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teach me something new

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See me after class .

Keith's heart was running a mile a minute as he stared at the giant zero at the top of his page. It was the lowest mark he'd gotten in his entire academic career, and with that note he was a millisecond away from-

"Hey, we got the same mark!"

Someone bumped his shoulder and Keith turned to see Lance at his desk, brandishing his own test with the same note. They were sitting in the back of the class at their regular seats, while Slav started his lecture and the teaching assistants handed back the remaining tests.

Frowning, he grabbed the papers from Lance and started flipping through them.

"Did you cheat?" Keith said flatly, feeling a growing mix of dread as he looked through the papers. Every single answer was identical, down to the mistakes that they had made. "Lance, what the hell?"

"Are you stupid?" Lance tried to take his test back but Keith kept it just out of arm's reach. "The answer to that by the way is yes, which is why I would never cheat off you."

"What is this then?" Keith hissed, shoving his own paper towards Lance. "They're the same!"

Lance took Keith's paper, scrunching his face as he read through his answers.

"Keith," He said slowly. "Did you cheat off my test?"

Keith smacked Lance in the back of his head, and Lance answered with his own hard punch to Keith's shoulder. Keith tried retaliating, while Lance quickly deflected him and there was a loud clearing of a throat from the front of the class. Lance's brain processed it a tenth of a second before Keith's did, and retreated fast enough to cause Keith to fall a little forward.

"Keith," Slav said from the front, and Keith felt his face go instantly red. "Do I need to move you?"

Slav pretended that he never remembered any of his student's names, so that it appeared to be a big deal when he called on someone. Keith had caught onto it fairly early on, but it didn't stop half his class turning around to stare from being any less embarrassing.

"No sir," Keith mumbled, tucking himself back into his chair and appearing as small as possible.

Allura was giving him a side-eye, but Shiro had been hunched over at another student's desk, explaining a certain part of the test to her in a concentrated whisper. All for the better because if Shiro saw this, Keith was positive he would die. As it was, it was bad enough that Shiro was the one who gave Lance and Keith their tests back, papers face down with a grimace.

"I hate you," Keith whispered to Lance as everyone turned back around and Lance stuck his tongue out.

"I can't believe you cheated off of me," Lance retorted and Keith almost reached out to smack him again.

Slav continued his lecture but Keith couldn't pay attention. The mark was a significant part of their overall grade, and Keith would be absolutely fucked if he got a zero on it. He didn't understand why Lance would cheat off his test when they were housemates and Keith could easily throttle him whenever he wanted.

His phone buzzed in his pocket and he pulled it out to see a message from Hunk.

Lance told me to tell u that he's not talking to u anymore

Keith rolled his eyes and tapped out a quick reply.

Tell him i don't care.

don't you two sit beside each other? tell him urself

tell him to tell me himself

His phone told him that Hunk had read the message, but there was no reply. He tucked his phone back in, and went through five relatively peaceful minutes before it buzzed again.

I can't believe u cheated off my test. what would shiro think?

Keith nearly cracked the screen on his phone, squeezing it hard so that he wouldn't give in to the urge to windmill Lance.

 


 

 

By the time Keith and Lance made it home, Keith was in somewhat of a daze while Lance whistled happily. Hunk shot them a curious look from the living room couch when they came in, and Keith shook his head.

"Are you two good now?" Hunk asked, holding out a pizza box as an offering. Lance took a slice and flopped down on the couch, while Keith drifted towards the kitchen to get a glass of water and then probably drown himself in the kitchen sink.

"I'm okay, but you should check with Keith," Lance chirped through a mouthful of pepperoni. "I'm sure he's ecstatic."

Keith managed a faint "fuck off " from the kitchen because he was still trying to process the fact that him and Lance did actually fuck up on the test, but it wasn't the end of the world (or a failed credit) for them.

In the sleep deprived haze that made up their study sessions, Keith and Lance had come across an online review to test themselves against. It didn't have an answer key, but it did have the answers of a (self-proclaimed) honours student filled in. They committed the review to memory and when the test rolled around, Keith and Lance were running on approximately an hour's worth of sleep combined.

That's why their tired brains hadn't made the connection that the same test they used as a review was the same test Slav had presented to them, and they proceeded to both vomit out the exact same answers that they had seen on the review.

Slav was in the middle of giving them an earful, when Lance pointed out that the test Slav had presented wasn't his, or the University's. In fact, the test review came from a small university in Finland that had no association with theirs at all. The test itself had a small copyright written in the corner of the title page in the PDF. Slav sputtered a little, Allura raised her eyebrows, and Shiro continued tapping a pencil on the desk and giving Keith a concerned look.

Really, Keith was so concentrated on the look Shiro was giving him that he missed half of Lance finessing Slav out of failing them out of the course and giving them remedial work instead.

"I suppose a separate project sounds reasonable," Slav conceded finally. "But you two are going to work on it together and share the mark. It'll be worth more of your overall mark, and your participation mark will be worth less."

Lance had gagged a little but immediately straightened up when Slav shot him a warning look, and Keith kicked him under the table.

"That's not too bad," Hunk commented as Lance recounted the story. "I mean, since it was still technically your fault."

"It was absolutely not," Lance huffed. "But that's not the point. The point is that with remedial projects, we have to have regular meetings with the professors. Slav didn't want to lead us on this project, probably because he has to go hunting for tests from other obscure Nordic universities."

So Slav had told them that it was up to one of the teaching assistants to give up an hour of their day twice a week and take on the project. Keith was pretty sure that Slav was insinuating that if a TA refused, him and Lance would be shit out of luck.

Lance  had turned a beaming, thousand watt smile towards Allura, who raised her hand in front of her face to avoid having to look at him. At this point, Keith had been staring at the clock behind Slav for a few minutes (and it definitely wasn't because Shiro's attention had shifted from him to Slav). Lance had asked if they got to pick which TA would help them, and Slav's eyebrows twitched magnificently.

"Sadly for me, they had the final say," Lance explained to Hunk, while they both eyed the last slice of pizza. "Do you want that?"

"I'll have it if you don't want it," Hunk replied. "So no Allura?"

"I only want it if you for sure don't want it," Lance said, not picking his eyes off the pizza. "No Allura. Guess who we have to see for mandatory meetings every week outside of class. Keith is probably doing backflips in the kitchen."

"I am absolutely not," Keith said as he materialized in front of the couch, snagging the last slice of pizza.

"How do you feel Keith? Two mandatory hours a week for the next four weeks," Lance said, grinning as he leaned back on the couch. "Nothing but you, Shiro, and me to chaperone. How sick is that?"

"Time to really focus your efforts," Hunk agreed.

"Don't ever talk to me again," Keith said, jabbing a finger at the two of them. The animosity of the statement was muffled by the pizza crust. "Don't even breathe near me."

"Better start working on that flexibility," Lance winked. "I am going to be the best wingman you ever had."

 


 

 

Later that evening after plowing through homework as a way to avoid thinking, Keith finally admitted to himself that this project and these mandatory meetings were definitely going to be a Thing with a capital T and he was most definitely burning on the inside.

More accurately he admitted this to Pidge, whose room he had taken camp in. Pidge, Hunk, and Lance all stayed on the top floor of the house they rented, while Keith got the entire basement suite. He paid a little more in rent and saw a little less sunlight, but it was definitely worth the privacy that he got.

The only downside to the basement was that he could hear the going-ons in the kitchen through the vents. Keith had laid in his bed and listened as Lance loudly ran lines with Hunk while they cooked dinner. Lance pretended to be both himself and Keith, and Hunk pretended to be Shiro, and they were creating the absolute worst scenarios.

Pidge had been more than accepting when Keith rapped on her door, shovelling off her textbooks from her bed to make room for him. She sat at her desk, tinkering on a small drone she had bought off Amazon, while he attempted to get some more work done. He couldn't concentrate that well, but he also couldn't hear Hunk and Lance, which was more important of the two.

This lasted a whole of half an hour before Pidge turned on Keith, who was slowly dozing off, and rolled her chair over to the bed. She was squinting, glasses in her hand as she wiped the lenses with her shirt.

"So what's this I hear about you and Shiro?" Pidge asked, and Keith groaned and pulled a pillow over his head.

"Lance and I fucked up," Keith replied. "We have to do an extra research project for Slav's class, and Shiro's going to be our mentor."

Shiro had volunteered for the job as soon as soon as Slav had put it up in the air, but Keith felt terrible that he was the cause of extra workload.

"And?" Pidge asked in a matter-of-fact manner. "I thought you were trying to put some solo office hours in with Shiro anyways?"

Keith turned a little red at that, because he had made it a habit to make it to whatever office hours Shiro held. But it didn't count, because there were always four or five other people clamouring for Shiro's attention as well. He regularly went to Allura's tutorials too because she always had something new and interesting to say about the course content and because Lance dragged him there, but none of his friends would acknowledge that.

"Doesn't count," He muttered and Pidge snorted.

The first time they met up outside of class, it was the beginning of the semester and Keith had emailed Slav asking for help, and Slav pointed him to one of his two teaching assistants. Keith genuinely needed help because he needed the grade but could care less about the course.

After thirty minutes of listening to Shiro outline the fundamentals during their first one-on-one, Keith still could care less about the course, but had instantly been struck by Shiro's enthusiasm for the subject and the fact that he was built like a brick house. His scar and his white tuft of hair made him look like some sort of sci-fi action hero, and Keith was here for that.

A few days after that Keith and Lance had run into Shiro at the grocery store, and Lance picked up the way Keith completely ignored his existence in favour of a two minute conversation with Shiro. Lance had badgered Keith about it and because Keith didn't really care at the time, he admitted a "yeah I guess he's hot."

When they had gotten home, Lance had snuck onto Keith's computer and emailed Shiro for another meeting from Keith's account.

Keith didn't know till the reminder popped up on his phone, when he was already halfway through his thirty minute walk home.

"Wow," Lance said as he peered over Keith's phone with a big shit-eating grin. "Don't want to be late for that."

Keith did a mad dash all the way back to the University. He swung open the door to the office with great force, and as the door knob cracked against the wall, it registered in his head that Keith had never made an appointment.

Shiro had looked at the wall, where there was a small new dent, and then looked at Keith.

"It's okay if you're five minutes late," He said, giving a small grin. "Just don't take it out on the wall."

"Uh," was all that Keith had managed to say in return, face flushed from the run and ears red from embarrassment. "Okay."

Shiro had pulled up a chair for him beside his desk, and had already pulled up Slav's latest power-point presentation. He clapped Keith's back as he sat down, asked him how his day was, and nudged him while making a lame joke about his commitment to punctuality. Shiro smelled like good cologne and coffee and Keith was officially on fire.

From there on, Keith didn't really get a chance to schedule any more one on one meetings with Shiro, partly due to the TA's popularity. Other people in the class had also taken note of their abnormally chiselled TA, and those who didn't flock to Allura made a beeline for Shiro both after class and during office hours.

But frequently, he would run into Shiro outside of the University. They seemed to run similar routes, and Lance was completely convinced Shiro lived in the vicinity but Keith completely refused to let him find out.

Each time they met was etched into his brain like a stone carving, especially since Shiro would take the time out to actually talk to him. Each incidental meeting lasted longer than the previous, and Keith would venture as far as to say that him and Shiro might even be friends, or at the least, very pleasant acquaintances.

Some of them he told the others about, like when he ran into Pidge's brother and Shiro at the campus book store and Matt wanted to say hi. Some of them he kept tucked away, like the time he had a craving at 2 a.m in the morning and went to Waffle House only to run into Shiro, who was ordering an unusually large amount of chocolate chip waffles for someone who looked like a statue. Keith had pointed that out, Shiro found it amusing, and invited him to join him. Turned out, Shiro had a lot of responsibilities for his own Master's that he had been putting off, and as he explained to Keith, would be continuing to put off.

"That doesn't sound like star student behaviour," Keith said as he stuffed his face with the remainder of his grilled cheese and Shiro snorted.

"I only look like I know what I'm doing all the time," he replied, slicing his waffles into neat little pieces. "I feel like I'm just winging it half the time."

Keith had nodded and forked his hash browns thoughtfully, trying not to look too fondly at Shiro as he ate because that would probably creep Shiro out. They had an easy conversation under the blue fluorescent lights of the diner, Shiro explaining to Keith what exactly he was doing his post-grad on, and Keith sharing stories about the gremlins he had for housemates (and Hunk).

When Keith finally couldn't hold back any of his yawns anymore, Shiro offered him a ride home which he accepted quickly. Pidge was awake working on modifying on a a set of walkie talkies when he came home. She had asked him why exactly he was getting dropped off by an all too familiar black Mustang at four in the morning. He shoved his takeaway bag in her hands and she asked no more questions.

The most prominent memory was the last time he ran into Shiro, because that was-

"Hi Keith," Pidge interrupted his reminiscing, waving a hand in front of his face. "Are you back yet?"

He frowned, swatted her hand out of the way, and rolled over on to his stomach. He felt two points of pressure as Pidge laid her feet on his back, and half-heartedly tried to wriggle out from underneath them.

"The offer to talk to Matt still stands," Pidge said, pressing down her feet into Keith's back.

"I'm not sixteen," Keith grunted. "I don't need to ask a friend to ask a friend."

"No, you just want to suffer from a distance," Pidge shrugged. "I get it. Don't use any of your resources, that's cool with me."

Keith rolled back on to his back specifically to give Pidge a Look.

"We're still in his class," He said, frowning. "But..."

"But what?"

Keith took a deep breath in and closed his eyes. He figured that he might as well get it off his chest now, because if he told someone, then he'd be obligated to see it through.

"I'm going to talk to him at the end of the semester," he said finally. "When he's not my TA anymore. But you can't tell anyone."

The specifically Hunk and Lance was implied. He knew Pidge would probably tell her brother, but Matt was great in keeping secrets given that he didn't care about a majority of them.

Pidge grinned widely and held a fist out for him and Keith bumped it lightly.

"Don't get your hopes up though."

"Can I be there when you do it? I wanna watch. Wait, can I come along to yours and Lance's meetings? I want to see what-"

Keith threw a pillow at Pidge, who deflected it with an evil laugh, and Keith decided he definitely needed new friends.

 


 

 

Their first meeting took place on a sunny Tuesday morning in Shiro's office. Technically it was Slav's office, but Slav granted Allura and Shiro full access to it because he was planning to be in it as little as possible. It was a shoebox, so Allura held her hours in Coran's office, who had fancy things like a microwave and air conditioning, while Shiro commandeered Slav's.

Lance generally tried his best to not exist before noon unless it was absolutely required. This meeting seemed to fall under that category because when Keith rolled out of bed thirteen minutes before they were supposed to leave, Lance was sitting at the dining table already, bright-eyed and already on the verge of over-caffeination.

"Are you wearing that?" Lance asked as Keith lumbered in to the kitchen in his pyjamas.

"Why do you care?" Keith asked, pulling out the orange juice from the fridge. Lance wrinkled his nose as Keith popped the lid and drank straight from the carton.

"Do you really want Shiro knowing you're a gross basement dweller?" Lance asked and Keith rolled his eyes.

"Fuck off," Keith said. "It doesn't matter what I wear. I look effortlessly cool."

(Keith had spent half an hour last night already mulling over what to wear before deciding on a standard red shirt and black jeans. Lance absolutely did not need to know that, especially since he called it ugly on the way out of the house anyways.)

Lance tried to detour them to get coffee for Shiro, insisting that they needed to get off on a good foot with Shiro if Keith was going to get off, and that was all Keith allowed Lance to say before he stuck up his middle finger, then tried to stick it in Lance's ear.

"Shiro doesn't drink coffee," Keith added belatedly.

"Shiro doesn't drink coffee," Lance mimicked, voice high as he cupped his ear. "Can't you just say so next time?"

When they arrived at Shiro's office five minutes late, they presented him with a super sugary latte with foam hearts. Shiro took it with a wide smile, before dumping a paper booklet in front of them.

"First step is to fill this out," He said. "That's the goal of this week, so we can lay a concrete foundation for the project."

Keith flipped open the booklet, and instantly grimaced. There were a list of pre-approved topics for the project, and each of them were fucking hard .

"I thought we got to choose?" Keith said. "Slav said we could."

"I know," Shiro replied, giving a sympathetic look. "Slav forgot, and now insists he said something else. I think he also might have forgotten why you guys are doing this in the first place, but he already let the department head know about this. So."

"What the fuck," Lance breathed as he looked over Keith's shoulder, and Keith found himself agreeing. "We're too stupid to do any of these."

"You guys aren't stupid," Shiro frowned. "Keith is the top of the class, and you're a close second, right?"

"Wanna know what else Keith wants to be on top of?" Lance started, and Keith drove his heel into Lance’s foot. He kept the pressure there, as Shiro looked at them with a confused expression.

"All his other classes," Lance wheezed, and Keith lifted his foot off. "Which is why I was just as surprised as everyone else when he was caught cheating."

"I didn't cheat!" Keith grumbled and Lance stuck out his tongue. "You were caught too!"

"Mistakes happen," Shiro interrupted, glancing at the two. "You guys will be fine. And if you're not, there's a reason I'm here, yeah?"

He smiled at Keith as he spoke, and Keith's knee jerk reaction was to give a small smile and a soft "Yeah" in return. Keith could practically hear Lance's mental file drawers clanging as he stored this moment away to be analyzed and discussed with the rest of their housemates at a later date.

For the better part of the hour Keith and Lance argued loudly at Shiro's desk about what topic to pick, while Shiro marked quizzes. Keith recognized them as the ones that Slav said he had almost finished marking two months ago. Lance insisted on working on one topic because it looked like the easiest out of all of them, while Keith insisted that option number #13 would get them better marks.

It devolved into an insult match, as Keith and Lance's conversations generally did. Shiro, for his part, worked away diligently at marking. When he wrote a bright red 78 on the last quiz, Shiro cleared his throat, interrupting Lance's explanation as to why Keith was a cave-dweller incapable of making decisions.

"Why don't you two flip a coin?" He suggested, and Lance and Keith both made a face. "We only have five minutes left anyways."

"Fine," They said in unison. "I call heads. Wait."

"I called heads first," Lance insisted and Keith shook his head.

"No, I did." Keith said and Lance scoffed.

"You guys should arm wrestle for it," Shiro suggested jokingly but before he could finish his sentence, Lance had already cleared off the desk and Keith had propped up his arm. "Oh, that was fast."

They clasped hands, and Shiro shrugged and placed his hand on top of theirs. Keith tried to not concentrate on how big and warm it was, because it would be broadcasted across his face.

"On my count," Shiro said. "One, two, three...go!"

Keith pressed forward with all his might as Lance did the same. Though Lance had a couple of inches on Keith, him and Lance were pretty evenly matched in both strength and stubbornness. The last person Keith had arm-wrestled was Hunk, and he managed to resist for more than three seconds before Hunk mercifully put him down so he was pretty confident in his ability to win.

His biceps burned as he managed to get the smallest lead over Lance but—

"Wow Keith," Shiro commented idly. "You're a lot stronger than you look."

Keith died a little on the inside and Lance immediately took advantage of his falter to slam his hand on to the desk before yelling Ha! in his face.

"Looks like we're going with Lance's choice," Shiro grinned. "Just, uh, don't tell Slav how you chose this."

Lance opened his mouth, possibly to gloat, but was cut off by Shiro's phone ringing. Shiro looked at the phone, saw Slav's name, and audibly groaned.

"Alright guys, just fill that out and bring it in next time. I have to look it over before you start anything. I'll email you to set up our next session, okay?"

Lance shrugged and Keith nodded as they both stood up, swinging their backpacks over their shoulder. Lance stepped out of the room first and swivelled on his heel to start speaking, but something caught his eye over Keith's shoulder. Lance made himself scarce so fast Keith would think he vanished if he couldn't hear the loud flapping of his flip flops against the floor.

A hand clapped on his shoulder and Keith spun around quickly, coming face to face with Shiro.

"Sorry, didn't mean to scare you," Shiro said, holding his hands up. He was still holding his phone, and Keith could see the 2 missed calls on the screen.

"That's cool," Keith replied, shifting his weight on to one foot. "What's up?"

"Just wanted to see how you're doing," Shiro said, giving him a small smile. "I know this isn't exactly ideal."

"Yeah well," Keith shrugged and scratched the back of his head. "Shit happens, right? As long as I'm not failing out, I'm good."

"Hey, don't be too hard on yourself. You're doing extremely well for someone who didn't know what the course was even called till a couple of weeks in."

Keith rolled his eyes but he couldn't help but match Shiro's smile with his own crooked one. "I think a few more weeks, and I might even know who's teaching the class."

"Haha," Shiro replied dryly, and stepped back till he was leaning on against the desk. He took a pause before he spoke again. "There's something else I have to talk to you about."

Keith's heart leapt a little, but he kept steady and nodded slowly as he took a step in from the doorway. Suddenly, he was hoping that Shiro wanted to talk about school work or extra credit or something mundane, but he had a feeling it wasn't any of those things.

"Yeah?" He said tentatively anyways, and from the look Shiro had he could tell the conversation was definitely not going to be school related. His stomach started to drop as the other man's face grew a little more serious, but it was broken by a loud rapping against the door behind him.

A near comedic mix of annoyance and fear crossed Shiro's face and Keith turned around to see who was knocking on the door. Looking back at him was Slav, face pressed up against the glass window with an extremely angry expression.

"You should go," Shiro said and Keith nodded furiously and hauled ass up and out. Slav looked like he wanted to stop Keith but thankfully he didn't. Keith threw one last look over his shoulder as the door closed behind him, watching with a small amount of fondness as Slav flailed his hands and Shiro looked more and more exasperated.

 


 

 

"Wow Keith, you're so strong."

"That's some strength. So strong."

"So much stronger than you look."

Keith rolled his eyes and set down the bags he was carrying into the kitchen. Hunk and him had gone for groceries, and they would rather fall into a void than take two trips from Hunk's garishly yellow pickup to the inside of the house. So they armed themselves with all their shopping bags to make the trek, regardless of whether it was a good idea or not.

The commentary was provided via Pidge and Lance who were sprawled unhelpfully across the couch, trying to throw grapes into each other's mouths because Pidge had a summative she didn't feel like doing and Lance was everyone's enabler.

"Guys, stop bugging Keith," Hunk called out from the doorway where he was trying to make it through with a large box of frozen chicken and grocery bags hanging from each hand.

Hunk had made a pretty decent business out of meal prepping for local body builders and richer college kids, so their house was always stocked with good food. That was the one broke college kid stereotype Keith was eternally grateful they didn't live up to, because on his own he was pretty sure that all he would be able to manage in terms of motivation would be organizing takeout menus.

Keith went to help Hunk, grabbing the large box from his hands. They tilted precariously for a moment, Keith trying to grasp the box while Hunk tried to keep a hold on all the bags cutting into his arms. Keith managed to get a decent enough grip on the box and stepped back, pivoting on his heel and pretending he didn't hear Hunk go " Wow Keith, you're a lot stronger than you look."

Keith was really tempted to leave the groceries out and retreat to his basement, but he also didn't know where Hunk had put the M&Ms and wouldn't find out till he unloaded the food, so. Priorities.

He had accompanied Hunk on the grocery run, part because grocery runs with Hunk were always an adventure in and of themselves and part because the almost-conversation with Shiro the day before had left him slightly on edge. He didn't want to talk to Pidge or Lance about it, because then he'd have to explain why Shiro wanted to have that conversation in the first place.

If Pidge found out what happened last time he informally met Shiro, her scheming would rack up over a hundred miles per hour and she would take full control of Keith's destiny. If Lance found out, Lance would probably try to roundhouse Keith like he successfully did with the weird guy that kept stalking Pidge home last year.

So Hunk was the one Keith went to. Keith knew that Hunk wasn't exactly the best keeper of secrets, but talking to him always made him feel better, especially because Hunk was the only one who judged lovingly .

Hunk was also with him the last time he ran into Shiro, albeit so drunk that he remembered more what he heard than what he saw. Everyone that night was so drunk, except for Keith, who was saddled with both designated driver duties and the burden of remembering everything . As Hunk examined a stack of plantains, Keith had told him about Shiro keeping him back.

"Doesn't sound like it couldn't have been school related," Hunk had said, handing a cloth bag to Keith who dutifully held it open. "How do you know that's what he wanted to talk about?"

"I could tell from his face," Keith replied, shifting a hand underneath the bag to support the plantains Hunk was piling in. "He definitely wasn't going to talk about school, y'know?"

"Can't relate," Hunk said easily. "Not all of us are well versed in Shiro's face, and I thought you said he probably didn't remember. Do you want boliche today?"

"Whatever you want to cook," Keith shrugged and placed the cloth bag in his cart. "I thought so too, but I'm pretty sure he does remember something."

"Wouldn't that work in your favour?" Hunk asked, directing them to the cantaloupes. There were three left on the stand, and each one of them made Hunk grimace. "I thought it'd make asking him out that much easier?"

Keith's face went through a series of visible contortions as he tried to process his reasoning for Hunk, and Hunk looked on bemusedly.

"If he remembers. But, he's trying to address it with a serious face and in private," Keith had said slowly, contemplatively. "I think maybe he's trying to gently tell me that we can't happen."

Hunk had squinted slightly at Keith, as if what Keith was saying didn't make any sense. But Keith was pretty sure it did. Like, ninety percent sure.

"You deserve having Lance as a wingman," Hunk said flatly, and that had been the end of that. Even though Hunk's mouth was a straight line, Keith had been able to see a look of great amusement in his eyes, and somehow, that had made him feel better.

After most of the groceries were put away, Keith finally managed to dig out the bag of M&M's that seemed to have been a little too strategically wedged in between three cartons of eggs. By that time, Pidge had migrated back to her room, while Lance had joined Hunk in the kitchen to get started on dinner. Before Keith could escape, Hunk put him on and Lance on chopping duty.

Lance and Keith's phone pinged simultaneously, and Keith unlocked his to see that Shiro had emailed them both about their next meeting, and if they could have it Friday morning at around eight.

"That's so fucking early," Lance groaned as Keith read it out loud. "Ask him if we can have it later."

"Yeah sure," Keith said as he typed out a Lance and I are good with that and hit send.

 


 

 

"What do these words say?" Shiro said, squinting at the paper as he pointed at the margins.

"Those are our names," Lance said, leaning over to what Shiro was pointing at. "Beside which sections we'll cover."

"Okay," Shiro said. "Why is this hand written?"

"Is there a problem?"

"Your handwriting is shit," Keith supplied, causing Shiro to let out a short laugh.

"Yeah, but atleast I took the initiative to write it out," Lance huffed and Keith looked away because yeah.

Lance and Keith had completely forgotten about the package until Lance woke up at 5 A.M in a cold sweat and charged down to the basement, eyes wild and paper falling everywhere. His entire body did a violent twitch when Keith told him their meeting was actually for 8 A.M (he originally wanted to tell Lance by waking him up at five minutes before they had to leave and asking him why he wasn't ready yet), but he got over it fast enough and they got to work.

They managed to vomit out enough words, Keith cross-checking their textbooks furiously as Lance wrote it down. By the time Keith's alarm had gone off, they had met the bare minimum for the outline.

"Is this all?" Shiro frowned, and both Keith and Lance's eyebrows twitched. "Are you going to be able to meet the word count for the paper with this?"

"The what?" Keith asked. "Isn't it the same as all of Slav's other essays?"

Shiro gave them the biggest look of pity, and Lance and Keith's souls simultaneously left their bodies because they knew exactly what that look meant.

"How much do we have to write?" Keith groaned, and Shiro grimaced. "Shiro, how much?"

"Well, there's two of you, so..." Shiro flipped the booklet over to reveal the guidelines on the back. Keith and Lance had skimmed it, and since it looked exactly like all of Slav's other rubrics, they didn't read the full thing. They especially did not catch the number Shiro was highlighting for them, that had been stacked in between paragraphs.

"I want to die," Lance whimpered as Shiro handed back the papers with a sympathetic face. "Shiro, you have big hands. Just wrap them around my neck and squeeze as hard as you can. Actually no, do Keith first. He's into that."

Keith had no energy to retort, and just covered his face with his hands. On top of all his other courses, this project was actually going to kill him. Both him and Lance, who was staring blankly at the desk trying to process the new information through his sleep deprived brain, missed the small blush that crossed Shiro's face when Lance had spoken.

Eventually after the initial shock and frustration wore off, Lance, Keith, and Shiro managed to get to work.

"You guys have great ideas," Shiro had said finally, folding his hands in front of him. "And you two are smart. But as I said before, I'm here to help, not just to monitor."

Shiro walked them through where they could expand their outline, while Keith's (also very sleep deprived) brain was on the verge of packing up it's bags and running away. Lance was so deflated that he wasn't able to sneak in any side comments, just nodding along with whatever Shiro said and jotting it down in his chicken scratch.

Lance and Keith ended their session feeling empty on the inside, staring down at their significantly enlarged workload. As he saw them out, Shiro tried to offer them encouraging words, thumping Keith on the shoulder and telling them that they had this in the bag. Lance honed in on the contact but was too exhausted, while Keith just gave a weak smile in return.

On the inside he really regretted studying at all for the test- he should have just winged it like a normal university student.

"If you want, we can meet up again before the next session, and I can help you guys make some more headway," Shiro said at the end of their hour, scratching the back of his head. "I feel kind of bad for you two."

Both of them gave a half hearted shrug, so Shiro continued. "I have to be on campus Sunday, what about then?"

"Sunday?" Lance asked, perking up a little. "What time?"

"I'll be finished sometime around the afternoon, but I'm not quite sure. Probably around three? I can text you?"

"Sounds good," Lance said. "Keith, does that sound good to you?"

Keith knew damn well that Lance wouldn't be able to make it, because Sundays were always "Hunk and Lance take the pickup two hours out of town to go visit Lance's abuela for the day" days and there was no way in hell Lance was ever skipping that that.

"Yeah, I'm good for Sunday," Keith confirmed as Lance did a terrible job of hiding his sly grin.

"There's no point in texting me because I ignore most of my messages. Do you want Keith's number instead?"

That was a lie because Lance was unashamedly a quadruple texter but Keith crossed his arms and looked straight forward at nothing, because-

"No worries," Shiro replied. "I already have Keith's number."

"Do you?" Lance said, fully turning on Keith. "That's so convenient. "

Shiro gave them a questioning look, and Keith closed his eyes. Shiro had leant him a book for extra reading a couple of weeks ago, and Keith just needed to know when and where to return it. Retrospectively, in class was the obvious answer, but Shiro had been more than amicable in exchanging numbers so that Keith could drop it off at Shiro's place. Which was, in fact, not too far from where Keith lived. 

(Shiro hadn't been home, so Keith awkwardly balanced the book on top of the door frame. The thanks :) he got in return was still saved on his phone)

Lance was going to give him shit when they got home.

Chapter Text

Sunday morning before Lance and Hunk left, Lance e-mailed Shiro to let him know that he wouldn't be able to make it to their appointment, but Keith would still be coming. Shiro texted Keith at around two in the afternoon, asking if he could meet for four and to bring his laptop.

At one in the morning, Shiro was pulling into Keith's driveway to drop him home.

"So I'll see you in class?" Shiro asked, and Keith nodded. "Feeling a little less tormented by your work?"

"Marginally," Keith replied and Shiro gave him a big grin. "I had some help." 

Shiro opened his mouth to say something, but a large honk came from behind. Hunk’s yellow pickup flashed its high beams, flooding Shiro's car. Shiro squinted, the bright light reflecting straight from the mirror into his eyes, and Keith gave the largest, most world weary sigh.

"That's Hunk and Lance," he explained. "We've had people randomly park and just leave their cars here before so we're all kind of territorial over our driveway."

"Well, it's getting late anyways," Shiro said. "I wouldn't want to keep anyone up. Tell them I said hi."

Keith gave Shiro a short salute as Hunk honked again, which Shiro returned. He knew that as soon as Hunk and Lance saw him and his distinctive red jacket step out of the car, any hope for sleep he had would be gone in favour of them interrogating him. 

Hunk pulled out of the driveway and onto the street to let the black car through, both of them stopping when they were window to window. Lance rolled down Hunk's window, popped his seatbelt off, and leaned over Hunk with an expression of pure glee.

"Yo, Shiro!" He called out, and Shiro rolled a tinted window down.

"Hey Lance," He said easily. "How's it going?"

 "It's good! How's our project coming along?" Lance pressed himself further out the window, while Hunk waited patiently and Keith stood at the top of the driveway, arms crossed and monitoring them like a mother hen.

"Keith made some good headway! I would have been happy to reschedule around you though, it really wouldn't have been a problem."

"Nah," Lance gave a toothy grin, plopping back into his seat as Hunk rolled up the window. "Looks like you guys had a good time without me!" 

Shiro waved, rolled his window up and drove off, oblivious look on his face. As soon as Hunk and Lance made it into the house, they descended on Keith, who had just been trying to pour himself a nice cup of orange juice before going down to his basement lair and screaming into his pillow.

"So," Hunk started, appearing beside the fridge, causing Keith jumped a little. "How was your day, Keith?"

"Fantastic," Keith muttered and Lance appeared on his other side, armful of tupperware containers from his abuela's. Keith debated between leaving then and there and helping them put away food and decided on the latter because he wasn't a monster.

"How's our project looking?" Lance asked and Keith shouldered him away, taking all the containers from him.

"Good," He grunted.

That wasn't a good enough answer, because he found himself sitting on one side of the dining table while Hunk and Lance sat on the other. Pidge was at her parent’s place, thus her seat at the table was empty. 

“You’re actually drinking out of a cup this time,” Lance observed. “What happened?”

"We went to go see a movie," Keith said and Lance sucked his teeth.

"Your father and I are very concerned for you," Lance said, delicately placing a hand on Hunk's shoulder. "You can't be coming home so late after being with a boy."

"You didn't even tell us," Hunk nodded and Keith snorted. "It's past your curfew." 

"I texted Pidge!" Keith said petulantly, crossing his arms before realizing he was acquiescing to the two and subsequently uncrossing them. "Wait, I don’t even need to answer to you. You’re not my dads."

"Who told you?" Hunk slammed his hand on the table in mock outrage while Lance clutched his heart.

"I'm more hurt that you didn't tell me you went on a date with Shiro," Lance said and Keith shook his head. 

"It wasn't a date," Keith insisted as Lance and Hunk simultaneously leaned forward.

 

It really hadn't been a date.

 

Keith had tucked himself away into a corner where he could see the comings and goings of everyone in the shop, telling himself that it would make him cool and out of reach. The reality was that he had spotted Coran enter the cafe, and Keith had recently realized auto-correct had been spelling Coran as Corn on all his papers this semester and he had never caught it. Keith knew Coran would give Keith an earful as soon as possible if he got him alone. Keith was just trying to keep a low profile, get his work done with Shiro, then contemplate his life.

None of this stopped the air horn sounds that had started wailing in his head the moment Shiro stepped through the glass doors. Normally Keith had some form of self-control, but Shiro was wearing a white tank top and soft grey sweats, looking every bit a fitness model.

When Keith waved Shiro over, he could smell the fresh soap and cologne. Shiro's hair was still damp from his shower, and his muscles seemed a little more defined, like they had just been put through a workout. Even his robotic arm looked bulkier, but Keith was pretty sure that was just his brain being weird. As he approached the table and Keith had to do his absolute best not to stare.

"I'm going to grab something to eat," Shiro said, dumping his duffle bag on the table and digging out his wallet from within. "Do you want anything?"

"Uh," Keith replied smartly. "Iced coffee?" 

Shiro nodded, and watching him walk away from the table caused Keith’s brain to short circuit. He had to make a conscious effort to keep a poker face, so that no one else could catch him drooling. The cashier was into it too, because Keith could see his ears turn red as Shiro placed his order. Keith couldn't find it in him to make fun of the guy, because he was sure he was wearing a similar expression.

"Sorry I'm late," Shiro said as he set down their drinks. "I was at a workshop and it ran over."

"Workshop?" Keith asked, moving his bag off the chair for Shiro.

"Yeah, the University gym's always having a workshop or another," Shiro said, ripping open the wrapper for his chicken sandwich as he sat down. "I try to check them out when I can. This time they were doing one for Kali, and I haven't done that in a while so I thought I would check it out."

That would explain Shiro's fresh out of the gym look, and that also sent a train of images of Shiro handling knives barrelling through Keith's brain at the speed of light.

"Do you do any other martial arts?" Keith asked, sipping his iced coffee nonchalantly and Shiro nodded.

"I do a lot," He replied in between bites. "It's a good outlet for stress and aggression."

"Aggression?" Keith had asked like he was brand new and hadn’t been practicing said martial arts for years while harboring a small obsession with knives. Shiro swallowed, had given him a crooked grin without saying anything and wow, that had been something new.

 

"Can you hurry this up?" Lance asked, slouching forward as Keith recounted the story. "We all know you're hard for Shiro. I want to know what actually happened." 

"This is what actually happened," Keith pointed out and Lance rolled his eyes. Keith skipped ahead in his story anyways, because they actually had managed to make some headway in the project.

 

Shiro had been monumentally helpful, pointing out wherever Lance and Keith had created weak arguments or poor research and gently corrected them. He had brought a USB with PDF journals for them to read through, and as Keith flipped through them on his laptop, he took in all the annotations that were there.

"I had to work on something similar in my second year," Shiro explained. "So I thought this would help. Uh, just don't copy it word for word. That's what got you in this situation in the first place."

"Yes sir," Keith drawled out as he dragged the files onto his computer. Shiro dropped his sandwich on the table. "Tired?"

"Uh, yeah," Shiro said, hastily piecing the food back together. "Sure. I don't know if I should still eat this."

Keith made a face at the table, then at the sandwich.

"Do you trust how clean they keep this place?" He said and Shiro frowned and stared at the sandwich. He brushed off a few of the crumbs, and removed the slice of bread that had made contact with the counter before digging in again. "Oh, okay. You do."

"I'm sorry," Shiro said (endearingly, and Keith hated himself for thinking this) through a mouthful of chicken. "I'm starving."

Because they were all students in this institution, and Shiro's forearms were distractingly massive ("How is this related?" Lance whined while Hunk hushed him), Keith let it slide with a small smile.

By the time they were done it had just turned six, and the cafe was closing up. Keith looked at the clock and felt a twinge of guilt for taking up so much of Shiro's time. 

"It's what I'm here for," Shiro shrugged as they packed up their belongings. "Plans for this evening?"

Keith shook his head, handing back the USB. "No, you?"

"Matt and I were going to go see a movie," Shiro said. "But he broke the dishwasher at his parents sometime while we were talking about your fourth argument, and he's stuck back home trying to fix it with Pidge."

"What movie were you going to see?"

"Uhh," Shiro dug out his phone from his pocket and opened up his messages from Matt as they stepped out the cafe. "This one."

Keith squinted at the screen. "Oh that's cool, I was going to check it out. Pidge's already seen it though and no one else wants to come."

The two of them had paused for a second, and looked at each other. Keith considered asking Shiro if he wanted to go see it, but it was kind of a grey area. But Lance had gotten totally shit-faced with Coran at the end of last semester after running into him at a pub, and Hunk's professors were always inviting him over for dinner. Keith knew that given that they were both adults, it didn't really matter, so.

"Do you want to go?" Keith had asked tentatively. "I'll pay? As a thanks for your help today. We were here a while."

"Eh..." Shiro's face very visibly reflected his internal monologue, which Keith mercifully tried to cut off.

"Allura and Pidge hang out all the time," Keith pointed out and Shiro nodded thoughtfully. "Even when Pidge was in Coran's class last year. It'll be cool."

"You're right," Shiro replied, and twenty minutes later, they were at the local theatre killing time at the movie arcade till the show started.

Keith didn't think he really had a competitive streak because he figured he was just innately excellent at everything, but Shiro was giving him a run for his money.

"Huh, I've never played this before," Shiro commented as he completely decimated Keith's character in the robot wrestling game they were playing.

"I've never played this before," Keith mocked under his breath, and Shiro snorted before TKO’ing Keith.

 

"That sounds like such a cute date," Lance sighed dreamily while Hunk fluttered his eyelashes. "Tell me more. Did you try and do the yawn and drop on him?"

 “Not a date,” Keith reiterated. “He fell asleep within the first half an hour.”

 

Shiro had starting snoring softly partway through the movie and Keith tried to nudge him. He startled awake loudly, drawing lots of shh’s from the audience. When he fell asleep again, Keith just left him be.

 

“And then…” Lance waved his hand, indicating for Keith to continue but Keith shrugged.

“That’s it,” He said. “We came home after that.” 

Lance and Hunk narrowed their eyes, and Keith pushed his chair away from the table. He stalked to his basement, locking the door behind him before the math sunk in and they realized that there were still a couple of unexplained hours.

Keith flopped onto his bed, face still warm. He rolled on to his back and pulled out his phone, contemplating if he should text Shiro a thank you or something. But that would imply that they had a date, which they didn’t. Keith was pretty sure about that, despite how weird it was in a good way.

 

Shiro had felt really bad about sleeping through most of the movie, and asked if Keith wanted froyo to make up for it. Keith would have accepted Shiro slapping him around for an hour if Shiro asked, but he went with a “Yeah, froyo’s cool.”

The place close to the theatre ended up being closed, and Shiro knew a place but it was on the outskirts of the city and would Keith be okay with that?

Keith was 100% okay with that, because Shiro drove stick on just this side of fast, one hand on the drumming on the wheel and the other one looking like it would look real good squeezing Keith’s thigh and Keith had to try his very best to not look like he wanted Shiro to pull over and crawl into the backseat with him.

Shiro bought them froyo and they had taken it to a park down the road, because the night sky was clear and they were far enough from the lights to see stars stretch over them and into the darkness.

“Sorry I fell asleep,” Shiro said for the tenth time and Keith waved the apology off. “And for snoring.”

“It’s not the worst that’s happened to me,” on a date Keith almost finished, but he managed to bite it back in time. “Pidge likes to be a commentator.”

Shiro laughed at that. “Explains why Matt always looks like he’s about to have an aneurysm if I so much as breathe in his direction during a movie.” 

“It’s still not as bad as Lance and Hunk. They ask so many questions that I can’t take them out anywhere anymore.”

“That used to be me when I was younger,” Shiro pointed out. “It used to drive everyone crazy, because I wanted to know everything right at that moment. Now I just Wikipedia everything before I watch it.”

Keith groaned, elbowing Shiro lightly. “Can’t take you anywhere either.”

As soon as he did, a little bell went off in Keith’s head that maybe that was a little too much physical contact, but it was immediately drowned out by the grin Shiro gave him in return. Keith had refocused his attention to his froyo, because maintaining eye contact without doing something stupid with his face was hard for him (unlike Pidge, who was unnervingly good at staring unflinchingly at people). They ate in friendly silence for a couple more minutes before Shiro spoke.

“Hey Keith,” he started. “Remember how I said I had to talk to you about something?”

Keith’s stomach dropped a little, and he nodded slowly.

“Yeah, well…” Shiro sounded a little hesitant at first, swirling his spoon around in his almost finished tub. “It’s uh… It’s about that time at Sal’s.”

Keith was expecting this, but it didn’t stop him from cringing on the inside. Technically, Keith didn’t really have anything to be embarrassed about, but it didn’t stop his train of thought from running a hundred miles a minute.

 

A week and a bit before the test debacle, Keith and his housemates had decided to go to a pub nearby. Pidge was the only one that was not of age, having skipped a year in both highschool and university, but she had one of her brother’s pieces of ID. Despite the age difference, they looked eerily similar, especially since Pidge had cut her hair. She had told everyone that she cut her hair because it got in the way of her working but Hunk had overheard her contemplating with Allura if cutting her hair and taking one of Matt’s IDs would be easier than hunting down another fake ID to replace the one she lost.

Lance had promptly died during the pre-game because he insisted on tequila shots while forgetting to mention he hadn’t eaten all day. Keith never pre-gamed because he was a lightweight who needed only two beers before he worked up a nice flush. At the beginning of University, he would have rather died than admitted it, but by now it worked to the benefit of his wallet that he was a cheap drunk.

Lance threw up on Hunk, said he was sober, and kept insisting that he was in perfect condition to go out. Pidge had to physically lift him up and sling him over her shoulder, something she made look extremely easy for someone who cleared half a bottle of wine and was a foot shorter than him.

Hunk changed, Pidge tucked Lance into bed and said she’d stay home to look after him, and Keith made the executive decision that he and Hunk would go out anyways, drinking in honour of their housebound comrades. Well Hunk would, and Keith would have a limeade or something because Hunk deserved a drink after being thrown up on and that meant Keith was automatically designated driver.

Lance had called Keith into his room and pressed a couple of crumpled bills into Keith’s hand as he dramatically whispered “Get Hunk a drink on me, and tell him I’m sorry and that I love him.” 

“You’re not dying,” Keith pointed out and Lance gave a small fake sob. Keith rolled his eyes with a “Fine, whatever” and didn’t point out to Lance that he had actually given Keith monopoly money and a McDonald’s receipt.

They had taken the yellow truck to Sal’s, a bar halfway in between their house and the university. The full name was something longer that began with a V, but it was too weird to be committed to anyone’s memory but Hunk’s, who had temporarily worked there as a cook once.

Keith bought Hunk a drink, then another on behalf of Lance. The owner of the place was working the bar that night and when he spotted them, he looked like he was going to absolutely murder them. That though, Hunk explained, was just how his face was.

“He’s actually happy to see us,” Hunk had said as he waved him over to the stools they were sitting at.

Turns out that Sal was happy to see them, because he lined up four complimentary shots of vodka for “the best temp cook I’ve ever had and his friend” and Hunk took all of them down with relative ease.

In the car, Hunk had finished Pidge’s wine because no one in the house had any consideration for which order to consume alcohol in. 

In the bar, six drinks in, Hunk remembered Lance had thrown up on him and ordered another two shots, officially moving into drunken territory.

“Wanna dance?” Hunk had slurred slightly, grabbing Keith by the shoulders.

 Keith went along willingly, because dancing with Hunk meant less of the shadow-boxing that seemed to be the norm for guys in clubs, and more dramatic renditions of whatever Hunk and Lance had watched on their dance shows that week. Lance and Hunk had long learned that they got more attention trying to do a drunk bachata together than they did just going up to people separately and asking them if they wanted to dance, and they exploited that as often as possible. 

The dance of the week had been some form of tango, and Hunk had drunkenly guided Keith across the floor, muttering something about how the Youtuber they had learned from had just not explained it enough. Keith let Hunk move him around, because Keith couldn’t be bothered to actually dance, and also because he had no idea how Hunk was matching the time in the slow-pop song that was playing to their frenetic movement. He had the time of his life, laughing to the point of tears when Hunk had dipped him before going a little cross-eyed from the drinks.

“Woah woah,” Keith said as he came back up. “Easy there, big guy. Let’s get some water.”

 “Great suggestion,” Hunk had replied, before grabbing Keith’s wrist and pulling it above his head. “But how about this?”

Hunk spun him out on the floor, and Keith was so glad he didn’t drink because Hunk used just a little too much force and sent him careening into a brick wall.

Said brick wall had turned around with a wide smile on his face and a beer in each hand. Shiro had been flushed red, his scar standing out moreso than usual. He was wearing a black sweater just short of clingy, his hair was standing up in a disarray, and Keith’s brain started malfunctioning.

You look familiar!” Shiro exclaimed happily and Keith waved a hand nervously.

“So do you,” Hunk swung an arm around Keith, but immediately dropped his head. “Oh god, I think I drank too much.”

“I’m right there with ya,” Shiro slurred, holding out one of his bottles. Hunk grabbed it happily and downed it, and both of them had found this extremely hilarious. “What brings ya here, Keith?” 

He had drawn out Keith’s name, long and rich, and Keith had kept waving his hand while trying to support Hunk. He wasn’t quite sure what he was doing, but Shiro was so close and then—

 

“Do you remember what happened?” Shiro asked and Keith snapped back into the present. 

“What?” He asked smartly, and Shiro sheepishly scratched the back of his head.

“I don’t really remember much and I just wanted to make sure I didn’t make you uncomfortable,” Shiro said. “Not just as your teaching assistant or whatever, but as a friend too.”

Keith gave him a blank look, half his mind dwelling on being called Shiro’s friend. “I…uh, you don’t?”

Shiro shook his head. “No, and every time I ask Matt he just laughs and walks away.” 

Keith contemplated for a quick second telling Shiro everything. On one hand, if Shiro didn’t really remember anything past meeting him, then nothing that happened really had any worth. It wasn’t like Keith had taken advantage of Shiro or vice versa, as embarrassing as everything that had happened was, and if he didn’t say anything, then he could save Shiro the embarrassment.

On the other hand, it would be easy to just spill it out, then he would be able to properly gauge Shiro and figure out how far he could push instead of awkwardly hovering on the periphery.

“You were drunk,” Keith replied, before the stretch of silence became uncomfortable.

“That much I know,” Shiro replied, leaning in a little. “I just wanted to know if I…acted inappropriately, or did something. It’s been hanging over me for a bit.”

“It’s okay, you didn’t do anything,” Keith assured but Shiro looked unsure.

It wasn’t a lie because Keith had made sure that despite his massive crush on Shiro, they kept enough distance. Shiro was drunk, he wasn’t, and Keith wasn’t a skeez. Every time Shiro tried to put his big hands on him, Keith would gently pry them off. Rather, it was Shiro’s words, what he uttered low and silky into Keith’s ear and then into his neck, that burned through Keith like a comet.

But Keith had figured that Shiro never remembered, and had to keep convincing himself to not put too much weight on that night.

“Matt said I kept trying to tell you something,” Shiro said, and Keith shrugged.

“Yeah, the answers to Slav’s next test. Sadly, I listened, and now I’m in detention with Lance and some asshole TA.”

Shiro rolled his eyes and elbowed Keith good naturedly, but didn’t press on any further. Instead, he changed the conversation around to something a little less awkward.

“You have one more year, right?” Shiro asked and Keith nodded. “Plans for after?”

Keith snorted, working on scooping the last of the froyo out. “Eventually pay off student debt. Get a job. Shoot myself into the sun. Or maybe out towards Pluto. Whichever I can do first.”

“The last one sounds appealing. Can I join?”

“Slav’s coming too,” Keith said and Shiro made a face.

They sat under the stars and talked some more, conversation coming easy. They never strayed towards the class they shared after, and Keith would have mulled over Shiro calling him a friend if he wasn’t busy sinking into the warm timbre of the other man’s voice.

There was something about talking to Shiro that Keith found comforting in a way that he wasn’t used to. His butterflies from before turned into something gentler, something that felt very much like being wrapped in a warm blanket during a thunderstorm.

Somehow, Keith found himself talking to Shiro easily in a way that he hadn’t even been able to do with his closest friends. It came easy to him, spilling out his reservations about his choice of major and his social anxieties, having Shiro listen attentively while offering genuine advice.

“Sorry for getting so personal so fast,” Keith said as he finished word-vomiting why exactly he felt like he needed to be a better friend to his housemates sometimes.

Shiro patted his back in a genial manner, like it wasn’t weird that Keith was treating Shiro a little like a human diary. His hand lingered there for a second, before Shiro drew it back with a soft smile and a “It’s okay. You don’t look like a person who likes to open up, so I’m glad you’re comfortable with me.”

And wasn’t that something that Keith was going to tuck away forever. It was bad enough that Shiro looked like he walked out of a fashion catalog at any given time, but he listened and looked on with such kindness that Keith felt like his heart was overflowing.

They had finally wrapped up for the night when Shiro got a reminder for one of his morning classes, and let out a small groan at the time.

“I don’t want to cut us off but-“ Shiro started and Keith had waved him off.

“Don’t worry,” Keith replied, heaving himself up on his feet, legs feeling weird from both having sat for so long and having revealed so much of himself. “Responsibilities, all that.”

By the time Shiro had driven Keith home, Keith had to admit to himself that this was a full blown crush, as opposed to just a regular infatuation with his hot TA. The thought of it made him feel a little heated, like he was in high school again, pining for a class mate, drawing their names in little hearts along the side of his textbook.

Hey, he texted Pidge, because he had to tell someone the full thing. Guess what happened today.

He frowned at the message for a second, before adding a Guess what happened on top of everything else that Hunk and Lance have probably told you by now.

 


 

 

Slav cornered Lance and Keith after class, informing them that he would be sitting in on their sessions this week.

 “Your outline was okay,” He explained in a tone that implied that it really wasn’t. “But I want to make sure that when you start it fully, you get off on the right foot. There’s a possibility that you won’t, even with the help you’re getting.” 

“You actually read our work?” Lance asked, and Slav’s eye twitched. “Word.”

“Indeed I do, Mister…” Slav squinted at Lance for a moment before shaking his head. “Anyways, I’ve had Shirogane pass me on your material so that I can consult you properly. It’d be bad for you if you were to flunk this.”

Lance and Keith watched Slav walk away, and felt a hard thump on both their backs.

“Shiro, why-“ Lance began as he turned around and stopped. “Oh, hey Allura.”

“That was very telling,” Allura grinned, Shiro a few feet behind her, checking for something in his bag.

“I want to defend myself, but I also want you to keep your hand on me,” Lance said and Keith groaned. “Are those new nails?”

“They are,” Allura flashed long chrome stiletto nails. “To celebrate a finished paper. So Slav’s sitting in with you, huh?”

“You should take them out somewhere nice,” Lance said. “Or let me. Have you heard of Bar Juniberry?”

Keith had a sudden urge to remind Lance that he had maybe three dollars in his wallet on a good day, and Allura somehow telepathically picked it up (probably) because she turned her full body towards Keith. Her mouth also twitched a little, but Keith was going to keep that a secret from Lance for as long as possible.

“He wants to make sure that we get off on the right foot,” Keith said and Allura hummed. “What?”

“The department head had a meeting with him yesterday,” Shiro said as he joined the group. “Said something about him needing to be more involved in the class.”

“There were complaints lodged,” Allura added and Shiro shuddered. “He’s going to be sitting in on my tutorials too.”

“He’s not that bad,” Keith offered because while Slav seemed excessively paranoid or cranky at all times, he was a decent professor.

“He’s a smart guy and a good person outside of class,” Shiro said, keeping an eye out for said professor. “He’s just a little...you know.”

“A little what?” Lance asked.

 


 

 

They found out during their next session, where Slav kept a watchful eye over them. A vein had been constantly pulsing at Shiro’s temple, because he wasn’t able to get ten words in without an interruption.

“If they were to go with this as an argument, and fulfill what they wrote in the outline” Slav began for the tenth time, and Lance visibly slouched back in his seat. “It could be easily countered in eight different ways. That’s seven too many for a decent academic paper.”

“That’s our last argument,” Keith said vacantly, his eyes dried out. “We don’t have any more.”

“There are always more,” Slav said, then turned to Shiro. “Tell them there are always more arguments.”

“There are always more arguments,” Shiro parroted back with a sigh. Every time he had spoken, Slav had interjected with a correction that wasn’t really a correction, just a repetition of what Shiro had said. The new information Slav passed on was pretty helpful but Slav liked to explain two-sentence ideas in ten, and would absolutely not be interrupted.    

“You said our outline was okay,” Lance grumbled, crossing his arms. “This doesn’t sound like okay.”

“That was before I got a closer look,” Slav replied. He started digging around in his bag, and brought out three thick textbooks, dropping them on the desk with a loud rattle. “Lucky for you, I brought some books. I was prepared for the possibility that you two would need some guidance beyond just the standard booklist for the classes. Are you observing this, Shiro?” 

“I am,” Shiro replied and Lance interjected. “Hey don’t worry Shiro’s been giving plenty of one on one guidance, right Keith?”

Keith kicked Lance under the desk. Or tried, because with Slav, there was a giant jumble of legs under the desk and he ended up knocking Shiro, who winced slightly but kept an admirable pokerface. Slav caught the action and was monumentally unimpressed.

“You two need to act seriously about this, it’s worth a lot of your mark.” Slav said. “You two are smart and are doing well. But it can be taken away, just like that. Right, Shiro?”

Slav did an over-dramatic snap of his fingers once, twice, then three times, right beside Shiro’s ear as Shiro gave a strained nod.

Keith and Lance slowly dragged one book each towards themselves. They could feel the weight of the tomes drag through their hearts.

“I don’t know how to read,” Lance whimpered and Keith snorted. “Does this have an audio book?”

“Yes actually,” Slav said, tone suddenly jumping to eager and Keith did a double take. “Recorded by a very bright old student of mine. I can give you a link to buy it if you want.” 

Shiro’s ears immediately turned red at the mention of this, and both Keith and Lance caught it. Lance had a look of utmost glee on his face.

“We want the link,” Lance said. “Keith, tell him we want the link.”

Keith looked at Shiro, who was looking down at his lap, mouth pressed in a firm line. It looked like he was tapping out something on his phone, but Slav wasn’t paying attention.

“We want the link,” Keith said, pretending to be oblivious to Shiro’s condition. “It uh…it helps to hear it instead of just reading it sometimes.”

“Yeah,” Lance added. “Especially if it’s a nice voice. An attractive one, right Keith?”

Keith kicked Lance, this time making sure he hit his target. It was bad enough that they had Slav sitting in on them, but he didn’t need Lance still attempting to do his weird wingman shtick.

Slav not only emailed them a link, but he pulled out his laptop to walk them through it.

“See,” Slav said, clicking through the files. “Each chapter is broken down into twenty minute sections so that it’s easier for you to absorb information. I was going to narrate it myself, but I know some people might find it grating hearing my voice in class and then hearing my voice read out an entire textbook.”

“Can we hear one track?” Lance asked, shit eating grin in full force. “I’d like to ah, sample the product before I buy it.”

“Of course,” Slav said, hitting the volume button on the keypad till it was turned all the way up. “I did the production on it myself!”

At this point, Shiro tried excusing himself, but Slav seated him with a look.

“Take pride in your work, Shirogane,” He said and Shiro’s expression turned pained right as his voice filled the room, gently rolling through the introduction.

Lance leaned forward in his chair, pressing his hands together as he silently shook with laughter, while Keith tried to throw his best sympathetic look towards Shiro. Audiobook-Shiro’s voice was a little deeper, smooth like chocolate, and Keith swore he heard some words auto-tuned.

“Now that’s a voice I want reading me a bedtime story,” Lance said, elbowing Keith who rolled his eyes but pressed his lips together to stop himself from giggling like a kid.

“It sure is,” Keith said dryly and Shiro looked so embarrassed that Keith insantly wanted to reach out and hold his hand, give him a hug, ask him to read the book in real time instead, anything.

Audio-book Shiro finished the opening paragraph, leading into a small happy jingle. Shiro’s blush reached his hairline, and Keith added breaking Slav’s computer to that list because he was suddenly feeling just a little over-protective.

“I’ll give you a discount code,” Slav said, mercifully pausing the audiobook. “It should lessen any financial burden.”

“Nothing about this is a burden,” Lance said happily, and Slav’s phone began to rang. He frowned at the screen, before picking it up.

“Allura? Yes? What is it? Oh- oh okay.” Slav frowned and turned towards Shiro, who was staring decidedly at the wall above Keith’s head. “No, I’m almost done. I’m coming, I’m coming- no don’t worry, I’m on my way.”

Slav hung up, and closed his laptop.

“Well,” Slav said as he started shoveling things into his bag, Shiro suddenly extremely helpful in assisting him pack. “I hate to cut this short boys, but trouble calls. You’ll find the links and the discount codes in your emails.”

“I can’t wait,” Lance said. “Enjoy the rest of your day, sir.”

Slav patted Shiro on the back, and nodded towards Keith and Lance before floating out of the room.

“Does this mean we’re done for the day?” Lance asked, and Shiro leveled him with a cold glare.

“Sleep with one eye open,” He warned, and Lance barked out a laugh.

“Alright, I’m out. Keith,” Lance said as he swung his bag over his shoulder. “Shirogane." 

Keith saw Shiro’s middle finger twitch like it was about to perform an extremely rude gesture, and immediately placed one of his hands over Shiro’s to stop him before he could properly think about it. 

“Amazing,” Lance whistled, looking at their hands. “Fantastic. I’m actually kind of jealous.”

Keith felt the metal of Shiro’s fingers twitch again.

“Don’t,” he warned, as Lance saluted and sauntered out of the room. “It’s not worth it.”

As soon as the door swung shut, Keith immediately retracted his hands. 

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to,” He apologized. “Just, if you start Lance off, nothing will stop him.”

 “It would have been inappropriate,” Shiro said as if he very much disagreed with his own statement. He took a deep breath in, then relaxed a little as he let it out in one big sigh. “Do you have class after? I know you and Lance have a lot to do, so I can help you out a little again, especially since Slav is sitting in on Friday again.”

“No I don’t,” Keith said. He technically did, but since there was no test nor assignment due, he wasn’t going to count it. “But are you sure? I don’t want to take up too much of your time.”

“My schedule’s clear for the day,” Shiro shrugged. “Also, my other option is going home and staring at the wall, wondering if you’re listening to second year me read out an audiobook.” 

“I most certainly will be,” Keith assured and Shiro groaned, this time a little more good-naturedly.

“It’s auto-tuned,” Shiro said and Keith grinned. 

“You say that like it’s not a highlight,” He replied and Shiro kicked him under the table. “Ow, that was inappropriate, Shirogane.”

“I retract my offer of help,” Shiro said in a mock-hurt tone, packing up his own bags. “Suffer on your own then.” 

Keith rolled his eyes, but waited for Shiro as they stepped out and he turned to lock the door.

“Hungry?” Shiro asked, turning towards Keith. “I work better on a full stomach, and I heard the campus café is having a special on soup.”

“Yeah, they’re actually using seasoning this time,” Keith said, wriggling his eyebrows, and Shiro laughed. “I could eat.”

 


 

 

They ended up driving to a burger joint that Shiro insisted had the absolute best burgers in the city, no really Keith, even if you don’t like burgers. He was so sure of it that he paid for both their meals, and Keith had to hammer it into his own head that they were not on a date.

Shiro looked on expectantly as Keith took his first bite, and Keith had to admit that while nothing would ever beat Hunk’s summer barbecues, these burgers came real close. Shiro’s enthusiasm for them probably pushed them within a hair-width of his housemate’s cooking.

“Yeah?” Shiro asked eagerly, pointing to the burger, and Keith conceded a small nod.

“Yeah,” He admitted. “It tastes pretty good.”

This seemed to make Shiro happier than necessarily needed, and Keith stuffed more burger into his mouth in order to avoid reacting to Shiro’s expression.

Shiro started giving Keith a small history about how his parents used to take him here every time he aced an exam, won a competition for one of his many activities, or got his license. Keith listened attentively, absorbing both what he was saying, and the way he waved around his arms when he talked, ketchup dripping from his sandwich everywhere.

“Do you drive?” Shiro asked and Keith nodded. “You always seem to be walking everywhere.”

“Walking’s good for your heart,” Keith pointed out. “Also, I don’t have a car. I do have a motorcycle though.”

Shiro’s eyes widened slightly, and though that was pretty much the standard reaction Keith got when he mentioned he drove a bike, Keith was going to burn this one into his brain.

 “Where is it?” Shiro asked, while Keith pulled out his phone to show him a picture of his red Kawasaki. It had Keith straddling his bike, sweaty hair pressed to his head and helmet on his hip as he gave the camera a glare. Pidge had made him pose super-dramatic, and Keith had kicked up a fuss about it the entire time. How good the picture looked made up for Pidge not letting him live down the fact that when he wanted to show off the bike, that was the picture he used.

Shiro let out a low whistle and a soft “Wow” and Keith was one hundred percent going to pretend that Shiro was as impressed with Keith as he was with the bike underneath. Not that it was too impressive, but he figured that neither was he.

“Yeah, it’s my baby,” Keith said. “I got it in high-school after working three jobs in one summer.”

“Wow, three jobs?”

“I’m a man of focus,” Keith shrugged. “Hunk and Pidge are doing it’s spring tune up for me right now, then I’m going to be back out on the road.”

“You must trust them a lot if you let them touch your baby,” Shiro said in a slightly teasing tone and Keith really just wanted him to keep repeating the word baby, preferably directed towards him.

“They do it every year,” He shrugged. “I’d do it myself, but every time I get it back from them, it seems to go just a little bit faster. I’m just waiting for the day they make it fly.”

“Huh,” Shiro said, taking Keith’s phone to examine the photo further. “Do you like giving people rides?”

“Mostly Pidge,” Keith replied. “Hunk gets motion sick really fast and I only let Lance on when I need a favour from him.”

Shiro hummed, and Keith was waiting, hoping, that Shiro would ask him to take him out for a spin once. Sadly, Shiro just handed the phone back, and Keith had to daydream about whipping down an empty desert road with the other man clinging on behind while they wore matching jackets another day.

“If I see you on it, know that I’m going to ask for a ride” Shiro said, and Keith’s mind was zipping down that desert road again. 

“If you trust me,” Keith said with a crooked grin that he hoped looked more mischievous than deranged and Shiro let out a short laugh.

“Can you do any stunts?”  He asked, and Keith looked at him thoughtfully.

Keith most definitely could, having gone dirt biking since he was a kid. In their freshman year of college, Pidge, Lance and Keith ran an anonymous Instagram account where Lance would take videos of Keith doing tricks in a dark industrial lot and Pidge would edit them. They managed to make decent money through a few sponsorships but Keith accidentally deleted it while trying to change the name of the account once, finals had started, and that was that.

“That’s for me to know,” Keith said, trying to pour as much mystery into his voice as possible. “And for you to find out.”

Shiro rolled his eyes, so Keith’s Dark and Mysterious act had definitely failed, but he couldn’t bring himself to be bothered about it.

Shiro got them two more burgers, which Keith soldiered through even though he was so full he was on the verge of tears. There was no mention of Slav’s assignment, just a good natured back and forth about who would win in a street-race.

“Not that I’d be that irresponsible,” Shiro would add in every now and then, even though every ounce of his voice indicated that he really did want to. Keith just mm-hmm’d in agreement.

Keith got a ride home from Shiro again, and this time, no nosy housemate had their face pressed to the window. It was probably because Lance had texted him half an hour prior saying that he had finished buying and downloading the audiobook, and asked him how much longer Keith would be because the whole house was all planning to sit in his basement-cave and listen to it together over their best nine dollar bottle of wine.

Shiro parked in the driveway, and they looked at each other for a moment. Keith didn’t know the appropriate way to say goodbye to his teaching assistant that basically took him out for non-school-related lunch without it being a date. All the other friends he had he lived with, so he didn’t really know what the proper protocol was.

“Well, I’ll be seeing you I guess?” Keith said, and in an attempt to look like he was somewhat aware of human interaction, he held up a fist for Shiro to bump, right as Shiro raised his own hand to wave. His fingers bumped against Shiro’s palm, and they stared at it for a second before bursting out into laughter.

“Have a good night!” Shiro said as Keith closed the door behind him.

“Can’t,” Keith called out, walking backwards towards his house as Shiro pulled out of the driveway. “Got an audiobook to start for class.”

Chapter Text

"This is still not enough,” Slav said, throwing down Keith and Lance’s work. They simultaneously winced as the papers hit the desk, and Shiro had given a long sigh before gathering them up. “Something to say, Shirogane?”

Slav had opened their session by giving Shiro a short lecture on how he had read what Lance and Keith had provided in an email the night before, and how it was not up to standard. He had questioned if Shiro was giving them the proper guidance, and if Shiro ever paid attention to the lessons Slav had given him on teaching method.

“I just don’t know why you have to be so difficult about it,” Shiro blurted out and Keith and Lance did a double take. “They’re good students. This is good work. They met all your requirements, and then some.”

“Well then why don’t you tell me what you want to do,” Slav said, crossing his arms and looking pointedly at Shiro.

“Keith,” Lance said, quiet enough that only Keith heard. Keith looked at him questioningly, and saw by his expression that Lance had actually meant it as a reply to Slav’s question, and shot him a glare. 

This is not the time, he mouthed at Lance, who gave him a sly grin.

“Maybe just let us be,” Shiro said. “We’re doing pretty well on our own.”

“Are you?” Slav replied. “Your mentees aren’t even paying attention right now. They’re just talking amongst themselves.”

Shiro’s eyebrow twitched. “There’s nothing they could get from this conversation.”

“They are listening,” Lance supplied, and both Shiro and Slav glared at him. “And they are waiting for feedback on their paper so they can start their work.”

Keith nodded along with Lance, because he was getting slightly uncomfortable at watching Shiro and Slav argue, especially since they didn’t seem to be arguing about the paper.

“Fine,” Slav said, pulling the papers towards him. He uncapped a red pen, and started furiously scratching and writing.

The three of them stared at Slav in silence as he ran through Keith and Lance’s work. At one point Lance started to whistle, but stopped as soon as Shiro gave him a stern look.

Ten minutes later, Slav gave Keith and Lance their work back. It was covered in red, and Keith’s soul withered a little as he flipped through the papers. They would have to rewrite everything—

Keith frowned at one of the corrections. He skipped back a couple of paragraphs, to find that the very thing Slav had written a lengthy note to include, had indeed been included. Skimming through Slav’s corrections, he noticed that a lot of them were redundant, stating things Keith and Lance had mentioned later on. Keith brought the papers up so they were directly infront of him, blocking him from Shiro and Slav’s view. He turned his head towards Lance, and raised his eyebrows.

Look at this, he mouthed, pointing towards one of the corrections. Lance leaned in and squinted.

What the hell, Lance gestured with his hands. Should we point it out?

Keith shook his head. If they didn’t point it out, they would just have to shift a couple of things around instead of rewriting, and Slav would think they listened to him and hopefully give them a better mark.

When they lowered their papers, Shiro and Slav had fallen into another argument, one that was more intense; Slav had started to criticize Shiro’s performance in his own studies from the beginning of the semester, even though Shiro had admitted to Keith that he had never not been an honours student. Slav seemed to coat every insult with something that seemed to be a compliment, and it was making Keith’s head spin.

“Just because you’ve been a star student, doesn’t mean I’m going to give you a free pass,” Slav said. “Your work this semester has been lacking, and I feel like you aren’t spending enough time with it as you should be.”

“My work this semester has been praised by the other professors,” Shiro said tightly, and Keith had no idea how they got to this topic of conversation in the three minutes he and Lance had taken to look over Slav’s corrections.

Keith’s impression of Shiro was that of a steadfast man with endless patience. He didn’t think Shiro was a paragon of virtue per se, but he had also never seen Shiro get outwardly frustrated. Once, one of Keith’s classmates had cornered Shiro once during class and asked him to repeat a simple concept multiple times simply because they were trying to flirt. Just listening in to the conversation had irritated Keith and made his head hurt, but Shiro had simply repeated himself with a smile till the class had to regroup.

That patience was cracking in real time right in front of Keith and Lance, as they watched Slav and Shiro argue. Keith’s eyes were beginning to dry out, and Lance was doodling small lions in the corner of one of the papers.  The topic had gone back to Shiro’s abilities in relation to Keith and Lance; Keith felt like Slav was seriously overestimating both what duties a teaching assistant actually entailed, and how much Lance and himself actually cared about this class.

“How your students do is a reflection upon you as well, Shiro” Slav said. “And currently, that reflection isn’t looking too great.”

Slav tilted his head and gave a pointed look towards Keith and Lance, who looked a little like deer-in-headlights.

“Ouch,” Lance said. “That felt a little personal.” 

“I think that reflection is just fine,” Shiro gritted out, and there was a sharp crack from where his right hand was squeezing his pen. Keith saw a few drops of ink plop onto the desk and winced. “The only mistake they’ve made so far is related to you.”

There was a pause, and Slav, Lance and Keith looked stunned at Shiro’s words. Shiro, for his part, looked at the desk in front of him, dropping the cracked pen. Slav’s expression turned from shock to anger, and he huffed as he started packing up his belongings.

 “You do what you want Takashi,” Slav sniffed as he slammed his briefcase shut. “Just prepare for the possibility of crashing and burning. At this point, it’s high.”

Slav stormed out of the room, Keith and Lance’s eyes following him before snapping back to Shiro. As cranky as Keith seemed, he had never gotten into an outright fight with any of his professors before, just a few arguments here and there. Keith looked at Kance and Lance frowned back at Keith, shaking his head. Keith felt immeasurably sorry for Shiro, who was sitting silently at the desk.

“Sounds like there’s a lot there to unpack,” Lance started, his voice as uncomfortable as Keith felt. “We’ll uh… We’ll get out of your hair.”

Shiro nodded silently, mouth set in a firm line as he stared a hole into the desk. Lance and Keith slowly scraped their chairs away from the desk, and tip toed out of the room. Lance delicately closed the door behind them before turning on Keith.

“I think we should wait for him,” Lance whispered. “Give him a second to actually cool down and see if he’s okay.”

Keith was planning on doing that anyways, so he gave Lance a short nod.

“Don’t start anything though,” He warned and Lance replied with a “Don’t tell me what to do.” 

“What do you mean? You were trying it today too!” Keith whisper-yelled and Lance rolled his eyes.

“It’s a natural reflex of mine Keith, sorry for being a good friend.” He said and Keith huffed.

 “Maybe don’t do it when our professor and our TA are getting into a fight right in front of us!” He said, brows furrowing as Lance parroted Keith and stuck his tongue out.  “Stop that.”

“Stop that,” Lance mocked and Keith gritted his teeth. “Eat a d-“

Someone cleared their throat from behind them. Keith and Lance slowly turned to face a decidedly unimpressed Shiro. Keith schooled his expression into something he hoped was apologetic.

“Did you guys need something?” Shiro asked, voice uncharacteristically flat.  Lance and Keith stood up a little straighter.

“We, uh…” Lance started and stopped, looking like he was thinking over his words. “We just wanted to see if you were okay.”

“Why wouldn’t I be?” Shiro said dryly, his tone still containing a little bit of the irritation he had with Slav.

“You broke a pen,” Lance pointed out. “Do you want to come get lunch with us? Keith will pay.”

Before Keith could say anything, Shiro shook his head.

“Sorry guys, no can do,” He replied. “I have a lot of work to catch up on, apparently.”

 “It’s okay,” Keith started. “Just an hour, it’ll help you cheer up-“

“It’s not okay,” Shiro interrupted briskly. “I can help you guys if you need, but I really can’t be making any more social calls right now. Maybe some other time.”

Social calls? We’re just trying to-“ Lance started, voice a little agitated, but Keith stepped on Lance’s foot. Keith didn’t want to admit it, but his stomach had dropped a little at the way Shiro had cut into his offer.

“We’ll get out of your hair then,” Keith said, grabbing Lance by the elbow and pulling. “See you next week.”

“Yeah,” Shiro replied, brows furrowing. He paused, and then said a “Wait, guys-“, but Keith had already put distance between them and Shiro.

As soon as they turned the corner, Keith let go of Lance. He completely understood that Shiro was exhausted and under stress and probably didn’t mean to sound as abrupt as he did. During times of high, school-related stress, Keith turned into a fire-breathing dragon if anyone even glanced at him the wrong way. Everyone who had ever been in an educational institute was like this, Keith reasoned. But that did not stop his insides from feeling weird, like he had just gotten reprimanded.

Lance, sensing the way Keith’s body language dropped down, swung an arm around Keith’s shoulders.

“Don’t worry about it,” Lance said “Mr. Shirogane’s just having a bad day.”

“I know,” Keith shook his head. “I’m not affected.”

“Yes you are,” Lance said, trying to ruffle Keith’s hair. Keith ducked out of his reach, but elbowed Lance gently. “You have the same look you do when I accidentally eat your leftovers.”

“That is never an accident,” Keith grumbled. “And I’m not affected.”

Keith definitely was, because it was quite obvious what Shiro was referring to when he said social calls. Keith felt a little taken aback, and definitely disappointed because he had gotten spoiled by the last two on-the-fly not-dates that he had had with Shiro.

“Don’t worry about it,” Lance repeated, shifting his arm from around Keith’s shoulders to around his neck, putting him into a headlock. “I’m sure he’ll be back to his angelic self by the end of the week. The day, even.”

Keith half-heartedly struggled under Lance’s hold but kept walking alongside him, even as Lance tried to give him a noogie. Keith appreciated the effort Lance was putting in, but despite his cool and calm demeanor Keith also wasn’t the best at handling negative emotions combined with romantic ones. He wasn’t exactly proud of himself for it, but he didn’t really know how to control it either.

Keith’s phone buzzed, and Lance reached into his pocket to pull it out before he could swat it away.

“Hey, it’s Shiro. Maybe he’s apologizing,” Lance swiped Keith’s phone open. Keith tried to protest, cursing how their two-inch height difference gave Lance just enough arm length to keep the phone out of his reach. “Let’s see.”

Lance frowned at the screen and brought the phone down. Keith tried to snatch it away, but Lance’s reflexes were quick, and he managed to block Keith.

“He’s just reminding us that our initial draft is due at the end of next week, and that we can use our outline and he’ll talk to Slav for us.” Lance said, eyes skimming over the text. “Ew, and that we have to remember to write proper citations. Who has time for that?”

Keith managed to yank his phone back and read the text. It felt clinical to him, but he wasn’t going to voice it out loud because Lance would remind him how most of Keith’s texts had a ten character limit. Shiro wasn’t Keith and his texts were never so brief, so Keith reasoned that he had every right to feel just a little bit of a way about it.

 


 

 

Expectedly so, the first thing Lance did upon reaching their home later day was announcing what happened to the entire house. Pidge and Hunk were sitting at the dining table playing cards and after Pidge defeated Hunk soundly, they reshuffled the deck and folded Keith and Lance into a game of Cheat.  

“That’s nothing to get weird about,” Pidge said, putting down the first card. “Three aces. You’re smarter than this, Keith.”

 “I’m honoured you think that,” Keith replied as Hunk set down a two. “But I’m really not. Cheat.”

“The game literally just started,” Hunk complained, and collected all the cards into his hand.

“Four twos,” Keith said, placing down his cards and looking pointedly at Hunk, who glared back. “I don’t know how to deal with a crush, okay?”

“Especially when said crush practically yells at you,” Lance said. “Three threes.”

“He didn’t yell,” Keith defended as Pidge hummed contemplatively at her hand. “He was just agitated from the day. He was just being stern.”

“That makes it sound sexier than it actually was, Keith” Lance wrinkled his nose. “Like he was going to spank you next.”

“Ew,” Pidge said, voice slightly disgusted as she put down a card. “Can we talk about something else?” 

“Let them continue,” Hunk said. “Lance keeps waving around while he talks and I can see his whole hand.”

Lance gasped and immediately clutched his cards to his chest. Keith put down two cards, opting to remain silent. They circled the table three more times in silence, the stack in the middle getting larger.

“I think he just realized what a waste of time hanging out is,” Keith said finally. “He’s doing his master’s after all, and I’m just an undergrad student that sucks up his time.”

"My formal assessment about this situation is that it's not that deep." Hunk said. “People like to socialize, Keith. Also, cheat.”

“I think not,” Lance gave a smug grin, pushing the small stack of cards towards Hunk. Hunk flipped him off. “And also, you guys have to remember how nice Shiro is. That’s why it’s weird that he just brushed us off.”

“Are you two in elementary?” Pidge asked, putting down her last card and crossing her arms. “Say it Lance, I dare you.” 

“Cheat,” Lance blurted out and Pidge grinned as she flipped the card over, then flicked it at Lance. “Look, feelings are complicated okay? My emotional intelligence has not been up there lately.”

“This is about me,” Keith pointed out, frowning at his own cards. He realized that he was probably reading into the situation a little more than necessary; everyone was allowed to have a bad day. Keith’s best guess was that he had emotionally regressed back to the fifth grade when his crush said she couldn’t hang out with Keith because she didn’t like the colour of his shoes. He had cried about it at night for a week.

At the same time this had served to remind him that at the end of the day, Shiro was a student as well, who was sacrificing his time for Keith and Lance due to something that was not his fault at all. A small amount of guilt still tugged at Keith’s stomach for that, even though Shiro was the one who had volunteered to mentor them.

“If it makes you feel better, Matt told me that Shiro talks about you,” Pidge said idly, leaning over and looking at Hunk’s hand. Keith and Lance immediately perked up. “Sometimes.”

“He does?” They said simultaneously, leaning in. “What did he say?”

“I don’t know,” Pidge replied. “Matt doesn’t remember the specifics, but he remembers it happened, so it was probably something good. I think he was talking about the students in his class that he liked.”

“How does he not remember? Did you press him for more?” Lance demanded, missing the way Hunk was getting an eyeful of the cards he had. Pidge shook her head. “Why not?”

“I have better things to bond with my brother over,” She replied. “I’m just letting you guys know. It might make Keith feel better.”

“This means I have to up my game,” Lance said, tapping a finger against his chin. “Attack with full force.”

“You’re doing no such thing,” Keith said as Hunk called Lance’s bluff. At this point, Lance and Hunk had the deck split in half in their hands and Keith had four cards left.

“I’m helping you,” Lance said, collecting the cards, completely oblivious to the scheming looks Hunk and Pidge were sharing. “Just accept my blessings, man.”

“You’re a shitty wingman,” Keith pointed out and Lance scoffed.

“You’re a hard sell, Keith,” Lance said. “It’s hard to wingman a swamp creature.”

“Hey,” Pidge interjected. “Keith isn’t a hard sell!”

“You wear glasses, your opinion doesn’t count. You can’t see well enough to make a proper judgement,” Lance said, and Pidge reached over the table to pinch his nose. “Ow!”

“Tell Keith he’s handsome!” Pidge demanded. Keith had a faint feeling that Pidge was not actually concerned about defending his honour as he watched Hunk use the distraction to slide forward what was definitely five cards instead of the three he called out. 

Hunk ended up losing the round anyways, and the next one, and the one after that. He grumbled something about homework before they could start a fifth round, and disappeared to his room. Keith killed Lance and Pidge in a couple of rounds of Crazy Eights before Pidge got a call from one of her classmates. Keith and Lance decided to sprawl their work across their dining table and make some more headway on their project. 

“Not to be dramatic but I feel like today kind of killed my self-worth,” Lance said as he poured over one of the textbooks Slav had given them. “Also, I feel like my eyeballs are going to fall out. How can anyone read this?” 

“Try your best,” Keith said as he aimlessly highlighted an entire paragraph from one of the journals he had printed out. “We get some of the highest marks in the class. We should be good.”

“Times change, Keith,” Lance sniffed as he slowly turned a page. “How are you doing by the way?”

“I’m cool,” Keith shrugged. “It was just a spur of the moment thing. It really wasn’t that deep.”

“Wasn’t it though?” Lance prodded. “I feel like it deserves to be read into. You liking anyone is so uncommon, I feel like every moment needs to be analyzed.”

Keith had to nod along with him because Keith hadn’t had a real crush on anyone since the beginning of high school, so he had no idea how to deal with such emotions. In the rare instance Keith liked someone, his modus operandi was just to ask them out, but he couldn’t exactly do that with Shiro. Not yet, anyways. He wasn’t used to having to put his feelings on a leash, and it was definitely causing him some inner turmoil that he felt way too old for.

“This is lame,” Keith muttered, dragging a hand over his face as Lance hummed in agreement. “Both the assignment and my inability to get over my crush interrupting me.”

“It’s really sweet when you call him your crush,” Lance said, making a small airplane out of one of the loose journal papers. “You sound like a robot trying to pass the Turing test.”

He threw the plane at Keith, who let it hit him between the eyes without flinching or blinking.

“Is it working?” Keith asked and Lance sniggered as he started folding another plane. “Stop it Lance, this is a serious conversation. Am I human yet?”

 


 

Sunday night, everyone piled into Hunk’s pickup truck because Pidge had won free movie passes on campus. They had a long and loud argument for the entire car ride there about what movie to watch. Keith had wanted to watch one of the new horror movies, while Hunk and Lance wanted to watch two different comedies. Pidge let this continue for five minutes before reminding everyone who got the tickets, and that they would be watching a new sci-fi action movie that Pidge heard was like Pacific Rim on drugs.

The inside of the theatre was crowded, and the automatic ticket dispensers were not able to read any of Pidge’s tickets. Pidge swore and Lance suggested she work some of her “tech wizardy” on it. Her answer to that was to kick the machine till Lance and Keith picked her up and dragged her to the regular line before any of the theatre attendants had to intervene.Because Keith’s entire life was a joke, he saw the all too familiar back of Shiro’s head standing ten or so people ahead of him.

“Stand in front of me,” He whispered to Hunk, who looked over to where Keith was pointing. 

Hunk gave a weary sigh and shifted so that Keith was completely out of view.

“Shiro isn’t even looking,” Hunk pointed out and Keith elected to ignore him. As much as he told them this morning that he was over whatever happened on Friday, Keith very much did not want to take up any of Shiro’s time and the thought of running into him made him feel very awkward.

“Don’t say his name,” Keith hissed. “He might hear.”

“We need a nickname,” Lance said, craning his head to get a glimpse. “I put forward Hot TA as an option.”

“That completely defeats the purpose of using a nickname,” Hunk pointed out. “How about big daddy?”

“I like the sound of that,” Pidge agreed while Keith protested with an angry “I don’t!" 

“Isn’t that your nickname?” Lance asked and Hunk shook his head. 

“Only at parties,” He said and Lance hummed. “Shiro can use it for now. That’s what Keith calls him in his head anyways, right?”

“Shiro is not using anything,” Keith replied vehemently, keeping a wary eye out for the man in question. Shiro and Matt had finished paying for their tickets and were presenting them to the attendant at the front, and so far hadn’t spotted the quartet.

“Don’t say his name, Keith,” Lance teased. “He might hear.”

 “Maybe I should go over and say hello to my brother,” Pidge mused, smiling sweetly while Keith glared at her.

After buying their tickets, they made a beeline for the concession stand. Keith spotted Shiro in one of the lines, so he shepherded his friends to the line furthest away before any of them could catch on and say anything. Once he was enveloped in the crowd, Keith breathed a little easier. The lizard part of his brain wanted to go back, cut in line, and stand directly behind Shiro till he noticed Keith, but Keith decided that it’d be more socially acceptable if he just stayed put and hung out with his friends. 

A cardboard poster of the movie they were seeing stood beside them in line, and they noticed something all too familiar about the lead of the movie. He stood lean and angry in the center of the poster, lithe form in a black space suit, helmet tucked under his arm.  Keith was the first to point out the similarities by standing beside the poster nonchalantly till the rest of the group noticed.

Lance took a picture of Keith mimicking the actor’s stoic face, feet spread in an over exaggerated stance and shoulders squared.

“The guy really does look like you,” Pidge said. “If your eyes were blue.”

“And if you were taller,” Lance chimed in, squatting down to get a better angle of Keith. “And if you had better hair.”

“What’s wrong with my hair?” Keith asked, flattening it down. “It looks fine!”

Pidge, Hunk, and Lance all gave him a look of pity. Lance straightened up and opened his mouth, undoubtedly to say something infuriating, but Hunk thankfully cut in.

“Your hair is very…suitable for your personality,” Hunk said tactfully. “It’s very unique, like you.”

Pidge nodded in agreement, while Lance said "Here’s a suggestion, get a haircut so you don't look like you belong in 2005."

"Here's a suggestion," Keith offered, crossing his arms over his chest. "Die."

"No, keep the mullet," Hunk said thoughtfully. "Shiro can use the long part as reins when he-"

Keith launched forward and clapped a hand over Hunk's mouth, turning fire engine red.

“Shut up!” He hissed. “He’s in the vicinity!”

“He’s three lines over,” Pidge pointed out, reaching up picking Keith’s hand off Hunk’s mouth. “I doubt he’ll notice us.”

“He could,” Lance said. “Maybe he’s instinctually drawn to wherever Keith goes, like a magnet. Why else would he be here?”

“To watch a movie,” Keith said flatly. “Please stop talking about him.”

Thankfully, Shiro and Matt were not in the same hall as Keith and his friends, nor did they run into them before the movie. It was unnerving enough to watch a 60 foot tall projection of an actor that looked more and more like Keith the more they watched; Keith didn’t know how he’d also deal with Shiro’s presence.

Like expected, Pidge kept a running commentary throughout the movie, while Lance and Hunk sandwiched Keith and asked him a million questions about the movie, despite it being Keith’s first time watching it as well.

“How am I supposed to know,” Keith hissed as Lance asked him if the character’s love interest would end up dying by the end of the movie. Of course, Keith was the one to get shushed by the other patrons in the theatre, while Lance sat back and pretended he hadn’t spoken at all.

The love interest didn’t die, but Keith’s interest in the movie had as soon as it had uselessly sacrificed his favourite character in the name of angst. A single tear welled up in his left eye, and Keith tried to will it back into his tear duct, before faking a cough so that he could wipe it away. He heard a sniff from beside him, and knew Hunk was feeling the same way.

“Lame,” Pidge said from beside them, and no one bothered to shush her.

The emotional investment Keith had didn’t last long, because Lance was nudging him awake just as the main character and his girlfriend shared one last kiss before the credits rolled. 

“I actually do need to catch Matt though,” Pidge said, looking around the theatre as they exited. “He has my gym card.”

“Can’t you do that later?” Keith asked, and Pidge gave him a stony glare. He withered a little, and watched helplessly as Pidge texted her brother.

“They’re going to finish soon,” She said, reading through Matt’s reply. “They’re just waiting for the after credits scene. We’re going to meet them by the arcade.”

Everyone collectively ignored Keith’s pained expression, and made a beeline for one of the air-hockey tables. Keith watched Pidge and Lance try to wreck each other for five minutes before excusing himself for the washroom, hoping that he had timed himself well enough to miss Shiro.

He hadn’t, because when he stepped out, the group was with two new additions. Pidge spotted Keith and waved him over before he had a chance to side step them. Keith joined the group quietly, trying to avoid eye contact with Shiro and hoping no one would fold him into the conversation.

“Hey Keith,” Shiro said and Keith nodded in return. Shiro frowned, but Matt and Pidge were continuing their conversation while Hunk was focused on destroying Lance in their aggressive game of air hockey. Shiro stepped away from Matt, coming up to Keith’s side as Keith tried to focus on Hunk scoring a goal on Lance.

“You don’t have to ignore me,” Shiro said quiet enough so that only Keith could hear, bumping his shoulder. “I didn’t mean anything I said on Friday. It was wrong of me to act like that.”

“I’m not ignoring you,” Keith said, flushing slightly at being caught. “It’s no big deal.”

“You sure? You and Lance seemed pretty upset about it.”

“Hey, did I hear my name?” Lance piped in, looking up at Keith and Shiro just as the buzzer went off, indicating the end of his and Hunk’s game. “Share with the class, guys.”

“I owe you an apology,” Shiro said, and Matt and Pidge perked up as well.  “My behavior wasn’t the best.”

“I’m very interested in this conversation,” Matt said.

“I’m really sorry about how I acted last time,” Shiro said sheepishly. “Normally, I have a handle on myself.”

“Do you though?” Matt said with a grin that looked eerily like Pidge’s scheming one.

“I shouldn’t have talked like that to you guys,” Shiro said, ignoring Matt. “It wasn’t right of me.”

“It cut deep man,” Lance said with a wink, walking up to Keith’s side and nudging him. “We went home and cried for hours.”

“Wait, what are you talking about?” Matt asked, frowning slightly at Shiro. “I’m confused.”

“I accidentally snapped at them on Friday,” Shiro said, gesturing to Lance and Keith. “Slav had really pissed me off and I was rude to them when they were just trying to be friendly.”

“It wasn’t a big deal,” Lance said easily. “We really do appreciate that you stood up for us though. Plus, Keith’s that mean on the regular.”

“Screw off,” Keith elbowed Lance, and Lance tried to elbow him back. They ended up knocking each other’s elbows hard, and Keith had to withdraw his arm in what he hope was a controlled enough manner that didn’t let on the amount of pain that was coursing through his bones. Lance’s strained smile indicated that he was doing the same.

“Oh okay,” Matt said thoughtfully. “I thought you were going to apologize about the time at Sal’s. I was wondering why you were talking to Lance too.”

“I told you, we went over that already,” Shiro said, raising an eyebrow at Matt. “This is something else. Slav kept sitting on my head and I took it out on these guys when I shouldn’t have.”

Before Keith could say anything, Lance suddenly shoved him aside, which was unnecessary since Keith was already standing off to his side.

“What time at Sal’s?” He demanded, causing Shiro to take a step back.

“Uh,” He said, and Lance whipped his head towards Keith. Keith gave the same monosyllabic reply, while Hunk’s face lit up. Keith instantly knew that expression meant trouble, because Hunk had absolutely no reservations for bringing up anything in public. Last year, he quoted Pidge’s diary verbatim during an argument, and the year before, he drunk quoted, word for word again, some of Lance’s sexts (sans Lance’s phone) much to the amusement of the bar.

“I don’t think you were there,” Matt said. “I remember just seeing Keith and Hunk.”

Pidge and Lance looked at each other, and Keith could see them join telepathically and and rack their brains to pinpoint the exact day that Matt was talking about. Pidge’s mouth opened in a small “Oh,” and Lance’s expression turned a little wild.

“Nothing happened,” Keith said immediately and Shiro nodded along. “We just ran into each other, and everyone was plastered except for me. It was like being at a daycare for adult sized toddlers. Also, I think it's time for us to go.”

“It's definitely not.” Lance said. “Tell me more. Right this instant."

“Of course,” Hunk started, but Keith spread his arms and started physically herding his friends out. “Hey! That’s rude, Keith.”

“I just remembered I left something plugged in at home,” Keith said. “The iron, I think.”

“Do you even iron your clothes?” Pidge asked. “I thought you barely even washed them.”

“The house would have burned down already,” Lance said, trying to resist. “Let’s focus on the present, Keith.”

Keith looked back over his shoulder at Shiro and Matt, and gave what he hoped was a friendly enough smile. His friends waved from behind them, and Shiro raised a hand with a bemused expression while Matt gave them a salute. Despite his friends’ protests, Keith’s herding skills were impeccable though, and the trio got shifted towards the door.

“If you guys shut up, I’ll tell you everything in the car,” Keith begged in a whisper, hoping it was out of Shiro’s range of hearing, and all three of them simultaneously gave him a thumbs up. 

 


 

 

“But how about this?”  

The people around them had instinctually made way, some of them eyeing Hunk warily. Hunk and Keith hadn’t exactly been respectful of everyone’s spaces while dancing, and they couldn’t bring themselves to feel bad about it. 

Hunk pulled Keith’s wrist forward, till Keith was pressed up against him. With all his might, Hunk twirled Keith and spun him out onto the floor with a flourish, where he went crashing into a large man who seemed to be made purely out of cement.

The block of concrete turned around, and Keith’s mind immediately went blank. Shiro was looking back at him, flushed and happy. His white tuft of hair was sticking up more than normal, and he had a bottle of beer in each hand. He was wearing a form fitting black sweater and black jeans, much like Keith. However, unlike Keith, Shiro looked less like a shadow gremlin and more like a model fresh off a print ad.

“You look familiar!” Shiro exclaimed happily, arms spread in a greeting and Keith managed to raise his hand to wave.

“So do you,” Hunk joined them, swinging an arm around Keith’s shoulders before swaying a little. “Oh god, I think I drank too much.”

“’M right there with you,” Shiro said, tipping one of the bottles towards Hunk. “I was holdin’ this for a friend but it looks like you need it more.”

“A gentleman after my own heart,” Hunk took the bottle, pressing the mouth of it to his forehead in a small salute. Shiro reached out with his remaining bottle, and they clinked the necks before Hunk chugged the beer down.

“Jealous, Keith?” Hunk asked, wiggling his eyebrows and wiping his mouth.

“What, not drinking?” Shiro asked Keith, even though Keith was completely sure that that was not what Hunk meant. Keith shook his head as Hunk gulped the remainder of the bottle beside him, still leaning on Keith.

“I’m driving,” Keith replied, and felt Hunk start to wobble beside him. “You okay, buddy?”

“Oh yeah,” Hunk said, sounding woozy.

“What brings ya here, Keith?” Shiro asked, drawing out Keith’s name low and rich. Keith realized his hand was still weakly waving at Shiro, but he wasn’t able to muster up enough concentration to tell it to stop.

“I changed my mind about feeling okay,” Hunk suddenly said from beside him, swaying forward dangerously. Shiro’s eyes widened and he immediately step forward to catch Hunk, pivoting and swinging Hunk’s other arm around his shoulders in one surprisingly smooth move.

“Me and my friends have a booth over there,” Shiro tilted his head, and Keith followed. Pidge’s brother was at the booth with an unfamiliar person, and Keith recognized Allura’s distinctive pink jacket.

“Watch out,” Shiro called out to Matt and the other occupant, and they shifted to make room for the trio. Shiro and Keith eased Hunk onto the frayed cushion, taking care to not move him around too much.

 “I’m going to go get you some water,” Shiro said, patting the top of Hunk’s head.

“Thanks man,” Hunk said as Shiro left him and Keith alone with Matt and the person who Keith was pretty sure Matt had been making moves on before they interrupted. Neither of them looked annoyed though, so Keith felt only slightly embarrassed.

“You okay, bud?” Matt said, reaching out to pat Hunk’s back. “Looking a little rough.”

“I misjudged myself,” Hunk groaned, flopping his head forward onto his arms as Keith gave him a sympathetic look.

Shiro approached the table, one hand holding two glasses of water and the other one holding another beer. Hunk gratefully accepted the drink, chugging it down so fast it spilled through the sides.

“Easy,” Keith said, putting his hand on the bottom of the glass to gently guide it down before Hunk drowned himself.

“I didn’t know if you wanted anything,” Shiro said apologetically to Keith as Hunk took the second glass, and Keith shrugged.

“Where’s Allura?” He asked, pointing towards her jacket.

“She found a couple of friends,” Shiro said, jabbing a thumb behind him. Keith craned his head to see Allura sitting at another table with a group of unfamiliar people, staring down a line of full shot glasses with a devilish expression. “Feeling better?”

Hunk nodded, splaying out on the table, pressing his face against the wood. “Leave me here. I’ll be fine in a bit.”

“We should go home,” Keith said gently and Hunk shook his head.

“If I move, I will die.” Hunk said. “Just give me a few.”

“Looks like you’re stuck with us,” Matt said, winking at Keith.

Shiro slid into the booth beside Keith, raising an arm and resting it across the backboard behind them. He was completely pressed up against Keith, even though Keith could quite clearly see a few inches of cushion on Shiro’s other side. He didn’t point it out.

“Cheers,” He said to Matt and his friend, who raised their glasses in return. He turned to Keith and grinned for no reason before he took a sip.

“So,” he started.

“So,” Keith said, trying to think of something to say that wasn’t completely lame. “You uh… come here often?”

Matt sniggered and Shiro beamed, ruffling Keith’s hair before weaving his fingers through it and gently tugging Keith’s head back to rest on his shoulder. 

“First time,” Shiro said, keeping his fingers in Keith’s hair, unaware that Keith’s brain was short circuiting at the contact. Keith kept telling himself that Shiro had been going for a headlock, and had just gotten lost along the way.“Maybe you can show me around?”

“He would love to,” Hunk said, voice still sounding a little green. Shiro unwound his fingers from Keith’s hair and offered Hunk another sip of beer, but Keith shoved the bottle out of Hunk’s range. 

“If he throws up in his car, I’m going to get yelled at,” Keith explained, and Shiro nodded before downing the rest of the drink.

“We’re going to go dance,” Matt said, as him and his partner slid out of the booth. “You guys wanna come?”

“Still dying,” Hunk said, propping his head up on his hands. “Keith, go on my behalf. Make me proud.”

“With who?” Keith asked and Hunk gave him an exasperated look. Someone grabbed Keith by the elbow and pulled him out of the booth.

“Let’s dance!” Shiro said so enthusiastically that Keith couldn’t find it in him to say no.

Sal’s wasn’t a club, but the owner had kept a small clearing in the center for all of the college students who said they hated clubs but still wanted to dance drunk at any opportunity they got. Shiro pulled them into an opening between two couples. Matt and his partner were close by as well, whispering furiously to each other as they shot amused looks at Keith and Shiro. Hunk flashed Keith a thumbs up from the booth, and Keith gave a weak one in return.

“I can’t dance,” Keith said as Shiro let go of his elbow.

“Normally I can’t either,” Shiro said, grabbing one of Keith’s wrist and spinning him around sloppily, just like Hunk had. “Ta da! But I’m drunk right now, so I definitely can.”

Shiro placed his right hand on Keith’s hip, and Keith was worried (hopeful?) for a brief moment that Shiro was going to yank him close like the other couples dancing beside them. But Shiro straightened up, tilted his head, and switched his grip from Keith’s wrist to Keith’s hand.

“See?” Shiro said, pulling Keith around sloppily in a weird ballroom dance. He bumped hard into a dancing couple, and didn’t take notice. Keith pulled them back before the couple could get angrier, causing him to back into someone else.  “’M a great dancer.”

Laughter bubbled up within him as Shiro tried his best to guide them across the floor, and Keith let himself enjoy the moment. Shiro was a hot mess, and Keith had to look on with fondness. Even though he hadn’t had a sip of alcohol, Keith still felt airy, like he was floating with a warm fire within him.

Shiro danced them around the floor in circles, contradictory to the bass-heavy song that was playing, and Keith wondered briefly why people who were drunk still liked to spin themselves in circles.

“Are you always this enthusiastic?” Keith asked, pulling back to give them both a break. They had made it to the edge of the dancefloor again, not far away from where their booth was.

“When I run into a friend, yeah!” Shiro said. “I get really excited, man.”

Shiro teetered forward, and Keith panicked for a second, thinking Shiro was about to fall right on him. Instead, Shiro enveloped Keith in a huge hug, and somehow even in a boozy crowded bar, he still smelled like fresh cologne. He squeezed, and Keith’s feet lifted slightly off the ground. Keith was about to point out that Shiro’s excitement was probably disproportionate to Keith’s presence, but Shiro had a different idea.

“You’re really light,” Shiro observed, letting go of Keith. 

“I think you’re probably just really strong,” Keith pointed out, and Shiro bent down to wrap his arms around Keith’s upper thighs. “Woah, what-”

Shiro hoisted him up with a laugh, and Keith had to use all his will power to not wrap his legs around Shiro’s waist. Shiro spun him around, staggering a little and Keith’s flustered expression broke into laughter while the back of his brain registered just how easily Shiro was able to pick him up. A million things started chugging through his brain, but Keith contained them by telling himself that Shiro was just really friendly when he was sloshed.

“Oh god, I think I have to set you down,” Shiro said and dropped Keith down, keeping his hands on Keith’s hips and pulling him close, while Keith planted his hands on Shiro’s broad shoulders. “Gettin’ dizzy.”

“Did you learn nothing from Hunk?” Keith teased, trying to steady Shiro.

“Maybe you could lift me instead then,” Shiro said, wriggling his eyebrows and Keith laughed again. "If you can manage it."

 “Undoubtedly,” He said. “But maybe when you won’t throw up on me.”

 “Fair enough,” Shiro hummed. “Let’s dance again then.”

He grabbed Keith’s hand and yanked it up, nearly knocking another patron in the face. Keith could feel the pressure of Shiro trying to turn him on his hip, and planted his feet down, controlling the movement so that he wouldn't injure anyone else. 

Shiro spun them around once more on the floor, and pulled Keith against him before he could bump into another couple. The sudden contact sent a small spark through Keith, and he took a step back.

“You’re going to get dizzy again,” Keith warned, wriggling his hand. Shiro rolled his eyes, but then paused for a second before giving grin that Keith had definitely not seen before.

He let go of Keith’s hand and placing it on his hip. He drew Keith flush against him, leaning in till his forehead was pressed against Keith’s. Keith’s heart stopped as he felt metal brush against his skin. Shiro’s fingers were pushing up slightly under his shirt and any notion Keith had that Shiro was just an over friendly drunk was slowly crumbling.

“You’re right,” Shiro said, voice low. “Got to take it easy.”

The smell of beer washed over Keith, and he wrinkled his nose. Shiro’s large solid body pressed against him as he put his hands on him and rubbed circles into his waist was definitely going into Keith’s wank bank for an indefinite amount of time, but Shiro was also drunk. Keith didn’t want to be one of those sleazes, especially since he was completely sober. He put his hand on Shiro’s wrist to stop it from travelling any further up.

“We should probably go back to the booth,” Keith said and Shiro gave him the best version of a drunken smirk. It was sloppy, friendly, and it shot straight through Keith’s core.

“But I just got where I needed to be,” Shiro winked and Keith rolled his eyes.

“Yeah?” He asked, shoving lightly at Shiro’s shoulder with one hand while still gripping on to him with the other. “Where’s that?”

Shiro’s smirk went wicked and he leaned in to speak into Keith’s ear.

“Mm,” Shiro hummed. He tilted his head downwards, till his mouth brushed against Keith’s neck, and his words vibrated against his skin. “’S Right here.”

Shiro,” Keith’s voice came out a little higher than he intended, and Shiro pulled back with a flushed face and shot Keith a burning look.

“Yeah, baby?” He said and Keith was gone. Blown into stardust. His brain had evaporated and he was ready to become one with the Earth. He held Shiro’s gaze for a moment, trying to collect himself while simultaneously drowning under the other man’s eyes.

“I, uh…” Keith began, but he really couldn’t find any words. Everything around him had been muted, and all he could concentrate on was the look that Shiro was giving him. Shiro leaned in till their noses were brushing, and Keith went cross eyed trying to maintain eye contact. “Maybe it’s time to call it a night.”

“Yeah?” Shiro said, voice low. “Wanna call it together?”

Shiro didn’t close their distance, but kept his gaze intense. Keith glanced to the side, and saw Hunk at the booth, staring wide-eyed. Suddenly, Keith was able to snap back to reality. He grabbed Shiro’s hands and pried them off gently, Shiro frowning but acquiescing easily.

“Did I do something?” Shiro asked, sounding a little unsure, and Keith took a deep breath before speaking. 

“Not when you’re drunk, Shiro.” He said, holding onto Shiro’s wrists so that the other man couldn’t put his hands all over Keith again.  

“I can still get it up when I drink-“ Shiro started, but Keith clamped a hand over his mouth.

“No,” Keith insisted. “But I’d rather all this happen when you’re sober.”

Shiro nodded behind Keith’s hand, bringing up one of his own to grasp Keith’s wrist and shift it.

“Is that so?” He said, a grin back on his face. Before Keith could reply, someone stumbled back into Shiro, jostling him thoroughly. Shiro’s face started to go slightly green, and Keith’s eyes widened.

“Oh shit,” He said. “Oh shit oh shit oh shit.”   

Keith grabbed Shiro and hauled him towards the exit as fast as possible. Shiro had a hand over his mouth, and Keith could feel his shoulders heave. They made it out to the front of the bar, where Shiro keeled over with his hands on his knees and started to throw up, much to the disgust of the smoker’s pit that had formed outside.

Keith rubbed circles into Shiro’s back, cringing at the noise and looking away. He hadn’t been a sympathetic vomiter in a long time, and he felt like this would be a terrible time to start. He hadn’t gotten drunk to the point of throwing up in a while, but he could still sympathize with just how painful it was.

“What’s Matt’s number?” Keith asked, digging his phone out of his pocket. “Do you want a ride home, or do you want me to call Matt? Or Allura?”

Shiro just retched in reply, and Keith winced.

“I told you not to spin around so much,” He said, half jokingly and half concerned. Shiro had stopped throwing up, and was bent over silently, breathing heavily.

A minute passed before Shiro straightened up slowly, a little pale. He blinked once, twice, and rubbed his hands over his face before trying to flatten out his tuft of white hair. Keith placed a hand on Shiro’s shoulder to see if he was okay, and Shiro turned to look at him. He first looked confused, then gave him a smile. 

“Hey Keith,” He said. “What’s up?”

 


 

 

There was silence in the car as Keith finished recounting the story. Pidge’s eyebrows had climbed up high enough to meet her hairline, while Lance was in the front seat with his hands folded in front of him like a prayer. Hunk was giving him a disappointed-parent look from the rearview mirror.

 “Stop giving me that look,” Keith said to Hunk. “You were there.”

 "Solidarity,” Hunk said and Keith made a face at him.

“What happened after?” Pidge asked, as Lance looked like he was still processing the story.

“We gave Matt and Shiro a ride home,” Keith shrugged. “Shiro fell asleep on the way there. That’s all.”

“He also texted Keith,” Hunk recounted helpfully. “In the morning. Said he didn’t remember a lot but hope he didn’t embarrass Keith too much. Keith said no problem, and skipped the next class.”

“You said you were sick,” Lance said, narrowing his eyes before he turned to Hunk. “How come you didn’t tell me this earlier?”

“It’s Keith’s story to tell,” Hunk said sagely, and Lance shoved his shoulder. “Ow, okay okay. I forgot about it till a couple of days after, then forgot to tell you.”

“How did he forget on the spot though?” Pidge asked, and Keith shrugged again. “What kind of drunk amnesia is this?"

“Lance sometimes forgets where he lives,” Keith pointed out. “You and I forgot that Hunk was with us once.”

“Is that why you were ready to ask him out?” Pidge asked, and Hunk and Lance turned on her. "Did you like it when he called you baby?” 

“He was what now?” Lance asked. “Keith, why don’t you tell me anything?”

“You were the first one to know I liked him,” Keith pointed out and Lance glared at him. “Plus you get to watch us in person all week. Why are you upset about this?”

Why are you upset about this,” Lance mocked, hand over his chest while Hunk placed a comforting hand on Lance’s shoulder.

“It’s okay,” He said. “I didn’t know about the second thing either.”

“I don’t like to keep all my eggs in the same basket,” Keith said, and everyone in the car collectively groaned. “Plus, Shiro said he doesn’t remember the night at all. I don’t see why it’s a big deal.”

Keith absolutely was not going to let them know that it was a big deal, and that he wasn’t going to forget it till the day he died. Shiro said he didn’t remember, and Keith wasn’t about to bring it up or fill Shiro in; if Shiro was going to drape himself over Keith, Keith would rather him be sober when he does it. But that didn’t mean that the memory wasn’t going to be burned into Keith’s brain forever.

 “You need to provide us with the full story,” Lance said, twisting in his seat to look at Keith. “We are here to help, Keith. No one wants to see you get laid more than we do.”

“Gross,” Keith wrinkled his nose. Everyone knew that they weren’t actually entitled to the story, but Keith did love them all enough to feel just a little bad about not telling them earlier. They did have his best intentions at heart after all.

“You are the lamest person I have ever met,” Lance said as the others nodded in agreement. “I swear I’m just going to abandon you and make you figure it out on your own.”

“You really should,” Keith said, and Lance gave him the finger.

“Actually, I really won’t. I’m going to lay it on twice as thick,” Lance said. “Like peanut butter, Keith. I hope you’re prepared.”

Chapter Text

Part of Keith wished that he had told his friends everything about his and Hunk’s night out. If he had told them earlier in the semester, they would have been busy with their own lives and not drowning in the end of semester workload. Since they were drowning, they hyper focused on Keith as a means to procrastinate, and it was awful.

Ever since the weekend, his friends had been feeling extra helpful.  In their group chat, Hunk Pidge and Lance had been shooting back and forth the best pickup lines they could think of. Keith was adamant about not using any of them, specifically the ones Hunk thought up. He had been largely ignored as it had been agreed that Lance would be the one to deliver them on behalf of poor, socially inept Keith.

On the morning of their next session with Shiro, Pidge had pulled herself out of a work induced haze to force Keith into changing before he left the house. Keith’s wardrobe consisted of near-uniform levels of black shirts and jeans, but she refused to let him out of the house unless he wore his one lone white shirt instead. 

Keith felt like this had less to do with her caring about what he wore, which he knew she never did, and more about her having slept a collective of five hours in the past three days. He had woken up early because he was hungry and when he went to the kitchen, he saw Pidge slumped over and drooling on the keyboard of her laptop, surrounded by books and empty cans of energy drinks.

Keith cleared off the table and woke her up by setting a plate of fresh eggs and toast in front of her. She had thanked him by scarfing it down at an alarming pace. She told him he was the best person to exist on the planet and that his outfit was ugly as hell.

“You wear the same shirt for a week even when it’s not finals,” Keith tried to point out, and Pidge pinched his nose till he apologized repeatedly. “Ow, okay! I’ll change!”

Hunk and Lance were no better. It had been raining consistently all week, and Hunk had been giving everyone rides to school and work out of the kindness of his heart and his need for extra help with his business. On their way to school, Keith had been delegated to the back seat while Hunk and Lance argued what was the best way to make an entrance.  Keith tried to provide his input by suggesting just walking through the door, but he was ignored yet again in favour of Lance informing Hunk that a catwalk into Shiro’s office would be impossible for Keith to pull off, given that Keith walked like a malfunctioning robot.

Yet, as they sat in their session, Lance had actually acted normal. He paid attention to the task at hand, and they were all uncharacteristically quiet; Lance and Keith worked while Shiro half monitored and worked on his own paper.  Lance hadn’t made a single quip, and Keith was getting concerned.

“Shiro,” Lance began after an especially long stretch of silence. 

Keith’s head immediately snapped up. Lance rolled his eyes, and turned his laptop towards Shiro.

“Can you tell me if this is worded right?” Lance asked, giving Keith an exasperated look. Keith squinted at him.

Keith watched suspiciously as Shiro walked Lance through improving his work, step by step. Part of Keith felt warm at watching how much care Shiro put in to making sure that the two of them weren’t falling face first into this assignment from hell.  However, a majority of Keith focused on Lance like a hawk, waiting.

After being satisfied with the help he got, Lance turned his laptop back towards himself and resumed his work. Keith continued staring at him. 

“Are you stuck, Keith?” Shiro asked kindly, leaning forward to look at what Keith was working on.

Keith had already finished his section, so he shook his head and caught Lance smirking briefly before his face settled back into a neutral look.

It was then that it dawned upon Keith what was actually happening: Lance was one hundred percent playing him and Keith only cared because the crushing weight of finals and exams was so great that he wanted to think about anything but that. Worrying after Lance and the others was Keith’s own form of procrastination and putting off the inevitable which was a slow death via coursework. Lance knew this, and was taking full advantage of him.

“What are you working on?” Keith asked Shiro, trying to redirect himself.

Shiro made a face and held up his stack of papers. The top half of the research paper was covered in multiple red corrections. The bottom half had a fresh red doodle of a flailing bird-worm-alien hybrid with multiple arms. It had an expression that looked eerily like one of Slav’s and in the corner cowered a stick figure with a familiar tuft of hair.

“It’s beautiful,” Keith said, leaning in to look at it thoughtfully. Shiro had gone as far as to cross-hatch the cartoon's beak.

“Can we have it?” Lance asked. “I want to stick it on our fridge.”

“On your fridge?” Shiro asked, amused, and Keith took the paper from him.

“No,” Keith said, holding up the paper to the light, examining it very thoroughly. “Framed above our fireplace.”

Lance hummed in agreement and Shiro tried to hide a smile when he took the paper back. A couple of minutes later, as they fell into work again, Keith heard a paper slide across the desk. He lifted up one edge of his laptop and saw that Shiro had slid the drawing underneath, and was currently focusing very hard on the rest of his paper. In the corner, a new stick figure had been drawn, wielding a sword towards the beast. Keith grinned to himself and folded the sheet, tucking it into his pocket. 

“Gross,” Lance mouthed at Keith and Keith buried himself back into his laptop.

They lapsed into a comfortable silence for the rest of the session. Lance stretched his arms as soon as the clock began the new hour, cracking his fingers as loudly as possible. Keith’s eyes narrowed at that all too familiar self-satisfied look as Lance opened his mouth. Keith was prepared.

“Looks like it’s time to go,” Lance said, the casual tone of his voice making Keith’s eye twitch. “Do you have an extra umbrella?”

“Where are you headed?” Shiro asked and Lance shrugged. “Home?”

Both Keith and Lance had class, but it looked like Lance had no intentions of going. 

“Do you want a ride back?” Shiro asked. “I live near you guys, and I’m going back too.”

“Do you now?” Lance asked, sounding extremely interested. “Whereabouts?”

This meant that Keith wasn't going to his class either, because he was not going to let Lance ride alone with Shiro.

“Near us,” Keith supplied before Shiro could reply. “But it’s okay. We don’t want to inconvenience you.”

“Hey, it’s no problem,” Shiro said warmly.  “Just give me five, yeah?”

Keith herded Lance out of the room as Shiro started to pack up. Lance turned on him as soon as they stepped out, and levelled him with a neutral smile.

“What are you doing?” Keith hissed, and Lance gave him an innocent look.

“Getting a ride home? Just in case you haven’t looked outside today, it’s raining. Do you think he’ll want to stop for ice cream on the way back?”

“Stop annoying him,” Keith huffed, crossing his arms as Lance laughed. “We are not getting in that car with him.”

“Well I am,” Lance said sweetly. “But if you want, you can wait for Hunk. I think he finishes class at seven.”

 


 

Keith ended up riding in the back, grumbling because Lance had called shotgun while Keith was walking towards the passenger door. Because Keith was not an animal and respected the rules, he grudgingly sat in the back while Lance chattered on in the front with Shiro, convincing him to go to Rolo’s Ice Cream Bar because they had a two for one deal going on with ice cream scoops.

It worked; they found themselves standing in front of a large display of ice cream, and Shiro took forever in deciding what flavor he wanted. It took him eight minutes of pondering before Keith and Lance decided to go ahead and join the line anyways. By the time they bought their cones and rejoined Shiro, he had only figured out what two flavours he didn’t want.

“That looks good,” Shiro commented, eyeing Keith’s mango swirl.

“Yeah, you want a bite?” Keith held out his cone. Shiro nodded and leaned forward, taking a dainty lick.

“Mm yeah, I think I’ll get one too,” He said, humming thoughtfully. “That’s interesting.” 

“Isn’t it?” Lance said from behind Shiro, and Keith could see him wagging his tongue over Shiro’s shoulder.

“Do you want to try some of mine too?” Lance asked sweetly, sticking out his own ice cream but Shiro shook his head.

“I think I’m going to get the same one as Keith,” he said, joining the end of the queue, and Lance gave Keith a conspiratorial look.

“That so?” He said. “You sure you don’t want to explore all your options?”

“I can see the crumbs from your cone in there,” Keith said, and Shiro gave a sheepish smile as he moved forward in line. As soon as Shiro was out of their sight, Keith took an over-exaggerated lick of his ice cream, and Lance mimed throwing up. 

They ate inside the shop, because Shiro had let them know in very friendly terms that unless they wished to court death, no one was allowed ice cream inside the car lest it drip all over the interior. Lance sat on one side, while Keith and Shiro squished in together on the opposite side.

“So tell me, Shiro” Lance asked, leaning back as he slurped up his ice cream. “I thought grad school didn’t give you any free time. Yet here you are.”

“Time becomes irrelevant,” Shiro replied sagely. “A defunct unit of measurement.”

“That sounds really wise, but I can hear you screaming on the inside,” Lance said, and Shiro chuckled. “What’s your secret?”

“How do you have so much free time?” Shiro shot back, and Keith noted that Shiro kept eating his ice cream in small amounts.  It was slightly unnerving how Shiro just wasn’t worried that it’d melt and drip everywhere. “I thought you guys were supposed to be crushed as well.”

“Thanks for asking,” Lance replied. “The answer is that I don’t, but I try not to think about it either. My next question: how do you stay so shredded during the school year?”

“He probably doesn’t live off funyuns,” Keith said and Shiro snickered. “It’s called being healthy.”

It’s called being healthy,” Lance made a face and mimicked Keith. “Shut up. Not all of us are blessed with alien strength.”

“It’s not alien strength,” Shiro said, finally taking a big bite out of his ice cream. Keith internally breathed a sigh of relief. “I just have to stay in shape so that my body can balance my prosthetic.”

“Sadly, he’s talking about me,” Keith said. “Tell him your theory, Lance.”

“Keith has alien strength,” Lance started. “He looks like a poorly drawn stick figure, yet he took down five guys in one go last year.”

“In the parking lot of a Taco Bell,” Keith nodded along. “They were drunk and it was three in the morning so it doesn’t actually count.”

“It totally does, Keith. It’s been the only cool thing you’ve done in your life,” Lance paused and give Shiro a meaningful look. “So far.”

Shiro frowned, appraising Keith over his ice cream cone. “Keith doesn’t look like a stick figure.”

“Really, Shiro?” Lance frowned, looking affronted. “Is that what you took from it? Doesn’t everyone look like a stick figure to you?”

“Don’t you have a story to tell?” Keith asked as Shiro tried to stop his ice cream scoops from slipping down.

A large glob teetered precariously then fell down towards Shiro lap. Keith’s hand stuck out on its own volition and caught it before Keith could fully realize what he did. He frowned and wiped his hand with a napkin. Shiro gave him a sunny “Wow, thanks!” and Lance sniggered before continuing on with his story.

“We knew them from before. One of them was a guy that had tried to ask Pidge out a bunch of times, even when she said no. Mid semester last year, the guy showed up with a bouquet of roses on our front lawn but Pidge was at her parents. He refused to leave till she came home so I did what any sensible person did.”

Lance had told the guy that he didn't have a single chance, and to kindly fuck off, preferably forever. The guy had thought Lance was Pidge’s boyfriend and had thrown a fit, much to the amusement of Hunk and Keith who were watching from the living room, windows wide open so that they could hear properly. It had turned sour when the guy shoved Lance hard, and swung towards him as he stumbled backwards.

“He was probably lucky that Pidge was gone,” Lance mused. “She has the strength of a thousand men. It’s kind of scary.”

Hunk and Keith went hurtling out of the house, only to find out that Lance had already taken care of the situation and had sent the guy scrambling. 

“He round-housed him,” Keith said. The bouquet had been left on the lawn, and Lance kept it in a vase in his room for a week. “It was actually really impressive, and he left us alone. Till we ran into him and his friends at a Taco Bell a couple of months later.” 

Keith and Lance had been a little sloshed as well; Lance more so than Keith because they had gone out for a friend’s birthday and he had been surprisingly successful in flirting with the bartender all night. They had stopped by for food and were walking out when someone called out to them from the other end of the parking lot.

They had squinted in the direction of the noise, and followed it. Once they realized who it was, both Keith and Lance had taken a drunkenly aggressive stand. In retrospect, Keith figured they would have just stood and hurled insults at each other all night till the employees told them to get lost, had Lance not dug into his takeout bag and hurled a half-eaten chalupa at the guy. The guy’s other four friends immediately tried to jump them, and somehow Keith sobered up quick enough to put them each in their place on the asphalt, receiving only a few bruises in return.

Lance gestured wildly, over exaggerating how hard Keith threw down, and how cinematically beautiful the fight was. In reality, Keith was able to pick them off quickly and efficiently, and the fight was over in less than five minutes as all five guys went scrambling. For good measure, Lance added in that Keith flipped off the hood of a car which, while completely in the realm of possibility for Keith, did not happen that night.

“Keep in mind that we all met in the same Jiu Jitsu class when we were thirteen,” Keith said. “That’s how we know each other and our housemates. Pidge and I have been going up until the end of last semester and somehow Lance conveniently forgets every time he tells the story.”

“It’s alien strength,” Lance said, completely ignoring Keith. Shiro for his part, was drinking in every word, eyes wide and impressed. “No human built like a twig can hold that much power.”

“Hey!” Keith protested. “I’m not built like a twig!”

“Sorry, sorry,” Lance said, in a poor attempt to sound consoling. “A twig, but wrapped in muscles.”

“It’s called being lithe,” Keith sniffed, and felt a hand squeeze his bicep. 

“You’re fine,” Shiro smiled at him. “Plus, it's also about how you apply your weight.”

“Which is smart thinking and not alien strength,” Keith nodded, willing Shiro’s hand to stay on. It did. “And which we learned in class.”

“Okay, but we never learned how to take down five guys in one go,” Lance said.

“Should have stayed in the class after first year,” Keith said with a grin. “That was literally the first thing we learned as soon as you left.”

“Was not,” Lance retorted and Shiro shrugged, finally removing his hand from Keith. “They taught it to me too.”

“Right? It’s in their code of conduct. Teach all the cool moves once the losers leave.” Keith took a big bite out of his waffle cone as Lance leveled them both with an unimpressed stare.

“That was the worst string of words to ever come out of your mouth,” Lance said, throwing a crumpled paper napkin at Keith. “I’m only talking to Shiro now.” 

“Shiro, tell Lance what I said was the truth,” Keith said and Shiro nodded.

“What Keith said was the truth,” Shiro said solemnly. “It’s in the code of conduct for every martial arts discipline, ever. You can look it up on the Google.”

“Has it stopped raining yet?” Lance strained, looking out a window as the drops kept pattering against the glass. “I don’t know if I want to ride home with you anymore.”

“Hunk finishes class at seven,” Keith said sweetly, and Lance threw another balled-up napkin at him.

 This time, Shiro’s arm shot out and caught the napkin before it hit Keith’s face. For a brief second, Keith thought Shiro was going to defend Keith and throw it at Lance, but Shiro crumpled it into a smaller, harder ball and gave it to Lance.

“It works better like this,” he said.

Lance hit an unimpressed Keith square in the forehead. Keith picked up the ball and glared at Lance, before whipping it sideways. It hit Shiro on the cheek and he yelped, before yanking out a stack from the napkin dispenser.

Keith quickly learned that he was never, ever face Shiro in a food or snowball fight because Shiro was quick to attack and Keith was getting pelted. Lance joined Shiro in attacking Keith, which was completely unfair. Keith decided to retaliate by using his arms block Shiro from throwing anything else at him and repeatedly kicking at Lance under the table.

Eventually one of the managers came over and asked them politely, but in a tone louder than necessary, if they could please stop being so “loud and energetic” as they were scaring some of the customers. Lance was about to turn and sweet talk the manager, but they instantly recognized each other from a poorly thought out fling from first year, and then Shiro, Keith and Lance had to leave immediately

“Don’t tell anyone,” Shiro said on the ride home. This time, Keith was sitting in the front while Lance was sprawled out smugly in the back seat.

“What, you’ve never been kicked out a bar for starting a fight before?” Keith asked, and Shiro shook his head.

“I’ve never been kicked out of an ice cream shop before,” He said. When the manager had come over, Shiro had looked positively mortified. “I feel like I just broke five-year-old me’s heart.”

“That’s fine,” Keith said, shaking out a tissue ball from his shirt. “All that matters is that I won.”

“Did you though?” Shiro asked. “I feel like we had you at a disadvantage.”

“Did you though?” Keith parroted and lightly punched Shiro in the arm. “It was two against one and yet I still manage to stop both of you.”

“It was charming. You two should throw down,” Lance chimed in from the backseat. “For my entertainment.”

“I don’t know,” Shiro said. “It might be hard to take down someone who’s taken down five other people in in one go.”

“Five people that had no training,” Keith pointed out. “And were drunk in a Taco Bell parking lot. They were already losing at life.”

“We were drunk in a Taco Bell parking lot too,” Lance said but Keith scoffed.

“That doesn’t count because we won,” Keith said adamantly. “Also, I’m not fighting Shiro.”

The thought of sparring with Shiro had been running through Keith’s mind since the day he had the session with Shiro after his workshop. He wasn’t planning on acting on it till the thought of it stopped making his face go warm.

“Thank you for your mercy,” Shiro said dryly.

“If I want it to happen, it’ll happen,” Lance said cryptically, and Keith twisted in his seat to try and punch Lance in the leg. Lance kicked his foot out, landing a footprint on Keith’s shoulder. Keith grabbed his foot and started yanking until Shiro pried his hand off.

“I don’t want any foot prints in the car,” He said, holding on to Keith’s wrist. “Okay?”

“Yes sir,” Lance said from the backseat, voice gleeful as Keith grumbled.

When Shiro dropped them home, Lance tried to wrangle out where exactly he stayed one last time. Keith verbally put a stop to all his questions, and Shiro stayed quiet with an amused expression through their bickering till they pulled up to their house.

“Just ask Keith,” Shiro replied finally, looking at Lance through the rearview mirror. “But I’m really curious as to why you want to know.”

“Well, you see,” Lance began, before exiting the car promptly. The front door slammed shut before Keith had a chance to unbuckle his seatbelt.

“Why does he want to know?” Shiro asked and Keith shrugged. Saying that Lance had a pressing need to know everything about everybody at all times might be divulging too much information in one go, so Keith looked thoughtful for a moment.

“Probably looking for some extra tutoring,” He said with a wink and Shiro groaned before playfully shoving Keith out of the car.

Lance tried to rag on Keith walking in with a goofy grin, but Keith pointed out Lance’s abrupt departure. They decided to call it even, and Keith carried the warm feeling inside of him for the rest of the day.

 


  

On Thursday evening, Hunk tasked Keith and Lance with dropping off food at one of the local gyms for a few body builders. Keith wasn’t quite sure why he was there, because Lance was fully capable of handling the deliveries on his own, but Hunk had reminded him who had been giving them rides to class so Keith went along.

 Hunk normally did his own deliveries, but claimed he had to study for a class. Coincidentally, Pidge had tried to give Hunk a trim earlier in the day. Her lack of sleep wasn’t getting any better and she had ended up shaving a rather large, rectangular bald patch at the nape of his neck. Keith felt the real reason Hunk didn’t want to go was so that he wouldn’t embarrass himself in front of the local six foot three powerlifting sensation, who Keith knew wouldn’t care about Hunk’s hair.

"Hunk said to give it to the hottest girl at the gym," Lance said with a wink, handing over a bright green cooler. "So here I am."

Shay turned pink, and took the bag from Lance. It had a little post-it note on it that read Shay in adorable bubbling letters, and a shaky doodle of Hunk blowing a kiss that Lance had drawn on the way to the gym. 

"Did he really say that?" She asked, and Keith looked at Lance before giving a heavy sigh.

"No he didn't," he said, turning to Shay, face still unimpressed. "He said to give it to the most beautiful girl."

Shay blushed harder and Keith wondered why Lance couldn't be this smooth with him and Shiro. He quickly stopped that train of thought because that would mean he actually wanted Lance to succeed. Keith didn’t know why everyone was so fixated on him and Shiro when Hunk was right there. He voiced as much to Lance while Shay went to her locker, and Lance rolled his eyes.

“It is like watching a puppy trying to woo a kitten,” he explained. “It’s very cute and will work out on its own. You are more like a gargoyle trying to impress a marble statue, so you need the help.”

“I’m going to slap you right now,” Keith replied, rubbing his hands together to warm them up and get them loose. “Stand still.” 

“No violence in the gym,” A voice said from behind them, and Lance’s smile blew to a thousand watts once he saw who it was.

“M’Lady,” Lance said, doing a deep bow as Allura joined them, slinging a highlighter pink towel around her neck.

“What’s up?” She asked, nodding towards the two. “How’s Slav’s assignment going?”  

“It’s the worst,” Lance said. “Every time I read what we wrote, I want to drop out.”

“Well, you have good help,” Allura said, elbowing Keith and grinning.  “Don’t you?”

Before Keith could ask why exactly she emphasized her words, Shay rejoined them, and Lance convinced her to do her a set of push-ups while he sat on her back. Allura asked Keith to spot her while she bench-pressed. Shay and Lance were only a couple of feet away from the foot of the bench, Keith agreed solely to see Lance’s face of envy as he stacked the plates on the bar for her.

 As Allura started her reps, Lance’s look of jealousy towards Keith morphed into admiration and something else for her that made Keith want to throw up a little until he realized that was probably how he looked at Shiro.

Shay was powering through her set like Lance weighed nothing, and Keith briefly contemplated why him and all his friends were attracted to unusually strong people. Even Pidge’s last girlfriend had been on the wrestling team, though Pidge herself fell under the category of unusually strong people.

Allura gave one last grunt, snapping him back to reality, and he helped her rack the bar. She gave him a sweaty fist-bump and sat up, accepting her towel from him.

“Do you want me to spot you?” She said, slightly out of breath as she wiped her face down and Keith shook his head. “Oh, just here to see someone?”

“Dropping off food from Hunk,” Lance replied as he hopped off Shay’s back and winked as he gave her a hand up. “And to see Shay’s gun show. Most impressive one in town, or so I’ve heard. From Hunk, to be specific.”

“I thought you’d be here to see your favourite TA,” Allura said, raising an eyebrow at Lance.

“I’m looking at her right now,” Lance replied as matching grins unfurled on his and Allura’s face. “Aren’t I?”

“I was talking to Keith,” Allura said, and Keith could see glee starting to jump across Lance’s face.

“Uh…I’m looking at her too,” Keith said pathetically as his brain started whirring and Allura gave a short bark of laughter. Allura had never been particularly good at disguising anything she was thinking or feeling; this was the reason so many of his classmates were scared to repeat questions. Keith narrowed his eyes at her and looked at Lance, who looked away, whistling.

“Is this why I had to come?” Keith muttered, and Lance flashed him a thumbs up. “Is nothing sacred?”

Even Shay’s expression changed from flustered to amused, and seeing that he was slowly becoming the center of attention, Keith decided it was time to go.

“It’s time to go,” He said and Lance shook his head.

“I think not,” he said. “It’d be rude to leave without saying hi to all our friends.”

“We have none,” Keith said flatly. “So let’s go.”

Keith tried to move, but Allura planted a hand on his shoulder and rooted him down as she pulled out her phone from her waistband and started texting. Keith both cursed how strong she was and was endlessly impressed by how he could barely move underneath her hold.

“I don’t want to bother him,” Keith tried and Allura pointedly ignore him. He wondered if she too had academic responsibilities she was flaking on. Her phone pinged, and he craned his head. Allura angled the screen away from him.

Sure enough, only couple of minutes passed before a familiar figure in black basketball shorts and a white shirt materialized, walking through one of the studio doors near the weight racks.

"Hey guys!" Shiro called out, voice muffled as he smiled around a mouth guard. He was glistening with sweat, looking flushed and in good spirits. Allura and Shay simultaneously gagged as he opened his arms and tried give them both a hug.

“Go to them,” Allura shoved him towards Keith and Lance. “You’re way too damp right now.”

“We will gladly accept your sweaty body,” Lance said, holding out his arms. “Bring it in, Shirogane.”

Shiro didn’t hug them, but he ruffled Keith’s hair while thumping Lance on the shoulder hard enough to make him stumble backwards a little.

“What are you guys doing here?” He asked, one hand taking out his mouth guard and other hand sliding from Keith’s hair to his neck and pausing before dropping off completely. “Do you need help with any of your work?”

“I’m going to pretend you didn’t ask that,” Lance said. “Why the hell would I come to a gym for that?” 

“Are you sparring?” Keith asked, nodding his head towards Shiro’s mouth guard.

“Was,” Shiro replied. “My partner left a couple of minutes back.”

“You should have told me,” Allura said. “I could have come in for a few rounds.”

“Do you still want to?” Shiro asked. “My time in the room is over but I know no one’s gonna be in there until the end of the hour.”

“I’m sure Allura is tired,” Lance said and Allura frowned. “She just bench pressed Keith like, fifty times.”

“Only fifty?” Shiro asked, and Allura was about to interject before Lance rounded on Keith. Keith gave Lance a blank, questioning look. But as soon as he saw Lance’s expression, Keith remembered. Keith immediately put his hands up, knowing what Lance was about to ask.

“No,” He said. “Absolutely not.”

“Absolutely yes,” Lance said. “Lord Lance and his fair ladies need some entertainment.”

“We want what now?” Allura asked from behind him, and Lance happily supplied her with an answer.

“Keith and Shiro want to spar with each other,” Lance said. “We discussed this, and it was agreed upon. Vehemently, by both of them.”

“It was not,” Keith said because he was not about to have Shiro’s hands all over him in public. Keith saw a hopeful look drop from Shiro’s face into brief disappointment before coming back, and felt his resolve crumble. Just a little.

(Yes, the context was innocent and yes, Keith was maybe being a little dramatic, but he just couldn’t. He wasn’t even warmed up.)

“If you don’t want to-“ Shiro began, but was interrupted. 

“Ignore him,” Lance cut in before Keith could reply. "He's secretly a show off. He likes being modest, but he wore sweatpants to this gym just in case this very situation arose."

Keith was wearing sweatpants because he hadn’t bothered changing out of them since Monday, but Lance knew Keith was not going to point that out in front of Shiro.

“I would love to see it,” Shay pitched in, Allura made a sound of agreement and Lance beamed. “I haven’t seen Shiro fight someone new in a while.”

“Do you want to disappoint Shay?” Lance asked Keith, and Keith nodded furiously. “I thought not.”

Keith hadn’t practiced since the end of last semester, and was definitely rusty around the edges. There was no way he would be able to get anywhere with someone built like a brickhouse. 

Well— that was a complete lie. Keith was a confident fighter, and he had previously faced larger opponents. However, the brickhouse in question was Shiro, who kept more up to date with his practice. Also: the brickhouse in question was Shiro.

“It’ll be fun, yeah?” Shiro offered, as the other three gave Keith pleading looks. “You can take out all your frustrations on me.”

“That sounds perfect for Keith,” Lance said. “He’s frustrated all the time.”

 


 

That was how Keith found himself stretching in one corner of one of the studio rooms with Lance, as Shiro talked with Shay in another. Allura had left to let the gym manager know that they would be in the room till it was needed again, and to not peer in to see what was happening.

"He's going to kick my ass," Keith hissed, bringing his right arm over his left shoulder and stretching his tricep. "He will literally just step on me." 

"That's what you're into though, right?" Lance shrugged, and Keith stared unblinkingly at Lance. "Ew, Keith. I was joking."

Keith made a face at Lance, because this was completely Lance’s fault. He glanced over at Shiro, who caught his eye and waved. Keith wondered if he could muster up enough effort for this, or if Shiro would be throwing him around for the next few minutes. The thought made him turn a little red, so he immediately dropped eye contact.

“Come on, I’ll help stretch the rest of you out,” Lance said, trying to put his hand on Keith’s back. “But we’re going to do it in front of Shiro. Do you think he likes to watch?”

“Don’t even think about touching me,” Keith replied, ducking out of the way as he circled his shoulders. They cracked loudly, and Lance gave Keith an extremely pointed look.

Keith found himself doing a butterfly stretch, legs and crossed and arms stretched in front of him as Lance pressed his entire front to Keith’s back, pushing him deeper into the stretch. Lance really only had to use his hands, but Lance’s purpose was to make Keith’s life difficult.

“Do you wish I was Shiro?” Lance asked, and Keith snorted in lieu of accidently blurting out a “yeah, kind of.”

“I wish you were Hunk,” He replied, reaching his fingers further forward. “He’s better at this.”

Lance hummed in agreement, pushing further. “Shiro’s watching. What do you think he’s thinking about?”

On the mat Keith could see the shadow of Lance turning his head towards Shiro, undoubtedly to wink or something equally embarrassing. The tip of Keith’s ears turned pink, and he pressed himself further down before lifting himself back up quick enough that Lance fell off. Keith jumped to his feet while Lance was still grumbling about Keith being rude.

“It’s what you deserve,” Keith told Lance as he tried to press a bare foot to Lance’s face, who kept smacking it away.

“Are you guys ready?” Allura called out, just as Lance grabbed Keith’s ankle in an attempt to send him falling.

“No,” Keith replied, yanking his foot back as Lance scrambled to stand up beside him.

“Hey Shiro,” Lance called out. “Kiss for good luck?”

Lance tried to shove Keith forward, but Keith rooted his weight through his heels and barely budged, causing Lance to fall forward slightly. Lance managed to grab Keith’s shoulders to steady himself in time, and kept trying to make a kissy-face towards Shiro anyways.

Shiro turned a little red and turned to Allura, whispering something inaudible into her ear. Allura’s eyebrows rose significantly, her eyes widened, and she pursed her lips together and turned away from him, her shoulders shaking as she giggled. She looked at Keith and Lance, like something very amusing was dancing on her tongue and she was doing her best to hold it back. Keith desperately wanted to know what it was.

“Alright Keith,” Lance said, clapping him on the back. “Time to make our house proud.”

“After this, you’re getting your ass kicked next,” Keith replied, shoving Lance’s hand off. “I can’t believe you’re making me do this.”

“You say this like this hasn’t already happened in half your wet dreams,” Lance ruffled Keith’s hair with the same hand, which Keith also shoved off. “I’m just turning them into reality. I’m a man of opportunity.”

“We can use the floor till the taekwondo class comes in,” Allura said as the group met in the center of the studio. “We just have to make sure we stay relatively clean.”

The floor was made up of tiled deep blue mats, and Keith and Shiro stood face to face in the center of the biggest one.

“So do we just go for each other?” Shiro asked. “Do we box? Draw blood?”

“Are we taking this seriously?” Keith asked, and Shiro coughed back a laugh.

“Ground rules?”

“No nut shots?” Keith suggested, and Shiro hummed in agreement as Lance stood beside them. “And don’t break my teeth. I don’t have a mouth guard.”

“I kept mine away too,” Shiro replied. “Go easy on me. I’m only one guy.”

“Remember to keep your core purpose mind,” Lance said, placing a hand on each of their shoulders. “All this is being done for mine and the ladies’ entertainment.”

“Is that money in your hand?” Shiro asked, and Keith could feel the crumpled note in between his shoulder and Lance’s hand. “Are you starting a betting pool?”

“I sure am,” Lance replied cheerfully, before taking a few steps back and waving a five at Keith. “Do the right thing, Keith. I owe Pidge some money.”

“Did you bet for me or against me?” Keith asked as he raised loose fists up to his face.  Lance just gave a shit-eating smile before he clapped his hands once, signaling the beginning.

Keith and Shiro circled each other tentatively; Keith had an expression of deep concentration, while Shiro had a soft smile. Keith tried to gauge Shiro, determining whether or not he should be the one to attack first. Keith had a competitive streak, but he knew when to keep it dormant and when to wake it up. If they were just fooling around, he figured he would do something showy, maybe do a high kick or something equally showy— 

“Woah,” Keith exclaimed, ducking out of the way and catching Shiro’s forearm. There was barely any force behind it, but Shiro followed it up with three more punches that Keith managed to block. “So we are taking this seriously?”

“Didn’t Lance say he wanted a show?” Shiro asked, his smile going a little lopsided. “I’m just trying to entertain.”

“Uh,” Keith said before ducking another punch. “Sure.”

The next swing Shiro took, Keith caught him by the wrist easily. Lance let out a short whoop and Shiro winked at Keith. Keith threw his fist to the side, and couldn’t help grinning. He caught the next blow as well, and used the force to spin Shiro around, wrenching his arm behind his back. 

“Not bad,” Shiro said easily. “But by the look on Lance’s face, I think he bet on me.”

 “Sucks to be him. I can probably throw you down really theatrically,” Keith said, low enough that only Shiro could hear. “But I’ll need help.”

“Do it,” Shiro replied. “Tell me what you need.”

“I’ll do a flying takedown,” Keith said, letting Shiro easily out of his grip. Shiro turned on Keith, and they started to circle each other again. “I’m not going to put much into it though, I haven’t done it for a while. Just catch me and fall down.”

Shiro gave a minute nod, like Keith hadn’t suggested something mildly reckless. Keith shoved him a little, and Shiro shoved back as Lance tried to heckle them.

“Are you guys at a school dance?” He called out, just as Keith launched himself at Shiro.

He planted one hand on Shiro’s shoulder and jumped up, wrapping his legs around Shiro’s neck. Immediately, Shiro’s hands shot up to grasp at Keith’s back, and Keith rested back on them, taking care to not put any unnecessary pressure around Shiro’s neck. Keith felt Shiro guide his weight, and they tilted forward for a moment. Instead of letting Keith fall back with the both of them, Shiro planted his weight in his heels gave a grunt as he hauled Keith upwards.

Keith was suddenly remembering being swung around in a bar— except this time, he was significantly higher up, practically sitting on Shiro’s shoulders. Shiro teetered for a second before he steadied, sliding his hands down so that they cradled Keith from beneath. Keith heard a wolf whistle from somewhere in the distance, and did his best to ignore it. He shot a questioning look down at Shiro, which was a mistake because having the object of his affection lifting him up and giving him a completely innocent look from between his legs was ticking off way too many things on Keith’s checklist.

“Didn’t you say you wanted it to be theatrical?” Shiro said, face completely innocent. “But you can drop. I’ll make sure we don’t go down too hard.”

“Uh, okay,” Keith managed, and decided that it was better to take action than to dwell. He rocked forward then hauled his weight backwards, feeling Shiro guide them again down to the mat, fast. They landed with a thump, and Keith put Shiro into a light chokehold with his legs.

Keith was about to quip something that would undoubtedly make him seem cool, but one hand planted itself on the opposite side of his neck, and Shiro wriggled out enough that he was able to get into a crouching position, Keith’s legs still around his neck. Keith immediately tightened his grip, but it was too late.

Shiro pushed forward, and in a blink of an eye pivoted on his toes, and taking advantage of Keith’s too-friendly hold, sliding out of Keith’s grip. Before Keith could kick out, Shiro was on top of him. He grabbed Keith’s head to steady him and draped perpendicularly on Keith, using his entire upper body to pin Keith down. The pressure knocked the wind out of Keith’s lungs, and he was having a hard time finding words.

 “This is playing along?” He managed to say, and he could feel Shiro’s chest vibrate as he chuckled.

“Despite us doing this for our friends’ entertainment,” Shiro said. “I do want to win.”

“Do you?” Keith replied, quirking his eyebrows, trying his best to sound challenging and not like a dying whale. “Well, if that’s how it is.”

“Mm, that’s exactly how it is,” Shiro replied, before easing off Keith and giving him space to get up. "Ready to try again?"

Keith quickly calculated his next manoeuver, and got up slowly into a crouching position. Shiro raised an eyebrow.

Keith launched at him, circling his arms around his calves and pushing with all his force sending the other man tumbling down. Shiro let out a sound that was somewhere in between a laugh and a short yelp of surprise, and Keith wanted to hear more of that sound. They ended up rolling around, each of them trying to get the upper hand of the situation; Keith wasn’t proud of it but at one point he slapped Shiro to momentarily stun him.

“I feel like that’s against the rules,” Shiro said, looking down at Keith from where he had an arm pressing against his chest, his cheek slightly red from where Keith had got him. Keith shrugged.

“No nut shots,” he reiterated. “That was our only rule.”

Shiro frowned at Keith, leaning down. Keith squirmed, wondering why Shiro's face was getting closer and-

Keith yelped as Shiro stuck a wet finger in his ear, and did a full body convulsion because he did not expect something so disgusting.

“No nut shots,” Shiro said with a smug look and allowed Keith to throw him off.

Keith’s need for revenge was immediate, and he charged Shiro, using all his might to bring him down. He kicked out his legs, knocking them down to the floor again.

“That was so gross!” Keith said hotly as he looked down at Shiro from where he had him pinned. Shiro just laughed in his face and tried to flip them over. Keith acted fast as they grappled, and managed to get Shiro into a triangle choke, legs squeezing his head as he yanked up Shiro’s arm in between them. He heard a mechanical whine and looked down, eyes widening slightly as he realized he had been tugging Shiro’s metal arm. He dropped it immediately, swearing and apologizing.

“No need,” Shiro said easily. “It’s capable of a lot.”

“Oh,” Keith managed to get out before Shiro took full advantage of the situation and planted his hand on Keith’s hip. Keith braced himself, expecting Shiro to heave onto his feet and stack his weight down on him.

Instead, Shiro rolled onto his back, pulling Keith along with him by his thighs. Keith faltered, but fell forward, managing to plant his hands and knees down mid roll to prevent Shiro from putting him on his back in a more disadvantageous position. He was sitting high up on Shiro’s chest, and squeezed Shiro’s neck with his thighs.

“That didn’t work out too well, did it?” He teased lightly.

“Didn’t it?” Shiro asked from below, raising an eyebrow. Keith’s brain stuttered as he looked down at Shiro, flushed and grinning wickedly as he was yet again stuck between Keith’s legs. Keith really had to find a new way to trap Shiro, otherwise he was going to lose in the most embarrassing manner ever.

Shiro’s hands grew tighter. Keith knew it wouldn’t take much to plant himself down further stop Shiro, but he could feel Shiro’s strength as he flipped them over and Keith’s brain went caveman. Shiro immediately shot out one leg behind him and pressed his forearm to Keith’s neck. With Keith’s legs still around his neck, Shiro pushed off his foot and into Keith, bending him near half in a way that was completely unnecessary for a simple sparring session.

“Tap out,” Shiro said, warm breath gusting over Keith’s face as he panted.

“Do your partners usually give up that easily?” Keith huffed, and Shiro leaned in further. 

“Tap out,” Shiro said, some wickedness seeping into his voice as he applied a little more pressure to his arm. “Or I’ll keep doing this.””

“Oh my god,” Keith wheezed, allowing himself to look shocked for a moment so that he could drink in Shiro’s extremely self-satisfied expression. As soon as the moment was over and Keith had that face registered in his brain forever, Keith’s face dropped into a crooked smile mirroring Shiro’s. “Very intimidating, but my question still stands.”

Keith really wasn’t the one to show off but this whole thing had been a bit of a spectacle anyways. He went limp, causing Shiro to slip a little, and used it to his advantage. He pushed himself off of Shiro, sliding up the mat and jumping to his feet. Shiro immediately followed, and they paused for a moment, standing facing each other before Shiro launched at Keith. Keith drove forward as well, fainting one way before sticking out his hand the other.

Keith’s palm connected to the underside of Shiro’s jaw, and he was able to drive him back onto the floor onto his back. Before he could twist his arm, Shiro’s robotic arm grabbed him and hauled him directly above Shiro. The arm extended out, holding Keith up high enough that he couldn’t gain proper purchase on anything, even as he tried leaning forward. His knees were touching the ground, but he wasn’t able to put any weight on them.

“Told you,” Shiro grinned. “It’s capable of a lot.”

“Woah,” Keith breathed, getting a proper look at the little metal plates whirring along the limb and locking into themselves as they took Keith’s weight. “Do anything you want. This looks so cool.”

“I’ll take you up on that offer,” Shiro replied, hiking up a leg to help him support Keith. “But maybe later.”

Before Keith could mull over what exactly that meant, he was being tossed across the mat. He swung an arm in front of him to protect his face and groaned as he bounced and heard an “oh shit!” coming from the audience before some small commotion.

"Where's that coming from?" Keith said, more to himself as his voice was muffled into the mat. Keith knew he had to get up, but before he could make any moves, he had company.

“It’s just our friends,” Shiro’s voice came from above, sounding more cheerful than Keith thought necessary. "They want to know if you're okay."

 He felt metal fingers weave through his hair before yanking his hair up and wow, Shiro really just walked over and did that in front of everyone just so Keith could see Lance and Shay cheering him on with a “he’s alive!” while Allura stood with a large grin and her phone up. Keith flashed them a quick thumbs up, and they cheered again. Shiro's grip was firm while lifting him; his hand was closer to the nape of Keith’s neck, allowing him to look without arching painfully. Shiro knew a little too well what he was doing. This was definitely awakening something in Keith, so he started to squirm before anyone else could realize. Shiro let him go, and Keith remained face down.

“Are you okay?” Shiro asked, crouching down and poking Keith’s shoulder. “I didn’t mean to throw you that hard, but you look strong enough to take it.”

The only solution to Keith’s problems was to pick up the pace and actually spar like he meant it, and not like he was trying to see how much he could get Shiro to manhandle him in front of an audience. He rolled onto his back to see Shiro staring directly down at him. He gave what he hoped looked like a woozy enough smile and a lazy wave, before jerking suddenly and yanking Shiro down into another tussle. This time, he made sure he gained the upper hand.

“I’m good,” Keith said breathlessly, holding Shiro’s head in a headlock against the mat, trying not to laugh. “Alien strength, remember?”

All things said and done, he was having a blast. Lance and Hunk were too easy to beat when it came to sparring, even when Keith didn’t try, and he only faced off against Pidge when he was feeling particularly masochistic.

“Did you finally put in some effort?” Shiro panted, reaching out giving Keith’s thigh a pat. “I'm proud.”

“Whatever,” Keith grumbled, blowing a raspberry in Shiro’s face before allowing him to slip out of the lock.

As soon as they got up on their feet, Keith swung at Shiro. Like Keith had done to him at the beginning, Shiro grabbed his arms and twisted them around his back, snaking one of his arms through both of Keith’s and yanking Keith up against him.

“Is this what you did to those five guys?” Shiro asked, tilting them backwards, trying to lift Keith off the ground. “Because I’m kind of having a hard time believing that story right now.”

“You don’t actually want to see that,” Keith retorted, planting his feet so that Shiro would have a hard time. “You might just cry.”

“Maybe you should try actually fighting me,” Shiro leaned in closer to Keith. “Then we’ll see.”

“Yeah?” Keith tried to wiggle, but Shiro’s hold was iron. One hand encircled both of Keith’s wrists, and pressed down. “Let me go then.”

Shiro removed his arm, but kept his grip on Keith’s wrists.

"You had a chance," Shiro said, and Keith could hear  Shiro’s grin. “You’re done now.”

Keith gave one last attempt at swiveling on his heel and slipping out of the grip. Before he could even turn, his ankles were swiped out from underneath him and he was dropped to his knees, his wrists being used to guide him down forcefully.

He tried to get up, but a sharp knee to his back dropped him on all fours. It was followed by an arm pressing him flat on his stomach as Shiro put his entire weight on him. He could feel the other man's presence curl over him, and a palm pressed his shoulder blades down while the other one pinned Keith’s wrists against his back. He jerked up but Shiro had grounded himself beautifully. There was too much strength behind the hold for him to move, more than any of the other ones. Keith got a feeling that he hadn’t been the only one holding back before. 

"Keith," There was a warning in Shiro's voice. Keith needed Shiro to really just go for it then and there and end him. "Tap out."

He could feel Shiro's words ghost against his ear and oh god if Keith thought about his current state of existence any longer he definitely would not be able to get off the ground. He struggled against the hold, but Shiro had him pinned down at all points effectively. He tried kicking his feet, but he could feel Shiro shift a leg to press him further into ground. Shiro leaned down till his breath tickled Keith’s neck.

"Submit," Shiro commanded with authority, and Keith was burning up. He opened his mouth multiple times but no words came out, till he managed to mumble out a weak "I’m tapping out". He could feel the pressure between his shoulder blade increase, and the grip around his wrists tighten as they got pushed further into his back. Keith let out a surprised noise and suddenly, the pressure was gone.

Shiro eased off Keith and stood up. Keith rolled onto his back and took a moment to look at Shiro. Shiro cut an intimidating figure, chest heaving and fists loosely closed as he looked down upon him with the same self-satisfied look that Keith had gotten to see up close. For a second, Keith was on the verge of asking Shiro was up to suplexing Keith through the floor, but Shiro offered a hand out to Keith. His smile fell into something more friendly as he hoisted Keith up, clapping his shoulder.

"Not bad," he said cheerily. "You're pretty decent. We should do this again. Maybe next time, you can actually try."

“It’s not my fault,” Keith stuck his tongue out at Shiro. “I thought we were just doing this for fun. You fight like a cartoon villain.”

Shiro returned the gesture, wrapping an arm around Keith. Confused, Keith raised his arms to return the hug until he realized that Shiro was trying to put him into a headlock. He squawked and tried to wrench Shiro’s arm off. They were interrupted by a loud wolf whistle and a clap as their friends approached them.

“Where’d you learn your moves, Shiro?” Lance said. “I haven’t seen those used in any of the fights I’ve seen.”

“There are sites where we can make good money selling this video,” Allura said, waving her phone. “I think I can make rent for a year.”

“I’m richer now too,” Lance gave Shiro a light punch on the shoulder. “You’re the best.”

“You bet against me?” Keith said, pulling out of the headlock and crossing his arms over his chest.

“I betted for you, Keith,” Shay said kindly. “Lance said he needed the money.”

“Thank—wait, what?” Keith started indignantly, but was cut off by the chatter of people pouring in for the taekwondo class.

“I’ll see you guys tomorrow morning,” Shiro said, giving Keith and Lance a short salute as they parted. Shay and Allura went back to the weights because they took arm day very seriously, and Keith shepherded Lance out the door before he could offer Allura his services as a spotter.

“We have to work,” Keith said, and by the time they had packed themselves back into Hunk’s truck, Lance looked a little less indignant.

"That was so hot to watch," Lance said. "But also kind of gross. I feel like I walked in on you two." 

"Shut up," Keith muttered with no real heat because he was using it all up in the violent blush that had swept across his face. He gripped the steering wheel a little tighter, and Lance snorted.

"You were literally being held in his arms, Keith," He said. "Was he tender? And what was with that whole submit thing? Do you know proper people say just tell you to tap out? Do you know this?”

"He did tell me to tap out," Keith insisted, and Lance ignored him.

“My next goal is to find a game of twister for us to play,” Lance said. “The last two standing will be you and Shiro and I’m going to call out the colours.”

Keith declined to comment, because everything he had scolded Lance for had come to fruition. At this point, he was almost superstitious about what he said around Lance, because he wasn’t in the mood to spontaneously combust.

"I think I need to jerk off," Keith said instead, and Lance made a vomiting noise. "I'm not even kidding right now. I think it's going to be loud."

"You are so fucking disgusting," Lance complained but as soon as they got home, he grabbed Hunk and Pidge, turned on his heel and wheeled right out of the house for presumably ice-cream  and story time. Keith made a beeline for his basement and slammed the door because he could still feel the faint grip of fingers through his hair and he was ready to burst.

 

Chapter Text

Keith’s nerves were at an all-time high. The apartment building loomed over him in the late afternoon sun as he idled his bike in the visitor’s parking lot. The butterflies in his stomach had turned into a small tornado, his face on fire even as he took off his helmet to get fresh air. 

Keith pulled his phone out, unlocking it and opening the contacts list with a frown. His thumb hovered over the name, and he shifted uncomfortably. It had been a great idea when he had first gotten onto his bike, but during the ten-minute drive between his house and Shiro’s building, Keith’s nerves had started to stack on top of him. The soup in his bag sloshed around its thermos, reminding him that really— Keith was really just here out of the kindness of his heart and his concern for a friend.

On Friday morning, him and Lance had shown up to their tutoring session at their regular time. Lance had spent the morning explaining to Keith that he owed Lance for letting Shiro get handsy with him.

“We all know you weren’t actually fighting,” Lance insisted, and Keith tried to pull Lance’s ear till Lance admitted otherwise. Lance was adamant, and instead of getting an admission, Keith received a painful poke in the eye.

Sadly, mostly for Lance who had a whole arsenal of material he had prepared especially for this session, Shiro was nowhere to be found.

Instead they got Hira, a TA they didn’t even know they had. She was friendly enough, but had a commanding presence that made both of them sit a little straighter.

“There are five of us in total,” She explained when Lance asked why they had never seen her before. “Three of us help in the other section of the same class, but we all combine our marking.”

“What happened to Shiro?” Keith asked, and Hira shrugged.

“He called in sick. Really sick, apparently,” She replied, and nodded towards Lance who had his hand raised. “Yes?”

“Are you related to Professor Coran?” He asked and Hira had given him a glare that had even Keith shrinking slightly in his seat. It lasted for ten excruciatingly long seconds before her face immediately softened and she gave a big grin.

“Yeah, he’s an uncle of mine!” She said cheerily, blissfully ignoring the amount of whiplash Lance was suffering. “A distant one, but we are indeed related.”

The rest of the session had gone fine; Hira was a tough teacher, and Keith felt that he had been metaphorically been beaten black and blue by all her commentary on their work. Hira was very direct—not as kind as Shiro or as entertaining as Allura, but she definitely packed a large amount of information into a short amount of time. She never once strayed from the topic at hand, no matter how many times Lance tried to figure out what exactly was wrong with Shiro, and how cool of an uncle Coran was.

(“Very,” She said at the end of their session, before shooing them out of the office. “I need to know more,” Lance had whined at the window of the door, and Keith had left him there.)

In the afternoon, Keith had given in to temptation and had texted Shiro that afternoon a Hey, heard you were sick. Hope everything’s ok.

And had gotten back no reply.

It killed him a little on the inside, and he voiced as much to Lance, who whole-heartedly encouraged Keith to double, perhaps even triple text.

“You gotta push the conversation to start,” Lance explained.

“We talk enough,” Keith said, and Lance rolled his eyes and shook his head, going back to work on their paper. They had both entertained the notion that if they worked on it while Hira’s advice was fresh in their minds, they would be able to get an impressive mark on the project. Keith had tried his best to push the text to the back of his mind.

The next morning Hunk and Pidge had presented him with his motorcycle, freshly finished its spring tune up. It was a yearly ritual— he’d let them do whatever they wanted to it and each time, his bike came back a little faster, a little more sensitive, and Keith felt a little freer when he rode. In return, he would help Hunk with his car and take Pidge out for junkyard-diving. It almost always coincided with the winding down of the school year, 

Despite Hunk and Pidge’s maniacal, sleep deprived grins when they urged him to try it out, Keith decided to take his bike out for its first spin of the season. It had been fantastic. He revved the engine loudly in the driveway and circled the block a couple of times. For good measure, he pulled a power wheelie near the end, much to their entertainment; in a week, they would tell him to please try something new. It had put Keith in an exceedingly good mood and that, really, had been the source of his problems. When he pulled back into his driveway, his phone vibrated.

Yeah, I’m good thanks :) read the message, followed by an and sry for the late reply, I lost my phone all of yesterday.

Keith had grinned and debated texting Shiro back, asking where he found his phone but his phone buzzed again.

Had fallen behind the bed :(

At that point, Keith had had what was possibly the first truly somewhat-romantic idea of his entire life.

Keith asked if he could siphon some of the borscht Hunk had been making for dinner, for a sick friend. Hunk clued in on who that friend was in no time at all, and happily let him take a container full of it, dumping in an extra teaspoon of paprika “for good luck.” Keith packed his bag, and hooked an extra helmet onto it in case Shiro wanted to go on a ride. To feel better. Shiro had mentioned wanting to take a ride on Keith’s motorcycle, and who was Keith to deny a sick person?

And that was how, in the late afternoon, he found himself parked in front of Shiro’s apartment, his reasoning crumbling as his finger hovered over his contact icon. He didn’t even know what excuse he was about to dream up for telling Shiro why exactly he was there. He contemplated telling Shiro the soup was from both him and Lance, and that he was being a considerate friend. Whenever they had hung out in the past, it had been by happenstance or because they already had to meet up for class; maybe Keith would say that he was in the neighbourhood and thought of Shiro, as if Keith didn’t spend all his free time thinking about Shiro. Before he could think himself into a downward spiral Keith hit dial, leaving it up to luck what would come out of his mouth.

“Hey Keith,” Shiro replied after two painfully long dial tones, voice clear as a bell. “What’s up?”

Keith blinked, and there was a small commotion in the background.

“Ah, give me a second,” Shiro said, and Keith could hear a rustling noise, someone laughing in the background, and footsteps. A door slammed shut before Shiro spoke again. “Hello?”

“You don’t sound sick,” Keith blurted out, and instantly smacked his face into his palm. There was a pregnant pause, before Shiro cleared his throat.

“Uh,” Shiro said awkwardly, before giving three clearly fake coughs. “I am.”

“I brought you soup,” Keith stressed, and Shiro made a surprised noise.

“Wow, did you?” Shiro asked. “For me?”

“It doesn’t sound like you need it though,” Keith replied and Shiro gave another fake cough. “Stop, I can tell. Lance and Pidge do the same thing and they think it works.”

“Maybe I have a headache,” Shiro sniffed, and it sounded so petulant that Keith snorted. “I’m serious, Keith. I’m in a world of hurt.”

“Whatever,” Keith said, trying not to sound amused. “I’m downstairs so do you want it or not?”

“Of course,” Shiro replied. “Um, but…”

There was a pause, and Keith could literally hear the gears in Shiro’s brain whirring over the phone.

“Yes?” He pressed, and Shiro gave a sigh.

“My roommate has some friends over,” He said. “They’re a little…uh.”

“I don’t need to come over,” Keith replied, picking up the hint and sounding a little awkward after Shiro trailed off. “Want me to leave it at your front step?”

“No,” Shiro rushed out. “No, I would buzz you up but I want no one associated with me to ever meet these people. Ever. They’re all high and one of them keeps insisting he looks like me if I was Swedish.”

“I’m definitely coming up now,” Keith said. “What was your apartment number was again?”

“I’ll meet you downstairs,” Shiro said firmly, and Keith laughed. “I’m serious.”

“What, you wanna eat in the parking lot?”

“I’ll bring my keys,” Shiro said, and Keith could hear him moving around on the other side. “And we can go to a park or something. Is it cold out?”

“There’s a breeze,” Keith said. “I came on my bike. We can take that if you want.”

“Your b-oh,” Shiro said, and there was a jump of excitement in his voice. “Sweet.”

Keith hung up and realized belatedly that he probably should have said goodbye before disconnecting. But—he was going to see Shiro in a couple of minutes. In person. And he was going to take him on a ride. Keith just had to figure out where.

Keith put his helmet back on and flicked the visor up just as Shiro exited the building. He raised one gloved hand in a wave, and thanked the sky that the weather was cool enough that he had deigned to wear jeans and his bike jacket, instead of the Kermit pyjamas he wore earlier today when he and Pidge went on a donut run.

Shiro was dressed in soft grey jeans and a black letterman jacket with his undergraduate university’s initials pulled snug across his broad shoulders. It made Keith’s heart skip a beat and left him a little tongue tied, so Keith unhooked the spare helmet and offered it out to Shiro as Shiro approached him.

 “This was a nice surprise,” Shiro said, taking the helmet and offered a fist bump to Keith.

 “How’s your illness?” Keith asked, and Shiro gave him an innocent look as he slid on his helmet. Pidge had her own helmet, and Keith had told Hunk and Lance that it was up to them to find something to share because Keith did not have the pocket to be buying three helmets. It seemed to fit Shiro relatively well.

“What illness?” Shiro asked, buckling up one of the straps. “Where are we going?”

“The one you used to play hooky yesterday,” Keith said. “How much time do you have?”

“Eh,” Shiro shrugged noncommittally, addressing none of what Keith said. Keith took that as the standard reply of someone who had been so overwhelmed with work that his soul had left this plane of caring, and an idea started to form in his head.

“There’s a cool place we can hang out,” Keith said. “And uh, I think we’ll be in time to watch the sun set. If you’re into that.”

Keith tried to say it as casually as possible, but the words still felt weird tumbling out of his mouth, sounding like a date.

“I hope you know how to drive this,” Shiro commented, in lieu of a direct reply.  “Do you want me to hold your backpack?”

“How do you think I got here?” Keith said, watching as Shiro put on his helmet and buckle the jaw strap.

“Well, I hope you know how to drive this with someone else on it.” Shiro winked at him, trying to move his white bangs out of the way. Keith gave a long-suffering sigh and pushed back his kickstand, shucking off his backpack and handing it to Shiro.

Shiro climbed on easily behind him, holding on to the sides of the seat. Keith revved the bike and heard Shiro laugh behind him.

“Are you trying to show off?” Shiro said from behind him, and Keith turned to give him an unimpressed glare. He saw Shiro looking back at him with a beaming smile, excitement clear on his face. Before Shiro could witness Keith turning pink, Keith reached over and flicked his visor down. He did the same to his own and revved the engine one more time to spite Shiro.

It was easy riding with Shiro—at any rate, he didn’t seem to twitch or flail (or very memorably, heave) like Hunk did, or drum on Keith’s helmet at stop lights like Lance did. Keith weaved them through lazy weekend traffic, enjoying the glow of a sun that had not quite started setting yet as he took them to the western outskirts of the town. At the last stoplight before the suburban streets melted into country roads, Shiro shifted, stretching out the discomfort from the position he had been sitting in.

“You can slide in more if you want,” Keith said, turning back to look at Shiro. Shiro gave a small sigh of relief, and brought himself more snug against Keith. Keith felt Shiro’s arms wrap around him, his large hands settling right below his rib cage. 

“Is this okay?” Shiro called out, voice muffled. “It always feels kind of weird riding two up on one of these.”

Keith flashed him a thumbs up, and settled into the warm solid weight behind him.

“Hold on,” He said.  Shiro bumped his helmet against the back of Keith’s, and Keith smiled to himself. As soon as the light turned green, Keith pulled the throttle wide open, and floored the bike through the intersection—now, they were truly off.

Keith normally took longer drives on his own, preferring the solitude and time to think. Yet as the road opened up in front of them, the feeling of having someone with him settled like honey in his stomach. They drove for twenty more minutes, till the farms lining the roads gave way to the forest line.

Keith spotted the unmarked intersection that he was looking for and turned off into a smaller road, which slowly gave away to a dirt path surrounded by trees.

They pulled into a thankfully empty gravel lot. Keith killed the engine and kicked out his stand, parking his bike. Much to Keith’s amusement, Shiro staggered a little as he slid off his bike. Keith took off his helmet, shaking his head. He pulled on his ponytail to tighten it, and looked up at Shiro who was trying to comb out his bangs.

“Are you okay?” Keith asked, eyeing Shiro as he ran fingers through white hair. “I know long rides are tough on older people.”

“Har har,” Shiro said dryly, handing his helmet and the backpack to Keith. “Where are we?”

“It’s a place me and my friends come to often in the summer,” Keith said, hooking his and Shiro’s helmets onto his bag.

Shiro hummed, looking thoughtfully at the area surrounding them. Tall evergreens stretched around them, parting at the end of the lot for the entry to a path. There was a worn out map on a sign at the beginning of the trail, and Keith was pretty sure the last time it had been maintained, Keith hadn’t even been born.

“I’m suddenly remembering a bunch of true crime documentaries,” Shiro commented as Keith lead them down the path.

Keith rolled his eyes and let out a scoff, and Shiro returned a chuckle. A slightly nervous chuckle.

“I’m not going to kill you,” He said, as he veered off the path to cut through some of the forestry.

“I don’t know,” Shiro said. “Leather-clad bad boy leads willing but unsuspecting victim to his doom seems like a pretty common premise.”

Keith looked over his shoulder to give Shiro a raised eyebrow and Shiro raised his hands in a placating manner.

“You’re on to me,” He said, as cryptically as possible and turned back forward. “This is your chance to run.”

There was pin drop silence before sudden, loud rustling and Keith had to look behind to check that Shiro hadn’t actually run away –  that would have put a damper on the day – but Shiro was still there, shit-eating grin and all. He started snickering at Keith’s expression, and Keith tried to look as put-upon as possible as he gave him a playful shove.

“I try to do something nice,” He grumbled. “Tried to show some concern for a sick friend.”

“Aw, don’t be like that,” Shiro cooed, slinging an arm around Keith’s shoulders and tugging them ahead. “I’m really excited to see where you’re taking me.”

Keith stuck his middle finger in Shiro’s face, and Shiro tried to shift them into a headlock. Keith bit his forearm, Shiro let out an undignified squeak, and Keith mirrored his grin from earlier.

They veered further off track for a few more minutes, till they approached a small rock face. It stood only a foot and a bit taller than Shiro, and folded in at its center. There was an easier path to get where they wanted to go, but it took a longer time and Keith was never a man of most patience.

“Here, I’ll boost you up,” Keith said, interlocking his fingers, despite having full faith that Shiro could probably just jump on the spot and grab the top. Shiro probably knew this too with the look he gave Keith, but he placed a sneaker in Keith’s hands anyways. Keith grimaced at the dirt, glad he had kept his gloves on.

He hoisted Shiro up, and Shiro grabbed the ledge and pulled himself up the rest of the way. Keith admired the view for a second, watching the shape of Shiro’s muscles flex under his jacket before Shiro flopped over the top onto his stomach. He rolled over to look at Keith and extend his arm downwards. Keith passed him the bag, which Shiro gently placed beside him before reaching down again.

Keith had scaled the wall by himself multiple times, in a way that Pidge said reminded her of a mountain goat, but he wasn’t going to complain about the extra help. Keith took a few steps back before running forward, propelling up the rock and grabbing Shiro’s arm. Shiro hauled him over the edge effortlessly, letting Keith land on his side with absolutely no grace at all. 

Shiro stood up first and helped haul Keith up. Keith brushed his hands off on his pants while Shiro picked up the bag and slung it over his shoulder. Keith tilted his chin up and Shiro turned around, coming face to face with a view of a lake. 

It wasn’t a large lake by any means; they could easily see to each end of it. But it was very still, save for a few ripples, and mirrored its surroundings beautifully. There were small inlets surrounding the lake, but the ledge they climbed descended down into the biggest one, where there was enough sand to host a quite a few people. The lake wasn’t too popular, as there was a bigger one just ten minutes down the road, but it was all for the better—it was rarely occupied. Today, it was empty.

Keith came here more frequently in the summer, when him and his housemates came for their yearly inaugural summer beach trip. It was still too cold to go in the water, but Keith still briefly entertained the thought of bringing Shiro along on one of those trips. Keith hated himself a little for the fact that the first thing he thought of was not a shirtless, sun-kissed Shiro in the water, but a triumphant Keith and Shiro claiming victory over the twin chicken-fighting terrors, Pidge and Lance.

“Wow,” Shiro said, taking in the view, a soft smile on his face. “It’s gorgeous.”

“Yeah well,” Keith said, scratching the back of his head. “It’s too cold to swim right now.”

“Is it now?” Shiro said, and Keith could hear a slight challenge in his voice. He was so, so sorely tempted to say that no, maybe not, maybe you should strip down and test it out. However, he knew from past experience that a wet motorcycle ride back was definitely low on the list of pleasant experiences.

He voiced as much to Shiro, who seemed to contemplate it seriously.

“This is not a thing to think about,” Keith said flatly and Shiro. “You’re going to actually get sick if you try. Speaking of, why were you playing hooky?”

Shiro opted to leave Keith hanging, and walked to the edge of the lake, looking down at the sand. Keith took a moment to appreciate Shiro’s silhouette, before joining him and elbowing him, trying to get him to answer.

“Sometimes it’s hard to function,” Shiro said sagely. “Sometimes, you go out drinking after the gym and you forget that you have responsibilities the next day.”

“You skipped because you were hungover?” Keith asked, somewhat incredulously because Shiro looked like he pretty much embodied discipline and responsibility and definitely not mid-week drinking. He voiced that out loud, and Shiro let out a chuckle.

“I wish I was as responsible as I appeared,” He said wistfully. “I stayed back to mark work too, if it makes it any better.”

“That’s even worse,” Keith replied. “Stick to the hangover story. We have to hop down over here.”

There was a worn, crumbling path leading down from the ledge to the ground, and Keith had to balance himself with one hand behind him on the ground as he half stepped and half slid down the rock face.

“What’s this place called?” Shiro asked from behind as he followed Keith down.

“I’m not sure, but we call it Bear Lake,” Keith replied, landing on his feet with a thump. “Hunk mistook a camper for a bear once, and ran screaming to his car. And drove away. With the rest of us still at the beach without a ride.”

Shiro gave an amused look as he landed, and walked past Keith towards the sandy beach. The sun had dipped in the horizon, turning large and red as it began to set. Shiro picked up a rock and skipped it, watching it bounce seven times before it plopped into the water.

Keith dropped his bag on the sand, joined Shiro, and picked up a rock. It skipped nine times. He let out a short heh, watching Shiro’s eyes narrow as he skipped another rock. Shiro tried again, and got it across thirteen times. Shiro made a thinly veiled attempt at hiding his smug look, especially when Keith’s next rock only bounced across five times.

“Now I actually have to kill you,” Keith deadpanned and felt two arms wrap around him. He looked down in confusion.

“Shiro, what—“ He began, then Shiro hoisted him up. “Dude, what are you-“

His eyes widened as Shiro started swinging him, dangerously close to the water. Keith let out an embarrassingly high pitched yelp and squirmed. Shiro’s grip was both strong and sure, but Keith was terrified that they would plop into the water with one small misstep.

“This is self-defence,” Shiro said happily, and Keith tried and failed to hold in his laughter.

“I’m still going to destroy you,” He informed Shiro and Shiro rumbled behind him, stepping even closer to the shoreline and dangling Keith over the gently lapping water. “If you get us wet, I’m leaving you here.”

Shiro turned them around and Keith managed to wiggle loose enough to plant his feet in the ground and shake free, before trying to push Shiro in as well. He caught Shiro off balance, and Keith’s eyes went wide as he watched Shiro tilt and pinwheel his arms right above the water. He managed to grab Shiro by the collar at the last second and yank him back, catching him in his arms and saving them both from disgrace.

Shiro spun them around and Keith followed—and it was infinitely better to watch Shiro’s flushed, exhilarated face in the reddening glow of the setting sun than it would have been to stare over a lake that Keith had seen a thousand times.

“Are you trying to get payback for Thursday?” Keith asked, laughing ducking out of Shiro’s arms and stepping back, waving his hands in front of him.

“I won that, just in case you don’t remember,” Shiro said, playfully swiping at Keith. Keith stuck out his tongue and caught Shiro’s arm, pushing it to the side. Shiro used that moment to swoop in on Keith. Keith prepared himself to fight out of a headlock, but Shiro just ended up ruffling his hair.

“So what about that soup, huh?” Shiro asked, carding fingers through Keith’s hair and tugging a little. “I’m sick, you know.”

They ended up climbing back up on the ledge, their legs dangling over the edge as they watched the last dregs of the sun set over the horizon. It was a shame that Shiro wasn’t actually sick— every time Hunk made borscht, Keith felt like someone had sent a blowtorch up both his sinuses and that he was incapable of ever getting a cold again. Shiro, it turned out, didn’t have that high a spice tolerance to begin with.  Keith looked over with great amusement as the other man’s face reddened upon the first sip.

“Is it okay?” He asked, feigning concern. “Hunk made it. I hope it’s not too spicy.”

“It’s amazing,” Shiro strained, taking another large gulp from the yellow thermos. “No, not at all.”

In what Keith figured was an attempt to put off drinking the soup for as long as possible, Shiro was very talkative. He grilled Keith on how exactly his session with Hira went (great), if her advice had helped (it did tremendously), and how far along him and Lance were on his project (Keith and Lance were ready for death).

“You’re almost at the finish line,” Shiro assured Keith, who stared out into the distance with a long-suffering look. “Next year is your final year, right?”

“Yeah,” Keith replied. “Are you going to be a teaching assistant again next year?”

Shiro shook his head. “I’m going to be sticking to just being a research assistant. I like classes but grading is the bane of my existence. I can cross being a professor off my list of career paths.”

“Shame,” Keith said. “You would have been amazing, Mr. Shirogane.”

“Don’t remind me,” Shiro groaned. “There are a bunch of people in class that still call me that, even though I keep saying Shiro is fine.”

“Why do you think that is?” Keith asked innocently, and Shiro gave him a glare that was hampered by the pink in his face from the heat of the soup.

“Contrary to what others think, I’m highly observant,” Shiro said, taking a long and pointed sip of his soup. His eyes started to water, and all of Keith’s mental effort went into not laughing at Shiro, instead of figuring out what exactly that meant. Keith had a bottle of water and a box of mango juice in his bag, but Shiro didn’t know that yet. Keith would of course offer it to Shiro—maybe after he finished more than half his soup.

The spice had eventually gotten to Shiro enough that he started to overheat and had to take off some layers.

“Are you sure? It’s going to get chilly,” Keith pointed out and found himself with a face full of cloth. “Hey, I just want to make sure you’re not going to get sick.”

“I’m going to fail you and Lance,” Shiro muttered bitterly. He saw Keith’s eyebrows raise and he physically turned his head away from Keith, trying to hide him wiping his nose. Keith snickered anyways, and Shiro huffed.

“Where’d you get the number from?” Keith asked, folding over the jacket Shiro had kindly thrown at him. Under the giant white SHIROGANE, there was a white 29 stitched in.

“My birthday’s on the 29th of February,” Shiro replied and Keith made a disgusted face. “What?”

“How old does that make you?” Keith said, and Shiro levelled him with an extremely unimpressed look.

“There’s nothing new you can say,” Shiro said, nudging Keith’s shoulder. “I’ve heard them all before.”

“Good,” Keith said, nudging back. “You can hear them again. Starting with the question: Isn’t it past your bed time?”

“It is,” Shiro replied blandly. “I got whisked away by a boy on a bike.”

“Cool,” Keith commented. “Did you sit on the handlebars or stand on the spokes at the back?”

Shiro decided to preserve his dignity and not reply, which was a shame really. Keith had a stupid need to ask Shiro how attached exactly was he to the jacket, and would it be too much for Keith to wear it around campus constantly? Instead he opted to gently goad Shiro into drinking more soup.

Shiro’s face had gone beet-red as he finally drew out the last drops of soup. He had long given up on trying to keep wiping at his eyes and nose, instead using his jacket sleeve as one big face tissue at the end. Keith hated himself for still wanting to hold onto it.

“Are you still sick?” Keith asked sweetly, and Shiro gagged slightly. “You look a lot clearer now.”

He dug into his bag and presented the water bottle to Shiro, who lunged for it. He finished it in almost one gulp and took one gasping breath before making grabbing motions for the mango juice.

“Thank you for the soup,” Shiro wheezed, tongue lolling out as he tried to use the air to cool his mouth down. “I appreciate the thought.”

“Hey, I didn't make it,” Keith said, taking his time plucking the carton out of his bag. “I just picked out the thermos. The biggest one, because I didn’t know how sick you were.”

Shiro let out a dry chuckle at this, then coughed. He drank the mango juice a little slower than he finished the water, allowing it to coat and soothe his throat.

“Thanks by the way,” Shiro said, voice a little more normal. “Genuinely. For taking me here. It’s really nice.”

“It’s no problem,” Keith shrugged. “You should come with me and my friends in the summer. If you want.”

Shiro hummed. He looked contemplative for a moment, sipping on the juice as he stared out into the distance.

“I should take you on a drive once,” Shiro said, sounding almost a little diffident. 

“You’ve driven me multiple times,” Keith frowned, and Shiro shook his head.

“No, I mean on a drive,” Shiro explained. “We’ll do something cool.”

“Donuts in the parking lot?” Keith asked and Shiro gave him a little shove. “Gee, I don’t know how I feel about joyriding with a minor.”

“I’m being serious,” Shiro said. “After your last exam, I’ll take you out somewhere. Somewhere cool.”

Keith turned to properly look at Shiro, who was giving him a soft smile. The sun had set and the twilight cast a soft indigo glow across his face. The stars weren’t fully up, but the north star twinkled in the distance above Shiro’s head. Keith’s lips twitched up into his own earnest smile.

“Yeah,” He said. “I’d like that.”

They looked at each other for a second longer till Shiro took an unusually loud slurp of the juice, breaking the moment. Keith winced at the sound and Shiro noticed; he shuffled closer towards him and sucked loudly through the straw again repeatedly. Keith swatted at him, managing to grab the juicebox but Shiro's reflexes were too quick and he caught Keith's wrist in a death grip. Keith crushed the box, causing some of the liquid to eject out at Shiro. He let out an indignant sound and dropped Keith's hand, and Keith gave the slightest attempt at hiding a smug grin.

“We should get out of here,” Keith said, pointedly ignoring Shiro’s pout. “Before it gets too dark.”

“What, no star gazing?” Shiro asked and Keith shook his head. Keith wanted to—he really could not think of anything better in the moment than lying down on the rock into the early hours of the morning, counting constellations. Sadly, he had to go back to both reality and his home, where a hefty workload was waiting for him.

"Next time," Keith suggested, and Shiro seemed to be content enough with the answer.

They hopped down the other side of the ledge, Keith turning his phone flashlight on to see through the trees, looking for the cleared path home. They made their way through in relative silence, Keith concentrating on making sure they weren’t disturbing any burrows or god forbid, real bears (The Hunk incident had also left them all just a little on this side of paranoid). He held on to Shiro’s wrist, for safety purposes; Keith was sure that losing Shiro in the woods would be a sour way to end their outing. Shiro didn’t really complain, and gave Keith a reassuring smile every time he turned back to check on Shiro.

By the time they made it to the parking lot, the night sky was fully illuminated by the stars. Keith switched the visors on their helmets before handing one to Shiro and plopping the other one onto his head.  In the midst of Keith fumbling with his chin strap, he caught Shiro staring at him.

“What?” He asked, wincing as the buckle pinched the underside of his jaw. Shiro looked at him pensively for a moment, as if he was mulling over what to say.

“I have a question,” Shiro said, then stopped. Keith counted to ten in his head before prodding him with a “Yes?”

“Okay,” Shiro started again, and got a pinched look on his face. Keith had no idea of what to make of that, and decided to just wait it out.

“You seem to be well liked by your friends,” Shiro said and Keith stared back at him.

“I suppose,” Keith replied slowly. “That’s why they’re my friends.”

“Have you ever been in an…awkward situation with any of them?” Shiro said, his brow furrowing deeper. “That you thought would kill the friendship?”

“Yeah, the first few months of any friendship I’ve ever had,” Keith frowned. “People normally don’t take well to me because they think I’m closed off, but it just takes me longer to connect sometimes.”

“Well,” Shiro said, reaching out to give Keith an awkward pat on the shoulder.  “I’m glad we managed to get along well.”

“You could say that,” Keith was confused about where exactly this was going. Shiro looked like he was two seconds away from tripping face-first onto his words, and the only thing holding him up was his hand on Keith. “What’s up?”

Shiro took a deep inhale in, and Keith waited in anticipation.

“How would you go about rejecting someone?” Shiro blurted out, and Keith blinked. “A friend, to be specific?”

“Uh,” Keith said, because he had no idea why on earth Shiro would be asking him this question. “How good of a friend are they?”

“They’re recent,” Shiro said. “But I like them enough? They are probably someone I would want to stay friends with. But I think they’ve been hinting at more lately.”

“Are you sure?”

“Maybe ninety-five percent. I’m kind of surprised,” Shiro fiddled with the straps of his bag. “I feel like it might not be fully appropriate, given that they’re aware of a... situation.”

“You said a lot of words but gave no information,” Keith pointed out and Shiro winced but remained quiet.

It took around three seconds for it to click in Keith’s head that there was only one new-ish friend who Keith knew of that who had any romantic intentions towards Shiro.

And that was Keith.

It might not be fully appropriate—  

“I’m probably not the best person to ask,” Keith replied hastily, trying to ignore the falling sensation deep within his gut.

Keith immediately figured that Shiro was asking so that in a roundabout way, he could figure out what the gentlest way to let down Keith would be. It would have seemed like a reach, but Keith had given Lance the same tactic in high school when he was trying to figure out how to let down a girl he had just become friends with. It worked terribly, and Lance hadn’t spoken to Keith for a month.

“But-“

“Just be straightforward with them,” Keith cut Shiro off before Shiro could continue. “The worst thing to do is to let them keep trying.”

It didn’t look like quite the answer Shiro was looking for, but Shiro nodded and put on his helmet. He flicked down his visor, which didn’t do much to hide his expression, but Keith decided to let it go.

Shiro must have caught the uncomfortable look on Keith’s face, and attempted to apologize.

“Sorry, that’s a really awkward thing to bring up,” Shiro said. “I know it’s no fun talking about.”

“It’s okay,” Keith said, bringing his own visor down and avoiding eye contact. “I’m glad you could confide in me. I’m sorry that I don’t have an answer though.”

“Eh,” Shiro shrugged. “I’ll figure it out.”

Keith’s stomach clenched a little as they took their seats on his motorcycle, Shiro immediately pressing up against him and wrapping his arms around his waist. Keith still allowed himself melt into the body behind him, because he was going to squeeze out whatever little joy he could, while he could.

He kept his mind blank while they drove, because Keith wasn’t risking swerving off the road just because he got a little too caught up in his feelings. But by the time they pulled up to Shiro’s apartment, he could not deny that his stomach had tied itself into a knot – despite the fact that Shiro could be talking about anyone, it’s not like Keith knew every instance of his life  – and that his hands were a little clammy from the nerves.

“Thanks again for thinking about me,” Shiro said as he handed his helmet and the backpack to Keith. “I almost feel bad for faking sick, but I had a lot of fun.”

“No problem,” Keith replied with a mumble, no quip at hand. He hooked the spare helmet back onto the backpack, before he was suddenly completely enveloped.

Shiro, it turned out, hugged like a warm blanket in the winter. Keith was still sitting on his motorcycle, his helmet still on with the visor up. The angle was awkward, his head felt clunky, and he had to put effort into not teetering off. Yet Keith had to resist clinging on to Shiro like a limpet, taking a deep inhale of his still lingering cologne like a pathetic wishful lover, or to give it away that he had a pretty good idea of who Shiro had been talking about.

When Shiro pulled apart from their embrace, he gave Keith a grin and tapped the side of his helmet.

“I’ll see you next week,” He said, patting Keith on the back.

Keith gave a half-hearted wave, and watched Shiro walk in to the lobby of the apartment building. Keith stared at the handlebars of his bike for a few minutes, at a loss of what to do.

Chapter Text

Keith had a simple way of dealing with problems when he got overwhelmed: he crawled into his basement den with a spoon and a jar of peanut butter, and stared at his ceiling till the spackle gave him the answers he needed. After he cleared out half the jar, he would roll over and sigh into the darkness, wondering if it would swallow him up.

Hunk’s truck was missing and the house was empty when he reached home, and he was glad that his roommates weren’t home to give him the third degree about his outing. Despite bubbling over with feelings, he wasn’t quite ready to give what would inevitably be emotionally constipated answers to friends who simply cared.

 Midway through rolling himself into a blanket burrito and contemplating a UFO documentary, Keith’s phone buzzed. He had gotten a text from Shiro— it was a picture of a younger Shiro at a birthday party. The cake in front of him had five jumbo candles on it, and he was wearing a violently colourful cartoon birthday hat. Behind him, a giant banner read HAPPY 5th BIRTHDAY and Shiro had a giant, goofy grin on his face.

Keith stared at the image a lot longer than he would admit to himself. He wanted to leave the text, wanted to continue wallowing till he regained enough energy to do his school work.

There was no reason, however, for him to ignore Shiro when Shiro clearly saw him as a friend. A friend that he liked enough to share a picture that many would qualify as embarrassing. Keith was still adamantly sure that Shiro had been hinting about Keith when they were talking, because he didn’t really know anyone else who fit the bill. There was the possibility that Shiro was getting close with another person, which sent a pang of jealousy ringing through Keith so he decided not to think about that anymore.

The best solution, Keith felt, was to compartmentalize. If he bottled up the emotions and kicked it under his bed, then it might eventually stop bothering him. He didn’t want to leave Shiro hanging though; that would just be a shitty thing to do as a friend. Keith set the image as Shiro’s contact photo, and scrolled through his cloud storage. He found a picture from his 19th birthday, which he had celebrated a week later during the Halloween party weekend. Pidge, dressed up as a pirate, was pretending to strangle Keith, who had on cat ears, a plastic pig nose, and was baring his dollar-store fangs. Hunk’s finger blurred the upper corner of the photo, and the corner of Lance’s head peeked in as he attempted a badly mistimed photobomb.

He sent it to Shiro, and waited three seconds before putting his phone on silent and rolling over. He pulled his laptop closer to himself and hit play on the UFO documentary. It was a shitty end to what would have been otherwise a great day, and Keith was ready to lose himself to the warm glow of his computer screen.

 


 

 

The next day, Keith was made to recount his adventure with Shiro. He had expected it, but he left out the part where Shiro had asked him how to reject someone (and his suspicions that the someone Shiro was talking about was Keith). His friends reacted the way he expected them too: Lance and Hunk re-enacted what Keith should have done while Pidge narrated, and Keith mused out loud how many home lobotomies it would take for him to forget how it looked like when Hunk pretended to be a “sexy” version of Keith. 

For the most part, they left Keith alone because they had to buckle down on school. Lance and Keith had a surprisingly productive few days, finishing a majority of their paper before their next session. The most Lance managed in the way of annoying Keith about it was drawing an extremely elaborate doodle of Keith and Shiro’s apparent future wedding, complete with Lance officiating on horseback. Lance and Shiro had been drawn beautifully, and Keith had been drawn like an angry tadpole with an exaggerated mullet.

“You put a lot of thought into this,” Keith said, tilting the paper and looking at Lance. “Did you put Professor Coran into this too?”

“He’s the wedding singer,” Lance explained. “He agreed to be my thesis advisor next year, so he gets in on this too.”

Keith scrunched his nose, but the drawing went up on the fridge, right beside the one Shiro had given him. It kind of sucked to look at, because it reminded Keith of an awkward conversation that was probably well on its way, but Keith was also a little fond of the giant heart eyes that Lance had given doodle-Shiro.

Keith figured that this relative calmness meant that he was going to be safe enough during their next tutoring session.

“I’m not asking realistically, Shiro, I’m asking ideally. No, don’t look at Keith, I’m asking you this question.”

He was wrong.

“Well it’s not a thing I really think about,” Shiro hummed. “In general.”

“None of the things coming out of your mouth are the answer to my question,” Lance pointed out and Shiro sighed.

It was bad enough that Keith’s stomach had twisted a little when they stepped into Shiro’s office, and Shiro gave them a friendly greeting and asked them how their week had been. Lance pointedly mentioned that they had spent the week whizzing around on Keith’s motorcycle (Keith had taken Lance on it one time, when it was two a.m. and the phrase “hot wings and fries” had made Keith unusually hungry and Lance was the only one up) and Shiro was more than happy to comment on what a great biker Keith was. That had more or less provided Lance a platform to propel off of, and Keith was ready to plummet through the floor of the office.

“Fine,” Shiro said. “Ideal date would be…to go to the moon. And have a picnic.”

“That…” Lance trailed off, eyebrows furrowing. “Is so lame.”

“You asked,” Shiro shrugged. “You’re missing a source in your bibliography.”

Keith was trying his best not to look like he was moping too much. It wasn’t supposed to be too hard, because he had a “resting murder face” according to Pidge, and everyone assumed he just looked like that regularly. However, he was in a room full of people who had seen him actually express himself before, and he knew if he gave away that he wasn’t feeling too great, Lance would announce it with a megaphone.

My ideal date would be on a small yacht, thanks for asking,” Lance said. “Off the coast of my private island.”

“That sounds more implausible than mine,” Shiro commented and Lance made a face at him.

“A man’s got jokes,” Lance said, and nudged Keith. “Keith?”

“Huh?” Keith replied because his brain was on the moon with an imaginary Shiro, both of them tethered to their spaceship as they shared a hoagie through their helmets. Somehow.

“What’s your ideal date?”

“My birthday,” Keith replied, just to see the reaction on Lance’s face because he didn’t even know where this train of questioning had started from. Lance hated lazy, corny jokes despite being the number one supplier for them in Keith’s life.

As predicted, Lance gave him a cutting look before pointedly re-opening the lid of his laptop to add their missing annotation. He managed to make it through approximately forty seconds of silence before piping up again.

“Are you going to be a TA again next year?” Lance asked and Shiro shook his head. “Why not?”

“I like people,” Shiro echoed what he had told Keith earlier on. “Don’t like grading though.”

“You would have made a good professor though,” Lance winked. “I feel like everyone would want to put in that extra credit work, right Keith?”

He gave Keith an encouraging look, and Keith returned it with a stony silence. Keith had no retort—he was going to try to get through this session without falling for Lance’s bait as much as possible, but Lance, like always, was determined to get a reaction.

“Don’t talk to me,” Keith replied.

“Oh that’s right,” Lance said. “You’ve already been putting in that extra time, right?”

Keith glared at Lance and flipped him off, while Lance kept wiggling his eyebrows.

“Focus,” Shiro said, voice stern but face a little pink. “This is due next week.”

“Yes, Mr. Shirogane,” Lance replied as sweetly as possible. “I’m sorry for being bad.”

Keith and Lance went back to their laptops while Shiro continued sifting through the hard copy of their paper. Lance turned his laptop towards Keith and nudged him. Keith looked over, and had to immediately restrain himself from groaning or rolling his eyes or really, doing anything that gave away that Lance was currently casually scrolling through Shiro’s Facebook profile. Keith was also extremely interested, but he didn’t want Lance to know.

Lance started to go through Shiro’s tagged photos. Shiro had never deleted any of his old ones, or set them to private, so Keith watched as Lance browsed through embarrassing grade school photos. Shiro had been a scrawny kid with a goofy smile and the ugliest hair cut imaginable, and Keith wanted every single one of those pictures framed. Both his robotic prosthetic and his bulk started making an appearance at the beginning of his undergrad career, and it was ridiculous how many shirtless pictures Shiro was in. Keith kind of wanted those framed as well.

He glanced up at Shiro, who was frowning at a particularly lengthy paragraph in their paper. Shiro looked up, catching him. He smiled, and Keith smiled back as Lance clicked on picture Shiro doing a keg stand in an violently pink pair of swim trunks. Keith’s inner melodrama was temporarily forgotten in favour of looking at another photo of Shiro at the same pool party.  He was holding up a plastic stein shaped like a boot, wearing a white snapback, and looking every inch a drunk frat boy. Lance pressed his lips into a tight line and Keith kept his expression as neutral as possible as Shiro gave them a questioning look before going back to their papers.

“Oh my god,” Lance mouthed. Keith squinted and pulled the laptop closer towards him and—yep, that was Shiro, sweaty and flexing in grey sweatpants and no shirt, in front of a gym mirror with a two other ridiculously built friends. “He’s one of those.”

It took a great amount of effort from Keith to tear his eyes away from Lance’s laptop and reconcile that image with the mild-mannered man sitting across from them, writing down helpful notes in the margins of their paper. Keith knew that given Shiro’s awkward questions over the weekend, thirsting over Shiro’s Facebook with Shiro in the room was maybe not the smartest thing to do and that— well, Keith had done a great job repressing it for five minutes, but the discomfort that came with re-remembering a floundering moment made itself very clearly known.

He tried to distract himself by going back to his work, but all he could do revisit Shiro’s questions on how to reject someone, that someone who Keith was completely convinced was him.

Keith would rather jump into a void than face rejection, or the emotional fallout that followed, but now he had to contemplate the possibility of setting up his own rejection. The thought of it made his palms a little sweaty and his heart a little heavy but—but really, what could Keith do at this point? Aside from afford his friend some respect and preserve his own dignity.

There was an audible, sharp intake of breath from beside him. Keith turned to look at Lance, and saw him going steadily paler. Keith looked at his screen and saw that Lance had accidentally liked a picture from two years ago, because Lance had clumsy fingers and that’s why Pidge was the resident FBI expert at their house. There was a small ping on Shiro’s phone, and Shiro picked it up.

“Really, Keith?” He said, voice flat but the corners of his lips twitching.

“What?” Keith asked, confused, eyes ripping back to the browser. He squinted and leaned in, and saw the little icon in the corner was…

… Keith’s display picture.

“How the hell are you on my account?” Keith demanded furiously, trying to reach for Lance’s laptop. Lance immediately shut the lid and grabbed it off the table, turning his body fully away as Keith made his best effort to reach for it.

“It was Lance?” Shiro asked as Keith managed to get his arms around Lance and reached for the laptop. Lance let out a loud squawk and pressed the laptop to his chest, turning further into himself.

“Log off my account!” Keith said, and Lance blew a raspberry in his face, the spittle landing directly on Keith’s eyes. “God – stop stalking people on it – how did you even get on?”

“You left it logged on!” Lance swatted Keith’s hands away. “On Internet Explorer too, Keith. Who’s really in the wrong here?”

“I’m going to destroy you,” Keith threatened and Lance scrunched his face up and parroted his words back, high-pitched. “I swear to god Lance— “

“Guys,” Shiro said from his desk, his reprimanding voice loud and sharp. “Cease and desist.”

There was enough sternness in his voice to make Keith and Lance freeze completely, one of Keith’s hands in Lance’s face and the other still reaching for his laptop.

“I don’t even want to know how you found my profile,” Shiro began. “But- “

“You have the worst privacy settings ever—” Lance cut him off, but Shiro cleared his throat loudly.

But I’ll let this slide. Just get back to work.” Shiro said pointedly.  “Hands off each other. There we go.”

Keith and Lance both retreated back into their seats at Shiro’s command, and Keith felt like a scolded toddler.

“Friday’s our last session, so I want you guys to have enough that you can comfortably finish your draft in time for next week’s due date.”

There was a beat of silence, then—

“Wanna know what Keith wants to do?” Lance quipped, and Keith’s hand twitched.

“Keith wants to throw Lance out the window,” He gritted out, interrupting before Lance could continue, and putting all his willpower into not doing what he just said.

“Wow, sounds like Keith’s feeling a little violent,” Lance chirped. “Sounds like he has a lot of pent up energy. Lance suggests Keith finds someone to- “

Keith’s hand shot out and grabbed Lance’s face, squeezing his cheeks till Lance couldn’t speak anymore. Lance grabbed his wrist and started kicking at him, landing a hard enough one on Keith’s shin for him to let go in surprise.

“Shiro would like us to all behave a little more appropriately,” Shiro said, giving a long-suffering sigh. “Perhaps like adults. Maybe.”

“Can I add you on Facebook?” Lance asked, ignoring Shiro and trying to reach out for Keith one more time.

“I’m scared of what will happen if I say yes,” Shiro said, warily eyeing the way Keith slapped away Lance’s hand.

“Only good things,” Lance intoned.

“Then no,” Shiro said, taking a mockingly official tone. “I don’t fraternize with students.”

“You literally got us kicked out of an ice cream shop last week, Takashi,” Lance said emphatically. “I didn’t see that anywhere in the curriculum.”

“Okay, but—”

“Didn’t see you throwing Keith around like it’s nothing on the curriculum either,” Lance said happily. “Did Allura show you the video yet? If you let us sell it, we can all go out for a nice dinner.”

“Ah well,” Shiro said, turning slightly red. “That’s not…you know. That’s all just for fun.”

“Yep,” Lance said slyly. “For fun. Just a couple of pals tossing each other around with no technique.”

“I’m serious,” Shiro tried but Lance already looked like an overly-pleased cat.

Keith’s suffering, on the other hand, multiplied within him despite his best efforts to have it not. He stared at the screen of his laptop. The clock in the toolbar said that they had around ten minutes left of their session, and Keith wondered if he was capable of handling Lance baiting Shiro and inadvertently reminding him of what was to come.

The answer to that was an emphatic no, so Keith decided to make a polite exit.

“I’m going,” He said, closing the lid of the laptop. “I… just remembered I have something to do.”

“All the things you need to do are in this room,” Lance said slyly and Keith pointedly ignored him as he packed his bag. Shiro gave him a questioning look, and even Lance looked mildly concerned at Keith’s lack of reaction.

“Are you sure you want to leave early?” Shiro said, frowning. “It’s our second-last session.”

“Yeah,” Keith said as he slung his bag over his shoulder and avoided eye contact with both of them. “We’ll be okay, we’re almost done.”

“If you say so,” Shiro replied. “I also wanted to talk to you though, after class. Are you going to be on campus?”

“He is,” Lance answered on his behalf but Keith shook his head.

“I'm not,” Keith said, voice stiff. “I have to go. Um, you can text me or email me though. Sorry.”

“Okay,” Shiro frowned, exchanging a look with Lance.

Keith paused when he saw that, wondering if leaving Lance and Shiro alone in the same room was the best idea. He decided it wouldn’t make things any worse than they already were, so he raised his hand in a half-hearted wave and slumped out of the room.

 


 

Lance found him an hour later at the school library, tucked away into one of the more private corners. Keith had figured that if he was going to mope, he would be productive with it and get one of his more painful assignments out of the way.  He was situated at a creaky lone desk in the reference section for a major Keith was pretty sure the University was in the process of phasing out, and no one ever came there, not even to make out. It wasn’t exactly a secret that this was Keith’s Corner of Loneliness so he wasn’t too surprised when Lance thumped his back and sat down on the only other chair at the table. 

“Hey man,” Lance said, kicking his feet up. “You okay?”

“Why wouldn’t I be?” Keith said curtly, doing his best not to make eye contact with Lance as he typed away on his laptop.

“You left really abruptly,” Lance replied, and Keith shrugged as nonchalantly as he could.

“Yeah well,” Keith said. “Our session was almost done anyways.”

“There were ten minutes left,” Lance pointed out. “Also, you had your weird sad face on almost the entire time.”

“I did not,” Keith huffed, but Lance shook his head.

“You looked like you ate a lemon,” Lance said. “And you didn’t hang back for your normal one-on-one with Shiro. Which by the way, I think he was disappointed about.”

“It’s not a regular thing,” Keith said, but Lance let out a laugh at that.

“It’s almost every single week dude,” Lance said. “Now tell Uncle Lance what’s got you down.”

Keith did kind of want to tell Lance because Lance would be able to tell Keith if Keith was being stupid, over-reacting, or was well-founded in his worries. However, regardless of how isolated his worn-down library desk was, Keith also didn’t want to recount the scenario in public—the discomfort would be monumental, and there was a really high chance that Lance would make fun of him for about ten minutes before providing any real help.

“It’s going to sound stupid if I say it out loud,” Keith said, flipping through the pages of one of his textbooks with more effort than required.

“Aw, is it Shiro related?” Lance asked. “Or is something else eating away at you?”

Keith opted not to answer, but his silence as he tried re-reading the same sentence multiple times gave Lance enough.

“What, did he do something dumb when you guys were out? Did he say something rude?” Lance asked and Keith shook his head.

“He didn’t do anything wrong,” Keith said. “It’s just…”

Lance raised an eyebrow as Keith trailed off.

“Dude,” He said. “What happened?

Keith sighed, pressing his lips together. He really was not in the mood to recount anything, but he knew Lance was not going to let up till Keith gave him something.

“Remember that girl in high school? The one with the weird hat collection,” Keith began. “The one I tried to give you advice on?”

“Plaxum?” Lance said. “And yes, listening to you was the worst decision ever. Why?”

“I think Shiro’s doing similar,” Keith said, looking at his hands, giving up his short lived pretense of reading. “I think he kind of implied that he knew I liked him, and was trying to figure out how to let me down.”

Lance was uncharacteristically silent. Keith looked up at him, and he was looking back with a confused frown, visibly processing the information that Keith had given him.

“Uh,” Lance started, then paused. “What? He said he doesn’t like you?”

“Not in as many words,” Keith replied. “And not that he didn’t like me, really. Just something about an inappropriate situation and whatever.”

“You need to tell me more,” Lance said, but Keith shook his head. “Seriously Keith, I have no idea what you’re saying right now.”

“Can I tell you at home?” Keith asked. “I don’t wanna talk about it here. I feel like you’re going to make fun of me for it anyways.”

“Undoubtedly so,” Lance affirmed. “But okay. I’m sure whatever it is though, you’re over thinking it.”

“I don’t think so,” Keith mumbled, and Lance let out an over-exaggerated groan and gave him a small kick underneath the table.

“Five bucks says you are,” Lance said. “He danced with you at Sal’s, Keith. I think he likes you.”

“He was drunk,” Keith pointed out. “And he doesn’t remember it, so it doesn’t count.”

“Okay, then what about last week?” Lance pressed. “You guys basically re-enacted a softcore video.”

“I’ll tell you the full thing tonight,” Keith sighed, pressing his fingers to his temples. “Can we just stop talking about it for now?”

Lance pressed his lips together, like it took him a lot of effort to not harangue Keith. To his credit, he didn’t bring the topic up again, instead pulling out his laptop so that he could talk with Keith as he made further edits to their paper for Slav’s class.

Maybe Keith was being a little too much, but he didn’t want to take his chance. Even as just a friend, he really liked Shiro and he didn’t want to screw things up in that sense. If he was going to get turned down, it would be fine—he would tamp down on whatever feelings he had if it meant that he got to keep Shiro as a friend.

Lance stayed for an hour more, working on the paper with Keith till he got a text from Hunk asking if he wanted to go see a movie. He gave Keith a mild warning that if he didn’t give Lance the full story tonight, Lance would come in with an air horn and a megaphone when Keith was fast asleep. Keith only grunted in reply, and Lance reiterated that he wasn’t kidding. 

It didn’t take long after for the words on both Keith’s screen and his textbook to start blurring together. He managed to eke out twenty more minutes of work before he dozed off mid-blink, chin propped up on his hand and drool trickling out. It was a testament to how isolated his nook in the library was, because not only had he ever been bothered or had stuff silently taken from him, but no one had posted an embarrassing picture of him sleeping on any of the school’s social groups.

He was woken up nearly forty minutes later, to the sound of his phone chiming. He startled awake, and considered going back to sleep but the message preview showed that it was from Shiro. Keith knew he should probably ignore it, but his knee jerk reaction already had him unlocking his phone.

Hey, are you ok?  The message read. You seemed a little down when you left.

Keith contemplated his reply; he didn’t want to send a paragraph vaguely wording what he felt, and he didn’t want to sound callous and closed off by sending a one word “Yeah”.

I’m ok, he typed out. Just end of year stress.

Keith pressed send, but his phone froze. He hit the send button again, impatiently tapping it. The screen of his phone turned black for a moment before lighting up again, dialling Shiro.

“Shit,” Keith cursed, and tried to frantically hang up.

His phone was having none of it, and refused to let him swipe and disconnect. Shiro must have been sitting with his phone in his hand, because the first ring was barely over before Keith heard a tinny “Hello?”

Keith swore under his breath again, but it was too late to hang up.

“Keith?” Shiro asked, voice faint as Keith still held his phone at arm’s length. “Hello?”

Keith took a second before bringing his cellphone to his ear, schooling his voice enough to sound like a normal human.

“Sorry,” Keith said, “My phone accidentally dialled you." 

“Oh,” Shiro replied. “That’s okay.”

“Yeah, sorry about that,” Keith mentally kicked himself for apologizing twice like a dweeb, but Shiro didn’t comment on it.

There was a pause, and Keith thought that Shiro had just hung up, before Shiro spoke again.

“Is everything okay?” Shiro asked. “I mean, you don’t have to tell me what if you don’t want to, you just seemed kind of down the entire session today.”

“Yeah,” Keith said, letting out a tired sigh and repeating the excuse he had given in class. “Just a lot of work, and a lot on my mind. I wasn’t feeling too great.”

“No?” Shiro’s voice was gentle and soothing, and Keith really wished it wasn’t the source of his current problems. “Are you feeling a little better now?”

Keith wasn’t, really, but he hummed a positive anyways.

“I think it’s just the regular end of year stuff,” He repeated somewhat clumsily. Opening up to people was always on the harder side; he either stayed shut like a clam, or he overshared and felt overwhelmingly embarrassed about it afterwards. “I’m just kind of overwhelmed with a lot of things at the moment." 

“Anything I can help with?”

Keith shrugged, then realized that Shiro couldn’t exactly hear that over the phone.

“It’s nothing I need help with,” Keith replied, but he knew he didn’t sound the most convincing. To his defense though, it was hard to sound convincing when Shiro had a genuinely caring tone while simultaneously being the reason Keith cordoned himself off in the library. Shiro saw through it in two seconds.

“Look—” Shiro said. “You can confide in my if you want, okay? I’m not saying you have to or anything. But if you want to talk, I’ll be here to listen.” 

Keith thought about it for a moment and if he was honest, a slightly petty part of him wanted to provide Shiro with the same amount of vagueness he had given him, and hint that he was upset that a friend was not being straightforward with him. But there was so much earnestness in Shiro’s voice, that Keith would have felt bad for saying anything but the honest truth to him.

“Thanks,” Keith said instead. “I appreciate it.”

Shiro hummed, and Keith decided to barrel on.

“For what it’s worth,” He said. “I do have some advice for what you asked me on Saturday. About rejecting someone.”

“Yeah?” Shiro asked.

“Yeah,” Keith said, trying not to show too much disappointment in his voice. “Just…what I said before. Be straight to the point. There’s no beating around the bush.”

“Wouldn’t being direct hurt though?” Shiro said and Keith shook his head before remembering yet again, that Shiro couldn’t see him.

“Rejection hurts less when it’s quick and not drawn out,” He said, hoping that Shiro got the hint to just cut it down on the spot.  “But make sure you’re really nice about it too, especially if you want to keep them as a friend. Maybe tell them something nice afterwards, like how much you value them.”

The silence on the other end seemed to draw out for ages and Keith steeled himself, ready to hear the words he’d been dreading since the weekend. 

“Okay,” Shiro said, and Keith’s eyebrows knitted in confusion.

“Okay?” He repeated.

“Yeah,” Shiro replied. “You’re right. I just need to build up the courage to do it.”

“Just rip the band-aid off as quick as possible,” Keith said, one step away from saying just end me now. “Put them out of their misery.”

Shiro laughed lightly on the other hand. “I need to think of what to say exactly. It’s going to put me in a really weird position with them, and I don’t want that. I’d like to remain friends with them.”

“I think you’ll be fine,” Keith replied. “Just say you appreciate them as a friend, but you’re not interested in them as more. But uh, point out why you think they’re a good friend. So that they don’t secretly cry into their pillow at night. Which is a possibility.”

“I guess,” Shiro said, stopping Keith from rambling on further. Keith practically hear Shiro think over the line, and the call was growing more and more awkward. Keith decided to take the initiative.

“Well,” Keith said. “I’ve got to go now. Good luck with your thing.”

“Thanks,” Shiro’s voice sounded like he was still thinking about what Keith had said. “I appreciate the advice. A lot. And I hope whatever has got its foot on you, eases up.”

“Me too,” Keith said, and hung up without any preamble.

He slumped back in his chair and stared at his phone. It blinked with the call duration before  vibrating and going fully black. He didn’t bother turning it back on, lest it curse him again. Keith decided that the best course of action would to be to simply not think, and to continue plodding along with school work till the library announced its closure. If he got some actual work done at school, he would at least be able to crawl into his hovel to wallow as soon as he got home without the added worry of knowing he was procrastinating on school.

 


 

By the time Keith reached home and parked his motorcycle in the garage, he was feeling significantly better. The Shiro problem was still residing in the forefront of his brain but he had managed to knock out so much work in the hours he spent at the library, that he was feeling relatively light. There was the possibility that, for the next couple of nights, he might even be able to get a good eight hours of sleep, and that thought alone cheered Keith up just a little.

It was also why he was feeling a little more giving than normal, and when he spotted a familiar lumpy figure on the sofa on his way to the kitchen, he decided to make true on telling Lance what had happened.

Lance was lying down with a mask on and his phone sitting on his chest, playing classical music. He raised a hand in greeting to Keith, and Keith lumbered towards him. Upon closer inspection, Keith noted that it was a grey clay mask. Lance, under no circumstances, ever cracked a clay mask before his twenty minutes were up.

Initially, Keith was just going to grunt out a short story to Lance before retreating to his basement-cave. Yet suddenly, seeing that Lance wouldn’t be able to snark him or visibly react in an agitating manner, Keith had the urge to lament properly to Lance.

“Did you just put that on?” Keith asked and Lance nodded. “Good, I can tell you my story now.”

He flopped down on the couch, landing hard on Lance’s legs. Lance, having once put out an oven fire courtesy of Pidge without cracking his mask, just let out a short exhale through his nose.

“When I went out with Shiro,” Keith started, and Lance stared at the ceiling unblinkingly. “It went well for the most part, I think." 

Lance gave him a thumbs up, and Keith continued.

“This is what I’m stuck on though,” Keith began as he heard footsteps thud into the kitchen. He twisted his head, and gave a short wave to Pidge and Hunk.

“How’s your review going?” He asked as Pidge poured out a bowl of Froot Loops.

“I hate everything,” She said, bringing both bowl and box over to the couch. “I want to listen to this story though. Do you have more to share about your date?”

“Wasn’t a date,” Keith replied, and Pidge plopped down on an unflinching Lance’s knees. Keith could see a single tear form in Lance’s left eye, but he gently dabbed it away with his middle finger before presenting the digit to Keith and Pidge. “We just went out for a ride.”

Pidge narrowed her eyes at him, and he sighed before adding a, “During the sunset, by the lake, I know.”

“That’s called a date,” Pidge said, jabbing a spoon in his direction. “Do you want to fight me on this? I have a mock test that I’d love to keep putting off.”

“Whatever,” Keith said. “I was telling Lance earlier today that Shiro said something weird to me on Saturday.”

“Yeah?” Pidge said as she refocused her hands and tried to tickle Lance under his jaw. Lance grabbed her wrist and shot her a threatening glare with his eyes, but the rest of his face remained stoic. “What was it?”

“Wait for me,” Hunk called out, and came over with a plate of sliced cucumbers. He placed two on top of Lance’s eyes, ignoring the noise of protest Lance made, and flopped onto the arm chair directly across from them.

“Is this a group effort now?” Keith asked, and Hunk expertly threw a slice of cucumber at his face. It hit Keith in the face, slid off his nose, and fell onto his shirt. Keith picked it up and took a bite.

“Lance texted me about it earlier today,” Hunk said. “He said you were upset about something, and that we should help. I’m also waiting for my calc lectures to finish downloading.”

“Thanks for the concern,” Keith said laconically. He made himself more comfortable, which was no easy feat on Lance’s bony legs. Lance’s muffled grunt of discomfort did make him feel a little better.

“Okay,” Keith started. “He asked me how to reject someone.”

Keith really had thought that was enough, but by the waiting looks on Hunk and Pidge’s face, he knew he had to elaborate and explain himself further.

“He said he was friends with that person and that it was fairly new, but he was ninety-five percent sure that the person was hitting on him. He sounded pretty uncomfortable about it too. And he said it was a surprise, and it was inappropriate given the situation.”

“And you said?” Pidge asked around mouthful of cereal.

“Just…to be blunt? But to be nice about it.” Keith replied. “And uh, to tell them that he wants to stay friends. And to compliment them a little maybe to ease the blow.”

“Okay, and this is related to you…”  Hunk gestured towards Keith. “How?”

“I think I’m the friend,” Keith explained. “He said it was a new friend, which would be me.”

“I’m sure someone who looks like that makes new friends on the regular,” Hunk said and Pidge nodded along with him.

“How are you sure it’s you?” Pidge pressed. “I think you guys have known each other for a while now, right?”

“Just from the beginning of the semester. And,” Keith started to list. “I’ve taken him to the movies and I showed up at his place on Saturday, which is probably very obvious. Also Lance always acts like a shitty wingman when we’re all together.”

Lance shifts his feet underneath in protest, but Keith was planted too well.

“It didn’t sound like he brushed you off during any of this,” Pidge said. “Plus, Lance has been telling us stories about the two of you when he’s there. I think the road goes both ways.”

“Yeah, and what about that night at Sal’s?” Hunk pointed out. “He looked pretty into you there.”

“And when he was trying to pin you down in that sparring video,” Pidge added. “Which, by the way: disgusting. I can’t believe you forgot how to fight. Also, I think knowing him for a few months disqualifies you from being a new friend.”

“But what if that was all like,” Keith waved a hand vaguely in front of him, ignoring the second half of Pidge’s statement. “Platonic?”

There was a pin drop silence. Pidge and Hunk looked at Keith with blank stares, while Lance picked up one of the cucumbers off his eye to glare at Keith.

“What?” Keith asked.

“Well,” Hunk said, popping the last slice of cucumber in his mouth. “It’s time for me to go to check my downloads.”

Hunk heaved off the armchair and walked out of the living room, placing his empty cucumber plate on Lance’s chest and giving Keith an exasperated look before departing. Keith watched him leave, and turned to Pidge who looked similarly fed up.

“What?” He repeated himself, and she shook her head.

“I think he’s talking about someone else,” She said. “Have you seen him? He’s probably got like three different people hitting on him at any given time.”

“That doesn’t make me feel any better,” Keith grumbled.

“You’re probably the only one he spends his free time with,” Pidge said. “He’d have told you if you were being weird. In a way that he didn’t like, anyways.”

“But then he asked me how to reject the person, and remember in high school when Lance– “

“Shh,” Pidge said, pressing her finger to Keith’s lips as she took another bite of cereal. “No one would ever be idiotic enough to do that outside of you two. You need to stop doing these mental gymnastics and just relax.”

Keith was about to retort but was interrupted by the sound of a phone alarm. Pidge let out a sudden squeal as Lance poked her in the side. She fell over, curling over her bowl of cereal so that it wouldn’t fly everywhere.  Lance jiggled his legs, kicking them until he he got enough space to yank them out from under Keith. For good measure he tried to stick his toes in Keith’s face but Keith smacked them away. Lance had eaten one of the two cucumbers hunk had placed on his eyes, and had accidentally dropped the other.

“He’s definitely probably talking about someone else,” Lance said, rising up, Hunk’s plate in hand. His mask cracked as he spoke, making him look very much like an expressive golem.  “You know what that means.”

“I don’t,” Keith watched Pidge roll onto her back and place the bowl on her belly.

“We must kill the competition,” Pidge stated, nodding at Lance as she took another spoonful of cereal. “I’ll find out who it is, and Lance will execute.”

“I told you,” Keith said, picking up one of Pidge’s froot loops that had fallen on the couch and popped it into his mouth. “It’s probably me, because otherwise I think Shiro would have told me the person’s name.”

“What if it’s a classmate?” Pidge pointed out. “He probably doesn’t want you making fun of them behind their back.”

“It’s not any of our classmates,” Keith said almost immediately.

“What, you know what he’s doing every hour of the day?” Pidge asked, propping herself up on one elbow. “As far as I’ve heard, you’re the only person in your class that he really spends time with. Enough that now Matt knows of your existence outside of me.”

“He does?” Keith asked, and Pidge nodded. “What did he say?”

“That Shiro likes hanging out with you,” Pidge shrugged. “Then we moved onto a more interesting topic.”

“See?” Lance said, stretching his arms upwards and rotating his shoulders before placing a hand gently on Keith’s shoulder. “Stop being a piece of shit.”

“Thanks,” Keith said, voice dry. “I appreciate your kind words.”

“We’ll find out for sure tomorrow,” Lance assured. “It’s our last session, so if there’s any time for him to tell you if it’s you, it’s tomorrow.”

“What about our exams? He’s going to be there too,” Keith said. “Remember how I said he mentioned something about inappropriateness? Maybe he’s referring to being my TA?”

“He’s just a teaching assistant,” Lance said. “It’s not like he controls our final mark or anything. But even if that’s the case, then it stops being a problem right after we finish for the year. And I don’t think he’d make a big deal, given that it’s only a few weeks away.”

There were a few seconds of silence where— well, Keith had to admit Lance maybe, just maybe, had a small, minuscule point.

“Are we done then?” Pidge asked, when no one had spoken, folding her arms behind her head to rest on them. “Do you understand why you’re wrong?”

Keith, despite his best attempts to not look like a petulant toddler, crossed his arms over his chest and nodded. 

“Good,” She replied, closing her eyes.

“Shouldn’t you be studying?” Keith poked her with a toe but she grunted in return. He wondered briefly when the last time someone vacuumed was, but decided not to dwell on it.

Lance got up and stretched again, picking at the crumbling bits of his mask and cracking his knuckles a lot louder than was necessary.

“Worry not, Keith,” Lance said, picking up Hunk’s plate and Pidge’s cereal box. “It’s nothing to worry about. Plus, I can always change his mind, if you know what I mean.”

“Do not,” Keith warned half-heartedly, but Lance just gave him a big wink in return.

  


 

By the time their final session rolled around, Keith had gotten some time to ruminate a little more on what his friends had told him. There was as they suggested, a chance that he was overthinking things just a little despite him being certain that he had a basis for his worries. However, his final conclusion was that his friends, while well-meaning, were probably wrong. Mostly because if he did believe what they said, he would be setting himself up for a greater disappointment than what he was sure was already on its way.

He also concluded that if and when Shiro did gently turn him down, hopefully in the way that Keith had outlined, he would still make an attempt to be Shiro’s friend. He would still hang out with him and eventually, he would condition himself to not look at Shiro like he was a tall glass of water in the middle of the desert. It seemed simple enough, despite Keith knowing deep inside that the suggestion was akin to attempting to put out a giant fire with a small spray bottle.

It was with this naïve and optimistic attitude that Keith entered their final session. They had put the finishing touches on their project, and had to put it through one last review with Shiro before they submitted it the Monday after. It was a shorter session, a fraction of the time of their normal ones, because Shiro said his own work was piling up and Lance and Keith both felt bad that Shiro had been giving up so much time being dragged into a mess that he really had no hand in.

Shiro gave them both a warm smile as they entered the office, and Keith returned it in an attempt to not look as surly as he did during their last meeting. Keith briefly wondered how Shiro could still look bright and energetic, even as the school year drew to an end, then remembered that his new objective was not to think about how good Shiro looked.

As they sat down, Lance had the face of a man with great purpose and determination, and it reeked of trouble to Keith. It worried Keith that Lance had the expression of a particularly devious leprechaun, especially because prior to their meeting, Lance had chosen not to wax lyrical for once about how he was going to be the best wingman ever.

This could also mean that, like Keith, Lance’s soul had packed its bags and had left Lance’s body in the wake of finals and exams, and that Lance would look like a cartoon villain till the semester was officially over, regardless of what was actually going on in his head. The silence was more terrifying than anything Lance had ever threatened.

“How’s your project going?” Shiro asked as Keith and Lance settled in. “Ready to hand it in next week?”

“Not at all,” Lance replied. “It’s done, but it’s a steaming pile.”

“Slav asked us the same thing in class,” Keith added. “But he had a really weird smile on.”

“An evil smile,” Lance concluded, and Shiro gave them an amused look.

In reality, while Keith was still not completely sure if their work was garbage or not, he felt fairly confident in it. Lance had also mentioned offhandedly that he had compiled a small amount of academic blackmail on Slav should they get a less than satisfactory mark. When Keith asked him to explain further, Lance went silent and got a funny look in his eye. Keith had accepted it as a good enough answer.

Keith pulled out his laptop and the copy of their paper that they had printed out. It was in a dark forest green folder because they had once overheard Slav talk about how soothing that colour was to Allura, and they were trying to pull out any stop they could with this project.

Keith initially was planning to keep a keen eye out for Shiro’s behaviour, to see if there was any tell or anything giving away that he was about to have a very uncomfortable discussion. Keith didn’t think he’d do it in front of Lance, but he knew that if Shiro asked him to stay after class to talk, Lance would be pressed against the door with an ear trumpet.

Sadly, Keith forgot that he should have also probably placed a muzzle on Lance because Lance decided to dive right into it, and show absolutely no mercy for Keith’s predicament.

“So I heard Keith took you to the lake,” Lance said, folding his hands behind his head as he leaned back in his chair and looked at Shiro. “How was that?”

“It was nice,” Shiro replied, flipping open the folder. “Keith told me about its namesake. Did Hunk really leave you guys without a ride?”

“For almost nine hours,” Lance said. “Keith got so sunburnt he looked like a lobster. I’ll show you a picture.”

“You will not,” Keith directed, eyeing Lance’s hand digging into his pocket. Lance stopped, shot Keith a grin before addressing Shiro again.

“We all take a trip to the beach at the beginning of every summer,” Lance said. “You should come with us this year.”

“I’ll see,” Shiro said, scratching the back of his head before returning his attention to the folder. Keith grimaced internally, because he had been planning to ask Shiro to come too, but Shiro’s less than enthusiastic response didn’t give him any high hopes. Lance, however, was not deterred.

“Pidge and I always destroy Hunk and Keith in the chicken fights,” Lance said. “Maybe if you came, Keith would have a fighting chance.”

“You don’t destroy us,” Keith protested. “You cheat.”

“Keith,” Lance said. “You and Hunk have literally all the advantages over me and Pidge and yet, without fail, you still lose badly.”

“I have a hard time believing that,” Shiro said, nodding at Keith. “Keith seems to be skilled at fighting.”

“Yeah? Does he?” Lance shot back. “Didn’t you completely dominate him when you fought him?”

The tips of Shiro’s ears went a little red at that. A little alarm went off in Keith’s head, and he tried his best to distract Lance from where this topic was most definitely heading.

“Lance likes highlighting every time I lose at something,” Keith explained hastily. “It makes him feel good, because it doesn't happen so often.”

“Does it really?” Lance asked, and Keith was honest-to-god ready to shove Lance’s laptop down his throat the next time he questioned anything. “You want to know what else makes me feel good, Keith?”

“Absolutely not,” Keith said firmly, despite knowing that his answers meant nothing to Lance.

“Being pressed down by a big, well-built guy because I suddenly forgot how to spar,” Lance tapped a finger to his lips contemplatively. “It’s a lot of fun. What do you think?”

“Stop talking,” Keith hissed, giving Lance a warning look. It was to no avail, because Lance just gave him a wicked smirk in return.

Shiro on the other hand, had made a concentrated effort to only focus on reading through their project, and had started writing notes in the margins in handwriting that was exponentially neater than anything Keith had ever seen.

“We can’t all be lucky like you, Keith,” Lance said, voice almost wistful, and Keith was about to destroy him. “Not all of us can be put down by an Adonis.”

“That’s a very kind comparison,” Shiro said lightly, and there was a faint blush across his face. “But let’s talk about your project for a second.”

It was a transparent attempt to stop Lance, because Shiro’s talk took all of thirty seconds, where he had to correct their citation format. Keith stared blankly at Shiro, because it was so blatantly ineffective in stopping Lance and Lance resumed harassing Keith with no compunction.

 Keith’s phone pinged, and he saw that Lance had texted him from under the table.

 

He still looks @ you like he wants to eat you, the message read.

 

“I’m serious about the beach trip,” Lance said to Shiro, voice nonchalant like he hadn’t just set Keith’s face on fire. “We have a lot of fun, and Hunk does the best barbecue.”

“It sounds like fun,” Shiro said, this time a little more genuinely. “I appreciate the invite.”

“And we’d appreciate your presence,” Lance said. “Preferably shirtless, and in the most obnoxious bathing suit possible.”

“I’ll try my best,” Shiro humoured Lance, though he looked like he was starting to regret that the exchange was happening at all. “But I can’t make any guarantees.”

“No pressure,” Keith tried to assure him, and Lance snorted beside him. “Only if you want to.”

“He does, Keith,” Lance spoke before Shiro could say anything. “Stop giving him a way out. Let the man run around naked with us."

“I will give you five dollars to shut up,” Keith said flatly, as Shiro spluttered. Lance seemed to consider it so as an incentive, Keith dug his wallet out of a pocket, and put the bill on the table in front of them. Lance stared at it, then made a move to pocket it. Keith pinned it to the table with his hand.

“Only after you stay quiet for at least fifteen minutes” Keith said, and Lance gave him a dirty look. He took the bait anyways, and crossed his arms over his chest, letting out a small indignant huff.

To his credit, Lance managed to stay quiet till Shiro had finished going through their entre paper. This was due to him harassing Keith through messages instead. Keith pinned the note down with one hand, and scrolled through endless texts from Lance. They alternated between assuring Keith that even if Shiro was going to reject him Uncle Lance was going to take care of the problem, and detailing to Keith the pickup lines he was going to use when he was allowed to speak again. They were all painfully horrible, and by the eighth one, Keith set his phone to silent and dumped it in his backpack.

Lance mouthed a no fun to him, and Keith gave him the finger before turning to watch Shiro.

Shiro held the cap of his pen between his teeth as he looked intently through the papers. After Lance had not said a word for more than a minute, Shiro had reverted back to working through their paper. He hummed at a couple of parts, and frowned and scribbled at others, reading out some of the sentences to himself.

Occasionally, he’d look up at Keith and Keith would give him a friendly smile, and he’d give a soft one back. Each time that happened, Lance looked like he was bursting at the seams. Keith had a sneaking suspicion that it would take him a lot longer to get over Shiro than he thought, but he pushed that aside to instead enjoy the relatively comfortable silence the three of them sat in.

Near the end of the hour, Shiro had almost finished editing their entire work. In that same amount of time Keith had put together the world’s worst study guide for another one of his classes, while Lance had spent a significant amount of time zooming in and out of a dozen “Where’s Waldo?” pictures online.

“Well,” Shiro said, scribbling down a couple more corrections beside their work. “Congratulations. You’re almost at the end.”

“Both metaphorically and physically,” Lance mused. “I feel like Slav’s going to set this on fire the moment we submit it.”

“I think he hates us,” Keith supplied, letting go of the five-dollar bill, watching as Lance’s hand shot out and grabbed it. “He lets out a really loud sigh every time he calls our name out on attendance.”

“Don’t be too hard on yourselves,” Shiro said encouragingly. “You guys are going to do great. And of course he doesn’t hate you.”

“Slav told me I sneezed too hard during the last class,” Lance pointed and Keith had to agree, because Slav had first called out Keith for it. “He said it was the indicator of a weaker man.”

 Keith and Lance were both significantly more insulted that Slav had mixed them up, which didn’t help their case because Slav had dressed them down when they pointed it out, and went onto a spiel about public sneezing, saying that-

“It throws off the balance of his teaching flow,” Shiro parroted like he had heard it a million times, and Keith suddenly realised that grading was probably not the only reason that Shiro wasn’t going to be a teaching assistant the next year. “Seriously guys, just make sure you look at my suggestions and do one final spell check before you hand it in and you’ll be golden. You two are smart.”

“Thanks,” Lance sniffed lightly. “That’s the nicest thing anyone’s said to me. I’m going to miss you deeply, Shiro.”

“He lives ten minutes away from us,” Keith couldn’t help but point out, despite the fact that he was going to do his best to make sure Lance never found out the exact location.

“But you won’t tell me where,” Lance said plaintively.

“And I never will,” Keith replied firmly, Shiro shooting him a smile that much to Keith’s amusement, had a little bit of relief in it.

Shiro handed Keith back the folder, and Keith was relieved to see that the paper inside wasn’t as marked up in corrections as their previous iterations were. Shiro had even added little smiley faces where their work was especially good, and each one had a little line across the nose. It was painfully adorable and Keith could cry. 

“What are you doing after this?” Lance asked as he shut his laptop lid. “Are you busy?”

“I have a meeting with a few students,” Shiro replied. “I think they want help with the exam review. I think they’re coming in a few minutes after you guys leave.”

“Wait,” Lance said, pulling an exaggerated pout. “Another appointment? Are you seeing other people?”

Shiro gave a short laugh at that. “It’s close to the end of the year. A lot of people want help.”

“I’m just upset that your world doesn’t revolve around us,” Lance said, mock hurt. “I’m going to cry about this tonight.”

“You and me both,” Shiro rolled his eyes good-naturedly as they started to pack up their bags.

Keith was a little disappointed that he wouldn’t be able to hang out with Shiro after, even if Lance had been there for company. He tried to stop that train of thought because it made him sound a little needy and he needed to not be upset about how the session earlier in the week was a squandered opportunity.

 As they got ready to depart, a foolish part of Keith hoped that he would be able to walk out of the office without Lance acting weird or saying anything embarrassing. The realistic part of Keith knew that Lance never refused an opportunity to act like a complete idiot.

“Hey Shiro,” Lance said as they got up, and the tone of his voice immediately set Keith on guard. It indicated that Lance was up to no good and Keith wouldn’t put it past him to put Shiro on the spot and ask him what he was planning to do with Keith. Keith’s hands twitched, ready to throttle Lance at a moment’s notice.

 “Do you have any end-of-year celebration plans?”

“My year doesn’t end,” Shiro replied. “I have school in the summer too.”

“Yeah, but what do you do to unwind?” Lance prompted, Keith still extremely tense.

“You wanna make a suggestion?” Shiro shrugged, giving Lance the hook he needed.

The pit of his stomach gave out a little, and Keith knew exactly where this was going—Lance would make some reference to That Night which would either fly over Shiro’s head or embarrass him, and Keith would fall down a pit of despair because at this point, he couldn’t even hear the name Sal’s without thinking of a drunk Shiro swinging him around on a tiny dance floor.

“Maybe we should go to Sal’s,” Lance winked at Shiro, and Keith groaned internally at both his own bad luck and Lance’s predictability. “I heard you’re great at dancing, so I want to see for myself.”

“Uh,” Shiro said, sounding slightly flustered. “I’m not—uh.”

“Hah,” Lance said, looking at Keith and giving him a smirk. “I’ll take that as a yes. Don’t worry, Keith will pay.”

“That’s okay,” Shiro replied, waving his hands in front of them. Keith started to pull Lance by the top handle of his bag, trying to move them towards the door, but Lance was having none of it. “I appreciate the offer.”

“Aw, c’mon man,” Lance said, shoving out of Keith’s grip right before Keith opened the door. “You should let loose a little. It’s good for your health.”

“I’m more of a sleep-my-pain-away kind of guy,” Shiro said. Lance was clearly not picking up on the fact that Shiro was slowly getting uncomfortable. Lance wasn’t always the most perceptive person when he had a goal in mind. “My favourite place to unwind is my bed.”

Keith cringed on the inside, because Shiro unwittingly dumped a jug of kerosene on the Lance-shaped fire. There was literally no saving any of them right now, in any situation, and judging by Shiro’s expression and the fact that he had gone completely pink, he had clued into it too late. The only thing he could do was pray futilely that Lance didn’t run far, far away with the comment.

“Is that so?” Lance said, wriggling his eyebrows. “I know someone who’d be great at helping you relax then. Hint: he’s in the room.”

Keith was going to kill Lance. It would be too messy if he did it on the spot, so to compensate, Keith stepped heavily on Lance’s foot. Despite the pain in his eyes, Lance’s salacious grin was rock solid.

“Leave him alone,” Keith said, elbowing Lance, and Lance wholeheartedly ignored him.

“What?” Lance said innocently. “I’m trying to help a friend, Keith.”

Keith was about to say something cutting in return, but he caught the look on Shiro’s face. It made his hand freeze midway to Lance’s ear, which he had planned on using to tug Lance through the door. 

It looked slightly pained, like Shiro had reached an end of sorts. Shiro opened his mouth and then closed it twice, like he was trying to build up to saying something very difficult. It was very reminiscent of the time Hunk had to let down a girl who had asked him out in a very public manner, despite him having a partner at the time.

 A little bit of panic started to bubble up in Keith, because he had a vague idea of what was coming. And he really wished that Lance hadn’t egged Shiro on because he felt like that had ended up expediting the process.

A quick look at Lance confirmed that he caught it as well. They both turned fully towards Shiro and stared, waiting for him to speak, and Shiro seemed to fold a little under the new scrutiny.

“Lance,” Shiro said quietly. “Can I talk to you?”

“Sure?” Lance replied, voice taking on a questioning lilt as both him and Keith did a small double take of surprise.

“In private,” Shiro emphasized and Lance frowned. Keith exchanged a puzzled glance with Lance and when he looked at Shiro, Shiro was staring at his hands. That was not something that Keith was expecting, and he did not know how to react.

“No,” Lance said simply, and Shiro looked pained.

“Are you sure?” He said uneasily. “This is a little…sensitive.”

“You can talk to me with Keith here,” Lance said slowly. “I’m going to tell him after anyways. This will save me time.”

Keith was monumentally confused, and from the look on Lance’s face, he was as well. Shiro looked like he was ready for the ground to open up and swallow him. He clenched his hands together, knuckles going pale from the concentration. He looked up at them, and made eye contact with Keith. Keith tried to give him a small encouraging, if a little bemused smile for whatever Shiro was about to say. Shiro looked over at Lance, and Keith could tell that Shiro was trying his best to put on a kind and earnest face.

“Lance, I…” Shiro said, biting his lip and taking a large intake of breath. “I think it would be best if you redirected your affections.”

“Uh,” Lance replied, and Shiro grimaced. “Come again?”

For a moment, the only sound in the room were the gears in Keith and Lance’s heads turning and clicking together, trying to make sense of what Shiro was saying.  Keith tried to form something cogent in his head, but he just could not understand.

“I’m going to have to turn you down,” Shiro said, when no one spoke. He was attempting to sound nice and calm, despite the discomfort that was quite clearly permeating his tone. “Uh, gently of course. You’re a great student, and a great person of course. And I don’t want this to be the end of our friendship.”

Wait – what? 

Chapter Text

What?” Lance squeaked, mouth hanging open.

“While I appreciate the attention,” Shiro rubbed a hand over his face. “I think of you more as a friend. A friend that I really appreciate.”

“Oh my god,” Keith muttered under his breath, torn between wanting to eject himself out of the window out of embarrassment and wanting to pull out his phone so that he could immortalize the moment forever.

 Lance did his best goldfish impression, his mouth opening and closing without sound as he visibly processed what exactly was happening. Shiro’s eyes flickered to Keith for the briefest moment, unsure; Lance caught the action like a hawk.

“Stop looking at him,” Lance said. “He can’t help you now.”

Shiro looked back at Lance, face the epitome of guilt.

“I’m really, really sorry,” Shiro said, fiddling his thumbs together. “That’s why I wanted to talk to you in private.”

The silence that rang through the room was profound. Keith was practically vibrating, while Lance looked completely mortified. Shiro looked like he was ready for a lightning bolt to come put him out of his misery, preferably sooner rather than later.

“Okay,” Lance said slowly. “Okay.”

Lance opened the door to the office and stepped out, closing it loudly before Keith had a chance to follow him.

“That went well,” Shiro said. “I think. I do appreciate the advice though, Keith.”

“No problem,” Keith said faintly as he stared at Shiro, feeling strangely relieved. “I try my best.”’

“I wonder where he went,” Shiro asked, and Keith didn’t bother with a reply because he could hear the doorknob turning.

The door swung open, and Lance stalked back to the desk, dumping his bag on the floor and pulling up a chair. Keith stayed at the door, unsure whether to follow or not. Lance folded his hands and placed them on the desk, pressing his lips together. He closed his eyes, looking extremely pained for a second.

“Shiro,” Lance said finally, voice heavy. “I need you to explain.”

“Explain?” Shiro asked.

“I need you to explain what clued you in,” Lance said, and pulled out the chair beside him. Keith took it as his signal to join Lance, and complied. “With as much detail as possible.”

“Well, you just said that uh…” Shiro trailed off, looking simultaneously unprepared and like he had been rehearsing this speech in front of a mirror. “There was that bed comment from five minutes ago.”

Lance nodded, and gestured for Shiro to continue onwards. Thus started what was simultaneously the most awkward and most vindicating experience of Keith’s entire life. Almost everything that Lance had done in attempt to wingman Keith had been misconstrued as Lance trying to woo Shiro. Shiro started to list practically everything Lance had ever said in any of their sessions, ranging from asking Shiro about his ideal date, reasons why Shiro should join a kissing booth, to what he would look for on someone’s Tinder profile, and what exactly was Shiro’s opinion on dating a smaller, wiry person.

“That last one was clearly not about me,” Lance wheezed but Shiro didn’t seem to hear as he fumbled onwards.

“You said you were jealous when Keith put his hand over mine,” Shiro said, voice stilted. 

“How do you even remember that?” Lance gaped, and Shiro sighed as he looked at his hands.

“Sadly, my memory is very precise.”

In his head, Keith was yodelling upon a grassy hill because not only did he did not expect Lance to crash and burn so spectacularly, but Shiro hadn’t been talking about him. Shiro had instead been talking about Lance apparently offering a good luck kiss before he sparred with Keith; about Lance having presenting him a latte with foam hearts on it during their very first session; about Lance stalking Shiro’s social media and wanting to know where Shiro lived.

By the time Shiro was finished, Keith was biting his knuckles and trying not to laugh, while Lance sat with his head tilted upwards, staring at the ceiling blankly without a word. Shiro was the colour of a fire engine, his scar standing out starkly against the rest of him. Keith was ready to combust from laughter, and Lance looked like he was in the middle of an astral projection. Yet upon closer inspection Keith also realized that there was something else thrumming under Lance’s expression; Lance, despite finally realizing that he wasn’t shit when it came to being a wingman, was trying his best not to completely lose it. 

“Do I have to go on?” Shiro asked, and Keith nodded furiously. “God, okay.”

Shiro mumbled something quickly, escaping both Lance and Keith’s hearing. Lance’s head snapped back down to look at Shiro, one eye twitching.

 “Speak up, Shirogane. Let the class hear.” Lance prodded, voice half an octave higher than usual.

“Last time when Keith left early, you tried showing me a range of sheer muscle shirts.” Shiro said, voice still rushing through the words like they were diseased. “You kept saying I was too hot to keep under wraps.”

“I don’t think he’s lying,” Keith began diplomatically. Lance stomped on his foot and it felt so, so good being the shithead for once.

“I am screaming on the inside,” Lance said, voice incredulous. “I wasn’t hitting on you Shiro. Oh my god.”

“What?” Shiro blinked.

Keith could cut the silence that befell the room with a knife; Lance let one entire minute pass before he came swinging at it with an axe instead.

“Shiro,” Lance said, in what was possibly the most mature voice Keith had heard come out of him. “I’m really sorry if my behavior was inappropriate. Or if you interpreted it as something else. But I wasn’t asking you out or flirting with you.”

Shiro’s eyes widened and his mouth formed a little ‘oh’, but no sound came out. He looked at Keith, helpless and begging for a lifeline, and Keith tried to give what he hoped was a sincere and comforting smile that didn’t betray the fact that Keith, too, was screaming on the inside 

“I can’t even begin to apologize enough-” Shiro started, but a sharp knocking from behind them cut him off.

A couple of students were waiting outside, peering in through the window. Keith was tempted to go outside and tell them to get lost, because they were in the middle of a moment that Keith was permanently going to file away in his brain’s “Think of When Sad” folder.

“Well, this was fun,” Lance said. “Let’s never do it again.”

Shiro nodded furiously, and the two of them looked at Keith, who shrugged because he was having a great time. Shiro opened his mouth to speak again, but Lance shushed him.

“Ah ah ah,” He said. “Let me have the last word.”

Lance pressed a finger to his own lips and Shiro promptly snapped his mouth shut.

“Keith, come on,” Lance stood up, brushing non-existent dirt off his jeans. He wasn’t making eye contact with either Keith or Shiro. “We’re leaving.”

Lance made his way to the door, and Keith remained rooted in his seat.

“You should have told me who you were talking about,” He said to Shiro, and Shiro visibly shriveled a little more. Lance cleared his throat, and Keith jumped up to his feet. He wanted to offer Shiro words of comfort but the other students had started to trickle in through the door Lance held open, and Shiro looked like he needed a moment to compose himself.

As soon as the door closed behind them and they had put some distance between the room and themselves, Keith dissolved into a fit of giggles.

“I feel like I’m dreaming,” Lance said in disbelief, dragging his feet as he walked. “I just got rejected by your boyfriend.”

“No gift you give me will ever top this,” Keith snickered, thumping Lance on the back.

 “Jokes on you,” Lance grumbled, shaking Keith off. “I never get you shit anyways.”

“Shiro looked like he was ready to die,” Keith tried to pull Lance’s ear, and was rewarded with a smack to his hand. “I think he’s going to hide from you forever.”

“At least he can seek comfort in your spindly arms,” Lance sniffed, trying to shoulder-check Keith into a wall. “Who’s going to hold me tonight while I cry, Keith?” 

“My condolences on your heartbreak,” Keith said solemnly, trying to hold in any further laughter. “Also, I curl more than you.”

“A suggestion,” Lance said, voice flat. “Remove yourself from my life.”

Beneath the sourness, Keith could tell that all the chagrin on Lance’s face was a show—he knew that Lance was trying really hard to be serious, and even harder not to let his face crack.

“He only rejected me because he’s already thought of your kids’ names.” Lance huffed out, trying not to smile. “Proving that he has absolutely no taste.”

 “What this proves is that you are the worst wingman ever,” Keith said, elbowing Lance.

“Am I though?” Lance asked, shoving Keith in return. “Maybe all this did was make Shiro realize there’s no one else for him but you. I think you should be thanking me.”

“Stop trying to save yourself” Keith said, flicking Lance’s ear. “You suck.”

 


 

When they got home, Lance was uncharacteristically quiet about the entire situation. A couple of hours after the session, Shiro had called Keith to check in on Lance, and apologize profusely once again. Lance had insisted that Shiro had hurt his feelings forever and that it was his fault that Keith had enough bullying material till the end of his days. Lance had said the only way to remedy this would be if Shiro bought him Killbot Phantasm I, and Keith had the pleasure of hearing Shiro trying to roll that name off his tongue. Shiro sounded like he was completely ready to fulfill Lance’s request so Keith told him that it wouldn’t be necessary. A struggled for Keith’s phone had ensued, where Lance was trying to shout to Shiro that it absolutely was necessary to mend his broken heart, and Keith telling Shiro that Lance only wanted it because he broke Pidge’s copy. 

In the end, Keith had Lance in a strong headlock in one arm, while he used the other to hold up his phone and reassure Shiro that Lance would be perfectly fine, and would get over the entire thing eventually. 

Keith assumed that Lance wasn’t eagerly divulging the story as soon as he got home due to him still being embarrassed about it. It was understandable, and if Keith was in Lance’s situation, he probably wouldn’t have wanted anyone to know about it either. However, Keith wasn’t in Lance’s situation, so he cheerfully relayed the story to Hunk and Pidge.

To let off some steam from school, the four of them had decided to have a movie night. Pidge had commandeered the arm chair, while Hunk and Lance had tangled themselves on the couch. Keith sat at the foot of the couch, closer to Hunk’s side because occasionally, Hunk would lovingly feed Keith some of his popcorn shrimp.

The opening credits for the corny sci-fi movie Pidge had chosen for them had barely began to roll, when Keith said, “Hey guys, guess what happened today.”

“What?” Pidge asked, and Lance squawked through his mouthful of pork lo-mein.

“Shiro rejected Lance,” Keith said. Lance tried to shove his foot in Keith’s face to shut him up, but Hunk had grabbed his ankle.

“Let the man speak,” Hunk said, as Pidge had already started giggling from where she was sprawled on her armchair. 

Keith proceeded to recount the entire meeting, embellishing Lance’s reactions and ignoring Lance’s protests, and making sure he emphasized at every turn just how bad Lance was at being a wing man. Pidge cackled with laughter, while Hunk egged Keith on to be as dramatic while telling the story as possible. Lance pretended to be appalled at Keith’s retelling of the story, but he also corrected Keith when Keith had listed off Shiro’s evidence and Keith realized that Lance wasn’t the only one who wouldn’t be able to live the situation down. 

“Did you film it?” Pidge asked eagerly. “Please tell me you filmed it.”

 “I wish,” Keith said, voice wishful. Lance dropped an oily noodle onto Keith’s head and Keith plucked it off, looking at Lance over his shoulder as he slurped it up.

“This is definitely going into Lance’s Hall of Fame,” Hunk said, reaching down to give a fist bump. “A top five moment, I think.”

Guys,” Lance whined. “I was trying my best. Do you know how hard it is to make Keith seem appealing?”

“Not very,” Pidge said, and Keith gave her a small salute. “That’s why it’s so funny you still messed up.”

“I can’t believe you were that bad,” Hunk said. “I don’t think you should be talking to Shay for me anymore.”

“Jokes on you,” Lance said, trying to sound as unaffected as possible. “I’ve already stolen her heart.”

“Careful Hunk,” Keith said gravely. “Clearly, Lance has a track record with these things.”

“New house rule,” Pidge stated. “No Lance within a hundred meters of any of our crushes.”

“Har har,” Lance said dryly. “Why don’t we shift the focus on Shiro for a second? You guys went on a thousand dates, yet he thought I  had a crush on him?”

“We were just hanging out,” Keith replied. “And I think it sounds pretty obvious why.”

“Can you shut up?” Lance asked sweetly. “You were exaggerating half the time anyways.”

“And you were helping,” Keith said, and Lance reached over to flick the back of his head. “I’m never going to forget it, ever.”

“Fine,” Lance huffed, then paused for a moment. “Do you think he thought about it though?”

“About what?” Keith looked over his shoulder and raised his eyebrows.

“You know,” Lance wriggled his in return. “Dating me.”

“Probably,” Keith shrugged and replied, side stepping Lance’s obvious bait. “I think it solidified his decision to let you down.”

Lance decided not to dignify Keith’s dig with a retort; instead, he set down his takeout container and started beating Keith over the head with his chopsticks, flecks of meat landing on Keith’s neck. Keith calmly grabbed Lance’s hand, and handed his own box over to Hunk, who shuffled his legs out of the pretzel he had been in with Lance. Lance narrowed his eyes, and launched at Keith.

Keith ended up losing the tussle that followed, partly because Lance stuck both his thumbs up Keith’s nostrils till he said uncle, and mostly because Keith felt like Lance needed at least one win today. He voiced the last part out, which resulted in Lance trying to pull them both up to their feet so that he could suplex Keith straight through their living room.

Eventually, the group managed to refocus on their movie, but the jabs to Lance did not stop. By the time it was over, Lance took an early night, grumbling something about having to go sleep off his shame. Lance tried to cast a sour look on everyone, but the corners of his mouth twitched, and Keith sent an Amazon link to Shiro for a very specific video game.

 


 

Slav looked at the neatly stapled stack of papers on his desk with what appeared to be a great amount of disgust. Keith and Lance squirmed in their shoes, but Lance had insisted that they maintain eye contact with Slav regardless of what happened, to maintain dominance.

They had finished their paper over the weekend, and Keith was sure that no exam would compare to the amount of suffering that entailed writing a remedial paper. Shiro had said that they did not need to fix much more, but Keith had a perfectionist streak and Lance, despite claiming multiple times that he was illiterate, was the same. Keith wasn’t quite sure how Lance made working on the same paper as competitive as he did, but he had to admit that it did kick their ass into gear.

It had been weird that the paper had finally come to a close—Keith didn’t really have a solid excuse to stare at Shiro’s face on a regular basis anymore. However, after their last session, Keith had a renewed surge of confidence in himself. He had mentally prepared ten different ways that he would ask Shiro out; given, none of them were outright explicitly asking Shiro to date him but Keith figured that Shiro would be able to pick it up easy enough.

This was all provided, of course, that Keith survived giving in the paper. They had to submit the paper online, but Slav had also insisted that they come in during his sole weekly office hour to hand in a physical copy and presumably to watch him comb through the sheets.

“Is this the best you have to offer me?” Slav asked, and Keith felt a vein throbbing in his forehead. Lance’s expression darkened infinitely.

“Yep,” Lance said, popping the ‘p’. “That’s the best you’re going to get. From anyone. Ever.”

“You sound very confident,” Slav frowned. “Well, I suppose since Shirogane helped you, it should be passable.”

 That was the closest thing to a compliment Keith had ever heard coming out of Slav’s mouth. Lance did not feel the same way, and looked like he was brimming.

“Speaking of Shiro,” Slav said, voice perking up a little. “How do you two feel about being teaching assistants?”

Keith and Lance simultaneously took an extended blink, staring at Slav.

“Come again?” Lance asked, and Keith had to pinch himself because Slav was actually smiling at them.

“You two showed a mastery of the course this semester,” Slav explained. “Despite it all.”

“I would have never guessed,” Keith said as him and Lance exchanged looks of bewilderment.

“Shiro and Allura are gone next year and I have yet to come across a suitable graduate candidate,” Slav said. “Of course, this is a paid position. Probably. Maybe.”

“I think I just got whiplash,” Lance muttered under his breath, before speaking a little louder. “Didn’t you say we were your least favourite students?”

“Did I?” Slav furrowed his brow. "When?"

“Two weeks ago,” Keith supplied. “When Lance couldn’t stop sneezing.”

“That doesn’t mean you aren’t my brightest,” Slav said helpfully. “Just think about it. And get out of my office. But really, think about it.”

 


 

Keith and Lance forgot about Slav’s strange offer in the ensuing week and half, as it was exam week and they spent most of it in a caffeine induced haze. Hunk and Pidge had barred themselves in their rooms, and emerged so rarely that Keith was starting to forget how they looked like. That forgetfulness may also have been related to the fact that Keith and sleep had parted ways, meeting only for a couple of too-short hours a night. Lance had been suffering alongside him, shuffling through reviews and shoving never-before-seen concepts in Keith’s face, claiming they had shown up on Slav’s practice questions. When Keith confirmed it with the study guide that Hira and Allura had posted online, his sense of self-worth was found deceased.

Out of Keith’s courses, three had their written exams scheduled on the same day. The first one was for Keith’s hardest subject, the second one was purely essay based, and the third one was Slav’s. Keith had made peace with the fact that there was some higher god playing with his life.

In order to prepare for his exam marathon, Keith had originally planned to get a full eight hours of sleep the night prior. However, it was a promise he had made to himself at the start of the month, when he was significantly more naïve as a person. He went to bed two hours before he had to wake up, with approximately three times the suggested daily dose of caffeine.

As Keith laid down to sleep, his eyes refused to close fully. Despite the light being turned off, his room started turning a light grey. Keith squinted, and lifted his hands to see that they had begun swelling to the size of his face. He blinked again, and woke up. The cuckoo clock read one in the morning, which wasn’t right because Keith did not have a cuckoo clock. He voiced as much, and the clock apologized to him in a series of weird bi-bo-bi sounds. Keith woke up again—this time for real. He checked his phone, and only forty-five minutes had passed since he had gotten into be. Sleep clearly wasn’t an option, so Keith hobbled out of bed to go upstairs and pour himself come coffee.

At the dining table, Lance had his hands around a cup and was staring blankly at the wall across from him. There were bags underneath his eyes, but Keith had no sympathy; Lance had only two exams, with a five-hour gap in between. He could come back and sleep, while Keith would be struggling for the entire day. Keith pulled up a chair beside Lance, joining him in staring at the wall. 

They sat in sleep deprived silence till Keith’s alarm finally went off. Somehow, he managed to brush, wash his face, and throw on a new shirt that he hadn’t lived in for the past week. Lance and Keith had opted to walk to school because Keith was sure if he drove his motorcycle, he would drive it into a ditch and remain there for the rest of eternity. In addition to that, Hunk had yet to emerge from his room.

 The first exam of the day was a purely multiple choice endeavour that bent Keith over a table, but he managed to finish it just under the time limit. In comparison, the second was a breeze in terms of the amount of knowledge he needed to recall, but required so much writing that Keith was pretty sure that his wrist had dislocated midway through his third essay. In the twenty minutes he had between his second and third exam, Keith tried to stretch out his hands, but his wrist had already started to swell a little. He was also seeing spots in his vision, but Keith decided that if he pretended they weren’t there, they would go away.

Just before Keith met up with Lance at the lecture hall where the exam was taking place, his phone buzzed.

good luck you’ll do great! read the text from Shiro, and Keith smiled a little to himself. He replied with a thanks :) and hit send. Or tried to—the message got saved as a draft instead, and Keith figured that Shiro would somehow telepathically receive Keith’s thanks. Somehow.

When Keith and Lance entered the hall, they had a brief stare-down with Slav before proceeding to the upper right-most corner of the hall. Keith sat at the desk against the wall, and Lance was two seats over. The teaching assistants were handing out the exams, and Shiro distributed to their section.

“Good luck again,” He whispered to Keith, and Keith tried to summon enough energy to smile in return. Shiro wished the same to Lance, patting him on the shoulder, and Lance gave him a half-hearted glare and muttered “heartbreaker” under his breath. Shiro paused, looking slightly stricken, so Lance broke character and gave Shiro both a smile and a wink that looked less friendly and more like a violent twitch. Shiro backed away slowly, hands raised.

Keith was having a hard time keeping his eyes open as Slav droned on about exam rules and procedures, like the entire class was brand new and not a third year course. Slav finally gave the cue for everyone to start, and Keith flipped his paper over. The first page was multiple choice, and though Keith was having a hard time focusing on the words, he managed to work on it for a solid five minutes before he heard a “psst” from beside him and a frantic shuffling of paper. He ignored it, and Lance let out a louder hiss. Using his free hand, Keith gave Lance the finger as covertly as possible, and heard Lance click his teeth. Keith sneaked a glance and saw that Lance had his hand up, looking slightly miffed.

Allura came over, and Lance spoke loud enough for Keith to hear the “Allura, what the hell?”

“Do you need assistance?” She asked, and Lance shook the exam papers at her.

“I recognize this!” He hissed, and Keith froze. “He used someone else’s exam! Again!”

Keith looked over at Allura, and while she still had her polite smile on, her eyes had widened.

“How do you know?” She asked, bending down to get a closer look.

“They were two different exams, but from the same university,” Lance replied, voice low enough so that only the three of them could hear. “I recognized them ‘cos I did them like, three times each while studying.”

“Did Keith do them too?” Allura turned towards Keith. “Keith?”

“No,” Keith replied under his breath. “I didn’t.”

“Huh,” Allura tapped her finger to her chin for a moment. “Then you have nothing to worry about.”

She turned on her heel and left, and Lance still looked like he was on the verge of utter panic.

“Hey,” Keith said out of the corner of his mouth. He kept an eye on Slav, who was currently helping two students simultaneously. “Maybe you should hint to Slav that you know. Just in case he tries to fail you again or something.”

“They’re from Lithuania, Keith.”

“Make it work,” Keith said. “Or you’re going to die, again. And Slav will probably take me down with you.”

Keith took Lance’s following silence as an agreement. He refocused back on his exam, trying to kill as much of the multiple choice within as short an amount of time as possible, despite the fact that the words were blurring on the paper.

When he got to the question bank for the short answer portion, Keith let out a little sigh of relief at how relatively easy they were. The one good thing about the paper that Lance and Keith wrote was that due to the bat shit concepts he had to research with Lance, the trickier questions on his exam didn’t faze him as much as it probably bothered his other classmates. The only obstacle Keith really had at the moment that he was fucking exhausted. He kept telling himself that he needed to push just a little further; in just a few hours he would be in his bed, comfortable and relatively stress-free save for his last exam on the Monday of next week.

He stared at one of the options, and remembered Shiro talking about the concept with him and Lance. Shiro had been so patient with him and Lance, despite the fact that they, at their core, were probably absolute dunces. Keith thought about that day, and how Shiro’s grey Henley had been just on the right side of snug, and how he smelled like aftershave and pine-scented soap. Shiro looked handsome every day but that day, he was so classically handsome that Keith’s heart had sighed.

Shiro had taken his time explaining the theory, rich voice rolling around the words like chocolate as he occasionally looked up to smile at Keith. And god, Keith could have listened to that voice go on forever, whether it was narrating an audiobook, teaching an idea, or just saying his name. 

“Keith?”

Yeah, just like that.

“Uh, Keith?”

Something rocked Keith, shaking the vision he had of Shiro, and he opened his eyes. His face was on his desk and Shiro was crouched down beside him, one palm pressed flat between Keith’s shoulder blades. Keith gave a goofy grin because hey? Shiro was here. It took him a second to register that Shiro’s look was that of deep concern; Keith shot up in his chair, startling awake because he had just fallen asleep during an exam.

“Oh my god,” Keith wheezed, wide eyed and making a grab for his pencil.

“It’s okay,” Shiro reassured, patting Keith’s back. “You haven’t been sleeping for too long.”

“Oh my god,” Keith repeated, trying to push out his best chicken scratch as he started frantically writing down his answers. “What time is it?”

“I don’t think you lost more than five or ten minutes,” Shiro said, his hand still resting on Keith’s back. Keith could hear Lance sniggering beside him. “I saw you drift off, and when I was coming up to check on you some people stopped me for a few questions.”

“You came to check on me?” Keith asked, smiling a little, and Shiro gave him an unimpressed look.

“You look like you you would have slept through the exam,” He replied, then paused. “Are you okay though?”

“Just exhausted,” Keith shrugged, eyes trying to make sense of the next short answer. “My brain feels like its shutting down." 

“You can do this,” Shiro nudged Keith gently. “I believe in you.”

“You know what would be better?” Keith said. “If you injected caffeine into my veins like, right now. Just a little more and I might be able to finish this.

Shiro let out a small chuckle, before shuffling on his feet, still crouched, and inching closer. He took a quick look around – Slav had moved on to giving a hushed lecture to Hira – before leaning in closer to whisper to Keith. 

“Hey,” He said, voice low. “You’ll be fine. And after the semester’s over, we’ll celebrate.”

All Keith could manage was a “Yeah?” as he felt a small current of electricity crackle under his skin, causing him to lean in to Shiro’s voice.

“Yeah.”

Keith looked at Shiro, and Shiro was giving him a very familiar, slightly crooked grin. He opened his mouth to say something, anything, to stop his brain from short circuiting. He was saved by the sound of a throat clearing beside them, and Keith watched as Lance tried his best to give a stern expression. Given that Lance was also running on an empty tank, it looked more like he had bad vision and was trying to read a sign without his glasses.

Shiro stood up, and gave Lance a friendly smile that was nothing near what he had given Keith. Lance scoffed.

“You’re also invited,” Shiro said, before shuffling to another student with their hand up.

“So kind of your boyfriend to take me on your date,” Lance whispered and Keith made a face to hide that his sleep deprived brain had gotten a weird jolt of energy from having Shiro whisper into his ear. Technically, he had also just invited Lance, but Keith could add two and two together and subtract Lance well enough.

“Wear something nice,” Keith said in return, then clamped his mouth shut as Slav looked up at them.

Keith put his head down and didn’t lift it up until he had powered through the entirety of the exam. He stole a glance at Lance and saw that he too was almost done. Keith knew Slav would have something to say if they handed in their exam at the same time, so Keith packed up quickly and beat Lance by two minutes to Slav’s desk. Slav still narrowed his eyes as Lance caught up and dumped his own exam papers on the table.

“At the same time, eh?” Slav commented, and both Keith and Lance gave him withering looks. “Interesting.”

“Viso gero,” Lance said in return and Slav paled just a little. “Enjoy your summer.”

“You too,” Slav said, voice composed but eyes still suspicious.

 


 

By the time the end of the semester rolled around, Keith had regained a somewhat regular sleeping schedule and felt ready to officially rejoin society. He had done his best with keeping in touch with Shiro, but he knew that Shiro would be busy with marking and presenting his own final project, so he hadn’t made any immediate plans to try and drag Shiro out somewhere. 

All the hard work Keith had put in had paid off—he had managed to score well in almost all his classes, and had gotten an satisfyingly high mark in Slav’s class.  When his marks had gotten posted online, he had taken a picture on his phone and texted it to Shiro. Shiro sent a Congrats :D  in return, followed by enough cake and confetti emoji’s to make Keith smile like a dork.

To celebrate, Keith and Pidge decided to go bowling at the local glow in the dark bowling alley. They were still debating whether or not to get plastered or play a proper game when they got to the alley, so they decided to take the bus. Lance and Hunk had originally been included in their plans but had been officially uninvited by Pidge the night before, after they made one too many jokes about her accidentally flying down the lane with the ball.

The alley was relatively empty for the weekend, which was a blessing because Pidge became embarrassingly loud with her insults whenever they went bowling. Keith was pretty good at it, but that never stopped Pidge from heckling him whenever he sent the ball rolling down the lane.

Pidge rented their bowling shoes, while Keith bought them a pizza and a couple of beers. They were still on the fence about day-drinking at a bowling alley, especially since they were sandwiched in between two children’s birthday parties, but they figured if anything, they could get a small buzz going.

Keith also bought Pidge a giant slice of strawberry cheesecake, because Hunk had discovered a couple of days ago that Pidge had won a significant scholarship for the upcoming academic year, and Pidge had been doing a poor job of pretending it was a secret. They were going to have a proper party for her in the summer, but for now, Hunk, Lance and Keith had been trying to subtly pepper her with congratulations. Her face lit up when she saw Keith walk by with the dessert to their table, and for once, she got him the proper sized shoe—normally, she would get everyone half a size smaller to sabotage their chances, and Keith had been the only one that had caught on. 

When they started, Keith handed over his wallet, phone and keys to Pidge, remembering the last time he had gotten a little too enthusiastic during bowling. His phone had gone careening out of his jacket, and the sound of his screen crunching against the ground would forever haunt Keith’s dreams.

 In the first game, Keith managed to beat Pidge, and any sweetness that the cheesecake had brought out in her had instantly vanished.

“Now I have to kill you,” She said solemnly, as the pin setter came down for the second game.

“It’s not that serious,” Keith said, slightly concerned at how grave Pidge looked.

It was in fact that serious, as Keith got jeered loudly by Pidge every time he went up to bowl. He bowled a double and stuck his tongue out at Pidge, who gave him the finger in return. It was definitely a good idea that they had decided to remain sober, as the parents from the surrounding parties had already started to give a couple of concerned glances their way.

“Behave,” Keith warned Pidge, who snorted. When the screen declared her the winner of the second round, she didn’t stop crowing for five whole minutes. He pointedly finished her beer in front of her, but knew that it wouldn’t hurt as good as victory felt.

They were just starting their third game, when Pidge’s phone started to ring. Keith dug into the small backpack she had slung onto the side of their bench, and passed her the phone as he went up to bowl his turn. He bowled a spare, and turned to see Pidge give him a slightly guilty look. 

“What’s up?” He asked.

“Matt said our parents want to take me out for a surprise dinner,” Pidge said. “And…that he’s outside right now. Lance told him where we were.”

“That’s pretty cool,” Keith grinned. “Where are they taking you?”

“A surprise,” Pidge repeated. “But I feel kind of bad, since we already have a game started.”

“Why?” Keith shrugged. “I’ll finish the game. You should go for your dinner. Also, Matt might kill me if I hold you back.”

“Not if he knows I’m trying to win a tie breaker,” Pidge said, and Keith rolled his eyes. “No seriously, he might wait another few minutes.”

“Go,” Keith said, walking over to her and pulling his phone out of the bag. He checked the time, and it was only late afternoon. “We’ll finish this another time.”

 “Are you sure?” Pidge asked. “Do you want a ride home?”

“Nah,” Keith replied, ruffling Pidge’s hair. She tried to swat him out of the way, pinching his wrist when she failed. “I’ll take the bus back or something.”

“Your wish,” Pidge said. Keith left his jacket to save the bench, and walked Pidge to the entrance. He hugged her goodbye, trying once more to ruffle her hair at the risk of getting bitten. Matt was parked on the curb outside, and gave Keith a salute as he saw Pidge out.

It wasn’t till Keith after, returned to his lane, finished up the game, and decided to treat himself to a sundae for bowling four strikes in a go that he realized his one critical mistake—he had taken his phone, but had never taken his wallet back from Pidge, nor had he taken the keys to the house. Keith dialled Pidge only to get to her voicemail multiple times. She sent him a text after the fifth call, saying that she was already out with her family, and wouldn’t be able to get home till late tonight. Swearing at himself, Keith called Hunk, hoping he was still at home, 

“Hey,” Hunk picked up after the first ring and Keith let out a sign of relief.

“Can you give me a ride back?” Keith asked in lieu of a greeting. “Pidge had to leave early and she has my wallet.”

“Nah,” Hunk replied and hung up.

Keith stared at his phone for a few moments before dialling again.

“Dude,” he said when Hunk picked up. “What the hell.”

“You didn’t ask nicely,” Hunk said and the line went dead which—Keith had to agree, that was fair.

When Hunk picked up a third time, Keith blurted out a “I’m sorry I was rude, could you please give me a ride home because I’m stuck and Pidge has my wallet.”

“That’s a lot better,” Hunk said, humming in approval. “Sadly for you, Lance and I are at the theatre and our movie’s gonna start soon. Someone's already giving me shit for being on the phone.”

“Fine,” Keith groaned. “Whatever. Have fun on your date.”

There was a voice in the back, and Hunk said, “Yeah, you would think, right?” before letting out a rather mocking chuckle.

“What would you think?” Keith demanded into the phone.

“That you have other friends to ask for a ride home,” Hunk said. “Friends who may be more reliable than us.”

“I know no such people,” Keith said flatly, knowing what they were getting at. “I have no one but you.”

“Yeah?” Hunk replied. “I swear you had a friend with what, a black station wagon?”

“Mustang,” Keith corrected quickly before he could catch himself and immediately hung up before he had to hear what Hunk had to say about that.

Keith turned the phone over in his hands as he contemplated calling Shiro. He hadn’t seen him in person since he had written his exam, and it would be so, so nice to talk to him in person and not just through texts. However, there was also the strong possibility that Shiro would be busy, or generally be unable to hang out with Keith or pick him up. Not only would it be disappointing, but it would mean that Keith would have to do a two-hour trek home. Before Keith could think himself into circles, he opened Shiro’s contact and tapped the call button.

“Hello?” Shiro’s voice sounded raspy and a little muffled.

“Hey,” Keith said. “It’s Keith. Did I wake you?”

 “You’re good,” Shiro replied, and Keith could hear him shifting on the other end of the line. “What’s up?”

“Wanna hang out?” Keith felt a little guilty at the sleepiness that tinged Shiro’s voice, but he couldn’t find any other excuse to fall back on for calling Shiro.

“Right now?” Shiro asked, yawning, and Keith grimaced. He didn’t really have his hopes up to begin with, but there was still something that had glimmered in him when he had dialled Shiro, that was currently dying out.

“If you’re busy then it’s fine. We can hang out some other time if you want,” Keith replied. “If you aren’t busy, I think the bowling alley in the north end would be a great place to meet.”

There was a long pause. Keith thought the line had disconnected, and was about to hang up and redial when Shiro spoke.

“Are you stranded?” He asked, voice tinged with amusement. “Do you need a ride home?”

“Well…” Keith trailed off, debating how honest he wanted to be. “I mean, not immediately. I would actually like to hang out with you. But I also forgot my wallet with Pidge and no one else can give me a ride home.”

Keith winced, regretting the words as soon as they left his mouth. He felt that it was monumentally awkward to point out that Shiro had been his last choice, but it would have also been weird and perhaps too indicative of Keith’s desperation if Shiro had been the very first person he had called.

“So kind of you to think of me,” Shiro said dryly and Keith frowned.

“If you don’t want to, it’s okay,” He said. “It’s last minute anyways.”

“Text me the address,” Shiro said, letting out another yawn and clearing his throat. “Just give me ten minutes to crawl out of bed.”

 


 

While waiting for Shiro, Keith tried his best not to look like a kid whose parent had forgotten to pick him up from a birthday party. He loitered out at the front of the bowling alley, sprawling out onto one of the metal benches near the windows. A few minutes passed before Keith decided to take off his red jacket and lay it across his face, shielding his face from the early evening sun. He felt like a cat, basking in the warmth, and was on the verge of dozing off when a loud honk startled him.

He pulled the jacket off his face and sat up, squinting. Shiro was leaning out of the driver’s seat window, grinning and completely uncaring that he was parked against the curb facing the wrong way. When Keith woke up from a nap, he usually had an advanced mullet and pillow imprints all over his face. Clearly, the same rules didn’t apply to Shiro because his bedhead looked professionally styled and Keith couldn’t see a single red line on his skin. Even the creamy white shirt he was wearing looked artfully rumpled.

“Hey,” Shiro called out. “It’s your Uber.”

“Shut up,” Keith said, sliding off the bench and onto his feet. He went around the back of Shiro’s car, and Shiro unlocked the doors.

“Thanks,” Keith said as he slid in. “Sorry for waking you up.”

“No worries,” Shiro replied, watching Keith buckle in. “I was oversleeping anyways. Where do you want to go?”

“I’m good for anywhere,” Keith replied as Shiro looked over his shoulder and started to do a reverse U-turn out from the curb. “As long as it doesn’t require money.”

“How about an arcade?” Shiro suggested. “There’s a really cool one a few minutes away.”

“Uh,” Keith scratched the back of his head. “I don’t have my wallet on me.”

“Yeah, I know,” Shiro said. “But I do.”

“I guess I can watch,” Keith shrugged, and Shiro gave him a strange look as they pulled out of the plaza.

Turns out, Shiro meant that he would pay for Keith as well. Keith felt a little embarrassed as Shiro asked him how many tokens he wanted, and got both of them the highest options when Keith failed to stutter out a response.

They entered the arcade and the vibrant burst of colours in the dark hall had an instant effect on Keith, making him feel a little giddy on the inside. It had been a while since he had gone to a proper arcade, one that wasn’t adjacent to the movie theatre. From elementary to high school, he used to kill hours at the arcade by himself himself, earning enough tickets to have a formidable novelty toy collection that was still packed away in a few boxes in his closet.

One of his most prized possessions was a Walkman that he had won when he was eight and filled with wonder at the fact that he had been good enough to win such a cool item, not paying attention to the fact that the uncle that had taken him had probably poured enough money into tokens to buy him an mp3 player or two. It was covered with stickers of cartoon knives, one of his other weird childhood obsessions, and still had an old Usher CD in it.

Keith was ready to put those skills to use again and win the most obnoxious prize possible as a thanks to Shiro for paying for him. He scanned the wall of prizes, looking for one worthy enough to win. Keith spotted a row of oversized stuffed toys sitting on the top shelf behind the cashier. His eyes landed on the stuffed lions sitting dead centre, and resolved to make one of them his by the end of the day.

“You okay?” Shiro nudged him, and Keith nodded, albeit a little too furiously. “You look like you got lost there for a second.”

 “Just thinking of an attack plan,” Keith murmured, eyes darting around to vet out which game to go to first. He felt an arm sling around him and draw him close, and he looked up to see Shiro smiling down at him.

“Attack plan?” Shiro teased, shaking Keith slightly. “Just relax. This is a reward for ending the semester so well.”

Keith narrowed his eyes, causing Shiro to laugh and ruffle his hair. Keith took a brief – very brief – moment to enjoy the sound, before ducking out from under Shiro’s arm and grabbing his elbow to lead him towards the wheel of fortune.

Keith graciously allowed Shiro to play first so that he could observe the delay between the big red button being hit and the light stopping on the number. Shiro won a grand total of twenty tickets, and Keith gave him a smile before taking over.

Keith hovered over the dome, staring as the light spun in circles around the wheel. When the time was right, he hit the button, landing on the second highest number.

“Neat,” Shiro said as the tickets started coming out. Keith inserted another token, and leaned over the plastic shell, hand hovering over the button. He stayed like that for a minute, and he could hear Shiro inhale to point out the machine had begun to beep out a time warning, before he slammed the button with such force that Shiro jumped a little.

The machine started spitting out a long string of tickets, and Keith grinned triumphantly at Shiro as he bent down to pull them off. His plan was officially off to a good start.

Shiro suggested skee-ball next, and managed to land enough balls to win them a considerable amount of tickets. However, Keith won them more, and Shiro had to physically pull him away before he used up all their tokens.

At the whack-a-mole machine, Keith brought the foam hammer down with such force that one of the attendants had to come by and politely ask him to be a little gentler with the games. He had no room to feel embarrassed, because he had managed to max out the tickets from the game.

“I never knew you were this serious,” Shiro said, watching as Keith started another round, this time taking a little more care in not breaking the game.

“I’m just having fun,” Keith grunted as he whacked three plastic weasels in quick succession. His voice may have come off more snappish than he intended to, because Shiro raised his hands in a placating manner and stepped back.

Keith was decidedly less violent at the Tetris machine, and even stooped low enough to play the games that were obvious rip-offs from certain social media apps. As Keith pulled them through all the games, Shiro held his own well enough, winning a decent amount of tickets and enthusiastically playing the role of cheerleader every time Keith scored big. He looked thoroughly bemused when Keith insisted that they kept their tickets separate from each other. He felt dickish saying it at first, but he knew that it would pay off as soon as Keith won one of the jumbo prizes for Shiro.

The one game that Shiro bested Keith at was at the Hoop Shot, and Keith did his very best not to look disappointed or impatient. He was sure that he had failed and that Shiro had caught on, because Shiro insisted they stayed there as long as possible as Shiro’s ticket pile grew increasingly larger.

“Patience yields-" Shiro began for the fourth time, and Keith groaned.

“Say it one more time,” He threatened, and Shiro merely grinned as he flicked his wrist and sunk the small basketball into the net with a small swish.

“I can teach you if you’d like,” Shiro offered, and Keith crossed his arms over his chest before remembering that Shiro had probably actually wanted to hang out with Keith, instead of watching him decimate game after game in a crazed attempt to win as many tickets as possible.

“Fine,” Keith said, moving to stand directly beside Shiro. Shiro placed his hands on Keith’s hips and pulled him in front of him.

“It’s all in in the form,” Shiro said, grabbing Keith’s arm from behind and extending it out. He placed one large hand over Keith’s, demonstrating how exactly to use his wrist to land the appropriate amount of power. Shiro started talking about stance and body mechanisms, and Keith was listening to approximately none of it.

A small part of him was thinking about what game would have a better ticket-to-win ratio, but a majority of him was focused on how Shiro was almost enveloping him as he droned on about proper elbow movement. Keith did his best to look determined—determined not to lean completely into Shiro and possibly embarrass himself because Shiro was so close.

“Got it?” Shiro asked, stepping back, and Keith nodded despite not having absorbed anything Shiro said. “Alright, go for it.”

Keith missed the net by a mile, and he looked over his shoulder to smile sweetly at Shiro.

“Was that how you do it?” Keith asked, and Shiro rolled his eyes, visibly trying not to smile. Keith made just marginally more of an effort for the remaining turns, and managed to win a grand total of ten tickets.

According to Keith’s calculations, he wasn’t too far off from getting just enough tickets to win the prize he wanted. He only had a few tokens left, so he scanned the arcade to find an easy target. He spotted a row of familiar laser gun games, and tugged Shiro over by the sleeve of his shirt.

“Lance figured out how to beat this game,” Keith said, raising the red plastic gun and waiting for the game to load.

“Are you going to tell me how?” Shiro asked, holding up his own luridly pink gun. They were at the two player machine because Keith had insisted it would be more fun- and so that it would be easier to show off to Shiro.

“Not at all,” Keith said as the intro jingle started. “It’s classified information.”

Keith proceeded to absolutely decimate Shiro in the first round, who, while scoring decently, had no chance against Keith’s dogged determination. Shiro narrowed his eyes and before Keith could verbally challenge him again, put in more tokens.

Turned out, the first game had merely been a farce on Shiro’s behalf. He caught up with Keith quickly on the second round, and Keith’s victory was significantly narrower. Keith glared at Shiro, who shrugged innocently.

“Just good luck I guess,” Shiro said, tone belying the fact that it was anything but.

Shiro scored one point higher than Keith in the next two rounds, and Keith could scream.

“Hey,” Shiro grabbed Keith’s wrist, stopping him from putting in anymore tokens. “Let’s go redeem the tickets.”

“Convenient that you suggest this now,” Keith said, pulling his hand back and Shiro chuckled.

“I’m serious,” He said. “I don’t think you’ll be able to hold any more tickets.”

To be fair, Shiro wasn’t wrong; tickets were spilling out of all four of Keith’s pockets, as well as the pockets of his jacket. He had been keeping a militant watch over them, making sure not a single one fell to the ground, but it had become cumbersome.

They went over to the ticket eater, and Keith felt a small surge of pride watching the LED number on the display climb higher and higher as he fed in ticket after ticket. According to the receipt that the machine had spat out, Keith had enough to redeem one of the giant stuffed lions. Keith preened a little, and Shiro looked amused as he started feeding in his own tickets.

Keith was about to make a beeline to the counter, but Shiro stopped him.

“I still have a few tokens left,” He said out.

“What do you want to play?” Keith asked and Shiro hummed as he thought for a moment.

“Nothing with tickets,” He said and Keith pouted. “You look terrifying when you’re trying to win.”

“I can’t help it,” Keith stuck out his tongue. “That’s my face.”

“Yeah yeah,” Shiro said, wrapping an arm around Keith’s shoulders and herding him to the DDR Machines.

Shiro let Keith picked their first song, and Keith scanned through the list to pick whatever song sounded like it would be the fastest and most grating. He heard the tokens clink into the machine, and watched as only his floor-mat lit up.

“What-” He began, but Shiro cut him off.

“Your song’s starting,” Shiro pointed out and Keith let out an indignant sound as the first few notes started to ring out.

“I hate you so much right now,” Keith said and Shiro laughed. Keith was sorely tempted to just step off the machine to make a point to Shiro, but the first arrow lit up, and he automatically stomped his foot down on it. Shiro leaned back against the railing and watched with great entertainment as Keith furiously kept up with the screen. Despite the embarrassment, Keith was no quitter, even when it came to a clearly rigged arcade game that wasn’t picking up all the steps Keith was putting down.

Mercifully, Shiro joined him in the second round, and delivered perhaps the worst performance ever. By the end of the game, Keith was doubled over in laughter as Shiro’s side of the machine booed his abysmal skills.

“Laugh all you want,” Shiro sniffed. “It’s the heart put in that counts.”

“Not at all,” Keith said, and Shiro playfully shoved him off the machine.

They used the last few tokens to play a virtual reality game where they co-piloted a poorly rendered spacecraft. Both of them took their roles a little too seriously, Keith yelling at the screen while Shiro barked out orders while they tried to shoot down an insanely high-skilled giant purple monster who somewhat resembled the dean of their faculty.

They managed to win on their third and last try, and Keith whipped his headset off with a loud whoop. He enthusiastically returned Shiro’s fist bump, ignoring the intimidated expressions of the two kids who had been waiting for their turn at the game.

At the prize counter, Keith allowed Shiro to go first, because he was heavily debating between which coloured lion to pick. All the primary colours were there, in addition to a green one and a black one. Keith was contemplating getting the red one, but he could see one of the beady eyes hanging loose from the thread.  

Shiro came back with a deck of cards printed to look like dollar bills, and three opaque packets.

“What are those?” Keith asked, and Shiro ripped open the plastic of one of the packets with his teeth before pulling out a violently purple jelly hand. “Ew.”

In response, Shiro tried to smack him with the hand, and Keith ducked out just in time. He approached the counter, and one exchange later, Keith was holding a large stuffed lion in his arms. It was a lot bigger in person than it looked on the shelf, but that only made it better for Keith as he presented it to Shiro.

“I know it was your money,” Keith said, holding out the lion. “But this is for you. As a thanks." 

“Wow,” Shiro whistled, eyes wide as he took the lion. “Are you sure?”

“Yeah,” Keith said, crowing a little on the inside at the giant smile that crossed Shiro’s face. It made him want to do something stupid, like give Shiro a big hug with the lion tucked in between them, but Keith held off on account of not wanting to look overly-enthusiastic.

Shiro insisted that they get food after, despite Keith’s protests that he really didn’t want Shiro to spend that much money on him.

“Don’t worry about it,” Shiro said as he ushered Keith into the car. The lion had been tucked into the backseat, with a seatbelt lovingly crossed over it. “If it bugs you, then you can pay next time.”

The thought of a next time sent butterflies through Keith and in the moment he had a very strong urge to suggest to Shiro that the next time should maybe be an actual date, a romantic one specifically—but Keith let the moment pass, and Shiro asked him where he wanted to eat.

Keith had no preference, having eaten three quarters of the pizza at the alley. After a minute of deep contemplation about whether or not it was fine to take five cheat days in a week, Shiro decided to drive them to a Waffle House. The setting sun over the horizon casted a beautiful orange glow over Shiro as they drove, and Keith tried his best not to openly stare. 

Shiro hadn’t been able to choose between chocolate chip waffles and the strawberries with whipped cream, and made Keith get the former while he got the latter. In order to easily share their food, they squished into one side of a booth, Keith against the window as one of Shiro’s legs dangled off the edge of the pleather seat.

“Did you eat today?” Keith asked, eyeing as Shiro ate two fourths of his first waffle in one bite. Shiro nodded, and Keith pressed his lips together as a he saw a bit of whipped cream smeared at the corner of Shiro’s mouth. “You sure?”

“Leave me alone,” Shiro said, reaching over to cut out a section of Keith’s barely touched waffles. “I ended up working up an appetite.”

“You’re horrible,” Keith said. “You should come over when Hunk and Lance make pancakes. It’s always at a stupid hour of the night, and the stacks are taller than they are.”

“I don’t think I can ever look Lance in the eyes again,” Shiro said sheepishly, scooping the chocolate chip waffle through whipped cream. “Not after our last session.” 

“What, that?” Keith laughed. “I don’t think Lance can look himself in the eyes either.” 

“I can’t believe I thought he was hitting on me,” Shiro groaned, the memory of it making itself painfully known on his face. “I wanted to die on the spot.”

“I can’t either,” Keith began, but caught himself before he could could spill out everything about Lance’s true intentions. As gone as Keith was on Shiro, he wasn’t ready yet to ruin his brand and let Shiro know that he had been pining after him for an entire semester, and that Lance was just trying to help a friend out.

“Lance just has a different way of being friendly,” Keith said and Shiro looked contemplatively at his waffles.

“I was so conflicted about bringing it up,” He admitted, picking at one of his strawberries. “I thought he could be up to something else. But Allura told me I was probably right about him hitting on me, and that I should address it.”

Keith stared at Shiro, because as far as he knew, Allura most definitely knew the truth. Judging by Shiro’s earnest expression, Allura was probably having a really good laugh about the entire situation.

“Maybe she misunderstood too,” Keith offered, biting into one of his waffle pieces. “But in general, I feel like this entire situation can and should be blamed on Lance.”

“I need to properly apologize to him,” Shiro said, nudging Keith. “It’d be awkward to have this hanging over us.”

“Why?” Keith asked, and Shiro looked at him for a long moment before taking a big gulp out of his fruit punch.

“Just in general,” Shiro said. “You know, if you and I are going to hang out. I don’t want your best friend to hate me.”

“Never tell Lance you called him my best friend,” Keith said gravely. “Also, he’ll live. This is not the worst thing he’s ever done.”

“What’s the worst thing he’s done?” Shiro asked, curiosity evident in his voice, but Keith shook his head.

“That’s something I can’t share,” He said. “I mean, I can. But I suggest you ask Lance when he’s a couple of drinks in, because he tells it the best.”

Also because while Keith had full faith in his own strength, alertness and fighting prowess, if Lance heard that Keith was openly sharing the most embarrassing moment of his life, he would absolutely suffocate Keith while he was sleeping.

Shiro seemed to accept this as an answer, before polishing off the rest of his waffles. He sat silently, watching as Keith picked away at his own waffles, before Keith gave an over-exaggerated sigh and pushed his plate towards Shiro.

“Are you sure?” Shiro asked as he started spearing a chunk of chocolate chip and a piece of leftover strawberry onto his fork.

“I don’t know why you’re asking,” Keith said flatly, and Shiro beamed at him through a mouthful of waffle. “Gross, get away from me.”

Shiro chewed louder, smacking his lips and inching closer to Keith. Keith tried to use one of the menus as a makeshift barrier; as soon as Shiro went quiet, Keith lowered the menu, only to have Shiro start chewing with his mouth open. Keith turned his whole body away from Shiro and much to Shiro’s amusement, refused to twist back until Shiro was actually done eating.

“I should have walked home,” Keith muttered as Shiro loudly slurped back the juice, causing the other man to choke a little and laugh. 

“Sorry,” Shiro said. “I can’t help it. This is the way I am.” 

“I hate it,” Keith informed him. Shiro tried to offer up his last strawberry, and Keith turned his nose up on principle.

When they were finally fully done, Shiro tried to convince Keith to get more but Keith put his foot down, not wanting to be tormented any further. Shiro got a plain waffle anyways and got the waitress to drizzle a chocolate ‘K’ on it. Keith told him he was throwing it out as soon as he got home, even though he fully intended to cherish it for as long as edibly possible.

The entire ride home, Shiro grilled Keith on his plans for the summer. Keith wasn’t quite sure why Shiro was so enthusiastic in knowing when exactly he was free (the answer was always, because Keith lived with a majority of his social circle) but Keith played along.

“You’re still invited to the beach party,” Keith assured. “In fact, they’ll probably kick me out to make room for you.”

“I’ll bring my car,” Shiro said blithely. “We can both go.”

“That’s not what I meant,” Keith rolled his eyes fondly, giving Shiro a light punch on the shoulder. “But alright, cool. You have to promise to be on my chicken fighting team though. I’m sick of Lance and Pidge cheating and winning all the time.”

“No problem,” Shiro wriggled his eyebrows at Keith. “I like picking you up anyways. It’s pretty easy.”

Keith felt himself turning a little red at the comment, and attempted to cover it up by sounding indignant.

 “I’m not that small,” He said, hoping the heat in his voice would translate into annoyance. “It’s not my fault you’re insanely strong.”

 “Whatever you say,” Shiro said, the side of his mouth twitching up like he could see straight through Keith.

 All too soon, they were pulling into the driveway of Keith’s house. The lights were off inside, and Keith figured that Hunk and Lance still had some time till their movie ended. Pidge was probably still out with her family, and Keith was suddenly very, very aware that he was very, very alone with Shiro.

 In a perfect world, Keith would say something slick and suggestive, inviting Shiro inside with intent. In an almost perfect world, Keith would at least ask Shiro out on a date in a straightforward manner, instead of making vague plans to “hang out” in the near future.

Spending the entire evening with Shiro had stirred something affectionate within Keith that had already been brewing for months. Now that the weight of wondering if Shiro was trying to reject him was off his chest, Keith had a small surge of confidence coursing through him. Shiro not only hung out with Keith but looked like he actively enjoyed it— Keith felt all of their not-dates combined spoke more than the night at Sal’s, predominantly because Shiro had been sober for all of them. 

Sadly for Keith, he existed in a world where his brain and his mouth sometimes experienced a disconnect. Despite his brain yelling at him to at least ask Shiro if he’d like a coffee despite the hour, Keith’s mouth absolutely refused to form the words.

 “Thanks,” He found himself saying instead, unbuckling his seatbelt as Shiro put the car into park. “For all of this.”

 “Thanks for the lion,” Shiro gave a toothy smile in return. “I appreciate the effort.”

 “No problem,” Keith said, and in lieu of doing something smooth like say, offering a hug, he lifted up his fist. Shiro’s smile froze, but he returned the bump easily. “Well, keep in touch.”

 Keith stepped out of the car, door closing behind him and takeout box in hand when he realized two things. 

First, he had no keys. He was doomed to sit on the porch for god knows how long, till one of his roommates came back to liberate him. That would leave him too much time to ruminate on the second thing, which was the fact that he just told his crush to "keep in touch" like some sort of casual school acquaintance. It was bad, even for Keith, especially since he had gotten so familiar with Shiro. Cursing himself, Keith tamped down on his nerves and resolved to tell Shiro goodbye like a proper friend. He placed his container on the roof of the car, before opening the door.

As soon as Keith placed his knee on the seat and re-entered the car, he saw Shiro in the middle of unbuckling his seatbelt. Shiro looked a little surprised at Keith’s re-emergence, and all of Keith’s reticence made a mad beeline for the exit.

Keith launched forward, placing one hand on the headrest of Shiro’s seat, and landing the other on the dash.

“Uh,” Shiro blinked. “What’s up?”

“I like you,” Keith rushed out. It was decidedly not what he wanted to say – ideally, he would not come barrelling back in the car like an animal in the first place – but unfortunately for Keith, it was what first came out of his mouth.

“Yes,” Shiro frowned. “I like you too?”

“As more than a friend,” Keith explained hastily, because if he was digging a hole for himself, he was going to go all the way. “Well, I really like you as a friend. You’re a really cool person and I like hanging out with you. But I want to date you. Uh, if you want to.”

Though Shiro was silent only for a few moments, they stretched out over Keith like the sky, and he felt like he was dying

“Yeah,” Shiro said finally, looking at Keith. “I figured that’s what you were talking about.”

“You fig- you what?” Keith asked incredulously, and Shiro laughed.

“Why do you think I was getting out?” Shiro raised his eyebrows. “I was going to walk you in.”

“But I said to keep in touch,” Keith said pathetically, brain still trying to process Shiro’s utter nonchalance at the situation. “I thought you’d just leave.” 

“I feel like at this point it should be obvious,” Shiro said dryly. ”I didn’t take it as you brushing me off, if that’s what you think.”

“What should be obvious?” Keith asked, somewhat indignantly. “A couple of weeks ago, you literally had a crisis because you thought Lance liked you.”

“I panicked because I thought it’d cause a rift between you two,” Shiro explained. “For obvious reasons.”

Keith wanted to whine, asking Shiro what was so obvious, but duh, hammer meet head—Keith could probably guess that he hadn’t done the best job in concealing the fact that he had been crushing on Shiro, hard. He had showed up at his place with soup and an extra helmet, and Keith felt like there was no redeeming factor in that. 

In retrospect, Keith was sure if he re-examined the past few weeks, he may have been able to find equally obvious hints that Shiro had dropped, perhaps starting with the fact that drunk Shiro had wanted to take Keith home, and sober Shiro bent Keith in half on a training mat in front of all of his friends with no fighting value and ending with the fact that Shiro had basically paid for what could technically qualify as a date.

It all started clicking into place, and Keith gaped at Shiro while the other smiled on encouragingly. Before the flashback montage could start playing in Keith’s head, he decided to snap months of tension and take action.

He pushed one hand off the dash, planting it against the window as he leaned completely into Shiro’s personal space.

“Keith, you’re gonna-” Shiro started, but Keith couldn’t hear him over the blood rushing through his ears as he planted a kiss on Shiro’s mouth.

Shiro froze, and a small surge of panic rushed through Keith. He was about to pull away, when he felt Shiro relax underneath him. Using the last dreg of courage he had left, Keith pushed forward, trying to deepen the kiss. Shiro bit his lip to stop him, and Keith made a noise of surprise. When Shiro pulled away, Keith’s lizard brain pathetically tried to follow him. Shiro cupped Keith’s cheek with one big hand, placing his thumb over his lips and stopping him before Keith could kiss him again. The small panic started to gestate into something larger as Keith realized that he should have probably asked Shiro before pouncing on him like a hungry teenager.

“Shit—shit, I’m so sorry,” Keith blabbered against Shiro’s finger, eyes widening and face burning. “I should have asked. I didn’t mean—I didn’t mean to.”

“Is that so?” Shiro replied, mouth still parted as he stared at Keith. “I just wanted to make sure you didn’t hurt yourself. You were coming rather fast.”

Keith wanted to both move back and lean further into Shiro’s hand. He also wanted the roof to open up and a heavenly being to smite him for being so obviously overeager. He squirmed, but Shiro had him rooted to the spot and he stayed put.

“Aren’t you uncomfortable?” Shiro asked gently, and Keith nodded.

“Deeply so,” he said, and Shiro’s eyes darted down to Keith’s mouth. He pressed his thumb forward and automatically, Keith parted his lips open slightly to let it in. A look of faint affirmation crossed Shiro’s face and he leaned in to press a gentle kiss to the corner of Keith’s mouth.

“That’s all I wanted to know,” Shiro murmured, tilting his head a little so that his lips brushed against Keith’s as he spoke. Completely oblivious to the fact that he had caused Keith’s brain to short circuit, Shiro drew back, removing his hand and reaching under his seat. It rolled back a couple of inches, creating space between Shiro and his steering wheel.

“Come here,” Shiro said, patting his thigh, and Keith had officially died and entered the afterlife because there was no way this moment was real.

“What?” Keith blinked. “On your lap?”

“Were you planning on going anywhere else?”

“No,” Keith said, and paused. “You come here.”

“I would, but you’re more than halfway to my side,” Shiro pointed out. “I mean, I could if you wanted to. But I feel like this would be a better use of our time.”

“But the steering wheel is on your side,” Keith argued, because if Keith tried to sound like anything other than cranky, only incoherent words would spill out. As it were, he was a mere split second away from climbing Shiro like a tree.

“We can move to the back,” Shiro said, humming contemplatively as he looked at the stuff lion still buckled into the backseat. “I can move the lion, Or I can walk you in. I’m not trying to rush you into anything really, I- “

Keith mumbled something incoherent in protest before clambering on top of Shiro, trying his best not to get any shoe marks on the interior. Shiro slid his seat all the way back with a triumphant look, and reclined it to give Keith more room. Keith cringed as he accidentally honked the horn trying to climb on top of Shiro – “I told you you should have come to me,” Keith grumbled and Shiro chuckled – and he thanked his housemates a thousand times for not being home, because that sound would have drawn them out like flies.

They bumped noses, shuffling awkwardly before Keith got a knee planted on both sides of Shiro. Shiro grabbed Keith’s hips and pulled him up his lap. Keith leaned down, hesitant for a second, but Shiro gave him an encouraging smile. He licked his lips before kissing Shiro, soft and short. Shiro chased his mouth, hooking his thumbs in the belt loops of Keith’s jeans.

A million different thoughts and feelings were swirling around in Keith, but the most prominent one was the finally finally finally that a small voice chanted at the forefront of his brain. Shiro felt large and solid underneath him, and Keith was still not quite sure that he wasn’t in a dream.

Keith could feel the steering wheel dig into his back, and he broke them apart to shuffle up and pull himself even closer to Shiro. For a brief moment, Keith thought it was utterly lame that he was making out in the driveway of his own house, but the thought vanished as Shiro’s breath ghosted over his collarbone. He leaned down and kissed Shiro’s neck, the faint hint of cologne still there, before Shiro weaved metal fingers through Keith’s hair to pull him back up to his mouth.

It turned sweet and slow, and Shiro rubbed circles into Keith’s lower back through his shirt, before thumbing up the fabric and skating calloused fingers over his skin. The fire that had been kindling within Keith crept up through the rest of him; Keith curled his fingers into Shiro’s shirt, and Shiro deepened the kiss. Shiro kissed like he did everything else—in a way that completely infatuated Keith.

“I feel like I’m giving you a shady lap dance,” Keith muttered, pulling back and shifting a little, trying to readjust and get as comfortable as he could in the small space.

“Mm,” Shiro hummed, pressing his lips along Keith’s jaw and gripping Keith a little tighter. “Maybe later, baby.”

“Absolutely not,” Keith said, going a little cross-eyed. Shiro chuckled, the sound reverberating through Keith’s skin, making him shiver a little. “I can’t dance.”

“Yeah you can. I’ve seen it,” Shiro said, nipping lightly before drawing back with a wolfish grin.

“The arcade doesn’t count,” Keith huffed and Shiro chuckled.

“That wasn’t what I was talking about,” He said and Keith leaned in to kiss him before he could continue. It was when Shiro’s tongue peeked into his mouth that Keith fully registered what Shiro had implied. He yanked his head back, thudding it against the padded ceiling of the car.

“Woah, “Shiro said, cupping the back of Keith’s head, rubbing it gently to soothe it. “What happened?”

“Are you talking about that night at Sal's?”  He demanded."You remember?!"

“Uh,” Shiro looked slightly guilty. “Kind of? I remember the gist of it. Matt filled in the blanks.”

“I was—that brought me so much agony because I thought you didn’t remember!” Keith exclaimed, thumping a fist lightly against Shiro’s chest. “Why didn’t you tell me you remembered?”

“Sorry,” Shiro winced. “I tried. I felt really bad for draping all over you when I was drunk, but I also felt really awkward about it. When I asked you what happened, you said nothing did, so I thought you didn’t really want to talk about it.”

“It’s burned into my brain forever,” Keith informed him, and Shiro gave an apologetic look.

“I’m really sorry,” He said. “I probably should have handled it better, but I got a little tongue tied.”

Shiro looked so genuine in his apology, that Keith couldn’t find himself to remain indignant for long.

“Whatever,” Keith said, and as a display of forgiveness, he leaned in to kiss the tip of Shiro’s nose, before biting it gently as punishment.

Shiro gave a short laugh and dropped his seat back even further, till the headrest was hitting the back seat. It wasn’t fully flat, but Keith wasn’t complaining. He was able to stretch out a little further, and not having the wheel pressed up against his back was a definite improvement.

“Don’t think I’m going to let you off for this,” Keith stated, as he felt one hand cup his neck and the other slide up his thigh.

“Mhm,” Shiro said, grinning and pulling Keith down for another kiss. Keith was happy to see that Shiro was as enthusiastic as he was, and enjoyed the feeling of the interior of the car closing in on them and causing them to push up closer against each other. He let his own hands drift downwards and rest over Shiro's shirt, running fingers over the material.

Shiro moved to place blunt, biting kisses down Keith’s neck, and the electricity that ran through Keith gave him enough courage to proposition Shiro.

“Hey,” Keith whispered, low and heated. “Don’t you think we’re a little too big for the car?”

“Where else is there to go?” Shiro raised an eyebrow, and Keith was just on the cusp on figuring out how exactly to make his basement cave sound seductive when there was a sharp RAP RAP RAP on the window. Shiro froze, but Keith turned to complete stone.

“Keith?” A muffled voice called out. “Yo, Keith.”

“Oh my god,” Keith muttered, absolutely horrified. Maybe if he pressed himself as flat as possible against Shiro, the moment would pass.

No such thing happened.

Instead, a bright light flooded through the driver’s window, and there was another set of knocks.

“Keith?” knock knock knock. “Keith!” knock knock knock. “Ke-eith!”

“You should probably get that,” Shiro said, looking like he was trying really hard not to smile. Traitor.

“Traitor,” Keith hissed before sitting up and rolling down the window.

Hunk and Lance stared back at him, grins so wide their faces looked ready to break.

“What do you want?” Keith grunted, trying his best to not look like he was dying on the inside. Shiro’s hands had settled on his hips when he got up, and they squeezed reassuringly under his shirt. That objectively did not make things better.  “I’m busy.”

“I can see,” Hunk said, shining the flashlight on his phone directly in Keith’s face. To establish dominance, Keith tried to stare back for three whole seconds before he had to blink the spots out of his vision.

“We got take out,” Lance piped up, trying to stick his head through the window. Keith stopped him, palming his face back into the open. “Aw, c’mon, I just wanna say hi to both of you.”

Beneath Keith, Shiro started shuffling and Keith pressed a palm against his chest.

“Stay down,” Keith hissed, but Shiro pulled the lever and jerked the seat up. Keith exclaimed, falling backwards as they narrowly missed clocking each other in the face. Keith’s back hit the horn again, startling all parties, and Shiro’s hand immediately slid in between to steady him. 

“Shiro,” Lance gave a small salute. “Looks like your evening’s been treating you well.”

“It’s alright,” Shiro said with an easy shrug and Keith contemplated if it was possible to just throw Shiro out and drive away. “How’s it going?”

“Wanna join us for dinner? We have extra food,” Hunk added, holding up a plastic bag, the smell of shish-taouk floating into the car. “Pidge is on her way back, but she already ate. You can bring Keith if you want.”

“I’ll try not to get jealous,” Lance added. “Despite the love of my life having chosen my uglier friend.”

Keith looked at Shiro and Shiro looked way, way more amused than he had any right to be for someone who was completely squished in the driver’s seat. Lance and Hunk exchanged gleeful looks before bowing out and waving. Keith rolled the window back up so that he didn’t have to hear them coo loudly as they entered the house.

“Leave me to die,” Keith groaned when they had left, head falling forward onto Shiro’s shoulder. 

“You know, I am kind of hungry,” Shiro said. “And you’re in the way.”

Keith levelled Shiro with the most unimpressed glare he could muster, and Shiro had the audacity to look amused.

“Since I’m such an inconvenience,” Keith said, and started unlocking the door.

“Wait,” Shiro said, and Keith stopped on command. Shiro reached up and pecked Keith’s mouth before swinging open the door. Keith let out an indignant squawk as Shiro started shifting out of the car, jostling him backwards. Shiro snaked a hand underneath Keith to catch him and carry him out of the car like an exhausted child. Shiro nudged the door close behind him and dropped Keith onto his feet.

“Sorry,” He said, not looking sorry at all.

“Yeah, yeah,” Keith brushed his jacket off, before straightening out Shiro’s shirt. Despite being caught, Keith was still trying to do damage control, and thought it to be in their best interests if they were to enter the house looking as least-rumpled as possible.

“You’re not the uglier friend by the way,” Shiro said, wrapping his arms around Keith’s waist and stealing a quick peck. "I like how you look, and I like you. A lot."

“Thanks,” Keith said dryly. “I was really worried about that.”

Shiro let out another laugh, before ruffling Keith’s hair, detaching himself, turning on his heel and heading towards Keith's house. Keith was just a little annoyed at having been interrupted when he finally, finally got his hands on Shiro, but the smell of the food had been really tempting. He watched Shiro enter his house, and he could hear Hunk and Lance starting to clamour over him.

Though Keith tried his best to look as irritated and put-upon as possible when he entered the house, his façade crumbled quickly as he saw Shiro in the kitchen, trying to balance two plates as Hunk loaded it up with food. Keith crept up behind Shiro, and Shiro extended out a plate to him. Keith ducked and stuck out his tongue at him, going to the fridge to put away his waffle container and Shiro rolled his eyes at him.

Pidge arrived home just as the four of them had settled in the living room, and she gave Keith a covert high-five as she passed the couch which he shared with Shiro. Lance bleated on about how offensive it was to watch his crush and his definitely-not-best-friend get close right in front of his eyes, and Keith simply told him to look away.

Keith tucked himself closer against Shiro, getting teased by all three of his housemates simultaneously but all things said and done—it was a small price to pay.

Chapter Text

ONE YEAR LATER

 

“Keith.”

Keith had managed to stay still for thirty whole seconds so far. If he stayed still for thirty more, there was a high chance that Lance might leave.

“Dude, wake up.”

Keith took measured, deep breaths. It wasn’t a hard task, and he could feel himself dozing off again.

“I can see your eyelids twitching,” Lance said, as if he hadn’t also seen Keith sit up in his bed and look at him with a frown when he came down uninvited to his basement room, before flopping back down. “Get up, asshole.”

“Sleeping.” Keith grunted, scrunching his eyes shut harder and hoping that Lance got the hint. He felt something smooth and metallic slide over each side of his nose and pinch. Hard .

“What the-” his eyes snapped open and his voice came out nasally. Lance looked down at him in an unimpressed manner from where he stood at Keith’s bedside, pinching his nose with a pair of cooking tongs. “Fuck you-”

Keith grabbed at Lance’s hand and jammed his thumb into the joint of his wrist, immediately buckling it. Lance dropped the tongs and Keith tried to snatch them but he’d been awake for maybe a grand total of eight minutes and Lance managed to get to them before Keith did.

“What do you want?” Keith tried his best to glare up at Lance.

“Where’s Shiro?” Lance asked. “We were wondering if we could get his keys and start loading his car now.”

Shiro was in the washroom, brushing his teeth after having finally extracted himself from Keith’s death grip in bed. Originally, Shiro was supposed to come in the morning so that they could load his car with everyone’s camping supplies and booze. But Shiro had texted him the night before, told him his friends had to cancel their plans because one of them had pre-gamed too hard before Shiro had even made it to their apartment, and had asked Keith if it was okay to crash at his to save the drive in the morning.

Keith always found it funny that Shiro would be polite enough to ask, like he was someone Keith could say no to. Especially when he showed up at Keith’s door in dark jeans and a tight black shirt that made Keith’s mouth go a little dry. They had ended up staying up a lot later than they really should have, and Keith felt like his body weighed ten times more than it actually did. But in a good way.

“He’ll come by later,” Keith replied, looking at Lance from under his arm.  “I’ll let him know then.”

“Don’t lie to me,” Lance thwacked him on the chin with the tongs, and Keith tried to yank them out of his hand. He was still sleep-slow, so Lance managed to keep it out of his reach. “He’s parked like a block down. I saw it when I went to go get coffee.”

Keith decided that the best thing to do in the moment was to yank the blankets over his head because if he didn’t see Lance, then he didn’t have to hear Lance. Unfortunately, Lance pinched the blankets between his tongs and pulled despite Keith’s best efforts. Keith stuck up both middle fingers as Lance peeled the layers back.

“Give me his keys,” Lance demanded. “I wanna start loading stuff so that I don’t have to help Hunk with the food.”

“God, fine,” Keith grunted, and reached out beside him. He slapped around on the bedside table before he felt the familiar keys in his hands, and lobbed them at Lance’s face. Lance managed to catch them right before they hit his nose, which was quite a shame. “Leave me alone.”

“Get dressed” Lance said, not waiting for Keith to respond before he plucked at the blanket with his tongs again. “I don’t want to be late because of you. You can sleep on the beach.”

He pulled it back, revealing Keith’s bare chest, and grimaced deeply before dropping the cloth on Keith’s hips. Keith didn’t have to even guess at what Lance was going to say next.

“Really Keith?” Lance jabbed Keith’s sternum and Keith rolled onto his other side, blocking Lance from prodding at him any more. “A hickey? On beach day?”

“It’s not a hickey,” Keith said sagely over his shoulder as the washroom door opened in the distance behind Lance. “We’re saving ourselves for marriage. This is my third nipple.”

Lance made an absolutely disgusted face which only deepened when Shiro walked up behind him in only his boxers. He clapped Lance on the shoulder as a greeting, and Lance looked incredibly put out.

“Is it time to go yet?” Shiro asked cheerfully as he bypassed Lance. Keith felt the dip of the mattress, and rolled back over as Shiro starfished over him like a blanket, smelling like mint and aftershave.

“You smell nice,” Keith grinned, and Shiro winked in return, leaning down to peck him on the lips. Keith decided to keep him there, pulling him into a proper kiss while he slung a lazy arm around Shiro’s hips.

“I’m right here,” Lance informed them, and Keith hummed and started plucking at the waistband of Shiro’s boxers. He lifted it up and let it go with a loud snap, and Lance made a noise. “ Ew , god, okay I get it. Just make sure you guys come up on time.”

Lance trudged away, clicking the tongs and muttering something about indecency and not being able to wait till Keith moved out. It was his own fault, Keith decided as Shiro continued to kiss him. Keith bit his lower lip and Shiro grinned into it, trying to deepen the kiss.

“He’s gone,” Keith tried, but Shiro hummed.

“We don’t know that for sure,” He said in between the kisses, and Keith rolled his eyes as the basement door slammed in the distance. He was going to be the last one to protest though; he slid his arms tighter around Shiro and pulled him down.

“We need to load up the car,” Keith tried to say as Shiro started a trail across his jaw and down his neck. He felt teeth graze over his skin, felt the peek of a tongue that kind of tickled.  “Or not. Everyone always leaves an hour after we say we would.”

“Thought so,” Shiro murmured against his neck, shifting his leg between Keith’s and kicking the blanket off the bed completely.

 

 


 

 

They ended up being the last ones ready, and all three of Keith’s housemates gave them immense grief about it as if Pidge hadn’t come in a close second, having woken up ten whole minutes before Keith and Shiro finally deigned themselves fit enough to go upstairs. Unsurprisingly,  Lance had made no headway in loading Shiro’s car, so Keith had to load in everyone’s tents and the two large booze coolers on his own. Shiro had decided to help Hunk with making sure everything was ready and packed for two days worth of eating for five people, and two days after that for six people when Allura joined them at the campsite.

They always filled Shiro’s car till it was brimming, part because Shiro felt no fear if he couldn’t use his rearview mirror and part because no one wanted to be stuck in a car with Keith and Shiro for longer than ten minutes. They had a shared habit of putting on a playlist that had only two songs, regardless of how long the drive is, and singing along with the song intermittently and off-key. The two songs on said playlist changed once every few weeks, and the general consensus was that no one could ride with them unless they had enough Ambien beforehand. No one needed to know that when it was just the two of them, they had a different playlist and Keith liked to rest his hand on Shiro’s thigh while he quietly dozed off.

That’s exactly what they ended up doing on the way to Bear Lake. They were taking their annual summer trip there with their friends, and their first official one since half the house had graduated. Keith’s finished the whole throwing his grad-hat into the air and hoping it didn’t come down thing, and Pidge had gotten degree printed onto a large fleece blanket. They were all using this trip to deflate before they had to go back to real life, as it were.

The drive there was uneventful, and Keith slept for most of it. He had plans to sleep on the beach for most of the trip too, under a large umbrella so that no one would place his hand on his belly for their own amusement as he toasted in the sun. Last time it happened no one had fessed up to it, and Shiro of all people hadn’t been able to make eye contact with Keith. This time, Keith had a solid plan of taping a small bell to the underside of the umbrella while no one was looking, just in case anyone tried to move it.

Everyone’s initial first action upon arriving to the beach was to dump everything onto a giant tarp and run straight into the water, leaving their clothes to collect sand. Shiro, ever the responsible one, tried to get everyone to set up their tents beforehand while they still had energy and were sober and no one paid attention to him. Keith thought about helping Shiro for a hot moment,  because it would mean Shiro getting shirtless and into the water sooner, but Pidge pulled him by his elbow towards the water, determined that they immediately beat Hunk and Lance in a game of chicken.

Keith looked over his shoulder helplessly at Shiro, and Shiro waved back good-naturedly from where he was setting up the charcoal barbecue. Pidge still didn’t let him go though, no matter how much he tried to look like he was yearning, not until they were in the water and she had climbed onto Keith’s shoulders. She had forgotten to put her sunscreen on, and Keith was pretty sure if they played this again later in the afternoon, Lance was going to go straight to slapping a sunburn.

Hunk and Lance had a longstanding chicken fight rivalry with Pidge and Keith for as long as they had been doing these trips, but Keith was convinced it was all one sided because Pidge consistently and absolutely decimated Lance. It was no different this time, as Pidge grappled with Lance and they hurled insults at each other while Hunk and Keith talked about whether or not they thought it was actually going to rain over the weekend.

“Bring me closer,” Pidge barked at Keith and he complied, moving closer as she pinched Lance’s nose and he let out a nasally squeak. “Call me a leprechaun one more time.”

“How do you think I would look with a goatee?” Hunk asked, rotating a little so that Lance hds a better chance of flicking Pidge across the forehead.

“If you grow one, I’ll grow one,” Keith replied, getting interrupted by Lance managing to get in a hard shove that sent both Keith and Pidge tumbling backwards. They landed in the water with a big splash, and Pidge swore up a storm while Keith laughed and sputtered as he emerged from the water. She gave him less than five seconds to recuperate before she climbed his shoulders again, determined to seek revenge and taking no care to be gentle.

Keith moved in again and started twisting his upper body back and forth so that Pidge could windmill Lance with her tiny hands. Lance screeched and Hunk leaned forward, and they almost got the upper hand on Keith and Pidge again until Keith felt a large set of hands on his hips, slowing him down.

“Time out,” He called, even though Lance and Pidge were still trying to slap each other. He turned around to see Shiro looking on with an amused expression. He was shirtless and wearing black boardshorts with a red spiralling design on it that looked like it should have died ten years ago, and Keith had to take a moment to appreciate how good Shiro looked when he was sunkissed.

“Hey babe,” Keith grinned, and looked over Shiro’s shoulder. The barbecue and cooler were set up, as were two chairs and a single tent— Keith and Shiro’s. Keith was not surprised that Shiro’s proactivity only extended to what the two of them needed, and he leaned up to get a kiss from his boyfriend.

“I’m still up here,” Pidge said indignantly, trying to squeeze Keith’s head with her thighs as he and Shiro continued to kiss. They didn’t really need to anymore, but the more Pidge complained, the more attached Keith grew to Shiro’s mouth. “God, you guys are so gross.”

Keith didn’t have to do anything; Pidge wiggled out of his grasp and fell backwards, bemoaning the fact that Keith had turned into the worst chicken fighting partner. Keith was about to tease her in return, but found himself getting gently pushed aside as Shiro extended a hand and asked her if she wanted to partner up with someone with more skill. Keith squawked about being plenty good enough, but Shiro looked at him innocently while hoisting an extremely smug Pidge up onto his shoulders. The sting was eased by the look of terror on Lance’s face as the two of them rounded on him.

“Not fair,” Lance said, and no one listened.

Keith managed to sneak away as the day melted into a lazy afternoon and everyone’s focus shifted from splashing around in the lake and trying to dunk and hold each other underwater, to getting fed. Lance took charge of lighting the barbecue, Pidge and Shiro were unpacking the marinated steak, and Hunk was performing his pre-cooking ritual of taking a picture of himself against the dark waters of the lake in a bright yellow apron while flexing with a spatula. They forgot to assign Keith something so while everyone keeps busy, he grabbed a towel and an umbrella and quietly snuck down the beach, ultimately deciding fifty feet was far enough for no one to bother him.

He laid out a towel and planted the umbrella into the sand, and saw Shiro in the distance glance up from one of his fluorescent pink bowls. He had thrown on a bright white tank top, and if Keith wasn’t so determined to get a nap in, he’d go closer to appreciate it. Keith waved at him before he plopped down onto the towel, rolling onto his belly and propping his head up onto his arms. He could hear his friends faintly calling out his name, but Keith had no plans to move till he got wind of the steak getting finished. He was feeling extremely lazy and he knew his friends were too lazy to come over to get him, so he closed his eyes as he dozed off in the warmth.

Unsurprisingly, it took only ten minutes for someone to come bother him. Even more unsurprisingly, it was Shiro with a bottle of water and a tube of sunscreen. Keith cracked one eye open in greeting, but he felt too relaxed and too liquid to do anything more than that.

“You’re gonna burn,” Shiro toed Keith in the ribs, and Keith tried to swat his foot away.

“‘M sleeping,” He mumbled into his forearms, turning his head and closing his eyes again. “Leave me alone.”

“C’mon,” Shiro crouched down beside Keith, poking him again. “Let me put some sunscreen on you. You don’t want to burn again.”

“I’m under an umbrella,” Keith grumbled but shifted a little to the side so that Shiro could kneel down on the towel.

“I’ll leave you alone after this,” Shiro said and Keith replied with a lazy “Good,”  while he felt the the cold sunscreen drop down the line of his spine.

Shiro spanned his large palms gently over Keith’s back even though his skin was already sunwarm, and spread out the sunscreen. One of the best things Keith found out about dating Shiro was that he had massage skills that were otherworldly. It’s not just that it made Keith want to climb Shiro, which is something Shiro achieved by generally just being there, but it was genuinely one of the most blessed things Keith had ever been introduced to.

Keith let out a soft moan while Shiro kneaded the heels of his palm into Keith, working out the knots in his back as he rubbed in the sunscreen. He started near his shoulders, thumbs rubbing circles into the tendons of his neck till Keith felt like he was floating on a cloud.

“I can’t wait to get this every day,” Keith groaned more than said, and Shiro snorted from above him.

“Who says you’re getting this every day?” He said, squeezing out more sunscreen onto Keith’s back. Keith felt him rub circles right under his shoulder blades, soothing the muscle, and wondered if it’d be too much for him to roll over and ask Shiro to marry him right this instant.

“You did,” Keith replied in a matter-of-fact manner, and made only a small sound when Shiro pinched his side as a reprimand. “That's the only reason why I said yes to moving in.”

Shiro had quietly asked him the question one night while they were both trapped in the library mid second semester, each frying their brains over a stack of books. He had prefaced with a speech about knowing it might be too early because they weren’t quite at their one-year yet but his roommate was moving out in the summer and both he and Keith had really good work offers in town and—

Keith had said yes before Shiro had finished his rehearsed speech, and had leaned over the table to press a kiss to the corner of his mouth before dropping back into his seat and squeezing out another can of Red Bull into his mouth. The answer to it had been clear, and Keith hadn’t doubted it since. It hadn’t taken long after they started to date for Keith to realize that this would be a man he would be more than happy to be stuck in a more permanent orbit with.

They hadn’t talked too much about it, but after the haze of their final semester had passed, Keith had asked Shiro when exactly he wanted Keith in by. Shiro had blinked, and Keith was about to ask him indignantly if he had forgotten that he asked, when Shiro told him he thought Keith had forgotten about it in general because they had never talked about it after that night. Keith had shrugged and said that he thought they’d approach it as it came closer, and that had been that.

Shiro just started the massage, but Keith already felt like he was jelly, like he was the most content he’d ever been. He let out a moan as Shiro dug in harder, working the tension out of the more difficult areas. Shiro’s hands stuttered, like they did every time that Keith did this, and Keith figured he did in fact have a legitimate chance in getting Shiro to do this to him every day so that he could be the most relaxed man on the planet. Keith planned to balance it out by making sure they never ran out of that abhorrent chocolate almond milk Shiro loved so much, and helping Shiro follow through on his desire to paint one of their bedroom walls a deep purple.

Shiro slid a hand underneath him and pushed until Keith had rolled onto his back, despite his protests on not wanting to move. Keith threw an arm over his head as dramatically as he could, only removing it when Shiro leaned down to peck him on the corner of his mouth. Before Keith could respond, Shiro pulled back and squeezed out a straight line of sunscreen down his torso.

When he touched him this time, when Shiro skimmed his hands over his chest, Keith shivered and twitched from where he was laying. Shiro laughed at him as he moved his hands up to Keith’s shoulder blades and rubs circles. He kept them there, even when Keith grabbed his wrist and tried to gently push him downwards.

“Coward,” Keith frowned, and Shiro winked at him. He leaned down, and Keith was ready to yank Shiro for a proper kiss when someone cleared their throat from beside them. They both cast a disgruntled look back, only to see Pidge giving them an equally disgruntled look back.

“We have the wrong cooler,” she said, adjusting her glasses. “Can I have your keys, Shiro? I can go grab it if you’re busy.”

“It’s okay,” Shiro said, wiping the remaining sunscreen off on Keith’s face. “I'll go get it.”

Keith tried to push his hands away and tell him to just give the keys to Pidge, but Shiro had already started to get up. Reluctantly, Keith got up as well, brushing sand off his shorts.

“I’ll come with,” he said, and Pidge snorted as the three of them started to walk back.

“Guess we aren’t getting more beer,” she said, and Keith tucked a strand of his hair back with his middle finger while she pushed up her glasses with hers. Hunk and Lance echoed the same sentiment, and Shiro cheerily told them that he’d drink all the cans in front of them. They took a pit stop before they headed to the car, where Shiro swiped Lance’s canned pina colada and Keith tested out the hot dogs, but they got shooed away by their friends.

Keith hoisted the wine cooler over his shoulder to take back to the car, ignoring Shiro’s offers to help. When they got to the car, Shiro popped open the trunk for him before saying something about wanting to see if they remembered to bring the chips. Keith pushed the wine cooler to the back of the trunk before pulling out the beer cooler, and heard no rustle of chips.

“Hey,” Shiro called out as Keith dropped the cooler onto the dirt. “Come over here.”

“Hold on,” Keith said as he slammed shut the trunk door. He rounded the car to see Shiro sitting in the back seat, legs planted outside. “What's up?”

“Just wanted a moment with you,” Shiro grinned and leaned forward. He dug a thumb in the front of Keith's waistband and tugged, shaking loose some sand. Keith ducked so that he didn't hit the frame of the car, and found himself getting pulled in for a kiss. Keith didn't object; he let Shiro guide him, let him cup Keith's head with one hand while the other slid slyly down his front.

Keith had all the intention to pull back and let Shiro know that half leaning into the car was uncomfortable, but Shiro read his mind and started to tug him in completely.

“Stop,” Keith said playfully, and kissed the fake frown Shiro gives him, “If they don’t come for us, they’ll be coming for the beer.”

“Do you think any of them will really move ten feet from the barbecue?” Shiro deadpanned, and Keith was never not going to pretend that it was frustrating how well Shiro slid into his friend group. Keith was secretly glad for it though, secretly glad Shiro so seamlessly placed himself into Keith’s life like he had always belonged there. He thought their imminent move-in was making him more of a romantic, but it seemed to be the effect Shiro had in general.

“Shiro,” Keith breathed again in between the kisses as Shiro laid down completely on the seat, pulling Keith on top of him. “They'll wonder where we are.”

“Will they though?” Shiro raised an eyebrow and— fair. Keith wouldn't put it past his friends to eventually forget he and Shiro had come on the trip altogether. Keith still rolled his eyes and leaned forward, bracketing Shiro's head with his forearms. He could see the sand dust off from his arms onto the black seats, and planned to pretend that he couldn't see any of it at all.

Keith dipped his head, and the hand on his chest slid around to circle his waist. Shiro met him eagerly and Keith sighed into the kiss, dropping down so that his bare chest pressed a firm line against Shiro's. Shiro tasted like fake pineapple and rum, and even though Keith knew that he at best tasted like a tube steak, Shiro still opened up to him, carding fingers through Keith's hair. He playfully twisted the longer strands at the nape of Keith's neck and tugged, causing Keith to laugh into the kiss.

Predictably, their friends bleated on about how long they took by the time they returned. That is until Shiro tossed them a can each, and they immediately switched topics to how he was possibly the best man they had ever met. Keith was always amused by how easy his friends were, but he found himself hard pressed to disagree.

 

 


 

 

As was standard with all their beach trips, the moment the sun started to set, Pidge started chirping about a bonfire. It took Lance less than ten minutes to throw wood into the pit and fulfill her wish while Hunk and Keith set out the chairs. Keith wanted to curl up in Shiro’s lap or have Shiro sprawl out in his, but last time they had done that, they had accidentally broken the cloth seat of a chair. It had been a worn out old lawn chair, but the mortification was enough to last a lifetime.

The entire group was pleasantly buzzed from the sun and the barbecue and booze, but it didn’t stop Hunk from passing around a few cans of beer margaritas as they settled down around the fire. They all had a little more money now, but that hadn't stopped anyone in the group from sourcing most of their alcohol from gas stations. At the most, Shiro and Keith liked to pretend to be above them by drinking whiskey, even though their actual favourite drink was any over-sugary boxed pina colada they could get their hands on.

It wasn’t fully dark yet, and Keith wanted to throw on a hoodie and walk with Shiro around the beach but their friends were insistent that they stay and hang around the bonfire.

“You can do that day after,” Lance said from beside them. “I forgot to pack an extra chair and Allura’s going to need a place to sit when she comes.”

“What he means,” Hunk interjected while Keith gave Lance a flat look. “Is that we have less than a week after this trip till you move out, so we want to spend some time with you.”

Keith was about to open his mouth to retort but he caught the look on all his friend’s faces. Even Lance hadn’t made a smart-ass comment, so Keith shut it and rolled his eyes with a fond smile.

“I’m not going to be far away,” he pointed out anyways. “We’re still going to be within driving distance.”

“Please don’t remind me,” Pidge groaned. “I can’t believe we’re all in this place for at least another year.”

“I’m never going to be free of you guys,” Keith playfully bemoaned, and Lance reached down to grab at the leg of Keith’s chair. “Hey, what—”

Lance yanked the leg and tipped his chair, sending Keith sprawling backwards in the sand. Keith sputtered as his back hit the soft ground, and he heard Hunk go “cheers,” in the background. On the other side, he saw Shiro raise his can, and Keith knew that there was no longer anyone safe in the world.

“I’m going to kill you,” Keith informed Lance, but didn’t do much more because the food and drink was still heavy in his belly and the sand actually felt a little comfortable. It took a full two minutes for Shiro to dutifully help him up, and Keith could tell he was pleasantly buzzed too because Shiro pulled Keith up by the wrist and tugged him onto Shiro’s lap instead of bringing up his chair for him.

“You’ve got sand all over you,” Shiro pointed out, but snaked an arm around Keith to keep him down when he tried to move off of him to brush off.

“If you break that one too,” Hunk threatened, but it was an empty threat. Shiro cracked open another can for them to share, and Keith thanked him with a short kiss to the corner of his mouth. He had to remind himself that all his friends were here too, and loved to clown him at any given opportunity, so he settled for getting comfortable in his boyfriend’s lap.

The summer night air was pleasant around him and he basked in the presence of his friends. The bonfire crackled and spat out little sparks that illuminated his friends as they eagerly discussed whether or not the new bar that opened three blocks away legitimately counted as a country bar or not due to it not having a mechanical bull. It was a squarely stupid topic which Shiro chimed in on as well, and Keith couldn’t help but feel the warmth from the fire sink in to his bones as Shiro got into an argument with Lance about country bars in large towns. None of them listened to country music save for Hunk on occasion, but they were all fascinated by both the rumor that the dean’s son worked the weeknight bar shifts and the cheap Triple Fishbowl Fridays.

Keith planned to admit it only once, and specifically to Lance so that he could deny it if Lance ever brought up; he was going to miss his friends when he moved out. They were a very specific brand of chaotic and intelligent idiots that would no doubt still find a way to make his life hard, and he was definitely going to miss them. At the same time, he had got an uncontainable amount of excitement knowing that he was going to be moving in with Shiro soon enough.

Keith normally moved at the speed of heavy molasses when it came to getting attached to anyone beyond surface level. He was friendly in a quiet way, but didn’t recall ever getting hooked in so fast and hard by anyone like he had by Shiro. He had thought that maybe he had been crushing on Shiro too hard before they got together, that maybe something would happen that would suddenly make Keith backtrack and panic. But none of that had ever happened— being with Shiro came to him as naturally as breathing, and even though it had only been just over a year, Keith couldn’t remember being in love like this before.

Shiro jostled both of them as he indignantly told Lance that a country bar was only a country bar if the population of the town it was in was under thirty thousand, and Keith leaned back so that he didn’t fall off the chair. The cloth underneath them creaked warningly, but Keith figured if this one broke then they would still be held up by the sheer power of Shiro’s legs. They smelled like a mix of smoked wood, lake water, and the atrocious body spray Lance decided to spray everyone down with, and even though the laundry was going to make him choke when he got home, Keith was in love with the moment.

Hunk broke out his guitar, as was standard with any sort of gathering of theirs that lasted over an hour, and he and Pidge dedicated a terribly warbly duet to Keith and Shiro. Shiro pretended to choke up while Keith remained stoic only so that he could repress the single tear that threatened to fall out of his right eye. Keith maintained that dating Shiro was the sole reason for why he had become a more emotionally expressive, and absolutely no one believed him, including Shiro.

They’re all wrong though, because Shiro was the reason that Keith had been feeling more than he ever had before. They were both headstrong and ambitious but somehow that had worked in their favour. The final year of university had hit him hard and fast like a sledgehammer, but Keith had an unyielding source of support in Shiro. He tried to return it as well, had been there for Shiro as he tore through the last year of his post-grad, and they had both made it out alive on the other end, relatively unscathed.

They were in town for another year minimum, as was everyone else around the fire. Hunk and Lance were taking an extra semester because they had taken off half of last year to grow Hunk’s business, while Pidge had gotten a contract at the same company as Keith had. Shiro wanted to teach at their alma mater, and the two of them had discussed saving up and possibly moving to a bigger city for when Keith would want to do his post-grad. But that was all for them to talk about later.

For now, Keith focused on being in the moment and singing along off-key with his friends. His words slurred into each other, voice cracking over them as Lance tried to sing louder and Shiro very vocally encouraged him on with a “ that’s my man!” . Keith’s face was long past red, matching everyone else’s, and everything felt relatively right with the world.

It got late before everyone decided that the mosquitoes were getting to be too annoying and that they should turn in for the night. After he brushed his teeth, Keith had the absolutely genius idea that he could get rid of the sand that’s still sticking to him by doing a quick in-and-out dash into the lake. Shiro raised his eyebrows when he suggested it, which Keith took as an okay. He also had a healthy amount of Guinness in him, so it didn’t register as bad idea until the cold water hit his entire body like a slap from the grim reaper. Keith yelped and did a quick one eighty, hopping back onto the beach while his teeth clattered. Lance laughed too loudly at him while Shiro was waiting for him with a towel.

“Did you expect anything else?” Shiro asked, circling Keith with the towel and his big arms. The were warm and solid around him, and made Keith feel a little less like death tried to embrace him. At least he was sober now.

“I did this for you,” Keith grumbled, sticking his tongue out. “At least you can’t complain about the sand anymore.”

“You literally could have just used a wet towel,” Hunk said,  and Lance clapped him on the back.

“Leave him alone,” Lance said. “He only bathes like three times a year.”

“That’s three times more than you,” Keith spat out, and Shiro held him back before he could initiate another slap fight with Lance. He pretended to be irritated with the fact that  Shiro was herding him into their tent instead of letting him go kick Lance’s ass, but Keith was secretly looking forward to finally being truly alone with Shiro in their own little space.

Keith was sure he was in for some teasing or a lecture, but Shiro unwrapped him from the towel and turned on their mini camping lamp without a word. As soon as Keith was in something dry, Shiro pushed him onto the tiny air mattress that took up most of the space in their tent, and followed by draping himself over Keith.

Keith thought Shiro was trying to warm him up as Shiro pulled one of their quilts over them. But Shiro rolled them over so that Keith was on top of him, and pulled at the back of Keith’s thighs till they were  bracketing Shiro’s hips. He ran a hand over Keith’s back and tucked a finger under his chin to pull him into something sweet and languid. They both tasted like travel toothpaste and alcohol, and warmth pooled at the pit of Keith’s belly as Shiro continued to kiss him.

“What’s with you today?” Keith murmured when they broke apart, and Shiro gave half a shrug as he dipped his hand to the hem of Keith’s sweater. Shiro gave a lazy smile as he thumbed at it and pushed it up, rubbing circles into cold skin. Shiro’s hand was large and warm against him and his fingers kneaded into the muscles and there was something about the way he looked at him that made Keith’s ears turn pink.

“What?” He said again, and Shiro pushed his sweater up further. Keith got the hint and pulled it off, leaving himself in his undershirt.

Still quiet, Shiro cast an appreciative glance up and down his body. It had been over a year since they got together, but it still made Keith go a little red when Shiro wasn’t subtle about checking him out. He tried to cut Shiro off by kissing him again and Shiro complied, opening up for Keith. He circled a hand around Keith’s neck, used his other arm to press him down flush from where he was leaning.

Keith felt wanted like this, felt loved like this. He was still not quite sure how he’d managed to land someone like Shiro, but whenever he brought that up around Shiro, Shiro said that he was the one that should be saying it, like Keith was a catch.

“What do you want?” Keith’s voice came out playfully aggressive, petulant like he couldn’t stand Shiro looking at him like this even though it’s all he wanted. The answer was predictable but it still made him grin a little goofy when Shiro said “just you”, as if it was the most obvious thing in the world.

“Are you excited for next week?” Shiro asked, and Keith shook his head.

“Nah,” He replied, folding his arms over Shiro’s chest and propping his chin up. “I’m getting a new roommate and he looks like a pain in the ass.”

“Yeah?” Shiro pinched his brow like he was genuinely concerned. “I’m in the same boat. Some guy’s taking over my old roommate’s lease and he seems like a dick.”

“We should trade,” Keith wriggled his brows, and Shiro responded by digging his fingers into Keith’s sides. Keith let out a surprised yell and twitched but Shiro made sure he kept Keith rooted on top of him. It was torturous and Keith only lasted ten seconds before he was wrenching Shiro’s hands off of him and pinning them above his head.

“Wow,” Shiro commented and he still had snarky look on. “You’re so strong, Keith.”

“Shut up,” Keith demanded, pressing Shiro’s hands down further. The effect was diluted by the give of the air mattress. “I am strong.”

“That’s what I said,” Shiro said innocently, and Keith decided that the better option in this moment was to kiss Shiro and shut him up before he made a stupid joke. Shiro seemed to be more than happy to go along, even when Keith pressed down hard and biting. Keith could feel Shiro laugh into it and he tried to swallow that up too, easing up slightly only when Shiro was groaning instead.

When Keith was satisfied, he let go of Shiro’s hands. He didn’t even have to tell Shiro anything; Shiro automatically ran one hand through Keith’s hair and dug the thumb of the other into his waistband. They both smell like charred wood and it was perfect, it was more than Keith had ever dreamt of, even when he was daydreaming about getting with Shiro.

Over a year and a half ago, Keith was thrown into a crisis just by Shiro’s very existence. He still was, but in a way that was better than anything he could have even thought of when he was trying to be subtle about staring from the back of Slav’s class. It felt like a lifetime ago, from how well he and Shiro fell in together after they started dating, and felt like it happened just yesterday with how it found new ways to make his heart go funny.

He was going to be moving in with him in a week, and Keith’s mind still tilted at the thought that he was going to be able to live with his best friend. He was going to be able to fight with him over the hot water, was going to be able to get Shiro to make him coffee in the morning while Keith fried the eggs, was going to be able to come home to him drunk at 3 A.M and profess his utmost love and devotion till he passed out on the couch, secure in Shiro’s arms.

There was a lot Keith would be able to do and he thought that he must have been a saint in his past life for how good karma was coming around to reward him. He didn’t notice that he had slowed down, lost in thought, until Shiro pulled back to look at him with a little bit of concern.

“You okay?” He asked, looking up at Keith. “I thought you fell asleep.”

“Would serve you right,” Keith said with only half the bite he intended to use. He ran a thumb over Shiro’s lips and followed it with his own, brushing against them as he spoke.

“I love you,” Keith said against his lips. “So much.”

“Cool,” Shiro replied, and laughed as Keith shoved at his shoulder. “What?”

“I take that back,” Keith grumbled, and Shiro rumbled underneath him. Before he could register it, Keith felt Shiro shift them, heaving so that Keith was on his back again. The air mattress sunk underneath them as Shiro propped himself up above Keith, and looked down at him.

“I love you too,” Shiro said, and Keith reached up to push his bangs back. They fell over Shiro’s face as he let go, a little overgrown, and Shiro leaned into his palm when Keith cupped his face.  “Like you wouldn’t even know, baby.”

Keith snorted at the way Shiro drawled out the last few words, but couldn’t deny that the words tugged at his heart.The orange glow of their lamp flickered, and Keith’s heart beat a little faster when Shiro looked down at him with a soft smile. This was his, Keith realized. It wasn’t not a new realization but it felt new, felt fresh every time he thought about it. He wanted this for now, for later, for as long as Shiro wanted him, which he was hoping was forever.  

And in no uncertain terms, Shiro looked down at him like it would be.