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“So, Keith, tell us about the struggle of competing against Shiro.”

Keith stares dead into the producer’s eyes and says, “It isn’t.”

The camera keeps rolling, but he sees Lotor’s eye twitch and his mouth thin into a terse line. “Keith,” he says, barely managing to keep his voice even. “We’ve been over this. Answer the questions in complete sentences.”

Keith has a few choice words— complete sentences or otherwise— that he’d love to lob at Lotor. Truthfully, none of the producers want to know Keith’s true thoughts.

The truth is, Keith would have stormed out of here a long time ago if he didn’t think it’d give Lotor exactly what he wanted. That, and he is under contract and while Keith can be reckless, he’s not prepared to deal with legal ramifications.

It’s obnoxious how obviously the producers are trying to bait him with these pointed questions, though. It’s all with the hope of getting some salacious soundbite they can use to craft the rivalry story between Shiro and Keith. It’s stupid. Keith absolutely hates it and hates that it’s so damn obvious.

Tell us your struggles is one. What are Shiro’s most annoying qualities? and What are the challenges you’re facing maintaining Lance’s attention with Shiro around?

Keith hates these confessionals with every fiber of his being. They’ve been crafting this narrative since day one. What’s most annoying is that he knows they’re going to warp his words and twist him around into saying something he hasn’t; he knows how these reality shows work.

Keith figures it’s his own fault. He is, after all, on the Bachelor in the first place.

He’s known how phony this whole show is since the start of filming. Hell, he’s known since long before he signed up. Keith can’t even really admit his reasoning for applying in the first place. Sure, when his friends from back home asked, he claims he was drunk and did it on a lark, never expecting to get selected.

The truth is, though, that maybe Keith wanted to take the chance. He’s grown up on the stories of how his mom and dad met, romantic and by chance, and maybe a small part of him’s always been waiting for that chance, too.

He thought, what the hell, what’s the worst thing that can happen?

Turns out the worst thing that can happen is actually two things: One, Keith hates the chosen bachelor, Lance. Second, the producers keep crafting a rivalry confrontation between him and another contestant, when the reality is that he and Shiro are friends.

He and Shiro hit it off on the first day of filming, when everyone crammed into the manor clamoring to know Lance and thus solidifying their place on the show. Keith’s known that Hunk was going to be the winner since that first day, and imagines it’s obvious to everyone else, too. This is probably why the producers are aiming for some hand-crafted drama to keep the viewers interested once the show eventually airs. It was producer interference that robbed Hunk of his first impression rose. Instead, the honor had gone to Keith.

Keith’s one solace is he’s sure Lance hated it just as much as Keith did.

But Keith had met Shiro before that fateful first rose ceremony, everyone milling around or exhausting themselves trying to be memorable to Lance. He thinks one of the contestants faked an Australian accent. Another rolled up her sleeve to reveal a tattoo of Lance’s face. It was a damn circus.

Keith and Shiro’s first meeting went like this: Keith had just come in after meeting Lance, feeling twitchy and uncertain about his decision to be on this show in the first place— and had run into Shiro. Literally.

“Woah, careful,” Shiro had said at the time, laughing, and Keith had felt his heart give a stupid little flip at the sound of his voice and his laugh.

Later, during filming, when the cameras were all pointed on a scandalous interaction between Hunk and Pidge which turned out to just be good-natured engineer goading, Shiro ducked his head to Keith’s ear and admitted, “This is all pretty dumb, huh?”

Then he’d grinned. And Keith had been lost ever since then.

And now, weeks into filming, Keith knows the only reason he’s still on the show is producer interference again. Keith and Lance don’t get along. Keith can accurately say that there’s zero romantic tension between the two of them.

But the producers sure want to do their best to fabricate a love triangle between Shiro, Lance, and Keith. Keith can’t imagine that editing techniques can be so advanced as to somehow create a viable cut of Shiro and Keith loathing each other because they’re getting in the way of true love. Keith knows he’d have been axed early in the show if not for some producer-mandated protections.

It ruins the mystique of reality television, certainly. Keith always knew it was all fake, but seeing it first-hand really hits that home. He almost feels bad for the inevitable time when he gets home and tells his parents all about this shit. His dad loves reality television. He’ll be devastated to hear that it really is all scripted. As of right now, Keith’s pretty sure his dad knows it’s at least seventy-five percent fake, but has been holding out hope for at least twenty-five percent sincerity. His dad is a sap like that.

Keith glares his way through his confessional with Lotor. He knows his dark look will be crafted into his bad boy persona by the producers anyway— they’ll make it so he’s not glaring because the producers suck but because he’s so angry over Shiro’s recent “success” with Lance.

Shiro is the golden boy of the show, handsome and sincere and a cat-lover who volunteers on weekends and runs a successful non-profit and is going to save the world with his handsome smile and his big heart.

Keith, by contrast, is the bad boy punk who doesn’t respect anyone’s authority and will win Lance’s heart no matter the cost. Apparently. They’ll call Keith’s glares smoldering looks, passion and ferociousness all wrapped up in a leather jacket.

Keith really hates the producers.

“Keith,” Lotor prompts again, his expression purposefully serene. The only betrayal that he’s just as frustrated at Keith is the white-knuckle grip he has on his clipboard. “In what ways are you frustrated by Shiro’s recent advances with Lance?”

“I’m not,” Keith answers.

Lotor’s smile is as cold as ice, frozen in place and looking more like a grimace. “Keith.

Keith sighs. He’d keep this up if he could, but he also knows that he’s under contract and they’ll get him eventually. That, and Keith doesn’t want to be in the confessional room for longer than strictly necessary.

He takes a deep breath and lets it back out again. “I’m not frustrated by any of Shiro’s recent advances with Lance.”

There. A complete sentence. He can see a glimmer of triumph in Lotor’s eyes, which is frankly annoying— it isn’t anything Lotor did that convinced Keith to behave.

“Are you sure?” Lotor prompts. “Why aren’t you frustrated?”

Keith rolls his eyes. He can just guess how the editing team’s going to use that footage out of its context. “There haven’t been any advances between Shiro and Lance.”

That much is true. Keith’s talked with Shiro— and Shiro isn’t exactly falling in love with Lance, either. They’re friendly but that’s because Shiro is friendly with everyone. But, again, Keith can just guess how they’ll use this sound clip: demonstrating Keith’s cockiness or obliviousness to the chemistry so clearly bubbling in front of his face. Keith has a headache just thinking about it.

He’s guided through his confessional for a few more minutes until the producers are satisfied and release him, calling in the next contestant. Allura gives him a sympathetic look as she passes him in the hallway, heading in for her interview.

Keith ignores the cameramen and the other contestants as he weaves his way through the manor, beelining for the back door and out to the expansive veranda overlooking the gardens and ocean beach beyond.

He finds Shiro out on the veranda, just as Keith knew he would.

Shiro is flying a kite.

Shiro glances over his shoulder as he hears someone approaching, instantly perking up when he recognizes Keith. “Hey! They finally freed you.”

“Finally,” Keith sighs, slumping against the railing.

He watches Shiro’s hands gripping the string, unspooling it; he shouldn’t be so captivated by the delicate way Shiro works his fingers, but Keith’s gotten used to noticing the little things about Shiro.

“… What’s with the kite?”

Shiro grimaces. “I’m apparently taking Lance on a kite-flying date tomorrow. Figured I should practice before then so I don’t make an utter fool of myself.”

“I’m surprised they’re not filming you,” Keith admits, watching Shiro loosen the string. Above them, the kite flips and dips through the air. “Perfectly sweet and earnest good boy Shiro practicing for his date to impress his man.”

Keith laughs when Shiro shoves him, sputtering a little. His face turns pink. “Ugh. Please.”

“I joke, but you know that’s probably what they’d say,” Keith says.

“Probably,” Shiro says with another theatrical shudder.

Keith feels warmth bloom in his chest. He watches Shiro’s sharp profile as he flies the kite, his jaw tight as he concentrates. It’s perfectly adorable to see Shiro trying so hard to do something as innocent and stupid as fly a kite.

Keith forces his eyes away, looking up at the kite. “Got an extra one? I’ll join you.”

“Ha,” Shiro says. He nods towards the far corner of the veranda. “Help yourself.”

Keith moves away from Shiro’s side and retreats to the collection of kites. They’re a wide array of sizes and colors but Keith isn’t picky— he plucks up a small red one and returns to Shiro’s side. He steps in close to Shiro, nudging his shoulder to his just because he can, just because he knows Shiro will press back.

He does, a pleasant weight against Keith’s side.

“Huh. You know. I don’t know if I’ve ever flown one before,” Keith says as he curls and uncurls the string around his finger. He tries throwing the kite but it flops over the railing, left pathetically unwindswept.

It’s worth it to hear Shiro laugh in his face, shaking his head fondly. “Seriously? Come on, Keith. I’ll trade you.”

He holds out his kite and waits for Keith to seize it before he takes the other. He unspools some of the string and walks away from their spot at the veranda’s railing. Keith watches as Shiro hurries down the steps and out into the open patch of the lawn.

Keith feels himself blush, watching the effortless way Shiro holds up the kite and then runs, unspooling the string as he goes. The kite catches on the breeze and lifts, floating up into the sky as Shiro feeds the line. Once he’s satisfied that the kite’s aloft, caught in the pleasant sea-breeze of their ocean-side manor, Shiro hops back up the steps and returns to Keith’s side.

The entire thing is so stupid and so cute, and Keith absolutely hates that it makes Keith feel all floaty and warm. Keith knows he has a crush on Shiro. He’s been gone on Shiro since the first moment Keith crashed into him. Shiro whispering in his ear afterwards put the seal on those feelings.

That first night, after Keith got the first impression rose and earned some scathing looks from some earnest contestants, Shiro had bumped up against Keith’s shoulder, grinning, and said, “Hey, want to be roommates?”

They’ve been sharing a room ever since. And Shiro’s been a steadfast friend. It’s why the whole “bitter rivals” thing is utter bullshit. Keith kind of can’t wait to see the aired show and how the producers will spin their web and cook up hatred between the two of them.

Keith’s fairly certain his crush has to be obvious.

They fly their kites together. They dart back and forth through the wind and Shiro’s always quick to tug his kite away from Keith’s before their strings get tangled up. It’s nice to watch the two of them move in unison.

“This is the stupidest thing I’ve done in a while,” Keith says. He grins at Shiro to lessen the harshness of the words, but he needn’t have worried— Shiro’s already laughing and smiling back at him.

“It’s pretty childish, right?” Shiro asks. “I’m supposed to fly kites tomorrow during a picnic lunch. I feel like I’m a twelve-year-old trying to figure out what a date with a boy’s supposed to be like.”

“Aww, you don’t think kite-flying is a cute date idea?” Keith asks.

“I guess with the right boy,” Shiro muses and then winks at Keith. Keith loves and hates whenever Shiro does that— loves it because it sends warmth sliding through his gut like molten fire. He also hates it for the same reason.

Every time Shiro winks at him— and it’s often— Keith just wants to drag him down and kiss him. Not exactly the purest of thoughts he should be having when flying a kite.

Keith rolls his eyes to hide his embarrassment. “Have you had your confessional yet?”

“Not yet,” Shiro says. “I think I’m in about an hour. What sort of things did they ask you this time?”

“They just really want me to admit I hate you,” Keith answers, waving his hand dismissively. His kite dips and bobs through the air, tail fluttering.

“Of course,” Shiro says with a sigh. Very solemnly he adds, “Keith, it’s not healthy to hold all that resentment inside you. You should just let it out.”

Keith snorts. Shiro’s attitude towards the whole thing is likely the only reason Keith hasn’t felt anxious about the way the producers are shaping his character. Shiro knows that Keith doesn’t hate him and knows that their rivalry is a complete fabrication. Shiro knows that Keith isn’t competing against him, doesn’t like Lance all that much, and that the producers manipulate sound-clips with the best of them. Shiro must know that Keith just wants to make out with him, and often.

Shiro’s observant and intelligent. This fact’s the only thing that keeps Keith from worrying that Shiro will hate him once he watches the episodes.

Really, Shiro’s the only reason this entire thing hasn’t been a goddamn nightmare. It’s still pretty much a nightmare, but at least Keith enjoys spending their down time together when the cameras are focused elsewhere and they can just be Shiro and Keith, friends on a reality television competition.

Keith smiles as he watches their kites float through the air. His heart feels all squirmy in his chest, especially when Shiro tugs on the string of his kite to keep it aloft and nudges into Keith’s side.

“They never ask me questions like that,” Shiro says.

“That’s because you’re the good boy,” Keith coos. “No shade for Shiro.”

Shiro rolls his eyes now, his smile turning a little dark. Almost a smirk. “It’s a shame. I could be downright scathing if they really wanted me to be.”

Keith laughs. He wants to kiss that smile right off Shiro’s face and lick into his mouth for good measure. “They wouldn’t know what to do with you if you did that.”

Shiro chuckles, lengthening the string and letting his kite float higher. Keith mimics him quickly, sending his kite after Shiro’s.

“Guess I’ll be a good boy and save being a bad boy for someone special,” Shiro says, winking again.

Keith sputters a helpless laugh, embarrassed by how much the words hit him.

“… Guess I’ll keep being the bad boy and only be a good boy for someone special, too,” Keith says quietly.

 

-

 

While Shiro goes on his date with Lance and an army of cameramen trailing behind them to record every salacious detail, Keith gets tugged into another confessional and asked probing questions about how awful it must be to see the two of them getting along and in what ways would he hope horrible pain on Shiro? Keith fights another long battle of one-word answers and grunts until finally the producers wheedle enough to cobble together some sort of horrible pettiness from Keith.

After his confessional, Lotor outlines the date for Keith and Lance: horseback riding on the beach.

“I don’t know how to ride a horse,” Keith says, deadpan, when the producers (mostly Lotor) hint at how romantic it will be to help Lance up onto his horse.

Lotor’s smile is that same brittle iceberg. Keith’s personal mission is always to get that smile to freeze as quickly as possible. Today is a new record. Nearly the first words out of Keith’s mouth set that smile into permafrost.

Keith wishes he had the chance to practice horseback riding like Shiro did his kites. But later, when he’s with Lance on the beach and two horses snuffling between them, Keith thinks this might have been Lotor’s goal: he climbs up on the horse and then promptly falls off the saddle.

He can imagine the way they’ll use this moment to “bring Keith down to size.” All that cockiness during his confessionals about how Shiro has no advancements with Lance and doing something juvenile like kite-flying, and then at the first opportunity, Keith fucks up his suave, bad boy attitude and ends up ass-first in the sand.

Lance laughs in his face over it, snorting and not sweet— it’s meanspirited and definitely at Keith, not with Keith.

Keith throws some sand at Lance’s face. He’s sure the producers will edit that part out.

 

-

 

Rose ceremony after rose ceremony, Keith expects he’ll be booted. He knows the producers are building it up to be something shocking and rewarding for viewers, who will be goaded and manipulated into hating Keith from the first episode. The downfall of the Toxic Keith will be something celebrated across social media, Keith’s sure.

Keith twirls his rose once Lance offers it to him, unsmiling, and shrugs. “Sure,” he tells Lance, already turning his head to look back at Shiro. “Guess I’ll stick around.”

 

-

 

“I think they might kick me off soon,” Shiro admits, looking up at the ceiling.

It’s after-hours, the cameras powered down and the crew sent home. Keith and Shiro are alone in their room— their third roommate got booted this evening— both on their backs and staring up at the ceiling.

Keith frowns and rolls onto his side, peering at Shiro in the dark. “Are you kidding? They’re keeping you until the end so there’s a nice, dramatic reveal when Lance picks Hunk instead. Who will Lance pick? The sweet guy or the good boy?”

Shiro shrugs. “Maybe they’ll keep you until the end. Who will Lance pick? The badass or the other badass?”

Keith rolls his eyes. “They’d never keep the villain for the last episode.”

“You’re not the villain,” Shiro tells him kindly.

“You’re sweet,” Keith says. “But you’re wrong. I’m absolutely the villain. I’m out to sabotage all of you and throw tea and spill the shade?”

Shiro laughs. “I think you said that wrong.”

Keith shrugs. He doesn’t particularly care.

“And besides, I don’t think they can call it shade when you just say what’s on your mind,” Shiro says. “It’s not passive aggressive… you just say it like it is.”

The reality show jargon makes Keith wrinkle his nose. “‘Telling it like it is’ is just code for ‘being an asshole’.” Pitching his voice too high, Keith simpers, “I’m not here to make friends, Shiro. I’m here to win.

It makes Shiro laugh again, rolling onto his side to face Keith, too. They’re on separate beds, just a little side-table with a lamp between them, but even in the dark, Keith can see Shiro’s sweet smile. He’s so handsome. Before this show, Keith never understood the sentiment of crying over someone’s beauty, but now Shiro tests him on the daily.

“But seriously,” Keith says. “Why do you think they’re booting you?”

“The types of questions they’re asking me during confessional,” Shiro says, voice pitched low. “What would I have done differently if I could do it all again, what do I regret about this experience, what am I grateful for… that sort of thing.”

“You’ve been doing well,” Keith argues, his heart stampeding in his chest. The idea of waking up every day and not seeing Shiro is devastating. The idea of Shiro leaving before Keith feels too impossible to consider.

“But we all know I’m not going to win,” Shiro says. “And don’t particularly want to win, either.”

They’re all here for their own reasons, it’s true. Keith can spot the people who just want to be on reality TV from a mile away. There are others who wanted to find love and are here in earnest, yes. There are those who just want the exposure or the experience. There are others who want a foothold into acting and think the Bachelor is the way to go.

But Shiro— Keith knows that Shiro came here in the hope of finding love. He hasn’t really talked about it since those first few days of filming (“Lance isn’t exactly my type,” Shiro admitted quietly to Keith during one of the massive group dates), but Keith knows it’s a disappointment for Shiro.

He’d come here after a bad breakup, hoping to find his last true love. It’s so incredibly sappy. Keith privately thinks it’s stupid to think they could really find real love on a reality show, but Keith doesn’t fault Shiro his desire to find the love that he deserves.

And Shiro deserves the world. Keith values their friendship, values everything that Shiro has to say— his kindness, his intelligence, his humor. Keith wants to see Shiro outside this competition. He wants to go to bars with him, wants to spend a Saturday just loafing around the house together. He wants to push Shiro up against a wall and lay worship to his mouth, kissing him until their lips are sore and they can’t breathe. He wants to feel the way Shiro moves above him, pressing his mouth against Keith’s neck.

Mostly, Keith just wants to spend every waking moment with Shiro. When he’s stuck in the manor, he finds Shiro. During mixers, he finds him. His day is better when Shiro is there beside him, talking with him.

Keith doesn’t know what it’ll look like once they leave this competition, but Keith knows what it is that he wants.

Shiro wants to find love. Keith wants to be that love for him.

“I just…” Shiro admits quietly, voice soft and thready. “I— I’ll miss you.”

“We can hang out after this is all over,” Keith says. “If you’re booted, I won’t be far behind. No use keeping the asshole when his competition is gone, right?”

“They might start trying to get you to go against Hunk next,” Shiro offers.

Keith laughs. “Yeah, maybe.” He scoots towards the edge of his bed and holds his hand out, seeking Shiro in the dark. His fingertips find the cool metal of Shiro’s arm and curls, squeezing. “Hey, Shiro?”

“Yeah?”

“I’m really glad you’re here.”

Shiro’s smile is a slow unfurling in the dark, his eyes warm as he looks at Keith. He catches Keith’s hand and squeezes gently. “Yeah, Keith. Me too.”

Keith feels his heart pound as he stands from his bed, pushing away the covers and approaching Shiro’s. Shiro sits up as Keith gets closer, scooting over to make room as Keith sits down.

They sit like that for a long while, just silent.

Finally, Keith asks, “After all of this is over… want to go fly kites on a horse with me?”

His hope is to make Shiro laugh and it works— booming, deep, and beautiful. Keith feels warm all over.

“Sounds good, Keith,” Shiro teases. “It’s a date.”

 

-

 

At the next rose ceremony, Keith realizes that Shiro’s prediction is correct.

Keith’s ears start ringing halfway through the ceremony when neither he nor Shiro receive roses. Usually, they’re in the middle of the pack. Sometimes, Shiro’s even one of the first to get his rose.

But now, it’s just the two of them left on the dais and only one rose left.

The writing is on the wall: Keith is about to lose Shiro.

Keith’s heart is pounding. He’s on his marked spot feeling squirmy and unhappy, suffering through the producer’s favorite tactic of lighting-adjustment midway through the ceremony. It’s one of the producers’ favorite methods to get good facial expressions to splice into the final product: leave everyone standing around, getting bored and tired, and record their reactions. Once, they turned the heat up too high during a rose ceremony so everyone would start sweating.

By the time they signal for Lance to start his speech for the final rose, Keith’s about ready to fall over.

Lance launches into his explanation, outlining why he made the decision he did and why he’s made the choice he has— everything perfectly vague and dramatic, but pointing towards Shiro packing his bags and going home. Keith can’t even pretend to consider that the producers are going to axe him so soon.

Keith glances over at Shiro. Shiro’s already looking at him, his expression gentle and understanding— like he’s saying goodbye.

It’s absurd for Keith to feel so anxious about saying goodbye. It’s a goddamn reality television show.

They’ll see each other again, after all. This is hardly goodbye.

He and Shiro are friends and they’re always going to be friends. He knows that he and Shiro have been flirting off and on for the weeks they’ve been stuck in this manor together. He has Shiro’s number tucked away to enter into his phone once they’re allowed to have technology again. This isn’t the last time he’ll see Shiro.

But he is anxious. He’s terrified of being in this stupid fucking house without Shiro. He’s terrified that, outside of this house, everything will change: Shiro will realize that Keith’s just a dumb, boring, uninteresting guy. He’s not a bad boy. He’s not particularly suave or flirty or romantic. He’s just a guy on a reality television show who got sucked into Shiro’s pretty smile.

He can’t stomach the idea of letting Shiro leave and not following him. He can’t stomach the idea of being stuck in this house with Lance and Lotor. He can’t stomach the idea of not waking up to Shiro’s smile in the bed next to his.

Keith swallows and steels his shoulders.

“Wait,” Keith says before he can second-guess himself.

Lance stops mid-sentence and behind the cameras, Lotor’s eyebrows shoot up towards his perfectly coiffed hairline.

Shiro tilts his head, confused by Keith’s sudden outburst.

Keith’s vision blacks out, his ears ringing. For a moment, he doesn’t exist at all. But he’s done it and now he can’t stop. He takes a step down off the dais. His feet touch the ground and he steps forward, as if to walk to Lance, but stops.

Lance’s eyes are wide. “Keith, what the fuck?”

Keith half-expects Lotor to stop rolling and force Keith in line. But he makes no move to interrupt whatever it is that’s happening. Lotor is, in the end, good at his job: he can smell drama a mile away and Keith’s about to give him the sensational rose ceremony he’s been vying for.

“I don’t know if you’re picking me or not,” Keith tells Lance. “But I’m going to stop you right now, anyway.”

He swallows, feeling too hot in his suit and under the lights hanging above all of them. The bachelors and bachelorettes with their roses watch him with thinly veiled shock and curiosity. Keith can feel Shiro’s eyes on his back.

It’s Shiro that fuels him onward. He knows the truth: he can’t stay in this house if Shiro isn’t here, too. If Shiro leaves, there’s literally nothing for Keith here.

Keith hates big speeches. Later, when asked, he’ll blame the reality television atmosphere possessing him for what he does next.

“I didn’t come here to find love,” Keith says. “Or, I mean, maybe I did but I also didn’t really think I would.” He swallows. “But… and I think, maybe I have. Eventually. It could become that.”

He fumbles over the words. They sound stupid and clunky to his own ears, thoroughly unromantic. But also unrehearsed. He’s finally doing what he knows his dad always hopes for on these shows— truly unscripted nonsense.

Keith isn’t sure what he’s saying until he’s saying it. He stares at Lance and says, “It could become love, yeah. But it’s not for you. It’s someone else.”

Chills run down his spine. He feels the cameras swiveling in their stands to follow Keith as he turns to face Shiro.

Shiro stares at him, blinking once, his expression shocked.

Keith swallows again and takes a step towards Shiro, foot on the dais. He looks up at Shiro.

“Shiro,” Keith croaks, and hates how gravelly and hoarse his voice sounds to his own ears. He’s getting swept away in his own drama— this is hardly a goodbye, hardly some sort of star-crossed lovers scenario. And yet.

He takes another step towards Shiro. Always closer. Always wanting to be near him.

Shiro steps down off the highest step of the dais, coming closer to Keith in turn. Keith feels his throat close up as he holds his hand out towards Shiro.

And Shiro is there to catch him, their fingers tangling together. Keith feels his heart in his throat. Shiro looks less shocked now and more amused, his eyes glittering, like he knows what Keith’s doing and he’s fully along for the ride. All in.

Well, Keith can be all in, too.

“Shiro,” Keith says again. He pauses, uncertain. He blinks up at Shiro.

And Shiro smiles wider, his expression thoroughly melted. He gives one little nod, encouraging. Whispering, he prompts, “Yeah, Keith?”

Emboldened, Keith stares into Shiro’s eyes and says, “Leave with me, Shiro. Let’s get the fuck out of here.”

Shiro laughs— and Keith knows what he’s thinking (“Keith,” he’ll tease later, “Your big confession’s going to have bleeps in it!”). But this isn’t for anyone else. It’s for Shiro. Yes, there’s the cast and crew around him, the cameras rolling, but right now, it’s only Shiro.

It’s always only been Shiro.

“Okay, Keith,” Shiro says in a low murmur, squeezing Keith’s hand. “Let’s get out of here.”

Keith can’t help his answering laugh, relief soaring through him. He’s bouncing up the last step on the dais before he can think of it, catching Shiro’s cheek with his hand and tugging him down.

He kisses Shiro with all the passion he can manage. He feels Shiro give a little sigh through his nose before his arm curls around Keith’s waist and tugs him up. He kisses Keith like he’s been restraining himself all this time.

And, with a shock, Keith realizes that maybe Shiro has.

It’s almost impossible to kiss Shiro through their smiles. Keith loops his arms around Shiro’s neck and kisses him hard, sucking on his bottom lip and making it toe that line between innocent and dirty. It doesn’t matter. He feels Shiro’s answering breath against his teeth, the sweep of his tongue across his lip like a promise.

When they pull away, Keith takes Shiro’s hand, stepping down off the platform again and pulling Shiro with him.

“Let’s go,” Keith murmurs, and Shiro nods. He laughs, his eyes bright— the happiest Keith’s seen him since this entire competition. Keith almost wants to cry.

Instead, he pulls Shiro with him. Together, they trip out of the lights and past the marked areas they’re supposed to stand during the rose ceremony. Keith doesn’t look back at Lance— he doesn’t matter, he never mattered— or the other contestants, or even the crew. He can hear Lotor barking orders at cameramen to follow them, but that doesn’t matter either.

They rush out of the filming area, hand-in-hand, laughing. It isn’t a truly private moment, and Keith figures they won’t have something fully private until much later, until they’re really gone.

“You love me?” Shiro asks him once they’ve caught their breath.

Keith blushes. “I— I don’t know. I mean— I just— maybe someday—”

“Me too,” Shiro interrupts, catches Keith’s face, and kisses him senseless. Keith melts into his embrace, sighing out his name and kissing him back.

 

-

 

Months later, when the episodes broadcast, Keith finds his prediction correct: he’s painted as the villain and Shiro as the good boy. However, as the episodes air, the show starts showing more and more moments between Shiro and Keith, some of them moments he didn’t even realize they were taping.

For instance, them flying kites together, the way Keith leans in closer to Shiro, laughing and looking up at him.

Will the beauty tame the wild beast? one of the promos ask, which is exceptionally horrifying.

Keith’s shocking confession, of course, makes headlines and blows up social media. Keith doesn’t regret any of it— especially seeing Lance’s goldfish impression as the two of them leave without even acknowledging his existence— but a small, petty part of him hates that he gave Lotor exactly what he wanted.

But also, there’s something really rewarding about watching their first kiss caught on tape. When the episode goes to commercial, Shiro catches Keith’s chin and leans in to kiss him, sweet and sensual. It’s more serene, more private— just for the two of them. And it’s just as sweet as that first kiss and all those kisses between.

“You did good, baby,” Shiro says, teasing, and it makes Keith laugh into the kiss as he licks into Shiro’s mouth.

He can be good. When it matters, sure.

“Love you,” Shiro whispers as he bites Keith’s lip and those words, really, are far better than a thousand roses.