“Ready to crack open that photo album?” Keith’s voice calls out from the kitchen, where he’s finishing up preparing the tea.
“You bet I am,” Shiro chuckles from the couch, lifting the thick album onto his lap just as Keith walks in the room. He places the cups of tea on the coffee table in front of them, then sinks into the couch beside Shiro, cosying up to him closely. It makes Shiro smile, because Keith can be just as clingy as he is.
Being in a romantic relationship with Keith was a constant source of happiness for Shiro. Since the end of the war, he and Keith had come together naturally. Now, they would never leave each other’s side again.
Pulling the cover open and drawing Shiro out of his thoughts, Keith smirks up at him coyly, “Let’s get started, then.”
It was a Wednesday evening, the darkness of night finally setting in. Shiro had spent the day in meeting after meeting. But, there was a light at the end of the tunnel. Keith was over at his place, had come earlier for dinner and agreed to stay a while longer before heading back. Seeing as how Shiro had acquired an apartment unit in the Garrison, Keith didn’t have far to travel back to his house. Now, they were taking a trip down memory lane – looking at the photo album Shiro kept before his departure to Kerberos.
As they flip through the photos, Keith laughs at how many are of space crafts and the night sky. He calls Shiro a ‘total space nerd’, to which Shiro rebuts that Keith was the exact same. Fondly does Shiro remember the constellation charts and space posters that adorned Keith’s old dorm room.
They come to pages full of photographs of Shiro himself, in uniform and smiling brightly at the camera. Or shots with him and his friends and fellow classmates, a glimmer of innocence in his eyes. Shiro stares down at the pages, his stomach twisting in knots.
Keith notices his despondence instantly, and asks in concern, “What is it? What’s wrong?”
“Oh, it’s nothing. I just,” Shiro stops, a frown pulling his lips down the more he looked at the photo, “I can’t believe this was me. Before.”
Looking upon himself scar-less in uniform with both arms and a full head of his coloured hair was just as hard as the first time.
“Your smile is the same,” Keith utters softly, gazing down at the photograph with a muted kind of wonder.
“Keith,” Shiro murmurs his name, and he does so lowly so that the hitch in his voice won’t be heard.
Of all the things Keith could have said, he said that. Shiro was astounded. Everyone else was so wary of him, pitying of him, unconsciously focusing on what Shiro had lost and unable to treat him the same way anymore. Like he was an alien in his own home. To have Keith see the good in Shiro both then and now, was simply extraordinary.
“Thanks for showing me, Shiro. You don’t know how much it means to me,” Keith moved forward, slipping his arms underneath Shiro’s and leaning in to hug him.
Shiro didn’t notice the tears in his eyes until he closed them on a blink. Shiro felt that these weren’t tears of sadness. He felt so relieved it was overwhelming, the feeling of being wholly accepted for who he was and not mourned for the loss of what he had been.
Not wanting Keith to see him crying, he blinked rapidly to try and stem the flow. When they broke away, Keith touched a hand to his cheek, discreetly swiping underneath his eyes. They exchanged a warm smile and continued looking through.
But all too soon the lightness in Shiro’s heart dispersed, upon glancing over a familiar image.
“Are they your parents?” Keith questions him, and Shiro knows he can’t skirt around it this time.
“Yes,” he answers in a clipped tone, but Keith doesn’t pick up on it. Shiro can’t decide if this is a good or bad thing.
Smiling, Keith gazes at the picture, “They look really proud of you. I can see it in their eyes how much they adore you.”
“That’s the funny thing about photos. They capture an important moment in time, a moment that’s gone as soon as the camera flashes,” Shiro replies, bitterness lacing his tone like acid, “then, it’s just another memory.”
There’s silence. And then, Keith’s quiet voice, “Shiro…”
Shiro turns to him, realises his error and panics. He covers Keith’s hand with his own, hurrying to right his wrong, “Keith, I’m sorry.”
Keith is already shaking his head, squeezing back, “It’s okay.”
“No. I took out my feelings on you. I shouldn’t have done that,” Shiro sighs, the shame flooding his mind.
“Did I say something wrong? Did I hurt you?” Keith asks fearfully.
“No, no. You didn’t, baby,” Shiro reassures him that’s it not him, it could never be Keith that hurts him like this, “It’s me. I was just…thinking about my parents.”
Taking a pause, Shiro closes his eyes to gather himself. Then, he continues, “There’s something you should know. I should have told you earlier, but it’s not a fond topic for me.”
“You don’t have to tell me, and I don’t want you to force yourself. We can just forget it and watch a movie,” to emphasise his point, Keith picks up the remote, prepared to switch on the TV.
A part of Shiro melts at such consideration, but he pushes past his desire to yield, “I want to tell you. I’ve wanted to for a while. It’s just difficult for me to bring up in conversation on my own.”
Keith nods, putting the remote down, “Okay. I’m all ears.”
“My parents and I,” Shiro paused, searching for words, “we don’t really get along. Not anymore.”
“After we came back to earth, and I finally reunited with them, they could tell that I’d changed. They didn’t expect me to return the way I did, and that was where it all went downhill,”
It wasn’t until after the universe had been saved, and peace was achieved, that Shiro was able to find his parents. Upon finding them, it was an incredibly emotional reunion. For a while, things had been good. But not even 2 months later, they started to interfere in Shiro’s life. They wanted him to be as he was, they wanted their son back. Shiro couldn’t be who they wanted.
“I know how difficult it is for them. I was gone for so long, and they-they must have thought I was dead.”
“Shiro,” Keith starts, and Shiro looks at him and tries to smile assuredly.
“But, if you want to meet them then I’ll proudly introduce you. They don’t know much about you, but they do know I’ve got someone special in my life now.”
Placing a hand on his arm, Keith tentatively asks, “Are you sure you’d be okay with that?”
“They’re my parents. Our relationship as a family isn’t perfect, but they’re my family.”
“Okay. If it’s okay with you, I want to meet them.”
“Alright. I’ll arrange it,” and he cradles a hand around the back of Keith’s head, gently tipping it forward. He presses a kiss in the soft, inky hair, and when he pulls back he sees Keith’s smile. He tells himself he can do this. For that smile, Shiro would do anything.
About a week later, his parents fly in and are walking in the door of Shiro’s unit. They greet Keith like one would do a doorman, nodding at him and his mother handing Keith her coat. Shiro feels like he might lose it with just that, but upon seeing Keith smile and nod back, calms himself.
“Dear, you’ve still not dyed your hair? Why not consider giving it a try?” his mother implores sweetly, and Shiro might have listened if he hadn’t heard it a hundred times over.
“Maybe. I’ve been a bit too busy lately to have much time to worry about my hair,” he indulged her, keeping his tone light and civil. For Keith, he reminded himself.
“Hmm,” she hums thoughtfully, although Shiro hears disdain more than anything else. Then, she abruptly speaks up, “What about you, Keith? Don’t you think Shiro should fix his hair?”
“I don’t think there’s anything to fix, really,” Keith said, and Shiro felt his heart palpitate and grow bigger in his chest.
“Aren’t you sweet?” His mother smiled, and Shiro could always detect her fake ones. They settle down for dinner. Shiro’s mother had brought over some homemade pasta, salad and fried pork cutlets, as his father had strict dietary requirements.
“Sweetie, are you still seeing that woman?” she asks, taking a forkful of salad to her mouth daintily.
“You mean my therapist?” Shiro returns, his voice eerily monotone.
“Don’t be difficult, Shiro,” his father sighs, as if dealing with a petulant child in the supermarket.
So, Shiro answers mechanically, “Yes, once a week. It’s going well.”
“Hmm, well that’s good to hear. You’re still keeping up with your medications, yes?”
“Yes, I am.”
There’s nothing but stalemate silence for a while after that. Then, eventually, Keith says, “The, uh, the pasta is really good. I haven’t ever tried it homemade before, I like it.”
“You haven’t? Goodness, what did your mother do for you growing up? It’s quite an easy meal for kids,” his mother questions, taking a sip of her wine.
“Um, well, I’m not sure. I don’t – I mean, I didn’t grow up with my mother.”
“Oh, my. I had no idea,”
“It’s okay. I lived with my dad, before he passed away. He was really good to me.”
“A boy without a mother, how sad…”
“I actually found her a few years ago. I-I wish she could have been there while I grew up, but I understand. I’m really lucky to be able to know her now.”
Shiro was doing his best not to visibly seethe. They were making a mockery out of Keith, about the fact that he grew up without a mother. As if that was something to be ashamed of, as if that somehow made Keith worth any less as a person. And Keith was just sitting there, taking their words. Because they were Shiro’s parents, and he wanted them to like him. It was painful to watch, especially so when he knew Keith didn’t warm to people easily. Yet, here he was, trying his hardest and giving the best of himself to these people.
These people, his mother and father.
“So, have you two moved in together? What is the living situation?”
Keith perked at the unexpected question, but Shiro was warier. This was a loaded question, of that he was sure.
“Well, I still have my own place. It’s not too far away though, so sometimes I stay over with Shiro,” Keith then shot him a tiny smile, which he was helpless against. Whenever Keith smiled at him, he acted like the love-fool he was and smiled back.
“Nothing permanent, then?” his father asks, but it’s less of a question and more of an accentuation of everything they weren’t.
“Not yet,” Shiro can’t help but say, injecting as much hope into those two words as he could.
One thing was for sure, he was very quickly losing the war against his temper. This was the first time in months Shiro had gotten so upset at his parents. The word ‘temporary’ floated around his mind, that they were under the impression Keith was a temporary fixture in Shiro’s life.
As soon as his parents offered to help him wash up, dread pooled in his stomach. Helping him wash up meant talking to him one-on-one – without Keith. For he knew, they would be firing off statements about Keith as soon as they crossed the threshold.
His mother is the one who opens the conversation, in her typical probing tone, “He seems a bit standoffish, isn’t he?”
Leaning against the fridge, his father crosses his arms and closes his eyes in clear disappointment, “You could do with someone closer to your age, that’s for sure.”
“Why can’t you be happy that I’ve finally found someone who accepts me?” Shiro spoke, accusing.
“You could certainly do better.”
“I mean, he’s not exactly a well put together young man, is he? He has issues of his own–”
“Don’t you dare,” Shiro cut them off harshly, the anger building higher and higher, “You don’t get to say anything. You don’t know anything about him, which was why I had invited you here tonight. But, I guess that was a mistake.”
“We’re your parents, Shiro. We know you best, we’re just trying to look out for you,” his mother pleads, a tired frustration in her eyes.
“No, you used to know me best. Not anymore,” he corrects them, because it’s the truth. The son they wanted would never be coming back. The sooner they realised that, the better.
His father attempts to act like the voice of reason, always when it suits him, “Son, not now.”
Steeling himself, Shiro breathes in deep, and faces his parents with firm resolve, “I want you both to know this. I am going to be with Keith for as long as I can. If that turns out to be for a couple more years, or the rest of my life, it doesn’t change anything. I’ll make the most of every moment we spend together.”
“I think we should call it a night,” Shiro announced, trying to make his voice sound light even though it felt like a weight worth ten tonne weighed down on his shoulders.
As soon as they were out the door and gone, Keith pulled Shiro to him, embracing him.
“Shiro, I’m sorry,” the words were murmured low, as Keith rested his chin between his neck and shoulder, “I shouldn’t have pushed so hard for this to happen. I didn’t mean to do this.”
“It’s not your fault,” Shiro whispered back to him, winding his arms around Keith and pulling him in close, “I’m the one who should be apologising. You shared so much with them tonight, and you were so open. They didn’t appreciate any of it, and I’m so sorry, Keith. I-I should have done something more.”
“It’s okay. I’m okay, Shiro.”
They stay like that a while. Then, Shiro glances at the clock above their heads, and pulls back slowly, “It’s getting late, you must be tired. Do you want me to take you home?”
Shaking his head, Keith holds onto his hands, keeping Shiro stuck to the spot, “No, that’s okay. Can I stay here tonight?”
“Of course, you can stay,” Shiro tells him, his mind whispering, stay forever.
Later, Keith emerged from his shower and was back in the living room, with Shiro. When he saw him, Shiro’s heart did an odd flip. He’d never get tired of the sight of Keith dressed in his clothes.
“Don’t you have a drawer full of your own clothes?” Shiro teases, but he’s unable to suppress a smile.
Keith turns to look at him over his shoulder, “Yeah, but they’re all dirty.”
“Really? All of them?” Shiro feigns surprise.
“Yep. So, I had no choice. Unless, you’d rather I sleep naked?”
His mind conjures up a rather lovely image, making Shiro’s face heat up. Unfair, Shiro thinks, when he catches sight of Keith’s little smirk.
“I mean, I don’t have a problem with it.”
“K-Keith,” Shiro stammers, covering a hand over his mouth embarrassedly.
Sauntering over to him, Keith pokes two fingers at his chest and Shiro drops down into the couch like a sack of potatoes. Shiro’s eyes are glued to Keith, who is now hovering over the top of him. Keith slides down gracefully on top of his lap, making himself at home there. He’s in a kneeling position, his thighs fitting snugly either side of Shiro’s legs, as if Keith was encasing him in.
“It’s too cold for you to sleep without clothes,” Shiro chastises him, and tries not to soften too much when Keith rakes his fingers through his snowy hair.
“But, I’ll have you to keep me nice and warm, right?”
Shiro gives in and reaches out, his hands landing on Keith’s hips and holding him. The feel of his lithe body under his fingers was comforting.
“I don’t want you to catch a cold.”
“What can I say? I like to live on the wild side.”
“Are you saying I should take a leaf out of your book, hm?”
“No,” Keith’s playfulness melts away, to be replaced with a steady seriousness. His hands frame Shiro’s face like he’s something delicate and precious, as he whispers soulfully, “you’re perfect just as you are, Shiro.”
“So are you,” Shiro tells him, shifting his face sideways to press a kiss against Keith’s palm, “I couldn’t have asked for a better life partner. My best friend, and the love of my life. How did I get so lucky?”
“Luck had nothing to do with it. You and me, we never give up on each other. All the hurt we went through led us to this moment right now,” Keith hands slip from his face to curl around the back of his neck, “And, I wouldn’t change a thing. Even the most painful memories I wouldn’t trade for anything.”
A ball of warmth formed in his chest. It was amazing. A visit from his parents usually set him so off kilter, Shiro would need a day or two to get over it. Whilst he was still nervy from seeing them, it didn’t feel so bad this time. He didn’t have to think hard about why that was.
“You have no idea how much I love you,” Shiro murmurs the words against his lips, his arms enveloped around Keith tightly. He’d never let go.
“Right back at you,” Keith barely gets the words out when Shiro closes the gap, kissing him.
Closing his eyes, Shiro could see a million dreams inside his head, each one leading to their future. Keith is the splash of colour on his plain canvas, the brightest light that will always shine for him. Together, he and Keith had everything they needed.
It feels like home.