkets of their parents’ that he could sell for some cash.

It should be fine. They had plenty. Keith had nothing.

Then he'd sneak out from the flat, mansion or hotel room, and trudge back to the old abandoned decrepit church that he'd been calling 'home sweet home' for the past year and a half.

It got cold sometimes, and he got sad sometimes, but he had a tiny portable heater, a worn comfortable black hoodie, and Hippo.

Whenever he felt too restless to sleep, he'd stand before his wall of newspaper clippings, documents, charts, photos and sticky notes. Everything he had gathered over the years.

Galra Corp never really issued a clear official statement about that explosion. So many people died, so many families left wanting answers. Worse still, his dad and the others who worked there were the one who took the blame - there was an error during one of the operations, or there were flaws and vulnerabilities in the building structure.

Keith didn't believe any of those.

What Keith believed in, is that someday, he'd figure it all out.

He'd figure out what his dad was angry and worried about the night before the storm.

He'd figure out what really caused the explosion that took his dad from him.

He’d figure out what Galra Corp had been hiding.

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Takashi was seventeen when he met the boy with the eyes and the smile.

Matt had dragged him into someone's party - he'd rather be studying, really, or catching up on sleep - but no, he had to go with Matt, because Colleen didn't want either of them going alone, and only allowed it if they went together.

He didn't know any of the other kids in the party very well, but he recognized some from school.

"Shiro!" Many greeted him. "Good to see you come out for once!"

They looked happy for him. It was nice, but nobody really stuck around. Even Matt got pulled in by his friends, promising to come back and find Shiro later.

Perhaps this was how it really began, on some stranger's party. When Shiro turned, and someone crashed against him, and beer was spilled on his jacket.

"Sorry! I'm so sorry!" the boy said, stumbling back. He was swaying, and he looked like he was going to fall over. "I'm really- really sorry-"

"Hey, now-" Shiro reached out to steady him, but between the cropped jacket already slipping halfway down the boy's arms, the loose tank top, and the tight jeans, he didn't really know where to put his hand. He held on the boy's elbow to anchor him instead. "Are you okay?"

"Yeah, I just- I-... I kinda arrived early, y'know? So... so I've... had a bit to drink." The boy lips curled into a smile - perfect and beautiful - but his eyes didn't follow. "I'm fine, I- I'm really sorry about your jacket."

His brows furrowed as he looked at the wet spot on Shiro's jacket. His free hand started patting around his hips, but he found nothing. It threw Shiro for a loop when the boy took off his red beanie, and started dabbing it at Shiro's jacket.

Shiro could do nothing but watch. "Uh."

"It's... it's not working, is it." the boy said, holding back a snort. "Stupid Keith."

"That's you?" Shiro asked softly, looking at the boy - Keith - still trying to get the beer off his jacket. "Keith?"

"That's me, yeah." Keith nodded, peering up at him, the dark blue almost blending perfectly with his messy dark hair. "You gonna tell me your name too or should I just call you Handsome?"

Shiro felt his cheeks his cheeks heat up, and he had to clear his throat before answering, "Shiro."

"Okay. Shiro." Keith nodded, finally giving up on the beanie method. "I'm gonna go over there, okay. And I’m gonna get some tissues. Towels. Whatever, something asbor- abser- absorbet-"

"Absorbent?" he chuckled.

"Absorbent. Wow, handsome and smart." Keith grinned as he nodded, and he pat Shiro’s jacket one last time before stepping back.

"You don't have to-"

"No, I do. Don't wanna ruin your jacket... Very good jacket... Good... shoulders." he said, gesturing vaguely at him before he finally turned around and stumbled towards where the towels probably were. Shiro wouldn't know.

He watched Keith disappear into the crowd. He decided to stay there, so Keith could find him easier on his way back.

It took him a while to realize that something was wrong. It was when Matt found him, asking to borrow his phone because his just died.

Shiro reached into both his jacket pockets at the same time. On one, he easily found his phone. His other pocket however… was empty.

He frowned, digging deeper. Nothing. He started patting his jean pockets. Nothing.

Oh.

"Shit."

Matt almost spit out his drink. "S-Say what?"

"I'll be back!"

He wove through the party crowd, searching for the messy black hair and the red beanie, but Keith was nowhere to be found.

He kept walking, and walking, until he found Keith again, talking to another boy in the corner, grinning and perfectly sober.

"Hey!" he called.

Keith jumped and turned to him with wide eyes. For a moment, he just stood there, looking like a deer caught in the headlights, then without another word, he ran.

"Stop!"

Shiro ran after him, through the crowds of people, out the door, away from the party.

Keith was fast, not looking back for one second, determined to escape - but Shiro ran with all he had.

"You took my wallet!"

Keith didn't respond to that. He just kept running.

Then he stumbled, and Shiro sped up - the gap grew smaller, and smaller, and smaller until-

"I said stop!"

His managed to grab Keith's hand.

For a split second, he thought he had Keith, but then something wrenched them away from each other, throwing them mercilessly on opposite directions.

They both land in a heap on the cold hard ground of an empty public playground.

Keith is the first to recover, sitting up with a yelp, staring at his hand. His palm was glowing - luminous white.

"What-"

"What did you do to me?" Shiro whispered, staring at his hands, seemingly surrounded by some sort of black smoke.

"No, what did you do to me ?!" Keith shot back, holding out his hand, bright and shining.

Shiro could not help but reach for it, but as soon as their fingers touched, they felt a sharp, all-encompassing pain and both quickly drew their hands back.

Keith stood up on shaking legs, staring at him in fear and fascination. Shiro also got up, keeping a wary distance while he stared down at the black mist in his hands, to the glow of light in Keith's hand that the boy was trying hard to keep hidden, to no avail.

When he looked at Keith, Keith was already looking at him, expression unreadable.

"Wait... It's you." Keith said, voice soft, vulnerable, shaking. "It's you, isn't it?"

"What?" Shiro asked in a whisper.

"You're that boy... from the beach."

He just stared at Keith for a moment, trying to understand. "Beach...?"

His eyes looked into Keith's, and in the white glow from his palm, Keith's eyes seem brighter, the sharp glint in them almost like a stroke of lightning.

Shiro let out a quiet gasp.

"A-After the storm?"

Keith only stared back with eyes just as stormy as that night, and Shiro already knew the answer.

"I…” he started to say. “I gotta go-"

"No! What's happening? Who are you?"

Instead of answering, Keith only rummaged through his belt bag and then threw something that landed on Shiro's feet. It was his wallet.

"Shiro!" he heard a call from the distance. Matt. "Shiro, dude, where the hell are you?!"

Shiro whirled around to look at his foster brother.

Matt looked concerned. "Hey, man, what happened? You just ran off."

Shiro was in no state to answer. "I-... I was just-"

He remembered his hands then - panicking - how was he supposed to explain this? But when he looked down, the black mist was gone.

"Shiro?” Matt called, softer this time. “Come on. Talk to me."

But Shiro didn't hear him, not really. He turned his head, a question ready-

Keith was gone too.

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Chapter Text

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The ticket was pristine and spotless. It was a stark contrast against the rest of Keith’s otherwise messy belongings. The little card was a pale silver, with a neat print and elegant flourishes, free of any creases whatsoever. Keith had made sure of that.

Now, he stared at the flowing script, the event's title - "Swan Lake" - and the venue, time and date.

The show- No. Recital. The recital would start in a few hours. There was still plenty of time to tidy up, to grift his way into getting a nice suit to wear, and to place a smile on his face and blend in with the crowds of attendees.

'I could go.' he thought.

He reached out for the ticket, and withdrew just quickly.

No. It was too risky. The ticket was stolen. The guy might have reported it. He might have friends there. The guy could have warned them, or told them about that thief from the club, the one who got him drunk and then stole his money and took his ballet recital ticket-

'But he didn't want it, not really.' Keith thought. 'He said it was stupid. He said it was a stupid gift and he has no choice but to go. He didn't want it. That's why I took it.'

Keith shouldn't go. Except he wanted to. He really did.

When was the last time he was able to watch a recital? He was with Dad, at the time. Dad loved it when he danced. Always said he reminded him of Mom. That's why Keith had wanted to dance, too. That's why Keith still danced, when he had time to.

"Fuck it." he grumbled to himself, his voice loud in the quiet of the hollow church. "I've had a shit week, anyway. Couldn't get any worse."

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It got worse.

The show was amazing. The dancers were brilliant, and Keith was mesmerized by the whole thing. He missed this terribly - the dancing, the lessons and the practice, going with his dad to watch shows and recitals…

It was a struggle to leave his seat even when it was all over, but he did. It could’ve been a perfect end to his night.

It wasn’t.

Instead, Keith found himself shoved against the hard brick wall of a street alley, struggling against strong arms, cringing away from the vaguely familiar face sneering at him.

“You little thief! I knew you were gonna pop up somewhere fancy again! Couldn’t help yourself, huh? Can’t resist anything shiny?”

Keith grit his teeth, trying to remember where he saw this man from. “Let go of me.”

“Oh, no, I can’t do that, babe. We both know you’re up to no good. Have you found some poor guy to steal from tonight, yet?”

Oh. One of his past targets. Which one? The one who had the ticket? No, he remembered what that guy looked like. Another guy who remembered him, then? Probably. There were lots of guys. Keith really should move to another city or something.

Whoever he was, Keith didn’t give him the satisfaction of an answer. Instead he just glared as he struggled against the tight grip pinning his wrists to the wall.

“Not as chatty now, are we?”

Keith wasn’t listening. His eyes were moving to find an escape route, but before he could move, the man started to crowd him, and Keith froze.

‘No. No, if he got any closer-’

Keith began to jerk away. “S-Stop-”

“What’s wrong? You were plenty cozy with me last time.”

“Don’t touch me!” Keith cried, eyes wide with fear. ‘That thing will happen again-’

Fingers wrapped around his neck, and then everything was white.

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“Shit.” Keith cursed as he opened his eyes.

He was standing on a pure white floor, and everything else was a boundless white void. Before him, there was an elegant chaise longue, and sitting on it was the man who had just attacked him.

Keith didn’t try calling out to him. He had learned, after the first few times. Now, he simply watched.

People began to appear - pretty men and women, all perfectly dressed, all smiling, and all fawning and pawing at the man. All sighing in content and singing him praises. As he counted paper bills upon paper bills in his hands. He didn’t seem to be running out of them, no matter how many spilled from his grasp.

“Typical.” Keith mumbled, staring at the scene, resigned, unimpressed. “Can we please wrap it up? Can we- I’m so fucking tired. How long is this-”

Two more people enter. This time, both were older - a man in a classy suit and a woman is an expensive dress. They each laid a hand on the guy’s shoulder.

“We’re proud of you, son.” the man said.

Keith rolled his eyes. “Sure, so your parents don’t love you, but you want them to. Cool. Still not an excuse to shove people against alleys-”

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Then the white was gone, and Keith was looking back at confused, haunted, terrified eyes.

“W-What-... What was that-”

“Let me go.” was all Keith said, jerking away from the hand on his face.

But the man recovered too fast from his shock, gripping Keith’s arms and slamming him painfully against the wall as he shouted, “What the fuck did you do to me, you little-”

“I said let me go!” Keith tried to pry the hand off of him, but he felt faint and weak - he always did, when… when that thing happened.

Whenever someone touched him.

The guy was hysterical now, calling Keith a freak, telling him to stop struggling, that he was gonna take Keith to the cops. Meanwhile, Keith was able to free his hand and push back, but there was no force behind it. He tried to kick, but his legs felt like jelly.

Then he saw the raised hand, pulled back, readying to strike, and Keith ducked his head and gave one last, desperate push with his weak fist.

He waited for pain, but it didn’t come. Instead, there was a wheezing sound, the grip around him loosened, and the body pressed against his drew back slightly.

Keith opened his eyes again, and the man had the same look in his eyes - confused, haunted, terrified.

“What the fuck are you?” he wheezed, stumbling back, hands flying to his shoulder.

Keith stared, just as shocked, as red began to spread in the man’s expensive shirt and blood dripped through his fingers.

That was when Keith noticed it - the glow, the light - coming from his own hand.

What had been an empty fist now held a single dagger seemingly made of pure white light.

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Across the city, another boy was staring down at the object in his hand.

It wasn’t a dagger, but it was also white - a single ballet shoe - small, a child’s, the soft leather worn and old.

Shiro studied it and tried to imagine it and its pair, in a child’s feet. A child practicing ballet positions. Maybe they stumbled a bit, but Shiro liked to think they were already a capable dancer, even that young. The shoe had already been well-worn when he first found it. Its owner must have practiced many, many times in it.

He tried to reconcile the image of that young, faceless child to the boy he met at the party.

Keith didn’t look like a ballet dancer.

As soon as the thought came up, Shiro, groaned and buried his face in his free hand. It was stupid. Nobody looked like a ballet dancer. It wasn’t like they walked around in their tights and leotards and pointe shoes all the time. How would Shiro even know?

But... ballet. It was… something. It had always been something, the only thing - the sole clue he had about that morning on the beach. They had told him that after the storm, he was found because another child called for help, but then the child had been whisked away by the authorities, and neither Shiro nor jii-chan were able to find anything about the child’s whereabouts afterwards.

They never got to thank that kid, who had disappeared without a trace, save for the single ballet shoe that young Shiro had been holding on to when he was found that morning. They said he had refused to let go of it, even in his barely conscious state, until jii-chan promised to keep it safe.

He was snapped out of his thoughts by the gentle knocks on his bedroom door.

“Shiro? It’s Sam.”

Shiro quickly composed himself. He put the little shoe back in a box of old things that he kept under his bed, then let out a breath before opening the door.

Sam Holt stood by his doorway with a small friendly smile. “Hey, kid.”

Shiro tried to smile back. “Hi, Sam.”

The man just looked at him for a moment. Shiro caught him glance into his bedroom behind him before he asked, “You doing homework?”

Shiro nodded. “Uh. Yeah.”

“Colleen said you took your dinner up again, are you doing alright?” Sam asked, brows furrowed in concern.

This time, Shiro tried to nod more firmly. He was alright. He shouldn’t be bothering them with this. “Yeah. I’m just-... There’s just a lot of… stuff that I’m working on.”

“I know, and we’re proud that you’re such a hard worker. Your grandpa is too, I’m sure.” Sam said, ever patient and encouraging. “But if there’s too much on your plate, there’s nothing wrong with asking for help. You know that.”

“I know, Sam. But I’m good. I can handle it, really. You know me, I just want to focus, sometimes. So I can get everything done quickly, right-”

Sam smiled again, and this time, he looked conflicted, like he was struggling not to say what he was about to say next - “Shiro, you haven’t touched your food.”

Shiro bit his lip, glancing at the still-full plate on his desk beside his notes and books. “I… I was gonna get to that.”

Sam sighed. “We’re just concerned for you...  Colleen hardly sees you and Matt says you’ve been distant. We were trying to give you space, but it’s been a week… You know you can talk to us, right? About anything. Even if it’s not about school. We care about you, Shiro.”

Shiro couldn’t do anything but nod again, but he couldn’t really meet his foster guardian’s eyes anymore. “I know that. I really do, Sam. I appreciate your concern. It’s just really- I’m just a bit tired, I swear. I’ll go to bed soon. After I eat dinner, and… and do my homework-”

Shiro felt the guilt in his throat. He wasn’t used to lying like this.

(Or maybe he was, but he’s tired of it.)

He had finished his homework and projects. Shiro was struggling with something else - something that had been happening to him for the past week, and he didn’t know who he could possibly talk to about it, except maybe-

That boy. This started after I met that boy-

He was so distracted, he almost missed the man reaching out to him.

Shiro jerked away on instinct. “Don’t!”

Sam stared, shocked, drawing his hand back. Shiro might have been withdrawn at times under his care, but the boy never flinched away from physical contact, not from them.

“Shiro? Are you sure you’re alright?”

“I’m alright. Please-...” Shiro pleaded now, voice cracking. ‘Please don’t touch me.’ he wanted to say, but he knew he couldn’t do that, not to Sam, or Colleen, or Matt, or Katie. That was precisely why he had been distant.  They care about him so much, it would hurt their feelings, and he couldn’t risk it-

But his fear just made Sam worry even more. “Shiro… You look really pale-”

“I just- I need a moment alone-”

This time, Sam was faster, and Shiro wasn’t able to stop it when the man pressed a hand to his forehead.

Everything was black.

.


.

Shiro dreaded opening his eyes.

Sam was a good man. The man’s entire world was his family.

Shiro was a part of that family.

Shiro’s chest felt tight. He knew that if he opened his eyes here, whatever he’ll see would be a nightmare for him too.

He heard Sam’s voice, calling out from a distance. “Colleen? Honey? Col- Oh, God. What happened? Oh, no… no, no...”

Shiro he turned his back. He wouldn’t look. He couldn’t.

But he could still hear, and that was almost worse.

“Sam.” he heard Colleen’s voice - gentle, real, weak - “Sam, where’s Matt? Where’s Katie? Shiro?”

“I-... I don’t know...” Sam answered, breathless, voice trembling.

“Where are they, Sam? Sam, the kids… I couldn’t find them…”

Shiro fell on his knees, eyes scrunched shut, hands flying to his ears so he would stop hearing- But it did nothing. He could hear everything.

“I don’t- Oh, God. Where are they? Matt?! Katie! Shiro!” Sam cried, his voice in anguish. He was sobbing now. “Where- Col-.. Colleen? Colleen! No, no. Look at me, honey-”

Shiro couldn’t help himself anymore. He screamed. “Stop!”

.


.

When he opened his eyes, Sam was staring right back at him, looking dazed and terrified, cheeks tear-streaked. Shiro stepped back several steps, shaking.

“What…?” the man whispered, looking around. He touched his face and looked bewildered when he felt the tears. “What happened?”

“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.” Shiro said, frantic. “I didn’t mean to- I don’t know- I’m so sorry-”

Sam looked at him now - thankfully not with fear, but just plain, confused shock.

“Shiro?”

Shiro looked all around his room, like a trapped animal, before he clumsily grabbed his jacket. “I’m… I’m gonna go.”

“What-”

Shiro didn’t let him approach any further. “I’m so sorry!” he sniffed, and walked past his guardian.

He put his jacket on as he made his way downstairs, two steps at a time. Colleen stood in the landing and blinked at him.

“Shiro? Are you okay, sweetheart?”

“I’m sorry.” he said - it seemed like that was all he could say now. Colleen reached out to him, too - the Holts were always so physically affectionate - but this time, he managed to avoid her, grabbing his shoes. He didn’t dare glance at Matt and Katie who were watching from the table, distracted from their board game.

“Are you going out? It’s late-”

“Just… Just gonna take a walk, Colleen. Need some air. I’ll be back in a bit.”

He was out of the house without waiting for a reply, briskly walking down the sidewalk with no particular destination in mind other than ‘away’ .

Away from anyone he could hurt.

This had happened throughout his week. To his lab partner at school. To one of his professors. To the unlucky girl in the grocery store who happened to reach for the same jar of peanut butter. And now, the worst one yet - to Sam.

It all started after that party. Something happened that night. Something that changed him.

Maybe it was Keith. The boy from the party.

Screw it - he’d been changed already, even before that party.

Maybe it was the beach, where he was found, bleeding, clutching a shoe from a kid he’d never seen before.

Maybe it was the explosion. The explosion that sent him into the water, that created the debris that scarred him and took his arm.

Maybe it was the storm. The storm that made everything so dark and deafening, that little Shiro couldn’t even make out where he had been running to.

Or maybe it was the cop. The cop who shot Ryou. The cop who disappeared like the wind, leaving his brother’s death without closure, and the whereabouts of Ryou’s friends a mystery.

Shiro shivered, although it wasn’t a cold night. When the cold kept creeping in, and the streetlights seemed too bright for some reason, he reached back and pulled his jacket’s hood over his head.

On the next step he took, instead of the sidewalk’s granite, his shoes met clean, white marble.

.


.

Shiro looked up, momentarily disoriented.

The sky and the streetlights were gone. Instead of the familiar streets of his neighborhood, he stood within pristine white concrete walls and the dimmed indoor lights of an empty hallway.

“What?” he asked, out loud, too shocked to consider silence.

He was so tired.

What is this? Where is he? Another… vision? But that only happened when someone touched him, as far as he knew…

(And he knew next to nothing.)

He kept walking, wary of his new surroundings, trying to gather clues as to where exactly he was. After a few minutes of walking, he found a glass pane with different papers stuck in it.

He looked at the largest one. It was a map. No. A floorplan, with arrows pointing towards where the fire exits were. He looked up, all the way to the page’s header-

“Galra Corp?” he gaped. “I’m in freaking Galra Corp? Why?! What the hell is happening?!”

Shiro was so, so tired.

Then, a voice rang loud, echoing across the hallway. “Hello? Is someone there?”

Shiro cursed under his breath, looking around frantically. There was, indeed, someone walking in the hall. The person wasn’t carrying a flashlight, and the figure didn’t look like a guard, but-

“This area is off-limits. Who are you?”

Shiro cursed again. He was in a Galra Corp building. Galra Corp had many buildings. He didn’t know which one this was. Even if he knew, he didn’t know his way around. He didn’t even know how in the world he got here- How the hell he was going to to find an exit-

Oh.

He turned around and looked at the floorplan.

Yeah. Maybe he can make a break for the fire exit.

Right?

He had just taken note of the three turns he’d have to make when he heard the cocking of a gun.

Oh.

Fuck.

(So much for not ending up like his brother.)

“Hands up and turn around.” the voice said, and it was vaguely familiar, in a very distant way... “If you know what’s good for you.”

Slowly, Shiro turned around, and he froze.

Past the barrel of the gun, is a face that he remembered so vividly from his memories.

The last time Shiro saw this man, the gun had been pointed towards the prone, bleeding, unmoving body of his brother.

Shiro stepped back when the man tilted his gun and asked in a low, rough voice, “Who are you?”

Shiro took a breath, opened his mouth, but couldn’t find his voice. This was him . This was the man he had been looking for, the man who killed his brother, and then disappeared, leaving his family with neither justice nor closure.

“Answer!”

Shiro flinched, backing up against the wall. He still couldn’t speak.

‘I’m going to die here.’ he thought. ‘Like Ryou. I’m sorry, jii-chan. I… I tried to be good.’

The cold started to creep in again, and this time Shiro gladly succumbed to it. He closed his eyes. It felt comforting. It felt safe. It was the one calm thing in the whirlwind of things that suddenly filled his thoughts.

Was this how Ryou felt, back then? Cold?

Jii-chan would be so sad...

Sam, Colleen, Matt and Katie… they were worried about Shiro - will they look for him if he doesn’t come home? Will they find him, like Ryou? Or would Shiro disappear like Ryou’s friends did?

And that boy - Keith - Shiro didn’t even get a chance to ask him properly, if he really was the kid who went to get help for him that morning after the storm. Shiro would have liked to thank him for saving his life-

There was that voice again, close, closer - “You really wanna do this the hard way, kid?” - and then Shiro opened his eyes, just as he felt cold metal press against this cheek.

Dammit, Shiro really would have liked to return that shoe-

The hallway’s lights flickered, and then the hallway… and the man… were all gone.

What?

The air was cool - properly cool now - and it was dark again, except for that blindingly bright light hurtling terrifyingly fast towards him.

Shiro just stood there, dumbly, unable to move in the face of the headlights and the loud honking horn and the actual goddamn car-

- that thankfully - miraculously - managed to screech to a halt just mere inches from him.

Shiro just stood there, dumbly, staring at the equally shocked face of the car’s driver.

Keith.

“Okay.” Shiro said, to no one in particular. “I really want to wake up now, please.”

.


.

For someone so small, Keith could really slam a car door.

“What the fuck.” the boy said, with feeling. And then, when Shiro just stared at him, he walked over and raised his hands, probably to shove Shiro, but he stopped at the last second. “No, seriously , what the fuck, man?!”

Shiro was still trying to process the events of the entire evening so far. “Um. Hi.”

“Hi?!” Keith demanded. “I almost killed you and you say hi?! Are you crazy?!”

“I might be.” Shiro answered, in all honesty, eerily calm. Even he found it creepy how calm he was being. “It’s been a weird night, Keith.”

Keith was livid. Keith’s eyes were puffy, his cheeks were red, and his hair was a mess, but he… Huh. He was dressed really nice, actually. A white suit jacket, a white shirt with a splash of red in it, white shorts. The beat up sneakers didn’t really match, though.

Wait, why was he tallying Keith’s outfit? Right. Because Keith looked like a very angry avenging angel standing in front of the headlights out here in the middle of wherever Shiro’s weird dream had taken him next.

‘Yep. This was a dream. It must be.’

“It’s been a-” Keith looked around them, then back at Shiro. “What… what are you doing here?”

Shiro also looked around them, then back at Keith. “Uh, that’s… the thing? Where, exactly, is here?”

Keith looked like he was at a total loss on how to answer that.

“Are you serious?”

Shiro nodded.

“We’re several miles outside of town. We’re in the middle of nowhere, Louisiana. Where is-” Keith looked around again, baffled. “How are you here? Why are you in the middle of the road, in the dark- Are you shivering ?”

Yes. Yes, Shiro was shivering. He pulled his thin jacket tighter around himself. “It’s cold...”

Keith looked him up and down, mouth open. “ Are you in your fucking PJ’s?!

Shiro nodded, looking equally lost.

“What the fuck .” Keith groaned, burying his face in his hands before pulling at his own hair, like Shiro’s sheer presence was stressing him out.

Which… was fair, Shiro supposed.

“What happened to you? Did you get kidnapped and then got dumped here or something?”

“I don’t know!” Shiro whined, starting to pace. “I was at home, and then I went out for a walk, and next thing I knew I was literally inside a Galra Corp building-”

What? Where do you live?”

“Not anywhere near a Galra Corp building! That’s the thing! Then this… This man found me and pointed a goddamn gun at me - which, bad, but fair, maybe? I was trespassing - but guns are bad - and then- then I was here- Is that blood on your shirt? Are you bleeding?!”

“It’s not mine.” Keith pulled his suit jacket closed, grumbling. “I... stabbed someone.”

Shiro gaped. “You what?!”

“I can’t believe I’m telling you this.” Keith didn’t pace like he did, but he was tapping his foot impatiently. “Some fucker dragged me into an alley and was gonna beat me up and take me to the cops, so I stabbed him and now I’m on my way to fucking Texas, until someone just decided to - what- teleport? In the middle of the road!

“You’re on the run?!”

“Yes! So I’d appreciate it if you could go back to wherever the hell you came from so I can be on my way!”

Keith didn’t wait for a reply before he turned and started to head back to the car.

Shiro only looked after him and said, “No.”

Keith stopped. He turned around, slowly, glare sharp. “No?”

“No.” Shiro repeated, voice firm. He stepped forward. “No, because we’re not done talking. That night, at the party-”

Keith scoffed, arms still tight around himself. “I gave back your stupid wallet. What else do you want?”

“It’s not that. You know what I’m talking about. Something happened that night. Something that… that changed me, okay? And I think something changed with you too.”

Keith looked straight into his eyes with challenge. “Why do you think that?”

Shiro took a breath and met his gaze. “Because you don’t want to touch me.”

Keith rolled his eyes, turning around again. “You’re crazy. I don’t know you, why would I want to touch you-”

“You were going to! You stopped! What do you see?”

“What?” Keith looked annoyed now.

“When you touch someone! Is that how it works for you too? When you touch someone, you see things? Like, in a dream or some kind of vision? I see-... I see horrible things.I see what someone’s afraid of. Their… their fears...”

Keith stopped momentarily to look at him. “I see what they want. What they…  what they hope for. Or something.”

“Oh.” Shiro said, looking down. “That sounds much better.”

“You think so?” Keith asked, his smile bitter. “You must be surrounded by really nice people, Shiro. Congratulations.”

“I-”

“There. We’ve talked. Happy? Good.” Keith opened the car door. “Now, if you could just get off the road, thank you-”

Shiro frowned. “I can’t.”

Keith closed his eyes and heaved a deep sigh before looking at him again. “What now?”

“I can’t… Well. I can get off the road, but I… I don’t know how to go back?”

“What?”

“Back home.”

Keith stared. “But you got here.”

“Yeah, and I don’t know how . I was outside my house, then I was in the Galra Corp building. Then here.”

“On accident?”

“That’s what I’ve been trying to say, yes.” Shiro nodded. “I don’t know how I got here. Or why. Like I said. It’s been a weird night, okay? I’m… I’m teleporting to places. You-... well. You stabbed someone…?”

Keith paused for a moment before he said, “With a light dagger.”

“I’m sorry?”

Keith sighed, waving his hand ungracefully. “A dagger. It was white, glowing, and like, this big. Sharp as hell. Just appeared on my hand when I was trying to fight the guy. Then it just… disappeared.”

Shiro blinked. “So the stabbing was an accident too?”

“Yeah, but I’m pretty sure if I had an actual knife I would’ve stabbed on purpose anyway.”

That made him Shiro let out a surprised laugh that he quickly covered with his hand, because he shouldn’t laugh, no, this was serious.

Except Keith chuckled too, and for a while, they just stood there, trying to suppress their laughter at how utterly ridiculous everything was.

After a while, Keith shook his head. “Fuck. Fine. God, I’ll regret this so much.” he grumbled, then tipped his head towards the car. “Get in the car. Shit, you’re freezing.”

“T-Thank you.” Shiro wheezed, climbing into the passenger seat as fast as he could.

.


.

Keith asked Shiro where he lived, then he turned the car around.

“You’re… you’re really going back? I thought you were running away?”

“What, with a boy in pajamas in the passenger seat? Sure, why not add kidnapping to my list of crimes?”

“Does it still count as kidnapping if I consented?”

Keith snorted, eyes on the road, but Shiro could see he was suppressing a grin.

Encouraged by the softer reaction, Shiro braved on. “Why are you running away, anyway? You said someone attacked you… you just defended yourself, right? Self-defense. You can just say that.”

Keith looked pointedly at him. “Well, I was attacked for a reason. I stole from him first.”

“Ah...” Shiro nodded. “So… yeah, okay. I think I get it.”

“The bastard is rich, too. So.” Keith shrugged.

“Why Texas, then?” Shiro asked.

“Why what?”

“You said you were on your way to Texas.”

Keith shrugged. “Dad was from Texas.”

“You have family there?”

Shiro didn’t miss how his companion’s brows furrowed slightly. “I have no family anywhere.”

“Oh. I’m… I’m sorry-”

“Yeah, just... forget it.”

They fell into silence after that. Keith drove while Shiro looked out into the sprawling scenery of dark empty roads and starry skies.

It was so peaceful out. So calm. 

“Was it really you?” Shiro asked, still looking out the window. He said it so quietly, Keith almost thought he didn’t intend for anyone to hear it. “After the storm?”

Keith didn’t answer right away, and Shiro didn’t push. But eventually, he said, “Yes.”

Shiro nodded, more to himself than to Keith. “I’m sorry, I don’t remember anything.”

Keith glanced at him, bemused. “Why would you? You were knocked out cold.”

“I guess I was.”

“Here’s what I remember.” Keith started. “I woke up, and there was no else there, just us two. I tried to wake you up, but you weren’t moving. There was blood - on your face, on your arm… so much on your arm. I was a kid, I got really scared. So… I ran. Called for help. I didn’t know what happened to you after. Apparently I passed out too, and when I woke up next, it was the social worker looking after me.”

“The… social worker?”

“My dad worked in the Galra Corp chemical plant. We were in the explosion.” Keith answered, voice softer now. “He was the only one I had.”

Shiro swallowed, then nodded in understanding. “I’m sorry, Keith.”

Keith shook his head, trying to play it off. “And you? How in the world did a kid like you end up washed up and bleeding on a beach?”

Shiro smiled wryly. “I was… running from a cop.”

Keith looked at him like he was impressed for once. “Okay. Keep talking.”

.


.

Shiro was roused from sleep when he felt something poking his arm.

He blinked groggily at Keith, looked out the car window, and then back at his companion.  “Where- What-... Are you poking me with a… shoe?”

“Yeah, can’t touch you, remember?” Keith shrugged and then tossed the strappy high heel into the back seat before opening the car doors. “Up. Let’s go.

“What? Are we here?” Shiro asked, following Keith’s lead and getting out of the car. He stayed close as Keith started walking briskly down the empty street.

“Not exactly. I can’t really drive you home, golden boy. Can’t bring that car where cameras would see it.”

“Why?”

“‘Cause it’s not mine.”

Shiro stopped. Keith didn’t. Shiro looked back and stared disbelievingly at said car before he jogged to catch up to Keith. “You stole it?!” he cried.

Keith didn’t bother looking at him. “No… I’m giving it back, right? Just didn’t put it back from where I got it, is all. I borrowed.”

“You stole it...” Shiro whispered, walking as close to Keith as he could without the weird painful sparks that seemed to act up whenever they tried to get too close to each other.

“Hey, I’m risking my ass getting you home-”

“That’s so cool...”

That got a surprised chuckle out of Keith. “You’re so fucking weird.” he said, trying to suppress a giggle. “And, no. Not cool. Stealing is bad.”

“Yeah, but...” Shiro shrugged. “It’s you.”

Keith looked at him, disgruntled. “Shut up. You’ve known me for three hours.”

“What?” Shiro laughed, teasing. “I’ve known you maybe ten years.”

“I’m regretting everything about you right now.”

“You don’t mean that.” Shiro said, looking around. “So… where are we? I’ve never been to… these parts… before.”

“Downtown. I’ll walk you as far as I can, because otherwise you’ll look like a crazy person walking around in your pajamas alone at night. Also, people get mugged here.”

“There is literally nothing they can steal from me, aside from the clothes I’m wearing. I don’t even have my phone with me.”

Keith narrowed his eyes at him, voice dropping to a whisper. “Still. You never know if someone has a desperate need for matching star-patterned PJ’s, Shiro. I’d watch your back if I were you.”

Shiro swallowed. “S-Seriously?” He watched as Keith bit his lip to stop from laughing. “Okay, why do you hate my pajamas so much?”

“I don’t hate them!” Keith said. “They’re… cute. They’re too cute. You look like a very big, very tall baby.”

Shiro pouted.

“And you’re just proving my point now.”

Shiro stopped pouting. “How about you? Where do you live? Won’t you have trouble getting home too?”

Keith’s grin turned strained. He kept it up, but Shiro could see his hesitation. “Uh. No. Don’t worry about me. I’m fine, I know these parts. I live… nearby.”

Shiro stopped talking for a moment, simply walking beside Keith.

Until Keith yawned, and guilt clawed at him.

“You know… I’ve troubled you more than enough times tonight. If you live nearby, maybe I can just crash at yours? If you don’t mind? It’ll be morning in like four hours. It’ll be safer then, right? I’ll be able to go home by myself then.”

Keith looked at him. “What? But-... You have to get home to your family, they’ll be worried sick, you were just supposed to go for a walk, now you’ve been gone for hours.”

“I can leave them a message if you let me borrow your phone. I don’t have classes tomorrow anyway. They’ll understand, and I can talk to them in the morning. You don’t have to go all the way across town for me and then go back here again by yourself.”

Keith stopped walking and just looked down at the ground for a while. He should say ‘no’. It was too risky. It was already risky, spending time with anyone like this. He really should leave town as fast as he could.

But he was so tired.

They were both so, so tired.

And… it was Shiro. Something inside Keith, some sort of instinct just told him, persistently, to trust Shiro.

“Okay.” he said, after a long sigh. “You can borrow my phone… and crash at my place. But.”

Shiro smiled. “But?”

“If you act like a little shit, I’m kicking you out.”

Shiro nodded, slowly, trying to process that and failing. “That’s fair.”

.


.

Shiro looked up and around the inside of the abandoned church with wide eyes. “So… this is you. It’s-”

“Don’t.” was all Keith said before walking to the corner where he had kept his things secure in a box under an old table.

“I was gonna say you have nice acoustics.” Shiro said, following him.

So… Keith didn’t have a house. Okay.

He did have a little portable heater, and an old sleeping bag that he dusted off before giving to Shiro, along with his phone. That was enough.

By the time Shiro had sent a message to Matt and laid down on the sleeping bag with a bunch of sweaters he’d bunched up together to use as a pillow, Keith had changed into a big, comfy shirt and leggings, and was laying down his own sleeping bag.

They were both curled up on either side of the heater.

Shiro slid Keith’s phone across the space between them, and that was when he noticed the stuffed toy that Keith was hugging.

“You teased me for my star pattern PJ’s and you have a baby hippo?”

Keith glared. “Remember that conversation we had about being a little shit?”

Shiro pouted, but he shut up. He watched as Keith set the phone aside and settled on his sleeping bag across him.

For a long moment, he just stared at the heater’s dim glow, thinking of what to say next. No. No, he knew what he wanted to say next. He just isn’t sure if he should say it.

But what the hell, the night had been weird enough. He decided to go for the risk.

“Hey, Keith?”

“Mm?” Keith’s voice was already muffled behind his hippo plush. He looked smaller like this, huddled into himself, eyes soft. So far from the grumpy, glaring and scowling boy that Shiro had been talking to all night.

“Are… Are you okay?”

Keith’s eyes met his across the three feet of space between them. “What?”

“Are you okay?” Shiro asked.

“Yeah. I’m fine. Why wouldn’t I be?”

“You were attacked, earlier.”

“And? Happens all the time. I mean, you were held at gunpoint-”

“I got out quick. I wasn’t hurt.” Shiro said. “You have bruises. And… and your hands have been shaking all night.”

In the wide open quiet of the church, Keith’s shuddering breath and audible gulp was loud enough for Shiro to hear.

Keith hated it. He hated this show of weakness, to a practical stranger, no less. But Shiro wasn’t wrong. Keith was not okay. 

The man who attacked him was alive, Keith was sure of that. It was just a shoulder wound after all, and it was a shallow stab, and he was even able to run away.

But. Even now, Keith could feel that man’s hands on him, pinning him against that rough wall, rendering him helpless. Keith could still feel the give of flesh under that dagger, and the warmth of the blood on his hand.

Keith hid his face behind Hippo as he let out a strained reply. “I’m fine, Shiro.”

Shiro looked back at the heater again, nodding, accepting the answer, despite knowing it wasn’t true.

“But…” Keith sniffed. “Thank you for asking. It’s been so long.”

Shiro blinked, looking up at him. “So long?”

“Since the last time someone asked me if I’m okay.”

At that, Shiro let out an involuntary whimper.

Then, he let out a sob.

Keith lifted his head. “Wait, why are you crying too?”

“I don’t know.” Shiro sniffed, wiping tears with his jacket’s sleeve. “I just… before I left today, everyone kept asking and asking me if I’m okay.”

Keith looked at him as he hid behind the pile of sweaters, sobbing.

“You have it so tough. And I’m-... I’m so lucky, my life’s good… I have a house… and a family… so why… Why am I still so sad? I shouldn’t be sad.”

“Shiro.” Keith called out to him, voice steady now. “It’s okay.”

Shiro nodded, but he was still sobbing.

“Fuck. Why are we both crying.” Keith grumbled, earning him a teary laugh from the other boy. He scowled, but it was ineffective, paired with tears. “Shut up. If I could punch you, I will.”

Shiro just laughed again. “If I could hug you, I will.”

Keith raised an eyebrow. “What?”

“You deserve hugs, Keith.”

Keith looked disgusted. “Ew. No. I don’t do hugs.”

“You say that now…” Shiro teased, his sobs finally subsiding. “I wanna at least hold your hand.”

Keith looked at him as if he suggested something even crazier than hugs. “What?”

“Shake! I meant shake! Shake your hand!” Shiro corrected, cheeks red in embarrassment. “Because- y’know- we never got to! When we introduced ourselves!”

“We met at a party. Who shakes hands at a party?”

“But you’re special!”

“Excuse me?”

“You saved my life.” Shiro pointed out, and it was so earnest, Keith opened his mouth and couldn’t come up with a retort. “Twice now.”

“I stole your wallet and almost ran you over with a stolen car.”

“But you returned the wallet, and you stopped the car. And the car was borrowed . You said so.” Shiro said, haughty.

Keith really wanted to punch him now.

But he couldn’t.

So he just heaved another sigh and held Hippo out between them.

Shiro blinked. “Um. What?”

“Shake Hippo’s hand instead.”

Shiro stared at him in surprise before he happily reached out, taking one of the stuffed hippo’s worn cotton arms in his hand and then giving it a squeeze. Over the toy, he looked at Keith and smiled his brightest smile yet.

Keith could only take so much of that smile, because he felt like his chest was going to burst. It was too much, too real , too kind -

So he bashed Hippo against Shiro’s face, making the guy yelp, then he hugged Hippo to his chest and laid back down in his sleeping bag, on his side, back facing his companion, because he was terrified of what it would do to him, to fall asleep staring at the other’s face.

“Go the fuck to sleep, star boy.”

“Okay, stabby.”

.


.

In the morning after, it took Shiro a full hour to convince Keith to go with him to the Holts’. For breakfast, he claimed.  Keith deserved a nice breakfast.

Keith fought long and hard, but Shiro wasn’t the champion of his school’s debate team for nothing.

So there he was, standing behind Shiro, wearing his biggest sweater to cover as much of his arms and hands as possible, as a precaution.

They won’t touch him, Shiro assured. The Holts were physically affectionate, but they know how to give space when they know someone is uncomfortable.

Shiro himself prepared to draw away. He’d chalk it up to needing a shower or something. But he would apologize, and let his family know that he simply needed space last night, and he chose to stay with a trusted friend.

But as soon as he stepped inside the house, even before he could announce his presence, someone had already made a beeline towards him.

Shiro froze when Katie crashed against him, her skinny arms impossibly tight around his neck and her face pressed against his shoulder.

Shiro prepared for the black, for the feeling of dread as he got transported into a frighteningly vivid void filled with his foster sister’s greatest fears…

But it never came.

He was just... standing. Right there, by the Holt residence’s front door, with Katie “Pidge” Holt practically hanging off his neck and threatening him to not ever do that stupid running away thing again, Shiro, I swear!

He looked towards Keith, who was equally surprised.

“I… Uh… I’m sorry for worrying you, Pidge.” Shiro said, breathless with relief, hugging the girl back.

The girl let go of him, and then noticed Keith. She looked at him up and down, then stuck her hand out. “I’m Pidge. Thanks for taking care of Shiro.”

Keith gulped, looking at the girl’s hand. His eyes were stormy with doubt and hope, it made Shiro’s chest ache.

Making up his mind, Keith pulled his sleeve up and took Pidge’s hand.

Nothing.

No white. No vision. He turned to Shiro in awe, before he looked back at Pidge, smiling. “I’m Keith.”

Pidge grinned back. Then instead of letting go of him, she tightened her hand around his, grabbed one of Shiro’s, and then dragged them further inside the house.

“Mom! Shiro’s back! He’s got a boyfriend! They both look hungry!”

Keith looked surprised, but he let out an amused little laugh.

Meanwhile, Shiro was gaping at his sister, cheeks red. “Pidge! It’s not like that!”

He wanted to feel more annoyed, but it just felt too good, not being scared to get close to someone anymore.

He squeezed Pidge’s hand in his, and Pidge beamed back at him before she stuck her tongue out, stubborn.

No void. No black. Just him, feet steady on the ground.

Whatever it was that happened to him and Keith the night before... It changed something, yet again.

This time, Shiro knew it, and Shiro was grateful.

.

.

.