Title: newspaper headlines
A/N: For the End of the Universe Zine, I wanted to explore a small story in a dystopian world
Summary: In a dystopian world, Keith took his small pleasures. His drives while dropping illegal goods. His ever-complaining mechanic and his low repair prices. The rare night with Shiro. He didn't need more than that.
He definitely didn't need Shiro's dreams of saving everyone, of saving anyone.
"Jeez." Hunk squatted down next to the dented motorcycle, his hand hovering over the metal like he didn't know where to touch. Horrified, he looked up at Keith. "What'd you do this time?"
"Nothing unusual." Keith shrugged, his hands in his leather jacket. Considering how fast he had driven to reach here, his black clothes stuck to his skin uncomfortably and he really wanted a shower. "You know how it is."
"I don't." Hunk tied a dirty bandanna around his head. Keith was never sure if that was to protect his hair or if he just thought it looked cool; if it was the former, judging by the dirty overalls and grease stains on his face, it was a failed effort. "I thought transporters had to be careful."
"Careful and quick," Keith corrected, walking over to a side table. Pushing away the cigarette butts and bottle caps, he picked up a newspaper. Replicants Stage Coup screamed the top headline. "And even then it's hard to avoid the government dogs."
Hunk tapped the side of the motorcycle and the pedal fell off with a loud clatter. Groaning, Hunk shot Keith a baleful glare. "Why? I give you a great bike and every single time you break it."
"It's either that or my life," Keith pointed out. He flipped through the newspaper quickly, scanning headlines. Issues with the current president, interest rates rising again, a food shortage with no end. The same old fare, nothing at all unusual about the headlines. When Hunk didn't say anything, he rolled up the paper with a sigh. "Sorry. I'll be more careful next time."
"…that's what you always say," Hunk grumbled, accepting the apology nonetheless. Pulling out his tool kit, he sat down next to the bike. "It'll take a day or two to get in top condition." Pointing a wrench at a grey box perched on a chair, he added, "Oh, and deliver that to Pidge while you wait."
"Huh?" Keith crossed his arms. "Why would I do that?"
"Because you're a transporter?" Hunk rolled his eyes. "It'll be the easiest job you've had. Nothing dangerous inside, no one chasing you. Just do it."
Keith raised a brow. "And how much are you paying me?"
"I'm fixing your bike." He tapped the back threateningly with the wrench. "You wanna get stuck here forever?"
"Fair point." Picking up the box, he almost dropped it in surprise. Considering his job, Keith was pretty strong but that would just barely help him with this package. "What do you have in here? It weighs a ton."
"Spare parts, an engine to take a part, the usual things." Already in work mode, Hunk absentmindedly waved him off. "Just get it to her today, she has a client."
The streets were as dirty and crowded as ever, with throngs of people flowing to and from work. Or to and from the pleasure district, to be exact. Popup shops crowded every corner, offering anything from drugs to weapons to the latest stolen technology. Neon-coloured signs hung off various buildings, enticing pedestrians to enter.
Keith pushed his way forward, his gaze firmly fixed in front of him. He hadn't missed any of this while he was on the road. There wasn't really anything keeping him here, fixed to this city. Hunk was a great mechanic but they were a dime a dozen, one in every town. No, to be exact, every town was the same. The same grey, the same dirt, the sense of loneliness and loss.
A world in greyscale. The only time he saw colour was when he was racing down the highway, an illegal package in his satchel.
The bells chimed as he entered Pidge's repair shop. A small space, squeezed into the very end of a depilated building, Keith had walked past it three times before spotting it. Inside, the white shelves were lined with the latest in limb replacements, fine technology that actually made it better to lose a body part than to have it.
"In the back," Pidge called out cheerfully, followed by the sound of metal clicks. She was with a customer then.
"I swear your place gets smaller every time I come," Keith said dryly. A lightbulb flickered as he made his way to the back room. Even the space between the shelves felt narrower than the last time he came.
"Or you're just getting fatter," Pidge shot back, a pleasing lilt to her voice. Someone was in a good mood today.
"Like that's possible." Keith snorted, waving a package as he entered Pidge's unofficial clinic. "Hunk wanted you to have this."
At one point, the room had probably been a manager's room or something like that. Now there were curtains on windows and a long bed for the particularly strenuous limb repairs. Not that Pidge's current operation seemed like one of those. Seated on a worn-out chair, she had her latest patient sitting across from her, his mechanical arm in her lap. A man with a streak of white hair. He glanced up and Keith almost forgot to breath.
Shiro was back.
"Must be the parts I ordered." Still tinkering with the arm, Pidge glanced over her shoulder. "Just put it on the table, I'll take a look after."
"Sure." Keith tore his eyes away from Shiro long enough to set the box down. Shiro was back. Trying not to sound overeager, he asked, "What happened to you?"
"The usual." Shiro winced as Pidge tried to reconnect the arm. "There was a trap. We almost got caught."
"And then your hand got caught instead," Pidge chimed in, closing an eye as she examined her handiwork. "What's this, the tenth replacement? There's a reason you're my best customer."
"Eleventh," Shiro corrected with a sheepish smile.
"Ugh. It's a good thing I don't paste my name on these babies, otherwise I'd be dead right now." Pidge grimaced. Somehow, Keith didn't think that would save her for too long. Her work was too advanced, too impressive, and all it'd take was a couple of questions to find out just who made the rebellion's general's arm.
Taking a deep breath, Keith finally turned around and gave Shiro a proper once over. Dressed in a tank top and sweat pants, it was easy to see that there were no injuries on him. There wasn't any blood or bandages. A relief, considering it all. It was a rare time when Shiro got away with just a broken prosthetic. Noticing his stare, Shiro smiled. "We didn't lose anyone, at least."
That wasn't what he was worried about. At all. Keith crossed his arms, his eyes roving over Shiro's biceps, his well-defined chest, and trying not to remember what it felt like to have that body curled over his. To have those hands on him. "I didn't think you did. There was nothing in the newspapers."
"Yeah, I guess they'd mention it if they caught us." Shiro lowered his gaze. "Especially if they caught Allura. The rebellion would be over in an instant."
"Rebellion." Pidge clicked her tongue, finally setting down her tools. "You're making it sound better than just a rag-tag of people who still think they change something."
"We can," Shiro answered simply.
No, you can't, Keith thought, and perhaps more so than the world they lived in, that was the real tragedy: hope.
This wasn't love. This was sex, pure and simple. A raw need, a primal urge. A way to forget the present. A way to feel something other than despair.
Keith bit Shiro's throat, feeling the resulting rumble tremor through this body. Shiro's hand interlaced in his. His nails scratched on Shiro's back. All he could smell was Shiro's musky scent. All he could feel was Shiro's touch. Nothing else existed—not the road, not the government, not the possibility of death.
"Keith," Shiro moaned, but Keith didn't say anything back. He refused to.
This wasn't love and therefore, he didn't have anything to lose.
Through the half-open blinds, neon lights spilled into Keith's bedroom. It was a spartanly furnished room, consisting of just a bed and a table. And now, Shiro, who was lying face down in a pillow to block out the light. The pinks and oranges from the street signs painted Shiro's pale back and Keith traced familiar patterns over the many scars that littered his partner's skin. The one on his shoulder blade, from when he'd been thrown in prison for eight months. The one on his side, from when a gun had almost hit his stomach.
Propping his head up on his hand, Keith idly touched the scar on Shiro's lower back. Hearing Shiro's breathing change, Keith asked, "Why do you fight?"
For a long moment, he thought Shiro was going to pretend to be asleep. Instead, he finally turned over, the sheets tangling up around his legs as he stared up at Keith. His single white lock glowed in the dim light. "Because it's the right thing to do."
"There's no right, not anymore. Not here." Keith dismissed the argument entirely. That was old world crap. His nail scratched line left by a blade on Shiro's chest.
"There's always a right. Especially here, especially now," Shiro countered, grabbing Keith's hand. "If I don't fight, then who will?"
"Someone else." Keith lowered his eyes. They had this same discussion every time, this useless argument that never changed anything. Soon, Shiro would disappear again, off on some doomed rebellion plot or the other. Maybe he'd die this time, his picture plastered on the photos.
"There's no one else." Shiro tightened his grip, interlacing their hands. "Just us."
And maybe that was true too. But Keith wouldn't stay around to find out—if he was going to be left again, he might as well leave first. There was always something that had to be transported, some job that needed doing. He'd find one as soon as his bike was fixed.
Instead of answering, he pressed his lips on Shiro's chest, his hand already reaching down. At least during sex, he didn't have to think these useless thoughts.
"All done." Hunk proudly wiped his greasy hands on a dirty towel and Keith wasn't sure if his hands or the towel were dirtier than before. Holding onto the handlebars, he glared. "At least give it a few weeks before you break it."
"No promises." Prying the bike free, Keith gave it a once over. It looked almost new, except for the scratch on the side. "Impressive."
"Of course it is! Who do you think you're talking to?" Excited, Hunk tapped on the engine. "I also spruced up the engine a bit—it'll go a little faster than before."
"Nice." Sling his leg over, Keith slipped onto the seat. Turning the key, the engine purred under him. "I'll take it for a test spin."
"Yeah, yeah. I'll count the cash." Hunk picked up the metal box Keith left by his workbench. "It's all here, right?"
"Yep, paid in full." Keith revved the engine and closed his eyes. Yeah, that sounded right. "Got a job lined up for tomorrow, so you finished just in time."
"I finished exactly on time—I said I'd be done now!" Hunk rolled his eyes, popping open the box.
Pulling out of the garage, Keith felt his mood brighten. There was something about the open road, about the one thing, the one place where he wasn't restricted. There was freedom in flying down the road, the wind in his hair, and nothing but an archaic vehicle to keep him safe. It was a simple happiness.
There weren't too many of those anymore.
Shiro was still at his place when he returned, and that was an oddity. Keith had almost expected to find an empty bed, their usual arrangement. Instead, Shiro was brazenly sitting on his kitchen table, drinking a cup of coffee.
"You're here," Keith said, more a statement than a question.
Shiro looked just as surprised as he felt. "I thought you left."
"I had to grab some supplies." Keith set his helmet on the table. Shiro was drinking from the wolf mug. His favourite mug. Did Shiro know that?
"Oh." Shiro's fingers curled around the table's edges. "I was just about to leave."
"It's fine." Keith entered his bedroom. It was funny. Shiro's scent still lingered on his sheets. Picking up his first aid kit, he glanced back at the kitchen. At Shiro's back, at the weariness in his shoulders.
It wasn't that easy to be optimistic, was it. It wasn't easy at all. His feet moved automatically and before he knew it, his hand was on Shiro's shoulder, squeezing it gently.
"Keith?" Shiro asked, looking up curiously.
"I'll help," Keith muttered. A pile of newspapers was stacked in the corner, remnants of him checking for any rebel news. Any sign that Shiro had died. He did that every time he arrived at a city and maybe it was time he stopped lying to himself. It wasn't love but he would be heartbroken nonetheless if he just read about Shiro's death and did nothing to stop it. Maybe he could show the futility of it all and drag Shiro out of the mess entirely.
"Keith…" Shiro smiled at him brightly and Keith swallowed.
It wasn't love.
Maybe, if he said it enough times, his body would believe him.