I guess it *could* be a S8 fix it of sorts, but I'm ignoring both the epilogue and Allura dying, so.... more canon-divergent. Here there be angst, but there'll be a happy ending, I promise.
"Thank you, Shiro," she says quietly as she settles on the edge of the bed.
Shiro ducks his head; he likes Krolia, but she always manages to make him feel young. "I couldn't leave him to wake up alone."
Shiro hesitates, looking over at Keith once more. He doesn't want to leave, but Krolia deserves this time with Keith.
"Okay," he agrees.
Kolivan is another story.
Kolivan shakes his head, frustrated. "It's not just him being injured, it's-- it's a look at what she will likely have to deal with, eventually."
Shiro frowns. "What do you mean?"
"700 years?" Shiro gasps.
"Best case scenario," Kolivan says. "It's unlikely, considering..."
"I'm not talking about the fighting," Kolivan says, frowning as he looks over at Shiro. "I'm talking about /you/."
"I'd never purposefully put him in danger," Shiro says quietly. "Not for me."
Shiro goes very still. "I don't think I understand."
"We're not- he's not..." He fumbles his words, but he can't look away from Keith as he struggles with weak denials.
"Why are you telling me this?" Shiro asks, the words coming out strangled.
Some small, petty part of Shiro wants to say /yes/, he'd rather not know. He'd rather live in blissful ignorance and be happy with Keith.
"Does he know?" Shiro finally asks.
Kolivan inclines his head. "He saw his mother nearly succumb to her grief during their time on their mission together."
Keith's never been one to shy away from danger, especially where Shiro's concerned.
There's a long silence, broken only by the beeping of Keith's heart monitor.
Shiro nods without turning. "I know. Thank you." He hears the click of the door and is left alone with Keith.
When Krolia returns, Shiro presses a lingering kiss to Keith's forehead before he leaves.
He doesn't return.
Maybe it is, but it doesn't /feel/ easier.
Has Keith woken up? Is he in pain? Even if he still sleeps, does he realize Shiro isn't there?
'Are you ill?'
Short and to the point; he can't help the small smile as it reminds him of Keith. She doesn't /say/ anything about how he hasn't been there, but it's implied well enough.
'I'm fine,' he messages back. 'Just busy.'
Three days later, Keith wakes up. He finds out via a brief message from Krolia.
'He's asking for you.'
"Fine. So where would a new communications relay do the most good, if we want to establish regular contact with New Olkarion?"
"Shiro!" Keith's obvious happiness at seeing him almost breaks his resolve.
Shiro glances at Krolia, who is sitting by the window looking decidedly unimpressed.
Keith nods. "Yeah, they were here as soon as they doctors would let them in."
And then Keith would die.
Shiro swallows hard. "Well. It's good to see you awake, but I've got... reports."
"Yeah," Shiro says, stepping back toward the door. "I'll try to stop by again when I have time."
The confusion on Keith's face turns to hurt. "Okay, sure. See you, Shiro."
It's both harder and easier once Keith is released from the hospital. Seeing Keith up and moving, healthy and in one piece, eases something in his chest.
"I can see it's hurting you as much as it is him," Allura says gently one night several weeks after Keith's release. "Why can't you speak with him?"
"You asked for an update on the lions," Allura says, frowning. "You know that isn't what I mean." She shifts on the couch. "You were so close, once. What changed?"
Allura looks baffled and concerned as she leans forward, placing a hand on Shiro's arm. "Yes, of course. I promise. Shiro, what's wrong?"
"I knew Galra could die of grief," she admits when he's done. "But I never thought about that in terms of... well. Your situation." She squeezes his arm, offering what comfort she can.
Shiro shakes his head. "I /can't/, Allura. You know him. You've seen what he's willing to do for me. If he knew why I was pulling away, he'd fight it every step of the way."
Shiro looks back across at her, tired and sad. "Don't I deserve the option to choose not to kill the man I love?"
"If it were Lance," Shiro says, "and you could protect him from himself, wouldn't you?"
There's a long silence before she replies.
"Probably," she admits. "But that doesn't mean it's right."
"I'll be fine," Shiro says, smiling sadly. "I always am."
Allura presses her lips into a thin line, but when Shiro asks, she promises once more that she won't tell anyone.
Talking about it doesn't help as much as he'd hoped.
He hates that he breathes a sigh of relief when Atlas and the paladins briefly part ways.
After that night, Keith's defiance disappears.
It's replaced by a quiet, pained acceptance that tears at Shiro's heart. He catches looks from the other paladins, especially Allura, and he ignores every one.
It's the first time he's cried in years.
His chest hurts when he wakes up the next morning, but he remembers Keith's laugh, and has never been more sure about his decision.
The only place he even sees Keith anymore is in meetings. He doesn't meet Shiro's eyes anymore, and he tells himself that's for the best.
He misses the deep purple of Keith's eyes. He hasn't met his eyes in months.
"Shiro, buddy, how hard are they working you?" he asks, smiling a little uneasily. "You don't look so hot."
Matt scoffs. "You know what I mean. Have you lost weight?"
Shiro shrugs. "Maybe? Probably just muscle mass, I'm not working out as much as I used to. Mostly a desk jockey these days."
Matt doesn't look convinced, but he lets it go.
That's how he learns Keith left.
Shiro waves a hand. "No, don't apologize. It was a logical assumption, considering..." He huffs out a humorless laugh. "Well, you know."
Shiro shakes his head. "I can't risk it, Allura."
"This is just making you both miserable," she says, frustrated.
"I didn't say a word about him hating you," Allura snaps. "I said he's miserable, just like you are."
"He seemed fine, from what I saw," Shiro says, looking away. "He was moving on, like I said he would."
Shiro clenches his jaw. "Keith is strong. He doesn't need me. He'll be fine."
"And you think he'd agree with that?" she asks quietly.
Shiro's lips quirk up into a humorless smile. "No. That's why I couldn't tell him."
Meanwhile, Shiro gets grounded.
"Just what I said, Captain. You couldn't pass your physical fitness test in three tries, and your muscles aren't responding to treatment as well as before."
There's also that: his disease is back.
The bracelet helps, some, but not as much as it used to.
He was always going to end up here.
"Thank you," he says quietly, before turning to leave.
The thought sends a chill down his spine, and he has to sit down for a moment when that translates to a tremor in his left leg.
The moment of weakness sends a spike of rage through him that he has to suppress.
He takes a few moments to breath deeply, and when he feels he can trust his hands, he picks up his pad and starts researching planetside apartments.
"Sounds perfect," Matt says happily. "You want one?"
"Can't," Shiro replies, smiling a little. "Interferes with the meds. I'm good with water."
"I carry your shit in, you can warm my toes under your skinny ass," Matt says. "Them's the rules."
It's a mistake.
The first channel Matt lands on is an intergalactic news organization, which is currently doing a piece on the Blades.
Shiro barely recognizes Keith.
Shiro frowns, distracted for a moment from how skinny Keith's gotten. "Naxzela? The bomb planet? What do you mean?"
"Matt," Shiro says slowly. "What the hell are you talking about?"
"Oh god," he finally says, more serious than Shiro's seen him in a long time. "You really don't know, do you? I'd assumed-" He stops, shakes his head. "There was a lot going on, I guess."
"Oooh, I think you'd remember this," Matt says, with a bit of nervous laughter.
"Matt," Shiro says, a hint of warning in his tone.
Shiro just blinks at him.
"Nothing we were doing could get the barrier down, so he was going to fly his ship into it," Matt explains. "Lotor got there just in time, but..."
There's a long silence before Shiro speaks.
"I don't... he didn't-" He stops, swallows hard as he fights back the rising horror. "Why would he do that? There was no guarantee it'd even work."
He's pulled back to the present by a hand on his arm.
"Hey, man, you okay?" It's Matt, leaning in close, looking worried. "I swear I thought you already knew, I didn't keep it from you on purpose."
Shiro glances away guiltily. He'd tried, for a while, but it had been too painful, and threatened to border on obsessive.
Matt scoffs. "As if that would stop you, if you really didn't want it to. You know Pidge and I can get you access to whatever you need."
Matt huffs out a frustrated breath. "Fine. Just, he's been taking some /really/ risky missions recently. You know as well as I do how capable he is, but he's gotten into some situations that looked really, really bad."
"He's never been one to shy away from a risk," he points out.
He looks over just in time to see anger flash across Matt's face.
He cuts himself off and looks across a room, bringing a trembling hand to his face. Stress always makes the tremors worse, and he's more stressed out now than he can recall being in a long, long time.
He finally looks back to see Matt looking at him with something like pity.
"Shiro, man, what are you doing?"
They're interrupted by the doorbell.
"Starving, I assume," he finally says, "if you don't go get our pizza."
Matt looks at him hard, lips pressed into a thin line, but he nods after a moment, and lets the subject drop in favor of a vaguely awkward dinner.
"Shiro." The greeting is cool, barely civil, and Shiro can't blame her for it.
"I didn't expect to hear from you again," she says bluntly.
Onscreen, he watches Krolia's eyes narrow to dangerous slits.
"Why are you asking, Shirogane?"
"No," she interjects. "Why are you asking /me/?"
The question brings Shiro up short. "I assumed if anyone would know, it would be you," he admits.
"I just want to know if he's okay," Shiro says. He can hear the pleading tone in his voice and doesn't fight it.
"I have plenty I want to say to you," she finally says, "but even if I hadn't made a promise to the contrary, none of what I feel the need to tell you is at all what you're looking for. That's not mine to tell."
"No," she says flatly. "We're done. Goodbye." Shiro watches helplessly as she reaches out toward the camera, and the screen goes black.
He knows she's right, is the thing. He really should have known she wouldn't tell him anything. He'd known she wouldn't be excited to speak with him, but--
Well, it had been a delay tactic, if nothing else.
He hadn't really expected Keith to answer. Despite his pep talk to himself, he'd fully expected his call to be rejected.
Shiro's left frowning, trying to catch up with the wide left turn this conversation has taken before it ever even got started.
Keith's eyes flare wide.
"So... you're not calling because I stole your medical records?" Keith says slowly.
"Um," Shiro says, brow furrowed in confusion, "not originally, but consider it added to my list of questions."
"What questions?" Keith finally asks.
"Are you sick?" he asks bluntly.
Keith's eyebrows raise in surprise before he huffs out a humorless laugh. "Why?"
"Matt says you've been taking risky missions. Pidge tried finding any medical records for you but didn't have any luck, and they're worried." /I'm/ worried, he thinks, though he doesn't dare say it.
"They're worried," he repeats quietly. "Right." He shakes his head, as if to himself. "Tell them they can stop looking, they're not going to find any medical records for any illness."
"I didn't say that," Keith says simply.
"No, Shiro." Keith's tone is steely, much like his gaze, cutting through the fuzzy connection to sear straight into Shiro. "You don't get to do this."
"That isn't-" Shiro starts weakly, but he drops the protest at a dark scowl from Keith.
Shiro can only close his eyes against the sight of Keith's well-deserved anger.
"I just want to know if you're okay," Shiro says quietly.
"Bye, Takashi." Keith's voice is soft and sad, but it's the hopelessness that really tears into Shiro as the screen goes black.
'Why did you take my medical records?'
He knows he should start unpacking his things, but he doesn't see the point. He also knows that's not healthy and he should make an appointment with his therapist, but he doesn't do that, either.
'Because I said as many times as it takes, and I meant it. Meet me on New Daibazaal.'
'I'm not sure that's a good idea. I'm not cleared to travel, anyway.'
Keith's reply is instant.
'You've never let that stop you before.'
'If you come I'll tell you what's wrong with me.'
It's the middle of the night, but despite being on leave Shiro is still technically an officer, so he gains access to the hangar he needs pretty easily.
So he doesn't. He simply finds a bird he knows has a good autopilot system, and takes it.
So does the scoff that follows it.
"Oldtimers shouldn't be sleeping on cold floors," Keith says, his lips turning up into the smallest of smiles.
Keith turns around and begins the shuttle's start-up sequence. "Pidge heard you'd taken a ship and sent me the tracking info. She was /pissed/ you didn't even try asking one of them for a ride."
"Had a friend fly me out," Keith responds. Shiro watches him, what little he can see from his angle, the too-thin reach of his arm, the sharp angle of his jaw. A braid lays over the line of his shoulder. Shiro wants to touch it.
"You didn't have to," Shiro says quietly. "I'd have made it." He sees Keith clench his jaw. "But thank you. I'm... not much good at the piloting, anymore."
"I read the reports, but that's..." He trails off, shaking his head. "Even so, you can probably still out-fly most of the Garrison."
It's the most relaxed he's been in months, possibly years.
"Don't." He looks up in surprise to see Keith eyeing the bottle.
Slowly, Shiro slides the bottle back into his pocket.
"Always," he says simply.
"Why am I out here?"
"Because you're nosy, mostly," Keith says, snorting without turning around.
Shiro huffs. "Why did /you/ want me out here, then?" he clarifies.
Shiro shrugs. "The clone body gave me a clean slate for a few years, but I guess it was always bound to come back. I'm fine, though," he adds. "I'm getting the best treatment."
"Shiro," Keith says, exasperated, "You /are/ the next generation. With all the technology and magic she had at her disposal, why would Honerva leave a flaw like that in your clones?"
"God, I'd forgotten how awful your jokes are," Keith says, though his lips are twitching in a way Shiro remembers all too well.
Shiro shrugs, trying not to remember the searing pain of the Galra arm. "I don't know, maybe it was a backup. Maybe she never expected the clones to last more than a couple years. Does it matter?"
The emotional reaction sends a thrill of alarm through Shiro; Keith shouldn't still care this much, shouldn't still care about /him/.
"This was a mistake," he says without thinking, struggling to stand. "I need to go."
"Look," Keith finally says, eyes closed. "You don't have to like me, or even talk to me anymore once we land. That's... that's fine. Just hear me out, okay? Because I don't think you have the same disease as before."
"/Human/ doctors," Keith says impatiently. "Human doctors who didn't even know how to read your scrambled DNA. DNA that's closer to /mine/ now than theirs."
"How do you- what-"
Shiro's eyes snap up to Keith's. "Where we-"
"Yeah." Keith leans against the wall, tipping his head back and looking out at the stars. "There wasn't much left."
"What did you find?" he asks, his own voice sounding foreign to his ears.
"Some records," he finally says. "And some remains."
"I took all the records I could find."
"And the remains?" Shiro asks quietly. It was strange to think of his own face, his own body, floating out there in space.
"Keith," Shiro says, eyes wide. It's a horrifying thought, to think of Keith all alone, dragging clone after clone into the cargo hold of his ship. "You should have-"
Shiro frowns. "Useful how?"
Shiro frowns, but lets that sink in for a moment before responding. "But I still look entirely human."
"So, what, the disease needs different treatment because I'm not actually human?" he asks.
They return to silence as Shiro lets that sink in. He isn't willing to believe it, not yet, but it's something to think about.
"Why did you do all this?" Shiro asks as the planet comes into view. He can't meet Keith's eyes as he asks.
Once they're on the ground, he stands, refusing Keith's offer of help. He can't handle being pressed against him like that again.
"This way," he says, the words clipped and short as he heads off toward some buildings clustered nearby.
Shiro sees a chair across the room and starts heading for it, hoping he can make it there.
Shiro all but falls into the chair as Keith shrugs. "Exactly what I said I would."
"I thought we agreed it was a /bad idea/," Krolia says, eyebrows raised.
Krolia scowls and glances over at Shiro before looking back to Keith. "This could make things worse for you."
"It's fine," Keith says firmly. "It's my decision."
Krolia sighs. "It is. Just... Be careful, little one. I know this pain too well."
"Come on," he says. "We'll take you somewhere you can rest before you talk to the doctors." Shiro nods tiredly and buries his fingers in the wolf's dark fur; seconds later he's on a bed.
"Keith." Keith pauses without turning. "You said if I came you'd tell me what's wrong with you."
"Tomorrow," Keith says, then slips out the door.
The main piece of furniture in the room is the black couch Keith is currently curled up on. Shiro takes a few steps closer without meaning to.
By the time he's done, the sun is up and Keith's awake. He tosses him a protein bar for breakfast, and they eat in awkward silence.
Keith is distant, and doesn't meet his eyes.
When they're done eating, he stands and whistles for the wolf.
Keith shrugs, then gestures to Shiro without looking at him. "Does he /look/ like he's up for a long walk?" Her gaze shifts, and her eyes widen.
"Are you okay?" Shiro asks quietly. Keith goes still, then stuffs his hands in his pockets.
"What your mom said yesterday-"
"Shiro, don't," Keith says, a warning in his tone. Shiro falls silent, pressing his lips into a thin line.
"Not specifically," he admits. "Keith was telling me you'd discovered some hybridization in my DNA, and that may have implications to my illness."
Shiro frowns. "I'm not sure I understand. I was sick before I ever left Earth, in my original body that was 100% human. Isn't it just presenting a bit differently now that I have varying DNA?"
"The druids didn't like leaving weaknesses in their projects," Gothak adds. The way he says /projects/ makes Shiro suppress a shudder.
"Unfortunately," Mageri says, cringing, "because you have so much Galra DNA, you became susceptible to one of our weaknesses."
Shiro feels something like fear prickle at the back of his neck, and hates it.
Gothak scowls. "What, is the great savior of the universe afraid of a little pinprick? It's practically painless," he says, pulling a small medical instrument from his coat pocket and stepping out from behind the desk.
"It'll just be a tick, then I'll be gone," he says, waving a hand at her. Shiro feels frozen to his seat, his eyes glued to the far-too-familiar small instrument in the doctor's hands.
(Except he tried, and it didn't seem to work, but-)
"He said no." The words are practically growled, and suddenly Shiro's view of the approaching doctor is blocked by Keith's back.
"You're being ridiculous," he practically spits.
"I told you from the beginning," Keith says, his tone even but firm. "This goes no farther than he wants it to. Period."
Shiro doesn't know what he says, but it startles Gothak, who slams the door behind him.
Keith shrugs. "He started it." Shiro muffles his laugh behind his hand; how many times has he heard that one? Keith turns to look at him, gaze sharp. "You okay?"
"No," Keith says firmly. "You said no, and that's it." Shiro feels his face breaking into a grateful smile as Keith settles back into his chair.
"It is... considered a rather sensitive subject by our people." Her eyes flick briefly to Keith. "Would you prefer to discuss it in private?"
"Grief," Shiro echoes. "I... I knew that was a thing that affected Galra, but..."
Shiro nods. "I just never realized it could affect me, too. I didn't know I had Galra DNA."
"/Too/," Keith repeats woodenly. "Right."
It feels like a startling change of subject to Shiro, whose mind is entirely focused on Keith at the moment.
She pauses, looking slightly confused. "That would make sense, wouldn't it? He was your partner-"
"Ex, actually," Shiro says, distracted, looking across at Keith, who's staring back in something like bewilderment.
"Keith," he asks quietly, "You have it too, right?"
"You promised," Shiro reminds him. "You told me if I came here, you'd tell me."
Keith's eyes fall shut. "Fine. You already know anyway, right? You said 'too'." He looks across at Shiro. "Yeah, I have it. It's fine. I'm dealing."
"Don't act like you don't already know," Keith snaps. He stands suddenly, gesturing when the wolf moves to join him. "Stay with Shiro," he commands, and then he's out the door.
"I won't divulge patient information," she says firmly.
"Fine," Shiro retorts. "Consider this for myself, then -- it's not just death that can cause it, is it?"
Shiro sucks in a shuddering breath. He's caused Keith such pain, messed up so phenomenally he can hardly wrap his mind around it.
"It's... very rare," she admits. "But not unheard of."
"I just have to make him happy, right?" he says, almost desperate.
"You have to understand," she finally says, "it's not a lack of attempts that makes recovery rare." She looks up at Shiro, sympathetic, but something angry in her face as well.
"He /shouldn't/ trust me again," Shiro finally says, voice breaking. "But I have to try."
"If this is an attempt at self-preservation, it won't-"
"If I fail," he says. "Please, help him however you can. Please." Mageri inclines her head in agreement, and Shiro looks down at the wolf. "Take me home to Keith."
Then Keith steps in the door and it all flies right out of his head.
"Don't, Shiro." Keith just looks /tired/ as he looks across at him. "Don't apologize. Please." Shiro flounders for a moment as Keith toes off his boots.
Keith's eyes narrow dangerously. "/Do I/ know that, Shiro? Because you did exactly that, without so much as a word to me."
"You didn't tell me," Keith says, voice hoarse. "You didn't tell me /anything/."
"You'd have fought it, if I'd told you," Shiro says quietly.
There's a long silence as Shiro weighs his answer. He knows what he'd told himself, but he also knows, deep down, what he'd have actually done.
"Can you honestly tell me," Shiro says, "that you wouldn't have done the same, if it was my life on the line?"
The silence that follows is deafening.
The silence that falls after that question feels damning.
Keith sighs. "Yeah. You can do that."
He tries to tell himself this won't be the last time they see each other.
He's not sure he believes either one of those things.
He is so very, very wrong.
Instead, he pulls out his comm.
'Made it home. Missing you.'
A few minutes later, the comm pings.
'Glad you're safe.'
'Joints don't like returning to Earth's gravity, as it turns out. Hope you're doing ok.'
'I'm alright, thanks.'
'Nothing major, just some transport stuff.'
'Oh wow, I'm surprised those still exist. Your haircut was a tragedy -- though not nearly as big of one as you thought at the time.'
'We had some fun in that desert.'
A pause, and then a follow-up message from Keith--
'Maybe I'll come visit sometime and we can go out there again.'
At some point, Keith does more than reply to Shiro's messages; he starts initiating his own.
Then it's 'Flying a retrieval mission tomorrow', and 'Pidge is visiting, here's a pic', and 'How have you been feeling?'
It's been about a month of this when Shiro receives the message in the middle of the night.
The silence after his reply is so long, Shiro almost thinks Keith's just going to drop it. He's not sure if he's grateful for that or not.
Half an hour later, the reply comes in.
'You never even looked at me.'
'Can we talk on video? Or just on the phone?'
He hits send, then adds: 'please. I can't type this.'
"Keith," he says, eyes going wide. "You look like shit."
Shiro cringes. "Sorry. Just, you look... sicker."
Keith shrugs. "I am." He pauses, then adds, "The Blades officially put me on leave today."
Keith looks back to him. "You don't have to answer."
Shiro shakes his head. "No, I will. I want to. You deserve to know."
"I had it in my head that I was doing the right thing. The noble thing. After all you'd done for me, this was something I could do for you."
Shiro holds up a hand before Keith can continue.
Keith is silent, fiddling with something just out of view.
Shiro goes very still when Keith pins him with a look.
"He only gave me the information," Shiro says, almost defensive. "What I did with it is on me."
"Yeah, it is," Keith agrees. "He still could have handled it better, though. Mom is /livid/ at him."
"Oh, the same way you were?" Keith asks, raising an eyebrow. Shiro doesn't consider himself a smart man, especially in light of recent developments, but he's smart enough to know that is a very, /very/ rhetorical question.
"We weren't technically even dating," Shiro says quietly. "He had no way to know."
Keith's smile is small and sad. "No. I never needed you to be /in love/ with me, Shiro. I just needed you to be there. To be my friend. That was always enough."
At three months, his hand stops shaking.
At six months, they try sparring again. They're both out of practice, but Shiro will never not be amazed by Keith's grace and flexibility.
They're both almost back to full capacity, and they don't hold back on each other on the mat.
"Yield," Keith demands, panting. His smile is wide and wild and beautiful, and Shiro would give him anything he asks, including this.
"I yield," Shiro says quietly.
Shiro watches back calmly. Anything, he answers silently. Anything Keith asks is his.
Somehow, it's still a surprise when Keith kisses him.
"Is this okay?" he asks, searching Shiro's eyes.
Shiro laughs a little, bringing one hand up to touch Keith's cheek, almost reverently.
Keith nods his understanding, then pushes himself up, offering Shiro a hand to help him stand.
Keith nods, taking a deep breath. "You've told me that, and I want to believe you. So I am. I'm making the choice to trust you, because I want to try this, try us -- if you do, too."
He's not sure who initiates the next kiss, but it goes on for long enough that they embarrass an officer making the night rounds a while later.