Title: Surface Tension part two and fini
Rating: PG - Gen - HURT AND THE COMFORT
Spoilers: General (for all aired episodes)
Summary: Some people don't know how to get lost.
Shiro was patient
He never thought about it until someone felt the need to tell him.
Time passed as it did, the massive ship drifted in and out of the stillness of space. The conditions were clear for once and Allura had set their course for a less turbulent constellation to allow time for Keith to recover. No engagements, no missions. Just training and waiting and boredom.
Shiro spent as little time away from Keith as possible.
He talked to him in the long stretches of down time, babbled away like he’d been slipped some of the good stuff. His memories began to drift back as he talked. The Garrison dominated his one-sided conversation at first before realizing it was probably not what Keith’s unconscious body would want to hear. He changed up the trajectory to their current status. Pidge’s new work of genius. Hunk’s ability to swear in several alien dialects. Lance and how much better he was getting at the shooting range. Blam. Blam Blam.
Keith’s body slept and breathed and healed. That was the most he could do.
Shiro turned sometimes to his own memories. The taste of Obaachan’s oden and homemade ichijiku nimono. How he’d give his other fucking arm just for a taste of it again. He talked about the itchy collar of his military-style gakuran at the high school he’d attended and how much he hated it. Shiro found himself mumbling about all sorts of random nonsense, stories he was certain Keith had heard before but his tongue rolled them out anyway.
He wondered, more than once, if all this talk was more for him than for Keith.
The only time he’d stop in his rambling was to run a scan on Keith’s progress. Coran had instructed him to take regular readings of his temperature and pulse, though both had been fairly stable with few hiccups for the last three days in a row. It was a habit, a break in the routine and some reassurance that Keith was still with them.
Sometimes Keith’s sleep wasn’t so peaceful.
There were periods when he floated in and out of reality. The brink of death could do that to a man, tainting his subconscious as though it would never leave. Shiro was all too familiar, knew the absolute emptiness it caused and how little there was to cope with it. He could feel the terror in the restless twitch of Keith’s muscles, the hitch in his breathing.
When this happened, Shiro would place his palm across his chest and pat gently until the trembling stopped. That usually worked.
When it didn’t, he found other things.
Their language. He and Keith shared a common tongue though Shiro was decidedly the more fluent in it.
“Shikkari. Koko da yo…”
Hold on. I'm here....
If Keith didn’t settle right away, he’d call him by name.
“Kogane kun…? Aniki da yo.”
Keith muttered words in his dreaming, the one constant to Shiro’s ears was: “Aniki..” Elder Brother.
Keith had called him that first before anything. Before Shiro. Before Takashi. Before Captain. Before Sir.
The others wafted in and out of the frame, Allura more than any of them insistent that Shiro change his clothes, care for himself, trade shifts for even a few moments. Shiro admitted that first hot shower after their mission brought him back to himself more than anything else. His muscles, which had been permanently tensed and rigid, loosened up and made his focus sharper. Moving was not torture anymore. He’d spent so many hours at his vigil he hardly recognized his body’s own distress.
He’d been toweling his hair dry when a knock on his door made him pause. Pidge stood in the door frame, looking relieved and breathless as though she’d run the whole way there. She was smiling though in her jumpiness.
“Shiro, you gotta come!”
“What is it?” Shiro snapped the towel off his shoulder.
“Keith’s awake. He’s asking for you.”
The immediate mood of the infirmary sent mixed signals all around. Shiro entered to find them all gathered at the bedside where he'd spent all these past nights. The joy was there, of course. The relief mixed with nervous tension and excited joy. They were genuinely glad to have Keith back. To see him alert and sitting up in bed. Lance was in no way hiding his feelings behind any show of courtesy. The gags and barbs were coming from him in a steady stream. Hunk said less, hugged more, but Keith was barely responsive to this form of affection. Not that Hunk gave a damn and truth be told, Hunk deserved his hugs back every now and then. Keith didn’t protest but he didn’t say anything either, sitting up in bed and blinking dazedly as though he wanted them all to vanish.
“Quit handling him, he’s only just woke up and his body needs to adjust!” Coran admonished from the control panel.
Lance growled. Keith huffed a silent laugh in his direction but spoke no words.
Shiro was not the only one who could expect that. Keith had drawn his knees up to his chest and looked like he wanted to disappear beneath the blankets. Pidge placed one small hand on his knee and simply smiled. She said nothing. Shiro was relieved to see the minute gesture reach Keith, some light returning to his dark eyes as he turned his head to gaze directly at her.
“Hey Pidge.” He rasped weakly. “What I miss?”
“We’re just glad you’re okay.” Pidge said and it was the only thing Keith needed to hear. While Coran spoke volumes about how fortunate he was and Lance interjected with his promise of playful vengeance, Allura knew that all the talk was making Keith more and more on edge. She spoke decisively.
The princess cleared her throat.
“Keith, there will be time enough after you’ve fully healed to put to words all you’ve been through. Just know we are all here as your comrades to support you, whatever the need.”
A brief nod from Keith. Nothing more. Shiro clenched his fist. Keith was closing up. She deserved more than what Keith had to offer. However, Allura knew better than to push him.
The relief in the room was palpable and Shiro knew Keith was grateful for it in the way he lowered his eyes and hid his face behind the tangle of his bangs. One by one, they touched him and left him until all that remained was Shiro.
“Hey.” Shiro said finally, heart beating fast, unsure what was coming. He stood there next to the bed, letting the waves of Keith's silence roll over him like low tide.
Shiro had spoken just one word but that was all it took for Keith’s eyes to glass over. Only when Shiro sat down on the bed and opened his arms to let Keith fling himself into his stomach did the tears flow. Keith’s body was shaking with rage and Shiro let him, holding on silently until Keith finally let go.
For a long time, neither of them spoke.
“I heard you, you know…” The words from Keith's unused throat were scratchy.Shiro snorted a laugh. “Yeah? Heard me going on and on about grandma’s cooking like a looney old man?”
“No.” Keith shook his head, his staring eyes fixed on some point in front of him. “Can’t really put it in words right now.” He paused then muttered. “Just…your voice. It was there. Everything….went white but I…I heard you.”
“Keith, that’s not possible.” Shiro turned his face away. “You left us for a spell, buddy. Your heart stopped. You were in a coma for over a week.”
Keith flinched to communicate that he had already been made aware. Shiro sighed, unsure what else to say. Keith would come back, of that there was no doubt. Before he was even back to full capacity, he’d be slashing away at his guilt on the deck.
“S’not ok.” Keith muttered.
“I know.” Shiro squeezed his shoulder. “And it won’t be. Not for a while. We’re on the same page.”
Keith smoldered beneath his hand and Shiro wondered if he’d manage to pry any more words out of him today. He was not magical nor was he a saint but he knew his paladin’s heart and felt, more than knew, when it was troubled.
It was time to shift the trajectory before a full on explosion erupted. Shiro gently but firmly laid Keith back down on the pillow and righted his limbs.
“Anyway, you should rest.”
“I’m done resting.” Keith seethed. Shiro shook his head.
“Sorry kiddo. These numbers say no. Besides, yer not done until Coran, Allura and I give you clearance. No arguments.”
Keith turned his face away. Now Shiro noticed the slight flush to his cheek that hadn’t really gone away when the room emptied, his brow faintly damp with sweat.
“Couple more days, alright?” He tried, lamely. “Stats read you’re still running a slight temp. Let’s get it gone before you kick my ass on the training deck again, ok?”
Keith’s lack of response made him hopeful that it was.
It didn’t take long before the surface smoothed out again.
Keith’s silence was, if anything, more intense but this was the only notable change in Shiro’s mind. He craved reports, information, hungry for every iota of fact that had passed since he’d been out of commission. The crew feigned their compliance to his demands, hiding their disquiet among them. A week had passed and still Keith would only initiate verbal exchange with only Pidge or Shiro.
Even that had its limitations.
Shiro watched events unfold as the days passed, sensing a break. He watched Keith now as though something had changed. More closely, more cautiously. A break was coming, of that he knew. Keith’s silent rage was textbook at this point. So it was no surprise to anyone when a glanced blade from a blocked thrust turned into a full bodied shove between Lance and a wall in the training deck in the middle of the night.
“GET OFFA ME MULLET!” Lance warned, his sweaty face inches from Keith’s snarl.
Hunk and Pidge were no idiots. Pidge was on her com already and Hunk, for all his worth, attempted to place himself between the two paladins and untold destruction.
“Earth to Keith! C’mon man, let him go.” Hunk found it difficult to keep his voice steady as he grunted, trying to pull the two apart.
Shiro nearly took out a table stacked with crystal samples in his haste to get there. What he found was Hunk, red in the face and exhausted, wedged between Keith straining against Hunk’s frame to get at Lance, equally intent on bailing out of the scenario.
Shiro used his military voice.
“AT EASE!” He bellowed.
No one responded. Least of all Keith.
“Shiro! You’ve got to do something!” Pidge pleaded. “He’s not listening! He’s gonna hurt Lance--”
“Keith, stand down!” He barked, moving in close to reach him. ”That’s an order, soldier!”
Heaving and straining, Keith did not relinquish his hold on Lance’s collar. For his part, Lance’s muscles were trembling with the effort of keeping Keith at bay. Shiro regretted it but he had no choice. Igniting his cyber hand, he grasped Keith’s arm firmly and forced it up hard and away from Lance’s body, releasing the two with a loud grunt.
“You stupid son of a QUIZNAK!” Lance yelled. “You nearly broke my neck!”
“I’ll deal with him. Get gone NOW.” Shiro said with a nod to Hunk, signaling him to accompany Lance out of their situation. To his credit, Lance obeyed, rubbing his sore neck where Keith had bruised it. Pidge waited and Shiro did not dismiss her. She stood closest to Keith from where he shook on the ground where he’d been tossed. Shiro breathed deeply to steady himself first before turning to Keith and dropping down to one knee beside him.
“Keith…” Pidge said, worry in her voice.
“Wanna blame me too, Pidge?” Keith snarled.
“Hey!” Shiro’s tone was sharp. “Cool off. You’re done for today.”
“Just today?” Keith raised his head and Shiro could see the pain there.
“Pidge, would you give us a minute?”
Pidge hesitated before turning around and exiting, her silent sadness adding weight to the already heavy air.
“You’ve been watching me.” Keith muttered, running a hand through his hair.
“Yes.” Shiro agreed, biting his lip.
“You want me gone too!” Keith affirmed, opening and closing his gloved fists.
“No one wants you gone, Keith.” Shiro’s attempt to make physical contact with Keith’s shoulder was met with a wrenched shrug.
“I made a mistake. Why can’t anyone leave it alone?”
Shiro didn’t want this talk. Especially because Keith’s own mind repeated it like a prayer before he went to sleep and every morning when he woke up. But some things had to be voiced and if Keith needed to hear it, it should be from no one else but him.
“You disobeyed a direct order, Keith. You endangered not only your own life but the safety of your lion.”
"I know- I just- I don't know where to go...sometimes...."
"I'm no where. Never have been--anywhere--"
Shiro slid down the wall until he met the floor. The training deck room was hot and still smelled of sweat and electric charge. Keith had come down a bit from his rage, his eyes no longer storming. His weapon fell away from his fist with a sharp clatter and his head hung low with a heaved sigh.
“Of course, you're somewhere. Yer right HERE, Hey, look AT me!” Shiro pressed. He waited a few beats until Keith lifted his face. Such confusion and grief there, it made Shiro want to swallow his next words.
“You’re here.” He repeated, unwilling to let Keith disengage from his voice. “But you could do better with the whole respect thing.”
Keith’s body crumpled and all the fight seemed to leave him then. Shiro stretched out an arm and let Keith clutch his bicep. With a huff and a groan, he lurched them both back to their feet but before he could turn around and begin to leave, Keith’s arms encircled his waist again, clinging tightly, face pressed into his stomach.
“It hurts.” He said through clenched teeth.
“It’s going to until you learn to deal with it in a better way.”
Shiro felt Keith's locked shoulders loosen up. Gradually, he shifted straighter, pulling away slightly.
“One that doesn’t involve breaking Lance’s jaw?”
“You will apologize.” Shiro stated. Keith nodded. “And then you will work to repair it.”
“His jaw?” Keith frowned.
Shiro remembered the old way he and his brothers used to end arguments. A facial expression, a touch or a word that signaled closure for both. Keith's eyes had not yet left him, waiting for him to say or do something. Shiro stood there, speechless and dumb. He was overheated. He needed a cup of ice water very badly. Keith solved the problem for them both by taking Shiro's hand--the one that glowed with a mechanical pulse--and pressed it against his chest.
"Thank you, Aniki." Keith breathed.
Shiro's fingers curled slightly beneath Keith's hand.