The Runners: a criminal organisation within the Altaen city that transports illegal packages, often involved with assault and murder of blues. Its members have flagrant disregard for the law and tend to trespass within government buildings. The beginnings of such a group are unclear, only that now the leader of the Runners is called Takashi Shirogane, commonly known as Shiro or the black paladin. He and his adoptive siblings, Keith Kogane (the red paladin) and Katie Holt, or “Pidge” (green) are now the three well known players of the crime group.
Other associated members – although there is yet to be enough evidence to place them all within the organisation – are Lance McClain (rumoured to be the blue paladin) and Hunk Garrett (yellow). It is said that high society members, Allura Alfor and Coran Hieronymus Wimbleton Smythe (her advisor) also have ties with the group, but all claims have been denied.
The term ‘paladin’ has been a cause for confusion, as the word is to mean ‘a knight renowned for heroism and chivalry’ – and that is the last thing these criminals are known for.
Keith loves the feeling of flying. Always has, always will. There’s something about the lightness within it, the height, the danger, the thrill of the wind and the possibility of the fall. When he was young he wanted to be one of the blues – the police – because they flew their helicopters all around Altea, and they got to feel that way every day.
But this: this was better than the machines, this way of flying was human .
He ran along the scaffolding on the side of the skyscraper, he was so high up that he couldn’t even see the people on the streets. It was just him and the faint sound of traffic. Just him as the birds. Keith leapt as he ran, kicking himself off of the wall and up onto the next platform, climbing higher and higher up the building.
The package was clipped to his waist and he felt the weight of it at his side. He wasn’t sure what was in there, maybe weapons, maybe information. That was as powerful as any gun these days.
On top of the building, he paused. As a Runner, he always had to find paths; one movement to another, one step then the next. He had to plan where he would be a minute from then and not make it up as he went along. Sometimes there was danger in improvising; the type of danger that didn’t feel freeing, but suffocating.
Keith took a long breath, sucking the cold air into his lungs before letting it back out again.
“You’ve stopped,” a voice said in his ear. Keith smirked, stepping towards the edge of the tower. His eyes scanned the nearby buildings and his movements began plotting themselves out in his head.
“Just taking in the view, Pidge,” Keith replied, the comms system picking up his words.
“The view isn’t going to get you to your destination,” she retorted, and Keith could faintly hear the clacking of her fingers on the keyboard. Keith’s eyes caught on a nearby wire, from his building to the next.
“Nah, but it sure is pretty,” he said, before breaking out into a sprint towards the edge of the roof. At the last second, he jumped, feeling the world slow and the wind whip at his hair. It was just him and the flying, and then he caught onto the line, swinging along on the zip wire.
At the next building he jumped from the line and rolled on impact. Then he was off running again, opening the roof door and running down the stairwell.
“There’s a helicopter in your area,” Pidge told him. “I don’t know what they’re looking for, but you might want to stay off their radar.”
“What, are you worried about me?”
Pidge snorted. “As worried as I am about getting a cold.”
“In this heat?”
“Exactly,” she drawled. Keith slipped out into a corridor, hiding in an alcove as someone passed, before heading off again. It was smart to go through the building, but he had no idea where he was going to get out of it again. The ground could be too dangerous; the blues were always roaming, always looking out for packages and his face.
“Tell me there’s a duct system,” he muttered, coming to a halt at the corner.
“Hold on… yeah, take the next right. You should be able to see it up on the ceiling.” Keith followed his instructions, jumping off of one wall to the one opposite, and climbing inside. “Follow it straight, go down, and then to the right. That should open in the elevator shaft.”
“What would I do without you?”
“Get lost in the building probably.”
A new voice clicked into the comms: “Pidge, why don’t you banter with me like that?”
“Because you get defensive, Lance,” she replied. “Are you in position?” Keith slipped down the shaft and moved right, until he made it into the elevator shaft.
“I’m a building away,” Lance said. “There’s a helicopter hanging around so I had to do it the difficult way.”
“What way would that be?” Keith asked before leaping across the gap. He used a pole to swing to the other side of the shaft, at the maintenance point. Above him, one of the elevators was coming down, and he watched it carefully.
“The way in which I had to go underground to get back up to the roof,” Lance complained.
“Wait, like, the sewers?” Keith frowned, stepping out onto the elevator as it passed him. He stood on top, before kneeling down to open the hatch, trying to keep it quiet. “Are you in them right now?”
There was silence and then: “no comment”. Keith snorted and Pidge laughed through the comms. There was a beat. “Pidge, how do I get out of here?” Keith tuned out as Pidge began instructing Lance, instead focusing on the elevator that was slowing to a halt. He pried open the hatch, peering down into the now empty box. The doors shut on the elevator and he jumped down, punching in the sixth floor. Apparently there’d be a balcony for him to jump out onto, according to Pidge’s blue prints.
The rest of the drop went by quickly. Keith ran through the hallways, an office and out onto a balcony where he jumped the gap to the drain pipe on the next building. He climbed up that and waited underneath a fan system for Lance to appear.
Lance took his sweet time getting up from the sewers, but when he did, Keith crawled out into the open and smirked.
“I can smell you from here,” he said, unclipping the package. Lance rolled his eyes.
“Shut up Mullet Head, I could still make you run the rest of the drop.” Keith rolled his eyes, handing the package in the thin yellow box over.
“Good luck.” Lance nodded.
“Save me some pizza, will you?” he asked, and Keith rolled his eyes.
“Get out of here!” Lance grinned, before turning and running off. Keith watched for a split second as he leapt from the roof of that building to the next, before walking back along the roof in a different direction.
In the distance, he could see the helicopter circling another building. Keith glanced down to the street, and resolved to walk back until he saw the red symbol on the wall. Frowning, he glanced around. The symbol meant that a package had been left behind on a previous run: the blues were too close or it just wasn’t possible to finish the drop.
He hadn’t heard of any packages over in this area, though.
“Hey, Pidge, you there?”
“Have we left any packages at this building?” There was a pause, the clacking of the keyboard, and then:
“Not that I know of.” Keith brushed his fingertips along the mark. It was on the wall to the stairwell that would lead down into the building, and the only place to hide the package would be on top. “Have you found something, Keith?”
“I’m not sure,” he replied, jumping up the wall and pulling himself onto the roof. But there, clear as day: a yellow package. After a brief pause, he clipped it onto his belt. He’d have to take the roofs back to base, then: the package would have made it obvious that he was a Runner.
“Pidge, order the pizzas. I’ll be back soon.”
Their base was referred to in code as the Castle of Lions. Keith, for the life of him, couldn’t say why – it just was. Allura Alfor – their generous benefactor (that Lance was half in love with) – inherited many properties after her father’s death, this being one of them. It was in the dirtier part of town, where crime rates were higher but blues didn’t like patrolling, on the top floor of a ten storey walk up.
Keith jumped over from the nearest building, landing on the fire escape like he did every day. He climbed in through the window they kept unlatched, finding Pidge at her desk and no one else anywhere to be seen.
Pidge was, for all intents and purposes, Keith’s sister. Their family histories were confusing and dark, but Keith was dumped at a foster home as a baby and adopted by the Shirogane family. Shiro – Keith’s foster brother and personal hero – lost his best friend, Matt, in a house fire when they were fourteen. Matt’s parents had burnt in the flames with him, leaving only his younger sister, eight-year-old Katie, out on the balcony where the blues found her. Their family didn’t think twice about adopting her and she had been their sister ever since.
Then Shiro’s parents were shot in a drive-by, when Keith was fifteen. Shiro was eighteen, and with Altea trying to suffocate the three poor kids with six parents gone, he turned to the only thing that would save them: the Runners.
That was five years ago, and now Shiro led them: he was the Runner, the leader, the number one wanted in the city. He was also the man Keith was undeniably in love with, but that was neither here nor there.
“Lance,” Pidge said, tapping at her keyboard. “You’re going the wrong way.” She huffed, rolling her eyes. “ No , I’m telling you. You’re going the wrong way.” Keith had turned his comms off, and he took it out of his ear, placing it on the side before slipping onto the sofa and propping his feet up. “You have zero sense of direction! I have the map!” Pidge tapped quicker and harder at the keyboard. “You’re wrong, you’re wrong, you’re wrong. Lance, guess what? You’re wrong!”
Pidge looked over to Keith and smiled.
“Have a nice time?” she asked.
“Brilliant. You should try it some time.” Pidge wrinkled up her nose, shaking her head.
“Me and the outdoors don’t mix. It might be the sweating, it might be my pale skin – but I prefer my computer to exercise, thank you very much.” The door to the apartment opened and Keith looked over as Pidge started swearing into her mic. Hunk, now shutting the door behind him, raised his eyebrows.
“Is she talking to Lance?” he asked. Keith smiled.
“Well she never swears at the rest of us,” he replied.
“That’s because you can all tell which way is East!” Pidge glared at her computer screen. “Yes, it is that easy! It’s where the sun rises!”
“The docks are to the East!” Hunk called, smiling, before flopping onto the sofa next to Keith. Hunk wasn’t a Runner. Like Pidge, he didn’t enjoy scaling buildings and tempting fate every day. Instead Hunk was often the muscle or a getaway driver. He preferred being on the ground and sometimes a car going ninety on the highway was preferable over the roofs with the helicopters and their guns.
“I heard on the comms we’re having pizza,” Hunk smiled.
“You listen to that when you’re not on mission?” Keith raised an eyebrow and Hunk rolled his eyes.
“I like knowing what you guys are getting up to,” he replied. “Speaking of, why do you still have your package?” Hunk nodded to the yellow package that was still clipped to his belt, and Keith frowned.
“It was a dumped one,” he said, unclipping it and placing the box on his lap. “The label says G.E. but there’s nothing else. I’m gonna ask Shiro about it when he gets back.”
“You think Shiro will know?”
“All the packages go through him,” Keith shrugged, turning the package in his hands. He leaned forward on the seat, studying the unfamiliar handwriting. “If he doesn’t know then we’ll dump it again.”
“Lance? Sorry to break it to you but the helicopter’s heading your way,” Pidge said, her voice cutting through the room. She frowned at her screen, before shaking her head. “You’ve been spotted. Lance, get out of there!”
Hunk stood up from his seat and made his way over to the computer, watching the dots blink on one of the screens; a flashing blue dot for Lance and small x’s for the blues. On other screens, security cameras flicked from one to the next, Lance running through its gaze. Keith stood with Hunk, and picked up his comms, slipping it back into his ear.
Pidge groaned as more of the blues appeared on the screen. “Lance you gotta disappear!”
“I’m close!” Lance replied, his breathing broken and heavy. “I’m two buildings away.”
“We should’ve had Lance pass off the package to Keith,” Pidge muttered to herself, typing at her keyboards. Keith understood the feeling: he was faster. But Lance could manage this, they knew it, really. “Hunk, turn on the scanner, would you?” Hunk nodded, turning the police scanner on and fiddling with the dials until their radio transmissions were coming through, crackling and distorted.
“I’ve got this,” Lance promised. Keith watched him on the screen, jump from one building to the next. He rolled at the landing as the helicopter dropped two men onto the roof with him.
“Blues to your left,” Pidge said. “One still in the chopper with a big gun.”
Each of the paladins had their gifts, that much had always been clear.
Hunk was not only an incredible chef, but a fantastic engineer. He made them legal money at the auto shop down the street, but he also kept their entire base up and running. Similarly, Pidge was ten when she first used a computer, and she hadn’t stopped since. She’d hacked even the Mayor’s office and that was a feat worthy of recognition.
Keith’s was running – he was the fastest of the team, and was often given the urgent packages, because he would get there first, without a doubt. Shiro was known for being smart – he ran the operation, sure, but he was smart in his running . Keith would only go down into the storm drains, or use Mayor Zarkon’s building to get to another if he was being reckless. Shiro did it because he was smart, he was capable, and he knew how to use them properly. The two of them made an almost unstoppable team, with them both being strong at hand to hand combat.
Well, Lance wasn’t great at the combat part, and he wasn’t the fastest, but by god, if he got his hands on a gun.
Keith watched it happen on the screen; as Lance disarmed the first of the blues, before shooting the second. His shots were always stunning with precision aim. Keith turned away from the screen, hearing Lance’s muttered and you said I wasn’t a sharpshooter in his ear. Lance would be okay, Keith was sure. He had his hands on a gun.
The door opened again, and Keith turned to look as Shiro entered, the pizza boxes piled in his arms. His metal prosthetic shone in the light of the sun setting through the window, and his smile was happy and wide.
“Who’s hungry?” he greeted.
“Is the pizza there?” Lance questioned over the comms.
“Yeah,” Pidge replied. Keith heard the gunshots in his ear, Lance’s breathing and then:
“Package dropped. No one was there to pick it up, though.” Shiro placed the pizzas on the table, and Keith watched him move. He always found himself doing that. It was a reflex.
“With the amount of blues in the area, I’m not surprised,” Pidge said. “I’ll send them a transmission to say that it’s there.”
“I’m gonna come back via the subway,” Lance announced. “Get lost in the crowd.”
“What’s this?” Shiro asked, and Keith switched off the comms in his ear. Shiro was holding the yellow box that Keith had found and sat down on the sofa to look at it.
“I found it today, but Pidge said there wasn’t supposed to be one registered there.” Keith sat by Shiro’s side, their knees so close to touching Keith was tempted to close the gap. Instead, he reached forward and opened the pizza box on the top. He pulled out a slice and offered it to Shiro, who nodded absently, taking it from his hand.
“G.E.,” Shiro frowned. Keith took another slice for himself.
“What does it stand for?”
“Galra Empire,” Shiro said, before taking a bite of the pizza. Hunk sat down on another sofa, taking a slice of pizza for himself.
“Why would we be delivering Galra packages?” Hunk asked. “Last time I checked, we don’t like them.” Shiro shrugged, turning the package over in his metal hand.
“It must be pretty old. Back before I took over, we delivered some stuff like this. A couple here and there for Galra commanders and soldiers – before Zarkon took over the Mayor’s office, that is. After that I cut off the ties with them.”
“They never complained about their package though?” Keith asked through a mouthful of pizza. Shiro shrugged.
“Not that I know of, so it can’t be that important.”
“Does that mean we can open it?” Hunk questioned, and Keith watched as Shiro studied the package for a moment.
“I don’t see why not.” Keith took the package from Shiro under the pretence of finders’ keepers , Shiro, don’t you know the rules? and broke open the seal. He lifted open the lid and looked at the contents of the box before frowning.
“It’s just paper,” Keith said. He fingered through the sheets, each one with small diagrams, blueprints and letters inked in. “Here’s a date – four years ago. Shiro, this information is four years old, it’s not going to be relevant anymore.”
Shiro sighed, before lifting out the envelope on the top of the pile. Keith continued to skim through the papers, and the room was quiet as they did so. The police scanner was still going on the other side of the room, Pidge was telling Lance how good the pizza was, but it was all in the background.
In the orange light of the sun, shedding a hazy red across the apartment, Keith read through the papers, each one detailing minor points of information for the Galra Empire. A port office blueprint. An email about a shipment. A complaint about the Runners not delivering their package on time. It was all useless.
“Ulaz,” Shiro said into the quiet.
“Who now?” Keith asked.
“Here, look: Ulaz.” It was the name on the bottom of the letter Shiro had picked out. It was all written in chicken scratch handwriting, with a small logo at the top that looked a little familiar – but not like the Galra’s insignia.
“What’s the letter about?”
“Nothing important,” Shiro replied. “But that’s not the point. Ulaz is.”
“Who’s Ulaz?” Shiro met Keith’s eye for a second before looking away.
“He’s someone I used to know.”
“Wait,” Hunk interrupted, seemingly serious. “You have other friends?” Shiro cracked a smile before reaching forward and taking another piece of pizza. He dropped the letter into the yellow box that Keith had placed on the table.
“Now that I think about it, no I really don’t,” Shiro replied. “You guys are all I’ve got and that’s really, really sad when I say it out loud.” Hunk laughed and Keith exhaled a smile as Shiro began eating.
“So Ulaz wasn’t a friend,” Keith continued. “Who was he?”
“He was the one who got me in contact with Kolivan – the head of The Blade of Marmora,” Shiro replied.
“What’s that?” Pidge asked as she wandered over to the table to take a slice of pizza from the open box.
“It’s the resistance against the Galra Empire,” Shiro said. “They’re pretty hidden away, but Ulaz was the one who helped me take over the Runners from Zarkon sympathisers.” Keith frowned for a moment, thinking over the new information – then it clicked.
“When you took over – there were others, they helped,” Keith realised. Shiro nodded.
“It was a onetime thing and they managed to get rid of an arm of the Empire at the same time.”
“And apparently yours, too,” Pidge said quietly, grinning into her pizza. Shiro rolled his eyes, still smiling.
“Why haven’t we heard of them before?” Hunk questioned, reaching across the table to look at the papers in the box.
“It wasn’t important after that,” Shiro replied.
“Yeah, but I’m your sister ,” Pidge frowned. “Why don’t I know about this?”
“You were fourteen,” Shiro smiled. “I was trying to keep you as innocent as possible whilst also introducing you to a criminal lifestyle.” Pidge shook her head, but Keith was watching Shiro closely. There was something off about him all of a sudden – like Shiro was thinking about something he wasn’t letting on. Like he was keeping a secret.
But then Hunk started talking about something else and the Galra conversation was dropped. The information in the package was old and useless, but it seemed to strike a chord with Shiro, who sat back and ate his pizza silently as Pidge and Hunk rambled about the upgraded tech that the blues were using to track Runners.
Eventually, the front door opened and Lance wandered in. His eyes darted around the room before landing on the pizza boxes, now empty bar from the crusts that Pidge didn’t eat.
“Wait,” Lance whined. “You didn’t save me any ?”
The next day, Keith woke with the sun. He’d slept only a few hours, preferring to stay up and go jogging in the streets. He’d hung out with Pidge for a while, too, like they did most nights. Usually they were up staring at her computer screens until their vision turned shaky, or sitting on the roof just staring up at the sky. It was a sibling thing, Keith supposed, and he found himself being grateful for tragedy, of all things, for bringing them together.
Pidge’s computer was turned on still in the main room, but she was a sleep-until-noon kind of girl, and it was six am on a Wednesday, so it wasn’t her sitting there but Shiro. Only one of her four screens was turned on, and when Keith entered the room Shiro looked away from it, leaning back in the desk chair.
“Morning,” Shiro said. He was usually more chipper at this time, Keith noted, but now his voice was distracted.
“Hey,” Keith nodded. He walked over to the kitchen that was attached to the room, his toes curling automatically at the change from carpet to cold linoleum. “How long have you been up?” Shiro shrugged and Keith reached into the fridge for the carton of orange juice.
“A couple hours. I’ve been trying to track down Ulaz and the resistance.”
“Why?” Keith asked, lifting the carton to his mouth. Shiro rolled his eyes at him.
“How many times have I told you not to drink out of the carton?” Keith grinned, walking to Shiro with the carton in hand. “And I’m not even sure why,” Shiro continued, sighing. “We’re not in any trouble-”
“We’re always in trouble,” Keith deadpanned.
“Okay, we are. But nothing immediate, you know? I mean, we’re all wanted for murder to some extent-”
“You always bring up the murder charge-”
“But there’s nothing we particularly need them for. The Blade of Marmora hasn’t taken over the Galra that took over Altea – and if they haven’t done it, we’re not going to either.” Keith paused, carton halfway to his mouth.
“Wait, did you think we could take down Zarkon? We’re R unners , Shiro. And only three of us actually do the running-”
“I know, I know.” Shiro sighed again, looking to the screen. There were webpages saved in tabs, each of articles or newspapers. Apparently, there wasn’t any information on this secret society. “But maybe if we got in contact with The Blade, we’d find some purpose here, you know?”
“We serve a purpose,” Keith replied. “We’re Runners. We deliver packages around the city. We help secret organisations communicate, as well as families that the Galra has separated.” Keith didn’t really know why he cared about this, but he did. “That’s our job.”
“What if we could be doing more?” Shiro asked, his voice quiet now. He looked up at Keith, who was standing in the living room, orange juice in hand, wearing only a pair of joggers that didn’t fit right, and when he spoke, it was like he meant it – like he genuinely, truly meant it. “Are we ever going to be better than this?”
Keith swallowed and there was silence for a moment. Shiro’s eyes were almost begging him to answer. Then Keith let out a long breath. He’d follow Shiro anywhere, both boys knew. If that meant into a war they had no business fighting, so be it. Keith would be a soldier for him.
“I don’t know if we’ll ever be better than this. But if you want to try, I will, too.” He held out the orange juice, and Shiro nodded, taking the carton from him.
“You’ll help me find Ulaz and the Blade?” Shiro asked. Keith nodded, glancing out of the window at the seemingly ever-expanding city.
“Just tell me what you need.” Shiro smiled, wide and real, before taking a swig from the orange juice.
“I have a plan.”
Shiro’s plan was bound to get them killed.
“You’re gonna die,” Hunk agreed, looking at the blueprint of a skyscraper that was rolled out across the table. “I can probably figure out the statistical likelihood of your death, if you want me to – but I promise you you’re not gonna like it.”
“You’re just like Slav,” Shiro muttered, eyes narrowing in on the plans. Pidge snorted and grinned, shaking her head.
“That guy really got to you, huh?”
“In every reality,” Shiro nodded. The plan was less complicated than Keith had expected. They were going to find Ulaz. Then the Blade. Maybe take down Zarkon along the way. Definitely don’t die. “Look,” he continued, glancing up at the group. “Keith and I will run the route – it’s not going to take long. If we can find Ulaz then maybe we can find out what we’re going to do next.”
“What’s wrong with just being Runners?” Lance asked. He was seated on the floor, back against the sofa. “I like being a Runner.”
“We’re criminals,” Shiro replied.
“We’re going to be criminals whether we take down Zarkon or not.” Lance sat up straighter. “Finding another group of criminals isn’t going to change that.”
“Lance is right,” Hunk sighed. “We’ve got our place. Taking over Altea wasn’t on the job description.” They sat in silence for a moment, and Keith looked at Pidge. She was fiddling with her hands, staring at them intently.
“Pidge,” Keith said into the silence. “What do you think?” She looked up abruptly, eyes wide.
“I uh- I don’t know what to think. I mean, this is a dangerous mission, but the Galra are monsters. Maybe being in contact with this Blade of Marmora could do us some good in the long run.”
“You want them to go?” Lance asked, voice high.
“Not want ,” Pidge replied. “I just think it could be beneficial. It might be a good idea. We only have one ally and we haven’t seen her in ages.”
“True,” Hunk nodded. “Allura has been pretty silent for a few months now.”
“She’s a silent partner ,” Keith pointed out and Pidge rolled her eyes.
“Either way, we’re alone in this. Maybe we should have others out there who could watch our backs.” The group was quiet for a beat before Shiro nodded.
“It’s decided then. Pidge, you’re closer to finding him, right?” She nodded.
“I’ve been picking up some transmissions that seem to have his electronic fingerprint encoded in them.”
“Alright. As soon as Pidge has found Ulaz’s location, Keith and I will go over. Lance, Hunk, we need to keep up appearances, and we’ve got two packages coming in tonight – Lance, I need you to deliver them, Hunk, you’re back up.” The two nodded, and Shiro turned to Keith. “You’re good to do the run, right?”
Shiro was smart. He would only take necessary risks. He would use the Mayor’s office to run only if he knew all the exit points. Shiro wouldn’t steer them wrong. Shiro wouldn’t let Keith get hurt.
Keith knew that in his bones, and he nodded once.
“Just say when.”
They left at five AM.
Keith switched on the comms in his ear and stepped out onto the fire escape, Shiro following right behind him.
“It’s on the other side of Altea,” Keith muttered, pulling his fingerless gloves over his hands, before adjusting the bandana at his wrist. Crimson red. The red paladin. That’s what they called him on all the posters.
He took a slow, deep breath and Shiro placed his hand – the real one, all skin and bones, not metal and mechanics – on Keith’s shoulder.
“Are you ready?” Shiro asked and Keith nodded. “Lance is gonna give us a half an hour head start before he goes out on his runs. Hopefully, if there’s any blues out today, they’ll follow him instead.”
“Driving around the city. Apparently there’s a couple prisoners being escorted to the prison today, so a lot of the blues are focused on that getting there without issue. If needed, he’ll provide a distraction.” Keith nodded again. He looked down through the metal of the fire escape, down at the drop to the alley below. Ten storeys up. “It’s a long run – Pidge has found a decent place for us to rest halfway over.”
“Great,” Keith muttered. He shook his hands a couple of times, before looking to Shiro with a smirk. “After you.” Shiro grinned.
“Why thank you, sir.” Shiro leapt off the balcony, to the roof next to it, and Keith followed immediately behind. It was different running in pairs to running alone. You had to know each other’s limits – like Shiro knew that Keith’s jump wasn’t as far as his, and Keith knew that any climbs that hinged on the right arm couldn’t be too treacherous, as Shiro’s arm might not be able to take the strain.
Usually, running was about flying and breathing the air in a new, better way. It was about Keith’s heart pounding so hard in his chest that he could hear it in his ears. The sound of his feet slapping against concrete. Not thinking, just doing. Plotting out moves so far ahead that it was second nature, something that happened in the back of his mind whilst he focused on the colour of the sky and the sound of the city traffic at the front of it.
With Shiro, it wasn’t too different, because they were linked. They knew each other like the backs of their own hands, and Keith could guess where Shiro was going to head next, which building he’d choose as a bridge to the one they really wanted to get to. His decisions weren’t always the same as Keith’s – when Shiro jumped off the corner of the roof to land on a balcony of the next building over, Keith caught onto the drain pipe and slid down it.
But running with Shiro meant they never cut off each other, never made the other one fumble. They were in tune, that way. Keith didn’t have that with anyone else, and he wasn’t sure he wanted to, either.
They were running for almost forty minutes when Pidge’s voice finally sounded in Keith’s ear.
“Just up ahead,” she told them. “White and orange building. There’s a balcony to an office. The entire place is shut up – only one security guard inside. You can rest there.” Keith scanned the cityscape to find the building, just next to the one he was on, and when he did, ran full pelt for the edge of the roof. At the last moment, he leapt, catching on to ledge of the balcony. For a moment, he swung there at the top of the skyscraper, then he pulled himself up took a deep breath.
Shiro wasn’t far behind, and then they were there, sitting on the floor, backs against the balcony walls, facing the doors inside. Their breathing was laboured and they were silent. Pidge was talking, chatting with Hunk and Lance mainly as Lance ran his package to a crime house down town, and Keith let the words wash over him.
“Do you think this is a good idea?” Shiro whispered at last, and Keith snapped back to reality. He looked over to his friend.
“Finding Ulaz?” Shiro nodded. “I’m not sure.”
“Then why are you doing this with me?”
Keith swallowed. “You wanted me to.”
“Yeah, but you didn’t have to-”
“It doesn’t matter,” Keith said, waving a hand. “I’ll always give you my help if you want it, Takashi. I’m always going to be here for you if you need me.” Keith couldn’t hold Shiro’s gaze – it felt too intense, too serious. He knew Shiro couldn’t help it though, Keith’s words were too honest, too important. They couldn’t just be brushed aside.
Keith didn’t mean them in the brotherly way. He never would. Keith would always mean his words as something more – that’s how he felt for Shiro. Like there was always something more than what they had – something that they could have if he could just get the words out.
But Keith couldn’t, so he shook his head and stood.
“We should get going. Ulaz is only going to be at the Arus building for a small window of time. We can’t miss him.” Shiro nodded, pushing himself to his feet. For a moment, neither of them moved. Keith stared out at the skyline, but he could feel Shiro’s gaze on his face.
“You lead,” Shiro said at last. “You know this route better than I do.” Keith nodded, glancing around. He looked up to the top of the building.
“If we can get up there we can zip line down, cutting out three buildings.”
Shiro nodded. “Lead the way. I’ll be right behind you.”
They met up with Ulaz on a helicopter pad. Ulaz was older than the both of them – middling thirties, maybe – with white hair and a black suit.
“He’s Galra,” Keith hissed to Shiro as Ulaz stopped in his tracks. The helicopter was silent, pilot on board and waiting, and Ulaz stared at them across the rooftop.
“Did I forget to mention that?” Shiro whispered in reply.
“Funnily enough, yeah, you did.” Shiro was already walking toward Ulaz, smile on his face like he was greeting an old friend. Ulaz didn’t look so impressed, but that didn’t stop him from shaking Shiro’s hand when they got close enough. Keith followed behind, trying not to look too suspicious of Ulaz, but he couldn’t help it – the guy was Galra .
“Nice to see you, too, Shiro,” Ulaz said, his words polite and civil. He looked to Keith, and tilted his head slightly. “And you must be Keith,” he continued. Ulaz reached out his hand and Keith shook it reluctantly. “You’ve grown a lot in three years.” Keith nodded, averting his eyes and letting his hand drop.
“That’s what a healthy diet and lots of exercise gets you, I guess,” he mumbled.
“So what do I owe the pleasure of this visit?” Ulaz asked, turning his attention back to Shiro. Keith pivoted on one foot, eyes scanning the skyline. In the distance, a couple of helicopters were hovering above skyscrapers. If he tried, he could almost hear the gunfire.
He and Shiro had turned off their comms for a while during their run, and now Keith switched his back on. Behind him, Shiro and Ulaz discussed the possibility of taking down Zarkon, of creating some form of alliance. In his ear, he could hear gunshots and Pidge’s voice, all harsh and commanding.
“Lance! To your left!” Keith looked back to Shiro and Ulaz and dug his teeth into the inside of his cheek.
“Are Shiro and Keith done yet?” Lance complained. “I’m getting killed out here – I need some back up.”
“I don’t know,” Pidge replied. “Their comms have been off for half an hour – but their trackers show that they’re at Arus.”
“What the fu-” Lance broke off for a second. “What are they doing? Having a tea party?”
“Talking with Ulaz,” Keith said. “How far away are you?”
“ Now you’re back,” Lance huffed.
“He’s over by the Taujeer building – there’s two choppers-”
“I can see it, yeah,” Keith interrupted. “What about Hunk? Have you pulled off the distraction yet?”
Hunk’s voice chimed in on the comms: “I’m waiting for a signal.”
“Alright.” Keith turned back to Shiro and Ulaz. “Standby. Lance we’ll head your way soon.”
“ Please! ”
Shiro raised his eyebrows at Keith, faltering in the conversation.
“Are we going?”
“The blues are swarming Lance, we’ve got to get going.” Shiro nodded, looking to Ulaz.
“Can we rely on your support?” he asked. Ulaz glanced between the two of them for a moment before nodding. He slipped a business card out of his pocket and handed it over to Shiro.
“Only go to this place if you’re not being followed,” he instructed. “If the base gets discovered because of you, The Blade of Marmora will make sure there isn’t a single Runner left in the city.” Shiro nodded.
“Of course. Thank you, Ulaz.” Keith looked to the business card in Shiro’s hand, finding the symbol from Ulaz’s letter printed on the back of it. It felt too familiar to him, but he just couldn’t pinpoint why.
“Ulaz,” Keith started. “What is that symbol?”
“It’s the insignia of The Blade,” Ulaz responded. “Now, I must be leaving, and apparently you must be, too.” He nodded to the helicopters, and Keith swore under his breath as one flew towards them.
“Nice to meet you,” Keith said, rushed. “Come on, Shiro.” They took off running, leaping off the edge of the roof to land on the next one over.
“That way,” Shiro pointed, and Keith let him take the lead, jump to catch onto a fire escape and pull themselves up.
“Hunk!” Keith called into the comms. “We’ve got a chopper coming our way. The distraction is a go.”
“You got it,” Hunk replied, and Keith could faintly hear a tyre screech. Everything was shaky, after that. Keith could hear gunshots through the comms and right behind him; blues dropped down onto roof tops and pointing their guns at the two Runners.
Shiro was leading, however. And Shiro was smart.
Time and time again he simply turned when the blues were ahead, creating an alternate path for them to follow instead of engaging them. Keith was a fighter. If he were alone, he would have taken them down, one by one, and fought. But that took time and Lance didn’t have it, so they avoided the flying bullets and aimed for the Taujeer tower, off in the distance.
“Lance!” Shiro barked into his comms. “We’re coming your way. Keith and I are gonna lead them along the rooftops - get down to street level. Hunk! How’s the distraction going?”
“Oh it’s going,” Hunk replied. “I’ve got a trail of blues behind me and I’m picking up more as we go along.”
“Are you gonna get out of that alright?” Pidge asked.
“Don’t worry about me,” Hunk said. “I’ve got this covered. Lance won’t get noticed down here.”
It was different to just running and flying and dropping off packages. It was dangerous and loud. There were guns and blues and they were being followed no matter where they went.
The helicopter that had been circling Taujeer flew off, towards the roads that Hunk was driving down, and Pidge warned him of it through the comms. Lance informed them he was about to head out onto the street. He’d hang out on the subway for a few hours before returning to base, to throw them off.
“Come on,” Shiro huffed, leading Keith along some lower buildings. Each was only metres apart; easy jumps that took them into covered areas. They went inside a few of the towers, coming out the other side a minute later. The helicopter was never far behind.
Then it was in front.
The helicopter circled the roof they stood on, and a flock of birds flew away into the city. The gunman in the chopper pointed the gun at them, and wherever they turned, more and more blues were standing, aiming their weapons
“Put your hands up!” one yelled. Keith, breathing heavily, looked around.
“We’re surrounded,” he muttered, shaking his head. The wind was heavy up there, the sun bright, and the blues stood with their guns pointed, waiting for their surrender.
“This plan could’ve gone better,” Shiro huffed.
“Put your hands up!” the blue shouted again.
“Surrender or die,” Keith sighed. “What a choice.”
“I’m sorry, Keith,” Shiro said, as he raised his arms in the air. Shiro locked his jaw, staring down at Keith. “I didn’t think this would happen. I shouldn’t have asked you along.”
“I knew what I was getting into.”
In the moments as Keith raised his hands, images flashed before him. They were quick, bursting in his mind for only a millisecond, before disappearing, one after the next. They were of Shiro. Of Keith and his foster brother; the one who looked after him on rainy days, on trips out through the city. He showed him how to run, when they were little. Long before they’d do it as their careers; just running down the street – I’ll race you! – and jumping over walls. It was small, back then. It wasn’t as big as it was now; it was fences and trees, not roofs and skyscrapers.
Maybe these images came to him because he thought he was about to die. Surrender or die wasn’t the blues’ sort of thing: usually, when you surrendered, you’d be shot down on the way to prison anyway. It was death or death and Keith was about to face it without ever having told Shiro how he felt; without ever having figured out the words enough to let them out.
Even then, on the roof, he still didn’t have the words. Just the images of Shiro running ahead of him, of him taking over the Runners, of him helping Pidge set up her computers, introducing Keith to their new home. He could see Shiro sleeping on the sofa, sitting up on the roof, trying to cook and burning each meal.
They were so vivid, so sharp, and yet so fleeting.
And he still didn’t have the words.
In the moments as Keith raised his hands in surrender, he realised that he was about to die, and the man he loved was going to die next to him. Neither of them would ever have a chance after this. They’d be gone.
Instead of raising his hands in surrender, Keith turned towards Shiro, and pulled him down, slipping their mouths together and letting the moment wash over them. It was just Shiro, just the feeling of him, just the taste of him – better than anything he’d ever known – just the way Shiro smiled against Keith’s lips, and lowered his arms to grip at Keith’s hips. It didn’t matter if they’d get gunned down in that moment, because it was everything Keith had wanted, everything he could’ve asked for.
When they pulled apart, the sounds flooded back: the blues and their yelling, the traffic, the sound of Hunk almost screaming down the comms because of the sheer volume of police on his tail.
Keith raised his arms in surrender without looking away to the blues. Shiro seemed to think differently though. He was smiling, still holding at Keith, and he shook his head.
“You don’t expect me to surrender now that we’ve done that, right?” he asked. “When you see the opening, run .” Keith frowned in confusion, but a second later, Shiro was moving towards the blues, knocking out the first with one punch, disarming the next. There were so many to fight, but Shiro didn’t seem deterred, he just shot them down and kept going.
Keith saw the opening, and even though he wanted to stand and fight by Shiro’s side – he’d been told to run. And running was something he could do.
He leapt off the side of the building, rolling on impact at the next. A spray of bullets was fired behind him, but Keith didn’t stop, he just kept going. He jumped over the metal fence, ran between the solar panels and onto the next building.
Eventually he looked behind him, and grinned at the sight of Shiro, following with a gun in his hand and a smile on his face. When they took the zip wire down, and hid inside a factory, the blues stopped chasing.
When they were sure, hidden in the corner on top of a fifteen-foot shelving unit, Shiro turned to Keith and smiled softly, like he’d been granted some sort of gift. He pressed a kiss to Keith’s lips, gentle and slow, before pulling back and laughing.
“You really chose your moment, huh?” Shiro asked.
“Forgive me for trying to be romantic.”
Taking down Zarkon and the Galra Empire would come eventually, Keith figured, when they had more allies and a coherent plan. But he didn’t mind waiting.
In the meantime, Keith had running, he had the feeling of weightlessness, and he had Shiro, who woke up just as early as he did, and happily watched the sunrise with him from their bed.
TAKASHI SHIROGANE: The Black Paladin: assault, murder, running, leading a criminal organisation.
KEITH KOGANE: The Red Paladin: assault, murder, running.
LANCE McCLAIN: The Blue Paladin: assault, murder, running.
HUNK GARRET: The Yellow Paladin: assault, destruction of property, reckless driving.
KATIE “PIDGE” HOLT: The Green Paladin: hacking into the Pentagon.