It's very rare that Shiro feels attached to someone new. He doesn't trust easily.
Living for years in the military and working through the outreach of the Galaxy Garrison's recruitment program allows Shiro the chance to perform like a good little soldier, dropping the right phrases, showing enthusiasm and patience and civility, and Keith — Keith forces him to rethink what others are capable of around him. Keith is too wild and too clever for his own good.
But he agrees to Shiro's proposal of joining him at the Garrison, for training and discipline. For structure, for hope of a better future and career prospects when Keith finally hits a legal age.
Shiro's thumb drags noticeably over the steering wheel of his government-issued vehicle. One that Keith stole right from under Shiro's nose when he wasn't paying attention. "I'm really glad you decided to commit to this, Keith," he says quietly, gazing at his companion squirming in the front-seat passenger's side, watching as Keith's expression goes bright red. "You have so much potential."
"Knock it off…"
"No, I mean it," Shiro insists, offering a thoughtful smile. He continues watching as Keith stubbornly faces away towards the passenger-side window. Rain patters down. Keith's breath fogs up the glass quickly. Shiro's eyes follow as one of Keith's fingers lifts up, sketching nameless, crooked patterns against the frosty white. "Okay, so, what will happen now is one of the other recruitment officers will pick you up and take you to the registry building. You'll get your paperwork in and you'll be assigned your permanent military rank-number and your uniforms and one of the beds. Then you'll head to the medical building and they'll—"
"Why?" Keith asks sharply, turning to Shiro.
It takes a moment but a noisy laugh escapes Shiro's lips. Keith looks so offended by the idea. "It's just the standard tests. They'll check your heart rate, temperature. You'll get a physical."
Keith's blue-grey eyes widen. He jiggles the handle, popping open the door.
"Nah, I'll pass," Keith blurts out, getting a leg out. "Thanks."
"Whoa… hey…" Shiro reaches across him expertly, pulling the vehicle's door shut before Keith can vanish. "You don't have to be nervous," he reassures him. Keith's mouth twitches into a deeper frown. "It's all private. Just you and the nurse practitioner." When nothing is said further from Keith, Shiro grimaces a little. "And… your teacher has kind of already told me about you being trans, Keith," he admits softly, understandingly. "The Galaxy Garrison doesn't have a problem with that. Nobody does."
It's apparently what needed to be said aloud as Keith's bottom lip trembles slightly and his eyes moisten. He wipes frantically under his nose with the worn, red hoodie, avoiding Shiro's grin.
"Am I gonna see you there?"
It's a millisecond of movement, but Shiro does catch the head-nod. He grasps onto Keith's shoulder, squeezing earnestly, smiling harder when Keith peeks over to him, bashful and pleasantly red-cheeked.
Turning twenty had been as uneventful as every other birthday in the past. Which is what Shiro wants.
(Only so many years left to him.)
Keith thrives at being seventeen years old, gaining muscle and a few inches in height, proving he has the natural instincts ideal for piloting. He's praised for his quick thinking and how well Keith does in the training simulator for hand-to-hand combat, but still… he has trouble cooperating with authority figures. Iverson especially. Or cooperating with some of the other boys in his class.
Shiro has been called to the nurse's office plenty of times for Keith's bruises and cuts.
He knocks politely, waiting for the door-mechanics to click open. Inside there's only one of the nurses Shiro has been familiarized with — a young, bespectacled woman with a mass of golden-yellow curls tied sternly behind her ears into a ponytail. "Officer Shirogane, thank you for coming."
"Hopefully this isn't about me," Shiro says, half-chuckling and tapping the door shut.
The young woman blinks as if perplexed. "Oh goodness no. Your last round of testing was fairly positive." Fairly. Leave it to Sergeant Collins to be impressively blunt. She gestures for Shiro to take a seat in one of the cushioned, maroon armchairs and he declines, standing straight and tall.
"I wanted you here to discuss Keith," Sergeant Collins announces. "Commander Iverson informed me that you were mentoring this young man. Nothing on his records did mention any living family members…"
"He has none. The government has appointed the Garrison itself as being in charge of him."
A loud, distracted hum. "Keith has you listed as his emergency contact," she points out, scrolling through the neon-bright yellow files, enlarging the print and the holo-image itself.
Shiro clears his throat, feeling his patience wear thin.
"Is there… an emergency then…?" he speaks up, narrowing his dark grey eyes.
"Fortunately no. But something has come up during his physical exam." Sergeant Collins's oval-shaped and brown face doesn't soften from neutrality. "Keith is pregnant. Around five or six weeks. According to the Garrison protocol, I've needed to inform all of the superior officers and his program's—"
"—what?" Shiro doesn't even know when he sat down, rubbing a palm over his mouth harshly. It feels like the room has shrunk down. Pregnant? Who and when? More importantly who?
Breaking out of his shock-induced daze, Shiro glances up.
Oh god, Keith—
Sergeant Collins closes the holo-files, no longer bathed in a dulled yellow. "I let him know during his physical exam," she says, as if matter-of-factly. "He should have returned to the dormitories by now."
But knowing how Keith functions as a person, Shiro knows that's exactly where Keith wouldn't be.
The landing pad sector is sparsely populated at the moment, by either the designated crew-workers or carriers. He spots the old, broken down speeder-craft Shiro has been trying to repair, and then Keith on top of it concentrating on his task. Keith's dark, sweaty hair gleaming and haloed in the mid-light.
It shouldn't be rattling him like this, but Shiro doesn't know what to think. Or feel. As soon as he came to grips with the fact it was real, Shiro's chest felt restricted and tight and like all of the air left him.
"Hey!" Shiro calls out, approaching him and giving Keith enough time to recognize it was him.
There's a smear of brownish oil across Keith's temple and his forehead. His bangs stick up. "Hey," Keith calls back, jumping onto the platform-leveler and dusting himself off. It takes one look at Shiro's unreadable expression for Keith to groan and twist up his features. "They told you…"
"At least you didn't have to break the news to me," Shiro says helpfully, plopping down on the bottom-most stair and waiting for Keith to join him. It takes a moment, and Keith's shoulder brushes his.
"It was stupid—"
Keith's voice comes off throaty and frustrated.
"You made a mistake, Keith. It happens." Shiro wants to be comforting but thinks he sounds more aloof. Even in his own words. "Do you wanna talk about it?" he tries again, looking over Keith who mutters out something and tosses a cleaning rag over his knees. Probably a no. Shiro's chest starts tightening again, glancing over the purple-blue bruise mottling Keith's cheek. "Did someone hurt you—?"
"No!" Keith shouts, jerking upright and shaking his head, leaning away from Shiro. His lower lip bitten-red. "No, it—it was a mistake, like you said—I didn't think about what would happen."
In a way, Shiro doubts that last part. But then again, he remembers that Keith is only a teenager. This whole thing could have been genuinely been a lack of judgment, due to heavy drinking or fooling around while getting close to black-out drunk. This sounds like an accident regardless.
"I know what they want me to do, I just—"
Shiro frowns. "What are you talking about?" he asks.
"I can't keep it! I'm training to be a fighter pilot, Shiro!" Keith's eyes go round and frantic and shining with difficult emotions as he practically shouts this louder at Shiro. "Commander Iverson and Commander Jacobs showed up during the physical exam to talk to me about my options I have—"
"Wait a minute. Wait." This is too much, too fast. Shiro puts up his hands, grimacing and taking a deep breath, mulling over what he wants to express. "Did—did they say you need to have an abortion?"
He's not reassured by the silence.
"Unbelievable—" Shiro mutters, rising to his feet. This is wrong.
They don't want Keith to have options.
"Maybe they're right."
As soon as the soft, defeated words leave Keith, nearly blowing away in the cool wind picking up, Shiro feels it in his heart this time. How painful this has to be. With a long, trembling sigh, he gets down on his knees in front of Keith, touching fingers gently over Keith's dirtied, blue jeans.
"Keith, this is your decision to make," Shiro reminds him. "Only yours. Whatever you want to do about this… I'm gonna be here for you the whole time, okay?" He lets out a low, awkward laugh when Keith grumbles and nudges his knees together, Shiro's fingers gripping on lightly, but he certainly can't hide the inhaling sniffle. "That's what best friends do," Shiro whispers, now smiling encouragingly. He reaches over to ruffle Keith's hair and pull Keith back onto his feet, giving him a one-armed hug.
All of the tension melts out of Shiro's body, as soon as he feels Keith burying his face against Shiro's uniform and relaxes against him. Whatever comes next… Shiro wants his happiness first.
It needs another week and a half before a decision should be made.
Keith shouldn't have to do this. Yes, this is an accidental teenage pregnancy and all of the options aren't particularly good, but this… what is inside Keith is all that is left of a family for Keith. He never knew his own mother and Keith's father died when he was only seven while working as a firefighter, leaving him orphaned for the past nine years. Nobody else in the world who cared about him.
Shiro understands the conflict and why Keith doesn't want to let go of someone else he considers family. He does. There's no family left for Shiro either — he had been placed under the military's care while younger than Keith's age, right after both of Shiro's adoptive mothers had been killed in a trainwreck.
"How could this seriously be happening right now?" Shiro asks, motioning to the conference room of officers and Sergeant Collins. As far as he's aware, Keith has been taken to the medical building in preparation for what's to come based on other people's decisions. "He's seventeen. You couldn't even let Keith process what's going on with him before having the abortion talk?"
"Reasonably the best option left to him was to—"
"—get rid the problem? Is that what you were gonna say?" Shiro answers bitingly, glaring at the nurse practitioner who stares back flatly. "KEITH needed to be able to make this decision and not be pressured into it. That's not difficult to understand so why is he getting forced into this?"
"Keith was not forced into a decision. He understands the consequences of his actions," one of the commanders says gruffly. "He is enrolled in a program where PEAK health is a requirement—"
Shiro feels a humorless grin overtake him.
"And yet, you seem all too happy keeping me around."
"Watch yourself, Officer Shirogane," Iverson tells him as a solemn, low warning, as everybody else frowns or tuts at Shiro's dark and overly personal jab. "You are addressing your superiors."
The response is withdrawn and automatic. Shiro goes ramrod straight, shoulders down and chin raised.
"Yes, sir," he says tonelessly, bowing his head. But there's no mistaking the heat of anger behind Shiro's grey eyes. "If there is no disciplinary action taking place, I would request my leave."
"You are free to go." Iverson smoothly steps in front of Shiro before he makes it out the conference room's door. "A word of advice, however—" he murmurs, squinting and examining Shiro's hardened face. "Letting your emotions for Keith cloud your judgment will end up doing harm to you both."
Typical military man. Emotions have no place here.
Shiro bows his head again respectfully, breaking eye contact and marching ahead.
He has somewhere to be.
Even if Shiro could somehow get Keith out of this situation, he's already been give the pills.
They won't let anyone visit Keith until a couple of hours later in the evening. Shiro pauses in the doorway, his stomach lurching into his bile-slick esophagus. Keith's skin is moist and a deathly pallor. He whines and thrashes and clutches himself, holding onto the bed-railing for dear life as huge, invisible waves of nausea and agony persistently slam into Keith. Flecks of dried puke on Keith's hospital robe.
Keith meets his eyes and shudders, cringing visibly. Shiro helps him bend towards the floor, puking instead into a bowl left for him. What is left in Keith's stomach comes out as watery fluid and saliva.
"I've got you," Shiro mumbles, ignoring the smell and combs his fingers through Keith's hair.
He hates this. He hates seeing how tears roll down Keith's pasty-white cheeks blotched in large, pink spots, how it feels like Shiro failed him and how Keith eventually starts crying breathlessly and high-pitched, burying his nose and mouth into his pillow, quivering under Shiro's palm stroking his back.
How vulnerable Keith actually is.
"It's for the best," Iverson says, once Shiro has returned to the lounge. He hasn't slept or washed up, hasn't been out of Keith's hospital room the entire time. Shiro's grey uniform rumpled and unbuttoned. One of the newer instructors gets a long look at Shiro and hightails it, flustered, grabbing her belongings.
"No…" Shiro replies to him, simply, solemnly. His hands cup around his mug of stale, black coffee. He can't get the sound of Keith sobbing out of his immediate memories. "Nothing was worth this."
Iverson doesn't offer an argument, only looking ahead grimly.
Nothing was worth Keith's pain.
The night stars twinkle far, far away from the rooftop. Shiro clenches his teeth lightly around the end of Adam's cigarette he snuck out, fumbling to light it. He hasn't felt like smoking in ages.
"Do you even know how to work matches?" Keith asks semi-sarcastically.
He drops down into a cross-legged sit next to Shiro, picking up the match-box and refusing to look at him. Keith's circles under his eyes grow darker against the flame's orangish-yellow glow. The hush between them drifts like ashy, thinning smoke, as Keith grabs the cigarette, exhaling a puff.
"I'm not setting a good example, am I?" Shiro murmurs, tasting nicotine and salt and bitter loss.
At this, Keith shrugs.
"Old enough to have sex. Old enough to get pregnant, and old enough to have an abortion," he says bleakly, adjusting his weight sideways and pulling out a rock from underneath him. Shiro's gut roils and hid eyes watch as Keith's hand chucks it into the darkness. "What's one cigarette gonna do?"
"That's definitely not the point," Shiro says quietly. He turns to Keith flicking the dimly lit cigarette with a nail impatiently. "I should have fought harder for you. I will next time, Keith."
He has enough reason to ask. Keith has had nobody for so long and everyone else in his life has told him what to feel, how to act and when to do it. No, not this time — Shiro thinks stubbornly — Keith has him. And he will never have Keith think Shiro is everyone else around him.
Keith finally peers at him, doing his best to seem indifferent. "Because you're my friend and I want to," Shiro says, teeming with honesty and fondness, smiling broadly until Keith's lips perk up and try to unconsciously mimic him. He hasn't seen Keith close to smiling in weeks. "Because you deserve someone in your corner. I said I would never give up on you. I meant that."
There's no thanks from Keith but it doesn't matter. Both of them end up lying on their backs to the rooftop of one of the Garrison's buildings, nudging elbows and hands and staring at the cloudless, midnight-blue skies.
More than anything, Shiro wants to be among those same, far away stars. Not here.
Keith may live to have another child, if he wanted, but Shiro knows he won't. His thumb presses over the muscle-stimulation device strapped and embedded into his wrist, hidden underneath his leather jacket.
(But wouldn't that be nice?)
Voltron isn't mine. Now I love romantic Sheith just as much as the next Sheith shipper, but I also am fond of PreKerb!Sheith where it's more FriendSheith (and a little of Keith having a teeny but not reciprocated crush on Shiro) and that's what I wanted to try to do. I'M VERY LATE TO THE PARTY AKA THE SHEITH ANGST WEEK ON TUMBLR. I'M SORRY. This is all I can manage right now and I let the Sheith Community on Amino decide what my next Sheith fic was gonna be! Trans Keith won! We are unsurprised! I thought also about continuing on originally and developing it into romantic where they were older and giving Keith and Shiro their own baby like IN post-S7 but idk,,, it changes the whole tone and removes the angst feel. So we are sticking with this! Any thoughts/comments are deeply appreciated!