"Just be careful, you big doofus!" Pidge's voice was muffled where her mouth pressed against Matt's shirt. "No missing limbs this time! And if you're so much as a day late I swear to God I'll go out there and hunt you down again!"

Matt laughed, but it sounded forced, and the way he carded his fingers through his sisters hair betrayed how he really felt.

"We'll be careful, I promise."

Keith didn't say much. He carefully avoided Shiro's eyes and ran his thumb over his knuckles. He didn't want to be nervous, but he couldn't shake it. The last time Shiro went somewhere without him he'd come back missing an arm.

"It's just a few days, Keith." Shiro said softly, laying his hand on his shoulder and squeezing. "Just a recon mission. Easy."

"I know." Keith took a deep breath. He knew this for what it was: a planned effort on Allura and Iverson's part to break his and Pidge's codependency on their siblings. 2 years after the alliance and they still didn't want to go anywhere without each other, and it was getting unwieldy to send all six of them every time something needed to get done.

But it was different for Shiro. For him, this was a way to prove he could be useful on his own, without help, despite his missing arm. It meant a lot to him, and Keith refused to let his emotional issues hold his brother back.

"I'll be ok, Shiro. Don't worry about me."

"I always worry about you."

Then Shiro pulled him into a hug, and Keith felt himself melt. He curled his fists into the back of Shiro's shirt much like Pidge had to her brother and tried to stamp out the nerves in his chest.

He'll be fine. Everything will be fine.

"You and Pidge take care of each other, ok? Try to sleep, at least a little."

Keith's chuckle came out choked.

"Yeah, ok."

Pidge and Keith watched Matt and Shiro walk away from the base until they disappeared over the horizon, Lance and Hunk at their backs in solidarity.

Then Pidge wrenched her eyes away from the surrounding desert and scurried off, back to Allura and the lab. And Keith returns to his patrol, rubbing his knuckles and glancing over his shoulder. Despite the walls and the safety of the Garrison, he'd never felt more exposed and vulnerable.

By the end of the day he was about ready to unravel. He felt guilty about it until he got to the Holts assigned building and saw Pidge's face. She was the same.

They spent the night together, and neither of them slept. This wasn't unusual- they were both traumatized and used to snatching naps between watch shifts. Together they lounged in what passed for a living room, unspeaking, Pidge fiddling with scrap electronics and Keith sketching on ragged pieces of scratch paper.

He started off drawing Shiro, but by 3 am found himself staring down at a graphite rendition of Lotor's dead face, eyes wide and gaping and blood trickling from his mouth. Pidge kept glancing at the door, as though expecting Matt to walk in at any moment.

The next day Lance and Hunk shot them knowing looks and pointedly commented on the health benefits of sleep. Pidge and Keith ignored them.

The second night they were too tired to do anything and too scared to sleep. They laid on opposite ends of the ragged sofa, Pidge's feet on Keith's stomach, and stared at the ceiling and murmured to each other about whatever meaningless bullshit came to their minds.

Two days down. Two to go.

That day Lance and Hunk hovered. At least until Keith informed Lance in a deadly voice that if he didn't go away right that second he would become very well acquainted with Keith's fists. He didn't want to mean it, but he did.

Around midnight on the third night Keith dozed off. It lasted barely an hour before he was scrambling awake with a scream caught in his throat. Pidge quickly slid onto the couch behind him and wrapped her arms around his shoulders, the way she'd seen Shiro do a thousand times before.

"It's ok, you're ok." The words didn't help nearly as much as when Shiro said them. Keith was grasping at her arms, trembling and still half in his dream.


"No, it's Pidge." His hands tightened on her wrists until she winced.

"Where is he?"

"Shiro's fine, Keith."

"But where is he?"

"You're with me right now. Breathe."

It took him an hour and a half to calm down. Pidge didn't really know what to do, and she was so tired, so she just leaned her head on his shoulder and held him.

Lance and Hunk didn't say anything to them the next morning, but right after breakfast they went to the infirmary. Shay was now one of three medics on hand at the Garrison and it wasn't difficult to corner her away from the other two.

"Keith and Pidge aren't sleeping." Lance began, an unnaturally solemn expression on his face. "And Shiro and Matt don't get back till tomorrow."

Shay let out a sigh and played with the end of her braid.

"I know what you're going to ask." she said. "And I should say no. I need authorization to give out meds."

"We know." Said Hunk softly, and Lance didn't need to look to know he was giving Shay the puppy eyes. "But have you seen either of them today? They look awful, and Keith might actually snap if anyone looks at him the wrong way."

Shay bit her lip, glanced over her shoulder, and relented.

"Fine. But just one each."

That evening Keith and Pidge slumped back to Pidge's house and collapsed on the sofa, eyelids fluttering and threatening to close before snapping open again.

"They're gonna kill us." Pidge mumbled through a yawn. "For not taking care of ourselves."

"Yeah." Agreed Keith, staring up at the ceiling. "Probably." His brain was tired and the thoughts he'd been pushing away came filtering in.

What if he comes back like he did last time, hurt and covered in blood? What if Matt comes back dragging his body? What if he doesn't come back at all?

"I'm gonna kill Allura for making us do this."

Pidge huffed a little. "I'll take Iverson. Guys got it coming."

Keith was dangerously close to falling asleep when someone knocked on the door, and both of them groaned when Lance's voice floated past it.

"Keith, Pidge, open up. I know you two are brooding in there. Hunk and I have presents for you."

"Fine." Pidge called out as Keith buried his face in his knees. He didn't have nearly enough energy, mentally or physically, to deal with Lance.

The front door creaked open, and two pairs of footsteps approached the sofa.

"Alright, degenerates." Lance said, voice coming from in front of the couch now. "Listen up. Hunk and I, at great cost to ourselves, have procured sleeping pills for the two of you. You are going to take them, and we are going to stay here and make sure you fuckers sleep. Capiche?"

Keith raised his head and blinked blearily up at Lance, who for once in his life looked dead serious. Hunk backed him up, giving him and Pidge plaintive looks.

"Come on guys." He wheedled when the two of them hesitated. "Shay broke the rules to give these to us."

Pidge tilted her head back and groaned at the ceiling.

"Fine." She said for the second time in five minutes. "Mother hens."

Lance smirked and crossed his arms, shooting Keith a look that was both smug and expectant.

Keith just sighed and accepted defeat.

He had no idea how long it had been before someone was shaking his shoulder, shaking him awake. But he was warm and the world was hazy and pleasant and he didn't want it to end, so he groaned unhappily and batted at the hand.

An indistinct voice laughed above him. He was slowly coming back to Earth, and was distinctly unhappy about it. His eyelids were cemented closed, he could feel his hair sticking up every which way, and his face was warm and probably red from being wrapped in so many blankets and wait when did this happen?!

He sat bolt upright, arms still swaddled to his chest like a mummy, and almost headutted whoever was leaning over him.

"Keith, calm down, it's just me." The voice was still laughing. Keith fought to untangle his arms and rubbed the sleep out of his eyes.


He rubbed his eyes again to make sure. Yup, those were definitely Shiro's grey eyes smiling at him. Without thinking he threw himself forward, tackling Shiro in a hug and making them both tumble off of the couch with his legs still surrounded by blankets. Shiro's back hit the floor with a thud and an 'oof!', but that only made him laugh harder.

"You're back." Keith mumbled into his shirt before sitting up. "When did you get back?"

"About an hour ago."

A sudden spike of guilt punched into Keith's gut.

"Sorry Shiro, I meant to be up when you got back, I-"

"It's ok." Shiro interrupted, sitting up as well. He was still smiling, and the sight put Keith at ease. "Matt woke up Pidge as soon as we got back, but I had to go debrief Iverson."

"I slept through that?"

What if it hadn't been Matt? What if it had been like that night at Arus, what if they'd been attacked, what if-

Shiro abruptly pulled him into another hug, dulling the panicked thoughts.

"I'm happy you were sleeping." He said quietly. "Even if Lance and Hunk had to drug you to make it happen."

Keith found himself laughing helplessly and hugging back.

"Did you sleep at all?"

"A bit. It was difficult for me, too." Pulling back, he gave Keith another sparkly eyed smile. "Maybe next time you can threaten Lance a little less?"

"Hmmmm…. Unlikely."

They laughed together, and for the first time in five days, Keith felt safe.

(A/N AAAAAAAAAAAND that's a wrap, folks! Next week I'll be uploading the first chapter of my How to Train Your Dragon AU, so stay tuned for that!