New thread! Sheith, no idea what rating yet so assume E, post-canon but S8 never happened because I'm perfectly capable of creating my OWN angst, thank you very much.

Lots of pining, some angst, but I promise a happy ending even when it looks bleak!
Oh and I'll throw a #sheith hashtag down here too.

I can't think of anything I need warnings for other than perhaps grieving? But I will try to warn for anything else I see coming. Let's goooooooo!!!
After the end of the war, it felt as if the whole world, the whole /universe/, was holding it's breath, waiting for the other shoe to drop. Waiting for the next attack, the next invasion or distress call.
It's exhausting constantly being on high alert, though, so slowly but surely people start to creep out of hiding and start looking for their new normal.

It takes the Paladins longer than most, but when the lions say farewell and fly away, they have to admit it's time to move on.
Over breakfast the morning after the lions leave, Hunk tentatively asks everyone what their plans are.

The Paladins all look around at each other, a bit uncertain, until Keith speaks up.

"I'm leaving with the Blades tonight."
Shiro feels the words like a blow to the chest.

Everyone is speaking at once, demanding an explanation, while Shiro sits on silence, trying to pull himself together enough to formulate a response.
"They offered, but I hadn't really planned on taking it," Keith explains, darting a glance at Shiro. Shiro keeps his eyes firmly on his plate. "Not til last night. Now that Black's gone..." He shrugs. "I need to figure out where my place is, and it definitely isn't here."
And oh, /that/ hurts, because Shiro had never imagined Keith anywhere /but/ here, though if he's being honest, maybe "here" isn't Earth. Maybe "here" is with the team. Maybe "here" is at Shiro's side. Didn't they always say...?
But that isn't fair. The war changed them all. Shiro knows that better than most. Keith owes him nothing.

He forces a smile as he reaches out to squeeze Keith's shoulder.

"You're going to do amazing," he says, because it's true. "You always do."
The conversation moves on from there, each of the paladins tossing out their plans for the future. Shiro doesn’t hear any of it, but he manages to smile through it all. He also manages to hold himself together as he hugs Keith, tells him to be careful, and watches him fly away.
The he goes home and gets spectacularly, embarrassingly, sickeningly drunk.
The next day, he has a raging hangover — a well-earned one, he thinks, only a little bitterly — but the day after that he picks himself up and gets back to work. There’s too much to do to sit around staring at the sky, wondering where Keith is.
There are diplomats to greet, cameras to smile for, drills to run, recovery efforts to coordinate. Earth is still stitching itself back together, and Shiro throws himself into the work of it in an effort to forget the empty space at his side.
(It doesn’t work, not really. In his darker, more self-pitying moments, he thinks Keith’s absence hurts more acutely than his missing arm ever did.)
Shiro tries to move on, tries not to dwell, but that doesn't stop him from dropping everything every time Keith sends a message or he sees something about the Blades on the news.

It's fine, he tells himself. After all, everything else aside, Keith is still his best friend.
Every time Keith visits earth, Shiro makes time for him, taking time off work so they can go out to the desert, or on a road trip, or just hanging out at Shiro’s place.

Shiro works hard, he visits his grandmother when he can, and he always makes time for his best friend.
It's fine. It's good. It's his new normal, and it's not a bad life. He's got his friends and what's left of his family. It's enough for Shiro.

Keith, as always, finds a way to turn Shiro's "normal" on its head.
"There're /so many/, Shiro," Keith's explaining one night. "Everywhere we go, more war orphans. We help the ones we can, try to help the planets put safety nets in place, but..."

“It’s still hard to see,” Shiro finishes for him.
"Yeah," Keith sighs. “There was one today. We found a bunch of them, but the one really latched onto me and cried when we dropped them off at the home.” His lips twist up into a scowl when he says 'the home', and Shiro knows enough about his childhood to not have to ask why.
"You can't save them all," Shiro says gently. "Not in the way you want. But you made a difference for him, even if he doesn't realize it right now. That matters."

Keith hums, nodding. "Yeah, I know. I just... Well. Anyway." He waves a hand dismissively and changes the subject.
The next day, Shiro’s tablet pings with an incoming call, and he’s surprised to see it’s Keith again; they talk often, but usually not every day, and they usually check that the other is free first. The break from routine sends a shiver of fear down his spine.

“Keith? You okay?”
Keith’s laughter crackles through the line, low and dry, before the image finally pops up. Shiro can only see his face and part of his left shoulder, but he breathes a sigh of relief nonetheless.

“I’m fine,” Keith assures him. “Sorry for the unplanned call, but I’ll be quick.”
“You’re fine,” Shiro says, slipping into his office and shutting the door. “What’s up?”

“I’m headed to Earth,” Keith says, and Shiro nearly drops the tablet.

“I thought you weren’t coming back for a couple more months!”
“Things changed,” Keith says, shrugging. “I know it’s short notice, but could you possibly make some time for me tomorrow? I have something important I want to tell you.”

“Too important to tell me over the comm?” Shiro asks incredulously.
“Yep,” Keith says, popping the p with a grin. “Think you can squeeze me in?”

Shiro’s helpless against that smile, always has been.

“For you? I’ll clear my schedule.”
When Keith lands at the Garrison midmorning the next day, Shiro’s waiting for him, dressed down in civvies since he had, as promised, cleared his schedule for Keith.
Keith’s ship is a sleek design made specially for the Blades, made to be fast and stealthy, and he seems to set her down a little more gingerly than usual, coasting gently to a stop on the runway.
Shiro strides forward once the ship’s stopped, and as soon as the side hatch opens he’s got an armful of Keith. Keith’s arms wind tight around his chest, squeezing tight as Shiro turns his face into Keith’s hair, letting himself be weak and breathe him in, just for a moment.
“It’s good to see you,” Shiro says, pulling back to take him in. “You sure you’re okay? It’s not like you to take off back here suddenly.”

Keith grins broadly, and Shiro’s chest /aches/ with how beautiful he is.
“I’m good, I promise,” Keith says. “There’s just someone I want you to meet.”

Shiro’s first uncharitable thought is /oh no, he’s dating/, which he realizes immediately is silly; if it was serious enough to warrant a trip to Earth to meet people, Keith would have mentioned it.
When Shiro raises his eyebrows in question, Keith leans back, poking his head back into the ship, calling out in Galran.

“Chotak! Nadev yighos!”
He waits a beat, then sways as his center of balance suddenly shifts when a small Galran child launches himself out of the ship and onto Keith’s shoulders.

The child is small, looking to be around 4 by human standards, and of the more reptilian variety of Galra.
His tail winds under Keith’s arms and around his chest, anchoring him even as he uses his clawed hands to grab handfuls of Keith’s hair for balance. Keith doesn’t even wince.

“Shiro, this is Chotak. Chotak, vas Shiro, ghah jupwal.”
The child eyes Shiro warily, crouched on Keith’s shoulders. Shiro’s mind is whirling about what this means, but he manages what he hopes is a friendly smile.

“Hello,” he says. “Nice to meet you, Chotak.”

Chotak’s fingers curl in Keith’s hair.

“Ghah jupwal,” Keith repeats.
"He doesn't speak English yet," Keith explains, reaching up to place a hand on Chotak's ankle. "But we'll work on it."

Shiro nods slowly. "Are you just watching him for someone, or..."
Keith hesitates, then squares his shoulders a bit, raising his head to look Shiro in the eyes.

"Chotak's my son."

It's what Shiro expected, but somehow hearing it out loud still rocks him to his core.

"Congratulations," he hears himself say, as if from a distance.
"I know what you're thinking," Keith says in a rush. "You're thinking I rushed into this and it's dumb and I'm gonna regret it, and maybe I did rush a little but I really did think it through! My missions are really low-risk now, and I can arrange care when needed, and-"
"Keith," Shiro interrupts. "I'm not thinking any of that. I'm just thinking what an amazing father you're going to be."

Keith falls silent, surprise written across his face as he flushes to the tips of his ears.
"I just... we bonded so quick," Keith admits. "I couldn't leave him there. I had to follow my instincts."

"You have the best instincts of anyone I know," Shiro says, smiling. "If they told you you're ready for this, then I trust them. I trust you."
Chotak watches Shiro with wide eyes as he speaks, then leans in to whisper something in Keith's ear. Keith laughs, tilting his head up to look at the boy.

"Hija," he seems to agree, his eyes crinkling with his smile. "Ghavad yivoqo so lah. Sohvad qad ghah."
He turns back to Shiro, grinning. "He likes your hair. Says it looks like light."

Chotak seems to reach a decision, extending a hand toward Shiro--or, more specifically, his hair. Shiro steps closer, and feels the prickle of claws against his scalp as small hands pet him gently.
"En tun," Chotak says quietly, revealing small fangs that give him a bit of a list.

Keith nods. "Tun. Soft." He points at Shiro. "Shiro."
"Soft," Chotak repeats, then looks back at Shiro. "Shiv- Shid- Chepod," he declares, holding his arms out toward Shiro after giving up on saying his name. Surprised, Shiro reaches back on instinct and finds himself with an armful of warm Galra boy.
"Oh," Shiro says, eyes wide. He looks back to Keith, who's watching with a soft smile. "Chepod?"

"Light Man," Keith translates. "Looks like you've already earned yourself a nickname, and a new admirer."
Sure enough, Chotak has settled in Shiro's arms and is happily petting his hair.

Suddenly Shiro understands why Keith couldn't leave Chotak behind. Shiro's never been very comfortable around children, never knows what to say, but he can already tell Chotak will be an exception.
He shifts the boy into a more comfortable hold, and catches Keith's eye, tilting his head back toward the Garrison. "Come on, let's get you two some lunch."

Shiro falls for Chotak, and falls /hard/. Keith stays on Earth for a little over a week for that visit, and Shiro spends every spare second spoiling the boy rotten. He buys him a wide variety of new Terran foods to try, and a frankly embarrassing number of toys.
"I don't have room for all of these on my ship," Keith points out as Shiro puts yet another stuffy in the cart. Chotak loves anything soft, and Shiro has a deep inability to deny him anything. Chotak squeals in joy and clutches the hot pink stuffed owl to his chest.
"Leave them at my place for when you're visiting, then," Shiro says, shrugging. "My quarters on Atlas have plenty of room for a few toys."

"Going to be more than a few at this rate," Keith mutters, but he's smiling when Shiro leans in to bump their shoulders together.
When they leave, Keith called out on a diplomatic mission for the Blades, Chotak frowns in confusion as Keith gently explains in Galran that Shiro can’t go with them.

“Chepod come,” Chotak pouts in heavily accented English, breaking Shiro’s heart neatly in two.
As if it wasn’t hard /enough/ watching Keith leave every time, before.

“I have to stay here,” Shiro explains, pausing to let Keith translate. “But I’ll keep your toys on the Atlas so you have to come back to play with them soon, okay?”
Chotak reluctantly agrees, and gives Shiro a tight hug — a Terran concept he’d taken to very quickly — before Keith slips in to give his own hug.

“Be safe,” Shiro says quietly. “Keep in touch.”

“I will,” Keith promises.
Watching Keith’s ship fly away this time feels different. It still hurts, but it’s a bittersweet pain that lodges under Shiro’s ribs. It eases a little every time Keith and Chotak vidcall him, but it doesn’t fully let up until the next time they visit Earth.
Over the next year and a half, Shiro watches in bits and pieces as Chotak grows, gaining inches what seems like overnight. Chotak learns English impressively quickly, but still insists on calling Shiro /Chepod/, a fact that never fails to make Shiro smile.
For the most part, Chotak stays with Keith on his ship, accompanying him on diplomatic and humanitarian missions. Sometimes he’ll stay on New Daibazaal with Krolia and Kolivan, and sometimes he stays with Shiro if Keith has a mission that he worries might get a little dangerous.
Those times are bittersweet for Shiro; he loves getting to spend time with Chotak, but the fact that Keith is potentially in danger looms over Shiro like an inescapable shadow until he sees him again.
More than anything, he loves seeing how Keith is with Chotak. He’s warm and open and affectionate, free with his hugs and praise. He’s stern when he needs to be, but Chotak never, ever doubts that he is loved.
Keith has moments when he doubts himself, but Shiro has never been prouder of him. He’s a good man, a good father, and Shiro is still utterly and completely in love with him.
He’s happy to be his best friend, though, and is forever grateful that Keith lets him be a part of Chotak’s life. He may wish for more, but he’s happy. His life is good.

Until the night he gets a panicked call from Krolia.
“We need the Atlas,” she says, and Shiro feels a cold finger of fear run down his spine at the way her voice trembles. “We picked up a distress signal in an area of space known for piracy. His flight plan didn’t take him near there but — Shiro, it’s Keith.”
Shiro’s already pulling on his flight suit as Atlas takes her cue from him and goes to tactical alert.

“We don’t have any ships free that could handle pirates if that’s the problem,” Krolia explains.

“I’m on my way,” Shiro assures her. “Just send me the coordinates.”
Technically, Atlas is a Garrison ship, so technically it can’t be deployed without orders from higher up, but when Shiro arrives on the bridge and gives the helm officer coordinates, telling him to max out the engines, no one says a word of protest.
They burst into the system at the designated coordinates into a debris field that makes Shiro’s heart flip over in his chest. Keith had been on a supposedly simple humanitarian mission, so he’d had Chotak with him.
As Atlas scans the area for any signs of life, all Shiro can see in his mind’s eye is the two people he loves the most being sucked out into the vacuum of space.

“There’s a life sign, sir.”

Shiro snaps to attention. “Just one?”
The science officer nods reluctantly. “Yes, in an escape pod.”

“Bring it in,” Shiro orders, turning to sprint for the cargo bay.

The pod is small and round, with a single lever that opens the hatch on the side with a quiet hiss.
When Shiro peers inside, he wants to scream his grief and relief all at once. He feels broken in every way that matters as he looks in on Chotak, who is asleep, curled up in a ball with his tear-streaked face barely visible over the stuffed bear he clings to.
Aaaand that’s it for tonight. Sorry 😅

Dropping this here in case anyone feels so inclined 💖 
Keith's memorial service is both loch and the worst thing Shiro has ever seen. He sits in the front row, at Krolia's insistence, with her and Kolivan and Chotak. Chotak sits in Shiro's lap, watching him with wide eyes and wiping away his tears as they fall.
He and Krolia have tried to explain to Chotak that Keith isn't coming back, but he's so young, it only seems to confuse him. He insists nothing can hurt his Papa, that he'll be back soon, his anxiety showing in how tightly his tail winds around Shiro's wrist.
The day of the memorial service, Krolia walks Shiro and Chotak back to Shiro's quarters; Chotak's been staying with him since the accident. It only makes sense, considering he has things there from his past visits.
"You can go play with your toys until dinner," Shiro tells Chotak, forcing a small smile he doesn't feel. Chotak chirps his agreement and dashes off to his room. Shiro's shoulders sag as soon as he's out of sight.

"He'll understand," Krolia says gently. "Eventually."
Shiro hates that she feels she has to be gentle with him when her /son/ is dead, hates that he can't look her in the face because all he sees there is Keith, hates that he keeps waiting for his comm to alert him that Keith's calling, that this is all a mistake.
"Yeah," he agrees woodenly. "I guess he will."

Krolia reaches into her bag and pulls out a folder that she slides across the counter to Shiro. "I assume you can handle the Terran legalities, but these are the adoption papers from Daibazaal."

Shiro goes still. "Adoption papers?"
Krolia looks up at him, frowning. "Keith-- no, sorry. I shouldn't have assumed. If you’re not able to take him in, I will do it. He’s my grandson,” she says, swallowing hard.

“I... I hadn’t even thought about it,” Shiro admits. “I’ve just been focused on each day.”
And it’s true — he’s been caring for Chotak out of instinct and habit with no thought to the future. Now that it’s been brought up, though, he can’t imagine being without him. Can’t imagine watching Chotak leave with anyone who isn’t Keith.
“I understand you’ll need some time to consider,” Krolia starts, reaching for the folder, but Shiro shakes his head, already pulling out a pen.

“No,” he says firmly. “I won’t.”
It’s hard.

Not the adoption process; that was streamlined after the war due to the high number of orphans. Within two weeks, Shiro is Chotak’s legal guardian on both Earth and New Daibazaal. That part’s easy.

Everything else is so, so hard.
He takes a week and a half off work to help Chotak get settled. It’s so odd to know Keith won’t be showing up to retrieve him, even if Chotak doesn’t fully understand that yet. He still seems confused about Keith, and Shiro feels his heart break anew every time he asks for him.
He goes to bed exhausted every day. It’s not that Chotak is a difficult child, exactly, but he’s high energy and inquisitive and keeps Shiro busy enough that he barely has time to think, much less grieve.
Shiro cries himself to sleep more than once, Keith’s absence a raw, open wound he doesn’t know how to begin to heal. Every day he catches himself thinking “I should send Keith a picture of this,” or “I need to call Keith,” only to have reality crash in on him seconds later.
A week after the memorial service, Chotak starts having nightmares. He claims to not remember the attack, but he wakes screaming almost every night. He starts sleeping in Shiro’s bed, his tail in a vice-like grip around Shiro’s wrist, as if he’s afraid he’ll disappear.
Shiro of course arranges counseling for him, but there aren’t any local doctors who specialize in Galra yet, so it’s a lot of educated guesses and consulting with doctors on New Daibazaal about how Galra children respond differently from humans to trauma.
For most of his sessions, Chotak just clings to his stuffed animal and remains stubbornly and uncharacteristically silent. When he does speak, he insists he remembers nothing.

Those nights, his nightmares are the worst, and Shiro can’t help but feel like he’s failing him.
The first day Shiro tries to take him to the on-base daycare, Chotak cries when he leaves, then screams /Chepod!/ over and over until the staff breaks and calls Shiro, who drops everything to come rushing back.
Chotak looks terrified when Shiro arrives, and clings to him so hard he leaves bruises as Shiro holds him and promises he hadn’t forgotten him or left him there forever.

It takes almost two months before Shiro’s able to leave Chotak there without him sobbing as Shiro leaves.
It breaks Shiro’s heart every time, feeling as if he’s letting Keith down with every tear his son sheds. With time, though, Chotak adjusts.

It’s not all terrible — Chotak is as sweet and full of love as ever, and Shiro loves having him there.
He loves books, and reads to Shiro as he cooks dinner. He’s a Lego master, building ever-taller contraptions with the sets Matt brings by. He makes a nest of stuffed animals in Shiro’s bed every night before they go to sleep, and makes sure to reserve one just for Shiro to hug.
Shiro’s working on his tablet one night, about three months after Chotak moved in, when Chotak chirrups and shifts closer to Shiro in his sleep. Shiro reaches out and rubs a hand soothingly over his back, and Chotak settles, smiling a little, and it hits Shiro: /This is my son/.
He follow-up thought steals his breath: /This is Keith’s son, and my son. He’s our son./

The revelation has him staring down at the sleeping Galra boy with wide, tear-filled eyes. It’s what he’d always wanted, attained in the most horrific way possible.
(That’s it for tonight! I promise this takes a happier turn soon!)
Over the next few months, things slowly, slowly get easier. Shiro and Chotak find an equilibrium and settle into their life together, though Chotak never stops asking about Keith, and Keith’s absence still feels like a black hole in Shiro’s chest.
Shiro’s convinced that nothing will ever feel /right/ now that Keith’s gone, but the first time Chotak calls him “Vava,” sleepily slurring over the Galran word for ‘dad’, he can’t help but think that this may be as close as it comes.
And yet, the new name only serves to remind him that he’s basically taking Keith’s place in Chotak’s life. It’s a bittersweet milestone, one that leaves him crying himself to sleep again for the first time in weeks.
That moment serves as the catalyst for Shiro's new goal: make sure Chotak never, ever forgets Keith.

He feels mildly guilty that he can’t do the same for Chotak’s biological parents, but he knows nothing about them.
Keith? He knows Keith like the back of his hand, like the breath in his lungs.

He puts more pictures of Keith around their home, each one as painful as it is desperately wanted and welcomed.

He tells stories of Keith at bedtime, of his bravery and loyalty and temper and humor.
And it’s hard, /so/ hard, because they end each story time the same way:

“Vava, when’s Papa coming home?”

And every time, Shiro has to give a variation on the same painful answer.

“He isn’t, sweetheart. He would if he could, but he can’t. But he is watching over you, always.”
Shiro isn’t even really sure if he believes that — he’s never held a strong belief one way or the other on the afterlife. Now more than ever, though, he wishes he did.
If he did, he might know how to respond better when, every night, Chotak says “No, he’s just late. He’ll be home soon” with the simple innocent confidence that only a child can muster.
And then, suddenly, Chotak’s right.

It's almost anticlimactic in how it happens. It's a Thursday when Shiro gets a call that an incoming ship of Olkari has requested his presence. It's not an unusual request; Shiro's a paladin of Voltron and the captain of the Atlas, after all.
He arrives at the tarmac just as the gangplank drops, and the figure waiting at the top of the ramp isn't Olkari -- it's /Keith/.

Shiro suffers a brief moment of panic -- this is it, he's finally lost it -- when suddenly Keith is moving, running, he's /in Shiro's arms/.
He's a little thinner, a little pale, but it's undeniably Keith, especially when he breathes out in a rush against Shiro's neck with "Fuck, I missed you," in that gravelly voice Shiro's only heard in his dreams for the past six months.
The hug doesn't last long -- no more than a few seconds, not /nearly/ long enough as far as Shiro's concerned -- before Keith's pulling back, trepidation plain on his face.

"Chopak? Is he-"

"He's fine!" Shiro rushes to assure him. “He's here. He's at the base daycare."
Keith sags against Shiro in relief. "I didn't know," he says, his voice shaky. "I tried but- but I didn't know."

“No, he’s here, we found him in... in an escape pod, in the wreckage of your ship.” Shiro doesn’t realize he’s about to cry until his voice cracks over the words.
Keith looks up, eyes wide.

“We thought you were /dead/, Keith,” Shiro chokes out. “All this time, I thought— there was a /memorial service/,” he says, huffing out a humorless laugh.

“God, Shiro, I’m sorry,” Keith says, looking pained, and well, he /would/ know, wouldn't he?
"No, don't- I'm just glad you're here. God, you're /alive/, just-" He drags Keith in for another, too-brief hug. "You're okay?"

"I'm fine," Keith says. "I'll tell you what happened, I promise, but can I see Chopak? Please, I didn't know if he was okay, and... I need to see him."
Shiro wraps his hand around Keith's wrist, afraid he'll disappear if he's not touching him and all too aware of how absurd that sounds.

He remembers Keith keeping a finger on Shiro's pulse as he slept that one night years ago out in the desert shack, and now he understands.
He leads him to the daycare, ignoring all the gasps and shocked exclamations along the way, only reluctantly letting go of Keith's arm when they arrive and Chotak spots them, barreling past the teachers to fling himself into Keith's arms with a delighted shriek.
Keith holds him close, murmuring to him in Galran as Chotak’s tail winds around his waist so tightly Shiro winces in sympathy.

“I /told/ you he was just running late, Vava!” Chotak crows triumphantly, switching easily to English as he looks over at Shiro.
“You did, didn’t you?” Shiro agrees, unable to help his watery smile. “You’re a smart boy. We should listen to you more often, huh?”

Chotak preens with pride, but it isn’t until he goes back to nuzzling Keith that Shiro realizes Keith’s staring at him in surprise.

It’s not until that moment that Shiro realizes the trade-off he faces, and he feels as if the ground drops out from underneath him.

And the thing is, he thinks as a sick feeling settles into the pit of his stomach, he has no right to be upset.
Keith is back, and that’s worth almost anything, even this, no matter how much it hurts. Keith is back, and Chotak is happy, and that is /everything/.

It’s worth it. It is.

The realization that he won’t be Chotak’s dad anymore is the most bittersweet pain Shiro’s ever felt.
((hello it is I, crawling back a month later in shame

I'm theoretically in Twitter jail so idk if I'll be able to post MUCH before the birb app is all NO THAT'S S//PAM but I'm gonna try to do some more on this tonight!))
The rest of that day is busy enough that Shiro is forced to shelve the inevitable emotional breakdown that will accompany that realization. Once word gets out that Keith is back, the entire Garrison wants to greet him, and the Paladins all race to his side as quickly as they can.
It's a rush of people, a million questions, a huge mix of confusion and relief from everyone they speak to, and Shiro stays by Keith's side through all of it. He tries to run interference, and ushers them all inside once the press shows up, but Keith handles it all admirably.
Shiro briefly wonders if he should suggest they get Chotak somewhere quieter, but he sees how his tail is twined around Keith's leg and decides to shelve that thought for now. They've been parted for long enough.
It only takes a few hours of this before Chotak decides he has had enough, though, and starts hissing at anyone other than Shiro and the other paladins who come within ten feet of Keith.
"I think that's enough for today," Shiro says, his tone leaving no room for argument. No one has gotten any of the answers they want yet, but Shiro has no patience for their curiosity when Chotak is visibly tired and trembling with too many emotions for his small body to hold.
"I'll make time to meet with anyone who actually needs it," Keith promises as he hoists Chotak up on his hip. "But for tonight I just need to spend time with my son."

Shiro flashes a grateful smile to Allura, who smoothly steps in to intercept the crowd's questions.
With that, they make a quick escape, hurrying up Atlas's gangplank and ducking into the private life to paladin quarters. Keith sags against the wall as soon as they make it to Shiro's quarters.

"I knew it'd be a shitstorm, but--"

"That's an adult word," Chotak says seriously.
"I guess it's a good thing I'm an adult then, isn't it?" Keith asks, pressing a kiss to Chotak's temple before setting him down. Chotak considers a moment and seems to decide it's satisfactory before racing off to his room, babbling about all the Lego things he has to show him.
Silence falls over the living room, and Shiro suddenly feels off-balance and awkward.

"I'm sorry; I came here out of habit, but your room is still just next door. I can have Chotak pack a bag if--"
"It's fine, Shiro," Keith says, grinning as he moves to flop onto the couch. The sight of him sprawled there makes something in Shiro's chest ache; it's so familiar, and something he thought he'd never see again. "Your place is more 'home' than mine ever was, anyway."
Shiro opens his mouth to reply, but then there's a crashing noise from Chotak's bedroom, followed by a beat of silence and then a wail of sorrow. Shiro winces.

"I'm betting that was his Eiffel Tower," Shiro says as he stands. "He was, um, working his way up to life-size."
The next couple of hours are spent comforting Chotak, helping him rebuild his tower, then feeding him dinner, washing him, and getting him tucked in bed -- with lots of hugs and kisses and promises that Keith would still be there in the morning.
Once Chotak's asleep and his door is (carefully, quietly) shut behind them, Keith and Shiro collapse onto the couch, staring at each other in silence for a long moment.
"I was captured by pirates," Keith says after a long moment. "They attacked us and I knew they'd kill or sell Chotak if they caught him, so..." He trails off and looks pained. "I had to mask his life sign. I knew you'd come for him, but I didn't know if it'd be in time."
He draws in a shuddering breath and Shiro reaches out to squeeze his hand reassuringly.

"I dropped everything and got out there as soon as I heard," he says. "He wasn't alone for long."
Keith nods, looking relieved. "I promise I tried to get out and get home sooner, but it took a while. The freighter they had me on was barely limping along, so after I took care of them, I had to land on the first habitable planet I could find for repairs."
"Was it inhabited?" Shiro asks, horrified.

Keith shakes his head. "Nope, just me and the local wildlife. That's where I was most of the time. I only had the broken parts of the ship to work with. I honestly wasn't sure I was going to be able to take off again," he admits.
Shiro makes a wounded noise and scoots closer to Keith, dragging him in for another hug, something he's been needing for hours now.

"But you did," Shiro says, voice rough. "You're here."

"I'm home," Keith agrees quietly.
They sit quietly for a few minutes, Keith making no move to slip out of Shiro's embrace.

"Do you think you'll be here long?" Shiro asks carefully. Keith huffs, and clings a little tighter.
"I worked hard to get back here," he says, his voice muffled by Shiro's sweatshirt. "I think I'm going to hang out for a while, if that's okay with you."
Shiro's laugh is a little watery as all the emotions of the day catch up to him. "Keith, you can hang out forever, as far as I'm concerned."

Keith laughs a little, and it isn't long before they've fallen asleep on the couch together, and Atlas dims the lights around them.
((That's it for tonight but I'm excited to be writing on this again! My apologies for the long wait 😭 Dropping my Ko-fi below because moving is expensive, but no obligation of course!)) 
They wake in the morning to aching backs and Chotak serving them a gourmet breakfast of bacon and eggs -- made out of Legos, of course.

As far as Shiro's concerned, it's pretty perfect.
While Keith works on making a non-plastic breakfast, Shiro calls his lawyer, who thanks to Shiro has experience with all the paperwork involved in bringing someone back from the (legal) dead, and makes an appointment for later that afternoon.
Breakfast feels a little bittersweet for Shiro; it's everything he wants, but he knows he's about to lose it all. Keith looks adorably sleepy and can't stop smiling at Chotak, and Chotak is happier than Shiro's seen him in months -- a feeling he can relate to.
It's hard, every second feeling like a goodbye, but he refuses to let that show. He puts on a smile and enjoys his eggs and wipes Chotak's face and tries not to swallow his tongue when Keith showers and comes out wearing Shiro's clothes.
Keith notices Shiro's expression and looks a little sheepish, tugging at the hem of the slightly-oversized shirt.

"Is this okay? Everything I had with me is gone, so--"

"No, yeah, it's fine," Shiro says quickly. "Looks better on you than me, anyway," he adds, laughing.
Keith snorts dismissively. "As if. Hey Chotak, let's get you dressed, okay buddy?"

Chotak rolls his eyes as he hops down from the chair he's perched on, his tail whipping behind him with attitude. "I can dress myself, Papa, gosh."
Keith blinks in surprise, and Shiro sees a flash of sadness cross his face at having missed some of Chotak's growth. "Right. My bad. Go get dressed, then, we have a few errands to run."
There's a bit of back and forth over who will actually go to the appointment with the lawyer -- Shiro doesn't want to infringe on Keith's privacy, which Keith claims is ridiculous, and Keith doesn't want to inconvenience Shiro, which Shiro is baffled by the very concept of.
In the end, they agree that it will be helpful to have Shiro there, since he's dealt with this sort of thing before, so they drop Chotak off with Lance (Chotak's favorite babysitter, as he loves Lance's bath bomb collection) and head out.
"Honestly, most of it is just paperwork on my end, you'll just need to sign for some things," the lawyer is saying an hour later. She's flipping through some notes on her desk. "It looks your estate, what there was of it, was put into Mr. Shirogane's care until Chotak turned 18."
"I didn't take anything out of it," Shiro promises.

"You should have!" Keith protests. "That's literally its purpose, to provide for Chotak."

Shiro shrugs. "It wasn't any hardship, and I figured that way he could have it for himself when he came of age."
The lawyer clears her throat. "On that note -- there is the guardianship of Chotak to consider. As it stands now, Shiro is the boy's legal guardian, but once Keith is resurrected, as it were, you will both have equal legal claim."
"I understand you two will need some time to discuss-"

"No," Shiro says firmly. "We don't. Keith is Chotak's father."

"What the hell, Shiro?!" Keith's outburst is sudden, and frankly, pretty unexpected. Shiro hadn't really allowed himself to think about this part.
"What? You are!" Shiro turns to Keith, frowning. "You risked /everything/ to save him, and he was your first concern when you made it back. He loves you, and he missed you. You're his father. What else is there to discuss?"
Keith makes a noise that sounds almost like a growl in the back of his throat, the sound sending an entirely inappropriate thrill down Shiro's spine. He whips his head around to look at the lawyer. "Can we have a minute to /discuss/, please?"
"That's actually the last thing we needed to cover," she says. "I'll call you once I have all the paperwork ready to sign, Mr. Kogane, and you can let me know what you two decide about custody. Just as a thought," she says gently, "Joint or shared custody is an option."
"What, having him pack up all his things every other weekend? That doesn't seem fair to him," Shiro protests. She looks between Shiro and Keith, eyebrows raised. She looks mildly confused, but eventually shakes her head.
Well," she says, "we do have mediation services available if you need them, and counselors we can recommend. Just know the courts will always want to do what's best for the child."

"Don't worry, so do we," Keith says, though he still looks angry. "Thank you. We'll be in touch."
They barely make it to the car before Keith's grabbing Shiro's shoulder and spinning him around, pushing him back against the side of the car to glare up at him.

"You wanna tell me what the fuck just happened in there?"
Shiro scowls down at him, baffled. "I was wondering the same thing. Chotak /just/ got you back, and now you want to tell him, what, that you're leaving again? That he can't go with you?"

Keith's face wavers between disbelief and outrage.
"Are you kidding me? No! You're right that he's my son. What I don't get is why you're so willing to give him up as /your/ son, too." He pauses, a complicated expression passing over his face. "You never mentioned wanting kids. Is it-- did you only take him in because of me?"
Shiro only hesitates a moment, but it's long enough for Keith's face to close off, for him to withdraw, releasing his grip on Shiro's shoulder and taking a step back.

"Sorry, I shouldn't have assumed-"
"Keith, no." Shiro's already moving, already reaching out for him, forever trying to move closer into his orbit. He manages to snag Keith's sleeve and holds on, not pulling him in closer but not letting him get any farther away.
"You're right," he admits. "I never did want kids before. It's still not something I feel particularly strong about. But this isn't about wanting kids. This is about wanting /Chotak/, and-" He stops, emotions suddenly clogging his throat.
He fights it, but he can /feel/ his face crumple. He can't even open his eyes to see how Keith is responding, but he's honestly not sure how well he'd handle that right now anyway.
"Of course I want him," he admits, his voice breaking over the words. "I love him. How could I not? He's... being his dad is the best thing I've ever done. The best thing I'll ever do. But I can't take him from you. I won't."
"Shiro..." Keith pulls his sleeve free from Shiro's grip only to lift his hands, cupping Shiro's face and wiping away tears he hadn't even realized were spilling. "Why does it have to be you /or/ me? Why can't he have his Papa /and/ his Vava?"
Shiro finally opens his eyes, the image of Keith's dark eyes swimming before him closer than he'd expected.

"I don't want to make this hard on him."
Keith rolls his eyes. "And losing his Vava would be easy?" He smiles, leaning in to press their foreheads together. "Come on, Shiro. We can do this."

"You're sure?"
"Of course I'm sure. He's your son, Shiro. Don't take that from him." Keith grins. "I can think of worse things than co-parenting with my best friend."

Shiro takes a breath and pulls Keith in for a hug, letting himself hold him close for a moment longer than strictly safe.
"Okay," he agrees, speaking into Keith's hair. "Okay, let's go figure this out."
Ok I’m gonna try to do more but FIRST y’all gotta see @voltronpalindo’s adorable Chotak art 😍😍😍
In the end, it's not so complicated. Keith decides to stay on Earth for a while, claiming he missed Chotak and his friends. Shiro feels a little guilty about it, but not enough to question the decision -- he's honestly just grateful for Keith's presence.
Keith's quarters were already next to Shiro's anyway, and Atlas integrates their spaces without having to be asked, bringing Keith's bedroom over and enlarging the living spaces.
Chotak thinks it’s the greatest thing ever, and insists on having a living room sleepover several times the first week. Neither Shiro or Keith mind one bit.
Keith is legally resurrected, and they’re both deemed Chotak’s legal guardians. Keith is brought onto the Garrison as a consultant, and he and Shiro carefully plan their work hours around Chotak’s schedule.
They walk Chotak to daycare every morning, then school when it starts up in the fall. They have dinner together most nights, and clean up together afterwards. They're a family unit, perfectly in sync, and Shiro tries so hard not to wish for more, but...
Keith's tempting with his hair in a bun, shirt splattered with soapy sink water. He's perfect as he leans over the table, helping Chotak with his handwriting homework. He's devastating as he gives Shiro a little smile before disappearing into his own room every night.
It's so, so hard to live with him, to raise a child with him, and not love him even /more/.
Honestly, how could Shiro not love him, after watching him approach Chotak's vow to learn the Pokemon rap with all the seriousness of a Blade -- "Knowledge or death, Shiro," he says seriously as he restarts the song for the seventh time in half an hour.
How is he supposed to resist Keith as he kneels before Chotak, wiping his tears away and telling him he'll make friends who don't care that he's purpley-blue with a tail and no hair, as he promises his heritage doesn't make him like the ones who hurt his friends' parents.
How could he ever not love the man who comforts and distracts Chotak through that hard day, then breaks down in tears himself over it after they've put him to bed?
"I'm an idiot," Keith says, laughing humorlessly into his hands. "I know better than most how mean kids can be, and here I am bringing a Galra kid to be raised on a planet the Galra empire ravaged. What the hell was I thinking?"
"You were thinking you could save him from a short life begging for scraps on the streets of a backwater planet," Shiro says simply. He reaches over, squeezing Keith's knee. "I know he's upset, but you have to know his struggles here are better than they would have been there."
Keith sighs, a long, shuddering things, and drops his hands into his lap.

"I know. I just hate seeing him like that. He's such a good kid, Shiro, he's not even an asshole like I was. He doesn't deserve this. I get people having hangups about the Galra, but dammit, he's /six/."
"And he's tough," Shiro reminds him. "I wish he didn't need to be, but he is."

Keith nods, staring down at his hands. "I just... I don't want him to end up angry and bitter like I was. He deserves better."
Shiro's quiet for a long moment, considering his words carefully before he speaks.

"You were a good kid too, you know."

Keith snorts. "Shiro, the first time we met, I stole your car. I was a brat."
"Maybe," Shiro admits. "But you were a brat because you were angry, and that anger was justified. The adults in your life failed you. You deserved better." Keith looks over at Shiro, wide-eyed, and Shiro wonders if he's never realized that, if no one has ever told him.
He shifts his hand from Keith's knee to his hands, giving them a small squeeze. "You won't fail Chotak. /We/ won't fail him, because we love him, and we'll make sure he knows that, just like you did tonight."
Keith swallows hard and nods. "Yeah, you're right. I will. /We/ will." He looks up, and turns his hand under Shiro's to thread their fingers together, squeezing gently in return. "Thanks, Shiro. I really can't imagine doing this with anyone else."
Shiro just smiles as Keith gets up to go to bed, and tries not to think about how Keith finding someone he'd rather do this with, someone he wants a real relationship with, is Shiro's greatest fear and most bittersweet wish, all at once.
(that's it for tonight!! Thanks y'all! 💖)
It’s a year later when Allura invites all of the paladins and their closest friends and family to a dinner and then, with a heartfelt speech, proposes to Lance.
Chotak is a little confused by all the screeching and tears (mostly Lance’s), but the atmosphere is so generally happy that he’s as delighted as everyone else, even if he doesn’t fully understand /why/.
Hours later, Shiro's cleaning up the bathroom after Chotak's bath while Keith tucks him into bed.

"Papa," he hears Chotak say, "what's marry?"

"It's something you do with someone you love very much," Keith explains quietly. "Someone you want to spend forever with."
"You should marry me, then!" Chotak says excitedly.

Shiro can't help but smile at that as Keith laughs.

"That's sweet, buddy, but no. You already have me forever, because I'm your Papa, but getting married is for a different kind of love. Like Lance and Allura."
"Ooh," Chotak says, with dawning understanding. Shiro wipes the water off the floor and tugs the shower curtain closed, assuming that's the end of the conversation, but--

"So you and Vava are married, right?"
Shiro goes still, eyes wide, and is so selfishly grateful that Chotak asked /Keith/ this instead of him, because he's not sure he'd be able to control his face, but Keith... well, he has no reason for the question to bother him.

He is quiet for a minute, though.
"No, we're not," Keith says gently.

"But you love each other like Lance and Allura do," Chotak insists.

"Your Vava and I do love each other very much," Keith says. "I... I'm not sure it's the same way, though. Not for both of us."
He adds the last bit quietly, but Shiro feels it like a blow to the chest.

He thought he'd hid his feelings, but apparently he was more transparent than he thought.

He finishes cleaning quickly and is safely shut away in his room before Keith emerges from Chotak's room.
Shiro isn't exactly proud of it, but he spends the next two days avoiding Keith whenever possible. It's not easy, considering they live /and/ work together, but Atlas responds to his wishes, most of the time, and more than once a corridor appears right where he needs it.
It's not that he doesn't want to see Keith -- of course not, he /always/ wants to see Keith -- but he's mortified that he's been making Keith feel uncomfortable in his own home.

And for how long? When did Keith figure it out? What gave Shiro away?
How long has Keith been trying his best to act normal while secretly cringing away every time Shiro looked at him?

Shiro burns with shame every time he thinks about it.
The second night, Shiro stays late at work and arrives home well after Keith has already tucked Chotak into bed.

"Hey, there you are," Keith says, looking up from the couch with a smile. He sets his tablet aside, focused on Shiro.

Shiro fights the urge to hide.
"They got you working on something urgent?" Keith asks. "It's not like you to work late. Not anymore," he amends. It's true; since adopting Chotak, Shiro's been far more careful about overworking himself. Chotak deserves far more of his time than the Garrison does.
"Something like that," Shiro hedges, toeing his shoes off. Keith's brow furrows at that, but Shiro pushes on, forcing out the words he's been practicing sounding casual about all afternoon. "Hey, I've been thinking. Maybe we should have Atlas separate our living quarters again."
Keith stares across at him, mouth slightly agape.

"What?" he finally demands. "Why?"

Shiro takes a deep breath; he'd expected some pushback, /always/ expects pushback from Keith. It's one of the things he loves about him.
"We're both adults," Shiro begins slowly. Reasonably. "If we have separate quarters, then there's a little more freedom to be... social."

He's honestly impressed with how even his voice is.


Keith’s voice, on the other hand, is flat as he repeats the word.
"You know..." Shiro gestures vaguely. "In case you wanted to. See people. Or something."

Keith's eyes narrow a bit, and Shiro has the sudden sensation of standing on very thin ice.

"Is that what /you/ want?"
"I want you to feel like you have the freedom to see people if you decide to do that," Shiro replies carefully.

"But do /you/ want to date?" Keith asks pointedly. In just about any other context, Shiro would have been delighted to hear him say that.
"You know I'm not one to date around," Shiro says dismissively.

"Then there's someone in particular you're interested in and you need me out of your hair," Keith presses.

"What?" Shiro says, bewildered by the sudden turn. "No!"
"Shiro, if I'm cramping your style you can just say so," Keith says, his tone just this side of sharp, "but don't try to make it out to be something that /I/ want, because I'm perfectly happy with how things are." He stands from the couch and begins pacing, all agitated energy.
"And before we make /any/ decisions, we need to figure out how this will affect Chotak, and what to tell him," Keith adds.
"We'll tell him adults need space sometimes," Shiro says, his tone faltering for the first time since he got home, because how many times in the past few days has he imagined Keith meeting someone new and introducing them to Chotak as Shiro is slowly phased out of their lives?
And every time, Shiro has told himself he'll let it happen. If Keith and Chotak are happy, that's all that matters. He was meant to be dead before 25 -- he was never supposed to have any of this, anyway.
The last year and a half have been more than he ever could have hoped for. He won't push his luck for more, not at Keith's expense.

"You've really thought this through, haven't you?" Keith's voice is quiet, but it cuts through Shiro's bleak thoughts like a knife.
"I've been considering it for a few days," Shiro admits.

Keith goes very still, and Shiro knows instantly he's messed up.
"A few days," Keith repeats slowly. "That's why you've been working late, ever since Allura-" He cuts himself off, eyes wide. "You heard what I told Chotak that night."

Shiro lets his eyes fall closed. He'd hoped to avoid this, but Keith always had a way of seeing through him.
"I did," he admits. "I'm sorry," he adds quietly. He's not even entirely sure what he's apologizing for. He's sorry for eavesdropping. He's sorry for taking advantage of Keith, for playing family with him while harboring secret feelings.
He's sorry he couldn't hide it better, couldn't protect Keith and Chotak from his own emotions. He's sorry he let it get this far. He's sorry he couldn't be the best friend Keith deserves.
"God, don't fucking-" Keith stops, sucks in a breath, visibly trying to calm himself. "Don't apologize. Not for that. That's on me."
He's paused in his pacing now, his arms crossed in front of himself. His shoulders are hunched in, almost defensively, and Shiro hates that, hates that he feels like he has to hide here, with him, of all people.
"It's not," Shiro protests. "I let things go too far, and I've made you uncomfortable here, in your own home."

Keith gives Shiro an odd look.
"Shiro, you've never once made me uncomfortable," Keith says, letting out a humorless huff of a laugh. "You're the most comfortable person there /is/ for me. If that's the only reason you're wanting to move out... look, this isn't new. I've got it handled, okay?"
"You shouldn't /have/ to handle it," Shiro says, running a hand through his hair in exasperation. "Maybe if we had some distance, maybe things would... cool off, a little?"

It's a lie, plain as day -- he knows he'll never get over Keith, but he can try, for Keith's sake.
Keith's laugh is harsh this time, a sharp contrast to his soft expression.

"I've had feelings for you since I was seventeen, Shiro," he says. "I don't see that 'cooling off' anytime soon."

Shiro freezes, and.


Shiro's silent for long enough that Keith takes a step back, shrinking further in on himself.

"Sorry. That probably isn't helping, huh? I only meant you don't have to worry about me. I'm fine. But if it's what you want, yeah, I can move out."
"You've had feelings," Shiro finally croaks. "For... Me?"

Keith looks up at that.
"Yes? You say that like you-" He pauses, eyes going wide. "Oh my God, you didn't know. I just- /fuck/." He starts pacing again, then whirls on Shiro. "What the hell did you think I was talking about all this time?!"
Shiro can't help but laugh the sound a little wild and high-pitched.

"I thought we were talking about my feelings for you."

Now it's Keith's turn to stare in silent shock.
((ok that really is it for tonight! Dropping this link just in case anyone is feeling generous but if course no pressure at all! 💖 ))
"Your-- but you don't have feelings for me," Keith says, as if that's not the most absurd statement Shiro has ever heard in his life. "Not outside of friendship, anyway."

"Keith," Shiro says helplessly, because all he can think is /what if what if what if/, "I love you."
Keith shakes his head, eyes wide.

"No, you... /I/ love /you/, but you don't, you can't..." He's stumbling over his words, but he doesn't back away when Shiro steps closer, setting his hands lightly, carefully on Keith's arms.
"You can't," Keith finally settles on. "I'm just /me/ and you deserve so much more."

Shiro feels lightheaded, like if he releases his grip on Keith's arms he might just float away.
"Keith," he says, pressing their foreheads together. "You're /everything/. How could I ever want more than that?"

He's close enough to feel Keith suck in a breath at that, and then suddenly they're kissing; he isn't sure who moved first, but it doesn't matter, they're /kissing/.
Keith's lips are soft and warm and so, so responsive, parting easily against Shiro's own. One of them, Shiro can't even tell who, makes a pleased noise when Shiro's hand lands on Keith's waist.
It's new but familiar, and a little clumsy but beyond perfect, like the last piece of a puzzle they've been quietly working on for years finally slotting into place.

They've been kissing a few minutes when Keith pulls away with a look of realization.
"Shiro," he says, chest heaving for breath, "we can't fuck this up. Not just for us, but Chotak-"

"We won't," Shiro assures him. "How could we? We basically skipped a few steps and went straight to being married without the romance," he points out.
"All that'll change for Chotak is he'll see Papa and Vava kiss sometimes," he says, grinning as he leans in to drop a kiss on Keith's lips. "Though maybe a little more will change for us," he allows, letting his hands slide down around Keith's hips and over the swell of his ass.
Keith laughs quietly, running his hands up Shiro's chest as he leans in to speak against his neck.

"Just a little?" Keith asks, before giving the side of Shiro's neck a sharp nip, then pressing a wet, open-mouthed kiss there as if in apology.
Shiro's breath hitches in his throat, suddenly more aroused than he's ever been in his life. It takes him a moment to find his voice, so by the time he speaks, he's already tugging Keith back toward the bedrooms -- either bedroom, he doesn't even care which.

"Let's find out."
It’s almost a year later when Shiro gets online, poring through tiny t-shirts, then finding someone to print a custom one for him. It feels like it takes ages to arrive, but when it does, it’s perfect.
He shows it to Chotak, who insists on sounding out the words himself. He stumbles briefly over a couple words, but once he pieces it together, he giggles and dashes off to change.
When Keith gets home from work, Chotak launches himself at him.


Keith laughs and staggers a bit under the growing boy’s weight.

“You won’t be able to do that much longer,” he says, hefting him up a bit. “Not without just taking me down.”
“Nuh-uh!” Chotak says, grinning. “I saw you carrying Vava just the other day, and I’m still /way/ smaller than him!”

“Not for much longer, I think,” Keith says, exaggerating his struggle to hold onto the boy.

“Not at the rate he’s eating,” Shiro teases.
It’s easy banter that carries them into dinner, spaghetti and garlic bread that Chotak helped him make. The entire time they’re eating, Kethe never seems to notice the new shirt.
(Oh my god “kethe” can you tell I was literally falling asleep as I typed this out)
(I doubt anyone remembers this exists but my inner completionist demands I finish it so uuuuh gonna try to do that tonight?)
Chotak huffs in frustration and stretches his arms over his head at the table, causing Keith to frown over at him.

"You okay over there? Did Grandma work you too hard in training today?"

" 'm fine," Chotak sighs, shooting Shiro a disappointed look that his gambit had failed.
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