He found the boy huddled behind a dumpster, his knees skinned and wearing a shirt three times too big for him. When he realized Shiro had spotted him, he shrank against the wall, cramming the nubby end of a candy bar in his mouth with grubby hands and pulling a dull pocket knife out of his tattered shoes, pointing it in shaking hands at Shiro.
“You want a ration bar?” Shiro sat down on the wet ground in front of him, pulling the bar out of his side pocket and holding it out to the boy, “they don’t taste great, but they fill you up.”
Humans had become a rarity in the universe, and there certainly weren’t many on this planet, so a human boy huddled in a back alley seemed worth taking some time to investigate, even if Shiro was in a hurry.
The child looked at him with large grey eyes, apparently unsure of whether to take the ration bar or try to stab Shiro. He couldn’t have been more than seven.
Shiro sat patiently, bar extended. It wasn’t like he didn’t know what it was like to feel like everything around you was trying to hurt you.
The boy stared at him, eyes flickering over his metal hand. In a sudden, jerky motion, he snatched the bar from Shiro. Shiro dropped his hands back into his lap, watching the child try to tear open the wrapper with his teeth so he could keep his little knife trained on Shiro.
After a few moments of frustration, hunger won out over paranoia, and the boy dropped his pocket knife into his lap to rip open the wrapper. He crammed half the bar in his mouth and could barely close it to chew.
“Slow down kiddo,” Shiro soothed, “the bar’s all yours. I’m not going to take it back. You kind of already got your coodies on it, anyway.”
The boy froze, blinking at him as if he couldn’t figure out if he was joking or not. Shiro gave him a gentle smile, and the child stared for a moment before going back to trying to chew with his mouth too full.
Shiro let him finish the bar before saying anything else. After swallowing the last too large bite, the boy gave Shiro a speculative look, maybe hoping for more food.
“My name’s Shiro,” he offered instead, “what’s yours?”
The boy didn’t answer, instead wrapping his hand back around his knife, although he didn’t point it back at Shiro.
“Do you have any family?” Shiro asked.
The boy dropped his eyes, shaking his head.
“Anywhere to live?” Shiro prompted.
Another shake of the head, and the child shifted uncomfortably.
Shiro frowned, unsure of exactly what to do. The planet was well developed and heavily industrialized, but he had no idea if they had any infrastructure to deal with orphaned children, and even if they did, it probably wouldn’t extend to humans.
He had a ship, he had food, he could certainly find the boy clothes, but he also had a bounty on his head, and the Galra certainly wouldn’t hesitate to kill a child they found with him. Or worse. The boy might have been better off trying to survive on his own.
Shiro rubbed his natural hand over his face, eyeing the kid from between his fingers. The boy wiped his runny nose on his sleeve and went back to fiddling with his knife.
There was no way he could leave him. He would just have to take him with him until he found a home for him. He could probably keep a kid alive long enough to find someone who would take him.
“How would you like to come with me?” Shiro asked.
The boy gave him a wary look.
“I have a ship,” Shiro explained, “it’s not huge, but it’s sturdy, and I have more food.”
The child continued to look at him uncertainly.
“I’ll keep you safe,” Shiro held his human hand out.
For a moment, he thought the boy was going to refuse and maybe try to bolt, but then he reached out and tentatively put his hand in Shiro’s.
“My name is Keith.”
Shiro had heard about the human settlement from a merchant and thought maybe, just maybe, someone there would be able to take Keith. Not that he had mentioned that to Keith. Once the boy had decided that Shiro was to be trusted, he followed him everywhere, latching onto his hand whenever it was free, sitting on his lap when he piloted, curling up with him in bed at night.
Shiro wasn’t going to say anything to him about him living with someone else until he was absolutely sure he had a good home for him. He knew it would be a hard transition for Keith, but being on the run from the Galra was no life for a child. Keith deserved better than that.
He wasn’t going to find a home on this planet though. The Galra had beat them there. Probably slavers, if the low body count was any indication. There were bodies though, and almost nothing left of the settlement. Shiro was glad Keith was still safely back on the ship.
Despite the unlikelihood of survivors, Shiro had looked through the rubble. He didn’t have time to give the dead the burial they deserved, not with Keith waiting anxiously for his return and the possibility of the Galra returning, but he at least wanted to make sure there was no one here who needed help.
When Shiro heard crying, he was thankful he had taken the time to look.
“Hello?” Shiro called, “where are you?”
The crying stopped immediately.
Shiro frowned. There wasn’t much left of the building the crying had come from. Whoever was there must need help.
“Are you alright?” he yelled.
He didn’t get any response, but he thought he heard shifting under the rubble.
“I need to know where you are to help you,” Shiro tried again.
There was a pause, then a suddenly squeak, “you’re human!”
It was a child’s voice.
“I’m human,” Shiro confirmed, “just keep talking, and I think I can find you.”
The boy didn’t really need the prompting. He babbled and sobbed non-stop once he realized Shiro wasn’t one of the Galra come back looking for more captives. Shiro, focused on digging him out without collapsing the house down any farther, was only half listening, but he got the gist of it.
The boy’s name was Lance, and when the Galra had come, his parents had hidden him in the crawl space under the house. He didn’t really know what had happened after that, but he was scared, and he wanted his parents.
It didn’t take much imagination on Shiro’s part to fill in the parts Lance didn’t know, and he had no hope that he would be able to reunite Lance with his parents, but at least he could get Lance out.
By the time he lifted the boy out of the rubble, he seemed to be running out of energy. He wrapped his arms and legs around Shiro like an octopus and cried tiredly for his mom and dad. Shiro wrapped his jacket around him, covering his head so he wouldn’t be able to see the carnage, and brought him back to the ship.
After he got Lance settled on the ship with a very suspicious Keith, Shiro went back. He found photos in the rubble of the building he had pulled Lance from, and he found the people in the photos. They hadn’t survived the raid.
Shiro sat on the burnt grass outside the remains of the house, staring at the photos and trying to calm his nerves before he had to go back to two scared little boys, and tell one of them he was an orphan now.
Shiro wasn’t sure how he was going to do it, but he knew with absolute certainty that Lance was coming with them.
Shiro learned quickly that he needed to sleep between the boys. They both wanted to be in his bed, but Lance squirmed and cried in his sleep, and Keith got agitated and grumpy and pushed him off the bed.
They were finding their equilibrium though, and when Shiro jerked awake from nightmares, the little hands holding onto him and the sleepy complaints at being dislodged grounded him almost instantly, and he knew exactly where he was.
All things considered, it wasn’t a bad place to be.
Supply runs had become a whole new kind of adventure. Keith always wanted to go with him, and if he couldn’t, he didn’t want Shiro to go at all. Lance always wanted out of the ship whenever they landed, because he was both bored of being cooped up and curious about the new places they visited.
Shiro felt like he needed at least one extra hand, possibly two, because Keith never wanted to let go of his hand, and if he didn’t keep ahold of Lance, he was prone to wandering off. He didn’t seem to do it on purpose. He just got interested in things and people, and suddenly he wasn’t with them anymore. Shiro would find him five shops away, sitting on the counter and chatting with the shopkeeper about what it was like to have so many eyes.
Needless to say, taking the boys shopping with him was stressful, but he had a hard time saying no to them when it was safe enough. They were stuck in the ship a lot of the time, and Lance was so excited and happy when he got to come, and Keith gave that shy, happy smile of his when Shiro let him pick out toys and sweets.
He was going to have to come up with rules for Lance though. This was the third time this trip that he had let go of his hand to pay a clerk and pack supplies into his pack, only to look up and find him gone.
The shopping district was filled with street stands that had proven irresistible to the boy. He didn’t seem to want to buy anything; he just wanted to see all of it and talk to every single shop keeper on the street.
Meanwhile, Keith hid behind Shiro’s leg any time anyone even looked at him and was more than a little grumpy that they were having to look for Lance again.
“We could leave him here,” the boy grumbled, “if he wants to be with us, he should stop leaving.”
“We’re not leaving Lance,” Shiro patted Keith’s head absently, scanning the street, “you’d have no one to trade Do-Go cards with if we did.”
The card game was one of the few things Lance and Keith could actually play without arguing. Shiro did not understand the game at all, but it involved playing cards with brightly colored monsters on them and lots of shouting of catch phrases.
“Can I get new cards?” Keith asked hopefully, “Lance isn’t here, so he must not need anymore.”
Shiro quirked a smile down at Keith, “if we spot a place that sells them, we can get a few.”
Shiro wasn’t exactly panicked yet. This planet was fairly friendly towards humans, although there weren’t a lot of them here, and most shop keepers were more amused by Lance then bothered by him. He still wasn’t at all comfortable with the boy disappearing constantly. He was going to have to come up with some kind of standardized consequence system for Lance if he kept doing this.
Shiro turned to see Lance coming out of an alleyway, waving at him excitedly. He couldn’t help but rub the bridge of his nose in exasperation. An alleyway? Really?
Any thoughts of scolding were derailed when he realized Lance was tugging another boy towards them by the hand. He seemed to be about the same age as Keith and Lance, and his clothes had seen better days. When Lance stopped in front of them, the boy ducked behind him, grabbing onto his arm with the hand Lance wasn’t holding and shifting nervously.
“This is Hunk,” Lance said enthusiastically, “he doesn’t have any place to live, so he’s coming home with us.”
“Lance…” Shrio found himself momentarily at a loss for words.
He had had no intention of starting a home for wayward humans when he had taken Lance and Keith in. It had just kind of happened.
But Lance was looking at him with absolute confidence that he would help, and Hunk was peering over Lance’s shoulder, looking equal parts frightened and hopeful.
Shiro bought the boys lunch. Hunk ate two huge samosas, and shyly accepted Keith’s when he offered it. Shiro bought Keith another one, then a fourth one for Hunk when it was obvious he was still hungry. Lance, meanwhile, was talking so much he hadn’t even gotten through one.
It was hard to get Hunk talking, and not just because his mouth was full. He was nervous and uncertain, and he kept looking at Lance every time Shiro asked him a question. Lance just smiled and nodded encouragingly.
Shiro managed to find out that Hunk’s parents had died a few years ago, and he did chores for the shopkeepers for food, but he didn’t really have any place to go, and no one to look after him. There was no way Shiro could just leave him on his own, but they also couldn’t stay on this planet while they hunted for someone who might be able to take him in. It was dangerous for Shiro to stay in any one place too long, and by extension, dangerous for the boys.
It looked like Lance was right; Hunk would be coming home with them.
Hunk started to cry when Shiro told him. Lance hugged him tight, babbling about how great the ship was, and Keith tentatively held his hand.
As they were boarding the ship, Lance leaned close to Hunk and said in what he must have thought was a whisper, “Shiro is the best ever! He’ll take really good care of you.”
Why did Lance always make it so hard to ground him?
Hunk took apart the toaster, the microwave, and a thrust stabilizer that hadn’t worked in over a month. When he realized Shiro might be upset with him for it, he started to cry.
Once Shiro had calmed him down, he put them all back together, and they worked better than they ever had. Still, Shiro asked him not to take apart anything else on the ship. He started looking for cheap, broken devices he could buy for Hunk so he would have something to tinker with. He somehow cobbled together a little sun lamp and watering system and started growing herbs in the kitchen.
He snored, but Lance and Keith both swore that Shiro snored as well. If it had just been Lance, Shiro probably wouldn’t have believed it, but Keith was a terrible liar, even in jest. Hunk didn’t mind Lance’s squirming and kicking though, so he managed to find a spot for himself on Shiro’s bed.
Shiro was starting to think he needed a bigger bed. The ship had other cabins, but the boys all wanted to be with him. He didn’t have it in him to tell them no when Keith wouldn’t sleep without Shiro there, and Lance still had nightmares, and Hunk looked like someone had just kicked a puppy at the very suggestion.
He labeled a jar ‘stop falling out of bed fund’ and stuck it in the kitchen, dropping change in it on the rare occasion that he had a little bit he felt like he could spare. The boys sometimes dropped in the change Shiro gave them to buy treats when they stopped for supplies, particularly if they had fallen off the bed the night before.
The jar filled up surprisingly fast.
“Dad, that’s a distress beacon,” Keith pointed to the flashing light on the communication panel.
Shiro had almost choked the first time Keith had called him that. Keith had been half asleep, wandering into the kitchen in the early morning to tell him Lance was crying in his sleep and Hunk had fallen off the bed again. Keith had turned bright red when he realized what he had said, and Shiro had immediately scooped him up, covering his face in kisses until he was giggling helplessly, then gone to check on Lance and Hunk.
He was starting to get used to it, although his heart still stuttered a little when Keith said it.
Shiro glanced over at the screen, seeing that it was a ship beacon. He frowned slightly, unsure of what to do. The universe was full of unscrupulous people who had no qualms about using destress beacons to get the jump on someone, and even if it was a genuine beacon, they had very few resources to actually help anyone.
“We should go check on it, shouldn’t we?” Keith looked up at him from his perch in the co-pilot’s seat.
They probably shouldn’t, really, but he had three little boys on his ship who were only there because he had taken the risk of checking on them. It was hard for him to say no in light of that.
“We’ll get a little closer and see if we spot anything,” Shiro changed their course.
By the time the ship came into view, Lance and Hunk had wandered into the cockpit.
“What’s that?” Lance asked, wedging himself into the co-pilot seat beside Keith.
“It’s a ship,” Hunk answered before Shiro could, then added anxiously, “but it looks like it’s been damaged. Why is it damaged?”
“I don’t know,” Shiro said, although that wasn’t entirely true.
He could tell the ship had been attacked, although he couldn’t say by who. His first instinct was to run. They were basically a cargo ship, and a stolen one at that. They really didn’t have any of the equipment they needed to deal with an outright attack.
“Can we help them?” Lance asked eagerly, “they’re asking for help.”
He pointed to the blinking distress beacon.
“I don’t know how much we can do, buddy,” Shiro said reluctantly.
“We can at least ask them if they’re okay,” Lance pointed out.
A ship that damaged was definitely not okay, but trying to hail them wasn’t a bad idea. The long range sensors weren’t showing any other ships in the area, so they were probably alright to pause at least for a few minutes to try to find out what was going on.
There was no answer to the hail, and scans of the ship showed its life support was almost gone. It wasn’t likely that there was anyone left alive on board.
“I don’t think there’s much we can do,” Shiro told the boys.
“You could use the space suit,” Hunk leaned into him, “just to look. Just in case.”
Shiro looked between the three hopeful faces and sighed in defeat. How did you say no to someone who thought you could do anything?
Shiro didn’t regret going.
The ship had definitely been attacked by the Galra, and it didn’t look like there were any survivors, but Shiro wasn’t above scavenging a ship for supplies. They were always sorely in need of them, and the people here had no use for any of it anymore.
It was while he was poking around one of the cargo bays that he found the unused escape shuttle. It seemed to be in good condition and the life support was fully functional. It was small enough that it would fit in their haul, too. It would be nice to have an extra shuttle, and if nothing else, Shiro could scrape it for parts.
As soon as he opened the airlock, he heard a baby crying.
She was hidden under a bench, strapped into a baby carrier. Shiro picked her up immediately, cradling her against his shoulder. She hiccupped and wiggled in his arms, before finally settling with little fists grabbing onto the groove in Shiro’s suit.
The only option that even entered his mind was taking her with him.
The boys came rushing into the cargo bay, tripping over each other in their eagerness to see the baby Shiro had told them he was bringing back. Lance practically climbed up Shiro’s leg to see her, and Shiro dropped down to one knee so they could get a better look.
“What’s her name?” Lance asked eagerly.
“I don’t know,” Shiro shook his head.
“How old is she?” Lance reached out to let the baby hold onto his finger.
“I don’t know,” Shiro repeated patiently.
“Can we call her Spearow?” Lance bounced on his toes.
“Like in your card game?” Shiro gave him a dubious look.
“Yeah,” Lance grinned, “she has hair like a spearow, and spearows are really cool.”
“No,” Shiro said firmly.
“She does kind of have hair like a spearow,” Keith agreed, “also, she smells.”
“Yeah,” Shiro stood up, “I think she needs her diaper changed.”
“Do we have any diapers?” Hunk asked, looking away from the shuttle he had been inching towards.
“No,” Shiro felt the beginnings of a headache coming on, “we’ll just have to make do.”
“What does she eat?” Lance asked.
Shiro sighed, “I don’t know.”
“Well, she has to eat food goo,” Keith said practically, “that’s all we have.”
“Babies don’t eat food goo,” Lance looked scandalized at the thought, “babies eat milk, and mushy gross baby food.”
“Well, we don’t have that,” Keith frowned at him, then looked up worriedly at the baby when she started to fuss, “dad, what will she eat?”
“We’ll figure it out,” Shiro tried to sound reassuring, “Keith, Lance, go back to the cockpit. Don’t touch anything. Just check and make sure there aren’t any ships around.”
The boys agreed eagerly, glad to have a job that sounded so important. They raced each other to the cockpit despite Shiro yelling at them not to run.
“Hunk,” Shiro turned to find the boy in questions perched precariously half way up the shuttle’s haul, trying to work open a panel, “please don’t take the shuttle apart.”
Hunk made a disappointed sound and slid back to the ground.
“You can help me tune it up later,” Shiro offered, “for now, I need something to lay the baby in. Something that will be kind of like a cradle. Can you find me something?”
“Okay,” Hunk agreed eagerly, scampering away.
Shiro looked down at the fussy baby in his arm. Lance had actually asked all the right questions, and he didn’t know any of the answers. He had no idea how to take care of a baby.
The baby stretched and kicked her legs restlessly, letting out a disgruntled gurgle.
Diapers first, then he would figure out the rest.
What did babies eat? How did babies eat? Shiro had food goo in his hair, and it seemed like there was more smeared on the baby’s face then inside her.
She was actually pretty pleased with this, and happily smeared more all over the table.
Shiro let his head fall to rest on the table with a clunk. He was so not cut out for this.
“Here, dad,” Keith handed him a damp cloth.
“Pigeon, you’re supposed to eat the food, not play with it,” Lance hopped up to sit on the table in front of the makeshift high chair.
Shiro still hadn’t picked out a name for the baby yet. Hunk had started calling her ‘Pigeon’ because he said the cooing sound she made when she was happy sounded like one. Lance had agreed enthusiastically and wanted that to be her real name, but Shiro had vetoed that, along with a half dozen character names from Do-Go.
The boys had all started calling her ‘Pigeon’ though, or sometime Pidge, and nothing Shiro did could get them to stop.
Lance picked up the spoon the baby had tossed across the table and started trying to feed her. He made funny faces at her and snuck the food in while she laughed. It always worked better when Lance did it then when Shiro tried for some reason.
“Thanks Keith,” Shiro straightened, accepting the cloth and using it to wipe off his hands and face.
“Um… Shiro?” Hunk crept to the side of his chair, fiddling with the hem of his shirt, “the warning light is on again for the engine coupling, and also the coolant is leaking again.”
Shiro sighed and rubbed his eyes, “thanks for telling me Hunk.”
Food goo went flying, hitting Keith in the face.
“Hey!” he turned to glare at Lance.
“It wasn’t me!” Lance protested, “Pidge threw it.”
The baby gurgled happily, waving goo covered hands around.
“You were supposed to be feeding her though,” Keith glared.
“Keith it was just an accident,” Shiro pulled the boy to him, using the cloth to wipe his face off.
Keith huffed, but didn’t argue.
“Shiro?” Hunk tugged his sleeve, a quiet reminder that there was currently coolant leaking into their engine room.
Shiro looked between the four children, all of them needing his attention in some way, and also needing him to keep their ship from falling out of the sky. Never mind trying to scrape together enough to feed all of them, and making sure they stayed under the Galra’s radar.
He needed help. He had been reluctant to even consider trying to hire more crew because the sort of person who would be willing to crew for an escaped Galra prisoner with a price on his head wasn’t exactly trust worthy, and he was not going to expose the kids to any more danger then he had to by bringing someone he couldn’t trust onboard, but he was going to have to start keeping eye out for someone, at least an engineer who could help keep the ship up and running.
There was no way he could keep this up on his own.
Until then though, he had to make sure the ship didn’t implode.
“Lance you’re in charge of the baby,” Shiro said, standing up from the table, “Keith, go watch the cockpit, let me know if anyone shows up in our space, and Hunk, you and I will go fix the engine.”
Lance and Keith agreed to their assigned chores, and Hunk eagerly took Shiro’s hand, pulling him towards the engine room.
Shiro just had to keep things going until he found the right person.
Lance and Hunk were AWOL. Again.
Shiro’s voice was practically hoarse from yelling over the noisy market crowd at them to stay close. Keith, on the other hand, was plastered to Shiro’s side, grip white knuckled on his shirt and stubbornly refusing to lift his face from where it was pressed against Shiro’s hip. Keith did not like large crowds or places with lots of chaotic noise, and any minute now, he was either going to start crying or hitting people. Possibly both.
There wasn’t much Shiro could do about it though with Katie in his arms. He was strong enough to carry both of them, but not coordinated enough to stop Katie from face planting when she tried to dive out of his arms every time she saw something she wanted to put in her mouth.
Taking all four kids to the market had probably not been his best idea.
Even more pressing then Keith’s imminent melt down, and Katie’s attempts to poison herself, was the pervasive feeling that someone was watching them. The hairs on the back of Shiro’s neck had been standing up practically since they had reached the market, and he was about ready to start yelling himself.
Shiro knew he could be paranoid; he knew that just because he felt like there was something sneaking up on him, didn’t mean there actually was. He had had enough moments on the ship where he was practically hyperventilating because he was so sure he was about to be attacked to know that how he felt wasn’t always a reflection of reality.
But for right now, he felt like his skin was crawling, and having Lance and Hunk out of his sight was starting to make him feel panicked.
He gave up on trying to collect the rest of the supplies then needed and started pushing through the crowd looking for them, Katie held to his chest, and Keith’s hand held firmly in his own.
When he finally found them, his fears were not quelled at all.
They were standing near the shuttle docks, chatting away with a pair of aliens. A man with a huge orange mustache and pointed ears was crouched down in front of them, nodding along and smiling encouragingly. Lance was making huge gestures, and Hunk was clutching something to his chest, practically bouncing with excitement.
It was the woman standing behind the man that really got Shiro’s hackles up though. The intensity that she was staring at Lance and Hunk with made him want to snatch the boys up and run. He wanted all the kids back on the ship right now.
Both boys jumped and turned to look at him as his strode up to them, their grins never faltering.
“Shiro!” Lance smiled up at him happily, “this is Coran and Allura. They’re really nice, and they helped Hunk.”
“See!” Hunk held up the contraption in his hands, “Lance gave me his candy money so I would have enough to buy it and even though it’s broken, I thought I could maybe fix it, but it was tricky, and then Coran showed me how, and now it works!”
Shiro had no idea what Hunk was holding, and at the moment, he didn’t care. Keith was attached to his hip again, and Katie was pulling his hair, and Shiro really wanted to be between Lance and Hunk and these strangers.
“That was nice of him,” Shiro did his best to keep his voice level, “Did you say thank you?”
“Yes!” Hunk smiled brightly, “he was just telling us about the time he was on this space ship, and there was this big explosion and everything broke and…”
“That sounds like a good story, buddy, but we need to get home,” Shiro interrupted him.
“Actually,” Coran stood up, “these fine lads of yours were telling us that you have a ship.”
Shiro tensed, hand dropping down to cradle Keith’s head protectively.
“We do,” he said.
“Perhaps we could purchase passage on it,” Allura said smoothly, “we’re looking for transportation.”
She was looking at Pidge and Keith now with the same intensity she had been staring at Lance and Hunk with.
“No,” Shiro said firmly, “we don’t take passengers.”
“Shiro,” Lance dragged his name out as if he thought he was missing something obvious, “Coran is a ship engineer. He could fix our engine.”
“He’s fixed lots of ships,” Hunk added excitedly, “and he told me all about how to fix the power coupling so it would stop breaking.”
Shiro eyed the pair again. He really only knew the very basics about maintaining their ship, and the sorts of repairs that were starting to come up were beyond him. They needed someone who knew what they were doing.
“I am quite the mechanic, if I do say so myself,” Coran puffed his chest out a bit, “one might even think my name was Coranic.”
Allura rolled her eyes at him, a fond smile softening her features, and Lance burst into riotous laughter.
“And we can pay, of course,” Allura added.
Shiro frowned, fingers smoothing through Keith’s hair, and bouncing Katie to try to distract her from chewing on the collar of his shirt. Skills and money, the two things they needed right now.
That wasn’t worth anything if it put the kids in danger though.
He needed to think about this a little, preferably without the distraction of feeling like the kids were about to be snatched away from him.
“We need to get back to the ship,” Shiro said, “you can come with us that far, and I’ll think about it.”
He didn’t have enough hands to grab all the kids, so instead he handed off the shopping bag to Hunk, and Katie to Lance, knowing that that would keep them focused enough to keep them close, and finally, he could pick Keith up.
The boy immediately wrapped his arms and legs around Shiro, clutching at him almost desperately, and Shiro pressed a kiss to his hair and gave him a squeeze.
“I don’t want them on our ship,” Keith huffed into Shiro’s ear, “it’s ours.”
“We’ll figure it out,” Shiro reassured him, cradling his head against his shoulder, “don’t worry about it, buddy.”
Lance and Hunk chatted away with Coran, Hunk asking him an endless stream of questions about the way things worked, and Lance laughing at his corny puns. It was obvious they had already taken a liking to him.
When they got back to the ship, Shiro sent the kids inside, even managing to pry Keith off of him so Hunk could lead him inside by the hand. Once the airlock had closed behind them, he turned his attention to Coran and Allura.
“So where are you trying to go exactly?” he asked.
“Para Quadrant,” Allura answered.
“That’s really far away,” Shiro quirked an eyebrow at her.
“It is,” Coran said brightly, as if Shiro had gotten an answer right on a test.
“Not far enough,” Allura grumbled under her breath.
Shiro gave her a suspicious look.
“That arm of yours is Galra tech, if I’m not mistaken,” Coran said much too casually.
Shiro tensed, his left hand coming up unconsciously to grip at the point where his flesh ended and metal began. He didn’t remember how he had lost the arm, and he tried very hard not to remember how he got the metal one, although he wasn’t always given a choice on that.
“It is,” Shiro tried to keep his voice level, “what about it?”
Coran pulled up the edge of his shirt, showing a large claw-like scar wrapping around his side and up to his rib cage. Allura pulled her hair away from her neck and tilted her head, showing the edges of a slashing scar coming up over her shoulder and the base of her neck.
“I think we have a common enemy,” she said.
“The Galra are everyone’s enemy,” Shiro scoffed.
“You’re not wrong,” Coran agreed, “they destroyed our planet. We just want to get as far away from them as we can.”
Shiro shifted, feeling a twinge of sympathy in his chest. They had a common enemy at least, but that wasn’t the same as being allies.
“I think that’s probably what you want too,” Allura eyed Shiro’s arm pointedly.
Shiro held his breath for a moment, then let it out slowly and rubbed the bridge of his nose.
“The engine is old, and it needs everything done,” he said with a certain resignation, “we’re broke, so you get to pay too, and you do not go near my kids unless I’m there. Are we clear?”
“Absolutely,” Coran said enthusiastically.
“Thank you Captain Shiro,” Allura extended her hand to shake his.
“It’s just Shiro,” he took her hand in his, shaking it firmly.
Keith was going to be furious, but at least there would be more grown-ups for Katie to chew on.
And if they so much as looked at the kids funny, Shiro would push them out of the airlock.
Para Quadrant had come and gone.
“Who’s our pretty little pigeon?” Allura cooed to the toddler in her high chair.
“Katie! Katie!” she yelled happily.
Katie’s vocabulary seemed to get bigger every day, and Shiro still hadn’t quite gotten over her first word being ‘bot’ in response to Hunk not sharing the remote control robot Coran had built him. Lance had been so disappointed. He had really wanted her first word to be his name.
“I don’t want to go,” Keith crunched sullenly on his toast, getting crumbs all over Shiro.
“You can’t stay this time, buddy,” Shiro shifted the boy on his lap so he could reach his tea, “you need new clothes.”
“There’s nothing wrong with my clothes,” Keith huffed, picking at the hole in the leg of his pants.
“You look like a space hobo,” Lance skipped cheerfully by Shiro’s chair and clamored up into the chair next to him.
“I do not,” Keith tried to kick at him, but Shiro put his hand on his shine to stop him.
“Lance don’t tease Keith,” Shiro reprimanded mildly, “and Keith, don’t kick people.”
“What if they deserve it?” Keith demanded.
“If you think they deserve it, come tell me,” Shiro ruffled his hair.
“You always tell me no when it’s Lance,” Keith grumbled.
“… and then, then there was a pivot joint, and then it fit!” Hunk trailed into the room on Coran’s heels, excitedly talking about something Shiro was sure he wouldn’t understand, but Coran was nodding along with enthusiasm.
As it turned out, Coran really was a top rate mechanic. The ship had never run so well, and Hunk followed him everywhere, eager to learn everything he could about how things worked. Lance, on the other hand, followed Coran around trading terrible puns with him.
Coran’s niece had turned out to have a variety of skills that were useful to them, although Shiro had been most excited about her having medic training. She certainly wasn’t a doctor, but when Lance had broken his finger doing dares with Keith, she had had no trouble setting it.
Both boys were now banned from playing on the catwalks in the cargo haul.
Allura was currently covered in food goo courtesy of Katie. It had been clear pretty much since she boarded the ship that Allura had more enthusiasm then aptitude when it came to kids. She didn’t necessarily know what to do with them, but she wanted to help.
Shiro was starting to feel more comfortable with that, although he still didn’t like the kids alone with them. He had been comfortable enough to extent an offer to them to stay as crew. He couldn’t pay them, but he could offer room and board, and the ability to keep moving.
Just like him, Allura and Coran weren’t looking for a final destination; they were looking for a safe haven. With the Galra Empire ever expanding, a ship that could keep racing out past them was a better haven then any planet.
“Coran! Coran!” Lance reached across the table for cereal, trying to get Coran’s attention at the same time.
“Yes?” Coran passed the cereal to him.
“What do you call cheese that’s not yours?” Lance asked excitedly.
“What?” Coran played along, although Shiro was pretty sure he had heard this one.
“Nacho cheese!” Lance said triumphantly.
While Keith rolled his eyes, Coran and Hunk both laughed.
“I have one!” Hunk plopped down in his chair, reaching for toast and jam.
“Let’s hear it,” Coran encouraged.
“Why are all the other numbers afraid of 7?” Hunk asked.
“Because it’s odd!” Lance said.
“Because 7 ate 9!” Hunk countered with equal enthusiasm.
“Both outstanding answers!” Coran laughed.
Keith snickered despite himself, and Shiro grinned, resting his chin on top of the boy’s head.
The ship was shaping up to be more than just a haven; bit by bit, it was becoming home.