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I have a WIP I need to finish, so logically I must start a new #sheith thread

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.
After Keith and the other paladins fall from the sky, Shiro doesn't leave the hospital for days. He checks in on all of them, of course, but he stays with Keith. He attends meetings remotely, answers questions, and writes his upcoming speech, all from Keith's bedside.
It's hard to see him like this, so pale and still, but it would be even harder to /not/ be there. As the other paladins wake up, one by one, Shiro is happy for them, but becomes quietly more and more worried about Keith, who hasn't stirred.
A week after the crash, Krolia and Kolivan arrive. Krolia rushes into the room, and Shiro hurries to tell her everything he knows, everything the doctors have told him. She seems to relax a little.

"Thank you, Shiro," she says quietly as she settles on the edge of the bed.
She looks across at him, eyes sharp as she takes in his rumpled uniform, the bags under his eyes. "You've been sleeping in here, haven't you?"

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."
Her face softens. "I appreciate that. I'm sure he does, too. But he'd want you to rest," she adds. "We're here, now. Go get some sleep."

Shiro hesitates, looking over at Keith once more. He doesn't want to leave, but Krolia deserves this time with Keith.

"Okay," he agrees.
He manages nearly a full eight hours of sleep in an actual bed before he comes back. Over the next few days, he, Krolia, and Kolivan end up in a sort of haphazard rotation, sometimes with a bit of overlap.
He doesn't mind sharing time with Krolia; he'd spent a fair amount of time traveling with her in Black, after all. They find things to talk about, and their silences are rarely awkward.

Kolivan is another story.
Four days after their arrival, Shiro knocks lightly on the hospital door and opens it to see Kolivan sitting by the window. They sit in silence for a few minutes before Kolivan speaks.
"The Blades are better at it than most, but we're not good at dealing with this." He gestures broadly to encompass the whole hospital. "Sickness, death. We've been at war for a while, but we're a long-lived race. Krolia's doing her best, but it's taking a toll on her."
"She's his mother," Shiro says, eyebrows raised. "Of course she'd struggle to see him like this."

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?"
"She'll likely outlive him," Kolivan says bluntly. "She could easily live another thousand years, but when you take the human lifespan into account, he'll be lucky to hit 700."

"700 years?" Shiro gasps.

"Best case scenario," Kolivan says. "It's unlikely, considering..."
Shiro scowls. "The war is hopefully almost over, and Keith's an amazing fighter. There's no reason to assume he won't survive the fighting," he says defensively.

"I'm not talking about the fighting," Kolivan says, frowning as he looks over at Shiro. "I'm talking about /you/."
Shiro feels his breath catch in his throat. He's fully aware of how much Keith is willing to risk for him, and has lost plenty of sleep over it, but he's never had it thrown in his face like this.

"I'd never purposefully put him in danger," Shiro says quietly. "Not for me."
Kolivan shakes his head. "That's not what I mean." He looks back to Keith. "There are some illnesses we're susceptible to, but on the whole, aside from extreme old age, the only natural cause of death for a Galra is grief."

Shiro goes very still. "I don't think I understand."
"Do you not?" Kolivan's expression is hard and cold when he looks back to Shiro. "Galra who fall in love with someone from a shorter-lived species rarely survive their partner's passing. They will become sick and weak, and eventually fade away. Krolia herself nearly did."
It takes a moment for the words to sink in, for Shiro's blood to run cold as he shifts his gaze to Keith, so still and small in the bed.

"We're not- he's not..." He fumbles his words, but he can't look away from Keith as he struggles with weak denials.
Because he /knows/. They may not have talked about it yet, may not have made anything official, but he knows. He knows how he feels, and he can see how Keith looks at him. He remembers waking up in the pod, in a new body, looking up at Keith and /knowing/.
Now he's being told that Keith being in love with Shiro will kill him. Maybe not now, but it would cut his life short by hundreds of years.

"Why are you telling me this?" Shiro asks, the words coming out strangled.
"Would you rather not know?" Kolivan replies, raising an eyebrow. "As you said, you've not acted on anything yet."

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.
A much larger part, the part that would do anything for Keith, is grateful.

"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."
He knew, and still held Shiro close. Still dove in to save him. Still smiled at him like they share a secret.

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.
Kolivan stands. "I'm going to go sleep," he announces. He walks across the room, then pauses by the door. "I do care about him. I wouldn't have told you if I didn't."

Shiro nods without turning. "I know. Thank you." He hears the click of the door and is left alone with Keith.
Shiro cancels his next two meetings and spends the next ten hours in Keith's room without a single break. He feels as if he has to soak in Keith's presence, even as he sleeps, as if he can feel the sand in the hourglass of their time together slipping away.
He thinks bitterly that now he can understand on some level the frustration Adam must have felt, with Shiro's disease slowly ticking their time away back then.

When Krolia returns, Shiro presses a lingering kiss to Keith's forehead before he leaves.

He doesn't return.
This isn't the END, I promise, but is where I'm stopping for tonight! I accept bribes in the form of tears, gifs, and ko-fis 😂

ko-fi.com/kika988
Not while Keith remains unconscious, anyway. Shiro thinks maybe it'll be easier to start now, to start pulling away while Keith isn't awake to protest.

Maybe it is, but it doesn't /feel/ easier.
He takes on as many duties and meetings and volunteer shifts as he can to fill his time, but none of it changes the fact that Keith is always, always on his mind.

Has Keith woken up? Is he in pain? Even if he still sleeps, does he realize Shiro isn't there?
Two days in, he gets a message from Krolia.

'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.'
She doesn't reply. He doesn't blame her. She knows as well as he does that no amount of demands on his time has ever kept him from Keith's side before.

Three days later, Keith wakes up. He finds out via a brief message from Krolia.

'He's asking for you.'
It takes everything Shiro has to not drop everything and run to Keith's side. His hands tighten on the arm of the chair he's sitting in until his prosthetic makes the plastic creak ominously. It catches the attention of the officer leading the meeting he's in.
"Is everything alright, Captain?" she asks, raising an eyebrow. Shiro consciously relaxes his fingers, swallowing hard as he nods.

"Fine. So where would a new communications relay do the most good, if we want to establish regular contact with New Olkarion?"
He somehow makes it through that meeting and gives some newly arrived dignitaries a tour of the Atlas before he finally makes his way to the hospital.

"Shiro!" Keith's obvious happiness at seeing him almost breaks his resolve.
"Hey Keith," Shiro replies, aiming for casual. "Good to see you awake." He stops a few feet from the bed, and pretends his heart isn't breaking as he sees Keith's smile falter for a moment. "Sorry I wasn't here earlier, I've been in meetings. You know how the Garrison is."
"Yeah," Keith says, glancing away. "Mom said you spent a lot of time here while I slept. Thanks for that."

Shiro glances at Krolia, who is sitting by the window looking decidedly unimpressed.
"Well," Shiro says, struggling to keep his voice steady, "Someone had to keep you company, and the other paladins were out of commission. Have, uh. Have they been by yet?"

Keith nods. "Yeah, they were here as soon as they doctors would let them in."
The words hit Shiro like a blow; he'd have been here with them, if he'd followed his heart. He'd never leave Keith's side.

And then Keith would die.

Shiro swallows hard. "Well. It's good to see you awake, but I've got... reports."
"Reports," Keith echoes, confusion plain on his face. "Yeah. Okay. I'll... see you later, I guess?"

"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."
Shiro pauses in the hallway outside of Keith's room, leaning heavily against the wall. Maybe coming here at all was a mistake. Seeing Keith and not being able to go to him, not being able to reach out the way he wanted, is far harder than he'd anticipated.
The logical solution is to not come back. He's not that strong, so instead he stops by late at night when Keith is likely to be sleeping, never doing more than peeking in through the door before leaving.
At least, until Krolia catches him and corners him with a glare. Then he stops coming at all.

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.
Seeing the growing hurt on his face every time Shiro brushes him off -- /that/ is hard.

"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?"
"I do speak with him," Shiro says, defending himself weakly. "We spoke just earlier today, in the meeting."

"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?"
Shiro looks away, frustrated. This isn't the first time one of the paladins has asked him about what's going on in the last few weeks, but Shiro has yet to tell anyone any reason /why/. The need to have someone know, /understand/, is burning a hole in his gut.
"If I tell you," he says slowly, "you have to sweat not to tell anyone. Not even a hint. Not even Lance -- and /especially/ not Keith."

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?"
So he tells her, watches her expression go from confused to defiant, then finally to resigned.

"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.
"I don't understand why you haven't talked to /Keith/ about this, though," she adds.

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."
"But Shiro," she says gently. "It's his life. Doesn't he deserve to choose how he spends it - or ends it, if it comes to that?"

Shiro looks back across at her, tired and sad. "Don't I deserve the option to choose not to kill the man I love?"
Allura doesn't look convinced.

"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."
"Maybe it isn't," Shiro says with a sigh. "But I've caused him enough pain." He curls his right hand into a fist, as if he can feel the searing blade he'd pressed against Keith's face. "If I can end this now, he can move on, and live a long life. It's the least I can do for him."
"And what about you?" Allura asks gently.

"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.
The next few months are hard. Sure, trying to find Honerva and put a stop to her plans is difficult, but somehow that pales in comparison to the effort he has to put in to avoiding Keith.

He hates that he breathes a sigh of relief when Atlas and the paladins briefly part ways.
He can /see/ the stages of Keith's response to Shiro pulling away. First he's confused, then defiant. For a couple of weeks, Keith reaches out every day, multiple times a day. He asks Shiro to join him for a meal, or places a hand on his shoulder on the bridge.
He even comes to Shiro's room one night. Shiro wouldn't have answered the door, but he forgot Keith was keyed into his lock so he walks right in. Instead, Shiro stays stiff and professional, keeping the couch or kitchen counter between them at all times.
He very carefully doesn't call Keith by name.

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.
He pulls away from them, too. He doesn't want any of them feeling like they have to take sides, and Keith needs them. He'd do anything to ease the sting of his own actions for Keith; sacrificing his own friendships is a small price to pay.
By the time the war is over, Honerva gone and Allura exhausted from the effort of restoring all the realities, Shiro hasn't said a word to Keith in months that wasn't a direct order.
A month after they return to Earth, there's a celebration. Shiro watches across the room as Keith laughs at something one of the Blades says, and feels something relax in his chest. He'll be okay.
He goes back to his quarters early that night, and wonders if there's a reality where he and Keith are together and happy, and no one has to die in order for that to be true. He hopes so. A small, bitter part of him wishes he'd been born in that reality.
He tells himself the tears he sheds are relief that the war is over, that the fighting is done.

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.
He tries to move on. Maybe he's a little halfhearted about it, but he /does/ try. He has lunch with Veronica sometimes, and sometimes goes out to the bar with some of the bridge crew. He tries a few new hobbies, but ends up just spending more time in the gym.
He's been asked out a couple of times, but he always says no. He tells himself he'll try eventually, that he's just not ready yet.

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.
Despite his firm resolve to keep his distance from Keith, none of that seems to affect how hyperaware he is of Keith's presence in a room. He knows when he's nearby, and he can't help how his eyes seek him out.
He could swear Keith's shoulders have gotten broader and his waist smaller. His cheekbones and jawline are even sharper than Shiro remembers, and the urge to reach out and touch hasn't lessened a bit.

He misses the deep purple of Keith's eyes. He hasn't met his eyes in months.
When Matt comes back from a few months studying with the Olkari, his brow furrows as he steps into Shiro's office.

"Shiro, buddy, how hard are they working you?" he asks, smiling a little uneasily. "You don't look so hot."
"Thanks," Shiro replies wryly. "Just what I want to hear."

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."
It's a blatant lie; he spends at least a couple hours in the gym every night. He's just maybe not eating as much as he used to -- which probably isn't even a bad thing, really. Metabolism slows down as you get older, right?

Matt doesn't look convinced, but he lets it go.
Shiro's so focused on avoiding Keith, so used to purposefully turning down corridors when he sees him coming and even shifting his meetings around when possible to keep his distance, that it takes a little while for him to realize... that's gotten a lot easier.
Not emotionally, of course. He still misses Keith like a missing limb (and he'd know, wouldn't he? The face that he'd never see Keith roll his eyes at the bad joke in that hit him in the ribs when he realized), so /that/ is just as difficult as it ever was.
But logistically, he hasn't had to duck into a closet or change his schedule for at least a few days.

That's how he learns Keith left.
"I'm sorry," Allura says, looking genuinely distressed. "I thought you knew, and just chose not to-"

Shiro waves a hand. "No, don't apologize. It was a logical assumption, considering..." He huffs out a humorless laugh. "Well, you know."
"Hasn't it been long enough now that you can at least try to be friends?" Allura asks. "Even if it's just sending him a message now and then?"

Shiro shakes his head. "I can't risk it, Allura."

"This is just making you both miserable," she says, frustrated.
"I'd rather have him hate me than be dead," Shiro says stubbornly.

"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."
"You didn't give him much choice, did you?" Allura says, scowling. "And you know as well as I do that he doesn't wear his heart on his sleeve. He was hardly going to be sobbing about the Atlas halls."

Shiro clenches his jaw. "Keith is strong. He doesn't need me. He'll be fine."
"I'm not naive enough to think I didn't hurt him," Shiro continues, brow furrowed. "But he can... he can move on. Especially now that he's off Earth -- the Blades will keep him busy, and he'll probably start dating." The thought hurts, but he pushes on.
"Maybe... maybe after he's found someone else, the danger will have passed enough that we can try being friends again." He looks down at his hands, trying not to think of Keith looking at someone else the way he used to at Shiro. Keith /deserves/ that happiness.
"Allura, after all he's done for me... this is the least I can do for him."

"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."
Allura gives Shiro a long look before sighing. "I hope you're right, I really do. And I'll keep your secret as I've promised. But I genuinely think you're making a mistake, Shiro, and I can only hope it's not one you end up regretting the rest of your life."
What he doesn't tell Allura is that he has doubts that Keith will even /want/ to be friends after all this. Keith isn't one to trust easily, and he likely sees Shiro's withdrawal as a betrayal of that trust. Maybe it is.
Even so, as news reports roll in of the Blades' humanitarian work around the galaxy, he can't help but think it was all worth it. Keith is out there flying and exploring the universe, as he should be.

Meanwhile, Shiro gets grounded.
"What do you /mean/ I'm not cleared to fly?" Shiro demands.

"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.
(I'm so sorry, this is probably as far as I'll get today unless I get a whiff of cell signal out at the house. Thanks to everyone who's suffering through this with me 💔)
So I'm not planning on any of this being from Keith's POV, but if you want to soak in some of the ache from his side, pls enjoy this song

When the joint pains and muscle weakness had first started, Shiro had tried to shrug it off. He made a point of eating better, of going to the gym more, of taking his vitamins, but nothing had helped.
He'd done his best to hide the tremors in his hands, but a few months ago he'd dropped a mug in a meeting and, when he was obviously unable to pick up the shards, Iverson had gruffly ordered a physical.

The bracelet helps, some, but not as much as it used to.
The doctors are trying some new treatments, but none have been enough to allow him to pass his physical assessments. Some days he can't walk without a limp. Logically, he /knows/ he can't Captain the Atlas like this, but emotionally it feels like a finishing blow.
This is everything he dreaded, back before he ever knew about Galra and Alteans and intergalactic wars. Somehow he'd helped defend the universe, gave his /life/ doing so and somehow made it home anyway -- and still, he's ended up here.

He was always going to end up here.
"For now, you can still be part of the non-essential bridge crew," the doctor says. "But you should begin preparing for when that won't be possible anymore," she says gently. "With a degenerative disease like this, it's only a matter of time, even if we don't know the timeline."
She's a medical lieutenant, one Shiro remembers being a friend of Adam's. He can't help but wonder if she's feeling a little smug on Adam's behalf right now. He pushes the thought aside, knowing it's unfair.

"Thank you," he says quietly, before turning to leave.
He has the thought as he returns to his quarters that he's now more grateful than ever that he made the break with Keith when he did. Being confined to a normal human lifespan would have been bad enough, but at this rate Shiro will be lucky to have 3 or 4 more years.
Keith would have been dead before 30.

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 reminds himself that he always knew this was coming, even if he'd hoped... well, what he'd hoped doesn't matter, now. Clone bodies made from shitty DNA retain the characteristics of said shitty DNA, as it turns out, even when that DNA has other quirks that baffle doctors.
Regardless, this is his new normal, and he will adjust accordingly.

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.
"That's the last of it, I think," Matt says, setting the last box in the small kitchen of Shiro's new apartment. There really wasn't a whole lot to move in, but Shiro tires easily these days, a fact he's still struggling to come to terms with.
"Thanks, Matt," he replies from the couch. "I have some beer cooling in the fridge, go ahead and grab one. Pizza should be here soon."

"Sounds perfect," Matt says happily. "You want one?"

"Can't," Shiro replies, smiling a little. "Interferes with the meds. I'm good with water."
Matt's lips twitch like he wants to frown, but he brings a bottle of water over without comment, removing the cap before handing it over. Shiro appreciates the consideration; he's not sure his fingers would cooperate enough to have made that easy on him today.
Matt toes off his boots and props his feet up on the couch, worming his toes under Shiro's thighs in a way that makes him squirm and shoot Matt a look.

"I carry your shit in, you can warm my toes under your skinny ass," Matt says. "Them's the rules."
Shiro rolls his eyes, but nudges Matt the remote. "Find something to entertain us til food gets here."

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.
He actually /doesn't/ recognize him at first, all gangly limbs and alarmingly pale skin, tinted ever so slightly with a hint of lavender. He's grown his hair out, too, and has it pulled into a high ponytail, a few short tendrils falling into his face as the camera follows him.
"Nice to see our boy getting good press," Matt says, a bit grimly. "Though I'm sure they won't cover how he's gone all Naxzela on us again."

Shiro frowns, distracted for a moment from how skinny Keith's gotten. "Naxzela? The bomb planet? What do you mean?"
"You know, how he got all..." Matt waves a hand vaguely. "Self-sacrificial. Or self-destructive, depending on who you ask, I guess. He's given a few repeat performances recently."

"Matt," Shiro says slowly. "What the hell are you talking about?"
(eeeeey another cliffie tonight, sorry! Also dropping this link again because ya girl busted her knee spectacularly today and may have to see an Actual Expensive Professional about that next week 😭)

ko-fi.com/kika988
Matt stares at Shiro for a long moment.

"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."
"And it wasn't /me/," Shiro adds. "I have most of his memories, but some of it gets a little muddy."

"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.
"He just sort of... was going to blow himself up to save you guys," Matt says slowly.

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..."
He shudders. "I swear, for a minute there I thought I was going to listen to him die."

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."
"We were all panicking," Matt says quietly. "And he... he found out you guys were down there, and he just-" He stops, shakes his head. "He never fucking hesitated. Coran and I both tried to stop him, but he wasn't listening, and he just gunned it."
Shiro can hear the blood rushing in his ears. The thought that he could have lost Keith so easily, when he was so close and yet so far away, is horrifying. He'd been in the sky right above them, and Shiro hadn't known--either as himself in Black, or as the clone.
He'd come so close to losing everything and had never known.

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."
"I'm..." Shiro shakes his head, as if to clear it. He'll have to process this later, because right now, he's more worried about how this subject came up at all. "You said he's doing it again. How? Why? What's going on?"
Matt leans back again, squinting at him a little. "I know you guys had a falling out, but are you really not keeping track of him at all any more?"

Shiro glances away guiltily. He'd tried, for a while, but it had been too painful, and threatened to border on obsessive.
"It's not like I'd have access to most of the missions he's on, anyway," Shiro points out. "Publicly they're a humanitarian organization now." He gestures to the television screen where the reporter is interviewing refugees who had received aid.
"I wouldn't have access to their more classified missions, anyway."

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."
"It's complicated," Shiro says. "Just... tell me?"

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."
The thought makes Shiro shudder, but he tries to suppress the well of fear that opens up in his stomach.

"He's never been one to shy away from a risk," he points out.
Matt shakes his head. "There's risks, and then there's being fucking stupid." He hesitates. "Pidge thinks he's sick. Thinks he's taking the risky missions because his prognosis isn't good." He slants a look at Shiro. "Can't imagine where he'd have learned /that/."
Shiro decides to sidestep that last comment in favor of more information. "If he was sick, there'd be records of it," he points out. And if there are records, Pidge would have found them.
"Nothing we've been able to find, either on Earth or Galran systems," Matt confirms. "But... I mean, you saw the footage of him a minute ago, right? There's /something/ wrong with him. He's skin and bones, and sickly pale."
"Keith's always been lean," Shiro hears himself say, knowing even as he does so that Matt's right. Something is very, very wrong. "I'm sure he's... I'm sure he'll be fine."

He looks over just in time to see anger flash across Matt's face.
"Look, I don't know what happened between you two, but don't sit there and fucking lie to me, and more importantly, don't lie to /yourself/. You /know/ something's wrong, and no matter what the deal is with you two, you can't act like you don't care about him."
"Of course I care about him," Shiro snaps. "That's why I-"

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 can face his own death with something like dignity, but the thought of Keith's? That's another matter entirely.

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.
Shiro closes his eyes and draws in a shuddering breath.

"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.
That night, Shiro lays awake, staring at the ceiling of his new bedroom and wondering what Keith is doing. That part isn't unusual; thinking about Keith is a pretty constant part of his day. Now, though, he has cause to wonder if he's hurting. If he's in danger. If he's dying.
He doesn't sleep a wink all night, and by morning he's reached a decision. He gets up, shaves with the razor designed to cooperate with shaking hands, combs his hair, and places a call on his comm.

"Shiro." The greeting is cool, barely civil, and Shiro can't blame her for it.
"Krolia," he says, nodding. "It's good to see you." It is, even if her resemblance to Keith makes something in his chest ache. He always liked her, though he can only imagine that is no longer reciprocated.

"I didn't expect to hear from you again," she says bluntly.
"I didn't expect to call," Shiro admits, ducking his head a little. "I hope you've been well." Krolia doesn't reply, merely waiting silently for him to state his purpose. She isn't going to make this easy for him with small talk and idle pleasantries.
"I'm calling about Keith," he says, and just saying his name out loud is both a relief and startlingly painful. "Is he... okay?"

Onscreen, he watches Krolia's eyes narrow to dangerous slits.

"Why are you asking, Shirogane?"
"Well, I- I just saw-"

"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.
"Knowing and telling are two very different things," Krolia replies, raising an eyebrow in a move so reminiscent of Keith it takes Shiro's breath away for a moment.

"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.
Krolia looks away briefly, her jaw clenching.

"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."
She crosses her arms, leaning back a bit. "I'm not in the habit of enabling idiocy, Shirogane. If you want to know about Keith, call and talk to him. It's certainly not as if you can make things any /worse/," she adds, and the bitterness in her tone takes Shiro by surprise.
Shiro flounders for a moment. "I only want-"

"No," she says flatly. "We're done. Goodbye." Shiro watches helplessly as she reaches out toward the camera, and the screen goes black.
Shiro sits in stunned silence for a moment.

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.
His thumb hovers over Keith's name on his comm pad for a long, drawn-out minute before he sighs and presses the screen with a bit more force than necessary. He has to do this -- and has to do it /now/, before he has time to talk himself out of it.
As the line connects and starts trilling the familiar ringing noise, Shiro tries to steel himself. He needs to maintain the distance he's spent years cultivating. He knows this could be dangerous, even this brief contact, but...
...well, if Keith is already sick, sick enough that he's taking on absurdly risky missions, then he's already in danger anyway. Shiro doesn't know if he can do anything to help with that, but he can sure as hell try.
When the trilling stops and the screen goes black, the spinning orange wheel alerting him that the video is loading, Shiro's breath catches in his throat.

He hadn't really expected Keith to answer. Despite his pep talk to himself, he'd fully expected his call to be rejected.
He doesn't have nearly enough time to prepare himself for the reality of speaking with Keith -- /Keith/ -- before the video connects.
It's a little dark and grainy, the connection obviously strained by the great distance between them, but Shiro still has to clench his hands into fists to resist the urge to reach out and touch the screen.
Keith may be thin and wan, may look tired and worn, but he's no less beautiful than he ever was. The fire in his eyes is just as bright as ever, not dimmed in the slightest by his illness or their poor connection.
"Keith." As soon as he speaks, Shiro knows he's failing at maintaining his distance. He says Keith's name like it's /everything/, and can only hope some of the emotion is lost across the billions of miles the signal has to be carried.
"Hey, Shiro." It's not until Keith speaks that Shiro realizes that he doesn't look surprised at the call, just... resigned, maybe? His greeting is wary, almost sheepish, and it leaves Shiro a little confused. Nevertheless, he pushes onward.
"It's-" He stops himself before he can tell Keith how good it is to see him. It might be polite, but it'd also be walking the razor's edge for Shiro, all too easy to fall into how much he's missed him. Besides, he's not here for small talk and they both know it.
"Look," Keith says before Shiro can redirect himself. "I know you're probably upset, but I'm not sorry, okay?" He's got his chin tilted up defiantly in a move at once so familiar and so /missed/ it almost makes Shiro dizzy.
"I know it was, like, a violation of your privacy or whatever, but if there's a way someone on New Daibazaal can help you it's worth it."

Shiro's left frowning, trying to catch up with the wide left turn this conversation has taken before it ever even got started.
"What are you talking about?" he finally asks.

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."
There's a long silence as they stare at each other, each one obviously rearranging their expectations for this conversation in their minds.

"What questions?" Keith finally asks.
Shiro's sure there's a nice way to word this, a gentle way to ask, but he doesn't have the mental or emotional energy to find it.

"Are you sick?" he asks bluntly.

Keith's eyebrows raise in surprise before he huffs out a humorless laugh. "Why?"
It's not the response Shiro expects, but at least it's easy to answer.

"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.
The twist to Keith's lips turns a bit bitter as he glances away from the camera.

"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."
"So you're /not/ sick," Shiro says.

"I didn't say that," Keith says simply.

"Keith-"

"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."
"You don't get to suddenly decide you-- what, you don't like the missions, the /risks/ I'm taking? Fuck that," he says sharply. "You lost the right to comment on anything I do when you decided you didn't need me anymore."
The words are like a knife sliding between Shiro's ribs, sinking home with unerring accuracy.

"That isn't-" Shiro starts weakly, but he drops the protest at a dark scowl from Keith.
"That's /exactly/ what you did," Keith says. His voice is steady, the sort of even tone you only hear when someone is working hard to maintain an appearance of calm. Somewhere in the back of his mind, Shiro is distantly proud of him for that; he knows that facade is hard-earned.
"You said you'd never give up on me. You were the first person I ever believed that from. And then you did it anyway."

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.
"No," Keith says simply. "I'm not. But I don't like talking about my life to strangers, and that's all we are anymore, isn't it?" His smile is bitter. "I thought we were headed for something more, once, you know that? Something good. Thought you wanted that, too."
He looks through the screen at Shiro, his eyes set deep in his too-thin face. "Guess that was just wishful thinking, huh?" He sits back and rubs his hands over his face. Shiro can't tell Keith's hands are trembling or if that's just the tears clouding his own vision.
"It wasn't," Shiro says, his voice cracking over the words. He knows it's a bad idea, but he can't stop himself. "It wasn't wishful thinking, Keith."
Keith's gaze is sad as he replies. "That only makes it worse, Shiro." He sighs. "Tell the Holts to call me if they want. I'm done here."

"Keith-"

"Bye, Takashi." Keith's voice is soft and sad, but it's the hopelessness that really tears into Shiro as the screen goes black.
(Gotta call it quits here tonight, my eyes are drooping, but I'm gonna reiterate bc this got *sad* tonight -- happy ending incoming, I promise!)

ko-fi.com/kika988
After Keith hangs up, Shiro eventually moves across the room to his bed. He doesn't cry -- that takes more energy than he has -- but he stares unseeing at the wall for hours before drifting off into a fitful sleep.
When he wakes, he remembers what they never got to, and figures there's not much left to lose at this point. He pulls out his comm and uses speech-to-text to send a message, as his hands aren't entirely cooperating at the moment.

'Why did you take my medical records?'
He doesn't get a reply for three days.

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.
On the third day, his comm pings with a reply. He picks up the pad, assuming it's from Matt, then sucks in a startled breath when it's Keith's name that pops up.

'Because I said as many times as it takes, and I meant it. Meet me on New Daibazaal.'
Shiro hesitates before replying.

'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.'

Then,

'If you come I'll tell you what's wrong with me.'
With a burst of energy Shiro didn't realize he has, he packs a bag and heads out to the Garrison.

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.
It would take weeks, possibly months, to try to wrangle passage to New Daibazaal in his condition, with doctor permissions and red tape and the difficulties of arranging medical transport.

So he doesn't. He simply finds a bird he knows has a good autopilot system, and takes it.
The flight is the hardest one he's ever done. He's able to jump in on a wormhole before the Garrison is able to shut it down after his theft is reported, but it isn't one going directly to New Daibazaal, merely a nearby system, so he still has nearly three days of flying.
He did bring rations and his medications with him, but the hours of trying to force his hands and arms to be steady enough to pilot takes its toll. He uses autopilot whenever he can, but he still has to set down on an uninhabited planet near the end of day 2 for a break.
There's no bed on this shuttle, as it wasn't really intended for long-distance hauls, but there's enough floor space behind the chair in the cockpit for him to lay down, so he does, using his duffel bag as a pillow.
When he wakes, he realizes his mistake; the cold metal floor has done him no favors, and everything /hurts/. He sits up with a groan that echoes in the small cabin.

So does the scoff that follows it.
Shiro's scrambling for a weapon he doesn't have before the pilot's chair turns enough that he can see the source of the sound -- Keith. Shiro goes very still.

"Oldtimers shouldn't be sleeping on cold floors," Keith says, his lips turning up into the smallest of smiles.
"Keith," Shiro says, still trying to wake up. "How are you here?"

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."
It doesn't even occur to Shiro to protest as Keith takes them up, his takeoff as smooth as ever. He ponders trying to stand, but isn't sure he is actually physically capable at the moment, so he settles for pushing himself -- slowly, painfully -- into a seated position.
"What about your ship?"

"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.
He's been away from Keith for too long, and now he's drinking in his presence like a man parched.

"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."
He holds up his shaking hands in explanation, then tucks them back under his thighs. Keith is half-turned in the chair, his expression shuttered.

"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."
Keith turns back to piloting, and they sit in silence for a while. It's nothing like the comfortable silences they used to share, but for a little while Shiro lets himself pretend that it is.

It's the most relaxed he's been in months, possibly years.
It's a little more than an hour before the medication alarm on Shiro's comm goes off. He sighs, silences it, and pulls his pill bottle out of his pocket.

"Don't." He looks up in surprise to see Keith eyeing the bottle.

"What?"
"Don't take it," Keith says firmly. He glances up to meet Shiro's eyes, then adds, gently, "Trust me?" He looks uncertain, as if he's not actually sure if Shiro still does. If he ever really did.

Slowly, Shiro slides the bottle back into his pocket.

"Always," he says simply.
Keith turns back to face front, and Shiro waits a moment before speaking.

"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.
Keith sighs and puts the ship on autopilot before turning around. He looks tired, the circles under his eyes a darker purple than the barely-visible tint to the rest of his skin. He rubs a hand over his face before speaking.
"I heard you were sick," Keith says, looking down at his hands, clasped in his lap. He huffs out a laugh. "All the paladins and Matt all contacted me separately about it. They all thought they were being sneaky, I guess."
He pauses, frowns. "Something didn't seem right about it, though. Why should it come back now?"

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."
"The best treatment on /Earth/," he says, looking pointedly at where Shiro's sitting on his hands. "Which seems to be working out /really/ well for you. Why haven't you looked elsewhere?"
"It's a human disease," Shiro explains, shrugging. "The doctors have consulted with some other races, but they all agree that because of the type of disease it is, gene therapy could possibly help keep it from being passed to the next generation, but once you have it..."
"Okay, that's the thing though," Keith says, scooting forward in his seat a bit. "It's in your DNA, but basic gene therapy could probably eliminate it, right? For the next generation, anyway. So /more/ advanced medicine should have no problem with doing that same thing."
Shiro frowns. "Well, yes, but I'm not /producing/ a next generation, so-"

"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?"
"I've wondered that," Shiro admits. "I even had them test me for the disease a while back, before it ever showed up again. They didn't find the DNA markers for it, but the DNA for this clone is all messed up anyway. It's there, we assume, just not where it was before."
"I can only assume she left it as a sort of.... expiration date," he continues, his lips twisting wryly. "Use or freeze by age thirty," he adds.

"God, I'd forgotten how awful your jokes are," Keith says, though his lips are twitching in a way Shiro remembers all too well.
"Why would she need that?" Keith presses. "She had a kill switch in your arm."

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?"
"Of course it matters, you're fucking dying," Keith snaps.

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."
He barely manages to get to his feet before he's stumbling, unable to keep his balance on unsteady legs. Keith is there in an instant, strong despite his diminished frame as he steadies Shiro, helping prop him against the wall.
It's so much all at once; Keith's almost as tall as Shiro now, and is pressed against him from hip to chest, hands clamped tightly around Shiro's biceps. He's so close Shiro can /smell/ him and somehow despite their years apart, it's still so familiar he could cry.
"You're not going anywhere," Keith practically snarls, inches from his face. His eyes have gone a bit gold, almost glowing in the dim light. Shiro can see him take a breath, try to calm down. "Not like this," he adds a minute later, taking a step back once Shiro seems steady.
A moment of silence lays heavily between them.

"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."
"The doctors-"

"/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."
Shiro wavers where he stands, and Keith makes a noise in the back of his throat before reaching out to guide Shiro into the chair. Shiro goes along without complaint, too stunned to argue.

"How do you- what-"
Keith sighs. "When I heard you were sick, I took a leave of absence from the Blades. I went back out to the lab."

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."
Going by what Shiro remembers, it's hard to believe there was /anything/ left, but if anyone's stubborn enough to track down the pieces of a busted-up space station, it's Keith.

"What did you find?" he asks, his own voice sounding foreign to his ears.
Keith's quiet for so long that Shiro looks up to check on him. His gaze is distant and pained.

"Some records," he finally says. "And some remains."
Shiro waits until Keith seems to come back to himself.

"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.
"I brought them back to New Daibazaal for cremation," Keith says.

"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-"
"I couldn't leave them out there, Shiro." He sounds tired and sad. "Who knows if they could have been used against you if the wrong person found them? And-" He sighs. "They were all you, on some level. They deserved better."
"And," he continues, before Shiro can even begin to recover from that, "they ended up being useful."

Shiro frowns. "Useful how?"
"The Galra doctors I reached out to took some tissue samples before the clones were cremated. They were all identical -- she'd obviously done plenty of experimenting, but settled on a final process by the end, so we can assume your DNA is the same as theirs."
He pauses, then says gently, "Shiro, your DNA isn't even /half/ human anymore."

Shiro frowns, but lets that sink in for a moment before responding. "But I still look entirely human."
"From what they tell me, she manipulated which traits expressed themselves physically, theoretically so we wouldn't suspect anything when she initially sent the clone back to Voltron." He looks away at that. He'd never forgiven himself for not realizing that wasn't Shiro.
Shiro wishes he could reach out to him, offer some comfort, assure him he'd never blamed him for that, but instead he tightens his grip on the arm of the chair.

"So, what, the disease needs different treatment because I'm not actually human?" he asks.
"No," Keith says slowly. "I'm saying you don't /have/ the disease. Not the one you think you have, anyway."

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.
Keith steps up beside him to contact New Daibazaal, let them know they're coming in to land soon. The instrument panel isn't large; with Shiro in the seat and Keith has to reach around him to get to the controls he needs.
They brush against each other a few times, and each touch is the best kind of torture. Shiro savors it, knowing it's likely coming to an end very soon.

"Why did you do all this?" Shiro asks as the planet comes into view. He can't meet Keith's eyes as he asks.
Keith's silent for long enough that Shiro thinks he might just be ignoring the question, but when he looks up, Keith's watching him, something like wistfulness on his face. He looks back out at the stars before he answers.
"Because I meant what I said on that station," he finally replies. "And if the doctors are right about what's wrong with you, I can hardly blame you for how you pulled away."
I've got to stop here for tonight, but pls enjoy this extra dose of pain, brought to you by @hchanooo:

The silence between them as they land on New Daibazaal seems a little less strained -- or maybe that's just wishful thinking on Shiro's part.

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.
Keith hesitates, like he wants to hover nearby, but Shito can see the moment he shakes himself out of it, a flash of anger crossing his face.

"This way," he says, the words clipped and short as he heads off toward some buildings clustered nearby.
Shiro tries to keep up with Keith's long strides, but gets far enough behind that Keith beats him into the building by several minutes. When he finally steps inside, he's tired and winded and wishing he had the cane he'd angrily shoved in the closet at home after buying it.
Keith is waiting by the door, leaning against the wall with his head down, but there's a tension in the line of his body that makes Shiro think he was watching through the window.

Shiro sees a chair across the room and starts heading for it, hoping he can make it there.
He's almost there when the door across the way opens, admitting Krolia. She's wearing what he's come to recognize as Galran businesswear, sleek and comfortable, and she comes to an abrupt stop, her eyes flaring wide in shock.
Shiro can't help but wonder if it's his presence or his appearance that shocks her. Regardless, she recovers quickly, her expression settling back into something like disapproval as she makes a beeline for Keith, the space wolf following in her wake.
"Keith." Shiro can hear the forced calm in her voice, so similar to Keith's. "What are you doing?"

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.
Keith huffs out a laugh. "It's a terrible idea. That's never stopped me before, though."

Krolia scowls and glances over at Shiro before looking back to Keith. "This could make things worse for you."
She raises a hand to Keith's cheek, thumbing over the hollow there. "It's already progressed farther than-"

"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."
Keith offers her a small smile before heading over to Shiro, the space wolf at his heels.

"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.
"Get some rest," Keith instructs. "Bathroom's just outside the door. I'll be close, so just yell if you need me." He turns to leave.

"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.
Shiro sighs, but curls up on the bed, exhausted beyond all reason by his travel. The smell of the pillow is familiar and comforting, and he realizes as he drifts off to sleep that he's in Keith's bed.
The next morning, Shiro wakes early -- a combination of habit and jet lag have him rolling out of bed before Daibazaal's sun has risen. He steps out of the door and pauses at the bathroom door before stepping past it, out into a small living room.
The decor is relatively spartan; there's a pictures of Keith and Krolia and another of all the paladins together on a tabletop, a few interesting-shaped rocks scattered around, some red curtains hanging over the window.
It's clear Keith doesn't spend a whole lot of time here, which makes sense; the Blades likely keep him pretty busy.

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.
He's obviously asleep, his breathing deep and even, his face relaxed. Shiro remembers seeing him like this years ago, on the Black Lion while they were travelling back to Earth. He remembers envisioning what their future might be, imagining waking up next to him.
The thought sends a pang through him, a sharp knife-edge of pain as he thinks about the could-have-beens that he's thrown away. The sun-soaked mornings, the afternoon hoverbike races, the late nights wrapped up in each other. The vows he's written in his head a million times.
He reaches out, fingers brushing the hair out of Keith's face. His fingertips barely brush sleep-warm skin, and it /hurts/, knowing this secret moment is all he'll ever have.
He jerks his hand back as if stung, the sudden movement causing the wolf to lift his head from where he lays at the end of the couch, Keith's legs draped over his shaggy back. The wolf blinks at him slowly, eyes far too intelligent for the canine face, and Shiro steps back.
He backs away, slipping into the bathroom and taking a few minutes to pull himself together before getting into the shower.

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.
It's a painful twist on the sun-soaked mornings Shiro had briefly let himself imagine, with none of the warmth but somehow still all of the love, at least from his side.

Keith is distant, and doesn't meet his eyes.

When they're done eating, he stands and whistles for the wolf.
"Come on," Keith says, gesturing for Shiro to place a hand on the wolf. Shiro complies without comment, and in a flash they're in a large office, across from a Galra woman sitting behind a large black desk. She startles as they appear, then glares at Keith.
"I've told you not to do that," she scolds him.

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.
"Mr. Shirogane," she says, her fringe-tipped tail whipping around behind her head. "Please, sit," she adds, standing as she gestures to the chairs. "We have... quite a bit to discuss. Give me just a moment to fetch my colleague." She steps out of the door, leaving them alone.
Shiro settles into one of the chairs, and watches as Keith moves around the office restlessly, touching books on shelves and knick-knacks on the desk, fingers drumming against his thigh.

"Are you okay?" Shiro asks quietly. Keith goes still, then stuffs his hands in his pockets.
"Yeah, fine," he says stiffly. He hesitates a moment, then settles into the chair next to Shiro's.

"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.
He wants to complain, wants to point out that they used to be able to communicate better than this. He knows he doesn't have the right, though; he was the one that broke them.
The Galra doctor returns with her colleague, who looks at Shiro as if he's a particularly interesting problem, a puzzle he'd like to get his hands on. Shiro shifts uncomfortably in his chair; he's been looked at like that before, and it doesn't bring back good memories.
"Thank you for coming, Mr. Shirogane," the first doctor says, offering a small smile. She's mostly covered in a deep purple fur, and her teeth are sharp but her smile is kind. "I'm Mageri, and this is my colleague Gothak. I assume you know why you are here?"
Shiro shoots a glance across at Keith, who is staring fixedly ahead.

"Not specifically," he admits. "Keith was telling me you'd discovered some hybridization in my DNA, and that may have implications to my illness."
Gothak snorts. "Well, in that you wouldn't be ill without the new DNA, yes."

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?"
"It's not presenting at all," Mageri says, offering another smile. "That illness is no longer in your genetic makeup. It was removed."

"The druids didn't like leaving weaknesses in their projects," Gothak adds. The way he says /projects/ makes Shiro suppress a shudder.
Keith seems to pick up on his discomfort and shifts forward in his seat. "Tell him what you found," he says, firmly nudging the conversation along. Gothak's lips twitch into an almost-frown, but he pushes a pad across the desk toward Shiro.
"There's the full breakdown, but the basics are you're about half Galra, with a good bit of human left in, and bits and pieces of other races pulled in as well. Some Pryne, some Olkari, some Griid. You still look fully human because she wanted you to, but inside you're a jumble."
Mageri shoots Gothak a look, then adds, "The good news is that the blend was specifically developed to help keep you healthy and make you more resilient."
Shiro huffs out a laugh. "You'll have to forgive me if I'm feeling a little buyer's remorse on that one," he says, holding up a trembling hand.

"Unfortunately," Mageri says, cringing, "because you have so much Galra DNA, you became susceptible to one of our weaknesses."
"However," she adds, "that particular weakness is my specialty, and I'm happy to offer what help I can. It's not curable, with rare exceptions," she says, darting a look at Keith, "but we can sometimes make it easier to live with."
Gothak snorts dismissively. "Yes, well, there's time for that later. While I'm here, I want to get a DNA sample. Compare yours to the other clones, as they were somewhat degraded."

Shiro feels something like fear prickle at the back of his neck, and hates it.
"I'm not sure I want to do that right now," he says slowly.

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.
"Gothak," Mageri says, warning in her tone.

"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.
He knows this is fine. He does. He's safe. He's not a prisoner. He can say no.

(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.
Gothak scoffs, but comes to a stop in front of Keith.

"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 feels something relax in him at those words. He's still uncomfortable in medical settings -- perhaps especially when unfamiliar Galra are involved -- but despite their years of separation, Keith is still coming to his defense, and Shiro still trusts him implicitly.
Gothak stuffs the medical instrument back in his pocket, muttering in Galran under his breath as he turns to go. Keith snaps back at him in the same language, the words guttural and sharp.

Shiro doesn't know what he says, but it startles Gothak, who slams the door behind him.
Mageri sighs, sagging back in her seat as she pins Keith with a flat stare. "Was that last bit really necessary?"

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?"
"I'm fine," Shiro assures him. "Thank you," he adds. "I know it was dumb, I should have just let him-"

"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.
"I must apologize for my colleague," Mageri says, addressing Shiro. "He doesn't interact with patients much, as he's more of a researcher, but he's the best geneticist we have, so it made sense for him to be involved."
"It's fine," Shiro assures her. "No harm done. What is this condition that you think I have?"

"It is... considered a rather sensitive subject by our people." Her eyes flick briefly to Keith. "Would you prefer to discuss it in private?"
Shiro shakes his head no without hesitation. "I wouldn't even be here if not for Keith." He has to hold back a laugh at that, at how it's true in more ways than one. "I'd rather him be here."
It's selfish, he knows. But he's already broken so many of his personal rules regarding Keith -- what's a little more? He sees a flicker of surprise cross Keith's face, and hates, despite knowing how necessary it was, that he ever had to make Keith doubt his trust in him.
Mageri nods. "What I suspect is plaguing you is-- well, the direct translation is /soul-sickness/. I believe humans might call it heartsickness, or grief, perhaps."

"Grief," Shiro echoes. "I... I knew that was a thing that affected Galra, but..."
"You did?" Keith asks, eyes wide.

Shiro nods. "I just never realized it could affect me, too. I didn't know I had Galra DNA."

"/Too/," Keith repeats woodenly. "Right."
Mageri glances between them, but presses on. "The sickness can affect any Galra who has experienced great loss -- a friend, a child -- but generally it's the loss of a spouse or partner that triggers it."
"It's why many Galra prefer to have a trio of partners instead of just two," she adds. "So that if something happens to one, the two left can help each other through it and prevent the soul-sickness."
Shiro swallows hard. He /should/ have had Keith leave, but it's too late now. "I see," he says, stalling, trying to find a way to skip around the issue of the /source/ of his sickness.
Mageri hesitates, then continues delicately. "Keith tells me you lost your partner in the invasion. You learned of his death when you returned to Earth, yes?"

It feels like a startling change of subject to Shiro, whose mind is entirely focused on Keith at the moment.
"Adam? Yes, he... he was killed in the first wave of attacks on Earth," Shiro replies. The pain associated with the fact is still there, but distant, dulled by years of separation and acceptance. It isn't until after he's answered that it clicks why she's asking.
"Oh," he says, "You think my sickness is for him?"

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.
And for a moment after he says that, he regrets it. He could go along with it, could pretend it's Adam he's grieving the loss of. He could follow through with whatever treatment Mageri recommends, try to live as well as he can.
Then he looks at the hollows of Keith's cheeks, the too-thin line of his body. He remembers what Krolia had said the day before. He notes how familiar with each other Keith and Mageri seem -- and what her specialty is.

"Keith," he asks quietly, "You have it too, right?"
Keith stiffens in his chair. "That doesn't-"

"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."
"For who?" Shiro asks. Keith looks away, jaw clenching. "Keith-"

"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.
Shiro starts to stand, wanting to follow, but he pauses.

"Is he-"

"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?"
"No," she replies evenly. "A breakup can also cause it, if the emotional attachment is still there for one party. Or both," she adds carefully.

Shiro sucks in a shuddering breath. He's caused Keith such pain, messed up so phenomenally he can hardly wrap his mind around it.
"Is it reversible?" His voice comes out hoarse and strained. The delay in her reply has him looking up, eyes wide. "Mageri, can I fix this?" he demands.

"It's... very rare," she admits. "But not unheard of."

"I just have to make him happy, right?" he says, almost desperate.
She pauses, gathering her words, and Shiro grasps at the fraying edges of his patience.

"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.
"It's... the level of pain one must inflict on another to cause the illness to take hold, that is next to impossible for most couples to overcome. To come back from that and into trust again is difficult, even when the love is still there."
Shiro buries his face in his hands. Every breath is a struggle, and the wolf noses at his knee, whining in concern.

"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-"
"No," Shiro says instantly. "I don't care what happens to me, beyond how it would affect him. But he doesn't deserve this. This isn't what I intended. I was trying to /protect/ him from this, and-" He cuts himself off. "Sorry."
Mageri sighs, pushing back from her desk. "I can only wish you luck, Mr. Shirogane. Because you're right, he doesn't deserve this. No one does, really, but after all he's done for the Galra, for the universe, I'd prefer to see him happy."
"I must encourage haste, though," she adds. "He's been in treatment and has a bit more Galra blood than you, so his resilience is greater than yours. With the mix of alien DNA you have, I can't be sure of exactly how long, but I can't imagine you have much time to convince him."
Shiro nods, burying his fingers in the wolf's ruff.

"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."
That's it for tonight, cause it's way too late here, LOL. Thanks so much for sticking with me so long <3

ko-fi.com/kika988
When Shiro appears in Keith's living room, it's immediately obvious that he hasn't made it back there yet. Shiro huffs out a sigh, but realizes he has no idea how far Keith's apartment actually is from the doctor's office.
He spends the next two hours pacing the apartment, composing his apology in his mind, planning out all the things he can say to make what he did seem even marginally okay.

Then Keith steps in the door and it all flies right out of his head.
Keith freezes for a moment when he sees Shiro, then turns and shuts the door behind him.

"Keith, I'm-"

"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.
"I was pissed, before," Keith says, eyeing the open space on the couch before moving to sit on one of the barstools by the kitchen instead. "And maybe I still am, a little.
But I had time to think about it, and I would have been even angrier if you'd faked being in love with me so I didn't get sick." He ducks his head. "I'd just been telling myself all this time that you didn't /know/ what it did to me. Made it easier to deal, I guess."
"I did know," Shiro says, "but not in the way that you think. You have to know I'd never deliberately hurt you like that."

Keith's eyes narrow dangerously. "/Do I/ know that, Shiro? Because you did exactly that, without so much as a word to me."
Shiro ducks his head. "You're right, I did. I hurt you, and I knew I was doing it, but I swear, I was trying to /protect/ you." Keith goes very still at that, so Shiro pushes on ahead.
"I didn't know that a... a breakup could cause the illness. I thought it was just the death of a partner. You're likely to outlive me by so much, and I couldn't stomach the thought of being the cause of your early death, so..." Even now, he can't say it out loud.
When he looks up, Keith is ashen, far beyond the sickly pale he has been.

"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.
"Of course I'd have fought it, you fucking idiot," Keith snaps. His face is livid while his eyes are full of tears, a potent combination that sends shame spiraling through Shiro. He can barely comprehend the magnitude of the mistake he's made, but Keith's face drives it home.
"I'd have chosen a human lifetime with you over centuries on my own without hesitation. But you took that decision away from me," Keith says angrily. He's pacing now, long legs eating up the floor of his living room.
He whirls on Shiro. "Would you ever have told me? Would you ever have even spoken to me again?"

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.
"Probably not," he admits, voice small. Keith sags a little, as if he'd been holding out hope for a different answer. Shiro's fingers twitch with the need to reach out for him, but he knows with an aching certainly he'd be pushed away.
"I wanted to," Shiro adds, almost desperately. "I thought about it, about you, all the time. Every day. But I was so scared of rekindling emotions I thought you'd moved on from and making you sick. I don't know if I'd ever have been willing to take that risk."
Keith laughs, the sound utterly humorless. "Yeah, well, that worked out great, didn't it?"

"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.
"I can't," Keith finally replies. "I want to, but I can't." He huffs, looking away. "I was willing to throw away the fucking universe for you, wasn't I? So no, I can't say that for sure. But I like to think I'd have at least talked to you about it."
"And I should have," Shiro admits. "I know that now. I was an idiot." He sucks in a breath, tries and fails to catch Keith's eye. "We can try to fix it now, though. Right?"

The silence that falls after that question feels damning.
"I don't know." Keith doesn't meet Shiro's eyes. "You know I'd do anything to save you, Takashi, but I don't know if I /can/ do this. You-" He stops himself, pressing his lips closed. "I can't do this right now. I need... I need time. Space. I'm too angry at you right now."
Shiro nods so fast he almost makes himself dizzy. "Yeah. Yes, of course. Whatever you need." He swallows hard. "I can leave, if you want. Just." He looks up. "I know I don't have the right to ask /anything/ of you, but can I message you?"

Keith sighs. "Yeah. You can do that."
Shiro's on the next transport back to Earth. Keith doesn't see him off, and Shiro tries to tell himself that's for the best.

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.
(aaaaand that's me for tonight. Thanks for reading, yall ❤️)
(It's been an Actual Week, yall, omg, I'm sorry, but let's try to wrap this up today, shall we?)
Shiro reminds himself as he flies away that he lived without Keith for years. He knows he can do it, knows it's possible. It's his normal now, after all, so it shouldn't be that hard.

He is so very, very wrong.
When he sets foot back in his apartment, he's blindsided by a longing he doesn't know how to handle. It almost sends him to his knees as he staggers under the weight of Keith's loss a second time, this time burdened with the knowledge of what he's done to him.
Keith's presence for so brief a time was like a sip of water to a man dying of thirst -- he needs more, wants to drown himself int he cool relief he'd felt in Keith's presence.

Instead, he pulls out his comm.

'Made it home. Missing you.'
It's short and sweet and comes nowhere near to conveying the sense of loss he's feeling at the moment, but he doesn't want to push his luck just yet. Right now, he's not even sure if Keith will respond.

A few minutes later, the comm pings.

'Glad you're safe.'
It's the first in a series of messages between them -- stilted and awkward, but /there/, which is more than Shiro could have even hoped for a few weeks ago.

'Joints don't like returning to Earth's gravity, as it turns out. Hope you're doing ok.'

'I'm alright, thanks.'
'Feeling a little better this morning. Do you have any missions coming up?'

'Nothing major, just some transport stuff.'
'Found some old pictures of us, mostly from that time we did Matt's birthday at the bowling alley. Thought you might enjoy them.'

'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.'
'Drove out into the desert today, just to get out of the house. Would have been better with you there.'

'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.'
Shiro feels a little silly about it, but he screenshots that particular message, and looks at it more often than he'd like to admit.

At some point, Keith does more than reply to Shiro's messages; he starts initiating his own.
At first, it's just random pictures: weird rock formations, horrific Voltron Show merchandise, native Daibazaal wildlife, the space wolf goofing off.

Then it's 'Flying a retrieval mission tomorrow', and 'Pidge is visiting, here's a pic', and 'How have you been feeling?'
It's slow, painfully slow. Shiro makes a point of messaging Keith at least once a day, usually as soon as he wakes up, but sometimes Keith goes 2 or 3 days without replying.

It's been about a month of this when Shiro receives the message in the middle of the night.
'Why was it so easy for you?'
'God, Keith, it wasn't. It was the hardest thing I've ever done.'

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.'
Shiro types out six responses before he finally sighs, running a shaking hand over his face.

'Can we talk on video? Or just on the phone?'

He hits send, then adds: 'please. I can't type this.'
Seven long, agonizing minutes later, Shiro's comm pad trills to alert him of an incoming call. He scrambles to answer it, then sucks in a breath when Keith's face pops up on the screen.

"Keith," he says, eyes going wide. "You look like shit."
Keith huffs out a laugh, the curve of his lips seeming too wide for the gaunt angles of his face. "Just what every guy wants to hear."

Shiro cringes. "Sorry. Just, you look... sicker."

Keith shrugs. "I am." He pauses, then adds, "The Blades officially put me on leave today."
"Fuck, Keith, I'm sorry," Shiro says. Keith raises his shoulder in a too-casual shrug, looking away from the camera. "So, um. The question you asked."

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."
He takes a deep breath, and tries to get his thoughts in order.

"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."
He looks down at his hands. "Not talking to you, not looking at you, not touching you, it was..." He trails off, staring at Keith, wishing he could reach out and touch. "It was nearly impossible. But every time I almost broke, I reminded myself I was basically killing you."
"Shiro..."

Shiro holds up a hand before Keith can continue.
"I don't... I'm not looking for pity, or sympathy. I fucked up. I know that. I brought this on myself, and worse, I brought it on you. But I can't let you think that letting you go was easy, because I'm literally dying right now, and turning away from you hurt worse."
"It was only the thought that I was doing it /for you/ that got me through it -- and through the years after. Because I wanted to call you every day," he admits. "I kept thinking it would get easier, and it never did."

Keith is silent, fiddling with something just out of view.
"I got suspended today because I saw Kolivan for the first time in almost a year," he finally says. "He'd been leading a long-term mission in another system while mom and I handled things here."

Shiro goes very still when Keith pins him with a look.
"You never said he was the one who told you."

"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."
Shiro winces. "He was just looking out for you-"

"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.
"He apologized," Keith finally says. "Said he didn't realize how... invested I already was."

"We weren't technically even dating," Shiro says quietly. "He had no way to know."
Keith looks up at Shiro, expression tired but open. "Shiro, I've been in love with you since I was 18."
The statement is so simple, so blunt and quiet it doesn't feel like a declaration, but it knocks the breath out Shiro nonetheless. He reaches out, helpless against the impulse, to touch Keith's face on the screen. It's cold and hard and nothing like his memory of Keith's skin.
"Have you been... God, Keith, have you been sick all this time? Since that far back?"

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."
Shiro drops his face into his hands and struggles to get himself under control. He can't cry, not now. This is too important. His eyes are red-rimmed and bright with tears when he raises his head, but he's still able to speak, so he takes it as a win.
"Please," he says, his voice hoarse with emotion. "Please, let me try to fix things. I can come to you, or-"
"I have a shuttle to Earth in the morning," Keith interrupts. Shiro stops breathing for a second. "No promises," Keith adds quickly. "But maybe we can try to be friends again. Just that, for now."
Shiro happily accepts Keith's terms. He offers him a place to stay at his apartment, but Keith worries it'd be too much, too soon, and Shiro begrudgingly agrees. Instead, he stays with Pidge while slowly starting work on renovating his shack in the desert.
Finding their way back to friendship is harder than Shiro anticipated, certainly harder than it had been the first time, but he knows that's to be expected; after all, he'd broken Keith's trust. That takes time to repair.
They start out small -- meeting for lunch at the local diner, hanging out with the paladins, watching the new Garrison recruits run drills while commenting on the latest flight sim results.
Two weeks after Keith's return, they have a movie night at Shiro's apartment. It's never felt more like home than when Keith is there.
A month after his return, they drive out to the desert together. Neither of them are strong enough for hoverbikes at the moment, but they drive out in Shiro's SUV and talk as the sun sets, and it's just as good.
Two months after they start actively working to become friends again, Shiro's doctors call to inform him that his latest tests show that his disease doesn't seem to have progressed further.

At three months, his hand stops shaking.
Keith is guarded. He's slow to laugh, and slower to trust, but over the course of the next couple of months, they gradually find their way back to friendship. It isn't exactly like what they had before -- the specter of Shiro's decision will always haunt them, he thinks.
But it's Shiro and Keith, so as far as Shiro's concerned, it's perfect. He takes whatever Keith is willing to give and never pushes for more, and is the happiest he's been in years.
Shiro feels a thrill of victory when he realizes Keith is putting on weight again; he looks less pale, and less like a stiff breeze might whisk him away.
Four months after his arrival, they slowly and carefully start working out together -- just walking, at first, then running and weights.

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.
(If he has other thoughts about Keith's flexibility, especially in those leggings, he keeps them to himself, because they are /friends/, damn it, and he is not going to mess this up again.)
A year to the day after Keith returns to Earth, he and Shiro are sparring in one of the Garrison training rooms. It's late, but that means they have the place to themselves.

They're both almost back to full capacity, and they don't hold back on each other on the mat.
The room is quiet, except for the shuffling of their bare feet, the occasional grunt or the impact of a fist on skin. There had also been a few barbs tossed back and forth when they first started, but they've been going for almost an hour now, so they're both breathing hard.
In one of those shows of impressive agility that always takes Shiro's breath away, Keith nimbly ducks under a blow from the prosthetic arm, ducks around Shiro's side, and hooks his leg out from under him in one smooth motion.
Shiro hits the mat, and Keith's on him instantly, unerringly finding the pressure points for the perfect pin.

"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.
Instead of pushing away, Keith lingers, his fingers tightening minutely on Shiro's wrists where he has them pinned to the mat over his head. His face is only inches from Shiro's, close enough that he can see the sweat beading at Keith's hairline.
Keith's eyes drift down, then snap back up to Shiro's eyes, brows furrowed as if in question.

Shiro watches back calmly. Anything, he answers silently. Anything Keith asks is his.

Somehow, it's still a surprise when Keith kisses him.
His lips are soft but insistent, and Shiro is helpless against the soft moan that rises in his throat as Keith tilts his head to deepen the kiss. It's hot and sweet all at once, and more than Shiro had ever dared to hope for in years.
When Keith pulls back, his expression is uncharacteristically nervous.

"Is this okay?" he asks, searching Shiro's eyes.

Shiro laughs a little, bringing one hand up to touch Keith's cheek, almost reverently.
"Sweetheart, it's /more/ than okay," he answers, and gets to watch as Keith's eyes go soft at the endearment. "Are you sure, though? This is what you want?"
Keith smiles. "Yeah, I'm sure. I have for a while, just... needed it to be because we want it, and not because we're dying." He drags a hand pointedly down Shiro's chest, pressing in at the muscle he's regained there. "We're both doing better, now, so... this is just for us."
"I wasn't sure you'd ever trust me again enough to try this," Shiro admits. "I wouldn't blame you if you couldn't."

Keith nods his understanding, then pushes himself up, offering Shiro a hand to help him stand.
"I didn't, for a long time," Keith admits. "I wasn't sure if I could. You hurt me," he says bluntly, meeting Shiro's eyes evenly. "More than anyone ever has, and doing this... it's handing you the power to do that all over again."
"I won't," Shiro swears, stepping closer. "Keith, I promise you, I won't do that to you again."

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."
"Yes," Shiro replies instantly. "Yes, please."

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.
A few months later, after Shiro's regained his piloting clearance, they head back to New Daibazaal where Shiro undergoes a more thorough medical profiling by the genetic experts there.
He's holding Keith's hand when he learns that, as an almost half-Galra, they will likely have similar lifespans. It's bittersweet, learning he'll outlive most of his friends -- but knowing he'll be at Keith's side for it all makes it unquestionably worth it.
Oh my god, that got so much longer than planned -- which should really *be* the plan for every thread, at this point. Thank you all so much for reading, I've so greatly enjoyed your comments! Link to my ko-fi is below if you feel like dropping a tip!

ko-fi.com/kika988
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