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Of hoverbikes and macaroni salad

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Ryou pressed the throttle from his hoverbike. About two hundred yards ahead, Keith and Shiro had already stopped. They were looking back at him, and Shiro waved encouragingly. He was dragging behind. It was such a weird sensation, having trouble with the hoverbike. He had such clear memories of riding it so easily. It was hard convincing his brain that he was actually doing this for the first time, even if he knew it to be true.

When he finally joined Shiro and Keith... he nearly slammed into Shiro's bike. He banked last minute to avoid him, and slipped into an uncontrolled slide. After a few seconds of panic, he managed to pull the hoverbike to a stop. He took a moment to steady his breath, his heart still beating hard. He felt his neck and ears burn under Keith and Shiro's stare.

"Are you all right?" asked Shiro, clearly concerned.

"...I'm fine." He didn't need Shiro to baby him. He dismounted, and Shiro and Keith did too. "So, you want to eat here?"

Keith nodded. "It's a nice place. I like the view."

They were on top of a mesa, and the desert was stretching in all directions. Ryou wasn't sure how the view here was different from anywhere else, but it was, indeed, nice. They were facing the sunset, and it was achingly familiar to Ryou. But again, those weren't his memories. He carefully took his flask and food container out of the bike's storing compartment and sat down. Keith sat next to him, holding his own Tupperware.

"Anyone wants beer?" asked Shiro. "They're fresh!" Ryou and Keith both cheered. Shiro opened a cooler and took three bottles of beer out. He gave one to each of them, gently squeezed Ryou's shoulder, and settled down on Keith's other side.

Keith opened his bottle...and only avoided being covered in froth thanks to his good reflexes. "Shirooo..." he complained, the bottle now half empty. They all laughed.

"Sorry!" apologized Shiro "guess they've been shaken from the ride. Let's put those back in the cooler, and wait for them to settle before opening them!"

When Shiro came back with the cooler, they placed his and Ryou’s beers inside. Keith opened his food box. It was crispy fried chicken. Ryou’s mouth watered at the sight.

"Wow, Keith, they look perfect!" exclaimed Shiro, impressed.

Keith let out an embarrassed chuckle. "Thanks". He turned to Ryou: "What did you bring?"

Ryou felt his stomach drop. He slowly opened his container.

"What... is that?" asked Keith. The worse was that he was being genuine.

"Macaroni salad," admitted Ryou, defeated. He had overcooked the pasta somehow, and when he had added the mayonnaise, it all became some kind of macaroni mash. It looked like plaster.

There was a stunned silence, before Shiro slowly said: "I... I'm sure it's..." He hesitated. "...edible", he stated, for lack of a better word. Keith nodded, but his raised eyebrows betrayed his doubts.

They watched the sun set while enjoying Keith's chicken and sipping their beers, which didn’t cause any further issue. Ryou passed his salad around, but no-one was able to eat more that two spoons of it’s compact mass. Food goo was a tasty treat in comparison, Ryou had to admit to himself. Despite the quietness of the moment, and how kind Keith and Shiro always were to him, he couldn't find the heart to take part in the easy conversation they were having. Between almost crashing the hoverbike and his terrible attempt at cooking, he kept messing up. It was as if everything kept reminding him that he would always be second to Shiro. He watched the sky turn to shades of gold, pink and purple, wondering if he would ever find his place. If he would ever be worthy of being loved by Keith, Shiro, and the rest of the team. After all he had done to them. He closed his eyes, trying to avoid remembering that time where he had lost control of his mind.

"Hey, Shiro." Keith's voice broke Ryou out of his reverie.

"Yes, Keith?" answered Shiro. Those two really liked saying each other's name. Ryou wondered if he wasn't intruding somehow, if he should give them some space. But then, they had been the ones who had invited him in the first place.

"Didn't you say you would bring dessert?"

To Ryou's surprise, Shiro blushed, a nervous smile failing at hiding his unease. "I did prepare something." He got up and went to his hoverbike again, bringing back a baking pan. Inside it was a dark, carbonized clump.

A small smile was tugging at Keith's lips. "What's that?"

Shiro looked like a wounded puppy. "A brownie," he claimed. He looked at his plate. "It's a bit burnt."

Ryou chuckled. "A bit?" At least, he wasn't the only one who sucked at cooking.

"If we scratch away the burnt part, I think underneath it should be fine. Stop laughing! It's not like your dish was better!"

Ryou had a hard time keeping himself from giggling, specially now that Keith had joined in.

"It's ok Shiro. You didn't have to bake it yourself, you know," assured Keith.

Watching Shiro's pout made Ryou self-conscious. Did he look like that too when he was disappointed? No way.

They tried to take the worst parts away, but the cake still tasted like charcoal. It was so hard and dry that Ryou almost choked on his part, getting into a coughing fit until he drank a bit out of the flask Keith had hold out to him. "I thought you had become better at this," he admitted to Shiro.

"Did you think I was able to learn baking in the astral plane?" retorted Shiro.

"Sorry. It's just... I always mess up, so at least this time I'm not the only one."

Keith bolt up, frowning: "What are you talking about?"

Ryou wanted to disappear in a hole. "Nothing..." he shrugged, frustrated, "it's hard to live up to the original, I guess."

"Ryou." Shiro was getting all solemn. "You are your own person. And we love you just the way you are."

Keith nodded. "Yeah. And what do you mean messing up. You don't have to be perfect."

Ryou blinked to keep tears out of his eyes. "Thanks guys. I don't know. I'm just a bit overwhelmed sometimes."

Keith smiled. "Hey. No big deal."

He held out his hand. Ryou took it, easing into the hug that followed. Shiro joined in, wrapping his arms around both of them. "I'm so lucky to have you both."

Ryou closed his eyes, enjoying their embrace. He finally felt like he belonged.