“Be with the ones you love.”
The words wrap the meeting up and spur everyone in the room into motion, but Keith remains rooted to his seat for just a moment longer, letting the realness of them sink. It’s weird, after having heard those same words so many times before, to know that this is it. That this time, the room, the people around him, they’re all real. That he’s here.
For a fraction of a second it feels like time stands still, and Keith holds his breath, waiting…
Slowly, like in a dream, Shiro turns, catches Keith staring. He shoots him a smile that Keith knows deep in his bones.
Light doesn’t flash. Keith blinks and he’s still here, back on Earth, sitting at a conference room table at the Galaxy Garrison. Far away from the space whale and the abyss. Back with Shiro.
That smile beckons. Keith takes a deep breath and stands.
Keith’s more familiar than most with the particular smell of pressurized air.
The simulator back at the Garrison, the Castle of Lions, the time spent at the Blade’s base or aboard one of their Vipers. Even the Lions’ air recycling system, however sentient machines worked, made the air in them have that certain pang as well.
The whale’s atmosphere smells similar—kind of aseptic, a hint of ozone—and it should be comforting, maybe. A common thread, a connection to fall back to amidst the endless, chaotic stream of mission, battle, mission, new planet, new enemy, mission, debrief, rinse, repeat. But as he lies back in the post-waking haze each morning—or what they’ve decided constitutes morning. There’s nothing to sync their biorhythms to here, but they’re functioning following a 32-hour cycle for their own sanity—, it’s too easy to believe he’ll open his eyes and find himself back at the Castleship. Too easy to entertain the thought that all he’d have to do is get up and walk to the next door down the corridor to see Shiro.
He knows missing Shiro like he knows breathing. The Kerberos mission. His disappearance after the battle with Zarkon. All the time Keith’s spent away with the Blades… It’s an intimate, familiar feeling that’s made itself a home inside Keith’s ribcage, a tightness that grips at his heart and lungs with violent, vicious anger. Somehow, the pain still stings like on the first day. Burns like all the words he keeps in a tight grip on the tip of his tongue and never gets around to say.
It’s a pattern, he knows. To keep being tormented by all the things left unsaid, to feel the oppressive weight of missing Shiro crushing his chest and to promise to himself not to let things go unspoken again—
And then to let the silence stretch between them when they finally reunite. To feel that small, final step left between Shiro and him like a deep, bottomless chasm, too wide for him to leap across.
It always felt like asking the universe for too much, once he had Shiro back at arm’s reach. Once they were side by side again and the reality of all of Keith’s inadequacies sank in anew.
Shiro is beautiful. Made of starlight and soft touches and gentle words. Love and compassion and a touch of childlike curiosity and wonder, all wrapped in a body meant for protection, for warmth. Keith… He’s just the lone, desert kid. Even now, after everything, he’s still nothing but rough edges and long silences. Prickly and full of thorns, like the desert flowers. His touch alone must sting, but Shiro still holds him close, uncaring about any sharp edges, and Keith can’t possibly want any more than this. He’s already being greedy.
The weight of the words inside his chest is suffocating, but Keith isn’t so much brave as he’s reckless. He’s never had much regard for his life or anything else... anything but this. Anything but Shiro. And it takes a special kind of courage to take something you hold so dear, something this precious, and twist and tug and pull just to see if it won’t break.
“You’re quiet today,” says Krolia. She means quieter. She means, we can talk about it, I know it’s hard.
It’s an opening, and she won’t prod but she lays the offer at Keith’s feet and lets him decide if he wants to take it. She knows it’s hard, because they are for her, too. The visions. Bits and pieces of uncertain futures, or violent reopenings of old wounds that never quite healed properly.
Sometimes, the pain becomes too much, hurts too deeply to be shared, so they learn quickly to keep to themselves whenever the space whale swims too close to the dark stars causing the space-time drop-offs and the visions start coming in spades, relentless and unmerciful... But the glimpses still find them together plenty of times. Unpredictable. Inescapable. Sparring or hunting together or while they’re back at camp. It’s a messy way to get to know someone but they do learn each other, learn the other’s thoughts and quirks and their tells when fighting and how to read emotions in the subtle changes in the other’s expression, and together they pick up the pieces of a lifetime spent apart and find some sort of common ground. Closeness and trust don’t come easy, not to either of them, but they work things out.
When Krolia offers, Keith knows it’s genuine. Feels grateful for it.
“Do you—” his voice breaks. He pauses.
Keith tries again. “Do you ever miss dad?” Not quite it, but close... but he doesn’t have to mention Shiro for Krolia to know. His memories speak volumes, and Shiro features in almost all of them.
Krolia’s smile is a soft, broken thing, but she wears it openly and proudly for Keith to see, doesn’t keep her feelings from him. “With every breath and every beat of my heart.”
Emotion clogs Keith’s chest. His next breath hurts.
“Be with the ones you love.”
It’s nothing but a nice way to call off that final meeting. Just Shiro trying to instil some form of hope into the men and women and aliens about to leave the planet to fight a war that spans millennia. There’s little comfort to be offered in the wake of something like that, something so much bigger than themselves, but Shiro still tries because of course he does.
The phrasing is so very him, nothing special to be made of it.
It makes Keith’s throat tight anyway. Even when he can feel solid ground against his back and the wolf curled into his side, his fur tickling his cheek. It’s still as disconcerting as the first time it happened—to feel himself moving in the visions, talking. To feel the firm weight of Shiro’s hand on his shoulder. The wind in his hair. The smell of sand and heat and engine oil. But also the soft cadence of the wolf’s breathing. The pebble that digs uncomfortably into his shoulder blade where he's lying down. The faint hum of the creature they’ve called home for months now.
He’s here but he’s a million miles away, seeing a future that might or might not end up being his. Sometimes he hopes it will. Others, the thought terrifies him.
In the vision, Shiro’s still making himself busy giving out orders and overseeing all the last-minute preparations, completely ignoring his own advice. That, too, is so very him. To be the one giving away more and more of himself every time. To always hold the weight of the world on his shoulders like this.
It should be Keith, the person who Shiro spends those final hours on Earth with. He knows this in his bones. Whatever this thing between them is, they’re still family. Whatever this is, Keith’s still the person Shiro comes to for comfort, the one with whom he can let the poster boy leader mask fall and, for just a few minutes, be nothing but a traumatized 23-year-old soldier who stretches himself too thin and cares too much and doesn’t sleep nearly enough.
The thought has Keith’s whole body screaming at him to walk up to the man, take that stupid datapad from his hands and drag him away from the commanders and do whatever it takes to smooth the little worry line between his eyebrows. To get them both on a hoverbike and ride as far into the desert as they can make it and pretend for a few hours that Shiro still has two flesh hands and dark hair, no scar across his nose and no backpack full of trauma, and that Keith isn’t Galra and there’s no Voltron and no war waiting for them.
Shiro’s words ring in his ears. The ones you love.
It should be Keith, but even in the vision, that phrasing feels too damning, gives way too much away, fills his stomach with cold dread. When the Blades make to leave the conference room, Keith leaves with them.
White light flashes.
The Galra are survivalists. The war is a testament to that but it goes well beyond—even their anatomy and physiology is made for it, rapidly-evolving and incredibly adaptive, moreso the harsher the habitat.
The atmosphere and the air composition aren’t optimal here, mildly poisonous, a slightly too-low oxygen content, too-high pressure. According to Krolia, it’ll make Keith more resilient, will bring out some secondary Galra traits. He doesn’t care much about that, but they are at war. Anything that makes him stronger—anything that will help him protect his friends—is welcome.
Even if it comes at the cost of a permanent tightness in his chest, a constant shortness of breath. He’s been trailing after one of those weird bug creatures for the better part of 3 vargas and his breathing has turned a tad ragged by now.
Maybe that’s why the next glimpse is this specifically.
A blink and he’s suddenly 18 again and back at the Garrison’s gym. Shiro’s eyeing him from across the mat, guard up, circling him and gauging his movements, poising himself for another round of trading blows and feints. His expression is playful but Keith isn’t fooled—even through the vision he can feel how razor-sharp Shiro’s focus is, feels it etched across his body in his aching muscles and the bruises forming on his limbs and left shoulder and right hip.
The others might think it was the Galra, the arena, that gave Shiro this. That boosted his reflexes and precision and took his advanced combat skills and all the strength in those muscles and shaped it into something powerful and deadly.
They’re wrong. That’s always been all Shiro. The universe can count itself lucky that he tends to pull his punches.
If Keith’s remembering this right, Shiro will have him pinned against the floor in about 8 movements. Keith sees—saw—an opening and rushes to take it, always too impulsive, too impatient. He tries to land a blow to his friend’s side, but Shiro sees it coming and shifts his weight to his right foot in a motion so subtle and so fast it shouldn’t be possible for a man his size. It’s enough to change his balance point, enough to make Keith lose momentum and make it so his flank is now exposed.
Patience yields focus, kid, Shiro had said, heartfelt laughter bubbling through him as he pinned Keith down in a hold not two seconds later, and even as he thrashed and fought to free himself, it had made Keith’s blood boil in ways that had nothing to do with the fight.
Shiro launches himself at Keith now, the thrill of the fight making his eyes dance, and it makes Keith’s blood boil still. The way Shiro’s muscles ripple. The way sweat makes his skin glisten and makes his hair stick to his forehead and how that stupid tank top does nothing to hide Shiro’s broad chest from view. Shiro feints to the left and Keith knows what’s coming—Shiro managing to fully pin him down was a far less common occurrence than anyone looking at his scrawny body would’ve expected; Keith remembers each and every one of those times well—, and he may be faster now, stronger, but he’s far too distracted by Shiro’s scent. By the sounds he makes. By the way his shorts ride up his thighs and sit too low on his hips.
He could cheat. Twist his body just enough to catch Shiro off-guard, throw him off with a high kick to the gut.
He doesn’t want to.
He lets himself be pinned down instead, goes slack under Shiro’s weight easily and shivers as Shiro’s grip tightens around his wrists. His whole body aches, but not where it’s bruised.
“Yield,” Shiro demands. A word painfully theirs, a word that still feels like normalcy amidst this chaos, and Shiro’s straddling him and Keith’s skin burns and it’s like something inside him breaks and shatters, like a dam opening. It startles a laugh out of him, manic first, then wet, and even through the sting in his eyes he can see the way Shiro’s eyebrows pull in in concern.
“I yield,” he breathes out like a spell, tugs at the hold Shiro keeps on his wrists and arches his back into him like he’s wanted to do so many times before.
In the vision, Shiro gasps, eyes blown wide and pupils dark. In the vision, Shiro lets out a low growl and grinds his hips into Keith’s in response.
On the whale, Keith buries his face in the crook of his own elbow and doesn’t fight the tears even as he presses the heel of his hand against his cock.
It seems like each new vision punctuates exactly where Keith went wrong. Everything he could’ve done differently, every step he didn’t take, every wrong turn he’ll make next. His life is a trainwreck of bad decisions—the latest one was just last on Keith’s long list of regrets. Just one moment of weakness, one single indulgence. Enough to see the hunger in Shiro’s eyes. Enough to be haunted by it.
He’s not foolish to believe that’s really what would’ve happened if his past self had acted like he did in the vision, but hope is a dangerous feeling. Insidious. Hope got him kicked out of the Garrison back when his entire being would rebel against the words pilot error. Hope had thrown him into a frantic search that would’ve easily consumed him completely after Shiro vanished from Black’s cockpit, had they not found him. Hope will latch onto his brain like a parasite, and Keith can’t let this one seed grow, can’t toy with the possibility of Shiro reciprocating and risk breaking everything.
The stakes are too high and Keith is not brave enough, but the glimpses never quite feel like dreaming, and that’s his ruin. There’s a certain haziness to dreams, heavy limbs and muted tones and blurry edges, like looking at things through a veil. The visions are sharp and clear, real. He stands atop a cliff and he can smell the desert. He’s in Red’s cockpit and he feels the connection to the lion in the back of his mind. He clenches his fist around the hilt of his sword and the way it digs into his palm feels real.
It feels real when he puts his hand on the pod and it hums under his touch.
It feels real when Shiro says, “Hello, Keith,” his tone all wrong, and Keith’s heart stills in his chest when he turns, cold seeping into his bones at the sight—Shiro bathed in an eerie glow, standing tall and beautiful and deadly. His eyes glower with an anger Keith’s never seen in him.
It feels real when Shiro attacks, fighting in a way that’s familiar, but not. Tainted and shrouded in killing intent, filled with a twisted desire to hurt, to break. Cruel in ways Shiro isn’t. His words are laced with venom.
He comes back with a scream, drenched in cold sweat and gasping for air as sobs wreck through his body. The pain grips at his heart, vicious, brutal, and it’s a kind of profound, soul-shattering hurt he’s never felt before. Layers upon layers of it—for Shiro, for them both, for his friends. All threatening to crush him and crack his ribs open and send everything inside him spilling out. Shiro’s words cut, and Keith feels like he’s being bled dry.
The vision leaves him weak and raw for days. His mind replays it over and over, until every inch of Keith’s body somehow feels sore from a fight he hasn’t fought yet, and convincing himself that Shiro didn’t mean what he said, that everything Keith’s always feared isn’t true, isn’t even the hardest part.
Krolia doesn’t hover, but she stays close, and her presence offers a quiet sort of comfort that Keith can’t not be grateful for. She doesn’t try to tell him that she never meant to abandon him, doesn’t say that Shiro was wrong. When the words tear out of him before he can force them back down and he confesses “I don’t—I don’t want to hurt him, mom” with a broken voice and tears in his eyes, she doesn’t say there’s no way Keith could ever bring Shiro any harm. Instead, she holds Keith closer where he’s curled into her side, runs her hand through Keith’s hair and says, “The future is our own, kid. No one can tell what it’ll bring,” and then, softer, “I know you’ll do what’s right.”
It’s all she says—not what right entails, just a reminder that Keith’s actions are still his own, that he still has a choice, no matter where the visions seem to take them. It settles something anguished and pained inside of him, makes breathing a bit easier.
Like every time before, it’s Shiro who saves him in the end. Kind eyes and a firm hand on his shoulder guiding him through the Garrison hallways and a smile that promises mischief as they sneak the hoverbikes out of the hangar and into the desert. Keith’s heart hammers in his chest when the glimpse hits, but the fear and the pain are easy to put to rest when met with that smile.
He can’t pick apart this one memory right away; they spent so many days like this at the Garrison Keith can hardly keep count, but he treasures each of them for how special they were. The heat rising off the rock around them. The sand biting at his skin as they sped up through the desert. Shiro’s brilliant laugh shaking his whole body and getting lost to the wind. Watching the sunset together with Shiro’s arm carelessly thrown over his shoulders and Keith pressed into Shiro’s side, letting his eyes flutter close and the soothing presence of the man next to him seep into him. Each time, he’d wanted nothing more than to stay in that moment forever.
He remembers how shocked he’d been the second time Shiro had taken him for a ride. There was a purpose to the first, but after that? After that it had all just been Shiro, spending time with him for no other reason than because he enjoyed his company. Sticking around because he wanted to. Taking in Keith’s everything and deciding he was worth loving.
It’s an improbable truth, but one that hadn’t changed as time dragged on with a million stars between them, or when they learnt Keith was part Galra, or as Shiro got a front row seat to the mess that was Keith’s mind during the trials. It’s a tangible, solid thing. Unwavering. A truth that hardly feels like a revelation at this point—it certainly did then, when Keith was only just starting to think of Shiro as a constant where nothing else in his life ever was—, and yet it is.
Clarity feels like breathing. Not earth-shattering, just a piece of himself gently sliding into place over an inhale.
In the wake of admitting he was of the same species that had tortured Shiro and scarred him and shoved him right back into a fight for the universe, the other confession sitting on Keith’s lips when they returned from the Blades’ base shouldn’t have felt so terrifyingly life-changing. Everything Keith touches he breaks, but not this. Not Shiro. Not them.
Shiro went into space, the arena, war, came out a weapon, and still holds Keith like he’s something precious. They were never something Keith could gamble away and lose over some dumb mistake.
In the vision, the sun warms his skin and the wind shakes his hair and he can feel Shiro’s eyes on him, a well-known mix of pride and challenge shining in them. This is home, he thinks. Not the desert, but all the shared, happy moments with this man, whatever life throws at them. Shiro is home.
“See if you can keep up, old timer!” he taunts, more the Keith from the memory speaking than him, as he takes a sharp turn and speeds past Shiro.
“Give me your best shot, kid!” Shiro spurs him on, a beautiful grin splitting his face, and, ah. He knows which memory this is, then. He’s made the jump a million times since, but it feels meaningful that this is what the glimpse is showing him: that very first time he did. He had looked at Shiro—thought about how nice it felt when he messed up his hair, thought about the way he would hug Keith close unprompted and dig his fingers into his side a bit too tightly, a tad desperate... like Shiro, too, didn’t want to let go—, and had realized he never wanted to be left behind again. He wanted, wants, to follow this man wherever the universe takes them.
The jump had felt daunting, then—even as he resolutely hit the thrusters and watched the earth disappear under him, pulse thundering in his ears—but he’d been sure in that moment, had shivered when he’d heard Shiro’s soft, proud wow! as he jumped after him.
It’s easy now. Like finding his footing after being off-kilter for far too long.
It’s always been easy to risk everything for Shiro.
Fighting Shiro hurts every bit as much as it did in the vision, and then some. His stomach twists and ties up in knots and fills with lead and his blood is ice in his veins as the puzzle pieces fall into place and Keith sees clearly what’s coming, but he shoves it all down and doesn’t hesitate to follow after him, all sounds of alarms and the screams of their friends muffled against the heavy thump of his heart. Nothing matters when Shiro needs him—not the universe, not the others, not his own fear—, and it’s a testament to everything they are, to how much Shiro is a fundamental part of him, that Krolia knows she might be about to lose her son and still makes no move to stop him. He doesn’t know how to live without Shiro anyway, hasn’t learnt how to despite how many times the universe has tried to take him away.
He feels the pain in his own skin when he slices Shiro’s corrupted arm off. Shiro screams and the ice inside of Keith cracks and splinters, every tiny needle-like piece lodging itself in his lungs and his heart and his whole body. He looks down at his hands, and he’s almost surprised to find he’s not bleeding. The burn on his cheek means nothing, a too-small price to pay for Shiro’s life.
Then everything comes crashing down.
Keith’s moving before he even knows he is, but the luxite blade slices too easily through the metal of the platform, and he can’t find purchase. The roar of his heartbeat is deafening. His muscles scream as he hoists Shiro up, one last attempt to get him to safety, but the metal gives under their combined weight. He struggles to force air into his lungs, tries desperately to find a solution. There’s a future in which they make it out alive—he knows as much, has seen them back on Earth together—and it can be this one, it has to be this one.
In the back of his mind, Black calls for him, a frantic and desperate plea to let go. Not of the blade, but of the limp body dragging him down. Not Shiro, she seems to say through their bond. Not Shiro, but something different. Something doomed.
Keith, he’d said. Him, not the Witch. A small, broken thing, like a spell. An apology and a call for help, anguished, not threatening anymore, just... scared. Keith looks at the clone, and sees only Shiro. Bathed in starlight and beautiful and perfect.
It’s a peaceful demise for the universe, like the final notes of a song fading out into nothing. The world ending and not knowing it yet. It’ll be louder later, when it falls apart without its warriors, when the Galra empire wins, but there’s nothing now but a quiet whisper as gravity takes its claim over their bodies and they fall towards the planet, white light shining off Shiro’s hair like a parting gift to a world that agonizes. Keith holds tighter onto Shiro’s hand, and can’t mourn it. It was never the fall that scared him.
It’s always been easy to risk everything for Shiro.
“If you don’t give that thing a break it might explode in your hands,” Keith says, walking up to Shiro while pretending his heart isn’t going a mile per minute. At his heel, Kosmo brushes his snout into his side in quiet reassurance. Be with the ones you love. Right. Keith schools his face into a smile and gestures at the datapad at Shiro’s questioning look. “I mean it. I can see smoke coming out of it.”
Shiro’s typically bubbly laugh is a bit subdued, kept just shy of appropriate for a boardroom still full of people, but he still looks at Keith with unshrouded, endless fondness. “Hope not. Don’t wanna lose another limb.”
Keith makes a face. “Too soon,” he says, and the grin pulls harder at the corner of Shiro’s lips.
“I’m almost done here anyway,” Shiro answers Keith’s implicit accusation.
It’s a lie if Keith ever saw one. “Right. I’m sure months of preparations couldn’t possibly be enough.”
Shiro opens his mouth to counter with what’s undoubtedly some sassy remark, but Keith doesn’t give him the chance. Working himself to the bone to the point where he needs to be bodily pried away from his paperwork and threatened with physical violence if he doesn’t take a break is a classical Shiro move, and one Keith has learnt to navigate ruthlessly. And, if he waits around too much, he worries he’ll lose momentum and talk himself out of the conversation he means to have. Be with the ones you love, he reminds himself, like a mantra. They are one, no matter what.
“Hey Veronica!” he calls, cutting Shiro off before he can complain. When the woman turns, Keith takes the datapad from Shiro’s hand, ignores the little hey—! of protest, and throws the offensive thing at her.
He doesn’t wait to see if she catches it. He just grabs Shiro’s wrist and buries his other hand in Kosmo’s fur, and they’re gone.
“Good boy,” he tells the wolf as he takes in their new surroundings. He didn’t exactly plan this but now they’re here he’s glad this is where Kosmo chose to bring them. Atop Black’s head, with the sun dying and painting the desert at their feet a vivid red, like everything's on fire. The bond with the lion is alight and vibrant in his mind, like she, too, is happy to see them here. To see Shiro here. The man hasn’t dared try to see if his connection to the lion is still there—too afraid to find it severed when it gave him such a sense of purpose after his imprisonment with the Galra, when it kept him alive for so long—, but Keith can feel just how besotted Black is with Shiro. That, they share, too. She’s not about to give him up so easily.
I know, girl, he thinks, smiling fondly at his friend as he fumbles a bit while his brain catches up with what just happened. I know. Me too.
“Keith!” Shiro squeaks, tries to look affronted, but it loses all heat when there’s a playful glint playing hide and seek in his eyes and a breathy laugh there to match, his sense of duty at odds with his love for thrill and adventure. “What the hell, I was really almost done! We just had to make sure the last batch of medical supplies got—”
“Ha. No,” Keith stops him, poking at his massive chest with an accusatory finger. “We both know how that story goes. It’s the last day on Earth for you too, big guy. You need a damn break.”
“You could’ve given me a warning!” Shiro mock-protests. “You—Oh my god, you left my arm behind, you jerk!” Oh. Oops. Shiro groans. “Can we at least go get it back?”
Keith snorts. “So you can grab your datapad along the way? Don’t think so. Just summon the thing here.”
“And you call yourself a friend!” Shiro says, bringing his hand to his chest like he’s been struck. “Do you have any idea how hard it’s gonna be to—”
“Shiro, please. You sent it all the way to the Atlas pantry on movie night ‘cause you suddenly wanted pickles.”
They manage to pretend to glare at each other for a grand total of two seconds. Then laughter finally tears through Shiro, and this one is bubbly, it shakes through Shiro’s whole body and forces him to hold onto Keith’s shoulder for support with how he’s doubling over, and it’s loud and open and wonderful and Keith feels a little drunk on it already as he laughs along.
When they come down from it, Shiro’s smile is blinding. His eyes find Keith’s, and hold, and there’s a myriad of emotions in them, so many Keith can’t begin to pull them apart, stars in a clear night sky, but they all weigh heavy inside Keith’s chest and set him alight. “Hey,” Shiro says—and he sounds just shy of breathless, too... but that might’ve been the laughter—. He squeezes Keith’s shoulder. “Thank you… You didn’t have to do this.”
Keith shakes his head. “I know… but you always look after everyone—you always look after me so much,” he whispers. “You deserve to have someone worrying about you, too.”
“Keith…” Shiro breathes out, adds nothing else. Lets the name linger in a space between them, spoken like something small and delicate that he holds impossibly dear. It’s in these little ways that he becomes Keith’s undoing. In how he calls his name like he's making a promise.
“I love you,” Keith says over the next exhale. Just like that. A warm gush of air. A simple truth. It comes so easily it’s almost anticlimactic, in an odd, vindictive way. He fought against himself so hard over this… but loving Shiro is the only thing in his life that’s ever been easy.
Shiro barely looks surprised for a second before his smile is back in place, eyes soft. “I know.”
“Yeah...” Keith says, biting his lip. "Yes, you do. But you also don’t. I love you, Shiro. I’ve loved you through time and space, through a war and multiple realities and all the way back here, to the place where we started. And—you don’t have to feel the same, you’ve already given me everything, but... you know every part of me. I wanted you to know this one, too.”
In the desert, as the day agonizes, there’s always a few instants where the world goes quiet. The breeze dying momentarily with the temperature drop. Diurnal beings hiding as the nightlife awakens. This time, Keith feels those few seconds stretch, and the hammering of his heartbeat in his ears seems almost deafening in contrast. The time he spent thinking Shiro had died in space, all the time away from him while he went on missions with the Blades, all the time spent missing him on the space whale… none of that feels as long as this singular moment, with Shiro just standing there, mouth slightly agape, face frozen halfway between expressions. Then, somewhere to their right, an insect chirps. A coyote howls in the distance and has Kosmo answering back. The wind picks up again, ruffling Keith's hair. Shiro just closes his eyes, eyebrows pinching in concentration. It does nothing to loosen the knots in Keith’s stomach.
“Shiro?” he dares to ask, voice barely above a whisper.
“Just—I need a minute,” Shiro replies, holding one finger up. Then, after another eternity, he shoots Keith a small, impish smile, and adds, “I need my other arm here, I want to hug you properly... I love you.”
He says it so simply, too. Says it like he didn’t just flip Keith’s entire world upside down. Keith lets out a sound, and it takes him a second to realize he’s laughing. His hands are shaking and his cheeks are wet and he sounds a bit deranged but this has been years in the making and he’s allowed to act a bit hysterical as all the pent up tension and fear finally leave him.
Shiro loves him. God.
Saving the universe doesn't compare to this feeling.
He takes a small step forward, but Shiro still holds his palm up higher and puts some more space between them again.
“Shiro!” Keith protests, then laughs harder. God, he’s a mess. He can barely see through the tears in his eyes, but his chest feels so full it’s almost painful. It’s a wonderful feeling.
“Ah!” Shiro says triumphantly then, opening his eyes and meeting Keith’s—his gaze, Keith realizes, is a bit wet, too. Behind them, there’s the unmistakable sound of a small object flying through the air towards them.
Keith is moving before he even knows it, careless as he rushes to close the space between them. In the end, what always felt like an impossible rift was nothing but a few steps. Shiro still meets him halfway.
His feet are off the ground in a second, strong, familiar arms wrapping around his waist and holding him tight against Shiro’s chest. The kiss is cosmic, like supernovae colliding. A tad hungry, a bit desperate, but still somehow soft, and the feeling of Shiro’s breath against his lips makes warmth spread through Keith’s veins like wildfire.
There’s a white flash of light, the last dying rays of sunlight as the sun sets behind the horizon.
This time, when Keith opens his eyes, Shiro is still there with him.