Author's Note: First and foremost I want to strongly affirm that I am not a medical professional in any respect. The terms, procedures, and diagnoses within this story come entirely from Google. If the information is inaccurate in any way... please just disregard it. Suspend some disbelief for a moment.

Since VLD is a futuristic story I'm not sure if calling this a "modern AU" is appropriate. It's more of a "present day AU." I've tinkered with the ages of Keith and Lance a little and made them old enough to be fairly ranked in the military and have occupations.

I don't know how long this will be! I'm just kinda winging it! Be gentle!

His lungs burned and his limbs ached. He wanted to run but there was nowhere to go. The walls were high with guards monitoring every inch of perimeter. Given half a chance, he knew he'd let the corrugated metal burn the flesh off his hands as he clawed his way over the top edge if it meant escape. What was one more wound? One more cut? One more bruise that wouldn't heal?

Voices muddled his thoughts and his vision blurred in the heat. They were coming for him again. Impossibly, his chest felt hotter. The skin of his neck and the tips of his fingers prickled. He couldn't breathe. Gloved hands grasped at his tags and all he could do was struggle and kick up dust...

Shiro bolted upright in bed and sucked in lungfuls of frigid air. A full six months since returning home and he still couldn't stand to sweat at night. He was sweating though. Beads of moisture formed on his forehead and the back of his neck burned – his chest too. Shiro squeezed his eyes shut and tried to count his breaths and calm his racing heart. Every beat felt like a blow. Painful. Hard. And far too many.

The angry scars that criss-crossed over his right arm stung, pulled, and itched. He could almost feel the poking and prodding, cutting and slicing. Shiro forced his eyes opened and squinted into the darkness. The clock beside his bed flashed 3:18 a.m. in sickly green. He forced himself to breathe deep and slow, but his heartbeats were still coming too fast.

"Damn it," he muttered and clutched a handful of damp sheets in his fist. Two panic attacks in as many days and his heart felt like it might bruise his ribcage. There would be no avoiding the cardiologist now. He didn't need to switch on the lamp and stand in front of the mirror to know his skin would be red and blotchy – he also didn't need to be reminded of how ragged he was now. How broken down.

Shiro watched the blinking dots on the digital clock and regulated his breaths at their pace. An hour passed before he fell back into the cold sheets. The sun would be up soon and he had an appointment to make.

Lance couldn't sit still. He flit about the exam room touching everything he shouldn't with a comically quizzical expression. The face of one of the machines blinked on and beeped softly. Lance jumped back.

"That wasn't my fault," he said spinning around and quickly taking a seat in a plastic chair. Shiro sighed deeply and hid his face in his hands. Bringing Lance was a mistake. Keith would've been the better choice. Keith was a nurse. A medical professional. Really, anyone but Lance would've been better.

Lance's foot tapped against the floor in a rhythmless beat. Shiro's aggravation rose.

"Stop," he said in a low voice. "Can you just be cool?"

"Huh?" Lance glanced over at him. "What? I'm being cool!"

"No, you're hopping around like a toddler and touching everything."

"Listen, buttons are for pressing. It's not my fault."

"Yes, buttons are for pressing. Just not by you."

"You sound a lot like Keith right now, you know that?" Lance's eyes narrowed.

"Well, good. Maybe –" Shiro cut off when there was a light knock and the exam room door opened. A woman in a white lab coat entered the room and they both fell silent. She glanced over a folder full of charts before glancing up.

"Well, hello," Lance said with a grin that made Shiro want to lose his lunch. The woman's eyebrows shot up and her eyes fell back down to the pages on her clipboard. She opened her mouth but the shrill ringing of a telephone interrupted.

"I'm terribly sorry," she said in an accent that sounded like honey in Shiro's ears. His face felt warm and he immediately committed to blaming it on his high blood pressure later. "I need to take that." She stepped back outside the exam room and Shiro glared at Lance.

"Could you not flirt with my cardiologist, please?"

"Why not?"

Shiro shook his head in disbelief. "Because you have a boyfriend, you idiot. Also, she's my cardiologist. Do you even know what that is?"

"A doctor," Lance deadpanned. "Duh."

"A heart doctor. This is important."

Lance shrugged. "Flirting is harmless."

"Just go back out to the waiting room, please. Try not to wander off."

"Whatever." Lance rolled his eyes and turned to stalk out the door.

"And while you're out there, why don't you google the word 'professionalism,'" Shiro added before he could disappear into the hallway.

"Yeah, yeah." The door clicked shut behind him and Shiro sighed. Next time, he'd bring Keith. Keith would be silent. He would wait in the lobby like an adult. Lance should've been left at home like a bad puppy.

"Sorry about that," the woman swept into the room again and Shiro bit the inside of his cheek to keep from smiling at her. Lance had done enough damage already. "This late in the day I try to help out the receptionist with calls."

"I should be the one apologizing to you. My friend was incredibly inappropriate earlier."

She waved him off. "Don't apologize. I saw him in the lobby scowling at his phone. I assume he'll be alright if left unsupervised?" Her lips curled into a smirk.

"Probably," Shiro said with a short laugh.

"I've had a good look at your charts, Captain Shirogane, and –"

"Uh," he interrupted politely. "Sorry, just... you don't have to address me by my rank. I'm retired. It's unnecessary."

"Takashi, then?" she asked with an inflection that made his heart skip a painful beat.

"No, just Shiro. No one calls me Takashi but my mother."

"I see. Well, Shiro, I'm Doctor Altea and let's see what we can do for you. I'd like to take your blood pressure, if you don't mind."

"Sure, that's fine." Shiro stood and slid into a cushioned chair next to the machine Lance had been poking at. Doctor Altea lifted his arm and gently fit a cuff around his bicep.

"Try and relax. I'm starting the cycle now." Her voice had the opposite effect. His heart raced and his palms sweat. Shiro mentally berated himself. He was a grown man – a former captain! Hadn't he just got onto Lance for flirting with this very same woman? He did not want a ridiculous crush. Schoolboy body reactions aside, Doctor Altea was the only cardiologist who not only accepted his military insurance but had any new patient openings at all in the next half year.

"Shiro, your pulse is climbing," she said poking at the monitor. "Does this happen to you a lot?"

"Uh," Shiro cleared his throat and sucked in a deep breath. He tried to conjure the image of his blinking digital clock. "Sometimes. Mostly at night... or during the day..." he trailed off and started to count the blinks.

Doctor Altea hummed and reset the machine. She stepped back and began to read over his chart again. Shiro focused only on the image of the blinking, green numbers in his head. When the machine beeped again, and the cuff loosened around his arm, he exhaled heavily.

"One-forty-five over ninety-three," she said in a clipped tone. "That's hypertension levels." Shiro watched as she scribbled some notes.

"Is that bad?" he finally asked. "It sounds bad."

"Well, it's not good." Doctor Altea set aside her clipboard and crossed her arms over her chest. "I'd like to schedule some more tests. With blood pressure like that you may have an arrhythmia."

Shiro's throat closed and his hands balled into fists. He could handle diagnoses like PTSD and borderline keloid scars, but heart disease?

"Shiro," Doctor Altea's voice brought his panic to a screeching halt. "We'll take good care of you. Hypertension is manageable. I'd like to schedule you for a stress test, if that's alright."

He swallowed the wreckage of his thoughts. "Stress test?"

"It's just a treadmill run," she said with a smile. "We'll start there and see where you're at. I'll have my nurse call you to schedule it." Doctor Altea pulled a business card from the pocket of her lab coat and handed it to him.

"Thanks," he murmured, completely distracted by the pearly blue of her nail polish. When she left him alone in the exam room Shiro inspected the card closer.

Allura Altea, M.D., Cardiology

He ran his thumb over the curling embossed letters. It was a lovely name.